Series: Carnelian Dragons #9
Release Date: 11/20/2018
Contributors: Starla Night
Genre: Aliens, Dragons, Fantasy, Sci Fi Romance, SFR, Shifters, Steamy Paranormal Romance
Buy the Book: Amazon
What is the mysterious human “spirit" of Christmas?
Workaholic dragon shifter Peridot must answer this question. As a new exile to Earth, his future depends on how perfectly he executes his alien boss's assignment. Distractions are strictly forbidden.
So it's too bad Peridot's human holiday consultant is all distraction: sweetly generous, irresistibly curvy, and cinnamon-scented to unleash all his cravings…
Klutzy pet groomer Karmel is the queen of falling - on her face, usually, in front of the guy she most wants to impress. But when Peridot turns into her rescuer, she discovers the starched business suit conceals a hunky, protective, red-hot male more than capable of making her sugar plums dance the cha-cha.
Can Karmel teach Peridot the true meaning of Christmas? Or are they both about to get burned?
Fire meets ice in this delicious PREQUEL NOVELLA about a side character in the Onyx Dragon series. Contains holiday spirits, cookie disasters, and dragon shifter love. Heat up the kitchen and unwrap this fun novella today!
Also in this series:
Freezing rain shook the thick salon windows two days before Christmas.
“Chestnuts roasting on an open fire…” Karmel sang.
Jack Frost was not nipping at her nose because she had it buried in the fur ruff of a freshly-groomed Corgi. The fog-shrouded December evening was frightful, but the Corgi’s clean ruff smelled delightful.
Karmel hummed as she tied a bright red-striped bow on the collar and wheeled the grooming station in front of the motion-sensor camera. She squeezed the dog and silently counted to three. “Smile, Rose.”
The Corgi, Rose Pudge, woofed agreeably.
The pet salon’s camera posted their selfie to the Instagram account.
Karmel wheeled the grooming pedestal out of the danger-zone and rubbed the well-named, pudgy dog. “What a good girl. Let’s go find your owner.”
Rose Pudge jumped off the grooming pedestal and pranced to the lobby.
Her owner Olivia, a reed-thin elementary-aged girl in matching red fingernails and a velvet holiday dress, cooed over the pup. “Rose Pudge is clean like I dreamed. Thank you so much, Misses Karmel.”
“You’re welcome.” Karmel led her to the door and unlocked the glass door. Ice-crusted freezer air made her shiver. “Next time, keep her inside the day of your party so you don’t have an after-hours emergency.”
“I will. Thank you!” Olivia hopped across the greasy, gray sidewalk slush. Her pup’s polished claws scrabbled the dark pavement.
“I’ll bill your account!” Karmel waved. “Happy Howlidays from Pleased Puppers Pet Salon!”
The girl waved back. They disappeared into the back seat of an old Lincoln parked under the street lamp.
Karmel locked the door again. She ran a hand through her hair. Her chipped nails tangled in the riotous brown curls. Oil, she would oil her hair again and tame it before going out. That way, she’d looked like she’d put in an effort to meet—
Oh, god. What time was it?
The clock above the cash register chimed six.
Karmel swore. But she couldn’t just leave. Less than six months into her dream job, she had to prove she was the most responsible groomer.
She hurried through the grooming suite, grabbed the broom and dustpan, and finished her clean up. Done. Yanking the strings of her apron, she stowed it in her cubby and double-checked the closing procedures. She’d started them when the Corgi had shown up covered in turkey grease and flour.
“It’s an emergency,” the poor girl had cried. “She got outside into the garbage cans and Gran won’t let me take her to the Christmas party. And I can’t leave her. She’s my best friend.”
“I understand,” Karmel had said, heart sinking as the girl’s tears had dried. “We can’t separate best friends at Christmas.”
And she’d capped up her travel mug—which was decorated with a worn Santa Claus face although it got year-round use—and hurried into the grooming suite in her green wreathe leggings. Her sleigh bell earrings jangling with cheer.
Although she didn’t feel cheerful. Not when she knew she’d be late.
The male she was meeting already did not approve of her. But Karmel was the best person to answer his research questions. His boss needed to know the meaning of Christmas. He’d promised a big donation to her favorite pet rescue to meet him tonight, so she’d crammed him into a schedule already creaking at the seams.
Speaking of seams… No time to change now. She tucked loose threads from the faux-fur muffs into her holly berry-red dress sleeves.
Pet salon owner Monica had been the first to compliment Karmel’s everyday Santa fashion when December arrived. Like a broken clock, once a year Karmel’s elfin hats, holly earrings, and red-and-green wardrobe fillers were in style.
If she could ever consider a bunch of well-worn thrift shop finds stylish.
Especially to a male who worked at a fashion design company.
So long as he was still waiting for her…
She locked up the cash register, unplugged the gleaming lights, and jammed her travel Santa mug in her overstuffed purse. Karmel passed in front of the motion-sensor camera.
She tackled the chunky camera frame. Where was the power button? Oops, her photo of an arm-half-jammed-in-her-coat-sleeve was uploaded to Instagram. The salon’s followers would discover a disheveled employee sandwiched between their favorite floofy pups.
There was the power button! She fumbled to flip it—
Bang! Bang! Bang!
An older, well-dressed woman rapped on the glass door. “You in there? Hey! You in there!”
She walked away from the still-on camera and checked—the Open sign was dark, as were the front shop lights—and she approached the glass to point at the hours decal. “We’re closed.”
“Let me in. I need to talk to you.”
“Come back on Friday.”
“Are you going to make an old woman—one of your customers—suffer in the cold?”
She was so tempted to say yes.
The woman saw it. She banged. “I want to speak with your manager!”
“She’s not here.”
“You let me in right now!”
Karmel cinching her coat around her waist and shouldered her purse. Then she turned the key and cracked the door. “Please, ma’am, we’re—”
“I have a dispute and you need to resolve it.” The woman pushed her way in and stood in the lobby’s center with her arms crossed, her mouth pinched in anger. “You told Olivia you put a grooming ‘on her bill.’ She’s a child. She doesn’t have ‘a bill.’”
Deep breath. “No, but Rose Pudge is a valued customer of Pleased Puppers Pet Salon, so we’ll catch up at her next appointment.”
“Now, you didn’t tell me that when I dropped her off.”
“You didn’t come into the salon.”
“So, you can’t enter into a business contract with a child. You should be ashamed of yourself for making a child a debtor over a bath.”
It had been more than a bath.
“It’s fine,” Karmel assured her, easing toward the door. “She’s not in debt. Her parents bring Rose Pudge all the—”
“Don’t you dare bring this to her parents. You’re the one who made the mistake. I want it stricken from the record.”
“Stricken from the record?”
“You take your fraudulent fee off her record right this instant or I will report you to the Better Business Bureau.”
Karmel didn’t think she was in the wrong. Monica had a good relationship with her clients, including Rose Pudge’s owners, and handled all unusual circumstances.
She also didn’t want a complaint. “I can’t—”
“Where’s your sense of charity? It’s Christmas. Don’t be selfish. You need to give this grooming for free because that’s the charitable thing to do.”
Karmel’s jaw dropped. “I’m sorry?”
“I said don’t be selfish. Your sign next to the door says you give charity. I don’t see you giving me charity.”
Karmel turned to follow her gaze to the sign. A happy dog in a bright red doghouse was adorned with a Santa hat.
Her jaw closed with a click. Now she was mad. “Yes, we accept donations for ‘Home for the Howlidays,’ a multi-shelter mission to find every rescued pet their ‘forever home’ before the New Year. It’s something I organized. Would you like to donate? On top of your payment for Rose Pudge’s grooming.”
The woman stared at her. “So you’re not giving me the grooming for free?”
“No.” Karmel’s heart thudded hard. “And if you have a problem with that, you call the owner. Her number is on our cards.”
“You can’t get treat me like this. I’m a customer.”
“And we’re closed.” Karmel held the door open.
Icy December air gusted in.
The woman made no move to leave. She didn’t even look cold in her open-toe white high heels and navy blue pants suit. Her gray hair was curled up as if she’d paid her own visit to a classy salon. She looked normal but the inflexible jut of her chin said otherwise.
“Please leave,” Karmel said stiffly.
“I’m not going anywhere until you fix your mistake.”
“I can’t do anything. You need to talk to the owner.”
The woman’s lips twitched like she’d won. “So call her. I’ll wait.”
“What’s the matter? You don’t want your boss to find out your customer disservice two days before Christmas?”
“No, I have a prior appointment.”
“You’re not getting rid of me with lies.”
“Who’s this ‘other appointment’ that’s so much more important than your job?”
A dangerous male voice answered from the street behind Karmel. “Me.”
A delicious shiver ran up her back.
He strode into the pet salon and owned it. The lobby felt like it stretched to accommodate his form.
Six feet of implacable male filled a tailored suit. Fine loafers. Shiny gold Rolex. On his head, perfectly styled blond hair. Hard jaw. Glittering green eyes.
And, if his human form wasn’t intimidating enough, he could always shred his clothes and shapeshift into a clawing, biting, scaly dragon.
Peridot stood beside Karmel. His tone, like his gaze, could fracture ice. “Your business closed long ago.”
“I know. Sorry. It’s a long story. After the last person leaves, I can lock up.” She glared at the problem.
Peridot’s gaze turned on the woman like a laser.
She twitched. “Are you her manager?”
“I’m not leaving until I talk to a manager.”
He strode around the argumentative customer, turned, and formed a wall with his implacable chest. “Leave.”
She stepped back, toward the door. “Are you threatening me?”
“I-I’ll call the police!”
He leaned forward. Curling his lips in the facsimile of a smile made him look even colder. “Good.”
The older woman gasped. “You can’t talk to me like that.” She backed over the threshold.
Peridot stalked her onto the sidewalk.
Karmel stepped outside and pulled the door closed behind her. The lock clicked.
The older woman ruffled herself. “How dare you? You won’t get away with this. I’ll have you fired!”
“Happy Howlidays,” Karmel told her vindictively and turned on her heel.
“I’ll ruin your Yelp page. You’re getting zero stars!” The older woman stomped down the street and entered the Lincoln. It squealed away.
She and Peridot were alone on the darkened sidewalk haloed by fogged-in streetlight.
Karmel’s heart should have calmed, but it thudded even harder. “Well, uh, should we go?”
“To dinner. Your reservation. I’m supposed to tell you how to ‘get in the Christmas spirit’ over drinks and—”
She was late. She was a mess. She’d fought with a customer. And she’d made him miss their reservation. All the worst ways Peridot could see her, he was seeing her. As usual.
He turned and walked away.
She cleared the lump in her throat. Her hands shook with residual stress from fighting with the woman. “I’m sorry. About everything. It’s been a long day. Can we reschedule?”
He half-turned. Street lamps haloed his profile, masking his expression in silhouette, but his tone was slightly surprised. “Reschedule?”
“Now. If you want. If it’s not… If you want.”
“Now you are not available.” He turned three-quarters. “You are meeting with your friend, Eva, for decorating the venue of your Holiday Charity Cookie Exchange.”
“Oh, that’s okay.” She got out her phone. There were three missed calls. From Eva. Karmel dialed and held it the ringing phone to her cold cheek. Her nose was drippy.
Peridot strode away.
Karmel caught up and continued toward the downtown. “She’ll understand. She’s used to this.”
He walked abreast of her. “Eva is used to being less important and having her appointments dropped for another person?”
“Less import—what? No! That’s not—”
“Karmel?” Eva sounded out of breath. “Are you okay? Peridot called me.”
“Yes, it’s a long story. Can we get together in…?” She pulled the phone away from her ear to check the time. “…a couple hours? I’m running late.”
“Oh god, were we decorating today?”
Karmel felt a little better. “Yes. Did you forget?”
“I totally forgot.”
She glanced up at Peridot to say, See, it’s fine, but he focused forward on the spires of skyscrapers, honking cars, and growing crowds of bags-laden shoppers as they descended into downtown Portland.
“Well, the cookie exchange is tomorrow afternoon, so I thought it would be less stressful if we decorated tonight.”
“No, you’re right. Um, Karmel, I kind of also forgot to get the decorations.”
Karmel’s belly dropped. “Forgot?”
“We had finals and then Syen got the last couple days off and…” Eva trailed off.
Her stomach rolled. She did not have time for shopping and Peridot. “Can you go get them now?”
“Bargains-R-Us is closed. The other megastores will be packed. And, er, I’m not in the country right now.”
“Where are you?”
“I always wanted to see Sydney. Christmas in a bikini is a dream.”
The lump was back in her throat. “So you won’t be here? At all?”
“No, we will. Just, you know, not early.”
She made her goodbyes and hung up. Responsibilities weighed down her shoulders. Yes, organizing a cookie exchange for charity had been her idea. But her friends had encouraged her. She’d envisioned it as a fun holiday event with friends. They’d helped with flyers and planning, but one by one, her friends had dropped out. Eva was the last to go. Now it was only Karmel.
A vision of herself, alone in her apartment’s grand lobby, decorating a sad plastic tree at midnight popped into her brain. She pushed it into a dark corner. That was the future. She had to focus on the now.
She put her phone in her jacket pocket, took a deep breath, and smiled up at the male walking beside her. “Good news! I’m free after all.”
He shouldered between shoppers, clearing a path for her, and glanced back. His expression was opaque. The green in his eyes was as unfeeling as a glacier. “Eva de-prioritized you.”
“Oh, it was an honest mistake.” Karmel waved away the accuracy of his statement. “It’s the holidays. Everyone has a lot on their minds.”
Her foot slid in the oversized shoe. Her heel skidded on the icy concrete.
Peridot held out his forearm like a grab bar to help her balance.
She gripped the rock-hard muscle.
He wove through the growing crush. They stopped at the street corner before the glass-fronted skyscraper that housed the Pioneer Place Mall. On the other side of the barrier, buskers on drum and violin performed holiday carols. Overhead, festive silver garlands swung from ornate street lamps.
“There is one thing.” She released his arm, screwed up her courage, and asked. “Do you mind if we run a few errands first?”
“Yes. I mind.”
Okay. Well. That answered that.
The reflections in the garland-festooned windows showed his stern, chiseled brow and angry, clenched jaw. His perfect gray suit creased so severely it could cut someone.
“Sorry. I can shop later. I just thought it would be fun.”
“Fun?” He shook his head and looked away in disgust.
Her heart stuttered in her chest.
Peridot never wanted to do anything together. He’d only come to her now because he was desperate. His request to have dinner with her meant nothing more.
Her heart fell to the icy sidewalk and got crushed beneath the shoppers’ heavy, unfeeling boots.
Peridot’s shoulder bumped hers. His voice was low. Growly. “You do not wish to spend time with me.”
Was he reading her mind? That was how he felt about her.
She cleared her throat. “I’m worried the stores will close.”
He straightened. His full height towered over her. “I understand. Rescheduling doesn’t work. You are released.”
The light changed. He and the rest of the shoppers strode into the crosswalk.
“Just a minute.” She hurried after him, carried by the wave of humanity. “Peri—”
A heavy shopper barreled into her. Wham. She slammed on her butt in the middle of the busy intersection. Her shoe flew off. She struggled to her feet as people trampled over her. Someone stepped on her purse as she tried to pull it onto her shoulder.
Her strap broke.
Her purse upended in the crosswalk.
Lip balm, curl-taming oil, moisturizer, and antacids tumbled out. Her “appointment book” of scrap papers scrawled with dates, times, and plans fluttered away like precious snow. Her Santa travel mug hit the curb with a sickening crack.
“Oh, no!” She scrambled after it.
No one stopped. They kicked her, stumbled over her stuff, swore at her. “Get out of the way!” a harried young man snapped.
She crawled to the mall-side of the street.
The light changed. A car honked.
She clambered up on the pavement and staggered to her feet. Cars rumbled through the intersection.
Her mug rolled between the spinning wheels. It clattered toward her like a lost pet trying to reunite with its parent.
Thank goodness! She dropped to her knees and reached—
“—mel. Karmel!” Peridot was shouting for her.
Someone grabbed her shoulder and yanked her backward. The mug whiffed away from her fingertips.
A horn blared. A coupe whizzed in front of her nose. Her travel mug disappeared under its tire. It shattered. Icy mist sprayed her cheek.
She’d had that mug since Santa Barbara. The lucky thrift shop find had always made her smile.
And thanks to her savior, she still had a face to smile with.
The hand on her shoulder was heavy—and sharp. Peridot’s hand. Green scales in light olive covered his skin. He had shifted? Only his hand and wrist up to the suit collar. And his eyes, more intense green than before, illuminated with a mix of emotions. Anger? Fear?
“I look away for one moment and you disappeared.” His tone accused. Canine fangs cleared his lips.
“You stuck your head into traffic.”
“Not on purpose. That was a special mug.”
“Not worth your life.”
“Yeah. I wasn’t thinking.” She gripped his hand on her shoulder, heaved herself up, and balanced on one foot. “That was scary.”
He let out a long, shuddering breath. “Crazy humans.”
“I’ve been called worse.” She released his arm to shove her freezing toes into her lost shoe.
Another pedestrian jostled her.
“Oof.” She wobbled off-balance.
He pulled her in. She collapsed against his hard, masculine chest.
She splayed her hand across his white shirt for balance. Her fingers picked out every divot and flex of the muscle rippling beneath the silk.
He smelled like musk and under-the-sheets sex.
Her belly pinged with awareness.
She wanted to melt against him and trace his rough jaw with her tongue.
As though he sensed her thoughts, his breath stopped. His green eyes focused on her, fathomless emerald depths, and his jaw clenched.
She needed to nibble the enticing shadow of stubble. He was such a male, and he made her feel like a woman.
He held her for a minute too long. His nostrils flared as though he was scenting her arousal.
She wet her lips. “Peridot?”
He did not answer. His gaze dropped to her lips.
And then, he pushed her back stiffly. “Excuse me.”
“S-sure.” She tugged down her coat and dress and pulled up her leggings. Icy sludge soaked her socks. Her purse dangled from its shredded strap. A total loss.
His knuckles flexed and his hand shimmered. Green scales receded to normal, human skin. He refocused on her. “Do not commit suicide over a small drink vessel.”
“No. I didn’t mean to. Sorry for making you worry.”
He harrumphed. “Please exercise greater self-control.”
She was a mess. Not even a hot mess. Out here, in her threadbare, ice-grimed dress and leggings, she was getting colder and colder.
Peridot recovered. “Before you disappeared, you were speaking of fun.”
“Oh. Yes.” She held her large purse—now a clutch—under one arm and rummaged in what remained. “Shopping together is more fun.”
“And less efficient,” he pointed out. “And more stressful.”
But his tone had changed. Warmer, again. Saving her life had made him more invested? Or he was afraid to leave her on her own. Either worked in her favor.
“I promise there will be no more stress,” she pressed and immediately hit good luck. “Look! Here’s my decoration list. It survived the Great Purse Disaster. It’s a sign that we’re supposed to go decorations shopping together.”
He stared at the paper scrap she waved in his skeptical face.
“We’ll have a great time. See the sights. I’ll tell you all about my favorite time of year. Don’t look so grim! Nothing else can possibly go wrong.”
A gust of wind tore her shopping list out of her hand. The scrap sailed high in the air. They both watched it fly away.
Peridot’s flat lips somehow grew even flatter. “Let me guess. You need that?”
She forced a full-teeth grin. “Maybe it will fall down?”
Twenty feet up, it flapped against a second-floor window. And stuck.
“Uh… Yeah, I do kind of need that.”
One moment he was standing beside her and the next he was rising into the air like a superhero. The crowd of holiday shoppers gasped and stared.
“Dragon alien,” one of them said to her friend. “Look. It’s a dragon alien.”
Five years ago, a couple of movie-like UFOs appeared over Earth. Karmel, along with everybody else, suddenly learned that they were very not alone in the universe.
Their “discoverers” were a race of aliens who could fly. They could also shift between human and dragon forms. The dragon form was straight out of a medieval European heraldic scroll, which made sense because the dragon aliens had first surveyed Earth a couple centuries ago. Earth was on the edge of the Dragon Empire and had been ignored as a backwater.
Peridot collected the shopping list and descended to Karmel’s side. He handed her the list. “If it’s important, don’t lose it.”
“No. Thank you.” She gripped it. “So, shall we go?”
He checked his Rolex.
“You can see how other stores get into the Christmas spirit,” she babbled. “Nothing’s more traditional than panicked, last-minute shopping. I’ll even buy you a coffee. What do you say?”
His blond brows lifted. “You really think shopping with me will be ‘fun’?”
“Oh, everything’s more fun when you do it with a friend.”
He blinked. “Eva is not here.”
He frowned at her list.
Wait. Ohhh. She coughed. Okay, so, he didn’t consider them friends.
“I meant acquaintances. Work friends. People who are friends because their friends are dating. Coming?”
“Fine.” With a glare over his shoulder, highlighting his perfect chiseled profile, Peridot waded after her into the crowds.
His annoyance stung. It always did.
But that was okay. This was a challenge.
Peridot was her current unrequited crush. Nobody was further out of her reach than this perfectly controlled, well-organized, flawless dragon alien.
Her impossible task was to drag him, probably kicking and screaming, into the camp of people who loved blinking holiday lights, glittering tinsel, and eggnog.
She had one night.
Karmel vowed to put him in the holiday spirit even if it killed her.
Even if it killed both of them.
THIS NOVELLA WAS PREVIOUSLY PUBLISHED. It was "Her Perfect Christmas Dragon" in the All He Wants for Christmas anthology in 2017. It has been revised and re-released to be even tastier and more fun than before. It contain 10% more danger, 20% more cookies, 50% more fluffy pups, and 100% more Christmas spirit to be an action-danger-cookie-pup-spirit packed novella just in time for the holidays! Enjoy!