A Wizard for Christmas

Table of Contents

Title Page

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

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About the Author

Copyright

A Wizard For Christmas

 

by

Dorothy McFalls

 

Jump to the Beginning

Chapter One

 

“She’s not ready.” Hadrian Graham continued to watch a young teacher herd a gaggle of kindergarteners from the schoolyard playground through a pair of high-powered binoculars from a city park across from the school.

“I know.” Frank Stone sounded grim.

“It’s going to be Christmas in a week.” Hadrian knew firsthand what it was like to be thrust into a world of the impossible. He’d been a few years past ready when the magic had happened to him and learning the truth still had been hell. “Can’t we wait until after the New Year at least? Give her one last chance to enjoy her normal life with her normal friends?”

“No. It’s too late for that.” Frank trotted down the concrete steps that led to a sunken fountain. A sheen of ice covered the silent waters. “Forces are in play that have taken that luxury away from us.”

Hadrian followed down the steps. “She’ll break,” he warned.

The Protectors had been watching the young woman with that quick smile and ears with a slight elfin point for the past three years.

Hadrian still couldn’t get over how fragile she looked. She was a slender woman with a haunting pair of green eyes.

“It’s too soon. We bring this to her, she’ll fall off the edge. She’ll drop straight into hell. And then what do we do? What good will she be to us then...to anyone?”

Frank ran his finger lightly of the smooth surface of the ice. It crackled.

“I’m counting on you to not let that happen.”

 

* * * *

 

“Burl Ives?” Priscilla’s eyes grew wide as her mouth fell open with wonderment.

Holly Post nodded furiously. “It’s true. He was my mother’s uncle. My great-uncle. Holidays were wonderful. Magical. Like a homespun scene in a Norman Rockwell painting, the children would gather around as Uncle Burl sat beside the Christmas tree and played the guitar all evening. We’d all sing along. Even the adults.” She paused for a quick breath. “And we’d all drink lots and lots of eggnog. I love eggnog. Don’t you?”

“Wow,” Priscilla whispered. “Burl Ives.”

Holly felt a stab of pride. She closed her eyes and pictured the lovely scene. The soft snow falling in fat clumps in the hilly countryside while a fire blazed warm in the fireplace. The family, large and happy, gathered around and enjoyed the closeness of the season. Norman Rockwell truly would have been proud.

“He’s gone now,” Holly said, in a soft, solemn voice. “Uncle Burl. But my cousin does a fair job carrying on the tradition. His voice isn’t quite as deep or rich, but he fills his songs with the same love.”

“So that’s what you’re doing this Christmas?” Priscilla asked. “Spending it with your family?”

“How could I not? It’s in the Catskills this year. I’m looking forward to seeing everyone. We live too far apart nowadays. Christmas is the only time we ever get together anymore.”

“Your family must not be anything like the rest of the world’s.” Holly could hear the awe in Priscilla’s voice. “If my family got together like that, they’d probably have to call in the National Guard to break up the bickering.”

Holly laughed. “My family is different, all right. Special.”

“I’m glad you have someplace to go,” Priscilla gave Holly’s arm a squeeze. “I have to admit that I was worried about you. I’ve never heard you talk about this marvelous family of yours before today. I had gotten the impression that you wouldn’t have anywhere to. In fact, John and I were planning on inviting you to spend Christmas day with us and the kids.”

“I wish I could spend Christmas day with you, but...” A warm glow spread through Holly’s chest when pulled her friend close and gave her a fierce hug. Friends were rare and heartfelt invitations gifts to be treasured. “I might not talk about my family, but they are never far from my mind.”

Her young students were bouncing up and down, giddy to start the holiday break. She wished each one of them a Merry Christmas and placed a large candy cane in each child’s adorable little hand before the tiny boys and girls rushed off to meet their parents.

As soon as the last child had been settled in her mother’s car, she packed up her belongings. Holly-jolly carols played softly in her head while images of the perfect Christmas day grew and took shape. The Catskills this year.

She’d never been there.

She’d never been anywhere.

If only...

Holly trudged home, bracing herself against the stiff cold wind that barreled down the narrow Chicago alleyway, and wondered what she’d do with herself over the next two weeks.

Most teachers relished the holiday break. Most of her friends were excited to have some time off to spend with their family.

Holly hated feeling left out. That’s why, two years ago, she’d invented a family. A wonderful family that grew larger and happier with the passing of every year.

Burl Ives was a new addition. It was silly, she knew. Crazy even. Who in her right mind would invent a family?

But Holly didn’t want anyone to know the truth. No matter what, she couldn’t admit that she spent every Christmas alone in her tiny apartment, because she had no one. She’d never had anyone to spend Christmas with.

Her friends, rich with family connections and love, would pity the lonely, strange girl who was found as a baby in a Chicago gutter and raised by a local orphanage.

No one had wanted Holly.

No one had loved her.

The gray sky loomed heavy above her. She hoped for snow. The winter browns and rusts had been darkening her mood. Some sparkling snow would help and brighten the gloomy short days.

Night fell so early this time of year. The streetlamps were already flickering on one by one as the clouds blotted out the last sign of the day. An unusually strong gust of wind caught her coat. Holly stumbled as that blasted wind tried to push her back toward the school.

“Easy there.” Arms wrapped around her.

Holly glanced up in surprise to find her rescuer, a handsome man with a strong, square jaw, studying her. His brows furrowed.

He was taller than her by at least a foot. His hair was as dark as his midnight eyes. He pulled her up against his side to give her a chance to get her feet back under her. As a result, her face burrowed in the depths of his long wool coat as his spicy warmth seeped through her.

“I-I’m okay.” She tried to push him away, though a part of her was only too happy to stay right where she was. In his arms.

However, this wasn’t the safest neighborhood. Just two weeks ago, a woman who lived in Molly’s apartment building had been attacked as she made her way to the laundry mat. The last Holly had heard, the woman was still in the hospital and the hooded thug who’d put her there was still out on the streets.

The man refused to loosen the grip he had around her waist. The wind blew harder.

“A nasty storm’s brewing,” he said when her questioning gaze met his again. He wasn’t wearing a hood. Nor did he look like a thug who wanted to attack her. But that didn’t mean she was out of danger.

She could feel the iron cords of strength in the arms holding her fast to his side. If he turned out to be the kind of guy who enjoyed hurting a woman, there wasn’t a thing she could do to stop him.

Wouldn’t that just add insult to injury?

No family.

No Christmas plans.

And now this? Attacked in a deserted alleyway and left for dead? The way her luck had been running she’d end up half-buried by snow before anyone found and rescued her.

He must have read the building panic in her eyes.

“The sidewalk’s icy through here,” he said, his voice so damnably calm and reasonable. “If I let go of your arms right now, you’ll slip. Hold on.”

True to his word, he released her as soon as her feet hit solid concrete.

“Let me buy you a coffee.” He gestured over at a corner coffee shop. “I don’t know about you, but I’m frozen to the bone.” He smiled as he shivered. The expression softened his hard-edged features.

The curve to his lips made Holly’s heart thump in her chest.

What was one coffee? Holly wanted to say yes. But he was a stranger. An unknown.

And he’d made heart thumped in her chest just by smiling at her. Her heart shouldn’t be doing that...not for him...not for anybody.

She’d learned the hard way that unknowns and strange men were dangerous.

Very few people liked Holly. She’d been told more than once that she put out a vibe that made others...uncomfortable and sometimes downright mean. Even Priscilla had seemed to bristle at the thought of inviting Holly to spend Christmas with her family.

“No, no thank you.” Holly hugged her arms to her chest and her thudding heart and hurried on down the street. “I’m going out of town for the holidays. I need to get home and pack.”

She glanced back. The man hadn’t moved. He still was standing in the middle of the sidewalk, watching her. His overcoat rippled in the wind.

There was something eerie about him. In the dim light, it looked almost as if he had a strange blue glow about him. He’d unsettled her in a way that made her both excited and anxious.

That night, she tossed in her bed unable to tear her thoughts away from that handsome, mysterious man who’d protected her from the ice and wind...and the way he had made her feel.

 

* * * *

 

“I don’t understand.” Detective Newton shook his head as he stared down at the body of a young woman. Ice crystals had formed on her eyelashes. A light sprinkling of snow had covered her body. She reminded him of a storybook, fairytale princess cursed with a spell and waiting for a magical kiss to revive her.

“Damn. Just before the holidays. No family should have to be faced with this.” She couldn’t have been much above twenty. She was dressed well, too. Looked healthy. Alive.

But she wasn’t.

“She was murdered,” Hadrian Graham said as he dipped under the crime scene tape to stand next to Newton. It was a calm declaration. Like saying there would be snow today. Or that Newton’s wife would burn yet another meal.

“You have ice in your veins?” Newton ground out. “Damn it, look at her. She was in the prime of her life. She has a family who will grieve her. She matters! How can you be so cold about her death?”

Hadrian shrugged. “I have to be.”

Newton swiped his mouth with the back of his hand and took a deep breath. He should know better than to let an enigma like Hadrian push his buttons. None of the cops on the force understood Hadrian’s role with the city. Nor did they understand why he’d show up at certain crime scenes and not others. But Hadrian had the blessing of the mayor, so his presence was...tolerated. Captain’s orders.

Personally, Newton thought there was something fishy about Hadrian. He didn’t like how the guy lurked around an official investigation, giving hints about a crime or murderer, but never any direct answers.

Was he connected with the mob? No. He never showed up to mob hits. He only appeared at crime scenes where something just felt...off. The kind that made Newton think thousands of spiders were crawling up and down the back of his neck. Crime scenes just like this one.

Sometimes Hadrian helped the police make an arrest. More often though, the case would be closed, labeled unsolved. What the hell was up with that? Why close an unsolved case, unless there was something else going on behind the scenes. It stank, and it made Newton edgy as hell to be in charge of yet another case where Hadrian was involved.

“How can you be so sure it was murder?” Newton demanded. “There’s not a damned mark on her that we can see. This could be a drug overdose. Or even a freaking heart attack.”

Hadrian tucked his hands into his coat pocket and dipped back under the bright yellow police line.

“She’s the first,” he warned as he walked away.

“Meaning what?” Newton shouted after the bastard. “That there will be others?”

Chapter Two

 

Holly greeted the next day with a grumpy mood and chilly toes. The only silver lining she could find was that it had snowed last night. Just a light sprinkling.

The blasted furnace in the building was out. Again. Her refrigerator was empty. Because that encounter with the hunky man yesterday had scrambled her brains, she’d forgotten to stop at the grocery store.

She shook the empty coffee tin over a filter, desperately hoping there’d be enough loose crumbs to brew one watery cup. There wasn’t. There wasn’t even enough coffee grounds in the bottom of the tin to turn the hot water brown.

With a huff, she stuffed her arms into her coat and headed out into the cold. She needed her coffee.

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