One year later . . .
“Hey, baby,” Griffin answered. “Having fun?”
“Don’t even start,” I muttered. “You know I hate traffic duty.”
He laughed. “You volunteered.”
“Because I’m trying to be a good boss.”
“The chief of police doesn’t need to man the speed traps.”
“We don’t have speed traps, Griffin.”
“Sure,” he deadpanned. “So you’re not parked behind the bush off the highway at the John Deere dealership.”
Not anymore. I glanced in my rearview at the bush and the dealership. “What are you guys doing?”
“We’re getting ready to go for a ride around the ranch.”
“By ride, you’d better mean in a truck and not on Jupiter.”
Griff had made a comment this morning that Hudson was old enough to start riding with him on the horse. I’d thought he was joking. He’d better have been joking. My baby was not getting on a horse. Not yet.
“He’s got to learn sometime.”
“Griffin,” I warned. “He’s two months old.”
My husband chuckled. “Yes, we’re riding around in the truck.”
“Good. Have fun.”
“I’m going to swing by Mom and Dad’s. Say hi. See how Briggs is settling into the loft at the barn.”
“Give them all a hug for me. Maybe two for Briggs.”
Briggs had moved in last week. It had been Mateo’s idea to have Briggs closer to Harrison and Anne, but since Briggs didn’t want his cabin to sit empty, they’d traded homes. Mateo was now in the mountains while Briggs was closer to family.
In the past year, he’d started on some medication that seemed to help but every now and again he’d have an episode where his mind would falter and he’d lose time and place. The worst incident had happened a month ago, prompting this move. Briggs had gone hiking and gotten lost. When Griffin and Harrison had gone out to find him, he’d gotten combative with them both, not having a clue who either of them was.
When Harrison had told Briggs later what had happened, Briggs had made us all promise that if he acted like that again, they’d put him in a home. Mateo had suggested the barn loft as an alternative. We hoped that maybe if Briggs was living closer to the place where he’d grown up as a child, it would give him more of a foundation.
None of us knew what would happen, but it was worth a try.
“Will you take your mom’s pie plate when you go?” I asked.
“It’s already loaded.”
In the background, my son whimpered.
“How’s Hudson doing?”
“He’s ready for a nap. We’ll drive around. Let him conk out in his seat. Then head to Mom’s.”
“I’ve got”—I checked the clock on the cruiser’s dash—“four hours to go. Then I’ll be home.”
“We’ll be waiting. Love you.”
“Love you too.” I ended the call and continued driving toward Main.
Technically, I was still on maternity leave. I had three weeks left. But we’d been a bit short on staff for the past few months, ever since I’d fired Tom Smith—pregnancy had zapped my patience. So even though I was supposed to be at home, I’d been covering a few shifts to lighten the load at the station until we could get another officer hired.
The tourist traffic had lessened considerably this past week now that the school year had begun. It was nice to see a few empty spaces downtown, though soon there’d be hunters and then the Christmas crowd.
Quincy during the holidays was magical.
Though I was biased. Memories of childhood Christmases here with Pops and my parents were some of my fondest. And this past year had been unforgettable.
Griffin and I had gotten married three days before Christmas. The ceremony had been a small, intimate affair at The Eloise Inn. He’d dazzled in a black suit. I’d worn my mother’s wedding dress. After Pops had walked me down the aisle and Griffin and I had exchanged vows, we’d opened the hotel’s doors for a reception that had strained the building’s seams.
Most of the guest rooms had been reserved for family, and for the first time ever, I’d stayed at The Eloise. Griffin and I had locked ourselves in the best suite for three days.
Ours was the last wedding hosted at The Eloise before the renovations had started. Harrison and Anne had bought the building next door and annexed it to the hotel for events. And the restaurant no longer resembled an open dining room, but a trendy, upscale steakhouse.
When I’d been pregnant with Hudson, Griff and I had gone down three times a week because my cravings had been out of control. Knox had been like a magician, always making exactly what I hadn’t even known I’d wanted.
We hadn’t planned to get pregnant so soon, but after the incident on Indigo Ridge, my birth control had been interrupted and we’d decided not to bother.
Life was short. Griffin and I were going to live it to the fullest, and this family we were making together was the light of my life.
My hand drifted to my belly. Maybe we’d visit the restaurant as often this time around too. My children would be less than a year apart. Hopefully, that meant they’d be close friends, if not when they were little, then when they were older.
I reached the end of Main and headed down the highway. Traffic was light and most cars I passed would do a little dip, their fenders dropping as they tapped their brakes. Ten miles later, I was about to turn around and head back to town when I spotted a gray sedan with New York plates pulled over on the side of the road.
Slowing, I eased onto the shoulder and flipped on the cruiser’s light bar so other cars would give us some space. Then I made sure I had my sidearm on my hip before I got out and approached the car.
Griffin had insisted I wear a vest when I was on patrol duty. It was hot on top of my black blouse, but my husband worried. So I wore the vest.
The driver’s side window of the sedan was down, and the sound of a baby crying hit me first. That unmistakable sound twisted my heart. So did the sound of a woman sobbing as hard as the infant.
The woman behind the wheel didn’t hear me.
“Miss?” I called.
She gasped and practically jumped out of her seat belt.
“Sorry.” I held up my hands.
“Oh my God.” She slapped one hand to her heart while the other tucked a lock of blond hair out of her face. “I’m sorry, Officer. I can move my car.”
“It’s all right.” I leaned to peek inside. “Is everything okay?”
She nodded and wiped furiously at her face, trying to dry the tears. “Just a bad day. Actually, a really bad day. Maybe the fifth worst day of my life. Sixth. No, fifth. We’ve been in the car for days and my son won’t stop crying. He’s hungry. I’m hungry. We need a nap and a shower, but I’m lost. I’ve been driving around for thirty minutes trying to find this place where we’re supposed to be staying.”
“Where are you going?” I asked, casting my eyes to the backseat.
Her baby continued to wail, his face red and his tiny fists clenched.
She reached for a sticky note, holding it up. “Juniper Hill.”
“Juniper Hill?” Only one person lived on that gravel road.
“Yes. Do you know where it is?” She tossed her hand toward the windshield. “My directions led me right here. But there isn’t a road marked Juniper Hill. Or any road marked, period.”
“Montana country roads rarely are marked. But I can show you.”
“Really?” The hope in her sad eyes broke my heart. It was like this woman hadn’t had a helping hand in a long, long time.
“Of course.” I held out my hand. “I’m Winslow.”
The name didn’t surprise me. Eloise had been uttering it for weeks. Knox had been grumbling it for just as long.
“Welcome to Quincy, Memphis.”
“Thank you.” She breathed and a new wash of tears cascaded down her cheeks.
I hurried to my cruiser, then led the way to Juniper Hill.
Four hours later, after I’d traded out the cruiser for my Durango, I was home.
Griffin was rocking Hudson on the porch, a bottle held to my son’s mouth. “Hey. How’d it go?”
“Good.” I took the chair next to him and waved for him to hand me my boy. When he was nestled in the crook of my arm, I breathed.
Hudson had my dark blue eyes, but otherwise I hoped he’d resemble Griffin. He already had his father’s thick, brown hair. And even at only two months old, he had Griffin’s steady nature. He’d rarely screamed, unlike Memphis’s son, Drake.
“Remember that girl Eloise hired to work at the hotel? Memphis Ward? The one who was moving here from New York?”
“I met her today. She got lost trying to find Knox’s house. Her son is about the same age as Hudson. But not as cute.”
“No child is as cute as Hudson.”
“Exactly.” I pulled the empty bottle from my son’s mouth and lifted him to my shoulder, kissing his cheek as I patted his back. “She seems sweet. A little frazzled but I guess we all are on our bad days.”
Griffin shook his head and chuckled. “I still can’t believe that Eloise convinced Knox to let a stranger live above his garage. He’s gonna go nuts. The whole point of him building that house on a nowhere road was to avoid people.”
Eloise had been struggling to find dependable employees at the inn lately, and when Memphis had applied, she’d been so far overqualified that Eloise had assumed it was a joke. Though she’d done a virtual interview, and when Memphis had accepted the job, Eloise had been thrilled.
Only a week later, after trying to find an apartment and coming up dry, Memphis had called Eloise to back out of the job. Except my sister-in-law wasn’t one to be deterred by road blocks. She’d convinced Knox to let Memphis stay at his place for a few months until a new rental opened up in town.
Memphis was going to be renting the studio apartment Knox had built above his garage. The apartment was intended for company because he didn’t want to have people crash in his guest rooms like they did when they came to visit us.
“Your sister should be the next mayor.”
Griffin chuckled. “Speaking of mayors.”
A familiar blue Bronco came rolling down the road with Pops behind the wheel. Since he’d retired earlier in the year, he made it a point to visit a few times a week and spoil his great-grandson.
“He’s going to steal you from me,” I told Hudson. “And I just got home.”
“He’s not alone.” Griffin nodded to the road again, and sure enough, a line of cars came our way. “I guess we’re hosting dinner.”
Hours later, after Anne and Lyla had cooked for us all, the house was full of laughter. Pops and Harrison were watching a football game. Talia, Mateo and Eloise were on the deck. Knox hadn’t made it over, probably because he was at home stewing about his temporary neighbor.
Griffin and I were on the couch, cuddled together as our son slept in his father’s arms.
“Should we tell them?” he asked.
I looked into those bright blue eyes and nodded. “Yeah.”
“Gather around,” he called, and when the living room was packed with family, he grinned. “Family announcement.”
Family. His. Mine.
And eight months later, our daughter, Emma Eden, joined the fray.