Ain’t Love a Witch?

Witchless in Seattle Mysteries, Book 6

Dakota Cassidy

Author’s Note

Dear Fabulous, Amazing, Awesome readers,

Please note, the Witchless in Seattle series is truly best read in order, to understand the full backstory and history of each character as they develop with every connecting book.

Especially in the case of the mystery surrounding Winterbottom (I know it drives some of you crazy. Sorrysorrysorry!). His story is ever-evolving and will contain some mini-cliffhangers from book to book. But I promise not to make you wait too long until I answer each set of questions I dredge up.

I also promise the central mystery featured in each addition to the series will always be wrapped up with a big bow by book’s end!

That said, I hope you’ll join me for an as-yet-untitled Halloween addition, also known as Book 7 in the series, in 2017, and Witch Lash!, Book 8, coming in 2018!

No matter how you arrived here, thanks so much for joining Stevie and company on their journey to solve afterlife mysteries, and on her search to regain her witchy powers.

From myself, Stevie, Belfry, Winterbottom, Whiskey, and all the Ebenezer Falls gang (living and dead), here’s to a fabulous summer, filled with fun and friends, and maybe a little vacation, too!

Love to all,

Dakota XXOO

Chapter 1

Oh, Dove, really? I’d rather face a firing squad deep in the jungles of Gondwana than be forced to watch this,” I complained to Stevie.

Yes, of course I know that sounds dire to you lot—a firing squad—maybe even melodramatic. But truly, gun to my head (and it was literally pointed at my head at the time), I would. Those hedonistic guerillas would be far easier to escape in my estimation, and certainly the colors and sounds coming from them wouldn’t be quite as abrasive.

And as much as I love to indulge the most important woman in my life with her every whim, can you blame a man if he doesn’t want to watch My Big Fat American Gypsy Wedding?

Stevie threw a piece of popcorn up in the air and charmingly caught it with her mouth before she said, “I can’t help it. I can’t look away. It’s Saturday night and I’ve been Madam Zoltaring until my head spins with the tourist season in full swing. I need some mindless down time, and this provides. Plus, those dresses, right? They’re almost unreal. Besides, don’t you have women to chase on Plane Limbo to keep you entertained? No one’s forcing you to watch my shame, you know.”

I do not, in fact, have women to chase on Plane Limbo—the in between I’m stuck in until I can find a way to get back to the plane of the living. Actually, for accuracy’s sake, there are plenty of female souls waiting to cross for various reasons, wandering the surface of the place I now call home. Some quite attractive souls, I might add.

However, they all pale in comparison to a soul who does not share the same space I do, and never will. Well, not for a terribly long time, I’d hope, or for as long as I can keep her safe, anyway. With her penchant for throwing herself into one murder investigation after another, keeping her safe has become dicey at best.

Anyway, since I died, I find chasing women is no longer what puts the lumps of sugar in my tea it once was. Bollocks. As a PS: I miss tea. Proper tea, mind you, not the sort they serve here in America. I certainly mean no offense by that statement, but tea differs greatly over the pond.

Suddenly, Stevie sat upright, her blue eyes squinting, and looked to the ceiling, where she frequently does when talking to me because she can’t seem to break the habit, even though I think she knows I’m right next to her. As an FYI, I don’t hover about the ceiling as one would think a ghost does. I sit next to her on the couch where it’s comfortable, and where I can occasionally catch the delightful scent of her perfume or see the dent in the right side of her cheek when she smiles with impish delight.

“Wait, you faced a firing squad in Gondwana? Holy-schmoly, Secret Agent Man. That’s a big ol’ word. Plus, you lived to tell the tale?” She paused and gave a sheepish glance upward. “Well, at least you lived that one time, anyway.”

Indeed, I had lived that one time. If only I’d lived the most important time. Alas, had I lived, I wouldn’t be here right now, with this woman and my new band of friends.

I’ve decided there’s a give and take, and sometimes, the take is bigger than the give.

Though, had I lived, I’d be off pursuing some other evil villain for MI6, instead of watching the telly and unheard by almost everyone around me save for Stevie. Of this you can be sure—I regret nothing.

“He did live, my little tiger lily of summer. Arkady see with his own eyes this man take on five thugs with guns to his head. He is quick like gazelle. Ah, you should have seen his dropkick somersault in air. Like matrix poetry!”

We all chuckled at Arkady’s analogy. They are as bright and colorful as he.

Ah, my chap Arkady Bagrov—a good Russian bloke indeed. Of course, you all know we haven’t always been friends, but in the afterlife, everything changes. Once lifelong enemies as agents from opposing countries, now Plane Limbo ghost brethren.

We both have the same goal in mind, protecting Stevie from harm, earthly or otherwise.

He’s been quite a solid addition to our patched-together family of misfits. Two dead spies, a talking bat familiar, a handsome if not goofball St. Bernard named Whiskey, a turkey (yes, a turkey. He’s actually a right sweet chap) named Strike we acquired during what shall forever be known as the Christmas From Hell of 2016 and, of course, Stevie, my near powerless witch. I use the adverb “near” because, despite the hateful act that took her powers, she’s somehow managed to regain a very small, very limited amount of her witchness.

We’d found one another when each of our lives were in a state of rapid, very difficult transitions. I’d just died—or should I say, my ex-lover and former fellow spy had recently murdered me (more on that later). Stevie’d had her witch powers slapped out of her by a vengeful warlock and had recently returned to her hometown of Ebenezer Falls, WA, to lick her wounds with my man Belfry, her bat familiar, in tow.

Arkady came into our lives a good bit after, but he, too, had been alone, and now none of us were.

“You’re my hero, Winterbutt. See me bat my eyelashes at you,” Belfry quipped from Stevie’s shoulder with a breathy sigh, his favorite place to rest.

I chuckled. “Stop, old chap, or you’ll make me blush like a giddy schoolgirl who’s been asked to dance for the first time at prom.”

“I’d sure like to see that,” Belfry chirped.

Ah. I’d like for him to see that, too. I’m sure I’ve mentioned I’m determined to reenter Stevie’s plane. The longer I’m here in limbo, refusing to move past this plane and onto whatever lies beyond, and each time I see someone cross over into that magnificent light, the more determined I become.

I’ve done it successfully once—returned to Stevie’s plane. It wasn’t for long, mind you. It was only long enough to feel the soft press of Stevie’s lips to mine, touch her silky skin, hold her in my arms, but it happened…and I’ll never forget that moment.

Yet, if I didn’t have enough incentive before that incredible moment, I do now. I managed to inhabit my twin brother’s body while he was unconscious, and it drained the life out of me.

Hah! Little joke there. I have no life to drain, as you know. I suppose it’s better to say the event drained my energy, but I managed it, and it brought me great hope moving forward. Since, I haven’t been able to repeat my performance, but I won’t give up. Not until I’m back on Stevie’s plane where I belong. Also, as a note on the ethical care and treatment of a possession, be aware, I would never possess a body with deep earthly ties. For instance, I would never take over the body of a husband and father, or a body whose family and friends abound.

I know with clear certainty I couldn’t wander about in the physical body of someone who would be deeply mourned, on the off chance we should ever run into a bereaved loved one. Nor would I ever take over a body where the soul, even weakly, still exists.

I have rules for this eventual possession, strict, unbending, ironclad rules, and when the right situation presents itself, the absolute right situation, I’ll make my move.

I’ll take that vow a step further in regard to my long-lost brother as well. We are identical, and I’m quite positive I could possess his earthly shell. But as angry as I am with his attempt to steal everything I left to Stevie, I refuse to possess his body while he still lives in a permanent play for life on this plane.

To note, I’ve not been able to locate my twin brother since he turned tail and ran after threatening to take everything I left to Stevie in my will. Likely, because for all the DNA he could produce, identical twins do not share the same fingerprints. When called upon to produce them in the presence of lawyers, my twin disappeared.

Still, the threat of having all my riches, all my worldly possessions in jeopardy after I’d bequeathed them to Stevie, was and remains, unacceptable. All this after she’d so graciously agreed to help me solve the murder of my lovely friend, Madam Zoltar—the only person on this plane who believed I wasn’t some delusion in her mind.

We’d held our collective breath for quite some time, waiting to see if Balthazar would show back up, until we decided my twin had finally wised up and skulked back from whence he’d come. Yet, a great sadness comes with his disappearance for me personally, despite his dirty tactics. I would have liked to know Balthazar, hear his life story, possibly help heal the wounds caused by the time he’d spent in foster care during his youth, while I’d lived with and been nurtured by a loving family.

There’s mystery surrounding our adoption and the reasons we were split up as infants. A mystery that went with my mother to her grave, which we can’t find a hint of anywhere. Not even MI6 has any information about my true lineage. Though, come to find, they were thoroughly aware I’d been adopted. I was gobsmacked when I found out about my adoption, and remain as such to this day.

But there’s no denying, Balthazar looks exactly like me, and yearns for what I have as though I somehow personally wronged him and stole the life he thinks he should have been given.

Yet, I have no grudge to bear with Balthazar. I’m saddened by his callous disregard for me. Surely twins have a connection no other form of sibling share, no? I’ve read much on the subject of twindom, and while I can’t ever remember feeling as though anything were missing from my life, that certainly doesn’t mean had I known of his existence, I would have attempted to rob him blind the way he did me and, by proxy, Stevie.

Ahem. Maybe my backside’s a little more chapped than I’d care to admit.

Regardless, he’s not in the picture right now, and while it pains me to consider he’s what you Americans call a loose cannon, I can’t fret over what I can’t see.

“Win?” Stevie called my name on a yawn.

“Yes, Dove.”

“Did you remember to put out the word up there for Mr. Piscatello?”

“The chap looking for his pig, Cris P. Bacon?” That’s really what the bloke named his pig, ladies and gentlemen. Stevie takes every single client seriously, no matter what they’re looking for.

Arkady, Bel, and I? Not so much. I think we secretly laughed for over an hour about this man and his pig. Call us heathens, but he’s looking for his pig.

I repeat. His pig.

The guilt I feel over the three of us cackling like hyenas on a bender is enormous, if that makes our laughing any less horrible. Of course, I realize one can become attached to the oddest things. Take our turkey Strike, for instance. We adore him. But we had a good hen fest of a laugh about him, too.

Stevie stabbed her finger in the air as she tucked her feet under her. “That’s him. And before you say it, I know. Believe me, I know. It’s a pig. He wants to contact his pig. Ridiculous, right? But what if it were Whiskey or Strike? Wouldn’t you want to know they made it over the Rainbow Bridge? Chris P. was just as important to him as our pets are to us. No matter what species.”

I gave Arkady the sternest spy look I possessed when he hissed the beginnings of his hearty chuckle. “Of course, Dove. I love them as much as you do. However, I don’t know if there is a Rainbow Bridge. I’ve never seen this bridge animal lovers speak of. I’ve never met anything other than humans here on Plane Limbo, and neither Arkady nor I have been able to locate Mr. Bacon—which is of course unfortunate, but the truth.”

Stevie sat back on the couch, deflated. “I might have to cancel with him then. Bel, would you put that in the calendar for me, please? Shoot. I really hoped we’d be able to help. I’m not sure what I’ll do if there’s really no Rainbow Bridge. Surely the man upstairs doesn’t abandon the furbabies? I refuse to believe that. It’s unconscionable.”

That’s my girl. Heart of an angel, mind like a steel trap.

“I promise Arkady and I will hunt high and low for the Rainbow Bridge if it eases your mind, Dove. Won’t we, old chap?”

“Da! Whatever you wish, my fluffy Twinkie of love. I live to serve you and only you, malutka.”

Stevie smiled up into the ceiling the way she always did when Arkady used a food endearment to reassure her. The smile she didn’t realize was reserved for only those closest and dearest to her. It held extra warmth in its creases and made her brilliant eyes glow.

“Thank you, Arkady. I can’t bear the idea animals don’t cross over, too. It’s unfair.” Lifting her arms, she stretched and yawned before turning off the telly. “I think it’s time I hit the hay. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I’ll be glad when tourist season is over. Swear, I’m tired of people asking me if I can tell them what the lottery numbers will be for next week. Does no one take a medium seriously anymore? We talk to dead people—we don’t see the future!”

“It has been a busy season for you, Stephania. But look at all the money donated to the animal shelter and the hospital. You’ve made quite an impact.”

That made her smile. This smile was different, though. It was the smile of pride, one that said she was happy we could contribute by donating all her reading fees to various charities, and she’d work as hard as she had to in order to keep the donations flowing. Stevie refused to rest on her laurels—something she surely could have done after inheriting all of my money.

Yet, Stephania has an incredible work ethic, one she made very clear to me from the start when I suggested she buy a real Gucci gown and not some used, vintage thrift store aberration. She refused my free ride and continues to do so.

And that’s just one of the things I lo—Cherish about her, and her overly large heart.

As she gathered herself, Bel, and Whiskey to head to bed, her adorable bear slippers flopping a path to the stairs, I felt that undeniable wall go up between us. The one we’d erected out of respect for her privacy.

Yes, yes. I can peek in on her anytime I choose. When she’s sleeping, when she’s putting on her makeup, whenever. But I don’t. I absolutely adhere to a strict code of honor where Stevie’s concerned. I would never risk her discontent for my own advantage. Her privacy is important to me. Thus, I behave as though I’ve just dropped her at her front door after a lovely outing unless it’s an emergency.

Still, I feel this invisible wall far more than I suspected I would. It’s the wall separating our worlds.

Maybe it’s only my melancholy, but it’s there. It’s always there.

As she began to creep up the stairs, Whiskey in tow, she whispered, “Night, Win. Night, Arkady. Sweet dreams…”

“Good night, John-Boy. Good night, Mary-Helen—”

“That’s Mary Ellen, old man.”

Stevie’s laughter tinkled in my ears as she hit the top of the steps and made a right toward her bedroom.

I sighed as Arkady slapped me on the back.

Oh, something else to note. Yes, Arkady and I can indeed see one another as though we were still alive. We can feel one another’s touch—in fact, we even occasionally keep our spy skills honed with some hand-to-hand combat.

All in jest, of course, but some of the inhabitants of Plane Limbo don’t fancy our tussling about the lush hills and valleys as they determine whether they should cross. This is a place of reverence; a place to reflect and make the most important decision one will ever make. The lovely Mrs. Pederson reprimanded us once after a particularly vocal joust.

It should also be noted, Arkady has no desire to return to Stevie’s plane. He claims to be done with all earthly matters. To a degree, I understand. A spy’s life is treacherously hard and involves things like deception and all manner of bomb paraphernalia, and lest we forget, little time for anything but spying. Spies don’t have families, or house and car payments unless it’s an undercover assignment.

Thus, Arkady’s chosen to rest now, and I support that choice entirely.

We also don’t sleep, which I find terribly disappointing. I missed my fair share of naps as an adult due to my line of work; you’d think the unfairness of that would be given a balance here on Plane Limbo.

Anyway, it leaves us with much time on our hands.

“You okey-doke, my friend?” he asked as we sat together where we always sit. On a bench in a park with cherry blossom trees that eternally bloom and the greenest grass I’ve ever seen.

His sharply defined face with thick dark brows, offset by a longish nose, cheery green eyes and, if you can believe it, a handlebar moustache and goatee, were once the perfect cover for his deadly skills, and when he looked at me the way he was right now, I avoided making eye contact.

Arkady was always a hit with all the ladies, with his deep chestnut hair in a topknot and his melodic accent. His muscular body, in the shape of a T, drove them all wild. I often compared his almost perfectly proportioned body to a newer millennial version of the weightlifters once so prevalent in the circus; only rather than tights he wore his tight T-shirts and jeans.

Yet, he had a way with people. He made you feel like he was someone you might sit and share a pint with, thinking he’d listen to your woes. But make no mistake, in life, he was revered as a spy.

But nowadays, here on Plane Limbo, he was simply Arkady. I chuckled, slapping him about the shoulders. “I’m okey-doke, chap. What shall we do tonight while our mini-spy rests her lovely head? Chess, perhaps? No. We just played last night. Let’s mix it up a bit, shall we? How about backgammon? Shuffleboard?”

“Why do we not speak of how you are feeling, Zero?”

Zero, if you’re wondering, was my spy code name. Zero Below—because I was considered cold as ice.

If only MI6 could see me now. I’m tepid at best, if we’re to rate me by their standards.

“What shall we speak about, Arkady?”

He wrinkled his round nose up and made a face, squeezing my chin with his beefy hand. “Bah! You do this to avoid. Do not play mousecat with me. I know how you are really feeling. You must say it so we can talk about it, friend.”

“It’s cat and mouse, mate. And I’m not playing at anything, good sir. I don’t know what the bloody—”

The doorbell rang just then, sending us both to our feet, for all the good it would do, but you can’t teach an old spy new tricks.

“Who is this who rings doorbell so late at the night? Has no one make with the manners here in America?”

Stevie’s head poked around the corner of the hall upstairs. “Seriously? Is that the doorbell at this time of night?”

“’Twas indeed, Mini-Spy. Shall we investigate as I’ve taught you?”

As she came into full view, her shoulders slumped beneath her bunnies-hopping-over-rainbows bathrobe—my favorite garment of hers, by the way—she whined, “Aw, c’mon, Spy Guy. Don’t make me put on the helmet. I’ve only been hit on the head once. I’m much better at this now. Plus, we have a security system.”

“Stephania, I won’t have your skull bashed in due to your pride! Get the helmet and get it now!” I didn’t realize I was shouting until I had, and if I didn’t notice after that, there was always Stevie with her eyes of fire to remind me.

She skipped down the steps and wagged a finger at the ceiling even though I was right beside her. “Don’t you tell me what to do, Winterbutt. I’m not wearing that helmet or the kneepads or that ridiculous mouth guard you ordered. You’re being way too overprotective. When was the last mission you took that involved a mouth guard?”

All right, she had me there. However, she’d never had to witness me almost dying, unable to do a single thing about it but wait helplessly as I crumple to the ground while some madman fiendishly hovers over me. I have watched as she’d almost died, and I have no wish to do so again. Thus, I encourage safety.

“Exactly my point, hall monitor,” she said to the ceiling, crossing her arms over her chest in defensive Stephania mode. “Now can it, pal, and let me look at the security camera.”

“Da, even you must admit the mouth guard is too much, Zero. It is as my little summer squash says, it makes her lips feel flappy when she take it out. You do not want her lips to be more flappy, do you, eh?”

I narrowed my eyes at my good mate and signaled him to put a sock in it, but he just grinned that wide grin of his that takes up his whole face, and once was accompanied by a bullet to your brain.

“You can it, too, Russian, or I’ll make you watch Mission Impossible again with my flappy lips commentating the whole way. Hear me?”

Arkady groaned long and low, letting his head hang to his barrel-like chest. “Ack! Please do not make me suffer that Tom Boat person and his pretty-girl face that never even sees a single tooth missing on his spy missions,” he spat.

Arkady has little regard for American spy films and shares his opinion quite frequently, calling the stars Candy Boys.

“That’s Tom Cruise, buddy, and I’ll make you watch them all back to back if you don’t behave!” Stevie warned.

Now I grinned at Arkady, devilishly, of course.

On tiptoe, Stevie peered out the front door’s stained glass and shook her head before looking at the footage of the live feed on the laptop in the dining room. She cocked her mussed head and said, “Huh. Nothing.”

I let out a sigh of relief. Thank heavens there’d be no attempted assassinations on her life today.

And then we all stopped and tilted our ears in the direction of the door in order to listen.

“Win?”

I listened once more before I said, “Hmmm?”

“Do you hear what I hear?”

“What did you hear, Dove?”

She bit the inside of her cheek. She does that when she’s thinking, and it’s quite adorable. “I could swear—”

And there it was again, a soft mewling, one that grew and turned into a swell of sound sure to rival the scream of the whistle atop the Orient Express.

Before anyone could protest—before I could once more warn Stephania not to behave with such foolish impulse, she flung the door open.

And right there, directly on the welcome mat that read “Wipe Your Paws,” was a baby carrier. One you’d put in a car, I believe.

And inside this blue and white baby carrier was a dark-haired cherub with blushed cheeks and pudgy fists I often hear women coo they’d like to nibble.

And attached to that baby’s pastel-blue blanket with the satin hem was a note that read—

My darling Winsical (remember our little joke, Win?),

Meet your beautiful baby boy!

Chapter 2

Winsical?” Stevie repeated for the hundredth time since she’d brought the child inside and out of the elements. “What the heck is a Winsical?”

“Well, I guess we’re not the only clever nickname makers, are we, Boss? And here I thought Winterbutt was first rate. Come to find, you’ve been collecting nicknames behind our back, haven’t you, cheater?” Bel said, his infectious giggle bubbling from his tiny throat as he flew in a circle above the baby to keep him amused.

Whiskey sniffed at the baby, taking a thorough inventory of his person as I struggled to find words.

“Winsical, Zero?” Arkady whispered in my ear. “What is this name? Is it another silly game you play with one of your conquests?”

“It most certainly was not!” I assured him, straightening my suit jacket. Yes, I’m still wearing the suit I wore the day I died—ironically missing the hole in the left breast pocket where I was shot through the heart.

Stevie stared down at the baby—a beautiful one, I might add—then back up at the ceiling. “So, Winsical, what up?” she asked, planting her hands on her hips and tapping her bear slipper.

My sigh was ragged, my throat as tight as when I was held captive by Albanian insurgents with a rope around my neck. “I have no explanation, Stephania.”

Or should I say, I had none I could offer without sounding like a blooming arse.

“Well, Baby Daddy, it looks like you’ve got some explaining to do. Like who, in all your Secret Agent Man travels, called you Winsical? Let’s start there,” she said, leaning down in front of the baby and giving him her finger, which he latched onto and drove into his gummy mouth.

I didn’t like the hard, cynical edge to my usually dulcet-toned Stevie’s words. Not one bit. Swallowing, I saw Arkady watching me as I struggled past the boa constrictor lodged quite suddenly in my throat.

He put the back of his beefy hand over his mouth to keep his snickering mostly silent.

“Winsical? Your thoughts would be awesome sauce right now.”

Clearing my throat, I took a breath of air then exhaled. “Her name was Inga Von Krause-Nurnberger, and she often made up ridiculous names for me. Winsical being one of many. We did it to pass the time. A play on words, of sorts. I called her Inga the Stinga because of her stingingly sharp wit.”

Stevie rose from her haunches and waited. She didn’t even snicker.

The silence was deafening—meaning, that wasn’t a good enough explanation.

“Getting dizzy up here, dudes!” Belfry cried out, flapping his tiny wings as he circled again. “I can only play bat mobile for so long before I black out!”

Stevie didn’t speak a word as she grabbed the handle of the carrier and took it into the parlor, where she set it on the live-edge coffee table I’d talked her into purchasing.

Truly a beautiful piece, by the way. Totally worth every penny paid. Though I’d guess furniture is the least of concerns at this point.

The baby reached his arms upward, his chubby fists waving in the air. His eyes, a deep chocolate so like Inga’s, twinkled under the dim recessed light, and my heart shifted for the little lad. He truly was quite the looker.

Stevie sat in front of him and reached out a hand, and he latched on immediately, bringing her finger back to his gummy mouth with a coo of excitement.

Whiskey immediately positioned himself beside the table, his eyes darting protectively to the small child.

And the silence continued.

Until Stevie picked up the letter, a simple enough note on yellow legal paper. Squinting at it, she sighed.

I stared down at the paper she held. “What else does is say, Stephania?”

She pressed it to her chest so I couldn’t finish reading. “You know, Winsical, you don’t seem to have much to say. Why is that, International Man of Mystery? Is this another secret you’re going to keep from me?”

Secrets. There were many between us. Including the biggest of all. Where I’d hidden my Aston Martin.

“And I don’t mean the secret about where you’ve been hiding your silly sport’s car,” she said as though she’d read my thoughts. She looked to the baby then, smiling down at him, and cooed, “Tell Daddy he knows that’s not what I mean. Go on, sweet boy. Tell him.”

The baby responded by bouncing in his seat in excitement.

Stevie looked to the ceiling. “See? Even the baby knows you know that’s not what I mean.”

I fought the roll of my eyes. A habit I’ve adopted from Stevie when irritated, which I can’t seem to shake no matter how hard I try. I know which secrets she means. As a for instance, she wants to know how I know Miranda, my ex-lover and fellow traitorous spy, is the woman who murdered me.

I’m not quite ready to explain the day I died, or how my passing came to be. The betrayal is deep—so deep, I’m not up to vocalizing the words just yet. But I know what I saw. I was there, after all.

“Then I don’t know what you mean, Stephania.”

“Come now, Zero, even I, simple-minded farm boy, know what she means,” Arkady chided.

More silence ensued, but for the whir of Belfry’s wings and the baby’s soft noises of joy as he gnawed on the tip of Stevie’s finger.

“Okay, if you won’t give it up. If you want to play dumb and obtuse, I’ll say it. You have a baby, Win. This note says, and I repeat: You. Have. A. Baby! You know, diapers, college funds, formula? So, care to explain why Inga dropped your baby off here? Or better still, care to explain when you put the baby in Inga’s belly? Oh, wait, here’s one for you, and I hate to sound repetitive, but where in the Sam Hill is Inga and why did she drop your baby off here?”

I bit my tongue before I spoke, and avoided Arkady’s prying eyes as I did.

As I formulated my answers to Stevie’s questions, the baby saved me—momentarily, I’m certain—from having to answer when he made the most adorably pouty face just before he began to howl.

I tell you, he went from zero to a million in two point two seconds flat.

Stevie popped open the strap keeping the boy in place, scooped her hands under his chubby body as though she’d been doing it all her life, and hauled him to her shoulder, the note from Inga still pressed to her chest.

I’d really like to see what exactly the rest of that note says.

As she began to bounce and pace with him across our area rug, Whiskey hot on her heels, she looked up at the ceiling once more. “Win? Answer the question. How did this baby come to be?”

“Surely Dita explained. Of all people, I’d have expected Dita to explain how a baby comes to be.”

Dita being Stevie’s very flirtatious mother with a trail of discarded men lining her life’s path. However, Dita, upon seeing the damage she’d done to Stevie’s childhood, had turned over a new leaf as of late.

And very well, I admit it. Bad timing for a joke, but levity is in order, don’t you think?

The baby began to buck, his tiny legs thrusting up and down as he howled louder, his round cheeks becoming redder while Stevie grew angrier. “Not funny, Spy Guy. Now, unless you want a conscious uncoupling here, tell me what the heck’s going on and tell me fast, or it’s curtains for you!”

“Think about the timeline, Stephania—”

“How can I think about anything with this poor child screaming?” she said through clenched teeth.

Oh, bloody hell. The clenched teeth, a sure sign we were headed for a row. A loud one, if I didn’t play my cards right.

“He needs to eat and be changed, you bunch of rejects,” Belfry panted as he buzzed his way to Stevie’s shoulder and collapsed against her neck.

Stevie peered into the carrier, rooting about until she let out a ragged sigh. “There’s a bottle in here. Thank Pete, there’s a bottle. Oh, and a pacifier! Score! Look, buddy,” she whispered against the screaming child’s forehead. “Mommy left you a midnight snack. Belfry, to the kitchen, so we can heat this up for him. You up there? Get your butt in the kitchen, too. You’ve got some mansplaining to do, and if you don’t do it, I’m going to give all your money to Mr. Piscatello so he can travel the globe, hunting down a better-equipped medium than you to locate his pig at the Rainbow Bridge!”

Stevie marched into the kitchen, the baby in one arm, yowling for all he was worth, the carrier in another. She dropped the carrier on our kitchen island and turned to the microwave, shoved the bottle inside and punched some numbers in.

“Hang tight, handsome. Auntie Stevie’s hooking you up. Now, let’s see if Mommy left you diapers, because if she didn’t, we’re in deep schlashizzle, pal,” she murmured, foraging through the carrier until she’d pulled out the baby’s blanket. “Nothing. No diapers. Sweet Fancy Moses, where are we going to get diapers at this hour?”

When the microwave dinged, she pulled the bottle out, shook it, tested it on her wrist, leaned the baby back in her arm and coaxed the bottle into his mouth until he suckled the nipple. All while we watched with rapt attention.

The little chap shuddered as he gulped the milk, sighing in relief, while Stevie smiled down at him and whispered words I couldn’t hear, swaying back and forth in a rhythmic motion.

Something rather odd happened in my stomach at that moment—something warm and unfamiliar. But I chose to ignore that feeling. Mostly due to the fact that I didn’t understand it or wish to address it in front of Arkady.

Clearing my throat, I thought it best to compliment her in order to ease her back into our conversation on the child’s parentage. “You’re quite good at this, Stevie. You’re to be applauded for your skills.”

“Shut it, Ghost, and cough it up. What do you mean by think of the timeline?”

“Well, I died about a month and a half before I met you. Had I, even in my last month of life…ahem…entertained Inga, she’d spend nine months in gestation, correct? Putting her in the month of September when giving birth. That means this child would be at least—”

“Nine to ten months old, Winsical,” she responded—again with clenched teeth.

“Bah! He bloody well is not that big. Next, you’ll be telling me he’s renting his own apartment and paying his own utilities, Stephania! He’s too small. Look at the size of his feet, for heaven’s sake. He’s freshly from the womb! Aren’t they walking and talking at nine months old?” I shook my head. “It’s impossible for me to be his father.”

“Aw, Winterbutt, you really didn’t have a life besides spying, did you?” Belfry admonished. “Haven’t you ever paid attention to a newborn baby, mate? Have you seen the size of them?”

I straightened, faltering at Bel’s question. I guess I hadn’t paid very close attention to babies in general. Either they were walking or they weren’t. “I don’t suppose I’ve ever paid a great deal of attention…”

Bel giggled his tiny chirp. “Then let me explain. Sure, some baby’s walk early, but nine or ten months is pretty early on the developmental scale even for an overachiever. He won’t be walking for another couple of months, maybe even three or four.”

I blanched. I know I did, because I saw Arkady cluck his tongue and shake his head. I mouthed the words “Help me” to him, but he shook his finger and grinned.

“Thus, if we do the math, Baby Daddy, you could absolutely be this little one’s father. Now, I can’t say for sure he doesn’t look like his mother, but I can say he has some of your features. The beautiful shape of his brown eyes, to name one.”

“You think the shape of my eyes is beautiful?”

Her pretty lips, plump and the color of strawberries, pinched into a thin line. “No, I think his are beautiful. I think yours are lying. Listen, Winsical. It’s not a huge deal if you were catting about before you died. You have been known to chase a skirt or two in the afterlife, why would that have been any different when you were here on Earth? The problem here is this: Why would Inga drop her baby off to you? How did she find out you have anything to do with me and this address? Doesn’t she know you’re dead? And the biggest question of all—where is Inga?”

“I am not this child’s father, Stephania!”

“I don’t care if the Pope is his father. We need to know what happened to Inga and what inspired her to put this baby in your care!”

Fair enough. I had to set aside my personal feelings and look at this from a different perspective. But I drew a blank. “I don’t know why she did this.”

As the baby pushed the bottle from his mouth after having totally drained it, she launched him up on her shoulder like the pro I didn’t know she was and began to pat his back. “Well, I’ll tell you what—you think, Win. Think hard, because we have a baby—rather, I have a baby—and I don’t know what to do with him. If I call Sandwich or Dana, they’ll take him from me and put him into foster care, because I can’t exactly tell them he’s my ghost friend’s child and they have nothing to worry about because I got this, now can I? And I’m not going to let them put him in foster care. No can do. Have you watched 20/20? Some of those foster homes are nightmares, and no orphaned baby on my watch is going to lie in a crib for twenty hours a day while some hateful woman collects paychecks to ignore him! Understood?”

“Not all foster homes are bad, Boss,” Belfry interjected. “There are some loving homes out there.”

Stevie narrowed her eyes, they’re fierce glow shining in our dim kitchen. “I know that, Bel. But I also know there are some bad ones, too. So we should take a chance this child’s foster home will be a good one—safe? You wanna roll the dice with his little life? You forget, in my former life, I was a 9-1-1 operator in Texas. Do you remember the call from that one woman who claimed she didn’t know how the baby—a two-month-old baby—got locked in that hot car while she was having her nails done? Do you remember how that sweet child’s life teetered in the balance for three days before he finally rallied? Do you?”

Belfry snuggled against Stevie’s neck, his tiny white head butting against her ear. “I do, Boss. I’m sorry. Thank gravy he ended up adopted.”

“No foster homes. Period. Now, let’s go find some hand towels and we’ll MacGyver some diapers until morning, when we can buy him some.”

With that, she took the baby, the pacifier, that bloody note, and her big, big heart out of the kitchen and up the stairs to MacGyver some diapers.

Naturally, Whiskey trotted behind her, faithful as ever.

Then more silence ensued until Arkady said, “You step in big pile of hot steaming bull pucky, eh, Zero?”

Straightening my shoulders, I looked him directly in the eye. “I most certainly have not, Arkady.”

“Then why you no tell my little mango how you know for sure this baby is not yours?”

Because I know, from all her joking and teasing about my alleged skirt chasing, she’s never going to believe me. Inga and I never had a tryst. She was the daughter of an infamous arms dealer, caught up in his web of deceit, married to an evil man she despised, who I, on occasion, advised when I was in deep cover with her father’s ring of smugglers. But as I said, due to my largely over-exaggerated past, Stevie’s never going to believe I didn’t have a dalliance with Inga.

It’s almost safer to let her think I’m a skirt chaser than to confess my true feelings. Yet, in my bid to hide my feelings, to keep Stevie pursuing her own life free of our unorthodox entanglements due to my restrictions, I’m sabotaging the very thing I wish for most.

Her.

Chapter 3

Look!” Stevie grinned from where she sat on her bed, holding the baby up in the air, his chubby legs making that pumping action he seemed to favor when he was excited. “Don’t either one of you ever tell me I have too much costume jewelry again, because if not for all of these cheap broaches, we’d have no way to keep Baby-Spy’s drawers up.”

She smiled adoringly as he laughed down at her, his stout body encased in some sort of toga/diaper-like outfit made of the soft blue hand towels from her bathroom and secured with five or six broaches in strategic places.

“Well done, malutka! You were born to nurture,” Arkady praised, making me once more roll my eyes.

“Stop, old chap,” I hissed in my aggravation, knowing full well Arkady was, as you American’s say, sucking up. “You’re just buttering her up like a Christmas goose to stay on her good side. It’s unseemly, friend. Not to mention transparent.”

He chuckled, slapping me on the back in his good-natured way. “Hah! You should do like Arkady Bagrov and make with the butter for Christmas. It is sweeter.”

“What are you two giggling about like schoolgirls up there?” Stevie asked, cuddling the baby to her breast as his eyes began to slide closed. Whiskey hopped up on the bed and planted himself right beside her, watching the baby intently as though someone had instructed he do such.

“We’re hardly giggling, Dove.” Believe me. Nary a chuckle escaped my lips.

She set the baby down on his blue blanket, tucking it under his chin while she rubbed his downy cheek and Whiskey pressed his enormous head to the baby’s feet as though guarding him. “So have you remembered anything about Inga?”

Of course, it was time to come clean, for all the good I thought it would do me. “That child is not mine, Stephania. As beautiful as he is.”

Her strawberry lips made a thin, distrustful line. “Well, I got some news for you, she thinks he is. Why would she think that, Spy Guy?”

“I’ve racked my brain trying to understand why she’d label me his father when she absolutely knows I’m not. I don’t understand the purpose here.”

“Maybe she thinks you are the father…”

“There is no way she’d think that. Positively none.”

“And why is that?”

“Because when we met, whilst I was undercover in her father’s organization, she was married.”

There it was, that look of skepticism on Stevie’s beautiful face. I’d come to cringe when she gave me that look, knowing the tales of my exploits were coming back to haunt me.

“Married women have affairs, Win,” she murmured, tucking the baby under the comforter of her bed, then placing the inordinate number of decorative pillows she possesses up against him to keep him in place.

It’s infuriating that she can’t see my arrogant eyebrow rise in…well, arrogance.

“They do, indeed. This man does not, or did not, have affairs with married women.” Not knowingly anyway. There was that countess in Slovenia… Nevertheless, I adhere to a strict code among men, and I do not dabble in someone else’s schoolyard.

Stevie slid off the bed on silent feet and moved to the puffy armchair she favored when reading, crossing her legs in her favorite yoga pose. “You sound insulted that I even suggested it, Win. But I’m not sure why. I mean, you’ve told me about countless female escapades, haven’t you? Why wouldn’t I consider the possibility this child is yours?”

Because that was before I felt the way I feel about you, Dove. Before I knew those escapades would come back to haunt me unfavorably. Because we are friends.

Bah. It had been a mistake to share those tales with her. Tales I surely hadn’t expounded upon, but which Stevie, in all her romantic notions of intrigue and mystery, had dragged out of me against my better judgment.

They were meaningless encounters on both my part and the part of the women I shared them with. I can’t even remember what any of them aside from Miranda even look like anymore, since I’d met Stevie.

And even Miranda is fading fast.

And it has nothing to do with the fact that she killed me.

“Hellllo, International Man of Intrigue—why would I consider he’s not?”

Thus, I took a defensive stance. “Because now you know the child isn’t mine—because I’ve told you he isn’t mine.”

She bobbed her dark brown head with her fresh caramel highlights. “Ah. Now we’re playing the trust game, right? I take your word for it that you didn’t have an affair with Inga and that means I trust you. A show-of-faith thing, yes?”

“Yes,” I said, fighting the urge to spit the word out. “Or no. It’s not a game. My word is good. It’s always good, Stephania. I’ve never lied to you and I have no intention of starting now. This baby is not mine, and I have no idea why Inga would drop him here, or how she even knew…”

Stevie’s eyes lifted upward and she sat up straight. “You’re remembering something?”

Indeed, I was. As Stevie would say, good gravy. “I am, in fact. On a particularly trying day during arms negotiations, her father demanded I entertain her. So, Inga and I took a drive and I brought her here to show her this house. I’d only just bought it, and I was pleased with my purchase.”

Of course, by then, Miranda was already allegedly dead. I’m leaving out the fact that I’d bought the house to keep her memory—the memory of us planning a life together—both alive and well.

Stevie’s jaw tightened. Unfortunately, Miranda remains a sensitive subject for us. “All your secretiveness and much-needed explanations as to how you know for a fact Miranda killed you aside, you told Inga this was your house?”

For now, I chose to ignore her questions as to my certainty about Miranda being my killer. “I did. I told her I’d bought it for a woman I was involved with. I just didn’t tell her that woman was dead.”

Stevie frowned, the two lines in her forehead deepening. “Wait. You brought her here, where you were supposed to live with Miranda? That doesn’t seem very spy-like, Win, or very deep undercover.”

“At this point in our relationship, she knew I was a spy. Shortly after that day, I was almost at the end of the mission when, without warning, I was pulled out and sent somewhere else. But I told her if she ever needed me, she could come here to find me. Bollocks, I’d forgotten all about that!”

Yet now, as I remember a small part of that day as clearly as if it were just yesterday, a draining one for Inga, who was going to try to escape her husband, her father’s right-hand man, I became more and more worried for Inga. She knew coming here was to be a last resort. I’d been quite clear I never mixed work and my very limited personal life.

And Inga vowed she’d never contact me unless she was desperate.

“You give yourself up to this woman, Zero? Did you have too much vodka the night before? Had you gone mad?” Arkady asked in disbelief.

I shook my head at him with a chuckle. “Nay, in fact, I was quite sane. Inga was instrumental in helping MI6 pursue her father. She could be trusted, of that I assure you. In return, I offered her my help whenever she needed it—if she ever wanted away from her husband and father. But alas, I was killed before I could close the deal and, after that, I didn’t know what happened to Inga.”

“Hint. She had a baby,” Stevie said, her impish grin back in place.

“Astute, Stephania. Now, here’s what troubles me. I don’t remember all of that day in its completion.”

“Huh?” she asked.

“I have very clear memories of most everything in my life, but there are fuzzy parts, and I don’t remember much after driving past the house.” I can’t tell her how distraught I was over Miranda then. Not yet. She believes I still love Miranda to this day—even though she betrayed me. Which, yes, makes me look like a fool. But I’d almost rather she believed that than know those feelings changed because of her—because of Stevie. But clearly, I’d allowed Miranda too much time in my head that day.

“So maybe you did make a baby that day, Winsical,” Stevie taunted.

“Bollocks! That much of my life I do remember, and I do not toy with another’s wife!” If I had blood pressure, I’m sure it would be through the roof after such an accusation.

“Fine, fine. Don’t get all huffy. None of that matters much at this point.”

“Regardless of what I remember, this must mean she’s in some sort of trouble. Inga’s not the type of woman to leave her child for any reason other than she’s in dire straits.”

Stevie cocked her head. “How do you know? Did she have other children?”

How did I know? I suppose it was just instinct that told me Inga would never leave a child of her own. Her childhood had been so cloistered and fraught with danger, I’d think she’d feel much like Stevie does, in that she wouldn’t want to repeat her father’s past mistakes.

What I could absolutely not understand was why she’d decided to have children with the husband she despised… Unless this little one was a product of an unplanned pregnancy.

Still, that didn’t sit right with me. Inga was very clear on her wish to get as far away from her husband and father as possible.

“Win?” Stevie prompted, one eye still on the sleeping lad.

“I suppose I feel comfortable enough saying she shares your sentiments about her childhood. I trust, if this truly is Inga’s child, she’d want it nowhere near her father, and she’d do everything in her power to protect him from being raised in that environment.”

Instantly, Stevie was on her feet as she bit the inside of her cheek and looked upward tentatively. “You don’t think… I mean, you don’t think she’s… Well, you know…”

“Dead?” I responded. “No. I can’t believe that. I won’t. The handwriting looks just like hers, but I do believe she needs my help.”

And there is the crux of my dilemma. How can I possibly help her without putting Stevie in danger? She is, for all intents and purposes, my eyes and ears.

And just as expected, Stevie did exactly what she always does. “Then I’ll help.”

“Stephania! Do you have any idea how dangerous Von Krause is? If in fact he was never apprehended, if he’s still making arms deals, he’s a ruthless monster who’d kill his own mother for money.”

She held up her hands and shrugged her shoulders. “Okay, so we keep the baby then, yes? That decided, I think we’d better start talking about preschool right now. Because you know what they say, you have to begin when they’re in the womb. Also, we need to discuss organic or make our own.”

“Make our own what?”

Stevie planted her hands on her hips and shot the ceiling a scathing glance. “Baby food, silly. We’re not going to give him all that processed gunk.”

I scoffed. “This from the woman who eats Twinkies for breakfast and washes it down with grape soda?”

“When I was a kid, that was called survival of the fittest, especially with Dita for a mother, bless her heart. I always promised myself if I ever had a child…er, or came upon one abandoned on my doorstep in the middle of the night by my ghost friend’s ex, I’d do the raising right. So, there’s the question of plastic diapers or cloth. I know, I know. Cloth’s a lot of work, but I think I can manage wash loads between my stints at the shop, and I bet Carmella and Enzo will babysit. Now, on to more pressing matters, like tummy time, and brain development, and college…” She paused momentarily and then, as though the proverbial light bulb over her head had gone off, she said, “OMG, college! We need to start preparing him now—”

Stephania!” I yelled. I admit I was losing my temper, mostly due to the fact that Inga was likely in danger and I didn’t know how to extract her from it, but letting Stevie run wild with this left me unnerved, especially considering Von Krause was likely at the bottom of it.

But Stevie smiled sweetly into the bedroom. “Uh-huh?”

“Inga is not my ex, and we are not keeping him.”

“Well, we’re not giving him to the police so he ends up in the system either, and that’s not open for discussion. That means you have two choices, Winsical. Either we keep him or we find his mother. Cast your vote now, and be quiet while you do it, because I have no more formula for him and if you wake him, I’ll buy the Twinkie factory with all your money. Lock, stock and spongy-cake goodness with yummy cream filling.”

Heaven save me from this woman sent to torture me with her daredevil shenanigans and heart of gold.

“It’s our money, and fine, we shall tentatively dip our toes into the arms dealing pool. However, we must have rules, Stephania. There must be rules of engagement. Clear, concise rules.”

She flapped her hand at me in the way she does when she pretends she’s listening, but she’s really only appeasing me. “Rules, schmules. Yeah, yeah. Let’s hear ’em.”

Arkady whistled, but I’ll give him this, he did back me up. “My little artichoke heart?”

“Da, my Russian blueberry muffin of love?”

“Win is right to be fearful for you, malutka. Von Krause is a dangerous, despicable man. I spit on his kind!”

This made her pause and look skyward in concern. “Have you had a run-in with him, too, Arkady?”

Nyet. But I have seen what he is capable of, sweet daffodil. Many of my men have fallen by his hand. I do not wish to see you hurt. I will not see you hurt. You must be very careful about how and where you inquire. Please trust Arkady and make promise you will be careful.”

Stevie’s face grew serious then, which, I’ll admit, buggered me no end. Why, when I say she needs to practice caution, does she fight me like a cage fighter? Yet, when Arkady charms her with his Russian accent and food endearments, she takes grave note?

She appeared to think about that for a moment before she nodded her head. “Okay. Rules. I guess one is, we shouldn’t send him a private message on Facebook complete with emojis?”

I breathed a sigh of relief. And realized I didn’t even care that Arkady had been the one to convince her Heinrich Von Krause, as he’s formally called, is a formidable, deadly foe.

“You’re charming as always, Stevie, but yes. I think Facebook is a definite no. Also, I caution, we must tiptoe into his territory like ghosts—”

“Hah!” Stevie snickered, slapping her thighs “Ghosts. Funny, Spy Guy.”

Something else to note about us ghosts. Contrary to some reported sightings, we cannot move from place to place—or at least Arkady and I can’t—not with great ease, anyway. If that were so, I could do so much more. As a for instance, I’d hunt Balthazar down and fix his hide for good. Alas, this is not the case.

Typically, we’re tethered to the person we communicate with on Earth. Certainly, I can go anywhere I wish in Mayhem Manor, the house itself screams Stevie’s life force. I can also observe her close proximity, which allows me to sometimes see and hear things she’d otherwise miss.

However, the earthly plane becomes dimmer and fades completely should I stray too far from her aura. I was successful doing so in the early stages of our friendship, including with a car salesman who owed me a favor and thought he could get away with not paying up. But since Stevie and I have bonded, for lack of a better word, that door is now firmly shut.

The afterlife is a strange and wondrous place, yes? Anyway, globetrotting to hunt for Von Krause is out.

“Okay, so no Facebook searches, Funstomper.”

“You know what I mean, Dove. If we fish around and he even gets a whiff we’ve bought a pole and some bait, he’ll find you. That I can’t have. I won’t have it. For all we know, he knows Inga’s dropped the baby here and he’s just waiting to pounce—biding his time until he can take him back—with his usual penchant for force. This is why I suggest you do call Officer Nelson and Sandwich. If nothing else, they offer protection.”

Stevie blanched, but then she squared her shoulders like the incredibly brave soldier she tries so hard to be and straightened her spine as she crossed the room and put a protective hand on the baby. “I said no, Win. I know what procedure is, and they’ll bring in CPS. That’s Child Protective Services here in the states. And how the heck will I explain his existence and connection to you, anyway? ‘Oh hey, Sandwich, meet my ghost friend’s ex-girlfriend’s baby she dropped off on my doorstep to keep him from harm.’ That’ll go over well. Ya think they might want to know how I know a dead spy? What if he gets lost in the system while they fool around? No. Absolutely not.”

“Stephania, you trouble me with your tough mini-spy act. You’re not equipped to handle a monster such as Von Krause!”

“He’d better not try to take this baby, Win. I don’t care how ruthless he is, I’ll do something horrible to him, and it’ll be ugly. Sooo ugly—bloody and yucky even, and I’ll do the same to anyone he sends in to do his dirty work, too.”

Arkady groaned. “Your bravery is to be commended, but it is unwise to make such statements, my sweet circus bear.”

Stevie smiled as she rubbed the baby’s back. “You mean mama bear, and I mean what I say. If he’s as horrible as you claim, no way he’s getting the kid from me. Now, what do we have to do to protect ourselves, and most of all, Baby-Spy?”

“Stephania, he is not mine, I tell you.”

“Right. I heard all about it. Let’s move on. We need to give him a name. Plus, how the heck are we going to explain him if someone comes to the door? You don’t think anybody would fall for the idea that I hid my pregnancy and didn’t gain much weight, do you?”

All right. She made me chuckle. No matter how dark my mood over my lot in death, Stevie can transform it in a mere second.

“I think Arkady is good, no?”

“No!” we both answered in unison, then laughed.

“No disrespect, old chap, but maybe something less fierce. He’s just a little guy. How do you feel about Reginald?”

Stevie wrinkled her pert nose. “Reginald? Seriously? Ugh. No. Sounds like an old guy who wears checkered suits and toupees.”

“Angus then.”

“Like the beef? They’d have a field day with him on the playground. No kid of mine’s going to get his lunch stolen because we named him after a cut of beef and virtually handed out a free pass to his classmates to tease him.”

“He’s not yours,” Stevie,” I reminded. “He’s Inga’s. Now, what say you to Fergus? A fine name, to be sure. Upstanding and strong.”

Stevie snorted, sitting back on the pillows, her hand still passively on the baby. “I bet if Inga knew you’d name your kid Fergus, she’d have dropped him at the 7-Eleven instead of here with you, you heathen.”

I let out a ragged sigh. I should have known this wouldn’t be easy. “All right then, here’s a list of names I rather like. Jasper, Giles, Hamish—”

“Hamish?” she squealed, covering the sleeping child’s ears. “Oh, they’d be all over that as early as preschool. I can just hear it now. Hamish the Sammich. No, siree. Not on my watch.”

However, I refused to be thwarted. “Tarquin, Euan…”

As we toyed with names late into the night, laughing and testing them out, and the baby slept, I couldn’t help but wonder what it would be like to truly be in the position of picking a name for a baby with Stevie.

A baby name for a baby we’d created.

~

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