Love, Marriage & Mayhem by Maggie Adams by Maggie Adams - Read Online

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Love, Marriage & Mayhem - Maggie Adams

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Good grief! Would you look at the crowd of people? How are we ever going to find Lucky in this place? Nick complained. Brandon agreed, the St. Louis Lambert International Airport was bustling with travelers and their families.

Nick started to turn and accidentally bumped into a small brunette, reaching out to steady her with a hand on her elbow. I beg your pardon, ma’am.

The pretty lady startled until she looked up and met Nick’s dark gaze. Just as all girls did around Nick, she sucked in a breath, her features coming alive in attraction.

Don’t be sorry darling; I’m not. With a seductive smile, she handed him a business card. My home number is on there, too. Call me, cowboy. With a wistful glance, she disappeared into the crowd.

God Almighty, Brandon mumbled, Can you could resist picking up strange women, at least until after we meet Lucky and his new bride, He was tired of picking up the pieces from Nick’s trail of broken hearts just to move onto the next new conquest. Brandon hurried to keep pace with his parents, Hank and Ginny Coalson.

What did I do? Nick called after him. I can’t help it that women flock around me whenever I’m in public. I don’t encourage them.

You don’t discourage them either, Dixie panted while passing them. ‘You’re definitely taking over the Casanova of the County position vacated by Chance."

Brandon gave Nick an amused look, then each grabbed her by the elbow and picked her up, leaving her feet dangling in the air as they continued to walk down the aisle.

What are you doing? she demanded. At five months pregnant, she was just beginning to show, so anything out of the ordinary sent her reeling into a tailspin.

We’re giving you a lift, Dixie darlin’, Nick answered as they swerved around the skycap. We’re afraid you’re going to hurt our first nephew with all this running around. His eyes twinkled. And we can’t have that, little mama.

Dixie pinned him with a menacing look. Don’t call me that! It’s bad enough when my own husband does it, but I don’t have to take it from the rest of you chauvinists. She began to kick. Now, let me down.

With a laugh, they did as she requested. Adjusting her clothes, she sent them a baleful look. And I’m having a girl, so there.

We don’t know that for sure honey, Mac said as he came up behind her. Come on, we’re holding up traffic.

Is that a crack about my size, because if it is…

Both Nick and Brandon laughed. Dixie’s mood swings gave everyone a chuckle. She was either spitting mad, or walking on a cloud, but no one ever knew when the mood would change again.

I’m not some piece of priceless china. I’m having a baby. People do it every day, she grumbled as Mac tightened his hold on her arm.

Well, you’re priceless to me and so is Junior here, his hand skimmed over her slightly swelled stomach.

Dixie stopped dead in her tracks, tears welling in her eyes. Honey, that’s so sweet, she flung herself into his arms, heedless of the traffic jam she was causing.

Nick pulled a face. Okay you two, break it up; you’re making fools of yourselves.

He turned to Brandon. You think Lucky’s going to be as sickeningly sweet to his wife as the rest of our brothers are to their wives?

Brandon chuckled as Sam and Angel breezed past, heading for the gate. Keep collecting those phone numbers, Nick. You’re going to need them. As soon as a new girl finds out your true personality, she’ll break up with you just like that, Angel snapped her fingers up at him.

Where’s Chance and Georgia? Ginny demanded as the rest of the family caught up with her and Hank in the waiting area.

They stopped by the restrooms. Georgia was feeling poorly. Sam supplied.

Could be just a case of wedding jitters and morning sickness; I’m surprised she can even get out of bed, Dixie commented.

Is she still worried about her relationship with Chance? I thought they resolved all that, Brandon peered over the crowd looking for the flight arrival signs.

They did, his mother nodded. But you can’t turn off a lifetime of doubt and fears overnight. All you can do is work through it, one day at a time. She knows she has Chance’s love and support, ours too, for that matter. She’s going to be fine.

As the intercom announced the arrival of the awaited flight number, Brandon felt the air of anticipation increase among the small, anxious crowd. As passengers departed the plane and headed into the receiving area, the Coalson family was jostled back toward the edge of the room as others surged forward to greet their loved ones. Brandon knew the family didn’t mind. Everyone wanted to get a quick peek at the new bride first, before they were obliged to make formal introductions.

Brandon spotted Lucky coming toward them, holding the hand of a very tall woman tucked possessively within the crook of his arm. The crowd momentarily obstructed, his view, but as they came closer, she turned to Lucky and Brandon received his first full glimpse of his new in-law.

That he was surprised was putting it mildly. The woman walking with Lucky was incredibly beautiful. She looked to be approximately six feet tall with platinum blonde hair that fell in straight line past her shoulders. Sunglasses obscured her eyes, yet he noticed high cheekbones and flawless skin. Her voluptuous body was poured into a black spandex dress that left little to the imagination. But none of that shocked him as much as the air of cool disdain she own projected. How his rarely serious brother had gotten together with this sophisticated beauty was beyond him.

Well, do you see them? Ginny tugged at his sleeve as she whispered. What do you think?

Brandon glanced down at his own petite mother. I see her. She’s tall.

Lucky shouted a greeting when he spotted them. Mom! Dad! God, it’s good to be home. Come and meet Claudia. I’ve convinced her that Vegas was no place to raise a family, so we’re here to stay. Enveloping his father in a huge bear hug, Lucky skimmed the crowd and smiled greetings at the rest of the family, then picked his mother up and twirled her around before depositing a fat kiss on her cheek.

Brandon noted his brother’s features glowed with happiness as his laughing blue eyes scanned over the rest of the family in his greeting. At six foot four, he easily towered over the rest of them, and though his large muscular frame might seem intimidating to a stranger, they wouldn’t see the many laugh lines around his ready smile. Anyone that knew him, knew he was nothing but a huge teddy bear, full of fun, humor and compassion. Brandon was glad to have him home again.

As Lucky greeted his family with his customary enthusiasm, Brandon noticed Claudia held back slightly and viewed the joyous scene with boredom. Adjusting her glasses, she plastered on a saccharin smile, and glanced around the room, focusing on the lounge in the corner. Brandon figured the woman probably needed a drink before she met the whole crew, but Lucky was pulling on her arm, anxious to introduce her to meet the family.

After spending a few minutes talking about the flight, the weather, and current events with his parents, Lucky drew Claudia over to meet his brothers. Honey, this is my oldest brother, Mac, and his wife, Dixie. He owns the family construction company.

Brandon watched as she smiled even wider. This is obviously the little mother-to-be. Lucky’s told me all about the woman fortunate enough to bring the first Coalson grandchild into the world. But I had no idea you were so young. You’re barely more than a child yourself. She turned to Mac. I can understand why you snatched her up so quickly. She’s adorable.

Mac’s welcoming smile slowly turned into a frown as Claudia’s comments registered. Dixie’s baby blue eyes were narrowing at the not-so-subtle insults. She had quite a temper and Brandon, always the peacekeeper, took a step forward to stand closer to Dixie, but Lucky hastened with the introductions in an effort to squelch any misunderstandings.

Shaking his head, Lucky steered Claudia over to the next couple and Brandon stepped back. This is my brother, Sam and his wife, Angel.

Claudia’s eyes lit up. Of course. You’re the one who was in the Navy. I’m sure you have quite a few interesting stories to tell. But I bet none are as interesting as the story of all the years you were separated from your wife. She smiled at Angel. Lucky tells me you were separated for fifteen years over a silly misunderstanding. That must have been terribly lonely for both of you. We’ll have to get together soon so you can fill me in on all the details of what you did during that time.

Brandon’s eyes widened as Angel forced herself to close her mouth from the shock as she murmured an appropriate response, but Sam stiffened at Claudia’s remarks, then cast a hooded glance at Lucky. Brandon stepped forward once again to play peacemaker as emotions escalated between the brothers. Lucky shrugged and murmured, just nerves as the reason for Claudia’s faux pas, but Brandon frowned. He had a feeling she was doing this on purpose.

Hi, I’m Chance and this is my fiancée, Georgia, Chance said as he took over the introductions since silence now filled the small room. Georgia remained quiet by his side.

You’re the firefighter who rescued Chance. How exciting! You know I always pictured women firefighters as those big, brawny types, you know, like the old female wrestlers. But you’re lovely. It’s no wonder Chance fell for you. I’ll bet every man you rescue has dreams of you afterward. Chance is so fortunate. And I hear congratulations are in order as well? Claudia leaned forward and embraced Georgia in a quick hug and kiss, then proceeded to give Chance an even warmer, less brotherly greeting, as she kissed him full on the lips.

Varying degrees of disapproval registered on everyone’s faces as Lucky coughed uncomfortably.

We should get the luggage, then we can catch up more comfortably at home, Brandon said as he hastened to diffuse the awkward situation. His parents vigorously nodded their agreement.

But I haven’t met the rest of your family, darling, Claudia smiled expectantly Brandon, who returned her smile with trepidation.

After the hasty introductions were made, the family moved en masse to the exit. Brandon tried to give the benefit of the doubt, but there was little doubt left in anyone’s mind. Claudia was definitely going to be trouble. That impression was reaffirmed at the baggage carousel where she flirted with the skycap to obtain her luggage and have it brought around front. The parking lot was no better. She managed to touch each of the brothers as they loaded the luggage into one of the vans, her lacquered red nails skimming down their sleeves or touching a cheek. Brandon skirted around Georgia to avoid the intimacy. Frankly, she made him uneasy.

If she touches Chance one more time, I’ll scream, Georgia murmured.

I know. Me too, and Lucky just stands there like a besotted bull while the cow swishes her tail and bares her udders, Dixie commented scathingly.

Nice picture your painting there, Dix. Angel joked as she watched Claudia check her makeup in a side mirror. You’ve got to admit, though, she’s beautiful.

Dixie stiffened. I admit nothing. I don’t like her.

Meow, Mac came up behind his wife and planted a kiss on her cheek. Sheath those claws, ladies. She’s probably just nervous as hell. We’re a lot to take all at once. After all, Lucky married her.

Sam engulfed Angel in his arms. We’re ready to go. Who’s riding with us?

We are. Georgia nodded.

Count us in too, Dixie chimed in.

But, Brandon interjected. He was afraid he knew where this was leading.

So that leaves Lucky and Claudia to ride with Mom and Dad, along with the single brothers? Mac smirked.

Just shut up and get in the van, Dixie grumbled. Brandon swore silently and went to get in the other vehicle.

Three hours later, the Coalsons gathered around the enormous table in the old-fashioned dining room to partake of Ginny’s famous lasagna and catch up on what had happened during Lucky’s stay in Las Vegas.

So now we know for a fact that Reverend Pye is responsible for the arson with Jeb Hawkins, right? Hank inquired.

Well, that’s what Noah said, Lucky murmured.

Then it’s solid fact, Lucky, Sam commented. Noah’s the best there is in gathering intelligence. The Navy used him for all the high end intelligence we needed. Did he say why he was targeting our family?

As to that, Lucky blushed. He thought the reason for the sabotage of the construction company and the fire had something to do with Dad. But he’s crazy, Sam.

Me? Hank was nonplussed. I barely know the man. Just to speak in greeting. Why would he think that?

And why not target the orchard; why the company, instead? Mac asked.

I don’t know, and neither does he, Lucky shook his head. He thinks it has something to do with your Navy days, Dad. He’s looking into it.

Ginny cast a nervous glance at Hank who frowned at her. I’m sure Noah will find out and then this horrible business will be behind us. She turned to Claudia. Lucky told us you worked with him, Claudia, at the casino, and that’s how you met?

Yes, I was a bartender and manager there. I’m very good with figures. Chance grinned with Mac at Claudia’s seemingly unconscious pun and received a kick under the table from his soon-to-be bride.

Actually I thought Claudia might be able to relieve some of the pressure off of Dottie. She handled most of the office management and a little help would be appreciated in the office. That way, we can keep it in the family, Lucky said between mouthfuls of food.

Lucky, dear, you look like you’ve lost weight. Have some more lasagna. Ginny passed the plate of delicious pasta, but Claudia intercepted it and sat it back down on the table with a smile of apology.

I’m sorry, Mrs. Coalson, but I’ve put Lucky on a low-fat diet. I understand you people are used to eating like this every day, but I have to watch my figure and take care of Lucky’s health, too. I want what’s best for Lucky. She turned and smiled up at him, then stared across the table at Dixie who was reaching for another slice of home-made bread.

Brandon held his breath. Everyone knew about Dixie’s temper, but Dixie’s eyes narrowed as she absorbed the mild rebuke, then she smiled softly while she slathered the warm bread with butter and bit into it with relish as she returned Claudia’s stare. Brandon breathed a sigh of relief while Georgia giggled into her napkin and Chance winked at his fiancée and patted her slightly rounded tummy under the table.

Ginny coughed to cover the sudden tension in the room and Hank scrambled for another topic of conversation. Grasping at the last comments about work, he got back to the subject of Claudia’s employment with the company. What do you think Mac? Dottie could use some help inputting the new customer codes into the system here at the house.

Over my dead body, Dixie murmured, as Mac spoke up at the same time. "Sounds like a good idea to me.