Jared, Taryn & Charlie from ICE MOON
I’d never been much of a Christmas shopper. The crowds get to me, not to mention the snowy roads in Reno this year. But here I was out on Black Friday, looking for just the right ring for Taryn. Charlie, her son, came along to help me out. He didn’t know about my issues with crowds and confined spaces. He saw it as an opportunity to practice using his heightened werewolf senses with me.
Just the senses I was trying to block out. Perfect.
He slammed the door to the truck and came around to my side, where I was scratching Tank, my bulldog, behind the ears. Tank licked my cheek, sensing my anxiety levels rising. Shit. I would get through this day. Somehow. Taryn was worth it.
“We’ll be back soon, Tank.” Charlie tugged my jacket. “Ready to go, Jared?”
I closed the door and turned to stare at the mass of people coming in and out of the shopping mall. I will never be ready for this, kid. “I guess so.”
As we neared the glass doors, my pulse kicked up a notch.
Charlie looked at me. “I can hear your heart. Are you okay?”
The joys of being a werewolf.
“Remember, we’re the only wolves here today. Keep your voice down.”
He nodded. “But are you?”
I pulled open the door to mall and let Charlie step inside ahead of me. I mussed his hair as he went by. “I’ll be fine.”
Our first jewelry store didn’t have anything, but the sales clerk’s strong perfume was a perfect opportunity for Charlie to practice shielding himself. As werewolves, we couldn’t block a scent completely, but with some extra work, we could definitely lessen the attack on our senses.
Charlie cringed and whispered, “I can’t smell anything else.”
After she walked away, I knelt down to face Charlie, keeping my voice low. He’d have no trouble hearing me over the dull roar of the Christmas shoppers.
“You have to focus on something else. Tell yourself you recognize that scent now and you want to look for more. Stretch your senses. Push for more.”
A wrinkle formed between his eyebrows. “Your shirt smells like wood.”
“Good job.” I smiled. Damn, I was proud of this kid and so grateful he accepted me as the father he never had. “What else?”
He closed his eyes and took another slow breath. “Kids are chewing gum nearby.”
I glanced over his shoulder to a bench occupied my three boys blowing bubbles. “And how do you know they’re kids?”
“Because I can hear them complaining about being bored and seeing Santa.”
“Nice work.” I chucked his chin. “Turn around.”
He did, and grinned up at me. “I was right.”
“Yeah, you were.” I turned to head for another store, when Charlie tugged my hand.
I stopped. “Yes?”
“How long until lunch?”
I chuckled and pulled out my cell phone. Werewolves were always hungry, but growing werewolves were even more voracious. “Probably in about an hour.”
I wished his Mom was meeting us too, but her office was hopping with deals trying to close before the end of the year. We were on our own.
He cleared his throat and asked, “Can you go to the next place and I’ll track you?”
I raised a brow. “As in leave you alone in a crowded mall?” I shook my head. “No can do. Your Mom would kill me.”
His smile faded, and I swear he turned on some killer sad puppy eyes. “Please? I’m almost ten. I can do this. I’ll find you.”
I ran my hand down my face, breaking away from his powerful stare. Shit. I couldn’t let him wander around alone. No way. But I understood his desire. He was just getting the hang of his heightened senses. He wanted to test his abilities.
But a busy shopping mall on Black Friday was probably not the best place.
“Sorry buddy. I’ll take you back up to the lake and we can practice there.”
“Please Jared? I promise I’ll be careful. And I’ll find you fast, or you can find me, right? You’re a great tracker.”
The ego stroking was a nice touch. Chuckling, I glanced at the crowds walking by, and caught a very familiar, very welcome scent. I scanned the shoppers, but I didn’t see her. Yet.
Crossing my arms, I tipped my head down toward Charlie. “Why is it so important that you try this right now?”
Now he was peeking around. He and his Mom were definitely up to something. Finally Charlie met my eyes again and shrugged. “I just want to show you what I can do.”
He was right about the tracking. I was one of the best in our Pack. There was no way anyone would be able to snatch Charlie and make it out of the mall before I knocked him senseless. Plus I wouldn’t have to go far.
Besides…I pulled another slow breath into my nostrils…his mother was close by. Her scent alone eased the building anxiety in my chest.
My irrational phobia about crowds didn’t hold a candle to my love for my mate.
I clapped his shoulder. “You get ten minutes. If you haven’t found me, then I’m coming to find you.”
His face lit up. “You won’t have to find me.”
I knelt down so we were face to face. “If anyone makes you uncomfortable, you yell for me. I’ll hear you no matter where I am, okay?”
He nodded. “Okay.”
“See you in ten.” I stood up, gave him a wink and wandered into the mass of humanity.
Once I was out of sight, I stopped and focused on all the voices around me, cancelling them all out until I found Charlie’s
“We’ve only got ten minutes.”
“Good thing I made a deal with Santa then.”
Taryn. I smiled and peered around the corner in time to see my mate and her boy, hand in hand, hustling toward the center of the mall. I followed at a distance. Even though Charlie was still mastering his heightened wolf senses, he’d notice my scent if I got too close.
They stopped, talking to an elf. What were they cooking up? She was supposed to be at work today. That’s why Charlie was out helping me secretly shop for a ring.
The little guy was apparently scheming with his Mom today too.
They followed Santa’s helper around the oversized sleigh and I ventured a little closer, trying to get an angle so I could see without being seen.
Taryn and Charlie were on either side of Santa, laughing and smiling, and for just a second all the crowds, the scents of sweat and perfume and hair spray, and the noise of thousands of voices all faded away. Seeing Taryn happy, hugging her son, this was worth more than any gift in any store.
All of a sudden Charlie’s head popped up and his grin grew as he pointed at me and dragged his Mom behind him.
“See, Mom? I told you Jared would find us!”
She laughed and rolled her eyes. “It’s harder to surprise a werewolf than I thought.”
I pulled her into my arms, holding her close as I whispered against her ear. “You are a sight for sore eyes.”
She kissed me, drawing a low growl from my throat.
“Oh come oooonnnnn…” Charlie whined.
We straightened up, and I mussed his hair. “Sorry kid. Not my fault your Mom is so beautiful.” I grinned at my mate. “So what’s going on? I thought you were stuck at work today.”
“Charlie mentioned going shopping with you. I know how you are about crowds, so I got Madison to cover me for a little while. Thought I’d surprise you with lunch.”
The corner of my mouth twitched as I fought back a smile. “You are a horrible liar.”
A flash of heat lit across my skin, but she pulled it back just as fast, a blush creeping across her cheeks. “Fine. We wanted to get a picture with Santa to give to you for Christmas. I figured if Charlie was already here, we could get the picture all sneaky-like and then I’d run back to work.”
Charlie hustled over to the waving elf, and returned with an envelope. “Want to see?”
I glanced at Taryn. “Should I wait until Christmas?”
She shook her head. “Cat’s out of the bag now.”
I opened the envelope and slid the picture out. It was printed with a border of holly across the bottom, and in red said, “All we want for Christmas is you.”
My gaze went from one smiling face to the other. I scooped them up, lifting them both off the ground, one in each arm, and kissed them, Charlie on the cheek and his Mom on her warm lips.
“I’m all yours.”
I put them down and Taryn took my hand, my fingers lacing with hers. She smiled up at me. “Since you caught us, want to grab some lunch before I need to get back?”
Charlie ran a few feet ahead of us as we walked hand in hand. The shopper faded away and left me with this. This family.
I couldn’t stop smiling.
They were all I wanted too.
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