“She was awake, wasn’t she?” Everett asked, looking to Joy for confirmation.
“Yes, I mean—I think so,” Joy said, hiding a smile. She’d never really had any independent confirmation of Everett’s claim that his niece was awake.
“Morning, Joy,” Katie said as she scuffed over in her slippers and peered down at Daisy.
“Good morning. Sorry if we woke you.”
Katie smiled down at her daughter. “You didn’t wake me. But I’m willing to bet mean old Uncle Everett got you up again, didn’t he, Daisy?”
Daisy blew a raspberry and laughed at the sound. She hardly looked unhappy at the idea of being yanked out of bed by Everett. They all laughed along with her. Katie patted her diaper. “Here, I’ll take her. I think she needs to be changed.”
“I’ll do it,” Everett said, still smiling. He stood and walked out of the room, his tall male form and muscular arms a sweet contrast to the tiny, delicate female he carried. Joy shared a smile with Katie.
“He’s impossible,” Katie said, her fondness for her brother trumping her irritated act.
“He loves his niece,” Joy said, standing.
“Yeah, he does. And of course Daisy worships him. One of the few women on the planet who can turn his head. Come on, I’ll make us some coffee.”
They ended up having a casual light breakfast of juice, coffee and toast with Katie and Daisy before they finally got off for their run, promising Katie on the way out the door they’d return for lunch.
“Aren’t you going to stretch?” Joy asked Everett when they got toward the end of the Pierce driveway. She glanced up from a bent-over position, her palms touching the concrete.
“Why would I do that, when I can watch you do it?” he asked, his gaze on her making her feel warm.
She shook her head and stood, stretching her arms behind her back. “You’re a mess, running around in beat-up tennis shoes, not wearing sunblock, not stretching before a jog,” she murmured amusedly. “Someone ought to take care of you.”
“You want the job?” he asked as she started to run and kept pace with her.
“Like you’d ever listen to anything I said,” she said, keeping her tone as light as his.
“You might be surprised.”
She gave him a wary sideways glance. He wore a devilish grin, but his eyes had that expression in them that she’d caught in the sketch. Her heart rate leapt up to an optimal cardiac exercise rate, and they’d barely cleared the driveway.
By the time they started to descend the hill road, Joy following Everett’s lead, the sun was rising over the eastern tree line. It was going to be another summer scorcher. Joy was relieved when Everett suggested they get off the road and take one of the well-tended paths created by the forest preserve. Humidity clung heavily amidst all the tall trees, but the shade was a comfort and the scenery was lovely.
“How far do you usually jog?” Everett asked her fifteen minutes later. The path they were treading followed the course of a small stream. She gave him a sideways glance. He wasn’t even a little out of breath. She had the impression he was slowing his pace to accommodate hers.
“About four or five miles?”
He nodded. “There’s someplace I want you to see. I’ll try to work it so we get there toward the end of our run.”
Everett seemed perfectly capable of conversation while he jogged, but Joy found it more difficult to talk and maintain her rhythm. He must have noticed, because they jogged for a half hour in companionable silence. They began a slow, steady ascent up a hill. By the time they reached the summit, Joy was coated in a sheen of perspiration and breathing heavily.
“It’s close by,” Everett muttered next to her.
Joy didn’t understand what he meant and didn’t have the breath to ask him. They cleared a thick grove of trees and both of them came to a halt simultaneously.
“Oh, it’s pretty,” Joy murmured. She bent and placed her hands on her thighs, panting. They stood on the edge of a rippling, circular lake that nestled as if in the protective palm of the forest. The sun shone over the tops of the trees on the eastern side, casting a lengthened mirrored image of them nearly the length of the lake, making the water a shimmering green with patches of blue-reflected sky interspersed.
“Care for a swim?” Everett asked.
Joy gave him a dubious glance. “Is this a popular spot?”
“I’ve never seen anyone here. Even Rill and Katie don’t know about it.”