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Four Pucking Christmases: Chapter 7



That’s the thought that pops into my head as we stand on the doorstep to the Larkin’s tidy house.

I can still taste Dani’s sweet tangy arousal on my tongue.

How the hell am I going to hug her mother with pussy breath?

Then I realize there probably won’t be any hug offered given what Dani said earlier about their reaction to our relationship. And the fact that the four of us are standing here freezing our asses off on the stoop waiting to be let in. Why the hell does Dani need to wait for the door to be answered to the house she grew up in?

Impulsively, and because I’m freezing in my suit with no overcoat, I try the door. It’s locked. My family would never lock the front door on a holiday. It also would never occur to me to do anything other than just walk right in, and my whole extended family is the same way. Open door policy. But maybe my family is unusual.

I look over at Hughes. He gives me a “what the fuck?” look so clearly, he agrees with me. Nathan doesn’t look like he thinks anything of it, but he wasn’t raised in the middle-class suburbs like me and Doc. He probably had a butler as a kid and a high-tech security system with cameras. Locked doors would be normal when you have expensive possessions.

The Larkins could be hiding anything behind the door of the tiny bungalow, but I doubt it’s bags of cash.

Dani rings the bell again.

“What are your parents’ names again?” I ask for the third time because fuck it, I’m nervous, and when I’m nervous information goes in my ear and out the other.

I hate being rattled. I’m not good at it. It’s out of character for me so that when tension does sneak in, I don’t know what to do with my energy. I’m tapping my palms on my thighs and bouncing on the balls of my feet, wishing I hadn’t changed. Per Dani’s request we had all put on suits in the RV prior to arrival, but my tie feels like it’s strangling me. I also have the sudden concern that I should have gotten a haircut. Or paid more attention shaving.

Or not eaten out their daughter half an hour ago.

“Nate, check my breath,” I murmur to him when Dani doesn’t even answer my question. She’s texting on her phone.

Nathan gives me a withering stare. “Crew, go fuck yourself.”

“Now that’s the holiday spirit,” I tell him. I do a breath check in my palm. “Dani, their names?”

“Kevin and Mary,” Dani finally says, obviously distracted as she leans back to peer through the picture window. “But don’t call them that unless they give you permission. They’re very traditional, I’ve told you that. It’s Mr. and Mrs. Larkin.”

Now my tie is really too tight. I tug at it. She sounds annoyed with me. I know she’s not. She’s just stressed about seeing her parents, but I still feel a little called out. My own tension escalates. I’m both freezing my balls off and sweating bullets all at once. I reach out and brush my hand over the snow dusting the hedges to the right of the stoop. I slap my damp palm on the back of my neck to cool my skin.

“Why is the house so quiet?” Nathan asks. “What time is it? Didn’t you say dinner is at six, and we should arrive by five?”

She nods. “Yes. I don’t know why there aren’t cars in the driveway either. There should be ten people here.”

“It’s five-fifteen,” Michael says, frowning.

What unnerves me further is that Doc sounds unnerved. I don’t like that. He’s no alarmist.

“Should we—

Whatever he’s about to say gets cut off by the door finally opening.

“Oh, hello!” A woman around sixty gives us a startled look as she takes the four of us in before focusing on her daughter. “Danielle, I wasn’t expecting you.”

What the hell?

As she envelopes Dani in a hug, I exchange looks with the guys.

Dani sounds flustered and upset. “What do you mean you’re not expecting me? I told you multiple times I would be here on Christmas Eve!”

“Didn’t you get my email this morning?” Mary asks, her green eyes, so much like Dani’s, widening. “Your aunt has the flu, so we canceled our usual family dinner. I assumed that meant you wouldn’t be coming.” Mary Larkin looks over her daughter’s shoulder. “Or that they wouldn’t be coming.”

The disdain for us guys rings through loud and clear. Dani’s mom does not want us here.

This is awkward.

And for once in my life, I’m actually speechless.

Nathan, who has people dislike him on a regular basis, looks undeterred. “You must be Mary, Danielle’s mom. I’m Nathan Armstrong.” He puts his hand out. “It’s a pleasure to meet the woman who raised our Danielle.”

Our Danielle. He definitely did that on purpose, and I appreciate him making it clear right off the rip we are not shying away from the truth of our relationship. He also completely ignored that we’re not supposed to use her mother’s first name unless given permission.

Mary’s eyebrows shoot up, but she automatically takes Nathan’s hand and limply shakes it. “It’s Nathan?”

He nods. “Yes.”

“Nice to meet you,” she says faintly, pulling her hand back.

Dani looks stricken and on the verge of tears. “An email?” she demands. “Mom, I wasn’t checking my email on Christmas Eve! And while I’m sorry that Aunt Linda is sick, what about everyone else? Grandma, Uncle Pete, Aunt Jessica, my cousins?”

“They couldn’t make it,” her mom says with a vague wave of her hand, sounding guilty as hell.

The implication of that is also loud and clear. She doesn’t want to explain to her family why Dani has brought three men home for Christmas.

Her mother won’t look Dani in the eye but instead lands her gaze on Michael, who immediately puts his own hand out.

“I’m Doctor Michael Hughes, Mrs. Larkin,” Michael says. “It’s so nice to meet you. Dani has such great memories of growing up here with you and your husband and all your family traditions. She’s been looking forward to seeing you again all week. She really misses you.”

Michael never introduces himself as a doctor. That’s a nice touch to butter up Mrs. Larkin. I approve. She seems to approve as well. He gets something that seems like a genuine smile out of her.

“We miss her too.” After shaking Michael’s hand, she reaches out and strokes Dani’s hair off of her face. “She hardly ever comes to visit anymore.”

“Maybe because you leave her standing on the doorstep when it’s twenty degrees,” I joke.

It just slips out. Because I’m cold and nervous and fuck it, why are we still squashed up against each other on a stoop when I see a gas fireplace and can smell burnt caramel a few feet away inside? Nathan’s got one of those damn poinsettias on the walkway behind us, and it’s basically up my ass.

“Oh, God,” Dani murmurs, raising her hand to her forehead and massaging her temples.

“Crew,” Michael says, giving a small head shake at me to indicate that was the wrong thing to say.

“It’s a joke. I’m obviously kidding.” And we’re obviously all still standing on the doorstep. “Dani definitely misses you, Mary, but the bookshop keeps her busy.”

As does being sexually satisfied by her boyfriends. That takes a lot of time.

“But we should try to get down here more often.” I hold my hand out. “I’m Crew. McNeill. The hockey player. And Dani’s favorite.” I give Mary a wink.

She leaves me hanging and doesn’t take my hand. “Call me Mrs. Larkin.”


Mrs. Larkin turns and opens the door wider. “Come in, everyone. Kevin! Dani is here!”

“Seriously?” Nathan murmurs to me as we enter the house.

“You called her Mary,” I protest under my breath. “How come I’m the one in trouble?” I tug at my tie again. I wear a tie all the damn time. I don’t know why it’s bothering me so much today.

“Take your shoes off,” Mrs. Larkin commands. “This carpet is new.”

I jump a little and immediately toe my shoes off.

“Mom, this carpet was new when I was in high school. You got it for my graduation party.” Dani shakes her head. “Do whatever you feel comfortable with, guys.”

But Nathan and Michael are already ditching their shoes as well. Danielle’s mom is petite and seems sweet, but she also gives off a distinct fuck-around-and-find-out vibe.

Nathan hands Mary the poinsettia. “This is for you. Merry Christmas. Thank you for having us.”

This damn plant is so large that Mary’s hands sag under the weight of it, and the leaves cover half of her face. Also, it’s a stupid thing to say because she doesn’t want us here, but does anyone say anything about that to Nate? Nope. But I don’t want to upset Dani anymore than she already clearly is, so I let it slide.

I can’t see her face, but I hear Mary’s voice drift out from behind foliage. “Oh, my goodness. Thank you. This is just lovely, Nathan. How thoughtful of you.”

Nathan smiles in triumph at me, which adds to my irritation.

“What did you say, Mary?” A man’s voice calls out from somewhere in the house. “And close the door. You’re letting all the heat out.”

The house is not an open-concept floor plan. We’re huddled in a tiny living room, and there are doors and stairs everywhere. I feel very large and crowded next to Nate and Doc. And the poinsettia. Dani is peeling off her coat and draping it over the banister leading to the second floor.

“Dani’s here!”

“Is she by herself, or did she bring her gang of men?”

I cough into my fist, overcome by the urge to laugh. Damn, I’m trying my best to be mature, but it’s getting harder and harder. This is so bad, it’s almost funny.

“Kevin!” Mary gasps, sounding horrified. “We’re all in the living room.”

She puts the poinsettia down on an end table, and I can see how much Dani looks like her mother. She has the same red hair, though tinged with gray, and she blushes as easily as her daughter. Her cheeks are tinged pink now.

Dani is also blushing. Michael is bending over, murmuring something in her ear. When her father, a tall, thin man, enters the room, Nathan takes the lead and strides over to him confidently, introducing himself with a firm handshake. “Nathan Armstrong. It’s a pleasure.” He hands Kevin a bottle of bourbon. “We brought this for you. Danielle told us you’re a bourbon man.”

That seems to warm Dani’s father up a tad. He shakes Nathan’s hand and takes the bottle. Then he studies Nathan. “How old are you?” he asks, looking skeptical.

“Dad, stop!” Dani looks like she wants the floor to open up and swallow her whole. Her cheeks are almost as red as the pretty cocktail dress she has on.

I feel defensive on Nate’s behalf. We’re the only ones who get to harass him about his age. “Younger than he looks,” I quip.

That draws Kevin’s attention straight to me. His eyes narrow. “You’re Luna’s little brother.”

“Yes. Crew McNeill. It’s nice to finally meet you, sir.”

“Oh, I know all about you,” is his only comment.

I have no idea what that means. Probably nothing good, but I nod. “Excellent.”

I don’t know why I say that. It’s just what comes out of my mouth, and now that it has, I’m at a loss for what else to say. But the awkward silence is immediately filled by Nathan speaking.

“I’m forty-one,” Nathan says, circling back to Kevin’s question, like he’s determined to just push through this and appease Dani’s parents in any way he can. “I have no criminal history, not even a parking ticket. I’ve never been married, so no angry ex-wives, and I don’t have any children. I’m square on my taxes, and I have more money than Oprah.”

Now I do give a chuckle. I can’t help it. It’s clear I’m not the only nervous one here because that was a hard sell.

“More money than Oprah, you say? Then you could have at least brought me two bottles of bourbon.” But the corner of Kevin’s mouth turns up slightly. Then he turns and puts his hand out to Michael. “And you’re the only age-appropriate one here, nice to meet you.”

Michael, our unflappable designated dad, looks actually sheepish. “It’s a pleasure, sir.”

“Michael is a doctor,” Mary says, smiling in approval.

“Excellent.” Kevin claps Michael on the shoulder. “Maybe you can talk Mary out of looking up all her ailments online. Every road leads to cancer on those damn sites.”

“They are definitely a slippery slope,” Michael agrees.

Kevin gestures for Michael to come further into the house. “Well, come on in, Doc.”

Mary follows, wrapping her arm around Dani.

I’m left standing there with Nathan, a little stunned by how unimpressed Dani’s parents are with me. I admit it. I’m used to the star hockey player treatment. This sucks.

Nathan is rubbing his jaw.

I feel his pain. This sucks for him too. Michael is the runaway favorite with his damn medical degree and birth date.

“There were supposed to be ten more people here?” Nathan murmurs, looking around the living room. “I’ve been in elevators bigger than this one.”

“Bigger than Oprah’s elevator?” I ask, unbuttoning my jacket.

Nathan actually sighs. I’m not sure I’ve ever heard him sigh. Now I really feel for him. I’m not the only one sticking my foot in my mouth.

“I don’t know why I said that,” Nathan said. “Fucking ridiculous.”

He sounds grumpy, which reassures me that he’ll rebound. Grumpy Nathan is normal. Sad Nathan is not. Seeing him down is like an alternative universe I don’t want to live in.

“It’s okay, buddy,” I tell him with a grin. “We’ve all had Oprah envy at one point or another.”

Nathan actually cracks a smile. “Shut up, McNeill.”

That’s the Nate I know. I feel better.

“At least you and me are in this together,” I add. “They’re treating me like I’m in high school, and I snuck in Dani’s window.”

“You may be doing that later. There’s no way they’re letting us share a room with her, you know that, right?”

He’s totally right. I make a face. “Damn. The holidays are hard.”

Mary pops her head back into the room. “What are you two doing? Come on now. I opened a bottle of wine.”

I’m going to need that whole bottle myself at this rate.

“Can I do anything to help you?” I ask, striving for politeness as I move forward.

“I can open a bottle of wine,” she says. “Even if it isn’t some fancy wine.”

I’m going to just assume that second comment was directed at Nathan. “Yes, ma’am.”

Then she disappears again behind some other wall, and Dani appears in her place. “I’m so sorry,” she whispers. “I’m so embarrassed. Please, come in,” she said, holding her hand out.

She’s fighting back tears. It’s like a punch in the gut.

I go right to her, take her hand, and give it a squeeze. “It’s all good. Don’t worry, sweetheart. We’re big boys. We’re fine. We can take a little heat. Haven’t you seen me on the ice? I get shit talk on a regular basis.”

She kisses my cheek, which settles my nerves. “You are definitely a big boy,” she murmurs flirtatiously in my ear.

I take a deep breath and vow to pull it together as she moves past me to Nathan. We need to be supportive of Dani, like we promised her. She warned us her parents were not on board with our relationship, so none of this should be a real shock. We just have to stay calm, be polite, and show them we’re just normal people in a nontraditional relationship.

“Are you okay?” she asks Nathan. “You seem nervous.”

“What gave it away?” he asks wryly. “The verbal background check I gave your father?”

Dani laughs softly and reaches up to give him a kiss. “I love you and your lack of a criminal history.”

“Jesus. I really said that.” He shakes his head. “I promise that was my only outburst of the night.”

“I’d hold off on that promise,” Dani says with a smile. “We have a lot of Christmas Eve to go.”

But once we move past the tiny kitchen, where Mary has Michael slicing cheese and plating crackers and grapes with it, and into the family room, Kevin is cracking open the bourbon.

“Grab some glasses there behind you,” he tells me. “Let’s try this.”

As I turn and stare in confusion at a cabinet that is stuffed to the gills with glassware, gravy bowls, and platters, I debate what might be considered a bourbon glass. I’m more of a beer guy, and even then, I don’t drink that often. It doesn’t fit into my hockey schedule.

“Sorry for the miscommunication,” Kevin is saying.

I open the cabinet. There are tumblers with Niagara Falls on them. I start to reach for them because the only other thing I see to drink out of is a couple of mason jars and tea cups. Without warning, Nathan’s hand reaches past mine and passes over a platter with a turkey on it, to glasses buried way in the back.

“Not a problem,” Nathan says, his back to Kevin. “The holidays can get chaotic.” He gives me a look of solidarity and hands me two glasses. He takes a third out for himself.

Relieved, I turn and nod, handing a glass to Kevin. “We’re just happy to be here.”

“Mary should have just called and told Dani we weren’t doing a big thing this year instead of sending an email.”

“Kevin, don’t blame me,” Mary says from the kitchen, which is mere steps away. “We discussed it together.”

“It would have been great if you had discussed it with me,” Dani says, pouring herself a glass of wine in the kitchen. “Because now you’ve made Nathan, Michael, and Crew feel completely unwelcome, and I feel like you don’t trust me to know how to live my life.”

“I’m not trying to offend any of you,” Mary protests. “I just need time to process this. It completely caught me off guard, and the idea of meeting all of you for the first time with a whole bunch of family here was just overwhelming to me.”

That was fair, yet her avoidance has us all sitting here feeling awkward as fuck. Worst of all, she’s upset Dani.

“We understand,” Michael says, handing a glass of wine to Mary. “It is a lot to process. I think if we can all just spend some time and get to know each other you’ll see that we care about Dani and want to make her happy.”

“Since we’re clearing the air, I’m just going to come out with it,” Kevin says. “No PDA in my house.”

“What’s PDA?” I ask blankly. I’m still holding my empty glass. Kevin is already sipping from his now-filled glass.

“Public display of affection,” Nathan tells me.

It takes me a second. Then I realize that means we can’t touch Dani in front of her parents.

“You all are adults, and you’re going to do what you want to do,” Kevin says. “Just not in my house.”

I stare at the bourbon, mentally willing it to jump out of the bottle on the table next to Kevin and into my glass. I’m getting nervous that I’m going to say something I might regret. Again.

“And we trust you to know how you want to live your life,” Mary assures Dani, sitting down in an easy chair with her glass of wine and patting the arm for Dani to perch on it. “It’s just like mentally rearranging everything I’ve always assumed. Do you understand, sweetheart?”

Dani nods and leans against the arm. “I do. All I’m asking is that instead of avoiding the situation, you at least try to get to know these guys. They’re good men. Great men.”

Kevin rubs his temples. “Danielle. You know all we want is for you to be happy.”

“That’s all we want, too, Kevin,” Nathan says firmly. “And I think we’ve done a damn good job of it.”

He sounds a little defensive, but Dani smiles warmly at him. “You have,” she says simply. “I’m the happiest I’ve ever been.”

“Danielle is our miracle baby,” Mary says. “We were married fifteen years before she came along.”

That explains a thing or two, and I can appreciate where they’re coming from, but I don’t get them not supporting their daughter’s choices.

“Mom, I was your miracle baby. I’m an adult now.”

“Of course, you are.” Mary massages Dani’s back. “I just always thought there would be a wedding, grandbabies…” Her voice trembles without warning.

I almost joke that I’ll get Dani pregnant if they want, but I stop myself in the nick of time. Because I’m fucking mature, damn it.

“If I want those things, I can still have those things,” Dani says, sounding exasperated yet sympathetic. “But if I do, it’s because I want them, not because you want them. It’s my life,” she adds gently.

Michael puts a platter of cheese and crackers down in front of us. I stuff a piece of cheese into my mouth, which is a mistake since my glass is still empty.

Does Dani want marriage and kids? We’ve never discussed it. I don’t even know what that would look like for Cookie & Co. Communication is going to be key. Glancing over at Michael, I can see he’s thinking the same thing as me. If our relationship continues the way it has, we should talk about what the future holds in store. The idea of having kids now terrifies me. I’m not ready for it. At all.

This is a good reminder that we need to address all that.

But that’s for later. Right now, I need to figure out how to swallow this damn cheese. I clear my throat a little, and nothing happens. I try again, but nothing. My face feels hot.

Dani’s mom jumps up. “Crew, are you choking?”

I shake my head, coughing. I hold my hand up to indicate I’m okay.

“Why doesn’t he have a drink?” Mary demands of her husband. “He’s choking, Kevin.”

“Oh, shit, sorry,” Kevin says. To his credit, he seems to realize for the first time that he hasn’t poured me and Nathan any bourbon.

Even as I’m wheezing and holding my glass out to accept a pour, I understand that Dani’s parents got blindsided by our relationship. They had a picture of what their daughter’s life would be like, and they need time to regain their equilibrium. But if they can say there is no PDA in their house, I’m setting down a rule or two of my own to protect our girl.

Mary comes over to me, and now it’s my back she’s rubbing. Kevin has splashed bourbon in my glass, and I take it all back in one swallow. It gets the cheese down, but it burns like hell. I cough into my hand as Mary reassuringly pats me.

“It’s okay, just breathe,” she tells me.

Her touch feels very maternal, and I appreciate it. I nod. “Thank you.”

“Let me get you some water,” Dani says, going to the kitchen.

I clear my throat again and turn back to Mary, then to Kevin. “Look. I just want the both of you to know that we—me, Nathan, and Michael—all love your daughter, and we will never intentionally hurt her. We’ll do everything in our power to keep her safe and happy, just like you did her whole childhood. We’re not asking you to understand our relationship, because, hell, sometimes I don’t even understand it myself. But I want you to stop and ask yourself if you want to be responsible for making your daughter cry. Because she almost did today because of the way you handled this visit.” Kevin is sitting stiffly, listening. A glance back at Mary shows she looks stricken and pale. “And I know how much you love your daughter and that you never want to see Dani cry, let alone be the reason for it.”

Mary has tears in her own eyes. “No, I never, ever want that,” she says softly.

Michael nods in approval. “Well said, Crew. We just ask you both to keep an open mind and get to know us all individually and together, that’s all.”

“I lied,” Nathan says. “I did get a parking ticket once, in college, when I parked in the bus lane. Since we’re being honest.”

His delivery is classic, dry-as-hell Nate, but it breaks the tension. Dani laughs, which makes Mary giggle. Me and Michael grin.

Dani hands me a glass of water and tells her parents, “And we will respect the no PDA rule.”

Yet even as she says it, she glances back at me and shoots me a look so hot that I clear my throat again. There could be something to this no-touching rule. It will amp up the tension and make me want her even more. Stolen kisses here and there, a hand on her thigh under the table, brushing against her in the hallway—this could be a fun game. I may even have to sneak her into the RV later.

In the meantime, we’re all waiting to hear what Dani’s father’s response will be.

Kevin just slaps his hands on his thighs, nods, and stands up. “Welp. Let’s order some Chinese food for dinner. And let Mary show you baby pictures of Dani.”


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