Protect Me (Rivers Edge Book 4)(4)

By: Lacey Black

Will is a paramedic and a couple of years younger than me. He’s also the only other single one left which, I guess, kinda bonds us together and shit. Will is quiet and more reserved. Not like me. But, we have the same work ethic. Work hard. Work often. Do your job right. Hell, we’re all like that. It’s one of the best qualities we inherited from our dad.

Finally, there is Avery. She is married to Maddox who happens to be Jake’s best friend. You should have seen the shit hit the fan when Avery and Maddox started sneaking around behind everyone’s back. It got ugly for Maddox. Ugly in the form of a black and blue eye and swollen face. Avery found herself pregnant with my niece, Brooklyn - or Bean as we all like to call her - when she was only eighteen. Wanna elevate my blood pressure to stroke level? Start talking about her loser ex-boyfriend, Drake Connor. Thankfully, we don’t have to worry too much about him. Oh, he’s still around and we run into his ugly mug every once in awhile, but we don’t have to worry about him causing trouble for Avery and Brooklyn. The second the marriage certificate was signed, Maddox started the adoption process. Bean is Maddox’s daughter in every way that counts.

This past March, Avery gave birth to my other nephew, Ryder. He looks just like Maddox with his dark hair, yet with Avery’s blue eyes. On Sunday, I got to roll around on the floor with him. He’s so close to crawling it’s not even funny. I can’t wait to sit back and watch when he officially becomes mobile and starts terrorizing their home.

As I approach the heart of downtown Rivers Edge, I see the lights already on inside of Purely Sweet, the small bakery that my mom started almost two decades ago. Mom recently decided to step back from the business, turning it over to my little sister. I haven’t stopped in to say hello lately. When Mom worked the morning shift, I always stopped on my way home from work to steal a cinnamon roll and a cup of decaf. With Avery still learning the ropes, I’ve tried to give her some space, especially because she’s not exactly a morning person. Plus, I’ve been so damn exhausted lately that I thought it’d be best to just bypass the bakery all together and head home to pass out. I know she’s looking to hire someone to open the store for her. Her plan is to work the midmornings and afternoons while the kids are in school or daycare.

I yawn again as I pull up in front of the bakery. It’s barely six-thirty in the morning and the front door is still locked, though it should be unlocked any minute. I head down the block, around the corner, and down the alley towards the back entrance.

When I reach the back door, I wrap my large paw around the doorknob and give it a push. I’m instantly assaulted by the scent of vanilla, sugar, and coffee. Mom’s recipes for sweet rolls, cakes, and cookies are legendary in this town. Avery made no changes to the menu or the recipes. Hell, she grew up on these recipes that have been in our family for generations and wouldn’t change a measurement a fraction of a unit.

I step through the doorway and walk into the large, warm kitchen. The small stereo over the sink is playing some twangy country crap, but I don’t see Avery anywhere. I walk through the kitchen and head towards the front where the display cases and a handful of small tables are located. Just as I start to push through the swinging door and into the front room, I hear a small noise behind me like a floorboard squeaking. I slowly start to turn around when…Wham-O! Something very large and very hard slams into the side of my head. I turn around fully, wondering what in the hell just happened, when I catch another solid blow to the back of my skull. Pain vibrates through my entire head and down my body causing me to drop to my knees instantly.

“What the hell!?” I shout. I stare at the blurred figure in front of me. It’s definitely a woman, but for some reason, I see three of her.

The woman drops the pan on the floor, terror written all over her beautiful face, and starts to back away. She’s ready to bolt, I can see it even through the haze. She’s shaking like a leaf, her bluish gray eyes filled with fear.

I shake my head to try to clear the fog and reach out for her. She turns and runs towards the back door.

“Wait! Who the hell are you? And where the hell is my sister?” I ask as I give my noggin one final, firm shake.

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