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A Beautiful Funeral (The Maddox Brothers #5)(15)
Author: Jamie McGuire

“Tie your shoes, Ezra! Ezra!” I called after him.

America was already standing next to the car just inside the open back door, reaching over Eli to buckle Emerson into his car seat. Ezra slid in on the other side, his laces dangling. America simply nodded to his feet, and his knee was bent, following orders.

“How?” I said, walking to my side.

“They know exactly what they can get away with,” she said, pulling open the passenger side door. She clicked her seat belt and then leaned back, taking the precious few minutes we had in the car with the kids strapped down to relax. I barely heard her next words over the engine igniting. “Every kid has a currency, love. They also know I will annihilate theirs.”

I chuckled, knowing full well she was serious. I’d seen many a toy plane and racecar bagged up and taken to charity or stored until the boys earned it back. America was militant at times, but she was right. One day, they would be bigger than she was, and it was important for her to establish respect before that happened. As I drove to Jim’s, I thought about what it would be like if Diane had been around to raise my cousins. Everything America did as a mother was exactly the way I pictured my aunt. I wasn’t sure how an only daughter kept a handle on a brood of rowdy Maddox boys, but from the moment she pushed Ezra into the world, she somehow always knew when to be soft and when to be tough.

I pushed down the blinker, waiting for oncoming traffic before turning left into Jim’s drive. The two gravel slits on each side of a runway of freshly mowed grass sat on the left side of Jim’s house and ran deep, past the backside of the house. So many cars were already parked, the ass of my minivan hung out into the street more than two feet. Good thing the parked car in front of Jim’s house would keep the flow of traffic away from the van.

“What the hell?” America said.

“Mom,” Ezra scolded. “Don’t say hell.”

“You don’t say hell,” America said back.

“You first.”

She turned slowly, shooting him a death glare. He sank back into his seat, already afraid for his life.

No one was waiting for us on the porch. Something was wrong. I unfastened Eli and Emerson and kept pace with America as she led Ezra by the hand to the front door. I knocked twice and then opened the screen door, making a mental note to come by and fix it before it fell off its hinges. Trenton and Camille had been busy trying to get pregnant, and Travis had just come home from working out of town. I pitched in to help when and where I could.

America took my hand, just as wary about what we were walking into as I was. Except for quiet murmuring in the kitchen, the house was quiet—strange with that many people in the house.

“Hey,” I said when Trenton came into view. He looked like shit, and I could see that both he and Camille had been crying. Travis and Abby were leaning against the counters next to the fridge, watching Trenton tell me whatever news I’d come to learn. “Where’s Jim?” I asked.

He hugged me quickly. “Thanks for coming so fast.”

“Trenton,” I said. “Tell me what’s going on.”

“It’s Tommy,” he said, his voice ragged.

“Oh, God. The baby?” America asked.

My stomach sank. Stella was only a couple of days old.

“No”—Trenton shook his head—“no, she’s fine. Super healthy.” He looked down at the boys. “James and Jess are upstairs. Why don’t you guys go find ‘em?”

All three boys took off, and America grabbed my arm with both hands, bracing us both for what Trenton might say.

“Tommy was shot outside his house earlier. Just after they brought Stella home.”

“Shot?” I said, feeling dizzy. All the air had been sucked out of the room while I tried to process his words. “But he’s okay?”

Trenton’s face fell. “It’s bad, Shep.”

I was getting angry, and I wasn’t sure why. “Like a drive-by or …?”

“We’re not exactly sure. The agents have been instructed to wait for Liis before giving any more info,” Trenton said.

America’s nose wrinkled. “Agents?”

Trenton gestured over his shoulder to the men in suits sitting at the dining table. “FBI.”

I leaned over to get a better look and then stood back upright. “What are FBI agents doing here?”

“We’re not sure about that, either. I think it has something to do with who shot Tommy. Maybe they’re on the Ten Most Wanted or something.”

“But why wouldn’t they give you more information? Have they asked you any questions?” America asked.

“No,” Trenton said.

America approached Abby, whose entire body looked swollen, even her nose. “You don’t find this situation odd? Where’s Travis?”

Abby touched America’s arm, giving her an unspoken signal to be patient.

“It’s going to be okay, Mare,” Abby said. “He went to pick up Liis from the airport.”

“Liis is here? Why isn’t she with Thomas?” I asked.

Before Abby could answer, Jim hobbled in from the living room.

“Uncle Jim,” I said, hugging him.

He patted my back. “Just waiting to hear something.” When he pulled away, he looked weary and heartbroken, as if he already knew what was coming.

“Can I get you something, Dad?” Abby asked.

“Just getting some coffee,” Jim said.

“I’ll get it,” Camille said. “You should both be resting.” She meant Abby and Jim, but I felt like sitting down myself.

“She’s right. Put your feet up,” America said.

As America walked past me, leading Abby to the living room by the hand, I noticed the absence of the same fear and devastation that was weighing down the faces of everyone else in the room—everyone but Abby. Normally, she would be interrogating those agents until she got answers.

America nodded, a glimmer of understanding in her eyes. I wondered what she knew that I didn’t. The boys screamed, and America rushed to the bottom of the stairs, looking up as she yelled, “Any blood?”

“No ma’am!” all three called back in unison.

Camille smiled and filled a glass with ice and water, handing it to Dad before escorting him back to his chair.

“This doesn’t look like coffee,” Dad said with a smirk.

“I know,” Camille said.

America and I joined everyone but Trenton in the living room. He was in the hall on the phone, trying to reach the twins in Colorado. America sat on the couch, and I settled in on the floor between her legs, trying not to groan when she began rubbing her thumbs in circles over my shoulders.

Trenton walked in, holding his phone in the air. “Twins got a flight for the morning. I’ll pick them up.”

“I’ll follow you in the van,” I said.

America’s fingers pressed into my sore muscles even further. “When do we find out more about Thomas?” she asked.

“Soon,” Abby said.

America shot her a look. Something was up, and my wife never appreciated being kept out of the loop. I thought that when Travis and Abby eloped, America would strangle them both. Apparently, they hadn’t learned their lesson.

The front door opened and closed, and Travis walked around the corner, loosening his tie. He’d gotten a job with Thomas’s advertising firm. It was based in California, and the story was that he was taking over for Thomas since he’d moved out to manage their East Coast office, but Travis somehow managed to stay in Eakins. None of it made much sense, but I hadn’t thought to question them until now. America and I had been busy with our own family. It’d been far too easy to overlook things.

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