‘Being Irish, he had an abiding sense of tragedy, which sustained him through temporary periods of joy.’ – William Butler Yeats
Merry Christmas, Kiss My Ass – Joey
The front door slammed open with a bang that Joey Luciano could hear over the raucous laughter and loud voices of the combined Luciano-O’Reilly shared family Christmas party going on all around him. A cold wind carrying with it the faintest hint of the sea and the promise of more snow before nightfall shoved rudely through the room, slipping icy tendrils down the back of the cheap polyester Santa suit Joey wore.
But the shiver that slid down Joey’s spine wasn’t from the wind. Only one thing – one person – ever had that effect on him.
Fucking Liam O’Reilly.
Even with his back to the door, Joey knew Liam was standing behind him.
Who knew why? Maybe it was his physical presence that pushed its way into Joey’s subconscious. Tall and broad-shouldered with the bright copper hair he shared with his four siblings, Liam stood out even on the ice with a helmet on.
Or possibly it was the massive crush Joey had on Liam that kept his entire being locked on Liam whenever they were in the same space.
“Fucking hell!” Liam bellowed drunkenly over the crowd of brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, significant and insignificant others.
Or maybe it was that.
“What in the name of all that is holy is she doing here?” Liam yelled, pointing at the blonde woman who was, as far as Joey knew, was Liam’s girlfriend. At least she had been when she’d left to pick Liam up at the airport
Come to think of it, hadn’t she left hours ago to pick Liam up at the airport? Joey knew she had because he had low-key fought with for the opportunity, but she’d insisted she had to pick Liam up because they had to talk.
But it was three in the afternoon already. She’d been back for at least an hour, and this was the first he was seeing of Liam. That must have been some talk.
“I live here, fucktard,” Michelle yelled right back.
“Yeah, and now I know why you didn’t want to fucking move to fucking Seattle!” Liam’s eyes flashed.
“Language!” Liam’s mother said with the air of someone who knew she was wasting her breath.
Luciano and O’Reilly siblings converged from all corners of the huge dining room/kitchen/living room combination that made up most of the first floor. There were benefits of having six professional athletes, a cop, and an ER nurse on hand for a family gathering, not the least of which was their catlike ability to move quickly through a crowd.
Natalie, Liam’s little sister, was closest to Michelle. A professional goalie used to reading large groups of people, she moved to put her body between the fighting couple.
“Why is she here?” Liam yelled at his mother. “I can’t believe you let her under your roof!”
“Michelle is like a daughter to me, Liam O’Reilly. I see her more than I see you,” Kathleen O’Reilly said, standing next to the crying blond and wrapping an arm around her shoulders.
Joey made his way discreetly through the crowd towards Liam. It was slow going due to the fact that he was wearing a Santa Claus costume and getting stopped every six inches by a kid demanding a present from the sack over his shoulder.
“I live in fucking Seattle, Ma! Where she’s supposed to be living, too! Do you have any idea what she’s done?” Liam threw his arms up in the air, knocking a drink out of the hand of a random Uncle in an Adidas tracksuit. Joey thought it was one of his Luciano relatives, but he wasn’t sure.
“Hey, watch it!” Random Uncle bitched.
Liam glared daggers at the guy.
The man held up his hands like he was calming a wild animal. “No problem, buddy. How about I get us both another one?”
“What, Michelle?” Liam yelled. “I’m no good anymore now that I’m not a player? I lost my salary, so you jump to the next guy?”
“Fuck you!” Michelle yelled back across the room, attempting to launch herself at him. No stranger to family arguments, Kathleen gripped her arm tightly.
Carrying a giant pot of deep-fried calamari so fresh it had been swimming happily in its tank this morning unaware of its destiny as the most popular appetizer of the night, Jean Luciano pushed her way through the door past Liam.
He swayed on his feet as she did, grabbing the doorframe to stay upright. Joey couldn’t help noticing his black leather gloves.
“Liam, shut the damn door. Your father isn’t paying to heat the neighborhood.” Jean tilted her cheek up to Liam who dutifully laid a kiss on it.
“Hi, Mrs. L. Merry Christmas.”
Liam kicked the door shut without looking at it. His face was red from the effects of the cold and whatever alcohol he must have drunk. He’d tugged the knot of his purple tie down, but the vest of his three-piece dark gray suit was still tightly buttoned across his broad chest.
“Whatever she did,” Liam’s mother said, “I’m sure you can work it out. Quietly. After dinner. In private.”
Joey pushed through the crowd, but a small but strong hand yanking at his Santa shirt stopped Joey in his tracks.
“My turn!” said a kid in jeans and Joey’s Rangers jersey. Joey didn’t recognize her, but he appreciated the support.
“Who’s kid even are you?” Joey asked unslinging the pack from his shoulder. “Who let you in?”
“Michelle’s got as much right to be here as you do,” Joey’s older brother Nico growled from across the room. Joey’s head popped up at the tone of his voice.
A natural mediator and a baseball player in a family full of hockey players, Nico was usually the voice of reason in an argument, but right now he sounded ready for a fight.
Leslie, Joey’s sister Sophia’s wife, caught his eye. He jerked his head in Nico’s direction, and she nodded. A veteran Statie, she’d handled more than one drunken asshole in her days on the force. She could handle Nico without even pulling her gun. Probably.
“I’m Maria’s best friend,” said the kid in front of him, drawing Joey’s attention back down.
Joey must have looked confused. In his defense, he knew like a thousand Marias.
“Your niece?” the girl said raising her eyebrows and crossing her arms across her chest. Her expression clearly said she thought Joey was an idiot. The girls in his family came out of the womb knowing how to make that expression, and apparently, this kid did too.
“Her mom is your sister Gina? And she said you’re overpaid and that the Rangers are overrated.”
“Who said that? Gina or Maria?” Joey crossed his arms over his chest and glared down at the kid.
The kid raised one eyebrow. “Both.”
Joey peered across the room, eyes narrowed as he tried to find Gina in the crowd. There she was, leaning against the kitchen doorway, her two-year-old son, Pookie, on her hip.
“Gina!” he barked.
“Yeah?” she called, hearing him clearly over the crowd. The ten combined Luciano-O’Reilly kids always kept one ear out for each other.
At thirty-three, Gina was still a knockout. Five-foot-two barefoot and with wet hair, the heels and hairstyle she was rocking added a good six inches to her height.
Joey flipped her off with a smirk. “Kiss my ass.”
She laughed silently, pointing at him. She knew damn well what he was talking about. “Kick your ass?” she asked with a faux frown. “Gladly.” She handed the baby to the nearest person and mimed pulling her large hoop earrings off.
Joey laughed and blew her a kiss. His sisters were the best.
Liam, Michelle, and Nico were cursing and yelling at each other as the rest of the party watched with undisguised interested. Liam was a hothead, like all the O’Reillys, and Michelle wasn’t one to back down from a fight either. But there was some pretty harsh language being tossed around, and when the word slut got tossed across the room like a grenade, Joey knew this was a more serious problem than the normal arguments that happened all the time in their loud, opinionated families.
Time to end this.
“Girl toy or boy toy?” he asked the kid in front of him. Before the kid could answer, Joey shoved a wrapped box into their hands. “Just kidding. All my toys are for boys and girls alike. Merry Christmas.”
The kid grunted a reply as she tore into the box, and Joey pushed forward through the gathering.
“Someone get me a fucking drink!” Michelle spit out.
Liam’s voice cut across the noise of the crowd. “You can’t drink because of the baby.”
Oh, holy hell.
“Baby?” someone asked. Joey thought it was Nana Brigit. She liked to play deaf, but Liam’s grandmother didn’t miss a thing.
Joey sped up, not above throwing elbows to get to Liam more quickly.
“Yeah, a baby,” Liam said, shaking off the hands trying to restrain him.
A murmur rippled through the room.
Even the impending disaster didn’t stop Joey from taking in the way Liam filled out his charcoal gray overcoat and wondering how soft the black leather gloves Liam still wore would feel on his skin.
“Congratulations!” Joey’s grandfather said, handing Nana a glass of whiskey. They shared a quick clink of glasses.
“It’s not mine,” Liam said, coming to a halt in front of Michelle.
All conversation in the room stopped. You could have heard a pin drop.
Oh, shit, Joey thought.
“I said we’d talk about kids. Soon.” Liam struggled to get his overcoat open. “But apparently she couldn’t fucking wait!” With a growl of frustration, he yanked at the buttons. “Now she’s trapped some other poor,” Liam scowled at her, “well, rich probably, sucker.” With a grunt, he gave up trying to open his coat.
“Are you calling me a fucking gold digger?” Fire flashed in Michelle’s eyes. At just over five feet tall, she was more than a foot shorter than Liam, but she was ready to kick his ass.
Nico moved quickly to Michelle’s side. He was standing awfully close to her; hovering protectively even, Joey would say. Oh, that could not be good.
“You told him?” Nico said, putting himself between Liam and Michelle.
“Are you fucking kidding me?!” Liam stopped, raking a hand through his hair. “Fucking Nico?”
“Oh, shit!” someone near Joey whispered in horrified amusement.
Michelle slapped Nico across the back of the head. “I didn’t tell him about you, you moron! Jesus Christ, time and place, Nico.”
Leslie reached Nico at the same time Joey reached Liam.
“Hey, buddy,” Joey said, slapping a hand on Liam’s chest.
Liam glared down at him, using the six-inch difference in their heights to his advantage. The hurt under the drunken haze in his eyes undermined his anger.
Quick as he used to be on the ice and with the same strength, Liam swung his fist around Joey’s head, aiming for Nico’s face.
Michelle’s scream was a little overdramatic in Joey’s opinion.
Natalie stopped the flying fist with a perfect glove save, and Leslie yanked Nico away, keeping his arms locked behind his back at the same time Joey pushed Liam backward towards the door. “Okay, big guy. Time to get some fresh air.”