“I think we ought to let him sit there and freak out for a little longer.”
Kurt Baldwin turned to snap at his oldest son Murphy, but Gladys got to him first.
“Don’t you have an ounce of sympathy for Clyde?” Gladys said in that calm, quiet voice that all intelligent people knew meant impending doom. Kurt loved his wife. She was fierce and ornery when she needed to be.
Like now, as she whapped Murphy upside the head.
“Ow! Mommm!” Murphy sounded more like a five year old kid than a thirty-one year old man. He rubbed his head and shrank back when Gladys pointed at him.
“We raised you better than that, Murphy Edwin Baldwin,” Gladys said.
“Ohhhh, Murphy got full-named!” The twins, Emma and Ellie, high-fived each other. They were out of Gladys’ reach, but the look she gave them promised that Karma wasn’t on their side.
“Twins—one brain, two bodies, they always come up short.” Ned Baldwin cackled as the twins made indignant rebuttals.
Gladys shook her head.
“Hey, at least Kinsey, Faith and I are being good,” pointed out Cedric, their second-oldest child. “Four out of seven isn’t too bad—not counting Clyde since he’s not here.”
Faith slanted Cedric an irritable look. “Um, that’s less than half, so it is bad.”
Gladys moved close to Kurt and whispered, “I’m blaming their obnoxious behavior on your side of the family. Your mother always did have something snarky to say or a joke to make at my expense.”
Kurt winced, though he knew it was true. “Well, no one was ever going to be good enough to marry her only son. Little did she know.” He slipped his hands around Gladys’ narrow waist, then pulled her around and smiled. Gladys’ dark green eyes were sparkling, and Kurt saw love, so much love, every time he looked at her. Almost forty years together, and he loved her more each day.
“Whatever you’re thinking is giving me warm tinglies,” she murmured, which was as close to saying she was turned on as she’d get around their children.
“Just thinking about how much I love you, and how I’m the one not good enough to marry you,” he told her.
Gladys’ ran her hands up from his wrists to his shoulders. “I disagree.” She kissed him, and it took less than half a second for their kids to start whooping and making entirely too much noise.
Kurt sighed as Gladys ended the kiss. She was smiling, her cheeks flushed. Kurt knew she was entertained by their rambunctious spawn.
Not that he could blame her. Their eight kids were the best. Even Clyde, though he did tend to find trouble more than the others.
And man, it was going to break Kurt and Gladys’ hearts when any—and all—of their kids found someone special. Right now, the house was packed to the brim with family, but some day it wouldn’t be.
Kurt snorted at his depressing thoughts, and shook his head. “Can’t believe we’ll ever miss these noisy kids.”
“You know you love us,” Murphy said. “We’re all the excitement you have now.”
“Uh, I wouldn’t say all,” Ned countered.
“Yeah, I heard the bed springs—“ Emmie began.
Gladys hissed and Kurt fought against shriveling up right there.
“I forgot,” he offered. “You were there, and you’re you, and I couldn’t think, I just—“
“TMI!” shouted most of the kids.
Murphy was waving his hands in front of himself, as if he could ward off Kurt’s words.
“No,” Murphy said. “Nope. Our parents most certainly do not do the bump-bump thing. If you heard bed springs, it was probably Dad turning over—“
“Rhythmically,” Emma interrupted. “Steady then increasing in speed.”
“And squeakiness,” Ellie added. “Then there was the moans—“
Gladys swerved around Kurt and marched right over to Ellie. Every step Gladys took left a heel-dent in the dirt and sent little puffs of debris flying. “And what were you two doing listening?” Gladys demanded. “I would think you’d go away and leave us to our privacy. And weren’t you two supposed to be sitting in your college classes?”
Ellie and Emma exchanged one of their secretive twin looks, the kind where they seemed to speak telepathically to each other, though they claimed that was impossible.
Finally, as usual, Ellie cracked. She pointed at Emma. “She said it was okay to skip a day and go shopping instead! We didn’t know when we snuck in that you two would be doing the thing.”
“Sex,” Gladys said sharply. “It’s called sex, making love, being intimate with my soul mate, and if you can’t even say the word sex, I hope you aren’t having sex with your boyfriends or girlfriends, whichever it may be.”
“It’s not sex when it comes to your parents,” Ned argued. “It’s not! Because we all know parents don’t do that, so the twins probably just misheard.”
Gladys canted her head to the left. “No, they heard right.”
“Augh!” Ned slapped a hand over his eyes. “I can’t even look at you two!”
“Are you all done acting like dumbasses?” Kurt asked. “We have a son and brother to rescue.”
“Yeah, yeah, Clyde done got himself in trouble again,” Murphy grumped. “Last time it was a kid with a jar. You’d think Clyde would have learned to be careful.”
“And you’d think you’d learn when to zip it,” Emma retorted.
“Like you and Ellie did about the… “ Murphy gulped. “Sex. Thing.”
Kurt had had enough. “That’s it. No more talking. You just do as your told. Cedric, stop laughing at Murphy. Murphy, do not punch your brother again. Now let’s go.”
There was still grumbling from the kids, but Kurt and Gladys ignored it as they lead the way to the mansion on the hillside where their youngest son was being detained. Thankfully, Gladys and Kurt were friends with everyone, and well-liked in the shifter and human communities. A rat shifter named Eunice had told Gladys she’d seen Clyde being carted off to the mansion.
And from there, several bird and insect shifters had confirmed Clyde’s imprisonment.
Kurt walked faster. He couldn’t imagine what Clyde was going through, having dead larvae setting out for him to see. It sounded like a house—mansion—of horrors, though Kurt knew that probably wasn’t the case. There was an –ist or –ologist for every species, and they’d collect what interested them.
Unfortunately for the dragon-headed caterpillar shifters, internet fame had put their lives on the line. Everyone wanted a caterpillar, but no one wanted the butterfly.
He gritted his teeth and broke into a jog. Gladys kept up with him, and the sound of footsteps behind them reassured Kurt that everyone was following along.
He had no plan for how to get to Clyde, but what he did have—what he and Gladys had—were those friends who loved them.
And if anyone stepped out of the mansion and saw all the creepy-crawlies that would be gathered there soon, along with the birds and who knew what other shifters, he had no idea what would happen.
He’d just hope for the best. Kurt glanced at Gladys. And he’d do whatever he had to in order to keep his family safe.
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