New years kisses, p.1
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       New Year's Kisses, p.1
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         Part #12.90 of Psy-Changeling series by Nalini Singh
New Year's Kisses

  Timeline and Note: This short story features the younger adults (novice soldiers, university students, apprentices etc) in both the DarkRiver leopard pack and the SnowDancer wolf pack. It stands on its own so feel free to read it even if you haven't tried the Psy-Changeling series. For those of you who like to read in series order, this short fits in prior to the start of Shield of Winter. Enjoy!

  New Year's Kisses

  by Nalini Singh

  Riordan took Noelle's hand in his. Slender fingers curving around his, she turned to smile at him. The swing on which they were both sitting moved a little as she shifted position to face him. God, she was beautiful. Her eyes were the same vivid aqua as her twin sister, as well as her oldest brother, her hair a sleek waterfall of black, her skin a coppery gold that was warm no matter that they sat in the winter chill.

  All that though, he might've resisted. But then she'd smiled at him and boom, it had been a punch right to the heart. He hadn't cared that they'd been in a bar filled with angry leopards and wolves; he'd just wanted to talk to the girl with the smile that made him feel like he was basking in the sun.

  "Careful," she whispered, her dimples appearing with her smile. "When you look at me that way, you make me believe I'm the most beautiful girl in the world."

  Lifting their clasped hands to his mouth, he kissed her knuckles. "You are."

  She leaned in and kissed his cheek. "Lissa might disagree with you there." A laugh that made the wolf inside Riordan stretch out, as if it was being stroked. Noelle did that, petted his wolf with unhidden pleasure. And the leopard inside her had allowed his touch, all gold and black and gorgeous under his palm.

  "You might be identical twins, but you're not the same." The words made absolute sense to him--he'd never, not once, mixed up Noelle and Lissa; he couldn't understand how anyone could. They both glowed with life, but each was utterly unique. "Where is your shadow anyway?"

  "She should be here soon." Eyes lingering on his face as her smile faded into another raw emotion, she lifted her hand to brush his jaw. "Thank you for never trying to exclude her."

  "That would hurt you." Riordan was a dominant predatory changeling, possessive as all hell, but he'd accepted that Noelle and Lissa were a pair, their hearts entwined since childhood. "I'm glad she's not trying to take a back seat anymore." At first, when Riordan and Noelle started going out, Lissa had been very careful not to intrude, to the point that she'd turned down invitations to join them.

  Instinct had driven Riordan to make personal contact with Lissa, to tell her he truly meant the invitations. "How can I know Noelle without knowing you?" he'd said to her, his wolf deeply conscious that he was missing out on seeing a large part of what made Noelle who she was.

  Lissa had looked at him suspiciously for a long time before giving him a dimpled smile. "You might be okay, wolf."

  The three of them had gone to a theme park that night and he'd never seen Noelle happier. Her joy that Lissa and Riordan liked one another was more than enough reward for his effort in reaching out to her twin.

  Now, the girl who held his heart laid her head on his shoulder. "We had some bad experiences when we first started dating. Some guys got so jealous, even when we told them that a sister relationship is a totally different thing from a boyfriend-girlfriend relationship." She kissed his jaw, his affectionate cat with the sunbright sea in her eyes. "As an example, Lis doesn't make me want to pounce on her and strip her naked"--another kiss--"and your gorgeous brown eyes glaze over when I start talking nail varnish and pedicures."

  He grinned. "Smart ass."

  Her phone beeped before she could respond.

  Checking it, she blew out a breath. "Lis is almost here. Kit's driving the car she's in and Nico's got the wheel of the other one."

  Riordan's own phone beeped right on cue, the message from Sienna. "The others are coming too. They decided to run down--everyone I invited is on the way."

  Sliding away their phones after acknowledging the messages, they stood up and walked partway down the stairs to wait. There was still snow at this elevation, the landscape a soft and lush white, the dark green of the firs beyond the clearing glittering with icicles and dusted with white. Lissa and Noelle and Riordan had together added some solar powered paper lanterns to the verandah railing and the colorful lanterns whispered in the pre-sunset breeze.

  Noelle squeezed his hand. "I'm so nervous."

  "Yeah." His own heart was thumping. Turning to Noelle, he cupped her cheek with one hand and lowered his head to hers because she was it for him. His port in any storm, his playmate, his laughter.

  The kiss was slow and hot and when she purred in the back of her throat and kneaded at his chest with the claws that had sliced out of the fingers of her free hand, he felt like a conqueror. Smiling against her mouth, he rubbed his nose against hers. "At least there's no bar to wreck."

  Retracting her claws, Noelle poked him in the chest. "Only Mercy and Riley's house." She shuddered. "We should've organized this in a barren clearing where no one could break anything."

  But a heartbeat later there was no more time for second thoughts. The SnowDancer group, laughing and flushed, ran into the yard from one side just as the DarkRiver group walked in from the other, having parked their vehicles a short distance away.

  It was almost funny how everyone just stopped and stared at each other, eyes narrowed. Everyone that is, except for Lissa, Kit, and Sienna, who grinned and waved at one another. All three had been in on the secret from the word "go." Arm wrapped around Lissa, Kit then looked at Riordan and Noelle and gave them a slight nod.

  There was something about Kit that Riordan had never quite been able to put a finger on--it wasn't just the leopard's potent dominance. It was a sense of absolute confidence that seemed built in and that affected everyone around him. And though Riordan wasn't leopard but a wolf, Kit's backing had an impact on him, too.

  "Welcome to our New Year's party," he said to the group, immediately getting their attention. "Noelle and I decided it was time our friends became friends." Wolf and leopard had worked together more than once, but friendship was a rockier thing.

  Scowls appeared on several faces at his words, a growl lifting on the air. A second growl followed.

  "Stop it," Noelle said, her voice so hard that everyone stared.

  Sweet, loving Noelle never sounded like that. Ever.

  Astonished and delighted, Riordan just stood beside her as she laid down the law.

  "SnowDancer and DarkRiver are now allies," she said. "No more of this territorial wolf-leopard rubbish. Especially since in not so many months, we're going to have to share some packmates." Putting her free hand on her hip, she narrowed her own eyes. "Riley and Mercy let us borrow their house for this party because their pupcubs are going to grow up in both packs and they do not want their kids feeling unwelcome in either."

  "Aw, Noelle," Cory said sheepishly, sandy brown hair falling across his forehead. "We'd never mess with the pupcubs."

  "Neither would we," Cadence said pointedly from the wolf side of the line.

  "That's not enough," Noelle replied. "Kids are smart, they pick up on tensions. It's time to bury the hatchet once and for all."

  A few grumbles, some folded arms. Rolling her eyes, the cardinal starlight no longer startling, Sienna strode over the line and linked her left arm with Lissa's right. Kit shifted his hold to Lissa's hand and the three of them walked up to Noelle and Riordan.

  "So," Sienna said, "is there a bar for me to climb?"

  Someone snort-laughed on the wolf side, quickly stifled it, but it was too late. One of the leopards whispered, "Last warning, baby," and suddenly, the entire group was in hysterics.

  Sienna winked, being a good sport about the incident that had le
d to her being thrown over Hawke's shoulder in a changeling bar. Lissa grinned and eyes glinting, Kit shook his head before turning to the group.

  "Since none of us have any desire to be assigned to the back of beyond night shifts forever," he said to everyone, "I suggest we take damn good care of Mercy and Riley's place. Otherwise, let's get this party started."

  People started pulling out food and drink from backpacks, and all too soon, the tables Riordan and Noelle had set up on the verandah with cake and nibbles and a few bottles of champagne, started overflowing with all kinds of other party supplies. Mercy and Riley had given them permission to use the inside of the house, too, but except for moments now and then when those who wanted a little quiet went in to sit on the couches and talk, the group stayed outside.

  Nico and Tai worked together to hook up the speaker system and music filled the clearing now colored orange-gold by sunset. Minutes later, people decided spontaneously to dance in the snow rather than stay up on the verandah. Riordan liked the atmosphere but he was disappointed to see that the two groups stayed relatively separate...but then Cory crossed the invisible dividing line and held out his hand to Cadence.

  Gray eyes assessing, the dominant wolf soldier said, "Don't try anything, cat," and accepted the offer.

  Grin feline, Cory drew her close to his taller frame. "Cats always try something, wolf."

  Riordan saw Cadence trying not to smile and dared believe this might just work out. "Dance with me," he said to his own cat.

  Running onto the snowy dance floor, his hand in hers, Noelle came into his arms. Snuggling close, she swayed to the music with him, as around them, more and more of their friends crossed pack lines. Food was eaten, champagne was sprayed, slow dances turned to rock and back again, and when midnight came, Riordan wasn't the only wolf who kissed a cat and vice versa.


  Mercy braced herself to return home the next morning. "Do you think the house is still in one piece?" she asked her mate. "No one's heard from any of the group that went to the party."

  Riley had a dubious look on his face. "Either they got into a big fight, or they had one hell of a good time."

  Neither, Mercy thought, augured good things for their home. "It'll all be worth it," she said, patting her belly. "I want our pupcubs to feel as welcome in SnowDancer as in DarkRiver."

  Riley reached out to rub his knuckles over her chin in silent agreement just before he brought their four wheel drive vehicle to a stop next to two other vehicles covered by snow. "They're still here," he said, surprise in his tone.

  "God." Mercy stepped out. "I hope they didn't murder one another." It was ten in the morning on the first day of the new year. The two of them had spent the night with family down in DarkRiver land--Riley's siblings and mates, their families as well, had all come down to join them. The two of them were getting really good at alternating packs for events and it was wonderful to see the bonds being built between their two families.

  "If they did murder each other," Riley said quietly, "we'll bury the bodies and feign ignorance."

  Mercy laughed and rose to haul her mate down to her mouth for a possessive kiss. "Sometimes, you think like a cat." She approved.

  He squeezed her ass, his slow smile making her heart melt into goo all over again. "Come on, kitty cat, let's go see the damage."

  Walking into the clearing below their home hand in hand, the first thing they saw was the churned up snow out front.

  "No blood," Mercy said, taking a sniff of the air. "Beer and champagne and cake but no blood."

  The two of them continued forward, up the find a big brown wolf fast asleep on the left of the verandah, his body protectively curved around those of two sleek and identically spotted leopards who'd fallen asleep on their paws.

  Lifting a finger to her lips, Mercy tiptoed around the verandah to find more changelings in animal form. A couple of wolves there, a couple of leopards here, another wolf next to a leopard. Mercy recognized that leopard as her youngest brother, Grey, a surge of affection making her bend down to stroke his sleeping head before she rose back to her feet.

  "They're asleep all over the verandah," Riley told her when they met again at the front door. "No injuries that I can see."

  "I didn't spot any either." Mercy steppped into the house.

  Sienna was inside, her ruby red hair flowing over the arm of an armchair in which she'd curled up to sleep, a thick blanket pulled over her.

  "I can't believe Hawke didn't come looking for her," Mercy murmured in Riley's ear.

  "Oh, I guarantee you he did," Riley murmured back. "He probably came down and got his midnight kiss without any of the others being the wiser."

  Mercy could well believe that. The SnowDancer alpha would never have allowed the new year to come in without having his mate in his arms, but like Mercy's own alpha, Lucas, Hawke was an alpha who understood the importance of this night and of Sienna building tight bonds with her peer group. Luc and Hawke also both knew that group needed to figure out things for themselves without interference from senior pack members.

  Sienna wasn't the only one who was in non-animal form. Amos was sprawled out on one couch, Jason on the other with Nicki snuggled up to him. No one however, had ventured past the living area, and aside from a few discarded clothes where no-doubt-tipsy partygoers had shifted, along with the odd plate or glass, the house was in one piece.

  There was even a covered plate on the dining table with two large slices of cake on it. The note beside it said: Thank you for the loan of your house. Can we have it again next year?

  Laughing softly, Mercy licked up some frosting with a fingertip, fed another fingerfull to her mate.

  "They're good kids," Riley said afterward, pride in his tone. "Drunk and likely to have hangovers from hell when they wake up, but good."

  Mercy felt the same pride flow through her veins. "Yeah, they are." Joy bubbled in her that her and Riley's babies would be born into this sprawling, loving, dangerous, wild, and perfect family.

  Looking up at the SnowDancer wolf who belonged to her, she drew him down into a kiss, his stubble rasping against her skin. "Happy New Year, wolfie."

  His arms came around her, strong and warm and of the man she adored beyond life. "Ditto, kitty cat."

  (c) Copyright 2014 by Nalini Singh



  Nalini Singh, New Year's Kisses

  (Series: Psy-Changeling # 12.90)




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