“Alannah Nicole McGuire!”
Calleigh stood with her arms crossed, tapping her foot, and counted to ten under her breath while she waited for her five- almost six-going-on-sixteen-year-old daughter to deign to grace her mother with her presence.
A pixie with a mop of curly black hair and sapphire eyes peered around the doorframe to her bathroom.
“Can you tell me why all my makeup is out and there is powder and eyeshadow dust all over the vanity?”
“I was using it.”
Of course. That makes perfect sense.
“Why? You know you’re not supposed to go digging in your fathers’ and my bathroom.”
“But I needed it for our tea party.”
She almost didn’t want to know. Almost.
“Why did you need makeup for a tea party?”
Alannah blinked, looking exactly like Rick when he was confused.
“Because we needed another girl.”
Calleigh did some quick math in her head. Their house was bursting at the seams for the annual Memorial Day get-together. She knew that Mikey, Brandon and Deshawn were outside kicking the soccer ball around in the backyard. That left Charlie and Gabriella as Alannah’s partners in crime.
“Can you show me?”
Alannah rolled her eyes, apparently assuming that her mother was too stupid to figure out the clear logic of her mind. They left the master bedroom and went down to the second floor where the kids’ and guest rooms were located. Alannah headed for her room and when Calleigh stepped into the best replication of a fairy princess forest, outside of a Disney movie, she had to hold back the giggles.
Poor little Charlie—Vic, Miranda and Chase’s five-year-old—was sitting at the play table. He wore a gold plastic tiara, Alannah’s bright pink Easter dress and a smile. Calleigh had to give her daughter credit on the makeup job, even if it did look as though the blush, eyeshadow and lipstick had been applied for an outlandish drag show rather than a Sunday afternoon tea party.
“Wow,” she said slowly. “Charlie, sweetheart, are you okay?”
He nodded and picked up his tea cup, pretending to take a drink. Gabriella poured some for Alannah and the three of them proceeded as if the Queen of England were in residence.
“Oh, my God!”
Calleigh turned at the exclamation. Rick stood behind her, admirably trying to hold in the laughter that was pouring out of his eyes. “They’re going to kill you.”
She pushed him back a couple of feet so the kids weren’t paying attention to them. “Oh, no. That was all your daughter’s doing.”
“You’re the one who showed her what makeup was.”
Conor snuck up behind Rick and wrapped his arms around their husband’s waist. “An’ yisser the one who showed her de YouTube videos with makeup artists.”
Rick groaned and leaned back against Conor’s shoulder. “She kept asking me how the people in the circus got to be so colorful.”
Calleigh gave both her husbands a quick kiss. “As much as I love seeing you two, why are you here and not supervising Chase on the grill out back? You do remember last fall when he turned the burgers into black briquettes?”
“He’s safe. Grapenuts and Logan are keeping an eye on him. It completely confounds me how a nationally renowned plastic surgeon is utterly unable to work a basic grill.”
Conor nibbled on Rick’s ear. “I think he likes ter act de maggot so that everyone will take over an’ he can be a total dosser with a drink an’ snack, while de kip of us do all de work.”
That is a rather genius idea.
“Hmm, like how the two of you are slaving away right now?”
“Hey, Miranda and Vic are getting the fruit salad together, Ryan’s keeping an eye on the boys and Clay told us to get out of the kitchen while he’s finishing up the other stuff.”
“Ah. So the two of you thought you’d sneak upstairs for a little play time.”
Rick pulled Calleigh into his arms and nuzzled her neck. “You could come with us,” he whispered. “You know how I love being in the middle.”
She gave Rick a quick grope then stepped back.
She smiled. “Maybe, but in case you forgot”—she pointed into the bedroom—“there are three other ankle biters needing supervision. And maybe some wet wipes.”
Rick and Conor both peered around the door, snickering. Rick pulled out his phone and snapped a photo of Charlie then sent the message to Vic.
About thirty seconds later, there was a shout from the floor below. Rick and Conor took off for the third floor as if fire licked at their heels.
“Cowards!” Calleigh called out.
She took one last look in the bedroom and decided to go face Charlie’s parents. As she approached the kitchen she heard the excited voices of Miranda, Vic and Clay.
“Is it safe to come in?” she called out.
Miranda came running over and gave Calleigh a huge hug. “Are you kidding me? This is the best blackmail material ever!”
Vic rolled his eyes. “While I can’t say I’m as excited as my wife at seeing our son in pink crinoline, I will say he’s showing off those legs as only a proud Burns man could.”
Ryan looked up from mixing the bruschetta pasta salad. “I agree with Vic. Yellow is much more his color, or maybe nice sunset orange.”
Vic took the tray of extra crispy seasoned fries from the oven. There would have been a mutiny from the kids had they only stuck with grilled fruit and veggies and there were no French fries available.
“You are so gay,” Vic said.
“Says the man with a male lover of, what, twenty-five years now?” Ryan countered.
Miranda stirred the lemonade in the big pitcher. “Um, hello. Wife here? He swings both ways.”
Ryan looked around the room. “Speaking of swinging, where did your two men go off to?”
Calleigh’s cheeks heated and Ryan chuckled.
The door to the backyard opened and Chase popped his head in. “Ethan and Logan said that the food is just about done.” He was about to close the door when he peeked back in. “Oh, and, Calleigh, I just wanted to let you know that the acoustics of your house are amazing. Sound from that third floor carries really well.” He winked then disappeared.
They all looked up at the ceiling.
“I’m going to kill them,” Calleigh said softly.
She picked up the video monitor from the counter and hit the talk over button. “Charlie, Gabriella, and Alannah, please come downstairs. Lunch is ready.”
“But, Mom, we’re drinking our tea!”
Calleigh winced at the shout that came through the tiny speaker. None of the kids stood up or even appeared to contemplate her request.
She pushed the button. “Okay, I guess that means we get to eat all the hotdogs and French fries.”
The next moment it sounded like a herd of elephants were stampeding above their heads. Everyone in the room started to laugh. Calleigh picked up a couple of side dishes and carried them out to the picnic tables they had set up for the gathering. Mikey and Brandon had arranged the place settings earlier. She smiled as she noticed they’d used rocks from the garden to hold down the plates and napkins.
“Mikey, Brandon, thank you for setting the table!”
Mikey froze on the spot and put his hands on his waist. “I told you, it’s Michael now. I’m too old for that baby name!”
“Jeez, Mom. Don’t you know that ten year olds don’t go by those silly kid names anymore?” Ethan asked with a smirk. A great cry from the yard assaulted her ears. Deshawn, Ethan and Ryan’s son, stood in the goal holding up the soccer ball he’d just stopped. Brandon kneeled in the grass dramatically weeping as if he’d just lost the World Cup final.
“Nice stop, D!” Ethan cheered.
“He looks good, Ethan.”
“Yeah he’s worked really hard with the psychologist, and is starting to open up a lot more.”
When they’d met seven years ago Calleigh never would have thought she would see Ethan wearing a proud papa face. But when he and Ryan had announced a couple of years ago that they were adopting an eight-year-old out of foster care, it forced her to reevaluate her friend’s personality. To her, Ethan had always been the margarita-guzzling, smart-ass, hair-band fan. Killer in the courtroom and jester in the living room.
There was also the matter of both Ethan and Ryan having been workaholics as long as she’d known them. Ethan was an assistant U.S. Attorney, and Ryan was now the special agent in charge of the FBI Boston division. She’d been worried how they would handle the demands of parenthood. But the men had blended the two parts of their lives with only a moderate amount of growing pains.
It helped that Deshawn was a great kid. He’d been in the system for four years. He was gentle, imaginative and even-tempered. From the moment they’d introduced him to Michael and Brandon the three boys had gotten along great. She knew from Ryan’s bragging that Deshawn did very well in school. Calleigh had seen the shy and very quiet little boy blossom under his parents’ praise, and he now expressed himself well.
“Has he seen his sisters lately?”
Ethan frowned and shook his head. “We tried setting up a playdate with their foster parents a couple of weeks ago, but got a call that they couldn’t make it. We try to make sure they talk on the phone once a week. I’m hoping they find a forever home soon.”
“Would the two of you ever consider taking them in?”
He sighed. “I don’t think we could. I mean we love Deshawn and he’s really completed our family, but having a matching set of six-year-old girls, too?” He gave a little shudder. “I would have no idea what to do with them.”
Rick pushed between them and snagged a grape from the fruit salad bowl. “Twins. Double the trouble, double the fun. Believe me, we know.”
“Mo grian! Mo gealachí! Bring ya’ in!” Conor called out. “Where is de bag of taytos an’ black stuff?”
Rick handed Conor a glass of water and a skewer of grilled veggies. “No chips or Guinness. We’re going healthy. Remember?”
“Gabh síos ort fhéin,” Conor said under his breath.
“If I could, I would, but that’s what I have you for, love.”
Rick bent over and Calleigh couldn’t help but stare at her husband’s ass. It was still as tight as the photos she’d seen of his days as a collegiate soccer player. She glanced up and saw Conor’s eyes also trained on the defined globes. Their gazes met and in the aquamarine depths Calleigh saw the promise of a pleasurable evening once their house had cleared out for the night.
“All right, you three, don’t make me get the hose out,” Chase said as he set a platter of meat on the table.
Rick handed Conor a bottle of Guinness with a chaste kiss. “That’s because I love you.”
“Mmhm, and you don’t want to listen to him bitch all night,” Chase said.
They all piled food on their plates and found a seat around the table. Miranda and Vic were the last to sit down after making sure the kids table was settled.
“So, I’ve been thinking,” Ryan said.
“Always dangerous,” Chase mumbled.
Ryan glanced around before flipping Chase the finger, while taking a drink to hide the gesture from little eyes.
“It’s been a long time since we took a vacation.” He looked over at Ethan and saw a nod. “I don’t know about all of you, but with work and kids and life in general it’s been four years for us. I haven’t heard about any of you making any big plans.”
A chorus of heads shook around the table.
“Well, except for Niall, Trevor, and Matt. I swear those three take a vacation at least every six months.”
“Three incomes and no kids. Plus Niall travels for his work a lot so they like to take weekend trips around his shoots,” Logan added.
“I get it. Where are they by the way?”
“Matt texted a little bit ago. They’re on the way. Apparently Trevor had a slight mishap in the shower.”
“Is he okay?” Miranda asked.
Logan snickered. “Yeah. Apparently he fell on Niall’s— Ow!” he shouted and rubbed his leg. “I was going to say tile, you perv,” he said to Clay.
“Yeah, sure you were.”
Ryan rolled his eyes. “Anyway. So Ethan and I have been tossing around the idea of planning a much needed vacation for a while, and we thought we’d ask if any of you were interested in putting something together?”
“A group vacation kind of thing. Sort of like when Rick, Calleigh and Conor tied the knot,” Ethan added.
The table was quiet for a moment.
“Well…I do have some time due to me at the hospital,” Miranda said.
“And I make my own schedule,” Chase added.
They looked over at Vic, who nodded. “Depends on how long we’re talking, but I could probably swing coverage.”
Ethan clapped. “That’s two groups out of five. Who else is in?”
Calleigh glanced at both Rick and Conor, who nodded. She’d only ever taken time off when one of the kids was sick, and she’d managed to build up some vacation time since going back to work three years ago.
The initial plan had been for her to stay home until Alannah started kindergarten, but after two years she’d told her men that she was going nuts and needed to get back into the operating room. She’d spent too many years working her ass off to become a nurse anesthetist to forgo the profession she loved. Her two software specialists had made the switch from the sports video game company they had worked at when the three of them had met to one that specialized in multi-player online role-playing games. All the tablets and smart phones now available had assured them steady work and competitive income. Which was the primary reason they’d been able to afford their forever home in the coveted Bellevue Hill area last year.
“We’re in,” they announced together.
Ethan looked over at Clay and Logan. “How about you two?”
“Vacation time isn’t an issue, but you know how things are at the department. We’ll have to see if it’s possible,” Clay said.
“Let’s get this party started!” Trevor called out as he, Matt, and Niall came into the backyard.
Logan spun and Calleigh saw him hit a button on his remote for his cochlear implants.
“Fashionably late again, Trev?” Chase asked.
Trevor shrugged. “Hey, it’s a holiday. I had people to do and things to see.” He sat down in one of the empty spots. “What were you talking about?”
“Going on a group vacation, and I’m pretty sure you have the same priorities every day not just on national holidays,” Clay teased.
Trevor put down his bottle of water. “Well, when you’re as lucky as I am, and get to wake up next to the world’s sexiest two men then I figure being a few minutes late to a family barbecue due to some extracurricular fun is not only understandable, but frankly expected.”
Calleigh snickered as Trevor stared each of them down one by one with a raised eyebrow. As each person at the table nodded, Trevor’s smirk got bigger and bigger.
“Good, now that we are all in agreement that I have the best sex life on the planet I can share my other good news. I’ve already cleared it with the captain.”
“Cleared what?” Logan asked.
“I talked to the captain earlier this week after Ethan had called me to brainstorm. You and I were scheduled to train some minions for vacation coverage, anyway. So he said as long as they pass muster it would be a good test. He did make me promise that we would come back, though.”
“As if you would ever give up all those toys you get to play with,” Logan said.
“My precious.” Trevor sighed.
“Do you need a minute?” Clay asked.
“Oh, no. I’m good.”
“Yes, bello, you are.” Matt kissed the top of his head before sitting down.
Ethan stood up. “So that’s it? We’re all in?”
Rick nodded. “God help the world, but it sounds like we are. Now, have we considered the logistics of thirteen adults and six kids all traveling at the same time to the same location?”
“And exactly where and when are we going to attempt to pull this off?” Vic asked.
“That’s what today is all about,” Ethan announced.
Logan set down his fork. “Hmm, and here I thought today was about paying our respects to those who have given the ultimate sacrifice for our country.”
Clay squeezed Logan’s shoulder then leaned in and said something that was meant for their ears only. Calleigh watched as Logan’s shoulders lost their tension. Logan was a former Ranger and Ryan had served in the Navy before joining the FBI. However, Logan’s experience had been quite different from Ryan’s. He’d seen and done things that had ended up causing the man to suffer from PTSD since his return from Afghanistan. He’d come a long way with professional help over the years, but sometimes there were still shadows in his eyes. Logan’s hearing loss was a daily reminder of the head trauma he’d experienced as a result of the attack that had killed his lover at the time.
She looked over at her sons. Her husband at that time, Kevin, had died in Iraq when the boys were only babies. Ten years may have passed, but she still felt a pang in her heart when she thought about how he’d never gotten a chance to meet the boys. Rick, Conor and she made a conscious effort to include Kevin’s memory in the boys’ lives, but sometimes Calleigh felt it was more for her benefit than theirs. In fact, they were going to the Massachusetts National Cemetery on Cape Cod tomorrow to pay their respects.
“Sorry, guys. Didn’t mean to kill the mood.”
Chase shook his head. “Nothing to apologize for, Logan. You’re right about today, but I also think of it as an opportunity to celebrate and be thankful for their service. How that sacrifice allows all of us to gather here together, stuff ourselves with barbecue, and watch our children play without worrying about stepping on an IED and getting blown to bits. What you and your brothers and sisters have done will never be forgotten by any of us here.”
Logan nodded and smiled. “So where are we all headed? The Caribbean? Swiss Alps? Mexico?”
“Disney World!” the kids said at the same time.
“No!” the adults responded.
Charlie, being the youngest, started to cry. Vic dashed to the other table to settle his son down. After about twenty seconds, he returned with a slightly pained expression on his face.
“I sort of promised him that we’d take them to Disney World another time.”
“He totally has you wrapped around his finger,” Chase said, laughing.
Miranda stared Chase down. “Like Gabriella isn’t Daddy’s little princess?”
Chase shrugged. “Don’t think you’re innocent here.”
“Yeah but she’s Mom,” Calleigh said.
Miranda nodded. “Thank you. Mom’s get a permanent pass for babying their children as long as they live. I don’t care if he’s three or thirty-three.”
“Anyway!” Trevor shouted. “How about some place totally exotic? Like… Fiji!”
“How about somewhere affordable? Like Wyoming?” Clay suggested.
Everyone at the table turned to look at him.
“What? I’ve always wanted to ride a horse.”
Conor leaned in and looked down the table. “If we are really doin’ this, it shouldn’t be ’alf assed. What aboyt somethin’ like dat movie?”
“Adventures in Babysitting?” Miranda suggested.
“Weekend at Bernie’s?” Chase added.
“RV?” Rick chimed.
“Hostel?” Logan asked.
Trevor raised his hand. “Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation?”
Conor stood up. “Go an’ shoite! I’m talkin’ aboyt de one where they go al’ over Europe.”
“EuroTrip? Funny as fuck, but I don’t think that’s exactly family friendly,” Rick said.
“No, I think he means the National Lampoon’s one,” Vic suggested.
Conor nodded while Calleigh and Miranda rapidly shook their heads.
“There is no way in hell I’m making a multiple destination trip with all the kids. Can you imagine the… Oh, God, I can’t even begin to say what could go wrong,” Calleigh moaned.
Conor’s face drained of color. “Sorry ár ghrá. I wasn’t thinkin’.”
Calleigh patted his hand. “It’s okay. All right. So we want somewhere exotic, fun, relatively easy to travel to and from and not someplace we’ll have to take out a second mortgage to achieve.”
All the heads nodded.
“Hawaii?” Niall said softly.
Everyone turned to look at the man who hadn’t said anything since he’d nodded his greeting upon arrival.
Ethan tilted his head. “Huh. Never would have thought of… Well, if we… That just might work.”