Rob Brady knew three things. His sister was dead, he was the guardian to her two boys, and he was stuck in Hell.
And why am I fixating on Hell?
Oh yeah, the room, the kids, the crushing grief of absolutely fucking everything.
If Hell was a small, airless room with no windows, a flickering light, and two utterly silent children staring at him as if he’d personally murdered their mother.
Oh, and a thin-lipped woman from Child Protection Services looking at him the same way.
Of course, he hadn’t killed his sister because he only ever took out the bad guys. With ruthless efficiency, he’d carved out the poison in the US and kept its citizens safe. Most people would’ve described him as an assassin, but he was more than that; the last resort when normal lines of defense failed.
At least, he used to be until he caught a bullet things went pear-shaped.
“How long have they been on their own?” Rob Brady didn’t know what else to ask. He wanted to be angry with the DCFS but how could he be? Instead, he wavered between anger and guilt, and it was guilt that was winning.
“Mr. Brady, they were never on their own.”
“My sister—” He stopped talking when he realized he was just about to state how long ago his sister died when her children were sitting right there in the room. Lowering his tone, he then turned to Sylvia from the DCFS, efficient and steady, and just ever so slightly pissed at him. “A year. They’ve been on their own a year.”
Sylvia inhaled sharply and clutched her folders to her chest.
“And for a little less than that, we have tried to track down their uncle and been unable to find anything.”
“I know. I get that.” Anyone trying to find him would reach several dead-ends whichever way they went. First of all the navy and his time in the SEALs, then when he joined the team combatting mainland terrorism. At every turn, his existence was classified, and in the end, he’d become nothing more than a ghost. “That isn’t my point.”
Sylvia tapped a finger on the files in a steady rhythm. “Then please, can you enlighten me as to what exactly is your point?”
He opened the door and gestured for her to go into the hallway, following her out and shutting it behind them. He had questions and didn’t want to ask them in front of his nephews.
“Why has no one adopted them? Why don’t they have a forever home with a new family?”
“Because your sister’s intention was that you would take the boys. It’s explicitly stated in every legal form we have, and it was her dying wish.”
“But she couldn’t have known I would ever come back. Or that I was even alive…” He floundered for something to say. He’d come back to town on the off chance he’d see what was left of his extended family from a distance, and instead, he’d learned his sister was dead, after losing a battle with cancer, that there was no father in the picture, and that his nephews were in the system.
“Nonetheless, they are legally your responsibility. Given you worked so hard to get authorization from Governor Chilton, something I’ve never seen before, along with psych evals that no normal person would have access to, you are now in a position to leave with your nephews.”
The minute he’d heard about the boys, he’d realized he needed to get things done. He’d called in favors, had people who owed him create a backstory so tight he seemed like Mother fucking Teresa, and now he was here. His nephews needed a home, and he thought on his feet because he only had another three good months to put anything in place for them. He wanted them looked after, safe, and so he had one more mission before leaving. He’d have to delay spending his last weeks on a beach in Aruba, sipping cocktails and sleeping with anything that moved.
“I can take them today?” he asked. A small, hesitant part of him wanted her to say no, that there were more details to be ironed out.
“Yes.” She pursed her lips as if it were against her better judgment. But he’d passed all the checks, and the references were sound, he had the governor’s endorsement. It was done.
He pushed back into the room. Bran, the older of his two nephews, stared at him steadily. Toby, the youngest, sniffled and gripped his brother hard. Any ordinary uncle would’ve hugged them close and told them everything was going to be okay. But he wasn’t a regular uncle, and he swore Bran knew that because there was accusation in his eyes.
You don’t even know us; he seemed to be saying.
Was it right for Rob to be taking them from their new foster home? They’d been placed with a family currently fostering six kids, and on the surface, everything seemed okay. He’d done his due diligence, and the parents checked out, but there was a weird vibe in the house, a rule of fear, and he didn’t like it.
He’d stayed alive this long by listening to his instinct, and his gut told him he should take Bran and Toby, that he was the boys’ kin. He also knew where he could find them a better home. In the mountains, with rivers and horses, and a whole group of people who would look out for them.
“Everything will be okay.” Was he reassuring himself or the boys?
If anyone who knew him had seen he was being handed two children to take care of, they’d call the cops.
Of course, he could handle the cops. He’d done it before, but the kids would slow him down. Unless he strapped them to his back and—
Sylvia talked to him, or at him, and from her expression, she wasn’t impressed he’d stopped listening.
“Sorry, say again?” He glanced at Toby who was sniffling harder and snuggling deeper into his brother. I should go to Toby and…
Do what? Say what? Scare the kid rigid by being all up in his face?
“We need an address for our records. Unless you reside with Governor Chilton?” The last she added sarcastically.
Oh yeah, a house, an address, he probably needed those. He’d managed to fool them with his credentials so far, and the recommendation he’d gotten from the governor for a favor owed had cut through the red tape. The address was easy; it was the only place he had on his to-do list, the one where the kids could maybe have a home. He just needed to hire a lawyer, update his will, get Justin to agree to his proposal, and he’d be able to leave without any worries.
“Crooked Tree Ranch, outside of Helena, Montana.”
RJ’s goal is to write stories with a heart of romance, a troubled road to reach happiness, and most importantly, that hint of a happily ever after.
RJ is the author of the over one hundred novels and discovered romance in books at a very young age. She realized that if there wasn’t romance on the page, she could create it in her head, and is a lifelong writer.
She lives and works out of her home in the beautiful English countryside, spends her spare time reading, watching films, and enjoying time with her family.
The last time she had a week’s break from writing she didn’t like it one little bit and has yet to meet a bottle of wine she couldn’t defeat.
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