His mother was fairly bristling with anticipation, which meant that she had a surprise for them all. He just wondered what the hell it was.

Excitement was in the air. It permeated the entire lunch. His brothers and their wives smiled and the conversation was animated. Sarah and Garrett were glued solidly to one another, Sarah giving the big man a smile that likely melted Garrett to his toes.

Sophie was glowing as she sat between her husband and their daughter, Charlotte. Sam touched her often. Just a brush with his hand. Or he’d loop his arm around the back of her chair and pull her in close as they ate and laughed.

Joe seemed unaffected by the love and intimacy that was so evident between all their brothers and the women they loved. But Donovan was envious. He wanted that for himself. Joe was younger than Donovan and his older brothers. Though Nathan, his twin, had settled down with Shea, Joe had shown no signs of wanting to do the same. He was in his early thirties now. Nathan had been thirty when he and Shea had met in a very unconventional fashion.

Donovan shook his head. It was still hard to believe that Shea had such extraordinary abilities. That she’d saved his brother. More than that, she’d taken his torture and his pain. Absorbed it and made it her own. Donovan couldn’t fathom a woman who would be that selfless for someone she didn’t even know. Just a stranger that she’d reached out to over thousands of miles that separated them.

That bond between them had been strong and lasting. It had lasted until Nathan had found her. And it was still present. Unbreakable.

And yet the family treated her just as they did every other daughter– and sister-in-law. Normal. Seemingly oblivious to the fact that she had telepathy and shared a mental pathway with both Nathan and Joe. That they could speak through their minds in a much more intimate fashion.

Donovan envied that too. Wished he shared that kind of bond with a woman he loved and who loved him.

“You seem preoccupied today, man,” Ethan murmured at his side.

Ethan and Rachel sat to Donovan’s right, while Rusty had taken the spot on Donovan’s left. Perhaps because she wanted his support once she announced what she’d done to the family. And there would be a hell of a lot of questions.

The twins were sleeping in their bassinets just a few feet away so that if they awakened, someone would be instantly there. And any one of the family members would swoop in, bottle ready to assist in the feeding. That was what his family was all about. Always there. Unwavering, unconditional love and support.

Donovan shook his head. “We’ll get into it later. Ma has something up her sleeve. She’s about to come out of her chair. I figure soon she won’t be able to stand it another minute, and we’ll figure out what she’s called everyone together for today.”

Ethan grinned. “You noticed too, huh.”

“Kind of hard not to,” Donovan said dryly. “She’s fidgeting with impatience. Lord only knows what she’s cooked up now. I figure we should all brace for impact.”

Ethan smiled even as he slid his arm around Rachel and pulled her close to his side. Rachel sent a smile in Donovan’s direction, and Donovan marveled at the joy in her eyes. Eyes that had once been darkened by permanent shadows. Knowledge of the past. All she’d endured. Finally. Finally, she’d stepped into the light. She was happy. Loved. But most of all whole again.

Donovan smiled back at her, allowing all the love he felt for her fill his heart. Ethan was a lucky son of a bitch to get the second chance he’d gotten. He’d damn near lost Rachel, something that would haunt Ethan—and the entire family—forever.

“You’re looking good, sweetheart,” he said affectionately. “Hard to believe you gave birth not so long ago.”

A blush rose in her cheeks, but she looked back at him with answering love and affection.

“It’s been nearly a year! Can you believe it? I swear the twins are growing by leaps and bounds. I can’t even keep up with them these days. Mason is doing his best to catch up to Ian in the walking department, and God help me when they both cut loose.”

An ache settled into Donovan’s chest. Yes, time was flying by. Children getting older. It was hard to savor these moments when they went by so quickly.

“Are you okay today?” Rachel asked in a low voice so she wouldn’t be overheard. But then the rest of the conversation was loud and raucous. At least three different conversations were ongoing at the table as everyone bantered, laughed and joked, so it was doubtful anything Rachel said would be heard.

Donovan smiled. “Yeah, sweetheart. I’m good. Just thinking about something. I’ll tell you about it later. I may need your help with something.”

Concern immediately darkened both Rachel’s and Ethan’s eyes.

“You know all you have to do is ask,” Rachel said.

Ethan nodded his agreement as they both stared intently at Donovan.

“I know. And I appreciate it. It’s not me, so don’t worry. I’ll explain everything after Ma tells us what’s on her mind.”

On cue, the table quieted and Donovan turned his attention to where his father had held up his hand. He marveled at the fact that his father commanded absolute respect in their family.

His brothers were grown men. Had families of their own. And yet Frank Kelly was still the patriarch. When he had something to say, his children listened. He commanded their absolute respect, and every single Kelly toed the line when it came to their father or their mother.

“Your mother has something she wants to share with you all,” he said in his gravelly voice. “It’s why she wanted all of you here today. All of you,” he said pointedly, looking down the table to where Sean Cameron and Swanny sat. Both adopted by his wife into the Kelly fold. Just as Rusty had been.

All eyes went in their mother’s direction, waiting. Some worried, some just curious. It was evident by her expression and the smile bursting at her lips that whatever she was going to share wasn’t bad. So there was no need to worry.

Marlene Kelly glanced at her husband and then reached above the table to grasp his hand where it rested by his plate. She squeezed and sent him a loving smile that made Donovan’s chest ache. So many years gone by. So many trials endured. And yet their love was solid. Unbending. It was a constant in all their lives and had shaped the lives of every single person Marlene and Frank had ever come in contact with.

“Your father and I wanted to give you the news in person. I know you’ve all wanted us to move into the compound, and I’ve resisted. It’s just that I love this house. It’s where my children were raised. It’s where my grandchildren come to visit their grandma and grandpa. We made memories in this house and it’s not something I’ll ever willingly part with.”

She paused as if to let her words settled over the gathered family members.

“But we also know you worry. And with good reason. This family has been through so much over the last years. And your father and I don’t want to add to your burden. We don’t want you to worry when you need to focus on your own families.”

She took a deep breath, and this time Frank squeezed her hand and smiled reassuringly.

“So we’ve decided to do it. We’re going to move into the compound on the plot of land Sam has reserved for us, though Lord knows he’s probably already given up on us. But we’ve been in contact with an architect. He’s been to this house and drawn the plans of this one so we can replicate this house inside the compound.”

There was an instant barrage of comments from all the gathered family members. Frank raised his hand for quiet and all went immediately silent.

“Let your mother finish. This is important to her.”

Marlene smiled. “I want everything exactly the same. And I know it’s silly to have such a big house when it’s just me and your father. We’re getting older and one would think we’d be looking to downsize at our age. But we want this house. We want every single thing to be the same. We want a house our children can come home to. Even just to visit. We’re keeping every single bedroom the same. So all you boys will have your rooms. It’s important to us both not only that we have a house we made so many memories in, but that you boys have the house you grew up in. A place to gather at Christmas and remember. We want our grandchildren to have those same memories of the place their fathers grew up in. We want you to have your home.”

Tears glittered in her eyes, and when Donovan did a quick sweep of the table, he could see that his brothers and their wives were similarly affected. Emotion was a thick cloud over the table, but in every gaze, there was overwhelming relief.

Relief that their parents would be safe. That they would be inside the compound where they would be protected.

An instant furor erupted, and his brothers and their wives all got up to hug Marlene and Frank both. Sam’s eyes were suspiciously shiny and his jaw was clenched tight. Of all Donovan’s siblings, Sam had been the most worried and the most adamant that their mother and father move into the compound. Relief was stark in all his brothers’ eyes.

When things settled and everyone took their seats once more, Marlene looked pointedly at Joe and Swanny. The two men shared the house that Donovan himself had lived in for the last several years. A house he’d once shared with Sam and Garrett before his brothers had met the women they married.

That house was on the lake but outside the compound. Donovan had only just finished his own house inside, but Joe had made no start on his own home. His plot of land lay empty and he was content to live in the cabin vacated by his brothers. Swanny had moved in until he found his own place. He was a member of Joe’s and Nathan’s team and, like the other members of their team, he had moved closer to the compound and training facilities.

“And when are you planning to start construction on your house, young man?” Marlene asked in a stern voice.

Joe laughed. “Oh come on, Ma. Give me a break. I don’t have any need to build a house yet. Swanny and I are cool at the cabin. And don’t even get any ideas about hooking me up with some nice girl you want me to marry. I’ll build my house. One day. But I’m not ready yet. I’ll worry about that if and when I meet Miss Right and want to settle down.”

Marlene let out a harrumph, but she smiled. “Well, at least you’re finally giving some thought to the future and settling down. This is the first time you’ve actually acknowledged that there will be a someday.”

Joe groaned and the others burst out laughing as a round of ribbing immediately ensued.

“We have some news too,” Sophie said in a soft voice.

Everyone looked their way, taking in Sophie’s soft glow and the joy in her eyes. Marlene caught her breath and put a hand to her mouth in anticipation.

Sam smiled lovingly at his wife and put his arm around her, squeezing her shoulders. There was no mistaking the joy in his brothers’ own eyes as he offered encouragement to Sophie.

“We’re going to have another baby,” Sophie announced. “In seven months.”

The room erupted in exclamations and congratulations, and a round of mad hugging ensued. Charlotte clapped her hands together and bounced excitedly in her seat.

“I’m going to have a sister!” she proclaimed.

“Or a brother,” Sam corrected, amusement glistening in his eyes.

Charlotte shook her head emphatically. “We already have boys. Aunt Rachel has two! I want a sister.”

Sophie laughed and hugged her daughter to her. “No matter what we have, you’ll love him or her. I promise.”

Charlotte didn’t look convinced, but she didn’t argue the point.

“Um, guys, there’s something Garrett and I want to share with y’all too,” Sarah said quietly from her place at the table.

All eyes went in her direction and she blushed madly, nearly diving behind Garrett’s broad shoulders. Garrett smiled indulgently and wrapped his arm around her, pulling her into the crook of his shoulder.

“We don’t want to steal anyone’s thunder,” Sarah continued hesitantly. “But in light of everything else, it seemed the perfect time.”

“Of course!” Marlene exclaimed.

There was an instant round of encouragement from the rest of the table. The knot in Donovan’s stomach increased as he took in the wealth of happiness present at the table. It didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out his other brother’s news, and it just solidified the longing in Donovan’s soul to have what his brothers had.

“We’re going to have a baby too,” Sarah said shyly. “Close to when Sophie and Sam have theirs. I went to the doctor Friday and he thinks I’m about six weeks along, so maybe right after Sophie has hers.”

“Oh, this is wonderful!” Marlene exclaimed, tears shining in her eyes.

She wiped at them as she rose and hurried around to enfold Sarah into her arms.

“Oh, my dear. You’ve made an old woman so very happy today. You all have. I can’t believe I’m going to be blessed with two more grandchildren!”