When everyone was inside, Nathan produced a gift bag each. Some included an elegant assortment of chocolates filled with brandy or rum, others were alcohol-free. Designer choco with specialty coffee along with bottled Cognac, Brandy and Rum filled others. Each gift bag contained a special Christmas saying he’d printed on a copy of one of his paintings.
He listened to the oohs and aahs, touched at the sincerity of each recipient. There was the occasional kibitz as someone tried to exchange an item given to another, immediately and hotly contested. One by one they turned and thanked Nathan individually.
Emma sidled up close and dropped a simple but heartfelt kiss on his cheek. He turned encompassing her in a delightful happy smile that reached his eyes, warming her inside out. “You’re a most surprising and wonderful man.” She delivered a massive hug with one arm, her gift bag containing an assortment of bottled wine and a delightful card depicting her enchantment during one of the lighting ceremonies inside.
Since they were willing to share, the entire array of presents were placed on the table along with plates, shortbread cookies, coffee cups and from somewhere, brandy snifters and beautiful elegant glasses from which to imbibe.
Jake took him aside when everyone else was involved and asked what was going on. Nathan didn’t have an answer as Jim hadn’t called or returned. He was about to go in search of Jim himself when he arrived at the door, shaking accumulated snow off his hat and coat before stepping inside.
Nathan moved nonchalantly toward him, offering him a huge gift bag. Inside Jim found a bottle of Brandy with a note attached (to warm you), a box of truffles (for sharing), a puzzle (for alone time) and a pair of black leather gloves with finger grips (use your imagination).
Jim laughed heartily before placing all but the gloves into the mix. He walked to Nathan and hugged him with warmth. “Thanks, Nathan. Really appreciate this.”
Nathan returned his hug and grasped his shoulders, “Your welcome, my friend.”
When the time was right, they wandered off to look out the window and Jim filled him in. Someone made it through their lines and managed to get into the woods close to where they’d been playing. One of his team followed the tracks in but couldn’t find where they went from there, they simply vanished. Jim followed the tracks to one of the massive trees several feet inside the forest with a clear view of the participants. After scrutinizing the tracks, it was evident that the perp had backtracked, using the very footsteps he’d entered with. Most had a double depth with the fit not always right, close but not exact. It obviously took the guy several minutes to back out carefully and very skillfully.
He hadn’t been spotted so they had no idea who they were looking for just that someone had been close enough to witness the family’s antics. Nathan was surprised. His team was the best there was. That someone managed to get by them disturbed him. He suggested Jim call in a few more people. They were approaching a whole new level of possibilities.