Noah (7 Brides for 7 Soldiers Book 6)(2)

By: Cristin Harber


“You didn’t talk to your dad?”

“No, dammit. I called you first. I always call you first.”

“I’m sick, Noah,” she whispered.

Exasperated, his forehead furrowed. “So, you get sick. You’re a nurse. You’re around kids all the time. They’re little germ magnets. You’re bound to get—”

“No, I really am, and I should have known better. Because I am a nurse. Because I ignored signs and symptoms—”

“Lainey, stop.” The tension in his temples froze, and his tired muscles stiffened. “What are you talking about?”

“I have cancer, Noah. Late-stage cancer.”

A knot formed in his throat. Breathing through the pain seemed harder to survive than his op covert op in Serbia just forty-eight hours ago under the worst of circumstances. That job had been nearly mission impossible but deemed critical. He’d attacked the problem and won. “You fight it. Right? There’s medicines, right? Like chemo and radiation. Surgery.” He didn’t even know what kind of cancer, but it sounded as though she’d already given up. “This isn’t a death sentence.”

“There are a lot of things I wish I had done differently. But more than anything, I need to talk to you about Bella. Can you come home? I can’t do this over the phone, and not at work.”

He pinched the bridge of his nose as his eyes seared, and he rolled his lips together. Lainey was his cousin, but they had been raised as though they were twins. His dad and her mom were fraternal twins, and Lainey and Noah were born so close together that with a family this close-knit, she seemed more like his sister than his cousin.

“I’m not coming home to plan your death and how to help Bella.”

Lainey sniffled. “Of course you are, Noah. You’re a Navy SEAL. You’re my protector. This is who you are.”





CHAPTER ONE



October

Eagle’s Ridge, Washington State



Noah hit the ground running that morning. As soon as he landed at Eagle’s Ridge Airport, he had a list of action items to complete within certain time frames.

First, he swung by his parents’ house for all the necessary hugs and catching up, promising his Aunt Virginia, Bella’s grandma, that the last of her bags would be stowed safely in her own home by lunchtime. Noah checked that off his list before eleven in the morning.

He hit the grocery store, moving down the aisle as though he was on orders, grabbing essentials, even though Aunt Virginia had said she’d left plenty in the fridge and cupboards for him to cook. Noah was taking no chances. He had a plan, and that revolved around preparing recipes that were fast, reliable, and things he knew how to cook. As much as his aunt loved baked cinnamon apples as a side dish with dinner, if she left apples, they would eat them as apples were normally eaten—by biting into them.

Now, everything had been checked off his list—homecoming with minimal fanfare, groceries purchased and put up where he thought they should go, and a quick pit stop at Westbrook Real Estate to pick up the keys to Nuts and Bolts Auto Garage.

He was home an hour earlier than he’d expected. That was a good thing since Zane and Adam, the twins from high school, had stopped in to catch up since the last time he was in town. Noah needed the distraction. The closer his watch ticked to the time Bella would arrive home on the school bus, the more anxious he became.

The guys caught him up on friends they had in common, and Noah gave them a tour of Lainey’s house. They all stared into Bella’s glittery pink bedroom as if it might sprout the same ghost and goblin heads that were starting to pop up throughout Eagle’s Ridge, announcing the start of the Halloween season.

“Dude, are you sweating?” Zane chuckled as he leaned against a wall decorated with vinyl star stickers.

“Of course he’s sweating,” Adam cracked. “What does he know about raising a kid?”

“Enough.” But the tension knot at the back of his neck called BS.

Zane walked to a bookshelf, picked up a reading primer, and held up the cover, which showed a giraffe wearing ballet shoes. “Noah looks like he’s been thrown into a war zone without training.”