Author: Robyn Carr
Preacher would have expected Paige to be at least somewhat relieved; there was no question Mike had delivered good news. But he found her to be sullen. Maybe a little depressed. When the day was at a close, their special time together, and he pulled her against him, he lifted her chin and asked, “Why aren’t you a little bit happy? Is it because you can’t trust him? Wes?”
“Oh, I can’t. We can’t. But it’s the idea that I might never be really free of him, and I brought this into your life. Insanity and trouble. Maybe even danger. Oh, John…What a bad deal you got with me.”
He smiled at her, touched her lips with his. “You can’t believe for one second that’s how I feel. Paige, I don’t care if you have an army of loaded Huns on your tail. The day you and Chris came into my life, that was the biggest miracle of my life. I wouldn’t trade you for anything.”
She tightened her arms around him. “Do you know you’re the sweetest man who ever lived?”
He laughed at her. “See, that’s the thing. Until you, I was just a fisherman and cook. Look at me now.” He grinned at her. “Now I’m not only the sweetest man alive, I’m like the world’s greatest lover.”
That was the beauty of John. He could turn her mood that fast, by simply speaking his mind. If there was one thing she understood about him—he said what he felt. “You think so, huh?” she asked, smiling back at him.
“Well, let’s see if I’m getting any better. How about that, huh?”
Joey had been the first to arrive when the baby, David, was only five days old. Then Grandpa Sam, who tried very hard not to impose but found that he couldn’t stay away. Mike, still parked out by Mel and Jack’s, took the sofa in the RV and gave Sam his bed. Then, one at a time, Jack’s sisters and a few nieces. Day after day, nearly every resident of Virgin River paid a call, bringing a covered dish or cake or plate of cookies. Weeks of visiting and celebrating seemed to pass quickly. The only member of Jack’s family who hadn’t yet arrived was Brie, who was in the middle of one of the biggest trials of her young career—a rape trial that had become a media circus.
May brought a bright sun and flowers and deer in the yard. And a baby who was held so often, he barely needed the sheets changed in the cradle. Jack was starting to wonder if other women had had babies before Mel, because he had never seen a transformation quite as startling. Quite as distracting. She dropped a lot of that baby fat quickly, thanks to the miracle diet of breast feeding. The first thing to happen—her beautiful face returned to its former oval shape with high cheekbones and she glowed with happiness. Everything about her seemed brighter. Although she complained that she had a long way to go to regain her figure, from his perspective, she’d never been sexier. He worshiped her body, especially after helping her deliver their son. Her belly slowly flattened out and her breasts were full and high; her laugh was quick and contagious. And when she held and nursed his son, she seemed to shine as though there was a light within her. To Jack, she was a vision. He was dead in love.
Jack was dying. He was splitting a lot more logs and trying to avoid seeing Mel in the shower. She was having a terrible effect on him. Without that baby between them, he found himself longing for the days when he would swoop her off her feet, up into his arms, bear her quickly to the bed and fall on her, hungry. Starving. And have her meet that hunger with her own, which was impressive. He found himself fantasizing about being a little wilder, ready to revisit that heat and power they had in the beginning, before she began to swell with little David; before he felt he had to protect her from the strength of his desire.
When he kissed her these days, when she opened her mouth under his and let his tongue inside, he would groan with such depth that she knew. And she would whisper against his lips, “Soon, Jack. Very soon.”
Not nearly soon enough, was all he could think. It had turned him selfish and impatient. Then Brie’s trial ended and she arrived. She needed a rest to recover from the trial that had gone badly for her; she needed to bond with her brother, sister-in-law and new nephew. While Jack was always happy to see his sister, especially to see her recovering very well from a difficult and disappointing trial and regaining her own former confidence in life since her divorce, the one thought that came to his mind was, now it’s going to be at least another week.
Brie found that life had changed in her brother’s little cabin in many ways. Mel and Jack were keeping the baby next to their bed, and in the night and in the early mornings, she could hear him stir, fuss, and then the soft murmurings of her brother and sister-in-law. She should have known that Jack would be awake for every feeding, often getting up with David, changing him, taking him back to the bed to Mel.
Another new development was that RV in the clearing. In the predawn hours, she would stealthily sneak out of the cabin and sit in one of the Adirondack chairs on the porch and listen to the soft melody of the Spanish guitar that came from the open window across the yard. He didn’t know she was there, that she listened, that the music stirred her. His right hand was still a little tentative as he pressed down against the strings, but with his left he plucked and strummed with skill. He stopped often to start over. She imagined that once his strength was completely restored, his guitar music must be nothing short of magnificent.
Sometimes she would lean back, close her eyes and imagine that he played for her. Mike. She’d first met him years before in Sacramento during Jack’s last leave before he left for Iraq, Jack’s final assignment. Brie was newly married then. She had seen him again at Mel and Jack’s wedding—they almost qualified as old friends. His name was really Miguel—she knew that. Although born in the U.S., he had managed to stay close to his cultural roots, the romance of his country. You could hear it in the music. That sexy Spanish guitar.
It had been more than six months since Brad had walked out on her. Soon she would be ready for a little attention from a man. But she would be more careful this time. She wasn’t going to get hooked up to another man who lacked the power of commitment. Brie knew all about Mike—he’d been around Jack a long time and he was a consummate flirt. He probably fancied himself the great Latin lover; she had heard he’d been though two wives and a hundred girlfriends. Small wonder. He was handsome and sexy. They probably fell at his feet. She would enjoy the music and the fantasy; the man was clearly poison.
Brie was having a wonderful visit. With baby in tow, she and Mel drove around the redwoods, went to GraceValley to see their friends, shopped in the coastal towns, visited with the locals. Mel handled the baby with such ease, wearing him in a sling around her body. And when she felt like a break, she would lengthen the straps on that baby carrier so that they fit Jack just right and pass his son to him. People in Virgin River were getting accustomed to being served a drink by a man with a baby slung around him.
On a typical dinner hour at the bar, Mel left Brie and Mike at the table and handed off her son to her husband so she could visit the powder room. Every time she passed David to Jack, his eyes would grow soft and warm, filled with love and pride as he took the baby. And then as he watched his wife walk away from him, another expression would creep into his features. The angle of his gaze lowered to her butt, and there was tension in his jaw.
“My brother,” Brie said to Mike one day as they sat companionably together in the bar. “I never thought I’d see him like this, with a wife and son. He seems beyond happy. Though every once in a while I think I see a worried look on his face. Maybe he’s just overwhelmed by responsibility.”
“I’m not sure that’s what you’re seeing,” Mike said, having just watched Jack’s face. “I have four married brothers. Men talk.”
“What do they talk about?” she asked.
Instead of answering, he asked, “How old is David now?”
“Almost six weeks. Why?”
He smiled and covered Brie’s hand. “Why don’t you come fishing with me tomorrow? You can borrow Mel’s gear and her waders. We could stay out on the river for hours.”
She pulled her hand out from under his. “Oh, thanks, but Mel and I were going to—”
“You could tell Mel and Jack that you’re going to be out on the river for hours,” he said. “Hours.”
He rolled his eyes. “Brie, you’d have a good time. I guarantee it.”
She leaned closer. “Listen, Mike—understand something. I’m here to see Mel and Jack and the baby, not to—”
He glanced at the bar and saw that Mel was back, retrieving the baby. “We should get away from them for a few hours. Believe me, I wasn’t thinking about us. I was thinking about them.”
She glanced over her shoulder at her brother and sister-in-law. They kissed just briefly over the baby’s head. She glanced back at Mike. “You think?”
“I’ve seen that look before. If you go fishing with me tomorrow, you’re not going to see that look on your brother’s face after you get back. Most of those tense lines will be gone. I’m pretty sure of this.”
“What if I don’t much like fishing?” she said.
“Just say you’re going fishing. We’ll think of something else to do. Something that takes hours.”
She leaned close to him. “Will you bring the guitar?” she whispered. She was answered by a look of shocked surprise.
When Mel came back to the table, Brie said, “Mel, would you be terribly disappointed if I went fishing with Mike tomorrow? If I borrowed your gear?”
“No,” she said, shaking her head. “That’s okay. Gee, I didn’t know you liked to fish.”
“Well, I’m going to get a free lesson,” she said. “If you don’t mind, we’ll be gone most of the day.”
“That’s okay,” she said. “You about ready to head home?”
“Sure,” Brie said. “What time, Mike?”
“How about ten? I’ll get Preacher to pack us a lunch.”
When the women left, Mike wandered up to the bar. “How about a coffee?” he asked Jack.
“You got it,” he said, pouring a mug.
Preacher brought a crate of glasses out of the kitchen and slipped them under the bar. “Hey, Preach, can I get a favor?” Mike asked.
“What do you need, buddy?”
“I’m going to take Brie out to the river tomorrow. A little fishing. Can I get you to pack us a lunch? Something nice—so she thinks I’m debonaire? Maybe put a bottle of good wine in the basket?”
“Sure,” Preacher said, grinning.
Jack picked up a glass and used a dish towel to wipe out any water spots. “You thinking of messing with my little sister?” he asked. “Because she’s been through a tough time and doesn’t need—”
“No, Jack.” He laughed. “I’m not messing with anyone, trust me. But I figured if I kept her busy for a few hours, maybe you could mess with the baby’s mother.”
Jack’s eyes narrowed.
Mike sipped from his mug. “I’ll keep her out there through nap time,” he said. “Maybe a couple of nap times.”
Jack leaned closer to Mike. “You’d better not screw around with my little sister. Remember, I know you and your ways with women, and this is my sister we’re talking about.”
Mike laughed. “You think I’m looking to get shot again? Buddy, all that’s in the past. I promise you, I’ll treat Brie as a sister. You have nothing to worry about.”
“In the past, huh? And what brought that on?”
“Three bullets.” He drank a little of his coffee, left the mug on the bar and stuck his head in the kitchen. “Preach,” he called. “I’ll be by to get my lunch at about ten tomorrow. Okay?”