Hearts & Wishes

By: Shiloh Walker

Chapter One

She hadn’t ever had more than a kiss.

It was a sad, miserable fact and one that she had decided was going to have to change.

The daughter of the Claus was guarded more closely than the daughter of the President of the United States and Holly was tired of it. She was going to get away from the North Pole if it killed her.

At twenty-five, she had determined that it was time to break out of the silken prison her father had unknowingly placed her in. It had been done out of love and a need to protect her from anything ever hurting her but he had protected her and coddled her to the point that while no pain had ever touched her heart, neither had much of anything else.

Her half brother, Bryan, was being groomed as a possible successor to Nikolai, the man known to the world as Santa Claus and he’d made the yearly runs with their father from the time he was sixteen. Whether or not Bryan would decide to toss his hat in when the time came for their father to pass his title on was unknown. But Bryan actually got to go out into the world.

Holly never had.

She’d been born at the stroke of midnight on Christmas Day and it had been a hard delivery for her mother, Chelly. Chelly had nearly died. It was the only year since Nikolai had taken his position that he had passed the yearly run on to another. Rhys, Nik’s second-in-command, had made the journey out into the world and when he got back, there had been a new baby in the Northern Reach—the first child born to a titled Claus in more than eight hundred years.

Considering how close her mother had come to death and considering that no matter how hard they had tried, Holly’s parents hadn’t ever been able to have another child, part of her understood why they were so overprotective. But there was a part of her inside that was dying.

Dying of boredom.

Dying of loneliness.

Dying of nothingness.

That was her life. Nothing. Sad, simple fact. Her life stretched out before her in an endless number of years and thanks to her father being an elf, Holly’s life was going to probably be pretty damn long. Days of working the same old boring job. Nights spent either studying, riding her horse, or reading—most of the time alone.

She worked as a controller, the most monotonous job in the Reach, monitoring the children who were already under the watchful eye of the Claus. Once, she had tried to apply for a field position to locate the children in the world whom they were unaware of and her father had blocked it. It is too heartbreaking a job for you, darling. I will not see you unhappy.

Holly had wanted to go into the mortal world for college. It wasn’t unheard of. Many of the kin went out into the mortal world for a time. Some even made their lives there. But all she wanted was to escape the suffocating, watchful eye of the Claus, even if it was just for a while. With no luck. Both Mom and Da had refused and without their approval, she was out of luck.

They controlled the money. They controlled the environome. At the time, Holly hadn’t perfected the magics that would allow her to come and go at will so unless she could steal transportation, hoard enough money to survive in the mortal world and slip away unnoticed, she had been stuck.

Her magic had come to her slowly. She was only part kin and she didn’t know if that was the reason behind her late-blooming powers or if it was sheer bad luck. But finally, she had perfected them enough that she knew she could slip away. Even hide for a time. It wouldn’t last long, she knew. If she had been wise, she would have made her move in the midst of the frenzied Christmas season but Holly had known her parents had enough to deal with just getting ready for the yearly run and she hadn’t wanted to add to their stress.

But now, Christmas had come and gone. Although the coming Christmas was still more than eleven months away, the kin had already begun preparations. There was only a short period of time every year when the elves of the Northern Reach were not preparing in some way, shape or form for Christmas. That was in the weeks that followed December 25. From the December 26 to January 6, there was no work and all play for the kin. On the night of December 26, there was a ball for Holly’s birthday. Then there was the Winter Festival. For those who weren’t watched like a hawk, there was a great deal of fun to be had.

It wasn’t too far removed from the Mardi Gras festivals that Holly read about in her books and the documentaries she watched on TV. Incessant parties, lots of booze, fun for all.

Except her.

She had attempted to have a little bit of fun at the last Winter Festival, attending the parties with Daniel, one of the men in charge of the electronics division. He was handsome, had a wicked smile and his eyes made her burn inside. But when she had tried to share more than just a simple dance, he had pulled away, given her that bright, false smile and then he’d had the nerve to pat her on the head.

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