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Protecting His Own Part 9

BETH AND THE children ended up in Dans office while the war was fought.

Dan set them up with toys and blankets scrounged from somewhere. Max showed up with a bag of fast food and drinks. He told them in his universe, everything got better after a burger and fries.

Now she was sitting on the pile of blankets on the floor with two well-stuffed boys sprawled across her lap. Her feet had fallen asleep, a toy was digging into her hip, and she wouldnt have moved for the world.

If only she knew what was going on Then she heard a familiar, smooth, baritone. One that conveyed almost as much safety as her Masters did.

I appreciate your help, Mrs. Molina. Master Z entered the room accompanied by a short, middle-aged woman in a boxy, magenta suit. Nolan and Dan followed them. Price wasnt in the group, thank goodness.

Zs silvery-gray gaze swept over her and the children. I see they have piled onto their preferred caregiver, ensuring she wont get away.

The woman beside him lifted her eyebrows. So they have.

Up you come, sugar. You need to meet Mrs. Molina. Smiling, Nolan slid the children off and pulled Beth to her feet. As she crossed the room, she heard Connors piping voice. Nolanman, we gots toys.

Z said, Mrs. Molina, this is Beth King, Nolans wife. Beth, Mrs. Molina is a supervisor with the Department of Children and Families. She came to settle the childrens arrangements.

Its a pleasure to meet you. Beth held her hand out.

And you. Apparently, you and Mr. King know the children from their stay at Tomorrow Is Mine? The womans grip was firm, her brown eyes steady. She glanced at Nolan whod gone to one knee as Connor showed him their Happy Meals toys before asking Beth, Did Mr. King have family there? Know one of the clients?

In other words, how had a man breached the shelters No Men Allowed rules? No. My husband is a contractor and helps out with repairs.

Mrs. Molina still appeared puzzled. A man? But"

The shelter was falling down and on the verge of closing when Beth donated the money to keep it open, Master Z said.

His explanation sounded so altruistic, when she thought her reasons had simply been logical. Her very rich, very abusive husband had died without a will, and shed inherited a wifes share, despite his relatives attempts to cut her out. Since the money was an ugly reminder of him, shed enjoyed donating it to domestic violence shelters.

Kylers family had been appalled.

Z tilted his head. Both of the Kings help at the shelter. People who know Beth usually wind up volunteering there"and that would include my wife.

Dan snorted. And mine.

Isee. Amusement danced in Mrs. Molinas warm brown eyes. For one woman, you have a most effective"and long reach.

Beth frowned. Long?

Quite. Although I agreed that placing the children with you would be beneficial, obtaining all the required signatures would have been impossible without"she actually snorted"the pressure brought to bear from above. Her glance at Z was both annoyed and admiring.

Beth stared at Master Z. What did you do?

He gave her a faint smile. When my influence wasnt enough, I did what any smart man does"I called my mother.

Beths mouth dropped open. Shed met the terrifyingly rich and refined Madeline Grayson. You didnt.

I believe she spoke to the mayor.

She did, Mrs. Molina said in a dry voice.

Well.

Tell Madeline thanks. Nolan joined them, Connor securely settled on a hip, Grant beside him.

Hey, guys, youre going home with us, Beth told the boys.

In response, Connor bounced in Nolans arms, and Grant curled his arms around Beths waist.

And Mrs. Molina smiled.

AT HOME, NOLAN helped Grant and Connor out of the social workers car and made a mental note to pick up child booster seats for his and Beths vehicles. As the children took his hands and walked with him down the flagstone path, he felt a tightness in his chest. Yeah, he wanted children.

Soon, itd be their little girl holding his hand. Hopefully, more would follow her.

Meantime, they could give these two waifs a safe home until their mother was well and able to care for them again.

Here we go, men. Under the portico, he pushed open the front door and heard noises coming from the kitchen. Since hed held his speed down so Mrs. Molina could follow, Beth was already home.

When the social worker reached the door, he drew the children to one side. Ladies go through doors first. His pa had been quite firm about how men should treat women and started his sons lessons right about birth. Nolan agreed.

Come on in, Beth called from the kitchen. Would anyone like some water or lemonade or milk?

As they walked through the great room, the boys stared around with wide eyes.

Nolan considered the Spanish-influenced decor from a childs viewpoint. Boring creamy stucco walls, tan-colored leather furniture, and hardwood flooring. Minus five points. He added two points for the colorful hand-painted tiles over the arched windows, doorways, and stone fireplace. Removed another couple of points since the room was spotless. No toys. No pets.

He frowned at the dark red vases in the recessed niches. Two active boys. Might be time to redecorate for indestructibility. Besides, he had a sudden craving to play catch in the great room.

His lips twitched. Beth would kill him. I have a hankering for something to drink. How about yall?

Grant managed a nod, but Connors hand was cold and trembling. The mite was scared shitless and no wonder. Cmere, little man. Nolan picked him up and settled him on one hip as they entered the kitchen. The boy should weigh more, dammit. Got any good snacks in there, Beth?

Sure. She saw the boy on his hip and gave Connor a tender smile. But the sweet look in her eyes was all for Nolan. Fuck, he loved her.

Lets see. She pulled the cookie jar closer. The big ceramic jar had been a wedding gift from his mother"along with all his favorite cookie recipes. The container had never been empty. Since Nolan likes sweet snacks, we have cookies in here. Me, I like crunchy snacks, so there are also potato chips. Connor, what would you like?

Connor buried his head in Nolans shoulder. Grant was silent.

Mrs. Molina spoke into the silence. Id like a cookie, please.

You got it. As Nolan and the boys took seats at the kitchen island, Beth gave Mrs. Molina a cookie and handed one to each boy. Start with these, and there are more if youre still hungry. She set out cookies on a plate and dumped chips into a bowl as well, setting everything within reach.

The boys got milk. Mrs. Molina chose iced tea.

When Nolan lifted an eyebrow, his underweight, little rabbit dutifully took a cookie and milk for herself.

While the children enjoyed their snacks, the adults worked through a stack of paperwork and another quick evaluation. The childrens bedroom was approved. The locked gate in the screened cage enclosing the huge pool got a pleased nod. Nolan had thought the foster care regulations overly strict, but when he remembered his youthful adventures, he realized hed been wrong. Pools and lakes attracted kids like bees to honey.

Good thing the lake had been fenced off. After an intruder had gained access to a friends lakeside home by boat, Nolan had installed a perimeter fence and security alarm for his entire property. He wasnt gone often, but his woman should feel safe, no matter what. Now the boys"and eventually their baby girl"would be safe, as well.

Im finished here. Mrs. Molina sorted her paperwork. Depending on how quickly Mrs. McCormick recovers, you might need to make plans for the children to enter school. It starts near the end of August. I think youll be in kindergarten, Connor?

The boy returned a silent nod. Pissed Nolan off some. Today, the words had been scared right out of the talkative kid. From what Dan had said, Drusilla had gone into a tweaker tantrum in front of the kids.

Fuck, what a world.

The boys were making inroads on the food"checking for Beths approval before each new cookie. Shed quietly kept their glasses of milk filled.

Finally, Mrs. Molina tucked the paperwork into her hefty briefcase and rose. Beth, Nolan, Im pleased to have had a chance to meet you both as well as the children.

What happens next? Beth asked.

Mr. Price will call and arrange follow-up visits.

Price, huh? Seeing Beth grimace, Nolan chuckled. Good thing the supervisor had already turned away and didnt notice.

After Mrs. Molina was gone, Beth held out her hands to the boys. Guys, I put your backpacks in your bedroom. Lets go see about getting your stuff stowed away.

Beth and the cops had filled trash bags and backpacks with the childrens possessions. Two garbage bags and two knapsacks sat in the center of the bedroom. Nolan remembered all the shit hed had as a kid. Ample clothing as well as bats and balls, skates, a bike, footballs, toy soldiers, rockets, planes and trucks, Legos and building toys, coloring books, weird puzzles, picture books. His childhood belongings would have filled a hell of a lot more than a couple of garbage bags.

They should be comfortable in here though. Since his siblings had taken to heart the be fruitful command, the big room was already set up for kids. The two queen beds had slept up to six exhausted, small-sized munchkins.

The matching armchairs were upholstered in a sturdy, dark red to match the red-and-white floral bedspreads. A long table and chairs were stationed under the south window. Beneath the other window, white shelves held picture books, puzzles, and a batch of toys left by his nieces and nephews.

Connor and Grant should do well in here. And theyd be together. Dan had mentioned their fear that the cops would separate them and force them into homes filled with knife-wielding, mean boys.

A snarl rose in Nolans throat. Probably Jermaine or even Drusilla had used the threat to keep the kids isolated and prevent any chance of the police hearing about drugs in the home.

This is our room? Grant touched the quilt on the bed as if someone would take it away.

Nolan had to clear his throat before he could speak. Yeah. You can share a bed or not. Up to you. He pointed to the lidless wooden boxes of toys. Toys to play with, books to read. Go ahead and put your toys on the shelves, if you want.

After another tentative glance at Nolan, Connor took a stuffed animal and a truck out of one pack and set it on the shelf.

Grant had an airplane. And a ball.

That was the totality of their toys.

Seeing Beths eyes swimming in tears, Nolan motioned her out of the room. Im going to take a shower while Beth cooks supper. Can yall play for a bit in here?

Two more nods.

He closed the door partway behind him.

When he got into the kitchen, Beth was crying. Its not fair. Theyre the sweetest children. They should have everything. Not n-n-nothing. Her voice broke as he pulled her into his arms.

If the lack of toys sent his softhearted submissive into tears, whatd happen when the boys went back to their mother?

There hadnt been any choice of not bringing them home"not for him or Beth"but it would be fucking difficult to see his Beth hurting when the time came to let them go.

WAIT, CONNOR. GRANT squirmed all the way under the bed, finding plenty of room, although itd be better if there were boxes and suitcases to hide behind. When he emerged, Connor stood, waiting. Grant checked out the closet next. This is cool, too. Big enough they could both hide in it if they needed to"although he didnt like dark rooms much. He came out and saw Connor hadnt moved. Whats wrong?

I want to go home.

Me, too. The funny feeling in his stomach made Grants eyes burn, and his voice come out all shaky-weird. We cant. Mama is sick. He rubbed his wet cheeks. Jermaine is there. I dont want to be there with him. Not without Mama. Do you?

Connor shook his head hard. Hes mean.

Hes a douche.

Hearing the bad word theyd learned at the shelter, Connor giggled.

Relieved, Grant opened the last door. Cmon.

It was a bathrooma really cool bathroom. It had two sinks so white they were shiny. The shower curtain had bright fish swimming on it. They lookedhappy.

Hey, Grant. Connor pointed to the walls. Wes at the beach.

Grant stared. A big wave split the wall into a sky and ocean. The bottom showed yellow and blue fish in the sea, and the top had clouds in a blue sky. The towels and fuzzy rugs on the floor were the same blue as one of the fish. Its pretty.

Back in the bedroom, Grant paused to stand at the door and listen to the low voices of Nolanman and Beth. They didnt sound upset or anything. He stood for a minute, letting the sounds of the house wash over him. Quietthe house was even quieter than home in the early morning before anyone got up.

He could feel Connor right behind him; hed learned not to back up suddenly. Lets see what kind of toys are here.

Connor stood for another second, listening. Kay.

Bending over, Grant scoped out the top shelf. Got lots of books. And puzzles. The wooden boxes on the bottom shelf were even more interesting.

Connor let out a sound, dropped to his knees, and pulled out a dinosaur. And then another one.

Eyes wide, Grant checked out the next box. A train set. Holding his breath, he pulled the box off the shelf. No one yelled at him. He glanced at the door.

Nolanman said we could, Connor whispered.

A train. Grants fingers shook as he chose pieces of the track and snapped them together. Beside him, Connor was making growling noises for the dinosaur.

More pieces. A whole curve.

Big feet appeared beside the tracks.

Grant froze. The thumping in his chest hurt as he tensed, waiting for the yelling, the blows.

You got quite a bit done there. Nice work. Nolan squatted down between him and Connor. His black hair was loose and swung forward as he picked up a weird-shaped piece. This part makes a bridge. Want to put it together?

Chapter end

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