Excerpt from “Deep in the Heart”
It was stupid. Keith knew it, but the quieter the house got, the more he wanted to check, just one time. They were already in bed, probably asleep, and yet, he wanted to make sure of that. Finally, unable to talk himself out of it, he quietly exited his room on the far opposite side of the mansion. He shook his head as he crossed past the master suite. How very far it seemed from the kids’ rooms.
Not for the first time ever, he wondered why they bothered to have Pete and Izzy in the first place. Little trophies. That’s all they had ever really been. It was just like Ike said. Kids were meant to live with their parents, not be put on display to make the parents look good. Shaking his head to clear it of the disturbing thoughts, Keith made his way to the three doors at the far end of the hall.
He noticed without really looking that the light was on under her door. She was probably reading or getting ready for bed. He’d have to be extra quiet. On his way to Isabella’s door, however, he noticed the white door on the opposite side cracked open. That was strange. Curious, he stepped over to it and peeked inside. The scene beyond knocked sanity and air from him simultaneously.
There, on her knees, next to Peter’s bed knelt Maggie. He couldn’t see her face, but her back was arched. She was huddled in the protectiveness of her shoulders. Next to her, Peter lay, eyes closed, but turned toward her.
“And help Mommy and Daddy come home safely. Thank You for today, God. Give us good sleep tonight, and let us have a great day tomorrow. Amen.”
Unbidden tears sprang into Keith’s heart as he watched.
“Amen.” Peter’s eyes opened, and he smiled at Maggie. Just then he glanced up, and Keith knew he was busted. He sniffed self-consciously.
In the next heartbeat Maggie whirled around, fear and determination met in her face right up until she figured out who he was standing there. She stumbled to her feet. “Keith. I didn’t hear you there.”
The A-lined white cotton shirt set off her curves as did the oversized tan pants. They were very loose and too short to be called pants. He was having trouble getting a full thought through his head. “I… I’m sorry. I was just checking everything before I turned in.”
“Oh.” Her hand slid to the back of her shirt, which she pulled down. Then she brought her hand back around her middle and scratched the inside of her other forearm. “Everything locked down tight?”
“Seems to be.”
If he hadn’t been thrown so hard off-track, he might have noticed how much trouble she was having to not fidget right off the planet. She wrapped her arms in front of her and scratched behind her ear. “We were…” Her gaze fell to Peter. “… just…”
Compassion for her came over him. “No, hey. No need to explain. I talk to Him sometimes too.”
“Oh.” She seemed rooted to the spot. “Well… I guess I should be getting to bed.” Her smile became gentle as she glanced back at Peter. “You, mister, have a good night. Okay? I’ll see you in the morning.”
The quiet peace of the scene traced over Keith as he watched her tuck the covers in around Pete. She was going to make a marvelous mother someday.
“Good night, sweet prince.” She kissed the tips of two of her fingers and pressed them onto Peter’s forehead. “Now go to sleep.” Gently she drifted her fingers over his face and down the sides of his nose. With a sigh, he settled down and soft peace came over his little face.
Maggie turned back to the door and walked all the way to it and through it without stopping. Keith let her pass and then closed the door and stood watching her in the hallway.
“That was nice.”
She had made it to her door obviously not planning to stop and talk to him. Her gaze was down when she turned to him. “Peter has a tough time getting to sleep. It seems to help.”
Tenderness touched his heart. “So, you do that every night… pray with him?”
It took her a long moment before she nodded. “It always helps me, so I figured it couldn’t hurt with him.”
True admiration for her tilted his head to the side. “They’re lucky to have you.”
She tried to meet his gaze but couldn’t hold it. “I wish I could do more. They’re great kids.”
If he could’ve thought of something to say that would’ve kept her there, he would’ve said it. However, for some reason his brain wasn’t cooperating with his mouth.
“Well, ‘night.” She turned, opened her door, and stepped inside.
And then she was gone. Keith closed his eyes and shook his head. Why she had this effect on him, he couldn’t clearly tell. This was completely crazy. He was, after all, engaged to be married. Engaged. That meant you weren’t up at all hours of the night, standing in darkened hallways with some woman in her pajamas. He needed to call Dallas if for no other reason than to douse the guilt slashing its way through him.
Okay, there are certain things in this life a girl just shouldn’t have to deal with. Changing flat tires for instance. Radiators overheating, yes. A busted pipe. Programming the remote control. But being blindsided like that wasn’t fair at all. When the door closed between them, Maggie forced herself to breathe in a deep inhale. It did nothing at all to stop the swimming of her thoughts or the racing of her heart, but at that point anything was worth a try.
Showing up in the kitchen at breakfast for no reason was one thing. Showing up when she was in her oldest pajamas with the rip on one side was quite another. Her hand went up to her hair, and she raked her fingers through it extra hard. There was no telling how she looked, but how he looked? Wow, was he easy on the eyes. Not to even mention how heart-stoppingly handsome he was minus the hat and the bandana. Dark hair, cropped extra short, and that face, and that smile. Ugh. It just wasn’t fair.
She rolled her eyes so she was looking up at the ceiling in desperation. “God, listen to me. I do not need to fall for this guy. I don’t need him to keep showing up like this. Please. Please. I’m asking You…”
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