“They’re just beautiful,” she said hoarsely.

Slipping one out of its box, she took out the pearl in her lobe and replaced it with the diamond. Then did the same on the other side.


“Mary!” Rhage said from the open door. “You gotta come see—”

He stopped and then smiled. “So he gave them to you, huh.”

“He did.” She put the box aside. “But, Rhage, we have a problem—”

“You weren’t supposed to tell him!” Lassiter barked.

Rhage frowned. “Lassiter?”

“Fuck you!” came the muffled response.

Mary pointed to the hearth. “Lassiter is in a Santa suit, stuck in the chimney, impaled on something that means he can’t dematerialize. So we’ve got a problem.”

Rhage blinked once. And then threw his head back and laughed so loudly the windows shook. “This is the best fucking Christmas present ever!”

“Fuck you, Hollywood!” Lassiter yelled from inside the chimney. “Fuck you so hard—”

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Brothers started filing in, and Rhage was all over it, reporting the situation—while nearly wetting his pants laughing.

Then Rhage marched over, put his hands on his knees, and hollered up, “How’s it feel to be a proctologist, angel! You like that tight squeeze? I’d call you something else but my daughter’s in earshot. Starts with ‘d’ and ends with an ‘o,’ though!”

“I’m gonna kill you as soon as I’m out of here!”

“You want a Little Mermaid doll to keep you company? Or, wait, I’ll send that stuffed tarpon up—”

“Eat me!”

As the two exchanged festive holiday cheer, and the rest of the household gathered around and laughed until they were hoarse, and V decided that maybe they could run a chain from the back of Ruhn’s new truck, Mary stepped out of the way and just watched her family.


Focusing on Bitty, she smiled and stroked the girl’s long dark hair. “What, my love?”

“Merry Christmas, Mom.” The little girl came in for a hug. “This was the best Christmas ever, don’t you think? I mean, I know it’s my first, but I don’t think it gets any better than this.”

Mary tucked her daughter in close, looked at the load of opened presents and the acres of crushed wrapping paper and the utter and complete chaos … and found herself filled with such joy, her body and soul became a happy balloon, bouncing in the air even as she stayed with her feet on the ground.

“No, Bitty, Christmas doesn’t get any better than this.”

Bitty frowned. “Are they ever going to get him out?”

Mary laughed. “Yes. But they’re never, ever going to let him forget this one. Ever. Yes indeed, this is one holiday everybody’s going to remember!”

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