Friday, December 28, 2018

Thank You -- And Here's to 2019!



First off, I want to thank everyone who participated in this year's Advent Calendar. Sincere thanks to all the talented contributors: Sarah Atkinson, Rachel Owen, Haldis Grummel, Natasha Chesterbrook and Steve Leonard. There would have been an awful lot of cocktail recipes and photos without their creative input!

(If you wanted to participate this year, but just couldn't get it together, now you have plenty of time to polish your contribution for next year. ;-) )

But also I want to thank those of you who showed up every day to read and comment. The calendar is my way of saying thank you to my readers--so long as it's enjoyed and appreciated, I'll keep doing it.

This was such a better year for me compared to the last couple of years--really, from every standpoint: financially, physically, creatively...maybe even spiritually. I feel much calmer and more optimistic heading into 2019 than I did heading into 2018 (and let's not even think about 2017).

Part of that is me, of course, but a lot of that is YOU. So thank you for your continuing support and enthusiasm. It means so much. Really, it means everything.

I hope that 2019 is a terrific year for you. That you are healthy and happy and that you spend most of your time doing things you enjoy--or, at the very least, things you feel are worthwhile.

We had a few remaining winners from the teaser exercises we did earlier in the month. Those winners are:

Advent Calendar Day 19
Marilyn
Karla R
Karan
booksandmore


Advent Calendar Day Day 13
Rdafan7
Alexa Ebanks
Carlita
Valoue

Choose your magnet from the selection of posted teasers and email me with your choice and your snail mail address--and thank you again for joining in on the fun! See you next year! 






Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Advent Calendar Day 25


Here's wishing you more happiness
Than all my words can tell,
Not just alone for Christmas
But all the year as well.




Happy Holidays to you all! 



Christmas Coda 54

THE ADRIEN ENGLISH MYSTERIES series: Adrien and Jake


It wasn’t often I woke before Jake, so the luxury of lying next to him and watching his sleeping face in the pearly-rosy light of dawn felt just that: a luxury.

He looked completely and totally relaxed in a way he hadn’t since we’d returned from London. Gone were the lines of worry and stress around his eyes. Gone were the dark shadows beneath his eyes. The line of his mouth was soft. He didn’t just look relaxed, he looked content. Happy.

The Boy Who Got Everything He Wanted for Christmas.

I studied the threads of silver in his pale hair, the flecks of platinum in the gold bristle on his lean jaw…neither of us was getting any younger, but growing old together more than compensated.

My gaze traveled back to the kissable curve of his lips, but no. He needed this extra bit of sleep after the last week. I could wait. A little while anyway.

I’d been awake since five or so. Scout was lying against my legs, snoring peaceably, and Tomkins was curled atop the nest of pillows against the headboard watching me watch Jake.

“Hey, Cat,” I said soundlessly.

As if he understood, Tomkins responded with a silent meow.

I smiled then smiled again remembering the night before. 


“Will you marry me, Adrien-with-an-e?”
“Baby, I thought you’d never ask.”

That was the truth. I really had never expected that we would actually marry. Never thought I wanted to be married—until I’d seen that little velvet box in Jake’s hand.

So make that The Two Boys That Got Everything They Wanted for Christmas.

I raised my head to look at the table in front of the fireplace. I studied the half full champagne glasses, the litter of wrapping and ribbons, and that small blue velvet box.

“Nope, not a dream,” Jake said. His voice sounded rusty and his smile was sleepy—but still content. “Having second thoughts?”

“Ha.”

I kissed him then, gave into the simple pleasure of his mouth against mine, his taste and smell and touch.

When I lifted my head, he reached up and brushed my hair lightly back from my eyes.

“From this day forward?” Despite the smile there was something tentative in his eyes.

I smiled too, didn’t try to hide my happiness or play it cool. We were so far past any of that nonsense. This was us and we had fought hard to get here.

I said—and I meant every word, “Happily Ever After.”




Monday, December 24, 2018

Christmas Coda 53



This is another odd coda in that it’s the coda for Blind Side which, like Mainly by Moonlight, hasn’t been written yet. The tricky thing here is it really is a coda and not a prequel. 😉  Eventually, I’ll come back and fill in the blanks, but for now this will have to do.



Christmas in Hawaii?

Well, why not? It had to beat what they usually did for the holidays--which was work.

In fact, the last time Will could remember one of them taking Christmas off was a year ago when he’d had flu. He’d been hoping to fly home from Paris to surprise Taylor, but that plan had gone down the drain with half a box of Fervex. Anyway, they needed a break. Taylor needed a break, and Hawaii was everything Taylor loved: sun, sand, water and plenty of alternatives to camping.

Will frowned at the framed photo of a smiling Taylor that sat on his desk. Not many smiles out of Taylor these days.

No. Not true. Taylor smiled all the time. If the curve of lips and cheek, the flash of teeth equaled a smile. Taylor was brisk and cheerful--and hard as a slammed shut steel door. The sunlit unguarded happiness of the photo—that smile hadn’t been seen in a long time.

Not since Ashe Dekker. Goddamn him from now until eternity.

Maybe if they could get away, take a real vacation like Will had been promising forever, maybe then things would get back to normal...



“Hawaii?” Taylor said skeptically, when Will broached the idea that evening. 


“We can afford to take a little break,” Will said.

“We took a little break for Thanksgiving.”

“I mean, a real break.”

Taylor shrugged. “Thanksgiving with your family. Seemed like a real break to me.”

It was hard when he was like this. Hard to say the things Will knew he needed to say.

“I know. I mean…” Will took a breath. “I think maybe it would do us good to get away after…everything.”

Taylor’s wide green eyes met his, direct and unblinking, like the stare of an unfriendly cat.

“I would like to take you on a real vacation,” Will said. “Like I’ve been promising for…”

Years.

Since before Paris.

“I appreciate the thought,” Taylor said. “But we’re busy now and I don’t want to waste money we don’t have to waste.”

Finances were a touchy subject given that they were in hock to Taylor’s step-father. Not that Richard gave a damn about the money—he spent that amount and more on charity dinners—but Taylor did.

“Business is as slow as it’s going to get. It’s the holidays.” Lately Will had gotten into the habit of not arguing when Taylor shot him down. He didn’t want to risk the fragile balance between them. But there were worse things than arguing.

“Will—”

“We need some time together,” Will insisted. “We need to talk--

Taylor said with unexpected, shocking fierceness, “What the fuck do you think there is to say, Brandt?”

Will stared, silent in the face of that restrained fury.

Taylor glared at him, then rose and went to the window to stare out at the night-shrouded garden.

Will watched him, his heart beating unpleasantly hard in his chest. He had not seen that coming, had not anticipated Taylor’s…what the hell was that even?  Had never expected to see Taylor looking at him like he hated him. He almost couldn’t think past it.

His gaze dropped to Taylor’s left hand, spotted the gleam of platinum. Taylor was still wearing his ring. So okay. That was a relief. It wasn’t over. Not yet. Maybe that would change in the next five seconds. He was afraid to speak. He had no idea what to say. He was never going to regret any decision that kept Taylor alive and in one piece. And even if he did regret it, he would make the same decision every time. Period. He wasn’t going to lie about it.

Taylor reached up and squeezed the back of his neck. He let out a long sigh, and turned back to Will. “I know what you’re saying and I’m working through it, Will. Okay?”

“Since when do we work through things alone?” Will added bitterly, “Or am I what you’re working through?”

 Something flickered in Taylor’s eyes. Bulls-eye. The pain was beyond anything Will had experienced. Maybe even worse than the night he’d thought Taylor was going to die.

His mouth was so dry he thought the words would turn to dust before he got them out. “Are you leaving me?”

Taylor’s face twisted. He shook his head. “No.”

Now it was Will’s turn to turn away.

Taylor came back to the table, dragged his chair out and sat down. He rubbed his forehead. “I’m not leaving. I’m not…I’m still…” He stopped and tried again—and the fact that he was trying again was a good sign, right?

“I can’t help feeling the way I feel. I’m not saying it’s fair. I know it’s not.”

Will nodded, expelled a breath, turned back to face Taylor.

“Okay,” he said carefully. “Where do we go from here?”

They locked gazes—once upon a time and not so long ago, they had known everything the other was thinking, just by looking into each other’s eyes.

 Taylor shook his head, grimaced, offered a curl of his mouth that was not quite a smile.

“I guess we go to Hawaii for Christmas.”

  



Sunday, December 23, 2018

Christmas Coda 52


  
ALL’S FAIR series: Elliot and Tucker


“This is a mistake,” Tucker growled, tying his tie in short, sharp snaps. He scowled at his reflection in the mirror over the desk. No need for the scowl because he looked, as always, like he’d stepped out of the Westport Big & Tall catalog. Handsome and successful.

Elliot, sitting on the side of the hotel bed, glanced down to finish lacing up his black oxfords. “What is? Christmas dinner with your mom and step-dad?”

They were in Wyoming to spend Christmas with Tova and Ed—for the first and possibly only time—and Tucker was starting to exhibit signs of cold feet. Well, hell, December in Wyoming? Cold feet went with the territory. Literally.

“I apologize in advance. This is going to be a day of…”

“Family? Food? Festivities?”

Tucker shook his head as though words could ne’er express.

Elliot laughed. “Listen, don’t tell me you prefer tofu turkey and listening to my dad rant.”

In the interests of accuracy, Tucker ranted as much as Roland these days. It was kind of heart-warming the way Donald J. Trump had managed to unite both conservatives and liberals.

“There will be Bible readings,” Tucker prophesied. “There will be sermonizing.”

Elliot rose and brushed down his trousers. “So what? It won’t be the first time we’ve had to sit through a boring briefing.”

Tucker gave a short laugh.

“If this is on my behalf, relax,” Elliot said. “I like Jesus. It’s the Old Testament I take issue with. I don’t mind paying Jesus some attention on his birthday. And maybe Tova will turn out to be a great cook.”

“Fat chance,” Tucker grumbled.

But he was smiling when Elliot caught him by his Christmassy-red tie and tugged him in for a kiss.




It turned out they were both right.

There was indeed Bible reading. Before dinner they gathered in the gigantic living room with the gigantic Christmas tree and the gigantic picture windows gazing out over the gigantic “yard” that encompassed the gigantic house on the prairie where Tova and Ed lived. They listened politely as Ed read in a dry, dusty voice from the Gospels of Luke and John.

“While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.”

So that happened.

And then came dinner. Wherever Tucker had inherited his inability to cook, it was not from Tova. In fact, she was a great cook. There was hickory-smoked turkey, walnut sweet potatoes, green beans in a creamy wild mushroom sauce, twice-baked potato casserole, and two kinds of pie: pecan and pumpkin.  



Tova had even specially purchased a bottle of Ariel non-alcoholic Cabernet Sauvignon for Elliot and Tucker to share, which Elliot found a really sweet gesture. Especially when the wine turned out to be not that bad.

After dinner there was a rather formal opening of presents while Mel Torme crooned in the background. To Elliot’s relief, the gray cashmere cardigan vest Tucker had chosen for Ed, and the pearl and diamond necklace he’d picked for Tova, were warmly received—Tucker had spent a lot of time and thought trying to select the perfect gifts. 

Say what you would about Ed and Tova, they were not stingy. There were presents for both Tucker and Elliot—in fact, it sort of looked like Tova was trying to make up for some of those missed birthday and holidays with an embarrassing landslide of gifts for Tucker: wireless earbuds, a hardwood turntable, Hermès cologne, fur-lined driving gloves… Some of the gifts were right on the mark—a Michael Kors watch, for example—and some seemed like things chosen because Tova just wanted to keep giving and giving—like the Baron Fig notebook and the Polaroid photo printer, which Elliot would inherit before the night was over.

By the time they said their final Merry Christmases, made promises to come again soon, and stumbled out into the bone-cracking cold of the Wyoming night Tucker seemed as relaxed and mellow as if there really had been alcohol in that bottle of wine. It made Elliot happy to see it—in fact, it was the best Christmas gift he could imagine. Tucker spending a genuinely happy holiday with his mom.

On the drive back to town Tucker said, “I just wish they weren’t so obviously proud of themselves for accepting us.”

Elliot, concentrating on navigating the unfamiliar rocky road ahead, smiled faintly. “It was a journey for them. Nobody in their social and professional circles has made that journey yet.”

“That doesn’t make it better.”

“It ought to though. Because they chose to make the journey. They made it willingly.” He glanced from the road to Tucker. “They made it for you.” 


Tucker was silent. Then he said, seemingly at random, “I’ll give this to your father. He’s a genuinely joyful person.”

Elliot threw him a surprised look. Not a word he would have picked to describe his dad, but it was true. Roland lived every moment fully and without regret. He knew how to love--and he did it with all his heart.

And he knew how to throw a party. Fake wine indeed.

“Did you have a good time today?” Elliot asked. “That’s what really matters.”

“I did,” Tucker said. He put his head back against the seat rest and said contentedly, “And I’ll have a better time when I get you back to our hotel room.”




Saturday, December 22, 2018

Christmas Coda 51







I had just passed Starhurst High School and was turning onto Lone Cottage Lane when the driver of the police cruiser, which had been dawdling behind me for the past three blocks, suddenly turned on the cherry top. Blue and red lights sliced through the chilly December night. The siren whooped once, peremptorily.

“Godda—” Catching sight of the beatific smile of a giant Baby Jesus cradled in the glowing, gas-inflated rubber nativity set sitting on the snow-covered lawn of the corner house, I swallowed the rest of it. “Seriously? You’ve got nothing better to do tonight?”

I pulled to the curb, fished out my license, and was lowering the window as the uniformed officer approached my vehicle. His boots crunched officially on the icy road. He shone his flashlight in my face.

“Do you know how fast you were going, sir?”

Great. Officer Rick Grant was the latest addition to the Hayvenhurst police force and, in my humble opinion, Issac’s biggest mistake as Police Chief so far.

“I’m working, Officer Grant. I’m tailing—” I was tailing Nash Greenwald—who was now turning left on Hermitage Court. I watched Greenwald’s red taillights disappear around the corner.

Not that it really mattered. Greenwald was headed home to my client, Mrs. Greenwald. That was one report I would not be delivering until after the holidays.

“Fifty in a school zone,” Grant informed me.

“But it’s eight o’clock at night! Plus, school is out for Christmas vacation.”

Grant said, “Winter Break is the correct term. Not every citizen celebrates Christmas.”


“Uh, okay, the point is I was only going a lousy five miles over the when-children-are-not-present speed limit.”

Grant said stolidly, “License and registration, please.”

I stared up at him. “License and registration? You know who I am. I live with your boss. You were at our house last Sunday for pot roast.”

Officer Grant was unmoved. I handed over my license and registration.

A second pair of police boots crunched through the icy gravel to join Grant. Issac said in his deep and easy voice, “It’s Christmas Eve, Officer Grant. I think we can let Mr. Madison off with a warning tonight.”

“If you say so, Chief,” Grant replied in the tone of one who knows we will all live to regret this lapse of sanity.

“I’ll have a private word with Mr. Madison,” Issac said.

“Thank you, sir.”

There was barely a quiver of a laugh in Issac’s voice as he said, “I mean now, if you don't mind.”

“Oh. Yes, sir.” Grant flapped shut his ticket book and marched back to the police cruiser.

“Riding shotgun tonight?” I asked.

Issac’s grin was wide and white in the moonlight. “Observing my new recruit in action.”

“Your new recruit’s bucking for your job,” I told him as Issac bent down to fill my car window.

He kissed me. “In forty years he can have it. When are you getting home tonight?”

The kiss, quick as it was, made up for everything, from Officer Grinch to Mr. Greenwald who was starting the New Year by breaking his wife’s heart.

“I have to make one stop and then I’m on my way.”

I still had to pick up Little Whiskers, the Russian Blue kitten I was giving Issac for Christmas. Well, probably for Christmas Eve, because I couldn’t think of a way to hide this present that wouldn’t traumatize it for life.

“I’ll pick up the milk,” Issac said. “Don’t worry about that. You must be beat. It wasn't even four when you left this morning.”

“Oh. Right. Okay.”

I'd forgotten I was supposed to pick up milk. Over these wintery past months we’d developed a comfortable little habit of catching up with each other every evening over a cup of brandy-spiked cocoa. I don’t know what Philip Marlowe would have said about that, but I was going to miss the hot cocoa once the weather started to warm.

Luckily, there were delicious warm weather beverages too.


Issac delivered another kiss and backed out of the car window. He patted the side of my car. “Drive safely, Merle.”

“You too, Chief.” I glanced in my side mirror and he was looking back at me with a smile brighter than the Christmas star.

Friday, December 21, 2018

Holiday Coda 50


Christmas Coda 50

MAINLY BY MOONLIGHT: Cosmo and John

YOU IDIOTS!
This is something a little bit different. It’s not a coda because the book (first in the new Bedknobs and Broomsticks series) is not actually written yet. It’s just a little foreshadowing—but then that’s appropriate given the characters and their world. 😉

***

“I don’t understand why their hats are crooked,” Andy complained.

She was lying on Cosmo’s gray velvet curved sectional watching TV. Basic Witch, to be precise. An empty martini glass sat next to the tapered metal leg of the sofa.

“No idea.” Cosmo gently twirled his glass stem and studied the slow midnight blue swirl of his drink.
 
“No self-respecting witch would wear a hat that looked like that. What’s it supposed to signify? She can’t fly or she can’t dress?”

Cosmo shook his head. Less blue curacao next time. More pomegranate juice. Or perhaps just scrap the whole recipe and start over using black vodka as his base?

“Maybe they’re being ironic?” Andy said doubtfully. “Is that possible?”

 “It’s probably a Harry Potter thing,” Cosmo said.

Andy groaned. Loudly. They were both plastered by then, as was their habit on the Yule Sabbat--also known as Winter Solstice. Their habit as of late. In their twenties they'd been as devout as any novices trained in the Abracadantès tradition. “Not that. I can take anything but that—”

She broke off, raising her head to meet Cosmo's gaze, as the graceful bronze and black Boulle clock on the mirror mantel of the Hollywood Regency fireplace began to chime the hour with its silvery double bell.

The were both silent as the German clock ding-dinged twelve times.

“Shall we?” invited Andy when the clock fell silent. She nodded at the Victorian hand mirror lying face down on the coffee table and the tall white tapered candle beside it.

Cosmo grimaced. “You can if you like. I’m out of practice.”

“You’re not out of practice, Cos. Don’t tell me you’re not using magic at all.”

“I’m not.”

“If you can’t find something, if you’re running late, if you don’t want to talk to your mother—”

“All right,” Cosmo said a little irritably. “Yes, I still practice occasionally. I’m trying not to. You know that.”

“You don’t choose to practice with the coven anymore, but you’re still practicing.”

“Are you listening to me?”

They had grown up together and were as close as siblings—closer, in fact, than many with blood ties. Bickering was as natural to them as fighting each other’s battles.

“I’m listening.”

“Anyway, it doesn’t work.”

Andy laughed.

“Well?” Cosmo challenged. “We’ve been trying since college. Has it ever worked?”

“No. Well, there was the time that demon—”

“You’re not going to marry a demon.”

Andy giggled. She was not a giggling kind of girl--except when she drank. “Who said anything about marriage? It’s about finding your true love. You should know that."

"Ouch." Cosmo's mother had declined to marry Cosmo's father, lest her children be pushed farther down the line of inheritance.  No doubt there had been other reasons.

"You're just an old-fashioned boy at heart," Andy teased. While she was talking, she went around the room turning off the lights, turning off the television, closing the long velvet drapes against the festively lit San Francisco night. When the room was shrouded in near total darkness she returned to the table and knelt beside the sofa.

She said softly, “Flame jump high, flame jump low, show me what I need to know.”

Simple magic. Formal magic was, well, formal. Latin and lengthy. The wick of the tall white taper obediently popped into yellow-red flame, illuminating Andy’s smile and Cosmo’s shining eyes.

"Well?" she said.

Cosmo sighed and left the sofa to kneel across the table. "If you actually want to meet someone you should stop hanging around here on Solstice Night."

Andy shrugged and handed him the mirror. “Feeling lucky?” 

Cosmo laughed. “You want me to go first?”

She nodded.

He snorted, but obeyed and took the mirror from her. it was a pretty thing, but very old. The beveled glass was silvered in places and peppered in others. It didn’t matter. Cosmo was not looking for his own reflection.

They had done this many times. There was probably not a witch alive who had not performed some variation of this ancient spell. Before mirrors, witches had practiced it in water. Cosmo shivered. He did not like water spells. He did not like water.

“What is it?” Andy whispered.

He shook his head and concentrated.

The clock on the mantel ticked steadily away in the silence.

Pyewacket, almost invisible on the back of the grey sofa, opened his green eyes, studied them for a moment, and closed his eyes again. 

Cosmo lowered his lashes. Well, what did he want from a true love? Not the things he had wanted when he was younger. Some of the same things, yes. Of course.

He would still prefer a man. A man of strength and character. Intelligence. Integrity. Imagination would be useful. A sense of humor was probably a necessity. Cosmo no longer had strong preference as to age—not too old, of course or too young—nor position nor looks nor education nor interests—surely those were all things that could be worked out.

Someone who smiled with his eyes.

Yes. He could almost…almost see him…   

“I nunc amit me te amare simul, me ex caritate quoque sicerit.”

Andy echoed, “I nunc amit me te amare simul, me ex caritate quoque sicerit.”

Cosmo stared steadily into the mirror and just over his shoulder he could see…something. Hopefully not Andy’s demon.

No. A man.

Cosmo peered more closely. It was like trying to see through a mist. But the figure was tall—very tall—broad shoulders and narrow hips. Was he wearing a uniform? Because Cosmo did not want a man in uniform. Uniforms spelled trouble.

“I nunc amit me te amare simul, me ex caritate quoque sicerit.” 

“I nunc amit me te amare simul, me ex caritate quoque sicerit,” whispered Andy.


He was older than Cosmo had expected. Older than he had imagined. Maybe forty? Maybe that was too old? Chestnut hair, brown-gold eyes… Handsome. Too handsome. Cosmo did not like overly handsome men. 

And he was not smiling. Not with his eyes. Not with his mouth. He did not look like he ever smiled.

Wrong number? Dropped call?  Still, it was the first time he'd ever seen anything in the looking glass. He couldn't help being curious. Cosmo repeated doubtfully, “I nunc amit me te amare simul, me ex caritate quoque sicerit.”

Wait. Fuck. And a witch! Gods and Godess. He had to be a witch!

Too late. “I nunc amit me te amare simul, me ex caritate quoque sicerit,” chanted Andy. “So be it ardane.”



Thursday, December 20, 2018

Advent Calendar Day 20

DAY 20???!!! FIVE DAYS UNTIL CHRISTMAS? How can this be?!

But so it is. Day 20 and only five more days to go. I hope you're having as lovely a holiday season as I am. Frankly, I can't remember the last time I had such relaxed and happy holidays (I keep imagining something really dreadful is bound to happen--isn't that an awful way to think?)

This morning's offering is from one of ever most popular contributors, Steve Leonard--and I KNOW you're going to love it because it's got everything I love. :-D


A Jake Riordan Christmas Coda


“No way! Shut up!” J.X. choked out through a fit of laughter. He was doubled over in his chair and it was only Christopher reaching out to grab his arm that kept him from falling on his face. He looked at Adrien in horror. “You’re Avery Oxford?!”

Adrien had an affronted look on his face. He rolled his eyes. “Yes,” he sighed.

“Okay, let me get this straight,” Christopher said. He finished his gin and tonic and set the glass down. “They, the Finches, basically followed you for three years and cribbed scenes from your life for their book?”

“Pretty much,” Adrien said, taking a sip of his Caramel Appletini.  


“That’s not creepy at all,” Christopher said. “Hashtag, stalker.”

“Right?!”

Adrien and I were spending Christmas at Pine Shadow Ranch this year and had invited Christopher and J.X. to spend a couple of days with us. They were leaving in the morning - tomorrow was Christmas Eve - because they had plans with J.X.’s family back in San Francisco. We’d had a surprisingly pleasant visit and I found I didn’t want it to end.

Christopher and J.X. had taken us to dinner in Basking at La Chouette, and we were now back at the ranch having a couple of drinks in the living room. J.X. had built a fire and the tree Adrien and I had cut down and decorated the day we’d arrive twinkled merrily in the corner.

“No offense to your friends,” J.X. said, “but Murder, He Mimed was awful.”

“Awful doesn’t even begin to describe it,” Adrien said. “That book is a crime against literature.”

“Yes,” Christopher agreed, and he had the same offended look on his face as Adrien. “It’s… oh, what’s the word I’m looking for? A cry for help?”

“Dreck,” Adrien supplied flatly, taking another drink. “That book is dreck.”

“Dreck,” I repeated, amused. Adrien glanced at me and I smiled. “I love it when you get all riled up, baby. You start busting out your five-dollar words.”

“Busting out my five d- What? Are you drunk?”

“Nice try, baby.” I winked at him over the rim of my glass. “Not even close.”

Christopher looked at me closely, and then Adrien. He leaned back in his chair and folded his arms. “There’s a story here, isn’t there?”

“Oh yeah, there’s a story,” I acknowledged fondly, my eyes locked on Adrien’s as I remembered last Christmas Eve with the silk scarves and that peacock feather. I wonder if he brought them along this year...

Adrien looked away first and cleared his throat. “But not one for public consumption.” His cheeks were pink with heat and... something else.

“I haven’t read the book,” I said, steering the conversation back to the original subject. Adrien shot me a scowl and I couldn’t help but smirk.

“What?” J.X. asked. Now both he and Christopher were looking back and forth between the two of us. “What aren’t you telling us?”

I winked at Adrien and he blushed. “Oh, fine. Go ahead,” he said.

I took a sip of my Laphroaig and turned to our guests. “As a matter of fact--”

“Oh stop,” Adrien interrupted. “If you’re going to tell the story then tell it right. Not all Joe-Friday-Just-The-Facts-Ma’am.”

“Well, excuse me, Mr. Capote,” I said with mock indignation. I stood and bowed to him in a grand, sweeping gesture. “By all means, please continue.”

He sputtered and his Caramel Appletini sprayed across the table. “Ass!”

I coughed to cover my chuckle and reached out to gather up the empty glasses. “Let me refill everybody’s drinks while Scheherazade here regales you with the story.”

I was in the kitchen mixing another Caramel Appletini for Adrien as he started in on the story. God, what is with him and his sweet drinks? First Black Orchids and now this?

By now I knew the recipe for Caramel Appletinis by heart:

1 ounce vanilla-flavored vodka
1 ounce sour apple schnapps
1 ounce butterscotch schnapps
1 decorative squirt liquid caramel
(optional: 1 maraschino cherry UGH)

Christ, he’d even made me lug all the ingredients to Pine Shadow and now had J.X. drinking them as well. But hell if I was going to measure everything out ounce by ounce. I’d been doing a good enough job eyeballing it so far. Heck, I hadn’t heard one complaint all week.

I smiled as I listened to Adrien tell the story and my mind wandered back to that morning in April…



What is this?” Adrien demanded as he pounded into the kitchen, his phone in his shaking, outstretched hand.

I looked up from where I was reading the LA Times and set down my coffee. “What’s what?”

This,” he said frostily, waving his phone in my face.

I glanced at it. “I didn’t know you were on Instagram.”

“I’m not,” he said, “although maybe I should be. Emma texted this to me.”

I took the phone from him. “Hot Dudes Reading? Isn’t Emma a little young to be following an account like this?”

“Not the point,” he said crisply. “Look closer.” 

“Easy now.” I looked at the screen again. “You know, you should get a bigger phone. This screen is so small I can ba--”

Jake.”

“Okay, okay.” I leaned in. “Oh hey, that’s me.” The photo was dated yesterday and showed me sitting on a bench outside of Cloak and Dagger reading a book. When he didn’t say anything I looked up at him. He was still glaring, his mouth agape. I held the phone out to him. “I know this might surprise you, but I do read you know.”

He made an exasperated noise and grabbed the phone. I stood, my hands out in a placating gesture. “What are you so upset about? The fact that I’m reading or that somebody thinks I’m hot?”

“Look at what you’re reading,” he said icily, biting off each word. His nostrils were flared and he practically thrust the phone in my face.

"Oh,
that," I said sheepishly. I looked down at the paper.

"’Oh, that’?” he mocked. “You're reading Murder, He Mimed?!"

“I wanted to know what all the fuss was about,” I said with a shrug.

“The fuss? What fuss?”

“They’re making a movie out of it.”

He lost all color. “They’re what?!”

“Making a movie… It was in the paper yesterday. They’ve got David Warner writing the screenplay."

"David Warner?" Adrien sputtered, his voice shooting up an octave. "That hack?!"

"Yeah, and Matt Bomer’s going to play the Avery Oxford character.”

"M...M...Matt Bomer?!" He was apoplectic.

“Yes,” I said patiently. “How do you not know this? Like I said, it was in the paper. Hell, I thought Jean and Ted would’ve mentioned it to you by now.”

“Where’s the paper?” he ground out. Ouch, he was going to pulverize his teeth if he wasn’t careful.

“It’s on the counter by the door,” I said cautiously.

He stalked across the room and snatched up the paper, tossing pages aside until he found the entertainment section and hastily flipped through it. His brows furrowed and he pursed his lips.

“I don’t see it,” he said, clearly irritated.

"April Fools, baby," I said, waggling my eyebrows as I pointed to the calendar on the wall. “Gotcha!”

He went white, then red, then white again. "You...Emma...Gah!!!"



J.X. was howling with laughter when I delivered the drinks. “Thanks,” he gasped as he accepted his and took a big swallow. “Oh my God, Jake, that was epic.”

He was half-smashed after all those Caramel Appletinis, and I had a feeling if he kept up his current pace Christopher or I was going to be carrying him to bed.

“I’m glad one of us thinks so,” Adrien sniffed, trying not to smile, but deep – deep – down I could tell he was amused.

“I need to meet this Emma,” Christopher said, arching his brow. “You know, friends close, enemies closer, and all that.”

“Emma’s great,” Adrien said and I could see the affection in his eyes.

J.X. put his drink down and slumped in his chair. He leaned his head against the back of his chair and looked at Christopher. “I think I’m drunk, honey.”

“I’m glad I was seated for that shocking revelation,” Christopher deadpanned.

“What? What do you mean?”

“I mean, I’m not surprised, what with the way you’ve been sucking down those Caramel Appletinis tonight.” He gestured to J.X.’s nearly empty glass.
 
“But they’re so good,” he protested draining his glass. “They go down like candy!”

“Been there, done that,” I concurred, remembering last Christmas and how Adrien’s Black Orchids had gotten the better of me.

Christopher rose and held out his hand to J.X. He flashed him a leering look. “We should really call it a night.”

“Oh?” J.X. said, as Christopher helped him to his feet. His cheeks were flushed and you could hear the smile in his voice. “I guess that means somebody’s getting lu-”

“Say good night, Gracie,” Christopher interrupted, slapping a hand playfully over J.X.’s mouth.

He giggled and pulled Christopher’s hand away. “Sorry, Kit,” he said sheepishly. He leaned in and gave him a quick peck on the cheek as they left the living room.

I looked at Adrien. “You too, Betty Ford.”

Adrien’s eyes widened. “What?” he spluttered. “I’m fine.” He finished his drink and set his glass down, nearly missing the coffee table. “Okay, well, maybe I’m a little tipsy.”

“Uh-huh.”


“That was so good last night, Kit,” I overheard J.X. saying to Christopher when I walked into the kitchen the next morning, tugging at the sleeves of my sweater to make sure the faint red marks on my wrists weren’t showing. “You were wonderful. Why don’t we do that more?”

“Really?” Christopher had an exasperated but amused look on his face. “How long have I been saying this?”

“Well, I-” J.X. stopped when he saw me and quickly rose from where he and Christopher were sitting at the kitchen table. He winced and massaged his right temple. “Jake, I want to apologize for last night. I don’t normally drink so--”

“Hey, nothing to apologize for,” I said easily as I clapped my hand on his arm. “We’re all friends here.”

“Still, though.”

I shook my head and gave his arm another squeeze. “No need to. Truly.”

I smiled and poured myself a cup of coffee, visions of peacock feathers and silk scarves dancing in my head. Adrien was full of surprises lately and as I sat down at the table the tenderness in my backside reminded me just how pleasurable some of them were. We’d talked about making our own holiday traditions and it seems like we were well on our way.

“Is that coffee I smell?” Adrien moaned as he appeared in the kitchen door. Even though he’d showered and shaved, he looked disheveled. I handed him my cup and went to pour myself another.

“Well, don’t you look bright-eyed and bushy-tailed this morning,” I said, flashing him a wink.

“Ugh.” He dropped heavily into the chair I’d been sitting in.

~*~*~*~

“Gage would love this place,” I heard Christopher say to J.X. as we walked them out to their car after breakfast.

“Who’s Gage?” I asked.

“My nephew,” J.X. said.

“More like the spawn of hell,” Christopher muttered and J.X. punched his shoulder playfully.

“Ouch! Kidding,” Christopher said, wincing. “He’s an acquired taste.”

“If you ever want to come visit, let me know and I’ll send you the keys,” Adrien offered.

“Really? That would be wonderful,” J.X. enthused.

We said our goodbyes and they were off. I looked over at Adrien as Christopher and J.X. drove out of view. He was looking at the distant mountains, smiling. He looked so happy, so content. I’d never seen anything so beautiful in my life.

I recalled the Christmases we’d shared and the ones we’d missed. Over the last year I’d finally been able to admit to myself that I was a big part of that smile - why he was so happy and healthy and content. My vision blurred and I realized my eyes were wet.

He turned to me as I was wiping at my eyes and his smile softened. “Jake,” he sighed as he stepped into me and I wrapped my arms around him. “Let’s go home.”

“I thought you wanted to get away from everything this year.”

“And we did. But this was enough. Besides, I miss having everybody around for Christmas.”

“What? You?”

“Hey, I like your family,” he said, tilting his head up for a kiss. “Heck, I even like mine a little.”