Chapter Twenty-Four ~
The next morning came all too quickly. Amy hadn't slept well. She tossed and turned most of the night, only falling asleep as the first light peaked through the blinds at the window.
The tinkling of silverware woke her out of her light sleep, and she threw on a pair of the jeans and one of the t-shirts Jude picked up at the local Wal-Mart last night. He'd brought her several pairs of jeans, some pretty neon-colored tees, a pair of shoes, and some odds-and-ends-type stuff.
She scooted into new house shoes and dragged her feet all the way down the steps.
The smell of coffee perked her up, even though she rarely drank it. She scooted right past it, and to the refrigerator, where she grabbed a cold Dr. Pepper and plopped tiredly down on one of the barstools at the counter. "Jude, how can you possibly be so happy in the morning?" She asked in disgust. It wasn't a good morning at all.
"It's a beautiful morning. The sun's shining and it's warm and windy, perfect fishing weather."
"I thought you guys were leaving today."
"We probably are, but not until later in the day. Jackson has to set it up before we go." He slapped a plate with bacon, eggs, biscuits and gravy on the counter in front of her and ordered tersely, "Eat before you dry up and blow away."
"Whatever, I doubt I'm gonna dry up and blow away anytime soon." She picked up a piece of bacon and doused it with gravy before poking it in her mouth and moaning in pleasure. “This is awesome.”
He laughed just as Jackson came out of his room and walked into the kitchen. He gave them both a look that would kill if it could, and groused, "Why are you two up so early?"
Amy was sure she heard a little suspicion in his voice, and she looked at him questioningly. "Did Daddy wake up on the wrong side of the bed?"
"No, Daddy didn't wake up on the wrong side of the bed." He sounded snotty and childish; not at all what she was used to.
"Wow man, what's up with you this morning?" Jude had a puzzled look on his face.
"Oh, I don't know, how about the fact I come out here at five-thirty in the morning and find my new friend flirting with my nanny?"
"She's your nanny, huh? I thought she was the kids' nanny.” Jude gave a quirky grin. "I didn't know you had exclusive rights to her, man. I'll step back. I didn't know it was like that." He finished on a full-throated guffaw.
"What are you talking about? You're not making sense."
"Man, it's obvious you got it bad for the babysitter. You should've told me and I wouldn't have stepped on your toes." He winked at Amy and she felt her face burning in embarrassment.
"Jackson doesn't like me like that. He's my employer.”
"You're not that blind are you, girlie? He's so struck on you I bet he can't see for all the stars in his eyes." Jude used a fake-romantic voice and batted his long, blond eyelashes.
Jackson shoved Jude up against the refrigerator with a handful of his shirt fisted and twisted at his neck. "You can stop it right now, man. If and when I want to take my relationship with my nanny to a new level, I will be the one to tell her, not some big, dumb oaf who has the manners of a...a...elephant."
Amy teared-up and ran from the kitchen in embarrassment.
Jackson shoved Jude up against the fridge again and said, "Now look what you've done." He strode out of the room after the nanny he was sure he was in love with.
Jackson got to the top of the steps just as Amy made it to her room and slammed the door. The whole house would be awake now. He rushed to the door and tapped on it lightly. "Amy come out, Jude was just being Jude. He doesn't mean anything by it."
"Go away. You guys have used me for your amusement enough for one day." She sniffled loudly. Jackson pictured her bright, blue-gray eyes moist with tears, and his heart turned over in his chest.
"Come on honey, open the door. I want to talk to you."
"Jackson, please just go away." She sniffled again.
Jackson stood there for a second in indecision before he turned and strode down the hall and practically jumped the whole set of stairs to get back to the kitchen and his reason for being angry.
He rounded the doorway and practically ran into a wall of Scott and Otis. "You've got to be kidding me. How could you possibly be on his side? He made her cry." He accused childishly.
"Are you addled? It wasn't Jude that made her cry, it was you. It's plain as the nose on your face the girl's in love with you, and you just spurned her publically." Otis told him with a look of disgust on his wrinkled face.
Jackson stepped back as if he'd been slapped, with his mouth hanging open.
Jude said, "Man, you better shut your mouth before a fly gets in."
Jackson flailed his arms, trying to get past Scott and Otis. "You're just asking for it." He harped loudly.
The three other men laughed out loud, and that made Jackson even angrier. "Enough!" He yelled so loudly the sound reverberated throughout the kitchen. Teenie started to wail and the pitter-patter of two children’s feet could be heard on the wood floor as Angie and Benji came running in to see what was wrong.
Amy came barreling down the steps to grab the baby and ran right into Jackson as he was going to do the same. "Ouch, watch where you're going you big galoot."
Jackson grabbed her gently by the upper arms and propelled her over to the front door. He said, "Scott, will you get the baby for me, please?" He guided Amy out the door and onto the deck.
As soon as the door shut his mouth crushed down on hers so hard she lost her breath. She immediately began to feel things she knew she shouldn't be experiencing. Her hands were in his hair, pulling him down closer before she even realized she'd moved. With strength only acquired from God, Amy jerked away from him and slapped him full in the face.
He pulled back with a look of surprise before he said in a half-whisper, "I love you Amy. You are way more to me than just a nanny."
"I love you too." She put her hand over the welt-mark on his cheek.
His hand came up and covered hers. "I'm sorry I kissed you. I should’ve asked, but I've been holding that back since about five minutes after I met you."
"Jackson, I'm a Christian woman. I don't go around kissing men I'm not married to."
"Then let's go get married."
Amy gasped in amazement. "You can't be serious."
"Oh, but I am. I've never been more serious about anything." His face began to descend toward hers again.
Amy's hand came up, ready to slap him again, and he grinned tenderly. "We need to get married fast."
"I don't know what to say."
"Say you'll marry me. We'll get one of these backwoods pastors to hitch us up." He said in an attempt to sound like a hillbilly.
Amy laughed nervously. She looked toward the door and burst out laughing for real. There were three male heads trying to stay hidden as they peeked out the blinds. She pointed toward the door, and when Jackson turned to look, the blinds closed, but not quickly enough.
"Okay you rats, get out here. If you want to be nosy, the least you could do is help me out.”
The door opened, and they stepped out with Angie and Benji close on their heels. Scott had baby Teenie cradled in his arms with a bottle shoved in her mouth. He slammed into Otis's back when he stopped ahead of him abruptly.
"Watch out man, I got the baby." He said protectively.
"I'm having a hard time picturing you guys as the men who protect the lives of Americans." Amy giggled. She swung Benji up in her arms and took Angie by the hand. "Come on you guys let's go get you some breakfast." She took them back in the house.
The gaggle of men followed closely behind. "Amy, you never gave Jackson an answer." Her brother said sullenly.
They all stopped and stared at her expectantly. Teenie picked that moment to let out a loud wail of anger because Scott had gotten preoccupied and let the bottle fall out of her mouth.
All the men jumped and Amy said, "That's my answer." She went into the kitchen to dish the children’s plates, the men on her heels.
She stopped in the middle of the floor, looked at Jackson and said, "I'll marry you."
Jackson rushed over to grab her and her hand came up at the ready. He stepped back quickly, like a little boy caught with his hand in the cookie jar. "I want to give you a hug, at least."
"There will be plenty of opportunity when we're married. Now run along and find that pastor."
"Whew, she's already giving orders Jackson, you sure you ain't already married?" Jude teased.
"Not yet, but we will be before the day's out, if I can find a preacher."
"I'm a pastor." Otis said as he stepped forward.
"Oh, you are not." Scott laughed.
"I most assuredly am, Lad. I got ordained when I was thirty-two years of age." He pulled his wallet out and retrieved a little card. He handed it to Jackson to peruse with a grin on his wrinkled face.
"Well, this says you are." Jackson replied. "You're full of surprises, aren't you friend?"
"I am full of surprises. That's what makes me so good at my job. If you two want to get married, I can perform a ceremony, but you'll need a marriage license first. A ceremony without the license isn't binding.”
"Jude, was there a courthouse in town?" Jackson asked quickly. There were guffaws all around the room.
"I didn't see one, but then, I wasn't looking for one." He answered. "Do you want me to go see?"
"No. If you guys will stay here, Amy and I will go into town and look for one."
"I'll stay and watch the kids." Scott quickly put in.
"It seems Amy isn't the only nanny-material in the family." Otis intoned.
Amy was happy at that moment. She knew no matter what, these men would protect her with their life. "There's nothing wrong with liking kids Scott, and don't let these brutes tell you otherwise."
"I know. I just didn't realize how much I wanted one until I got my own. Being around these three just brings it home, ya know?" He gestured toward the baby in his arms.
"I know, how could one help but fall in love with these precious angels?" Amy walked over and brushed a kiss across Teenie's tiny little cheek.
"Amy, do you want to go try to find a courthouse now, or wait until this is all over?" Jackson asked.
"Oh, I definitely want to go right now. I don't want to give you time to change your mind." She walked over to the bar and picked up her wallet. "How did you get my wallet, anyway? You never told me."
"Otis went and got it for me. He's the least suspicious of us.”
"But when did he go get it? I don't remember him leaving.” She persisted.
"Do you remember when I asked Scott to watch the kids so we could go do target practice?" When she shook her head he went on, "I sent Otis and Jude to go get your wallet. I didn't know how long we'd be down here and I knew you might need it. That's the 'real' fishing they were doing."
"But why didn't you just have them get some of my stuff from the house instead of buying all new stuff?"
"I didn't want them going through your personal belongings, okay? Does that make you happy? I was jealous." He threw his hands up in exasperation.
That got more laughs from the men, and a warm, cozy feeling for Amy. She was glad he felt jealous, even though she figured it was probably wrong to feel that way. She determined to pray about it later.
"Okay then, let's go get a marriage license." She put her arm through Jackson's and practically pulled him out the door.
A couple minutes later Amy and Jackson were traveling down the road toward town while a man with a scar on his face watched through binoculars from high up in a tree across the street from the cabin. He laughed sinisterly as he watched them go. He wouldn't make his move until the men were gone, but make his move he would. Jacob Walsh had called him earlier and told him what they were planning. He would be ready to make his move as soon as they left.