An Unlikely Daddy. Rachel Lee
“Johnny talked about you from time to time, but I gather he said little about me.”
“He mentioned R.T. a couple of times but no, he didn’t say much. But then he didn’t talk much about his friends in the Rangers or later. It was like when he came home, he turned all that off.”
“Probably wise,” Ryker said. He washed down a mouthful of bagel with some coffee. “Compartmentalizing, we call it. Keeping things separate. Why would he want to bring any of that home to you?”
“But he talked about me,” she argued.
“Once in a while. Sometimes everyone talked about home. Sometimes we needed to remember that there was a place or a person we wanted to get back to. The rest of the time we couldn’t afford the luxury.”
That hit her hard, but she faced it head-on. Remembering home had been a luxury? That might have been the most important thing anyone had told her about what Johnny had faced and done.
“I didn’t know him at all,” she whispered, squeezing her eyes shut, once again feeling the shaft of pain.
“You knew the best part of him. That mattered to him, Marisa. You gave him a place where that part could flourish.”
* * *
Conard County: The Next Generation
RACHEL LEE was hooked on writing by the age of twelve and practiced her craft as she moved from place to place all over the United States. This New York Times bestselling author now resides in Florida and has the joy of writing full-time.
An Unlikely Daddy
MILLS & BOON
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To all the heroes whose stories will never be told.
Marisa Hayes stood atop a hill in the Good Shepherd Cemetery in Conard County, Wyoming. The ceaseless spring wind seemed to blow through her hollow heart, sweeping away her life. Johnny’s coffin, wood and brass, sat atop the bier, ready to be lowered. Beneath it a strip of artificial turf covered the gaping hole in the ground that would soon contain him. The green swatch was an affront to the brown ground all around.
She couldn’t move. Pain so strong it was almost beyond feeling, a strange kind of agonized numbness, filled her. Several men were waiting to lower the casket. A few of her friends waited behind her, giving her space and time. Dimly she realized they must be growing impatient as time continued its inexorable march into a future she wished would go away.
Beyond the coffin she saw the tombstones of others who had left this life before Johnny, generations of markers, some newer, some so old they tilted. Plastic flowers brought artificial color here and there to a comfortless landscape. No well-tended ground, this. No neatly trimmed lawns and shrubs trying to create an impression of life amidst death. Just the scrubby natural countryside, tamed to a level one could walk through, but no more. A couple of tumbleweeds had rolled in and hung up just since she arrived here. They’d move on soon. Everything moved on. Time stole everything, one way or another.
Her hand rested against her still-flat belly. She’d never had a chance to tell Johnny. If she believed the pastor, her husband knew. She wasn’t sure if she believed the pastor. Right now she didn’t know if she believed in afterlife, God or anything at all.
What she believed in was her pain. What she believed in was that she was carrying Johnny’s baby. What she believed was that when she had tried to Skype him, to tell him, she had been told he was out, they’d give him a message. What she believed was that the next thing she heard was that Johnny was dead.
No open coffin. They’d warned against it. The funeral director had practically fallen on his knees, begging her not to demand it. Telling her that some images were best not remembered. Telling her to remember Johnny alive.
If the funeral director couldn’t pretty it up...
But, no, she refused to go there. It was the one