“God, that’s like your third serving,” eighteen-year-old Riley complains. “Just eat the whole pound, why don’t you?”
Rory and his twin brother, Raymond, are thirteen-year-old, growing boys—emphasis on growing. Either one waking up a quarter inch taller—and half a shoe size bigger—than they were the night before is fairly common. And like bats, they pretty much eat their weight in food.
Rory opens his mouth wide, flashing his sister the half-chewed horror on his tongue.
“I’d rather be gross than a nag!”
Before Rory can retaliate, Chelsea gives them The Look, then hands Rory three more pieces of bacon. I pour a cup of black coffee at the counter, turn around, and almost trip over tiny Regan, standing next to me with a hairbrush and elastic tie in her hand.
“Can you do my braid, Daddy?”
Regan and Ronan are the only two who call me and Chelsea “Mom” and “Dad”—too young to have any real memories of their parents, Robert and Rachel. To some, it might seem weird that the kids call us different names, but for us, it works.
I run the brush through her hair—it’s getting really long—and weave the light-brown strands into a French braid in record time. She smiles, her top two teeth adorably missing, then sits at the table to finish her eggs.
On my right, I catch Chelsea giving me a different look than the one she tossed the kids’ way. It’s of the I-want-to-drop-to-my-knees-and-blow-you-so-bad variety.
She shakes her head and steps closer. Her perfect breasts jiggle just a little beneath the lettering of her black San Diego Chargers jersey—and I lick my lips. I should’ve given her tits more attention this morning. I mentally promise to make it up to them tomorrow.
Chelsea’s voice is low, so the kids can’t hear. “There will never be anything sexier than watching you—with your muscles and tattoos—braiding a six-year-old’s hair.”
“I love you, too.” I lean down and kiss her.
Until Rory complains. “That’s enough face sucking. You’re married for God’s sakes—act like it.”
Chelsea giggles against my lips. But then whispers, “We should talk later.”
Huh. She wants to talk. Great. Cool.
Said no guy ever.
“Yeah. I think so. Just . . . later.” She gives my forearm a squeeze—right over the tattoo with her and all the kids’ names on it—and walks to the table to replenish the eggs.
I sit down at the head of the table, snag a piece of whole-wheat toast, and ask, “What are the plans for today, team?”
Riley pipes up first. “I’m going to Peter’s.”
Peter Wentworth is Riley’s boyfriend of the last six months. He seems like a decent kid—doesn’t piss his pants in my presence, like some of her past suitors. So I give him points for bravery. But . . . he’s just such a fucking dork. A cosplaying, World of Warcraft–obsessed, could-be-an-understudy-for–The Big Bang Theory dork. Even for puppy love, I just don’t think Peter’s good enough for her.
Raymond raises his hand. “I have to go to the library to meet my group to finish a summer project for astronomy.”
Rosaleen goes next. “I have piano.”
And Regan. “I have ballet and tap today.”
Then, finally, Ronan, his sandy-blond hair sticking up because no one’s gotten around to brushing it for him. “I got nuffin’.”
I point my finger. “Then you’re with me today, kiddo.”
Chelsea sits down at the other end of the table.
“You’re going to see the Judge?”
I nod. “I’ll take Ronan with me, drop Rory at practice on the way, and pick him up on the way back.”
“Rosaleen can come with me to Regan’s dance class,” Chelsea says. “We’ll make it back home in time for her piano lesson.” She turns to Riley. “And you can drop Raymond off at the library when you go to Peter’s.”
It’s a solid plan. Except—Riley’s a teenager, so she whines, “Come on, the library’s on the other side of town.”
“That’s the thing about cars,” I tell her. “They can travel long distances. It’s amazing.”
She rolls her eyes. “Why do I have to do it?”
“Because you agreed to help drive the kids around when we agreed to buy you a new Camry instead of a used one. That was the deal, Riley,” Chelsea answers.
Robert and Rachel McQuaid had a sizable life-insurance policy when they died, so even with six kids to care for, money isn’t really an issue for us. The house is paid off, each of the kids has a healthy college fund, and being a founding partner of my own law firm, I do pretty damn well. But—thanks to the advice of my best friend and partner, Brent Mason, who inherited more money than he’ll ever be able to spend—we keep that info from the kids. It’s important for them to have ambition, to set goals for themselves—I don’t want them ever thinking they can waste their lives living off money someone else earned for them.
“Fine.” Riley sighs. She looks at her brother. “How long are you going to be at the library?”
Raymond cleans his Harry Potter–like glasses. “Three or four hours.”