The air conditioning in her car battled the barrelling hot afternoon sun as Anne Belmont pulled up on the fringes of the newest Westpark-Daines construction site. She sat for a moment, relishing the cool air that was just now kicking in and scanned the area for the foreman's trailer. Caleb Daines, her fiancé, was filling in for his brother as foreman. Both men had grown up in construction, inheriting the business from their maternal grandfather, Patrick Westpark, over five years before. Caleb had moved on to work in the upper level ranks of the business, but he couldn't keep his hand out of the outdoor, hands on activity.
Anne smiled. An added bonus was Caleb's strength, those toned muscles she could feel when he held her, like last night as they'd sat under the night sky and dreamed of the future, their future. The stars had seemed so bright, like drops of drew scattered across the sky, and the moon in all it's radiance had been full and so perfect.
She had been looking forward to showing him the night sky and the beauty of the mountains where she had grown up . . . but plans could always be altered and her mother believed that now was a time that they should.
She frowned as she turned off the ignition and climbed out. Most of the workers knew her and called out a greeting. A regular face, a pretty face, one of the older men was fond of saying.
Stepping over a few obstacles, lose pipe, lumber, equipment, Anne made her way to the trailer, pleased to see the door opened. She stepped up the wooden steps and leaned against the threshold. She smiled, despite her inner turmoil, when she saw him—the man she considered to have absolutely captured her heart.
He had so many sides. She could find him in his uptown office on any given day, looking polished in a designer suit and clean-shaved chin as he juggled his C.E.O. position between Westfield-Daines construction and the exclusive designing company that had been his mother's brainchild. He also had a more casual look, still clean shaven, of a polo shirt and jeans when he met out at the high school to teach a few classes. Westfield-Daines prided themselves on working hand-in-hand with the local high schools for training and work study.
Or like today, working out at the site, he wore a tee-shirt with the sleeves cut off. He hadn't shaved in a day or so either. His hair, light brown, the edges teased with sunlight, was mussed from the hard hat and impatient hands.
Anna didn't know which side she liked best. He was ecapsulated into the man she loved, who loved her and God with such a passion. She'd never thought she would meet a man with his faith, one that she could trust with her heart as much as she could trust him to not press the boundries of purity that both held in their pre-marraige state.
She glanced down at her ring, for the slightest moment, knowing that soon . . . soon, he would be all hers.
Caleb glanced up and smiled when he saw her, "Well," he said and stood. He was wearing a tool belt loosely at his waist. "Look who's here. I was going to call to see about . . . what's wrong?" he asked suspiciously, rounding the desk.
"I—um," she glanced at him, and nearly sobbed all of the sudden as her control broke. She pushed back on the tears and took two, deep calming breaths. "You're not invited."
"What?" Caleb reached up and held her by her forearms gently, leaning back to see if he could understand.
"You're not invited," she reached up and brushed at her tears with and unsteady hand. "I called mom to tell her when we would be there tonight, and she said, ‘he's not invited. This is a family thing.' and I said, ‘isn't Priscilla bringing William?' and she said, ‘he's her fiancé so he's considered family.'"
Anna glanced down at her left hand and frowned. Caleb had asked her last week on May the fifteenth, nearly six months after their first date. He said it was because of all the times he met her at the hospital where she was interning at five fifteen in the morning so they could have time together before he went into work and she went home to sleep. She thought it was highly romantic.
But they had decided to wait and tell her family this week, when she would be spending time with her immediate family for a few days, then the entire family would be coming in for the weekend, to make the announcement since her parents had not met Caleb yet. Not because Anna had not tried, but until this morning she had not understood how deep the resistance to meeting Caleb was on her mother's side.
"I don't know what to do."
Caleb ran a hand down her head and pulled her close, resting her head against his shoulder. She leaned into him, weary, his arms holding onto her. Anne was strong. She faced the battles of the emergency room everyday with valor and courage. She stood on her own two feet day after day with little sleep, allowing herself to crash only when the moment was right.
There were so few times when she truly needed him to be her anchor, the death of a child, an old man, and now as she faced her mother.
"No it's not," she pressed her forehead against his shoulder and shut her eyes against the anger. "Mom can be so hateful, stubborn. What if you too meet and you can't get past it and . . . ."
"That's not going to happen," he leaned back and tipped her chin up with two fingers, pinned her with the look of security in his eyes. "I love you, Martha Anne Belmont. If this week's not going to work, I'll take off on whatever your next day off is and we'll go up together. Maybe even more then one time, if the first time doesn't seem like the right time to announce everything at once."
"I just don't want you to feel . . . cheated."
"All I want is to marry you."
Despite his confident encouragement, Caleb struggled with his emotions throughout the next day. Anger rode the top of this list, knowing that Anne's mother was intentionally trying to pull them a part. It made it all the more important that they meet.
Anne was . . . more then he'd ever hoped to have in his life. She'd knocked him off his feet the first time he'd seen her—literally sending him to his knees in prayer when he sought God's guidance over the feelings assaulting him.
He'd met Anne during an evening vigil at the hospital. One of his long time employees had been injured at a site, a combination of electrical burn and the resulting two story plummet. Both he and his brother Scott waited impatiently at the hospital for the man to come out of surgery. There was the man's wife to comfort and the worry they both felt for the employee who had given them so much of his life, dedication and ideas.
Anne had run smack into Caleb as he paced the halls. She'd been captivating, so flustered and beautiful, even with her hair curling softy around her face as it escaped her pony tail, that he'd stood stunned, just as speechless as she. Those large green eyes had looked up with him in surprise. She'd fumbled over her apologies, moved past him, and nearly tripped over a wheelchair by the nurses's station.
There had been nothing overwhelming about her looks. She was simply dressed in scrubs, under her lab coat. She wore no makeup and her hair was pulled back away from her face with a simple clip.
He'd watched her several times that night, assisting a child who's fever had ricochet, calming him down. He'd watched her with a gruff old man who seemed to be a regular for late night visits and pestering.
He'd decided that night that she was worth pursuing. It had taken some doing, more then a little prayer, flirting, several visits to the emergency room to bring surprise cups of cappuccino and flowers in the middle of the night, until she'd final settled down with him that early morning in the hospital. It hadn't been his charm, or his intelligence, or his looks—at least, not completely. She'd finally agreed to date him when she'd watched him pray with a little boy who had come in with an emergency wreck.
He would never forget the look in her eyes—surprise and understanding, yes, but also the sweetest sense of rightness that they both felt. She'd stood there for moments, her eyes locked with his, the syringe and clipboard in her hands forgotten.
"Will you have breakfast with me, Ms. Belmont?"
"Yes," she'd whispered.
"When do you get off?"
"Then, should we meet, say . . . five fifteen. The diner, across the street?"
She'd nodded, then turned to do her job. They'd met at five fifteen that morning, in the hospital cafeteria since her shift ran over, and many other morning's since then, though they rarely made it out of the hospital. She went with him to church. He went over the sermons when she was unable to attend because of her shift. They challenged each other, balanced each other. They loved each other.
And he was not about to let her mother tear them a part.
He jumped into the construction work at the site, despite the fact that his brother had come back in anticipation of Caleb leaving town. He worked stripping carpet and removing rock hard plaster from the edges, building up a sweat and fighting a headache.
Anne was not having any better time at her parents, he knew. Their conversation on the phone last night had been short and clipped, both wading into an uncertain territory their relationship had never been before. He'd never particularly been welcomed, but he'd never been invited either. Now that his attempt had been turned down, it made them have to look down an unknown road. He knew he wouldn't be the first to have a mother-in-law who despised him.
Fighting he fury, he set his power saw aside and headed outside, away from the site. He could deal with a hateful mother-in-law, he thought, taking a deep breath, praying for calm. But he wanted better for Anne.
"Hey boss," one of his men called from the trailer, "there's a call for you. Girl said it was important."
He nodded and rubbed his hands over his face. He hadn't slept well last night. He'd gone through the morning on coffee and the added labor was only diminishing his stress.
"Caleb," he said into the phone a few minutes later when he made it back to his office.
"Caleb, this is Priscilla, Anne's sister," he recognized the voice, having met Priscilla on several occasions. She had approved of him, he supposed like any younger sister would for her older sister's love. But this time there was an edge to her voice.
"She's okay, Caleb," Priscilla said carefully, "but there's been an accident."
"What happened?" He found that he needed to sit down. Finding no chair within reach, he slowly sank to the floor.
"She was thrown from her horse, hit the ground in an embankment. She was conscious until the doctor gave her drugs for the pain. Now she's sleeping. She was transferred to the hospital in Frankton for some tests, just to make sure—"
"How—how long ago?"
"Since this morning. I didn't have you're number and I wasn't able to get away. . . never mind. Just come. Anne's fine, just in pain, bruised up, mainly. The doctor said the pain's good though. It means everything's working."
Caleb calculated the drive to where Anne's family lived. Three hours. He was three hours away from her.
"I'm on my way."
"Caleb—I knew you'd come, but you need to know, my mom . . . she doesn't know I'm calling. That's one of the reasons it took me so long to get to a phone. And . . . when Anne was riding today, she was with Eric—he's not that big of a deal to Anne, but for mom . . . she sort of pushed them to go out and talk things through. Anne wasn't happy to begin with, and mom . . . well, when you come, Eric will be here as well."
Anne groaned as she settled into the chair at the end of her hospital bed, wincing as the pain streaked through her. She hurt all over. Getting dressed, even in the simple orange and yellow sun dress Priscilla had brought, completely her sister's taste, had been a trial, but the smooth silk and rayon felt as cool and comfortable as she was going to get.
So far, she wasn't able to find relief standing or sitting and she wasn't about to lie down in the hospital bed again. As soon as she did someone would walk through the door and recommend that Anne stay—despite the doctor's advice, and her own understanding of her injuries.
Drifting in and out of sleep over the past few hours, she'd dulled the pain by thinking of something else. By thinking of Caleb. She thought about the night he'd admitted that he loved her, allowing her to open up her own deep feelings, of the few times she'd seen him with kids, and knew that one day, in the far future, she wanted his children. She thought about their plans, the adventures and vacations that they planned. She thought about his heart, his smile, his love for her so incredible and wild and strong.
The door opened after a brisk knock and Eric stuck his head in. He wasn't the same boy Anne had dated in high school, having grown both up in height and out as his shoulders broadened considerably. He was smart and funny, as he had always been, but he still wasn't Caleb. The two weren't really comparable, because she didn't love Caleb for his looks or his intellect, but because she . . . did, love him.
"They're bringing a wheel chair for you."
She cringed and fought a loosing battle with her pride, "I can walk, Eric."
"Yeah, to the bathroom and back," Priscilla quipped from her position on the bed, earning a pointed glare from Anne. "You'll thank me later, when we're at home and mom's making you wash the dishes."
"More like she'll smother you with chicken soup and blankets in July," Eric countered. He walked to her and stooped down so he could look Anne in the eyes. There was comfort, she thought, in his eyes. They were gentle, familiar, worried. "You sure you're okay?"
"I'm fine," she promised and lifted a hand to his cheek, wanting to comfort him. He'd been by her side since the accident, making small jokes, warming her with his courage. He was smothering her, a little, but Anne figured most of that came from the fact that Eric was not Caleb and she wanted Caleb. She could see the regret in Eric's eyes, and knew it bothered him that she was hurt while in his care. "I'll be better once I'm home, away from this place."
"Speaking of which," Priscilla broke in, "that wheelchair should be here by now. Could you check on it for me, Eric? Mom will be impatient for us to get home."
Anne glanced at her sister as Eric left the room, "Mom only left a few minutes ago. She's not expecting us for awhile."
"Maybe, but I needed to talk to you," Priscilla sat in the chair beside Anne and placed her hand on Anne's arm rest, leaning in, "I called Caleb a little bit ago. It took some doing, trying to locate his number, then him, seeing that he has sites scattered all across South Atlanta and into middle Georgia. I don't know how you keep how you keep up with him."
"We formulate our schedules together with a lot of this," Anne pointed to her heart with a watery smile. "He's on his way?"
"I just called him, told him to head to the house. Otherwise, we'll probably be gone before he get's here."
"You're sending him to the house?"
"He should meet us there."
"Does mom know?"
"She will. Dad knows that Caleb's on his way. Take you're mind off it, okay, and concentrate on what you're going to feel like when Caleb takes you in his arms, when he sees you for the first time after a long, agonizing drive up here, not knowing. Concentrate on the love you will see and that kiss you're going to give him and get in return," she reached up and wiped at Anne's tears, "oh honey, you've been so strong all afternoon and here, at the mention of a boy, you crumbled."
"He's not just some boy," Anne grumbled, wiping at her tears.
"I know, he's special. And if mom ever gave him a chance, she would love him as much, if not more than I do. Jacob would have liked him."
Anne smiled, thinking of her brother's easy affection. Her family had changed since he died in a car wreck almost five years ago. Her father was quieter, he rarely carried on a conversation with anyone in the family, and her mother was nearly impossible.
"You've always been the strong one."
"I just . . . I miss him, and it hurt so bad to leave, to take off his ring and give it back to him . . . to not bring him. And I hurt. Everything hurts," she shut her eyes, unsuccessfully controlling the tears. The quick breaths caused by the tears only hurt worse, "you can talk about him in front of Eric. We talked about Caleb this afternoon . . . before the accident."
"Yeah, but who's the first person he'll run to with the news that Caleb's on his way?"
"Mom needs to be told."
The door opened as Eric pushed in the wheelchair. He stopped and reached for Anne's hand when he saw her tears, "Everything's going to be okay. You'll see."
She nodded and thought of Caleb.