A slick lion is about to get sticky this holiday season when he meets his unlikely mate.
It’s almost Christmas, and a visiting lion prince is excited to go tree hunting with the Pride ladies. Only a mishap with a squirrel leaves the posh Felix snowed in with a honey-loving bear.
Edwina, owner of Honey Pine Farm, is a bear with a serious sweet tooth who prefers comfort over style. She’s counting down the days until she can head south for Christmas, only to get snowed in with a lion prince.
She isn’t impressed by his silky-soft mane, and he casts doubts on honey as a cure-all, yet as they spend time together, they discover they have more in common than expected—and a passion hotter than chestnuts roasting on a fire.
When Edwina is put in danger during a beehive heist, he’ll do anything—even place his trust in the squirrel that almost killed him—to help save the bear he loves.
On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me - a mirror so we could admire our luscious mane.
Felix took a moment to check his hair. Perfect. As usual. Summoned to his mother’s presence, he’d dressed casually in tweed trousers, a buttoned shirt, and loafers with no socks. He might go for a stroll in town later and give the people a thrill that their prince walked among them. Maybe stop for a fresh coffee and a catnip-sprinkled donut.
Mother had other plans.
“Pack a bag. You’re going on a trip. You’re to leave within the hour. The jet is waiting.”
“Leave for where?” Felix asked his mother.
The matriarch of his family, and current head of the Pride in Spain, she was splendid despite having celebrated her sixtieth birthday. Her natural hair was more gray than gold, but her face remained mostly smooth, and not because of surgery. Lion genetics played a part, but she also religiously moisturized, as did he.READ MORE
“You are going to America. You’ll be spending Christmas with your cousin Arik.” Mother slipped into impeccable English. They all spoke without a hint of an accent. Part of their education.
Before a confused Felix could ask why, his sister, a mini-me version of his mother, swept in. “Did you tell him?”
“How does she know before me?” He stabbed a finger in his sibling’s direction, the rivalry between them alive and well.
“Don’t whine. It’s not attractive,” Mother chided.
“I will whine if I want, given my own flesh and blood is ridding themselves of me this holiday season.” Felix clutched his chest. “So unloved.”
“Don’t be a drama lion. It wasn’t on purpose. It just so happens I’ve got plans, and as queen-in-waiting, your sister has been invited to spend Christmas with the Italian Pride as part of our treaty negotiations. You should thank me for ensuring you won’t be alone.”
“It’s twelve days until Christmas. What am I supposed to do?”
“Reconnect with your American cousins. Eat some of their cuisine.”
“I’d hardly call their chain of steakhouses cuisine.” His lip curled.
“I hear it’s quite good.” Mother kept countering his arguments. “While there, you can finish up negotiations on our upcoming merger with Arik. Oh, you should try and visit Honey Pine Farm.”
“Why would I do that?”
“Because they have some very unique honey, and if you could score me a jar of Honey-Wrinkle-No, you’d be my favorite son.”
“I’m your only son.”
“For now.” A dumb threat since mother had no intention of having more kids.
“Do you know how cold it is in America this time of year?” Felix exclaimed. “Think of the havoc it will wreak on my mane.” He gave his golden locks a little shake.
His sister, standing alongside his mother, sporting the same disapproving scowl, snorted. “Vain idiot.”
“You really shouldn’t frown like that, sister dear. Wrinkles are everyone’s enemy. If you’d like, I can recommend a cream. It might not be too late for you.”
“I will skin you,” his sister hissed.
“Now, children.” Mother stepped in. “We don’t have time for arguing. I have spoken.”
And that was that.
Felix barely had time to pack all his essentials before being whisked to the airport. He spent the second day of Christmas at a high altitude, eating chocolate-covered strawberries and drowning his sorrows in wine. Not enough for a hangover. After all, he wanted to look his best.
A prearranged vehicle waited when he arrived, driven by an old acquaintance. Leo was a massive man who’d gotten bigger since they’d last seen each other. Married life agreed with him obviously. He filled Felix in on the most recent news as he drove to his cousin’s base of operations, a condominium complex that housed a good chunk of his pride.
Given America’s massive size and population, more than a few lion groups existed, each with their own king, but Cousin Arik’s was the most powerful. And rich. The man made a fortune in hair products, among other things.
“Afraid I’ll have to drop you and run. I’m having dinner with my mate, no kids, and she threatened to neuter me if I’m late.” With those words, Leo deposited Felix at the front of the condo building, luggage piled on the sidewalk. Only six bags since he’d barely had time to pack. He’d have to do some shopping. With Mother’s credit card, of course.
Felix gave his hair a finger comb before entering and announcing, “Rejoice, my American cousins, for I am here to make your holiday season glorious and bright.” Felix stood majestically, waiting to be acknowledged by the sprawling lionesses on the many divans scattered throughout the common area in the lobby.
Only one set of eyes turned his way. Then the woman with the multicolored hair achieved through copious amounts of bleach—horrifying! —yawned and turned away.
Perhaps they’d not heard him, or they had something wrong with their vision? Must be. How else could they not see his greatness?
He struck a more flattering pose and tried again. “Ahem. It is I, Felix Charlemagne, visiting from far, far away Spain. Rejoice for we are about to spend Christmas together.”
“Shhh. Can’t you see Annabelle and Junior are napping!” A woman with extremely blonde hair—thankfully naturally occurring—wearing athletic gear, shushed him and pointed to a woman splayed on a couch with a baby sprawled across her chest.
“Too late,” the no-longer-sleeping mother grumbled. Indeed, a second later the infant squalled. Loudly. The treble almost upset the perfect balance in Felix’s hair. Good thing he’d double moisturized that morning.
“Do you know how long it took to settle him?” complained another woman, standing up and putting her hands on her hips. He recognized Joan, seeing as how she’d driven him from the airport the last time he’d flown in for a visit.
“He’s colicky.” Another woman confronted him with a scowl.
Finally, all eyes were upon Felix, and he tilted his chin, offering his best angle. “Fear not. I can put the child back to sleep.”
“How? Going to bore him?” Asked with a roll of eyes. Such disrespect.
He’d show them. He snapped his fingers.
No one jumped. He almost sighed. How he missed home already, where his every whim was catered to before he even knew he had a whim.
“Hand over the child,” he demanded.
“You planning to smother it? Because my husband has forbidden it.” Annabelle grimaced at the yelling babe, who appeared to take after his lion father rather than his wolf mother, judging by his downy platinum hair.
“No need for drastic measures.” He held out his hands, and the baby was placed in them.
He flipped the child to his shoulder and rubbed. The yodeling stilled immediately. A moment later, he handed back a sleeping cub.
The mother gaped at the baby, then him, and whispered, “How? It took me an hour of rocking, the skin off a nipple, and a prayer to the devil the last time.”
He pulled out a small atomizer. “Spritz this on your clothes. It has a calming effect.” He’d used it before disembarking the jet to ensure smooth entry via customs. A calm border agent didn’t dig too deeply into his many hair products.
Annabelle snatched it. “Thank you.”
“I’m going to need the name of the company so I can order a case. Might need some myself soon.” A very pregnant female patted her rounded abdomen.
“Don’t be foolish, cousin Luna. It is Luna, right?” He wasn’t quite sure given they’d only met once during a previous family holiday and not gotten along well. She’d shaved half his head. Of course, at the time they were both kids and he’d deserved it for telling her she had hair like that of a golden retriever.
“Aw, I’m touched you remember me, Weepy.” His nickname that particular summer because he’d cried when he’d seen what she’d done to his head.
“The name is Felix, if you don’t mind.”
“I’ll call you anything you like if you can get us more of that.” She pointed at Annabelle and the spray bottle.
Someone tried to snatch it saying, “Let me have a sniff.”
Annabelle bared her teeth and snarled, “Touch it and die.”
Everyone chose to live.
It was one of the younger lounging felines who exclaimed, “Aren’t you the guy in all those perfume commercials?”
About time they recognized him. He’d been aiming much of his media outreach at the younger demographics. “I am.” He puffed his chest.
The slender female eyed him. “I thought you’d be taller.”
He did his best to not glare. He’d not made it to thirty-five wrinkle free only to fail now. However, he did defend himself. “I am a respectable six foot two.”
“Only?” That was the reply, followed by snickering.
He’d forgotten the boldness of American females. Or, as this group liked to be called, the Biatches. Before he caused an international incident, he chose to excuse himself. “Ladies, while this has been an absolute pleasure, my cousin awaits.” He made his exit, somewhat mollified when someone whispered, “He’s got a nice ass.”
“I guess you could always put a bag over his head.” The quick retort deflated his ego.
He fought to not purse his lips as he stalked for the desk manned by a guard who appeared more interested in his phone than his job, although he did glance at Felix when he cleared his throat.
“Take me to Arik.” Felix made the demand.
“Do you have an appointment?” the fellow dared to ask.
“As if I need one.”
Felix arched a brow. “Do you know who I am?”
“Someone without an appointment because I have nothing on my list for today.” The guard smirked.
Felix took a breath through his nose to calm the irritation. No stress. No wrinkles. No flipping out. That was for the less evolved.
“I am Felix Charlemagne, and my cousin Arik personally invited me here to spend the holidays.” Perhaps Felix would talk to his cousin about educating his Pride on how to treat guests of importance. The last time Arik came to Spain to see Felix’s family, they’d had a literal red carpet waiting on the runway.
“Hold on a second, you’re his cousin Icky?”
Felix stiffened. “It’s actually pronounced Ixy.” A stupid name used only by Arik that came about during the summers they’d spent together at camp. There was a time they’d been best friends. But then adulthood happened.
In the last twenty years, they’d grown apart and had only rarely crossed paths in the last decade. Last time Felix saw Arik the man had gotten married to a human. A hairdresser, too, which Felix did admire. How nice to have a wife understanding of the care and maintenance that needed to go into having an incredible mane.
Rumor had it Arik fathered two children, a boy and a girl. Felix had a pair of creatures he cared for, too. He called the red fish Big Red, and the blue one Big Blue. Easy to tell apart. He used an automated feeder when he had to leave town. He’d finally mastered the whole responsible-for-another-living-thing level. Big Red and Big Blue had just celebrated the one-year mark. A record.
“I thought you’d be taller,” the guard stated, eyeing him up and down.
“I am the same height as Arik.” The strain to not grimace would mean extra exfoliating later.
The dubious expression of the guard almost had him gnashing his perfect teeth. They’d better be impeccable given the number of times he saw a dentist a year.
“I’ll ring the king and let him know you’re coming up.”
Such disrespect for a prince. Felix could have been king if he’d fought for it, but he’d watched his father work himself into an early grave, and before that happened, the constant scowling had left a permanent mark on his face. It didn’t appeal to Felix, so when his sister showed an interest, he chose to not fight, which drove her insane, as she assumed he plotted to take the throne away. He had no such plan, but he did enjoy stoking her paranoia.
Let her have the title of queen. Felix didn’t have time, not if he wanted to maintain his beautiful mane. It took much work each day to keep it healthy. He couldn’t slow down now, not knowing his father had gone bald before thirty.
A lion with no mane. It was a nightmare. No wonder the man died young. That wouldn’t be Felix.
Let his sister become the first unmarried Pride Queen for all of Spain. Although how long she’d remain single had people laying wagers. Everyone assumed she’d give in to the pressure to have a man by her side and provide heirs. Felix couldn’t wait to see heads explode when they realized Francesca preferred to date women and had already confided, her lip curling in distaste, that his children would be the heirs since she had no intention of letting anything leech life from her body. Probably for the best given Francesca’s lack of motherly instinct.
Still, her plan to use his children as heirs might backfire, given he’d not found anyone he wanted to bestow his precious seed upon. No one worthy of his great mane. No one that kept him intrigued past a dalliance or two.
Francesca hadn’t given up hope on Felix, though, and neither had he. Surely somewhere a woman existed who could pass muster. The first important point being they had to have incredible hair. A tough one, but he’d met a few candidates with adequate locks. A little bit of help from him and he could have turned decent into epic.
However, why bother when most never passed his second requirement? Pass muster by his mother. Not an easy task. Only certain lineages would do.
The guard stuck him on an elevator and pressed the button for the penthouse. As they zoomed up, he mentally went through more of his list. Must have excellent taste in cheese. None of that processed orange crap. A designer clothes connoisseur. He did have an image to maintain, after all. She should either know how to cook fine meals or recognize quality and have them catered. A proper diet went a long way toward keeping those golden strands of his luscious.
The elevator stopped, and Felix smoothed his suit, raked his fingers through his perfectly layered locks, and rapped at the door, looking nonchalant for the door cam.
His cousin opened the door and smiled. “Ixy! It’s been too long.” Arik held open his arms and hugged him enthusiastically. It gave Felix a chance to sniff at his scalp. Hint of apple pie, very American. Some vanilla. Maybe a touch of lavender.
Arik drew back. “Like it? It’s my new line of shampoo and conditioner. I call it The Lion Essentials.”
“It’s simple. I assume you’re marketing it as your budget line.”
Arik smirked. “Most expensive actually. The world is in a period of surplus, which means people will pay more to go back to the basics. Which you well know.”
“We’re about to release our most basic line of scents yet,” Felix admitted. While Arik made his fortune mostly in hair products, the Charlemagnes were renowned perfumers who had also begun dabbling in body sprays and lotions.
“Have to say I’m excited about our upcoming joint project. Don’t know how it took us so long to collaborate.” The venture being a mix of the Charlemagnes’ know-how when it came to scent and Arik’s company with soap to create a revolutionary, and expensive, line of care products. “But it’s too early to discuss business. It’s been too long, cousin.”
“It has.” The honest truth? Seeing Arik brought back memories of a more relaxed time in his life. “You appear to have done well.” Unlike Leo with his well-fed paunch, Arik remained fit and his hair absolutely stupendous.
“Couldn’t be happier. You should try the mated thing. It’s been amazing.”
The very thought made Felix’s hair curl. Eep. He quickly changed the subject. “Where are the progeny? I’d like to meet—”
A Tasmanian devil came whipping out of nowhere, landing atop Felix’s shoulders with a giggle, while a more solemn child approached with chubby arms upraised. As if Felix could refuse. He scooped the girl while the boy straddled his shoulders.
Arik beamed. “Meet Leda and Dale.”
Beautiful children. Both with golden hair. The boy bore a blessed three crowns on his head. It led to a very drunken Felix later exclaiming, “He’s got perfect hair. They both do. But that girl of yours…she will break many hearts.” She’d clung to Felix and declared him pretty. Good taste for one so young.
“I’m a lucky man,” Arik replied smugly.
“Indeed, you are.”
“I have Kira to thank for that. Who would have thought a hairdressing mishap would lead to me becoming a husband and father.” The woman in question had left the men to reminisce while she bathed and put the children to bed.
“Ah, the lovely Kira. You’re so lucky.” Felix sighed. “For a human, she is rather perfect. Her hair, her manner, her laughter.”
“Careful, Ixy,” Arik warned.
“Never fear, cousin. I would never. But I have to say, seeing you with your brood is rather inspiring even as I fear it’s impossible.”
“You’ll find the right person too, Ixy.”
“Alas, dear cousin, that would take a Christmas miracle.” Not likely with only ten days left until Christmas.
On the third day of Bearmas, my true love gave to me—nothing because I am not dating that wolf who thinks it’s funny to ask if I’m related to the Charmin fellow.
“Merry Bearmas!” Edwina boomed as the many cars arrived, spilling lions all over the place for the annual tree hunt. It almost made her sneeze to have so many cats in close proximity. She never had that problem with the wolves, but at the same time, the wolves were cheap compared to the felines, always trying to haggle a lower price.
“And a Merry Christmas to you too,” Luna declared, waddling over, her belly leading the way. So many of the Biatches had settled down in recent years. It roused a bit of jealousy in Edwina to see them with cubs. She’d always wanted a cuddly tyke she could hug and squish and call Little Eddy. Alas, she’d yet to meet her bear-fect match.
“You look ready to pop!” Edwina declared, eyed the protruding belly.
“Because it was due two days ago. It’s refusing to come out.” Luna glared at the hump. It jiggled in reply.
“I take it you don’t know the sex?”
“Nope. The little bugger kept its legs shut tight so we couldn’t see shit on the ultrasound. But enough about my stubborn fetus. I was sorry to hear about your grandfather.” Luna’s lips turned down.
Edwina shrugged. “I guess it was only a matter of time. Although, given how long he held out, I’d begun to think he would live with me forever. But then he met that widow in Florida while on a visit with my parents and… well… you know how it goes.”
“He finally turned into a snow bear,” Luna commiserated.
“I don’t suppose you could get them to invite my mom for a visit,” Nexxie exclaimed, having overheard. She’d increased her piercings since Edwina last saw her and now had one going through her tongue.
“Can you handle being orphaned more than six months every year?” Edwina asked.
“I should be so lucky!” Nexxie enthused, crossing her fingers and looking to the sky in added prayer.
In some respects, Nexxie had it right. Edwina enjoyed not having an old and ornery bear grumbling she lived in a freezer. In her defense, no one should have their house heated to eighty-five.
Grandpa also grumbled if she touched the remote, never mind the fact he started snoring two minutes after he sat down to watch television. Then there was the way he left his old man briefs, with shit stains that he claimed weren’t his, on the floor of the bathroom. He didn’t make for the best roommate, especially once her parents left.
Another pair of people she missed but didn’t. While she loved Mom and Dad dearly, she’d been glad when they chose to spend most of their time elsewhere. Sometime in their late fifties, her parents suddenly decided they were nubile youngsters again. Chasing each other around. Giggling. Spending more time naked than clothed. Edwina might need therapy for the things she’d come across. It was a miracle she’d not gone blind.
A good thing she knew moms and dads didn’t have sex. Edwina was immaculately conceived. What she saw? Surely a hallucination. Daddy merely spanked Mommy because she was bad.
“It’s been peaceful since Grandpa left.” Too peaceful. It led to Edwina zoning out on the couch, partaking in a little too much of the sweet stuff and then lying there in a stupor. But in good news, she always got the remote.
“Where do I sign up?” Nexxie rubbed her hands in glee.
Laughter rumbled from Edwina. “It’s easy. Just give your mom a ticket to go for a visit.”
“What if she won’t go?”
“Oh she will, because not only is she going to escape the bite-ass cold of winter, you’re going to join her.”
“Why would I do that?”
“To make sure she ends up in the right spot.” In the case of her parents, Edwina dumped their necking butts at an adult community where some of their friends fled to in the winter. “And because once family gets a foothold down there, you know what that means for you?”
It took a moment, but eventually Nexxie’s eyes widened. “I could go to PrideLand any time I wanted!”
PrideLand was a new theme park that not only offered roller coasters and other wild rides but it also had an animal reserve. For lions. A relaxing spa retreat for the animal lover.
“Don’t say that name,” Luna grumbled. “Joel is already threatening to make us do family road trips and embark on memory-making adventures when the baby is old enough.”
“You can be the next Lionwald family.” Nexxie clasped her hands. “I can’t wait to see your antics on the big screen in the theater room.”
“No one will be taping me.” Luna glared at the younger girl. “I mean it.”
“You say that now, but”—Nexxie cupped Luna’s cheeks—“you’re about to become a mom, and I have already wagered you’ll be the type videotaping every single moment. Forcing us to watch it as you tell us about the big shit that almost went nuclear.”
“Take that back!” Luna threatened, shaking her finger in Nexxie’s face.
“Or what? You’ll knock me down with that massive belly? You’re being hormonal, preggo,” Nexxie taunted, and Luna yelled, before lunging. Using evasive technique, the girl bolted with a waddling Luna on her tail, shaking her fist.
Edwina blinked. Bugging an about-to-pop Luna seemed a little much even for the lions.
Reba neared, shaking her head. “Poor Luna. She wants the baby out so badly. Last night she was eating food so spicy it’s a wonder she’s alive. Poor Joel was whining to all the boys about raw dick and something about her taking all the fun out of sex.”
“Sex?” Edwina questioned. “I’m surprised she’s in the mood.”
“It’s supposed to help induce labor. Today, she’s exercising.”
“Why bother with all that? She just needs some of my special honey ‘O.’”
Reba frowned. “How will eating honey help?”
“She doesn’t put it in her mouth,” Edwina stated.
“Then where? On her belly?”
“Oh… Oh.” A cleared throat and a hesitant, “What does it do?”
“Intense orgasm. Enough to contract the uterus and get things going.”
Reba stared at her. “Um, did you say orgasm?”
“And does it work only on women?”
“Men too. It’s very versatile.” Edible and easy to wash off, it was an organic solution that not many knew about.
“I don’t suppose you sell it?”
“As a matter of fact, I have a few small jars.” She never had a large supply given the process involved in creating the specialized honey. Edwina quoted a price in the three digits, and the lioness didn’t blink as she handed over her credit card. “I’ll take one. Not for me,” she hastened to add.
“Because sex with my mate is already incredible.”
“Think of it more as an enhancement.”
Reba arched a brow. “You know what, make that two.”
“I’ll have it ready for when you leave, which you won’t want to delay. There’s a storm coming.” It wouldn’t be long before the bright sunshine turned to shadow. A dark cloud blotted the horizon. “Better grab an axe and get cutting.”
“Stupid tradition. I don’t see why we can’t buy a tree from a lot,” Reba grumbled.
“If you want to save yourself the hassle, I have some precut,” Edwina reminded, sweeping her hand to the left to show them off.
It led to pearly whites gleaming as a grinning Reba replied, “Okay, so I lied. I think we all love getting a chance to swing a blade.”
“I know. And wait until you see the axes I special ordered for this season.”
A squealed, “Oh my fucking god it’s pink,” had Reba’s eyes widening.
“Hot damn. You didn’t.”
Edwina grinned. “I did. It was time we replaced the old stock, so I ordered some new ones. There’s even a bedazzled blade.” Edwina might run a tree and honey farm, but she knew her market. The lionesses’ yearly Christmas tree hunt brought in the big bucks. The money laundering she did for the Pride kept her hobby farm more than afloat. She got a cut, they cleaned some dollars that they couldn’t through their legit businesses, and everyone was happy.
“Don’t tell my husband, but I think I love you.” Reba hugged Edwina quickly before whirling to yell, “Touch the sparkly one and die, biatches!”
Someone hadn’t changed.
Edwina hid a smile as Reba stalked off to get her sparkly axe.
Joan took her place. “Hello, gorgeous. I don’t suppose you’ve turned bi since last year?” The athletic lioness offered a hopeful grin.
“What can I say? I’m still a lover of wood.” Even if the wood she’d been getting of late didn’t really satisfy. At her ripe age of thirty-seven, she’d begun to wonder if she should think about widening her horizons.
“Shame. But you know where I am if you change your mind.” Joan winked.
Edwina almost blushed. “How many trees do you need this year?”
“As many as we can load for the apartments, plus we’ll need a beast for the lobby.”
“I know just the one,” Edwina said, only to blink as four people came trudging into the yard on foot. The twins, Teena and Meena, raced and tripped their way into the yard. Behind the twins was Melly, looking as bouncy and cheerful as usual but accompanying her was an oddly dressed person. They wore sunglasses, a fancy wide-brimmed hat, a long navy-blue pea coat, boots that wouldn’t survive even an inch of snow, and gloves that probably made the cold worse. “Who the fuck is that?”
Joan smirked. “Arik’s cousin, Felix. Some kind of prince from overseas. Arrived yesterday. He heard we were going tree picking and insisted on helping, which I couldn’t blame him for, given his other choice was going to a kids’ play place with Arik because his boy got invited to a party. I’d rather go tree cutting too.”
Edwina cast him a doubtful glance as he moved warily over the rutted ice and slush. “I don’t think he’ll be much use looking like that.”
“As if we need him or any man to cut wood. Like, hello, I’ve been handling wood for a long time,” Reba purred with innuendo as she returned with her sparkly axe. She swung it and let the rhinestones catch the light.
“He’s going to freeze in those clothes,” Edwina muttered.
“If it’s any consolation, under that crap, he’s actually quite pretty.” He must be since Joan was the one to make the remark.
Edwina wrinkled her nose. “I’ll take useful over pretty, thank you.”
“Speaking of pretty…” Joan drawled.
Edwina grinned. “I didn’t forget. I just didn’t put your new ax with the others. Yours is by the door to my house.” An ax that Joan special ordered and had sent as a gift with just one caveat, Mine during our tree day.
The axe, custom crafted by a metal smith, used a secret alloy that ensured the blade never rusted or dulled. It could cut through anything with a powerful stroke. Edwina had been waiting for Joan to get the first swing in since she bought it before using it herself.
As Reba and Joan moved off, Melly took their place.
“Can I borrow your phone? Mine’s fried.” Melly shook her cell in her direction. “I need to call a tow truck. Our ride died a mile down the road. Like something zapped it. All the electronics, including our phones, went dead.”
That arched her brow. “How the hell did you manage that?”
Melly shrugged. “Blame his highness spritzing himself. I think he might have misted the electrical. Then had the nerve to complain because we had to walk the rest of the way in. Wait until he finds out he’ll have to bum a ride with someone else on the way back and get squished.” She snickered.
“Use my phone,” Edwina offered, holding out her cell, already unlocked.
“Thanks.” As Melly moved off to order a tow, the prince worked his way over to her, looking ridiculous up close and smelling of lotion. Little of his face could be seen given the oversized lenses, hat pulled low, and collar turned up.
“My lady.” He sketched a partial bow.
She arched a brow. “Can I help you?”
“I am Felix Charlemagne, cousin to Arik, visiting for the holidays.”
“Good for you.”
“We require some trees.”
“Aren’t you the vendor?” he drawled. “Show me your wares.”
Imperious prick. She pointed. “Over there are some precuts.”
He glanced. “I don’t think that’s enough.”
“We need more trees.”
“I know. And so do they.” Edwina gestured to the women moving off into the grove. “What do think they have the axes for?”
He turned to eye the lionesses wandering the neat rows of trees.
“Fantastic. Fresh cut. Marvelous idea, but I’m afraid I’m not quite dressed for traipsing in the woods.”
“You’re right. You’re not.” At least he recognized it. Perhaps he’d even done it on perhaps so he wouldn’t have to exert himself.
“It’s cold. I don’t suppose you have an office where I can warm up?”
“What about a store? I hear you also sell honey.”
“I do sell honey, but I don’t have a store,” she replied as she walked away, heading for the tree part of her farm.
He tagged along. “Word is your honey has remarkable traits.”
“If you say so.” She knew better than to say too much to a stranger.
“My mother was saying I should buy some.”
“Then maybe you should.”
“Since you don’t have a store, do you have a website? I tried looking you up but didn’t find anything other than a business listing for Honey Pine Farm.”
“Don’t need a website or store.”
To his credit, while she could hear annoyance brimming in his tone, his face remained smooth. “How are you supposed to attract buyers?”
“I have enough clients.” She sold her stuff via special order.
“What if I want to buy some?”
“I’ll think about it.”
As his jaw dropped, she turned from the prince and walked away. She snared a rope for her sledge, bright red and parked on the front lawn. When they had horses, they used to pull it. Now Edwina wrapped the rope tether around her upper body. At least it was light and the runners would slide on the icy tracks.
“Where are you going with that?” his royal pain in the ass asked as she trudged past some of the Pride ladies cutting down some of the simple trees for household use. Edwina signaled to Reba, who’d gleefully used her shiny new sharp weapon to timber a six-footer.
“You coming to get the big one?” Edwina hollered.
“Hell yeah.” Reba grabbed hold of Joan and joined Edwina. Between the three of them, they should be enough to haul a big one back, because she doubted the tag-along prince would be much use. Thus far, he’d only been good at running his mouth.
“Are we going far?” he asked, following behind the sled while Reba and Joan went ahead to scout the prospects.
“Yup.” The older parts of her forest would be where they’d find a specimen large enough to satisfy.
“Will it take long? The weather looks to be getting rough.”
“Yup.” Then she repeated, “Storm is coming.”
“Is it wise to continue?” The prince just didn’t stop with his nattering.
“If you’re scared, you can turn around.”
“Not scared,” he grumbled. “Just using common sense. People get lost in storms.”
“Fear not, prince, you’ll be fine, or are you worried you’ll get snow in your hair?” she mocked.
“More like wondering if I’ll get frostbite. No one warned me it would be this cold.”
“I hadn’t noticed,” he replied sarcastically.
“Why are you here if this isn’t your cup of honey?”
“Because it sounded interesting. Go pick a tree. Try this honey I’ve been hearing about. Decorate while sipping some creamy nog.”
“If this is too much for your little pampered feet, you could always go back to the farm and wait.”
“My feet aren’t little.”
“Pity your ego isn’t.”
“Nothing wrong with being confident,” he stated, pulling off his glasses as it began to get dark in the forest.
Joan was right. He was pretty.
But still not her type. “Are you visiting for long?”
“Depends on how my business goes. Arik and I are looking to merge our talents to create new products. Would something like that interest you with your honey?”
“You haven’t even let me pitch a suggestion.”
“Because I’m not interested. I’ve got enough work as is without getting involved with some snooty royals to make overpriced crap.”
“Charlemagne perfumes and lotions are high-end products.”
“Good for you.”
“You’re very stubborn.”
She paused to arch a brow at him. “Thank you.” She continued to trudge, and he sighed.
“Is it much longer? My feet are frozen.”
“And not likely to get any better, as we’re not there yet. Once we are, we have to cut the tree down, load it, and bring it back.”
He eyed his feet. His boots were rigid leather that probably didn’t stop the cold or wet. “I think it might be best if I turn around.”
“Buh-by,” she muttered and then paid him no mind as she followed the sounds of laughter and thunking as an axe met a tree trunk.
She found Reba and Joan taking turns cutting down a nice twelve-footer. While they worked quickly, chipping at the wood, she readied the sledge for loading. She didn’t want to waste time once it fell. It had gotten much darker since she set out, the storm moving in quicker than expected. They’d have to hurry back. She wouldn’t want anyone to be caught outside when the storm hit.
“Timber!” Reba yelled as the tree came down and caused snow to briefly hang in the air.
They quickly strapped it to the sledge, and then the three women began to pull their prize back, singing off-key.
“Oh Christmas tree, oh Christmas tree,
“How lovely you are for scratching!
“Oh Christmas Tree, Oh Christmas Tree,
“You’ll make a great perch for napping.”