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Chapter one of the new Christmas novella!

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Jake

“They’re here,” Pop mutters from across the kitchen table at me. He stares out the kitchen window toward the cabins, where I see a huge cloud of dust settling around two great big tour busses. Following the busses are two passenger vans with rental agency stickers on the back.

I turn to look out the window. “Already?” The Reeds weren’t supposed to be here for another half hour or so.

“Their plane landed a few minutes early.” He stares out the window. “When you fly private, you get out of the airport a whole lot quicker than a normal flyer does,” Pop reminds me.

“They flew private?” I ask. “How do you know all this?”

I stare at Pop as I reach over and wipe the applesauce off Poppy Jane’s chin. She’s our youngest, and she’s the only one who can’t feed herself yet. She grins at me as she smacks her hand down in a blob of strained carrots. A dollop of it hits Pop right in the eye. He squints, stares at me for a minute, and reaches into his pocket for a handkerchief to wipe his face.

“Paul called to tell me they’d arrived.”

“Wait,” Katie says. “Paul Reed – The Paul Reed – has your cell phone number and he used it to call you?” Her eyes are big and round, and she looks like she’s going to pass out.

“He’s called me a few times,” Pop says. “How do you think we set all this up?” He tosses his handkerchief at my face, and I bat it down as he stands up. “Setting up all their shit was a lot of work.”

“Where are you going?” I ask.

“To welcome them, dipshit,” he replies. “Where do you think?”

“Well, hold your horses for a minute and I’ll go with you.” I hand the spoon I’d been using to feed Poppy Jane to Katie, who sputters out a mild complaint. She pushes the spoon away.

“No way,” she says. “I’m going with Pop.” She leans toward me and whispers vehemently. “You are aware that the Reed Brothers, all their wives, all their children, and all their friends are in our driveway, right?  You understand that the Reed Brothers are staying in our cabins for Christmas, in the middle of December when we’re usually closed.” Her eyes are open so wide she’s scaring me. “It’s the Reed Brothers, Jake,” she whispers fiercely.

I narrow my eyes at her. Katie has spent more time in the bathroom drying her hair and putting on makeup today than she has in the past year, and now I realize why. She’s completely and totally starstruck.

The Reed Brothers are the stars of a reality TV show based in New York City, and they became famous initially because of their tattoo shop, but they really gained fame because of all the good deeds they do. They are famous in their community, mainly because they care for the homeless, feed the hungry, and kindness oozes from their pores. They’re also ridiculously handsome – Katie’s words, not mine – and they get a lot of attention, being five blond men who are heavily tattooed, very fit, and startlingly kind.

“It’s not like you haven’t met them before.  All five of them were in the shop the night I got my tattoo,” I remind her. “Hell, you went into labor in their tattoo parlor.”

Katie gets a dreamy look in her eye. “Best night of my life,” she says, her tone lilting and light.

Pop snorts out a laugh. “I think she has a crush.”

“Oh, I totally do,” Katie admits, not even trying to hide it. “I have a crush on every last one of them.” She grabs my forearm and gives it a squeeze. “I even started following Edward’s car shop on social media. Did you know that he gives cars to people who need them? And he hires people no one else will hire, just so he can give them a chance? And the Zeroes… oh, my God, they’re famous. They’re like goddesses of rock and roll.”

And they are all here. I look out the window again and see them as they start to get off the two huge busses that brought them here from the airport.

“Well, one of us needs to go and greet them,” I say. “So, if you’re done drooling, you might want to wipe the spit off your chin so we can go and do it.”

“Fine,” Katie snaps as she sits back down. “You two go. I’ll see them later, I’m sure.” She huffs out a breath.

“Gabby, do you want to go?” I ask.  She’s our oldest, Katie’s oldest daughter from her first marriage. She’s typically not here, since she’s attending college in New York City, but she’s home for the holidays. “You know Seth from school, right?” I ask.

She frowns. “I’ve seen him around. I treated him when he had an injury, once.” She shrugs.  “I wasn’t all that impressed, to be honest.” She takes the spoon from Katie and nudges her mom, so she’ll get out of her chair. Then she takes her place feeding the baby. Our other two little ones are in highchairs and booster seats, and Alex and Trixie are waiting to go with me. “Take Mom with you, before she combusts and melts into a pile of longing right there where she stands.”

Katie sticks her tongue out at Gabby, and Gabby laughs.

“If you’re done pissing around,” Pop prompts. “Can we go now?” He doesn’t wait, though. He grabs his clipboard and a ring full of keys, walks out the door, hops on his little red golf cart, and takes off toward the cabins, leaving me and Katie to follow him on foot.

“You look like you’re walking toward your execution,” I tease as I take Katie’s hand.

“They’re the Reed Brothers,” she hisses at me.

“I’ve known those guys since they were kids,” I say with a shrug. I knew them long before they became famous. I knew them when they were getting food from the local food pantry, just so they could eat. I knew them when Emily used to busk in the subway for spare change. I knew them when Pete was in prison. I knew them long before their reality TV show took off and they became famous. “They’re just men who want a quiet week with their families.”

“Tell me again who’s who,” Katie prompts. “I never can remember all the names of their friends.”

I start to tick them off on my fingers. “Paul is the oldest. He’s married to Friday, the pin-up-model-looking one. Then there’s Matt, who married Sky. Matt was the one who had cancer. He’s the only one with long hair. Then Logan, who is married to Emily. Logan is the real artist in the family. Then there’s Pete and Reagan. Pete went to prison for a couple of years. And then there’s Sam and Peck. Sam’s a chef and he used to play football for the New York Skyscrapers.”

“And Peck is the drummer from Fallen from Zero,” she adds. “And the Zeroes are Peck, Star, Lark, Wren, and Finny.” She squeezes my hand. “They have a new single out, and it’s amazing. It’s totally sex-worthy.”

“Sex-worthy?” I ask.

“Yeah, like music you would play when you have sex, to set the mood.” She looks at me like I’ve lost my mind. “What?” she asks.

“Do we need music to set the mood?” I ask. I jerk her toward me and kiss her quickly.

“I’ll let you listen to the song and decide for yourself.” She walks quietly for a moment. “There are more, right?”

“The Zeroes’ husbands — Josh, Tag, Mick, and Ryan — and their children. And Edward and Avery. And Gonzo and Susan. Oh, and Henry. I first met Henry when I was in my twenties. He’s a hell of a man.  Kind of reminds me of Pop, but he’s nice.”

“And then there are all the kids…” Katie’s voice trails off.  “Holy shit, look at all the kids,” she says, as she sees kids milling about as they all file off the bus and start to unload.

“The Reeds breed like rabbits,” I admit.

“Well, when you look like that,” she starts, getting that dreamy look in her eye again.

“Katie!” I call out, and she jerks back to attention.

“What?”

I let out a laugh. “You are being ridiculous about all this. We’ve had large groups here before.”

“Not in the middle of winter, Jake. And not famous groups.”

“Right now, they don’t want to be famous groups. They just want to take a family vacation.”

Normally, our complex is closed during the winter. We have the occasional family show up, mainly people who own cabins here, but for the most part, the complex is empty through the winter.  But when Paul Reed called Pop to ask about renting the place out, Pop agreed. We had to make a few adjustments to make some of the cabins handicap friendly, but it was really something we should have done years ago. We added wheelchair ramps, changed out showers, and made sure doors were wide enough for wheelchairs to go through. Then we added a walkway to the water and other necessities for the wheelchair users.

“Oh, there they are,” Katie breathes.

“You need mouth to mouth?” I ask.

“I might,” she says, her voice all breathy and wild. “Look at them. They’re so pretty,” she whispers. She lifts her knuckles to her mouth and pretends to chew on them.

I look over and find Pop standing in a circle with some of the Reed Brothers. He’s chatting and shaking hands.

“Jake, get your ass over here!” Pop calls.

I tug Katie to bring her with me. “No!” she hisses. “I’m going to watch from here.”

I let out a laugh. “Chicken,” I taunt.

“I’ll just stand here and watch,” she says.

“Breathe, Katie, because I won’t be here to catch you if you pass out.”

“I’ll try.” She lifts her hand to her mouth and starts to chew on her fingernails.

“If you pass out, I’ll never let you live it down.”

She grins at me. “I hope whoever is closest to me gives me mouth to mouth, and I kind of hope it’s not you.” She smiles so big I can see every tooth in her head. “I love you, though,” she adds at the last minute.

Oh, this is going to be a fun week.

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