Larger Font   Reset Font Size   Smaller Font  

Christmas from Hell

R. L. Mathewson


  “Duncan, are you just getting in?” Jodi asked and as much as he would have loved to tell the obviously pregnant woman shifting anxiously in the foyer from one dainty foot to the other while she wrapped her arms around her belly, that he swore had grown larger since he saw her yesterday morning, as she shifted another nervous glance over her shoulder that he was on his way out, he just couldn’t lie to her.

  But, God, would he fucking love to be able to lie to her right about now.

  “Yeah,” he said softly, cringing when the effort to speak caused searing pain to shoot up and down his throat.

  “Do you think that you could give me a hand with Danny?” she asked with a nervous little smile, clearly embarrassed to have to ask him for help at three in the morning, but that’s why he was here, wasn’t it?

  Instead of speaking, because Duncan wasn’t sure that he could manage that without cursing in pain or starting another coughing fit that had him changing his mind and taking his lieutenant up on his offer to be seen in the emergency room and beg them to put him out of his fucking misery, he couldn’t. Wishing that he could do a lot of things differently, he opened the door to the large laundry room that was off the back foyer near the kitchen and quickly discarded everything saturated with smoke and soot until he was left standing there in his boxer shorts.

  If this had been any other woman, he would have never even considered stripping down in front of her, but this was Jodi, his roommate and an understanding woman who’d probably kill him with her dainty little hands if he wore his smoke-saturated-clothing through her house, again. The last time had been more than enough for him to get over his embarrassment and for her to get comfortable enough with him to threaten his balls if he ever made the house smell like it was on fire again.

  Not that he could blame her, because he really couldn’t. There really was nothing quite like the scents of sweat, ash and smoke filling the air after a fresh fire and giving his sister-in-law a whole new trigger for morning sickness to start the day off right. Moving in with his brother and sister-in-law had taken some adjustment, but so far they’d managed to survive the last month without killing each other, which for any Bradford was definite progress. He just hadn’t counted on being this fucking exhausted from doing it.

  He worked three twenty-four hour shifts, most of that time was spent on the rig and the rest of the time he spent pulling ambulance duty, which took a lot out of him. It had also made him the perfect choice to move in and help his brother once Danny had been able to return from Florida and that fucked up side trip to Las Vegas that he had to take before Jodi realized that she could probably do better and dump his ass.

  Duncan rented an apartment that he’d barely slept in with a roommate that he couldn’t stand so when they sat down as a family to discuss which one of them was going to uproot their lives to help Danny and Jodi, he’d been the perfect choice because of his work schedule. Then again, if he’d realized that moving in with his brother and sister-in-law was going to be this exhausting, he might have let the opportunity pass down to their brother Aidan.

  When he’d agreed to do this he figured that he’d take out the trash, help around the house, run some errands now and then when he had some extra time, but like most things in his life, it hadn’t worked out the way that he’d hoped. When he wasn’t working, he was running errands, driving Danny to his doctors’ appointments, helping Danny complete his daily physical therapy by taking him to the gym, cooking most of the meals since the pregnancy was exhausting Jodi. By the end of the day they could usually find her curled up on the couch or the nearest bed, which was the reason that he did most of the cleaning and about a thousand other things that had to come before he could grab some sleep, something that he seemed to be getting less of with each passing day.

  Honestly, he wasn’t sure how much longer he could keep this up, but there wasn’t anything that he could do about it right now. Danny and Jodi needed help and right now he was the only one who could do it full-time. Everyone in his family pitched in, helping Danny and Jodi with rides, food, helped around the house, money to cover medical bills, made sure that someone was around when Duncan couldn’t be, but even with all that extra help he was still fucking exhausted.

  The additional help was great, but honestly he would love to have a night where he could sleep without worrying about the fire alarm going off, being woken up at two in the morning because someone’s Life Alert accidentally went off, waking up to the sounds of his brother and Jodi having sex or that hesitant knock that always seemed to come just when he was finally about to fall asleep, or the worst part, waiting for the sounds of his stubborn brother falling, because he was too fucking pigheaded to ask for help.

  Christ, the last time he could have killed his brother for refusing to ask for help. There’d been so much goddamn blood, which happened with head injuries and he’d known that, but that hadn’t meant jack shit to him when it was his own brother lying unconscious on the bathroom floor in a puddle of his own blood. He’d tried to block out Jodi’s hysterical sobbing, the fact that the man bleeding everywhere was his brother and instead, tried to focus on his training. He’d cleaned his brother’s head wound, kept the stubborn bastard on the floor when Danny finally managed to open his eyes and tried to sit up. He even managed to call the station for help, which had been difficult by that point since Jodi’s sobs had turned into hysterical screams and he could barely hear anything over her yelling at Danny for scaring the shit out of her.

  After that incident, he’d spend the next eight hours in the emergency room taking care of Jodi and yelling at Danny to stop fucking moving until they cleared his spine. The stubborn bastard refused to listen. He’d been too desperate to get to Jodi and prove to her that he was okay to stay still. So, Duncan had been forced to restrain Danny to the bed himself, which had earned him some rather nasty threats from the unappreciative asshole.

  When they’d finally released Danny, Duncan had just enough time to get home, help Danny get back in bed, changed into his uniform and headed to the station to work a twenty-four hour shift on the night of a full moon, which meant that every fucking psycho within a thirty-mile radius had decided that it had been the perfect night to listen to the fucking voices in their heads and make his life a living hell. He hadn’t gotten a single minute of sleep during that shift, which had been bad enough, but as soon as he came home it was time to help take care of Danny, run to the grocery store, the bank and a dozen other places that had helped push him past the point of exhaustion and nearly landed him in a hospital bed of his own.

  Thankfully he’d managed to get to bed early that night, but unfortunately for him, so had Danny and Jodi. They’d kept him up for the next four hours with moans and groans of pleasure and what had sounded suspiciously like the headboard banging against the wall. At that point he’d seriously considered telling one of his asshole brothers or cousins to take his place, but then Jodi had brought him breakfast in bed the next morning with a sweet kiss on the cheek and a thank you for helping them.

  After that he just kept his fucking mouth shut and sucked it up.

  “What happened?” he asked, rubbing his hands roughly down his face while he prayed that this wasn’t going to lead to another night spent in the emergency room.

  “Umm,” she mumbled, clearing her throat as she shifted her gaze away just as a rather interesting blush crept up her neck and cheeks. “Nothing really,” she whispered as that blush deepened into a fiery crimson red.

  “I see,” he murmured thoughtfully, wondering about that blush.

  Fortunately, or rather unfortunately for him, he didn’t have to wonder for very long as he followed Jodi into her bedroom and-

  “You’ve gotta be fucki
ng kidding me,” he said before he could stop himself, and judging by the homicidal glare that his brother was shooting him, he probably should have kept his fucking mouth shut.

  “I lost the key,” Jodi admitted, sounding absolutely mortified as Duncan stood there, staring at his brother in disbelief.

  Those couldn’t be handcuffs…

  Yet, they were, he mused as he reached for the cell phone on the bureau.

  “Don’t even fucking think about it,” Danny growled, yanking on the cuffs keeping his arms locked in place.

  Sighing heavily, because they both knew that he didn’t have a choice in the matter, he unlocked his brother’s phone, selected the camera app and did what every self-respecting Bradford would do in this situation.

  “Oh my God,” Jodi muttered, burying her face in her hands even as he heard a little snort of amusement coming from her.

  “I. Will. Kick. Your. Fucking ass,” the cranky bastard locked to the headboard snarled, giving him a look that promised all sorts of violence when he got free, but of course, Duncan ignored those threats and did what was expected of him.

  “Say cheese.”


  Two days and three speeding tickets later…

  “Oh, my God,” Necie said on the verge of a panic attack as she sat there in her grandfather’s driveway, gripping the steering wheel tightly as it finally hit her.

  She’d actually told her boss to go fuck herself.

  Okay, so she hadn’t actually used those exact words, but she might as well have. After five years of her boss stealing her recipes and passing them off as her own, making her work double shifts, denying her raises and some time off so that she could have some semblance of a life, Necie had finally had enough. So, this morning when she’d showed up for work, she’d marched right up to her bitch of a boss, Kathleen, and flat out told her that she’d had enough and that she was quitting.

  Unfortunately for Necie, the horrible excuse for a human being hadn’t heard one word she’d said, instead telling her that she was fired because she was five minutes late. At first she’d been a little shocked and even opened her mouth to beg the evil woman to give her another chance, but then common sense kicked in. She took her last meager paycheck, marched back to her car, slammed the car door shut behind her and promptly groaned when the action caused all the bags that she’d strapped to the top of her car to fall off and land in the street.

  That was also around the time that the long line of eighteen-wheelers decided to speed down the street, destroying everything that she owned and leaving her sitting there shaking her head with a sigh, because really, she should have seen that one coming. After observing a moment of silence for her favorite tee shirt from college, the one that had been super soft and was now nothing more than a shredded mass, she decided that it was time to move onto the next stage of her life.

  While most people would consider moving back in with their grandfather and working for him a major step back, she didn’t. She loved her grandfather. He was her best friend, the man in her life and the only person who truly understand and accepted her klutzy ways. He always had a ready smile and a wink for her when something went bad…

  Which unfortunately for her and everyone around her happened quite a lot.

  Coming home for her wasn’t admitting defeat. It meant that she finally felt that she was ready to work for her grandfather as head baker and train so that one day she could take over the family business, something that had terrified her for years, because she never believed that she’d ever be good enough to fill his shoes. Ten years ago when she’d left for culinary school, her grandfather had promised to personally train her and show her how to run the shop, but she hadn’t been read yet and he’d known her well enough to know that she needed to do this her way.

  Now, she was back for good and suddenly terrified that she’d made a huge mistake. Maybe she should go back to Boston, scrape her clothes off the road, ask her landlord to let her move back into her apartment and go beg for her old job back. Not that she had a chance in hell of getting her old job or apartment back, she mused unhappily as she continued to sit in her car, staring blindly at the pile of old snow where her grandfather’s truck should be.

  Then again, it was two in the afternoon, which meant that he wouldn’t be home for a few more hours. That was fine, she decided as she climbed out of her car and carefully made her way to the back of the house where her grandfather kept the snow shovels. She grabbed the one with the black handle, the one that she’d learned to shovel snow with when she was a little girl and with a heavy sigh, she turned around, deciding that spending the next hour shoveling the driveway was better than sitting inside, feeling bad for herself, dug in.

  Five minutes later when her fingers started to go numb and she regretted packing her winter jacket in one of the many bags that was now road kill, she decided that it was time to go inside and grab one of her grandfather’s old winter coats and a pair of his gloves. Wondering if she should make herself some homemade hot chocolate now or after she finished shoveling, she absently slammed the snow shovel into the snow pile behind her and-

  “Son of a bitch!” a deep voice suddenly shouted, really close to her ear, making her wince, because she had a pretty good idea what just happened.

  After years of unfortunate accidents, she was well versed on how to handle this. Taking a deep breath, she turned around to tell whomever it was that she’d just impaled with her shovel that she was really sorry when she suddenly lost the power of speech and apparently her footing as she laid eyes on the handsomest man that she’d ever seen.

  He was also the most considerate too, she absently thought as her feet slipped out from beneath her and the incredibly hot man wrapped his arms around her, turned in mid-fall and took the brunt of the hit, keeping her safe and making her wonder if there was any chance that he would forget about this one day.

  Chapter 1

  November 26, 2015

  Thanksgiving Day

  “I fucking loved you, you fucking bitch!” the man wielding the carving knife screeched, making Duncan’s headache a hell of a lot worse and making him wish that he hadn’t volunteered to work today of all days, but he’d needed a break from his family and the