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Authors: Jodi Thomas

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BOOK: The Comforts of Home
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Reagan felt like they melted into the house as if they’d always been there. She enjoyed the company and loved knowing Uncle Jeremiah was in good hands when she had to leave the house.

When Jeremiah came home, weak and tired, Reagan moved her desk into the front parlor beside his bed, and moved her bed into what had been a study downstairs.

While he napped in the afternoons, she worked on her homework from the classes she took a few nights a week at Clifton Col ege. She spent the mornings running the business, the afternoons studying, and the nights worrying about what would happen when he left her.

Every day when he woke he’d grin as if pleased to be alive and back on his land, and then he’d complain that she should be out with people her age and not watching over him like a hawk.

 

She’d shake her head. “I’m right where I want to be.

After al this time, you’re not thinking about kicking me out, are you?”

He’d smile then, and she knew they were both remembering when she’d been sixteen and he found her sleeping in the hammock in his yard. He’d offered her breakfast and ended up taking her in to raise. No one in town knew he wasn’t her real uncle.

On her eighteenth birthday he’d planted a second group of apple trees in the west field behind the house. He cal ed it the pie orchard and said it would provide apples for more pies than she could ever bake. He’d also had her name legal y changed to Truman and the farm transferred to her.

His way of tel ing her that it would always be hers. For a child who’d grown up without ever having a home, he’d given her the world.

When she’d been little and foster parents took her in, she’d believed that maybe, just maybe, this time they’d want her forever. But they never did. Jeremiah had been the first to see the value in her. He complained about everything under the sun—but her. If he wanted her to see the lawyer, she’d see Elizabeth Leary.

The door to the office opened and a very pregnant Liz Leary waddled in. Reagan had always thought she was beautiful, but now Liz seemed to glow, and with her large middle she could understand why Jeremiah thought it couldn’t wait.

Liz circled to her desk. “Thanks for seeing me, Reagan.

I know it was hard for you to leave your uncle, but as you can see, I may not be in the office long.”

“How’s that husband of yours holding up?” Reagan asked, not wanting to be reminded of how frail Jeremiah was right now. People who never spoke to her were stopping her on the street and in the grocery to ask about him. She’d rather hear about how Gabe, Liz’s husband, was doing. Reagan thought of him as her guardian angel.

He’d saved her life one night.

Everyone knew the little lawyer’s husband had gone nuts since he found out he was going to be a father. If Gabriel Leary could, he’d build a ten-foot fence around his property and never let anyone in.

“He’s stil adjusting to the idea of two babies.” She laughed. “Once, I asked Gabe if he liked kids and his answer was, ‘I don’t know any.’ Since I’ve been pregnant I realize he has no idea what to do with children, and babies frighten him. The best way I can think to describe it is, he seems to be preparing for an alien invasion. I don’t dare tel him I want lots of kids; he’s already begging his friend Denver to take a week off and help him knock the wal of the nursery out so they can double it. Then I reminded him my sister Claire would want to paint it and he reconsidered.”

“Maybe give him time to get used to these two babies.” Reagan winked. “I’m not sure he’l ever get used to having your famous sister Claire around. She stil painting those strange paintings?”

“That’s another problem for another day.”

Liz might be in her thirties and Reagan had just stepped into her twenties, but Reagan felt certain they’d be friends for years to come. Even pregnant, Liz, with her blond hair and green eyes, looked like a china dol , while Reagan, with her wild rust-colored curls and old jeans, looked like a dry land farmer on hard times. Stil , there was a bond between them.

Liz nodded, silently asking permission to begin, as she opened a thick file on her desk. Her face grew serious, and Reagan knew the time for chatting was over.

“Your uncle asked me to inform you of a few facts. He seems to think it might have some bearing on decisions you have to make in the future.”

Reagan turned her head toward the long windows in the office. Jeremiah would say he was just facing facts, but for her, she wished she could face the future when it arrived.

Evidently, he wasn’t giving her that choice.

“I know the land is valuable and we both know I’l never sel .” Reagan wanted to say it because she knew the people of Harmony were probably already talking about what the Truman kid would do after her uncle was gone.

The founding families—the Mathesons, the McAl ens, and the Trumans—never sold land unless they had to, but would the girl be able to make enough to keep the place going after the old man died?

Liz grinned. “Never is a long time.”

Reagan shrugged. “I’ve got old bonds in the safe-deposit box that wil pay the taxes for years. Even if I don’t make a dime on the apples, I could live.”

“Reagan, stop worrying about bad times and listen to the three things he wanted you to know about while he’s stil alive to answer any questions.”

Reagan straightened and waited.

The lawyer began. “He cal ed me the night before he was released from the hospital. He asked me to draw up an airtight wil for him. After he passes, he wants no one thinking they have a claim to the farm but you.” Reagan understood.

“Second,” Liz continued, “he wants you to cash in a few of those bonds and do some good. He decided he wants to be around to see what he can do to help the people of Harmony, but he doesn’t want anyone to know where the money comes from. He asked me to give you a list of ideas, but it’s your decision.”

Reagan sat back. “I can’t wait for number three.” Liz didn’t smile this time. “I argued with him over the third thing he wanted to tel you, but he insisted you know.

When he had your name changed before you turned eighteen, he hired an agency. It took them two years . . . but they found your mother.” Liz paused for a moment to look at Reagan before going on. “He didn’t know if you’d want to see her, so he told me to tel you about her, but he wants you to understand that he knows no more than what is in the report and he doesn’t want to talk about it. Reagan, I think this report reminds him that you’re not truly kin and that’s one thing he doesn’t want to think about.” Reagan looked out the window, watching people passing by across the street. Suddenly she realized she was doing what she’d always done as a child—staring at faces of strangers, looking for a resemblance, looking for something she might remember of a mother. Only now, she didn’t want to see anything in a stranger’s face.

“I don’t want to meet her. Not ever.” Reagan stood.

“She’s dead to me. I’m a Truman now. You keep the report.

I don’t even want to see it.”

Liz shrugged. “I’l lock up the report. We can talk about it at a later date if you like. Or, it wil lie in the bottom of my safe forever.” She thought for a moment and added, “This is the one file I wil not pass on to my cousin, Rick Matheson. While I’m out with the babies, you’l have to wait if you need legal work on this subject. Is that al right?”

“You can burn it for al I care. I’l never ask to see it.” Liz nodded. “I think this last heart attack real y frightened the tough old man. I assured him you shouldn’t have any trouble when the time comes. The farm is already in your name, you can sign on al accounts, and I’l be in your corner if there is ever a problem.”

AFTER REAGAN LEFT THE OFFICE, SHE CLIMBED

INTO HER old pickup and cried al the way home. When Foster saw her he knew something was wrong, but he didn’t ask any questions. He just fil ed her in on Jeremiah’s day and said they should celebrate; her uncle was growing stronger.

That night, curled up in her bed, Reagan cried silently.

Change was coming. Jeremiah knew it and she felt it. He’d held her hand a little tighter when he said good night. “I can’t lose him,” she whispered. “I can’t be alone.” Reagan tried to think of al the people who were her friends. Who would come and help if something happened?

Then she thought of her best friend, Noah.

If she cal ed and asked him, he might come, but if he didn’t, Reagan wasn’t sure she could stand to hear her own heart breaking.

That night she dreamed of a woman with rust-colored hair chasing her, pul ing at her skin as if she could pul a piece of flesh off her.

When her own cries woke her, Reagan curled into the covers. The word
mother
had always been nothing but a word. Knowing that the woman who had given birth to her was stil alive meant little, but questions whispered in the aftermath of the nightmare. Would her mother have the same color hair? Had she ever tried to find the child she’d left at the hospital? Did Reagan ever cross her mind?

Reagan reached for her phone and hit speed dial for Noah McAl en. After several rings, he picked up.

“What’s the matter, Rea?” he said, stil sounding half asleep.

“What makes you think . . . ?”

“You wouldn’t have cal ed this late unless you need to talk. Give me a minute to pul my jeans on and I’l go out in the hal way so I won’t wake the other guys.” Reagan heard several men moan or swear in the background. When times were good, Noah had a room to himself, but when times were bad in the rodeo game he’d sometimes bunk on the floor in someone else’s room.

“I’m listening,” he said after a minute. “Shoot.” She wanted to hear his voice more than talk, but that would sound strange, so she told him about her dream and how frightened she’d been.

“I wish I were there to hug you, Rea. We could cuddle up. You could tel me everything while I slept.”

“I wish you were too.” Neither one said anything for a few breaths, and then she whispered, “I miss you so much sometimes.” They’d probably never be as close as they’d been in high school. He was a different man and she’d changed as wel , but she stil missed the Noah who was half kid, half man.

“What are you wearing?” he whispered, and for a moment she swore she could hear him smiling.

“Shut up.”

He laughed. “Just asking. Who knows, one night I might get lucky and you’d be just out of the shower.”

“You never give up trying to make me blush.” Her bad mood had vanished.

“Come on, Rea, give me a break. I’ve been wondering what you look like naked for years. If I ever get too old to wonder, I hope you just shoot me.”

“Go to bed, Noah.”

“Good night, Rea. Maybe when you go back to dreaming, you’l dream of me.”

“Not likely.” She closed the phone, thinking how he always had enough magic in his pocket to change her mood even if he didn’t have enough to change his dreams.

 

Chapter 8
SATURDAY

FEBRUARY 20

DALLAS, TEXAS

DENVER SIMS CHECKED INTO THE HYATT AT THE

DALLAS–Fort Worth airport. The desk clerk on duty cal ed him by name before he looked at the card. “One night or two this time, Mr. Sims?”

“Only one,” he answered, fighting not to let his disappointment show. He was an air marshal who flew al over the world. He should be living a grand life, but for the past two years, every time he got a few days off, he’d been building a house on land a friend sold him just outside Harmony. Denver thought the place would somehow ground him, make him feel like he belonged somewhere, but it hadn’t. It didn’t seem to matter how many square feet he had, he stil felt like no place was home.

Shoving the second key in an envelope, he passed it back to the desk clerk. “For Claire,” he said, feeling the slow smile that always crossed his face when he said her name.

“I remember, sir. I’l keep an eye out for your lady.” Denver turned away, wanting to tel the man that Claire wasn’t his lady. Maybe she never would be. He took the elevator and thought about how he used to love this life on the road. Always having his laundry delivered to his hotel room, eating out, meeting new people constantly, making love to a woman while knowing he’d never see her after a night or two.

Lately he felt the need to settle, maybe put down roots, maybe have a family, but the one woman he wanted only had time for a one-night stand. If he added up al the nights they’d spent together, it wouldn’t total a month. Once in a while he had the feeling she was his hel . Payback for al the affairs he’d had and walked away.

BOOK: The Comforts of Home
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