“Not scare exactly,” Gray said, and paused. “Maybe intimidate. Just a little bit.”

“That’s … horrible,” Lily said.

“She’s not in a dating place,” Aidan said. “She’s … healing.”

“She’s fine,” Lily said, and when Aidan and Gray just stared at her she said, “She is! I did her hair for tonight and she’s great, actually.”

Shelly snorted as she walked by on the other side of the bar. “You gotta keep in mind that these two geniuses think their dear mama’s too old and feeble to do the nasty. A bad hip is a setback not a deterrent.”

Aidan shuddered.

Gray looked … well, gray. He gave Aidan a little push. “Get on with it. I gotta get back before Penny runs out of popcorn.”

Aidan walked the length of the bar and sat down on the empty barstool next to Marcus.

Marcus nodded at him.

Aidan nodded back.

“What happened?” Marcus asked. “You lose at rockpaper-scissors?”

Aidan’s gaze slid to Gray. “Uh—”

Gray jerked his chin as if to say, Go on, do it.

Lily rolled her eyes.

Marcus grinned and leaned back. “Well, let’s hear it already.”

“Hear what?”

“All the reasons why you think I shouldn’t date your mom. Does it have anything to do with the fact that I work for you?”

“No.”

“What then?” Marcus asked.

“She’s not up for it, for one thing,” Aidan said. “You shouldn’t have asked her out. You—”

“First of all, she asked me.” Marcus smiled when Aidan just stared at him slack-jawed. “That’s right. And I jumped on the chance. She’s funny, she’s warm and wonderful, and if you want the truth, she’s sexy as hell.”

Aidan scrubbed a hand over his face.

Marcus laughed softly as he leaned in closer. “Things don’t shrivel up just because you turn the big five-oh, you know. In fact, some things just get better with time. Your mama is one of them.”

Aidan closed his eyes. “I will pay you to stop talking.”

Marcus laughed again. “And I’ll pay you to still be sitting right here when she comes back from the restroom, because we both know she’s going to be pissed as hell at you.” He just grinned when Aidan made a sound of frustration. “Tell you what,” Marcus told Aidan. “You walk away right now and I won’t mention this to her.”

“Mention what?”

They both stilled at Char’s voice and then turned in unison to face her.

She stood, hands on her hips, glaring at Aidan. “Son,” she said evenly in that mom voice that mothers the world over have perfected.

“Hi, Mom.”

“Let me guess,” she said. “You’re here to say, ‘Have a good evening, love you, Mom,’ right?”

“Yes,” Marcus said, before Aidan uttered a word. “That’s exactly what he told me he was here to tell you.” Then he set his big hand in the middle of Aidan’s back and shoved him off the stool.

Aidan stood, towering over his mom but still feeling like he was two feet tall.

“Aw,” his mom said, softening, enveloping Aidan in a warm hug. “That’s sweet of you, baby.” Then she put her mouth to his ear. “Now I know that you and your brother are so full of poo your eyes are brown, so you listen up good. If you screw this night up for me, I’m going to put an ad in the paper saying you’re ready to get married and have kids and that all singles should apply. Especially the criers, the stage-five clingers, and poetry lovers.”

Aidan shook his head. “Been awhile since I’ve seen the ruthless side of you.”

“I know. So in case you’ve forgotten, I’ll remind you that you should be afraid, very afraid.” She cupped his cheek lightly and then tapped it—not so lightly. “Now go away, baby. The adults want to get back to their date.”

“Fine. Have it your way. But be careful, Mom, okay?” He leaned down to brush her cheek with a kiss and knew he didn’t imagine the way she clung to his arm just a moment longer than necessary.

Aidan made his way back to Gray. Lily and Jonathan were still there, as was Shelly, all of them watching him like he was better than a sitcom.

“Well?” Gray asked. “Did she understand—” He broke off, staring over Aidan’s shoulder across the bar. “What the—Aidan, why is Marcus putting his arm around Mom? And now he’s leaning in and— Shit, he’s going to kiss her! He is kissing her! What the hell did you say?”

Aidan just shook his head and looked at Shelly. “I really need a drink.”

She smiled evilly and produced two beers. Aidan reached to take one.

She slapped his hand away from it. “Not that one. That one’s Gray’s.” She handed it to his brother. Then she held out the second.

Aidan stared at it. “Do I even want to know what you’ve done to this one?” he asked.

She smiled. “Nope.”

Shit. He set the beer down.

Lily stood and kissed Jonathan on the cheek. “Well, this has been enlightening, but I’m out.”

Aidan started to follow her, but Gray stood up and got in his way.

“What are you doing?” Aidan asked.

“Stopping you from making your second mistake for the evening.”

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