Long for MeBy: Shiloh Walker
Thanks to all of my readers. You all make this so worthwhile. Thanks to my editor Monique, for taking a chance on me. Thanks to Aemelia for the early feedback for the series. Teresa, thanks for the last minute crash read! And thank you so much to my family, for the love and support. You’re my world. I thank God for you.
For the first time in her life, Christina Nichole Bell thought the smell of the flowers perfuming the air might make her ill.
The small church where her parents had married wasn’t large enough for this.
They’d thought it would just be the family and a few friends, but there were so many people, the doors were flung open and people had gathered outside to pay their respects.
So many had brought flowers.
Sweat gathered at the nape of her neck, but she was freezing.
Sitting in the front pew, she tried not to cry as she stared at the pictures of her mom, of her as a child, of her brother and sister, her dad; nearly a dozen freestanding images, all blown up to show Nichole as she’d been in life.
She’s really gone.
For fifteen years, she’d waited.
Deep inside, she’d known. They all had. Mom wouldn’t have left them.
But she’d fostered that hope.
Now it was gone.
A harsh gasp left her.
Jensen reached over and caught her hand, but that light touch wasn’t the comfort her sister probably wanted it to be.
There was a band around her chest, tight and powerful, constricting her breaths. She almost bolted up from the seat in the middle of the service as the pastor’s voice, usually so calming, continued to drone on. Today Mike Channing’s voice was more like a gnat’s and she couldn’t understand anything he said. Couldn’t understand anything—
Blindly, she swung her head around, found herself caught in Guy Miller’s dark gray eyes. “When…” She licked her lips, cleared her throat, and tried to lower her shaking voice. She’d saved him a seat, although more than once she’d almost given up waiting. “When did you get here?”
“Just now.” He had a grim look on his face as the voices around them started to rise, a dull roar of whispers. He reached up and touched her cheek. “Breathe, Tink.”
Obediently, she opened her mouth and sucked in a breath of air.
The ache in her chest lessened and she reached up, rubbed the heel of her hand across her breastbone. He crooked a smile at her and then settled back against the seat, staring straight ahead.
She wished she could relax as easily as that.
She could breathe again—it helped to actually take breaths and blow them out, something she was having trouble doing right now. Absently, she reached into her pocket and pulled out a rubber band. A habit instilled in her as a child and one she still hadn’t broken. She slid the rubber band over her wrist and snapped it. Breathe.
In a minute or two, she’d do it again. Yeah, she had to breathe more often than that, but when she was stressing—and she was stressing so hard right now—she needed that extra feedback.
Feeling the heavy weight of her sister’s concerned gaze, she made herself stare straight ahead. Mike’s words still weren’t connecting in her head. She stared at the flowers. They were pretty. Other than the display she’d placed in the middle, between her parents’ wedding picture and then the one they’d taken that last summer of them all at a picnic down near the river, Chris hadn’t done any of the displays.
Tacky. No. That would be so tacky.
Her thoughts bounced around madly, zigzagging from one topic to another. Absolutely that would be insane to be doing the arrangements, but she hadn’t gotten any local orders in the past few days either. That kind of made her wonder if somebody had been messing with the messages on her phone. She’d have to check.
Needed to check on that. Her stock. Her bills. Fuck, her mom—
Tears burned her eyes as she stared at one of the pictures, one of her with her arms wrapped around her mother’s neck. She’d been eight.
No more pictures like that.
Stop it. Stop thinking—
Check. What did she have to check on?
She snapped the rubber band and sucked in a breath. Her stock. The phone. Needed to make sure nobody had been deleting her messages or anything. Had she been paying her bills? The past few weeks—