Get your next glimpse of THE RETURN OF THE O’CONNELLS! The newest addition to the series is on the way, but you can preview Chapter 3 now.
“Sorry about this,” Luke said, pulling Rosemary aside, as chaos had ensued.
Marcus was on the phone with Charlotte’s doctor, and Jenny and Tessa were in the living room with Charlotte, with Owen and Ryan lingering in the background. Charlotte had changed and appeared far too calm now—in his mind, anyways.
Then there was Karen, who was working on her second glass of wine. Something was definitely off with his sister. Jack said something to her, and he could see the lingering tension between them. Alison, Brady, and Eva wandered into the living room, too, uncertain.
He should talk to Brady.
“Don’t apologize,” Rosemary said. “This is exciting. Your sister-in-law is having a baby today.” She ran her hands over his arms and down, though it wasn’t cold in the house. “You know what? Maybe this was fate stepping in. So that’s the little girl.”
Luke glanced over to see that she was watching Eva, and he knew she was having some trouble with the fact that it had been her brother who pointed a gun at her and terrorized her the way he had. Maybe this had suddenly become too real for her. He knew well the kind of dangerous territory he was wading into, so was that just her way of pointing out to him that maybe this wasn’t a good idea, her meeting his family? Would they understand?
“They have no idea who I am, do they?” she said. She’d dressed the part today, casual but put together, with wide-legged slacks and a black long-sleeved knit sweater. Her hair was long and loose, with soft waves he loved running his hands through. He wondered now about the wisdom of what he was doing.
“They know you’re someone who means a lot to me,” he said. “That’s all they need to know.”
The hint of a smile touched her lips, and she crossed her arms, the tension lingering. It had taken a lot for him to convince her to come.
“So, you two…” Suzanne said, approaching them. “Rosemary, nice to meet you, even under the circumstances. I didn’t get a chance to grill you on my brother and how you know him or how long you’ve known each other—you know, the usual third degree.” She glanced between them teasingly. Harold appeared amused as he approached behind her.
“Don’t worry about answering, Rosemary,” Harold said. “It seems you’ll be able to slide in under the radar without the usual O’Connell grilling about every personal detail, considering Charlotte’s now taken center stage.”
He could see that Rosemary was at a loss for what to say, and Suzanne didn’t appear too inclined to let it drop, as she stared long and hard at Rosemary.
“No, seriously, how did you two meet?” she said. She was doing what he would’ve expected from Karen, who was still in the kitchen, where Jack had taken her wine from her and set it on the counter.
“We actually met in Geneva,” she said, and he looked over to her, wondering why. The truth was something she couldn’t share.
“It was a while ago,” Luke said, jumping in. “She was a girl in the bar. Couldn’t take my eyes off her. The rest is history, so to speak. The end.”
She nodded, her arms still crossed, and he worried for a moment about what she might decide to add.
“I didn’t bring Rosemary here for the third degree, Suzanne,” he continued. “Besides, what’s going on with Karen and Jack?”
Suzanne turned and glanced over her shoulder. He wasn’t sure, by the expression on Harold’s face, whether he might know what was going on.
“I haven’t had a chance to pull Karen aside and talk,” Suzanne said. “She’s been like this since we got here not long ago. Some bad news, is all I can think. I haven’t seen her this off in a while. You know she and Jack have been trying for a baby.”
He just stared for a second. Rosemary was taking in everyone, glancing over to Karen and her husband. He wondered whether he should step in, knowing how Karen was. She held everything in, kept secrets that no one would ever expect.
“No, I didn’t know that,” he said. “She’s drinking, so apparently something’s amiss.”
“Yeah…” Suzanne breathed out just as Marcus walked over, pocketing his phone.
“I’m taking Charlotte in to the hospital now,” he said. “Her doctor’s going to meet us there. Her water broke, but she’s not having any contractions yet.” He seemed rattled. “Ryan and Jenny are going to take Eva, but can you take Brady? Jack asked if he could stay the night, because something’s going on with Karen. He didn’t elaborate, though.”
“No worries,” Luke said. “I’ve got Brady. You just take care of your wife and that little baby who’s about to make an appearance.”
Marcus was already walking away, and now Jack somehow had Karen walking toward them. Charlotte was at the door, and Jenny helped her put her shoes on. Marcus was holding her coat. Everyone was so quiet, focused on her.
“Marcus, the bag I packed is upstairs,” she said. “Don’t forget it.”
“I know where it is,” Alison called out.
“Go get it,” Marcus said, and she ran up the stairs past them.
“I’m so sorry about this, Rosemary,” Charlotte said, still unusually calm. “It’s nice to meet you. We’ll see you again, won’t we?”
Marcus had his hand on her back after shrugging on his own coat, and Alison raced back down the stairs, carrying an overnight bag, which Marcus reached for.
“No, don’t apologize,” Rosemary said. “This is such a happy time for you. Go, go.”
Near them, Jack was quietly helping Karen on with her coat after she’d pulled on her high-heeled boots.
“Just give me a second,” Luke muttered, setting a hand on Rosemary’s arm. She didn’t nod as she glanced up to him, and he saw the awkwardness there. Yeah, he’d get her and Brady out of there…and then what? He’d have to touch base with the kid and figure out a way to keep Rosemary from bolting.
Ryan opened the door from outside and called out, “Warmed the car for you.”
Luke had stepped over to Jack and Karen. Jack was pulling on his own coat, and as Luke approached his sister, he saw something in her expression that she couldn’t hide. He glanced only a second at Jack, who seemed on edge, before turning back to her. “Hey, what’s going on with you?” he said. “Everything okay?”
Karen pressed a hand to his arm. “So that’s the girl, is it, Rosemary?” she said. “You should bring her by tomorrow. We can talk, and it’ll give me a chance to find out more about her. You said she’s from…?”
He was about to say something, but when he glanced over, Jack shook his head, and Luke realized there was way more going on than he knew. “Indiana,” he replied. “There’s time. Are you two heading home?”
Karen said nothing before touching his arm again and stepping over to Suzanne and Rosemary.
He gave everything to Jack now. “What’s going on? Something’s wrong.” He gestured with his thumb to his sister.
“Yeah, she just dropped a bombshell on me before we came in. I’m taking her to the hospital. She told me she was pregnant and lost the baby. That was all I knew before we walked in here. Listen, you can take Brady, right, since Marcus has to go?”
Luke just shrugged. “Yeah, of course I can. You go take care of my sister, and let me know if I can do something. And thanks for looking out for Brady, keeping him with you. Anything going on I need to know about?”
Jack was pulling his keys from his pocket. “He’s struggling a bit. I know he hasn’t talked to Raymond at all. Never asked about him, either. Karen tried to bring him up and have a talk last week, but he was very matter of fact when he shut it down. In school, he’s brilliant, and he announced he’s likely done with his courses. You might have a better chance of getting in his head and finding out what’s what. Oh, and I told Marcus already, but my name has been tossed out for governor. Karen and I will have to close up shop here. She’ll likely go kicking and screaming, as it seems all the favors I asked are now being called in. Karen’s right, though. We should have you over so everyone can have at Rosemary and grill her and pull out all her secrets. You know how you all are in this family.”
He knew Jack was trying to keep things light, but he wondered if his stance would change if he only knew who Rosemary’s brothers were.
Then Jack stepped away and somehow maneuvered Karen to the door and out. Suzanne and Harold were back in the kitchen, and he thought Tessa and Jenny were washing up dishes or something, while Owen and Ryan were in the living room. It was just him and Rosemary standing in the open hallway.
“You know, maybe we should take this as our cue to go…” Rosemary said.
“Hey, you two, come in here,” Owen called out.
Rosemary stiffened, but he reached for her hand and strode with her into the living room.
“So is everyone staying?” he said. He could see headlights outside the window as Marcus and Charlotte pulled away, followed by Jack and Karen. He realized Brady was sitting in a chair in the corner, staring at his phone and thumbing over it as if it held all the answers.
“There is dinner in the oven,” Ryan said.
“That’s not dinner,” Owen cut in. “Suzanne is apparently on a vegetarian kick and made a meat-free lasagna out of zucchini. I think you should order pizza.” He turned to take in Rosemary, who was still standing beside Luke, before dragging his gaze back to him. “With all the excitement, Karen and Suzanne didn’t get a chance to grill you on details. At least now we can all sit back and listen. So, Rosemary, how did you and Luke meet, how long have you known each other, and where do you live?”
He was surprised Owen had asked, considering he had never been a chatty guy. But then, Luke had never brought a woman home before, either.
Rosemary pulled in a breath, and he could feel her unease, so he cut in and said, “Does it matter? We’re just…”
“Actually, I think your family needs to know,” Rosemary said. “Just tell them the truth, everything, because it will come out eventually.”
He didn’t have to look over to his brothers to know they were intrigued, curious, and Rosemary now had all their attention. Even Brady had put down his phone and lifted his gaze, listening to everything.
“What truth?” Ryan said. “What are you talking about?”
“Rosemary, no,” Luke said. “This isn’t how to handle this, and it’s completely irrelevant. They don’t need to know.”
There was something about Rosemary that he knew well, though: She took a lot of convincing. He could see how bothered she was and how seeing Eva had hit too close to home for her.
“I disagree, Luke,” she said. “If it were irrelevant, you and I wouldn’t be standing here, debating this, and I wouldn’t feel absolutely shitty about being here.” She looked right at Owen then, even as Luke went to reach for her arm. “What Luke didn’t tell you is that my brother was the one who broke into Marcus’s house and held a gun to your mother and that little girl over there. Yes, he’s dead, but I feel responsible, even though Luke reminded me I wasn’t the one who held the gun. But there it is. Ben Schwartz was my brother. I live in Indiana. We met in a bar.”
All Luke could do now was take in what he could only figure was shock. Owen had a sort of ominous expression he’d never seen before as he slowly slid forward and then stood up. Ryan followed, and for a minute, he feared the worst.
“Well, I guess you’re right about one thing, Rosemary: You shouldn’t be here,” Owen stated so matter of factly, leaning in with passion and anger. He narrowed his gaze at Luke. “You surprise me more than anyone, bringing the enemy here. I’m just glad Marcus and Charlotte left. Seriously, Luke, for you, this is hitting below the belt. I’d never expect this from you.”
Rosemary didn’t reach for him but stood stoically, taking it as if this was her lot.
“You’re out of line,” Luke said. “It’s not her fault. You can’t blame her or hold her responsible for something she didn’t do.”
Ryan stepped closer just as Eva came running in, and he reached for her and lifted her. “You should take your lady and go,” he said, then turned and took Eva out of the living room.
Luke realized maybe he’d been wrong about his family. He merely nodded and glanced down to a shaken Rosemary. “Let’s go,” he said.
Brady was standing there, evidently unsure of what to say or do.
“You too, there, young man,” he said. “You’re with us. Grab your things.”
He waited only a second as Rosemary and Brady went to the door to put on their shoes and coats, the silence thick and uncomfortable. He turned back to Owen, feeling the kind of distance he’d never experienced before. “You know what, big brother? Just remember what it felt like when everyone in town turned against Mom, against Marcus, again all of us, convicting us of something we hadn’t done. Be mindful you don’t join a witch hunt against Rosemary. She didn’t do anything. She’s not responsible for what Ben did.”
“What are you doing, Luke?” Owen said. “I hear you that she didn’t do it, and I get it, but still. It was her brother, her family. You really surprise me. That was our mom and little Eva. He would have killed them. You can’t be involved with her.”
“Or what, Owen? Come on. Say it.”
Owen seemed to consider something as he glanced away, then shook his head as if working out a kink. “No, Luke, I’ve said enough, more than I should’ve had to. What the hell are you thinking? I’m going to say this for everyone in this family: You need to go now, and don’t bring her back.”
New Audio Release
MARRIED IN MONTANA: THE COMPLETE COLLECTION is now available in audio! This special set features three full-length contemporary romances including His Promise, Love’s Promise and A Promise of Forever. Don’t miss this spinoff of the big family romance series, The Friessens. Narrated by Joleen Sweetstone.
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