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Southern Devotion by Kaylee Ryan (1)

 

 

 

Standing in the corner of the room, I look around at my friends and family. My brother Mike and his new fiancée, Jamie, are smiling so big I fear their faces may crack open. I can’t help but smile too when I think about my conversation with him earlier this week. He was actually worried she might say no. I mean, I get it. Asking someone to marry you is a big deal, but not with the two of them. They have a bond that tethers them together. Anyone who’s near them can see it.

A year ago, I was worried about my big brother. He spent every spare minute at our family’s bar, Mike’s Tavern. I know he felt the pressure to keep the family business going, but he gave up a lot to do so. He and I took over a few years ago, although since he’s met Jamie, I’ve moved into more than a bartender role. It’s been good for both of us, me stepping up and him taking a few steps back. That first night I saw him with Jamie, it was obvious there was some type of connection. I couldn’t be more thrilled at the way things turned out for them.

Strong arms wrap around me, and then his deep voice is whispering in my ear. “Hey, Livy,” David says, kissing my cheek.

David Harris and I have been dating for a while now, a couple of years. He’s good friends with my brother Mike and the rest of the guys in our clan, Aaron and Evan. He’s been hinting that we need to move our relationship forward, but I’ve been hesitant. Not because of him; he’s the best thing that has ever happened to me, and he owns my heart. No, my hesitation is all on me.

“We’re next,” he says, holding me a little tighter.

“You think so?” Of course, I already know the answer. If David had it his way, we would already be married and on our way to making our own family.

“I hope so,” he says. “I want forever with you.”

I melt against him, relishing the feel of his arms around me. I know one day he’s going to get tired of waiting, and I don’t want that to happen. When I look at my future, I see him in it. Of course I do. There is no one else I would rather have by my side.

“They’re happy,” I say, looking at our friends and family. I turn to peer at him over my shoulder. “I love you.”

His face softens. “I love you more. That’s us, Livy.” He motions his head to the room. “Nothing would make me happier than to make you mine.”

“I’m already yours.” The words are easy to say because they’re true.

“Mine.” He places a soft kiss just below my ear. “Mrs. David Harris. Olivia Harris,” he whispers.

I close my eyes and let the idea of being his, taking his last name, wash over me. “I love the sound of that,” I tell him honestly. I’ve been thinking about the future more lately, and without a doubt, he’s the man for me.

“Then let’s do it, baby. You tell me when and where, and I’m all over it.”

I can’t help but laugh. “We should go mingle.”

“I’m wearing you down,” he says with a kiss to the top of my head. He pulls away and laces our fingers together before leading me toward our family and friends. I don’t know how many times in the last year we’ve had this conversation. I think back to the night that I confessed to my now sister-in-law and our friends what my hesitation was. I work at Mike’s, which is our family bar. My dad ran it before my brother, also named Mike, took over, and now it’s just the two of us running things. Since he’s met and fell in love with Jamie, I’ve helped him more than just tending bar.

I confessed to them that I don’t want to be the mom who works behind the bar. It never bothered me growing up, but kids can be cruel, and I want to do something that my children can be proud of. I’ve thought about it a lot since my slipped confession with the girls. I know what I do for a living shouldn’t matter. I mean, it’s not like I’m a stripper—not that there is anything wrong with that. It’s just not for me.

I smile and laugh in all the right places, but the rest of the night my mind races with all the reasons why I’ve been putting him off. At first, it was too soon. Not too soon to know I was in love with him, as that was immediate, but too soon for … well I guess society’s standards. We’d only been together a few months when he first told me he wanted to marry me. He didn’t ask that time, but I still blew it off, not trusting his words. Over the time we’ve been together, there have been more moments like that than I can count. I always manage to change the subject, but he’s serious. While he’s never actually bent down on one knee and presented a ring, he would. I know that deep in my soul. If he thought for a second I would say yes, he’d do so in a heartbeat.

“Look at them,” McKinley says from beside me.

Turning my head to look at her, I see she’s grinning while watching Mike and Jamie. “I always thought it would have been you and Aaron.”

“What?” My brows fly high and I laugh.

“Come on, Liv, you had a crush on Aaron for years.”

“He was one of my brother’s best friends. It’s like a rite of passage.” I grin widely. “Besides, I ended up with the other best friend.”

“Maybe so,” she says with a chuckle. “I think you made the right choice.” She motions to where David is standing with her husband, Evan, and her brother, Aaron. “He adores you.”

“Good thing, because I don’t plan on letting him go,” I say, bumping my shoulder into hers.

“You know, I thought a lot about what you said that night. About not wanting to be the mom who works behind a bar.”

I grimace. Is it too much to ask that my friends forget that conversation? “And?” I ask, needing to hear her thoughts on the matter, regardless of the unease I feel.

“And I get it, but I think you’re wrong. That bar is your legacy. David has no problem with you working there. Let me ask you. Growing up, were you ever embarrassed by your parents working in a bar?”

“Never,” I say adamantly.

“There you have it. Stop worrying about what everyone else thinks and live for you.” She places her hands over her growing baby bump.

“How you feeling?” I ask her, deliberately changing the subject.

“Good. It’s kind of cool that Whit and I are just two months apart. I like that our kids are growing up together. Now if we can get the newlyweds on board and get you and David down the aisle, and get to work on making babies, we’d all be able to say that about you too.” She winks.

“I do like the sound of that,” I admit.

“Like the sound of what?” Whitney asks. She also has her hand over her even smaller baby bump.

“Yeah, we need details,” Jamie chimes in.

“I was just telling Liv that Jamie and Mike need to get this wedding underway and start working on adding to our clan.” She points to her belly. “And this one”—she points at me—“needs to stop letting fear and worry drive her, and say yes already so she can too.”

“Did he ask you again?” Jamie asks.

“Not technically, but it seems as though at least once a week he brings it up. More so since he found out Mike was proposing and these two”—I point to Whit and Kinley—“are expecting.”

Jamie holds her hand in the air, showing off her engagement ring, her face alight with happiness. “You know you want one of these,” she teases.

I easily admit, “I do.”

Whitney reaches over and rests her hand on my arm. “Do you love him?”

“More than anything.”

“Does he love you?” she asks.

“More than anything.” I know where she’s going with this, and my mouth turns into a smile.

“You have your answer. Stop worrying, and live, be happy,” Kinley says.

I put my arm around her and Whitney, and they do the same to Jamie, bringing us all into a circle. “I love you, guys.”

“We love you too,” they say in unison.

 

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