A Secret Baby in the Show Me State

 

Chapter 1

Seven years later

“I know six kids are a lot, and I appreciate you meeting with me anyway. Even if Lynette did twist your arm to get you to do it.”

Deacon gave the woman sitting in front of him a kind smile. He hoped it was kind anyway. It was true that Lynette had twisted his arm. Admitting that would only hurt Inez’s feelings.

Inez Cromwell would make any man a good wife. She’d been faithful and true to her husband, despite the fact that the man had been…not nice.

“Lynette has a lot of good advice, and she also has a way of seeing things that make sense after you think about it. I’d have been a fool to not listen to her.”

He believed that. Even if he wasn’t very happy about it. It wasn’t that he didn’t want six children—it would be seven if one added Tinsley to the mix.

He just didn’t feel attraction for Inez. He liked to talk to her okay. She was a nice lady, and he figured they could probably rub along okay even if she were four years older than he. That didn’t matter either.

He just wasn’t sure if he was old enough, at thirty, to settle for someone that he liked but didn’t love. At least not in the way the world defined love.

Is it wrong for me to want a fire, Lord?

An attraction. He wanted an attraction and maybe even the feeling that he couldn’t keep his hands off his wife. He supposed, with six children already, it was probably best if there were no powerful drives or attraction.

I’ve waited, Lord. This is really what I get? A lukewarm liking? It’s not fair to her either.

Inez had suffered through a horrible marriage to a man who had been unkind and didn’t appreciate her. She’d found his dead body in the shower last fall, shortly before Thanksgiving, leaving her a widow with six children to raise. Only the baking business that she had done on the side supported them.

Her life hadn’t been easy. She deserved a man who would love her passionately, with his whole soul. Who would admire her and respect her and need her to make him complete.

Did God not have such a man for her?

And such a woman for Deacon?

He would never voice his questions aloud; they were private between the Lord and himself.

Inez spoke a little more about her children and family and what their routines were. He supposed if they decided to get together, he’d need to know.

He liked children. Loved Tinsley and could see himself falling for Inez’s. He knew them from church, and they were good kids.

It wasn’t the kids.

Deacon leaned toward Inez just a little, to let her know he was listening, but his eyes went to the playground where Tinsley played with Inez’s children. A couple of them were older, and four of them were younger. Tinsley would fit in just fine. In fact, he’d often wished that she’d had siblings to grow up with, although she had cousins she was close to, so it was almost the same. Still, she would love to be a part of a big active household.

They were playing some kind of tag on the monkey bars, chasing each other. Tinsley kept up with the other kids. He was proud of her for holding her own, even though this wasn’t something that was completely familiar to her.

He’d done the best he could as a single father. His mother helped a lot, because after he wasn’t ordained, the church in Cowboy Crossing had hired Lynette’s husband, Pastor Wyatt, and Deacon had slid rather easily into the role of unpaid assistant pastor. The unpaid part of that was fine with Deacon, because he felt like he was working for the Lord, and God paid better than anyone else. But it wasn’t earthly payment, so Deacon also worked a “real” job.

He had a small farm, which paid most of the bills, and he worked at the fertilizer plant on the side.

“They get along well, don’t they?” Inez’s voice was soft and sweet, and he didn’t think it was a put-on act. Her personality was calm, and after being married to Mr. Cromwell, she exemplified long-suffering.

If he was to get married to her, she wouldn’t have to suffer long in their marriage. He sure hoped he was a step up from Mr. Cromwell.

Miss Lynette wanted them to—it was the reason she had set up this meeting between them, without making any bones about it. She’d laughed and said, “How could I not? Two unmarried people in the church who are perfect for each other. Just give it a try.”

Deacon didn’t even want to take Inez’s hand. She reminded him more of his mother, despite the fact that they were only a few years apart. Not her fault, it was just the way he felt.

He wanted to be married. True. He wanted a helper who would stand beside him, a companion, friend, and lover. He wanted all of that.

But he wasn’t sure he wanted it with Inez, whom he still thought of most of the time as Mrs. Cromwell.

One of her younger children, a little boy, Richard, fell off the seesaw and started to cry.

“Oh, excuse me, please,” Inez said as she got up and hurried over to the playground. She wore capris, and Deacon couldn’t fault her figure. Sure, it wasn’t young-girl slim, but he wasn’t looking for a young girl. That didn’t appeal to him either.

He wanted to growl in frustration. Maybe there was something wrong with him.

Ever since he’d gotten Tinsley, he hadn’t even tried to date, not that he’d done it much before, either, because he’d been so consumed with Bible college, mission trips, and getting ordained.

Mrs. Cromwell picked her child up and carried Richard back, sitting down on the bench beside Deacon, a little closer than she’d been before. He doubted it was on purpose though. Richard was a hefty little boy and probably heavy.

His crying made talking impossible, so Deacon tried to shove his morose thoughts aside and smiled as Tinsley and the Cromwell children competed to see who could swing the highest.

This evening, he’d not gone visiting like he usually did, wearing his hat of assistant pastor. But he would make that up tomorrow. Mrs. Cromwell couldn’t meet tomorrow, since she had baking to do for the weekend for her baked goods business.

A blue truck, slightly old and beat-up, but not as much as Ivory’s—Ivory being his brother’s fiancée—rumbled down the street.

Cowboy Crossing wasn’t a huge town. He recognized most vehicles and could give a first name or last name of the driver or someone associated with it. It was the kind of town where everybody knew everybody.

That’s what made the truck stick out. The dents and faded paint declared it a working truck, but he knew all the farmers in the area, and it didn’t belong to any of them.

He watched as it pulled further down the street and parked in front of Mrs. Dixon’s house. The person inside wore a cowboy hat, so Deacon didn’t have a hope of recognizing them until they got out.

It was a woman.

Slim jeans and a tank top. Cowboy boots.

Inez should be more his style, but his eyes wanted to linger on the woman across the street. She grabbed a bag from the passenger seat, slung it over her shoulder, and slammed the door shut. The latch didn’t catch the first time.

Almost as though she expected it, she was ready to slam again harder the second time. It caught, and the woman slapped the top of the old beat-up toolbox in the bed of the truck as she walked with long confident strides around the back of the truck and up onto Mrs. Dixon’s porch.

Deacon’s heart stuttered.

Mrs. Dixon was on his list of people to visit tomorrow. He visited her every week. She was young—just in her fifties—but was laid up with MS. It was getting worse.

That wasn’t what caused his heart stutter.

Mrs. Dixon was Blair Dixon’s mother. In high school, Blair was a cheerleader who hung with the popular crowd.

He, along with every other male in her vicinity, had a crush on her. Nothing major, because even at that age, he knew nothing could ever come of it. She wasn’t the kind of girl who was going to marry a preacher and farmer and stay in town.

He did wonder what happened to her though, because he’d had a conversation with her two years after she graduated.

It was the only time he ever felt like he was on equal footing with her, that day when they talked.

He couldn’t forget their last conversation, because she’d been in trouble. She’d been going down a bad road, knew it, but didn’t know how to get herself straightened out.

She hadn’t been living in town, but had been visiting and sought him out, like a lot of people did, because he was working on his pastor’s degree and she needed counseling.

If he had to do it again, he might have recused himself and told her to talk to someone else. There were no written rules, but he was pretty sure he shouldn’t be attracted to the people he was counseling.

He also shouldn’t have agreed to meet her at midnight…but he had.

There wouldn’t have been a second session. But he hadn’t had to turn her down, because she never called him again.

Her truck wasn’t in the best shape, but she looked good, and he was happy that she’d apparently got her life straightened out.

“I think that might have been Blair Dixon.” Inez’s voice came from beside him, and he startled guiltily. It wouldn’t do to get married, be sitting beside his wife, and be thinking about another woman.

Deacon turned to look at her. Inez didn’t have any accusation on her face, just polite conversation.

If she were attracted to him, if she really wanted him, and wasn’t just meeting him because Lynette wanted her to, wouldn’t she be a little jealous? Wouldn’t she have noticed that his eyes were tracking Blair as she got out of her truck and walked into her house? Would it occur to her that he stared at the Dixons’ door long after it closed and that was a little unusual?

He didn’t think Inez was into him. Any more than he was into her.