Zoes workshop, p.1
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       Zoe's Workshop, p.1
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         Part #6.50 of Guild Hunter series by Nalini Singh
Zoe's Workshop

  Spoiler Warning: This short is set after Archangel's Legion (Guild Hunter #6), and contains spoilers for that book, so if you haven't yet read it, save this story to read afterward.

  "Zoe's Workshop" is part of my ongoing series of shorts about the everyday lives of my characters, away from the darkness and intensity of the main storylines. I love visiting with them, and I hope you do, too. :-)

  Characters: Sara (former hunter, now Guild Director), Deacon (formerly a hunter charged with bringing down rogue hunters, now weapons-maker to mortals and immortals both), Zoe Elena (Sara and Deacon's daughter).

  Zoe's Workshop

  By Nalini Singh

  Sara stretched awake cocooned in luxuriant warmth. Stretching out her hand toward Deacon's side of the bed, she found the sheets cold. Her heart skipped a beat, her mind jerking to full consciousness as her lashes snapped open. For a single, terrible second, fear tried to grab hold of her in its ravenous teeth, but she fought the darkness with the practice that came with two weeks of doing the same.

  The war was over. Her family was safe, happy, back together in their home.

  Heart rate slowing, she took a deep breath...and felt her smile reappear, little bubbles of starlight in her veins. She could smell the bitter, delicious promise of coffee in the air. Below it lingered the buttery scent of the waffles Zoe loved, waffles that Deacon alone could make to Zoe's satisfaction. Sara had tried once, received a terrible review. Laughing at the memory of their little girl's face as she took her first bite, Sara pushed off the feather comforter Deacon must've pulled over her when he left to take care of Zoe.

  Otherwise, the munchkin would've jumped on the bed to wake them both.

  Sara's smile widened at the thought of how their baby would often squirm between them for a snuggle, happy to play with her treasured doll while her parents dozed for a few more minutes. Grabbing the kimono-style robe that Deacon had bought her for their wedding anniversary, she pulled it on over her pajama pants and tank top. The red silk fabric, patterned with cherry blossoms in black, was so liquid soft that she couldn't resist running her hand over it as she padded into the attached bathroom.

  A few minutes later, she walked out of their bedroom and down the stairs.

  The wide open space of the lower floor was drenched in the snow-reflected sunlight of early morning, the windows dazzling in their clarity. Running her fingers through her hair, she yawned and kept an ear open for the sounds of Deacon's and Zoe's voices. The soundproofing in Deacon's basement workshop was top notch, but he'd left the door open as he always did in the morning if he woke before her and needed to get some work done.

  She smiled at the faint sound of Zoe's rapid-fire childish patter. Deacon usually only spoke one word to their baby's hundred, and they both seemed content with that. Pouring herself a cup of coffee from the pot Deacon had left perking, she took a sip as she made her way to the workshop through the internal staircase. She had the day off today, her deputy, Abel, in charge--though of course, she remained on call.

  Being Guild Director wasn't only a position, it was a promise to every hunter under her command.

  Zoe's excited voice grew louder as Sara descended the steps into the well lit space that included the basement areas of the two brownstones they'd merged into one. That lighting was a mix of sunlight--thanks to a number of narrow windows along the top--and the softer overhead bulbs Deacon had put in for when he didn't need the bright work lights he had directly over his workbench.

  He was at that workbench now, dressed in a pair of disreputable jeans with a tear partway down his left thigh and frayed cuffs, the well-washed denim hugging his butt. Sara loved those jeans. On top, he wore an old black T-shirt with Zoe's handprints in front. Back when Sara and Deacon had been painting their living room after first merging the brownstones, their smart, fast daughter had decided to do some painting of her own.

  Sara could still hear Zoe's mischievous giggles as she ran from them on chubby baby legs, the paint-covered hands that proclaimed her guilt held out in front. She'd run right into her daddy's ambush, her tiny palms connecting with Deacon's T-shirt. He'd worn that tee so much in the interim that it was getting to be as disreputable as his jeans, but Sara knew neither one of them would ever throw it out. When the fabric became so thin it threatened to tear, Sara planned to have it framed for him.

  The artist behind the treasured piece of clothing was currently hard at work at the miniature workbench that Deacon had built for her at one end of the workshop. Beside her sat their big black dog, Slayer. He woofed a greeting at Sara before going back to his adoration of his favorite human being in the whole wide world.

  Banging her small pink toy hammer on a piece of wood Deacon must've given her, Zoe said, "Mommy! Look!"

  Sara went over and admired the abused piece of wood. "Wow, baby."

  "Yeah, Mommy, wow!" Happy, Zoe went back to her hammering.

  Overcome by love, Sara put down her coffee and grabbed Zoe into a snuggle. Her daughter kissed her cheek, then pushed away. "Busy, Mommy. Zoe, busy."

  "In that case," Sara said, her heart overflowing, "I better go bother your daddy."

  Deacon raised an arm as she reached him. "Hello, sleepyhead."

  Held against the warm, solid strength of him, she sighed, every cell in her body at peace. She was a blooded hunter, could handle any weapon in this workshop, had walked into trouble right by Deacon's side, but her husband made her feel so safe. It had nothing to do with skill or size, and everything to do with trust. She knew no matter what, Deacon would always be there.

  Touching her fingers to his stubbled jaw, she said, "I love you."

  As he bent his head toward her, the dark, dark green of his eyes holding his heart, she felt her body ignite as passionately as it had during their first kiss. No, that was wrong, she thought before he scrambled her brain cells. Everything was deeper now, richer, even sexier.

  Zoe's voice penetrated the air. "Mwah, mwah," she said, making the kissing noises with unhidden glee.

  Sara smiled against Deacon's mouth. "Where do you think she learned that?"

  Her gorgeous, talented husband stroked his hand down to her butt, squeezed as he demanded another kiss. "Nursery school, I bet," he said afterward. "It's a hotbed of sin."

  Sara's shoulders shook. Nibbling on his jaw, the scent of him hot and masculine and addictive, she said, "When do you think she'll be ready to move on to real tools?" Sara was all for Zoe becoming a weapons-maker. It would keep her out of trouble--unlike if she followed her parents into the Guild.

  "Couple of years at most," Deacon said, both of them turning to look at their daughter. "But she also really likes to shoot her crossbow."

  Sara knew that. She'd been hit by multiple sponge-headed bolts the past week. At once proud of and terrified for her daughter, she slid her hand into one of Deacon's back pockets. "You know what? I'm not going to worry about it until she's a teenager at least."

  Deacon just gave her a look. Sara groaned and dropped her head against his chest. "Yeah, as if."

  Kissing the top of her head, Deacon massaged her nape. "At least she won't have boyfriend troubles. Since I'll decapitate anyone who lays a finger on her."

  Sara burst out laughing. "God, we're a pair. Our poor baby."

  "Don't worry." Deacon's eyes glinted. "I have a feeling Zoe Elena is going to grow up plenty tough enough to take on two overprotective parents."

  Zoe hammered once more, then put down her plastic hammer. "Daddy, finish!" Picking up her masterpiece, she brought it over for Deacon to scrutinize.

  Sara watched as her big, muscular husband went down on his haunches in front of their tiny girl and took the piece of wood. Examining it seriously, he nodded. "Good work, Zoe."

  Zoe beamed and threw h
er arms around her daddy's neck. Cradling her body in one arm, Deacon rose to his feet and walked over to place the piece of wood with Zoe's other creations on the shelf Zoe and Sara had painted a hot orange and decorated with golden stars.

  "Mommy, see."

  "You did such a good job, baby." Sara helped Zoe choose the perfect space on the shelf.

  "Waffles?" Deacon asked afterward, having snagged her forgotten coffee for himself.

  "I'll never say no to your waffles." Taking Zoe when she stretched out her arms toward her, Sara smothered their daughter's adorable face in kisses, then let her down so she could climb up the stairs in front of them. Deacon was right about Zoe's strength--because cuddly and snuggly as she was, their baby was also showing signs of a strong independent streak. Hardly surprising, given her parentage.


  Tail wagging, Slayer joined Zoe.

  Sara went next, Deacon bringing up the rear.

  His wolf whistle made her grin. The world might be in chaos, the archangels caught in a battle for supremacy and Manhattan still recovering from the recent violence, but here in this house, life was good and Sara wasn't going to allow fear of the unknown future to steal the happiness of today. As she'd told Ellie, Zoe's innocent zest for life had taught her to enjoy the now, to live every moment of the joy. And there was so much joy in her life.

  Zoe jumped up the last step into the kitchen and scrambled into the chair that was hers, clearly ready for a second helping of waffles. On the chair next to her sat her doll, while Slayer sprawled hopeful and eager on the floor at her other side. "Mommy, Sley?"

  Wise to their daughter's love for her canine playmate, Sara looked to Deacon to check if he'd fed their pet. "Slayer's already had his breakfast, Zoe," he responded, the affection and love in his tone no less powerful for not being showy or ostentatious.

  Zoe sighed and turned to solemnly shake her head at Slayer. "You can have half my waffle," she whispered after ducking under the table.

  Hiding a laugh behind her hand, Sara met Deacon's eyes. The deep green was lit with the same humor. Walking over to wrap her arms around his waist, she rose on tiptoe and just smiled at him. He smiled back at her, as in the background, their daughter carried on an animated conversation with her doll and Slayer.

  It was the perfect start to the day.

  Copyright (c) 2014 by Nalini Singh



  Nalini Singh, Zoe's Workshop

  (Series: Guild Hunter # 6.50)




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