The Deadline (The Friessens: A New Beginning)

BOOK: The Deadline (The Friessens: A New Beginning)
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The Deadline

B
y
Lorhainne Eckhart
Booklist
Finding Love ~
The Outsider Series

The Forgotten Child

A Baby and a Wedding (A bridge short story)

Fallen Hero

The Search (A bridge short story)

The Awakening

Secrets

Runaway

Overdue (A bridge short story)

The Unexpected Storm

The Wedding

The Friessens – A New Beginning

The Deadline

The Wilde Brothers

The One

*Coming Soon - The Honeymoon (A Wilde Brothers Short)

*Coming Soon – Friendly Fire

Walk the Right Road Series

The Choice

Lost
and Found

Merkaba

Bounty

Blown Away,
the Final Chapter

Military Roman
tic Suspense

Saved

Vanished

Young Adult
Mystery

The Gift

A Father’s Love

Box
ed Sets & Collections

Finding Love ~
The Outsider Series – Volume 1

Finding Love ~
The Outsider Series – Volume 2

The Outsider Series: The Complete Omnibus Collection

Walk the Right Road Series – Danger ~ Deception ~ Devotion: The Complete Boxed Set

Praise
for Works by Lorhainne Eckhart

Wish there were truly men in the world like the Friessen
men.

Sara
, Amazon Reviewer

This is an emotionally charged
, well-written portrayal of a couple faced with a tragedy and the secrets that could destroy them.

Rita Herron, Author

The author took real fears and problems and gave us a great happily-ever-after.

AJS
, Amazon Reviewer

SHE DID IT AGAIN ~ Captivating, suspenseful, full of emotion and love.
Brings a family together in support and compassion. Can’t wait to read more about the Friessen family.

Tanatha
, Amazon Reviewer

Chapter 1

How do you describe th
e feeling you get the first time you drive down a long, winding road to a place that is all yours? To Andy Friessen, this wasn’t just a house or a piece of land: He had staked a claim in another state, in another part of the county, uprooting his family and selling everything, all for a brand new beginning.

Andy took in the
miles of vast hillside and the cleanest pastures he’d ever seen. The green grass swayed in the wind, and, for the first time, he sensed the sun, the moon, the stars, and the changing of the seasons more deeply than he ever had before. This was a part of the country he had never travelled, but it felt like coming home. He glanced over at his wife, Laura, asleep in the passenger seat, her head resting against the door, her breath whispering softly in and out. He always knew when she was overtired, as she snored in her soft, delicate way. This time, she stirred a bit before settling into a deep sleep, as if her body had finally run out of steam.

She
was on edge and had been for some time, but that wasn’t unusual for mothers of newborns. For Andy and Laura, there was twice as much stress with their six-week-old twins, Chelsea and Jeremy, who were sound asleep in the backseat of the truck. Their five-year-old big brother, Gabriel, Laura’s son from a pregnancy at fifteen, sat beside them.

Laura
was so young but had lived through more heartache, rejection, and struggle than most people would in a lifetime. As a teenager, she had been tossed out onto the street by her judgmental parents, who thought she was a bad influence on her younger brothers. Laura had only mentioned it once to Andy, and only when he pushed. He wanted to know what had happened, to know everything about her family, but he saw the deep hurt like a tread mark on her soul. No matter what he did, he wondered if that was something she’d never be able to make peace with. Andy wouldn’t, not in this lifetime. In fact, George and Sue Parnell were the first people Andy had ever hated without even meeting them.

They
had come so far, Laura and him. At first, the only reason he had married her was to save her son when the state took him away. Laura and Gabriel had been living in her car, and Andy had married her because he felt responsible for the entire mess. After all, it had been his mother who fired Laura from her position as a maid in the Friessen house. Andy had treated her horribly at first, but so much had changed since then. He loved her—his child bride, as everyone teased him. She had recently turned twenty-one, legal in every state, and Andy would soon be thirty-three.

Andy pressed the brake
s to slow his pickup as the ruts deepened on the driveway. The horse trailer rattled, and he glanced in the side mirror and rolled down his window just as his three-year-old buckskin mare, Ladystar, nickered. Apparently, she’d had enough of this two-day trip, leaving North Lakewood behind and moving two states away to a seventy-two-acre spread Andy had purchased outside Columbia Falls, Montana.

“Where are we
?” Laura said. She didn’t open her eyes as she yawned.

H
er short bob was a tangled mess, but it was cute. Andy had been irritated when she cut off all her hair, saying it was easier to look after. Maybe so, but he liked her long hair.

“Andy
?” she said. The leather seat rustled as she sat up.

Andy had to clear his throat.
“We should be close.…”

He stepped on the brake
s when a sprawling one-story ranch house came into view. It had a light wood finish and a post-and-beam front deck, but something about the place didn’t look right. The railing appeared broken, with pieces of wood scattered here and there. Everything looked unkempt. Piles of debris littered the yard, including a rusted-out pickup with missing wheels parked in waist-high grass that was now weighted down by the melting snow. Maybe he had the wrong place? He eased on the gas pedal and started up the slight incline that circled the house. It was similar to the photos he had seen, but the house in the photos had been newer than this. A couple of the shutters were hanging sideways, and the fence surrounding the house was falling down, as was the corral, but it was the junk, the debris, the plastic, garbage, and scattered metal parts, that pissed him off.

“What
the hell is this?”

He’d bought the place unseen
. The Montana realtor had sent photos of the exterior and interior, and maybe Andy should have asked when they had been taken, but he’d been in a hurry to get Laura and the kids as far away from his family as he could. He parked in front of the house and spotted the red and white realty sign leaning against the front step.

“Andy
, this doesn’t look like the pictures the realtor sent,” Laura said. “Are you sure this is the right place?”

One of the babies start
ed fussing, and Ladystar nickered from the trailer.

“Andy
, are we here?” Gabriel called out from the backseat, rubbing his eyes.


Yeah, just stay there, bud,” Andy said as he opened his door. Laura was reaching over to unbuckle Jeremy from his car seat, his tiny hands flailing. “He hungry?”

Laura appeared
so tired as she nodded. “I think so. Wet, too.” She patted his bottom and rested him on the seat. “Andy, can you reach the diaper bag on the floor in the back?” She had already unfastened his sleeper as Andy lifted the blue bag, shut the back door, and set the bag on his seat.

“Just stay in here until I check things out
,” he said.

Laura glanced up with a weary smile
. “Okay.”

He shut the door and stepped around the truck
, taking in the mess. Ladystar nickered again. “Okay, girl,” he murmured, unlatching the horse trailer and leading his horse out before tying her to the side and bringing out a flake of hay for her. “Better find you some water, too,” he said, pulling out his bucket. Around the side of the house, he found a barn with a missing door, another gated pasture, and a round ring. As he stepped closer, he noticed the round pen appeared intact, with no missing posts and all the rails up. It was probably a safe bet for tonight, at least for Ladystar, until he got a better look around.

He found a water
tap at the back of the house and turned it on, but rusty water poured out. “Crap!” he muttered, waiting for it to run clear before he filled the bucket. When he took it back to the trailer where Ladystar was tied and eating, Laura opened the door of the truck and called out, “Andy, Gabriel has to go to the bathroom, and so do I. Can we go inside?”

Andy took in what was supposed to
have been a ten-year-old sprawling rancher with a wraparound deck where they could spend evenings and mornings looking out over their spread. Instead, it resembled the kind of house his cousin Jed would have picked up for a good price to gut and renovate—not something Andy was interested in doing.

“Al
l right,” Andy said. He opened the back door and lifted Gabriel, who was already unbuckled and waiting. “Stay here, Gabriel. Hey, Laura, Chelsea is still sleeping.” Andy lifted his very quiet daughter from the truck.

Laura slid down
, carrying Jeremy, who was fussing again. She had on just a beige sweater. “Ooh, it’s cold,” she said. She reached in the truck for her tan jacket and pulled it out, holding it out to Andy so he could help her as she juggled the baby.

Laura started up the steps,
and Gabriel and Andy followed. At the sound of a vehicle coming down the road, they both turned to see a newer pickup truck flying over the ruts and then pulling in just behind the horse trailer. A woman with a round face, bright smile, and dark hair tied back in a ponytail stepped out, wearing a sheepskin coat and blue jeans.

Laura shrieked behind Andy. He turned just as the screen door Laura
had pulled fell over and crashed to the front deck. Chelsea, who had been sleeping, whimpered and then started howling along with her brother.

Chapter
2


Andy, the door fell off!” Laura cried out.

“Are you all right
?” Andy barked as he set Chelsea’s baby carrier on the deck and picked up the door, moving it over and leaning it against the house.


Yeah, I’m okay,” Laura replied. She was shaking as she clutched Jeremy, who was now crying louder. Her shoulder started to ache where the door had clipped her, and she must have pulled a face, as Andy was right there, setting his hand on her arm.

“You s
ure?” he asked. “Did it hit you or the baby?”

“Got my shoulder
, but I’m okay.” She loved it when he touched her, but right now she’d give anything for some warmth, her own home, and a hot bath.

“Looks like you got quite a mess here
,” the unfamiliar woman said, approaching with her gloved hand out. “Kim Edwards.” She shook hands with Andy and then winked at Gabriel before taking in Laura and the two crying babies. “I saw you drive in. I live on the next property over. Thought you might be lost or something, as no one comes out here.”


Andy Friessen, and this is my wife, Laura,” Andy said. He picked up Chelsea’s carrier and swung it a bit to soothe her. She loved being rocked in it, especially if it was her daddy doing the rocking. Laura was proud to be his wife, to be the mother of his children, and he wondered if she was lifting her chin higher at the sight of the strange woman. He also knew she’d never tire of hearing him claim her as his wife. “Unfortunately, I think I bought this,” he added. “I need to have a word with the realtor.”

“Who’s the realtor?”
she asked.

“Clayton Holmes
. He came highly referred,” Andy bit out.

Laura remembered all too well their
original realtor, who had passed on Clayton’s card. Now that she thought about it, Laura recalled their realtor might have mentioned he was family.

Kim
winced. “Referred by who?”

The way she said it had Andy taking on an expre
ssion Laura had come to recognize as a sign that he was digesting information and sifting it through his shrewd mind, deciding the best way to handle something. Unless someone knew him really well, they might think he was being rude by not answering.

This
was a dark side of him that Laura knew all too well. He would protect his family at any cost, and she’d learned not to ask what he was thinking, because he wouldn’t tell. His silence had been a source of many of their fights in the past.

“Good luck
! You may want to make sure everything is where he said it is—if you can find him.” Kim chuckled, but it didn’t sound as if she found their predicament funny.

“What do you mean
, if I can find him?” Andy asked with a bit of an edge.


Well, last I heard, he left town, but then, I don’t know for sure.”


Andy, I have to pee,” Gabriel cried out, tugging on his jacket.


Okay, come on, bud. Let’s see if the bathroom works.” Andy frowned and sighed as he rustled the doorknob. The locked door wouldn’t budge. He shoved his hand in his pocket and pulled out a set of keys. “Well, let’s see if these work.”

He shoved
one in the deadbolt and unlocked it, opening the door. The air that wafted out smelled stale and musty. Laura couldn’t help but wrinkle her nose and cough, and she must have pulled a face, as Andy said, “Let’s open some windows.” He took Gabriel’s hand and stepped inside.

Laura glanced at the attractive neighbor.
As always, around someone she didn’t know, her mind went blank. She didn’t have a clue what to say. That was where Andy excelled: He filled a room, he took over, he led. He watched, studied, and always knew exactly what to say, and he also never worried what people thought. Laura sometimes wished she could be more like him.

The woman rested a booted foot on the bottom step.
“Can’t believe someone actually bought this place. It’s been empty for five years now,” she said. She didn’t smile, but her expression softened as she took in Jeremy, now starting to settle in Laura’s arms. “You have your hands full—three kids, and twins. Where did you folks move from?”

Laura really wasn’t comfortable talking to
strangers about her business. “North Lakewood,” she said. “Andy wanted a new start for us, so…” She couldn’t for the life of her figure out what to say that wasn’t too private, like the fact that Andy’s mother had tried to steal her babies and had even conspired with the doctor to perform a C-section and take them while Laura was sleeping. They couldn’t prove any of it, and even the doctor said it wasn’t true, but Andy had decided to move them as far from his family’s reach as he could, and Laura wasn’t about to share any of her secrets with a woman she barely knew, so the uncomfortable silence lingered.

She shivered
, and Kim gestured to the door. “You should take that baby inside. It’s still chilly here. I’m not sure what works or if any power is hooked up, though. Didn’t see any utility trucks coming out this way.”

Laura started inside
and then stopped. She had to remind herself that she wasn’t a rude person, but that was exactly how she was acting towards their new neighbor. “Kim, come in,” she said. “I’m sorry, just tired from all the driving.”

Laura could
hear echoes from inside the empty house. She was in awe as she took in all the wood, the high ceiling, the big, open-concept front room, and the dust and cobwebs that were so thick they would take a cleaning crew a week to get through. There were two hallways at each end of the house, as well as a loft with a cathedral window. Laura flicked the light switch, and the light flickered on. “There’s power,” she said before turning off the light again in the sun-brightened room.

“This used to be a beautiful house
,” Kim said. “The oldest son of the Miller family, who’ve been around these parts for many years, had this built for his wife. Can’t remember her name. Claudia, that was it.” She picked up a pile of papers and wood that had been left sitting by the woodstove and cracked open the glass door, looking in and pulling on the damper. “I’ll get this going for you, warm it up in here.” She loaded it up and pulled a pack of matches from her coat pocket. “Jeff Miller—he would be in his fifties now—came home one day and found his wife in bed with another man, her tennis coach, I think. Anyway, he shot him.”

Kim
glanced up at her, and maybe it was the horror showing on Laura’s face that made her add, “Sorry, he didn’t kill him, only wounded, but Jeff got time served for good behavior and put the house on the market. Claudia, I think she ran off with that tennis pro, or maybe it was a golf pro. Don’t know for sure, but they left together as soon as he was out of the hospital, and this house just sat here with no one to look after it.”

Laura watched
her neighbor, still feeling the heebie-jeebies of being in the same house as someone who had almost been killed. She wasn’t sure what she believed, but she also wasn’t one to find out. She took in the sight of Kim as she got the fire going, so confident, just stepping in and acting. Laura couldn’t do that. She felt awkward, still worried about what others thought. Gabriel came running in, Andy behind him.

“Bathroom works
,” Andy said, gesturing down the hall. He looked up at the cathedral ceiling and then over at Kim before frowning to Laura, who shrugged. She knew why he was bothered—or she hoped she did, at least. Kim was starting a fire, warming his house, when Andy had two hands to do it himself.

Kim
closed up the woodstove, the flames burning the dry wood as it crackled. She wiped her hands on her jeans and smiled brightly. By the tiny lines around her eyes, she was probably closer to Andy’s age. “That should take some of the chill off,” she said.

Andy started toward Laura and
tilted his head. “Bathroom?” he said, holding his arms out to take the baby. Laura held tight even though she did have to go. Andy obviously hadn’t picked up on her unease at leaving him with another woman—a smart, confident, good-looking woman. She was being ridiculous and stupid and jealous, but she couldn’t help it, because Andy was every woman’s dream man.


Laura, go,” he said, taking the baby from her arms.

Laura
didn’t miss the puzzled expression on Kim’s face before she brushed her slender, capable hands together and said, “Hey, listen, I should get going. I hope you don’t stay here tonight. This place has been closed up a long time and needs a good cleaning.”

“We’ll make do
,” Laura said as she slid her hand over Andy’s arm, and his dark leather jacket rustled. His eyes flashed at her, and she wondered for a minute what he’d say. “The furniture comes today, doesn’t it?” she asked.

“Sometime, but
Kim’s right: This place isn’t ready. We need to get it cleaned first, and I need to have a talk with the realtor. I better be able to get a hold of him. Besides,” Andy added, “I think we’d be better off in town tonight. I’ll get a hotel for you and the kids, and I’ll come back and get Ladystar settled.”

Laura wanted to stay and
argue, but she really did need to go to the bathroom, and the last thing she wanted was to have anything she said dismissed by Andy in front of this woman. That was just something she couldn’t tolerate, so she turned and headed down the hall, taking in the open doors, the bedrooms, and the one bathroom with a nice round tub, a separate shower, and a sink that dripped and dripped. She listened with one ear to her husband as he had a conversation with the new lady neighbor, who was pretty, confident, and capable—absolutely everything that Laura knew, deep in her bones, she wasn’t.

BOOK: The Deadline (The Friessens: A New Beginning)
11.28Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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