Read Always Devoted Online

Authors: Karen Rose Smith

Always Devoted (16 page)

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He grinned.  "If you wanna give it to her."

Gillian tried to tear off a piece of the cornbread, but it slid into the chili.  Nathan grabbed the dish and held it for her.  Smiling her thanks, she took the small bite from the wedge and let the dog lick it from her hand.  The schnauzer gulped it down and looked up at her for more.  Laughing again, Gillian scratched the pet behind her ears.  "I should have known that little bit wouldn't be enough."

As she touched the dog and rubbed her rough coat, Gillian felt her gaze pulled to the teenager again.  He and the dog were connected by a strong bond of affection.  A surge of energy made her fingers tingle and she automatically closed her eyes for a moment.  A clear picture of a dark-haired woman on a porch came into focus.  The woman was worried.  Gillian had the distinct impression she was the boy's mother.

Opening her eyes, Gillian cast a wary look at Nathan.  He was watching her closely.  Should she say something to the boy about his mother?  If she did, Nathan would know what had happened.  Why had this vision come now?  Since she'd left Indiana, she'd felt normal--no pictures, no knowledge she shouldn't have.

Gillian looked at the boy, knowing she couldn't let the woman in her mind's eye suffer unnecessarily.  "I think your dog wants a full-course meal."

"What time is it?" he asked with a nod at Gillian's watch.


"Geez.  I was supposed to be home an hour ago.  Mom's gonna be..."  He stopped with a shrug as if a boy his age shouldn't worry about adult authority.  Snapping the leash onto the dog's collar, he gave it a gentle tug.  "C'mon, Peanut.  We'll get us both some supper."  He smiled at Gillian and skated over to his friends, who sat on the curb sipping sodas.

Nathan handed Gillian her plate.  "What happened?"

"You saw what happened.  I gave the dog a snack."

"When you touched the dog, you closed your eyes."

The man was too observant.  "The boy's mother was worried about him."

"You felt that?"

"I saw that.  She was standing on the porch waiting for him."

"You got that from petting the dog?" Nathan asked, astonished.

She'd faced expressions like his many times in the past.  "Mr. Bradley..."

"Nathan," he reminded her. 

Calling him by his first name seemed too familiar.  She already knew she could be attracted to him.  "This 'talent' I have isn't something I can turn off and on like a light switch.  It's more unpredictable than the weather or earthquakes."

"You made him realize she was worried without saying it, without telling him you knew."

"That was easiest."

Nathan finished his enchilada and took a swig of soda before he spoke again.  "My ex-wife took my daughters out of the country six months ago.  I can't find them. My P.I. can't find them.  Will you take my case?"





Excerpt from JAKE'S BRIDE:




Sara Standish's heart thudded with excitement, but with trepidation, too, as she climbed the porch steps to the house where she'd lived all her twenty years.  Surely, Jake would change his mind about not having children once he heard her news.  With their wedding two days away and their future stretching before them, wouldn't he feel joy over a life they'd created together?

But then she remembered the pain in his voice, on his face, in his hands, the night he'd told her about his wife  and child…how he'd lost he never wanted to experience that devastation again.  Her empathy had turned into kisses that turned into making love for the first time.  He'd needed her and she'd needed him.  But afterward, he'd vowed he wouldn't make love to her again until their wedding night, until she was protected, until they were truly husband and wife.  He was that type of man.

Although she loved children, she'd agreed to a childless marriage.  She loved Jake so much she'd agree to almost anything.

Did he love her enough to let go of his past and accept this child?

Sara knew she'd agreed to a childless marriage, praying that some day, knowing the love Jake had to give, he would change his mind.  She'd witnessed his work at the community center with teenagers who could stray from an honest path too easily.  And he didn't express his feelings often, but he did love her.  He'd showed her that with the yellow roses he brought her every Friday night. Each rose signified the completion of another week, their growing feelings for each other, the importance of talking about their successes and failures.  Those special times of holding and caring were more precious to her than she could ever explain.  The two most recent roses in a vase on her desk in her bedroom reminded her daily of the commitment they'd made.

She loved Jake so.  Still, her fear made her throat tight.  What if he couldn't accept this child?  What if...

Stopping the questions, she opened the door and went inside.  She heard voices coming from the kitchen.  Her mother's and Jake's.  Quickly she shrugged out of her jacket and hung it in the foyer closet.  Nervously brushing her short, auburn hair away from her face, she wondered how she could get Jake alone without making her mother too curious.  Maybe she could say she wanted to show him the beautiful November sunset.  Or maybe she should wait to tell him after supper.  They could drive to the beach...

"You're a gem, Mrs. Standish.  Your pot roast could win a medal."  Jake's tone was teasing but conveyed his appreciation of her mother's culinary skill.

Jennie Standish laughed.  "You can tell from the aroma?  I think maybe you just haven't eaten properly all day.  And, by the way, Jake, don't you think since you're marrying my daughter this weekend, you could call me Jennie?"

There was a pause.  "I'd like that."

Sara understood the huskiness in Jake's voice.  He'd lost his own mother and appreciated the bond he was building with hers.

"Jake, there is something I'd like to discuss with you before Sara arrives."

"Is there a problem?"

Jennie Standish's tone was gentle.  "I don't know.  Sara tells me you don't want to have children."

He didn't answer immediately, but finally said, "That's right."

"You know Sara loves children.  For three years she's worked in that day care center.  I told her somehow I'd manage to send her to college full time instead of part time, but over and over she's reminded me the experience would make her a better teacher when she does get her degree.  She loves working with little children.  I think she'd do it even if she didn't get paid."

The house was quiet for a few moments as Sara waited for Jake's response.

"We believe our love is enough."

"Your love needs to spill over, Jake.  It needs to be bigger than the two of you."

His voice was sad with a raspy catch.  "You don't understand."

"Make me understand so I know Sara won't regret this pact she's made with you."

"Did Sara tell you about my wife and son?"

"She told me you're divorced."

"Yes.  Because of what happened.  Because--"

Sara knew Jake held in his emotions and didn't want to appear vulnerable to anyone.  It came from his upbringing, from his years as a member of the police force, from the sticky situations he'd handled as a private investigator, from the loss of his son.

A chair scraped the linoleum and in her mind's eye, Sara could see Jake, his broad shoulders, his wavy black hair, his brown eyes that could hide every thought in his head so well, as he sat in the kitchen chair.

"I grew up in the projects."

"Sara did tell me that.  I figured it had something to do with you becoming a police officer.  But she didn't tell me why you gave it up, why you decided to become a private investigator instead."

"I became a cop because I thought I could clean up the city, make a difference.  But it's not possible, Mrs. Standish."  He corrected himself.  "Jennie.  I was a cop for eight years, and I didn't make a dent let alone a difference.  You wouldn't believe the misery I saw.  Then that misery touched me."

"What happened?" she asked softly.

"I was married.  We had a six year old--Davie.  Full of life and fun.  I was working the night shift.  Mary Beth and Davie decided to go to the video store for a movie.  My car was parked behind hers.  Davie ran out ahead of her and opened the driver's door so he could crawl in beside her.  The car exploded."

"Oh, Jake."

"I heard Mary Beth's screams.  I still hear them.  Neither of us could do anything.  We found out later a guy I'd collared did it.  It was an act of revenge.  But the bomb took the wrong person, and I was to blame.  Mary Beth blamed me, too.  Our marriage fell apart."

"Jake, I'm so sorry."

"I won't bring a child into a world of suffering, into a world that doesn't cherish its children or protect them by keeping criminals like that thug behind bars instead of paroling them.  I will never get over losing Davie.  Not in this lifetime or the next.  Don't you see?  I can't have more children.  I can't put myself through that again."

Sara leaned against the closet door.  She knew his pain went deep, but she'd hoped their marriage would heal the wounds.  Yet, she also knew if he wasn't ready for healing, he'd fight it.  A child could make the pain deeper instead of healing him.  She'd been naive to think the news of her pregnancy might be welcome.  Jake said what he believed.  He was passionate about what he felt.  Could she trap him in a situation he didn't want?  What would happen to his feelings for her?

If she told him about the baby, she knew what Jake would do.  He'd go through with the wedding because he was an honorable man.  But what kind of marriage would they have?

Tears flooded her eyes.  Certainly a marriage he didn't want, a child who'd remind him every day of the son he'd lost.  He'd resent the pain.  He'd resent her.  Worst of all, though he'd never admit it, he'd resent their child.  She couldn't bear to see the love they'd shared erode with each passing day, each time Jake looked at her and their child and realized he was imprisoned in his anguish.

Her love wasn't strong enough to watch the feelings between them die instead of grow.  Yet she had to give them one last chance, one last chance for Jake to put their love before his pain.

With trembling fingers she brushed the tears from her cheeks.  Lifting her chin, she walked into the kitchen.

Jake's head came up.  His brown eyes warmed just for her.  Standing, he took her in his arms and hugged her.  "Hi, there."  His voice was still low and husky from the strain of sharing the past with her mother.  "I was worried.  Did you get tied up at work?"

"No.  I need to talk to you.  Let's go into the living room."

"But your mother has supper ready."

Jennie Standish's gaze passed quickly over the two of them, worried because she knew from the tone of Sara's voice that something was wrong.  "That's all right.  I can keep everything warm."

Jake took Sara's hand and walked with her to the sofa.  When they were seated, he wrapped his arm around her and kissed her.  Her fear kept her from responding with her usual fervor, and he leaned away, never a man to push, never a man to take more than she wanted to give.

The gold in his eyes told her better than words that his desire for her would ignite with a kiss, a touch, a smile.  But she had none of them for him now.  Meeting his gaze, she took a deep breath.  "Jake, I need to ask you something."  She unconsciously placed her hand on her stomach.  "Do you think you'll ever change your mind about having children?"

The gold disappeared as his eyes darkened with pain.  "Sara..."

"I want your children.  And I...need to have a baby.  To feel fulfilled in our marriage.  To feel fulfilled as a woman."  A tiny kernel of Sara inside her heart urged her to believe that her announcement might change Jake's mind, that they could have a happy future.

The nerve in his jaw worked.  "We had an agreement."

A sob lodged in her throat but she pushed out the rest of what she had to say.  "I know.  But I can't keep it."

For a moment, she saw...devastation.  And for that moment, she could see all the pain he tried to hide from the loss of his son, the depth of the wound she thought she could help heal.  She'd been naive again.

Jake turned away, his lean cheeks taut.  When he met her gaze again, she couldn't see anything but his dark brown eyes.  He'd erected a wall...against her.  She could feel it as tangibly as she'd felt his love a second before.

Stoicism marked his face as he asked, "What are you trying to tell me?"

Her heart broke and she knew it would never be the same again.  She loved Jake too much to trap him.  "That...that I need to have children and if you truly don't want them...then I can't marry you."

"Sara..."  He spoke her name with such feeling…then all emotion was gone.  "You're calling off the wedding?"

"Jake, I have to.  I have to think about the future.  Can't you do that?  Can't you imagine--?"

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