Bachelor Remedy

By: Carol Ross

CHAPTER ONE

“HOW DOES IT feel to be dirt free?”

“Honestly?” Tag James gave his cousin Bering a sober look and whooshed out a breath. “I totally lucked out. Can’t believe that private investigator didn’t find out about the insider trading or the body buried in my backyard. What an amateur.”

Bering laughed. “I know. The background check seems a little over the top to me, too, but you know Jack.”

“Jack” was United States Senator Marsh, longtime client and friend of Bering’s, who was helping them prepare for Tag’s future political run.

“Yes, I do. ‘Find the dirt and clean it up before your opponent finds it first and smears it all over you.’ I believe that’s the quote?”

“That’s it,” Bering agreed. “Senator James…” the snap of the metal tape measure retracting in his hand was like a loud punctuation mark “…has such a nice ring to it.” Wielding a pencil in his other hand, he drew a tiny line on the freshly painted lavender-colored wall in his daughter’s bedroom.

“It certainly does,” Tag agreed. Despite his outward nonchalance, the topic always caused a twinge of nerves. Plenty of time, he reminded himself, before he needed to start worrying about it. Lots of time to prepare.

Wordlessly, they each took an end of a bookcase and adjusted it to line up with the pencil marks and the units they’d already installed. Tag wound the screws through the brackets, securing the shelving against the wall. Neither earthquake nor climbing toddler would bring it down now. “Violet proofing,” Bering’s wife, Emily, called it, although with baby Brady walking now, Tag figured she would soon have to broaden the term.

He stepped back and eyed his cousin. “And you’re sure you don’t want that senator title for yourself?”

“Ha. Positive. We’ve had this conversation, my friend, and you and I both know I’d be no good as a politician.”

Tag couldn’t dispute that fact. His cousin and best friend wasn’t exactly the most diplomatic person in the world. Besides, it was Tag’s turn. Bering had saved the town of Rankins once from a proposed massive oil-development project. He’d formed and led the coalition against Cam-Field Oil & Mineral, and with the backing of Senator Marsh, they’d prevailed.

Bering had scored the bonus of a lifetime by meeting his now-wife, Emily, during the antidevelopment campaign. As relieved as they’d all been at the project’s outcome, the experience had shown just how vulnerable Rankins was. Tag, Bering, their family and friends, virtually the entire area relied on the pristine natural beauty of the Opal River Valley in some respect for their livelihoods. His winning a seat in the state senate would provide long-term security for them all. And they’d agreed, Tag was more suited to political life.

“Anyway,” Bering said, bracing his big hands on a shelf to test its sturdiness. “Jack says you’re on the right track, doing everything you need to be doing. Just stay the course, keep your nose clean and we’ll be ready.”

“Got it. Stay out of the dirt.”

“Although he did mention one small thing.”

“What’s that?”

Bering let out a chuckle and began stacking kids’ books on the bottom shelf. “He said it could be helpful if Rankins’s most eligible bachelor was to find a wife and maybe start a family.”

Tag felt a familiar invisible hand reach inside his rib cage and give his heart a painful squeeze. This chest pinch had been happening more and more lately when the subject of parenthood came up, which was all too frequently now that Shay and Hannah, two of his four sisters, were married, as were his two closest cousins, Bering and his sister Janie. There were eight cousins in his generation on the James side of the family, and at thirty-eight, he was the oldest of them all.

The family bachelor. Everybody’s cool and fun uncle, cousin, brother, friend. The childless bachelor. The one everyone could count on. And, somehow, somewhere along the way, he’d earned the moniker of the town’s most eligible bachelor. Lately this unintentional status had begun to bother him. Tag loved kids. He’d always wanted a family, had just assumed it would happen one day. He’d meet someone and settle down and have kids. That’s the way it was done.

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