Home > Unwrap Me (Stark Trilogy #3.9)(8)

Unwrap Me (Stark Trilogy #3.9)(8)
Author: J. Kenner

“Frosty’s the bestest,” she announces. “ ‘No money, no ticket!’ ”

From across the room, Syl meets my eyes. Her lips are pressed together and I can tell she’s trying not to laugh. Jamie, who’s sprawled on the floor with her head in Ryan’s lap, isn’t even trying. She has a hand over her mouth to hold in the sound, but her entire body is shaking as she holds back a fit of giggles.

I’m amused, too, and wondering what Damien’s going to say next, especially since Jackson is taking no pity on his brother. But Ronnie must innately realize that she’s not going to get anywhere with Damien, because she crawls out of his lap, then cuddles up next to me, her eyes huge and pleading as she looks at me. “Please, Aunt Nikki! Pretty please?”

“Hold on a second there, rug rat.” Jackson takes his hand off Syl’s belly and stands, thankfully coming to my rescue even though he’d left Damien to the mercy of a miniature negotiator-in-training. “I’m your daddy. Don’t I have a say? Doesn’t Mommy?”

For a moment, the little girl looks stumped. She sucks on her lower lip and moves her head from Jackson to me and then back to Jackson again.

Finally, she comes to a decision, her eyes fixed firmly on me. “But it’s your house, right? Yours and Uncle Damien’s? So you get to say. Please?”

Ollie’s been sitting quietly in the leather armchair, but now he stands up and slides his hands into the pockets of his jeans. His expression is courtroom serious. “I think you should let her watch it if she wants.”

I gape at him. “Ol—”

“I just mean that if she doesn’t mind that Santa Claus will have to pass us over.”

“Huh?” Ronnie scrambles off my lap and goes to stand in front of him. “Santa?”

“He’s got a schedule to keep, kid.” Ollie checks his watch. “Right about now he’s over California. And once he heads out over the ocean, there’s no time to come back. I mean, he’s got to visit a lot of houses in just one night. But if you don’t mind, then I guess maybe we could pop in Frosty…”

He trails off as Ronnie shakes her head, and although Ollie and I have had our ups and downs over the last couple of years, in that moment I think that my oldest friend is a little bit of a genius.

“So bedtime?” Sylvia asks Ronnie.

The little girl nods, then looks at Damien. “Can you tuck me in?”

“Absolutely.” He stands up, then swoops her onto his shoulders before taking her to Jackson and Syl. “Say night-night.”

“ ’Night, Daddy. ’Night, Mommy.”

She’s sleepy now, and turns her cheek for her parents’ kisses before Damien trots her off to bed.

“He’s good with kids,” Syl says, but she says it with a question mark. Jamie hears the question, too, and she sits up, then hugs her knees to her chest.

“Well, Nicholas?” Jamie prompts, and there’s both a tease and genuine curiosity in her voice.

“You guys, I’ve barely got my business off the ground. Isn’t that growing pains enough?” I ask the question lightly, but the truth is I mean it.

Yes, I do want kids eventually. Honestly, with Damien, I want everything. But how do we know when the time is right? How do I know that our demons—because god knows we both still fight them—have been truly exorcised? When does it make sense to back away from the business I’ve worked so damn hard to get off the ground?

The thought brings me full circle to the deed I unwrapped hours ago, and I force myself to smile in the face of their teasing.

Because that’s all it is, of course. Sure, there’s a genuine question beneath the gentle ribbing, but I’m happy that none of them press the point. Instead, Jamie scurries to the pile of DVDs that we’ve spread out like a smorgasbord over the floor. “Another?” she asks, as Ryan pulls her back down.

“Don’t encourage her,” he says. “The slightest hint of enthusiasm and she’ll have us up all night watching movies.”

“What’s wrong with that?” she asks.

“Santa,” Jackson deadpans, casting a quick glance toward Ollie. “We can’t interrupt the jolly old elf’s distribution plans.”

“He has a point,” I tell Jamie.

“Yeah, well, Santa still has to put some presents under the tree,” Syl puts in. “And he can’t do that until we’re sure that someone is asleep. So I’m up for one more movie. As long as there’s another hot cocoa in it for me.”

“I’m all for cocoa,” Jamie says. She cocks her head as she looks at me. “There’s still peppermint schnapps left, right?”

“James, you brought the biggest bottle in the history of mankind,” I point out. “I think we still have one or two drops left.”

“All right then. So I vote for It’s a Wonderful Life.”

The nomination passes without opposition, and the angels on screen are just starting to talk in the heavens when Damien returns. He settles in next to me, and I lean against him, comfortable and warm with his arm around me and my head on his shoulder. About the time that Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed start dancing over the indoor pool, Jamie starts to snore softly, and Ryan picks her up and carries her off to bed. Sylvia crashes, too, sliding down on the couch until her head is in Jackson’s lap.

Not me. My eyes are heavy, but I love this movie too much, and when the end credits finally roll, I have to wipe away the tears that are streaming down my face.

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