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“How was your day?” I follow him toward the kitchen, where I can smell taco meat already cooking.

“Good. Or rather, it was good until I got a call this afternoon from Maddi’s school.” He picks up an open beer off the counter and takes a swig from the bottle as I set down the shopping bag and my purse.

“What happened?”

“She kicked some kid in the nuts. He had to go to the nurse, so Maddi has detention for two days.”

“What?” I stare at him, sure I heard him wrong.

“I only kicked him because he tried to kiss me,” Maddi says, defending herself as she comes out of her room carrying Merida. I fight back a smile as I watch her nose scrunch up in six-year-old annoyance. “I don’t think I should have gotten in trouble for defending myself.”

“I don’t, either,” Lucas grumbles, in a voice barely loud enough to hear.

My foot twitches to kick him.

“Boys are very sensitive in that area of their body, sweetheart. I know you were defending yourself, but you could have really hurt him,” I say gently.

She looks down at Merida and frowns. “I said I was sorry when he started to cry.”

I press my lips together and look down at my feet so that she doesn’t see me trying not to smile. It’s not funny, but at the same time it’s a little funny.

“Do I still get to go to Grandma and Grandpa’s this weekend?” she asks, sounding worried.

I look up at that piece of news.

“Yeah, honey,” Lucas mutters. His eyes come to me, and my expression must give away my curiosity. “My parents are taking Maddi to the aquarium and zoo this weekend, since they are going to be out of town during her birthday.”

“That sounds like fun.” I look at Maddi, and I can see that her smile doesn’t reach her eyes. I can tell she’s upset that she got into trouble. Even though the kid probably deserved to be kicked, she’s feeling a little guilty for hurting him. “So is Merida the only one who gets a Maddi hug?” I ask.

Her eyes light up. She comes to me, still holding Merida, and I wrap my arms around her and then kiss the side of her head. I don’t care if I’m overstepping some hidden boundary. When I let her go, her smile seems more genuine. I smile back.

“I brought stuff to make dirt cups. Do you want to help me make them while your dad finishes dinner?”

“Dirt cups?” She giggles.

“It’s not really dirt. It’s chocolate pudding mixed with whipped cream topped with crushed Oreos and gummy worms.”

“They sound yummy.” Her eyes light up.

“They are yummy.” I pull the stuff out of my shopping bag, then tip my head at Lucas when he sets a glass of wine near me on the counter.

The expression on his face is so warm that I feel that warmth wash through me and settle somewhere deep inside my soul where I didn’t even know I was cold.

“Thanks,” I whisper.

He dips his chin, then kisses the side of my head.

“So what do we do first?” Maddi asks.

I look down at the beautiful girl who has taken a part of my heart and say softly, “First we wash our hands. Then we make dirt.”

Feeling Lucas’s lips touch the top of my head, I look into his beautiful eyes.

After the delicious tacos, he, Maddi, and I watch a couple of her shows on TV. Then it’s time for her to shower and get into bed. Like on Saturday, she asks me to read her a book, and, like on Saturday, my heart melts when she curls up against me while I read to her. The Princess and the Pea, again. I don’t fall asleep this time, but she does before I make it even halfway through the story. I lie there with her for a long time, soaking in the feeling of holding her before I get out of bed, kiss her head, and turn out her light.

When I turn to leave the room, I find Lucas standing in the doorway with the same warm expression on his face that he had earlier—a look I try to memorize as he holds out his hand toward me. When his fingers wrap around mine, I let him lead me to the couch. He settles me against him, wrapping his arm around my shoulder. His hand rests on my hip, and his fingers slide under my top to run softly against my skin.

“Thank you.” His softly spoken words pull me from my thoughts, and I study his expression.

“For what?” I ask, not understanding the look in his eyes.

“Maddi was upset when she got home from school. When she gets into trouble, she always closes down. I expected her to stay locked in her head for a few days, but within a few minutes of you being here she was back to being herself. Thank you for that.”

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