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  • 1. Table of Contents Chapter 1 Chapter 2 Chapter 3 Chapter 4 Chapter 5 Chapter 6 Chapter 7 Chapter 8 Chapter 9 Chapter 10 Chapter 11 Epilogue About the Author
  • 2. 14 A Matter of Trust Digital ISBN- 9781612580081 Print ISBN- 1612580084 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED Copyright © 2011 Elaine Dyer Cover art by Bret Poinier This book is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, or places, any events or locales is purely coincidental. The names, characters, places and incidents are products of the writer’s imagination and are not to be construed as real. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission from the publisher LazyDay, with the exception of quotes used in reviews and critical articles.
  • 3. 14 Dedicated to the Lunch Bunch: Jane Janet And especially, Trish the dish (the real one)
  • 5. 14 Chapter 1 “Sweetie, are you sure you can’t come with us? You’ve been burning the candle at both ends for so long now. You need to take a break sometime.” Trish’s mother’s worried gaze swept over her with pleading eyes. Trish hugged her mother then said, “I know, Mom, but I just can’t get away right now. The Lit Center is only now starting to take off, and the girls are depending on me to make a profit.” “The girls are on my side, Trish. They both wanted you to take a break and offered to tag in for you for a couple of weeks. You’re working yourself into the ground, baby. If you don’t want to go for the whole trip, just come for the cruise.” “Another time, Mom. Maybe next year. The fact that you’re taking the kids will be a nice little break in itself. I love them to death, but … “ “You don’t have to explain to me, honey. Your dad and I always tried to take a quick trip by ourselves at least once a year just to be a couple … oh gosh, that’s terribly insensitive of me, Trish. I’m so sorry.” Trish’s mother covered her mouth with both hands as she shook her head. “No, Mom, that’s okay. I’m not sensitive like that. Please don’t feel bad. It’s been over two years since Pete’s been gone. You better get going, or you’re going to be driving all night. Trevor, Lexie, give Mommy one more big hug and slobby kiss before you leave. I’ll miss you
  • 6. 14 bunches. Be good and mind Gram.” Trish pulled each of her children in for one more hug and kissed them both. “We will, Mom. Love you. Come on, Lex.” Big brother took his little sister’s arm and yelled out that he got to choose the first movie they watched. Trish watched as her seven year old son and three year old daughter climbed into her parents’ van. She would miss them terribly, but it would be nice to be Trish instead of Mommy for a short while. She waved goodbye to her parents and her children and headed back inside and closed the door. Silence. What a novelty, and what an unusual occurrence. Trish didn’t turn on the TV or the radio or any other noise making machine. She simply enjoyed the silence for several minutes, before she broke out her work for the day. As much as she liked the idea, she couldn’t afford to take even a day off, much less a whole month for vacation. Eva and Callie were counting on her to make the Lit Center a success, and she planned to do exactly that. So far, so good. They weren’t making much of a profit yet, but they were meeting expenses, and for a less than one year old business, that spoke volumes, if she did say so herself. Trish had signed up several kids for tutoring in the last couple of weeks, and she’d done several other reading diagnostics as well. She needed to do the write ups on those latest tests and prescribe a regimen to address the strengths and weaknesses in reading that would improve the kids’ performance in school. Most of her clients were kids who’d attended her summer camps, which were a great success. Lately, though, she’d been getting kids in whose parents had heard
  • 7. 14 of the miracles which had been worked for kids behind in school due to difficulties in reading. Business increased steadily. Trish got busy with the half dozen diagnostic reports and intervention plans, and before she knew it, it was after midnight. Although she knew she had to get at least a few hours of sleep before she started another work week, she still hated to stop when she still had so much work to do. Sighing, she packed up her materials and reports and set them by her purse and went to bed. She fell into an exhausted sleep for a good couple of hours, but awoke abruptly due to the same nightmare she’d been having regularly. Pete was in bed with her, and he was nuzzling her neck, trying to get her in the mood. She opened her eyes to look at him and smile, only to find him covered in blood. His blood. She sat up, short of breath, and turned on the light. At this point, she usually got up and checked on the kids, gaining some peace seeing them sleeping soundly, but since there were no kids in the house to check on, she turned the light off again and lay back down. Sleep eluded her for hours before she fell back asleep. When the alarm rang, she groaned, so tempted to hit the snooze button, but instead rolled out of bed and hit the shower. An hour later, coffee mug in hand, she drove to work. No longer a luxury, coffee now qualified as a necessity unless she planned on falling asleep at her desk. As she headed to the office, her mind strayed to the past and how she’d ended up here. She’d lost her home, her cars, had to sell all of her things and declare bankruptcy, and she hadn’t been directly responsible for any of it. Bitterness and betrayal spread through her like a cancer, and she struggled to push it back. No sense wasting any more time hashing through all that again. Water under the bridge. She’d survived, and she would continue to do just that, despite
  • 8. 14 her ruined credit and having to move in with her parents, which came with its own distinct humiliation, despite their unwavering financial and moral support. Even they didn’t know the whole story. No one did, and she had every intention of keeping it that way. Trish pulled into the Lit Center parking lot and went inside. Always the first on the scene, she habitually got to work at least an hour early. Rather than sleep in later with the kids gone, she got up even earlier to get more done without having to get Trevor ready for school. No rest for the weary. Or was that the wicked? No rest, either way. Diana Taylor, her receptionist and secretary walked into her office to say good morning sometime later. She looked edgy, and Trish stopped her before she could leave. “Hey, Di, is everything okay?” Trish smiled at the other woman. “You look a little stressed.” “I’m fine, Trish, thanks for asking. Just tired, I guess. Monday came awfully early this morning.” The woman smiled hesitantly. “You can say that again. You’d think I’d be raring to go since I have the house to myself, but I didn’t sleep well. I guess the quiet got to me.” Diana smiled sadly. “No such thing as too much quiet. You’ve just forgotten what it’s like. You should enjoy the alone time, Trish. God knows when you’ll have it again.” “Are you enjoying your alone time, Di? It’s been almost a year now since you left your husband. How are you adjusting?” Trish looked at her employee and friend and thought again how she really did look tired and edgy.
  • 9. 14 Diana looked at her then away. “I’m doing okay. It takes awhile to get used to being alone, and it’s hard financially, but it’s so much better than walking on eggshells and feeling scared to death my husband would go into another rampage and land me in the hospital again. I’m going to counseling and that’s helping, but I guess it just takes time. Eva’s Saturday classes have been a real boost to my self-confidence. It’s so sweet of her and Callie to volunteer their time at the battered women’s shelter. Between the three of you, I feel much more hopeful about the future.” “Yeah, Eva and Callie are great, aren’t they? They sure helped me get back on my feet again, although I hadn’t been in the kind of abusive marriage you were in. I can only imagine how terrible it was for you, Diana. I’m so glad you were able to get out.” “I have you and this job to thank for that, Trish. I don’t know what I would have done without it. I could never have gotten my own place, even with a roommate. Thanks again.” “If you thank me one more time, I’ll fire you! Enough! Let me know if anyone new walks in, okay?” “Will do, boss. I’ll make some fresh coffee.” Trish was hard at work on her projects when she heard someone walk into the center. She listened to a muted conversation in the lobby and smiled once she heard a familiar giggle headed her way. Her two best friends and business partners, Callie and Eva, walked into the office and took the two chairs in front of her desk. “Well, good morning, ladies. What brings the two of you in this morning? Making sure I’m not slacking off?”
  • 10. 14 “Like that’s likely to happen any time soon, despite our best efforts. Today, however, we are not going to take no for an answer.” Callie took that stubborn stance that always signaled that whoever she talked to didn’t have a chance of overriding her. “Regarding what exactly, Callie?” Trish looked at her cautiously. “You, me, and Eva are going out on a girls’ night this Saturday. And before you even think about turning us down, you might as well know that my mind is made up. You’re officially childless for awhile, and you need to let your hair down for once.” Trish chewed on the end of her pen. “I don’t know, Callie, I’m working on some expansion plans for the Lit Center, and I’d planned on ironing out some details this weekend. How about a rain check?” “Did you not hear her, Trish? Callie has made up her mind, and you know how she is when that happens. There’s no stopping her. The work will still be there, and you can’t use the kids as an excuse. No more argument. We’re going.” Eva stood next to Callie, her look daring her to try to resist the invitation. Trish looked from one woman to the other and finally smiled in defeat. “Alright, alright, I know when I’m outnumbered. I’ll go. Where are we going anyway?” “First to Carlos and Mickey’s for happy hour and Margarita’s. They also have live Mariachis. Then, we’ll see. Maybe we’ll go out to Sunland Park Casino.” Trish nearly croaked. “No way, ladies, no casino, okay? Anywhere else is fine, but I work too hard to gamble away my money. Not my kind of place. At all.”
  • 11. 14 Eva and Callie both shrugged and went on with the conversation, getting her promise that she wouldn’t try to back out at the last minute and left. Trish went back to planning and would have worked through lunch had she not had another visitor. Callie’s brother, Jake, cruised into the office with takeout. “Well, hey, Jake. What brings you this way? And whatcha got there?” “I’m working on a job not far from here, and knowing what a workaholic you are and not having anyone to eat lunch with today, I thought I’d swing by with Chinese. You game?” “Always game for Chinese. That was sure nice of you. Thanks.” “You bet. And I’m a nice guy.” “Yes, you really are. Lexie asked about you before she went out of town with my folks. She wanted to know when she would see her “Zake”.” Jake took out the food as Trish cleared a space on her desk for them to eat. “She’s my number one girl. I forgot you were on your own for awhile. That’s gotta be a nice break.” “I guess. It seems weird not having the kids under foot. They only left yesterday, and I already miss them. Ooo, beef and broccoli.” “And orange peel chicken. How about some of each?” “Sure. Looks delicious.” “So, how long will they be gone?” Jake took a bit of the chicken.
  • 12. 14 “Nearly a whole month. I don’t know how I’ll stand it or what I’ll do with myself.” Trish forked in a piece of broccoli. “Oh, this is so good.” “You should take advantage of the break and solitude and relax a little bit. You work too hard. Here, don’t forget your fortune cookie.” He reached over and put one in front of her. “You know how it is when you start a business. It takes awhile to get things off the ground. Didn’t you have to work a lot when you started your construction company?” “Yeah, and I still work hard, only instead of trying to get more business, I’m trying to juggle the business I have lined up. Gives a whole new meaning to ‘be careful what you wish for’. In the beginning, I worked so hard to get established, and now I’m turning business away, I’m so busy.” “You need to hire some more help. Until you do, I don’t want you barking at me about being a workaholic. It takes one to know one, buddy.” “I’m thinking about it, hiring a foreman, maybe even two. I just hate to give up control. I know if I supervise a job, it’ll be done right. I don’t know that I want to turn that responsibility over to someone else. It’s my name and my rep on the line.” “I can understand that. The girls have been trying to get me to hire more help, but I feel the same way you do. I know I can count on myself. I’m not going to let me or the girls down, but I’d just as soon not trust anybody else with that kind of stuff.” “For a new business, yours is doing really well. Ever since you opened last summer, you’ve been in the black. That’s unusual and a great testimony to all the hours of hard work and planning you’ve put into the Lit Center.”
  • 13. 14 “Thank you, kind sir. I have so much more that I want to do. I want to expand to include teacher training and preschool instruction, and I’m going to look into whether or not there’s a market for adult literacy classes. I’ve got all these ideas running through my brain. Sometimes, I can’t sleep for thinking about it all.” “So, that’s why you look so exhausted. And here I thought it was the Lex-meister waking you up at night.” Jake watched her closely as he took another bite of chicken. “Oh, she does that plenty, only sometimes, I’m awake already.” “It must be hard being a single mother. You do such a great job. You make it look effortless.” “Wow, you’re just full of compliments today, Jake. It’s not even my birthday. I don’t really think about it that much. I just do what needs to be done, that’s all. I can do anything for the sake of my kids. They’re still so little, they need a lot of attention, but I don’t mind.” “Don’t you ever miss going out and being a grownup from time to time? I mean, I know you take motherhood seriously and all, but I’d think taking some time for yourself would be good for the kids in the long run. What is it that Dr. Phil says? ‘When Mom’s not happy, nobody is happy?’” Trish smiled around her chicken. “Something like that. I am happy. And the girls came by earlier and twisted my arm to go out with them this weekend for a girls’ night, so, see? I get out.” “When was the last time you went out on a date?” “A date? I have no desire whatsoever to go out on a date. Ever.”
  • 14. 14 Jake looked at her carefully. He’d been watching her for the last six months waiting for an opportunity to ask her out, and he wasn’t any closer now than he had been when he started. The woman was downright anti-social, and she didn’t seem the least bit interested in him as anything more than a friend. Hell. He hadn’t been this tied up in knots over a woman in … he’d never been this tied up. Trish was happy to be friends, and she trusted him around her kids, but she didn’t trust him as a man or even think of him in romantic terms at all. It was damn frustrating. “You’re young, single, and good looking. Don’t tell me you never think about men. You must.” Jake watched her take a swig from the water bottle on her desk. “I guess it’s like trusting someone to help run the business. I know I’m not going to let my kids or myself down. I guess I don’t trust anyone else where we’re concerned. What about you, Jake? You were a real ladies’ man when we were younger. Do you have someone special in your life?” “Nope. I think about settling down from time to time, but I haven’t ever dated anyone I wanted to settle with. If I ever get married, I want what my grandparents and my parents had together, a lifelong partnership through the good and the bad. It was hard losing my parents as a teenager, but I sometimes think it’s a blessing they were at least together. Neither of them would’ve wanted to live without the other. They would have for our sake, but they never would’ve gotten over the loss. Granddad still pines for my grandmother. He makes the best of things, but he’ll never stop missing her, and I doubt he’ll ever remarry.” “I’m with him, although probably not for the same reasons.” “What do you mean?”
  • 15. 14 Stupid, stupid, stupid. I need to watch what I say. “Oh, nothing, really. It’s just that I have my kids, and I don’t have any intention of sharing my life with anyone else much less ever getting married again. Been there, done that. Don’t need to do it again.” Jake looked at her carefully. There had to be more to it than that, but he didn’t press. He finished his lunch and stood to leave. “Thanks again for lunch. I owe you one.” “True. How about cooking me dinner one of these nights? I’m not picky, but I’m also not much of a cook outside grilling. What do you say?” “I don’t know. I’d hate to think a bunch of women might start stalking me, thinking I’m moving in on their territory.” “No need to worry about that. I’m in between relationships at the moment. Hence, the bumming of the meal.” Trish smiled. “I guess I could manage a meal. I have girls’ night on Saturday. Would Friday or Sunday work better for you?” “Both?” This time, she laughed out loud. “Sure, why not? Of course, this means I’ll expect another lunch at some point. Fair is fair.” “You’ve got yourself a deal, lady. I’ll check you later.” He tossed his trash into the waste basket as he stood to leave.
  • 16. 14 As he walked away, Trish continued to smile. Jake was such a nice, good guy. Whoever ended up with him would be a lucky girl. Too bad she hadn’t fallen for him instead of Pete, when she’d still believed in marriage and spending your life with someone, trusting them to always be there for you. Life had taught her not to believe in any fairytale endings, and it was a lesson she’d never forget.
  • 17. 14 Chapter 2 Before Trish knew it, another work week had flown by, and Friday night rolled around. Jake had brought by some Mexican food the day before for lunch, and tonight constituted the first installment of payback. Since they’d had Chinese and Mexican, Trish decided on Italian for the night’s meal. She had manicotti in the oven and had started on the salad when she heard him knock. “Hey, Jake.” She unlocked the door and let him in. “Ooo, wine. Red, perfect. Why don’t you open it for us and keep me company while I throw together the salad. It’s been awhile since I’ve relaxed with a glass of wine and good company.” Jake followed her into the kitchen and took the wine opener she offered him, pouring them both a glass. “So, what do you have planned for the weekend?” Trish tore more lettuce and added it to growing bowl of greens. “I’m having dinner with you tonight and Sunday. That’s about it, unless you want to have me over tomorrow night, too.” Jake looked at her hopefully and smiled. She smiled back. “Can’t. Callie and Eva are making me go with them for a girls’ night out on the town. I’m still not sure what we’re doing, but I believe margaritas will be involved.” “That’s right, you mentioned that earlier in the week. You can even stay out late since you’ve got the whole house to yourself, huh? Don’t go too wild.”
  • 18. 14 “Ha! Like that’s going to happen. My wild days were over a long time ago, Jake.” “Jesus, Trish, you make it sound like you’re a little old lady. You’re still in your prime, woman.” “It sure feels like I’m a little old lady sometimes. I definitely don’t have the energy I once had. What about you, Jake? Are you still wild?” “Not so much. Oh, I like to party every once in awhile, but believe it or not, I spend a lot of time at home alone.” “You’re joking. You always had a bunch of girls vying for your attention. You’re still gorgeous, and you’re charming and a great flirt. Lexie’s definitely in love with you.” “Men are not gorgeous, Trish, although I’ll take the charming comment, and I do like to flirt on occasion, especially with Lexie.” Trish looked over at him, a sparkle in her eye. “I hate to break it to you, Jake, but you are gorgeous. Beautiful, too. Those dark blue eyes, that build of yours. Any girl would kill for those long, thick eyelashes and curly hair.” “Why, Trish, I never knew you even noticed.” He batted his eyelashes at her, making her laugh out loud. “Anyone with eyes would notice, Jake. Don’t be modest. You’ve seen yourself in the mirror. Between that face, that body, and the cross between cowboy and businessman, you’ve got it going on.”
  • 19. 14 “Well, aren’t you the one? I can’t remember the last time I got so many complements in one night.” He winked at her and took another sip of his wine, never taking his eyes off of her. “How about every time you walk into the room? Surely you’ve noticed women checking you out. You could have your choice.” She took a sip of her own wine. I’m hoping so, sweetheart. “Maybe I should try out some come on lines and flirting on you, Trish. What about it? Here’s one.” Jake cleared his throat and got a sexy smile on his face. “You must be tired, darlin’, because you’ve been running through my mind all day.” Trish erupted into a fit on giggles. “You’ve got to be kidding.” “No? Okay, how about this one. You didn’t hurt yourself, did you baby? It’s a long way down here from Heaven.” “Please, Jake no more.” Trish continued to laugh and rolled her eyes. “No wonder you’re single. You might as well ask if she wants a burger and fries to go with that shake.” “Let me write that one down, Trish. It’s good to hear you laugh. You don’t do nearly enough of that. As I recall, you always had a smile and a laugh handy when you were a kid. Why so serious?” Trish sobered. “I just grew up, I guess. Life has a tendency to do that to you, especially when you have kids.” “Kids are all the more reason to laugh and cut up, if you ask me. God knows those two of yours keep me laughing every time I’m around them.”
  • 20. 14 She smiled again. “Kids do say and do the funniest things, don’t they? You should have a couple of your own some day. You’re great with them.” Now Jake got serious. “I’ve always wanted kids. Maybe someday. In the meantime, I’ll just rent out yours from time to time. You’ve got great kids, Trish. You’re doing a great job with them. You’re a wonderful mother.” “Thanks, Jake. Heaven knows I try. It’s the most important job I’ve ever had in my life. I’m so worried I’ll screw it up. They already have a strike against them, since they don’t have a father around. I just want them to grow up and be happy.” “I’d say they’re off to a great start. It must be hard being on your own.” “Sometimes. But in some ways, it’s easier.” “How so?” “Listen to me, going on and on. I’m sure you’re not interested in the pros and cons of single parenthood.” “Sure, I am. I care about you and the kids, and I am interested. What were you going to say?” “When you have two parents, although that’s best for the kids in the long run usually, there are lots of things that come up that you disagree on. Like going to church every Sunday instead of sleeping in, or how to discipline the kids when they misbehave. It’s hard to agree on things all the time.” Serious again, Trish got ready to set dinner on the table.
  • 21. 14 Jake missed her smile. “I guess it would be a good idea to try to square away as much of that stuff before you have kids as possible. There are always going to be surprises and unplanned things that come up in a marriage, but I’d think trying to find middle ground beforehand would be a good idea.” “Yeah, that’s true. Unfortunately, you never really know a person before you marry them. You think you do, but they often turn out to be someone entirely different from the person you thought you knew and loved. Life is just full of nasty surprises.” “Are you speaking from experience, Trish?” Trish tensed visibly. “Yeah. Now, it’s time to eat.” What happened to you, Trish? What turned you off of love and marriage and trust? Someday, you’ll tell me. Then I’ll prove to you sometimes it’s worth taking a chance on people. “It sure smells good. Thanks for having me over.” Jake took the salad from her and walked over to the table to set it down. “Sure. It’s nice to have company and adult conversation for a change. Have a seat, and I’ll take the manicotti out of the oven.” The rest of the evening passed by quickly, and both of them took extra care to steer away from serious topics. Jake concentrated on making Trish laugh and relax. He helped her with the dishes and cleaning up, even though she told him he didn’t have to, and they said goodnight early, as Trish had Saturday morning story time to prepare for the next day. They hugged goodbye, and Jake kissed her on the cheek, a new addition to their goodbye rituals from the past. It was nice.
  • 22. 14 Trish stayed up late again, and felt exhausted when the alarm went off at six the next morning. She gathered her materials and headed off to the Lit Center early to get a head start on some work. Saturday mornings were reserved for giving back to the community. There was no charge for attending story time, and more and more kids were showing up with and without their parents to listen to books being read aloud and to participate in fun activities like acting out scenes, drawing a picture board, and reader’s theater afterwards. She alternated reading Saturdays with writing Saturdays when kids wrote their own stories and got to sit in the fancy red velvet Author’s chair Trish found at a garage sale and share them aloud with others. “Nice crowd today, girlfriend.” Callie came to stand next to Trish as she scanned the room to make sure everything ran smoothly. “Yes, it is. The Story Time classes are really catching on. I had my doubts they would, but we’re building a nice following. Some of them come back for extra help during the week, so free Saturdays end up bringing in money in the long run sometimes.” “So, what’s on the agenda today? Are they reading or writing?” “A little of both, actually. Today is poetry day. We’ve got several fun poems to read to them, then they get to write their own. The best of both worlds, I guess.” Trish smiled at her friend and business partner. “Where’s Eva? We’re usually a trio on Saturday mornings, but I haven’t seen her yet.” “She’s finalizing this afternoon’s session. We have a guest speaker today from The El Paso Women’s Services. They’ll hear about some great resources available to them.” Saturday afternoons at the Lit Center were reserved for self improvement classes for victims staying in the battered women’s shelter to attend. Callie and Eva talked to them about how to find jobs,
  • 23. 14 conduct an interview, apply make-up and fix hair and dress professionally, and most of all, they tried to instill some self-confidence, which the ladies always lacked. Eva served particularly well in that capacity, since she had been a battered wife herself and had moved on with her life. Moving on. Trish knew firsthand how difficult that was to do. She’d been on her own since the death of her husband over two years ago, and she still struggled at times. She’d like to think she’d moved on like Eva had, but after talking with Jake last night, she knew she still struggled with forgiveness and bitterness leftover from her marriage. She didn’t want to feel those things, but she had yet to put them behind her. “Y’all need some help? With the kids gone, I’ve got some time to spare.” Trish offered her time gladly. Although she hadn’t been physically abused by Pete, she sure knew the difficulty in picking up the shattered pieces of what she’d thought would be a good life. “That’s sweet of you, Trish, but we’ve got it covered. You should go home and get some rest. You’re looking tired these days. Take advantage of some down time with the babies gone. You need it, whether you think so or not.” Callie continued to study her friend, and Trish knew she saw the red eyes and dark circles underneath. “I’ve got some paperwork to do, then I’ll relax a little. There’s just so much to do, and having the house to myself allows for accomplishing a lot more in a shorter amount of time. That’s what I need to take advantage of.” The morning sessions with the kids wound down, and Trish started in on her paperwork while her friends helped the ladies from the battered women’s shelter. They made her think of her own marriage again.
  • 24. 14 It had all started out so sweetly. She and Pete had been high school sweethearts, and she thought they’d known each other as well as they’d known themselves. It wasn’t until much later – two kids later – that she’d finally seen the real man who’d made it a point to hide the truth from her for so long. By then, the life she’d thought she’d been leading went to hell in a hand basket seemingly overnight, and she found herself and her kids destitute and practically living on the streets. Thank God she’d had her parents to fall back on. Her time with Jake the night before brought all the bitterness to the surface again. She remembered when she’d been like him, looking forward to sharing a future with someone, building a life together. But that was before she’d actually been married. Walking the walk had proved a hell of a lot harder than talking the talk. She didn’t want to be bitter. She just wanted to live her life and raise her kids. Alone. Just like running the Lit Center, she didn’t trust anyone but herself to do things right and get the job done. There would never be room in her life again for a relationship with a man. Too risky, too unsure, and too messy. She had her kids, and that was enough. However much she reminded herself of that, Trish sometimes felt lonely. She wouldn’t allow herself to think of when her kids were grown and gone. After everything she’d been through the last few years, she still caught herself daydreaming about belonging to someone and having a partner to share her life with, the good, the bad, and the ugly. Sometimes, she got tired of being strong. Sometimes, she wished there was someone around to lean on. Then, she’d remember the hell of the past and snap herself out of it. The afternoon classes finished, and Callie and Eva made her promise to be wearing something slinky and sexy when they picked her up around seven for girls’ night. Which meant
  • 25. 14 she’d either have to go shopping or root around in her closet for something she hadn’t worn in years. She doubted seriously that she owned anything sexy anymore. Ugh, shopping. Trish went to the mall and rediscovered that shopping could indeed be fun, especially when you didn’t have two little kids to wag around with you. She found a cute, short skirt and a form fitting cashmere sweater to go with it. High heeled black suede boots were the perfect compliment. Nothing revealed too much, but she knew she looked like a million bucks in the ensemble, and yes, she looked pretty sexy if she did say so herself. She decided to wear her long, honey blond hair down and curled. With a little bit of help from Estee Lauder – which helped cover the dark circles under her eyes – she felt ready to have some fun. When she heard someone honk, she grabbed her purse and a short, black, leather jacket and locked the door behind her. It surprised her to see Jake’s black Avalanche in the driveway and climbed into the shotgun position since Eva and Callie already sat in the back seat. Jake had to remind himself to breathe after he saw Trish walking toward the truck. He’d never seen her like this before, at least not since she’d been single. ‘Wow’ was all he could think when he saw her. Trish fastened the seatbelt and exchanged greetings with everyone. “I thought this was a girls’ night. How’d you get roped into this, Jake?” He pulled himself together with an effort and answered her question. “I’m the DD tonight. Apparently, it’s been decided that you’re all going to paint the town tonight, and since these ladies are coupled up, it went against some kind of girls’ code to allow a significant other to drive. Something about cramping their style. So, since I’m unattached to any of you, I have the distinguished honor of being your chauffer for the evening.”
  • 26. 14 Trish smiled. “You poor guy. I’ll try to make it as painless as possible for you. If you play your cards right, I may even be able to slip you a drink or two.” “I take my responsibilities very seriously. Just Coke for me tonight, but thanks for the thought.” Callie chimed in. “You look amazing, Trish. You should dress like that more often. The hair and makeup are great, too. You may be a mother, but you’re also a woman.” Callie’s enthusiasm made Trish smile. “Mother first, teacher second, woman a distant third, Callie. But thanks for the compliment. You guys look great, too.” Eva wore a little black dress with strappy high heels, and Callie had on a royal blue, shapely short dress with matching high heeled pumps. Eva said, “I kind of miss my jeans, but it’s fun to dress up sometimes. And the hot look that Josh gave me when I came out of the bedroom to wait for Jake and Callie, not to mention those heated goodbye kisses he laid on me before I left, made it all worth it. I love you, girls, you know I do, but leaving Josh tonight came hard. The man has some serious kissing skills.” “Cade laid a few kisses on me, too, when I got ready to go. Blue is his favorite color, but I doubt it was the color of my dress that got him going. He’s so cute.” Callie smiled that ‘I’m so in love’ smile as she talked about her husband. “Yeah, yeah, yeah. I don’t want to hear any more about it from you two. I’m going home alone tonight, as usual, so don’t talk about anything steamy waiting at home for you, please.”
  • 27. 14 “Who says you have to go home alone, Trish? Maybe you’ll meet someone interesting tonight. No kids or parents at home to witness. You should keep an open mind.” Callie enlisted Eva’s help, and they both nodded in agreement. Jake entered the conversation with, “Callie, leave the woman alone. There’s nothing wrong with going home alone.” Callie laughed. “Onward, Jake. Chauffeurs are not supposed to join in on the conversation. Trish is young, beautiful, and single. If she meets someone interesting, there’s no reason why she shouldn’t enjoy her freedom.” Trish rolled her eyes and added, “This is a moot point, since I have no intention of either meeting anyone interesting or bringing anyone home with me. This is girls’ night, and I’m here to have some fun. Clean fun, I might add. I have an example to set.” Eva persisted with, “When the cat’s away …” “I don’t need a man to have a good time, ladies. Men are overrated. Present company excluded, of course.” Trish smiled at Jake in apology. “Of course. Thanks for the bone.” Trish smiled again, and he winked his eye. He sure was good looking, and that flirtatious little wink of the eye did funny things to her stomach. They arrived at Carlos and Mickey’s and arranged to sit in the bar at a table close enough to hear the Mariachis, but far enough to allow for conversation. Jake went to sit at the bar, so they got their girl time in, and Trish had a chair facing his back. He sipped his coke and started making business calls to check on the various job sites he worked on, and Trish noticed there were several women making eyes at him, although he seemed pretty oblivious.
  • 28. 14 Some of the bolder – perhaps sluttier would be a more apt descriptor? – approached the bar to request another drink and oh so casually made conversation with Jake as they waited for the bartender to bring them their drinks. Trish found it extremely irritating. She wasn’t sure why it was so irritating, but it definitely was, and she didn’t like it one bit. She didn’t know which irritated her more, the women themselves or the fact that they were flirting with – no, actually they were throwing themselves at – Jake. She shook herself and reminded herself Jake was a big boy and could take care of himself. Determined to put Jake and his prospective harem out of her mind, Trish dove straight into the conversation with the girls and another margarita. Jake was a free agent, and his love life was none of her business. What did she care if he slept with every one of the tacky bar flies which approached him? She doubted all of them together had the IQ she did. Sure, they were pretty, but looks weren’t everything, right? Besides, she wouldn’t exact use ‘wall flower’ to describe herself, when she put her mind to it. An hour later, Trish continued to watch as woman after woman flaunted herself at Jake. Ridiculous. Jake was her friend. And friends helped friends out, didn’t they? She would save her friend from all this unsolicited attention. It was her duty. As his friend. Trish stood up and walked over to the bar. When she got there, some woman that reminded her of a dirty street whore was leaning across the bar, making the most of her cleavage, and trying to get Jake’s attention. It amazed Trish that her lips didn’t slide right off the edge of her glass, as much lip gloss as she’d slathered on. Enough. “Excuse me.” Not waiting for the likely prostitute to take her not so subtle hint, Trish grabbed Jake’s arm and pulled him around to get his attention. “I feel bad that you’re sitting
  • 29. 14 over here all alone.” She looked pointedly to the bimbo next to him. “Why don’t you come and join us, Jake?” “I thought you wanted some girl time. I don’t want to intrude.” “You won’t be. Come on.” Not waiting for his agreement, she grabbed his arm and pulled him toward the table where her friends were waiting. She couldn’t resist throwing a pleased look over her shoulder at the wannabe hooker. Get your hooks in someone else tonight, you sleazy haybag. Eva and Callie watched the entire display with avid attention. Very interesting. Better than TV, in fact. The two friends looked at each other and knew at a glance that they were both thinking the same thing. No words were needed. “Are you sure you ladies don’t mind if I join you? I was perfectly fine at the bar. I thought the whole point of girls’ night out meant you bad mouthed us guys. I know you girls like your privacy for that kind of stuff, and I’m not sure I can stay quiet and not defend us poor boys who are at your mercy. You girls can get real mean when you travel in packs.” “Apparently not the women hanging all over you tonight. They didn’t look like they had mean in mind at all.” Jake looked at Trish with a question in his eyes. “You know who I’m talking about. All those hussies that kept sauntering over to you trying to get your attention.” Callie and Eva looked at each other again, then at Trish, and finally at Jake. “Hussies? Come on.” Well now, this was interesting. Trish couldn’t be jealous. Could she? Jake decided he had to find out.
  • 30. 14 “Yes, hussies. Women should have more pride in themselves than that. It was disgusting seeing them flaunt themselves and vie for your attention like that.” “They seemed like nice ladies to me.” Jake smiled slowly and couldn’t wait to hear her response. “Ha! Floosies, every one of them. I finally took pity on you and decided to put a stop to it. You owe me one.” “You’re a real pal, Trish. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.” Trish studied Jake’s face. “Are you being sarcastic? Did you want me to leave you to them? If you were interested, you should’ve said something. Go back there if you want to. I was just trying to help. Frankly, I thought you had better taste than that.” This made for really great news. She cared, and she showed tendencies towards being possessive and even a little jealous. “No, no. I’m happy right here, and I’m not being sarcastic. You really are a pal. Thanks for watching out for me. I’ll be sure to return the favor. Ready for another round?” When they all nodded, Jake signaled for the waitress. Over two hours and several drinks later, Jake ushered all three ladies to his truck for the return trip. They were all very happy and very inebriated. And they were all laughing uncontrollably at who knew what. More than likely, they couldn’t tell them what they found so funny, so he didn’t bother asking. He dropped Callie off first, escorting her to the door where Cade claimed her and managed to help her aim her lips towards his own. Finally. Eva was next. Josh met him at the truck, and after plenty of giggles and a noticeable lack of ability to walk a
  • 31. 14 straight line, he picked her up and carried her inside. She waved goodnight over Josh’s shoulder and sighed contentedly. “I think those drinks have had too many girls, don’t you?” Trish aimed her comment in Jake’s general vicinity. “They’re not the only ones, sweetheart.” Trish tried to focus on him, but had a hard time. She found the whole thing very funny, though, and she couldn’t stop laughing. “You’re such a nice guy, Jake.” “Thanks, Trish. You’re a nice girl, too. How are you feeling?” “I feel grrreat! I can’t tell you how long it’s been since I had a girls’ night out. Present company excluded. I think it was before I was pregnant with Lexie.” “You should get out more, Trish. Look at how much fun you’re having. It’s good for you.” “Maybe. Maybe not. Maybe if it was just girls, like tonight. I miss dancing sometimes. I just feel so old sometimes, like that part of my life is over. Fun is done. Hey, that rhymes. Fun, done.” “The fun doesn’t have to be done, silly girl. Nobody’s too old to have fun. Stick with me. I guarantee you’ll have fun. I’m a fun guy.” “You’re also a very sexy guy, but I can’t tell you that. All those women coming on to you. I didn’t much care for it myself.” “How come?”
  • 32. 14 “That’s a very good question. Damned if I have an answer for you though. I guess I’ll have to think about it for awhile.” “You do that, Trish.” “They were hay bags, every last one of them. Not good enough for you, Jake. You need a woman who’s smart, honest, hard working, and faithful. You need a woman like me, Jake. I’m all of those things.” “Are you applying for the job, Trish?” “I don’t think so. That would not be wise, I don’t think. Or maybe it would. I’m not at all sure right now. What do you think?” “I think you should seriously consider it. We like each other. You think I’m sexy, and I sure think you’re sexy, especially tonight. You should wear your hair down more. It looks good like that. Anyway, can you think of any reason why we shouldn’t hook up?” “Yep.” “What’s that?” “Because I’d rather be alone. I think. You’re mixing me up. I was just fine until all those loosy goosies started hanging all over you. I don’t know why it bothered me so much, but it did. I’d made up my mind to just raise my kids and stay all by myself. That’s really for the best, Jake, it really is.”
  • 33. 14 “Is it because of Pete? I can’t believe he’d want you to spend your life alone. I didn’t know him very well, but he seemed like a nice guy. You can’t go on grieving for him for the rest of your life.” “He did seem like a nice guy, didn’t he? Maybe he was, but it sure didn’t end well. Pete had a hidden side, and it wasn’t pretty. I’m never going to put myself in a position like that again. I’d rather be alone. And FYI, I am not grieving for him. I’m ashamed to say that I never have. I think I must be a very bad person.” “Sweetheart, you’re not making any sense. What was it about Pete that turned you off of love and relationships? And you’re not a bad person, Trish.” “I am, Jake. I really am. Not very many people know this, Jake, but I was going to leave Pete. I’d already filed for divorce. Then, he … died.” “I’m sure that you had your reasons for leaving, Trish. Come on inside. We’re back at your place.” “This isn’t my place, Jake. This is my parents’ place. I’m twenty eight years old, and I’m living with my parents. That is so embarrassing.” “Get your own place, then.” “I have terrible credit, Jake. Not my fault, but there you go. I’m the only one around to face the music.” “I know a couple of places looking for renters. Let me know if you’re interested, and I’ll see what I can do.”
  • 34. 14 “I can’t let anyone, especially a man, help me. You can’t trust ‘em, Jake. You think they’re watching out for you and your best interests, but then you find out that they’ve ruined your life.” “Don’t think of it as relying on a man. Just think of it as one friend helping out another. You helped me tonight by warning off all those … hussies was it? – so now I can help you move into a place of your own.” “See, Jake that’s what I mean. You are such a nice guy.” “Why don’t you give me your key, and I’ll see you inside.” “Okay, my friend. Here you are.” Trish handed over the keys to thin air, and they fell with a loud clank on the porch. She thought it was hilarious. Jake picked up the keys and opened the door. “Tell you what, why don’t I pour you into bed, and then I’ll see myself out, okay? You’re liable to fall down before you get there without any help.” Jake took her hand and asked her to direct him, which she did. “There you go, Trish. I’ll call you in the morning. Don’t forget you promised me dinner tomorrow night.” “Okey dokey. Hey, aren’t you going to kiss me goodnight?” “Do you want me to?” “Hell, yes, I want you to. I haven’t been kissed in forever, and you look like a good kisser to me. And you’re my friend. Kiss me, friend.”
  • 35. 14 Trish slung her arms around Jake’s neck and puckered up. He kissed her on the forehead and lifted his head to look down at her. “You call that a kiss? My granny kisses better than …” Jake swooped down and kissed her like he’d wanted to for months. Trish felt the passion Jake’s kiss brought with it and drank it in. She was right. The man could definitely kiss. This time when he lifted his head and looked at her, she looked a little dazed. “Wow! You really are a good kisser, Jake. Yummy.” She pulled his head down for more, and he obliged her for several minutes, until they were both out of breath. “Stay with me tonight.” Jake took a deep breath and braced his forehead against hers. “Ask me tomorrow, and I will. Tonight, you need to go to bed. Alone. Now, before all my good intentions go down the drain, stop looking at me like that.” “Like what?” “All warm and cuddly. Come on, in bed with you.” “Oh, alright. But you sure are a good kisser, Jake. I’ll see you tomorrow night for dinner. And we can have sex for dessert.” Jake lifted an eyebrow. “We’ll see. Goodnight, Trish the dish. I’ll lock the door on my way out.” “’Kay. Nighty night, Jake the snake. Shake and bake.” Trish laid her head on the pillow and was out cold in under a minute.
  • 36. 14 Jake looked at her, smiled, and called himself all kinds of fool for not curling up next to her.
  • 37. 14 Chapter 3 Callie called her at nine the next morning and woke Trish up. “Hey, Trish, how are you feeling this morning?” Trish tried to sit up but quickly fell back down on her pillow. “Oh, my head. How could you let me overdo it so much last night? What kind of friend are you, anyway?” “The kind that endorses misery loving company. I don’t feel any better than you do. I just got off the phone with Evita, and she’s in just as bad a state as we are. The next time we have a girls’ night out, we better stick to the movies or something equally tame. How many drinks do you think we had last night?” “Who the hell knows? I don’t remember paying the tab, do you? I hope we didn’t skip.” “No, Jake picked it up. Speaking of my brother, you certainly were aggravated at all the women hanging around him last night. What gives?” Silence. “Trish, are you there?” “Yeah, I’m here. And they weren’t hanging around him, as I recall, they were hanging on him. He didn’t seem particularly interested, so I helped him out and took him out of circulation, that’s all.” “Uh huh. So, what happened when he took you and Eva home last night?”
  • 38. 14 “Nothing. Josh carried Eva inside, and Jake … saw me inside. Since I’m waking up in bed, I’m assuming he helped me get here.” “Are you naked?” “Callie! I can’t believe you asked me that. Of course …” – she took a quick look down – “… I’m not naked. I’m not even in my jammies. Jake is a true gentleman. And besides, we’re just friends.” Boy is my friend a good kisser, too. Oh shit – did I ask him to spend the night with me? Did I dream that? Surely, I dreamt it. Please, God, let me have dreamt it. “Uh huh. I must say, you’re very territorial over your friend, Jake. Eva and I both noticed a little spark of interest there, and it did not lean toward the platonic side, either. But, hey, that’s okay. If that’s your story, and you’re sticking to it, that’s fine. But I expect full disclosure if and when that status changes.” “It’s not going to change, Callie. My plate is full with raising babies and running a business. I don’t have the time or the inclination to start a relationship right now, and I’m sure I won’t for at least another twenty years. By then, I’ll be too old, and that’s fine with me.” “What about sex? Don’t you miss it?” “Sometimes, but I have my battery operated boyfriend for those times, and he’s nothing if not trustworthy. And if he ever fails me, I’ll toss him out and get another one. That’s more than I can say for a lot of men.” “You think Jake’s not trustworthy?” “I didn’t say that, Callie. Of course he’s trustworthy. He’s a great guy, but I’m just not interested in starting a relationship.”
  • 39. 14 “You know, Trish, you kind of remind me of Eva. She didn’t want to trust another man either, and she never thought she would. But Dubeck men are a cut above the average male. I’m not just saying that because they’re my brothers, but Josh and Jake are true blue. They know how to treat a lady, and they stick.” “It’s different when you have kids, Callie. They’ve already lost their dad. I can’t be bringing men home and having them get attached, then moving on to the next guy and repeating the cycle. My kids need more stability than that. God knows they’ve had very little since Pete died. I have to be careful for their sake.” “I can understand that, girlfriend. You be careful all you want. When push comes to shove, though, I don’t think it’s the kids that make you hold back. I think it’s you. More specifically, I think it’s something hurtful in your past. I’m not being nosy, but if you ever want to talk about it, I’m here, and Eva is, too. You know we have some pretty shaky skeletons in our closets when it comes to past relationships.” “I appreciate that, Callie, I really do. Maybe someday I’ll take you up on it.” “You do that. Anyway, I called to invite you to one of our famous barbecues. Where else besides El Paso, Texas could you have a barbecue in October? Granddad called and asked me to tell everybody.” “Hmmm. I’m not sure. I kinda sorta have plans tonight.” “Uh huh. Do these plans have anything to do with my big brother and your dear friend, Jake, by any chance?”
  • 40. 14 “Now, Callie, don’t read more into this than there is. Jake brought me lunch a couple of times last week in exchange for dinner. That’s all. He came by on Friday, and he’s coming by tonight. Then we’ll be even. There’s nothing more to it than that.” “Uh huh.” “Now see, you’re making more of this than there is. When you call Jake, ask him what he’d prefer, dinner here or over at your Granddad’s. Whatever he wants to do is fine with me.” “Okay, I’ll do that. And I’ll have him call you to tell you what he wants to do. How’s that?” “That’s just fine. I’ll probably see you later. Right now, I’m going to jump in the shower and take a couple of Advil, not necessarily in that order.” “I’m going to finish making these calls and then have morning sex with Cade.” “That’s just so hateful of you to tell me that.” “Hey, next time you’re asked, say yes. Nobody’s there to witness or chaperone.” “Goodbye, Callie.” **** Half an hour later, Trish had just dried off from her shower when the phone rang. She checked the caller id. Shit, shit, shit. It’s Jake. Should I answer? Of course I should answer. Friends answer friends’ phone calls. “Hello?”
  • 41. 14 “How’s the headache?” “Hi, Jake. The Advil is starting to kick in now. I’ll live.” “Glad to hear it. You were pretty far gone last night. You said all kinds of crazy things.” “Yeah, about that … I’m really sorry for being such a lush and an idiot. I’m not sure what all I actually did and what I dreamt I did, but none of it lacks for embarrassment.” “Well, I’d be happy to clear things up for you and separate the fantasy from the reality, if you’d like.” “Uh, maybe it’s best if we let sleeping dogs lie.” “So, you don’t remember making love? That sure burns my ego.” “What?!” “Just kidding, Trish the dish. Relax. Nothing … much … happened last night. You did mention that you wanted your own place, do you remember that part?” “Yes, you said something about knowing about a couple of rentals. Do you know if they’re in the Socorro school district? I’d hate to move Trevor to another school in the middle of the year.” “As a matter of fact, one of them is. You want to take a look at it this afternoon?” “This afternoon? Ah, sure, if you’re not too busy, that would be great. Are you sure you don’t mind?”
  • 42. 14 “What are friends for, Trish? Oh, do you want to give me a rain check on dinner for sometime next week and go to the barbecue or not?” “Ah, sure, if that’s okay with you. That sounds like a great idea.” “Good, that ought to shut my sister up. She bet me ten bucks we’d opt for dinner at your place. I think she’s got ideas about us.” Trish let out a nervous giggle and agreed to be ready in an hour to look at the rental. Jake hung up the phone with a grin on his face. This was working out nicely. He’d been patient and kept himself from moving in on Trish for several months, and now he planned on taking the next step. Last night had been enlightening on several levels. First, Trish definitely felt attracted to him. Second, Trish did not want to feel attracted to him or anyone else. Third, something had gone drastically wrong in Trish’s marriage, which obviously what made her so hesitant to enter into a new relationship. To sum things up, the time to act had arrived, but he knew he had to be careful in moving forward. It wouldn’t take much for Trish to spook and shut him down before he’d even gotten started. So, he liked the idea of a barbecue, because the whole family would be there, and Trish would feel comfortable in that arena. Between looking at the house for rent and eating dinner in a safe atmosphere, she should be lulled into a sense of relaxation and well being. That’s when he would strike. **** Trish, who usually got ready to go in twenty minutes, took the whole hour to get ready. Instead of brushing her hair into a ponytail or braiding it, she blew it dry and curled it, wearing it
  • 43. 14 as she had the night before. She told herself several times that it had nothing to do with Jake’s comment about wearing it down more, but she didn’t really believe it. Then she took extra time on her makeup. Highly unusual. She didn’t pile it on or anything, but she did put on the whole works instead of just a little blush and mascara. Then, she had to decide what to wear. What a nightmare! Jeans and a light sweater? Slacks and a long sleeved blouse? Everything she tried on looked too teacherish. Or too motherish. Oh brother! She finally settled on jeans and a long sleeve button down cotton shirt. She thought she looked okay. She put on some loafers and grabbed a sweater, although it looked like a nice day. Jake honked the horn when he pulled into her driveway, just like he always did, and she grabbed her purse and locked the door behind her. “Hey.” Trish climbed up into his truck and reached for the seatbelt. “Hey yourself. You don’t look the least bit hungover. In fact, you look real nice. Ready to go look at the house?” “Yep. Thanks for picking me up and acting as the middle man.” “You bet.” He pulled out and drove the short distance to the rental and pulled into the driveway. He used a remote control to open the garage door, and they let themselves inside. “It’s got three bedrooms and two baths, a nice sized back yard, and two living areas, one of which could be used as an office. No formal dining room, and the laundry room is small but serviceable. Go ahead and look around.” “It’s really nice, Jake, but I don’t know if I can afford it. What’s the rent?” “It’s negotiable. What ballpark are you looking at?”
  • 44. 14 “I can’t go more than about eight hundred or so, and that’s a stretch, although most apartments are close to that. I’m sure the owner wants more than that.” “Actually, I can go as low as six fifty, so the price is right. Now let’s see if it’s what you’re looking for. Take a look around.” Trish fell in love with the little house. It wasn’t very big, but it was big enough for her and the kids. The master bedroom was a nice size with its own bathroom and walk-in closet. The other two rooms were on the small side, but then so were her babies. The kitchen was small, but had plenty of storage, and the living room had a fireplace in the corner. All the kitchen appliances were part of the deal, and the other living area would indeed make the perfect office space. The more she saw, the more she liked. She opened the back door and sighed. Not only was it grassed in with raised flower beds on the sides and back, it had a shiny, new looking swing set. “I absolutely love it, Jake. Can’t you just see the kids all over that swing set? Where do I sign, and when can I move in?” “Well, great. The owner will be thrilled it won’t be empty anymore. I’ll work on getting the paperwork. It’s ready to move into when you are.” “Yay! The kids will be so surprised, and my parents will be, too. This is so exciting. Someday, I’m going to buy my own house, but for now, this is great. Thank you, Jake.” Trish threw her arms around his neck and hugged him hard, thrilled at the prospect of having her own place again.
  • 45. 14 It took every ounce of self control that Jake Dubeck possessed not to grab hold of Trish and kiss the living daylights out of her until she begged him to make love to her. It was truly a testimony of his inner strength and determination to think of the long run instead of the here and now. Somehow, he managed to break away from her without jumping her bones. He planned to make up for lost time later that night. “I need to start finding boxes and packing, although we really don’t have that much stuff. I sold most everything before I moved back to El Paso. Oh my gosh, I’ve got to … I can’t take it after all, Jake.” Trish looked like she was about to cry, but she stiffened her back and threw her shoulders back and turned around to head for the garage. Jake stopped her and made her turn around. She wouldn’t look at him, so he put his index finger under her chin and lifted it until she met his eyes. “Why can’t you take it, Trish? I know you want it.” She blinked away tears rapidly. “I don’t have any furniture, Jake, and my credit is so shot, I could never qualify for a loan. If it was just me, that would be fine. I could sleep on the floor, but the kids … I can’t do that to them. I’ll have to save up the money for furniture and look again when I can afford it.” “Trish, I can cosign for a furniture loan if …” “Absolutely not. I’ll wait till I can do it on my own. Thanks, anyway.” Jake thought if she straightened her back anymore, it might snap. “Okay, but we can still work around that. Josh and Cade have furniture in their garages that they don’t want anymore, since their women told them it had to go. You’d be saving them the trouble of getting rid of it if
  • 46. 14 you took it off their hands. I’ve been looking to upgrade myself, and I had planned on just giving the furniture I’m getting rid of go to Good Will or some such place. It’s not in real bad shape, although it’s used, and I don’t know how you feel about that. You might at least take a look at it.” Hope blossomed anew in Trish’s eyes. “Really? I mean, you’re not just saying this, are you, because I’m your friend? And the other guys really have stuff they don’t want?” “Cross my heart.” And his fingers behind his back. He was perfectly happy with the furniture in his place, but hell, this was for a good cause. He couldn’t stand to see her disappointed like that. “I’ll buy it from y’all.” “Trish, I don’t want anything for it. Like I said, ...” He saw her chin stiffen and knew he’d made a mistake. “I pay my own way, Jake. Other than from my parents – and I simply didn’t have a choice when I moved back here – I’m not taking charity from anybody, including you.” “Okay, okay. I figured since we were friends, it wouldn’t matter, but if you feel that strongly about it, pay me whatever you think it’s worth, as long as you take into consideration that it’s used. You’re not paying me full price, and that’s final.” Trish looked at him and smiled slowly. “Okay, that’s fair. I’ll talk to the other guys tonight at the barbecue. I don’t mind if it’s used. I don’t even care if it matches. Eventually, I’ll replace it with new stuff, but for the time being it’ll do just fine. I can shop garage sales for anything I still need. I think I can make this work. Thank you again, Jake.”
  • 47. 14 Doing a mental ‘phew’, wiping his forehead and shaking off the imaginary sweat, he let out a deep breath. Man, she was touchy about her independence. He respected her for it, but he couldn’t help but wonder what had happened in her past to make her that way. He also wondered how her finances had gotten into such bad shape. Trish seemed pretty frugal. She didn’t strike him as someone who would live beyond her means, go into debt, and end up in financial ruin. Now he just had to find the right time and place to break it to her that the house she just agreed to move into belonged to him without her thinking of it like charity. He figured he’d better save that for another day, preferably after she moved in. He liked the idea of her living in his house, not because it gave him any control over her, but it was pretty close to his own house – the one he lived in – and wouldn’t that be a definite plus, especially if his plan succeeded, and he could move a step closer to starting a relationship with her. Jake had been thinking about getting together with Trish almost since the time she came back into his life. He hadn’t seen her much since she and Callie went to school together, but what he saw now, he liked. Not only was she beautiful, she was smart, successful, and had a heart of gold. She was also a great mother, and someone he could picture pursuing a future with. He loved her kids already. He knew a lot of guys would think him crazy to be interested in someone who came as a package deal, but that didn’t bother him at all. He’d lost his parents as a teenager, and his grandparents had raised him without a thought to the hardship and sacrifices to be made. He had no problem with that scenario applying to him.
  • 48. 14 He’d wanted to settle down for awhile now. He was the oldest in the family, and his brother and sister had settled already. Josh and Eva might not be officially married yet, but in their hearts they were totally committed to each other. He wanted what they had. He felt ready for a family and wanted to settle down. He had a pretty good idea that Trish was the one he wanted to settle with. Now, he just had to convince her of that, or at the very least to give it a try. They left the rental, and went back to her parents’ house, so she could throw together a salad to take to the barbecue. Jake helped her chop some of the veggies, and they decided they might as well ride together. When they arrived at the ranch, they walked right in the front door, through the kitchen and out onto the back patio where everyone congregated. Hello’s were exchanged, and Josh handed Jake a beer. “What’ll you have, Trish?” Josh stood over an ice chest as he asked her the question. “I think I’ll stick to water tonight, thanks.” Trish smiled ruefully. “That’s funny, Eva and Callie said the same thing. This wouldn’t have anything to do with girls’ night out last night, would it?” Josh smiled along with the other men. “It could. I think I’ve had my share of margaritas for the next year. We did have fun, though, didn’t we ladies?” Trish held up the water bottle Josh had given her and toasted her friends. Eva smiled as Josh put his arm around her. “We sure did. Callie and I were a little worried about you. Cade and Josh waited up for us to make sure we made it to bed alright. We
  • 49. 14 knew you were home alone last night with everyone on vacation. I guess you made it okay, though.” Trish could feel the heat rise to color her cheeks. “Oh sure. Jake took me home. And left. I mean, he made sure I got home safely and made it to bed. Alone. Right, Jake?” All eyes were on Jake. “I was a gentleman the whole time, so stop looking at me like that.” “Well, of course you were, Jake. Nobody thought differently.” Cade covered a smile as he commented. “Say, why don’t the three of us guys head over to the barn for a minute and look over the petting zoo. Your granddad’s thinking about expanding, and we wanted your opinion. He’s out there now feeding the animals.” “Sure.” The three men headed toward the barn, and the ladies stayed behind. “So… what have you two been doing all day?” Callie looked eagerly at Trish for her answer. “Jake took me to look at a rental property that I’m going to move into as soon as I can get it furnished. By the way, he said y’all had some furniture you wanted to part with. I’d like to look at it and possibly buy it from you, if you still have it and want to move it.” “As a matter of fact, Josh and I were just talking about replacing some of his furniture. It’s kind of bland, but it’s in good shape. You can just have it.” Eva took another gulp of cold water. “No, I’ll buy it from you.” Trish set her shoulders as she replied.
  • 50. 14 “I really don’t know what to charge you, Trish. Why don’t you come and look at it and tell me if you even want it, then we can talk price.” Trish nodded at Eva’s response. “Cade and I have a dining room set we don’t want anymore, and possibly a bedroom set. We’re also getting new lamps. His are ugly, but you’re welcome to them.” “I’ll come by and see them sometime next week, and I’ll buy those too, if they’re what I need.” Trish smiled at both her friends. “Whatever floats your boat, but I swear, I’d likely pay someone to take it all off my hands. You want the neon Coors Lite sign, too?” Callie laughed. “I think I’ll pass on that, but thanks anyway. Something about beer signs and kids just doesn’t mix for me. Call me strange.” Trish smiled again as she sipped more water. “Well, if you’re sure. It goes nicely with the moving waterfall clock advertising Bud Lite. Or was it Michelob? Either one, you’re welcome to them.” “Very generous of you, but no thanks.” Trish smiled as she shook her head. “Well, if you’re sure. Eva, don’t you have some things you’d like to dump, I mean donate, to the cause?” Callie looked over at Eva, and so did Trish. “Nothing quite up to par with those lovely items. Men and their idea of décor. You’ve got to wonder. Josh has pictures of hockey players framed and hanging in the guest room. When I took them down, he insisted that they were collectors’ items, autographed no less. Can you imagine? What about Jake’s place, Trish? Give us some examples of his taste.”
  • 51. 14 “I have no idea. I’ve never been to Jake’s place. We’re just friends.” Trish nodded with determination as she made the statement. Eva and Callie exchanged all knowing looks again. “What? We are just friends.” We are just friends. Just friends, just friends. “No offense, Trish, but you weren’t exactly acting like just a friend when you gave that woman a dirty look as you pulled Jake over to our table last night. Callie and I both noticed that you appeared to be kind of possessive.” Eva raised an inquisitive eyebrow at Trish. “Oh, honestly. I was just helping him out of a distasteful situation. He’s such a nice guy, he probably didn’t know how to let her down easy. He appeared to be not interested.” “And why do you think that is, girlfriend?” Callie trapped Trish with her stubborn gaze. “I don’t know, Callie, but I have a feeling you’re about to tell me.” Trish took a deep breath and prepared to stand firm. “You and Jake have been drifting closer and closer over the last few months. Both Eva and I have noticed. I think Granddad has, too. He’s hinting at a matchmaking plot.” “Oh, good grief. Jake and I are friends. I think he’s a great guy, but I told you, I’m not interested in getting into another relationship any time soon if ever. In fact, never again is highly likely. Been there, done that, girls. Don’t want to go there again. Once was more than enough for me, thank you very much.” Trish refused to give an inch. “Why?” Eva dropped the one word question, and it hung in the air.
  • 52. 14 “What do you mean, why, Eva? I’ve already been married, I have two kids to raise, and I plan on raising them on my own. I don’t need a man in my life for anything. I can take care of me and mine without anybody else’s help.” Trish huffed out a breath and dared her friends to argue the point with her expression. Eva looked at Trish steadily. “Of course you can take care of things on your own, but wouldn’t it be nice to have someone to share responsibilities with, both good and bad? Wouldn’t it be nice to come home to someone and spill your bad day and get some sympathy? I never thought I would ever marry again, either, but Josh has changed my mind about a lot of things. My first marriage was a nightmare, but my second marriage is going to be great. This time I’m marrying the right guy. It makes a huge difference.” “I’m very happy for you, Eva, truly. Have you set a date yet?” Trish smiled at her friend with genuine happiness and well wishes. “Not yet, but we’re talking about it. We want something small. Sometimes I can’t believe I’m taking the plunge again. I told Josh not too long ago that I’d move in with him, but I didn’t want to consider marriage for awhile. He’s been so great about it. He’s let me set the pace from the beginning, and he worked hard to earn my trust. I thought I was ruined, but it turned out that everything was repairable. He fixed me.” Trish raised her water bottle in salute. “That’s great, Eva, but I don’t need to be fixed. I’m doing fine on my own, and I like it that way.” “I respect that, Trish, but I can’t help but think you’re still living some kind of nightmare, and that’s why you refuse to consider getting together with Jake. You don’t have to tell me if
  • 53. 14 that’s the case, but if you ever want to talk about it, you know where to find me.” Eva reached over and patted Trish’s arm. “Thanks, Eva. You’re a good friend.” **** As soon as the men got clear of the main house, Cade and Josh started in on Jake. “So, you and Trish, huh, bro?” Josh smiled smugly. “Don’t start that shit with me, Josh.” Definitely on the grouchy side of things, he wasn’t ready to talk about this with anyone. Cade looked from Josh to Jake and smiled broadly. “I told you, Josh. If there was nothing going on, Jake wouldn’t be all up in your face after a simple question. Callie and Eva were right. There’s definitely something going on.” “Fuck you, Cade.” Both men had a good laugh at Jake’s expense. “So, how serious is it?” Josh leaned his forearms across the corral fence and waited for his brother to reply. “It’s not. Yet, anyway,” Jake scowled. “Yet being the key word, bro?” Cade crossed his arms across his chest. Jake finally let down his guard and faced the two men who were his brothers. “I’m hoping so. But she’s so damn stubborn, I’m having a hard time talking her into just considering
  • 54. 14 the possibility of being more than friends. Hell, the only time she’s even been open to the idea was last night when she was drunk off her ass.” Josh looked at him with some compassion. “I know about that. It took me a long time to even get Eva to stop flinching when I touched her, much less allow for anything else. You think maybe someone abused Trish, too?” Jake thought a minute and said, “Hell, I don’t know. Maybe. Something sure happened in her marriage to turn her off of men. She’s never been skittish like Eva in the beginning, but Pete burned her in some way for sure.” Cade jumped in. “Maybe she’s still grieving for her husband.” “That’s what I thought at first, but she said some things last night that dispelled that theory. She told me she’d filed for divorce right before Pete died. She said something else about Pete having a hidden side to him. She didn’t make a lot of sense.” Jake ran a frustrated hand through his hair. Josh added, “Eva thinks she’s carrying some scars from her marriage, too, although she doesn’t think it’s necessarily from physical abuse. She’s tried to get her to open up about it, but so far, no go, bro.” “Callie thinks something’s there, too, but she has no idea what it is. She said Trish said something about Pete making some bad investments which led to her declaring bankruptcy. I don’t know if that’s part of it.” Cade shook his head in sympathy for Trish. “Whatever happened affected her ability to trust in other people. She only trusts herself and her parents and probably Eva and Callie. She doesn’t trust me as far as she can throw me,
  • 55. 14 which is frustrating as hell. It’s not that she thinks I’d try to do her any harm, exactly. It’s like she can’t trust me, like she’s waiting for me to let her down. She won’t let me help her. I offered to give her some furniture, and she about bit my head off.” “What does she need furniture for? Isn’t she living with her folks?” Cade asked. “Not for much longer. She’s going to rent that house I bought a few streets over from mine. She doesn’t have any furniture. She said she sold all of hers before she moved back here. She almost didn’t take the house, because she said she’d never qualify for credit. She wanted it so bad she could taste it, but she’d rather do without it than accept my help. Anyone’s help. She nearly throttled me when I suggested that I’d cosign on a loan for her. I told her you guys had some old stuff you were getting rid of, too. She’s going to offer to buy it.” Cade nodded and said, “Yeah, she’s already talked to Callie. Well, at least she’s renting the house from you. That’s got to be a good sign.” Jake’s guilt surfaced as he said, “She doesn’t know I own it. Hell, I’d let her live there rent free, but I had to name a price, or she’d never have taken it. I have to find some way to tell her it’s mine, but I’m waiting for a better time.” Josh looked at his brother. “Jake, if she has trust issues, you’d better make it quick. The last thing you need is to be caught up in something that Trish might consider as any kind of deception.” “Yeah, I know it. Damn it all to hell. I just want to help her.” Jake’s frustration rang out clearly.
  • 56. 14 “I get that, Jake, I really do, but sometimes women who have been burned need to prove they can do for themselves. I don’t mean prove it to you or someone else, but so they’ll know it and believe in themselves again. That’s how Eva was in the beginning. Not only didn’t she trust any man, but she didn’t trust herself. She needed to know she could handle herself, despite the mistakes she’d made in the past. Maybe that’s how Trish is feeling.” “Maybe.” Jake continued to process his thoughts. “So what’s the plan, bro? You looking for something long term, or just a quick roll in the hay?” Josh slapped his brother on the back. Jake looked at his brother coldly. “Be careful, Josh.” “That’s what I thought.” Josh smiled. “You’ve got it bad, don’t you?” Jake relaxed again. “It’s too soon to tell. I sure do want to find out, though. She’s a hell of a woman.” Cade added, “She comes with strings, Jake. Those little kids of hers own her heart.” “You don’t have to tell me that. Hell, I’m as crazy about the kids as I am about her. Almost, anyway. The whole idea of an instant family doesn’t put me off at all. We’ll get along just fine. I accepted your ass into the family, didn’t I, Cade? And you were two hundred pounds of mean, shitty attitude when you first got here.” Cade smiled at the memory. “I was that, wasn’t I? You and Josh tolerated me, but Callie brought me around. Your grandparents, too. You two were suspicious at first.”
  • 57. 14 “We got past that pretty fast after our folks died and you mellowed out some. You were always watching out for Callie, and we knew what a handful she was. We knew she drove you crazy sometimes, but you never lost it with her, so we figured you were alright. Hell, we all knew you’d end up marrying her before you did.” Cade smiled. “Well, I sure won the prize, didn’t I? Hang in there with Trish, Jake. It’ll be worth it in the end if you can get past her walls.” “I don’t really think I have a choice. It’s either win her or die trying.” **** The men all came back to the back patio about fifteen minutes later. Trish stood up and gave John, Callie’s grandfather, a big hug. “I sure am glad to see you, honey. I kind of miss those two kids of yours, though. Callie said they were on vacation with your folks, but you’ll have to bring them by for a visit when they get back. I got another rabbit to show Trevor. He’s spotted and real gentle with kids.” Trish smiled. “I’ll bring them by when they get back, John. You’re so good to Trevor. He really does think of you as another grandparent.” “He’s a fine boy, Trish. And that little Lexie is just as pretty as a picture. Looks like her mama.” Trish smiled again at the elderly man who her kids had taken such a liking to. “I’m starving, Granddad. When’s supper ready?” Callie smiled as she handed her grandfather a glass of iced tea.
  • 58. 14 John thanked Callie for the tea. “It’ll be ready in about fifteen minutes. We’re having chicken with all the fixins’.” “We brought a, I mean I brought a salad. It’s in the fridge.” Trish stood up to get it. “Hey, I helped chop stuff,” Jake stated indignantly. “Yes, you did. So, I guess we did bring a salad. Sorry.” Noticeably uncomfortable with the reference to them as a couple, Trish went inside to get the salad. Too bad, sweetheart, you’ll have to get over it eventually. I’m not going anywhere. As usual, the Dubeck/Scanlan barbecue tasted delicious coupled with great company and atmosphere. It felt strange to Trish not to have the kids in tow. She usually had to leave early, so she could get them in bed at a decent hour, but tonight she felt as free as a bird. It felt weird in a good way. Sort of. Trish helped Callie and Eva clean up, and everyone left around nine. It was a quiet drive home, which gave Trish plenty of time to think, which wasn’t necessarily a good thing. The closer she got to her parents’ house, the more nervous she became. Jake hadn’t made a pass at her all day, despite her drunken invitation of last night. She couldn’t figure out if she felt disappointed or relieved. She was a mother of two now. She still had a pretty good figure, though, and she’d worn her hair down just like he liked it. Maybe she’d imagined things last night. Maybe his kisses weren’t as steamy as she remembered. She had been under the influence at the time. Maybe he wasn’t quite as enthused as she’d thought. Probably for the best.
  • 59. 14 Jake pulled into the driveway and turned off the truck. She wanted to jump out and run inside before he had a chance to follow, but she forced herself to walk slowly with him beside her. She unlocked the door and turned to look at him. “Thanks for everything today, Jake. Showing me the house, driving me around, everything. You’re a good friend.” “So you said last night. And you’re welcome. Mind if I come in?” “Uh, sure. I mean, no, I don’t mind. We have to work tomorrow, though. I need my beauty sleep.” Trish laughed nervously. They walked inside together. Trish acted fidgety. “Can I get you something? I don’t think I have any beer, but I might have wine.” “I’m good, thanks.” Jake sat down on the couch. “Come talk to me, Trish.” Trish’s blue eyes were as big as saucers as she made her way to the couch and sat in the furthest corner from where Jake sat. “What do you want to talk about?” “Last night, mostly.” “Last night? Okaaay. I had fun at girls’ night and had waaaay too much to drink. Thank you again for being the designated driver.” “Sure, Trish, no problem. I’ll be your designated driver anytime. All you have to do is ask.”
  • 60. 14 “That’s very nice of you, Jake. You are a true friend. I don’t think I’ll need a DD anytime soon, though, plus it’s really not fair to you. I’m sure you were bored out of your mind.” “You’re rambling, you know. Are you nervous or something?” “Rambling? Nervous? Me? That’s silly. I’m simply thanking you and watching out for your best interests. That’s what friends do for one another.” “Kind of like you watched out for me last night when all those loose women were bothering me?” “Yes, I mean no. Well, yes.” “Which is it, Trish the dish? Yes or no.” Jake turned his body to face her and scooted a little closer. “Yes, I watched out for you. Like a good friend.” Trish nodded sensibly. “Like a friend? Funny, I thought you were kind of trying to … mark your territory?” “Mark my territory? Of course not! That’s ridiculous.” “I don’t know. The look you gave that woman when you led me over to your table looked a little sinister and a lot possessive. Did it bother you seeing her propositioning me?” “Bother me? Of course not. I just didn’t think she was your type, that’s all. You’re a nice guy, and I could tell you didn’t want to hurt her feelings, but I could also see you weren’t interested.”
  • 61. 14 “You saw quite a lot, didn’t you? So, what do you think my type is, Trish the dish?” “Why do you keep calling me that? And I have no idea what your type is. Look, if I was out of line, I’m sorry. I’ll never interfere in your love life again. Now, if you don’t mind, I’d like to go to bed now.” Jake pulled her across the couch into his arms. She felt off balance, and he wanted her to stay that way. “I told you last night I’d stay if you asked me again. Are you asking me again, Trish?” Trish looked up at him with her big blue eyes wide open. Then, she made the mistake of looking at his lips and thinking of the kisses they’d shared the night before. Jake slanted his mouth across hers. Pure heat scorched her. If anything, she’d underestimated the affect he had on her. She really tried not to encourage him. She tried really hard not to kiss him back, but good Lord in heaven; she just couldn’t resist the temptation of tasting him. She opened her mouth to him, and he didn’t waste any time diving in and teasing her tongue with his. Neither could seem to get enough of the other. Trish wrapped her arms around his neck and pulled him closer, moaning into his mouth as he leaned back against the arm of the couch, pulling her on top of him. His arms held her tightly against his body as he continued to kiss her over and over again. Trish lost herself in the passion of Jake’s kiss. She’d never been kissed like this in her life. My God, who even knew kissing could be like this? It was making love to her with his mouth, and she didn’t want it to stop there. It had been years since she’d had sex, since she got pregnant with Lexie. Shortly afterwards, her life and her marriage began to unravel. How could she have ever thought that she could live without this? She needed this. Desperately.
  • 62. 14 Jakes hands were smoothing down her back and around her rear, pulling her hips against his own. She could feel the hard length of his erection clearly and wanted – needed – to get closer. “Trish, honey, if you’re not ready to finish this, we need to stop now. I want you more than I can say, but I don’t want to rush you into anything. Do we stop or do we finish?” “Bedroom. Now.” “Thank you, Jesus.” He angled her off his chest and stood up, picking her up and carrying her to her bedroom, kissing her the whole time. He laid her on the bed and followed her, covering her body with his, grinding his hips into hers. “Oh my God, Jake. Make love to me, please. For once, I don’t want to think. I just want to feel. Make me feel, Jake.” Jake leaned up on one elbow and reached for the buttons on her blouse, undoing them slowly, and kissing her the whole time. He parted her blouse, running his fingers down her throat, and down the center of her torso, all the way down to the waistline of her jeans and back up again. Then, he bent his head down and licked the edges of her lacy, beige bra all the way across the top. He dipped his tongue underneath the lace, almost, but not quite reaching her nipple. He reached behind her and unclasped her bra, then lifted her back off the bed to slide her blouse and bra down her arms. As soon as Jake got her completely topless, he laid her back down on the bed and ran his hand all over her, cupping her breasts, rubbing her nipples with his thumb, squeezing them between his fingers. Trish took turns gasping for breath and moaning.
  • 63. 14 When he took her nipple into his mouth, licking, sucking, Trish thought she would die a perfect death. God, she could never remember feeling this hot before in her life. The depth of pleasure consumed her. Only one thought ran through her head, don’t stop, don’t stop, don’t stop, as she reveled in the feelings that swamped her. After the first shock of pleasure from Jake’s mouth, Trish suddenly couldn’t wait to give back. She started tugging at his t-shirt, desperate to feel the texture of his skin. She couldn’t get it off fast enough, and when she did, she couldn’t seem to satisfy her need to touch him. From the rough feel of the hair on his chest against her breasts to the smooth texture of skin on his back to the rock hard muscles she encountered everywhere she explored, Jake was perfection incarnate. From the moment they began touching each other, they lost themselves in the intensity radiating between them. Everywhere they touched, kissed, licked, and bit each other taught a lesson in passion they’d never known before. It wasn’t just the physical pleasure they gave each other, it was the feeling behind it, the need to reach each other on a higher level. Jake shifted them to their sides facing each other and pulled Trish’s jean clad leg over his hip, running his hand up her thigh to cup her rear in his large, strong hand, squeezing, kneading, as he kissed her deeply. Not enough. Trish swung up and straddled his hips, moving him onto his back and pressing against the solid length of his erection through their jeans. The both groaned as they pushed, pulled, and grinded against each other in the efforts to get closer. They both reached for the buttons on each other’s jeans at the same time, desperate to get rid of the last barriers between them. They helped each other and themselves, speed being the operative word. Jeans
  • 64. 14 and underwear were stripped off together and kicked off frantically to fall on the floor, and then back into each other’s arms in reunion after what had seemed like much too long a time. Trish lay on her back, pulling Jake’s head down to her hungry mouth while he threw his leg over her hips. Trish ran her nails down his back, across his hip and down the thigh holding her trapped underneath him. Jake lifted his head to look down at the woman in his arms. Trish’s eyes were barely open, dazed with passion as she reached for him again. Jake intercepted her hand and placed it over his heart then reached up to touch her face, cupping her cheek in his rough, warm hand. “Trish, you’re beautiful. I’ve never wanted another woman like this. It’s killing me.” “I don’t want to talk, Jake. Make love to me.” Time for talking would have to come later. He had to have her now, but even as he reached between them to stroke her breast, tweak her nipples, and moved lower to sift through the damp curls at her core, an emotional deluge overwhelmed him, and he didn’t know what to do with. Making love to Trish transcended the physical connection. It encompassed him, and he knew he would never be the same. He parted her with his fingers spreading her moisture to coat her and ready her for his entry. He tested her with the tips of his fingers then sank deeper inside. “Jake, please. I can’t wait any longer.” Jake shifted his weight, reaching down to the floor and pulled his wallet out of his back pocket and pulled out a foil packet, ripping it open with his teeth. “I’m glad one of us is thinking. All I can think of is you inside me. Hurry.”
  • 65. 14 Jake suited up and rose above her. “Look at me, Trish. I want to see your eyes when I get inside you.” She looked up into his face, and he cupped her cheek as he entered her. “God, you feel so good.” Trish closed her eyes again as he began to move inside her. Jake kissed her eyes, her cheeks, her lips. He moved down to her chin and jaw, then her neck where he bit her gently between her neck and shoulder, bringing up goose bumps and moan. He moved down to her breasts, kissing, sucking, nipping, licking. Trish thought she’d die from the feelings erupting throughout her body and mind, even her soul. She ran her hands up and down his back, kissing his neck and chest, grabbing his rear and tilting her hips up as she bent her knees to take him deeper. As close as they were, Jake wanted closer. He couldn’t get enough of tasting her, couldn’t hold her closely enough to suit him, to soothe his hunger. He didn’t know how he could get any closer, but he desperately sought a way. He was torn between bringing them both to climax now and drawing out their pleasure. He wanted the heat to last, the joining to be forever. Covered in a sheen of sweat, he searched to find a balance between the two urges. Too far gone to wait any longer, Trish clasped his hips in her hands urging him to go faster. “Jake, Jake, my God.” Jake took his cue from her and moved faster and harder until he felt her climax closing around him, calling to him to join her in completion of ecstasy. He dove over the edge with her, extending both their pleasure as he continued to stroke her and wring out more spasms so intense, they were both shuddering from their impact.
  • 66. 14 They were both still breathing hard when he rolled his weight off of her and laid on his back, pulling her to rest across his chest, her head between his neck and shoulder. She stroked his chest, as he lightly ran his fingertips up and down her back and arm and stroked the disheveled hair from her face. Fully sated, they fell asleep in each other’s arms, both sighing in contentment, both feeling more complete than they had at any other time in their lives.
  • 67. 14 Chapter 4 Trish shot up, startled and disoriented. The phone rang again, and she looked at the clock on the night stand. Eight o’clock!? She reached for the phone on the other side of the bed – apparently Jake’s side – and answered on the third ring. “Trish? Is everything alright?” “Mom! Hi. Yes, everything is fine. Are y’all okay?” “Yes, honey, everyone here is great. We called you at the office, but no one answered, and I got worried.” “I guess I overslept, Mom. I’m glad you called and woke me up.” Trish chanced a glance down at Jake and found him looking up at her with sleepy eyes. “How’s everything going? Having fun?” “Someone wants to talk to you, honey, hold on.” “Mommy?” “Hey, Trevor. How are you, son? Are you having a good time?” “We’re having a great time, Mom. We’re going on the boat tomorrow, so I’m not sure if we can call you for a few days. I miss you, Mom. Do you miss me?”
  • 68. 14 Trish’s eyes filled with tears. She cleared her throat. “I miss you every minute of every day, son. I can’t wait for you and Lex to get home, baby. I’m so glad you’re having fun. How’s your sister?” Jake reached to take Trish’s hand in his, but she moved it and put more space between them. He watched her closely as she continued talking. “Hey Lexie. How’s Momma’s baby girl?” Trish continued to talk to her daughter, smiling through her tears, finding it hard to concentrate on the conversation when regrets and fears consumed her. What the hell have I done? Trish wiped at her tears and said her final I love you’s and sent kisses through the phone line, gaining promises that they would be good for Gram. She hung up and held her head in her hand as she tried to pull herself together. Jake sat up and touched her shoulder only to see her stiffen noticeably. He pulled his hand back and carefully asked, “How are the kids?” Trish took a deep breath. “They’re fine, having a good time. I have to get ready for work. I’m already late.” So, this is how it’s going to be. Morning regrets and alienation. Jake felt his stomach plummet along with a pain in his chest in the vicinity of his heart. “I thought you didn’t open until nine. It’s just after eight.” “I’m always there by seven at the latest. I have to go take a shower.” “Okay.”
  • 69. 14 Trish got out of bed and practically ran to the bathroom. She felt vulnerable and extremely naked. Part of that was the fact that she wasn’t wearing a stitch of clothing, but part of it had to do with the raw emotions churning through her. How could I have let this happen? What the hell was I thinking? This is not what I want or need. God, how am I going to get out of this without hurting Jake? What am I saying? How am I going to get out without hurting myself? This was all my fault. God, please let him be gone when I get out of the shower. Trish took a longer shower than she’d wanted to in hopes that by drawing it out, Jake would leave. No such luck. She dried off and grabbed her white terry cloth robe off the hook in back of the door and shoved her arms through it, tying it tightly at the waist. She gingerly opened the door and peeked out into the bedroom. Jake sat on the bed, fully dressed and waiting for her. While Trish had been in the shower, Jake had had time to think and calm down his nerves as well as his temper. Trish obviously felt defensive. The question was, why? They’d spent an incredible night together, and he didn’t think he was alone in his feelings that it had been way more than just scratching an itch. No way in hell that Trish could have made love with him like that if it had been just about the sex. They’d shared more than their bodies, exchanged more than physical pleasure. Something was going on here. One way or another, he planned to find out what it was, and by God, he would knock down every last damn wall she put up between them. “Jake…” “Don’t even think you’re going to brush this or me off, Trish. Not going to happen.”
  • 70. 14 “Excuse me? Look, last night was … nice. It was great.” “I thought so, too.” “Jake, as great as it was, it was a one shot deal, okay? We’re both adults, and I’m hoping we can stay friends, but a repeat performance is out of the question.” “A repeat performance? I hate to break it to you, honey, but that was no performance. There was not acting involved, and I don’t ‘perform’ on demand.” “I didn’t mean it like that, Jake. I have responsibilities. I can’t be involved with you or anyone else right now. Not for a long time. While I thoroughly enjoyed last night, it was last night and not today. Nothing is going to come of it, okay?” “Trish, everyone in the free world has responsibilities, and they manage to maintain relationships at the same time. I’m so glad to hear you enjoyed last night, but I’m afraid I’m not ready to end it there. What’s really going on here, Trish? Talk to me, for Christ’s sake.” “I am talking to you, but you’re not listening. I’m not interested in carrying this any further. I have my kids to think about, my job, and I have to stick to the plan.” “Maybe you wouldn’t mind sharing with me what exactly the plan is, then. How about it, Trish? What’s the plan you’ve mapped out so carefully, and where do I fit into it?” “That’s just it, Jake, you don’t fit into it. The plan is to dig myself out of the hole I’m in and raise my kids with as much stability as possible. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to get ready for work.”
  • 71. 14 Trish started past him, but he stepped in front of her and pulled her to him. “Sorry, Trish, but that doesn’t work for me.” He crushed his mouth to hers. There was nothing gentle about it. It was raw, just like his feelings. He plundered her mouth as soon as she opened for him, holding her head in place until he felt her responding. He continued the onslaught until they were both breathless. “I think it’s time to reevaluate the plan, Trish, and you better make sure I’m in there somewhere. What we shared last night wasn’t anything either of us will forget about any time soon. If you think it was just sex, you’d better rethink it. We’re not going to be just friends, Trish, much less friends with benefits. I don’t know what’s got you so spooked, but we’re going to figure it out. Together. You’re going to have to talk to me. You’re right, we’re both adults. It’s time you started acting like one.” “Just who the hell do you think you are, Jake? You don’t tell me what I’m going to do and what I’m not going to do. You’re not in charge of my life, I am. You can’t just lay down the law and expect me to fall into line. And as far as acting like an adult, believe me, I’m there. I have two kids to raise, no husband, and I grew up a long time ago, so don’t you dare suggest otherwise. I’m up to my eyebrows in adulthood. You have no idea what I’ve been through, so don’t you sit there and read me the riot act.” “That’s right, I don’t know what you’ve been through, because you haven’t shared it with me. Why don’t you tell me, Trish? Help me understand why you’re willing to throw this away without even giving it – giving me – a chance. I don’t know about your past, but I know you’re hurting, and I know you’re scared. I want to be there for you. You just have to let me.”
  • 72. 14 “I don’t need you or anyone else to be there for me. I don’t need anyone’s help. I can take care of things all by myself. That’s the way I like it.” “Well, too damn bad. You’re not going to just use me and walk away. I’m not walking, so you can just forget about it.” “Out! Get out of my house. I have to get ready for work.” “Fine, I’ll leave. But I’m coming back tonight, and we’re going to talk this through. That’s what adults do, Trish. They don’t run away when they’re scared, they face their fears with the people who are important in their lives, and they work through them. I plan on being important in your life, Trish. You’re already important in mine.” He bent down and kissed her hard and fast one more time, and turned around and left without a backwards glance. Trish touched her lips and continued to stare at the door where Jake had just exited. She already felt colder without him. Crap. She would not depend on him. She would only depend on herself. Less chance for disaster that way. She didn’t want to talk to him about anything. She was facing her fears and conquering them. She didn’t need his help or anyone else’s to get her life in order and keep it that way. Trish knew she’d hurt him, knew she would hurt him more before she was through, or more aptly, until she convinced him that they were through. She didn’t want to hurt him, but she couldn’t chance trusting him with her future or that of her children. So what if he seemed reliable and solid. She knew well that you couldn’t trust impressions of people. She’d believed in Pete, too, and look where that had landed her. She’d relied on her husband to watch out for her and the kids, to work with her as a full partner, only to find out that he’d lied to her for years
  • 73. 14 and ruined their life together. She would not take a chance on another man again. The only person she could and would trust was herself. Trish got dressed, put her hair in a braided bun on top of her head and went to work. She arrived at five minutes to nine. She walked inside and saw Diana at the front desk, getting organized for her day, which is what she should have been doing hours ago. “I just called you, Trish. Is everything alright? This is the first time I’ve ever beat you to work. Are you feeling ok?” “Yeah, sure. I just overslept is all. Everything okay here?” “Yes, everything’s good. You have an appointment at ten thirty at the Ysleta ISD offices to discuss new teacher professional development. Other than that, you’re open until school lets out at three thirty when you’ve got three kids coming in for testing. We have twelve scheduled for tutoring with four teachers coming in to assist.” “Thank God you’re more organized than I am. I couldn’t function, much less make a profit without you, Di. Thanks.” “Please, you’re the most organized, hard working person I know. I’ve prepared half a dozen folders for you to take with you to your meeting highlighting our services. I’ll have them ready for you, so you can grab them on your way out. Why don’t you go review your presentation? You have a good hour before you have to leave.” “I’ll do that. Thanks again, Di. Everything okay with you? You look a little tired.” Diana looked away from her, but Trish was so preoccupied, she didn’t notice. “Everything is fine, thanks.”
  • 74. 14 By the end of the day, Trish should’ve been feeling ecstatic. She’d signed a contract with the Ysleta school district to present literacy training for all their new teachers later in the month, and she’d signed three more students up for reading interventions and tutoring. It had been an eventful and profitable day. So, why did she feel so rotten? Calling herself all kinds of coward, she called Eva and asked her if she wanted to meet her for dinner. After asking Eva to call Callie and see if she wanted to join them, they agreed to meet at seven at a Mexican restaurant close by. Dare she hope that Jake would eventually get bored and leave when she didn’t show up? Probably not, but she’d hope anyway. What the hell, anything was possible. Trish went directly from the Lit Center to the restaurant, staying late at work trying to catch up on some things. Eva and Callie were waiting for her in the lobby, and when they were seated, everyone got quiet, Callie and Eva sneaking peeks at Trish over their menus. The waitress took their order, and they munched on chips and salsa while they waited for their food. “We had a good day today, ladies. I signed our first professional development contract and continue to sign up new testing and tutoring sessions. We’re growing.” “Super, Trish,” Callie answered. “Most businesses don’t see a profit for the first couple of years, and you’re already there.” Trish offered a tentative smile. “We’re already there, partners. Not much of a profit yet, but headed in that direction.” Eva chimed in asking, “So, if we had such a great day, why do you seem so down?”
  • 75. 14 “I’m not down. I’m … miserable.” Trish dabbed impatiently at the tears in her eyes. Both her friends reached for her at the same time. “What’s the matter, Trish? Tell us all about, so we can solve it and you can conquer and move on.” Callie looked at her friend and tried to encourage her. “Oh, Callie, I wish it was that easy. Last night, Jake and I … we …” “Oh shit, you did the deed? Wow, this is huge. So, was it awful? Why are you so unhappy?” Callie looked obviously puzzled as to why getting together with Jake was a negative. “It was fantastic. The best sex I’ve ever had. My God, he was … great. I mean, he was spectacular. I’ve never felt that way before, not even with Pete.” Trish used the menu to fan herself. “So, what’s the problem?” Both women waited for her to answer Callie’s question. “Seeing things in the light of day is the problem. I can’t believe we actually, you know. I mean I’ve got the kids to think about and the Lit Center. I don’t have time for anything other than a one night stand, and he wants more.” Callie grinned. “Well, isn’t this a switch? First of all, I’m not sure what having kids and a career has to do with having a relationship with someone. I mean, Jake loves your kids, and he certainly knows what it’s like to run your own business. I can’t imagine he wouldn’t understand on either count.” “That’s not the problem. I just don’t want to be involved with anyone. Ever.” Trish wondered if she looked as miserable as she felt.
  • 76. 14 “So, this isn’t about Jake as much as it’s about you, is that right?” Eva watched her patiently as she reached for another chip. “I guess so. I mean I really like him. He’s wonderful. I respect him, and he’s great with the kids.” “So, what’s the problem?” Eva dipped her chip into the salsa. “You make him sound pretty good, so I’m confused. What is it about him you don’t like?” “I can’t think of a thing I don’t like.” Trish’s blue eyes looked at her friends and blinked to keep the tears at bay. Callie looked at her with a confused expression on her face. “What am I missing?” Eva said, “I’m thinking this has less to do with Jake and more to do with Pete, am I right?” “I guess. Maybe. I’m so confused.” Trish sat back and huffed out a breath. Callie patted her friend’s hand again. “Okay, Trish, let’s break this down. You like and respect my brother. He’s great with the kids, and he’s great in bed. But, because of Pete, you don’t want to be with Jake? Do you feel unfaithful, sweetie, because if so, Pete’s dead, and you can’t die with him.” “No, no it’s nothing like that. I guess I’d better fill in some blanks. Pete had problems. I mean, he had big problems. Right before Pete died, I’d filed for divorce and had every intention of leaving him and moving back to El Paso.” “Can I ask what kind of problems Pete had?” Callie continued to watch Trish closely.
  • 77. 14 Trish took a deep breath. “Mostly gambling problems. Remember I mentioned Pete had made some bad investments that caused us – me – to file for bankruptcy? They weren’t investments, they were gambling debts. Pete had a major gambling problem, and I didn’t find out about it until we were in financial ruin. In fact, the way I found out about it was when the sheriff showed up at my front door and told me that we were being evicted and had to be out of the house within a week.” “Holy shit, Trish. That must’ve been terrible. I’m so sorry.” Callie squeezed her hand and encouraged her to go on. “It was terrible. I thought there just had to be some kind of mistake. Pete paid the bills, and I had no idea he took the money we made and gambled with it. We lost the house, one of the cars – the other car I’d had before we were married, and it was under my name, so that made it more difficult to borrow against it. I had to sell all the furniture and anything else that still belonged to us to cover a portion of the debts he’d racked up, but that barely touched it. I had to declare bankruptcy . When everything hit the fan, and I figured out what had happened, I told Pete I was taking the kids and moving back to El Paso and filing for divorce.” Eva touched her arm. “I’m so sorry, Trish, you must have been so scared.” “Yes, but I was also angry at Pete and at myself for trusting him so blindly and not seeing through him until I’d lost everything. My poor babies. Trevor still doesn’t understand why we had to move, and I don’t have a clue how to explain it to him. Nobody knows the truth except you two now. I was too ashamed to tell anyone, even my parents.” Eva continued to look at her friend. “So, because of what your husband did, you are afraid to get involved with anyone else, is that right?”
  • 78. 14 “I don’t know if afraid is the right word … okay, I’m scared to death. I’ve just learned to trust nobody but myself. I trusted Pete, and look where that landed me. If I hadn’t had my parents to fall back on, my babies and I would’ve been living on the streets. As it is, I can’t buy anything on credit, and I’m living with my parents at the ripe old age of twenty eight. Trevor misses his dad, and I don’t know what to tell him. I’m so angry at Pete for putting us in this position.” Trish looked at her friends again and continued. “I know you’re not supposed to think ill of the dead, but I can’t help myself. When he … died, I called the insurance company, since we had life insurance, only to find out that he’d borrowed against it along with everything else we owned, and I had nothing to fall back on. If my parents hadn’t lent me the money to come home, I would’ve been stuck in Dallas for who knows how long. I don’t ever want to be in that position again.” And that’s all of the story she planned to share at this point. Callie looked bewildered, if supportive. “I don’t blame you for being angry. I would be, too. But, Trish, I still don’t see what that has to do with my brother. He would never do those things. He’s one of the most dependable people I know.” Trish agreed. “I know Jake’s not like Pete, but my God, I don’t ever want to be in the position of depending on anyone ever again. I thought all my bases were covered while I was married, only to have the rug pulled out from under me to find myself destitute. It’s not that I think Jake would do that, it’s just … “ Eva rejoined the conversation. “It’s just that you don’t ever want to be put in the position of trusting someone to take care of things for you. You may be mad at Pete, Trish, but I think you’re also mad at yourself. You blame yourself for allowing it to happen, don’t you?”
  • 79. 14 “I guess I do. I’ll never make that mistake and put my kids’ well being at risk again.” Eva continued, “It’s yourself that you don’t trust, Trish, your judgment. It doesn’t have as much to do with trusting Jake as it does with trusting yourself. I understand, because I felt that way, too. When I married my first husband, I had no idea that he was a monster . When I found out, I couldn’t get out for a long time. I didn’t trust myself to choose someone who wouldn’t hurt me, who wasn’t like the man I’d thought I could trust and who would treasure me always.” Trish listened carefully. “So, how did you get past that, Eva?” Eva continued. “It took a lot of time and patience with myself and patience on Josh’s part for me to get past those feelings, but eventually I did. He made it worth taking a chance on.” “But it’s not just me I have to think about. I’ve got to think of the kids.” “That’s true, but they are not the problem anymore than Jake is. Of course, you have to consider them, but I can’t imagine that you think Jake would hurt them. I know, I know, you didn’t think Pete would hurt his own children either, but he did. Give yourself and Jake some time. Do you care about him enough to do that?” Eva’s eyes refused to release her. Eventually, Trish said, “I don’t know.” Eva relentlessly continued to force her friend to think things through. “You don’t know, or you do care about him, but you don’t want to, and you’re afraid?” “Yes. I care for him. I don’t want to, but I do. And yes, I’m afraid.”
  • 80. 14 Eva smiled at her friend. “Exactly. If you two are meant to be together, you will be. If not, you won’t. It’ll just take some time to figure out what category you fit under. Give it and yourself some time. Try to keep an open mind.” “Who knew you could be so stubborn, Eva?” Trish smiled finally, although it wasn’t full blown. “I’ll think about everything you’ve said. I’ll try not to let my fear override everything else. I can’t promise anything else beyond that.” **** Jake did a slow burn. He’d been sitting in his truck in Trish’s parents’ driveway for exactly two hours and twelve minutes, and she still wasn’t home. He’d made up his mind that he’d wait her out, no matter what time she got there. She had to come back sometime. When Trish pulled up beside him, she looked so upset and so … scared, he forgot his anger toward her and opened the door to his truck. He closed the door and stuffed his hands in his pockets to stop himself from reaching for her and waited for her approach. “Hi, Jake. How long have you been waiting?” “Two hours and …” he checked his watch “… fourteen minutes. Can I come in?” She looked up at him with tears in her eyes. “Damn it, Trish. Don’t cry, honey.” He reached for her and wrapped his arms around her. Jake rested his chin on the top of Trish’s head. She smelled like spring. He pulled her closer for a second then pulled back. “Have you eaten?”
  • 81. 14 She nodded and looked up at him, and he wiped the tears from her face. “I met Callie and Eva for dinner. I’m sorry you waited so long.” “You’re worth the wait, sweetheart.” “I’m sorry I was so bitchy this morning. I wouldn’t have blamed you if you’d stayed away. I was even kind of hoping you would.” “So, you’re not a morning person.” “I think we both know it’s a little more complicated than that.” “I’m good at complicated. Give me a shot, Trish. Can we go inside?” “Sure. Are you hungry?” “I could eat.” They went inside and headed straight to the kitchen. Trish kicked off her shoes and went to the fridge and pulled out all the fixings for a sandwich. When she finished, she pulled out a paper plate with the face of a zebra on it, added chips and a pickle spear, and set it in front of him. She started to pull away and take the seat next to him, but he grabbed her hand and kissed her palm. “Thanks. So, tell me about your day. I’m hoping it was as miserable as mine was.” She couldn’t help but smile. “It was. Despite the fact that we had a successful day in terms of new business, I was absolutely miserable.” “Good to know. If it’s any consolation, word spread like wild fire to all my employees to avoid me at all cost at the risk of personal peril. They likened me to a grizzly bear, a badger, and a psychopath.”
  • 82. 14 “My secretary wanted to know if I was coming down with something.” “So. You want to tell me what happened this morning?” “I’m not sure I can. I’m still trying to figure things out. Last night was … it was … “ “Outstanding? Exceptional? Unforgettable?” “It was all those things, Jake. You were amazing, and I’ll never forget it. But I hadn’t planned on … I mean I didn’t think I would ever … it came as a surprise. Jeez, I’m making a mess of this.” “So, you weren’t attracted to me?” Jake’s expression challenged her. “Yes, of course I was.” “I caught you at a weak moment, then?” The look on his face was entirely patient and reasonable as he continued to quiz her. “Yes, I mean, no. That is, I got carried away in the moment.” “So, you regret it now?” “No. Maybe. Not exactly. Oh hell, I don’t know. This is so hard.” Trish rested her head in her hands, elbows propped up on the kitchen table. “It doesn’t have to be, Trish. You’re making it harder than it has to be. I had a great time last night, did you?” Big blue eyes looked up at him unblinkingly, and she nodded.
  • 83. 14 “So, we have good chemistry. I think you’re pretty great, not just in the sack, but all the time.” She blushed, but kept eye contact. “Do you think I’m great, Trish?” She blinked and nodded again with slightly more enthusiasm. “So, we have good chemistry, and we like and respect each other. Then, what’s scaring you, sweetheart? Talk to me. Please.” Trish recounted everything she’d told Eva and Callie about her marriage earlier that evening, and Jake listened without interrupting. “So, you can see why I’m so hesitant to enter into another serious relationship. It’s better if I just stay on my own. I’m not ever going to allow myself or my kids to be put in that kind of predicament again.” Jake watched Trish silently as he weighed everything she had said. He at least understood now why she didn’t trust anyone or let anyone take care of things for her. She blamed herself for the choices and mistakes her husband made, simply because she didn’t see trouble coming, and she was determined to never be caught by surprise again. She equated love and trust with gullibility and disaster. She thought the only way to make sure that she and her children had the security they needed was to stay alone, so she’d never be fooled or caught off guard again. She’d decided not to rely or depend on anyone but herself. “I understand better now, but I need you to remember that I’m not Pete. No, just hear me out.” She’d been on the verge of arguing with him, but he was determined to have his say. “You don’t want to ever find yourself in the position you found yourself in Dallas. I get that. Nobody would. The person you should’ve been able to count on no matter what not only let you down,
  • 84. 14 he left you to pay the price for his bad choices and clean up his mess, which you’re still doing. He deserted you and left you destitute and vulnerable. I don’t blame you. But, Trish, all that happened before you and I got involved. It has everything to do with you, but it has nothing to do with me, other than the outrage I feel on your behalf.” “I think we have something together worth investigating, worth taking a chance on. I know I’m asking a lot of you when I ask you to trust me, but I’m asking you to do it, anyway. I’m not Pete. I don’t ever want to be compared to Pete, and I sure as hell don’t want to be confused with him. As far as I’m concerned, he was a sorry SOB, and he didn’t deserve you or those two kids. I don’t expect you to believe unequivocally that I’ll never let you down or you can depend or rely on me. All I’m asking is for a chance to prove to you I’m worthy of that kind of faith. In time, you’ll see for yourself I’m not about to let you down. What’s the harm in giving us some time together, Trish? If it doesn’t work out, fine, but I can’t just walk away and wonder how it might have been between us. I think we have a shot at something real, something worth fighting for. Fight with me for this, Trish. Don’t just walk away.” Trish clasped her hands together tightly. He could see the wheels turning in her head as she considered everything he had said. Jake didn’t take his eyes off of Trish’s as he waited for her response. He could see her fear to take this leap of faith, but she couldn’t possibly be any more scared than he was she wouldn’t take the chance. He stood up and held his hand out to her, hoping and praying she’d take it. She looked at his hand, then into his eyes and hesitantly stood up. And placed her hand in his.
  • 85. 14 Jake pulled her into a hard embrace and kissed her, breathing a sigh of relief that he’d won this battle. He figured he still had a hell of a war to wage, but this was a start, and he was determined to breach all her defenses and be victorious in the end. Trish was worth fighting for, and he would be a warrior. “I’m scared to death, Jake.” “I know you are, but it’s going to be okay, I promise. You’ll see. It’ll be okay.” He lifted her chin up and fused his lips to hers in a kiss full of promise and hope. “It’s late, and we’ve both had a rough day, and we both work tomorrow. I’m going to leave, so you can get some rest. How about I bring you lunch tomorrow?” “That sounds great. How about I cook you dinner tomorrow?” “That sounds greater.” Jake cupped her cheek in his big, strong hand, then bent to kiss her again. “I’ll see you tomorrow, okay?” “Do you want to stay?” “Ask me tomorrow, and I will.” “Déjà vu. Only this time I’m not sloshed.” They walked to the door together, arm in arm. “Don’t get used to me turning you down. You look tired, Trish. Get some sleep. I want you … energetic tomorrow, okay?” She nodded, and he kissed her goodnight and left. As she locked up behind him, she couldn’t help thinking that, despite being scared spitless, he was worth fighting for. She felt drained. She had so much work to do, but she just
  • 86. 14 couldn’t do it tonight. She’d set her alarm and get up early to get caught up. Trish set the alarm for five and rolled over and fell asleep with her clothes on.
  • 87. 14 Chapter 5 Trish could’ve sworn that she’d barely closed her eyes when the alarm woke her early the next morning. She’d gone to bed early, but it had been a restless sleep, and she didn’t feel particularly rested. She was used to being sleep deprived, between being a single mother and starting a new business, but she felt more tired than usual. She got up and showered and went to work when it was still dark outside. She didn’t waste any time diving into the work she should’ve done the night before, and when she finished that, she planned her day and started working on the professional development piece she’d signed on for to train new teachers on literacy strategies. Before she realized it, over two hours had passed by, and Diana arrived. Her secretary entered her office and said good morning and went over her schedule for the day, reminding her that she had a meeting at ten with a different school district regarding teacher professional development on content area literacy, which she’d already prepped for. When she finished reviewing the day’s agenda, Trish looked at her employee and friend more closely. “Di, is everything alright?” Diana just looked at her as tears welled in her eyes. Trish came around her desk and embraced her. “Sweetie, what’s wrong?” “I’m sorry. I guess I’m just tired.” Diana reached for a tissue and dabbed at her eyes.
  • 88. 14 “It’s more than that, Di. Tell me what’s bothering you.” “It’s my hus – I mean my ex-husband. He keeps calling me and threatening me if I don’t go back with him. I’m scared, Trish. He’s not making idle threats. I left him, due to his violence I’m afraid he’s going to come after me again.” “Let me call Josh, Eva’s husband.” “I’ve already spoken to him. He slapped a restraining order on Roger, but I don’t know if that will deter him, or just make him madder. I’m so afraid he’ll track me down and find out where I’m living or working.” “Do you think he knows where you live?” “I don’t think so. Not many people know other than my family, and although my parents are upset I left him, I don’t think they’d tell him where to find me.” “They’re upset that you left him? Do they know about the abuse?” “They don’t know the extent of the violence. They know he yelled at me and they suspect he hit me, but they don’t know that it happened all the time. They’re Catholic, so divorce is hard for them to accept. I’m too ashamed to tell them the whole story.” “Can you change your phone number?” “I have once already, but somehow, he found out the new number, and it’s starting all over again.” “I wonder how he got the new number. Maybe he knows someone at the phone company? Did you make it unlisted?”
  • 89. 14 “Yes. I don’t know how he got it.” “Did you report it to the police?” “Yes, but they say they can’t do anything unless he physically attacks me, or breaks the conditions of the restraining order. Threats are not enough. Josh already wrote him a letter threatening legal action if he follows through with anything or even if he goes against the restraining order, but it hasn’t seemed to help.” “Do you need to come stay with me for awhile? My family is out of town right now, so I have that whole house to myself. I’m getting ready to move into my own place soon, and you’ll always be welcome there.” “Thanks, Trish. I’ll keep that in mind. As far as I know, he doesn’t know where to find me, so there’s no reason for me to leave my home. Thanks for the offer, though.” “It’s always open, okay? Do you need to take some time off?” “No, no. I’m glad I’m here. Working keeps my mind off of things. Thanks.” “Sure, Di. If you need me, call me, doesn’t matter the time, okay?” “Sure. Thanks again.” Diana hugged Trish once more and left to go back to her desk at the front counter. The day passed by in a blur of activity. Trish signed another contract for teacher in- service, and she tested four more kids that she needed to develop strategies and interventions for. It was beginning to become a challenge to cover all the bases. If business kept up like this, she’d have to hire someone else to help her get everything done.
  • 90. 14 True to his word, Jake brought her some lunch around noon, and she took a thirty minute break to slam it down. She apologized to him that she didn’t have more time to spend with him, but she promised she’d make up for it that night. The Lit Center closed at six, but she didn’t leave until nearly seven. Jake’s truck waited in the driveway when she pulled up. Trish grabbed her satchel filled with work and rushed over to him. “Hi! I’m so sorry to keep you waiting. I hope you haven’t been here long.” “Like I said last night, you’re worth the wait, and I’ve only been here about ten minutes. Did you get hung up?” “Yeah. I tested another four kids today, and I had to analyze the test results and sketch out an intervention plan. Come on inside, and I’ll start dinner.” “You sure you’re up for it? I could take you out if you’d like.” “No, let’s eat here. I can throw something together real quick.” “You got it.” Jake took her satchel from her, and they walked inside together. Trish threw together some tacos – Eva’s recipe – and they ate between telling each other about their days. Trish was animated and excited about how quickly business was picking up. Jake told her they’d finished up one of the jobs his crew had been working on for the last couple of months, which reminded him about the paperwork he’d brought over for Trish to sign on the rental house.
  • 91. 14 “Listen, Trish, I need to tell you something I don’t think I mentioned before. It’s no big deal, but I wanted to make sure you knew. You know the house I took you to that you’re going to move into? I own it.” He could see Trish tense. “Why didn’t you tell me this before, Jake? No wonder the rent is so cheap.” “Hold it right there. Before you say anything else, I hadn’t set a rental price before I showed it to you. I bought it about six months ago, and it was a mess. Since I’m a contractor, I bought it cheap – way cheap – and decided to fix it up and rent it out. I figured I’d charge a little more than the payment on it in case it needed further repairs down the line, although I hadn’t figured out how much. I’d likely charge the same amount as I’m charging you for whoever rented it. The problem with renting is you have to be careful who you rent to. That’s why it was in such bad shape when I bought it. The people who rented it before caused a lot of damage. I know you’ll take care of it like it was your own. I might be able to make a little more money on it, but it’s worth it knowing that I don’t have to worry about the property.” Trish studied him closely all throughout his explanation. She felt pretty sure it had been intentional on his part not telling her that he’d be her landlord, but he had come clean about it. What he said made sense. If she had property to rent, she’d rather rent it to someone she knew. “What about deposits? We never discussed that.” “Trish, I’ve rented to friends in the past, and I swear to God I’ve never charged them any deposits, and I’m going to hold to that. I’ll also tell you what I’ve told the others, that if you break something, you replace it. Fair enough?” “Alright. Agreed. But what if things don’t work out between us? That’s bound to be awkward for both of us.”
  • 92. 14 “Oh, ye of little faith. I’m thinking I’m going to sweep you off your feet, and you’ll never want to lose me. But if you do kick me to the curb, as my sister says, all you have to do is mail me the check. Of course, I’ll probably double the rent, because I’ll be mad at you, but hey, you gotta take your chances and roll with the punches.” She had to smile, which was what he’d obviously aimed for, and they shook hands on the deal, sealing it with a kiss. The one kiss turned into two, then three, then so many more, so close together, neither of them could tell where one ended and the next began. “God, Trish, you taste good.” “Umm, you do, too. More.” “You bet.” He rubbed his lips across hers, nibbling at the corners of her mouth, licking the seam of her lips until she opened for him and he could stroke her tongue with his own. “Umm. Bedroom.” “Yes ma’am. Lead the way.” They spent the rest of the evening making love and learning more about what pleased the other, as they memorized each other’s bodies and preferences. Trish remembered to set the alarm, early again, so she could get to work on everything she’d brought home, but never touched that night. Who needed sleep anyway? The alarm went off at five, and Trish made herself roll out of bed and turn it off. Jake lifted his head up sleepily and looked over at Trish. “What time is it, Trish?”
  • 93. 14 “It’s five. Go back to sleep, Jake. I’m going to jump in the shower real quick.” She bent and kissed him quickly and managed to evade the hands reaching out for her and resist the temptation of his many promises of rewards if she came back to bed. Trish jumped in and out of the shower in less than ten minutes, just about the time it took Jake to start heading to the bathroom to join her. She kissed him on her way out, chanting, “If you snooze, you lose.” By the time Jake got out of the shower, Trish was dressed and almost done with her makeup. She pulled her hair up into a ponytail and was ready to run out the door. “What about breakfast, baby?” Jake looked at her questioningly. “No time. I’ll grab something later. Lunch?” “Can’t make it today, I’ll be across town. Dinner? My treat.” “Okay. Around seven?” “You bet. Hold on, and I’ll walk out with you.” Jake grabbed his shoes on the way out, kissed her before she got into her car, and was about to back out of the driveway when he realized Trish hadn’t left. He rolled down the window to check on her and realized she couldn’t get her car started. He got out of his truck and walked over. “Pop the hood, honey.” “No, Jake, don’t worry about it. I’ll call someone.” “Trish, I’m right here. If it’s not something fast and easy, you can call a mechanic, but if it’s something I can fix real fast, you might as well take advantage of one of my many skills and
  • 94. 14 talents.” When she still hadn’t popped the hood, Jake looked at her again and noticed the stubborn set of her jaw and put his hands on his hips. “Trish, if I needed help with reading, would you expect me to go elsewhere for help? Would you insist that I ask you for your help?” When she looked sheepish, he asked her to pop the hood again and smiled when she followed through. Feeling pleased didn’t last long when he looked under the hood. “Trish, when did you take this in last to be serviced?” “I get the oil changed every three months. Approximately.” “It looks pretty rough under here, honey. The hoses could go at any minute. Why don’t you let me give it a tune-up?” “That’s not fast and easy. I appreciate the offer, Jake, really, but I’ll take care of it, okay?” Calling on his patience and self control – yet again – he closed the hood. “Will you at least let me drive you to work?” “Sure. Let me get my things.” Jake muttered under his breath as Trish got into his truck. She didn’t catch it all, but it had something to do with trying the patience of a saint. He dropped her off, and they exchanged another quick kiss, and he drove off. Trish let herself inside and went straight back to her office and got busy on the work she needed to do. When Diana stuck her head inside to say good morning, she couldn’t believe it the
  • 95. 14 time. Time to open up shop. Thank God she didn’t have any appointments to keep today which were out of the office, since she didn’t have a working car. She did have plenty to keep her busy, though and before she knew it, she’d worked through lunch and closing time had snuck up on her. When Diana came to say goodnight, Trish asked, “Hey, any more calls from your ex?” “Not yesterday or today, so far, anyway. Thanks for asking.” “Sure, I’ll see you tomorrow.” Trish found a stopping place and started to pack up all her work then stopped, knowing full well she’d never get to it tonight with Jake coming over. Some things were worth making the time for, and Jake definitely fell under that category. She locked the door and turned around to head to her … crap, she didn’t have her car today. Damn, she’d forgotten to call a mechanic. On the verge of turning back around and calling … someone, although she didn’t have a clue who, Jake pulled into the parking lot. “Well, hi, stranger.” Trish walked over to his truck. “I was just going back inside to call someone for a ride. I’m lucky you happened by.” “Honey, I didn’t just happen by. I knew you didn’t have a car today, so, of course, I came for you. Did you think I wouldn’t?” Trish blinked a couple of times. “I guess I never thought about it. You didn’t say you planned on picking me up, so I just figured I’d find my own way back. Thank you for coming.”
  • 96. 14 Jake was stunned. “Trish, I just figured you knew I’d come get you. I would never leave you stranded like that.” Trish just shrugged “Okay, Jake. I guess I just never thought about it one way or another. I was busy all day, and I didn’t even remember I didn’t have my car until I locked up. Anyway, thanks for coming. I’m starving. Where are you taking me for dinner?” Jake shook off his shock with some effort. “What are you hungry for?” “I don’t care, I’m just hungry.” “What did you have for lunch?” “I didn’t eat lunch today. Time got away from me. Besides, I didn’t have a car to go get anything.” “Honey, you skipped breakfast and lunch? Poor baby, no wonder you’re starving. I’m sorry I didn’t bring you something. I just figured you had something here as a backup.” “Jake, I knew you weren’t bringing me lunch. You said as much this morning. Don’t worry about it. I don’t expect you to take care of me. I can take care of myself.” Jake swallowed his rebuttal about how skipping two meals a day didn’t exactly add up to taking care of yourself and concentrated on driving. “So, where to, Trish?” “How about Italian?” “Works for me. Dominic’s?” “Sure. How was your day?”
  • 97. 14 “It was okay. I picked up another contract, and since we finished up at a site yesterday, I’ll be able to keep the whole crew busy, so that’s good. How about you? Did your profit margin grow some more today?” “No, but I did catch up on several diagnostics of recently tested students, and I put together a program for each of them. Now, I just have to meet with the parents and discuss my findings and see if they’re interested in hiring our services. Either way, I’ll explain the program I’ve designed to help their kids. That way, if they decide not to use us, they’ll at least have some clue about how to help them.” “That’s really great of you, Trish. How often do they elect to take on the program themselves? Or take it to someone else?” “You’d be surprised. Some parents are just too busy to bother with it themselves, and others don’t feel like they’re qualified to help or that they’d be effective using the strategies I show them. There have been a couple of times when they’ve taken my program design and given it to the kid’s teacher and asked them to use it as a guide. And that’s okay, since usually, they don’t contract us, because they can’t afford it. I’m looking into government funding, so we can use a sliding scale to help people who don’t make enough money to pay for the help we can give. Occasionally, I offer to throw in a few sessions at no charge and ask the parents to sit in, so they can watch what I do, so they can do it themselves. But the deal is, they have to bring their kids to Saturday Story Time.” “I thought that was free.” “It is free, which is why I insist that they come. I can teach kids to read and write, but they need to be exposed to books and stories, so they want to learn to read and so they can see
  • 98. 14 that reading is fun and important. Sometimes, I have their parents volunteer their time in exchange for lessons, and they’re guest readers. That way, their kids can see them as role models, and reading becomes a priority.” “You’re really something, you know that? That’s great, what you’re doing. I’m really impressed.” Jake smiled over at her. “Thank you. In the end, it’s all about the kids, and it’s all about the importance of literacy. It really is my passion, and I love what I do. I’ll always be grateful to the girls for backing me. Next on my list is working in some adult classes. There’s a program that uses literature as a springboard for Socratic seminar, where adults discuss in depth what’s written between the lines, beyond the words. I’m also looking into teaching adults to read who never learned in school, although I haven’t determined whether or not there’s a need for that yet. Lastly, I’m thinking about offering English as a second language classes for both children and adults. Maybe even GED classes. There’s so much I want to do. My biggest problem is patience, or rather lack of it.” “You’re doing great, Trish. Like I said, it’s unusual to break even the first couple of years you’re in business, much less make any profit, so you’re already ahead of the game. You’re obviously chomping at the bit, but these things take time, you know. You’ll accomplish everything, eventually. There’s only one of you. If things keep going as well as they have been, you might want to think about hiring some more help.” “Maybe. I don’t know. I kind of hate to give up the control. When it comes to my work, I have very specific ideas about what I do and don’t want. But wouldn’t it be great if I did have to hire someone just to keep up with the demand? That would be so cool.”
  • 99. 14 They walked into the restaurant holding hands. They spent the next hour and a half talking about dreams and goals and laughing about life in general. It ranked as one of the nicest evenings she’d had in a long time. She leaned back and relaxed for the drive home and nearly fell asleep when Jake broke the silence. “So when do you want to make the move to your own place?” “I thought I’d start to get organized this weekend and see what all I need to buy. I need to go by and see the stuff your brother and sister want to get rid of, then I have to arrange for movers to take it over to the house…” “Trish, my brothers and I can move it for you. I’ve got a truck, and so does Cade, and we’ll knock it out in no time. Shit, not the chin thing again. Come on.” “What chin thing?” Trish gave Jake a cross look. “When you’re about to blast me to kingdom come, you do this chin thing, and I know you’re going to be stubborn about something. Look, I respect that you want to handle things yourself in your own way, and I’m trying to stop myself from coming to your rescue. I know you’re perfectly capable of handling anything that comes your way. I’m not trying to take over for you. But, Jesus, Trish, I’ve helped lots of people. It’s one of the hazards of owning a pick- up truck. If I do that for other people, what’s the big deal about me doing it for you? Can you cut me some slack here?” Trish took a deep breath. “I’m sorry, Jake, and I will try to cut you some slack. I’m just used to taking care of things myself. Honestly, it doesn’t occur to me to ask you or anyone else for help most of the time. It’s nothing personal.”
  • 100. 14 They were walking inside the house now, and he turned her to face him and put his hands on her waist. “So does this mean you’ll let me help you move?” He kissed her slowly, gently. “Umm. What was the question?” Jake smiled. He went back to kissing her for several minutes, until they both wanted more. “Come on Trish. Let me help you with the move.” “You’re not playing fair. Okay, okay, I give. Now kiss me some more.” “I’ll do more than that, sweetheart. Come here.” He pulled her hips against his and grabbed her rear, pulling her closer so she could feel how ready he was for her. “I can’t seem to get enough of you. I can’t imagine that I ever will.” Trish felt too excited to pay attention to what his words by then, but later, she would debate whether she should be happy about his comment or scared that their relationship was getting far more serious than she ever thought it would, especially this quickly. For someone who’d vowed never to be in a serious relationship again, she sure had a lot of strong, confusing feelings for Jake she struggled with. He had asked her to trust him, and she would try, but she honestly didn’t know how successful she would be. For the first time since she’d found out about Pete, she at least hoped to trust again, and that alone constituted a big change for her.
  • 101. 14 Chapter 6 The weekend arrived quickly as busy as the Lit Center kept Trish. She had a ton of work to do, but she put it aside, so she could organize the upcoming move. She’d already told her parents and the kids that she’d signed a lease on a house. She got mixed responses, but the excitement came in first. The kids viewed it as a new adventure. Trish had very little to pack other than clothes, toys, and books. There were a few personal items, but it could all be carted over in just a few trips, more than likely. She’d arranged with Eva and Callie to stop by on Saturday to see the furniture they wanted to get rid of. She decided to take a bedroom set, a dinette set, and a desk set from the girls and a living room set from Jake. Everything looked in good shape, and although she might not have chosen the exact pieces herself, everything pleased her, none the less. Settling on a price for everything proved to be the greatest challenge. She’d gone on line and priced similar pieces and averaged the prices she’d found, but without exception, every one of her argued that the prices she offered sounded too high. It was a scene out of a comedy as the buyer argued and bargained to pay more money, and the sellers insisted that the buyer pay less. Crazy! At one point, Trish just threw up her hands and started laughing. The men left it all to the women except for the moving and lifting. They finally reached an agreement, and by the end of the day, her new home had some furniture in it. She still had personal item to move, but not much. She’d do that tomorrow. She spent the
  • 102. 14 rest of the day with the girls shopping for the other household items she needed which included pretty much everything. They went to Bed, Bath, and Beyond and bought dishes, pots, and pans, flatware, glasses, towels, bed sets for both the kids, although she still needed to buy another bedroom set. Actually, she needed to buy two more sets, but she figured she could either double up with Lexie or sleep on the couch for awhile. She bought a shower curtain and rugs for the bathrooms and the kitchen. Then, she went on to kitchen appliances and bought a toaster, a coffee maker, a wall clock as well as an alarm clock, kitchen utensils and knives, and a microwave oven. Exhausted, but excited, the girls all called their men – although Trish insisted that her relationship with Jake differed from their relationships – and they all decided to go out to dinner together. The girls all went home to shower and get ready, although, all three men insisted they already looked ready, not to mention gorgeous. All three women just shook their heads and laughed as they headed for their prospective homes. The temperatures had dropped in the evenings, so Trish wore a light sweater with jeans. Eva, Josh, Callie, and Cade arrived in one vehicle at Trish’s parents’ house, and Jake and Trish went in their own car. After much debate, they decided on Chinese and were seated at a round booth. “So, when are you moving into your new place, Trish?” Eva asked. “I think I’m going to move the clothes and other things at my parents’ house over tomorrow. Plus all the stuff we bought today. I might just spend the night there tomorrow night.”
  • 103. 14 “Neat! Can I help? Moving out is such a drag, but moving in is fun. You get to decide where to put everything, and you know where everything is for awhile.” Callie rubbed her hands together in anticipation. Trish smiled and shook her head. “True, but no matter how organized I set it up, it’s not likely to last long, Callie, with my two little munchkins around. I am excited, though.” “Speaking of the kids, when do they get back?” Eva looked over the top of her menu. “Next week, on Wednesday.” “I bet you’re excited to see them.” Eva smiled widely at her friend again. “I sure am. We’ve never been apart this long. In fact, we’ve never been separated overnight. We talk on the phone a lot, but I can’t wait to get my hands on them. They’re really excited to see the house. I want to be all moved in by the time they got here.” Jake put his arm around her. “Where’s everyone going to sleep? You only have one bedroom set. You think you can find another two sets before Wednesday?” “Even if I could, I’m broke after buying all that stuff today. We can all either share the bed – it’s a queen size, so we’d all fit – or I’ll sleep on the couch until I can buy more furniture. No big deal.” Jake frowned. “I’ll be happy to help you out with that, sweetheart. Before you say anything, you can pay me back every last dime if you want to. I don’t want you to have to sleep on the couch or with the kids. You won’t get enough rest.”
  • 104. 14 Trish tried to reign in her temper and barely succeeded. “I appreciate the offer, Jake, but we’ll be fine.” You could’ve cut the tension that settled around the table with a knife. “Alright, Trish.” Jake went back to looking at his menu along with everyone else who suddenly found the listed food extremely interesting. In an effort to smooth things over a bit, Callie broke into the conversation. “Ladies, it’s about time for our monthly business meeting. When’s a good time for y’all?” “Let’s try to meet before the kids get back, so I won’t have to worry about a sitter, you want to?” The awkward moment passed, but Jake acted more subdued the rest of the evening and elected not to spend the night. He kissed Trish goodnight when he took her home after dinner and left. **** Sunday morning found Trish already packing up clothes and toys before it got completely light outside. She worked for the next two or three hours on filling boxes and loading them in her car. Jake had given her the keys to the house the day before, so she took the first couple of loads over before eight in the morning and had begun loading the car full of stuff again when Jake pulled into the driveway. “Good morning, Jake.” Trish arched her sore back. “Hey. Looks like you’ve been busy.”
  • 105. 14 “Yep. Almost finished. I took the first two loads over earlier. I’m just loading up the rest, so I can take the last of it.” She bent down to pick up the next box. Jake hustled over to take it from her. “Let me get that.” “I’ve got it.” She put it in the back seat of the car. Jake gritted his teeth, which had become a habit since he’d been seeing Trish. He figured in another week he’d have to get dentures, because his teeth were likely to either break or be worn down to nothing. He’d never met a woman as hard-headed as Trish. Independence was fine, but she took it to a whole new level. What was wrong with accepting a little help now and then? Damn it, he wanted to help. “What’s left inside?” “Mostly books, and they’re really heavy.” “How about I load them in my truck for you?” “Sure, that would be great.” “Halleluiah,” he grumbled. He went into the house and started loading the last of the boxes which were left. The woman was insane. There was such a thing as independence and such a thing as being foolhardy. Trish crossed that line daily. He needed to find a way to get that point across to her without making her mad or making her feel threatened or like she was giving up her precious control. Jesus Christ.
  • 106. 14 They finished loading boxes and headed over to the house. Jake talked Trish into unpacking while he brought the rest of the boxes inside. He walked into the garage and was amazed at how much she’d carted over by herself. “Honey, I wish I would’ve known you were going to start so early, and I’d have come to help you. There must be twenty or thirty boxes here, and some of them are damn heavy. You shouldn’t be lifting some of these. You could hurt yourself.” Trish looked around and shrugged her shoulders. “I never really thought about it. I woke early and started in. It had to be done, so I did it. My back’s a little sore, but I’ll be okay.” “Trish, I know you’re used to doing everything all by yourself, but I like helping you. I’m used to helping people I care about, and I definitely care about you, okay?” “Okay, Jake. It’s not that I don’t appreciate it, and as far as helping me move goes, I don’t mind the help. This morning you didn’t happen to be here, so I got busy on what needed to be done, that’s all.” “Oh, listen, I’m having a security system installed next week in the house. I’ll arrange for someone to be here, so you won’t have to take any time off, okay?” “Jake, this seems like a pretty good neighborhood. Do you really think that’s necessary?” “I had already planned on doing it. It adds value to the property, and there will be things here of great value that I want to protect.” Trish snorted. “Like what? All my diamond jewelry? I don’t have it anymore. I don’t have anything of significant value anymore. Save your money.”
  • 107. 14 Jake walked over to her and put his hands on her shoulders. “I wasn’t talking about property, sweetheart. I was talking about you and the kids.” “Oh. That’s really sweet, Jake.” She placed her hands on his chest. “Really sweet.” She wrapped her arms around his neck and pulled him down for a wet kiss. We’ll have to christen all the rooms you know. We should start sometime today, don’t you think?” “Great idea, Trish. I like the way you think. Sometimes.” He smiled into another kiss. “Yoohoo! Anybody home?” “Back here, in the living room, Callie. To be continued,” Trish said with one more quick kiss. Not only had Callie arrived, but she’d brought the troops. Eva, Cade, and Josh came with her. “Thought y’all could use some help.” Callie stepped into sight and put her hands on her hips and looked around. Trish smiled. “Thanks, you guys. Jake just brought in the last of the boxes, so you men can help him unload the heavy stuff, if you don’t mind. Ladies, if you can help me unpack, I’ll put one of you in Lexie’s room and one in Trev’s room. I’ll take my room, and then we can move on to the kitchen and baths. Thanks so much for coming.” Jake stood stupefied. Why could everyone else pitch in and not get any grief, but when he tried to help, he ran into a brick wall?
  • 108. 14 Everyone started in, and things moved very quickly. They unpacked all the boxes, and put everything away in a couple of hours. Trish ordered pizza delivered for lunch, but she didn’t know when it arrived. Jake paid the bill and brought it inside, calling everyone in to eat a bite. “I didn’t even hear the door bell. Who do I owe?” “I got it, Trish, don’t worry about it.” “No, Jake. You guys are all helping me, so I’ll pay for the pizza. How much do I owe you?” Jake did a mental count to ten, recounted twice, and handed Trish the receipt. “Thanks.” She reached into her pocket and handed him some bills. “I picked up some beer and sodas, and they’re in the fridge. I’ve got to go grocery shopping some time. Ugh – it’ll be a long list.” Everyone but Trish knew that Jake was ready to blow. The two other couples put their heads together and decided to try to head off the steadily building explosion. The guys steered Jake out to the garage, while the girls grabbed Trish and took her into the master bedroom. “How’s it going, Jake?” Josh handed him a cold beer. “Just fine,” Jake grumbled. “Why are you two looking at me like that?” “We’re concerned about your blood pressure, brother. You look like those cartoon characters with steam coming out of their ears.” Josh popped the top on his own beer and looked at his obviously frustrated brother over the top of the can. “I do, huh? Is it that obvious?”
  • 109. 14 “Oh yeah. Josh and I thought we’d detour you, so you can let off some of that steam before you blow. Wanna wrestle? Box? Run a race?” Cade smiled and took a swig of his own beer. “Very funny, Cade. You know, I just don’t get it. Why can you guys help whenever you want to, but I can’t? You heard her last night when I offered to buy her some bedroom furniture. She packed up nearly all the boxes and loaded and unloaded them herself. I barely got there in time to help with the last trip over. She wouldn’t even let me pay for the damn pizza, for God sake. What the hell?” Josh put his hand on his shoulder. “Did you know Eva insisted on paying for my legal services when I handled her divorce? Even after we started seeing each other.” “No shit? You let her?” Jake looked shocked as he asked Josh the question. Josh shook his head. “Jake, there’s no ‘letting’ these women do anything. They don’t answer to anyone, much less their men.” Cade added, “I tried to tell Callie – note that I said ‘tell’ instead of ‘ask’ – that we were getting married, and she stormed off and called me an ass. Furthermore, she told me off good saying that even her granddad asked her to do stuff, and that nobody told her what to do. That’s how they are, man. The more you try to take control of the situation – any situation – the less control you gain. I’ve learned to ask, rather than tell. If I try to read Callie the riot act, she’ll do the opposite just to spite me. I think all three of them are like that. It sucks sometimes, but I figure that’s one of the reasons we love them.”
  • 110. 14 Josh jumped in again. “Eva has always insisted she keep her own bank accounts. I don’t think she has any intention of changing things after we get hitched. She makes her own decisions. She lets me know now what she’s going to do, but it’s not like she asks for permission or anything. I can’t imagine her ever doing that. Eva told me some things about how Trish’s marriage went, and it wasn’t easy on her. Those things will shape her from now on. Unfortunately, you’ll end up paying for mistakes that her first husband made. Not fair, but true.” Josh shook his head in sympathy. Jake looked at the men who were trying to console him. Actually, he did feel better. “Trish told me about what all Pete had done, and you’re right, it does shape her. But how long am I going to have to pay for what Pete did? I’m not anything like him.” Josh looked at his brother again. “That’s just it. It’s not about you. It’s about her. She has to do what she has to do. The sooner you get that, the better things will be. The fact that Eva needs to have her own bank accounts bothered me at first, just because it seemed like she was prepping for the day she’d leave, but then I realized she needed to do that for her own peace of mind. Her happiness means everything to me, as I’m sure Trish’s means everything to you, so if it makes her feel better and more at peace knowing she has her own accounts, no biggie. Maybe someday she won’t need them anymore. When I first started seeing her, she swore she’d never remarry, and now we’re working on a date. Things get better with time, bro.” “I hope so. Thanks, man. I guess what they say is true. Knowing you went through some similar shit makes me feel better. You guys look pretty happy now.” Jake took another long pull on his Coors light.
  • 111. 14 Josh toasted him and took another sip of beer. “Bottom line, and I know Cade will back me on this, it’s worth the pain in the ass in the long run. I’m thinking you’re wanting long term here, not just killing time. If you care about her enough, you’ll give her the time she needs to work through it.” **** “So how’s it going with you and Jake?” Callie took a small bite of pizza after she launched the question. Trish looked at Callie and thought a minute. “It’s going okay. He just seems a little tense lately.” Callie rolled her eyes. “No shit, Sherlock. I think we all noticed. Do you have any idea why?” “Not a clue. Maybe he’s starting to think about all the strings I come with. A lot of men aren’t interested in getting involved with single mothers, although he didn’t give me that impression in the beginning.” “That’s not it, Trish.” Callie continued to watch Trish over her can of Coke. “Well then, what is it? You’re his sister, so I figure you know him pretty well.” Trish grumbled something about this being a prime example of why she’d sworn off relationships. “You know how my Granddad had Eva move into the bunk house and had it redone for her? Remember how she took over the cooking, and he didn’t charge her rent? You know how Granddad took Cade in and made him part of the family?” Callie began listing examples of similar things in their family’s past.
  • 112. 14 Trish looked at Callie quizzically. “Yeah. What does that have to do with Jake and me?” “Jake’s like Granddad. It’s in his nature to help people. He doesn’t think about it, he just does it. Josh takes after him that way. I guess we all do. Every time he tries to help you, you shoot him down. It’s killing him.” Callie watched for her reaction. “I let him help me load and unpack! I’m renting his house. He drove me to work the other day when my car broke down.. I don’t shoot him down.” Trish huffed. “You wouldn’t let him help you with the furniture, I’m guessing you moved most of the boxes yourself this morning, you paid him back for the pizza. There’s nothing wrong with any of that, it’s just that you need to understand it’s hard for him to stand by and watch anyone struggle, more so when it’s you. He cares about you, and it kills him when you won’t let him show it.” “Be that as it may, Callie, I pay my own way. I’m not about to let him take control of my life.” “I don’t blame you a bit. I wouldn’t either. Did you know the first time Cade asked me to marry him he actually made it a statement of fact? ‘We’ll get married right away,’ Callie said in a deep voice. Can you imagine?” Callie did yet another eye roll. “What did you say? God, I’m surprised he survived the encounter. Trish smiled as she said it, but the statement definitely included a grain of truth there. “I called him an ass and told him to go to hell.” Both Trish and Eva laughed out loud. “My point is these guys are used to taking charge of things. It takes them a little time to get used to the idea that they’re not in charge of us, regardless of their best intentions. Jake’s
  • 113. 14 probably the worst of the three, because he’s the oldest, he owns his own company, and our parents and grandparents drilled into him from the time he was little that he had the responsibility to look out for the rest of us. Of course, you’re not going to let him control your life, but be aware that, being a man, he’s a little dense about stuff like that. He doesn’t mean to piss you off, he’s just driven to keep you safe and to help you. Be patient with him. Plus, you’re touchier about him helping you than anyone else.” “What do you mean, Callie?” Trish asked. Eva tagged in. “The other day when you didn’t have a car, if Jake hadn’t picked you up from work, what would you have done?” “I was headed back inside to call you or Callie when he showed up.” “Why would you not have called Jake?” Eva asked. Trish looked from one woman to the other. “I … I don’t know.” “If you couldn’t have reached me or Callie, might you have called Josh or Cade?” Eva sounded completely reasonable as she prepared to pounce. “Probably.” Trish braced herself. Eva continued. “You don’t want Jake to think you need him. You want to make sure he knows you don’t need anyone to take care of you, that you can take care of yourself. Because if he ever thought you needed him, you’d feel like you gave over some control to him. It’s not that you don’t trust him in particular, you just don’t trust any man to take care of you. You only trust yourself. I totally get it. I felt the same way in the beginning. You’re touchier about Jake
  • 114. 14 helping you, because he’s more important, and you don’t really want him to be at this point. Bottom line, you’re not really fighting him, you’re fighting yourself and your feelings for him.” Trish thought about what her friends had said. “You’re right. Before Jake and I started seeing each other, if he offered to help me, I usually didn’t think twice about it, unless he wanted to pay for something or the like. Now, I am touchy about it. I hadn’t even realized it. Poor guy. No wonder he’s been stressed out. I’m really glad you girls pointed this out. I’ll have to give it some more thought. Thanks.” Eva smiled. “That’s what friends are for. When you’ve had a crappy marriage like we have, it’s hard to trust someone else. And it’s hard to have the courage to take a chance on someone else, when the last someone made your life a living hell. I went through all of that. Josh made it all worth it, though, even though it took some time to get past my defenses. Trish tapped her coke can against Eva’s. “Thanks, Eva. I know you had it rough. Pete never got violent with me, thank God. But he sure did mess things up for me and the kids. You’re right, trust comes hard.” Eva hugged her. “Time will help. In the meantime, being aware of your feelings and fears is half the battle towards conquering them.” **** They’d unpacked and put everything away by six that evening. The other two couples had just left, and Jake and Trish sat in the living room, relaxing on the couch. “Jake?” “Hmm?”
  • 115. 14 “I really like the house. Thank you for renting it to me. And thank you for not charging me a deposit. It was really nice of you.” “Sure, honey. I’m glad you’re here.” “Jake?” “Yeah.” “I really appreciate you offering to sign for the furniture I need, but I’m just not comfortable with that. I think I’m going to shop used. If I find something I want, can you load it in your truck for me, so I don’t have to pay movers?” Jake looked at her and put his arm around her shoulders, pulling her closer. “Of course, I will, honey. I’d be happy to. Just say when. I like helping you.” “I know. You’re really handy to have around.” He kissed the top of her head. “A girl could get used to it, even when it scares her. I know you’re nothing like Pete, and I know you don’t want to be compared to him. That’s not what I’m doing. I guess I’m comparing how I am with you and how I was with him. I had blind faith in him, and I regret that. I’ll never be that way again. If something bothers me, I’m going to tell you or ask you for some clarification. That’s not because I don’t trust you. It’s because I need to know that I’ve learned from past mistakes. It’s like a check mark showing that I’ve covered all the bases. Me, not you.” “Okay, Trish. I’ll try to remember that. And I’ll try not to crowd you, okay? I won’t take it personally when you don’t ask me to help, or at least I’ll try not to, okay?” She nodded. “Jake?”
  • 116. 14 “Yes, honey.” “Are you ready to christen a couple of these rooms now?” He used body language, rather than words to answer her question.
  • 117. 14 Chapter 7 Trish felt anxious all day on Wednesday knowing that the kids were due back that night. She couldn’t wait to see them. Of course, time crawled. It helped when Jake showed up with lunch around noon. “Are you antsy?” Jake smiled as he asked the question he already knew the answer to. “You better believe it. I can’t wait to get my hands on my babies. It seems like they’ve been gone forever. Speaking of the kids, I wanted to talk to you about something.” “Sure, honey. Shoot.” “I love it when you stay the night with me, but with the kids back, I’m really not comfortable with that. I hope you understand.” “So, you’re cutting me off?” The smile made the question a joke more than an inquiry. “No! I mean, …” “I’m just kidding, Trish. Of course, I understand. I didn’t expect to spend the night with the kids home. I wouldn’t be comfortable with that either. What do you want to do about letting them know about us?” “Well, they already know you, so they’re not likely to be bothered if you hang around. I guess we’ll just play it by ear and see how they react to us spending time together.” “How have they reacted in the past when someone picked you up for a date?”
  • 118. 14 “Date? They’ve never seen anyone pick me up for a date. I don’t date. Well, I guess I’m dating you, but I’ve never dated anyone else since Pete died. You’re it. Virgin territory for them.” “You haven’t dated for over two years?” “Nope. I had no intention of ever dating anyone again. You kind of blindsided me. I just couldn’t resist or ignore you.” She reached over and kissed him. Jake gave her a big smile. “Irresistible, huh?” Trish smiled back. “You were. Are.” They both leaned across her desk for another kiss. “Hey, we never christened your office, did we?” “I’m back from lunch, Trish. Need anything?” Diana poked her head in to check in. “No, Di, thanks.” Trish looked at Jake. “Rain check?” “You bet. So, I thought maybe you’d like the kids to yourself for a couple of days. What do you think about going somewhere this weekend?” “I don’t think I want to drop them off at my mother’s so soon after their return.” “Of course not. I thought we could do something as a family, you, me, and the kids. Maybe pizza or Goony Golf? What do you think?” Trish sat quietly. “I don’t know. I really hadn’t thought of all of us going out together. I don’t know what I think.”
  • 119. 14 “Okay. Why don’t you think about it between now and then? We’ll talk about it later. Right now, I’ve got to get back to work. I’ll see you tomorrow?” “Sure, Jake. Thanks for lunch.” Jake came around the desk and kissed her goodbye and left. Trish had been so caught up in taking a chance with herself, she hadn’t thought much about how it could affect the kids. They already loved Jake. What if he became a bigger part of their lives – someone they grew to depend on and trust – and their relationship didn’t last? How would that affect the kids’ stability and outlook? They’d already lost their father. Was it fair to take the chance of them getting used to Jake being around with the possibility that things wouldn’t work out between them? They’d already been through so much already. **** The kids came home later that evening, and there were lots of hugs and kisses all around. After visiting with her parents for about half an hour, Trish took the kids over to their new home. They both loved their rooms. Trish had bought a set of bunk beds at a garage sale, and Jake had set them up for her and brought home the new mattresses she’d bought. Lexie loved her pink ballerina bed set, and Trevor liked the Spiderman set up in his room. They all agreed to spend this first night together in Lexie’s room, after their long time apart, and because they’d all moved into a new house. Trish had blocked off the next day on her calendar, so she could spend the day with the kids. She took them to the park close to their new home, and they rented movies for the afternoon. They met Trish’s parents at McDonald’s for dinner, and they followed her to the new house, and she showed them around. Her mother agreed to come over in the morning to stay
  • 120. 14 with the kids while Trish went to work. Trish stayed up late that night to work on some things for the Lit Center, and she ended up short on sleep. Again. An early alarm made sure she got to work extra early to make up for time lost the day before. Thank God it was Friday. Jake couldn’t come by for lunch, but he called and asked if she wanted to bring the kids over to the ranch for a barbecue. It was getting colder, so this would probably be one of the last ones until spring. She agreed to bring them by after work and said she’d bring a side dish. Trish had just unbuckled Lexie’s car when she heard Trevor yell, “Hey Jake!” He ran over to him while Lexie lost her patience telling her mother to ‘Huwee!’, so she could go see ‘Zake’ too. Jake had just set Trevor back down, so he could go find Granddad when Lexie caught up with him. “Zake, Zake, Zake!” “Hey, sugar! How’s my best girl?” “Good. We got a new house.” “I know. Isn’t that too cool? Do you like it?” “Yeah.” Her mother interrupted her with a warning ‘Lex …’ “I mean, yes. I’m not post to say yeah to gwown-ups. I do like it, Zake. When are you coming to see it? I wanna show you my woom. It’s pink, my favorite color!” “I’ll have to come by pretty soon, baby. Thanks for inviting me.” “Sure. I love you, Zake. I’m gonna mawwy you when I gwow up.”
  • 121. 14 “I’ll be an old man like Granddad by then, but I love you, too. Why don’t you go catch up with your brother and Granddad while I help your mama carry in stuff?” “Kay, bye.” She kissed him quickly on the cheek and hugged him tight before he let her go. Jake watched Lexie hop, skip, and jump into the house and could hear her yelling for her brother from all the way outside. “I think they’ve both grown a foot since they left with your folks.” He pulled her into his arms for a hug. “Tell me about your day.” “She loves you already.” “Yep. She wants to marry me. That young lady is by far your stiffest competition. What’s wrong?” Trish forced a smile. “Nothing. It’s just, no matter what happens between us, if you disappear, they’re going to be hurt, and it’s too late to do anything about it.” Jake looked down at her with a half frown on his face. “Trish, I don’t plan on going anywhere any time soon. Are you planning on getting rid of me?” “No. It’s just that I’ve been wondering if it would be a good idea to all go out tomorrow, like you suggested, and I’ve just realized that regardless of what we do from now on, it’s too late to protect them from losing you if you ever leave.” “Trish, I need you to hear me when I say I’m not going anywhere. I’m sticking around. Honey, you can’t protect them from everything, and you shouldn’t. You think I don’t know
  • 122. 14 what it’s like to lose someone you love and depend on? My parents died when I was a teenager. Even if you could cushion them from everything that could hurt them, which you can’t, what do you think would happen when you weren’t around anymore? They wouldn’t know how to handle adversity, and life is full of it.” “You don’t have to tell me about adversity. What you say makes sense, but my kids have been through enough already. I don’t want them to be hurt anymore. Lexie doesn’t remember her father, and Trevor hardly does. Someday, that’s going to bother them, and I don’t know what I’m going to tell them.” “You’ll know when the time comes. Don’t borrow trouble. So, what about a family outing tomorrow?” Just then the front door opened, and Trevor and Lexie came bounding out. “Mom, we’re gonna go see the new bunny. Wanna come?” “No thanks, son. You mind Granddad, okay?” “Yes ma’am.” Avoiding answering the million dollar question, Trish turned around and walked inside. She honestly didn’t know what to do about Jake and the kids. She had to be very careful. It was her fault they didn’t have their father, and she didn’t want to be responsible for them losing anyone else. The guilt she already carried daily staggered her at times. Trish was subdued for the rest of the evening. Jake walked her and the kids to her car, carrying an already sleeping Lexie. When she’d finished strapping everyone in, she turned to say goodnight to Jake.
  • 123. 14 “Trish, talk to me. Tell me what’s wrong.” “Jake … I’m afraid.” She looked up into his eyes with tears in her own. “I’m so afraid I’ll make the wrong decision, and my kids will end up paying the price for my mistakes again.” “What do you mean ‘again’?” “I … I have to go. Can I call you tomorrow?” “Sure.” He squeezed her shoulders, half afraid he was losing her. “Don’t make up your mind on anything right now. Wait until we can talk it through, okay? It’ll be alright, honey. I love your kids. I love you.” Trish’s eyes widened, and she pulled away from him and got into her car. Jake watched her drive away, and it felt pretty final. Damn it. I pushed her too hard. I shouldn’t have told her I love her yet. Stupid! She was already scared, and now she’s terrified. Nice going, asshole.
  • 124. 14 Chapter 8 Trish put the kids to bed when she got home. She had too much on her mind to sleep, so she tried to work on some interventions for the latest students she’d tested, but she found she couldn’t concentrate. Finally, she lay down on the couch and tried to work her way through the many thoughts running through her mind. It all came back to one thing: She had to protect her children. She let her feelings get in the way once, and she couldn’t do that again. What should she do? Trevor and Lexie were already attached to Jake. Should she risk allowing him to become a bigger part of their lives, or should she stop things right now before they went any further? Jake was great with the kids. She trusted very few people around her children, and he made the short list. She still trusted him with them as far as safety and protection went. She knew he’d put himself between them and any threat. But what about emotionally? Could she risk another loss like the one they’d already experienced with their father? Jake said he loved her. God, this was all happening too fast. She’d just reconciled herself to moving from friends to lovers, and she still wasn’t completely comfortable with that. Part of her was thrilled at his declaration, but as usual, part of her was terrified. Could she afford to open herself up to love again? She’d sworn she never would, but then Jake came into the picture, and she’d let him past all her protective barriers. Hell, he bulldozed his way through them. The thought made her smile.
  • 125. 14 Jake said he wasn’t going anywhere. She didn’t want him to go anywhere. She wanted to be with him. He made her feel special. She knew he tried very hard to understand her and what she needed. She couldn’t ask for any more. He’d shown such patience. For the past few years, her vision of her future included only her kids. Now she could envision Jake there, too. She wasn’t sure when it had happened, but she knew she was already half way to loving him, despite all her efforts to avoid that. Even so, she had to be very careful with her kids. After debating all points to death, she finally fell into an exhausted sleep sometime after midnight. At three o’clock in the morning, she jerked awake, barely containing a scream. The nightmare had returned with a new twist. This time, not only was Pete covered in blood, but so were Lexie and Trevor. She got up from the couch immediately and went to check on the kids, who both slept soundly. She lifted a shaky hand to sweep her hair off her face and went back to the living room. She never did get back to sleep. Like clockwork, Trevor and Lexie woke up before seven for cartoon day. Saturday, she allowed them to watch several hours of television as opposed to school nights when they could only watch for an hour. Trish bought a TV from Eva and Josh that worked perfectly with the entertainment center she’d bought from Jake for the living room. She made blueberry pancakes for breakfast and had just finished the cleanup when the doorbell rang. Trevor jumped up yelling that he would get it and ran for the door. “Oh, no you won’t, young man, not without me there with you. You don’t know who’s at the door. It could be a stranger. Remember stranger danger?” Hoping for a stranger considering she looked like a wreck, she opened up the door.
  • 126. 14 Trevor was ecstatic. “Jake! Hey, did you come to see our new house? Come in. Mom, open the door.” “Can I come in, Trish?” Jake looked at her cautiously. “Sure, Jake, come on in.” Trish opened the door wide and let him in. “Zake! Come see my pink ballewina woom!” Lexie jumped up and down and finally wrapped her little arms around Jake’s legs. “I saw him first, Lex. You have to wait your turn. Come on, Jake.” Trevor tugged at Jakes hand. Jake got down to eye level with the kids. “I’ll tell you what. After I talk to your mom for a little bit, I’ll come get you, so you can both show me your rooms. Fair enough?” They both agreed, if reluctantly, and went back into the living room. He’s finally run out of patience, and he’s going to break things off. I don’t blame him. “Can I get you something, Jake? Are you hungry?” Trish felt like someone on her way to face a firing squad as she motioned him further inside. “No, I’m fine. I’m sorry to drop by unannounced, but I wanted to talk to you.” “Sure. Come on into the office.” Don’t cry, don’t cry, don’t cry. It’s probably for the best. Keep it together until he leaves. They both sat on the loveseat. She thought about sitting in the desk chair in front of the computer, but she figured that would make her look weak.
  • 127. 14 “What’s on your mind, Jake?” Braced for the worst, Trish looked at him quietly. He reached up and touched his fingertips to her cheek. “You okay? You look tired.” “I didn’t sleep very well last night. I’m fine, though.” “That makes two of us. Listen, Trish, about last night … “ “Don’t worry about it, Jake. I don’t blame you if you want to step back and rethink this. I come with all these strings, and I don’t blame you one bit for not wanting to get tangled up in them. Let me just make this easy on you and say that I think you’re wonderful, and I hope we can still be friends. No hard feelings on my side at all.” “Well, honey, I hate to rain on your parade after that pretty little speech of yours, but I don’t want to take any steps back, and I don’t mind your strings, and I have every intention of getting tangled up good in them. And no, I’m afraid friends isn’t enough to satisfy me, so I suggest you do some rethinking yourself. Jesus Christ, Trish, how many times do I have to tell you I’m not going anywhere?” Trish didn’t know until that minute how much she wanted him to stay in her life. She threw her arms around him and burst into tears. Jake pulled her onto his lap and held her against his chest and rubbed her back up and down while she cried herself out. “I thought you came here to break up with me, and I didn’t blame you, and I wanted to let you off the hook, but I didn’t want to not see you anymore, and I didn’t even realize it until I thought you were ending things between us.”
  • 128. 14 “Take a deep breath, honey. Nobody’s breaking up with anybody. That’s the last thing I want, and even if you wanted to, I’m not that easy to brush off.” He reached for a tissue and handed it to her. “Now, blow your nose, that’s it.” “I look awful when I cry. I hardly ever cry, and never in front of anyone else. I’m sorry. I’m not myself. I didn’t sleep much last night, and I have too much on my mind, I guess.” “You look beautiful. A little tired and damp, but beautiful, all the same. Better?” She nodded. “I stopped by to tell you I didn’t mean to scare you last night when I told you I loved you. I meant it, but I didn’t mean to just blurt it out like that, especially when you were already worried about the kids. It’s okay if you don’t feel the same way about me. Yet. I’m a patient man, and we don’t have to go any further with that for awhile. I don’t want you to feel pressured. It’s just that when you left last night, it felt like I was losing you, and I don’t want that. I sure wish you’d talk to me about how you’re feeling.” “Right now, the overwhelming emotion I’m feeling is relief that you’re not hitting the road. I really wouldn’t blame you if you did, but I would be so sad.” He leaned down and kissed her. “I’m not trying to be obstinate. I’m trying to sort out how I feel. You’re important to me. I just realized that I don’t want to lose you. I wish I could put the past behind me, and God knows I’m trying, but it’s hard. I was so concerned about myself and whether or not I was willing to chance a relationship, I didn’t stop to think of the kids. What kind of mother does that? I barely decided to risk myself when it hit me that every risk I take also risks my kids. I can’t believe I forgot that.”
  • 129. 14 “Trish, you’ve had a lot on your mind, and you were solo for a few weeks. You never forgot about them, you were just preoccupied. I would never hurt those kids. You’ve got to know that.” “I know you would never purposely hurt them. But they’ve already lost the most important male in their lives, so they’re vulnerable. I’ve been trying to beef up our world, so they’d feel safe and secure again, and it’s been a slow process. I worry all the time how losing their dad will affect them long term. I don’t want to add to the problems they’re already dealing with. If they get used to you being in their lives, and you disappear for any reason, that could take them right back to where they started.” “Honey, I don’t know what I can say to ease your mind, except to tell you I’m sticking. If I leave, it’ll be because you send me away, and even then, you’d have one hell of a fight on your hands. This is going to freak you out, but I’m going to tell you again, anyway. I love you. You’re it for me, Trish. I’ve wanted you from the time you walked back into my life when you started planning the Lit Center with my sister, and now the more time I spend with you, the more time I want with you. You don’t have to do a thing in the world about it, except believe me when I say I’m not leaving. Given time, I’ll prove myself. Give me that time, Trish.” “Oh, Jake. Why do you put up with me? You could have any number of women. Why in the world do you want me?” “Sweetheart, you’re the only woman I want. If you’re not comfortable with us going out with the kids, we can hold off until you think it’s a good idea. I know you have to put them first in everything. I don’t want to pressure you about anything. You’re the boss.” “How about a trip to the zoo this afternoon?”
  • 130. 14 “You bet. First, though, I have a couple of rooms to inspect, if you’ll excuse me.” They both stood up, but before he left her to find the kids, she wrapped him in a big hug. “Thank you for being so great.” “I can’t help it honey, that’s just me.” They smiled at each other, and he went to round up the kids while she took a shower. By the time she got ready and returned to the living room, the kids were dressed and ready to go with the exception of Lexie’s hair. She went back to Lex’s room to get a brush and some hair bands and ribbons and noticed that someone had made the bed, and put up clothes and toys. She found the same in Trevor’s room. Who says miracles don’t happen? “Wow, you guys. Beds are made and floors are picked up. Nice. I am impressed.” Trevor looked up and said, “Jake said we were big enough to make our beds, and we did. We’re not so little anymore, Mom.” “You’re growing every day, Trev. Jake just said yesterday that he thought you were both taller since you left on vacation.” “And Granddad said my handshake is getting really strong, too.” Trevor smiled proudly. “Mine, too, Mommy. Right Zake?” Lexie got into the act, too. Jake winked at her. “Yes ma’am. How would you guys like to go to the zoo today?” “With you, Zake?” “All of us, your mom, too. How does that sound?”
  • 131. 14 Although Jake couldn’t hear a specific answer through all the yelling and jumping up and down, he figured he’d take the loud reaction as a yes. Trish packed a bag, and they left shortly afterwards. It felt cool enough for a light sweater, but the sun was out, and they ended up having a great time. They drove home, and Jake invited them to come over later for movie night at his house, and they all agreed. Trish was curious, since she’d never been to his house before, what it looked like. She’d had no idea he lived so close, just a few streets over. It would be a nice walk when the weather got warmer and it stayed light longer. Jake had said he’d take care of dinner, so she packed up the kids and a bag of essentials and headed over. When she got there, Jake opened the door and smiled, and she thought she’d never seen a more welcoming sight in her life. The man was incredible. It hit her full force just then that she’d passed the half way mark in love with him. She waited for the fear to set in next, but it barely registered. Maybe everything would work out okay. For the first time, she felt hopeful about their future, and that was progress in her book. When Jake opened the door for them, Trevor shook his hand, Lexie held her arms up to him for a kiss, and when he put her down, it was Trish’s turn. He hadn’t kissed her in front of the kids, and while she appreciated him leaving it up to her to set the ground rules, she no longer felt the need to hold back. She reached up and pulled his head down to hers and kissed him like there was no tomorrow. Initially caught off guard, he recovered quickly and gave as good as he got. In seconds, they were both out of breath and dying to carry it further, knowing they couldn’t with the kids under foot.
  • 132. 14 “When can I be alone with you? I don’t need much time. The way I feel right now, ten minutes would be long enough, at least to hold me over until we have more time. How about I sneak in through your bedroom window tonight?” Jake wiggled his eyebrows at her. “Don’t tempt me. Maybe I can take the kids to my mom’s for awhile tomorrow. She called and said she was having withdrawals.” “She’s not the only one, honey. God, I want you. Bad.” “Me, too. I’ll definitely take the kids to my mom tomorrow.” She kissed him again and reluctantly pulled away. Trevor walked back and said, “Hey, you guys. Whatcha doin’ just standing there?” “We were just coming to find you guys, Trev. Are you hungry?” Jake reached down and ruffled the boy’s hair. “Sure! Whatcha got?” Trevor followed him into the kitchen. “How about mac and cheese and hot dogs?” Jake asked him. “Great. How’d you know we like that?” Trevor smiled up at him. “I guess because I liked it when I was your age, too.” “Most grownups who don’t have kids make dumb stuff to eat like steak or roast, and they always have lots of vegetables. You’re pretty smart.” “Well, thanks, Trevor. Come on, let’s go into the living room, and I’ll show you the movies you have to choose from. Coming, Mom?” Jake looked over his shoulder at Trish.
  • 133. 14 “Right behind you.” Trish walked into the living room and was surprised to see a tent set up there. Lexie peeked outside the front flap and smiled up at her. “Look Mommy. Zake has a tent in here. We should get one, too.” Trish looked up, her heart warmed at the extent Jake had gone to in order for the kids to have a fun time. He smiled smugly at her. “My dad used to do that for Josh and Callie and I when we were little. I thought they might like it, too.” “I’d say you hit a home run.” Trish smiled at him again. “Come on and help me with their plates. I’ve got a couple of steaks for us, unless you want a hot dog, too.” “Not that I don’t enjoy a good hot dog every once in awhile, but steak sounds great. What can I do to help?” Trish followed Jake into the kitchen. “Everything’s ready. You just have to dish it out. I’m rusty on portion size for kids.” Trish fixed the kids’ plates while Jake fixed theirs. She intended to call the kids to the table, until Jake explained to her that half the fun of ‘camping out’ was eating in the tent. She relented after he agreed to let her put some towels down first. The kids drew cards for who got to pick the first movie, and Lexie won. She picked Madagascar, and both kids crawled inside the tent and watched the movie while they ate their dinner. When it finished, Trish thought they should go home, but there were so many groans and complaints from the peanut gallery that she agreed to stay for one more movie, but only after they’d cleaned up and the kids changed into their pj’s. Trevor picked Toy Story, an oldie but goodie in his mind.
  • 134. 14 About thirty minutes into the movie, Trish started yawning. She hadn’t had much sleep the night before. Actually, she hadn’t had much sleep in the last few weeks, and she started losing ground steadily. She sat next to Jake on the couch, and the kids still watched from inside the tent. She’d seen the movie so many times, she thought she could probably say all the lines herself. When the yawns moved into her actually nodding off, Jake leaned back at an angle and pulled her head down to his chest and wrapped his arms around her. She was out in sixty seconds flat. Lexie fell next, followed by Trevor, both still in the tent, and finally, Jake joined the crowd after pulling a blanket from the back of the couch and spreading it over them. Somehow, Trish and Jake ended up horizontal, Trish’s back to his chest, her arms holding his arms which were wrapped around her. Just after seven the next morning Lexie shook her mother awake. Trish woke up all at once and disoriented, and Jake woke up with her. “Good morning, Momma. Good morning, Zake.” She gave them both the sweetest smile. “Good morning, baby. I guess we all fell asleep, huh?” Trish rubbed at her eyes trying to wake up. “Yep. Trevor’s still sleeping.” “No, I’m not. I’m awake.” He crawled out of the tent and focused owlish blue eyes the same color as his mother’s, hair sticking up all over, on his mother laying in Jakes arms on the couch.
  • 135. 14 Trish sat up slowly and faced her kids. “I guess we were all more tired than we thought last night, huh? Did you two sleep okay?” “Let’s get a tent for our house, Momma.” Lexie jumped up and down excitedly. “We’ll see, Lex. Trevor, did you sleep okay?” Trish watched her son closely. He shrugged his shoulders and turned around and headed for the bathroom. Trish felt Jake’s hand squeeze her neck in support as she got up to follow him. Lexie crawled up on his lap and kissed his cheek. “What kind of ceweal do you got, Zake?” “Let’s go see, princess.” **** Trevor walked out of the bathroom and found his mother waiting for him outside the door. “Hey, buddy.” “Hey, Mom.” “How about my morning kiss? Don’t worry, no one’s looking.” “I don’t care if people see me kiss you. You’re my mom.” “Always will be, son. Are you upset that we fell asleep here last night? I promise I didn’t mean to.” “That’s okay, mom. I didn’t mean to either. Are you gonna have a baby now?”
  • 136. 14 “What?! What in the world made you ask me that, son?” “A boy in my class at school said that when grownups sleep together, the mom’s have more babies. If you have one, can it please be a brother this time?” “Come with me, Trevor.” She walked him into Jake’s bedroom – nice, peaceful décor done in greens and browns – and sat down on the bed with her boy. “Trevor, it takes more than sleeping with someone to make a baby, and no, I’m not going to have a baby any time soon. Maybe never, I don’t know. What would you think about that if I did?” “Brother or sister?” “Moms don’t get to choose, sweetie, so it’s the luck of the draw, I’m afraid. No guarantees.” “I don’t know, Mom, I guess it would be okay, especially if I got a brother. Lexie’s okay, but it would be more funner to play with a brother. But you know what I’d rather get?” “What, son?” “I’d rather get a dad. Is that bad?” “Of course not, honey. That’s normal. Why would it be bad?” He shrugged his little boy shoulders again. “Mom, would you be mad if I told you a secret?” “No, son. I would rather there not be any secrets between us. Will you tell me?”
  • 137. 14 “It’s just that I can’t remember daddy very much anymore. I kind of remember a man being at our house in Dallas, but I don’t remember what he looked like or anything else. Grandma Mary says I can’t ever forget my dad, but I think I did. Mostly.” He’d been looking down the whole time he’d been talking, and Trish’s heart broke for him. “Son, it’s okay if you can’t remember your dad. You were really, really little, like just a little older than Lexie when he died. The important thing to remember is that he loved you very much. Just remember that, and you’ll be fine. Now, can I ask you a question?” “Sure, Mom.” “Did it bother you this morning when you woke up and saw me and Jake on the couch together?” Trevor thought about it for a minute. “I’m not sure, Mom. Can I think about it for awhile?” “Absolutely. The only thing I ask is that you let me know how you feel when you figure it out. There’s no right or wrong or good or bad answer. Fair enough?” At his nod, she added, “Can I have my morning kiss now?” “Absolutely, Mom.” He threw himself into his mother’s arms and hugged her tight. They joined Lexie and Jake in the kitchen where they were eating Lucky Charms. Jake looked up at her, concern clearly written on his face, but she smiled at him, and he relaxed. “How about some cereal, Buddy?” “Sure, Jake. Lexie, stop picking out all the sugar pieces.”
  • 138. 14 “I can if I want to, as long as I eat the other kind after.” “When you’re finished with your cereal, we need to go home, kids. I promised Gram I’d bring you over for a visit today, because she misses you.” Trish met Jake’s eyes over the kids’ heads. He gave her that sexy smile she’d come to appreciate so much, knowing what they’d be doing while the kids went to see their grandparents. She smiled right back. After gathering all their stuff and cleaning up the breakfast dishes, the kids thanked Jake, and off they went, still in pajamas. When they got home, Trish moved as quickly as she could to get the kids and herself dressed and ready to go out. Anticipation of meeting Jake later made her nearly frantic. She put on some new sheer, black panties she’d bought the other day for just such an event. And an event described what Trish had in mind just fine. She couldn’t remember ever feeling this level of excitement in her life, and it all centered on the man awaiting her return. Trish dropped the kids off at her parents’ house and told them she had to run some errands and would be back later. She had to remind herself constantly not to floor the car on her drive back over to Jake’s place. She pulled into the driveway, shifting into park before the car had stopped all the way, and raced to the door. Before she could reach for the doorknob, the door opened, and Jake reached for her. They wrapped themselves around each other’s bodies as their mouths fused together. They started pulling off each other’s clothes before the door closed, touching, kissing, rubbing, grabbing, and it wasn’t nearly enough. They couldn’t get enough of each other’s taste or touch. They stumbled into the living room as they continued to undress each other, and they knew right away they wouldn’t make it any further. Trish tried to kick off her shoes as Jake
  • 139. 14 pulled down her jeans. As they passed her hips, she tried to step out of them too soon and would’ve fallen if Jake hadn’t caught her on her way down. Kicking off his own jeans, he joined her on the floor and unhooked her bra and tore it off of her, so he could reacquaint his mouth with her breasts. He went back and forth between the two of them, apparently unable to decide which one he wanted more. He had to call it a tie. Trish reached for his briefs and started working them down his hips. He groaned when she wrapped her hand around him and suddenly couldn’t get her panties off fast enough. He reached into the back pocket of his jeans and pulled out a black packet and nearly tore right through it when he put it on. “Now, Jake. I want you inside me now.” “That’s exactly where I want to be, honey. Open for me.” Trish welcomed his hips between her own, and he slammed himself home in one quick thrust that sent her right over the edge to oblivion. He felt her spasm around him and groaned as he moved faster and harder, never letting up. She could feel herself building toward another climax immediately. “God, Jake, don’t stop. Come with me this time, baby. Now!” In answer to her demand, Jake slammed inside her two more times and let himself go as she called his name again. He buried his sweat soaked face into her neck as she wrapped her arms and legs around him. He didn’t even have the energy to roll off of her for several moments. Finally, afraid he’d suffocate her, he rolled to his back, carrying her with him. “My God, woman, you’re going to kill me one of these days. I needed that. You okay?”
  • 140. 14 “Better than okay. That was great. I thought I’d never get here. Next time, I’m just going to wear a trench coat or something, and if we’re meeting here again, I think you should already be naked when you answer the door.” Jake chuckled. “We still aren’t likely to make it to the bedroom. The first time, anyway. Damn, sex is great with you.” “Ummm. Same goes. I’ve never been this way before. I mean, I like sex as much as the next person, but jeez, I’ve never been so … frantic for anyone in my life.” Jake looked down at her. “It’s the combo, sweetheart. It’s not just me or just you. It’s us together that’s so … intense, so … combustible. I’ve never been like this either. I’ve had my fair share of sex over the years, but Christ, I feel like a damn teenager around you. I can’t get it enough with you.” “How much do you feel like a teenager?” Trish lifted up her head and smiled. He grabbed her hand and pulled it down to his revived erection. “Nice. Bedroom?” “If we can make it this time.” It took them a third time to hit the bed, and they both had rug burns by the time they finished. When they finally felt too exhausted and wrung out – in a good way – to go another round, they lay entwined in each other’s arms, stroking, holding, kissing each other. The silence felt peaceful and complete on both sides. Finally, Jake broke the silence. “So, what happened with Trevor this morning? Is he upset?”
  • 141. 14 “He’s not sure. He’s going to think about it for awhile and get back to me. I think he’ll be okay. He asked me if I was going to have a baby since we slept together last night. I didn’t get into particulars, but I assured him that wasn’t part of the plan at this time.” “Did it worry him?” “Not especially. If I could have guaranteed him a brother this time arouond, he might even have been happy about it. That’s not what bothered him.” “So, what was it then?” She stilled for a moment. “He was upset, because he can’t remember much about his dad, and Pete’s mother told him he had to be sure to always remember him. I’m sure she didn’t mean to upset him. He was so young when he lost his father, it’s understandable that he’d forget him. He feels guilty about it and worried that I’d be upset with him. I don’t have any idea how long he kept it a secret. Poor baby.” “Poor little guy. It sure is a testimony to your relationship with him that he opened up and told you. You’re an excellent mother, Trish.” “I try, but I know I’ve made mistakes.” “Show me a parent who hasn’t.” “I know. It’s just that sometimes it’s scary doing it alone. I usually don’t have anyone to talk to at times when I’m unsure of what to do.” “I imagine being a parent is pretty scary in and of itself, whether you have someone to help you or not. You do an amazing job honey. Lexie and Trevor are doing great despite losing
  • 142. 14 their dad. They know they’re loved, and they feel safe, because they know you’ll take care of them.” “I really hope so, Jake. As much as I’d love to spend the rest of the day here … with you … like this … I need to get going. I told my parents I’d be back for the kids in a couple of hours, and it’s been that already. Plus, I’ve got a ton of work waiting for me at home.” “Hey, I forgot to tell you, I’m going out of town Tuesday on business. I’m starting to get some jobs in New Mexico through some contacts that Josh turned me onto, and I have to head up to Albuquerque for a few days. I wish you could come with me.” “Maybe another time. I can’t leave the kids, and my work is piling up. I’ve been neglecting it because of a certain tall, dark, and handsome distraction.” “You really need to start thinking about hiring more help. I don’t plan on stopping with the distractions any time soon.” Trish reluctantly got up and started dressing. “So, how long will you be gone?” “I should be home by the weekend. Want to have another movie night at my place next weekend?” I should get in early Saturday.” “Maybe. Let’s see how the week goes.” Trish almost said more, but she started coughing. “You okay, honey?” “Yeah, I’m fine. My throat’s just a little bit scratchy. Probably allergies.”
  • 143. 14 “Go to bed early tonight, okay? You don’t get enough rest. You skip meals, too, and you work too hard.” “Anything else, Mother?” “Yeah. You’re really good in the sack.”
  • 144. 14 Chapter 9 Trish stayed up late again trying to catch up on her work, and when she woke up early on Monday morning, she struggled with getting out of bed. Trevor started back to school that day, so she had to drop him off and take Lexie to her mother’s house. She had a pounding headache, and her throat felt raw. Jake called the office that morning to tell her he planned on leaving later that day for Albuquerque instead of tomorrow in hopes that he’d be home sooner. She wished him a safe trip, and he promised to call her later that night. Thankfully, she didn’t have much on the calendar for the day. She tested another kid, and she did some paperwork, but as the day wore on, she began to feel achy. For once, she didn’t stay late at work, but picked up the kids at her parents’ house, got McDonald’s, and went home. As soon as the kids finished eating, Trevor got his homework out, and she supervised while he practiced his spelling words, wrote in his journal and drew the accompanying picture. Then it was time for baths followed by brushing teeth, laying out clothes for the next day, and finally story time. Right after she tucked the kids into bed, the phone rang. “Hi, honey, what’s going on in El Paso?” “Hi, Jake. I see you made it safely to Albuquerque. Nothing new here. How about over there?
  • 145. 14 “It’s pretty cold here. You sound kind of funny. Is everything alright?” “Yeah, I think I’m catching a cold or something. I’ll be fine.” “I’m sorry to hear that. You should go to bed early tonight.” “I’ve got some work to do, but I’ll try. The kids already went to bed, so I can follow suit as soon as I get a few things done.” “I miss you, Trish. I wish you were here.” “I miss you, too. How’s your contract looking?” “I meet with the key players tomorrow to discuss the progress and plan. Then, I’ll go out to the sites to look around and interview a few workers I need to hire besides the team I’m sending up from El Paso.” “Good luck. I’d better go, so I can finish up. Be careful.” “I will. You take care of yourself. I’ll call you tomorrow.” They hung up, and Trish took her work out of her satchel and dug in. Three hours later, she hadn’t finished, but she couldn’t keep her eyes open any longer. Her head felt like it had doubled in size, and it hurt to smile. She took a couple of Advil and went to sleep, setting the alarm to go off at four in the morning in hopes of finishing the work she’d started that evening. She checked on the kids one more time and fell into an exhausted sleep. When the alarm went off at four the next morning, she got up and went to the kitchen table where she’d left her work out the night before and started where she’d left off. She felt worse than she had yesterday, and she found it hard to focus, but she plodded on until she had to
  • 146. 14 wake the kids. She felt like she was moving in slow motion, but she dropped them both off later that morning and headed to the office. She had a full day planned with meetings for possible consultant work along with more diagnostics testing and paperwork. She also had to work on payroll and find a cleaning service. Then she prepared a marketing survey like the one they’d sent out before they opened the business to investigate possible interest in adult classes. Food held absolutely no appeal for her, so she skipped breakfast and lunch, and when closing time rolled around, she stayed an hour later to tie up some loose ends, despite her fatigue. Her mother fed the kids for her, so all she had to do was … all the rest. She kept her distance from the babies, since now she knew she had some sort of virus or something vile along those lines. She suspected she had a fever, but oh well, too bad, so sad. She had things to do that had to get done, and she was the only one there to do them. Jake called just after she’d put the kids to bed, and he sounded very worried about her. She’d had to skip story time, because of her sore throat. He told her she needed to go see a doctor, but she put him off, saying she’d try to find the time. Thankfully, she didn’t have any testing to do the next day, so she tried to isolate herself and her germs from anything else human. She didn’t wish this … whatever it was … on her worst enemy. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d felt so rotten. Maybe never. Her secretary told her she looked awful the next day, and she figured she did, considering how awful she felt. Diana tried to tell her to go home, but Trish insisted she had work to do that couldn’t wait. She worked through closing time and stayed another hour afterwards again. She had made a dent in her to do list, but she felt too tired and sick to celebrate. She picked up the
  • 147. 14 already fed kids at her mother’s house and went home. Her mother told her to go to the doctor tomorrow, but she explained that she had stuff to do and would try to go the day after. Jake called and lectured her along the same lines as her mother had earlier that night, but she was too tired to participate in the debate, so she stayed quiet and tried not to fall asleep during the one sided conversation. He finally realized he wasn’t getting through to her and hung up the phone after she promised she wouldn’t do any more work that night and would go to bed early. Despite her attempt to keep her vow, she didn’t sleep much that night, even though she did make it to bed early. She’d developed a dry, hacking cough that kept her up all night, so sleep never came for more than a few exhausted minutes at a time. When she did lay down, she noticed a weird, gurgling feeling in her chest. Strange. The next day, she dropped off the kids as usual and went to work. She had Diana reschedule everything on her calendar first thing, because she feared that whatever she had was catching, and she didn’t want to get anyone else sick. She finally relented and called the doctor for an appointment, but they couldn’t get her in until the next morning. Since she’d come to work anyway, she decided to work on a couple of things, but had a hard time focusing. She decided to rest her pounding head for just a few minutes on her desk and fell asleep. That’s how Jake found her when he arrived at her office later that afternoon. Diana told him she was worried about Trish and that she’d cancelled all of her appointments for the day and had tried to talk her into going home early, but she had refused. Jake walked behind her desk and gently rubbed her back. She sat straight up, startled and disoriented.
  • 148. 14 “Hey, honey,” “Is it Friday?” Jake smiled and shook his head. “No, Trish, although I’m tempted to run with that story, so it’ll be easier to talk you into staying home from work. I came home early, because I was worried about you. You sounded pretty sick on the phone, and by the looks of you, I’m glad I’m here.” Trish swallowed painfully and closed her eyes. Jake reached to stroke her cheek and frowned. He touched her forehead, and Trish kept her eyes closed. “Trish, you’re burning up. Have you taken your temperature lately?” “Why would I do that? If I know I have a fever, I’ll just feel worse. I’d rather pretend that I don’t.” She covered her mouth as she started coughing again. Jake walked into the hallway to the storage closet and took out the first aid kit, digging inside until he found a thermometer. “Did you go to the doctor?” “Not yet, but before you scold me, I tried to, but they couldn’t get me in until tomorrow morning.” He looked at the digital readout on the thermometer and cursed. He picked up the phone and dialed Josh. “Hey, it’s Jake. Tell me you have connections in the medical field. I need to find a doctor for Trish. She can’t get in to see anyone until tomorrow, but I don’t want to wait that
  • 149. 14 long. She’s got a fever of one hundred four.” Josh promised to call back shortly, and Jake hung up the phone. “Honey, are you taking any medicine?” “Took Nyquil last night and Advil this morning.” Jake struggled to control the rising fear for her that continued to escalate after he’d taken her temperature. “Trish, tell me what’s going on, honey. Where does it hurt?” Trish rested her elbows on the desk and held her head in hopes that she could keep it from exploding. On second thought, she thought it might be for the best if someone or something put her out of her misery. “Everything hurts. My head, my throat, all my muscles and joints. I don’t feel very good at all.” “I guess not with a temperature of one hundred and four. I’m going to tell Diana to clear you for the rest of the week, Trish. You’re in no shape to come to work for awhile.” “No, Jake. Don’t worry, I’m not going to infect anyone, I just want to stay in back here in my office away from everyone, so I can get caught up.” “That’s bull shit, Trish. You’re going to the doctor, and then you’re going to bed, and that’s where you’re going to stay.” “Stop yelling and me. And stop telling me what to do. I’m a big girl.” “Then, start acting like one. You’re sicker than a dog, and you’re not taking care of yourself. If something happens to you, what will the kids do? They’ve already lost one parent
  • 150. 14 for Christ’s sake. Damn it, honey, I’m sorry. Please don’t cry. I’m just worried. Shit, I’m sorry.” He reached for her, and she pushed his hands away and tried to stand up. She managed to get upright, but she felt so dizzy, she had to sit down again. If Jake hadn’t held onto her, she would’ve fallen. He continued to hold onto her shoulders, despite her continuing attempts to push him away. She also continued to cry. Jake knelt down in front of her to try to calm her down, but the phone rang. It was his brother. He jotted down a couple of notes and hung up the phone. “Honey, please just listen for a minute, okay? I’m sorry I made you cry. I didn’t mean to, and I apologize. I’m just a little worried about you. Trish, you have a dangerously high fever. Josh has a friend who’s a doctor at Las Palmas. He’s on his way to the emergency room and will meet us there, so he can treat you. You cannot wait until tomorrow, Trish. Now, let’s get your coat on and leave.” “Jake, the kids … “ “Honey, I’ll take care of everything, but first we need to get you to the doctor. Come on, now, let’s get going.” He reached and took her hand and pulled her up. She swayed again, and he put his arm around her waist and led her to the door. On his way out, he asked Diane to lock up at closing time and cancel all appointments for the rest of the week. He waited for Trish to blast him for it, but she seemed to be concentrating too hard on remaining upright to argue. Jake put her into his truck and ran around to the other side. She put her head back and remained silent for the whole drive except when she went into coughing fits. By the time they got to the hospital, she had trouble taking deep breaths without having chest pain or severe coughing.
  • 151. 14 Jake parked his truck and helped Trish inside. He settled her in the waiting room and went to the receptionist and told her the name of the doctor Josh had given him. She assured him she would call him when the doctor arrived. Jake went back and took the seat next to Trish. Her eyes were closed, and she took shallow breaths in an effort to keep from coughing anymore. She looked pale, clammy, shaky, and weak. And she was the most beautiful woman in the world. Overcome with love, he put his arm around her and guided her head to rest on his shoulder. Too sick to resist or argue, she rested against him silently until a nurse came for her. Jake refused to let her go without him, which worked out just as well, since she probably couldn’t have made it on her own. Dr. Villalobos introduced himself and explained Josh had defended him successfully in a bogus malpractice suit that probably saved his career, so he’d happily come in on his day off to help any friend of Josh’s. Despite Trish having taken pain killers a couple of hours ago, her fever remained at one hundred and four. The doctor said if it got any higher, she’d have to be hospitalized. And that was just the beginning. After a thorough exam, he determined that Trish had multiple infections in her sinuses, both ears, her throat and her lungs. Further, she had a serious case of walking pneumonia. The doctor gave her a treatment for her lungs, two shots, one antibiotic and one steroid to ease the inflammation in her lungs, and enough prescriptions to open up her own pharmacy. “Trish, as your doctor, I have to tell you that if you don’t rest your body, you’re going to end up in the hospital for an extended stay. I’m going to send you home now, but if you don’t rest or if your temp doesn’t drop within twenty four hours, I’ll check you into the hospital,
  • 152. 14 anyway. This is a serious situation that more than likely could’ve been avoided if you would have been healthy to begin with, and I can tell by your current condition that you weren’t getting the right amount of sleep or nutrition. Your body’s worn out, and it couldn’t fight against what should have been a minor problem. What probably started out as a single infection has spread throughout your entire respiratory system and then some.” “I’ve given you the strongest meds available to jump start your immune system, and I’ve given you samples of everything, so you won’t have to fill the prescriptions until tomorrow, but you have to do your part if they’re going to work. I’ve given you the medical terminology, but let me put it in laymen’s terms. You’ve got single mother workaholic syndrome. Next time you want to skip eating and sleeping, you’d better ask yourself who’s going to take care of your kids if you work yourself till you drop again. As it is, it’ll be a long time before you’re in any kind of shape to go full speed, and your immune system will be weak for the better part of a year, more than likely, although a lot of that will depend on how well you take care of yourself from now on.” Jake had been holding Trish’s hand throughout the doctor’s speech, but she wouldn’t look at him or the doctor, just kept nodding her head and crying silently. Jake helped her with her coat and sat her at the entrance until he could bring the truck around. She kept her eyes closed the whole drive home, and Jake would’ve thought her asleep if her tears hadn’t continued to fall steadily. He reached over and held her hand. Poor baby. She was done in physically and emotionally. He’d never seen her look so defeated. She didn’t notice until Jake turned the truck off that he’d brought her to his house. “The kids …”
  • 153. 14 “Are with your parents. I’ll go for them after I get you settled.” “I have to go home, Jake. Trevor has school tomorrow.” “No, Trish, what you have to do is go to bed. Didn’t you hear what the doctor said? Do you want to have to go to the hospital?” “No, Jake, I don’t. I’ll try to follow the doctor’s advice as much as possible, but I can’t just put my kids on hold. I know I’ve overdone it, and I know it’s my own fault that I’m where I am now, but no matter what, my kids come first. They’re more important. I’ve messed everything up. Again. God, don’t you think I know that?” “Honey, I’m not sure what all you’re talking about, but I need you to listen to me for just a few minutes, okay? I’m not going to yell at you again, and I’m sure not going to kick you when you’re down or say I told you so. I just want you to hear what I’m saying, okay?” At her nod, he continued. “I know you’re very independent, and I respect you for it, but everyone on this earth needs help from time to time, no matter how strong or how tough they are, and now is one of those times for you. The only thing I want you to do right now is rest and take care of yourself. I’m asking you to trust me to take care of the rest. Can you do that? I’ll take care of the kids, I’ll take care of you, and I’ll take care of anything else that comes up. You need to concentrate on getting better. Please, honey, let me. Trust me. I won’t let you down.” Trish looked at him and nodded, and she let him take her into his bedroom, undress her and put on one of his t-shirts, give her all her medicine, and put her to bed. Then, he made several phone calls and went to pick up the kids at their grandparents’ house, stopped off at their house, then brought them home with him after telling them they had to be real quiet and let their mother rest, because she was sick.
  • 154. 14 Trish was vaguely aware of Jake checking on her through the night, taking her temperature and giving her medicine as needed, but mostly she just slept. She didn’t wake up until ten o’clock the next morning when Jake checked her temperature again. When she saw the time, she zeroed in on his face. In a raspy voice she asked, “The kids?” “I took Trevor to school this morning as usual and Lex over to your mom’s. She offered to keep the kids with her last night, but they were scared and wanted to see for themselves that you were okay. Your mother will pick up Trev when school lets out as usual. We finished all his homework last night, plus the regular baths, story time, brushing teeth, etc. etc. I stopped by your place on the way home with the kids last night and picked up some clothes.” “I need to call Diana … “ “I called her last night. She’s cancelled all your appointments for the rest of the week and will open and close for you. I also called Eva and Callie, and they’ll be checking in on things while you’re out and until you get back on your feet.” “You’re hired.” Jake smiled down at her. “At least you still have your sense of humor. It’s time for more medicine, and I have a variety of beverages to choose from including Gatorade, several juices, sodas, and more. The doctor said to drink plenty of fluids. I also have about a dozen different kinds of soup for you to choose from if you’re hungry, and Eva’s bringing some homemade Mexican stew guaranteed to cure whatever ails you, according to her grandmother. Can you eat something, honey?”
  • 155. 14 Trish shook her head. “I just can’t, Jake, but I’ll try to drink some juice.” “Okay, I’ve got apple, orange, cranberry, and grape. What’s your pleasure?” “Apple’s good, thanks.” He left and came back shortly with her juice and helped her sit up to take a sip. She would’ve liked to tell him she could do it by herself, but the truth was she wasn’t so sure she could’ve managed on her own. She’d never felt so weak in her life. When she said she had to go to the restroom, he had to help her stand and walk. She finally drew the line at him helping after that, but he waited outside the door until she came out and helped her back into bed. She drank a little more juice then fell back asleep until late afternoon when Jake woke her up to take more medicine, then drifted back to sleep until nearly six o’clock. By then, Jake had gone to pick up the kids, and had started fixing dinner. Trish swung her legs over the side of the bed, so she could go to the restroom again, and although she felt pretty sure she could stand, she wasn’t at all sure she could make it all the way to the bathroom and back on her own without falling. As it stood, the room began spinning, and she hadn’t even made it all the way out of bed yet. “Mommy? Are you okay?” “Hey, son. I’m just a little sick, but I went to the doctor, and he gave me medicine, so I’ll be feeling better soon. How are you doing, sweetie?” He moved closer to the bed. “Don’t get too close, because I don’t want you to catch what I have, okay?” He nodded solemnly. “How did school go today?” Trish’s voice came out thin and raspy, but it was the best she could do.
  • 156. 14 “Okay, I guess.” “Did you study for your spelling test tomorrow?” He nodded. “Jake helped me. He also helped me with math and my journal. He’s a pretty good helper. We slept here last night, and we’re gonna sleep here tonight, too, only not in the tent. Jake said we can sleep in the tent on weekends, but not on school nights. Me and Lex been sleepin’ together in one of the other bedrooms. Jake said we could have our own room if we wanted, but we wanted to sleep together, since this isn’t our house and stuff.” “That’s probably a good idea, son. Are you behaving and watching out for your sister?” “Yes ma’am. She got kind of scared when we tiptoed in here last night with Jake and you were sleeping. She wanted to sleep with you, but Jake said you had to get well first. He read us a story and everything. He’s doing a pretty good job.” Trish smiled. “Hey, you’re awake. Are you hungry?” Jake entered the room and joined them. “I didn’t wake her up, Jake, she was already awake, I promise.” Trevor looked up at Jake solemnly. “Okay, buddy. You want to go tell your sister Mom’s awake, so she can come see her?” “Sure. I’ll be right back.” Trevor left the room in search of his sister. “How are you feeling, honey?”
  • 157. 14 “Very light headed. Can you help me make it to the bathroom again, please? I’m afraid I’ll fall.” She leaned on him and took baby steps all the way to the bathroom. Jake waited for her again and was helping her back to bed when the kids came into the room. Both kids’ eyes looked huge as he tucked her into bed. Lexie’s chin started to tremble, and Trevor put his arm around her. “Momma, are you getting better?” “Yes, sweetheart, I sure am. Pretty soon, I’ll be as good as new. Don’t worry, baby. Jake’s taking very good care of me, and I’m not going to work for awhile, so I can stay in bed and rest. How was your day?” Trish smiled at her baby girl and encouraged her to tell her about her day. Apparently accepting her mother’s words as gospel, Lexie told her all about her day from helping her grandmother bake cookies to coloring her mom a picture, so she would feel better soon. Jake left the room, so they could visit, and he went back into the kitchen to finish dinner. By the time he finished, Trish was ready to go back to sleep, but managed to eat a little bit of soup and drink some more juice with her medicine. Jake swiped her forehead with the thermometer again. “Fever’s down to one hundred two. Still pretty high, but it doesn’t look like you’ll have to be hospitalized, anyway. Are you feeling any better yet, or is it still too soon?” He reached to take her hand. “My throat’s not as sore, but I’m still real achy and weak. The cough syrup not only keeps me from coughing, it knocks me out. I guess that’s good. I’d love to take a hot bath, but it’ll have to wait for tomorrow. I’m too tired tonight.”
  • 158. 14 “Tomorrow, then. Do you want me to go get anything from your place for you? Pj’s, a change of clothes, chick stuff?” Jake smiled down at her and stroked his fingers down her cheek. “You’ll be happy to know that I plan on staying in bed at least until the weekend. Maybe a change of clothes this weekend, but since I won’t be going anywhere anytime soon, there’s no rush. Jake, thank you for everything. I don’t know what the kids or I would’ve done without your help.” “Trish, thank you for letting me help. I love you. It’s my pleasure to watch over you and help you out. It makes me feel good and like I’m important to you.” She teared up again, and he bent to kiss her forehead. “What about your job, Jake? I don’t want to cause you any problems.” “My biggest problem right now is getting you well. There’s nothing more important to me than that. I’ll check on you later when I get the kids in bed.” Jake tucked her back into bed and left the room. Jake fell into a routine with Trevor’s guidance, and Lexie had fallen asleep before he finished story time, leaving only Trevor and Jake. “Lights out, buddy. You did really well on your spelling practice and math tonight. I bet you get a hundred on your tests tomorrow.” Trevor just looked up at him with eyes so much like his mother’s Jake had to smile. “Everything okay, Trevor? You got something on your mind?” Trevor nodded. “Let’s hear it, then. What’s going on?”
  • 159. 14 The little boy swallowed hard, and finally whispered, “Is my mom going to die?” That definitely got Jake’s full attention. “No, Trevor, she’s pretty sick, but she’s getting better. No way is she going to die.” “My dad died.” “Yeah, I know. But your mom’s going to be just fine. The doctor gave her some really good medicine, and she’ll feel better real soon, honest.” “Do you promise?” “A promise is a serious thing, Trevor, and I never promise something that I’m not absolutely sure about. I promise your mom’s going to get better. Her fever is already lower than yesterday.” “Granddad says the same thing. You should never break your promise. I’m glad you’re here. I’m the man of the house, but I still don’t know how to do some stuff. Like I don’t know how to cook yet.” “I’m glad I’m here, too, Trevor. I care a lot about you and your sister and your mom.” “I don’t remember my dad very good. He died when I was little. One day he looked fine, and the next day he died. When I saw you help my mom walk back to bed, it kind of scared me. I thought she might die, too, but I believe your promise now.” “I’ll let you in on a secret, but you can’t tell anyone, okay?” “I have to tell my mom, cuz she doesn’t want me to have secrets she doesn’t know. But I won’t tell anyone else.”
  • 160. 14 “Fair enough. My dad died a long time ago, too. I was older than you at the time, but I still remember how sad I felt. Sometimes, it’s hard for me to picture his face when I think of him. But that’s okay, because when you love someone like we love our dads, even though they might die, our love for them, and their love for us doesn’t die, even when we don’t remember what they look like. Ready for bed now?” Trevor nodded. Jake stood up and pulled the covers up to Trevor’s neck, tucking him and his sister into bed. Right before he raised himself up again, Trevor wrapped his little arms around his neck and hugged him as hard as he could. Jake hugged him back. “Thanks for taking care of me and Lex and Mom, Jake. Goodnight.” “Goodnight, buddy. Have sweet dreams. I’m right down the hall if you need me, okay?” Trevor nodded and closed his eyes. Jake turned off the lamp, leaving the night light on, and left the room. Jake was exhausted. He walked back to his bedroom – which was temporarily on loan to Trish – to check on how she was doing. “Hey, you’re awake. Let’s check your temperature.” Jake got the thermometer and ran it across Trish’s forehead. “One hundred one, honey. Much better. How about a little bite to eat?” “You know what I’d really like?” “Tell me, and it’s yours.” “What I’d really like is for you to come over here and talk to me for awhile. How about it?” She scooted over and patted the bed beside her. “Unless you’re afraid of my cooties.”
  • 161. 14 “I’ll take that chance.” Jake lay on top of the bed, and put his arm around Trish’s shoulders and pulled her over to rest her head on his shoulder. “How do you feel?” “Pretty lucky. Grateful, too. I can’t thank you enough for all you’ve done without you, Jake.” “Knowing you, you would have found a way to cope. I don’t know how you do it all the time, Trish. I’ve only tagged in the last couple of days, and I’m exhausted. It’s no wonder you got so sick. How do you do it day in and day out?” “I don’t think about it, Jake. Stuff needs to get done, and there’s nobody else to do it, so I do it. It’s just the way it is.” “How long has it been that way, Trish? I’m thinking long before Pete died.” Trish swallowed hard. Time to trust Jake enough to tell him the whole story. “Jake, Pete had some problems. I told you about his gambling. I was so naïve when I married him. We’d known each other our whole lives. He always had problems with self esteem, wanted to show everyone how successful he was, always wanted the best of everything. We both had decent jobs, but it was never enough for him. Pete insisted on taking care of the bills, and I trusted him to do so. He kept getting promotions at work, and I thought our standard of living had risen accordingly. I was wrong.” “Pete worked as a financial advisor. I guess playing the stock market is always a gamble to some extent, and maybe that’s how he got started. After awhile, I guess he expanded his
  • 162. 14 interests to include the casinos whenever he traveled for business, the slots, blackjack. It didn’t stop there, though. He bet the horses, and eventually he gambled on line.” “Little things started to make me wonder about things. The electricity got shut off, and he said it they’d made a mistake. My credit cards weren’t accepted a couple times, and he insisted it was another mistake. Then, one day, I went out to go to work, and discovered one of our cars missing. I went inside to call the police, and Pete took the phone out of my hand and hung it up. He told me he’d sold it and planned on buying something newer and forgot to tell me. He told me that he would carpool until we replaced it. It took another month before I found out he’d lost his job. Shortly after that, we got notice that the bank had started foreclosure steps, and he finally couldn’t blame it on someone else’s mistake. Not that the ugly truth came out then. No, instead he told me he’d lost his job a long time ago, and he hadn’t wanted to upset or worry me.” “Trying to be the supportive wife, I told him we’d get through it together, yada, yada. Then, I decided to print out our credit report. I can’t even remember how many collection agencies I found listed, and I started calling them. That’s when and how I found out what had really happened.” “That’s when you filed for divorce?” “Yes. But that’s not the worst of it.” Trish took another deep breath. “Honey, you don’t have to tell me any of this.” “Yeah. I do. I told Pete I’d filed for divorce, and that he needed to find his own place. I’d already started looking for an apartment – there was no way I could afford to buy another
  • 163. 14 house with my credit shot thanks to him. Anyway, Pete begged me not to do it, but I had made up my mind. Aside from the debt and the gambling, the lying made it all worse. It was having to uproot my kids and look for the cheapest, furnished apartment I could find, because our furniture had to be sold along with everything else we owned to pay off some of the debt.” “Lexie wasn’t even a year old yet. Trevor was just four. I told Pete he could see the kids whenever he wanted, but he couldn’t live with us. Then, he started telling me he couldn’t live without us, that he wished he was dead. At first, I would talk to him and try to calm him down, tell him he needed to move forward, that things would eventually be better, and I tried to talk him into getting counseling.” “The kids and I were living in a crappy place in a not so great neighborhood, and one day, a guy showed up where I worked and said he came to repossess my car. I told him there must be some mistake, that I owned the car, but he showed me the paperwork on a loan that Pete had taken out on it the previous week. Our divorce wasn’t final yet, and he found a way to get the loan, even though my parents had bought it for me before we got married. I guess the guy felt sorry for me when he saw the two car seats in the back, and I convinced him to give me twenty four hours to come up with the money. I called my parents that night and broke down and borrowed enough to pay off the car and move back to El Paso.” “Pete came over that night after I put the kids to bed, and I reamed him for the car business, and he tried to lie again. I told him he had to leave and that we were moving back to El Paso. He said … he said he was going to kill himself, that he didn’t have anything to live for. Jake, I … I made him leave. I was so upset about the car, and the situation the kids and I were in because of his choices, and I just wanted him to go. And … he killed himself that night. My
  • 164. 14 God, I sent him away, and he killed himself. I have to live with myself knowing I might have prevented his suicide, that my children lost their father, and I didn’t lift a finger to prevent it.” Trish couldn’t meet Jake’s eyes, and she’d started to cry. “How am I going to explain that to my kids, Jake? How am I going to tell them that not only did their dad commit suicide, but that it was their mother’s fault?” Jake held her against him. “Trish, it’s crazy to blame yourself. Listen to me.” He cupped her cheek in his hand and lifted her head, so she’d look at him. “The only actions you can control are your own. You are not responsible for Pete’s actions, Trish. Obviously, he had a whole lot of problems that you could not change or cure. He couldn’t even change or fix himself honey. You and the kids suffered for his choices. You did the only thing you could do to try to salvage things for you and the kids. Thank God they had you – have you.” “I’ve never told anyone about that night. I’ve lived with the guilt of it all this time. It took me getting this sick to realize that it’s affected everything I do. I work all the time, because I’m trying to make it all up to Lexie and Trevor. I don’t trust anyone, because the last person I trusted turned my world upside down. I came back here for a fresh start, and I just realized I’m still stuck in the same place as when I was married to Pete and living in Dallas. I’ve been trying to make things up to my kids, and instead I’ve compromised their security all over again.” “Shhh. I’m going to say this one more time, Trish, so listen up. You have not compromised your kids’ security. You’ve done everything in your power to keep them safe and well adjusted, and you’ve done a great job. You’re not responsible for Pete’s actions or choices. I know you’re not supposed to speak ill of the dead, but as far as I’m concerned, Pete was a selfish, self-centered jerk who never deserved you or those kids, and I wish to hell you wouldn’t
  • 165. 14 waste any more tears on him. He doesn’t deserve it. As far as what you’re going to tell the kids, I have every confidence that when the time comes, you’ll know what to say. Just like you always do.” “I know I can trust you, Jake, and I’m going to try to be better at this whole relationship thing. You’ve been so patient. Don’t give up on me, okay?” Trish hugged him hard around his waist. “Not likely, honey. I told you, I love you. I’ll be patient, don’t you worry. I’m hoping in time, you won’t find it so difficult to ask me to help you sometimes. I like that you’re independent, but it makes me feel good to help you. Besides, I have a hidden agenda.” “You do? And what would that be?” “I don’t want you to need me because you have to. I want you to need me because you choose to. There’s a big difference. Plus, I figure if I can wiggle my way into your life deeply enough, you won’t kick me to the curb.” Trish smiled up at him. “You’ve given me no reason to kick you to the curb, Jake. Quite the contrary. You’ve done nothing but make me want to keep you around.” “Now see there? My plan is working.” He bent down and kissed her gently. “Although your lips are always hot to kiss, your fever is still there making them hotter. You need to go to sleep and catch up on more rest, so you get well real soon. Then we’ll discuss how you can best repay me for playing Mr. Mom. Deal?” “You got it.”
  • 166. 14 Chapter 10 Trish returned to work the following week, but promised not to overdo. No more getting up so early or staying up so late. Jake brought lunch whenever he could, and when he couldn’t she made sure to take a short lunch break. She also made it a point to eat something for breakfast, even if it was just a granola bar. Sometimes, Jake would come by to eat dinner with Trish and the kids, and sometimes, they’d all eat out together. Friday became family night when mother and children would go to Jake’s house for dinner and either an outing, movie night, or game night, depending on the mood. This particular Friday, Trish got to work a little while ahead of Diana, and started organizing everything for the day. Di came in as usual when she arrived. “I’m here, Trish. I’ll go back and get the calendar to go over your agenda.” A couple of minutes passed, and when Di didn’t return as she usually did, Trish went up to the front to look for her and overheard her talking on the phone. She had begun to turn around and await her back in the office when she heard Diana’s anguished voice and returned. “Roger, please just leave me alone. I don’t want to reconcile, and I don’t want to go to counseling. I’m glad you’re getting help, and I wish you well, but I’ve moved on with my life, and you need to, also.” There was a short pause as Diana listened to the person on the other end of the line, apparently her ex-husband.
  • 167. 14 “I don’t care what you do to me, I’m not going anywhere with you ever again. How do you keep getting my number? Is my mother giving it to you? Roger, I don’t care who wants us back together, it’s just not going to happen. If you come near me, I’ll call the police. You’re under a restraining order. Who told you where I work? Don’t threaten me. I’m hanging up now.” Diana hung up the phone and held her head with both hands. “Di, are you okay?” “Oh Trish, I’m so scared. Roger said he knows where I work. He might be bluffing or fishing for information, but what if he does know? I can’t afford to change my job. I love it here. I love working for you. I don’t want to leave.” “Sweetie, you shouldn’t have to leave. We’ll just be careful. Let’s keep the doors locked in between customers for starters. From now on, you don’t walk to the car by yourself. Do you think he knows where you live?” “He didn’t say he did, just that he knew where I worked. He didn’t say the Lit Center by name, so he might be lying. I think my mother’s giving him my number. You and my parents are the only ones who have it, and I know you didn’t give it to him.” “Why in the world would she do that? Doesn’t she realize the hell he’s put you through?” “Roger can be very charming and very persuasive. I’m sure he told her he was going to counseling and that he’d never hurt me again. We’re Catholic, and my parents don’t believe in divorce.”
  • 168. 14 Trish went around to the desk and hugged her friend. “We’ll just be extra careful for awhile. Why don’t you call your parents and tell them about this call. Maybe they’ll respect your wishes and abide by your decision if they know Roger’s threatening you again. In the meantime, do you need a place to stay?” “You’re such a good friend, and I really appreciate it, Trish, but as far as I know, he doesn’t know where I live. I’m okay for now. Thanks, anyway.” “Okay, but let me know if you change your mind. The offer is always open. Do you need to take the day off?” “Oh, no. I’ll be alright. I’ll just get your calendar, so we can review your day.” The rest of the day passed quietly. Jake brought lunch by, and they discussed plans for the evening. Right at closing, Trish locked up the office, and she and Diana walked to their cars together. Everything appeared as it should be, and they each went their separate ways. Trish picked up the kids at her parents’ house, and Lexie stayed unusually quiet on the drive home. Trish asked her if anything was wrong, but Lexie refused to answer her. She looked at Trevor, and he looked away. Thinking she’d get to the bottom of it later that evening, she drove to Jake’s house. Jake had ordered pizza for dinner, Trish had just pulled into the driveway when it arrived. While Jake paid for the pizza, everyone piled out of the car. Lexie ran to Jake for her customary hug and kiss, but this time, instead of wanting him to set her down, she lay her head on his shoulder and wrapped her little arms around his neck and wouldn’t let go.
  • 169. 14 “How’s my best girl, Lex? Are you tired?” She shook her head no and said nothing. “Did you have a bad day, sweetheart?” Again, she shook her head no and said not one word. Jake looked at Trish who shrugged her shoulders, and they went into the house together. They’d decided to have a movie night, and when Jake sat down on the couch, both kids crawled up into his lap and got settled. Jake looked at Trish again, and they both looked at the kids wondering what in the world had gotten into them. “Hey, you guys, Jake is tired. Let him relax while we watch the movie together, okay?” “That’s okay, Trish. I don’t mind. I’m just wondering what brought on this desire for closeness. Everything okay, kids?” Lexie started crying, and Trevor patted her hand. “Mom, can we please have a family meeting?” “Sure, we can, son. You want to go to the other room?” “No, ma’am. We want Jake to be part of the meeting, too. Is that okay?” “Sure, honey. Jake, how about it?” “Sure. What’s on your mind, kids?” “Stop crying, Lex. Let’s tell them.” Lexie dried her eyes, and Trevor got off Jake’s lap and stood in front of both adults with a serious expression on his seven year old face.
  • 170. 14 “Mom, you know how you always tell us to talk to you if something is bothering us?” At her nod, he continued. “Something is bothering us now, and we want to talk to you and Jake about it.” Lexie buried her face in Jake’s shoulder and refused to say anything, leaving it all up to her big brother. “Sometimes people ask us why we don’t have a dad, and we don’t know what to say. And when there are things where parents are post to go together, we like it that you go, Mom, but then we get a lot more questions about where our dad is, and it bothers us. Today, when Gram picked me up at school, while she and Lex waited outside for my teacher to walk us out, a boy from my class named Jason asked us if Gram was our mom. We said no, she was our grandma, and you were at work. He said his mom picked him up, cuz she doesn’t work, and how come our mom works, and didn’t our dad have a job. We said we didn’t have a dad, and he said everyone has a dad. It hurt Lexie’s feelings, and I didn’t know what to say.” Trish responded and patted Lexie’s leg. “Son, I’m so sorry. Lex, don’t be sad. You guys had a daddy, and he loved you lots, but he died and went to heaven. I’m sure he watches over you, even though we can’t see him.” Trevor continued, obviously frustrated. “Mom, that’s the problem. Nobody can see him. So, me and Lex talked it over, and we decided we want to tell people Jake is our dad. It’s not exactly the truth, but he’s like a dad, and he does a lot of the stuff dads do, and he took care of us when you were sick, and he helps me with my homework, and he says Lex is his best girl, and I can talk to him when something worries me, and he always listens and makes me feel better. So, can he be our pretend dad?”
  • 171. 14 “Can I say something before your mom does?” Trevor nodded. Lexie hid her face against his shoulder. “I think you guys are great, and I kind of think of you as my kids already. I never mind doing dad stuff with you, and it makes me feel really good that you think I’m the right man for the job. I love you guys, and I love your mom. It doesn’t really matter if I’m your dad for real. What’s important is that we love and care about each other.” Jake looked at Trish for guidance, and he saw tears brimming her eyes that she wiped away as she began to speak. “Guys, first let me say I’m so glad you came to talk to us about this. You know I always want to know if something is bothering you, so we can talk about it, decide what to do, and fix anything that needs fixing. I agree Jake does dad stuff really well, and if he comes with us to school functions and if people think he’s your dad, that’s okay. But I don’t think you should tell people he’s your dad when he isn’t, even though he acts like a dad and does such a good job. Lying is lying, and it’s not right.” After thinking over his mother’s words, Trevor continued. “Well then, why don’t you and Jake get married? Then, we could say he’s our dad, and it wouldn’t be lying.” Trish smiled. “Honey, marriage is a big step. It’s when two people make promises to each other, and just like Granddad says, a promise is important, so you don’t want to promise anything unless you know for sure that it’s going to happen. Jake and I like being together, and maybe someday, we’ll be ready to make that promise, but until then, I think it would be best if we hold off on getting married.” Obviously not willing to accept defeat, Trevor asked, “Well, will you at least think about it?”
  • 172. 14 “Sure, I will, son. I’ll let you know what we decide, okay? Now, let’s have movie night. Lex, are you ready to watch the movie?” Lexie turned around and quietly nodded, deciding to stay on Jake’s lap. They turned on the movie, but everyone seemed to be lost in their own thoughts. Lexie fell asleep while Jake held her, and Trevor sat next to his mother. Both kids obviously needed the comfort of the adults closest to them. Trish felt heartbroken that her babies were upset. No matter how hard she tried, she could never make up for the loss of their father. And poor Jake. Talk about putting him on the spot. What should she do? It hadn’t surprised her the kids had picked Jake to be their father. She’d pick him too, in their position. He was everything she could ever want in a … husband? She thought it over through the rest of the movie and concluded that, yes, he was what she wanted. Not because he’d make a good father for the kids or because he had proved to be reliable and trustworthy, and not because of his stability and goodness. She wanted Jake, because she loved him with all her heart. She had no idea how it had happened, but despite all her anti-marital intentions, she loved him, and she knew she always would. Jake helped her pack up the kids and everything that came with them. They’d both stayed very quiet, and he worried about her reaction to the kids’ request. When she closed the passenger door, he stopped her from getting into the car by pulling her into his arms. “You okay, Trish? You’re awfully quiet. Are you upset about the family meeting? You’re not thinking about kicking me to the curb, are you?” Trish smiled up at him. “Nope. At this point, the kids might revolt if I did.”
  • 173. 14 “We can’t have that, can we?” Jake bent down to kiss her soundly. “No, we can’t. Are you still leaving for Albuquerque in a couple days?” “Yeah. What’s on your agenda? I don’t suppose you’ve decided to take off from work and go with me?” “After missing those sick days? Not likely. I’ll miss you, though.” “I’ll miss you back.” “Jake, about the kids and the family meeting, I hope you … “ “I’m honored Trish. I meant what I said. I love those kids, and I love you. It doesn’t scare me or put me off that they feel the same way. Don’t worry about it, okay?” “I just don’t want you to feel trapped or anything, or think I put them up to it.” “Don’t I wish. Look, I told you awhile back how I feel. It’s nice to know that I at least have their seal of approval. I know if I didn’t, I wouldn’t stand a chance of winning you over. This way, I have allies. You might as well surrender now, honey.” She smiled and kissed him goodnight after asking him to come over for dinner the next night and telling him that the kids would probably spend the night with their grandparents. She had some thinking to do. When Trish got home, she put the kids to bed quickly, so she could make two very important phone calls. She declared the next day a spa day, and both Eva and Callie agreed to join her. If Jake had her children as allies, she had to even the odds, although the more she thought about it, the more she thought it likely that they would all end up on the same side.
  • 174. 14 The next morning, she got the kids ready and dropped them off at her parents for another trip to the zoo and a sleepover, and she met the other girls at the spa. Spa days were special days, not only because you got pampered, but because you had lots of girl time to hash out any issues or problems. Trish didn’t waste any time. Eva and Callie waited patiently, watching her like a cat watches a mouse, to find out the reason for this spa day. Trish got straight to the point. “Okay … I’m having a mini-crisis here.” Callie and Eva looked at each other, then back at Trish, and Callie said, “Spill.” “I think I’m in love with Jake, but I’m still not sure I want to be, but I think I do. I’m not as petrified as I thought I would be, but I’m not exactly comfortable either.” Eva started. “Well, I think that’s wonderful news for several reasons. First of all, you’re at least considering the possibility. Secondly, you’re not totally scared, and thirdly, Jake is a fantastic man who obviously loves you and the kids. I can’t find any negatives. Can you, Callie?” “Nope, and it’s not just because Jake is my brother. If he wasn’t my brother and I wasn’t madly in love with Cade, I’d think he was a great catch. In fact, I still think he’s a great catch, and I wouldn’t say that if I didn’t mean it. I love Jake, but I also love you, Trish. What has he said about it?” “Here’s the thing. He told me awhile back that he loved me, but I didn’t feel ready to handle it. He’s been great about not pressuring me, but last night, things kind of came to a head when the kids asked him to be their dad.”
  • 175. 14 “Holy shit!” Callie started laughing. “How much do you figure he paid them?” Trish scowled. “Very funny. The kids had talked it over after some of their friends asked them why they didn’t have a dad. They decided Jake would fit that bill and asked us if it they could tell people he was their dad, since he did a bunch of ‘dad things.’ If I hadn’t been caught so off guard, I might have thought it was cute, too.” Eva chimed in, “So, what did Jake say?” “He told them that he loved them and me. I told them they couldn’t tell people he was their dad, because he wasn’t, but it felt like things were kind of up in the air, and Trevor asked me to think about it. Jake was great, as usual, saying how honored he was and how now the kids were in his corner. You know, he’s just so perfect, it scares me. I keep waiting for the bottom to fall out underneath me.” “That’s just your past scaring you, Trish,” Eva commented. “Nobody’s perfect, obviously, but you can find the perfect partner for you, faults and all. Do you see any similarities between Jake and Pete?” “Absolutely not. Pete, aside from his gambling problems, was weak. He had all these dreams, but no plan to make them come true. Gambling obviously doesn’t count as a plan.” “So, what’s the problem?” Callie pressed. “Well, Callie, I think the problem is that there is no problem, and that worries me. I know I’m sounding loony, but it’s like I’m on some kind of a ledge and below me is this beautiful, crystal clear water beckoning me to jump, and I’m hot, and it looks so cool and refreshing, but in the back of my mind, I remember that a long time ago, there were sharks in that
  • 176. 14 water and, although it’s supposed to be safe now, I can’t get the previous danger out of my head.” “What a great analogy. So, putting it in terms more pertinent, you think Jake’s great, and he’d be a wonderful addition to the family, but you’re still a little hesitant, because there’s always a chance that things won’t work out. Is that pretty close?” Callie looked at Trish questioningly. “Exactly. I’m trying to get past that, but I don’t know how to.” Trish sighed dramatically and looked over at her friends. Eva added, “You know, I love Josh with all my heart, but in the back of my mind, I know that there’s no guarantee that we’ll have a happily ever after. I have no doubt he would never abuse me like my ex-husband did, but that’s still no guarantee. Either of us could be killed in a car wreck or any number of things could go wrong. There are no assurances that everything will work out for any couple, but if you learn from your past mistakes – and I’ll bet you’ve learned plenty – when you find someone special like you found Jake, it’s worth taking a chance. At least I think it is. So, what have you learned from your first marriage that you can apply to your second, aside from the bad stuff. What will you do differently if you ever remarry?” Trish looked at both of her friends. “I’ve learned not to leave the big stuff like finances up to my husband. I want to be a full partner when it comes to budgeting and making financial decisions. I’ve learned to voice my concerns as they arise, rather than shrugging them off. I suspected things were off before I found out what Pete had done, but I didn’t pursue it, because I didn’t want to upset him or face up to the fact that I suspected him of any wrong doing. And I’ve learned that I can’t change anyone but myself. I knew Pete had issues, especially with self-
  • 177. 14 esteem, but I believed I could ‘cure’ him of that by standing by him and building him up. It doesn’t work that way. Lastly, I’ve learned – and Jake helped me with this one – the only actions I’m responsible for are my own.” “Damn, girlfriend, you have learned a whole lot. That’s worth a high five.” Callie lifted her hand up in the air, and the other women joined her in the universal salute for a job well done. Eva followed up with another comment. “So, where does that leave you, Trish?” “Ladies, I do believe that leaves me … in love with Jake. I’m still not completely comfortable yet, but I have to be honest with myself, and I think it’s time that I’m also honest with him. I’ve put off telling him, but I can’t anymore, not only because he wants and needs to hear it, but also because I want and need to say it. And, by God, I think that deserves another high five.” Her friends agreed and complied, and they spent the next couple hours relaxing and being pampered and beautified. The week passed by in a blur. Jake left for Albuquerque and called her often, and she couldn’t wait until he got back into town. She’d had a lot of time to think, and she’d decided to tell him she loved him when he got back to town. The more she thought about it, the more comfortable she got with the idea, and the more she wanted to share her feelings with Jake. Should she just blurt it out? Hey, Jake, I’ve decided I love you. Or should she build up to it. Hello, Jake. I’ve wanted to tell you something for awhile now. Jeez Louise, she didn’t have a clue. She’d have to give it some thought before he returned from Albuquerque this weekend. On Friday at closing time Trish walked to the front of the center to collect Diana and lock up for the night when the front door opened. Diana had changed her phone number again and
  • 178. 14 chose not to give her parents her new number, and the harassment had stopped, at least for the time being. She turned around to see who had entered, but whipped her head back around when Diana’s chair flipped over. “Di, are you okay?” The look on Diana’s face reflected sheer terror as she stared at the man who had come inside. Diana couldn’t answer her, but it wasn’t hard to figure out who was standing inside the doorway. “I’m sorry, sir, but we’re closed for a meeting. You’ll have to leave now.” Trish put herself between Diana and the intruder. The man sneered at Trish. “A meeting, huh? Is that why the parking lot is empty? You know what I think? I’ll tell you what I think. I think it’s just the three of us here. And I think it’s time we all sat down and had us a talk. I’ve been watching y’all walk out together every night this week. Just the two of y’all, all alone. I couldn’t help but wonder … what the hell did the two of y’all think you could do against one of me?” Trish continued as if he hadn’t even spoken. “Look, if I were you, I’d turn myself around and walk right back out that door. You’re in violation of a restraining order. I am the owner of this establishment, and I am asking you to leave. Now. If you don’t, I’ll have to call the police and have you removed.” “Is that right?” “Roger, why don’t we go some place, so we can talk? My boss was just going to lock up. Let’s go.”
  • 179. 14 “Now, you want to go talk, Diana? The time for talking is fucking over, Diana. You had your chance to meet me for a talk, but you wouldn’t, would you? Ever since you got this fucking job, you don’t think you need me anymore, do you, Diana? In fact, if it wasn’t for this little bitch right here, you never would’ve left at all, would you?” Hoping her voice wouldn’t waver, Trish repeated, “I’m telling you for the last time. Get off of my property.” “Oh, well if you’re telling me, I guess I better listen.” He turned around as if he were going to leave, but just when Trish was about to release the pent up breath she’d been holding, he turned around and punched the hell out of her, knocking her to the floor. Diana screamed and ran around the desk to go to Trish, and Roger turned back around. And locked the door.
  • 180. 14 Chapter 11 Jake rolled his shoulders. It only took about four hours to drive from Albuquerque to El Paso, but he’d put in a full work week before he’d left around two, and he started to feel it. He’d thought briefly about staying one more night in the hotel, but … hell, he needed to see Trish. Not for the sex, although, shit, he’d never had better. It was Friday, and that made it family night. He’d missed the kids, too. Trish closed up at six, so she and the kids should be home by now or would be soon. Should he surprise her, or should he call her and let her know he’d returned early? Knowing Trish, if he didn’t call, she’d already have dinner cooking, if she didn’t already, or she might take the kids out. Wherever she was, that’s where he wanted to be. Jake dialed her house, but got no answer. She took the kids out then. He dialed her cell, but again, no answer. Maybe she got caught up at her parents’ house. He dialed that number, and her mother picked up. When he asked for Trish, she said she hadn’t been by to pick up the kids yet. Damn it, she’d said she wouldn’t work late anymore. He dialed the Lit Center, but no answer there either. Neither did it roll over to the recording to leave a message like it usually did after closing. That was strange. Diane never forgot to put on the answering machine. Jake thought a minute and felt the first twinge of concern. Next, he called his grandfather to see if everyone had gotten together at the ranch, but he hadn’t seen Trish or the kids all week, and he had planned a quiet evening alone. He called his sister next, but neither Cade nor Callie had heard from her that day, and when he called Eva and Josh, they couldn’t tell him anything either.
  • 181. 14 That twinge had quickly morphed into a chill which was well on its way to full blown panic. He decided to drive straight to the Lit Center and look for her car. If he didn’t see it, he’d go on to her house. **** When the office phone kept ringing right after Trish’s cell phone had rung, she looked at Roger across the room. “People are already looking for us, Roger. You’d better leave while you can.” Roger had dragged both women into Trish’s office after he’d turned out the lights in the front. “Shut up, bitch. It’s all your fault that my wife left me.” “Really, Roger? Because I kind of thought it had something to do with how you kept beating the hell out of her.” “You want some more of me, lady? Maybe I’ll show you some of what I’ve been showing Diana.” “Roger, please, let’s just go.” Diana continued to cry in the corner of the room. “Shut up, Diana! I came here tonight to bring you home where you belong. Then, this fucking bitch had to butt her nose into our business. If we leave now, she’ll turn around and call the cops. I need time to explain things to you, Diana. I need to tell you that I love you. I want you back, baby. It’ll be different this time, I swear.”
  • 182. 14 Trying to hold a cold compress to Trish’s cheek, Diana answered, “You always say that, Roger. Look what you’ve done to Trish. She’s my boss and my friend. I’m supposed to think you’ve changed?” “That uppity bitch had it coming to her. She has no right messing around in my business. I don’t want you seeing her anymore, do you hear me? Things were better before you made these new friends of yours. First, it was that Mexican whore and her friend talking to you about how to write a resume and how to fix yourself up with that makeup shit. You don’t need them, Diana. You’ve got me. From now on, it’s just me and you. You need to stay away from them. You don’t need to work. I make enough money. Your job is in our home taking care of your husband and your house. And that’s the way it’s going to be from now on.” “Fine, Roger, fine. Let’s just go then. Trish, thanks for everything, but I have to go now. Roger needs me.” Trish looked frantically for something she could use as a weapon. She caught a glimpse of something long and shiny under a stack of mail and recognized it as the silver letter opener her parents had given her as part of a desk set when they’d opened the Lit Center. She leaned over the desk and looked right into Roger’s wild eyes. “Get. Out. You’re already in over your head. You’re in violation of a restraining order, you’re trespassing, and now you’re guilty of assault. You’re going to jail. Do yourself a favor and leave. Then, hide. Hide very well, because when my boyfriend sees my face, he’s going to want to meet you. He’s going to want to have a little … talk … with you. If you’re lucky, the cops will find you first. You’re a real big man when it comes to hitting women. Let’s see how you like it on the receiving end, you son of a bitch.”
  • 183. 14 As Trish’s hand wrapped around the letter opener, Roger started towards her, his face mottled with fury. The cords in his neck were standing out, and he turned so red, she thought for a minute he might have a heart attack and save them all some trouble. Unfortunately, he kept coming. Diana rushed towards Roger and tried to intercept him before he reached Trish, but he swatted her aside like he would a fly. He grabbed Trish by her hair and slapped her hard. Just as he pulled back to take another swing at her, she pulled her arm back and then forward, stabbing Roger in the side which made him throw Trish against the wall. He grabbed his side and saw blood oozing from the slit the letter opener had made. Trish grabbed Diana, pulling her up off the floor and shoved her out the door. She had every intention of following her, but just as she began to exit her office, Roger tackled her from behind. Diana turned around to try to help her, but Trish pushed her away when she reached down. “Run, Diana, run! Go get help!” Unsure what to do, Diana finally raced for the front door. **** Jake pulled into the parking lot when he saw Trish’s car still there. Diane’s car was there too, along with another car he didn’t recognize. Surely she didn’t have a business meeting this late. And if she did, why had they turned out the lights? Even if the meeting was being held in one of the meeting rooms or Trish’s office, he couldn’t see Trish or Diana turning out the front lights. Something wasn’t right.
  • 184. 14 He tried the door and found it locked. Planning on going back to his truck to call Callie again and ask her to send Cade with the key he nearly jumped out of his skin when a body slammed against the front glass doors, scaring the hell out of him. He turned back around and saw a frantic Diane trying to push open the locked door, crying so hard he didn’t think she could see him. He ran back to the doors. “Diane, do you have the keys?” He banged on the glass to get her attention. “Diane, it’s Jake. Can you open the door? It’s locked, and I can’t get in.” Diana finally looked at him with some kind of recognition and reached to unlock the door. She couldn’t do it the first time, but finally she turned the lock with hands that shook badly. Jake jerked it open. “Jake, he’s got her. My husband has Trish, and he’s going to kill her. They’re in her office.” “Diane, listen to me. Take my keys and go to my truck right outside. My cell phone is inside. Call the police and lock the doors. Then, call my brothers. They’re on speed dial. Cade and Josh. Can you do that?” Before she finished nodding her head, he’d started into the building. **** Trish tried to kick at Roger and get free of him to make a run for it, but he had literally landed on top of her. He lifted up enough to yank her around to face him. “You fucking bitch! You stabbed me! I’ll kill you for that. First, you steal my wife from me, filling her head full of all sorts of lies, then you stab me? You’ll pay for that.” Trish
  • 185. 14 braced for another blow, but instead he lifted her head up and slammed it into the floor two or three times. Trish began to see stars for a minute, but they began to fade to black when Roger grabbed her around the throat and started to squeeze tightly. She couldn’t breathe. In the back of her mind it registered that Roger really could kill her. She couldn’t die! This couldn’t be it, for God’s sake. She had two kids to raise. She had Jake. She had way too much to live for to let this sick bastard end it all. She hadn’t even told Jake that she loved him yet. Trish began to struggle in literally a fight for her life. She clawed at his face, his eyes, but he didn’t loosen his hold. She tried to pry his fingers off her neck, but they wouldn’t budge. He leaned into his hold on her neck and in so doing, she could move her legs a little more. She kicked up and tried to rack him, but she didn’t get a solid connection. Still it made him loosen his hold on her. She sucked in air as hard and fast as she could and tried to wiggle free, but Roger had already recovered and aimed his beefy hands toward her neck again. She reached up and hit him as hard as she could right in the nose and he yelled in a combination of anger and pain. He closed his fist, ready to repay her, and she thought even if the hit didn’t kill her outright, it would knock her out, and he’d finish strangling her. Either way, she’d be dead. Roger’s fist began its descent, and Trish closed her eyes, but he never landed the blow. Instead, he got off her and she heard a loud crash. When Trish opened her eyes she realized Roger hadn’t gotten up on his own power, that he’d been lifted up and apparently slammed into the wall. Trish recognized Jake as the man who now beat the hell out of the man who’d beaten the hell out of her.
  • 186. 14 Trish had never seen this side of Jake before. He’d only been gentle with her. She didn’t know he possessed this kind of raw fury. With cold determination, he continued to hit Roger, even when he’d lost consciousness. Afraid he’d kill him, she crawled over to where the men were and, not having the strength to stand, reached up and grabbed at one of Jake’s legs. Jake had never felt so furious in his life. He’d been in fights before, but he’d always kept his head, and when the guy fell down, Jake regained control and ended it. He never even realized the filth who had dared to hurt Trish had lost consciousness. His blind rage allowed him no intention for stopping any time soon until he felt someone grab his leg. When he looked down and saw Trish reaching for him, he released his hold immediately on the bloody pulp in his hands and he dropped down to the floor. “God, Trish, are you alright? Let me take a look at you. Where are you hurt, honey?” Just like that, he returned to the man she loved. She could hear sirens in the background and wrapped her arms around his neck. “Honey, talk to me. You’re covered in blood. Tell me where you’re hurt.” Jake frantically began running his hands over her body in an effort to find out where the blood came from. Finally, Trish rasped out a reply. “Most of it’s his blood. I stabbed him with the letter opener. Jake, I’ll be okay. I love you, Jake. Don’t ever let me go. I love you.” Jake pulled her into his arms and held her tightly. “Jesus, Trish, I love you. I’ll never let you go, honey.” “I was so afraid I’d never have the chance to tell you. I love you. So much. God, I love you.” Trish buried her face in his neck, and Jake picked her up and carried her toward the front
  • 187. 14 where two police officers had just entered. Calling out to them, he told them where they could find what was left of the man who’d dared to touch his woman. As realization set in, Trish started shaking and crying. Jake turned on the entry and reception lights and sat down in a chair with Trish in his lap. He heard the screech of tires and Josh, Eva, Cade, and Callie ran in, the women refusing to listen to the men who kept telling them to wait outside. “What the hell happened here, Jake?” Cade walked in first to find a crying, shaking, bloodied Trish on Jake’s lap. Jake looked up at the group and gave them the rundown as far as he knew it. Then, Trish lifted her head, and all four of the new arrivals either gasped, groaned, or winced when they saw her bruised, bloody face. Jake got his first good look at her and wanted to go back after the asshole in the back room all over again. One side of her face had swollen so much that the eye on that side had almost shut, she had a cut on the opposite cheekbone, and her lip bled from a cut in the corner. He lifted his hand to tuck a strand of Trish’s hair behind her ear, and Trish winced. “Oh, Jake, your poor hands, honey. You need to get some ice on them. They’re already swelling.” “Sweetheart, if anyone needs ice, it’s you. My knuckles will be fine. In fact, they’ve never been better. It is so worth it knowing the bastard who touched you got a bigger dose of his own action. Are you okay?”
  • 188. 14 “I’ll be fine. As long as I have you, I’ll be better than fine. Thank God you came. I thought you weren’t coming home until tomorrow.” She buried her face in his neck and held on for everything she was worth. “Change of plans. I missed you and the kids and wanted to make it in time for family night. We’ll call them in a minute, so they won’t worry. The cops will want to talk to both of us and Diane, and that’s likely to take awhile. You might want to have them spend the night over there.” Trish nodded. “I think that’s a good idea. I don’t want them to see me like this until I’ve had a chance to prepare them, so they won’t be as scared when they see my face. I haven’t seen how it looks, but it feels huge. I probably look like the creature from the black lagoon.” Jake kissed her forehead – pretty much the only spot on her face that didn’t appear to be bruised or bloody – and said, “You look beautiful, honey. Thank God you’re okay. What the hell happened?” “It’s all my fault.” Diana walked over to the group. “Roger’s been threatening me for months, and he came here tonight for me. Trish put herself between us, and he took it out on her. I’m so, so sorry. You’ll have my resignation in the morning.” Trish struggled against Jake’s hold stood shakily and walked over to Diana and reached out for her hand. “I won’t accept your resignation, Di. What in the world would I do without you? Someone I love once told me you’re only responsible for your own actions, not anyone else’s. None of this was your fault. Roger obviously has major problems. Thank God you found the strength to leave him. I so respect you for that. After tonight, I’m guessing it’ll be a
  • 189. 14 long time before he sees the light of day outside a prison setting. I’ll be pressing charges. I hope you’re okay with that.” “Of course, I’m okay with that. I’ll press charges, too. Thank you, Trish. Thank you for intervening for me, and thank you for wanting me to stay. I’ll never be able to pay you back for your kindness and your friendship.” One of the police officers came out from the back and approached the group. Josh crossed over to stand by Jake in case he needed any legal representation, but after Trish and Diane gave their statements, they cleared Jake. When Roger finally regained consciousness, they led him outside in handcuffs, and he cursed everyone around him on his way out to the police car. Eva sat with Diana while the police questioned her and offered her support as someone who’d survived a similar situation. Callie sat with Trish, and Cade and Josh stayed close to Jake. Medical personnel showed up, and gave Trish and Jake icepacks. Jake’s knuckles and hands were cut up and swollen, and Trish’s comparison to the creature from the black lagoon described her fairly accurately. They finally got home to Jake’s house a little after eleven. By that time, the adrenaline rush had dissipated, and both of them dragged. They walked inside and directly to the bedroom. “I need one of your shirts to sleep in, preferable one you’ve already worn.” “The one I’ve already worn has blood on it, honey. Why would you want one I’d worn, anyway?” “Because it smells like you, and I’ll sleep better.”
  • 190. 14 Jake handed her one of his t-shirts out of his drawer. “No used t-shirt, honey, but you’re in luck. I’ll be sleeping right next to you and holding you close. Isn’t that better than a t-shirt?” “Good point. God, I’m exhausted.” “You’ve had a rough night. Let’s go to bed.” They climbed into bed, and Jake curved his body around Trish’s, spoon style. He leaned over and kissed her temple. “Thank you for coming to my rescue tonight, Jake. I told him you’d go after him when you saw my face. In the middle of everything, that old song from the fifties ran through my mind, ‘my boyfriend’s back and you’re gonna be in trouble’. I just didn’t think it would be so soon. I thought for a minute there, that he would kill me. I couldn’t breathe, and I kept thinking I couldn’t die, because I had to raise the kids and tell you I love you. I love you a lot, Jake.” “I cannot tell you how happy that makes me to hear you say it. Finally. And you’re welcome. I’ll be your knight in shining armor any day. I’m just sorry I didn’t get there sooner. Every time I look at you I want to beat the hell out of that asshole all over again. Are you sure you’re okay, honey?” “I am now. Just stay with me, okay?” “I’ve told you before, Trish. I’m not going anywhere. I love you.” Despite their aches and pains, they both slept soundly late into the morning.
  • 191. 14 Trish had the best of dreams. She was lying in bed with Jake, and he slipped his hand underneath the hem of his t-shirt that she wore and nuzzled her ear. She moaned when he cupped her breast in his hand, waking herself up. “Ummm. That feels good.” “It’s going to feel a whole lot better in a minute. Roll over.” Jake pressed against her shoulder until she laid on her back and started kissing her eyes, her nose, her chin, her cheeks, and moving down to her neck, being careful to avoid the worst of her scrapes and bruises. Trish pulled off her loaner t-shirt and cast it aside. “God, I’ve missed you, Jake. Make love to me. I need you.” “That would be my pleasure, Trish. I’m going to love you all over. And then, I’m going to do it all over again. How does that sound?” “Perfect, just – ah – perfect.” Jake laved her nipples, already tightly beaded just from thinking of what lay ahead. He suckled her until she moaned and writhed beneath him. He continued to move slowly, thoroughly, until Trish thought she’d lose her mind. After enjoying the feelings he invoked, she decided to take her turn to be on top, and pushed at his shoulder until he rolled to his back, and she moved to straddle him. Jake placed his hands on her thighs, rubbing up and down. Her skin felt so incredibly soft, he didn’t think he’d ever get tired of touching her. Trish braced both of her hands on either side of his head and peered down at him, her hair putting her face in shadow. “On second thought, I think I’ll make love to you.” She rubbed against him, and he moaned. She never took her eyes off of him as she leaned down to take his lips with hers,
  • 192. 14 searing him with a lust that left him breathless. He ran his hands up and down her back, pausing at her hips to press her against him more fully. Both moaned loudly. Trish reached down between them and ran her thumb across the tip of him, coating him with the bead of moisture that had accumulated there. Jake hissed in a breath and closed his eyes. She lifted her hips and placed him at the wet entrance of her body, taking only the tip inside her, then lifted back up, teasing, torturing. “Trish, you’re killing me. I have to have you right now. Put me inside, honey. Have mercy.” Again, she teased just the tip of his length, making him groan. She attempted another pass, but he grabbed her hips and slammed inside her. Trish’s sultry laugh sent shivers through him. She began to pull up again saying, “Patience is a virtue, Jake.” “And not one of mine, Trish the dish, at least not where you’re concerned.” He looked into her sparkling blue eyes and arched deeper into her. This time, Trish moaned and closed her eyes. “God, I love how you fill me so full. It feels so good.” She caught her breath as he ground his hips against hers and rubbed her just right for maximum pleasure. Jake reached up and cupped her breasts in his hands, rolling her nipples between his fingers and thumbs. She sighed his name, and he began to move, setting a leisurely pace that she mimicked and followed. Soon, she began to take control again, moving faster, taking him deeper.
  • 193. 14 Jake could feel the tension building in Trish, as she began to move more quickly and her breaths came faster. She’d closed her eyes to concentrate on the sensations Jake caused her to feel. She began to quicken even more, her breathing ragged as she approached her goal. Jake strained so hard to bring her to climax, the chords in his neck stood out. He watched the intensity of the expressions crossing her face and thought her magnificent, lost in passion. He grabbed her rear and pulled her down to meet him over and again until she shouted her release aloud, and he allowed himself to join her seconds later. She fell across his chest gasping for air, and he enveloped her in his embrace. They were both slick with sweat and continued to run their hands over each other, memorizing the moment along with the feel of each other’s bodies. As their breathing slowed down and their bodies began to unwind, they held each other as the shudders passed, kissing, touching, stroking until they lay quietly in each other’s arms. “I love making love with you, Jake. I love you.” “You can’t possibly know how much it means to me to hear you say that. You had me worried there for awhile. I didn’t know if I would ever win you over. I wanted to be with you for months before I ever asked you out. You were so adamant about never marrying again and vowing never to be in another serious relationship, I didn’t know if I’d ever get a shot. I decided to play it safe and offer my friendship first, and you were okay with that, unless I offered to help you with something. Then you’d just get mean.” “I would not! I’ve never been mean to you. Stand offish, maybe, reticent to get involved, certainly, but never mean. You said something to me once about wanting me to choose to need you. I’ve thought a lot about it, and you’re right. Choosing to need someone is
  • 194. 14 different from being reliant on them. I choose to need you, Jake. I can make it on my own, but I choose to be with you, Jake. I love you, and that makes me happy.” “It makes me happy too, honey. You make me happy. So … how about making it permanent? We can wait as long as you want to, but just so you know, I have every intention of marrying you. I think we should call a family meeting and run it by the kids. I think they should be part of this decision. What do you say?” “I say I love you, yes I want to marry you, and yes, let’s talk it over with the kids. Of course, you know you’ve got it made. They already want you for their father.” “I knew if I played my cards right and won over the kids, you would see the light and fall into my trap.” “If this is a trap, color me caught. Your sister wants to know how much you paid them to ask me if you could be their father.” “Although it turned out not to be necessary, I’m not above bribery to accomplish my goals. You, Trish the dish, were my goal from the start.”
  • 195. 14 Epilogue Six months later “Are you sure Dad’s wearing one of these?” “Yes, I am, Trevor, now be still so I can attach the bow tie. Lexie, please get off the floor in your pretty dress.” Trevor wore a grey tux with tails with a light pink shirt, a miniature of the one Jake wore inside the church. Lexie had on a beautiful pink dress with a full skirt that went down to nearly her ankles. It matched her mother’s dress exactly. Callie popped her head in. “Are y’all ready?” “Yes, Auntie Callie, we’re ready. Momma is just fixing Trevor’s tie. Is Daddy out there already?” “Yes, ma’am, he is waiting for y’all at the end of the aisle. I think he’s scared you might change your mind and kick him to the curb.” Lexie shook her head, sending her curls all over the place. “Uh uh, Auntie. He’s mine and Trevor’s and Momma’s forever. We’re marrying him today.” “Well then, you better come on out here. How about you, Momma? Are you ready?”
  • 196. 14 Trish smiled radiantly. “Speaking of Momma’s, you’re getting pretty rounded. It’s going to be quite a contest seeing who gets the biggest, you or Eva, not to mention who comes into the world first. Still no news about whether you two are having boys or girls?” “Nope. We’ve all decided to be surprised. But secretly, we’re hoping for one of each, and we don’t care who gets what.” “Why one of each?” “So they can marry each one of your two. We’ve got to keep this in the family, you know. Nobody else will be good enough for the dads.” Trish laughed with Callie and took hold of both her children’s hands and walked through the door after Callie had a chance to take her seat again. Happiness nearly overwhelmed her as Trevor and Lexie escorted her down the aisle to Jake and took their places between the two of them. As they repeated their vows and exchanged rings, the new, happy family stood together embracing each other and the new life they would share. The children had talked things over in the family meeting and figured they were getting a real good deal here. Not only would they gain a new dad, they would also gain two aunts and two uncles, a granddad, and pretty soon, some cousins. What a bargain. After Jake placed a ring on Trish’s finger, he hunkered down and placed a gold necklace around Lexie’s neck with a heart pendant and told her it declared that she was his girl, too, just like her Momma. He gave Trevor a gold medallion of Saint Joseph, the patron saint of families,
  • 197. 14 and told him it symbolized his role as the other man in the family, and that it was both their jobs to watch out for and protect the women together. By the time the ceremony ended, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house. The priest introduced them as Mr. and Mrs. Jacob Dubeck and family. Jake had already started the procedure for legally adopting the kids to make it official. As they all walked down the aisle together, everyone stopped and commented on what a beautiful family they made.
  • 198. 14 About the Author Elaine Dyer was born and raised in El Paso, Texas. She is or has been a model, beauty contestant, teacher, Literacy Coach, supervisor, professor, mother, wife, sister, daughter, Auntie, friend, and most recently, author. She enjoys reading, writing, and spending time with family and friends over good food, wine, and margaritas. She continues to live in El Paso with her husband, son, and daughter, and thoroughly enjoys living vicariously through her many heroines.