Chase’s mom didn’t seem to notice, or didn’t care about his discomfort. “I’d forgotten your husband was a hunter. That’s why Chase is taking Devon out.”
Chase looked at Brooke. She was watching him, wondering what he’d say. It was a fact that she’d been married before, that her husband was a hunter. He could try and pretend he didn’t exist, but he had.
“Yes, that’s why.” He drained his coffee and grinned at Brooke. “Are you ready to beat me in a game of pool?”
“Do you play pool, Brooke?” his mom asked.
“Some. We had a pool table in our house growing up. My dad taught me. I’m pretty rusty.”
Chase recalled how she’d almost beaten him the other night. He took her hand in his and led the way downstairs.
Dustin was playing pool with Trevor. Josh and Devon were sitting on the couch, watching a movie with guns and soldiers. Chase saw Brooke’s expression when she looked at the movie. He wondered how she’d feel about Devon watching it.
She looked at him, and he shrugged. “Do you want me to change it?”
“No. He knows enough not to shoot people, just deer.” She frowned as a bloody scene popped up. “A little gory.”
“True. I don’t think it will bother him, though. He didn’t even get squeamish when he watched Josh gut the deer.”
“Do you do the butchering yourselves?”
“Yeah. We hung it in the pole barn. We’ll be going out after lunch and cutting it up.”
“Am I going home after lunch?” Devon asked.
“I’m not sure what the plan was.”
“It’s up to you and Devon. We won’t be going back out until four o’clock, so there will be a few hours of waiting this afternoon.”
“Let’s see after lunch, Devon. You can let me know then.”
Dustin and Trevor’s game was done, so Chase took over the cue sticks. He handed one to Brooke.
“I’ve got to see this,” Dustin said.
He sat down on a chair near the pool table. Trevor joined the two boys in front of the TV.
Brooke felt a little nervous with Dustin as an audience, but not nearly as nervous as she felt when Darrick came downstairs and watched, also. She made a couple of bad shots, but recovered enough to beat Chase.
“Hey, you’re good,” Dustin said. “But then, Chase is bad at it.”
Chase took the teasing good-naturedly.
“I’ll challenge you to a game, Brooke,” Dustin said.
She was embarrassed, but figured there was no harm. By the end of the game with Chase, she’d started to feel comfortable with an audience.
“This will be a fast game. Dustin’s no good at it,” Darrick said, but Brooke could tell he was teasing.
Dustin was good, and Brooke couldn’t win against him.
“See, I told you Chase was bad at it,” Dustin said. “But seriously, you play a good game.”
Darrick went and joined the boys in front of the TV. Dustin and Chase played a game, which Dustin won. Then their mom was calling them upstairs to eat lunch.
The venison chili was wonderful, better even than her mother-in-law’s.
“This is really good,” Brooke said, and saw that Irene was pleased with her compliment.
Chase’s mom had fixed some macaroni and cheese, not the boxed kind, which is what Brinley and Maddie ate.
“Maddie doesn’t care for chili of any kind,” Irene said as she put some on plate for Maddie.
“I don’t like chili, either,” Brinley said. Chase’s mom fixed her a plate of macaroni, instead.
Devon ate a bowl of the chili, but as his mom, Brooke could see that he wasn’t fond of it. All of the boys ate some of the macaroni and cheese as well as the chili.
With the fresh baked bread, one bowl of chili was enough for Brooke. She sat quietly at the dining room table, listening to Chase and his brothers carry on conversation. She liked the camaraderie between them. It was obvious that they were close, especially Dustin and Chase.
Probably because Darrick had spent so many years away from home, he wasn’t as close to the other two. He didn’t join in the conversation often, and when he did, a good deal of what he said was sarcastic or negative.
Devon was ready to leave after lunch and go home for a few hours. Brinley complained, but she’d been playing with Maddie since last evening, and so far there’d been no arguments. Brooke knew that if they didn’t have a break from each other, there’d be some disagreements. Not that Maddie would cause trouble, but she knew Brinley could get on a person’s nerves with her demands, after so many hours together.
“I’ll walk you out,” Chase said. He put his hand on Brooke’s back as they walked out to her car. She could tell he wanted to kiss her, but he didn’t seem comfortable doing so in front of her kids. When he opened the door for her, she stood on her toes and kissed him.
He looked surprised, but she could tell he was pleased.
“I’ll bring Devon over a little before four, if that’s all right.”
“That will work out fine,” Chase said.
After she left, Chase and his brothers stood out in the pole barn, cutting up the deer.
“I’m going to marry her,” Chase said.
“What!” Dustin exclaimed.
“What makes you think she will marry you?” was Darrick’s negative response.
“I didn’t realize you were thinking of marrying again,” Dustin said. “I thought Lisa finished that idea for you.”
“No, she finished that idea for you,” Chase said. Then he added honestly, “I didn’t think I’d get married again, but then, I met Brooke. Or met her again, I guess you’d say.”
“Do you think she wants to get married again?” Darrick asked.
“I don’t think she gave it much thought before, like I hadn’t. I’m hoping since dating me, the thought has crossed her mind.”
“I can tell she’s really into you, but marriage? That’s a big step,” Dustin said.
“Well, this isn’t to get past you two, even to mom. So keep that in mind, if you would.”
They carried in the pans of meat. Chase stayed in the kitchen to help his mom put it in freezer bags, while Devon and Darrick washed up and went downstairs. Josh and Trevor had gone up to Josh’s room to play video games after lunch.
Maddie saw that they were going to bag up the venison. “Ew, I don’t want to watch that. It’s gross.”
“You don’t have to,” Chase said.
“Did you have fun with Brinley?”
“Yes. She is nice. So is her mom,” Maddie said.
“I’m glad you think Brooke is nice.”
“Are you going to marry her?”
It was the first time Maddie had asked that. “Why do you think that?”
“Brinley said if you and her mom were married, we’d be sisters.”
Chase’s face flamed.
“While that is true, that doesn’t mean Brooke and I will get married.” Chase wasn’t about to admit to his eight-year-old that he was thinking of marrying Brooke. Or rather, planning to. It was bad enough that he’d just told his brothers.
“So you’re just boyfriend and girlfriend?”
“For now,” Chase agreed.
Maddie ran off to play.
After she left the room, his mom said, “Is that such a good idea?”.
“What? To tell her we’re boyfriend and girlfriend?” His mom nodded. “It’s true.”
“You don’t seem the type to date casually, not since high school.”
“That’s because I married young. Lisa’s only been gone two years.”
“You can’t fool me,” his mom said.
He looked sheepish. “What I feel for Brooke is anything but casual.”
“I wondered.” She changed the subject. “I’ve decided to sell the house.”
“Are you moving in with Aunt Grace?”
“No, it’s too far away from everyone. I miss the kids too much. You boys, and my grandkids.”
“You know you’re welcome to live here, even if you sell the house to me.”
She smiled. “I appreciate that. But I want you to have your own space, and to be honest, I think it’s time for me to have mine.”
“Are you going to wait until February?”
“No, I don’t think so. Violet has a house in town, across town from the one Brooke is renting. The renters moved out in August, and she is fixing it up. She is going to rent it to me until I decide if I want to buy it. Or buy something else.”
“I have enough saved up to make a down payment,” Chase said. “Maybe not the twenty percent that the bank will require, though.”
“I thought we could set it up on a land contract. You could pay a down payment, then make payments directly to me. I could use the monthly income from the payments.”
They were done with the packaging. Chase scrubbed up at the sink. There was coffee left in the pot, so he poured a cup and added sugar, then sat down at the table.
“Are you sure about this?”
She nodded. “I’m sure. It’s been in the thought process for several months, and these past few weeks have shown me that you and the kids can handle things without me.”
“Well, we survived. I’m not sure we’re handling things well.”
“You are. I can tell the kids have adjusted, even Maddie. I know it was hard for her at first.”
“They will like having you in town,” Chase said. “Especially Maddie.”
“You can drop them off in the mornings, if you want. The bus can pick them up there. And they can get off the bus at my house, at least Maddie can. I’m sure Josh will want to come home and play video games.”
“This isn’t because of Brooke, is it?”
“No, I’m not jealous of the time they spend with Brooke, if that’s what you mean.” His mom smiled.
“I guess that’s what I meant,” he admitted, embarrassed.
In the afternoon, Brooke went upstairs to Devon’s room around three-thirty.
“Are you ready to go?” she asked.
“I don’t know. It’s stupid.”
“I didn’t even see any deer.”
“Well, that happens sometimes. Does that mean you didn’t have any fun?”
“No, it was cool, sitting out there watching. And we did see some deer through the binoculars, just not close enough to shoot.”
Devon set down the controller and stood up.
“I guess I’ll go back out. Maybe I will get lucky.”
“All right, then. Come on, Brinley,” Brooke called across the hall.
Brinley came out of her room.
“What are we going to do while Devon hunts?” she asked.
“We’re going to go shopping.”
“At the mall?”
‘No, it’s too late to drive to the mall. But I need to pick up a few things for the wedding next weekend.”
All the guys were in the garage when Brooke pulled into the driveway, getting into their hunting gear. Devon went and joined them. Brooke stood near the car.
Chase walked out to her.
“Are you sticking around?”
“No, we’re going shopping,” Brinley called out from the back seat.
“Sounds like fun,” he said with a grimace.
“For the wedding,” she said. “I need to pick up a few things.”
“Oh, that’s next weekend, isn’t it?”
“Yes, it is. Have you decided if you want to go?”
“Hey, Chase! Are you coming?” Dustin called out.
Chase leaned down and kissed her cheek. “I’ll talk to you about it when I bring Devon home, if that’s okay,” he said.
She smiled. “That will be fine.”
It was almost eight o’clock that evening when Chase brought Devon home. Devon went upstairs to his room.
“No deer, huh?” Brooke asked, watching him go.
“No, not tonight. But Trevor got one, so that made it worse,” Chase said.
Chase wrapped his arms around Brooke and looked over her shoulder.
“Where’s Brinley?” he asked.
“She’s taking her shower. She will be coming down any minute.”
He kissed her, long and thoroughly. “Seems like forever since I’ve really kissed you,” he said in a husky voice.
“I know.” Brooke stepped back as Brinley came downstairs in her pajamas, hair wet and hanging down her back.
“Did Maddie come with you?”
“Not tonight. She was ready for bed when I left.”
“Thanks for letting her stay,” Brinley said. “We had fun.”
“That’s what she said.”
“Do you want a cup of coffee?” Brooke asked.
“I’d love one. I didn’t go in the house after we came up from the woods. Devon and I took off our hunting gear and came right over.”
“Did he shoot a deer?” Brinley asked.
“Not tonight. He saw one, but couldn’t get a good aim.” Chase sat down with his coffee while Brooke braided Brinley’s wet hair. “How was your shopping trip?”
“It was good. Mom bought new underwear.”
Brooke’s face flamed as Chase looked at her, raising an eyebrow.
“Brinley!” Brooke nearly screeched.
“What? You said you needed a new bra and panties, but I don’t see why. No one is going to see your underwear under your dress.”
“Brinley, enough!” Brooke could’ve crawled into a hole and died. She couldn’t look at Chase.
“All right. You, my girl, are done. Head upstairs to your room.”
“I’m sorry, Mom,” Brinley apologized, hoping that’d ward off having to go to her room.
Brooke pointed, and Brinley stalked off.
Brooke took a deep breath before she looked at Chase. He was grinning. She could tell he was trying to hold back a laugh.
“Go ahead, laugh,” she said, the corners of her own mouth turning up into wry smile. “I know you want to.”
He laughed until tears came to his eyes.
“I have no secrets when it comes to Brinley.”
“Why would you want new underwear, when no one is going to see it under your dress?” he asked, mimicking Brinley’s tone of voice.
Chase could see how uncomfortable she was. He decided to change the subject.
“I’m going to the wedding.”
If she was trying to hide her happiness, she wasn’t succeeding.
“Are you sure?”
The happy light in her eyes told him he was making the right choice.
“If I’m going to the wedding with you, you know I have nothing to wear for it, right?”
“You wore a nice suit for the reunion.”
“A suit that didn’t fit right. I used it for a wedding a few years ago, but I’ve been lifting weights in the past couple of years and it’s too tight.”
He couldn’t help but notice her glancing at his chest and shoulders.
“Can you go shopping with me for a new one?”
“I don’t want you to have to buy a new one.”
“But I want to. I don’t want to embarrass you.”
“You won’t embarrass me.”
“That’s kind of you to say, but I need a suit that fits. You never know when I might need one again.”
“True. Where do you want to go shopping for one?”
“We’d have to go to the mall. Tomorrow.”
“I thought you hated shopping at the mall.”
“I do. I’m doing this for you, though. That makes it worthwhile.”
“Okay. You know we won’t be able to get away with going to the mall without taking our daughters, right?”
He groaned. “You’re right. Can we shop with them?”
“You mean with Brinley and her way of pointing out embarrassing things? It won’t be easy, but it is doable.”
“I thought we could leave after we come in from the morning hunt, around ten. Then if we hurry back, I can take Devon out in the afternoon, if he doesn’t get a deer in the morning.”
“If he goes out with you in the morning.”
“You don’t think he will?”
“He’s pretty discouraged.”
“I don’t want to push him.”
“I think it’d be good for him to try one more time. If he doesn’t get one in the morning, we won’t have to rush back for the afternoon hunt. Unless you need to get back for Josh.”
“Josh can hunt with Dustin if they go back out.”
“All right, then. We’ll plan to leave at ten-thirty, or whenever you and Devon get here.”
“I’ll give my mom a call.” Chase took out his phone. “I want her to tell Maddie before she falls asleep.”
“I’ll go up and talk to Devon, but I’m not going to tell Brinley about the mall until morning, or she won’t sleep tonight.” She stood. “I’ll check on Brinley and see if Devon plans to hunt tomorrow.”
Brooke walked upstairs into Brinley’s room. She saw that Brinley had been crying. “Are you okay?”
“I’m sorry for talking about your underwear in front of Chase. That was wrong, wasn’t it?”
“Yes, it was. It embarrassed me.” Brooke didn’t say Chase thought it was funny. She didn’t want Brinley to think it was okay to say something like that again.
“I’m sorry, Mom,” Brinley said again.
Brooke leaned over and kissed Brinley’s forehead. “I forgive you, Brin. Now get a good night’s sleep.”
“Why, are we going somewhere tomorrow?”
Brooke wished she hadn’t said anything.
“Nothing special,” she lied.
She walked across the hall and knocked on Devon’s door.
“Come in,” he said. She opened the door, and saw that he was playing online. “Are you going back out with Chase in the morning?”
He shrugged. “Will it do any good?”
“You never know when you get a good chance to shoot one. It’s unpredictable, but you won’t shoot one staying home.”
“I guess. Can you take me over in the morning? I don’t want to spend the night there.”
“Yes. I will find out what time we have to have you there. I’ll wake you up in the morning. Don’t stay up too late.”
Chase was waiting by the door when Brooke walked back downstairs.
“Devon said he will go out in the morning. What time do you want me to have him at the house?”
“Is six too early?”
“No, is that early enough?”
“If you feed him breakfast, first. We’ll be done and getting ready to go out by then.”