The ReindeeR That Got Away

A Prequel Short Story to A Mirthful Wish

Wishing for Love ~ A multi-author series

Before reading A MIRTHFUL WISH, check out this prequel story about Liam and Ellie growing up in Reindeer Pass.

Young Ellie Thatcher has always been told to stay away from “those Adler boys.” The Thatcher-Adler feud goes back to her grandparents, and she’s never given it much mind. Until now. She’s searching for an elusive Arctic reindeer that may be roaming the Colorado mountains where she lives, and she’s convinced it might be found on Adler land.

Liam Adler is amused by young Ellie Thatcher. His brothers have secretly defied the edict to stay away from the Thatchers and that’s how Liam finds himself helping Ellie search for the legendary white reindeer rumored to be living in the mountains near the town of Reindeer Pass. As he continues to cross paths with the girl through the years, his fondness turns to something more. But there’s still the issue of the family feud …

Praise for A Mirthful Wish

“I truly enjoyed this story, the characters, the angst, and the family feud.”
~ Amazon Review

 

“This book will give you all the Christmas feels …”
~ Amazon Review

Read Chapter One

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The Reindeer That Got Away

Ellie Thatcher rounded the corner with her cousin, Bella, and immediately grabbed the other girl’s arm, yanking her back against the building.

 

“Ow, Ellie. What the heck.”

 

“Shhh!” Ellie might have been only ten years old, but she recognized an opportunity when she saw one. “Look.” She pointed to the storefront down the street, a steady late-afternoon snowfall somewhat obscuring their view, dusting the streets of downtown Reindeer Pass.

 

Standing outside were her older brothers, Owen and James, and she was pretty sure the other boys were Adlers, although she didn’t recognize the tallest one.

 

A smile tugged at Ellie’s lips. They were in so much trouble.

 

She wouldn’t tattle. No, instead she would use this for what she coveted most—Owen’s four-wheeler.

 

She grabbed Bella’s elbow and ushered her onto the sidewalk, snowflakes coating Ellie’s long dark hair beneath her favorite winter hat, a gift from her Grandma Isabelle. The red beanie featured Rudolph and the saying OH DEER! on the cuff.

 

“What are we doing?” Bella’s voice held a hint of worry, her braided hair swinging behind her.

 

“Getting what I want.” Ellie suddenly stopped and turned to her younger cousin. “Don’t you want something? From Mason?” Ellie was certain she’d seen her other cousin—Bella’s twelve-year-old brother—among the group of boys.

 

Bella peered down the street again. “Mason was supposed to go home after he skied.”

 

“Exactly.” Ellie pinned Bella with a hard stare as the girl’s gaze came back to her. “And look who they’re with.”

 

Bella’s dark brown eyebrows pinched low above her eyes and immediately widened as the realization took root. “Adlers,” she whispered.

 

“I definitely recognize Flynn,” Ellie said. “And the other one must be Ryan. Not sure about the tall one.”

 

Bella squared her shoulders. “Okay, let’s go tell.”

 

“No! That’s the point. We threaten to turn them in to get what we want.”

 

“And what do we want?”

 

“The four-wheeler. So we can find the reindeer.”

 

Bella’s face took on a look of objection. “Ellie, we’re not allowed to ride those. You know that.”

 

“But it’ll make it so much easier to get into the back country.”

 

Bella was shaking her head. “I don’t wanna go in the back country. Bears live there. And wolves. And ….”

 

Ellie held up her hand. “Okay, okay. I’ll make Owen take me. Does that make you happy?”

 

“I just don’t understand why you’re so determined to search for those deer. It’s just a myth. You’re chasing ghosts.”

 

“Now you sound like your mother.” Aunt Sara could be a real killjoy sometimes. Ellie had overheard that word used by her own mother when speaking about Aunt Sara to her father.

 

“It’s five days until Christmas.” Bella’s voice verged on a whine. “I don’t want to get in trouble. Santa won’t bring me everything I want.”

 

Ellie sighed. “All right. Just come with me to talk to them, will you?”

 

Bella hesitated and then nodded, the motion choppy with obvious reluctance.

 

They hustled along the sidewalk, their snow boots kicking tufts of the newly fallen white stuff aside. The main street of Reindeer Pass was lit with colorful Christmas lights that would look more festive once it became dark, and the ten-foot tree at the roundabout was illuminated.

 

As they approached, the boys were busy talking amongst themselves and didn’t notice them.

 

Ellie raised her voice to be heard. “Owen.” Her brother turned to face her, his brown hair way too long and hanging in his eyes. Her parents nagged him repeatedly about getting it cut but then did nothing about it. His golden child status was yet another source of frustration for Ellie.

 

“What’re you doing here?” he said. “Weren’t you at some sort of cookie exchange with Mom?”

 

“We were,” Ellie said, nodding toward Bella at her side. “But then Mom said we could go down to Fitz’s for a hot chocolate.”

 

“Okay.” Owen’s voice was dismissive as he faced away from her.

 

The other boys had stopped talking and were now watching the exchange between her and her fourteen-year-old brother who liked to think he was eighteen. Nothing galled Ellie more than when her parents had insisted that Owen babysit her, which had happened for the first time last Friday night. She was far more responsible than he was, she had told her mother. But Anna Thatcher had insisted that Owen would do a good job. If doing a good job meant he went to his room to play video games online with his friends, then her brother was a primo caretaker.

 

“Do I need to spell it out for you, Owen?” Ellie asked, keeping her tone calm.

 

He met her gaze again and silently reprimanded her. It didn’t matter. She’d spent years building up a resistance to his control tactics.

 

“Ellie, we’re busy,” her other brother, Jamie, said. “You and Bella need to get lost.”

 

Ellie suppressed an eyeroll. Jamie was two years younger than Owen and was such a kiss ass, wanting so badly to hang with his older brother. Her mother liked to say that Jamie was like her, too sweet for his own good, while Owen and Ellie took after their father—more regimented and goal-oriented. Ellie supposed there was a compliment in there somewhere.

 

She took in the other boys. Mason, her cousin, watched her, as did the two Adler boys, Flynn and Ryan. Thatchers and Adlers weren’t supposed to hang out together. It all went back to some bad blood between their respective grandparents. Ellie didn’t really care about all that. She supposed the Adler boys were just as obnoxious as her own brothers, and that was the extent of their badness. But, Grandpa Adam had always forbade them from mingling with those Adler boys. They’re bad news. You’re forbidden. And other such commands that her parents enforced, believing the Adlers would ruin them financially, or something like that.

 

She looked up at the tall boy. They were all wearing ski caps and their breath was visible in rhythmic puffs, but his face was definitely that of an Adler. She’d heard there were three Adler boys. He must be the oldest. What was his name? Larry?

 

“If you don’t let me use your four-wheeler,” she said to Owen, not bothering to hide her high and mighty attitude, “I’ll tell Gramps that you’re fraternizing with the enemy.” She’d been pinned down in lugie fights enough times that she had no remorse when it came to blackmailing her brothers.

 

“We’re just talking,” Jamie said, his tone defensive.

 

“So what?” Ellie pulled her cellphone from the pocket of her wool coat. “I’ve got photographic evidence.”

 

She didn’t though. It had only just occurred to her that she should’ve taken a picture. From the corner of her eye, she saw Bella look at her with surprise. Don’t say anything, Ellie silently pleaded.

 

Owen narrowed his eyes. “Fine, use the four-wheeler. I don’t see how you’ll get away with it. Mom’ll hear it straightaway.”

 

“Nice try,” Ellie countered. “I know it’s here in town at the Bradford’s garage.” Her father had been talking on the phone to John Bradford, saying the man could borrow it to take his son out for a ride, which had been just this morning. “You’ll go with me now and tell him you want it back.”

 

“It’ll be dark soon,” Owen countered. “You’re crazy, El. You’ll get hurt, and then Mom and Dad will never forgive me.”

 

God, it almost sounded like he cared about her. Her shoulders slumped. She would never admit it aloud, but she admired Owen and sought his praise, but … no, no, no. She wouldn’t fall for this. And besides, the reindeer would be easier to find at night. Or at least she thought so. Or maybe it was simply the fact that she could ride the four-wheeler incognito more easily at night.

 

“I’ll take her,” the tall one said.

 

Ellie focused more intently on him. “Who’re you?” she asked.

 

“Liam.”

 

Not Larry then.

 

She shook her head. “I can’t go with you. You’re an Adler.”

 

He smirked. “Is it that obvious?”

 

Everyone turned to him and said in unison, “Yes.”

 

He and Flynn and Ryan were all blond-haired with square jaws like some Viking or something, except that Grandpa Adam had complained the Adlers were stubborn because they were German. According to him the Thatchers, with their British ancestry, were less stubborn. But persistence was a family trait that Ellie took very seriously, having learned it from her grandpa, and her father, and her brother, Owen. So maybe they had some German in them.

 

“You’re willing to ride a dangerous vehicle that’s against the rules but having me go along is where you draw the line?” Liam asked.

 

Ellie wasn’t sure what his point was, but if he were with her, he wouldn’t let her go where she wanted.

 

“I’ve ridden before,” she stated.

 

Jamie snorted. “It was summer, not winter. And you were grounded for a week.”

 

She took a deep breath, the cold air freezing her throat. “That’s not the point. You and Owen can go with me. We’re going to the Ravine.”

 

Her brothers both groaned.

 

“No,” Owen said, dragging out the word. “And three of us won’t fit.”

 

“Why do you want to go to the Ravine?” Liam asked.

 

“She’s looking for the white reindeer,” Jamie said.

 

Liam jammed his hands into his coat pockets. “That’s just a story.”

 

“Maybe,” Ellie replied.

 

“Old Mr. Smith who runs that decrepit garage at the end of town claims he saw them in the 1950’s,” Flynn said.

 

“Old Mr. Smith also claims that Elvis brings his car in every Thanksgiving to have it repaired,” Liam rebutted.

 

Ellie crossed her arms, difficult due to her thick wool coat. “We’re wasting time. You boys obviously have something planned for tonight, so I’m sure you’d like to get to it. I just need you to get the four-wheeler, Owen, and then you all can get back to whatever it is you’re doing.”

 

Liam laughed. “I’ve got it Owen. I know Mr. Bradford. I’ll take her. You can trust me.”

 

Owen quietly considered the offer then gave a nod of agreement.

 

Ellie uncrossed her arms. She didn’t want to go with Liam Adler. She didn’t want to go with Owen or Jamie either. In truth, she wanted to go alone.

 

She suppressed an inward groan. She would only have at most an hour before her mother would request that she and Bella return to the rec center where the cookie exchange was happening. She needed to go now.

 

“Fine,” Ellie said. “Let’s go.”

 

“What am I supposed to do?” Bella demanded from behind her.

 

Ellie pulled the twenty-dollar bill from her pocket that her mother had given her and handed it to Bella. “You can have a hot chocolate and one of those puffy eclairs.”

 

“I don’t want to go to Fitz’s by myself.”

 

“You can’t go back to the rec center until I return,” Ellie said, then looked at Owen. “You’ll have to let Bella stay with you.”

 

Owen’s annoyance was clear. “You’ve got one hour, Ellie.”

 

She grinned, bouncing on her feet as excitement filled her.

 

“C’mon, Liam.” She spun around and headed to Mr. Bradford’s garage.

 

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