“Sam, this is Kate,” Declan says, smiling at our nephew. “She’s a very good friend of the family.”
“It’s a pleasure, ma’am.” He holds out his hand to shake Kate’s, making us all grin. Gabby’s raising Sam very well.
“The pleasure is all mine, Sam. It’s nice to meet you.”
“What were you saying about your baseball?”
Sam smiles widely, the excitement filling his dark brown eyes again. “It hit the roof and then rolled off and I caught it!”
“Good job,” Kate says with a smile. God, her smile kills me every time, even when it’s aimed at someone else.
“Don’t you hit any of my windows, now,” Mom warns and kisses Sam’s head as she passes back into the kitchen.
“No, Nannan,” Sam agrees. “I’m still working off the last window.” He cringes and glances at his mom.
“He broke another window?” Charly asks with a laugh.
“Hey, don’t laugh, that’s the third one in six months,” Gabby replies, but can’t help the smile that forms on her pretty, young face.
“I do chores to pay for them,” Sam informs us all. “When can we have pie?”
“Come on, shorty.” Declan snags Sam’s ball from his mitt. “Let’s go out and toss some.”
“You don’t have a mitt!”
“I’ll make do.” Dec winks at Kate, setting my teeth on edge, and follows Sam outside.
“Lance isn’t coming?” Beau asks Van. She just shakes her head no, and Beau’s gaze meets mine.
Yeah, he and I are going to have to have a conversation with Lance soon. Something’s going on there, and it isn’t good. Seeing Van hurting is killing all of us.
“I got some new shoes in, ladies,” Charly says with a sly smile. “Some really gorgeous, knock you on your behind, beautiful shoes.”
“I’ll be there tomorrow,” Van says and links her arm through Kate’s. “I’ll bring Kate too. We’ll clean you out.”
“Not fair,” Gabby says with a scowl. “This is what sucks about living so far out of town. I don’t get to just walk down the street and shop.”
“I brought you some in your size,” Charly replies and winks at our baby sister. “I can’t have you living in the Bayou with ugly shoes.”
“You’re my favorite sibling. You know that, right?”
“Hey!” Beau scowls at Gabby and wags his sharp knife at her. “I’m the one that lives out there with you, so you’re not alone, and commute in to work every day.”
“I’ve been telling you for months to move into town,” Gabby replies and leans her elbows on the counter.
“I don’t want you out there by yourself either,” I reply. “You and Sam alone in the Bayou makes us all nervous.”
“I’m not alone. I run a very successful bed and breakfast, thank you very much. There are always people around.”
“People we don’t know,” Charly replies, and Mama nods in agreement.
“We love you, babe,” Mama adds and cups Gabby’s face in her hand. “Beau’s keeping you safe.”
“Beau needs to get himself a woman and leave me alone,” Gabby replies, glaring at Beau, who just shakes his head and laughs.
“Tell me about the bed and breakfast,” Kate says and fishes a carrot out of the salad bowl. God, I love her appetite. She looks amazing today in a soft, flowy black skirt and a green button-down top with a black belt cinched around her slim waist. She left her hair down and applied minimal makeup, leaving her gorgeous freckles uncovered, and has clear gloss on her lips.
Fuck, I want to kiss those lips.
“I turned the family plantation house into an inn,” Gabby replies proudly. We’re all fucking proud of her. Inn Boudreaux is thriving and booked solid for months.
“Oh, that’s awesome,” Kate says. “I bet it’s amazing. Is it right on the river?”
“Yes. You can’t see the river because of the levy, but yes. Guests love the old oak trees, and we’ve restored some of the slave quarters and stuff so they can also wander around and learn about the plantation.”
“I’d love to see it,” Kate says, and I immediately decide to take her out there next weekend. She’ll love it. “Maybe I can get my parents to come visit and stay out there. It would be right up their alley.”
“Are they still in Ireland?” Savannah asks.
“Yes, and they love it there. But I miss them.”
“What about Rhys?” Charly asks, as Gabby and I set the table and Mama sets bowls and platters full of way too much food on the table as well. I still at Charly’s question and watch Kate.
“He’s great. Busy. I haven’t seen him in a couple months.”
“He’s adorable,” Charly says with a grin. “In a sexy, delicious kind of way. Is he available?”
“This is Rhys we’re talking about,” Kate says with a laugh. “Who knows? But I was able to FaceTime with him last night, and he looks as great as ever, and still stubborn as heck.”
So, she was FaceTiming with this Rhys guy.
None of my business.
“Boys!” Mama calls out the back door. “Dinner’s ready! Come eat these groceries!”
Kate sits next to me at the table and smiles up at me sweetly, and I find myself returning it, despite this perpetual frustration I can’t shake.
“You okay?” she asks softly.
“Why wouldn’t I be?”
“You haven’t said two words to me since I got here.”
“Hello, Kate.” She narrows her eyes and tilts her head, but before she can ask any further questions, Sam and Declan join us and we all dig in. I glance up to find Charly watching Kate and me with a raised brow, but I shake my head, giving her the silent message to leave it be, and eat silently.
Kate laughs, asking more questions about Gabby’s inn, Charly’s shop, and how Sam likes the second grade, charming my whole family. How has she been friends with Dec and Van for so long and I’d never met her before?
Because you’ve been too busy keeping the business the way Dad wanted you to.
“Eli, you’re more quiet than normal,” Mama says softly, watching me with shrewd eyes. “What’s going on with you?”
I shake my head and wipe my mouth with a napkin. “Just the same old thing, Mama.”