PG Excerpt from the Heroes Series — The Carvers
by Marteeka Karland
Nothing was going the way Steve had envisioned. He was more shocked that Jezelle was possibly pregnant than anything else, but he really hadn’t expected his mother to actually strike him. Or for her to burst into tears. He was torn between trying to comfort his mother or Jezelle. The decision was made for him when Jezelle crumpled into his father’s arms.
Steve lunged for her, reaching her just as his father lifted her into his arms, holding Jezelle’s slight form against his much larger frame. Steve and Leland locked gazes. For the first time in his life, Steve saw unadulterated anger and intense disappointment directed at him. He and his brothers had all gotten into trouble their fair share of times but, no matter what they’d done, there was always that invisible line that was never crossed. He didn’t have to see the look on his father’s face or hear his mother’s quiet sobs as she stroked hair away from Jezelle’s delicate features to know he’d not only crossed that line, he’d obliterated it. Without a word, Leland relinquished Jezelle to Steve then enfolded Vivian in his arms as she cried into his chest.
It had taken Steve a couple of days to realize he might have overreacted. Just a little. It had taken another couple of weeks to realize how much he wanted to see Jezelle again, but he hadn’t been in a position to act on it. He hadn’t invited her to the family get-together because he had no idea what he would say to her or even if she’d still want to see him. Besides, the cookout had been in those first days when he was still panicked. Then, when he’d settled back into his routine on base, the gnawing feeling he’d given up something precious grew with alarming speed. Every night he’d woken up reaching for her. Every day he’d longed to see her lovely face. He’d thought about calling but had hung up the phone before it could ring. Since he hadn’t bothered to get her number, all he’d had was the restaurant’s. While her manager might be a good family friend, he might not take kindly to him making a date on company time. Besides, by then enough time had passed he wasn’t sure Jezelle would appreciate hearing from him, especially at work. Looking down at her face, the dark circles prominent under her eyes even through her dark complexion, Steve had never regretted anything more in his life.
Her lids fluttered open and those lovely dark brown eyes met his. The depth of her pain nearly drove him to his knees.
“Put me down,” she whispered. “I don’t want you near me.”
“Just let me get you somewhere you can lie down and rest. Do you want me to take you to the hospital?”
“No,” she hiccupped. “I just want to go back to work.”
“Don’t worry about that, sweetheart,” Leland responded to her with a soothing voice. He stood over her in front of Steve, his hand going to her forehead. Much as he’d done when any of the boys had been sick as children. “I’ve taken care of everything. Your job is safe. Everyone just wants you to get better.”
“I’m fine,” she insisted. “Let me down.”
“Please, child,” Vivian pleaded through her tears. “Just let me take you home so you can rest for a while where I know you have someone to help you if you need it. It would ease my mind and I wouldn’t worry so much.”
Steve could see Jezelle wanted to refuse but couldn’t quite tell his mother no. Vivian always had that effect and for once Steve was grateful for it. He could also feel his father’s eyes boring into him. Hell would be coming for Steve later. He was certain of that.
With a sigh, Jezelle nodded, relaxing a little against him. He looked around and saw the entire family watching with a mixture of curiosity, shock, and a couple of grins—those coming from Rick and Chase. Like his father, Mike…wasn’t smiling. At all.
“I’ll get the car,” Mike said. Lord, when his dad and Mike got hold of him, Steve was in for a beating. Well, he’d take it like a man. They obviously thought he needed it. Maybe he did.
Once in the backseat of his father’s Expedition, Steve settled Jezelle into the seat next to him. He fastened her seatbelt and draped an arm over her shoulders, pulling her resisting form against his side.
“Just because I’m trying to be nice to your mother doesn’t mean I have to let you touch me,” she said coldly. “Don’t.”
“I said,” she bit out through clenched teeth, “let. Me. Go.”
With a sigh, Steve reluctantly complied, moving his arm to lay it across the back of the seat. She sat staring straight ahead as if she were riding to her execution. She didn’t want to be here and he’d put her in this position with his callous attitude toward her. By disappearing from her life, he might have fucked any chances he’d had at a future with her.
“I’m sorry, baby,” he said. “I’ll try my best to explain later, but I know what a huge mistake I made.”
“You don’t have to explain anything to me,” she said softly, no emotion reflecting in her once emotion-laden voice. She seemed to be going from one extreme to the other, a sure sign his mother’s suspicion was correct. It could be stress, but combine everything else with it and it added up to their one night of passion yielding a very unexpected present.
“But I want to.”
She turned her head to look at him. “Why? Why would you want to explain? To make me feel better about you just up and leaving without even saying goodbye? So I know you’re not a complete jerk? Or how about so you might have a chance to win me back and get back in your family’s good graces, especially if there’s a child involved?”
“Some of that. Maybe.” He scrubbed his hand over his face and through his hair. “I just want that…connection I felt with you again. I need it.”
“So it’s all about your wants. Your needs,” she retorted, crossing her arms over her chest. “What about my need to be left alone to figure all this out? I don’t even know for sure if there is a baby. What if I’ve just caught a bug? Will you still feel the same way knowing you’re not leaving defenseless little ole me to raise your precious child all by myself?”
Vivian’s breath caught in her throat and Jezelle closed her eyes. “I’m sorry, Mrs. Carver,” she said quietly.
“You have nothing to be sorry for. None of this is your fault.” Vivian shot Steve a scathing glance.
“It takes two to tango, ma’am,” Jezelle said. “At the risk of sounding crass—and I truly mean no disrespect—but I was so caught up in the moment I didn’t insist on a condom, so I’m just as much at fault as Steve.”
“Leland taught all our boys to respect their mother,” Vivian said, turning in her seat to look at Jezelle. “I taught them to respect women in general. We both taught them that part of respecting a woman meant protecting her in all things. Including sex.” She glanced at Steve again and scowled. “Apparently, neither of us made much of an impression on this particular son.” Vivian threw him another glance before facing front again.
“Mom…” When Vivian gave him “the hand,” Steve shut his mouth and sat back. Were his parents being unreasonable? He was a grown-ass man, after all. Truth was, they weren’t treating him any differently than he was himself inside. The only difference was, it hurt worse coming from them.
Once they pulled into the big house where his parents lived, Steve helped Jezelle out of the SUV. He’d have carried her inside, but when he reached for her, Jezelle gave him a look so venomous he nearly stepped back. Yeah. Long way to go to win her back. But looking down at her, remembering the feel of her naked body in his arms, the thought of her belly growing round with his child… Steve knew he’d do whatever it took. He’d win Jezelle’s heart. Even if he had to crawl to hell and back on his hands and knees.
MORE EXCERPTS FROM THE OTHER BOOKS TO COME!