Jeremy grins and opens the garage door, shifting one-year-old Gertrude on his hip. “Come on, Selena. It’ll be fun. How often does this town put on a production like this?” He reaches his free hand to me.
I cross my eyes at Gertrude, bringing a fit of giggles from her. “Yes to the fireworks, no to the self-driving car.”
“I can manually drive it, you know.”
Laughing, I take the baby from him. “That I trust even less. Daddy is a bad driver, isn’t he Gertty?”
His eyes widen, brows rising as he shakes his head. “Daddy. Not sure I’ll ever get used to that.”
“Me either.” I smell the soft down of her hair. “But adopting her is worth being a bit out of our comfort zone.”
“She lost the only family she had left when Polly went to prison. What else could I do? Let her get lost in the foster care system?”
I touch his cheek. “No, but something a little less super-human than adopting the daughter of our former stalker and the niece of the woman who kidnapped me would have been understandable.”
“That makes you the super-human one, not me.”
I kiss her tiny fingers and Gertrude yells, making us both jump.
“Exactly, you tell us all about it.” He nuzzles her cheek. “That junk had nothing to do with you.”
Warmth spreads through my body, my wedding ring tethering me to everything I love.
Casting a wistful glance at the car, Jeremy picks up the picnic basket and offers me his arm. “It’s a nice evening for a walk. Only a mile or so to the lake.”
Chirping crickets serenade us, the rest of the neighborhood driving by on their way to the show. The setting sun casts the world in an orange glow and charcoal smoke drifts by on the breeze.
The last quarter mile I trade the baby for the basket when she begins to fuss. We finally make it to the roped off area for the fireworks display a sea of people surround us in all directions. The water glitters red in the evening light. With a little effort, we find an open patch of grass by the tree line near the lake between two pines and spread out our blue quilt.
Gert babbles, crawling across the blanket and I wipe the dribble off her chin.
“I really shouldn’t have had that last cup of coffee. Mind finishing the layout?” He gestures to dinner and tries not to dance as he presses his knees together.
Rolling my eyes, I can’t help laughing. “Go, before you water the grass.”
I keep one hand on the hem of Gertty’s dress, fishing in the basket with the other for the potato salad.
Freezing, I wince at that high-pitched nasal tone I’d learned to loath. Dear, God, please don’t let that be who I think it is.
Flipping onto her belly, Gert begins a frantic crawl away from the screeching woman.
Please let there be another Selena around here.
A long clawed, albeit well-manicured, hand comes to rest on my shoulder.
I force a smile and pull the baby onto my lap as Amber Whitley lets out an ear shattering squeal.
She claps her hands. “Oh, my! It is you. How long has it been?”
You mean since you tried to get Jeremy fired? “Too long, the law firm’s last inner-city fundraiser, perhaps?”
Her eyes narrow and she looks me over. “It hasn’t been long enough for that.” She gestures to Gertrude.
Leaning forward, Gertty spits up on her sandals.
I bite the inside of my cheek to keep from laughing and hand her a rag.
“So, the rumors going around the firm are true,” she says.
“What rumors?” Jeremy steps around her and stoops to take Gertrude.
Her lips curl up and for a moment I imagine I see fangs.
“The rumor you two adopted this innocent child simply for the publicity of it.” She shakes her head. “I refused to believe it, yet here the proof sits, plain as the setting sun.”
I jump up, taking Gert when Jeremy steps forward to protest.
“How dare you?”
Amber slips back. “I tried to defend you.” She raises her hands. “I tried to defend you. I see now that I can’t. Especially not when her true father has come forward.”
To be continued…. (Thank you all for reading.)