Happy New Year! Wishing you a prosperous, healthy, and happy 2024.
If you check under the Coming Soon link you’l find my very ambitious 2024 release schedule.
And to start the year off right, here’s a fun little bonus story.
NOTE: I had apparently started this story with intentions to post last year. I’ve since finished it, but timeline within Westin World it would fall as the first New Year after Waging War. Enjoy!
New Years with Chad
by Julie Trettel
“Are you sure this is a good idea?”
“Ember, relax. It’s just our family for one evening. What could possibly go wrong?”
She bit her lip and nodded.
“Family only,” she insisted. “Alaina and Jake will be here, and I don’t want to freak them out with too many people around and you know how my mother’s parties can turn out. Promise me, just us for a nice small, quiet evening ringing in the new year.”
I considered that for a moment. What was a couple dozen people? It was New Year’s Eve, time to be with family remembering all the wonderful things that happened throughout the year and looking forward to a new one.
Our family had been through a lot this past year. Finding Ember’s sister and getting to know her had been a huge thing none of us had been prepared for. So far we’d spent every break from school at least partially in Westin Pack to allow Ember and Alaina to bond and get to know each other. And they had. I wouldn’t trade this year for anything.
But I also didn’t know how to tell my mate that her mother had already invited my entire family in for the weekend. That alone guaranteed she wasn’t going to get the quiet small family intimate weekend she was thinking about. Having twelve siblings pretty much guaranteed that.
We hadn’t found time to get everyone together to introduce Alaina to my family. Everyone always seemed to be running in different directions, and well, with Ember out of the house and my family having moved once more even closer to the Kenston’s because of a job Martin had lined up for my father, Alicia had basically adopted them all, most notably my sister Carolyn.
When Alicia Kenston, Hollywood A-lister and my mother-in-law had approached me about the idea, I’d known it wouldn’t be Ember’s first choice. Sure she loved my family, but they often overwhelmed her too, especially when we were all together. Being raised an only child, she was used to quieter holidays. But Alicia can be a force to be reckoned with and I chickened out and couldn’t tell her no.
I carefully shielded my thoughts from Ember and thankfully she was distracted enough not to even notice. With our telekinetic bond, keeping things like this from her was not always easy.
“Just family. Promise,” I said, knowing that wasn’t exactly a lie. She just had no idea how much family we were talking about.
Don’t get me wrong, Ember loved my family too, but she had a certain idea of what her first New Year’s Eve with her sister was supposed to look like and I was pretty certain this wasn’t going to be it.
Her dad walked into the room, and she immediately began peppering him with questions we already knew the answers to. It was just a testament of how nervous she was, though I wasn’t certain why. Our last visit with Jake and Alaina had gone well I thought.
“What time will they be arriving?”
“Six o’clock, Emmy. You know that.”
“Right. And they’ve checked in and are going to be on time?”
“Yes, just got in an hour ago. What is this all about?”
“I don’t know. I just feel a little anxious. Excited, but anxious.”
I sighed pretty certain my mate was feeding off of my emotions without realizing it.
Alicia breezed through the room with the caterers in tow as she issued orders of where things should go and what her expectations for the night were.
“Dad? Why did Mom bring in caterers? I thought we agreed… family only.”
“Come down, sweetie. We know, family only, but she wanted to do something special and not have to stress about the food herself. You know how your mother is.”
Her phone rang distracting her.
“Hello? Alaina? Why is so loud in the background? I can’t hear you. What was that?”
She frowned as she stared down at her phone.
“That was Alaina, but it was so loud I couldn’t understand a thing she was trying to say.”
Ember began to pace across the front foyer and nearly screamed as she jumped at the sound of the front doorbell an hour later. Looking down at her watch, she scowled.
“It’s only five. Who could that be?”
I cringed expecting to see some of my brothers and sisters had decided to crash this party early. The squeal that came from my mate when she opened the door told me that likely wasn’t them.
Joining her I grinned seeing her embrace her sister.
“Surprise. We had accounted for more traffic than we ran into this time.”
“Well let them in,” I teased as Ember giggled, let go of the hold she had on Alaina’s neck, and stepped aside.
Alaina walked into the large ornate foyer, but Jake didn’t follow her. Instead a woman with messy brown hair and deep brown eyes walked in.
“Finley?” Ember asked, unsure if she was right.
I couldn’t remember actually having met the otter shifter that had become like family to them.
Behind her came a smaller woman who seemed hesitant to enter. I beamed as gray eyes darted my way.
“Charlie? What a surprise. I had no idea you were bringing everyone.”
Alaina’s face fell. “Alicia didn’t tell you? She said it would be okay.”
I watched Ember to see how she would react to our new arrivals.
A tiny sigh escaped her, but I doubted the others noticed.
“It’s really nice to see you ladies again. Come on in. There’s plenty of room for you all.”
A snort and grunt had us all looking down to see the fat pot-bellied pig waddle in.
“Sam, I told you to grab a bag,” Jake yelled behind him.
I grinned. “Still won’t shift?”
“Oh, he does. He just gets nervous in new settings and takes a bit to warm up,” Alaina assured us.
Ember squatted down and petted him.
“Welcome, Sam. We’re glad you came,” she said, because manners that had been engrained into her since childhood wouldn’t allow for anything else.
I was banking on that when my family arrived soon too.
Glancing down at my watch I was suddenly nervous. They could start arriving at anytime now.
Is everything okay? Ember asked through our bond.
Great, I lied. Smiling, I tried to make it believable.
“Emmy, sweetie, come and help me in the kitchen,” Alicia said.
Martin came downstairs and stopped in surprise.
He walked over and pulled Alaina into his arms no differently than he would have Ember. It warmed my heart to see it.
Alaina was Martin’s biological daughter. He only discovered that earlier this year. And in learning that Alicia had known all along and kept it from him had made for a rough year to get through. Ember and I had tried to stay out of here and just let the wounds heal, but she had been so excited to discover she had a sister that I tried to give them every opportunity to spend time together.
That was what tonight was supposed to be about. Family.
Was it really wrong that I wanted my entire family under one roof?
Alicia had originally planned this big party, but when Ember had put her foot down and told her mother no, family only, she’d taken it to mean all the family.
I snuck into the dining room to give Martin and Alaina a few moments to themselves. Jake and the others were in the living room, so I had the place to myself. The food was already laid out including a basket of small bags of chips.
I grinned, and then looked around guiltily as I helped myself to one.
There was just something about chips. I loved them. The salty goodness had calmed my nerves and gotten me through even my hardest classes in graduate school this year. Worrying about how Ember would react to my family’s arrival was stressing me out.
When I finished the chips, I took a deep breath. It was quiet in this part of the house. Not a sound. No one was around.
My eyes cut to the left and then to the right. Casually, I faked a yawn and turned in a circle confirming what I already knew. I was completely alone in the room.
I looked around and then smiled when a saw a fake plant in a large vase in the corner of the room.
Snagging four more bags of chips, I darted to the corner and stashed them beneath the fake dirt around the greenery in the vase. Seeing there was plenty of room still, I went back for more until all the chips were gone.
Quietly, I left the room to find the others. It made me feel a little better knowing I had a stash secured in there. The new maid wasn’t likely to find it either. She had already cleared out two others since our last visit, but she didn’t know about the large shoebox in Ember’s closet, the back of the bottom drawer in her dresser hidden by the few clothes I kept there, or the one in the large upright toolbox in the garage. I wasn’t sure how she’d discovered the few bags I had hidden in one of the boardgame boxes in the rec room, though. I was still stewing over it.
Charlie and Finley left the room when I walked in. Sam, the pig, grunted and followed them out.
“Don’t take it personally. They’re slowly warming up to you,” Jake said.
“That’s warming up?” I blurted out.
He chuckled. “Yeah, it is. Two out of three are still in their skin. Trust me. That’s progress.”
I took a seat, but I was fidgety.
“You okay?” he asked.
“Uh, yeah. Fine.”
“Is it us or you family?”
“What do you mean?”
“You just seem nervous, and I know your family’s coming, right?”
My jaw dropped. “You know?”
“Alicia told us. Is it supposed to be a secret?”
“No. Well, Ember doesn’t know. She thought it was just going to be us and you guys.”
“Oh. Is she okay with the kids here?”
I tried to hide my grin. It cracked me up that they had taken the three misfits Jake had rescued on a mission with Westin Force as “kids”. Hell, Finley was nearly twice his age.
They, along with others, had been stuck in their fur after some bad guys had experimented on them in a lab where Jake rescued them from. I’d gotten to work alongside Martin and a few other scientists to help develop a serum to reverse the effects.
It was the coolest thing to happen all year.
But after the serum was successfully administered, it took a while to coax these three out of their shells. They’d gone home with Jake and declared it home. At first they were more like pets, but as they slowly began to transition back into human life, he and Alaina had decided to keep them. They were basically family now.
“Chad,” Jake said smacking me on the chest.
“You spaced out for a sec. Is Ember okay with the kids being here?”
“Yeah, she’s fine.”
“But she won’t be okay with your family?”
“It’s not that. She loves my family. They can just be a bit much. You’ll see.”
“See what?” Ember asked as she and Alaina joined us.
“Nothing,” I said a little too quickly.
What are you up to? she asked me. You’re acting really weird tonight.
No, I’m not, I insisted.
But when the doorbell rang, I nearly jumped out of my pants.
Ember glared at me.
I told you and Mom both. Family only.
Before I had finished thinking the words, my sister Carolyn ran into the room and threw her arms around my mate’s neck.
“Happy New Year!”
“Carolyn! I didn’t know you were coming over,” Ember squealed.
I relaxed hearing genuine excitement in her voice.
“Jake, Alaina, this is my sister Carolyn,” I said.
Others began filing in behind her as Ember’s eyes lit with recognition.
All of them?
All of them, I confirmed. I swear, I had nothing to do with it. Your mother invited them before I even knew anything about it.
All of them, she thought one last time before the family descended.
Cody ran in next and practically threw himself into Ember’s arms.
She gasped, and then grinned as she returned the affection.
Cole strutted up behind him rolling his eyes.
“How many siblings do you have?” Jake asked as Catherine, Charlie, and Christian joined us.
He choked on the wine he’d just sipped. It took him a second to catch his breath.
“Did you say twelve?”
Alaina grinned. “I’d love a big crazy family like this.”
“Really?” Ember asked.
I sighed. She was an only child and I worried that I’d be lucky to get her to agree to even one kid. Not yet. I was on track to get my PhD and needed to finish graduate school before all of that. But some day.
We’ll have kids someday. Maybe not thirteen, but more than one. I love having a sister and I love the relationship you have with your siblings, so I definitely want more than one, just not too many, she secretly confessed to me.
Caitlyn snuck in and cuddled up in my lap.
“Happy New Year, Chad,” she whispered.
“Happy New Year, little bug.”
It took a while for introductions, and I while all my siblings were now present, I still hadn’t seen my parents.
As if thinking it made them appear, my mother squealed.
“There’s my Chaddy!”
She ran over and hugged me at the same time as she barked orders for the little kids not to touch anything. In the blink of an eye, she had moved on to hug Ember.
The anxiety in my mate had subsided as she began to relax and enjoy the evening.
Ember, Alaina, and Carolyn quickly formed a little trio as if they had known each other for a lifetime.
“Thanks for this,” Jake nudged me and said. “It’s good for Alaina to have family, especially around the holidays. And it looks like she’s already adopted your family, especially Carolyn.”
I grinned. “Watch out or your going to be the one with a dozen or more kids.”
He groaned, but he didn’t look upset at the idea.
“Are you guys trying? I heard there’s a bit of a baby boom coming over in Westin Force,” I teased.
“Nope. Keep me out of the running for that a little longer. Besides, if my wife keeps adopting strays, I’m going to need a bigger house before we start down that road.”
Sam nudged his leg with his snout and danced at his feet.
“I know,” Jake said. “Come on. Outside you go.” He leaned down and picked up the fat pig. “You know, you could just shift and go to the bathroom like a human.”
Sam squealed and shook his head.
“It’s the bathroom Sam. You can go in, shut the door, and then shift.”
The pig looked around the room and shook his head.
“They’re family. You better start getting used to it,” I heard Jake say as he walked outside and set Sam down in the grass.
Family, I thought as I happily looked around the room.
Ember was suddenly at my side, wrapping an arm around my waist.
Was I so nervous about today because of me or you?
I shrugged. Probably me.
Why would you worry about this?
You said you wanted a small quiet New Year’s Eve, I reminded her.
I said family only. We both looked around the room. Sure there’s nothing quiet about it, or small, but family is family.
So you’re not mad?
Cole took that moment to burp loudly causing a group of my siblings to laugh like hyenas.
Ember just smiled and shook her head. Definitely not mad.
Martin spoke out above the noise. “Can I have you attention for just a moment?”
The room settled down and we all turned towards him.
“This has been a big year for Alicia and I. We’ve had our ups and downs, but I like to think we’ve come out stronger for her. We gained a new daughter and son to the family. I hope you’ve all had a chance to meet Alaina and Jake as well as Finley, Charlie, and Sam. And likewise, I hope you guys have gotten a chance to meet all of Chad’s side as well. When Chad and Ember mated, we went from a family of three to a large boisterous family we have grown to love and cherish. It means the world to us to have you all here together to ring in the New Year.”
He lifted his glass as someone passed out glasses of champagne or sparkling cider to all present.
“To family,” he said.
“To family,” we echoed.
“Now, let us adjourn to the dining room for dinner. It is our tradition to not to a big formal stuffy dinner but a smorgasbord of delicious munchies.”
This wasn’t my first New Year’s Eve with the Kenstons, and it was a tradition I thoroughly enjoyed.
Conversation was light and easy as we filled our plates with all the goodness Alicia had made for the evening.
“Excuse me,” Cole said to Alicia. “Do you have any chips?”
She looked at the empty basket and then to me.
My eyes darted nervously around the room.
“Chad!” she and my mother said in unison.
I gulped. “What?” I asked as innocently as possible.
“Where are the chips?”
“How am I supposed to know?”
They both gave me a stern look and shook their heads.
“I think I have some more in the kitchen.”
My inner squirrel perked up.
Don’t even think about it, Ember scolded me.
What? I wasn’t thinking anything.
You’re a terrible liar. Where did you hide the chips this time?
I grinned interrupted when someone turned up the television just in time to see the shiny ball lowering to the ground.
“It’s almost New Year’s on the east coast,” Carolyn squealed.
Where did you put them? Ember asked again as we continued to countdown to a new year.
“1. Happy New Year!”
I pulled her into my arms and kissed my beautiful mate surrounded by all of our loved ones as we welcomed in the start of a brand new year as one big family.
I’ll never tell, I told her with a grin.