Triple Beat-nook
Author:Mari Carr

“Yes.” She didn’t offer them more than that. Her short answer annoyed them. She could read it in their faces. It wasn’t that she didn’t want to confide in them. It was that she couldn’t. Her throat was clogged with unshed tears. She swallowed heavily, and then offered them as much as she was able.

“Apparently they’ve been looking for me for a long time. My foster brother, Jett, called me a couple months ago. We’ve been talking on the phone quite a lot since then. I thought…” she paused, hating herself for the lie she was about tell. “I thought I’d take this weekend to see them again before our lives go crazy—between the recording studio, the television appearances and the tour, I wasn’t sure when I’d have a chance to reunite with them.”

“Our first tour stop is New Orleans.” Leave it to Aiden to point out the obvious. It was hell trying to lie to him because he was too fucking smart.

“We’re going to be busy.”

His expression told her he didn’t buy that answer, but luckily, he didn’t press her on it. “So you’re just here to see your foster family?”

She nodded. “Yeah.” And again, there was absolutely no reason on earth she couldn’t have told the guys that harmless tidbit in Nashville. The confusion on Aiden’s face told her he was still trying to find the catch.

“The Lewises,” she added stupidly, hoping that by throwing out a name—her last name—they’d find something innocuous to focus on instead of the obvious, which was that she was lying to them.

“You were close to them?” Aiden asked.

Dani swallowed heavily. “Yeah. I was.”

She had only suffered one regret by running away, and that was that she’d had to leave the Lewis family. However, the pain she’d felt in leaving them was alleviated by the realization her absence would keep Mama Lewis from doing anything stupid in her attempts to save Dani.

“I thought Stella was your aunt,” Bryson said.

She shook her head. That was the lie she and Stella had created when Dani moved in with the oft-absent trucker. Stella had offered her a place to stay for a few weeks. When the weeks turned into months, they decided to make it a permanent arrangement. Stella had never pressed Dani for details about her life before coming to Nashville. She’d simply accepted her presence and they had gone on from there.

Dani had gotten a job at Benji’s while Stella continued to make her cross-country runs. Stella said she found it easier to leave knowing someone was looking after her house. It was a lie, but Dani had let herself believe it, so grateful to have a home and a friend.

After a few years, it stopped feeling strange to call Stella her aunt because they’d definitely forged a tiny family—just the two of them. When Stella, a chain smoker, had been diagnosed with lung cancer, it was Dani’s name listed as next of kin and she sat beside Stella for weeks in the hospital, holding her hand as she died.

“She wasn’t a blood relative, but she was still my aunt.” Dani had spent a lifetime perilously short on family. So she’d created her own—adopting Mama Lewis as a mother and Stella as an aunt. Even her cantankerous old boss, Benji, had become family.

After Stella’s death, Dani had been devastated, distraught. Benji had stepped in, becoming less employer and more overprotective uncle. He’d helped her deal with Stella’s estate, guiding her through the process of planning a funeral, selling the house and settling all of Stella’s debts.

Stella had named Dani the beneficiary in her will, and while that hadn’t amounted to any great inheritance, it had given Dani enough money for a decent used car, to put down a security deposit on a nice apartment in town, and to tuck a little bit in the bank for a rainy day. Through it all, Benji had held her hand and given her a shoulder to cry on.

She considered Aiden and Bryson family too, though for some reason, she didn’t feel the same sisterly fondness for them that she felt for the Lewis kids—Caleb, Justin, Chloe and Jett. She supposed it was because she’d been a girl when she had met the Lewises and a woman when she’d met Aiden and Bryson. Perhaps her needs in terms of family had changed.

“So you’re really only here to reunite with the Lewises? Nothing else?” Aiden asked, his voice still skeptical. She didn’t blame him for his doubts.

“Yes,” Dani responded quickly, determined to keep the other goal from them. It was her own fault she was in this mess.

For years, she’d covered her tracks—changing her name, setting up residence in Nashville and lying her ass off about her childhood. After so long, she’d actually become complacent and started to feel secure. She should have known her secrets would come back to bite her in the ass eventually.

Dani shuddered to think how Bryson and Aiden would react if she told them about her father and the things he’d done to her. She wasn’t sure she’d be able to keep them from killing the man. And while she’d harbored more than a few murderous thoughts toward her dad in the past, that was all they were—thoughts.

Aiden sat down in an oversized chair across from her. “How long has it been since you’ve seen them?”

“Twelve years.”

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