The bite before christma.., p.32
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       The Bite Before Christmas, p.32

         Part #15.50 of Argeneau series by Lynsay Sands


  Christmas Eve

  Even with the additional leafs added to my dining-room table, we still had to squeeze together to make room for everyone. Only one out of the eleven people here ate food for sustenance, but the table was piled high with all the traditional fixings, and everyone corporeal pretended to be hungry for it.

  Bones carved the turkey while the rest of us heaped our plates with side dishes. I would have been happy to cook, but oddly enough-and I refused to acknowledge that it might have to do with my culinary skills-everyone insisted on bringing something. Bones roasted the turkey, Kira made the dressing, Denise baked the pies, Mencheres made a Middle Eastern dish that I didn't recognize, Spade provided the mashed potatoes, Annette candied the yams, my mother baked the green bean casserole, and Ian brought the wine.

  I felt one person's absence acutely today. My uncle and I still weren't on speaking terms, but I was glad that my mother was here, spooning dressing onto her plate before passing the container to Denise. Fabian and Elisabeth were here as well, floating above the two chairs we'd left open for them. After all, they were as important to me as everyone else at the table. They just didn't take up as much physical space.

  I tapped my wineglass with a fork, the dinging noise getting everyone's attention. "I'd like to propose a toast," I said, rising and lifting my glass. "To family, whether by blood or by affection. We'd all be lesser people without them. "

  Multiple glasses clinked together, but before I could sit down, Ian spoke.

  "Another toast, this one to the Honorable Viscount Maynard. Though you were a sod who didn't help your sister Penelope when she was thrown out by her da, at least you were a randy bloke who shagged your serving girl or I wouldn't have been born. "

  "Here, here," Bones said, grinning as he clicked glasses with Ian.

  Now I knew why Ian had looked so shocked when Bones revealed that his mother was really Penelope Maynard, the viscount's daughter. Ian was the bastard son of the younger Viscount Maynard, so he'd well recognized that surname. After she was thrown out by her family, Penelope must have called herself by her former lover's last name so Bones would grow up as Crispin Phillip Arthur Russell, the Third-the name that marked him as the firstborn son of the Duke of Rutland to the few people who knew him by that instead of his title. Penelope might not have told Bones about his real father, but she'd left him a clue that had taken two hundred years to unravel.

  Life was more than rough sometimes, but not every curveball it threw was a bad one. Case in point: Bones was spending the holidays with family, after all. Even though that family turned out to be a depraved, narcissistic vampire who annoyed the hell out of me on a regular basis, oh well. You could only pick your friends, not your family, and through my marriage to Bones, Ian was now my family, too. That was karma coming to get me, I was sure, but I'd handle it. With Bones at my side, I could handle anything.

  I touched my glass to Ian's with a rueful grin. "Merry Christmas, cousin. "

  He winked. "You'll never be quit of me now, Reaper. "

  That was probably true. And since it turned out that we were related, I'd felt obligated to get Ian a Christmas present. A chunk of coal sat in a brightly wrapped box under the tree, his name written in big bold letters on the front of it.

  Ian might be family, but he still had been a very naughty boy this year.
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