The Guardian (Part Three) by Dana Rodgers

“Hey gorgeous.” Annabel turned to find Jack leaning against the doorframe, his lips turned up in a perfect curve, dark eyes heating. He reached up between his shoulder blades and tugged his navy blue t-shirt off over his head. “Baby’s down, house is locked up and you’re looking mighty fine in that towel.”

She giggled, pushing the long ropes of wet hair out of her face. God, how did she get so lucky? He was perfect. From his bare feet to the short dark hair that was always deliciously messy from running his hands through it. His t-shirt dangled from his left hand, showing off his sculpted chest and six-pack abs. He was leaner than he had been when he left. Her eyes were automatically drawn to the happy trail of dark hair that disappeared down the front of his low-slung jeans. He popped the top button and slowly sauntered into the room.

“I’m glad you’re home.”

“Me too.” Jack pulled her close. “I would have been crazy thinking about you and Jeremy here by yourselves with this hurricane coming.”

Another torrent of rain slammed into the side of the house and Annabel tensed.

Jack trailed callused fingertips over her cheek. “It’s okay, baby. Don’t be afraid.”

“I know. But some of us didn’t grow up dealing with hurricanes. A good blizzard, three feet of snow—that I can handle. This scares the crap out of me.”

“Bet I can help you with that.” He leaned in to nibble her neck and ear.

This time her shiver had nothing to do with fear. “Mmm…” She reached up and wrapped her arms around his neck, then pulled his face down to hers. Heat exploded between them. Running one hand up her spine, he cupped the back of her neck, his hungry mouth exploring hers. She moaned as her tongue slid against his. With one tug, the towel that had been wrapped around her, puddled at her feet. Jack’s hands slid down her back to her bottom and she rocked her hips into him.

Breaking off the kiss, he let her go long enough to move his sea bag from the bed. Annabel felt the familiar tingle and glanced toward the closet. Before Jack could pull her back into his arms she closed the closet door and, ignoring Jack’s curious look, kicked one of his boots in front of the door to keep it that way.

Flipping back the covers, he took her hand and pulled her onto the bed. “Now where were we?”

* * * * *

Rain battered the house and powerful winds rocked trees back and forth, and rattled the shutters. Annabel frowned. “The storm is getting stronger. I don’t like being up here with all these trees whipping around.”

“Me either.” Jack sat up, pulled on jeans and slapped her behind playfully. “I got Jeremy. Grab some blankets and pillows and meet me downstairs. Clothes are optional.”

Ten minutes later Annabel adjusted the thin blanket over the toddler that lay snuggled between them on the foldout sofa in the living room. “Sorry. I just didn’t feel safe with him upstairs.”

“It’s okay,” Jack said, rubbing Jeremy’s back. “I’d been lying awake for twenty minutes thinking the same thing. I feel safer with you both down here.” He’d barely spoken the words when something exploded like a shotgun blast, followed by a loud crash.

Jack was on his feet in a flash, straining to see out the window. Annabel followed, with Jeremy nestled in her arms, crying. “Can you see anything?”

“Nope. Too dark. Sounded like we lost a tree. It’ll be light soon, then we’ll be able to see the damage.”

The winds were dying down by the time the sun came up. Jack was back at the window. “Looks like we lost a big branch out of the oak tree in the backyard.”

Annabel laughed. “Don’t sound so upset about it.”

“Wha-at?” Jack asked dragging out the word into two syllables and doing a horrible job of looking anything but gleeful.

“You are such a guy. You can’t wait to get out there and play with your chainsaw.”

“Cha-saw!” Jeremy squealed in agreement.

“Damn straight, woman,” Jack said with a wink, “And when the baby goes down for his nap maybe you can pay me back for keeping me up all night.”

Annabel slapped his chest. “Such a guy.”

When the rain stopped, they went outside to assess the damage. There were lots of leaves and sticks that would need to be raked up. “Roof looks okay on the front,” Jack said. “I’ll meet you around back with the chainsaw and we can take care of that branch and see what the damage is on the back side.” He headed toward the carport with a grin.

Cradling her son in her arms, Annabel rounded the corner into the backyard and abruptly stopped. Her stomach churned and bile rose in her throat when she saw the downed limb. It was the same branch that stuck out over the back corner of the house. Over Jeremy’s room.

Over Jeremy’s bed.

The branch was bigger around than her body and had snapped at it’s base, but instead of obeying the laws of physics—and hitting the house—the enormous branch lay at least twenty feet away and had even missed the HVAC system.

“Holy fuck!” Jack strode into the backyard and set the chainsaw down. “How the hell did that not hit the house?” He pulled Annabel into a tight hug and kissed the top of Jeremy’s head. “Thank God he was downstairs.”

It took effort to croak out the words “I know” from her too tight throat. Her eyes traveled up to Jeremy’s window where a shadow moved away from the glass. Maybe she was imagining it. Hell, maybe she was crazy. It didn’t matter. She still whispered, “Thank you.”

* * * * *

“You gonna be okay playing blocks in here while Mommy gets ready for Grandma and Grandpa?”

“Yep, yep, yep.”

Annabel watched three-year-old Jeremy stack one colorful block on top of another. He flashed his father’s mischievous grin and sent the blocks flying. “Knock it down!”

“You are so your father’s son.” Retreating into the guest bedroom, which was right next to Jeremy’s room, Annabel pulled off the quilt and stripped the bed. She was almost finished when she heard Jeremy talking.

Tilting her head, she listened more closely. It was quiet, then Jeremy said something about his blocks. Another moment passed, and then Jeremy spoke again. A chill washed through her as she realized that he was holding a conversation. First he would speak, then he would wait for an answer before speaking again.

She tiptoed to the doorway and peeked around the corner. Jeremy still sat in the middle of his bedroom floor manipulating the primary color blocks, but now his eyes were fixed on a spot in the empty air.

“Really?” Jeremy stared at the spot intently for a moment and then nodded enthusiastically. He turned toward her and asked, “Mommy? When I get a sister?”

Annabel’s eyes widened and her hand dropped to her stomach. She’d just taken the test this morning. She hadn’t told a soul. Not even Jack.

“Who said you were getting a sister?” she asked, her voice hoarse.

Jeremy pointed to the empty space beside him. “Da uh-rah man.”

“What else did he say?” she whispered.

“Dat we go bye-bye soon and he miss me. Why we go bye-bye?”

Annabel slid to the floor. “Come give mommy hugs. Mommy really needs hugs right now.”

* * * * *

Three months later Annabel watched the back doors close on the moving truck. That was it, everything was out of the house. Jack’s truck and her Explorer were packed with everything accept the dog and the cat, who were locked in the downstairs bathroom, and Jeremy, who was at the neighbor’s. She’d tried to find S. A. Cooper’s family but it was a dead end. Apparently he’d lived here and died in Vietnam, but there were no records of what might have happened to his family after that. Unsure what else to do with them, Annabel had tucked the cigar box of mementos back into the chimney alcove in the attic along with the key. She hoped he’d be rejoined with his family one day.

Strong arms wrapped around her, and a large hand settled over the slight swell of her tummy. “How you feeling?” Jack asked, brushing a gentle kiss on the sensitive spot below her ear.

“Good. A little tired. And a little sad. I’m going to miss this place.” She tilted her head toward the house.

“Me too,” he agreed glancing toward their bedroom windows.

Annabel took a deep breath. “There’s something I’ve wanted to tell you. I didn’t say anything while we were living here because I didn’t want to freak you out, but this house has… a ghost.”

Jack’s arms stiffened and he spun her around to face him. “You knew?” He threw his head back and laughed. “And all this time I didn’t want to tell you because I didn’t want to freak you out.”

“Oh, the ghost has freaked me out plenty of times,” Annabel laughed wryly, “but I’ve never felt threatened by him. He feels more like a guardian angel. I think he’s from the—”

“Vietnam era,” Jack finished.

“Oh my God!”

“Yeah, I think he died in the war,” Jack said in a somber voice. “Maybe by the time his spirit made it back here his family was gone.”

“I think he stayed here to watch over other Marine’s families. His presence is always strongest when you’re away. Sometimes he’s downright irritating, especially since I’ve been pregnant.”

Jack’s eyes sparkled with mirth. “So I’m not the only one who annoys you by being overprotective?”

“No, but I have it on good authority that we should concentrate on girl names.”

 Want to read this story in one post? Visit the Waterworld Mermaids Free Read page and click on the story title. Come back tomorrow for the next installment in Ghosts in Mermaid Lagoon with a story by Carlene Love Flores.