It was move-in day.
Faith had been waiting for this her whole life. Okay, maybe that was a slight exaggeration. As a child she had been perfectly content sharing a roof with her family, but at the age of twenty-six she was overdue for getting her own place.
Propping her hands on her hips, she took a satisfying look around. She was a homeowner.
She knew she could continue to live with her father forever (he would love that) or at least until she married. She stifled a wince. Not that there was any prospect of that happening. One usually required a boyfriend first.
“You sure about this, Faithy?”
Her brother posed the question. Hale was a little sweaty from hauling all her things from the back of his and Dad’s trucks. He wiped a forearm against his brow.
She smiled and shook her head. It was a little late to be asking. The mortgage was signed. The down payment made. Her stuff was everywhere, surrounding her inside the two bedroom, two and a half bath, including all the new furniture she’d bought—the most money she had spent on anything excluding her car.
Although it wasn’t as if Hale had never asked the question before. He’d asked. Every step of the way he had grumbled his disapproval. Apparently it was fine for her brother to have his own place, but his sister? Not so much. As far as Hale was concerned she was still the baby of the family. Never mind that she went away to college all by herself. Four years in a dorm and then two more in graduate housing was apparently different.
She’d probably encouraged her family into thinking she was going to live with Dad forever. When she finished her grad program she had moved back home right into her old bedroom with its Hello Kitty curtains. For the last two years she had resided with her now retired father and worked as a social worker for the city of Sweet Hill. It had been easy. Comfortable.
She went to work every day and then came home and made dinner. Hale would join them a couple nights a week. It had been just like when she was growing up. The only thing missing on taco Tuesday was her other brother, Tucker, who was an Army Ranger fighting somewhere on the other side of the world.
Ever since her mother died, Faith had attempted to fill the void and take care of the men in her family. Her father and brothers had come to expect it of her—and she had let them. She’d expected it of herself even.
After grad school, it was easy to fall back into the lifelong pattern. Less easy was breaking the pattern, but she was doing it. Finally.
She needed her own place and she was finally making it happen. A social life, dating. She was claiming that for herself because God knew a hovering brother and father wasn’t conducive. Hard to invite a man back to your place when you lived with Daddy. Even harder when Daddy was the former sheriff.
“Are you sure about this, Faithy?” Hale repeated.
She winced at the lifelong nickname. Lifelong or not it made her feel like a little girl. As long as she lived at home, her family would always treat her like a child.
Standing at the door of her new duplex she smiled at her father and brother as they gathered on her porch.
“Yes, Hale. I’m sure.” She propped a hand against the doorjamb. “For the hundredth time, yes.”
Her older brother eyed her house, turning slightly on his heels to survey the surrounding neighborhood—as though he hadn’t examined it the moment she’d first picked out the property over a month ago. His steel-eyed gaze hesitated on the duplex next door. A truck was parked in their shared driveway.
“Well, let’s leave her be.” Her father clapped Hale on the back. It was funny actually. She had two brothers and a father, but Hale was the most protective. Kind of hard for Tucker to be protective when he wasn’t around. And Dad probably figured he didn’t need to be as long as Hale was doing such a bang-up job.
“Dinner next week?” she called as her father moved down the driveway between her car and the neighbor’s.
Dad didn’t glance back at her as he moved toward his truck parked along the curb. He held a hand up in a quick wave. “Sure thing,” he called, his manner brusque, even for him.
She couldn’t help noticing that he wasn’t meeting her gaze. With a farewell tug on his baseball cap, he pulled open the driver’s side door and climbed inside the cab, still averting his stare as he started the engine and drove away.
Hale lingered on her porch. He, on the other hand, had no trouble looking at her. His deep-set eyes were probing. “He’s trying to act like he’s okay with this.”
“Hale,” she said, her voice pleading. She didn’t want to feel guilt over doing this. Guilt had kept her home for the last two years. It had taken a lot for her to announce she was leaving. A lot to buy a house and actually go through with it.