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Seated behind the computer in the woodworking shop's cramped, cluttered office, Silas Garrett caught the blur of color zip past the open door. Then back. Then finally light in the doorway.
"Oh! Hi!" a breathless, bubbly Jewel Jasper called over the whine of saws ripping lumber, a booming " mañana en Santa Fe y Taos " from the Spanish talk radio station. "Noah around?"
Silas couldn't help itevery time he saw her the image of a cute little bunny popped into his head. And not, alas, the sort clad in skimpy satin, bow ties and high heels.
Even more unfortunately, if Jewelwith her shiny brown ponytail and her big, blue-gray eyes behind her delicate oval glasses and her skimpy, ruffly sweater buttoned over her even skimpier breastswas a bunny, his brother, Noah, was definitely the Big Bad Wolf. Fine, so Silas was mixing his fairy tales, but he doubted it was much of a stretch to suppose the Big Bad Wolf occasionally dined on bunny.
Especially if the bunny kept hopping across the wolf's path.
This had to make the third or fourth time in as many weeks the midwife-in-training, temporarily living in the house another Garrett brother had vacated after his marriage, had popped inor hopped in, in this caseon the pretext of "needing" Noah to fix something or other in the quasi-adobe.
"Sorry." Jabbing his own glasses back into place, Silas returned his gaze to the bookkeeping program on the screen. Numbers, he got. Women, not so much. Especially women who fell for his brother's chicanery. "Not here. Won't be until later." He entered a figure, then forced himself to be polite, despite all that ingenuousness taking a toll on his good humor. "Care to leave a message?"
"It's the roof again," Jewel said, inviting herself in and plunking her baggy-pantsed bottom on the cracked plastic chair across from Silas. Why, God only knew. "Over the living room, this time. I'm really sorry to be such a painespecially since I'm not even paying rent!but I can't exactly get up there and fix it myself."
She giggled. Silas's least favorite sound in the world. From anyone over ten, at least. Then her pale little forehead bunched.
"If Eli's fixing to sell it, I don't imagine he wants to keep repairing water damage. Ohand I tried to make a fire the other night and ohmigosh, there was smoke everywhere!" Her hands fluttered. Visual aids. "So I'm guessing the chimney's blockedoh! Noah!" She bounced up when his younger, bigger, buffer brother appeared. Damn. "Silas said you wouldn't be back until later!"
Slapping his denim jacket on a rack by the door, Noah barely spared Jewel a glance before tossing a crumpled stack of receipts on the desk. "From the Manning project," he said, swiping his muscled forearm across his sweaty forehead. "Figured I'd better get 'em to you before I lost track"
"Noah?" Jewel tapped his shoulder. "Sorry to bug you, but the roof needs attention. Again. And the chimney's clogged, too."
Noah shot Silas the same "why me?" look he did every time Jewel made an appearance. Since even wolves, apparently, could be picky. And Jewel was not, apparently, on Noah's menu. Although for how long, Silas surmised, was anybody's guess. Since not having a hankering for myopic bunnies this week didn't mean he wouldn't at some point.
However, it still being this week, Noah cut his eyes to Jewel, nodded, mumbled, "I'll send someone over," and walked away.
Jewel collapsed in a deflated heap on the chair again, clutching the seat edges on either side of nonexistent hips. "Honestly. You'd think I had cooties or something."
Wondering Why are you still here? Silas muttered, "Did it ever occur to you he's not interested?"
She straightened, her rosy little mouth pursed. "There is that, I suppose. But " Standing, she yanked down the hem of the short sweater. Despite at least two other layersa T-shirt and a tank top, neither of which matched the sweater or each otherit was quite evident, in the early fall chill permeating the small room, that she wasn't wearing a bra. "I thought Noah was more equal opportunity than that. And did you know you're staring at my boobs?"
Silas jerked his gaze back to the screen. "Sorry."
"No, actually it's kinda flattering, since most men don't take notice."
Oh, for cripes' sake
Giving up, Silas leaned back in his father's chair, his hands laced over his stomach. In a small town like Tierra Rosa you knew everybody, by reputation at least if not personally. So between what he'd heard and what he'd seen, he'd concluded Jewel was the strangest mixture of naive and world-weary he'd ever met. And God knows he'd met his fair share of women. Even if not solely by choice, his mother having sworn to end his single-father days if it killed her. In fact, how Jewel had thus far slipped Donna Garrett's radar was a mystery.
Especially as Silas had no doubt his mother would think Jewel was perfect for him. Being female and breathing and all.
"I don't get itwhy are you so determined to hook up with my brother?"
"And what earthly difference does it make to you? Or do you discuss Noah with all his girlfriends?"
Whoa. Bunny had a bite. Who knew?
"First, to call them 'girlfriends' might be pushing it," Silas said, having no idea how to answer the first part of her question. "Second no. Hell, half the time I have no idea who he's seeing."
Arms folded over the nipples. "They why single me out?"
He didn't figure she'd appreciate the bunny analogy. "Because I seriously doubt you know what you're getting into. Noah isn't, uh, exactly looking for forever."
Her gaze sharpened. "First," she said, mimicking him, "you're a lot safer staring at my breasts than patronizing me. Second, I'm well aware of your brother's reputation"
"But you just know you're the one who can make him change, right?"
"Change?" She burst out laughing. "Boy, have you got the wrong end of the stick. I'm no more interested in settling down right now than I am in growing horns. Which is why Noah would be perfect. All I'm looking for is a little fun. Somebody who isn't interested in 'serious' any more than I am." Now her eyes narrowed. "So if you could, you know, kinda drop that hint ?"
After several seconds' of Silas's silent glare, she shrugged, then stood, sighing out, "It was worth a shot," before hiking to the door only to swivel back in her black-and-white checked rubber-soled flats. With red daisies over the toes. "But you really need to lighten up, Silas. You are way too tense."
Then she was gone, leaving Silas staring blankly at the computer screen, his shoulders knotted.
"She gone?" he heard a minute later.
"Not nearly far enough, I don't imagine."
Palming his short brown hair, Noah exhaled. Loudly. "She's a sweet kid and all, but not my type."
"Dude. She's like, twelve."
"Actually, she's somewhere in her mid-twenties. Well past legal but nowhere near desperate. Your perfect woman, in other words," he said, through inexplicably gritted teeth.
Noah seemed to consider this for a moment, then shook his head, and Silas's teeth unclenched. "Nah. Cute hasn't been my thing for a couple of years now."
"Then perhaps you should tell her that. Although maybe not in those exact words."
"I have. Several times. All she does is get this goofy and yet, eerily knowinglook on her face." He paused. "Not that she doesn't have a certain weird appeal"
"Hence the eerily knowing look."
Another moment of consideration, another head shake.
"Nope, not caving. Not this time. Shoot, it would be like taking candy from a baby. Besides" his younger brother grinned "I met this gal in Española last weekend "
"Don't want to know," Silas said as the phone rang. Chuckling, Noah waved and was gone before Silas answered. "Garrett Woodworks"
"The boys are fine," his mother said, well aware of Silas's tendency to freak whenever she called while watching his two young sons. "Me, however " She sighed. "I was bringing in some firewood and somebody left a toy truck on the porch step, and I tripped over it and fell would've made a great America's Funniest Home Video and now my ankle's all big and purple. Ollie says it looks like Barney"
Phone still in hand, Silas hit three wrong keys before finally logging out of the program, then rocketed from the chair. "On my way"
"Why don't you see if Jewel's around, let her have a look at it?"
So much for the not-on-his-mother's-radar theory. "She delivers babies, Mom. I'm guessing you're done with all that."
"She's also a nurse, smarty pants."
True. Unfortunately. "Fine. If she's home, I'll bring her."
"Good. Oh, and" Donna lowered her voice "you might want to hurry before the boys realize they could set the house on fire and there wouldn't be a darn thing I could do about it."
Plugged into her MP3 player, Jewel flinched when she opened her door to find Silas punching his arms into his corduroy jacket sleeves and looking extremely annoyed. But thenas he indicated she needed to ditch the earbudswhen was he ever not?
"My mother messed up her ankle. She asked if you wouldn't mind coming over."
Yep, caught that emphasis, all righty. Then his words sank in. "Ohmigosh" she shoved her bare feet back into her shoes, yanked her sweatercoat off the hook by the door and pushed past him and down the stairs "does she think it's broken?"
"No idea." She heard the door shut, Silas catch up with her. "But she said it was real swollen. And purple."
"Might only be a sprain," Jewel said, tucking her chin into her chest against the suddenly frigid breezeSeptember in northern New Mexico tended to be fickleas she hotfooted it down the flagstone walk. At the end she made a sharp left, only to practically get whiplash when Silas grabbed her elbow and lugged her toward his Explorer, parked in front of the house.
"Quicker this way," he said, hauling open her door, then zipping around the hood, the wind wreaking havoc on his normally neat, dark brown hair and probably irritating the very life out of him. Oh, yeah, Jewel had him pegged, all righta man who prefers his universe precise and orderly, thank you very much, and woe betide anything or anybody who disturbs it. Or him.
Silas climbed in, rammed his key into the ignition. Glanced over, all Heathcliffian glower. "Seat belt."
"For heaven's sake, it's two blocks"
"Seat. Belt. Now."
Sighing, Jewel secured the lap belt, only to release it less than thirty seconds later. Without, it should be noted, passing a single other vehicle. But considering the don't-mess slant to Silas's mouth, she opted to let it go.
The moment they were out of the car, the Garretts' white front door swung open to expel a pair of wide-eyed, agitated little boys. The younger one, a curly blond cherub of maybe four or so, made a beeline for his father and grabbed his hand.
"Gramma fell and hurt her foot!" he said, tugging him inside. "It's huge! I gave her the phone so she could call you!"
"Did not!" the older boy said, his straight, wheat-colored bangs blowing every which way in the breeze as he smacked his younger brother's shoulder.
"Boys. Not now," Silas said with the sort of quiet authority that makes a person go, Whoa. The little one now clinging to him like a koala, he shut the door and crossed to his mother, seated on the old blue sofa with her foot propped up, her graying red hair a distressed tangle around her very pale face. Jewel took one look and shook her head.
"Silas, go put a whole bunch of ice in a plastic bag and wrap it in a towel, bring it here. But no sense in me even examining it. The ice might take down the swelling some, but if that's not a candidate for the x-ray machine, I don't know what is."
Donna simultaneously winced and sighed. "I don't suppose it helps that I heard a cracking sound when I went down."
"Not a good sign, no. Still " Jewel carefully sat by the offending foot, nodding her thanks to Silas when he returned with the ice pack. "It might not be that bad," she said, carefully cushioning Donna's ankle in the ice pack before looking up at Silas, "but you should probably get her to the ER."
"Yes, of course, absolutely. Okay, boys, go get in the car"
"For goodness' sake, Si," Donna said. "They can't go with us! Who knows how long it'll take? Besides, an ER waiting room's no place for children."
"Like they're both not on first-name basis with the staff already," Silas said. Donna gave him a look. "Fine. But who's gonna watch 'em? Noah's clear across town at the Mannings, Eli and Dad are in Santa Fe. We could drop them off at Jess's, but that's a good half hour out of our way"
"Um, hello?" Jewel raised her hand. "I'd be happy to keep an eye on them." She aimed a smile in the boys' direction, only to be met with a pair of dubious frowns.
"See?" Donna said, her face contorting as she shifted her ample form to put her good foot on the floor. "The Good Lord provides."
Silas's gaze shot to Jewel's. "I'm not sure that's such a good idea"
"Nonsense. Oliver?" This in a strained voice to the straight-haired one. "Get my poncho from the closet, honey. And Tad, grab my purse off the table by the door. That's right, sugarsbring 'em to me"
"I don't want to stay with her!" The little one inched closer to Silas, his worried eyes nearly the same muddy green as his father's. "What if she's mean?"
Jewel gasped. "I'm not"
"Oh, for heaven's sake," Donna said as Oliver dumped the well-worn, Peruvian-patterned poncho on the couch beside her, "Jewel helps deliver babies! She obviously loves children! Don't you, honey?"
"You bet! And really, Silas, it's no problem. I don't have any appointments today or anything." Although despite the generous amount of cheer she'd injected into the words what with her lack of pressing obligation being momentarily convenientoverall this was not a good thing. As in, she had far too much free time on her hands and not nearly enough cash in them
"So it's settled," Donna said. "You all can stay right here. Si, give me a hand"
"But we can't stay here!" Oliver put in, his dark brown eyes all watery. "It's almost time to feed Doughboy!"
Oh, for pity's sake
Crouching in front of the child, Jewel smiled. "Tell you whatif it's okay with your daddy, we can go to your house, and you can feed Doughboy" who or whatever that was "and if it gets late you can go right to sleep in your own beds. But before that," she then said to Tad, tapping him on his nose, "we're gonna have so much fun your daddy's gonna be sorry he wasn't with us!"