Note: While this story is written within the context of the Josephine Series of novels (Black, Red, and Gold), it is considered non-canon. Why non-canon? The story was written for the holiday season without intent that it should fit Josephine’s overall story arc. For this story to make any sense in the arc, it would have to take place between Black and Red. However, for it to occur during the holiday season it would have to take place between Red and Gold. Since both cannot be true, non-canon.
“I want a Christmas tree.”
Grant looked up from the sheaf of papers in his hands, one brow raised. “And I expect you want me to control the weather and guarantee you snow, as well.”
Oh, man, would that be cool. “Can we do that?”
“I’ve never known us to, but that was before you, Darling.” He dropped the papers on the blotter. He sat in state behind the giant desk in the downstairs study, dark wood half-covered by a green felt blotter, covered in turn by neat stacks of correspondence and contracts waiting for his attention. I stood on the other side, between the two antique wood-and-leather desk chairs, like the supplicant I was. “A Christmas tree.”
“Have you had one before?”
“Vampires don’t celebrate Christmas.”
I waved that away. “Lame. Everyone should celebrate Christmas. Lights! Trees! Presents!” My eyes may have been a little too wide and happy: I am a Christmas junkie. I had more lights than anyone else on my street in Denver, and I bought more every year. I spent most of November planning my decorations and hanging lights. I’d only missed one year since moving: last year, when vampires had shown up on my doorstep and installed me as a mistress. I refused to miss two in a row. Especially now that I could blow thousands on lighting up the whole covenhouse.
“And what, pray, is the point?”
“You can’t expect that the birth of Christ means much to those of us who, upon our theoretical deaths, will surely never see him?”
Another wave. “I don’t mean religious Christmas. I mean, you know, American Christmas. Carols and sleigh rides and disgusting displays of capitalism.”
“As if all this is not enough capitalism.” He leaned back in his chair, crossed his legs. I bounced on the balls of my feet, feeling the last minutes of November tick away in a manner I was loath to lose to immortality. “What is this really about?”
I went still. “What do you mean?”
“I mean, it seems very human to want to mark such passage of time. To celebrate.”
“Is that a bad thing?”
“It can be argued it’s inadvisable.”
“Can be argued?”
“Fine, then. It’s inadvisable. You’re not human: you need to let go of its trappings.”
“Like jobs and mistresses and money and houses?”
“I only asked for a tree.”
“You didn’t ask for anything. You walked in here and demanded.”
“Technically, I could just have bought one and set it up without saying anything. It’s my house, too.”
“But it’s some sort of courtesy to me to interrupt my day and start an argument?”
“I didn’t start an argument.” But I will fucking continue one until I win. I crossed my arms under my breasts and clenched my teeth.
I hadn’t started any of the arguments lately, but I had continued plenty. Grant seemed crankier than usual. But since he didn’t tell me shit, I couldn’t help, and wouldn’t suffer his bad moods. I’d thought he’d appreciate being consulted about a tree. My mistake.
“Do what you like.” He leaned forward and picked up his papers again. “It should hardly matter to me.”
Yes it fucking should, I thought, but kept silent. I wasn’t going to Grinch it up with him before December had even started.
“Was there something else?”
Well, I’d had this lovely idea that he’d tell me to buy anything I wanted with a smile on his face, and then I could lock the doors and distract him from work all over that giant desk, but I was hardly in the mood now.
“No,” I said, and knew I sounded sullen.
“Then I’ll see you at dawn.”
I left the room, shutting the door behind me just slightly harder than necessary. Slamming, while satisfying, triggered an instant lecture about the value of appearances in vampire culture and the decorum expected of a covenmistress.
But I wasn’t going to let Grant spoil my Christmas cheer. I hummed “Let It Snow” under my breath and scooted down the hall to the kitchen, tucked in the back corner of the house, to find Simmons.
He was sitting at a gleaming butcher-block table, ceramic teapot and a dainty little china cup in front of him, reading the Denver Post.
“You can get that online, you know.”
“Yes, but it’s much harder to do the crosswords.” He smiled at me as I slid through the room, inspecting the appliances and tools I’d never use. Shame. I’d loved to cook. “What do you need, Madam?”
“Do we have a truck? Like a pickup, or an SUV with a luggage rack?”
“Mr. Black said you can have your tree.”
“Mr. Black said he doesn’t care.”
Something slid over his face, some incredibly brief moment of surprise or something close to it. It was gone before even I could recognize it. “We have a pickup truck and an SUV, but they’re usually only driven by the staff.” Translation: there will be fast food bags and empty soda bottles all over them, because we don’t care if they’re detailed once a month.
I shrugged. “That’s fine. Will you bring the truck up front for me in ten minutes? I need to throw on some jeans and boots.”
“Of course, Madam.”
We both pulled a face. “Never mind,” I said. Someday. Someday I will train him to call me anything but ‘Madam’.
I went upstairs to stare at my clothes. I know I said I’d change, but in my world, you don’t wear designer clothes and four-hundred-dollar faux riding boots to pick out a Christmas tree – and that’s all I had. Expensive jeans, smart little blouses and blazers that I’d had to have fitted precisely, a pair of gorgeous boots that I was afraid to wear. Hell, I was afraid to wear all of it, and I didn’t even have the thrice-daily opportunity to dribble something down my front anymore. I just wanted my Old Navy jeans and my Wal-Mart cardigans, wanted to look schlumpy and normal. I heard Grant’s voice in my head again: decorum, appearance, Covenmistress. I grumbled my way into something a nighttime soap star would wear to a Christmas-tree-shopping scene and ran a comb through my hair.
I was scribbling a shopping list and waiting for Simmons to fetch my purse when a cherry-red Ford F-150 pulled up, slightly dusty, in the circular drive in front of the house. It was a pretty truck, but the twenty-something cowboy who slid out of the driver’s seat and came around to hand me the keys was prettier. I stared; I was hungry.
“Ms. Black?” He jogged up the steps and handed me the keys. “I tried to clean out most of the crap we leave in there. Mr. Simmons said you might want me to go with you? To carry the tree?”
Oh, I could think of about a million things I’d rather he do than carry a tree. He was just under six feet – a kissable height – one of those long, lanky, wiry men who look like nothing until you touch them and realize it’s all muscle. Dusty blue jeans, big old belt buckle, spotless white tee shirt. Staring at me from a sun-weathered face and faded blue eyes, lips half-smiling.
I really need to eat before I leave my room.
“Phina,” I said, and had to clear my throat. “Call me Phina, please.”
He nodded. “Jim.”
“Madam,” said Simmons behind me, and I jumped. He raised a brow at me, but said nothing, just handed me an olive-green hobo bag I’d never seen before.
“Thanks.” I started toward the truck.
“When will you return, if Mr. Black asks?”
I made a face. “Before dawn.” He wouldn’t ask. Simmons just wanted to remind me to behave myself and not eat the help. Killjoy. “I’m driving, Jim. Let’s go.”
I sprayed gravel getting out of the driveway.
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