Andrew closed the picture book and looked down to where Jacob was tucked in against his side. Bright, wide-awake eyes looked back at Andrew. So much for the sleepy face Andrew had hoped for. He should have known by now that one story was never enough, but he didn’t really mind all that much.
“’Nother story!” Jacob clapped and reached for the picture book, small hands shaking it as though another story would fall from the pages.
A snicker drew Andrew’s gaze to where Nicholas was leaning against the bedroom door, arms crossed and a particularly irritating smirk gracing his lips.
“What is it?” Andrew said, frowning slightly. Nicholas’ participation in Jacob’s bedtime routine usually consisted of a hug, after which Nicholas made himself scarce. Andrew always wondered how Nicholas even managed to get Jacob to sleep the evenings Andrew had to be out early.
“Client,” Nicholas said simply. “Won’t talk to anyone but the big boss.”
“Trouble?” Andrew mouthed.
Nicholas shook his head. “Don’t think so. Just fu—” His mouth twisted as he stopped mid-word. Nicholas had been amused the first time Jacob started repeating his favorite curse words; Andrew had made sure the amusement hadn’t lasted, and Nicholas had been very careful with what he said around Jacob since. “Just really nervous. He won’t talk to your crew.”
Andrew rolled his eyes before looking at Jacob, who was still shaking the book. He gently pulled the book out of Jacob’s hands and bent down to kiss his forehead.
“Sorry, buddy, no more stories tonight.”
Jacob clung to Andrew’s arm as he stood. “Daddy, please, please, ‘nother story.”
Andrew dropped the book on the nightstand and turned back to his son to gently pry strong, little fingers off his arm. “Daddy has to go to work, and you have to sleep. I’ll read you an extra story tomorrow night, I promise.”
But at three years old, Jacob still didn’t have much interest in ‘tomorrow’; it was all about ‘now’ and getting everything he wanted out of Andrew—and Andrew was terrible at saying no. Another story wouldn’t take very long, Andrew thought as he glanced at the pile of books on the nightstand, trying to figure out which was the shortest. The client could wait a little longer.
“Come on, sweets, let Daddy go.”
While Andrew hesitated, Nicholas had walked in and approached the bed on the opposite side. Hands raised in front of Jacob, Nicholas wiggled his fingers. Jacob squealed, let go of Andrew and hid under the covers, laughing before Nicholas even had a chance to tickle him.
Andrew crossed his arms and glared at Nicholas. “Great. He was settled down and ready to sleep, and now he’s about to bounce off the walls. Thanks, Nicholas.”
“You know me,” Nicholas drawled as he sat on the edge of the bed. “Always happy to help. Learned that one from you.”
Andrew would have liked nothing more than to bite Nicholas’ lips until he stopped smirking like that. It was a struggle not to growl.
“Later,” Andrew said, the promise familiar enough after all this time that Nicholas would know what it meant.
“Whatever you say, Daddy.” Nicholas’ smirk turned into a leer, and he waved his hand toward the door. “Go see that client then. I’ll take care of the baby.”
“Am not a baby!” Jacob protested, pushing the covers off his head and sitting up to pout at Nicholas.
Nicholas leaned back against the headboard and grinned at Jacob. “You’re not? You’re sure about that?”
Jacob slapped Nicholas’ leg before snuggling against his side, much like he had snuggled against Andrew earlier. “I’m not a baby! I’m not!”
“All right, then, let’s think of a big boy’s story and—” Nicholas stopped abruptly and raised an eyebrow at Andrew. “Why are you still there?”
Feeling more than a little confused by how cozy they looked, like this was a familiar thing for them, Andrew leaned over the bed for another kiss to Jacob’s forehead. “Good night.”
“Night, Daddy,” Nicholas echoed, and Andrew frowned at him again before stepping out of the room.
Andrew drew the door after himself, but left it open just a crack and leaned back against the wall, listening in.
“Let’s see now, sweets… Do you want an old story or a new one?”
“The sword story. Why am I not surprised. It’s your favorite, isn't it?”
“All right. The sword story. So this one time, your Uncle Craig got a tip about a demon. And demons are…”
“Yes, they are, sweets. Twice as big as your dad. And right in the middle of their forehead they have…”
“A horn, yes. Like a unicorn.”
“’Nicorns are girly.”
“They really are. But not demons. They’re anything but girly. They’re really mean, and they growl a lot. Like your dad when he’s hungry.”
Jacob giggled, and Nicholas picked up the story without missing a beat. Andrew continued to listen, forgetting he was expected elsewhere. It was a true story Nicholas was narrating. A couple of years earlier, when one of Craig’s friends, a cop, had called to report a demon sighting on the night of Craig’s and Julie’s first date, Andrew had taken care of that demon by himself. It had carried a beautiful sword, and Andrew had taken it home as a trophy. He kept it on the wall in his office. It’d be Jacob’s, some day, when Jacob was an adult and if he wanted it. Jacob knew it and never failed to remind anyone who would listen every time he saw the sword.
Nicholas told the story without ever saying a word that wasn’t true, but he skipped over the less-than-pleasant parts—like the fact that Andrew had nearly lost an arm fighting that demon, and that if that horn had been made out of wood rather than bone, Jacob would have been an orphan. Nicholas had ranted about it for days.
At first, Nicholas paused every so often. He only had to wait for a second or two for Jacob to finish his sentence right on cue. After a few minutes though, Nicholas stopped prompting his audience for participation. His voice slowly quieted down until he finally stopped in the middle of a sentence. Seconds later, he was walking out of the room and closing the door behind him. He gave a start, his expression turning immediately defensive, when he saw that Andrew was there.
“Talked to your client already?”
Andrew blinked. “What? Oh. Not yet, no.”
Nicholas snorted. “Great work. I really see why you’re the boss.”
He started walking down the hallway. Andrew pushed away from the wall and fell into step with him.
“So that’s how you get him to sleep the nights I’m not there?”
Nicholas’ only answer was a shrug.
“You do realize he’s got shelves full of books, right? Stories more appropriate for his age than demons.”
This time, Nicholas looked at Andrew and gave him an eye roll. “The tyke doesn’t care about princesses and ogres. He just wants to hear about his favorite hero.”
It took Andrew three steps to realize who Nicholas meant. On the fourth step, Andrew grabbed the back of Nicholas’ neck and pulled him in for a kiss.
The client would have to wait a little longer.
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