For the Sake of His Heir(5)

By: Joanne Rock

“Who’s hurt? Your grandmother?” Reluctantly, he pulled his hand from her back, where his fingers briefly tangled in her thick, dark ponytail. He made sure she was steady before he let go of her. Her black T-shirt with an American rock-band logo was wrinkled, the fabric hitching up on one side away from the lightweight cargo pants that were her everyday work uniform.

Her breath came in fast pants as one tear rolled down her cheek. Her normally olive skin had gone as white as the envelope she still clutched. Just a moment ago, she’d been teasing smiles from his son, her beauty naturally captivating even when she wasn’t making silly faces to entertain the boy.

“Read it.” She thrust the note at Gabe and his eyes scanned the short message from Rose Hanson while Brianne fumbled in the leg pocket of her cargo pants and pulled out her cell phone. “I’ve been saving money to move her down here with me. I was going to talk to her this weekend when we’re supposed to have a video call. I should have been connecting with her every day, but I’m calling her now.”

Brianne held the phone to her ear. Gabe could hear someone speaking on the other end, but the call must have gone straight to voice mail message because Brianne punched a button and tried again.

“It’s okay.” He moved around the high chair so he could be closer to her, and yes, put his arm around her again. He gave her a gentle, one-armed hug, hoping to comfort her somehow as he steeled himself for the shock of pleasure that touching her created. “We’ll send someone to check on her. A home health nurse.”

Brianne left a message for her grandmother, asking her to call her back right away. Shoving her phone back in her pants pocket, she slumped over the table.

He regretted that he didn’t know more about Brianne’s family background. All he knew was that her upbringing had been rough enough to make her grandmother cash in the last of her savings to send her off to Martinique with a friend who was retiring to the island. Brianne had been just twelve years old at the time. Her guardian had been little more than a stranger, but she helped Brianne finish her schooling and find an apprenticeship with a local botanist.

Gabe had been caught up in his own drama for so damn long he’d never really gotten to know Brianne as well as he would have liked to. Of course, there was always a hint—just a hint—of a spark with her. He’d ignored it easily enough when he’d been with Theresa, telling himself that the feelings for Brianne were of the creative-professional variety, that he admired her design skills and commitment to her projects.

But there was more to it than that, and it roared to life when he tucked her head under his chin. The scent of her hair was as vibrantly floral as the gardens she tended every day. He couldn’t ignore the feel of her against him, the lush feminine curves at odds with her utilitarian work clothes.

“There’s no one.” She shook her head, her soft, dark hair brushing his jaw. “My stepmother was living with Nana Rose, but then Wendy got a new boyfriend and moved out last month. I’ve been so worried—”

“I’ll find a home health-care service and make a call right now.” He pulled his phone from the back pocket of his jeans, hoping Jason’s caregiver returned from lunch soon so Gabe could give Brianne his undivided attention.

The protective instinct was too strong to ignore. Brianne had been a positive force in his life during his worst days. And her daily, sunny presence in his son’s world soothed a small portion of Gabe’s guilt and resentment over not being able to provide a mother for his own child.

“No.” Brianne straightened suddenly, tensing as she withdrew from his touch. “It’s my job, not yours, Gabe. But thank you.” She took out her phone again and keyed in a code with trembling fingers. “That’s a good idea to have someone check on her until I can get there.”

“Gah!” his son shouted behind him and Gabe turned to see the boy tossing a carrot in the air.

Even though she was upset and distracted, Brianne managed a shaky smile for Jason. She was so different from the baby’s mother, who seemed content to leave the parenting to Gabe no matter how often he’d offered to fly to the States so she could see their son. She had no plans to see her baby until Valentine’s Day, when she’d arranged a photo shoot in New York with a country-music magazine. As if a child was a prop to show off when needed.

Nevertheless, Gabe would be there to facilitate in the small window of time available for his son to see his mother.

“Maybe you won’t have to travel all the way to New York once you have a report on how she’s doing from an outside source.” Gabe hated to see Brianne return to a life that made her unhappy. No matter how much she loved her grandmother, he knew Brianne had bad memories of the home she’d left behind. “You can have a health-care aide for her as often as you want until you’re ready to move her down here.”

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