Protecting You Page 1

Author: Claire Kingsley

Series: Bailey Brothers #1

Genres: Romance



Age 11

I startled at the sharp sound of grown-ups yelling. Dropping my stick in the trickling creek water, I whipped around to look, but my brothers were the only ones around. Evan was in a tree, probably trying to get away from the twins. Levi and Logan splashed downstream from me with Gavin, who was covered head to toe in mud.

Someone yelled again—a man’s voice, loud and booming—and my stomach twisted. I didn’t know why, but even if they weren’t yelling at me, the sound of grown-ups fighting always gave me a stomachache.

Gram and Grandad never yelled, especially not at each other. Which meant it had to be Grace’s mom, Miss Naomi, and her dad, Mr. Miles.

Grace’s dad didn’t live with them like some dads did, but he came to visit sometimes. I hated it when he came over. Not because it meant Grace would be busy and couldn’t come outside with me, although I hated that too. She was my best friend and we saw each other every day, except when her dad was visiting.

The problem was, everyone got upset when Mr. Miles was here. Once I heard Gram say he always left messes behind. I used to think she meant he didn’t clean up his dishes, but now I wondered if she meant a different kind of mess. A grown-up mess.

The yelling didn’t stop, the loud voices carrying all the way down to the creek. I hopped over the shallow water and ran up the slope toward Grace’s house. If this was making my stomach hurt, she was probably really upset.

I needed to find her.

It sounded like her parents were out front, so I raced across the grass. Gram was working in the garden, but she didn’t call for me as I ran by and veered toward the space between our two houses.

Grace wasn’t in her backyard, and I didn’t see her on the side of the yard that faced our house. I slowed to a walk and carefully crept toward the front. I peeked onto their front porch but didn’t see her there either.

Then I felt dumb. Of course she wasn’t sitting on the porch while her parents yelled at each other.

She’d be hiding.

We had a lot of good hiding places. Gavin found the best ones, but he was also the smallest and could probably fit into a snake hole if he tried. Most of our favorite spots weren’t near our houses. They were out on Gram and Grandad’s land, past the gardens.

I hoped Grace had run down the hill and jumped the creek. Maybe she was waiting it out in a tree, or had gone out to the spot she called the fairy garden where she couldn’t hear her parents fighting.

But I’d been playing at the creek all morning—bored without her—and I hadn’t seen her. If she were upset and wanted to hide out there, she’d have come to get me first.

Which meant she was hiding around here. Watching. Listening to them fight.

It made my stomach hurt worse.

I glared at Mr. Miles from behind the cover of a bush. Why did he have to shout so much? He was a big man, tall and always dressed like grown-ups on TV shows. His shirts weren’t flannel like Grandad wore, but they had buttons, and sometimes he wore a tie.

I hated him. I hated his loud voice and his fancy car. But mostly I hated that every time he came to visit, something would make Grace cry.

Avoiding the front of the house so they wouldn’t see me, I cut around back. Grace wasn’t between the bushes and her house. She hadn’t wedged herself into the space beneath the back steps.

There wasn’t anywhere to hide on the other side of the house. I looked, but I didn’t see her there either. Which meant she was probably inside.

The yelling continued, and I figured you could hear it inside even with all the windows shut. I ran around to the other side of the house and hunted for a few pebbles. Looking up at Grace’s bedroom window, I tossed one of the small rocks at the glass.

It clicked when it hit, and I waited. But she didn’t come. I tried again, but nothing happened. Maybe she wasn’t in her room.

Dropping the last pebble, I ran to the back door. It was unlocked, like always, so I went in. She wasn’t watching TV or having a snack in the kitchen. I raced up the stairs, my stomachache getting worse by the second.

Her bedroom door was open a crack, so I peeked inside. “Grace?”

A big lump under her covers moved.

“Gracie Bear, what are you doing?” I went in and lifted the edge of the covers so I could see underneath.

She was curled up with her arms grasping her knees. Her eyes were red, her cheeks streaked with tears.

It made me want to punch something.

“Can I come in your blanket fort?”

She sniffed. “It’s not a good fort.”

“Do you want to build a better one?”

She shook her head.

It made me so angry when she looked sad.

I lifted her comforter and crawled inside. She scooted over to make room as the blanket settled over the top of us. The air was warm under here, but it smelled good. Like laundry soap.

“My mom’s mad at my dad,” she said, her voice small.

“Yeah. Do you know why?”

“He was supposed to take me to Seattle to go to the big zoo. Now he says he can’t.” She sniffed. “Have you ever been to that zoo?”


“Me neither. Mom said there are zebras and giraffes and gorillas. And you can watch penguins swim in a pool.”

I thought for a second. “Well, if your dad can’t take you, I will. It’s only five years until I can drive. I bet Grandad will let me borrow the truck and we’ll go, just you and me.”

She smiled a little. That made me feel better. And made me want to make her smile more.

I dug in my pocket, wondering if I had anything left from our last trip to the Sugar Shack for snacks. My fingers found a few empty wrappers, but I still had one stick of gum.

“Here.” I held it out to her. “It’s my last piece. Want it?”

She smiled again and took it. “Thanks. Let’s split it.”

Without waiting for me to answer, she opened the gum and ripped the pink strip in half. She handed one side to me and popped the other in her mouth.

Gum could fix a lot of things.

The air beneath the comforter was getting hot and stifling with two of us under here. I tossed it aside and hopped off the bed.

“Come on. Let’s go.”

She sat up and wiped her eyes. “Where?”


I reached for her hand and helped her slide off the bed. Smacking our gum, we ran downstairs and out the back door.

Her dad’s voice boomed out front and she flinched. My first thought was to get her away from the arguing, but he made me so mad. He was supposed to take her to the zoo, and instead he’d made her cry. He was such a dumb jerk.

I grabbed her hand and led her around the side of the house, heading for the front.

“Where are we going?” she whispered.

“I have an idea.”

We stopped next to the porch and crouched low so they couldn’t see us. Miss Naomi had her hands on her hips and she looked mad. Scary mad. It wasn’t good when Grace’s mom made that face. It meant you were in big trouble.

Her dad had his back to us and his arms were crossed. But more importantly, his car was parked close by.

I took the gum out of my mouth and held out my hand. “Give me your gum.”

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