A Peyton Family Christmas

BOOK: A Peyton Family Christmas
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A
Peyton Family Christmas
A
Southern Arcana Free Story
(Set
between Crossroads & Deadlock.)


I
didn't
steal
the jet.” Nick tightened her grip on the ranch truck's
cold steering wheel and cast a sidelong glance at her passenger. “I
borrowed it.”


Uh-huh.”
Next to her, Kat squinted out through the frosted window. “I
can't remember the last time I saw this much snow.”


A
white Christmas.” Derek had been enjoying it, but it paled next
to how much he wanted to see his baby cousin. “He's going
to be so glad to see you.”


Who,
Derek?” Before Nick could answer, Kat half-laughed. “No,
of course Derek. Luciano and your dad probably aren't
breathless with anticipation or anything.”


We've
all missed you.”


I
missed you too. I've just...been busy.”

You
didn't have to be an empath of Kat's caliber to hear the
lie, but Nick let it slide. “Mahalia's here, you know.
For the holidays.”


Yeah?”
For the first time since Nick had coaxed Kat out of her dim,
cluttered apartment, the girl seemed to brighten a little. “I
thought she'd be back in Boca by now.”

She
probably would have been if Nick's father hadn't asked
her to stay. “My dad is a little worried about Michelle. Well,
he's worried about
Michelle's
worrying, if you know what I mean.”


Yeah.
I'll be able to tell. If she's worrying too much, I
mean.”

Again,
you didn't need to be an empath to know. “She is,
definitely, but there's no way around it.” It had been
long enough for Nick's shock to wear off and the grim reality
to set in. “The love of her life is dead, and the only thing
keeping her alive is this charade with Luciano.”

A
quiet noise of sympathy escaped Kat. “Poor Michelle.”

Driving
with tears in her eyes was a recipe for disaster, so Nick dashed them
away and shook her head. “You're going to like Luciano.
He's a good guy.”


He
must be.” Kat's borrowed winter coat rustled as she
turned a little in the seat. “Have you heard anything about how
Andrew's doing?”

According
to Alec, her main source for updates, Andrew had had a rough time of
it, but was doing surprisingly well. “He's making it. A
strong wolf, which makes it harder in some ways, but he'll be
all right.”


For
sure? There's nothing else that can go wrong?”


No.”
Pretty much everything that could have changed or gone south in
Andrew's life already had. “He's going to be fine,
Kat. He's still himself, and he's doing a good job of
getting the wolf under control.”


Okay.
He's fine.” Kat sucked in a breath and let it out in a
gusty, tired sigh. “New problem. I, uh, didn't know I was
coming up here. Obviously.”


I
didn't kidnap you, either,” Nick said automatically, just
in case. “What do you need? Clothes? Contact lens solution?”


Presents.”
She sounded honestly concerned. “I don't have presents
for anyone.”

It
was so unexpected that Nick blinked. “You're worried
about
stuff
?”

Out
of the corner of her eye, she caught Kat's cheeks turning
bright pink. “It's Christmas. I don't have anything
to give everyone.”


Hey,
you're here. That's a million times better than stuff.”

Kat
wrinkled her nose in a gesture Nick hadn't seen in months.
“Depends on who you ask.”

Almost
a joke, and it gave Nick hope. “Ask your cousin in about ten
minutes, because this is it. The ranch.”

Kat
turned to look out the window again, a little of her old curiosity
bubbling to the surface. “So it's ten minutes from here
to the main house?”


Mostly
because the road winds around some foothills. The ranch isn't
actually that big. Just horses.”


Everything
I know about horse ranches I learned from questionably accurate
books.”


Mm-hmm.
I know all about your dirty cowboy fetish. Plus, I saw the romance
novels you and Mackenzie sent up for Michelle.”

Kat
actually smiled. “If there aren't ten stupidly hot men
working for Luciano, I'm going back home.”

Nick
laughed. “There are a few, and if you tell your cousin I said
so, I'll deny it.”


No
one with eyes would believe it,” Kat murmured. “You don't
see anyone else.”

No,
there had been only Derek, for so long it still seemed surreal that
he'd put a ring on her hand and promised to marry her. “I
better not have to come and drag your ass to the wedding on a
purloined jet, by the way.”


You
won't have to. And I thought you didn't steal the jet.”


I
didn't.” She cleared her throat. “My dad just
doesn't know I took it.”

When
Kat laughed this time, it didn't sound quite so rusty. “You
Peytons rebel in style. I stole Derek's car once, when I was
nineteen. Never stole a private jet, though.”


Stick
with me, kid.” Then she snorted, because she had less than two
years on Kat, but you wouldn't know if from the way everyone
treated her. “Sorry, it's not funny. You're not a
kid any more than I am, but everyone forgets that—including
me—and it sucks.”

Kat
didn't bother to lie. “Yeah, sometimes. But I don't
put up all that much of a fight, especially with Derek. Sometimes he
needs that, and I get it.”

He
needed it less these days, but it was hard to tell if that translated
to freedom or near abandonment for Kat. “I don't know
when we'll get back down to New Orleans, but we're going
to. I promise.”

It
had never been easy to hide things from Kat. “Your sister needs
you, and I've got some stuff to work through on my own. Derek
is great when you need a champion or a protector, but he's not
so good at letting you pick yourself up just so you know you can.”


Especially
not when he's used to thinking of himself as your guardian, I
suppose.”


God
help your kids, Nick. Maybe, if you're lucky, he won't
lock them in a padded room until they're thirty.”

After
some of the difficulties Michelle had already experienced in her
pregnancy, Nick would be lucky to escape that same padded room before
their children were born. “Maybe he'll mellow with age?”
she suggested.


Uh-huh.”
Kat's lips twitched, and she tugged up the high collar on her
coat, presumably to hide her smile. “Here's to hoping.”

They
lapsed into silence for the rest of the drive. The guest house came
into view first, followed quickly by the main house, though it was
hard to see anything beyond the outline of twinkling white Christmas
lights in the encroaching darkness. “There it is.”


Wow.”
The younger woman used her mitten to clear the fogged window. “It's
huge
.”


Right?”
Nick was accustomed to the careful use of space in the French
Quarter, and it had taken her a while to get used to the sprawl of
the ranch house. “You'll get lost a few times, there's
no way around that.”

Kat
was still staring, eyes wide. “I don't know what I was
expecting. All of you crushed into a house like Alec's, maybe.
No wonder Luciano doesn't mind all the guests.”

In
addition to the second, smaller house used for visitors, Derek and
Luciano had been talking about adding another wing to the main home.
“Not guests,” Nick corrected as she parked and shut off
the engine. “Family.”


Family,”
Kat echoed in a whisper. “We haven't had much of that.
Not since our parents died.”

No,
they hadn't. Nick slid her hand across the seat and squeezed
Kat's. “Come on. Let's go see what kind of trouble
your cousin's gotten into in my absence.”

Dashing
across the yard was miserable, a blast of cold so profound it made
Nick's bones ache, but warmth greeted them when she slammed
open the front door. “Cookies,” she chattered. “I
smell cookies.”

Kat
fumbled her mittens off and commenced a fight with the zipper on her
fluffy coat. “Sugar cookies. Derek is addicted to them.”


But
he never burns them.” An acrid edge still lingered in the air,
proof enough that whoever had been doing the baking had scorched at
least one batch. “Did I miss dinner?” she called as she
unzipped her own coat.


Nick?”
Derek's voice reached them before the sound of his footsteps.
“I was just showing Michelle how to...” The words trailed
off, and his footsteps quickened.

Next
to her, Kat shifted nervously. “He can probably tell I'm—”


Kat.”
Derek rounded the corner from the hallway and swept his wide-eyed
cousin up into a hug that left her snow-covered boots dangling three
inches off the ground. After a second, her arms went around his neck,
and Nick heard the way her breath hitched when Derek murmured, “I
missed you, kiddo.”

The
grateful look he shot her over Kat's shoulder was nothing
compared to the happiness that was already melting through his shock,
and it was entirely worth admitting what she'd done. “I
stole the jet.”

* * *

Kat
had been there for four hours, and she already had Michelle's
laptop in pieces.

Derek
leaned against the door frame, half watching as Kat pointed to
various parts of the computer and described their function to
Michelle. Nick's sister was either honestly interested or
faking it so well Derek couldn't tell the difference. Either
way, it was a scene just shy of surreal.

Derek
ducked back into the kitchen and accepted a mug of coffee from
Luciano. “Better keep an eye on her. She'll be rewiring
your security system next.”


With
all the protective spells Mahalia's been busy laying, the
thing's dead weight now anyway.” Luciano closed the last
cookie tin and grinned. “Are you feeling the Christmas spirit
now?”

Clearly
he hadn't been as subtle as he'd thought. “I
haven't had a Christmas without her in...God only knows, man.
Before our parents died. Her dad and my mom were both serious about
the holidays.”

BOOK: A Peyton Family Christmas
11.77Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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