“Yeah, oh,” he parrots, reaching over and grabbing my hand to give me a strong, reassuring squeeze. “Come on, little princess. Let’s get this over with.”
When we make it inside, things are predictably insane. Whenever we all get together, things tend to go that way. I love my family, but sometimes—like right now—they’re just too much.
The room is huge, set up that way to ensure plenty of space for the number of guests they plan on attending. Numerous tables are scattered throughout the middle of the room, with some space for the food tables, DJ, a bar, and a huge stage set up across the room. It’s typically used for small, local concerts and some wedding receptions. I guess you could consider it country chic, with the log cabin look from outside continuing inside. They’ve added crystal chandeliers to the vaulted ceilings and carried the décor to the table settings. Mason jars full of wildflowers are at each table, American flags sticking out the center of each, with a red-white-and-blue theme for each table. My attention goes back to the large stage, which takes up the whole back end of the room. It’s covered in a thick, red curtain—and I officially decide that it will be my escape later.
Obviously, Mom, Dee, and Melissa went all out. I see Mom at the far side of the large room talking to Dee and Emmy. She’s waving her arms around like a windmill, so she’s clearly worked up about something. Daddy is standing by the bar with Beck and Asher. He looks up when we walk in. As always, he knows when one of his girls is near, and I have no doubt, judging by the way his eyes go hard, that he knows I’m upset. Or he’s noticed my outfit. I give him a bright smile, which he doesn’t buy for one second, and I move around Nate to go find Maddi.
She left the house almost an hour before me to come and help set up. The girls had spent the night back at their parents’ house so that they could spend more time with their brother, so I knew they wouldn’t be here yet.
Liam stops me before I even get two feet into my quest for Maddi to say hey and gives me a big hug.
“Are you okay?” he asks, not even breaking to say hello.
Another infuriating side effect of being surrounded by overprotective alpha males is their inability to leave well enough alone. They sense that one of the females in our group is upset and they just can’t not try to fix it.
“Stop, Lee. Don’t turn on your protector crap right now. I get it enough from Nate and Daddy. I’m fine. Just fine,” I snap.
“Uh, right. I’m just . . . I’ll just go find Zac and Jaxon now.” He holds his hands up in a mock surrender and walks slowly backwards. Away from me and my special brand of crazy.
I watch him walk away until he stops where Asher and Chelcie’s boys are standing with Cam and Colt.
“Aren’t you a happy camper. You were fine an hour ago. How could your day change so swiftly?” Maddi laughs, coming up to my side and wrapping her arm over my shoulders.
I allow myself two seconds of soaking up her support before I duck under her arm, grab her hand, and drag her through the tables and out the back door.
“What in the hell,” she mumbles, struggling to keep up with me. Which is laughable, really, with her long legs against my short ones.
I let the back door slam behind us and pull her farther behind the building and the dumpsters. No way I’m chancing anyone overhearing us.
“What has gotten in to you, Dani?” Maddi inquires when I finally drop her hand.
“Did you know that Cohen was bringing a date?”
“Do what? You’re kidding, right?”
“Dead serious,” I all but yell. “Nate just told me in the car that he was bringing someone. That’s all I know. But, Maddi . . . surely it’s serious if he’s bringing her here! Oh my God, oh my God. I need to leave. That’s what I need to do.”
“Actually, you should probably just try and calm your shit down and stop acting like the world is over. It’s Cohen. I’m sure that she is just a friend or something. I don’t know, maybe she’s homeless and he is bringing her so she can get a meal. Maybe she is part alien and using him to get to know our culture. Whatever the case may be, you freaking yourself out over it isn’t going to do a bit of good.”
“Why do you have to make so much sense?” I ask sarcastically after she stops talking.
She, in turn, gives me a glare that would make her father proud.
“Aliens? Really?” I laugh.
“Oh, shut up. And you know I make sense because I’m the smart one. Plus, with the twins not here yet, someone has to keep your ass from overacting. Oh! I know. Let’s call Lyn. She’ll know what’s up.”