I grin at her. “I’ll remember that,” I say before leading her up the walkway toward her parents’ front door.
When we’re halfway up the walk, she asks, “Have you heard from Heather yet?” The mention of my sister makes my gut tighten. I didn’t want to let her and my niece leave this morning, not with everything happening in Montana. Like Leah said, she’ll be okay eventually, but she’s far from okay right now, and I hate that I can’t protect her.
“She texted that she and Kennedy were in Seattle waiting to board a flight to Montana. She’ll message once she hits Missoula.”
Her face falls. “I wish she could have stayed and come to Sunday dinner with us. My mom would have loved her and Kennedy.”
The tightness in my gut eases. Heather, like my mother, has never really gotten along with or approved of anyone I’ve dated. I love the bond Heather and Leah formed during her short stay. Not that I’m really surprised by it. Leah has a way of making you fall in love with her the moment you meet her.
“I hope there will be a time in the near future that inviting her to Sunday dinner can be a regular occurrence.”
“I hope so too,” she agrees, touching her fingers lightly to my jaw.
Like the miracle worker she is, she causes my body to relax completely. I thought I’d fallen in love before. But I realized that until Leah I’d never really experienced the soul-deep feeling of contentment and happiness that comes with true love. In a short amount of time, she’s changed my whole world. She’s changed my purpose in life. Before her I was focused on work, on my career; now I’m looking forward to the life we’ll build together, the family we’ll one day have.
Jesus, I want to pick her up and take her to bed and show her exactly what she means to me.
“Baby, how important is Sunday dinner to you?” I pull her against me while dropping my face to hers.
“Wh-what?” she stammers, scanning my eyes.
“I really want—”
“Are you two gonna stand outside or come on in?” her dad says as he opens the door suddenly, and I growl deep in my throat, aggravated by the intrusion.
Leah’s eyes fly from mine to her father’s, and she visibly swallows. “We . . . ,” she starts, then glances at me once more. Her pupils are dilated, and her expression is filled with confusion.
“We’re coming in,” I say. As much as I want to cart her off, I know I shouldn’t. She enjoys spending time with her family, and I actually do too. Plus, I get her all night after we leave here.
“Come inside, then.” Her dad holds the door open for us. After hugs for Leah and a handshake for me, he tells us to take off our coats. We drop them on the back of the couch, where there’ll be a pile later when the rest of the family arrives. Just like the first time I was here, Leah’s father starts talking sports, and Leah zones out. I kiss her after she tells me she’s going to check on her mom.
A few minutes later, she comes back out with two beers. She hands one to her dad and kisses his cheek before heading toward me.
“Are you okay?” she asks, holding out a beer but not letting it go.
“I’m good, baby.” Her eyes search mine. I tug her down toward me and steal a quick kiss, causing her cheeks to turn an adorable shade of pink. I let her go instead of dragging her onto my lap like I want. “Do you and your mom need help in the kitchen?”
“No, she’s pretty much got everything done.”
“Do you wanna hang here and watch the game with me and your dad?” She glances at the TV and scrunches up her nose. “I’ll take that as a no.”
“Sorry.” She shrugs with a goofy smile. I chuckle and accept a kiss from her before she leaves me alone with her father once more. When her brothers arrive a little later, she comes out of hiding so she can smother her niece and nephews with kisses and hugs. I love their relationship, and when I see her with them, I can imagine her as a mom, can see she’ll have the same fun-loving, light relationship with her own children one day.
“So you’re going to Tennessee for Thanksgiving?” Ben asks once we’re all sitting around the table and have loaded our plates.
“Yep.” Her eyes widen slightly. “Any advice for meeting Tyler’s parents?”
“Don’t talk,” Ben says, and everyone laughs.
“I’ll take Bruce if he’s not going with you.” Noah looks at me.
“Heck yeah,” Owen shouts with a wide smile, and I look at him. I’d planned on taking Bruce with us, but after seeing Owen’s excitement, I decide he’ll stay behind this time.