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“Courtney!” Maddi shouts, running to me from across the room. I hold out my arms to her, and she buries her face in my stomach for a moment, then looks up at me, grinning. “Linkin talked to me today.” Seeing the smile on her adorable face, I smile back, forgetting about everything that happened this afternoon for a moment.

“Did he?”

“Yes! And he sat with me at lunch. He even gave me one of his cookies.”

“I think that means he likes you.”

“Fuck me,” Lucas grumbles under his breath, but I ignore his comment and stay focused on Maddi.

“Did you take it when he gave it to you?”

“It was flaxel seed.” Her face scrunches up. “I took it, but I didn’t eat it because I don’t know what flaxel seed is.”

I laugh at her interpretation of flaxseed, then wonder what a flaxseed cookie might taste like. Probably not very good.

“We will have to make some chocolate-chip cookies next week. You can take him one,” I tell her.

She looks up at me, her eyes shining bright.

God, I love her.

“Well, honey? Are you going to introduce us?” I look away from Maddi and see an older woman and gentleman standing in the middle of the living room. The woman has a bright, welcoming smile on her face that matches her motherly appearance. Her hair just reaches her shoulders and is curled under, framing her face. Her T-shirt is covered in rhinestone flowers of different colors, and her jeans are snug and boot cut over a pair of simple flats. The man next to her is also in jeans, but he has on a green polo shirt that is stretched across his wide chest and stomach. It gives me the impression that he enjoys food and beer. Even at his age, though, he’s handsome. I can see that Lucas favors him.

“Mom, Dad, I’d like you to meet Courtney. Baby, these are my parents, Lisa and David.”

“It’s so nice to meet you both.” I start to stick out my hand, but his mom startles me by wrapping her arms around me in a hug.

“It’s nice to meet you, too. Madeline hasn’t stopped talking about you since we picked her up from school,” she says, letting me go.

I look at Maddi, who’s standing at my side.

I’m tugged into a hard chest next, then picked up off the ground by David. “Hi, darlin’.”

I laugh as he sets me on my feet, then grin as Lucas wraps his arm around my shoulder. “Maddi, honey? Why don’t you go change? Once you’re done we’ll head out for dinner,” Lucas says.

I notice that Maddi has her school uniform on—a dark-green polo with the school’s emblem on the right breast pocket, khaki pants, and simple white sneakers.

“Okay.” She skips off, and I laugh as I watch her go.

“Maddi said Eva’s been around a few times over the last week,” Lisa says.

Lucas’s arm tightens around me. “She has. She moved in with Heather.”

“Let me guess . . . The guy she was with got tired of dealing with her bullshit and kicked her out?” David mutters.

“That’s my guess, but I haven’t asked her about it. All I care about is Maddi’s well-being.”

Lisa’s eyes go to Maddi’s closed bedroom door. “She seems happy.”

“She is happy. I plan on making sure she stays that way,” Lucas replies. “I don’t want her worried about Eva, so while she’s with you this weekend don’t talk about her unless she brings her up.”

“We don’t ever talk about her. She’s like Voldemort, She Who Must Not Be Named.”

I laugh, and Lisa smiles at me.

“I’m ready.” Maddi comes flying out of her bedroom, then skids to a stop. “Where is Merida?”

“She’s at home, sweetheart. We can go pick her up after dinner if your dad says it’s okay.”

She looks at Lucas, who nods, which makes her smile even bigger.

“Wait until you meet Merida, Grandma! She’s so cute.”

“So ugly she’s cute,” Lucas says under his breath, but I still hear it and elbow him in the ribs. “What?”

“She is cute,” I chide.

He smiles. “Whatever.”

So she’s ugly, but she’s loving and cuddly and the perfect dog, as far as I’m concerned.

“I’m starving.” David breaks into my stare-down with his son. “Let’s go eat. Where are we heading?”

“It depends. What is everyone up for?” Lucas asks as he turns us toward the door.

“Not some fancy place with overpriced dishes and too-small portions. Preferably somewhere I can get an American-made beer in a bottle.”

I smile at David, loving him a little already.

“We can go to the Wooden Mill,” I suggest. “Abby and I have had lunch there a few times. They have really great food and beer.”

“Works for me,” David agrees.

We head downstairs and catch a cab so that Lucas’s parents can keep their parking spot. When we make it to the restaurant, we are seated almost immediately at a curved booth. I sit on the inside, next to Lucas, with Maddi on my right. Lisa sits next to her, and David at the other end. The waiter comes to take our drink orders. I notice that it feels normal—nothing like the dinners I used to have with Tom and his parents, where I was always afraid to eat with the wrong fork. After ordering our appetizers and main courses, we settle into simple, lighthearted conversation. Even though I mostly keep quiet, because they spend a lot of time talking about Lucas’s siblings and their kids, I never feel out of place. Lucas never lets me feel that way. He keeps an arm wrapped around my shoulders or a hand resting on my thigh. He touches me, giving me the connection I need. He tells me he likes where I am, likes me at his side. He wants me to know it.

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