Eliot Spencer stretched languidly in the middle of his king-sized bed. He felt a twinge in his chest at the emptiness of the bed, but was glad to be back in his own territory.
Their Thanksgiving dinner marked Leverage International’s second anniversary without Nate and Sophie, and an extended visit by Eliot’s sister and her family. The elimination of another company from the Black Book was the icing on the cake.
Slipping out into the frosty December dawn, Eliot shifted from gray sweats to silver fur in the time it took to blink, and set off to out run his melancholy. Spirits lifted and assured his territory’s border was secure, he returned home.
Parker watched out the window of her and Alec’s suite, encompassing the top floor of Eliot’s historic farmhouse. She smiled when she saw the silver wolf trotting toward the entrance to his suite. That meant she had time to give Hardison a workout before breakfast. With a devilish glint in dark blue eyes, the blonde Fae slipped back under the covers.
Showered and dressed, Eliot began assembling ingredients for breakfast. While his hands worked, Eliot thought about the changes in his life since Nate and Sophie sailed off into the sunset.
Not comfortable with Sterling knowing not only where their office was located, but also where they lived, Eliot convinced Parker and Hardison to move. He suggested staying at his Farm Sanctuary, a few miles outside Annapolis, Maryland, while they investigated their possibilities. Slipping information on a building he owned situated across from the Maryland State House into Hardison’s search, Eliot sat back and waited.
While they were busy setting up their new offices in Annapolis, Sheena and Davin had moved into the farm manager’s house, and settled Eliot into their former suite that was once been the 1830’s farmhouse’s out-kitchen. When informed of the move, Eliot withdrew behind a wall of silence until Sheena told him she was pregnant, so they needed more room. The retrievalist’s face thawed into a wide smile.
This was 14-month-old, Iona LaFae’s first Christmas where her joy and awe infected the adults in the household. They were also run ragged making sure everything was out of curious toddler reach. If last year was a foretelling, Eliot expected Parker to be out of her mind decorating. Parker considered it job to teach Iona, her little sister, all about Christmas. She thought of it as repaying Sheena and Davin for teaching the thief what it meant to be Fae.
It had been an instinctive reaction when Parker first manifested any of her Fae abilities. Hardison had missed a guard during one of their jobs. Alec had yelled for her to get out, but she had nowhere to go. When the guard came around the corner, Parker had disappeared off the cameras. She was still working on using the ability when she wasn’t in a panic. Sheena explained all Aos Sí could summon a feth feadh (cloak of concealment). The thief merely needed to practice until it became second nature.
The team had thought her mechanical aptitude was something she learned during her stint as a car thief, but it turned out to be another innate talent. When Parker declared, she must be a Tinkerbell Fae, Sheena exchanged a look with Davin. Eliot growled as the thief twirled through the kitchen. That a Fae child would compare herself to a Disney character made the Elder Fae want to track down Parker’s parents and smack them into a past life.
Sheena and Davin were members of the Seelie Summer Court, but were beginning to suspect Parker’s parents were one of the couples that crossed Court lines ... Perhaps a Summer and an Autumn. That would explain her being solitary, and the possibility that her parents’ deaths had not been an accident … Though they only shared that thought with Eliot.
A few days after Eliot’s sister, Rhiannon and her family had arrived for their first Christmas together since Rhianna left Oklahoma for her adept training in Scotland … Sheena talked with the mage about finding a teacher for Parker. She was worried because whoever mentored Parker was going to be challenged because of her age and distrust of strangers. The thief had been solitary all her life, but created a family group with Eliot and Alec. As the two men had already discovered, it made Parker fascinating and scary all bundled in a highly intelligent young woman.
That thought led her mind to Walter Black Dog … Surrogate parent to Eliot and Rhiannon … Walter was a Guardian. He’d helped Eliot with his shifter and mage abilities when Eliot’s brother-in-law, Seamus, chased him from his adept studies in Scotland because he feared Alpha Eliot, would issue a challenge for Lairdship of the Elliot Clan. An added bonus was Parker loved the Elder Guardian. It was time the Elder came to visit his adopted children. With a smile, she made travel arrangements before dialing Walter’s number.
Parker lifted her head from examining a box of Christmas decorations Eliot and Hardison brought out of storage. Eliot had made it clear the farmhouse was her home, and to do whatever she wanted with the decorations.
She had been so excited about having a home, and learning how to be Aos Sí, she’d almost lost touch with her boys. Hardison took Parker seriously when she’d told him their relationship wasn’t going to be normal. The past two years had matured the hacker without dampening his geekiness. He had stepped up to carry the burden of keeping Parker grounded until she found her feet both as a mastermind in a relationship, and as Fae. They both thanked all the Powers everyday they had Eliot supporting them both.
Now, it was Eliot worrying both Parker and Hardison. As absorbed as Alec was with their new home, offices, and Parker … Even he noticed they were only seeing the shifter/mage at work or meals. When they questioned Sheena or Davin, the Fae caretakers informed them that they weren’t to be knowing Himself’s business. Seeing the mulish expression on the youngsters’ faces, Sheena unbent enough to remind them that Eliot was the Lead Hunter for The Gwydion.
“Elyat has others he can call upon if he needs assistance for his Rogue hunts.” Davin assured them.
On several occasions, the couple had been surprised to find Quinn sitting at the kitchen table drinking coffee when they came down for breakfast. The last time had been on Thanksgiving. Watching the thief at Eliot’s traditional dinner, Hardison saw that crazy light in Parker’s eyes that made him want to hide out at the office as she watched the two retrieval specialists.
“Woman, you can’t go gettin’ in Eliot’s private business.” Hardison insisted.
“We’re family. Of course, we can.” Parker insisted. “Everyone has somebody. Shouldn’t Eliot have someone, too?” She pouted.
Hardison knew he couldn’t win, but he had to try. He really, really, didn’t want Eliot to stop cooking for them. Sheena was good, but their hitter was better.
“Eliot is perfectly capable of finding a date.”
“I don’t want him to date … I want him to be like us.”
“You realize he can’t just go out with normal people?” Alec wanted to bite his tongue the minute the words left his mouth.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” A storm gathered in the dark blue eyes.
Feeling the temperature in the room dropping gave the hacker a whole new meaning for getting the cold shoulder.
“What’s wrong with not normal people?”
“Nothin’, Baby, but Eliot needs someone special … Like you … Except furrier.”
“Quinn is furrier. Remember when he worked with the us, but not us? Quinn curled up with Eliot when they shifted to their wolf skin.” Parker’s eyes lit up.
“What if Quinn has someone?” Alec was glad the room was getting warmer. He was going to have to warn Eliot.
She glared at Hardison … Then glared at his computer.
“What!?” Alec didn’t like what he thought she was thinking. She flapped her hands in a typing motion.
“Type. Find out.”
“You do realize how dangerous it is to go poking into the business of two of the world’s nastiest retrieval specialists?” Hardison tried to reason.
“Pfff, silly. They won’t hurt us.”
“Human, here, Mama. He might stop feeding me.”
“Sheena won’t let that happen.”
The hacker hung his head in defeat. He didn’t know why he kept trying to win these arguments with Parker. Logic and physical peril just didn’t work on her. He started to type.
It was tradition at Leverage, in all its carnations, to not work from Halloween until New Year’s, so Eliot invited his sister, Rhiannon, and her family to the Farm for the holidays. Maeva and Eirnin were enamored with toddler, Iona, easing the worries of their parents. Parker dragged Hardison away from his electronics to help her decorate and play with the kids … Eliot was glad to have all his family close for the holidays. In the midst of planning his Christmas menus, Eliot’s phone sang out Quinn’s ringtone.
‘I need The Elyat here ten minutes ago.’ An out of breath Quinn panted into his phone. Sharp ears listened to the background sounds.
“What’s up? You okay?”
‘Safe for the moment. Someone watched Hansel and Gretel too many times.’
“I’m your huckleberry. Let me warn Sheena.”
He found Sheena on the patio watching the children play in the fallen leaves.
“I have to leave.” He was blunt.
“Now?” She frowned.
“Now. We may have extra visitors for the dinner. I left a shopping list that takes that in consideration. Take care of everyone. I’m not sure how long this will take, but shouldn’t be later than Monday.”
“Ye ne’er have to worry. Davin and I’ll keep yer hearth warm.” She gave him a quick hug. “Ye be takin’ care of yerself … Both of you.”
“Always.” He gave her a peck on the cheek before disappearing into his workshop.
Gearing up for enemies mundane and Old Race, Eliot touched the silver pendant that rested over his heart while reciting a teleportation spell. Sheena wasn’t surprised when Rhiannon appeared on the patio.
“What’s happened?” She asked the Fae.
“Himself’s not be tellin’ me his business other than we may have extra guests about Monday.”
“Typical.” Rhiannon snorted as she watched the children.
“Tuesday be a Full Moon.” Sheena dropped that tidbit.
“Aye.” Pale green eyes turned to the mage. “Black Dog be arrivin’ this afternoon.”
Rhiannon frowned at the petite woman. She had not seen the Elder Guardian since she left the United States for her adept training. She was grateful for Walter becoming their Guardian after the death of their parents, and he had not been shy with his opinions when she didn’t embrace the shape shifting and shamanistic gifts from her Cherokee father.
The Elder had also not been shy with his disapproval when Eliot left his adept schooling because of Seamus’ fear that the younger Alpha wanted his place as The Gwydion. Rhiannon carried her own guilt over that, and using her baby brother’s retrieval specialist skills to enrich the depleted coffers of Clan Elliot increased the size of that guilt.
With a sigh, she gathered her children to clean up for lunch, and mentally prepared herself for spending time with the man Eliot considered his Grandfather. Rhiannon was sure the old man would have a lot to say about her actions toward her younger brother after she married the Laird of the Elliot Clan, but she was the Lady of Clan and a Spencer … There would be no more dodging the long-delayed reunion.
The hair on the back of his neck stood on end from the magickal energy that appeared next to his resting place. In between breaths, Eliot was there. The two men rested against each other as Eliot’s senses settled.
“Remember when you came looking for me to take your place against that Dubenich dude?”
“Yeah. The warlock you retrieved the Winter Court athame for … I took him out when I found out how he was going to use the athame.”
“Seems someone on the clean-up crew may have got greedy and sold his grimoire.”
“Dammit. I hate terminatin’ people off the Cleaners. Replacin’ them’s a bitch.” Eliot sighed. “I take it you found the grimoire.”
“Who knew warlocks had groupies.” Quinn handed him a sheaf of paper.
“I wasn’t able to grab the grimoire because the one that takes care of the kids came up the stairs, but this was stuck inside. Seemed Kaskin was researching the Blood Moon ritual they used as a plot device in Hansel and Gretel. He wanted to know if there was fact in the fiction.”
Eliot cursed in several different languages as he read through the dead warlock’s writings Quinn had snatched.
“The Blood Moon was last month, and the next one’s not ‘til February.”
“Yeah. Maybe this group thinks any full moon would do.”
How many kids?”
“Six so far.”
“I think there would have been Amber Alerts squawkin’ from every TV and radio station if six kids disappeared.”
“I don’t know if it was by intention or design, but the kids are all Old Races.” Quinn rubbed his tired eyes.
“This just keeps gettin’ better.” Eliot grumbled. “All that’s missin’ is a troll.”
“Nope. Didn’t find one of those.” Quinn’s grin was unrepentant.
“Your ass.” Quinn smirked.
“So where are the kids, and where are the idiots?” Eliot pinched the bridge of his nose.
“Three are scouting for more kids. The other two are inside. I’m guessin’ they’re keepin’ them in the basement since I didn’t see any kids when I was inside, but I could hear and smell them.”
“At least one of them must have some talent. I can feel wards … Not strong ones, but they’re there.” He looked at the shifter. “How do you see this playin’ out? Do we try talkin’, or move straight to eliminatin’ the problem?” Brown eyes went wide. The Elyat was asking his opinion. “Quinn … You’re a strong Beta. A smart, experienced hunter, and the one I call when I need someone at my back. You’re the one that’s been working this job.”
Swallowing to wet his suddenly dry mouth, Quinn gave his Alpha a sheepish smile.
“I’ll be the muscle, you handle the magick users.” His smile was wide in his dusty face. “Can you get us through the wards without settin’ off the alarms? I think I saw an outside door to the basement. Then we can wait for the other three, and be home in time for dinner.”
“I’ll call the Cleaners to be on standby, and let Seamus know he needs to be doin’ an internal investigation. I’ll be taking care of any arcane items this time.”
An hour later everyone was teleported into place. Staying out of line of sight to the cabin’s windows, Eliot approached the wards around the cabin. Studying the energy for a few minutes, he reached out and opened a door through the wards without a ripple of alarm.
Quinn headed for the basement door while Eliot slipped around to the back door. Before the men could make an entrance, the sound of a vehicle approaching the cabin had Eliot cast a glamour hiding them from sight. They waited and watched.
Seamus stared at his phone even though the call had ended. He looked across the room to where his wife worked with their children. He shook his head at the blessings and chaos that the Spencer siblings had brought into his life. The blessings of the love of his mate and their children, that never should have existed because Rhiannon was an adept class mage. The chaos of Eliot Spencer … The man who relinquished his adept training when Seamus’ fear of his Alpha brother-in-law usurping his position, drove the younger man away. Eventually Eliot had returned to take on the position of Lead Hunter for The Gwydion. With this latest trouble, The Elyat had shone the light on trouble within The Gwydion’s own organization … Another debt he owed the younger Alpha. Shaking his head, he called his brother, Anson, to have his Beta start an investigation.
Eliot rolled his eyes at the three women that spilled out of the mini-van. His first thought was Stevie Nicks had a yard sale. They were taking the whole wicked witch thing way over the top. All that was missing were pointed hats. Seeing the two children lying limp in the arms of the women caused a sub-vocal growl from both shifters.
It was another twenty minutes before everyone was settled. The women sat around the table discussing where to find the final four children when Eliot slipped in the back door.
“Evenin’, Ladies.” He drawled.
“Who the Hell are you, and how’d you get in here?” A slim grey-haired woman jumped to her feet to confront the intruder.
“My name’s not important, at the moment. What’s important is the nasty rumors I’ve been hearing about this place.”
“Busybodies that can’t tolerate those who are different.” Her tone became sweet. “How were you able to approach the house. We had a few safeguards in place to alert us of trespassers.”
“Hmm … Didn’t notice.” He did see the purloined grimoire beside the woman’s left hand. “Interestin’ choice of readin’ materials. A friend of mine had the same book disappear from his home.” Eliot tuned his hearing to Quinn’s movements in the basement.
“Who are you?!” A blonde barely out of her teens jumped up.
“Ashley!” The elder hissed. “Mind your manners.”
“Sorry.” She sank back in her chair.
“I purchased the book from a supposedly reputable book dealer. I had no way of knowing it was stolen.” She practically purred. “If you would allow me to complete my research, I will be more than happy to return the book to its rightful owner, and give you the name of the seller.”
“I’m afraid that’s not going to be possible, ma’am.” Eliot straightened as he noticed her beginning to gather energy. “After looking into those rumors, and seeing that particular book in your possession, I should probably tell you who I am.” His smile was nasty.
“Why would who you are matter? This is private property, you have no authority here.” A brunette to the elder’s left snapped.
“Because …” He paused until he had everyone’s attention. “I am The Elyat. I am the Lead Hunter for The Gwydion.”
Eliot watched their reaction to the titles. Four faces looked confused. The anger in their leader’s face told him she knew what the titles meant.
“You won’t ruin this!” She threw the energy she gathered.
Easily catching the energy, Eliot gave the woman a nasty smile before returning the energy she sent. The more amplified and condensed energy struck her third eye, causing the witch to drop to the floor … Unconscious.
“Y’all put your hands behind your back, and you won’t end up like your lackwit leader.” Eliot drawled.
All five women were soon restrained with zip ties and a touch of magick to make sure they couldn’t release each other. Gathering the grimoire and several other items, he shoved them in the pockets of his vest. He found the door to the basement, and hurried down the steps to check on Quinn progress with the kids.
“Quinn?” He called out quietly.
“Eliot! The locks are spelled.” He sounded frustrated.
The shifters could smell the fear coming from the imprisoned children.
“Okay, everybody … This is my Alpha Eliot. He’s one of the good guys and knows how to do the magick to open your cages.” Quinn tried to reassure the children.
“Hey there. Give me a minute, and we’ll get you some place safe.” He soothed before turning to his Beta. “The ladies are taken care of so we have time. Bring in the Cleaners.” He moved to study the locks.
Watching his Alpha for a minute with a soft smile on his face, Quinn climbed the stairs to oversee the clean-up crew, and ease one burden off the shoulders of The Elyat.
Rhiannon and Parker ran from the house to meet Sheena and Davin coming from their home with Iona strapped to Davin’s chest. Seamus and Hardison followed the magick users, curious about why they ran from the house. The Gwydion prepared to shift if there proved to be danger. He was sure Eliot would kill him if something happened to the family while he had the watch.
They watched as figures began to appear in a cloud of blue/white energy. When the light cleared … Eliot and Quinn stood with eight children hanging on them like spider monkeys. Parker and Alec stood transfixed, but when Rhiannon and Sheena started forward, the children pressed closer to their rescuers.
“Everybody stop.” Eliot growled. “Y’all’s a little overwhelming to the little ones.” He squatted down to child level. “This is my family. The pretty lady with hair like a crow’s wing is my big sister, Rhiannon. She’s a badass mage that won’t let anything happen to you. The big homely red-head is her husband, Seamus. Some people call him The Gwydion.” That got a gasp from the children. “The pretty red-haired lady with the plain lookin’ guy holdin’ the pretty little girl, are Sheena and Davin LaFae. The blonde lady with the big eyes is Parker. She just found out she’s a Fae, so you might be able to teach her stuff she didn’t learn when she was your age, and the goofy lookin’ guy next to her is Alec. He’s Human, but he’s a wizard with anything electronic. Now, are you ready to go inside … Get cleaned up, then we’ll have food and hot chocolate while we call your parents … Okay?”
When the kids all nodded. Quinn stepped forward.
“How about all the girls go with Rhiannon, Sheena and Parker. The boys can hang with us. I’m sure all these grownup mages can whip up clothes to fit y’all.” He looked between Rhiannon and Eliot.
Eliot looked down when someone tugged on his jeans.
“This your house Mr. El?”
“Okay, then.” He gathered the three other boys to him. “We’re ready.” He looked up at Quinn.
“Alrighty then. Use your shower?” He looked at Eliot.
Eliot nodded as he handed the toddler to Sheena. The women gathered up the five girls.
“We’ll be in the mud room shower. Parker gather some towels.”
“Oh … Me.” The thief still looked shell shocked. “Okay. Hardison! Help Quinn.” She smacked the hacker on the arm.
“Yeah … Towels … Right.” He followed the blonde into the house.
“Iona and Maeve should have some things we can use or resize. I’ve got some stuff that should work for the boys.” Eliot moved to follow the others. “Rhiannon … the kids are Fae and shifters. You need to put out a call … See who answers. Seamus … Davin, after baths you can see what information you can get from the kids while I put supper together. Hardison can help with any computer stuff you need.”
Seamus stared at his wife and Davin after Eliot disappeared into one of the outbuildings. The two laughed at the befuddled Clan Leader.
“What was that?”
“Eliot on a mission.” Davin chuckled.
“Thank the Gods he didn’t accept my challenge. I wouldn’t have stood a chance.” Seamus grumbled as his wife laughed.
“Usually he’s in your territory. Here, you’re in his.” Rhiannon reminded. “Guess we better get busy before he comes back and wants to know why we’re standing around flapping our gums.”
Before following the men into the house, Rhiannon wove a spell into the aether to follow the connections the children had to their parents. It was turning out to be a very interesting holiday with her brother.
Dinner was simple soup and grilled cheese sandwiches, though with Eliot there was nothing simple about either. Tables and chairs were pushed to the edges of the thick carpet in the living room where sleeping mats, quilts and pillows were spread across the floor. Four shifter cubs were curled up with two Fae, a Morlock, and a Zenko Kitsune. In the middle of the mix were Iona, Maeve and Eirnan.
It was into that chaos Davin brought Walter Black Dog. Davin had headed to the Baltimore Washington airport to pick up the Guardian as soon as the last child was bathed and clothed. Parker, Hardison, and Eliot greeted the Elder before returning to trying to get the children settled for the night.
Sheena moved in to show Black Dog to his room. The Elder freshened up while going in search of coffee and an explanation. He’d gotten his coffee, and some concoction of Eliot’s to ease his hunger when Seamus’ phone began to ring, and the children were up and chattering once again. It took another hour before the phone calls stopped and all the children had talked to their parents … All but the Kitsune kit. No one had yet to call after the small girl that clung to Eliot like a spider monkey.
“Hardison, can you find where they snatched Kukiko?” The hacker settled on the couch next to Eliot.
“I can find anybody.” Alec grinned at the little girl. “Name?”
“Kukiko Tani. She remembers traveling a long time on an airplane. They drove to a big white house where they met her Uncle Kin and a woman she didn’t know, but her mother and father were very happy. She slept three times. During the last time, she went to sleep there were loud noises, and the brunette witch grabbed her, then they drove in the car until it was daytime.”
The adults in the room stared at Eliot. “What? She thinks I’m like her Uncle Kin … except I have very distinct eyes.” The hitter ducked his head.
The adults laughed as the excitement of talking to their parents wore off, and exhaustion had the kids curling up in their makeshift beds. Calloused fingers ran soothingly across Eliot’s nape as Quinn followed Sheena to the kitchen for the next round of refreshments. He didn’t see the wide eyes of the team’s thief watching his actions. By the time, Quinn and Sheena returned to the living room, Hardison was ready for show and tell.
“Ayaka and Masa Tani flew into Reagan International three weeks ago.” Pictures of the family’s passports appeared. “Kin Tani works at the Japanese Embassy in the cultural affairs office. The Tanis met Kin, and his fiancé, Gen Hayata …” More pictures appeared. “At the Embassy before they checked into ...” Another picture. “The Embassy Row Hotel. The fourth day of their stay, the couple was attacked and their daughter disappeared. The reason there’s no Amber Alert is because the Embassy wants to keep it on the down low since Kukiko is Old Races. Her parents are being discharged from the hospital tomorrow.”
Seamus Elliot watched dumbfounded at what he was seeing. This was the first time he truly saw and understood what it took to be The Gwydion’s Lead Hunter. Part of him was horrified at how easily Alec Hardison cut through electronic information to find Kukiko’s family … While the other half was happy for her and her parents.
“Were your little crawlers watchin’ my phone when I went after Quinn?” Eliot arched an eyebrow at the younger man.
“I wouldn’t … Have you ever known me …” Hardison stopped stuttering as Eliot continued to glare. “Okay … So maybe I know your phone was some place called Lost River, West Virginia.” He tried to look sheepish, but gave Eliot a full smile.
“Yeah … Yeah … You did good … This time.” He turned his attention to his brother-in-law. “Seamus, you get a report from the Cleaners with IDs on those women, etc. … etc.?”
Seamus shook himself out of his stupor at the speed things were happening while staring at the nine-tailed fox sleeping on Eliot’s lap. He pulled his phone out of his pocket.
“I did, but it’s a raw draft.”
“If I may?” Alec looked at the Scottish Laird for permission.
“Fix me up something official looking with the facts. That all the children were recovered unharmed and in the custody of The Gwydion and The Elyat. Oh, I need a phone number for Kin.”
“You got it, El.” Eliot turned his attention to Seamus. “I hope you brought your kilt.” He snickered.
By the time the report was ready for Eliot and Seamus’ signature, Eliot was deeply exhausted. He tucked the little fox in her blankets, and turned for his own room to see Quinn and Black Dog watching him from the couch.
“E-du-di (Grandfather), I’m sorry I haven’t properly welcomed you into my home.”
“Do not worry yourself, U-l-isi-a-tsu-tsa (Grandson). Your family has welcomed me, and I have enjoyed my time with Parker and the little ones. I was even able to corner your sister for a long overdue reunion. I look forward to meeting her children.” The older man chuckled as he hugged the mage/shifter.
“I should be cross with Sheena for not telling me you were coming. I hope you’ll be staying for a while.”
“It will be my pleasure to spend the end of the year in your home with your family and U-na-li-go-hi (Mate).” Black Dog winked at Quinn, who blushed. “Now, it’s time for this old man to find his bed. Good night, Boys.”
Securing the house, the retrieval specialists headed for their own bed.
In the top floor of the historic farmhouse, Parker thought about all the times she had seen Eliot and Quinn together. They had curled together when they lived in the tunnels under Portland … Sophie said Quinn stood with Eliot when he wanted to shoot Dubenich. Quinn called Eliot to help with the kids … She started to slip out of bed … She just wanted to see where Quinn was sleeping when there was a tug on her shirt.
“Go to sleep, Parker. You’ll piss Eliot off if you wake the kids.” Hardison grumbled.
“You’re no fun.”
“I don’t want a pissed off Eliot making my Christmas goodies.”
“I think we should steal Quinn, and give him to Eliot for Christmas.”
“Woman, you can’t give someone a person for Christmas.”
“But … Sheena gave us Walter for Christmas.”
“Not the same. Figure out another present. Quinn’s pack might not like you stealing one of their members.”
“What if he wants us to steal him?”
“Just invite the man to stay for the Christmas.”
“That’s no fun.”
“Sneaky wolf … Check.”
Eliot came awake fast when he couldn’t move his legs. Opening his eyes just enough to look through the screen of his lashes, he saw the three Fae, two wolf cubs, a lynx, cougar, and fox kit sprawled between him and Quinn, and across their legs. That the little rascals hadn’t disturbed their sleep spoke to the depth of their exhaustion. Slipping out of bed, he grabbed a shower in the mud room so his charges would continue to sleep, then headed for the kitchen.
Breakfast was a rowdy affair served buffet style with Eliot wearing Kukiko around his shoulders like a fox stole. When he sat down to eat, she shifted and sat on his lap. Iona, Maeve, and Eirnan were thrilled with their new playmates.
Leaving breakfast clean-up to the rest of the family, Eliot took Kukiko to his office, and called the number Hardison had found for her Uncle Kin. After explaining who he was and how he came to have Kukiko, he let the four-year-old talk to her uncle and parents. By the time they ended the call, they had made arrangements to meet Kukiko’s parents and uncle the next afternoon. Business taken care of, Eliot and his fox collar headed out to join the others.
Quinn was about to smack Hardison just so Parker would have something else to occupy her time. She moved between playing with the children to appearing under his nose and scaring the crap out of him. It was to the point where he was about to tell Eliot he was going to a hotel.
“Parker!” He ground out. “What are you doing?”
“Making sure you feel included so you’ll stay here for the Christmas.”
“Why didn’t you just say that instead of jumping out at me like a demented quail?”
“Oh. Okay. Now you can’t leave until after New Year’s.”
“I what?” His voice started to raise.
“Walter’s here. You have to stay, too.” She bounced back over to the kids.
“Told you she ain’t right.” A warm voice tickled his ear.
“What’s she up to?”
“I think she’s trying to steal you.”
“I think you’re my Christmas present.”
“They don’t know about us.”
Eliot’s chuckle was nasty as he shifted into wolf form and joined in the fun.
Eliot and Sheena had finished setting up a dinner buffet when parents started arriving. Since the Farm was set up as a sanctuary, and all the children were of the Old Races, Eliot had no qualms with their parents coming to pick them up. As The Gwydion and his Lady, Seamus and Rhiannon were kept busy by their roles as Council leaders until everyone was gone except Kukiko.
The next day, Quinn caught a ride to Washington with Eliot, Seamus, and Kukiko. He needed to get back to his client, and collect his fee. He had some hard truths for the wealthy father of the little blonde witch that had gotten in over her head.
With Seamus in full regalia, and Kukiko wrapped in his tartan to protect her from the heavy mist falling in the Nation’s capital, The Gwydion and The Elyat presented themselves at the gates of the Japanese Embassy at 2pm. They were led into a comfortable meeting room where a couple still, showing signs of their assault, waited with another man they assumed to be Uncle Kin.
Setting the little girl on her feet, Eliot warned her to be careful with her parents. Hugging Eliot-san’s neck tightly, she ran to her mother. Waiting for the reunion to calm down, Eliot and Seamus explained what happened after Kukiko was taken. By the end of their meeting, the Tanis had the contact information for the Farm should they want to make use of the sanctuary.
The men were ambushed by Parker as soon as they stepped through the door.
Seamus dodged around the blonde, leaving Eliot to her tender mercies. Eliot muscled past her to the kitchen.
“He had to collect his payday.”
“Is he coming back?”
Eliot shrugged as he put the kettle on for tea.
“He’s a big boy. He knows he’s always welcome, or was there some other reason he was supposed to come back?” He fought not to grin.
“No reason. I just thought he was spending Christmas with us.”
“I guess if his schedule clears … He might be here.”
“We could steal him.” She sounded hopeful.
“You can’t interfere with a man’s livelihood, Parker. He good at what he does, but he doesn’t have a Hardison to take care of his money like we do. Why are you so concerned about Quinn?”
“No reason. It’s Christmas, and we’re family.”
“I’m sure he’ll do the best he can to be here. He may have his own family to visit for Christmas. Don’t you have some more decorations to find. I’m sure Walter would be glad to help.”
“Good idea.” Parker skipped into the main part of the house. “WALTER!” She shouted.
Black Dog moved out of the pantry.
“You are an evil man, Eliot Spencer.” He chuckled.
“I have to keep her occupied somehow while we’re not working. A bored Parker is a dangerous Parker.” Eliot savored his tea. “You can take the back stairs so she won’t know you were hiding from her in the pantry.”
Eliot settled in the sunroom with his pot of tea and book. Sheena and Rhiannon were responsible for dinner, and he intended to relax for a few hours.
“You’ve made yourself a real family.” Rhiannon said as she plopped Maeve in his lap. “Watch your niece while I help Sheena. I think Maeve and Iona were jealous of your little fox.”
Eliot chuckled as the toddler grabbed his pendant.
“It was probably because only Quinn and I spoke Japanese.”
Rhiannon bit her lip as her expression turned serious.
“Eliot … “
“We can’t change the past, Sis. Don’t tie yourself in knots over it … I don’t. I could have said, No.” He turned back to the little girl, who was definitely her mother’s daughter. “You’re family’s welcome in my home anytime … Anywhere.”
She knew her brother would never say no to his family, so she kissed him on the cheek before escaping to the kitchen.
“Did you find him?”
“Was I supposed to looking for Quinn?”
“I need to know where to steal him from so he’ll be here for Christmas.”
“I’m not tracking down a man that can hurt me in new and inventive ways because you can’t figure out what to get Eliot for Christmas. Besides, I thought we were only getting gifts for the kids.”
“They were easy. I want Eliot to not be alone.”
“What’s funny about Eliot being alone.” The air around him started to heat.
“Nothin’, Parker. You’re just doin’ somethin’ normal folks do.”
“Oh?” The heat stopped.
“Yeah. You’re in a relationship, and now you want everyone around you to be in one, too.”
“If you won’t find Quinn, at least tell him he needs to be home before Christmas.”
“He probably has a home pack that’s not us.” Looking around for something to change the subject, he noticed for all the decorations around the house, there was no tree. “When are we gettin’ the tree?”
“Eliot says we’re going to decorate the tree on Christmas Eve after the kids go to bed.”
“I don’t see any stockings on the fireplace.” He watched out the corner of his eye for Parker’s reaction.
“Oh. We’ve never had a fireplace before except the one in that ugly house you had in Los Angeles with some of the toilets ripped out.” She rushed from the room. Just as Alec relaxed, she ran back in. “We need a Yule Log.”
“I’m sure Eliot has all that under control.”
“Of course, he does.” Parker giggled as she ran up the stairs. “Walter!” She shouted as she got to the second floor.
Alec went back to the project he was working on for The Elyat. When Eliot discovered someone on the Cleaners crews was selling artifacts and arcane objects they confiscated after the Hunters killed or captured whatever Rogue they were hunting, he asked him to run checks on everyone … Hunters and Cleaners included.
Remembering hard learned lessons of the past, Alec made sure to dig as far as back as far as possible. With the Old Races it was a challenge since they were so long lived, and tended to change identities every 50 or 60 years. It helped that Eliot gave him the known aliases for both groups.
While his webcrawlers did their work, he went looking for whatever Sheena made for lunch. Catching movement outside, he saw Parker and Walter stop to grab up Iona and Eirnan on their way to the storage shed. Alec felt like his chest would burst with his feelings as he watched Parker’s patience with the children.
Some days it bothered him that everyone around him would still be going strong long after age took its toll on his body, but on days like this, he wouldn’t trade his family of Old Races members for anything. Shaking loose of his thoughts, he collected his lunch, and headed back to the office.
Looking for something to occupy his time while he waited for the searches and finished his lunch, Hardison was surprised when a window popped up followed rapidly by two more. The hacker quickly separated out the three people while the searches continued on the others. By noon the next day, Alec called Eliot and Seamus into the office and closed the door. He handed the men the files as he got ready to run his presentation.
“I ran all the ID’s Eliot gave me for all the Hunters and Cleaners. Three fell out. Hunter Jae Min, Korean Autumn Court Fae, Cleaner Zacari Okar, hyena shifter from Benin, and Jake George, American coyote shifter.” Three pictures appeared on the LCD screen on the wall. “All three have accounts in the Caymans with some very hefty deposits that coincide with reported disappearances of certain objects.” He flashed up bank statements. “I believe Jake George was the person that sold the grimoire Eliot took off the witches. Their current locations are included in their files.”
Eliot closed the file he was reading.
“I’ll make some calls, and try to get this cleaned up before the end of the year.” He looked at Seamus. “I’ll try and make it back for Christmas.” He stood with the files.
“Eliot.” Seamus’ quiet word made the enforcer pause. “I promised my wife Christmas with her brother. I love my wife dearly … She also scares the crap out of me when she gets her back up so to keep my home life peaceful, we’ll be handing this information over to Anson. As the Clan’s Beta, he can handle this chore.”
Eliot studied his brother-in-law for a moment before he nodded his agreement.
“Give Hardison the contact information and he’ll forward everything to Scotland.”
“Good. This is the first vacation Rhiannon and I have had in ages, and I intend to relax and enjoy every minute until we get back to Newcastleton. Besides, this is your time to enjoy with your family.”
“Thanks, Man. It means a lot.”
“After all you’ve done for the Elliot Clan, it’s the least I can do. Now, go spoil your niece and nephew while Alec and I finish up this nasty business.” Seamus’ soft brogue convinced his Lead Hunter.
Giving a brief salute, to the two men … Then a glare at Hardison to behave, Eliot left the office.
“Let me say Thanks, too, Man. Eliot spends so much time taking care of us, he doesn’t always remember to take care of himself.” Hardison ducked his head. “How do I get a hold of this Anson guy?” He grinned at the Eliot Laird.
Parker was at her wits end. Christmas was two hours old, the kids were asleep, the tree was decorated, the adults were getting ready to scatter to their respective beds for a few hours sleep before the excitement of Christmas had the three kids awake with the Farm’s rooster. She still didn’t have a gift for Eliot. Alec hadn’t been able to find any electronic footprints for Quinn.
“Parker, go to sleep.” Alec coaxed.
“It’ll work out.”
“Not the way I planned.” Her bottom lip wobbled as dark blue eyes filled.
Pulling her against his chest, Hardison tried to comfort his thief.
“Ah Mama … You know a plan doesn’t always work out the way we want, but it works out. Besides, this Christmas is about bein’ with family and the kids … Plus Eliot’s Christmas dinner.” He placed a kiss on her creased forehead.
“That’s my favorite Christmas Fairie.” The hacker purred as he pulled her up on his chest.
Resting her ear against his chest, Parker let the beloved heartbeat lull her into to sleep.
For all the insulation in the walls and floors of the old farmhouse, Parker sat straight up in the bed when Eirnan yelled for his parents to get up. Before dashing into the bathroom, Parker rolled Hardison out on the floor to make sure the hacker was awake.
“Woman, what’s wrong with you?” Alec grumbled. “Just got to sleep … Ain’t no need to abusin’ a man like that …”
He continued to grumble as headed for the bathroom. Nearly run over by Parker running to the closet, the hacker finally made it to bathroom. Barely getting the pants of his ‘Christmas outfit’ pulled up before Parker was tugging him down the stairs at a breakneck pace. They were almost to the bottom of the staircase when the young couple heard the kids yelling, ‘Uncle Quinn!’.
Coming through the door of the sitting room, Parker saw her second favorite hitter on the couch leaning against her favorite hitter.
“You came!” She landed in his lap.
“Umph … Damn Parker, warn a guy.” He hugged the slim thief. “Hardison.” He acknowledged the hacker.
“Good to see ya, Man.” He grinned at Parker’s antics.
“That’s no fun.” Parker launched herself at Eliot for a drive-by hug. “I was going to steal him for you, but you beat me to it.” She whispered, being sensitive to his enhanced hearing.
“Go have fun. I’ve got something special for later.” Eliot hugged her back.
She bounced into the middle of the kids as they sat in front of the tree transfixed as they waited for the adults to get settled. Starting with the stockings hanging on the mantle, Parker and the three children soon had colorful paper, shiny bows and ribbon flying through the air as gifts were opened.
It was a Christmas day like Parker heard about from normal families. Gifts and sweets … Yule logs and mistletoe … Eggnog, wassail and hot chocolate … Too much food, a light dusting of snow on the ground … Skype calls with Archie, Nate and Sophie … Perfect.
Lying on the parlor floor enjoying the fire and the twinkling tree, she rested her head on Hardison’s stomach. Quinn was stretched out on the couch reading from his tablet when footsteps in the hall made the three sit up. Sheena and Davin brought the three children and Black Dog into the room.
The Laird and Lady of Clan Elliot, attired in the traditional dress of the Clan, entered the parlor followed by Eliot. The hitter stood quiet while Seamus directed Parker, Hardison and Quinn to be seated on the couch.
“Eliot came to me earlier in the year to request a boon from The Gwydion. As my Lead Hunter, he requested to start an offshoot of the Elliot pack in the United States. He wanted his family under The Gwydion’s protection should anything happen to him.” His face took on a soft expression as he watched the wide-eyed expressions looking at each other. His brogue drew their attention back to him. “I granted Eliot’s request for his long and arduous services not only to The Gwydion, but also to Clan Elliot.”
He turned to his wife, who stepped up to her brother with a leather wrapped bundle and five gift boxes.
“The day before we left Scotland, the documentation came from Council.” Handing him the bundle, she continued. “Inside is a charter for the Leverage Pack under the leadership of Clan Alpha Eliot Spencer. Also, as an official member of Clan Elliot by service and blood, the Laird and I present you with an Elliot Clan ancient style tartan.”
She kissed him on the cheek while she handed him five wrapped boxes. Seamus clasped his brother-in-law’s forearm in a warrior’s salute before pulling the smaller man into a hug. Offering Rhiannon his arm, the couple moved to stand with Sheena and Davin, relieving Sheena of Maeve’s weight. Picking up two of the boxes, Eliot turned to the trio on the couch.
“We’ve been together, more or less, for seven years … Hell, I know marriages that don’t last that long …” He handed a box to Parker and Hardison. “If you would like to be included in the Leverage Pack, I need you keep these on you at all times. As long as you have it with you, I’ll always be able to track you.” He paused when he heard Parker gasp.
“You got me a yellow diamond … How’d you know I didn’t have one?” She looked at him with big eyes. “Who’s Parker Bho Na? It says I belong to you.”
“You don’t belong to me … You’re with Hardison. That means you’re a member of my pack. You’re Parker Bho Na. It means Parker of the Fae. The diamond is spelled so I can always find you, and it’s embedded in the metal so it won’t fall out.”
Before he got the last word out, Parker was hanging around his neck.
“OH YEAH, Sparky! I’ll be in the pack.” She looked at Hardison. “I have a pack.”
“Looks like I do too, Lil’ Mama.” He grinned at his partners.
“Your stone’s a piece of meteorite.”
Hardison peeled Parker away to get his own hug.
“Thanks, Brother … Best Christmas present ever … Except for … ” He motioned toward Parker.
He handed Sheena and Davin each a box.
“I know y’all got your Courts, and all that … But you’ve been here …”
“We’d be honored, Elyat.” The both replied. Followed by hugs and arm clasps.
One box was left, which he handed to Quinn … Then stepped back to wait. Quinn studied the Dominican blue amber pendant, that swirled with the color of his eyes, for a long time before he picked it up to read the back. Standing, he approached his Alpha.
“I’m your huckleberry.” He pulled Eliot in for a kiss.
~ Fini ~