Howl for the Holidays

By: Keira Blackwood

Introduction





Close friends—both wanting more, but still holding back. Sometimes life gives us a nudge in the right direction. And sometimes it takes a car wreck.

Since their first appearance in Sawtooth Peaks, I’ve wanted to give Harkins and Amy their chance to find happiness. Howl for the Holidays is their story.





Chapter One





Amy




Cinnamon-infused pinecones, hot chocolate with marshmallows, tall boots and cozy sweaters, that feeling of freshly fallen snow melting beneath my paws—winter was hands down my favorite season. It was the smoky warmth of a crackling hearth, the cheer of white lights clinging to rooftops and woven between the branches of tall pines. Winter meant hiding beneath the covers a little longer, while icy air bit my cheeks.

Like most mornings, I wouldn’t have minded a few more minutes in bed. But, it was a get-up-and-travel day. Luckily my heater worked wonders. Through the windshield, the world ahead of me was blanketed in white. The road included. There was only the two-line trail from tires traveling before me that told me that my little blue Volkswagen Beetle was still on curved mountain road instead of driving off the side of a cliff. Sunlight reflected off of crystal-like powder as the clouds receded from the bright blue sky. The effect was both mesmerizing and blinding.

Winter in the mountains meant massive amounts of snowfall. That snow brought skiers and hunters to Sawtooth Peaks, to the lodge that was more of a modern, luxury hotel than a part of the classic, Victorian town. And the lodge brought business to Sawtooth Den, which meant more money in my pocket and new people to meet. If I’d had my way, I’d have spent Christmas working, catering to my pack, and patrons that had travelled from near and far for a mug of ale.

But as an Anderson, it was my duty to travel home for the holidays, just like I did every year. Just like my entire family did, and always had. The Anderson farm had passed down from my great-great-grandparents through generation after generation, all the way down to my parents. Just like every Christmas before it, I was required to join my mother and father, my grandmother, my uncles and aunts, my cousins, my siblings, and my nieces and nephews for a feast grown and harvested on the Anderson land.

It was a tradition that I’d cherished as a child: picking fresh green beans and carrots from the garden in the summer, canning them with my sisters, my mother, and my grandmother, and then opening up those same cans for Christmas dinner. The farm-raised turkey tasted better than any I’d eaten anywhere else. Having everyone gathered together at the long banquet table to share the year’s work was as satisfying as tasting the creamy butter that I’d churned myself.

I still loved winter. And spending time with my family. But Christmas? Not so much.

Vvvrrrmmmmm. My phone vibrated against the plastic cup holder. It was hard to believe I could still get a signal this far from Sawtooth Peaks. It wouldn’t last long. I risked a glance down and checked the number. Nora. It was beginning already.

A flash of brown fur streaked past the windshield, a mule deer, and I instinctively hit the brakes. My breath caught and my arms tensed, but I held my eyes wide against the instinct to flinch. The little car skidded and fishtailed, jostled across uneven snow. The enormous buck stopped and stared. A flick of the wheel and the tires bumped back into the single set of tracks. I took a deep breath, and looked back at the tall, brown deer with long, ornamental antlers. He stood still, watching me drive away from his place by the tire tracks. I turned my attention back to the road. Eyes forward. There was bound to be more ice.

Trees were clustered in patches, like larger-than-life versions of cylindrical, paper water cups. The road curved around a sharp rock face, with treetops and boulders visible off the ledge out my driver side window. Even with as tall as the pines grew, their tops didn’t reach the height of the road. Every time I rounded these bends my fists clenched on the wheel. One wrong move and my little blue car would careen down a hundred feet into the valley.

Vvvrrrmmmmm. The phone rattled. I debated whether or not I should answer or just pretend I’d already arrived in the cellular dead zone. I needed both hands, and I wasn’t ready to start the annual mate talk. Any other time of year I’d be happy to chat. My sister was great. Nora and I could spend hours talking about the latest episode of Werewolf Diaries or who was going to be killed off next in the Vampires USA novels. My whole family was great really. Just not at Christmas. The phone vibrated again in my palm. Fine.

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