Catch up on the prologue before you read the first chapter!
Up to Something
Fourteen years later
“Mom,” Ella said. “I didn’t want to spend all day here. What is it that you’re looking for? Didn’t you buy enough stuff before Christmas?”
“I can’t stop myself from buying clothes for Jake and Jeremy. They look so much like Mason, and Jessica said they’re growing out of everything. Just like your brothers did. Jessica’s still recovering. She told me that the boys needed clothes.”
Ella rolled her eyes. Her twin nephews were five weeks old. Yes, Jessica had a C-section and was still recovering, but she wasn’t so weak that she couldn’t run to the store or order clothes online if the boys needed anything.
Which they didn’t because Ella alone had purchased over ten outfits for each of them for Christmas, all in the next size. Her mother was up to something and she was trying to figure out what it was. Thankfully, Ella was known for an abundance of patience. Something her mother lacked.
“Then why haven’t we gone into one children’s department store? You keep dragging me to women’s departments.”
“I don’t understand, Ella. You always loved to shop before.”
“I love to shop all the time, but I’m busy at work and I don’t really need anything with Christmas only being last week. You bought me a bunch of clothes, along with everyone else.”
“That’s because we all know how much you love clothes,” her mother said, bobbing her head up and down like she had all of Ella’s life. She’d never stop doing that either and Ella wondered if it was possible for someone to suffer a concussion from it with the speed her mother exhibited.
“Let’s go get some lunch and have a seat. Then you can tell me what this trip to the mall is all about before I go back to work.”
“You never take a day off. Why can’t you stay away for one full day?” her mother asked when they sat down in a booth at a restaurant in the mall. “Why can’t we just have a girl’s day to ourselves? One full day?”
She felt the tug of guilt, but since she’d spent several girls’ days with her mother in the past two months, she wasn’t falling for it today. “Because I’ve got too much work to do and no one else can do it but me.”
“Teach someone,” her mother argued.
Ella snorted out a laugh that had no humor in it at all. “It’s not that simple. There are things only the five of us do and know about.”
“There are nine of you now. Show one of the other girls how to do something.”
“Aimee has no desire to learn anything in the office. She runs the bar with Brody and it’s her thing. She’s good at it and she likes working with Cade and Aiden when it comes to food and promotions in the bar.”
“That’s true. What a good fit Aimee was for Brody.”
“You’d know. You found her.” Ella never suspected it until her third brother started dating someone seriously. None of them dated anyone seriously for years, and then they started dropping like flies caught in a web.
Her mother ignored her. “Fine. Then ask Nic.”
“Nic is in the kitchen with Aiden. She has her hands full and she doesn’t like working in an office. Again, she’s with Cade when it comes to taking pictures for the promotions and when she isn’t doing that, she is doing all the paperwork that Aiden can’t stand to do.”
“That’s another good fit too. I’ve been blessed with two wonderful daughters-in-law.”
“Again. You picked out Nic too.” She was just waiting for her mother to finally admit it.
“Speaking of daughters-in-law, I can’t wait until Mason and Jessica get married this summer.”
“You love having all these weddings so close together.”
“Of course I do. What mother doesn’t want to see her kids settled down? Jessica told me that she and Mason are each going to hold one of the twins during the ceremony. How sweet is that going to be?”
“Very sweet,” Ella agreed. Then again, Mason was always the sweet one of the group.
“Now we just need Cade and Alex to pick a date. I hope they don’t wait too long.”
“Just tell me the truth, Mom. You picked out Alex too. Why can’t you admit it to me? Everyone knows except Cade and Alex.”
“You’re not going to tell them, are you?” her mother asked frantically. She never had a poker face as much as she’d thought she did.
That was almost an admission, which Ella wanted to point out, but chose to store it away for another day. “Would it matter? Brody, Aiden, and Mason know they were set up and they aren’t upset over it.”
“Give Cade some more time. Speaking of that…if they aren’t upset over it, then why are you so set against me finding someone for you?”
“Don’t even think about going behind my back and doing that. I’m the only one who was on to you. I’ve got my eye on you right now.”
“Such a smart girl you are, Ella. Which is why I’m not going to go behind your back.” Before Ella could say anything, her mother turned to two men in suits at the table next to them. “Are either of you single? My daughter is. Isn’t she just lovely?”
“Mom,” Ella said, her face turning red. “Ignore her. She hasn’t taken her meds today and just blurts things out without thought if we don’t keep a tight rein on her.”
“Ella Marie,” her mother said, her jaw dropping. “What a horrible thing to say about your mother.”
The two men were laughing at them now. “Sorry, I’m married,” one man said.
The other said, “I’m not, but have a girlfriend. I know a few guys that might be interested though if you’re up for a blind date.”
“Take them up on it, Ella,” her mother urged. “You haven’t been on a date in way too long.”
Talk about mortification. Ella turned to the men, put her best business face on and said, “No, thank you. Sorry to interrupt your lunch.” Then she turned back to her mother. “That’s just rotten and you know it.”
“I said I wouldn’t go behind your back. I might as well do it in front of you now.”
“You’re impossible,” Ella said.
“You wouldn’t have me any other way.”
“Honey, I’m home,” Jolene shouted two hours later. “Gavin, where are you?”
“I’m in the kitchen,” he shouted back. Their house was always filled with yelling. Four big loud sons, her husband the biggest of all the boys in the house, and her and Ella. Everyone was always talking over the other.
“I didn’t have any luck today,” she said, dropping her bags on the floor.
Her husband of thirty-seven years looked down at her loot. “You could have fooled me.”
She waved her hand. “I always have luck shopping. I got the grandkids some clothes and toys.”
“As if they don’t have enough from what you filled under the tree this year. We’re going to have to get a bigger tree and put it in the larger family room next year,” he said.
She smiled at him, then walked over and gave him a loud smacking kiss. “I remember a time you wouldn’t have considered a tree, let alone Christmas decorations in the bar.”
“Then some smooth-talking beautiful woman told me to stop being a Bah Humbug and get over myself.”
“Aren’t you so glad you listened to me all those years ago?” she asked, loving that he wrapped her up tight in his arms just now. She’d never grow tired of being held by him and she wanted all her children to experience a love like she’d had for almost four decades.
“I am. So tell me what you aren’t having luck with if it wasn’t shopping?”
“Ella. I tried to introduce her to two very nice men in suits at the restaurant during lunch and asked if they wanted to take her on a date.”
“You didn’t,” he asked, pushing her back a little.
She stepped out of his arms and went to the fridge to get a beer. She needed one right now, then grabbed one for him. “I did. She told me she was going to be watching me now that she figured out I set the four boys up.”
“You actually admitted it to her?” he asked, looking shocked.
“Of course not, but I didn’t deny it. Why bother at this point? Anyway, I told her I wouldn’t go behind her back. I’m just going to do it in front of her face.”
“I can only imagine her reaction to that.”
“She told the two men I hadn’t taken my meds today and to ignore me.”
Gavin burst out laughing. “You should know better than to butt heads with Ella.”
“She learned everything from me. I’m older and wiser and I’ll still find someone for her.”
Gavin shook his head. “Leave Ella alone. Let her figure this out on her own. She’s always had the hardest time finding a man. Harder than the boys finding women.”
“That’s because the boys really did terrorize everyone she was interested in,” she argued.
“She set herself up for a lot of it. Always running around besting them her whole life and rubbing their faces in it. Then when she turned fourteen she stopped being a tomboy overnight and turned into a beauty queen. Those boys didn’t know what hit them and they got scared.”
She remembered the first time Ella asked her to go shopping and they turned her jeans and sneakers into skirts and shoes. She was so proud of her only daughter back then turning into a lady. But her sons all panicked and she’d heard them later that night formulating a plan to make sure no one touched their baby sister. She’d been proud of them too, but would never admit that to Ella.
“Ella has been there for each and every one of those boys through everything. Maybe now that they are all married, or soon to be, and have wives that could and probably will kick their butts, they won’t interfere with Ella finding a mate. That’s why it should be easier.”
“Jolene. Do me a favor and take a breather. Be happy you found someone for the boys, but Ella needs to be handled differently.”
“I know. Which is why I’m going to be right up front with it. I’ll find someone. You just wait,” she said confidently rubbing her hands together. Her husband grabbed his beer, rolled his eyes, and walked out of the room. “I’m telling you, Gavin,” she shouted after him. “I’ll find her the perfect man.”