Finding a Hart

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Chapter 49

Stephanie

Eldon ignored my sister as he glared at Jared. “What’s wrong with me? You were fuckin’ around with a woman still tangled up with her ex so you could find a mother for your child. You’re hardly one to question my morals.”

“You have no idea what the hell you’re talking about.” My voice was a growl and I moved to my feet slowly so I wouldn’t frighten any of the kids. “I don’t know what your malfunction is with me and my private life, Eldon, but you need to learn when to keep your mouth shut.”

“Do what your wife suggests, Eldon,” my father said, his voice even scarier than Jared’s. His face was beet red and his fists were clenched. My father was a pretty passive guy for the most part so seeing him like that was startling. “Before you piss me off any more than you already have.”

Eldon stood from his seat and shot my father a glare before taking Ryder out of my sister’s arms. Luckily I didn’t have to kill him because he was gentle with my nephew despite the fact that he was pissed.

No one spoke until he was out of the room and it was Kate who broke the silence.

“I’m sorry, Steph. I don’t…” She rubbed the back of her neck and looked like she wanted to cry. “I just don’t even know what to say.”

I handed Chris to Jared and sat back on the couch so I could wrap my arms around my sister. Her shoulders shook slightly as she cried silently and I felt terrible.

“I’m sorry,” I whispered, holding her as close as I could. “I shouldn’t have let him egg me on.”

She shook her head and an audible sob could be heard. “I don’t know why he’s like that.”

We sat together, with our arms wrapped around one another, for a long few minutes. When Kate finally had herself under control, she squeezed me once and stood from the couch to follow where her husband had disappeared.

The family room was quiet for a moment. Even the kids, who’d been watching the interaction from the floor with Marco, didn’t make a peep. I was pretty sure they knew better than to try to interact with their father when he was angry.

“Okay. I want to hold the little guy,” Dad declared, breaking the silence as he held his hands out expectantly towards Jared, who didn’t hesitate to hand him Christopher. Chris smiled at my father and immediately started tugging on his nose happily. “He’s a handsome little fellow, isn’t he?”

I nodded my head and leaned into Jared with a grin. “The handsomest. He’s a good boy.”

Stella jumped up from the floor. She went to stand with my dad and furrowed her little brows. “He’s my brother, too, Papa?”

“No, buttercup.” My dad leaned over and pressed a kiss to Stella’s temple. “He’s your cousin, like Lila.”

Warmth spread through my veins at his words. It might have seemed small and inconsequential but my father had just accepted Christopher into the family without any hesitation. When he turned and caught my eye, he winked quickly and returned his attention to the fifteen pound child in his lap.

Austin joined us a few minutes later and Lila crawled into my arms while my brother and Jared spoke. She spent the next ten minutes alternating between sitting on me and climbing on Jared. He tickled her without breaking stride in the conversation and my heart swelled as I watched them.

“Dinner’s ready,” Briana said when she appeared in the doorway. We all stood from the couches and my father followed Bri before I could even attempt to get Chris back from him.

“My dad kidnapped the baby,” I murmured to Jared, lacing our fingers together as we moved towards the dining room. He chuckled and pressed a kiss to my cheek.

“Your family is great, Steph.” He lowered his voice and shook his head. “Well, your brother-in-law is a tool but otherwise…”

I laughed and led him to my usual spot at the table. Jared pulled my chair out and waited until I was sitting before asking my father if he wanted to relinquish Christopher. My mother answered for my father with a shake of her head.

“Nonsense. It’s my turn. Papa’s pretty neat but you want to come get to know Nana, don’t you?”

Mom pulled Chris into her arms and sat down at her spot at the table. A sleeve of dissolvable infant crackers had already been placed next to her plate and I knew that she’d been plotting to capture the baby for a while.

Eldon reappeared finally but didn’t say anything or make eye contact with anyone as he took his seat next to Kate, silently handing her Ryder. I met Bri’s gaze across the table and she rolled her eyes, causing me to stifle a laugh.

“Stephanie tells us that you’re not from Arizona,” my father commented as everyone dished up. Jared nodded and handed me the basket of rolls.

“That’s right. I moved here a couple of years ago from Michigan. I’m still trying to decide if the great winters balance out the miserable summers.”

My mom laughed and bounced Chris on her lap, happily ignoring her own plate in front of her. “You get used to the summers. You just learn to spend a lot of time in the water.”

“I’m definitely thankful that the building I live in has a pool.” Jared squeezed my thigh under the table. “Stephanie is going to have Chris swimming before his first birthday. She’s kind of a miracle worker in that water.”

“Oh, yeah. She taught Briana and Austin to swim all on her own. When Elaine or I tried to help, she would literally shoo us.” My father grinned at me and Kate spoke up from her seat.

“I remember that.” She chuckled and shook her head. “You told Mom that your way was better.”

I shrugged and speared a piece of lettuce with my fork. “I still stand by that.”

The conversation moved to a different topic and my father talked to Jared and Marco about work. They were in the middle of describing their current project when Briana gasped, interrupting everyone as she pointed her fork at me.

“Do you remember me saying I wanted to set you up with someone Marco worked with?”

I could see Jared frown out of the corner of my eye as I nodded. “Yeah.”

Marco laughed softly and wrapped his arm around my sister’s shoulders. “She wanted to set you up with that man next to you.”

Jared and I looked at each other and I couldn’t stop the smile that hit my face. “The reason I declined was because of him, honestly.”

“Damn, that’s sappy,” Austin commented, causing everyone to laugh. He had taken Ryder at some point and held him in one arm while he ate with the other. Lila was in the high chair between Austin and Rhea, happily pulling apart a roll.

Ten adults, two children, one toddler, and two infants caused the space to be incredibly cramped but it was perfect. Jared and Chris melded with my family like they belonged there. Chris tolerated being passed around for the most part and entertained anyone who was near him. Jared impressed my parents with both his intelligence and his down-to-earth personality.

After dessert was over, which anyone with Gibson genes took very seriously, people started to filter out. It was no surprise that Eldon rushed Kate and their kids out as soon as he possibly could. He had been quiet since the interaction before dinner and I could see the anger still lingering on his face. Kate whispered her apologies, gave us brief hugs, and followed her husband out as soon as we all had a chance to love on the kids.

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