Author: Robyn Carr

“You’re a doctor, I’m told,” Vanni said.

“Uh-huh. Pediatrician,” he answered, and she thought—Carol has outdone herself. What is sexier than that? Gorgeous, hot and loves kids.

“And yet, you don’t have children?”

“I couldn’t work that in. But now that I can, all the good women seem to be taken. But hey, I still have time to father children. Don’t you think?” Grin.

Oh, yeah, she thought. He could probably father them like mad.

Carol directed them to a pair of chairs in the living room—soft comfortable chairs that faced each other at angles, separated by a side table, where they could sit and get to know each other. Walt and Lance resumed their positions on the deck after initial introductions so the couple that was not being fixed up—ha!—could have this intimate little session to themselves. Carol delivered them drinks and then pleaded business in the kitchen, leaving them alone.

So Vanni had what turned out to be a very pleasant conversation with Cameron Michaels. She would have taken him for a doctor at once—though he was broad shouldered and nicely muscled, he was dressed like an ad for GQ. But a children’s doctor? He should have some spit-up on his shoulder or poop on his shoe to be convincing.

He worked with a group of pediatricians in town and had just bought his first real house—through Carol of course. It was much too big for just him, but he couldn’t resist it. And he didn’t think it was too late to fill it with family, if the right woman came along. He asked about Virgin River and the baby, and was fascinated by her home birth with a midwife. She relented to herself that there was nothing about him not to like when the doorbell rang and she began to rise.

Carol flew out of the kitchen like a rocket, aimed at the door. “Stay put—I’ve got it. That will be Paul. Cameron, you’re going to love Paul,” she said on the fly.

Vanni looked around. This pair of chairs was isolated from the rest of the room; a cozy little corner. There was no place for Paul to sit and join them and again she thought—I always underestimate my mother-in-law. She has everything worked out. She must plan to shuffle Paul out onto the deck with Walt and Lance right after introductions. But that’s not what Vanni had in mind.

She stood. “Excuse me,” she said to Cameron. She walked toward the door just as Paul was coming in.

The minute she saw him, she felt more alive. Paul was not as pretty as Cameron, nor even Matt, for that matter. Paul had rougher good looks. He was probably six-two, his arms so strong thanks to years of physical labor in home construction, thick sandy colored hair still cut short in that military fashion. He was tan, had big, gentle hands, a strong jaw and when he saw her his dark eyes sparkled. She nearly ran to him, hugging him close. He lifted her off the ground.

“God,” he said. “It’s so good to see you.” He put her on her feet. “Let me look at you. Aw, Vanni—you look fantastic. It’s like you never had a baby!”

“You’re such a liar,” she laughed.

“Can I see him?”

“You bet,” she said, grabbing his hand and dragging him right down the hall, leaving Carol standing at the door, her greeting ignored. Although little Matt was asleep, she picked him up and presented him to Paul. “Here you go,” she whispered.

Paul didn’t hesitate. He took the baby into his arms, holding him close. “He’s so big.” Then he met Vanni’s eyes. “He looks just like him, doesn’t he?”

“He does.” She smiled. “I’ve compared their baby pictures and it’s just a little Matt all over again.”

Carol’s head popped in the room. “Come on, you two,” she said cheerily. “We have company.” Then she quickly withdrew, clearly expecting them to follow as ordered.

Paul questioned with his eyes and Vanni sighed. “Carol’s trying to fix me up,” she whispered.

“Really?” Paul said. “How do you feel about that?”

“Not thrilled. But it’s not the guy’s fault—and he seems like a perfectly nice guy. Still…”

“Just not ready?” he asked.

“Not for him,” she said, frowning. “Come on, we’d better be social or we’ll be punished. Paul,” she said, touching his arm, “I’ve missed you so much. Tommy misses you, too. You have to come to Virgin River soon. Will you?”

“Sure,” he said with a smile.

She took the baby from him and put him back in the crib. Then, pulling him by the hand, took him to the living room. When they got there, Cameron stood. Carol intercepted Paul, taking his hand out of Vanni’s to pull him forward. “Cameron, this is Paul Haggerty—he was my son’s best friend. He and Vanni are like brother and sister.”

The men shook hands, but there was obvious and instant reticence in the postures of both—Carol wasn’t fooling either one of them. Vanni took it upon herself to drag a chair across the room so that Paul could join them, catching her mother-in-law’s frown out of the corner of her eye. And when they were all called to dinner, Carol seated them according to her plan—she and Lance occupied the heads of the table, Paul sat beside Walt, Vanni beside Cameron. And that’s how they remained.

Another of Carol’s talents was to grease the conversation and she got people talking quickly so that there was no tension at her table. She might as well have had a notebook beside her with specific questions and topics for each person at her table, so that each one had his turn to talk. She did drop into the conversation several times that Paul was Matt’s best man, Paul and Vanessa had been friends for years, Paul worked construction and oh, yes, Cameron was a doctor.

One topic Carol couldn’t control was Virgin River, and at her table were three people who loved it there and extolled all its virtues—from redwoods, mountains, valleys and rivers, to the little bar and grill run by Jack and frequented by friends and neighbors, reuniting Marines, playing host to hunters and fishermen.

After dessert and coffee, Paul was the first to leave, which Vanni thought must thrill Carol. But that was all right, because Vanni walked him outside. They hugged. “I don’t think of you as a brother,” she said.

He laughed. “And I don’t think of you as a sister.”

“I wish she hadn’t done that.”

“Carol does as she pleases. She always has. We understand that,” Paul said.

“I wanted to spend more time with you. How are you, really?”

“I’m doing okay. And you? Really? How are you doing with missing him?”

“I’ll always miss him. I miss him as much as you do, Paul.”

“Yeah,” he said, hanging his head for a moment. “Can’t really help that, can we?”

“But I don’t cry about him so much anymore. Matt wouldn’t want that—and he said so—he made me promise. Plus, Mattie takes a lot of energy, and gives me so much joy. I’m riding again—which is a wonderful diversion. Come down, Paul. For a weekend. Soon. Ride with me…play with the baby.”

Carol stuck her head out the front door. “Vanessa? I think I hear the baby.”

Vanni took a breath. “Well, Carol, you can pick him up if he’s crying. Or you can tell my dad—he knows what to do.”

“Oh,” Carol said. “Sure. But you’ll be in soon?”

“Soon,” Vanni said, an irritated edge to her voice.

The door softly closed and Paul chuckled.

“God,” Vanni said, rubbing her temples with her fingertips. “That woman…”

“It’s just Carol. No one takes her seriously.”

“To their peril,” Vanni said. Then she looked up at Paul. “Please—come to Virgin River soon. We all miss you. Especially me.”

“Yeah, I should do that. So—what do you think of that guy? At least she found you a doctor.”

She laughed. “She should get credit for that, huh?” She shrugged. “He seems pretty nice—and it’s not his fault he got fixed up with someone who isn’t interested.”

“You’ll be ready one of these days.”

I’m ready now, she wanted to say.

He kissed her forehead. “I’ll give you a call. We’ll set something up—get together soon.”

“Please,” she said, very conscious of the fact that she had been the one calling him since the baby’s birth. And then she watched him go. So, I may not think of him as a brother, but he still thinks of me as his best friend’s wife. She feared that might never change.

Tommy and Brenda had gone to a lot of trouble to arrange a whole night alone at the Booth house while the general and Vanni were both away in Grants Pass, but all that preplanning backfired. Brenda was edgy. Maybe scared. Not ready for it. Tom could tell after fifteen minutes that this wasn’t going the way he thought it would. The way she had said she wanted it to.

So, he throttled back. “Relax,” he said. “We’ll just watch a movie. We don’t have to do anything.”

“You’ll be disappointed,” Brenda said.

“No, I won’t,” he lied. “I told you a hundred times—we’re not going all the way until you’re ready. We’ll just watch a movie and curl up. We’ll sleep in our clothes. I’m not going to push you.”

“I’m sorry. I don’t know what makes me like this. I thought I’d made up my mind.”

“You don’t have to apologize, Bren. Not to me. I like that you’re giving it a lot of thought. I want you to be sure, because afterward, you have to be happy about it, not all screwed up and guilty. There’s no other way it can be, not for us. Since we’re in for the night—should we pilfer a couple of the general’s beers and put on a movie?”

“Yeah,” she laughed.

“You pick the movie, I’ll pick the beer.”

Of course it had to be a chick flick; a real groaner at that. But what the hell, if it made Brenda happy, it made him happy. Halfway through the movie and the beer, the kissing started and he thought, God bless chick flicks. They might be boring, but they sure did warm up the girls.

They reclined on the sofa and pressed their bodies tightly against each other, kissing wildly, openmouthed, tongues going nuts. He got hard, of course. By now she was used to that and she liked it, grinding against him very nicely, getting some good feelings of her own. This sort of thing had been happening between them for a while now, and it was extremely satisfying. And while Tom didn’t want her to do anything she’d regret, he definitely wanted to try out what he’d learned on page ninety-seven. Shew—the magic button. He just wanted to touch the magic button one time. Just for a second. Just to see what happened.

He lifted her shirt, unhooked her bra and felt her soft breasts. She loved it when he did that—it caused her to moan and wiggle. She was getting so hot that he wondered…“Bren,” he said breathlessly. He put a hand over her crotch on the outside of her clothes. “Can I just touch you here? Just with my hand? Nothing else—just my hand?”

“Uh-huh,” she said against his lips. “If you want to.”

He thought he might die, he was so excited. He opened the snap on her jeans and slipped his hand down and down, slowly and gently, over her flat tummy, over her soft mound, just a little further, into a place that was dark, secret, hot and damp, looking for a spot described on page ninety-seven as the trip-wire for the female orgasm. He felt a small, hard knot and when he made contact she gasped and pushed against his hand. The very second he made contact, it electrified her. “Tommy,” she said in a weak whisper.

“Yeah, baby,” he whispered against her lips. “That feels nice, doesn’t it?”