Read Marking Time Online

Authors: Marie Force

Tags: #romance, #family saga, #nashville, #contemporary romance, #new england, #second chances, #starting over, #trilogy, #vermont, #newport, #sexy romance, #summer beach read

Marking Time (9 page)

BOOK: Marking Time
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“Just about.” Kate sat next to her mother on the bed. “Thanks for coming tonight. I know it wasn’t easy for you.”

“It was a lovely party.”

Kate smiled. “Andi did it up.”

“Yes, she did. I’ll miss you, Kate.”

When Kate leaned over to rest her head on her mother’s shoulder, Clare realized the girl was crying.

“What, baby?” Clare gathered her daughter into her arms, wishing she could turn back to the clock to when Kate was little and relied on her for everything.

“I just feel bad leaving right now.”

“Because of me?”

Kate nodded.

Clare ached at the pain she saw on her daughter’s face. “Honey, listen. I’ll be just fine. I want you to go to Nashville and have this big adventure and enjoy every minute of it. I don’t want you to spend one second worrying about me, okay?”

Kate nodded again and wiped her face. “Okay.”

“Promise?” Clare tipped up her daughter’s chin so she could see her lovely blue eyes.

“I promise.”

“I want you to call me all the time. I want to hear all about what you’re up to. No detail is too small for your mother.”

Kate chuckled. “You got it.”

“I love you, Kate. We all do. And we’re so proud of you for having the courage to do this.”

“I love you, too. I wake up every day and feel so grateful to have you back.”

“I’m here for you any time you need me, no matter where I am.” Clare hugged her again. “Walk me back down?”

Kate brushed away the last of her tears. “Sure.”

 

Downstairs, Clare found her mother sitting with Jack’s parents.

“Ready to call it a night, Mom?” Clare asked.

“Whenever you are.”

Madeline and John got up to hug them both.

“So great to see you, honey,” John said.

“You too.”

Maggie came over to them. “Are you leaving?”

“I think so. Want to come home tonight?”

“Let me ask Dad.” Maggie dashed off to find Jack.

Right then Clare acknowledged another seismic shift in her life—the girls now deferred to Jack. Clare had always been the boss, and before her accident it wouldn’t have occurred to any of them to ask Jack’s permission if she was in the room. She’d been absent just long enough for that dynamic to change.

Maggie came back. “Dad wants me to stay here tonight because Grandma and Grandpa are going back to Connecticut tomorrow.”

“That’s fine, honey. I can come pick you up tomorrow afternoon.”

Maggie kissed her mother and grandmother good-bye.

Clare and Anna said their good-byes and walked to the door with Jack and Andi. It was all so
civilized
, she thought, so goddamned civilized. What would they say, she wondered, if she let loose with the rage she felt boiling in her gut? What would they do if she grabbed Jack by the arm and dragged him out of there?

“It was a great party,” Clare said, resisting the urge to take back what had once been hers. “Thank you again.”

“Thanks for coming,” Andi said.

“Drive carefully tomorrow,” Anna said to Jack.

He hugged them both. “I will.”

 

Clare kept quiet on the ride home, trying to absorb it all.

“Nice party,” Anna finally said.

“Very,” Clare agreed. “You were right, Mom. Thank you for making me go.”

“Mothers are always right. Don’t you know that by now?”

“You’re gloating!” Clare said with a grin. “I have to admit, it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be.”

“That’s probably because Andi’s so nice.”

“She really is. If he had to be with someone else, I’m glad it’s someone the girls like.”

“If they didn’t like her, he wouldn’t be with her.”

“No. No, he wouldn’t.”

 

Kate woke up at four in the morning, her heart hammering with anticipation. And dread. Her eighteenth birthday—the day she’d been waiting and planning for, but she hadn’t expected to be so sad about leaving her family.

She got up to shower. When she was dressed, she tiptoed down the hallway to the nursery next to the room her dad shared with Andi. The babies slept peacefully in the predawn, and Kate was careful not to wake them. She leaned first over Robby’s crib and then Johnny’s to watch the soft whisper of their breathing. Her eyes filled with tears. They would grow up while she was gone, and she would be a stranger to them on her infrequent trips home.

“Hey,” Andi whispered when she came into the room. “You all ready?”

“I hope I didn’t disturb you,” Kate said with a nod to the baby monitor.

“No. Your dad’s up, so I got up, too. Are you all right, Kate?”

Kate turned back to Johnny’s crib. “They won’t know me,” she said as a rush of tears flooded her eyes.

“Oh, sweetie, they
will
. We’ll talk about you all the time, and we’ll bring them to visit you.”

Kate brightened. “You will?”

“Of course. We’ll all come.”

“I’ll miss them,” Kate said with a last look at the babies. “I was unprepared for how much I’d love them.”

“And I was unprepared for how much
I
love
you
,” Andi said.

Kate stepped into her stepmother’s outstretched arms. “I love you, too,” she whispered.

Jack walked into the room with his hair still wet from the shower to find his daughter silently weeping in his wife’s arms. “Hey, hey, what’s this all about?” He ushered them into the hallway and closed the door to the nursery.

“Kate’s feeling sad about leaving her baby brothers,” Andi said as she wiped the tears from Kate’s face.

Jack kissed Kate’s forehead and hugged her. “We’ll send lots of pictures,” he promised. “Are you ready to go?”

“Almost,” Kate said. “I have a few more good-byes first.”

“I’ll grab your bag and meet you downstairs when you’re ready,” Jack said.

“Thanks.” Kate opened Eric’s bedroom door and crept into the quiet room. She kissed the sleeping boy’s warm neck until he woke up with a giggle.

“I’m going now,” Kate signed.

His big blue eyes were solemn. “No, I won’t let you.”

“Take good care of our babies for me, okay?”

He nodded, and Kate held out her arms to him. She hugged him for a long time before she pulled back to look at him. “You are my brother, and I love you, Eric Harrington.” Jack’s adoption of Andi’s son had only become final a week ago, but he had felt like a little brother to Kate for much longer.

“I love you, too,” he signed.

“Want to help me wake up Maggie and Jill?”

He grinned and jumped on her back for the ride down the hallway.

 

Kate wept until long after they crossed the Newport Bridge on their way to Interstate 95 south. Saying good-bye to her sisters, her grandparents, Andi, and Eric had been awful. For the first time, Kate questioned the wisdom of what she was doing. She’d been so sure it was what she wanted, but the reality was daunting. However, it was all in motion now, and there was no turning back.

“You okay, hon?” Jack asked.

“I guess so. Leaving was worse than I thought it would be.”

“I don’t think there’s any way to adequately prepare for leaving home.”

“I’ve been so focused on where I’m going that I haven’t given much thought to what I’m leaving behind.”

“You’ll probably be homesick at first, but as you make friends and get into a routine, it’ll get easier.”

“You sure made things worse by having those babies just before I left,” she said with a weak grin. “Thanks for that.”

He grimaced. “I’m sorry. Hey! Did anyone remember to say happy birthday?”

She laughed. “No!”


Happy birthday to you—”
he sang.

She held up a hand to stop him. “Leave the singing to me, please.” They settled into companionable silence for a while. “Thanks for doing this, Dad. I know it’s a bad time for you to be away from home.”

“I’m eagerly anticipating
six
full
nights of sleep, but don’t tell Andi I said that.”

Kate laughed. “Your secret’s safe with me. So how long will it take to get there?”

“About seventeen hours in a regular car. In this tank, who knows? Probably more like twenty. We’ll see how it goes. If we’re getting tired, we can stop for the night. I talked to my friend Reid yesterday, and he insisted we use the guesthouse at his place in Brentwood until we move you into your apartment. He said we can get there any time, and it’s ready for us.”

“That’s nice of him.”

“He’s a good guy. Uncle Jamie and I had a lot of fun with him at Berkeley, but I haven’t seen him since then. Jamie was better at keeping in touch with him than I was. In fact, it was Jamie’s idea for me to call him.”

“Is he an architect, too?”

“I think he keeps up his license, but he’s ventured more into real estate development. From what I hear, he’s been hugely successful at it.”

“Does he have a family?”

“He’s got a son, who has to be twenty-five by now. Reid got married the same week we graduated from Berkeley, and his son was born that year. The son is an attorney, and he lives in the same apartment complex where your place will be.”

“Is Reid still married?”

Jack shook his head. “His wife died young in a car accident. I remember when it happened. It was really sad because his son was just a little guy at the time.”

“That’s too bad.”

“I’m looking forward to seeing him.”

As Kate talked with her dad, she felt her sadness shift back to excitement. She was finally on her way to Nashville.

Part II: Forward March

The command that tells the group to begin marching forward.

 

C
hapter 10


K
ate.” Jack nudged her. “Wake up.”

She stretched. “Where are we?”

“A couple of miles outside the city. You can see it, though.”

As Kate took her first-ever look at Nashville, she wondered if she would find what she was looking for somewhere amid the lights and buildings that made up Music City USA’s nighttime skyline.

“What time is it?”

Jack choked back a yawn. “Almost two.”

The trip had taken more than twenty-one hours in the U-Haul. They’d shared the driving duties, but he’d stayed wide-awake while she was at the wheel.

“I need some navigating help,” Jack said. “Keep an eye out for Interstate 65 south. Reid’s place is about twenty miles outside the city.”

They crossed the Cumberland River on the way into downtown Nashville on Interstate 40. “Check out the building that looks like Batman,” Jack said.

“That’s the AT&T building. The blue one’s the Tennessee Performing Arts Center.”

Amused, Jack glanced over at her. “Is there
anything
you don’t already know about this city?”

“I guess I’ll find out, but I’ve read everything I could find.” Kate peered out the window as the city unfolded. “There’s I-65.”

Jack handed her the directions as he merged into the southbound lane. “What exit is it?”

“Umm, seventy-four.”

Thirty minutes after they left the city lights behind, they took the final turn on the rural road to Reid’s property.

“There’s the sign.” Kate pointed to the archway over a paved road. The name “Matthews” was carved into a sign at the top of the arch. White split rail fencing ran the length of the road and the long driveway. “Wow,” Kate said. “I’ll bet this place is something in the daylight.” The fence went on until it disappeared into the darkness. Huge trees that might’ve been oaks lined the driveway.

“Reid said the guesthouse is a mile from the road on the right,” Jack said.

They saw the outside light that had been left on for them before they saw the guesthouse itself. “That’s the guesthouse?” Kate said. “I had pictured a little cottage.”

Jack pulled the U-Haul into the driveway in front of the two-story house. “I guess the main house is another mile and a half up the driveway.”

“I can’t wait to see that.” Kate hopped down from the truck and stretched. She grabbed their bags from behind the seat and followed her father to the door, which was unlocked. “Oh, it’s so cute!”

The house was furnished with a combination of antiques and country-style furniture. A stone fireplace dominated the living room.

“Reid left a note,” Jack said. “It says, ‘Welcome Jack and Kate! Make yourselves at home. Bedrooms are upstairs. Towels are in the bathrooms. Sleep in and come up to the main house for brunch whenever you get up. Look forward to seeing you. Reid.’”

“That’s nice,” Kate said. “I don’t know about you, but I’m beat.”

Jack stretched and yawned. “Me, too.”

They took their bags upstairs to find bedrooms.

“Dad?” Kate said.

“Yeah?”

“Today was fun. Thanks again for all of this.”

He kissed her cheek. “My pleasure. Get some sleep.”

 

When Kate woke up the next morning, she couldn’t remember where she was. Then it came back to her in bits: the U-Haul, the Batman building, the carved “Matthews” sign, and the larger-than-expected guesthouse. She was finally in Nashville, or, well, twenty miles south of the city. With a big yawn, she looked over at the bedside clock. Ten fifteen. The room was awash with sunlight. Like the living room downstairs, the cozy bedroom was decorated with country touches. Dark wood antique furniture, walls adorned in rose-colored silk, and lace curtains on the windows that complemented the high four-poster bed with the white eyelet duvet.

Kate was stretching out the kinks when her dad knocked on the door.

“Come in,” she called.

“Morning,” he said. He looked like he, too, had just gotten up.

“Morning. Did you sleep?”

“Oh
yeah
,” Jack said with a big smile. “Eight, beautiful, uninterrupted hours.”

Kate chuckled. “I’m starving.”

“Well, let’s shower and get dressed so we can go find Reid. I don’t know about you, but I want to see what the main house is like if this counts as the guesthouse.”

“I hear ya. Give me thirty minutes.”

 

Jack had unhooked Kate’s car from the U-Haul by the time she joined him downstairs. Kate was surprised to find that it was almost as cold outside as it had been at home.

He tossed the keys to her so she could drive them up the hill. They were able now to see the rolling green hills that made up Reid’s property and the white split rail fence extending as far as she could see.

BOOK: Marking Time
11.5Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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