“Mommy! Daddy! Uncle Carter Lee Riggs!” was yelled down from the top of the stairs as Carter was humming in the kitchen while finishing up breakfast.
“Paul Carter Riggs!” he shouted in response. He heard the shower running upstairs, so he knew Tasha was in the bathroom and Carter guessed Paul needed help with something, so Uncle Carter put aside the scrambled egg mixture he’d been beating, walked into the hallway, and hurried up the stairs.
“What’s up, buddy?” he asked as he picked up his nephew.
“I’m not ‘posed to go downstairs if nobody’s down there. Can I come down?” the little guy asked. He was so cute, Carter grinned at him.
“You want to go potty and get dressed, first?” he asked. Paul was still being potty trained, but he wore those nighttime training pants, and the front wasn’t blue—or whatever the fuck they were supposed to be when Paul had peed in them during the night—so Carter believed there would be no surprises when the boy took them off.
After he had Paul in shorts and a t-shirt, he carried him down the stairs on his shoulders. They walked over to the patio door, and Paul knocked on the glass and waved, getting the attention of Mack as he sat at the table speaking with Opie, who returned the greeting.
“Blow him a kiss,” Carter told the boy.
Paul loved to blow kisses, and when he did it, Mack returned them. He laughed and then Opie turned around and started laughing as well. “You want some juice while Daddy talks to Mack?” Carter asked.
“Yep!” Paul replied. Carter took him to the kitchen and put him in the booster chair which seemed to magically attach to the counter next to the stools surrounding the island. It was a marvel of science to Carter because it had something to do with Paul’s weight that kept it attached. At first, he’d questioned the safety of it, but then Tash sat in the damn thing to prove it wouldn’t fall. Carter’s ass was too big to try it out, but if it worked—great!
“So, I made pancakes, and I’m making scrambled eggs with barbecue pork. You want meat in yours or not?” Carter asked the little boy. He’d shredded the pork, but he hadn’t added it because he wanted to ensure Tasha wanted pig in hers as well.
“No eggs. Just pancakes. Can Denny and Donnie come play today?” Paul asked just as Tasha came downstairs with a bright smile on her pretty face.
Carter looked at his sister-in-law and saw her facial expression didn’t change. “Not today, Paul, but hopefully, next weekend they can come over. You had fun with them yesterday, didn’t you?” Tasha asked as she poured herself a cup of coffee. She kissed Carter on his cheek and glanced out the sliding door.
Carter saw Tasha watching as Mack and Opie stood from the table and shook hands before they came into the house. He prayed his family would be supportive of the two of them when they finally explained they had fallen in love and were planning for the future, a future they hoped to share.
Opie patted his stomach as he walked into the kitchen. “Smells really good. Can I help with anything?”
Tasha and Carter both laughed. “Yes, Opie, you can cook the eggs,” Tasha suggested with a big smile. There was a story about Opie trying to make Tasha breakfast in bed for her birthday one year. He ended up catching the kitchen on fire and had to pay to repaint their old apartment.
It was before they moved to the large house where they currently lived, but when Opie told Carter what he’d done, they had a good laugh during his visit to Farmington. It was actually a good memory for Carter. He didn’t have many from back then.
Mack appeared bewildered by their laughter, so Carter took his hand and pulled him to the counter next to Paul. “Sit. Opie nearly burned down their old apartment building when he tried to cook Tash eggs for her birthday one year,” he explained as he placed his hand on Mack’s back and rubbed gently up and down. He saw the man shiver a little, and he knew that feeling intimately. Mack’s touch did the same to him.
The morning was idyllic with everyone laughing and enjoying breakfast. In Carter’s opinion, Seamus “Mack” McCord would fit into his family flawlessly, in his mind’s eye, Carter could see it. They all talked together with relative ease, and when Mack insisted he and Carter would clean up the dishes so Opie, Tasha, and Paul could get ready to attend the Sacred Heart anniversary Mass at St. Rita’s, Tasha gave him a tight hug and a kiss on the cheek in thanks.
Carter wiped the counters before he turned to Mack. “Babe, you should go to Mass. I did a little research last night before I fell asleep, and I know once you leave the church, you won’t be welcomed back. I know your faith is important to you, even though you plan to leave the priesthood, so you should go with them while you’re still in favor or whatever it’s called. You can run errands on Monday,” he offered in support.
Carter pulled Mack closer and wrapped the priest’s arms around his shoulders. Carter was more muscular from all of the years of working out when he was fighting or training others and performing manual labor while he was in prison. Mack was definitely fit, but Carter liked the fact he wasn’t bulked up because he was precisely Carter’s type. Hell, everything about the man rang every bell Carter had when it came to physical attraction. Besides, the handsome man had such a cloistered upbringing it seemed to Carter that Mack needed someone to protect him, and Carter was more than happy to oblige for the rest of his life.
Mack glanced up at him and offered a tender smile. “Carter, I love you. There’s a reason I was sent here at this point in time when your life would intersect with mine and make such an impact. I don’t believe in chance, my love. I appreciate you looking out for me, but I’m going to be fine with my plans. I won’t be fine if you leave me behind. We have a future, Carter. Don’t doubt me, please?”
Carter kissed his cheek and pulled away. “I won’t, Mack. I know you’re right about the fact we met when we needed each other the most. I don’t think it’s a sin for us to love each other, but if it is? I’ll die a sinner if I can be loved by you. I’ll suffer the fires of hell as long as I was loved by you,” Carter whispered. He meant every word.
When Mack turned his face and kissed him passionately, Carter nearly melted into his sister-in-law’s beautiful travertine tile. When the man’s tongue softly probed the seam of Carter’s lips, he wanted to step away because he believed it was best if Mack remained faithful to his vows until he finished up. Carter didn’t want to be the driving force for him to walk away from his commitment to God, but when Mack moaned and held him tighter, he couldn’t hold back.
He accepted the kiss and escalated it to the point he was about ready to throw Father McCord over his shoulder and carry him up to their apartment where they would do very wicked things to each other. It was Carter’s ongoing fantasy, and he couldn’t wait for it to become a reality.
He finally pulled away and took a breath. “Go change. Go to church with Opie and Tasha. I need to cut the yard anyway. I’ll be here when you get back this afternoon. We’re babysitting here tonight, so maybe after Paul goes to sleep, we can go skinny dipping. I haven’t gone in a long time, and I’ll behave. Go do what you have to do, Father McCord, while I still have some self-control. Don’t push me, though,” he teased as he pecked Mack’s cheek.
The other man chuckled. “Fine. We have the rest of our lives, right?”
Carter took his hand and placed it over his heart. “Feel that? That will be the rhythm of the rest of our lives. You’re a slick one, Mack McCord. You got in there, and I can’t get you out. I’ll see your rest of our lives and raise you an eternity,” Carter responded.
He saw the man he loved smile softly. “You’re on.” He kissed Carter on the cheek and hurried out the back door and through the gate before he ran up the stairs to their garage apartment.
Opie came down with Paul in his arms, both dressed in slacks and knit shirts. “You two look quite handsome. Can you wait for Mack? He’s going to change and go to church with you this morning. He has a meeting with the Monsignor later, but you don’t need to hang around for it. I’ll pick him up, and we’ll be happy to babysit Paul tonight. We can play games and watch movies. I was thinking pizza or maybe Chinese,” Carter suggested as he tickled his nephew while Opie held Paul in his arms.
Paul laughed and wrapped his arms around his father’s neck. Carter saw his brother close his eyes and hug his son, seemingly absorbing the little boy’s love and returning it which brought a thought to Carter’s mind. “Can I ask you something?”
Opie put Paul down and allowed him to go watch cartoons while they waited for Mack and Tasha. Once it was just the two of them, Opie smiled. “You can ask me anything, Rigger.”
Carter took his brother’s hand and held it. “Do you love me, Opie? I’ve made so many mistakes in my life. Hell, I nearly killed a man with my bare hands. I’ve been stabbed a few times, and I did damage in return. I’ve fought other people for money when I was in the ring, and I’ve fought because I had to do it to survive. I don’t really have any redeeming qualities to speak of. How on earth could you… Why would you give a shit about me?”
He saw his brother’s eyes tear up immediately. “How could you even ask me that, Carter Lee? You’re my brother. We’ve been through so many things together, and we’ve always had each other’s backs. You’re my family,” Opie whispered.
Carter took a deep breath, not holding back the tears that fell for an excellent reason. Maybe it wasn’t fair, but he needed his brother to consider some things. “But Mom and Dad didn’t think I was worth sticking around for.”
Opie hissed which surprised Carter. “Fuck them, Rigger. They were more worried about themselves. They couldn’t see the bigger picture of why you did what you did, and they damn well couldn’t see that you took the high road on that shit when you could have claimed it was self-defense. You could have been acquitted, but you had too much integrity to walk away from paying for your crime, though I still doubt it should have been considered a crime,” his brother insisted.
Carter nodded as he dried his own tears. “If you can love me, as worthless as I am, Opie, you can love two deserving boys. Denny and Donnie Nash haven’t done anything as heinous as me. They need guidance, and those kids need to know someone loves and cares about them, just like you made sure I knew you loved and cared about me when I was in Farmington. Don’t turn your back on those boys. They probably need your influence right now more than they did when they were younger. Don’t walk away from them, Opie,” he offered as Mack came in through the sliding door dressed in all of his priestly glory.
His hair was slicked back, his face clean-shaven, and he was wearing his cleric’s clothes. He still looked incredibly handsome to Carter, but he respected the man too much to accost him. Carter smiled and touched his shoulder as he headed out the sliding door to the backyard.
Father Seamus McCord was a remarkable man, but Carter loved Mack McCord, the handsome guy with the enormous grin and the infectious laugh. Those twinkling brown eyes, both sexy and shy in the same moment, had a hold over Carter Riggs he’d never experienced in his life.
He would remain in control of his urges until he had the man all to himself and Mack’s ties to the church had been severed. They were building a life together, hopefully, and Carter would be patient. He’d waited nearly five years to start his life. A few more months wasn’t anything he couldn’t handle.
“One… two… three… four… five… six…” Carter counted out loud. He’d sent Opie and Tasha off to have a day to themselves after they returned from the morning Mass. Mack was meeting with the Monsignor, so Carter had nothing to do that afternoon. Doing laundry and playing with Paul was a nice break from the routine. Well, he hadn’t actually established a routine, but it was a nice distraction.
They’d eaten lunch and were playing hide and seek so they could digest their food before they went for a swim. Carter was having a great time with Paul, and he hated the fact he hadn’t known the boy since he was born. He’d mentioned it to Tasha once, and she told him Paul would never remember Carter wasn’t at his first birthday party. All that mattered was Carter being in the boy’s life going forward.
He walked into the family room and heard Paul giggling from inside the tufted footrest next to the overstuffed chair. The ottoman was used for storage, and there was only a blanket inside, so it made sense the kid would hide in there. Of course, Carter was going to be the kind uncle and pretend Paul had got the better of him.
“Oh, gosh, where is Paul? In here,” he teased as he opened the lower cabinets of the built-in entertainment unit where the television was housed. He had to give his brother and sister-in-law credit—the house was supreme.
Carter made a lot of noise opening and closing the doors. Paul giggled again, so he continued to stomp around and slam doors on cabinets and closets. Finally, he stood in the middle of the room and sighed loudly. “I guess I’m just going to have to go swimming by myself because Paul has disappeared. I’m so sad he’s gone,” Carter announced as he started walking toward the patio door.
‘I win!” Carter turned around in time to see Paul climbing out of the ottoman with a big grin. He hurried over and picked up the boy, hugging him tightly.
“You’re very good at hiding,” Carter told him as he put him on the floor. “Let’s go get ready to swim,” he suggested.
“Who that man?” Paul asked as he pointed out the patio door.
Carter looked out the door to see a man he’d never seen before prowling around the pool area. He looked at Paul and smiled so as not to show alarm. “This time, you’re going to hide in Momma and Daddy’s room, and don’t come out until I find you. Make it hard for me, okay? No laughing,” he commanded as he rushed the boy toward the stairs.
Hurrying to the kitchen after he heard the bedroom door slam, Carter grabbed two large knives from Tasha’s expensive set on the counter in the large oak block. He had no idea who the fuck was outside, but the guy wouldn’t walk away with anything of his brother’s. Carter would make sure of it.
After a few deep breaths, he stepped out the back door and stared at the man. “If you think you’re leaving this yard with so much as a blade of grass, I’ve gotta be honest. I’m not likin’ your chances,” he told the guy, seeing him jump.
“Who are you?” the blond man asked. He had a gut that hung a few inches over his belt, but Carter could tell the intruder had lived a pretty rough life. He didn’t appear to be afraid of Carter either.
“Let’s start with you since you came into my backyard,” Carter responded.
“I’m Dean Nash. Denny and Donnie are my boys. I got word from my mom they were here before,” the man told him.
“Elsie Nash is your mother? That’s a shame for you because I’ve never met a meaner woman in my life and I was in prison, so that’s quite a statement. What are you doing here? Your parents put those boys in foster care,” Carter offered.
“I know. I called that lady who left her business card, and she told me Mrs. Riggs might want to be a mother to those boys, so I wanted to talk to her. I’m not here for trouble, Mr. Riggs. I’m sorry I didn’t come to the front door. It’s an old habit to go to the back door so as not to drag in dirt from my shoes. Another one of my mom’s rules,” the man told him.
It seemed it was the Nash boys’ father, and as Carter stared at him, he could see the resemblance. Unfortunately for the man, that didn’t make Carter any happier. “You left those boys in the care of your mother? What the fuck were you thinking? She didn’t feed them properly, didn’t take care of them. Fuck, I don’t think they went to school much, if at all. You’re an asshole for allowing that to happen to your own flesh and blood,” Carter chastised, hoping the man was going to start something so he could beat the shit out of him. It would be a perfect opportunity to work out some aggression. He definitely needed to come up with a stress relief regimen before he lost his mind.
The man looked down at the pavers circling the pool deck. Carter could tell Dean Nash was upset, but he wasn’t sure why, and he wasn’t going to find out unless he calmed down and spoke with the guy in a somewhat civil tone.
Carter had two knives behind his back, but he had the feeling he wouldn’t need them. Reasoning got more results than fists. That was what the chaplain in prison told him on many occasions.
“Okay, um, why don’t you take a seat. I’ll be right back. I’ll bring you a glass of tea,” Carter offered. The guy nodded and pulled out a patio chair, taking a seat as Carter went inside to find Paul and put him down for a nap to give him time to talk to the man about Denny and Donnie. Maybe the discussion would lead to something productive? Carter had high hopes.
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