The year couldn’t end fast enough.

Jesper MacMillian scowled down at his desk… more specifically, at the pile of paperwork on it. Paperwork that never seemed to end. Much like the entire month of December. He exhaled heavily. Was it possible to drown in paper? With Darius spending the holidays in Tahoe, no one would even find him until New Year’s.

Still, he could think of worse ways to spend Christmas Eve. At least he’d had the sense to avoid his apartment today. Maybe he’d sleep here – lord knew he’d passed more than his share of nights on the ratty sofa in the reception room. It would save him waking up to the smell of cabbage and wood ear mushrooms, courtesy of his downstairs neighbors.

It would save him spending Christmas morning alone.

MacMillian scowled harder. After last year, he’d held out a glimmer of hope that this Christmas might be different. He should have known better. Darius had taken off days ago on the back of Georgia’s motorcycle, the two of them comically over-bundled for the ride up to the snow. Seneca Lynch was MIA – probably balls-deep in seasonal debauchery somewhere. As for Lena…

The pit of his stomach hollowed. Of course he hadn’t heard from Lena. It was the holidays. He knew enough about retail to know it would be chaos at Cross Your Teas. Probably. She’d get in touch when things calmed down. Probably.

MacMillian forced his focus back to the expense report he was filling out. The words blurred together on the page.

“So, are you Bob Cratchit or Ebenezer Scrooge?”

His head snapped up. He hadn’t even heard the office door open. Leaning against the doorway was the owner of The Procyon Building, Aloysius Paul. As usual, he looked more put together than any normal person should.

MacMillian mentally backtracked. He had serious doubts that Aloysius Paul was anything close to “normal”.

Dark brown hair was smoothed back from his forehead. His impeccable black suit was shot through with tasteful red pinstripes. On anyone else, his pale green dress shirt and darker green pocket square would have looked ridiculous. On him, it gave the look of a festive stockbroker… or devil.

MacMillian snorted. “I’m my own boss, so I guess that makes me Mr. Scrooge.” He leaned back in his rickety chair, groaning a little as the lip of his prosthetic leg ground against his skin. “What are you doing here? Did the check for the heating bill go through?”

His landlord waved a dismissive hand. “That’s all in order. Awfully high bill for this month, though. How much time have you been spending here?”

MacMillian avoided his eyes. “Some.”

“You know what they say about people who work too much during the holidays.”

“I give up. What do they say?”

Aloysius tossed a shoulder. “I don’t know, but it can’t be good. When was the last time you had a day off?”

MacMillian rolled his eyes. “Jesus, who are you, my-” He broke off. My mother. Of course, she wouldn’t care how much he worked. He doubted she even knew where he worked.

He tried to think about something else, but it was too late. She would be cooking Christmas Eve dinner by now. The memory of homemade pishot and beans with plums made his mouth water. He and his brother had always decorated the tree. Who would do that this year? With both his brother and grandfather gone, who would give the after-dinner toast and bless the dead?

Would she light a candle for them? Would she think of the one son she had left?

MacMillian shook himself. “Did you just come up to bust my balls? Not all of us can hire a bookkeeper, you know.”

Aloysius snorted. “Talk to that witch deCompostela is banging – I hear she’s good with numbers.” He paused, regrouped. “Actually, I’m here to invite you to Babylon’s Christmas Eve party. Turns out you’re not the only one in the city at loose odds this time of year. Long as you don’t mind the odd therian humping your leg…”

MacMillian choked. “That doesn’t happen. Does it?”

“I don’t judge.” The other man shrugged. “You’d be surprised how many subversives in this city either don’t celebrate Christmas, or don’t have anywhere to go.”

“So you give them a place?” If the holidays didn’t put him in such a foul mood, he might have found that touching.

“I’m a fucking philanthropist. So? What do you say?”

MacMillian thought for a moment. It’s that or the couch. “Will there be alcohol?”

“Oceans of it.”

He blew out a breath. “Fine. Count me in.”

“Excellent!” Aloysius reached for the door. “I’ll tell Daniel to expect you.”

Before he could open it, it burst inward. He swore as the doorknob caught him in the gut. MacMillian stared. Of all the people he’d least expected to see the day before Christmas… he stood carefully. “Mámo? What the hell are you doing here?”

“Language, Jesper.” His mother’s eyes took a slow tour of his office, her mouth turned down. If she noticed his back stiffen, she ignored it. “We need your help.”

MacMillian gripped the edge of his desk, as though somehow it could anchor his roiling emotions. So she did know where he worked. Had she always known? How could she have found out? God, what if she decided to show up one day when Lena was there? He imagined her cold, unforgiving gaze pinning Lena to the floor. A flash of panic turned the corners of his vision white.

Something inside him hardened. No. This was his space. Rose MacMillian had no right to it, or to him. She’d given both those things up a long time ago.

Ignoring the curious look on Aloysius’ face, he sat down again. “We’re closed for Christmas.”

Rose’s expression tightened. “Not for this.” She glanced at his gawking landlord. “It’s family business.”


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