"Sooner or later, son, you're gonna have to give up your bachelor ways and get yourself hitched. I need to know you are settled before I let Saint Peter push me through those pearly gates."
"It's not like you have one foot in the grave already."
"Maybe it doesn't look like it to you, but this old body is wearing out. My number could be up at any time."
"It's not like I can go online and order someone to fall in love with, Ma."
"Well, it's not like you are doing anything else about it."
Keegan sighed and shook his head. "Why are you so hell bent on marrying me off?"
His mother was on a mission. It didn't seem to matter a bit to her that he was perfectly happy with his life the way it was. Settling down meant something different to him than it did to Clara. They were currently exploring some of the fields of the new property Keegan had just purchased with settling down in mind. Parts of the main home and outbuildings were nearly three hundred years old. It was a project that would take him a good long time to finish, wouldn't break his heart, and was all the company he needed.
"I don't understand why you aren't ready. Your brother and your cousin are happy. I just want the same for you before this old lady kicks the bucket. How can I enjoy eternity if I am wandering around up there waiting for you to meet someone?"
Keegan glanced over at his mother and smiled. Clara James was a lot of things but old wasn't one of them, despite her actual years on the planet she was younger at heart than he was. As for his bachelor ways, Keegan was quite content with being alone. The whole relationship thing never seemed to work for him anyway.
"Don't you have enough to occupy you without nagging me to get married? I mean you are about to be a grandma." His cousin Logan, and his wife Angelina were about to give birth to the newest James man. Since Clara raised Logan, she earned her grandmother status and was extremely proud of it.
Clara smiled brightly as she stepped over a stretch of mud and muck. "Yes, of course. I can't wait to be a grandmother but like I said, I want to see you also settled down with some nice young woman before my number is called."
"Will you just give it up already? The good Lord won't be calling you home anytime soon, Ma. St. Peter isn't ready for the likes of you passing through the pearly gates just yet. They need to prepare themselves for Hurricane Clara first."
"Hurricane Clara! Boy, you sure are lucky you're bigger than me 'cause I'd have to knock the fresh right out of that mouth of yours otherwise."
There was no doubt in Keegan's mind that his mother would have little trouble beating him down if she were so inclined. Clara had skills no fifty-eight year old woman should have. Skills for survival—both in raising three boys single-handedly and fighting off the zombie apocalypse or whatever end of the world scenario came her way. Clara knew how to kick some major ass and Keegan, quite honestly, was afraid of what she could do to him if she tried. Of course, he would never admit that out loud.
"Aw, Ma, you know I love you and you aren't going anywhere any time soon."
"You think this old cat's got a few more lives left in her?"
"I most certainly do."
"Then I got plenty of time to find you a wife. And I will find you a wife. You been alone way too long my little Keegi-bear."
"Ugh! Don't call me that! I'm thirty-four years old."
"Eighteen hours of labor for you and your brother have given me the right to call you whatever I want to." Clara softened her words with a smile as she reached up and tousled his hair. Kaiden, his twin, married a few months ago. He really was the only one left and that proved as a challenge for Clara.
"I'm sorry about the transgressions of my infancy but I am a grown man and you can't force me to fall in love just so you will be happy." He held a thorny vine out of the way so Clara could pass. "Let's head back to the house. The contractor will be here soon."
Three hundred year old farmhouses required a great bit of work to update. This one was no different. With its distinctive left lean and crumbling back porch, it wasn't even safe at this point. Once the contractor leveled the foundation and replaced the roof though, Keegan planned to move in and fix the rest of it up himself.
"I can't understand why you bought such a dilapidated piece of property any way," Clara mumbled as she climbed over a rotting stump. "If land was what you desired you should have moved out west with me."
Out west referred to the Blue Ridge Mountains three hours west of his new home in Chesapeake, Virginia. "You know that wouldn't have worked if my new job was here."
"Right. The new job. Not sure why you left the FBI so suddenly like you did. You had a good career there."
"Not so conducive to this settling down thing you keep pushing on me though." The conversation was taking a direction he didn't want to pursue at the moment. Keegan helped his mother around a large muddy patch. They were almost to the driveway. He could see a white truck parked there. His contractor.
"But Border Patrol? I didn't realize you were interested in that facet of law enforcement."
"It's not really that different. My job here will deal with ports. Hey, I'll probably even get to see Kaiden once in a while since we often work closely with Homeland Security."
"True." Clara eyed him for a moment. That look of hers had scared the life out of him since he was a child. "You can feed me any line you like, Keegan, but I am your mother. You gave me swollen ankles and seven months of heartburn. I don't believe for a second you just decided to change jobs. You're running from something and as true as your daddy loved me, you aren't going to be able to hide from it forever."
Clara had a gift for getting the truth out of folks. He knew he couldn't hide things from her forever. All he needed was a little more time. He just wasn't ready to talk about the FBI or his reasons for leaving.
He leaned in and kissed his mother on the cheek before escorting her to his car. "I love you, Ma. But there is nothing to tell. Why don't you call Logan and see how that little one of his is fairing while I get the estimate from the contractor. When I'm done, we'll meet Kaiden and Katie for dinner at that restaurant by the oceanfront you like so much."
"Food bribes don’t work on me, you know that."
Keegan laughed. "I know. But it was worth a go, don't you think?"
"I don’t know where I went wrong with you," Clara mumbled with a little chuckle as she climbed into the front passenger seat of his BMW. The little car seemed awfully silly out there in the middle of nowhere. If he was going to live on a farm, he would need something a bit more practical. Like an SUV or a pickup truck.
"Mr. James?" Kenny, his contractor was standing nearby with a clip board, ready to talk numbers. He looked very serious. This was not going to be cheap.
"What ya' got for me, Kenny?"
The older man nodded toward the leaning house. "That's some house you got there, Mr. James."
"Please, just call me Keegan. And, yes, it is some piece of history, isn't it?"
"It's a piece of something, that's for sure." Obviously realizing he said something out loud he had only meant to think, Kenny offered a look of apology. "I mean…"
"Don't worry about it. I know she needs work. But have you seen inside? The woodwork alone makes it worth it."
Kenny nodded. "I can definitely appreciate those hand hewn floors and thick ceiling beams."
"See? She's got plenty of redeeming qualities."
"She does indeed. But first we have to make her safe. The foundation is crumbling. I'm gonna have to lift the structure and repair that brick work. The roof is in bad shape as well."
None of this was news to Keegan. His only concern was how much of his savings it would take to make the old home habitable. When Kenny showed him the estimate his heart damn near stopped in his chest. It was a good thing he had saved nearly every extra penny he made since he was eighteen.
"All right Mr.—uh, I mean Keegan— I'd like to get started on Monday if that works for you."
"Works just fine, thank you." He extended his hand and shook Kenny's after signing off on the estimate. The contractor hopped in his truck and left, leaving Keegan alone with his ramshackle new home and his mother. At the moment, he wasn't sure which one concerned him more. Clara was on a mission to get him married off and she would be relentless until she got her way. It didn't matter that love was a key factor. Clara would arrange a marriage if she had too. With a sigh, he strode toward the car and climbed in behind the wheel.
"Have you thought about joining one of them online dating sites?' his mother inquired before he even had his seat belt on.
"Ma." He sighed as he turned the key and put the car in gear. "Give it a rest, would you please?" Keegan pulled onto the road and back toward the more populated area of the city and his temporary rental but Clara had no intention of letting anything rest.
"Come on, it's easy. You just fill out a profile and let the ladies find you."
Keegan groaned. "It's not that easy, Ma. Finding a wife is not like going to the grocery store. I can't make a shopping list of attributes and just fall in love because some computer program says I should."
"Well, nothing else seems to be working for you. Your brother found love; Logan is happy. I just want you to have what they have."
"I'm going to be pretty busy here for a while, Ma. There isn’t going to be time to have a relationship with anyone except my contractor and the construction supply company."
Clara sat back and folded her arms across her chest. "You would deny your mother the chance to know you are happy before she dies?"
"Let it go already, Ma. Please. I can't force someone to love me just to make you happy." Or for any reason at all. A lesson he had learned the hard way—at the expense of his career.
"Well, you can't fault a mother for trying." Clara turned to look out the window and things became eerily silent. Whenever his mother was quiet too long, Keegan got worried. She was probably concocting some plan that he was going to hate.
"What about one of those foreign things? You know, brides from other countries?"
Keegan slammed on the brakes, sending the BMW into a slight fishtail before it came to a stop. Gripping the steering wheel, Keegan struggled to maintain his composure. Clara was his mother after all. "You. Want. Me. To. Get. A. Mail. Order. Bride?"
"Sure, why not? Hank, in my group has one. So does your Uncle Joe."
"What the hell, Ma?" He turned to look at Clara. "I'm not desperate! I'm perfectly happy with my life and I would suggest you let this drop now!"
"You would take that tone with your own mother?" Clara clasped her hands over her heart. "When my only wish is to see you happy and taken care of?"
Keegan put the car back in gear and started driving again. "Let it drop, Ma."
Clara let out a little sigh and folded her hands in her lap. "For now."