Surprised by Love



His jaw dropped a full inch while he stared, those gray eyes almost black as they flared in shock. “This is crazy! You and I were meant to be together.” He slashed his arm toward the foyer. “This house, this family—is our house, our family! You and I have everything in common, and Jean and I are nothing but strangers.”

She shook her head, the motion spilling moisture onto her cheeks. “Strangers who share a bond far stronger than ours, Logan, no matter how deep our love. A bond born in flesh through your son and more importantly, a bond mandated by God Himself when you and Jean became one.”

A low aching groan parted from his lips as he turned away, fingers quivering while they gashed through his hair.

“You and J-jean have so much in c-common,” she stuttered, the fractured words souring her tongue. “Jamie, the boardinghouse, the foundation—this makes sense, this is right.”

“No,” he shouted, “this is wrong!” He rammed her chair into the table, then spun around, the fire in his eyes glittering like molten steel. “For the love of decency, Cait, I made one lousy mistake when I was no more than a boy—doesn’t God mandate forgiveness as well?”

“Yes, and I have forgiven you,” she cried, clutching her arms to her waist as a barrier against his wrath. “Truly I have.”

His chest expanded with a heavy intake of air before it seeped out again, lips pinched white. “I see. It’s just that your forgiveness comes with a tally, is that it? Forgiven, but never forgotten?”

She rubbed her arms against the cold chill of his words. “Maybe it wasn’t supposed to be forgotten, Logan,” she said quietly, “to ensure God’s will.”

“No!” Fingers taut on the back of her chair, he rammed it again. “You and I were always meant to be together, and nothing you can say will convince me otherwise. He jabbed a fist to his chest, eyes burning with fury. “Blast it, Cait, you’re in love with me, not Turner, and you’re attracted to me, not him.”

She squared her shoulders, more to shore up her strength than to defy. “Attraction is the very last thing I’m concerned about, if you must know. Andrew and I have a solid basis for a deeper relationship, both in our faith and in our common goal to clean up the Coast, and to me, that’s more important than the race of my pulse.”

“Really, Cait?” Mouth slack, he slung hands low on his hips, disbelief gouging deep into his expression. The bite in his tone fairly vibrated with sarcasm. “You’re going to stand there and talk to me about God’s will while you lie through your teeth?”

Her indignation rose along with her chin. “I am not lying, Logan McClare—I don’t give a whit about physical attraction at this point in my life, so it’s a moot point.”

He gripped her so fast, she stumbled against the coffee table in an effort to back away, the granite set of his jaw trapping all the air in her throat. Her eyes circled wide when she read the intent in a steely gaze that quivered her belly. “Logan, no, ple—”

But her words only faded into his mouth when his lips took hers, conquering her with a passion that eclipsed her will with his own. She made a feeble attempt to lash away, but his arms were a powerful vise, swallowing her whole. Heat pulsed when he devoured her with a kiss so deep, it weakened her limbs. He pulled back, voice hoarse with desire as his palm locked at the base of her neck with a possession that was firm and sure. “Face it, Cait,” he said, eyes burning hot, “the attraction between us never has nor ever will be—a moot point.”

A moan faded on her lips when his mouth traveled her jaw to suckle her ear, confirming to her heart—if not her mind—that she was his body and soul. “Logan, no . . .” But her will to fight spiraled away into a whirlpool of desire when his mouth consumed hers with a low groan, their ragged breathing merging into one.

“Cait, I adore you,” he whispered against her mouth, his kisses gentling with a tender passion that twisted her heart. “Don’t do this to me, please—don’t push me away.”

Her eyes fluttered closed to breathe in his scent, to embed in her mind the memory of his arms one final time. When she spoke, her voice heaved with a grief she hadn’t experienced since Liam. “I’m not pushing you away,” she rasped, “I’m loving you the only way I know how.” Her palms trembled against his chest as she held him at bay, agony bleeding from both her soul and her eyes. “Logan, please—I’m asking you to stay in my life as my friend and an integral part of my family. But I’m begging you—give your heart to the woman who has more claim to it than I.” Her body shuddered when she broke from his hold, words quivering into a fragile whisper. “The mother of your child.”

He took a step forward, eyes crazed. “It’s not meant to be, Cait—we are!”

Blocking his approach with a stiff palm, her insides trembled more than her hand. “I’ve made my decision, and I’m asking you—no, begging you—to respect it and our friendship by letting any romantic notions between us go.”

Romantic notions?” His words were little more than a hiss as he stared, his fury barely contained by a twitch in his cheek. “You are my lifeblood, Cait, the reason I get up in the morning, the soul mate I have waited a lifetime for. You are the only woman I will ever love, and if you’re demanding I let romantic notions go, then you need to be aware of what you’re asking me to do.” That formidable jaw rose while his shoulders broadened, eyes glittering like jagged quartz. “I will not stand by and watch you give your heart to another, especially the man I despise above all others.”


“No!” It was his turn to halt her with a blunt hand. “I’ve done things your way for the last two years, agreed to friendship despite the fact that I ache inside whenever you’re near. I’ve laid my desires aside in the hope that someday, somehow, you’d come to your fool senses and see what I’ve known all along.” His chest expanded as his eyes pierced hers, an urgent appeal glimmering in their depths. “We’re good together, Cait,” he whispered. “You and I—we’re the restoration of the family you lost when Liam died, a blood connection with your children that binds us all together.” His lips pinched tight, calcifying his jaw. “If you do this, you will not only destroy everything we have, but you will damage our family.”

Her heart thundered to a stop, breathing shallow over his veiled threat. “Logan, please—it doesn’t have to be that way—”

“Yes, Cait, it does,” he emphasized in a clipped tone, “because if you think I’m going to stand by and watch while you give yourself to Turner—”

Blood scalded her cheeks. “For heaven’s sake, I have no intention of ‘giving’ myself to anyone. My relationship with Andrew will be purely social.”

He stared, temple throbbing as his eyes narrowed to black. “Then your relationship with me will be purely over, Mrs. McClare, it’s as simple as that. It’s me or him, Cait.”



“Meg and I have always shared a closeness, a respect and regard, but I saw myself as a mentor, sir, a brother and dear friend who’d protect and cherish her for the beautiful person she was.” He glanced up, revelation piercing his very soul. “I swear, sir, I never intended for this to happen.” His voice trailed off as his gaze did the same, a distant stare shadowed with pain. “Never intended to fall in love.”

Logan looked up, a wistful smile on his face. “None of us do, Bram. There’s not a man alive I know who falls in love on purpose. Affairs of the heart have a way of sneaking up on you, taking you by surprise.” He mauled the back of his neck while a bitter laugh tripped from his lips. “Trust me, my love for Cait took me by surprise when I first laid eyes on her twenty-nine years ago, and then it knocked me upside the head when she broke our engagement and married my brother.” His gaze veered off as the smile dissolved on his face. “But the biggest surprise of all was how it lay dormant all these years until the day my brother died, and then it reared up and kicked me right in the gut.” He kneaded his temple and released a heavy sigh before his gaze met Bram’s, a rare sense of defeat in his eyes. “The blasted woman has ruined me for any other, Bram, and for the first time in my life, I really don’t know what to do.”

Bram sat forward, eager to help alleviate Logan’s grief. “Logan, you want to know how I do it—spend time with Meg when I know friendship is all we’ll ever have? I never really thought about that until you asked the question just now . . .” A sheepish smile slid across his face as he scratched the back of his head. “Okay, truth be told, I never really allowed myself to think about how deep my feelings were for Meg really were until the shock of the other night when she told me she was thinking of dating Devin.” He peered up beneath a furrowed brow, his manner reflective. “But now that I’m fully aware of the situation, the only option I can employ—and the only one that will really work—is a directive from the Bible I call the Abraham Factor.”

Logan squinted, the tug of a smile on his lips. “You’re telling me you have a Biblical directive named after you?”

Bram laughed. “Hardly, but he is my namesake.” He sat back with hands on the arms of the chair, fingers limp over the edge. “I’m speaking of Abraham in the Old Testament, of course, the father of the Hebrew nation and proclaimed ‘friend of God.’ The man of whom God required the sacrifice of his only son on an altar in the region of Moriah. It’s not a comfortable story by a long shot, but an important one for two men faced with heartache such as you and I.”

He propped elbows on the arm of the chair and steepled his hands, staring out the window over Logan’s shoulder, the gloom of night the perfect backdrop for the subject he broached. “You see, I’ve learned the hard way that when it comes to the most precious things in my life, the safest place to keep them is in God’s hands. To trust Him to do for them and me the very best thing.” His eyes met Logan’s. “No matter what that is.” He expelled a weary sigh. “Because if I love someone—really and truly love them—I’ll always want to give them God’s best, not my own.”

Rising from his chair, he nudged Logan’s cup of coffee toward him before he picked up his own. “Abraham loved his son fiercely, waited decades for God to honor His promise to give him a son in the first place. And then one day, God—Abraham’s ‘friend,’ mind you—asks him to lay that precious son on the altar and give him up. Sacrifice him—just like that. And you know what?” Against his will, tears glazed Bram’s eyes as his gaze locked with Logan’s. “That man didn’t balk or miss a beat. Nope. Because Abraham’s trust in God was so strong, he actually told his traveling companions to ‘abide ye here and I and the lad will go yonder; and we will worship, and come again to you.’” Bram shook his head, overwhelmed as always at the strength of Abraham’s faith, the certainty that somehow, some way, God’s best would prevail. “And you and I both know what happened, Logan. God stayed the knife in Abraham’s hand, giving him his son back because of his remarkable trust.”

“Trust,” Logan whispered in a low drone, “the very reason I’ve lost Cait.”

Bram nodded, his tone quiet but sure. “And the very thing that will help you find God in a way you’ve never experienced Him before. He wants you to trust Him, Logan, to put your love for Mrs. McClare on the altar where God can do with it what He wills for your good and hers. And whether He stays your hand or not, your sacrifice of obedience will be rewarded with more peace and joy and hope than you ever believed possible.”

Logan’s brows dipped, the deep wedges indicating his skepticism. “And you really believe that?”

Bram smiled, remembering his own lack of faith before God had proven it true. “I do. And I not only believe it, I’ve experienced it firsthand after my sister died. As you know, she and I were very close because I’d waited for a sibling for a long time. I know now that it had been a heart’s desire of mine, so to speak, so I was pretty angry with God when He took her away. Even rebelled for a season, of which you are all too well aware. I’d been raised to have a strong faith, so basically, I resigned myself to God’s will like Job had. You know, ‘The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away’?” His gaze drifted past Logan again, mind wandering back to the pain of his loss. “Only I missed something very important in all of that. The next line Job speaks is, ‘Blessed be the name of the Lord.’ I realized then I had only resigned myself to God’s will, not accepted it.”

“What do you mean?” Logan asked.

Bram glanced up, offering a silent prayer he could reach Logan like God had reached him. “I mean that I discovered there’s a huge difference between acceptance and resignation—one is positive, the other is negative. Acceptance opens the door of hope wide, while resignation slams it shut. One says God is good and loves us, and the other says He is harsh and doesn’t care. Abraham chose to ‘accept’ God’s will, knowing full well that God loved him and not only wanted the best for him, but knew exactly what that ‘best’ would be. Neither is easy when it means relinquishing the desires of our heart, but ‘acceptance’ promises that God will bless our obedience with a greater good. ‘Resignation,’ however, can sever our relationship with God, which leaves us on our own, resulting in darkness and despair.”

Bram breathed in deeply, then released it in one long, steady sigh. “Once God revealed the lesson of the Abraham Factor, I learned to put my trust in Him despite Ruthy’s death—no matter how painful it had been. I chose to believe God loved me and would bring good from it, even replacing my heart’s desire.” He smiled, the warmth of his gratitude seeping through his body to chase the chill of his past away. “And He did—through Meg and your family, both of which have given me more love, peace, and joy than I ever dreamed possible.”

Logan tilted forward, eyes homing in on Bram with a new clarity. “So, let me get this straight. If Cait is the desire of my heart and I lay her on this altar, God may or may not give her back to me, but either way, I’ll be happy—lousy with love, peace, and joy, so to speak.”

Bram grinned. “Not the word I would have chosen, but yes, eventually you would be ‘lousy with love, peace, and joy’ in this situation.”

A grunt rolled from Logan’s lips. “Yeah, well ‘lousy’ is something I seem to have a talent for, at least in the past.” He eyed Bram with the same do-or-die look he wore in their weekly strategy meetings. “So, since you’re the experienced one here, counselor, just how exactly does one go about implementing this Abraham Factor?”

Bram grimaced while rubbing the back of his neck. “It won’t be easy, but it’s certainly possible, especially with lots of prayer.”

Logan’s lip took a slant. “‘Easy’ has never been my style, so I’m up to the task, but I need a game plan.”

“Well, for starters, we both need to put our money where our mouth is regarding those we love, meaning we love them unconditionally, not selfishly, putting their best interests before our own.” He hesitated, well aware his next statement might further fan the flame of Logan’s fury. “Which for me is being there for Meg as a friend and big brother as long as she needs me, no matter what or no matter whom she marries. And for you?” His gaze flicked to Logan’s and held. “It means coming back to the family, being there for them no matter what or no matter who is in Mrs. McClare’s life. It’s knowing that your feelings have to come second to those you love, choosing their happiness over your own.” He leaned in for emphasis, making sure he had Logan’s full attention. “And let me be clear here, sir—their happiness depends on you being a vital part of the family, because right now I’ve never seen a more miserable lot of people, including Mrs. McClare.” His mouth tipped. “And I can’t be sure, of course, because one can never really tell with Rosie, but it seems to me she’s been somewhat crankier too.”

Logan actually grinned. “Good. At least something positive has come out of this.”

Bram chuckled, the sound and feel of it releasing most of the strain at the back of his neck. His smile ebbed. “I mean it, sir—it’s not the same without you, and although you think you can’t be happy while Mr. Turner is in Mrs. McClare’s life, the truth is, you will be far more miserable without her friendship and so is she.”

Face in a scrunch, Logan’s eyes narrowed the barest amount. “How on earth did you get so smart?” he whispered. “And how on earth am I not paying you more?”

“You’re paying me plenty,” he said quietly, tone soft but intent sharp. “Especially if you return to the family and love Mrs. McClare the way she deserves.”

Logan flinched before he looked away. “You don’t pull any punches, do you, Hughes?”

“Not when it comes to people I love, sir, among whom you are paramount, I assure you.”