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With Everything I Am (2)(3)

By´╝ÜKristen Ashley

When she didn’t answer, he prompted, “Baby doll?”

She nodded her head against his chest.

His fingers tensed in her hair then relaxed and slid through it, and again, and again, petting her while he spoke.

“We start on first December with the parties. Everyone throws one. It’s like a war to have the best party so people will want to come to yours. There’s one to attend every day, sometimes you’ll attend two or even three. They aren’t like yours. They’re a little louder, a little wilder and my people don’t only have them at night, they like celebrating anytime. They have them during the day as well. Enormous luncheons with so much food, you need a nap afterward. Full-on breakfasts, which always lead eventually to trips to the pub and then, even later, stumbling home highly inebriated while singing Christmas songs.”

He heard a surprised giggle escape her throat, sounding strangled and he realized he’d never, not once in over three weeks, made her laugh.

Not once.

Fucking hell, but he’d been buried so deep with everything else, with his mate, he’d been a thoughtless bastard.

She tipped her head back and her eyes were alight when she asked, “You stumble home drunk singing Christmas songs?”

He grinned down at her, enchanted more than usual at his queen when her eyes were lit like that, and admitted, “It’s been known to happen.”

She pressed her lips together but he felt her body shake with laughter.

“My people like to sing,” he informed her easily. “They like it best when they’re shitfaced.”

She burst out laughing and dropped her forehead to his chest.

There were many things he’d experienced with Sonia in the last three weeks that Callum fucking loved.

But nothing was better than feeling Sonia’s body rocking with laughter, the sound of it rumbling into his chest, while she was in his arms.

She eventually gulped back her giggles, lifted her head and encouraged, “Go on.”

His hand dropped to her neck and his thumb caressed the underside of her jaw as he continued, “Christmas Eve is spent, with strict adherence to tradition, at one member of the extended family’s house. You arrive for breakfast and stay through to long past darkness falling.”

“Do you have a lot of extended family?” she asked.

He didn’t wish to scare her with the real numbers so he answered, “A fair few, more than attended your party last night.”

Her eyes grew huge and she breathed, “That’s a long time to have a bunch of people around, especially if you have to feed them.”

“At the end of the evening, before anyone goes home, it’s also tradition for the women to fight over who’ll get to host it the next year.” He grinned at her. “Sometimes it gets vicious.”

She smiled back, not knowing that what he said was literal.

She-wolves could transform and they did it often, mostly to run with their mates. There were those few with that bent (in other words, their fated lifemate and their taste in play partners ran to their own gender) who were warriors and good ones.

However, most other times, she-wolves stayed in human form.

Unless they were fighting drunkenly, thus much less in control of the transformation, over who would host Christmas Eve.

Blood was shed more often than not.

Callum decided not to share that with Sonia.

Instead, he said, “During the day, the women cook, chat and play cards at the kitchen table.”

She rolled her eyes and mumbled, “Of course they do.”

He lifted his head and touched his mouth to hers until he saw her eyes roll back then he sat back and continued, “The males have a rugby tournament or some sort of sport outdoors,” he grinned and informed her, “the more brutal, the better.”

“Not surprising,” she noted without rancor, “intense, as with everything else, even on Christmas Eve.”

His thumb slid over her lower lip because he wanted it to, not to stop her from talking but she did so and he started again. “We all get together for an evening feast, usually getting drunk again then we have group games that pretty much descend into pandemonium. The women fight it out as to who will host the next year and then everyone goes home.”

“Except for the all day cooking and vicious battle that ends the night, it sounds kind of fun,” she quipped, her lips tipped up at the ends.

“It is,” he replied truthfully. “Family is all-important. That’s why finding your mate it fundamental to our existence.” His voice dipped lower and his arm grew tighter. “It heralds the time when we can start our own.”

Her expression changed swiftly. Starting with shock then shifting to gentleness mixed with yearning, straight to alarmed and ending in what he was surprised to see was openly false curiosity.