I walk over to a cooler by the back door and pull a fresh bottle of water from the ice and turn in time to run smack into Dominic.
“Oh! Excuse me.”
“My fault,” he assures me and grips my arms to make sure I don’t fall backward. “Sorry about that.”
“I wasn’t watching where I was going. I don’t think we’ve met yet. I’m Meredith.” I hold my hand out to shake his, and he raises my hand to his lips, kisses it softly and then lets go.
“I’m Dom. Welcome.”
“Who are you here with?” he asks and turns to scan the yard.
He turns back to me with a raised brow. “Really. Very interesting.” He takes my hand again kisses it, then winks before pulling away. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Meredith. Good luck.”
He leaves me standing here, confused. What did he mean by interesting? Suddenly, I realize the condensation from the water bottle has dribbled down my shirt. I walk into the kitchen to dab at it with a towel, and just then, Sam walks into the kitchen behind me.
When she sees me, she turns abruptly to leave, but I stop her.
“Wait. Sam, can we talk?”
She stops mid-stride and sighs deeply before turning back around and facing me. Her face is completely sober, but I can tell this is not the conversation she wants to have.
“What’s up?” she asks.
“I swear, Keaton eats more than I do,” Natalie says as she bustles into the kitchen and pulls a bottle out of the fridge, then turns to us and her eyes go wide. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to interrupt.”
“You didn’t,” Sam replies. “What do you want, Meredith?”
“First of all, I hope I didn’t cause any trouble by mentioning Starla earlier.”
Sam laughs and shakes her head, surprising me. “Trust me. Starla is not an issue. I’ve known about her for a long time, and not that it’s any of your business, but Leo and I are just fine.”
She begins to walk away, but I stop her again.
“Well, I guess I want to clear the air. I know you’ve never liked me.”
She holds her hand up for me to stop talking. “I didn’t know you. I was away at college when you dated my brother all those years ago. But I do know that you broke his heart.”
“I don’t want you to hate me—”
“I don’t hate you. I just don’t trust you.”
Well, there you go.
“Sam,” Natalie says softly. “You didn’t trust me either.”
“I didn’t know you either, but you didn’t see Mark after she broke it off,” Sam reminds her, then glances back at me and pulls in a deep breath before letting it out slowly. “People grow up. They change. I know that.” She props her hands on her hips. “I love my brothers more than just about anything, so I’ll be watching, Meredith. I don’t hate you. I don’t even dislike you. I don’t trust you.”
“I get it.” I nod and shrug.
“What the hell is going on?” Mark asks from the doorway.
I saw Mer walk through the back door a few minutes ago, and Sam followed her, and neither has emerged.
I don’t have a good feeling about this.
“Hey,” I say to Luke quietly. “I’ll be back.”
He nods and I make a beeline for the open door, and just as I’m about to walk through, I hear Sam say, “I don’t trust you.”
“What the hell is going on?” I demand. Natalie is holding a baby bottle in her hand, biting her lip. Sam’s hands are braced on her hips and Meredith is leaning her hands on the countertop, but she looks fine. She’s not crying or breathing heavily, and I send up a silent prayer of thanks.
Sam can be ruthless. But Mer is holding her own.
My strong girl.
“I’m just clearing the air with Sam,” Mer says and smiles brightly. “No problem.”
I glance at Sam who continues to watch Meredith before she turns to me and shrugs. “We’re fine, Mark.”
“There’s no blood?” I ask, trying to lighten the mood.
“Not yet,” Sam says and cocks a brow at me.
“Geez, no need to be violent, slugger.”
“We’ll see,” she replies and turns to leave.
“I’m going to take this to Keaton,” Natalie says, but stops by Meredith on her way by. “I’m glad you’re here. Just give it time.”
Mer smiles and nods and I immediately cross to her and tilt her chin up. “What happened?”
“Nothing dramatic,” she replies. “She doesn’t dislike me. She doesn’t trust me, which I can work with.”
“What does that mean?”
“It means that it’s better than I thought.” She smiles and hugs me tightly, wrapping her arms around me and nuzzling her face against my chest.
“I know Sam can be ruthless, so if she said anything to make you…”
“Stop.” She lays her hand on my chest and looks up at me with those blue eyes, shining with unshed tears. “Do you know what I would give to be able to grill my sister’s boyfriend? To make him squirm a little?” She shakes her head and bites her lip and I tighten my arms around her. “I can handle Sam.”
“Okay.” I kiss her head and hug her close. “Do you want to leave?”
“No, let’s go back out.” She smiles bravely and my heart melts a little more. She’s here because of me, because she knows it’s important to me. She leads me outside and we quickly join a conversation with Meg, Will, Matt and Nic.
“Vegas,” Meg says.
“What’s happening in Vegas?” I ask, keeping Mer’s hand in mine. Matt and Will both notice and exchange a glance.
Yeah, I’ll be getting ribbed later. I don’t care.
“We’re all going to Vegas,” Will says. “We’re just going to do a big group bachelor/bachelorette party.”
“Fun,” I reply. “When?”
“In a few weeks,” Meg says and smiles. “We’re making all the travel arrangements. All you guys have to do is show up.”
“I like the sound of this trip,” Matt says. “How are the wedding plans coming?”
Will groans, but Meg lights up, clearly excited to talk about wedding plans. “Great! Alecia is the best.”
“Alecia is planning this one too?” I ask. That woman plans every event for this family. She might as well just marry someone and officially become part of the gang.