Four Weddings And A Fireman(9)

By: Jennifer Bernard

“Why are you dissing the shirt?”

“Second, I don’t want Vader to leave. I like him. He’s good. Do you know how hard it is to find someone good in this world? No, you wouldn’t know. Everything comes easy for you. Well, it isn’t like that for everyone. Some people are born in a big pile of crap and have to fight their way out and—” She caught her breath in a gulp of air. Nick, his shoulders caved forward, was looking at her with a mixture of bewilderment and hurt feelings. How could he possibly understand? Nick, despite his posing, was a rich kid who wouldn’t understand the first thing about where she came from.

“You know what? I’ll find someone else to do the class. You don’t have to stay.” She bundled him toward the door. “I’ll be home late, so you and Soren can make your own dinner.”

She closed the door behind him, then plopped down onto the polished hardwood floor. Catching a glimpse of herself in the mirror that stretched across the opposite wall, she gave herself a scolding shake of the head.

Nick was an innocent, if annoying, bystander. And the fact was, he had a legitimate point. She ought to end things with Vader once and for all. She’d tried to end things. But it never seemed to work. Somehow they always ended up together again. And each time it got harder to keep things casual.

Deep in her dance bag, her cell phone rang. She scrabbled through it, found her purse, and reached her phone just before it went to voice mail.

“It’s Jacob.” Right away, she knew something was wrong. Since he’d gone off to college, her brother called only about important things like his breakups and new boyfriends.

“What happened?”

“I got a call from Arkansas. Humility ran away.”

“What?” Humility was the next youngest sister in their family—eighteen, a year older than Cherie had been when she and Jacob had fled Pine Creek, Arkansas. “Did she run away with Robbie Mackintosh?”

“No. But he’s gone too. Apparently their engagement was a sham. They were both biding their time until they could make a run for it.”

“Wow.” Cherie ran her thumb up and down the edge of her phone. Clever trick, she had to admit. In her crazy family—she thought of it more as a cult than a family—early marriages were mandatory. “Has she called you?”

“No ma’am. I was checking to see if she’d called you.”

Cherie shook her head, realized he couldn’t see her, then kept on shaking it as she spoke. “No. Holy smokes. What should we do? What should we do? Oh no, Jacob, Mackintosh is going to be furious. Robbie’s his oldest son and the only one with any brains. What if he comes looking for him?”

“Shhh. Calm down, Cherie. You’re scaring your fairy godmother. Or at least your fairy brother.” She closed her eyes and tried to conjure her beloved brother’s wry smile and twinkling blue eyes.

Instead, Frank Mackintosh’s grimy, whiskered face filled her mind’s eye, the way she’d last seen him, looming over her with a whiskey-slobber leer, smelling of chicken poop and evil victory. Reaching for her, sure he had her cornered, trapped. Then the terrible sound that old pipe had made when she’d flung it at him.

She drew in a shaky breath. It was okay. She’d gotten away, and now she was here. Safe. Sort of.

“Here’s what we do,” said Jacob. “We don’t do anything. Humility knows how to find us.”

“Yeah, but what if she does find us, and Mackintosh follows her here?” She was having a hard time catching her breath. Her throat seemed to have a vise around it.

“If she comes to San Gabriel, and he follows her, then you can get hysterical, ’kay? But not until then.”

As always, Jacob’s lighthearted approach made things look better. She blurted out the first thought that came to mind. “If only I could tell Vader everything, I’d feel—”

“No. We agreed. He’s a fireman, that’s too close to cop for comfort.”

“We can trust him. I swear to heaven we can.”

“Cherie, Mackintosh filed charges against us. You can’t tell anyone. Besides, we promised in blood. Harper family vow, can’t be broken.”

Also By Jennifer Bernard

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