FF Collection: A Christmas Formula

This short story was originally published in The Final Formula Collection, a bundle of the first three titles in the series.  The story takes place after the conclusion of The Blood Alchemist.


A Christmas Formula

Chapter 1

Era crossed her arms against the bite of the December wind and considered taking out her keys and letting herself into the lab. Addie had made it clear that Era was welcome at any time, but Addie was no longer the only person living here.

The thought no sooner crossed her mind when the door opened.

“Era.” Ian dipped his head in greeting, then stepped back, holding the door for her. “Please, come in.” He smiled, and dimples appeared in his cheeks.

Era hesitated. She wished she didn’t have to deal with him every time she came over. Unlike Addie, she didn’t think she could ever forgive him for the trouble he had caused.

It didn’t help that Ian was beautiful. With waves of shoulder-length golden hair and amazing blue eyes, he knocked her speechless every time she encountered him—bad feelings or not. Worse, she suspected he was fully aware of the effect he had on women.

He lifted a brow when she didn’t speak. “Addie is waiting upstairs.”

“Thank you.” Her tone was curt, and she marched past him, down the short hall that led to his and Addie’s lab. Like Addie, he was an alchemist. Unlike Addie, he was also a necromancer and a lich. Ian had been killed and entombed two centuries ago. He had Addie to thank for the regenerated state of his body and his freedom. He had thanked her by nearly killing her and Rowan.

Era hurried through the lab to the hall on the opposite side of the room, and the stairs to Addie’s apartment. She heard Ian’s footsteps behind her in the lab, but didn’t look back. When she reached the stairs, it was all she could do not to take them two at a time.

Addie sat at the scarred table in the little dining area off the outdated kitchenette. She glanced up and gave Era a smile before turning back to the small notebook she was writing in.

“Give me a minute,” Addie said. “I’m making a list.”

“Be sure to check it twice.”

“Bad Christmas pun. Behave or you’re going in the naughty column.”

“Is Rowan in the naughty column?”

“I haven’t seen enough of him recently to make that determination.”

“True.” Era crossed the stained linoleum to join her. “Rowan tends to find things to do this time of year. Usually, out-of-town things.”

“Isn’t he helping that new Fire Element out in California? What’s his name again?”

“Colby.” Era sat down across from her. The chair legs were uneven, and it rocked when she shifted her weight.

“Right.” Addie turned back to her list. “That seems pretty important.”

“It is, but if it wasn’t Colby, it would be something else.”

Addie looked up, her dark eyes meeting Era’s. “Every year?”

“Since I can remember.” Era shrugged. She never spoke ill of her brother and sister Elements. They may not be blood relatives, but she loved them as dearly as any true family would be loved. But like family, there were also some idiosyncrasies that bothered her, and the biggest was Christmas.

Addie frowned. “This time of year isn’t easy for him.”


On Christmas day, two decades ago, just after Rowan had come into his power, he had lost control and killed his entire family. Era had been a toddler, newly turned over to a Nebraska orphanage at that time, and blissfully unaware of the incident.

Addie leaned across the table to grip Era’s hand. “And that makes it hard for all of you.”

“Well, Cora and Donovan are fine with it. They’re not big on Christmas, either. No tree, no decorations. They say it’s for Rowan. But he’s never around at Christmas and—” She heard the bitterness in her voice and stopped. “I had a great childhood in every way except this one.” She shrugged. “It’s no big deal.”

“So, you didn’t do anything for Christmas as a kid? Santa didn’t visit?”

“No, it wasn’t that sterile. I spent Christmas Eve with Lydia. We decorated every inch of her place, baked cookies, and marathon-watched all the Christmas specials. Santa never forgot me.”

Era stopped to swallow and Addie’s grip tightened. Era wouldn’t be doing those things this year. They had buried Lydia last week.

“You could stay with me,” Addie offered. “But you would need to bring your own cot.” She gestured toward her sparse furnishings.

“That’s it.” Era made up her mind right then. “I’m remodeling this place.”


“It’ll give me something to do.”

“You’re not going to blow a bunch of money redecorating an apartment I barely use.”

“You live here.”

“I sleep here. I live in the lab.”

Era snorted. That was true. Addie spent every waking hour brewing something, it seemed.

“Not to put a fine point on it,” Era said, “but the building is in Rowan’s name. He would consider it an investment.”

“Maybe, but he gave the building to me. Just because I lack the ability to legally own it doesn’t mean I can’t take care of it myself. It’s not his responsibility to sink more money into it.”

Addie had amnesia, and though she had learned the name she had gone by while living at the Alchemica, she had never found out what name she had been given at birth. And as far as Era could tell, she had no intention of learning it. Addie avoided her past like Rowan avoided Christmas.

“Something I should mention… An Element is one quarter of a whole, both magically, and as Cora saw to it, legally. This place is one quarter mine, and I want to fix it up.”

Addie shook her head and leaned back in her chair, a wry smile on her lips. “I’m not going to win this battle, am I?”

“No.” Era got to her feet and looked around. It had been in the back of her mind to renovate the apartment, but now she truly looked at the space.

“This wall has to go.” She waved a hand at the partition wall separating the outdated kitchen from the living room. “The kitchen will need to be gutted, and once the space is opened up, I could run a counter along—”

“Gutted?” Addie asked. “I thought we were just talking fresh paint and new carpet.”

“Oh no. You won’t recognize it when I get done. I’ll put in a full bath and a guest bedroom.”

“Why do I need a guest bedroom?”

“Where do you expect me to sleep when I stay over?”

One corner of Addie’s mouth curled upward. “Good point. How soon will this project begin?”

“If Donovan isn’t busy, immediately.”

“Donovan? Are you putting him to work, too?”

“I wouldn’t trust anyone else. He’s an outstanding carpenter. You should have seen the tree house he built for me when I was a kid. Unfortunately, a big windstorm blew down the tree about ten years ago.”

“Donovan is a carpenter?” Addie leaned forward, her dark brows lifting as she took in this information.

“He had his own business building upscale cabins for the resorts in the Smokies. That was before the magic returned.”

“I didn’t know that.”

“Donovan doesn’t talk about his past much.” Era shrugged. “Anyway, you can come stay with us during the renovations.”

Addie waved off the suggestion, her movements exaggerated with her quick refusal. “That won’t be necessary. I’ll just move my cot downstairs.”

“And share a room with that lich?”

“All I’ll be sharing is closet space. He doesn’t sleep.”

“No way. You’ll stay with us. Sleep in a real bed.”

“You know Cora doesn’t want me there.”

“Cora will be in Washington D.C. for the next two weeks. It’s just me and Donovan.”

“But it’ll take months to renovate this place the way you’re suggesting.”

Era smiled. “Donovan was a skilled carpenter and contractor before the magic, now his talents are…supernatural. He also knows other skilled craftsmen within the New Magic community. It may not be completely finished, but he’ll make it so you can move back in before she gets home.”

Addie frowned, looking far from convinced.

“Come on. It’ll be fun to have you at the manor again.”

Addie studied her. “I’ll agree on one condition.” She held up a single finger. “We celebrate Christmas together. Decorations, cookies, everything.”

“You mean, at the manor?”

“Sure, why not? It’ll be just you, me, Donovan, and James. Or is Donovan anti-Christmas, too?”

“I don’t think he has a personal problem with celebrating, but he’s always gone along with Cora. He’ll be busy on your place, anyway.”

“Is that a yes?”

A nervous thrill went through Era, and she realized it was excitement. “That’s a yes.”


Era toyed with the napkin in her lap, resisting the urge to pull the air around her closer. It was a childish gesture of comfort and one that Donovan would feel. If she expected him to treat her as an adult, she had to act like one. She lifted her chin and waited for his answer.

“I don’t know, Era,” Donovan said at last. “You know what Rowan’s like around the holidays. Though I think it’s Cora who’ll be the most upset.”

“Because it was Addie’s idea?” Era made an effort not to glance at James who sat across the table from her.

“I would do my best not to let her know that, but I was referring to Cora’s protectiveness of Rowan. How she does everything she can to keep him stable and in control. She would definitely see this as a threat to him.”

“A Christmas tree and a few cookies?”

“As silly as it sounds, yes.”

Era sighed. He was right; Cora would flip. “But what do I tell Addie? She only agreed to let us renovate her apartment if we celebrated Christmas here.”

“Addie won’t hold you to it,” James spoke up. “She’s just trying to find a way for you to enjoy Christmas. Maybe we could all go to dinner or something.”

“Visit a Chinese restaurant on Christmas Day and listen to the wait staff sing bad renditions of famous carols?”

James frowned. “Is that what you want to do?”

“You haven’t seen A Christmas Story, have you?”

“No.” He turned his attention to his plate, though it was empty.

Era studied him a moment. “What kind of Christmas traditions did your family have?”

“My brothers would go hunting. Try out their new bows or guns.”

She smiled. “I guess I should have seen that coming.” His brothers were Hunters. Like James, hellhound blood flowed in their veins—just to a much lesser degree. “Did you go, too?”

“Of course.”

“So, what’s in season around Christmas?”

“Era—” Donovan cut in.

“Hellhound,” James answered, his tone soft. He pulled his napkin from beneath the edge of his plate, then tucked it back in place.

Era blinked. “They hunted you?”

“Yes.” James looked up, his earnest green eyes meeting hers. “The tree and cookies sound like more fun.” An uncertain smile tugged at the corners of his mouth.

Era turned back to Donovan. “We’re doing this. Cora can be mad at me, and as for Rowan, it’s been twenty years.”

“You don’t need to get in trouble for me,” James said. “It’s not that big a deal.”

“No, you’re wrong. It is a big deal. Trust me.”

Donovan’s hazel eyes met hers. “If you feel it’s time to make this change, I will support you.”

She got to her feet and hurried over to hug him. “Thank you—for not treating me like a kid.”

He gave her a smile, then got to his feet. “I guess I’d best get busy on this renovation.” The prospect seemed to please him, and he was smiling when he left the room.

“What do you think?” she asked James now that they were alone. “Am I doing the right thing?”

“I want to say yes. Twenty years is a long time, but I’ve only known Rowan a few months.”

“Rowan is tougher than Cora thinks. Come on. We’ve got a lot to do if I’m going to get this place decorated by Christmas Eve.”

James pushed back his chair and stood. “That’s two days away.”

“I know. I’ll need to hustle. Where can I get a fifteen-foot pine tree?”

“Fifteen foot?”

“For the foyer. I thought I could decorate it in ivory and gold. It would pull in the subtle hues within the tile, but keep the formal feel of the space.”

“A formal Christmas tree?”

“We’ll put a more traditional one in the sunroom. It’ll be a great place to gather on Christmas morning. Sunlight and warm cinnamon rolls.”

James smiled. “You’ve got this all planned out.”

“Of course.” She grinned, feeling truly excited about Christmas for the first time since Lydia’s death. “And at some point, I need to sit down and draw up my ideas for Addie’s apartment.”

James laughed. “I think decorating is your Element, not air.”

“It’s both. Why do you think I majored in interior design? It is in essence the study of the space within the walls of a structure.”

“I hadn’t thought of it that way.”

“Then I will have to educate you. That way you can make yourself useful on my projects.”

“I thought you just took me along for the heavy lifting.”

“That, too.” She laughed at his uncertain expression. “It won’t be that bad. I can’t go too overboard on the decorating. It would be best to have everything down before Cora and Rowan return at the end of the month. I think Rowan’s tough enough to handle it, but if I can avoid a fight with Cora, I will.”

“Good plan.”


Chapter 2

Cora stopped at the waiting area outside gate C2 and surveyed the chairs. Most were empty since the next flight didn’t depart for another two hours. She didn’t see Rowan among the few occupied seats. Had he forgotten the gate number where her plane had been due to arrive, or had his own flight been delayed? He had been scheduled to land a good hour before her.

She pulled out her phone to check for a new text, and to double-check their previous exchange. No, she had told him the correct gate number, and he had agreed to wait until her arrival to call a cab.

He had surprised her by suggesting a Christmas Eve return to the manor to be with Era. He was worried about her, as was Cora. Even if he hadn’t suggested it, she had already decided to return. This was Era’s first Christmas without Lydia.

A youthful squeal pulled Cora’s attention from her phone. The two little girls who had been sitting with their parents were up chasing each other in the nearly empty waiting area. They had removed their heavy coats and wore matching red and green Christmas sweaters. Cora could just imagine them on the flight, their noses pressed to a cabin window as they searched the sky for Rudolph and Santa’s sleigh.

The younger girl squealed again, her dark auburn hair streaming out behind her as she fled from her sister. Suddenly Cora understood Rowan’s absence. The little girl resembled his niece in age and coloring. Cora had only seen Maria’s face in pictures. The few times she had met the little girl in person, her face had been covered in bandages.

Cora closed her eyes and took a deep breath, centering herself. She became more aware of her Element, in the pipes behind the walls, in the coffee cup of a man walking past, and even in the human bodies around her. Her title might be Water Element, but it was not a specific substance, but a state of matter she was sensitive to. In her case, all liquids. But that wasn’t what she was looking for now.

As an Element, she was sensitive to other Elements. She would recognize them, and they, her, if she came within a few yards. But her personal family of Elements were the ones she was most in tune to. Fire in particular. He was her opposite, and they balanced each other.

Right, her senses told her. He was somewhere to her right.

Trusting those senses that had never been wrong, she turned and started walking in that direction. It had been that trust that had led her to him the very first time. Those early days when they had both been reeling from their respective losses. They had found more than a balance to their magic; they had found peace, understanding, and love. Not romantic love. This was more. Something deeper and more pure. He was the brother she never had, her soul mate. Her greatest fear was to lose him.

Fire Elements were the most volatile of the Elements. Few lasted long, with one exception. Rowan had survived almost twenty years fighting a gift that would literally roast him alive if he dropped his guard. She would do whatever she could to help him keep his guard up.

Her senses led her to an airport lounge. Rowan rarely drank, and when he did, it was in moderation. But it was Christmas Eve, so all bets were off.

Cora sighed and walked inside. She found him at the bar, contemplating a glass of what might be scotch. She hoped it was his first.

“How was your flight?” he asked, his eyes still on his glass. Like her, he was aware when another Element was around him, especially her. He had probably known when she landed.

“Typical.” She took the stool beside his. “How about you?”

“Some turbulence over the Rockies, but otherwise uneventful.” He picked up the glass and drained half its contents.

“Is that your first?”


She let it go and reached over to grip his arm. “Ready to go home?”

“We’re stopping at Addie’s first.”

Cora took her hand from his arm. “Why?” Why couldn’t he see what his infatuation with that damn alchemist was doing to him?

“I want a…word with her associate.”

If there was anyone she despised more than Addie, it was her undead lab assistant. “Why?” she repeated.

“I can’t bear to think of him sharing that lab with her. The one I provided.”

Cora wouldn’t mind removing him from the equation, but she didn’t like seeing Rowan so worked up.

“He preys on her trust and good heart,” Rowan continued.

Cora just managed not to snort. Good heart? Addie was an Alchemica alchemist. The worst of the worst. She was the one preying on Rowan’s kind nature.

“She can’t see what he is or how he manipulates her. She doesn’t understand that he will do anything to achieve his goals. He’s already come so close to destroying her.” Rowan picked up the glass and drained it before slamming it on the bar. He turned to her, fire glowing in his eyes. “I want to remove him.”

“Easy.” She touched his cheek, noting that he needed a shave, which was unusual in itself. Rowan was always particular about his appearance. “Tone it back,” she whispered.

He closed his eyes, his forehead bunching. This late on Christmas Eve night, the bar was nearly empty, but she didn’t want to chance it. Whether anyone realized he was the Flame Lord was unlikely, but just revealing himself as magical would be enough to gain some unwelcome attention.

“Sorry,” he muttered. Another moment passed before he released a hot breath and opened his eyes. They were gray once more, but she didn’t know how long that would last. He needed to sleep this off.

“Let’s pay your bill and get out of here. A night in our own beds would be a great way to end the day.”

Rowan didn’t agree or disagree, but he pulled his wallet from his pocket, and after slipping a few bills beneath his glass, picked up his carryon.

Cora smiled and stood beside him. “Let’s go home.”


Her good mood lasted until she slid into the back of the cab and Rowan gave the driver the address to Addie’s lab instead of the manor.

“What are you doing?” she asked when he leaned back beside her.

“Something I should have done when I first learned who he was.”

Cora frowned. She didn’t have a problem with Rowan ashing that lich, but she didn’t like Rowan using his magic under any circumstances. It was too risky when he could so easily harm himself.

“Addie won’t be happy with you.” She hated to use that argument, but she would do what she must to save him. Of course, Addie was just as dangerous as the fire.

“She’ll get over it.”

Cora sighed and settled back in her seat, unable to argue with Rowan in front of the cabbie about sparing the lich’s life.

“How’s Colby?” she asked instead.

“Angry, petulant, and full of potential. If I can find a way to make him see this as a gift and not a curse, he could be amazing. Of course, lying to him doesn’t sit well with me.”

She cleared her throat. “Who’s angry and petulant now?”

He leaned his head against the seat. “Ah, Cor. How do I make him see good where there is none?”

“You’ll find a way. He has no choice but to accept it.”

“I know. That’s the worst part.”

They rode in silence for the rest of the drive. Rowan instructed the driver to pull around back, then asked him to wait as he slid out of the cab. Cora hurried to follow.

Rowan didn’t bother to knock. He pulled his keys from his pocket and let himself in.

The lab was dark—which seemed odd for a workaholic like Addie. Did she have plans on Christmas Eve? Who did she know in Cincinnati?

Rowan walked through the shadows, his stride confident as he headed for the light spilling from the hall that led to the stairs.

As they drew near, Cora saw that the light wasn’t coming from the hall, but a small room just before the stairs. A large antique armoire dominated the space. Otherwise, the room was sparely furnished with a straight-back chair, a table, and a cot. The cot was occupied.

“That looks like an exercise in futility,” Rowan said.

Ian was on his feet immediately, surprising Cora by how fast he moved.

“Indeed it is, Your Grace,” Ian said, then dipped his head to her. “My lady. Please excuse the informality of my dress. I did not expect to entertain in my bed chamber.” His tone was slightly scolding, making Cora feel she should apologize and leave the room—though Ian was fully clothed in dark trousers and an undershirt.

“Where’s Addie?” Rowan asked him.

“She left with Era, to go to your home. Addie intended to spend Christmas Eve with her.”

Cora frowned, not pleased to hear that Addie was staying at her place.

“Why?” Ian asked, glancing between them with an intensity that unnerved her. “Is something wrong?”

“The lab was dark,” Rowan said.

“I have nothing to brew.”

“No potions to sabotage?”

“Addie told me to take the night off.”

Cora walked deeper into the room, mainly to keep an eye on Rowan—fire already encircled his irises, though only a thin band.

“So, you’re here alone,” Rowan said. “No one to hear you scream.”

“Have you been drinking, Your Grace?”

“Yes, he has,” Cora answered for him. She stopped beside the table. A folded chess set and neatly stored pieces sat to one side. Closer to where a chair had been drawn up sat a small, finely made wooden box. The lid was open, and she glimpsed some inlaid scrollwork on the surface. Inside the velvet-lined box were a few folded pieces of stationery and perhaps a necklace—a slim gold chain was visible beneath the papers. But what caught her attention was the curling photograph on top.

“You’re here to see me,” Ian said to Rowan.

“You’re not a stupid man, Mallory.”

“I might be intelligent, but I can be incredibly stupid when the situation warrants.”

“I can’t be talked out of this,” Rowan said.

Ian sighed. “You don’t strike me as a murderer.”

“You’re already dead. It’s not murder.”

“That’s one way to justify it.”

“I don’t need to justify it.” Rowan’s hands balled into fists. “You don’t belong in this world.”

“I won’t argue that.”

Rowan frowned. The orange had spread a little further into his irises as his control began to fall away.

“Who’s this?” Cora picked up the picture, trying to give Rowan a moment to calm down.

“Please be careful with that, my lady.” In a few quick strides, Ian joined her at the table. “It’s all I have left of her.”

Cora studied the picture and realized it wasn’t a photograph, but a portrait, painted in miniature on what was most likely vellum mounted on card stock. The young woman in the portrait wasn’t wearing a high collar or the pinned-up hair Cora thought typical of paintings like these. Instead, her dark brown hair hung loose around her bare shoulders. But it was her eyes that were the most striking feature. The artist had painted them golden brown. It made an interesting contrast to her sooty lashes and dark brows.

Ian’s cold fingers brushed hers as he carefully took the portrait away. With reverent care, he returned it to the box and closed the lid.

“Beautiful girl,” Cora said.

“Yes.” He kept his hand on the lid. “Isabelle. My wife.” Beneath his fingers, she could see it wasn’t scrollwork, but a cursive I, or rather, two of them interwoven together.

He took his hand away and released a breath. “Please excuse me. She has been gone nearly 200 years, and though I still remember the sound of her laugh, I fear I’ll forget her face.”

“You didn’t Make her?” Rowan asked.

Ian looked up, his cold gaze meeting Rowan’s flame-colored eyes. “She asked me not to, and because I loved her, I respected her wishes.”

They glared at each other for one long moment before Rowan turned and headed for the door.

“Your Grace?”

Rowan hesitated on the threshold, then faced him.

“It is not our successes, but our failures that define us. Mine broke me. What of you?”

“I’m still breathing.”

“As am I.”

Rowan frowned, and the gold made an appearance in his orange eyes.

Cora took a step toward him.

“Don’t give me a reason, Mallory.” This time, Rowan left the room.

Cora sighed.

“You love him a great deal,” Ian said.

“Yes.” She eyed him. “For the stress you give him, I would rip every fluid from your body and leave you a lifeless, dried out husk.”

“But I am already a lifeless, dried out husk.”


One cheek dimpled as he gave her a crooked smile. “This is the first time that someone who disliked me wanted me alive.”

“Stop tormenting my brother.”

“I barely know the man, but even I can see that he stands at a crossroads. Does he commit to his duty or does he follow his heart?”


He gave her a single nod. “She is why I did not become a pile of ash a few minutes ago. She might not forgive him for killing me, and he is too honorable to lie to her if he had.”

Cora frowned. “You think you understand, but you do not. Rowan is not at a crossroads, because there is no choice to make. If he is to live, he must continue as he has.”

“Death is a choice. It was the choice he made to cope with what he is. Now he has been given the opportunity to live again. To really live.”

“No. His magic will kill him.”

“Only physically.”

Cora shook her head. “Physical death is the end, necromancer.”

“No, Element. An existence barren of love is true death.”

“He has love. He has everything he needs.” She gave him her back and left the room.

What was it about necromancy that made them all such arrogant know-it-alls? Hell, Ian couldn’t even claim the wisdom of age. He had been locked in a tomb for almost two centuries. He probably wasn’t even sane. Maybe she should have let Rowan ash him.

Rowan was waiting for her on the stoop outside the back door. “Get lost?”

“I was telling off the arrogant asshole. Unfortunately, I couldn’t rip any fluids from his lifeless body.”

Rowan gave her a small smile. “Sorry I missed it.”

She took his hand. “I love you, Rowan, and I’ll always be here for you. You know that, right?”

“I know, Cor.” He laid his hand over hers. “I’m sorry. I don’t know what’s gotten into me this evening. Maybe it was the alcohol or…”

“It’s Christmas,” she said, softly.

“I probably should have stayed in California.”

“Era needs us.”

He released a breath. “True. She’s more important than my…issues.”

“Especially if she’s with Addie.”

Rowan grunted but didn’t respond. Instead, he wrapped an arm around her shoulders and guided her out to the waiting taxi.


Chapter 3

“Down!” Addie shouted.

Era didn’t have a chance to react before James placed a hand on her shoulder and shoved her beneath the kitchen island. A muffled pop followed, and an instant later, a spatter of cookie dough rained down around them.

James rose to his feet, his wide eyes on Addie. “You blew up cookie dough?”

“It effervesced more than I expected.” Addie shrugged.

Era got to her feet and eyed the globs of dough slung across the island, floor, and even the kitchen ceiling. Unfortunately, it had also splattered across the sugar cookies she had been decorating.

“Oh, you didn’t.” Era picked up the Santa cookie she had just iced. His rosy cheeks were now covered in dough.

“Sorry.” Addie spoke the word absently as she eyed the contents of her bowl—or what was left in her bowl.

“What made you think you could put alchemy in Christmas cookies?”

“Why not? The culinary arts share a lot of techniques with typical lab work.”

Era shook her head and turned to James. He had already grabbed a rag and started the cleanup process.

“Help me here,” she said to him.

“There’s no help for her.” He reached up to wipe a dollop of dough off the light fixture. “She sees magic in everything, and it’s usually an accurate observation.”

“There’s cookie dough on the ceiling.”

“That’s just part of the process. Sometimes, the magic escapes before she can contain it.”

Addie laughed. “Nice imagery. But in this case, it was just too much baking soda.”

“Magic in everything, huh?” Era reached out to the gases around them: nitrogen, oxygen, a little carbon dioxide. She didn’t bother to analyze them; she just sent a mass swirling into the bag of flour, letting it pick up the fine particulates. Then she sent it whirling down the countertop toward Addie.

“Era!” Addie tried to duck beneath the counter.

Era threw her arms wide, shooting the gases and the accompanying particulates outward. The result was an explosion of flour—right over Addie’s head.

James sighed. “I guess I better get the mop.”

“Yes,” a familiar voice said from the door. “Though I don’t think it’s your place to clean it up.”

Era turned with a gasp. Cora and Rowan stood just inside the kitchen door, right beside the table where Era and James had spent a good part of the evening building a gingerbread house—complete with a mini Santa on the roof.

“What are you two doing back?” Era asked. “I didn’t think you were coming back until New Year’s Eve.”

“Obviously,” Cora said.

Era suddenly felt like a child again, caught red-handed using her Element to sneak a pack of chips off the top shelf of the pantry. Of course, the using her Element thing matched the current situation, too.

“I’ll clean it up,” Era said, glancing at Rowan. He usually came to her defense at times like these, but he was studying the gingerbread house.

“We both will,” Addie said.

“She blew up cookie dough,” Era said, hoping to make Rowan smile. God, he looked so tired. Was it just jet lag or something worse?

“And the flour tornado was a good idea?” Addie asked. “Were you going for a white Christmas?”

Rowan left the room without a word.

Cora watched him go, then crossed the room to where they stood. She stepped carefully, avoiding splatters of dough. “There’s a Christmas tree in the foyer,” she said to Era, keeping her voice low.

“There’s also one in the sunroom.” Era lifted her chin and refused to look away.

“Where’s Donovan?” Cora continued without waiting for an answer. “Wandering the woods, no doubt. I don’t know why I ever expect him to watch you.”

“I’m twenty-three years old. I don’t need a babysitter.”

“Really?” Cora waved a hand at the mess.

“You weren’t due back for another week.” Era practically shouted the words.

Addie was suddenly beside her and gripped her shoulder. “This is my fault. I talked her into the decorations and the cookies.”


“But the flour tornado was all her.” Addie gave her shoulder a squeeze and released it. “If you want to blame someone,” she told Cora, “blame me.”

“Naturally.” Cora crossed her arms. “I want you out of here.”

“Of course. Let me help Era clean up and I’ll go.”

“God, Cora,” Era said. “It’s Christmas Eve.”

“Yes, it is.” Cora turned on her heel. “And get rid of that.” She waved a hand at the gingerbread house and left the room.

“Sometimes, she can be such a bitch,” Era said.

“Don’t.” Addie walked to the island. “This is her house.”

“It’s my house, too.”

“I’m not worth damaging your relationship with your sister. Come on. Let’s finish this last batch and clean up.”

“I’ll get the mop,” James spoke up. He turned away, but Era caught the look he gave their gingerbread house. He had genuinely enjoyed building it.

“I wanted to give him a good Christmas memory,” Era whispered to Addie. “He told me that the typical Huntsman family Christmas involved his brothers going hunting. They hunted him.”

Addie sighed, then frowned at the door James had disappeared through.

“I need a Christmas miracle,” Era muttered. “Like one of those cheesy Christmas specials.”

“How about a Christmas formula?” Addie picked up her half-empty bowl.

Era laughed, gathering a few dirty bowls and cookie sheets. “We still need to clean up the last one.”

“I’m serious.”

Era looked up. “What are you going to do?”

“Trust me?”


Addie gave her a wink. “I’m going to brew a miracle.”


Era carried the covered plate down the hall, careful to keep it level. She had put a lot of effort into getting each cookie’s decoration just right and didn’t want to drop one on the floor.

She paused before Cora’s bedroom door and tapped her foot against the base.

“Yes?” Cora’s muffled voice carried through the door.

Era didn’t answer. She moved down the hall and repeated the same process at Donovan’s door, then walked to Rowan’s room. Both Cora and Donovan emerged from their rooms as she knocked on Rowan’s door.

“Rowan, it’s Era. Can I come in?”

“What are you doing?” Cora asked, keeping her voice low.

Donovan watched them, a faint smile visible through his beard.

“Come in,” Rowan called.

Donovan leaned forward and opened the door for her.

“Era?” Cora whispered.

Era leaned over and kissed her cheek, then without a word, walked into Rowan’s room.

“What’s going on?” Rowan eyed them.

“That’s what I’d like to know,” Cora said. “Era?”

“I have a new recipe I want you all to try.” She stopped beside Rowan and faced the others as they joined them.

Rowan sighed. “It’s ten o’clock at night.”


Rowan glanced at Cora and Donovan.

“I could do with a snack,” Donovan said.

Cora just gave Rowan a small humor-her shrug.

“What do you have?” Rowan asked, his tone resigned.

Era didn’t call him on it, or any of them. She would forever be a child in their eyes. But that was a battle for another day.

She pulled the napkin from the plate to reveal the four iced sugar cookies beneath. She had patterned them, as per Addie’s instructions, with a stylized picture of each element: a flame, a wave, a gust of wind, and a mountain.

“Wow,” Rowan said, a smile finally emerging. “You did this?” Was he relieved that it wasn’t Christmas cookies?

“I decorated them.”

“They’re almost too pretty to eat,” Donovan said.

Era smiled. “I don’t guess I need to tell you which one is yours.”

Donovan grinned and took the mountain. Rowan followed, taking the flame.

“It’s a little late for cookies,” Cora said.

“One little sugar cookie.” Era picked up the gust of wind, then held out the plate to Cora.

“Come on, Cor,” Donovan said. “Era went to a lot of trouble.”

Era lifted her brows. Humor the kid, she thought at Cora.

Cora sighed. “Very well.” She took the last cookie.

“To my family,” Era said. “I am truly the luckiest girl in the world.”

“As are we to have you,” Donovan said.

“Hear, hear.” Rowan smiled and gestured with his cookie as if toasting her.

“To family,” Cora echoed, smiling at last.

They each ate their cookie, grinning at each other. Era wondered if they even needed alchemy. Just being together was…


Discarded wrapping paper covered every inch of floor space, highlighted with broken ribbon and the occasional foil bow. Era knelt in front of the tree, eyeing the three unopened gifts still under the fragrant branches. Lydia’s gifts for Rowan, Donovan, and Cora.

“But why, Lydia?” she asked, her nine-year-old voice soft. “Why is it just you and me? Always?”

Lydia waded through the paper to join her, and once seated on the floor, pulled her into her lap.

“It won’t be always.” She wrapped Era in a hug. “Some scars just take longer to heal.”

Era’s eyes were drawn to her throat. Without her usual high-necked shirts, Lydia’s scars were clearly visible: a series of bumps and ridges lined her puckered red skin before disappearing beneath her robe.

“Your family loves you very much, but they need a little more time to adjust to this new, magical world.”

“But hasn’t Christmas always been magical? There’s Santa, and his elves. Oh, and the reindeer.”

“True. Perhaps it is too much magic. Especially the way we celebrate.” She picked up one of the bows and stuck it to Era’s forehead.

Era thought about that. “Then should we not celebrate?”

“Oh no. This is a very important time for you. This is when you make all your Christmas memories that you will carry through life. When life gets rough, you will remember these moments, and capture a little of that magic again.”

“But what about Rowan? Cora says he hates Christmas.”

“No. He has good memories, too. He has just forgotten them. Maybe one day, you will find a way to help him remember.”

“And then he can make more memories with me and you. Your Christmases are the best!” Era wrapped her arms around Lydia’s scarred neck and hugged her tight. “I love you, Lydie.”

“I love you, too, my little air sprite.”


The memory broke up and faded away. Era doubled over and pressed a hand to her breaking heart. Dear God, how could she have forgotten that moment?

A sob sounded to her right, and she watched Cora stumble over to the desk in the corner and drop into the chair. She covered her face, her shoulders shaking.

Donovan walked to the door, and for a moment, Era feared he would leave. Instead, he braced a large hand on the wall and bowed his head.

Rowan was the only one who hadn’t moved. He stood with his eyes closed and fists clenched at his sides. His breath shook as he exhaled, but like the rest of them, he maintained his silence.

Then Era remembered that there was one more thing she was supposed to do. With some trepidation, she reached into her pocket and pulled out the folded piece of paper. She had promised Addie that she wouldn’t read it until after the cookies were eaten, then she would read it aloud.

Afraid to continue, but equally afraid not to, Era opened the note and began to read.

“Sorry about that, but you asked for a Christmas miracle, Era. The best I could come up with was to remind each of you what Christmas means.”

“Dear God.” Cora came to her feet. “Of all the irresponsible—”

Era glanced at the next line and smiled, then read it aloud.

“Give it a rest, Cora. I happen to think Rowan is strong enough to handle it.”

Era looked at the man in question. His fists uncurled and he opened his eyes. They were gray.

Era smiled and turned back to the note.

“But enough about all of you. You’ll notice that I didn’t make a cookie for James. That’s because all his memories are bad ones. So, suck it up and give that boy a Christmas to remember with fondness. If not, I’m coming for your Easter chocolates next. Merry Christmas to you all. Addie.”

Donovan chuckled. “That girl.”

Era folded the note and tucked it back in her pocket. Steeling her courage, she looked up at Rowan. “We’re going to do it, right? We’re going to give James a Christmas to remember?”

“And you, too,” Rowan said.

Era smiled, ignoring the tear that rolled down her cheek. “My Christmases were wonderful, but…incomplete.”

He took her hand, his brow wrinkling.

“I remembered the Christmas when I was nine. I asked Lydia why none of you were there, and she told me that between magic’s return and the magic of Christmas, it was just too much. I asked if I shouldn’t celebrate, either, and she told me no. She said I had to save up all the Christmas memories I could because someday, I might need their magic.”

Donovan gripped her shoulder and Cora took her other hand.

“Era,” Rowan whispered.

“She was right. I really needed it this year.” She pulled in a breath that became a sob. “I miss her so much.”

Rowan stepped forward and took her in his arms, then Cora’s and Donovan’s arms came around her, as well.

“Me, too,” Rowan whispered.

“But she’ll be smiling on us when we all sit down to Christmas dinner together,” Donovan said.

“Or admire one of your lovely trees,” Cora added.

Era smiled. Addie had done it. She had given her a Christmas miracle. But Era decided to push for one more thing.

“Can we invite Addie to dinner? Technically, she doesn’t have any Christmas memories, either.”

“Good point,” Donovan said. “All she has is that lich.”

“I’ll send the limo for her in the morning,” Rowan said.

Era, her cheek pressed to Rowan’s chest, smiled. Donovan had played that well.

“That’s fine,” Cora said. “I believe a little pay back is in order for that cookie trick.”

Era lifted her head in time to see Cora’s sly smile.

“That should make for some interesting Christmas memories,” Donovan said.

Era sighed, content in the circle of her family’s arms. It wasn’t perfect, but it was all the magic she needed.


Chapter 4

Cora ignored the branch of the Christmas tree poking her in the back and scooted a little closer to Donovan.

“Okay, hold it right there,” James said, turning his cellphone sideways to fit them all in the picture.

“You need to be in the photo, too,” Era said from Cora’s other side. “Let me set up my camera. With the timer, I can—”

“That’s fine.” James smiled over the top of his phone. “But this one is for me. Now everyone scoot in a little.”

They did as told, positioning themselves in front of the tree in the corner of the sunroom. Cora noted with annoyance that Rowan had wrapped an arm around Addie’s shoulders to pull her closer.

“Era’s picture will have to wait,” Donovan said. “I smell turkey.”

“Great shot that’ll be,” Era said. “You’ll all be in a turkey coma.”

“I call the couch,” Rowan said.

“Smile,” James cut in. His cell phone flashed. “One more.”

“Geez, I can’t see as it is,” Addie complained.

“What a bunch of whiners.” James glanced up, a grin on his face. “Cheese.”

Donovan’s stomach growled, and they were all laughing when the flash went off.


“Rowan?” Cora caught up with Rowan in the hall just outside the den. Era, James, and Addie were inside eating the last of the fudge and watching A Christmas Story. From the sunroom, Donovan’s snores rattled the windows.

Rowan stopped to face her, lifting his brows in question.

She wasn’t sure what she wanted to ask. “Get enough to eat?”

“Too much.” He pressed a hand to his stomach. “I’ll have to spend all of next week in the gym to work off the desserts alone.”

“Does the hotel have a gym?” she asked. He was flying to London on Monday to meet with the European Elements. They had a worldwide summit coming up in February. The first one ever organized. Rowan had a lot going on. Cora still thought he looked run down, but there was a twinkle in his eyes that hadn’t been there before.

“I hope so.” He waved a hand toward the den. “Care to join us?”

How surreal that Rowan was going to watch a Christmas movie. “No, go ahead.”

“You won’t get any fudge.”

“You’ll be lucky if it isn’t already gone.”

He grinned. “True.” He turned toward the door.


He stopped and looked back at her.

“Merry Christmas.”

He smiled. “Merry Christmas, Cora.” He gave her a wink, then stepped through the door.

She followed him to the threshold and, standing in the shadowed hall, watched him walk to the couch. Addie looked up as he approached, the wine stain from dinner still visible on her shirt. It was petty, but Cora wasn’t going to apologize.

“Seriously?” Rowan frowned at the coffee table. “You ate all the peanut butter fudge?”

“Shh,” Era said. “James has never seen this.”

James, sitting between Addie and Era, glanced up with a grin, then popped a piece of fudge in his mouth.

Addie patted the empty space beside her. “Don’t get your panties in a wad, Your Grace. I still have a few pieces James hasn’t scarfed. If you’re nice to me, I might share them.”

Rowan sat down beside her. “And what do I have to do to get a piece?”

“Oh dear God,” Era said. “If that was an euphemism, I’m leaving.”

“Hey, trying to watch a movie here,” James said. He reached for a piece of fudge on Addie’s plate, and she smacked his hand.

Rowan slipped an arm around her shoulder, punching James’s arm in the process, and took the fudge for himself.

Cora turned away, trying to force the smile from her face. She jumped when she discovered Donovan standing a few yards away. He was grinning, too.

“So,” he said as she joined him. “A Christmas miracle?”

“Maybe we should have pushed him sooner.”

“Perhaps, but I don’t think all the pieces were in place until this year.”

Cora frowned. “You realize she’ll kill him eventually. He slips a little more every moment he’s around her.”

Donovan’s expression sobered, and he glanced toward the door to the den. “I love our brother, but he’s been dead since the magic returned. I think it’s time he lived.”

Cora stared at him.


“The lich told me nearly the same thing.”

“Ian Mallory?” Donovan frowned. He wasn’t fond of him, either. “When did you speak to him?”

Cora gave him a quick recap of the night before.

Donovan grunted when she finished. “The lich sees true.”

She gripped his wrist. “I don’t care. Call me selfish, but I couldn’t bear to have another brother take his place. We can’t lose him.”

“There’s one detail you’re forgetting.”

“What’s that?”


“You think she can save him?”

“She resurrected my faith in Christmas with a single cookie.”

Laughter echoed out of the den. It didn’t sound like anyone was watching the movie.

Cora crossed her arms.

“She resurrected yours, too,” Donovan said.

“Maybe it was just the right time.”