Dragon's Watch: The Night before Christmas
Shelby Morgen
All rights reserved.
Copyright ©2004 by Shelby Morgen

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Jackson stopped behind her, so close she could feel the heat of him through her clothes. He brushed the hair from her face with his fingertips, running them gently over her scalp. The feel of his hands in her hair sent tingles down her spine. With a sigh, Von closed her eyes, leaning back into his touch, trusting him to support the weight of her head. Von wished she could purr in this form.

"They'll come, Von."

"I know. What other choice do they have?"

He leaned down to kiss her temple lightly. "You make it sound like we're forcing them back into civilization."

"Maybe not us, but they're being forced, just the same."

"We're doing the best we can here. According to tonight's reports, we have nine hundred and forty-seven people here, baby. We're not a recovery center anymore. We're a refugee camp. But you've made it more than that for these people. You've made it a new home. Don't tear yourself up over things you can't control." His fingertips massaged in slow, rhythmic patterns, making it almost impossible to argue with him.

Still, there were fears she hadn't dare voice aloud. "What if it doesn't quit, Jackson? What if the water keeps rising? We're only safe here until the water levels catch up with us."

"What if it starts snowing in the morning? Relax, Von. Worry about what we can do, not what we can't change. We're as high up as we can get unless we change our base of operations to Denver. If the water catches up with us here we'll build an ark."

Von laughed, for the first time in ages, it seemed. "An ark."

"Unless you come up with a better idea between now and then. We'll have plenty of warning. The water isn't rising that fast, and we're a thousand feet above sea level." He moved his hands down to her shoulders, starting gentle, then working deeper.

"An ark it is. I like your plan. We have some engineers in the ranks. If it doesn't snow by spring we'll have them design something. Something that will get us as far as Denver."

The long, deep strokes of his massage spread down her arms. "Spring's a long way off yet."

Von felt her eyes drifting shut. "Mmmm. Yeah, I know."

"I have a surprise for you."

"You should have thought of that before you made me into a pile of mush. If it means moving, you're out of luck."

Laughing, Jackson scooped her up into his arms. Von let her head rest against his shoulder, her fingers caressing the tight muscles of his neck. He carried her effortlessly, as if she weighed nothing. She should argue, protest, but she didn't want to. She hadn't felt this relaxed in months. Instead she snuggled tighter into his arms, sliding the Glock's holster to where it wouldn't poke him in the ribs.

She was nearly asleep by the time he'd crossed the compound with her. Not that she'd paid attention to where he was headed, but the compound wasn't really very big. He'd held her too long to be anywhere near the main camp. Besides, it was quiet here. Everywhere else there was the constant buzz of people. After so long in the field, the noise was wearing on her.

Jackson shifted her weight in his arms as he opened a door.

A door?

"I know you don't want to look like we're taking privileges of rank or something, Von, but everyone's building huts and houses. We need some downtime and a place of our own."

Opening her eyes, Von gasped in surprise and delight. Brightly colored ribbons and bows decorated a small spruce tree in the corner of the cabin's main room. The tree stood cattycorner to a fireplace with a small, cheerful fire. Despite the date, the temperatures had only dropped down to the low sixties at night. Still, the fire was warm, and welcoming. And... romantic. Strings of popcorn and berries adorned the little tree, too. And underneath its branches sat a small box, wrapped in red tissue paper. "Jackson, how did you..."

"Merry Christmas, baby."

She hadn't thought beyond the next meal, the next hunt, the next foraging party for days. Weeks. "I -- I don't have anything for you."

He set her down on her feet. "Shut the door, Von. Leave the rest of the world to fend for itself tonight. That's a good enough Christmas present for me."
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