By Kris Calvert
Sugar couldn’t contain her smile as the father of her little girl walked his finely tuned tight ass out the door. She’d convinced herself she didn’t care for him over the years, but deep in her soul she knew it was merely a self-preservation tactic. Only a fool would continue to pine for a man who clearly didn’t want to be with her, and Sugar told herself every day that she wasn’t that kind of fool.
She’d worked hard to pull herself up by her bootstraps, to be a good mother, the kind of mother Sophie deserved. The smile faded from Sugar’s face as Jax’s heavy presence faded from the bustling room.
“What the hell was that?” Honey asked, coming to her side.
“What do you mean?” Sugar nervously wiped her hands on her apron and immediately turned to Beau, looking for Table Three’s barnyard strangler breakfast special.
“What do you mean, what do you mean?” Honey repeated. “You’re being an ass.”
“I’m being an ass?” Sugar asked as she picked up her order and walked it to the table, avoiding a rush of patrons moving in and out by spinning on her heels to stay ahead of the chaos. “Please dear sister, enlighten me.”
“I don’t think you’re an ass,” Frank interjected. “But I think you have a nice one.”
Sugar took a deep breath and faced the overzealous would-be suitor. “Get out of my face before I junk-punch you so hard, your man business will go from dangling between your legs to hanging from your badge. Do we understand each other Officer Millhouse?”
A roar of applause erupted from the female patrons while Frank’s fellow officers bowed their heads in embarrassment. Sugar, too mad to notice anything but the ringing in her own ears, stormed from the front of the diner to the back of the kitchen.
“Shit-fire, Shug,” Beau said, following his cousin into the storeroom. “You know I care about you, but you just can’t go around shaming police officers in the restaurant.”
“He deserved it and you know it.”
“Of course he did, but the decent officers help to keep the riffraff out of here. If you keep them all away, I can guaran-damn-tee we’ll get robbed.”
Sugar stopped her incessant pacing long enough to offer an apology. “I’m sorry, Beau,” she said as tears of frustration and shock from seeing Jax began to pool in her eyes. “I just…”
“I know,” he said, pulling her in for a hug.
“You smell like onions and peppers,” Sugar said as she laughed through the tears that now flowed freely.
“If you’d stop pushing the Mexican omelet, I wouldn’t smell like this.”
Honey stuck her head into the storeroom and let out a sigh, letting them both know there wasn’t time for a breakdown—at least not during the breakfast rush. “Guys, the grill is about to catch on fire, the dining room is a hot mess, I’ve got one pissed off officer paying for his breakfast and…”
“And what?” Sugar asked, wiping the tears from her cheeks.
“And one Marine standing in the parking lot—waiting.”
“What?” Sugar asked.
“Dry your tears, sister.”
“Are you kidding me? What’s he waiting for?”
Honey stared into the teary eyes of her sister, knowing the many nights she’d cried herself to sleep, and said one word. “You.”
By Anne Lange
Jax leaned against his old, held-together-with-rusty-wire-and-duct-tape pick-up truck. The last time he’d driven this poor girl was the afternoon he’d told Sugar about his orders to ship out. Then he’d held her while she cried and pounded his chest with her small, curled up fists. When she’d calmed, they’d driven down to the lake and made love until dawn.
That memory of laying her in the tall grass next to the softly rippling water, stripping her work uniform from her luscious body amongst a spray of wild flowers surrounding them, had kept him sane for the last three years.
He’d spent hours that night memorizing every inch of her with his hands, his mouth, and his tongue, scared shitless he’d never have the opportunity to touch or lick her sweet flesh or kiss her lips again. Thankful for the curtain of privacy the flora provided, he’d indulged in every wicked desire he could imagine.
As the sun began its ascent, he’d finally pushed his aching cock into her trembling body; then he’d simply held her close, inhaled the faint fragrance of her shampoo, fighting against his need to find release and wanting to prolong the inevitable for as long as he could. Knowing that when at last they looked into each other’s eyes as he moaned through his orgasm, and tears slipped down her cheeks, that this might be their last time together.
“What are you still doing here?” she asked as she crossed the parking lot, slowly making her way toward him.
All he could picture was her beautiful ass snug in the palm of his hands, her long lean legs wrapped around his hips, and those succulent brown nipples… Fuck, he could still remember their taste. His mouth watered.
Trying to act nonchalant, his sweaty palms fisted inside the pockets of his jeans, he glanced around them. A minivan pulled in and found a spot closer to the back of the lot. A teenage couple came out of the restaurant and ambled over to their bikes they’d left leaning against the old oak tree.
“Like I told the nice officer inside,” he replied, “our ending hasn’t been written yet.” He looked down at her, willing her to hop into his arms and kiss him with reckless abandon.
Just like she used to.
Before he left.
A strange light lit up her eyes, but she shuffled her feet, dropping her gaze to the pavement.
“Tell me about Sophie,” he said.
Her head jerked upright and her dark eyes narrowed. She hesitated a moment too long before she gave a weak shrug. “Nothing to tell.” She jabbed a toe into a crack in the asphalt.
“Aw, come on, Sugar, every mama likes to talk about their kids. And I haven’t been around in three long years.” Three achingly long—where he’d thought of her every one of those damn days—years. “I’d think you’d want to show her off.”
Surprise widened her eyes. She licked her lips. “I liked the name.”
He dragged his gaze away from her mouth and back up to see her reaction. “That was our name, Sugar. We’d picked that out long ago.”
She looked over to the family spilling out of the van, over to the young couple walking their bikes side-by-side down the street, but she wouldn’t land on him for a second.
“Got a picture of her?”
She swallowed heavily. And blinked rapidly. His heart raced, but all the sound and activity around him seemed to slow to an agonizing pace and become thunder in his ears. Her reluctance to say a word was as good as yanking out a photo album.
“I’m good at math, Sugar. And you were never a woman to sleep around.”
“Jax, please. Don’t do this.” She turned pleading eyes up to him. Her bottom lip trembled.
“Hey, Sugar, is he bothering you?” That asshole officer, the one who thought he had a claim on Sugar, strutted over and paused much too close to Sugar for Jax’s comfort.
But Jax didn’t even acknowledge him. He glared at Sugar, doing his best now to reign in his temper.
“I want to meet my daughter, Sugar.”
By Caroline Lee
She hadn’t said anything to his demand; just turned and walked back into the diner. It had taken every ounce of self-control—control that the Marines had taught him—not to follow her. Especially when the cop started to puff up. He started talking shit again, as if he were already dating Sugar or something, and Jax climbed into his rusty pick-up truck to turn over the engine. The guttural roar drowned out the cop’s angry words when the man got too close to the window.
The dude was still standing there in the parking lot like he owned the town when Jax pulled out.
The drive around the lake was always pretty this time of year. He didn’t want to go back to his parents’ house—not now when he had so much to think about. Mom would want to know why he was so distracted and not eating a third piece of pecan pie, and every other place in town was too crowded. But the lake, now—the lake was his special place. Where Dad had taught him and Darren to fish when they were kids, and where he’d taken his prom date to neck after the dance. But sitting there on the levy, with the reflection of the maples turning the water brilliant reds and yellows, Jax knew he’d always associate this place with her. She was the last one here with him, and as far as he was concerned, the most special.
Sugar Pie Dennison had a daughter. He pulled his hands from his jeans’ pockets and ran them across his starting-to-grow-out-again hair. A daughter. That fine-looking woman, who’d snagged him with her humor, her balls, her ingenuity and her loyalty, had gone through a pregnancy, birth, and raising a kid while he was on the other side of the world. She hadn’t been alone—there were more Dennisons around these parts than there were Brandons—but he hadn’t been here with her, and that was rough.
Not that she’d needed him. She’d made it real clear four years back that they were equals, and she could do anything that he could, and didn’t need him swooping into her life to take care of her. But partners supported each other, and it hurt to think that she’d gone through such a life change—it couldn’t have been easy—without him.
Hurt almost as much as thinking that he was the cause. Was Sophie his kid? Lord knew that he and Sugar had talked about kids, about maybe getting married and settling down in one of the white-picket-fenced craftsman homes along Main Street. But then he’d been deployed, and he knew that it was going to be a long time before he got home again, if at all. So many of his buddies hadn’t made it back, or had made it back in pieces, or had refused to go back. But he was lucky; he had the chance to see his family in time for Thanksgiving.
And maybe find a new family.
He started along the path that circled the lake, glad for his Dad’s old “My Son Is A Marine” sweatshirt. It’d been three long years since he’d seen maples this color, or felt the cool nip of an autumn breeze, or smelled this hint of wood smoke. Three long years since he’d held a woman’s dark hand, or thought of the future.
Jax inhaled, liking the way the cold air hit his lungs hard. Sugar had a daughter, and she might be his. He needed to know, to know if he had a future here with her. With them.
One thing’s for certain, they’d be at the Lion’s Club parade on Thursday morning. The whole damn town went, and no mother would deny that to her little one. Sugar and Sophie would be there, and what if the girl didn’t look like him? What if he wasn’t her father? Would it matter? He still wanted Sugar—had wanted her for years—and maybe he was ready to be a daddy.
A hawk circling overhead cried, and Jax sighed. He needed to know, needed to meet Sophie, but wasn’t sure it would change anything. Thanksgiving was only a few days away, and Mrs. Dennison was the best cook in town. But that didn’t mean that he couldn’t invite her daughter—and granddaughter—over for some of Mom’s pie Thursday evening. The parade, the turkey, the pie, the tree-lighting… Yeah, he was lucky to be home in time to celebrate.
And if he played his cards right, he might have more to be thankful for than he could’ve guessed.