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“I need you to find a woman for me,” Ark said as he slid into the booth across from his cousin.
“Have you tried calling an escort agency?”
“Not that kind of a woman. A specific woman.”
“Then perhaps you should look into online dating.”
“I don’t think I’ll find her there because the woman I’m looking for is supposedly pregnant with my kid.”
That caused a bit of choking on Stavros’s part and smirking on Ark’s.
“What the fuck is wrong with you announcing shit like that while a man is eating.” Stavros set down his sandwich and took a swig of his iced tea. “How could you forget to cover your péos?” His cousin lapsed into some Greek slang. “What’s the first thing we taught you if you’re going to play with the ladies?”
And by “we” his cousin meant Ark’s well-meaning brothers, cousins, and uncles. They all had advice to give a teenage boy—some of it made sense, like Watch for skin before you zip. Other stuff was a little more obscure, such as Uncle Dimi’s Just don’t do it. Don’t do what was never exactly explained.
“I always cover it. But accidents happen.” None that Ark recalled having, but he certainly had to wonder, given the card he’d received. “I got this in the mail.” Ark slid over a sealed plastic bag to his cousin. As soon as he’d lifted himself off the floor and realized it contained no address or name, he’d preserved it.
The bag remained untouched as Stavros ignored it. Instead, he used both hands to bring the sandwich—a hefty beast layered with thin slices of roast beef, a thick slice of provolone, caramelized onions, a bit of salad dabbed with balsamic, a smear of mustard over a butter-toasted Panini bun—to his mouth. It looked delicious.
Want some. His mouth watered as Stavros took a bite and chewed slowly while holding half of the sandwich—which left another half.
So hungry. Ark grabbed it, avoiding the slap by his cousin as he made off with it like a bandit. He licked it and cast a sly eye at his cousin.
Stavros grimaced. “You didn’t have to do that. I was going to offer it to you. I want to save room for the pie.”
Ah yes, the famous sweet and salty honey pie that many a bear indulged in when in the neighborhood.
Drool. He debated ordering two pieces as he savored his bites of the sandwich. Some might wonder that he could think of food at a time like this. His bombshell still sat on the table. But he wasn’t too worried. First off, he didn’t quite believe the note, and second, his cousin would take care of it when he was ready. This was how Stavros worked. Slow and steady. Until he came after you. Then he struck with lightning speed.
I have the coolest family. Ark seriously did. Between his own brothers and his cousins, plus add in his uncles and his father, family gatherings often devolved into wrestling matches. Outside of course. No one dared start something in the house since the incident with his yiayia’s favorite vase. The glued and jagged pieces sat on the mantel, a reminder of the great wooden spoon incident of 1997.
They ate their sandwiches and demolished the fries before Stavros wiped his fingers on a napkin and said, “Now you may explain what is in the bag. And what you need me for.”
“I got a card in the mail.”
“The mail?” His cousin arched a brow.
“Yes, mail as in sent in an envelope with a stamp and an address.”
“Yes, my fucking address. How else would I have gotten it?” Ark stabbed a finger at the baggie, pointing at his address, handwritten in block letters on the envelope.
“What’s the letter say?”
“It’s a card. Blue on the front and there’s a picture of a stork carrying a baby wrapped in a blanket in its beak. Inside the card…” Inside was the sucker punch.
It’s a boy.
The woman you never called back
His cousin arched a disbelieving brow. “An anonymous card arrives in the mail and you believe it?”
A frown pulled at his brow. “Not entirely, but then again, why would she lie?”
“Why indeed says the poor little rich bear who drives a Lexus.”
“Because it’s a very well equipped vehicle.”
“So is a moderately priced Camry.”
“But it’s not as pretty.” Nothing wrong with a man stroking his car lovingly every time he parked it in the garage.
“Neither is your mug, but apparently women still manage to find it attractive, hence why you manage to get pussy. And now that pussy is claiming you left a present behind.”
“Claiming because I’d say there’s a strong possibility I didn’t.” Because Ark was so very careful about these things.
“A DNA test will quickly determine the truth.”
“And if she’s not lying?”
“Then you do the right thing. Or I’ll shoot you.”
Better his cousin shoot him quickly before his mother stripped the hide from his body. “So here’s the problem. She didn’t leave a name or address.”
“I know.” His cousin turned the baggie over in his hands, checking out the postage marks on the envelope.
“What do you mean ‘you know’?”
“I know because you weren’t the only one to get a card.” His cousin reached into his coat and withdrew a handful of colored envelopes, tossing them onto the table. “Guess what’s in these?”
Ark noted the same block lettering on the outside, and he could just imagine the card on the inside. “How many?”
“Seven now that I know of.”
“Why us, though, and why that message?” Ark shook his head. “What was she think—”
“If it is a she. Could be a guy who sent this too. Chances are it’s someone who wants to see if any of the boys will crack and then they’ll hit with the blackmail.”
“You think it’s a hoax? If it is, then it’s not a very funny one.” His brow creased, and his bear grumbled, not happy at all. “I want to know who sent it.” Because for one heart-attack moment he’d truly wondered if he’d impregnated a girl. If that happened, and word got out, he’d find himself tackled to the ground—by his mother—and forced into a wedding—by his grandmother and her sisters—to a stranger with a baby.
Except, according to Stavros, there was probably no baby. And that, for some reason, made him mad—because babies are cute. Really cute so long as they belonged to other people.
“What should we do now? We can’t let them get away with this,” Ark said with a crack of his knuckles. “Bruises, broken bones, castration—”
“You do realize I’m an officer of the law—”
“Currently serving a suspension.”
“—and you’re talking about assault.”
“Aren’t we protected by some family law?”
“That only works if we’re married. Are you proposing? Do you want us to adopt the imaginary baby you and seven other cousins that we know of are having?”
“You are no fun since you joined the boys in blue.” And to think that as children, Stavros had led them in wondrous mischief. Now he arrested them for the same things he used to do. Since when was watering weeds in an alley against the law? Indecent exposure his hairy ass.
Hairy as a bear, not a man.
“I might be an upstanding citizen now”—the statement so incongruous that Ark couldn’t help but snicker—“but that doesn’t mean I don’t have any fun. And how many times has the family found having a cop in the family useful?”
“I haven’t. You haven’t cleared a single parking ticket yet.”
“But I did stop giving them to you in order to meet my quota.”
“Let’s get back to the card. What should we do next, Mr. By the Book?” Ark rolled his eyes. He also scratched himself. Obeying the law made him feel so dirty.
“We do nothing for the moment. Whoever sent this covered their tracks well. Mailed the cards via regular postal service in different states. No fingerprints. No address. No name. Nothing.”
“So we sit on our paws and wait for a lucky break?”
We could wait in a sunny patch with a bowl of berries to snack on. His bear had definite ideas.
“We need a trail to hunt. I’m figuring the culprit will contact some of you soon and try to take this scam to the next level.” Stavros tucked the baggie with his and the other cards inside his jacket. “The others were clean, but just in case, I’ll have Johnson run it for prints and see if we get anything.”
And if they did, then what?
Shake the hell out of the idiot who’d scared the honey out of him.
I need some golden remedy, stat!
Copyright © 2018 by St. Martin’s Press
Copyright © 2018 by Eve Langlais
Copyright © 2018 by Milly Taiden
Copyright © 2018 by Kate Baxter