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As I began to tackle wrapping the challenging shape, Felix kept me company. He asked me about work, whether or not I’d heard that a book we both liked was being made into a movie, and how I was enjoying the Colorado mountain weather.

We’d met once before at the vineyard in Napa when the Wildes and Marians had gotten together, and I was pleasantly surprised to learn he’d remembered several of the things we’d talked about. When I finally put the bow on the wrapped gift and handed him a gift tag to fill out, he squeezed my hand.

“And how are you doing since losing your mom?” he asked in a gentle voice. “I was so sorry to hear about her passing. I know Grandpa was devastated, and I’m sure Tilly and Harold were, too. Kelly was a wonderful woman.”

I glanced over at my own grandfather, Harold Cannon, who was sitting in an overstuffed armchair, reading a picture book to Pete and Ginger’s son, Tommy. Harold must have sensed my gaze because he looked up and met my eye. His face brightened, and I couldn’t help but smile at him. Here was yet another example of someone who should have seemed larger-than-life to me—his reputation as a senator and the father of a US president was intimidating as hell—but was incredibly kind and loving, welcoming and accepting.

And he’d been my mother’s biological father. Only… she’d never known him until shortly before her death. The injustice of it galled me. She hadn’t had enough time with them. I almost felt guilty for being here with her big extensive family when she herself had never had the chance to spend this much time with them.

But then I thought about Darius saying this extended family was an amazing gift my mother had given me before leaving, and I felt the truth of it down to my bones.

I swallowed past a lump in my throat. “Thank you. I’m doing okay. We had the chance to say our goodbyes, and I know she was beyond ready to go. That has made it easier. Wishing she was still here feels selfish because I know she was in pain.”

Felix nodded. “Do you have other friends to support you back home?”

I thought about my good friends in Monterey. I’d only lived there for a few years, but I’d made some lifelong friends in that short time. “Yes, I have several neighbors who have been incredible, and I play Ultimate Frisbee with a great group of guys who’ve been there for me through all of this. Tilly and Harold came down and stayed with us for those final few months, and Granny and Irene came down a few times, too. Rebecca calls me every week and mails me homemade meals, if you can believe it.”

He chuckled. “I remember when she met West for the first time. She came to see Nico and help him with Pippa. As soon as she realized Nico and West were a couple, she started sending him cookies in the mail. Only, since he’s a doctor, she made sure they were healthy. Like, avocado instead of butter and stuff like that. Ugh.”

Felix couldn’t see, but Rebecca was standing just behind him. “I heard that, Felix Grimaldi. Ask West who his favorite cookie-maker is. I dare you.”

Felix opened his mouth—presumably to apologize—but West beat him to the punch. “Definitely Nico. You can’t be married to a bakery owner and answer any other way, Rebecca. Sorry, ma’am.”

I’d forgotten about Nico’s bakery. Sugar Britches was a small bakery in Hobie, Texas, located underneath Nico’s famous tattoo shop. Since the man was known for his ink, it was easy to forget about the bakery. I wondered if Darius and Nico would enjoy connecting to talk about their common businesses.

Nico walked up to Rebecca and put his arm around her shoulders. “Ignore him. He’s trying to suck up to me because he made me get up with Reenie in the middle of the night last night even though it was his turn. We all know I don’t do any of the baking. Stevie and his crew do all the work at Sugar Britches.”

Rebecca sighed. “I wish Stevie and Evan had been able to come.”

Nico laughed. “There’s not enough room in Aster Valley for that man’s personality. Besides, he hates the cold. And he loves the holiday season at the bakery. His sister is in a production of the Nutcracker they’re doing at her dance school. You couldn’t have dragged him away from that either.”

West muttered a good-natured “Thank god” before handing me another awkward gift to wrap. “It’s a dildo in the shape of a boat anchor,” he whispered. “Worth wanted me to ask you to wrap it for Cal. After I punched him in the face for defiling my baby brother, I agreed. But only after I also got him to promise me a week on the yacht with Nico for our five-year anniversary. I figure it’ll be that long before we can comfortably farm out the girls to someone else.”