Jack raised a brow, and Luke suddenly relaxed. For once he and his brother seemed to have a common goal.
“On three,” he whispered, then mouthed the numbers to his brother.
One. Two. Three.
The two of them charged Walker, and the youngest Everett brother wasn’t fast enough to dodge their blows.
Luke’s brush stroked across Walker’s face while Jack’s roller made sure the front of Walker’s black T-shirt wasn’t so black anymore.
Walker stood there, stock-still for several long seconds as he took his brothers’ torment without a complaint. But Luke could see it—the slow heave of his chest and the eerie calm in his eyes. Walker Everett would not go down quietly.
Before Jack had a chance to react, Walker’s boot swiped his oldest brother’s foot out from under him, and the man was flat on his back in seconds.
“Shit!” Luke swore. “Are you goddamn crazy?” he asked a chuckling Walker.
“What?” He shrugged. “I made sure to kick his good leg out from under him. I’m not a monster.”
It was then that they heard the laughter—Jack’s laughter—coming at them from the floor below. Their mistake was looking down. Jack still had his brush in hand and had managed to reach into the paint tray to reload.
When their heads dipped, a spray of wet paint hit them both—first Walker and then Luke—straight in the face.
“What in the hell is going on in here?”
All three of them spun to where the small alcove opened into the rest of the winery. Luke squinted through only one open eye, the other squeezed shut to ward off the dripping paint.
There Ava stood, hands on hips, with a bakery bag on the floor at her feet.
She raised a brow. “I picked you up some cookies and muffins, figuring you’d want to break for a snack.” She pointed toward her fiancé, who still lay on the floor with his paint-filled brush pointed at his brothers. “While I was hoping for some sort of brotherly bonding, I expected you to be the voice of reason.”
Luke swiped his forearm across his face, then slowly blinked open his closed eye, grateful the paint hadn’t sealed it shut or blinded him.
Jack tried to school his features into that of the calm, controlled patriarch, the role he’d asserted himself into the second their father had sought solace at the bottom of a whiskey bottle. But for the first time in years, Luke saw the big brother he remembered from before their mother had died—before they lost Jack Senior to his abusive grief.
Jack dropped his head back to the floor and laughed hard. Luke spared a glance at Walker who, although a mess of splattered paint, was not the mess he always saw him as. He knew Jack worried too about Walker sharing too much of their father’s DNA—mainly the tendency toward the bottle. But this morning he was simply their asshole little brother. And despite everything—especially the shit they were certainly in with Ava—the corners of Luke’s mouth turned up, and he laughed.
Soon all three of them were a chorus of laughter. And possibly a few snorts. When he snuck a glance at Ava, who hadn’t said another word, all he saw was her shaking her head—and fighting her own smile.