The most delicious expression crept across his face. It was a mischievous expression, the kind that said I’m going to tell you what you want and still try to have you. He held his hand out. “Friends it is.”

The minute she touched him her whole body seemed to spark. She knew it wasn’t real. It was nothing but her own reaction to his insane charm, but when she touched him it felt like the world lit up.

“Are you the guy from TV?”

She looked to her left and there was a full gang of kiddos standing in front of them. The Taggart twins were front and center, but they were joined by Olivia and Josh Barnes-Fleetwood, Carys Taggart and Chloe Lodge. A massive mutt of a dog sat beside them. Kenzie held his leash, but Bud was a well-trained pup. He simply followed the Taggart twins around, happily wagging his tail at everyone he greeted.

Unlike a lot of single guys she knew, Jared didn’t seem uncomfortable around a bunch of kids. He gave them a steady smile. “I was on TV for a while. I played a guy named Dart.”

“My dad says darts can’t kill people,” one of the Tag twins said. “But I think anything can kill if you hit something hard enough with it.”

She was pretty sure that was Kala. Kala scared her. One time she’d been at a Christmas party and someone had given the twins a matching set of bouncing giraffes to ride on. Kenzie had squealed with delight and promptly started bouncing around the party. Kala had taken the toy by the neck and disappeared like a lion dragging prey. She still wasn’t sure what had happened to that giraffe.

“What about marshmallows?” Olivia asked, looking at the younger girl, her arms crossed over her chest. Olivia looked an awful lot like her momma, Abby Barnes-Fleetwood. “I don’t think a marshmallow could kill anything.”

Jared shrugged. “It could if you were allergic to marshmallows. Or if you got a hundred thousand of them and drowned a person in them.”

Kala nodded as though the image was going through her young brain and she found it pleasing. “Yes, I can see that.”

“Do you know Spongebob?” Kenzie asked with a bright smile.

“I haven’t had the pleasure, but I do know a couple of Pokémon,” Jared replied.

“No way,” Carys said, obviously impressed.

“Yes, way.” Jared turned to Sarah, giving her a wink. “I know some of the actors who do the voices.”

Josh Barnes-Fleetwood had a cowboy hat on his head and a cynical look on his young face. She’d been told he was six, but he always seemed older to her. “Well, I don’t see what the fuss is about. He doesn’t look like a bull to me.”

Carys nodded. “He doesn’t. Momma said he was probably a bull in bed, but I don’t know what that means.”

Bud’s tail thumped against the ground as if he didn’t understand either.

Jared was overtaken by a sudden coughing fit.

“I think she means he’s probably really strong.” Sarah fought back a laugh. “He works out a lot.”

Josh stared at Jared like he might or might not be a threat. “My dads work out in the gym. Not the bedroom.”

“Oh, I bet your dads…” She was going to say that she was pretty sure there was some serious working out going down at the ranch, but a big hand covered her mouth and Jared was laughing as he held her close.

“She was going to say that all dads work out in their gyms,” Jared managed over his laughter. He had one arm wrapped around her waist and the other over her mouth. “That’s all, and I am pretty strong. From working out. In a gym.”

“Nicely done, Johns.” Big Tag strode up, a football in his hand. “Kids, leave the civvies alone. They have no idea how to handle you. Go on. I think you’ll find the hot dogs are ready and there’s brownies for you afterward. Let me take Bud or he’ll end up eating a bunch of the hot dogs and barfing everywhere.”

Kenzie handed over the leash and the kids raced off, with the exception of Kala who stood in front of her dad. He knelt down and gave her a smile. “You okay, kid?”

Her lips turned up and she leaned over and whispered something in her dad’s ear.

Big Tag nodded. “I’ll think about it. It’s an interesting idea. Go on, kiddo.”

She ran off to join her sister.

Big Tag stood up, looming over them. “Why does my daughter now want to find a way to weaponize marshmallows?”

Jared, eased back, his arms loosening. “I think that’s my fault. She was trying to convince the other kids that anything could be a weapon if placed in the right hands. I was kind of backing her up.”

Tag nodded. “That’s a good move on your part. I’m pretty sure she’s keeping a list. It wasn’t such a big deal when I thought she would forget, but now that she can write, it’s getting real, if you know what I mean. Let’s go, Johns. We’re going to get this game going. You’re my secret weapon.”

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