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TEAM PLAYERS: Chapter 20

It’s the day before Hunter and Harley’s big birthday bash. They’re going to be twenty-two. Reggie and Gordon approach me in the morning, asking if I’ll help them organize the party. It’s the first time they’ll be following the family tradition since Dad died, and I think they’re finding the prospect daunting. Not the organization, as such, but more the idea of celebrating without the man who brought them all together and taught them how to be the family that they are.

We head to Main Street to pick up the large foil number balloons they always get and some shiny silver banners. In the food store, they find the ingredients to make a big chocolate fudge cake, and pancakes too. Apparently, birthday buttermilk pancakes are a big tradition, served with maple syrup, bacon, and blueberries. Even in my slightly nauseated state, they sound delicious. Dinner will be pizza, ordered in from their favorite pizzeria, but we need chips and dip and other small party food and a keg of beer.

Gordon hefts that keg like it weighs nothing, and I get a flash of an image of Atlas from my old mythology book. He’s the Titan who was strong enough to hold up the sky. Gordon seems to have the strength and determination to hold this family together, that’s for sure.

“Have you ever baked chocolate fudge cake?” Gordon asks.

“Sure. Who used to bake it, you know… before?”

“Dad. He loved baking. Sunday would always be muffin day, and the last few years, he even started baking his own bread using ancient grains. It was seriously rustic but much better for you than the store-bought stuff.”

“He did?” The image of my dad with his shirt sleeves rolled up, kneading dough, seems like a strange fantasy.

“With our training, he got heavily into health. All our meals were designed to give us the maximum energy and nutrition.”

“But he made you muffins and chocolate fudge cake.”

“Yeah, but the muffins have zucchini in them, and the chocolate fudge cake contains beets.”

“Beets? Like the purple things from underground?”

“Yep, and natural sugars too. None of that processed stuff.”

“Wow… that’s… awesome. But I’ve never made a beet cake before. I’m not sure it’ll be any good.”

Gordon smiles, his eyes crinkling in the reflection of the review mirror. “We can follow the recipe, and I guess we’ll have to hope for the best.”

Back at the house, Hunter and Harley are busy with classes, so we have time to dig out the folder of recipes my father put together and start on the chocolate cake. It’s fun doing something as domestic as baking with my foster brother. The counter gets covered with flour, and Reggie drops an egg, much to Gordon’s disgust and my amusement. The batter is dark and delicious looking, and Reggie scoops some from the edge of the bowl with his finger and plants it on my nose. I squeal, searching for a cloth to wipe myself, but I’m not quick enough. He grabs hold of both sides of my face and licks it off. “Mmmm… delicious.” He laughs even harder when I swat him. “You know, I can think of even better places to spread this and lick it off!”

“Can you guys concentrate? This cake is going to be a disaster if you keep fooling around.” Gordon grabs the mixing bowl, tipping its contents into the round tin.

Reggie shakes his head at his brother. “This is supposed to be about creating joy, not being a fun-sponge.”

I snort, retreating to the sink to find a cloth and beginning the laborious task of clearing up.

“Someone has to be an adult in this house,” Gordon mumbles.

“I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but we all are adults,” Reggie says, lounging against the counter.

“Age-wise, maybe, but attitude is a different story, and anyway, I’m perfectly capable of creating fun.”

“Yeah, like Monica in Friends? He’s gonna be running around with coasters at the party tomorrow.”

“Fuck you,” Gordon mutters, giving his brother a narrow-eyed look, but he doesn’t deny it, which makes me smile.

“So, this needs to go into the oven… I’ll set the timer.” Gordon gets the cake baking, and Reggie begins to help by mopping the floor; ordinary life, but so out of the ordinary because this isn’t a regular family. It’s two gorgeous sexy football players who know their way around real life.

“When this is done, we need to leave for training. Want to come, Maggie?” Gordon shrugs as though he doesn’t care if I do or I don’t, but I’m sure he wouldn’t have asked me out of politeness.

I’ve never been a big sports fan for anything other than ogling guys in tight pants, and today doesn’t feel any different. But this is a big part of their life, and it’s nice that they want me to be there. “Sure, I’ll come.”


The cake looks surprisingly good. All it needs is some chocolate frosting. Between us, the kitchen is returned to its former surprisingly clean state. The guys head upstairs to get ready for training, and I take a quick look in the mirror, wanting to make sure that all the chocolate cake batter has been removed from my nose and I look presentable. My skinny jeans have tears across them in the way that’s on-trend these days, and I dig out a figure-hugging white top that wraps around my middle and ties at the side. It’s cute and draws attention to my still-trim figure. It’s not that I want anyone looking at me, more that I don’t want to be an embarrassment to my foster brothers.

It doesn’t take us long to get to the indoor gym facility where they train. They take me inside, and I immediately catch sight of Harley and Hunter, who are spotting each other lifting weights. Hunter’s lying on the bench, his hands gripped around the bar, Harley’s hand underneath in case his brother is too tired to lift.

On the mat, Logan and Sean are using hand weights to build their arms while Dwayne, Daryl, and Donovan are doing pushups and burpees. There are shouts of “What up” from other men I don’t recognize but who I assume are their other teammates. They do their one-armed bro hugs, and then eyes turn to me.

“This is Maggie, our…” Reggie pauses, glancing over to Gordon for inspiration as to who I am. Introduce me as a sister now, and in the future, if the boys are ever upfront about our situation, that could get weird, but the alternative is talking about something that none of us is sure about.

“She’s staying with us for a while,” Gordon says, tossing his bag onto the floor. “Now, let’s get on with this training so we can get out of here. It smells like fucking shoe and ass.”

“Like yo’ mamma, then,” someone calls from across the gym.

Gordon flinches, his hands balling to fists at his side. Reggie seems hyper-aware of his brother, reaching over quickly to slap him on the shoulder. “Let’s go work on our legs,” he says. Gordon inhales deeply, despite the smell that hangs in the air, his huge frame expanding with the pressure it’s taking him to suppress whatever had him looking like he wanted to punch someone’s lights out.

“Come on, Maggie.” Reggie takes me by the arm and steers me to the machines where they will be able to work out their already hugely strong legs. “You can sit there.” He points to a machine that isn’t in use, and I perch on the edge, feeling like a fish out of water. This is a man-zone; all buzzed up testosterone and aggression. I guess that’s what ballers need to be successful. It’s why they’re all here training after hours. It’s the extra work that lays the foundation for success.

I watch Gordon pushing a board with his feet, his muscles straining at the weight. His big hands, the ones that were gripped so tight when that douchebag said something about his mom, are holding on at the sides. Everything in him seems wound up and tense.

“That’s it,” Reggie says. “That’s a lot of weight.”

“I’m imagining Cox’s head is behind this machine, and every time I push out, I’m squashing it,” Gordon says, then he has to pause for a moment to laugh. It’s not an exuberant sound but more like a release of pressure. This is more than just having thin skin when it comes to shooting the shit between teammates. I suspect that something bad happened to Gordon’s mom.

“Just ignore Cox. You know he likes pushing buttons, and you know who will benefit if he gets you to fly off the handle, and it’s not going to be you.”

Gordon nods, gripping the machine so tightly his knuckles blanch, pushing the weight of the machine so that his legs shake and his abs bunch with pressure. He makes a strangulated sound, the effort through his body almost too much.

“Okay. I think that’s enough for that one.” Reggie rises from his own machine and drops onto the mat in front of me. Gordon rises like a weary giant, then settles on his back next to his brother. They start to work on different leg raises like two well-oiled machines. There’s a total comfortableness about the way they work because this is what they do. They build their bodies to be part of something bigger. They take their free time and trade it for their future. Performance now is everything. This isn’t a D1 college, so getting picked for the draft is more challenging. No wonder this is part of their routine. This isn’t just about succeeding on the field now; it’s about having a chance to fulfill Dad’s dreams for them in the future. That burden must weigh heavy. Is it the reason Gordon is so on edge?

“Wanna join us?” Reggie tips his head back to look at me, a grin blooming on his face.

“Maggie doesn’t need to do this shit,” Gordon mutters.

“Actually, I work out a lot,” I say. “But I’m not going to today.”

“How come?” Reggie’s thighs are bulging with effort, a thin sheen of sweat developing over his forehead.

“She’s too overwhelmed by the buffet of fitness in front of her,” Hunter says. He’s on his feet now, wiping his face with a white towel.

“Buffet of fitness… that’s hilarious,” I snort.

“Are you saying we’re not fit?” Gordon huffs.

“More that you’re not a buffet,” I say with raised eyebrows.

“We could be.” Even though he’s working out hard, his voice is still dripping with sex.

Hunter chuckles, but Gordon looks less happy, his eyes glancing to where the other men in the gym are working out. Is he worried about Cox overhearing this? Is he ashamed of people knowing what he wants inside his own home? That would certainly be a revelation. “Less talking about food and more training. We need to kill it in the next game, okay?”

Hunter brings his hand to his forehead and cracks out a fast and hard salute. “Yes sir, no sir. Thank you, sir,” he barks, then drops onto his front and begins to push out military speed pushups.

“He knows his place,” Gordon says, grinning through gritted teeth.

“And where’s that? Beneath you,” Cox says, swaggering as he walks past. He’s big. At least as big as Gordon, maybe bigger. This dude must play defense because there is no way there is much quick speed in his hulking body.

“Fuck off, Cox,” Hunter hisses.

“You showing off to your girlfriend?” Cox sniggers.

“That’s their sister, dude,” Cox’s friend says.

“Sister? I didn’t think you fuckers had a sister. I thought it was all a big bromance over at your house. Pretending to be brothers to cover up the fact that you’re all in one big-loving butt-fucking relationship.”

His friend holds his hand up, and they high-five like the juvenile idiots they are.

I want to put myself between these assholes and my foster brothers to stop anything bad from happening, but it isn’t my place. There is history here that I haven’t been a part of, and I know how bad things can get when I run my mouth. Coming between these teammates and making things worse than they already are isn’t going to help my boys, especially just before a game.

My boys. Did I really just think that?

“Move on,” Reggie says, interrupting his workout to sit up. I guess he can feel the tension rising. Out of all these guys, I trust Reggie to keep his cool. His laid-back and fun attitude is just what’s needed to defuse the current rising anger.

“Ah, your girlfriend is getting involved now, Gordon. Does he like it when you fuck his ass?”

Gordon is a bulky guy, but he’s off his back and on his feet in the blink of an eye. He’s so fast, I’m momentarily stunned until Reggie and Hunter are trying to get in front of him. Cox draws up to his full height, all six foot five or so of meathead. Gordon isn’t far off his size, but two inches looks like a lot when there’s anger involved. The size difference doesn’t seem to be a factor that Gordon is taking into consideration, though. The way he’s lurching forward with fists balled tells me he’s willing to go as far as it’ll take to get this idiot to shut the fuck up about his family.

“Don’t!” Hunter shouts, his hand thudding into Gordon’s chest so hard it echoes around the gym. His arm flexes as he uses it to stop his brother from getting any closer, but Cox’s friend isn’t doing anything on that side. Instead, Cox steps closer, drawing himself up, so he’s staring at Gordon down his flaring nose.

“Ah, your girlfriends don’t want you to get your pretty face all bashed in?” Cox flexes his fingers into fists a few times, and that’s it. I’m not waiting to see any more. I’m not letting something disastrous happen when the boys are so close to the end of their college football careers. I’m up and in between them before I really have a chance to think about the risks. There’s a sharp intake of breath from my foster brothers and across the gym, time seems to slow, and noise seems to dull. In my head, there is only the screech of white noise rage and the bubble of angry words. Who the fuck does this guy think he is?

“YOU NEED TO BACK THE FUCK UP!” I shout, getting as close to the brute as I possibly can. A hand grasps my wrist and tugs me back, but not before my pointed finger prods Cox in the chest. “YOU’RE A FUCKING BIG-MOUTHED PIECE OF SHIT. NO ONE CARES ABOUT YOUR PATHETIC MOM JOKES OR YOUR HOMOPHOBIC ACCUSATIONS.”

Cox grins, his mouth curving in a way that says nothing about real amusement and more about a surge of power and cruelty. “Eleven men, and you want to get your tiny little sister to fight your corner.”

Before I can respond, Gordon has pushed me behind him and shoved Cox in the chest. Cox stumbles back but only momentarily, righting himself like the athlete that he is. Reggie and Hunter grab Gordon and try to push him back while Harley and Cox’s smug friend push against Cox’s huge chest.

Cox looks downright smug.

“You just got yourself benched again,” he says, and then laughs so hard he folds over, resting his shovel hands on his thighs.

“Let’s get out of here,” I say, grabbing Gordon’s wrist and pulling. I expect him to resist. I expect him to want to get his hands on Cox and pulverize him, but he doesn’t. He comes with me as though the force of the shove to the other man’s chest has momentarily stunned him. We’re out in the lot before he seems to come around and resists going any further. “That fucker,” he hisses, nostrils flaring with disgust.

“It’s done,” I say. “I don’t know what’ll happen when the coach gets told, but if you go back in there, things will only get more serious, and that asshole isn’t worth it, okay?” I reach up to put my hand on Gordon’s rough, bearded cheek, and he grabs my wrist, holding me tightly so I can’t move. His eyes are fierce and filled with rage and something else. Something fragile and vulnerable. The part of him that knows how easily he could act in a way that would only hurt himself but feels powerless to stop. “It’s okay,” I say softly. “Walking away is okay. This isn’t about him winning and you losing. This is about…”

He silences me with a kiss so hard and deep that I’d have fallen had it not been from his grip on my arm and his other hand that goes around my back. My free hand rests on his chest, the hammering of his heart so hard against my palm that all I can feel is his humanity, his flesh and bone, and blood self.

Gordon moans against me, his tongue sliding into my mouth, explicit and raw and possessive, and then he’s pushing me back, eyes wild and out of control. “We can’t do this here,” he says.

“So let’s get out of here.” At least back home, Gordon will be out of harm’s way. The gym’s door hinges screech as it opens behind Gordon, and Reggie appears.

“Let’s go,” he says. “That asshole has a hard-on for trouble, and we’re not giving it to him.”

Behind, the rest of my foster brothers begin appearing. Hunter and Harley look me over as though they’re worried that I’m upset.

“We’re going to get food,” Hunter says.

“We’re going with them,” Dwayne says.

“I don’t feel like eating,” Gordon says, but all the time, his eyes are on mine, burning with need.

“I’ll take Gordon and Maggie home,” Reggie says, his gaze flicking between us as though he’s trying to work out what’s happened in the short time that we’ve been alone in the parking lot. Gordon’s ragged breathing and my swollen lips should make it very obvious.

We pile into the cars, and I glance back at the gym doors to see if Cox is going to make an appearance, but he doesn’t. I get the feeling he got what he wanted; Gordon heading for trouble. “Why did Cox want you benched?” I ask.

The car is silent, then Reggie clears his throat. “Gordon and Cox have long-running bad blood. Cox’s girlfriend came to Gordon for help. Cox was very possessive, and she didn’t know how to deal with it. Cox has never forgiven Gordon’s interference.”

“He’s a fucking animal,” Gordon mutters. “She was scared of him.”

“Did he hurt her?”

“Not in places anyone could see.” Gordon shakes his head and closes his eyes momentarily as though the memory is paining him to recall.

I watch him for a few seconds more, then gaze out of the window, wishing that I hadn’t probed. Once again, my mouth runs away with me, causing more hurt. I cringe at what I yelled in the gym. If I’d managed to keep some control over myself, maybe none of this would have happened. It was Gordon’s instinct to protect me, just as he protected Cox’s girlfriend, that has landed him in this situation. My heart sinks.

The men don’t need me coming in to ruin their lives. They need someone to help them move forward now Dad is gone. They need support, not aggravation.

But when we get home, it’s Gordon who takes my hand and leads me upstairs. It’s Gordon who sits on his bed as though he has the world on his shoulders and pulls me to him so that he can press his face against my belly. He breathes slowly as though my proximity is a balm that is calming his ragged nerves. Reggie is at the door, and our eyes meet over Gordon. He’s worried about his brother and doesn’t know what to do. He takes a step back, maybe conscious of disturbing this moment of intimacy.

“You don’t have to leave,” Gordon says gruffly. “Unless Maggie wants you to?”

“Stay.” I run my hands over Gordon’s head and down the back of his neck, my eyes still on Reggie. Gordon wants his brother here, and if that’s what he wants, that’s what he’ll get.

The fun we had earlier in the day is still there behind all of this angst. Cox doesn’t get to strip that away. He doesn’t get to disrupt our connection. He doesn’t get to win. Gordon moans long and low, as though all of the tension he has coiled inside him has dissipated with one small touch.

I tug my shirt over my head, flicking open the front fastening of my bra, knowing how much my body will help him forget what happened today. Maybe his hands on my breast will be enough to exorcise some of his demons from the past. I know that it’s been that way for me with his brothers.

“Shit,” Gordon mutters, his eyes as hungry as I’ve ever seen them. His hands slide up my sides, thumbs resting beneath my breasts as he leans in to lick my nipples. Oh God, I jump when he latches on and sucks, the moaning sound he makes vibrating through my body.

Behind us, Reggie takes a seat on Gordon’s black office chair, spreading his legs wide, his hand reaching into his shorts and grasping his cock. “You look good,” he says. “Don’t stop.”

Gordon smiles against my skin. “You wanna draw us, Reggie?”

“I couldn’t concentrate with Maggie naked.” His mouth quirks, and his hand moves. I can’t see the firm strokes he makes because they’re under the cover of his clothes, but my imagination runs wild. Gordon’s hands push at the waistband of my jeans before realizing he’ll need to unbutton them first. His thick fingers fumble with the buttons, but once they’re unfastened, he shoves them down my legs in record time.

“Fuck… I don’t even know.” He shakes his head, gazing at my body appreciatively. “Just everything about you, Maggie… it feels like it fits.”

“The others said that too,” Reggie says.

“They talked about me?” I ask, sliding my hands through Gordon’s hair.

“They said you tasted like honey,” Reggie says softly. “And felt like…”

“…warm chocolate pudding?” I say, smiling.

“Daryl’s favorite dessert,” Gordon laughs. “Am I gonna get to find out if they’re telling the truth?”

“Well, I’m standing here in panties while your brother watches you suck my nipples. I think there’s a good chance we’re going all the way.”

“That’s good,” Gordon says. “I wouldn’t want to be the one you leave out.”

For a moment, I internalize the words he’s spoken, realizing that despite all of Gordon’s strength and determination, he feels as vulnerable about sex and relationships as I do.

Gordon glances at his brother, so far away from the action. “Go sit on Reggie’s lap, facing me.”

Reggie’s ethereal eyes meet mine, filled with yearning and hope. As I walk toward him, they never drift lower than my face. I lean to kiss his soft lips, stroking my hand over his scruffy chin and touching the soft curls of his hair that flop over his brow, loving the gentle sweep of his tongue over mine. I lower myself into his lap, turning to face Gordon, who is looming over us both. I’m expecting him to give instructions. He always has a bossy and controlling air about him, but instead, he drops to his knees in front of us, pushing my legs wider. Reggie’s hands find my breasts, and he groans as he squeezes them in his huge palms, rolling my nipples between his finger and thumb. Gordon pushes my panties aside, using his thick thumbs to part my labia, find my swollen clit with his tongue, and groaning. “Honey,” he says, licking hungrily.

Reggie’s cock is hard along my spine, and as I wiggle with pleasure, I feel him move against me. “Fuck, now that’s an image I want to paint,” he says. “I’ve never seen him worship anyone this way.”

Gordon doesn’t respond, just strokes his hands over my thighs and licks me like I’m the most delicious thing he’s ever tasted. I lie back on Reggie’s chest, closing my eyes and absorbing the sensations. I never thought sex could be like this. So open and free.

I’m writhing more, the pleasure building between my legs when there’s a knock at the door. As Logan steps into the room, I come hard, my startled gaze fixed on his surprised gray eyes. “Shit, sorry,” he says, taking a step back.

I’m panting, my hand pressed against Gordon’s head.

No one moves for what feels like an age but it is probably only a few seconds. “Sorry,” Logan says again. He takes another step back, but his hand is gripping the edge of the door like he really doesn’t want to leave.

I don’t want him to leave either. Excluding him would feel like rejection, and Danna was clear that this thing only works if everyone is open. But can I ask him to stay? It’s so hard to be unguarded in relationships, particularly when you’ve never had a good one. My mind goes back to Justin and his fist smacking the wall. That’s where my previous poor excuse for a relationship ended up when I didn’t communicate my needs and when I ignored what was really going on. I don’t want to do that again. Especially now.

“Stay,” I tell him. It’s one tiny word, but it carries so much significance. I’m telling these men that my arms are open to them. I’m telling them that there will be no closed doors or privacy between us.

“Are you sure?” I get the feeling he’s asking his brothers as much as he’s asking me.

“Yes.” I’m firm with my response. No one is going to tell him he should leave. There is plenty of me to go around. That realization sends a buzz through my whole body. Is this how Danna feels when she’s with her ten men? Euphoria is the only word I can think of to describe it.

Gordon stands, grabbing my hands and tugging me off Reggie. He scoops me up and carries me to the bed, swiping away the clothes he must have tossed there earlier. My panties are pulled off so fast, the elastic scratches my thighs. “You want all three of us?” Gordon asks, smiling wolfishly.

“She’s greedy,” Logan says. He’s already tugging off his shirt and shoving his shorts to the floor, and damn if he doesn’t have a body that all men should weep for. Perfectly lean over toned muscle, he’s got a physique that could grace the cover of men’s fitness magazines everywhere.

“Nothing wrong with a bit of greed,” says Reggie, doing the same.

“Tell us your fantasy, baby,” Gordon asks. They’re now all naked, an actual buffet of men standing in front of me, and my breath leaves my mouth in a whoosh of anticipation.

“This,” I say, waving my hand back and forth to encompass them all. “Just looking at you is enough.”

“Well, you get to do more than just look,” Reggie says.

He steps up before his brothers and kneels between my legs. “All that wriggling you did on my lap… look at what you did to me.” He takes hold of the tip of his big cock and rubs it over my swollen clit. It’s so smooth and hard, and he doesn’t give me a chance to reply before he’s over me, stretching me open as he pushes inside. Oh God, it feels good. If I’m chocolate pudding, then Reggie is the biggest, juiciest steak there is. I grip hold of his bicep, and it’s as solid as a rock, and when he moves, I can’t hold in the moan.

“Mmmmm…” I throw my head back and my arms, gripping the comforter behind my head as he fucks into me with all the finesse of a pro athlete.

“She really likes that,” Logan says.

“She feels so good.” Reggie nuzzles into my neck, his whole body in motion, and he grinds and grind and grinds into me. Fuck. Then he’s pulling out. “You try,” he says to Logan.

Logan is there, taking Reggie’s position; his cock — already slick with precum — slides right in. His lips find mine for a deep and intense kiss, tongue mirroring the slow teasing rhythm of his cock. “You like fucking us like this?” he asks against my jaw, nibbling the skin with his teeth.

“I love it,” I say.

“Shit. Tell me again.”

“I love it, baby.”

Logan grabs my wrists, holding them tight over my head. His brothers are on either side of me, watching everything, and I realize something that I would never have guessed. That being watched can be as much of a turn-on as being touched.

“Flip her over,” Gordon says. His hand is on his cock, the pulls he gives himself harder than I ever would have dared to give him. Logan does what his brother requests, and when I’m on my hands and knees, he presses his hand into the arch of my back and fills me with his cock once again.

Gordon kneels in front of me and gestures for Reggie to do the same. He brings his cock to my lips, and I suck him deep into my mouth, loving the way he tastes and the way he threads his fingers into my hair but doesn’t force me deeper. “See that?” he mutters. I’m not sure if he’s talking to himself or to the rest of us, but it doesn’t really matter. All that matters is the reverence in his voice, the sheer appreciation for the act. Just as I start to feel him swelling in my mouth, he pulls back. “Suck my brother,” he says, and damn if that isn’t the sexiest thing ever.

Reggie comes closer, and I take him into my mouth in the same way I did for Gordon. I feel the tremble in his thighs, the desperate need he has to come. Behind me, Logan is working slowly as though he doesn’t want this to end. I’m pretty sure he has a good view of what I’m doing to Gordon and Reggie. Maybe he’s enjoying the view in the same way that Reggie was earlier.

I always wondered how it would work with so many men, but I get it now. It’s not about constant physical pleasure. There’s the visual aspect and the sounds too. Listening to Reggie moan as he gets closer and Logan groan as he fills my pussy with his cum just adds to the frantic pleasure I feel between these men. Listening to Gordon groan as he takes Logan’s place and fills my pussy too, pushes me over the edge again, and when Reggie releases into my throat, I’m gone.

At some point, I must have collapsed from the overwhelming pleasure because I come around with my head resting on Gordon’s chest and Reggie’s arm wrapped around my waist. Glancing around, I find that Logan has gone. “Where’s Logan?” I ask.

Gordon strokes my hair. “He had to go to work, but he kissed you goodbye and said he’d see you tomorrow.”

The pang in my heart is stronger than I would have expected. I wanted him here with us all, and his absence feels wrong, like having a foot that is missing a sock.

“Reggie’s sleeping,” Gordon says softly. “I think you sucked the life out of him.”

“I think you all fucked the life out of me,” I chuckle.

Gordon tips my face and kisses my lips softly. “I wanted to say thanks for the way you jumped in today. It meant a lot that you would face off against someone like Cox to defend us. It made me feel like you already see us as…” He pauses as though he doesn’t really know how to define what we have.

“You’re important to me,” I whisper. “I know it sounds crazy, and it feels crazy… I mean, I’ve only known you all for such a short space of time, but you… you mean a lot to me. All of you.”

“It doesn’t sound crazy,” Gordon says. His finger trails over the roundness of my cheek and into my hair, his brow furrowed thoughtfully. “I don’t know what it is, but from the moment you walked through the door, I knew that I wanted to protect you. In my bones, you felt like our family already.”

“John says I remind him of Dad. Maybe it’s that.”

Gordon shrugs his big shoulder, the huge dark tattoo moving with the shift of his rounded muscle. “Sometimes you meet a person, and they just fit. Like your soul can feel that they’re good people… someone worth trusting.”

“I get that. I feel a connection with this house and with all of you, that doesn’t really make sense. I’m usually more guarded about people than I have been. Maybe it’s hormones.”

“You doubt yourself, your instincts.”

I look away from his handsome face, the intensity of his eyes, and the serious furrow of his brows, making me feel like I’m suddenly under the microscope. He’s right. I do doubt my instincts because so far, I’ve stumbled through life making bad choices.

Gordon tips my chin again, forcing me to look into his dark eyes. He goes to say something but behind me, Reggie shifts, pressing a kiss to the small of my back. His voice is gravelly when he speaks. “We’re made of three parts, Maggie. Our mind, our heart, and our gut. When we listen to one of those parts, we lose our way. The heart isn’t cautious enough, so it leads us to try and find love where there is only emptiness. The mind is too rational, so it ignores the softer needs of the heart and doesn’t leave room for forgiveness. The gut is instinctive, but we ignore it because it causes quick flashes of reaction so deep inside that the heart and mind can easily swamp it. But it’s the gut we need to learn to listen to. It’s holds the deepest sense of what we need and will give us the quickest feeling about when something is right or wrong.”

Gordon nods, his face softening at his brother’s words. “Reggie is right. I know I’m guilty of listening to my rational mind too much. And my heart is what causes me to react with too much passion. Like with Cox; if I’d listened to my gut, I would have told everyone to get out of that gym before anything happened. I could feel that there was something negative in the air, but I didn’t listen to that deep-rooted feeling.”

“What do you feel in your gut, Maggie? About everything that’s going on in your life right now?”

“I guess I’m not good at hearing that part of myself. If I were, I think I would have avoided a whole lot of heartache and trodden a few different paths in my short life.”

Reggie’s hand comes around my stomach and he rests it there, warming the place where little Peanut is growing and changing with every passing second. “Charles Dickens wrote something in Great Expectations about the chains of our life and how just one day struck out of it would change the entire course. That’s the same for good days and bad. Sometimes our most negative experiences… the things we think we might change if we got a chance for a do-over, are the ones that bring us the greatest joy. I think it will be the same for you.”

“You do?” I turn to face him and smile at the messiness of his soft curly hair and the sleepiness of his light eyes. They never seem to be the same color, changing according to the light and maybe his mood. Reggie nods. “If you hadn’t gotten pregnant, your mom wouldn’t have tried to call your dad. You wouldn’t have come here. Everything would have been different. And when that baby is born, no matter how much of a disappointment it might be that the father isn’t the man you would have hoped for him to be, you’re going to love it more than you love anything else and nothing about how it was conceived will matter.”

“I’m scared,” I tell him, and both Reggie and Gordon’s arms tighten around me.

“You don’t have to be scared,” Gordon says gruffly. Reggie takes a softer approach. “It’s okay to be scared. Change is scary. Doing something that you’ve never done before takes courage. But we’re offering you support, Maggie. We’ll be here whatever happens between us. We told you that. Brothers or lovers. You get to decide. And you know what we want. We’re trying to show you how things could work if you could take us into your hearts. We’re trying to show you slowly what this arrangement could bring you. You can trust us to put your best interests first either way. I mean, this… what we did today was amazing… but if you decide that it’s not for you, we won’t hold it against you. We just hope that your gut will tell you what ours is telling us. That this was meant to be.”

Gordon’s hand slides up my side. “Can you feel how we fit, Maggie? Don’t you feel how good it is?”

He shifts so he’s directly behind me, pulling my body close so that I fit right against his chest and down his body to where my feet rest mid-calf. Reggie kisses my lips. “You see, honey. We fit.”

And we do.

It doesn’t matter which of my eleven foster brothers I spend time with, we all seem to fit together like puzzle pieces that have been scattered but have suddenly found themselves in the right place at the right time to slot together.

“I feel it,” I admit, and flush with the confession. Speaking my true thoughts and feelings isn’t something I’m used to or good at, but I have to because these men deserve it. Neither of them has grown up without heartache or trouble. They know what it feels like to stand on uncertain ground. If they can open their hearts to me, how can I keep mine closed off to them?

But even as I absorb what Reggie has said about listening to my gut, my heart and mind still mutter warnings in a different language.


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