Indigo gasped as she found herself pushed against the rough brick wall and a hard chest covered in a black kevlar vest as a bullet zinged past her shoulder. She was firmly pushed behind the huge dumpster in the alley and a large body covered her as more bullets pinged off the wall. She closed her eyes tightly as she squeezed the puppy against her chest, her heart pounding as fast as that of the tiny dog.
She had come out to the alley five minutes earlier to empty the trash cans in her little shop when she had heard the puppy crying next to the dumpster, only to be pushed against the wall, and she had to admire the strength of the man. She peered at him through her lashes and was able to make out S.A. Marshall printed on his bulletproof vest, a strong jaw clenched tightly, and intense green eyes flashing between the lushest lashes Indie had ever seen on a man.
He was frowning deeply as he peered around the dumpster as a report came over his radio that the gunmen were apprehended.
“Marshall, report?” a voice crackled over his radio.
“I’m okay, Sheriff. I’m with a civilian in the alley.” He clicked the radio off, then flashed those green eyes at Indie as he removed his helmet. “What were you doing out here anyway?”
She tilted her head as she looked back at him, her brows drawn into a deep frown. “Firstly, not expecting to be in the middle of a gunfight. Secondly, I was emptying our trashcan when I heard this little guy.”
On cue, a black nose stuck itself out of Indie’s jacket and licked her chin. She giggled and gently tugged the sloppy tongue away from her face. She looked up at the large deputy as he gave a hefty sigh, shaking his head as he watched them.
“Come on. I’ll escort you back to the shop and just check that no one is hiding in there.” He pushed to his feet, slipped his rifle over his shoulder, and helped her stand up straight. She supported the puppy beneath her jacket and led the way to the back door of her shop, Deputy Marshall’s gloved hand at the small of her back. He looked around the small workshop with its open stainless steel workbenches and shelves of sheet metal along the walls.
The bits of jewelry among Indie’s tools were reflected in the flames of the small furnace in the corner of the room which immediately warmed them up as the door closed behind them. He smiled as he tapped the lamp hanging over her bench, the teapot bouncing slightly on its sturdy spring, the light bulb in its spout shining on the surface. He followed her past the office that also doubled as the kitchen, pushing the door open to make sure that no one was hiding behind it.
Indie filled a bowl with water and set it down for the puppy who quickly lapped it up. Her heart faltered as she turned to find him watching her, his eyes dark with concern. “Are you okay? You’ve just survived being shot at.”
She smiled at him as she shook her head. “My dad was a war journalist, and we often spent our summers with him wherever he worked, so ducking from bullets isn’t a new thing for me.”
He frowned at her as he considered what she was saying, and she could see the many questions he wanted to ask but he kept a firm reign on his curiosity. When he didn’t say anything, she entered the shop and then watched as the deputy’s eyes roamed around the showcases filled with custom-made silver jewelry. With a civil nod, the deputy made his way to the front of the store and looked out the window before he turned back to her and pulled the door open.
“Please lock this door behind me, ma’am,” he said softly, and Indie was surprised at the effect the huskiness of his voice had on her suddenly fluttering heart.
“Uh, sure, thanks,” she stuttered as she joined him. The citrusy smell of his cologne combined with the sharp sting of gunpowder surrounded her. She briefly wondered if the paradox of the two scents represented his personality.
He slipped out of the partially opened door, keeping as much heat in the shop as he could, and then waited till he heard Indie slip the lock. His shoulders filled the glass paneling in the door, stretching to either side of the frame, making Indie tilt her head back to see his serious eyes as he nodded. No wonder he could toss her against the brick wall like she was a rag, he was huge! His six-foot-three height towered over her five-foot-six, and his strong shoulders would easily maneuver her well-endowed physique.
With a deep sigh, she picked up the puppy and held it to her chest as she watched the deputy walk into the fading November afternoon.
“Can we have cupcakes for dinner tonight, Uncle Seth?” He looked down at the emerald green eyes staring up at him from a face that was the feminine version of his own, though thirty years younger. She was kneeling on the sofa, her determined chin resting on her interlaced fingers as she watched him pour his coffee. With a deep breath, Seth started to shake his head, not able to verbalize the negative.
At five, Amelia could wrap her uncle around all her fingers, never mind the little one. It always made him wonder how he could track, chase, apprehend, and interrogate hardened criminals without flinching but he couldn’t refuse those eyes.
“Your mom will slaughter me,” he murmured.
“We can keep her one,” the tiny voice pleaded.
He closed his eyes and held out his hand in surrender, not wanting to see the satisfied smile on her face. “Bargain?”
Peering through his lashes, he saw her tilt her head. “Okay?”
“One slice of pizza, a spoonful of peas, and four carrots, then a cupcake.”
She pouted and narrowed her eyes as she looked at him. “One slice of pizza, half a spoon of peas, five carrots, then a cupcake, and an extra spoon of frosting.”
He felt his jaw drop in amazement at his niece’s negotiation skills. “Fine, but of the pink stuff. The chocolate is mine!”
“Yahbazoo!” She crowed as she climbed over the back of the sofa to hug him. Blowing into her neck to make her giggle, he swung her onto his back to answer the door for their pizza. Five minutes later, Amelia was staring at her uncle with a deep frown on her face as she watched him scoop half a ladle of peas onto her plate.
“That was not part of the bargain,” she grumbled.
“Quite the contrary, milady,” he smiled in victory. “You did not specify the size of the spoon.”
With an exaggerated huff, she started eating the offensive vegetable, glaring at her uncle who joyfully bit into his pizza.
“Seth.” He slowly blinked up at Sarah as she brushed her fingers through his silky blond spikes. After they had tidied up the kitchen, Seth and Amelia had settled on the sofa with a Disney movie on the TV before bed. They must have dozed off, Seth realized as Amelia snuggled closer to his body.
“Hey. We owe you two cupcakes,” he yawned as he extricated himself from the blankets and lifted Amelia into his arms.
“And a mug of frosting….” Sarah said when he entered the kitchen again. Her eyebrow rose as she placed the mixing mug on the table, and Seth bit his lip, giving a helpless shrug. “Did you at least give her some proper food?”
“Hey! She had a spoonful of peas!” He protested.
“Seriously? She hates peas,” Sarah gasped. Then she frowned with suspicion. “A teaspoon probably.”
Seth laughed in disbelief. “A soup ladle full, actually.”
Sarah stared at her brother and then bit her lip before picking up her hot chocolate and making herself comfortable on the sofa. Seth filled his cup and silently watched her as she curled her feet under her, looking so tiny in the large cushions. He joined her in time to see the tear roll silently down her cheek and he wished he could fold her up and put her in his pocket, close to his heart.
She tilted her head, his hand cupping her cheek as her silky blond hair slid over his hand. She sniffed loudly. “I was such a fool, Sethford. He was never going to love us…”
The whisper tore at his being. His sister was the strongest person he knew, and she had dragged him out of his darkest time. And he felt so helpless because there was nothing he could do to take away her pain. He pulled her into his shoulder and kissed her temple. “I love you more than life itself. No matter what, I will always choose the two of you.”
"One day, you will meet someone and forget about us—”
He held her chin firmly as he lifted her face, her green eyes an exact replica of his own. “If I meet that person, she will not doubt that the three of us are a package deal.”
“You can’t promise that, Seth.”
“No, I can’t. But I vow it."