Traveling alone in Finland around Christmas isn't exactly what Vera Hayes had imagined she'd be doing. When her longtime boyfriend dumps her before the trip at the last minute, she decides to go anyways. However, she gets lost in a forest in Lapland and starts to panic until she runs into a magical man who looks suspiciously like an elf without the pointy ears. Pekka, one of Santa's elves, soothes away her worry and helps her find her way back to her cabin, giving her a Christmas Eve to remember.
Santa's Helpers: Her Christmas Elf
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Copyright ©2012 Sarah Mäkelä
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Shivering, Vera Hayes watched the soft snow falling around her. The landscape was so pretty and so dangerous at this chilling temperature, especially considering she had no clue where she was. She'd gone on a walk when the sun had been up, but now darkness rapidly descended on the forest.
This trip had been nothing but trouble, and she'd been stupid to actually take it. Her ex-boyfriend Steve had wanted this, not her. She'd gone ahead with it thinking it would help free her somehow, but this was far from freeing.
Vera stomped her feet and huddled deeper into her coat, which was starting to feel a little too thin for the current weather. She leaned against a birch tree and hunched her shoulders, beyond frustrated with her current predicament.
Snow dusted her, and she scanned the forest again. Hope failed her, and she set off walking again. Damn, damn, damn.
Faint rumbling sounded in the distance behind her and she stopped. The noise grew louder until she could identify it.
Hooves. Lots and lots of hooves. Adrenaline flooded her veins, but her body froze in place from fear.
In the distance, she spotted a herd of reindeer running in her direction. A quick look around her showed no trees with low-hanging branches. So much for easy climbing. She reached for the closest birch, its bark broken by the frost. She wrapped her hands around it and began to climb.
Behind her, the noise grew louder. Among the trees, a herd of reindeer led by a massive gray bull trampled its way through the forest. Snow and frost caved beneath their hooves with almost no resistance.
The glance startled her, and her feet slipped down the birch. Panic struck her chest as she dropped to the ground.
To her left, she saw a small clearing among the trees. She tried to sprint through the almost knee-deep snow, but her progress was too slow. With the herd not far behind, she screamed. When would this nightmare end?
Just as she reached the clearing, a man grabbed her by the arm. He pulled her toward him then and shoved her against a tree, his firm body nestled against her back.
Her breath came out in pants, and not only from her running. "Let me go," she yelled, fear audible in her voice.
"Hush. The herd will ignore you." The man's low, accented voice calmed her a little.
For a moment, Vera considered kicking him and racing away, but his grip tightened on her. He pressed her tighter to the tree. His body molded to hers as if they were puzzle pieces. She only had a second to ponder that as the herd of reindeer stampeded through the clearing.
The large reindeer bull slowed to a stop beside them. Intelligence gleamed in its black, glaring eyes as it waited for the rest of the herd to pass.
"She won't hunt your kin, Old One. I'll look after her," the man said. The reindeer turned its gaze to the man and snorted, shaking its head.
Vera trembled. The cold and numbness she'd been fighting against was draining away her energy. She barely made out the man saying something she couldn't catch. Her attention now focused on the huge bull that stood close enough for her to reach out her hand and touch. The other reindeer were easily her height from hoof to head, but this one made them look small in comparison.
The reindeer stared at her then blew a cloud of steam from its nostrils, obviously not impressed, before galloping after the rest of the herd.
She watched it go until it was barely in sight, then the man grabbed her shoulders. He spun her around, and his gaze dipped to take her in. His expression soured, and he returned his gaze to hers. "What are you doing out here dressed like that?"
Surprise at his audacity had her pulling away from him. His clothing didn't exactly inspire confidence in his sense of fashion either. From what she could tell, his clothing looked to be made of animal pelt. She placed her glove-covered hand against his chest and marveled at the sleek fur.
He snagged her wrist yet didn't move her hand. "There's a storm coming. You shouldn't be out here. You'll die." His gaze whipped over her again, and he grimaced. "Where are you staying?" His words held a melodic lilt that was so pleasant.
"At the cabins." Her teeth chattered a bit more, and she huddled in on herself.
He gave her a quizzical stare then cursed an almost lyrical string of sound. "You're far from safety. What are you doing way out here?"
What did he mean? She hadn't been walking for that long. Or maybe it just hadn't seemed so.
He scooped her into his arms, and she considered falling asleep in the warmth of his grip. But she didn't know anything about him, and after what had just happened with the reindeer...