Fall from India Place Page 75

He gave me a wry half smile as we walked through the front dining room and into the hall to reach the back. “She’ll get over it. That better?”

“No, because now you’re lying.”

He looked up at the ceiling as if talking to God. “I can’t win.”

“He’s not listening.”

He cut me a dry look. “Obviously.”

“Oh, shut it. You love me and you know it.”

“You kill me with your sweetness, babe.”

“Ah, there you are!” Liv came hurrying forward as we entered the back dining room. Pink and purple decorations had literally exploded all over the room. There were balloons, ribbons, flower chains, and sparkly confetti everywhere. Liv gave me a quick hug and grinned up at Marco in greeting. “Your aunt and uncle are amazing to do this. I think I’ve thanked them so much they’re ready to kill me.”

“It’s no problem.” Marco shrugged. “You’re family.”

Her eyes bugged out at me and she whispered comically, “I’m family.”

I patted her shoulder. “They’re not the Mafia, Liv. Calm down.”


My nephew William came flying at me, dangerously unsteady with momentum. I grabbed him before he made hard impact with my legs. As soon as I lifted him into my arms, Beth, Lily, and Luke were at my side. I greeted them all before bending down to kiss Lily’s silky dark hair. “Happy birthday, sweetheart.”

She smiled shyly and leaned into my leg.

Surrounded by the kids, I watched happily as we appeared to magnetically draw everyone else to us. Jo and Cam came over to say hello, Cam holding little Bella in his arms. Holding Bray in his, Adam came over with Ellie, who scooped William from my arms to hers. Joss and Braden sauntered over to join the pack and were quickly crowded in by Mum, Dad, Mick, Dee, Cole, Dylan, Larissa, Declan, Penny, Nate’s mum and dad, and Gio and Gabby.

Chatter sparked off all around me as I leaned against Marco, my hand resting lightly on Dylan’s head, and I didn’t feel overwhelmed.

I felt content.

I felt at peace.

I had just taken a wolflike bite of birthday cake when Gabby approached me. She smiled and I quickly tried to swallow the delicious sponge cake and buttercream icing so I could return the gesture.

“Marco says it was your last day today. You’ve got the summer now before you go back to school?”

I nodded, putting the cake down, only somewhat reluctantly, to converse with Gabby. I’d met Gabby and Gio officially a week after we took Dylan to the zoo. It had been difficult to be congenial to Gio, despite how charming he was, because I knew what a prize shit he’d been to Marco. However, Marco had moved past all the ugly stuff with his uncle and I didn’t want to constantly remind him of it, so I did my best to move past it too. Gabby was a different story. I loved her straight off the bat. She had a dry wit, a warm demeanor, and her fondness for Marco was obvious to everyone. “I’m just glad I’ve got a job to return to.”

“I heard about that.” Gio suddenly appeared, smiling warmly at me. “Congratulations on the permanent position.”

I gave him a small smile. “Thank you. And thank you both for hosting Lily’s party. It’s beautiful and the food is amazing, as per usual.”

“No problem.” Gio waved off the thanks and put an arm around his wife’s shoulder. “Lily is your family, which makes her our family.”

“She is beautiful.” Gabby looked over to where Lily was sitting on Nate’s knee and grinning up at whatever Liv was saying to her. “So well behaved too.”

“Oh, she’s an angel.” My eyes darted across the room, where I could see Beth doing what appeared to be a bad job of attempting to talk Dylan into swiping an extra piece of cake. “And some of them are angels with dirty faces.”

Dylan didn’t look convinced, so Beth reached up to the table to take another bit of cake by herself. Her little hand had just closed around it when Joss appeared. She didn’t say a word. She just held out her hand, palm up. Beth wrinkled her nose in annoyance and plopped the cake in her mother’s hand. Joss raised an eyebrow at her and nodded her head to the right. Beth followed the direction of the gesture and her shoulders slumped at the sight of Braden. He was sitting beside Adam and Ellie, holding his nephew, Bray, in his arms, but the look of rebuke on his face was leveled at his daughter. At the expression on her dad’s face, Beth’s shoulders suddenly flew back, and as if she was marching to her end, she strode across the room to her dad with the look of a martyr on her own face.

I could tell it took everything Braden had not to laugh.

My eyes went back to Dylan. Joss said something to him, smiling, and he gave her his serious-little-boy nod and began to move away. I expected him to head toward Marco, who was standing chatting with Cam, Cole, and Mick about something, but Dylan headed toward us.

I assumed he was coming over to Gabby and Gio, who were pretty much beloved grandparents to him. However, Dylan just looked up at Gabby and Gio as he walked by them, before dropping his gaze to me. Without a word he climbed onto my lap and rested his head against my chest.

He probably heard my heartbeat banging away in his ear.

I could tell by Gabby’s and Gio’s amused expressions that my face was a picture of surprise and absolute adoration. Looking down at the top of his head, I tentatively lifted my hand to stroke his soft curls. “Tired, sweetheart?”

He nodded slowly, and relaxed even deeper into me.

“Do you want to go home and I’ll read Where the Wild Things Are before bedtime?”

He nodded again.

My chest tight with emotion, I looked up from him to search out Marco. It didn’t surprise me to find his eyes were already on us, and there was such intensity in the way he was watching us that my chest tightened that little bit more until I was entirely breathless.

My mum always said it was the simplest things in life that moved you.

My mum had never been more right than she was just then.

“‘… and it was still hot.’”

I closed the picture book and looked down at Dylan, whose eyes were already closing. Carefully, I extricated myself from the bed, put the book on his bedside table, kissed his forehead, whispered good night, and walked over to the door.

Marco gave me a loving look from his place in the doorway and then strode inside to say good night to his son. I left them, giving them their time, as I had tried to a lot over the past few months. I didn’t spend every day of their alternative weekend arrangement with them because I felt it would be an easier transition for Dylan if he at least got his dad to himself sometimes. That was hard for me, not just because I missed Marco whenever he wasn’t around, but because those alternate weekends were the highlight of my month. I missed Dylan when he wasn’t with us, so I knew Marco must miss him a million times more.

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