Lauraâs hair had started to grow out and was now shoulder length, and she kept it tied back in a high ponytail.
âDiana, I donât know how to thank you and Jed for allÂ you’veÂ done.
âItâs not much, but I think itâs kind of fun and cute, and Jed and I will be right next door if you need us.â Diana pressed her hand into the small of her back and rubbed her other hand with her gold wedding band over her almost eight monthsâ pregnant belly.
ThisÂ place is better than I could have hoped for. I love that clean smell of new wood.â Laura took in the brand new loft, which had an antique double bed for her and a single bed for Gabriel, with lovely pink and green bedspreads. It was an open design, tastefully done, and even the appliances were brand new.
She set her purse on the round kitchen table with four chairs. At the west side of the loft was a cozy living room with a green taupe sofa and chair and a plasma TV mounted to the wall.
Footsteps clattered up the stairs. Laura gazed over the wooden rail, watching as Jed followed Gabriel and redheaded Danny, who was just walking and insisted on mastering the stairs all by himself and yelling at the top of his lungs,
âMama, cominâ up!â
âYou’veÂ got your hands full with Danny there. Does he ever stop, Diana?â
Laura smiled as she listened to the clomp and clatter of three boys: her five-year-old boy, Gabriel, who leaped up the steps; Danny, who crawled and patted each step; and Jed, who followed, encouraging his son.
âOne more. Come on, you can do it.â Jed was grinning ear to ear, watching as Danny pushed himself to his feet and ran straight to his mommy.
âHeâs a Friessen man; âslowâ and âeasyâÂ aren’tÂ in theirÂ vocabulary,â Diana muttered just as Jed stepped closer and lifted Danny, tossing him in the air while he giggled and wiggled. Then Jed leaned down and kissed Diana.
âThatâs not fair. I guarantee you I can take it slow and easy in some things you enjoy.â He winked, and Diana gasped before clearing her throat.
âLaura, listen, I am gratefulÂ you’veÂ taken this job.â
âDiana, Jed, I really do appreciate all thisâand the job, even though Iâm pretty sure you donât really need me.â
âOh, thatâs where youâre wrong, Laura,â said Jed as he set a kid-size cowboy hat on Gabrielâs head.
âCool hat. Ride horsey?â Gabriel beamed at Jed as he asked.
âTell you what, bud. Letâs let your mama get settled, and you come help me feed the horses,â Jed answered. The sound of a vehicle pulling down the driveway had him stepping toward the window.
âThe fact is, Laura, weâre the ones who are grateful,â Diana said. âJed wants to be on a horse, riding, teaching the kids, not cooped up in an office, doing paperwork. And I have my hands full with Danny and this one here.â She rubbed the baby she carried in her large belly. âAnd Iâm tired, too….â
âWell, I was wondering when he was going to show up,â Jed interrupted. Danny just then decided he wanted down, so Jed slung him over his shoulder to distract him.
âWhoâs here, Jed?â Diana asked.
Laura felt a flutter of butterflies in her stomach when Jed glanced at Diana with a look that had her covering her mouth with her palm and turning away.
âMy cousin, your husband,â Jed said as he started toward the stairs. Gabriel was at the window with Jed, and he raced toward the stairs and started down.
âGabriel, come back here!â Laura said, but this time he did not listen, as he was out the door. She could hear him call out, âAndy, Andy.â
Laura went to the window and gazed out at Andy, dressed as he always was in dark jeans and a long-sleeved dark shirt, but he was not as neat as usual. He lifted Gabriel in his strong arms and hugged him.
âYou know, Andy has a lot of faults, but caring for Gabriel is not one of them.â Diana was standing in the window, watching as her husband approached Andy. âI knew it was only a matter of time before he found out you were here. He was served this morning, too. He will be furious, Laura. It was cold and impersonal.â
âDiana, I donât want to see him again, ever. I just want him gone and out of our lives for good.â Laura stepped back when Andy glanced up with those all-seeing hard blue eyes. At times, sheâd swear they were etched in steel.
âLaura, how he treated you was horrible. We know that, and we all agree with you, but you canât keep avoiding him. Heâll find out.â
Diana turned solemn blue eyes on her.
Sheâd been a true friend who was always there for her, even with her husband recovering from surgery. It had been a miracle when he came through okay, and Diana had even told Laura that life was too short for regrets.
âHow does he know? You and Jed promised me youÂ wouldn’tÂ tellÂ him,â Laura pleaded.
âYes, we did, but donât forget that Andyâs been having you followed,â Diana said. âI have to tell you, Laura, my husbandÂ doesn’tÂ agree with your decision. Heâs honored it for now,Â hoping youâll come to your senses. Andy does have a right to know where you are. You should know heâs offered to talk to Andy for you, too.â
Laura felt a surge of anger shoot like a rocket through her as she processed what Diana had said. Her face felt warm, and beads of sweat popped out over her brow. She squeezed her fists. âHeâs been having me followed? Are you kidding me? What kind of sickââ
She didnât hear him come up, and what made it worse was that he was carrying Gabriel, who, by the looks of it, had no intention of allowing Andy to let him down. She could see how her sonÂ worshipedÂ Andy, and that infuriated
her. She was standing besideÂ Diana, and itÂ wasn’tÂ until Diana steppedÂ back that Andyâs eyes widened and his brows furrowed with something dark and furious.
âWhat the hell?â he said.
Laura pursed her lips and struggled with those damn emotions, second guessing everything sheâd done, and placed her hand over her own large, swollen belly just as the baby kicked.