This short story features characters from The Black Raiders series and contains spoilers. The story is set after A Detached Raider and before Deceiving a Raider.
“Step away from the food.”
He froze with his hands in the gingerbread dough. He glanced over his shoulder at Cole who had his arms crossed and was watching him with narrowed eyes.
With a heavy sigh, he took a step back, holding his hands out in the air. He wasn’t even the one who’d made the dough. He’d only been using the cookie cutter. Okay, so maybe it was because of the cookie cutter. He’d just bought it. He’d figured Cole might actually like it. It was shaped like a dick after all.
“Why would you even let him in the kitchen?” Cole asked Marika.
“Any reason I shouldn’t have?”
Marika dried off her hands in a dishtowel and cocked an eyebrow at Cole. She was the one who’d asked for his help in the first place. Like she would throw him out of the kitchen now.
“He can’t even make a cup of coffee without messing it up somehow,” Cole said.
“That’s not true,” he said, glaring at Cole.
“Really? Why don’t you tell us why you aren’t allowed near the coffee machine at work?”
He glanced down at his feet, warmth rising to his cheeks. “I broke it. Twice.”
“Yeah, you did,” Cole said and turned to Marika. “You see why I don’t want him anywhere near the food?”
“Never allow Cade anywhere near food or anything mechanical. Got it,” Marika said.
“Hey, now. That’s not fair. I’m not making anything, I’m just cutting out the cookies,” he said, pouting at Cole.
Cole looked like he didn’t believe him, so he stepped to the side and gestured towards the dough on the kitchen counter. Cole narrowed his eyes at him before turning them onto the cookies.
Cole’s eyebrows shot up into his hairline. “Are those dicks?”
Marika glanced over his shoulder at the cookies and before he could escape, she smacked him on his shoulder with her spatula. “There are kids here, you dimwit.”
“Like they haven’t seen a dick before. One of them has one and the other is practically my niece. Trust me, she’ll like them.”
Marika pointed her spatula at him, a serious look on her face. “Get out of my kitchen.”
He pouted at her because he knew she was nowhere as immune to it as the other girls. He saw her resolve begin to waver just as Cole grabbed his wrist and pulled him out of the kitchen. At least he’d already put a batch of dick-shaped cookies in the oven.
He dug his heels into the floor when they reached the hallway, making Cole stop and turn around with an exasperated sigh.
“You’re mean,” he said, looking up at Cole with a pout.
“What? Just because I don’t want anyone getting poisoned on Christmas eve?”
“I’ll have you know, I’ve never poisoned anyone in my life.”
“Well, I might now, and you’ll probably be the first,” he said and crossed his arms.
Cole frowned as he took a step back and ran his eyes down Cade’s body. “What the hell are you wearing?”
He glanced down. He was wearing a red, wool sweater with reindeers doing the dirty on it and black, skinny jeans. He was also wearing an apron with the words “I like big buns and I cannot lie” printed on it in bright yellow.
“You don’t like it?”
From the smile teasing at Cole’s lips, he did like it. He was just too proud to admit it. Cade needed to see that smile so he started singing Sir Mix-a-Lot’s “Baby Got Back” only, he was using “buns” instead of “butts”. He jumped around, shaking his ass and earned himself that smile. He even got a laugh, too. Mission accomplished.
Cole grabbed him around the waist, pulling him close so he couldn’t wiggle free. Instead, he put his arms around Cole’s neck and pressed his body into Cole’s. He tilted his head back to look up at Cole.
“I love it when you smile at me like that,” Cole said.
Before he could say anything, Cole thrust his fingers into his hair, pulled his head back, and pressed their mouths together. He opened to Cole’s probing tongue. He held onto Cole’s upper arms and let himself be ravished by his man.
When they parted, they were both gasping for breath. He slid his hands up Cole’s arms, over his broad shoulders, and into his hair. He bit his lip and watched Cole’s eyes drop to his mouth as a groan escaped him. Cole smoothed Cade’s curls back from his forehead, making him smile once again.
“So, do you want your extra present tonight or tomorrow morning?” Cade asked.
“If it’s you wearing a Santa suit, I don’t want it at all,” Cole said.
He grinned and leaned into Cole so he could whisper in his ear. “I won’t be wearing anything but a nice little bow.”
“And what will this bow be tied around?”
He wagged his eyebrows and pulled Cole down for another kiss. He nipped at Cole’s lips, groaning when Cole pushed him into the wall and trapped him with his body. Desire sparked inside him, rushing through his body and his fingers tightened in Cole’s hair. Cole’s hands went to his ass, squeezing and making him moan into Cole’s mouth.
“Can you two please keep your dicks in your pants until this Christmas thing is over?” Lara asked.
Cole pulled back, putting a good 5 feet between them and said, “Sorry, ma’am.”
Lara rolled her eyes with an exasperated sigh that made Cade snort out a laugh. She pushed past him, carrying two bags filled with groceries. Neither of them bothered to ask if she needed help. If she had, she would’ve pushed those bags into their arms.
He turned towards Cole and couldn’t help a chuckle when he saw the state of the man’s clothes and hair. He really loved that look on Cole, though he was sure he looked just as ruffled himself.
“You should probably take that off,” Cole said motioning to his apron. “Cause you aren’t going back into that kitchen.”
He pulled a face at Cole, but untied the apron and pulled it over his head. He folded it and put it on the bookshelf next to them.
“On the other hand, maybe you should put it back on,” Cole said, his eyes wide as he took in Cade’s sweater.
“You got something against reindeers getting laid?”
“Yeah, when they’re on your sweater.”
He flipped him off and left the apron on the shelf. He smoothed down his sweater just as Morgan and a boy a few inches shorter than her walked through the front door.
“Hi, guys. This is Jake, Marika’s nephew,” Morgan said.
“Hello, Jake. It’s nice to meet you,” Cade said with a smile.
“Hi,” Jake said and shook his hand.
The kid was only thirteen, but he was tall for his age. With his black hair and warm, brown eyes it was easy to see his relation to Marika. He was spending Christmas with them because his parents weren’t home.
“Your mom’s overseas, huh?” Cole asked.
Jake nodded. “Yeah. Second time now.”
“He has to work. He’s um… He’s a firefighter.”
“His shift ends early tomorrow morning, so he’ll be here for Christmas day,” Morgan said, ruffling Jake’s hair.
“You must be so proud of your parents,” Cole said. “It’s not everyone who can say they’ve got a parent who’s a hero, let alone both of them.”
Jake’s whole face lit up. He told them all about his parents, how his mom was just promoted to Sergeant and his dad three kids from a fire the week before.
They ventured into the living room, leaving the ladies to the cooking since he was obviously still not allowed near the kitchen and Cole was talking about the military with Jake. Cole shared some fun stories from his days as a Marine and Cade loved every second of it. Cole rarely talked about those days and to know he had good times as well back then, made him breathe so much easier.
An hour later, Morgan ran off with Jake to show him the house. Cade stood and walked to the Christmas tree, his eyes lingering on the ornaments Mike had given Lara a few years before. They had their names on them and even Lara had shed a tear when they’d taken them out of the box. They’d spent hours decorating the tree and they’d had a blast. He’d ended up falling asleep on the couch with Marika because she’d bought a few bottles of rum and they’d been the only ones drinking, so when they reached the second bottle, they’d been hammered. Morgan had taken ugly pictures of them sleeping, him with his mouth open and Marika lying half off the couch.
Marika was one hell of a woman. She made Lara happy. Made her laugh. She fit right in with their little family. She never got to know Mike, yet she’d been the one to place a framed picture of him on the mantel. He looked so handsome in his uniform. He’d been so proud of it too. He’d been so damned happy when they’d taken the picture, they weren’t able to get even one where he wasn’t smiling like a dope. He’d loved that about him.
“He would’ve wanted you to be happy. He wouldn’t have blamed you for his death. I’m sure it meant the world to him when you made that promise,” Cole said, wrapping his arms around Cade from behind.
He didn’t take his eyes off of Mike’s picture, not even when they burned with unshed tears, “You didn’t really know him, babe.”
Cole pressed a kiss to his shoulder. “But I know you, and he was your friend. There’s no way you would’ve been friends with him if he weren’t like that.”
He turned around in Cole’s arms and looked up, meeting Cole’s eyes. The affection and devotion looking back at him were overwhelming. There was just something about this man. Something that settled the storm inside him. He’d never felt as safe as he did in Cole’s arms.
He followed Cade into the living room. They were the last ones to show up. He’d taken his time unwrapping his extra present that morning. Well, his extra extra present, since he’d already gotten one the night before. He rather liked that bow. He might keep it.
“You’re late,” Morgan said.
“His fault,” Cade said and pointed a thumb over his shoulder at Cole.
When Morgan turned a glare his way, he just smiled and shrugged. Like he was going to apologize for that. He sat down on the couch next to Cade who leaned into him. He wrapped his arm around Cade’s shoulder and pulled him closer.
Jake and Morgan’s excitement were contagious, and they were all laughing when Jake went nuts over the comic books Lara and Marika had gotten him. They’d saved Jake’s presents from his parents for when his dad would come. He’d texted Marika earlier, letting them know he’d be late. Most of the gifts had been passed around when Cade picked up a large present in red wrapping paper with dancing Santas on it.
“This one is from the two of us, Brent, and Mike,” Cade said.
They’d agreed to include Mike. Especially since Cade said he’d have been all in on the gift. He’d more or less expected the others to be affected by it, but Morgan lit up at Cade’s words and Cade burst into laughter when she snatched the present out of his hands. It didn’t take her long to tear off the wrapping paper. She turned the box around and her mouth dropped open.
“You got me… You actually got me…”
He grinned when she looked up at him with wide eyes.
“You got me a compound bow?” she asked, her voice barely above a whisper.
“You’ve been talking about learning archery,” he said. “Now you can.”
“Oh my god,” Morgan squealed and threw her arms around them both. “Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. You’re the best uncles ever.”
They watched as Morgan unpacked the bow, sitting on the floor with Jake who held the box while she pulled the bow out. It was black and looked fancy with all the strings and stuff. He had no clue how it worked but Morgan seemed to know her way around it. They all watched for a while as she tried it out, sans arrows.
“Here,” Cade said.
He turned his head towards Cade who was holding a little rectangle shaped box.
“I thought I already got my present,” he said, eyeing the box curiously.
“That was your extra present.”
“Yeah. But I got it twice.”
“Ugh. Gross,” Morgan said, her attention back on them.
“Just… Open your present,” Cade said, barely hiding his smile.
He was watching Cade as he pulled off the wrapping paper, not knowing what to expect, except it might not be suitable for the kids to see if that smirk was anything to go by. He held the package up and frowned. “You got me a Wunder-Baum?”
Cade grinned and shook his head. “Look inside the box.”
The package was too damned small for him to get his fingers inside so he tried shaking it. A piece of folded paper fell into his lap along with a blue Wunder-Baum that, according to the package, smelled like new car. He still wasn’t sure if it was safe for the kids, so he was careful as he unfolded the paper. He looked at it for a long moment before he understood what was written on it. It was plane tickets to Florida.
He jerked his eyes up to meet Cade’s. “We’re going to Florida?”
Cade held out another small package. “Here.”
He took it and had it open in no time. Inside it was tickets to the International Air Show. His mouth fell open as he looked from the tickets to Cade who was looking mighty proud of himself.
“Holy crap. Are you serious babe?”
“Oh, yeah. I’ve made sure we have the time off as well,” Cade said.
He reached over, grabbing Cade by the front of his sweater and pulled him into a kiss. Cade’s hands cupped his chin and he leaned down to steal another kiss before pulling back an inch.
“You’re the best,” he said against Cade’s lips.
He sat back and narrowed his eyes at Cade. “How’d you know?”
“You told me how much you loved going to the show with your mom when you were a kid. I figured you might want to go. With me.”
It had been a tradition of theirs. Just him and his mom. She’d flown them there and together they’d watched the show and sometimes, he would just watch her smile and he’d know she would try out all the tricks they saw. He’d loved when she let loose like that.
“And to think I only got you chocolate,” he murmured.
Cade perked up. “How much chocolate?”
He bit his lip as he picked up the small package that was Cade’s present and handed it to him. Cade looked at the present with a frown. “That’s not a lot of chocolate.”
He rolled his eyes. “Just open it.”
Inside the package was two brochures. Cade looked at them with pursed lips. “What’s this?”
“We’re going on a weekend trip to Brooklyn and we’re staying at that hotel you keep talking about. The one with a rooftop pool. Then we’re doing a tour at a chocolate factory.”
Cade blinked at him. “All I heard was ‘chocolate factory’.”
Of course, it was. Cade was ruled by chocolate, and he didn’t exactly keep it a secret. He’d learned to keep a few chocolate bars on him or in the car. When Cade got cranky and all he needed was some chocolate. He did his best to remember not to put it in the fridge, but he might’ve done it on purpose a few times when Cade got on his nerves.
“When we’re at the factory, I’ll get you all the chocolate you want, but until then,” he said and picked up a big box of chocolate from underneath the couch, where he’d hid it so Cade wouldn’t get any ideas. “This will have to do.”
Cade snatched the box from him, cradling it to his chest. Granted, it was his favorite chocolate but right then he looked a bit like Gollum.
“If you call that thing ‘my precious’ I will shoot you.”
“Shut up,” Cade mumbled, red tinting his cheeks. “Thank you, baby.”
Cade leaned over to kiss him, though he didn’t let go of the chocolate box. He chuckled, ruining the kiss, but it didn’t matter because of the way Cade smiled at him. He’d had his fair share of crazy Christmases, some overseas and some with his best friend and his horde of kids. They’d all been great, but he was beginning to think this one might just be the best.
He was on his way to the kitchen to grab some more gingerbread cookies when he heard a car pull up. He had the door open by the time Jackson, Jake’s father, reached it. Jackson was a big man, all broad shoulders, and friendly smiles. They’d met a time or two on the job.
“Cole,” Jackson said, shaking his hand. “It’s good to see you. Merry Christmas.”
“Merry Christmas, Jackson.”
He stepped aside so Jackson could get inside and closed the door behind him.
“Thank you, for having Jake here. I know it means the world to him. It certainly does to me,” Jackson said.
“I probably shouldn’t be the one to say this, but I know it’s true. You’re family now, Jackson. There ain’t nothing these people won’t do for you.”
Jackson clasped his shoulder, squeezing gently. “That goes both ways.”
He turned around and found Jake a few feet from them, his eyes wide and his smile getting bigger by the second. He ran into his father’s arms and Jackson swung him around, holding him close to his chest. He left them to it and headed into the kitchen. There was already a bowl filled with gingerbread cookies, so he just grabbed it before noticing the cookies. It was Cade’s dick cookies. A chuckle fell from his lips and he figured they might as well eat them.
He was on his way back to the living room when the doorbell rang. As far as he knew, they weren’t expecting anyone else. He headed towards the front door just as Morgan ran past him, yelling, “I’ve got it.”
Oh, he wasn’t going to miss that. They all knew she had a girlfriend but none of them had ever met her. He put the bowl of cookies on the nearest flat surface and followed after Morgan. When he caught up with her, she’d just opened the door.
None other than Robert Samuels stood on the other side of the door, a nervous smile on his lips.
“You sound disappointed. Expecting someone else, kiddo?”
“Sorta,” Morgan said, her eyes on the ground.
Cole stepped up behind Morgan, catching Robert’s attention. The first thing Cole did was look for signs the man was drunk. His red cheeks could very well be from the cold, but he wasn’t taking any chances what with Morgan there.
“I’m sorry I… I don’t think we’ve been introduced,” Robert said.
Morgan glanced over her shoulder, a relieved breath leaving her before she said, “That’s Cole. He’s Cade’s partner.”
“Oh, right. It’s good to meet you,” Robert said, reaching out to shake Cole’s hand. He glared at Robert’s hand until the man dropped it with a deep sigh.
“I’m just here to give you your presents,” Robert said, handing over a tote bag to Morgan. “Merry Christmas, kiddo.”
Cole laid a hand on Morgan’s shoulder as they watched her father walk down the front steps and get into his car. Once he drove off, Cole closed the door and turned to Morgan. She was hugging the bag to her chest, her eyes on the door.
“It’s okay to love him,” he said.
She jerked her gaze up, confusion and anguish clear on her face.
“I know he’s hurt both you and your mom, but that doesn’t change the fact he’s your father. It’s normal to want to forgive him, to have him in your life. Trust me. Your mom wants nothing but for you to be happy and that includes having your father in your life. If that’s what you want.
“My father can’t be redeemed, nor does he want to. But yours might. Robert was sober, Morgan. That means he’s at least trying.”
Morgan opened her mouth but never got to say anything as someone knocked on the door. She narrowed her eyes up at him, before turning around. She opened the door to a girl with curly, blonde hair and big, blue eyes that sparkled when they landed on Morgan. She was holding a present with a large, red ribbon bow on it.
“Hi,” curly said.
“Hi,” Morgan said, sounding breathless.
He took a step closer when Morgan moved in front of curly, cutting off his line of sight. Could this be Morgan’s elusive girlfriend?
“You can leave now, Uncle Cole,” Morgan said, turning to push at his chest.
He was smiling as he walked back into the living room, gingerbread cookies forgotten. Jackson and Jake were on the floor, playing around with Jake’s new toys. Cole stopped behind the couch Lara and Marika sat on.
“You haven’t met Morgan’s girlfriend, have you? Because there’s a girl here and I’m fairly certain she’s—”
“What? She’s here?” Lara asked.
Lara leaped up from the couch. She looked ready to charge towards the front door but was held back by Marika’s hand around her wrist.
“Honey. Let her be,” Marika said.
“Hell, no. I’mma be a total mom about this and go embarrass the shit out of my daughter. She’s been all secretive about this girl. I wanna know who she is.”
Lara pulled free from Marika’s hold and rushed out of the room. Marika shot them a pleading glance before following after her girlfriend. Probably to try and keep the situation under control.
“This’ll be fun to watch,” Cade said, taking his hand and tugging him towards the front door.
“Mom!” Morgan shrieked.
Oh, this was gonna be good. This Christmas was definitely at the top of his list. He looked forward to the next ones.