Irresistible(Buchanans, Book 2)(75) by Susan Mallery
After opening the garage, he helped her put on her helmet. Then she climbed on her bike and set off down the sidewalk. The small training wheels gave her balance and she rode with a purposeful confidence. Walker watched her for a couple of seconds, then glanced around for something to do while she burned off energy.
He saw several gardening tools in a corner of the small garage and remembered noticing Elissa weeding flowers in the front bed. As busy as she’d been getting ready for the craft fair, he would guess she hadn’t had time to keep up with her outside chores. Weeding he could handle.
He collected the tools, ignored both the gloves and some kind of squishy mat to protect his knees, grabbed a bucket and went to work.
The sun was hot, the day already warm. He attacked weeds and anything questionable looking, then dumped them into the bucket. Every now and then, he glanced up and checked on Zoe. She continued to ride back and forth, waving as she passed.
About fifteen minutes into her ride, she was joined by the girl from across the street. Walker couldn’t remember the kid’s name but she was a year or so older and seemed okay. They rode together for a few minutes, then collapsed on the lawn in the shade.
“I’m comin’ back,” Zoe yelled as she raced into the house.
Before Walker could get up and go after her to find out what she was doing, she’d returned with an armful of toys. The other girl did the same and they settled on the grass for a serious session of…whatever it was girls that age did. He reached the corner of the house and started down the side.
He worked the earth, not noticing when spade became shovel and the hole got big enough for a body. Digging graves, he thought grimly. Digging…
He jerked back, willing the image to fade. It did and there were plants again. Sweat dripped down his back. He didn’t belong here, he thought. He couldn’t do this—couldn’t be normal. He—
He heard voices. Too many voices for just Zoe and her friend. Walker stood and hurried to the front yard. When he stepped around the house, he saw Zoe standing up to a boy several years older than her. The boy pushed her lightly. Zoe shoved back. The boy pushed harder. Zoe went down on the cement sidewalk.
Walker tore across the lawn and grabbed the kid by the shirtfront. He was about to shake him like a dog when he heard Zoe start to cry. When he glanced down, she had tears on her face and blood on her shirt.
“Don’t hurt me! Don’t hurt me!” the boy cried.
Walker narrowed his gaze. “There won’t be a next time, will there?”
The terrified boy shook his head. Walker released him and crouched by Zoe.
“Let me see,” he said.
Her girlfriend had disappeared, as had the other boys. Walker examined Zoe’s scraped knee and the bit of skin missing at the base of her palm, then picked her up in his arms and carried her inside.
He set her on the counter and made quick work of her injuries, careful to use the nonstinging antiseptic Elissa had on a shelf with different sizes of bandages. When he was done with the patching up, he got a paper towel, dampened it, then wiped her face.
“What happened?” he asked.
She hiccuped another sob, then sniffed. “Those boys came by and said we were playing baby games. I said we weren’t.”
“You stood up to him,” Walker said. “Your friend didn’t.”
“Natalie got scared and ran home. I was scared, too, but we weren’t stupid and those boys were wrong. Sometimes they boss other kids around. I don’t like it.”
The boy had to be at least two or three years older than Zoe, but she’d been fearless. So what was the lesson? Did he tell her that it was good to stand up for herself, but then she had to face the consequences? Was it better to warn her to play it safe?
He stared into her big eyes and didn’t have a clue. How the hell did Elissa always know the right thing to say?
He wanted to be anywhere but here. Still, he stayed. Right now he was all Zoe had. He would face all the demons for her, real or imagined, and survive.
She held out her arms and looked expectant.
“What?” he asked.
“You need to give me a hug and then kiss it all better.”
Feeling both stupid and awkward, Walker wrapped his arms around her. He was careful not to squeeze too hard. Then he kissed the bandages.
When he was done, Zoe smiled. “Want to go to a movie? We could go to the mall and have lunch at the food court, and go shopping and go to a movie.”
It was his idea of the seventh level of hell. But who was he to refuse a five-year-old girl with the heart of a warrior?
AFTER THE FAIR CLOSED on Monday, Elissa packed up the last of her supplies and carried them to Walker’s SUV. One of the guys in a neighboring booth had helped her with the tables she’d rented.
“See you next year,” he called as she climbed into the driver’s side.
She waved, then closed the door and started the engine.
Home, she thought wearily. She just wanted to be home. Home where she could be quiet and finally think. Or maybe not think. Maybe what she needed was to sleep.
Because she hadn’t the night before. Long after she’d gone to bed, she’d lain awake in the dark, staring at the ceiling, wondering what to do about Neil.
He hadn’t said how long he was going to be in Seattle, but she didn’t think he would make the trip for just a few nights of work. Which meant weeks, maybe even a month in the area. He could show up at any time, demanding more money, insisting she pay or he would want to see Zoe.
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