Here’s you final peek at my upcoming release! THE RETURN OF THE O’CONNELLS will be released tomorrow, but here’s an exclusive look at Chapter 5.
“Careful, come on, watch your step,” Marcus said as he helped Charlotte up the steps to their house. As he unlocked the door, taking in how quiet the street was in the early morning, he couldn’t remember ever having been so tired, even though he’d pulled a lot of all-nighters before.
The sun was just starting to rise, though thick, heavy clouds hid the light. He glanced across the street to Ryan and Jenny’s, seeing a light on in the house and knowing someone was up, but he hoped they wouldn’t come running over right now. At the same time, he needed to check on Eva.
“I’m doing the best I can, Marcus, considering I can’t see my feet anymore,” Charlotte said.
He opened the door and flicked on the light, following her in, seeing how tired she appeared. She had outright refused to stay in the hospital. There had been no labor, but since her water had broken, the doctor had agreed with her that waiting at home, where she’d be more comfortable, was a great idea. She would rest, but for how long? A few hours, maybe. They’d reassess in twenty-four if labor still hadn’t started.
He closed the door and reached for Charlotte’s coat as she struggled to pull it off, and he tossed it over the curve of the dark wood railing. She sat down on the step and reached down to take off her shoes.
“I’ll get that,” he said as he squatted down and pulled off her black slip-ons, the only ones now that didn’t hurt her feet.
“You’ve been really quiet since we left the hospital,” she said.
He took in her plump face, her full lips. He loved her so much, even though he’d had to fight the urge to wrap his hands around her and shake her when she’d said no to staying in the hospital, since that was all he had wanted her to do.
She could be so damn stubborn.
“What do you want me to say, Charlotte? I would be more comfortable with you staying in the hospital. I said that to the doctor and you, but you both overruled me.”
“You heard the doctor. There’s no labor,” she said, resting her hand on his arm as he pulled off her last shoe and dumped it on the floor. “You also heard her say this sometimes happens, water breaking first, and there’s no cause for alarm right now because the baby’s heartbeat is strong and everything looks good. She checked me. She’s the professional, and she’s right: I am more comfortable at home. I’m going to have a shower, go to bed, and get some rest, and when labor starts, then we’ll go to the hospital, not before I need to.”
She sounded way too calm for a first-time mom. He was having a hard time understanding why he was so rattled. He was a sheriff, after all. He should’ve been the calm one, not her.
He stood up, and her gaze followed him as he reached out for her hand and pulled her up too, then leaned in and pressed a kiss to her lips before her hand slid over his chest and pushed.
“I know you’re angry,” she said. “It’s just something you can’t hide with me. I’m tired, and when labor starts, I kind of want to be rested instead of feeling this bone tiredness I’m feeling right now…”
“And you can’t do that in the hospital?” he said.
She was shaking her head as she turned on the stairs and started up, and he dumped his own coat over hers on the railing and followed her, seeing that she was having trouble walking up. He could sense that she wasn’t about to concede. She could really dig in and stop listening to any argument he had when she’d made her mind up about something. It was just her personality, something he loved about her, though it frustrated him at times.
“Resting in a hospital? Seriously, Marcus, there’s nothing restful about being in the hospital, with the lights and noise and someone coming in constantly and checking on you and poking and prodding just when you drift off, and that’s if you fall asleep. No, I want my own bed, our comfortable bed, and a few quiet, undisturbed hours. Besides, I’m hungry, too. If you could make me some toast while I shower… Oh, and could you call Ryan and Jenny and see if they can keep Eva for a while longer? I miss your mom. She was always here for Eva, helping me out. I guess I just secretly wished she’d be here now.”
Right, how could he forget? He followed Charlotte into their bedroom, taking in the bed he’d made that morning, or had it been the morning before? “I forgot to mention this in all the excitement, but my mom called last night. That’s who I was talking to when your water broke. She’s coming back and wanted it to be a surprise. She wants to be here when the baby’s born, only I don’t think it’ll be for a few days yet. She doesn’t want me telling anyone, though, so you’re the only one in the loop.”
He heard the knock downstairs as he took in the way Charlotte’s face lit up. She had a beautiful smile even when she was tired. “That’s great news,” she said. “Okay, I’ll shower, and you go answer the door. Who do you think it is?”
He rested his hand on the doorframe as Charlotte pulled off her sweater and tossed it on the bed. His baby would be there anytime, and maybe that was why he was suddenly feeling that this was all too real. “I don’t know,” he said. “Likely Ryan or Jenny. I’ll go talk to them and make you some breakfast.”
Marcus strode down the stairs as there was another knock on the door, and he pulled it open to find Ryan dressed in his ranger’s uniform, with a heavy coat overtop. Across the street, his pickup was running, evidently warming up from the cold that had settled in. A few flakes of snow were starting to come down.
“You’re home,” Ryan said. “Jenny said she saw you pull up. What happened?” He stepped in and closed the door behind him.
“No labor,” Marcus said. “The doctor said she can rest here at home until it starts, even though I’d prefer her in the hospital.”
He started into the kitchen, hearing the shower now going upstairs, and he pulled a loaf of bread from the freezer and rested it on the counter. The coffee pot was clean, and he pulled open the cupboard and took out the coffee and filters, then glanced to his brother, who was standing off to the side, his expression amused, he thought, or maybe it was commiseration.
“So I take it you want us to keep Eva?” Ryan said.
Marcus only nodded as he filled the carafe with water and dumped it in the reservoir, then flicked the switch. “If you could. Charlotte’s going to bed and getting some sleep, and I need to check in with Harold and make sure everything’s being handled at the office. I may have to stop in, as well. No, I should stop in, but I don’t want to leave Charlotte alone. Oh, and I’m not supposed to tell you this, but Mom called last night, and she’s on her way back. She wants to surprise everyone, but I told her we’ve had enough surprises in this family for a lifetime, and I’m not about to keep another secret. Just don’t tell Alison or Eva. She really wants to surprise them. And what happened with Brady? I take it Luke took him home.”
He wasn’t sure what to make of the way his brother glanced away, unsmiling, his jaw set. Okay, something was going on, something he’d missed. Ryan glanced to the door and then back to him before he nodded. “It’s great that Mom will be home…”
“I sense a ‘but’ coming. Something going on with Luke that I should know about?”
There it was again, in his expression, the way his eyes seemed to flash with the kind of untethered anger Marcus had seen in his brother only a few times before.
“You know what?” Ryan said. “You have Charlotte to think about. There’s nothing you need to worry about right now. We’ll talk after. Tell me, when you say Mom’s coming home, does that mean she’s alone?”
Marcus braced himself for a talk about their dad, which they had avoided so far. “Nope,” he said. “Good old Dad is working out logistics and stuff. She does sound happy, though.”
Ryan shrugged, and Marcus wasn’t sure what to think. They’d all had their struggle with the Raymond O’Connell situation and the fact that it seemed he was suddenly back in their lives. “Well, good,” Ryan said. “She deserves to be happy. Listen, we’ve got Eva, don’t worry. Just wanted to check in, and I would be remiss in not saying that if you want Jenny or Alison here, one can come over this morning. If you need to take off, just call. Alison has the day off today, and Jenny isn’t working. Listen, I’ve got to go. I’ve got an early meeting, but call Jenny anyway and let us know if labor starts or if you need anything.”
Ryan started to the door, and Marcus followed as he opened it and stepped out, then hesitated. The flakes of snow were starting to thicken. “Today will be a fun one, by the looks of it. Think the forecast called for a few inches of snow. I can send Alison over now, you know, seriously.”
It wasn’t lost on Marcus how Ryan hadn’t said anything else about their mom or good old Raymond or Luke and whatever was going on with him.
“I’ll call Jenny if I need her,” Marcus said. “If you don’t mind, could you let everyone know we’re home and the baby is taking its time? I don’t want a ton of calls filling up my voicemail, which I haven’t checked yet.”
Ryan laughed. “Yeah, I’ll call Suzanne, since she has too much time on her hands, and tell her to ring up everyone and tell them to back off.” He started down the steps.
“You know, Ryan, you may as well tell me now what’s going on with Luke. Is it something I need to worry about? Because you’re about the worst at hiding anything.”
Ryan stopped at the bottom step and turned around, seeming to consider it. “You’ll likely hear about it later,” was all he said, which did nothing to settle anything for Marcus.
“Now you’re being cryptic, so if it’s all the same to you, I’d rather just hear it now.”
Ryan glanced away again, still considering, and then back to him. “Fair enough,” he said. “We met Luke’s lady last night, Rosemary.”
From the way he said it, Marcus wondered for a moment whether he really did want to hear this. “Yes, I remember, pretty girl. If I recall, that’s the first time Luke has brought a woman home to meet us.” He could feel a smile tugging at his lips. Had she said something that upset someone, or had there been a disagreement or something?
“Well, what you don’t know is who her brother is,” Ryan said.
His smile disappeared, and a knot tightened in his stomach. Yeah, maybe he didn’t want to know right now, but he said, “I guess you’d better tell me.”
“The man who held a gun to Mom and Eva, the one who broke into your house. Ben was his name, right? Well, Rosemary is his sister.”
He stared at Ryan for a second. His brother was standing there, waiting as Marcus tried to get his brain on board with what he’d just heard.
God dammit! He was going to seriously hurt Luke.
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