About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Aubrey McKaslin didn't know if she was coming or going. All she knew was that her eighteen–month–old niece was crying in agony, holding her fists to her ears. The little girl's cries echoed in the coved ceiling of the dining nook of her stepsister Danielle's home. To top it off, her almost five–year–old nephew Tyler was refusing to eat his dinner.
She was running on four hours' sleep at the end of a difficult day that came at the end of a very bad week, and she was at her wit's end. And she wasn't the only one. Tyler, always a good and dependable boy, gave his plate a push away from him at the table and shot her a mulish glare.
"I want Mommy. I don't want Mexi–fries!" He choked back a sob, his eyes full of pain. "I want my d–daddy. I want him to come h–home."
"I know, but he can't come, pumpkin. He's still in the hospital." Aubrey ran a loving hand over his tousled head. "You know he would be here with you if he could."
"Because he's sick, honey." Aubrey's heart broke as she bounced the weepy little girl on her hip, to comfort her. With her free hand, she knelt to brush her fingertips down the little boy's nose. It usually made him smile, but not this evening. No, it had been a rough day for all of them.
On days like this, she wanted to know why so many hardships. She'd take it to the Lord in prayer, but she knew that life was like this, sometimes difficult, sometimes beyond understanding. All she could do was make the best of such an awful day.
"But why's he sick?" Fat tears glistened in Tyler's sorrowful eyes. "Why?"
Tyler's dad, Jonas, wasn't sick. he'd slipped into a degenerating coma, as the doctor had told them this afternoon. Jonas was a state trooper who'd been shot ten days ago when he'd stopped a speeder, who apparently had an outstanding warrant for his arrest and didn't want to be caught. The man was still at large.
"When I'm sick, I hafta stay in bed or quiet on the couch." The boy's soulful eyes were filled with such innocence. "Daddy can, too?"
How could she explain this to him so he'd understand? Aubrey was at a loss. She loved her nephew; in the end, that's all she could do for him.
Love him through his pain. "Your daddy is so sick he has to stay at the hospital."
"N–no?" Tyler choked on a sob. "I w–want my da–daddy. He's gotta have M–Mexi–fries."
So, that's what this was about. She'd picked up fast–food Mexican meals on her way here to take turns sitting with the kids. Aubrey knew now why Tyler was so upset. It was a standing jest in the family that Mexi–fries, which were seasoned, deep–fried Tater Tots from a local taco place, could solve a host of problems. Being sick was one of them. "How about I ask your aunt Ava to take care of that? Will that make you feel better?"
"Y–yes." Tyler was sobbing so hard he choked. Poor little boy.Aubrey's heart broke all over again for him as she wrapped her free arm around him. He clung to her, crying as hard as the baby in her other arm. How their mother handled this on a daily basis, Aubrey didn't know. Talk about a tough job.
But an important one. A job she'd given up hope on ever having as her own considering the way her life was going. She pressed a kiss to Tyler's temple. "Are you feeling better now?"
"Y–yeah." He hiccupped and let go to rub his tears away with his fists. "I'm a big boy."
"Yes, you are. A very big boy. You're doing a terrific job, champ."
"Y–yeah." He gave a sniff and stared at his plate.
"Do I gotta eat the Mexi–fries?" "Try to eat something, okay?" She rubbed her free hand over Madison's soft, downy head. The antibiotics she'd picked up earlier hadn't kicked in yet, or at least not enough, and she was still in misery. "I'm going to try rocking her again. I'll be right over here if you need me."
"O–kay." Tyler hiccupped again, wrestling down his own misery, and stared halfheartedly at his plate.
Madison wrapped her little fists in Aubrey's long blond hair and yanked, at the same time burying her face in Aubrey's neck.
Poor baby. Aubrey began humming a Christian pop tune, the first thing that came into her head as she ambled over to the rocker in the corner of the living room. The instant she sank onto the soft cushion, Madison let out a scream of protest. She must be missing her mom, too.
"It's all right, baby," she soothed, and Madison's cries became sobs.
Lord, please show me how to help them, how to comfort them. She closed her eyes and prayed with all her heart, but no answer seemed to come as the air conditioner kicked on, breezing cool air against her ankle.
Life had been so dark the past week and a half that she'd forgotten there was a beautiful, bright world outside the house. It was a gorgeous summer evening. The trees were in full bloom.
Thick streams of sunshine tumbled through the dancing green leaves of the young maple trees in the backyard and glinted over the sparkling surface of the in–ground pool. The tabby cat stalked through the shadows of the perimeter shrubbery, and Danielle's flower baskets on the deck shivered cheerfully in the warm night breezes.
How could such a beautiful day hold so much sorrow?
Her cell began to chime, startling Madison even more. Red faced, the little girl slumped like a rag doll against Aubrey in defeat, her fingers fisting in the knit ofAubrey's summery top. She leaned her cheek against the little girl, willing as much comfort into her as she could while at the same time inching the phone out of her front shorts pocket. She checked the screen, just in case it was a call from family.
Ava's cell number came up—her twin sister. Thank God for small miracles. "Tell me that you're on your way over. Please."
"Sorry, I wish I could."Ava's voice sounded thin and wavering, and Aubrey's stomach squeezed in a painful zing of sympathy. She knew what was coming before her twin said it. "Things aren't good here. Danielle's not okay. That's her husband in there, dying, and I can't leave her. Is that Madison?"
"You can hear her, huh?" No big surprise there. Aubrey kept the rocker moving and tried to comfort the baby, but things were just getting worse. Now Tyler was sobbing quietly at the table. "Have you heard if Dad and Dorrie's plane has landed yet?"
"No, but when they get here, I'll race straight over to give you a hand with the munchkins."
"Thanks, I'll take whatever help I can get."
"I'll hopefully see you soon and, in the meantime, I'll send a few prayers of help your way."
"Great, I'll take 'em."
The doorbell rang, the sound a pleasant chime echoing in the high cathedral ceilings overhead. Tyler looked up, tears staining his face. Madison ignored it, keeping her face buried in Aubrey's neck. It was probably a thoughtful church member dropping by another casserole. "I gotta go. Some–one's at the door."
"How can I tell? I'm not near the door. It's not family, because they would walk right in." Somehow she managed to straighten out of the chair without jostling Madison or dropping her cell phone. "Call me if anything changes, okay?"
That was all she could say with Tyler listening, all ears, trying to figure out what was really going on. But he was too little to understand, and overhearing it was not the right way to explain what was happening with his daddy.
"Understood," Ava said. "The doctor is talking with Danielle right now, so I'll let you know."
Aubrey flipped her phone shut. The doorbell pealed again, but she wasn't moving very fast. Neither was Tyler.
He slid off his seat and landed with a two–footed thud on the linoleum floor. He rubbed the tears away with his fists, smearing them across his pale cheeks. "I can get the door, Aunt Aubrey. I do it for Mom all the time."
"Go ahead, tiger." She followed him through the hallway to the front door, where the door's arched window gave her a good view of the newcomer standing on the porch. She caught the impression of a tall man with jet–black hair framing a stony face before Tyler wrenched the door open.
"Who're you?" he asked with a sniffle. Aubrey stood up behind the boy, staring at the stranger who took one look at them and rechecked the house number tacked on the beige siding.
"I'm looking for Jonas Lowell." The man said in a gravelly baritone. "Do I have the right place?"
He had dark eyes that met her gaze like an electrical shock. He had an intense presence, not dark and not frightening, just solid. Like a man who knew his strength and his capability.
Aubrey couldn't find her voice, so she nodded, aware of Madison's baby–fine curls against her chin, the warm weight of the toddler, and the blast of dry summer wind on her face.
Tyler leaned against her knee, tipping his head all the way back to look at up at the man. "You're real tall. Are you a fireman?"
"No." The man came forward, and with the sun at his back shadowing him as he approached, he looked immense. His dark gaze intensified on hers. "You're not Danielle, right?"
"No, I'm her stepsister." He definitely was not a close friend of Jonas's, Aubrey decided. But there were friends who still didn't know. She opened the door wider. Not a lot of crime happened in this part of Montana, in spite of what had happened to Jonas.
"Maybe you didn't hear, I…" She paused. How did she find the words to say what had happened, with Tyler listening so intently? Danielle hadn't wanted him to know the whole truth yet. It was so violent and cruel. Too violent and cruel.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Welcome! This clan has been around since June 18, 2014! Our special ability is to see where our rivals are, but only in the daytime. Rules: 1. Be realistic! No "Largepaw padded in with five voles" or a silly name like "Expressoleap". 2. Advertise! We want this clan to be around for a long time! 3. Be active! If gone for more than two days notify leader or deputy! Or leave a message. 4. No godmodding. Godmodders may be ignored. 5. Mating is allowed but outside of the clan. Go to a private book. 6. Leader's word is law! Deputy is in charge if leader's gone. 7. If the medecine cat says for you to rest. Obey him/her! 8. Homeless kits are allowed! Welcome them! 9. If an evil clan attacks you may fight. (See rule 4). 10. Have FUN! Map: Res.1 Rules and Map. Res.2 Main Camp. Res.3 Territory. Res.4 Anything. Bios at trd res.1. Thank you for joining!
This book was fabulous. I enjoyed it from the very first word to the very last. It wasn't just boy meets girl, boy falls in love with girl, and they get married. The two characters in this story had many obstacles to overcome, many of them emotional. This story tugged at my heartstrings and I will reread it at least 3 times.