“I won’t do this again,” he promises me. “I’m sorry I told you I’d make you leave. I thought I could force you over the hump. I didn’t consider that you would just internalize all the feelings and take the bump for me.”

I nudge him with my shoulder. “You should’ve. I take all the bumps for you.”

Tucking me into his chest, he holds me tight and sighs.

“You really did do a lot of work to get me here, didn’t you?” I realize. This must have been an enormous undertaking. Especially since he did it all in secret, and had to make Vince go along with it. And that’s just the Vince stuff—I have no idea how he convinced Meg to accept me.

“Yep,” he verifies.

“You must really like me,” I tease.

“What was your first clue?” he asks, dryly.

I come out of his protective hold so I can reach up and kiss him. “Well, I hope I’m worth all the extra steps.”

Cupping my face in his hand and gazing down at me tenderly, he assures me, “You’re worth a million more.”

Chapter Thirty One


“Those meatballs are kinda small. You want to make them a little bigger?”

Isabella shakes her head, grabbing another little chunk of meat from the bowl and rolling it into a teeny tiny ball. “No, then my baby can’t eat them.”

“Oh.” Meg’s eyebrows rise and she nods. “I guess that’s a good point. Though, you know, you could just cut one up for her.”

Isabella considers it briefly, then shakes her head. “Nah.”

I take the plate of Isabella’s teeny meatballs over to the stove where Elise is stirring the sauce. “I’ll try to sneak over some normal sized ones in a minute,” I murmur lowly.

She smiles kindly—much more sincerely than is typical. Having Lily and Isabella in the kitchen seems to put her in a better mood. Probably makes her think of the tiny Palmetto nestled in her own tummy. These damn pregnant women running around the kitchen.

Feeling a little dissatisfied, I head back over to Meg. I lean in and whisper to her, telling her she needs to sneak some regular sized meatballs over to Elise. At least enough for Mateo. If the rest of us have pea-sized balls of meat, we can survive, but Mateo likes things a certain way.

“On it, boss,” she assures me. “Where are you going?”

“I’m gonna do drinks.”

Meg grins, happy that I can do that again. “Have fun,” she says, brightly.

I feel lighter than I have in a long time as I make my way to the study. When I get inside, my gaze still drifts to Vince’s empty chair, but I don’t feel sad now. I still feel a little tug. I still miss Vince, but I know this is the only way this could’ve worked. He would be miserable and I would feel awkward if he had to sit here now, if I had to pour him a drink and walk on egg shells, not wanting to be too openly affectionate with Mateo so as not to rub it in. Mateo also isn’t the most considerate person in the world, so he would shove his face right in it and I would feel immensely guilty—not to mention anxious that with every pushy grope, with every lingering kiss, Vince inched closer and closer to trying something horrible again.

No, this is for the best. Mateo came up with the absolute best plan for all of us—he probably wouldn’t admit that, but he totally did. I’m full of affection for him again as his gaze meets mine in the study. His lips curve up slightly, a trace of warmth dancing in his beautiful brown eyes. I know I’m here to serve, but I go over to him and steal a kiss first.

His hands settle on my hips and he gives me a bonus kiss, staying close. “You’re doing drinks tonight, huh?”

I nod with considerable cheer. “I can do that without turning into a basket case now.”

“You’re welcome,” he says lightly.

“You’re too good to me,” I toss back as I step out of his embrace to go grab drinks.

Once I’m done giving everyone a beverage, I naturally turn my attention back to Mateo. He’s not at his perch though—he’s behind his desk, sitting in his chair. Now that I’m looking his way, he pats his lap. I grin and head over there, taking a seat and leaning in to give him another kiss.

“You never sit down for pre-dinner drinks.”

He shrugs casually. “No one here needs to be intimidated tonight. How are Isabella’s meatballs coming along?”

I pause to consider, trailing my finger down the front of his dress shirt. “Well, if Sal and Francesca bring a shrink ray to blast us all with before we eat, they’re coming along perfectly.”

“Wonderful,” he says dryly.

“Don’t worry; Meg’s making some normal sized meatballs for you. The rest of us get balls so small they’re a choking hazard.”

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