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His Forever Family(7)

By:Sarah M. Anderson

He crossed his arms and mouthed back, "I'll wait."

There it was again, that hint of worry. Okay, so maybe he shouldn't  have asked her to the damned wedding. Hell, if he had his way, he  wouldn't even be going to the thing.

"No, the twelfth. What part of that isn't clear? The. Twelfth," Liberty  snapped at the caller. Marcus grinned. He'd hired her because she was  outside his parents' sphere of influence and she ran. But she'd turned  into an exceedingly good assistant who was not afraid to push when she  needed to.

She rolled her eyes at the phone and then dug through a small stack of papers on her desk, pulled one out and handed it to him.

"Available for the Hanson-Spears wedding" was the label of a column. Below was a list of names and phone numbers.

Marcus gave her a dull look, which she ignored. "Yes. Excellent. We  look forward to seeing what you put together." She hung up the phone and  took a deep breath. "I have to say that, at this point, the  baby-wearables people are not winning any points in terms of  organization or professionalism. They may not be ready to move to the  next level."

Ah, yes. The company that wanted funding for a line of baby clothes and  blankets with smart technology built into the fabric so anxious parents  could monitor sleeping and eating habits from the comfort of their  phones. The idea was intriguing, but he didn't like to see his money  squandered by poor planning. "So noted."

She turned a bright smile to him. It was not real. "Was there something I could help you with?"

He held out the name and address he'd copied down. "Here. It's in West Rogers Park, up on the north side."

Liberty made a small noise, like a gasp she was trying her best to hold  in. "I..." She looked up at him and at least for right now, any hint of  worry or fake smiles was gone and he found himself looking down at the  same woman whom he'd held in his arms beside the jogging path.

She would do anything for that baby, he realized. Anything. Even attend a wedding.

He knew it. And given the way her cheeks colored a pretty pink and she dropped her gaze, she knew it, too.

It'd make his life a hell of a lot easier. A plus-one for this wedding  in exchange for a little information, and he wouldn't have to worry  about finding a media-ready, parent-approved date who wouldn't view the  event as a stepping-stone to bigger and better things. He could go with  Liberty and might even enjoy himself. At the very least, they could run  on the beach along the Pacific Ocean in the mornings instead of Lake  Michigan.                       


She wouldn't be able to say no.

And he wouldn't be any better than his father was.

"As promised," he said and turned to walk back to his office.

He heard her chair squeak as she got up to follow him. "That's it?"

"That's it," he said, sitting down. He felt strange and he wasn't sure  why. It wasn't a bad feeling. He stared at the list she'd given him.  He'd gone out with a half dozen of these women and he knew the other  half. Any one of these women would make a great date to this wedding and  appease his mother.

He crumpled the paper up and threw it in the trash.

"You're not going to..." She let the sentence trail off but he could  hear the words anyway. You're not going to force the issue?

"Insist you do something you obviously don't want to that falls outside  of your job parameters? No," he replied, trying to sound casual. He was  seriously just going to let this go? If he didn't get a date and he  didn't take Liberty, he'd just go alone. Sure, his parents might disown  him for it. "Why would I?"

He glanced at her then and wasn't surprised to see her looking as if  she'd stepped into a room full of snapping alligators. "That's...thank  you."

Even stranger, that made him feel better, as if her appreciation was all that he needed. "You're welcome."

But she didn't leave. Instead, she took another step into the office. "Marcus..."

It wasn't as if she hadn't said his name before. She had. But there was  something about the way she said it this time that held him captive.

"I know I shouldn't ask this-but..." She looked down at the paper again  as if he'd given her a sheet of solid gold. "Can I leave early today?  Just today," she hurried to add. "This won't be a regular thing. I  just..."

And he remembered how she'd soothed the baby, how she hadn't just  hummed a lullaby but had told that little child that he was loved and he  was strong and he could make it. And Marcus remembered how watching her  holding that baby had rocked him to his core.

"I'll come in on Saturday and finish up whatever I don't get done this  week," she offered, mistaking his silence for disapproval.

He stared at her. Did she think he didn't know she came in on Saturdays anyway?

Liberty went on. "This won't affect my job performance at all."

And he was reminded that he held all the power here and that meant he could gain something from this interaction.

He looked at his watch. It was three forty-five-early by their  standards. "Here," he said, holding out his hand for the paper. "Give it  to me."

"Oh." The disappointment on her face was a painful thing to see. "Yes,  of course." She trudged forward-there was no other word for it-and  handed over the paper. Then, without looking him in the eyes, she turned  and headed back to her desk.

"Get your things packed up," he said, picking up his phone. He had  nothing to gain from this but he was going to do it anyway. Because he  wanted to. "We'll go together."

* * *

Somehow, Liberty found herself sitting in the passenger seat of  Marcus's Aston Martin, zipping up Lake Shore Drive. One minute, she'd  been crestfallen that she couldn't immediately go see the baby. The  next, Marcus had been hustling her into his car-his very nice car-and  personally driving her to the foster home.

She'd never been in his car before. Oh, sure, she'd attended a few  business functions with him, but those were either after-hours events  when she'd take the El as she always did or business lunches with  potential clients when he'd have her order a car big enough for the  entire group.

The Aston Martin was his personal car. And he drove it like a bat out  of hell. Of course he did, she thought as she surreptitiously tried to  grab on to the door handle when Marcus took the curve without braking.  He drove as he ran.

"We don't have to go this fast," she said, trying to sound calm. "I'm not in that big of a hurry."

"This isn't fast," he replied and then, the moment they hit the  straightaway, he gunned it. Liberty was pushed back into the seat as  Marcus accelerated, weaving in and out of traffic. Lake Shore Drive was  still mostly clear-it wouldn't fill up for another half hour with  commuters. Marcus took full command of the road.

If she wasn't so concerned with dying in a fiery heap by the side of  the road, she'd be forced to admit that it was kind of sexy. How often  did a billionaire act as her personal chauffeur? Never.                       


They zipped up the drive in record time and then cut over on Peterson. There, at least, Marcus slowed down.

She was nervous. What if this foster home was one of the best-and it  still wasn't very good? She tried to think back to the three homes she'd  been in. The first home was fuzzy. It was just after she'd started  kindergarten. Less than two weeks into the school year, her mom wasn't  there when she got off the bus one day. Liberty had done okay on her own  for a few days, going to see Grandma Devlin for food, but before long,  she'd been in a foster home.

She didn't remember much, just that it got cold in her room and that  the other girls were mean to her. But she hadn't been hungry and there  hadn't been the same kind of screaming and fights as at home.

"Why do you need to see him so badly?" Marcus asked when they got stuck at a light.

Liberty tensed. Were they still in the tug-of-war they'd been in  earlier? Or were they back to normal? Since they were out of the office,  was this the kind of conversation they might have while they were  running?

Marcus glanced at her. "I'm just asking, Liberty," he said, sounding tired. "And it has nothing to do with the wedding."

Oh, if only she could just answer honestly. But how would that be  possible? Because the truth hurt. And what would Marcus think if he knew  the truth about addict moms and foster homes and being an unwanted,  unloved little girl? Would he still want to take her to this stupid  wedding-or would he look at her and see an imposter who was not to be  trusted?

Still, she understood what he wanted to know. It wasn't her deepest,  darkest secrets. It was a simple question that was only one step removed  from polite conversation. She had to hope he'd be satisfied with her  answer. "I had a little brother," she said and she was horrified to hear  her voice quaver.