Chapter 33

7 3 10

Joey ran to greet Art as soon as he walked from the garage into the house. The little boy grabbed onto Art's hand and tugged for him to follow.

Natalya stood in the kitchen, arms folded across her chest, and leaning against the counter. "Leave Art alone, Joey, he just got back from traveling. Give him a chance to unpack."

Art waved her away, but he detected a delicious aroma. She had something in the oven. "Let him be. I haven't been greeted like this in a long time."

"It's not about you. He wants to play with the train set. I told him he couldn't unless you were there to supervise. I'm worried he might break something."

"I wouldn't have minded," Art said while allowing Joey to lead him.

When they got to the train set, Art plugged the transformer control into the wall outlet. "You remember how to drive the train?"

Joey nodded with enthusiasm.

"Before I give you the controls, I have something for you." Art unzipped his carryon bag and pulled a child-size railroad conductor's cap. He placed it on Joey's head. "Now you're official."

Joey rolled his eyes upward as if inspecting the bottom of the brim. The smile he wore warmed Art's heart. Children lit up when surprised with gifts in a way that faded once they grew older. He recalled seeing similar smiles from Jen and Steven when they were young. He handed the control over. Joey made the train go, tooting the whistle.

"You spoil him," Natalya mumbled, "but thank you."

"My pleasure."

"Where did you get the cap?"

"One of the airport souvenir shops. What are you cooking?"

"A beef roast. Jen will be home from work soon, and I promised to have dinner ready for her."

"I think you have it wrong, Nattie. I'm not spoiling your son. You are spoiling me and Jen."

"Yeah, well, it's the least I can do." She wiped her hands on a dishtowel. "How can I ever thank you? You've accomplished what I never could have done on my own."

Art laid a hand on her shoulder. "Maybe. I'm going to remain optimistic, but try to temper your expectations. All we have is a vague address. It might not be legit. Santos could be lying."

She looked at him with an expression that seemed almost pleading. "Do you think he's lying?"

"We won't know for sure until we see your husband in the flesh."

She shook her head. "Santos wasn't lying. I can just feel it. We're getting close."

"I hope so. Did you have a chance to research the address I texted you?"

"Yes. Let's discuss it after we eat. I have to get back to preparing our dinner."

Art unpacked from his trip and washed up. By the time he returned to the kitchen, Jen had come home, and he was surprised to see his son had joined them, along with Anya. Steven was picky about the women he dated. The fact he brought her along to dinner meant things might be getting somewhat serious between the two of them.

Natalya's daughter still eyed Art with suspicion, but not with quite the same intensity as she had during their past encounters.

He greeted her and asked, "You still carrying your pepper spray?"

"Dad, don't start," Steven warned.

Anya patted the clutch she held. "Always. It's right on top."

When the time came for them to gather at the table, Art found the aroma of all the goodies to be intoxicating. Natalya had prepared a beef roast with au jus on the side, garlic mashed potatoes, green beans, baked corn, and a big bowl of fresh salad.

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