**Note** If you haven’t read the first two books in the series – or if you’d like to refresh your memory about what’s happening in West Bend – the prior books in the series are included in your copy of Luke! This book builds on the first two books, so I’d recommend starting with books one and two before diving into Luke.
You get the complete West Bend Saints Series with this copy! Scroll back a few pages and see my author’s note in the beginning of this book or the table of contents for the links to Elias and Silas!
Today should have been the happiest day of my life. Today was the day that Edward and I had been hoping for these past four years.
The test was positive.
I took it three times this morning, just to make sure. Then I drove straight to my doctor's office and got the blood test. Still positive.
I did a happy dance in the office room. My doctor wasn’t just my OB; he was my family doctor. He’d known me for all of my thirty-four years, and I think he was as tickled as I was. He knew how hard this journey has been for us.
And then, two hours later, the phone call that changed everything.
"Now, Doc Statham, don't tell me that I have to come back for an appointment already," I said, my voice teasing. Nothing could knock me off the cloud I was floating on.
Nothing, that is, except the words that came out of his mouth after that. "Your father," he said. "I'm sorry, Autumn."
I shook my head, trying to get my brain to process what he was saying. His voice sounded like it was far away, like he was speaking to me through some kind of tunnel. "No," I said. "It's not possible."
"It was sudden, Autumn," he said. "Heart attack on the golf course."
"Where -- is everyone at the hospital?" I asked. "But -- they'll fix him. He's in surgery, right?"
"I'm sorry." He said it again. It was the phrase I continued to hear later, echoing in my head, rattling around in my skull. I'm sorry, over and over and over.
I didn’t go straight to the hospital, though. I drove to Edward's office in a daze, dialing his cell phone twice, but he didn't answer. On the passenger seat in the front of the car was a little gift-wrapped box in shiny pink and blue paper, my "Surprise, we're going to have a baby!" box. It seemed tainted somehow. I contemplated not bringing it with me, but decided I couldn't keep it a secret, even if I were intermingling the news with the news of my father's death.
When the elevator reached the thirteenth floor, I stood there, staring at the number like it was some kind of omen. The floor was empty, lights glowing under the doors of a couple of the offices down the hall. Edward's secretary had gone home, and I wondered if he was at the golf course. Maybe Edward was with my father when it happened, I thought. Except that wasn't true. My sister said Edward was missing at the hospital. Not like that's any big surprise, she said bitterly.
My family had never liked Edward. But that was all going to change after this news. More than anything in the world, my father wanted a grandchild. Even if it the child would be Edward’s.
Past tense, I realized. My father would never see his grandchild. The thought brought a fresh wave of tears to my eyes, and I didn't care that they were streaming down my face when I reached the door.
I didn't bother to knock before turning the handle.
I should have.
I stood there, holding the pink and blue box with the ribbon on the top, the one that contained all of my hopes and dreams. Our hopes and dreams – or what I thought were ours. The words lingered on the tip of my tongue: I have news. Good news and bad news.
I'll take the good news first, Edward would always say. Because I'm an optimist.
My mouth formed the words before my brain was able to even process the scene before me: I'm pregnant.
But I didn't speak those words. They stuck in my throat, and I thought I might choke on them.
I stood there, my mouth open, unblinking and unmoving. Edward's pants were around his knees, his pale ass thrusting against the woman on the desk.
His secretary. Brittany.
Her legs were wrapped around his waist, her bright red heels digging into the small of his back.
"Oh shit," she said. I wasn't sure at first if the words were meant for me or for him. Her arm flailing, she slapped Edward's forearm repeatedly.
"Oh yeah, your fucking pussy is so tight," he groaned. “Squeeze it for me, baby. I love being bare inside you. I’m going to come so hard.”
"Your wife," she squealed, slapping him again.
His head finally turned. "Oh, shit."
I stood there, holding the box that contained everything I’d wanted my entire life, watching my husband fuck his bimbo secretary.
When I finally opened my mouth to speak, the words fell out. Good news and bad news. "I'm pregnant," I said. "And my father is dead."
West Bend, Colorado
"Do you see the colors on the trees? There are red, and brown, and gold. We're almost home, Liv-bug." I'm babbling, giving Olivia the play-by-play, trying to distract her on the car ride home from town with my not-very-creative scenery descriptions. Olivia has never done well with car rides, not since she turned a year old; she hasn't wanted to stop moving, ever since she learned to crawl. Sitting in a car seat, even for fifteen minutes, is too unbearable for her little toddler self.
Olivia gives me a little warning howl of disapproval, the precursor to the full-fledged meltdown I know is on the horizon, and I sing softly to her while my phone buzzes again -- for the fourth time on the drive home.
I should answer, but I ignore the phone, feeling slightly irritated. I’m running an orchard. I’m not a surgeon on call. Sure, it’s the middle of harvest, but really, nothing can be that important that it can’t wait five minutes until Olivia and I get home. Besides, I know it's just going to be my foreman and I can't deal with him right now.
Today is already stressful enough just because of what day it is to begin with -- the anniversary of my father’s death.
And the death of my marriage.
Of course, to be accurate, my marriage died well before the day I walked in on Edward and his bimbo secretary going at it on the desk in his office. I just didn't want to admit it to myself. And really, I should be sending that bitch regular thank you cards and flowers for saving me from my train-wreck of a husband.
Especially after Edward was arrested four months later. He's now serving an eight-year sentence in a minimum-security federal prison for embezzlement. As it turned out, schtupping his secretary wasn't enough for him; he was stealing from my father, too.
Hell, I can pick a real winner, can't I?
I exhale heavily, suppressing the curse on the tip of my tongue for Olivia’s benefit as I round the corner toward the orchard. I see the grey haze in the air, smell smoke before I even pull down the long gravel drive that leads to my house. But even if I couldn't, the fire truck blocks the driveway, crowded with firefighters. My eyes immediately go to the house, and I breathe a sigh of relief at the fact that it's intact before I even begin to process what the hell is going on. Thank goodness.
Olivia howls, clearly sensing that something is wrong, and I "shush" her, humming a lullaby under my breath as I pull up in the driveway in front of the house, trying to calm my own racing heart.
As soon as I open the passenger side door, one of the volunteer firefighters – West Bend, Colorado is not big enough for its own fire department -- flags me down. "Autumn Mayburn?"
"That's me," I say. "This is my place. What's happening?"
"You've got a fire down in the orchard," he says. “It’s contained now.”
Olivia squeals from the back seat of th
e car. I'm half-listening to the firefighter as I walk around the front of the SUV toward the passenger side to pull Olivia from her car seat, when he comes walking toward me.
I don't know who the hell he is. I've never seen him before. But he takes my breath away, and I’m not just saying that because I’m inhaling a crapload of smoke in the air. I mean that literally. I swear that I stop breathing for a second, pausing for a moment to gape because he looks like he just stepped off the set of a romance movie.
He's walking toward me in jeans and boots, a t-shirt spotted with grime and sweat. The fabric sticks on his skin, outlining his chest muscles so clearly he might as well be not even wearing his shirt. I swear I can see the striations in his abdomen. His face is streaked with gray soot, his chiseled jaw clenched.
Olivia squeals again, and it shakes me out of my momentary trance. I turn to open the door to the backseat, but he reaches me first.
"Hey." He speaks the word angrily, and I turn to face him as I pull open the car door to grab Olivia. The man is close to me, only a few inches away, and when I look in his eyes, electricity rushes through my body even though he hasn't so much as laid a finger on me.
There's something both threatening and sexy in the way he stands near me. I'm not sure if he's trying to intimidate me, or if he wants to cover my mouth with his, and the fact that I can’t tell which sends a shiver up my spine. "Is this your place?"
"Yeah. I'm the owner,” I say, looking into his icy blue eyes framed with thick dark lashes. Shit, he's got to be in his twenties. He's young. Too young.
He points back toward the orchard. "I don't know what the hell kind of operation you're running here," he starts.
I bristle immediately at his tone. "Excuse me?"
He points his finger at me, and I very nearly reach out and smack it away. This guy might be the hottest thing I've ever seen, but he's very clearly the kind of guy who thinks he can get away with anything just because he's gorgeous. "Are you trying to singlehandedly burn down the fucking county, or just get people killed?"
"Who the hell are you?" I ask.
He ignores me, instead continuing with his lecture. "You've got a piece of shit foreman who's fucking drunk on the job, you know that?"
"I don't know anything right now. All I know is that I don't know you. And that you need to quit cussing and back the hell away from me before I slap you."
Olivia howls “mama,” and I pull open the car door all the way, half-hoping I smack him with it. Okay, totally hoping I smack him with the door.
I've never seen this guy before in my life and he's yelling at me in front of my toddler? Anyone who does that is a total dirtbag.
I slide Olivia out of the seat and turn around with her on my hip, only to see him standing there, gaping at me.
"I didn't know you had a...kid," he says.
All I know is that I don't want Olivia around this guy who's clearly an asshole, so I slam the car door closed, shielding her from him as I move toward the other firefighter who’s clearly more reasonable. “It’d be totally fine for you to yell at me if you didn’t have a kid?” I ask. “You just go around screaming at women?”
I don’t bother to wait for an answer. I don’t need some twenty-year-old kid lecturing me about how to run my own damn property. Hearing about my foreman already hits a nerve with me. He's the third foreman I've had, and I thought I smelled alcohol on his breath the other day, but I wrote it off as just my own paranoia. I don't even know how much of the orchard was destroyed or...holy shit...if anyone got hurt.
"Ma'am," the firefighter I spoke with before greets me.
"No one was -- I mean, nothing happened -- No one got hurt, right?" I ask. Olivia kicks at me, hanging over my arm and trying to get down. "Hang on a second, baby. There's too much going on out here for you to be running around."
The firefighter shakes his head. "Your foreman could have been, though. Ambulance brought him down to the hospital, treated him for smoke inhalation."
"Foreman passed out. Looks like a lit cigarette started the fire."
"Oh my God," I say.
"He's lucky," the firefighter says. "So are you. He woke up in time. But he apparently tried to put it out himself, which wasn't smart. Probably didn't try to call the fire department because he was drunk. The Saint boy over there was driving by and saw it, jumped in to help. He called us. You're lucky he was going by. This whole place could have gone up in flames, you know. It’s been dry out here, with it being Fall and all.”
I'm trying to process what he's saying, all the while the gnawing feeling in the pit of my stomach growing more insistent. At least no one was hurt.
The Saint boy.... the firefighter's words echo in my head. That's the asshole who was yelling at me.
That's the guy with the ice-blue eyes, the one who sent a crackle of electricity running through my spine when he stood close to me.
Of course, that was before he opened his big freaking mouth.
Olivia leans over in my arm, and lets out a loud howl, and the firefighter shrugs. "You want to take care of her? All this smoke out here isn’t good for her anyway."
"Thank you." I make my way inside, and set Olivia down on the hardwood floor as soon as we get in the house. She toddles forward a few unsteady steps before the screen door even shuts behind me, and I follow her down the hallway, grateful for the silence.
The reprieve is short lived. The knock on the door echoes loudly, and I look over my shoulder, exhaling heavily as soon as I see who it is. "You again?" I ask. "You didn't get enough of an opportunity to yell at me already?"
He stands just outside the door. "Hey," he calls. "I think we got off on the wrong foot."
Olivia is babbling as she makes her way down the hall away from me, and I say, "No kidding," under my breath as I go after her. I don't have time to stand there and socialize at the front door, not with this kid on the move. I follow Olivia into the living room, where she heads straight for her favorite toy, a bouncer she used to love to sit inside. Now she just likes to stand beside it, hanging on with one hand for balance while she spins the toys lining the top.
He clears his throat, and when I turn around, he's standing there, his palms in the air. "I'm not a creep or something," he says.
"You mean, just because you yelled at me in front of my toddler and then followed me into my house?" I ask, my hand on my hip. I'm keeping my voice calm, so I don't startle Olivia, but really, isn't this the beginning of an episode of one of those true crime shows?
"You turned around and walked away," he says.
"Most people would wait to be invited inside." There’s just something about this guy. He’s so damn… arrogant. I've never met anyone I immediately disliked so much at first sight.
"Most people would thank the person who saved their fuc --"
"Stop swearing in front of my kid!"
"Shit," he says, and his face colors. "Lady, I just saved your damn orchard. You should be thanking me, not giving me grief."
"Yeah, excuse me if I don’t express my gratitude for you barging into my house and yelling at me.”
"I'm not yelling." He lets out a heavy exhale, then looks down at the ground before he runs his hand through his hair. "Fuck."
I groan. "You’re purposely trying to make me angry, right?"
He looks up at me with those blue eyes of his, and a shiver runs up my spine. "I'm not trying," he says. And then he gives me this crooked, cocky-as-hell grin. "But I'll admit that it's an extra perk. You're kind of cute angry."
"Are you trying to flirt with me?" I ask, appalled.
He laughs. "I said kind of cute," he says. "Not bowl-me-over hot."
"You're kind of a dick." The words come out before I even think to censor myself. Damn it.
Now he laughs harder, and looks at me with one eyebrow raised. "Five minutes after meeting me, and you’re already talking about my d-i-c-k?" He spells it out, obviously for Olivia's benefit.