Today's Reading

Also, those shoulders. Not to mention the dark green eyes that made her belly flip.

Maybe she was a masochist, because when she'd piled her plate high with enough food to feed three of her, all of which she intended to eat merrily, she didn't go and find a seat near her mother or her friends. Or even with Abby Everett, who Amanda viewed as a surrogate big sister as well as her boss at the coffee shop in town—and who was almost the guest of honor at the Labor Day potluck today. The real guest of honor being her cute little newborn baby boy, Bart, who she'd just had with Brady's oldest brother, the forbidding Gray. Who looked more besotted than forbidding today as he gazed at his wife and son.

Instead, she headed for the table where Brady sat with Riley and Connor.

Because if Amanda let a few infantilizing comments wreck her day, she would never get out of bed in this town, where she was universally seen as forever twelve. Amanda headed for the empty chair next to Brady.

"By the way, congratulations, Uncle Brady," she said breezily, as if she was continuing their buffet conversation. "Bart is adorable."

"He's already an uncle," Riley growled. Because Riley always growled, as if the words themselves offended him as he spoke them. All the words.

"Remember Becca?" Connor asked in that lazy voice he used when he was being a jerk, which was basically all the time. "Pretty sure she made Brady an uncle sixteen years ago."

Becca was Gray's daughter from his first, unhappy marriage that had ended tragically more than ten years ago. Amanda had babysat her, for God's sake. But she didn't bother to snap back at either one of her brothers, because Brady was smiling at her.

Not that polite, buffet line smile. A real smile.

And for a moment, the Labor Day afternoon seemed a whole lot sunnier than before.

"Looks like we're keeping him," Brady said genially, nodding over in the general direction of Abby and his brother and baby Bart.

Amanda knew he smiled at everyone in exactly this same way. He would smile at a tree or a horse just like this, but beggars couldn't be choosers, as her grandmother liked to tell her. Regularly. She basked in Brady's smile anyway, as if it were hers. As if he ever could be hers.

She would add it to her personal collection of Brady moments, like that conversation they'd had when he'd been a little bit drunk at his brother Ty and sister-in-law Hannah's retying the knot ceremony last week, and she could have sworn he'd noticed she wasn't a child any longer. If only for a moment or two, right here in this same yard.

Something she didn't need to be thinking about around her brothers.

The youngest of her older brothers, Connor, was kicked back in his chair and staring at her, all six feet of him obnoxious. A mere eight years older than Amanda, he was the closest to her in age, which sometimes made them friends.

"The kids' table is over by the porch, monkey," he said.

So, not friends today.

What struck Amanda—hard—was that he wasn't being mean. He wasn't teasing her or trying to get in a dig, for a change. He didn't even have that lazy note in his voice that indicated he was deliberately being jerky.

Connor was legitimately directing his twenty-two year old sister to the kids' table. He was being helpful.

She snuck a look at Riley, but what Connor was saying was so unobjectionable, so normal to him, that Riley didn't appear to be paying the slightest bit of attention. He was glaring across the yard instead, no doubt because his ex-wife, Rae—one of Abby Everett's two best friends—was over there, cluttering up his line of sight the way people did in small towns whether you wanted to see them or not.

As usual, no one was here to save her from the helpfulness.

And Brady might think Amanda was in high school, but he still wasn't as messed up in the head as all of her irritating brothers. He should know better, but instead, he kept on smiling. He looked perfectly polite again. And as distant as if she were grouchy old Lucinda Early with another complaint.
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