True to his word, Devon introduced Evan to bacon smothered in maple syrup. The sticky substance now goo’d every part of my son’s face as he smiled with delight at the taste combination that he imbibed on.
At the ready with a damp napkin, I tried to get a few swipes in to clean the sticky mess off his face. After more than a few attempts, I gave in and allowed him his childish delight of eating a third of his food while wearing the rest.
“You know what,” I finally said as I stood with my plate in my hands. “I give up,” I grumbled as I walked to the sink that was several feet behind where I sat at the kitchen island. “You are going to have to clean him up after he finishes munching on that syrupy mess you call breakfast!”
Devon snickered as he turned to Evan conspiratorially. “Your mom just doesn’t understand that us guys need to eat a lot so we can be big and strong!”
“Yeah,” Evan replied. “Strong,” he echoed as he flexed his little three-year old muscles, his little face scrunched up at the effort. Though I tried to stifle it, the laughter somehow managed to escape the confines of my lips more like a sputter than outright laughter.
Devon gave me a smirk and a raised eyebrow before turning a feigned impressed expression on Evan. He wrapped his long fingers around the small sinew there, squeezing ever so gently. “Wow, you have quite the big guns there, little man!”
Evan grinned wide while I shook my head. “Your turn, Uncle Devon.”
Flexing his muscle, Devon chuckled as Evan tried futilely to wrap a hand around his large bicep. Giving up on trying to get his small fingers around the large mass, he decided it would be much more effective to wrap his arms around it.
Snaking his arms around Devon’s flexed arm, he squeezed tight only moments before Devon stood up and lifted his small frame from the stool where he had been sitting at the eat-in kitchen island. When he feigned a groan at the effort and lifted his arm up even further, it put even more space between my son and the ground. Evan laughed carelessly as he dangled haphazardly from Devon’s arm, while my own body tensed with apprehension. It only tensed further when he started to spin the small frame of my son around, Evan’s squeals of laughter echoing in the kitchen and encouraging his uncle’s actions.
Whether he sensed my anxiety or not is beyond me, but I could not have been more relieved when he lifted Evan back to dangle over his stool ready to deposit him gently back on its perch. My son made a sound close to a snort as he giggled and clutched at Devon’s arm with renewed fervor, practically demanding more.
“I want mommy,” he laughed. Oh, he was good! No doubt it was a ploy to get another ride from Devon as he continued to cling to his arm, and it worked like a charm.
Devon chuckled. “As you wish, m’lord,” he teased Evan as he swung him gently back into the air, and moved around the island that separated us towards me.
Shaking my head, I smiled as they approached. “You are such a little manipulator, little goose!”
When he reached me, Devon swung Evan into my waiting arms. “Special delivery, ma’am,” he laughed as Evan squealed with delight. Once Evan was in my arms, Devon bowed slightly before us, causing Evan to smile broadly and clap his little hands together.
I wrapped my arms around my son, and pulled his gooey face to my chest to squeeze him tight. It did not matter what condition his exterior was, to be able to hold him close was worth every grimace I would have later over the condition of my shirt. Just to feel his little frame in my arms was enough to make my heart soar.
Devon lingered close after he made the exchange, but my son was determined not to let him get too far. Before he had a chance to take more than a step away from us, his little head popped up off my shoulder. “Uncle Devon!” He called out to the man, effectively cutting him off from retreating.
Holding his arms out to Devon, I was ready to hand him over when he pulled a fast one on the both of us. As Devon neared, my son’s arm tightened around my neck, and the other snaked around Devon’s neck. His laughter echoed in the room as he found his little antics funny, and we could not help but find him amusing.
Devon took it all in stride. “Group hug,” he called as he wrapped us both in his arms. Evan could not have been more thrilled as he continued to cling tightly to the two of us. As strong as he was, he lifted us both in the air just a fraction as Evan squealed in my ear, and I gave a surprised yelp. It only lasted a moment, but it was enough to distract me from the tingles that had started in my spine.
With Evan laughing in my ears, I nearly missed the door to the kitchen opening. However, I could no longer ignore the tingles that started to dance over my skin. Almost as if on cue, a deep, thigh clenching growl swept through the air.
Devon was nearly ripped away from where he stood. Evan shrieked at the sudden loss of his uncle from within his grasp, and I remained where I stood from the sheer shock of such an abrupt action. At that moment, I could only see the massive form of Gavin before me. His shoulders and arms were exposed by the athletic shirt he wore, and the muscles rippled beneath the skin as he clenched his fists.
Moving slightly, I could make out Devon as he straightened himself and chuckled. I wanted to clamp my hands over his mouth. Couldn’t he see that his brother looked on the verge of eruption? And Devon was in his line of sight.
“It isn’t getting any easier, is it?” Devon’s words were odd, and I frowned as I started to move from around Gavin. Gavin turned his head slightly at my movement and practically scowled at me. Not sure what I did to deserve it, I shot him a scowl of my own, which only caused laughter to erupt from Devon. Didn’t he know he was already in a bad place? “Ah, bro! You have certainly met your match!” He swiped a finger across the corner of his eye as it teared up from his jovial amusement at Gavin’s expense. “When are you going to dispense with this pretense of your upcoming nuptials, and do what you were meant to do?”
Just the mention of Gavin’s engagement settled like cement in my gut. I muttered something incoherent, and took a few more steps away from Gavin towards where Devon stood. Being this close to a man that was practically married to a woman that was worse than venom was nearly unbearable. When he stepped in front of me to impede my escape, I nearly lost my cool.
“Move out of my way, you goon!”
Those glowing sapphire eyes zeroed in on me, narrowing as they held my glare. “Don’t move, Kateryna. If you value Devon’s well-being, you will stay where you are.” As harsh as his words were, there was something in his voice that was all but pleading with me to allow him this request. When his eyes softened a hint, my heart nearly burst from my chest. Was it possible that there was more to him than the arrogant donkey he made himself out to be?
“It’s only going to get worse, brother! Your connection will continue to plague you, not to mention Phoebe has already started to put her nose to the ground. When she puts two and two together, you won’t be able to protect her unmated.” Devon frowned deep before he added, “there is only so long I can keep her thrown off the scent. I won’t stand by to see Kat get hurt, even if I have to claim her myself to protect her!”
Holy black hole! What the beejeebus did he mean by that?
Gavin’s form went rigid, nearly to the breaking point. “I don’t know what you meant by all that,” I commented, turning my gaze on Devon, “but I am not something that can be claimed like luggage.”
Beside me, Gavin’s nose flared, his pupils dilated to the point where it made his eyes appear darker than normal, and more deadly. Evan curled himself into me, nearly melding his form into mine. It did not go unnoticed by either men.
“Cat, I didn’t mean…” Devon’s voice faltered as his frown deepened.
Gavin stepped closer as his hand reached out nearly on instinct to smooth his large, sculpted hand over Evan’s small back in an effort to comfort him. My own instinct was to move out of his reach, though it took more than a little effort to do so as my whole body thrummed with his energy of having him so close.
“You can’t come in here and huff and puff for no good reason at all, scare the daylights out of my son, and then expect to be able to make it all better by acting all paternal!” A warmth of anger started to seep into my veins, and I could feel myself getting riled up as the minutes passed. Breathe...I just had to breathe. But, each breath brought his scent ever closer to me, and I could feel anger and lust warring against one another.
Gavin’s eyes flashed as he narrowed his eyes on me. “Don’t think for one moment that you have no accountability here, Kateryna! You can’t cast blame on others without looking at your culpability in what has occurred.”
“My culpability? What-” I blustered a few seconds more, not quite sure how to respond or how he could view me as having any responsibility in what just occurred. “Who-who do you even think you are?” Anger was winning the war that had been waged, and my mouth had a mind of its own once more. “We were doing just fine until you showed up! You are the problem here! You are the one that barges in every bloody time and completely wrecks my day!”
If I thought about it, I would not have said what I did. Maybe it is true that being in the same room with him makes me confused and torn, but I could not deny my attraction to him. Even he knew it existed. But there was no stopping my mouth once it was going, and I could feel myself cringe inside as I spoke.
His face grew dark and I flinched, but I tried to hide my reaction. Backing away from him, a low, constant growl started to reverberate in the room. “Kateryna,” he spoke low, the growl underlying each consonant in my name. It was powerful, and very sensual...so much that I nearly lost my head before I remembered how arrogant the man before me really was.
Evan whimpered on a whisper, and I clutched him to me. How do I let this man get under my skin? Turning away from Gavin, I started marching for the door with Evan held close to me. “You can go to Hades, Gavin! Anywhere you want, just stay away from me and Evan!”
“That’s not going to happen,” I heard him ground out the words behind me.
When I heard him shift behind me, I turned around to see Devon move quicker than I had seen even Gavin move. It was impossibly fast, and I gasped. Devon moved with a speed and grace that far surpassed that of Gavin. I was shocked when Gavin moved as fast as he did, but Devon moved faster than the blink of an eye. One moment, he was on the other side of the room...the next, he stood between me and Gavin as if he were offering himself as a barrier between us.
Gavin’s dark eyes were glued to me as Devon placed a halting hand on his chest. “Let them go, Gavin.”
“You dare stand between me and what is mine?” Gavin thundered in the room, the rumble in his chest unmistakable and animal-like. “If you don’t wish to wear your innards on the outside, I suggest you move!”
My brain kicked in at the same time that Devon responded, but I was tuned into my words as I weakly asked, “Yours?” Was he referring to Evan? “The holy handbasket he is!” Though the words were vehement in my head, they made it to my lips on barely a breath.
“Gavin, you are being irrational. Look at them, for God’s sake, and quit being an ass!”
My heart thundered. The testosterone in here must have been off the charts as wave after wave of heated energy seemed to slam against me. “I concur...what he said.” There was so many conflicted emotions and questions that popped in my head that anything that was actually voiced was little more than a whisper. In fact, I was not even sure they heard me.
Gavin snatched Devon’s shirt in his hands, gripping the material tight as his fist turned white with the exertion. “Do you think I won’t end you just because you are my brother,” he snarled.
Devon grabbed Gavin’s hands. “You don’t really want to do this! Think about it, Gavin!”
Gavin stooped down a fraction to look his brother in the eyes, and I found myself torn. Part of me wanted to take Evan away from all this, the other part wanted me to prevent Gavin from hurting his brother. And yet, I ended up doing neither.
“Your compulsion doesn’t work on me, brother...or have you forgotten that?” Gavin’s fingers had turned white as they clutched at the material of Devon’s shirt.
Devon remained calm and moved his hands to Gavin’s shoulders. “No, I haven’t forgotten. But do you think she is really ready to see you like this?”
The room went silent, only the pants of their breath silently muddled the quiet. Gavin’s eyes moved away from his brother to find mine. The pupils were overly large, a little too big and a little too dark to be considered normal. They were strange, but oddly beautiful...hypnotizing in their very depths.
Without warning, he turned his head away from me, dropping his hold on his brother. Twisting his body away from view, he leaned heavy against the kitchen island.
“Mommy,” Evan’s tiny voice whispered to me. “Am I bad?”
“What?” Both Devon and myself turned our attention to the little man in my arms. “Why would you think you are bad?”
“They’re mad. I didn’t train.”
I held him tight as I squeezed him to me. “No, baby. They are not mad at you. See?” I asked him, motioning towards the two men across the room. Devon hesitated to make a move towards us, looking at Gavin before he finally made the decision to come and comfort his nephew. “They have already kissed and made up.”
“Ah, yeah, champ! It is all good little man. We just had a bit of a…” His lips twisted as he tried to find the right word. Finally, he shrugged and offered, “...disagreement. But it’s all settled now.” He flashed a big, playful grin at Evan before he ruffled his hair. “Now that you mention it, though, maybe we should get you down there to train a little today.”
Evan visibly perked up at the prospect of training, and my heart sunk a little. He liked it here, and he enjoyed training...or at least whatever he did during that time. And here I was trying to prevent him from going.
Devon held out his hands, and Evan gladly went into his arms. “Well, I guess that decides that,” I spoke simply. At least now I could go and see exactly what he did during this time.
Bouncing the child in his arms, Evan started to giggle before it finally turned into a full on laugh. How easy they are able to forget dramatic moments...and how readily they move on. Ready to follow the boys out, I halted when a deep, resonating voice called my name. “Kateryna!”
Hesitating, I looked over my shoulder. Those beautiful sapphires had returned, and his composure along with it. Already I could see the man I had first met. In total and complete control of himself and everything that existed around him.
I didn’t answer him, but simply waited for him to speak his mind. “Devon will watch over your son while he trains. We need to talk.”
“I see you are back to your old, charming self,” I started, “but I really don’t think we have anything to say to one another.”
As I turned to leave the room, my feet stuttered and my heart skipped a beat when he uttered his next word. “Please,” he said softly. The word sounded so foreign coming from his lips, but more so because of the tone of voice he used. “We need to discuss Evan’s future. There are some things that you should know.”
The door that I held aloft seemed suddenly so unimportant, much like the need to follow my son to his training. I knew Devon would take care of my son, and the weight of Gavin’s plea seemed much more imperative.
Giving a slight wave to the boys in the hallway, Devon gave me a quick, questioning glance. My response was to give him a small smile and a slight nod to let him know it would be okay. Nodding back, he headed down the hall...away from where I stood.
Letting the door go as it swung closed, I spun to face Gavin. “Okay,” I said. “Let’s talk! Let’s talk about how you are going to get us back home.”
Gavin frowned, and I smiled. Maybe, just maybe, we might actually come to an amicable agreement to get us home. Maybe things were finally turning around for me!