“Why aren’t you in there cooking?”
“Because you guys can’t afford me,” I said, grinning before sipping my cocktail.
My brother Kameron scoffed. “Please. I’ll buy and sell you twenty times over.”
“Sure, you will.”
It was the usual ribbing. Growing up in a house full of brothers, there was always someone giving someone else shit. Sometimes, we didn’t have anything to tease the others about. Our insults were pretty lame. Like trying to insult our wealth. We were all rich.
Our father was wealthy, and we inherited some of that wealth before setting out on our own and making money doing what we loved. My brothers and I were all different. We all had our own skills and put them to work for us.
My other brother, Jett, was huddled in the corner of my father’s study with his girlfriend, Winslet. The two of them were talking in hushed whispers, looking very animated. I was sure they were working on a new case. They had suddenly become the crackpot private investigation team that everyone in the world wanted to hire. They were good at what they did, but it was a little too much drama for my tastes. They got off on the danger.
Jett was a private investigator. It was the thing he loved to do after a series of other career choices fell apart on him. Investigating turned out to be his thing. It made his heart sing. That and Winslet.
I got off on the perfect blend of spices to create a meal that sang in your mouth.
Different strokes for different folks.
Those two were like bloodhounds on the scent of a particularly elusive criminal, and their excitement was palpable. Honestly, they were a pair of weirdos, but I couldn’t deny how glad I was that they’d joined us for the American Thanksgiving holiday. It was rare our family managed to all get in the same room these days. Not everyone was here, but at least two of my brothers made it.
My father popped his head in. “I’ll be right in. I need to make a call.” And then he was gone. My father was always making a call or taking a call. He was always off to a meeting or replying to an email. He’d been like that since the day I was born.
I shook my head. “I thought he was semi-retired.”
“If he was still working full time, he wouldn’t be here at all,” Kameron said.
“He looks good, though, right?” I said. “I mean, after what he went through.”
“Dad’s a tough old dude,” Kameron joked. “It’s going to take a lot more than one gangster to take him out. I think he secretly enjoyed it.”
I chuckled and shook my head. “I have no doubt he did.”
His near-death experience had shaken us all to our cores, a stark reminder that life was both short and unpredictable. Jett and Winslet had saved his ass. I would never claim I was super close to my father, but he was a good man. I was glad he was back. Since the incident, we had all become a little closer. I supposed that was how it always was—you never realized what you had until you came a hair’s breadth from losing it.
Dinner was all about trying to mend the family. It wasn’t that we were broken, but we were all busy. We all had busy careers and a few of my brothers were recently married or seriously involved with women. It made it difficult for us to give each other a lot of time. We were committed to bringing our family back together and making an effort to spend time with each other and our father. Life was short.
While enjoying the comfort of my father’s lavish estate, my phone started to vibrate in my pocket. I quickly checked the screen and saw my cousin’s name. “I’ll be back in a second.”
I stepped out onto the back porch, the cool autumn air hitting my face. I’d been waiting for the call from my cousin Grayson in New York City. We’d been playing phone tag for weeks, and I was eager to catch up.
“Hey, Grayson,” I answered.
“Dane! Finally, you answer! I’ve been trying to reach you forever.” Grayson’s voice was filled with relief.
“Sorry about that, things have been a bit chaotic around here,” I admitted. “How’s the Big Apple treating you?”
Grayson chuckled. “Oh, you know, the city never sleeps. Having two kids that drink energy for breakfast doesn’t help. Plus, the business. I’m sorry to call—wait, is it Thanksgiving there? You’re in Canada.”
I laughed. “A few of us are at my father’s just because American businesses are closed and there’s not a lot we can do. It’s a good time for us to get together. Are you with your family?”
“We’ll be heading to my mom’s shortly,” he replied.
“Everyone is healthy?”
“Yes,” he said. “But enough about me, how’s everything back home? How is Uncle Armand?”
“He’s hanging in there,” I said, my voice softening. “It was a close call, but he’s on the mend. We’re all here trying to make up for lost time. Nothing like a near-death experience to remind you how important someone is to you.”
“Family is everything,” Grayson said.
Ever since my father, Armand, returned from his business trip to Singapore, things had taken an interesting turn. Grayson and I had been in touch more frequently, rekindling our connection as cousins. Our fathers were brothers, but my father did not care for his brother. It went back a long way, but basically, my dad was in love with Kathy, Grayson’s mother. Uncle Art was a world-class asshole, knocking up women all over New York. We knew of twelve sons. Six with my Aunt Kathy and another six with random women.
My dad hated the way Art treated Kathy. The running joke was how many more Bancrofts were out there? Art was a prolific reproducer. It was like he was trying to create his own city.
“I’m hoping to catch up with you next week,” I told him.
I was headed to New York for the entire month of December to oversee the opening of my flagship restaurant, Edge.
“I’ve got an offer you can’t refuse,” he said with a laugh.
I raised an eyebrow, intrigued. “Oh? What’s that?”
“My family and I are taking off for most of December, heading out to the mountains for the holidays. We’ll be back on Christmas Eve. Now, I know you’ve got your fancy hotel reservations and all, but I wanted to extend a special invitation. You’re free to stay in the guest wing. I promise, the kids won’t bother you—too much.”
I hesitated for a moment, touched by Grayson’s generosity. “Grayson, that’s incredibly kind of you, but I wouldn’t want to overstep. It’s the holidays, and you’ll be away with your family.”
“I’ve got a fully stocked bar and a chef’s kitchen. You won’t have to worry about a thing. Plus, I’m sure you’ll want a break from the hustle and bustle of the city. Trust me, after spending your days in the city surrounded by grumpy people in the so-called holiday spirit, you’re going to want the peace and quiet my home offers.”
“It’s a generous offer, but you don’t need to do that.”
Grayson laughed, dismissing my concerns. “Dane, don’t even worry about it. I promise it’s not a big deal. We’ve got plenty of space, and I’d feel much better knowing you’re comfortable while you’re in the city. Besides, we’re family. What’s mine is yours.”
His words warmed my heart, and I smiled. “You really mean that?”
“Absolutely,” Grayson replied earnestly. “I know how busy you’ll be with the restaurant opening, and I’d hate for you to feel like you’re stuck in a hotel room all month. This way, you’ll have a home away from home.”
I considered his offer, realizing that it was too good to pass up. “You know what, Grayson? I think I’d be a fool not to accept. Your place sounds incredible, and it’ll be a nice change of pace. Thank you.”
“Of course,” he said.
We chatted for a while longer, making plans for my stay and discussing the details. Grayson assured me that he’d leave a list of his favorite spots in the city, and he even promised to introduce me to some of his friends. By the time we hung up, I felt grateful for the unexpected hospitality. We didn’t grow up close. With our fathers at odds, we didn’t spend holidays together or have big get-togethers.
With Grayson’s generous offer to stay in his guest wing during my month-long stint in New York City, I felt a sense of relief. The prospect of finding a hotel with any availability this close to the holidays seemed daunting, and Grayson’s hospitality was a godsend. It made my life a little easier.
I walked back into the sitting room with everyone still sitting around, waiting for the feast to be done. My father looked thoughtful as he sipped his wine, lost in his own thoughts. I noticed he did that a lot lately since he returned from his kidnapping ordeal. While he didn’t suffer any major physical harm, I knew it affected him. One didn’t get kidnapped and held for ransom and not have some kind of thoughts about it.
“Everything okay?” I asked him.
He blinked and looked up at me. “I’m sorry?”
“I asked if everything is okay? Do you need anything?”
“No,” he said, smiling. “Business?” He nodded toward the phone in my hand.
“Kind of,” I said, grinning. “It was Grayson.”
He perked up. “Oh? Is Kathy okay?”
“As far as I know, yes,” I said and sat down again. “I was getting things ready for my trip. I’ll be staying with Grayson in New York for the entire month of December.”
My dad’s eyes lit up with curiosity. “Oh, really? That’s quite a change of plans, Dane. What brought this on?”
I shrugged, trying to act nonchalantly. “Grayson offered. He said he’ll only be home a little while and then they’re going on a trip. Besides, with the restaurant opening and all, I figured it would be more convenient.”
Dad nodded slowly, a glimmer of mischief in his eyes. “Christmas in New York doesn’t sound too bad, does it? Perhaps I should consider making my way down there as well.”
Jett and Kameron exchanged amused looks, and I smirked. We all knew what was really on our father’s mind. His interest in Aunt Kathy wasn’t exactly a well-kept secret. Sure, it might sound strange to others, but it wasn’t as weird as it seemed. After all, she wasn’t a blood relative, and our dad had a soft spot for her that was undeniable. Aunt Kathy had come to Vancouver to stay for a while after my father returned from Singapore. She had doted on him, and he loved it.
“Dad,” Kameron chimed in, a mischievous glint in his eye. “You just can’t resist the charm of the city, can you?”
Dad chuckled, seemingly unfazed by our teasing. “It might be nice to catch up with Kathy and see how she’s doing. All of her sons are going to be busy with their own families. She might appreciate the company.”
“I think that’s a very good idea,” Jett said, nodding. “You two can do all the Christmas stuff together. Both of you could use the company.”
As the conversation shifted to holiday plans, I thought about the trip to New York. I had been planning the opening for my newest restaurant for months. I couldn’t wait to get there and see it all in person. I had planned everything to the last detail, from the menu to the decor, and I was confident it was going to be a success.
A huge success.