Merry Christmas Eve!
Tiffany, my assistant, was going through old Locke files a few days ago and found a bonus scene I’d written about Landry Cookie Day. We busted it out, dusted it off, didn’t edit it (ha!) and thought you all might like a little taste of the Landry’s this year.
Any arugments? 😉
My jaw sets in some half-assed attempt to save my dignity. “I don’t wanna go.”
Camilla rolls her pretty blue eyes. “You’re going, Dominic.”
It’s more of a whine than I care to admit, more of a desperate plea to save me from some familial tradition I don’t understand or want to participate in. What I have come to understand after the last few months as an accepted unofficial member of the Landry family is that they never miss an opportunity to get together.
And rib each other.
And invite me. And my brother. And his kid.
This shit is overwhelming.
Camilla rifles through her purse, not bothering to look my way. “Because it’s fun. Because we’ve all gotten together to watch movies and make Christmas candy and cookies every year of my life. It’s how we get into the holiday spirit.”
“Can’t we do that here?” I ask.
She sets the bag on the counter and looks at me. Her blond hair brushes against her shoulder as she cocks her head to the side, cocking a perfectly arched brow my way.
This is why I fell in love with this girl.
She’s not the spoiled brat I took her for when we met that hot summer day when her air-conditioning was broken and I came to fix it. She’s not the rich do-gooder I expected her to be when we first started seeing or sleeping with each other. She’s not some arrogant princess that can’t see past her nose. Nope. Cam isn’t any of that.
This is Cam. The girl that doesn’t have to put up with any of my shit but does with a kindness no one has ever shown me. A lady that can hear my reservations even when I try my hardest to go with the flow. And the woman that picks up on the little things, like me not wanting to go to this Landry get together at The Farm, and read way too much (correctly) into it.
“If you really don’t want to go …” She takes a deep breath. “We can stay home.”
I sink back into the sofa filled with pink pillows with something Cam calls fringe and kick my feet up on the coffee table. This earns a grimace from the blonde beauty across the room, but she lets it slide. “You need to go. It’s your family thing.”
She walks across the room and perches on the edge of the sofa next to me. The air fills with her perfume. The sweet scent chips away at my irritation.
“They’re your family too, Dom,” she says.
“Technically, they’re my employers.”
Her eyes roll toward the back of her head. “Will you stop that?”
“I work for Landry Security for Ford. Your brother. Who basically works for Graham, your other brother. Who basically keeps shit in line for your father. Which means they all sign my paycheck in one way or another.”
“Dom, just stop.”
“Barrett’s security guy won’t be there. Or will I see Troy? Or what about—”
“You know who will be there?” she asks, silencing me. “Mallory. Graham’s wife that also works for a Landry company.”
“Because Graham bought her company.”
She crosses her arms over her ample chest. “Alison, Danielle, and Ellie will all be there and they work for Landry companies.”
“They volunteer for Landry charities,” I deadpan. “Not the same.”
“So, what you’re saying is that everyone in my family contributes to the family businesses or charities in a more meaningful way than you?”
“No. Yes.” I shift in my seat. “I don’t fucking know. Don’t start turning this around and doing that … thing you do.”
The corner of her lips upturn. “What thing I do?”
My hands are on her waist before she even sees me move. She’s on my lap, my arms locked around her, a squeal escaping her pink lips before she knows what’s happening.
I hold her tight, tucking her safely against my chest. Holding her is something I never miss an opportunity to do. But holding her to stop her from talking is an added bonus.
“I wasn’t talking about that thing you did last night,” I say, pressing the pad of my thumb against the bud of her lips. “But if you want to talk about that, we certainly can.”
She nips at my finger. “I don’t.”
“You’re no fun, Miss Landry.”
Her eyes look at the ceiling like she’s considering that. “I think I am, actually. And now you’re trying to distract me with thoughts of last night and how hard your cock is under my ass right now.”
I tilt my hips so I’m pressed against her. “So?”
“So, it’s not going to work.”
With a sigh, I sink back into the pillows again. “Go to your cookie thing and come back and we can discuss your level of fun.”
“If you don’t go to the ‘cookie thing’ with me, there will be no cookies for you later.”
My jaw falls open. “You’re playing hardball.”
“I won’t be playing with a ball or anything hard if you don’t stop this.”
“Why do you gotta be so mean?”
“Because I’m your girlfriend. It’s my job.”
Looking at her splayed across my lap, her blond hair a stark contrast to my navy blue shirt and the deep brown sofa, my heart tightens.
I wonder if she exaggerated that word or if it stuck out to me like a sore thumb because I hate it so much.
It sounds so juvenile. So fleeting. So … temporary.
And as I watch her look up at me like I’m some kind of fucking saint, a look I don’t deserve, I hope she knows this thing between us is anything but temporary … even if I can’t bring myself to take the steps to make that official.
“First of all,” I say, brushing her hair off her forehead, “you aren’t mean. You couldn’t be mean if you tried.”
“You have no idea how close that girl in the gym last night was to getting a one-two from me.”
My chest rumbles as I laugh at that imagery. She smacks my chest.
“I wasn’t kidding, Dom. She looked at you like you were a meal and then she put her hand on your stomach and I about lost it. She’s lucky I had a boxing class in between us because I was almost the meanest I’ve ever been.”
“And then I removed her gloved hand from me and told her not to touch me,” I say, lowering my lips to her. “Because you’re the only one that gets to touch me.”
“Good.” She lifts her head until our lips meet. “Or I’ll be mean to you.”
I cradle the back of her head in my palm, holding her just so I can kiss her longer. Being with her makes me forget about life before her. It removes the questions and worries about this new situation I’m in because of her.
One where I don’t have control.
A position that makes me all wobbly on the inside.
She breaks the kiss with a little sigh and settles back on my lap again. “So,” she says. “What’s really bothering you?”
“The fact I’m going to miss the college football game today if I accompany you to the cookie party.”
“Like Ford won’t have it on.”
Bad excuse, Dom.
“Do you not like my family?” she asks quietly. “Because if you don’t, I probably need to know that.”
I chuckle. “Your family is great.”
“So why don’t you want to go?”
Squirming in my seat, my gaze settles on a picture of Camilla and me at The Farm in the fall. It was after another family event—a new baby or a business success or the fact that it was a day ending in a y. We’re sitting on a porch swing that looks over the huge backyard. Cam’s head is on my shoulder, my arm around her waist.
It’s my favorite picture of us together. We look happy. I look happy. I look the way I feel and it’s an odd thing to take in. I’ve never felt happy before, nor have I seen a picture of myself where I’m smiling for real. But, this one? It’s one hundred percent genuine.
I remember Mrs. Landry taking the picture before shoving a drink in our hands. I remember her calling me, ‘Son,’ and almost dropping the Mason jar filled with sweet tea.
They’ve been nothing but good to me. All of them. This entire brood of rich motherfuckers that could have and do anything they want—they’ve been good to me. To my brother, Nate, and his son, Ryder, the only family I have of my own.
It’s hard to wrap my head around sometimes. I wait for the moment where I feel like the outsider, like the guy that was fixing A.C. units and fighting amateur cage matches not that long ago. Like I don’t fit in with these people in their fancy clothes talking about charity events and multi-million-dollar business deals.
That moment hasn’t come yet. But it will.
Those moments always do.
“You can always go out to the green and golf if you don’t want to sit around the house,” she says softly. “I just want you there. It’s important to me.”
“You had to say that, didn’t you?”
“That it’s important to you. Now I don’t have a choice.”
She grins. “You have a choice. One will slaughter my heart and the other won’t. Your call.”
I cinch my fingers into her hips, making her giggle. Her head buries in my stomach as she draws her legs up to keep me from tickling her.
“You’re a sight,” I tell her.
She peeks at me through her thick lashes. “So are you.” The way the words come out, breathy and sexy in her kittenish kind of way, makes me hard. Again. “I love you, Dominic.”
“I love ya, Cam.”
The ginormous tree she was hell-bent on having stands in the corner behind her. The lights twinkle like a backdrop to her smile. I don’t even know who I am anymore. How am I, this tatted-up asshole with no real skills, sitting on this overpriced sofa holding the most perfect woman God ever made?
“Stop,” she whispers.
She takes my hand in hers. She studies the veins running across the top of my hand and how the skin bunches as she moves my palm in hers. Then, she kisses it softly.
“I know it’s hard for you to live in my world sometimes,” she says.
“What’s hard about this?” Glancing around the living room, I take in the cashmere blankets and the Persian rug and the table made out of some fucking wood that’s worth more than a human kidney.
She elbows me in mine. “You know what I mean.”
“That makes me sound like a pussy.”
“That. ‘Oh, it’s so hard to live in this luxury with a fucking beauty queen.’” I scowl. “Saying it like that makes me sound like a fuck boy bitching that I didn’t get brunch. What’s hard is that I know what brunch is.”
She laughs. “You know that’s not what I meant.”
My fingertip traces the side of her face, down her jaw, and beneath her bottom lip. “What did you mean?”
“I know I can be overbearing. Especially when it’s coupled with Graham and Ford—”
She laughs again. “And Linc. I’m not oblivious to how hard that might be. I mean, I just got Nate and Ryder when I got you. You got a lot of people.”
My body sags against the sofa. “But your people are great. Your family is really cool. Fuck, Ford even gave me a job, and he pays me like I know shit.”
“Because you do.” She nestles her head against me. “One time, Sienna brought this guy home for Christmas. This was four or five years ago. He was just … rotten. All schmoozy with Graham, trying to talk stats with Linc, acting all hard with Ford. He had a degree in finance or economics or something and I still, to this day, think Sienna brought him home just to mess with everyone.”
“I bet Graham loved that.”
“It went better than you even imagine.” She slips her hand under the hem of my shirt, laying her palm flat against my skin. “I remember my brothers, and Dad, saying this guy didn’t know anything. Sienna pointed out his degrees and experience and whatever and Graham said something about how paper doesn’t translate to knowledge. How experience doesn’t either. That the most important things you’re either born with or not and that guy wasn’t.”
I shift in my seat so her touch deepens on my side. “And?”
“I know you sometimes worry that you’re some kind of charity case with my brothers. That they humor you because of me.”
My head nods faintly as my gaze shifts away from hers.
“They don’t humor anyone,” she insists. “You know that.” She raises up from my lap and straddles me, taking my chin in her hand. “My family loves you because you love me. Not because I love you. See the difference?”
“Yeah. Kind of.” The word scratches at my throat, the heat of it burning the lining of my windpipe. I love her. God, I love her so damn much. I’m just scared I’ll wake up one day and she’ll be gone.
She presses her sweet lips to mine, letting them linger for a moment too long. My hands go to her hips again—for contact. To hold her against me. To remind myself she’s really here.
Leaning back, she bites her bottom lip. “Hurry up and fuck me so we aren’t late.”
That’s an offer I can’t refuse.
Dom takes my hand as I get out of the car. He grins, a little sedated from the tryst on the sofa, then the floor, then bent over my teakwood coffee table. I grin, too, thinking about feeling his hands rolling over every inch of my skin as he took me from behind.
“I’m pretty sure you shouldn’t be thinking about things like that as we walk into your parent’s house,” he says, leading me up the sidewalk.
“I was thinking about cookies.”
The front door, guarded by two oversized toy soldier statues, opens as we start up the stairs. Troy walks out.
My oldest brother, Barrett, was the Governor of Georgia for a term. Before that, he was the Mayor of Savannah. Troy was Barrett’s security guard slash go-to while in office. Now he works for Landry Security, my brother Ford’s company. He and Dominic have forged a friendship stemming from their common background, a background that’s way rougher than I care to think about. Especially on Cookie Making Day.
Troy flashes Dominic a look that makes my man laugh.
“Should I just turn around now?” Dom asks him.
Troy rubs a hand over his head. “Let’s just say Lincoln is all riled up today. Barrett came within two strokes of him when they golfed this morning, which is still a win for Linc, but enough for Barrett and Ford to razz him like crazy. It’s … been a long day.”
“What is everyone doing now?” I ask as we come to a stop next to Troy.
“Well, Sienna just called from Illinois. Your dad is holding Ryan and refusing to give him to Lincoln. Your mom is mediating that and trying to keep Huxley from eating all the fudge. I guess he already vomited once this morning.” Troy makes a face. “And Ellie and Dani are trying to learn how to make this divinity candy that Alison makes that looks like cow spit, if I’m being honest.”
“So, where are you going?” Dominic asks him. “Because I’m pretty sure you need help, right?”
“I’m heading into town to pick up more sugar.” Troy grins. “You probably need to get on in there, Dom. Mrs. Landry’s been waiting on you.”
I groan. “I thought we were past this crush thing my mother has with you, Dom.”
Dominic laughs but turns as a truck rolls down the lane. His brother, Nate, pulls in behind our vehicle and jumps out. It takes a few seconds before he and Ryder are heading our direction.
“Hey, Ryder!” I say, catching the little boy as he runs and jumps into my arms.
“Hey.” He buries his face into my shoulder. “Thank you for inviting us. I love it here.”
I look up at Nate. The same bit of discomfort that I see in Dom’s is buried in his eyes. Nate is just better at hiding it than his brother. Before I can call him out on it, or at least prod around, the front door opens again.
“Finally,” Lincoln scoffs as he walks by. Ford, Graham, and Barrett follow him out. “Nate and Dom, let’s go. You’re on my team.”
Nate holds his hands out. “Um …”
My brothers descend the stairs and then turn to face us. Lincoln’s jaw is set. Ford looks utterly amused. Graham lets out a hefty sigh as Barrett watches him with a grin.
“Home run derby,” Lincoln says. “G, Ford, and The Governor on one team—”
“I’m not the governor anymore,” Barrett interjects.
Lincoln rolls his eyes. “And Nate, Dominic, and me on the other. Granted, this is unfair as fuck, but these three assholes won’t stop mocking me. So, boys, let’s teach them some manners.” Only then does he look down and see Ryder. “Um, sorry about the language.”
“I’ve heard it before.” Ryder shrugs. “Can I go play with Huxley?”
“He’s in the kitchen,” Barrett tells him.
“Thanks!” Ryder gives his dad a high-five as he races by.
I hook my arm through Dominic’s elbow and rest my head on his bicep. “Hi, brothers. Nice to see you too.”
“None of us could get a word in edge-wise with dipshit here,” Ford says, elbowing Lincoln in the side.
“Are you really playing baseball, G?” I ask.
Graham shakes his head. “Not by choice. It appears it’s the only way to shut Lincoln up today.”
“Yup. Now let’s go.” Lincoln waves at Dominic and Nate. “We need to talk strategy, boys.”
I look up at Dominic as my brothers start around the side of the house. “Is that better than baking?”
He laughs. “Only because I’m on Lincoln’s team. Otherwise, if you beat him and you aren’t blood, he tries to kill you.”
“I was going to have a pulled muscle until he said we were on his team,” Nate jokes.
“Where’s Joy?” I ask.
Nate makes a face. “We’re on the outs, I think. I don’t know if she’ll show up here today, but, if she does, I’ll grab Ryder and go.”
“Why would you do that?”
“Because she’s a friend of your family. Of you.”
“And you aren’t?” I cast him a glare as I smack Dom’s shoulder. “You two need to realize you’re family. You’re as welcome here as anyone. Maybe even more welcome than my brothers at this point.”
As if on cue, Lincoln’s voice rings through the yard as he bellows for Dominic and Nate.
Nate’s features soften. “I do want to thank you for the invite. Ryder has been looking forward to this for days now.”
“Of course,” I say. “This is what family does. We get together, and eat, and laugh, and tease one another.”
Dom and Nate exchange a glance that stabs me right in the heart. It’s filled with memories I don’t share—memories I’m happy not to have—but memories that hurt me all the same. Because they hurt them.
I wonder what would’ve happened to them if they had grown up with a family like mine. I wonder what would’ve changed in their lives. But every time I think of that, I wonder if that would’ve put them on a different path, a path that didn’t lead to me. And as terrible a person as that makes me, I’m glad things ended up how they did because I love them both.
Looking up as a flurry of voices rounds the house again, I see Graham holding a hand over his face as he spews a string of profanities behind him.
“What happened?” I ask, stepping to the side as they march to the front of the house.
“Lincoln hit me in the face,” Graham mutters.
“I did not,” Linc protests. “I threw you a pitch and told you to step into the swing, not step into the ball.”
Ford laughs. “This means we won.”
“Oh, fuck you,” Lincoln says. “Your player was a pansy.”
Graham whirls around, the edge of his shirt hanging free. “I will pay Dominic to kick your ass if you don’t shut up.”
“Woah, now,” Dom says, hands up in defense. “I don’t want a part of this narrative.”
“Narrative?” Nate raises a brow.
“I heard it from Taylor Swift.” Dom shrugs. “Anyway, I think you need some ice, Graham.”
Graham’s eye is swollen, the top a yucky mix of blues and reds. “Does it look bad?”
Ford lays a hand on Graham’s shoulder. “This is the baddest-assed you’ve ever looked, G.”
Everyone laughs … except Graham. He heads into the house, letting the door pop closed a little harder than necessary behind him.
“He’s gonna kill you guys,” I say, shaking my head.
“Not me.” Barrett walks up on the porch. “I was just a spectator to all of it. Now, I’m going to go find that son of mine and see if he’s swiped any more fudge.”
“I’ll go too,” Ford says. “Maybe I’ll take the little shit fishing for a while.” He pauses as he walks by. “Hey, Nate. Want to grab Ryder and go down to the pond with me and Hux?”
Nate’s face lights up. “Sure. That’d be awesome.”
Everyone disappears inside except for me, Dom, and Lincoln. Lincoln climbs the steps and leans against a post.
“How are you going to make it up to Graham?” I ask with a grin.
Lincoln shrugs. “I’ll teach his kids how to hit a ball. I pray Ryan got my athletic skills and not some quiet DNA that Graham has.”
“Graham’s doing all right for himself,” Dom points out. He snakes a hand around my waist, pulling me into his side.
Melting against him, breathing in the scent that never fails to relax me and turn me on at the same time, I sigh. “Maybe Ryan has a mix of the two. That would be good, right?”
Lincoln’s nose curls. “Change of topic, when are you two having kids?”
My eyes shoot open as I whip my head to Dom’s. My breath catches in my throat. I’m not sure what his reaction is going to be and I can’t decide whether to calm him down or kill Lincoln first.
Dom’s fingers curl into my hip, the corner of his mouth turning toward the sky. “I can see that,” he says. “Cam telling your dad I knocked her up without marrying her first. Should be a good day.”
I clear my throat, knowing I need to respond. To save face. To blow this topic right off the porch and into the distance for another day. But the idea of having Dominic’s baby—of my stomach swollen with his child, of seeing him hold a newborn in his arms, of having the start of what my family here is, awakens something deep inside me. Something in the depths of my soul. Something I’m afraid I won’t be able to let go.
Dom doesn’t look away. He holds my gaze, a steadiness to it that I latch on to.
“Well,” Lincoln says, shoving off the post, “I’ll go in now that I’ve made things all awkward.”
Dom looks over my head, tips his chin to Lincoln, and then looks right back at me. Once the door closes, I swallow.
“Lincoln … I … Um …” I stammer, not sure what to say.
He puts his arms around me and hugs me into his chest. He studies me so intently I’m lost to anything and everything but him.
“What do you think about that?” he asks quietly.
His Adam’s apple bobs. “About having a kid. Or two.”
“You know I want to be a mother someday,” I say carefully, trying not to push. “What do you think about it?”
“I think you’d be an excellent mother.”
I grin. “And I know you’d be an excellent father.”
He looks at the ceiling. “I don’t know about that.”
“I do.” I tap his chest until he looks down at me. “You know how I really wanted to answer that question?”
He shakes his head warily.
I force a swallow and ignore the thumping in my chest that beats so loud, I’m certain he can hear it. “I wanted to say I’ve thought about it a lot. And that there’s really only one way I want to do it.”
“With someone that will take care of me. That will love the babies fiercely. That will teach them what love even means and how to be a man and how to love a woman and what it means to be respectful and respectable.”
He nods, biting his bottom lip.
I grin. “I want to be a mother to two or three or four kids with you. Only you, Dom.”
His pupils widen. He looks at the house and then back to me and then the insecurity I see in his eyes sometimes takes over.
“Don’t,” I whisper. “Whatever that is in your head that makes you question whether you belong here or with me or with my family—stop it. Because I might not have your last name …” I roll my eyes. “Which you could ask me to fix any day now …”
He growls, pulling me tighter.
“But, as far as I can see it, we’re as much a family as me and Lincoln or Alison or Mallory. Maybe even more than that because I was stuck with Linc from birth. But I chose you.”
I barely get the words out before Dominic’s lips are on mine. He kisses me sweet and slow, telling me all the things he has a hard time putting into words.
My hands drape off his shoulders as I tell him without words what he means to me, as we communicate in the way that works best for him. I answer his questions, make him promises, and ask questions of my own—namely, When are you going to ask me to marry you?
He breaks the kiss and rests his forehead on mine. “I really want to take you home now.”
“If my mom doesn’t get to see you, she’ll be shattered,” I joke.
“And if I go in there with this hard-on, she’ll get the wrong impression.”
I laugh. “I’ll say I’m not feeling good and we’ll leave. Twenty minutes, okay?”
He takes my hands and laces his fingers through mine. “On one condition.”
He takes a deep breath. His chest rises and falls quickly a number of times until it evens out. Finally, he looks at me with a sincerity I’ve only seen a couple of times on his face.
“Can I give you your Christmas present tonight?” he asks.
There’s a tone woven into the question that hits me straight in the heart. I shiver as I lean forward and kiss his chest, hoping beyond hope my present might be the question I’ve been wanting to hear. “Yeah,” I say. “Only if I can give you yours.”
He kisses the top of my head and then pulls me to the door. “Twenty minutes.”
We exchange a smile and walk inside.