Guarded - Epilogue
It was Christmas Eve in Hailey, Idaho. It wasn't currently snowing, but the ground was still crunchy with a four-inch layer of frozen, white snow that had turned to ice thanks to the low temperatures.
Paul stood outside of the fire station. He still wore his jumpsuit, and he waved goodbye to his relief. "I owe you, Joe." The time just approached six PM, and thanks to Joe, Paul could put his plan into motion.
The man narrowed his eyes and shook a finger at Paul. His breath was visible in the crisp evening air. "You're damn right, Paul!" Then he laughed. "Though, you got me out of the house, away from my in-laws. So it's not all bad."
Joe had family visiting from out of town. So when Paul called him for help with his plot, it was a bit of a stretch. But they routinely stepped up for each other. And this was important.
Paul's lover and boyfriend, Corbin thought he was still working. He had no idea what was coming. And as the head of a slowly growing mafia family, Corbin had plenty on his mind already. Paul smiled as he thought about the plan, and what he had set out to do.
Paul sat in his truck, and he texted. He stared down at the small screen of the phone while he waited, then the response came. Paul smiled, then he started on his way.
"Okay. Let's do this."
Corbin sat in front of his fireplace. He worked at wrapping a gift for Paul, and a little four-legged busybody made that far harder than it would have been otherwise. "Damn it, Oberon!" The young male lynx stood on the paper, punching holes with his sharp claws, and he rubbed against Corbin's side.
Corbin laughed, and he finally sat back, his hands behind on the floor to hold himself up. The cat crawled up into Corbin's lap, and he flopped down. Then he looked up at Corbin while his little body vibrated with a loud purr.
"Where is your mother?" Corbin smiled down at the insistent little beast, and he stroked the soft, thick fur of the kitten.
He knew that it was past time for the little cat to go and stake his own territory. And now that Oberon was a bit older, his mother, Zampa came down to Corbin's house less and less. Mostly, she stayed up at Paul's cottage, or nearby. Her two other kittens had already left, to go be proper lynx out in the woods and mountains of Idaho.
"Oberon's territory is probably centered around your cabin, while Zampa's includes my place." Paul had said once, while he scratched Oberon's ears. There was a little less than two miles between the two structures, and there were plenty of rodents, birds, and small mammals for a hungry bobcat to eat. Plus, the cats knew they could always get a meal if they visited the guys.
"Are you going to let me finish this?" Corbin grinned affectionately at Oberon. The growing creature continued to purr, and he blinked lazily up at Corbin. His fur seemed to absorb the heat from the fire, and Oberon was very warm to the touch. As Corbin stroked him, his eyes slid closed, and his purr decreased until he lay asleep.
Corbin shook his head, and he sighed. Then he leaned over and awkwardly got on with wrapping Paul's gift while the lynx slept in his lap.
He finally finished, and he sat back. Corbin grimaced at his attempt. The paper was torn in places, crooked, and looked as if an excited eight-year-old had done the job. He sighed, shook his head, and he looked down at Oberon. "This is your fault."
Corbin put Oberon over his shoulder, and he stood with the sleepy cat. He deposited Oberon on the couch, then he walked into the kitchen.
There was a dutch oven on the stove, bubbling away. He and Paul were expected to attend and even lead the Christmas celebration for all of their Family employees. At least, the ones who chose to stick around for the holiday in Hailey. A surprising amount of folks decided to stay, and Corbin was suddenly thankful his base of operation was a high-quality restaurant. It made preparing for the bulk of the event manageable. Corbin was in charge, and he called the shots. As a result, there were certain expectations of him due to his position. Chief among them was that he would take care of his people. Even Harlan was planning to be there, and he had said something cryptic about maybe bringing someone along.
Corbin wasn't the best cook in their extended group. But he couldn't walk in empty-handed. And it wasn't that what he made was terrible, but rather, the bar was so high when compared to their professional chefs in the restaurant. Still, he was going to make an attempt. His spicy Italian sausage, kale and potato soup certainly smelled as if it'd pass the test. It was one of the best things Corbin made, so that was to be his contribution to the meal. And it was important. He had to have a part in the celebration. There was symbolism attached to his providing for them.
Paul was due off on Christmas Day. So, they'd celebrate a little on their own early in the day, after Paul was done with his shift at the fire station. Then, around two PM they'd head into town to get things kicked off for the Family. Corbin looked forward to it. Though it was an obligation, it also promised to be a fun time. He liked all of the people who worked for him, and, the ones who chose to stay did so because they genuinely enjoyed the company of the others.
Corbin lifted the lid on his soup. "Mmmm." He smiled at the rich smell carried by the steam, up and into his face. He looked into the living room. "Oberon, doesn't this smell nice?"
The cat didn't move. Corbin snorted, and he replaced the lid.
Then he heard a noise.
Corbin could hear engine sounds, and he walked over to the window. He parted the curtains, and he could see a trail of vehicles, snaking slowly along the road. He counted six of them as he stood there. He swallowed, and the old fear began to burn in his chest.
He patted his holster. His .38 was still in its spot, and he forced calm in his mind. If this were another Family, then they wouldn't approach this way. It would be a small, quiet team. It was far more likely that it was law enforcement. Though, Corbin's dealings within the Family were, by the large, completely legal.
'Why so many?' Corbin's mind whirled as he thought. He looked at Oberon. "Okay, baby. We're gonna take you someplace safe." He picked up the housecat-sized lynx, and he walked quickly back to the master bedroom. He placed Oberon inside, then he shut the door. And he returned to the front of the house.
Corbin watched the door. There were the sounds of vehicles stopping, and then car and truck doors. It wasn't long before multiple pairs of feet were on the porch, and now Corbin heard voices murmuring to one another on the other side of the door.
'Italian.' He could clearly hear words in the language. Then his eyes widened. "Jenoah." He could hear the young man in his employ talking on the other side of the door. 'What are you guys up to?'
His phone vibrated. And Corbin frowned. He pulled it out, while he kept his eyes on the door.
'Don't shoot us.' A message from Paul.
Corbin read it, and he heard a key inserted in the door lock. Then the door handle turned as it was unlocked. He stood in the middle of his living room, and he waited.
The door opened, and Paul stood there. All of the Family that had stayed local was behind him, Jenoah and Bruce both grinning like fools just at his back.
Corbin exhaled a breath he didn't know he had held. "It's a good thing you texted me." He laughed, and Paul smiled at him. His tall, dark-haired lover entered, and then all of the Family behind him started filing in.
Corbin frowned, and he waved a hand over the scene. "What are you all doing here? And why aren't you at work?" He narrowed his eyes at Paul. "Is this a coup?" Though, the smirk on Corbin's face told the story that he didn't honestly believe that.
"Hang on a minute. Let's get everybody inside." Paul waved the laggards in, and soon the living room, kitchen, and hallway were standing room only, as two dozen people crammed into Corbin's little home. All wore smiles, and Corbin heard little whispers among them here and there.
His eyes grew suspicious. "What are you up to? What's going on?"
Paul shut the door, then he turned, his eyes were two emerald fires. He approached Corbin, and all of the Family between them parted. Suddenly, the faces in the room shifted to severe, and the anticipation on them all was evident to Corbin.
Paul stopped before him, and the tall man looked down at Corbin. There was a change in his expression. Now, he looked nervous. But he nodded, the movement unconscious, and one made to reassure himself.
"Corbin, of Family Reina." Paul's voice intoned, and he stared into Corbin's blue eyes, then he seamlessly switched to Italian. "Io, Paul Boyd, ho chiesto alla Famiglia di essere presente per questo momento. Perché la tua risposta influirà su di loro. (I, Paul Boyd, have requested the Family be present for this moment. For your answer will affect them.)" Though Paul spoke in accented Italian, he had obviously practiced. And the words were unmistakable.
Corbin felt chill bumps rise on his skin. He knew that phrase. Those specific, almost ceremonial words were never used lightly. And they always meant something.
Paul reached, and he took both of Corbin's hands in his own. All of the Family watched and bore witness. "Qui, sotto gli occhi di tutti. Mi impegno a te. Se lo permetterò, rinuncio al mio nome, e invece sosterrò il tuo. (Here, under the eyes of all, I pledge myself to you and to Family Reina. If you allow it, I will give up my name, and I will bear yours instead)."
Corbin blinked at Paul. "Are … are you sure?" The entire Family watched, so Corbin struggled to stay in command of his emotions. "You really want to do this? With me?"
Paul nodded, and the big man's eyes were sure. "I want this." He smiled. "Will you marry me, Corbin?"
He wanted nothing else more. Corbin grinned, and he looked around at those gathered in the room. Then he completed the intonation Paul had begun. "I, Corbin of Family Reina," his eyes locked with Paul's, "accept Paul Boyd's request."
The room erupted into a cheer, and voices raised in congratulations, acclaim, and happiness. Paul grinned down at Corbin, then he hugged the smaller man against his chest. "Ti amo, Corbin."
Corbin smiled against the warm, strong man, his eyes closed. "Ti amo, Paul."
As if by magic, bottles of wine appeared. And soon glasses were pressed into Corbin and Paul's hands.
Corbin didn't expect to ever have to host the entirety of the local population of Family Reina in his little cabin. Though, as he looked up into Paul's vibrant green eyes, he couldn't imagine a better way to spend Christmas Eve.
Author's Note: Please let me know your thoughts on the chapter at the following email address link. Wayne Gray
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