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Authors: Lori Copeland

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BOOK: A Perfect Love
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“You got a boyfriend, Tallulah?”

Her head snapped up. Say what?

Russell grinned and wiped his hands on a cloth. “Surely you have a significant other?”

Tallulah didn't think much in life was significant . . . except for crullers.

Russell grinned at her. “Love is great, ole girl, when it's going right. When it's going wrong—well, let's just say it can be pretty rough. Do you know what I mean?”

Actually, she didn't have a clue what he was jabbering about, but she was willing to sympathize.

Leaping onto the deck of his boat, Russell kept talking. “Babs and I get along great most of the time. I love her and I know she loves me, but living with her folks kinda puts a strain on the relationship.”

Not knowing what else to do, Tallulah thumped her tail in commiseration.

“Don't get me wrong—Floyd and Cleta treat me well. Cleta spoils Barbara more than she should, but I don't mind. I work long hours, and Barbara would get lonesome if she didn't have somebody around.” Russell dropped a tool and bent to pick it up, then rested for a moment. “The thing is, Barbara and I need our own place. We need privacy— room to breathe. Cleta's always there; she makes breakfast, lunch, and supper. If we watch TV anywhere besides our bedroom, we have to watch the TV shows Cleta likes, and we associate with Floyd and Cleta's friends.” He looked at Tallulah. “For months Cleta nagged me about church on Sunday, and I was grateful to have work as an excuse. Not that I have anything against God or the preacher—I'm on good terms with both, really. But Cleta was driving me nuts, so I took the boat out just . . . well, to be ornery, I guess. But not long ago I realized that being stubborn with family is no way to make a life together.”

He reached out and scratched Tallulah's ears. “Some folks would say we've got it made. We don't pay rent; Floyd won't even hear of us paying for groceries. Cleta and Micah do the cleaning and cooking, so Barbara and I live like royalty.”

Tallulah tilted her head. Then what's the beef?

“I'm not ungrateful; I just want a place of our own. And kids. Maybe a boy, and then a girl.”

Russell's
voice drifted away, and he looked sad.

Then Russell reached into a sack, pulled out a cookie, and tossed it toward her. Springing lightly forward, Tallulah caught the treat in her mouth.

Yummm. Oreos.

She crunched the cookie. Chocolate-centered Oreos. Oh, bliss!

“Is that Tallulah?” Dr. Marc came down the hill wearing a lightweight jacket and no hat. The man moved quickly for a guy of eight—well, he was nearly sixty in human years, and the guy hardly ever panted.

Russell waved. “Morning, Doc!”

The dock jiggled beneath Tallulah's paws as the nice doctor stepped onto the rough planking. “Caleb sent me out here to fetch this little lady back into the house.” He put his hands on his hips as he stared at Tallulah. “Thought you'd make the ferry, did you?”

Oh, cats. Tallulah tucked her tail between her legs. Maybe if she pretended to be repentant, the doctor would feel sorry for her and let her go . . .

No such luck. His big hand swooped down and caught her around the middle, then lifted her from the dock. Tallulah wriggled her feet, but the doctor had a firm grip on her belly.

“By the way, Russell,” he said, settling Tallulah against his chest as he turned to face the lobsterman. “I have a leaky faucet I'd like you to look at. It may need a new seal, but I've never been good with plumbing.”

“Sure, Doc, as soon as I get a minute I'll stop by and fix it for you.” Russell wiped his hands on an oily rag. “I've been meaning to have a talk with you anyway.”

“Oh?” The doctor's smile faded. “Something wrong?”

Russell glanced away as a blush crept up his neck. “I don't think so—but you'd be the one to say.”

The doctor lifted a brow. “What's up?”

Russell appeared to be studying the toes of his boots. “It's not something a man likes to discuss.”

“Don't let modesty stop you. I can assure you, there is nothing I haven't seen or heard.”

“It isn't modesty—it's just sort of hard to talk about.”

Tallulah felt her heart do a double beat when the doctor sat down on a box. She turned her eyes toward the horizon, where the ferry was still coming, but the doctor set her on his lap and looped a finger into her collar.

She sniffed. He didn't trust her. Imagine that.

“I came from a large family,” Russell said, stepping closer to the dock. “So I'm used to giving in a lot—I suppose that's the problem. I give in to Barbara because I love her.”

“Large family, huh? How many siblings?”

“Twelve, counting me. Having kids was never a prob- lem in the Higgs household. Trying to keep the numbers down—now, that could be a problem.”

“You come from around here?”

“Raised about thirty miles north. I had already graduated when I met Barbara; she was still in high school. We met at a football game. She was kinda shy, bein' an only child and all, but she had a great sense of humor, and she was able to laugh at herself. I like that in a person.”

The doctor didn't answer, but only nodded, encouraging Russell to keep talking. Tallulah wiggled a bit, testing the strength of Dr. Marc's grip, but he held her tight.

Russell ran his hand through his hair. “Others don't know Barbara the way I do—not even her folks. She has a heart of gold, and she isn't selfish, not like you'd think an only child would be. With other people she's quiet, but with me, well, she's Barbara. And I love her to death.”

“Sounds like you have a good marriage.”

“The best. Married three years now.” Russell scuffed the toe of his boot on the deck. “The only fly in the ointment is this baby thing.”

Tallulah heard the doctor take a deep breath. “Baby thing?”

“Well, you know—we try, but nothing happens. Month after month Barbara comes up barren. Cleta's not much help, either. She wants to keep Barbara under her thumb, and she knows once Barbara gets pregnant we'll be looking for a place of our own. She has scared Barbara out of her wits by feeding her all kinds of horror stories about childbirth.”

“That's a real shame, and unfair of Cleta. Maybe she doesn't realize what she's doing.”

“Oh, she realizes—you don't know Cleta the way I do. Barbara is her life and she won't let go, even though Barbara's a grown woman.”

Tallulah looked up as the doctor's voice softened. “Many mothers have a hard time letting their offspring fly the nest.”

“We've tried everything, Doc. Barbara buys these medical books about what to do if you're not conceiving— why, I've even . . .” Russell shifted his weight. “Well, I've taken to wearing boxer shorts instead of briefs, but it hasn't made a difference. A lot more comfortable though.”

The doctor nodded. “So I've heard.”

“Anyway, I've been thinking that the only way to change things is for Barbara to conceive.”

“Maybe,” the doctor answered, “or you could be opening up a can of worms if Barbara's not ready to be a mother.”

“I think she is, but she doesn't know it. Floyd wants grandchildren; he hints at it occasionally. Cleta would love it if we had a houseful of kids, but only if we were living at the B&B.”

Slapping his hand on his knee, Dr. Marc smiled. “So— you want to get to the bottom of this mystery and see if you're causing the problem?”

The tips of Russell's ears turned bright red. “I'm not much on going to doctors—”

“Not many relish the thought, but I think you're overdue. I know I haven't seen you since last year when you got that bad case of sun poisoning. And I haven't ever seen Barbara.”

Russell nodded. “Doctors scare her.”

“Well, I promise my examinations are painless. Can you stop by the office Monday afternoon?”

Russell swallowed. “That soon?”

“The sooner the better, wouldn't you say?”

Russell nodded slowly.

Leaning closer, Doc whispered, “I give all my patients cherry lollipops.”

Russell grinned. “Just do what you have to do. I'll skip the candy.”

Chuckling, the doctor stood up, hoisting Tallulah back into the air. She whined nervously as the two men stretched across the water to shake hands.

Tallulah wriggled again, hoping the doctor would let her slip away, but as the ferry pulled up to the dock, he carried her up the hill, toward home and a low-calorie breakfast of kibble and diet bits.

“Yidl mitn fidl, Arye mitn bas . . .”

Buddy made a face as Yakov's tenor warbling came through the thin wall that divided his living quarters from the storage room beyond. Saturday morning, and a guy couldn't sleep late in his own apartment.

“Hey,” he called, kicking the wall at the foot of his bed. “Can you keep it down in there?”

A moment later Yakov's swarthy face peered through one of the metal air vents Mike had placed in the thin wall. “Am I disturbing you, Buddy?”

“A little.” Buddy pulled his blanket higher on his shoulder, then dropped his head to his pillow. “Wouldn't be so bad if you'd sing something that made sense.”

“You don't
know ‘Yidl Mitn Fidl'?” A note of astonishment rang in the helper's voice. “Why, everyone in Holland—”

Buddy lifted his head. “You were in Holland?”

A betraying blush darkened the other man's face. “Many years ago. It was . . . during a bad time. I was there to help the Father's chosen people.”

Buddy propped his head on his hand and stared. How much did Mike and Dana know about this Yakov guy, anyway? Nothing he said made any sense. Here he was, talking about Holland many years ago, when from the look of his face Yakov couldn't be much older than Mike. And what had he been doing in Holland, and who was this mysterious father he referred to all the time? This Yakov was probably involved with some weird cult, yet naive Dana and Mike had welcomed him into their home.

He frowned toward the air vents. “Hey, dude—did you grow up in Holland?”

“Um . . . no.” The flash of a smile shone through the metal flanges. “I am sorry about the song. I could sing something else.”

“Whatever.” Buddy scratched his chin. “Do you know ‘Three Times a Lady?'”

Yakov's dark brows slanted downward. “No. Do you like ‘Gut Morgan, A Gut Yor?'”

Buddy clamped down his rising irritation. “What language is that, Japanese?”

“Yiddish.” Yakov bowed his head slightly. “A fun language. ‘Yidl mitn fidl' means ‘Yidl with his fiddle,' and ‘Arye mitn bas' is ‘Aryeh with his bass—'”

“I don't care what it means! I want to sleep!”

Yakov retreated as if he'd been slapped. “I am sorry,” he whispered, then he closed the vent—a silly thing to do, really, because Buddy had the woodstove and the only source of heat in the carriage house.

At least it was quiet now.

Irritated and restless, Buddy pounded his pillow, then buried his face in its softness. He hadn't meant to lose his temper. He hardly ever yelled, but something about Yakov seemed to bring out the worst in him. The man was always happy and smiling, always singing those stupid songs in that crazy language . . .

While he, Buddy, just wanted to be left alone.

A gentle tapping at the front door grated across his nerves. “What?”

He heard the squeak of the hinge as the door opened. Yakov stood there, his face composed and his eyes shining with friendliness. “Buddy, it is not good for a man to be alone. Would you like to help me package a few art prints?”

Buddy stared at him. What was the guy doing, trying to get out of work?

“You're alone,” Buddy snapped. “And you don't seem to mind it.”

“I am not a man,” Yakov replied easily. He hesitated, then pressed. “So—you do not want to help?”

“No!”

Buddy kicked at the footboard for emphasis, but a full minute passed before the hinge creaked again and Yakov withdrew. Lying very still, Buddy clenched his eyes shut and fought against the tide of emotion rising within him.

Not a man? Of course he wasn't, the fellow was a certifiable fruitcake! Dana and Mike were living with a lunatic, but they had been too charmed by his goofy smile and funny language to notice Yakov was 100 percent crazy.

And the townspeople thought
he
was nuts.

“Cleeeeeeta! We're going to miss the ferry!”

Cleta checked her watch. Twelve-forty-five, so they had plenty of time before Captain Stroble would shove off, but Vernie was downstairs in the foyer hollering like a stevedore.

“Coming, coming. Hold your britches.” Cleta clunked down the stairs while trying unsuccessfully to stick a pin in her hat. “Goodness, you'd think we were going to a fire instead of the library.”

Vernie regarded her with an accusing expression, as if she were dawdling on purpose. “You know this weather isn't going to last. Any moment now it's going to turn on us and Stroble won't be operating the ferry. I'm out of things to read, so hurry up.”

“Ayuh, like you'd die if you didn't have Danielle Steele to keep you company.”

Vernie stiffened. “I read other things.”

“Like what?”

“Like . . . Hunt and Copeland. You know—stuff.” She changed the subject. “Barbara going with us?”

“No.” Cleta paused in front of the hall mirror, talking around the pin in her mouth. Barbara was the reason she wasn't ready; Cleta had spent the last half-hour trying to talk the girl into coming out for a bit of fresh air.

She met Vernie's gaze in the mirror. “Doodles says she wants to stay home today.”

Vernie's brows lifted a notch. “Really?”

Cleta secured the pin, and then stepped back to adjust her earrings. “The child's not acting normal. She stays in her room most of the time and watches those soaps. Can't be good for her.”

BOOK: A Perfect Love
5.93Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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