Good old, reliable Pru. Of the four Reynolds sisters, Pru is the natural choice to take on custody of the girl their late mother had planned to adopt. At thirty, suddenly becoming the mom of a teenager means big changes, but Pru's ready to do whatever it takes to adopt Ari. Before she settles down, though, she wants one thing for herself.
Enter Flynn Bohannon, the sinfully sexy Irish musician in town for her sister's wedding. He's led the kind of free, vagabond life Pru can hardly imagine. Definitely not the kind of guy she should be dating, but he's the perfect guy for a crazy fun fling before her life changes.
When Pru proposes a brief, no strings affair, Flynn's not about to say no. But when unexpected complications endanger the adoption, the two find themselves in a phony engagement.
Now they have to convince a sharp-eyed, skeptical social worker, a teen who's too smart for her own good, three dubious sisters, and one protective brother-in-law that Flynn's willing to give up the gypsy life and settle down. But in convincing everyone that this relationship is real, will they convince each other as well?
Release date: October 27, 2017
Publisher: Take The Leap Publishing
Print pages: 235
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Those Sweet Words: A Small Town Family Romance
“THERE IS NO WAY I’m moving into your newlywed love shack.”
Pru Reynolds froze, holding in a wince as the object of the current discussion made herself known. Of course Ari had been skulking outside the kitchen. How many times had Pru herself done the same as a child? There never seemed to be another option when the grown-ups were deciding your fate without consulting you. She’d hated it. Hated being at the mercy of a bunch of relative strangers—even well-intentioned ones. But that’s what it was to be part of the foster system. That was the fate that Pru and her sister, Kennedy, were trying to save Ari from.
Pru turned to face the girl, taking in the dark, stormy eyes and the mulish set to her mouth. “Nothing’s been decided, sugar. We aren’t going to make that decision for you.” It was important to get that out there. To make Ari understand that she had a choice here. Foster kids had so few actual choices, and fighting that sense of powerlessness was one of the biggest hurdles to overcome.
“Yeah,” Kennedy added. “We were just reviewing your options, discussing the pros and cons, so we could present them in a nice, organized fashion.”
Ari arched one eyebrow in a move that displayed all of her barely teenaged disdain. Not yet fourteen, she was going to be a pistol, as their mother used to say.
Pru rode out the instant lash of pain at the thought of Joan. It had been just under four months since they’d lost her to a car accident. Just under four months since she and her three sisters had taken charge of the girl Joan had been in the process of adopting. Joan had meant Ari to be one of them—the last and youngest Reynolds sister. But the legalities hadn’t been finished, so Pru and Kennedy, and Kennedy’s fiancé, Xander, had all undergone the necessary certification classes to serve as her foster parents. Not something Pru had expected to be doing at thirty—prospectively taking on a teenaged daughter. But she’d be damned if she’d let the girl go back into the system. Ari was family.
“Come on and sit down. We’ll talk about this,” Pru told her.
Ari crossed her arms, but she came over and plopped down at the big farmhouse table.
“Do you want tea?” Pru asked.
One shoulder lifted in a shrug. “Sure.”
Pru moved to the stove and reminded herself that the attitude was better than the complete, withdrawn silence after Joan’s death.
“So, here’s the deal, kiddo,” Kennedy began. “The great state of Tennessee has officially declared Pru, me, and Xander fit as foster parents. Well, we’ve passed all the classes, anyway.”
Pru pulled mugs from the cabinet and began to fill tea balls with the loose leaf black tea she favored. “The next step is the home study, so we have to let Mae know whether she’ll be doing that on me or on Kennedy and Xander. All of us are more than willing, so it’s your choice.”
Their situation was highly unusual. Officially, they shouldn’t have had Ari at all until all the certifications had been passed and the home study completed. But their mother had been a foster parent for more than twenty-five years and a social worker before that. Mae Bradley, Ari’s case worker, had known Joan all that time, and on Joan’s death, she’d pulled some strings with the powers that be, convincing them that it was in the best interest of the child to stay put with someone familiar. God bless small towns.
“You’re getting married this weekend and going off on your honeymoon to Timbuktu—” Ari said.
“The UK,” Kennedy corrected, smiling a little as Pru set a mug of tea in front of her.
“—and I’m not gonna be moving in when you get back and stepping all over your newlywed toes. I like you and Xander. Why would I do that to you? Congratulations, Mr. and Mrs. Kincaid. Welcome home! And oh, by the way, here’s your teenager! That’d put an end to the honeymoon right quick.”
Kennedy reached out to cover the girl’s hand with her own. “Ari, Xander and I love you. It wouldn’t be like that.”
Ari pulled away, wrapping her hands around the mug Pru gave her. “You and Xander lost ten years. You deserve some time to be just together.”
Pru couldn’t argue with the truth of that. But it was Kennedy who’d first managed to pull Ari out of her shell after the funeral, so maybe she was the best sister for the job. Pru didn’t care to analyze the pang she felt at that thought. “The home study will take some time. I expect, if you wanted it, Mae would be happy to do home studies on all of us. Then, you could stay with me, while the lovebirds have their time, and go to them when you felt like you were ready.”
Ari was already shaking her head. “I want to stay here, with you. I want to keep my room and help with the inn.” She dropped her gaze to her mug, jiggling the tea ball. When she spoke again, her voice was small. “You were there from the beginning, and I want to be a Reynolds, not a Kincaid.”
Pru’s throat went thick. She exchanged a glance with Kennedy, who nodded slightly. “Then that’s what we’ll do.”
Ari looked up and the guarded hope on her face cut Pru to the bone. “Really? You’ll really adopt me, like Joan was going to?”
It wasn’t a decision she made lightly. She knew what it meant to be wanted, to have the stability of a good forever home. Joan had done that for her, for her sisters, and provided a safe place to land for countless others, over the years. Pru might not have any intention of stepping fully into her mother’s shoes, but for this one child, she’d do whatever it took.
“If that’s what you want, then yeah. I’d like that. I’d like that very much.”
Ari grinned, her temper fading with the speed of a summer storm. “Then I guess I’ll have to start working on calling you Mom.”
The word hit Pru in the chest like a sucker punch. Mom. She was going to be a mom. This was going to be her daughter. She was going to be fully responsible for another person’s…everything. Holy crap.
“It’ll take us both some getting used to,” she managed.
Ari slid off the bench and came around the table to give Pru a quick hug. She wasn’t touch shy like so many kids Pru had known, so Pru gave her a hearty squeeze, as her own mother would have done. Over the girl’s thin shoulder, she saw Kennedy beaming.
“Just to try out my mom voice, have you done your sweep of the guest rooms to see if any of the TP or linens or complimentary toiletries need restocking before the next guests arrive?”
“Hop to. The Johnsons are supposed to be here by six-thirty.”
Ari saluted and scurried off.
“Congratulations, Mom. And you even did it without the baby weight,” Kennedy teased.
Pru sagged back in her chair. “Jesus.”
Her sister sobered. “Are you really okay with this?”
“Yes. I wouldn’t have told her I’d do it, if I wasn’t. I’m just…a little overwhelmed.” And a little bit jealous that she’d be doing this alone.
Oh, Kennedy and Xander would help out. So would her other sisters, Athena and Maggie, whenever they were in town. But there’d be no husband helping her share the load or the joys. She envied Kennedy that. She’d assumed she’d meet someone eventually, but Eden’s Ridge was a tiny town, with a shallow dating pool. Unlike her sisters, she hadn’t left, other than to finish her training as a massage therapist. Eden’s Ridge was home. She’d found no grand passion here, and up until they’d begun planning Kennedy’s whirlwind wedding, Pru had been fine with that.
She’d be fine with it again. Her mother had led a full and rich life without partner. She could do the same. If she felt a twinge of self-pity at that, she shoved it away. Ari was the priority. Taking care of her was what Joan would have wanted.
“It’s a big step,” Kennedy said. “I’d be worried if you didn’t feel a little overwhelmed.”
“That’s probably been a little exacerbated by the fact that we’ve planned your wedding in a month. Thank God for Cayla Black.” A friend from high school, Cayla was divorced and back in the Ridge with her four-year-old daughter, trying to get an event planning business off the ground. She’d jumped at the chance to use Kennedy as a guinea pig.
“She is, indeed, awesome,” Kennedy concurred. “I don’t even think Maggie could’ve done better.”
“It helps that you don’t care too much about the details beyond being married to Xander in the end.”
“True enough. Speaking of, I want to swing by the house to see my other half before I head into work for the night.” She rose and came around to hug Pru herself. “Mom would love that you’re doing this for Ari.”
“I know. And it helps a little bit. She feels kind of like a last piece of Mom.”
“Are you gonna call Maggie and Athena to tell them the news?”
“They’ll be here in two days for wedding festivities. I’ll tell them in person. Go forth and squeeze in whatever canoodling you can manage.”
Kennedy rolled her eyes. “Canoodling. You sound like Ari.”
“Fitting since she’s going to be mine.” Pru felt another flutter in her belly. That would stop being scary at some point, right?
“Touché. Love you, Pru.”
“Love you back.”
When she was gone, Pru took their tea—now cold—and dumped it out. She popped her own into the microwave, then carried the mug back to her room. Formerly her mother’s room. She’d moved in formally after she and her sisters had converted the old Victorian into a bed and breakfast to save the family estate. It was a long way from profitable yet, but they’d had steady bookings since they opened Memorial Day weekend and plenty more that stretched out well into the fall.
Sinking down into the overstuffed chair, she tugged open the drawer and pulled out the photo album with “My Kids” embossed across the front. She’d found it in the course of cleaning out. This book contained photos of every single child her mother had fostered over the years. There were so many.
Had her mother felt this bone deep panic at the beginning? Wondering whether she could do this? Whether she’d irrevocably mess these kids up? Or had she always been the unflappable, down-to-earth woman Pru remembered? With the weight of the decision she’d just made pressing down, she needed her mother’s comfort. So, tea in hand, she opened the cover and slid into memory.
* * *
“What’s the status update on the wedding?”
“For God’s sake, Maggie, we’ve been here all of five minutes. Can’t you wait to try to run things until we’ve had some time to breathe?” Athena complained.
Maggie shot her a cool look. “The wedding is in five days. There’s no time to relax.”
And my sisters are officially home, Pru thought.
“We hired a wedding planner. And Pru’s here. Shit’s being handled. Right?” Athena looked to Pru for confirmation.
Her lips twitched. “Shit is, indeed, being handled.” That her sisters trusted her to do exactly that was both flattering and maddening.
“See there? Now relax, woman.” Athena flopped down on the overstuffed sofa.
“Might I remind you that there are little ears present, so perhaps tone things down from the language you use in your restaurant kitchen?” Pru suggested.
Ari and Athena both rolled their eyes.
“Gordon Ramsey is worse,” Ari said. When Pru arched a brow, she just shrugged. “What? I really like Kitchen Nightmares.”
There was no need to ask who got her hooked on that.
“Oh, did you see that episode with that poser in Ohio?” Athena asked.
“‘I can cook, Joe,’” Ari said, in a passable parody of the celebrity chef.
“That was brutal,” Athena agreed.
“Well deserved,” Ari pronounced.
Deciding she was just grateful the two were bonding, Pru turned her attention to Maggie. “To answer your question, everything is going fine. Our bridesmaid dresses are ready and waiting. You and Athena have your final fitting tomorrow. The photographer is lined up, and Mrs. Lowrey, from church, is making the cake.”
“You’re not doing the cake?” Ari asked Athena.
“I’m a chef, not a baker. I can bake. I choose not to.”
“Plus, Mrs. Lowrey makes the best red velvet cake in the state,” Kennedy announced, sailing into the room with a tray of drinks from the kitchen. “She has a blue ribbon from the state fair that says so.”
“What about music?” Maggie asked.
“My friend, Flynn, will be playing.”
“Oh, did you finally talk to him about it?” Pru had heard plenty about the Irish musician Kennedy had toured with for a while, during her time abroad. He’d been one of the first to book a room after they opened the inn.
“No. He’s playing his way down the East coast. Not quite sure where he is just now, and his cell phone doesn’t work in the States. But he’ll be here in a couple of days. It’s not like he’s going to say no. It’s my wedding.”
Maggie pinched the bridge of her nose and moved her mouth in something that might have been a silent prayer or a curse. “Okay, so what’s left?”
“Just decorating the barn for the ceremony and getting tables set up for the reception. And we’ll have help with that. Everybody who’s got a room booked from tomorrow through the weekend is one of Mom’s former fosters. And there are more coming in day of,” Pru told her.
Maggie’s shoulders relaxed a little. Kennedy swung an arm around them. “Did you think you were going to have to wade in and sort out chaos?”
“It wouldn’t be the first time. But I should have known better. I can always rely on Pru to have my back.” She flashed a grateful smile.
Pru just shrugged. “It’s what I do.”
“Is there anything else I need to know about?”
From the sofa, Ari began to bounce.
“You got ants in your pants, kid?” Athena asked.
Ari looked at Pru, and it was impossible to hold back the smile.
“She’s excited because she’s finally going to be a Reynolds. I’m adopting her.”
“Whoa.” Athena hooked Ari around the neck and pulled her into a headlock. “Welcome to the family, kid.”
Maggie smiled at the giggling teen, who was digging her fingers into Athena’s sides in a vain effort to tickle her. “That’s wonderful.”
“There are still some steps to go through, but that’s the plan,” Pru said.
The doorbell rang.
“Are we expecting more guests?” Kennedy asked. “I didn’t think we had anybody else booked for tonight.”
“Not guests. Your surprise,” Pru said. “Ari, you want to go get the door?”
“’Kay!” Red-faced and gasping, she rolled off the sofa and raced out of the room. Moments later, she came back, a smiling blonde in tow.
“Hail, hail, the gang’s all here,” the blonde called. “Welcome home, y’all.”
“Abbey Whittaker! I had no idea you were back in the Ridge.” Maggie crossed the room to give her a hug.
“Only been back a couple of weeks. Granddaddy Whittaker isn’t doing so great. His dementia is getting worse, so I came back to help out, while the family figures out what to do about it.”
“I’m so sorry to hear that. But I’m definitely glad to see you. Weren’t you off in Atlanta?”
“That’s where I headed when Pru and I finished school, but I wound up moving to Mississippi last year. I’ve got kin in Wishful—Granddaddy’s brother and his branch of the family are there. I’ve been working at a swank spa in Wishful.”
“Which is why she’s here tonight,” Pru said. “She’s giving all of us spa treatments.”
“All natural and guaranteed to rejuvenate and relax.”
Athena jerked a thumb at Maggie. “This one definitely needs to relax.”
Abbey laughed. “And what about the bride to be?”
“Pretty sure she’s the most laid back one here,” Pru said.
“She’s in luuuuuurve,” Ari sang.
“It shows. Hard to duplicate that kind of glow with even the best products. You look great.”
Kennedy beamed. “Thanks. Being happy agrees with me.”
“The regular nookie doesn’t hurt,” Athena added.
Pru clapped her hands over Ari’s ears. “Athena!”
“What? It’s true.”
Ari tugged the hands away. “Joan already had the talk with me. Great sex between mature, committed individuals is good for your mental health.”
Pru’s mouth fell open, but nothing came out. Her face felt frozen somewhere between horror and laughter.
“Well, she’s not wrong,” Kennedy admitted.
Maybe that’s what’s wrong with me. No great sex in…. Have I ever had truly great sex? When was the last time I had even mediocre sex? Oh, dear God, why am I thinking about this now?
Cheeks burning, Pru looked at Abbey, who was valiantly trying not to snicker. “Our mom was really big on female empowerment. But for you, young lady, that can wait until you’re twenty-five.” She grabbed Ari by the shoulders and marched her toward the kitchen, laughter in their wake as everyone trailed behind.
Abbey unloaded the bags she’d brought and began mixing ingredients, while Kennedy rounded up a bunch of towels. As she created multiple bowls of fragrant glop, Abbey scanned them all. “So, other than the bride, who else is tripping down the relationship highway? Or dating? Or anything involving the prospect of a significant other? Because I most definitely am not, and I need to live vicariously through somebody.”
“Those Mississippi boys not doing it for you?” Athena asked.
“There’s one very serious problem with them—it seems all the good ones are taken.”
“It’s a definite problem in small towns,” Pru agreed. “I can’t remember the last time I had a date.”
“Didn’t you go out with Gavin Harkness around Christmas?” Maggie asked.
“I went to dinner with him. For what I thought was just a meal between joint committee members for that Angel Tree fundraiser. I didn’t realize he thought it was a date until he tried to kiss me when he brought me home. I turned my face at the last second and he hit my cheek. Then he just kind of froze there for several seconds, until I managed to twist the doorknob and escape. It was…awkward.”
“Well, it’s not like the city is any better for prospects,” Maggie said. “In L.A., everybody meets people with an eye for how they can be used to further their career. There’s no such thing as a simple girl meets guy on an elevator and gets asked to dinner, for a night of conversation about mutual interests. Instead, he’s asking enough questions during the salad course, you feel like you’re in the middle of a job interview.”
Abbey grimaced. “That sounds awful. Please tell me you skipped dessert.”
“I gave serious thought to disappearing to the bathroom and never coming back. But he knew my boss, as it turns out, so I stuck it out.”
“What about you, Athena?” Abbey asked.
“I intimidate men.”
“Shocker,” Kennedy murmured.
The impact of the middle finger Athena shot up was somewhat mitigated by the bright green avocado mask smeared all over her face.
“So, other than the bride, we’re all failing in the dating department. Y’all, this is a sad state of affairs. We are smart, sexy, available women. What is wrong with all these men?” Abbey came back to the table, passing out warm, wet wash cloths. “Everybody wipe off your mask with firm, downward strokes from the center line of your face.”
Kennedy rubbed at the bentonite clay mask already flaking off her face. “Maybe I should hook y’all up with some of Xander’s single friends. All of his groomsmen are available.”
“Please,” Athena snorted. “Porter was one of our brothers.”
“That still leaves Logan and Jonah,” Kennedy pointed out.
“Athena and I don’t live here, so that seems a pointless effort. But maybe one of them would suit Pru.” Maggie angled her head, studying Pru from across the table.
“Hello, I’m sitting right here and not looking for a setup, thanks very much. I do not need a pity date. I haven’t even thought about dating—” She cut herself off before since Mom died could spill out. No reason to drag the group down. “Besides, I’ve got enough on my plate with the inn and the fact that I’m acquiring a teenager.”
“Yeah, but at least I came housebroken,” Ari said.
“Girl’s got a point. Men are so much harder to train than dogs,” Athena agreed. She patted her face dry. “Dude, my skin feels amazing.”
“Mine’s all tingly,” Maggie said.
Abbey set a small bowl on the table. “Here, each of you slather some of this on. It’s specially made moisturizer. No chemicals.”
“It feels wonderful. All of it does,” Pru said. “You know, a lot of my massage clients would love this. What would you think about doing some freelance spa treatments, while you’re here? We could set up some space for you to work out of.”
“That would be wonderful. The Babylon is holding my job, but it would be great to keep my hand in things. Plus, I’ll need a break from Granddaddy.”
“Great. We’ll set a time after the wedding to discuss terms.”
“Sounds like a plan.” Abbey removed the double boiler she’d had simmering at the stove. “Now, who wants a paraffin bath for your hands?”
* * *
Flynn Bohannon lived a gypsy’s life, traveling from town to town, venue to venue, sharing the music of his homeland. To his way of thinking, there was nothing better than seeing new faces, new places, every few days. If things began to feel a little stale, he picked up stakes and found somewhere new. Sometimes he traveled in a group, jamming with other musicians he met along the way. Other times, like now, he was a solo act. Either worked fine for him. It was all about the music.
He’d landed in Boston three weeks before and had been working his way down the Eastern seaboard, playing in pubs, bars, taverns, and coffee shops—a different town or city every night. Some shows had been pre-booked. Others, like the pick-up session he’d had in that pub in Baltimore, where the bartender had turned out to be the cousin of a friend of his mother’s, had been a delightful, impulsive surprise. Flynn liked surprises. Which was why he’d made his way to Eden’s Ridge, Tennessee a day early.
He’d wanted to surprise one of his dearest friends. And, he admitted, he hoped to catch her before she’d put on her everything’s fine face and get a real read on how she was doing. Kennedy Reynolds had been every bit the gypsy he was, and now she’d come home and decided to settle here out of family obligation. Not that he frowned on that. There was a child involved. But he wondered how long it would take her to feel choked by the roots she’d long ago escaped.
It was beautiful. He’d give her that. These were younger, wilder mountains than he was used to. There simply weren’t this many trees in the mountains of Ireland. At home, the peaks had been whittled down by wind and weather and time, until they’d been reduced to their bare essentials. Wild, yes, but often barren but for the grasses and scrub. Here the trees stretched in a lush, green blanket as far as the eye could see. As he navigated the switchbacks, he noted the craggy rocks peeking through here and there, but otherwise, everything was alive with the vibrant colors of summer.
The house was set back in the trees, a charming Victorian painted a mystical greenish gray, with crisp, white trim. He’d have recognized it from Kennedy’s description, even without the wooden sign above the porch proclaiming The Misfit Inn. It rose a towering three stories high, with a turret to one side. The porch wrapped all the way round, with fanciful scrollwork at the corners and various groupings of chairs or gliders set to take in the view, which was magnificent from nearly all angles. There was the old bodock tree Kennedy had used to sneak in and out of the house as a girl. And beyond it, the barn, doors thrown wide.
Flynn found a place to park and climbed out. He knocked on the big front door, and when no one answered, he circled around back, scanning for Kennedy’s familiar blonde head. He followed sounds of music—a cheerful country tune about some lass calling dibs—into the barn. The space inside was clear. White drapes had been hung above to block off what he presumed was a hay loft. Dozens of folding chairs were stacked to one side. And in the center of the barn, at the top of a ladder, a woman stretched to wrap white twinkle lights around a barn rafter. As he stood, undetected, she joined in the chorus with cheerful alto.
Charmed, he stayed where he was, watching. She was all soft curves, a fact made evident by the stretch of shorts across her perfect, lush backside. Flynn took a moment of reverence for that magnificent ass, captivated by the gentle flex of it as she worked and twitched her hips to the rhythm on the radio. Now that is a woman. He’d know, as he’d made quite the study of them the world over.
The ass ended in tanned legs and sport sandals. Stifling an appreciative murmur, Flynn lifted his gaze higher, noting the swatch of olive skin between the waistband of her shorts and the t-shirt riding high as she reached to continue the wrap. He realized then that she was far too short to be doing this. She’d gone above that last safety step of the ladder trying to reach the beam well above her head. Even as he thought to speak up, the ladder began to wobble. The woman sucked in a breath, flailing for any kind of purchase.
Flynn leapt forward as the ladder toppled and the woman screamed. He didn’t exactly catch her so much as break her fall, but he managed to wrap his arms around her as she crashed down, softening the impact as they both hit the ground. They both lay there, stunned, wrapped in a tangle. As she lifted her head and trained those wide, dark eyes on his, Flynn couldn’t help but think his breathlessness and pounding heart weren’t entirely from the collision.
I’m callin’ dibs, indeed.
He couldn’t stop himself from reaching out to brush the hair back from that exquisite face. “Are you all right, then?”
Well, and wasn’t it a fine thing to hear his name on those lips, in that soft Southern twang? As if she’d been waiting just for him, for this moment. The sound of it did something to him, plucking some chord deep in his soul until it sang. Could she feel it where her hands pressed against his chest?
“You’re early,” she said.
“Seems to me, I’m right on time.”
Her pupils sprang wide at that, and she sucked in a breath. His gaze dropped to those lips, and his hand tightened at the curve of her waist. Only the sound of running footsteps kept him from leaning in to taste her.
“I heard a crash. What—Oh my God, Pru, are you okay?”
Pru. Which made her Kennedy’s eldest sister.
Christ. He needed to get ahold of himself. Flynn relaxed his grip and leaned back. Seeming to collect herself, Pru shifted from his lap—more was the pity—and reached up to take the offered hand. That was when he realized the owner of the hand was a young girl.
“I’m fine. The ladder tipped.”
The girl, who had to be Ari, looked down at him with bright, curious eyes. “Who’d you land on?”
Flynn rolled to his feet, offering his hand, as more people came into the barn, including the familiar face he’d come looking for.
He grinned and opened his arms wide. When Kennedy leapt into them, he swung her in a circle. “It’s good to see you, deifiúr beag.”
“Back atcha, boy-o! We weren’t expecting you until tomorrow.”
“I thought I’d surprise you. But I seem to have interrupted some sort of festivities. Are you getting ready for a party, then?”
“Oh, yeah, about that. There’s someone I want you to meet.” Kennedy pulled back and held her hand out to a broad-shouldered man, with close-cropped brown hair and a steady gaze. He slid his arm around her shoulders, and she looked up at him with absolute adoration. “Xander, this is my brother from another mother, Flynn. Flynn, Xander Kincaid, my fiancé.”
Flynn’s mouth fell open. “Your what now?”
Kennedy laughed. “It’s our wedding we’re decorating for. We’re getting married on Saturday.”
“Married?” Flynn repeated. Was she insane? She’d been home, what, four months? If that.
She laughed again, fairly glowing with happiness. “It’s a long story, and I’ll tell you all about it over a pint later. First, I want you to meet my family. This is Ari.” She laid her hands on the shoulders of the young Hispanic girl, with the dark, soulful eyes and ready grin.
“Pleased to meet you,” Flynn said, shaking her hand.
“And this is Pru.”
“We’ve met,” they said in unison.
Kennedy arched her brows.
“She fell out of the sky,” Flynn said.
“More properly, I fell off a ladder,” Pru corrected. “Thanks for saving me from breaking my neck.”
He mimed doffing a hat and bowed. “Happy to be of service, milady. Perhaps you’ll let someone taller assist you in finishing with the lights?”
Pru flushed. “Oh, you’re a guest. I’m not—oh my God, your room’s not ready.” She looked, if possible, even more flustered by that than she had crashing into him.
She was already turning toward the door, when Flynn caught her hand. “It’s fine. Don’t trouble on my account. I arrived early and unannounced. Just shove me in a closet or something. I’ll be fine.” That sent his mind off on a merry little jaunt, imagining what it would be like to drag Pru into a linen closet and get to know the rest of those lovely curves.
She looked scandalized, and he wondered if he’d said that aloud. Or maybe it was that he’d been rubbing circles on the back of her hand with his thumb.
“You’re a guest at our inn. You’ll have a proper room. Just give me fifteen minutes—twenty at the outside.”
“Psh,” Kennedy snorted. “He’s family.”
“The family all have beds,” Pru argued.
Now was definitely not the time to suggest sharing hers. And really, he needed to quash this whole reaction. This was Kennedy’s sister.
“Fine. You fix a room. I’m putting him to work. He and Xander can finish with the lights. Maggie and Athena should be back from their fitting soon, and it’s Athena’s turn to cook dinner.”
Pru tugged her hand free and started for the door. “Fifteen minutes,” she repeated. “Ari, come help me please.”
Because he wanted to watch her go, Flynn deliberately turned toward the ladder and righted it. “Right. Lights?”
“To start.” Kennedy grinned.
He propped an arm on one of the rungs and gave her the side eye. “Oh, so that’s how it is? You’re going to make me work for my supper?”
“I’m going to make you play for it. I want you to play for the wedding. Will you? I know it’s last minute and all, but you’re here and there’s no one else I’d rather hear.”
Flynn still wanted to know the story behind this sudden rush to the altar. But given her fiancé was watching him from ten feet away, he opted for the only safe answer. “I’d be honored.”
Kennedy threw her arms around him in another, staggering hug. “Oh, thank you!”
“Anything for you. Now, where are the rest of these lights?”
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