Irresistible(Buchanans, Book 2)(56) by Susan Mallery
“Are you going to tell me why?”
“Mommy, I’m ready,” Zoe called from downstairs.
“Let me get my keys,” he said, more than willing to use the distraction.
Before he could turn away, she touched his arm. “You weren’t the one who…You didn’t do anything to my tire, did you?”
He wasn’t surprised by the question. In her position, he would have wondered the same thing.
“If you have to ask,” he said slowly, “then isn’t it better that things ended when they did?”
“WILL GRANDMA MAKE cookies sometimes?” Zoe asked from the backseat of his SUV. “On TV grandmas always make cookies.”
“I’m sure she will,” Elissa told her. “My mom makes the best peanut butter cookies.”
Zoe practically danced with excitement but Walker sensed Elissa wasn’t quite so enthused. Her tension grew with each passing mile. When he turned onto her street and headed for the house she’d pointed out as theirs, he half expected her to bolt from the car.
He parked and a middle-aged couple stepped out of the beige house. Elissa released her seatbelt.
“We’re here,” she said in a bright voice thick with tension.
Walker got out and walked around to the passenger side. He opened the door for both Elissa and Zoe. Elissa grabbed his wrist and dug her nails into his skin.
He didn’t know if she meant it as a request or a statement. Either way, he nodded.
“Hi,” Elissa said with a smile. “Mom, Dad, this is my friend Walker. He lives in my building. I had a flat this morning and he gave me a ride. And this is Zoe.”
Elissa reached for her daughter, but the five-year-old wasn’t standing next to her. Walker glanced down and was shocked to see the child hovering just behind him.
Elissa crouched down. “Honey, it’s okay. Don’t be scared.”
“It’s all right,” Elissa’s mother said, staring at the little girl with a painful mixture of hope and disappointment. “It will take her a while to get used to us.”
Elissa’s father stepped toward Walker. “I’m Kevin. This is my wife, Leslie.”
Walker shook his hand. “Good to meet you, sir.”
They were ordinary people who had lived normal lives. No doubt they had loved their daughter as much as they could and hadn’t understood why she’d run away. He wanted to tell them it wasn’t their fault. When you least expected it, life took a shit on your head. People died or stopped loving you or went away. And it wasn’t anyone’s fault.
But he knew they wouldn’t understand.
Leslie Towers crouched in front of Zoe. “Do you know who I am?” she asked.
Zoe put one hand on the back of Walker’s leg. “My grandma.”
“Then you know it’s my job to love you and spoil you, right?”
Zoe nodded without speaking.
“Do you like cinnamon rolls?” Leslie asked.
Zoe nodded again.
“I just made some. Would you like to help me put on the icing?”
“Good.” Leslie stood and held out her hand. Walker found himself in the unfamiliar position of encouraging Zoe to go with her grandmother.
Elissa moved close. “Thank you,” she said in a low voice. “I guess the excitement only lasted until reality set in. She’ll be okay now.”
“What about you?”
“We’ll have to see.”
AN HOUR AND A HALF LATER, breakfast was over and Walker found himself in Kevin’s den, ostensibly to watch a baseball game, but in truth to be grilled by Elissa’s father.
Walker wanted to tell him there was no point to this—that he wasn’t going to be in Elissa’s life very long, that he wasn’t someone she was going to settle for, but he knew the other man wouldn’t understand.
“What sort of work do you do?” Kevin asked when they were seated in matching recliners.
“I left the Marines a couple of months ago. Right now I’m working in the family business. We own a few restaurants.”
Kevin frowned. “Buchanan’s?”
“That’s one of them.”
“Impressive. Good. Elissa needs a steady sort of man in her life.”
Walker wished he were back in Afghanistan. “Elissa and I are just friends, sir. As for the type of man she needs, you’re going to find she’s a very different person than you remember. She has put together a life for herself. With time you’ll see—”
Zoe ran into the room and headed directly for him. As she scrambled up onto the seat, he put his hands under her arms to help her.
“They’re fighting,” she said, her eyes wide. “Mommy and Grandma.”
Kevin sighed. “I was afraid of this. I’d better go see what’s going on.”
Walker nodded, but his attention was on the child. Why had she run to him?
She sat on his lap as if she’d done it a thousand times before. As if he were a part of her life.
“Grandma wanted to know what Mommy was really doing with those rock bands,” Zoe said in a low voice. “Mommy got all choky and said she hadn’t done anything wrong. Grandma said something about dugs and I ran away.”
He suspected the comment had been about drugs rather than dugs, but he didn’t correct her. She was five and didn’t need to know the difference.
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