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In fact, every ban and restriction in town had been lifted. People were still placing bets on them, but at least they could now go to whatever restaurant or store they wanted to without worrying about restrictions. They hadn’t had much time to enjoy the bans being lifted, but they did manage to grab dinner at Steph's Diner last Tuesday, a place neither had been allowed to set foot in, in over five years and they even went grocery shopping together. Granted, on both occasions the managers had assigned someone to watch their every move and follow them, but still, it was progress.

“You just want to see if Henderson still has those little chocolate balls that you used to love, don’t you?” Connor asked, chuckling softly as he pulled into Henderson’s cracked parking lot.

“No, I’m just hungry,” she only partially lied because she planned on getting three bags of those delicious little chocolate balls and eating every last one of them.

“Uh huh, sure,” he said, smiling that sexy smile of his as he handed her two twenties.

Frowning, she asked, “You’re not coming in?” and nearly cringed at how needy she sounded. She wanted to share this with him, to enjoy visiting her favorite childhood store with him.

“Sorry, baby,” he said, leaning over and kissing her, “but someone has to keep your brothers from going in there and getting you banned again.”

She looked past him to see Craig’s truck parked next to them and when she saw the anticipatory gleams on her brothers’ faces she realized that the man had a point. They’d hound her in that store and do their best to talk some sense into her, which of course would annoy her and cause her to do something stupid like getting banned again.

“I won’t be long,” she promised with a pleased smile as she climbed out of the truck and made a beeline for the old familiar white door that used to welcome her as a child. Bryce almost managed to cut her off, but Connor was there a split second before her brother could reach for her.

Knowing that she probably only had a few minutes before her brothers managed to plow past Connor and start the next round of lectures, she quickly made her way through the old country store. She ignored both the curious and frightened looks of patrons and employees and focused on filling her hand basket with chocolate balls, a freshly made bag of donuts that were still warm, ordered two hot cocoas, grabbed some penny candy, a few small white boxes of fruit filled pastries, a couple of waters and a bag of homemade mini peanut butter cups, Connor’s favorite, and quickly paid.

“You better watch your back, bitch,” Johnny said, stressing bitch when she opened the door and stepped out into the parking lot.

As soon as her brothers saw her, they backed away from Connor who’d done an amazingly wonderful job of keeping her brothers off her back. Then again, judging by the murderous glares that her brothers were sending Connor, they’d probably forgotten all about her and got carried away with another one of their threat sessions that were more annoying than anything.

“Are those donuts for us?” Brian asked, shifting anxiously as his greedy eyes locked on the bag in her hands.

“Nope,” she said, smiling when her brothers turned murderous glares on her. “I’d hurry up if I were you. They only have two bags left,” she lied, knowing that it was the only way to put some space between them, for a while at least.

Her brothers stood there a moment longer, obviously struggling with the need to keep a close eye on the two of them, but the smell of warm sweet donuts perfumed the air and took the decision out of their hands. In the end, the donuts won and the shoving match began. They didn’t stick around to see who won.

“Are you okay?” she asked as she handed Connor a warm donut a few minutes later, noting that he looked sad, again. That expression was becoming more common these days and it was breaking her heart.

“Yeah, I’m fine,” he said, forcing a smile as he accepted the donut.

“We don’t have to go if you don’t want to,” she said, hoping that she’d kept the disappointment out of her tone while she said it. She wanted to go. She loved her family, missed them, but she loved Connor more and didn’t want to see him sad.

Connor shook his head. “No, it’s fine, Rory.”

“Are you sure?” she asked, worrying her bottom lip.


She almost asked if this was about Andrew, but decided that she didn’t want to spend their first real day off together fighting. With the way that Andrew was acting she knew that it was only a matter of time before they came to blows over what to do. Until then, she just wanted to enjoy her time with Connor.

* * * *

He really was a scrawny bastard, he decided as he climbed out of his truck and found himself for the second time in his life, surrounded by dozens of Bradfords. They were everywhere. Most of them were eating, but a lot of them were setting up the neighboring sites that they’d reserved for the reunion with dozens of grills, coolers, tables, a volleyball net, more food and……

Was that a butcher setting up near the grills?

Judging by his collection of knives, his apron and the fact that the short pudgy man was definitely not a Bradford, he would have to say yes. It was definitely going to be a long and interesting day, he thought as he walked around the truck to help Rory out. He had the door opened and was reaching for a smiling Rory when he suddenly found himself picked up and moved aside like he weighed nothing instead of two-hundred and twenty pounds. It was a bit unnerving, but not as unnerving as the wall of muscle that suddenly came between him and Rory.

He heard an excited squeal the same time that he saw Rory’s arms wrap around the bastard’s neck. The man pulled her out, returned her hug as he turned around and placed her on her feet right next to Connor.

“Hey, Jason, how’s it going?” he asked, pleased when Rory released her hold on her cousin and wrapped her arm around his.

Jason grinned, looking a hell of a lot happier than he had the last time that they'd seen him a few weeks ago. The man had missed his wife and it had taken its toll on him. By the time his week of working for them was over, Jason was exhausted and his appetite had been pretty much nonexistent, making everyone worry. It turned out that the lovesick bastard missed his wife and couldn’t sleep without her. He was glad to see Jason back to being Jason. Sure the man embarrassed the living hell out of him and would annoy the shit out of anyone just for the hell of it, but he genuinely liked the ass**le.

“It’s good to see you, Connor,” Jason said, reaching out and shaking his hand. “Didn’t think we’d be seeing you here today. Thought my cousins would make sure that you…..that you…..,” Jason broke off, frowning as he scented the air. “Is that cinnamon, sugar and fruit filling that I’m smelling?” he asked, turning his back on them and focusing his attention on searching through Connor’s truck.

Connor was already stepping back and taking Rory with him when several large men around them suddenly stopped, sniffed the air and growled out, “Cinnamon donuts.”

“Let’s go see if my dad is here yet,” Rory said, sounding upbeat and happy while he resigned himself to the day of hell and his truck being ransacked by Bradfords.

* * * *

“Are you hiding from me or my boys?” the man that he wanted to deck asked as he stepped up beside him.

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