Many thanks for the reviews and alerts :) I really do appreciate if you're able to take time to review and let me know what you think.
Apologies for the delay in posting this; the chapter and I had a few disagreements... Thanks to Ballettmaus for helping me out with that, and also to Suallenparker and Lost in New York for their help and comments.
Proving Don's hearing correct, some minutes later, a battered old vehicle slewed round the curve of the driveway and squawked to a halt. Lindsay Messer sat at the wheel looking flushed and harassed, with her husband grinning beside her.
After running her hands through her hair, making it wilder than it already was, Lindsay got out first, Don having opened the door for her. Danny manoeuvred himself out more slowly, walking stick in hand.
"Where's my little Lucy-Lou?" Don hugged Lindsay and kissed her cheek as he made his demand.
"Fast asleep on the back seat at last," Lindsay said with a sigh. "It's been a long journey."
In testament to that, her cotton print frock looked crumpled and she attempted to smooth it down before Mac and Stella approached. They greeted the young woman with warmth while she in turn exclaimed how Stella looked blooming, which put a delighted smile on that lady's face.
Don resisted his instinct to give Danny a helping hand, instead patting his friend on the back once he was safely out of the car and steady with his walking stick.
"Good to see you made it here in one piece." He grinned and Danny smirked.
"Likewise, but don't let Lindsay hear you say that. She's mighty proud of her driving skills, even if me and Lucy end up being a little shaken around."
"A little shaking around won't do your brains any harm." Don clapped him on the shoulder with a broad smile. It pleased him to see only a trace this time of how much it had rankled with Danny at first that his wife had to drive him.
The joking remarks continuing between them, they made their way to the front door behind the Taylors and Lindsay. When neither she nor her husband showed any signs of turning back to the car, Don stopped, looking between them.
"Uh, guys? Haven't you forgotten a vital piece of luggage?" he asked. "Or is your daughter spending the vacation in the car? Don't know how much fun that's going to be for her..."
"Your humour don't improve, Flack," Danny retorted, leaning on his stick. "She's fine in the back seat for now. We'll let her sleep a while longer so we can get all the luggage in without her idea of helping. Once she's asleep, she's asleep. I'm telling you, that kid could sleep through an earthquake. Move her on the other hand, and she's awake and grumpy in seconds. We'll get unpacked then carry her upstairs."
"No need." Don motioned him through the front door. "You three have got a downstairs bedroom complete with en suite bathroom and dressing room off to the side, which will suit Luce perfectly. There's a cot set up in there for her already."
"You serious?" Danny stopped and swung round to face Don and a suspicious look crossed his face. "If you've gone to a heap of trouble, moving stuff downstairs just to accommodate me and my leg..."
Don held up his hands. "Swear to God, Messer, I did nothing of the sort, the room was already there. All I did was set up the cot. The folks who own this place used it for their eldest son. He was in the 17-18 war, got a shrapnel hit to the spine and was left paralysed. They fitted the room up for him and his wheelchair."
Danny gave him a quick, sharp look, and then his face relaxed and he conveyed his thanks with a rapidly spoken 'okay'.
Once Lindsay and Danny had been shown their room, many willing hands made light work of their unpacking. Lucy, true to her father's word, did not stir throughout. When all the cases were out of the car, Lindsay roused her daughter and carried her through to the sunlit living room.
Rubbing her eyes and pouting, Lucy nonetheless allowed herself to be greeted in a conventional fashion by Mac and Stella, and with a tickle and a swing up into the air from Don which improved her mood rapidly.
"Uncle Don," she protested with a giggle as he held her up in the air. "Mommy doesn't let Daddy do that."
"And Mommy hopes Uncle Don isn't going to make a habit of it, especially not after Daddy fed you cookies for lunch," Lindsay interrupted with a stern look in her face; although Don knew that her words were harsher than her intent. Still, he set Lucy down straight away
"Hear that, Luce? You better not be sick otherwise I'll be in big trouble with your Mommy," he said, giving a sly glance to Lindsay.
"I'm never sick," Lucy boasted. "Never, ever, never. Not even when I eat thismany doughnuts!" She held up all her fingers, leading to exaggerated gasps of disbelief from all the adults, much to the little girl's delight. With a titter behind hands now pressed to her mouth, she looked mischievously at Don who had knelt down in front of her.
"Well, let me tell you something kind of secret..." He leaned in close to her ear and she giggled again, wrapping one arm round his neck. "There was this one time when I was really, really hungry. And do you know how many doughnuts I ate?"
Lucy shook her head. "I ate..." Don dropped his voice even lower, "I ate...twenty-threedoughnuts."
Lucy clapped her hands over her mouth. "Uncle Don! Did you gotten a tummy ache and been sick?"
He rocked back on his heels and grinned at her. "Nope, not even a tiny bit. I had a real empty stomach that needed filling up with food."
Lucy patted her own stuck out stomach. "My stomach's empty right now. Can me and Uncle Don get something to eat?" To which Lindsay stuttered in disbelief and Danny chortled.
"Honey, your Uncle Don's stomach is never full. And if you're not careful," he continued, giving a tug to one of her pigtails, "And don't feed him enough, he gets hungry enough to eat little girls."
At that, Don made a move to grab her and with a squeal of excitement, Lucy darted away from him and dodged round the couch, and a game of chase ensued, which ended when Don collapsed on the floor with an exaggerated groan. Lying there, spread-eagled, he opened one eye a sliver, watching as Lucy approached him with great caution.
She hunkered down next to him, face serious. "Are you okay, Uncle Don?" she asked with her head on one side as she lifted one of his floppy arms and let it drop.
Pretending to be barely able to lift his head, he answered in a whisper that he might just be okay, if only he was able to have a plate of cookies...
It proved too much for Stella, who spluttered with laughter, triggering the same from the others. In the end, Don himself fetched the plate of cookies, offering them round first before he ate a few to ward off starvation.
Lucy settled between Lindsay and Stella on the couch. Still shy of Uncle Mac, the police officer, she pressed close to her mother when he asked what toys she had brought with her, answering, "lots," with huge eyes. To her Aunt Stella, however, she opened up much more; eagerly placing her small hand on Stella's stomach to feel the baby moving. A wriggle of delight followed when the baby obliged and kicked. Deluged by questions then about the tiny person growing inside her, Stella answered them amiably.
While she and Lindsay engaged in chatter with Lucy, Don and Mac accompanied Danny outdoors to smoke a cigarette. They returned to the strains of jazz music floating through the evening air and found Lucy dancing to the music that crackled from the old wireless tucked away in a cabinet. Lindsay and Stella watched, laughing as the little girl skipped and twirled; pointed her toes and pirouetted before she dropped to the floor in a giddy heap.
"We're having fun, Daddy!" Lucy beamed at her father, "Will you and Uncle Don dance with us?" she added scrambling to her feet.
"Why, I'd be honoured to dance with a lady like you." Don stooped and offered a genteel hand to her. "Would you do me the honour of this dance, Miss Lucy?"
"Yes Mr Uncle Don," she giggled and clasped his hands, the two of them embarking on an unusual waltz until Lucy went slack in Don's arms, declaring that her feet hurt, and Lindsay who had been watching with a mother's eye suggested bath and bed to her daughter with a gentle smile.
At the mention of the word 'bed', the little girl's face crumpled and tears spilled out of her eyes. But the brief squall was soon quelled after Lindsay murmured a few soothing words to her and with a pleading glance at Don, promised that her uncle would read her a story. He was happy to oblige and Lindsay led a sniffing Lucy from the room towards the kitchen, Don having offered the use of it for Lucy's supper.
Following their departure, he decanted drinks for himself and the others. Outside, the pinpricks of sound from the night-time insects provided a lulling backdrop and sipping his scotch and soda, he sauntered over to the window and stood gazing out. In the glass, his reflection watched him, a ghost amongst the shadowy view of the garden, darkly lit by the moon. Behind him were the figures of his friends, at which he half-smiled and pulled the curtains closed, sat back down and joined the conversation until, a little under an hour later, Lindsay re-entered the room and announced that Lucy was waiting for her Daddy and Uncle Don to say goodnight.
Outpacing Danny, it was Don who poked his head round the door of the dressing room first. "Hey, Luce, you still awake?"
Lucy gave a drowsy smile. "I'm awake."
Her nightlight emitted a soothing glow, and with amusement he kept hidden, Don saw there was barely room for the little girl's head on the pillow, so covered was it with stuffed animals of all species. Most, he knew, had been made by Lindsay; the others were gifts from him and friends who knew of Lucy's love of stuffed toys.
"You got to speak real quiet though," Lucy continued, folding her hands across her chest on the covers, "'cause the babies are asleep." She indicated the mute creatures behind her with a tilt of her head. Both men nodded seriously and Don bent to rescue a small pink rabbit which had tumbled to the floor.
"Still want a story, Luce?" he asked, wondering how long it would be before the sandman called.
She smiled and bobbed her head. "My book's on top of my trunk."
After locating the book, Don perched on a stool and once the rabbit was replaced on the pillow, he began. As he turned the final page, Lucy's eyelids were drooping.
"Did you like that?" he asked.
A dreamy smile appeared on her face as she nodded. "Those kitties were funny..."
And then her eyelids flew open. "Thank you for dancing with me, Uncle Don."
With a grin, he bent and kissed her forehead. "Any time, Luce. You're a swell dancer."
"You too." She smiled, which changed to a frown as she considered her uncle. "But you're too tall. My arms were stretched and I had to stand on my toes and it hurt them."
Don grinned at her aggrieved look. "Guess you'll just have to do some growing then, Munchkin, won't you?"
"I grow every day," Lucy said smugly. "Mommy says so. So I'll soon be as tall as you."
"That might take a few years yet," Don warned her, ruffling her fair curls. "You've got a lot of inches to grow before you're as tall as me."
Lucy sighed, eyes fluttering closed, her voice starting to slur. "Who're you going to dance with till I've growed tall?"
"Maybe," Danny said with a sideways grin at his friend, "Uncle Don might find a nice lady to dance with while he's waiting for you to grow tall."
"Mmm... maybe," Lucy mumbled. "But she's got to be ever so nice and pretty, too."
Don shook his head, embarrassed, and shot a glare at his friend even as he spoke gently to the little girl. "Sleep tight, Lucy-Lou and have happy dreams. Me and you can go exploring in the garden tomorrow and have some adventures like those kitties had. What do you think?"
"Nice..." Lucy murmured.
"Goodnight, honey," Danny kissed his daughter's cheek. A smile appeared on her face but her eyes stayed shut so the two men slipped out, pulling the door closed behind them.
"What?" Don caught sight of the amused look Danny was giving him.
"You're supposed to creep out of the room on tip toe when you've finished a story, not ask the kid whether they liked it or not," Danny said, tugging him away from the door. "Rule number one of bedtime story reading, according to Lindsay."
"She's asleep now," Don defended himself and Danny patted him on the back.
"It's a mistake I made many times. You'll learn." He gave Don a grin and a punch on the arm before limping ahead.
Don pulled a wry face and followed Danny back to the living room, where recovering his mood, he remembered his role as host and asked whether anyone was ready for dinner.
"Thought you'd never ask," Danny responded in high good humour before an inquisitive look came over his face. "Hey, how about over dinner you tell us what else you've found out about the house and that Angell kid who disappeared way back."
"You got it." Eager to tell them what he had found out about the years-old tragedy, Don ushered his party through to the dining room.
Thank you for reading! I'd love to hear what you think. Lily x