Shiloh’s car, James, her husband’s bike, and my dad’s bike were there.
Something in Shiloh’s back seat made me pause.
Why did she have a car seat?
Did she have Janie’s daughter with her?
Janie was James’ first child with another woman and had a baby just a few years ago with a man that was to die for. They lived about an hour away, and it wasn’t often that Rafe, Janie’s husband, allowed their daughter to stay anywhere overnight. And it was definitely nearing nine o’clock in the evening.
Bayou, having joined me, asked, “What’s wrong?”
I shook my head. “Nothing. I was just wondering why she had a car seat, but I’m assuming she had her grandchild today.”
He made a noncommittal sound and followed behind me every step, a menacing shadow that made my heart pound and my palms damp with sweat. But not the nervous kind, it was the kind that made me want to do naughty things and loosen the control that he clung so tightly to all the time.
If I wasn’t worried that he’d tell me to take a hike, I might’ve already done it. You know, when I was fifteen or sixteen, and he was a cute man who tried hard to be the person everyone thought he should be.
We hit the door, and Bayou got it for me before I could reach out and take the handle.
“Thank you,” I smiled up at him.
He didn’t say ‘you’re welcome,’ but the small smile on his lips was enough.
“Where to?” he asked once he closed the door behind us.
“I’m assuming they’re in the conference room,” I shrugged.
I really had no idea.
This place was quite large, and not only did it have a conference room big enough to hold half the compound—at least forty people—it also housed six bedrooms, a fully stocked state-of-the-art kitchen, and offices that belonged to all six original men who’d created Free—James, Jack, Elliott, Gabe, my dad, and Max—and now Janie.
So yes, they really could be anywhere.
But I found them the first place I looked. The conference room.
I smiled at my dad, followed by my aunt. I dropped a kiss on my uncle James’ cheek as I passed, and came to a halt next to a conference chair that housed the cutest brown-haired little girl in existence.
“Well, hello.” I smiled down at the girl.
She had to be two or three at most. My guess was three because she was easily navigating her way through a puzzle that would likely be difficult for a two-year-old.
“Bayou,” I heard the man that’d followed me in say. “Nice to meet you.”
“I’m Shiloh. This is my husband, James,” I heard my aunt reply softly. “Sorry, but Phoebe was raised in a barn and can’t remember common manners.”
I scoffed and turned my head to survey my aunt. “I’m sorry, but I thought y’all met before. My bad.”
A soft, baby fine touch on my hair had me turning back around to see the little girl standing on the swivel chair with her hand raised.
“Pink?” The little girl ran her finger down my hair again.
My hair was what one would call ‘strawberry blonde,’ but to a three-year-old, I could see how she’d get pink out of it.
I’d hated my hair from the moment that it’d started to change from the blonde it’d been originally when I was born to this strawberry blonde that couldn’t quite choose whether it wanted to be blonde or red.
“Yes.” I smiled down at her, then touched her hair. “Brown.”
Her eyes frowned, a look that I’d seen on the man that was now at my back a hundred times before, and then she looked over at the man beside me.
The man that also had brown hair.
The man that had gray eyes just like her, too.
My heart started to gallop and the breath in my chest started to come in pants.
And that was when I knew why Bayou was called to the house. Why Shiloh—a social worker—was looking for him.
Bayou hadn’t made the connection yet, but he was frowning.
Not hard enough to scare the little girl, but enough that I could tell something was off and his brain was trying to piece together the information.
“Take a seat, please,” Shiloh instructed. “Phoebe, would you mind giving us some privacy?”
I swallowed hard and looked at my dad.
He was already up and moving, as was James.
“She can stay,” Bayou said. “Unless you feel like what you have to say is something that needs to stay secret from them. I never meant to hide Ilsa or my past. It’s bad, though.”
My stomach clenched.
James and my father resumed their seats.
I took the seat closest to the little girl and smiled at her when she turned those eyes so much like Bayou’s to me.
They immediately skittered away, and my heart wrenched as a thousand worries started to pour through me.