The Sergeant's Unexpected Family(8)

By: Carrie Nichols

He crouched in front of her and lifted her foot to rest on his thigh.

She drew in a sharp breath at the contact with his hard thigh muscles. Brody didn’t have the physique of a bodybuilder, but he was leanly fit, the kind of strength that came from physical labor, not hours in a gym.

“You okay?” He peered up at her. “You look kinda peaked again.”

“Yes... I’m...yes.” He was so close, the dark blue outer ring around his irises fascinated her.

He gave her one last look, then arranged the sock over her toes and slipped it on, repeating the process with the other.

The warmth from his thigh seeped into her foot. Her eyes stung and her throat clogged with emotion. When was the last time someone had treated her with such caring and kindness? Roger had given the appearance of solicitousness, but with the help of hindsight, she realized that’s all it had been—a façade. But this was real and what had started as an embarrassing situation had turned into something that felt intimate.

“Mary?” He looked up. “Where are your shoes?”

Pay attention to his words, not his lips. She scowled at the gold toes on her socks, but it was like trying to make sense of a spreadsheet written in Sanskrit. Why couldn’t she—Oh, yeah, she’d been attempting to put her socks and shoes on when Brody came in.

“Never mind. I see them over there.” He stood and retrieved her sneakers from the other side of the gurney.

Mary reached for the shoes. Despite looking like a pauper, she wasn’t someone who needed rescuing. She’d been taking care of herself for most of her twenty-six years. “I can do that.”

He ignored her outstretched hand. “I got it.”

He crouched again and put her sneakers on and tied the laces.

“Thank you.” So much for all her plans to demonstrate how she had everything under control, how she wasn’t looking for charity, how she was a strong, twenty-first-century woman. Brody needed to see her as Elliott’s mother, not as someone he needed to take care of, or worse, pity. Never again would she allow anyone to cluck over her and murmur, “You poor thing,” as those caseworkers had done. She and Brody were close enough in age to be considered contemporaries, equals.

“Someone’s been waiting to see you.” A nurse around Mary’s age came in carrying Elliott, who was babbling to a teddy bear clutched in his hands. He glanced up, and as soon as he spotted his mother, he burst into tears and reached for Mary.

Brody rose to his full height of several inches over six feet and stepped aside, but Mary wasn’t aware of his presence as she reached out to enfold Elliott in her arms. Ignoring her protesting muscles, she clasped onto his warmth, the stuffed animal crushed between their bodies, and rained kisses into his dark hair. Sobbing in earnest now, Elliott clung to her, his chubby fingers clenched around the soft flannel of her shirt. She rubbed his back in soothing strokes. “Shh, it’s okay, sweetie, Mommy’s here. Mommy’s got you.”

He lifted his head, tears clinging to his lashes, and sucked in air in short sobbing bursts. She could still hear the crunching noise as cars collided, feel the impact, and he was so young he wouldn’t understand what had happened. “Mommy’s here, sweetie.”

Mary’s brow furrowed as she spoke to the nurse over Elliott’s head. “Are you sure he’s okay?”

“Physically he’s fine. He’s had quite a fright. I ’spect he’ll be emotional and clingy for a few days. He’s not at the stranger-anxiety stage yet, so he did well with us until now.” The nurse rubbed a hand over Elliott’s riot of dark curls. “He’s just happy to have his mama.”

Brody watched the tearful reunion    , his brows drawn together in a frightening glower. Her stomach clenched. Had she been wrong about him? Maybe he wasn’t the person she’d imagined him to be. She’d been wrong about Roger, so it shouldn’t be a surprise if she’d be wrong about Brody, too. Maybe this was a wasted trip.

“Brody?” An elderly woman with a purple volunteer button pinned to her chest appeared outside the opening to the curtain. “There’s a phone call at the desk for you.”

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