Holidays with the Walker Brothers
“Are you serious right now?” Zane exclaimed as his eardrums were assaulted with tunes that didn’t quite fit the celebration.
“What?” Brendon asked defensively, a devilish grin on his face.
“Christmas music?” he prompted, although the question wasn’t necessary now that the room had erupted in a chorus about white Christmas.
“Yup, time to get in the spirit,” Braydon chimed in as he jogged down the stairs carrying a large cardboard box, wearing that same exasperating smirk as his twin’s.
“Spirit of what? We just finished Thanksgiving dinner. Can’t we make it through one holiday before you move on to the next?”
Zane waited for one of them to respond, but the twins were obviously enjoying his reaction. Note to self: keep your mouth shut.
His attention turned to Ethan as he sauntered into the room from the kitchen, a handful of cookies in one hand. With his ball cap turned backward on his head and a glum expression on his face, Ethan looked pretty much the same as he did every day. With the exception that he obviously decided to dress up for the occasion. Well, dressed up as far as Ethan’s standards went. A navy T-shirt and a pair of faded Levi’s seemed to be his version of holiday casual versus the grunge they were used to him being decked out in.
But that was about as good as it got for Ethan. The guy seriously needed to shave. Zane knew the whole scruffy thing was a fashion statement, but someone needed to tell Ethan that the mountain-man look wasn’t all that popular.
“Mom wants us to put up the tree,” Ethan informed him.
Tossing his hands in the air, Zane feigned aggravation. He knew this was the next part of the traditional Thanksgiving get-together, but what fun would it be if he couldn’t harass his brothers even just a little bit.
“What are you waiting for, then?” he asked Ethan, watching his brother closely. If Zane wasn’t mistaken, Ethan didn’t sound at all enthused about the idea, either. Then again, Ethan didn’t spend much time smiling these days, Zane noticed.
With a mouth full of cookie, Ethan glared at him. “When you start working, I will.”
Ethan was the one who wouldn’t put up with his antics. Didn’t stop Zane from making the effort to get his brothers riled up.
Glaring at three of his six brothers, Zane shook his head in mock exasperation before sneaking a peek through the wide opening that led to the kitchen. There she was, the most beautiful woman in the world, and she was looking right at him. Ever since they finished cleaning up the Thanksgiving meal about half an hour ago, V had been sitting with the other women, chatting it up over coffee. And Zane had been making faces at her from the living room, trying to make her laugh.
It seemed to be working.
Zane inconspicuously glanced down at his watch, checking to see if he had any chance of cutting out early. Six thirty. Okay, so maybe he was jumping the gun a little. They’d only been at his parents’ house for an hour and a half, and appropriate social etiquette had them visiting at least two hours, especially after the spectacular spread his mother had just spent the day preparing.
And it seemed as though V was having a fantastic time, so it wasn’t like he could just swoop in and pull her out of the conversation to take her home and ravish her. Although, he had to give himself credit, because that was the best idea he’d come up with all day. Then again, if she happened to take a bathroom break any time in the near future, he might just corner her then. Yep, unquestionably a better idea.
Maybe he should get her some more coffee.
Remembering where he was, Zane tore his gaze off V and looked around the room. He was stuck for the time being, so he had better make the best of it. Putting the tree up on Thanksgiving was a family tradition, but Zane just wanted to go home, get V naked, and observe all that he was thankful for in an entirely different way.
Obviously, that wasn’t going to happen.
Travis, Gage, and Beau chose that moment to come banging down the stairs, boots thudding on hardwood, boxes scraping down the wall as all three of them carried their weight in boxes labeled CHRISTMAS.
No getting out of it now. They were apparently going to be putting up the tree.
“Wanna give us a hand?” Travis barked from halfway down the stairs.
“No, not really,” Zane joked, purposely keeping his expression stern. “From the looks of it, you could use a little exercise. You gettin’ a little soft around the middle there?”
His comment earned him a glare from his oldest brother and a chuckle from Gage, who was just two steps behind Travis.
“Where’s Sawyer?” Zane asked when he realized his brother was missing. Actually, now that he thought about it, two of them were MIA. “And where’s Kaleb? Why don’t they have to help?”
“Oh, trust me, they’re already working,” Ethan said with a huge grin. “Sawyer grabbed Dad and Kaleb to help with decorations outside. Said he wanted to get this over with.”
Well, that made sense. Not that Zane actually cared where they were, but he was going to ensure they had to work if he did. After all, that’s what brothers were for.
Once the boxes were settled in the middle of the living room floor, Zane knew there was no getting out of this. If he didn’t contribute, his brothers would ensure he felt their pain, one way or another, so as he grabbed one of the boxes out of Travis’s hand, he smiled. The sooner he got to work, the sooner he could get his lovely fiancée home and naked.
Then again . . . if he had to guess, V was going to want to put up their Christmas tree when they got back home. Only they didn’t have one yet. Which meant she was going to want to go get one. And that would lead to more and more time spent doing something other than ravishing her sinfully delicious body.
Who came up with these holidays anyway?
There had to be an easier way to do this. Why hadn’t someone come up with Christmas in a box already? Complete with a pop-up tree and a turkey dinner. Seemed simple enough.
As for Zane’s parents, they might not subscribe to the quick-and-easy version Zane was hoping for, but they had thankfully opted for an artificial tree years ago, and last year they had picked up a new one on clearance after the holidays. Or at least that’s what he assumed they had done, considering the box the tree came in was brand-new and had a clearance sticker plastered on the front. Didn’t take a rocket scientist . . .
“You feeling all right?” Beau asked Zane from across the room.
“Me? Sure. Why?”
“Then get your ass over here and help out,” Brendon instructed, never looking up from the box he was opening.
With an overexaggerated huff, Zane resigned himself to helping out. Didn’t mean he had to stop pretending that he wasn’t actually enjoying himself.
V SAT AT the kitchen table with Zoey, Jessie, Kylie, and Lorrie, chatting about plans for Christmas shopping, gifts, who was going where for Christmas dinner, and a multitude of other holiday topics. So, naturally, V shouldn’t be surprised that although they had just finished an incredible Thanksgiving feast that Lorrie had put her heart and soul into, they had since moved on to planning Christmas.
Glancing into the living room, trying to avoid eye contact with her naughty fiancé, who was trying to get his brothers riled up, she noticed that the guys had moved on to the next holiday as well.
Somehow V had commandeered the most coveted seat in the kitchen. From her perch at the table, she had an unobstructed view of the guys moving around the living room. Along with the constant movement that was distracting in its own right, V had tried her best not to ogle all of that glorious cowboy muscle. Didn’t seem to matter that she was head over heels in love with Zane, she still wasn’t dead. But what woman wouldn’t feel like she had died and gone to heaven as she watched them work?
Not only that, but she had been listening to them teasing each other, grumbling and laughing as they sorted through box after box of holiday stuff. Despite their feigned disinterest in the task of putting up the Christmas decorations, they were all smiling. Well, all the brothers except Sawyer and Kaleb, because they had dragged their father outside a short while ago. For what, V had no idea.
“What do you think, V? Would your mother come?” Lorrie’s soft voice pulled V back to where she was supposed to be, and she glanced up at her future mother-in-law.
“I’m sorry, what?” Way to go, Vanessa. Ignoring the future mother-in-law because you’re eyeing her boys probably won’t earn you kudos.
Lorrie laughed sweetly, and V smiled in return, thankful that Lorrie was such a warm, forgiving person.
“Do you think Regina would join us for Christmas dinner?”
“Oh, I’m sure she’d be honored,” V answered, glancing around the table at her friends. For months, her mother had been walking the straight and narrow. And honestly, V was proud to say that the relationship she had been denied with her mother during her childhood was finally strengthening to a point where V didn’t feel like she was an afterthought. And though Regina had declined the Walkers’ invitation for Thanksgiving, V didn’t see her mother doing it again at Christmas. She hoped.
For the first time, V noticed that Lorrie was actually making a list, but she couldn’t see exactly what she was putting on the page. Guests for Christmas, maybe?
“Wonderful. And what about your parents, Kylie? Do you think Joe and Melissa would join us?”
V watched Kylie as she nodded in agreement, also sneaking a glimpse into the living room over V’s shoulder. The woman had barely let Travis and Gage out of her sight, and that dreamy expression on her face was one V recognized all too well. She’d seen it in the mirror a lot in the past year.
“I’m sure they’d be thrilled. We don’t have much of a Christmas tradition, so I doubt it would take much to convince them to come down.”
“And Zoey, you can let your dad know he doesn’t have a choice,” Lorrie said with a chuckle.
“Will do,” Zoey responded quickly, her eyes alight with the same glow that was on her face. “I’m sure he’ll grumble, but I’ll make sure he’s here.”
Sitting here with the ladies she’d come to think of as family, V felt a strange sensation that buzzed in her veins. Something akin to the intoxicating effect of alcohol, although she certainly wasn’t drunk.
It was crazy what a year could bring. At this time last year, V was suffering from panic attacks and worrying whether Zane was actually going to live or die after he’d been nearly beaten to death right in her front yard. And now she was filled to overflowing with the love of family. So not only was she enjoying the spirit of the holidays and eternally grateful for all the blessings in her life, but for V, this was also going to be the first year that Christmas wouldn’t equate to a turkey-and-mashed-potatoes TV dinner.
It wasn’t that she disliked the holidays, but her mother never had been big on the tradition, which meant V would normally fend for herself. Since she moved out on her own many years ago, she never bothered her mother during the holidays, preferring not to get involved in whatever short-term relationship Regina had going at the time. Without any other family, that usually meant a quiet night at home with her microwave and her television as her only company.
Then again, that was her way of wallowing in her own self-pity, because Zoey was usually insisting that she join her.
But this year . . . this year was different. Her life had changed in significant ways, and spending the holidays with her family and friends was on the top of her priority list.
Peeking into the living room, she noticed Zane piecing together the artificial tree, mouthing off at his brothers, as was usual these days. He was bending over at the waist, and V took a second to admire his sexy ass encased in those well-worn jeans he favored. She made a mental note to have him lose the shirt when he put up their tree. Mmmm . . .
A few feet away from Zane, Travis and Gage were pulling out strands and strands of Christmas lights while they appeared to be having a serious conversation. Their brief glances into the kitchen told V they were probably talking about Kylie.
On the far side of the room, closest to the fireplace, Beau and Ethan were taking ornaments housed in large plastic bins out of another box, and the twins were sorting other boxes, presumably those that contained outdoor decorations, maybe?
The back door creaked open, causing the women to go silent as they turned toward the noise.
“Where’re you boys at? Get it in gear. Your brothers are out here bitchin’,” Curtis called when he stuck his head in the back door. “Sorry, ladies,” he added with a cheeky grin.
V laughed with the others at the table and watched as Brendon and Braydon gathered up as many boxes as they could fit in their arms before heading toward the kitchen.
“I think Zane was onto something. Why do we do this on Thanksgiving?” Brendon muttered to his twin as they passed through the kitchen, a smirk on his face.
V immediately glanced over at Lorrie to see their mother grinning. “They moan and groan about it every year, but in case you didn’t notice, their father and I never even mentioned putting up the tree or the lights.”
Another round of laughter erupted at the table.
V hadn’t even realized it, but Lorrie was right. No one had instructed the men to move on to the Christmas decorating, although Zane had already informed her before they came over that it was a tradition for them to put up the tree on Thanksgiving evening.
She had to admit, she was rather fond of this tradition, and it would seem that the Walker brothers were too, even if they liked to make everyone think otherwise.
Her mind was filled with thoughts of her first Christmas with Zane. They had to get a tree, ornaments, lights: the whole nine yards. And going out to find the perfect gift for him was something she was anxiously waiting for.
That, and maybe a little extra attention for Zane since, based on the heated look he was sending her, he was looking forward to a different form of celebration entirely.