Beat of the Heart


Page 40






"Sure," Allison replied. Without hesitation, she hurried across the clearing straight for Rhys, who was leaned against a tree trunk, drinking a beer. I watched as she tilted her head flirtingly while pointing to the house. He bobbed his head and sat his beer down on the grass.

"Looks like someone has a crush," I mused.

Abby's head snapped up from the table before her gaze honed in on Allison, who was walking as close as she could to Rhys up the hillside. "Maybe for her, but for him, she's just Jake's kid sister."

"Not to mention jailbait considering she's almost seventeen," Lily replied.

Shielding my eyes from the sun with my hand, I watched as Allison gave Rhys a beaming smile. "Bless her heart. That has heartbreak written all over it."

"Even if she was older, that would have broken bones written all over it," Abby remarked. She shook her head. "Jake would never, ever condone Rhys dating his baby sister."

My thoughts were suddenly interrupted when something brushed against my leg. Squealing, I jumped about a mile in the air. When I glanced down, I saw a dark-haired, dark-eyed toddler had wrapped herself around me. "Oh, um, hi," I said, hoping I hadn't just scared the shit out of her with my reaction.

She lifted her arms. "Up!" she commanded.

I stared wide-eyed over at Lily who only smiled. "Melody is so friendly. She never meets a stranger."

Stomping her tiny, pink converse covered foot, Melody repeated, "Up!"

"Okay." Anxiety rippled through me as I bent over to oblige her wishes. I had never been very maternal, and I usually was the last person on earth any of my cousins asked to babysit.

Melody's dark eyes locked on mine before she reached over to bestow a slobbery kiss on my cheek. "Thank you," I replied, shifting her awkwardly on my hip.

Her fingers came to wind through the strands of my hair. "Pwetty," she said.

"Thank you again. My Miss Melody, you sure are a talker."

Lily laughed. "We could barely get Jude talking, but we can't shut her up."

A hand came to rest on the small of my back. When I glanced over my shoulder, AJ grinned at me. "I see you're making new friends."

"I am."

Melody's face lit up like a Fourth of July sparkler. "J!" she squealed, reaching her arms out. "Get me, J!"

"Hey, my little princesa," he replied, as he took Melody from me. He kissed both of her cheeks, which were dimpled from giving him such a big smile.

I lifted my brows in surprise and turned to Lily. "Does he always act this way around the kids, or is this all just show to impress me?"

As AJ scowled at me Lily laughed. "He's actually very good with the kids. Of course, none of them were until Jude came along. They pretty much became second fathers to him."

AJ bobbed his head. "Yep, Jude was my guinea pig, and he taught me well." He snuggled Melody to his chest. "But this little chica here, she's my muñeca linda."

"En ingles, por favor?" I said with a grin.

"My pretty baby doll."

"Listen to you. Charming ladies of all ages," I replied to which AJ winked.

"Out of all the guys, she's always been enraptured by AJ . She lights up whenever he comes in the room," Lily said.

"That's cause she knows I'm the sweetest, most-handsome, best guy in the whole wide world. Right, Melly Moo?"

AJ tickled Melody's sides, causing her to giggle. Brayden strolled up hand in hand with a little boy who was the spitting image of Lily. "Hey, Mia, good to see you," he said, giving me a hug.

"Thanks. Same to you."

"This is our son, Jude." He peered down at Jude. "Say hello to Mia."

Jude thrust out his tiny hand. "Hiya Mia."

Bending over, I smiled and shook his hand. "Hi to you, too."

"Are you Uncle AJ's girlfriend?"

Shit! How the hell was I going to get out of this one? "Um…"

Brayden must have sensed my embarrassment because he reached out for Melody. "We were just going to go swing."

"Wing! Wing!" Melody screeched excitedly, as she dove into her father's arms.

Jude abandoned his father's side to tug on AJ's shirt. Pointing a small finger at me, he asked, "Is she your girlfriend?"

Undaunted, AJ replied, "Yep, she's a girl, and she's my friend." For reasons I couldn't understand, I felt a little let down by his summation of what we were. I mean, it had only been two weeks, so it wasn't like I could really claim a relationship status with him. But at the same time, I hated his answer.

Wrinkling his nose, Jude said, "Ew, girls are gross."

AJ laughed. "Give it a few years, and you'll change your mind, buddy."

Jude didn't appear too convinced as he followed Brayden across the clearing to an enormous wooden play-set. "AJ, give me a hand," Jake called from the grill.

"Be back in a minute," AJ assured.

"Okay."

As we put the finishing touches on lunch, the conversation flowed freely between Abby, Lily, and me. I was starting to enjoy their company more and more.

"So do you sing, Mia?" Abby questioned, before popping a few potato chips into her mouth.

"Oh God no. I can't carry a tune in a bucket."

Lily laughed. "That makes two of us then." She then motioned over to where Brayden was helping Jude down the slide while intermittingly pushing Melody in a harnessed swing. "Only my children appreciate my singing voice at bedtime, and that's usually only when Bray's on tour and they have to settle for me."

As I eyed the play-set, I was wondering what an engaged but childless guy like Jake was doing with one. Lily must've read my mind because she said, "He did that just for Jude and Melody so they would have a place to play when they come to visit."

"How sweet."

Lily nodded and then gave Abby a playful nudge. "And I think for future children, too."

Abby's blue eyes widened as she swallowed hard. "Oh, no, we've got to get through a wedding first. And watch your tongue. If Jake hears you say that, he'll freak out. We're not planning on kids for several years down the road." At Lily's knowing look, Abby sighed. "Okay, Jake isn't down for having kids for several years." Twirling the enormous diamond on her ring finger, she grinned impishly. "I'd have one tomorrow if I could."







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