A Christmas from Hell
“Duncan, are you just getting in?” Jodi asked, and as much as he would have loved to be able to tell the heavily pregnant woman shifting anxiously in the foyer as she threw 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 now.
“Yeah,” Duncan said softly, cringing when the effort to speak caused searing pain to shoot down his throat.
“Do you think you could give me a hand with Danny?” Jodi asked, sending him a nervous smile and letting him know that she hated having to ask him for help at three in the morning, but that’s why he was here, wasn’t it?
Instead of speaking because he honestly wasn’t sure that he could manage it right now, Duncan nodded, deciding not to risk another coughing fit that would have him changing his mind and taking his lieutenant up on his offer to be seen in the emergency room, where he would most likely beg them to put him out of his fucking misery. Gesturing for her to give him a minute, Duncan opened the laundry room door and quickly discarded everything saturated with smoke until he was left standing there in his underwear.
If this had been any other woman, Duncan never would have even considered stripping down in front of her, but this was Jodi, his roommate and an understanding woman who’d threatened his balls if he ever made the house smell like smoke again. Not that he could blame her because he really couldn’t. The smallest things seemed to set off her morning sickness, the scent of toast, garlic cooking, cheap perfume, and the way that his gear smelled after a fire, which they’d learned about the hard way.
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 definitely progress. He just hadn’t counted on being this fucking exhausted doing it.
They’d had a meeting while Danny was still down in Florida recovering, trying to figure out the best way to help him. They’d considered hiring someone full-time to help Danny and Jodi when they were finally able to leave the hospital, but they knew that wouldn’t have gone over well. His brother was a stubborn bastard. Danny had been through hell and back and Duncan couldn’t stomach the idea of his brother struggling for another fucking minute.
During that meeting, it had been decided that Duncan was the best choice to move in with Danny and Jodi. He worked two twenty-four-hour shifts a week, most of that time was spent on the rig and the rest of the time he spent pulling ambulance duty. He wasn’t married, wasn’t seeing anyone, and rented an apartment that he barely slept in with a roommate that he couldn’t stand, which made him the perfect choice. He was also a paramedic, which meant that he could help his brother with all his medical shit and be there for Danny when the stubborn bastard needed him.
Then again, if he’d realized that moving in with his brother and sister-in-law was going to be this fucking exhausting, he probably would have let the opportunity pass down to their brother Aidan.
When Duncan agreed to do this, he’d figured that he’d take out the trash, take Danny to a few appointments, help around the house, and run a few errands when he had the 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, cleaning, cooking, and doing whatever else he could think of to make things easier for Jodi.
Honestly, Duncan 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. Everyone in their family pitched in, helping Danny and Jodi with rides, food, helped around the house, and 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, Duncan would love to have one night where he could fall asleep without worrying about his stubborn brother because he was too fucking pigheaded to ask for help. Christ, he could have killed his brother the last time the stubborn bastard refused to ask for his help. There’d been so much goddamn blood, which happened with head injuries, and Duncan knew that, but that hadn’t meant jack shit to him when it was his brother lying unconscious on the bathroom floor in a puddle of blood.
He’d tried to block out Jodi’s hysterical sobbing, the fact that the man bleeding everywhere was his brother and focused on his training. He’d managed to clean his brother’s head wound and kept the stubborn bastard on the floor when Danny finally managed to open his eyes and tried to get up. Duncan did his best not to worry about Jodi, who’d been struggling to keep it together, but Christ, she’d been devastated seeing Danny on the floor like that. It had honestly been one of the worst nights of his life.
He’d spent 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 to make sure that she was okay to fucking listen, forcing Duncan to restrain him on the bed, which had earned him several threats from the ungrateful asshole.
When they’d finally released his brother, Duncan had just enough time to get home, help Danny get back in bed, change into his uniform, and head back to the station to work a twenty-four-hour shift. Once he’d signed his truck into service, he’d worked non-stop, getting hit with back-to-back calls and was forced to work three extra hours the next morning to make sure the town wasn’t down a truck.
By the time Duncan came home, he’d been so fucking exhausted that he could barely see straight. He’d planned on calling it an early night, but Jodi needed help taking care of Danny, he had to run to the grocery store, the bank, and a dozen other places that helped push him past the point of exhaustion.
He’d managed to make it to his bed after dinner, but unfortunately for him, so had Danny and Jodi. They’d kept him up for the next four hours with moans, groans, and what 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 brought him breakfast in bed the next morning with a 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?” Duncan asked, rubbing his hands roughly down his face while he prayed that this wasn’t going to lead to another night in the emergency room.
“Umm,” Jodi mumbled, clearing her throat as she shifted her gaze away just as an interesting blush worked its way up her neck. “Nothing really,” she whispered as that blush deepened to a crimson red.
“I see,” Duncan murmured thoughtfully, wondering about that blush.
Fortunately, he didn’t have to wonder for very long as he followed Jodi into her bedroom and-
“You’ve gotta be fucking kidding me,” Duncan said before he could stop himself, and judging by the homicidal glare that his brother was sending him, he probably should have kept his fucking mouth shut.
“I lost the key,” Jodi mumbled as Duncan stood there, staring at his brother as he tried to make sense out of what he was seeing.
Those couldn’t be handcuffs…
Yet, they were, Duncan mused as he reached for the cellphone on the bureau.
“Don’t even fucking think about it,” Danny growled, yanking on the handcuffs that were keeping his arms locked in place.
Sighing heavily because they both knew that he didn’t have a choice in the matter, Duncan 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, but not before he saw that smile break free or heard what sounded suspiciously like a snort of laughter.
“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.
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 told her boss to go to hell.
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, and refusing to give her a raise or any time off so that she could pretend to have a life, Necie had finally had enough. It didn’t hurt that her boss had accepted a contract for a bridal shower at the last minute and left Necie to complete the job by herself.
While Necie had chopped, diced, and kneaded her little heart out, she’d decided that enough was enough. She kept telling herself that as she made the appetizers, baked a five-layer cake with extra roses, and put the final touches on the platters before she went home, took a shower, consumed four cups of coffee, which may have been a contributing factor, and turned right back around and headed back to work.
When she saw Kathleen, a.k.a. her evil boss, she’d marched right up to her, cleared her throat, and informed her that she’d finally had enough and was quitting. Unfortunately for Necie, the horrible excuse for a human being hadn’t heard a word she’d said. Before Necie could make another attempt, Kathleen informed her that she was fired because she was five minutes late.
When Necie opened her mouth to beg the evil woman to give her another chance, common sense kicked in and had her nodding like an idiot. Once she had her last paycheck in hand, she’d marched back to her car, congratulated herself on a job well done, 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 drive past her, 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 Disneyworld, the one that had been super soft and was now nothing more than a shredded mess, Necie decided that it was time to move on to the next stage of her life.
While most people would consider moving back home and going to work for her grandfather 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 understood and accepted her. 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 bit.
Coming home for her wasn’t admitting defeat. It meant that she finally felt that she was ready to 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, her grandfather offered to let her take over the shop, but she hadn’t been ready 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 and scrape her clothes off the road as she tried to figure out a way to ask her landlord to let her move back into the small studio apartment that she really couldn’t afford before she begged for her old job back? Not that she had a chance in hell of getting her old job or apartment back, Necie thought as she continued sitting in her car, staring blindly at the pile of snow where her grandfather’s truck should be.
Then again, it was only two in the afternoon, which meant that he wouldn’t be home for a few more hours. That was fine, Necie 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, deciding that spending the next hour shoveling the driveway was better than sitting inside feeling sorry for herself and got started.
Five minutes later when she was deeply regretting her decision to pack her winter jacket in one of the bags that was now roadkill, Necie decided that it was time to go inside and grab one of her grandfather’s old winter coats and a pair of gloves. Wondering if she should make herself some hot chocolate now or after she finished shoveling, Necie absently slammed the snow shovel into the pile of snow behind her and-
“Son of a bitch!” a deep voice suddenly shouted, making her wince because she had a pretty good idea what just happened.
After years of unfortunate accidents, she knew what was expected of her. Taking a deep breath, Necie turned around to tell whoever it was that she’d just impaled with her shovel that she was sorry when she suddenly forgot how to talk as she laid eyes on the hottest man that she’d ever seen in her life.
He was also the most considerate, Necie absently thought when she slipped on a patch of ice and the incredibly good-looking man, who hadn’t stopped glaring at her, tried to catch her before it was too late. It was, but she still appreciated the effort. She also appreciated the fact that he’d somehow managed to turn them over so that he took the brunt of the fall. That was followed by her wondering if there was any chance that he would be willing to forget this ever happened.