|An X-OPS Christmas
© Paige Tyler, 2014
Clayne Goes Shopping on Black Friday
Clayne Buchanan felt like a salmon swimming upstream against a raging river as he pushed his way through the crowded mall. He’d
never seen this many people in one place. The Metro wasn’t even this bad during rush hour. He’d let loose a growl more than once as
some a-hole stepped on his foot or shoved him aside to get where they were going. But he kept his cool. His fiancée Danica Beckett
had told him that was something she’d like him to work on, so he was—for her sake. Christmas lights twinkled at him mockingly from
the decorations, as if saying, “Good luck with that.”
Clayne wasn’t usually big about Christmas, or presents. But now that Danica was back in his life, he wasn’t going to miss a chance to
show her how much he appreciated her. If that meant getting up bright and early and going to the mall the day after Thanksgiving
while Danica put in a couple hours at the FBI, that was okay with him.
Of course, if he’d known so many people would be at the mall, he would have shopped online. The only problem with that was that he
didn’t know what he wanted to buy Danica. Which was why he was here. Hopefully, something would catch his eye.
He bit back another growl as two women with shopping bags stuffed to capacity headed straight for him, silently challenging him to a
game of chicken. Any other time, he would have stood his ground like the wolf shifter he was, but today he beat a hasty retreat into
the closest store—an upscale women’s clothing shop.
It was almost as packed inside the store, but since he was already here, he might as well see what they had. He wandered around,
looking for something to buy Danica, but all he found were lots of things he had no interest in. Perfume that would cover up her
natural delectable scent, earrings that didn’t fit his woman’s style, and a big, fluffy fur coat that she’d never be caught dead in.
He was about to venture into the sea of piranha outside the store again when he came to a shelf with sweaters. Danica was always
saying she was chilly when they hung out in the apartment, even when he turned up the heat. But that was only because she never let
him turn up the heat as much as he wanted to. She insisted she didn’t want him to be uncomfortable.
“Is there something I can help you with?”
Clayne looked up—then down—to see a petite older woman with white hair standing beside him, a smile on her lined face. How the
hell could she be so pleasant in this madness? If he worked here, he would have ripped off a few heads already.
“Is it always this crowded in the mall?” he asked. “This is insane.”
The woman laughed. “We’re always crowded on Black Friday.”
Clayne frowned. “Black Friday? Is that like a holiday or something?”
If it was, Danica had never mentioned it to him.
The woman stared at him like he’d just sprouted horns—or fangs and claws. He glanced down at his hands to make sure he hadn’t
shifted without knowing it.
“Not officially,” she said. “But it is officially the start of the holiday shopping season. It’s the biggest sales day of the year.”
Clayne grunted and looked around. “I guess so.”
The elderly woman smiled again. “So, is there anything I can help you with?”
He gestured at the shelf. “I’m looking for a sweater for my fiancée.”
The woman nodded as if that was an excellent idea. “Are you leaning more toward a cardigan or a pullover?”
Clayne didn’t have a clue what the difference was. It must have shown on his face because the woman reached out and picked up a
grey sweater off the stack. She shook it out and held it up.
“Do you think she’d be want a pullover like this, or a cardigan she can throw on over her clothes when she’s chilly?”
So that was the difference between a pullover and a cardigan. Huh. Clearly the saleswoman knew her stuff.
“The cardigan,” he said, then added. “In blue.”
Blue was Danica’s favorite color.
The woman smiled, quickly folding the grey sweater like some kind of machine and putting it back, then picking up a blue sweater from
the table beside the first one and holding it up.
“Perfect.” All he had to do was pay for it and he could finally get out of this crowded mall. “I’ll take it.”
The saleswoman blinked. “Don’t you want to decide what kind of wool you want?”
Clayne knew he was going to sound stupid, but he asked anyway. “There’s more than one kind of wool?”
“Of course.” The woman looked at him like she felt sorry for him. “There’s merino and cashmere. Then there’s angora—which is
actually from a rabbit and not to be confused with mohair, which is from the Angora goat.”
Clayne felt like he was in a foreign country. He didn’t understand a word she’d just said. “Okay, let’s make this easy. What kind of wool
do you think I should get?”
The smile returned to the woman’s face. “Cashmere.” She set down the cardigan in her hand, then walked around the table and
picked up another blue sweater that looked exactly like the one she’d just had. “Your fiancée is going to love this.”
Clayne reached for the sweater, more than ready to go, but the woman pulled it away, a reproving look on her face. “You don’t even
know if it’s the right size.”
Clayne bit back a growl. Crap. He’d never thought of that. How the hell was he supposed to know what size Danica wore? He’d taken
off her clothes plenty of times, but he sure as hell wasn’t interested in checking out the tags in them. Not when he could check out her
perfect naked body instead.
He looked around the crowded store, finally pointing to a woman on the far side of the store. “Her size, but a little taller.”
The sales lady regarded the woman he’d pointed out with a professional eye. Then she dug through the stack of cashmere sweaters
until she came up with the one she wanted.
Clayne grabbed the sweater, thanking the woman before she could come up with another question he couldn’t answer, then making a
beeline for the register.
While he could have done without the crowds, he couldn’t help smiling at the idea of Danica opening his present on Christmas Day.
The more he thought about it, the better he felt. He even smiled as he stepped around people not bright enough to get out of his way
as he headed for the mall exit. Maybe this shopping thing was more fun than he thought.
Halfway to the exit, Clayne stopped and did a double take in front of a display window showing off a lingerie-draped mannequin. He
glanced at the name of the store—Victoria’s Secret. Even he’d heard of this place. He looked at the mannequin again. Danica would
look amazing in those red little pieces of nothing. But even better than the thought of seeing her in the sexy bra and panties was the
idea of her excitedly opening another box at Christmas to see what he’d gotten her.
He stood in the doorway, eyeing the mob of shoppers in the store. Did he really want go in there with all those crazy people? But then
an image of Danica tearing into a colorfully wrapped box filled his head. He took a deep breath and strode into the store before he
could change his mind, only to come to a grinding halt once he got inside.
Clayne looked around, stunned at all the sexy lingerie around him, and imagining Danica in every single naughty article of clothing he
saw. For the first time since he’d gotten to the mall, he grinned.
This Black Friday shopping thing was pretty damn cool. And Christmas Day was going to be even better.
* * * * *
Clayne Buchanan’s next adventure: wrapping presents.
But that’s a whole ‘nother story!
The DCO Christmas Party
A lot of things had changed since Danica Beckett worked for the super-secret Department of Covert Ops, including the annual office
Christmas party. Thanks to Kendra Carlsen, the DCO’s resident behavioral scientist-slash-training officer, they’d always had one, but
back when Danica was there it used to be held in one of the big conference rooms. Now, it was in the compound’s even bigger
cafeteria. Danica smiled as she took in the colorful lights and beautifully decorated tree. Kendra would have made a fantastic event
planner. Maybe she’d missed her calling.
“Hey! I didn’t know you were here already.”
Danica turned to see a smiling Kendra coming toward her, two cups of egg nog in her hands. She handed one to Danica, then looked
“He’s helping Tanner out with something,” Danica said. “He called a few minutes ago and said he was on his way.”
Danica would have rather waited for her fiancé, wolf shifter Clayne Buchanan, but he’d insisted she go ahead and that he’d meet her
there. Clayne hadn’t said what he was helping Tanner Howland with, but she suspected it was something about helping the lion hybrid
control his inner beast. Although considering Clayne was still learning to control his, she wasn’t sure he’d be the best teacher.
She sipped her egg nog and covertly looked around the room.
“If you’re looking for Dick, he’s not here,” Kendra said.
How the heck had Kendra known she was looking for him? Because Deputy Director Dick Coleman would rather run her over with a
bus than see her at an official DCO function, even if she didn’t technically work for the organization anymore. She didn’t care for Dick,
either, so there was no love lost there. And while she wouldn’t back down from a confrontation with him, she avoided it whenever she
“Come on,” Kendra said. “I’ll introduce you to whoever you don’t already know.”
As it turned out, Danica knew almost everyone from when she worked there two years ago. The only newcomer was the Russian
doctor Zarina Sokolov.
Feline shifter Ivy Donovan and her husband-slash-partner Landon came over to join them a few minutes later. Danica still couldn’t
believe how good the two were at pretending they weren’t a married couple when they were at work. But they were damn good at
hiding their feelings for each other. Danica wasn’t sure if she and Clayne could have pulled it off.
John Loughlin, the director of the DCO, came over to say hello to Danica as well. She still owed her former boss big for getting her
and Clayne back together. John claimed sending Clayne to help her catch the shifter serial killer who had terrorized Sacramento was
just happenstance, but she didn’t buy it. John knew about everything that went on in his organization.
That only made her more worried that maybe John really was behind all of the shadowy crap going on at the DCO since she’d
left…like those new hybrids that were popping up all over the place.
“You remember Trevor Maxwell and Lucy Kwan, right?” Kendra asked as she led Danica over to the two shifters.
Danica remembered Trevor, the coyote shifter who ran a counter-espionage team for the DCO along with two other ex-military guys.
She never remembered him hanging out with the feline shifter, though. It seemed obvious they were a couple. She could tell by the
way they kept looking at each other out of the corner of their eyes when they thought no one was looking. They made a cute couple,
and since they weren’t “partners” on the job, Danica guessed they didn’t have to worry about getting around the DCO’s no-
When she mentioned it to Kendra after the two shifters had left, the training officer laughed.
“Trevor and Lucy? They’re not a couple,” she said. “That would be like dogs and cats sleeping together.”
“I don’t know about that,” Danica agreed. “There’s a definite vibe between them.”
Kendra’s gaze settled on the two shifters again. Trevor and Lucy were on the far side of the cafeteria sipping eggnog and chatting, all
the while keeping a very respectable distance between them.
“You really think they’re seeing each other?” Kendra asked.
Danica shrugged. “I’m not sure if they are, but I know they want to. None of my business either way.”
Kendra nodded thoughtfully. “Maybe I’ll run them through my compatibility program and see what it comes up with.”
“What compatibility program?” Danica asked.
Kendra grinned. “The one that said you and Clayne were absolutely perfect for each other…two years ago.”
Danica groaned. “Don’t remind me how stupid I’ve been. I feel bad enough.”
“You and Clayne are back together now. That’s the important thing.”
Kendra was right, of course. But Danica still felt like crying every time she thought of how she’d been forced to leave Clayne…and all
the time they’d wasted.
“Crap,” Kendra muttered. “Dick’s here and he’s headed our way.”
Danica’s hand tightened on her cup. She should have known he’d show his ugly face.
“Kendra.” The deputy director gave Kendra a nod before looking at Danica. “Agent Beckett. You’ve got nerve, don’t you? Showing up
at a DCO function.”
Danica gave him a frosty smile. Since she and Clayne had destroyed the evidence the jackass had been holding over their heads for
so long, there was no reason to play nice anymore.
Dick didn’t smile back. In fact, he looked like he wanted to wrap his hands around her neck and choke the life from her. But that wasn’t
going to happen. Because Dick was smart enough to know that Clayne would kill him in return.
They were at an impasse, which was just fine with Danica.
“Why wouldn’t I be here?” she asked. “My fiancé works for the DCO. Besides, I’m a part-time employee.”
“For now,” Dick said, then turned and walked away.
“Jerk,” Kendra said when he was out of earshot. “I made sure not to send him an email about the party. I don’t know who told him.”
Danica waved her hand. “Don’t worry about it. I’m not afraid of him.”
“Well, I am.” Kendra gave her a pointed look. “And you should be, too. Dick might know he can’t touch you or Clayne directly, but that
won’t keep him from finding another way to hurt you.”
Danica knew that, too, but she wasn’t going to live in fear of the man. If he, or someone he sent, came after them, she and Clayne
would deal with it…as a team.
Kendra sighed. “Sorry. I wanted you to come here and have a good time, not have to deal with Dick and his crap.”
Danica shook her head. “Forget about it. I am having a good time. It would take a lot more than a toad like Dick to get me out of the
Kendra smiled. “Good, because there are a few more people I want to introduce you to.”
Danica was all set to follow wherever Kendra led, but the training officer suddenly stopped.
“Declan just came in,” she said. “Can you hang tight a second? I need to talk to him.”
Danica laughed at the way Kendra’s blue eyes lit up at the sight of the big bear shifter Declan MacBride. “Go ahead. I’m going to get
some more eggnog.”
But when Danica turned to head for the buffet table, she found her handsome fiancé standing there, two cups of eggnog already in
his hands. He always could read her mind.
She ignored the drinks and moved into Clayne’s arms instead, standing up on tiptoe to kiss him, not caring who saw. That was the
best part of being an FBI agent who only worked for the DCO when it suited John. She didn’t have to follow all the stupid DCO rules
about partners not fraternizing.
Clayne grinned down at her. “Sorry I took so long to get here.”
“No problem. Kendra was introducing me to all the new people in the DCO.” Danica took one of the cups from him. “What were you
and Tanner up to?”
“I was helping him do some Christmas shopping.”
She stared at him over the rim of the cup. “Christmas shopping? Are you serious?”
Clayne shrugged and took a swig of eggnog. “Yeah. You don’t have to look so surprised.” His mouth quirked. “You should have seen
me on Black Friday. I rocked it.”
Rocked it? Okay, who was this guy and where was the real Clayne?
“So, that’s where you were when I went into the office that morning?” she asked.
He grinned, looking like the cat that licked the cream. Then again, maybe the Big Bad Wolf would be more appropriate.
“Uh-huh.” Clayne’s eyes flared gold as he pulled her close and kissed her again. “And I can’t wait to see your face when you open
what I bought you.”
Danica couldn’t wait, either.
Danica and Clayne's First Christmas
Danica was in the middle of a really good dream when Clayne woke up.
“Wake up, sleepyhead,” he said, his voice husky in her ear.
She groaned, peeling open one very sleepy eye to look at the clock. “Ugh, it’s not even eight o’clock yet. It’s too early to get up.
Especially since you kept me up half the night watching movies.”
Clayne pulled her closer and nuzzled her neck, his muscular chest pressed up to her back. “Not just any movies—Christmas movies.”
Danica snuggled into her pillow. “I don’t think Die Hard qualifies as a Christmas movie.”
“It takes place at Christmastime, therefore, it’s a Christmas movie. But I’ll defer to you on that. All the other ones were definitely
Christmas movies, though.” He whipped off the blanket and rolled her onto her back to give her a kiss. “Come on. It’s time to open
Danica laughed. Clayne had seriously gotten into the Christmas spirit. They’d bought a huge pre-lit tree, yards of garland, so many
ornaments they could barely fit all of them, and enough decorations to outfit two apartments. She’d never seen Clayne like this, but
since Thanksgiving, he couldn’t stop talking about Christmas. She’d teased him about it, but in reality, she thought it was cool.
She didn’t protest as he grabbed her hand and pulled her to her feet, only stopping to grab her robe on the way to the living room.
The Christmas lights were still on from the night before and there were at least four more presents under the tree this morning than
when they’d gone to bed. Clayne must have slipped out to put them there after she’d fallen asleep.
“Do you want to have breakfast first?” she asked.
“No way.” He led her over to the couch. “I’ve waited long enough for you to open your presents.”
Clayne looked so excited that she had to laugh. What had he bought her that had him so spun up?
“Which one first?” she asked after she sat.
He stood frowning at the stack of gifts under the tree for a moment before picking up a box wrapped in green foil paper.
“This one,” he said as he handed it to her. “It’s the first present I bought you, so you should open it first.”
Danica eyed the paper, wondering if he’d wrapped it himself. Then she saw all the tape on it. She’d need a chainsaw to get into this
thing—definitely a man’s work.
“Don’t just stare at it.” He grinned. “Open it.”
* * * * *
Clayne had never been so excited in his life. Why the hell was Danica staring at the present he’d given her? Open it already!
Clayne had been counting the days until Christmas since Thanksgiving. The few he’d bought at the mall on Black Friday had been
supplemented by a few more. Okay, a dozen more, but who was counting? He couldn’t really say why, but the idea of seeing Danica
laugh and tear into the Christmas paper had driven him a little nuts. It was possible he’d gone overboard on presents. But he wanted
her to know how happy he was that she was back in his life.
Danica finally opened the present he’d handed her. She started slowly enough, but then laughed as she quickly picked up speed. He
laughed with her.
She tossed the lid of the box on the floor, then tore into tissue paper, stopping cold when she saw the blue sweater inside. Danica
stared at the sweater for so long Clayne was sure he’d made a mistake. Had he bought her the wrong color?
But then she gently caressed the sweater, her fingers slowly gliding over it. “It’s so soft.”
“The lady at the store said cashmere is the softest wool you can get,” he said. “I wanted you to have something to wear when we hang
out at home. I know you think it’s cold in here all the time.”
She gave him a look that made every hour he spent shopping and wrapping worth it. He grinned like an idiot.
Danica pulled out the sweater and threw it around her shoulders, then rubbed it against her cheek before leaning over to kiss him. “It’s
perfect. Thank you.” She carefully folded the sweater, then placed it on the couch beside her. “You want to open one of your presents
He didn’t even have to think about that one. “Uh-uh. I want to see you open your gifts first.”
She laughed. “I thought you might say that. What’s next then?”
It didn’t take him nearly as long to decide which present he wanted her to open this time. He immediately grabbed the smallest box
under the tree—the one in gold foil paper.
Danica didn’t toy with this one. She quickly yanked off the paper, exposing the black velvet jewelry box hidden underneath. She smiled
at him as she popped the lid on the box, but then her expression went completely blank—and stayed that way.
Crap. Did he buy her the wrong kind of bracelet?
Without a word, she took the diamond bracelet carefully out of the box and held it up. Then she was off the couch and throwing herself
into his arms. He was so surprised by the move, he barely caught her.
“Clayne, it’s beautiful.” She kissed him, then pulled back to look up him. “Tell me these aren’t real diamonds.”
He chuckled. “Okay, I won’t tell you then.”
She admired the bracelet again, laying it across her wrist as she shook her head. “It’s too expensive. I can’t wear anything like this.”
“Of course you can,” he said. “It’s beautiful, just like you.”
Manipulating the tiny clasp was difficult with his big hands, but he managed. Then he pulled her into his arms again and kissed her
long and hard on the mouth. Danica pressed closer to him, wiggling against his hard-on.
“Mmm,” she breathed. “Maybe we should move this into the bedroom.”
Clayne let out a soft growl at the invitation. He really wanted to make love to her until neither of them could see straight, but he also
wanted to see her open the rest of her presents.
The presents won out.
In addition to the sweater and the bracelet, he’d gotten her soft, fuzzy slippers to keep her feet warm, a heated throw in case she got
cold when they cuddled on the couch and watched TV, blue wool-lined gloves to go with her sweater in case she wore it outside.
Halfway into the stack, he wondered if he might have gone overboard.
But then Danica smiled at him, and he decided that going overboard where she was concerned was definitely okay.
The pile of torn up wrapping paper was knee-high on the floor in front of the couch by the time he handed Danica the last present.
She held up the box, her dark eyes dancing. “Another sweater?”
“Open it up and find out.” He grinned. “This one is extra special. I knew I had to get it for you the moment I saw it.”
“It did, huh?” She smiled back at him. “Now you’ve got me really curious.”
She tore off the paper, then ripped off the lid…and gasped. Reaching into the tissue paper, she ran her fingers over the red silk and
lace bustier and matching panties, then lifted a brow.
He shrugged. “I thought that since I was buying you so much stuff to keep you warm, it would only be fair if I got you something that
would make me warm, too.”
She held the naughty little nothings up in front of her body and smiled. “You think it’ll work?”
He shifted, letting out the wolf inside just enough so that his eyes glowed gold. “I’m sure it’ll work.”
Her lips curved. “Then I guess you need to hurry up and open your presents so we can go back to bed.”
Clayne took her hand and tugged her to her feet with a growl. “I have one particular present I want to open right now—you. The rest
can wait until later.”
He scooped her up and headed for the bedroom without waiting for a reply.
“I hope you liked all your presents,” he whispered.
Danica kissed him as she clutched the lingerie to her chest. “Best. Christmas. Ever.”
He had to agree.