Home > A Beautiful Funeral (The Maddox Brothers #5)

A Beautiful Funeral (The Maddox Brothers #5)
Author: Jamie McGuire

CHAPTER ONE

THOMAS

I SAT ON THE SMALL, cold loveseat in Liis’s hospital room. The brown and blue color-blocked walls and minimalist décor reminded me more of an Aloft hotel than a maternity ward. My future wife looked cozy and beautiful, holding Stella’s tiny, curled body against her chest in the same bed she’d birthed our daughter. For the first time in seventeen hours, I rested. My shoulders sagged, and I blew out a long puff of air. Little to no sleep had never bothered me, but watching the woman I loved more than anything suffer so much pain for that long had taken its toll.

Liis was visibly exhausted. I could see the purple half-moons under her eyes, and although she was the most beautiful I’d seen her, I felt torn between offering to take Stella and waiting for her to request it.

Stella was sleeping in her mother’s arms just feet away. Seeing them serenely holding each other was both comforting and jarring. Stella was a new life that we’d created, a perfect combination of two people who had once been strangers. Now, she would have her own thoughts, feelings, and—because she’s our daughter—strong opinions. I wondered about her entire life as she lay sleepily suckling at Liis’s breast.

Finally, my impatience won out. “Liis,” I began.

As if she knew, Stella stopped nursing, and her head fell back, her mouth open. Liis smiled and carefully positioned the baby onto her shoulder.

“I can do it,” I said.

Liis smiled, patting Stella’s tiny back gently and rubbing after every third tap or so. Stella’s body jerked as an almost inaudible burp broke the silence of the dark hospital room.

My shoulders fell. Liis smiled, breathed out a quiet laugh, and then touched her lips to the dark, soft wisps of hair on Stella’s head.

“You’ve got to give her up sometime,” I said softly. I had held my daughter for just a few short minutes before they took her away to record her weight, measurements, and footprints. After that, they returned her to Liis for another half-hour before whisking her away for her first bath.

“It’ll get easier, right? To share?” Liis asked, only half kidding.

“I hope not,” I said with a tired grin. “I realize you just got her back, but I can change her and rock her back to sleep.”

Liis thought about my offer and then nodded. Always the negotiator.

I stood up again, walking across the room to reclaim my daughter. As I carried our daughter to her clear bassinet, Liis’s breathing evened out. Even her FBI personnel file had stated she’d always had a knack for grabbing shut-eye when she could, especially just a few hours before a raid. Her head fell to the side. She had sunk into oblivion just seconds after she’d finally agreed to let me take over.

Liis was most comfortable when in control, but as hard as she resisted, I knew she trusted me. I was the only one she would trust with her heart, especially now that it was living outside of her body in the form of the perfect being who’d just completed our family. It had taken nearly ten years of hints and coaxing to get her to agree to even consider a proposal. Liis had been happily married to the Bureau, and until she learned Stella was on the way, she wasn’t open to infidelity.

Stella gazed up at me, her blue eyes watching me with wonder. She’d woken up when I’d lifted her into my arms, and she scanned my face with curiosity while I cleaned her up and wrapped her in a dry diaper. Trying not to wrinkle my nose, I spoke to her tenderly while I swaddled her in a soft, ivory blanket, telling her how glad we were that she’d finally arrived. For a perfect being, Stella could certainly leave a disgusting mess.

She stretched her neck, and I smiled, cradling her in my bare arms. My sports jacket, white button-down, and tie were hanging over the recliner. A white undershirt and slacks weren’t appropriate for the office, but taking care of someone smaller than I was made me feel eleven years old again, wiping faces and asses and everything in between, barely able to keep my own T-shirt and holey jeans clean. I couldn’t wait to get home to shower and snuggle with my two favorite women in the world, wearing three days of scruff, gray sweatpants, and my favorite Rolling Stones T-shirt.

In the hall, I heard a short scuffle, and then a light commotion just outside the door. Whispered voices hissed, unhappy and persistent. I took a step to stand between Liis and the door and then turned, positioning my body between whoever was outside and my daughter.

A nurse pushed through, looking disheveled and a bit shaken.

“Everything okay?” I asked, remaining alert. From the corner of my eye, I could see that Liis was awake and ready to react.

“Um, sure,” the nurse said, pausing when she noticed our posture. “Is everything okay in here?”

“What was the noise outside?” Liis asked.

“Oh,” the nurse said, pulling on a pair of gloves as she stood by Liis’s bedside. “It’s a fight to get into your room. Those agents outside don’t play around.”

Liis relaxed, and I walked over to the rocking recliner just a few feet away from her, pulling back Stella’s blanket to check that she was fine.

“The director just wants me back at work ASAP,” Liis said, settling back against her pillow.

“Not happening,” I said.

In truth, if the director had his way, Liis would have given birth at the office. We were at the end of our largest case, and Liis was the most trusted translator and analyst at Quantico. I’d been the case lead for eleven years, which was more than half of my time in the Bureau. My youngest brother, Travis, had been undercover, but when the shit hit the fan and his wife was threatened, Travis executed Benny and a few of his men. Abby handed over all the info she had on her father, Mick—another one of Benny’s pawns—getting us closer than we had ever been to finally wrapping up the case. Benny’s underboss and eldest son, Angelo Carlisi, was just about to go down, and everyone wanted the investigation locked down tight.

Liis and I had spent hours in the director’s office explaining to him our position on our new family. The risk was so much higher, making us all the more eager for a conclusion.

“I’ll just bring her to work. The director can change diapers,” Liis joked.

“He might take you up on that,” I said with a smirk.

The nurse wasn’t amused. “Is there a chance the agents could … I don’t know … look at my face and remember it an hour later? The pat downs are getting old.”

Liis and I traded glances but didn’t respond. We understood her frustration, but more than just the director knew that Liis and I were responsible for bringing half of the Vegas organized crime families to justice. Benny’s death had made everyone nervous. We were the FBI’s top agents on the case with a baby on the way, and one of Benny’s men was in custody and very close to testifying. They had already targeted us twice, so the Bureau wasn’t taking any chances. We’d had agents shadowing our every move as soon as Liis’s baby bump became prominent.

“Stella might as well get used to having two special agents for parents,” I said, pushing off my toes. The rocker swept back and then forward, a gentle motion highlighted by something creaking with sleepy rhythm in the base of the chair. Memories of rocking Travis when he was a toddler, still in diapers, came to the forefront of my mind. His shaggy hair, chicken legs, and the sticky ring around his mouth—a telltale sign Grandpa had been over. He’d bring over five suckers in his pocket and always leave with one. Children ate candy, and Dad was passed out drunk in the bedroom while I was keeping the boys from playing in traffic. I’d stopped being a child when Mom died.

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