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|Strings of the Heart(Runaway Train #3) by Katie Ashley|
He shot me a death glare while Bella threw up her little hands dramatically, looking a lot like her mother when she was frustrated. “Fine. I’s only twying to help.” When she started to stomp away, AJ snatched her up and started tickling her, causing her to dissolve into giggles. “Stop, Daddy.”
“Not so fast, mija. What have Mommy and I said to you about respecting other people’s privacy when we’re on the road?”
Squirming in AJ’s arms, she replied, “That I’s sposed to call for them or knock and then wait for someone to come out. Not budge in thewe.”
“Barge in,” AJ corrected.
“Wight,” Bella replied solemnly.
“But did you wait for Uncle Rhys to come out of his roost?” Doing her best to avoid the question, Bella stared down at the floor like it was the most fascinating thing she had ever seen. That caused AJ to put on what I liked to joke was his stern “Daddy Face.” “Isabella Sofia, answer me.”
“No,” she replied softly. Her gaze went from the floor to mine. “I just wanted to see Unca Weese,” she replied, her bottom lip trembling.
Almost instantaneously that often dormant soft spot within me ached at her sad little face. Out of all the Runaway Train guys, I was probably the least kid friendly. But then there were times when my bandmates’ kids totally got to me. And this was one of those moments.
Dangling my legs over the side of the roost, I pulled myself into a sitting position. Once I was sure the sheet was still covering me adequately, I said, “It’s okay, Bella. Don’t cry.”
When she started the sniffling, I grimaced. Dammit, there was nothing I hated more than when chicks resorted to crying. Seeing Bella cry was pure agony. “I sowwy, Unca Weese. Don’t be mad at me,” Bella said, grinding the tears from her eyes.
Leaning forward, I patted her leg. “Aw, I’m not mad at you, sweetheart. Just don’t do it again, okay?”
AJ glanced between me and his daughter, and then his expression softened. He kissed the top of Bella’s head. “All right, go on and get your breakfast.”
Bella placed a smacking kiss on AJ’s cheek before he let her down. As she went tearing down the hallway, she questioned at the top of her lungs, “Mommy, what’s mowning wood?”
At the sound of Mia’s shriek of horror, AJ groaned and rubbed his hand over his face. “Maybe having Mia and the girls out on tour wasn’t the best idea in the world.”
I laughed. “I think it was going fine until Bella achieved mastery in comprehension and talking.”
He nodded glumly. “And there’s no speaking over her head. She picks up everything that is said. I’m surprised she’s not asking Mia if she kisses my pee-pee.”
“Give her time.”
“AJ!” Mia called.
“Guess it’s time to face the music,” he muttered.
“I’ll be there in a few minutes to give Mia my apologies. I’m going to go ahead and grab a shower. We’re first up for rehearsal, right?”
“Yeah, that’s right.”
As AJ trudged down the hall to try to explain to Mia why their daughter needed clarification on morning wood, I ducked into the bathroom for a quick shower and shave. Once I finished, I threw on a pair of ratty jeans and a T-shirt. I escaped the confines of the steamy bathroom to find AJ seated at the table with Bella. Mia stood at the stove with Gaby on her hip. As I surveyed them, they looked every bit the picture-perfect family. It was hard to believe they were on a tour bus living a nomadic life for nine months out of the year. Mia hadn’t been convinced that she could do a tour with two children, but the other Runaway Train wives, Abby and Lily, had convinced her and promised that with Jake’s little sister, Allison, along, there would be plenty of help.
Just the thought of Allison sent a raging burn tearing through my chest like an out-of-control wildfire. Shaking my head, I tried to shake myself of the feelings I was experiencing. Masking my emotions with a smile, I called, “Morning.”
“Morning,” Mia echoed. After I eased into the kitchen for some much needed coffee, I leaned over and gave eleven-month-old, Gaby, a kiss on one of her chubby cheeks. She grinned and kicked her legs, looking more and more like Bella’s mini-me.
In a low voice, I said to Mia, “Sorry about Bella hearing me say morning wood.”
She rolled her eyes. “It’s okay. I’m becoming resigned to the fact that my daughters will have the foulest mouths in school.” Tilting her head, she added, “Maybe I should think about homeschooling, like Lily does.”
“There are worse things in life than foul-mouthed daughters, I suppose,” I mused.
“I guess so.” After I poured a steaming cup of coffee, Mia asked, “Want some pancakes?”
“Sure, I’d love some if you don’t mind.”
She smiled. “Of course I don’t.”
Leaning back against the counter, I returned her smile. “I just know that like me, you’re not a morning person.”
Mia laughed. “That’s so true. Trust me, if you had told me three years ago, I’d enjoy cooking breakfast, of all meals, in a cramped tour bus kitchen, I would’ve thought you were crazy as hell. But here I am.”
“Love makes you do crazy things, huh?” I asked.
A dreamy expression came over her face as she gazed past me to where Bella had climbed into AJ’s lap as they colored a picture together. “Yeah, it does.”