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Authors: T. L. Haddix

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BOOK: Cricket Cove
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“Uh-huh, you can’t think of anything can you?” Archer asked smugly after she had hemmed and hawed for a few seconds. “I’m the picture of sobriety. Most of the time.”

“Dang it, you are. This is why it’s so hard to roast you at your birthday. You just don’t get into trouble. Maybe Emma will be a positive influence on you.” Her smile showed how deep her affection for his brother was, and Logan wasn’t happy to feel a strong pang of jealousy. If she ever looked at
with that much love, he’d probably be incinerated on the spot.

After dinner they went back to the living room and wrapped up the planning. Archer walked Logan out to his car when they were finished.

“Thanks for backing off in there.”

Logan shrugged. “I don’t mean to get so short-tempered around her. But she just irritates me to the point that I can’t seem to help it.”

Archer’s words floored him. “I think you’re attracted to her.” Denial instantly sprang to his tongue, but before he could protest, Archer continued. “I’m not happy about that, to be honest. I think if there was less animosity between the two of you, you might be a good match. But there’s so much anger there it worries me. I think you could end up hurting her. She’s not as irreverent and lighthearted as you seem to think, Lo. She’s been hurt a lot, as much as she’s the baby in the family and has everyone protecting her. She’s very sensitive. And I’m glad you’re here but I don’t want to see the two of you tear each other apart. So be mindful, okay?”

More than his words, Archer’s serious tone spoke volumes. It gave Logan pause. “Is this about what I said a few weeks ago?”

“Partly. But it’s also because of the way the two of you seem to grate against each other. Amelia doesn’t react like that to other people. I’ve only ever seen her this defensive with one person, and that’s Roger. So I think there’s something else going on with her as far as you’re concerned, but I don’t know what. I can’t get her to talk to me. That’s also a first.”

Logan blew out a sigh. “You think it’s a defensive thing?”

“It’s the only explanation I can come up with that makes sense. Really, she gets along with everyone. She can give advice to people that most of us would get our heads knocked in for suggesting and then get thanked for it. I’ve seen her coax smiles from some of the most bitter, sour people you can imagine when she helps Emma out at the studio, and she does it with genuine warmth. But you…” Archer shook his head slowly. “I don’t know what’s going on there, and it worries me. It reminds me too much of how she was after she and Jimmy broke up a few years back.”

“Jimmy?” There was that damned flare of jealousy again.

“Long story. They were friends from childhood, he was Lori’s brother, they dated for a while. He cheated on her, got the other woman pregnant, finally grew enough balls to break up with Pip, and then promptly got killed in a car wreck. It changed her. She’s just in the last few months started acting like her old self again. It really shook the family up. They got to see a side of her I don’t think they knew existed.”

“I remember you writing something about that when it happened,” Logan said. “You were worried for a while.”

Archer nodded. “Emma and I didn’t think we were going to get her to pull out of it. I know it scared Emma nearly to death. She’d never seen Pip like that.”

Logan studied his brother. “But you weren’t surprised.”

A cloud of steamy breath rolled away from them as Archer exhaled. “I guess because I hadn’t known her all her life, I could see it. She wears this mask, this free-spirit persona. It makes a lot of sense if you know some things about her childhood. I think she does it because she doesn’t want to worry anyone, and yes, part of it is who Amelia is. She really is one of the sweetest people I’ve ever known. But there’s a deep well of loneliness hiding inside her, a darkness. When everything happened with Jimmy, she couldn’t hide it as much.”

Logan was uncomfortable with the revelation. He wasn’t about to tell his brother that Archer had guessed correctly, that he was attracted to Amelia. He certainly wasn’t going to confess to Archer that what he’d just said made things worse instead of better. As long as Logan could dismiss Amelia, he knew he wouldn’t even entertain the idea of an entanglement with her. But if he saw her as an adult, then she became that much more dangerous. And since they clearly wanted very different things from life, any sort of relationship beyond casual friendship could prove disastrous.

“I’ll try to keep a lid on it, but you’re going to have to get her to back off. I promise I won’t start anything, but if she pushes me too far, I can’t promise I won’t finish it.”

Archer nodded. “I’ll see what I can do. Hopefully some of this stress is just the wedding. Emma and I are the ones who are supposed to be keeling over from the tension, but Pip’s fighting to keep most of it off of us. No matter how much we try to do so she doesn’t have to. Speaking of, I’ll see you tomorrow around three at the church?”

“I’ll be there with bells on.”

That caused a wide grin to spread across Archer’s face. “I’d pay money to see that.”

“Yeah, well. See you tomorrow.”

His mind didn’t waver from Amelia and what Archer’s words meant, even in sleep. For most of the night he chased her through his dreams, only this time it wasn’t the erotic give and take he’d grown used to over recent weeks. This time they were running through a forest, the woods filled with thick fog that hid and revealed her in turn. She stayed several paces ahead of him and kept looking over her shoulder with an expression so full of hurt and sorrow that it left shards of sadness in Logan’s mind all through the next day. Like the shrapnel that had ripped into his body months earlier, the dream left bleeding tracks across his conscience.

He kept thinking about the accusations he’d carelessly flung at Archer in October when they were in the Campbells’ barn. Archer had said then that Logan would be sick if he realized just how badly he’d misjudged Amelia. His brother was right. Logan was horrified.

“Thank God I said it in private. Archer would never tell her about that conversation. Still…” Guilt was eating at him as he thought about how dismissive he’d been. Ashamed of what he’d said, he let himself admit that he’d only been so defensive where she was concerned because he was deeply attracted to her. He had fought that attraction with disdain that she didn’t deserve, his instincts kicking in to protect him from a threat to his heart he knew was real.

Logan and Archer had lost their mother to a senseless accident when they were eight and six, respectively. Their father, Steve Gibson, had not dealt well with the loss. He drank too much, blaming Tamsin herself for dying.

“She was so damned impulsive, lost in her own world so much of the time,” he’d tell Logan bitterly as he drank himself into a stupor. “She was a dreamer and she didn’t
about how other people would be affected by her actions. Do you know how many times I came home from work and you boys were hungry or dirty and she was in her room, painting? Or to find that she’d gone outside to the garden and left a pot on the stove? Never trust a woman who’s like that, Logan. Sure as hell don’t have children with her. You boys will pay for the rest of your lives for my mistake. I never should have married your mother. I wish to God I hadn’t.”

As he got older, it was hard for Logan to hold on to the good memories he had of his mother. Her laughter, her lightness. Instead, his memories were poisoned by Steve’s vitriol. Logan had struggled through his own grief and loss to try to protect Archer from their father’s bitterness as much as he could, but it had come at a high cost to his own self.

He rubbed a hand over the scar on his left cheek that Steve had given him a few weeks before his death. He’d come in from school one afternoon, determined to speak up to his father, to tell him to man up and get help. When he’d approached Steve with the speech he’d prepared, the man had struck out physically. In all the years, through all the misery, he’d never gotten physical with either of his sons. But he lashed out at Logan unthinkingly, the piece of metal in his hand slicing deep into Logan’s face.

Steve had apologized profusely, but the damage was done. Archer, underage, had driven him to the hospital. The ER staff had called the police, and a report had been filed. Steve had spent the night in the drunk tank and, after a stern talking-to, had promised to reform. Logan was on the fence about pressing charges. He wanted to give his father the benefit of the doubt, at least this once.

Two weeks later, he’d walked in from school to find his father’s lifeless body stretched out across the bed he’d shared with Tamsin. He’d written a short note that stated simply he couldn’t live with the pain of her loss any longer, that his sons would be better off without him, and then he’d stuck his .45 in his mouth and pulled the trigger.

Logan knew Archer had never forgiven their father for the way he’d killed himself, for leaving them in such a mess, for dying in such a violent way without regard for whichever son found him.

Logan himself wasn’t so harsh on the old man. He understood that Steve had loved his wife too deeply, too much, to go on without her. Their father had died the same day their mother had. It had just taken his body eight years to catch up.

So with that knowledge planted firmly in his mind, Logan had sworn to never let himself be vulnerable to any woman the way his father had been. He’d had a string of relationships through the years that were superficial, lightly affectionate. If they showed any danger of becoming too deep, Logan backed out fast. He wasn’t promiscuous, and he didn’t treat sex lightly, but he had never been in any danger of becoming seriously involved with any of the women whose beds he’d shared.

He knew Amelia would be different. Contrary to his words weeks earlier, he knew she had substance. She was a dangerous package—physically, emotionally, in every way. He resented that she was so lighthearted because she made him want to be free, to not be weighed down by the past and his memories. She was the kind of woman a man could build a life with, could grow old with and still feel young. Soothing and warm and indescribably sexy all rolled into one small, perfect package. She made him want things he had no business wanting.

She was his worst nightmare, the perfect trap, and the attraction he felt for her wasn’t something he could slake with a casual friends-with-benefits relationship. Even if she wasn’t his brother’s best friend and his own soon-to-be sister-in-law, Logan would have run far and fast from the temptation that was Amelia Campbell. Because while no other woman had ever tempted him to let himself be caught, she did. And if he let her catch him and he lost her? He knew he wouldn’t be able to stand the loss. He’d be left a shell of a man, just like his father had been. And God forbid if they had children. The thought of going through what his father had made him shudder.

On top of that, if he got close enough to her to satisfy the physical urges she stirred in him but then pulled back, it could devastate her. He didn’t want to do that, and not just because of Archer. But because he didn’t want to hurt
And that scared him most of all.

Chapter Five

aturday dawned bright and clear. The temperatures were even warmer than usual, as though God had given his own blessing to the day.

All the weeks of planning were coming together now, and Amelia felt like a swarm of butterflies were racing around her stomach. When Emma and Zanny had walked in earlier, the peaceful stillness and joy that radiated from Emma was beyond anything Amelia had ever seen from her sister, with the exception of when Sydney was born.

Rachel finished pinning Amelia’s hair up in a complicated twist and then started on Sarah’s hair as Amelia left to do one final check of the church. Before long, she would have to go back to the basement and get dressed in her muted-purple silk bridesmaid’s dress. Then it would be time to do Emma up. But for now, she wanted to make sure the groomsmen didn’t need anything. She went to the room behind the altar and tapped on the door.

“Are you all decent in there?” she called.

“For the most part,” Ben answered with a cheeky grin as he opened the door to admit her. He was wearing everything except his jacket, even his tie. “And we’re all dressed. Again, for the most part. Logan’s having issues, though. Did you bring a needle and thread, by chance?”

She held up the small basket she carried. “Needle, thread, and half a dozen other goodies. What’s the problem?”

“Three buttons came off his shirt.”

“How in the world did you manage that?” she asked as she crossed the room to stand in front of him. She shoved her reaction to seeing him in just his T-shirt and dress pants aside and took the shirt he handed her along with the buttons.

“It’s a gift. They were loose.”

On the other side of the room, John had Archer cornered as he looped the silk tie around the man’s neck. “Hold still, would you? I’m never going to get this thing tied if you don’t stop moving. You’re worse than Noah at Easter, and he’s only ten.”

Amelia smiled at the impatient look on Archer’s face. “I don’t think I’ve seen you wear a tie the whole time I’ve known you.”

“I hate the damned things,” he grumbled, though he did as John had asked. “How’s Emma? Is she here?”

“She is here, and she’s probably the most calm person in the church. She’s not going to leave you at the altar, if that’s what you’re afraid of,” she teased gently as she sat down and pulled what she needed from the basket. “Especially once I tell her how handsome you look.”

He gave a single nod, then stretched his neck, tugging at his collar. “I need some air. I’m going to go find Owen.”

Logan blew out a breath after he left. “He’s nervous.”

“Dad will calm him down,” Ben assured him. “They’re cut from a similar cloth. Pip, do you need us to do anything?”

“Would you mind walking through, giving the flowers a pep talk? They’re fine, but it never hurts to be proactive.” The request clearly surprised Logan. She supposed it did sound a bit unusual.

“I’ll be glad to. Um, speaking of wives…?”

Amelia laughed. “Ainsley can’t stop smiling. We’ve pretty much just decided to let her stand there and be happy. Go find her.”

John followed him out the door. “Holler if you need us, kiddo,” he told her with a smile.

Silence filled the room as their footsteps faded down the hall. In very short order, Amelia had the buttons repaired. She handed the shirt back to Logan wordlessly, and he shrugged into it. Turning his back, he tucked it in once he had it buttoned.

“So Ben has the thing with flowers, right? I think that’s what Archer said.”

She sat there while he got into the vest that went with his suit. “He does. It isn’t like he can wave a hand and they just respond, but it’s close. Even cut flowers do better when he’s around. By the time Emma gets to the chapel, the room should feel like a spring garden.” She watched as he whipped the tie around his neck and tied it expertly. The movements made her smile a little. “You’ve done that before.”

“Part of the uniform.” He straightened the tie and tucked it in, then pinned it. The pin was slightly off center, and Amelia stood.

“Here.” Without thinking, she repinned the tie and smoothed it down. When he sucked in a breath, she realized what she’d done and stepped back awkwardly, her cheeks flushing.

“You’re good here. I’ll head downstairs.” She backed away a few steps, then turned to make her escape.


She stopped in the door as he came a few steps closer. “Yes?”

“I, uh… I never got to say thanks in person.”

“What for?”

He shrugged, looking uncomfortable. “For everything you did for Archer. The reading, the writing, being there for him when I couldn’t be—all of it.”

For a minute, she couldn’t speak and had to look away. Her emotions were already running high because of the wedding. His sincere gratitude just about pushed her over the edge.

“Your brother is one of the best men I know. It was my privilege to help him. And really, he just needed a good push.” She reached up to brush her hair back before remembering it was pinned up, using the time to consider her words. As much as she didn’t like Logan, she knew Archer cared for him deeply, so she spoke candidly. “He wasn’t ready before. I know you blame yourself for a lot of the things that happened in his life, but he doesn’t. He never did. And he’s the first to admit that even if you’d done everything in your power to help him learn to read, it wouldn’t have done a bit of good. He had to come to that himself. In case you haven’t noticed, I’m not the only one with obstinate siblings.”

For the first time since she’d met him, her words made Logan smile. The sight was almost too much for her to bear. He was ridiculously handsome when he was scowling. When he smiled? The world lit up. Her heart fluttered in her chest, and the butterflies damned near lifted her off the ground. She tamped them down ruthlessly by thinking about the day in the barn.

“No, that hadn’t escaped my notice. I’d say he’s pretty evenly matched with Emma.”

Amelia nodded. “They’re going to be fun to watch for the next fifty years or so, that’s for sure. I’ll see you soon.”

Before she forgot what he’d said, how he’d said it, she fled.

Downstairs, getting Emma dressed turned into a sentimental and humorous experience. Sarah, Gilly, and Sarah’s mother, Eliza, took turns fluttering around the bride, offering advice. Nonny’s left them all in soggy laughter.

“People will ask you if you looked at Archer and decided you wanted to wake up with him every day for the rest of your life,” the recently remarried woman said as she lightly touched the flowers in Emma’s hair. “Which is all well and good. A man should be a pleasant companion across the pillow. But the true test is if you look at him and know you want to be there to take care of him when he’s old, and have him take care of you when you’re old. If he’s ninety-eight and toothless, is he still going to make you smile?”

As Eliza was approaching eighty and her husband Eli was in his eighties, the image of them lying side by side in bed popped into Amelia’s head. She couldn’t help it; she laughed. Her humor was infectious, and soon they were all snickering.

“I think we’ll be chasing each other around the nursing home, yes,” Emma conceded. “At least I hope we will. That or harassing our children and grandchildren.”

Then it was Rachel’s turn to tease her. “Now, are you nervous about the wedding night? Did Mom explain to you what goes on between a man and a woman? I mean, given that you and Archer decided to wait and all… you might need some pointers.”

“I think I got all the pointers I needed last weekend at the shower, thank you very much,” Emma responded. Her cheeks flushed softly, and she was radiant as she smiled at Rachel. “But if you could help facilitate our early departure from the reception, I’ll owe you one. A big one.”

Amelia whistled and fanned herself. “Poor Archer won’t be able to get out of bed for a week.”

Emma’s grin was unrepentant. “That’s the plan.” Her amusement faded. “I’m glad we waited. The man knew I needed to wait, and as much as I’ve been frustrated by that, he was right. It just means so much more. I know we aren’t just about sex, and I can’t tell you how that feels.”

Amelia hated the jealousy that zinged through her. It wasn’t that she wanted Archer, but she’d have given her eye teeth to have someone to belong to like her sister did.

Owen tapped on the door then, calling through it. “Ladies, it’s getting near to time. How are we doing?”

Sarah opened the door. “See for yourself.”

The look on her father’s face was priceless, and Amelia was pleased to see that Sam, Emma’s photography assistant, was capturing the moment on film.

“I think we should all go on upstairs,” Eliza suggested. “Let your mom and dad have a few minutes with the bride.”

“That sounds like a good idea,” Gilly seconded. “See you upstairs.”

As they waited in the foyer, the low murmur of voices coming from the other side of the closed double doors that led into the chapel itself told Amelia there was a full house. She made one last check of all the bridesmaids’ dresses and flowers.

“I need to go check on the guys. I’ll be back.”

She ducked through the doors and made her way alongside the pews, smiling and nodding at several people but not stopping along the way. This time the door to the antechamber was open, and Ben was standing in the doorway, looking tense. He came to meet her.

“Please tell me we’re close,” he said quietly. “Archer’s a mess.”

Amelia frowned. “Why?”

“He’s afraid he’s dreaming all this.”

The thought of it broke her heart, and she had to look up, blinking rapidly, to keep her tears at bay. “Poor guy. And yes, we’re almost ready.”

Archer himself stepped into the doorway then, his face pale. “Pip?”

“Mom and Daddy are having a private word with her, and then we’ll be ready. Look at you. You clean up pretty nice, you know,” she teased softly.

He blew out a rough breath and raked a shaky hand through his hair, disheveling it. “I’m a little nervous.”

Stepping up to him, she picked a tiny piece of lint from his lapel, then touched the flower pinned to his jacket. “I noticed. Emma isn’t. She’s as calm as she can be. You won’t believe how beautiful she is, Archer. And so damned happy. Good lord, I’m going to cry if I think about it. Thank God for waterproof mascara.” She laughed and blotted her eyes. “But in just a few minutes, she’s going to come through that door and all the last five years are going to come together just the way they were meant to. This isn’t a dream. It’s really happening. I’ll stick you with a pin if you want me to, so you believe me.”

Archer gave a quick laugh and gently folded her into a hug. “Thank you,” he whispered. “I don’t know how I’ll ever pay you back for what you’ve done.”

John cleared his throat. “Um, Archer? If you make her cry, that’s going to delay the wedding. Because then she’ll have to fix her makeup, and when the rest of the women see her crying, they’ll start.”

“Ignore him. He’s just afraid
start crying if Pip does,” Ben teased. “Remember how teary he got when he and Zanny renewed their vows?”

Everyone laughed as Archer looked at her sternly, then to John. “No tears. None of you. Not until Emma’s mine, and then you can cry all you want.”

Amelia shook her head, smiling up at him the whole time. She was pleased to see that he looked a little less nervous and had more color than he had a few minutes ago. “I’ll go see how we’re doing. Benny, come up with me?”

“Sure. Did I mention how pretty you look today, Pip?” he asked as they walked.

“No, but thank you.”

“It’s true. You look good in purple. Sets off your coloring. You’ve gone and grown up on me. When are you going to let us find you a soul mate?”

She laughed, the sound causing several heads to turn in their direction and smiles to spread across the church.

“Benny, you’re full of flattery.”

He stopped her with a gentle hand on her arm. “It isn’t flattery if it’s the truth. You look lovely. I get the feeling you don’t quite believe that, though. Should I be worried?”

“Today isn’t about me.” She was saved from having to respond further by Owen, who poked his head through the door. “Are you ready?”

“Just about. Sydney had to excuse herself, and then we will be.”

Knowing Ben was as likely to tear up as anyone when he saw Emma, Amelia stopped him at the door. “Head on back and let Uncle Eli know we’re five minutes out. Wait two, then you all come on out.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

The ceremony went smoothly from there. John’s sons made adorable ring bearers and set the tone for Sydney, who performed her duties as flower girl perfectly, not once deviating from what they’d practiced until she got to the altar, where she went straight to Archer for a long, tight hug.

As much as Ben had teased John, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house by the time the vows were exchanged. Amelia was even sure she saw Logan wiping at his eyes a time or two. She’d been paired up with Ben in the receiving line, and as they followed Emma, Archer, and Sydney back down the aisle, Ben squeezed the hand she’d laid on his arm.

“You did good today, Pip. She won’t forget this day.”

Amelia was torn between smiling and crying, the perverse flip side of being ecstatically happy. “Thank you. I just wanted her to feel like a princess today, to know how special she is.”

He had to swallow before he could speak. “Then I think you more than met your goal.”

Looking around the church, which was decorated with lanterns and flowers and soft lights, she hoped he was right.

For so many years Emma hadn’t felt like she deserved to be wooed, to be treated like a princess. She’d had Sydney out of wedlock, something that was becoming not uncommon in larger cities but was still out of the ordinary in Hazard, Kentucky, with all the usual stigmas attached. For the last five years, she’d worked hard to build her business and provide a solid home for her daughter.

Amelia knew that while Emma would have been an excellent mother and successful businesswoman no matter what, part of the reason she worked so hard was as a form of penance for what she perceived as a serious error in judgment. She’d felt like she had let Owen and Sarah down, even though they’d never once felt that way. So when Archer and Emma became engaged, Amelia had pushed hard for this wedding. She had no doubts about Archer’s ability to renew Emma’s faith in herself, but she wanted her sister to have the memory of this wedding as a starting place to look back on. She knew Emma needed to feel like the beautiful woman she was, inside and out, and Amelia would have moved heaven and earth to make it happen.

BOOK: Cricket Cove
3.89Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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