How long had Lee been sitting there? Gideon sat up, catching his sleeping infant before she could slide off his chest. The so-called watchdog was flat on her back, legs sprawled, hairy paws flickering with dreams. “Lee! Um... Hi, sweetheart. I wasn’t... I didn’t think you’d be back yet.”


“Clearly.” Lee’s face was bright with amusement. He’d had to sit on the edge of the coffee table for want of room on the sofa. “I got in about five minutes ago. I pulled up a pew to watch you three.”


“Sorry.” Gideon yawned hugely. “Sorry. I meant to have supper ready.”


“I stuck a lasagne into the microwave to defrost. We’ll have that.”


A huge tide of pleasure swept Gideon, as if he’d been offered champagne cocktails under the stars on a luxury liner. This week was the longest time he and Lee had been apart since their wedding. “Sweetheart,” he said, and leaned forward to kiss him, keeping Tamsyn out of the way of crushing or suffocation. “Did the last of the filming go well? How was your journey? How come I didn’t know you were nearly home?”


“Fine. Long. You were asleep.” Lee returned his embrace with hungry warmth. Tamsyn emerged serenely from sleep at the sound of his voice, and he lifted her onto his knee, smiling. “God almighty, look at her. She’s grown while I’ve been away.”


“Not surprised. She’s been eating like a tentacled sea-monster. Do you have to go back between now and New Year?”


“Nope, we’re all done. Jack and Anna just wanted some talking-head stuff to wrap up the London Hauntings series. We’re cleared for our festive take-off.”


“Wonderful.” Gideon had bargained away part of his paternity leave to get this first birthday and Christmas at home with his small family. He rubbed his eyes, trying to focus. Lee’s outline was blurred to him, somehow unreal. “Weird that I didn’t wake up, though. I normally feel you coming a mile off.”


Lee raised a suggestive eyebrow at him, then visibly changed the subject. “Seriously, she’s huge. A week’s too long to be away at the moment, isn’t it? What have I missed?”


“Not much. Some truly horrific nappies.”


“Must be all those sailors and galleons she’s been eating. What else?” His brow creased. “I did miss something, didn’t I? Oh, no—not her first step.”


“No, no. She’s been standing on her own, but she always flops down onto that well-padded backside of hers. Speaking of which, I’d better get her swaddled up before she wrecks this towel.”


“Hang on a second. Tell me.”


Lee would never just reach in. Gideon had learned to lower barricades inside his mind, to offer silent permission. The soft, delicious pushing was absent tonight. Well, having a mindreader in the family was no substitute for honest conversation, and some things just had to be said. “She’s developed a bit of a new party trick. Might be better if she showed you, rather than me trying to explain.” He patted Tamsyn’s cheek with one fingertip to draw her attention. “Tamsie. Where’s your bear?”


She pointed to the floor where the toy had fallen, a clear indication that he should pick it up for her. “You get it,” he encouraged. “Get the bear for Lee.”




It was clear and decisive, and made both her parents start to laugh. After Dada and Eee, her first word had been no, and she’d made liberal use of it since. “She’s not gonna do it,” Gideon said, picking up the bear for her instead. “Here. No more porridge song, though, please.”


She cackled and began to pull the string. Lee grasped his head in mock agony. “Would it be cruel of us to cut that off? What were you expecting her to do, anyway?”


“I’m not sure.” Gideon rubbed his eyes. “It’s been a long week. I was probably hallucinating. Right, you little rug rat—let’s get you to bed, so your daddies can have some food and sex the way they occasionally used to before you came along.”


Lee grinned and got to his feet, hoisting her ceilingwards. “I remember those golden days. The room looks beautiful, Gid. Who knew a big Cornish plod would have such a talent for decoration?”


“Big gay Cornish copper. Comes with the territory.”

“In that case, shouldn’t I be getting a home-baked quiche for my tea, not microwaved lasagne?”


“Only if you want to home-bake one yourself.” Gideon watched the two of them—his husband and his baby—with pride and love warring for place in his heart. He’d never imagined that life would hold such riches for him. “I found a box of ornaments in the parish-house attic. What do you think?”


“Beautiful. Especially the little silver sphere with... Does it have lights in it?”


“No, but it catches the light in the room. That one was my mum’s favourite too.”


“I can’t imagine the pastor approving.”


“Oh, he didn’t. She used to put a little tree up in her parlour where he wouldn’t see it.”


“Looks like it’s found its proper home now.”


Yes, it did. Gideon surveyed the replantable fir he’d strapped to the roof of the police truck to bring home. Nothing but the best for his little girl’s Christmas—her solstice, her Yule, Pagan trimmings aplenty. The little sphere rotated gently, as if a breeze had touched it. Sparkles flashed hypnotically from within its wire cage. Something tugged at the back of Gideon’s brain. Isolde sat up on the sofa and emitted a faint whine.


“Uh-oh. I think she’s gonna do it.”


“What?” Lee asked in alarm. “Nappy?”

“No. Look at her hand. Watch that bauble.”


“Gid, are you all... Oh. Holy fuck.”


The sphere drifted slowly off the branch. Its string caught on the needles, and Tamsyn frowned as if she’d been given a new puzzle and shifted her hand, left and then right. She beamed and gave a yell of delight, and then—because Gideon could have no further doubt of cause and effect, that she was deliberately doing this—she brought the glittering thing to a brief halt in midair, then fired it squarely at Lee.


He caught it on reflex in his free hand. For a few long seconds he stood motionless, cradling the child and the bauble with equal care. Then he turned to Gideon, his colour fading. “Gid, no.”


“No what? I know it’s freaky, but we’ve seen weirder stuff than this.”


“You don’t... Look, she should be in bed. Will you help me put her down?”


“Of course, but—” 


“Seriously. Now.”