Bright morning sunlight glinted on the stained glass windows of the gray stone church. Lauren Grant left the memorial garden where the ashes of her sister and brother-in-law had been interred. They rested inside the stone wall near her parents’ site. She rubbed her arms to chase the chill of the autumn day.
Conversations flowed around her. She drew a deep breath to force back the tears ready to flow. She had to leave. Hearing one more word of sympathy might release the flood. As she dashed past the steps leading to the sanctuary door, she saw him standing with the pastor, two of Jim’s colleagues and a teacher friend of Carrie’s.
Tony Carlin. Tall, broad-shouldered with dark hair seemed in his element. She felt sure his piercing brown eyes compelled witnesses to tell the truth when he grilled them on the stand. Jim’s brother and the man she had to share custody of their ten month old nephew troubled her. She didn’t know why but sharing wasn’t part of his nature.
She reached her six year old sedan. In the sunlight the car appeared more blue than green. She slid into the driver’s seat, buckled up, started the car and drove through the streets of the
village to her classmate’s house. The action gave her time to control the urge
to let tears cascade. She was on her way to pick up Jamie. The baby didn’t need
to see her grief.
She parked in the driveway of the white frame house and bounded to the door. She rang the bell. With Jamie in her arms, her friend opened the door.
“Tee, Tee.” Jamie’s happy cries greeted her.
She held out her arms and he nearly leaped into them. “Miss me, squirt. Were you a good boy?”
Marsha smiled. “He was a dream. Wish my hellions were so easy. I have your notes from yesterday’s class. Will you be there tomorrow?”
“Have to be.” Lauren sank on the couch. “With mid-terms looming I can’t afford to miss another day.”
“Makes two of us. I made a list of classmates willing to watch Jamie. Do you have someone for tomorrow?”
Lauren nodded. “The young man who was Carrie’s student signed up for weekend duty. He watched Jamie several times so they could go out to dinner.” She struggled to fit her squirming nephew into his blue jacket.
“Study hard tonight,” Marsha said. “I’m sure there will be a quiz.” She walked with Laura to the door.
“She never fails to have a quiz.” Lauren wished she could follow her friend’s suggestion. Hopefully there would be time to copy yesterday’s notes as well as do battle with Tony over the guardianship issue. What did a playboy know about caring for an infant?
The trip from her friend’s house to Carrie and Jim’s took ten minutes. Jamie’s chatter had ceased the moment she’d fastened him into the car seat. At least he hadn’t cried the way he had when she brought him home from the hospital. Did he remember the accident?
She turned into the circle of the development and parked in the driveway of the unit. She’d lived here since the day of the accident and the deaths so Jamie would be in a familiar environment. After opening the garage door she lifted Jamie and carried him inside.
She nearly lost her composure. “Just Auntie.” Tears she dare not shed burned her eyes. “Just Tee.”
“Tee.” He patted her face.
“Hungry?” She removed his jacked and popped him into the blue and yellow highchair. After setting a pan of water to heat she opened two jars of baby food and heated the meat and vegetable combination. She poured milk from one of his bottles into a sipping cup.
Jamie used the plastic container as a hammer. He quieted as soon as she fastened a plastic bib in place. She sat at the counter separating the narrow kitchen from the rest of the open first floor. With a spoon she fed him.
After Jamie finished both jars of food and drank milk from the cup she carried him upstairs to the spacious nursery. She changed his diaper and sat in the rocker to feed him the rest of the bottle.
When she placed him in the crib he was asleep. She turned on the monitor. For a time she studied him. How much he resembled his father and uncle except for his hazel eyes, a gift from Carrie.
With a sigh she walked downstairs, straightened the kitchen and leaned against the counter. Her grief refused to be contained any longer. As though a water pipe had ruptured tears gushed and gasping sobs accompanied the flood.
Attempting to control the gushing grief she gulped deep breaths. She cried for her nephew deprived of the parents who had adored him. The tears turned bitter when her own loss hit. Carrie and Jim had dragged her from a slide into self-destruction and helped her become a woman with a future. The sobs morphed into mourning for the couple who would never reach their potential and never see their son become a man.
As she wiped her eyes thoughts of Tony rose. He had as little family as she did. Only Jamie belonged to both of them. Her body shook. He was determined to shove her from their nephew’s life. His vision of her was based on a single meeting four years ago in
a few months after Carrie and Jim had helped straighten her life. A few of her
rebellious quirks had remained.
Not now. Not for a long time.
Two years ago she had returned to the area where she and Carrie had grown up. She’d started college. When Jim had accepted a position at a nearby research laboratory she’s been happy. Carrie had found a position teaching English at one of several local colleges. Since their arrival she’d seen them several times a week.
Grains of resentment abraded her thoughts. In the five months Carrie and Jim had lived here Tony had never visited once. Her sister and brother-in-law had trekked to the city maybe three times to see him. They hadn’t wanted to intrude on his busy work and social life.
What was wrong with him? Didn’t he care?
She didn’t know why Carrie and Jim had named Tony and her as co-guardians for Jamie. She didn’t know what kind of relationship Jim had with his brother. She only knew she missed them. Fresh tears began.
The doorbell rang. She blew her nose and blotted her eyes, a useless gesture. Tears continued to drip. The glass panel of the door and her tears blurred the man’s face but she knew the dark hair and broad shoulders meant he had arrived. She opened the door.
In an instant his arms enfolded her. She pressed her face against the gray wool of his overcoat. As he stroked her back Lauren fought the desire to allow the comfort he offered make her forget they weren’t friends.
His hands slid lower. He cupped her rear pulling her against his erection. Lauren raised her head to protest. Before a word emerged his mouth covered hers in a kiss shooting dolts through her body.
One of his hands shipped beneath her sweater and stroked her skin. Slowly he backed her from the door, past the kitchen and the stairs leading to the second floor. He steered her toward the couch. His tongue played along her lips. Awareness struck. He didn’t like her. Why this passionate assault? A reason shoved into her head. He would use her response against her when she asked for sole custody of Jamie.
She jerked her mouth from the drugging kiss. “Stop!”
“Stop. You’ve gone too far.”
“I haven’t gone far enough.” His dark eyes glittered with lust.
She pulled free and nearly tumbled over the arm of the couch. His hands on her arm prevented a fall. She glared. “I know what you’re thinking. You’re wrong.”
He grinned. “I don’t think so. I want you. You want me. Believe me, it’s going to happen.”
A cry from the monitor ended the discussion. She ducked under his arm and ran upstairs. Hopefully once she rescued Jamie, Tony would be on his way back to the city.
* * *