Daveigh has returned to Kingsbrier harboring a secret, but none that cuts as deep as the one Cris has held onto.
Cris Sanchez prefers to admire Daveigh Cavanaugh from afar. He’s a widower with a young son. She’s the boss’s daughter. The eight years that separate their age—and the exact time that Daveigh has been away for college and veterinary school—should have sealed their fate. Instead, Cris’s dedication to the family business and Daveigh’s love of animals has drawn them close. Now the pair must contend with the impending loss of a confidant they've shared for close to a decade.
After allowing herself time to heal, will Daveigh find strength in their friendship to return to her studies? Or will she settle for half her dreams for the chance to be with the man she’s always loved? After admitting to his responsibility in his wife’s death, can Cris relinquish the past that haunts him? Or will he and Daveigh continue down separate paths?
The front door to the apartment flew open. Mateo came tearing in with a high pitched scream, startling Cris. He lost his footing on the stool he used to hang crepe paper from the ceiling. Thankfully, the drop was only a few steps. The closest places where he’d attached brightly colored streamers in the kitchen pulled away.
Daveigh grabbed the doorknob before it hit the wall. She was running just as fast. A bunch of red, yellow and blue helium balloons were in her hand. It was a wonder none of them popped coming through the threshold.
“I’m going to get you!” she warned, with the biggest grin on her face that Cris had ever seen. The helium balloons floated to the low ceiling.
Mateo shrieked and lunged for the couch, his Superman cape flying behind him as if he were soaring through the air. Daveigh tackled Mateo and tickled his chubby belly thought the blue shirt with the big S on the front. His legs kicked up, ineffectively trying to push her away. He giggled until he was hoarse and she pulled him up onto her lap squeezing him tight. Cris watched his son wrap those tiny arms around the girl’s neck, practically choking her. His smile matched hers.
“Hey, ameneza, you gonna a help or what?” Cris asked, stepping back onto the ladder to re-secure the tape that had pulled from the wall.
Daveigh and Mateo turned to him, both looking somewhat guilty. He wondered what had gone on during the car ride to buy the balloons for Mateo’s birthday party. He wished he’d been a fly on the wall able to buzz around their childlike fun and learn the super-secret details of their time together. Cris didn’t press for an explanation, especially when the two of them fell back into the fit of giggles, ignoring his request. All Mateo wanted for his fifth birthday was to see Daveigh. Well, that and the Justice League two-wheel bike that Cris wrapped and hid in the old barn, waiting for the party. He was glad to be able to gift his son both.
Mateo was such a happy kid, easy to please—most of the time, anyway. He spoke fluent English and Spanish, allowing father and son to switch mid-sentence from one language to the next. Liz would be so proud of him. He was a smart kid, but weren’t most five-year-olds?
Daveigh taught him to read when she was home over Christmas break.
She was so damn good for his son, full of energy and youth. The big sister he was never going to have. The sibling period, he wasn’t ever going to be fortunate enough to be blessed with. Perhaps Daveigh saw that too and it was why she spent so much of her time doting on the boy. Or it could be the fact that Mateo never quite got over following Daveigh around like a baby duck, so she couldn’t shake him off. Whatever the reason, it was better for Cris to think of her place in his boy’s life as simple. It stopped all the other complicated thoughts from entering his mind when the three of them were together.
Cris finished the streamers as Miss Rose’s car pulled into the Barnyard. She parked close to the apartment and popped the trunk of her Lexus. Before he knew it, Daveigh’s momma was placing a sheet cake on the kitchen counter.
Mateo left Daveigh’s lap, scrambling up on the stool to see the picture of his favorite superhero on the white icing. It looked bakery made, but Miss Rose had baked and decorated the cake herself.
“Thank ‘ya, Corey’s Gran.”
Miss Rose wouldn’t think twice if the boy just called her ‘Gran’, but he always put the possessive onto it.
The boy sneakily stuck his finger into the icing at the bottom. Cris gripped him by the wrist, glaring at the child for his impishness.
“It’s for Daveigh.” Mateo protested. Cris let go and watched Daveigh open her mouth to take the sweetness. She closed her lips and Mateo’s finger popped out. Fuck, this was not an image he needed of the girl today, especially since the situation was entirely innocent.
“Thank you, Miss Rose,” Cris said, passing behind her and out to the porch to find some air.
Cris did his best to stay outside for the rest of the afternoon. His apartment felt cramped and close. He was glad that the children from Mateo’s class were all playing in the wide barnyard. Their mothers conversely ignoring them for one another and calling after the children to not climb, touch or pull an animal’s ear. He made polite conversation with several of them, glad that Eric was there even if it didn’t balance the numbers of men to women. The best friends did the heavy lifting, setting up tables and chairs, hoisting preschoolers onto Violette’s back when one of them requested a pony ride. Ginny and Daveigh took charge of corralling kindergartners for games.
The kids were all sipping juice boxes at the table when Daveigh came out with the cake, candles already lit. She placed it in front of Mateo, smiling the same way she had when they had come tearing in from the party store.
Cris had been standing on the opposite side, his camera ready. An unwanted palm grazed his backside. Angry, Cris moved away from the single mom who flirted with him in the pickup line at school. She had no right to touch him. He tried not to fume, refusing to acknowledge the woman as he rounded the table.
The happy birthday chorus continued.
Daveigh was still leaning over Mateo, singing in his ear as he watched the flames flicker in anticipation. He blew out the candles and everyone clapped. Daveigh straightened herself and Cris touched where her shirt met her jeans lightly. He wasn’t sure why he did it. After all, he’d just gotten upset for someone doing something similar to him. But he wanted that other person to understand that he wasn’t interested in anyone ruining his son’s day. A kid’s birthday party wasn’t the place to pick up a man, or anyone for that matter.
He questioned the woman’s motives. Did she do this to other single dads? Was feeling him up nothing more than a pity-grab? Cris did his best to hide the port wine stain that went from his scalp to his sternum, but it still showed. Did this woman look around at the Rose Kingsbrier’s land and think that Cris was entitled to the pristine fields and large barns? Those weren’t his to make a claim on.
He clenched his teeth as his cell rang in his back pocket. Daveigh turned and blessed him with a wide grin that sparked up to her trademark Cavanaugh green eyes. God, she was so beautiful. He would have misstepped and said it too, except the phone in his palm kept ringing. Feeling the heat in his collar, Cris looked at the display. He sighed and pressed the ignore option. A distraction would be ideal right now, but this call was business. Today Mateo came first. Not Cris, and definitely not his feelings for the Texas bluebonnet standing next to him.
Daveigh didn’t quite understand Cris’s grimace. Mateo annihilated all five of the candles with one breath. The kids were having a great time. Ginny was cutting the cake. The Cavanaughs happily took care of everything for him. Why was he gritting his teeth if nothing was going wrong? She watched him tuck the phone in the back pocket of his 501s.
“Aren’t you going answer that?” she asked. If it were about the winery, a grape delivery, about one of the animals at the ranch, or an employee then Cris should take it. No sense having the unanswered call weighing on his mind for the rest of the afternoon. Her daddy kept Cris on his toes. He faced more challenges than she’d ever been caring for the rag-tag lot of animals that she and the other quints had been responsible for as teenagers.
Cris lived and breathed Kingsbrier. Brier had begun to call Cris “Daddy’s favorite son.” Her sister couldn’t be far off from the truth. Each of the five kids respected Cris for his dedication to keeping the family legacy going while they sewed their oats. None more so than Daveigh, because she’d been the one to befriend him first and with that bond entrusted Cris with caring for the one thing more precious to her than anything; Violette, her horse.
“Nah,” he replied, clipped. Then he turned from Daveigh and focused his attention on Mateo, where by rights it should be. It made her feel like once more she’d done something wrong, although throughout all of their petty disagreements Daveigh was never sure what they were arguing over. Sometimes she just rankled him to see if she could get a rise out of the man; a tactic she’d gleaned watching her sister with Drew.
It was obvious that wasn’t a strategy best used today. So Daveigh ignored Cris for the rest of the afternoon and tried to have a good time with Eric and Ginny after the partygoers left.
Corey and Mateo played in the barnyard. They fed Cordero and everyone worked together to quickly accomplish the end-of-day farm chores until her three-year-old nephew fell into a puddle of tears, ready for bed after a busy day. Ginny scooped him up and Eric glided out of the horse barn, wrapping his arms around the two of them.
“You can call it a day,” Cris declared from where he was working. “Anything that’s not done will still be here in the morning.”
Her older brother looked at Daveigh as she tossed trash into a can close by. “I’m going back to the house soon. Whatever y’all need done tomorrow I can come back to help with.”
“We still going to The Grille for lunch before you leave?” Ginny inquired about the plans they’d made during the afternoon.
Daveigh told her yes and then the four of them started a round-robin of “thank yous” and “see you tomorrows.”
“Come on, amenza.” Cris said lifting Mateo onto his shoulders. He held out his son’s hands and they spun in dizzy circles in the center of the dusty gravel drive bisecting the trio of buildings. “Superheroes need shut-eye too. Let’s get you to bed.”
Mateo gripped Cris under the chin, peering down at him and made a few loopy sounds to indicate he was still giddy. “I want Daveigh to tuck me in.” It wasn’t a request. More a demand in the form of a statement.
“Okay then,” Cris conceded. “I have a call to return and then I’m going to come in and check on ya. Don’t fall asleep before I get my birthday hug.”
“It’s my birthday.”
“Yep, but I need a hug from you since it has been five years that I’ve been a daddy now and that’s a feat in itself.” Especially since for over three of them he’d been parenting alone.
Mateo laughed and bucked as Cris dropped his feet to the ground. He ran towards their apartment and leaped into Daveigh’s arms. She turned and walked into the log-cabin style building that predated her mother. The quints had played in it’s dusty, musty rooms as children. She’d forced Brier into tea parties using dixie cups for china and cold water from the spigot in place of Earl Gray, never expecting that someday it would be someone’s home.
Daveigh washed Mateo’s sugary clown grin from cake frosting and the grime between his fingers before she put him into the tub. He sank down under the water, eyes open and air bubbling from his nose showing her what he’d learned in swimming lessons. Joking, she referred to him as Aquaman while toweling him off. It set them into a prolonged discussion of Mateo wanting to know who Daveigh thought was the coolest action figure he’d received as a gift. She knew he was stalling as she pulled his soft pajamas over his head and the covers to his chest. Mateo settled against the pillow. Her fingers brushed over his cheek and he turned his head to her touch as he yawned.
“Daveigh, did it work?”
“Did what work, sugar?” She clicked down the nightstand light one notch to soften its glow.
“My wish. Are you going to be here when I wake up?”
“I’ll come say goodbye before I go back to school, yes.”
He frowned. “So it didn’t work.”
“Well, not knowing what you wished for I can’t tell you if it worked or not. Besides, wishes are supposed to stay a secret.”
“Ojala que fueras mi madre,” he whispered, hoping that she wouldn’t hear. Hoping that she would and tell him that it had come true.
“Oh, Mateo,” Daveigh’s heart stopped. It was the sweetest thing anyone had ever said to her. No compliment would ever mean more. “You have a momma. She loves you so much. I just know she does.” Daveigh choked back tears because suddenly it hurt when the lub dub of rushing blood began anew.
“Mi madre murio,” he said, sadly.
His father spoke of her often. In pictures Liz looked like his abuela, so she must have acted like his grandmother, which made him happy. He didn’t remember her, though, and as much as he felt like he should love her the way Corey took to Ginny, he didn’t. The only person he felt that way about was Daveigh. Even though all the adults told him she was going to college someplace far away, it worried him that she left. What if one day Daveigh didn’t come home? His mother hadn’t. If Daveigh stayed they’d all be safe together. He could make her oatmeal in the morning. They’d all take care of Violette. At bedtime, she’d be there with his daddy to say goodnight.
“Your momma is right here,” she said touching his chest with tenderness.
He held her palm over his heart, praying that wish would do its job.
“Someday, baby…” Her voice trailed. Daveigh wanted to tell Mateo that Cris would find someone to be in his life, but she didn’t want him to hold her to a lie if that never happened. The corners of his mouth perked and she felt shame for leading a little boy to believe that he’d get his wish.
He closed his eyes and she kissed his forehead.
“I love you, Esmerelda.” He used the name his daddy had given her, when Mateo was a toddler, because of her green eyes.
“I love you too,” she responded, a little sad that she wouldn’t wake up to see his happy face in the morning.
Rising from the bed, Daveigh twirled her long brown hair around, looping it into a coil and twisting into a bun. It stayed put on her head without needing pins to secure it. One curly lock tendril fell free framing her face. She checked her watch, surprised at how long Cris’s telephone conversations was taking. Then she leaned against the doorframe to Mateo’s room, replaying in her mind his request that she be his mother. She felt miserable that the boy wasted this year’s wish on something that would never happen. Cris didn’t look at her in that way. He wouldn’t, even if she squandered her own next five birthday wishes on that.
The door opened and closed quietly. She heard boots fall by the entry. Cris padded up behind her. “Is he out already?”
“Yeah,” she said, unwilling to reveal the conversation she’d had with his only child. It would put them both in an awkward position. In truth, she’d also never let Cris take this ray of sunshine from her. Her track record with men was less than stellar and caring for Mateo could well be the only chance she had to be close to a child. They both filled a void in each other.
Wasn’t it ridiculous that she found validation in someone else’s child?
Daveigh looked at the rough floorboards. Cris had spoken few words to her today. She couldn’t put her finger on just what could have upset him this time, but she didn’t want to add to his ire on a special day. Her gaze fell to his hairy toes and, remembering back to him standing in the threshold wearing his boxers on New Year’s morning several years ago, she couldn’t help but drink him in from his jeans to the way his work-hardened pecks fit snugly under his soft tee. The wash of red flowed from under his collar, dividing his lips, streaming away from his nose and channeling up past his eye to where it eddied in a soft circle. Her eyes trailed his forehead back down to an unblinking deep set brown eye, the most handsome and exotic face she’d encountered with flawless olive skin. She wondered how it would bronze in the summer sun, but Cris was a stickler for hats and sunscreen. She’d never even seen him take off his shirt the way her brothers did when they worked a field. Instead, perspiration clung his tees to his skin forming against every curve of his body that she had no right to reach for.
Daveigh blew out a breath and crossed her arms over her breasts, trying to hide the effect Cris had on her. No grown man needed a little girl fawning over him. It was pathetic.
Her errant curl drew Cris’s attention as it fell back onto Daveigh’s high cheekbone. He itched to touch that lock. He wanted to feel how soft it was between his fingers and tuck it behind her ear as he leaned in to kiss her. Of all the moments he’d ever considered taking Daveigh in his arms this one was the hardest to endure.
It should be simple. He wanted her. But sometimes what you wish for isn’t what you get. He’d been fortunate that his feelings for Liz were reciprocal. If she were here, his thoughts would never fall upon Daveigh at all. So he had to let his boss’s daughter go back to college. She deserved to build the life she wanted. The whim’s of a silly widower would hold her back if he forced her to mother his son.
The worst part of her visits home was when she left. At least it wouldn’t be a prolonged goodbye to tomorrow. Cris had checked with Eric and Ginny to make sure the could step in and care for Mateo again and just finished making reservations for a red-eye to Nashville. After Daveigh left to go back to the mansion, he’d pack for the impromptu overnight trip and bring his son over to sleep on the couch with its cabbage rose fabric. Cris would have just enough time to nap on the plane before the business meeting. Proof that even in the South the Lord’s Day wasn’t as sacred as it was anywhere else. Cris felt guilty that he was leaving before his son would wake. It gnawed at him that if Daveigh were their’s that he wouldn’t have to worry. She’d never let a fly touch a hair on his boy’s head. Hell, she was everything Mateo deserved and the one gift he couldn’t give.
Cris appreciated her loving his child more than she’d ever understand.
“Thank you, Miss Cavanaugh.” He swallowed another year of regret, opening his arms to give her a simple hug. Daveigh hesitated, the same way she always did at a family event. Cris should stop doing this. He didn’t want to force her into anything that made her uncomfortable. It surprised him that she tucked her head into his neck and her palms pressed into the firm muscles of his back. He could feel the brush of her curls against his chin and took in her wariness. She’d been up with the crows and hadn’t stopped yet. It was time for her to go home to her own bed.
Cris caught their reflection in the wide, long front window of his living space. Had anyone looked through the parted lace curtains into the stable apartment they would see a family at the end of a long day. But they weren’t, and his hand in destroying his wife’s life would keep them apart if Daveigh ever wished for more than friendship between them.
Copyright ©2017 Jody Kaye
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are a creation of the Author’s imagination
or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, establishments, event or locales is
coincidental... That's right, I made it all up!
This excerpt is taken from an uncorrected proof of the book. Mistakes are possible... In other words, I'm human too.