Tied, p.6
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       Tied, p.6
 

         Part #4 of Tangled series by Emma Chase
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  though he didn’t grow in my body, he grew in my heart. He was supposed to be our son—there really was no choice.”

  Mackenzie breathes deep. “Well, the next time you decide to grow a baby, could you please tell your heart we need another girl around here?”

  Matthew pulls her in for a hug and squeezes her tight. “I’ll do my best.”

  Personally, I’m relieved they got a boy. You know that saying “It takes a village to raise a child”? That’s all wrong. It takes a village to raise a girl. Pick a headline—any headline. Lindsay Lohan, Britney Spears, Miley Cyrus—it’s not their fault they’re train wrecks. It’s because they didn’t have people in their lives who cared enough about them to teach them. Prepare them for what is still mostly a man’s world.

  Boys are easy. Keep the fridge stocked, smack them around once in a while, discourage them from jumping off the roof into the swimming pool, make sure they use soap when they shower. That’s pretty much it.

  Girls are a whole other animal. You have to worry about low self-esteem and poor self-image, eating disorders, cutting, drug abuse, sluttiness, catty mean-girl attitudes, and the horde of adolescent bastards who are just dying to get their dicks wet and won’t give a damn if they leave a broken heart, pregnancy, or an STD in their wake.

  Even though Mackenzie is coming along nicely, once puberty hits, all bets are off. The fewer distractions I have when those days come, the better.

  As Matthew and Delores get up off the floor, I ask, “Where is Michael, anyway? With Helga?”

  Unlike Kate and me, Matthew and Dee had no issues about hiring a nanny. And Delores may be crazy, but she’s not stupid—no way she was gonna have some sexy, young au pair rocking her cradle. Helga’s a professional Russian nanny. She’s suspicious and distrustful of anyone not related to Michael—and sometimes even of those who are. She bears a strong resemblance to Brutus from the Popeye cartoons. She’s got a femstache and a permanent scowl, and she could probably kick my ass with one hand tied behind her back.

  I like her.

  Because she thinks the sun rises and sets with my nephew. She calls him her babushka, and it’s easy to see that she’d lie, cheat, steal, or kill for him. That makes her okay in my book.

  Mackenzie giggles. “Uncle Drew, Rain’s name isn’t Michael, it’s Rain.”

  Dee-Dee’s eyes turn sharp as they regard me. “Uncle Drew knows his name, Mackenzie. He’s just being a jerk.”

  I stare Dee-Dee down, not giving an inch. “Rain isn’t a name. It’s a meteorological event. Every child deserves a normal name. He’ll always be Michael to me.”

  I’m working on having his birth certificate changed. A little forgery never hurt anyone. Christ, what kind of uncle would I be if I let the kid go through life with a fucking name like Rain? As if the chips weren’t already stacked against him with a crazy woman for a mother.

  “You’re an ass.”

  “It’s not his fault his mother’s a wack job and his father’s a victim of reverse spousal abuse.”

  Matthew adds his pathetic two cents: “I like the name Rain.”

  So sad.

  I sneer, “No, you don’t.” I point to my temple. “That’s the brainwashing talking. She’s got you under her evil spell. You’ve been twat-notized by the golden watch between Dee’s legs.”

  If I slap him hard enough, think he’ll snap out of it?

  Delores doesn’t take it lying down. “Brainwashed? Look who’s talking. James is your golden watch. I swear sometimes that’s the only thing keeping Kate with you.”

  A few years ago that comment would have bothered me. Not anymore. “Please. We all know it’s my dick that’s keeping her with me. And that’s not going anywhere anytime soon, so I’m really not worried.”

  Before Dee can retaliate, the front door slams open with a bang, and the blur of an eight-year-old, light-haired boy comes barreling through the living room. He gives my sister a crooked grin. “Hi, Mrs. R.”

  Alexandra smiles. “Hi, Johnny.” Then she turns toward our parents. “Mom, Dad, you remember Johnny Fitzgerald from downstairs? He’s kindly offered his services this weekend to help keep the little ones entertained.”

  Johnny Fitzgerald. Sound familiar? Think back, way back.

  I’ll give you a minute to flex the old memory.

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  Remember the foolish, misguided preschooler who told Mackenzie that penises were better than baginas, a lifetime ago? Yep—that Johnny Fitzgerald.

  He lives one floor down. Ever since preschool, he and Mackenzie have been connected at the hip. His dad’s an old-money asshole—his mom’s a functioning alcoholic. Alexandra has him over as often as possible so he can gain exposure to a normal family unit.

  Mackenzie pokes her finger at Johnny. “You can help—but you have to do what I say. I’m in charge.”

  I throw a smirk my sister’s way. “Boy, does that sound familiar.”

  On cue, James squawks from the corner. “Mine! Is mine!”

  Alexandra lifts an eyebrow. “So does that. Must be genetic.”

  Then Mackenzie and Johnny’s newest battle of the sexes begins. “Hold on a second, Kenzie,” he says. “I should be in charge. I’m a boy and they’re boys.”

  “So?”

  “So, I can show them how to do things you can’t.”

  My niece’s hands fall to her hips, imitating my sister’s stance perfectly. Talk about genetics. “Like what?”

  “I can show them to throw a baseball.”

  “So can I.”

  “I can play cars with them.”

  Mackenzie scoffs, “So can I.”

  Johnny goes in for the kill. “I can show them how to pee standing up.”

  There’s a heavy pause. Mackenzie frowns.

  Johnny starts to think he’s won. So young, so dumb.

  Until Mackenzie smiles. Triumphantly. “They wear diapers—they don’t use the toilet yet.”

  Johnny lowers his head in submission. Might as well get used to it now, kid. “Okay—you can be in charge.”

  Mackenzie smiles wider. Then she taps her fingers together, not unlike Mr. Burns from The Simpsons. “Excellent.”

  Chapter 4

  Ten minutes later, Jack O’Shay shows up. He’s wearing a smart, light blue button-down and casual slacks. His red hair is cut short and gelled within an inch of its life. Jack’s the last of my single friends. The lone wolf. A desperado. He’s still living the life I always thought I’d have. Spontaneous. Irresponsible. Uninhibited. He takes great pleasure in ragging on us about all the great nights—and wild snatch—we’re missing out on.

  Not going to lie; I get a kick out of his stories—because I remember how much fun a random hookup can be. But I wouldn’t trade places with him in a million years. The grass doesn’t get any greener then Kate Brooks.

  We’re all gathered in the kitchen now, where my mom and sister have laid out a continental breakfast. Jack chews on a fresh-baked croissant and chats with my mother. “You’re looking lovely as always, Mrs. Evans.”

  She giggles like a cheerleader talking to the star quarterback. Ewww. “Thank you, Jack. That’s sweet of you to say.”

  “Just being honest. Now tell me—how often do you get mistaken for the nanny when you’re out with these little guys? ’Cause there’s no way anyone would believe you’re a grandma.”

  It sounds like he’s coming on to my mom, but he’s not. When you’re a player, this is just how you talk—to all women. Remember that
the next time some hotshot is dazzling you with his verbal diarrhea. You’re not special—he doesn’t mean it. It’s just his nature.

  My father doesn’t seem to appreciate this fact, however. See how he moves closer to my mom? How he scowls in Jack’s direction? “Don’t talk to my wife, O’Shay.”

  Jack instantly sobers and steps back. “Yes, sir.”

  “Don’t look at her, either.”

  “No, sir.”

  My old man may be getting on in years, but he still knows he’s at the top of the food chain. The last thing Jack wants is to get chewed up and spit out. He segues the conversation toward something safer.

  “So, Mr. Evans, you’re not coming with us this weekend?”

  My dad shakes his head, and his tone is filled with regret. And longing. “No, not this time. Though I wish I could go with you boys. So much.”

  My mother’s head whips around. “Oh, really, John?”

  He coughs. And clears his throat. “Yes . . . well . . . you know . . . for the sports betting. You know how I enjoy sports betting, Anne. And we don’t have that . . . here . . . in New York.”

  Nice save, Pops. Nice save.

  My mother nods skeptically. “Uh-huh.”

  At which point the old man deflects my mother’s negative attention toward a more obvious target. Which would be me, of course.

  “You boys have fun this weekend, but be safe. Remember the last time we were in Vegas, Andrew? Let’s not have a repeat.”

  When I was seventeen, my father had business in Vegas. He and my mother thought it would just be a wonderful idea to make a family trip out of it. But I was seventeen. A time in a guy’s life when he doesn’t even want to admit that he knows his family—let alone spend time with them. So, while my parents, Alexandra, and Steven were off visiting the Hoover Dam, I was forced to occupy myself with other . . . activities.

  “I’ve said it a thousand times, Dad—I didn’t know she was the ambassador’s daughter.” They should make them wear dog tags or tattoos on their foreheads or something. I roll my eyes and say to no one in particular, “One international incident and they never let you forget it.”

  Kate appears at my side. Her gorgeous face is contemplative, digesting what she has just heard. “Do I want to know?”

  Don’t even have to think about this one. “It’s probably best if you don’t.”

  She nods. “Good enough for me.”

  Next to arrive is Erin Burrows. She’s still my secretary, but in the last two years she’s become much more. At times my schedule is so packed, Kate talks to Erin more than she talks to me. At other times, when clients want both members of the dynamic duo at the conference table, Erin takes over James duty. Even though she’s technically an employee, Erin calls it like it is. In other words, she’s a friend. One of the gang. And cool to hang out with. So when this soiree was slapped together, Kate and I couldn’t imagine not inviting her to come along.

  After greeting James, Erin joins the rest of us near the kitchen table. She’s changed her hair. It’s shorter, straight, and has tasteful honey-colored streaks.

  Kate approves. “Your hair looks great, Erin.”

  She fingers her tresses. “Thanks. I had it done yesterday. I’m pulling out all the stops—this is my weekend to meet Mr. Right. New York men are hopelessly defective. I think Nevada will offer more suitable options.”

  Erin dates a lot, but as far as I know, she’s never been in a serious relationship. Las Vegas isn’t exactly the smartest place to find a stellar boyfriend, however. Might as well try your luck at AA or Gamblers Anonymous.

  Sex-addict meetings are always a safe bet.

  Steven wanders over. “Take my advice, Erin—stay single. Life is less complicated that way.”

  Alexandra flinches. Even though he’s one of my oldest, dearest friends, I have the urge to reach into his mouth and rip out his tongue. That’s not wrong, is it?

  I let it go. For now.

  Matthew offers sagely, “Keep your head up, Erin—it’ll happen. When the time is right, when you least expect it.”

  “Yeah—I’m staying optimistic. You have to kiss a lot of frogs before you find a prince.”

  Alexandra responds, “They’re all frogs, Erin. Just try and find one with the least amount of warts.”

  I elbow Jack. “If we’re talking about the genital variety, you should talk to O’Shay. You’re kind of the in-house expert on those, right man?”

  He flips me the bird.

  Then the last member of our traveling circus arrives. Care to hazard a guess?

  “Yo, party people in the house! Who’s ready to rock?!”

  Yep—it’s the douche bag. For Kate’s sake, I try not to hate him as much as I used to—but some things just can’t be helped. It’s like when you have the tail end of a cold and one loogie hangs on to back of your throat. You cough, you hawk, but no matter what you do, you just can’t fucking get rid of it.

  That’s Billy Warren. My personal, annoying ball of phlegm.

  Kate and Dee-Dee squeal and hug the dumbass.

  He hugs them back. “I’ve missed you guys.”

  Kate says, “But you didn’t have to fly all the way out here. You could have just met us in Vegas.”

  “And miss the preparty? No way.”

  I was hoping his plane would get hijacked by bloodthirsty terrorists. The kind that like to cut off body parts and FedEx them back to the family, one by one. Oh, well. There’s always the return flight. It’s important to stay positive about these things.

  His attention turns toward me. His eyes look me up and down stiffly. “Evans.”

  I raise my chin. “Warren.”

  He turns around and zeroes in on James. Warren scoops him up and exclaims, “What are you feeding this kid, Kate? He’s so much bigger than the last time I saw him.”

  Yeah. Shocking. ’Cause babies don’t usually grow or anything.

  Moron.

  “I brought you presents, tadpole. A shiny, noisy set of drums. You’re gonna freak when you see it.”

  James giggles. To the casual observer, it might seem that my son is actually fond of the fuckface. But I know better. Animals can sense when a person’s a few cards shy of a full deck. When they’re on the lower end of the bell curve. Kids can do that too. James doesn’t like Warren—he pities him. Because he knows that, even at two years old, he’s smarter than Jackass can ever hope to be.

  As the small talk builds to a crescendo, Kate and I look over the seating chart one more time. I put my arm around her just because she’s mine. Her eyes are soft and her voice is velvet as she sighs, “Seven more days. About this time next week, I’ll be putting my dress on.”

  It’s the one thing that’s been kept confidential. Strictly off-limits. “Can’t I have a hint? Will there be cleavage? Is it satin? Lace?” I wiggle my eyebrows. “Latex?”

  She shakes her head.

  “Just tell me you didn’t pick some old-fashioned, frilly getup that makes you look like a yeti.”

  She chuckles. “I’ll never tell. But . . . feel free to try and torture the information out of me. By any means necessary.”

  Several ideas come to mind. Each with the potential of earning me a front-row seat in hell. Possibly a jail cell. “God, I love the way you think.”

  My sister’s voice drags me from my sinful musings. “Oh—I’ve been meaning to tell you two—we have a problem with table forty-five. A guest hasn’t responded yet.”

  She picks up her trusty clipboard. “He’s . . . Brandon Mitchell . . . Delores’s stepbrother. He may or may not be bringing a plus one.”

  Delores’s mother got married last summer to some cop from their hometown. It figures that only a man professionally trained in firearms and self-defense would be brave enough to tie the knot with Amelia Warren.

  I turn on Delores. “Again with your fucking family. What is it with you people? You’re like King Midas in reverse—everything you touch turns to shit.”

  She argues, “
Brandon is not my family.”

  For once my sister and I are on the same page. She waves her finger in Dee-Dee’s face. “Oh, yes, he is. His father married your mother—that makes him yours. If we have to claim Great-Aunt Clara, you have to own up to this Mitchell clown.”

  Great-Aunt Clara is my grandmother’s stepsister, on my mother’s side. She’s like a thousand years old. The kind of relative we only wheel out of the nursing home once or twice a year for big events. Clara loves to dance, and even for an ancient she can move pretty well.

  The things is—since she was born a century ago, when women couldn’t vote or show ankle skin—Clara’s a big fan of women’s liberation. So she refuses to wear a bra.

  Ever.

  And her breasts are massively huge. Heavy—like dry-cement-stuffed balloons. They should be classified as deadly weapons.

  At James’s christening? Clara was getting down on the dance floor to the latest Rihanna song. She lifts her arms, spins around . . . and nails my best client’s teenage son in the head with her left tit.

  The kid was out cold for ten minutes. Thankfully, his parents chose not to sue.

  Kate steps between us, hands up, into the line of fire. “Okay, everyone, let’s just all take a step back. Dee, call your mom and have her lean on Brandon.”

  Delores does as she’s told. But I go on, “Yeah—lean on him hard. Or he’ll be eating dinner in the parking lot with the valets.”

  Kate’s hand snakes around my back, tracing soothing lines under my T-shirt. “Relax, Drew. It’s not that big a deal.”

  Her touch is soft—skin on skin. It feels like a double dose of Valium:
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