Authors: Olivia Jaymes
Tags: #Comtemporary, #Romance, #Fiction, #Short Read, #Military, #Kindle World, #Applewood, #Chicago, #FBI, #Career, #Nephew, #Nurse, #Deceased Sister, #Emotional, #Second Chance, #Emptiness, #Lifetime, #Family, #Care, #Years, #Adult, #Erotic
“I think that’s a great idea but I want to say something first.” She propped herself up on her elbow and gazed into his eyes. They didn’t really need to say it. One look at either of them told the story but she was tired of being the scared female she’d become. She wanted to be brave and fierce. She wanted to set a good example for her son about reaching out and grabbing life and love. “I want to say that I love you. Very much. Thank you for not giving up on me.”
Cal’s Adam’s apple bobbed as he swallowed hard. “I love you too. I’d never give up. We’ve been around and around and here we are. I think we’re meant to be together. I swear to you here and now that I’m going to get my shit together and become the kind of man you deserve to spend your life with. The kind of man you’d trust to guide Alex. I’m sort of drifting right now but I won’t be for long. I promise you.”
She believed him. Cal had been good at everything he’d ever tried so he could certainly find a new vocation. One that made him happy and fulfilled.
“I didn’t mean for this to get all mushy.” Mika wrinkled her nose and giggled. “I know you hate that.”
“I think I can make an exception for you. Now we have about forty-five minutes. Where were we?”
“Naked and happy,” she sighed, laying back down on the rug and beckoning to him. “We have just enough time.”
Together at last, they had all the time in the world.
“MIKA. ALEX. THIS is my friend Jon Rudnick from over in Virginia Beach.”
Cal was happy his friend had been able to join them for opening night at the haunted house. It was the perfect autumn evening, crisp but not too cold, with the crunch of leaves underneath their feet.
“Nice to meet you.”
Mika smiled and shook Jon’s hand and so did Alex before she motioned to the refreshment table groaning under the weight of delectable food. On the first night of the Autumn Festival everyone went all out and provided a dish for the buffet. There would be dinner, a few speeches, and then the food would be whisked away and the house would be open for business. It had been this way since before Cal was born and it would probably be the same for Alex’s children.
“Wow, this is some spread,” Jon enthused as they all filled their plates. “I may have to make two trips. Everything looks so good.”
“I usually make at least two if not three,” Cal agreed, piling a scoop of pistachio salad next to some baked beans. “You won’t go hungry here, that’s for sure. Alex, make sure you try some of my mother’s famous chocolate pie. It’s legendary.”
Cal had helped his mother make those pies. She’d sat and directed and he’d done the grunt work. They’d turned out pretty damn good if he did say so himself.
The four of them found an unoccupied folding table outside close enough to the bonfire to feel its warmth without the messy smoke flying in their faces. When Alex excitedly asked Jon what it was like to be a real-life former Navy SEAL the conversation naturally turned to Cal and his friend’s time in the military.
Cal’s phone lit up and he dug it out of his front shirt pocket, frowning at the screen. “Excuse me, I need to take this.”
Stepping away, he swiped the screen and pressed the cell to his ear, listening in disbelief. The call was from his former boss at the FBI and the investigation into Cal’s actions during the Alan Morton case was complete. He listened numbly to the words, not really comprehending what was being said. When they were done talking Cal hit the end button and shoved the phone back into his pocket, rejoining Jon, Mika, and Alex.
He must have had a strange expression because Mika placed her hand over his. “Is everything okay?”
“The FBI’s investigation on me is done.”
Sympathy in her gaze, she squeezed his fingers. “I’m so sorry. It’s just not fair.”
“You got a raw deal, bro. They’re losing a good man,” Jon agreed, nodding his head.
“No. It’s not that.” Cal was still so stunned he was having a hard time expressing what he’d heard. “I was cleared. Of everything. Trainor asked me when I could be back in Chicago. They have a new undercover assignment for me.”
Even in his deepest heart of hearts Cal had never expected the investigation to go his way. He’d been sure it was all a sham and he would be politely asked to resign, best case scenario. But here he was with a second chance at his chosen career. He was a damn good agent and he knew it. He’d put countless criminals behind bars in his years and the job was still challenging…
He didn’t want to go back.
Cal was home. Applewood and small town life had grown on him these last two months. Add in the love of his life and he couldn’t imagine why he would ever want to leave.
Silence stretched awkwardly and Jon patted Alex on the shoulder, pointing to the buffet.
“What do you say we go and find some more dessert? I think I see a dark chocolate cake over there and some vanilla pudding.”
The two of them loped back into the warehouse leaving Cal and Mika alone at the table. Before he could tell her he wasn’t about to leave she pressed two fingers to his lips.
“You don’t have to say anything. I know you didn’t think you would be cleared but now you have another chance.”
She didn’t understand at all.
“Sweetheart, let me explain–”
“No,” Mika shook her head, her tone urgent. “You don’t have to explain. Things have changed.”
Cal finally snapped out of his reverie and grabbed at both of her hands. “I told you I wasn’t going anywhere and I meant it, Mika. I’m staying here.”
Tears shone in her eyes and she gave him a tremulous smile. “I don’t want you to stay because of a promise you made to me. I want you to be happy and I don’t want to stand in your way.”
Cal had changed in more ways than one.
“Your belief in me means more than I can ever tell you.” A lump in his throat made it hard to speak. “I love you, Mika, and I want to make a life here with you. You, me, and Alex. I think Applewood is a better place for him to grow up too. Wherever you are is home and that’s good enough for me.”
“I just want–”
“Are you trying to get rid of me?” Cal teased with a raised brow. “I tell you I love you and I want to stay and you try and talk me out of it. I might get a complex here.”
Her brilliant smile was all he needed to make everything okay. The man that needed to climb the ladder and receive his validation from people he barely gave two shits about had finally grown the hell up. There were few people in the world whose opinion mattered to him and one of them was sitting right here.
“I’m glad you’re staying. I’ve got big plans for next year’s haunted house.”
Cal laughed and leaned over to brush his lips against hers. “I can’t wait to hear all about it, sweetheart. Consider me your willing slave.”
“Does this mean you’re going to join your father’s carpentry business? I’m sure Abe would love that.”
He’d thought long and hard about this very subject. Mika wasn’t getting much of a bargain in this relationship. Cal was middle-aged and unemployed, not a great combination. She could do a hell of a lot better than him and so finding a new career was high on his list of things to do.
“No, I don’t see myself doing that. The fact is,” he admitted sheepishly, “I’m not sure what I want to be when I grow up.”
“Something will come along when you least expect. I believe in you.”
Mika couldn’t possibly know how amazing those four words made him feel.
* * *
MICHAELA COUNTED THE cash box with a smile of satisfaction. It had been a good opening night and the evening wasn’t over yet. The haunted house wouldn’t close for another hour.
“Marion, go ahead and lock up these receipts in the safe. I’ll make a bank run in the morning.”
“Will do. Where’s Cal and Alex? And that gorgeous man that came with you tonight? Is he single?”
Marion was happily married so Mika knew the questions were only in fun. “That man is Jon Rudnick. He was in the Navy with Cal and no, he is not single. He has a girlfriend named Alison and he’s talked about her all night. As for Cal and Alex…Cal’s with Jon and Alex is with Kenny playing glow in the dark soccer with the other kids.”
Marion frowned and shook her head. “Charlotte came in here about thirty minutes ago to say goodnight. She had all three kids in tow. Alex can’t be with Kenny.”
“Maybe they haven’t actually left yet.” Mika handed the bag with the cash back to Marion. “I’ll just take a walk over to the field.”
The makeshift soccer field was next door to the warehouse and it only took a minute for Mika to walk there. There were plenty of lights from the warehouse and the adjoining parking lot illuminating the grassy area but the running and shouting boys were almost a blur. When they stopped for a moment she was able to scan for Alex and her heart stopped for a moment when she didn’t see him playing with the other boys.
“Jake!” Mika called, motioning to one of her son’s classmates. “Have you seen Alex?”
The little boy screwed up his face and shrugged. “He left a while ago. I don’t know where he was going.”
Another skipped beat of her heart but she pushed down the fear that was beginning to build. No mother liked her son to be out of her sight for long and she was no exception. “Thank you. If you see him tell him to come back to the haunted house.”
Jake scampered off and Mika turned back around and headed to the warehouse. Ten minutes later she’d scoured every inch of the property including the parking lot but to no avail. Pulling her cell from her pocket she dialed Charlotte’s number praying Alex had somehow gone home with them.
“Mika, I didn’t expect to hear from you. Is everything okay there?”
Settling into a chair in the ticket office, Mika nervously twisted a strand of hair around her finger. “I’m not sure. Is Alex with you?”
“No, when I picked up Kenny from the soccer field Alex said he was going to find you. I watched him head that way. Mika, what’s going on? Is Alex missing?”
Her fingers tightened on the phone as emotion strangled her ability to speak. “I can’t find him anywhere. I’m sure he’s around here but…”
Her words trailed away as she swallowed a painful sob. Charlotte was speaking to her husband in the background for a moment before she came back on the phone.
“I’m coming back there to help you look,” she stated. “You’re right, I’m sure he’s just playing somewhere but two will find him faster than one. Give me five minutes to get there.”
The line went dead and Mika stared at the phone trying to keep herself calm. Perhaps Alex had wandered off with one of his friends from school. She should go talk to all the other parents.
“Sweetheart, are you okay?”
Mika looked up to see Cal, his brows pulled down in concern. Licking her dry lips, she gave herself a mental shake. She wasn’t doing anyone any good in this state.
“I can’t find Alex. He’s not playing soccer. He isn’t with Charlotte and Kenny. And I looked all over. This isn’t like him.”
Lately Alex had been chafing at the restrictions but he knew the rules about being out after dark and they didn’t include the freedom to run around without his mother’s permission.
Mika might not be Alex’s biological mother but she had a mother’s instinct. Something wasn’t right.
Cal pulled his phone from his pocket. “I’ll call Sheriff Dan and then we’ll get organized and look for him. He can’t have gone too far.”
Alex could be alone and frightened somewhere. He didn’t like the dark all that much and still wanted a night light in his room. Mika needed to get to him as quickly as possible.
“I’ll look in the parking lot again and talk to the other mothers,” she said but Cal caught her arm keeping her from leaving the office.
“We need to organize a grid search, Mika. That way we know that no square foot has been overlooked. Just give me ten minutes and we’ll do this.”
She jerked her elbow away, anger rising in her chest and mixing with the fear already residing there. “Something could happen to him in ten minutes. I need to get to my baby, Cal. He might be hurt or alone.”
“That’s the exact reason we need to do this by the book.” Their gazes collided and Cal placed his hands on her shoulders, leaning forward so only she could hear his words. “I’m begging you to trust me, sweetheart. This is something I know, something I’ve been trained for. Let me help you.”
Her stomach was twisted into knots of growing terror but she swallowed hard and nodded, not trusting her own voice. This was his job, or at least it had been. If anyone could find a missing little boy it was Cal.
“I’m just scared. He’s my baby.”
“We’re going to get your baby back but you have to trust me, okay?”
Mika nodded and then Jon stepped forward, the affable man she’d met earlier wiped away and in its place an intense, focused military man. “I want to help. I can start gathering volunteers to search and getting them organized.”
“Do that. We’ll line everyone up shoulder to shoulder and send each group in four different directions.”
Shaking with fright, Mika allowed the man she loved to do the very thing he excelled at. She’d trust him with her own life and with Alex’s too.
It was the longest, most excruciating ten minutes of her life.