The White Stag is bound to grant wishes to anyone who catches him. Barely escaping from the powerful Krampus who has come after him with a wish in his heart that the Stag can’t bear to grant, he finds himself confronted by a mortal woman who has but one wish—to help him.
Divorcée Sylvia Hart has made it through her first Christmas on her own since her heart was broken. Her hard-earned peace is shattered when she discovers an enormous, injured white stag buried in the snow behind her remote cabin before New Year’s Eve. Her only thought is to help the poor beast, until he turns into a gorgeous, kind man.
Nothing can prepare Sylvia for what she will face when the Krampus comes knocking on her door looking for the White Stag. Sylvia has to make a choice—protect the Stag or protect her heart. With the White Stag’s help, can she let go of the past and learn to trust again, or will the fear that has frozen her heart keep her from ever finding love again?
“What happened to you?” she asked, trying to distract herself.
“The usual. People hunting me.”
“Do they usually run you down with bears?”
His chest stilled as he held his breath a moment, his arms tensing around her. Slowly, he relaxed. His voice was guarded as he said, “You saw the claw marks.”
She nodded. “Looked like a grizzly based on the spread. A huge one at that.”
“Are you a hunter?”
She snorted. “Hardly. I used to want to be a vet tech.”
“I got married.” She shrugged, then bunched herself deeper into the covers.
“Why would that make you stop wanting to be a vet tech?”
“I just—” She let out an exasperated sound. “We’re not talking about me. We’re talking about you.”
“So, it was a bear?” she prompted.
“A polar bear.”
She could imagine all too easily the white stag and the white bear battling it out. The stag wouldn’t stand a chance. But it wasn’t a normal fight. The stag had fallen from the sky—and not straight down. They hadn’t been running around on a cloud or some celestial landscape. From the angle and trajectory, their fight had involved flying.
“So, it could fly, too?” she asked.
Again, he stiffened. “How do you know that?”
“The trees.” She sniffed, her nose finally starting to thaw. “They were broken on the tops at an angle. I thought I was tracking down a meteor at first.”
She wasn’t sure what he meant by that, but the bitterness in his tone was clear.
“I’m sorry that people hunt you,” she said. “And I’m glad I was there tonight to help.”
He was quiet for a few moments, then he said, “Me, too.”
He tightened his embrace, almost as though he was willing his heat into her. Maybe he was, because her shivering stopped. She wiggled her toes and found that the feeling was returning to them.
“I’ve read stories about the White Stag,” she said. “But never a magical flying polar bear.”
He snorted. “You’d know him as the Krampus.”
Krampus… She’d heard that name before. It was a Christmas legend about a monster who took away naughty children and ate them. Her stomach felt like it flooded with ice and her skin prickled.
“Krampus is real?” she said, gasping.
“Oh my God. That is terrifying. Does he actually eat children?”
“What? No.” The disgust in his tone was reassuring, until he went on. “He takes them to the Yuletide Kingdom to become servants to the Winter Queen.”
“That’s not much better.”
“As someone who nearly got their head ripped off by the Krampus today, I can tell you that it is decidedly better.”
She couldn’t argue that point. “Why is he after you? Did he want a wish?”
Again, the deer-guy tensed. It was easy to tell when it happened, with how close he was holding her. This time, he sucked in a breath, too.
“They always do,” he said softly.
“I’m sorry.” She reached up and clasped the arm that was bent under her head. “That’s no way to live.”
“It’s the only thing I’ve known for… eternity. I can’t remember a time when it was different. Except for tonight.”
“Because you turned into a man?”
“Because you gave your wish to me. No one has ever done that before.”
“I wasn’t thinking,” she began.
“You were. I was confused at first, but I sensed the wishes brewing in you. When it came time to put your heart into it, all you wanted was to help me.” He nuzzled the back of her head, then pressed his forehead to it. “Thank you.”
Her cheeks heated. She had considered other wishes, but how could she not wish to help a living being who was in as much distress as he’d been?
“I still don’t know what to call you,” she said, eager to change the subject.
“Anything you want.” After a brief pause, he said, “Except Buck.”
Laughter bubbled up in her chest and spilled out. She was too tired and cold to stop it. Besides, she didn’t want to. He joined in with her, and something tightly coiled unwound in her chest. The sound made her feel lighter than she’d felt in months. She rolled onto her back so that she could look at him, which… was a mistake.
He was so beautiful. His dark stubble made his straight teeth gleam whiter in contrast. The skin at the corners of his eyes crinkled when he laughed, their amber depths glowing with a soft golden light. She wanted to reach up and trace his cheekbones, his brow, his jaw. She wanted to… to kiss him.
Being held in his arms made her feel safe for the first time in so long. Maybe forever. She swallowed hard, reaching for a better topic to distract herself from his closeness and warmth. The stories she had read about the White Stag were in a book on Irish folklore. Something Irish, maybe.
“What about Aidan?” she said.
A crease appeared in between his dark eyebrows. “What about him?”
She scowled, then said, “For a name.”
He laughed, grinning sheepishly. “Yeah, I figured. Aidan sounds good. May I call you Sylvia?”
“That’s my name.” She let out a little snort and rolled her eyes.
Smooth. Real smooth.
“It’s a beautiful name.” His smile softened as he looked down at her. “And it’s nice to meet you, Sylvia.”
Her heart started to pound at the sound of her name in his low, rumbling voice. Heat built deep in her belly, chasing away the last of her chill. She stared up into his golden eyes and wondered just what she had gotten herself into.