Softly at Sunrise Page 2


Ethan hadn’t changed anything in the entire year she was presumed dead. Nothing had been changed since her return.

She was ready for that next step. Ready to embrace the new and move away from the old. It was a matter she’d only discussed with her therapist in the sessions that Ethan didn’t attend, but she firmly believed the last step in her recovery was to remove herself from the house that held so many painful memories for her.

There were still gaps in her memory. Maybe she’d never fully regain everything of her past. A year hooked on drugs and the emotional and physical trauma she’d endured had perhaps altered her mind enough that there were simply things she’d never remember. Maybe it was better that way.

It was difficult for her—since she’d lost her memory of so many events—when they did come floating back, she experienced them all over again. Some were hurtful and vivid, and it took days and even weeks to come to terms with them.

It was hard to tell herself it happened four years ago when it was so fresh in her mind. The arguments. The stony silence between her and Ethan. The miscarriage. Ethan being gone. And the accusations that still stung if she let herself dwell on them.

The man Ethan was today wasn’t the man Ethan was in the early stages of their marriage. She knew that. But it was hard when those memories came back to her. New. As if it had happened yesterday.

Her gaze drifted to the bookcase where those damnable papers had been hidden. Immediately the image flashed of that last terrible day when Ethan had stood in front her, his expression impassive as he calmly handed her papers that would effectively end their marriage.

He’d told her not to bother coming back.

And she hadn’t.

For an eternity she’d remained a prisoner in unimaginable circumstances, her mind shattered. She’d clung to the only thing she’d known. Ethan. He’d been the one constant. He would come for her. He wouldn’t let her die in hell. Thank God her mind had protected her from the awful reality of the way they’d parted, or she would have never survived or held on to the hope that he’d come.

“Rachel? Are you okay?”

Ethan’s concerned question drifted through the painful memories, and she blinked, turning in the direction of his voice.

He was holding two glasses of wine, and his brows were drawn together, his sharp gaze peeling back layer after layer until she worried he’d know exactly what she was thinking.

She smiled, mustering all her control to prevent the shaking that usually accompanied the flashbacks. She reached for the wine and nodded. “I’m fine. Just thinking.”

Ethan handed over the glass and then settled on the couch beside her.

“Whatever you were thinking, it couldn’t have been good. You were pale, and your eyes were so distant that you didn’t seem to be here at all.”

“It was nothing. I’d rather focus on us. And the move to our brand new house.”

She held up her glass, and he gently clinked his to hers.

“I’m going to miss this place,” he said. “Lot of memories tied up here. I can understand why Mom and Dad are reluctant to relocate. They’ve been in that house my whole life. I can’t imagine them anywhere else.”

She swallowed and then sipped at her wine.

“You sure this is what you want to do?” he asked.

Her eyes widened. “We’re certainly beyond that point now. The other house is already built! What on earth would we do with it if we decided not to move?”

He shrugged. “Van and Joe haven’t built houses yet. One of them could always take it.”

She shook her head. “No. I love that house. It’s perfect. I’m excited to move into it.”

He studied her a minute as if deciding whether to state what was on his mind. Then he leaned over to put his glass on the end table.

“You aren’t happy here, are you?” he said bluntly.

She froze, because she hadn’t wanted him to know just how much she wanted to be free of this house and its hold on her. The last thing she wanted was for him to feel guilty. They’d wasted enough time on guilt and anguish. It served no purpose. They’d never move on if they were always dwelling on the past.

The doorbell rang, and she nearly sighed an audible sound of relief.

“I’ll get it. You sit,” Ethan said as he sprang upward.

He walked to the front door and opened it, and a mere second later, Rusty entered the living room.

Rachel smiled and got up to hug the other woman.

“Rusty! I’m so glad to see you!” Rachel stepped back to examine the smiling girl. “You’re looking so gorgeous! How is school?”

Rusty dipped her head a little shyly but beamed at Rachel’s compliment. And it was true. Rusty had blossomed into a beautiful young lady. A long way from the scrawny, surly teenager with ragged, brightly dyed hair who’d stolen into Marlene and Frank Kelly’s house a few years earlier.

She could definitely still hold her own with the Kelly clan and could be plenty sassy when the occasion called for it, but Rusty had softened under the love and tutelage of Marlene and the rest of the Kellys.

“I heard you went back to work today,” Rusty said after offering Rachel her own enthusiastic hug. “How did it go?”

There was worry in the other girl’s eyes, and Rachel’s heart squeezed. She and Rusty hadn’t always had the best relationship. Rusty had entered the Kellys’ lives at the precise time when Rachel had been rescued and returned to her family. Rusty had feared that concern for Rachel would overshadow her own existence and that she’d be discarded and sent on her way.

“It was scary and wonderful at the same time,” Rachel said. “Hard to believe I can be intimidated by a bunch of junior high kids, but believe me, they’re pretty terrifying!”

Rusty laughed. “I remember me at that age so I can well understand why you’d be shaking in your shoes.”

“Where’s Ma?” Ethan asked. “I thought she was coming with you?”

Rusty turned to Ethan. “She said to tell you she’ll be here as soon as she can. Sophie was running late, and Marlene was keeping Charlotte for her.”

Ethan’s cell rang, and he made a grab for it, turning away from the two women as he answered.

Rachel took Rusty’s hand and dragged her toward the couch. “So how are you doing in your classes, and how are you liking college?”

Rusty’s eyes glowed with excitement. “I love it. It’s as you said. Scary and wonderful all at the same time. There are so many people. Everywhere. And from all over! I’d never been out of Dover my entire life so it was like culture shock. But it’s fun, and I’ve made so many good friends. There’s so much to do.”

“You’re keeping up with your studies, right?” Rachel asked.

Rusty grinned. “You sound just like Marlene. And yes, I’m doing very well. Better than I would have ever thought I was capable of. I have one B, but it’s a high B, so I think I can bring it up to an A before the semester is over. I have As in everything else. Who would have thought that I would ever be an honor student!”

“You’re smarter than all of us,” Rachel said dryly. “It was always just a matter of focusing your efforts in a positive direction.”

“Sorry to interrupt, girls, but I’m going to head over to round up a crew to help move furniture. Sam has a delivery truck he’s borrowed, and we’re going to bring it over here to load up as much stuff as we can this evening.”

Rachel smiled up at her husband. “Okay. We’ll work on packing some of the smaller boxes while we wait for Marlene. I should probably put in a pizza order for later. Everyone will be starving.”

Ethan dropped a kiss on her lips. “Let us worry about the food. If I know Ma, she’s already prepared a feast, and she’ll probably come over loaded for bear.”

“True,” Rachel said ruefully. “Okay, off with you. I’ll see you and your brothers in a bit.”

Rusty also stood and motioned toward the boxes. “Is there any particular place you want me to start?”

Rachel rose, setting her glass down beside Ethan’s on the end table. She’d only had a sip, but her stomach was roiling, and a clammy sweat had broken out on her forehead.

Without saying a word to Rusty, she hurried past her and to the guest bathroom down from the kitchen. She barely made it to the toilet before her stomach heaved and ejected the contents.

A soothing hand rubbed up and down her back as Rusty’s anxious question was issued. “Rachel, are you all right? Should I call Ethan back?”

Rachel shook her head as she wiped at her mouth with a towel. “N-no,” she said shakily. “I’m fine. Really.”

When she lifted her head, she saw Rusty frowning at her.

“You aren’t fine. You were puking your guts up. What’s going on?”

Rachel swallowed nervously and then went to the sink to wash out her mouth. She gargled with mouthwash, praying it wouldn’t send her back to the toilet to vomit again. She leaned against the sink, her hands braced on the countertop, as she stared at herself in the mirror.

It was time to stop discounting the possibility. Having the wine had been irresponsible. She knew she could be. Even if she’d thought it unlikely that it would happen this soon.

“Rusty?” she said faintly. “Is there any way you could do me a favor?”

Rusty came up behind her and put her hand on her shoulder. “Of course. Just tell me what you need.”

Rachel turned, taking Rusty’s hand in hers. “I don’t want you to tell anyone about this, okay? Promise me.”

Rusty frowned but nodded.

“If you leave now, you could get back before everyone gets over here. But you’ll have to hurry.”

Rusty cocked her head to the side. “What are you wanting?”

Rachel took a deep breath. “Is there any way you could run to the pharmacy and buy an over-the-counter pregnancy test for me?”

Chapter 3

Rachel paced the confines of the living room, the wait for Rusty to return an eternity. She checked her watch and then looked anxiously out the window. She didn’t expect Ethan for a while yet. The compound was across the lake, and he’d no doubt get sidetracked talking to his brothers before they made their way back over. But Marlene could show up at any time, and while Rachel loved her dearly, she wasn’t ready to tell anyone of her suspicion yet. The last thing she wanted was to build anyone’s hopes only for it to be a false alarm.

And she didn’t want the inevitable questions and concerns that would surely accompany the knowledge that she and Ethan were trying for a baby. For now it was their own precious secret. Only now Rusty knew, and Rachel hoped that Rusty would keep it in confidence.

Her pulse bounded when she heard a vehicle in the drive. Her gaze jerked to the window, and she sagged in relief when she saw it was Rusty’s Jeep.

A moment later, Rusty hurried in the door with a plain, brown paper sack in her hand.

“I bought two,” she said as she began pulling one out of the bag. “I figured it would be better to take two no matter what the first result is, just to make sure.”

Rachel smiled and hugged Rusty tight. “Thank you. I appreciate you doing this for me.”

Rusty pulled carefully away, her eyes dark with concern. “Is this a good thing or a bad thing, Rachel? I mean if you’re pregnant.”

“It would be a very good thing,” Rachel said in a low voice.

Rusty smiled. “Then I’ll cross fingers and toes the test is positive. You better hurry, though, if you don’t want the entire world to know. If Marlene shows up and finds you peeing on a stick, the entire family will be gathered in short order.”

Rachel laughed but took the box from Rusty and hurried toward the bathroom. “You be my lookout,” she called back.

“I’ll guard the door,” Rusty said in an amused voice from just outside the bathroom.

Rachel’s hands shook as she hastily tore into the box. They were shaking so badly that she nearly dropped the stick once she freed it from the packaging.

After reading the instructions twice to make sure she did everything accordingly, she forced herself to calm down and focus on the task at hand.

And then, so she wouldn’t drive herself crazy waiting for the first test’s results, she squeezed out just enough to go ahead and take the second test.

She straightened her clothing, washed her hands, and then checked her watch, all while avoiding the little indicator windows on the sticks lying on the counter.

Then she looked.

“Rachel?”

At first she didn’t respond.

“Rachel, is everything okay in there? It’s awfully quiet.”

“Y-you can come in,” Rachel managed to get out.

The door opened, and Rusty stuck her head in and then looked down at what Rachel was obviously staring at.

“They’re both positive,” Rachel murmured.

Prev Next