Published by Changeling Press
Cover Artist: Bryan Keller
Trevor runs the Puzzle and Games Workshop of the North Pole. Most think him quiet and ordinary, but no one knows about his fierce desire for the sexy owner of the day care center — not even the owner herself. If only he could get up the nerve to go meet her…
Missy, owner of The Little Care day care, harbors the biggest crush on the cute Elf from the Puzzle Workshop across the way. As much as she’d love to march over there and see what happens between them, she won’t, because she knows the results of her magic will be worse than unrequited lust.
When an encounter in a Christmas Maze brings them together, Missy and Trevor discover magic is tangible, mazes aren’t for the shy and awkward, and true love might be found under the mistletoe.
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Copyright ©2019 Ayla Ruse
“The maze is going great, Trevor. Everyone who comes out is laughing and wanting to do it again. I’ve even heard a few say it’s the best attraction at this year’s Winter Fair.”
“That’s good to hear, Lulu. I think next year we’ll take Tommy’s suggestion and add a photo booth at the end.”
“That would be the best,” Lulu heartily agreed. “Or have mini photo opportunities at each dead end. I’m sure there’s some funny things that happen there, too.”
Trevor mused over this for a moment. “You have a point. Then at the end, the participants can decide which, if any, photos they’d want.” He started planning, speaking quickly and quietly as he became lost in thought. “I’d have to get in touch with the Electronics department, and we’d have to hire more help for the maze, but then we’d have extra profit from any pictures that’d be purchased and –”
His plans were cut off by Lulu’s loud shout. “Hey, Miss! You can’t go in there without purchasing a ticket!”
Trevor turned just in time to see an Elf shoot off into the Dead End Maze like her skirts were on fire.
“Damn it,” Lulu fussed. “Tommy won’t be back from break for another fifteen minutes. I hate to ask this of you, Trevor, but could you man the booth and let me run that freeloader down?”
Him be in charge of the booth? No way. The less he had to interact with groups of people he didn’t know, the better. Tracking down one lone female Elf would definitely be the safer choice.
“How about I go in after her? You’re faster with the whole ticket stuff, and I did design the maze, so I’ll be able to get around in there quicker.”
“Would you? That’d be great. Thanks! I’ll call in to the end of the maze to let those guys know what to expect if you don’t show up with her.”
“Sounds good. And I can call them too if any problems arise.”
He’d not been in the spacious maze for even a minute when he ran across the mysterious Elf. She’d found herself caught in one of the famous dead ends and probably couldn’t figure out how to get out. Of course, if she’d stopped at the booth, Lulu would have explained the rules.
A thin, frosted wall separated her from and him and kept her in the dead end zone. He sighed and made his way down the ice-walled corridor to rescue her. But when she turned around and her eyes settled on him with a grateful look of one who believes help has arrived, he stopped in his tracks.
It was her. It was that gorgeous little curly-headed blonde Elf that ran the day care across the field from his office. Every day, at ten, one and three on the dot, he stopped work to stare out his narrow floor-to-ceiling window to catch sight of her. He couldn’t remember her name, knew she ran the center only because he’d overheard one of his co-workers mention it in a conversation he’d overheard, but she was his. Well, his fantasy at any rate. He couldn’t stop the inward grin. And she was stuck in his maze.
He finally stepped closer when she waved her arms, like she was trying to get his attention. Little did she know she had his undivided attention. He approached and hit the hidden release button on the side of the wall. The thin, frosted barrier opened, and he swallowed, but couldn’t speak. She was more beautiful up close than he’d ever imagined. Angel-blonde hair cascaded around her face and shoulders in a wild array of curls. She had tiny, narrow ears that peeked out from her curls just enough to tease him with wanting to touch, to caress. A light dusting of freckles sprinkled across her nose and deep-chocolate eyes stared back at him. She wrung her hands together and looked worried. Maybe she thought, now that she’d been caught, that she’d be in trouble? She nibbled on her perfectly pink bottom lip and he stifled a groan, wanting to be the one to do the nibbling.
He tried to say “hi,” but it came out broken. He cleared his throat and tried again. “Um, hi. I’m Trevor. You ran into the Maze without a ticket.”
“I know. I’m sorry. Maybe you could help me? I’ll pay for the tickets when we get out if that’d be okay? You see, my name is Missy, and I run the Little Care Day Care off Ice Cap Street. Today is field trip day, and I’m afraid one of my charges took off. I saw him heading this direction, and this Maze is the only attraction in this part of the Fair. I kept everyone away from this area because I don’t like this kind of stuff, but I guess he knew about it? Could you help me find him?”
Her plea, combined with her softly wringing hands and full, doe-like eyes, melted him on the spot. He nodded silently, knowing he’d do anything for this female.
“Oh, thank you,” she gushed, laying a hand on his arm for a brief moment. He stuffed his hands in his pocket; he’d felt deliciously singed from her touch. She rushed on, “His name is Zack, and he’s not usually a naughty Elf, but maybe since his parents just had a baby girl, he’s feeling left out? I don’t know. I might have to talk to Taryn and find out… Oh, I’m sorry, sometimes I tend to carry on. Anyway, I don’t think he’d do anything bad, but he might put a few holes in the walls?”
“Holes? A little Elf can do that?”
She pointed to the wall to his right, and sure enough, a small hole was in the wall. It couldn’t be bigger than a hole an artic hare would dart through and was hardly noticeable. “How…”
“Well, he is half demon and he tends to have hot hands from time to time. His father is teaching him to control it, but,” here she looked around at the dead end they were in, “in a place like this…” She shook her head and a worried frown creased her brow. “I’ll pay for the damages, I promise. Could you please just help me locate him?”
Trevor wanted to pull her into his arms and tell her he’d take care of everything but bucked up and reminded himself to be practical. He shouldn’t touch her — yet. “I’ll help you find him. It won’t be a problem. In fact, let me call the Elves at the end of the Maze so they can keep a look out for him, too.”
“Would you? I really appreciate it.”
Trevor tapped his watch and called Lulu. She confirmed that she hadn’t seen any little Elves enter. Then he called the exit team, only to hear that yes, a little one had emerged and, since he was without an adult, they were keeping him occupied with hot chocolate and peppermint drops and would watch over him until they came out. When Missy heard this, she sighed audibly.
“Thank you! Now, can you show me the way out? I’ll gather Zack and go back around front to pay for both tickets.”
Trevor might be a quiet one when it came to strangers, but he wasn’t a fool. The entire time they’d been talking, he knew he had the Elf of his dreams, trapped, so to speak, and at his will, in this maze of his own design. He’d never forgive himself if he let her simply walk away. He did know how to take advantage of unexpected opportunities.
Handed a historical romance at the age of twelve, Ayla Ruse fell in love with love and with happy endings. Having grown up living life tasting a little of this and a little of that has not changed this attitude, but it’s expanded her views. Love isn’t always happy and it isn’t always the way a person “thinks it should be.” Sometimes it’s outside the box, and it’s always a challenge.
The challenge of finding and holding onto this love is what drives Ayla in her fiction. She likes stories that strip love — among other things — down to the skin and tests the attachment and beliefs of the participants. Sometimes that test can come in the form of multiple partners, overcoming a desperate fear or even being sexually inventive.