“UNCLE ZAK!” Four year old Joey’s squeal was enough to bust windows.
Zak pushed his phone into his pocket and kicked snow off his boots as he went back into his sister’s house. For some reason, he didn’t care for the way Lyndie had said Merry Christmas to him. It had sounded… hopeless.
“UNCLE ZAK!” Joey came running from the kitchen and plowed right into Zak’s kneecaps.
“Easy there, kid.” He picked the boy up and carried him like a sack of potatoes under his arm into the kitchen while Joey flailed his limbs and giggled.
In the kitchen, his sister secured plastic wrap over the remains of their spectacular Christmas dinner—a gargantuan ham with all the trimmings a man could imagine.
“Theresa, you really ought to tie this monster up or something. He’s wild.”
“I’m not wild, Uncle Zak,” Joey said as he beat his tiny fists against Zak’s back.
“Not wild? Not wild? You’re practically foaming at the mouth, buddy.” He set Joey down and made a big show of grabbing a dish towel and pretending to wipe the boy’s face. “Complete animal.”
“I seem to remember a certain younger brother of mine who acted very much the same when he was four.” Theresa nudged Zak away from the refrigerator so she could put the leftovers away.
“I’m certain I was never so uncivilized.” He stuck his tongue out at Joey who raced toward his kneecaps again, this time clamping onto his left leg like he meant to stay awhile.
“You were totally barbaric. Trust me.” Theresa laughed as Zak shook his leg to dislodge Joey. “I’m afraid it’s going to take more than that to free yourself. For a little guy, he’s got a grip like a vise.”
“I can see that, however, I have a secret weapon.”
Joey looked up at Zak with huge brown eyes, and when Zak wiggled his fingers and lowered his hands to Joey’s sides, the boy positively shrieked.
“No tickling, Uncle Zak! NO TICKLING!”
“What’s that? Lots of tickling? Please tickle me, Uncle Zak? Well, okay.” He drilled his fingers into Joey’s ribs and immediately his nephew released his grip to squirm on the tiled floor like a spastic earthworm. Laughter roared out of Joey as tears leaked from his eyes.
“No…no…no…Uncle Zak! Stop! MAMA!”
“No! No more! Mama, HELP!” Joey gasped for air around his laughter.
“You’re going to kill my child.” Theresa scooped Joey off the ground and shielded him from a still approaching Zak. “Mama will save you, baby.”
Joey cuddled into his mother’s chest, his head nuzzling her neck, but he gave Zak a truly stunning smile, one that made Zak think about having his own kids someday.
Someday… when I can find a woman who doesn’t mind my job.
He ran into this problem over and over again. As a detective, he did tons of undercover work. He spent more time pretending to be someone else than he did being Zak Preston, a guy who liked mountain biking and running with his Doberman, Spock. He seriously dated a handful of perfectly suitable women, maybe even thought some of them could be The One, but it always ended the same.
“You’re never around, Zak.”
“You missed my birthday, Zak.”
“You didn’t come home for three nights, Zak.”
“Are you cheating on me, Zak?”
And finally, “We’re through, Zak.”
He didn’t blame them. He knew when they’d had enough of his lifestyle. They didn’t understand why he liked his job.
But Lyndie did.
She totally got it. In most instances, they were undercover together, and though the cases were serious business, they always managed to have fun. As much fun as hanging out with dangerous criminals could be anyway.
He remembered this one time when Lyndie went undercover as an exotic dancer to get intel on a mob boss. She accomplished the mission—she always accomplished the mission—but he had no idea that she’d look so… so phenomenal in a black leather corset and spike heels. Thinking of that now made him feel a tad overheated.
“Hey.” Theresa poked him in the bicep. “What’s up?”
“Huh?” He blinked at her, drawing himself out of his own mind. “Nothing’s up.”
“I asked if you wanted to move onto the dessert round.” She still had Joey in her arms. Sounds of the rest of the family coming in from the backyard where they’d been building snowmen filtered into the kitchen.
“Dessert round? Have you ever known me to say no to the dessert round?”
“Not once.” A smile replaced the look of concern on Theresa’s face. “Here, hold this little monster.” She transferred Joey to Zak’s arms, much to the boy’s screeching delight.
“Do you need any help?” He hoisted Joey over his shoulder.
“Nope. Just go out to the living room and make sure a soaking wet Spock isn’t sprawled out on the new leather couch Santa gave me. I had to be good for the past ten years to score that one.”
“Aye-aye, Captain.” Zak gave her a mock salute and grinned when Joey did the same.
Theresa planted a sloppy kiss on her son’s cheek before Zak walked into the living room.
He set Joey down just as Spock trotted over. Though the dog looked intimidating with his sleek black fur and metal spiked collar, he was a huge marshmallow when it came to kids. He sniffed Joey’s hands and face then dropped down to bare his belly to the boy.
Joey threw himself onto Spock, and boy and pooch rolled all over each other as if they were litter mates.
“Uncle Zak, come see our snow family!” His niece, Shelley, pulled him over to the sliding glass doors. “See, there’s Grampie and Mama.” She pointed to a tall, broad-shouldered snowman wearing an old John Deere baseball cap and a shorter one wrapped in one of Theresa’s flowered aprons. “Mama’s making snow cupcakes!”
Theresa owned a bakery and Zak knew first hand if anyone could make snow cupcakes taste like the best dessert on the planet, his sister could.
“And next to Mama,” Shelley indicated a snowman in a football jersey, “that’s Daddy.”
“I see.” Zak kneeled beside his niece to see everything from her perspective. “And who’s that by the swing set? They look like Smurfs.”
Shelley giggled and pushed Zak until he fell back on his ass. “That’s me and Joey, silly. We’re wearing our winter hats.”
“Oh, okay.” He returned to his knees and looked at the picnic table across the yard where a snowman sat on the bench with a blob of snow he assumed was Spock. “Is that me?”
Shelley skittered off when Theresa came in toting a tray full of holiday cookies. As the rest of his family followed the tray, mouths watering, Zak stood and took a moment longer to regard the snowman version of himself. A crooked stick arm reached from the snowman to the snowdog, and though he knew Shelley and the rest of the family loved him, he wondered why they’d put him way over on the picnic table with Spock instead of pushing the kids on the swings or having a snowball fight with them or standing with the rest of the adults. Why was he so separate? Did they think he was more connected to Spock than to them? Did they think he was lonely? Was he reading way too much into a simple snowman display?
Still, he would have felt better if there were a hot, curvy snowlady sitting beside him at the picnic table.
If Lyndie had come…
Damn. Why had he thought of Lyndie? They were partners. They solved cases together. Nothing more.
That’s not true.
No. They were more than partners. They were friends. They looked out for each other both on and off the job. Hadn’t that been why he’d called her today? To make sure she was okay in Pennsylvania after what that jackass Trent had done.
That’s not why.
Oh, hell. He hated that voice in his head that was insisting on honesty right now. That voice that was explaining things he’d never taken the time to really think about. That voice that sounded like Lyndie’s.
“Uncle Zak,” Joey called from the dining room. “I’m eating all the peanut butter cookies!”
Theresa’s peanut butter cookies were Zak’s absolute favorite. She put dark chocolate chips in them and with a tall glass of milk, they bordered on orgasmic.
Been a while since you experienced anything orgasmic.
That damn voice had to stop, and he just thought of the perfect plan to shut it up.
He marched into the dining room, plucked a peanut butter cookie out of Joey’s little hand, and popped it into his mouth.
“I need some of these,” he told Theresa. “To go.”
“To go?” His sister raised her eyebrows.
“Where are you going?” His father asked.
“It’s Christmas,” Shelley and Joey said together.Zak finished another cookie. “I have a present to deliver.”
Tune in tomorrow for Chapter Three, the conclusion!
In the meantime, hop on over to my website and download another holiday short story, Midnight Mistletoe, for FREE!
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