Close To Home (Westen Series)(8)

By: Suzanne Ferrell

What a great surprise it had been to awaken and find him standing in her doorway after all these years. At first she’d thought it was another dream. The same one she’d had the past twenty years whenever her loneliness hit her the hardest.

In all her dreams she’d been dressed in a fine dress, her hair and nails impeccably done. Clint Preston, the man who had stolen her heart at the age of fifteen, dazzled by her beauty and wit.

Emma flung both of her arms on top of her head in exasperation. Only today the dream came true. Today Clint had actually been there, but this time angry and accusatory. And how had he found her? A complete mess! Not the self-assured, sophisticated woman she’d always imagined herself to be. No, he finds her an overworked, hassled mother, asleep in dirty, wrinkled clothes, wearing no makeup, her hair falling out of her French braid.

To top it off—to completely shatter her dreams—he had no clue who she was. Twenty years ago, she fell in love with him across a banana split. Sure, he’d only been taking his youngest sister Gwen and her friend out so they would leave the adults alone, but his kindness and handsome face had stolen her heart.

Get hold of yourself, Emma, old girl! One of these days you’ll realize that dreams just don’t come true. And when they do, you probably will get the short end of the stick. Didn’t you learn that from the rat you married?

Emma straightened her shoulders and pushed away from the wall. Yes, she’d learned her lesson from Dwayne. The only person she could count on was herself. If Clint Preston could forget her, then she could forget him, too. And if he thought for one moment he could come in here and threaten her life with her sons, then he had another think coming. The good doctor might not realize it yet, but he had just awakened the tigress who protected her cubs.

* * *

Fifteen minutes later, dressed in her favorite T-shirt and sweat shorts, Emma stood in her kitchen unloading her dishwasher of yesterday’s dishes, when a hesitant knock sounded on the kitchen door.

“Emma?” Suzie Miller stood on the porch, her arms wrapped around her body and a concerned expression on her face.

“Come on in, Suzie.” Emma ushered the older woman in.

“Are the boys all right?” Both embarrassment and worry etched the lines around Suzie’s mouth and eyes. Even though the pastor’s wife neared fifty in age, she still showed the beauty she’d been more than a quarter of a century ago.

“Except for each of them having a broken wrist, they’re fine, Suzie, really.” Emma quickly hugged her friend, then pulled out a chair for her.

“I am so sorry, Emma. I‘d planned to spend the afternoon with the boys and your mother, but my daughter needed me to take her to the hospital in Columbus for a checkup. When I got home, Harriet called me from the Doc’s office and said they’d come in there and that they’d each broken an arm. I wanted to rush right over, but Harriet said Doc Ray’s nephew had already brought them home. She said I should give you a few minutes before coming to apologize.” She took the glass of tea Emma handed her, swallowing a sip.

“I had hoped Mama would be capable of handling them, but sometimes…”

“…she gets a little distracted, doesn’t she? My Aunt Birdie was the same way. She’d start one thing, forget what she was doing and wander off to do something else. It’s why I thought I should come spend the afternoon with Isabelle and the boys. I just feel so bad I didn’t.”

Emma took a long drink of her own tea, hiding a smile. Suzie could get more information out in two minutes of conversation than most people in half an hour. “Suzie, it’s not your fault. The problem is with my sons. The two imps lay in wait for whoever is watching them to turn their back for a second. Then they’re off like a pair of greyhounds at the races.”

Suzie giggled. “They’re quick, aren’t they?”

“Oh heck, Suzie, when they learned to crawl, I had to check out the back yard before putting them on the ground. They crawled so fast, they nearly caught the squirrels once or twice.”

They exchanged smiles, both settling back to drink their sun tea. Emma realized she lived for these peaceful moments in her hectic life. She loved her sons to no end, but sometimes she just needed to remember how it felt to have a quiet afternoon all to herself.

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