The You I've Come To KnowBy: Alison Kent
Thanks to Transworld's ninth-floor crew for being such good sports. Enjoy your cameos.
Thanks to the women of GEnie—Khrys and Barbara especially—for setting me straight on baby things and broken legs.
Thanks to Billy Corgan and the Smashing Pumpkins for Adore and the incredible “Daphne Descends.”
Thanks most of all to my own personal stuntman/scene blocker/idea guy/research assistant who also cooks and cleans and has the patience of a saint. I couldn’t do any of this without you.
JOEL WOLFSLEY HAD A THING about eyes.
He’d seen ’em scared: gang-tough teenage eyes watching life bleed from their own bodies to the pavement beneath them.
He’d seen ’em wild: doped-up junkie eyes, strung out and flying high on a one-way, last time trip. He’d seen ’em lie: backing up bald-faced, through the teeth, full of “It wasn’t me, Officer, I swear you got the wrong guy” stories.
But none of those eyes had the kick of the big baby-blues facing him now. He was a goner. He knew it. Backed into a wall. No partner to cover his ass. Beyond the point where cunning and wits were enough to save his hide. He should’ve been ready for this. Should’ve known the time would come when his one admitted weakness would be his undoing.
Because Detective Joel, the Big Bad Wolf, Wolfsley was a sucker for his sisters.
All four of them had used that brotherly weakness to their advantage at one time or another. They’d even sided against him on more than one occasion, representing quadruply unfair four-to-one odds. This time it was sister number one who’d arrived on his front porch. She had both barrels loaded.
The first round squirmed from her mother’s arms into her uncle’s one-elbow, hooked-around-the-middle hold. The ten-month-old gurgles and giggles and Bambi-brown eyes, were making it hard for Joel to say no.
“I don’t know, Jen,” he began for the third time before his sister hurried to make up his mind.
“Leigh won’t be a bit of trouble, will you, Punkin?” Jennifer Collins tickled her daughter’s chubby chin. The baby hung like a potato sack over Joel’s shoulder. “You’ll be a sweet girl for Uncle Joel this evening, won’t you? So Mommy can go see Daddy for a few days?”
Joel watched his distracted sister turn and busy herself checking Leigh’s diaper bag, muttering as she ticked off baby wipes and baby powder, diapers and formula. He shared a sideways glance with the baby, rubbing his nose against hers. A stream of drool dribbled from her four-toothed grin to his chest.
“Way to go, Scout,” Joel teased, hefting the baby back to his side and frowning down at her impishly innocent face. “And my best T-shirt, too.”
Jennifer whirled around and was back at Joel’s side before he could blink. “Did she spit up? She just had a bottle. I should’ve warned you.”
“C’mon, Jen. Lighten up.” Basket-case hysteria wasn’t Jen’s style, even when she was doing her best sister-to-big-brother sweet-talkin’. He didn’t like seeing her this bent out of shape. “A little spit never hurt a guy.”
The heel of her hand pressed to her forehead, Jennifer took a deep breath, blew it out slowly and smiled up at her brother. Then she fired the second round of ammunition. “Sorry, Joel. It’s just that I haven’t seen Rob in a month. If I miss this chance, I swear I’m going to come unglued.”
His sister’s marriage to Robert Collins was the exact relationship Joel would wish for had he any intention of marrying. He didn’t, which only made him want the best for those fortunate enough to share what Jen and Rob shared.
“All that’s left in the van is the playpen and the Exersaucer,” Jennifer was saying, pushing back a cascade of red-gold curls with one hand, the other resting on her hip as she scanned the room Joel had decorated in a minimalist style of early bachelor. “Let me get those and you’ll be all set. Leigh should go down around seven.”
Joel nodded and nipped at Leigh’s tiny fingers as she probed behind his lips for his tongue. When he looked up from the baby and back at his sister, he found Jennifer checking her watch as if she had no idea why she was looking.