Chapter Nine ~
Janna realized her heart was racing and brought her attention away from the door to reflect for a moment. Why was it racing? Oh yeah, cute guy. What was his name again? Jason? No, that wasn’t it. She smacked her head, and then groaned. “I think it started with a J. It’s something long and sounds biblical,” she mused in a loud whisper. “Oh yeah, Jedidiah, that’s it.” Her gaze moved around the room once more and lit on the little boy lying in the baby bed. The memories came flooding back and she sobbed, tears rushing from her eyes like a tidal wave. “Poor baby.” She wiped her eyes and pulled her shoulders back against the white sheet of her own hospital bed. “Don’t worry little guy, JaJa will take care of you.”
Jedidiah stood in the doorway not making a sound as he watched her talk in a soft voice to the sleeping child. A pain rushed from his feet to his heart and he gasped. Her eyes flew to the door where he stood.
“Ah, thank you. My throat is so dry,” She croaked with a wan smile.
He walked into the room and handed her the tall Styrofoam soda cup he’d bought. “I hope you like Coke because that’s what they had.” He smiled and fell into the chair beside her bed, trying not to concentrate on his reaction to her.
She wrinkled her cute, upturned nose and said, “I’m not especially fond of it but it’ll do in a pinch, thank you.”
It was his turn to clear his throat and hem- haw around as he busied his hands getting out the food. “I uh…I…” He looked up at her and she was laughing slightly.
“You can stop already. I know my brother sent you to protect me.”
His mouth fell open. “You do? How?”
“I know my brother.” She accepted the wrapped sandwich he handed her and continued, “I guess I should be irritated that he thinks I’m that dumb.”
He raised his eyebrows in question.
“Mr. America-type guy just happens to show up in this small town right around the time he gets sent overseas and just ‘happens’ to run into me with an adorable German Shepherd? Definitely not a coincidence. Besides, the prison called to let me know he was being released early. They do that now, you know.”
“Oh yeah, I forgot about that.” He rubbed his stubbly chin. “You aren’t mad that he hired me to watch over you?” He heard the disbelief in his voice and cringed a bit. He didn’t want her to think he didn’t trust her.
“I was, until the storm. I mean, if you hadn’t come looking for me it’s hard telling how long it would’ve taken them to find us, if they even would’ve.”
A slow smile spread across his face. “I suppose you’re right. I guess I can tell you now that I went to your house and put all your food on ice…I even fed that monster in your bedroom.”
She began shaking her head up and down… “I see. That must be where you acquired those nasty scratches. Maybe my brother should’ve sent someone else for the job, I mean, if a cat can get the best of you…” Her voice trailed off and she laughed, the sound like water tinkling in a dry riverbed.
Oh brother, you got it bad, he told himself with a disgusted shake of his head.
“Are you okay?” Concern tinged her voice.
His stomach turned-over. The sudden urge to rush over and pull her into his embrace was almost more than he could bear. Stop it already, you aren’t a randy teenager. He sat up straight. “Yes, I’m fine.” He pulled his sandwich out of the wrapper and took a huge bite, hoping to get the conversation on a more impersonal note, but his throat was constricted and he gagged, and then choked, and was forced to get up and rush to the bathroom in the corner to spit it out.
Her laughter behind him was his undoing. He was still gagging and spluttering, but that didn’t stop his silly mind from laughing like an idiot, which made him choke more.
“Are you okay, Jedidiah?”
His heart flipped again, which effectively stopped his schoolboy laughter. His name falling off her lips warmed him to his toes. Ugh, what is wrong with me? I get around a beautiful woman and I go all crazy teenager? But he knew better. He was around beautiful women all the time and this didn’t happen. Case in point: The two women at the department store hadn’t gotten any attention from him but disdain…
“Jedidiah?” Her tone was more frantic now.
He was finally able to respond with, “I’m fine. I guess I’m a little more tired than I thought.” He rubbed his hand across his brow to prove his point.
“You don’t have to stay here with me. Go home and get some rest.”
“I might just do that in a bit. I have to feed Hairy, anyway.”
“Where is he?
“He’s out in the car.”
She sat up, her hands flailing, sending sandwich one way and the fry container he’d handed her the other way.
He jumped up to assist her. “What’s wrong?” He grabbed her hands in his, rubbed them, looking down at her in agitated worry.
“I’m fine. I can’t believe you would leave the dog out in the car as hot as it is outside.”
Her lip jutted out in anger and his traitorous stomach flipped again. He wanted to… “No!” He yelled out loud, not meaning to.
She jumped back in alarm, looking at him as if he’d grown horns.
That’s when he realized he’d spoken out loud. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to say that out loud.”
“What were you talking about, then?”
“Nothing, I was talking to myself, I really am sorry.” He backed up and flopped in his chair. He’d never reacted to anyone like this in his life. He had to admit, at least to himself, that he had a mountain-size crush on this little beauty. He needed to get things on a better footing or he would be forced to leave and give the job to someone else. He couldn’t protect her if his mind was pre-occupied with her beauty and that barely perceptible smell of citrus…
She was calling him. His eyes jerked toward her face. “What?”
“I think you need to see the doctor.”
“I think I do, too.” He shook his head, trying to clear it. What kind of monster was he, anyway? She’d just been in a catastrophic tornado. She’d lost her best friend, broken her arm and been left the guardian of a small child. She didn’t need him wigging-out on her, too.
“I’m going to call the nurse.” She twisted to the side, maneuvering her good arm around to pick up the call button.
He held up both hands. “No, I’m okay. I just need some sleep.”
Her thumb stopped in mid-push. “Are you sure? I can’t have my body guard dying on me, now.”
“I’m sure. I’ll finish my sandwich and fries and then I’ll go home and get some sleep, I promise.”
She crinkled her eyes at him, seeming to be sizing him up.
“I will,” He repeated.
“Okay, then. You need to get your dog out of this heat, anyway.”
“He can get out of the car if he wants to. He’s very smart. If he gets too hot he’ll jump out and get in the shade.”
She seemed uncertain. He wasn’t used to people not trusting him. He was used to everyone turning to him for their survival. He was the man. But now some tiny, beautiful…irritating woman was making him feel less of himself than he had in a long time. That might be a good thing. “Yes, really. You’ll find out in time that I’m a lot of things, but a liar isn’t one of them.” He smiled, took the last bite of his sandwich and stood to leave. “I’ll be back later on. Do you need me to bring anything back?”
For a minute, he was sure he noted panic in her eyes. “I can stay…” He moved to sit back down.
“No, it’s fine. You could bring me some clothes.” Tears jumped to her beautiful eyes again. I don’t think he has any left.” Her eyes switched to the little boy in the crib.
“What size is he? I’ll grab him something.”
“I think he’s about a 4T.”
He was glad she hadn’t turned him down flat. The boy needed clothes. “Okey-dokey. I’ll be back later.” Before he could stop himself he was at her bedside, his lips on her forehead. It was warm and dry.
When he pulled away, she was staring at him in bewilderment. “Why did you do that?”
“I don’t know.” He turned and strode from the room like the hounds of hell were on his heels.