Irish, Southern—same stock.
Danny had heard Jamie say that line, or some version of it, to Aidan numerous times over the past year and a half, but he’d never really understood it. Until today.
Standing at the top of the beach house stairs, watching as the Talley and Walker families mingled on the stone patio below, he finally got it. Jamie’s Southern family had effortlessly meshed with their Irish one. Jamie’s twin nieces had locked arms with Katie, the three of them in the middle of the redheaded tornado of Talley grandchildren. Jamie’s sister had slid right in with Danny and Aidan’s three siblings, and their mothers were already thick as thieves, plotting who knew what as they sipped champagne on the lounge chairs. Happiest of all was their father, who had added Jamie’s brother-in-law, plus Jamie’s best friend, Cam, to their woefully outnumbered ranks.
The beach house was also perfect for this casual rehearsal dinner and first meeting of the families. Maybe it was a little small for such a gathering, but the view from high atop a Half Moon Bay cliff rivaled that of the Ritz-Carlton up the road, where the wedding would be held tomorrow. The kitchen was also big and well-equipped enough for Jamie to work his magic, cooking up a dizzying array of Southern favorites: pulled pork, fried chicken, fried okra, skillet corn bread, and gallons of sweet tea, spiked with whiskey for the adults. All in all, the location, food, and company were perfect for the no-ties-allowed celebration. There would be more than enough formal wear tomorrow.
Danny tore his gaze from the stunning sunset and scanned the crowd for his better half. Finding her face missing, he glanced over his shoulder to the kitchen, then laughed at himself for thinking his wife would be there. To her credit, Mel was improving, but her skills with a knife were put to far better use running security for the family company or chasing down bounties.
“Here,” came her smooth, commanding voice from the adjacent room. Mel sashayed over on high-heeled boots, glass of Bollinger in one hand, phone in the other. “Stylist called. He’s at the hotel.”
Danny set his Mason jar of spiked iced tea on the wide stair railing and draped his arm across her sweatered shoulders, the March night cool out here on the coast. “Time to kidnap a groom, then.”
Another perk of this house—it would keep Aidan and Jamie apart the night before their wedding. Cam would stay here with the Walkers and Jamie, making sure that the groom didn’t escape, while Mel and Danny secured Aidan at the Ritz with the rest of the Talleys.
Placing her glass next to his, Mel leaned against Danny’s side and looped an arm around his waist. “Give ’em a few more minutes,” she said. “I haven’t seen either of them this relaxed in months.”
Danny snickered against her temple, pressing a kiss there before he followed her gaze to the two grooms in the crowd below. Mel was right. He couldn’t remember a time since the death of Aidan’s first husband when his brother had looked this relaxed and happy. Propped against Jamie, one hand in his fiancé’s back jeans pocket, Aidan drank from a bottle of beer and chatted animatedly with Jamie and their guests, probably about basketball.
“Everyone’s having a good time,” Mel said, a wistful smile in her voice.
“Any regrets we didn’t do the same?”
They’d eloped last fall, their secret revealed after a near catastrophe at Christmas. It was a weight off their shoulders for everyone to know and for them to move in together, finally. Most of all, it was a relief that their worry of overshadowing Aidan and Jamie’s big day hadn’t come to pass.
“Fuck no.” She turned her face up to him, smile sly, and Danny stole a quick kiss. “And besides, you’ll be in a wedding tomorrow.”
“So will you,” he said with a wink.
“To make sure the rings are tied to Katie’s pillow and stand next to my big bro as he promises himself to Jamie?” He shrugged his free shoulder. “I got the easy job. How about you?”
Her gaze drifted out over the crowd, landing on Aidan and Jamie again. “My script’s not that hard to follow either, especially since Katie wrote their vows.”
“That’s not the only thing I meant.” He reined in his smile and squeezed her shoulder. “Aidan was married to your brother, chica. I can’t imagine this is easy.”
“It’s not,” she admitted quietly, trying and failing to hide the melancholy he’d glimpsed in her dark eyes. “But they had a good ten years together before Gabe died. I hope Aidan gets many more years with Jamie.”
Danny lowered his arm and curled it around her back, pulling her closer. “I heard there’s a tribute to Gabe.”
She nodded against his shoulder. “Arroz con leche for dessert. It was Jamie’s idea. Aidan apparently makes it for him quite often.”
Mel swung her other arm up around his middle, hugging him back, and they shared a moment of silence for their loved one lost.
“You know,” Danny said after another couple of minutes, “there’s something I’ve been meaning to ask you.”
She leaned back in the circle of his arms. “What’s that?
“Did you plan this?” He gestured at the merriment around them, then directly at Aidan and Jamie. “When you partnered the two of them?” They’d all wondered how that would go—a freshly-returned-to-work Aidan mentoring younger Cyber agent Jameson “Whiskey” Walker. No one could have predicted this, except maybe Danny’s wife.
“I knew Jamie would be good for him,” she said with a smirk. “Butthisexceeded my expectations.”
“Well, in that case...” He retrieved their glasses, handed the flute to Mel, and tipped his Mason jar in her direction. “Job well done, wife.”
“Thank you, husband.” She clinked her glass against his. “This is one job I’ll happily take credit for.”