Protect Me (Rivers Edge Book 4)(9)

By: Lacey Black

“Hey, Bean. How’s my favorite niece?” I ask following a big kiss on her cheek.

“Good. I got to play in the sprinkler today with Grant at Grandma’s house,” she informs me.

“Awesome,” I reply. “Who’s your favorite uncle, anyway?” I ask with a big smile.

“You, of course,” she informs me with another giggle and scrunches up of her cute little nose.

“That’s what I thought. Your smelly Uncle Jake is on his way over. Don’t tell him that I’m your favorite or you’ll make him cry,” I inform the girl in my arms.

Bean throws her head back in laughter, enjoying the attention each of her uncles give her as we vie for the title of Favorite Uncle. We’ve been doing it for as long as I can remember.

“It’ll be our secret,” she informs me with a kiss on my scruffy cheek.

Maddox and Ryder walk up and I happily kiss my nephew’s forehead while he’s in his father’s arms. “Hi, buddy. Is Uncle Nate your favorite, too?” I ask the drooling child. He doesn’t answer, of course, but the way he throws his arms up and down in excitement, I’m pretty sure that’s answer enough for my question.

“Jake on his way?” Maddox asks as we head towards the kitchen. We walk into the warm, inviting, spacious kitchen that smells of cooked meat and warm sugar.

“Yeah, though he may be a few minutes late. I think Erin was distracting him as he was walking out the door,” I say with a wink.

Maddox laughs as he walks up behind my sister and kisses her passionately on the mouth, which after nearly two years, still makes me uncomfortable. I don’t imagine I’ll ever get used to a man – even her husband – groping my sister. Ryder giggles and grabs a hold of Avery’s hair which dangles down by his face.

“Hey, little man,” she says as she pulls her long blond locks out of his grip. “Hey, Nate. Hungry?”

“Always,” I remind her.

She pulls the Italian sausage links out of the oven and places them next to all the condiments spread out on the island counter. Maddox buckles Ryder into his highchair, and I go about placing Bean in her designated spot at the table.

“Help yourself. I figured we’d have extra mouths to feed when Maddox mentioned that the guys were meeting in the back to discuss Jake’s bachelor party.”

“Thank you, little sis,” I say as I lean down and place a kiss on her cheek. Avery smiles back at me as she fixes plates for both kids.

Maddox and I each dig into the delicious array of food spread out. Avery has grown into a decent cook over the past year. Back before she hooked up with Maddox, Avery’s idea of cooking was mac and cheese or pancakes. Now, she’s a regular Suzy Homemaker, and I’m pretty sure Maddox has put on about ten pounds since they’ve been together. Lucky bastard.

“Hello?” I hear called out from the front entry. Travis, my youngest brother, walks into the room carrying his toddler, Grant.

“Hey,” we all holler at them as they make their way into the heart of the kitchen. I take one look at my little man and a huge smile spreads across my face. Grant sees me and reaches out, shimmying to get out of his father’s grip and get to me. See, favorite uncle.

I abandon my plate and stalk straight over to my happy little nephew. “Hey, little man,” I say as I take him from his dad and into my arms.

“Where’s Joss?” Avery asks as she places food in front of Bean and Ryder.

“She went over to Erin’s to help her with the final plans for the gala next month,” Travis says.

Erin is holding a fundraiser gala for the library at the beginning of September, over Labor Day weekend. The library is in desperate need of an updated children’s area so she decided to organize a large fundraiser to help cover the costs of the renovation. The gala is just two short weeks after her wedding to Jake so she’s trying to finalize all of the plans before then. Josselyn has been helping her out with the entire process.

“Food is on the counter, Trav,” Avery says as she goes about making her own plate.

“Thanks,” Travis says as he dives into the food.

I sit down on my chair with Grant securely on my lap. He digs into my potato chips and steals a bite of my potato salad. I don’t care. I’d give this kid - hell, any of my niece and nephews - whatever in the hell they want.

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