Santa is coming…SOON!

How did this happen? Well… Someone posted a thing on Twitter and I said I would as a joke but I was almost done with All Is Bright and the idea pretty much devoured my brain. It’s practically writing itself and I’m having too much fun. How about an oh-so-unedited peek since I’m wrapping up writing in the next few days? Here you go:

“And the very lonely snowman wasn’t lonely anymore,” Marcus whispered and shut the book. He leaned and his neck stretched as he peeked to make sure she was sleeping. A soft swear of relief escaped from him as he eased off the bed. He slipped off her elf ears and Sam’s eyelashes made Marcus’s heart squeeze. He glanced at the clock on her bedside table and smiled. 11:27. It took three hours and a stack of books but she was finally asleep. “Merry Christmas, princess,” he mouthed as he caressed her cheek then went to turn off the light. It was a touch early but he made the rules, right?

Marcus’s feet dragged down the hall and he yearned for his bed but he headed downstairs because he still had hours’ worth of work to do. He yawned as he flipped on the kitchen light and grabbed the milk from the fridge as he passed it. He poured a glass and picked the best two gingerbread men from the pan and arranged them on a plate. Marcus swiped Sam’s letter off the fridge and chuckled at it as he hurried through the living room and set everything out on the mantle. Marcus took a bite out of the gingerbread man’s leg to make it look like Santa had a nibble then dusted his hands off and went to get the gifts and the tree.

Sam was an angel and cut Marcus a lot of slack but he had to get his shit together. It was his second Christmas as a single father but this year was harder than the first. He was so determined to make last year perfect he overcompensated and got way ahead of the game. This year, depression hit him like a freight train and work fell to pieces so he doubled-up on editing jobs so he could work from home. He should’ve had plenty of time to wrap presents and decorate but Marcus was in the weeds because he turned the living room into a tent fort and gained ten pounds living on takeout and cupcakes.

“The carrots!” Marcus gasped and headed back to the kitchen. Sam thought the reindeer would appreciate them so he bought the kind with the long leafy bits. He pretended to be a reindeer and munched on one of the carrots as he waited for the coffee maker. “That’s enough of that,” he decided and tucked the bundle of deceptively nibbled carrots under his arm and was dunking a cookie in his coffee as he headed back to the living room. “Time to drag out the beast,” Marcus decided. They inherited the tree from Rick’s parents and dreaded pulling it out because he didn’t want to get bogged down in memories. He went to the basement and ignored the tattered old box with the frazzled plastic tree. Wisps of memories taunted him but Marcus ignored all the old jokes and duct tape repairs. He had hid Sam’s presents and stocking in the washer and dryer and there was another squeeze but this one hurt his heart. Sam asked Santa to bring Grandma and Gramps but the storm had flights canceled around the country. She also wanted a Switch but Marcus had to cut his rates because everyone was struggling.

The alarm on his watch told him it was midnight so Marcus sucked it up and grabbed the old rolls of wrapping paper on his way up the stairs. He managed to shut the basement door as he juggled the gifts and wrapping paper then tripped when his heel bumped into something heavy. Marcus grabbed the wall and frowned at the massive red bag. It appeared to be made of very thick velvet and tied tight with a thick gold rope and the bag didn’t budge when Marcus pushed it with his toe.

“What the fuck…?” He whispered under his breath and craned his neck as he made his way past the kitchen and the stairs. He glanced at the front door and it was closed and appeared to be locked so he peeked around the living room wall. “Oh…my God,” Marcus said and dropped the bags of gifts and rolls of wrapping paper. A very large man in a red velvet suit with fluffy fur trim was bent over the coffee table. “Ummmm….?” Marcus squeaked and the other man turned. “Holy shit,” Marcus said then clapped his hands over his mouth to hold in a scream.

“Oh! Hello, Marcus. I hope you don’t mind,” Santa said as he waved the hobbled gingerbread man at him then took a bite. “You’re getting really good at this,” he said encouragingly.

“I’m sorry. What?” Marcus rasped and stomped on his toe but Santa was still there.

“These are just about perfect,” Santa said then took another bite. There was absolutely no doubt that he was Santa. He was just a touch too large to be a mortal man—he was at least seven-feet-tall—and the heady scent of cookies and peppermint radiated from him. His beard was silver and his eyes sparkled with cheer. “Thank Samantha for these!” He said as he tucked the carrots into his coat pocket. “The reindeer always appreciate a snack.”

“The reindeer…” Marcus repeated breathlessly and the room began to spin around him.

“Easy!” Santa laughed as he caught him. “Let’s go over by the fire,” he said and put an arm around Marcus.

“Thanks,” he said weakly.

“Why don’t you have a seat,” Santa offered and pulled the armchair closer to the fire but Marcus shook his head.

“I don’t want to,” he said. Santa’s head pulled back before he laughed.

“You are a delight!” He declared and slapped his knee. “But we should get to work. You’re exhausted and Sam’s going to be up in six hours,” he warned. Marcus choked on a laugh and his brain finally kicked back on.

“A delight? Not on my best day,” he promised and shook his head. “What is going on?” he demanded. Santa’s clear blue eyes glistened as he reached for Marcus’s cheek.

“I promise you, my boy. You’re on the Nice List and it looks like you could use some help.” He gave Marcus’s nose an gentle flick. It tickled and the tingle danced down his spine. Marcus laughed softly because he knew it was going to be ok. It was a soft, warm thing that spread through him and the muscles in his shoulders that never, ever unkinked let go and he felt like he was melting.

“I’m on the Nice List?” He babbled and Santa nodded firmly.

“Of course, you are. You’ve always had a kind, open heart and look at all you’ve done to help me make Christmas magical for Samantha.”

“Really?” Marcus asked but Santa tapped a gloved finger against the side of his nose.

“If anyone would know, it would be me.”

“Right.” Marcus turned and it was still his living room and was sure he was awake. He was also completely sure he was talking to Santa… “I’m awake?” He asked. He could have fallen asleep while he was reading to Sam. It happened pretty regularly. Marcus decided to check again and gave the underside of his arm a pinch then gasped when it stung.

“You’re awake! And we’ve got work to do!” Santa scolded with a chuckle as he opened his coat and slid out of it. Marcus’s eyes widened as Santa tossed it at the armchair. Santa’s ripped? He thought in confusion. Santa was wearing an oatmeal-colored Henley and suspenders and while he was pleasantly thick around the midsection, his arms and shoulders made Marcus feel a little too warm. It didn’t help that the two buttons on Santa’s collar were open and offered Marcus an intriguing peek of snowy white chest hair. Jesus. Get your shit together. It’s Santa! 

“It might be time to start dating again,” he whispered to himself. 

“What was that?” Santa asked and Marcus shook his head quickly.

“Nothing! Just realized it’s been too long since I…” His head bobbled as he wondered if he was actually going to tell Santa that it had been more than four years since he’d touched another man like that. “Since I got out. I haven’t been this close to another adult human in months and it’s warping my brain,” he confessed.

“Ah.” Santa nodded knowingly. “You must be lonelier than usual,” he said gently as he gestured at Sam’s gifts and the rolls of wrapping paper. “Let me take care of those.” He tapped his nose and there was a poof of snow and glitter.

“What?” Marcus laughed as he waved in front of his face and the gifts were perfectly wrapped with big curly bows. “Wow!” He picked up the biggest box and shook his head in disbelief. “I don’t know if I’m more dazzled or relieved that I don’t have to stay up all night wrapping these myself,” he admitted.

“That’s why I’m here!” Santa said then gestured for Marcus to follow as he went to his bag. “I was thinking a fresh tree would be just the thing.” He gave the gold cord a tug and it unraveled easily and a swirl of snow and glitter rolled from the bag and down the hall.

“Seriously?” Marcus asked as he hurried back to the living room and a startled laugh burst from him. He clapped his hand over his mouth and spun to make sure he hadn’t woken Sam.

“Don’t worry. She won’t wake up. Look at the time,” Santa said and Marcus glanced at his wrist.

“Holy…” He slurred. It was still midnight. Marcus blinked at his watch in shock then pushed his gaze to the fully lit and decorated tree. There were so many presents and a Switch was set up and waiting beneath the television. “That’s so… Thank you!” He cried as he threw himself at Santa.

“You’re very welcome!” He said as he held Marcus. He smelled like a Christmas tree and a little like marshmallows and Marcus sighed as he rubbed his cheek against Santa’s chest.

“That’s really nice,” he said dreamily then flinched and jumped back. “I’m so sorry! I don’t know what’s wrong with me!” He whispered loudly. Santa just laughed and threw a hand at Marcus as he went to sit by the fire.

“It happens all the time,” he said as he lowered into the armchair and Marcus winced. The seat was just able to accommodate him as he got comfortable and propped his elbow on the armrest. Marcus was momentarily distracted by Santa’s thick thighs and gave his head a shake to clear it.

“With children, not adults, though. And you can’t even begin to know how wrong it is in here,” Marcus argued and gave Santa an apologetic wince as he pointed at his forehead. Santa laughed and his head fell back as his chest shook.

“I don’t come across a lot of children on Christmas Eve! But I do meet a few parents in my travels and some stops get a little x-rated,” he confided. Marcus’s jaw dropped in shock.

“Really? What about Mrs. Claus?” He whispered, as if he didn’t want to get Santa in trouble. He laughed again and gave his thigh a pat.

“I told you, you’re a delight! Why don’t you come and have a seat, lad?” He offered tenderly. Marcus’s head pushed forward in confusion but his feet still carried him across the room and there was a mortifying heaviness to the front of his pajama pants.

“A seat?” He asked weakly and Santa winked cockily at him.

“You can have a lot more than that if you’ll tell Santa what you really want.”

“Oh.” Marcus looked at the hall and remembered that Sam wouldn’t hear them or wake up then rubbed his lips together nervously.

“Have a seat and don’t be shy.”

“You’re sure Mrs. Claus won’t mind?”

“She’s had just about an eternity of me. We find that a little adventure keeps things fresh and makes coming home even sweeter,” Santa explained as he held out his hand.

“That’s…confusing,” Marcus murmured and his brows pulled together. But he rose on his toes so he could slide an arm around Santa and pull himself up. Marcus was 5’11 but he felt small on Santa’s lap. 

“A strange thing happens when you’ve been alive for as long as we have. You grow up. And she’d want you to have a little fun, Marcus,” Santa said gently and kneaded Marcus’s shoulder. It was firm but affectionate and all the tension drained from Marcus as he became fixated on Santa’s beard and lips. He was as enigmatic and charming as you would expect but there was a frisky quirk to his smile that drew Marcus in.

“Me? Why would she…?” He mumbled as he stretched toward Santa’s lips.

“We’ve both been worried about you. That’s why I’m here,” Santa said.

“What?” Marcus frowned and swallowed hard. “This is nuts,” he whispered to himself and Santa shushed him.

“Go ahead and give it a try,” he urged so Marcus shut his eyes and touched his lips to Santa’s.

“Oh!” Marcus’s lips throbbed and a current of pleasure zipped down his spine and he shivered. “That’s…nice,” he breathed and licked tentatively. “Wow!” He giggled and there was another shiver. Santa’s lips tasted like vanilla and peppermint.

“Don’t lose your nerve now. Take what you want. You deserve a little joy,” Santa crooned as his hands cradled and rubbed Marcus’s back soothingly.

“Joy?”

“You outgrew toys a long time ago but I can still put a smile on your face,” Santa said and angled his head so his lips could nudge Marcus’s. His breath was sweet and minty and Marcus’s mouth watered as his tongue swept into Santa’s mouth. Santa groaned encouragingly when Marcus’s fingers twisted in his beard and the kiss became desperate. “Slow down. You can take all the time you need,” he reminded him but Marcus shook his head and kissed Santa again.

“You taste so good!” He said and pushed against Santa’s chest so he’d sit back. He was starving and Marcus couldn’t stop his hands from wandering Santa’s broad chest and round belly. His hands drifted to the front of Santa’s trousers and Marcus squeaked when he found an alarming bulge in the red velvet. “I guess you brought the North Pole with you,” he teased and Santa snorted in amusement.

“You can climb it, if you’re brave enough,” he challenged. Marcus sat back and his chin tilted haughtily.

“You’ve gone and brought my honor into it,” he replied then slid off Santa’s thigh.

“See what I mean?” Santa laughed softly and flicked the end of Marcus’s nose. “Delightful,” he observed but Marcus’s face scrunched dubiously before he shrugged.

“Not as delightful as this,” he said as he braced his hands on Santa’s thighs and kissed him again. “I want to know if the rest of you tastes this good.”

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Santa is coming…SOON!

It’s time to go back to Blackhurst and solve a mystery.

If you’ve been following along, you’re probably about out of patience and ready for answers. The wait is just about over my loves. All Is Bright will be available November 10th. Here’s the first chapter to tidy up that cliffhanger from the last book. Pre-Order now and make your holiday just a little brighter!

Chapter 1

“This better be important,” Denver grumbled and scrubbed his face before pulling his hair into a ponytail. “You know how much I need my beauty sleep,” he said then offered Toly and Wilder a wave when they appeared on the screen. They were bleary-eyed on their sofa, across the street, and Denver was in an armchair by the fire in a t-shirt and flannel pajama pants.

“Not important enough to warrant a dress code,” Lavender scolded but Denver made a pffft! sound.

“You couldn’t pay me enough to put on something like that in the middle of the night for no fucking reason. Not that I’m getting paid. I don’t know why I’m even in on this call,” he replied. Lavender made a thoughtful sound as he checked his watch.

“Blink says someone tried to assassinate him while he was taking a bath tonight. He should be here any moment now…”

“That doesn’t explain why we’re here,” Wilder said and Toly nodded along but he was busy hunting and squinting through the lenses of his glasses.

“Couldn’t we just get a memo in the morning?” Paul asked as he trudged into the living room.

“Where’s Reginald?” Lavender asked and his neck stretched toward the hall and the guest room. Another window appeared on the screen and Cyril glared back at them from his study at Blackhurst.

“Thank you for joining us, Lord Marston,” Cyril said dryly when Reginald hurried in.

“Right here,” he said with a harassed wave. There was none of his usual effervescence or mirth as Reginald hugged one of his laptops against his chest and dropped onto the sofa. “Sorry, I’m a newlywed,” Reginald added. 

“At least he didn’t order you to attend in-person,” Casper said from somewhere behind Cyril.

“We’ll get to that shortly,” Cyril said as he paced. “You’ve all been briefed on the earlier events. Have any of you found anything that might shed some light on who’s targeting us?” He growled at them. Lavender’s head cocked and he gave Cyril a stern look.

“We’ve shared the little we’ve learned. We agreed we’d share whatever we found,” he reminded him pointedly and there was a terrifying wildness to Cyril’s eyes as they swept across the screen.

“That was an impossible shot!” Cyril accused as he pointed at them. “I don’t know of many people who could have made it.”

“Is that why you assembled us? To make sure we were accounted for?” Denver asked and clearly shared Lavender’s amusement at Cyril’s horror. Cyril hated the idea that there was someone dangerous out there who wasn’t on his payroll.

“Excuse me,” Reginald said as he pointed at his camera. “Could you ask him to come in,” he said and Lavender noticed Professor Elliot. He was peeking into the study and Cyril was startled and furious as he spun.

“You weren’t to be disturbed,” he said tightly and Elliot nodded as he edged into the study and waved at the screen. 

“I wasn’t until I tried to go to my room and change,” he replied sheepishly. “I mean, I was obviously disturbed when that bullet almost killed me but I was fine until your pet robots tried to keep me prisoner,”

“Hold on…” Lavender felt a tickle of a glee. Cyril was obviously smitten with his art expert, judging by the nonverbal battle happening in his study. How delicious… “Didn’t you say someone tried to kill you in your bathtub, Cyril?” Lavender asked and it was one of those moments of karmic ascension. He finally had proof that Cyril Blink was human and just as weak as the rest of them.

“Watch yourself,” Cyril growled and Lavender hummed happily as he studied Professor Elliot. He was delicious as well. He reminded Lavender of Sage, actually… He glanced at Sage and hoped Cyril wouldn’t keep them too much longer.

“What was that you said about my husband?” Lavender asked then looked to Reginald. He had been snooping about that evening at Blackhurst and had overheard their conversation. Reginald smirked like a shit from the sofa.

“I believe it was something about him being a pretty fucktoy, if I recall correctly,” he murmured.

“He did indeed call him a ‘pretty fucktoy,’” Toly confirmed as he searched for something through the lenses of his glasses. Elliot laughed sarcastically at them and Lavender’s brow cocked. Hot under the collar. Delicious, indeed.

“First of all, kiss my pretty ass. I do my best to make sure he has as little fun as possible,” he replied as he sat on the arm of the sofa. Cyril was livid and Lavender was ecstatic. Oh, well done, Cyril, he snorted inwardly. “Sorry for the interruption. Pretend I’m not here,” Elliot added as he crossed his arms and Lavender almost clapped in delight. Do begin as you mean to go on or you’ll just be another gem in that dragon’s vault.

“Oh. I see. He’s a funny arsehole. Excellent choice, sir,” Reginald muttered. “If I’d known you were into that I… Ouch!” He gasped after Paul elbowed him and Lavender nodded in approval. “I’m just saying, if that’s all he was looking for,” Reginald whispered loudly and Cyril turned to Casper thoughtfully. Lavender’s hackles went up as Cyril’s smile tightened.

“Just as a fun thinking exercise, how would you kill Lord Marston?” He asked and Casper was ecstatic as he considered.

“Well…!” He smothered a hissing giggle as he mentally picked through the poisons and weapons in his arsenal at Blackhurst. His hand swept through the air and trembled as he reached for something only he could see. “O’Malley was on the right track when he meddled with Marston’s drugs but I would have fiddled with his party drugs, not his work drugs. We all know how much our dirty little lord loves his chem sex. I’d have him shitting blood and introduce him to a very different kind of dragon,” he mused and Paul was ready to throw Reginald’s laptop but only pointed at the screen. His eyes were hard with rage and fear but it spread around the room and Lavender stretched his neck. He tightened his fists behind his back, keeping a firm grip on his emotions. Casper wouldn’t do it but Cyril…?

“I don’t know how you know about that but I’m coming for you if he gets a runny nose,” Paul vowed and Casper laughed.

“Relax, agent. It was just a thinking exercise.”

“And a good reminder, I’m hoping,” Cyril added and they all became alert. Lavender was tired of Cyril’s meddling and ready to know what this was about. “As no one’s been able to find anything and the attacks appear to be escalating, I think it’s time for me to call all my generals to Blackhurst,” he announced. Lavender nodded and Reginald seemed inclined to agree that it was probably best to keep matters as far away from Lake Cliff as possible. 

“Sounds like a good plan… I don’t understand why you needed all of us for this Zoom meeting,” Wilder said tactfully. Cyril smiled and winked at Wilder, ruffling Lavender’s feathers again. It was calculating and Lavender hated that Cyril was always ten steps ahead of him.

“You’ll understand soon enough. Please pack your things, Messieurs Lavender and Marston, the younger Mr. Martinez and Captain Walsh. A jet is being prepared as we speak,” he commanded. “We also have questions for the elder Mr. Martinez, Dr. Sharp and Mr. West and are extending the invitation to stay as well.” Cyril watched Lavender closely so he remained still and unblinking but he didn’t like the idea of taking Toly to Blackhurst and would prefer to keep Lane and Aiden in Lake Cliff.

“I’m going too,” Paul stated firmly and Lavender held his breath. He didn’t want to get in a fight with Cyril over Paul. He’d have no choice but Lavender silently prayed that Cyril wasn’t in the mood to pick a fight with a hard-headed federal agent.

“Of course, Agent Sloan,” Cyril said tightly. I didn’t think so. Must be serious, indeed.

“There you are.” Hawk was exasperated as he walked into Cyril’s study and waved at Elliot. “I was told to check on you but you vanished.”

“Hey, Hawk. How’s it going?” Wilder said dismissively but he pointed at Cyril. “Toly doesn’t work for you and it isn’t safe for him to travel,” he argued but Cyril grinned as his eyes slid to Reginald. Lavender hated the cold chill that crawled up his spine.

“Bugger it all!” Reginald slouched and hid behind his laptop as he scrubbed his face with his hands.

“I think it’s time to let them in on your brilliant little plan,” Cyril murmured but Reginald shook his head. Paul pushed out a hard breath as he sat forward and nudged Reginald.

“He’s right. Time’s up,” he urged gently. “Don’t worry, I’ll go down with you if they take it badly.”

“What the hell is he talking about?” Denver demanded from his box on the screen.

“What have you done, Marston?” Toly whispered. Cyril sighed wearily and held up a hand.

“I gave Marston an extremely important task several months ago. I asked him to put together a team to design a new physical security plan for Blackhurst and upgrade the house’s entire security system,” he said and reports, blueprints, threat assessments and diagrams appeared on the screen as Reginald’s fingers hurried across the keys of his laptop.

“Jesus fucking…” Denver whispered as he quickly processed everything he was seeing until the diagrams and assessments began to disappear.

“What in the hell is…?” Reginald complained as he worked faster. “What the…!” His brow furrowed in confusion and Lavender tensed and looked toward Toly and Wilder’s house as his nerves fluttered. “Fuck!” Reginald cried when his laptop went dark and he disappeared from the screen on the wall. “That fucking…” Reginald jumped to his feet and raised his laptop to hurl it. “This is why I keep backups,” he stated and Lavender grabbed the gun in his coat as the door burst open. It was Toly so Lavender froze. His instincts told him that death was imminent but it was Toly.

“Marston!” Toly was pure fury as he raised his hands and Lavender covered his head and ducked as sparks rained from the lights, and screens and speakers around the room keened. The wires in the walls smoked and there was a loud hum as Toly overloaded the voltage coming into the house. Lavender was scared but his only thought was that he couldn’t get Sage out in time.

“Toly, stop!” Lavender begged.

“How could you?!” Toly screamed at Reginald as  his finger pointed and twisted. Reginald yelled as he pulled out his earbud and the hum grew louder and the walls shook.

“I only did it to protect us! I was trying to help you!” Reginald cried as he held up his hands but Toly’s eyes were huge with indignant rage and they all swore and covered their heads as a small drone swooped in through the open door. It cut through the room and Reginald dove as it buzzed him. “Listen to me!” Reginald begged.

“No!” Toly shook his head and pushed back his sleeves. “I didn’t need any protection! I was free and you sold me to Blink!” He pulled back his fist as the drone circled around to take another pass. He was about to hurl it at Reginald but Wilder slipped through the door and grabbed his wrist.

“No!” Wilder yelled. “Calm down for a moment, güero!”

He’s ruined everything! They thought I was dead but now they know and we’ll never be safe!” Toly’s nostrils flared and his hands snatched, poked and swept through the air and the drone whipped through the room.

“Please!” Lavender yelled over the loud hum and drone’s propellers as he edged a little closer but Toly shook his head stubbornly.

“I risked everything so I could start over and be free and he ruined it!

“I wouldn’t do that to you!” Reginald promised quickly as he stepped around the coffee table then yelped and shielded his head when the drone sped past his shoulder. “For the love of… Toly! Let me explain!” 

“I’m not a fucking child, Marston! You didn’t ask me if I wanted to build that for him! I’m not a toy you can amuse yourself with!” He demanded and Reginald nodded quickly.

“Yes! I know! But who’s going to touch you if it hurts Blink? Who’s going to risk his wrath if something happens to one of his hackers?” He asked suggestively. Lavender groaned as he rubbed his temple.

“I know what you were thinking but your plan’s clearly got a big weakness. What happens when someone wants to hurt Blink?”

“We were attacked because we know his secrets,” Denver said from one of the phones in the room.

“See!” Toly howled. “He sold us all to Blink and none of us are safe now!”

“Wait!” Lavender barked and pointed hard. “No one in this room belongs to Blink. Especially you. I’ll clear that up with him myself, if he’s confused,” he swore and Toly stepped back and lowered his arms. “You’re free, Toly. I won’t let anyone take that from you again.”

“You’ll protect me from Mr. Blink?” Toly asked and it was trembling and unsure. Lavender silently cursed Reginald for shaking Toly’s faith.

“With my life, if I have to,” Lavender said sincerely and the humming and keening stopped. Paul sensed that Toly was listening and it was safe so he took a few cautious steps closer and held up his hands.

“There’s a good chance the attacks against Reginald, Toly and Denver were someone tripping Blink’s security protocols to see how Lake Cliff and Blackhurst would react in the event of an attack or a distraction in order to pull off a Trojan horse maneuver,” Paul explained carefully as he stepped around Reginald so he was between him and Toly. The drone swooped and Paul swung and slapped it at the wall. There was a pop! and a spark as it burned the wallpaper then crashed to the floor.

“No!” Lavender cried then threw up his hands. “Whatever.”

“Reginald’s paying for every bit of this,” Sage promised as his finger circled overhead. “And you better believe he’s fucking grounded.” He glared at Reginald but he made a pfffft sound.

“I’ll pay for it but I don’t work for you and you’re not my father.”

“No. But you work for me. You’re under house arrest—if we survive this—and your husband’s going to be personally responsible for your every keystroke,” Lavender said and Paul nodded.

“His internet is going to be severely limited. Like, he can order sushi and text me. That’s it until Toly figures out how to build a pen for him,” Paul decided. Reginald gasped as he pushed Paul out of the way.

“You’re all taking this to such a ridiculous extreme!” He begged as he raised his hands pleadingly.

“Extreme?” Toly held up his right hand. The skin was still pink and looked tender from the wires in his hand melting after he was shocked. Lavender shook his head.

“You’re under house arrest until Toly’s forgiven you and feels confident that he can keep you corralled,” he said as Paul nodded in agreement and crossed his arms over his chest.

“I’m sorry but we’re going to have to earn their trust back and make it up to them,” he said.

“This is…bloody wonderful,” Reginald said as he sank onto the couch and his arms hung limply between his knees. “I got us all the best insurance policy in the business and this is the thanks I get. And I can’t do anything to fix it,” he added and his lip pushed out as he wilted. Lavender felt a whiff of pity then snorted.

“You’re lucky we didn’t let Toly light you up. I’ve got to go wake Lane so he can break it to Aiden. Get packed everyone, we leave for Blackhurst in an hour,” he said then swept from the living room so he could call Lane.

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It’s time to go back to Blackhurst and solve a mystery.