Love Realized (The Real Love Series)
Author:Melanie Codina

chapter THREE

“Dad, are you gonna come in the pool with us?” Ryan yelled to Jake from the water. “Yeah buddy, I will in just a little while. I haven’t had anything to eat since breakfast, so I want to grab some food first.”

“Okay, Dad.” Ryan proceeded to duck under the water and swim away. Well, Jake assumed he was dismissed to get some food. He strolled over to the new bar Logan had built to see what he could find. The bar looked good; Logan always had the ability to craft up crap like that. It was almost like the guy had everything. Talent, skills, the girl of his dreams. Oh wait; he did have everything! Damn, where the hell did that bitterness come from? Okay, so he knew exactly where it came from, but he just wasn’t prepared for it. It had been a while since he felt that jealousy toward Logan, but when he came out the back door and saw Gillian standing there, just smiling at the kids, she was as beautiful as ever, and it kind of took his breath away.

Gillian was the kind of person people gravitated toward. She cared about everyone around her, always put herself last, and never hesitated when she felt someone needed her. He supposed that these were all traits that made her such a good nurse. But those were just her inner beauties. She was both attractive on the inside and the outside. They had been friends since junior year in high school, and she has only become more beautiful over time.

She was of average height and build for a woman, coming in somewhere around five-foot five-inches, with bright green eyes and long, golden brown hair. There was a slight wave to her hair, and some women would probably use an iron to straighten it, which Jake didn’t understand, but hey he had a penis, what did he know? He did know that he loved her hair and the way she let hang over her shoulders and down her back. And even though there was a lot of hair, she didn’t hide her face behind it.

Gillian exuded confidence with her body and her looks, and she could make sweats look attractive, mainly because she really didn’t care what people thought about how she looked. She possessed a woman’s body and wasn’t rail thin like culture implied men desired, rather, she was curvy in all the right spots, and flat in all the others. She was beautiful and perfect in every way. Wow! Way to sound creepy, man. Damn, I must really need to get laid.

Sometimes he couldn’t stand the fact that Logan had a treasure like Gillian. He loved Logan like a brother, and had seen him just that way, but that didn’t mean he didn’t want to kick his ass sometimes. And it definitely didn’t mean that he didn’t covet what Logan had. But he conceded to Logan back in high school when he had clearly won Gillian’s heart before Jake even had a chance at trying.

God, he really sounded like a love sick stalker today. It’s not like he’d been pining over her for the past eighteen years. He just always had a soft spot in his heart for her. Gillian was one of his best friends. He only wanted her to be happy … and Logan made her happy. Now ain’t that just fucking fantastic!

Jake thought he had found his “Gillian” quite a few years back, even married her and had Ryan. But Wendy was nothing like Gillian. He found that out the hard way when he came home early to his ten-month old son crying in his crib while his wife entertained her boyfriend in their bedroom. Now that was a great day! Thankfully, Wendy packed up and followed what’s-his-name to Florida, and Jake was happy to see her go—thankful that she signed over full custody of Ryan to him. There was no way he was going to let a woman, who apparently cared more about her next orgasm than her baby in the next room, be able to claim any rights to his boy.

Well fuck! Was it take-a-trip-down-shitty-memory-lane-day? He needed a beer. He made it to the bar and saw that there was a keg … cool! Jake guessed when Logan did it, he did it right. As he reached behind the bar to get a cup, he saw his brother Jason get up and grumpily make his way into the house. Wonder what’s wrong with him? Shrugging, he filled his cup and took up the seat across from Sean, Gillian’s brother.

“Hey Sean, got the whole day off?” Sean glared at Jake, and he knew it was because of the favorite uncle comment. Jake couldn’t help but smile back; it was so easy to get under Sean’s skin. He was like a grumpy bear: fun to poke a stick at, but once you got him riled up you better haul ass before he got his hands on you. Although Sean was technically Dylan’s only uncle by blood, the Baxter kids had plenty of men they called uncle in their lives. There was not a lacking of male role models for them, that’s for sure.

Once he was done glaring, Sean replied, “Yeah, my schedule just changed. I'm working ten-hour shifts for four days then have three days off. I finished my first week on it yesterday so I have the next three days off. I can definitely go for that.” He reached over and squeezed his wife, Morgan’s, hand as she rubbed her very swollen belly. “Morgan needs me around more and more lately to take care of her.”

Morgan then smiled indulgently at her husband and said, “Don’t you think you’ve done enough? I already feel ‘taken care of,’” she said, making air quotes and gesturing to her belly. They all laughed at that. Jake leaned over and kissed Morgan on the cheek, and she was all smiles.

“Hey, go get your own girl, that one’s mine,” Sean growled at Jake. This, of course, made Jake and Morgan laugh more.

“Well, duh, everyone knows she’s yours. You keep knocking her up! Give the poor girl a rest.” Jake sat back down, but didn’t miss how Sean scooted his chair closer to Morgan. “How are you feeling, Morgan?”

“Oh, I'm great, just busy gestating these days. Got six weeks left to go, and I'm counting the days.”

“I bet. I don’t know how you women can do that. There is clearly a reason why women were chosen to have the babies. If it were up to us men, the race would have died out long ago.”

“Isn’t that the truth?” Morgan agreed.

“Where did my brother stomp off to? He looked angry or something.”

Morgan gave him a quizzical look and replied, “I'm not sure, but I didn’t think he stormed off. I guess there did appear to be a purpose in his stride.” She pondered silently for a moment before continuing, “Maybe he followed Logan and Gillian inside … I think she got stung by a bee or something. I saw Logan hustle her inside after she dropped the tray of food.”

“Maybe he was just mad because Gilly dropped the tray of meat on the ground … he’s a big guy and needs his meat,” Sean added in a sarcastic tone.

Morgan gave her husband an I-can’t-believe-you-said-that look before saying, “Oh yeah, like you aren’t a big guy who needs his meat. Gimme a break, Sean, you are probably considering the discarded stuff that hit the ground right about now.”

“I'm not worried about it; I know my sister would never let me go hungry,” he replied with a smug smile. Morgan rolled her eyes at her husband then turned to Jake and said, “Like she would let any of you guys go hungry—you’re all quite spoiled.”

Jake smiled at that; there was no argument there. He was always being fed in the Baxter household. Gillian always made sure there was enough for everyone in her house and any extra mouths that always seemed to drop in. Present company included. He couldn’t help it. Ryan always wanted to hang out with Dylan, and who was he to disappoint his son. Man, he really was full of shit.

Morgan interrupted his thoughts. “Hey Jake, why don’t you go check on Gillian, you being a paramedic and all. It’s not like her to not be out here taking care of her guests, and now I'm worried. Do you know if she is allergic to bee stings?”

Hmm, that’s a good question. And now, of course, she had him worried. “Good idea. I'm not sure if she has ever been stung before. But I’ve got my kit in the truck.” He stood up to head inside and asked Sean to keep an eye on the pool. It wasn’t like any of the adults still outside weren’t already keeping an eye on the kids in the pool, but since he had just gotten there, he had no idea who was sober or not. Sean’s nod of compliance was good enough for Jake.

While making his way into the house, he debated on whether or not he should get his kit from the car. He always kept it there for emergencies and knew it contained an EpiPen for situations of severe allergic reactions. Since he had just checked its contents last week, he knew it was in there. After thinking about it, he figured he should just go check on Gillian and then get it if needed.

Someone was trying to talk to him as he made his way toward the house, but he just inclined his head and gave a simple wave to acknowledge to them that he heard them, but was busy at the moment. He was a little distracted with tunnel vision now, looking for Gillian.

He had just made it in the back door when Jonathan, Gillian and Logan’s oldest, stormed past him, bumping into his shoulder. “Hey Jonathan, where’s the fire? Is there a problem or something?” Jake could tell something was wrong with Jonathan just by the look on his face.

“Sorry, Uncle Jake,” was all Jake got as Jonathan continued his little war path out of the house and proceeded to the side gate, exiting the yard and the party. Well, one thing at a time, Jake thought. Let the kid burn off some steam.

Nobody was in the family room or even the kitchen, so he made his way toward the front of the house. He found Madison in there talking on her cell phone and looking completely animated in the process. Man, was he glad he had a son. He didn’t think he could handle all that fire, energy, and attitude that came with a daughter like Madison.

“Seen your mom?” he asked her and was blessed with a pointed finger in the direction of the hallway that led to the stairs and the master bedroom. He assumed they were that direction, but was hoping for a little more info from the teenager. Maybe if he texted Madison he could get more details … isn’t that how to best communicate with the teenage race? That made him laugh a little and shake his head as he made his way toward the stairs. Who was he to talk? He spent plenty of time with his phone.

He had made it to the first step when he heard voices coming from the master bedroom. Glancing toward the door, he saw that it was closed most of the way leaving only a crack of it open. He moved to knock when he heard Logan talking, “Baby, please, let’s just take a minute to figure this out.”

Then he heard Jason grumble at Logan, “Back off man, you heard what your wife said. And honestly, you’re lucky I'm listening to her because I would really love to thump you right now. You have always been one to do stupid selfish shit, but this … you went too far this time!”

What the hell was going on in there? Deciding against knocking, Jake opened the door to see Logan on his knees, holding Gillian’s hands in his and Jason standing next to Gillian with his arm around her shoulders. Seriously, what the hell was going on in here? Let’s just set aside the fact that Jason had his arm around Gillian, which admittedly, made Jake a bit jealous. But why was Logan on his knees? The only conclusion Jake could come up with, without assuming the worst, was that it wasn’t good.

All three of them looked to Jake as he made his way into the room.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

“Hey guys, what’s going on?” Jake asked, looking between the three of them. When nobody answered, he looked to Gillian and continued, “Gillian, I heard you got stung by a bee; are you allergic and I didn’t know?” Jake asked, his eyes full of concern. Of course, being a paramedic, Jake would slip into that mode. Not to mention he was extremely protective of his loved ones. He started to advance on her, reaching for her hand when she stopped him.

“I'm not allergic, Jake, it was just slightly painful, but I'm okay. I need to get some ice on it. Would you mind getting me an ice pack from the kitchen?”

She knew that the pleading look in her eyes would have him off and retrieving the ice pack promptly. As Jake left the room, she turned to both Jason and Logan. “You both know Jake would not be happy with the events that have led to this current problem. You know how he feels about cheaters,” she said, giving Logan a pointed look. He actually looked down when she did, which of course, once again proved how guilty he was. She continued, “So I beg you both, don’t say anything to anyone, at all, about who that woman is and what role she plays in my marriage.”

Jason still had his arm around her shoulders and squeezed her to him in a one-armed hug. “You know I wouldn’t do that to you Gillian.” He kissed her on top of her head in the age-old way he did like she was his little sister. “You go get the ice pack on your hand to keep the charade up … I want to have a word with Logan.”

“I have seen your definition of ‘talking’ before Jason. So please, no split lips and no black eyes when you leave this room. That would destroy the charade, too, you know.”

Jason just smiled at her indulgently and said, “It takes a good twenty-four hours before the black eye would show.” And then he scooted her out of her own bedroom. As she made her way down the hallway, she heard the door shut behind her and thought that whatever was going to happen behind that door was most likely going to result in the need of another ice pack. Taking a deep breath to gather her strength, she made her way toward the kitchen and Jake. She prepared herself with a big ass fake smile on her face.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Something was wrong. He could tell. He wasn’t sure who the hell she thought she was trying to fool with that smile on her face as she came around the corner into the kitchen. The fact that Logan was on his knees didn’t bode well for him, so one could only assume that he was the cause of whatever emotions she was trying to hide. Oh, she was good at hiding it, but Jake knew her, and he knew that face. She was trying to be strong for some reason. He realized then that he needed her to know that he was there for her, regardless of what was going on, she had his support.

“Let me see that hand, girl.” Gillian stood there looking at him with a blankness coating her features, but he saw it when she schooled her emotions and blinked at him. “My hand is fine Jake—nothing to worry about.”

She attempted to reach for the ice pack he had in his hand, but he was quick and grabbed her other hand in his to have a look for himself. She tensed for a minute and tried to pull her hand back, but must have realized it was useless to try. He gave her a smug smile and proceeded to check her hand. There was nothing on it. No red mark, no induration, no sign of any bee sting. What the hell. That didn’t make any sense. He rotated her hand and wrist around, checking all surfaces, and found nothing indicating anything had happened.

He looked up at her face, about to question her, when he saw the pleading look in her tear filled eyes. “Please Jake, I'm fine. I promise.” She placed her other hand on his cheek and gave him a slight nod of the head with a weak smile that clearly didn’t reach any other part of her face.

“Gillian, what’s going on? ‘Cause you sure as hell don’t look fine!” He realized it came out a little harsh, and she didn’t need that from him. He dropped her hand and placed both of his on her shoulders. “Gillian, what’s wrong?”

Gillian closed her eyes, and the tears that had been pooling in her eyes slowly found their escape down her cheeks. She took in a deep breath, in what Jake could only assume was her way of trying to reign in some deeper emotions. He gently rubbed his hands up and down her upper arms from shoulder to elbow, letting her know that she could tell him anything. When she finally opened her eyes, he saw that pleading look again. “Why is it that whenever someone asks you ‘what’s wrong’ it just makes you want to cry more?” Gillian asked with a weak tear-choked voice. Fuck! What the hell’s going on! He screamed internally because he knew she didn’t need the overprotective ogre in him coming to the forefront. Oh, he knew she would take him to task if he said or did something to piss her off, but she looked so fragile and vulnerable right now. His internal warning lights went off just in time for him to avoid that mistake. Gillian needed something from him, and it certainly wasn’t for him to act like an ass.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

I can’t do this right now! Of course Jake would see right through her. But she knew that she couldn’t tell him right now. If she did, he would probably go ape-shit on Logan. Not that the bastard didn’t deserve an ass-whoopin’ from the Michael brothers, but there was still a party going on outside. She knew she was going to have to let him in a little, though, or else he would cause a scene—something she was desperately trying to avoid.

“Jake, I can’t do this right now. I beg you to understand that I can’t explain at the moment, but I do need your help.” That’s right, it was low of her, but she wasn’t above playing on his Neanderthal-I-need-to-be-the-hero ways by reaching out to him as if he could save her day. Desperate times call for desperate measures, my friends.

“I ruined the meat when I dropped the tray. Do you have anything to grill at your house maybe? Or would you be willing to run to the store for me?”

Jake stared at her for a few moments, while he continued to rub his hands up and down her arms, trying to comfort her. Then he nodded and said, “I have some burgers and dogs in my fridge. How about I run and get those, drop them by here and then go get more from the store. That way you can get started with feeding some while I get the rest.”

She felt the tension in her shoulders subside slightly. Jake was giving her a pass. She knew it was only temporary. When he wanted to know something, he was like a dog with a bone. Not much got in his way. What the hell was it with all these pain-in-the-ass-Alpha-males in her life anyway? Seriously! Who was she kidding, they might be a pain in the ass when you wanted to keep them in the dark about something, but in most other situations, they came in real handy. That made her smile a little.

“That would be perfect. Let me just grab my purse to get you some cash.” As she went to leave the confines of his grip and stare, he squeezed his hands a little tighter and said, “Gilly, I'm not sure what’s going on, but you will tell me later. I understand and see that you are trying to hold everything together right now.” He then pulled her into a big, comforting hug—the kind that just made you feel better. She sighed and melted into him while trying to hold the tears back again. Dammit! She hated feeling this pathetic!

“I don’t need any money, sweetie; you feed Ryan and me so much that I'm sure my tab is in the six figure range. So I got this.” He pulled back as she did and gave her a reassuring smile. “Do you need me to get someone for you? To help you?”

She shook her head silently, while continuing to control the tears that threatened to take over. “I’ll be fine.” He leaned in, kissed her forehead, and said, “I’ll be right back.” Then he turned to leave the room just as Jason and Logan entered the kitchen on their way back toward the back of the house. Oh crap! Please don’t let this fall apart now, she thought to herself as she braced for Jake to question them.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

When Jake saw Jason and Logan, he knew for certain that whatever was wrong, it was big. Gillian’s tear filled eyes already told him that, but the confirmation that clearly Logan was at fault was evident. Jake looked at Logan, but the man avoided eye contact with him. Further proof. Jake then made eye contact with his brother. Jason was only two or three inches taller than Jake, but they were close enough in height to where one wasn’t looking down at the other by much. He raised his eyebrow at Jason in silent question as to what was going on. The slight shake of Jason’s head was heard loud and clear. It was a silent message that he knew what the problem was, but this wasn’t the time or place for it to come out. Jake nodded at his brother so he knew the message was received.

“I'm heading over to my place to get some meat out of the freezer to throw on the grill before heading to the store for some more. Will one of you be handling the grill for Gillian?” he asked with a tone to imply that one of them better be doing it.

Logan actually spoke up and said, “Thanks for doing that, Jake. I appreciate it. I got the grill covered.” He then made his way past Jake and patted him on the shoulder as he did. Logan looked like a beaten dog. His eyes were sad and contrite, and his face belied that whatever had happened, he knew he had some serious ass kissing to do as he made his way toward his wife, who had her back to them and was staring intently out the window at something.

Jake turned back to his brother as he was making his exit. “Not sure what the fuck is going on here, man, but I'm going to assume you will make sure Gillian is okay?” he said in deliberately low tones so that neither Gillian nor Logan could hear him.

“I got it, man. Just get the meat; Gillian doesn’t want anyone else to know something is wrong. So the sooner you get back, the sooner the party can continue.” Jake heard the anger and irritation in Jason’s voice. What the hell did Logan do? he thought to himself as he left the kitchen and made his way out the front door.

Jake made it out to the driveway and was about to get into his jeep when he noticed someone sitting on the ground on the other side, leaning against the wheel. He made his way around the front of the jeep and found Jonathan sitting there with his knees bent, elbows resting on top of them with his hands firmly cradling his forehead.

“Hey, Jonathan, you okay?”

Jonathan looked up, startled for a moment, before recovering. “Um … yeah, Uncle Jake, I'm fine,” he declared with a tone that clearly expressed he was suppressing some kind of emotion. Like mother, like son. Not believing the kid, Jake asked, “Headache or something? You want me to get your mom for you?” He motioned over his shoulder in the direction of the house.

“No!” Jonathan declared, almost too quickly. “Really, Uncle Jake, I'm good … I promise.”

Jake was still not convinced, but knew it was stupid to push the topic. Seventeen year old boys didn’t respond too well to that, if Jake remembered anything about his teenage years. As he made his way back toward the driver’s side of his jeep, Jake responded. “Well, okay. I'm heading to get some meat for the grill since your mom accidentally dropped it all. You wanna go for the ride?”

“No … thanks. I'm going back inside. Nick and Robby are here. I just came out here to make a call,” he said as he raised his hand and gestured to his cell phone. Then he slowly unfolded his long body to stand up. As Jake watched him get up, he couldn’t help but notice how tall the young man had gotten.

“Okay, man, but if you need anything, just let me know.” Jake wasn’t sure why he said that to Jonathan. He was sure the kid knew that, but something about the look in his eyes made him feel like it was necessary. Maybe it was girl troubles. Jake remembered what it was like at that age when you didn’t get the girl you thought you were destined to be with. Ironically enough, Gillian was that girl.

So, yes, he remembered what that was like and hoped that poor Jonathan wasn’t going through that, too. Jonathan nodded at Jake’s statement and made his way into the house as Jake climbed in the jeep. It didn’t take him long to get the meat from his house back over to the party, and then he made his way over to the grocery store. He felt an urgent need to get back to the party; maybe he should bring some chocolate or maybe some ice cream back for Gillian. Better yet, he’d bring some chocolate ice cream. Kill two birds with one stone—the chocolate and the ice cream together—two comfort foods at the same time. Seeing a container of Rocky Road ice cream, and knowing it was her favorite, he picked it up and put it in the basket. Hopefully this could put a small smile on her face.