Santa's Ninja Elves, p.1Lizzy Ford
Santa’s Ninja Elves
By Lizzy Ford
Cover design by Eden Crane
Santa’s Ninja Elves copyright © 2012 by Lizzy Ford
Cover design copyright © 2012 by Eden Crane
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the author. The only exception is by a reviewer, who may quote short excerpts in a review.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
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Santa’s Ninja Elves:
Santa had enemies. Lots of them. One would never guess that the jolly fat guy would be targeted for assassination, but it happened every year. Disgruntled toy execs, power hungry politicians after his magic sleigh and other advanced technology, jealous otherworldly creatures who didn’t share his fame and fortune – every year it was someone new.
Most years, the nutcase was out of Florida. Natasha wasn’t sure why, but there was something about the Florida sun that produced Santa-killers. She didn’t mind Florida in the winter; it was warm and nice. This year, the threat came from someone in southern Ohio. Mrs. Clause was a fortune teller in her past life and supplied most of Santa’s intelligence. Her spotty information pointed to Cupid, who had sent one of his winged minions to take out Santa. As the organizer of the second largest worldwide holiday, Cupid had much to gain by taking out the guy in the number one spot.
Natasha set her heavy suitcase on the bed and opened it. She’d packed a layer of warm clothes over her sniper rifle with its candy cane bullets. She no longer noticed the colors of Christmas, no longer really cared for the festivities. Every year, she left the North Pole a few days before Christmas to set up wherever it was her boss told her to two days before Christmas. On Christmas Eve and day, she was lying in a ghillie suit on the cold earth somewhere, freezing, while everyone else got to drink hot cocoa and open presents.
Such was the life of Santa’s elite troop of guardian ninja elves. Not that she minded taking out bad guys, just that, after several years, it kind of got old. At least this year, she wasn’t in a sterile hotel. Hillsboro, Ohio, was too small to have a hotel, so she’d rented a room in a Bed and Breakfast in a historic house in the downtown area. The room was large and comfortable, decked out for the holidays in antique decorations.
“Ms. Natasha?” A pleasant female’s voice accompanied a sudden knock. Natasha whipped out the knife from the small of her back and shut the suitcase.
“Who is it?” she demanded.
“Gloria,” replied the owner of the B&B. Her voice was as cheerful as the room. “I just wanted to let you know dinner will be ready in half an hour.”
“Thanks. I’ll be down.” Natasha replaced the knife and shrugged her shoulders to relax. She checked the suitcase quickly to make sure she hadn’t forgotten anything then slid it under her bed. Her reflection in the mirror drew her attention. Unlike the older man in the Santa sweater who had answered the door to the B&B, Natasha looked more like death. She wore all black. Her black hair was down to cover her pointed elf ears, and her dark eyes were like sugarplums in the snow. The North Pole received little sun during the year, and it showed in her pale features.
“I think I hate Christmas,” she said, feeling out of place in the bright room. Depressed by what she saw, she turned away with a sigh. As always before leaving her room, she touched the knives hidden around her body: at the small of her back, one in each boot, at the base of her neck under the turtleneck, in a special sheathe between her breasts. They were all there.
She left her room. A hallway ran between five rooms and a railing overlooking the massive foyer and its equally massive Christmas tree below. Even the railings had been decorated with faux pine and gold tinsel. The rug under foot was red, the grand staircase’s cold marble covered with bright red and green runners. Her gaze lingered on the door to her room, which seemed so vulnerable without the comfort of a hotel room key to lock it.
“Natasha, come on down with me!” Gloria called. She emerged from a second staircase going to the private owners’ quarters on the uppermost level of the house. She wore a long red dress with a green sweater and slipper socks. Gloria was a slender woman with a glowing smile, blue eyes and jingle bell necklace that announced her wherever she went.
“Sure,” Natasha said. Gloria looped an arm through hers and walked with her. The whole house smelled of cinnamon, and the woman beside her of vanilla and cookies, as if she’d been baking.
“This has been one of the coldest Decembers in Hillsboro,” Gloria began. “I hear it’s supposed to snow again tonight. We’ll definitely have a white Christmas this year, unlike last year, when …”
Natasha half-listened, her alert gaze going around the foyer. With disapproval, she saw that the front door wasn’t even locked. They passed several grand, decorated rooms with heavy antique furniture. Each room held a tree decorated in a different color scheme and tons of matching holiday doodads and nick-knacks. The formal dining room wasn’t what she expected. She’d hoped to sit down in a chair somewhere away from everyone – like the living room – eat, and run back upstairs.
Gloria, however, had arranged a full meal around a long dining table that gleamed with white china and polished silver utensils and decorations. The house was full of guests, and several couples sat chatting quietly around the table.
Her eyes fell to the man dressed in designer jeans and a charcoal cashmere sweater. Gloria led her down the table and motioned to the empty seat beside him. He was a around her age with dark green eyes and sandy blond hair. He looked as if he’d come from California or somewhere sunny; his skin was tanned.
“You both came here alone, and now, you’ll have company,” Gloria said, proud of herself.
Natasha sat without looking at either of them. She wasn’t there for a blind date. She was there to neutralize whatever threat lie waiting for Santa in the Podunk town of Hillsboro.
“I’m Matt,” the man said and held out a hand awkwardly in the small space between them. His smile was dazzling white.
“Natasha,” she replied and shook his hand. “I hope they bring the food out soon.”
At her tone, Matt cleared his throat. She’d hoped it was enough to keep him from talking to her again. For a few minutes, it worked.
“I teach English at a boarding school in Florida,” he said. “I wasn’t expecting it to be so cold here.”
“Yeah, well, it’s winter.”
“How about you? You’re not from around here, or you wouldn’t be staying with Gloria.” He smiled, as if he thought that somehow amusing.
“I kill people. I’m here to find someone and kill them,” she said.
His smile faltered. “That would explain the executioner-look you have going on. I couldn’t tell if you w
“You don’t have to talk to me just because Gloria sat us together,” she said, wondering what it’d take to get him to mind his own business.
“I don’t know Gloria well enough to do her such a favor,” he replied. “I thought you looked a tad bit sad. Thought maybe you miss home during the holidays or something.”
He hit a nerve. She was a little sad. Not because she missed home, but because she missed … this. The holidays. Having a reason to be happy. She met his gaze for the first time. He really was handsome, with chiseled features and unruly hair. His eyes were the color of pine needles, flecked with gold. His direct gaze warmed her from the inside out.
“It’s a rough time of year,” she said. Another thought crossed her mind. He was the only man at the table not with his family, and he was from the state notorious for producing Santa-killers. “What are you doing outside of Florida?”
“Every Christmas, I come here to visit my brother and his family. They just had another baby, number five, so there was no room for me to stay with them.”
“Convenient,” she said. He looked puzzled. He shifted suddenly and looked down at the phone he pulled from his pocket. Regret and anger crossed his features. He didn’t answer.
“Ex-fiancée,” he explained. “Long story.” He fell quiet. The change in him was enough to tell her the long story wasn’t a good one. Natasha felt a drop of pity for the stranger, whose eyes no longer glowed.
“I’m glad I kill stupid people for a living,” she said.
He chuckled. “I suppose it’s a good way to relieve stress. I don’t wish her dead, just wish her happy and far enough away from me that she stops calling or dropping by. Or emailing. Or visiting me when I’m teaching.”
“You didn’t sleep with a student, did you?”
“No, not all of us in Florida sleep with our pupils.”
“What did you do?”
“Who says I did anything?” he returned. “My mistake was coming home too early and finding my best friend in bed with her. Kinda killed the wedding plans.”
“And then you came here. You must be angry enough to kill someone,” she said. He didn’t give off the aura of a nut job who wanted to kill Santa, but some would-be Santa killers were more devious than others. “Like Santa, maybe?”
He laughed, the look of pain leaving his face.
“So glad to see you’re getting along,” Gloria said as she sat down at the end of the table, two seats away. “Here comes the first course. My dear Natasha, you must try the soup. It’s a secret family recipe.”
Unless it was candy cane soup, Natasha doubted she’d like it. She took one sip and decided no, she really didn’t. The aftertaste was acidic. She pushed it away and waited for the next course. The seven course meal took two hours, but it killed the conversation with her neighbor. She ate a little here and there, more interested in the course with crackers and cheese and the desert course than any of the other courses. The North Pole didn’t have salads, and she’d never understood the appeal of a plate full of weeds. Now, a plate full of reindeer meat and roasted nuts – that was a real meal!
Disappointed at the food, she ate the pecan pie and declined a round of coffee, instead standing to leave. Several of the couples at the table took their coffee and toured the Christmas displays on the main level of the house. She trailed, watching everyone she could.
She couldn’t quite figure out what it was she was missing. She’d been placed at this B&B, because Mrs. Clause specifically stated that she, Natasha, needed to be here. This usually meant there were bad guys, yet none of the couples moved with efficiency or purpose or even looked crazy. She could always spot a potential Santa-killer, and she saw none here.
“Do you have plans for tomorrow?”
She turned at his voice and looked up into the eyes of the Floridian stranger. He was lean and in shape, another sign he might be the one she was looking for.
“I’m going to a little Christmas shop down the road. Gloria said you didn’t have a car and might want to come,” he continued.
“Yes,” she said, deciding he was the one she most likely needed to keep an eye on.
“Great. After breakfast?”
“Yes,” she said again.
“I’m retiring. Had a long flight today.”
He waited for more than her abrupt answers. When she said nothing, he smiled and went to the stairwell. She trailed until she confirmed he didn’t try to enter her room and steal her weapons. She followed the other couples around the rest of the evening, until frustrated when she couldn’t pinpoint who it was she sought.
Finally defeated, she returned to her room and locked the door. Natasha pulled her suitcase out from under her bed and retrieved the Bluetooth earpiece. She put it into place and called her point of contact at the North Pole, who was monitoring intelligence message traffic on the threat and conveying messages from Mrs. Clause to the field.
“Hey Natasha. Found any bad guys?” Curly greeted her.
“Nope. There’s a Floridian here but he seems too weird to be a threat.”
“Yeah, that’s weird,” he said dryly. She could almost see him rolling his eyes at her. “Everyone loves the holidays but you, Natty.”
“Yeah, well, someone’s gotta do this job. You got anything else on the whereabouts Cupid’s assassin is?”
“Well, we never had any intelligence telling us he was in Ohio. Last we heard, he was on the west coast.”
“Then why am I here?” she asked, mind still on the teacher from Florida.
“Mrs. Clause said you needed to be there,” he said. “You need more candy cane bullets or cinna-bombs?”
“No, I’m good. If you hear why she sent me here, let me know.”
“Will do. In the meantime, can you get the names of who’s there? I’ll run them through worldwide Naughty-n-Nice database, just to be sure,” he offered.
“I’ll let myself into their office tonight,” she said. “As soon as I have them, I’ll forward them to you.”
“Very good! Once we find him, you might be able to relax this year for Christmas and drink hot cocoa instead of killing people.”
“That sounds … ” she trailed off.
“Nice?” he supplied.
“It might. I haven’t done that since I entered training ten years ago. Not sure I remember how to relax.”
“You can try it this year. You are the longest serving assassin. It’s about time you retired. Oops – got another call from Seattle. Not sure what it is this year, but we’ve had a few more threats than usual. Take care!”
She hung up the phone and lay down on the bed. She hadn’t thought about it before Curly’s words, but she really was Santa’s longest serving bodyguard. Santa normally ordered his band of ninja elves to retired at the eight year mark, after they’d trained for three years then served him in the field for five. Eight years meant they didn’t lose their sharp edge but still had time to find mates and have a full, happy life in the North Pole.
Her thoughts drifted to the man from Florida and his warm eyes. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d had a real talk with a stranger. The pain on his face when he spoke about his ex-fiancée connected with her. She didn’t like people to be in pain, unless, of course, they were bad guys she was trying to kill. She’d been removed from anything but training and tracking and killing for ten years; to see such an emotion on someone else’s face disturbed her more than it should.
“Good night, Natasha!” Gloria called with a light tap just before midnight. “Breakfast is at seven!”
“Ok, thanks,” Natasha answered and sat up.
She waited until the creaking of the hallway’s wooden floors stopped, indicating Gloria had reached the stairwell to the uppermost floor. Natasha rose and crept down the stairs to the main
She shook herself mentally and proceeded down the hallway towards the office. Even the dining room glowed with gold and silvery light reflecting off the table settings. Her gaze caught on the sight of snow falling outside the bay window. Gloria had been right about the weather.
She reached the tiny office tucked in a corner and picked the lock. The desk was organized with the guest logbook in the middle. Natasha turned on the lamp at the desk and whipped out her cell phone to take pictures of the guest list. Everyone’s name, address, and phone numbers had been neatly entered by Gloria’s husband. She sent the pictures to Curly, turned off the light, and closed the door.
Pausing again in the foyer, she felt a sense of longing. She was a shadow in the holiday world, and for the first time in awhile, she wanted to be part of the world around her. Resigned to a life in the corner, she crept back up the stairs to her room and waited for Curly to send his report. Her eyes drifted closed before he called, and she dreamed of gingerbread men chasing her through a forest of decorated Christmas trees, trying to eat her.
Santa's Ninja Elves by Lizzy Ford / Romance & Love have rating 3.2 out of 5 / Based on16 votes