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Reidar Falke took a swig of ice-cold beer and leaned back in their usual U-shaped booth with a satisfied sigh. "That hit the spot." He pushed his emptied plate aside and waited for his brother Kelan to finish off the last of his own meal.
The Tap 'n Tine was their favorite Leavenworth hole-in-the-wall and the preferred Falke family rendezvous point after long hours spent catering to tourists at Catamount Outfitters.
His two youngest brothers, Sindre and Torsten, arrived and slid into the booth, each one with matching mugs of golden, foam-topped heaven. Gunnar had been invited too, but he'd opted out to check in with their eldest sibling, Axel, who'd taken the day offan advantage to being the alpha and majority owner of the family business.
"You're late," Reidar told the new arrivals. "We decided not to wait." Torsten and Sindre both scowled at him.
Kelan grinned and glanced at their younger brothers. "Lookin' a little damp around the collar, guys."
Sindre narrowed his eyes. "You misled us about the Kramers and their rafting trip."
"Yeah," Torsten added, "those 'beautiful daughters' you raved about, Kel, are preteens."
"Hey, I don't recall anyone asking me how old they were, and I didn't lie. They're pretty." He cast a smirk at Reidar. "Cute as a button."
Reidar chuckled and drank his beer. As part of their jobs, the brothers often teamed up in pairs to take tourists on guided hikes into the national forest or on white water rafting expeditions down river. In most cases, the trips were routine, easy. But when children were added to the mix, easy was seldom a description that fit.
"Cute Sure they're cute!" Torsten glared. "And totally useless when trying to steer a raft through rapids."
"God, the squeals." Sindre cringed at the memory and ran fingers through his damp hair. "My ears are still ringing."
Reidar shook his head. His youngest brothers were so dramatic and always fun to tease. "At least you got to be outdoors today. You could've been cooped up at the store facing flashbulbs all day." With the two of them conned into taking the rafting job, and Axel taking yet another day off for reasons he wouldn't share, Kelan and Gunnar had manned the store, leaving him shifted into catamount form as Falke, the store's furry and fanged security system. "That new ad campaign has really brought in the traffic. I swear I'm still seeing spots."
"Quit whining." Kelan rolled his eyes and then pointed at their siblings. "You two survived. Besides, you won the job fair and square. I asked for best two out of three, and you both said no."
The game of Rock, Paper, Scissors had become a family tradition, started by their mother, to resolve disputes in the Falke household. With six rambunctious boys, all with the ability to turn into fierce cougars, settling conflicts in non-violent ways had been a must to preserve individual health and the family unit, not to mention furniture and windows.
Now as men, somewhat more mature in handling their wilder natures, the brothers honored their mother's memory by using the game as a fun way to settle matters at work.
"How were we to know"
"Maybe next time," Reidar said, interrupting Torsten, "you'll make sure to know what the clients look like and how old they are before you do battle over who gets the job."