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

By: Cristin Harber


Noah swallowed the unexpected burst of pain in his throat. “If we’re being honest, I have a few tricks up my sleeve.”

Teagan laughed, and thank God he did too. He didn’t want to tear up in front of a woman he barely knew. But she had been on the forefront of a battle that he hadn’t been able to wage in person.

Noah tipped his head back and looked at the sky, letting the cool northwest breeze blow over him. He smiled into the sun as it warmed his face for a moment, before he looked back at Teagan. “Thank you. From a Navy SEAL to a… soldier of, I don’t know, social work. Thank you.”

Her forehead scrunched. “You’re welcome?”

He got a kick out of her. He glanced sideways at her smirk, and they cracked up. Letting loose, just knowing that he could hurt and still find amusement in life’s everyday silliness, felt great.

“You’ve had the most honest reaction to my guardianship. Everyone is a cheerleader.” Family and friends had promised that it would be all right, explaining that if anyone could persevere through a transition like this, he could.

“They mean well. I meant well.”

He scrubbed a hand over his face. “People say that no one knows what they’re doing, and that she’s so smart, that whatever I screw up, she’ll pick up the slack. But this?” He blew out, shaking his head. “This is next level.”

A yellow school bus rounded the corner, and Noah’s heart thundered in his chest as it had the first time he’d buckled in for a simulated helicopter crash into dark water. He knew he was strapped tight, that impact wouldn’t be that bad, but the Navy had programmed their crash to gyrate and twist as rushing water filled the small space. He’d escape, he’d survive, but it might be hell on the way.

Teagan touched his arm, tapping him twice as his high school football coach had done. “If you need a helping hand, I’m handy.”

The school bus came to a stop, and that was what he needed—not his friends, parents, or bloggers sharing advice and answering questions. He needed help. Why did it take until this moment for him to realize what he knew instinctively on the job? The most complicated tasks needed teamwork.

The yellow doors at the front of the bus angled open, and his pink-and-glitter niece descended the two stairs in one jump before landing on the sidewalk with a little boy protectively coming up behind her.

“Thanks,” he said. “I could use the occasional teammate.” Because it was game on as the biggest of life changers ran toward him with open arms.





CHAPTER TWO



Teagan’s fingers curled around the purse strap as if it was a lifeline. She’d known every person who had cared for the little girl while Lainey had been sick, and after she passed. Teagan and Noah had just had their tense moment. The day was chock-full of emotion and the unknown, and she couldn’t be a tenth as uncertain as Noah was right now. Still, she worried whether Noah was the right man for the job.

“Uncle Noah!” Bella’s bright eyes and exuberant smile showed no hesitation, despite the reason he was here, as she bound from the school bus and skipped, with Will warily remaining close. Like mother, like son. He too didn’t want Bella’s life to have any more hiccups.

Though it wasn’t as if Virginia and Michael could continue to care for Bella. The Strams were older, and with Michael’s hearing fading and their mobility slowing down, everyone had decided while Lainey was still healthy and active that Bella’s grandparents shouldn’t be the primary caretakers for the long term. They would keep Bella only while Lainey went to hospice and then until Noah could come home.

Will hung back and let his best friend go as Bella jumped into Noah’s arms. The uncle-niece reunion       was sweet, though Will didn’t seem interested, and Teagan motioned for him to come closer as she walked toward her son, stopping just off the driveway, in the thick green grass where Bella and Noah had crouched. Teagan kissed the top of Will’s head. “Hey, baby. How was your day?”

“Fine.”

“What’d you do?” She wrapped her arm around his shoulder, embracing him, but he was as rigid as a white pine.