Meant-to-Be Baby(6)

By: Lois Richer


“Ben, you’re a peacekeeper.” Incredulity filled her voice.

“That’s a job. I’ve been trained to follow orders but someone else makes the decisions. It isn’t the same.” Her face told him he needed to explain. “My mom was sick when I was a kid, Victoria. My dad, well, he wasn’t around much so I was left to raise my brother. Neil was six years younger than me and we had opposite temperaments. I tried my best but—” It hurt to admit it aloud. “I didn’t do right by him. I didn’t know how. And because I failed him, he got into a lot of trouble.”

“Neil blamed you?” Her dark eyebrows rose.

“No.” Ben shook his head. “I blamed me. For not keeping him out of trouble. For not saving him from the whole gang-drug-jail trip. He finally broke free, no thanks to me, but in the end, his past and my failures caught up to him.” How he hated saying this. “The police believe the people who murdered Alice and Neil were cronies from my brother’s drug days, that they wanted money from him to score another hit.”

“Oh, no.” She looked as sad as he felt.

“Yeah. Neil started doing drugs because I demanded too much from him, so that makes his and Alice’s deaths my fault.” Ben almost gagged at the weight of that responsibility. “I might make the same mistake with Mikey and I can’t risk that.”

“You’re not going to,” Victoria shot back. “You’re no longer some young, abandoned kid who’s doing the best he can. You’re an adult. Mikey started life with a stable family, parents who loved him. That’s a whole different situation from Neil’s. And now Mikey has you.”

“No, he doesn’t, because he can’t depend on me.” Ben glanced around the old-fashioned room as the knot inside him grew. “I’m not his father. I don’t have the same knowledge, goals and experiences Neil would have passed on to Mikey. I have no idea how to be the kind of parent Mikey needs. I don’t know anything about fatherhood.”

“Fathers become fathers by learning.” Victoria shrugged. “You can do the same.”

“How? In furloughs? When I’m home for a couple months here and there? I can be sent anywhere at any time, into the worst hot spots. What if I was injured, or even killed?” He shook his head. “Mikey needs stable, full-time secure parents, here, in Canada.”

Ben knew from the way Victoria’s gray eyes turned to ice that she didn’t agree. That’s when he realized that Victoria, adamant in her principles, probably wasn’t going to support his request to her aunts. Fortunately she didn’t have a chance to voice the disapproval currently darkening her eyes because Tillie called them to the table.

With a sigh, Ben forced his focus off his rescuer and rose, gripping the handmade crutch Jake had made. He hobbled to the kitchen table, smothering a moan as his whole body protested. To his chagrin, Victoria’s sisters and the two elderly ladies were already seated, leaving only two chairs unoccupied. When he sat beside Victoria, his arm brushed hers, creating a zip of electricity that made him even more tensely aware of her.

Everyone bowed their head as Margaret said grace. Once conversation flowed around them again Victoria leaned toward him.

“It won’t make you less of a soldier to swallow a second painkiller, Major,” she whispered. She poured him a glass of water then nodded at a small white pill sitting next to his knife.

Ben craved relief from the twinges that plagued him so he swallowed the tablet, hoping it wouldn’t totally dull his senses because he had a hunch he was going to need his wits about him where this strong woman was concerned.

And yet, there was something else about Victoria—a vulnerability? Silly to say that about a woman who scaled mountains and rescued people. Yet Ben glimpsed a certain wistfulness in the tender brush of her hand against Mikey’s head and the gentle way she teased him. Both belied a soft heart underneath the tough exterior she projected. He liked her pluck.

But Ben wasn’t looking for a relationship. In fact, he never wanted to get involved, never wanted the obligation of caring for and probably failing a wife and family. He didn’t want the responsibility of wrecking another young life. That’s why he had to figure out Mikey’s situation. His nephew’s future was too precious to ruin, as he’d ruined Neil’s.

As he ate, Ben struggled to stifle his growing interest in Victoria Archer. Maybe he didn’t want to be, but he was very interested in this competent woman and why she’d been so insistent that Ben be Mikey’s father.

He also wondered how long she’d be staying here, at The Haven, in the middle of nowhere. She was young, obviously hip and unmarried, judging by her bare ring finger. Her affection for the elderly sisters was obvious, her manner with them protective.

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