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“Christ, Uncle James, you guys are killing me.” I avoided the old man’s intense gaze as he shook his head. The festivities were winding down, and most of the family and friends were saying their goodbyes. The bride and groom had left almost an hour earlier, and I was beginning to regret not slipping away while everyone was distracted by throwing bird seed at Kay and Van

All of my uncles were seated around the table, staring at me. They were well into their cups, which made their browbeating all the more difficult to stomach.

“Listen, boy, you won’t have to be around her for long. I mean it’s a five hour drive, right? A flight will only be about two hours.”

“Or three if we get a headwind,” I grumbled, looking for one of the staff so that I could order a drink. Not a single waiter was in sight, and I leaned forward, wondering if I could escape the family patriarchs long enough to find some liquid fortitude.

“You’ve dodged this bullet long enough, son.” Uncle Tony patted the table in front of me to get my attention. “We’ve all had a turn with her over the years. You have to man up and take one for the family.”

“I’d like to think I’m more of a man for avoiding this bullet as long as I have.”

“Bah!” Uncle James scoffed. “You avoided the family, is how you’ve done it.”

About that time Jeremy Rawley approached, placing a hand on my chair to lean against it. “This seems to be a serious discussion. Is there a family meeting I wasn’t aware of?”

“Yes,” I practically shouted as I stood. “But you’re just in time. Have a seat, old man.”

The truth was Jeremy was only a few months older than me, but the heir to the Rawley title always seemed to be years beyond the other cousins.

“You’re not getting away that easily.” Uncle Colin grabbed me arm in a vise-grip and pulled me back to my seat. “Jeremy’s done his part and more. Besides, you never know how these things will turn out. Your cousin ended up with beautiful Meg in exchange for his trouble.”

“Oh dear.” Jeremy put a hand to his forehead and rubbed hard as he groaned. “This is about Geneva.”

“They want me to fly her to Fort Worth on my way home.” I hated that my voice sounded petulant like a child, but I simply had to get out of the task the uncles had for me.

“Listen, I do sympathize.” Uncle AJ, who had been silent until now, finally spoke up. Geneva Rawley Behzadi was his only child, and I truly felt bad for the old man. If there was a black sheep of our family, it was the beautiful Persian cousin. Still, feeling bad for her father didn’t mean I wanted to spend two to three hours in a small Cessna with her.

“I was planning to leave at day break. She’ll never agree to get up that early.”

AJ smiled. “She’ll manage. She has an appointment that was scheduled the next day but was moved to Monday afternoon. It’s one she won’t miss.”

“Surely she can get her hair or nails done some other time.” I regretted the snarky comment almost immediately. No one had said, but it was likely that the appointment was with Geneva’s psychotherapist and not associated with high fashion.

“I’m picking up a rescue, too. She won’t …”

Jeremy put his hand on my shoulder and squeezed as if to bolster me. “It is your turn, cousin.”

“Shit,” I cursed and stood back up. “You guys aren’t going to give me an out on this, are you?”

Uncle James guffawed and swallowed back the last of his beverage. “’Fraid not, son.”

“I need a drink.”

Uncle Tony jiggled his glass. “Eh, boy, get me another while you’re at it.”

“Me too.”

“And me.”

I rolled my eyes at all three of my uncles, then turned to march off. Jeremy came up behind me and made a move to put his arm around my shoulder again, but this time I shrugged him away.

“I’m not happy about this. There’s a reason I live on a ranch in Texas away from all of this family crap.”

“Ha! You can bitch all you want, but until this moment, you were having a time with all of the family. And look at your mom over there. She’s loving every minute of this. You guys should come to Arrington more often.”

I only grumbled in response.

“As a bonus, Geneva almost never comes to visit.”

Lips pursed, I still didn’t respond. Not until I was at the bar did I open my mouth and then only to order a beer and instruct the bartender to send someone to serve the uncles.

“She’s not as bad a she used to be, you know. In fact, when Brent was still alive, she was almost human. Then the accident and … still, she’s not the person she once was.”

I softened a bit and nodded. “I know she must have had a hard time. I’m not without sympathy for her,” Saying I was not without sympathy for my cousin was something I’d never once thought I’d say.  Geneva was not the sort of woman to engender any sort of compassion, even with her family. “But it’s not like we have anything in common.” 

Jeremy snorted. “No, probably not. But you’re not entertaining her. You’re transporting her. Think of her like one of your rescues. Surely some of them aren’t the best of passengers.”

Finally a grin tugged at my lips. “Well, some of them aren’t even housebroken, and yet I’d take any of them above her right at this moment.” I leaned back against the bar with my elbows and released a long breath. “So Kay’s guy seems like a good match. Both for Kay and for the family.”

“Mmm.” Jeremy nodded. “Yes, I think so. She’s head over heels for him, and certainly the Rawleys have more than one reason to feel indebted to him.”

“I guess they do. I heard about how he saved her from that psycho stalker.”

“Not just that,” Jeremy said, pointing to a couple with two little girls at a table across the room. “You met Brennan, didn’t you? Van helped the two of them with that mess down in Port La Pena.”

“Forgot about that. But yeah, I did meet them. Kind of crazy that Aunt Iggie had a son. I always … well, to be honest, I always figured she’d committed suicide or something.”

My cousin made a harrumphing sound but nodded. “To be honest, I think I did too.” Jeremy crossed his arms over his chest and regarded me with a touch of a smile, “So I suppose it takes weddings to get you up here to catch up on the family. Fill me in on your news.”

“News? Don’t think I have any.”

“Your mom said you sold off some of the northwest pasture.”

I grunted and shook my head. Of course she would tell the family that, even though it was none of their concern. It was Richards’ land, not Rawley land, and I was the one responsible for managing it. Even my mother couldn’t seem to see that most of the time.

“I did.”

Jeremy waited, clearly anticipating more of a response, but I wasn’t biting. I just downed the last of my beer and placed the bottle on the bar, then stretched my arms above my head with a yawn. “I need to get some shut-eye before tomorrow morning. Better have the staff wake Geneva early. I plan to be at the airstrip by sun up.”