Genre = Contemporary Romance, Romantic Comedy, Over 30 Romance
Carved In Wood
Length: 53,803 words / 215 pages
He’s obsessed with his art and with a woman who doesn’t want to love him.
Maybe he should be grateful. Without the constant frustration, Joseph McEldowney figures he might never have answered any artistic urge to express his emotions. Now carving life from wood is all that soothes him. Too bad he can’t carve out a place in this world where nothing matters except the heaven-sent pull he and Jillian Lansing have towards each other. She says he doesn’t fit her long-term plans. If that’s true, why should he torture himself with the short-term pleasure she’s offering? But how can he turn her away when he can’t get her off his mind?
Jillian Lansing has been ambitious all her life. Despite helping care for her deceased brother’s children, she kept her own big dreams for a family of her own. Sure, they’ve been put on hold for the last few years, but her life is way more stable now. Her auntie duties are relaxing into something almost normal. Reesa and Shane are doing great with the kids, and now expecting one of their own. Her lifelong best friend’s pregnancy is another wake-up call for her. Despite both of them grieving the loss of their siblings, Reesa managed to find her perfect partner. So where is hers? She’s certainly dated enough trying to find him.
Brooke hastily shoved her feet into her heels when the doorbell rang. She hustled to the living room, halting when she got a whiff of cologne. It smelled like…Drake?
Shocked at her reaction, she sniffed again. Yes. Definitely Drake.
Feeling guilty that the man at the door wasn’t the one she was now wishing for, she shook her head in denial as the doorbell sounded again. With one hand on her stomach to quiet her nerves, she opened the door with the other. She was speechless when she saw the man standing there.
Unable to speak, all he could was stare at her. Brooke was dressed in a short black dress with bare legs and tall heels. Instead of speaking, he held out the triple bunch of roses.
Brooke was breathing nervously, trying to figure out what to do about the fact that Drake was there when he shouldn’t have been. She took the flowers just to get them out of the way. “Thank you. I would invite you in but I’m…expecting someone.”
Drake rubbed a hand across his face. “He was here already…but he left.”
“Why? What did you say to him?” Brook demanded.
Drake ignored the question and stepped across the threshold without an invitation. “You probably want to put those flowers in water. Roses don’t last long otherwise. I’ll wait.”
“Wait for what?” Brooke demanded, closing the door harder than she intended.
When she turned around, Drake had stepped close. She backed up, but the door stopped her retreat from him.
“I’m waiting because we need to talk,” Drake said softly. “Even if talking is not really what I want to do right now.”
“We don’t need to talk. We have nothing to discuss,” Brooke denied, using the bouquet as a floral shield.
Drake considered his options and discarded all but one. He couldn’t out debate Brooke. Her mind was too sharp. All he could do was give her more to think about.
“Maybe we can find something to talk about…after we do this…,” he declared. Drake grabbed and tossed the expensive bouquet across the room and into a chair.
“Hey…” Brooke complained, as the flowers left her grasp.
Not willing to give her any real chance to talk him out of acting as irrationally as he’d decided to act, Drake stepped into Brooke’s body, his mouth hot and demanding as their well-matched forms lined up perfectly. Hard slid against soft, just as it had the first time he’d kissed her in her mother’s kitchen.
In contrast to his demanding mouth on hers, Drake slipped his hands around Brooke’s waist slowly, letting her feel the gentle forward slide of his fingers before they slid low and pulled her hips tight against his. His body revealed the truth of his intentions to both of them as he surged and pressed her into the door while she groaned and arched against him.
He broke off the kiss, dragging his mouth from hers. “I ran off your date,” he whispered.
“Why? I don’t understand.”
Drake snorted. “Of you course you understand. You’re just afraid of admitting it. Brooke, I can’t bear the thought of you with other men. If you have any other relationships—sexual or otherwise—damn it, end them.”
Brooke shivered at his command. “Why should I?” The zipper on the back of her dress slid down swiftly as his mouth covered hers again.
“You’re thirty-five this year, right?” the doctor asked.
Jillian nodded as she bit her lip. Why was it that bad news always seemed to start with someone pointing out your age. Getting older sucked. “The fibroids are still there, aren’t they?”
“Yes. They’re still there, but they haven’t grown much. And the good news is that there are a lot of new drugs on the market. Sometimes they can help keep fibroids small but no medicine gets rid of them. That’s still the case.”
“Are we talking surgery to eventually remove them?” Jillian asked. She bit her lip when her doctor shifted in his chair.
“The problem with surgery is the location of the fibroids which might necessitate the removal of at least one ovary. The problem with the drugs is that they can affect fertility. In time, I think surgery to remove the fibroids will be our only option at some point. I would say if you’re planning to have a family, you will need to do it this year, or at least by next year.”
Jillian sighed at the news. After a few years of fighting her birth control, the reality of what her doctor was saying didn’t surprise her, but it did depress her. “There’s no serious man in my life right now, so I don’t see myself having babies in the next year or even two.”
“That doesn’t have to stop you. If you’re interested in alternatives, I highly recommend the Bluegrass Fertility Center here in Lexington. You can choose the perfect donor and they’ll ship the sperm to my office for the procedure. If you don’t find the diversity of donors you need there, there’s another good service in Louisville. Shop until you find a donor match that suits you.”
Shaking her head, Jillian lowered her gaze to stare at her bare feet. “I don’t want children that badly. I’ve been helping raise my nieces and nephews since my brother and his wife died. They live with their other aunt. Honestly, my biological clock stops ticking after a day spent with them. They’re a handful.”
The doctor laughed and nodded. “I hear you. I have three children of my own and they’re a lot of work. You can let me know if you change your mind and I’ll write a recommendation for you then. Let’s see you back here in six months so we check everything again. If you start feeling a lot of pain, come in immediately. I want us to keep close tabs on those fibroids.”
“Sounds like a plan,” Jillian said, smiling so he’d believe her. It actually sounded awful, but she was not having a meltdown in front of her OB-GYN.
When the exam room door closed behind him and the nurse that had been with him, Jillian slid off the table and pulled the paper gown from her body. She looked down at herself and frowned. All her life she’d been proud of her body and how she looked. She’d been proud of her curves and her smooth chocolate skin. Now she felt betrayed by it. On the outside, everything was the same as always, but on the inside? Nothing was what it seemed.
That went double for the state of her hurting heart.
* * *
“The new minister is single. I don’t think he’s cooked a single meal for himself since he got here. We’re having him over next week, so don’t be making other plans for next Thursday night. And no working late either, Jillian.”
“I already met the man,” Jillian said to her mother, giving her a narrowed-eyed look. “He’s got gray hair and has to be at least fifty. Why are you trying to hook me up with him?”
“If you weren’t so particular, there might be some younger ones left to pick from. You can’t be waiting until you’re in your forties to have children. Lots of women start the change after forty-five.”
“That’s a whole decade away…” Jillian protested, shaking her head. “No fifty-year-old man is going to want to give me babies. I don’t like older men anyway. Even if I had a child with someone like that, I’d end up taking care of the child and him as he got older. Is that really the life you want for me? Who’s going to take care of you and Daddy?”
“More family might not seem so bad to you if you weren’t always looking after…”
“Stop right there.” Jillian’s head snapped up as she threw out her hand. “I am doing what my brother would have wanted and what I think is right. I’m not arguing about it again.”
“You’re only helping out so much because that woman can’t handle raising a family on her own. She should never have agreed to do it if it was that much of struggle for her.”
“That woman’s name is Reesa which you managed to call her all the years we were friends and growing up together. I’m sorry my best friend in the world is not the proper color you think she should be, but I’m leaving if you start putting her down. Reesa gave up everything for those children. She gave up a man, her work, her car—everything—and she did it to keep those children together as a family. You ought to be singing her praises for being such a saint. With all the traveling I did with my job, I could never have done it.”
“Now you know we don’t agree on her raising all the children. Your father and I both think her financial struggles are just the natural result of her stubbornness. She could have let us raise Zachary and Chelsea. She didn’t have to be a martyr and do it all.”
“Reesa was never going to let anyone further divide her home which had already been divided by more death and loss than most families have to endure in three or four generations,” Jillian added. “I side with Reesa on all the actions she took to get custody of the children. I always will. I’m sorry—but that’s God’s truth, Mama.”
“You always talk like your father and I are bad people who would have kept Zack and Chelsea from seeing Brian and Sarah. That’s an awful thing to think about your parents.”
“You never offered to take all four of them. You only wanted two. That wasn’t fair to them.”
“It’s called being realistic. We couldn’t afford all four of them. The younger two still need a lot of attention and care. We travel far too much for all those counseling sessions and special classes she has them taking. The older two would have taken care of themselves.”
Jillian frowned as she rolled her eyes. “Reesa and Shane haven’t asked you and Daddy for anything. They let the children come visit you two guilt free. You should be grateful they don’t hold a grudge over you dragging them through court. What you did already made the kids mad at you. How do you think they feel knowing you and Daddy only wanted two of them?”
“Why are you so defensive about this, Jillian? They’re not your children. They’re not your responsibility. It was proper for the courts to decide and they did. Now we’re all living with that decision whether it’s for the greater good or not.”
Jillian glanced away from her mother as she thought about how to answer without being meaner than she was already being. “No, they’re not my children, but I’m sharing the responsibility for them as best I can. Reesa is like a sister to me and those children are my family. Plus, they may be the only the mothering I ever do in my life.”
“Well, if you weren’t always pushing away good men…”
“Like the one you set me up with last month who wanted me to do his laundry and take care of his house while he was out of town?”
“It wasn’t like he was asking for the world, Jillian. His mother was too sick to do it.”
“Mama, we had two dates. We were still practically strangers. You don’t ask a woman after two dates to mind your house and wash your damn clothes.”
“You look for any excuse. No man’s perfect, Jillian.”
Jillian sighed and stood. She picked her up coffee cup and headed to the kitchen. “A woman has a right to be loved. If I can’t have that, then I’d rather live alone.”
“Love isn’t all that wonderful, girl. Love can lead a good woman down paths she shouldn’t be walking. Look around at all the people you know getting divorced and tell me that’s not true.”
Jillian watched her mother squirm. With role models like her ambivalent parents, it was a miracle her brother had fallen in love and married before he was twenty. Oh, how often she’d wished that she’d been as lucky. If she had, she would have had someone in her life all this time.
“That’s a pretty jaded view of love, Mama. Are you saying you don’t love Daddy?”
“Of course, I love your father. He’s a good man and a good provider. He’s given me a life I wouldn’t have had without him. He gave you and your brother a good life.”
“A life where he was gone all the time. He wasn’t there for Jackson and he wasn’t there for me. You were the only one who came to anything we did in school. We grew up without Daddy making any contribution to what we did. He can’t make up the difference by being in Zack’s life.”
“How can you be so ungrateful? Your father gave you a life where you never wanted for anything.”
Except for parental love and approval, Jillian thought but didn’t say it aloud. Her mother hadn’t married for love and didn’t seem to regret that she hadn’t. The woman who gave her life would never understand that the only real need Jillian had in the whole world was to be wanted and adored.
“I appreciate all you and Daddy did to raise me. I’m not ungrateful one bit, but the older I get the more I know that I can’t live the life you think I should. I hope one day you can understand that I need different things. Having a husband is not even a goal for me. Finding love is.”
“All you’re going to find is a broken heart at the end of your hopes, Jillian. You’re thirty-five. It’s time to be practical. You don’t want to grow old alone. No one has to be a maiden aunt these days.”
Jillian gathered up her coffee and snack plate and headed to the kitchen. “I don’t intend to be one, but if that’s how life works out for me, so be it. I’m not going to settle.”
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