Genre: Contemporary Romance
Source: Received from Lorhainne to review
My thoughts: I was intrigued with the idea behind "The Forgotten Child." My next door neighbor has autism (I've known him since he was four and he is now seventeen. I've watched the changes and the growth and development that he has gone through & his parents). I also have a son who has his own issues that are difficult to deal with. I really wanted to see how she would write about a situation that is close to many peoples hearts.
I loved the progress that she illustrated from denial to acceptance that parents go through when dealing with their special needs children.
While the special needs situation may have been a draw, it is only a part of the story. This story deals with two grown adults who are enduring relationship issues and finding one another. The romance is sweet and steamy. There are sexual situations and language. I need to add that this book drew me in right from the start and held my attention until the end.
Now for an excerpt from the first three chapters of the book! Thanks Lorhainne for providing this.
Every woman, at one time in her life, will experience the phrase, I had an epiphany. Well that’s exactly what happened this particular spring morning when Emily Nelson’s eyes popped open just as the sliver of light at the break of dawn crept up the horizon and, for a moment, there was peace. Until she blinked a couple of times and reality set in. She glimpsed the lump beside her in their king-size bed—her husband, Bob. Emily pushed back her thick, dark hair and slid to the side of the bed. She was hit by irritating turmoil, an unwelcome friend, twisting up her insides as if wringing out a wet rag. Not even a shred of interest existed for the man she once loved. She’d more empathy for the crotchety old geezer at the end of the street.
So what made this morning different? She didn’t know how to explain this awakening unfolding from deep inside, some place she thought had long since closed and sealed off. Find some courage. Believe enough in herself and then she’d soon be living a life that was hers, for the first time, filled with an amazing peace and hope. And that’s what compelled Emily to shake off her ten-year funk, throw her thin, pale legs over the side of the bed and get up.
Emily, a thirty-five-year-old average looking mother and wife, slipped on the ugly brown bathrobe her husband bought her this past Christmas. The one he meant to give his mother but got confused after he wrapped them since the boxes were identical. His mother got the old lady polyester pants with the elastic waistband meant for Emily, so she supposed she got the better of the deal.
She held her breath when she chanced a glance at Bob who lay softly snoring on his side of the big bed; the fact he was still asleep eased her anxiety. She suppressed a sigh of relief. She had no interest in spending time in a room with this man, any more than the grumpy old geezer up the street. Maybe that was why the knot in her tummy loosened when she left the room and stood outside daughter’s door. Katy, her blonde two-year-old beauty, was sleeping like an angel in the bedroom across the hall in their average, and very plain, box-style rented bungalow. Emily tiptoed across the cheap neutral colored carpeting, the same quality you see in most rental homes which showed every stain imaginable, even after shampooing year after year. She pressed her hand on the doorframe and pulled Katy’s door closed so she wouldn’t hear Emily at this early hour. Five a.m. was her time, when her head was clear, when her creative juices flowed, when she faced reality and could make the tough decisions with absolute clarity.
Today’s the day, when he comes down, I’ll say it. Her gut twisted, and she knew now it was nothing more than fear of the unknown. She couldn’t wait anymore; it had to be today. It was past time and she knew she’d ignored this decision for too long. The signs were all around her—they had been for months. Now, with no chance to think it to death or get cold feet, the floor squeaked as his heavy footsteps traipsed down the hall toward her. Her skin chilled and she had a buzzing sensation in her ears, as if the floor was about to drop out from beneath her feet. Bob, her husband of twelve years, shuffled into the kitchen past her as she leaned against the counter. What made it worse was the way he looked away, as if to dismiss her, a woman of no importance.
“It’s over between us.” Wow, she said it. Her courage wavered but she crossed her arms over her small breasts and stood her ground, feeling enormous in the bulky robe even though she kept her body slim with womanly curves.
Bob turned and, for the first time in months, he really looked at her. His dirty blonde hair was gelled and impeccably groomed. His pale face flushed and his icy blue eyes appeared so dull and tiny in his round face. His body was ordinary, average height and build—a man who wouldn’t stand out in a crowd. She felt nothing for him, just a hardness; whatever love had been was now long dead and gone.
Time stretched out painfully; it took an eternity to pump the blood through her body, roaring louder and louder in her ears between breaths. He turned away. He poured himself a cup of the coffee she’d freshly brewed, dismissing her again. He’d mastered that skill long ago, hammering her pride down a little further each and every day. No wonder it took an act of sheer courage for Emily to look strangers in the eye. Hadn’t her dad done it to her own mom?
“You know we haven’t had a marriage for a long time. There are no feelings left between us. We don’t communicate and Katy’s picking up on the tension in this house.”
He dropped his mug on the counter and fired off his own delusion. “I don’t know what you’re talking about. I think you’re the one with the problem. Katy’s fine if you’re not around.” His words stung, even though she knew it wasn’t true. Why didn’t she expect this? Because her mind didn’t play those kinds of games, that’s why.
“No Katy is not fine. You’re always yelling at her. You won’t spend time with her. When you’re home, you sit in front of the TV twenty-four/seven. You do nothing to help me.”
Shouting, he stepped toward her, “You know what I think this is really about? Money! Anyway, it’s your fault we have no money!”
Okay here we go. She expected an attack. He was really good at twisting things to his way of thinking. This man she married, at one time loved, had become an unwelcome stranger. “I think it has to do with no communication. The only time I know what’s new with you is when I overhear you on the phone. You know … those nightly conversations with your mother. And come to think of it, that’s part of the problem. The only relationship you have is with your mother. And it’s just plain weird. You’re not a child. Grow up. It’s disturbing that you talk to her about what’s going on in your life and not me. If you were being honest with yourself, you’d admit you’ve made no attempt to have a relationship with me. And I’ve ignored how you’ve treated me for years.”
Emily held up the flat of her trembling hand, unable to stop her mouth from spewing everything she’d suppressed for so long. She continued, “You’ve always had this strange relationship with your Mom. What’’s really sick is I’’ve had to stoop to eavesdropping when you’re on the phone with her. Just to find out your latest news. A vacation you’re planning with friends of yours. A new job you’re applying for in Seattle; taking a few courses at night school. Don’’t you think as your wife I have a right to know about these things?”
He dumped his coffee down the sink. His face hardened into someone she didn’t know. “It wasn’t as if I was hiding it from you, but you’re sure happy to launch a war with my family. You could’ve have just asked.”
Emily shut her eyes and let out a heavy sigh. Katy would be awake soon and Bob needed to leave for work. “This is going nowhere. I’’m not going to keep fighting with you. I’d like you to move out. Take whatever you want.”
He didn’’t answer her. What he did was grab his coat and storm out the door, slamming it behind him hard enough to rattle the double pane windows. But apparently, he wasn’t done with his temper tantrum because he followed up with gunning the engine of two-door rusted Cavalier, the tires squealing down the driveway. Katy screamed. Across the street, lights came on in the front window of the Hanson’s, house. Great. She’d need to apologize for Bob disturbing them before six a.m. with his irresponsible behavior.
Emily raced down the hall to comfort her daughter, furious at Bob for yet another mess he’d created for her to clean up. Except this time, it didn’t stick—the mad, that is. She felt the dark, oppressive weight lifting from her back, leaving her with a light peaceful feeling flowing through her body. You know, the one you get when you know you’ve finally done the right thing. Even though she had no money, no job, a child and no idea how she’d make ends meet. A dismal sounding outcome but, for the first time in years, she felt the sun shoot out a powerful ray of hope.
The morning hadn’t gone as planned. Emily’s faced glowed as she reached down to pick up the morning paper. It hadn’t quite made it to the curb forcing her to step out into the street close to where the Hansons were out digging up their yard. She’d apologized yesterday, and even though they’d been gracious in their response, Emily still felt responsible for Bob’s childish behavior. And it was Mr. Hanson, not Mrs. Hanson who questioned Emily on what had upset Bob. This left Emily cornered; so she’d confessed she’d asked Bob to leave. This left them frowning, and speechless, which wasn’t a good thing.
“Hello,” was all she could say this morning before darting back into the house. She didn’t make eye contact because she didn’t want to explain more. Mr. Hanson could talk her ear off, and by now, he’d most likely have a few words of advice to share with her.
Emily leaned against the closed door. Worry and, in her chest, a nightmarish pressure began building and pressing, stronger and harder, until the simple art of breathing became a gigantic struggle. It was her head, her mind, creating the problems. She’d fall flat on her face. She couldn’t make it alone. How would she look after Katy? What if she couldn’t get a job? Instead of focusing on the present, her thoughts jumped from the past to the future with what ifs, could haves and should haves. “Stop it!” She kicked a pink, fluffy stuffed animal across the room and stubbed her little toe on the corner of the table. “Ah crap.” She hopped on one foot exhaling sharply. After a minute she hobbled to the kitchen counter.
She should have started looking for a job yesterday after she’d asked Bob to leave. But she didn’t because of a whole pile of excuses. Katy had been cranky all day after waking up so early after Bob’s tantrum. Then she had to feed, bathe and put Katy to bed, all before Bob, still moody, dragged his sorry ass through the door, telling her he’d found a furnished apartment in Olympia during his lunch hour. He’d move out on the weekend. She almost shouted, “Hallelujah!”
But now this morning, she felt the after effects of an adrenaline rush, maybe that’s why she was in such a crappy mood. She muttered a curse as she opened the damp newspaper to the classified section. It was sparse today, the feed store, the market. The one that stood out was the one in bold at the bottom of the page:
Wanted: Caregiver and Cook
Duties include day-to-day care of a young child.
“I can do that.” She slapped the paper and glanced up at Katy who was watching Dora on TV as she snuggled with her blanket on the sofa. Emily reached behind her and snatched up the cordless telephone. She paused, pressing the top of the telephone to her forehead when a sinking fear she’d fail tried to weave its way into her, zapping away all her newfound courage. “Knock it off, just call.” Emily ran her finger over the ad and dialed the number. Her heart pounded so hard it hurt her chest. Her hand shook as her adrenaline soared through her veins. To release the rapidly building tension and calm her nerves, she paced through the kitchen and living room.
“Hello.” An older woman’s voice chimed on the other end.
“Hi I’m calling about the ad in the paper for a caregiver and cook.”
“Oh yes, that would be Brad you’d want to talk to. Just hang on a second and let me get him.” Unfortunately the wait for Brad to come on the line allowed the irritable voice in Emily’’s head to creep in and fill her with doubts. What do you think you’re doing? You’re not qualified. Sweating, she was tempted to hang up when she heard the man’s deep baritone voice.
Along with being tongue tied, Emily dry’s throat threatened to close up. She swallowed the hard lump and licked her lips. “Hi, my name’s Emily Nelson, I’m calling about your ad in the paper as a caregiver and cook for a child.” She winced when her voice squeaked.
“It’s for my son Trevor, he’s three. I run a ranch and need someone to look after him and also do the cooking.”
“Are you still interviewing for the position?”
“I am but I need someone right away. I have a ranch to run. If you’re interested, could you come out to the Ranch?”
He was abrupt. Straight to the point and that made it easier for Emily.
“I’m interested, but I should tell you I have a two year old who’ll be with me at work. He said nothing. In that nanosecond, Emily felt the impending rejection. And that awful voice chimed in, No, I don’t think it’ll work. I need someone without kids.
“Could you be here at nine tomorrow morning?” This she didn’t expect.
“Nine, no problem I’ll be there.” She committed to a time she knew darn well wouldn’t work. Katy had a checkup scheduled with her pediatrician tomorrow at nine. How was she going to do both? How stupid and desperate was that? Say something. But she didn’t. She swallowed and continued scribbling down the address, along with rough directions to the ranch, on the back of her overdue hydro bill. It was not far from town, maybe a twenty-minute drive.
Emily held the disconnected phone, and then tapped her head with it again. “Stupid, you forgot to ask what he’s paying, the hours, come on, Emily.” She dropped the phone back in its charger, realizing he too hadn’t asked many questions. What about her qualifications, experience and references?
Emily dug out a pen and paper and started a list. She needed to be prepared for tomorrow, so she scribbled down a list of questions. Most importantly, she needed to someone to take Katy to the doctor.
* * * *
Early the next morning, she opened the front door to her bubbly friend Gina, a vivacious, trim woman with short dark hair. Under her wool cape, she wore a turtleneck and blue jeans. She burst through the door and hugged Emily hard. “Morning, darling. I hope you have some coffee. I only had time for a quick cup before bolting over here.”
“What about Fred and your boys? Aren’t they going to miss you this morning?”
She waved her hand as she wiped her shoes and wandered into the small box style kitchen. “You should have seen the lost look on their faces this morning. It was priceless, my husband and two teenage boys, horrified that I actually expected them to fend for themselves this morning. Hey there cutie pie.”
Katy practically leapt into Gina’s arms. Gina knew how to get down on the floor and play hard with kids on their level. “Thank you, Gina, for coming. I’m nervous enough as it is about this interview without dragging a two year old with me and I forgot about her appointment with the pediatrician. It took me months to get it and I didn’t want to reschedule with this guy...” She was rambling and she knew it, so she shut her mouth.
“Don’t be nervous, you’ll do just fine. And you need to give yourself some credit. You’ve a lot of courage. I’ve watched you from the sidelines these past few years as you’ve spiraled into a downward slide. I’m amazed, and a little awed, by what you’ve done. It’s as if you’ve taken a leap off the dock without a life jacket. You have this pure faith now—everything will work out. Now hold onto that and move forward. Don’t look back.” Gina glanced down at her small gold Rolex, a gift from her husband for their anniversary last month. You better go. You have enough time to get your head together and enjoy the drive. Remember don’t rush … that’s when you get flustered.”
Emily hugged and kissed both her daughter and friend, pulled on her brown wool coat and grabbed her purse and handwritten resume. Gina was right; having extra time to find where she needed to go relieved a lot of her anxiety, as did being alone. She took a deep breath and pulled out of her driveway.
Thick trees lined both sides of the road out of town. This was a peaceful drive. She realized she’d never driven west of town in the ten years she’d lived in Hoquiam. She’d grown up in Seattle and that was where she’d met Bob. Hoquiam seemed like a nice place to live after he was offered a government job in Olympia ten years earlier. The commute was not too long, and Emily’s dream of living in a small community had never left her. Now as she drove these narrow winding roads, passing only a few cars through this private, rural and heavily forested part of the peninsula, she was reminded of her childhood dream.
Emily balanced the hastily scribbled directions on the steering wheel. She passed the faded red barn at the second marker on the highway. Making a right turn onto a gravel road, she continued down until she saw the split rail fencing with 665 in bright green numbers embedded in the wood. A huge fir archway on two solid beams surrounded the entrance to the dirt driveway, with the name Echo Springs carved into the weathered wood. What was it about the name that stirred some nostalgic memory of longing in her tummy? History, established families, of Mom, Dad, grandparents passing down their heritage and land. She’d heard the powerful family names whispered in the community: the Rickson’s, Folley’s, who were the others? She was caught now by a nervous flutter continuing to pound her solar plexus as she drove down the long dirt driveway. Old growth spruce, cedar and fir trees on both sides created a dense canopy overhead and a mixture of other bushes and trees gave the appearance of walls. At the end, it opened up into a large clearing exposing a two-story white frame house with a wraparound veranda and large post beams. It resembled an old rambling Victorian. She parked in front of the house beside an old Ford Escort, a dirty blue pick-up truck that had seen better days, a chipped yellow digger, a fairly new black GMC one ton pickup and a flatbed trailer loaded with some mysterious goods covered with a tarp. How many people live here?
The wind created a chilly breeze as thick clouds cluttered the baby blue sky. Emily was far from cold when she climbed out of her van. Her underarms were damp and she prayed her deodorant was strong enough to keep her from smelling ripe. It’s nerves, that’s all. Or maybe it was the five cups of high-octane coffee she’d guzzled before Gina arrived, which wound her nerves so tight she could have bounced her way to the door.
She paused and breathed deep in the clean air. The front of the house was virtually bare of any landscaping. Patches of grass poked up here and there from the well-packed dirt in the front yard. The flowerbeds in front were littered with dead perennials, weeds and overgrown grass long and bare leaning against the house. How many acres did he have? A large barn and other outbuildings littered the property with what looked like miles of open land with a spectacular view of the mountains.
She flexed her damp hands and climbed the four white wooden steps. She noticed the paint was chipped. Emily nearly tripped when the third step suddenly creaked and caught her off guard. She was way out of her comfort zone and this didn’t help, prompting her self-doubt to send SOS signals to confuse her already shaky insides. She was a mess. Her face ached so much, she was positive the forced smile she wore looked more like a grimace. Emily clutched a brown manila envelope stuffed with her resume and references from her friends. On unsteady legs, she crossed the wide porch. A porch made for families to gather at the end of the day to laugh together and share dreams and triumphs. Something families did. Well back to reality, it was a dream family Emily yearned to be part of. She spied a wooden swing suspended by chains at the far end of the porch beside two wicker chairs placed on each side of a large picture window and she sighed.
She could daydream about this imaginary family abode all day but when she faced the classic wooden frame door, Emily’s dry throat threatened to close up. “Well it’s now or never.” So she did it. She rapped on the door with a couple of confident solid knocks. Her heart pounded, echoing with a thud in her ears when she heard solid, heavy footsteps approach. She swallowed and felt a notorious bright scarlet flush flame her face.
She wanted to hide in that anxiety panicked second but it was too late when the door flew open. She stepped back clutching her purse to her chest like a shield and fidgeted with her old wool coat, pulling it tight around her. A tall, broad shouldered man filled the doorway. She was struck speechless by this man with hazy brown eyes. He didn’t have pretty boy features. What he had was a solid, strong jaw, a hardness to his square face and eyes alive with some ancient wisdom , making him the most handsome man she’d ever seen. His flannel plaid shirt didn’t cover any average man. This was a well-formed man who she’d swear could make a burlap sack look good. He pulled off a pair of reading glasses and gazed at her, looking confused, as if she were a door-to-door sales girl, obviously wondering why she was on his doorstep. She hated that feeling.
“Hi, I’m…” Then the worst thing that could possibly happen, happened. She fumbled her purse upside down. It tipped open scattering the contents of her bag as well as coins from the unzipped coin purse inside all over the doorway floor, along with what remained of her dignity.
Mortified, the ringing in her ears catapulted her tingling body to what she could only explain as an out of body experience. Who was this idiot who’d taken over her body? Her face burned crimson, again. And she did what any self-respecting woman would do. She dropped to her knees, grabbed the coins, open wallet, crackers, Katy’s toys and the wrapped sanitary napkin lying by his feet. Emily stuffed everything back in her purse, cursing her idiocy at not making sure it was zipped up. Wasn’t that rule number one?
Retreating into her head, she prayed, maybe at some point in the years to come, she’d look back on this and laugh. Except now to make things worse, Mr. Good-looking knelt down in front of her, nose to nose and started scooping up her loose coins scattered across the hardwood floor. Emily glanced up; his eyes were burning into her and she wanted nothing more than to slink away apologizing profusely, run to her van and drive away so she could cry the tears threatening to burn a hole in her head. “I’m so sorry; I can’t believe I did this.” Why did he have to help? Why couldn’t he ignore what she’d done? He said nothing as he handed her the loose coins. She dumped into her plain black purse and zipped it up. Emily then sprung to her feet without looking, smacking her head into his, which sent her tumbling back down where she landed on her derriere.
“Wait. Don’t move. Let me help you up. Are you okay?”
Could it get any worse? She wanted to weep right here, right now, but she was stronger than that, right? She rubbed her head and the strong man held out his large, rough hand and with little effort, pulled her up. Back where she started from, facing this extraordinary tall man, who shoved his hands in his front pockets as he appeared to study her with amazing control, no sign of embarrassment, but an odd curiosity twinkled in those wise whiskey colored eyes.
Without a doubt, he must think she was nuts, a moron. Maybe he’d ask her to leave. Her forced smile pulled at her mouth.
“I’m Emily Nelson. I called about the job in the paper, we spoke…” The telephone rang. He turned and walked away.
He abandoned her inside the doorway as if she was a woman of no importance and hurried in the direction of the ringing phone. Unsure of what to do, Emily shuffled from one foot to the other, this time looping her cursed bulky purse over her shoulder. He shouted from around the corner, “Come in, have a seat. Sorry, I need to take this.”
Emily wiped her boots on the mat before stepping onto the light hardwood floor and closed the door behind her. The wide entryway was filled with a large gold plated encrusted mirror, something a woman who liked the finer things would have insisted upon. She caught her perky image in the entryway mirror along with white spots, which were most likely Katy’s milk, on the lapel of her tired old coat. Her plain mousy long hair was pulled back in her usual ponytail. She was by no means gorgeous but her friends labeled her cute, like a shorter, brown-haired Meg Ryan. She brushed at the milk stain again, gave up, stepped past the mirror and went around the corner, which opened into a large living room done up in earth tones with a rock face fireplace on the east wall. The furnishings were exquisite, dark brown leather, with a lot of wood, very masculine. But the hint of a feminine touch was everywhere, in the framed artwork, carvings, floral rug and designer cushions, all coordinated and tastefully arranged. Guided by the rumble of his voice, she crossed through the living room and faced a large oval archway which opened into a square country kitchen. In the middle sat a solid oak table, surrounded by ten wooden straight back chairs, enough to sit and feed a large family. And there he was, striding back and forth, with the phone pressed to his ear. He didn’t glance up. Instead turned his back. His scuffed black cowboy boots squeaked on the worn wood floor. Emily gazed at her ruggedly handsome potential employer who arrogantly oozed deep alpha male, a man with priorities, self-confidence and rude. Give him a break, maybe he’s just busy.
He hung up the phone and let out a hard sigh before turning to face Emily. He had his hands on his hips, and then gestured one toward her as he stalked in the room. “Let’s sit in the living room here.”
Emily darted a glance at the clutter free, extremely neat living room behind her. The plump, green cushions on each end of the high amber sofa, added to the warm pleasant vibes bouncing off the art laden walls. All the oil paintings had a western motif: lone cowboys, horses and western murals. Beside the sofa, but under the large picture window, was a solid oak toy box filled with toys neatly put away.
As Emily walked past the large flat screen TV on her way to the three-seat sofa, she noted the clutter free end tables; nothing valuable was within a child’s reach. A homemade brown and orange afghan was carelessly tossed over the back of the couch. It was pure instinct for Emily to fold it and lay it over the back of the couch. She turned and allowed the back of her legs to touch the sofa, but she didn’t sit.
“Please sit down Emily.” He extended out the flat of his hand, very much in control. “Ah, thank you.” She perched on the edge of the soft leather seat across from a man who was too damn good to look at—a man obviously comfortable in his own skin.
Hardness set his jaw as he studied her. The tick of the wall clock seemed to echo in the silence and Emily squirmed in her seat. Why was he looking at her like that? Maybe it was her outrageous entrance and he was wondering what kind of kook she was, whether he could entrust her with his child. Yes, that had to be it.
She swallowed hard. “I’m Emily Nelson; I talked to you yesterday on the phone about the job.”
He blinked before closing those exquisite eyes as if he’d forgotten the reason she was here. When he opened them again, his hard judgmental expression seemed to have softened a bit.
He extended his large hand, taking hers in a firm grip. Just the touch of his solid calloused hand and the secure squeeze was enough to teeter her nerves back to that awkward woman at the door. She wondered what it would be like to have a man like this run his hands over you. She snatched her hand back before her face burned any brighter. “The name’s Brad Friessen.” Emily kept quiet. He didn’t run on with his words. He must be a deep thinker, a doer. She could relate to that but not him. Her sly eyes glanced down at his left hand, no gold band, no white line, no wife or significant other. Or maybe he was one of those arrogant guys who wouldn’t wear a ring, a lady’s man. He had the looks and the attitude. Now was the time to ask about the woman who answered the phone when she called. Who was she?
“This is a working ranch I run and I need a woman to look after my son. I’m old fashioned in my values. Children should be at home, not stuck in daycare. I’m looking for someone who’s comfortable in a kitchen and looking after children: a role that should come natural to a woman. I don’t want someone who’s got the phone stuck to their ear half the day. It’s a decent job and good pay, $500 a week, room and board and includes all your meals.”
Her heart sank about the same time the bottom dropped out of her stomach. It was too good to be true. She wanted to cry. “I have a little girl, I didn’t realize...”
His face hardened and he looked away. He was angry with her … no, furious. She didn’t know what to say when he let out a heavy sigh. He closed his eyes, rubbing his hand over the light brown shadow that appeared over his jaw. He faced her again with those deep brown eyes now turned to steel. He could be a hard man.
“What, not enough money for you? I can’t stand the games you women play.” He lowered his voice. But it didn’t take the bite from his words. Holy crap what kind of trip was this guy on? Was it just her he had a problem with or all women? “Mr. Friessen…”
“Brad,” he cut her off his palm held up flat, a man used to having his way.
“Sorry … Brad. It’s not about money. Your offer is quite generous. I have a little girl and, the thing is, I guess I just assumed I would come here to work during the day and then go home. I rent a place in town. I’m recently separated, almost, and Katy lives with me. She’s two, so I’d be bringing her with me during the day to work and…” She was babbling and knew it when he cut her off.
“I need someone to be here all day. And there’s the matter of the cooking. It’s all three meals and breakfast’s early.”
“Brad, I’m a little confused, are you still offering me a job knowing I’ve a child who’ll be here with me?
He leaned back looking much more relaxed than he had earlier, a man back in control, his hand tapped the back of the sofa.
“There’s room in this house, lots of unused bedrooms upstairs. This is a big job. You’d be required to look after my son and do all the cooking. I have two hired hands who eat here, well, sometimes. They live in a small house I have on the property behind the barn. I have a woman who comes in twice a week to clean, so you’d only need to keep up the house in between. Still interested?”
Emily slid forward and raised her palms, only to press them onto her knees. “Yes, I’m interested. Are you offering me the job, I mean you haven’t even asked about my experience, references or if I’ve had a criminal record check.” Emily fumbled for the envelope and pulled out the sheet of hand written references.
“I’d need you to start right away.” He uncrossed his legs and reached for the paper, dropping his gaze to scan her list of names. He peered up at her seconds later.
“Can you cook?”
“Are you a criminal?”
“No, unless you count a speeding ticket I got two years ago.”
“Only one?” The tension that drove this meeting a few moments ago changed. The lighthearted teasing burst the bubble of worry building inside her tummy. She breathed easier, anticipating that maybe there was something really good just around the corner.
“I’d need to be assured my son would take priority. If you’re bringing your daughter, will you be able to do the cooking and still look after him, and not ignore him?”
“I wouldn’t neglect your son but I won’t neglect my daughter either. I can look after both easily. I’m a mother. It’s what I do.” Emily swirled her hand in the air.
He was quiet again. For the life of her, she couldn’t read his expression. What was he thinking?
“Could you start tomorrow?”
Her ears were ringing. And she wondered if she’d heard him right. “Well yes, that’d be fine. But I can’t move us that quickly. I have a whole house to pack up.”
“How about coming for the day until we can work out the rest of the details, at least then you can get comfortable with Trevor, and he you, until you move here.”
“All right, tomorrow I’ll come with Katy. Is about eight-thirty okay?”
This was too easy. Brad slapped his hands on his knees, stood and, magically, he appeared taller, like an enormous weight had been lifted off his shoulders. He hovered over her. Emily glanced at her purse and gave an extra tug on the zipper to make sure it was closed before slipping it over her shoulder. She held tight as she stood before this sizeable man.
“I have a good feeling about this Emily. There’s something about you. I think this arrangement will work for both of us. I love my boy and only want the best for him.”
He escorted her to the door. “Tomorrow then, Brad. And thank you for the job.”
She bumped his hand when she awkwardly turned to shake it. Lord, she truly was a klutz today. She cursed her lack of self-esteem which, at times, kept her from being fit for polite society. And making it worse, he grabbed her by the shoulders, before she could knock something over, and guided her through the door. Her face heated again, bright red. She tried to duck her head but as she stood outside the door, she was forced to face him when he held open the white screen door—a replica she was sure was from the 1930’s.
He looked over her head, obviously sensing her discomfort, and shoved his hand in his pocket and leaned his other arm on top of the screen door. His sleeves were rolled up to his elbows showing off his tanned, well-sculpted forearms. Before she could turn away, he pulled his hand from his pocket and extended it.
She placed her hand in his; he squeezed, not too tight, but a nice, friendly handshake to seal the deal. “Drive safely Emily. Let me know when you can make arrangements on your end to move, I’ll send my men to help.”
“Wow, thank you.” She was sweating again, and then remembered the woman who’d answered the phone when she’d called. Better to ask now so she didn’t worry and wonder all night because she didn’t ask. “What about Trevor’s mother, was that who answered the phone?” A dark shadow cast over and hardened his good-looking face to one harboring something dark filled with nothing pleasant. There’s a problem. His cheek twitched.
“No. That was Mary Haske, my neighbor who helps me out.” A sharp bite filled his tone, nothing nice and friendly now. “You’ll meet her. She’s an old family friend I’ve known since I was a kid. Trevor’s mother doesn’t live here or see Trevor.”
The way the man held back his fury, she sensed she’d just peeled away a well crusted over scab, put there by a woman who’d broken his heart and done something this man hated her for. Don’t piss him off. Yah, she heard the warning. She knew some people didn’t forgive; they held onto the hate, letting it become a monkey on their back.
She swallowed hard, and then backed away. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”
Her hands wrapped around the steering wheel, driving alone became a mini-holiday, one she rarely enjoyed. It gave her time to think, evaluate her life, dream big and put plans in place. That’s just what she did now after the unusual interview. “I’ll give notice to the landlord, pack after the Katy’s in bed, could maybe be ready by the weekend. Yah, this will be easy.” In some ways, this change would be a relief.
Gina must have been glued to the window when Emily pulled into the driveway. Before Emily could turn off the ignition, she’d ripped open the door and bounced outside with Katy perched on her hip.
Her little blonde princess clapped and squealed with glee, holding her arms out for her mama. The rusted hinges on the van door squeaked when Emily gave it a shove, just as Katy landed in her arms. Emily inhaled her baby soft scent and held her tight, kissing her over and over on her plump round cheeks. “I’ve got the job, baby girl and we start tomorrow.”
“Yeah! Oh, I knew you could do it.” Gina punched her lean arms in the air before pulling her and Katy into a hug. “It’s freezing out here, come on. So tell me everything, details, details. Who you’re working for?” Gina clapped her hands to hurry Emily inside.
Emily left her coat and shoes on as she carried Katy into the darkened living room, where her worn out brilliant green couch had seen better days. She dropped into her Scottish plaid glider rocker and let out a sigh, a contented sound, like every burden inside was gone. She put Katy down on the ugly beige carpet where she toddled off to pick up her dolly with blue ink stains streaked across its plastic face. Emily watched as she plopped the doll into the doll-sized stroller parked by the fireplace and began to push her around the living room. “We need to move to his ranch.”
“Move, why?” Gina perched across from Emily on the edge of the dark green sofa.
“The job’s full time care of his young son. He’s a single father and runs the ranch alone. He needs someone there to cook breakfast, lunch and dinner. It’s what I do now, except now I’ll be getting paid for it.”
“Does he have a house on his property for you to live in?” Gina flattened both her hands across her knees.
“We’ll be moving into his house. It’s large and there’s enough room.” There was a slight hitch in Emily’s voice. And Gina being Gina, never missed anything and could make anyone trying to keep the slightest detail from her squirm, narrowed her dark brown eyes and stiffened her spine as she leaned forward.
“Call it a gift from my mother side, but honey I’m one Irish Italian girl you can’t pull nothing over on, and there’s a whole schwack of problems with that arrangement and I know you’re holding something back from me. So you may as well spill it, all of it.”
Emily looked up at the low dingy stucco ceiling and rocked the squeaky chair. She answered without meeting the narrowed eyes that burned another layer off Emily’s protective shell. “He’s the most attractive man I’ve ever met, and arrogant and unforgiving, and I humiliated myself like the bumbling, socially inept idiot that I am. And Trevor, that’s his little boy, the mother’s not around. I don’t know what happened to her, but it’s evidently a sore point with him. One he’s not willing to discuss, and he doesn’t hold her too highly in his regard, which I suspect is where he puts all women.”
“Oh, I see.” Gina rose to her feet when the kettle whistled from the kitchen. She walked around the bargain basement square coffee table and paused. “Emily darling, you best make sure you go into this with both eyes open. I see that dreamy look you’re trying your damnedest to hide from me. Don’t forget, you’ve just kicked out a no good for nothing dog. You’re vulnerable, guys, predators who’re up to no good read that, will take advantage. Make sure this stays business. Because right now you’re on the rebound and I know you’re dreaming about meeting a real man, except you need time to heal first. So you best hide that googly eye drool and forget you think he’s the finest looking man you’ve ever seen, so he doesn’t go and take advantage of you.”
Emily felt the downy hair on the back of her neck rise like thorny barbed wire. How could Gina say something like that to her? So what if it was true? She couldn’t shake the irritation caused by Gina’s blunt implication that she was so much of a ditz that she’d check her brains and fall at this guy’s feet. She had good sense and sound judgment. How dare she?
“Oh knock off the wounded pride thing.” She hadn’t moved. The kettle still shrilled in the kitchen. So Emily gripped the arm of the rocker and started to get up.
“Sit down, Em. As your friend, I have the right to point out some potentially dangerous pitfalls. Friends watch each other’s back, especially when we’ve checked our heads in the nearest closet. This hot to trot arrogant guy’s your boss. You make sure you protect yourself. He sounds volatile and men like that can be real jerks. You’re living in his house. Different rules apply, a mutual respect for one. Katy will be there; make sure it stays comfortable for her.”
Gina leaned down and kissed Emily on the forehead, and then raced into the kitchen to silence the piercing kettle. Emily closed her eyes and rocked. When Emily opened her eyes, her bright blue-eyed angel watched her as if she understood every word and knew what sudden change was about to happen.
Emily reached out her overworked hand with short, square nails and torn cuticles—a hand she knew would never be featured on any ivory dish soap commercial. They were dry, plain and serviceable. But her darling Katy didn’t care. They were filled with love and that’s all Katy wanted as she gripped Emily’s fingers and climbed on her mother’s lap.
Gina called out from the kitchen. “So how soon do we move you?”
Emily couldn’t keep the lightness from invading her voice. She smiled lovingly down on her daughter who rested her pinkish cheek against Emily’s full breast, her eyelids lowered, becoming too much of an effort to keep open, while she sucked her soother. “As soon as I can pack. Brad would like us there like yesterday.”
Gina reappeared through the archway dividing the kitchen from the small living and dining room. She leaned against the cheap looking white wall beside the fireplace as she frowned. She crossed her arms as a sharp twinkling of light sparked in her eyes, and then rubbed her chin with her index finger and thumb, back and forth, a telltale sign Gina was formulating plans.
“I’m taking Katy to work with me tomorrow.”
“Okay, I’ll make some calls, get people here to help pack. But that’s after you go to work tomorrow and, if all’s well and this turns out to be the blessing you so deserve, you can give notice to your landlord tomorrow night. Not before.”
She was good and Emily knew if there ever was a crisis, Gina was the one you wanted in your corner to handle things. A former secretary, producer and the driving force behind her husband’s successful glass shop. You were wise to hand her the keys and let her handle things. These mundane details could overwhelm Emily, where Gina could step in, dissect and arrange a sound viable plan, with color-coded categories highlighted on the notes she was sure to produce. Yah, she could hardly wait.
* * * *
The next morning before Bob left, Emily dropped the little bomb that she’d obtained a job and would be moving. His glowing response, which was not unexpected, with flushed cheeks burning crimson, was his mouth falling open from obvious shock. Oops, guess she read that right. He’d expected her to land flat on her face, but to hell with him and his expectation for her to come crawling back. Hell would freeze over before she’d ever consider it. No, she was almost free. And to prove it, Gina arrived right before Emily left for her first day of work at the ranch with three pages color coded by priority. What Emily needed to do, along with numbers and contact names, which included the lawyer to handle her legal separation, the gas and electric company, notice to the post office for change of address and one page of sensible questions to ask Brad, which Emily, in her fog of excitement should have thought of, but didn’t.
Wow! She scanned the checklist, hugged Gina and then hurried with Katy to the van, in awe of the organizational skills of this woman.
And even though Gina offered once again to keep Katy with her this morning, Emily knew how imperative today was. Today with Katy would be to the test the waters, sink or swim, as the old saying goes, and find out just how smoothly—she hoped, no believed, it would go. “It’ll work out.” It had to, since she was uprooting Katy to a home that wasn’t hers. Children needed stability so as Emily drove through the familiar gates of Echo Springs, past the split rail fence framing each side of the long winding, well-treed entrance, where the dirt and gravel road looked freshly grated. Emily felt a sudden spiral rise from the pit of her stomach up through her chest, as if she’d been drop-kicked into her future, without having any chance to analyze, a.k.a. question her sanity, and back out.
And it was a good thing too, since Brad was waiting outside his lovely Victorian in the bare front yard. All that pure, masculine power, six feet two inches of ruggedness. How could a man wearing a worn tan barn jacket exude all those damn fine, good-looking vibes? “Oh shit.” Without Katy to keep her distracted from those magnificent see-right-into-your-soul whiskey colored eyes, she’d probably trip over both her feet.
Emily parked her van and focused on taking the keys out and zipping up her purse. When she looked up through the window, Brad lifted a little boy bundled in a dark blue hoodie up onto his shoulders. He swaggered toward Emily in a way that said he owned, and was proud of, this land. Emily opened her door and tried to contain the shake in her hand. She slammed her door and hurried around to the passenger side to slid the side door open.
“You made it.” She could smell his earthy fragrance, no sandalwood, as she craned her neck up. His smile was intoxicating and today he was much more relaxed, nicer. Maybe, if he’d be a jerk again, she could relax.
“We did.” Okay how stupid was that. Emily turned away before her face grew any redder and focused on unbuckling Katy from her booster, and lifted her.
“So who’s this?” His voice was teasing, light and riddled with tenderness. He was a different man from yesterday and he didn’t ignore Katy, just the opposite, he reached over and tickled her chin. Hooray, another completed checkmark on Gina’s detailed laundry list—the list to reorganize Emily’s life.
“This is my daughter Katy. Katy, this is Brad, the man I told you about.” She giggled and clammed up that sweet pert little mouth, in a too-shy ploy she always launched upon meeting anyone new. Emily was positive this was just the beginning of the ploys she’d play on many a man to wrap around her finger. “Sorry, she’s shy, but wait until she warms up to you, then she won’t stop talking.”
He laughed with such genuine warmth, for an instant Emily wondered if he was the same difficult man she’d met yesterday. Trevor bounced on Brad’s shoulders reciting a “Blib, blib...” until Brad put him down. He wandered to the wide rock path that led up to the front steps.
“Is this Trevor?”
“Yes, that’s my boy.” Brad shoved his hands in his pockets as he watched over his son.
“Hi Trevor, I’m Emily…” The little boy never turned toward her, he had no interest in her or Katy.
“How old is Trevor?” The hardness was back in Brad’s face. He didn’t look at her.
“Three.” He cleared his throat roughly.
Trevor stopped in the middle of the rock path and dropped to his knees. He started digging with his tiny little fingers around a rock. “No Trevor.” Brad lunged and swooped Trevor up.
“No, no, no.” Trevor screamed over and over, flailing at Brad. His tiny-fisted hands smacked Brad on the nose.
“Stop it, Trevor. Emily’s here, remember I told you she’s going to look after you.” But he didn’t stop his screeching. In fact, he changed the words to a “whee, whee, whee” thing as Brad held his hand. “He’s must be tired, all this newness with you here is throwing him off.” Brad shouted over his stiffened shoulder.
His anxiety was back, but of course, what an awkward moment. Was the kid always like this?
“Come inside Emily, I’ll get Trevor some crackers, and then you can get started.”
Katy remained quiet and still in Emily’s arms, as they both watched Trevor at a safe distance. Emily shifted Katy in her arms and followed a tense and ill at ease Brad into the house.
What a difference the house was today. The neat and tidy living room with upscale leather furniture and hardwood flooring that would showcase in any home and garden magazine was a complete mess today. Emily stepped over plastic toys, puzzle boxes and pieces scattered from one end of the room to the far wall by the kitchen, with wool blankets and two afghans hanging over the sofa and scattered on the floor—a rough night or morning or something. The kitchen wasn’t much better. Brad yanked open the lovely white cupboard door, the one with the tempered glass center, and grabbed a box of cheese crackers with a cartoon character on the bright red box. Katy tightened her hold around Emily’s neck, as the kid screeched louder.
But Emily couldn’t get past the dirty dishes, cereal boxes, discarded food packaging filling the sink and covering every bit of counter space. And the odor, what was that smell?
She turned in a circle and had to lift her foot off the sticky floor. Even though this kitchen had been recently remodeled with upscale appliances, cupboards and maybe a really nice teal green slate countertop, she wouldn’t swear to it considering the state it was in.
His eyes were on her, watching her, as a frown deepened those tired lines around his eyes. She sensed him pull back, in the way men do when they think you’re judging them, which she wasn’t, or maybe he half expected her to turn and run out the door. “Well, I better get started, if anyone’s planning on having lunch, it’s going to take me a good hour or two with the kids to look after to clean up this mess.”
Brad flushed. “Look, I’m sorry about this...” He gestured with a hand that held the boxed crackers. “If this is too much for you to do and look after both kids…” He didn’t finish the sentence as gravel spewed from the sound of a heavy truck pulling in followed by a short blast of a horn. Emily faced the narrow hallway that led out the back of the kitchen to a back door. What sounded like a large man stomped up what she presumed were the back steps, the hinges squealed on the screen door right before the inside door, with the curtained tiny glass window, pushed opened. “Hey Brad, Dudley’s here with the feed for the cattle, we need you out here.” The other big man hovering in the doorway, must have been six feet, was wearing a plaid wool shirt with an orange baseball and what looked like several days since he’d last shaved.
Emily turned to look at Brad who closed his eyes and shook his head. “Shit. Sorry, Emily, you’re on your own. I’ve got to take care of this. He held out Trevor to her as he shoved a handful of crackers in his mouth. Emily put Katy down beside her and Katy being unsure, promptly gripped her mother’s black jeans just below the knee.”
“Okay, I’m not really…” Brad paid no attention at all, as he hurried to pass her Trevor, along with the cracker box. He didn’t spare her a passing glance.
“See you at lunch.” And then he was gone out the back, past the whitewashed, dated paneling that filled the narrow hall, pulling the back door closed behind him. Emily couldn’t believe it. She stood there holding a quiet child who had no interest in her. He should have been big eyed, maybe even scared of the stranger holding him. The only interest he had was the box of crackers.
“Mama.” Katy tugged on her jeans then shoved her thumb in her mouth and reached her arms up. “Oh Katy bug, I can’t hold you both.” Emily squatted down and sat Trevor on the floor. When she tried to stand with the cracker box, Trevor screeched, “na, na, na.” Holy crap was he loud.
“Here you go, no need to act like that. Use your words.” Emily handed him the box of crackers. Again, he wouldn’t look at her. For a minute, she worried he’d choke he was cramming them in his mouth so fast. Katy tapped her leg and pointed to the box. Of course, she wanted some. “Katy, how about a banana instead? She dropped her bag on the sticky cluttered table, and pulled out a banana leaving Katy’s box of organic rice crackers out of site. She slid out a wooden chair and sat Katy down. “I should have brought your booster seat. I knew I forgot something.” Emily slipped off her coat and rolled up her sleeves, scanning the rectangular, neglected kitchen filled with unfinished food, a sink overflowing with cups, dishes and slimy, dirty dishwater. The large white propane stove was grease covered and littered with dirty pots. She shot a harried glance at the back door, where Brad escaped. So he’s not infallible; that thought put them on even ground.
About the Author
Lorhainne Eckhart began her writing career in 2008, when she published her first novel, The Captain’s Lady, a Contemporary Military Romance.
Lorhainne Eckhart is a member of the RWA, Sisters in Crime and Victoria RWA. She makes her home on beautiful Vancouver Island and lives in the country with her three children. The mother of a special needs child. And one of her greatest gifts, she had to learn, organization, structure, and how to stay focused on what’s really important in life. She lives by simple rules. The same she teaches her children. Stay honest, be impeccable with your word, never take advantage of anyone, and treat everyone with respect. She’s an advocate for children with special needs. Passionate about preserving our environment, wildlife, and protecting what natural resources we have left, so there’ll be a future for our children.
Lorhainne loves her garden, nature and all animals. When she isn’t being a busy Mom, working on, and promoting her next novel, you’ll find her horseback riding on the trails, gardening, landscaping, or just outside enjoying nature.
Lorhainne’s an avid reader and writer. She writes romantic suspense but enjoys reading novels from all genres. Her latest novel, The Forgotten Child, is a contemporary romance. And explores the devastating issue of Autism Spectrum Disorder. For more information about autism contact your local Autism Society and:
Connect with me online
My Blog – The Choice of Giving
Lorhainne is offering one eBook copy of her book to a commentator. Make sure to leave a comment with your email address. You must be 18 or over to enter for a copy. This is a book for adults only. By entering your information, you are indicating that you are 18+. This contest will end on January 27th. The winner will be chosen using a random # generator. (it's in the sidebar)