One glance at the rear-view mirror and Bart smirked. Pulling up to a stop in front of a traffic light, Bart leaned to the right. “So that’s where you get your bad habit of staring–” he grunted as Geraldine jabbed his side with her elbow. Righting in his seat, he glanced back at the couple staring at them openly. “So how was your trip?” he asked in the best Spanish he could.

The couple didn’t answer at first and Bart glanced once at Geraldine who merely shrugged at him. Then the man cleared his throat. “It was fine,” he said stiffly.

Bart nodded, easing off the brake as the traffic light changed. “You picked a good time to come to Houston.” He thanked himself for sticking out Spanish in college. “The weather is agreeable for you?”

Geraldine then turned and quickly translated; apparently he’d slept through an important Spanish lesson.

The man grunted his reply and nodded. “Yes.”

Bart watched then as the man shifted his attention to the window, closing all conversation. His wife though continued staring. Holding back a smile, Bart reached with his right hand and took Geraldine’s in his. He didn’t miss the intake of breath from Geraldine and squeezed her hand, silently encouraging her to relax.

Except when her other hand slid over his arm, Bart had to tell himself the same words and gripped the steering wheel with his other hand. He glanced her way and caught the impish smile on her face.

Was Geraldine merely cooperating with his plan or was she playing around?

He smirked and glanced once at the rear-view mirror. “My fiancée would not stop talking about you. She’s happy to see you both.”

Geraldine pinched his arm and he fought a laugh.

“Yes,” grunted Geraldine’s father in law.

Then the woman started speaking in rapid Spanish, most of it Bart didn’t understand.

Bart glanced at the mirror, the look of disdain on her shadowed face unmistakable. His smile faded and he noticed that Geraldine’s hold on his arm loosened. He had to grab her hand before she pulled away. “What did she say?” he inquired firmly.

Geraldine looked down at their joined hands and sighed. “That I didn’t need to bring you since you’re a stranger to them,” she mumbled this like a timid child and not a grown woman with a child of her own.

Bart clenched his teeth; it was clear to him how belittled Geraldine felt in her in-laws’ presence. He wouldn’t stand for it any longer. “Why wouldn’t I come?” he spoke in his awkward Spanish. “I would like to meet and thank the people who made my fiancée’s stay in Peru a memorable one.”

The car was silent, his words clear enough for everyone to understand what Bart was saying. The man nudged his furious wife and she looked away, facing the window.

Geraldine squeezed his hand as though in silent gratitude and he relented to release her hand. The trip to Geraldine’s place was driven in total silence, Bart contemplating how to handle his fiancée’s impossible in-laws and Geraldine struggling to calm her racing heart.

Once he pulled into the driveway, Geraldine turned to tell him to go on ahead but Bart switched off the engine and stepped out of the car. She bit her bottom lip as he closed the door and walked around to the back of the car.

She felt the weight of her mother-in-law’s glare and forced a smile before facing her.

Bart pulled the big suitcases, frowning. He’d assumed the in-laws would be staying just a week or so, but the weight of each box said differently. He handed one of the suitcases to Geraldine’s father-in-law, the man wiry and gray-haired.

The man nodded and reached for the other. “Thank you.”

“You can speak comfortably with me,” Bart assured him in the man’s native tongue.

“Your Spanish no best,” he answered in English.

Neither is your English, Bart wanted to say but smiled anyway. “Geraldine’s teaching me.”

The man’s smirk eased away, his expression now thoughtful. Then the doors slammed shut and he turned to his stern-faced wife and a contrite-looking Geraldine strolling to his side.

Bart’s brow furrowed at Geraldine, wondering what had caused her to look so–his eyes skittered to the older woman and his jaw clenched. No doubt the woman must’ve reprimanded Geraldine in his absence. He cleared his throat. “I’ll be over for dinner tomorrow, Geri…”

She looked up. “W-why?”

He refrained from rolling his eyes. “Why what, love?”

Her eyes widened and she blinked out of it. “Uh yes, dinner.” She turned to her in-laws who frowned in confusion at the awkward exchange. “Barty eats dinner with us sometimes.”

“Doesn’t he have his own house?” the scowling woman asked, not bothering to hide her disdain.

Bart cleared his throat to keep from laughing. “I eat dinner with my family every night, but since you are visiting my love, I should spend as much time with you while you’re here.”

He didn’t miss the stiffening of the woman’s shoulders and smiled at her husband instead. “Let me help you take—”

“It’s okay,” Geraldine spoke up. “We can handle it.”

Her tone brooked no argument and Bart decided not to push it. Her father-in-law grabbed the suitcase before he could say a word, and then led his wife up the trail to the front door.

“I’ll come to you in a minute,” she said over her shoulder, eyes on Bart. “What are you doing?” she muttered for his ears only.

Bart looked over her shoulder, watching as they stalled by the door, making no attempt to ring the doorbell. He swung his gaze back to Geraldine. “What do you mean?”

“What happened to no overkill? What’s with you?”

He sighed and reached for her arm. “I know you don’t want me to leave but I gotta go now.”

Geraldine’s scowl darkened. “Bartimeus.”

He smiled, tugging her close. “I’m gonna kiss you.”

“Bart–” the rest of her protests died in her throat when Bart leaned down and placed a feather-light kiss on her cheekbone. The soft touch of his lips against her skin invoked heat on her face and she forgot herself for a moment, breathing in his musky cologne.

Then he lifted his head and snuck a glance over her shoulder. He chuckled. “Perfect.”

She blinked out of the trance, heart racing a mile a minute. “Huh?”

Bart lifted a hand to rub her cheek. “Your mother-in-law clearly resents you for moving on from her son. She expected you to remain in mourning and sadness forever, didn’t she?”

Her cheeks tingled, realizing he’d done it to invoke a reaction from her in-laws and not because he was sincere. She shook out of the daze and nodded, taking a step back. “Seems that way,” she answered, voice unsteady.

“What are you doing?”

Geraldine tugged her arm free and placed it behind her back. “I’m saying goodnight.”

His lips curved in a smile. “I’d rather a different sort of goodbye, love.”

She scowled. “Stop that.”

“Don’t call me Barty again.”

Her brows lifted. “That’s why you’re acting out? Fine, I won’t call you Barty again.”

Bart smirked. “Think what you want, Geraldine. Goodnight.” He then turned away.

Geraldine wrapped her arms around her, watching his car ease out of the driveway and down the street. Whether it was play or not, she missed him already.

“Geraldine!” her mother-in-law barked behind her.

She snapped to attention and hurried to usher her in-laws into the house.

Bart didn’t have much time to dwell on what had taken place in Geraldine’s driveway when he got back to the house and heard the unmistakable sounds of Eleazar wailing.

He pushed open the front door and found his siblings crowded around Abe holding a writhing and screaming Eleazar.

“That wicked woman,” Clement growled, eyes flashing with rage.

Darah stood watching her youngest brother, tears streaming down her face. Phoebe stood with her arms wrapped around Darah, her eyes on her husband trying to cradle Eleazar.

For the first time in years, Eleazar was fighting demons of the past, a past he had no responsibility over; all because of his mother and grandmother’s selfishness. Bart muttered a curse and dragged his hands over his face. It was going to be a long night.

<<Chapter 13 || Chapter 15>>