Mature (18+) Audiences. Contains bad words and sex-y scenarios.
Coincidence and Fate
Joel tugged twice on the trigger of the pistol in his hand. The first bullet missed its target and the second landed, but it was way off center. They were two easy shots, shots he normally would have made, but this whole Theo business drove him mad. This was the first time he’d ever seen Theo like this. Then to find out that the kids at school didn’t want to be his friend?
It was a feeling he knew all too well, having grown up branded as a troublemaker. It had taken years for his parents to realize he acted out because his words never looked right on the paper. They never looked the way his teacher had claimed and, when he stumbled over them, everyone laughed.
Everyone who laughed, he’d punched.
He tried two more shots and missed both.
For the last few hours, he’d been down in their “lair” under Gage’s house where they trained and worked out, trying to shoot, punch, and bench-press his way back to sanity. Whatever was going on with Theo, he hoped it was truly all in his imagination. If he found out someone had threatened his baby boy, he wouldn’t stop searching until not so much as a trace of their bloodline was left behind.
“What’s going on with you today, Lattimore?” Mike walked up behind him and studied the untouched targets, head cocked. “You’re way off. Is Theo getting worse?”
Joel set down the weapon. “Yeah. I think he’s regressing. He’s sucking his fingers, crying a lot more than usual, bedwetting, and he even asked Julien to pick him up the other night.”
Gage, Giorgio, and Dez entered the room.
“You should spend some time with him, one on one,” Mike suggested. “I remember how much fun I had spending time with my father when I was a kid. Whenever I felt scared, one afternoon with him and I’d be right again for a while. I’m already doing that with Mikey.”
“You, uh, think Theo sees me as a father figure?”
Mike shook his head. “Nope. I think he sees you as a father. His father. I know Curtis is tap-dancing in heaven knowing someone like you has his son in your heart.”
Joel diverted his gaze. In his mind, Curtis looked down at him from heaven waiting for the perfect moment to send a trident through his vertebrae.
He didn’t know why it was a trident, but for God’s sake, he fantasized about having sex with the man’s wife. In the shower and several times alone at night, he’d more than fantasized. He’d imagined wonderful and disgusting things about Ayesha’s lips. If they ever got to the point of making love, the minute he slipped off her panties, a three-pronged spear would magically lodge itself in his spine.
Giorgio looked up from wrapping his hands. “Lattimore, lastachka has asked me about this word, veeny. Is from Little Theo.”
No one knew what Giorgio’s nicknames meant, but he had one for nearly all of his “sisters” and a few for the kids. Xara had asked Dom, a native Russian speaker, and even he couldn’t figure out what hers, printisa, meant. The only one they knew for certain was Monroe’s—The Mouth.
The girl could eat.
“In any of the languages you know, does it sound like anything familiar?” Joel asked.
“This is spelled, how?”
“I’m not sure. Theo said it in his sleep, and me and Eesh are trying to figure out if it’s a word or a name.”
“What is…” Giorgio squinted. “How has Little Theo used this word?”
“He said, ‘I won’t let you hurt my Mama, Veeny.’ Does it sound like anything to any of you guys?”
The men shook their heads.
“I do not know this word,” Giorgio said. “For me, it is like…what is word…alias. Da, nickname. This is first time Little Theo has said this?”
“As far as me and Eesh know.”
Dez walked over to a wall and retrieved a firearm. He’d been unusually quiet for the last few days, and no one wanted to broach the subject, hoping that nothing was going on between him and Larke. When Joel had announced his and Syd’s split because of her issue with their dangerous lifestyles, the rest of the guys started tossing out favors and presents like mercenary Santa Clauses, afraid their relationships were also headed toward doom.
Dez chose a Ruger and took each target out, clean and precise, without a blink or breath. He spoke without looking up. “Apparently, some fuck from Larke’s past has been emailing her constantly, trying to get in contact with her.”
Joel’s ears perked up.
“It’s some guy named Nick who used to help her with IT stuff when she still worked as an AUSA,” Dez continued. “When she went private, he did computer work for her for free, and there’s no way he did some of the stuff she told me without expecting, at some point, something in return. She said he never propositioned her, but she knows exactly how to lie to stop me from going fucking crazy.”
“Ayesha ran into an old,” Joel searched for a word, “fuck-buddy.”
It was the exact opposite of the word he’d been looking for. He’d literally searched his mind and said exactly what he’d been trying not to say. But the man had touched her. It was one thing that he’d touched her whenever they’d done what they’d done in the past, but at the restaurant, he put his hands on her.
All he’d been able to think about the next day was whether that brief touch had given the man flashbacks to being with her. On top of her. Inside her.
It drove him crazy in the most primitive of ways.
“Fuck-buddy?” Mike asked. “Ayesha?”
“There’s no way.” Gage swiped his hand through the air. “Really? Our Ayesha?”
Joel studied his untouched targets. He wanted to protect Ayesha and their boys, but he couldn’t even hit a fake man in the heart.
“It was a guy named Adrían.”
Dez looked up. “Adrían what?”
“I don’t know. She didn’t say.”
“Did you see him?” Dez shook his head. “Know what, never mind. Adrían Delgano is dead. I’m just…I know Larke is capable of taking care of herself. I know I don’t own her or run her life, but if a man so much as looks at her funny, I automatically want to hunt him and peel his scalp from his skull. I have to actively stop myself.”
They murmured their agreement.
Except for Giorgio.
“I do not understand this,” he said. “I do not think this with my Bez.”
They went silent…then doubled over, laughing.
Giorgio had definitely gotten more talkative, stable, and even funny over the course of their brotherhood, but they were still pretty certain he was a high-functioning psychopath with a control switch. It was easier now for him to control his urges. However, once he snapped, the only thing they could do was hope not to get caught up in any sort of friendly fire situation. Joel had always been a firearms kind of man, but Giorgio’s influence made him develop a thing for blades and combat close enough to feel bones break and hear metal pierce flesh.
Mike and Giorgio went to practice in the octagon cage Gage had built in one part of the lair. Giorgio had been involved in MMA for some years and something, all of a sudden, had made Mike want to get into it. Since they didn’t feel comfortable just yet seeking out an MMA gym, Giorgio sparred with him. When Giorgio was busy or Mike didn’t feel like leaving the cage with as many bruises, Joel sparred with him since he’d spent several years fighting underground in DC.
While they’d known stepping back from the activity level of their lifestyles would have been a drastic mental change, the need for physical contact, combat, weapons training, and anything that pushed the body to the brink, remained. They’d tried to plan a rock-climbing trip to Halmstad, but Xara overheard and nearly went into early labor because they’d been thinking about actual rock climbing, and she knew Mike didn’t always lean on the security of ropes and other climbing equipment. Instead, they found a rock-climbing gym and planned to revisit the outdoor option at a later date.
After Joel finished his workout, he headed above ground. The minute he cleared the living room, his phone went off. It was his fourth missed call from Ayesha.
“Eesh? Babe, you okay?”
“It’s not Mama. It’s me, Theo.”
“Hey, big guy.” He picked up on sniffling. “What’s wrong?”
“Can we come tonight?” Theo asked. “Do we really have to wait to move our beds and stuff? I don’t need my bed. I can sleep with you and Mama or in my sleeping bag.”
He and Ayesha had agreed that, because of school, they would wait to move at the end of the week. She also hadn’t had a chance to talk to Josiah yet since he’d been bogged down with schoolwork, and he was thinking about joining a few after-school activities, but they had no idea how to explain why he needed to wait. He was smart, but he was young. They were in a new place. There was no way to say, “we need to be careful because people might try to kill you,” without raising at least one alarm.
“You don’t think you can wait?” Joel asked.
“No, I have to come now. What if it’s just me? Mama and Josiah can come later, if they want.”
“Where’s your mama right now?”
“In Josiah’s room talking to him about you.”
Joel smiled. “I’m going to stop by my house to shower and change and then come over. How about that?”
“We have a shower and soap here. Plus, Mama buyed you a lot of clothes. Me and Josiah saw them.”
“She bought me clothes?” Some of the “things” she had of his had looked unfamiliar. “When?”
“All the time. Don’t go home. Please?”
Ayesha’s voice sounded in the background. “Theo, who are you talking to, baby?”
“Theo, wait, don’t throw—”
“Good catch, Mama!”
Ayesha, after a long sigh, greeted him. “Hi, Joel. Everything okay?”
“It was actually Theo who called me,” he said. “Hey, do you mind if I come straight there from working out? I’m sweaty and smelly, but I heard you have a shower and soap at your place, and that you have ‘buyed’ me a lot of clothes. Is this true?”
She groaned. “What’s next? Will Theo tell you where I keep the gold?”
“He did mention something about a treasure chest.” His heart warmed when she laughed.
“Dang it. And I hid it so well. Yes, it’s fine. Did you eat?”
“I had breakfast and a pre-workout.”
“Okay. I’ll make you lunch. See you in a bit.”
A smile stretched, almost painfully, across his face. “Okay. I’m on my way.”
* * *
“You can come in, Ma.”
Ayesha stepped into the room, and Josiah looked up from his book. They’d had to send his book collection to Sweden as a separate shipment because of how many of them he’d amassed. He’d started reading when he was four, and there’d been no letting up since. Now, he was reading a book titled Legendborn she planned to read herself once he was finished with it. When he asked her to order it for him, he’d said it “looks interesting and the girl on the cover is kinda pretty.”
She was not prepared. The realization of romantic interest put him one step closer to his first possible broken heart.
“Hi, sweetie. You have a minute?”
“Sure.” He pushed up to sit. “Is something wrong?”
She sat near his feet on the mattress. “Nothing’s wrong. I just…I want to talk to you about something.”
“Is this about Joel?”
He switched positions so they were sitting side by side. “Are we finally moving in with him?”
He grinned, and she saw his father’s face.
“Even before Joel started spending more time with us than usual, I thought he was awesome,” he said. “He’s like, the comedian of the family, but he’s still really focused and determined and smart. Dad was like that. And when Joel and Aunt Syd had their divorce, I felt really bad, you know? I like them both, but I didn’t want Joel to be alone. It was confusing too because I couldn’t find anything not to like about him.”
She flung an arm around her son’s shoulder. “I do understand where you’re coming from with that, but I don’t think Sydney didn’t, or doesn’t, like him anymore. It’s just that, sometimes, two people who love each other can want completely different things. Sometimes, those things are important enough that it can throw a wrench in their…happily ever after, you could say.”
He went silent for a moment.
“Can I ask you a question, then?”
“Is the question how do I know that won’t happen between me and Joel?”
She searched his face, this time seeing herself. “You really love him, don’t you?”
“I do. Theo does too. But…do you? Do you love Joel too? Because he loves you. I can tell. He’s easier to read than you are.”
She burst out laughing. “Oh, wow. I knew you were studious, but you keep surprising me.”
“Ma, he stares at you. All the time. Like…like he can’t believe how pretty you are. And it’s not in a creepy way like the guys at the grocery store. You don’t notice them, but me and Joel do.” He frowned, pulling up a memory she, evidently, knew nothing of. “They still try to do it when Joel’s with us. I don’t know what he does, but they don’t stare for long.”
Given Joel’s size, physique, and presence, he probably didn’t have to do much.
Josiah rubbed his chin. “Wait, I can explain better. All right, so, there’s this girl…”
“Oh, God.” Ayesha threw herself back on the bed. “I’m not ready for the talk yet, ‘Siah.”
“Ma, hear me out.” Laughing so much he nearly couldn’t lift his arms, he raised her back up and placed both hands on her cheeks. “She doesn’t go to my school anymore, but she was really pretty Ma. So pretty. When we were in class, I’d stare at her sometimes.”
“Have I ever met her?”
His eyes rolled around behind his glasses. “I don’t think so. She didn’t stay long.”
“Okay, so you stared at her because she was pretty.”
“And, like, nice to people. She reminded me of you, a little bit.” He reddened, eyes lowering. “She was in an accident when she was six, and she had to have her leg amputated from her knee down.”
Ayesha cocked her head to the side. “Amputated?”
“Ma, I know what amput—”
“That’s not what I meant.” She teased the curly-coils on his head. “I meant, that’s a lot to deal with so young. Did the kids make fun of her?”
“They wouldn’t invite her to play any games, stuff like that. And even though she was only at my school for maybe,” he shrugged, “six months, I’d yell at the kids who didn’t want to include her. Kids I’ve known since elementary. One time, a tetherball was going to hit her in the head, and I stopped it. I ate lunch with her when I could, especially when she was sitting alone. I felt like I had to protect her because I liked her. I didn’t like how it felt when people put her down, or when I thought about how much it had to hurt to wake up and not, you know, have a leg. Ma, Theo tossed a soccer ball at you back when we were in Maui. Theo. It wouldn’t even hurt and still, Joel stopped it because he couldn’t see you get hurt.”
Ayesha felt her throat tighten.
“He loves us.” Josiah’s eyes misted over. “He makes you laugh, so hard. He’s the best, Ma. When Dad died, I really didn’t understand it since I was so young. I mean, I was sad because I’d never see him again, but I didn’t realize that I’d miss the things I wouldn’t get to do with him. Like playing soccer and potato sack races. Going fishing. And yeah, those are things you can do with your mom, but dads are…special in their own way. When Joel started hanging out with us, at first, I did feel bad. I thought Dad would be mad and disappointed in me because I wanted Joel to stick around.”
“I know how that feels.” She kissed his temple. “What made that change?”
“We’re happier than we’ve ever been. I mean, I’d get so nervous whenever we’d go out to the movies or to eat or even on our beach picnics together because I kept thinking this was the day Joel would say no. But, he never did. And, when Joel’s with us, I remember what hanging out with Dad was like. I remember Dad.”
Curtis had been on Josiah and Theo’s minds more than she realized. She wasn’t sure why she found that surprising. She’d made sure they knew everything about their father. They knew his likes, dislikes, what he looked like, how tall he was. Theo even knew, from family videos, what he sounded like.
Her biggest regret was not telling him she was pregnant. Knowing the way he’d died, she was sure it wouldn’t have changed the outcome, but there would at least be a picture or text or video she could have shown Theo so he’d know how excited his father would have been to meet him.
“I was afraid it would be the opposite,” she confessed. “I thought that if I let Joel get too close to us, you’d forget your father.”
“No, not at all, Ma. Joel, he feels like Dad to me. I don’t think he would if he wasn’t the right one, not only for me and Theo, but for you too.”
Romantic feelings and now wise words?
Who was this kid, and when did he stop being her little Jojo?
“Before Joel, I did forget a lot about Dad,” he continued. “Now, I’m starting to remember everything. I remember Dad’s laugh, his funny dances, and the way he used to put me on his neck and carry me around.”
Like Joel did for Theo at the school carnival.
“Ma,” he took her hand, “if you love Joel like me and Theo, maybe you and Joel won’t split up because of something you can’t agree on.”
“If I’m being honest with you, sweetheart, we don’t know Joel and I won’t, at some point, want completely different things.”
He went from wide eyes to lowered brows, his mouth curved down. “So, you could get divorced?”
“Josiah,” she laughed, “we’re not even married.”
“Okay, hypothetically speaking.”
She knew it was said that kids who loved to read often had large vocabularies, but her son had pulled out the entire dictionary tonight. No wonder his teachers adored him. They had to exert little to no effort to get him to learn new concepts.
“Hypothetically speaking,” she began, “if Joel and I were to ever get married…well, you know one of the hardest things we’ve had to face is your father’s death.”
Josiah nodded. “Yes, ma’am.”
“And Joel, well, he used to do a lot of the same things.”
“Is that why Aunt Syd couldn’t stay married to him?”
“She was scared,” Ayesha explained. “She was scared of how much it would hurt if something happened to him like what happened to your dad.”
“But, you’re scared too, right, Ma?” He pressed his thumb into his chest. “I’m scared. And Theo.”
“What’s the difference?”
“I don’t see myself living without Joel by choice.” It wasn’t as candid as she’d wanted to be with her son, but there was no reeling the words back in. “Plus, the guys are more mature, wiser, and more skilled now. Closer now. So, when I think about having him in our lives as opposed to not having him in our lives, it’s not worth it to not have him here with us to love and cherish and laugh with.”
Josiah rested his head on her shoulder. “It’s like, if nothing bad happens, we can have him forever. But, if he’s not in our lives, then we don’t have him, something bad could still happen, and we’d miss all that time we could have spent together.”
He’d been so little when he was born. Barely five pounds. It was hard to imagine the constantly growing and stretching young man across from her had once been a tiny, frowning baby.
“So, when are we moving in?” he asked.
She laughed and gave him a gentle shove.
“Mama, come on. I already have my room picked out.”
Her brow tipped up. “Oooh, you just called me ‘Mama.’”
“No, I didn’t.” His face flamed. “I said ‘Ma’ and accidentally stuttered.”
“You sure did. I’m still your mama.” She placed a loud smack against his cheek. “Forever and ever, you will always be my itsy-bitsy baby boy.”
He groaned and laughed when she hugged him tight.
* * *
“Adrían, we can’t do this.”
“But do you need it, Ayesha?” Adrían slipped his tongue inside her bellybutton. “Do you need it?” He buried two fingers inside her. “Do you want me? Tell me you want me.”
“It can’t be more than this.”
“Tell me you want me, Ayesha…”
“Delgano.” Nicholas didn’t look up from his computer monitor. “Did you see her?”
Adrían scrubbed his face. “See who?”
Of course, he’d seen Ayesha Savea. He couldn’t unsee Ayesha Savea. None of the guys knew how he felt about her, and he would take that information to his grave. Up until he’d met her, he’d done most things on autopilot. Whatever was expected of him, he executed to the fullest of his abilities.
As the story often went, she should have never been more than a job.
Ayesha Savea was sweet like brigadeiros and pretty like the multicolored palette of women back in Rio. He’d assumed it was for the best when they’d broken things off; at no point could he ever tell her he was one of the men responsible for her husband’s death. But it didn’t matter how many people he killed. His heart hadn’t changed. It could still love, and it was snared one afternoon in Maui.
He knew what their mission would eventually be, but he’d be damned if he let any of these assholes he called comrades put a finger on her or her boys.
“Adrían.” Nicholas waved a hand in front of his face. “Did you see her or not?”
“I saw her,” he said.
“Did the kid spot you like he did with Lavigne?”
“She wasn’t with her kids. She was with a man.”
Nicholas’ brows shot up. “I guess she finally found a way to move on after what’s his name.”
He never forgot the name.
The smell of the other man’s blood.
After Curtis’ death, all he’d had to do was check to see if the man’s widow knew the truth about what Curtis did. All signs had pointed to her being kept in the dark by her late, large, Polynesian husband, but once given an assignment, he couldn’t turn away.
When he saw her with her little boy, her little Theodore, it made him think of losing his own mother. Talking to her transformed her from target to person. Once she became a person, he slipped and fell into a sensation he’d never experienced before her.
He reported back that she didn’t know anything, but they’d still kept tabs on her.
Outside of Ayesha, they’d kept tabs on a Larke Tapley, an Arihi Hunter—she was a high-profile target—a Tayler Diaz, and a Moana Jonesboro, each woman having had contact with the Alpha team at some point. Alpha was the first of their kind. Their team, Omega, would be the last.
Once the Alpha recruits had taken it upon themselves to bring in a new man, without approval, whose real name the establishment had yet to learn, surveillance had been upped. According to Central, where their teams had been created, the Alpha team had grown too close. Too large. It had been foolish to put that much skill and power in the same place.
Now, instead of a team, they operated like a family.
Then they went rogue.
“Any word about what to do with the Alpha team?” he asked.
Nicholas still didn’t look up. Once in front of his computer, he faded away from the rest of the world. “No. I already said I would let you know when.”
“Who the fuck do you think you’re talking to like that?”
“Sorry.” Nicholas sighed, remembering exactly who could easily kill whom on this team. “I’m on edge. I haven’t heard back from Larke Tapley. Usually, she responds by now, and I need to get back into her computer. There’s no way she could have figured me out. She’s not nearly smart enough.”
The Larke Tapley he’d met undercover in DC was definitely smart enough. He’d wanted to fuck her hoarse for cursing him out in front of that federal judge’s house.
“Hasn’t it been a while since you’ve last spoken?” he asked.
“I won’t give up. A ‘Huntsman’ can’t outsmart a ‘Ghost.’”
Adrían held up two hands in defense.
Nicholas continued to mumble through his insecurities. Adrían ignored him. The rest of the team could burn in hell. Ayesha and her boys would be coming with him even if he had to take a knife to his own group mates’ throats.
* * *
Dez slammed the front door of what he hoped was the last house he had to move his family into and dropped his bag in the entryway. “Where are my sexy ass wife and my adorable baby girl?”
Larke peered around her open office door. “God, why are you so loud?”
He started toward her.
She shrieked and pulled her head back into the room like a turtle in a shell.
In the office, Monroe slept in her playpen, crumbs all over her dress.
The little monster.
He went there first to stare at her like he’d done since the day she was born. A day he’d nearly missed. She looked just like her mother, which made her the luckiest kid in the world. Larke wanted at least one more, but her first pregnancy had been so difficult, he didn’t want to think about her doing it a second time.
When he spun to face her, she quickly closed out several windows on her computer. One of them had looked like some sort of profile and the other, a program he’d seen before on Julien’s wall of monitor screens.
“You cheating on me?” he asked.
She frowned. “What?”
He wrapped his arms around her from behind, sweaty and disgusting, and secretly felt for the pulse on her wrist. “You’re being sneaky.”
“Who would I cheat with, Dez?” She leaned back against him. She loved him sweaty and disgusting. “Unless it’s Chris Hemsworth or Charlie Hunnam or something.”
Her pulse remained steady.
Shit, that was the truth?
“So, if you’re not cheating, what were you working on?”
“Nothing important.” Her pulse sped up. “Some stuff for Tay.”
“Have you heard from your little IT buddy?”
She turned in his arms, and the movement pulled her wrist away from his fingers. “Jealousy is wasted on someone as fine as you. You know that, right? And Mo’s already clued me in to you guys’ little poor man’s lie detector. Really, lover?”
“You’re keeping something from me and you won’t tell me.” He shrugged. “What else am I supposed to do if I can’t ask you?”
“I’ll tell you after your shower.”
She faked a pout. “But I’m not Tapley anymore. I’m Mrs. Harding.”
“You’re Tapley until you tell me the truth.” He stepped away from her, went back to the front room, and grabbed his bag. “I won’t give it up until you tell me the truth, either.”
She smiled, arms crossed. “You can’t give it up. You guys let Joel con you into going without because he swore none of you could go even a quarter as long as he did without getting some. You guys must really be bored.”
Dez opened his arms wide. “Baby, think about it. First of all, I was never going to win and, right now, I haven’t touched you in eleven days. I’m not the only one hurting.”
Eleven days, ten hours, eighteen minutes, and sixteen seconds.
Her smile fell, and her face flushed. She remembered. She knew what he was like when he got back from a long mission. Once he’d settled and could touch her again, he wore her out. He made her hoarse. A few times, he went too hard, and she bruised. The next day when he spotted the marks, he’d been sacked with guilt, but the bruises had turned her freaky little ass on.
“It’s,” she scratched the back of her head, “nothing.”
He pulled off his clothes and stood naked in their foyer. “Okay.”
“Can I watch you shower?” she squeaked.
“Can I touch it?”
“Nope.” He knew he was playing a dangerous game. “Unless you tell me what you’ve been working on.”
Seconds passed with her staring at different parts of his body like she couldn’t decide where to settle her gaze.
“Nick emailed me from out of nowhere,” she said, eyes on his stomach. “I had Julien look at the email, and he said it was Nick trying to backdoor my computer to gain access to my network. If I’d downloaded what he sent, he would have been able to trace my movements without me knowing.”
Dez stared at his wife, but he saw himself peeling the son of a bitch’s scalp from his skull. “And did he say what Nick wants?”
“No. He doesn’t know, but he says the program’s familiar. That’s it.”
“You couldn’t tell me this, why?”
She remembered he had a face. “How many ways have you already envisioned killing him in the span of time it took for me to tell you that story?”
“Only one so far.”
“That’s exactly why. You’re a large, dangerous, sexy man and why can’t I touch it?”
Monroe cried out, and Dez hid his sigh of relief. Two seconds longer, and he would have picked Larke up, walked her to the bathroom with him, and they would have been welcoming a second kid or two in about nine months. If he could get to at least fourteen days without touching his wife despite her voice, smell, and the softness of her skin tormenting him around their house, he would consider that a personal triumph.
“Go take your shower,” she said. “Dinner tonight’s at Joel’s.”
She groaned and went to tend to their daughter.
He took his clothes with him to the owner’s suite, tossed them in the hamper, and turn the pipe on full blast, the water frigid. However, it wasn’t desire he needed to calm. This little Nick prick officially had a red dot on the back of his fucking skull.
04: The Bestest Time Ever
“My teacher gived me this book.” Theo climbed back on top of him. “I aksed her if she had a book that I could read to you when I’m a gooder reader, and she said I can take this one home and read it with you so I learn the words.”
Joel swallowed twice before reading the title out loud. “You asked her for a book called ‘I Love You, Daddy’ to read? With me?”