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A Beautiful Funeral (The Maddox Brothers #5)(12)
Author: Jamie McGuire

“You just washed the truck.”

“I’ll take yours.” I smirked.

She glared at me. “Mine is totaled.”

I pressed my lips together, trying to suppress a smile. My shoulder burned from where a bullet had grazed me and drove through my seat, and my head was pounding from slamming into a tree on the side of the highway. I’d just begun to heal from the beating I’d taken beneath the streets of Vegas by Benny’s men, and now, I had a fresh black eye and a one-inch vertical cut through my left eyebrow. I just happened to be driving Abby’s SUV to pick up some ice cream, being a model husband while also using that time to get an update on Thomas from Val. The Carlisis thought I was in California, so they went there first, but Val said it was only a matter of time before they arrived in Eakins. That was when the first bullets shattered the passenger side window.

Abby was pissed, but she chose to be angry about the truck because she couldn’t be mad about the situation. Anger was easier than fear. Even after I’d already eliminated the threat, I wanted to empty my clip into every single one of them when I saw the photos in the vehicle that had run me off the road. They had pictures of my wife, my kids, my nieces and nephews, my brothers and their wives. Even Shepley, America, their sons, and my aunt and uncle. They were planning to wipe out the Maddox family.

They chose the wrong family.

“They’ll replace it,” I said, trying to mask my growing anger.

“They can’t replace you,” she said, turning with her arms crossed and resting on her belly. “Are you going?”

“To meet Liis when she lands?”

“You should. She’ll need to see your black eye and the cut on your eyebrow, to see the danger is real and has extended to the rest of the family,” Abby said.

“I can’t leave you here alone, Pidge.” I sighed. “I didn’t realize how much we’d used Lena until she left.”

Abby shot me a knowing grin. “You miss her, don’t you? She’s the little sister you never had.”

I smiled but didn’t answer. Abby already knew that I did. Lena was a tiny thing, shorter than Abby. She was an exotic beauty, as deadly as she was stunning, handpicked by the Bureau to protect our children before they were born. Because my undercover position was atypical in that Benny knew who I was, where I lived, and that I had a family, the Bureau took extra precautions. Lena quickly fit in and was a huge help to a new mother with twin infants, especially when I was gone. She was like a little sister to Abby and me, and she loved to gang up on me with Abby. Like an aunt to the kids, she accompanied them to parks, nature walks, playing cars and Barbies, and teaching them Portuguese and Italian. She even taught them how to defend themselves, which we learned wasn’t the best idea for Jessica. I should’ve known no daughter of mine would be afraid to use her new knowledge if someone picked on her brother at school.

Eighteen months ago, Agent John Wren replaced Lena. Suddenly reassigned, we didn’t know where she was going, just that she was nervous as she packed her things and was devastated that she didn’t have time to say goodbye to the children.

“I’m not alone,” Abby said, snapping me to the present. She gestured over her shoulder to the window.

I didn’t need visual confirmation to know that Agent Wren was outside in a black car, along with two more agents in undisclosed locations. Now that we knew our entire family was a target, we had to be vigilant. The Carlisis weren’t known for their patience; they typically attacked at the smallest sign of weakness.

Lena’s sudden departure deeply affected the children. James began experiencing nightmares, and Jessica was depressed for months. Abby insisted we not put James and Jessica through that kind of anguish again, so the Bureau sent an agent we thought the kids wouldn’t become attached to. The twins were old enough that it was unnecessary for our new security to be handpicked because of his rapport with children; rather, he was chosen for the fact he was classified as hyper lethal. To date, Wren was the only agent I’d met with that classification.

“I still feel bad that he has to sit outside in this heat,” Abby said.

“His car is air conditioned, and you were right. The kids were getting attached … and so was he.”

As aloof as Wren was, the kids had grown on him. We were just as surprised as he was the first time Jessica nearly knocked him over with a hug. They beamed every day when they saw him sitting outside their school, and as each day passed, their acceptance of and love for him broke down his walls. As it turned out, that only made Wren more determined to keep them alive, a positive side-effect none of us saw coming. Abby wasn’t happy about their growing attachment, though, so the rules changed. He had to keep his distance, and for a second time, the kids were heartbroken.

Abby nodded and turned away from the window, walking over to join me. She looked down at her stomach. “What do you think about Sutton?”

“You’re talking names now? Sutton for a boy?” I asked, trying to keep my expression neutral. Pregnancy made my wife even more unpredictable than usual, but I just rolled with it. Pointing it out just made her cranky.

Abby’s gray eyes brightened, relishing in the truth I couldn’t hide. “You don’t like it? I know it doesn’t start with a J like the twins, and that’s kind of the Maddox thing, but …”

My nose wrinkled. “It’s not a Maddox thing.”

“Taylor’s are Hollis and Hadley,” she said. “Shepley’s: Ezra, Eli, Emerson. The T’s? Diane and Deana? James and Jack? You’re really going to deny it?”

“It’s a regional thing.”

“Your mom and aunt grew up in Oklahoma.”

“See?” I said. “Regional.”

Abby pressed her fingers into her back, waddling to the couch. She negotiated the space and her body, keeping the right balance as she lowered herself to the cushions. “Get this thing out of me,” she groaned.

“Definitely not naming him this thing,” I teased.

“Well,” she began, breathing heavily. “We’re going to have to name him something.”

I thought for a moment. We’d been through four baby books twice. “Why not Carter?”

“Your middle name? I was actually trying to think of first names to go with Carter. If we made it his first name, what will his middle name be?”

I shrugged. “Travis.”

“Carter Travis Maddox,” she said, pausing to get comfortable. Even moving made her breathe hard. “You don’t think that would be confusing to have a Travis Carter and a Carter Travis in the house?”

“No. Well, possibly, but I still like it.”

“Me too.”

“Yeah?” I beamed.

“Kind of goes along with our theme of naming the kids after us … sort of. James after your dad. Jessica after me … ish.”

Jessica James was the name on Abby’s fake ID. It was how she got into bars when we were freshman, but more importantly, how she gambled in Vegas. I remembered watching her in awe as she went head to head with gambling legends, hustling them for thousands, all to save her dad from being killed over an unpaid debt to Benny Carlisi. That trip to Vegas, fighting for the balance of what Abby didn’t make, and the fire at Keaton Hall was the cosmic trifecta that landed us in our present situation. I was investigated for my involvement in a fire that had broken out on campus, resulting in the deaths of dozens of my classmates, and my brother just happened to be investigating Benny. When he learned my girlfriend was the daughter of a washed-up Vegas gambler who had ties to the Carlisi family, I was brought into the federal fold in exchange for immunity from prosecution for the fire.

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