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Authors: Ann B Harrison

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BOOK: Coming Home
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The sound of a puppy
yapping drew his attention and he walked around to the back of the house. A dark-haired
child was swinging in the old tyre hanging in the fig tree by the old milking
shed. As she swung in the air, the pup tried to catch her and missed. It yapped
each time it jumped, dragging its injured leg.

Stevie stood
transfixed, looking at the face of the child—his child—as she laughed at the
animals’ antics. The sound of her laughter, the high pitches squeals of delight
shot through to his heart. Pure joy radiated from her face, the huge grin she
wore hitting him with a rush of paternal pride he never expected. She looked so
much like him, it almost broke his heart. There was no mistaking he was her
father. A well of emotion rose in his throat and he coughed to avoid tears. Now
wasn't the time to lose control.

Tamara looked over and smiled,
her features her mother’s, her colouring his. "Are you here to see
me?" She jumped off the swing and took a few steps toward him, the pup at
her feet.

Stevie crouched down on
the ground and waited for her to come closer. "Yes. I guess if you are Tamara,
then it's you I want to see."

"I like to be
called Tam. Tamara is such a girly name." She titled her head to one side
and gazed over him. "You're my father, aren't you? Mum said you were
coming. Where have you been? Fathers are supposed to be there to help mothers
look after their children."

"Sometimes things
happen in strange ways, Tam. Things don't always work out the way you think
they will. But I'm here now and I'd like to get to know you, if that's
okay?"

"Of course it’s
okay, silly, you're my dad." She grinned and sat down on the grass,
grabbing the puppy and pulling it on her lap. "He has a broken leg but it
doesn't stop him running around. Mum said I have to be careful and not let him
get too excited because he might hurt it more."

"I think your mum
might be right. She is a vet after all." Stevie reached out and scratched
the pup under the chin and the needle-like teeth latched onto his finger,
making Tam laugh. "What have you called him?"

"Well, I'm still
thinking about it. I like Sid but Uncle Cade said he needs something better
than that. Sid is too silly for a dog. I think what he called his dog is
sillier."

"It's your dog,
call it what you want."

"You are a
policeman, aren't you?" She pinned him with an intense gaze.

"Yes, I am."

"Can you tell
Uncle Cade I'm calling him Sid then. He won't argue with a policeman."

"Tam, hey. Oh, hi
Stevie, I didn't hear the car." Rooney walked out and glanced between
them. He gave her a reassuring smile and saw the tension leave her jaw. She
walked over and rested a hand on his shoulder.

"I hope you aren't
letting that puppy do too much, Tam. He needs more rest before he'll be up to
racing around the yard after you."

"I am, Mum."
She looked up at Rooney and cast a quick look to her father before meeting her
mother's gaze again. "Is my father staying here now?"

"I live in
town." Stevie spoke up, mindful of the way Rooney gripped his shoulder at
the question. "I can come and see you lots though."

"Okay. Are you
staying for dinner then? I want to show you my room?"

"Essie has cooked
enough to feed an army. She said to make sure I told you." Rooney looked
down at him, a small smile playing at her lips.

"I've missed her.
Funny, she was the only one who approved of me." He stood and took her
hand. "Can we talk later, after dinner?"

"Um…yeah,
sure." She pulled her hand free and spoke to Tam. "You need to go and
wash up. Essie will have dinner ready in ten minutes."

"Okay, Mum."
Tam smiled and ran up to the house with the puppy racing to keep up with her on
its three good legs.

Stevie watched her go
inside the house and then turned to Rooney. He watched the colour race up her
pale cheeks and resisted the urge to tease her. When they were younger, he had
driven her to distraction when she blushed. It had invariably led to making
out, the very thing they got into trouble for but they couldn't keep their
hands off each other.

 Now he was a
responsible citizen, he would have to curb the lust that rose in him whenever
he saw her. The way he had taken her yesterday was not something he regretted
though. No other women had ignited the flame in him like Rooney did. Powerless
to resist the spark that burned between them, it guaranteed to get him into
trouble especially when she had his child with her.

He stood up and
casually draped his arm over her shoulder. "You know, if Tam wasn't here
I’d take you down to the barn and refresh old memories. You're lucky I want to
see my daughter but don't think you're getting away scot free." He dropped
a kiss on her smooth blonde hair. "We can discuss us after dinner when
your brothers have finished giving me dirty looks and grilling me."

She laughed, a sound
that shot right to his gut. "Grill you? That will be the day, you're the
policeman. It thought that was your job."

"When it comes to leaving
you alone and pregnant, if I was your brother, I would kill me."

She walked toward the
back door of the house and Stevie stuck close to her side, his arm still over
her shoulder. "Yeah well, I guess we’re both to blame for that, so don't
feel too bad. They might let you live since you didn't know about it."

Rooney pushed open the
door and memories came flooding back of standing at the kitchen counter filling
his stomach with Essie's home-cooking.

"Stevie, oh my,
it’s so good to see you." The spritely housekeeper ran to greet him,
wrapping her arms around his waist.

He picked her up and
swung her around until she giggled. "Put me down, you ratbag."

While she gathered her
breath, he stood back and looked at the person he considered his saviour when he
was younger. His own mother had died when Stevie was twelve and his father shut
himself off, wracked with grief. The only person he’d had to talk to was
Rooney, and the person who made sure he had enough to eat was Essie. It hadn't
seemed right to come and visit her with Rooney gone. The old man wouldn't have
let him on the property again.

"I've missed you,
Essie." It was hard only seeing her in passing when she was in town
shopping. Knowing how much she loved and believed in him was one of the reasons
he’d joined the force.

"Oh away with you,
Stevie." Essie blushed at his words. "My how you've grown into a
handsome man. Poor Rooney won't be able to resist you now anymore than she did
when you were youngsters."

"And look how much
trouble that got them into."

Stevie turned around to
see who had spoken. Russ was walking into the kitchen, a grim look on his face.
Fuck,
I'm done for now.
Dread filled his stomach and he prepared
for the confrontation he knew he deserved. Stevie clenched his fists at his
side and moved forward to meet Rooney's eldest brother.

 

Chapter Twenty-five

 

"Well I'm glad
you're here, Stevie. Rooney needs you," Essie said.

"I think she’s the
one who should decide that, Essie," Russ said as he walked into the
kitchen. He looked at Stevie and dropped his briefcase by the door before
walking over and standing in front of them. "I do hope now you're someone
of worth, your morals have changes somewhat and you're ready to do the right
thing by my sister."

"What is up with
you, Russ?" Rooney walked over and stood between him and Stevie. "You
don't talk to anyone this way."

"It's okay, I can
take it. He won't be the only one who thinks I need a flogging for leaving
you."

"No, he won't
be." Cade hopped into the kitchen, his new dog close on his heels.
"If I wasn't injured, I would drag you outside to the barn, and it
wouldn't be for what you’re used to getting up to in there either."

"Stop it, both of
you." Rooney glared at her brothers. "This is none of your bloody
business and I'll thank you to remember that. Russ," she poked him in the
chest with her finger, "you look like someone just messed up your nice
orderly life. Spill your guts and tell us what’s really pissing you off, and
stop taking it out on Stevie."

He shook his head,
stepping away to go and look out the kitchen window. He took a glass from the
draining board and filled it with water, drinking the lot before he turned back
to them. "Sorry. I really am so sorry. It's good to see you again, Stevie.
I apologise for my behaviour. It's been a shocking day and I feel like hitting
out at something or someone."

"Hey, bro, I
thought we were on the same side here." Cade looked crestfallen now there
wasn't going to be a fist fight. "How am I supposed to take him on by
myself?"

"Get over it,
Cade. You don't mean it and we all know it. Stop trying to play tough."
Rooney walked over to Russ and rested her hand on his arm. "Tell us what's
going on. I know it's more than work. You were foul yesterday when you got
in."

"Fine, a problem
shared and all that. It's my ex-wife, or at least I thought she was my ex.
Seems after initiating a divorce and taking everything I had, she’s decided she
wants this place too. To top it off, she tells me I'm going to be a
father." He gave a bitter laugh. "We haven't slept in the same bed
for over four months."

"I knew she was a
money grabbing little tart." Cade’s lips turned up in a snarl. "What
are you going to do about her?"

"I've spoken to
Tory. Just as well I have some money left over. He's getting a private
detective to check her out. He seems pretty confident they’ll find
something."

"She can't touch
this place anyway, can she?" Rooney asked.

"No, it's all tied
up, but she doesn't know that." He rubbed his hand over his face and
sighed, shaking off his bad mood. "It's nice to see you again,
Stevie." Russ stepped forward and held out his hand.

Stevie gripped it
tight, shaking before speaking. "I know you probably all have a lot of
questions but if you could keep them until Tam is in bed, I would appreciate
it. Then you can ask me what you want."

"There’ll be no
fighting, so don't look so damned pleased, Cade." Rooney frowned at her
brother and he sat down. "I'm sure we all have a lot to catch up on but as
Stevie said, after Tam has gone to bed would be best. Then we can air our
gripes and let that be the end of it. Understood?"

"Yes, good idea.
Can I get you a beer, Stevie?"

He nodded his thanks,
looking toward the door as Tam came running in, holding up her clean hands.

"Go on out to the
front and I'll call you when dinner is ready." Essie shooed them out of
her kitchen.

Russ walked outside and
over to a post on the end of the veranda. He leaned on it gazing over the front
of the property. For a short time he’d imagined himself free of the tension his
job and marriage had caused him. Being home was what he needed to relax and
unwind from the stress of the city and finding a connection with Lizzie was the
best thing that could have happened. Now it looked as though Paula had ruined
all that. The budding romance, the peaceful return home, all gone with one
woman's greed and spite.

"Is there anything
I can do, Russ?" Stevie stood next to him, a cold beer in his hand. He
looked every inch the policeman he was and Russ was impressed with the change from
the bratty kid he’d known.

"Thanks, I
appreciate it. Tory said there’s nothing he can do legally. We can search for
dirt on her but at the end of the day, if she doesn't want to sign the papers,
she doesn't have too."

"That sucks. And
the hot little nurse you were keen on? Is she involved somehow, because I don't
get why you are so grumpy if it’s only about the house." Rooney slipped a
hand through his arm and sipped a glass of wine.

"You see way too
much for a little sister, you know that." Russ smiled at her and took a
long drink of his beer before he answered her. "Lizzie was the one who met
her in reception. Apparently Paula made quite a fuss about seeing me. To top it
off, she announced she was pregnant in front of the whole damned emergency
department."

"Oh, shit."
Rooney's eyes widened.

"Exactly, now they
all think I'm a scumbag for leaving a pregnant wife and playing around with
Lizzie. I can't win." He finished his beer and slammed the empty bottle on
the concrete at his feet.

"You have to fight
for her, Russ. Come on, don't let Paula win," his sister pleaded with him.

"It just isn't
worth it."

"Grow a spine for
God's sake, Russ." Cade's voice rang out in the calm evening. "You're
all about being fair and keeping the peace. Sometimes you have to put yourself
out to get what you want."

"He's right,"
Stevie said. "I know Lizzie well. She's a great lady, Russ. If you think
she is the one for you, go in and fight for her. Bugger your wife, Tory can
take care of her."

"I can't walk away
like that."

BOOK: Coming Home
3.59Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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