Chapter Twenty-Six | I Will Always Love You

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The sounds of childish joy awoke Cash from her deep slumber. She was submerged in the cloud of Boss's satin pillow, a small stain of damp beneath her lips. The sound of tiny feet came rushing toward where she lay. Cash abandoned her rest, sitting up in bed as a small form catapulted onto the mattress. The young boy's eyes were bright with glee, and Boss's sleepy face held a look of contentment that Cash had not seen before as she encompassed the child and mercilessly tickled him. July gave a chorus of squeals and Cash felt herself smile as she watched the duo, Boss's dark waves flying free about her bronze face like branches of a willow tree in a breeze.

For a moment, Cash had the impulse to join them, but she crushed it firmly beneath a pebble of doubt that somehow weighed as much as a boulder. She had never considered herself as one meant for a family. Watching this pastoral scene made her feel a sort of longing that wriggled in her throat. Cash, as she had been, had no place here, and "New Cash," as Tate called her, did not know herself well enough to entertain the thought comfortably.

"July..." Boss said with mock seriousness, setting the boy in her lap amid the blankets. Though Cash had never met the boy's father, he must have resembled him in only minutiae of ways. His dark curls and tan skin were identical to his mother's, and wide hazel eyes glittered under heavy brows as he stared up into Boss's warm expression.

"There's somebody you need to meet," Boss said softly in the boy's ear as she turned him toward Cash.

"That's the lady that saved me with Tate!" July corrected his mother, "I know her already!"

"Yes, but I haven't introduced you," Boss said with a laugh, "and you know mommy always likes to be polite."

The boy nodded solemnly.

"Hey, little man," Cash said, offering him a grin.

"Hi," he said coyly from behind the width of Boss's arms, only his eyes and top of his curls visible.

"You know, I don't know much about you," Cash said softly. "What's your favorite thing to do?"

The boy pondered this question with the seriousness of a philosophical dilemma.

"I like to play with my train set," he finally decided, "Momma had it made for me, it looks just like a real train."

"That's really neat." Cash nodded in agreement. "I would love to see your train set some time if you want to show it to me."

July's face lit up in excitement. "Do you like trains?"

"Sure, who doesn't!" Cash responded. "Did your momma tell you about my bike?"

Boss's expression soured slightly, and she let out a sigh.

"A bike?" July rolled toward her, his eyes wide as moons.

"I..." Cash looked around as if someone was watching, "Have a HOS."

July's mouth parted in surprise. "Can I ride it?!"

Cash shot a glance at Boss, who was holding her in a firm stare. "Only if your Momma says it's ok, and you gotta wear a helmet, alright?"

The boy bounced on the bed and nodded. "Yes! Yes!"

"You're going to create a monster," said Boss scooping her son back up and blowing raspberries onto his belly. The boy let out squeals of laughter and begged for mercy.

"I'm ok with that," Cash said, leaning back against the pillows.

"You'll be fine, babysitting then?" Boss asked pointedly.

"Woaaaah," Cash waved her hands in front of her face, "Let's not get ahead of ourselves."

"What happened to your eye?" July piped up.

"Hush."

"No," Cash intercepted, "It's fine." Cash leaned forward and showed July the blinking device. "I lost it in a fight," she said, emphasizing each word with dramatic importance.

"Woah." July breathed.

"A guy stabbed me in the face with a broken bottle—"

"Cash," Boss warned.

"WOAH." July intoned. "What's that do?" He asked, pointing to her aiming assist.

"Helps me shoot guns." Cash grinned.

July almost tipped over with awe. "Mom, you have cool friends," he said before some other childish desire moved him, and he bounded off the bed and out of the room.

Boss sank down on the mattress, running one hand through her hair, pulling the curls away from her face.

"Well, you certainly made an impression," she said tartly.

"You know me." Cash rolled to her side and observed the woman. "I aim to impress."

"Is that what you call it?" Boss asked, a sly smile lifting her beauty mark into the crease of her cheek.

Cash shrugged and gave a low chuckle.

"I never thanked you for saving him," Boss said, her voice caught awkwardly in her throat.

"You didn't have to," Cash reminded her.

"I could think of some ways," Boss said lightly.

Cash felt her cheeks flush. "My word," she said after clearing her throat.

Boss slipped from the bed and locked the door, still wearing Cash's shirt from the night before. She lifted the sheets in her hands as she sat in Cash's lap, legs straddling Cash's thighs, arms quickly wrapping around her neck. Boss pressed her full lips into the crook of her neck, and Cash could not help the sound that escaped her mouth.

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