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Authors: T. L. Haddix

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Emma grinned and slid her arms around Archer’s waist. “Just bring him home to me safely, and you can borrow him. But don’t keep him out too late. I’ll worry.”

Logan shook his head, but he smiled back. “Yes, ma’am. I’ll have him home by curfew.”

“I’m going to go up and say goodnight to Sydney. Then we can go,” Archer told him.

After he was upstairs, Logan helped clear the table. “You’re good for him,” he said as he handed Emma an empty dish. “I’m glad he found you.”

She loaded the dishwasher as they talked. “I’m glad, too. I know we’ve only been married a couple of weeks, but it just feels like home. It’s hard to explain. So I don’t suppose you want to tell me what’s going on?”

“It really is best if Archer explains. You’ll have questions I can’t answer.”

“Am I going to like whatever it is he tells me?”

Logan answered honestly. “Probably not.”

She frowned and wiped her hands on a dish towel. “Is it something to do with Candace?”

“No. It’s nothing to do with the past.”

He could tell curiosity was eating her alive, but she relented. “Then I’ll wait and let him tell me.”

Archer came back down then, Sydney in his arms. “Someone wanted to say goodnight to her uncle.”

Logan accepted the little girl almost as though he’d been doing it for years. He was getting used to holding small children, and it wasn’t as scary as he’d thought it would be. “I brought you a letter,” he said. “I forgot to give it to you earlier.”

She smiled up at him with a lopsided grin. “Really? A letter for me?”

“Yes, ma’am. All for you.” He carried her to the hall and dug into his coat with one hand. He pulled the envelope out and handed it to her. “Here you go.”

“Thank you, thank you, thank you. I love getting letters,” she said, holding it close to her chest. “They make me feel special.”

Logan tightened his arms and gave her a little hug. “You are special.”

They headed out a few minutes later in Archer’s truck, an uneasy silence filling the cab as they drove. It took less than ten minutes to reach a little cluster of houses up a side road, more a group of homes than an actual neighborhood. Archer drove down the street, slowing ever so slightly when they reached a house midway up the hill.

“That’s it. The white one with the green Christmas lights.”

Two vehicles were parked in the driveway, a small car and a dark pickup. The lights were on in the house, glowing warmly through the curtains.

“Looks innocuous enough.” Logan’s temper was heating up. “I’m liking your idea more and more. Maybe we should go knock on the door.”

Archer kept going, though. He circled on around the street, which came out on the road a little farther down, and back to the gas station across from the main entrance. He backed in to park in the shadows. “Not tonight. Tonight, we watch.”

Chapter Sixteen

“I
’m so glad I did this.” Amelia sat back in the restaurant booth with a sigh and smiled at the man seated beside her. “Thank you for calling me. I needed to get away from things.”

Jonah Morissey raised his glass. “More than happy to help. But now you have me curious—what exactly are you getting away from?”

She waited to answer until their server had removed their plates and poured their after-dinner coffee. “I don’t even know where to start.”

“Start with the man,” he advised, adding just the right amount of creamy liqueur to her coffee. His words startled a laugh from Amelia.

“How do you know there’s a man?”

His grin was full of self-deprecation. “Sweetheart, there’s always a man. So talk.”

She did. She told him about Logan, about Roger, about all of it. “I swear to you that if I wouldn’t miss my family so much, I’d hit the road and just drive. Go wherever my little heart led me and answer to no one for a while.”

Jonah was quiet for a minute as he sipped his own coffee. “I think you should do just that. They make these things called telephones nowadays, and they have this other really nifty thing called mail. You could do a short trip somewhere for a few weeks. I doubt you would miss that much, and your family isn’t known for not keeping in touch, dear.”

“It isn’t that simple. I really wish it were.”

“Okay, then tell me why it isn’t that simple. Maybe we can fix things.”

“My car is old, I have a teeny-tiny savings account that’s for emergencies only, and I have obligations I can’t just walk away from—like rent? Utilities? And it’s winter.”

Jonah gave a little shrug and waved a hand. “I’ll let you borrow my car, you can get a job somewhere temporarily, and you rent from your brother. He’s not going to throw you out if you don’t pay the rent for a month or two. As to winter, there’s no better time to visit a southern state like Florida.”

He would do it, too. She knew his offer was sincere, and his generosity melted her heart. “If you weren’t gay, I’d marry you,” she told him in a low voice.

“If I weren’t gay, I’d take you up on that.” He picked her hand up and kissed the back. “How about we head back to my house and watch those movies we got?”

Amelia didn’t return to Hazard until Tuesday morning, her first stop being Lori’s house. Again, her friend’s car was gone, and it made Amelia wonder just what was going on. As far as Lori had known, she was still in town.

“I’ll have to ask her about it the next time we talk,” she muttered. “This isn’t normal.” A glance at her watch told her she had over an hour before she had to be at the library. Not enough time to get home, but enough time to grab a bite to eat.

When she walked into the bakery next door to Emma’s photography studio, she was pleasantly surprised to find Zanny in line. She walked up and nudged her sister-in-law with her shoulder.

“Hey, you. Did you escape the asylum?”

Zanny leveled a knowing look at her that made Amelia want to confess to all kinds of sins. “How was Lexington?”

“Good. Why am I in trouble?”

“Did you forget that you were supposed to have a talk with your folks this weekend?”

Amelia’s cheeks flushed so fast, she felt the blood rush into them. “Not exactly. Rick said he would wait until I got home to tell them.”

“He is waiting. But he also talked to Archer last week, who talked to Emma, who talked to Rachel and me. And I talked to John. You’d better plan on telling your parents soon before someone slips up and mentions it in front of them. Are you okay, honey?”

“I guess so. I was tempted to stay in Lexington, I have to admit. Ben and Ainsley say hi.”

“Emma talked to Ben on Sunday. He said you were staying with Jonah.”

“He didn’t put me under an Inquisition.” She crossed her arms over her chest, wishing she’d chosen to eat anywhere else. “How are my nephews and niece? That look is going to strike fear in their hearts in a few years when they’re teenagers, you know.”

Zanny put one hand on her hip, her fingers tapping. “I’m counting on it. And they’re fine. Molly’s next door with Emma and the Gibson boys. Will you come over and eat with us?” She stepped up and told the cashier she was picking up a to-go order.

Amelia had a hard time hiding her groan. “I can turn around and go back to Lexington. I swear I can. And I will.”

“You will not. The family is worried about you and if you run again, someone
will
tell Owen and Sarah about what’s been going on. We’ll work through this, Pip. You just have to let us in to help you.”

“That’s harder than it sounds,” she confessed. “I don’t want to worry everyone.”

“I know it is, but you’re just going to have to suck it up and do it.” Zanny wasn’t unsympathetic, and Amelia knew she was right. She placed her order and they moved down the line to wait for it.

“How upset is Em?”

Zanny put her arm around Amelia’s shoulders and squeezed. “Let’s just say that you’re going to owe Archer a nice meal or something as a reward because he’s kept her off your back the last few days. She wanted to drive to Lexington when she found out, and he’s kept her from tearing Roger apart.”

“Damn.”

“Sweetie, you didn’t honestly expect her to not react, did you? She’s not the only one. John, Rick, Archer, and Logan have all been taking turns going out at night, following the son of a bitch. They’re waiting for him to make a mistake. It won’t be pretty when he does. You’ll have an escort at least the next few weeks any time you’re out after dark. I think Logan’s taking the shift tonight.”

Amelia was speechless. She just looked at Zanny, trying to figure out what to say as the lady gave Zanny Amelia’s bag.

Zanny put the bag in the box with everyone else’s meals and handed Amelia the coffee she’d ordered. “Come on. Let’s go eat. Maybe it will make sense once you have some food in your belly.”

“I don’t want to be a burden,” she finally stammered as they walked next door. The wind was bitingly cold and she hurried to hold the door open for Zanny.

“Amelia Rose Campbell, if that isn’t the most ridiculous thing I think I’ve heard come out of your mouth in years,” her sister-in-law scolded. “You are the least burdensome person I know. And you remind me of myself from a few years ago. You know what trying to do all for everyone got me.”

“Who are you talking to?” Emma asked as she stepped through the opening in the tasteful screens that separated the reception area from the studio. “Amelia!”

Before she could do much more than get her empty hand out of her pocket and her coffee clear, Emma had enveloped her in a tight hug.

“H…hi.”

Emma drew back, her eyes doing a quick but thorough search from head to toe. “I may strangle you. Are you okay?”

“Em, I’m fine. Really.”

Zanny cleared her throat. “Come on upstairs. Let’s eat.”

Amelia could almost feel the tension radiating off Emma as they went up to the kitchen and dining area. But when she saw Archer feeding Molly, she smiled. The man was a natural. Emma was going to find herself with a houseful of kids if she wasn’t careful, but Amelia didn’t think her sister would mind in the least.

Logan was standing in front of the windows that looked out over the street, and he turned when they came into the room. He straightened when he saw Amelia, and she gave him a nod, then turned her attention back to Archer.

“Look who I found,” Zanny said as she set the box down and started handing out food.

“I see that,” Archer replied. He absently thanked Zanny as she put his sandwich on the table in front of him. “How’s Jonah?”

The question made Amelia blink it was so unexpected. “Um, he’s okay. As full of life as ever.”

“I wish the two of you would pair up,” Emma surprised her by saying. “He could take you away from here and keep you safe.”

Amelia really was speechless, her mouth gaping open slightly. She recovered enough to think to close it and looked at Zanny, who was nodding.

“It’s a shame he’s gay. The two of you would make lovely babies.”

For some reason that made Logan shoot an incredulous look at Archer. “He’s gay?”

Archer shrugged, and his cheeks were flushed a little as he answered. “Thought everyone knew that,” he mumbled.

“Okay, I feel like I’ve walked in to an alternate universe.” Amelia sat down heavily in her chair. She pointed at the brothers. “Why aren’t you two at work?”

“I’m on lunch,” Logan answered. “He’s taking the afternoon off.”

Amelia frowned. “How come? You hardly ever take time off.”

“The garage is pretty much shut down thanks to the flu. We’re all off today and tomorrow.”

“Luckily, my husband has the constitution of a horse,” Emma teased gently as she sat beside him. “Even Uncle Jack has a touch of it, poor guy.”

“You just like saying that—my husband,” Zanny said with a smile.

“I like hearing it,” Archer answered with a grin. He put Molly in her playpen. When he turned back to the table, he started the questioning. “So when are you going to tell your parents what’s been going on?”

Amelia paused, coffee halfway to her mouth, and really looked at him for the first time. He was angry, not an emotion she’d seen from Archer very often. She set the coffee back down and pushed her chicken salad sandwich away, appetite gone.

“I don’t know how to tell them. How much do you know?”

Archer mimicked her posture. “Rick told me everything you told him.”

“He had no right to worry you.”

She thought he was going to come out of his chair. Given that she’d known him for five years and had only seen him lose his temper once or twice that entire time, his reaction spoke volumes. She lowered her eyes, unable to meet his outraged stare. She was too ashamed.

“Pip, I don’t know what to say to you. None of us do. Why didn’t you tell us what was going on sooner? I mean we knew some of it, but not the extent.” His voice gentled as he spoke, but she still felt the sting of his words. “And so help me, if you say you didn’t want to worry us, I’ll march you up to Owen Campbell and stand there until you talk.”

Anger rushed into her veins at his autocratic tone, and she stood slowly. She leaned across the table. “Let’s get this one thing straight, Archer. I love you like you’re one of my brothers. You’ve been my best friend for years now. But you are
not
my father. You are
not
my husband. And I will tell my parents in my own time, in my own way. I know I have to do it soon. I am not a child. I appreciate that you’ve been trying to keep me safe. I really, honestly do. But I didn’t ask for your help. I don’t want you all getting involved in this. Rick had no business saying anything until I gave him the go-ahead.”

That did it. Archer got to his feet and glared down at her. “For someone who’s supposed to be an adult, you’re being ridiculously childish about this. You’re being reckless. What if he kills you? Then what are we supposed to tell your parents? ‘Sorry, Owen, Sarah, guess we should have done something while we could have, but she asked us not to. But it’s okay, you still have two daughters.’ How the fuck do you think that would go over?”

Emma tried to intervene. “Archer—”

“No, she needs to wake up. She’s seen what he does to Lori on a regular basis. How the hell can you stand there and look at me and not seem to care what happens to you?” he shouted at Amelia. The raised voice startled Molly, who broke into a distressed cry.

This time Logan was the one who attempted to stop the argument, and he succeeded where Emma hadn’t. “You’re acting like an ass, browbeating her into doing something she’s not ready to do,” he told his brother calmly as he stood, placing a hand on Archer’s shoulder. “How is that any different from what Roger’s trying to do?”

Archer paled, and the only sounds in the room were Zanny’s soothing voice as she talked to the baby and the tick of a clock. “I didn’t mean—”

“No, of course you didn’t. But the end result is the same. Let her be. She isn’t stupid.”

Amelia laughed outright at the irony of Logan defending her. “I’m going to go now. I have to be at the library soon. I’ll see you all later.”

“I’ll walk you out,” Emma offered.

“No. I’d rather you didn’t just now.” She didn’t wait for an answer, just quietly went down the stairs and out the door.

There were only a handful of times since she’d been working with the literacy program that she’d had to cancel. If she had a few more hours to give notice, she would cancel today. As she was so close to starting time, she did as Zanny suggested earlier and sucked it up.

By the time she finished for the night, Amelia was exhausted. Just the thought of driving home made her whimper. Logan was waiting for her when she came out of the secluded corner where she did the tutoring.

Too tired to protest or argue, she slipped into her coat. “Ready?”

“Yes, ma’am. I’ll follow you to your car, then to your house. And I know I don’t have to do it, but I want to. How’d the session go?”

“Well enough.”

He didn’t pressure her to talk again, and even though she hated to admit it, she felt safer having him there. He stuck close and did a thorough check of her car before she unlocked it. Unlike the previous week, the street was quiet with no sign of Roger anywhere. Logan’s SUV was parked right next to her car, and once she was in her vehicle, he got in his. He let her get a good distance ahead of him before starting out, presumably watching to see if anyone else followed, and he maintained that distance the whole fifteen-minute drive up to her house in Firefly Hollow.

Amelia would be lying if she said she had no trepidation about what might be waiting for her at home. She felt more secure than she had in a long time, knowing Logan would be there. But the idea of having him in her home late at night, without anyone as a buffer between them, made her skittish. She was too tired to keep her guard up right now, and she might say or do something she’d regret.

BOOK: Cricket Cove
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