Standing at the back of Velia’s tent, Mara called out her presence.
Velia opened the flap and greeted her. “Step in while I say ‘good night’ to the boys,” she said. Then she turned to them. “Hush now, Aden,” she reprimanded the eldest. “Stop teasing your brother. I told you, it’s time for sleeping.”
“But Drew is just a baby,” he whined.
“Yet it’s you who’s trying to keep me here,” she said, grinning.
Drew punched his brother in the arm. “I am not a baby!” he cried. “I’m almost five winters old!” He pointed at the nearly one-year-old, Carlow, in his mother’s arms. “Carlow’s the baby.”
Aden frowned, then turned back to his mother. “Why do you have to go?”
Smiling at him, her brow raised, she shook her head. “Come on now, it’s past your bedtime.”
“Where’s Dad?” Jedrek, a robust three-year-old who hadn’t yet dropped all of his baby-like plumpness asked as he bounced up and down before getting into his bedroll.
She pulled a blanket up to his chin, then leaned over and kissed his cheek. “He’ll be here to say ‘good night’ to you boys soon. Then he’s off to meet with Dixon.”
“But who’s going to be here?” Aden asked.
She chuckled. “I told you. Erin will keep an eye on you boys until one or both of us get back.”
Just then, Jerrett stepped in. “What’s this I hear?” he asked as he made his way to the boys’ bedside. “Oh, hello, Mara,” he added upon sight of her.
She greeted him with a smile.
“Is someone here causing trouble?” he asked the boys. Then he reached out and tickled one, then another, then another of them, ending with Carlow.
In a fit of giggles, Aden grabbed Jerrett’s hand. He pulled his thumb back, growling.
Jerrett, feigning that he was in pain, pulled free, then grabbed both of the boy’s wrists and held them firmly. “Oh, so you’re a tough guy, huh?” Laughing now, he made a claw with his free hand. “I’m going to get you,” he threatened, drawing closer and closer.
“Oh, Jerrett, please don’t get them all riled up,” Velia said, chuckling. “Erin won’t appreciate it, I’m sure.”
He released Aden’s wrists, then tickled each of the little ones once again. “Yes, you’re right. So, boys, that’s enough now,” he said to the sounds of their giggling. “Time for sleeping.”
“Ahhh, Dad,” Drew whined.
“Good night!” he said. Then he turned to Velia and kissed her. “I won’t be late.”
“Ewwww!” Aden exclaimed. “You kissed a girl, Dad!”
“Don’t be ridicul— ridi— ri-di-cli-ous. She’s not a girl,” Drew said. “She’s just a mom.”
“You mean ridi-cu-lous, not ridi-cli-ous,” Velia corrected him.
“Hello!” Erin called from outside.
Velia fluffed up Drew’s hair. Then she grinned at Jerrett as she handed Carlow off to him. “Let’s go,” she said.
After they and Mara stepped out, Erin took Carlow from Jerrett. “I’ve got him,” she said.
“See you later then,” he called out as he jogged away.
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