“Nick dropped off the cradle. We were having a pleasant conversation, and Mom and Dad chatted with him a bit too. As soon as he was out the door, Dad jumped all over me about not being kind enough to Nick. I had no idea what he was talking about. I’d thanked Nick for the cradle a dozen times.” Her eyebrows came together. “Then he told me that I needed to invite Nick to dinner and be more flirtatious.”
“Flirtatious? Dad actually used that word?” Are we in the 1950s?
“Right? So I asked if he’d set Nick up to build the cradle and be nice to me. He denied it, saying I better not let Nick slip away because he’s the best I could do, but I think Dad orchestrated the entire thing.”
Rose slumped, looking crushed, and Mercy’s heart broke into a million weeping pieces as she remembered the joy on her sister’s face at the lumberyard. It’d been full of happiness and hope.
“I don’t think Dad set Nick up.”
“I can’t be sure. Several times he’s tried to maneuver me to meet with some man he thinks would be a good husband. It’s infuriating. Now he’s done the same thing with Nick. I honestly thought . . .”
“You know when we first saw the cradle at the lumberyard?” Mercy began. “I knew that day Nick was sincerely interested in you. It was written all over his face. I wish you could have seen the way he looked at you, Rose. It was as if you were a gleaming piece of jewelry; he was mesmerized.”
Rose caught her breath. “What?” Cautious hope flowed into her expression.
“I’m serious, Rose. It’s rare that I see a man look at a woman the way Nick looked at you. He didn’t hide anything.” Her face warmed as she remembered how Truman always looked at her. Hungry, infatuated, hopeful. “I wish you could see a man’s face when he feels strongly about a woman. There’s nothing like it.”
“You think he’s genuinely interested in me?” Rose’s voice was hoarse.
“I know he is. I doubt even Dad could scare him off.”
Rose’s face fell. “It can’t be possible.” Her hand went to her belly. “Everyone knows how I got pregnant. No man will take on both of us.”
Mercy caught her breath, torn by her sister’s pain and doubt. Relationships weren’t Mercy’s strong suit. And advising her sister about love made her feel as if she were standing in front of a college physics class, expected to teach a subject she’d never taken.
But she’d taken the crash course.
She took Rose’s hand and organized her thoughts. “How do you feel about Nick?”
Rose was silent.
Mercy took that as a positive sign. “The man made you a cradle. Something specifically for your baby. I think it’s his way of telling you he’s open. He could have made you . . . a chair . . . or a table . . . something normal. But he carved a cradle, Rose. He’s a silent type of guy, but I think this speaks very loudly. No one is telling you to marry him. Well, except Dad, but he doesn’t count, and I think Mom was just following his lead. You need to open your heart and explore what he’s offering. That’s all.”
“Dad didn’t set him up?” she whispered, still uncertain.
“Hell no. Nick was so excited to show you the cradle. Dad can’t force a man to feel that way—no one can. I saw it, Rose, plain as day on his face, and I think you felt it too, right?” Mercy held her breath, watching her sister’s face as emotions fluttered across.
“I’d hoped,” she finally admitted. “I thought I’d imagined that feeling from him because it’s so unlikely—”
“Stop right there,” Mercy commanded. “Any man who loves you is going to be the luckiest man in the world. Don’t you dare write yourself off.”
“I’m part of a package deal.” Rose’s voice had a touch of amusement. “And no one knows what’s in the tiny package. It’s like choosing a curtain on a TV game show. Who knows what you’ll get?”
“Some men are happy to take risks,” Mercy said, remembering Truman’s persistence. “It’s a good thing some people are risk takers, otherwise our species would die off.”
Rose flung her arms around Mercy, hugging her tight. “Thank you.”
“I didn’t do anything.”
“Yes, you did. Dad had me thinking in circles.”
Mercy remembered her father’s stunned expression when she held up her hand and ordered him to stop talking. “I think Dad will hold back for a while.”
“What should I do about Nick?”
“Well, how about stop by the lumberyard before lunch tomorrow to thank him for the cradle. And if he doesn’t invite you to lunch, then you do it.”
Rose nodded, determination on her face. “I can do that.”
Mercy stood, partly pleased that she’d helped her sister and partly terrified that she might have steered her sister toward getting her heart broken. It’s not just Rose’s life. It’s the baby’s too.
But Mercy felt good about Nick. Rose had known him a long time and experienced his character. Her sister wasn’t one to throw her heart on the line without a lot of careful thought, and Mercy knew Nick wouldn’t deliberately hurt her sister.
But what if Rose gets hurt anyway?
Only her sister knew how much risk she was comfortable with. It wasn’t Mercy’s place to protect her.
Unless I know the guy is a true jerk.
“Your ultrasound is this week, right?” asked Mercy.
“Yes. I can’t wait.”
Rose was at the halfway point, where she could find out the sex of the baby.
“You’ll call me, right?” Mercy asked as she turned the doorknob.
“Are you coming downstairs?”
“I’m not ready to deal with Dad yet,” Rose said. “Tell them I’ll be down later.”
As Mercy reached the bottom of the stairs, she abruptly remembered she’d abandoned Truman with her parents. Feeling guilty, she followed the sound of their voices. The three of them had moved to the kitchen, where Truman and her father sat at the table eating apple pie. With ice cream. Her mother poured more coffee in Truman’s cup and beamed. Mercy felt as if she’d walked into a stranger’s house. Who were these amiable people sitting around enjoying pie?
Truman thanked her mother and then met Mercy’s gaze over the rim of the coffee cup as he took a sip. His eyes sparkled with amusement.
“Would you like a slice of pie?” Mercy’s mother asked her. “Rose made it.” Her father focused on his plate, chasing the last few bites with his fork.
Mercy’s stomach growled. And then she remembered the mutilated body of Rob Murray. “No, I’m good. Rose will be down in a while.”
“Is she okay?” asked her mother.
“Yes. Just don’t pressure her.” She looked at her father, but he continued to eat, his gaze down. “Rose will do what’s best for her and her baby.”
He looked up at that and opened his mouth to speak, then thought better of it and went back to his nearly empty plate.
“I’m going home,” Mercy told them, lifting a brow at Truman. “Don’t let me take you away from your pie.”
He finished the remaining half of his slice in two bites, wiped his mouth, and stood. “Tell Rose her pie was fantastic, Deborah.”
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