Seducing Mrs. Claus

christmas_fireplace

Chapter One

Damaris sighed as she stood in the back of the room, waving though she knew the gesture went unseen. Her husband rode off on his sleigh pulled by a team of reindeer and cheered on by a multitude of ecstatic workers. The din barely died down as the little men and women rushed off to have their own celebrations in the village, their work for the year now complete. Damaris had to smile. The elves worked diligently from dawn to dusk with smiles on their faces and a song in their hearts. Their only compensation was the smiles on the children’s faces Christmas morning and the stories Santa brought back with him after his long night of delivering gifts to the world’s recipients.

Often Damaris wondered how much the man embellished and how much he kept to himself. She knew that while he thrived on delivering gifts to the world’s children, there were times when he entered a home to find a much older, curvier and scantily clad occupant waiting for him to arrive. Nikolai sure got a kick out of these occurrences the first few times they happened and, in his usual jovial manner, he would relay to his wife how he would tip his hat and respectfully decline the lady’s offer before leaving again. Sometimes the woman wouldn’t take the hint and Santa became adept at gingerly dropping gifts beneath the tree while being chased around it. While these adventures tickled her husband immensely, Damaris was not amused and after seeing how upset they made her, Nikolai had stopped telling her about them. This of course made matters worst for not knowing made her believe he was being accosted in practically every home he entered. Then of course she began to wonder when amusement turned to desire and how often he was receiving more than cookies and milk on these treks.

The portrayal of the magical couple made Damaris laugh. She never understood where the idea that they were an elderly couple came from, perhaps the fact Nikolai had been doing this for so long, but the fact of the matter was the jolly old man was simply a disguise he took on to satisfy convention. Old St. Nick was actually a big bear of a man standing nearly 6 foot tall with dark curly hair and a closely cropped mustache and beard. He did have a good heart, a deep belly laugh and the most beautiful blue eyes she had ever seen to date, at least that much the stories had gotten right. Damaris, on the other hand, was a slender woman whose head barely reached her husband’s shoulder so that she had to stand on tiptoe to kiss him. Her ebony hair flowed down to her waist and her eyes were, as Nikolai once said, as green as the Mediterranean before a storm. While she used to travel with him often when they first married, Damaris couldn’t actually remember the last time she had left the North Pole and was anxious to see this strange new world Nikolai described.

Damaris sighed again as she realized there was a lot that she and Nikolai used to do together. While he was still courteous and kind to her, she often felt more like a maid or housekeeper than a wife. She missed the feel of his arms around her, the electricity of his kisses, the smell of him. Each were so submerged in their duties that they barely spoke any more and often times, Damaris would fall into an empty bed at night and awaken alone in the morning. The warmth of the wrinkled sheets beside her was the only confirmation she had that her husband still slept by her side. It was a far cry from when they first met.

Damaris hailed from the thriving metropolis of Pompeii. Her father had owned and operated the largest hotel in the region, located on the edge of the city with sprawling views of the sparkling Mediterranean Sea. He often boasted of the wealthy and important clientele the hotel attracted though they rarely seemed worth the hoopla to Damaris. If they weren’t incredibly rude, yelling at and hitting the staff, they were very stingy and constantly haggled prices down below the rate of even the worst hovels. Perhaps this was the reason their male guests insisted on taking liberties with the staff during their stay making it necessary for Damaris to intervene between a flustered employee and drunken official. She also had to face irate wives who accused the young woman of enticing these grabby men herself! It was often miserable work and on extra rough days, she would seek solace on her rooftop garden.

The day had been extraordinarily hot for the season and Damaris stood behind the reception desk brushing away the hair that had escaped her long braid when he walked in. She looked up as the doorway darkened and her breath caught in her throat. He practically filled the entire room by himself and Damaris shivered. She thanked the gods for the feast of Vulcanalia, without which they would have had a vacancy. If he was as hands on as most of their guests, she would have a hard time fighting him off. He was dressed oddly, wearing thick black boots instead of sandals. His tunic was made of material far too warm for the current climate with long sleeves and was closely cropped to the neck. He was incredibly pale compared to the olive complexion of the locals. Damaris tried to speak but only a squeak came out. She composed herself, cleared her throat and tried again.

“May I help you, sir?”

“Yes, I require a room for myself and my horse.” He replied, a thick accent colored his clipped rendition of her language.

Damaris swallowed a smile as she told him,

“I’m sorry sir, while we do have space in our stables for your horse, the hotel is full for the holiday.”

The man looked confused for a moment and Damaris wondered if he understood her. She opened her mouth again when he asked,

“Would it be possible to share the stable with my horse?”

Damaris barked a laugh before slapping a hand over her mouth.

“I’m sorry, sir, that’s not a request we’re used to hearing around here. I’m afraid Father wouldn’t approve.”

He leaned across the desk and winked.

“Perhaps you could tell him I’m the stableboy looking after a guest’s horse.”

“No one could believe that you were a stable boy.” Damaris giggled as she ran her eyes over the man’s large frame. “Besides, I make it a habit never to lie.”

He regarded her for several moments with sparkling eyes and smiled,

“Good girl, if only there were more women like you.”

She blushed deeply. Keep it together, she thought.

“I am sorry, but it really wouldn’t be seemly to have you bed down in the stables with the animals.”

He waved his hand, cutting her off.

“I assure you, Miss, the scent of an animal does not offend me and Quicksilver is one of my oldest and dearest friends. The truth of the matter is I am in desperate need of rest and there is no space anywhere in the region. If you wish, I will pay double the rate of your best room for the use of your stables for the night. That should appease your father, no?”

Damaris gasped and she shook her head.

“Oh no, I couldn’t ask you to do that!” She pursed her lips and continued. “Alright, come with me. I will deal with my father.”

She led him into the back corner of the stables where she watched him remove a large black saddle edged with gilded bells from his white horse.

“This area has just been cleaned and fresh hay laid down so there’ll be less fleas and vermin and you should be warm and comfortable, not that you’ll freeze in this heat,” she sighed, brushing loose strands of hair from her face again.

“Thank you very much, I appreciate your kindness, Miss…?”

“Damaris.”

“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Damaris, I am Nikolai Klaus.” He replied, taking her hand and kissing it.

Damaris blushed again. Suddenly the ground rocked beneath her feet tossing her against him as he stumbled back against the wall. The animals inside the stable began to stomp and scream and the bells on Nikolai’s saddle jingled maddeningly as the building shook. After what seemed like an eternity, the shaking stopped and Damaris found herself pressed against her new guest, the feel of his breath on her cheek sent shivers through her. She pushed herself off him and straightened her tunic.

“Are you alright, Mr. Klaus?”

The man was visibly shaken but he nodded as he righted himself.

“What was that?”

“An earthquake. I must warn you, they’re fairly normal in this area, although they seem to be coming more frequently of late. That’s why this year’s Vulcanalia is extra special. The priests say the volcano god grows restless and we must send two willing brides this year to appease him.”

Nikolai started and asked, “Anyone I know?”

Damaris laughed,  “No, these women are beautiful, pure and goddess like. They have been bred specifically for this honor. No ordinary woman will suffice.”

Nikolai reached out and brushed loose strands from Damaris’ face. His fingers brushed her cheek and lingered for a moment. She gazed into his eyes, brilliant pools of blue, and her mouth went dry as her heart pounded in her chest.

“Well, I can’t say I’m not glad but I think the priests missed out on something.” he said, hoarsely.

Damaris took a step back, taking a shuddering breath, and as professionally as she was able replied,

“I must check on the staff and make sure everything is in order. Dinner is at 7.”

Nikolai nodded, a slow smile spread across his face that made Damaris’ heart flutter again and she turned and hurried out of the stable. She stopped outside the door of the hotel and gasped. Earthquakes were a part of life in Pompeii. Some said it was the price to pay for living in a beautiful location with abundant food and wine and pleasant weather more often than not. Still, the earthquakes were becoming more frequent and more violent in recent years and the government had been slow on repairs. Damaris knew from her staff that the poorer parts of town had yet to receive any help, the citizens having to rely on each other to rebuild and start over. The most recent quake managed to knock down a few buildings down the street and off in the distance she could see smoke rising and hear the screams of people rushing to put out fires and rescue those trapped in the rubble. High above the city, Mount Vesuvius had started smoking and terror gripped the girl in the pit of her stomach. She hoped the priests were right and that Vulcan would find this year’s sacrifice acceptable.

Chapter Two

The Feast of Vulcanalia had gone off without a hitch. The ceremony was beautiful and the citizens and guests of Pompeii ate, danced and sang in celebration. Wine flowed in abundance at her father’s hotel and Damaris watched from a corner as their guests made merry. She was glad her father had taken her advice and hired competent, professional entertainers this year after last year’s fiasco. The dancers had been no more than glorified whores and they had nearly lost their license to operate when word spread about the antics that had gone on that night. This year, Damaris was glad that she had to deal with less outraged guests but the events of the past week still exhausted her so, seeing that everything was in hand, she retreated to her sanctuary on the roof. She sat by the edge and gazed out at the luxury boats sailing in the distance as the sea glistened in the light of the setting sun. Gulls cried out as they circled above while stars winked into being in the darkening sky. She closed her eyes and marveled in the warm breeze that carried the aroma of the sea.

“Beautiful night, isn’t it?” a booming voice said behind her.

Damaris jumped and turned to find Nikolai lounging in the shadows beneath a tree behind her. Although Quicksilver was still in the stables, she hadn’t seen their newest guest since he arrived. She was glad of this for she couldn’t understand the feelings the strange man brought about. Young Roman men, and men of Campania specifically, typically were small in stature. Some were muscular and garnered respect and admiration for their feats of strength and good looks. Others were still well built but gained respect and admiration for their intelligence. They pondered the workings of the universe, they dabbled in politics and theater, some even turned their minds to commerce and became shrewd businessmen. Nikolai was different. He was large like a mountain yet he didn’t appear muscular though she couldn’t tell beneath his clothing. What was most unusual to Damaris was his lack of aggression. The one thing she couldn’t stand was how mean the more rugged and masculine men of the region were to anyone who was smaller and worst, how it entertained people who witnessed it. Although she hadn’t seen him all day, Damaris also hadn’t heard anything about him from guests that came and went from the hotel or anyone else in the city. One thing Pompeiians were known for throughout the region was their legendary wagging of tongues yet somehow the large pale man with the brilliant eyes had managed to keep a low profile. As he sat beneath the tree now, the feel of his eyes on her made Damaris blush deeply and she was glad for the shadows of the growing night.

“Oh, you frightened me! I didn’t expect to find anyone up here.”

“My apologies,” Nikolai chuckled, “I’m not used to being around so many people. I needed to find some peace and quiet and this garden looked so inviting.”

Damaris looked around, taking in the lush greenery of the many exotic plants, trees and flowers she had cultivated over the years. She had even figured out how to set up ponds and streams for fish to swim and birds to drink from and bathe after speaking with a guest that visited from Egypt a few years prior.

“Yes, it’s my sanctuary.” She replied quietly.

“Oh, I am sorry, I should go.” He leapt to his feet.

“No, that’s alright. You can stay.” She smiled and sat beside the pond, patting the ground beside her. “Did you enjoy the festival?”

“I did. Your customs are strange to me but inviting.” Nikolai smiled.

“You are not from the empire. From where do you hail?”

“From a land in the far North. It is much colder and the ground is covered with ice and snow.”

Damaris frowned. “What is ice and snow?”

Damaris felt a tingle shoot straight up her arm as Nikolai took her hand in his and placed it in the water of the pond.

“Feel how cool the water is? Where I come from the water gets so cold it hardens and you can walk on it.”

Damaris laughed. “You’re teasing me, water can’t harden!”

“It does. It also gets so cold that instead of falling from the sky like rain it drifts softly from the clouds and touches your face as light as a whisper.”

Nikolai brought his hands up and wiggled his fingers as he swayed his hands gently back and forth until they were close enough for him to lightly brush her lips and caress her cheek.

“Oh,” Damaris breathed, closing her eyes and reveling in the delicious shiver that passed through her, “That sounds wonderful.”

“I always thought the most beautiful thing in the world was the sight of newly fallen snow glistening in the sunlight, until I met you.”

Damaris opened her eyes to find Nikolai’s face was inches from her own. Her heart fluttered in her chest and she felt a warmth in her belly as she gazed into his sparkling eyes. She smiled and steeled herself against his seduction, turning to put an extra inch between them.

“I bet you say that to all the women you meet.”

Nikolai smiled and her stomach flipped as he slowly shook his head.

“No, I don’t and if you don’t believe me, know that you are not the only person who makes it a habit not to lie.”

“Damaris!” called a voice from below, “Damaris, where are you?”

She shook herself out of her blissful reverie and stood up quickly.

“It’s my father,” she sighed.

Looking up at the sky, the position of the moon and stars made her gasp.

“I had no idea it was so late! I must go.”

“Damaris, wait!” Nikolai took her hand. “I’m leaving in the morning and I don’t know when I’ll be back.”

Her heart twisted.

“Are you?” she asked softly.

He drew her to him and held her in his arms.

“Damaris, I love you. Come with me and be my wife.”

He loved her! They only just met but she was drawn to Nikolai in a way she had never felt before. Still, Pompeii was her home, her family’s home. Her people had always been Pompeiians, they had settled here when there was nothing. When wars and invasions made people flee, her family remained. Her great-grandfather had fought by the side of General Sulla when he took Pompeii for the Empire of Rome. His reward was the vast land that became the site of the hotel and several family villas. This was her legacy, left to Damaris when her mother died and now in the hands of her drunken father. For her mother’s sake and the sake of her own children, Damaris intended to secure the finances of the hotel which meant staying put to correct any errors made by her father that she hadn’t minimized in the first place. She’d be a fool to marry for love, especially when the man she loved was a stranger from a foreign land. While he had paid a large amount of coin to stay in the stables, this did not mean he was well off. If anything, it proved the man was a fool with money and could be detrimental to the fate of her hotel if she was able to persuade him to stay. Besides, everyone knew marriage was a financial contract and both she and her father had their sights set on the son of a Roman senator, any Roman senator.

“I can’t, Nikolai. Pompeii is my home and my father needs me.” Damaris told him.

“I need you!” Nikolai whispered, touching his forehead to hers.

“You don’t know me.” She whispered back.

“You are a sweet, loyal and beautiful woman and I love you. That is all I need to know!”

He ran his fingers into her hair, cupping her cheek and drew her in for a kiss. Damaris felt her whole body weaken into a pool of warm goo. She wrapped her arms around his neck and held on for dear life as he deepened the kiss. She moaned and dropped her head back as he kissed her throat, losing herself in his caress.

“Yes, my love.” He whispered into her ear. “I want to make you feel this way always!”

“DAMARIS! Where did that girl get to?” her father called again, closer this time.

Damaris pushed away, trembling.

“I can’t, Nikolai, can’t you see?” She turned and hurried away shouting, “Coming Father!”

 

Chapter Three

The next day was incredibly busy as Damaris and the hotel staff checked out a multitude of guests and prepared for new arrivals. The sun beat down upon the city and there was no hint of a breeze to relieve the intense heat of the day. When she had a moment, Damaris headed for the stables knowing she wouldn’t find Quicksilver standing there yet she was filled with intense disappointment when she found all traces of Nikolai gone. Her heart ached as she wondered if she had made a mistake but she reminded herself of what was at stake. Returning to the hotel, Damaris shut the doors and windows to the heat of the day and headed towards the reception desk when an explosion knocked her to the floor. The ground began to undulate as if it were made of liquid instead of rock and she screamed as she bounced and rolled along the floor. Suddenly something landed on her head and she cried out in pain before everything went black.

 ***

         When Damaris came to the room was pitch black. The air was hot, thick and heavy and almost impossible to breathe. Her body was covered in sweat and her head pounded. Somehow she had rolled beneath a massive table and she slowly climbed to her feet, shaking uncontrollably. She tried to call out for her father or anyone but the air was even heavier above when she stood than down on the ground so all she could do was gasp. Her eyes burned as she peered through the smoke and haze. She didn’t know what had happened, perhaps the hotel had caught fire in the last quake, but she knew she had to get fresh air or she would die. The doors wouldn’t budge, the frames had probably shifted during the last quake. Feeling her way in the darkness, Damaris made her way to the roof. She felt weak and dizzy but managed to break the door open and fell into her precious garden. Somehow the day had gotten even hotter and instead of the bright sun, she was greeted with an angry hazy red sky. The air was filled with the noxious odor of rotting eggs and screams of the dying. Why was there so much screaming? She peered through the haze to see her beloved flowers and trees scorched. She stumbled to her pond for a handful of water but reeled back from the stench that met her nose. In the black water, multitudes of fish were swollen and floating upside. Another explosion rocked the city and threw Damaris on to her back. She cried out at the terrifying sight of black plumes of smoke belching forth from the great mountain in the distance as rivers of fire poured down into the valleys. By the gods, Damaris thought, we’re all going to die!

She climbed to her feet and ran to the edge of the building as the ground continued to shake. If only she could get to the sea! Great caverns had been cracked into the streets below as ash began to fall from the sky. Tears began to stream down her face as she remembered Nikolai’s story about snow. Oh why hadn’t she gone with him? Her people were dying. The great angry god, Vulcan, was reclaiming the city and her legacy would sink into the flowing fires of his kingdom. Suddenly she wondered where Nikolai was. He had only just left that morning. Would he have ridden out of harm’s way by now? Staring out into the sea as the clouds began to turn inky black, Damaris closed her eyes and said,

“Nikolai Klaus, I love you!”

“And I love you, my Damaris!”

Damaris gasped and rubbed her bloodshot eyes. How was it possible? Soaring above her was Nikolai and Quicksilver!

“Take my hand!” he called and lifted her up behind him.

“I know there is much that I don’t know about you but could you be Perseus and Quicksilver Pegasus?” Damaris asked as she clung to the large man.

Nikolai laughed.

“We are not. Quicksilver is not a horse but a reindeer in disguise???. Come, I have much to tell you and we don’t have much time.”

He reigned in Quicksilver and they flew away while Damaris tearfully watched her city be consumed by streets of fire.

Chapter Four

Once they flew to safety, they set down by a stream near a forest far from civilization. Without a thought to grace and dignity, Damaris plunged her head into the cold flowing water and drank. When she sat back she shivered as the water streamed down her back and her attempts to wipe the soot from her face only managed to smear it. Her hair hung in long grey strands.

“I must look a fright!” she chuckled.

Nikolai was sitting beside her and placed a finger beneath her chin so she could look at him. For the first time she noticed the twinkle was gone from his eyes.

“You’ve been hurt.”

Her head began to throb and when she reached up to touch a tender spot on the side of her head, the pain made her wince and she found blood on her hand.

Nikolai reached into his pack for some cloth he dipped into the river to wash away the blood. He then pulled out a packet of herbs which he wrapped in some more cloth and pressed against the wound. Somehow the pressure didn’t hurt and the longer he held the packet to her head, the better it began to feel.

“Are you some kind of priest or sorcerer?” She asked him in astonishment.

Nikolai smiled,

“No, just a lucky man with an interesting story.”

He rose to his feet, reached into his pack again and retrieved some clothes that he tossed to the ground beside her.

“Why don’t I start a fire and get dinner started while you bathe and dress into something warmer. We’re far from Rome and it gets chilly here at night.”

It had grown dark by the time Damaris had scrubbed her hair and skin free of dirt, ash and blood and it was a pleasure for her to shrug on the soft heavy robes Nikolai had given her. The cold fresh air was a welcome relief to the young woman. After the intense heat of the day, Damaris would be more than happy not to feel the punishing rays of the summer sun any time soon. Her stomach rumbled as she approached the fire to dry her hair and smelled the aroma of cooked meat.

“Perfect timing,” Nikolai chuckled as Damaris blushed, “Dinner is ready.”

After dinner, they laid upon furs he had put down and stared up into the starry sky. All was peaceful and quiet here and when Damaris thought about the death and chaos that reigned in her beloved city, she began to cry softly. She hoped that like her, other people of Pompeii had managed to escape the fires of Mount Vesuvius. Nikolai rolled over and silently took her into his arms, stroking her hair as she sobbed. She must have fallen asleep because when she opened her eyes she found him sitting across from her staring into the sky. Rolling on to her back, Damaris also looked at the sky but the stars were in different positions and some formations she didn’t even recognize.

“What time is it?” she asked.

“It’s approaching midnight. We’re about to have a special visitor.”

Damaris sat up.

“Are we?”

“Yes, she is the one who made it possible for me to find you.”

The tone of love and admiration in Nikolai’s voice caused an unexpected twinge of jealousy in Damaris’ heart, which startled her.

“What do you mean? Who is she?”

Nikolai looked back at her and smiled, the twinkle in his eyes showed brighter than ever.

“She goes by many names and many forms but I know her as the Snow Maiden and many years ago she saved my life! You see, I come from a very small village way up North in the wilderness. There were several settlements up there, a fair distance from each other, and it’s difficult to stay in touch when the winter snows come.”

“But I thought you said snow was light?”

“It is but well, what happens when there’s a storm and you get too much rain?”

“The streets can flood and things and people get washed out to sea.”

“Now imagine instead of washing away, all that rain stays exactly where it is only now it’s thick and heavy enough to walk on.”

“Oh, you mean like ice?”

“Similar, only a bit softer but now it’s everywhere. That makes it a bit difficult to get around. So we have carriages, much like your chariots only with long planks of wood to slide on instead of wheels. We call them sleds. Anyway, my father was a messenger and used his sled to carry important messages from village to village. Sometimes necessary items like food or medicine would accompany these messages. When my father fell ill, I would take his place.

“One day I was traveling when I came across a broken sled that had been attacked by wolves. The snow was stained with blood but the wolves had carried off the people. As I was passing I heard a sound and when I stopped to investigate I discovered a tiny baby wrapped tightly and hidden inside a basket. I took the baby with me to the next village where they knew the boy’s family. As I continued on my journey, I found my path blocked by three of the largest wolves I’d ever seen. They were the minions of an evil sorcerer named Ded Moroz who liked to freeze people and eat their children. Apparently the baby I had found was very special to Ded Moroz and he was angry that the child had escaped him. When he discovered that I had rescued the baby he sent the wolves to kill me. They had managed to kill my horses before I was able to fight them off. As the largest wolf lay dying, he changed back to his true form and I learned that he was the sorcerer! I had also been mortally wounded but as I lay dying the Snow Maiden appeared. As a reward for my bravery, she granted me special powers and gave me Quicksilver so that I can continue to aid people who need help.”

As Nikolai finished his story a star overhead began to grow brighter and brighter until the area was bathed in blue light. Nikolai climbed to his feet and Damaris did the same gasping as she stepped back and shielded her eyes. When the light dimmed, she looked up again to find a beautiful woman standing before them. She stood even taller than Nikolai with a wreath of green nestled in her long flowing white hair. Her skin was as white as the purest porcelain and she was clad in beautiful blue and silver robes. She smiled as she regarded them with pale blue eyes.

“Greetings Osci Damaris.” She spoke in soft musical tones. “You have my deepest condolences for the loss of your people.”

Damaris suddenly choked back tears at the unexpected sentiment and simply nodded.

“You have chosen well, Nikolai.” The Snow Maiden said turning to him. “She’ll make you an excellent wife so long as you make her an excellent husband.”

“Then we have your blessing?” He asked.

“You have my blessing and now it is time for your next venture. Nikolai Klaus, the gods have deemed you worthy of the title Father Winter. You will live amongst peaceful elves who like to make toys and gifts simply for the joy of seeing the expression of whoever receives them. They will make gifts for the deserving people of the world, who have goodness in their hearts, and you have been assigned to deliver those gifts.”

Nikolai looked stunned.

“Deliver gifts to all the people of the world? How is that possible?”

The Snow Maiden smiled.

“You will be provided with an enchanted sleigh and a team of reindeer that can fly like QuickSilver. It will be your responsibility to instill goodwill in the world by rewarding those who are kind and in providing a good example for people to follow. Damaris, as Nikolai’s wife, you must help him in his mission. Do what he asks of you. Support him during the bad times and celebrate with him during the good times. Give him your love and he will become the great man we know he can be. Do you think you can do this?”

Damaris nodded.

“With all my heart, yes.”

“Then take each other’s hands. Nikolai and Damaris Klaus, the gods above and below grant you eternal life together. May your love and strength bind this world in kindness and grace as you are now bound to each other.”

The Snow Maiden placed a frosty kiss on each of their foreheads and the blue light brightened again. When it faded, the couple found themselves standing in a frozen wilderness. A vast meadow glistened in the light of a large full moon. In the distance a large forest stood at the foot of a range of snowcapped mountains. Damaris turned to Nikolai and gasped. The man looked positively regal in shimmering robes, as blue as his eyes, trimmed with white fur around the cuffs and hood. The slightest movement created an illusion on the fabric of swirling snowflakes.

“You look so handsome!” Damaris breathed.

Nikolai smiled. A look of longing crossed his face that caused Damaris to blush all over. Damaris was clad in a light blue bodice and wide skirt with silver swirls and white lace sleeves. Her raven hair hung in ringlets and on her head a tiara glistened like the stars. He took her hands and pulled her to him, kissing her in a way that convinced her the snow beneath their feet would melt away.

“There is no one in this world or the next as beautiful as you, my wife.”

Quicksilver had been fitted with a silver sleigh lined with a multitude of bells that ran up the lead to a magnificent silver harness. Mr. and Mrs. Klaus settled into the furs that lined the sleigh and they took off like a shot.

“How does he know where to go?” Damaris asked as she snuggled against her new husband.

“I suspect the Snow Maiden told him.”

That she did for as soon as they cleared the mountains they came to a brightly lit valley filled with several tiny, warmly lit cottages. Stretching beyond the village was a beautiful palace with tall spires reaching to the heavens and looked to be made entirely of ice. They were greeted by a throng of jolly little men, women and children all dressed in red and white who made the couple feel at home. Nikolai quickly adjusted to his new role, working the magic crystal and noting who was being good and who was being cruel, observing the work of the elves and learning to drive a team of flying reindeer. Damaris, meanwhile, found her experience running the family hotel worked to her advantage in her new home and was a far more pleasant affair. As the work was constant, she put palace staff on a work rotation so that no one elf was working harder than any other and suggested Nikolai do the same for the workshop elves. Deep in the heart of the palace Damaris found a room with the climate as her home in Pompeii and set to work re-establishing her beloved garden. With the help of a few eager assistants, she cultivated new and exotic plants like the poinsettia and holly. After the success of these beautiful new flowers, Damaris became so distraught over the disappointing mistletoe that her husband kept kissing her until she felt better.

As more and more people began to populate the world, the work for Nikolai and the elves became almost too much. Tempers flared among the elves and the injuries sustained by the reindeer grew more numerous and severe. Mr. and Mrs. Klaus realized something would have to be done if their mission was to continue being a success. As they lay in each other’s arms one night Nikolai had an epiphany.

“We can’t go on like this, Damaris. Delivering gifts once a week may have been possible at one time but I think it’s time to cut back. Do you think the gods would object to gifts being delivered once a month?”

“I don’t think they would. In fact, what if you cut back even further.”

“How often would you suggest?”

“Once a year?”

Nikolai raised himself up on an arm and looked down at his wife, still flush from a pleasant session of lovemaking, and frowned.

“Once a year? Why?”

Damaris ran her fingers through her husband’s abundant chest hair.

“The elves have a lot of great plans for future gift development. They say the time constraints involved in creating so many gifts means the gifts have to stay basic and primitive. If they spent less time making gifts they can spend more time developing better, more sophisticated gifts. This would also be a great incentive for people to be good to each other. Rather than expecting simple gifts all the time, for every little act of kindness, they can expect to be rewarded with better more elaborate gifts the nicer they are. They might even make a festival in your honor to commemorate the occasion. I know in Rome festivals were always something people looked forward to. If they happened all the time, people would take them for granted.”

Nikolai laughed, a deep and booming laugh that Damaris adored, and pulled his wife to him.

“The Snow Maiden was right when she said I had chosen well. My wife is as intelligent as she is beautiful!”

Damaris smiled at herself bitterly in the mirror as she smoothed out the skirts of her red satin gown. Her hair was pinned up into a crown and adorned with holly that brought out the green of her eyes. Thanks to the Snow Maiden’s enchantment, Damaris looked as young today as on her wedding day yet as the centuries passed, her husband had grown less attentive.

Chapter Five

The festivities were well underway when Mrs. Klaus arrived in the village. Food and drink were plentiful as were the smiles as the elves danced and sang. There were contests and games, performances and an epic snowball fight amongst the departments of Santa’s workshop. Damaris always loved the Winter Festival as it reminded her of the celebrations held back home. She hurried to the large candy cane striped tent where she was expected to judge the Sugar Plum Bake-off and was met with cheers as she entered. She glanced over to the little plump women standing away from the table where they had laid their entries. Damaris couldn’t help but smile at the flushed faces split in half by the wide grins spread across them. The little ladies had outdone themselves once again this year and their excitement was contagious. Taking the clipboard and quill from a waiting assistant, Damaris tasted and took notes, fixing her face so that it wouldn’t betray her feelings towards each dish. When she was ready, she handed the clipboard back to the assistant and noticed a familiar face above the crowd in the back. The tall man cut a lean figure in a shiny suit that seemed to alternate between silver and blue in the light. His grey eyes seemed to light up as she crossed the room to him and he brushed his long snowy hair from his face, smiling as she approached.

“Well Mrs. Klaus, are you a sight for sore eyes!” he exclaimed, the kiss he placed on her cheek tingled.

“Jack, it has been a long time since you graced us with your presence!” Damaris replied with a smile, “What brings you to our neck of the woods?”

“Would you believe I was homesick for my favorite lady?”

“Not for a moment!”

Jack stumbled back and placed a well manicured hand over his heart.

“Why madam, you wound me! Can’t a sprite pay a visit to his beloved homeland without an anterior motive?”

“Surely, but as I remember it, life at the North Pole was always a little too sedate for one Jack Frost.”

He nodded with a chuckle as he glanced around at the festivities.

“True, I have always been more content when I’m moving around and alas my return will be short for I will be participating in a great scavenger hunt!”

“A scavenger hunt, where?”

“Everywhere! We must cross the globe collecting items for Father Time by midnight of the new year.”

“That sounds so exciting!”

“It is! Hey, why don’t you come with me?”

Damaris was taken aback.

“Me? Oh no, I can’t.”

“Why not? Christmas is winding down. Everyone will be resting. Nothing really needs to be done until the new year. Besides,” Jack winked, “which would you rather be doing, traipsing the world with me or deciding who makes the best pie?”

Damaris smiled. It had been so long since she stepped foot outside the North Pole and she marveled at the stories Nikolai brought back about carriages that ran on unseen power, people who refused to eat animals, machines that allowed you to see and speak to anyone you wanted to anywhere in the world. It was all so amazing Damaris couldn’t believe half of it. She wanted to see this strange new world for herself and here an old friend was giving her the chance. Nikolai didn’t much like Jack which was one reason the man stayed away so much. When Damaris and Nikolai arrived in the North Pole, Jack was head sprite and considered himself Father Winter even though the title had never been officially granted to him so tensions between the two men grew instantly. Nikolai always found Jack too flashy and presumptuous while Jack found Nikolai subdued and dull. Jack reminded Damaris of the Roman men she grew up around and became the go between in establishing a truce so the men were able to work together. She was able to convince Jack that taking orders from Nikolai did not undermine his masculinity but gave him even more power as he was satisfying the wishes of the winter gods. At the same time she was able to convince Nikolai that Jack had his own methods of getting things done and so long as he produced the results Nikolai needed in a timely manner, there was little point trying to get him to change his ways. As the elves grew to hold the Klauses in high esteem, Jack grew so disturbed the Snow Maiden intervened to assign him the task of maintaining winter throughout the world.

“Mother Nature needs someone strong and capable to help her battle against the effects of human engineering.” She had told him.

So Jack Frost circled the globe for years at a time pushing back when summer like heat and storms held the Northernmost regions in its grip longer than they were supposed to. Sometimes he would go a little overboard in his enthusiasm and had to be reminded that the gods preferred living creatures to survive the winter.

“I really should let Nikolai know I’ll be away.” Damaris mused.

“If you must,” Jack shrugged, “but the old man sleeps so hard after his journey he probably won’t even notice you’re gone.”

The same could be said if he was awake. She thought bitterly.

Chapter Six

Nikolai groaned. It never mattered how much he slept, he always felt as if he’d been hit by a truck when he woke. He adored his job, he really did. The elves worked so diligently resulting in millions of smiles the following morning. He loved witnessing the celebrations and acts of goodwill throughout the world and knew no matter how terrible mankind seemed at times, there were always those among them with goodness in their hearts to combat any evil that grew in their midst no matter how long it took. He understood long ago that he did more than make and deliver gifts to the populace. He was part of a large network of magical beings tasked with preserving the balance between positive and negative forces throughout the world.  Still, whether he slept for a day, a week, a month or a year, he always felt his age after his travels on Christmas Eve.

He turned and was surprised to find Damaris’ side of the bed tidy and cool suggesting she hadn’t gone to bed. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d seen his wife, the weeks before Christmas were usually so hectic they almost never said two words to each other until it was all over. He was filled with loneliness as he realized he missed her smiling face and conversation and decided he would seek her out after breakfast. They were coming up on their 25th century together and Nikolai wanted to do something special to mark the occasion. His wife had been his rock for far longer than he could have expected and he adored her as much now as he did the day he walked through the door of the large inn in Pompeii. He had traveled the world searching for the life mate that was to share in his destiny and he was exhausted. The Snow Maiden was absolutely of no help to him. All she would tell him was the woman would be kind, loyal and strong, the rest was up to him. His first mistake was to seek out the daughters of kings and high ranking officials. While beautiful and graceful, those who would give Nikolai the time of day were either mean and hard or skittish and dull. Humbled, he tried courting the daughters of farmers and peasants but many of them were far too simple to understand what he was trying to tell him or frightened of him because he was from a different land. He had begun to lose hope when he stumbled through Damaris’ door. He had expected to find a stuffy indifferent clerk behind the counter, not the goddess of simplistic beauty who stood before him. He found her to be pleasant and gentle and her loyalty to her father and her people warmed his heart. At last he found the woman he wanted as his wife but, though she loved him, she refused him. Nikolai didn’t know what to do. The woman had captured his heart and though the gods had tasked him with a duty to the world, he knew he couldn’t fulfill those duties without the woman he loved by his side. If Damaris insisted on spending her life in Pompeii, then so would he. He hopped on Quicksilver to find the Snow Maiden and tell her to make someone else Father Winter when Mount Vesuvius erupted. Seeing the destruction Nikolai’s heart broke at the thought he had lost his beloved. Why hadn’t he insisted she come with him? He nearly cried when he saw Damaris stumbling on to the roof and when he took her into his arms he knew he would never let her go again.

After a hearty breakfast Nikolai roamed the palace searching for his wife. The halls were so quiet and empty, a big difference from the usual turmoil of the past weeks and months. He found Damaris’ garden empty so he strolled into the village as he knew she sometimes called on elves who were sick or injured. Puzzled, he sat on the edge of the fountain in the village square and frowned. No one had seen his wife in days. Damaris rarely ventured far from the castle grounds and never left the Pole yet she appeared to have vanished.

“Where could she have gone?” he muttered.

“She is with Jack Frost.” The Snow Maiden answered, having appeared by his side.

Nikolai leapt to his feet but the beautiful spirit smiled and motioned for him to stay seated and sat down beside him.

“Jack is here?”

“He was here, now he is gone.”

“But you said Damaris was with him.”

“She is.”

Nikolai scrubbed his face with his hands, trying to get his weary mind to function correctly. The Snow Maiden placed a gentle hand on his shoulders.

“Did I not say so long as you are good to her she will be good to you?” she admonished him. “You are losing her, Nikolai Klaus.”

He looked up, utterly confused.

“What are you talking about? I am good to her! I have never in all our years together raised hand or voice to my wife nor have I ever laid beside another woman.”

“Not even your own.” She responded sadly. “Jack Frost is considered a charming and virile man, he has seduced many.”

Nikolai jumped to his feet again, “Are you saying he has seduced my wife?”

The Snow Maiden closed her eyes and raised a hand.

“Peace Nikolai. Jack Frost is taking part in Father Time’s treasure hunt to welcome the new year. I am saying you must find her by the start of the new year or she will be lost to you forever.”

Nikolai fumed as the Snow Maiden vanished. Father Time’s annual hunt had a tendency to get unruly and even dangerous depending on who was participating. Jack had always been a young and reckless fool despite being even older than he. If Damaris was with him, her life could be in danger. He left instructions to be followed during his absence before rushing to the stables where Quicksilver was alert and seemed to be waiting for him. He had been asleep for three days and he knew Jack and Damaris could be anywhere. Nikolai decided it was time to gain audience with Father Time himself and traveled to Ireland where, in the blowing snow, he could just make out the entrance of Newgrange. The screaming winds were silenced as they entered and the warmth that met them was almost startling. Once Quicksilver was settled, Nikolai wandered the dimly lit halls. Just when he became hopelessly lost, a large set of doors creaked open down the hall to his right and bright light flooded in. He entered a room that seemed at least as large as his own castle and twice as tall. Far above him Nikolai could see silhouettes slowly moving around, going about their business. The ceiling seemed to be made of millions of brightly colored lights that constantly moved so fast it made him dizzy and he was forced to drop his eyes to the floor before he fell over. The polished marble floors had poems and sayings in multiple languages, some unrecognized by Nikolai, etched in gold across the floor. The center of the room resembled a lab with several people in white coats sitting in front of a white arc shaped table staring into what looked to be binocular microscopes. On other side of the room, Nikolai saw an elderly man in white robes with snowy long flowing hair and beard deep in conversation with another man in a lab coat. He looked up then and smiled, dismissing the other man with a gesture and crossing the room. It was then Nikolai noticed a small golden sickle and hour glass hung on long chain down the man’s front.

“Welcome Father of Winter, our meeting is long overdue!” The man’s voice boomed as he shook his guest’s hand in a vice grip.

“Indeed, tis an honor to meet you at long last, Father of Time.” Nikolai smiled, clapping his shoulder.

“I have met your wife not too long ago, lovely woman!”

“Damaris was here?”

Father Time nodded.

“She joined the hunt as the guest of Jack Frost. A bold young man, like you I have heard of his exploits but have only just met him.” He frowned. “Did you not know she was coming?”

Nikolai swallowed his anger and embarrassment answering, “I have been resting from my annual journey and wish to catch her up.”

“Ah!” Father Time smiled, it did not reach his impossibly dark eyes, “Come with me.”

They crossed back across the room where a wall lit up before displaying the continents of the world. Several points on the map lit up and were moving slowly in various directions.

“These are the contestants of this year’s hunt.” Father Time told him. He pointed to a blue speck that had been stationary and suddenly flashed before moving again. “This is Jack and Damaris. They appear to be doing well in their search and I suspect will be this year’s winners.”

A sudden chill ran down Nikolai’s spine and he asked,

“What would be the prize, should they win?”

Father Time smiled, “Why, to visit any point and place in time they wished for one year!”

Chapter Seven

Damaris was having the time of her life! Jack had taken her to the site of an ancient golden city called Quivira where the only hint of gold they could find was a small mica flecked jar that reminded Damaris of home. Jack had been slightly perturbed to find the rolling plains contained nothing more than herds of cows, pick up trucks and several heavyset people who talked funny and called everybody “yall” but his disappointment was relieved by the discovery of heavenly aromas wafting from deliciously tender meat the locals referred to as BarbieQ. They visited with the gentle and ancient monks of Shangri-La in the Himalayas where they obtained a vial from the Fountain of Youth. They delved deep within the woods of Iran to pluck a golden apple from the Garden of Hesperides and now they were beneath the sea being chased by a unit of mermen for stealing a thimble from the ancient city of Atlantis. Jack had used his power over water to transform them into a pair of fish which didn’t fool their pursuers but enabled them to swim far enough ahead to get caught in a net and taken onboard a boat.

“Oh Jack, I can’t breathe!” Damaris gasped as she flopped about.

“Fear not, I’ve got this.” Jack responded.

Damaris felt a feathery tingle run through her body and suddenly found herself growing larger and changing shape. With an agonizing groan and squeak the ropes around them burst open and she and Jack found themselves in the laps of a few surprised Italian fishermen. At first they were frightened but when they began to grow angry Jack took Damaris’ hand and leapt on to the deck and off into the city. By the time they stopped in the hills to rest, the pair were giggling breathlessly like children. Damaris lay back on the grass and bathed in the warmth of the sun. The familiar scents of the sea that drifted on the breeze brought tears to her eyes. Jack rolled on to elbow beside her and brushed a tear from her cheek.

“Damaris, are you alright?”

“Never better,” she sniffed, then chuckled and sat up. “Where are we anyway?”

“Sicily, I think.” Jack replied, looking around. “I don’t come here very often so I’m not too familiar with the terrain.”

“But I am, oh, I thought something felt familiar!” Damaris beamed.

“That’s right, how long has it been?”

“I really couldn’t say, ages and ages.”

“Would you like to see it? Where Pompeii used to be I mean.” Jack asked softly.

“Do we have time?”

“Of course, good lady, always!” Jack responded, taking her hand and kissing it before helping her to her feet.

Damaris’ homecoming was bittersweet. Standing on the cobblestone streets for the first time in over 2000 years, she listened as passing tour guides explained how the very force that had killed her people was also responsible for preserving her city so well. She gazed at the remnants of what had been neighbors’ homes and businesses and the fully intact baths and amphitheater half expecting to hear the roar of the crowd as gladiators fought to the death. She looked up at the tremendous mountain looming quietly in the distance, the sound of violent explosions and shrieks of terror still echoing in her ears. Suddenly, she was filled with rage at the sight of groups of strangers snapping pictures to satisfy their morbid fascination of  the places that had entombed her friends and family. She closed her eyes and placed a hand on Jack’s arm.

“We need to leave, now!”

Without another word, Jack took her hand and they dashed away on the wind. They set down at the top of the Eiffel Tower as night fell and Jack watched as Damaris stared out silently at the lights of the city.

“Is this alright? I thought you would like to be somewhere that did not resemble Pompeii.” He asked.

Damaris turned and smiled, her eyes glittering.

“It’s wonderful, thank you. Everything is so beautiful. Where are we now?”

“This is Paris, France, the city of lights.”

“It’s incredible!” she breathed.

“Would you like something to eat?”

“Oh no, not yet, I’m still admiring the view!”

“You still can.” Jack told her gesturing as Damaris turned towards a pair of glass doors with golden handles.

He ushered her towards a beautiful dimly lit restaurant where they were seated at tables covered in immaculate white table cloths. Jack conversed with their waiter in French for a few moments while Damaris continued to gaze at the scene below. The city was blanketed by a dusting of snow that added to the sparkle of the lights. Before she knew it unusual dishes were placed before her with flavors that continued the magic of the whole experience. They ate, drank, flirted and laughed and Damaris couldn’t remember ever feeling so alive. Her time with Jack had been one adventure after another and seemed to just fly by. She sobered at the thought of having to return to the North Pole. Catching her mood, Jack reached across the table to take her hand.

“What is it, darling?” He asked.

“Everything has just been so wonderful but our time together is almost at an end.” She sighed.

Jack stared at her for a moment before replying, “It doesn’t have to.”

Damaris started.

“What are you saying, Jack?” she asked.

“What’s at the Pole for you to go back to, hmm? Cold, empty days with only your plants to talk to, sewing circles, quilting bees, canning classes?” He leaned forward, his eyes glittering, “Damaris, sweetheart, when we first met you were so vibrant and feisty. I barely recognized you at the festival. I mourned the loss of your spark, I honestly did, but this past week you found it again with me!”

Damaris drew her hand back, her heart pounded in her chest and her head swam. Jack was right of course. She felt as if she had awakened from a long sleep and everything was bright and new again. She loved the way Jack made her feel with a single glance or touch. There had been a few times when she thought he was about to kiss her and wondered whether she would accept the kiss or admonish him for it. What if he did kiss her and wanted to take it further? Her whole body had tingled at the prospect but as alive as Jack made her feel, her heart wouldn’t betray Nikolai. The man may no longer love her as a man loved a wife but she still loved him with all her heart and she knew she always would. Nikolai was a good man who was dedicated to his craft and whatever his faults, over the centuries he had never once been cruel to her. Walking away because she no longer had her husband’s attention was not excusable in her mind. He had gotten used to her, that’s all, as she had gotten used to him. Well, when she returned to the North Pole she would do her damnedest to redirect Nikolai’s attention. She smiled suddenly.

“You’re right, Jack. I’ve spent far too much time asleep and comfortable but I’m awake now.”

Chapter Eight

“Damn!” Nikolai shouted loud enough to make a group passing by jump and hurry away.

As fast as Quicksilver flew, it seemed impossible to catch up to Jack and Damaris and he had just missed them again. While he had always been impulsive, that idiot sprite nearly started a war enjoying the hospitality of the Queen of Atlantis only to run off with her great grandmother’s prize thimble! Nikolai managed to keep Father Time’s name out of it and smoothed relations with the gift of a snowflake amulet that allowed it to snow in her kingdom beneath the sea any time she wished. Had he not been delayed, Nikolai would have met his wife in Pompeii and could have at least spoken to her and found out what the trouble was between them. Now they had disappeared again and he had no idea where to search next. Checking the list of items Father Time had given him, it looked to Nikolai that they had all the items they needed. There were extra points for a bonus item that fell into the theme of the search and knowing Jack, they would definitely try to find such an item to ensure victory, but for the life of him Nikolai couldn’t figure out where they would go or what that item would be. He decided he would search for a few hours more before returning to Newgrange where the teams would converge the following night.

The sky was bright and clear and the area was bustling with people when Nikolai and Quicksilver touched down outside of Newgrange. He scanned the crowd as they entered the temple but could see no sign of Jack Frost or his wife. He joined the stream of people and soon found himself in a large auditorium with balconies packed with people reaching all the way to the high ceiling above. He made his way to the ground level where the teams had gathered and was astonished by the unusual makeup of contestants. One team was made up of several beautiful and voluptuous Yakshini sprites while the unlikely pairing of a Giant and Giantess with two gnomes had formed another team. Ghostly shape shifters had banded together to form one team while two Jinn had created still another team. As impossible as it seemed, Jack and Damaris were the least remarkable team in the competition. Nikolai spotted them in a corner, their heads together as they whispered to each other and the sight made his blood boil. Jack, as usual, looked suave and sophisticated in one of his fancy overpriced suits and Damaris looked absolutely stunning in a red satin gown with form fitting bodice. Why did she never wear such a gown for me? he thought as he was gripped with envy. He made his way to the front slowly as the awards ceremony began. Each team had been delegated their own theme and had to find objects that best met that theme. The audience experienced an emotional roller coaster as each team presented their items along with explanations as to how they matched up specifically with their theme. At times even Nikolai became riveted enough by the proceedings to stop and watch.

Finally, Jack and Damaris stepped forward. With his usual showmanship and fanfare, Jack presented a vial of water from Shangri-La, a golden apple, an unusual little clay pot and the thimble that had cost Nikolai so much trouble.

“Our theme, if you haven’t been able to tell, is the lost and forgotten. Each of these items was picked up from civilizations long thought lost from the human world and forgotten entirely. My bonus item is ever present in plain sight but often overlooked and forgotten as well. Like a child’s toy, this item is abandoned and regains its allure only someone else shows an interest. I give you the neglected wife!”

Jack stepped to one side and with a flourish, presented Damaris to the crowd. Nikolai’s heart slammed against his chest as he watched her expression change from confusion to horror to anguish and humiliation before she fled from the room accompanied by laughter and cheers. Nikolai approached Jack as he turned from shaking hands with his admirers.

“Nikolai, it’s a pleasure to…” Jack beamed at him but never got to finish the sentence for he suddenly found himself sprawled on the floor. His face was splattered with blood which ran from his nose and on to his suit.

Nikolai turned and stormed away, the crowd parting to form a path before him. Thanks to Father Time’s ingenuity, the labyrinth that made up his temple always allowed welcome visitors to find their way to where they need to be. In two short turns, Nikolai was back outside where he found Damaris leaning against Quicksilver sobbing like he had never heard her cry before. The pain he heard in her voice made him want to go back inside and hit Jack again. Instead he walked up to his wife and placed his hands on her shoulders. She stiffened but didn’t shrug him off.

“Talk to me, Damaris.” Nikolai said.

She remained still and her sobbing had quieted but she said nothing.

“Alright, I’ll talk then.” He sighed. “Damaris I’m sorry. I have been so caught up in my work and affairs of the world that Jack is right, I have neglected you. You have stood by me all these years and I took you for granted. You deserve better than that, far far better than that, and from the bottom of my heart I am truly sorry.”

Damaris sniffed quietly for a moment before turning and wiping the tears from her face though she kept her head down.

“Was Jack also right when he said you’re only showing interest in me now because he showed an interest in me?”

“Absolutely not, I should have broken more than that yebanat’s nose for that remark, chlen marinovanii!”

Damaris barked a laugh.

“I’ve never heard you use such language, Nikolai!” She giggled while gaping at him.

Nikolai pulled her to him.

“He hurt my angel and that just will not stand!” he said as he held her. “I should never have stopped showing interest in you. I adore you as much now as I did the moment I laid eyes on you. When I realized you were gone it broke my heart that I had made you so unhappy. I can’t imagine my life without you, my love, and I don’t want to.”

His heart and body ached for her and he wondered why he had been so stupid as to ignore the woman he loved for so long. They stood silently wrapped in each other’s arm for several minutes before Damaris looked up at him.

“Did I hear you right? Did you really break Jack’s nose?”

“I did and I’d do it again!”

Damaris smiled at him and clucked.

“Now, now, that behavior is unbecoming of Santa Claus! We should go inside and make amends with Father Time for spilling blood in his temple.”

Holding his hand she stepped away and turned to head inside but Nikolai simply tugged her towards him again and kissed her.

“I was Santa Claus last week. For the rest of the year I am your devoted husband. As for Father Time’s temple, I cleaned up Jack’s last mess in Atlantis, let him talk his way out of this one!”

Nikolai and Damaris Klaus returned home to the North Pole and while she didn’t accompany him on every trip, Mrs. Claus did leave the Pole more often for both diplomatic missions as well as rest and relaxation. While she assisted him in more of his duties, Nikolai was freed up to focus on modernizing so that they could receive email as well as letters. With access to the internet, Damaris learned web design and how to create a blog so that she could be more in tune with the ever changing world. Nikolai became so attentive that Damaris no longer worried about Santa’s oversexed fans. When he woke up from his rest after another exhausting Christmas Eve trek, Damaris presented him with the magic crystal sent to her by Father Time for winning the scavenger hunt. She felt Nikolai needed a much deserved rest and what was better than taking a year’s vacation only to return at the same point in time you left fresh and ready to work hard again?

After much deliberation, the pair decided to revisit Shangri-La. Nikolai stood on the balcony of their room overlooking the sunny valley below. Crystal rivers shimmered far into the distance and a gentle breeze carried the songs and laughter of the people as they worked and played. Nikolai smiled, this was his idea of paradise.

“Nikolai?” Damaris called from inside.

He turned and gasped in delight as his wife emerged from the shadows clad in a lace negligee that left nothing to the imagination, her ebony hair flowing down her back. She approached him smiling and his knees went weak.

“By the gods, you are beautiful! Where did you get that?” he asked as his eyes roamed her form appreciatively.

“From this little shop called Victoria’s Secret. I don’t know how much of a secret it was, I found it easily enough. Isn’t the internet wonderful?” She giggled.

“You’re wonderful.” He replied kissing her deeply.

He picked her up and carried her to the bed. Looking into his wife’s eyes, Nikolai couldn’t remember a time when he was so happy and in love. Yes, this was paradise.

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