Chased by love love in b.., p.24
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       Chased by Love (Love in Bloom: The Ryders): Trish Ryder, p.24

           Melissa Foster
 
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  “Thanks, Mags. He did leave a note, but he didn’t say where he was. Sorry to bother you. Please give your mom my love.” She ended the call and said, “I have to talk to Chuck. Duke, how fast can you get me to New York?”

  “Faster than you can drive, that’s for sure. I’ll get a plane.” He was already calling as she headed up the hill.

  “What can we do?” Gabriella asked.

  “Can you get our kitten, Sparky? He’s upstairs in the bedroom. And ask the girls to throw some of my clothes into a bag? Please? I have to tell Chuck I need to leave.” And he’s not going to like it.

  She ran across the field toward Chuck without waiting for a response. Her heart beat frantically. What was Boone thinking? He should have told her. He didn’t need to handle everything on his own. What was wrong with him? She had no idea how long she’d be gone. She should have asked Maggie for details, but she was too focused on getting there to think straight.

  She paced, waiting for Chuck to finish his conversation with the cameraman and hoping Raine was going to be okay.

  “Chuck,” she said when the cameraman walked away. She stepped in too close, and Chuck stepped back. She didn’t want anyone to hear what she had to say, so she stepped closer again.

  “Chuck, I would never ask this of you if I didn’t have to, but I need to leave.”

  “Leave?” His face twisted.

  “Yes. Boone’s mother is in the hospital, and I need to be there. I’m sorry. I don’t know what’s wrong, or how long I’ll be gone, but he shouldn’t have to face that alone. I need to be there. I—”

  “Whoa. Slow down.” Chuck’s expression turned solemn, like her father’s had when he’d told her their dog had died when she was thirteen. “I got the part about Boone, but you know Jared’s flashing pics around of Boone in LA with some woman. The cast is all hot under the collar about him hurting you. You can tell me if that’s what’s really going on.”

  “Oh my God! Seriously?” She threw her hands up in the air out of anger. Boone’s mother was in the hospital and everyone thought he was with another woman?

  “Those pictures are—” She stopped before saying more and drew in a deep breath, forcing herself to regain control. “I’m sorry, Chuck. You didn’t deserve that. I need to be with him. Can I please go? I will work extra hard when I get back. I’ll even pay for whatever you want me to, the crew’s time. Whatever.” She lowered her voice and said, “I’ll do anything. I just need to be with him.”

  His face grew serious. “You’re willing to risk walking off the set for Boone Stryker?”

  She swallowed hard. She knew this could cost her the chance to ever work with Chuck again, but the best thing in her life needed her. Her answer came easily.

  “Yes.”

  “You really fell for him, didn’t you?”

  She shrugged and smiled. “How could I not?”

  “I’ve been married for twenty-five years. Believe it or not, I get it. Your priorities are where they should be. You want to be with him in his time of need.” He set a harder, assessing gaze on her. “And you really believe that’s where he is?”

  “Chuck!” she snapped. “I’d bet my life on it, and you know if I’m willing to put my career on the line for him, I believe it with all my heart.”

  “Okay. You can go.”

  She threw her arms around his neck. “Thank you! Thank you so much!”

  “One day, Trish. That’s all I can give you. Tomorrow morning at six, cameras are rolling.”

  “Six. I promise. I’ll be here.” She took a step away as horrible thoughts crept in, and she turned back. “Wait. Chuck, I don’t know what shape his mom is in. What if…?” A lump formed in her throat at the thought of something horrible happening to Raine.

  “Trish, Go. I’m a director, not a monster. Use good sense and keep me in the loop.”

  She stared at him for a long beat, trying to figure out how to say what she knew she needed to. She lowered her voice again and said, “He’s worked for years to keep the press away from his family. Is there any way I can get you to not dispel the rumors about Boone and those pictures? Not to tell the crew where I’m going? I know it’s a lot to ask.”

  He pressed his lips together, and then his gaze softened. “Honey, I’ve been in Hollywood long enough to know it’s necessary. I’ve got your back. Just make sure you’ve got mine. This movie’s got a chance to move mountains.”

  “I promise.”

  She hurried inside, scrubbed off her makeup and changed her clothes faster than she ever had in her life, and rushed out front, where Duke was waiting. Everyone else was already in the car.

  “You okay?” Duke asked. “The plane’s all set. The girls got your clothes and your kitten. You have a kitten?”

  “Yes.” She took a deep breath and smiled. “We have a kitten. Me and Boone. We found him in a parking lot.” Her eyes filled with tears. “Duke, I know it must seem like he’s not right for me in lots of ways, but he is. I know the secrecy and pictures make it looks like I’m a fool, but I’m not. He’s as right for me as Gabriella is for you. And I met his mom. She’s amazing. If anything happens to her…”

  Duke gathered her in his strong embrace and held her tight. “Shh. It’s okay, sweetheart. We’ll get you there as fast as we can. And as far as Boone goes, don’t worry. I knew the minute we met face-to-face. The first thing he said to us was that he was glad we’d come. He said he felt better knowing your family loved you enough to put you ahead of everything else, and after our dinner together, it’s easy to see how much he cares for you.”

  Trish leaned back and looked at her brother. “He said that to you?”

  “Yes. Now, let’s get you to him.”

  Chapter Twenty-Six

  “SOMETHING HAS TO change,” Boone said quietly but firmly to Lucky. “Mom can’t take the extra stress of worrying about what kind of trouble you’re going to get into next.” He and his siblings were in the waiting room at the hospital as their mother went through more tests to figure out what was causing her chest pains.

  “It’s not like I’m a felon,” Lucky snapped. He ran a hand through his thick dark hair and crossed his arms, eyeing his siblings.

  “Nobody is saying you are,” Cage said. “Look, Boone’s right about stressing out Mom. Between coming in and out at all hours, going from job to job, and skirting the law, Lucky, she worries. We all do.”

  “I put a call in to my buddy Carson Bad,” Boone told Lucky. “He’s the one who owns an elite security firm. He’s willing to talk to you about putting your computer skills to good use, and he’s just as brilliant as you are. He’ll make sure you’re never bored. Chances are, you can work whatever crazy hours you want because half the IT staff works at night.”

  Lucky rolled his eyes.

  “If you’re dead set against going to college,” Cage added, “then at least consider talking to Carson. Get a job that can lead somewhere. Get your own apartment.”

  “Start growing up,” Mags added. “Oh my gosh. We sound like Mom and Dad. Remember when we were kids and Dad would get mad because we were horsing around and he’d say, ‘You’re not little kids anymore. Act your age.’”

  “Yeah.” Boone smiled with the memory. “And we’d crack up because we were kids.”

  “Half the time Mom would end up laughing, and then Dad would laugh and call us fools,” Cage said with a smile.

  They fell silent, each lost in their own memories.

  Lucky sighed. “See? You guys were lucky. You only had two parents. I’ve got four.”

  Boone draped an arm over his youngest brother’s shoulder. “Buddy, if there were any way for me to bring Dad back, we’d back off in a heartbeat. You definitely missed out, because he was frigging awesome. But since he’s not here, and we all love you despite your need to be a smart-ass, limit-pushing pain in the butt, you’re stuck with us trying to help you find your way.”

  “Think of it as our way of helping you make Dad proud,” Cage suggested.
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  “That’s just it,” Lucky said. “I think Dad would be proud of me. I don’t want to move out. Mom needs me there. You guys are there when I’m in trouble, or when Mom needs you, or for quick visits, but I’m there when she gets up at three in the morning because she can’t sleep. Or when she’s reading that shoe box of letters from Dad and cries.”

  “She still reads those?” Cage asked, exchanging a concerned glance with Boone.

  “I’m not denying that I’m all those things you said,” Lucky explained, “but I don’t just add stress to her life. I make sure she has her favorite books. We go out to dinner sometimes, and I’m always there to talk about Dad, because she needs that. She needs to know she can talk about him without making everyone sad.”

  “He’s right,” Mags said softly. “She’s pretty careful about how often she talks about him to me.”

  Boone had to admit he’d noticed that, too, but Lucky staying with her was a double-edged sword. He couldn’t fault his brother for acting eighteen. Lord knew the rest of them had had to grow up fast after they’d lost their father. He had to find a way to protect both his mother’s health and Lucky’s ability to gain the freedom an eighteen-year-old needed to grow up and learn responsibility.

  “Lucky, Mom’s not your responsibility. Are you staying just because she needs you? Do you want your own place? If so, then that’s what we have to work on, so you can start to have a real life and take on responsibilities that are more appropriate for a guy your age. If Mom needs us around more, we can do that. I’ll make sure I’m around more.”

  “I see her all the time because we work together, so I’m pretty sure I’m around enough,” Mags said.

  “I’ll make a bigger effort,” Cage offered. “I’ve been hammered with promoting my fights lately, but it’s no excuse. I’ll step it up.”

  “Do you guys hear yourselves?” Lucky’s face went serious. “Mom’s not my responsibility, but I’m the one stressing her out? Do I want my own place? Y’all are ready to drop everything to fix me and to make sure she’s okay, which is awesome. Seriously, I’m not complaining about how much you love us, but you’re totally missing another point.”

  “What do you mean?” Boone asked.

  “She’s lonely,” Lucky said. “She’s a forty-seven-year-old woman. Surely you get this. She’s our mom, but she’s a woman, too. She has needs that aren’t being satisfied, and I don’t mean just sex. She needs adult companionship. A man to tell her how beautiful she is, to go out with, to make her feel special in ways that none of us can or should.”

  Lucky shook his head and turned a compassionate gaze to Boone. He looked so much like their father at that moment that Boone got a chill.

  “Boone, you’re a great protector, and you fly home to fix anything and everything the minute there’s trouble. Mags, you’re there for her in more ways than you probably realize. And, Cage? You and Mom have this incredible bond over all things Dad related. But she needs more. You saw the way Officer Payne looked at her and how she reacted. That wasn’t a one-time thing, Boone. He’s asked her out a number of times, and I’ve asked her why she won’t go. She’s got a million excuses, but I think she’s worried about you guys being okay with it.”

  “What?” Boone didn’t know if he was upset that she’d think that or upset that he actually might not be.

  “Lucky’s right,” Cage said. “It’s been a hell of a long time since we lost Dad. She had us to keep her busy when we were younger, but she deserves more. She deserves a full life, and if she thinks we’re holding her back, then we have to let her know we’re cool with it.”

  Boone scrubbed his hand down his face, trying to get past the juvenile ache of not wanting that spot his father had held for all these years to change. “Can we please deal with one tough issue at a time? Let’s make sure she’s healthy before we go marrying her off.”

  “No one’s marrying her off, but she deserves to be happy,” Mags said. “And now that I think about it, when we cater parties, guys are always showing interest in Mom. I thought she was blowing them off because she was at work. But, Lucky, I think you see what I haven’t wanted to.”

  She put her hand on Boone’s shoulder. “Mom being alone won’t bring Dad back. She deserves to be loved, doesn’t she?”

  Boone thought about all the feelings he’d kept bottled up about Destiny and wondered if his mother had imprisoned herself in a similar yet different type of hell. He’d needed to forgive Destiny’s parents, if even in his own mind. What if his mother needed him—them—to forgive her in a different way, for allowing herself to move forward?

  “Yes,” he answered quietly. “She deserves the best of everything. If she wants to date, we should let her know we’re behind her.”

  “Boone?”

  He spun around at the sound of Trish’s voice. “Baby? Duke? What are you doing here? You’re supposed to be filming.”

  “Filming?” Trish’s face scrunched up with disbelief. “While your mom is in the hospital? How is she?”

  “They didn’t find any issues with her heart, so they’re running more tests. They think it might be a GI issue. I can’t believe you’re here.”

  “Thank God it’s not her heart.” She wrapped her arms around him and said, “Filming comes third on my list. You’re first, family and closest friends are second, and work comes third.” She drew back and gazed into his eyes. “Why didn’t you wake me?”

  “You had to be on set at four thirty and I got the call at two thirty. I had no idea what we were dealing with, and I didn’t want to put that kind of stress on you until I had a handle on things.”

  She frowned. “Your stress is my stress. Why didn’t you tell me where you were going in your note? I didn’t know if something had happened to Jude, Lucky, your mom…”

  “I’m sorry. This film is your big chance, and I didn’t want you stressing out until we knew if there was something to stress out over. I’ve been watching the clock. I would have called at five, right after you were done filming.”

  She banged her forehead against his chest, then gazed up at him with warm, loving eyes. “You didn’t want me stressing out? If you’re stressing out, I want to be with you. That’s how relationships work. You made me more worried, and Jared showed everyone pictures of you and some girl God knows where.”

  “What?” His chest constricted.

  Duke stepped closer. “She’s right. I saw the pics.”

  “Boone, did you tell Tripp to cancel the hospital directive?” Cage asked.

  “Aw, hell. No. I forgot about that. When Lucky had his appendix out a few years back and I had to cancel a tour and fly in, we set up a system with the hospital. If any of my family members are admitted, they notify Tripp, my PR rep. Then Tripp releases pictures of me anywhere else but here. I forgot to address that. I’m sorry, Trish.”

  She shook her head and smiled. “Well, this time I’m not. It made me realize I should call Mags.”

  “Uh-oh.” Maggie winced. “I might have forgotten to tell you she called. Sorry, Boone.”

  “No worries,” he said to his sister, then to Trish, “I’m sorry, beautiful. I’ll make that call as soon as we’re out of here.”

  Cage reached out a hand to Duke and pulled him into a manly embrace. “Hi. I’m Cage, Boone’s brother. He’s a little too sidetracked to introduce us properly.”

  “Duke, Trish’s brother. Nice to meet you.”

  Lucky embraced Duke. “I’m Lucky, another brother.”

  “Great to meet you, Lucky,” Duke said. “We’ll have to get our families together soon.”

  Mags hugged Trish. “I’m so glad you’re here. Sorry I forgot to tell him you called.”

  Boone warmed at the love passing before him. He’d never imagined wanting to let anyone into his inner circle like this, but Trish and Duke and the rest of her family felt like they were already part of his family.

  “That’s okay. I’m just glad I caught you when your phone was on.” Trish introduced Duke
to Maggie. “Duke chartered a plane so we could get here fast. My family was in West Virginia with me. The rest of them went home, and Siena and Cash have Sparky, but I asked Duke to come with me. I hope you don’t mind.”

  “Your family is always welcome,” Boone said.

  Cage opened his arms and embraced Trish. “Nice to see you again. You will forever be known as the woman who made my brick-wall brother go soft.”

  “Hey, there’s nothing soft about me,” Boone said, and pulled Trish close again. “I’m really sorry about not filling you in sooner, but I didn’t want to come between you and today’s filming.”

  “I get that you were trying to protect me.” She reached for Duke’s hand and guided him beside Boone, then looked lovingly at both of them. “There are times when I need protecting and there are times when it’s nice, as a woman, to feel protected. But things have to change. Duke, if you had called and spoken to me before showing up, I would have been less annoyed, regardless of whether you were checking out Boone or not. Okay?”

  “You’ve got it. I learned my lesson.” Duke smiled and added, “From now on I should listen to my soon-to-be wife. She told me the same thing.”

  “See? There’s another reason I love Gabby.” Trish turned her attention, and her beguiling eyes, to Boone.

  His insides went soft, but he wasn’t about to admit that to Cage, who was watching them with an awestruck look on his face, alongside Mags and Lucky.

  “And you.” She grabbed Boone by the collar, her lips curving up in a sweet, loving smile. “You, my badass rocker, need to understand that when I said I loved you, and when I said you were on top of my list, I meant it.”

  Her brows knitted, but when she spoke, even trying her hardest to sound firm, he heard the undercurrent of love loud and clear. “I know you want to protect me, but you’re not alone anymore, and when you’re in a relationship, you don’t get to make all the decisions. There is no choice between family and work, and when your family is in crisis, I get to be there for you. I get to make that decision. No questions asked.”

 
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