Heather went outside with the crime scene investigator and the sheriff. The sheriff halted on the porch looking first at his polished leather boots and then at the snowy yard where the investigator stood. Darting past him, Heather stepped into the snow in her red knitted slippers and shivered. She looked down where the investigator pointed. Deer tracks. Not unusual in the winter since she lived at the edge of the pine forest.
"Deer tracks. You brought me out in the cold for that?" asked the sheriff and started back inside.
"Not just a single set," the investigator said. "I count eight sets of deer prints."
Eight? Like Santa's reindeer?
Sean leaned back and rubbed his neck. "Do you think we could take a break, Dad? I need to check up on Heather and Madison."
Santa took another sip of spiced cider. "We really need to get some more done, but we can take a moment to look at your house." He hit a switch and a plasma screen on the wall lit up with a picture of Sean's house. Heather stood in the snow in her slippers.
"She'll freeze. What is she doing out in the cold? Where's Madison?"
"Take it easy, boy, everything's under control though I should have sent some wind down to wipe out the reindeer tracks. Too late now." He clicked off the picture.
"Wait. I want to know what's going on."
"The police are investigating your disappearance and they found the reindeer tracks."
"And Madison? Why wasn't she out in the snow with Heather? It isn't like Madison to stay in the house when there's anything going on outside. That child loves the snow as if she'd been born at the North Pole like me."
"Probably inherited it." Santa took another sip and lifted the pitcher. "Would you like a refill?"
"No, I'm fine." Sean took a swallow then frowned. "You've ignored my question. Where's Madison?"
"She's fine, just taking care of a little family business. That's why she wasn't outside with Heather. There are some things your wife doesn't know about Christmas, aren't there?"
"Are you still harping on that old idea I should have married the Snow Fairy? Wouldn't that have been a mixed marriage, too? I'm surprised you don't understand about love."
Santa tipped forward in his chair, outrage reddening his cheeks more than usual. "Don't take that tone with me, young man. Your mother and I have been happy and in love for many, many years."
"Then why don't you understand I had to marry Heather? She was the one for me."