Home > Your Fierce Love (The Bennett Family #7)

Your Fierce Love (The Bennett Family #7)
Author: Layla Hagen

CHAPTER ONE

 

 

Blake

 

“To another Bennett wedding,” I exclaim, clinking my glass against my baby sister’s. Summer sips champagne, her gaze scanning the packed venue. Our sister Alice got married today, and almost three hundred guests are in attendance. Weddings are big affairs in our family.

“Look at them. They’re so happy.” Watching Nate and Alice, Summer sighs, a dreamy expression on her face.

“You’re daydreaming about your own wedding, aren’t you? I bet you already know where you want to do it.”

“Don’t be silly. I know the theme and type of dress too.” She grins, tapping a finger to her right temple. “Have all the details in my mind. I just need a groom.”

Chuckling, I lace an arm around her shoulders, kissing her forehead. It’s so good to have her back. She’s been working at a museum in Rome for the past few years, and for a while, I feared she’d move there permanently. “I’m sure a certain member of our family will happily lend you a hand.”

Summer wiggles her eyebrows. By certain, I mean our oldest sister, Pippa. She’s quite the successful matchmaker. Proof: We’re nine siblings in total, and six are married. Single people are a disappearing species in my family. Summer, my twin brother Daniel, and I are the last remaining musketeers.

“Let’s go mingle with the guests,” I say. The party is still young, and I’ve yet to greet many members of our very extended family, and close friends. The dance floor is already full, but given the sheer number of guests, that still leaves plenty of candidates to rope into a conversation.

“You’re right. Divide and conquer?”

“Yeah.”

Summer heads straight to one of our cousins, but I stop by the kids’ playground corner first. The best part of having married siblings is that I’ve got a whole bunch of nieces and nephews to spoil. At the rate everyone’s shooting out babies, the group is going to reach double digits soon. As far as I’m concerned, the more the merrier. Not to toot my own horn, but I have reasonable evidence that I’m everyone’s favorite uncle.

Because of their different ages, things tend to get out of hand when we group them together. I’m expecting action tonight since the group is large—many guests brought their kids too. We’ve hired sitters for the event, but I want to get a feel for the situation, see if there’s a war brewing. So far, it seems not.

“Uncle Blake, I want more sweets,” says my four-year-old niece Mia.

Her identical twin, Elena, drops the doll she was holding at the word “sweets”. “Me too.”

They press their hands together as if in prayer, looking up at me with wide, pleading eyes. Now, I know for a fact that Pippa doesn’t allow her daughters to eat sweets this late in the evening, but... eh... I never can tell these angels no. This weakness is probably why I’m their favorite uncle.

“Right away, girls.”

I cross the enormous ballroom along the edge of the dance floor, which is getting more crowded by the minute. At the sweets cart, I run into one of my favorite people: Clara Abernathy. I met her more than two years ago, around the time Nate and Alice started dating. She’s not just a close friend of Pippa’s, but what we affectionately call an adopted Bennett in my family. Wearing a red wraparound dress, she hovers in front of the cart, inspecting the offerings.

“Fancy seeing you here, Clara.” I grab a plate, trying to guess what Mia and Elena would like.

“You know me. If there’s sugar in a room, there’s a good bet I’ll be gravitating to it. The hazelnut cake is to die for, by the way.”

“Wouldn’t be my first choice.”

“Excellent. More for me.” She grins, loading her plate with cake, then turns her attention to a plate in the center containing one lonely cupcake. “Please tell me you don’t want that, or I’ll have to fight you for it.”

I’m tempted to tease her, but growing up with three sisters taught me that you don’t get between a woman and her sweets unless you’re prepared to suffer the consequences.

“I don’t want it. Be my guest.”

“My, what a gentleman you are tonight.”

“I’m dressed like one, might as well act the part.”

“Have to say, for someone who seems allergic to suits, you sure wear one well. Should try it more often.”

“Let’s not get crazy.” I wink at her. Suits and cuff links are not my usual style. I’m a jeans man through and through. She laughs softly, her dark brown hair bobbing down her back, a whiff of her flowery and feminine scent reaching me.

“Why aren’t you putting anything on your plate?”

“I’m actually on a bounty hunt for Mia and Elena. Not sure what they want. Help?”

“Oooh, but the girls will love the cupcake. And the hazelnut cake.” She glances once at her plate before handing it to me, and taking the empty one from my hands. “Take this to them.”

“You don’t even bat an eyelash at giving up the cupcake for my nieces, but you wanted to fight me for it? Good to know.”

“I can’t resist any of your nieces and nephews, and don’t judge me. Since you cater to their every whim, neither do you.”

“Guilty.”

“Know what? I’ll eat sweets later. Let’s make plates for the rest of the kids too. Taking sweets to just part of the group is a recipe for war.”

It didn’t occur to me, but she’s right. “Thanks for saving my bacon.”

“It’s good bacon. Deserves saving.”

I can’t put my finger on it, but her tone sounds off. As we head over to the kids’ corner carrying loaded plates, a subtle shift in her body language convinces me that something is definitely awry. She hunches her shoulders, sighing. Usually, Clara has an energy that lights her up from within, but that vibrancy is melting away right in front of my eyes. Time to find out what’s bothering her, and either fix it or make her forget about it—for tonight, at least.

 

***

Clara

The kids attack the plates the second Blake and I place them on the low tables. We move a few feet away from the group but watch for any signs they’re about to attack each other.

“What’s wrong?” Blake asks, and I wince.

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