“Is that you, Jacob?”
“Yeah.” John glanced briefly at Nadia, who was sitting nervously beside him. To say he wasn’t anxious was a lie, but he was more than excited to tell his mother the news.
“You changed your number again,” his mother sighed. “How was Romania?”
His mind did a double-take. Oh, right. That was where he told her he was going when he’d gone to Ukraine. That seemed so long ago. So much had happened since then.
“There was a bit of trouble but nothing I couldn’t handle.”
“Are you calling because you’re coming home for Thanksgiving? Because I wished you would have called sooner. Your Uncle Patrick is hosting. I know you don’t like his turkey, because he makes his too dry. If I knew you were coming home, I would have prepared a whole feast …”
“But come home anyway. You need to meet my Zumba instructor—”
“Ma!” he interrupted more firmly. “No matchmaking, all right?” Nadia squeezed his hand, and he looked at her again. She was covering her mouth with her other hand, hiding her laughter.
John wasn’t finding this funny.
She huffed. “Well, I’m just trying—”
“Because I’ve already met someone.”
“Ma, are you there?”
“Praise Jesus, Jacob, you better bring her home. I’ll call Patrick to make room for two more.”
“Do not call Patrick,” he barked. “We’re not coming to Montana. Nadia and I have plans with her family here in LA. It’s low key, but we’re hoping you can make the trip.”
“Oh, I’m afraid I can’t find a flight! It’s so late. Thanksgiving is next week, and you know I hate last minute. Maybe we can plan for Christmas?”
“What? You’re not excited to see your son?” John chuckled.
“Do not put this on me, Jacob Mason,” Fiona said in her sternest voice that used to make his balls shrivel. “I haven’t seen you in two years. You’ve rejected each invitation for Easter, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. I’m trying to be understanding, and I’m trying to stay healthy, so I’ll still have a chance to see you get married and meet my grandbabies.”
His chest constricted. “You’re going to be a grandma soon.”
“What? I’m not sure I heard you right. I heard I’m going to be a grandma soon. Maybe it’s my wishful thinking—”
“Nadia is pregnant.”
John gave his mother a chance to recover from the news and find her words. But as the seconds ticked by with no answer, he got worried. Shit. He was sure his mother didn’t have a heart condition because he got notifications on her medical history. Still, he got anxious there for a second.
“Ma, are you okay? Sorry for—”
A strangled sob broke over the line. “Please tell me you’re not joking,” his mother cried.
“I’m not,” he said gently.
A howl broke over the line followed by more sobbing. “Fuck,” John mumbled and glanced at Nadia, whose face had transformed from nervous into an “oh shit” expression that was probably reflective of his own.
He covered the mouthpiece and told her, “She’s crying. I don’t know what to do.”
“Wait for her to digest the news,” she said. “Is it a happy sobbing?”
John wasn’t sure, so he asked his mother, “You okay?”
“Give me a minute,” Fiona’s garbled voice responded.
John looked at Nadia again and shrugged. His woman’s exasperated huff told him she was not impressed with the way he was handling the situation.
“Jacob?” His mother appeared to be walking and shuffling things around.
“I’m just so happy … and congratulations. I want to jump on a plane right now …” she broke off crying again but seemed to have it more under control. He heard the clattering of a keyboard. “I can’t find any flights. LA, you said?”
“Don’t worry about it. I can get you here. Just tell me when.”
“Oh, Jacob,” his mother whispered. “Is she there? Can I talk to her?”
“Just a sec.” John covered the mic and turned to Nadia. “She wants to talk to you. That okay?”
Nadia’s face brightened. “Of course!”
He grinned, handing her the phone.
“Mrs. Mason? …thank you.” Nadia faced him with a radiant smile. His mother must have congratulated her on the news, too. Fiona Mason was a gracious woman, and John was confident she would be thrilled knowing her son was finally ready to settle down.
“Mid-June. Yes, J—Jacob is taking good care of me.”
A slew of emotions swirled inside him, making him rub the center of his chest. He’d been doing that more lately. And this moment was surreal. Two women he loved with all his heart were discussing a future he was looking forward to.
“Yes. We’re looking for a house. We haven’t decided where yet.”
The MoMoS would be moving back to their apartments after the holidays, but Nadia would be staying with John at Assassin’s Hill while they looked for a house. Dugal insisted on switching units with her should she want to return to SkyeLark.
“It’s great talking to you, Mrs. Mason. Of course! I’m sure I’ll get used to calling you Ma soon.”
After several more moments, Nadia handed the phone back to him.
“I had a chance to think about it,” Fiona said. “I think I’ll fly out for Christmas.”
His brows drew together. “Why?”
His mother spoke quietly as if afraid Nadia would hear, “I don’t want to intrude. It seems you two need some time together and not have your meddling mother to worry about.”
“You’re not a bother.”
“Have you asked her to marry you yet?”
Fuck, no he hasn’t. “I’m waiting for the right time. We haven’t been together that long.” And they sort of did things out of order. The marriage and baby part that was. He stood, suddenly feeling put in the hot seat worse than any interrogation he’d ever experienced. He walked to the window, but he could feel Nadia’s anxious regard drilling into his back. He shot her a grin to reassure her all was good.
“Nadia said you took an indefinite leave from your job.”
“Yeah, I wanted to slow down.” Enjoy this experience with her and the pregnancy. Hell, his mother was right. “Spend time with her.”
“Now you understand what I mean. This time is special between the two of you.”
He exhaled heavily. “I want to see you too. We’ve been dying to tell you.”
“And I’m glad you finally did! But I’m not going anywhere. I’ve had you for eighteen years, and I miss you, but do everything you can to make Nadia feel special.”
“I’m in love with her.” The words sounded strange coming from his mouth, and he realized it was the first time he’d told someone else he loved Nadia. Hollering the words through comms for everyone to hear didn’t count. “I found the one who can put up with my ass,” he chuckled. He turned to face Nadia and caught her eyes. “I didn’t know what hit me.”
“Mason men. They fall hard.”
She was right. Words of wisdom from Fiona Mason. “A week before Christmas. I’ll expect you, Ma.”
“Try and stop me.”
Fiona Mason was stunning, and she was hard to miss. A shapely woman wearing an elegant floral dress that hugged her figure emerged from the security gates. Large-framed sunglasses were propped on top of thick silvery blonde hair. But it was the blood-red lipstick against creamy skin that drew the eye first. John said his mother enjoyed traveling around the world. It certainly appeared that she was a pro and trés chic while doing it.
The pictures didn’t do justice to John’s mother at all. She had hips Nadia would kill for and an hourglass figure reminiscent of the Hollywood sirens of the fifties. Maybe those Zumba classes at the gym were worth looking into if this kind of aging gracefully was the result, although she suspected good genes had something to do with it.
Fiona broke into a wide grin when she spotted them. “Jacob!”
“We need to do something about that.” Nadia kept her smile on her face, as she muttered the words out of the corner of her mouth. It was jarring having her baby daddy being called another name.
“Working on it,” John muttered back as they approached his mother.
Nadia had expected this emotional reunion. She braced herself for the tears, but she had a hard time breathing when a massive lump formed in her throat when John enveloped his mother in a powerful embrace after two long years.
“Jacob,” Fiona’s voice sounded garbled. Pulling away, she wiped away the lipstick on John’s cheeks before turning her tear-streaked face to Nadia. “He looks happy,” she said, then her face crumpled as she dragged Nadia into a tight hug. Fiona whispered into her ear, “I’ve never seen him this happy. Thank you. Thank you for bringing my son back to me.”
Nadia didn’t realize she was bawling until John engulfed them both in his arms.
It was a reunion she would never forget.
“Should I set out the appetizers, Mrs. Mason?” Nadia hurried back to the kitchen after letting Kelso in. The rest of the guests were on the patio enjoying the cool December weather around the fire pit.
It was two days before Christmas. Thanksgiving had been a subdued affair because most of the guys were wrapping up the investigation on the Crown-Key plot. John thought they needed the gathering before they broke off for their own family celebrations.
“How many times have I told you to call me Ma?” Fiona tutted at her.
Nadia blushed. “I’m working on it.”
For a few days, it had been difficult for John’s mother when he’d revealed the truth about his job. Fiona had a hard time not calling him Jacob. That morning, something seemed to have transformed in his mother. Her face appeared lighter. Maybe after hearing all the bits and pieces about the sacrifices John had made in the service of his country, she finally had the context to his double-life.
Fiona smiled. “The deviled eggs and the brie dip are ready. I know Dugal was hovering around the kitchen waiting for it.”
Nadia fought a smile. Little did John’s mother know that it was her that the big Scot was hovering around—not the dip. To say that Mrs. Mason made an impression on the MoMoS when they first saw her was an understatement, and Dugal’s infatuation since that first meeting seemed to have only intensified—much to John’s annoyance.
“Is this the famous Fiona Mason?” Kelso was leaning against the counter at the entrance to the kitchen.
Nadia made the introductions and then promptly glared at the detective, jerking her head toward the patio.
Kelso’s mouth stretched into a sly grin.
“I wouldn’t say famous.” Fiona laughed, unaware of their silent exchange. “From what I gathered, people thought Ja—oh, I mean John—sprouted from the ground fully formed. I can’t believe my son was so awful that people think he couldn’t actually have a mother.”
Kelso seemed to relish adding to that statement. “Yes, Gabby said—ouch.”
Nadia accidentally stepped on his foot with the heel of her shoe while walking across the kitchen. That mother-under-the-bus comment better not see the light of day in Fiona’s presence.
“Our Nadia certainly softened him up,” Kelso muttered instead.
Fiona’s eyes fell on her. “She certainly did. It’s so romantic. A man—”
“Gabby’s out on the patio with Roarke,” a new voice interrupted the conversation. John stood at the other end of the open kitchen that led to the patio. He fixed Kelso with a stare that could pierce armor. “Why don’t you join the rest of the gang? I’ll help Nadia bring out the appetizers.”
The two men held mutual respect for each other, but sometimes when it came to Nadia, they had these testosterone-laden stare-offs. Nadia figured it was because John didn’t want anyone to be the boss of her except him, but he also knew that she loved her job.
“You two okay in here?” John moved to her side and gave her a kiss on the temple. “Dugal said Colin and Alec are on their way with the prime rib.”
“I’m fine in here,” his mother said. “Just make sure everyone is set with their drinks.”
“Arthur has that handled.” John left her side and gave his mother a hug. “Thanks for doing this, Ma.”
“Anything for you, Jacob.”
And Nadia’s heart swooned.
“I still can’t believe John has a mother,” Roarke whispered to Gabby loud enough for John to hear him. After dinner, the group had transferred to the living room where Bristow was setting up the widescreen television for a video conference with people who couldn’t make the celebration.
Migs and Ariana were in San Diego with the Alcantara Walker family.
Kade and Yara were in New York with Yara’s famous rock star father and supermodel mom.
Antonio and Charly were in Rio celebrating with Ida, Nico, Renata, and Oscar. John also heard that Andrade’s best friend Martinez was back in the fold. He was glad. Their story resonated with him because John had not only lost brothers to death, but also to ideological differences.
“And I’ll shut that down right there, Roarke,” John said. The guys were lucky he was in the Christmas spirit. All because of Nadia. His woman certainly loosened him up in more ways than he could imagine. And then there was peace in knowing that his mother knew the truth. All of John’s compartments were gone. As of that moment, there was only Nadia and the baby who were going to be the center of his universe. The rest of the world could wait.
His eyes sought her in the midst of this crowd. She was on the couch, chatting with Stephen and Clyde. Arthur was around somewhere in drink-mixing heaven given the size of the party. John’s gaze began to wander, and then it narrowed. His mother was laughing at something Dugal said.
“Easy there, tiger,” Roarke chuckled.
“What’s going on?” Levi asked, walking up to them. He arrived late, saying he had to drop off the girls with Kelly who was taking them to Northern California the next day.
Hmm … maybe Garrison could play Cupid with them too. He was feeling that magnanimous.
“G’s feeling protective of Mrs. Mason. It looks like our Scotsman is smitten,” Roarke shared.
Someone else clapped a hand on his shoulder. Kelso. “This should be interesting. Maybe we could plan some payback, huh? Dugal never liked me.”
John grinned cockily. “Well, he liked me, boy.”
The detective rolled his eyes. “You’re maybe seven years older than me. What makes you think you can go around calling me ‘boy’?”
“Nothing accounts for experience. You’ve got a lot to learn. Maybe go freelance.”
Kelso cut a glance to Roarke. “Has he always been this cocky?”
Gabby intervened. “Would you two stop picking on Garrison?”
“Me? He started it,” her partner said.
“But it’s so much fun,” her husband replied.
“We haven’t talked about your next assignment,” John told Roarke.
“You’re on a leave of absence,” Gabby’s husband shot back, although a wariness stole across his face. “And I’m a contractor. I can choose to pick up a job or not.”
“Hmm… contractor work sounds fun,” Kelso said.
Gabby scowled at her partner. “Don’t you dare.” She turned on her husband and Levi. “And you two stop enticing my partner into your stuff.”
“I didn’t say anything,” Levi protested.
John grinned and left them to it and walked over to where Bristow was in front of the television. In some ways he was still a manipulative bastard.
The ginger-haired SEAL gave him a thumbs up. “I got them on the line. Sending it to TV.”
The widescreen on the wall split into three sections, Migs and Ariana, Kade and Yara, Antonio and Charly.
John held his arm out to Nadia in a gesture that indicated he wanted her to be by his side. She’d been integral to the team, working comms in their multiple ops. And, recently, she was the one who enabled him to break free of his compartments and communicate with empathy.
“I’m honored for you all to join us.” John raised his beer toward the screen, hugging Nadia to his side. “Merry Christmas.”
There was a chorus of Merry Christmas, Feliz Navidad, and Feliz Natal.
“We wouldn’t miss this. Where’s Mrs. Mason?” Migs asked.
“I know,” Charly piped in. “I was surprised when Bristow told me John’s mom was visiting.”
Maybe this was a bad idea.
“Oh my goodness,” Fiona expressed. “I wasn’t expecting this much attention.”
His mother seemed to preen anyway. She stood up and did a small wave like the Queen of England.
Everyone clapped, and some of them whistled. Nadia held his hand and gave it a squeeze. He exhaled, realizing he wasn’t annoyed at this distraction to his agenda. He was damned happy he could finally bring his mother back into his life.
“Oh my, she’s gorgeous, John,” Ariana gushed. “Have her come by the Vitamin and Wellness clinic.”
Oh, good God.
“What vitamin clinic?” His mother, ever the health enthusiast, perked up at Ariana’s statement.
“Ari will send Garrison the info,” Migs chuckled. “I think we need to get on with the program.”
A roar of laughter went around the room. John wasn’t oblivious that the joke was on him, and, again, he didn’t mind. These past weeks with Nadia worked magic on getting that stick out of his ass.
When the room quieted down, he cleared his throat. “As I was trying to say earlier, I’m glad everyone could join us. Andrade, you and Charly are honorary members of our team as are the MoMoS.” He turned to the men in question.
Clyde spoke up, “I knew Stephen was hiding something. I can’t believe I’m friends with an agency asset.” The MoMoS had proven they would die for each other and Nadia. That went a long way in John’s book. Dugal assured John his sons would keep the secret as well. They deserved to know after their father nearly died protecting Nadia.
He gave his woman a squeeze while his gaze shot across the room to Gabby and Kelso. “The CTTF had done an outstanding job addressing the terrorist threats to LA. I technically couldn’t help directly—”
“But you did anyway,” Kelso interjected, winking.
“Yes, we go rogue when we need to,” Migs said from the screen.
“Hear, hear!” Roarke raised his beer.
“And, I’m happy to assist with smoothing the red tape,” John said. “We have common goals, and that’s to keep our country and our loved ones safe from all kinds of terror threats.”
“But what are we going to do now that you’re on leave?” Gabby asked.
“That’s a terrible idea,” Andrade agreed.
“John will never be hands-off whether he’s on leave or not,” Kade spoke up for the first time. His long-time friend knew him so well, and John communicated his thanks with his eyes. If it weren’t for Kade and the team, he and Bristow would probably be spending Christmas in Siberia.
A new life.
He was looking forward to it.
Nadia tilted her chin up and grinned. “I don’t know, Kade. I’m sure the baby and I will give him plenty to do.”
The room’s conversations evolved into discussions about babies because apparently Ariana was also pregnant.
His agenda was forgotten.
A ghost of a smile touched his mouth. He was damned pleased to see his family grow.
“I’m close, babe.”
John’s back was against the headboard, and Nadia was on her knees between his legs taking his cock in her mouth.
This was after he’d woken her up with him tongue-fucking her pussy, so Nadia was more than happy to return the favor. She relished the mornings she had her man at her mercy. He would grab her hair, coaxing her mouth up and down his erection, but Nadia still dictated the motion.
“Jesus, Nadia, bring it home, babe.”
Not yet, she hummed as she swirled her tongue around his cock in sync with her hand twisting up and down his thick shaft, savoring the fact that every inch of this man belonged to her. Sometimes, she’d get away with teasing him mercilessly with a blow job. But other times, she could tell when he’d had enough and would take matters into his own hands.
She was right.
John hauled her up and gave her a hard kiss, before flipping them over and powering inside her.
Nadia was taking his cock again.
“Knew you had that wicked look on you this morning,” he growled. “You’re merciless you know that?” he continued pounding, hiking one of her legs over his elbow so he could thrust deeper.
And it felt glorious.
“Coming again,” she whimpered.
John grunted, and she wanted to laugh because she’d had multiple orgasms and he hadn’t had one yet. Not that she was count—
Oh shit. His cock or his grinding hips had a knack for zeroing in on that magic button on her pussy. Exquisite throbbing spread like wildfire across her tender flesh, and she could only moan, “Harder.” And then she melted into a puddle of boneless limbs, surrendering herself to John’s domination.
“Fuck, you’re so sexy when you come,” he gritted. She was lost to his pounding and she distantly heard his muffled roar. His heavy breath was warm by her ear, and his rapid heart rate galloped against her chest.
When John raised his head, his gaze was soft and warm. “Merry Christmas, babe.”
“Merry Christmas to you, too, handsome,” Nadia smiled. He levered up and got off the bed. “Be right back.”
Nadia followed his sexy ass until he disappeared into the bathroom before she did a lazy satisfied stretch and rolled away to check her messages. Several unread texts greeted her. Everyone seemed to be up early this morning. It was barely seven. Holiday greetings from Gabby, another one from Kelso, and more from her squad at the CTTF. After the big-gathering two nights ago, they were having a smaller affair with the MoMoS for Christmas day lunch. Colin was making ham and turkey while Fiona was whipping up several side dishes. Bristow and Levi were stopping by since they didn’t have families to celebrate with in town.
The bed dipped behind her. She grinned and flipped back for more cuddle time with her man before the craziness of the Christmas day began.
Her smile froze.
Right in front of her was a ring.
Not just any ring or jewelry, but the ring.
A pear-shaped diamond that almost blinded her with its fiery brilliance.
“I’m feeling vulnerably naked here,” she laughed, but excitement thrummed through her veins.
John smirked. “That was the idea. No excuses, babe. We love each other. You know I’d damn the whole world for you, and you’re probably the only woman in existence who can put up with my shit.”
“Hmm, that’s true. What else?”
“The sex is fucking fantastic.”
“That’s also true.” She tried to keep the giddiness from her voice, but she couldn’t help it. She also couldn’t help teasing him.
His gaze narrowed, and she was suddenly pinned under a very predatory male. “And I’m the only man for you. You’re already having my baby. You’re both mine. There’s no choice here.”
“Even with your proposal, you’re bossy.” The intense possessiveness in his eyes took her breath away.
An arrogant brow arched. “You like that about me, remember?”
She smiled impishly. “I do.”
“So, marry me, babe.”
“Yes.” Nadia’s face hurt from the happiness stretching across her face.
John grinned and slipped the ring on her finger. “I love you.”
“Love you, too.”
Those words were coming more easily to him nowadays, but, recently, he’d been giving her more reasons to smile.
He shifted on the mattress, lowered his head, and kissed her belly.
“Love you, too, little one,” he whispered. “Daddy can’t wait to meet you.’”
This man made her heart so full when he did this.
Every. Single. Time.
Nine months later
“You and I need to have a chat, missy.” John stared at his beautiful little girl cradled in his arms. Her eyes were round with curiosity, and they promised to turn into the hazel color of her mother’s. “You need to stop waking up every hour of the night. Your mom’s exhausted. I’m exhausted.”
The baby cooed and then smiled at him.
His heart lurched. “And every time you look at me like that, you make it worth the trouble,” he grumbled. She grabbed his thumb and tried to suck on it.
Ciara Elizabeth Garrison had her father wrapped around her fingers, and she knew it.
Three months ago, Nadia gave birth to the most adorable baby girl, and John lost his heart. Thank God, her features were shaping more into her mother’s delicate ones instead of John’s hard angles. His mother said it was too soon to tell, but Ciara’s head of thick, black hair was all John.
He got up from the rocking chair and looked around for her pacifier. The little bundle in his arms must have chucked it somewhere she knew her father wouldn’t be able to find. Very challenging, this one— so much like her mother. Between Nadia and his daughter, he didn’t need a job to keep him on his toes.
And he wouldn’t change a fucking thing.
He loved being a father. Well, except the part about waking up two or three times in the middle of the night. He loved watching Ciara sleep in Nadia’s arms, and he definitely loved the quiet times when the baby gurgled happy sounds when in his.
There was such a thing as loving frustration, too, when his little girl refused to sleep, and both he and Nadia didn’t know why, but then they’d stare at her perfect button nose, and they’d sigh and surrender to the rollercoaster of parenthood. Jesus, they were only three months into it.
But most of all? He loved being the husband Nadia deserved. They married in February barely two months after his proposal. He was determined to put that ring on her finger and have that piece of paper that stated she was his. They signed both documents with the double-identities as a Mason and Garrison and did the same for Ciara.
For now, Mason was in the past, and Garrison was their future.
Ciara gurgled and made a distressed little cry.
John sighed again. “Are you hungry now?” He walked over to the baby’s dresser where he’d been warming a bottle. He tested the temperature and then gave it to her. Ciara promptly latched onto it. Nadia couldn’t produce enough breastmilk, and they had to supplement because Ciara was a voracious feeder, growing so fast before their very eyes.
As was his habit when he fed her, he talked to her about the people around them. “Tomorrow, we’re going to see your Gramps. Remember, he can be absentminded, but he’s very thoughtful. Your Uncle Dugal? I know you love him because he tells great stories.” Although John wondered if they were too grim to be children’s fairytales. “Maybe you can keep him busy so he’ll stop making eyes at your Nana, huh?” His mother had moved into the SkyeLark apartments since Ciara’s birth. It was supposed to be temporary, but she seemed to be considering making the move permanent. And that was as far as John was willing to speculate. He loved how his mother could give him and Nadia a break every now and then, so he was far from complaining. “Your Uncle Arthur on the other hand, I think he’s afraid to pick up a baby, so don’t take it personally. As for your Uncle Clyde? He butts into everyone’s business and says sh-stuff that annoys your dad, but know his nosiness comes from a good place.”
He adjusted Ciara in the crook of his arm and sat in the rocking chair again. “Bristow is going to be there too. Good job with the projectile vomiting on him the last time he called you ‘Michelin Man’.” John chuckled. His daughter had chubby arms and thighs that his friend couldn’t help teasing her. “That’s how you handle boys. Don’t take their sh-crap. Give it back ten-fold.”
“Are you giving life lessons to our daughter again?” A sleepy voice came from the open door.
John turned his head and grinned at Nadia. “Yeah.” Her hair was messy, and there were circles under her eyes, but she’d never looked more gorgeous to him.
The mother of his baby girl.
He held out his arm. “Come sit with us.”
She trudged forward. “That girl is growing too fast. Pretty soon we won’t be able to do this.”
“Then we’ll enjoy it while it lasts.”
John handed their daughter to his wife.
“She’s almost done with this bottle.” Nadia let their daughter finish feeding and then proceeded to burp her.
“Yeah, I think she’s gained a pound since yesterday.”
After Ciara was done and fell right to sleep in her mother’s arms, Nadia backed up and plopped onto his lap. John rearranged her so he was cradling his wife while she was holding their daughter securely in her arms.
He rocked them slowly.
He was a fucking happy man.
“Jesus, I love my girls,” John whispered to them.
“And we love you, Dad.”