THE COSTASES' BACKYARD was packed with people all circling the capuchin monkey, who was performing on a makeshift stage set up on the green grass. Though a party would always draw a crowd, these folks had been excited to see Spank, a monkey with a fondness for mooning anyone in sight. Zoe Costas stood with her twin sister, Ari, and watched the capuchin perform in honor of their foster sister Sam's fourteenth birthday.
Sam missed the monkey since Spank had been forced to move out of the Costas family home after they discovered that owning a pet monkey violated the law. Since Sam had lost too many people and things in her young life, they still tried to maintain her strong bond with the animal, whom she loved dearly. Zoe kept in touch with the trainer who'd taken the monkey, and she made sure Spank was present on special occasions like today.
Zoe glanced at her foster sister and smiled. They were celebrating Sam's first anniversary as part of the family and Zoe was glad the teenager would get to experience a spirited celebration surrounded by people who cared about her. The young girl had come to Zoe's parents through Quinn Donovan, Ari's husband. They'd taken the young girl in and now Zoe's parents were on the road to adoption.
But Sam had been in foster care for six years, unwanted for too long and so distrustful she acted out and tested the family in every way possible. Only lately had she begun to trust and settle into the crazy Costas clan.
Someone in the audience whistled and Spank dropped her pants, then the monkey smacked her bottom with both of her hands.
Ari groaned and covered her eyes.
Zoe chuckled. "You lived with Spank last year. I would have thought you were way past being mortified," she said, unable to hold back a grin.
Ari shrugged. "What can I say? Spank always takes me by surprise."
"That's because you still expect everyone around you to be sane and calm." Zoe waved a finger in front of her twin's face. "It's your shrink training," she said.
"You say that like expecting normalcy is a crime."
Zoe laughed. "Shame, shame, Ariana. You ought to know better than to expect the ordinary from anyone named Costas."
"Frankly, accepting the family's unique qualities has done wonders to help my own sanity."
After a period of estrangement, they could finally talk and joke about Ari's saner tendencies. Her twin had always been the straitlaced sister, the one who felt she didn't fit into their eccentric family. As a result she'd moved to Vermont , far from the Jersey Shore , and kept her distance from the Costas clan, Zoe included. But it was Zoe's recent so-called disappearance that had brought Ari home to stay. Zoe welcomed the chance to renew the closeness they'd shared as young children.
Suddenly Ari nudged her sister in the ribs and pointed toward Spank, who was spitting into the crowd.
Zoe cringed. "Like I said, ordinary and the name Costas do not go hand in hand."
"Would it do any good to remind you that Spank the monkey is not a relative?" Ari ran a hand through the long, black hair she'd grown back after trying a bob a few months back. Now the twins looked even more alike again, something Zoe loved, since she felt it helped strengthen their bond.
"Look, Ari, the family may no longer perform their Atlantic City Boardwalk Addams Family Act, but Dad is still as bald as Uncle Fester, Mom still wiggles her hips like Morticia, and Aunt Dee swears that Great-Aunt Deliria was engaged to a chimp, which means Spank could very well be a long-lost relative."
Ari sighed. "Spank's a capuchin not a chimp."
"And your last name once was Costas. Nothing is as it seems," Zoe said, laughing.
"She's got a point," their mother, Elena, said, joining her daughters just as Spank's first act ended.
"Hi, Mom," Ari said.
"Hi," Zoe echoed.
"My beautiful girls." Elena enveloped them in a hug, made more suffocating by the long, flowing sleeves of the kimonos she favored now that she'd packed away her Morticia Addams black dresses.
Zoe supposed the outfits had something to do with owning a spa and working as a licensed masseuse. But she wasn't certain what that connection was any more than she knew why her mother had decided to wear her geisha-girl outfit to Sam's birthday party. And darned if she'd ask. Nobody could stop Elena's wacky ways and, in truth, nobody tried. In their small hometown of Ocean Isle, New Jersey, everyone expected the Costas family to act, well, odd. Zoe had long since stopped trying to figure out their eccentric mother. She'd rather just love her instead.
"I've come up with the perfect name for your new business," Elena said to Zoe.
After years of working for the Secret Service, protecting government officials visiting New Jersey , she'd begun to chafe under the tight rules and regulations. No surprise there since she was a Costas and liked to do things her own way. Her new business would give her the opportunity to do just that. She and her partners would be protecting visiting stars and dignitaries on their trips to Atlantic City 's casinos.
"I heard that." Quinn, Ari's ex-cop husband, came up beside his wife and pulled her against his side. "What wacky idea have you got this time?" he asked his mother-in-law.
Elena raised her arms, as though on stage. "Safe Sex— protection is our business," she said, punctuating each word with her hands. "So what do you think?" her mother asked, smiling proudly at her idea.
Quinn blinked. His hazel eyes focused on Elena as if she were insane, although he knew better. He'd married Ari knowing full well the family was merely eccentric.
Connor Brennan, who Zoe hadn't realized had joined them, choked on his cola. Connor was Quinn's best friend. They'd grown up in the same foster-care system and had worked together as detectives for the police department. As partners with Zoe in the new venture, both Connor and Quinn had a vested interest in the business Elena wanted to name.
Zoe knew better than to dignify her mother's idea with a response or she'd start expanding on it and before Zoe knew it, a Safe Sex sign would be hanging over their new office space and the cops would arrive to shut them down.
"Mom, don't you have more important things to do? Like corralling Sam's friends for cake?" She pointed to the group of teenage girls gathered in the yard.
"Good idea. I'll get the kids," Ari said, escaping while she had the chance.
Elena patted Zoe's cheek. "Okay, I can see you aren't ready to talk business. Later, then. But you should think about registering the name before somebody else takes it."
"Like who? A p**n shop?" Zoe asked, raising an eyebrow.