Nick dropped the knapsack full of salt, magnetized iron, knives with silver edged blades, and sacrosanct oil onto the floor next to a chair. He sat on the same chair, leaned his elbows on his knees and rested his chin in his hands. Barely moving, he tracked Todd’s movements around the large room. A couple of dozen round tables covered with white cloth, and chairs stacked beside them, dotted the room. Todd went from table to table, looking under the clothes and moving the chairs around.
Todd stopped and turned, staring hard at Nick. “Are you going to help?”
Shaking his head, Nick said, “No.”
Glaring, Todd let his hands drop to his sides, tilted his head and sighed. “The party starts in a few hours. We’re the only sentries in Elk’s Ridge.” He waved at Nick in a ‘get up’ motion. “So, let’s get at it.”
“There’s no ghost.”
“Yes, there is. How do you account for all the weird things the owner told us has been going on around here lately?” Todd asked.
“I’m a psychic. If there was a ghost here, I’d know it,” Nick reminded his mate. “I’ve never been wrong before.”
Todd huffed an annoyed noise. “There’s a first time for everything. How do you explain—?”
“I don’t know. If there was a ghost, it’s gone now.”
“It could come back,” Todd countered. Nick nodded, conceding the fact Todd could be correct, but said nothing.
It was New Year’s Eve and Nick had much better ideas on how to spend the afternoon with his mate than chasing ghosts around. On a good day that wasn’t his favorite thing to do.
Elk’s Ridge had become their home. The town had taken them in during the war between New Colorado Protectorate and West Caldera Protectorate. Like many other owner/slave couples they’d fled north to Yellowknife Protectorate and landed quite by accident in Elk’s Ridge.
Now they had a house and a small farm to care for when they weren’t busy being sentries and chasing after supernatural threats.
This so-called ghost wasn’t so much of a threat as it was an annoyance. Every New Year’s Eve the town of Elk’s Ridge hosted a huge celebration. That celebration would begin in a few hours in this room. It took up one entire floor of a hotel and the proprietor insisted the place had become haunted recently.
He’d told them yesterday—when Todd had cheerfully volunteered their services—things had been disappearing, food was disturbed, and items were moved. It was more poltergeist behavior than a true haunting, but thanks to Todd and his quick-draw mouth, Nick had only had a day to research the building, employees and land. Research that had turned up a big, fat nothing as far as useful information went.
“I’m hungry… and cold. Can’t we go home and get ready for tonight’s celebration? There’s nothing here.” Nick tried not to whine, but judging from the arched eyebrow and the look he was on the receiving end of from Todd, he’d failed miserably.
“Not until this place is deemed safe for the guests tonight. It’s our duty as sentries.” Todd pulled a bottle from the shelf behind the bar and held it up. “How do you explain this?”
The cork had crumbled and pieces of it were floating in the whisky inside. The bottle’s label was scratched, but none of the liquid seemed to be missing.
Nick shrugged. “Okay, you don’t see that every day, but it doesn’t prove a ghost. And, let’s revisit the fact I can’t sense any spirit in this building.”
“The sooner we finish here the faster we can get home and I can warm you up,” Todd said and smirked. He leaned down and looked under the bar. “There are more bottles down here like this.”
“Really?” Nick got up and crossed the room. Joining Todd behind the bar he bent down and looked for himself. “This is weird, I’ll give you that.”
“Are you sure you don’t sense anything?” Todd asked. Nick shook his head and Todd held one hand up, his forefinger and thumb an inch apart. “Not even a little bit?”
“Not so much as a twinge,” Nick said. “Let’s go home now so you can warm me up.”
Todd slid one arm around Nick’s waist and tugged him close. “The faster we get this place clear, the faster you’ll get warmed up.” Todd’s voice was deep and smooth, his breath hot against Nick’s ear. His hand slipped down Nick’s back and gave his rear a quick swat. “If you want more of this,” Todd’s thigh pressed between Nick’s legs and against his groin, “we need to get rid of a ghost first.”
Scratching and something falling off a shelf under the bar made them both stop. Grumbling, Nick went one way. Todd was far too excited about searching in the other direction. Crouching down as they walked to search underneath the bar, they each made a complete circle around it, examining it entirely until they were back where they’d started.
Todd held up a pair of heavy drinking glasses. “Explain this.” He tipped them back and forth a few times before he replaced them to the shelf under the bar. “They weren’t stacked nicely like the rest of the glassware and one was on the floor.”
“Explain the scratching,” Nick countered. “Ghosts don’t make noise.”
“They sometimes knock things over,” Todd said. He crossed his arms over his chest and tapped his foot.
Nick stepped close enough to rub one hand up and down Todd’s thigh. He leaned in and pressed a sting of light kisses along Todd’s neck before saying, “I don’t sense any ghost.”
Todd put one hand on Nick’s chest and moved him back a step. “What about tonight’s celebration? Hmm? How embarrassing will it be to have everyone from town here and weird shit starts to happen? After the sentries deemed the place clean.” He slid one arm around Nick’s waist and pulled them together. Todd kissed Nick, lightly at first, but a few seconds later Nick was moaning into the kiss as his tongue slipped over Todd’s. When Todd broke their kiss he smiled and said, “You’ll get more after we have cleared up whatever is causing the problem, remember?”
Banging came from the kitchen and cut off Nick’s impending complaint. The kitchen was off the ballroom and there was a swinging door separating the two rooms. Letting go of Nick, Todd sprinted to the door saying, “It may not be a ghost, but there is something.”
Nick silently cursed whatever was keeping him from the warmth of his mate’s body and trailed after Todd. The kitchen was dark and it took them a few minutes of fumbling to find the Faraday lanterns evenly spaced along the wall. Todd prowled close to the large double oven and cook top. He pressed his cheek to the wall, looking behind the appliance.
Cans of food rolled on the floor near an opened pantry and a bag of sugar had been ripped open. It lay on its side, contents still pouring out onto the floor. Nick righted it and rolled the paper down to close the bag. He leaned it carefully against the back of the pantry shelf.
Todd must have heard the scratching at the same time Nick did. It came from a cupboard under the sink. Holding his finger to his lips, Todd dipped his head at the origin of the noise and moved quickly in that direction. Nick nodded, keeping his steps light and fast as he closed in from the other direction. They each took hold of a handle. Nick met Todd’s gaze steadily, took a deep breath and when Todd nodded, they pulled the doors open.
“Whoa!” Todd jerked to the side, lifting one foot when something red and white flashed by him.
Nick punched the air with his fist. “Ha! Not a ghost!”
“Alright, fine! You were right. What do you want, an extra blow job?” Todd spread his arms wide.
“We still have a problem to solve before tonight’s New Year’s celebration. Wild animals can’t be running loose in here,” Todd said and shut the cupboard door. “How the hell did they get all the way up to the third floor anyway?”
“I think the more appropriate question is how do we get them out?” Nick asked. He sighed, shut the other door and leaned back against the counter. “I wonder if there’s just the two of them.”
Todd looked at him. His shoulders sagged and he groaned, not in the having hot sex way either. “There’s at least one more in the other room, if that’s what pushed the glasses over and chewed up the corks in the whiskey bottles. Waste of good whiskey.”
“Our only other explanation is a ghost, which I would sense,” Nick reminded him.
“That you don’t even sense a tiny bit,” Todd said. “Let’s deal with what is in here first.” He strode to the kitchen door and moved the bar that would stop the doors from swinging into place. “You’re the animal expert, any ideas?”
“I know about livestock.” Nick looked around the kitchen. “Let’s find some meat, fresh or dried.”
“Good idea.” Again they split up. Todd rifled through the refrigerator while Nick searched the pantry. After a few minutes Todd straightened and held a covered platter in one hand. He gave the refrigerator door a shove and it swung closed. “Fish. They like fish.” Looking around, he added, “Now we need something to trap them with.” The platter was handed off to Nick. “Here, put your knife skills to good use and cut this into smaller chunks. I’ll find something to make a trap with.”’
“I don’t like fish, why do I have to cut it up?”
“Because making a trap is my job,” Todd said and smiled that cocky smile of his.
“We are going to catch them alive, aren’t we?”
Sighing and dipping his head to one side, Todd rolled his eyes. “Yes! We’ll just catch them and turn them loose. Problem solved.”
“Uh-huh.” Nick found a cutting board and a butcher knife and went to work on the fish, dicing it into bite-sized chunks. He heard Todd rummaging through the kitchen; items were moved, doors opened and closed. After a few minutes the room became suspiciously quiet. Nick turned around to find Todd grinning at him. He raised his eyebrows and stood there watching his mate.
“All we have to do is get them into here,” Todd said and pointed inside a wooden crate. He dropped the lid and continued, “We close the lid and viola, back outside they go. Celebration continues and most importantly our awesome reputation remains intact.” Setting the crate at his feet he held up both thumbs.
Todd waved Nick’s doubts. “Oh, ye of little faith.” He carried the crate to the corner of the kitchen with the most shelves. “They ran this way.”
“Plenty of places for them to hide.” Nick shrugged and scooped up the pieces of fish. He laid trails of fish fanned out in front of the crate Todd had set down on its side. They backed up so they both stood behind the crate.
It didn’t take long for a small canine with pretty red fur, brownish legs and a white tipped tail to slink cautiously toward the fish. Nick wondered if Todd was holding his breath too, afraid to move and scare the little creature.
Sniffing the fish, the fox’s tail flipped side to side. It pawed at the pieces then jumped sideways. Todd snickered and Nick swallowed a full out laugh. “It’s just a kit,” he whispered to Todd.
Nick put a few more pieces of fish inside the crate. The little fox inched forward and gobbled up more of the fish then it stopped and looked up. Todd and Nick froze. Staring up at them the fox swished its tail and yipped. A second kit, smaller than this one, crept out from under the shelves. The two little fuzz balls wrestled, rolling over one another, then both grabbed a morsel of fish and played tug-o-war, the smaller of the pair winning the prize.
“C’mon, we’ll get you out of here,” Todd coaxed in a soft voice. He held a piece of fish out. The larger of the fox pups darted forward, grabbed the fish and scrambled off. It ran in a zigzag around the room, crashing into pans and toppling things stored on lower shelves.
Nick couldn’t help it; he doubled over and burst out laughing. That seemed to incite it further and made the second one join in. They apparently thought it was great fun to run close to Todd or Nick, snatch a snack and dart away, tails wagging, making squealing sounds.
Finally the larger kit ran headlong into the crate. It turned a circle and almost scrambled out, but Todd was faster by a mere second and managed to get the lid on the crate. The other fox darted around, between their feet, then it sprinted just out of touching range. It sat and looked at them.
Todd and Nick gazed back. The crate rattled in Todd’s arms. He balanced it with one hand and braced his other against the top of the crate.
Nick leaned down, holding out more fish. “We’re not going to hurt you. We’ll take you outside.” Slowly he sat down, cross-legged, and threw one piece to the floor. Never taking its eyes off Nick, the kit slunk forward, sniffed the fish swishing its tail a few times.
Scooting back a few feet, Nick repeated his actions. The fox smacked at the next piece of fish, jumped up, paced to the side and belly-crawled close enough to grab the food. Todd stepped silently until he was a foot or so from the fox and set the crate down, careful not to dislodge the top.
“When I lift the lid, you throw some pieces inside. That will keep the one inside busy and hopefully get the other one into the crate,” Todd whispered.
Nick nodded. He stood slowly and stretched far enough to grab more of the fish from the cutting board. The loose fox cocked its head to the side, watching. It whined softly and Nick smiled down at it. “Hungry?”
Todd’s plan seemed like a good one. Until he cracked the lid so Nick could get his hand and the fish in far enough.
The crate’s lid ejected out of Todd’s grasp and a red and brown blur scrambled up Nick’s arm, leapt to the floor and chirped happily as it bounded in a circle around Nick. Jerking his arm away, Nick gasped, slipped on the remains of a piece of fish and landed on his ass.
“Oops,” Todd said and laughed.
Nick grumbled, “Oops?” He pushed off the floor just as the kits chased each other around him and ran across his legs.
There was scratching on the opposite side of the swinging door, and loud yipping and barking. Both the kits ran to the door. Tails wagging, noses pressed to the space under the door.
“We get one in this crate and the other two will stay with it,” Nick said.
Todd nodded. “I think you’re right.” He whistled and the two young foxes turned, ears forward, heads up. “Play time’s over boys…girls…kids.”
He took the last bits of fish and tossed it into the crate then grabbed a salt shaker and rolled it along the floor at Nick. Stopping it with his foot, Nick met Todd’s gaze and grinned. He gave the shaker a push. It rolled back toward Todd.
The foxes jumped in opposite directions then scrambled after the glass shaker, their nails clicking against the wood floor. One kit ‘caught’ the shaker, pushing at it with its nose then leapt straight in the air and landed with the shaker underneath it.
Todd grabbed another shaker and rolled it neatly into the crate. Two heads, with black tipped ears straight up turned and watched. At the same time they took off, running so fast in circles around the crate they slipped and slid on the polished wood. Todd’s shoulders bounced and his entire body vibrated. He gave the crate a shake and the kits’ attention riveted to it.
Moving silently, Nick snatched up the lid and crept closer to Todd and the crate. A third shaker went into the crate, this time followed by two little foxes tumbling over each other.
“Ha! Gotcha!” Todd lifted the crate off the floor and Nick slapped the lid into place.
“We need more food for the other one,” Nick said. He hurried back to the refrigerator and pulled a plate of chicken out. Grabbing a few handfuls, he stuffed it in his pockets.
Nick peeked through the slats in the crate; two sets of deep brown eyes looked back. “I’ll get the door.” Crossing the kitchen to the door, Nick slid the bar free and looked back at Todd. “Think the other one will follow?”
“I think it’ll follow you,” Todd said. He tucked the crate under one arm, holding the lid securely in place with his free hand.
Nick opened the doors and stepped out into the main room, holding the door for Todd. Walking as fast as possible, and still keep quiet, they crossed the room. All the time Nick was aware of the larger fox. This one was heavier and he could easily tell it was female. She watched them from near one of the round tables. “Todd, look. I guess we were both right.” Nick sidled up and whispered in Todd’s ear.
The female was a deep gray with a vibrant white tip to her tail.
Todd nodded. “She almost looks like a spirit with that coloring. Come on, sweetheart, follow us and we’ll get you and the kids somewhere better for you than here.” He looked at Nick. “Give her a smell.”
Nick crouched down and rubbed his hands on the floor in front of him. When the fox took a few steps forward and sniffed, he extracted some of the chicken from his pocket and dropped it in front of him. Bushy gray tail arched over her back, waving side to side, the fox took a few more steps toward him. Nick stayed perfectly still while she crept forward and nibbled at the meat. Smiling he took a few more pieces and set them down, pushing them over the floor to her. She paced back and forth a few times before snatching the morsels.
“Poor thing is probably hung over from all the whiskey she broke into,” Todd said. “Let’s see if we can coax her down the service entrance.” He jerked his chin to the door leading to the back stairs. They’d checked all the exits before going into the room and knew it would lead straight outside.
As he had with the kitchen doors, Nick held the service entrance door open for Todd to get the crate through. The two kits must have smelled the adult fox; now they were crying and yipping, sounds Nick knew was one fox calling to others. He threw a few pieces of meat down the steps ahead of Todd. Walking carefully so he didn’t step on them, Todd made his way down the stairs.
The female fox eyed Nick for a minute then darted after Todd, barely stopping to snatch up the scraps Nick offered her. When they reached the exit, Nick pushed the door open and Todd slipped outside. The crate was jostling around in his arms, but he grinned and headed toward their wagon.
They wasted no time securing the crate in the wagon bed. Nick peered through the crate slots once again. The kits were curled together in a corner, watching him. When something poked his leg, Nick looked down. The female sniffed his foot, putting one paw on his boot.
Todd held his fingers to his lips and mouthed the words, “don’t move.” Nick watched as Todd moved to where the horses were hitched and untied them. He tossed the reins to the seat and jumped up. Todd twisted around and waved with his fingers for Nick.
Nick took the rest of the chicken meat from his pocket and tossed it to the wagon bed near the crate. Watching the female, he backed toward the front of the wagon. When he started to climb to the bench seat and take his place beside Todd, the fox bounded into the back of the wagon. Todd clucked softly and turned the horses, guiding the wagon down the street.
“Any ideas where to take them?” Todd asked.
“How about the woods along the edge of our farm? There’s a creek there,” Nick said. “They’ll have plenty of food and space and no danger of getting shot at going after someone’s chickens. They certainly don’t seem too afraid of people.”
“They’ve been living in a hotel for three weeks, why should they be? I’m surprised no one saw them before now.” Todd turned and looked between them before saying softly, “Nicky.”
Nick followed Todd’s gaze. The female fox had her front legs on the back of the bench seat. She sniffed first Nick’s arm, then Todd’s before backing away and sitting beside the crate. The day was cold, but clear and sunny. Todd held the reins in one hand and put his other arm around Nick, rubbing his shoulder for a few minutes. Nick scooted closer, relaxing against Todd’s side and sighing happily.
“Okay, you were right,” Todd said. He leaned to the side, giving Nick a quick kiss.
“I love being right.”
Todd chuckled. “We’re still sentries and that means protecting all sorts of families.”
It didn’t take them more than a half hour to find a suitable spot on their farm to release the little family of foxes. There was a thick covering of snow on the ground so they’d have to leave the wagon on the road. Nick swung his legs over the bench seat to the back of the wagon and untied the crate. The entire time he was closely supervised by the gray fox. She darted in, licked his hand when he loosened the ropes and ran in circles yipping when the crate was handed down to Todd.
They carried the crate into the woods, and set it close to the creek bank. Laying it on the side, Todd removed the lid and stood back. The female ran into the crate as the two younger kits came barreling out. Todd took Nick’s hand and squeezed while they watched three bundles of fur romp and roll over one another.
Letting go of Nick, Todd scooped up a handful of snow, patting it into a ball. He launched it and it landed just in front of the kits. They scampered after it, jumping up to bite at the spray of snow.
Todd hooked one arm around Nick’s neck and nudged him back to the wagon, but didn’t get in. Instead he turned Nick and leaned him against the side of the wagon. “Now, Nicky, I believe I promised to warm you up.” He cupped the back of Nick’s head, fingers threading through Nick’s hair while he pressed soft kisses to Nick’s cheek and down his neck.
Nick slid both arms around Todd, hugging him close. “Guess we’ll be a little late for tonight’s celebration,” Nick said softly.
Todd stepped away, and climbed into the wagon. He held his hand out for Nick to use to pull himself up and onto the seat beside Todd. “That’ll be going on until morning. In the meantime, we cleared away the ‘ghosts’ and gave a family a new home. The good people of Elk’s Ridge can have their party in peace, other than the ruckus the drunks cause.” He slapped the reins gently against the horses, and the wagon rolled forward. Taking the reins in one hand again, he slipped his palm between Nick’s thighs, fingertips rubbing along Nick’s hardening cock. “Now, Nicky, time for our own celebrating.”
That was one celebration Nick was looking forward to. He leaned in, nipped at Todd’s ear and whispered, “Drive faster.”