Protecting You Page 3

“Quit being weird, dude.” Logan said. “It’s Grace.”

“I know it’s Grace, and I’m not being weird.”

His forehead creased and he raised an eyebrow. “I can see that. Just like you’re not stalking her.”

Before he could react, I hooked an arm around his neck. I yanked him down, going for a headlock, but he twisted out of my grip and wrapped his arms around my waist. Driving with his legs, he pushed until my back crashed against the wall.

I got my feet under me and changed my grip on him. Lowering my center of gravity, I pivoted and flipped him over my shoulder. He landed hard on the bed, and his foot sent something on the bedside table crashing to the floor. I spun, getting chest to chest to maintain control. I’d wrestled in high school and now I took jiujitsu at an MMA gym in town, so my grappling skills were still sharp.

They had to be, in this family.

He grunted as I held him pinned down beneath my weight.

“Can you not break my stuff?”

A mirror image of Logan’s face glared at us from the doorway. His twin, Levi, stood with his arms crossed. They looked a lot like me, but their features were more angular than mine, their cheekbones sharper. Even though they had the identical DNA, I’d never had a problem telling them apart. Levi was so serious, whereas Logan always looked like he was up to something.

“Sorry.” I stood and helped Logan up. This was the bedroom they shared, and I’d just body-slammed Logan onto Levi’s bed.

Levi grunted and moved past me to pick up the lamp we’d knocked over. At least it didn’t look like it was broken.

“Grace is home,” Logan said.

“Yeah.” Levi replied without looking at his brother.

“She needs a proper welcome. We should go give her a five-moon salute.” Logan smirked and mimicked pulling his pants down to show his ass.

“Why would we do that?”

“Because it would be funny.”

I shoved Logan. “Leave her alone.”

“You two are boring as fuck,” he said under his breath, then paused, as if waiting to see if Gram had heard him. The scolding didn’t come, and he grinned. “Gavin’ll do it with me.”

I was about to tackle Logan again—or maybe Levi, just because—when the smell of strawberries wafted upstairs from the kitchen.

We all froze, sniffing the air, our eyes widening.

“Is Gram baking?” I asked.

Logan nodded. “Smells like—”

“Strawberry rhubarb,” Levi finished.

I moved toward the door, but Logan knocked into me with his shoulder. Levi pushed past us both and we all scrambled to get to the kitchen first.

Our feet thundered on the old wooden staircase. We shoved each other all the way down, as if we were a pack of rowdy kids, not three guys who were technically adults. The tantalizing scent grew. We burst into the kitchen just as Gram pulled a pie out of the oven and set it on a wire rack next to another. Despite the noise we’d just made rushing down here, she only spared us a quick glance over her shoulder.

Silver was replacing the black in Gram’s long hair. She wore it in a thick braid down her back, and had for as long as I could remember. Although she’d recently turned seventy, her dark skin was only just starting to show her age and her posture was still straight. Kind of surprising, considering she’d had to unexpectedly raise five unruly boys, years after having raised her own children.

She claimed it was the mountain air, copious amounts of bacon, and her Native American ancestry that kept her young. I tended to think she was simply too stubborn to let age have its way with her.

For over two decades, my grandmother had been known as Gram to everyone who knew her—related or not. But before she’d married my grandad, Frank Bailey, she’d been Emma Luscier, descendant of both the Chelan and Wenatchi tribes. Her ancestors had lived in the Cascade mountain range for countless generations.

Gavin already sat at the kitchen table, a wide rectangle our grandad had built out of thick planks. The chairs placed around it were sturdy, but worn from years of use. Grooves in the wood floor marked the passage of two generations of kids who’d grown up in this house.

Our youngest brother looked like a clone of the rest of us. Dark hair, brown eyes, olive skin, and a semi-permanent shit-eating grin. He was going through a phase of keeping his hair so long it hung in his eyes, and he hadn’t quite lost his round cheeks yet. When I really wanted to piss him off, I called him babyface.

“The pie needs to cool,” Gram said. “And there’s no need to fight over it. I made plenty. Still have two more to bake.”

The three of us hadn’t tried to climb over each other to get downstairs because we thought we’d run out of pie. With five boys in the house, Gram always made enough food to feed an army. For us, it was just habit. We were brothers; wrestling was our love language.

Logan walked up behind her, put his hands on her shoulders, and kissed her cheek. “It just smells so good we can’t help it. Plus, I’m starving.”

“You just ate lunch.”

“I ran five miles this morning.” He leaned against the counter and grabbed an apple out of a bowl.

“Do you want a medal?” Levi asked.

Grinning, Logan tossed the apple at him. Levi caught it and threw it back.

“Go find Evan,” Gram said.

Logan took a bite of the apple. “Which one of us?”

“All of you.”

“Where is he?” Levi asked.

Gavin jerked his thumb toward the back door. “Woods. I saw him leave earlier.”

Evan kept to himself a lot, often wandering in the woods out behind our house. He had come home from his second year of college a few days ago, but even though we shared a room when he was here, I hadn’t seen much of him.

“Go on then,” Gram said, shooing us with the oven mitt. “No pie until you bring your brother back, or you animals will eat it all before he has a chance at any.”

A chorus of groans went around the kitchen, coupled with the scrape of Gavin’s chair against the floor.

While my brothers headed for the door, I hung back. If Gram really wanted to be rid of all four of us, she’d shoo me out too. But I didn’t want to wander the woods searching for Evan, so I hesitated next to the table, waiting to see if she’d insist I go.

She didn’t.

The back door banged shut. I pulled out a chair and sat while she put two more pies in the oven.

“You finish up your finals?” she asked.

“Yep. All done until September.”

“How’d you do?”

“Pretty sure I aced everything.”

She closed the oven and put her oven mitts on the counter. “Of course you did.”

Unlike Grace and my brother Evan, I’d stayed in town after high school and enrolled in Tilikum College. It was a good school, and had one of the best fire sciences programs in the state. Logan and Levi were starting there in the fall. All three of us planned on going into fire safety. I’d been a volunteer firefighter since I’d graduated high school, and my plan was to make a career of it. Eventually become a fire inspector. Maybe even fire chief someday.

But even if the college here hadn’t been a good school, I still would have stayed. I couldn’t leave Gram or my brothers. Our parents had died in an electrical fire when we were young—fortunately for us kids, we hadn’t been in the house—and Gram and Grandad had taken us in.

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