The Soldier's Surprise Family
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Texas state trooper Garrett Kincaid is a lone wolf—until he becomes an instant father of two young children. The former solider never knew he had a son…or that his little boy has a baby sister with nowhere to go. His landlady, lovely widow Anjelica Ortega-Garza, offers to help, and suddenly Garrett’s life is all about nap schedules and baby bottles and trying to make his traumatized son smile. Falling for Anjelica isn’t part of the plan. Yet even Garrett can’t deny that love has begun building a family of four right around him.
Garrett stared at his son’s photo.
Anjelica kept her gaze on Garrett’s face as he stared at the top photo of the boy. Not able to resist, she peeked over his arm and saw a serious little boy with Garrett’s green-gray eyes staring back at them.
Garrett pressed his hand over his eyes.
Moving back, she wanted to give him space to collect himself. A broken heart was nothing new to her, but to watch such a controlled man fighting to hold it together made her want to wrap him in her arms.
He handed her the photo, paper-clipped to an information sheet. “I don’t know how to do this, being a father.”
“We can make it work.” She blurted it out. Thinking of what had happened to those two small children, she knew they needed a home full of love and good memories. Tears started burning her eyes. “We have to make this right for them. We have to bring them to a real home.”
He looked at her. “We?”
A seventh-generation Texan, JOLENE NAVARRO fills her life with family, faith and life’s beautiful messiness. She knows that as much as the world changes, people stay the same. Vow-keepers and heartbreakers. Jolene married a vow-keeper who shows her holding hands never gets old. When not writing, Jolene teaches art to inner-city teens and hangs out with her own four almost-grown kids. Find Jolene on Facebook or her blog, jolenenavarrowriter.com.
Consider now, for the Lord has chosen you
to build a house for the sanctuary;
be courageous and act.
–1 Chronicles 28:10
This story is dedicated to the military families
that support, serve and protect our nation.
Especially Baron Von Guinther for talking
with me until the wee hours of the morning in
San Diego, brainstorming this story and
helping me get to know the hero, Garrett Kincaid.
Texas state trooper Garrett Kincaid scanned the yard, hoping to find it empty.The afternoon sun had gone into hiding as the breeze carried the aroma from the overabundance of flowering plants. When he arrived home from a long shift, sleep was the only action item on his agenda. Ha, he was funny.
His garage apartment offered sweet seclusion a few steps away. He might actually avoid a conversation or another offer of a meal from his energetic landlady, Anjelica Ortega-Garza. She threatened his resolve to stay out of relationships. There was too much to like about her. He even liked the way she said her name with the Spanish pronunciation. It rolled off his tongue so smooth. He shook his head and made himself stop playing with her name. It was just a name.
It took so much effort to tell her no. He had to admit he’d never eaten so well. According to his mother, pushing buttons on a microwave counted as a home-cooked meal. And during their short marriage, Viviana’s favorite dinner came in a to-go bag.
Another scent mixed with the flowers and he knew coffee and bacon were close. The lady could cook. She seemed to have an overdeveloped need to feed the entire population of Real County and every resident within a hundred-mile radius.
“Stop right there. Don’t even think about it!”
Firm and sharp, the command stopped Garrett midmotion. He turned to find the lady who had just been in his thoughts. Standing with her hands planted on her hips. Petite and lovely, she looked in charge. A purple scarf got caught up in the wind before she tucked it back into place.
He groaned. His resolve not to think of her in a personal way took a hit every time he saw her. So much for avoiding her.
Her normally friendly smile was gone, replaced with a glare, but not at him. A few feet away from her, a silky mop of a dog lay on its belly. Big brown eyes darted between Anjelica and a small herd of colorful chickens. Maybe they were a flock. What do you call a group of chickens?
He’d grown up in the city surrounded by noise, not hills and odd farm animals. A month ago he would have told anyone who asked that he was a city boy. But living fifteen miles from a town that was in the middle of nowhere, Texas, he discovered a new side of himself. And a new plan, to build a home of his own where people wouldn’t bother him, especially an overly friendly landlady.
The one-room cabin would sit on the edge of the Frio River. He could see the waters running so clear it washed all the grime away from life.
He sighed. After his disastrous marriage, the biggest part of his plan was to stay single, no ties and no family. There was a sign over Anjelica that screamed Hero Needed and he vowed to never play that game again.
A small whine sounded from the silky mop with a pink bow. Maybe he could still make it up the stairs to the apartment over her garage. He glanced to the door, estimating how long it would take to—
He dropped his head before turning to face her. The woman made him nervous with her whimsical smile and dancing movements. Fragile and naive, someone else who needed to be protected from the real world.
Her golden-brown eyes found him, bright and eager. The commander of a moment ago vanished as she made her way toward him. The fluff of a dog that Garrett had never seen before followed, deciding to chase her flowing skirts instead of the chickens. “How was work? I always pray nothing happens.” Her eyes slipped to the gun he had holstered at his hip. “Uneventful night in your line of work is a good thing, right?”
“I saved a couple of extra soft tacos. Egg and bacon along with fresh coffee. I can bring them to you.”
“I—” Before he could find a good excuse, Sheriff Torres’s patrol vehicle pulled into the drive and parked behind his SUV. An unexpected visit from the local sheriff usually brought bad news.
Anjelica’s smile vanished. She clutched her scarf with one hand as the other held her stomach. She displayed all the signs of someone who knew to expect bad news. In a few steps he closed the gap between them.
A woman in a fitted business suit and low heels got out of the passenger side. She was tall, with her dark blond hair forming a neat bun. In his cowboy hat, Sheriff Torres approached with the woman close behind.
“Morning, Anjelica. Kincaid.” He nodded to each of them and shook their hands.
Garrett watched as Anjelica took a deep breath, in and out.
“Kincaid, this is Sharon Gibson. She’s with CPS.”
Child Protective Services. Relief loosened the muscles he hadn’t even noticed had tightened. So it was work related and they were here for him, not her. He gave Anjelica a reassuring smile. Her shoulders dropped a notch and her smile returned. She moved to the woman and shook her hand.
The woman turned to him, offering a greeting. In her free hand, she carried a couple of folders. “Nice to meet you, Officer Kincaid.”
“Likewise. So, what can I do for you?” The one thing he dreaded the most was domestic situations involving kids. He turned to Torres. The sheriff shook his head. Garrett’s brows crunched inward. Now he was confused.
Sharon Gibson cleared her throat. “We’re here because of your son in Kerrville.”
“Excuse me?” There was no way he’d heard that right. He glanced at the sheriff’s grim face. “I don’t have any children. I’ve never even lived in Kerrville.”
“You were married to Viviana Barrera Kincaid while in Houston, correct?”
“For a short time.”
She tilted her head. “Are you saying her son is not yours or that you are unaware of the boy, Garrett River Kincaid Jr.?”
The world stopped spinning. Where had his blood gone? Glancing down, he noted that his body looked intact. Muscles pricked as if drained.
The woman looked around. “Is there somewhere we can sit and talk?”
His mind had gone blank. Sit? She wanted somewhere to sit? Behind an invisible wall, he watched Anjelica pick up her dog. Words were exchanged.
She walked to her porch and disappeared into the house. The woman, Sharon Gibson with CPS, followed her onto the porch and sat on a rocking chair.
Commands from his brain went unheard by his body. Nothing worked. Frozen. Viviana had found a way to pull him into her drama all over again.
Torres stopped next to him, placing a firm hand on his upper arm. “I take it you didn’t know about the boy. No one likes being blindsided.” The sheriff patted Garrett’s tense shoulder. “Come on—we’ll get this worked out.”
A son, no way. There had to be a mistake. Viviana, for all her faults, would have told him about a child. It had to be Ed’s, her boyfriend she kept going back to. How could they know for sure that the boy was his? He was going to be sick. Deep breaths.
He followed Torres up the steps, not seeing anything but the folders on the low table between the chairs.
Anjelica pushed open the screen door. The hinges needed to be oiled. She sat a tray on the small table. “I have sugar and cream. Does anyone need something else, like water?”
Sharon smiled. “This is perfect, thank you.” She poured cream into her cup.
Garrett stared at the swirls of the white getting lost in the black liquid.
“Garrett?” Anjelica’s voice brought him back to the present. The warmth and smile were gone. Now he got the same glare the chicken-chasing dog earned. He was a dog.
He shook his head. If he tried to drink or eat anything, it wouldn’t stay down.
At the end of the porch, across from Sharon, Sheriff Torres sat on the swing and took a drink from his cup. “Sure you don’t want coffee? Maybe some water?”
“I’ll get you some water.” Anjelica disappeared into the house.
Sharon took a sip before she looked at him, a soft smile on her face. “So you were married to Viviana Barrera?”
Breathe, Garrett. You have to breathe. He nodded. His throat too dry to make a coherent sound.
“Her son’s name is Garrett River Kincaid Jr. You’re listed as the father on his birth certificate. Family members also say you’re the father.”
“Are you sure?” What kind of man didn’t know he had a kid? Even his loser of a father stuck around for the first few years. “I didn’t know.” His jaw hurt, but he made sure to keep his face calm. A clear mind and facts, that was what he needed to sort this out.
“This is an emergency situation. You can challenge with a DNA test if you want to, but the state uses the name on the birth certificate and acknowledges you as the legal father.”
Garrett looked at the curve of the rocker resting on the worn boards of the porch. What had Viviana done now? He cleared his throat, the need to explain, to make them understand, burning his gut.
He heard the creak of the screen door again and looked up. Anjelica handed him a water bottle. Fighting the urge to press the cold bottle against his neck, he rolled it between his palms. His landlady vanished inside the house again. “Why are you the one telling me this? Are they in trouble?” If CPS was involved, something had to be wrong.
Sheriff Torres leaned his elbows on his knees and Sharon took a deep breath. He wanted to yell at them to stop messing with him, but he sat and waited. He pressed his right thumb into the center of his left palm. He could hear the chickens in the yard and music playing somewhere in the house. None of it seemed real.
“There’s a history of domestic violence with her current boyfriend.”
Viviana’s life was a history of domestic violence, from the time she was born. The need to save her had eaten him for years.
“Yesterday a neighbor called to report shouting and gunshots. Two bodies were found. It looks as if he shot her, then turned the gun on himself. It’s under investigation. The officers found the boy, Garrett, his baby sister and a dog hiding in the backyard.”
All the blood left his body. If Sharon kept talking, he didn’t hear it. Viviana was dead. Grief and regret swamped him. She was dead and she had left children behind. Not just the one boy named Garrett Kincaid, but a daughter, too. Oh, Viviana.
He ran his hands through his hair. “More than one?” He didn’t understand. “How many children did she have? Are they Ed’s?” This couldn’t be real. “I can’t imagine he allowed her to put my name as the father. This isn’t making sense.”
The caseworker’s brow drew closer and she gave him a questioning look. “Ed? I don’t know who that is. The current boyfriend was James Barrow. He is the father of the little girl. She’s ten months old. He was an auto mechanic and had a job in Kerrville until about a month ago. His family lives in Houston.”
He rubbed his face. “She moved on to someone worse?” Trying to figure out Viviana’s love life wasn’t important right now. Her children were now orphaned. What a mess, a living nightmare.
He took in one long breath, counting to seven. “Tell me what you know.” He looked Sharon in the face. If what she said was correct, the boy wasn’t an orphan. Garrett’s stomach rolled.
No, the boy had a father, and that would be him. Maybe. Just because Viviana put his name on the birth certificate didn’t mean the boy was his, but he couldn’t just leave them, either. From the first time he met her at the age of ten, he had been desperate to rescue Viviana from her life. Taking her children would be a way to do that, since she never allowed him to help her.
“The boy, Garrett River, just turned five. Pilar is the girl—she’s ten months old. With the birth certificate, letters from the mother and other family members’ statements, we have enough evidence to immediately place them with you if you’re willing. It doesn’t mean you’re taking permanent custody of the girl. There will be a hearing for temporary placement that needs to happen rather fast. The courts will decide on that first, then permanent in six months.”
Custody and court dates? Garrett leaned back and closed his eyes. “I gave her an ultimatum. Viviana picked Ed. I left Houston, blocked her from my phone and filed for divorce.” He jolted from the rocking chair and paced along the edge of the porch. His muscles jumped under his skin, restless and tight.
Oh man, what if she’d tried to call and tell him about the pregnancy? He covered his eyes with his hands, pressing the palms hard against his eye sockets. He had been so set on not allowing her to use him again. His stubbornness could mean he had left a son behind. “What do I need to do now?”
“We need you to take immediate custody of the children.” She took a sip of her coffee. “Because you’re a state trooper, a veteran and the state-acknowledged biological father of the first child, we could place Pilar with you if you’re willing to take her. We would still have to go to court, but my hope is you agree to be the temporary solution. We still need to follow up with home inspections and parenting classes.”
Looking at the horizon, Garrett cleared all thoughts and concentrated on breathing.
Torres cleared his throat. “So he doesn’t need a DNA test to claim the boy? Where are they now?”
“No, as far as we’re concerned, he’s the father. He’ll only need the DNA test if he wants to challenge the birth certificate. Right now the kids are in an emergency shelter in Kerrville. We’d like to get them out of there as soon as possible. It’s not designed for the care of infants and small children. There’s no one that’s capable of caring for the children on the mother’s side of the family, and the father’s side refuses to take them.”
“So you want me to take both of them.”
“We do prefer keeping them together whenever possible.”
He nodded. A baby needed a crib and a car seat... Well, he wasn’t even sure what all a baby needed. The boy was only five. Did he need special equipment? “What timeline are you looking at for me to take the kids?”
“So you’re willing to take both of the children?”
He nodded. He didn’t see any other choice. If that was his son and his son had a sister, he’d keep them together. Even if the boy wasn’t his son, he was Viviana’s and no kid deserved to start off life that way.
Everyone was looking at him. Glancing away from their intense gazes, Garrett turned to the horizon. This was not how he imagined fatherhood entering his life. A strong urge to pray plagued him, but he didn’t even know where to start.
Sharon gave him a big smile. “Good. I know this is a shock, but the faster we can get these little ones settled with you, the better. Can you pick them up tomorrow? We’ll set up a house inspection afterward.”
“Tomorrow.” A flash of panic constricted his lungs. Garrett turned to Torres. He was the closest thing to a friend he had in this town, but their only connections were the Marines and state law enforcement. Could he help with the kids?
No, not the kids, his kids. Hoping the sick feeling in his gut didn’t show on his face, he forced a smile for Sharon.
With a warm glow in her eyes, she leaned forward and touched his hand, offering him two plain-looking folders. These folders would change his life forever. Was he ready? Could he do this? Parenting two babies who’d suffered a major trauma. He had his own issues to deal with. Nodding, he took the folders from her. “Thank you.” His fingers dropped them on the tabletop as if they had burned him.
He had been so careless and Viviana...oh, Viviana. He thought of the girl he had loved. His love had not been enough. Would he be enough for her children? The children were caught in a horrific trap and it looked as if he was their best hope. That didn’t say much for the poor kids. He had to be stronger than his nightmares. Another wave of nausea rolled over his stomach.
This had to be made right. They needed a safe place, a home. He was all they had left. Maybe his mother could take some time off work.
Anjelica opened the door. “Do you need anything? More water? Something to eat?”
“I didn’t even think to ask. I got custody of two small children, a small boy and a baby girl. Can I move them into the apartment with me?”
“Two? Not just the son?” Her mouth open, she blinked a few times before turning to the CPS worker. “Without a doubt, they’ll be welcomed here. Anything they need.”
Sheriff Torres nodded and turned to Garrett. “I’ll talk to Pastor John. The church will make sure you have what you need. Don’t hesitate to ask for help on this. Check to see if you can take some days off work to get them settled.” He looked at Sharon. “He’ll have the support of the community. We’ll make sure he has all the bases covered.”
Garrett rubbed the back of his neck. All the bases would mean childcare with his crazy schedule and appropriate gear for the kids. Food that kids ate. Did a ten-month-old baby even eat? Was she still on a bottle? Oh man, they need psychotherapy. He jerked his head to the caseworker, who now stood next to him. “Did they witness the incident?”
Pursing her lips, she gave him a slight nod. “We believe the boy did. Everything’s in the report. Like I said, they found them in the backyard. At first the dog made it difficult to get to them. We’re not sure if they crawled out before or after the incident.”
And there it just went. Had he really thought things couldn’t get worse?
Anjelica moved closer to the edge of the porch. “Sharon, you don’t need to worry.” Tenderness softened her eyes to a golden honey as she looked at Sheriff Torres. “These kids won’t be alone. We can all lend a hand.”
Without even knowing what had happened, she stepped up and offered her service. He hated the thought of her reaction to the fact he had a son he didn’t know existed.
Asking for help went against everything he’d ever taught himself. But if he and these poor kids were going to have a chance at surviving this ordeal, that was going to have to change.
A dry throat was hard to talk around. He swallowed and managed a simple “Thank you.”
Sharon smiled. “I have given you some shocking information, Officer Kincaid. In the folders you’ll find my number if you need to reach me. You’ll be appointed a new caseworker.” She smiled at Anjelica. “Thanks for helping.”
“It’s the least I can do.” She looked at Garrett, her wide smile tighter than usual. The new coldness burned in her usually warm eyes.
Gathering her bag, Sharon turned away from them. She stopped at the last step. “You’ll make a big difference in their lives. You’re doing the right thing, Officer Kincaid.”
Then why did it feel like he was making the worst mistake in his life? He turned to Anjelica. “I have to go to the apartment and see what I can do to make it kid ready.”
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