Even though he’d never met them before, he knew that they were Bradfords. The tales of the other side of Rory’s family were well known. They were often used to scare little children into behaving. If they didn’t, they knew the Bradfords would come and eat them. He was ashamed to admit that it worked on him when he was a kid. He’d even been warned away from Rory on his first day of preschool by all the other kids. They knew who Rory was. They’d been warned away from her because of the Bradfords and because her brothers would beat up anyone that messed with her, but he hadn’t cared. She’d been the prettiest little girl that he’d ever seen and he just had to push her and pull on her pigtails.
“Look, if you expect us to get in a decent day’s work then you’re going to have to feed us more than scraps,” the larger of the two men said as he tossed an empty cereal box on the counter with the rest of the empty packages.
“Scraps?” he repeated numbly. “The kitchen was full of food not even twenty minutes ago!”
“That was twenty minutes ago,” the other one said with a shrug as he pressed a hand against his stomach and headed for the door.
“Learn to keep up with the times, Roomie,” the larger one said with a mocking smile and a wink as he headed for the door, leaving Connor to process what he’d just said and when he did, he turned a glare back on Rory.
“What exactly does he mean by ‘Roomie’?” he demanded as Rory gave him another cute smile that set off warnings signals in his head.
“Well, while you were grabbing a shirt we talked it over and decided that it would probably be better if Trevor and Jason stayed with you,” she explained, looking at him, but not quite meeting his gaze.
“Why is that exactly?” he asked with his jaw set and his hands clenched tightly into fists as he patiently waited for the woman that he loved to explain why she just screwed him over.
“If they stay with me then everyone will figure out who they are and we’ll lose the extra help.”
“And we’ll also face a night in jail, a large fine and community service,” he said, dryly, noting her wince.
“I’d actually forgotten about the community service part,” she admitted with a frown, but it quickly disappeared as she waved off what he said. “Don’t worry about it. No one is going to figure out who they are. We’ll get the help we need and everything will be fine.”
He cocked a brow as he looked pointedly around his now barren kitchen. “How exactly do you propose that we hide this little problem of theirs?”
She worried her bottom lip as she followed his gaze. “It will be fine,” she said, but she didn’t sound like she believed it. “We’ll just keep both houses filled with food and avoid taking them out to eat in public. As long as they don’t get hungry, we should be fine.”
“How exactly do you propose keeping one Bradford, never mind two, full?”
Her answering smile nearly undid him, but her next words had him cursing up a storm.
* * * *
“So, you think you’re good enough for our cousin?” Jason asked, offhandedly as Connor pulled his truck into the parking spot of the wholesale food store, wondering how exactly he let Rory talk him into this bullshit.
He remembered putting his foot down and telling her that there was no way in hell that he was going to harbor Bradfords when the kissing started. He barely remembered the rest of their conversation, but he definitely remembered the way she yanked his mouth down to hers and kissed him until he forgot about her cousins, his empty refrigerator and everything else that no longer mattered. He would have made love to her on his kitchen table if the bastard sitting next to him hadn’t stormed back into the house and demanded that they feed him.
“Yes,” he answered, deciding to be honest and noting twin looks of surprise on her cousins’ faces. No doubt they thought he was going to give them a kiss ass answer, but he didn’t play those games and never would.
“Why exactly is that?” Trevor, the larger of the two, asked, looking seriously pissed off by Connor’s answer. Well, that was too f**king bad because it was true.
“Because I piss her off,” he said with a shrug, shutting the engine down and grabbing his keys.
Instead of getting angry and tearing into him like any sane relative would have done, her cousins’ glares turned into shit eating grins. They shared a quick look, nodded and focused back on him which was kind of unnerving and he really wished that they’d rode with Rory instead. They’d insisted on riding with him and he’d just assumed that they were going to try and kill him. He’d been fine with that, expected it even.
“You’re that scrawny kid that crashed our family reunion, aren’t you?” Trevor asked, chuckling as he leaned forward and rested his elbows on his knees while he considered Connor.
“I wasn’t scrawny,” he bit out tightly.
Jason shrugged. “Compared to us you were.”
“Point taken,” he sighed with a nod.
“You know, you were lucky that Grandma Beth showed up when she did, don’t you?” Trevor asked, and Connor couldn’t help but wonder if either one of these men was one of the large boys that had been ready to tear him apart with their bare hands all those years ago. A couple of them got in a few good punches before this sweet little old woman put an end to it. She swatted the much larger boys away and even demanded that they help him to his feet. Of course when the boys explained why they wanted to kill him, the sweet little woman reached up, grabbed him by the ear, twisted it and dragged him the half mile back to their campsite where Mr. James and a very pissed off and embarrassed Rory waited.
By the time she released his ear, it had been numb, but at least he’d managed to tell his side of the story. It probably stopped Mr. James from killing him, but it didn’t stop the man from grabbing a few of his large relatives and hunting down the real culprits. They hadn’t believed that he wasn’t the one spying on Rory as she changed out of her bathing suit. When he showed them that his hands were bloody and raw from beating the shit out of the two men that he’d caught watching her, they believed him.
“You really should have told us why you were there,” Jason said around a bored yawn. “We probably wouldn’t have made you cry like that if we had.”
“I wasn’t crying, ass**le!” he snapped back, still pissed after all these years about the ten hours he was forced to wait at the campsite while every single Bradford and James taunted him for crying.
“Really? Then why were tears streaming down your face?” Trevor asked as his attention went to searching the glove compartment for something to eat.
“Because one of you dumb bastards shoved my head in the pond! That was pond water streaming down my face!”
“Are you sure? Because I could have sworn that I heard you sobbing,” Trevor said, letting out a disappointed sigh when he didn’t find anything to eat in the glove compartment.
“That’s what it sounded like to me,” Jason agreed, gesturing for Trevor to get out of the truck.
“I was embarrassed for you,” Trevor admitted, his tone laced with pity as he opened the door and jumped out.
“I wasn’t sobbing, you ass**le! I was choking on the slimy pond water one of you forced down my throat!”
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