Cristina Diaz took a final look at her tweet as she walked down the carpeted stairs and took a right, down the long elegant hallway of the hotel. She wasn’t sure why they had bothered to book her an extra night here. She told them earlier once she was done with her appearance on GMA this morning she was leaving New York.
Satisfied that the tweet sounded good and typo free, she sent it. She held up her phone and took a quick selfie, getting a good shot of the red dress she wore. The heels definitely made the outfit, and she was glad she remembered to pack them for her Good Morning America appearance. She added a quick, witty line to the photo and posted it to her Instagram.
Cristina adjusted the straps on her heels and slid her phone into the top of her purse. She picked up her pace, causally moving closer and closer to the wall before out the unmanned and camera free side entrance that led into an alley for VIPs.
A long black limousine was waiting discreetly in the empty alley. Snow was already falling, despite all the morning weather reports saying it wouldn’t happen until this afternoon.
Two Middle Eastern men were standing by the side of the limo, both bodyguards. The one on her left serving as the driver.
“Sorry to keep you waiting, let’s head right to the airport,” Cristina said walking up to them.
“Excuse me miss, stay back. Now,” the non-driver snapped.
“What’s going on? I’m ready to leave.”
The two bodyguards looked at each other then, at the gorgeous 5’2, dirty blonde hair woman standing in front of them. Her complexion suggesting, she was of Spanish or Mexican decent. They’d been in the business long enough to recognize that the woman herself was a VIP. In someone’s eyes anyway.
“I’m sorry miss, this isn’t your limo,” the driver said.
“It’s not? Are you sure?” Cristina asked confused.
“Oh, I’m so sorry. Here I am telling you guys what to do. Please forgive me,” Cristina said putting her hands together in a prayer.
“It’s fine miss, simple misunderstanding. Perhaps I can escort you back inside to the front desk? I’m sure they can help clear this up for you.”
“Would you? That would be fantastic.”
“My pleasure Miss.”
The driver stepped forward while the other one rolled his eyes at the naïve rich girl in front of them. They started for the door when Cristina stopped, her purse falling to the ground.
“Hold on. They told me to go commando with this dress but I didn’t want to listen.”
“I’m sorry but what are you doing?” He asked in shock as Cristina reached up under her dress and tossed a pair of white lace panties up into the air.
His eyes followed them and he didn’t see the small blade Cristina had in her other hand. The blade went into his neck and back out, a spray of blood quickly followed.
Cristina spun around, her heels already off her feet and somersaulted at the other bodyguard before he could even react. She jumped up at him, catching him by his coat and fell backwards with him into a monkey flip. He landed hard on his back and Cristina had kept her grip and rolled through with the momentum, giving her the mount position. She stabbed him in the same spot as the driver and rolled backwards off him to avoid the spray of blood.
She took the driver’s gun then moved both their bodies off to the side, out of view of the door. She had finished everything in 90 seconds.
Taking a deep breath, Cristina readied herself for the next part. She disliked using guns, preferring knives or any bladed weapon. They gave her confidence. But the next part had to be a gun. Cristina checked the time on her phone, moved to the side of the door and counted. A minute later the door opened and a Saudi prince and his assistant exited.
Cristina let them pass and slid in front of the door, helping to close it faster. They both turned and Cristina shot the assistant in the forehead first, then shot the prince in the forehead. He didn’t even have time to raise his hands to beg. Not that it would have mattered. A job’s a job.
She exhaled the breath she’d been holding and grabbed the unworn white panties she’d tossed to the ground. Once the prince was positioned spread eagle on his back, she dabbed the panties on his forehead until they were partially soaked with his blood then stuck them into his mouth. The job required the clean end to stick out. She used his robes to wipe the gun off before placing it in his hand. She wiped her blade off as well then put it back in the hiding spot on her inside thigh where she had also pulled the white panties from.
Cristina stood up, wiped her feet with the robes and slide back into her heels, and fixed her dress, before stepping back into the empty hallway. She stayed close to the wall before popping into the first bathroom she found.
She checked to see if it was empty before using the last stall to pee. While not much, the red thong she wore was still better than going full commando which she found gross. Once done, she peeled the fake layer of skin off her hands and feet and flushed it all down the toilet.
Cristina took her time washing her hands and touching up her face and took several more selfies in the mirror. She put the best one up on Instagram and the second best on Twitter. Her tweet from before had already been retweeted thousands of times.
After a final look at herself, Cristina stepped out of the bathroom and into the center of the hallway. This time several people passed by her. She walked over to the front desk where her assistant and driver were waiting for her with all their bags.
“Are you all set to leave Ms. Diaz?”
“I am, thank you. Let’s head home,” she said with a big smile, even as the sound of police sirens drew near.
* * * * * * * *
“Did you want help with your bags Ms. Diaz?”
Cristina took her head off the limo window.
“No that’s all right Price. I’m good.”
She stretched before opening the door herself. After landing in Boston, she sent everyone home but her driver Price. After a slight detour to the grocery store, they headed to her house in Kittery Point, Maine. And apparently she had dozed off for most of that ride.
The snow was coming down faster here than in New York, a steady pace of big fluffy flakes that coated everything they landed on.
Cristina carried the five plastic bags filled with groceries up to the front door, about to unlock it when her seventeen-year-old, soon to be eighteen in a few months, sister came out of the house.
“Hey you,” Cristina said warmly.
“Hi. Bye,” Joyce replied and kept walking.
“Bye? Wait,” Cristina said setting the bags inside on the floor.
“What?” Joyce asked while staring at her phone.
Joyce put her phone in her coat and walked back to the front door.
“Where are you going?”
“Up to Portland with Tracy.”
“To hang out.”
Joyce rolled her eyes and said, “It’s not. This is nothing. It’ll stop by tonight.”
“I stopped at the store. I thought we’d make cookies and listen to Christmas music like we use to.”
“Do I have to?”
Cristina paused. “Is something wrong Joyce?”
“Are you sure? You seem a little hostile.”
“I do? Huh. Well, I suppose if something was wrong I’d tweet about it, then you could find out about it on Twitter instead of, you know, directly from me.”
Cristina made a face and said, “Joyce I’m sorry. I had to put it out there. I didn’t have time to call you.”
“Huh. I guess I didn’t realize how busy you stayed on your plane rides and those rides in the back of limo must be exhausting.”
“Can I go or not? Tracy is waiting for me to pick her up. Price said he’d stay if we paid him the overtime rate. I texted Nick, but he said no.”
“You talked to Nick?”
“No, I texted him.”
“What’d he say?”
“Jesus, are you-”
“Don’t swear!” Cristina snapped.
“Sorry,” Joyce mumbled.
Cristina sighed and said, “Go ahead.”
Joyce turned and got into the limo. Cristina watched as they drove off before closing the door. She sat down on the stairs and rubbed her temple. It hadn’t even occurred to her that she should have called Joyce to tell her the news about the Super Bowl.
Cristina had gotten so good at playing the ‘Pop Star’ that she forgot that she wasn’t one. Well she was, but only so far as in it was her cover. Could she sing and dance. Yes. The alias wouldn’t work if she couldn’t do those two things. But she didn’t write her songs or have real memories to base them off of. She didn’t care about the production or her image. As long as it didn’t reveal her true identity she didn’t care about any of this stuff. The lights, cameras, photo shoots, music videos, podcasts. It was just a means to an end.
A way to hide who she really was.
What she really was.
She was a killer.
An assassin when she wanted it to sound sexy. And she had been for some time.
A pop star. An assassin. A sister. Three different roles and she was failing miserably at the most important one. After their parents had died, Cristina had taken over guardianship of Joyce but it hadn’t been easy. With her performances and tours and interviews and traveling all the time for both her jobs, she was almost never home. And when she was, it always felt like nothing more than a brief layover. Never enough time to unwind and enjoy weeks at home. Heck even days would be a wonderful thing. Which is why she was so happy to hear that she had the next three days off.
The Super Bowl would be her biggest event. She made sure the contract favored her. She’d have to do some interviews and be there for practices next month, but she wasn’t designing her acts and she didn’t care about all the production crap and what not. She was originally a surprise guest star and now here it was middle of December and she was suddenly the headliner because the main act had to pull out because of drug problems. Not the image the NFL wanted to promote. So instead they went with their plan B. A young, gorgeous, woman of Spanish heritage, with something for everyone as she had the hottest male and female back up dancers in the business.
It was also an opportunity to eliminate a high value target. Between that and her work in New York, which was already being hailed as brilliant, it was allowing her these few days off. She had been hoping to spend that time with Joyce. To know what was going on her life and being able to listen to her talk and not just communicate through texts all the time. She even bought a box of cookie mix for her to make. It was a joke from when they were little and use to help their mom in the kitchen. Maybe it was stupid or naïve to think one evening would make up from all the missed time. She was trying at least. That still had to count for something these days, right?
Cristina let out a big sigh and checked her phone. Her photos from New York were going over well on social media but she was ready to get out of this dress. Maine was much colder than New York right now and she wasn’t impressed. She looked through her contact list. Almost everyone she associated with under her alias, her dancers and staff were all down in the Massachusetts, Boston area and she wasn’t about to drive an hour back the way she came.
She looked down at the bag of groceries and frowned. It would be really easy to go sit on her bed with some bottles of wine and call it a day. She shook her head. Most people hadn’t even had lunch yet, and she wanted to call it a day. What was wrong with her? Maybe the stress of everything was finally getting to her. She just wanted to relax and enjoy the Christmas season without having to be on constant guard.
Cristina stood up, a sudden surge rushing through her as she realized someone she could call. Someone who lived in town. She dialed his number and waited for him to answer.
“Hey Nick, it’s Cristina Diaz.”
“Huh? Oh thanks. I didn’t know you were on social media,” she teased.
“I’m not. I do all my socializing in person,” Nick replied.
“Don’t I know it,” she said under her breath and felt a tingle as previous encounters tried to invade her psyche.
“So what’s up? Is this about me saying no to Joyce? Cause she needs to work on her manners.”
“Oh no, it’s not about her. And I apologize for whatever she did or said. She wasn’t very forth coming when I tried to talk to her.”
“No worries. Teenagers, am I right?”
Cristina chuckled and said, “Right. So I know this is random. And out of the blue. So if you’re busy. It’s okay. And I’ll understand-”
“Just tell me.”
“Do you want to hang out and make Christmas cookies with me? I was trying to do it with Joyce but she’s mad at me and… sorry.”
Nick laughed and said, “It’s fine. Baking cookies sounds fun. And it so happens, I’ll be in the kitchen myself today.”
“Oh? What are you doing?”
“Well at this exact moment, Sean and I are finishing up our third trip from the Kittery Lion’s Club. We’re dropping off Christmas trees for families along with a surprise envelope tucked inside the tree. If you know what I mean.”
Cristina smiled. “I think I might.”
“I’m heading home in a few, if you want to come over.”
Cristina bit on her nail for a moment.
“Are you sure? I don’t want to impose.”
“You could never impose. And it’d be nice to see you.”
“Okay. I just got home and need to change then I’ll be over.”
“Awesome. I’ll make sure the gate is unlocked for you.”
“Okay. Hey Nick?”
“Of course. See you soon.”
Cristina ended the call and shook her head. Everything about that phone call was stupid and wrong, especially coming off of the New York job, but she didn’t care. She needed to unwind. She was hoping to do that with her baby sister but that wasn’t happening, so now she needed to do something for herself.
She ran upstairs to her bedroom to change. She took off all her clothes and walked naked to her bathroom. She turned the shower on and took off all the makeup they’d put on her for her GMA appearance. She took a two-minute shower just to wash her body, keeping her hair up so it wouldn’t get too wet. Next came deodorant and teeth brushing. She picked a simple pair of non-wedgie red satin panties from Victoria’s Secret, a black cami instead of a bra, her favorite pair of blue jeans, and a long gray shirt.
She ran back into the bathroom and looked in the mirror. Her natural brown hair was coming through and she would have to dye it back to blonde soon. But that could wait until next month for the Super Bowl. She undid it to give it a few brushes then put it into a ponytail and grabbed a Boston Red Sox cap on the way downstairs and a pair of waterproof hikers.
Cristina opened the door as she slid her winter coat on and grabbed the bags of groceries. The snow was still going, maybe even stronger since Joyce took off. Cristina shrugged. There were worst places to be stuck at on a snowy day than Nick’s house.
* * * * * * * *
Cristina slowed her car down as she approached the open titanium gate that surrounded Nick’s property. Given how successful her ‘career’ was, she wasn’t hurting for money and yet she couldn’t come close to duplicating what Nick had accomplished here.
He didn’t tell her where to park so she drove up and stopped just past the front door. His circular driveway was more than wide enough for someone to drive beside her. She grabbed all her bags and stepped into the snow once more. She was positive it picked up in speed during the ten-minute drive from her house to Nick’s. She looked over at the huge hanger across the road from the house and the acres of trees that surrounded the property. It was a beautiful site in this storm. She could make out Christmas lights and wreaths decorating the closed hanger doors and she was excited at the thought of seeing them lit up tonight. She chuckled as she realized Nick was definitely her only friend that had his own Black Hawk helicopter.
Cristina walked up to the front door and rang the doorbell. Nick was the guy who would tell you to come right on in, no worries. The problem with that though was, his best friend Megan had insisted the house had keyless locks, which meant the doors would only open with a positive fingerprint scan and password code. Neither of which she had, nor did she think she ever would.
The door opened and a wave of heat from inside the house washed over her. Standing before her and blocking her way was one Carol Finley. She was dressed in light blue jeans similar to hers, though Carol’s legs were way longer, and a long sleeve red flannel shirt, the top two buttons undone and open enough to reveal part of a white cami under it. Her long shinny blonde hair was in a ponytail.
“Are we pretending to be a lumberjack today?”
“Depends, are you going for the ‘I need a place to hide so the paparazzi don’t see me without my makeup on’ look?”
“I hope not, cause that was a mouth full,” Cristina said and laughed.
“Yeah, once I started I couldn’t stop myself. What are you doing here?”
“Nick said it would be okay to come over. I brought stuff to make Christmas cookies,” Cristina said with a smile and held up the bags.
Carol remained silent as the snow blew all around and on Cristina, despite her being under the carport.
“Interesting,” Carol finally replied as she took the bags from Cristina.
She moved out of Cristina’s way and she stepped into the toasty house and closed the door behind her.
“Do you need to frisk me or anything as a security concern?” She joked taking off her hikers and coat before doing a spin around for Carol.
“No. I’ve seen more than enough of you already. Thanks for reminding me,” Carol said shaking her head.
“Why don’t you believe that I wasn’t trying to pop out of my sports bra?” Cristina asked as they walked through the large dining room.
A huge oak table with seating for twenty people took up the center of it with one side getting a nice view of the storm outside from the single large window. The dining room gave way to a huge kitchen slash breakfast room that had three, 4 door Shaker Hutches that matched the table perfectly. They were along the wall closest to the dining room. Another large window was at the end of the breakfast room which had a couch and two recliners with a coffee table.
The kitchen was all solid oak as well with a gorgeous cream marble top island that could easily fit five people to a side. A five-person black marble counter bar served as the divide between the kitchen and breakfast area which in reality had become more of a lounge area instead.
They walked past the counter bar and Carol put the groceries on the island.
“Maybe cause I was kicking your ass until then,” Carol said pretending to punch Cristina in the jaw.
“Ha! You wish. Besides, you think I need a ‘nip slip’ to kick your ass?” Cristina taunted back.
“I don’t think, I know,” Carol replied with a smirk.
“Okay Finley. Next time I’m back in Boston, put up or shut up time.”
“Deal, but better make it after the Super Bowl that way I don’t mess up your pretty face.”
“Awe, you think my face is pretty?”
“How do you know about the Super Bowl?” Cristina asked moving toward Carol, slowly getting closer and closer. “Do you follow me on Twitter Carol? Are you stalking me now that you accidentally saw my-”
“Get out of here,” Carol said pushing Cristina out of her personal space.
“Answer the question Finley.”
“Nick told me.”
“When he called to tell me you were coming over and to unlock the gate for you.”
“So you let me stay outside in the snow for no reason? That’s just cold Finley.”
“Well I am a cold hearted bitch so…”
“That’s just cause you didn’t get a hug today,” Cristina said and opened her arms up wide.
“Don’t touch me,” Carol replied and moved to the other side of the island, away from her.
Cristina laughed again and had to wipe the tears out of her eyes by the time she stopped.
“Any chance I can get a drink Finley?”
“The fridge is right there Diaz, help yourself. In fact, grab me one to while you’re at it.”
Cristina narrowed her eyes at Carol. She’d been playing celebrity for so long now she wasn’t use to people speaking so bluntly to her face. She liked it.
She opened the double door stainless steel fridge and couldn’t believe how filled with food it was.
“Damn! You guys don’t mess around over here do you?” She asked while grabbing both her and Carol a Coors Light.
“Nope,” Carol replied and opened both their beers. “Wouldn’t want our diva to break a nail while she’s a guest in our home.”
“You won’t have to worry about my nail when I’m breaking my foot off in your ass Finley.”
Carol shook her head, and they tapped bottles before each took a long drink.
Several years ago, before Cristina became the Cristina Diaz the world knew, she was operating in Afghanistan. In hindsight it was a mistake on her part for taking the assignment. The country was not a hospitable environment for female operatives, especially those flying solo. But she was young, ambitious, and eager to prove her worth. Plus, if she succeeded it would give her more freedom in picking future assignments.
It wasn’t until Cristina’s third day in country did she realize how over her head she was.
Her target was a police chief known to intelligence agencies as MJK but locals called him Khan. Operating in the southern wilds of Afghanistan in the Oruzgan Province, Khan was a member of the Popalzai Tribe. It was a tribe that, while not insignificant, only ranked 4th or 5th in power compared to other tribes in the area. Khan’s rise to power wasn’t because of his people but rather by the backing of foreign powers. Australia specifically was thought to be the country that led Khan to power. It was a secret side deal with the CIA though that kept the corrupt millionaire in power.
Unfortunately for Cristina, her in country guide sold her out. She walked into a bar expecting to meet someone that could get her close to Khan. Instead she walked into a trap. She wondered at the time if her guide did it for money or out of fear of what Khan would do to him. In the end she didn’t care enough to ask before shooting him in the face even as he begged for forgiveness.
The fight had been brief but brutal as Cristina would not go down easy. She might have even come out on top if it wasn’t for Khan’s younger brother, who also served as his chief bodyguard. The guy liked using whips and Cristina found that out the hard way.
To this day Cristina had Carol Finley to thank for saving her from death, or worse. Khan, who usually traveled with a huge security force, came out with just a small squad that night to personally see the Spanish beauty that’d been asking so many questions about him.
Cristina would never forget that whip around her neck, Khan’s brother choking her while Khan inspected his soon to be property. His hands touching her everywhere as he joked about his brother being allowed to have what was left of her once he was done.
It was as Khan was roughly squeezing Cristina’s left breast and laughing that two gun shots rang out. The first shot hit Khan in the neck, the second, the shoulder. He was dead before he hit the bar’s floor. Khan’s brother freaked out and sent Cristina to the ground with a backhand blow so strong it loosened one of her teeth, which she ended up swallowing soon after in the ensuing fight.
Carol had been following Khan for her CIA black ops unit and was out scouting the area. When she saw what they were about to do to Cristina, she lost it and opened fire. She came rushing in, guns blazing, to aid Cristina in her escape, which hadn’t been easy once Khan’s brother called in reinforcements.
The two female operatives ended up destroying the whole building the bar was in with help from a block of C-4 Carol had on her. They escaped in the confusion. Khan’s brother survived the explosion but suffered from a severe concussion and partial memory loss. He was still out there somewhere, working as a gun for hire, but he believed his brother’s killers were already dead.
Cristina spent the next two days with Carol killing any of Khan’s men they came across. Neither of them talked much during that time. Carol wasn’t a talker on a good day and Cristina was still embarrassed over the whole situation she found herself in. By the time they parted ways a mutual respect had developed between them.
Cristina’s supervisors weren’t thrilled with how big a footprint she’d left, but thanks to the explosion which was all Carol, the whole event had been spun as a suicidal bomber. She wasn’t allowed to operate in the Middle East anymore and had to pay a few more dues but she eventually got her freedom and a music career at that.
Cristina had never been under the allusion that she might one day see Carol again to thank her and was okay with that. But then one day when she walked into Nick’s dojo in Boston, there she was. Carol had dyed her hair blonde but it was still the same woman who had saved her. Well not quite the same. The woman in Afghanistan had been ice cold. The one in front of her was still cold but there was a warmth about her now. Like she had found some peace in her life. Knowing that Carol trusted her life with Nick, made it all the easier for Cristina to say yes to Nick’s offer.
There was a part of her that knew Nick was someone special. His ‘cover’ was of a laid-back playboy who failed to become a US Army Ranger and now ran a dojo. She knew Nick was in fact a mercenary but she didn’t know who he really was. She knew without a doubt that he was a better fighter than he let on. She could tell he was always holding back in the few training sessions they were able to sneak in. Whether it was for his sake or hers she didn’t know. And while sessions with Nick were always great, it was the ones with Carol that were nothing short of fantastic.
Carol went at 100% without holding back. Cristina was faster than her but the power in that girl’s punches was incredible. Even with gloves on, Carol had left bruises on her body. There were times when Cristina was a little envious of Carol since she not only got to hang with Nick all the time, but she also got to feed the beast inside her whenever she wanted. Something bad happened to Carol, Cristina could see it in her eyes when they sparred. Something that made her become like she was now. Fighting for Carol was how she channeled whatever was built up inside her. Sparring sessions between her and Nick must be insane. It was something Cristina could relate too but in her case it wasn’t fighting but killing that helped to sedate the demons inside her.
“Cut it out Diaz.”
Cristina shook her head. “Huh?”
“I told you to stop staring at me. It’s creepy.”
Cristina took a sip of her beer and looked right at Carol’s cleavage hiding behind her flannel shirt.
“Come on Finley, I showed you mine.”
Carol gave her two middle fingers then buttoned her shirt all the way up.
“You dress like a nun.”
“Yeah, well you… dance like a stripper.”
“Oh you know it girl!” Clarissa Mendoza hollered while snapping her fingers as she walked into the kitchen and gave Cristina a high five as she passed her.
“You’re tracking snow into the house,” Carol said and moved as Clarissa unzipped her parka and sent snow flying as she took it off.
“That’s cause of Bobbi. Girl can’t park for shi… crap.”
“Nick’s not home yet,” Carol said and sipped her beer.
They both chuckled.
“I heard that Clarissa,” Bobbi Jordan called out as she walked in carrying bags and bags of groceries.
“I park better than any… oh hey. Hi,” Bobbi said, her voice squeaking when she saw Cristina Diaz herself standing in her kitchen.
Cristina smiled and said, “Hi,”
“Wha… are you doing here?” Bobbi managed to get out as she sat her bags on the island next to Cristina’s.
“Nick said I could come over and cook with you guys.”
“That. Sounds. Awesome,” Bobbi replied.
“Don’t mind her girl. You get her feeling all warm in places.”
“Really? Gross,” Carol said with a glare.
“What? No.” Bobbi turned to give Clarissa a WTF look before looking at Cristina.
“She’s just giving me a hard time cause she’s still mad about being stuck at the store. Like here’s a snow storm and everyone has to rush to the store cause they get a craving for French toast.”
“Did you seriously just recycle one of Wade’s jokes?” Carol asked in shock.
“Nooo. He got that one from me,” Bobbi said glancing at Carol. “Anyway, you looked amazing in your last music video.”
“All warm in her lady bits,” Clarissa repeated.
Bobbi held up her middle finger over her head at her. Cristina stared laughing all over again and had to wipe her eyes.
“You guys are hilarious. Thank you Bobbi, you’re very kind,” Cristina said putting a hand on Bobbi’s shoulder and looked up at her, right in the eyes.
Bobbi blushed and said, “Thanks.”
Cristina nodded and finished her beer. She grabbed another one.
“Alright, you know the rules. I carried it all in, you get to put it away,” Bobbi said and took off her coat.
“Not me. There’s too much of this,” Carol said and waved at the three of them. “For me in here. I’m out.”
“Pretty girls make Carol uncomfortable,” Clarissa said.
“Especially when they keep trying to touch me,” Carol said looking right at Clarissa.
“Oh hell no girl. That was all you last week. And why were you outside anyway?”
“I like to read in the pool house. Besides who dances in the living room?” Carol asked.
Cristina, Bobbi, and Clarissa all raised their hands.
“Whatever. You should watch where you’re shaking that thing.”
“Have you seen my booty girl? It does what it wants,” Clarissa said and wiggled it while laughing.
Carol shook her head and walked into the living room with her beer.
“You know what, if I can spend my days taking apart engines and machines while getting covered in grease and oil and whatnot, a girl’s allowed to get her grove on at night to unwind. Am I right?”
“Preach it girl,” Cristina said and high fived her again.
“That’s what I’m talking about. Wait, where’s my beer?” Clarissa went over to the fridge to grab herself a Corona Extra.
“Is this real life?” Bobbi whispered under her breath as she watched Cristina, freaking, Diaz laugh and drink beer with Clarissa before she helped put away their groceries, in their kitchen, in their house. The girl was literally a rival to Taylor Swift and Katy Perry on the charts and here she was, in their kitchen. And Bobbi had touched her. Like, really touched her and they shared a moment.
“Do you want a beer Bobbi?” Cristina asked, her head in the fridge. Bobbi’s eyes focusing right in on Cristina’s nice ass.
“I saw that,” a voice whispered into Bobbi’s ear, startling her. She relaxed once she heard Nick’s familiar laugh.
“No more beer, I’m breaking out the good stuff,” Nick said loud enough to alert Cristina and Clarissa to his arrival into the kitchen.
“Hi,” Cristina said, a huge smile on her face.
“Hello. Sorry I’m late,” he said and gave her a hug and kiss on the cheek.
“Your friends were keeping me company.”
“Nice. Anyone want a glass?” Nick asked as he popped open a bottle of the wine he walked in with. There were four bottles in all. Two reds and two whites.
“Yes,” Bobbi said. “I’ll bring one to Carol.”
“I will in a bit,” Clarissa said before wandering off with her phone in her hand.
“Very nice,” Cristina said while looking at the bottle of white wine.
“I thought it’d go good with dinner.”
“What are you making anyway? You never told me on the phone,” Cristina asked as she took a glass of red wine from Nick. She held it up to her nose, taking in a long sniff of it.
“A garlic-crusted roasted pork loin, with glazed vegetables, and potatoes au gratin with four cheeses, crisp prosciutto, thyme and seasoned panko breadcrumbs. And homemade rolls.”
“That sounds amazing.”
Nick grinned and said, “You didn’t know I could cook did you?”
Cristina shook her head and blushed as Nick’s gaze soaked in her whole body. She was second guessing her decision about taking off her makeup.
“I’m glad you called. It’s nice seeing you like this.”
Cristina made a face and said, “What as an-”
“As a normal person, that’s happy. You’re safe here,” Nick said softly as he moved closer to her. She looked up at him, those big blue eyes of his enthralling her like they had when they first met.
“I’m glad I called too. This is fun.”
“I was just trying to be nice!” Bobbi shouted and came back into the kitchen from the living room just as Clarissa did from the dining room.
“That was Megan. She wants to know where Sean is.”
“On his way. Did you spill wine on Carol?” Nick asked seeing the empty wine glass in Bobbi’s hand.
“It was an accident! I’m cleaning it up,” Bobbi exclaimed and grabbed a roll of paper towels off the counter before leaving again.
“Megan says he’s half an hour late.”
Nick looked over at Clarissa who was holding her phone.
“It’s snowing out. And we added four more families to our Christmas tree delivery service. He’s on his way.”
“I thought you said I could go with you this year?” Bobbi asked walking back in.
“That was a quick clean up job girl.”
“She threw me out,” Bobbi said and plopped down at the counter bar and chugged the rest of her wine.
Cristina had been watching amusingly by the stove as all this unfolded in front of her and she couldn’t help but cringe when she saw Bobbi drink her wine like that.
“You were out shopping with Clarissa. Sean likes doing the trees. Plus, you always do stuff a bus with me.”
“I do enjoy me a good Marine,” Bobbi said with a nod.
“Or two,” Clarissa added.
Bobbi whipped her head around at her.
“What the hell? Julie told you about that?”
“I ain’t mad at cha girl,” Clarissa replied and laughed. Bobbi covered her red face.
“Do you see what I have to put up with here?” Nick asked Cristina, who giggled.
“It must be hard living with all these girls.”
“Considering how hot we are, it must be hard all the time,” Bobbi said quickly picking up her head. She held out her hand and Clarissa slapped it.
Carol had just walked in the kitchen behind Bobbi only to turn right back around when she heard what Bobbi said.
Nick shook his head.
“That’s enough of that. You tell Megan to calm her horses. Sean’s on his way. You go help Carol with the mess you made, and you,” Nick said turning to Cristina last. “Show me your cookies.”
“I already have,” she said with a wink, leaving both Clarissa and Bobbi with their mouths agape.
Nick tried not to smile as he sternly said, “Don’t you start too.”
“I think that ship sailed already Nick. Now pour me more wine. Please.”
“You guys are killing me,” he said as he filled her glass back up.
Bobbi got up, her mind thinking something dirty judging by the look on her face. Clarissa texted back to Megan then put her phone away and helped Cristina lay out the stuff she brought.
“So do you guys always do stuff like this at Christmas time?”
“I try to give back when I can,” Nick said as he plugged in the CD player sitting on the counter.
“Ha!” Clarissa said. “Don’t let him fool ya girl. He does way more than just Christmas trees. We do that layaway Santa thing at several Walmarts around here and in Boston. We drop off like a dozen pallets worth of food at various food banks, plus another dozen pallets comprising of food, clothing and blankets to all kinds of shelters for people and animals. Plus, there’s the toys to the foster care homes and when we say stuff a bus, we mean he brings a second bus to the Marines, filled. I’ve never seen him not stuff money into the Salvation Army kettles and him and Shane, Sean’s brother, spend a whole day together walking around dropping off hundreds of Christmas cards, each containing a Ben Franklin, into people’s shopping carts when they’re not looking. And that’s just what he lets us help him with,” Clarissa finished while giving Nick a look.
Cristina could tell Nick didn’t want Clarissa talking about this.
“That’s amazing Nick. I had no idea.”
“It’s no big deal,” he said while putting a CD in. He hit play then got stuff out of the fridge to make dinner.
“Bing Crosby?” Cristina asked.
“Oh yeah. It was my father’s favorite CD to play after Thanksgiving when my mom and I would cook in the kitchen together,” Nick said as he grabbed several cutting boards.
“My mother would only play instrumental versions in our kitchen so we’d have to sing all the words ourselves,” Cristina said and cracked eggs into a bowl.
“You’re making Mantecados aren’t you?” Clarissa asked once she saw all the ingredients laid out on Cristina’s half of the island.
She picked up a bottle of anise-flavored liqueur. Mantecados were traditional Spanish crumble cakes that were so soft they melt in your mouth.
“That I am. Plus my famous Christmas chocolate chip cookies,” Cristina said with a smile.
Clarissa put the liqueur down and picked up the Betty Crocker cookie mix.
“Listen, it was an easy recipe for Joyce to make when she was little. And I made it part of our tradition,” Cristina replied.
She frowned as she thought of her little sister. Maybe she should have been more insistent of Joyce staying home. No, then she would have just soured the whole experience. It was better to give Joyce her space. Plus, she couldn’t remember the last time she had this much fun, just hanging out without having to be super diligent.
“Is it safe to come in here?” Carol asked. She was now in new jeans and a long red shirt, not too much different from Cristina’s outfit, though Carol saved hundreds of dollars on her version.
“Definitely,” Nick said.
Nick and Cristina both crossed their hearts at the same time without the other realizing it.
They all laughed. Carol sat down in the chair Bobbi had been in and poured herself a glass of wine.
“I think we’re going to need more wine at this rate,” Clarissa said and topped off her glass.
“Good thing I have more then,” Nick said as he sliced carrots and potatoes. “You didn’t beat up Bobbi right?”
“No. She got a call from Julie.”
“Can I ask you a question girl?”
“How come you don’t have a Christmas CD?”
Cristina shrugged as she grabbed a hand mixer.
“I guess I never thought about it.”
“You should, your voice is amazing.”
“Thank you. Are you making two pork loin roasts?” Cristina asked looking over at Nick’s side of the island.
“But of course. We have a lot of mouths to feed.”
“Especially with Shane, Sean, and Mendoza at the same table.”
Mendoza was Clarissa’s brother, Luis, but everyone called him by his last name.
“You don’t have to worry about them,” Bobbi said walking in.
“Why’s that now girl?”
“Julie just called. Her, Shane, Wade, Morgan, and Mendoza are stuck in Vegas for another day.”
“What’s in Vegas?” Cristina asked.
“Don’t look at me, I never go out there,” Nick joked. He looked up from his potatoes. “How’s that wine cleaning coming along?”
Bobbi groaned. “Come on. Why do you guys keep kicking me out of the kitchen?”
Nick remained silent and pointed to the living room with his knife. She groaned again and walked away with her head down.
“Bobbi can be a little dramatic.”
“A little?” Carol said.
“Be nice,” Nick replied.
“She was,” Clarissa said under her breath. Nick pointed his knife at her but said nothing.
Cristina continued to smile and waited to see if anyone would answer her Vegas question. When no one did, she started mixing all the ingredients into the bowl. She was tempted to toss a thing of flour at Carol’s clean red shirt but she was too far away and she didn’t want to get it all over Nick’s area. But if she got closer…
“Megan wants to know if you took care of that thing?” Clarissa asked, her phone back in her hand.
“I thought you put that away?”
“I tried, but she’s making it vibrate my butt. And not in a good way. Sorry,” Clarissa said with a cheesy smile when she saw Carol glare at her.
“I don’t know, she just said the thing.”
Nick held up a piece of raw carrot for Cristina. She opened her mouth and he popped it in before taking one himself. He snapped his fingers.
“Oh yeah. No, not yet. But I will tomorrow for sure.”
Clarissa stared at him.
“Can’t I just tell Megan yes? Because if I tell her no, she’s going to respond with a half dozen more vibrations asking, why not, how come, what’s he doing right now?”
“But I haven’t done it yet.”
“I totally heard him tell you he did it,” Cristina said and winked at Clarissa.
“I heard him too. Clear as day,” Carol said, catching Cristina’s look.
Clarissa started texting back.
“You shouldn’t lie Nick, it’s not nice,” Cristina said with a laugh and almost leaned over for a kiss.
She caught herself at the last second.
Where did that come from?
Cristina stood up straight and tried to focus on the cookies. No one seemed to have noticed. Well almost no one. Carol was giving her a look. Cristina stuck her tongue out her. Carol cracked her knuckles in response. She looked back down at the cookies.
What was she even doing here? She should have stayed home. She could be on her second bottle of wine and curled up alone on the couch. She was fooling herself if she thought she’d ever get all this. Certainly not with Nick. Sure they had had a few fun and incredible nights together and he was probably the nicest guy she’d ever known beside her father. But she knew they’d never be anything more than friends.
And yet here she was acting like…
“Huh?” She asked looking up.
“Your phone is going off,” Nick said pointing at her back pocket.
“Oh. Excuse me.”
Cristina took her phone out and left just as Bobbi came back in.
“I smell don’t I?” Bobbi mumbled.
Cristina walked over to the front door, still amazed at Nick’s house. She took a deep breath and unlocked her secure voice mail. She looked around, the others were still in the kitchen laughing at something. Once she hit play, the message couldn’t be paused and would self-delete right after.
She hit play.
Cristina listened and within seconds all the joy and happiness she’d been feeling since she got here was gone. She’d been promised a few days off if she did New York and now she was being told to go to Florida. She clenched a fist in anger as the call ended. A nice few days off at Christmas time had once again turned into nothing but a layover.
Cristina took a few deep breaths, trying to compose herself. She put on her happy face and went back to the kitchen to see Nick throwing a carrot at Clarissa and Carol putting Bobbi in a wrist lock. Carol’s back had two flour handprints on them. Cristina laughed and shook her head.
She was glad to have done this if even for a short time.
“Everything okay?” Nick asked when he saw her standing there.
“No. I have to head to Florida.”
“What? Right now?” Bobbi asked once Carol let go of her.
“Afraid so. That’s the price of fame for ya,” Cristina said with her best fake smile. “Will you finish the cookies for me Clarissa?”
“You bet girl. Safe travels.”
“Thank you. It was nice seeing you guys. I hope we could do this again sometime.”
“Ummm, yeah. Wait until this summer when we have our barbeques and swimming in the pool,” Bobbi said.
“That’s her way of saying she can’t wait to see you in a bikini,” Clarissa joked.
“Shut up,” Bobbi replied and grabbed a potato slice to throw at her.
Cristina laughed and said, “Can’t wait. Bye guys.”
“Bye,” they all said.
Nick walked her to the door and put her coat on once she finished tying up her hikers.
“You okay to drive?”
“Yeah, it was just a beer and a half and that glass of wine.”
“I meant the snow. Usually you have a driver but I’m glad you’re watching what you drink now.”
“Well I didn’t want to get so wasted I had to crash on your couch for the night after dinner.”
“I think I could have found you a bed.”
“Just not yours?”
“I don’t want to complicate things for you again. Hashtag TMZ problems with Cristina Diaz and her part time bodyguard.”
“You sure you’re not on social media?”
“Yep. Megan won’t let me. I give her too many headaches as it is.”
“Well, I think your bedroom, in your house, on your ‘compound’ is a lot more private than a table at a restaurant. Even if I did have it closed down for my personal use,” she said moving closer to him.
“That was all you backing up into me. What am I supposed to do when you’re wearing a dress that hot? Plus, if you hadn’t been so loud,” Nick teased.
Cristina blushed. “Damn vocal cords.”
“Good ones at that,” Nick said and grinned at her.
“I’ve heard that you currently like Hawaiian girl’s vocal cords. Specifically, ones trained by Navy SEALs.”
“Guilty as charge. But I’ve always been upfront and honest with everyone about how I am and what to expect from me.”
“I know. I just wonder sometimes if I’ll ever get any of this myself,” Cristina said and waved her hand around at the house and back toward the girls.
The friendships Nick had were amazing.
Nick reached out and hugged her.
“You already do Cristina. I made you a promise, remember?”
“I do. Too bad that promise doesn’t include this,” she said touching his heart.
“I’m afraid it never does.”
“Never ever?” She asked trailing her finger around it.
“Follow me real quick,” Nick said dodging her question.
He took her to the enormous living room that contained a twenty-foot tall Christmas tree.
“That’s beautiful,” Cristina said, almost speechless by the sight of the tree.
“I make sure everyone is available the day we get it then we spend the whole day taking turns decorating it together while my beef stew cooks for dinner after. Wade of course had to be the one who put popcorn strings around it but what can you do. He’s family.”
Nick turned to look at her.
“I know you’re tired Cristina. Just say the word and you can be a part of this.”
“It’s not that simple Nick.”
Cristina shook her head.
“I don’t know how you can have the life you have Nick, while being what you are, but it’s amazing. I want to get there too. But today’s not that day. I can’t, not yet.”
“I understand, but know that I will be here for you. I always keep my promises.”
“That means a lot.”
Nick reached under the tree to go through the two dozen presents already under it and pulled out a rectangular box shaped present longer than a ruler with shiny red metallic wrapping paper, a white string and a green metallic bow.
“Merry Christmas,” he said and gave it to her.
“What is this?” Cristina asked surprised.
“Just something for you to open on Christmas morning.”
“You’re going to make me wait?”
This time Cristina hugged him.
“Thanks for all this Nick. It was fun.”
“You’re more than welcome. And if it makes you feel better, the girls definitely like you better than Ms. Hawaii. Especially Carol.”
“That’s cause she knows I’ll beat her up,” Cristina whispered.
Only Nick and Carol knew who she really was. Well, Megan did too but she was stuck in Boston waiting for Sean to pick her up.
She let go of Nick and walked to the front door alone.
“Will you keep an eye on Joyce for me?”
“Always. Be careful out there Cristina.”
She winked at him then stepped out into the snow. She walked over to her car and quickly cleaned it off. She took one more look at the beautiful landscape around her then got into her car and drove off. The sooner she was finished in Florida the sooner she could get back here. She had to be back in time to spend Christmas morning with Joyce.
Once she was done with the Super Bowl she would make changes to her lifestyle. It might take some doing and upset a bunch of people in the process but one day she would get to that same level of peace Nick was already at.
She turned on the radio and searched for Bing Crosby. ‘I’ll Be Home For Christmas’ came on.
She glanced over at the present from Nick and smiled. One day.
The Merc Series