She fluttered her hands at them. “That’s a great idea. Y’all shoo on out of my kitchen.”

Maddie jumped from Burt’s arms, and the three of them walked out onto the front porch. “I think the midget’s name was Zach something. . . .” Maddie’s words faded as the screen door slammed behind her.

Mackenzie started to put ice in the glasses. “Burt has been coming over a lot lately, huh?”

Eugenia didn’t even look up. “He’s old. He’s hungry. And I’m a good cook.”

“That you are. But you and your friends are a pretty wild bunch.”

Her mother huffed as she pulled the chuck roast from beneath the foil and laid it on a white platter. “I’m not wild, Mackenzie London. I hang out with old women who get winded playing Skip-Bo and think Starbucks is a newly discovered planet. Trust me. I’m boring.”

Of all the adjectives Mackenzie would use to describe her mother, she was certain boring had never been one. She was a quintessential lady, a master gardener, a lover of beauty, but she would just as soon cuss you as look at you—though she would never do it in church. She kept her husband’s 12-gauge under her bed and would shoot you first and ask who you were later. She was opinionated and her tongue could be downright withering, but she was also loyal—fiercely loyal.

And if the world ever fell apart, Mackenzie was certain that Eugenia Madeline Pruitt Quinn alone could put it all back together.

***

As usual, Maddie was the first one to burst through the door of the governor’s mansion when they finally made it home late that afternoon. Mackenzie heard her pounding up the stairs to the family quarters as she and Gray walked through the front door.

Following Maddie up the stairs, she was greeted first by her daughter’s skirt, draped carelessly from one tread to the next. Her eyes moved up the stairwell at the trail of clothing Maddie had deposited on her way to her room. Gray had been the first to use the word poop for what Maddie often did with her stuff. Mackenzie had thought the term was gross, but Maddie was five—she loved it. So it had stuck. And in less than two minutes flat, Maddie had “pooped” her skirt, then her sweater, her shoes, and her socks, leaving a trail of clothing up the stairs.

Mackenzie sighed. When Maddie was three, this habit had been cute. Now, not so much. And though they had been working with her on this for the past year, in moments like these, Mackenzie wasn’t sure what all the effort had been for.

“Maddie.” Her voice traveled down the hall as she picked up the skirt.

The tiny voice came from what she assumed was Maddie’s bedroom. “Yes, Mommy?”

“Want to go outside and play?”

“I’m getting ready to.”

“Well, why don’t you come here first and see how quickly that is going to happen.”

She heard little feet patter in the hallway. Maddie stood at the top of the steps, blue jean shorts already buttoned, yet still topless. She looked down and giggled. “Oops.”

Mackenzie held out the skirt. “Yes, oops.”

Maddie snatched up her skirt and the rest of her clothes and raced back up the stairs. “Maddie went poop,” she announced as she made her way down the hall, filling it with laughter.

Mackenzie had to smile. She was way too lenient with Maddie, she knew. Gray reminded her of that often enough, and so did her mother. But she couldn’t help it. Maddie was her miracle baby. And there hadn’t been children in the governor’s mansion since the Lamar Alexander years. Mackenzie was grateful she and Gray had been able to bring this kind of life back into this magnificent house.