The Sergeant's Unexpected Family(2)

By: Carrie Nichols

“Aha.” Tavie snapped her fingers, reached under the counter and slapped a small box on the ancient wood. “Here, try these.”

Brody eyed the box with suspicion. “What are those for?”

“If’n you have to have something dangling outta that pretty mouth of yours,” she said as she pushed the rectangular box closer, “at least give these a try. They’ll hang out of your mouth just fine and won’t pollute your lungs.”

He picked up the mint-scented box and turned it over several times. “Toothpicks?”

She nodded once. “On the house.”

“Gee, thanks.” The sad part was he couldn’t fault Tavie for treating him as if he didn’t have enough sense to come in out of the rain. Thirty-five years old and still trying to decide what he’d do with the rest of his life. What did that say? In his glory days, he’d achieved more than most—including those smug Rangers—when he’d passed the army’s rigorous physical and mental training to become a covert operator for Delta Force. That phase of his life had come to a halt two years ago, but that didn’t give him an express ticket to pity town. Not when a trust fund and an army disability check eased financial concerns while he considered his options.

Tavie wore a smug smile. “Thank me in thirty years, when you’re still healthy.”

“You planning on being behind this counter that long?” The cellophane crinkled as Brody unwrapped a toothpick.

“And why wouldn’t I?” She crossed her arms over her bosom.

He smirked and stuck the toothpick in his mouth. “Figured you and Ogle would be enjoying life in sunny Florida by then.”

After leaving the army, he’d craved isolation, somewhere to lick his wounds. He’d expected to find it in rural Vermont, but it would seem the residents of Loon Lake had, at times, other ideas.

“Pfft, I know what you—” The ringing of Brody’s cell phone interrupted her.

Saved by the bell, he dug into his pocket and pulled out the phone. “Huh.”

“Who is it? I can’t see.” Tavie leaned over the counter and scowled at him when he held the phone out of range. “Hey, I don’t get out much.”

“It’s the hospital, and you do just fine from behind that counter.”

“Want me to call Jan to see what they want? She might—”

“Why don’t I just answer...” Brody swiped his thumb across the screen. “Wilson.”

“Brody? It’s Jan over at Loon Lake Regional Hospital. There’s a woman by the name of Mary Carter in our ER with her seven-month-old son, Elliott, and they’re ready to be released.”

Brody jerked his head back. What the...? He frantically searched his memory, but the names meant nothing to him. “And this concerns”

“Well...she insists you’re the baby’s next of kin—”

“Whoa, hold on.” He turned his back on Tavie, who was craning her neck over the counter, and, if he didn’t know better, he’d swear her ears had grown bigger. “Tell me how I’m supposed to be related?”

“Don’t panic.” Jan chuckled drily. “She listed you as the infant’s uncle.”

Uncle? Him? Did he even know anyone with an infant? Let alone someone who’d go as far as listing him as next of kin. “But I...”

“Paramedics say she was quite adamant about you being the baby’s uncle when they brought her in.”

Still trying to place the names, he took a deep breath to help counter the effects of a sudden adrenaline rush. “What happened?”

“They were involved in a chain-reaction car accident out on the state four lane.”

As he listened, an image of sparkling dark eyes and long, wavy hair the color of a Guinness rose to the forefront in his memory. Mary. Yes, that was the name of the attractive woman, his brother’s girlfriend, he’d met at their father’s funeral. If he was her baby’s uncle, how did his half brother fit into all of this? Where was Roger and why wasn’t the hospital contacting him? He and Roger had been estranged for years but the thought of—

“Brody? You still there?”

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