Sitting down at the breakfast table, I watched him work. He seemed completely at ease in the kitchen, and for a guy as big and strong as Knox, it was a bit of an anomaly. One I very much liked. His domestic nature, despite being a rugged bad-boy, was just another thing I loved about him.

Luke and Jaxon entered the kitchen and gave me only a brief strange look when they saw me and realized that I must have spent the night. “Hey, McKenna.” Luke smiled.

“Hey, Luke.”

Jaxon grabbed an apple from the kitchen counter and began slicing it into chunks while simultaneously sizing me up.

“Fuck!” he cursed, dropping the knife and holding his finger up to inspect.

I jumped from my seat and crossed the room to where Jaxon stood. “Did you cut yourself?”

He shrugged, turning on the faucet to rinse his hand under cool water. “It’s nothing.”

“At least let me have a look.” I took his hand, all but forcing him to let me see. These boys were so brave, so independent, that they didn’t want to have to rely on anyone for anything. They’d been hurt so badly losing their parents. They were afraid to need anyone. The slice through the pad of his index finger wasn’t deep, but was bleeding pretty steadily. “I think I can bandage this up pretty quick, it doesn’t look too bad.”

“Nah, I’m okay. Luke, hit me with that paper towel.”

“Man-daid?” Luke asked, tossing a roll of paper towel across the kitchen to Jaxon.

Jaxon nodded and began wrapping several sheets around his bloodied finger.

“Man-daid?” I asked, watching their exchange.

“Yeah, like a Band-Aid, but for real men. Paper towel and duct tape.” Luke smiled, tossing Jaxon a roll of duct tape from a nearby drawer.

Jaxon used the tape to secure the paper towel in place. “See?” He held up the digit. “All good.”

I shook my head, giggling at their inventiveness. “What about your breakfast?” I asked, looking over at the discarded chunks of apple on the counter.

Jaxon shrugged. “I’ll grab something later.”

“Have a good day at school, boys.”

Knox met me in the kitchen where I was tidying up after the boys.

He scooped me up in his arms, wrapping me tightly in a hug. “You don’t have to do that.”

“It’s not a problem.” I liked helping, feeling useful like this.

“About last night.” His hand closed over mine, stopping me from wiping down the counter so I met his eyes. “Thank you for telling me about your parents.”

I nodded. I hadn’t wanted to tell him – not because I was set on keeping my past hidden, no, he’d been too open with me to do that. But because I knew he’d look at me differently once he knew. I’d seen it before – once people found out, their looks changed to ones of pity, of sadness. I couldn’t stand the thought of Knox looking at me like that. But instead he’d just pulled me close and let me cry big soggy tears that rolled down my cheeks and stained his T-shirt. It had been exactly what I needed.

“Let me check on Tucker one more time and then I’ll drive you home.”

“Okay.” I followed him up the stairs, wanting to say goodbye to Tucker myself.

We found him curled on his side, the trash can Knox had set next to his bed thankfully still empty.

“How ya feeling, buddy?” Knox sat down on the edge of his bed, handing him a stuffed teddy bear that had fallen to the floor.

Tucker wrapped his arms around the bear and closed his eyes. “The same. Tummy still hurts.”

Knox pulled the blankets up higher around Tucker’s shoulders. “I’ve got to take McKenna home and then I’ll be right back. You need me to get you anything before we go?”

Tucker’s eyes latched onto mine. He was like a mini-version of Knox, and even at eight years old, it was easy to see that he’d grow into a very handsome man, just like his older brothers. Seeing them together made my chest feel tight. Knox was so sweet, so gentle, and watching him care for his brother was the most wonderful sight. He was beautiful to me in that moment. It took me a second to realize Tucker was asking about me.

“Why does McKenna have to leave?” he asked, his features painted in confusion.

“She has to go to work today,” Knox explained.

“But you don’t, right?”

Knox shook his head. “I took the day off. I’m staying home with you today. We can watch a movie later if you want.”

I bent down and placed my hand on Tucker’s forehead, checking for a temperature. He didn’t seem overly warm. “I promise I’ll come back and check on you. Feel better, okay?”

He nodded, fixing on a brave face. “Bye, Kenna.”

“Nikki’s going to come over while I’m gone. Just in case, all right, buddy?”

Tucker nodded bravely.

Knox led the way downstairs and we dressed ourselves in coats and shoes, waiting by the front door for his neighbor Nikki.

Knox leaned closer, tucking stray strands of hair behind my ears. “I’m sorry we got interrupted last night. Maybe we can finish our conversation tonight?”

I wondered which part he was sorry got interrupted – our intimate moment or the conversation about my parents? I merely nodded my agreement. Moments later, his young neighbor Nikki let herself in the front door, her baby daughter Bailee balanced on her hip. The baby looked just like her mom – both were pretty with blonde ringlets and big blue eyes. I wasn’t sure why, but I hadn’t realized his neighbor was gorgeous. She eyed me carefully while Knox took the baby so she could remove her jacket.


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