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“ARE YOU determined to ruin the name of this family beyond repair?”
Jack remained stoically in the center of the small, empty ballroom as his father paced slowly from one side to the other, the train of his fur-lined blue-and-silver paisley robe polishing the already gleaming marble floor. Jack’s uncle and twin cousins stood to one side, pretending for all the world they couldn’t hear Jack being reprimanded like some fledgling elf. A faint rendition of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” floated in through the closed doors from the main ballroom. Now there was a thought. Rest. As in, he wished his father would give it a rest.
“It’s a party, father. Society dictates I should bring a guest, and I have.”
“Yes, but not that guest.”
“I wasn’t about to bring anyone else. For Kringle’s sake, am I no longer allowed to have any fun at all?”
His father rounded on him, pitch-black eyes shining dangerously. “Fun? Is that all that matters to you these days?”
Jack couldn’t help his surprise. “I’m sorry? Have you been paying the slightest bit of attention to the last two years? I’ve worked myself to the bone building a case against the Mouse King, doing everything within my power to put him away once and for all. Not to mention attend to the rest of my duties, and you’re dismissing everything over one party?”
“Don’t you take that tone with me—I won’t allow it.”
“Pray tell, what will you allow?” Jack narrowed his gaze as his father continued to pace. Then it struck him. He should have known. Wasn’t it always what these petty arguments came down to? “This has nothing to do with the party. This is about him, isn’t it?”
“It would have been better if he had left you be.”
“Left me a monster you mean. Is that what you want? A weapon instead of a son?”
His father stopped pacing, but he neither confirmed nor denied Jack’s words, bringing a lump to his throat. It’s true, his father had never shown him the same manner of affection his mother had, but could he truly have preferred Jack’s life not been spared? The thought cut deep. “Well forgive me for having a heart and daring to put it to use. Just because you’re incomplete doesn’t mean I should have to live my life the same way.”
The sharp sting left across his cheek after his father struck him wasn’t completely unexpected, but the mixture of anger and hurt in his father’s expression was. What exactly did his father want from him, other than for him to give up the only thing that brought Jack any happiness in his cold and lonely existence? There was no sense in arguing.
“If there’s nothing else, I’ll take my leave.”
“He is unworthy of you.”
Jack couldn’t help his anger or the way it swept through his body. The room drained of its color, leaving nothing but frosty white, due to his eyes doing the same. He could feel the bitter cold spread to the very tips of his toes and the strands of his now-white hair. “I’ll ask you to take care in how you speak of him. I love him and nothing you say will change that.”
“And if I made you choose?” To his father’s credit, it was more question than threat.
“He loves me wholeheartedly without prejudice or fear, and is in possession of a heart so pure he would melt the ice around my own. If you want to cast me out, then do it, because I won’t leave him. Nothing short of death will force me from his side. Do you really think I’d give him up for this?” he growled, gesturing to the ridiculous opulence of the exclusive club’s unused ballroom, one of many in yet another palace owned by his family.
“You youngsters are so bloody dramatic.”
“I’m not a child. I’m four hundred and fifty years old.”
His father scoffed at that. “Still a babe. I have lived since the beginning. You couldn’t begin to imagine the things I’ve seen.”
“And yet you want to deny me the one thing which means so little to you but the world to me. You’ve seen it all, and deep down, it isn’t even his being which upsets you, but the fact you believe he’s beneath me, beneath us and our great name.”
“You are the Jack Frost.” His father’s hands came to rest on his shoulders, father and son’s matching height allowing them to face one another eye to eye. “Your name is legend, and your power is unmatched. One day it shall surpass my own.”
“And when that day comes, I want him at my side, reminding me of my purpose, reminding me I have a soul. I’m more than the power I hold inside me.”
With a heavy sigh, the Frost King stepped away. “I see this conversation is getting us nowhere.”
“At least we agree on something.”
“Return to the ball. Try not to disgrace yourself, and take your cousins with you.”
Jack held his tongue and bowed before marching toward the door, his cousins following silently on his heels. Once he stepped foot out into the glittering ballroom filled with life and music, he felt marginally better, though his mood was still black as coal.
“Jack?” Hollis caught up to him, walking beside him to his left, while Vale flanked him on the right.
“Yes,” Jack grunted, making his way past the throngs of guests dressed in all their finery toward the red-carpeted, marble staircase leading to the second floor, where his private box accompanied the many others.
“The rumors about you leaving the toy soldiers aren’t true, are they?”
“You shouldn’t listen to gossip.” The night had barely begun and already he had been reprimanded by his father. Not even the melodic sounds of the chorus nor the merry echo of jingling bells was enough to buoy his spirits. Christmas was nearly upon them, and Jack was finding it more difficult than usual to feel jolly.
“But are they true?” Hollis insisted, his ice-gray eyes pleading.
Plum pudding. Jack had never been very good at denying his cousins. They were the only members of his entire family he actually liked. He had grown up alongside them, had played in the snow with them when they were all fledgling elves, teasing each other, seeing who could summon the strongest arctic winds. Of course, even when combining their powers, the twins weren’t nearly as strong as Jack, but he always encouraged them to strive for their best, and now look at them. Vale was Lieutenant in the Toy Soldier Army, and Hollis was a Major, both decorated and renowned for their bravery. Jack was very proud of them, and was never shy about expressing it.
“Jack?” Vale prodded gently.
“Not entirely,” Jack replied, unwilling to hide the truth from them. He reached the second floor, nodding a greeting to the prestigious occupants of the other private boxes who wandered out to sneak a peek at Jack and his entourage. Though he had to admit, he could see why they would be intrigued. Not by him. Kringle only knew why anyone would have any interest in seeing him, but his cousins were certainly a sight to behold. They were exceptionally handsome, with the pitch-black hair their family was renowned for. Where Jack and his father had black eyes, Hollis and Vale’s were a pale, foggy gray. They had chiseled jaws, pouting lips, and, in their ceremonial military uniforms, looked dashing.
“Jack, what will the other kingdoms think?” Hollis hissed quietly. He took hold of Jack’s arm and pulled him to a stop, his gaze one of concern.
“Do you mind? I have somewhere I need to be and it’s far more pleasant than standing around arguing nonsense with you. The other kingdoms will think whatever they like, regardless of what I do. It hardly concerns me either way.”
“How can it not concern you? We’re the strongest kingdom next to Alfeim, and you’re our prince. How are we supposed to keep our position if the Prince of Frost abandons his army to frolic in the snow with some Christmas elf? This is a dire situation, and you say it doesn’t concern you?”
“Watch your tone, Hollis. I won’t have my life dictated to me. I also have no intention of abandoning our army. I was simply considering stepping back from a few responsibilities by promoting other soldiers perfectly capable of doing the job.” He pulled his arm out of Hollis’ grip and marched off, finally approaching his private box.
“All for that… pilot?”
Jack pulled aside the red velvet curtain, his heart beating fiercely at the sight before him.
“He has a name,” Jack said quietly, as his gaze met with the most radiant smile of them all. “I hope I didn’t keep you waiting too long.”
Rudy stood to face him. A more beautiful creature Jack had never known. “You know I would wait for you however long necessary.” His pale-blue eyes shone lovingly in the warm glow of the crystal chandelier hanging above their heads. He was stunning in his red-and-gold frock coat, waistcoat, and breeches. A white cravat was tied elegantly around his slender neck, and his waistcoat accentuated his slim waist, concealing what Jack knew to be a beautifully toned, muscular physique.
Spinning on his heel, Jack gave the twins a gentle shove out of the box. “Get out.”
“Jack,” Rudy scolded playfully. “Manners.” He walked over to Hollis and Vale, offering a friendly smile. “Fellas.”
The twins bowed politely, Vale smiling brightly while Hollis frowned.
“All right,” Jack prompted, giving his cousins a wave. “Now get out. I’ll see you two at the Palace Courts promptly at ten tomorrow morning.” Without another word, he closed the curtain on them. He turned to Rudy with a thoughtful tilt to his head. “Was that rude?”
Rudy chuckled. “Do you care?”
“No.” Jack closed the distance between them in one step, his arms drawing Rudy against him as he crushed their mouths together in an ardent kiss. It was only after he was forced to come up for air that he realized he hadn’t checked that the outer curtain was drawn. The lack of scandalized gasps told him they had privacy. Rudy looked up at him, that starry gaze he held only for Jack reminding him of how lucky he was.
“We should probably open the curtain now,” Rudy suggested, sounding somewhat reluctant, not to mention out of breath. His cheeks were flushed, but the color couldn’t compare to the fiery crimson of his hair. No one in the whole of the North Pole had hair as stunning or as red as Rudy’s. He was handsome, an ace pilot, smelled wonderfully of cinnamon, and most importantly, he was all Jack’s.
“All right.” Jack took a deep breath and came to stand at the front of the gilded marble balcony while Rudy took position at his side. “Ready?”
“As I’ll ever be,” Rudy replied, his fingers discreetly lacing with Jack’s gloved ones.
Straightening to his full height, Jack summoned a gust of wind that parted the red velvet curtain before them, revealing the impressive sight of the crowded ballroom beneath them, everything a flurry of white and gold. Applause erupted from the guests attending this year’s Silver Bells Christmas Ball, though he imagined a good deal of them did so because they felt they had no choice. Whether they loved him or loathed him, there was no one in the kingdom who didn’t fear him. Jack felt fingers tighten around his own and he couldn’t help his smile. Well, perhaps there was one.
Jack held on to Rudy’s hand, joining him in waving to the crowd. No matter how anyone felt about his love for the Christmas elf, Jack had no intention of letting Rudy go, and anyone who threatened what he had would come to know true fear. That he guaranteed.