Coast Guard officer Adam Bodine finally finds his long-vanished great-uncle. But the secretive elderly man has adopted some new kin...single mother Cathy Norwood and her disabled little boy. Adam is grateful when Cathy convinces his relative to reunite with the Bodines. Until he learns why she's so eager. Though his heartstrings are tugged by their plight, he knows he doesn't deserve them in his life--not with his past. Unless one big extended family can teach Lieutenant Bodine something about love and honor.
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July 01, 2010
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Excerpt from The Guardian's Honor by Marta Perry
"What are you doing?" The woman's soft Georgia drawl bore a sharp edge of hostility.
Adam Bodine took a step back on the dusty lane and turned toward the woman with what he hoped was a disarming smile. "Just admiring your garden, ma'am."
Actually, the garden was worthy of a second glance. By early September at the tail end of a hot, dry summer, most folks would find their tomato plants shriveled to a few leafless vines, but these still sported fat red tomatoes.
The woman rose from where she'd been kneeling, setting a basket of vegetables on the ground, the movement giving him a better look at her.
She was younger than he'd thought in that first quick glance. A faded ball cap covered blond hair pulled back in a ponytail, its brim shielding her eyes so that he couldn't see what color they were. Light, he thought. Her slim shoulders were stiff under a faded, over sized plaid shirt, giving the impression that she braced herself for something unpleasant. Was that habitual, or did his appearance account for it?
"These tomatoes are about ready to give up," she said, still guarded. "Did you want something?"
He did, but it was far better if this woman didn't know what had brought him to the ramshackle farm deep in the Georgia mountains. At least, not until he knew for sure he was in the right place.
"Just passing by." He glanced back down the winding lane that had brought him to what he hoped was the last stop on a long hunt. Please, Lord. "I don't suppose you get many strangers up here."
"No." The tone said she didn't want any, either. "Look, if you're sellin' something..."
A chuckle escaped him. "Do I look like a salesman?" He spread his hands, inviting her to assess him.
There wasn't much he could do to make his six-foot frame less intimidating, but he tried to ease his military bearing and relax his face into the smile that his sister always said was at its most boyish when he was up to something. At least the jeans, T-shirt, and ball cap he wore were practically a uniform these days.
"Maybe not a salesman," she conceded. "But you haven't explained what you're doing on a private road." She sent a quick, maybe worried glance toward the peeling white farmhouse that seemed to doze in the afternoon heat. "Mr. Hawkins doesn't like visitors."
Mr. Hawkins. The formal address might mean she wasn't a relative. A caregiver, maybe?
"Actually, I'm looking for someone. A man named Ned Bodine. Edward Bodine, to be exact." He studied her as he said the words, looking for any sign of recognition.
The woman took the ball cap off, frowning as she wiped her forehead with the sleeve of the plaid shirt, leaving a streak of dirt she probably hadn't intended. Her eyes were light, as he'd supposed, neither blue nor green but hazel.
That heart-shaped face might have been pretty if not for whatever it was that tightened it--worry, maybe, or just plain dislike of nosy strangers.
"Sorry," she said. "I don't believe I've ever heard the name. Now, if you'll excuse me..." She gestured toward the garden.
"You're sure?" Of course she might not know, even if she were a relative of his great-uncle. Ned Bodine had stayed missing for sixty-some years, which meant he probably kept his secrets well.
"That's what I said, isn't it?" She snapped the words at him, picking up the basket as if it were a shield.
So much for getting anything out of her. "In that case, I'd like to speak to Mr. Theodore Hawkins."
She gave him a wary, suspicious stare. "Why?"
"Look, I don't blame you for being cautious, Ms...."
"Mrs.," she corrected. "Mrs. Norwood." She bit off the words, as if regretting giving him that much.
The name wasn't the same, but that didn't mean she couldn't be related. She could be...let's see, what was it? Second or third cousin, maybe?
"I know it seems odd, having a perfect stranger coming along and asking questions, but I do need to talk with Mr. Hawkins."
"He's resting right now. He always takes a rest in the afternoon. He's not to be disturbed."
The way she phrased that made it sound as it she took orders from the man. Probably not a relative, then, so he had to be stingy with what he told her. Gossip flew fast in country places, even though there wasn't another house in sight.
"Look, I think he'd probably be willing to talk with me." Doubt assailed him as he said the words. What made him think Ned Bodine wanted to be found after all these years? Still, all he could do was try. "Just tell him Adam Bodine wants to see him. Please."
He glanced toward the house, hoping to see some sign of life. Nothing, but he noticed something he hadn't before. A child played under the shade of a tall pine near the corner of the porch, running toy cars in the dirt.
"Your little boy?" he asked. Maybe an expression of interest in her child would ease the ice between them.
His words seemed to have the opposite effect. She moved, putting herself into position to block his view of the child.
"I told you. Mr. Hawkins is resting. He wouldn't be able to help you, anyway."
"We won't know that until we ask him, will we?" He put a little steel into the words. Obviously this Mrs. Norwood wasn't going to fall victim to the notorious Bodine charm. "When can I see him?"
She clamped her lips together for a long moment. She could either give in, or she could threaten to call the sheriff on him. Which would it be?
Finally she gave a curt nod. "All right. Come back tonight around six." She gave a pointed look from him to his car.
Nobody would say he couldn't take a hint. "Thank you, ma'am. I'll be back at six."
She didn't respond, bending again to her tomato plants as if he weren't there.
He gave the sleeping house a final glance. He'd be back. With any luck, this long search would end here.
Cathy cleared the supper dishes quickly, half her attention on the clock. Somehow she hadn't managed to tell her grandfather yet about the visitor, and the man would be here in minutes.
She slanted a glance at her grandfather. He was whittling a soft piece of pine, turning it into a boat for her son. Six-year-old Jamie sat next to him, elbows on the table, his blue eyes fixed on the boat as it emerged from the wood.
A smile softened her lips. Grandpa had done the same for her as a child, creating fanciful animals and even small dolls. She'd been as close to him then as Jamie was now, and she'd never have dreamed that could change.
But it had. Her mind winced away from the bitter memory.
Grandpa and Jamie were the only family she had, but her willfulness had created a seemingly unbreakable wall between her and her stepgrandfather.
As for Jamie--her heart swelled with love for her son. Jamie needed so much, more than she could possibly provide unless things changed.
Her mind went round and round, back on the familiar track. She had to take care of her grandfather. She had to provide the surgery and therapy her son needed. How? How would she do that?
She suddenly realized that Jamie's prattle about the game he'd been playing with his toy cars had turned in a new direction.
"...and he drove a silver car, and Mama said he should come back to talk to you."
Grandpa's gaze swiveled to hers, his bushy white brows drawing down over his eyes. "What's all this, then, Cath-leen? Who was here? Somebody selling something?"
She wiped her hands on the dish towel. "He said he was looking for information about someone. Someone he thought you might know, apparently. A man named Edward Bodine."
Grandpa's hand slipped on the carving, and the halffinished boat dropped to the floor. For an instant silence seemed to freeze the old farmhouse kitchen.
Then he shoved himself to his feet, grabbing his cane. "I won't see him." His face reddened. "You know how I feel about strangers. Tell him to go away."
She quaked inside at the anger in his tone, but then her own temper rose. She wouldn't let him bully her. She glanced past him, out the kitchen window.
"You can tell him yourself. He's just pulled up." She touched her son's shoulder. "Jamie, you go play in your room for a bit."
Without waiting for a response, she walked away, reaching the door as she heard the man's footsteps on the creaky porch. She opened the door before the knock could sound.
Bodine looked a little startled, but he recovered quickly. Not the sort to be rattled easily, she'd think. Tall, with a bearing that said military and the kind of strong-boned face that would compel obedience.
For just an instant she thought she glimpsed something bleak behind the brown eyes, and then his face relaxed in an easy, open smile.
"Mrs. Norwood. I hope I'm not too early."
"It's fine." At least, she hoped it was. It was hard to tell how rude her grandfather intended to be. On the other hand, this man looked capable of handling just about anything Grandpa could throw at him. "Please, come in."
Adam Bodine stepped into the house, wiping his feet on the threadbare rug by the door. "Thank you for seeing me."
He wasn't looking at her. Instead, he stared over her shoulder at her grandfather with an expression in his eyes she couldn't quite make out. It was almost a look of recognition.
"This is Theodore Hawkins," she said.
"Adam Bodine." He held out his hand, smiling.
Grandpa ignored it, his face tight and forbidding. "Whatever it is you want, I'm not interested. You can be on your way."
She sucked in a breath, but Bodine didn't seem fazed by the blunt words.
"I need to talk with you, sir. About my great-uncle, Edward Bodine." He paused, glancing at her. "Maybe we should do this in private."
It took an instant to realize that he must think she was just the hired help. Well, maybe that wasn't far from the truth.
"You can talk in front of me," she said. "This is my grandfather."
"Stepgrandfather," Grandpa said.
She wouldn't let him see how much it hurt to hear it said aloud. It was true, of course. Her mother had been his stepdaughter, not his daughter. Still, he'd never referred to her that way, probably never even thought about it, before she'd gone away.
There was still a trace of hesitation in Bodine's face, but he nodded. "Fine. As I said, I've come here to ask about Ned Bodine, my grandfather's older brother. He disappeared in 1942."
"Disappeared?" Her grandfather wasn't responding, so apparently it was up to her. "What do you mean? Disappeared how?"
Bodine switched his focus to her. "He ran away from the family home on Sullivan's Island. Near Charleston?" He made it a question.
"I know where Sullivan's Island is." One of the barrier islands off Charleston, the kind of place where people with money built summer houses, she'd guess. "Why did he run away?" He'd said 1942. "Does this have something to do with the war?"
Her grandfather never talked about the war, but he'd served then. She remembered hearing her grandmother say something to her mother about it, and then turning to her eight-or-nine-year-old self and cautioning her not to mention it.
He doesn't want to talk about the war, so we have to respect that. Her grandmother's soft voice had seemed very mournful. It did bad things to him.
"People said Ned ran away because he was afraid to fight in the war," Bodine said. "We--the family, that is-- we're sure that's not true."
Her grandfather turned away. With one hand he gripped the back of a straight chair, his grasp so hard that the veins stood out of the back of his hand.
Tension edged along Cathy's skin like a cold breeze. Something was wrong. Something about this man's words affected Grandpa. She shook her head, trying to shake off the tension.
"I don't understand what this has to do with us. Are you saying my grandfather knew this Ned Bodine?"
"No." He looked from her to her grandfather, seeming to gauge their responses. "I'm saying that your grandfather is Ned Bodine."
The chair Grandpa held skidded against the wood floor as he shoved it. "Get out."
"Stay out of it." He turned to her a face that seemed stripped down to the bone.
"I know this is a shock," Bodine said. "But if we can just talk it over--" He cut the words off suddenly, looking beyond her to the doorway.
She whirled. Jamie stood there, hanging on to the frame with one hand. He swung one leg forward, its brace glinting dully. "Mama, I can't find my bear."
"Not now, Jamie." She moved to him, easing him protectively away from the two tense figures in the living room.
But Jamie craned his neck to see around her, smiling at Adam Bodine. Unlike his great-grandfather, Jamie loved company, and he saw very little of it.
"Hey. I'm Jamie."
"Hey, Jamie." Bodine's response was all right, but his expression wasn't.
Anger welled in her. How dare he look at her child with shock and pity in his eyes? She pulled Jamie a little closer, her arms cradling him.
"You heard my grandfather, Mr. Bodine. It's time for you to leave."
He stared at her for a long moment. Then, without another word, he backed out the door and walked quickly away.
"Was he a bad man, Mama?" Jamie snuggled against his pillows after his good-night prayers, looking up at Cathy with wide, innocent eyes.
Cathy smoothed his blond cowlick with her palm, love tugging at her heart. "No, I'm sure he's not." How to explain to her son something that she didn't understand herself? "He wanted to find out something about a...a friend of his, but Grandpa couldn't help him."
Couldn't? Or wouldn't? Her grandfather's reactions to the Bodine man had been odd, to say the least.
After Bodine left, Grandpa had stalked to his bedroom and slammed the door. He hadn't come out until she was putting Jamie in the tub, and then he'd ignored the subject of their visitor as if the man didn't exist, instead talking to Jamie about his boat and promising to have it finished by bath time the next day.
"But Grandpa would've helped the man if he could've, right, Mama? 'Cause that's what Jesus would want him to do."
"I'm sure he would," she said, though her heart wasn't at all sure.
How difficult it was to teach her son about faith when her own was as weak as a willow twig. She smoothed the sheet over him and bent to kiss his soft cheek.
"Good night, little man. I love you great big bunches."
His arms squeezed her tightly. "I love you great big bunches, too, Mama."