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“You know you don’t have to do that. He can get his own beer.”

“Stop it, it’s his birthday.” He gave Dereck a kiss on the cheek as he walked by. “Besides, I love your dad.”

When Chris walked out of the room, Tyler chuckled. “Dad lets him call him Pop?”

Dereck shook his head. “Yeah, believe it or not. Sometimes I think Dad likes Chris more than me.”

“Shut it with your poor middle-child whine,” Zoe said.

“Yeah, if you don’t want to be replaced, you shouldn’t date people Dad likes,” Tyler teased.

“Enough about me, tell us about her,” Dereck said.

Kent and Kyle made their grand appearance, and when they saw Tyler, they whooped with excitement.

“What up, bro?” Kent said.

After a lot of back slapping, Tyler said, “Nothing, just got here a little bit ago.”

“Holy shit, who’s the hot blonde with Aunt Gloria?”

“That’s Tyler’s new girlfriend, Dani,” Zoe said.

“Let me see!” Kent raced over to the window and whistled. “Damn, she is smoking. Whoa, wait, is that her little boy?”

“Yes, that’s Noah,” Tyler growled, already exhausted by his family.

“Now, why can’t I meet a girl who looks like her?” Kyle lamented.

Tyler walked over and grabbed both of his cousins in a headlock. “Stop ogling her, or I’m gonna kick your asses.”

He was only half joking, and both of them wiggled out of his grip, their nearly identical faces wearing mischievous grins.

The front door opened and shut, and several loud male voices argued, drawing closer.

“Oh, I can’t wait to tell Uncle Troy about Dani,” Zoe said, talking about the twins’ dad.

Tyler decided that there was a good chance he was going to murder his baby sister before the night was over.

Chapter Twenty-Two

DANI KEPT LEANING over so she could watch Noah in the backyard as she helped Tyler’s mother with the dishes. Her son was running as fast as his chubby legs would take him, trying to get ahold of the soccer ball Tyler’s cousins and siblings were gently kicking around, playing a mild game of keep-away with the toddler. The aunts still sat at the tables, watching and occasionally shouting something

she couldn’t hear, but Dani wasn’t really worried. This family, with their big, loud voices and welcoming words, had put her completely at ease.

“You know, you’re so sweet to offer, but if you want to go outside and play with them, I’m fine finishing,” Gloria said.

Dani shook her head and turned back to her task. “I’m happy to help. I appreciate you allowing us to crash the party.”

“Oh please, you aren’t crashing anything. We are all just so excited to meet you. And Noah, that boy is just the sweetest thing, letting us pass him around and snuggle him. That says he knows he’s safe and loved, and that tells me all I need to know about you.”

Dani blinked back the sting in her eyes. “Thank you.”

“Mom, are you seriously making Dani do the dishes?”

Tyler’s voice made Dani jump, and she almost dropped the plate she was setting into the dishwasher. They had hardly talked since they arrived, with him visiting with all of his family and her caught up with the barrage of questions everyone had for her.

“Here, I’ll take over that. You’re a guest. Go relax.”