Authors: Debra Ullrick
Tags: #Sweet Contemporary Romance
Bone tired, yet wanting to talk to Kelly, he decided to take her up on her offer. “Coffee, if you have some already made, that is.” He started to stand but she held her hand up.
“I’ll get it, you stay sitting. You’ve got to be exhausted after trekking through those woods.” Her eyes closed, then rested on his. “I’m so sorry Angie caused everyone such trouble.”
“Don’t you worry about that. That’s what we’re here for. To serve and to protect.” He smiled, hoping to see a smile on her worry-lined face.
A long pause, she nodded then headed toward the kitchen. A minute or two later, she came back with a plate of cinnamon rolls and two cups of coffee. She rounded the loveseat and set the hot beverages on the coffee table in front of the loveseat. She handed him a paper plate with a poinsettia design and offered him a cinnamon roll. After he put one on his plate, she sat down on the loveseat. Now they both had a clear view of Angie’s room.
“Hey, these are good,” he said around the bite in his mouth even as he worked to compose himself with her so near and now so much more like the Kelly he’d fallen in love with.
She smiled. It was the first genuine one since he’d arrived. “Glad you like them. It’s my grandma’s recipe. There not as good as hers, but I try.”
“Well, I’ve never had your grandma’s cinnamon rolls, but if yours aren’t as good as hers, I can only imagine how delicious hers are because these are excellent!” He took another bite and enjoyed the sweet cinnamon bread with walnuts and raisins and maple flavored icing on top. Halfway through, he clutched the candy cane coffee cup handle and smiled at the cartoon image of the little girl with her back to a large Christmas tree. She held a partially opened Christmas present behind her back while her mother looked down at her. The caption bubble above the mom read:
Eve, are you opening your presents?
The bubble above the little girl read:
The serpent tempted me. He made me do it.
“Cute.” He peered over the rim of his cup at Kelly.
She held up hers for him to see.
He chuckled at that one too.
With a twisted smile and grimace, she said softly, “Brad bought these. You remember how much Brad loved Christmas. It was always his favorite time of the year. Mine too.” She sat back and took a sip. “I wish it was Angie’s.”
“She doesn’t like Christmas?” That surprised him. “I thought all kids did?”
“She used to. Before Brad died.”
Tate wasn’t at all sure where the lines of friendship, duty, and propriety lay, but he wanted to know. “If you don’t mind me asking, what happened?”
Kelly‘s eyes locked on Tate’s for a brief moment before she leaned forward and glanced down the end of the hall toward Angie’s room, the girl hadn’t moved an inch. When she looked back at him, he couldn’t mistake the sadness in her eyes. “He was killed on Christmas Eve three years ago by a truck driver who had driven several hours past his 12 hour driving quota. From the story I got, the guy was trying to get home to his family,” she barely said above a whisper. “Not sure I blame him, but…”
Tate took Kelly’s hand in his. Her fingers curled around his like they had so many times before.
“He dozed off at the wheel and hit Brad head on. Neither one of them made it.” Another quick glance at Angie’s room, and she continued. “That evening, Angie had mentioned how her friend had gotten an iPad and how she had prayed that God would give her one too. Brad spoiled Angie something awful. Whatever she wanted, she got. So even though it was late, and we’d technically gotten her everything on her wishlist, he headed out to the store to get her one.” Kelly looked away. “He never made it back. And Angie’s never been the same. I think she blames herself for his death.”
It all made sense now. Why the little girl didn’t like Christmas, and why she acted up. False guilt was an ugly thing. He’d watched many a kid head down the wrong path because of it and other lies just like it. Well, he wouldn’t let another. Especially Brad and Kelly’s child. He would do whatever he could to help Angie. To help Kelly. Besides, he’d lost Kelly once. To Brad. He wasn’t going to watch Kelly lose someone else she loved. Not if he could help it.
♥ ♥ ♥
Kelly couldn’t believe how comfortable she felt with Tate. As if the years had rolled away, and they were still two best friends, hanging out in her living room, sharing their lives. That is, until… Her gaze came up to Tate’s. “Tate, do you mind if I ask you something?”
“No, not at all.” He set his empty plate on the coffee table. “What is it?”
“How come you and I never got together?”
The surprise was there in his eyes, if only for a moment. But it was there just the same.
He sighed and a look of calm acceptance came over his face. “Because I didn’t think you wanted to. Then you started going with Brad, and I wasn’t going to do anything to hurt my two best friends.”
The truth seared into the soft spot in her heart. If only she would have known. But it didn’t matter now. She had fallen in love with Brad. Completely and totally. “Did you ever marry?” she asked with a quick glance at his ring finger and before she picked up her cup and took a sip of her caramel vanilla cream coffee. He picked up her hand again.
“No.” His dark brown eyes zoned in on hers. “There was never anyone who could take your place in my heart.”
Shock snapped into her. “What do you mean? Are you saying what I think you’re saying? That you… That you loved me?”
“Mom, what’s he still doing here?” Angie’s petulant voice cut right through the moment.
As if it were a hot coal, Kelly let go of Tate’s hand and shot off the couch.
Guilt flushed her face and she felt like a child who’d been caught doing something they weren’t supposed to.
Angie stood there with her arms crossed. She tapped her foot and glared at Kelly and Tate.
It took effort, but Kelly drew in a long steady breath to compose herself. “Angie, you will not use that tone with me. And you will apologize to Officer Baker.”
“For what?” Angie tossed him a defiant, disgusted look.
Kelly inwardly cringed. She ran out of things to say to her daughter. Nothing she tried helped. In fact, Angie was getting worse.
Lord, help me out here
“Angie.” Tate stood and walked over to her. Angie’s arms fell to her side and trepidation replaced her defiant look. At six-foot plus and in that uniform, he could be quite intimidating. “The truth is, I’m leaving now. But… I want you to know that I’ll be back to check on you.”
“I don’t need anyone checking up on me.” The defiant look was back and darker now. “And you’re not welcome here.”
“Angie!” Kelly screeched, mortified by her daughter’s behavior. In three strides, she clutched Angie by the upper arm to take her to her bedroom and give her a good tongue lashing, but she’d only taken one step when Angie said, “You see that, Officer Baker? That’s child abuse. I want to file a report and have her arrested.” She pointed her thumb at Kelly.
Kelly’s gaze flew up to Tate’s. Angie had done a lot of things to undermine her, but nothing as extreme as this.
“Arrest her, Officer Baker. You’re a witness. Ow. You’re hurting me!”
Hurting her? She barely had ahold of her arm.
Why would her daughter say that?
Where did she get these ideas from?
Stunned speechless, Kelly could only stare at this stranger she called her daughter.
“Okay.” He shrugged and reached for the handcuffs. “If that’s what you want.”
Life felt like it had dunked her in the surreal tank as Kelly blinked at him. “You’re….you’re not serious.”
“I have no choice, ma’am.” While Angie stared Kelly down with a smirk of pure satisfaction, Tate sent Kelly a discreet wink. “Mrs. Larkin, you’re under arrest. You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have a right to an attorney. If you can’t afford one…”
Kelly listened as he read her the Miranda Rights and wondered where he was going with this. When he finished, his attention shifted to Angie. “I’ll have to take you in, too, Miss Larkin. While your mom is sitting in a cold jail cell with other prisoners who have done only who knows what to get there, we can find a nice foster care family who will take you in. So, you need to go pack your bags. You won’t be coming back anytime soon, especially if the courts find your mother guilty. She’ll have to pay a hefty fine and spend some time in jail.”
Ducking, Kelly hid her smile at Angie’s descending mouth and blinking eyes. She wasn’t sure if this was true police procedure or not, but neither did Angie. She did know, Tate was off duty now. Not that police officers didn’t arrest people while off duty, they did, but once again, Angie didn’t know that. That’s probably why he was doing what he was doing.
Kelly decided to go along with him. “I’m ready, Officer.” She turned around, put her hands behind her back, and peered over her shoulder at Tate who stood right in her line of vision. “Go ahead and cuff me.”
Tate clicked one side of the handcuffs open and reached for Kelly’s wrist.
“No!” Angie blurted. “I…I… She… she didn’t really abuse me. Mom didn’t hurt me at all.” She rolled up her sleeve. “See. There isn’t even a bruise or a mark or anything.”
Tate leaned over and took his time inspecting Angie’s arm. “I don’t know. It looks pretty red to me.” He stood up straight. “I’m afraid I’m going to have to take you in, Mrs. Larkin.”
Angie’s eyes widened, she twisted her arm, and studied the spot Tate had just inspected. “What? I don’t see any red. See.” She held her arm out for him to inspect again.
“Well, I did.” He sighed. “I’m sorry, Angie, but based on the evidence, I’m going to have to arrest your mom and take her to jail. I sure hate to do this because she’ll be locked up with other bad people who have done some really bad things to other people. But,” he shrugged. “I don’t have any other choice.”
“No. No.” Angie shook her head. “I don’t want you to arrest her. Please, Officer Baker. Don’t take my mom. I don’t want her to be locked up with other bad people who might hurt her. I don’t want her to go.” Angie threw her arms around Kelly and looked up at Tate with pleading eyes. “Please, let her go. Please.” She clung so hard that Kelly nearly lost her balance backward. She wanted to loosen Angie’s arms, but even if the hug was a little bit too tight, it felt nice. Painful, but nice. After all, it had been a long time since Angie had put her arms around her.
Tate squatted down in front of Angie, and his eyes zoned in on hers. “Angie, you’ve made some pretty serious accusations here. Accusations that have some serious and really tough consequences for both you and your mother. I’ll let it go this time, for your sake, if,” he emphasized the word if. “If you promise me you will never
accuse your mother of abuse again. Notice I said
.” He did a quick glance up at Kelly, then back down at Angie. “Then I won’t arrest her this time. But, if you accuse her again even if you admit that she hasn’t done anything to harm you, I will have no choice but to arrest her and take her to jail and you to a foster home. So what do you say? Do I have your word?”
Angie nodded hard and fast. “Yes.”
“Yes, what?” he asked.
“Yes sir, what?”
Angie let go of her mother and crossed her fingers over her chest. “Cross my heart. You have my word I won’t ever accuse my mom again. Only if she really does,” Angie quickly added the last sentence.
“Okay.” He stood and put the handcuffs back before he settled his hands on his waist. “Well, “I’m going to check in on you now and then, Angie, to make sure your mom isn’t, okay?”
Angie smiled and nodded. “Okay.” She looked up at her mom. “Hear that, Mom?”
Kelly held back her smile and laugh along with the tears stinging her eyes. “I did.” She shifted her focus onto Tate. “Thank you, Officer Baker. I’m so glad I won’t have to be living with murderers and other bad people.”
“Me too,” Tate added with a half-a-smile of his own.
“Me too,” Angie said on a more serious note.
This time Kelly couldn’t hold the laughter in. Tate and even Angie joined her. It was nice to hear Angie laugh again. She had Tate to thank for that. She wanted to repay him somehow. And she knew just how to do that.
The next evening, Tate stood at Kelly’s front door. “Thank you for having me over.” He gazed down at Angie as she held the door open for him. He stepped inside to the sound of Jingle Bells playing, and the smell of roast beef, if he wasn’t mistaken.
Angie closed the door to block out the cold and darkness beyond.
“I’ve never shared a homecooked meal with two such pretty young women before.”
Angie rolled her eyes. “Mom’s not young.”
Tate chuckled. “You’d better not let your mom hear you say that.”
Angie tipped her head and frowned. “Why?”
“Women don’t like to talk about their age.” He removed his coat and was surprised when Angie took it from him and draped it over the back of a nearby chair.