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Authors: Sharlene MacLaren

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Tender Vow (9 page)

BOOK: Tender Vow
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“No messages,” he called, reappearing in an instant, his assuming frame taking up too much space in her living room.

They locked eyes for five measured seconds. “You want your pillow?” he casually asked, nodding toward the sofa.

“Huh? No, I—mine’s upstairs. That one came from Meaggie’s room.”

“Good. I’ll use that one, then.”

The words stunned her. “Pardon?”

“All I need’s a pillow, and I’ll sleep like a baby.” He gave her a wave of dismissal. “Go on, now. I’ll turn stuff off and lock up.”

“You cannot stay here, Jason Evans.” His boyish grin had her shaking her head at him. “Somebody might—”

“What? Think ill of you because there’s a Jeep in your driveway? Come on, Rach. It’s no biggie. It’s late. You gave me a bit of a scare earlier with the way you sounded on the phone, and I wouldn’t be comfortable leaving you in the house alone. That’s it, nothing more. Now, off to bed with you.”

“Pfff,” she blew through her pursed lips, hands at her hips, feet planted firmly, while she watched him breeze past her to shut off the lights.

“You don’t mind if I leave that light on in the bathroom, do you? I’ll need to see to get down there later.” His casual tone made her feel like plastering him another good one in the center of his cement-hard chest. She let out another loud, labored breath.

He actually laughed. “Spit and sputter all you want, young lady. I’m not leaving till tomorrow, when I’m sure you’re okay.”

“I’m fine.”

Ignoring her, he locked the front door, then double-checked it with a good yank. “I know the other doors are locked, ’cause I checked those before we left for the beach.” He leaped over the back of the sofa with agility, pillow in hand, landing squarely on the other side. “This blanket will serve me fine,” he added from his prone position. “Good night, Rachel.”

“Jason, this isn’t necessary.”

“Yeah, it is. Now, leave me, woman, so I can get some sleep.”

“Stop calling me woman,” she protested. “This isn’t the dark ages, Jason Allen.”

“Humph. I haven’t heard ‘Jason Allen’ since…well, since I threw a baseball through Mrs. Snively’s front window when I was a kid and Mom gave me the business for trying to deny it.”

Rachel ignored his comment, sighed again, and then marched across the room, taking every precaution not to glance at him on her way to the stairs.

When she was halfway up, he called, “G’night, Rachel.”

She paused for an instant, and the tiniest, minutest smile tickled the edges of her lips before she resumed climbing. “Good night, Jason.”

Chapter 7

Jason, where are you?” Candace asked as soon as Jason answered his vibrating cell phone.

“Good morning to you, too, sunshine,” he replied sarcastically. “I’m on my way to work. What’s up?”

“Nothing’s up; I just wanted to hear your voice. I called your office, but Diane said you hadn’t called in yet. You’re late. You weren’t answering your phone last night or this morning.”

Why did he feel like he was getting the third degree? “I forgot to turn it on till a few minutes ago. Sorry. As for my being late, I’m the boss, remember? I’m allowed the privilege of setting my own schedule.”

It was a crisp, sunny day, and, until now, Jason had been enjoying the picturesque drive along M-37 South, passing through the several small towns on his way to the Wilcox building site, just east of Cadillac. “I left a message on your home phone last night,” she went on to say. “Why didn’t you return my call?”

He didn’t relish the idea of telling her where he’d spent the night, even if there was nothing to hide. “Sorry, hon, I—I didn’t think to call you.”

“You mean, you weren’t thinking about me?”

He should have seen that one coming. “I…I didn’t listen to your message.”

“Why not?”

When he should have been grasping for excuses, his thoughts wandered to Rachel, instead—how she’d looked when he’d left that morning, refreshed and livelier, her hair falling around her face in soft swirls, a touch of makeup giving her cheeks a healthy glow, jeans and a bright-colored shirt showing off her curvy yet slim figure.
She’ll be fine
, he’d assured himself as he’d downed a cup of coffee and a slice of toast in her kitchen and talked to her about what she planned to do with her day. He’d been relieved when she’d said she intended to dig into her housework with a vengeance and then retrieve her kids from her parents’ house and take them to the park.

He’d prayed with her right there at the table, her small hand squeezed between his two big ones, albeit somewhat awkwardly since he still didn’t have the whole praying aloud thing mastered. Still, it had seemed to bring her a measure of comfort, and she’d thanked him for his concern, promising to be more diligent in her Bible reading and personal prayer time.

He’d then glanced at his watch and, seeing it was already past nine, pushed back from the table and loaded his dishes in the dishwasher. She’d followed him to the door. “Thanks for coming,” she’d said, clutching the door with both hands and leaning her slender frame against it. “I mean it. You really did help bring me out of my doldrums last night, and I appreciate it, even if I did a bad job expressing it. I don’t even mind that you slept on my couch.”

He’d chuckled and quipped, “What are brothers for?” Then, without forethought, he’d bent to plant a quick kiss on her cheek.
Her soft cheek
, he reflected.

“Well, I guess it doesn’t matter,” Candace was saying, breaking into his thoughts. “We can talk tonight—about yesterday, I mean. I didn’t like the thought of driving home in that storm, so I left in a rush and with our conversation sort of hanging.”

While he’d been with Rachel, Jason had shamefully put any thoughts of Candace on the back burner. “Yeah, we should probably continue that conversation.”

“Well, I wanted you to know I have been praying—about our relationship, that is, and I just had a strong feeling last night that everything is going to be all right.”

“Oh.” He hated to be such a cad, but had she meant that, or had she said it merely to impress him? She’d never mentioned having much of a prayer life. “I feel the same—that everything will work out as God sees fit, and in His perfect time.”

She giggled. “I think now’s a pretty perfect time, don’t you?”

He also hated it when she pushed him. He knew she wanted to set a wedding date, but did she have to keep pressing the issue? He ran his fingers through his hair. Doing so reminded him of his two-o’clock appointment for a much-needed haircut.

She must have sensed his hesitation, for she quickly changed tones. “Are you heading to that Wilcox house?”

“Yeah. I should put in a call to Diane and let her know my whereabouts.”

“Which are?”

“What?”

“Your whereabouts. Exactly where are you right now?”

“Um, on M-37, heading south.”

“What are you doing on M-37? That’s nowhere near your condo.”

He sucked in a breath and braced himself for her reaction. “I went to Fairmount last night.”

“Oh!” That put her in a state of silence for all of five seconds. “You never mentioned anything yesterday about going to see your parents.”

He braced himself even more. “That’s because I didn’t actually drive up there to see them. I…I went to see my sister-in-law.”

“Your sister-in-law? As in, Rachel?”

“That would be the one.”

“What in the world? You haven’t seen her in months, have you?”

“I saw her briefly last weekend. I met my nephew for the first time. He’s the cutest little guy. And Meagan, wow! She’s shot up like a weed. It was good seeing them. Anyway, I just had the urge to head up there—sort of a spur-of-the-moment decision.”

“Well.” He heard her sharp intake of breath. “That’s fine, I suppose, but why would you be coming back at this hour?”

He had little recourse but to state the truth. “Rachel’s not doing very well right now…psychologically.”

“Psychologically? You mean, she’s having some sort of mental breakdown?”

“No, nothing like that. She’s just overwhelmed and consumed with loneliness. I was sort of worried about her, so I spent the night on her couch.”

“Her couch? Well, that’s interesting. You wouldn’t spend the night on
my
couch, Jason.”

He laughed. “She’s my sister-in-law, Candace.”

“Yes, she is, isn’t she? And a pretty one, at that.”

“What are you getting at? You’re not jealous, are you?”

“Of course, I’m jealous! What did you expect? Before you made this ‘recommitment to God,’ as you call it, you and I used to spend many a night together. Remember, Jason?”

He couldn’t believe the turn in topics. “Candace, I just told you I slept on her couch. Absolutely nothing happened! And, yes, you and I used to be intimate, but, as I’ve told you before—and hoped you agreed—a sexual relationship outside of marriage is just not what God intends for His children.”

“All the more reason to make it legal between us, Jason.”

She had a definite point.
God, forgive me—again—for not always using my head in the past
. Sex outside of marriage had far-reaching consequences, one of which tied two individuals together for life in every emotional sense. Should he make it legal, despite his ever-growing doubts? Shoot, he couldn’t even be sure anymore that he completely loved her. And yet, there remained that physical tie between them, that sense of emotional attachment and, well, obligation.

He groaned inwardly. “I’d rather not talk about this on the phone, Candace.”

A pause followed, and he was certain he heard a giant sigh. “Fine. I’ll see you tonight, right?”

“Sure. I’ll take you out to dinner. How’s six?”

“I’ll be waiting.”

***

Ever since Jason’s visit, Rachel had felt a little extra fervor for tending to her children and their needs. Why, she’d even started tackling the guest bedroom, which had somehow become more like a giant closet over the past months. Staying busy worked wonders with her mind and body, and, of course, her children always kept things interesting: Johnny with his rascally antics, like hauling all of her plastic storage containers out of the lower cupboard in the kitchen, and Meagan with her continual, almost obsessive desire to follow her around, reciting the alphabet over and over and demonstrating how high she could count.

At Jason’s advice, Rachel had begun picking up her Bible more regularly, especially when the kids were asleep, and seeking God’s presence. Her grief counselor had told her to choose a verse a week, post it on her mirror or any place visible, and commit it to memory. This week’s verse was 1 Thessalonians 5:18: “
In everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
” Today, she’d repeated it aloud while scrubbing the toilets, and, after she’d flushed the last one, she’d actually caught herself smiling.

As a matter of fact, she’d begun making an effort to smile more often. Jason had told her to try getting her focus off herself and to enjoy her children more—play games with them, read to them, delight more in their presence. For the first time since John’s death, she’d begun to feel herself crawling out of her deep, murky pit—slowly, to be sure, and only inch by inch, but climbing nonetheless.

All this, thanks to her brother-in-law. She dared not think too much about last Sunday night, when he’d come upon her fresh out of the shower and dressed in her shabby robe, lest it lead her into reminiscent, if not dangerous, territory. Still, she couldn’t help but be thankful for the unexpected visit, for it had indeed worked a miracle on her morose mood and set her feet on a forward-moving path.

And Jason Evans had found the Lord. Talk about another miracle! Whereas John had been the passionate one when it came to strong faith and Christian principles, Jason’s passions had long lain in partying, booze, sports, and trucks, his fast-paced lifestyle feeding his very lifeblood—and attracting untamed, somewhat shameless women. It made Rachel wonder how Candace had come to lasso him in, considering how he used to play the field with such flair and finesse.

John had always said that his brother would come around. After all, he’d been raised in a Bible-believing home by a mother who spent long hours on her knees. But Rachel had been cynical, always countering John’s hopes by saying, “Jason lives for Jason. I can’t imagine what would ever change that.”

Now, here she was, eating her own words. It had taken her husband’s death to bring Jason’s thinking around, and a tiny piece of her resented him for that, until she gave herself a mental scolding.

“Mommy, are we going to Grandma’s pretty soon?” Meagan made a running dash into the kitchen and slid onto the area rug as if it were home plate, interrupting Rachel’s thoughts like a sudden burst of thunder on a clear summer’s day.

“Soon, honey, and Mommy would prefer it if you didn’t run through the house like that.” She reached down to give the girl a quick hug.

“Your hands are wet,” Meagan complained, pulling away from her. She made a beeline for the refrigerator and opened the door.

“I’ve been cleaning,” she said, wringing out a dishcloth and laying it over the sink. “Oh, please, close the refrigerator door, Meaggie. We’re going to Grandma’s for lunch, and I don’t want you ruining your appetite.”

“But I want a snack,” Meagan whined. “My tummy’s making growly noises.”

“Close the door, please,” Rachel said again.

The door closed with a thump, and Meagan’s feather-light hair bounced as she folded her arms and put her chin to her chest, her lower lip extending far past her upper.

Rachel wiped her hands on a towel and pivoted. “Growly noises, huh?”

The girl’s head bobbed. “And it hurts a little bit.”

Rachel felt herself caving. “Well, how about one little cookie, then? I baked a batch while you and Johnny were napping.”

Meagan’s head shot up and her eyes widened till the whites were visible all around the pupils. “You baked cookies? I didn’t know you could bake cookies.”

Her breath caught. Had it really been that long since she’d performed the simple domestic pleasure? Meagan did a fancy twirl. “Hooray for cookies!” she cheered, greedily snatching one from the platter Rachel held out and taking an enthusiastic bite. “Too bad John-John can’t have none. He’s too little.”

BOOK: Tender Vow
10.81Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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