Joy

an excerpt

Chapter One

Jubilee Mason, Kieran Fox, Nicholas Fournier, Sean Mercado, Trace Thatcher, Marco Dellburn, and Sam Channing...

Me! Sam Channing. I was almost embarrassed when they called out my name. I don't think any of us were really sure why we were being honored in this way. After almost eight months on the job, in hindsight, it seemed to have been one of the easiest things I'd ever done.

There was a huge crowd gathered at the city hall in Dallas on that bright, sunny day. In the audience, I could see Pauline with her children; Jube and Kieran's boy, Juan; and Cassie standing with Ronnie. I wasn't sure what in the world was going on between them. I never thought in a million years that Cassie was anything but straight, the way she had always crawled into my bed a million years ago, but hey...go figure.

I filed off the stage to thunderous applause. Marco seemed so tickled, not for himself, but for me mostly. He kept playing with the medal they'd thrown around each of our necks.

It had taken me some time to deal with what had happened. All those people gunned down because I'd turned my life around. I'd done an about face really--once the leader of the notorious Born Evil outlaw biker gang, now a U.S. Marshal. At least I'd been the one to slap the cuffs on, but still, it hurt.

Ronnie came over now and hugged me. God, she'd been like a sister to me. We'd gone through training together, and her lover, a cop, had been killed in the crossfire. I'd attended a memorial service for Barbara, and cried with Ronnie through the whole damn thing. Now Ronnie had requested to be transferred to the Dallas office, and we saw each other all the time. Marco had fallen in love with her, too, but what in hell was going on with her and Cassie? Damn!

Cassie had done a life flip like me, once a biker chick working the streets for my gang, I'd sent her to travel school, and now she worked in an agency downtown and was talking about starting her own business. Life had changed. The only constant in my life was Marco. I'd known him when he was a snot-nosed kid, never guessing he'd become the love of my life. But he was. And I'd been his, apparently, for a lot longer.

"Stop playing with that," I told Marco good-naturedly, giving his hand a little slap. "There's better things for you to play with."

"I know," he groaned. "I'm compensating because I can't play with that here. I'm so proud of you." He beamed, and flashed the medal at Ronnie, who fawned over it as well.

"You have one, too," I pointed out.

"Yeah, but yours is so shiny," he teased. "And bigger!" He raised his eyebrows.

I gave him a playful shove. "Get outta here. They're the same size."

He laughed and walked over to Pauline, who was pretty close to giving birth. In terms of timing, it had been great. Juan was on winter vacation, and Kieran and Jubilee had managed to get time off to be here for when the baby was born. They'd rented a condo a few miles from where Trace and Pauline lived.

"What's with you and Cassie anyway? You doing the nasty?" I asked Ronnie suddenly, as I saw Cassie blow a kiss. Wasn't sure it was for me anymore.

She looked around the room. "That Kieran Fox sure is a good-looking man."

"Never mind how good looking Kieran Fox is..." I turned her toward me. "Give it up."

"Well--" She grinned. "If she could stop fantasizing about you long enough, I might get somewhere."

"Bull, she got over that a long time ago."

"Yeah." Marco was suddenly back. "Especially after I threatened to kill her." He gave me a great big grin.

"Right," I scoffed.

"Are you guys coming back to Trace and Pauline's for lunch?" Sean came over now, punching Marco in the arm.

"Ouch, what was that for?" Marco laughed, rubbing his arm.

"Just because, stupid!"

Marco slugged him back.

I shook my head. "There they go," I muttered.

Ronnie disappeared. Guess I wasn't getting an answer.

Trace came jogging over. He'd been a basket case lately because of the baby, but he also had a big stupid-assed grin on his face all the time. "Come on, guys, we're ordering pizza," he announced. "And you know the kids. Get there fast or you'll get nothing."

He was gone again.

Marco hugged my arm. "So? Pizza?"

"Yeah, okay," I said.

"Then we sneak off around the back and fuck our brains out," Marco whispered in my ear. "I want to go crazy on you."

I laughed. "Fair enough. Afternoon romps are nice."

Marco was happy. I could see it in his eyes as we drove toward Trace's place. Not to mention, Christmas was less than a week away. I'd never seen people so excited for Christmas.

I didn't want to rain on his parade but I was tired and there was a lot of traffic. Since I'd joined the marshals, they'd worked me to the bone. It seemed I was always the one to call in any time some gang member was implicated in something, be they witness, victim, or suspect.

I watched the people trudging along with all their packages, and I sighed. The stores were insane and the thought of Christmas shopping had me in a near panic. I had no idea what to buy anyone. Christmas for me in the past had consisted of consuming a bottle of Jack Daniel's and partying in the clubhouse, sometimes waking up beside someone I didn't recognize. And here Marco was gushing about our first real Christmas together, and how he wanted to get a tree and...I hardly had time to sleep.

I'd been thinking a lot lately about my relationship with Marco. I wanted to be everything he wanted me to be, but I was struggling. If I had to brave all those shoppers to please Marco, I would, although I had no idea what he wanted for Christmas.

"So, what do you want?" I asked suddenly, stopping at a traffic light.

"What do you think about the name Christopher?" he asked me.

"Huh?"

"For the baby?"

"Ah...it's okay I guess."

"They don't know what to call him."

"It's a him?"

"Yeah."

"Trace is nice. Why not Trace Paul, or Paul Trace...after both?" I hit the gas.

"That's a good idea." Marco was fiddling with his phone. "I'm texting Pauline."

"So, you didn't answer. What do you want?"

Marco glanced at me. "I have everything I've ever wanted right here." He smiled.

"Thanks, but I mean for Christmas?"

"You, naked, in my bed, completely mine...submissive would be nice."

I laughed. "Well, I don't know..."

He chuckled. "Tease me, why don't you?"

"I will." I grinned. "Besides me, naked and submissive?"

"Nothing." He shook his head.

"Nothing?"

"Nope."

"Well, I'm going to get you something."

"Yeah?" He seemed excited all of a sudden, like a kid. "What?"

"Damn you, Marco." I laughed. "Give me a hint?"

"You, naked and..."

"Yeah, yeah, never mind. That's a year-round gift. I'll figure it out," I said as we pulled up in front of Trace's house.

"She likes it," Marco hollered.

"Who likes what?" I pulled the car in behind Jubilee's SUV.

"The name, silly. She likes your idea."

"Good," I replied and got out. I was just following Marco up the steps when my phone rang.

"No." Marco gave me one of those looks. He groaned. "Not now."

I held up a finger and answered. "Marshal Channing." I was still having a hard time getting used to saying that.

"We got him, Sam."

My heart hammered in my chest. "They brought him into the U.S.?"

"Yep. He's in interrogation. You're going to need to get down here."

"I'll be right there," I said and closed the phone.

Marco looked disappointed. "What is it? Couldn't you say no?"

"Not to this, baby. They've brought in Edward Channing."

"Your father's brother," Marco said. He touched my arm. "You want me to go with you?"

I shook my head. "I need to do this alone. Give my apologies. I'll come back as soon as I can."

Marco clung to me. "What about apologizing to my cock?"

I reached down and rubbed the bulge in his pants. "Sorry."

He shook his head. "Didn't help," he called after me, as I hurried to the car.

"Sorry!" I got into the car with a smirk on my face and closed the door. A few minutes later, I was back in the madness again.

I was looking at the Christmas decorations on the street corner as I drove toward headquarters and thinking how I'd hated Christmas as a boy. Everyone had always been drunk and high, and someone would always tip over the tree. I'd never gotten presents at Christmas. Sometimes the gang members had handed me a beer or a bit of money, but there had never been packages and bows. I saw the other kids at school and I wanted to be them, doing normal things kids do. But Santa Claus was just a stupid, fat man dressed in a red suit.

I was hoping Marco could change all that for me. I know he'd never had Christmas either, but he sure wanted it now.

It's not like I came from the Beaver Cleaver family. My uncle was the head of an international drug cartel. My father had died when I was a baby. I didn't know how or why. I'd never asked. I guess I'd finally get my chance. When the drug ring had been busted up a while ago, my dear Uncle Edward had escaped justice. When one is loaded, it's easier. Now, they'd finally caught up with him and, after all this time, managed to have him extradited to the U.S. The gig was up.

As I walked into the office, everyone was quiet. They looked at me with big eyes, some murmuring congratulations on the medal. I supposed they'd wondered what I'd do. I walked on by, meeting the senior marshal who had been working on the case for some time, in the hallway. Rob Wards shook my hand.

"Thought you'd like to see him before we transport him to the pen. You all right?" he asked.

I nodded. "Fine."

The room was heavily guarded by three armed marshals. Edward Channing wasn't going anywhere. I passed by and opened the door. I took a breath and walked in, closing the door behind me.

Edward Channing looked like shit. He was shackled, hand and foot, and another marshal stood guard in the corner. He looked up at me when I walked in, then scowled and looked away.

"Leave us, Lewis," I told the marshal. "It's cool."

He nodded and left the room. When the door closed, I took a chair and sat down. The room was silent for a few minutes. We just looked at each other. It was uncanny, like looking in a mirror twenty-five years in the future. I felt a sense of sadness. After all, he was family, brother to a father I never knew. "So, why did they die?" I asked him.

He looked up, surprised. "You come in here and that's what you have to say to me, Sammy?"

I hated to be called Sammy, but I let it go. "Yeah, that's all I've got to say to you. Why?"

"You ask why, not how?"

"I know how. It was a car accident. I even looked up the newspaper reports. They went off a bridge. It wasn't raining. There were no mechanical problems and they didn't find liquor on my father's breath. They did, however, find two sets of skid marks. So who ordered the hit, Uncle? You?"

"You think your father was innocent?"

I sucked in some breath. I sure as hell hoped so. I'd always believed I wasn't born to criminals. I'd always idealized my dead parents. Of course, the dead were easy that way. "If he was involved in the drug trade, then tell me." I met his gaze. "Was he?"

My uncle slowly shook his head. "No."

"But you had him killed. Why?" My fists were clenched in rage.

"I didn't want to..." His voice broke. "He was my baby brother." His eyes misted.

"Don't give me sentiment now. You ordered the hit."

"I didn't order anything. I followed them...I only meant to scare him, not...drive him off the road. I swear, Sammy. I would have never hurt your mother...I...I loved her."

I blinked. "Jesus Christ!"

He hung his head. "Your father got suspicious and discovered what I was into. He threatened to go to the police and..." He sighed. "We'd had a rocky relationship. I'd gone out with your mother before she met your dad, then he came home from college and...he took her from me." The bitterness in his voice jarred me. "But I never meant for him to...or her..." He began to sob. "God, I loved her."

I stood. "You're going to prison for a long time." I walked over and grabbed his hair and pulled his head back. I looked into his eyes. "It's not only about the drugs. It's murder." I pointed up at the camera. "We got it all on tape." I let his head go. "Merry Christmas, Uncle," I said and walked out.

I drove around for a while after that. Knowing that my father was not a criminal was a great relief to me. It freed me to maybe find someone who knew him. Maybe I had cousins or something somewhere, even a grandparent. I wasn't ready for that, but I was ready to get home to Marco.

I checked the time. Pizza would be over for sure. I'm sure Marco was back at his place...our place...out back. I parked the car near the old clubhouse and noticed how quiet it was. My aunt had shut the place down. It was a good move. I closed my eyes. And suddenly I knew what to get Marco for Christmas.

I started the car, my brand new Chevrolet Camaro, silver, a real muscle car with power. I had it on trial, rented it for the month. I loved this car. I'd intended to make it mine, but I could do with something less expensive.

My cell phone rang as I drove. It was Marco. "Where in the world are you?"

"You're supposed to say Carmen Sandiego."

"Very smart. You missed lunch and I'm here, alone."

"Are you naked?"

He chuckled. "Are you still working?"

"Ah, yeah...and you know--" I checked the mirror, then turned into the parking lot of the car dealer. "Looks like it's going to be a while. I should be home around nine."

"Nine? As in nine tonight?"

"Yeah."

"Okay. I'll try not to find another cock."

"Don't try too hard, cookie," I told him.

"I am hard," he replied.

"What else is new?"

"Well...I think the baby is going to arrive Christmas day."

"How very religious of you. And you told me that, remember?"

He laughed. "Really. How many times?"

"Many, and if you say so."

"Do you work tomorrow?"

"Of course. Look, I gotta go...there's a criminal loose. I gotta chase him." I hung up and got out of the car.

A half hour later, I walked out of the office and hailed a cab. It was okay. I'd use one of the marshal cars at work and I had my bike to get there. I was happy. I got downtown and found the real estate office. I walked in and looked around. A young woman in a tight dress walked over. She looked me up and down and said, "Yes, Marshal, what can I do for you?"

I grinned at her. "Well, you can begin by showing me your listings."

I was exhausted when I got back. I parked around back and glanced at Trace's house. It was quiet. The kids were already in bed, and there were no vehicles outside except Trace's.

Marco met me at the door. "What," I said, walking in and throwing my keys on the counter, "no plastic wrap?"

He threw his arms around me. "I can do better, Sam Channing."

"You think?" I kissed his nose. "I don't know about that," I teased.

He released me. "You lock up. I'll meet you in the bedroom."

"Can I eat first?"

"Eat? Oh, okay. There's leftover pizza in the fridge." He leaned on the counter.

"How did you manage that?" I asked, opening the door and taking out the covered plate.

"I wrestled for it."

I turned around and plunked the plate on the table. I took a bite out of the cold pizza while Marco made a face.

"Aren't you going to heat it up?"

"Too hungry," I said.

"Didn't you stop to eat at work?"

"No time."

"Did you catch the guy running around?" He gave me a suspicious look.

I swallowed the pizza and nodded.

"You're a liar, Samuel."

"Oops." I laughed.

"Are you having an affair?"

I almost dropped the pizza. "What?"

Then he burst out laughing.

"Don't do that shit!"

"Well, you're up to something sneaky."

"I just needed some time. I saw my uncle and..." I trailed off.

"I'm sorry, babe." He came over. "How was it?"

"Actually, good," I told him.

"Couldn't have been easy, seeing your own blood go up the creek."

"He's nothing to me. And you know, he confessed on camera to running my parents off the road."

Marco's mouth opened. "Really?"

I nodded. "Apparently, he was in love with my mother."

"Edward?"

"Yep." I swallowed some more pizza. After a moment, I said, "My father threatened to go to the authorities when he found out what Edward was up to with the drugs. He said he didn't want to kill them."

"Did you believe him?"

"Yes. He cried when he told me, but not over my dad, over my mother. Go figure. Apparently she was his girlfriend before she met my father. It was a sore spot between them, I'm sure."

"But your dad wasn't in the drug business," Marco said.

"No." I grinned. "He wasn't."

Marco hugged me. "I'm so happy for you."

"Yeah, too bad he was a hit man though."

Marco paused, searched my face.

Then I grinned at him. "Just kidding."

"Okay, that's it, naked and submissive in the bedroom now!" He took the last piece of my pizza out of my hand and threw it onto the plate. "Let's go."

"Hey!" I protested but not too much. There was nothing I wanted more right now than to be naked with Marco, although I wasn't sure about the submissive part. I quickly changed my mind however when Marco lightly bound my wrists over my head and began to kiss my chest, one hand moving over my cock quite lightly in a seductive tease. As he licked and suckled each nipple, he began to actively fondle my cock and my balls and I wasn't all that concerned about being tied up.

I lifted my hips in invitation and he moved down. Sitting back on his haunches, he ran one finger up my shaft. "My, my, Marshal Channing, but it looks like you have a problem."

I sucked in some breath. "If I get these ties free, you'll have one, too."

"That's the kind of problem I can deal with. I am a marshal as well, you know."

"Oh, and you look so well prepared." I chuckled.

He wrapped his hand around my shaft. "Now, Mr. Channing, don't be rude."

I grunted as he leaned down and licked the head of my leaking cock.

"Suck it," I urged.

"All in good time." He gave me an innocent smile.

"Not nice to tease."

"But I promise I'll please...soon." He laughed. I laughed with him, although my cock was in dire need.

"How soon?" I urged.

"Soon enough." He leaned over me and kissed me, then moved up until his cock languished over my mouth. "So to work. And if I'm satisfied, well...maybe I'll...give you what you need."

"Oh...you..." I threatened. "You'll be satisfied all right."

He lowered his cock against my lips and I licked it. "Take this pillow out from under my head," I told him.

Marco slid it out and threw it on the floor. Now I had the angle. I tilted back and he lowered his cock into my mouth. I took him to the throat, then I worked some magic on it. He was making some remarkable sounds as I licked and sucked and swallowed. Then he pulled back with a shout. "Holy mother!"

I lifted my head just to watch him fall back with his thighs open as he came in his hand and on my chest, a smile on his sweet face. After a minute, he sat up and said, "That was great. Thanks. I'm going to get a drink."

"No, no way!"

He laughed and moved closer. "On second thought. Wanna fuck?"

"If you get me out of these..." I pulled on the ties. "Were you a fucking Boy Scout?"

"Nope but I can tie a good knot." Marco lifted his leg, lube in hand. I watched him as he slowly lubed me and gloved me up, his gaze glued to mine. He was really enjoying himself.

It was so damn sexy, I wanted to scream. "Will you let me fuck you already?"

He groaned as I began to enter him. "Shit, baby," he said. "You are so hard and big and thick. I've got the whole package, don't I?"

I smiled. "Want more of it?" I lifted my hips.

He teased me a little, lowering his anus on the head of my cock, then rising up a bit. I grunted in frustration. "Marco!"

He laughed like a boy. "Okay, okay." He bit his bottom lip. "Look at me. Keep your eyes open, baby," he said.

I grunted as I felt him guide my cock inside of him, past the first set of muscle, then plunging downward, deep inside him until his head went back and I saw him clamp his teeth together. His head came up again and he looked at me. "Damn, you just feel so good there, Sam. You were meant to be there. I want to stay like this forever." His eyes filled as he lifted up and then down again.

A sweat broke out on my forehead, even though I personally wasn't making much effort. It was Marco using my cock for his own pleasure, moving from side to side as it hit everywhere he wanted it to. He cried out and took his cock in hand. I wanted to move faster and I guess he wanted that, too, because he leaned over, breathing hard, never breaking his stride, and undid my wrists.

"Don't pull out of me," he grunted, looking like he might murder my ass if I did.

My chest was wet with his come and our sweat and I gripped his hips. "Extend your legs," I said. I don't know how I managed it, but I rolled him to the side and soon enough, after some contortions, I was on top of him, still looking at him. I yanked his legs up onto my shoulders and paused for a moment, getting my breath, then I began to move in him, pulling him down as far as I could. I plunged deeper until I heard him cry out my name, then I fucked him hard, so damn hard and fast, I'm sure we'd have to go to the dentist to get some loose teeth fixed. It went on for quite some time. Finally, my hand on his cock, I jerked him to completion while I released my own load inside him.

I landed on my back, my limbs aching, and Marco's hand covered mine.

"Damn, Sam," he whispered. "That was grand."

I rolled my head toward his and made a face. "Did you just say that?"

"Yep." He turned on his side. "Neat, eh?"

"Don't say it again," I teased.

"You know, I think I must have the best lover in the world."

"Is that so?" I eyed him.

"Yep. Man, can you fuck or what? You stayed so hard so long, I..." His fingers touched my cock. "Again?"

I grabbed him and tickled him. "It was that ‘Damn, Sam, you're grand'...wow!"

We were laughing so hard I'm sure Trace and Pauline could hear us. Then we got quiet as Marco began stroking my cock.

"I love your cock," he said. "Fuck me again."

"Marco Dellburn." I kissed his mouth hard. "You are a slut."

"I am. I'm your slut. Fuck me, down and dirty."

I laughed and pulled him onto all fours. I pulled on a new condom and began to rim him. Man, he was on fire, and I was on fire for him. I fucked him slowly first, deeply, making him moan. Then off the bed on the floor...I fucked him until we both were completely exhausted. We slept a while and then Marco woke me at six with his mouth on my cock. We fucked again in the shower. This time, he hammered me for almost ten minutes and I had just enough time to grab a granola bar as I headed out the door.

"Why are you going to work so early anyway?" Marco glanced at the clock. "I don't have to be to work until eight."

"Ah, got a meeting," I said.

He shrugged, sipping his coffee. "They're working you really hard."

I nodded. I was exhausted yet happy, and when we lingered kissing at the door, I'd hoped Marco wouldn't notice the car. But he did, of course. I knew I needed to tell him something.

"I'm taking the bike," I blurted when I noticed he was looking at the empty parking space. "The car ah...had a defect."

"Defect? It was brand new!" Marco protested.

I shrugged. "Well...shit happens."

"Wait, and I'll drive you in my car," he offered.

"No, no. It's okay." I gave him a quick kiss. "See you later." I went to the garage and rolled my bike out, hoping it would start. It did. I hopped on and drove out of the driveway.

The bank manager was a stern-looking man, but when he realized I was a marshal, he actually managed a smile.

"I really appreciate you meeting with me this early, Mr. Washington," I said shaking his hand.

"I realize you have a tight schedule. You said it was important."

"It is. I want to have the preapproval in hand before Christmas."

"That won't be easy." He was looking over my papers. "You have no other debts?"

"No," I said. "I'd just unloaded a potential one at the car dealership."

"Usually you must have at least three years of job history, Mr. Channing, to get a mortgage. I realize you have a good salary and I have to assume you will keep your job?"

"No shortage of crime." I grinned.

"What did you do before? Maybe we can use your former employment history to--"

"Ah, that won't be possible." My heart sank. "I found the ideal house. It's not expensive. It's in foreclosure. Look." I took out the photo the real estate agent had copied for me.

The manager looked at it. "Nice. Good price."

"Needs some fixing, but I can do it." I waited.

"Let me run some figures. Any chance you can get a co-signer?"

I sighed. "Maybe, but I'd prefer not to."

"Wait here."

I paced. I was hoping that the nature of my job would be enough. I could easily cover it on my salary. I wanted this. I wanted this for Marco. I wanted to buy it and at least put a Christmas in the living room for him--a place of our own, a place to start over.

Twenty minutes later, the manager came back in. He smiled at me and handed me a sheet of paper. "You're preapproved for the price of the house. No more," he said. "It's good for sixty days."

I wanted to hug him. "Thank you, sir."

"Listen to me." He pointed. "It's subject to approval by the head office, but usually they don't turn down a preapproved client. So, what are you standing there for, boy? Go and get your house."

I couldn't wait for the lunch hour. When I ran into Marco in the hallway, I wanted to go the other way. I knew he was going to suggest lunch. I had other plans. When I told him I couldn't do lunch, he was disappointed. "Why not?"

"Oh." I touched my forehead. "I have so much paperwork. It's all piled up. I'm going to be stuck at my desk." I spotted Sean. "Hey!" I grabbed him. "Here, have lunch with Marco." I handed him a twenty. "It's on me."

Sean looked at the twenty. "Going to be a cheap lunch."

I grinned and said, "Enjoy!" I hurried out the exit the other way and hopped on my bike. I was so excited I almost ran a red light. That wouldn't do. When I got to the office, I rushed in and interrupted a lady talking to the agent I'd seen the day before. "Sorry, sorry," I said to the woman who looked really pissed. "It's not sold, is it?" I insisted.

The agent smiled. "No. Are we buying?"

I let out a holler, causing everyone in that office to turn and stare. "Yes! I'm buying a house for my sweetheart!"

I couldn't stop smiling, even at inappropriate times. I had stuff to do at the end of the day and skipped out before Marco finished. He called twice but I couldn't answer. I was at the bank again. I had to wait three days for approval. I thought I'd die before that.

I went back to the agent. "When can I get the keys?" I asked.

"As soon as we get the papers from the bank," she told me.

"I've got to get in there before Christmas Eve, okay?"

"Mr. Channing..." She reached over and touched my arm. "Your lady is one lucky girl."

"Yeah," I told her, "he is."

That evening when I got back, Marco wasn't there. I managed to eat something from the fridge and fell asleep on the sofa watching television. I was beat. I still didn't know where I'd get a tree at Christmas and I needed to buy decorations.

When the door slammed, I jumped to my feet. Marco stood there. He looked really pissed off. "Okay, what's going on?"

"What do you mean?" I rubbed my eyes.

"First you pawn me off onto Sean for lunch, then you skip out on me and don't answer your phone."

"My phone died."

He shook his head. "You don't lie well. Where did you go after work?"

I smiled. "You are bossy and domineering. I love it."

"Stop that, Sam Channing. Where is your car?"

"In the shop."

"When are you getting it back?"

"Don't know."

"You need a car."

"I'll get one soon."

He came over and put his arms around me. "I've missed you."

I hugged him. "Aw...me, too."

"So." He eyed me. "Why did you lie to me? You weren't at your desk at lunch. I asked Nicholas. He said he didn't see you."

"Nicholas is having vision problems. I was there. Okay? I'm beat. Going to bed." I quickly took leave and thankfully he didn't follow. By the time he came to bed, I was in la la land. It wasn't easy keeping things from Marco.

I was so on edge waiting for those bank's forms, I thought I'd burst a blood vessel. When the bank called me at work, I almost crushed the phone.

"You got a house, Mr. Channing," the manager told me.

I danced around my desk, causing the others to stare at me as if I'd gone mad. I didn't care. I suddenly told everyone I was feeling sick and I raced over to the bank on my bike. Two hours later, I was signing papers and had the keys in hand. I had three days before Christmas Eve. Now, where in the hell was I going to get a tree?