Christmas from Hell (Neighbor from Hell #7)

by R.L. Mathewson

Prologue

“Duncan, are you just getting in?” Jodi asked and as much as he would have loved to tell the obviously pregnant woman shifting anxiously in the foyer from one dainty foot to the other while she wrapped her arms around her belly, that he swore had grown larger since he saw her yesterday morning, as she shifted another nervous glance over her shoulder that he was on his way out, he just couldn’t lie to her.

But, God, would he fucking love to be able to lie to her right about now.

“Yeah,” he said softly, cringing when the effort to speak caused searing pain to shoot up and down his throat.

“Do you think that you could give me a hand with Danny?” she asked with a nervous little smile, clearly embarrassed to have to ask him for help at three in the morning, but that’s why he was here, wasn’t it?

Instead of speaking, because Duncan wasn’t sure that he could manage that without cursing in pain or starting another coughing fit that had him changing his mind and taking his lieutenant up on his offer to be seen in the emergency room and beg them to put him out of his fucking misery, he couldn’t. Wishing that he could do a lot of things differently, he opened the door to the large laundry room that was off the back foyer near the kitchen and quickly discarded everything saturated with smoke and soot until he was left standing there in his boxer shorts.

If this had been any other woman, he would have never even considered stripping down in front of her, but this was Jodi, his roommate and an understanding woman who’d probably kill him with her dainty little hands if he wore his smoke-saturated-clothing through her house, again. The last time had been more than enough for him to get over his embarrassment and for her to get comfortable enough with him to threaten his balls if he ever made the house smell like it was on fire again.

Not that he could blame her, because he really couldn’t. There really was nothing quite like the scents of sweat, ash and smoke filling the air after a fresh fire and giving his sister-in-law a whole new trigger for morning sickness to start the day off right. Moving in with his brother and sister-in-law had taken some adjustment, but so far they’d managed to survive the last month without killing each other, which for any Bradford was definite progress. He just hadn’t counted on being this fucking exhausted from doing it.

He worked three twenty-four hour shifts, most of that time was spent on the rig and the rest of the time he spent pulling ambulance duty, which took a lot out of him. It had also made him the perfect choice to move in and help his brother once Danny had been able to return from Florida and that fucked up side trip to Las Vegas that he had to take before Jodi realized that she could probably do better and dump his ass.

Duncan rented an apartment that he’d barely slept in with a roommate that he couldn’t stand so when they sat down as a family to discuss which one of them was going to uproot their lives to help Danny and Jodi, he’d been the perfect choice because of his work schedule. Then again, if he’d realized that moving in with his brother and sister-in-law was going to be this exhausting, he might have let the opportunity pass down to their brother Aidan.

When he’d agreed to do this he figured that he’d take out the trash, help around the house, run some errands now and then when he had some extra time, but like most things in his life, it hadn’t worked out the way that he’d hoped. When he wasn’t working, he was running errands, driving Danny to his doctors’ appointments, helping Danny complete his daily physical therapy by taking him to the gym, cooking most of the meals since the pregnancy was exhausting Jodi. By the end of the day they could usually find her curled up on the couch or the nearest bed, which was the reason that he did most of the cleaning and about a thousand other things that had to come before he could grab some sleep, something that he seemed to be getting less of with each passing day.

Honestly, he wasn’t sure how much longer he could keep this up, but there wasn’t anything that he could do about it right now. Danny and Jodi needed help and right now he was the only one who could do it full-time. Everyone in his family pitched in, helping Danny and Jodi with rides, food, helped around the house, money to cover medical bills, made sure that someone was around when Duncan couldn’t be, but even with all that extra help he was still fucking exhausted.

The additional help was great, but honestly he would love to have a night where he could sleep without worrying about the fire alarm going off, being woken up at two in the morning because someone’s Life Alert accidentally went off, waking up to the sounds of his brother and Jodi having sex or that hesitant knock that always seemed to come just when he was finally about to fall asleep, or the worst part, waiting for the sounds of his stubborn brother falling, because he was too fucking pigheaded to ask for help.

Christ, the last time he could have killed his brother for refusing to ask for help. There’d been so much goddamn blood, which happened with head injuries and he’d known that, but that hadn’t meant jack shit to him when it was his own brother lying unconscious on the bathroom floor in a puddle of his own blood. He’d tried to block out Jodi’s hysterical sobbing, the fact that the man bleeding everywhere was his brother and instead, tried to focus on his training. He’d cleaned his brother’s head wound, kept the stubborn bastard on the floor when Danny finally managed to open his eyes and tried to sit up. He even managed to call the station for help, which had been difficult by that point since Jodi’s sobs had turned into hysterical screams and he could barely hear anything over her yelling at Danny for scaring the shit out of her.

After that incident, he’d spend the next eight hours in the emergency room taking care of Jodi and yelling at Danny to stop fucking moving until they cleared his spine. The stubborn bastard refused to listen. He’d been too desperate to get to Jodi and prove to her that he was okay to stay still. So, Duncan had been forced to restrain Danny to the bed himself, which had earned him some rather nasty threats from the unappreciative asshole.

When they’d finally released Danny, Duncan had just enough time to get home, help Danny get back in bed, changed into his uniform and headed to the station to work a twenty-four hour shift on the night of a full moon, which meant that every fucking psycho within a thirty-mile radius had decided that it had been the perfect night to listen to the fucking voices in their heads and make his life a living hell. He hadn’t gotten a single minute of sleep during that shift, which had been bad enough, but as soon as he came home it was time to help take care of Danny, run to the grocery store, the bank and a dozen other places that had helped push him past the point of exhaustion and nearly landed him in a hospital bed of his own.