Judith Norton had been married to Forrest Norton for over fourteen years before he was tragically taken from her when a car struck him when their daughter, Ivy, was nine. She missed her husband dearly, though over the years the pain had all but faded away. It did her heart good to see Ivy finding her own happiness again with the two men who’d rescued her the year before at Christmas.
She watched her daughter standing, (well, fidgeting was more like it) beside the handsome Gareth. The two had dithered over tea for a good twenty minutes. She knew her Ivy as well as any mother knew her child, and it was obvious the two had something important to share.
Of all the secrets Ivy might impart to her, Judith hadn’t quite been prepared to see Gareth morph slowly into a beautiful wolf in front of her. She sipped her tea carefully while observing Ivy who continued to twist her napkin in her fingers. Her daughter handled most things brilliantly, but she’d never done well with family dramatics.
“They’re wolves, Mum.” Ivy gestured to the white wolf standing beside her after Judith failed to comment. He wagged his tail and she flicked his ear lightly. “Wolves.”
“Ivy, dear, I don’t need to know your men are animals in bed.” Judith decided to have a wee bit of fun with her daughter. “Does he chase his tail?”
“No, Mum…” Ivy pinched the bridge of her nose. “This is Gareth in his wolf form.”
“Is it like our Rosie?”
“No, Mum, bloody hell. Honestly, Rosie’s asexual, not a shifter. She doesn’t have sexual relations.” Ivy dropped her head into her hands, clearly completely exasperated. “Gareth, switch back, please?”
“How are you going to marry at church? Can they go into the building?” Judith sipped her tea absently. “Is there a special ceremony for them?”
“They’re not bloody vampires.” Ivy flicked Gareth on the ear when he snorted loudly.
“Do vampires exist then?”
Ivy glanced up at the ceiling and probably hoping for divine intervention or patience. “I have no bloody idea.”
“Ivy.” She reached out to lightly tug on Ivy’s sleeve.
She turned back toward her mum. “Yes?”
“When I was a young girl, my parents used to take your uncles and me on holiday in Cornwall—to the beaches in Newquay.” She paused to pour more tea for the three of them since Gareth had decided to change back finally. Her fingers trembled slightly around the handle of the teapot as she thought of the young man she’d met so many years ago. “I met a young lad there the first time when I was all of twelve. He was very dashing, a few years older than me. He could do the most extraordinary things and often turned into the loveliest light grey wolf. I’d never seen anything like it. We saw each other every summer, but then when I was seventeen he wasn’t there anymore. I always wondered what happened to him.”
Gareth reached out to grab Ivy’s teacup before it fell out of her hand. “He was light grey?”
“Mmm,” she nodded. Judith brushed her fingers through her short, grey hair. She could still see the handsome boy who seemed to live constantly in her dreams, though they’d faded over time. “His name was Carl. I never did learn his family name.”
“It’s Elmer.” Gareth nudged Ivy with his elbow. “She’s talking about Carl Elmer.”
“The surgeon who works with the pack?” Ivy’s eyes widened in surprise. “Honestly? How bloody…you had a romance with a shifter and never mentioned it. How could you not tell me?”
“Have some tea, dear.” Judith started to reach for the teapot again. “It’ll help calm your nerves.”
“Mum.” Ivy ignored the tea and focused on the important facts. “Why were you acting like a completely uninformed berk just now?”
“You know I love winding you up.” Judith’s blue eyes danced with amusement. Her daughter, like her father, was often easy to ruffle with teasing, though she handled more serious matters with a quiet strength. She glanced over at Gareth a moment later. “So you know Carl?”
“I do,” Gareth said easily. “Would you like to see him again?”
Her heart skipped a beat at the very idea. Judith set her cup carefully on the saucer and placed it gently on the tray in front of her. Thirty-seven long years had gone by since she’d last seen Carl—the beautiful lad with sweet, brown eyes. She remembered his carefree smile as he showed her the finer points of surfing. She never imagined after all this time she might see him again.
When Forrest died, Judith devoted all of her attention to raising a young daughter by herself; there hadn’t been time for finding romance again. The years had flown by before she even realized how age had caught up with her. She wasn’t sure she wanted to shatter Carl’s memories of her with the reality of her age.
“Mum?” Ivy reached out to squeeze her hand. “Do you want to see Carl again?”
Judith patted her daughter’s hand. “I’m afraid I’m not the same girl who skipped stones across the water with him.”
“Carl’s a private bloke. He never really talks about his life outside of being a surgeon.” Gareth spoke around a large bit of scone, causing Ivy to swat him on his arm. He smiled at her and Judith couldn’t help but laugh at the way her daughter melted at the boyish grin. “He’s never been married or dated anyone as far as I know. I can have him in London in a few hours.”
“It’s Christmas, Mum.” Ivy’s eyes were filled with love and concern. “Let’s see if a bit of magic isn’t in the air, shall we?”
Despite having numerous misgivings, Judith allowed her Ivy to talk her into heading to the Blackbird office. She sat in one of the spare offices with a warm mug of tea and nattered with her daughter about wedding plans and the upcoming Christmas party. It was a pleasant enough distraction though she still felt as if a herd of Corgis was running rampant in her tummy.
Nerves like a silly schoolgirl.
The Corgis leapt into her throat when voices and footsteps seemed to pass by the door and linger. Ivy told her not to worry; it would all go bloody brilliantly. She got to her feet and darted out of the room, leaving Judith to her own racing thoughts.
What if he didn’t remember her?
What if he did remember her?
What could he possibly remember about a girl he’d known over thirty years ago?
Judith was struck with a sense of having let her daughter’s Christmas-inspired optimism carry both of them away. Despite the heavy blows life had dealt Ivy, she’d always managed to eventually find an unending amount of hope. It was inherited from her father, along with her dreadful tendency to curse at every little thing.
“Bollocks,” Judith whispered when the door handle turned.
“Oh, I’m so sorry, pardon my intrus…” Carl trailed off the minute he glimpsed who was in the room. “Judy?”