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Sable Peak: Epilogue

MATEO

Ten years later …

“Mom.” Alaina rushed to Vera’s side, eyes as wide as her smile as she bent to whisper something in her mother’s ear.

Vera stood straighter at whatever Allie said, then searched through the crowd beneath the massive white tent.

“Who are we looking at?”

They both ignored me, having one of their silent conversations with a thousand words passing between them.

And whatever was happening went right over my head.

Allie gave Vera a pleading look.

Vera nodded. It was that insistent nod that said I wasn’t going to like what Allie was about to tell me.

Hell. It was probably about a boy.

“Daddy, I, um, sort of invited a date.”

Was she trying to ruin the party? “A date.”

“Yeah.” She chewed on her lower lip.

“Who?” I crossed my arms over my chest, scanning faces.

Vera had warned me that Allie had a new crush. Apparently some kid she’d met weeks ago at Eden Coffee.

Allie worked for Lyla every summer and this guy had come in one morning, new to Quincy, for breakfast. According to my wife, he stopped in to see Allie a few times a week. But if he was at my parents’ anniversary party as a date, then we were way past some flirting at the coffee shop.

“He’s standing beside Papa. Light blue shirt. Jeans.”

The boy was easy to spot. Though “boy” wasn’t the right term. Young man. “No. Absolutely not. He’s way too old.”

“Mateo.” Vera elbowed me in the ribs as she smiled at Allie. A conspirator’s smile. “He’s cute.”

“Peach,” I scoffed. I didn’t give a shit if the kid was cute. I cared about his birthday. That was not a boy from Quincy High.

“Give him some credit,” Vera said. “Coming to this party is the equivalent to walking into the lion’s den.” Not only was I here, but so was every one of Allie’s uncles.

“Fair point,” I muttered.

“Dad, please be nice.” Allie looked up at me with those pleading blue eyes. “I invited him here for a reason. If he isn’t man enough to handle our family, then he’s not the guy for me.”

I was proud of my daughter every day. But some days, I had so much pride it hurt.

Damn it. I was going to have to be nice. “How old is he?”

Allie gave me an exaggerated frown. “Twenty.”

And she was seventeen.

“For fuck’s sake.” I pinched the bridge of my nose.

Vera tucked her hand into the back pocket of my jeans. “We’ll be over to meet him in a bit.”

“Okay.” Allie kissed Vera’s cheek. “Thanks, Mom.”

“Alaina.” I stopped her before she could disappear. “Don’t sneak off. I don’t trust him.”

That earned me an eye roll from both mother and daughter.

Vera and I watched as she made her way to the boy.

When he spotted her, the smile he gave Allie was blinding. He was totally hooked on my daughter, wasn’t he? Probably a good thing that there were three hundred people separating us at the moment. I had the urge to throw him out of this tent.

I groaned. “And I was having such a good night.”

Vera giggled, leaning into my side. “It’s going to be okay.”

“I hate this.”

“I know you do.”

My little girl wasn’t a little girl anymore. This wasn’t her first date, but something about this felt different. Like that twenty-year-old was pulling her farther and farther out of my grasp.

“Hey, Vera.” A woman she worked with came over, giving her a hug.

It had taken Vera years to get her master’s degree and become a licensed social worker, but she said that every new case, every new struggling person to help, especially kids, made the long hours and late nights studying at the dining room table worth it.

Maybe if her mother had had help earlier in life, Norah Gallagher’s story would have had a different ending. Maybe if someone had recognized the signs that her parents were abusing her, they could have helped her find a different path.

Every now and then, Vera would bring up her mother, but she tried hard not to go too far down the road of what ifShe focused on helping other families. Giving back to Quincy.

“Mateo.” A group of guys I knew from high school waved me over to join their conversation. We reminisced for a few minutes, then talked about the ranch, and when I glanced over my shoulder to find Vera, she was gone.

Wait. Did she go meet the boy without me?

“Better go find my wife,” I said. “Thanks for coming out tonight.”

With a nod, I weaved through the crush, seeking out that pretty red hair.

Nearly the entire town had come out to the ranch for the evening. Mom and Dad’s anniversary was the party of the year.

The tent spanned the parking area in front of the barn and stables. The live band was playing country music from the stage at the opposite end of the tent. The caterer had cleared away the buffet, but the bar was surrounded by adults and the cake table mobbed with kids.

Two boys were getting what had to be their third piece of cake.

Matty turned, carrying a piece of double chocolate. When he spotted me, his smile dropped. He leaned in to say something in his little brother’s ear. Probably a warning that Dad was coming.

When Braydon turned and spotted me, he just giggled. There was frosting on the tip of his nose.

They loved wedding cake. They were my sons, after all.

“This is your last piece,” I said when I made it to the table.

“Okay.” Matty nodded.

Braydon chased after him to a nearby table filled with their cousins. At least the pieces were small. I snatched a plate of my own, shoving the whole slice in my mouth in a single bite. Good thing they didn’t know it was my fourth.

Matty was nine and Braydon was seven. Where one went, the other was never far behind. They were more than brothers. They were best friends.

Braydon, we’d named after my uncle. We’d used Briggs’s middle name.

When Vera was pregnant, we’d told Uncle Briggs about the namesake on one of his lucid days. Anymore, the dementia kept him from recognizing anyone but Dad. Regardless, I tried to visit him every other week. Usually I went alone, but sometimes Vera would tag along. Other days, Allie would go.

She had one more year of high school left, then she’d be going to Embry-Riddle in Arizona. Allie had her heart set on becoming an aerospace engineer and had already completed her certification as a private pilot.

I’d taught her to fly.

The hole that she’d leave behind when she left for college was already too big. I was ignoring it for now. We had another year.

And that boy she’d invited to the party had better not break her heart and fuck it all up.

Where the hell were they?

It took a minute, but I finally found them talking to a group of Allie’s high school friends. But no Vera.

I was just about to change direction, head toward the dance floor, when a swish of red caught my eye.

Vera had a hand to her mouth, covering a yawn, as she slipped past the tent’s open walls and into the night.

If we were at home, she’d be going outside to visit Cormac at the firepit. But tonight, she was probably going to get caffeine.

It was midnight and we’d been here since seven this morning getting everything set up. The party showed no signs of stopping—the band was playing until one. She probably wanted a cup of coffee.

The bar was not serving coffee.

I rushed toward the nearest opening, then jogged to catch Vera, wrapping my arms around her before she reached the porch stairs at Mom and Dad’s. “Where do you think you’re going?”

“Sneaking out. I need coffee if I’m going to make it all night.”

“Want company?”

“Always.” She leaned up and kissed the underside of my jaw, then took my hand and tugged me into the house.

I’d expected it to be empty, but voices drifted from inside. “Guess we weren’t the only ones ready to ditch the party.”

When we walked down the hallway, we found our family in the kitchen.

The coffee pot was brewing.

“Seems we all had the same idea.” Knox grabbed another mug from the cupboard. “Coffee?”

“Please.” Vera yawned again, and I pulled out a stool for her to sit beside Lyla.

“Who’s the guy with Allie?” Vance asked. “He’s a little old for her, isn’t he?”

“Yes,” I muttered.

Knox slid Vera’s mug across the island just as Mom and Dad, walking hand in hand, found their children in the kitchen.

“So none of us are at the party?” Anne laughed. “We’re terrible hosts.”

“The kids are still out there,” I said.

The next generation of Edens could handle it.

“Ugh.” Griffin dragged a hand over his face. “I don’t trust Hudson to stay away from the bar. We should probably go back out there and supervise.”

“Probably.” Harrison sighed.

No one moved. Because here, inside this house, in this kitchen, was our party.

Mom and Dad.

Griffin and Winn.

Knox and Memphis.

Foster and Talia.

Jasper and Eloise.

Vance and Lyla.

Vera and me.

Some of us hadn’t started with the last name Eden. Some of us had changed it with marriage. But every person in this house claimed it.

We were the Edens.


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