Dylan Hutchinson lived and breathed Army, and she’d been under cover so long she’d forgot what it felt like to be a civilian. But the last mission took a turn for the worse and not only was she hurt, but she’s been informed that she could no longer do her job. It’s either a desk job as a recruiter, or she’s out.
Evan Whitfield didn’t have to work, but he loved his job as a surgeon. And when as his tiger he found an old man wandering in the woods with Alzheimer’s and confused, he wanted to help the family. The family had a daughter in the hospital too, and they were struggling. Evan thought the daughter might be not as sick or hurt as she claimed to be, so he took it upon himself to check her out. Evan was surprised to find that she was not only hurt worse than they claimed, she was also his mate.
For a doctor, Dylan thought Evan was dense. What part of go away didn’t he understand? She wasn’t the mate or marrying kind. Her life was over, not beginning. He needed to just go away….
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The hay bailer was working the last two rows when Evan saw his dad riding his big bay horse toward him. Blake and Adrian, two of his brothers, had already been cut loose, and he was fixing to do the same to Joshua and David, his other brothers. He and Adam could handle this last bit, so he told them to head on back to the house before Dad got there. “He looks like he’s got something on his mind. I’m betting it has something to do with that trip he made today. It’s not like him to go to town unless one of us is with him.” Nodding at Adam, Evan watched as Dad dismounted and made his way toward them. “Are you staying for supper tonight, or heading back to town?” “Town. I have to work in the morning.” Dad asked him if they were about done. “Yes, sir. Adam and I are going to see to this before we put the tractor in the barn. Adrian said he’d clean it for me after supper.” “You not staying?” He told him the same thing he’d told Adam. “I don’t know why you don’t just quit that job. I know that you’re good at it and all, but I’d sure like to see you more than once a week, and that has you rushing off again. Come home, son. For good.” There was a bite to his voice, as if he was really pissed at him. Evan let out a long breath, picking up the next bale that had come from the baler. Whatever was bothering his dad, he was sure it had nothing to do with his job. “Dad, I’m thirty minutes away. Less if I need to hurry. And me working was what I went to college for. And I love what I do. It’s rewarding to see how my work is making a difference. You know as well as I do that you have more than enough hands around if you need them.” His dad nodded but didn’t say anything else. “Everything all right?” “Yes. Why wouldn’t it be?” Evan only shrugged. His dad was in a mood, and while it wouldn’t last long, he could be a bear until it was over. “Your grandpa is coming for a visit. I guess he went and talked to your mom and they set it up. I was in town earlier picking him up. He’s staying.” “You don’t want him here?” His dad glared at him. “Maybe this would go better and a good deal faster if you were to tell me what burr you have up your butt. I’m not being disrespectful, but you’re like a bear with his foot in a trap.” “I’m sorry, son. I love my dad. But he’s a hog.” Evan asked him what that was supposed to mean. “He wants to be in the middle of every little thing. He’ll want to plan a big dinner and all the foods for it. Have you boys at his beck and call. I can’t even get you to stay for supper.” “You didn’t ask.” His dad asked him then. He didn’t sound so sour about it, but there was a tone that Evan decided to ignore. “I’d love to. But if I do, then you’re going to tell me the real reason that you’re ticked off. I know that you’re not all that upset about Grandpa coming around. You love him as much as I do you.”
“He wants to go over his will.” Well, that was something. No one liked to be made to realize that they were as mortal as the next. “I’m not ready for that. I just…. We just buried my mom, and I don’t want to talk about him leaving too. It’s too much. But when I said that to your mother, she got all huffy with me.” “She got huffy or you got huffy?” His dad said he might have started it. “Mom loved Grandma too. I’m betting she no more wants to do this than you do. But I can also understand why Grandpa wants to do this. It was a mess when Grandma died, and she had everything all written out for the funeral director and all.” “No will was properly made out. I know that, I surely do, but it’s just too soon. What am I gonna do if something happens to him too?” Evan hugged his dad and told him he had them. “Yes, but he’s my dad. And…well, I don’t know what I’m going to do. You know? He’s always been there, him and Mom. And to think that he’s making these plans…well, it just breaks my heart. Upsets me so that I get angry about it. I’m sorry, I am, but he’s my dad.” “Maybe if you just let him do this, then he’ll start to get better. You know as well as I that he’s been in a bad way. Not that I blame him. I know that I would be as well. But if he feels like things are settled, then perhaps he’ll start to come out of this depression a little more.” His dad said nothing. “Dad, I don’t know what else to do. He’s going to do it, no matter what we try to say.” “What if he’s doing this because he has plans to join Mom? I mean, like right now, instead of waiting until his time comes along? I’m afraid, Evan, that is just what he’s planning to do. This might be his way of getting things settled, as you called it, before he does something really stupid.” Evan had actually thought of that but didn’t want to mention it to his dad. “I can’t lose another parent. Even as old as I am and knowing that he’s getting up there, I just can’t lose him.” “Neither can we. Neither can any of us.” He hugged his dad, just held him while he got himself under control. Evan didn’t know what he’d do if he lost any more of his family. They were the world to him. Adam had moved away and was sitting in the truck, dealing with his own kind of grief. Losing Grandma had hit them all hard. She’d been the rock of the family. And she was going to be sorely missed. There were still a few rows to go, so Evan asked his dad if he’d help. “Once we get this done, we won’t have to worry about the rain until next season. And I, for one, would love to have this part of the end of season finished up.” “All right.” They worked side by side, putting the bales of straw up on the truck bed as it slid out of the baler. It was hard work, but it felt good to be out in the sunshine. His dad, even as old as he was, did as good a job as Evan was doing keeping up with the baler as it made short work of the hay. And when they hit the last row, both climbed up on the bales and rode home that way. “I think I needed this too. Just to be able to think about nothing else for a time.” “It’s one of the reasons I come home. To get away from the city, run a bit with my brothers, and to see you guys. It clears the mind.” His dad nodded. “We’ll talk to
Grandpa, Dad. Maybe if we show him how much we need him around, he’ll rethink whatever it is he’s got going on in his head.” “I’d like that too. I know you have to go back to work tomorrow, but I wish you’d reconsider coming home for good. It’s not like you need to work, Evan. I really miss you. And I know that your brothers and mom do as well.” Evan didn’t say anything. There was nothing for him to say. He had to work or he’d go nuts. “You think on it. Maybe you can take some vacation time out and see what you’re missing here.” “I know what I’m missing. I think about it every day.” They got off the hay and helped the hands put it in the barn. In a few weeks they’d have to go to the other field to do the same thing there, but for now they had enough to keep the few cows they had and the horses fed in the colder months. And to sell to the other ranchers around them when they ran short. Evan loved his family. He enjoyed being with them, talking to his brothers about nothing much at all. And the open fields that he could roam alone or with them. But he needed to be away too. Needed his own space, his own things. If he did quit his job and came home, his mom and dad would expect him to live at home again, as most of his brothers were. Not that it wasn’t nice being all together, but he needed quiet sometimes. Grandpa was at the house when they came out of the barn. He was still looking lost, not that Evan didn’t blame him. Evan saw a lot of death in his job. Being a surgeon was not meeting people in the best of circumstances. His family might drive him nuts at times, but they were his and he loved them. Hugging Grandpa, he followed him to the mud room to clean up. Grandpa didn’t say anything, but Evan knew he had something on his mind. “You still being a doctor out there in the city?” He said that he was. “I was wondering if you’d do me a favor when you go back. I need something notarized, and I’d like for you to drop me at the bank when you leave here. If you don’t mind.” “Sure, but I know a couple of people that can do that. So can Mom. I think she still has her license up to date.” He said he wanted the banker to do it. “I can take you. But if you don’t mind, what is it?” “I want to turn over my house to your daddy.” Evan was drying his hands when he asked him what he wanted to do that for. “I just don’t think I can live there anymore. It’s got all them memories, and it hurts me.” “Where are you going to live if not there?” He looked away. “Grandpa, if you don’t tell me I’m going to start guessing, and I don’t think I like that any better than you not telling me the truth.” “I can’t go on. I just don’t have it in me anymore to want to. I miss her that much.” It hurt Evan to hear him say that. “I loved her for over sixty years, and now she’s gone. What’s a man supposed to do if he can’t have the one love of his life standing beside him?” Evan hugged him to him again. “Oh, Evan, she was my entire world, she was. And the best thing that ever happened to me.” “Dad thinks you’re going to end your life. Is that the plan? Because I have to tell you, I’m not going to let you. None of us will.” Grandpa told him that he didn’t have
anything to live for. “You have us. Dad and Mom too. We’d have no one if you were to do this.” “I hurt.” Evan told him he didn’t know the pain he was feeling, but understood. “She kept me in line. Helped me through the day just by loving me. And I tell you right now that she made me feel like I was the king of the world with just her smile. I miss her so very much.” He sobbed then, holding onto Evan as he did so. Evan felt his own eyes fill with tears, and when they fell over his cheeks, he held his grandpa all the tighter. Grandma had been there for all of them. She’d been the one that he could go to, for anything. And now she was gone and Grandpa wanted to join her. Dinner was a somber affair. No one, it seemed, was in their usual jolly mood. Even Blake, who could liven up any seating, was quiet. Evan helped his mom clear the dishes, and the rest of them cleaned up the kitchen. Grandpa joined them just as they were putting the last clean pot on the hanger. “Buy it from me. One of you boys, you should buy my house from me.” They didn’t move, not even to look at one another. “I will make you a good deal. I can’t…. I was thinking of moving in with Oliver here, and I would love for one of you yahoos to have the house.” “You move in with Dad and Mom, and I’ll buy it.” Evan had no idea why he said that. He didn’t need a house any more than he needed to work. “You promise us that you’ll move in here and behave yourself, then I’ll buy your house.” “I don’t want to behave myself. I want to…I want to run in the woods. Have some…. You six should make me a great grandpa. I’d surely have something to do if you were to do that.” Each of them groaned and Grandpa laughed. “You promise me that you’ll be on the outlook for yourself a mate, and I’ll try and keep myself in a better frame of mind.” “Deal.” All of them put out their hands after making the promise. If that was all it took, a promise, then Evan would do it. As for the house? He didn’t have a clue what he was going to do with it, but he’d figure out something. Maybe he’d let his brothers use it for a while. ~~~ Norris put the phone in the cradle and looked at his dad. “She’s coming home. They’ve made arrangements to pick her up and take her to the hospital in New York so that they can evaluate her before she can come here. It’ll be about three more days or so before they release her to the one here in town. We’ll have her close enough that we can go and visit her when we want to.” “Who?” Norris told him that Dylan was coming home. “Your momma is already here, Norris. You go on talking like she isn’t, I’m going to have to ground you. I told you that before.” “Yes, Dad.” Norris sat there, not mentioning to his dad again that his mom had died several years ago. That he’d been living with them for seven years. Nor did he explain, again, that Dylan was his daughter, his dad’s granddaughter, and that she was
coming home because she’d been hurt badly and had to leave the service. He could tell him, but Dad wouldn’t remember it. “I’d like to have fish for dinner tonight. You go ask your momma if she can whip me some up.” Norris nodded. “Then we should go for ice cream. You got those good grades, so we should celebrate. Didn’t you, boy?” “I’d like that. We’ll go after supper, if you still want.” Dad got up and made his way to his room. In a few minutes, he’d come back out and ask Norris where his bed was, and he’d have to show him. Alzheimer’s sucked. Several years ago his dad had been a little forgetful. Slightly disoriented at times too. Nothing that worried them much. His dad was brilliant, and had always had trouble remembering simple tasks unless he wrote them down. After his wife passed, he became worse…his inability to remember to put on shoes or wear a coat had gotten him put in the hospital with a cold that had turned into pneumonia. Then they started noticing him being forgetful of who they were, and most of the time he would remember things that were well in the past. Then he’d begun to wander off. It was then that Norris had found out that his dad was slowly losing his ability to do a great many things. Like living alone and keeping his own house. Meals were skipped because he couldn’t remember if he’d eaten. Bedtimes were overlooked because he didn’t remember where his bed was. Things like that and more had gotten the doctor to declare him unfit to live on his own. He’d been living with them since then. Not that he didn’t enjoy having his dad around. But lately, just over the last few months, he’d been getting away from them. Running off without telling anyone where he was going. And sometimes the police had to help them find him. His dad was having more and more bad days all the time. It was putting a strain not just on Norris’s health, but his finances as well. When Norris’s wife Stella returned from grocery shopping, he checked on his dad before he went to help bring things in and saw that he was napping. They used to do all kinds of things together before his dad came to stay, now they had to do things in stages. But he was glad that he had his dad and that he could be there for him. He told Stella about the phone call he’d gotten. “Dylan will spend a few weeks in the hospital here, then they’ll let her come home. I don’t think she’s going to be too terribly happy about that.” Stella said that she could bet on that. “I’m so worried about her. We were lucky, they told me again. I’d have been a lot happier if she’d not gone over there at all.” “You couldn’t have stopped her. She has her own mind, and once she gets something in it, she’s not going to stop. Not even when it’s that dangerous.” Norris nodded. “To have her home will be wonderful. I know that she’s going to need a lot of rehabilitation, but I’m so glad that she’s coming home for good.” Dylan, Hutch to her men and friends, had been hurt badly about six months back. She and her men had been on a mission, something that she did a great deal while in the army, and she had gotten hurt. Three of her men had been killed, and another had died right after he’d gotten to the hospital. Dylan had nearly been one of them. Norris
didn’t know where it had happened or how she’d been injured, nor did he know to what extent her injuries were. But he knew that she was lucky to be alive, and that was all that mattered to him. For now, anyway. “When did they say they’d be here with her? You probably told me, but my mind is a little fuzzy. I’m so tired, Norris. I shouldn’t have stayed up so late watching that movie.” He laughed and told his wife that it was supposed to be Friday. “Good. We’ll be there when they land. Then we’ll go to the hospital with her. I miss her so much.” He did as well, and had for a long time. Dylan was their only child, and she’d been a delightful little girl who grew up into a wonderful grown up. At seventeen she’d joined the army, and soon after she made it through boot camp, she’d been picked to be trained for special jobs. He knew that she was covert, but anything else had been kept from them, to keep them, and especially her, safe. Over the next ten years they’d seen very little of their daughter. She was forever rushing off for one thing or another, her job keeping her away for longer periods of time. Then about six months ago, a few days before they’d been notified that there had been an accident, she’d called him. With the call coming in the middle of the night, he knew something was wrong. “Dad?” He said it was him and glanced at the clock. He’d never forget the time. It was one twenty-four in the morning. “Dad, I’m going to be coming home soon, I’ve arranged it. I’ll have a month off. I’d like for you to do something for me.” “Anything. You name it and it’ll be yours.” She laughed and he could hear the tension in it. “What is it, baby? Are you all right?” “No. I’ve been…I don’t think I can do this anymore. So much death and pain here now.” He asked her what it was. “I can’t tell you. But I’m done. I want to come home and make a life. After my R&R, I’m going to muster out. I want a house. A yard of my own. I want things to be normal.” “Normal? Honey, do you even know what that means?” She laughed again, and he could hear the little hiccup of a sob then. “Dylan, what is it? Tell me? I want to help you.” “There’s this house, about two doors down from yours and Mom’s. Buy it for me. I have the money. I’m sending you money that I have here to the account that you set up for me, and that we now use for Grandda.” He heard her tell someone to fuck off and started to ask her what was going on, but she started talking again. “If you can, get it cheaper so I can have it retro fitted for Grandda. I want him to live with me.” “Honey, he’s a lot to take on. Even for the two of us.” It tore at his heart when she told him she wanted to come home, for a normal life. “Dylan, what is going on?” “I can’t tell you. I can’t…I’ll come home for good, then we can talk. All right?” He said that he would look forward to it. “Buy the house. Like I said, the money is in the account that you opened for me when I was a little girl. I want you to use it to buy the house. The rest of it…you do with whatever you need to do to get you and Mom something nice.” He told her he would buy the house and she said she had to go. The line went dead then, and it had been the last time he’d spoken to her. Not even when they’d gone to see
her was she able to speak. Her body was too broken to do much more than just heal. Norris made his way out to the back of the house and sat on the deck. His baby was coming home, and he doubted very much anything was going to be normal for her again. “Norris?” He looked up at his wife when she said his name. “Norris, I can’t find your father. He was resting not ten minutes ago, and now he’s gone.” His body tensed up and he stood. Dad could have gone anywhere in that little time. The man was like a magician when it came to escaping their notice and getting into trouble. Calling the police to tell them what had happened, he began walking the streets. His dad would only be able to tell someone where he lived if he was having a good day. And his dad’s good days had been few and far between in the last several weeks. Most everyone knew him, but there were a few that didn’t. “Did you find your dad, Mr. Hutchinson?” He told the officer that he’d not about an hour later when he drove up behind him. “I have all our men out looking for him. You should go and talk to Mr. Whitfield like I suggested. Him and his boys, they’d sure be able to find him a good deal faster.” “I know. I’ve been meaning to, but my daughter…she’s coming home soon.” Officer Petty told him that was wonderful as he stopped the cruiser and got out. “She’s going to be spending a few weeks in the hospital, but she’ll be home soon enough.” “You’ve had a rough few months, Mr. Hutchinson. But having Hutch home, that’ll take some of the burden off you and your family. She was always one to depend on.” He only nodded, knowing that she’d be depending on them a great deal now. He’d not been able to tell anyone anything because, frankly, he didn’t know anything. “I’ve got my men out looking for him, sir, like I said. We’ll find him for you.” He hoped so. While it wasn’t cold out, still summer yet, he did worry about his dad taking a tumble into something and not getting out. Or wandering into someone’s home. He’d done that before as well. Norris walked the streets while calling out his name, hoping to find him soon. Norris was exhausted when they finally found him three streets over and lost. Not just exhausted from looking for his dad, but that was a part of it. He was just tired of all the adulting he’d had to do of late. Smiling, he thought of what Dylan would say to him if he whined to her about it. She’d tell him to buck up and to fucking let it go. She had gotten a mouth on her since she’d gone away. And while it did embarrass him at times, he thought it was funny when she’d get on a roll with it. Like the time she’d come home for Christmas about five years ago. “I have to go into town and pick up your mother’s gift. Want to hang out with your old man?” She nodded and grinned at him. “Please promise me that we’re not going to get arrested. You will behave yourself, won’t you?” “Ah, Pop, why would I do that? I’m here to have fun.” He groaned and she’d laughed at him. “Besides, what sort of trouble can I get into at the mall? I mean, they still have those mall cops running around, don’t they?”
“Yes. And Bennie is still one of them. I swear to you, if you make him wet his pants again, I’ll…I’ll….” She laughed hard at his lack of a threat. “He’s a good kid, Dylan. Why do you dislike him so much?” “He’s not a good kid, Dad. He’s a bully and a fucking prick. But I’ll be good if he does. Now, what did you get Mom?” By the time they’d gotten to the mall, both had been having a good time. When they went into the jeweler’s, she’d offered to pay the difference on the watch he’d gotten for her mom. “I got it. What did you get her?” She only shook her head and told him not to guess. “You did get her something, didn’t you?” “I got you both something.” Norris had seen her stiffen up and turned to see Bennie behind him. “Hello, Bennie.” “Well, well, well. If it’s not the terror of Washington street. Home for good, this time, Dylan? Or are you headed back to out of country?” Bennie made those quotation signs with his fingers when he asked her about the country. “Me and the boys, we think you’re just in prison. A girl like you, that’s where you belong.” “Dad?” He hadn’t wanted trouble, not then or now, but there really was something simply mean about Bennie today. And after that, he’d noticed it a great deal more. “Dad, I’m doing what you asked, but it’s not easy.” “You shoplifting, Dylan? Is that what you learned in prison? Or, I’m sorry, in the army?” Bennie reached for her, and even standing there beside her, Norris hadn’t seen her move. Before he could tell her to go for it, Bennie was on the floor screaming to be released. “You’ve fucking broke my hand.” She laughed and told him she’d not. “You have. I can feel it.” “No, I didn’t. I only stopped you from touching me. However, I can break it if you want.” Norris told her not to just yet. “All right. But I did try to be good, Dad. He started it.” “He did. I saw it.” The police were called and she was asked to let the mall cop go. After several witnesses said that she’d not done anything but defend herself, she was released. Norris had heard a few days later that not only had Bennie lost his job, but other women had come forward about his behavior in the mall. Bennie hadn’t faired all that well after that. Norris made his way out to the driveway to get his car. Stella had forgotten to get fish, and since Dad would eat if he had something he requested, they’d accommodate him when they could. Climbing into his car, he vowed that as soon as he was home again he was going to make a call to the Whitfields. Norris knew that they were tigers, but not much more than that. The Whitfields were money and didn’t travel the same circles as he and his family did.