Obviously she hears me, but instead of responding, she just stares at the rail of my bed, as if suddenly frozen.

“I know you care about him. If something happened to me because I was with him… he wouldn’t be okay. I’m afraid he wouldn’t let anyone else in. Promise me you wouldn’t let him… close himself off.”

Smiling a little uneasily, she says, “I don’t think I can control what he does.”

Nodding slightly, I say, “I think you could.”

“This is an intensely weird conversation,” she tells me, finally meeting my gaze.

“I’m proficient in those, if you haven’t noticed.”

“I don’t really know how to respond to that,” she tells me.

“You don’t have to,” I tell her, letting her off the hook. “Just… know how I feel about it.”

Mia shakes her head, seeming almost surprised. “You never stop getting weirder, do you?”

“Also, I want you to be my maid of honor,” I add.

She snorts, covers her mouth, and then literally starts laughing until tears leak out of her eyes. “Only you,” she finally says. “Only you would make those two requests back to back.”

I grin at her. I can’t laugh with her, but I would if I could. “I’m special.”

Flicking an errant tear from under her eye, she nods. “You are that.”

Chapter Twenty Six

I’m so glad to finally be home.

Mateo’s treating me a bit like a paper doll, but now that I’m not in the hospital, I am experiencing much more soreness, so I don’t object much.

“Can I hug your tummy?”

Before I can answer Lily, Mateo does. “We can’t hug Mommy’s tummy right now, remember?”

“Let’s do normal hugs today,” I say, opening my arms.

We haven’t told the girls about the baby yet, but given all that’s happened, I kind of want to wait until the first trimester is over to tell them, just to be safe.

“Want me to get my doctor kit and make you all better?” Lily asks.

Gasping, Isabella adds, “I can be the nurse!”

“That sounds like a great idea,” I tell them. “Why don’t you guys do that after dinner, though?”

“And you don’t have to work? We can do bedtime stories?” Lily asks.

“Absolutely,” I agree.

Mateo hangs back as I give more hugs and entertain little girl chatter, then Ju hauls them both out so she can make them dinner.

As soon as they’re gone, Mateo raises an eyebrow. “You’re never allowed to leave the house again, I hope you realize that.”

Smiling at him, I roll my eyes. “Impossible. Someone has to run the bakery.”

“I’ll find someone else.”

I shake my head. “Once I get this under control,” I say, gesturing to my stomach, “I’ll be good to go. At least until we can get someone else in there. I’d like to teach Mia and we could run it together, that way I don’t have to be there all the time.”

“I’m not worried about the bakery right now,” he states, taking a seat on the edge of the bed.

“I know, but it doesn’t just disappear because something came up,” I point out.

“It might, if we keep not showing up without notice,” he says lightly.

“Exactly,” I say, lightly shoving his arm. “And it’s been in your family for so long, we gotta keep up the tradition.”

“I’m supposed to be the traditional one,” he informs me.

“Well, I get half your shit now,” I remind him, flashing the ring.

Smirking, he says, “Ah, so that’s why you won’t leave.”

I nod. “That, and the awesome sex.”

Glancing at my stomach, he tells me, “I think it’s going to be a while before we can have any more of that.”

“I know,” I say, scowling. “That’s probably my least favorite thing about the experience.”

“It’s definitely in my top ten.” Reaching forward and caressing my face, he tells me, “Things might get bad for a while. We have to ferret out who was involved, and other than you, no one’s safe.”

“No one?” I ask, with concern.

“Well, Adrian. He wasn’t involved. And Mia. If Mia knew anything…”

He doesn’t finish, but I nod and do it for him. “She would’ve told you.”

He nods once. “Anyone who was involved will be dealt with, family or not. You’re going to see me do a lot of things in the coming days that you might not like.”

His hand has dropped to mine, and I nod, considering that while I rub my thumb across his knuckles. “Like I said before, I know who you are. I know you do things I wouldn’t be thrilled about.”

“But I haven’t been, and that’s why we’re here,” he states, sounding more than a little aggravated with himself. “I’ve been too soft lately, too forgiving.” Raising his eyebrows accusingly, he says, “I’m pretty sure it’s your fault. I’m much better at my job when I’m not distracted.”

“Don’t let me distract you,” I say, eyes widening. “I want you at the top of your game. I’m not excited about the prospect of you potentially killing people I’ve had dinner with, but at the end of the day, if it’s you or them, then there’s no choice. I don’t love violence and mayhem, but you do what you have to do. I’m going to be here for you at the end of every day, no matter what.”

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