Novel Name : Hot Revenge Box Set 2

Chapter 25

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Michael wasn’t joking about the Christmas spirit. Clearly, we have arrived in the middle of the
Threesome’s interrupted festivities. The tiles of the long, wide hallway, running right through the house,
are heaped with stacks of holly, ivy and mistletoe. A fir tree, all of ten feet high, its branches tied with
string, rests by one wall alongside bricks and a bucket of sand. Another one is already standing at the
end of the hallway, framing the staircase and waiting to be decorated.

As we enter the lounge, James, looking rakish in an eyepatch, stands on a small set of steps, trailing
fairy-lights over the star at the top of yet another tree. “Kirstie! Ryan! Good to see you. We’ll be right
with you.”

He circles the star with the lights and passes them down to the waiting Richard who, on the other side
of the tree, loops them once more through the branches.

On a side-table are all the signs of Christmas ‘in action’. Boxes overflow with tinsel and more lights.
Glossy magazines are stacked beside another box filled with brightly coloured ornaments. The
sideboard is stacked with bottles, chocolates and candied fruit, and Congratulations On Your New Baby
cards. A large pink and beige rabbit flops enormous ears over a Welcome Cara! tag.

“We came to give our Congratulations,” I say, nodding towards the display of cards. “It looks like we
weren’t the first.”

“And to wish you all a Merry Christmas,” adds Ryan.

James beams. “And both are very welcome. Just give us a moment. We’re all but done here.”

Richard passes the loop of lights back around the tree. “Indeed, they are… That’s the last of this string,

James grunts, leaning back, surveying his handiwork then, adjusting the star, “Is that on straight?”

“Yes, it is,” says Ryan, accepting Richard’s outstretched hand as he disentangles himself from behind
the tree. “Merry Christmas.”

“You too, Ryan.” Richard takes me at the shoulders and kisses my cheek. “Happy Christmas, Kirstie.
Elizabeth and Charlotte have both been asking if you had been in touch. They’re looking forward to
seeing you.” My balloon, bobbing on its string, bounces against his face. He chuckles, batting it away.
“And I imagine one more balloon will find a home.”

I stand back, looking square into his face. “How is Beth?”

A smile folds up into his eyes. “Elizabeth is fine. And so’s Adam, despite his attempt at an early arrival.
Right now, she’s spending most of her time with Charlotte, cooing over Cara. And Mitch keeps an eye
on both of them.”

Ryan stands over the fire, rubbing his hands together, then spreads his palms, bathing them in the
heat. “It’s good to be with friends when you need some support.”

“So it is,” says James. Charlotte’s tall, dark dom descends the ladder, moving carefully, as though he is
a little stiff. “I’ll set Charlotte and Mitch loose with the rest of the decorations, now.” Then he eyes the
still-shivering Ryan up and down. “Hot drink? Coffee? Chocolate? Mulled wine?”

Ryan blows air. “Mulled wine sounds a great idea.”

“Coming right up.” James stoops, placing a poker in the embers at the base of the burning logs. “Sit
yourselves down. Make yourselves at home. I’ll be back in a minute.”

From out in the hall comes the babble of voices, then the door swings open. Charlotte appears,
hugging a blanket-wrapped bundle. Then Mitch, followed by the hugely pregnant Beth with Michael
supporting her. There is something about the way he touches her… one hand at the elbow, another at
the small of her back…

What’s happening there?

Then I see Richard’s grey-eyed gaze on me. I tilt my head, just enough to ‘ask without asking’.

He smiles and nods slightly.

So… A Fivesome now…

Quite a family…

Michael breaks from Beth to help Charlotte, easing the ‘bundle’ from her arms as, moving slowly and
with care, she takes her seat on the couch.

I watch her, trying not to be obvious about it, wanting to get a measure of how she really is. Usually
Charlotte vibrates with energy. But just now, there’s a pallid edge to her colouring and she moves as if
tired. Close up, her eyes are shadowed.

What did they do to her?

Beyond her, Michael is watching me, watching her, his face impassive as he passes the bundle back to
his wife.

She’s safe now…



Seating myself beside her, I inject as much enthusiasm as I know how into my voice, “Is this Cara
then? Can I see her?”

Charlotte beams…

The chance to show off...

And, her face lighting up, quite suddenly, she looks much more herself, her green eyes brilliant with
enthusiasm. “Course you can.” She flips back a corner of the blanket to reveal the tiny few-days-old

Transfixed on her baby, “She’s so beautiful…” she murmurs. “I still can’t believe she’s real.” Her face
rises to mine. “Don’t you think she’s beautiful?”

I regard Charlotte’s baby daughter. Only a few days old, red-faced and with a thin swirl of dark hair, her
dark eyes are vague and she blows small bubbles from her mouth.

“If I’m truthful, no, I don’t think she’s beautiful…” Charlotte’s jaw falls slack… Then looking around, I
realise everyone is staring at me.

Oh, crap…

“… but I do think she’s completely adorable...” I keep talking, trying to rescue myself from my faux
pas… “… Like a puppy that you know is one day going to be all silky fur and sleek muscles. But when
they’re just born, they all look like a furry sausage with a leg at each corner.”

Richard bursts out laughing. “But people-puppies are never as cute as the real thing? Is that it, Kirstie?”

“Um…” I mumble. “Something like that.”

My embarrassment is interrupted by James returning, carrying a huge tray. He sets it down on the
coffee table. “Help yourselves, folks.”

“Shall I be Mother?” Richard shoos off Scruffy, resting a hopeful snout on the edge of the table, then
takes a knife to what looks like a large panettone loaf, snowy with powdered sugar. Examining a slice,
he takes a sniff. “Smells good.”

James flashes him a smile. “Always one of my favourite Christmas treats when I was a boy.” Then,
taking the poker from the ashes, he plunges it into a jug.

Steam hisses and deep red bubbles froth up, carrying with them the fragrance of cinnamon, cloves and
oranges. James sloshes a measure into a mug, passing it to Ryan, then another to me. “Plenty more
where that came from,” he says. “Help yourselves.”

Ryan inhales, gulps, then clicks his tongue. “I’d better stick with just the one. I’ll be driving in a while.”

“You’d be welcome to stay over if you’d like to.” James aims a finger at the darkening windows. “It’s not
as though there’s much daylight left.”

Ryan exchanges a look with me then, “Thanks, James, but we don’t have a change of clothes or
anything. And I think Kirstie will want to be at home.”

James glances at me, his forehead furrowing. “Of course…” His gaze lingers. “Is… something wrong?”

“No, of course not.” But Ryan speaks quickly, and the furrows deepen.

My blush is rising again, and I retreat from the conversation, turning back to Charlotte. “Sorry if I
sounded rude before…”

But her answering smile is sunny. “Oh, that’s fine. Don’t worry about it. Don’t they always say every
mother thinks her own baby is the most beautiful thing in the world?”

But Richard interrupts us. “Kirstie, you look a little tired. Are you quite well? I know you’ve been out of
hospital for a while now but…”

His question is loaded and we both know it. “I'm fine, Mr Haswell.”

He sniffs and rubs his nose. “We’re not in work, Kirstie. It’s Richard.”

“Richard. I'm fine, really. But you're right, I am a bit tired. Ryan and I have been out and about quite a
lot recently…”

Michael breaks in. “Kirstie, when you said you were passing by… We’re half-way up a mountain. The
only place you would pass by to would be a ski slope. You don’t have to make up excuses, you know.
You’re welcome to drop in any time you want to.”

“Oh, I wasn’t just being polite.” I’m floundering. “We really were in the area.”

Should I have said that?

Michael regards me, sucking in his cheeks. I look to Ryan, but he just smiles and flashes his eyebrows.

Here we go…

“The fact is,” I say, “… Ryan and I… “We were looking at a property together. It’s not too far away. An
old farm…”

All heads swivel my way…

“… We’re… we’re looking to buy a place. Ryan and I are moving in together.”

“Yay!” Michael holds out his arms. “Congratulations!”

Richard pumps the air with a fist. James looks utterly delighted, as do Charlotte, Mitch and Beth.

James stands, heading for the door. “Mulled wine be damned. This deserves champagne.”

“So…” Richard props his face against his fist, keen interest writ large. “…what kind of place are you
looking for?”

Spot the property developer…

Ryan blows air, shuffling his feet. “So far, the kind we either can't afford or can't find. We’d like
somewhere with plenty of room for everything. Thinking long-term that is. Kirstie’s apartment is small.
And mine was only ever supposed to be temporary…” His eyes slide my way… “…. while we were
getting to know each other. So, we’re looking for a minimum of space for two, an office for me and
room outdoors for Kirstie's dogs.”

Michael, leaning forward onto his knees, alternates between scratching Scruffy’s ear, and feeding him
bits of fruit bread. “How do you manage at the moment? In your apartment with four dogs?”

“I don't,” I say. “I rent a small plot behind the building. I have kennels there for my Gang. And a run so
they can get outside while I’m at work. But I'd much rather be able to keep them the way you did when
you were looking after them for me. When I saw how happy they were, living here… All that outside
space… They could just run in and out whenever they wanted. I’d like to do that for them all the time.”

Ryan pipes up. “We'll never afford what we want if we try to buy it outright or in good condition. So,
we're looking for something we could renovate. A project. Perhaps an old farmhouse or a run-down
restaurant, like you did. Maybe even one of the old warehouses down by the canal.”

“That area’s about to be demolished,” says Richard. “I wouldn't aim down there if I were you.”

Ryan arches brows. “It is?”

“It is.” Richard takes another thin slice of bread, offering it first to Beth. “After recent events, James and
I have adjusted the work schedules. We’ve moved that part of the City project right to the head of the

“Burning out the rat holes…” says James… “…Ousting the rats.” His dark eyes are almost black. “We’ll
get rid of the Finchbys of the world. At least from our part of it.”

“Speaking of Finchby,” says Ryan. “What’s happened to him? Where is he?” He looks between the
men and falters.

James speaks slowly. “You needn’t worry. Finchby won’t be troubling anyone anymore. But I would
prefer that you don’t ask how I know that.”

A short pause… A silence…

“Ah…” Ryan’s head swings around the room. “Um, where is Charlotte’s father? Is Klempner still with

“He comes and goes.” James speaks briskly. “Frankly, I prefer not to know exactly what he’s doing.”

“James…” I tap at my eye. Nod to his. “How are you? Not just the eye. I can see you’re not moving

James masks over. “I’m fine.”

The silence stretches out, growing uncomfortable. Then I become aware that my billionaire friend and
employer is staring out of the window.


He swings to me, then Ryan, looking thoughtful. “This project you would like to buy… How would you
feel about a watermill? Very dilapidated. In need of complete refurbishment. And I do mean complete.
But where it is… the setting… is to die for.”

Ryan lays a hand over mine. We don’t need to exchange words. “A watermill?” he says. “It sounds
marvellous. But where? If there was something like that on the market, I’m sure I would have spotted it
by now.”

Richard sucks in a smile, shoving hands in his pockets and pacing the room. “It’s not on the market,
officially anyway. The point is, would you be interested?”

“Well… I’d certainly like to know more. Where is it?”

Richard’s eyes twinkle. “It’s not far from here. Want to take a look?”

Ryan exchanges glance with me. “We both would.”

“Good.” He ponders, then reaches into a pocket, jingling keys. “I’ll drive. Wrap up warm.”


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