#BlackFriday: Gifted by Sharon Ashwood

It’s that time…Black Friday is here and we’re discussing the season with Errata Jones & Perry Baker from Sharon Ashwood’s Dark Forgotten series.

The holidays are a time for reunions, new beginnings, and old friends. Those familiar with the world of Sharon Ashwood’s The Dark Forgotten series will know Perry Baker and Errata Jones. These two characters have waited a long time for a fresh new story that’s all their own, so they insisted on starring in this holiday special!

Return to the Dark Forgotten world with Fragile Magic, available now; so if Gifted gets your interest, make sure you check out the first book in the Dark Forgotten series, Ravenous.
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Gifted: A Dark Forgotten Short Story

“Don’t you want to go see Santa Claws?”  Errata Jones asked in her husky, teasing voice.

“Meh,” Perry Baker replied, still grumpy at getting up early on a Saturday. It was cold, gray, and rainy—a typical December day in the Pacific Northwest.

“Where’s your boundless holiday spirit?” She turned into the parking lot outside the Fairview Sports and Recreation Center. It was the first day of the Yuletide Holiday Market, an arts and crafts event by and for the local supernatural community.

“I really hope you’re not going to make me sit on Santa’s knee.”

“I don’t think so, darling. That would be weird, even for us.”

Errata swung her Jaguar coupe into the last parking space, beating out a massive pickup by a whisker. The truck made a sound like a startled dinosaur as it lurched to a stop on the frosty pavement. Turning off the Jaguar’s ignition, Errata smoothed her chin-length, jet-black hair, then glanced in the rear-view mirror, looking pleased with herself. Perry twisted in his seat to see the pickup driver turn a Christmassy scarlet and lurch off.

Perry willed his heart to resume its normal rhythm.  Errata was a werecougar, and there were reasons cats shouldn’t drive. Werewolves like him were another matter. Wolves appreciated order, including stop signs. Cats did things because they could—like phone him at 7:00 am on a Saturday and pester him into going to this stupid craft fair.

That’s what he got for befriending a feline. He cast her a sidelong look, taking in her high cheekbones and smooth, golden skin. It was all he could do not to reach over and stroke her hair, but that would be crossing a boundary. She’d made it clear from the start that cats walked alone.

Errata finished preening and gave him an arch look. “Shouldn’t you be shopping for your human, what’s-her-name?”

Perry released his seatbelt. “Her name is Tiffani. With an i.”

“Tiffani. Of course it is.” Errata patted his cheek with a pitying look. “Come on. First fifty guests get a goodie bag.”

“She’s fun,” Perry said, sounding defensive even to himself.

“Humans generally are,” she said agreeably. “You should buy her something really nice.”

“Men don’t shop before December 23rd,” he protested as he got out of the car.

“Friends don’t let friends give their sweethearts, even ones named Tiffani with an i, gift cards.”

“But gift cards make sense.”

Errata flung the end of her scarf over her shoulder with a flick of one gloved hand. “Be grateful you have me to watch over you.” She clicked the locks and swept toward the entrance of the building, leaving Perry to catch up.

“Cats,” he grumbled. “What do you want for Yule?”

“Not a gift card.”

Plenty of people turned to stare as she passed. She was the late-night talk show host of CSUP 101.5 FM radio—The station that put the super in supernatural!—and that made her a celebrity in their insular world. Her black and white coat flared as she moved, framing her high-heeled boots and tight red sweater. She looked like the naughty list made flesh, but in an elegant and untouchable way.

Perry trotted after her, certain he was exactly where she wanted him. They pushed through the glass doors of the recreation center, which smelled of wet coats and freshly brewed coffee. His mood improved when he saw a friend at the admission table. “I see the hellhounds are doing their bit for the community, and probably eating all the shortbread.”

“I would expect nothing less, on both counts,” said Lore, leader of the local hellhound pack. He was large, looming, and slightly feral, but today wore a set of fuzzy reindeer antlers with bells. He took their money and handed them tickets for the door prize draw. “How’s end of term? I didn’t think you’d see the light of day for another week at least.”

Perry shrugged. “Last class was yesterday. Now I just have to mark a kajillion papers.” He taught computer science at the university, which had both human and non-human faculty and students. “At least this year the exam schedule avoided the full moon.”

“You mean the kids can’t claim to have gone furry and eaten their homework?”

“They’ll find an excuse for a bad grade.” Perry shrugged. “It’s part of the student experience.”

Lore shook his head as if to say the world was a sad and sorry place, but the jingling antlers ruined the effect.

“When does Santa Claws arrive?” asked Errata, who smiled as a trio of tiny fey children scampered by.

“In about an hour. He’ll be here until dusk and then we’ll shut down the children’s area and set up for the vampires.” Lore folded his arms. “Apparently the hot stocking stuffer this year is fake human teeth.”

With that, Perry and Errata took their goody bags and raffle tickets and moved into the cheerful chaos of the market. The three fairy girls in their sparkling dresses pushed past again, giggling madly. They fey courts kept to themselves, and to see them mixing with the crowd was rare—and pleasant. The accords between the species were working, bringing peace and prosperity. Even a few years ago, a market like this wouldn’t have been possible.

Perry followed as Errata strolled from booth to booth. She seemed unhurried but covered ground at an impressive pace, as if she knew what she wanted and had no time for things that weren’t on her list. Perry was nowhere near as focused.

“I think I know how a pinball feels,” he grumbled as he collided with yet another distracted customer.

“Use your elbows. Shopping is a contact sport.”

“I thought cats stalked, not bulldozed.”

“You’ve never seen a pride of lions at a fresh kill?”

“There’s an image I didn’t need in my head.” Would it be weird to say he found it just a little compelling?

They stopped at a booth that sold candy, wedging their way through a tightly packed crowd. Perry caught the scent of her skin beneath the sugary cloud of vanilla and pumpkin spice. He rarely got to stand so close and he relished the moment, aware of the energy that always seemed to spark between them—not just in a metaphorical way, either. Her presence was like an electrical charge, tingling against his flesh.

He had an Alpha’s iron restraint, and that gave him the ability to hold a job, teach a room full of students, and generally pass for human in a human world. His mild-mannered professor identity was a masterpiece of willpower. Sadly, self-control didn’t always extend to his dealings with the cat.

His hand brushed hers, almost by accident. She startled, then withdrew a half-step—only half, because the booth was too crammed for more. “Sorry,” he said, his tone saying he wasn’t sorry at all.

With only a shadow of a smile, Errata took her change and purchases and ducked back into the throng of shoppers. That was the way she kept her distance, always one step out of reach. She never challenged him, but she never gave in, either. Friends. A line he couldn’t cross. Nothing more.

Yet he’d just put a paw over the line. He couldn’t ignore the attraction between them forever. Perry turned and followed her, aware that his hunter’s instinct was roused. Maybe it was Yuletide, or exams, or the fact that he needed a lot more coffee, but today his wolf was winning. It wanted to chase.

Lucky for Errata, she’d stopped moving. With awestruck wonder, she pointed to a table overflowing with toys. “You see that?”

“Yeah.” He grinned.

She grabbed Perry’s sleeve and dragged him over, all her dignified poise falling away. The table was heaped with sparkling puffs of fuzz the size of soccer balls. Snatching one up, she tossed one at him. It floated weightlessly for an instant, drifting in the air currents like a possessed tutu. Perry stood for a moment, hands shoved in his pockets, trying to be the bored male dragged on a shopping expedition—but he couldn’t help himself. He batted it back. She sent it spinning into the air again, her eyes wide as they followed the glittering toy.

“Hey!” said the witch running the stall. “Are you buying that?”

Perry caught it, trying and failing to assume an air of professorial dignity. Errata stood close, her shoulder brushing his as color mantled her cheeks. They probably looked like a pair of guilty children, but all he saw was her beauty. She was gorgeous, the heat of her body warm against his side. For an instant, she’d forgotten to pull away.

“I think my nieces and nephews would like those toys,” Errata said, laughter just under her words.

He handed her the sparkly puff with a flourish. “You might have to test them before they go in the mail. I might have to help.”

They exchanged a conspiratorial look. Despite their differences, they’d always shared the ability to be silly.

“Better get an extra just in case,” Errata murmured, and then suddenly was the picture of poise once more, her kittenish mood hidden behind the sleek hair and elegant coat. “My sister’s children are absolute monsters.”

“How long are you visiting your family?” Perry asked.

“I’ll be gone for three weeks,” she replied, stuffing her reusable shopping bag with fluffy balls.

That seemed like a long time. “I’ll miss you.”

“You have your pack.”

“You’re different.”

Her shoulders tensed, as if bracing herself against his words. She raised her green-flecked hazel eyes. “So I should be. I’m not a wolf.”

She took off down the row of tables. Perry followed. “Errata, wait.”

“So, what are you going to buy your lady love?” she asked severely. “Your Tiffani with an i.”

“I don’t know,” Perry shot back. “And I’m just dating her. She’s no more serious than I am.”

Errata sighed. “What does she like?”

“She skates in the roller derby.”

Errata blinked and wrinkled her nose. “Roller derby?”

Perry had finally surprised her. His smile showed teeth. “Tough girls in short skirts, moving fast. Suitable for chasing. And human. For a werewolf, that rings a lot of bells.”

Her eyes narrowed slightly. “You’re joking, right?”

“Sadly, no. I’m a wolf.”

Errata smoothed her hair. “Are you going to invite her home to meet the Alpha?”

“Nope.”

“Why not?”

He shrugged. “It’s not like that. She’s not taking me home to her folks, either.”

Errata spun to face him. Ignoring the crowd pushing by, she grabbed his chin and forced him to meet her eyes. As she leaned close, he could feel her warm breath on his skin. “Does she even know what you are?”

Her touch, steel-strong and yet soft, did something to his insides that definitely didn’t belong in the Friend Zone. “I’ve never discussed my wolf with her.”

“No?” Errata’s voice swooped up, incredulous.

Perry embraced a hard knot of defiance. “Sometimes it’s nice to be ordinary. It’s an art form.”

Errata was silent for a heartbeat, her nostrils flared as if she scented something foul. “You’re an idiot.”

His temper spiked. “Really?”

Her eyes flashed in answer. “You’re a professor. The son of the Alpha. One day you may be the Alpha.”

“So?”

“You’re financially secure, intelligent, and good-looking. You’ve nothing to hide. Why waste your time and hers?”

“You think I’m being—what? Unfair? Lazy? Am I setting my sights too low?” His voice edged into a growl.

“I don’t need to answer those questions. That’s your job.” Errata held his gaze for a long moment, finally releasing his chin.

He rubbed it, too angry to speak. Or stunned. Or disappointed with himself. He couldn’t quite put a name to what he felt, but it struck deep. He felt his beast stir, ears flat and teeth bared. It must have showed, because Errata fell back a few steps.

“Maybe you should tell me why you care,” he snapped, making it an accusation instead of a question.

“I need air.” She turned and stalked away, coat swishing behind her as she disappeared into the crowd. Again.

His first instinct was to chase her once more, but this time he forced his feet to remain still. What had just happened? Errata was too independent to let him close. And yet, when he befriended a happy, healthy human girl looking for a no-strings good time, she objected. It made no sense.

He could have dominated a female wolf. That wasn’t always easy, but his veins ran with the blood of Alphas. He knew the rules. But a feline? Everything had to be negotiated with a cat. And then re-negotiated, because they changed their minds with the wind.

The crowd ebbed around him in a fast-flowing river, the people blurring together with the lights and tinsel. Perry turned and trudged aimlessly down the row of booths, not caring where he went.

Perhaps he should have pushed harder. Perhaps he should have backed away long ago—but he knew neither was possible. He and Errata were caught in a dance made of their own contrary natures. The magnetic pull of it kept him mesmerized. Even the tension between friendship and unrequited lust kept him as transfixed as a harvest moon.

She was everything. He’d already sailed—at least in spirit—far past any line in the sand she’d drawn. What was he supposed to do about it?

Perry drifted along with the crowd. Although his thoughts turned inward, uneasiness stiffened his shoulders.  At first, he put it down to his mood, but then an odd scent caught his attention. Burnt toast?

Perry wheeled, instincts on alert. He knew his way around a spell book or two, and that was the stink of portal magic. His fists clenched, apprehension rippling down his back. His wolf stirred, alert and troubled.

Nobody opened a hole through time and space without a good reason. In fact, usually it was for a very bad reason. Usually something nasty lurked on the other side, like dragons or a mad sorcerer or demonic rabbits. Portal magic had no place in a crowded auditorium, especially one teeming with kids.

Perry shoved his way through the crowd, following the scent to its source. It seemed to be coming from the far corner, near the throne where Santa Claws reigned. Red and white ropes separated this area from the shopping. To the left was Santa’s throne, and to the right was a supervised children’s play zone scattered with gym mats and toys. Babysitters in green elf costumes kept watch so parents could leave their brood and enjoy a few minutes of shopping.

Perry drew near, seeing no signs of trouble. Most of the teenaged elves played on their smart phones while Santa appeared to have gone for coffee.

“They aren’t real elves,” a childish voice said bitterly. “Those are just dumb hellhounds in outfits.”

Perry looked around for the speaker. It was a fey boy about eight years old, slumped glumly beside the trio of little girls Perry and Errata had seen running around. The three girls sat cross-legged and held hands, oblivious to the boy’s snide remarks. Their dainty pastel dresses shimmered under the fluorescent lights as they chanted, their eyes squeezed shut in concentration. Fey children were small, but he guessed none of the girls could be older than five or six. With sudden, blunt horror he realized they were the ones poking a hole in the universe.

Instantly, Perry was over the rope barrier. “Hey, hey hang on a minute!”

He dropped to one knee beside them. It felt ridiculous, politely asking them to stop. This was a matter for tooth and claw and possibly rocket launchers, but these were babies. Highly magical, dangerous babies. However, if there was one thing the pack understood, it was pups.

The girl in the pale yellow dress opened enormous blue eyes. “Sh, we’re contrating,” she said gravely.

“Concentrating, stupid,” said the boy who had to be her brother. “This is all stupid.”

The hellhounds were watching Perry, their eyes glinting red. He was a lone male among children. Normally, that would have been enough for hard questions, but they knew Perry and trusted him as Lore’s friend. As long as he didn’t make a sudden move, everyone was safe.

“What are you concentrating on?” Perry asked the girl, keeping his voice gentle.

“The Santa Claws they have here isn’t real,” she said in a whisper. “We’re asking for the real one.”

The brother rolled his eyes.

“Are you sure this Santa’s not real?” Perry asked seriously, pitching his voice a little louder to distract the girls. He could feel the spell stumbling, but children had amazing focus when they wanted something.

“Of course he’s not!” said one of the others.

“How do you know?” Perry asked. The crawling sensation down his back grew faint. The spell had finally collapsed under the weight of his interruption.

“This Santa doesn’t even have wings,” said the first girl with disapproval.

Given that Santa was played by Perry’s Uncle Bob, this was true.

“That’s the Winter Fairy who has wings,” said the brother acidly. “Santa Claws is just a wolf who hangs out with a bunch of elves. He probably eats them. Two bites and they’re gone, nom nom.”

With that, the littlest fairy girl started to cry, fat tears rolling down her cheeks and dripping onto her sparkling pink dress. That was too much for Perry. He gathered up the tiny female and rose, holding her against his chest and stroking her back the way he would one of the pack’s pups. The difference was she was nowhere near as sturdy. It was like comforting a baby bird.

“Hush,” he whispered, rocking her. She smelled like candy canes and the faint, sweet musk of the very young.

“I don’t want to be eaten by Santa Claws,” she mumbled into his shirt. She was crying with abandon now, clearly in need of a nap. “He eats bad girls and boys.”

“Nah,” said Perry. “If that were true I’d have been lunch ten times over.”

She seemed to find that amusing. Tears turned to silvery giggles that finished in a hiccup. It was only then Perry noticed the very tall male fey standing mere feet away. Her father, by the scowl clouding his patrician features. Wordlessly, the fey held out his arms.

Perry promptly handed the child over, and she curled against her father’s shoulder like a kitten. Daddy Fey regarded Perry with obvious suspicion while the older children crowded around him, most barely reaching his waist.

“They were summoning the real Santa Claws,” Perry offered. “I intervened.”

An exasperated look crossed the male’s face that made him look very much like his son. “Again? I’ll be glad when the holidays are over.”

Perry’s jaw dropped a little. “You mean they’ve done this before?”

“They try. Fortunately, they don’t know the exact incantations.” His voice was deep and melodious, but edged with frustration. “It’s been going on ever since the first holiday special on television. The advertisers never consider the wear and tear on parents.”

“I guess not.”

“I thank you for your assistance.” The man turned to speak to his wife, who had just arrived. The little girl opened her wide blue eyes and peeped over her father’s shoulder at Perry.

“May Santa Claws grant your wish,” she whispered so softly that it took a wolf’s hearing to catch the words.

Perry smiled and waved as they left, momentarily lost in those blue eyes. And then he turned, and saw Errata watching him from the other side of the rope barrier. His heart stopped at the soft look on her face. She tilted her head to one side a moment, considering him while a smile played over her lips. A strange sensation came over Perry, leaving him at once energized and weak in the knees.

“I brought you hot chocolate,” she said softly, raising a paper cup.

Food was her way of apologizing. Perry stepped over the rope barrier, leaving the play area behind, and accepted the drink. It was mounded with whipped cream and marshmallows. “Thanks.”

“You’re going to make a wonderful Alpha,” she said. “You know how to charm as well as fight.”

“I’ll need more than a high approval rating with preschoolers.”

One corner of her mouth curled up. “Maybe not. Kids are painfully honest.”

They were standing barely inches apart, the rims of their cups almost touching. Errata heaved a breath that wasn’t quite a sigh, then caught his gaze and held it. “Ever since I’ve known you, you’ve chased women who couldn’t possibly make you happy. There was that vampire, then the one with the stakes. Now Tiffani. Why do you do it?” Her eyes were hypnotic, the full force of her beast behind them.

“Maybe I like challenging women.”

“You think they’re a challenge?” She blinked once, her expression between amused and incredulous. “They’re kid’s stuff. It’s time you had the real thing.”

She leaned forward, keeping the steaming cups of chocolate perfectly steady, and kissed him. There was no preamble, no testing, no more dance. Her lips pressed hot against his, rich with creamy chocolate and all the sensuality that was Errata Jones. Her tongue begged for entrance and he welcomed her, bewildered but relishing the silky promise of her mouth. Her free hand pressed against his cheek, warm and possessive.

She’d come to him on her own terms. Claimed what she wanted. Gave nothing she didn’t value. If he held her, it was because she wanted it at long last.

“Why?” he asked, turning her question back on her. Her expression said she knew what he meant. Why did she care? Why kiss him now?

“Maybe it’s time I saved you from yourself.” She looked up from under her dark lashes. “Or maybe I’m done playing with my prey.”

He waited for more, one eyebrow arched.

She frowned. “I want you.  I deserve you. Those others will never appreciate what they’ve got.”

“You’re jealous!”

Her chin jerked up. “Don’t get carried away.”

“You like me. Maybe more than a little.”

“Is that a question?” She did her best to look haughty, but couldn’t hide a grin.

He laughed, but it wasn’t to mock her. He could be humble, because she’d given him an amazing gift. Beneath his own merriment, there was the chime of a little girl’s giggle. Maybe it was imagination, but Perry wasn’t taking anything for granted.

Errata sipped her chocolate, cream clinging to the bow of her lip. She licked it off, sending his brain into a spiral. “So, what do you want for Yule?”

Perry put his arm around her waist. “I think I’ve got my present already.”

She snuggled closer, touching him nose to nose. With her heels, they were the same height. “Is that it? You’re done now? You’re not asking for anything else?”

“Never. I want it all. I want it always.”

She gave her crooked smile. “Even if it’s a challenge?”

He kissed her again, making it last. “I don’t do gift cards.”

THE END

© Rowan & Ash Artistry, 2017

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Meet Sharon Ashwood!

Sharon Ashwood is a free-lance journalist, novelist, desk jockey and enthusiast for the weird and spooky. She has an English literature degree but works as a finance geek. Interests include growing her to-be-read pile and playing with the toy graveyard on her desk. As a vegetarian, she freely admits the whole vampire/werewolf lifestyle fantasy would never work out, so she writes paranormal romances instead. Sharon lives in the Pacific Northwest and is owned by the Demon Lord of Kitty Badness.

Contact Info: Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | GoodReads | Amazon | Pinterest | Tumblr

Want to purchase Sharon’s novels?
Ravenous (Dark Forgotten #1)
Fragile Magic (Dark Forgotten Short Story)
Kiss in the Dark
Enchanted Warrior (Camelot Reborn #1)
Valkyrie’s Conquest
Lord Dragon’s Conquest
Crave The Night
Possessed by a Warrior (Horsemen #1)

Please help spread the word: Tweet: Celebrate the chaos of #BlackFriday with holiday stories & contests by 20+ authors. Missed one? Here they all are: http://www.literaryescapism.com/50121/blackfriday-2017-master-list
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About Jackie 3224 Articles

I am a 30-something SAHM with two adorable boys and a supportive husband who is very tolerant of my reading addiction. I love to read and easily go through about a dozen books a month – well I did before I had kids. Now, not so much. After my first son was born, I began to take my hobby of reviewing a little more serious and started Literary Escapism to help with my sanity. I love to discuss the fabulous novels I’ve read and meeting all the wonderful people in the book blogging community has been amazing.

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