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“We like hotties,” Grandpa said, shooting me a wink. “Tell us more.”

“Yeah, tell us more.” Cal Wilde nodded enthusiastically while his older partner, Worth, rolled his eyes.

“Don’t encourage them, Calgary,” Worth muttered under his breath, hooking a finger into his husband’s belt loop to draw Cal closer to his side. The two of them sat nursing their own coffees at the kitchen island while several of the Marian cousins sat at the kitchen table doing the same.

“Nothing to tell,” I said, reaching into one of the bags to help unpack the bakery boxes. “Other than the fact you’re going to love the stuff in these boxes. I’ve never seen such gorgeous pastries. He… I mean my… I mean they seem to specialize in Greek recipes, and he… they packed some samples for us.”

“Is the baker nonbinary?” MJ asked in a whisper.

Her wife, Neckie, who was in the middle of plucking the baby off Doc’s chest, answered, “I think that’s Miller’s way of acting like the bakery is a large, random group of non-hotties rather than a singular Greek hottie. Isn’t that right, Miller?”

I tried ignoring them, but they were the least ignorable people on earth.

Mikey produced three large serving platters for us to spread the pastries out on. I placed one on the kitchen table, one on the island, and took the other over to the kitchen seating area by the fireplace. Everyone groaned with pleasure as they dug into the treats.

Thankfully, the subject changed to the plans Dante and AJ had made to take all of us Christmas tree shopping. Mikey had given us permission to decorate our own tree in the sunroom, and Tilly planned on surprising everyone with a personalized ornament to put on it while we were here. All we had to do was pick out the perfect tree and some strings of lights.

Dante’s excitement was contagious. “AJ’s mom says they do nighttime sleigh rides, so I signed us up for some later this week. Teddy said he’d take some family pictures in the snow, too. I think we should all coordinate what we wear.”

My heart pinched at the mention of AJ’s mom, and just like that, a wave of grief hit me. Even after seven months, a seemingly minor thing—a stray word or a song lyric, even the scent of a perfume that smelled like hers—would remind me that my mom was gone.

I obviously didn’t begrudge AJ his parents—and in fact was looking forward to meeting them since they lived here in Aster Valley—but it hurt regardless.

I forced myself to take a deep breath and return Dante’s excited smile the way my mom would’ve wanted.

“I kind of love the idea of family photos,” I ventured.

Griff groaned. “I feel like we’re always dressing matchy-matchy for family photos.” His husband, Sam, walked up and kissed him on the cheek.

“As long as I can see some of your ink in the final shots, I don’t care what you’re wearing in the photo,” Sam murmured before nuzzling Griff’s neck. “Mornin’, Fox. You snuck out of bed before I woke up.”

Griff wrapped his arm around Sam before stealing his coffee mug to take a sip. “I took advantage of Tiller and Mikey’s workout room in the basement. That thing is killer. It has everything.”

I made a mental note of another excuse I could use if I needed a break from family time. Work out in the gym. Hopefully, I wouldn’t be too intimidated by whatever impressive setup a pro footballer had down there.

The conversation continued around our plans for the day as the rest of the Marians and Wildes trickled into the kitchen in search of coffee and breakfast. Mikey finally shooed us all out to the much larger dining room, where he’d filled large chafing dishes with crispy fried potatoes, scrambled eggs with fresh herbs, crusty homemade bread still warm from the oven, and a peppered pecan bacon that smelled incredible.

By the time everyone finished praising his cooking talent to the skies, Mikey was flushed and happy, which was how his fiancé found him only a few minutes later.

“Honey, I’m ho-ome!” a deep voice called from the front hall.

Mikey’s eyes widened in surprise for a split second before he went tearing out of the room to greet Tiller. The giant athlete was already in the doorway to the dining room when Mikey ran into his arms at full speed.

They embraced like they hadn’t seen each other in months, which might have actually been the case. With Tiller’s game schedule and Mikey’s preparations for our big visit, it wouldn’t have surprised me if they’d been apart for several weeks.

When their welcome home hug turned into a welcome home make-out session, my cousins began cheering and calling out scores. I couldn’t help but laugh, and once I started, I couldn’t stop. Despite having a decent group of guy friends back home, I’d never been in such a fun, welcoming group as this one with so many examples of healthy relationships. It was easy to let the affection in the room wash over me, and I wondered, not for the first time, if it would ever be my turn to find something as special as many of my cousins had found.