A Cedar Cove Christmas
Page 5

 Debbie Macomber

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“If you come to the kitchen you’ll find out!”
Linc followed his brother’s voice and with Ned at his heels, entered the kitchen. As soon as Mel saw him, his brother thrust a sheet of paper into his hands. “Here. This was behind the coffeemaker. Must’ve fallen off.”
Before he’d read two words, Linc’s face started to heat up. His stubborn, strong-willed, hardheaded, obstinate little sister had gone to Cedar Cove. Without her family, because she felt she knew best. Tossing the note to the ground, Linc clenched both his fists. “Of all the stupid, idiotic things to do.”
“What?” Ned asked.
“Mary Jo’s decided to go to Cedar Cove on her own,” Mel said.
“By herself?”
“Isn’t that what I said?” Mel snapped.
“It’s true,” Linc informed his youngest brother. “I can’t believe she’d do anything this crazy.”
“We drove her to it.” Ned sank into a kitchen chair and splayed his fingers through his thick dark hair.
“What do you mean?” Mel challenged.
“Explain yourself,” Linc ordered.
“Don’t you see?” Ned gazed up at them. “All that talk about confronting David and forcing him to do the honorable thing. The man hasn’t got an honorable bone in his body. What were we thinking?”
“What we were thinking,” Linc said irritably, “is that David Rhodes is going to pay for what he did to our little sister.” He looked his brothers in the eye and made sure they understood.
When their parents were killed, Mary Jo had only been seventeen. Linc, as the oldest, had been made her legal guardian, since there was no other family in the area. At the time, the responsibility had weighed heavily on his shoulders. He’d gone to his two brothers and asked for their help in raising their little sister. Or at least finishing the job their parents had begun.
Both brothers had been equally committed to taking care of Mary Jo. Everything had gone smoothly, too. Mary Jo had graduated from high school the following May, and all three brothers had attended the ceremony. They’d even thrown her a party.
That autumn he’d gone with Mary Jo to the community college and signed her up for classes. She hadn’t taken kindly to his accompanying her, but Linc wasn’t about to let her walk around campus on her own. Not at first, anyway. Cute little girl like her? With all those lecherous college guys who couldn’t keep their hands to themselves? Oh, yeah, he knew what eighteen-year-old boys were like. And he’d insisted she choose solid, practical courses, not that fluffy fun stuff they taught now.
All the brothers were proud of how well Mary Jo had done in her studies. They’d all disapproved when she’d dropped out of school and gone to work at that insurance company. More than once Linc had to bite his tongue. He’d told her no good would come of this job.
The problem with Mary Jo was that she was too eager to move. She no longer wanted to live in the family home. For the last year, she’d talked incessantly about getting her own place.
Linc didn’t understand that either. This was their home. Linc saw to it that Mary Jo wasn’t stuck with all the cleaning, cooking and laundry. They all did their part of the upkeep—maybe not quite to her standards but well enough. That wasn’t the reason she was so determined to live somewhere else.
No, Mary Jo had an intense desire for independence. From them.
Okay, maybe they’d gone overboard when it came to dating. Frankly, Linc didn’t think there was a man this side of Mars who was good enough for his little sister. Mary Jo was special.
Then Mary Jo had met David Rhodes. Linc had never found out exactly when that had happened. Not once in the six months that she’d been dating him had she mentioned this guy. What Linc had noticed was how happy Mary Jo seemed all of a sudden—and then, just as suddenly, she’d been depressed. That was when her mood swings started. She’d be happy and then sad and then happy again. It made no sense until he learned there was a man involved.
Even now that Mary Jo was pregnant with this man’s baby, Linc still hadn’t met him. In retrospect, that was probably for the best because Linc would take real pleasure in ripping his face off.
“What are we going to do now?” Mel asked.
His younger brothers were clearly worried.
Linc’s hand was already in his pants pocket, fingering his truck keys. “What can we do other than follow her to Cedar Cove?”
“Let’s talk this through,” Ned suggested, coming to his feet.
“What’s there to talk about?” Mel asked. “Mary Jo’s going to have a baby. She’s alone and pregnant and we all know Rhodes isn’t in Cedar Cove. He’s lied to her from the beginning. There’s no way he’s telling her the truth now.”
“Yes, but…”
Linc looked squarely into his youngest brother’s eyes.
“What do you think Mom and Dad would have us do?” he asked, allowing time between each word to make sure the message sank in.
Ned sighed. “They’d want us to find her.”
“Exactly my point.” Linc headed for the back door.
“Wait a minute.” Ned raised his hand.
“Now what?” Mel cried out impatiently.
“Mary Jo left because she’s mad.”
“Well, let her be mad. By the time we arrive, she’ll be singing a different tune. My guess is she’ll be mighty glad to see us.”
“Maybe,” Ned agreed. “But say she isn’t. Then what?”
Linc frowned. “We’ll bring her home anyway.”
“She might not want to come.”
“She’ll come.” Linc wasn’t about to leave his little sister with strangers over Christmas.
“If we make demands, she’ll only be more determined to stay,” Ned told them.
“Do you have any other bright ideas?” Mel asked.
Ned ignored the sarcasm. “Bring her gifts,” he said.
“Why?” Linc didn’t understand what he meant. They all had gifts for her and the baby that she could open Christmas morning, the way she was supposed to.
“She needs to know we love her and welcome the baby.”
“Of course we welcome the baby,” Linc said. “He’s our flesh and blood, our nephew.”
“Hang on a minute,” Mel murmured, looking pensive. “Ned has a point.”
It wasn’t often that Mel agreed with Ned. “What do you mean?”
“Mary Jo’s pregnant, right?”
That question didn’t require a response.
“And everyone knows how unreasonable women can get when they’re in, uh, a delicate condition.”
Linc scratched his head. “Mary Jo was like that long before she got pregnant.”
“True, but she’s been even more unreasonable lately, don’t you think?”
Mel wasn’t wrong there.
“Maybe we should bring her a gift just so she’ll know how concerned we are about her and the baby. How much we care. We want her with us for Christmas, don’t we?”
“What woman doesn’t like gifts?” Linc said, thinking out loud.
“Yup,” Ned said, smiling at Mel. “It couldn’t hurt.”
Linc conceded. “Okay, then, we’ll each bring her a gift.”
They returned to their individual bedrooms, planning to meet in the kitchen five minutes later. Linc had gone online a few weeks ago and ordered a miniature football, basketball and soccer ball for his yet-to-be-born nephew. He couldn’t speak for the others, but he suspected they too had chosen gifts that were geared toward sports. At first he figured he’d bring the football, but then he reconsidered. He’d been after Mary Jo to save money and in an effort to encourage her, he’d purchased a gold coin that he planned to present on her birthday in February. Perfect. He pocketed the coin and hurried to the kitchen.
“You ready?” he asked.
“Ready,” Mel echoed.
“Me, too,” Ned confirmed.
The three brothers hurried out to the four-door pickup Linc drove. Mel automatically climbed into the front passenger seat and Ned sat directly behind him.
“You got your gift?” Linc asked Mel.
“Yeah. I’m bringing her perfume.”
“Good idea,” Linc said approvingly. “Where’d you get it?”
“I actually bought it for Annie, but since I’m not seeing her anymore…”
“Ned?” Linc asked.
“Incense,” his youngest brother mumbled.
“You brought her what?”
“Incense. She likes that stuff. It was gonna be part of her Christmas gift anyway.”
“Okay…” Linc shook his head rather than ask any further questions. Whatever his brothers chose to bring Mary Jo was up to them.
He turned his key in the ignition, then rested his arm over the back of the seat and angled his head so he could see behind him as he reversed out of the driveway. He’d reached the stop sign at the end of the block before it occurred to him to ask.
“Which way?”
“North,” Mel said.
“Cedar Cove is south,” Ned contradicted.
“For crying out loud.” Linc pulled over to the curb. Leaning across his brother, he opened the glove box and shuffled through a pile of junk until he found the Washington State map he was looking for. Dropping it on Mel’s lap, he said, “Find me Cedar Cove.”
Mel immediately tossed it into the backseat. “Here, Ned. You seem to think you know where it is.”
“It was just a guess,” Ned protested. Nevertheless he started to unfold the map.
“Well, we don’t have time for guessing. Look it up.” Linc put the truck back in gear and drove toward the freeway on-ramp. He assumed Ned would find Cedar Cove before he had to decide which lane to get into—north or south.
He was nearly at the ramp before Ned cried out triumphantly. “Found it!”
“Great. Which way should I go?”
Linc watched his brother through the rearview mirror as he turned the map around.
No answer.
“Which way?” Linc asked impatiently.
“South,” Ned murmured.
“You don’t sound too sure.”
“South,” Ned said again, this time with more conviction.
Linc pulled into the lane that would take him in that direction. “How far is it?” he asked.
Ned stared down at the map again. “A ways.”
“That doesn’t tell me a darn thing. An hour or what?”
“All right, all right, give me a minute.” Ned balanced the map on his knees and studied it intently. After carefully walking his fingers along the edge of the map, Ned had the answer. “I’d say…ninety minutes.”
“Ninety minutes.” Linc hadn’t realized it was that far.
“Maybe longer.”
Linc groaned silently. Traffic was heavy, which was to be expected at noon on Christmas Eve. At the rate they were crawling, it would be hours before they got there, which made their mission that much more urgent.