This is the Midnight Special epilogue I had to cut in revisions – but I love it and thought you might want to check it out, too.  Its totally unrevised, unedited and probably has a few oopses *g* but its a fun revisit of all of the Undercover Operatives characters!

Alternate Ending/Epilogue

Sex, Lies and Midnight Special

 

     Marni had thought telling Hunter she loved him was scary.  And she’d been crazy nervous over his reaction to her new career focus, and his special place at the center of it.  But those nerves, that fear, had nothing on the acrobatics going on in her stomach at that very moment.  It was like butterflies, bats and dragons were square dancing. 

     “I really shouldn’t be here,” she murmured from her safe, cozy spot in the passenger side of the car, her seatbelt still firmly in place despite the fact that Hunter had shut off the car and had one hand on the door latch. 

     “Of course you should.”  Hunter gave her a knowing look, then reached over to unwrap her fingers from themselves, so her hand was twined with his instead.  “This is my family.  I want them to meet you.  To know the woman I’m in love with.  And I want you to meet them.”

     “I get that your father is family,” she said, half-turning in her seat to give him a curious look.  “But I didn’t realize you were related to the Black clan.  I found a ton of information on them when I was researching the articles.”  A ton being an understatement.  “I know you were college roommates with the oldest sibling, Caleb, right?  Is that why you consider them family?  Because of that?”

     “The connections crisscross and bisect.  My father spent half of his career trying to nail Tobias Black.  Somewhere along the way, they became tight friends.”  Hunter glanced at the house, a two-story Victorian complete with fancy gingerbread and a colorful garden.  “Like you said, Caleb and I were roommates.  His sister, Maya, is married to Simon.  He’s FBI and was one of my agents at one time.”

     “I thought the family, except for Caleb who was DEA, were all con artists,” she interrupted, drawing her knee up and turning more fully.  Her fingers itched for a pencil.  This family was the stuff fiction was made of.  Or seriously enthralling profiles.

     “Yep.  Well, officially, Tobias and Maya retired years ago.  Gabriel was still on the take when I brought him in last year.”

     “You arrested your best friend’s brother?”

     “My protégée did.  Danita Cruz.  Or Danita Black now, I guess.”

     Marni knew her eyes were round to the point of falling out, but she couldn’t help it.

     “Gabriel Black, con extraordinaire, is married to an FBI agent?  One who arrested him?”

     Hunter laughed.  “Be sure to use that phrase with him.  He’ll love it.”

     “One of the most notorious families of con artists, and each one is tied in some way to a federal agent?”

     “Sure.”  Hunter shrugged.  “Now, enough stalling.  I don’t want to miss the appetizers.  They are bound to be aphrodisiacs, so this will be fun.” 

     Paying no attention to her jaw hanging on her chest, Hunter gave her fingers a squeeze, then let go and exited the car.  Marni had no choice but to follow. 

     Aphrodisiacs?

     Curiosity fought with nerves.  They all sounded fascinating.  And, she tried to swallow past the lump in her throat, totally intimidating.  

     Do-si-do, and here we go.  She pressed one hand against her churning belly, then took a deep breath and plastered on her brightest smile, hoping the strength of it would shield her a little. 

     She wasn’t sure it lasted five minutes after walking through the door.  Marni came from a large—some would say huge—family.  She was a social person, an extrovert who enjoyed people.  And she was totally out of her element.

     After introductions and one of the warmest welcomes she’d ever received outside of her cousin’s dorm when she’d showed up with a care package of chocolate at mid-terms, she’d excused herself, ostensibly to get a drink.  Not because she didn’t feel comfortable, but because she always did better observing

     And observe, she did as Tobias Black held court. Not, she suspected, because it was his birthday.  But because he simply demanded that everything revolve around him.  A good-looking man, he’d passed on his dark looks, winning smile and abundance of charm to his three children.  Marni looked at the family portrait over the fireplace, noting that their late mother’s stamp was strong.

     Their spouses were equally stunning.  Looking like a sexy cowboy, Simon sat on the loveseat. Maya, with her waist-length black curls and wicked expression, curled up next to him like a kitty-cat. 

     Gabriel was the kind of guy who made a woman think sex, sex and then a little more sex.  Black hair and gold eyes, his features were replicas of his siblings.  But he had an air of wild sensuality and bad boy charm that seemed the perfect counterpart to his gorgeous wife, Danita. 

     Hunter’s oldest friend, Caleb, stood behind his wife’s chair with an air of command.  Maybe it was being the oldest, or because he was the town’s sheriff.  Pandora was pretty auburn haired woman, a serene, calm entity in the midst of the rest who all talked to, over and around each other. 

     As had become her habit in the last few days, her gaze shifted to the man she loved.  Joking with Caleb, Hunter was as comfortable as she’d ever seen him awake, other than right after sex, of course.  He always came across as completely independent, but seemed to seamlessly integrate with rest of the group.  Maybe it was the years they’d known each other.  Or that he’d worked with two, criminally pursued three of them that had him so comfortable arguing with Gabriel and Simon over digital surveillance.  

     Her mind was already racing, fascinated and wondering how soon she could start writing up their articles.  She’d worried when she shifted focus from the crime beat to profiles whether she’d find enough compelling, non-traditional people to build her portfolio on. 

     She could kiss that worry goodbye now, though. 

     “You look lonely, dear.  Over here all by yourelf”

     “Oh, no, just taking it all in.” Marni faced Pandora’s mother.  A statuesque redhead in flowing velvet, she looked like she’d just stepped out of a Shakespearean play.  “They are all very strong personalities, aren’t they?”

     “Nothing meek about that bunch,” the older woman agreed, huge chunks of pink crystals hanging from her ears.  She offered a plate filled with a variety of delicious looking bites with an encouraging smile.  “Eat, enjoy.  I wasn’t sure what you preferred so I brought a variety.  Pandora is a fabulous cook, so it’s all quite yummy.”

     Marni’s tummy rumbled at the sight of the delicious variety on the plate.  Puff pastry, meat wrapped vegetables, tiny empanadas.  If this was a preview, dinner was going to be amazing.

     “I didn’t realize that Hunter was such a tease until tonight,” she said with a laugh.  “He claimed you’d be serving aphrodisiacs for appetizers.”

     “That sounds like a marketing concept, doesn’t it?” the older woman said with a rich, throaty laugh of her own.  She shook her head, then gestured to her daughter.  “The aphrodisiacs are Pandora’s doing, though.  But if you’d like a tarot reading, I’d be happy to do one after cake.”

     Pandora?  The sweet-faced, only normal seeming one in the room whipped up aphrodisiacs?

     “No readings tonight, you promised.”  Danita, her sharp features amused, tucked her hand into Marni’s arm. “I’m stealing Marni anyway.  I want to hear all the details of how she snagged the FBI’s most eligible hottie.”

     With that and a wink, Danita led an overwhelmed Marni away to a quiet corner of the room.  She dropped gracefully into one of the plush easy chairs, gesturing for Marni to do the same. 

     “They’re a lot to get used to, aren’t they?  Pandora takes it all in stride because she grew up here.  And, well, with a mother like Cassiopeia, it clearly takes a lot to faze her.” 

     “I don’t think I’m nearly as blasé,” Marni decided, peering closely at her plate of…  “Aphrodisiacs?  Really?”

     “Sure.  Pandora will tell you that half of sexual arousal is in the mind.  The power of suggestion is the strong tool.”

     Marni sighed away some of the tension.  Whew, she should have known a trained federal agent would point out the reasonable argument. 

     “Of course, Cassiopeia will tell you that magic is magic, whether you believe or not,” the blonde continued.

     Marni’s tension returned.  “And you?”

     Danita leaned forward to take a puff pastry from the plate, the cream lace fabric of her ruffled blouse rippling over her long, brown suede skirt.  She held up the meat filled crisp as if inspecting it in the light. Then she gave Marni a wicked smile. 

     “I say anything that adds a little fun spice to sexy times is okay in my book.”

     “What’re we talking about?” Maya interrupted, curling up on the arm of Danita’s chair and helping herself to a ham-wrapped asparagus spear. 

     “Sex.”

     “Appetizers,” Marni said at the same time. 

     Maya laughed, then wiggled her fingers at someone across the room.  A few seconds later, Pandora pulled over a chair and joined them.

     Marni waited for the nerves to return, but they never had a chance. Despite being vividly dissimilar, the three women were so engaging, so friendly, that within five minutes she felt like they were old friends. 

      “Okay, so you have to tell us how you hooked up with Hunter,” Maya prodded an hour later from where she was now curled up on the floor, her back against the chair and a glass of wine in her hand.  “Back in college days, he vowed his life was gonna be a no-commitment zone.  Care to share your secrets?”

     Marni laughed.  “Care to share yours?  You’re all three married to some pretty intense guys.  What’s the key to making those relationships magic?”

     “Communication,” Maya decided after a contemplative sip of her wine.  “Be honest and open.  Talk about everything.  The good stuff and the bad.” 

     “Trust,” Danita put in, taking her sister-in-law’s glass for a sip herself, since hers was empty.  “If you can trust him, and he can trust you, you’re golden.  Hearts and flowers are great, but trust is what makes it last. 

     “Sex.”

     The three women all shifted to stare at Pandora.  Marni in shock, the other two in total amusement.

     “What?”  The woman’s pretty face flushed a delicate shade of pink.  “I think that’s important.”

     “More important than trust and communication?” Danita asked with a skeptical look.

     “Yes.  It’s not that I don’t think the other things are vital, because they are.  But you can talk and trust all you want, it’s the sex that keeps things exciting.  I trust the two of you.  I can talk to my mother.  I promise you, though, Caleb’s the only one I want to have sex with.”  Pandora slanted a naughty look at Marni, and added, “Since we’re talking about Hunter, here, I’m guessing you’ve got the hot, wild sex covered.” 

     Marni couldn’t help but join their laughter.  In a family her size, she’d never felt bereft of companions.  A sense of joy filled her, though.  Because she was pretty sure she’d just made three fabulous friends. 

     Before she could delve into why that was so special, there was a disturbance by the door.  All four women turned to see who’d joined the party.

     Marni didn’t need anyone to tell her that the tall, elegant man was Hunter’s father.  Not only because she’d studied him at great length in writing her article.  No, Rick Hunter was the exact image of Hunter in twenty-five years. 

     She rose, waiting for everyone to greet him before stepping forward to be introduced.  Hunter gave her a proud, loving look, but didn’t get any words out before his father took her hands in a move reminiscent of his sons. 

     “Marni,” Rick greeted with a wide smile.  “I’ve been looking forward to meeting you all week. Ever since Michael called.  And after reading the flattering article you wrote about me, I’m not only honored, I’m thinking of stealing you away from my son.”

     “I’m the one whose honored, sir,” she said, already half in love with him.  “You’ve led a fascinating life. I only hope I did it a modicum of justice.”

     Tobias broke in, wanting details of the article, which Rick just happened to have in his back pocket. 

     As the group gathered to read over Tobias’ shoulder, Hunter beamed at Marni like she’d just with a combination of love and pride that made her glow.  He reached over, pulling her close before leaning down to brush a kiss against her temple.

     Torn between embarrassed triumph and excitement, she was shocked and humbled when Tobias handed the magazine to his oldest son, then stepped over to pull her into a friendly hug.

     “Stellar job.”

     The compliments flowed after that, gushing so strong and constant that Marni was afraid her face was going to catch fire. 

Thankfully, as if she’d heard Marni’s mental plea, just then, Cassiopeia called everyone in for dinner. 

     “Actually, before we go in to eat, I have something I need to do,” Hunter announced.

     “Arrest one of us?” Gabriel joked.

     “I’ve got handcuffs,” Simon offered with a grin at his brother-in-law.

     “Enough,” Tobias said quietly.  The buzz, laughter and jokes immediately subsided. 

     When Hunter stepped over to take Marni’s hands, she suddenly wished the Black patriarch had kept quiet.  Especially when she saw the intense look in Hunter’s eyes.

     What was he doing?  Maybe a public thank you for the piece on his father?  She wet her lips, vividly aware of their audience.  

     He took a deep breath, looked deep into her eyes, then blew her mind. 

     “I love you, Marni.  I want to marry you.” 

     “Marry…?” 

     Despite Tobias’ mandate, the room exploded.  Cheers, cat calls and applause echoed. 

     Marni couldn’t speak.  Tears washed her eyes, her breath tight in her chest as she tried to clear the buzzing from her ears.  At the same time, a peaceful sort of joy filled her, a happiness like she’d never felt before. 

     “I know maybe this is the sort of thing that’s better done over candlelight.  And privacy.”  His lips twitched when he slanted a look at their rapt audience.  “But, well, I love you.  And I couldn’t wait any longer.”

     For the first time since she’d met him, she saw nerves flash in his eyes at her continued silence.  It was that worry that broke her state of shock. 

     “I love you,” she murmured, her heart in every word.  “I love you so, so much. And I’d love nothing more than spending the rest of my life with you.”

     She saw his grin flash for just a second before his mouth covered hers.  Marni had never thought herself one for public lust, but the kiss went so hot, so fast and so deep that she was breathless and darned near mindless when he released her.  She’d blame Pandora’s appetizer, but she knew it was Hunter.  All Hunter. 

     As his father and friends surrounded them to offer congratulations and hugs, Hunter leaned close to whisper, “I figure we’ll switch it up next week.  Go meet your family and you can ask me in front of everyone.  It’s only fair.”

     Marni imagined her family’s reaction, and laughed aloud.  They’d love it. They’d love him. 

Almost as much as she did.

 

 

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