Now that Ruth knew everything he did, Rafferty was able to let the ever-present exhaustion overtake him. He had been up all night. It was just before 8:00 a.m., and all he wanted to do was drive the three short blocks to his house and sack out. And ignore all the calls that were sure to start coming in.
Early this morning, he had said goodbye to his father. Today, he could stop trying to prove himself to the man who never felt his son was worth anything. Rafferty had worked alongside him for years, and he still didn’t trust him—he was always double-checking his work. Pointing out the finest errors or flaws. It had been that way his entire life.
When he was young, his dad had no time for his only child. By the time Rafferty had gotten to high school, no matter what the accomplishment, it was just short of enough for his dad. If he hadn’t really wanted to be back in his hometown, he would never put up with the old man.
But now he was gone. Heart attack. Which was crazy since the man didn’t even have one. Proof of that was Ruth, who had been ignored by the father they had shared her entire life. Worst of which was that she was sick when they were kids, and his father hadn’t bothered to try and help. It was like he had wanted her to die. That he probably did made Rafferty hate him even more.
Through the slushy, melting snow, he was almost to his pickup when he ran right into someone coming out of the post office. Grabbing the person around the waist so that they would not fall to the ground, he heard the grumbling of Mia Lawson. Of course, Mia.
“What the heck, Rafferty?” Her “heck” almost made him smile. She could swear a blue streak when she wanted. But today, it was “heck.”
“Sorry,” was all he could muster as he let her go, continuing on his way.
She must have followed him because he heard her from close behind him say. “What’s wrong?”
Leave it to Mia to know something was wrong with him. At this early hour word couldn’t have gotten out about his dad, though he was sure Mia would’ve been one of the first to know.
“Just leave me alone, Mia.”
“I won’t until you tell me what is wrong.” She was following him. For weeks since the bomb fire, she had been avoiding him, and now she was following him?
Stopping suddenly, he was surprised when she ran right into him; she had been that close. He turned to her as she mumbled apologies about running into him. “My dad died this morning.”
To his surprise, she threw her arms around him in a tight hug. “I’m sorry. Was it sudden? Of course, it was sudden, I just saw him yesterday. Are you okay? Of course not, look at you.”
“Do you have any questions you don’t know the answer to? I just want to go home now.” Rafferty just held her, not able to let her warm, comforting body go. At that moment, he knew he didn’t need to get home. He just needed to keep holding Mia.
“You can’t be alone. Your mom is still in Fargo, right? Does she know?” Mia asked, a tear in her eye. Was she sad because his dad was dead or because he was in pain? He couldn’t say.
“Yes, Fargo. Yes, I called her. She didn’t care too much.” He answered her next question before she could even answer it. The couple had been separated for years now, why they hadn’t divorced he didn’t know. Right now, he didn’t care.
“You can’t be alone. Do you want to watch movies with me?” She took his hand and started pulling him down the street.
“Movies?” His feet stayed planted on the sidewalk, not moving.
“They take my mind off things.” She gave him a weak smile.
Pulling her tight against him into a hug, he whispered, “Yes. Take my mind off this.”
Expecting her to stop hugging him, he was surprised when she just stood there, holding him. This was exactly what he needed. Mia Lawson.
The morning traffic was starting to get busier. He was starting to feel that people were watching, so he reluctantly pulled out of her arms, knowing she didn’t want to be talked about. But still, he kept a hold of her hand, unable to let go. “Your place or mine?”
“Mine. I don’t need to see you’re s*x den.” She winked playfully at him, though her eyes were still watery.
That made him smile, a real smile, only for Mia. They walked across the street to her apartment, still hand in hand. “My s*x den gets you excited.”
“You’re s*x den disgusts me.” She wrinkled her nose as they went up the stairs.
“Makes you so hot,” he countered as she opened her apartment door.
“Do I look hot, Rafferty?”
At her words, he grabbed her arm and pulled her into him. He just hugged her and whispered into her ear, “You always look hot, Mia.”
This time, she pushed out of his arms as fast as he had pulled her into them. Stomping across the apartment, she seethed, “I invited you over to take your mind off your dad, not have s*x with you.”
“Okay,” was all he said as he walked into her apartment and shut the door behind him. Taking off his jacket and shoes, he realized she had vanished from the main area of the apartment, so he went looking for her. The bedroom door wasn’t completely closed, and he peeked inside. He watched as she changed out of the black jeans she wore to the restaurant and into sweatpants. She didn’t notice him watching. He felt like a pervert but couldn’t stop himself.
When she turned and opened a drawer of her dresser, he quickly went back to the living room and sat on the couch to wait for her. Leaning back and putting his feet on the coffee table, he looked at the ceiling. He had so much to do today, but he didn’t want to do any of it. All he wanted to do was let the world go by and spend today with Mia. She would make him feel better just being there.
At the sound of her bedroom door opening, he turned and watched her walk across the floor. An orange Landstad Tigers sweatshirt had been added to the black sweatpants. Her hair was still red from Valentine’s Day, though it was dull, and her roots were showing now. What color would she choose next? He hoped it would be back to her chestnut brown. He missed it.
Plopping down on the couch, she grabbed the remote near his feet. “What do you want to watch?”
“Anything. You choose.” He was still watching her as she flipped quickly through channels.
“How about this one?” She pointed at the screen.
Not bothering to look he agreed, “That one’s good.”
Turning to him, she put the remote down and curled her feet under her. “Why were you downtown this morning? Were you going to work?”
“No, I just needed to do something.” He closed his eyes. His first stop in town this morning was to tell Ruth. She deserved to know.
“Really? Just something. Did you at least get it done?” Mia questioned sarcastically.
“Yes, I did.” He smiled at her, knowing she wanted to know everything. She was a gossip and prided herself on knowing everything that went on in town.
“Do you want something to drink?” she asked, thankfully dropping the subject.
“No, I’m good.” He didn’t want her to get up.
“Did you have something at Angel’s then?” she questioned.
“No, I wasn’t there very long,” he answered before he could stop himself.
“I knew it! You talked to Angel this morning. Why did you have to talk to her?” She was leaning toward him, and her hands were on his arm. “What does Howard have to do with her?”
“Nothing, Mia. Drop it.” He sat up.
“Oh my God! That’s it, isn’t it? That’s the big secret between you two. Howard’s her dad, too. I should have figured that out. Why hadn’t I figured that out? You don’t really look alike.” Mia’s hazel eyes were leaning toward green today and were as big as saucers as she looked at him. Her hands were still on his arm.
“Angel doesn’t want people knowing,” was all he said through his teeth.
“I won’t tell anyone. I swear.” She pulled her hands away and leaned back on the arm of the couch.
“Pinky swear.” He held out his hand.
“Pinky swear!” Mia grabbed his pinky with hers. “I won’t tell anyone. Ever. Have you always known? Do you have holidays together?”
“No, and of course not. We both found out when we were eighteen. When Angel got really sick.” He didn’t let go of her pinky, just lowered his hand that now was still connected to hers on her leg.
“I remember her being sick. I don’t know how bad it was. Maybe not many people around here did since we never thought about it when she wasn’t sick anymore.” Mia had been a senior that year and was now feeling like she was a bit self-centered.
“She almost died. Well, she would’ve if her mom hadn’t called me,” Rafferty explained.
“You talked to the dragon?” Mia questioned in awe. Ruth’s mom had earned the nickname early during their growing-up years.
“Yes, she called and asked if I would see if I would be compatible to give Angel a kidney. Hers were done.” Her kidneys had been failing most of her life at that point. She had barely graduated from high school because she had missed so many days.
Mia sat up and grabbed his hand in hers. “Were you?”
Smiling at her, he admitted, “I only have one now.”
“Ruth Kennedy has your kidney? But she hates you,” Mia said in awe.
“She doesn’t hate me. She hates Howard. I’m just guilty by association.” At least that was how Rafferty had always seen it, and she had every right to hate their father. The man had never acknowledged her as his child, even when he was still sleeping with her mother. Add to that Ruth had always had kidney issues, and he had never once been tested to see if he could give her the kidney she needed. The man had died with two healthy ones. Since it was Rafferty who had been able to donate one, his father would’ve probably been just as compatible as he had been.
“I can see it now.” Mia leaned back into the cushions. “You treat her like the big brother you are.”
“I do not.”
“Yes, you do. A few months ago, when she almost passed out at the bar? You’re such a great brother.” Mia smiled at him and squeezed his hand.
“I don’t think so. Just a friend. But more of a friend to her boyfriend.” Which was sometimes awkward when Anderson got all gushy about his girlfriend—which he tended to do more and more lately.
“Are you an overprotective brother? Anderson is practically living with her.”
Since Valentine’s Day, the two had been nearly inseparable. Only on book club night did he really get to spend any time with his friend, and that was usually only for the hours the club was meeting. Not that Rafferty could blame him. If he could spend all his time with Mia, he would.
“No, she’s happy with him. I’m glad she found him. Hopefully, he won’t mess it up.”
“Don’t you think she might mess it up?” Mia asked, leaning back on the couch, away from him.
“My sister doesn’t mess up, Mia.” He laughed, and it felt good to be happy again. To be with Mia.
“You’re right. Ruth is so Ruth. Anderson is going to mess that one up.” Mia smiled and turned to the TV that was showing some movie he hadn’t paid attention to. When a commercial came on, she turned back to him, “Can I see your scar?”
“What? You want me naked?” He laughed at her expression of surprise.
“No, just the scar. I don’t remember you having one,” she said, then bit her l!p at her words.
“Are you having trouble remembering all the times you have seen me naked? I should be hurt.”
She let go of his hand to punch him in the arm.
With a laugh, he pulled his shirt from his pants and unzipped them. He loved that all her attention turned to him taking off his pants. So much so that he wished all her attention wasn’t on just his pants. Showing her the scar, he almost groaned when she touched it, her soft fingers hot on his skin.
“When did you have it done?” Her eyes were still on his skin and the faint scar.
“April, the year after I graduated.” Rafferty knew what she was thinking the moment he said it.
Pulling her hand away, she leaned back again and looked at him. “That’s when we … you know.” Blushing, she didn’t go on. She didn’t have to.
He remembered every moment of that April night, had dreamed of it many times over the years. He wished he hadn’t messed everything up so badly afterward.
“You mean when we made mad, passionate love, Mia?” He teased her, though it was how he had thought about it over the years. Love.
“No, I mean the night we fumbled our way through mediocre s*x.” She punched him in the shoulder again.
Zipping his pants, he said, “Yep. I went for the surgery the next day.”
“Why didn’t you say that? You could’ve called.”
He knew they should have talked about this years ago.“I really thought I would be fine in a day or two. But instead, it took weeks. And by that time, everyone knew you hated me. I did try and talk to you, but you weren’t interested.” Rafferty watched her reaction as he spoke. He knew he had messed up back then, and that was the reason she hated him today.
“Is that some sort of apology?” Mia demanded.
“Yes. I’m sorry I never called, Mia. I was busy saving my sister’s life.” He took her hand and pulled her to him.
“I guess you had a good reason. But you’re still the most annoying person I know,” she said as she settled in beside him on the couch, his arm around her shoulder.
“At least you love me,” he said and k!ssed her red hair.
“Dream on, Rafferty Brooks, and watch the movie. You’ll like this one, there’s a near s*x scene.” She settled in closer, and he grabbed a blanket from the back of the couch and pulled it over them. Once it had been arranged, he turned to the TV. But the action on screen was nothing compared to how her body pressed to his was making him feel. All he wanted to do was pull her onto his lap so he could k!ss her.
Instead, he just sat next to her. He wasn’t pushing anything, not anymore. He had moved too fast for her before, but now he was letting her take the lead. She would be the one taking their relationship to every next step. So today, he was going to enjoy sitting with her, getting lost in movies and not thinking about his father, his mother or a future without Mia in it.