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Authors: T. L. Haddix

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BOOK: Cricket Cove
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Chapter Eight

he three days went by much too fast. Thursday morning found her on the road home, feeling much closer to human than she had when she’d left Hazard. She’d called Lori before leaving, as she’d be missing their regular Tuesday-morning get-together.

“Will you be okay?”

“I’ll be fine. I’ve told you, you don’t have to stop by and bring groceries every week.”

But Amelia felt that she did. Roger kept Lori on a very tight budget, so tight that she barely had enough money for groceries even though he made a good salary. He had laid the law down to her, had her trained so that she bought what he wanted first, and if she had any money left over after that, she could get what she needed and wanted.

“I’ll stop by when I get back to town Thursday,” Amelia had promised.

Now, feeling happy and relaxed, she turned off the main highway and down the secondary road Lori and Roger lived on. When she pulled up in the driveway that led to the small house, she was surprised to see that Lori’s little car wasn’t there.

In addition to his restrictiveness with regards to the grocery budget, he only let Lori keep enough gas in her car to get to and from the store once a week, with a little extra just in case she needed it. He kept a close eye on her mileage, and if it exceeded what he thought it should, Amelia knew he would grill Lori for hours, making her retrace her steps over and over again until he was satisfied that she wasn’t meeting some other man.

She sat there for a few minutes in the hopes that Lori would return, but she didn’t. After twenty minutes, Amelia gave up and headed to the library to browse for new books. Her mom wasn’t working this week, as she and Owen were keeping Sydney. Archer and Emma weren’t taking a honeymoon out of town as they’d both been off from their respective jobs in recent months, but they were taking the evenings for themselves. As they’d decided to wait until after the wedding to consummate their relationship, Amelia figured there wasn’t a single member of her family who would go knocking on their door this week unless there was an emergency.

She took her time browsing, enjoying not having a full plate of responsibilities. When she made her way to the checkout desk, she was surprised to see Logan there. She plastered a smile on her face as she joined him.

“Hey, stranger. What’s shaking?”

He held up the paper he was filling out. “Getting my library card. How was Lexington?”

“Wonderful. How are the newlyweds?”

“I’ve only spoken to Archer once, and he sounded… um, tired but happy.”

A laugh spilled out before she could prevent it. “I can’t
why he’d be tired.”

There was a pregnant pause as Logan’s cheeks turned just a little pink, and then he snickered. “Must be staying up until all hours playing board games.”

“I’m sure that’s it.”

He finished the application and handed it to the lady behind the desk. They continued talking about trivial things while Amelia checked out.

“How’s Sydney taking the transition?” she asked as they walked toward the parking lot. “I’ve not made it to the farm yet.”

“She’s good. I went up last night and went for a run,” he admitted in a low voice.

His candor surprised her. When he’d found out months ago that Archer had shared the family secret with the Campbells, he’d been very unhappy. “You mean you shifted and went for a run?”

“Yeah. And I stopped back by the house and let her see me as the cat. She went nuts.”

Amelia was torn between amusement and the uncomfortable sensation of being jealous of her niece. “So did she get to pet your belly?”

He huffed out a sigh but his lips were twitching. “She did.”


“And what?”

“Did you purr?” She threw the question at him over her shoulder.

He stopped walking and gave a short bark of laughter. “Why am I not surprised that you asked that?”

“You started this conversation.” Amelia turned to face him. When he didn’t answer, she gave him an innocent smile and waited. He finally caved.

“Yes, I purred. It tickled like hell and I coughed for about five minutes when I first started, but I got the hang of it. Satisfied?”

She nodded. “I’ll bet it made her week.”

“The kid was pretty happy.”

They went the rest of the way to her car and she unlocked the door, then set her books inside. “I guess I’ll head out. I’ve got a ton of things to catch up on now that I’m not planning a wedding.”

He shoved his hands in his pockets and looked across the parking lot. “Do you maybe want to get a bite to eat?”

Amelia narrowed her eyes at him, her fingers tapping on the roof of her car as she tried to figure out what his motive was. “You must be bored out of your mind if you’re volunteering to spend time with me, of all people. Why don’t you give Rachel a call? She’s more your type.”

His mouth tightened with annoyance and he gave a brief shake of his head. “I should have known you’d have a smart-ass response. Forget I asked.”

“Glad to. See you Sunday.” Without waiting for his response, she got in the car and started it. He stood there for a moment before stalking off toward his SUV, parked a row over from where she was.

Amelia swallowed back her anger and disappointment. She wanted to chase after him and tell him exactly what she thought of him. That she didn’t appreciate his blowing hot then cold, switching from pleasant and friendly to cold and distant as though flipping a switch.

“I guess he could say the same about me,” she said as she pulled out on the street and headed toward home, thinking about how nice the few minutes they’d just spent together had been. “But I know how he really feels. I know he’s two-faced. He probably thinks I’m just being my fickle self.”

Determined to put Logan out of her mind, at least for now, she focused on the joy of being home after having spent time away. It was the only thing she could do right now.

Chapter Nine

hen Archer first told him about the annual Christmas party, Logan tried to get out of going. Despite his protests, he knew that wasn’t really an option. Part of being involved with a big, close-knit family included socializing.

Oh, if he’d truly not felt up to going he wouldn’t have had to. But just feeling the need to be alone didn’t qualify as a good enough reason to skip the soiree. So he went. The weather had turned colder, and the air was starting to feel like Christmas. Owen met him at the door and welcomed him in. For a minute, Logan just blinked at him, fighting a smile.

“Nice hat.”

Owen patted the Santa hat he wore, not the least bit embarrassed. “Thanks. We were starting to wonder if you’d gotten lost. Come on in. Grab some food, something to drink. Everyone else is here. I’ll take your coat.”

Logan handed it over. The air smelled wonderful, a mix of pine needles, cinnamon, and savory food. “Thanks. This place got decorated. I feel a little like I’ve walked into a living Christmas card, but it’s nice.” There were at least twice as many decorations as there had been a week earlier.

Owen grinned. “I’m surrounded by women who love Christmas. I’ve learned to just go with it.”

Logan smiled. “No Charlie Brown tree here, huh?”

“Not even close. Oh, and you might want to watch out for the mistletoe. I’m not sure which of my elves is responsible for it, but it’s caused quite a few laughs so far. And I think maybe an engagement.”

“Who?” Logan hated that his mind immediately flew to Amelia.

“Burke and Michelle.” Michelle was Owen’s niece by marriage, Jack’s daughter.

Logan did smile about that. “No kidding?”

Sydney came running down the hall just then, dressed in an elf costume. She squealed when she saw him and made a beeline for them. “Uncle Logan! Merry Christmas party!”

“Merry Christmas party to you.”

She grabbed his hands and tugged. “C’mon. You gotta get some fudge. And maybe some peanut candy. And some eggnog. You do like eggnog, don’t you?” she asked when he grimaced.

“Uh, not really. Sorry, kiddo.”

Her jaw dropped and she looked to Owen, who shrugged. “That means more for you.”

She giggled. “It does. Bye.” And just like that, she was gone.

Owen looked after her fondly. “That’s my girl. Hit and run.”

“She’s a pistol, that’s for sure. I’m looking forward to seeing just how ragged she runs Archer when she’s a teenager.”

Owen clapped his shoulder. “Just like any brother should. It’s good to have you in town. I know he’s relieved.”

“It’s nice to be close by,” Logan admitted. When Rachel came through the dining room door, dressed in a costume not unlike the one Sydney had been wearing, he laughed outright. “You weren’t kidding about the elves, I see.”

She stopped a few feet away at the foot of the stairs, hands on her hips. “You watch yourself, buddy. You’re a member of this family now, which means your name gets dropped into the costume pool. This could be you next year.”

“Costume pool?”

“We take turns,” Owen explained. “Whoever’s name gets pulled is exempt the next year but everyone gets put in the pot. This year, Rachel and Sydney were chosen. Last year it was Amelia and Ben.”

Rachel’s grin was wicked. “Ask Emma to show you the pictures. Poor Benny. He’ll never live that down.”

“Are you disparaging the elf costumes again?” Amelia asked as she came into the room, dashing through the door ahead of a tall, dark-haired man who was a little too handsome for Logan’s comfort. “Logan.”

“Amelia.” He had to remind himself to breathe. She was dressed in a muted wine-red dress that hid none of her curves, and her hair was pinned back away from her face, cascading down her back in shiny curls. He clenched his fists and reminded himself she wasn’t for him.

“Chicken,” the stranger teased, stopping in the doorway itself and sending a sly glance up to the mistletoe adorning it. “I’ll catch you two yet.”

“You can just keep trying, Walker,” Rachel said.

He grinned. “‘Determination’ is my middle name.”

“Really? I thought it was ‘stubborn,’” Amelia shot back.

“Logan Gibson, this is Caleb Walker. He’s a cousin of sorts from down in Laurel County,” Owen said, introducing the two of them. “I don’t think you’ve met.”

“No, we haven’t.” Logan nodded in the other man’s direction. “Cousin, you say?”

“Trent, Eli’s son? He and his wife took me in when I was a teenager. There’s no blood tie but they let me hang around.”

“Trent’s my age,” Owen clarified. “Well, like I said, come on in, make yourself at home. Don’t be shy. I’d better make the rounds.” He patted Logan’s shoulder and headed down the hall toward the living room.

“Are you going to hang around in the foyer all night?” Rachel asked. She walked over and grabbed his arm. “Come on, I’ll show you to the goodies table.”

When she stuck her tongue out at the other man before they left, Logan choked back a laugh. “You don’t like him?” he asked as they went in the kitchen from the opposite end of the hall.

Rachel stopped in the doorway and glanced up, eyes full of mischief. When he followed her gaze, he groaned.

“Sorry, but it’s tradition.”

Logan obliged, kissing her on the cheek. “There are worse things than having to kiss a beautiful woman. Elf costume notwithstanding.”

She smiled at him approvingly. “Thank you. And to answer your question, Walker’s a good guy. He just annoys me, and I try to repay him in kind.”

“Is he dating Amelia?” He took the empty plate she handed him and started filling it, nodding across the room to some of the Campbells and some strangers who were gathered at the table.

“Lord, no. They just tease each other. Though she is just about the only person who calls him Caleb, other than Uncle Eli. He’s been trying to catch both of us under the mistletoe all evening, but so far he’s only managed to catch every woman who isn’t single. You should have seen Archer’s face when Emma walked by unexpectedly and got caught.”

Logan could imagine his brother wasn’t pleased, but Rachel looked more amused than concerned. “There was no bloodshed, right?”

She laughed. “No bloodshed, but since Walker enjoys teasing Archer as much as he does us? It was pretty funny.”

As they were both teachers, they talked shop while Logan ate. He had a lot in common with Rachel, and he enjoyed her company, but he kept looking for Amelia as they talked. Archer came in as he was finishing up and took Rachel’s place.

“Hey, there’s Trouble. Sydney said you were here. Enjoying the party?”

“So far. It isn’t as rowdy as some I’ve been to. They don’t serve alcohol here, do they?”

Archer shook his head. “Owen and Sarah don’t drink. While they don’t have a problem with it if someone else does away from here, they’ve never allowed it on the premises. And really, we don’t need it. This crowd is looney-tunes enough without adding booze into the mix.”

“Hey, that’s your new family you’re talking about,” Amelia teased as she and Emma walked up. “We throw a darned good party without any enhancement, though Logan probably finds this all boring and quaint. I imagine this is nothing like the gigs you’re used to attending.”

Logan scowled up at her. “Well, I was wondering when the stripper was going to show up. There’s got to be at least one before I consider a party a success, and two is better.”

Emma choked on the drink she’d just sipped, her face turning red as Archer patted her back.

“Then I’d better go see what I can do. You like brunettes, right? Walker! I need you to take your clothes off,” Amelia called, turning and leaving.

“What the hell have you been telling her about me?” he asked Archer as she walked away.

His brother shrugged. “Not much. Certainly not anything that would make her think you’re some kind of party animal. Em?”

“I don’t know. But the two of you are driving me insane. Do you have to rise to the bait every time?” she asked softly.

Logan’s cheeks flushed. “I’m trying to do better. I’m sorry.”

She waved a hand. “No, I am. She’s been relentless about this teasing, and she won’t talk to me. We need to get to the bottom of this. Has something happened between the two of you in private?”

“No. I have no idea where it’s coming from.” He stood. “I’ll see if I can talk to her, get some answers.”

“I’d try to do it before she comes back in here with Walker and a stripper pole.” Emma’s words were teasing, though her eyes were serious. “Good luck.”

“Thanks. I believe I’ll need it.”

For the next little while, Logan kept a discreet eye on Amelia. He stayed close enough to her that he could hear some of her conversations, and when she mentioned getting some air, he knew he had his chance. He watched from the living room door as she went down the hall, then returned a minute later with her long wrap. After the front door shut behind her, he excused himself from the conversation he’d been having with John and Archer and followed her.

He’d worn a heavy sweater and between it and his shifter blood, he was plenty warm. From the front steps he saw that she was making her way toward the barn. The moon was nearly full so there was plenty light, and he hurried to catch up with her. She turned when she was almost to the barn.

“Where are you going?”

“We need to talk.”

She paused, a hand on the sliding door. “What about?”


A gust of wind shifted around them and he saw her shiver. “I don’t have any idea what we need to talk about,” she said stiffly as she slid the door open and stepped inside. Logan followed her.

Someone, he saw, had continued the decorating in the barn. Electric lanterns were hung on the sides of the stalls, casting a warm glow over the main aisle. And there in the middle of the damned aisle, someone had strung up a cluster of mistletoe. Amelia had stopped right underneath it, apparently oblivious.

Logan groaned to himself. Once the idea was in his brain, there was no stopping it. He crossed the space without thinking and cupped her face. Before she could protest, he kissed her.

As soon as their lips touched, he forgot to breathe. He forgot everything. One of his hands slid into her hair, the other went to her back to pull her into him, and from there his body took over.

Her lips were soft, moist, and she tasted slightly spicy, like the mulled cider they’d been serving in the house. As they kissed, she melted against him, her own hands coming up to curl in his sweater. Her dress felt as soft as he had suspected, the thin fabric not shielding his hand from the heat of her body in the least. He didn’t realize he’d slid his hands underneath the shawl until it fell to the floor.

He drew back, eyes half closed as he breathed out her name. Not wanting the contact to end, he traced the curve of her cheek and the line of her eyebrow in a soft kiss.

“Um, okay. That was… unexpected,” she said thickly. Her hands slowly uncurled from his sweater and she smoothed the fabric down as she stepped back. “What brought that on?”

“Mistletoe.” Logan was tempted to pull her back into his arms, but as he watched, a shield fell into place as effectively as the shawl she picked up and wrapped around herself.

“Ah. That explains it. That was surprisingly not bad,” she murmured, “though I’m sure a real woman like Emma or Rachel could have done better.” She brought a hand up and wiped at his mouth, her touch gentle as she wiped away the evidence of her lipstick, even though her words were harsh. “It’s too bad you ended up in the barn with the wrong sister, but I guess even a little girl who likes to play dress-up will do in a pinch.”

The words didn’t penetrate for a long minute but when they did, Logan sucked in a horrified breath. “Amelia, what are you talking about?”

Her laugh was one of the most pained sounds he’d ever heard. “Come on, Logan. Don’t play dumb. You know exactly what I’m talking about.” She tilted her head to the side and studied him with eyes that were cold. “Or don’t you remember what you told Archer that day out here?”

He didn’t know what to say, exactly. “How did you…?”

“The next time you want to dissect someone, it would probably be prudent to make sure they aren’t taking a break in the hayloft of the barn where you’re doing the dissection.” She pointed overhead. “Though I will admit, it was quite educational, seeing myself through your eyes. Farm girl meets sex kitten. That was a good one.”

He was frozen in place, the terrible knowledge of what she’d heard paralyzing him. Even when she started for the door, he couldn’t move.

“That’s what you meant the other day, about me being desperate if I was willing to spend time with you. You think I… I don’t… I’m sorry. I didn’t mean—”

She cut him off. “Don’t bother. Do you honestly expect me to believe a word that comes out of your mouth? Now that you know
know, you’re embarrassed. You’re afraid I’ll cause a scene, cause problems between you and Archer, whatever. Don’t be. Contrary to popular belief, and to the way I’ve acted lately, I am an adult. I’ve been angry about what I heard, but now that we’ve brought it out in the open, I’m realizing that what you said hardly matters at all in the grand scheme of things. So don’t worry about it. You were right—we did need to talk about this.”

But Logan knew it did matter, it mattered very much. He had to try again. “Let me fix this. Please. Can we start over?”

“No. There’s nothing to fix. Just because your brother married my sister doesn’t mean you and I have to become best buddies. Like I said, I was angry. What with the wedding and everything else, I just didn’t feel like facing a confrontation with you. Now we’ve aired our grievances and it’s good. I’ll back off now, leave you in peace. It will be like nothing ever happened.” She hesitated in the doorway. “I don’t have to like you to get along with you. But I don’t have to attack you at every turn, either. I’ll see you around.”

And she was gone, leaving him alone in the barn, sick with the knowledge of what he’d done.

“You’re a stupid horse’s ass, Logan Gibson. You deserve whatever you get for this.”

BOOK: Cricket Cove
11.42Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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