Wild Montana Skies | Chapter 21 of 26

Author: Susan May Warren | Submitted by: Maria Garcia | 3032 Views | Add a Review

Please hit next button if you encounter an empty page

16

Daddy.

Audrey had called him that twice in the last hour.

Ben’s heart still rushed to the name, something sweet and bright inside him. And it only grew as she cuddled up on the hospital sofa next to him, settling her head on his shoulder as she fell asleep.

He could hardly believe she’d escaped with only a few bruises. Or that Kacey had only suffered a broken collarbone, a dislocated shoulder, and a few broken ribs.

He glanced at the clock. Nearly an hour she’d been in surgery as the orthopedic surgeon reset the bone in place and attached a plate.

He closed his eyes, which were still burning from the dust of the house. He longed for a shower but had no intention of moving from Kacey’s or Audrey’s sides. Ever.

Audrey shifted beside him, sighing.

He pressed a kiss to her hair, still feeling her hand clutch his as they’d ridden together in the ambulance. “I knew you’d come for me, Daddy.”

He ran a finger under his eye.

“Is she out of surgery yet?”

The voice alerted him, and he steeled himself as he spotted Judge Fairing at the nurse’s desk in the hall.

Thankfully, he hadn’t had to make the call—he’d left that to Sierra, who had clearly taken her time.

Maybe knowing the inevitable collision of wills.

Well, he hadn’t just found them only to lose them again. Ben eased Audrey down onto the sofa and got up, then walked across the room, into the hallway, stretching his neck, his aching back.

Laura stood nearby, listening as the Judge interrogated the staff.

“She’s probably in recovery by now,” Ben said to him.

Robert Fairing turned to him. Unshaven, wearing a sweatshirt and a pair of jeans, he’d never looked so ruffled. But it only took him a second to regroup. “What are you doing here? I thought you would have left with your band.”

“Not my band. Hollie’s band. And good try, but I’m not leaving.”

The Judge’s mouth tightened around the edges. He turned to the nurse on duty. “I’ll be in the waiting room. Let me know when she’s out.”

He glanced at his wife, who followed her husband into the room. Audrey was awake, sitting on the sofa, her knees drawn up. She sprang up when she saw them, went to the Judge, and wrapped her arms around his waist. “Oh, Grandpa, it was just terrible.”

Ben watched as Robert pressed a kiss to the top of her head, a softness on his face that belied his tone in the hallway.

Laura, too, gave her a hug. “I’m so glad you’re okay.”

However they felt about Ben, they clearly loved their granddaughter.

Laura looked over at Ben, then back to Audrey. “Do you need something to eat? There’s a vending machine down the hallway.”

“Really?”

“Just this once.” Laura winked, and Audrey left the room with her.

Judge Fairing turned to Ben. “You know that technically you’re not family. We can forbid you from seeing her.”

Just try it. But Ben managed a tight smile. “I know. For now. But you won’t, because you know that Audrey wouldn’t allow it. Or Kacey.”

“Just because you’ve stuck around to save them doesn’t mean that you’re here for the hard stuff—”

Ben held up his hand. “We’re not doing this again. You cost me thirteen years—”

“I saved you both. Gave you a chance to grow up, find your way. Look at you—you’re a big star. You should be thanking me.”

Funny, he actually sounded serious.

Except . . . Ben blew out a hot breath, schooled his voice. “I will thank you. For taking care of Audrey. For loving her and giving her a good home. And I admit I was an idealistic kid back then, scared, and yeah, I did believe that maybe Kacey was better off without me. Not anymore.”

The Judge shook his head. “You think you know what’s best for her, but—”

“No, I don’t know what’s best for her. And probably Kacey doesn’t either—so we’re going to trust God to figure it out. To put our lives back together. One day at a time. I don’t know what that looks like, but I do know that I’m not going to let my fears—and my mistakes—keep me from being the dad I want to be. The husband I want to be.”

Judge Fairing looked away, walked over to the picture window, where a light shone down over the parking lot.

Ben knew the view—he’d stared at it for a long time after their arrival, praying.

A lot of praying.

God, protect my heart, because I’m giving it to you.

“You can’t blame me for wanting the best for her,” Robert said quietly. “I was just trying to protect her.”

Ben said nothing. Sighed. “Me too.”

Robert turned then, met his eyes. “Kacey—and Audrey—are my entire life.”

“Again. Me too.” He refused to look away and met the Judge’s gaze without flinching.

“What about your music career? Your tours. Nashville.”

He took a breath. “I’ve been kidding myself for a decade. There is no music career without Kacey. Not one worth having. I love her and Audrey, and if that means giving it all up—I will. My dad is here. Audrey is here. And I’m hoping I can convince Kacey to stay too.”

“She will, Dad.”

Audrey stood in the doorway, holding a Snickers. “She loves you. She just doesn’t want to destroy what you worked so hard for.”

“That’s the thing, Audrey.” He came over to her. “It all doesn’t matter if you don’t have someone to work hard for.” He took her by the shoulders. “Someone who you love to sing to.”

He kissed her forehead, and she grinned.

“But . . . this old geezer, as Hollie likes to call me, still has a few tricks up his sleeve.”

“Really?”

“You can tweet that, if you’d like. Hashtag new release from Benjamin King.”

She pulled out her phone, and he laughed.

A nurse opened the door. “Judge Fairing, your daughter is in recovery and coming around.”

Audrey turned to go, but Ben shot a look at Robert. The Judge hesitated a moment, then finally nodded.

Ben followed them into the room, watched as Laura kissed Kacey’s forehead. Kacey was just rousing from the anesthetic. Her face was battered, her shoulder wrapped, an IV plugged into her hand.

She appeared so fragile and sunken into the bed that his heart just about broke in half. He put a hand to the railing to brace himself.

“Audrey?”

“Right here, Mom.” Audrey grabbed her hand. “And Dad’s here too.”

The word, so natural coming out of Audrey’s mouth.

He stepped up to the other side of the bed. “Hey, beautiful.”

She opened her eyes, found his, and managed a febrile smile. “You’re here.”

“Of course I am. And I’ll be here when you wake up, for the rest of your life, if you’ll have me.”

She blinked, licked her lips. “Is that a proposal?”

He had her hand, now rubbed his thumb against hers. “Well, I already proposed once, so maybe it’s just a reminder.”

“I’ll have you,” she said softly, her lips tilting.

He pressed her hand to his mouth, then leaned over and gave her a soft, quick kiss.

When he moved away, she looked past him, to her father. “Daddy.”

“Hey, honey.” He touched her leg, squeezed. “We’ll take Audrey home. You need to get some rest.”

She nodded, and Audrey leaned over, kissed her good-bye. “I’ll be back in the morning.”

Kacey formed a smile until they left the room. Then she looked at Ben, and her expression seemed, for a moment, stripped.

“I was lying there, in all that blackness, and . . . I thought I heard you singing. But it wasn’t you, and it wasn’t Audrey . . . But I felt as if—as if someone were with me. That I wasn’t alone.”

“You weren’t alone.” He kissed her hand again.

“But I mean—”

“I know what you mean, Kacey. I knew it as soon as the dust cleared and I saw you lying there—God crashed down the house to show me where you were. And maybe that’s his MO—using the debris of our mistakes to show us how he can save us, rescue us from our dark places. We just have to have that crazy faith that he’ll do it, despite our mistakes, our fears, even our pride.”

She bore so much hope in her eyes, he couldn’t help but lean down, kiss her again softly. “I love you so much, I feel like I need to shout.”

“I love you too.” She sighed. “I’m so tired, but I don’t want to sleep.”

“Shh, babe. It’ll be okay. I’ll be right here when you wake up.” Ben hooked a chair with his foot, drew it over. “Let me sing you a little song I just finished. I think you’ll like it.”

He started to hum.

“I think I know this one,” she said quietly. “It’s one of my favorites.”

He sat, so much emotion in his chest he couldn’t breathe. “Yeah, you do. You’ve always known it. But it took me a while to finally find the ending. I borrowed a little from Audrey’s song. See if you like it.”

Years gone by, my eyes are dry

But the echo of my heart won’t tell a lie

I’m coming home to the one I love

Second chances, given from above

When you need a friend

A shoulder you can cry on

Someone who understands what you’re going through

Just look over here, see me standing closer

I never knew a love like this . . . ’til there was you.

divider

“Just this once, Audrey. Don’t get used to this—it’s a school night.” Kacey lifted a hand to Gina behind the bar of the Gray Pony. “Can we get a refill on the root beer?” She passed the mug over to Gina, who filled it from the tap.

Audrey sat on the bar stool next to her. Gina handed her the mug.

“Your guys ordered some calamari. I’m slammed. Can you bring it back to them?”

Kacey glanced to the stage, where a hopeful crooner played a ballad about country roads and going home. Clearly influenced heavily by his mentor.

“Yep, I have time.”

“Great. It’ll be right out,” she said.

The smells of grilling burgers, tangy barbecue, and crunchy fries swelled out from the kitchen as Gina opened the swinging door.

“I think you should homeschool me so I can go on tour with Dad next year,” Audrey said.

“We’ll see. We have the entire summer ahead of us to negotiate.”

But she and Ben had already had that conversation about next summer, and it included a large custom bus with a bedroom for Audrey.

Their daughter was already pushing for a winter wedding.

She noticed Audrey glance back, over her shoulder, and followed the glance to spot Nate sitting nearby with his parents.

Interesting.

Gina returned with the calamari.

“Stay here, I’ll be right back,” Kacey said. “Save my seat.” Because, well, that was exactly where Ben would look the minute he took the stage.

The crowd parted for her—thanks to her sling. The private-ticket-only event had the entire town of Mercy Falls buzzing.

It wasn’t every day that Nashville picked up and moved to the shadow of Glacier National Park, decided to set up a studio. Ben had already cut his first track, a love song she’d helped title.

In fact, one could say she’d provided inspiration for the entire thing.

She set the calamari on a table in an alcove by the door, in a rounded booth reserved for her cohorts. Ty, in his cowboy hat and designer boots, pulled the calamari toward him. “I love these rubbery things.”

“Squid, Ty.”

He waved the curly deep-fried appetizer at her, wearing a rare smile.

Recovery had given her time to review the details of Chet and Ty’s chopper accident—no wonder Ty struggled to climb back in the cockpit.

But her accident had given him the nudge he’d needed to use the simulator. PEAK Rescue just might have a pilot back in the cockpit sooner rather than later.

Once her request for separation from the military came through and her reserve status was confirmed, she could put together a training schedule for both of them.

“Bull’s-eye!” Pete’s voice rang out over the crowd from where he and Gage waged a war with the darts.

Next to Ty, Jess was thumbing through pictures on her cell, showing them to Sierra.

“What are you looking at?” Kacey asked.

“Sierra’s got some ideas on how to remodel the kitchen.”

“I think you need to finish one of the bedrooms first.” This from Sam, who had returned from the bar with his order of nachos. He set the food on the table, slid in next to Sierra.

Sierra glanced up at him, something warm in her expression.

Interesting.

Especially since Kacey had seen Ian at the bar, talking with a pretty, crunchy-granola park worker.

Miles came in, holding Kelli’s hand, making a way for her and her pregnant belly through the crowd. He helped her off with her jacket, and Sam moved in to make a space for her. Miles turned the chair at the table around backward, straddled it. “Did we miss anything?”

She glanced toward the stage, over the heads, and saw the warm-up singer just finishing.

“No, but I need to get back to my seat.”

“What are you, Benjamin King’s good luck charm?” Jess said.

“Something like that.” She added a wink. Then worked her way back to the front. Slid into the high-top seat at the bar.

Audrey’s was empty.

“She said to tell you that she’d be right back,” Gina said. “She has a surprise.”

But that’s when the lights dimmed from somewhere onstage, and a low, deep voice spoke softly into the mic. “Are you ready to get this party started?”

It was Ben’s voice, low and rumbly, and a shiver thrilled under her skin. Her man knew how to put on a show.

From the lonely stage, out of the darkness, a quick guitar lick twined through the air. A fast country flavor, the Benjamin King signature.

The crowd cheered and the lights flicked up.

Kacey’s mouth dropped open when she saw Audrey standing onstage, her beautiful new guitar over her shoulder. She was dressed in a new pair of boots, a fringed black dress, and her own cowboy hat, her beautiful chestnut hair long and in waves.

Clearly, Audrey had been the musician, her hands still poised on her guitar, her smile wide as she looked over at her mother.

“Sorry. That was planned,” Gina said.

Kacey could only shake her head, grinning.

Then Ben stepped up to the mic, wearing his signature Stetson, hair curling out the back, jeans, a black Mercy Falls Mavericks T-shirt, and her dog tags hanging from around his neck.

“Hey, Mercy Falls! Thanks for having us tonight. I’d like to introduce you to my newest act—the beautiful and talented Audrey Fairing!”

To the applause, Audrey played another lick, this one longer, raising the applause of the audience.

So this was what she and Ben had been up to all those days, killing time at his house while she’d been recuperating or reading up on past SAR missions.

And here, Kacey had thought she’d been only getting to know her grandfather, helping him with his PT, and playing with Jubal, the dog she’d immediately adopted as her own.

Audrey found Kacey’s gaze again, her eyes sparkling. Then, she stepped up to the mic. “Actually, the name is Audrey King.” She turned to her father, her eyes bright.

He wore so much joy in his face, Kacey had to blink away the moisture in her eyes. Her own heart was so full, so whole, she could hardly breathe.

Then Ben joined his daughter in a final, quick solo, a grand flourish at the end.

The crowd came to their feet as Audrey parked her guitar and hopped offstage.

“What did you think, Mom?”

“Like father, like daughter,” Kacey said, taking Audrey’s face in her hands. “I’m so proud to be your mother.”

Then she kissed her forehead.

Audrey climbed onto the stool as Ben took the mic again.

“Tonight’s a very special night. Most of you know, my dad was in an accident a few months ago. He’s back on his feet, but it helped me realize it was time to come home.”

A hand on her shoulder made her turn. Chet stood behind her, leaning heavily on his crutches.

She slid off the stool. “What are you doing here?”

He raised an eyebrow. “Came to see my son sing, of course.” A man at a nearby table vacated his chair, and Chet eased himself into it. “Thought it was time.”

She glanced to the stage, and Ben was watching them, wearing an expression she couldn’t place. For a second, a muscle pulled on his face, emotion rising in his eyes.

He cleared his throat. “So tonight I’m here to give you back what you gave me. A home. A family. A song to sing. And by the way, I’ll be stickin’ around—because I’m starting my new label right here in Mercy Falls. It’s called Mountain Song Records.”

Cheers, and he lifted his hand to quiet the crowd. “But the real reason I’m back is to marry the girl I’ve always loved. Kacey Fairing. This song is for her.” He lowered his voice, something husky in his tone. “It’s called ‘Kiss Me.’”

A few hoots from the crowd, and her face heated.

Ben strummed the first few bars of his song, then looked up, his beautiful blue eyes finding her in the audience.

And then it was just him and her, the world slowing as his song reached out to twine around her, capture her, reel her in.

Bring her home.

Comments

user comment image
Alice
Great book, nicely written and thank you BooksVooks for uploading

Share your Thoughts for Wild Montana Skies

500+ SHARES Facebook Twitter Reddit Google LinkedIn Email
Share Button
Share Button