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Authors: T. L. Haddix

Cricket Cove (22 page)

BOOK: Cricket Cove
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Chapter Thirty-Five

L
ogan didn’t know how he got through the next two days. Archer called him Friday evening to tell him they were going to Amelia’s birthday party Sunday.

“What, I don’t get an invite?” he asked, his heart pounding as he wondered if she’d changed her mind about wanting to see him.

“Uh, well, yeah. I mean, I didn’t know if you’d want to go or not, given how rocky your relationship with her has been. But you’re more than welcome.”

“Sounds like fun. Sign me up. What time do I need to be ready?”

Archer laughed, and Logan knew he’d confused his brother. “We’ll pick you up around nine, nine thirty. How’d your sleepover go?”

Logan was instantly on guard. “Well enough.”

“So, who is she? Anyone I know?”

He didn’t want to lie to his brother, so he answered, “You’ve met her, yes.”

Archer didn’t say anything, just cleared his throat after a minute.

“You aren’t coming down with something, are you?” Logan asked, playing dumb.

“No. I’m waiting for you to tell me more about this woman.”

Logan sighed. “She’s… special. And I really don’t want to talk about it.”

“How’d you meet?”

“God, Archer, come on. It was a long day and I’m tired. Can’t we discuss this later?” He pinched the bridge of his nose, hoping the twinge he felt in his neck wasn’t the beginnings of a migraine. He didn’t have them often, but when he did, they were rough.

“I guess so. Maybe on the drive to London. See you Sunday morning.”

Luckily, the headache never developed. But by the time Archer pulled up at the apartment Sunday, Logan was ready to come out of his skin with anticipation. He grabbed the letter he’d written Amelia and shoved it in his coat pocket, along with the small, gift-wrapped box containing the ornamental bookmark he’d found for her present.

“Where’s Emma?” he asked as he opened the passenger door of Emma’s SUV. Sydney waved and greeted him from the backseat. “Hey, kiddo.”

“Hey, Uncle Logan. We’re going to see the horsies!”

Logan’s gaze shot to Archer, who nodded. “It’s a working farm. They have several horses.”

Amelia hadn’t mentioned that. He wondered if that had been a deliberate omission or not.

“Emma is with Rachel and Zanny. They wanted to hit the flea market on the way down,” Archer explained, answering Logan’s question from earlier. “John has his kids, and Sarah and Owen are driving down in her car.”

Logan fastened his seatbelt as Archer backed out of the driveway. “I guess there’ll be a convoy of Campbells heading to London today.”

Archer laughed. “You could say that. Ben and Ainsley are driving down from Lexington, Sarah has Pip’s birthday hat, and I think everyone’s so excited to see her that it’s probably going to be a madhouse. More than usual, anyhow. I thought you knew about the horses. I’m sorry.”

“Don’t you like horsies, Uncle Logan?” Sydney asked.

Logan ran a hand across his face. “No, I don’t.”

“My daddy doesn’t either, but he tol’rates them for me an’ Aunt Pip,” she confided. Logan glanced at his brother, who nodded.

“Amelia loves the creatures, and so does Sydney.”

“Did Owen and Sarah keep them when the kids were growing up?” he asked. The barn was certainly big enough.

“No, but she spent her summers with Eli from an early age, remember? That’s where she got hooked. She’s very careful, but they’re still horses.”

Logan shuddered, just the idea of tiny Amelia working with the beasts sending waves of anxiety crawling over him. He knew his reaction wasn’t logical, but he was powerless to stop it. He could still remember the day the phone call had come in and the look on his father’s face when Steve Gibson had learned that his wife and the child she’d been carrying were dead. And it was all because she’d been careless around a horse she had no business being on.

He tried to hide his tension but wasn’t sure how successful he was. When they pulled up at a large white farmhouse in the middle of rolling, fenced-in cattle pastures, Archer reached over to lay a hand on his shoulder. He squeezed once, then patted Logan.

“Looks like Walker’s here,” Archer said as they got out. He undid the seatbelt of Sydney’s booster seat and let her out of the vehicle. “Let’s go take a look.”

Logan wanted nothing more than to yank Sydney in his arms and keep her far away from the barn, but he followed Archer’s lead. If his brother was okay with his daughter being around horses, Logan was going to have to get okay with it, too. To his relief, as soon as they went inside the barn, Archer picked her up, settling her on his hip.

His relief didn’t last long, though, seeing as how Amelia was holding on to the bridle of a grey horse that towered over her small frame. Caleb Walker, the vet from the Christmas party, was inspecting the horse’s back end.

“She’s looking pretty good, Pip. You’ve taken good care of her.”

“She’s a sweetheart. It was the least I could do, wasn’t it, Bess?”

The horse lowered its head and nickered, and Amelia smiled. She glanced over and saw them, her eyes widening along with her smile. “Hi!”

All Logan could do was nod while his brother and Sydney greeted her. She looked impossibly young with her hair pulled back into a ponytail and no makeup on.

“Don’t tell me they’ve put you to work on your birthday, Pip,” Archer teased. “Well, birthday party day, I should say.”

Her cheeks flushed a soft pink, and she ducked her head. “No. We’re just checking on this girl. She got herself into a bit of a mess Friday morning.”

Logan crossed his arms over his chest, mostly in an effort to keep himself from reaching out to touch her. He stayed beside Archer at the door.

“What kind of mess?” Sydney wanted to know.

“She backed into something sharp,” Walker answered. “Had to have stitches. But she’s okay.”

To Logan’s surprise, Sydney ducked her head shyly, much the way Amelia had. “Can I pet her?” she whispered to Archer.

He kissed her temple and walked over to the horse, then stood Sydney on her feet. “Remember the rules?”

She nodded. “Yes, sir.”

The horse seemed to know Sydney and lowered her head so that the little girl could reach her. Logan took a few steps toward them. Movement in the back of the barn caught his eye. Another horse, this one a chestnut brown, was pacing impatiently on the other side of a gate.

“That’s Charlie,” Amelia told him. “He’s Mr. Curiosity. He doesn’t like it when something goes on in here that he can’t be a part of.”

Walker snorted. “Yeah, right. He’s jealous that he’s not getting all your attention. That horse has a crush on you.”

She stuck her tongue out at him across Bess’s back. “Hush. He does not. He’s just… attached to me.”

Archer chuckled. “I’m with Walker on this one. Charlie’s in love with you, Pip.”

“You’re both ridiculous.”

“Sure we are. You don’t know how he is when you aren’t here,” Walker argued. “He’s the most placid horse when you aren’t around. When you are? I can’t get near you. He thinks I’m a threat.”

Maybe horses weren’t so bad after all, Logan thought. He raised an eyebrow, wondering just what kind of moves the other man had been putting on Amelia.

Amelia was shaking her head. “You’re nuts, Caleb.”

Walker spread his hands and grinned. “And? What’s your point?”

She laughed and turned her attention to Sydney. “Guess what Caleb brought with him today, Syd?”

“What?”

“Go look in that first stall,” Amelia said, gesturing across the aisle. “Archer, go with her.”

Archer narrowed his eyes, looking from Amelia to Walker. “I’m not sure I want to know,” he said, but he followed Sydney.

Amelia winked at Logan and started walking the horse past him. She placed one hand on his chest and pushed gently, signaling him to move back. “Let me get this lady to her pasture.”

As she went out the door with the horse, Sydney’s excited chatter echoed through the barn. A satisfied smile spread across Walker’s face and he nodded at Logan.

“I figured she might have that reaction. I’d better let Charlie in before he tears the gate down.” He headed for the opposite end of the barn, and Logan went over to see what all the excitement was about. He looked over the top of the stall, and the sight of Sydney sitting on the floor, two black-and-white kittens in her lap, made him smile.

Archer looked up and shook his head. “Emma’s gonna kill Walker for this.” He reached out and touched one of the tiny heads with a broad finger, and Logan knew then that the kittens would be going back to Hazard with them.

“Aren’t they precious?” Amelia asked as she joined him at the door of the stall. She placed her arms across the top board and rested her chin on her hands. “They’re three months old. Someone dropped them off last night at the clinic, and Caleb had to take them home with him. They’re out of room right now, and he couldn’t bring himself to take them to the pound. They’re perfectly healthy,” she told Archer.

“Not helping, Pip,” he said as Sydney handed him the mostly white kitten. Its purr was so loud it could be heard from several feet away, and as they watched, it rubbed its head against Archer’s chin. “No, not helping at all.”

Amelia looked up at Logan with a knowing laugh, and the warmth in her gaze touched Logan’s fear, dissolving a little of it. He looked away before the temptation to pull her into his arms grew too strong.

“Pip, a little help here?” Walker’s voice sounded tense, and as Logan turned, he saw why. The other man was having to fight to keep the brown horse’s bridle in his grip.

Amelia hurried toward them. “Charlie, behave yourself,” she scolded.

Logan didn’t think he imagined the defiant look the horse shot Walker when Amelia took his bridle. When the horse maneuvered so that his body was between the vet and Amelia, it was all Logan could do to not laugh out loud.

Walker threw his hands in the air and rolled his eyes. “Geez, Charlie. She’s yours. We get it.” When he turned around to get something from his medical kit, the horse swung his head and nipped at Walker’s back pocket, pulling what looked like a pair of pliers out. He gave a satisfied whinny as Walker cursed, and dropped the pliers at Amelia’s feet.

This time Logan did laugh out loud. Amelia rewarded him with a sunny smile.

“What did Charlie do this time?” Archer asked from inside the stall.

“Stole Caleb’s snips.”

Archer’s cough sounded a lot like a laugh. “At least it wasn’t your pocket this time.”

Walker looked up toward the roof and asked, “I’m never going to live that down, am I?”

“No, you are not. Last summer, Charlie decided he was going to pull this same trick,” Amelia explained, rubbing the horse’s neck. “Only he didn’t just get the snips, he got Caleb’s pocket, too. And when he ripped, he danged near brought Caleb off his feet. His pants didn’t fare too well,” she confided in a low voice. “I didn’t think they really made polka-dotted silk boxers until that day. Pink and red. With little pink hearts. Who knew?”

Walker spun around, hands on his hips. “I told you, that’s what was clean. That was the week from you-know-where, and I didn’t have time to do laundry. And they weren’t pink. The red bled.”

Archer and Sydney came out of the stall then, sans kittens, and Archer was grinning. “Sure it did. Come on, kiddo, let’s go say hi to Nonny.”

Amelia gave a tragic sigh as they left. “Alas, that was the day I realized Caleb and I were never meant to be. I much prefer a man who wears briefs.” She gave Logan a saucy wink.

“That was the day? I thought ‘that day’ came years ago,” Walker argued. “Something about catching Mary Lou Hennessee and me in the stock pond and not being willing to give yourself up to a man with such loose morals. She was twelve,” he told Logan, who was starting to enjoy the banter.

Amelia patted the horse’s neck. “Yes, that’s true. But seeing your pink undies confirmed it for me. That said, I know a certain receptionist who likes men who wear boxers. I invited her over for dinner today, you know.” She walked the horse past Logan, hiding her laughter behind a cough as Walker sputtered.

“She’s an absolute menace,” he muttered. He moved to stand beside Logan. “You’ve got your hands full with her, you know.”

Logan sucked in a breath. “I beg your pardon?” Even though they were alone in the barn with Archer and Sydney almost to the house now, the trepidation of being discovered before Amelia was ready ran through him.

“I was here when she showed up Friday morning. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to put two and two together. Going to be interesting when your brother figures it out, though.” He clapped Logan’s shoulder and bent to pick up the snips.

Logan cursed silently. That was exactly what he was afraid of.

When Amelia came back in, she walked straight up to him, not stopping until she bumped into him. She barely budged him. Hands on her hips, she grinned up at him. “Hi.”

Logan grinned back and put his hands on her waist. “Hi. He knows.” He nodded toward Walker.

“He does. He won’t say anything, though. If he does, I’ll have to tell Uncle Eli who really let his prize bull into the field with the cows all those years ago.”

“How the hell do you know this stuff?” Walker’s voice reflected his exasperation. “You weren’t even here.”

“I have my ways.” Amelia didn’t look away from Logan. “So where’s my birthday present?”

“Birthday present? Is it your birthday? I thought that was eons ago.”

Amelia reached through the open zipper of his coat and tickled him. “Oh, is that how it’s going to be, then?”

Grabbing her hands, Logan pulled them behind her, lacing their fingers together. He didn’t care if Walker was in the barn with them, he needed to get his arms around Amelia. “If you behave, I might give it to you.”

“Okay, too lovey-dovey for me. I’ll see you both up at the house.” Walker tipped two fingers in their direction and headed for his truck.

Logan wasted no time in stealing a kiss. With her arms behind her, Amelia was pressed close against him. The kiss stayed light, an intimate “Hello, how are you?” kind of kiss, with a healthy bit of “I’ve missed you” thrown in for good measure.

BOOK: Cricket Cove
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