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Darkness Chosen #4.5
October 9, 2014
Available in: e-Book (reprint)
Wilder Family Halloween
Christina Dodd here:
WILDER FAMILY HALLOWEEN is a short epilogue featuring the Wilder family from my paranormal series, Darkness Chosen, and you can read it for free here on my website. This short story is my gift to you, to thank you for taking the Wilder family into your hearts and homes. Of course, readers who want to add it to their collection can buy it here.
Should you read WILDER FAMILY HALLOWEEN if you haven’t read Darkness Chosen? You are welcome to, of course, but it’s not going to mean much without knowing the characters. If you would like to discover the Darkness Chosen series, there are free excepts for each book on my website.The Darkness Chosen books are (in order):
SCENT OF DARKNESS: Classic romance between a secretary who hopelessly loves her boss…only to discover he’s a shapeshifter. Oops.
TOUCH OF DARKNESS: A deception threatens the love between a woman determined to reveal the evil that killed her family … and the man who has shares those unholy gifts.
INTO THE SHADOW: Bad boy shapeshifter brought to his knees by the woman he should never love.
INTO THE FLAME: As the Wilder family saga sweeps into its stunning climax, the only Wilder daughter realizes the lie she has lived … and discovers a love lost.
My second paranormal series, the Chosen Ones, features Aleksandr Wilder of the famed Wilder family Darkness Chosen saga.The Chosen Ones are (in order):
STORM OF VISIONS: A bodyguard must guard the woman he loves. But he can’t guard her from her own visions … or her duty.
STORM OF SHADOWS: Clueless librarian turned reluctant adventurer by a mysterious man with…talents.
CHAINS OF ICE: A wild man must be tamed and returned to do his duty to the Chosen Ones, and only one woman has the strength — and love — to succeed.
CHAINS OF FIRE: Two people trapped together in an icy cave, and only the heat of their lost love can warm them…
STONE ANGEL: The one man who can save her is the man who broke her heart…and betrayed her. WILDER: Classic beauty and the beast: Aleksandr Wilder’s story, the grand finale of the Chosen Ones, and the story that unites Darkness Chosen with the Chosen Ones.
However you read WILDER FAMILY HALLOWEEN, I hope you enjoy re-uniting with the Wilder family once more!
Warmly, Christina Dodd, who would love you to join her mailing list to hear about new releases and book sales.
WILDER FAMILY HALLOWEEN: A Darkness Chosen Epilogue
Copyright 2012 by Christina Dodd
All rights reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced in any fashion without the express, written consent of the copyright holders.
Wilder Family Halloween is a work of fiction. All characters and events portrayed herein are fictitious and are not based on any real persons living or dead.
Zorana and Konstantine Wilder have moved into their new home, a fabulous house built to replace the one that burned in the cataclysmic fire at the end of the Darkness Chosen saga. They built it on their own land, among the grape vines and tall trees in the high valley of Washington’s Cascade mountains. Now they have four bedrooms upstairs, one for each one of their sons and their wives, a master suite downstairs, and a huge attic where someday the grandchildren they have hoped for and imagined can sleep and play. Most important, Zorana has a big kitchen with stainless steel appliances, a table long enough to feed their family and friends, and a six-burner gas range and two ovens. (“Two ovens? Woman, why do you need two ovens?” “Husband, for the same reason you need a new tractor with a heater in the cab.”) End of discussion.
To celebrate their new home, Zorana and Konstantine plan a Halloween party …
Konstantine Wilder gloated as he walked beside the long kitchen table laden with food: Ukrainian foods from their homeland, foods like varenyky, delicious dumplings, some savory and filled with potatoes and beef, and some sweet with dark, ripe cherries. Then there were pickled mushrooms, and black caviar on shaved white ice with toast and butter. And American foods like caramel corn with mixed nuts, pumpkin bread, and his favorite, red candied apples. For the children, Zorana had prepared a bubbling bowl of black punch with a frozen hand floating in it.
The frozen hand had been his idea.
Such a fabulous bounty to share with their friends and neighbors who had helped them after their home had burned.
But they had a half-hour before the guests were supposed to arrive, and he was hungry.
No one would miss one cherry varenyky…
He reached out a hand.
“Papa, stop that right now!” Firebird paused in the doorway, a tray laden with shot glasses and a full bottle of fine Russian vodka.
“No one will miss just one.” His voice rumbled deep in his chest. He had raised this child. She should show him respect.
And she did … except her respect for her mother outweighed her respect for him, at least in the matter of food.
“If you could stop at just one, that would be fine. But we all know you can’t, so pull that hand back or I'll go and tell Mama.” Firebird glared at him threateningly.
He drew himself up to his full height. He lifted his chin. And he pulled his hand back. He pouted as he returned the glare of his darling daughter. For that was how he thought of Firebird, now and forever.
She was dressed like a Cheshire cat and as she looked him over, she grinned like one, too. “Wow. Papa. I like the bunny outfit.”
Konstantine touched the fuzzy brown tip of one ear. “At my request, your mother made the costume. I did not wish to frighten the children.”
Firebird walked close, stood on her tiptoes to kiss his cheek. “I can’t imagine why any child would be frightened by a six-and-a-half foot tall bunny.”
“Nor can I.”
Tugging his head down so she could whisper in his ear (his real ear, not the brown fuzzy one), she added, “Especially not a bunny who has a new grandchild on the way.”
“A new grandchild? Another child? You … you’re expecting? You will have a babe to join Aleksandr in our family?”
Aleksandr was three and a half, the smartest, most handsome child in the world, and coincidentally, the only Wilder grandchild.
Now delight filled Konstantine’s heart, and he held out his arms to hug his daughter.
But she handed him the tray. “Douglas is bursting with pride — ”
“As he should be, to have two fine children.”
“— And we will all look forward to this birth in the spring. Now go put the tray in the living room before the guests arrive!” She walked around him into the kitchen to polish off the final preparations for the party.
He followed her, intent on getting to the root of this mystery which Zorana had set before him. “Firebird?”
She turned to him, glowing with the blessing that carrying a child bestowed. “Yes, Papa?”
“What is your mother wearing to the party?”
“I don’t know, Papa. She wouldn’t tell me.”
“Humph.” Turning, he went into the gigantic living room Zorana had decorated with warm colors, comfortable furniture, large area rugs, and lots of pillows and pictures.
But he had done his part, too, dangling skeletons from the high ceiling, draping spider webs over the lamps, and carving fearsome faces into pumpkins grown in Zorana’s own garden. Now the lights were low, the pumpkin goblins glowed … and only his family realized that goblins were real and terrifying, and haunted the winter night.
Well. After the great battle the Wilders had fought to break the thousand-year-old deal with the devil, maybe a few of the neighbors had figured out there was more to fear in this land than what they could taste and smell and hear. But they nobly pretended they knew nothing of the Wilders’ contacts with the Other World, and gave generously of their friendships anyway.
He placed the platter on the tall buffet, poured a shot of vodka in each glass, and wondered why Zorana had made such a mystery of this costume she had created, and why it was taking her so long to dress. In mere moments, the guests would arrive, and it was not like his woman to be late.
At the sound of someone walking gingerly down the stairs, he turned and saw his daughter-in-law, Ann, dressed in a kangaroo with a joey in her pouch.
“Ah, my darling Ann.” He waved her over. “You know what Zorana is wearing to the party, don’t you?”
“No, Papa, why? Wouldn’t she tell you?” Ann came to his side, taking care not to trip over her own big, fuzzy feet.
“No,” he said grumpily. “She said she would wear a costume appropriate to her role in the family.”
Smart-mouthed Ann said, “Then maybe she’ll be a cook or a mechanic or a gardener or a housekeeper or —“
“Here.” He picked up a herring from the platter of appetizers and stuck it under Ann’s nose. “Eat this and be quiet.”
Turning pale, she pushed it away. “No. Please. Papa. It makes me sick.”
“Sick? Why would a herring make you sick? It has never made you sick before.” Leaning down, he peered into her suddenly shy eyes. “You are expecting!”
“Sh!” She covered his mouth with her hand. “Yes, yes, I am, we’ll have a baby in the spring, but Jasha and I were going to tell you and Mama together.”
“Don’t worry. It will be our secret.” He watched proudly as she went to the kitchen to help Firebird spoon sour cream over the varenyky with cherries.
The front door slammed, and Konstantine’s last two daughters-in-law ran in from the barn, their noses red with the brisk October autumn.
Tasya held a handful of straw, and she stuffed it in her chick costume. “This stuff pokes right through the cloth and scratches me,” she complained.
“Would you rather dress as a princess?” Karen asked.
“No.” Because Tasya had truly once been a princess, and she wouldn’t trivialize the grief that honor had brought her. “But Karen, you are a beautiful mermaid.”
“Thank you.” Karen had been raised by her father to be a tough woman, a construction manager in the world’s most dangerous places. It was in one of those places she had met Adrik, and been held captive by him, and hated him. It was only after she had escaped, and he had been sent to the world’s darkest pit of despair, that he had learned to be a man worthy of her.
Their courtship had been a bumpy one.
All of his sons’ courtships had been bumpy.
Not his. Not Konstantine’s, who had been the first male in his family in a thousand years to fall in love, and his Zorana had fallen right back in love with him.
Of course, when he kidnapped Zorana from her clan, she had stabbed him.
But only once.
Now Karen preened, showing off the glimmering scales on her glittery tail, always happy to wear something decorated with sequins and pearls. Then she paused, hand pressed against her waist, and winced. “This darned costume fit me better when I bought it. Now it’s tight around the middle.”
Tasya laid her hand on Karen’s stomach. “Are you going to have guppies?”
“Guppies? No! I’m only going to have one, er, guppy.” Karen put her hand over Tasya's and looked at her sister-in-law. “I hope.”
“You, too?” Tasya exclaimed. Realizing what she had confessed, she looked first pleased, then horrified. “I didn’t mean to say that.”
Konstantine clapped his hand over his mouth.
How could he possibly keep so many secrets? Secrets from Zorana? The woman possessed a frightening ability to sense when he withheld information, and an all-too-pleasing way of worming those secrets out of him.
Yet Zorana also had a way of knowing when another woman was pregnant. Maybe it was because she understood all people and the mysteries surrounding them.
Maybe it was because she was a gypsy witch.
Tasya continued, “Rurik and I were going to wait until I was farther along before we told anyone.”
“I wasn’t supposed to tell, either,” Karen admitted.
“Both of you are with child?” Konstantine held out his arms to the wives of his sons.
They hugged him, then hugged each other, and their cheer brought Firebird and Ann from the kitchen to make known their secrets and rejoice with the others.
Konstantine assured them, “Don’t worry. I will never tell, not even under torture.” He was safe in saying that; he was almost positive Zorana would never tie him up and torture him.
“You have a very funny expression on your face, Papa,” Firebird said.
“I am having happy thoughts,” he answered.
“We want to name our baby Antai, after my father,” Tasya confessed.
“Or perhaps Jennica, after your mother,” he suggested.
The four girls viewed him doubtfully.
“It is true, in a thousand years, we have had only sons born from my family’s loins. So a daughter would be a miracle.” Konstantine stroked his long, bunny whiskers. “But in this family, we are familiar with miracles.”
The women agreed.
Miracles had a way of happening to the Wilders. His voice was low and deep with sincerity when he said, “Our mere survival is a miracle for which I every day thank the Good God.”
Ann started to sniff.
Firebird wiped her sudden tears on her tail.
Karen and Tasya both held out as long as they could before they both broke down and cried.
Konstantine sighed. He remembered every one of Zorana’s pregnancies, and the months when Firebird grew large with Aleksandr, and those times had been rife with weeping. Now with four women shedding tears, he would be wiping wet eyes and making comforting noises all the time.
But he could buy stock in Kleenex, and he figured that was a small price to pay for four more intelligent, beautiful and mischievous grandchildren.
Thankfully, he didn’t have to pay that price by himself.
His sons would take most of the load.
His sons, who were descending the stairs.
Jasha wore a lamb costume.
Rurik was dressed like a mouse.
Adrik was a puppy.
And Douglas, like his father, was a bunny — but a pink bunny. They came to their father and lined up, looking at each other and nodded approvingly.
Their wives gazed at them, at the five giant, strong, dangerous men dressed as the meekest animals they could find.
Although Konstantine couldn’t comprehend why, the women fell on each others’ shoulders, now almost crying with laughter. “Never going to fool …” “Yeah, like that’s going to work …” “The silliest thing I’ve ever …”
“Why are they laughing?” he asked.
His sons shrugged.
He shrugged. Over the sound of female hilarity, he asked his sons, “Where is your mother? What is she wearing? Where is Aleksandr?”
“Mama has Aleksandr, I don’t know what she’s wearing, and she said they were coming right down,” Douglas replied.
Konstantine turned his gaze to the top of the stairs, and there she was: the love of his life, the warrior at his side, the bane of his existence … his wife, Zorana.
She descended the stairs, graceful, serene, dressed in a black, calf-length wool skirt, black heeled boots, and a silver liquid silk charmeuse wrap top. She had a coiled whip hooked to her sash and she’d done something to her eyes, some feminine make-up thing involving smoky lines and dark smudges that made her look savage and mysterious.
She held little Aleksandr in her arms. The boy was dressed like a wolf, and looked like the child in Where the Wild Things Are.
“Let the wild rumpus start,” Konstantine murmured.
When Zorana and Aleksandr reached the bottom, she placed him on his feet and asked, “Aleksandr, what does the wolf say?”
Aleksandr spread his arms wide. He growled and ran at his father.
Douglas screamed like a little girl and hopped away.
Aleksandr growled and chased Jasha and Rurik and Adrik, and Konstantine, and when Konstantine tripped over his big bunny feet and tumbled to the floor, Aleksandr put his foot on his grandfather’s chest and roared in triumph.
When Ann, Tasya, Karen and Firebird had finished giggling, Konstantine spoke sternly to his wife. “Where is your costume, woman?”
Zorana answered promptly, “This is the costume I wear everyday.”
Although he didn’t think he was going to like the answer, he asked, “What costume is that?”
Zorana came and knelt by his side, and brushed his hair off his forehead. With dignity and dominance, she announced, “I am the Beastmaster.”
Konstantine pounced as swiftly as an old wolf, toppling her on top of him and wrapping her in his arms. “You are insolent and audacious.”
“One must be when one lives with you, Konstantine Wilder.” She smiled into his eyes, and silently promised him a night he would never forget …
“Okay. Enough of that,” Jasha spoke while their other sons gagged or whimpered or turned away. “You two are going to give us kids a complex.”
“What? This love is a mystery to you? You still believe we found you under a cabbage leaf?” But Konstantine stood, lifting Zorana with him, and announced, “I will make a speech.”
The boys groaned.
He paid his rude sons no heed, knowing well they loved and admired his speeches.
He gestured toward the krasny ugol, the red corner. There, in this holy place in their home, Zorana had reverently placed their hard-won and ancient icon on a red satin cloth. Four different aspects of the Virgin Mary portrayed joy, sorrow, pain and glory, and now looked upon his family. This was the icon which a thousand years ago had been cut by the devil’s sword. And only last year had been the pieces been reunited into one holy icon — and that joining had broken the evil pact and freed the Wilder family forever.
Now all was as Konstantine and Zorana had foreseen.
His sons were married to the loves of their lives, and this year would bring four, or perhaps five or six, new additions to the Wilder clan.
The Wilders were indeed blessed. He looked around at his sons, at their wives, at his own precious Zorana. He touched his heart, and his speech was brief and succinct. “No words are worthy of our joy.”
His family solemnly nodded, and hugged, and the women wept.
Then the doorbell rang.
Konstantine spread his arms wide and high. “Come! The food is prepared. The vodka is poured. Let us open the door and welcome our friends into our new home and our new lives.”
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