Line of Fire, An Autumn Rain Novel
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Copyright ©2005 Rachel Ann Nunes.
All rights reserved. No part of this text may
be reproduced, in any form or by any means,
without permission in writing from the author
Mitch Huntington groaned as the sound of the doorbell sliced into his
unconscious thoughts. Reluctantly, he swam through the murky waters of sleep
and managed to open one eye, the other still firmly smashed into his
Coming, he called in a croaky voice that wouldnt have
made it past his bedroom door, much less carried to the porch. The brightness
spilling in from his window was painful, and he blinked that single eye several
times to help it adjust. Who would wake him up before eight on a Saturday
morning? He hoped it wasnt one of the neighbor children, newly let
out of school for the summer. They often came to see his animals.
All right already! He put both hands on the bed and heaved
himself off his stomach, twisting his legs to the floor. Trying to stand,
he tripped over the tennis shoe Muffin the Mutt had been using to sharpen
his teeth. Mitchs face hit the carpet and the top of his head slammed
against the ten-gallon glass aquarium that was home to a pair of his gerbils.
Or had been. The two animals were no longer alone.
Mitch opened his other eye, now pressed up close to the glass. He blew
his hair out of his face. One, two, three, four, five, six . . .
That was all he could count before Hiccup covered her new babies, aided by
Elvis, her faithful companion of two months.
Well, looks like you had a productive night, Mitch muttered,
more than a little irritated. Hed spent half the night waiting for
the blessed event and had missed it entirely.
The doorbell rang three more times, staccato and short, like an impatient
woman tapping her foot. Mitch hauled himself to his feet and hurried to the
door of his room, stubbing his toes first on the edge of the gerbil cage
and then on the smaller aquarium containing Lizzy Lizard, his western fence
lizard, who was fighting a cold with antibiotics and two extra heating
Thats it! Mitch yelled, grabbing his sore toes and
hopping around on the other foot. Tonight, youre all going back
to your own room. I dont care how many babies you have or how many
respiratory diseases you get!
Hobbling down the hall and through his living room, he opened the front
door in time to see a woman in a trim black suit moving gracefully down his
She turned. Oh, good, youre home, she drawled with
a faint accent Mitch thought might be Texan. She was an attractive woman
with long black hair, a full mouth, and dark eyes that were clearly annoyed.
Mitch straightened his tall frame that was still too-thin despite the ten
pounds hed recently gained. Belatedly, he realized he was wearing his
black pajama bottoms, spotted with white soccer balls and topped by a black,
I had a late night, he felt obliged to say. He drew a hand
through his brown hair, which was barely short enough to be acceptable to
his family. Parted near the middle, his hair reached to the bottom of his
ears, falling forward whenever he dipped his head.
Youre Mitch Huntington? She sounded as if she hoped
hed say no.
He wondered if hed done something wrong. Yes. Why do you
Im Dolores Clark, attorney for Lane and Ashley
Lane and Ashley? Mitchs stomach twinged with a warning
that something was wrong. He and Lane had been like brothers during their
missions to Brazil, sweating together over Portuguese verbs while tracting
in the humid temperatures near the equator. Their friendship had continued
after they left Brazileven when Ashley Steele entered the picture.
In fact, if Lane hadnt married Ashley, Mitch would have tried to marry
her himself. Instead, hed remained their best friend.
Dolores Clark shifted her slight weight to her other foot. Her high,
thin-heeled shoes didnt look comfortable, and Mitch was sure they added
to her impatience and irritation. Yes, she said. Im
their attorney and the executor of their estate.
Theyre in Texas, he began. Wait a minute, did
you say executor? What do they need an executor for? His friends and
their baby daughter had moved from Utah to Texas six months earlier when
Lane graduated from Brigham Young University and started a new job. Mitch
had kept in touch by phone and e-mail. Only last week Ashley had e-mailed
a snapshot of their family. Hed marveled at how much Emily Jane had
grown. Looking like a baby doll, she was in her mothers arms, one hand
caught in Ashleys long curly red hair, as it always seemed to be. They
had all looked happy.
You havent heard? For the first time there was an
emotion other than annoyance in the lawyers pretty face. But what?
He couldnt tell.
He was beginning to feel light-headed. Heard what? he asked,
gripping the doorway.
Five days ago the Graysons were killed in a boating accident.
Im sorry, I thought you might have heard.
Mitch shook his head slowly, knowing there was no one to tell him anything.
Lane was an only child whose parents had died when he was in high school.
Ashleys mother had died when she was a child, and she hadnt talked
to the rest of her family since theyd disowned her when she joined
the Church four years ago. Lane and Ashley didnt have anybody,
he said for the lawyers benefit, still reeling from shock. Except
each other . . . and me.
I know. Thats why Im here. Youre listed in their
Mitch stepped out onto the porch and sat down in the doorway, tears
blurring his vision. He felt sick and dizzy, as he did each time his allergy
to cold temperatures kicked in. But the porch had been warmed by the morning
sun, and there wasnt even a whisper of a breeze in the air. Not since
his brother-in-laws death a year and a half ago had Mitch felt so horrible
and lost. Oh, Lane, he murmured. He couldnt even say
Ashleys name. And when he thought of the baby . . .
Tears slid down his cheeks. She was only a year old, he
murmured. Thats too young. Way too young. He tried telling
himself it was better that they were all together, but he found it impossible
to bear the thought of never seeing them again in this life. Why hadnt
he gone to visit six weeks ago in April for Emily Janes first birthday?
Theyd invited him, but instead he planned to fly out during his vacation
time in August. He let his head drop to his hands and wept.
A comforting hand squeezed his shoulder. He was surprised to find the
lawyer hunched down next to him. Im sorry, she said softly.
I did try to call repeatedly this week before the funeral, but you
dont have an answering machine, and there was no time for a letter.
Emily Jane needs to get on with her life. Of course, I have some papers
youll need to see. She tapped the briefcase shed set down
on the porch. Standing, she went down the stairs toward the sedan parked
out in the street.
Mitch stared after her. What did she just say?
The car door opened before Dolores reached the sidewalk, and a short,
older woman emerged with a baby in her arms and a fat diaper bag slung over
her shoulder. She moved aside as Dolores brought out a car seat and a large
Mitch stared, hope bursting to life in his heart. The baby had a mass
of fine, curly hair a shade or two paler than a carrot. Just like Ashleys.
Emily Jane, he thought. Could it be? He urged himself to meet them
halfway, but he only managed to stand, his tears abruptly halted and drying
on his cheeks in the morning sun.
The short woman came up the stairs and pushed the baby in his direction.
I was the Graysons neighbor, she said, with a Texas drawl
much heavier than the lawyers. I run a daycare. Emily Jane came
over in the mornings while Ashley went to school. Shes been staying
with me since the accident.
Mitchs arm instinctively secured the baby to his chest. She opened
her blue eyes wide at him as though unsure how to react. Emily Jane,
he breathed. He recognized her now. Would she remember him?
The baby glanced at the short woman and then back at him. Her face wrinkled
as she started to cry. Its okay, he murmured, patting her
back awkwardly. He tried to return her to the woman, but she shook her
Better keep her, she said, her hazel eyes kind and
compassionate. Shell stop in a minute. Usually shes good
with strangers, but shes been sad and upset. Probably misses her parents.
Shell get used to you. Just talk to her.
The babys large eyes reminded him of a wounded or frightened animal.
Dont worry, sweetie, he told her. You remember me,
dont you? Okay, so maybe you dont. Anyway, I know your mom and
dad. He stopped. He had known them. He tried to swallow a sudden
lump in his throat, biting back his own tears. Its okay. Dont
cry, sweetie. You know what? I have something to show you. Come inside with
me. Vaguely aware of the women following him, he walked to the large
dog kennel in the kitchen where Muffin was yipping in excitement.
This is Muffin, Mitch said to Emily Jane. He normally
sleeps in my room, but I had to put him in here last night. I promise he
wont hurt you. He bent down with the baby on one knee and opened
the kennel door.
Muffin shoved his wet nose into Mitchs hand before exuberantly
sniffing Emily Jane. The babys tears stopped, but she clutched at Mitch
in fear, trying to climb up his chest.
Oops. Sorry. Down, Muffin! Down boy! Mitch stood to keep
Emily Jane out of reach. At least she was no longer crying.
Ill leave these papers, Dolores said, placing something
on the table. Theres a list of finances and other items regarding
custody. Youll need a lawyer here to finalize everything. As Emily
Janes lawyer, Ill be happy to help things along in Texas, although
you may have to make an appearance there. Ill keep in contact with
you about that and about the rest of the estate. Ill need to know what
you want done with the house and car. And of course the Division of Child
and Family Services here will be in contact to make sure everythings
okay on this end.
The suitcase by the door has Emily Janes clothes,
the older woman added. Mitch was too stunned to reply to either of them.
Well get out of your hair now. Dolores walked to the
door, followed by the other woman whose name Mitch had never learned.
Wait! What about Emily Jane? He hefted the baby in his
Dolores arched an impatient brow. Youre her godfather,
arent you? The will stated clearly that I was to bring her to
Mitch remembered signing something in front of a lawyer soon after Emily
Jane was born. Ashley, weighed down with the responsibility of new parenthood,
had planned for every possibility. If something ever happened to us,
Id want Emily Jane to be raised in the Church, she had said.
I cant bear the thought that shed go to my dad or my sister.
It would be different if they were members. Please, Mitch. Will you do this
Mitch had agreedanything to set Ashleys mind at ease. Besides,
hed loved Emily Jane from the minute she was born. But hed never
imagined that being named her guardian would mean anything more than pony
rides on his shoulders, presents at birthdays and Christmas, and maybe an
occasional day at the circus. It simply couldnt mean that Emily Jane
now belonged to him.
The women descended his steps, and Mitch panicked. It was one thing
to be an exceptional uncle to five nieces and nephews or to be a
godfatherbut to be solely responsible for a child?
Hey, I dont know anything about babies! he protested.
What am I going to do with her? He felt guilty saying the words
with little Emily Jane watching him so seriously, her lightly freckled face
rigid with fear.
Dolores shrugged. We just came to bring her to you. Of course,
if youd rather, Mrs. Sumner and I can turn her over to Texas state
custody. Im sure an adoptive family could be found for her. Shes
Ashleys voice echoed in his head: Id want Emily Jane
to be raised in the Church.
No, he said, backpedaling quickly. Well be okay.
I have sisters with children wholl help. My mom lives only fifteen
minutes from here. Less, maybe.
He was about to say more to convince them, but the women nodded and
continued to their car, relief apparent on their faces. As they drove away,
Mitch clung to Emily Jane as tightly as she clung to him.
Read the backliner and author's comments.
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