The Ideal Man (Buchanan-Renard 9)

Page 23

Ava’s hand flew to her throat. “Mother, this was supposed to be my night. And John’s,” she added. “How could you take Ellie’s side?”
“I haven’t taken any side,” her mother said. “You don’t know what happened before you got out of your car,” she pointed out. “You shouldn’t blame anyone.”
“Oh, I know who to blame. Ellie.”
“Stop shouting. I know you’re upset—”
“Upset does not begin to describe what I’m feeling.”
“This wedding has turned you into a crazy woman.”
“I just wanted it to be perfect. What’s wrong with that?” She burst into tears and moved into John’s arms to let him comfort her. “And the yard was so pretty after the flowers were delivered . . . and the tent was perfect and . . .” She suddenly pushed away from her fiancé. “Where is she?” she shouted.
“In the bathroom,” her mother relented. “Max and your father are tending to the cut on her forehead.”
Ava stormed out of the kitchen, rushed past her aunts, who were sitting on the sofa enjoying slices of cake, and ran down the hallway, leaving puddles in her wake. She tried to get past her father, who was inadvertently blocking the bathroom door.
Ellie had already cleaned the cut with disinfectant from her father’s first-aid kit and was now sitting on the side of the tub holding her hair back while Max applied Steri-Strips. He wasn’t doing a good job because his hands were shaking. He was still so damned angry that Patterson had touched her, he could barely speak. Thoughts of what could have happened were racing through his mind. What if he had stayed outside? Patterson could have killed her before Max heard her scream.
“Max . . . ,” Ellie began.
“Hold still.”
“I am holding still. I’m a physician. Let me—”
“No, I need to do this.”
Ellie had been holding her hair back so long, her arm was going to sleep. She didn’t complain, though. The look of anguish on Max’s face made her want to comfort him, but she knew he would have none of it. He felt he had failed her.
“Daddy, could you give Max and me a moment alone?”
“You’re still bleeding,” Max told her.
Her father put the first-aid kit in Ellie’s lap and pulled the door closed behind him. Ellie heard Ava shouting and quickly got up to lock the door. She ignored Ava’s pounding on the door as she took the Steri-Strips from Max and applied them to the cut. It took her three seconds to close the wound. Then she turned to him.
“Thank you.”
He glared back at her, still angry. “I messed up.”
“Thank you.”
“What the hell are you thanking me for? Stop that. Now isn’t the time—”
Ellie kissed his cheek, then his jaw. “Thank you,” she whispered, “for saving my life and for catching him.” She rubbed her lips over his. “Now you say, ‘You’re welcome.’ ”
“Ellie, you could have been killed. I should have—”
“Thank you.”
He realized they were back where they’d started. “You’re gonna keep this up until I say, ‘You’re welcome.’ ”
“No, until you kiss me.”
He gently wrapped his arms around her, whispered, “You’ve got blood in your hair,” and kissed her. Her mouth opened under his.
All the while, Ava was banging on the door, threatening everything short of murder.
When Max finally lifted his head, he said, “Want to borrow my gun?”
“You can’t hide in there forever, Ellie,” Ava shouted.
“Might as well get this over with,” she said.
Max got in front of her and opened the door. He backed Ava up by simply walking into her. She didn’t have a choice.
The aunts were horrified by Ellie’s condition. Her torn dress was splattered with blood, and the hair around her wound was matted and bloody.
“Come sit with us,” Aunt Cecilia said, patting the cushion between Vivien and her.
Ellie obeyed and smiled as each aunt tried to comfort her.
Their sympathy enraged Ava. “I’m the victim here,” she cried out.
“I don’t see any blood on you,” her mother snapped. She sat down in the wingback chair next to the sofa.
“Claire, the cake is delicious,” Cecilia said.
“Where’s Annie?” Ava demanded. “She’ll take my side.”
“She’s changing her clothes, and for heaven’s sake, there isn’t any side to take.”
Hershey motioned to Max. A minute later, Ellie looked over her shoulder to see the two men standing in the kitchen. Max had his hands in his pockets and was nodding every now and then at what Hershey was telling him.
As soon as Max walked back into the living room, William blurted, “This is all my fault. I left the front door unlocked when I was showing guests through the house. That’s how he got inside. Before Spike arrived, he hid upstairs and waited. That’s what he did, and it’s all my fault.”
“Who hid upstairs?” Ava was trying to follow the conversation.
“Evan Patterson. He got into the house with a gun, and he waited upstairs.”
Ava was stunned. “Why didn’t anyone tell me? I heard someone say Ellie was in trouble, but I didn’t know—”
“You’ve been ranting and raving in the backyard for the last half hour,” Ellie said. “No one could get a word in edgewise.”
Claire turned to her husband. “You can’t blame yourself, William.”
“That’s right, Dad,” Ellie agreed. “You need to focus on the good news. Evan Patterson is on his way to lockup, and Max told me that, because he had a gun and tried to kill me and a federal agent, he’s not going to get out for a long, long time, if ever.”
Her father’s spirits lifted. “Yes, that’s true. I’ll admit not knowing where he was hiding was a constant worry.”
Ava slumped down in a chair. John kissed her forehead and announced that he was going to eat some dinner. The kitchen looked like a smorgasbord.
“Every time . . . ,” Ava grumbled. “It always becomes about you, Ellie. Every time. I’m getting married, but tonight wasn’t for me. I swear I think you planned it.”
Always the drama queen, Ellie thought. She felt a burst of irritation and said, “That’s right, Ava. I planned the entire thing. I called Evan Patterson, and I said, ‘Listen, Evan honey, go get a gun, sneak into my parents’ house, and hide upstairs. I’ll let you punch me again and try to kill me so that Ava’s party will be ruined.’ ”
“Sarcasm isn’t appreciated, young lady,” her mother said.
Ava looked defeated. Her head fell forward, and her shoulders drooped. “Every time . . .”
“Oh, for God’s sake,” Ellie said. “Okay, Ava. I’m sorry. I’m sorry I ruined your party. I really am. Everything was beautiful. You planned it perfectly.”
Her sister perked up a little. “I did, didn’t I?”
“Yes,” Ellie said. Her head was starting to throb, her nerves were shot, and she was beginning to tremble in the aftershock of what she had been through. “Everything was gorgeous.”
“Thank you for admitting you ruined it,” Ava sniffed.
“Yes, I did, and I’m sorry,” she said for the third time.
“I’ll forgive you if you’ll just promise me one thing,” Ava said.
“Promise me you’ll stay away from my wedding.”
Placated by Ellie’s apology, Ava and John went home.
“You need to get some rest, Ellie,” her mother said.
“I will,” she promised. “But I want to go upstairs and say good night to Annie first.”
She was surprised she got dizzy when she stood, but she was certain no one noticed. She didn’t take the stairs two at a time as she usually did and even held on to the banister to keep her balance.
Annie was sitting in the middle of the bed with the unopened pregnancy kit.
“Shut the door
,” she whispered.
Ellie quickly did as she asked, then sat down across from her sister. “You haven’t taken the test yet?”
Annie shook her head. “Once I do . . .”
“I can’t undo it. I’ll know.”
“You need to know.”
She nodded. “But what if I am? I don’t have a job, and I have student loans to repay. It’s a little overwhelming.”
“If you are pregnant, do you want the baby?”
No hesitation at all. “Of course I want the baby.”
“You aren’t alone, Annie. You know I’ll help you. You can move in with me. And there’s the father,” she said. “You should tell him.”
“I’m such a screwup.”
“No, you’re not.”
“You don’t understand. I don’t know where he is. I went a little bonkers, I guess. If I tell you something, will you promise not to be shocked?”
“I’d never . . . you know . . .”
“What?” she asked again.
“Patterson scared me, and I didn’t want to have anything to do with any man. I wouldn’t let myself . . .”
“I see. I’m not shocked,” she said. “So the baby’s father was the first man you’ve slept with?”
Annie nodded. “Four months. That’s how long we were together. It was . . . raw animal magnetism at first, I guess. I can’t explain it.”
“I know what you mean. Trust me, I do.”
“It wasn’t just the sex, though,” she explained. “He was perfect. He was kind and considerate. We had so much in common. He loved the same things I did, and we could sit for hours and hours talking.”
“So what happened?” Ellie asked.
Tears streamed down Annie’s cheeks. “I don’t know. We’d spent a terrific weekend together at the beach. He left my apartment Monday morning, and I never heard from him again. No call . . . nothing.”
“What do you know about him?”
“He’s a Navy Seal,” she said. “I thought maybe he got a call from his commander and had to leave on a mission or something, but if that was the case, why didn’t he call, or leave a note, or at least text me? He made me feel like a whore,” she whispered. Tears clouded her eyes as she added, “I really did screw up.”
“No, you didn’t.”
“We used protection,” she said. “But I guess it isn’t always dependable.”
“Have you tried to get hold of him?”
“Yes. I tried calling him, but he didn’t answer. I even left messages for him, but he hasn’t responded. Nobody will tell me anything.” She wiped a tear away. “If he cared about me at all, he would have left some word.”
“What are you going to do?”
“I talked to Max, and he’s going to try to find him for me.”
“And when he does?”
Annie straightened her shoulders. “If I’m pregnant, I’ll tell him because he’s the father, and he deserves to know, but I’ll make it clear I want nothing from him.”
“You’re emotional now,” Ellie said. “Take the test tomorrow morning and find out.”
“I could take it now.”
“Yes, but your hormone levels will be higher in the morning,” she said. “Or do one test now and another tomorrow morning. Either way.”
Ellie tried to get more information about the man, but Annie didn’t want to talk about him.
“You’ll take the test first thing in the morning, then?”
“Yes, I absolutely will,” she promised.
The sisters spent the next hour catching up. They talked about work, the people they knew, even Ava’s wedding.
Ellie stood. “I need a shower and a bed,” she said with a yawn. “I’m beat. I’ll see you in the morning.”
“You’re leaving Winston Falls?”
Annie nodded. She watched Ellie open the door and then said, “It’s funny really.”
“What is?” she said, turning back.
“I was always the good girl.”
“You still are.”
Max was waiting for Ellie downstairs. They said good night to her parents and her aunts and went up to the apartment. Max had left the window unit on low, and the bedrooms and hall were quite pleasant. The kitchen and the living room, however, were sweltering.
Ellie tripped out of her clothes, tossed the bloody and torn dress into the trash can, and got into the shower. She stood under the cool water with her eyes closed and tried to get her muscles to relax. She washed her hair, being careful to scrub around the cut, but she didn’t bother to blow it dry. She brushed it over her shoulders, put on her cotton nightgown, her moisturizer and body lotion, and was ready for bed.
The storm outside had picked up. Lightning lit up the bedroom, followed by loud claps of thunder. Rain pelted the windows.
Ellie didn’t ask Max if she could sleep with him. She pulled the sheet back and slid into bed beside him. He was on his stomach, one arm over the side of the bed, sound asleep. His gun, holster, and badge were on his bedside table. She rolled over to glance at the alarm clock and was shocked to see that it was after midnight. She closed her eyes. It had never taken her more than a minute or two to fall asleep, but tonight was different. Ten minutes passed, then ten more, and she was still wide-awake. This certainly was different for her.
Ellie replayed the day’s events, but when she got to Patterson, she felt her heart pounding in her chest. She took several deep, calming breaths. The threat was over; he was locked up and couldn’t bother anyone. This, too, was different. She could go anywhere and do anything now, couldn’t she?
Not quite. There were the Landrys and the possibility that a man named Cogburn might come after her.
And then there was Max. He was going back to Honolulu, and she would probably never see him again. It was for the best, she decided. He’d be safer there where people like Patterson weren’t shooting at him. Ellie knew she wasn’t being rational, but she was so rattled inside, she couldn’t think straight. Was she reacting to Patterson’s attack or was it the realization that Max was leaving?
No-brainer, she decided. It was Max. Ellie wanted to cry. She’d told him not to get attached to her, and look what she’d done. She’d fallen in love with him. So not acceptable.
She had to distance herself, or she’d become a blubbering idiot when he left. If she continued to lie there thinking about him, she’d start weeping now. She swung her legs over the side of the bed and tried to get up. Max stopped her.
“Can’t sleep?” he asked as he pulled her down beside him.
“No, I can’t.”
“Come here.” His voice was warm and husky. He covered her with his body and began to nuzzle the side of her neck. He rubbed her arms, then moved to her sides. “Your skin’s cold.”
As he moved against her, his chest grazed her breasts, and the pleasure was so intense, she moaned. Ellie threaded her fingers through his hair and pulled him toward her. His mouth took absolute possession, their tongues wild as they mated.
Max wanted to savor the feel of her, and when she wrapped her legs around his and moved seductively against his arousal, his mouth covered hers again, and he thrust inside her. Their lovemaking was wild, both of them losing control. Ellie screamed his name when the sensations began to spiral. Her orgasm lasted longer than his, and he held her tight in his arms until she recovered.
The scent of their passion clung to them, and they were both soaked with perspiration. Max could feel her heart pounding under his. He kissed her chin and lifted up to ask her if she was okay. Words weren’t necessary. Ellie was asleep.
Annie wouldn’t take the test until Ellie arrived.
“What took you so long?”
“It’s nine o’clock,” Ellie said. “And I had to pack and change the sheets and help get everything in the car.”
“Are you riding with Max?” she asked.   “Yes.”
“But didn’t you have a rental car? Isn’t that how you got here?”
“Agent Clark took it last night. He’ll return it to the rental company. Now stop stalling.”
Annie grabbed the pregnancy kits and went into the bathroom down the hall. Ellie waited in her bedroom. She could hear the aunts chatting downstairs. Even with all the commotion, they seemed to be having a good time.
Ellie kept checking the time. Five minutes passed, then five more. No pregnancy test took ten minutes. She knew Annie was getting up her nerve. Just when Ellie was about to go get her, the bedroom door opened, and Annie walked in. She quietly shut the door behind her.
As soon as Ellie saw the smile on her face, she said, “Okay, you’re not pregnant. I know it’s selfish of me, but a tiny part of me was hoping you were.”
“I am pregnant,” she said, and she was smiling about it.
“You’re going to be a great mother,” she whispered.
“And you’ll be a wonderful aunt. Ellie, did you mean it when you said I could live with you? For a little while, anyway?”
“Of course, I meant it, and not just for a little while. I’d love to help raise my niece or nephew.”
Ellie told her what prenatal pills to take and what she could do to help with morning sickness.
“Are you going to tell Mom and Dad?”
“Of course,” Annie said. “But not until after the wedding.”
“What about Ava?”
“After her honeymoon. She’ll be there for me, too,” Annie said.
Ellie wasn’t so sure, but she kept her opinion to herself. The bond between twins was different from the bond between mere sisters. Ava used to boast that she and Annie were telepathic, which Ellie thought was ridiculous, but they did have a strange connection as children and could sometimes communicate with each other without speaking. But if they were so alike, how could Annie grow up to be so sweet and Ava such a viper?
“Max is waiting,” Ellie said.
“What about Max? I really like him,” Annie said.