All There Is
“What happened?” George asked as he walked through the front door of Jessica’s home in Cabot Cove.
Seth looked at the harried man in front of him, realizing that he hadn’t slept, probably since the phone call. “It’s her back.”
George sighed and drug a hand over his face as he sat down in a nearby chair. “Tell me.”
Sitting in the chair across from George, Seth wondered if he should tell the man everything or just tell him what had happened with Jessica’s back. “George?”
“How long has it been since you’ve slept?” Seth asked instead, deciding the man needed sleep before anything else.
Clearly confused, George stared at Seth. “What?”
“I asked how long it’s been since you’ve gotten any sleep.”
“Oh,” he shrugged. “A day? Two days? I don’t know.”
Seth shook his head. This situation was ridiculous. “Go up to the spare bedroom and get some sleep.”
“Jess is asleep. I’ve got her sedated. She’s in too much pain to be awake for very long at a time.”
George nodded, too tired to argue. “Staying?”
“I’ll be here.” Seth assured him.
“Ay,” the Scotsman mumbled as he trudged up the stairs, his luggage forgotten beside the chair.
Seth stared at the man’s luggage and frowned. Something was clearly off with his two friends. The question was, what?
Seth shook his head as he looked in the spare bedroom. George had collapsed across the bed, still wearing the clothes he’d arrived in, his shoes still on his feet which were hanging off the bed.
“That can’t be comfortable,” he mumbled as he moved on down the hall, deciding that after he’d checked in on Jessica, he’d wake George up and fill the man in on what had happened. He also suspected he’d have to feed the man. Oh well, a good meal always seemed to make it easier to talk, and in this case, he was going to need all the help he could get.
“Jess,” he said her name gently when he realized she was waking up, then smiled when she looked at him. “Easy. I’ll get some more medicine to make the pain go away.”
“Seth,” she whispered. “please.” In all the years she’d suffered with her back going out, this was by far the worst. Of course, falling and landing on her back probably had something to do with it. She was sure that her back was bruised, as several rocks had been on the ground where she fell, and she was positive that once she was better, Seth would give her a good scolding…something she wasn’t looking forward to.
“You’re going to be fine, Jess. It’s going to be a while before you’re able to get out of bed, but after the fall you took, that’s to be expected.” Squeezing her hand, he studied her glassy eyes. “Since you’re awake, can you stand the pain long enough for me to warm you up some soup? You need to eat.”
Closing her eyes, she sighed, “I think so.”
“I’ll be right back.”
“I’ll be here.”
Seth shook his head. “Still have your smart mouth…that’s a good sign,” he chuckled as he walked from the room.
Making his way back down the hall, he looked in on George again, then pulled the door shut. Deciding it best to wait to wake the man until Jessica was asleep again, he quickly made his way down the stairs to the kitchen, moving with ease about the room as he pulled out the large container of soup he’d fixed three days ago. He’d made sure to make plenty so that it would be easy for him to heat up when Jessica needed something to eat.
“I’m going to have to go grocery shopping once I’ve talked to George. I hope the man can cook.”
“Aye, I can cook.” George whispered as he walked into the room.
“George.” Seth looked at the man, a bit shocked to see him awake. “You’re awake.”
“Ay. The position I was in wasn’t very comfortable.” He rubbed his neck as if to prove his point.
“Well don’t talk very loud. Jess is awake and she doesn’t know you’re here.”
“Didn’t you tell her you called me?”
“No. She would have insisted that I not call you,” Seth told the man. “Let me get this soup up to her. Once she’s eaten and the pain killer has kicked in, I’ll be back down and we’ll talk.”
George nodded. “Alright. Mind if I have myself a bowl of that soup? I didn’t eat anything on the plane.”
“So tell me what happened?” George asked half an hour later.
Seth studied the man. “First, tell me what happened between the two of you.”
George blinked, a bit taken aback by the question. “What makes you think something happened?”
Seth rolled his eyes. “George,” he grumbled. “Jessica showed up here a month earlier than she’d planned. She came home in the middle of the night, when she knew the town would be asleep. None of us knew she was anywhere near here for a week. I don’t think we’d have known, even then, if someone hadn’t seen the light go on in the kitchen and called Mort to report a break in. She’s not been herself, George. The sparkle isn’t in her eyes. And she was careless.”
“Is that how she got hurt?”
George hung his head. “Laird, what a mess.” Looking back up at Seth, the Scotsman sighed. “I didn’t hurt her, if that’s what you’re thinking, Seth. We need to talk about things, her decision. I can’t tell you more than that because I don’t know myself.”
“She’s questioning the way your relationship has been.” Seth guessed, his suspicions about what had been bothering Jessica suddenly confirmed by George’s reaction.
“She told you?”
“No, she never said a word. I’ve known her for too many years not to be able to figure certain things out. She hasn’t talked about you like she usually does. The fact that she was distracted enough to fall off the ladder doing something she’s done a thousand times, told me that the reason she wasn’t talking about you was because something had happened. And yes, I know about the incident with her brother, but that isn’t what this is about.”
George sucked in a breath. “She fell off a ladder?”
Seth nodded. “Yes. I’ve always been after her not to do the winter weather proofing of the house by herself, but she’s never listened to me. She was up on the ladder checking the shutters. She lost her balance and fell, landing on her back on some rocks that had been left behind by the man she’d hired to take care of her yard while she was gone. The thing is, she didn’t place her ladder properly…hence the carelessness.”
“Did she damage anything?”
“Surprisingly enough, no. She’s just badly bruised. The muscles in her back are in constant spasms. Right now I’m giving her pain killers and sedatives, alternating the two each time she wakes up so that she doesn’t become addicted to the pain killers.”
George nodded. “Why did you call me instead of one of her brothers? They’re coming here for the holiday anyway.”
“Because she needs you, not one of her brothers. Marshall is a doctor who would overreact and only bring more stress to Jessica. I’m sure Martin and Helen would’ve been here as fast as they could, had I called, but I know Jess. It’s going to be bad enough when she finds out I called you.”
“Then don’t tell her. Just let her wake up and find me sitting by her bed. I’ll do the rest.”
“I like that plan.” Seth smiled. “She’ll sleep for another four hours so why don’t you go back upstairs and get some more rest? I have a few patients to see then I’ll stop and get some groceries on my way back. No need for you to venture out unless you want to. No one in town knows you’re here except Mort.”
“I guess that’s why you were so pleased with my early morning flight.”
“Thank you, Seth.” George gave the man a tired smile as they stood up.
“No need to thank me, George. I had to call someone to come take care of her because I can’t stay with her all the time, and since I knew something was wrong,” he shrugged.
“You’re playing Mr. Fixit, as Jessie would say.”
“I’m being her best friend, George. Nothing more.”
Jessica moaned and blinked as she tried to come out of the fog that clouded her mind from the medications Seth had been giving her. Squinting to see better when she noticed a figure by her bed, she closed her eyes and squeezed before opening them again – sure she hadn’t seen who she thought she had.
“George?” she questioned, still not sure.
George stirred then sat forward and smiled as he took her hand. “Aye, Lass. It’s me.” He reached out to caress her hair from her face.
“What are you doing here?” she asked then cleared her throat.
George picked up the pitcher of water sitting on the night stand and filled the glass that Seth had been using to give Jessica drinks when she needed them. Gently lifting her head enough so that she could sip from the glass, he watched the pain fill her eyes at the slight movement.
“Oh, Jessie, I’m sorry,” he whispered when he carefully settled her back against her pillow.
“Why are you here?” she asked again, ignoring his comment.
“Seth called me because he needed someone to come stay with you.”
“He could have called one of our friends here in town.”
“Who, Jessie? Is there anyone in town that can stay with you night and day?”
Jessica sighed, knowing that he was right. “No. But what about you? You’re missing work yourself.”
George smiled and lifted her hand to his lips to kiss. “I have time to take, Lass. Don’t worry about me.”
“Oh George,” she sighed then moaned and gripped his hand.
“Easy,” he soothed. “I have something here that Seth thinks will help.”
“More medication?” she asked with a groan.
“No. It’s a massage oil he made up himself. According to Seth, it’s baby oil that he mixed pure peppermint oil into.”
Jessica nodded slightly then winced. “Antispasmodic.”
George nodded. “He said that it should help the spasms in your back stop. He told me to give you half a pain killer beforehand so that it won’t be as painful to move you onto your stomach for the massage.”
Jessica closed her eyes. “I’m not sure I can stand being moved while awake.”
“Then I’ll talk to Seth and see if I can give you all of the pain killer instead of half. If so, I’ll just reposition you after you’ve drifted off.”
“That sounds like a plan,” she sighed. “What time is it?”
“Just after lunch. Are you hungry? Seth said to make sure you eat.”
“Seth’s too fussy.”
“He’s worried, Jessie.”
“Is that why he called you?”
George sighed, “Jessie, can we hold off on that discussion until I’ve brought you something to eat?”
“Alright,” she gave in, too in pain to really care about fussing with George over his being there.
Standing up, George bent over and pressed a soft kiss to her forehead. “I’ll be right back.”
While the talk they’d had over lunch hadn’t been the one they needed to have, it had cleared the air about George’s presence. George was sure that her fussing over him being there hadn’t really been about the fact that he’d taken extra time from his work, but more about the fact that she hadn’t had the extra weeks to make her decision about what she was going to do about their relationship.
Studying her as she slept, George gently let the hand he was holding drop, waiting to see if she stirred. Nodding to himself when she didn’t even twitch, he pulled back her blankets and carefully sat her up, leaning her back against him so that he could unbutton her pajama top before turning her onto her stomach. Seth had told him to wait at least two hours, stating that after two hours would be when Jessica would in the deepest sleep.
After laying Jessica on her stomach, George felt his heart constrict at the sight of her back. “Laird, Jessie,” he breathed as he tenderly caressed over the bruises. Shaking himself out of his shock, he poured some of the oil out, carefully rubbing it in just as Seth had told him to. The smell of the peppermint was strong and his eyes began to water, but still he continued, praying as he did that this would help his love.
“This would be another good reason not to have called someone else,” he muttered a few minutes later as he stood up to go wash his hands. “Wouldn’t want anyone else seeing your bare back.”
Sighing as he made his way to the bathroom, his thoughts turned to how things were so tense between them. He hated feeling so uneasy around Jessica, but not knowing what decision she was going to make about where their relationship was going to go, or if there would even still be a relationship, was making it hard to feel anything but uneasy.
As he finished washing his hands, he decided to go downstairs to the kitchen to make himself a snack. Maybe eating a piece of the pie he’d noticed earlier would take his mind off the mess that his love life suddenly seemed to be in.
The ringing of the phone interrupted his musings. Hurriedly taking the last of the stairs, he stopped by the phone, wondering if it was a good idea to answer it since only two people knew he was there. Deciding to let the answering machine do the work, he quickly picked up the receiver when he heard Seth’s voice on the tape.
“How is everything? Jess still asleep?”
“Everything’s fine. And yes, she’s still asleep.”
“Good, good. I’m going to go by the store but I should be back before she wakes up again.”
“Fine. I’ll be here.”
“Ayuh. Bye George.”
“Goodbye, Seth.” George hung the phone up then made his way to the refrigerator to take out the pie, staring at it then putting it back. He was just too tired to take the time to fuss with cutting then eating a slice. If he kept up this maddening pace, Seth would have more than one patient.
Jessica’s eyes fluttered open and for the first time in days she wasn’t greeted with pain. She ached, as anyone would after a fall like hers, but the pain of the muscle spasms wasn’t there. She smiled slightly at the feel of the blankets against her bare skin, then felt her eyes water as they caught sight of George sitting sleeping in the chair by the fireplace. The light of the fire cast an orange light about the dim room, softening the features of the man that had captured her heart. She knew he had to be uncomfortable in the position he was in, his frame much too tall for the chair to act as his bed.
“George,” she whispered, knowing that he’d hear her.
George stirred then smiled when he was greeted with the blue eyes he’d been dreaming about. “Hello, Lass,” he breathed as he stood up to move to her side. Sitting carefully on the side of her bed, he caressed her cheek. “How do you feel?”
“I ache, but the spasms aren’t there.”
“Good. That means Seth’s homemade massage oil is working.”
Jessica nodded. “George?”
“Do you think,” she paused, unsure if she should ask what she wanted.
“What is it, Lass?”
“Do you think we could try a bath?”
George smiled at the way her face tinged pink. “If you think you can handle that kind of movement.”
“I’d like to try. Sponge baths just aren’t enough. And I’m sure my hair is awful.”
“It’s a bit mussed, but I like it.” He winked, making her laugh.
“I can’t believe it’s already another day.”
“Well, you’ve been doing a lot of drug induced sleeping, so days go by without much notice.”
She nodded. “Now that we know the peppermint and baby oil mixture is working, maybe I’ll be able to spend more time awake.”
“Maybe so. I miss those bright eyes of yours. The drugs dull them and make them glassy.”
“When is Seth going to be back?” she asked suddenly, realizing that her bath might have to wait.
“He said that he was going to be here before you woke up, but something must have happened. Why? Are you worried he won’t like you being up and about?”
She nodded. “Yes. He’ll grumble and bluster.”
“I’ll handle Seth.” George promised as he leaned over and kissed her cheek. “Let me go run your bath, then we’ll work on getting you undressed and in to said bath.”
“It’s going to be nice being out of this bed.”
“I’m sure it will be.”
Jessica watched him disappear from the room and sighed, “We really need to talk.” She’d been avoiding it, and hadn’t been very pleasant with him at the beginning, but it had only been because she wasn’t prepared. She’d been looking forward to the extra time to think about what to do about the way things were.
George stood leaning against the door frame, watching Jessica as she lay staring into the fire, her mind miles away. Or maybe not so far away. He thought she might be thinking of them, of what was to become of their relationship. He hadn’t been lying when he’d told her losing her, living without her in his life in some fashion, would be too painful to bear. While he’d loved his wife, she had never been a part of his work world. She had never understood the things that he saw, the pain some of the worst crimes caused him. But Jessie…Jessie had seen it. She wrote about it, understood it better than a lot of his colleagues, sometimes better than even he himself did. And because of that, there was a connection between them that had never existed with any other person in his life. She always knew when a case was troubling him and let him talk to her, tell her what was going on, and on some occasions had even helped him work out a mystery that had caused a case to come to a stand still.
Coming out of his musings, George turned back into the bathroom and turned off the water, checking once more to make sure the temperature was right. Nodding in satisfaction, he wiped the bubbles from his hand and strode back into the bedroom.
“Are you ready to try this, Jessie?”
Jessica blinked as she brought herself back to the present then nodded. “Yes, I’m ready.”
Leaning down, George gently helped her sit up, unable to stop his hands from caressing her soft skin. “Easy,” he whispered when she winced and leaned against him.
Jessica bit her lip and took a deep breath. “I don’t think I’m going to be able to do this.”
“You don’t have to do it by yourself, Jessie.” He winked at her when she looked at him. Leaning over, he whispered in her ear. “I’ve undressed ye enough, I believe I know what to do.”
“George,” she breathed and blushed.
Pressing a kiss to her ear, George quickly helped her with the rest of her clothes then gently lifted her into his arms. “We’ll save walking for another time.” He didn’t tell her that he wanted to hold her because he was afraid it might be the last time he got the chance to touch and see her like this.
But she knew. She saw it in his eyes. Felt it in the way his heart beat in his chest. Every touch and kiss was being savored as if they were to be the last. “They won’t be, George,” she whispered as she cupped his cheek, making him pause and stare at her.
“Jessie?” he questioned after a few moments.
“I know what you’re thinking. I wasn’t sure about what my decision was going to be until just now. Seeing it in your eyes, I realized, I can’t go back to not feeling your touch, your kisses on my lips. I can’t go back to being alone.”
“Jessie,” he breathed as he settled her into the water, carefully leaning her against the tub. Kneeling down, he reached up, his wet hand shaking as he touched her cheek. “What are you saying?”
“You asked me two months ago if I was going to leave you – I’m not.”
Closing his eyes, George took a deep breath to calm his heart. “Oh Jessie,” he whispered as he leaned forward and rested his forehead against hers.
“We still have to talk, but I couldn’t stand seeing the uncertainty in your eyes.”
He nodded. “Do you want me to stay, or do you think you’ll be okay to do this by yourself?”
“I think I’ll be fine. The heat of the water feels good on my back.”
“Then I’m going to go take a shower and fix some breakfast. I’ll check on you before I go downstairs.”
“I’ll be right here.” She smiled.
“You’d better be,” he chuckled when she rubbed her nose against his. “After we get you settled back in bed, I’ll put some more of the oil on your back.”
“Good. I want to try and make it as long as possible without the pain meds.”
George nodded and pressed a kiss to her forehead then pushed himself up. “I won’t be gone long. Yell if you need something.”
“Promise,” she whispered with a smile as she settled a bit further down in the water.
“Here,” he told her as he placed a rolled towel under her head. “this will make it more comfortable.”
“Thank you,” she sighed as she let her head fall back on the soft material.
George shook his head as he watched her eyes close, sure that she’d be asleep when he returned. For all her fussing about all the sleeping she’d been doing, he knew that she was still tired. Taking one last look, he made his way out of the room, determined to take a shower, get ready, and have Jess back in her bed before Seth arrived. The last thing he wanted was an upset doctor on his hands.
Jessica winced then moaned as George gently worked the oil into her back. “We were very lucky Seth couldn’t make it.”
“Oh, he’s all bluster, no bite.” George chuckled. “He’s just being cautious, Jessie. I think your fall scared him.”
“Scared me,” she mumbled. “It’s going to be a while before I get back up on a ladder.”
“You shouldn’t have been on a ladder here by yourself, anyway.” George scolded.
“Oh, don’t you start.” Jessica sighed.
“I’m sorry, Jessie, but you don’t see the bruises on your back. Laird, Lass. You’re lucky you didn’t break something.”
“That bad?” she asked.
“That bad,” he nodded as he stopped and pulled the blankets up over her. “I’ll help you into your top in a few minutes. Let me go wash my hands.”
“For what, Lass?”
“Oh, for being you. For being here with me. For taking care of me,” she stopped, looking down at the floor before looking back up at him. “For loving me.”
“The last is the reason there be no need for thanks, Lass.”
Jessica closed her eyes and nodded, sighing in contentment at the love she felt surrounding her with the warmth of his voice. No matter how many years they were together, or how many times she heard it, the sound of him slipping into his native brogue would always affect her this way. She frowned at the thought of what this feeling usually led to because she knew that it wouldn’t be happening this time.
“Stupid back,” she mumbled.
“What’s that, Lass?” George asked as he came back into the room.
“Oh, nothing. Just mumbling to myself.”
George smiled and winked at her as he sat down beside her. “No need to be talking to yourself, Jessie. I’m here and I’m a very good listener.”
“Oh behave and help me into my top.”
“Yes, Ma’am,” he teased as he pulled back the blankets and carefully helped her sit up, pulling her against him and holding her.
“While this is nice, I think we’d better finish getting me dressed. I don’t want Seth walking in with me like this,” she chuckled.
“You’re right.” George agreed as he reached over and picked up her top from the foot of the bed.
Jessica slid an arm in one sleeve, then repeated the action with the other, amazed at the affect the oil had on her muscle spasms. It even seemed to be helping the ache from the fall. Leaning against George’s chest when he turned her so that he could button the top, she looked up at him. “Did you bring your copy of Burns?”
George frowned as he stared down at her. “I don’t know. I wasn’t thinking when I packed and I haven’t unpacked. I’m not sure what found its way on this trip.”
She couldn’t help but chuckle a little even as she felt love swell inside her. “How many days sleep did you miss?”
Settling her gently back against her pillows, he repositioned the blankets before looking back up at her. “To be truthful, Lass, I’ve not been sleeping much since our last conversation.”
“Oh George,” her heart broke a little at the worry and pain she’d caused him. “I didn’t sleep well, myself.”
“After I received Seth’s call,” he shrugged. “I didn’t sleep at all. I was too afraid of what I would find when I arrived.”
“I have a copy of Burns over on the fireplace mantel.” She pointed to the book. “Hold me and read your favorite poems to me?”
“I’d love nothing more, but you have to eat something first.”
“As long as you eat something with me.”
“It’s a deal.” He smiled and kissed her softly. “Now, the usual?”
“The usual,” she agreed.
“I’ll be back as soon as I can. Do you want me to turn on the telly?”
“Yes, thank you. I can catch up on the news.”
Seth shook his head as he stared at the scene that greeted him when he opened Jessica’s bedroom door. George and Jessica were fast asleep, Jessica’s head resting against George’s shoulder. He could tell that she was feeling better by the relaxed look on her face. The relaxed look on George’s features told him that they’d talked out what had been bothering them.
It was evening, and he knew both needed to eat, so instead of waking them, he made his way back downstairs to the kitchen. Deciding to fix something besides the soup that had been feeding them all for several days, he thought maybe he’d just go out to the diner and bring back Jessica and George’s favorites.
“No,” he mumbled and shook his head. “Can’t do that, they’ll figure out George is here.”
“Who you talking to, Doc?” Mort asked as he closed the back door behind him.
Seth started and glared at the man. “You shouldn’t sneak up on a man.”
“I wasn’t sneakin’ up on anyone.” Mort growled back.
“What are you doing here?”
“I came to see how Mrs. F. is doing.”
“She’s resting. Seems to be doing better from the look on her face.”
Mort blinked as his mind added up the facts. “Oh,” he mumbled.
“Now, Mort. I said they’re resting.”
“Yes, you did.” Mort agreed, keeping what else he was thinking to himself.
Seth narrowed his eyes and studied the man. Jessica hadn’t wanted anyone to know that George and she were more than friends, but by the looks of things, Mort was thinking that George and Jessica weren’t resting separately. Well, that was best left alone. Jessica could deal with that on her own if it came to that.
“If they’re resting, what are you still doing here?” Mort asked a few moments later.
“I still need to talk to Jess to make sure she’s really feeling better so I’m going to make something to eat and then go wake them. We’ll need to discuss what we’re going to do for Thanksgiving, because I don’t believe she’s going to be up to doing all that baking.”
“Maureen and I won’t be able to be here. We’re going to her folks’. They called yesterday and asked that we come there for the holiday.”
“Jess’ll be disappointed, but she’ll understand.”
Mort nodded. “I know she will, but I was looking forward to meeting her brothers.”
“You’ll get the chance before you leave. They’ll be here a week before Thanksgiving.”
“Good, good.” Mort’s eyes sparkled with mischief. “I want to hear some stories about Mrs. F. when she was younger…before we knew her.”
“She was a handful.” Seth laughed. “Just like she is now.”
“So not much has changed between then and now.”
“Oh no, plenty has changed…just not the fact that she was always up to something likely to get her in trouble. Although, I suppose, the kind of trouble she gets herself into has changed over the years.”
Mort half snorted. “I would say so. I’d guess she didn’t go around getting involved in murder when she was younger.”
“No, she didn’t. That didn’t come along until she started writing.”
Mort nodded. “Well, I’d better be going. I’ve got a pile of paperwork waiting for me.”
“I’ll tell Jess you stopped by.”
“Be sure and tell her how sorry I am about Thanksgiving.”
Jessica rolled her eyes at the tone in Seth’s voice. “Calm down. I needed a bath, Seth. The hot water was good for my back. The oil you made for me has really helped. George was very careful with me. But you knew that he would be, why else would you have called him to come stay with me?” she asked, giving him a look which he couldn’t misunderstand.
“Alright!” Seth gave in, holding his hands up in surrender. “Just don’t over do it,” he cautioned.
“She won’t, Seth. I won’t let her.” George assured the man. “We made sure to put the massage oil on her back and let it start to work before we even tried to get her into the bath. And she’s felt better ever since the bath because of the soak in the hot water.”
“Fine, fine. I won’t say another word.” Seth smiled at his friend when she raised an eyebrow at him. “What? I know when I’m outnumbered.”
Jessica laughed. “Oh Seth.” She shook her head.
“Mort came by while you were asleep. He says to tell you that he and Maureen won’t be here for Thanksgiving. Seems Maureen’s parents want them to come there for the holiday.”
Jessica sighed. “It won’t be the same without them, but I’m glad her parents invited them. I just hope Mort can keep his cool with her father.”
Seth chuckled. “I have a feeling he won’t have any trouble with that. From the way things went the last time he and Maureen’s father got into it, I’m sure Mort’ll remember to bite his tongue.”
Jessica couldn’t help but laugh as she remembered the story. “I’m sure he will.”
George smiled and shook his head. “Sounds like a story I need to hear some time.”
“I’ll tell you.” Jessica squeezed his hand then sighed as she looked back at Seth.
“What is it, Jess?”
“I was thinking about Thanksgiving. Martin, Helen, and Marshall will be here at the end of next week.”
“You should be able to be up and about a little bit by then, especially if you keep using the oil I fixed up for you, but Jess,” Seth paused and stared at her. “I don’t want you doing all the cooking and baking you usually do.”
“I was afraid you were going to say that.”
“I can do it, Jessie.” George smiled at her when she turned to look at him with a raised eyebrow. “You’ll be here to tell me what to do.”
Jessica laughed and shook her head. “Oh George.”
“I can help, too, Jess. And I’m sure Helen won’t mind once they arrive and find out what the situation is.”
“Are you at least going to let me make the chowder?”
“Well no one else can make it, even with you telling them how.” Seth winked at her making George laugh.
“Well at least I’ll get to feel somewhat useful.” Jessica laughed ruefully.
“Now Jessie.” George whispered and squeezed her hand. “It’ll be good for you to take a break this year. I know how hard you always work to make Thanksgiving special for all of us,” he caressed her cheek. “Let us make it special for you this year.”
“Your Inspector is very wise, Jess.” Seth winked at her, making George chuckle.
“Alright, alright,” she gave in. With two of them against her, no matter how stubborn she could be, she wasn’t going to win this one.
Jessica smiled when her brother’s head popped around the wall separating the foyer of her home from the living room. “Martin!”
“Jessie!” Martin greeted as he moved to kneel down beside where she lay carefully propped up against pillows on the sofa. “What in the world did you do, Sis?”
“Now, Martin. I’m too old for you to be calling me Sis.”
Martin chuckled. “As opposed to not being too old to be called Jessie.”
“Oh stop,” she chuckled and grabbed him in a hug. “It’s so good to see you.”
“It’s good to see you, too, but you haven’t answered my question. What did you do?”
Chewing on her lip, she looked down at her hands. “I fell off the ladder I was using to check the shutters. And don’t scold,” she got out when she saw Martin opening his mouth to do just that. “I’ve been scolded enough by Seth and George to last me a lifetime. I was just a bit too preoccupied by my thoughts to be up on the ladder.”
Martin studied his sister, wondering just what thoughts would have had her so preoccupied she would fall off a ladder doing something he knew she’d been doing for years. “I won’t scold, then, Jessie. I’m just glad you’re okay.”
Jessica smiled and patted his cheek then looked over his shoulder. “Hello, Helen.”
“Hello, Jess,” the petite brunette answered softly, her dark eyes sparkling with her usual cheerfulness.
“Helen, the wonderful man that opened the door is George Sutherland. George, my sister-in-law, Helen. And if you haven’t figured it out already,” she grinned at George. “This crazy man here with me is Martin, the oldest of my two older brothers.”
George smiled. “Nice to meet you properly, Helen.” Turning to Martin, he held out his hand. “I’m glad to finally meet you so that I can say thank you.”
Martin stood up and shook George’s hand, his eyes scrutinizing the man. “He’s a tall one, Jessie.”
Jessica blushed and laughed. “What a thing to say in greeting, Martin.”
Martin smiled at her over his shoulder then turned back to George. “It’s nice to meet you, too, George. I’m looking forward to getting to know you this week.”
“Where’s Marshall?” Jessica asked. “I thought he was flying in with you.”
“He was going to, but something came up. He’s going to try and get here by at least the day before Thanksgiving. He sends his apologies.”
“Oh,” she sighed in disappointment.
“Jessie, you know how the life of a doctor is. He really was looking forward to making up for the mess he made of things in New York.”
Jessica nodded. “Well, maybe he’ll be able to stay a few days after Thanksgiving.”
“That’s the spirit.” Martin bent over and kissed her forehead. “Now, where are we staying?”
“First door on the left at the top of the stairs.”
Martin nodded. “I’ll take our things up.”
“Jess, tell me what you’re having for dinner tonight, and I’ll get started.” Helen smiled as she bent to hug her sister-in-law.
“No, Helen, that isn’t necessary. Seth has already started dinner and will be back shortly to finish. You’re going to have plenty to do for Thanksgiving since Seth won’t hear of me doing more than making the chowder.”
“You’ll have plenty of help, Helen.” George gave her a wink. “Jessie has agreed to walk me through some of the dishes she makes.”
“Ah, a man that can cook and knows his way around the kitchen.” Helen grinned. “You’re alright in my book.”
Jessica laughed then sighed. “George, I think it’s time for me to go back upstairs. My muscles are beginning to spasm.”
“Alright, Jessie,” he answered with concern as he strode to her, gently lifting her, blanket and all. “Helen, would you mind bringing her pillows?”
“Not at all,” she answered, concern in her voice as she followed George up the stairs. Jessica must really have been hurt if she was letting someone carry her and admitting that she was in pain.
Martin nearly bumped into them as he came out of the guest room. “Jessie?”
“Her back is beginning to hurt her again. It’s time she takes a rest and lies down.” George smiled at the man. “We have a massage oil that Seth made for her back that helps her, but it’s been several hours since we used it, so its effects are beginning to wear off. She’ll be fine once we put some more on her back.”
Martin nodded. “Then we’ll leave you to it. Helen and I will unpack and then go see what we can do downstairs to help Seth when he gets here.”
“Thank you.” Jessica whispered with a hiss as George placed her on the bed. “Bloody back,” she mumbled.
Martin raised an eyebrow. “Picking up phrases from your Inspector, Sis?”
“Alright, alright,” he laughed and pressed a kiss to her forehead. “See you at dinner.”
“Mmm hmm, although Seth may make everyone crowd in here.”
“Then we’ll get the TV trays and do just that.” Helen told her.
George laughed when Jessica giggled at something he mumbled at the turkey as he tried to fit it in the pan without much success. He loved the way her nose crinkled when she laughed, the way her eyes lit up, twinkling with mirth.
“I believe you have the wrong pan, George.” Seth informed him, never looking at the man so that he could keep him from seeing the way his lips twitched.
“Well why didn’t someone tell me that before I tried to put this blasted bird in?”
“I was busy?” Jessica suggested an excuse.
“Lass,” he growled, the twinkling of his green eyes giving him away.
Seth couldn’t help but grin as he looked up at Martin who stood staring at his sister with a grin of his own. It was good to see Jessica this happy after dealing with her sadness the weeks before the fall. “She’s in rare form tonight.”
“She is, but there’s still something that isn’t quite right.” Martin commented as he continued to study his sister.
Seth was startled by the statement, realizing that no matter how well he knew his best friend, her brother knew her far better. “It’s amazing, really,” he whispered, not realizing his thought had been voiced.
“What is?” Martin asked.
“Sorry, I didn’t realize I said that so anyone could hear.”
“What did you mean by it?”
“I was just thinking how amazing it is that you can still read Jess so well. I’ve been her best friend for years. I see her every day when she’s not in New York City and we spend hours together, yet I still didn’t see that there was something still bothering her. You did even though you don’t see her that often.”
Martin smiled. “It’s because I know the secret.”
Seth frowned. “Secret?”
“Yes,” the other man nodded. “It’s her eyes, Seth. I’m sure you’ve realized by now that they change colors with her moods.”
“Ayuh.” Seth agreed.
“Well, what you’ve probably missed all these years is that odd shade of blue that is the telltale sign that something is still bothering her. And the twinkle isn’t quite right, either.”
Seth looked at Jessica, watching as she looked up at George with a smile. Looking at her eyes, he blinked in surprise to see that Martin was right…they were an odd shade of blue, and the twinkle that always appeared when she’d laugh, wasn’t the same.
“I may not be around her very often anymore, but she’s my baby sister, Seth. I was always her favorite brother, probably because I was old enough when she came along that I doted on her and let her follow me everywhere when Marshall would only grumble and tell her to leave him alone. I spent many hours with Jessie as my only company. I read to her, held her as we listened to our favorite radio shows, took her to the ice cream parlor. I even took her on dates with me sometimes. Our father died when Jessie was still young and I became sort of a stand-in father to her. Marshall sort of stepped up and became her protector.” Martin chuckled at that. “Much to Jessie’s chagrin. So you see, Seth. After all those years of spending time with Jessie, no matter how many days, weeks, months, or years go by between the times we see each other, I’ll always be able to read her better than anyone.” He smiled as he studied George. “Well, almost anyone. I believe the Inspector can read her just as good as I can.”
Seth watched the couple. “Well, he is one of Scotland Yard’s chief inspectors.”
Martin laughed at that. “I don’t think that has anything to do with it.”
Seth’s smile was a bit lopsided. “No, I don’t suppose it does.”
Jessica sighed as she slid beneath the blankets, her head settling on her pillows. “I’m glad that Marshall made it in.”
“I am too, Jessie.” George smiled as he joined her, lying on his side to look down at her. “I’m also very happy that you’re doing better. It’s nice to see you up and about on your own speed.” He winked at her. “Not that I minded carrying you or helping you with your baths.”
“George,” she breathed, her cheeks tingeing pink.
Reaching up, he caressed her cheek. “Do you know how much I love you?”
Closing her eyes, she nodded as a tear rolled down her cheek. “I do. What you’ve done for me the last three weeks left me no doubt.”
After just looking at her a few moments, George sighed, “I’ve done something, Jessie. And I’m not sure how you’re going to react.”
Opening her eyes, she blinked to clear them and stared at him. “What?”
George took a deep breath. “After you told me you weren’t going to leave me, I contacted my superiors and told them that I’d made the decision to take semi-retirement.”
“Oh George, you,” she started but his finger against her lips stopped her.
“Let me finish. I’m older now, Jessie. I think it’s time for me to start doing more of the things I want to do rather than working all the time. I won’t be leaving the Yard completely. I’m still the resident expert on certain types of cases and when one of those arises, I’ll be called in to lead the investigation, but that’s the only time I’ll be bothered unless there’s some type of emergency.”
“Is this really what you want to do?” she asked.
“Yes, it is, Jessie. Work isn’t as important to me as it used to be.”
She smiled and nodded. “It seems we’ve been thinking along the same lines.”
George frowned. “What do you mean, Lass?”
“I talked with my publisher, Vaughn Leland. He wasn’t thrilled, but understands my decision.”
“Well, as you know, this is the time when my contract always comes up for review and renewal.”
“Yes,” he nodded.
“I’ve always just agreed to the terms and signed because the contract has always been basically the same. This time, though, I didn’t just agree and sign.”
“I guess you could say I’m semi-retiring as well.”
“Are you sure? You love writing.”
She chuckled at his reaction nearly mirroring hers to his news. “I’m sure.” She caressed his face. “George, it’s the same for me as it is for you. I’m older. And really, why should I write that many books a year, and go on that many book tours, when I’m an established writer? It takes me away from Cabot Cove more than I want to be. It keeps me from spending more time with you.”
“I only started writing to fill the time after Frank died because I didn’t know what to do with myself. I was fighting off grief and loneliness.” Giving him a soft smile, she kissed him gently before continuing. “But I’m not alone anymore. Now I have a reason to want free time.”
“If this house wasn’t full of family, I’d make love to you,” he whispered.
“Mmm, I wish, but my family is here and,” she shrugged. “It was awkward enough having them know you were going to be sharing my bed. The looks Martin was giving me all night,” she shook her head. “Anyway, we’ll have time for making love after today is over. Everyone is leaving Friday morning.”
George looked at the clock. “It is Thursday.” He shook his head. “We’d better get to sleep. It’s going to be a long, busy day tomorrow.”
She nodded and waited for him to turn out the light before settling against her pillows on her side, sighing in contentment when he spooned his body against hers and pulled her close. “Goodnight, George. I love you.”
“Goodnight, Lass. I love you.”
Marshall laughed at the story Martin was telling about Jessica. “You should have seen her face! Mother was furious. There stood Jessie, all innocent and big eyed, and lying through her teeth.”
“Mother reached out and wiped a finger through a smudge of chocolate on Jessie’s cheek and asked her, “If you didn’t eat the chocolate chip cookies after I told you not to, what is this then?” Martin laughed at the look on Jessica’s face. “You’d tried that once before with Dad and got by with it. Your big blue eyes always got you what you wanted with him.”
“They still get her what she wants,” both Seth and George mumbled earning one a glare and the other an elbow in the ribs.
“Ouch, Seasaidh (SHAY-see). It’s the truth.” George smiled down at her even as he rubbed his ribs.
“I do not use my eyes to get my way,” she denied.
Seth rolled his eyes. “Oh yes you do, Jessica Fletcher. You did it with Frank, too. I don’t know how many times we’d go fishing and he’d be complainin’ about you using those eyes to get your way about somethin’.”
Martin laughed. “Stop trying to deny it, Sis.”
“Martin.” Jessica warned.
“Alright,” he sighed. “Stop trying to deny it, Jessica.”
George laughed and shook his head. “You two remind me of my sister and I. Her name was Siùsaidh (SHOO-see), which is a version of Susan. I called her Sus. She didn’t mind it until I called her that in front of her first boyfriend. When she came home that night, I was told in no uncertain terms I was not to call her that anymore as she was too old for such childish nicknames.” He smiled sadly as he squeezed Jessica’s hand. “I was still calling her that to aggravate her until the day she left us. Even as sick as she was in the end, I still got a scolding for calling her that.”
“Oh George.” Jessica whispered as she kissed his cheek.
Helen blinked back her tears and frowned. “George? What was that you called, Jess? Shaysee?”
George smiled as he looked across the table at Jessica’s sister-in-law. “Seasaidh was a name popularized by the poet, Robert Burns. It’s a Scottish version of Jessie.” He looked down at Jessica. “Since Robbie is my favorite poet, and his poem, Flow Gently Sweet Afton, is the one I’m most often quoting to Jessie, the name just sort of slipped out one day. She was a little puzzled until I explained it to her.”
“He doesn’t usually call me that with others around.” Jessica chuckled at the sheepish look on George’s face. “I’m guessing that it just slipped out with his shock of my elbow in his ribs.”
Helen and the others laughed when George nodded. “I think it’s very sweet. Every couple should have nicknames for each other. Right, Mars?”
Martin shook his head and laughed. “Right, Venus.”
Jessica couldn’t help the laughter that bubbled up out of her, startling everyone but Martin and Helen. “Oh, that’s priceless.”
Martin shrugged. “But very much the truth.”
Seth growled. “Would someone care to explain to those of us so clearly left in the dark?”
George nodded, then stopped, things finally falling in to place. “Oh,” he laughed. “That is ingenious.”
“Someone care to do as Seth asked? I’m clearly just too dumb to understand what’s so funny.” Marshall frowned as the others continued laughing.
“The book, Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus.” Martin informed Seth and Marshall.
Seth laughed and nodded. “Ah.”
“Helen had always called me Mar. I always called her Lennie. Until the book came out. Then she started calling me, Mars. I asked her why and she gave me the book to read. After reading it, she became Venus. Most people don’t get the reference and believe that I’m calling her that because I think she’s my Venus de Milo. I let them think that so that we don’t have to explain.” He smiled and squeezed his wife’s hand. “That explanation works just as well as the real reason.”
Jessica smiled as she looked at her brother. She was happy that he was so in love with Helen. It had been a bit of a shock when he married a woman so much younger after his first wife had died so suddenly twenty five years before, but she had grown to love Helen as a sister and friend.
“So, George,” Marshall broke into Jessica’s thoughts. “how did you wind up in law enforcement?”
George looked down at his thigh where his hand rested over Jessica’s. “My best friend, Sean, was abducted and killed by a serial killer while visiting Ireland with his family. He was ten, I was a few months younger and hadn’t celebrated my tenth birthday yet. I hadn’t had to deal with death before. I didn’t understand at first, but then my grandfather took me on a walk to our favorite spot on the castle grounds. He sat me down and explained to me what had happened in a way that my father hadn’t been able to. I understood after that talk, and anger set in. Grandpa and my father both tried to help me deal with it, but it wasn’t until three years later, when Sean’s mother gave me a picture of Sean with his grandfather who had been a Chief Constable and told me that Sean had always said that he was going to grow up and be just like his grandfather, that the anger was turned into determination. When I graduated from school, I went to The Scottish Police College. After that I was a Constable for Wick’s police department, working my way up to Inspector before someone asked me why I was wasting my investigative skills on our small burgh instead of working at The Yard. I applied for transfer, since I wasn’t a bobbie with the Metropolitan Police. My request was denied the first two times, but I didn’t give up. I had just made up my mind to go and get a job as a bobbie the Met when a serial killer struck our little burgh. My unwillingness to give up when we hit a dead end, along with my strange ability to pick up on clues others missed, led me straight to the killer. After being awarded for solving the case, I was contacted by the Yard.” Looking up at Marshall, he smiled sadly. “And that is how I found myself with this career.”
Jessica squeezed his hand. She knew the story of his best friend, but it always saddened her when she heard it. “The death of his friend is why George is one of the best they have when it comes to serial killer cases.”
Marshall nodded. “And because you’re one of the best, they call you to the states on occasion to help with serial killer cases they’re having trouble solving.”
“Yes.” George nodded.
Seth sighed and patted his stomach. “I think we did a mighty fine job fixing this meal without Jess doin’ all the work, don’t you?” he asked, changing the subject to something a bit more pleasant.
Jessica smiled gratefully at her friend as she nodded. “You did. I’m very proud of how the meal turned out. Of course, you did have Helen’s help.”
George rolled his eyes. “I had no one’s help with that bird, thank you very much.”
Jessica laughed. “Ahh. Are you still upset that I didn’t tell you that you had the wrong pan?”
“Lass, behave.” George growled playfully.
Helen shook her head. “I think I missed all the fun by going to bed early.”
Martin laughed. “That you did. That you did.”
“While everyone is still here, I’d like to apologize.” Marshall spoke up a few minutes later. “George, I reacted very childishly that day in New York, and for that I’m sorry. I didn’t give you a chance and I hurt Jessie.” He looked at Jessica. “I never meant to hurt you, Jessie.” He shrugged. “I just sometimes forget that you aren’t little or a bit shy anymore. I forget that you’re a confident, strong woman who can take care of herself. I don’t know why I always forget how well you can read people since that was something you could do even as a little girl.” He smiled at a memory. “You won’t remember this, you were too young, but one day during the summer while Dad was at work, a man came to the door. He claimed to be a salesman. The product he was supposedly selling intrigued Mother, and she was about to let him in, until you began to cry and shake your head. There you were, all of two, standing at our mother’s knees telling her not to let this man in the only way you knew how. When you started crying, it brought Martin and I down from our rooms and the man quickly left.”
Martin nodded. “I remember that day. I learned later from Dad that the man had been arrested for murdering a woman and her baby in a town a few miles from us.”
“I never knew that.” Marshall shivered. “If it hadn’t been for Jessie’s uncanny knack for reading people,” he stopped and looked at his sister. “I love you, Jessie, and I’ll try to remember from now on that you don’t need a protector anymore.”
Jessica wiped the tears from her cheeks and smiled at her brother. “I love you, Marshall. And thank you,” her voice shook and she cleared her throat. “You’re right, I don’t remember that incident.”
George squeezed her. “So you’ve always been intuitive. Makes sense.” He kissed her forehead. “Shall we all go take a nap? Some of us were up late fighting with this food we just stuffed ourselves with.”
Seth nodded his agreement and chuckled. “I believe you were the only one fighting with the food, George. A nap sounds like a very good idea. Jessie’s recliner is the perfect place for a good doze.”
Jessica looked at him with a raised eyebrow. “What if I wanted to take a nap in my recliner?” she teased.
“And where would George take his nap?” Martin asked with a cheeky grin.
“Martin!” Jessica scowled at him.
“Behave, Mars.” Helen laughed.
“Jessie,” Seth started but a chuckle stopped him for a moment. “You need to rest your back and your bed is the best place for that. Your recliner is comfortable, but not enough for the shape your back has been in.”
Jessica sighed. “My stupid back.”
George stood up and helped her with her chair. “Come on, Lass. Follow your doctor’s orders.”
Jessica noticed Martin getting ready to say something and shot him a warning glare. “Martin Mcgill, if you dare say one word…”
Martin held up his hands. “Not a word. Not a word.”
“Finally she turns that wrath on Martin.” Marshall laughed only to get a glare from Martin. “What? You were always getting off with her. I was always the one getting those glares and threats.”
“You deserved them.” Martin informed him.
Jessica shook her head. “I’ll see the two of you later.”
Seth laughed. “I do believe this is one of the best Thanksgivings I’ve had in a long time.”
Jessica smiled at her friend. “I feel the same way, Seth. It is one of the best we’ve had.”
Jessica sighed and leaned back against George’s chest as they watched Seth’s car pulling out onto the street, taking her brothers and sister-in-law to the airport. “I’m so glad they were all able to make it for Thanksgiving, but I hate to see them go.”
Pressing a kiss to her head, George held her a bit tighter. “It was nice getting to know your family, but I can’t say that I’m unhappy about them leaving.” His smile widened when she turned to look at him with a raised eyebrow.
“George,” she started then stopped when she realized why he had said what he did. Feeling her face heat, she pulled away from him and went to stand by the fire. “You have a one track mind,” she chuckled.
“Do you have any idea what it’s done to me to sleep with you night after night, holding you so close, not being able to show you how very happy I am about the decision you made about us?” he asked as he came up behind her, turning her so that he could look into her eyes. “Seasaidh,” he said the name softly. “For weeks all there was in my life was uncertainty. I didn’t know if my life was going to change and become lonely once again. We didn’t talk or even email. Then came the call from Seth.” He looked away. “I was so afraid of what Seth hadn’t said in our conversation. He didn’t go into complete details over the phone, so I wasn’t sure of what to expect when I arrived. Once I was here, the uncertainty grew because you seemed so upset to have me here. I knew that you were upset not to have the time you’d expected to use to come to your decision, but it still didn’t make me feel any less doubtful of where our relationship stood. After that all there was, was taking care of you and making sure you got better. I put all the rest to the back of my mind so that I was fully focused on helping you. Then you told me that you weren’t going to leave me, that our relationship wasn’t going to end, and the uncertainty was replaced with relief, gratitude, love and so much more that I couldn’t express the emotions with words. But I couldn’t show you, either, because you weren’t completely healed. For the last two weeks all there has been are family and friends,” he paused to caress the contours of her face.
“All there is now,” she whispered. “is you and I.”
“Come back to bed with me,” he whispered.
Winding her arms around his neck, she smiled up at him. “I’m not sleepy.”
Narrowing his eyes, he pulled her close, leaning his face down so that their noses were touching. “I have no intentions of sleeping.”
Jessica’s laugh was cut off when his lips touched hers in a kiss. Her fingers tangling in his hair, she moved even closer to him, happy to be back in his arms.
George broke the kiss and stared into her darkening blue eyes. “All there is,” he kissed her. “is love.”