Willow Creek residents, Jesse and Alexandra Samuels, await the birth of their baby in the only way they know how. By getting on each other’s nerves.
*Note: This short story is part of the WILLOW CREEK SERIES and does not stand alone. It follows directly after WILD HORSES and gives us a sweet glimpse at things not shown in the novels.
* Look below for an excerpt.
Pain intense enough to draw a sharp breath and bend her double had Alex gasping. She laid a hand on her stomach, breathing through stabbing discomfort and counted the seconds until it passed. That was the third one today.
When the worst of it faded, she continued outside to the porch. The cabin Jesse built sat facing the creek, the trickle of water as it rushed over rocks a constant soothing noise that joined the whistling of birds from the nest in the tree beside the house. Spring flowers were in full bloom, perfuming the air and as she stared out over the vast expanse of Avery land on the other side of the creek, she could see all the way to the mountains in the distance. The sun sat high over the tallest peak and shot streaks of purple, orange and white across the sky.
She pulled the shawl around her shoulders tighter and leaned against the porch rail, staring at the sea of green grasses that seemed to go on forever. Wood smoke filled the air over at the Avery Ranch. She could see people walking in front of the house but from this distance, she couldn’t tell who it was.
A voice drew her attention and she turned her head as Jesse rounded the side of the house leading Occam by the reins. Occam’s coat glistened a shiny black and stood hands taller than most. He was one of the finest horses her pa had bred and she’d been pleased when he’d given him to Jesse when Chief, the old Chestnut Jesse’d had since he was kid broke his leg and had to be put down.
Jesse stopped by the porch when he saw her and smiled.
“Where are you going?” she asked.
She perked up. “Give me a minute to go grab my basket. I can pick up some more of those canned peaches Mrs. Peterson left at the mercantile.” Pushing the door open, his voice stopped her.
“You’re not going.”
Those three little words screamed through her head. Alex clenched her jaw so tight she was sure her back teeth would be broken into stubs. “What do you mean, I’m not going?” Jesse ignored her and she knew good and well he heard her. “Jesse Samuels, answer me.”
He tightened the last cinch on the Occam’s saddle and turned to face her. The moment he did, he grinned. “Stop being so ornery, wife.”
“Stop being such a pig-headed goat, husband.” When he laughed and tossed the rein’s over Occam’s neck she grit her teeth. “Why can’t I go?”
“Because I said so.”
“That’s not an answer.”
“Yes, it is. It’s just not the one you wanted to hear.”
She crossed arms under her breasts and stared at him. It took everything in her not to stomp her foot and demand he take her with him. She exhaled a breath and said, “Please,” instead.
He laughed again. “Pouting won’t work either.” He crossed the yard, jumped onto the porch and slid his arms around her. “It won’t take me long. I’ll be back before your nap is over.”
“What makes you think I’m going to take a nap?”
“Because you’ve taken one every day for the past two weeks.” He ran a hand over her bulging belly. “Besides, you want to be rested up for when this little fella gets here, don’t ya?”
“It’s a girl. I’ve told you that a hundred times now.”
He grinned and lowered his head to her stomach and said, “Don’t you listen to her, Archibald. What does she know?”
“You’re not naming my baby, Archibald, Jesse Samuels and I mean it.”
He laughed and gave her a quick kiss. “Will to.”
“You will not and stop trying to change the subject.”
He sighed and wrapped his arms back around her waist. “I’m not taking you all the way into town.”
“But I don’t want to stay out here by myself.”
“You’re not by yourself. You can see your pa’s house from this very spot.”
She could see it but that wasn’t the same as being there. “Maybe, but I can’t talk to them from way down here. Besides, what if something happens and I need help. I could easily fall, you know.”
His eyes widened in horror. Twenty minutes later he was leading her up the front steps to Rafe and Grace’s house.
“This is not what I meant, Jesse, and you know it!”
“It’s the best I can do right now so stop fussing.”
He led her inside and she bit her tongue to keep from saying something she’d regret later and let him lead her to the sofa like she was an eighty-year-old invalid. He was still talking but she didn’t catch a word of what he was saying she was seething so badly. As he helped her sit down on the sofa, then straightened, she had to remind herself that Jesse was a pig-head mule and always treated her as if she were made of glass when he knew darn well she wasn’t.
She sighed. It was useless. She’d seen that stubborn set to his jaw too many times to know he wasn’t going to budge. He wasn’t going to take her to town regardless of how much she fought, begged or cried.
“Stop looking at me like that,” he said, grinning.
That irritating smirk of his caused her agitation to increase three notches. “If you don’t just go, I’m going to kick your as—
“There you are. Rafe told me you were here,” Grace said, as she entered the room. “Did I interrupt?”
Jesse shook his head. “No. I was just getting Alex settled in.”
“Well, you go on into town and don’t worry about her. She’ll be right here when you get back.”
I’ll be here all right. I’ll be plotting my revenge, too. Alex didn’t say as much out loud, though. Grace left them alone in her sitting room and she tried to get comfortable, which wasn’t easy when you’ve been pregnant for two years. She sighed again. She was exaggerating but it felt like two years and she was big enough for it to have been. “It’s getting hard to even move.” She laid a hand on her protruding stomach, leaned her head back against the sofa, and blew out a breath. “This is all your fault.”
That smirk was still on his face. “I know it is. You tell me at least once a day.”
“And I’m never doing it again.”
“You’ve informed me of that repeatedly, too.” He leaned down, tucked a finger under her chin and tilted her head up. “And I love you every second of every day for all your pain and suffering.” He grinned again and gave her a quick kiss, then leaned back in and deepened it. As usual, her body betrayed her mood and she sighed into the kiss and breathed him in.
When he pulled back, he said, “Don’t give Grace any trouble while I’m gone.”
“When have I ever?”
He raised an eyebrow at her.
“Just that one time,” she said.
“More than once.”
“Fine, whatever. I still don’t see why I can’t go with you.”
“Because there’s no reason for you to be in town, that’s why. I won’t have time to watch over you and get everything I need to do done.”
“I’m not a child. I don’t need you to watch over me.”
“I know you’re not, but you’re carrying mine so if I want to watch over you, then I will.” He kissed her again, lingering long enough she felt it clean to her toes. “Now behave and don’t give Grace any trouble.”
He left her there on the sofa, her back aching as she watched him saunter out of the room without a backward glance. For the past month, every time he left the house and she refused to stay home alone, he deposited her in the care of Grace. She had nothing against her sister-in-law but she always ended up wishing she would have stayed home.
She blew out a breath and tried to sit up straighter. Her back was killing her and she was cranky because of it. She heard Jesse say his goodbyes to Grace and knew she’d have to make up for being so ornery with him. He was just worried. As irksome as he was at times, she knew he loved her, so she couldn’t fault him for doing what he promised to do when he married her, which was to provide, protect and irritate her for all eternity. She smiled at the memory of him whispering those words to her. So far, he was living up to this wedding vows, especially that last one.
“Do you need anything, Alex?”
Grace’s voice was soft and she didn’t even have to look at the woman’s face to know she was staring at her belly with longing in her eyes. From the moment she and Jesse announced they were expecting, Grace had a look about her that broke her heart. Her new sister-in-law wanted a baby in the worst sort of way but wasn’t able to have them. The one time she did conceive, she lost it six months into her pregnancy and Alex wasn’t sure how to act around her at times. “Jesse’s hide nailed to the wall would make me feel better at the moment but other than that, I’m good.”
Grace smiled but it didn’t reach her eyes. She left her there in the sitting room with nothing but her thoughts.
The baby kicked and she groaned then gasped as her entire stomach—rolled. “What are you doing int here?” She watched the shape of her belly change as the baby shifted and she stared at it in awe. She and Jesse laid in bed at night watching the kid do flips and even once saw a tiny foot poke against her flesh. She’d laughed so hard and been filled with so much joy, she ended up crying while Jesse held her close and laughed into her hair.
Her stomach finally stopped shifting. She must have settled. If Evan was right and the baby was as big as he said it was, the kid was probably going to kill her. She was as big as a house and as much as she complained about Jesse leading her around by one arm, if he didn’t, she’d probably never move an inch. She certainly couldn’t stand up without his help but all this sitting was driving her insane. She wanted to be in the barn with the horses or sitting in the saddle and racing across the prairie. As much as she disliked her old teaching job, she’d even be willing to sit in the schoolhouse and wrangle a bunch of unruly children. It sure beat sitting around watching the seconds tick by on the clock.
She managed to sit in Grace and Rafe’s sitting room a whole ten minutes before she started getting twitchy. “Grace? Can you come help me up?” Having to ask for help grated on her nerves too, but it was either that or roll over and drop down to the floor on her hands and knees and hold on to the sofa to help pull herself up. Asking for help was less humiliating.
Grace walked back into the room, a small towel in her hands. “What do you need?”
“Off this sofa. I can’t sit still all day.”
“You should rest, Alex.”
“I’ve rested all night. And all morning. And half of the afternoon. Resting is all Jesse allows me to do and since he’s not here, I’m not sitting a second longer than I have to so please, help me.”
Grace blew out a breath and helped her up. When she was on her feet and steady, an ache hit the center of her back and ran clean down both legs. It was so painful it tore the breath from her lungs and she clamped her hand down hard on Grace’s arm.
“Are you all right?”
She looked up. Grace’s eyes were wide with alarm. “What?”
“Your face just went stark white and you looked like you were in pain.”
She laughed. “I’m always in pain.” She rubbed her protruding belly. “This kid is determined to give his daddy a run for his money in the ‘let’s annoy Alex’ category.” Grace was staring at her belly again and she held back a sigh. She never knew what to say when she got that look on her face. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t complain.”
Grace smiled, the corners of her mouth tilting up a fraction. “It’s quite all right, Alex. I’m sure if it were me, I’d be complaining too.”
Alex wasn’t so sure about that but didn’t say as much. She followed Grace into the kitchen and leaned against the counter by the sink as Grace rolled out pie dough on the table. Not much was said between them and she found her gaze wandering beyond the window. Rafe was out by the barn doing something with a wagon harness. She watched him until he was no longer entertaining and turned back to Grace.
She’d only been inside this house once before she’d married Jesse and didn’t remember much of it but now, it always seemed so quiet. She wondered if it had always been that way. There was a somber feel in the air as if there wasn’t any joy inside the walls at all. She’d seen Grace and Rafe together. They loved each other deeply so maybe it was just her. Or maybe her being here was why. Her pregnancy—and Grace’s lack of—might be enough to suck the life out of the entire house when she came inside.
“Did you decide to use the cradle Rafe brought to you?”
“Yes.” Grace nodded but didn’t say anything. “Rafe said his mother had it special made when she was pregnant. That he and Jesse both used it.”
Alex watched Grace straighten and lay her pie crust into the pan. “Do you not want to keep it?” She wasn’t sure Grace heard her, her voice was pitched so low. When Grace glanced her way, she knew she had.
“No,” she said. “It sat in the upstairs bedroom for years before I finally made Rafe take it out to the barn.” She sighed and flattened out another ball of dough. “I’ll never have any use for it. It’s only right you have it.”
She didn’t say anything else, the image of the baby cradle Grace so desperately wanted to fill sitting empty in the upstairs nursery that would never be used made her heart hurt. As much as she complained about the pain and discomfort she felt most days, she wouldn’t trade a second of it for the devastation Grace must feel every time she looked at her.
Alex turned and stared out the window again. She could just make out the road that ran along the front of the house and a dark splotch was moving their way. She straightened. Was that Jesse? He hadn’t had time to make it to town and back. Was he coming to get her and taking her with him after all? She smiled and hurried to the front door. She may have to forgive him for leaving her behind now.
The wagon ambled closer and she could see several people sitting on the seat. It wasn’t Jesse. She sighed and leaned against the porch railing. One of the rocking chairs would have been preferable but she’d never get out of it again if she sat down. When the wagon was close enough to see who was in it, she smiled and threw up her hand, waving. As she hoped he’d do, he urged the horses in her direction.
“Just the man I wanted to see,” she said as she stepped off the porch.
He laughed. “Let me guess. Jesse’s making you do something you don’t want to do and you want me to go have a word with him?”
She scowled. “No. Can’t I just be glad to see my own pa without you thinking I want something?”
His laughter grew. “It’s never happened before.” He set the brake on the wagon and jumped to the ground, hugged her tight and took a step back to see all of her. “You look bigger than you did last week.”
“That’s because I am bigger than I was last week.”
They shared a laugh, then the look in her pa’s eyes turned somber. “Your maw would have loved to see you like this.”
“You think so?”
“I know so.” He smiled and gave her a look that said she’d always be his little girl before kissing her on the forehead. “Now tell me what it is you want because I know you and you always want something.”
She grinned in spite of herself. He was right. She did always want something.
END OF EXCERPT
Release Date: December 12th, 2017 – PRE-ORDER YOUR COPY AT THE LINK BELOW