The sun was just beginning to rise over the rocky terrain that gave this area its name. Soft pinkish light was streaming in through the small window at the end of the room. Laura shifted Chloe’s weight in her arms to keep it from falling asleep too.
Her little girl was growing so quickly. Not quite six weeks yet, and that newborn look was filling in. She had a feeling their little girl would be more bruiser like her daddy than petite like the Reynolds woman.
She had listened to their plans. Unfortunately, she had little to add. Had she ever been more to McBride than a diversity statistic? She did not even know what was on those computer files that they had surrendered to the U. S. Attorney.
Maybe that was good? J. T. Tyler had indicated that she would not be facing prosecution when they had met in Austin for her deposition. No, logically, she knew that her first responsibility now was to her child. That had been her choice, too. And Chloe certainly did not need two parents placing their lives at risk.
But still, she felt so completely useless in all this. Two girls were missing, her sister’s life was at risk, and her job was to put the biscuits in the oven for everyone once this meeting was over?
She loved Ryan. She had been so damned proud of the way he spoke up to that man. She knew how tough it was for him to show any emotion. He had kept them under such tight control from the day that he lost it on that playground. And while she hated the idea of him being in real danger, she knew that they had no other choice. None of them did.
Her eyes met his, and he smiled, holding out his arms for their daughter. Jaycee was winding things down. It was her cue to put those biscuits they had made earlier into the oven to bake and start a fresh pot of coffee. She was in the process of lifting Chloe into Ryan’s arms when the other woman’s voice intruded.
“Okay, so I think all of you know what you need to do. That only leaves Laura and me.”
She almost laughed at how identical Rex and Ryan looked at that moment. Their arms crossed over massive chests. Of course, Ryan’s was more impressive. Their feet shoulders width apart, and that firm set to their mouths. Yes, it was definitely the mouths. You could tell these men were related.
The endearment that Ryan’s cousin used with his wife, which she had learned meant My One, did not sound as tender as usual. Jaycee’s dark eyes sparkled with mischief as she firmly placed her hand on that chest.
“Now, before you speak, and we have another fight in front of all these nice people. Hear me out, Rex.”
Laura knew those ‘arguments’ well. At first, she had thought they were a sign of marital troubles between the newlyweds. But Jaycee had quickly set her straight – the making up was worth it, her friend attested. Besides, pushing her husband’s buttons was just part of her job as a good partner.
But would the man’s protective nature give over this time? Rex studied his wife’s face before his eyes dropped to her distended belly. Their baby was due in just a few weeks. Laura was shocked by the slight nod of his blond head. Despite the man’s Native American ancestry, his hair was only slightly darker than his cousin’s. “I will listen, but that is all I promise.”
Jaycee beamed up at him for only a moment before she turned to face them. “Laura and I will go to Houston.”
“What? No, no way.” It was Ryan who’s chest puffed out even more as he cradled their sleeping baby. “Absolutely not. Laura stays here safe with the baby. And if my cousin has any sense, so will you. That’s final.”
She stiffened under his gentle touch on her shoulder. She was unsure where the strangled laugh came from, but someone who obviously knew she would not stand for this. But stand she did – stand firm. Though she came barely to his mid-chest. She could almost look her daughter eye-to-eye, if the baby was not sleeping comfortably against that magnificent chest. Like mother, like daughter, it seemed.
But that did not mean she was letting him get away with this Neanderthal bullshit. She gave him the look. Maybe she was out of practice? She had not needed to stare down misogynistic assholes in a while. Okay, so he did not shrink back at first glance. That only made him a more worthy opponent. But she would win in the end.
Jaycee smiled at her and winked, “Ya’ll can’t take on one of the world’s most powerful cartels on your own.” Her friend glanced around the room, “Despite the impressive training and experience in this room and testosterone levels that are higher than Aggies and TU on Thanksgiving Day, you need back up.”
“You know that there are leaks, Jaycee. In the agency and probably the U. S. Attorney’s office too. I am not putting my family at risk…” Ryan looked to his cousin for support, but Jaycee stood her ground, one hand still restraining her husband, she held the other out towards Ryan.
“I hear your concerns, but it’s time, as Grandfather said. That means it’s time to ferret out those traitors as well. And who better to do that than two helpless women with a baby and child?”
Both men were shaking their heads as Laura spoke, “We’re not asking your permission. We’re telling you what we intend to do. So unless both of you are staying behind, tieing us up, and caring for the children, you’ll listen to what Jaycee has to say.”
“Go, get’em, babygirl,” Laura could not help but smiling across the room at her mother.
She had been floored when her Mama showed up with a man. One who obviously was more than just the temporary bodyguard Jack had sent to protect her. She would have never believed that her mother was capable of such…softness?
But she had seen it herself from the moment Stacey Reynolds waited for the man to come around the truck and open her door. What the fuck, had been her first thought. But at least this man knew better than to try and keep her Mama on a goddamned shelf like a fucking China vase. She had to give him that. Though she noticed that even he shook his head as if agreeing with Ryan.
Jaycee spoke again, her voice more conciliatory. “We have a pretty good idea who these leaks are. And we are also confident that J. T. can be trusted.”
Laura wanted to laugh at the growl Rex made when his wife spoke of the other man, who had been her friend since law school. But she could not help but notice the softening of the man’s stance.
More flies with honey, she could almost hear her Mama whisper the old advice in her mind. But when she looked across the room, her mother was more interested in this Reb fella.
“Jaycee is right, Ryan. And you know it. You said yourself that while the man was one of the most uptight assholes you had ever met, you would trust him with your life. What has changed?”
He bent down and placed one of those damned kisses on her forehead. The man was not playing fair. What woman in her right mind could resist forehead kisses? Especially from a man that was so tenderly holding their child. But if Ryan was not going to play fair, then neither would she.
“After all those ‘team-building’ exercises, I thought you trusted me, counselor?” She smiled up at him.
“Damn you, woman. But I want Grandfather going with ya’ll.”
Laura was about to agree when the old man spoke up, “I am sorry, my son, but my Fate lies with you in this Torreon.”
“No,” Rex turned to his grandfather, but whatever unspoken thing they shared, and Laura was sure they did. The younger man finally dropped his head and nodded. “Alright, Jaycee.”
She could tell that Ryan was still prepared to continue the battle when a sleepy dark, curly-haired little Angel wrapped her arms around Jaycee. “It’s okay, Unca Ryan. I’ll protect Mommy and Laura.”
The room broke out in strained laughter, but the look that the child shared with the old man made Laura wonder if those words might be more accurate than any of them realized.
“We will discuss this later, counselor,” Ryan’s gaze met hers as people began to break apart from their small groups, chatting with one another.
“If you want, counselor, but it won’t change a damned thing. Jaycee and I have a job to do in Houston, just the same as the rest of you. And whether you like that or not, you know damned well that it might be just as fucking important.”
“I am not letting Chloe’s father get himself killed just because he’s acting like a misogynistic asshole at the moment.” She turned to find Jaycee and Rex behind them, “Come on, let’s go start those biscuits and make the gravy. While we plan our mission.”
Jaycee nodded her head with a smile, but as they stepped away, the man whose call to Reb had begun it all gripped her friend’s arm. “Excuse me, you’re a lawyer, right?”
She smiled, “Yes, one of three in this room. Is there something we can help you with?”
The man nodded his head, but his eyes were glued to the woman across the room who was talking with her Mama. “Yeah, I need your help to protect my family in another way.”
“Laura, can you put those biscuits in while I talk to Chad for a moment?”
“Of course,” she turned to Ryan. “Come on, Neanderthal. At least you can put all those muscles to good use in the kitchen while we give our summations. But I’m gonna win this one.”
Ryan chuckled so loudly that their daughter whimpered and stirred in his arms, “You’re probably right, but dammit, a man has to try.”