And Then You Kiss (Crested Butte Cowboys Series Book 3) (10 page)

“Would rather be there to save her than be at the hotel wonderin’ what the hell she’s up to for the second night in a row.”

“I’m gonna punt. You have fun.”

“Seriously? You’re tellin’ me to go, and you’re not gonna? I can’t believe it.”

“Fuck off.”

“You’re goin’ aren’t ya?”

“Of course I am, asshole.”

***

In the end, it didn’t matter what the Rice boys did. Mark called Blythe and told her she had to get home right away. There had been an accident. They were waiting for word, but the news coming out of Afghanistan wasn’t good. Bree’s husband was reported dead after an IED hit the truck he was riding in.

Chapter 8

 

Paige was on the phone when Blythe walked in the house. Renie drove her home, and told her she’d stay as long as she needed her to.

Liv had taken Willow, and told her she’d let Billy know what was going on after his last ride. As soon as she could, she’d have Ben bring her to the house. If anyone knew what Bree was going through, it was Liv. Liv’s first husband was killed in the Gulf War shortly after they were married, before Renie was even born.

 

Thank God for her mother, thought Blythe. Whenever there was a crisis, Paige Cochran took over. She had the biggest heart of anyone Blythe had ever known. It didn’t matter what it was, the first words out of her mom’s mouth were always, “What can I do?” This time the crisis was in her own family, but her mom still went into management mode.

Her dad had been able to confirm that Zack was killed during a combat advisory mission with Afghan National Army Commandos when a car bomb detonated near his convoy. Mark was on the phone with Air Force personnel to try to find out what the next steps would be for his daughter.

Her mom was talking to Zack’s parents, determining what the next steps would be for them.

All they knew now was that Zack’s body would be repatriated back to the United States as soon as possible. What they were hearing was that he’d be flown to Dover, in Delaware. They had no idea yet when.

“What can I do?” Blythe asked.

“Bree will need your support when she gets here. Or when we go there. The best thing for you to do is get some rest so you can be there for her when she needs you.”

“Can I talk to her?”

“Oh God, Blythe, of course you can baby. I’m sorry. Call her. I’m sure she wants to talk to you.”

Blythe went upstairs to call Bree. Renie went with her.

Bree hadn’t fully grasped what had happened. Some of the other Air Force wives were with her at the house. She went upstairs to her bedroom to talk to Blythe.

“I wish they would leave,” she told her.

“I think it’s better if you have someone with you.”

“I don’t even know them. They’re making me so uncomfortable.”

Bree and Zack had only been at the base a couple months before he was deployed. She’d met several people, as was customary as an Air Force officer’s wife, but she hadn’t gotten to know any of them well.

“I’ll be there tomorrow,” Blythe told her.

“What do you mean?”

“I’m flying out in the morning. I’ll be there before noon.” Blythe wasn’t sure she’d be able to get a flight that would get her there by then, but she’d do her damndest to find one.

 

Renie had stepped out of the room and was on her way back in when Blythe came out to go talk to her parents.

“Ben’s dad will be here first thing in the morning,” Renie said. “He and Ben will fly you to California.” Ben and his father were both pilots and owned a plane they shared. When Ben was on tour with CB Rice, they used the plane. Otherwise, they kept it at the airport in Gunnison, near Crested Butte.

“Are you sure? That’s asking an awful lot Renie.”

“Blythe, please. It’s the least they can do. As soon I as told Ben what you planned to do, he offered. He insisted, in fact.”

 

Renie took Blythe to the airport in Centennial at six the next morning. She’d be in California shortly after noon, as she promised.

***

The next few days were a blur. Bree slept intermittently, and when she did, she had nightmares. Blythe started sleeping in the room with her, so she’d be there when the bad dreams woke her sister.

When they got to Dover, they waited and waited for the plane to arrive; there was little they were told about the schedule, other than they needed to be there. Blythe was frustrated and wanted to say so, but kept reminding herself her sole reason for being there was to comfort her sister. How she felt, or what she believed, had little consequence.

Finally, the plane landed, and was greeted by distinguished Air Force personnel. The “Dignified Arrival,” was only the first of several steps in the military protocol of her brother-in-law’s funeral.

 

“I’m so sorry,” she told Lyric, when she had a minute to check in with her new boss.

“Oh please don’t say that. How can you be sorry? You have to do this, and I understand.”

“But you just hired me,” Blythe figured this would be another in a long list of jobs she lost.

“Blythe, listen to me. I need your help, but I don’t need it this week. Your sister does.”

Blythe started to cry. She’d worked so hard to keep her emotions in check for her sister. Lyric’s kindness made her crack.

“I’m sorry,” she said again. “I can’t stop crying. Thank you Lyric.”

“Call me, whenever you need to, not only about work, okay? I’m your friend Blythe; that comes first. Let me know what I can do, and I’ll do it.”

Renie said the same thing, and Blythe was grateful for her friends. This was the hardest thing she’d ever had to do. But, it was nothing compared to what Bree was going through.

***

“What can we do?” Jace asked Renie.

“I don’t know. Nothing I can think of right now.”

“How is she?”

“Blythe is okay. She’s worried about her sister, of course. They’re flying home tomorrow morning.”

“Both Tuck and I would like to come to the services, but we don’t want to intrude.”

Renie promised to let them know the schedule of the public services when she knew it. “I’m sure it would mean a lot to her if you were there Jace.”

 

“What did she say?” Tucker asked when Jace hung up.

“She’ll let us know.”

“Jace, this can’t be a game anymore.”

“It never has been to me Tuck.”

“Me neither. Which means we’re in serious shit.”

“What are we going to do?”

“Hell if I know.”

“I can’t believe I’m saying this, but—”

Jace couldn’t bring himself to finish his sentence. Here he was, giving up again. First he gave up Irene, but he hadn’t any choice when it came to her. She was in love with Billy; she’d needed time to figure it out. Blythe—who knew how she felt?

Maybe she’d never want anything to do with either of them. He owed his brother though, and even though Tucker would never know the real reason he was giving up on Blythe, Jace would assuage part of the guilt he’d been carrying around with him these last few years.

“I wish I could be the bigger man here Jace, but I can’t. I think I love her. I know that sounds crazy, but there hasn’t been anyone I’ve felt this way about…”

“I know. Listen, I can’t talk about this anymore.”

Jace felt like there was a pile of bricks sitting on his chest. Maybe he should swear off women for a while, or at least swear off giving a shit. It was his turn to walk out, his turn to disappear. And he did.

***

Blythe flew home with Bree the day after Zack’s body arrived in Dover. It would take at least three days for him to be flown to Peterson Air Force Base for the services, funeral and burial. There was no reason for them to stay in Dover. Zack’s parents would fly to Colorado the next day, and stay with Paige and Mark, as would Zack’s brother. Paige booked rooms at the inn in Palmer Lake for the everyone else.

***

The morning Zack’s body was flown into Peterson Air Force Base, Blythe and Bree road in the car with their mom and dad. Zack’s parents and his brother were in the car right behind them. Behind them were several other vehicles, but Blythe had no idea who was in them.

They waited at the front gate for their escort to the tarmac. When they drove in, military personnel directed them where to park.

“No!” Bree gasped.

“What honey, what’s wrong?” asked Paige.

“No hearses. I said no.”

Paige looked at Blythe, who had no idea what Bree was talking about.

Mark put his hand on Bree’s. “Honey, tell us what you’re talking about.”

“I said no hearses.”

“I’ll take care of it,” said Paige.

 

Mark escorted Bree and Blythe into the building and upstairs to the waiting area. Paige went in search of someone who might be able to explain what Bree was upset about.

“May I help you?” a gentleman in uniform asked her.

He looked too important for Paige to ask a question of, but her daughter was distraught.

“I’m Paige Cochran, my daughter—”

“Yes ma’am,” he interrupted and put his hand on hers. “I’m Colonel Stevens. I was Zack’s commanding officer. You’re Bree’s mother. What can I help you with?”

“Bree saw the hearse on the tarmac and was very upset by it. She kept insisting she’d said no. I don’t know what she meant. Do you?”

“Yes ma’am. I do. And it’s being taken care of.”

“Can you please explain it to me so I understand?”

“Bree requested that Zack’s body not be transported by hearse. Her words were, ‘he’s too young for a hearse, no hearses.’ We made arrangements for a Humvee transport instead. Again, at her request.”

“I see,” Paige answered, her eyes filling with tears.

“You have my deepest condolences ma’am.”

“Please excuse me.”

“Certainly. I’ll be up to speak with your daughter in a few minutes.”

Paige walked up the stairs slowly, hoping her tears would subside before she reached her daughter.

 

When she walked into the main waiting room, she saw Bree sitting in a smaller side room, with Blythe. She went in to tell Bree things had been taken care.

“Wait,” Mark said, putting his hand on her arm. “She wants to be alone.”

“What do you mean?”

“Bree asked to be left alone, with Blythe.”

“Mark, she’s my daughter.”

“Give her a few minutes.”

Tears, more tears. Would they ever stop? Paige was beginning to think they never would.

 

When Colonel Stevens came upstairs, Paige approached him.

“This is my husband, Mark,” she said. “And these are Zack’s parents.”

“Mr. and Mrs. Fox, please accept my condolences.”

Zack’s father turned to walk away, and his mother put her hand in his. He turned back and stayed where he was, next to his wife, but he did not speak.

“There has been a delay. The plane should be arriving in approximately one hour. I will keep you informed as I receive further information.”

He looked in the direction of the room Bree was in.

“She’s not ready to talk to anyone yet,” Mark said.

“I understand. I’ll be back soon. And please know, we will respect your daughter’s wishes, whatever they may be, as much as we are able to.”

 

Colonel Stevens returned again before the end of the hour to let them know there was another delay. The plane had not yet left Dover. This delay would be several hours.

“I’ll tell her,” said Mark.

Paige watched. It was as though Mark hadn’t said a word. Bree had no reaction. Blythe stood and let her father sit down.

“How is she?” Paige asked Blythe.

“Gone. Completely shut down.”

“It’s good she has you.”

“Don’t be upset Mom.”

“Oh honey, I’m not. I meant what I said. I’m glad she has you to lean on.”

“When will Brooke and Tom be here?”

“This afternoon. I told her I’d let her know where we were when they landed. You missing your big sister?”

“We all need to be together Mom.”

 

The colonel came back and offered to take people to the officer’s club for lunch and a break. Bree didn’t want to go, so Blythe stayed with her. Paige said she’d bring them back something.

“I’m not hungry. I’m sure Bree isn’t either.”

“I’ll bring it anyway. You can eat or not, but at least you’ll have the choice.”

“Thanks Mom.” Blythe started to go back to Bree.

“Blythe, did you want to say hello to Tucker? He’s been here since this morning.”

She was stunned. She had no idea he was here. Why was he here?

“Where is he?” she asked, almost in a whisper.

Paige pointed to where Renie stood with Billy. Tucker was with them.

Tucker looked at her, as though he felt her presence. She wanted to walk to him, but she couldn’t move. She needed all of her strength, all of her energy, to take care of her sister. If she talked to Tucker or anyone else, she ran the risk of falling apart. She couldn’t allow herself to do that. She turned away from him and walked back to where her sister waited with her father.

 

It would be another three hours before the plane would land. Zack’s parents went back to the building on the tarmac, most everyone else stayed at the officer’s club.

Paige hadn’t realized how many cars had followed them into the base. Zack’s sponsor family from when he was a cadet at the Air Force Academy, his coaches, and long-time family friends had flown in.

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