Title: The Last Gift
Author: Hannah Meredith
Genre: Fantasy Romance
The Last Gift – A Tale of Love and Magic
Half-Human and half-Fey, Rhys Evansold has been the Tylwyth Teg’s connection to the mortal realm for centuries. His latest task is to retrieve a beloved unicorn that has been trapped in a soap bubble and inadvertently thrown into the human world.
In North Carolina, schoolteacher Elizabeth Tate’s most prized possession is a snow globe with a beautifully carved unicorn inside. Five years earlier, this was the last gift she received from her late fiancé. Torn between reinforcing bittersweet memories and moving on with her life, she still hangs the ornament on her Christmas tree.
Elizabeth is, therefore, surprised by her reaction to Rhys Evans, a substitute teacher who arrives in her small town right before Winter Break. She is drawn to his both his earthiness and his kindness. For his part, Rhys knows Elizabeth is the person who possesses what he seeks. But, confused by the strong human emotions she evokes, he can’t make himself take the snow globe from her by magical means.
Honesty and trust are difficult to establish between people from two such disparate worlds, especially when Elizabeth suspects the man she’s falling in love with is either a con artist or quite mad. But how can she resist someone who makes her fantasies come true?
She settled back into the circle of his arms and awaited the seduction she hoped was to come. But instead of repeating his drugging kisses, he stood up and strode to the Christmas tree. He slid his hand almost reverently under the snow globe ornament and raised it slightly.
“Would you give me this for Christmas?” he asked, turning toward her while still holding the ornament. “In return, I’ll give you whatever your heart desires. A new car? An elaborate trip to England this summer? Or to all of Europe if that appeals. A world cruise? You could experience a wide variety of cultures. Whatever you want, I will supply it, if you will give me the unicorn.”
She sat stunned and completely confused. What did Hank’s last gift have to do with anything? Did he think that her giving the snow globe to him would erase all her memories of the man she’d planned to marry? She couldn’t fathom what had changed Rhys from a potential lover to someone from a television game show where ridiculous prizes were offered if the contestant made the right bargain.
“Rhys, your behavior is frightening me,” she said. “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
He released the ornament and took a step toward her. Perhaps he saw she was getting ready to spring to her feet and move away from him. He redirected his movement and sat down in one of the wingbacks by the fireplace. She felt tense muscles relax. He didn’t look crazy, even if his words had been.
He leaned forward, elbows on his knees and an earnest expression on his face. “I’m sorry for my bizarre behavior. It was a spur of the moment decision, and I hadn’t thought it through. I just didn’t want to become intimate with you—well, actually I did want that to happen—but I didn’t want you to think later that I had ulterior motives.”
“Ulterior motives?” Libby was lost.
He frowned and shook his head, as if denying something that had crossed his mind. “I want to be truthful. I want you to be able to trust me. But my explanation won’t make any sense, since there’s much I can’t tell you. The basic fact is I was tasked by the true owner of the unicorn to retrieve it. I have a great deal of money at my disposal and had planned on buying the ornament, regardless of the price. But because the unicorn was gifted to you, I can only receive it as a gift. So, I thought if you gave it to me, I could make it up to you in other ways.”
Libby went from confused to devastated in the time it took to breathe twice. She knew it was twice, since then the hurt was so deep, she couldn’t breathe at all. She was such a fool. She’d imagined a romance where there was none. Rhys Evans cared nothing for her. He was simply sweetening up a stupid woman to get what he wanted—which was her snow globe Christmas ornament. He definitely didn’t want her.
She felt tears fill her eyes. But she would not cry. She’d be damned if she would cry over some con man. She now realized he was trying to play on her emotions in order to trick her into giving him something that to her was priceless. Anger surged in to fill the void left by the death of hope—and anger was better than despair.
She came to her feet and quickly placed herself between Rhys and the Christmas tree. “You want me to trust you? I admit I’ve been gullible, but how stupid do you think I am? You admit that someone sent you here to take my snow globe, and you call this person the ‘true owner.’ Well, make no mistake. I’m the true owner. Hank gave this to me, and unlike you, he was an honorable man who never would have trafficked in stolen goods. So just get the hell out of my house… and if you’re smart, you’ll be out of Clawson before the sheriff checks what are undoubtedly phony credentials.”
She stood, breathing hard. But Rhys just continued to sit in her wingback chair. She should have gotten her phone and called 911. But she didn’t want to leave her position blocking the access to the snow globe ornament. She’d been so sure he would just leave when he realized she wasn’t as much in thrall as he’d hoped.
“Out!” She pointed toward the door.
He simply looked at her with what seemed an odd desolation in his eyes. “What do you know of the Fey?” he asked.
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Set in the Christmas Season, two lonely people discover the best gifts they can give to each other are trust and love.
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Hannah Meredith’s father wanted her to be a doctor, so she dutifully trekked off to Southern Methodist University with this in mind—but somehow ended up with a Master’s Degree in English with minors in history and religion. Along the way, she’d discovered she was not really fascinated by the actual “insides” of people, but rather by the people themselves and the stories they made of their lives.
The story of her life has been a happy one. She married her high school sweetheart and they celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary a few years ago. They have one wonderful son and four clever grandchildren. They moved around the mid-South as her husband’s career advanced but are now permanently located in a charming North Carolina town. She’s taught at the high school and college level and sold real estate, always staying very busy.
Then life slowed down… and she had the opportunity to write some of the stories she’d been imagining for years. Under another name, she sold over a dozen speculative fiction short stories to major Science Fiction and Fantasy magazines. She now concentrates on romance. She currently has four historical romances available: Kestrel, Indentured Hearts, Kaleidoscope, and A Dangerous Indiscretion, and two fantasy romances: Song of the Nightpiper and The Last Gift. Hannah’s novellas have also appeared in all six of the Christmas Revels anthologies.