***Note: this scene (and the Reaver scene that follows) takes place between Rogue Rider and REAVER in the Demonica/LOD world***
“Shade!” Runa strode into the master bedroom of the cave Shade had lived in before they were mated. Now it was their romantic jungle getaway. Usually. “Your children are impossible.”
Shade shrugged into a sweater — forest green, which was as Christmas-y as he got. Even then, it was under protest. But damn, the green played up his tan skin and black hair, and if the boys weren’t wound up in anticipation of the Underworld General Christmas party, Runa would have Shade up against the wall in a heartbeat.
“They take after you,” Shade said, his voice gruff, but the twinkle of amusement in his dark eyes gave him away. He loved being a father, even when things got hairy.
He brushed past, slowing to kiss her on the cheek. Heat flushed her face, and her knees actually went a little wobbly. They’d been mated for four years, and still his touch made her skin tingle and her heart beat faster. Every. Single. Time.
Oh, yes, she couldn’t wait to get him alone. Here in the cave or in a supply closet at UG, it didn’t matter. As a Seminus demon, he needed frequent sex to survive, but things had changed in the last three years. When a Sem mated and had children, his needs, both sexual and reproductive, adjusted to what his mate could handle.
Fortunately for Shade, Runa could handle a lot.
She kept her gaze firmly on his jeans-clad butt as she followed him into the living room, where the triplets were fighting over a Spiderman action figure. Rade, who, with his black hair and dark brown eyes was the spitting image of his father, held Spiderman over his head and shoved at his brothers as they tried to grab for the toy.
“Hey!” Shade’s booming voice froze the three boys instantly. “Knock it off.”
“But Daddy…” Tears filled Stryke’s champagne eyes. He’d gotten Shade’s hair but Runa’s eyes, and he was the best at using them to manipulate his father.
“Don’t even start,” Shade said in his best stern dad tone. Then, just as the other two boys started getting teary, he grinned. “But what do you say we wrestle?”
He dove onto the carpet, and a moment later, he was covered in giggling kids.
Runa sighed. So much for discipline. But she couldn’t be angry, not on Christmas Eve, and not when she was trying to get Shade to enjoy the uniquely human holiday. Heck, she’d be happy if he only pretended to like it for the kids’ sake.
A flash of light signaled a heavenly arrival, and Reaver materialized, decked out in black slacks and a sapphire button-down that was only a little less blue than his eyes. Blade, usually the quietest of the triplets, squealed as he threw himself into the angel’s arms. Stryke and Rade joined their brother, turning poor Reaver into a jungle gym.
“Thanks for doing this,” Runa said. “We didn’t want to haul them through the jungle to the Harrowgate.” And she wanted to have a little chat with Shade.
“No problem.” Reaver popped Stryke onto his shoulders. “I was thinking of starting an angelic taxi service.”
“Well, we appreciate it.” She caught Rade as he dashed toward the couch, and tucked him into one of Reaver’s arms. “Are you flashing to the parking lot?”
“Yep.” Reaver hauled Blade against his chest so he had all three kids together. “Jillian and Idess will be waiting to help corral them to the party.”
“Are all of the Horsemen going?” Shade shoved to his feet, kicking aside a minefield of toys. “Because Ares owes me a drink.”
Rade grabbed a fistful of Reaver’s blond hair, but he didn’t so much as blink. “There’ll be too many humans at the party, and they react badly to him. We’ll all be together for Christmas, though.”
A smile played at the corners of Reaver’s lips, but it never went further than that. She knew he was happier than he’d ever been now that he had children and grandchildren in his life, but still, there was a lingering sadness about him. It wasn’t always there, but she caught glimpses now and then, as if he sometimes realized that there was something missing in his life.
She’d have to ask Shade if he knew any females who might like an angel with a mysterious past and four children who were Biblical legends. Then again, those might not be selling points.
“We’ll see you in a little while.” She blew kisses at the boys, who waved as Reaver flashed them out of there.
“It’s pretty cool having an angel as a babysitter.” Shade slipped his arm around her waist and tugged her close. “No one is going to fuck with him. Plus, he kind of fits in with all this Christmas crap.”
Damn, him. He wasn’t even trying. “Shade. What did you say to the kids? Knock it off? Well, take your own advice and knock it off.”
He rolled his eyes. “Oh, come on. This isn’t a demon holiday. It’s a human one.”
“And I used to be human, remember? We agreed to raise them to understand both our worlds.”
His teasing grin said he wasn’t taking this seriously. “Then I can take them to a traditional Seminus orgy on Samhain?”
With a huff, she stepped back, hating the cold space that bloomed between them. “Seriously? You’re going to compare a demon orgy to a holiday where kids sing songs and get presents and candy?”
“You can get presents and candy at an orgy.”
She glared. “Why are you being so stubborn? It’s not like you haven’t lived among humans for decades. And Wraith made you guys exchange gifts. On our first Christmas, it was you who decorated the tree.”
“So what’s wrong with you? Ever since the boys were born, you’ve been all Grinchy. Why?” When he said nothing, she pressed harder. “Shade, you need to talk to me. Something’s going on. What is it?”
Silence stretched. Shade turned away, and just as she thought he was going to walk out, he spun back around and blurted, “It’s the lie.”
Baffled, she searched her brain for any hint as to what he was talking about, but nope, still baffled. “What lie?”
“The one about Santa,” he growled. “I don’t want to lie to my sons.”
She blinked. “That’s what this has been about? For three years, you’ve been afraid to pretend there’s a Santa?”
He patted his chest and his jeans in what she knew was a search for gum. A futile one, at that. “My parents told us they’d keep us safe, and they didn’t. It was the first and last lie they ever told. I don’t want our sons to one day realize that the first thing they truly believed in was a lie we told them.”
Runa’s heart melted right into her feet. “Oh, Shade,” she whispered. “If it means that much to you, we can be honest with them about Santa. But first, just listen to me, okay?” He nodded, and she took a deep, bracing breath. “I had a crappy childhood. You know that. Almost all of my memories are horrible. But the good ones? They’re all about Christmas.”
She thought back to the bottles of alcohol that were strewn around the house, and how sometimes her brother, Arik, would stuff Christmas lights inside them to decorate the house. Their mother always made sure there was at least one present for each of them under the crooked plastic tree on Christmas morning, and twice she even took them caroling.
“The thing I remember most was when my mom took us to see Santa. We always did it without our dad, and we’d spend the whole day out. She’d buy us ice cream, and then she’d get us hot cocoa to warm up. When we finished we’d go see Santa, and for a full year after that, when all the bad shit happened, I’d remember that Christmas was coming. It was the one day when my parents got along, and the one day nothing bad ever happened.”
Shade moved to her, all grace and rolling shoulders, and hugged her to him. “All our days are like that, Runa,” he said into her hair. “Our boys don’t need a special day set aside to feel safe and loved.”
“No, they don’t. But maybe we do.” Pulling back just a little, she palmed his chest, right over his heart. “Someday the boys are going to grow up and leave, and you know how dangerous it is out there, and how strong the crazy Seminus instincts are. Christmas needs to be an anchor, the one time of year that we can count on everyone being together. A little white lie about a jolly man in a red suit is going to be the least of their worries someday.” Beneath her hand, Shade’s pulse pounded, and the mate-mark on her arm began to throb in time with his heart. “Give them that. Give us that.”
“You’re right,” he rasped. “I’m sorry, Runa.”
“No,” she said softly. “You don’t need to be. We come from different worlds, and we’re going to clash. It’s why we have to talk. Instead of, you know, being grumpy for three years on Christmas.” She playfully pinched his biceps to punctuate that last part.
“I’ll make it up to you, I swear.” His hand dropped to her butt, and he hauled her even harder against him. She growled in approval and nipped the skin over his collarbone. His hiss — and the insta-erection behind his fly — told her he’d liked it. “What do you say we go grab the boys and take them to see Santa?”
She grinned. “Really?”
A naughty smile spread across his face as his fingers delved between her thighs. “What do you think?”
“I think I love you,” she whispered.
“I love you too, baby,” Shade whispered back. “Merry Christmas.”