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The Billionaire’s Promise

By:Holly Rayner


Chapter One



~





AIDEN





The day after Holly found out that I’d been talking to Cecile, I felt like an ass all day. I kept picking up the phone to call Holly and apologize, but she deserved better than that. If the tables had been turned, and I had found out she’d been seeing her ex behind my back…I doubt that I would have believed it was innocent. I would have been blinded by jealousy and I couldn’t honestly say that I would have been able to forgive her. Yet, I expected her to do all of that for me. I knew I was going about it all wrong when I did it, and yet I’d done it anyways. In my heart I thought about it as doing what was best for Mark. In my head, I knew that no matter how little Cecile meant to me, it was a betrayal to Holly for me to see her behind her back. It was an insult and a shock to have Cecile show up on the doorstep like that I’m sure. Like I said, if it were the other way around, I would have taken it like a slap in the face. Yet she still didn’t throw her out…she didn’t throw me out. Sometimes I wonder if she’s too nice for me. She always tries to look at the positive side of every situation and she somehow always saw the best in me even when I was acting like a world class ass and a phone call wasn’t going to fix that.



Instead, I got on the phone and called the florist. I ordered an arrangement for Holly with all of her favorite flowers in a giant red vase, her favorite color. Then I called my jeweler and told him what I needed. He promised me he would have someone bring samplings over before five. Then I called our favorite restaurant that normally doesn’t deliver and asked them for a favor. It was going to cost me, but I didn’t care and they were happy to oblige. Lastly, I called Rose. I knew with this one I was going to have to eat a lot of crow, but I felt better about admitting to her that I was an ass than I did admitting it to Holly’s mom who would have been my other choice to watch Eric for the night.



“Hi Rose, it’s Aiden,” I said when she picked up.



“Aiden? Is Holly okay? Is it Eric?” I laughed; Rose was a good friend to Holly. Sometimes I thought she was more a surrogate mother.



“Holly and Eric are fine,” I told her. “I’m the one with the problem.”



“Uh-oh, what’d you do?” she asked.



I had to laugh again. “What makes you think I did something? Maybe I’m just calling for friendly advice.”



“Honey, you don’t get to be my age without knowing about men. I can hear it in your voice and if you’re calling me for help…well, I don’t think that means all is well in paradise.”



“No, you’re right, all is not well. I’m an ass and I’ve hurt Holly. I’m going to go home pretty soon and try and make it up to her. I hope she can see her way to forgiving me.”



“You didn’t cheat on that beautiful girl, did you?”



“No Rose, I didn’t cheat on her. I would never do that, Holly is all I want and need.”



“Well, that’s good at least. Most other things can be forgiven, and I don’t have to kick your ass. What did you do?” she asked.



I told Rose then what I had done. She knew that I’d been married before and she also knew the woman had taken my child. I wasn’t trying to make excuses but I wanted her to know how afraid I was that this would be my one and only last chance to have any kind of contact with Mark. To her credit she listened in silence until I’d finished.



When I was done she said, “Wow, you are an ass and you’re kind of stupid too if you thought you were gonna get away with all of this.”



“And you Rose, know exactly how to pump up a guy’s self-esteem.”



“When you deserve pumping up, call me. I’m just a straight shooter, honey. I don’t see the point in lying. The truth always comes out anyways.”



“You’re right, I don’t deserve it. I hope that even though I don’t deserve it, Holly will forgive me. What I wanted to ask you Rose is if you might be available to watch Eric tonight so we have a chance to talk this out?”



“Of course,” she said, without hesitation. “I hate to say I’m happy about anything you did right now, but watching that little boy is a treat for me. I’m glad you asked.”



“Thanks,” I told her. “I also wanted to ask if you’ll call Holly and offer to keep him. She may say no if she’s still really angry. When Eric’s there, he’s a buffer for us both because we don’t argue in front of him. If that happens, I’ll think of something else.”



“Don’t worry, honey. I’ll talk her into it. Don’t forget to take flowers home with you.”



I laughed, “Ordered them already, and the jewelry. This was too much for just flowers.”



“You’re right,” she said. “I hope you got her something expensive.”



“Thank you, Rose,” I said before hanging up.



“You’re welcome, kid. Just so you know, I still think you’re a good kid, even though you’re an ass.”



Laughing, I thanked her again and hung up. I think everything was ready. I just had to attend one more meeting today and then I was heading home. I had my fingers crossed and was saying a prayer that Holly hadn’t already decided to pack up and leave.





HOLLY





I was just heading down the hallway with my sleepy little man to put him down for a nap when my cell phone rang. I thought about ignoring it, but I was still surprised that I hadn’t heard from Aiden at all today so I went back to get it, just in case. I looked at the face and felt a little bad that I was disappointed it was Rose.



“Hey Rose, I was just going to put Eric down for a nap. Can I call you back?”



“Oh, I was calling to see if I could come and get the little guy for a few hours…or the night.”



“Come and get him?” I asked, confused. Eric hadn’t really spent much time away from me at all since he’d been born, and when he had, it was always with my mom.



“Yes. Young couples need their alone time and old ladies like me need babies to spoil. We’d be trading favors.”



I felt the sting of tears in the corners of my eyes and fought them back. I doubted that Aiden and I would need any time together any time soon. I hadn’t even heard from him today and it was after two o’clock.



“Aw, that’s sweet, Rose. I just don’t know if Eric would be comfortable sleeping anywhere but in his own crib. I know that’s my fault. I don’t let him go anywhere…but he’s kind of set in his ways already.”



Rose cackled and said, “Oh, look out world when that boy gets older. Honey, you’re the parent. You sound awfully tired. Why don’t you let me help you, and more importantly, let me spend some time with that wonderful boy? I promise you, if he gets upset at all, I will bring him straight home.”



I didn’t want to tell Rose what was going on. I wasn’t ready to talk about any of this yet since I hadn’t even talked to my husband yet. I kind of wanted Eric home so that when we did finally talk about it, we would be encouraged to keep it civilized. She sensed my hesitation and she hit me right in the guilt center then by saying, “Do you not trust me?”



“Oh Rose, of course I trust you. I would trust you with this boy’s very life. I’m just not having the best day…”



“Then Eric doesn’t need to be there, honey. Kids sense these things.”



I knew she was right, Eric had been fussy all day and I’m pretty sure he was just feeding off of my mood. Aiden was likely to be in the same kind of mood if and when he came home. I felt like a terrible mother as I said, “You’re right, poor guy. Okay Rose, I’ll get him ready and run him over.”



“Nope, you get him ready I’ll run over and pick him up. When I do, I’m bringing you one of Joe’s fancy bottles of wine that he saves for his best customers and you’re gonna pour yourself a glass and take a bubble bath as soon as you’re alone.”



I chuckled. Rose was a piece of work, but you had to love her.



“Yes ma’am,” I said. I hung up and looked at Eric. “You want to go see Auntie Rose and Uncle Joe tonight?” He smiled happily and babbled. I took that as a yes. Instead of a nap, he got a bath and a snack and when “Auntie Rose” got there to pick him up; he was wide awake and ready to go.



“I’m sorry,” I told her, “This is the most active he’s been all day. The bath really must have woken him up.”



Rose took him out of my arms and kissed his cheek. “What are you sorry about?” she said. “I like him awake. We’re gonna play and make cookies and play some more. We’re gonna keep Uncle Joe up all night long with our partying.”



“Good luck with that,” I told her. “He’s used to being in bed by eight. He doesn’t wake up again until around six a.m. as long as he’s feeling okay.”



Rose grabbed the overstuffed diaper bag out of my hand and said, “Yadi, yadi, yadda. We got this.”



I was nervous. It wasn’t that I didn’t trust her, I did, implicitly. I was just so used to him being here at night…I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to sleep without him.



“We’ll be fine, honey. I promise. I sat the wine there on the counter, you take care of yourself tonight, okay?”



I nodded. I felt silly, but I could feel tears welling up in the corners of my eyes and I was afraid if I spoke they would bust loose. I kissed my baby again and gave Rose one on the cheek. They had just made it to the elevator when I realized I hadn’t put his favorite blanket in the bag. I ran after them and Rose took the blanket with a smirk. I got to steal another kiss from my little man.



When I got back inside the apartment I looked around and it suddenly seemed so big and empty. With a sigh I started picking up Eric’s toys. After I finished doing that, I was contemplating the bubble bath when the buzzer rang.



“Hello?”



“Hi Mrs. Scott. This is Allen the doorman. I have a delivery here for you.”



“What kind of delivery?” I asked.



“It’s a really big vase with some really big flowers,” he said with a laugh. “I reckon Mr. Scott is trying to show off how much he loves you.”



Flowers? Really? I mean it was a nice gesture, but hopefully Aiden didn’t think that was all it was going to take.



“Okay Allen,” I told him. “You can send them up.” A few minutes later the most stunning flower arrangement in the prettiest vase I’d ever seen arrived at my door. It wasn’t going to make up for everything he had done, but I had to admit now that I saw them, it was a good start.



I signed for them and the courier said, “I was supposed to tell you that there’s an envelope attached here that you should open.”



He brought the flowers inside for me because I literally couldn’t lift them. I thanked him and tried to tip him but he said, “Mr. Scott” had “taken good care of him.” When he left, I pulled the manila envelope off the vase and took it into the den. It didn’t just feel like a card or a note. There was something square and solid inside. I slid it open, very curious to see what it was. I reached in and pulled out a flat, rectangular white velvet box and a note on Aiden’s office stationary. It was written by hand in Aiden’s handwriting. I sat back and read his words:





Dear Holly,



I’m sure you looked at the flowers and thought, “I hope he doesn’t think I’m this easy.” I had to pause there and smile. He knew me well, that was another point in his favor. I read on:



I know that you’re not, and honestly it’s a big reason why I love you so much. Your independence, your strength, your determination, it all translates to a fiery passion that makes you so incredibly sexy and desirable. I know that you’re not the type of woman that will take gifts in exchange for putting up with my bad behavior. The gifts are for me, I know that I’ve been an ass and I know that nothing I can do or say can take that back, or excuse me for it. All I can do is try and tell you and show you how much I love you, and promise you that I will never be dishonest with you and pray that even if it’s not today, that someday you will forgive me. You and Eric have completed my life. Before you came along, people thought I had everything, but in truth if someone told me I had to give it all away in order to get you and our beautiful son back, I wouldn’t even flinch as I wrote the checks. I adore you, Holly. I’m so very sorry. You can expect dinner to be delivered around six. If it’s not too much to ask, I’d love it if we could eat together and discuss this the way I should have talked with you about it before.



I Love You, Holly



Aiden





I opened the jewelry box next. Inside was a delicate silver bracelet with two charms on it. One said mother and the other said wife. They had Eric and Aiden’s name inscribed on them respectively. The flowers didn’t quite do it for me but the note sent me in the direction of forgiveness and the bracelet put me over the edge. Maybe I was that easy or maybe I just didn’t want to be angry with him any longer. I wanted us to talk about all of this and make sure that it didn’t happen again and then I wanted us to go on with our beautiful life.



I took that bubble bath and put on a dress that I’d been saving for a night out. I curled my hair the way I used to before I was always so busy with Eric and I wore my new charm bracelet. Dinner was delivered by six and by the time I had it set up on the table and the candles lit, Aiden was home.





~



Chapter Two



~





HOLLY





Aiden stopped in his tracks as soon as he came in the door and saw me. He ran his eyes from my head to my toes and back again. When he got back to my face he had a broad grin on his face.



“I have the hottest wife on the planet.” It was a silly thing for him to say and an even sillier thing for me to get excited about, but I guess I am a little bit easy because it gave me a thrill to know that he thought so.



“Thank you, and thank you for the apology and the flowers and the bracelet. I love it all, but you’re right, we’re going to have to talk about this before any of it will be okay or completely forgiven.”



“Fair enough,” he said. “I meant what I said in the note. I love that you can’t be bought. That kind of woman was never what I was looking for.” I smiled again and gave him a nod. The truth was he looked so incredibly sexy with his tie all askew and his five o’clock shadow that I wanted to eat him up…but if I started with even so much as a kiss, we’d head for the bedroom and that would be the end of our “talk.”



“Let’s eat,” I told him. That was when he stepped close and kissed me on the cheek. I couldn’t help myself, I shuddered. We sat down at the table and Aiden poured us both a glass of the wine Rose had brought over and we started out with polite conversation while we ate. Aiden told me then that he had called Rose and asked her to look after Eric so that we could talk. I thought out of all the things he’d done, that was the sweetest. I was also pretty impressed with Rose. I love her dearly, but she’s a huge gossip. The fact that she’d kept that confidence for him meant a lot.



When we’d finished our meal I took a tray I’d fixed with a carafe of coffee and some cheesecake bites the restaurant had sent over and we went into the den. We settled in on the couch and Aiden started to talk.



“I probably should have said it classier earlier when I said you were the hottest wife on the planet…but damn Holly, it’s true. You get more beautiful every day and this is going to sound like I’m making excuses for my behavior, but I’m not. I intend to take full responsibility for what I’ve done. It’s just that when I look at you, I can’t imagine that you would ever suspect that I would want anyone else but you. I would have to be completely insane.”



I had to shake my head a little over that. “I’m not sure that you’ve gotten it yet, Aiden. I never thought you were sleeping with Cecile. But, I get the distinct impression that she wants to be sleeping with you, and that she’s going to use Mark and whatever other means necessary to make that happen. She seems to have no qualms about it, not even about flirting with you in front of your wife. It makes me wonder what she’d be willing to do behind my back.”



“That’s what I’m saying though, Holly. It’s impossible. It’s not going to happen. Even if I wasn’t so crazy about you, I won’t ever forgive her for what she did to me and to Mark and I have no desire left for her whatsoever at all. So whatever she may or may not want…it doesn’t matter. I’m where I want to be. All I want from her is access to Mark.”



“I respect that you want to see Mark. I resent that you weren’t willing to talk to me about it, that you didn’t trust me enough…especially since you seem to trust Cecile a little too much.”



“What do you mean by that?” he asked. “I keep telling you that’s not the case.”



“You just seem to take everything she says at face value. Have you even talked to her husband and heard his side of the story? To me it seems like she saw the chance to use Mark again and she took it. Maybe she was bored back then and chose him, but now financially, you’re the bigger prize.”



“Thanks,” he said with a little sarcastic edge to his tone, like maybe I was trying to say that would be the only reason a woman would choose him over someone else.



I rolled my eyes because at a time like this, feeding his ego shouldn’t be important. Sighing, I said, “I’m not saying that you don’t beat him in every other area as well. I don’t even know him and I’m sure of that because I know you. But Aiden, what if she’s keeping Mark from him the way she did you? What if she’s using her son to try and break us up and get you back? Before you get all involved with him, shouldn’t you at least call and get his side of the story?”



“As far as Jake is concerned, I really don’t give a damn. He was my best friend Holly and he slept with my wife. Every time I heard his name or saw his picture since I found out, I would get angry all over again. Guys have a code, all guys; you don’t screw your friend’s wives or girlfriends. I seriously do not care what happened between him and her as long as Mark is safe.”



“Seriously, Aiden? You can think about how badly she hurt you by taking that boy away and you can sit by and be okay with her doing it to someone else?”



“He was okay with screwing my wife,” Aiden said.



I could see that I was getting nowhere with that approach so I tried a new one. “Okay, so we’ve established that you don’t give a damn about Jake, fine. I know you give a damn about our child. She purposely kicked that table and splashed hot coffee on him to make me look bad. What kind of person does something like that to a baby? That’s twisted.”



“She said it was an accident,” Aiden said. “I know Cecile has her faults, but I can’t even begin to imagine that she would hurt a baby. Accusing her of being a flirt, I can agree with. But someone who would hurt a child? I’m sorry…”



“I’m sorry too Aiden, but that’s the problem here. You don’t want to imagine that she would use Mark by saying that he’s being abused and taking him away from his father if it’s not true. You don’t want to imagine she would hurt Eric to get to me. Maybe we should…” Aiden’s phone rang and lo and behold it was Cecile calling. He looked up at me with wide eyes and I nodded at him. He put it on speaker and said, “Hello?”



“Oh Aiden, thank God.” Her tone was dramatic, as always.



“Yes Cecile, I’m kind of in the middle of something here. What’s up?”



“Aiden I’m at Scarsdale Memorial with Mark. He has a high fever. It got so high that he had a seizure.” I could see the panic in Aiden’s eyes. He turned them on me with a pleading look. What was I going to do, be the jealous bitch that doesn’t let him be there for his sick child? I nodded at him again.



“Is he in the ER?”



“Yes, Aiden please come. I’m so scared.” I wanted to throw up, but the concern I saw on Aiden’s face was real. He looked at me again and I nodded more firmly.



“I’ll be there as soon as I can,” he told her.



“Oh thank you,” she said. “Tell them you’re his father at the desk or they won’t let you back.”



“Okay,” he said. Again, I rolled my eyes. She probably knew I was listening, and she probably loved saying that.



Aiden ended the call and then he looked back at me.



“Are you sure? Tonight was supposed to be our night. I’m sorry.”



“I’m sure, go. It’ll be okay, we’ll have other nights,” I told him.



“Do you want to go with me?”



“They wouldn’t let me in the back since I’m not a relative I’m sure, and I’m sorry but I also don’t want to risk bringing any infections home to Eric.”



“You’re amazing, you know that?” he said.



Trying to lighten my own mood I grinned.



“Yeah, I know. Go, but drive safe!” He kissed me and I watched him go out the door. Cecile had made me so paranoid that for a few seconds after he left I wondered if somehow she had arranged this. But that was crazy…wasn’t it?





AIDEN





It was a forty-five minute drive to Scarsdale from our apartment. I drove as quickly as I could; I was frantic. I didn’t know much about seizures but I did know that a kid’s fever had to get pretty high before they started seizing and I wondered how Mark had spiked one so high without his mother noticing sooner. I think Holly’s suspicions about Cecile were starting to get to me. It wasn’t that I thought Cecile was perfect. If anyone knew she was far from it, it was me. But I’d lived with her for three years and before that, I’d dated her for three. If she was capable of harming an innocent child, wouldn’t I know that?



I finally made it to the hospital, anxiously found a place to park and then made my way into the crowded ER. I went straight to the desk and told them I was here to see Mark, and that I was his father. They buzzed me back right away. I was taken back to a small room where Mark lay on a gurney that made him look so small and pathetic that my heart lurched in my chest. Cecile sat in a chair next to the bed. A bag of IV fluids was running into his arm and although he had a sheet up over him and it felt warm in the room to me, he was shivering. He had his eyes closed and I didn’t know if he was awake or sleeping so I looked at Cecile and whispered, “What’s wrong with him?”



She stood up and came around to the side of the bed where I stood. She slipped her arms around my neck and let her body collapse into me. I could feel her shaking. Nudging her back a little I repeated, “Cecile, what is wrong with him?”



She wiped a stray tear away with her hand and said, “I don’t know. He hasn’t been sick at all, not even a cold. Then today he was listless and didn’t want to go out and play. I took his temperature and it was 38.0C. I gave him some Acetaminophen and let him lie on the couch and watch cartoons. I was putting some laundry away at one point and I was only out of the room for minutes. When I came back in, his face was bright red. I felt him and he felt like he was on fire. I made him take off the blanket he’d covered himself with and I went to get the thermometer and medicine. When I came back, he was seizing. It was awful, the most awful thing I’d ever seen.”



I looked at Mark again and then back at her and said, “Why is he shivering like that?”



Cecile reached over and pulled back the sheet. Mark was nude except for his little boxers and his body was laden with ice packs. The poor guy was like a piece of fish packed in a box to ship to the store.



“Jesus, what’s all the ice for?”



“It’s to bring his temperature down. It was so high when we got here, he was still seizing. They gave him some medicine in his IV and packed him with the ice. He stopped seizing after a few minutes but he hasn’t woken up yet.”



I reached over and put my hand on his forehead. I hated seeing him like this and I wanted so badly to do something for him. I don’t think I’d ever felt so helpless in my life. When I stood back up, Cecile once again threw herself against me. I felt bad, I know she had to be upset, but I couldn’t help think about what Holly had said about her wanting me back. She did seem to touch me an awful lot.



I gently took her arms in my hands and guided her back about a foot. Then I turned back to Mark and said, “Do the doctors have any idea where the fever came from?”



She shook her head. “They said he may have just had a little cold and the covering up made him too warm and pushed the fever up too high.”



I put my hand gently on his chest. I could feel the rise and fall of it and it made me feel better. With all the ice packed around him it was hard to see him breathing. Cecile went back to her chair and I stood on my side of the bed and we stayed like that until the doctor came in a while later. He checked Mark’s temperature and then he had the nurse remove the ice packs from him. His skin was red and mottled all over from being so cold. I felt so bad for him that I could hardly stand it. When the doctor finished his exam he said, “Mark’s labs all came back normal. His white blood cell count would be elevated if he had any infections going on that we couldn’t see, but it’s not. His ears, throat and lungs are clear. His mother said he’s been asymptomatic before the fever today, so I have no idea where the fever came from. The good news is it’s back to normal now.”



“Why isn’t he waking up?” I asked him.



“When he first stopped seizing he was what we call postictal. He was awake, but he was confused and disoriented. That was all normal. Now, more than likely he is just exhausted. Having a seizure, especially one as long as his lasted takes a lot out of a person. We also gave him some medication to help him stop seizing. The medication is called Ativan. It’s in the same family as Valium, but it works faster and won’t stay in his system as long. It is a sedative though so with all of that trauma, his body probably just needs the rest.”



“Probably?” I asked my mind kept picking out that word from the news he’d given us.



“Yes, it’s the most likely scenario,” he said. “But, there is also the very small possibility that the fever, coupled with the seizure could have given him some form of brain damage. We won’t be able to know any of that until he’s awake. Once he wakes up we can do further testing.”



I looked back at him. His face was pale except for the bright scarlet patches across his cheekbones. His long, brown eyelashes lay against them and his brown hair hung down across his forehead. He was beautiful and he had to be okay. Now that I had him back in my life, it might kill me to lose him. I thanked the doctor and turned back to Mark. I rubbed his hand in mine and I just started talking to him.



“Hey big guy! Enough of this, okay? You’re scaring your mom and me. Please wake up. You can finish your dreams later. We’ve got so much to do, Buddy. Remember? We have to teach you how to play baseball and soccer. You have to teach me to play those video games you love so much too.”



Mark’s eyes fluttered. Excitedly, I rubbed his hand a little harder. “I see you. I see you trying to wake up. Open your eyes, okay? I need to see you.” They fluttered again. I could see now that he was trying to wake up. “Your mom’s here too,” I said, looking at Cecile.



“Mama’s here, Mark,” she said, taking his other hand. “Please wake up, baby.”



Mark finally pulled his eyes open. His head was turned towards me so his glassy eyes focused on my face and he said, “Aiden?”



On the verge of tears of relief I said, “Yeah, it’s me. How are you feeling?”



“Ouch!” he said.



“What’s wrong? What’s hurting you?” He turned his head slowly like he was in pain and looked at his mom. His eyes traveled to where she held his hand in her own.



“You’re hurting my hand, Mom.”



“Oh baby I’m so sorry,” she said, letting go. “I was just so happy when you woke up I got over-excited.”



“It’s okay. Where are we?”



“We’re at the hospital, baby. You had a high fever and it made you have a seizure,” Cecile told him.



He looked confused and I said, “Do you know what that is, Mark? Do you know what a seizure is?”



“No,” he said.



“It’s a thing that happens when your brain gets too hot. It makes your body shake all over. That’s why you feel so cool now. They packed you with ice bags and brought your fever down.”



“Oh, okay,” he said. “I’m hungry.”



Cecile and I both laughed and I said, “I’ll go ask the doctor if you can eat. If he says yes I’ll go get you something from the cafeteria.”



“Thank you,” he said. Seven years old, sick in bed in a hospital and still polite. I was so proud.



“You’re welcome,” I told him with a smile. “Hey Buddy?”



“Yeah?”



I wanted to say, “I love you,” but that was probably too much too soon for him. He was still confused about who I was and about why his own father hadn’t been around. So instead, I said, “I’m so glad you’re going to be okay.”



“Me too,” he said with a weak smile. He had his eyes closed again. The medication was likely still making him sleepy. But he knew who he was, who his mother was and who I was. He could talk fine and he was hungry. They were all good signs.





~



Chapter Three



~





HOLLY





Aiden and I had come to an agreement about him seeing Mark…sort of. Two days after the night that Aiden had to rush to the hospital because Mark was having a seizure, we finally had time to sit down and finish our talk.



“How’s Mark doing today,” I asked him.



“He’s great. I talked to him on the phone this morning before he left for school. He sounded good. No more fever. It’s a little scary that they never figured out where it came from though.”



“I’ve read a lot of baby books since we had Eric. They say that kids spike fevers sometimes for no reason, or reasons that no one ever figures out. I’m glad he’s okay. I hate to bring this all up again, but we never finished our talk the other night.”



“It’s okay, I know. I just want to see Mark. I’ll go along with whatever you’re comfortable with, as long as that happens.”



“Good,” I said. “I have no problems with you seeing Mark. I still don’t trust his mother. I’d like for you to work out a schedule with her where you can see him here, or take him places just you and him, or you and him and Eric and me. I’d like for him to feel comfortable here, like we’re all a family. But I can’t handle Cecile always there on the periphery.”



“I understand. I really do. I have thought a lot about how I would feel if the roles were reversed and I think you actually handled this a lot better than I would have. Just the mention of Jake’s name the other day made me furious and that all happened so long ago.”



“Thank you for that,” I told him. It was nice to know that he was thinking about it that way rather than just thinking I was being a jealous ninny.



“You don’t have to thank me, it’s the truth,” he said.



He called Cecile that afternoon and put it on speakerphone. That wasn’t at my request, but I did appreciate it. I think he just wanted me to be sure that he wasn’t hiding things any longer.



“Hi Aiden,” she said in a gooey voice.



“Hey Cecile, I need to talk to you about seeing Mark.”



“You can see him whenever you like,” she said. “Do you have me on speaker? I hear an echo.”



“Yeah, Holly’s here.”



“Oh,” she did a poor job of hiding her annoyance, but then she suddenly had her sappy voice back on as she said, “Hi Holly.”



I made a face at Aiden and he looked like he wanted to laugh. “Hi Cecile,” I said.



“So, I don’t understand, Aiden. What do you mean you need to talk to me about seeing Mark? You’ve been seeing him.”



“I want to set up a schedule with you. One that works for both of us. That way you can make plans to do things you don’t otherwise have time to do while Holly and I have Mark…”



“Whoa, what do you mean when you and Holly have him?”



“Just what I said. Cecile, Holly is my wife. I want Mark to get to know her and Eric.”



“That’s fine, but I’ll bring him over to see them. Mark doesn’t do well with strangers.”



“I’m not a stranger and soon Holly and Eric won’t be either. We don’t need you to be here every single time that we see Mark. You know I love him. We don’t need a chaperone. He will be in good hands with us,” Aiden said as I rolled my eyes.



There was a long pause and then she said, “Are you sure about that? Are you positive that he’d be in good hands there?” I stood up and threw up my hands. She was impossible.



“Yes, I’m sure,” Aiden said. “I don’t know why you would ask me that. What are you talking about?”



“I’m sorry Aiden, and you too Holly. But where my son is concerned, I would rather err on the side of safety. I’ve seen Holly with her own son. I worry that Mark wouldn’t be watched appropriately.”



I was really trying not to say anything but when she said that, I think I actually growled. I opened my mouth and I wasn’t even sure what I was going to say. It probably started with a “B” though and described Cecile. Luckily, Aiden cut me off.



“That’s the other thing, Cecile. I don’t want to hear you disparage Holly again.”



“That’s fine, be protective of your little wifey,” she said. That time it was dripping with sarcasm. Then she said, “It should make you understand even more why I’m so protective of my son. Holly’s an adult; I suppose…but he’s not.”



“So what are you saying?” Aiden asked her.



“I’m saying that if you want to see Mark, I’m his mother and you’ll have to do it my way.”



“And your way is?”



“I don’t leave my son. It’s not just with you and Holly, okay? I don’t leave him with anyone. If you want to see him, you can see him here at my house or at your apartment with me present, or places like the zoo…you know.”



Aiden sighed and he ran a hand through his hair. I could tell he was frustrated and afraid that she was on the verge of telling him that he couldn’t see Mark at all. It made me want to punch her in the face that much more.



“So no compromises?” Aiden asked her.



“Not where my son is concerned,” she said. “The fact that you would expect that from me speaks to why I would worry about not being with him all the time.”



“Oh Jesus, Cecile!”



“Listen to me, Aiden. My son and I were both abused by his own father. I have no doubts that you would never do that, and I’m sure Holly wouldn’t either,” she said. I would never do it to Mark, but I had some pretty strong fantasies about being violent towards his mother sometimes. She went on to say, “But what’s happened to us in the past has made me a little skittish I hope you can understand that.”



Aiden looked up at me then. He was holding his head like it ached and he looked like he was at a loss for what to do. I could tell by the look in his eyes that he wanted my input on this. I shrugged then and mouthed, “That’s fine, but tell her I’ll be here too.”



Aiden smiled at me and then grabbed my hand and gave it a squeeze. Into the phone he said, “Okay Cecile. We’ll do it your way but you have to remember that my wife and these boys are the centers of my universe. That’s not ever going to change.”



In her fake, sweet voice Cecile said, “Of course, Aiden. I would never want it to.”





AIDEN





Although Cecile hadn’t agreed to the terms that Holly had been hoping for, I think Holly at least felt better that I wasn’t hiding anything from her any longer. The whole thing was less stressful and I planned on going out of my way for all our activities to take place in public. The Saturday after that conversation, we made arrangements to meet at a park in Scarsdale. Holly and I packed a picnic basket and we packed up Eric too. It was going to be a fun family day.



It was a cool, fall day but we had Eric dressed warm. I’d brought some whiffle balls and a couple of plastic bats I’d bought for Mark. I promised to teach him how to play baseball. Cecile and Mark were already there when we arrived and Cecile had brought a picnic basket as well. Mark and I started out hitting a few balls around while Holly and Eric sat on a blanket in the grass and the baby played with his toys. Cecile had brought a lawn chair that she sat facing Mark and I and she watched us play.



After we finished that, Mark wanted to go to the playground. I asked Holly, “Do you want to bring Eric? We can swing him on our laps, I’m sure he’d love it.”



“I’d love to, but what about all of our stuff?”



I looked at Cecile and said, “You won’t mind staying with the stuff for just a bit, would you?”



She smiled and said, “Not at all, I’ll get lunch set up.” I didn’t want to seem smug, but I did give Holly a “See, this can work,” smile and look. She smiled back, but it wasn’t one of her strongest tries.



We had a great time on the playground, Eric loved the swings and Mark tried and re-tried all three of the big slides. Holly and I even sat with them for a while in the sandbox. Mark was great with Eric. He tried to show him how to build a sandcastle, even though all the baby was interested in was destroying it. Mark didn’t get upset at all; he would just laugh and start over. We had been gone about an hour when I happened to look over to see Cecile beckoning us back.



I looked at Holly and said, “I think Cecile wants us to come back over for lunch.”



Holly smiled tightly and said, “Oh—Joy!” It was said in her most sarcastic voice. I wasn’t taking Cecile’s side, but I was afraid we weren’t ever going to get anywhere if she refused to just give Cecile a tiny bit of credit ever.



I picked up Eric and Holly helped Mark collect his sand toys. We made it back to the picnic spot and saw that Cecile had set out everything she had brought. The only thing she’d put out from our basket was some dried apricots and a Tupperware of pureed food that Holly had brought for Eric. Holly looked at me and raised an eyebrow.



“Hey Cecile,” I said. “This all looks great, but where’s our stuff?”



“Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t want to bring it out and tempt Mark with all of that junk food.”



“What junk food?” Holly asked, in her irritated tone.



“You know, pepperoni and brioche and cheeses…and I think I saw a cheesecake in there? I don’t feed Mark things like that. I don’t want him to grow up having to worry about his body. Now is the time to start teaching them good eating habits.”



“Are you trying to say I’m not teaching my child good eating habits?” Holly asked her.



“Oh no, of course not. Besides, he’s your child, you can feed him whatever you like and you’re welcome to put whatever you want into your own body. I’m sorry if you took that offensively, I didn’t mean it like that at all.”



I wanted to believe her, but from the look on my wife’s face this arrangement might eventually be the death of me.





~



Chapter Four



~





HOLLY





The next couple of months were a nightmare. Cecile was showing up at every turn and she took every opportunity that she could to make it look like I was a terrible mother. Aiden still seemed blind to what she was trying to do and I just couldn’t figure it out. He was probably the smartest person I had ever known, but I guess he was proof that intelligence and emotional manipulation were two completely different things.



Perfect example number one: Aiden wanted to take Mark to see the new Lego movie when it came out. Eric had never been to the theatre, but we thought since it was a kids movie it would be fine to take him. Cecile, of course, had to go along.



We got our popcorn and drinks and found a row of seats where Aiden and I sat next to each other; Mark was next to him and Cecile on the other side. Mark and Aiden were sharing the popcorn which Aiden was holding in his lap. All was going well until Eric needed a diaper change. I took him out to the bathroom and changed him. It took a little while because there were two other women in front of me changing their children on the changing table first. When I got back, imagine my surprise to find that the seating arrangements had changed. Cecile was suddenly next to Aiden, sharing the popcorn from his lap and Mark was on the other side of her. I sat down and leaned into Aiden’s ear.



“So what happened to the seating arrangement?”



“Oh, that big guy kept moving his head and Mark was having trouble seeing,” he said.



“Hmm, sure,” I said. Aiden gave me a, “Please don’t be that way,” look. I just rolled my eyes. Eric was reaching for his daddy so I said, “Maybe Cecile can hold the popcorn so you can hold your son?”



Aiden handed her the popcorn and took Eric out of my lap. I had only set things up to make them worse. Cecile handed the popcorn to Mark and then proceeded to tickle and play with Eric. She even fussed over him, and when I leaned in to wipe his slobber with a receiving blanket she said, “Oh honey, that’s awfully germy.” Then she pulled out a bag of sterile baby wipes. I wanted to slug her.



That was only one incident, there were several more that day alone. She always had new material; it was almost like she was lying awake at night trying to think of ways to make Aiden think I was a horrible mother. I’m not sure that anything she did or said along those lines even fazed him, but any time I tried to talk to him about it he would act like I was just being paranoid, or worse yet, jealous. Sometimes I wanted to slug him too. Thank God for impulse control.



One Saturday morning when Aiden was off to meet them at the dinosaur museum, I decided that I’d had more than my fair share of doses of Cecile for one week. Actually, I could have gone for a year. Anyways, I packed up my baby and we went to visit my mother instead. I also needed some maternal advice.



“There’s my baby!” My mother ran out of the house and said that every time Eric and I came to see her. It was cute but it still amazed me sometimes. I was hardly used to her being a “regular” mom yet. To see her as a grandmother was both heartwarming and strange at the same time.



“Hi Mom, how are you?” I asked as she grabbed Eric and I unloaded his stuff. I didn’t have to bring much when we came to Mom’s. She’d gone and bought furniture and clothes for him and furnished an entire room in her home as a nursery.



“I’m great now,” she said, kissing Eric’s face and making him giggle. “You just have no idea how happy Nana is to see her little man. It’s been too long.” I just shook my head. It had only been a week. We had her over for dinner the week before.



Once we were inside, she put Eric in the floor with some new blocks she’d bought him and she poured us each a cup of coffee. When she brought it back she said, “Now, tell me what’s wrong. Is Cecile still up to her tricks?”



“She’s driving me crazy, Mom. I try so hard not to let her get to me, but I kid you not, she bends over backwards trying to make me look like a neglectful mother. Aiden says he doesn’t notice it, and he doesn’t come right out and tell me that I’m being jealous, or paranoid, but he gives me the impression that’s what he thinks. I can’t for the life of me figure out how such a smart man cannot figure out that he’s being manipulated.”



“Sometimes honey, our emotions and our intellect are two completely different things. Do you think Aiden still has feelings for her?”



“I really don’t, Mom. I mean, I see them together all the time and he’s not the slightest bit affectionate towards her. It’s easy to see how much he loves Mark though and I’m afraid of just how much he’s going to be willing to overlook to make sure she doesn’t take him away again.”



“But it’s putting a strain on your marriage?”



“Yeah, it is. I feel terrible about it. I tell myself that as much as he loves that boy I should be able to grin and bear it for a while. I hope that Cecile will get tired of her antics or even better, meet someone else so that she’ll be too preoccupied with a new relationship to be on our doorstep every other day.”



My mom drew her eyebrows together and frowned. Then she said, “You want some more coffee honey?”



“No, I’m still okay. What are you thinking?”



“Nothing, I was thinking about getting some more coffee.”



“Fibber, I saw you pinch your eyebrows together. You have something to say, but you don’t want to say it because you’re afraid that I’ll think you’re over-stepping. I won’t, Mom. Please, I came here for advice. I’m at a loss and I need your help.”



Mom shook her head and said, “I’m sorry, okay, I’ll say what’s on my mind, but you can take it with a grain of salt if you want to. I’m just worried that if she’s going to lie…or at least imply things that aren’t true about your parenting skills than who knows what else she would lie about?”



“Meaning?”



“Well, think about it. She had an affair with Aiden’s best friend, she lied about the paternity of the child, and now she’s telling Aiden that the same man she left him for who is the actual biological parent of the child is “abusive.” Maybe…and this is just a theory, but maybe she is bending the truth about all of that, or some of that as well. Has Aiden talked to her husband?”



“No, he won’t call him. He said there was some kind of “code” that men follow where your wives and girlfriends and ex-wives and girlfriends are off-limits. He said that what Jake did was a bigger betrayal than what Cecile did. I honestly think they were both at fault, yet he can forgive Cecile, but not Jake.”



“Maybe you should call him yourself,” Mom said.



“Jake? No, I don’t even know him. Besides, Aiden would be really upset with me if I did that.”



“Then have someone else look into her background for you.”



“Someone like whom?”



Mom laughed, “Don’t you watch television?”



“Not much,” I told her. “I have a toddler, remember?”



“Well, you want information and you’re not exactly poor…I was thinking that maybe you should hire a P.I.”



“A private investigator, really? You don’t think that’s a little over the top?”



“Look at it this way, honey…this woman is obviously after your husband, we both know that. She spends way too much time with him in my opinion, but the thing that bothers me even more is that she’s also around Eric a lot. Maybe you need to know more about this woman who seems to be constantly in your house and more and more in your son’s life.”



I was nodding, I knew she was right. I wanted to know if she was telling Aiden the truth about Jake and Mark. If she wasn’t, then Mom was right and she might just be a dangerous person to have around my family.



“Okay, I’ll do it,” I said. Mom smiled.



“Now do you want more coffee?”



“Sure,” I told her, handing her my cup. When she came back she also handed me a business card. It said, “Blake Shelton, Private Investigations.” I laughed, “I see that today wasn’t the first time any of this crossed your mind?”



Mom shrugged and said, “I have a lot of time on my hands and I worry about you and Eric. I don’t like the idea of some woman trying to come between you and Aiden. I even less like the idea of a woman with a “questionable past” or a “loose grasp on the truth” being around you and my grandson so much.”



“I’ll call him when I get home,” I told her.



“You should call him now,” she said. I rolled my eyes again, but I took out my phone and called the number on the card.



“Shelton Investigations,” the voice on the other end of the phone said.



“Hi, is this Mr. Shelton?”



“Yes it is.”



“Hi, my name is Holly Scott and I was looking to hire an investigator to do…I guess a background check on someone.”



“You called the right guy, Miss Scott. Let’s set up an appointment and when you tell me what it is you need, I can go over my rates and policies with you.”



“Great, thanks,” I said. “Um, I know it’s late notice, but I’m out and about today. You wouldn’t happen to have any appointments available today would you?”



“If you can get here within the hour, I’ll have time to see you.”



“Oh, okay…sure, I’ll be there, thanks.”



When I hung up, I told my mother what he said. “I’m sorry, Mom. We’ll have to take off now to make it.”



“Why don’t you go and let me spend some time with Eric. You have to come right back past here on your way home anyways.”



“That was your ulterior motive all along, wasn’t it?” I asked her. She laughed.



“Spending time with this amazing little guy is always my ulterior motive.”



I left Eric in good hands and went to see my first, and hopefully only, private investigator.





~



Chapter Five



~





HOLLY





I found the private investigator’s office easily and although it was a nice, neatly organized and chicly decorated place, something about being there still made me feel creepy or sleazy somehow.



“Miss Scott?” The man was tall, probably over six three or four. He wore jeans and a nice pair of cowboy boots and a long-sleeved black cowboy-cut shirt. He also spoke with a strong southern drawl that was unusual to run into in Manhattan.



“Um, yeah, it’s Mrs. though. You must be Mr. Shelton?”



“Yes ma’am, good to meet you. Please come on in.” He took me into a nice office with a big oak desk and bookshelves surrounding the room. He offered me a seat and I took one of the chairs facing his desk. He sat down too and took out some paperwork. Then he folded his hands under his chin and looked at me, “Are you a little nervous about coming here?”



I smiled, “Yeah, just a little,” I told him. “I’m not usually one to invade other’s privacy, but sometimes people just take their lies too far, you know?”



He grinned and said, “I do know. That’s why I’m in the business I am.”



I nodded and told him, “My problem is that I know this woman is lying, but I don’t know how to prove it. I’m afraid if I don’t prove it soon, however that it might mean the end of my marriage, or even worse.”



He took a pen from his pocket and stacked the paperwork in front of him. Then he said, “Alright then, let’s get started so that we can try and stop that from happening.”



He started asking me a lot of questions. As we talked, I felt a little bad about telling him things about Aiden, like I was betraying him somehow. When we finished, he told me that I just had to keep in mind that what I was asking him to do was to protect my family. He assured me that he was only going to talk to Jake and people who knew Cecile but that he wouldn’t involve Mark at all and he also wouldn’t bring my name up to anyone as his client.



I shook his hand before I left and thanked him. He told me that he would be in touch as soon as he had anything substantial. I left, not knowing if I was doing the right thing or not, but at least feeling like I was being a little more pro-active with my life.





***





About a week later Aiden and I were having coffee before he left for work. It was one of the rare times I’d seen him that week. He had been leaving when the sun came up and coming home long after it went down every day. I felt like a single mother and I told him so.



“I miss you, Aiden. Eric misses you. I eat dinner alone every night. Every time the baby does something incredible and I want to tell you about it I can’t because I’m asleep by the time you get home and not up yet when you leave. You said you were going be able to spend more time with us when your big project was up and running, hasn’t that happened yet?”



“Not yet, baby. I’m sorry; I miss you both too, so much. I try to get home at a decent time every night, I really do. Every night this week so far as I tried to walk out, I’d get called back for one crazy thing or another. I know those are just excuses and what you need is action. You need me to be here for you and I need to try harder. I really don’t have that much to do today. Anything that comes up late, I’ll have Randall take care of it and I’ll be home by six, okay?”



I smiled and put my hand on the side of his face, “Okay, I’ll make dinner for us.”



“That sounds better to me than you can imagine. I miss you so bad.”



He leaned in then and covered my mouth with his. He had one hand on the back of my neck and the other on my waist and I felt his tongue snake in between my lips and seek mine out. We shared a long, deep, passionate kiss and I didn’t care that I couldn’t breathe; I didn’t want it to end.



When he broke the kiss he looked at me with those deep, sexy, brown eyes of his and gave me one of his sexiest toothy grins and said, “Hold that thought for me for a few hours?”



“Oh, I will,” I told him. “You better be here, tonight, Mr.”



He pulled me in and kissed me again, then he said, “I will be, and you can take that to the bank. I love you, Holly.”



“I love you too,” I told him.



Once Eric had gotten up and had his breakfast and bath, he and I went out to do some shopping. I was so happy; I was actually humming as we made our way through the Whole Foods store, picking out the ingredients for Aiden’s favorite meal. I was on cloud nine, until I heard a familiar voice. It sent a chill down my spine as I heard Cecile’s voice come from behind me.



“Oh my goodness, Holly…and Eric.” I wanted to keep walking, but I was trapped by my own good manners. I sighed, cursed in my head, and turned around and saw her behind me with a shopping cart. I tried not to notice that she had a lot of Aiden’s favorite things in her cart, almost like she was stocking her home to his tastes.



“Cecile, hi. You’re shopping a long way from home. No grocery stores in Scarsdale?”



“Nothing good,” she said with one of her fake smiles. “I love this place; everything is organic and so fresh.”



“Hmm,” I said. “I should go, Eric and I have a busy day.”



“Sure, it was great seeing you and you too, Eric. I do hope your mommy wiped that basket down before she sat you in it. It’s just covered in germs.”



Something inside of me snapped a little bit. I looked at her and I could feel the fire burning in my eyes.



“I am so sick of you acting like you think you know so much more about being a mother than I do. I adore my son and if I make mistakes, they’re no worse than what other new parents do. He’s very well taken care of and I don’t need advice from the likes of you. I have plenty of support if I have questions.”



She smirked and said, “You mean your waitress friends…Oh! Maybe you mean your mother, the drunk?”



I took a step towards her and sometimes later when I think about it, I have to admit that Eric saved my life. If I had assaulted her, the way I’d wanted to she would have called the police in a heartbeat. The only thing that kept me from doing it was my angel sitting there in the basket watching me.



“Aiden’s going to figure out what you’re doing soon enough, Cecile. Right now, he’s so thrilled that you’re letting him see Mark, but I’m doing all I can to encourage him to call Jake and get the real story,” Cecile’s entire affect changed when I said that. “I have no doubt that as soon as that happens, your jig will be up. Have a nice day.”



I could almost feel the daggers she was shooting out of her eyes and into my back as I walked away. It felt good to finally tell her what I thought of her. I had no idea how that was going to backfire on me later on that day.



I finished picking up what I needed quickly and paid for our purchases. I didn’t want to chance another run-in with Cecile. She’d already gone a long way to run off my happy mood. When we got to the car I put Eric in his seat and strapped him in and then I unloaded the groceries into the car. As I stepped into the SUV, my phone rang. Looking at the face I saw that it was the private investigator.



“Mr. Shelton, hello.”



“Hey there Mrs. Scott,” he said. “I have some news for you.”



“Great, what did you find out?” I asked him.



“I was hoping you could come by and pick up the file I have, if you have time. If not, I’d be happy to bring it by to you.”



“Well, I’m actually out right now. If you’ll be there for a while, I’ll come by on my way home and get the file and settle up with you.”



“That sounds dandy,” he said.



Eric and I stopped at Shelton’s office. When I carried him in, the P.I. smiled broadly at the baby and said, “I can see why you’re so determined to protect your family. That is a right fine looking young man you have there.”



“Thank you,” I told him with a smile. “I think so too.” We sat down and he opened a manila file. He took out some photos of Cecile that looked like bank surveillance photos. I thought that was strange, it wasn’t like I was accusing her of stealing money or anything. Then, he took out some more photos of her in “compromising” positions with a much older man. “Is that Jake?” I asked him.



He chuckled and said, “No ma’am. That is the manager of a bank in Manhattan. That was where Jake and Cecile had one of their joint banking accounts. It seems that even though neither person should have been able to access that account without the other’s signature…Cecile cleaned that account out right after she left Jake. These pictures of her and the manager, and the ones from the bank were given to me by Jake. They were given to him by his own private investigator. He knows where Cecile and the boy are. He hasn’t gone after her yet because he’s building a case. She and the bank manager can likely be charged with theft and fraud when this all comes to light. Jake is having her surveyed to make sure the boy is being taken care of. He’s aware that Aiden has been spending time with him. He told me that he was glad of it. He’d suggested it to Cecile a while back and Cecile had declined to give him permission to set it up.”



“Wow,” I said, “This is a lot more than I bargained for. What about the abuse allegations that she made towards Jake? Is he aware that’s what she’s been saying?”



“I told him, today. But, not until he told me that is what she said to him to keep him from allowing Aiden to see him. I think she’s been working it both ways”



“This is unbelievable. She’s worse than I thought.”



“Yes ma’am, I think you need to trust your instincts from now on. They’re pretty good ones. It’s all there in the file; Jake was even kind enough to sign the paperwork from our interview for me. This all just gives him more ammunition to get custody of that boy.”



I was so happy; I wanted to hug this big man. I didn’t do it; again, I have good impulse control. Instead, I paid him, gave him a bonus, thanked him profusely and Eric and I sang happy songs all the way home.





AIDEN





I spent my whole day thinking about having dinner with Holly and spending a long, romantic evening with her. I could hardly concentrate on my work and several times I had to tell Randall that I was fine and not having some kind of mental breakdown because I didn’t respond when someone talked to me and I had forgotten some important points about one of our big contracts. I missed my wife like crazy, and my son. This deal was supposed to be closed by the end of the week and then I could hire someone to help Randall do what needed to be done from here on out and spend more time with my family.



It was around five p.m. as I was wrapping things up for the evening when my phone rang. I looked at it and saw that it was Cecile. I really didn’t want to answer it, I was tiring of her games, and I knew that she was really getting to Holly. I hesitated, but I went ahead and answered it. I worried that if I didn’t, it would be like the day Mark had the seizure and then I wouldn’t be there for him when he needed me.



“Hello?”



“Hi Aiden,” her voice sounded sullen or depressed.



“Hey Cecile, what’s up?”



“Are you still at work?”



“Yeah, what’s going on? Is Mark okay?”



“Mark’s fine. He’s at a sleepover with a friend tonight.”



“Okay then, what’s up?” I was getting annoyed with her.



“I’m sorry,” she said with a deep sob suddenly. “I’ve just had such a bad day. I’ve been out driving since I dropped Mark at his friend’s house. I don’t know where to go or what to do.”



“Cecile, I’m sorry you’re having a bad day, I really am. But I was just on my way out, Holly’s expecting me.”



“She’s making dinner for you,” she said.



Confused about how she knew that, I said, “Yeah, she is. How did you know that?”



“I ran into her earlier today at the Whole Foods Store. It was actually the beginning of my bad day.”



“Why is that?”



“Because she was…really rude to me.”



“Holly was rude?” I kind of doubted that. This was the sort of thing I was tiring of.



“Yes, I know you don’t believe me, but I try so hard to be nice to her. I guess it seems intrusive to her when I try and give her tips to help with Eric, but I’m only trying to help. I just warned her about the germs on the shopping carts. The baby was chewing on the plastic piece where people put their dirty hands every day for crying out loud…”



I sighed. I can only imagine Holly’s response to that. She was always telling me that Cecile went out of her way to make it look as if she were a bad mother. “What did she say?”



“She told me that I was intrusive and that she didn’t want or need my input. She also said that you would tire of me soon and Mark and I would both be out of your lives. She said that one son was enough for you and I needed to try and stop forcing one that wasn’t even yours on you.” Cecile was in tears at that point. I could hear background noises…traffic. I suddenly got worried about her driving around like that. I didn’t really believe all that she was telling me about Holly, but I didn’t want to see her get in an accident over it.



“Where are you, Cecile?”



“I don’t know,” she said.



“Look at the street signs, where are you?”



“I’m at Fifth and Baldwin right now.”



“Is there somewhere you can stop safely? A business or something you can pull in to?”



“There’s a diner here on the corner.”



“Go in there and calm down. I’ll be there in a few minutes. I can’t stay long, Cecile. I have to get home at a decent time tonight, okay?”



“Okay,” she said with another sob. “I’m sorry.”



“I’ll be right there,” I told her again. I hung up and thought, “Damn!” I needed to call Holly but if I told her why I was going to be late, it would ruin our entire evening before it even got started. I decided that if I fibbed a little now and told her the truth and why I lied when I got home, it would be better overall. I called her and said, “Hi baby.”



“Hey, are you on your way home?”



“Not quite, I’m sorry.”



“Oh Aiden, you’re not going to cancel on me, are you?”



“No baby, I promise. I just need about an hour. I have some things that I absolutely have to wrap up. Then I will be there with bells on. I can’t wait to spend the evening with you. I’ve thought about it all day.”



“Me too, and I’ve been cooking all afternoon. Please don’t disappoint me,” she said.



“I won’t, I promise. One hour.”





~



Chapter Six



~





Holly





Two hours after I spoke with Aiden on the phone, I was tucking the baby into his bed. A half hour after that, I was putting away the food I’d made for us that was slowly wilting. Another half hour after that, as I sat on the couch getting angrier by the minute, he walked in the door. He looked disheveled and nervous.



“What the hell, Aiden?” I was so angry I didn’t even give him a chance to speak. I really didn’t want to hear his excuses. “You said an hour over three hours ago. That was bad enough, but the fact that I didn’t get a call or a text in between is not acceptable at all.”



He sat down and ran his hand through his hair. It was a habit he had when he was upset. I noticed then that he had his jacket off and his tie was all askew. “I know,” he said. “I’m so sorry.”



“What is going on, Aiden? Why do you look so…agitated? What happened?”



“I messed up, Holly. I screwed up so bad.” His eyes were filled with water. I almost thought he was going to cry. It was then that I got worried.



“Aiden, you’re scaring me. Please, just tell me what’s wrong.”



“I kissed Cecile,” he blurted out. It wasn’t at all what I expected to hear him say. I was in shock. I didn’t even know what to say back. He was looking at me, waiting for a reaction. I didn’t have one. I felt like I couldn’t breathe and I needed to get out of there. I felt like he was sucking all of the oxygen out of the room.



Instead of speaking, I stood up and went down the hall to Eric’s room. I picked him up and tucked him into his baby seat. He was still asleep and he didn’t even flinch. Then, I grabbed his bag that I always keep packed for emergencies and took only my coat. As we passed Aiden I dropped the manila file that the P.I. had given me down on the table in front of him. Then I picked up my purse and Eric and I walked out. Aiden didn’t say a word, and he didn’t come after us.





AIDEN





I hadn’t meant to blurt that out like I had. I needed to tell her, if I hadn’t, it would have eaten away at me. I’d found Cecile at the diner earlier where I had told her to go. She was still distraught and all I wanted to do was calm her down so that I could send her home safely and go spend the evening with the woman that I love. I listened to her cry, she said she didn’t have any friends and that she’d thought she and Holly could be friends but Holly acted like she hated her. She talked about feeling all alone and although she had Mark, she felt lonely and afraid most of the time.



I’m not a stupid man. I know that Cecile can be a very manipulative woman when she wants to be. I don’t know how much of what she was telling me was grounded in truth and how much was designed to play on my emotions, but her sobs got to me and I finally went to her side of the booth and put my arm around her. There was no sexual intent there, no desire. I just thought of it as one friend comforting another. We sat there like that until she was finally able to stop crying. When she did, she looked up at me with her eyes all red and swollen.



“Thank you, Aiden. You’re the only one who cares about me. I wish that I could go back in time and do things right. I lost the best thing I ever had when I lost you.” The next thing I knew, she had her hand resting on the top of my thigh. I know I say I have no desire for her, and it’s true, in my head. My body however is male and no matter which adult female is touching you there, it’s likely you’re going to have a physical response. I did and the next instant, she was covering it with her hand and her lips were on mine. It all happened so fast that it took my brain a few seconds to respond. As soon as it did, I jumped up out of the booth, away from her.



“What the hell are you doing?”



She actually smiled at me as she said, “You can’t deny you want me.” Her eyes fell below my belt line and then came back up to meet mine.



“You’ve lost it, Cecile. What you just did could be considered assault.”



She smiled wider and said, “Are you going to have me charged?”



I threw a twenty on the table and said, “No, but this is never going to happen again. I’m going to talk to Jake about seeing Mark. Holly’s right, this is all a game to you.”



I didn’t realize she’d followed me out until I got to my car. She was behind me as I pulled open the door and she said, “Holly is your cheap thrill, you’ll tire of the mousy little waitress soon enough. When you do, call me, and don’t bother calling Jake, he’s not going to give you permission to see Mark.”



I didn’t say anything else to her; I just got in the car and came home. I wondered the entire way how I was going to tell Holly. I was afraid that if I didn’t Cecile would. I’d started thinking that Holly had been right all along and Cecile was just trying to break us up. When I saw Holly’s face, the worst, most overwhelming sense of guilt I’d ever had came over me. I hadn’t meant to blurt it out like I did, but I couldn’t hold it in any longer.



After Holly left I finally reached and picked up the folder she left in front of me. I looked at the 8 by 10 glossies of my ex in bed with an old man and the ones of her in the bank, stuffing a lot of cash in her purse. I looked at the documents where Jake’s signatures were circled in red and the affidavit that Jake signed, stating it wasn’t his signature. Then I read the report and Jake’s interview. I threw it all back on the table and leaned back into the couch. My head was throbbing. Holly had been right all along and as usual, I’d been an idiot.



I sat there, frozen for a while and wondering how I could have taken such a great life and screwed it up so badly. Holly left and she took our son. I had no idea if she would come back. If it was me and the tables were turned, I doubt that I would.





HOLLY





After I walked out on Aiden, Eric and I drove to my mother’s house. When she opened the door and saw my face, she didn’t say a word. She just helped me carry Eric’s stuff in and she went to make some tea while I tucked him into his crib.



When I came back out she said, “Need a hug?” On the verge of tears, I nodded. She wrapped her arms around me then and the floodgates were opened. I let my mother pet my head and hold me like I was a young child and I cried until I couldn’t cry any longer.



“I’m sorry about that.”



“Are you kidding?” she said. “You have nothing to be sorry for. I’m so happy that I’m finally the kind of mother that you can come to. Do you want to talk about it?”



I told her everything the investigator had told me and then I said, “I was so happy. I went home and started making dinner. I got dressed up…I was so looking forward to spending a romantic evening with Aiden. I was like a kid on Christmas Eve. Then on top of it, I had the goods on Cecile finally. Not only would she be out of our lives, but it also sounded like Jake would be willing to let Aiden still spend time with Mark. It was the answer to all of our problems.”



“That all sounds great,” Mom said. “What happened to ruin it?”



“Aiden told me he’d be an hour late. He showed up over three hours later. Then, he told me he kissed Cecile.”



Mom took in a sharp breath. She was as shocked as I had been when Aiden spit it out. She really liked Aiden, and she’d been pulling for us from the start. Confusing me, she suddenly said, “Why?”



“Why what, Mama?”



“Why did he kiss her? Did he say?”



“No, Mom, and I didn’t ask. It doesn’t matter why he kissed her. He shouldn’t have kissed her at all. A betrayal is a betrayal no matter why he did it. ”



“You’re right, of course you are. I was just wondering about the situation. You told me that she manipulates him.”



“She does, horribly. But that’s still no excuse.”



“Excuse no, but at least an explanation. Sometimes that at least helps assuage the pain in the heart just a little bit.”



“Maybe, but you know what I can’t stop thinking is: Now, how am I supposed to trust him again?”



My mother didn’t say anything at first, but once again I could tell by the look on her face that she had something to say.



“What Mama?”



“Don’t get mad, okay?”



“I won’t, I came to you for your advice.”



“Okay, first of all, I agree with you that he has no excuses here. He never should have kissed her no matter the situation. But, as far as trusting him, he did tell you about it right away. He didn’t wait and let you find out another way, or try and cover it up, right?”



“True, but he shouldn’t have even been with her in the first place. He didn’t tell me that he was going to see her. Once again, he was sneaking around and that led to kissing her. That’s my concern, Mom.”



“And it’s a valid one. You’re a better woman than me, you really are. I wouldn’t have put up with any of this from the beginning. I know you’ve done it for Aiden and Mark, but it’s taken a big toll on you and I think Aiden needs to realize the kind of burden that he’s put on you, and I think you need to set some stronger boundaries.”



“You don’t think I should leave him?” I asked her.



“Do you love him?” she asked.



“So much.”



“Do you want to leave him?”



I felt the tears running down my face as I said, “No, I don’t want to leave him.”



“Then don’t. Don’t let this woman win. If you leave him, it’s part of her plan she can check off. When Aiden calls, and he will…tell him what you want and how you want it. Be strong and don’t accept any less than you know you deserve, but fight for your marriage, baby. Fight for your family.”



I nodded and lay my head back on her shoulder. “I love you, Mom.”



She hugged me to her and said, “I’m so glad, it was touch and go there for a while.”



I laughed at that. I was so glad that we could laugh about it now. Maybe someday, Aiden and I would be able to laugh about all of the crap we’d been through with Cecile too. My mom kissed the top of my head and said, “I love you so much.”





~



Chapter Seven



~





HOLLY





When I woke up the next morning, I was a little bit disoriented. I was in my old bedroom at my Mom’s house. It had been a long time since I’d slept there and as soon as I remembered why I was here, I started crying again. I allowed myself that until I heard Eric cooing over the monitor. I got up to go get him and found my mother already getting him up.



I stood in the doorway and watched as she changed him and talked to him and tickled him under his little chin. He giggled and tried to talk back. Not much of what he said was discernable yet, but he was trying. Mom acted like she understood every word and they were having a big conversation. I didn’t want to interrupt so I went out to the kitchen and got my coffee. I took it out on the porch to drink in the cool air and silence of the early morning. I finally did what I’d been putting off since I woke up. I looked at my phone. There was no missed call from Aiden…no text. My chest hurt but I told myself I was finished crying. I slipped the phone back in the pocket of my robe and tried not to dwell on it. Maybe he was just embarrassed; maybe he didn’t know what to say yet.



The day passed slowly. Mother and I took Eric to the park and we all went out for dinner that night. I kept my upper lip stiff until after I tucked the baby into bed that night. Then when Mom and I sat down with our tea that evening that was when I lost it.



“It’s been an entire day, Mom. What could he have been doing for an entire day that he didn’t have time to call me, or text me? A text takes literally seconds.”



“Maybe you should call him,” she suggested.



“I don’t want to do that. I want to know that he’s contacting me because he wants to be with me. I’m wondering about his dedication to me and Eric. If he can just let me walk out with the baby and not even be upset enough to even call and find out where we are, then maybe he just doesn’t care. If I call him and he talks me into coming back, I’ll never know if he planned on calling me and even though I know that is stupid it’s important to me.”



“I doubt that he’s not upset at all,” Mom said. “Try and tell yourself to give it one more day, honey. I know that’s easier for me to say than for you to do…but I’d hate to see you give up so soon and then have regrets to live with.”



I nodded. I wasn’t sure she was right, but my only other choice was to call him and like I’d told my mother, I was afraid that would just be forcing him into a place he didn’t want to be in. I tried to be brave and not think about what it would be like to have to go through a divorce and an ensuing custody battle with a man that I loved, as well as one of the richest and most resourceful men in the world.





AIDEN





I didn’t sleep all night. I knew that Holly had gone to her mother’s because I drove by there to make sure that her car was there. I at least knew they were safe. I wanted them home with me, but I didn’t think that talking to her last night would solve anything. It would be a mess of tears and emotions and guilt. So I left it alone and drove home for the time being. I lay awake until dawn and then I made a strong pot of coffee and set about making things right…I wanted to call her with solutions, not excuses.



After I had my coffee and showered, I called Randall.



“Hey Randall, I have a huge task for you.”



“Yes sir, what can I do for you?”



“I need executives. Anyone that’s applied recently that looks promising. Anyone that the headhunters have sent over or called about recently too.”



“Okay, are you firing me?” Randall said. He didn’t have much of a sense of humor, so he may have been serious. I laughed anyways.



“No Randall, I need help for you so that I can spend some time with my family. My wife needs me, and my kid is growing up way too fast and I’m missing it all. I won’t be able to get any of that back so I need to be there for it now while it’s happening.”



“I will have them all lined up when you get here,” he said.



“Great, thank you. I have something else I need to do first. I’ll be in within a few hours.”



I hung up with Randall and then taking a deep breath to steady my nerves I did something that I’d refused to do for the past four years…I called Jake.



“Aiden?” he said when he answered the phone. I still had the same private number. He sounded surprised to hear from me.



“Yeah, it’s me. How are you, Jake?”



“Ah, I’ve been better. How about you?”



“Same here. I’m guessing both of our troubles are stemming from the antics of the same woman?”



Jake laughed, but it was a dry laugh with no humor in it. “Yeah, you’re probably guessing right. I had a visit from your wife’s investigator a few days ago.”



“Yeah, I have the dossier in front of me. What a mess. What are you planning to do, if you don’t mind me asking?”



“I plan on getting my son back, first and foremost,” he said. I felt the old familiar pang in my chest when he said, “my son.” I know it’s stupid, I know Mark is not my son, but it still hurts all these years later. “Hey Aiden, I hate myself for what I did to you, sleeping with your wife. I don’t want to make any excuses but if you’ll let me, I’d like to at least tell you how it happened.”



I didn’t know that it made any difference now, but I guess a little closure wouldn’t hurt any of us. “Yeah, okay,” I said.



“Do you remember that big party we had when we closed the deal with that Chinese company?”



“The one at the Plaza? Yeah, vaguely. I was a little bit drunk.”



“Yeah, we all were. I don’t know, now that I think about it, maybe Cecile wasn’t. Anyways, I passed out in the ballroom, do you remember that?”



“Yeah, I helped carry you to your room.”



“I have no recollection from the time I puked and keeled over on the dance floor until early the next morning. I woke up in bed with your wife, Aiden. We were both nude and she was all over me. I should have kicked her out, I have no excuse…but she had me all hot and I let it happen. After that, I avoided her at every turn. I even went months without seeing her. She would call me and she invited me to every dinner party you two had. I always made sure to bring a date because she made me so uncomfortable. I was so afraid she would tell you and you would hate me. I could barely look you in the eyes back then…”



“She got pregnant that night?” I had already done the math in my head; it fit.



“Yeah, she had to have. We didn’t have sex after that until much later…after she left you.”



“So when did she tell you that Mark was your son?”



“When he was two. She said she was leaving you and if I wanted to be a father to him, then she would tell you the truth. The whole thing made me sick, but I guess my paternal instincts were stronger than my friend ones. I had to go over in my head the ramifications of walking away from a friend, and then do the same with the idea of walking away from my son. Then there was Cecile and the fact that I didn’t trust Cecile enough to take what she said at face value. I told her that if a DNA test proved he was mine, I wanted to be his father. We had one done back then in secret, but because of what happened when you had yours, you know, it was positive. I swear though Aiden, I didn’t know she planned on taking him completely away from you. Then when the court stuff was going on, and I said it was wrong for her to keep him from you, that you loved him…that was when she started telling me that you were abusive towards him. I didn’t think that I had any reason not to believe her at that point although I knew you well enough that I should have known in my heart you wouldn’t hurt a child…”



“Don’t beat yourself up. I bought the story too. Sheesh! She’s a master manipulator, isn’t she?”



“Yeah, like I said, none of this negates my part of the responsibility and I’m so damned sorry. But at least you know that I wasn’t quite sleazy enough to carry on a three year affair with your wife while looking you in the eye every day.”



“Honestly, it does make it all feel a little bit better,” I told him. It at least sounded like my best friend didn’t set out to screw me over behind my back.



“Can I ask you another question? I’m sure after you charge her with theft and fraud and you tell the court she’s having an affair currently and the circumstances of Mark’s birth that you’ll win custody. Is there any way I can hope to keep seeing him?”



“Absolutely, Aiden. I promise you that once I get custody, our boy will never be taken from you again.”



I breathed a sigh of relief and said, “Thank you, Jake.”



Jake laughed and said, “No thanks needed. It is the very least that I can do. I’ll keep you posted on things. I know Cecile being arrested will affect Mark no matter how we play it…so I’m still figuring it all out.”



“Good luck and let me know if I can help,” I told him. I hung up feeling better than I had in a while. Seeing Mark with Jake involved instead of Cecile will be a whole different ballgame for all of us.



I made a few more phone calls after that. I was making arrangements for Holly, Eric and I to go on a family vacation. Once I had it all arranged and the loose ends tied up at work, I would call her. I only hoped she’d be willing to listen.





HOLLY





I woke up the next morning to my phone buzzing. I looked at it and saw that it was Aiden. I stared at it as it buzzed, wondering if I should answer it or not. Finally, I did. I had known all along that I would.



“Hello?”



“Hi baby,” he sounded nervous.



“Hi,” was all I said. I pushed myself up in the bed. I wished I had at least had my coffee.



“I’m sorry I didn’t call sooner. I have a lot of explaining to do and I’d really love to see my wife and my son…if you’ll let me.”



“I’m willing to listen,” I said. I wanted to cry. I wanted to tell him that I just wanted to come home, but he was right, he still had explaining to do.



“Can I send the car for the two of you? We’ll take a walk down near the docks and have a talk.”



“Okay, in an hour?”



“Perfect,” he said. “Holly?”



“Yes?”



“I love you.”



With tears in my eyes I said, “I love you too.” I hung up and had a good cry. Then, I had my coffee and my shower. Mom fed Eric his breakfast for me and by the time the car arrived we were ready. Mom hugged me and wished me luck. I thanked her for everything and hugged her back. Then, Eric and I were off to see the man we both loved the most in the whole world.



The car took us to the docks, but it must have been a private dock. There was no one else around. I couldn’t even see Aiden, yet. There was a little sandy area that had been gated off for Eric to play in; it even had toys in it, beach balls and blocks. I sat the baby down in it and he squealed with delight. When I turned back around, Aiden was standing there looking at me. I wish sometimes that he wasn’t so good-looking. It would be easier to stay mad at him for a while.



“Hi,” he said with a grin. God I love him, was all that I could think at that moment.



“Hi, this place is nice.”



“Yeah, it’s where I keep the yacht. It’s nice and quiet here most of the time.”



I looked around; I didn’t see any boats at all. “So, where’s the yacht?”



“He’s out there,” he pointed out near a tiny little slip of land that I could barely see. “He’s on his way back in. I was hoping that you would agree for us all to go on a family vacation for about a week.”



“A week? How did you get that much time off work?”



“I hired an executive to help Randall and tied up a lot of loose ends yesterday. It’s why I didn’t call until today. I’m sorry, but I wanted to come to you with solutions, not excuses. I fixed the problem at work, and thanks to you and your P.I., and Jake…my eyes are open at last to Cecile and her…manipulative ways.”



“What about Mark?” I desperately wanted Cecile out of his life, but I was still feeling guilty about him losing Mark. I know that wasn’t my choice on either side but not just his eyes light up when Mark is in the room, his whole persona does. I couldn’t deny him something that meant that much to him.



“Jake promised he’d make sure I can see him. I believe he’ll keep his word. I guess I should have called him a long time ago to compare notes. Cecile did a number on us both. You were right baby; he had a lot to say that I didn’t even know.”



“Good. We still need to talk about the kiss,” I said. “I’m trying to tell myself that it doesn’t matter but I’m sorry, I just can’t.”



“I have to accept responsibility for that. I fell for her pathetic, damsel in distress routine and for about three seconds, I lost my head. I stopped it right away and I felt sick about it. That’s why I had to tell you as soon as I got in…but I have no excuses, just extreme remorse and apologies. I love you, Holly. That will never stop I will never want anyone but you and my boys in my life. I’m learning how to be grown-up, I promise.”



I laughed at that. This man had taken the financial world by storm before he was thirty years old, yet he admitted himself that he had yet to become a grown-up.



“I’m learning too,” I admitted. “Sometimes it all feels like play-acting, doesn’t it?”



“It does, I thought I was the only one that felt that way about it. It was my strange little secret. Do you think you can forgive me?”



“I think I can,” I told him with another smile. “I might need a bit of physical convincing.”



He grinned and stepped up towards me then and he took my face in his hands. Wrapping his fingers up in my hair he put his face close to me.



“Physical convincing is my specialty,” he said with his own grin. Then turning serious, he added, “I couldn’t live without you, Holly. I don’t know when I actually realized that, but I know it now, in my heart. I need you to live as surely as I do air to breathe.” Then he kissed me, and I promptly melted in his arms. I would have loved to stay there too, but two things happened, first, as the yacht came into dock it honked, loud, then, poor Eric began to scream. I calmed him down while Aiden went out to talk to his captain. When he came back he said, “Are you two ready?”



“What about our luggage, and all of Eric’s things?”



“I made sure everything we might need is on the boat. I promise, it’s well stocked.”



“Okay then, we’re ready. Are you ready little man?” I asked Eric. I could just be a proud mama but it sounded like he said, “Yes.”





~



Chapter Eight



~





“Where are we going?” I asked him once we were settled on the yacht. I had just taken his word that it was a place I would like and that I’d have everything either Eric or I would need.



“We’re going out to the island. I know you love it there and I do too.”



“Yay!” I said. I loved the island. Partly because it was when Aiden and I first started to open up to each other when we first met. That seems so long ago now when I think of all that has happened in between. The other reason I love it so much is because it’s where we were married. It will always have a special place in my heart. Just knowing we were going there gave me a deep sense of peace in my heart.



Aiden smiled and said, “I’m glad that you approve. I thought you might.” He went over and picked Eric up and held him up to look at the water. When he turned him back around towards him, Eric grabbed a handful of his face.



“Da da!”



“Oh my God! Holly did you hear that? He said Da da!” Aiden was smiling from ear to ear. I almost expected him to jump up and down.



I laughed, “I did hear that,” I told him. Then to Eric I said, “Aren’t you supposed to say “Mama” first?” I looked back at Aiden; he had tears in his eyes.



“This is the stuff right here. This is the stuff that I’ve been missing. I don’t want to miss anymore. We have enough money. I can hire a dozen people if I need to and keep the business running. I don’t want to miss it when he walks and when he runs. I don’t want other people to be there to teach him things that his daddy is supposed to be there to teach him. I want to hear him say I love you to my face.”



I touched his face where a tear was running down his cheek and then I leaned forward and kissed that spot. “I agree, baby…this is the stuff, the good stuff.”



A while later we got to watch a pair of dolphins swim alongside us for a while. I wondered if they were the same ones that Aiden and I had seen before. He humored me, I think, and told me they looked like the same ones to him too. I don’t know much about dolphins, maybe they really were. Eric was fascinated by them and one of them kept jumping up high and splashing water on us, sending Eric into fits of giggles. I loved to hear my baby laugh. It was like listening to the most beautiful music in the world.



By the time we docked he was so worked up it was difficult to get him ready for his nap. The staff from the yacht took our bags to the bungalow and I went to put Eric down for his nap. I was going to put him in the master bedroom but Aiden told me to turn right when I got halfway down the hall. I did and that took me into one of the other bedrooms. Aiden had it done in a little boy theme with baseballs and footballs on the walls. Everything was painted brown and blue and there was a crib and a fully stocked changing table and a closet and dresser full of beach clothes.



“Oh my gosh, how long have you been planning this trip?” I asked him.



“Since yesterday,” he said with a grin. “Did I do okay?”



“You’re amazing,” I told him, “You did great.”



“Well, the staff actually deserves most of the credit. I just gave them colors and sizes and they did the rest.”



“But the thought was all you, and I love it. We love it, don’t we Eric?”



“Dada!” the baby said.



“Okay, it was cute the first time but I want a little mama action, alright?” I told him with a smile.



He smiled too and then he said, “Da da!” Aiden thought that was quite amusing.



I took Eric in to put him down for his nap and when I came back, I could smell something wonderful. I followed the smell out and found Aiden on the patio just outside the kitchen with the barbecue pit fired up and two thick steaks in the middle of it, grilling. He looked so cute. He was wearing a white apron and it already had barbecue sauce all over it.



“That smells wonderful,” I told him. “Do I have time for a quick shower while they cook?”



“Yep, you should have everything you need in there,” he told me.



I kissed his lips and said, “No, everything I need is out here and in the nursery. The rest of it is just a bonus.” When I started to pull away he pulled me back in around my waist and kissed me again. It turned into a passionate kiss and neither of us wanted to end it.



When we were finally forced to in order to breathe he said, “My steaks are good for half an hour or so, our potatoes are already baked and the salad is in the refrigerator. What I’m trying to say is that I have a little bit of time on my hands…do you need me to wash your back?”



“I’d love that,” I said with a smile. It had been over a week since we’d been intimate. It wasn’t always easy with a baby in the house, and it had only gotten harder with all the animosity that Cecile had caused between us. I was practically dying for his touch.



“I’ll meet you there,” he said. Then he pulled me in again for another hot kiss.



When we came back up for air I said, in a breathless voice, “Hurry or I may have to start without you.”



He let out a sexually frustrated groan and I went on ahead while he adjusted his steaks on the grill. I opened the closed door in the master bedroom and my mouth fell open. It was completely stocked with beautiful, stylish new clothes all in the perfect size. I found a pair of green silk shorts and a matching camisole. Then I went over to the nightstand and again was delighted upon opening the drawer. It was full of pretty, sexy underwear. The bottom drawer was pretty, practical underwear. Both drawers held panties, thongs, undershirts and bras. I knew my husband was a billionaire. I knew that when he talked, people listened and jumped up to get him whatever he wanted. He wasn’t even a mean, pushy, controlling guy….it was just a simple fact that no one wanted to piss off a billionaire…just in case.



I went into the bathroom to find all of my favorite products. Aiden had to have gone through the bathroom at home and taken inventory. I was flabbergasted by all he had done in only one day. The linen cabinet was stuffed with thick, fluffy towels as well. I reached inside the glass shower and turned on the water, adjusting the temperature until it was comfortable. I stripped down then and stepped in. A few minutes later when the shower doors were completely fogged up I heard one side slide open. My gorgeous husband stepped in behind me and wrapped his arms around my waist. When he pulled me up against him, I could feel that he was as excited as I was. He put his lips on my neck and began to kiss and lick and nibble all across both sides of my neck and up to my ears. At the same time, I felt him begin to move his hands over my body. Between the feel of his hands and his body and the warm water cascading down my back, I was in heaven.



“Hand me that sponge,” he said. I was so relaxed already that I could barely move. I reached slowly up and took down the fluffy new purple sponge on the shelf and gave it to him. Aiden poured a generous amount of body wash on it and starting with my neck, then he washed down the backs of each of my arms, and giving me goose bumps, he ran it down my spine and across the small of my back. He washed across the curves of my butt and down the back of one thigh across the foot and back up the other leg. When he’d finished with my back, he washed the front where he stopped a lot more to explore. By the time he was finished, I was hot all over. I actually wished that I was a bigger person so that it would have taken him longer to wash me.



“Dry off and meet me in the bed,” he whispered in my ear. I didn’t ask any questions, I did as he asked. Within five minutes, he joined me. We made love while Eric slept and our dinner cooked. We didn’t have a lot of time, but I don’t think either of us would have needed much either way. We were desperate for each other by the time we finally came together and it was a quick, passionate, almost animalistic coupling on our part. We collapsed afterwards, spent and satiated. If it wasn’t for Eric being in the house we may have fallen asleep and let the steaks burn. But we could hear the sweet sounds of Eric’s breathing on the baby monitor and after we lay there in each other’s arms for a few minutes, Aiden said, “I need to go check on the steaks.”



“No,” I said, snuggling into him tighter, “Don’t go….”



“I don’t want to go, but you don’t want shoe leather for dinner do you?”



“I don’t care. I’ll eat shoe vinyl…”



He laughed and said, “We can do this again tonight, all night…and tomorrow morning, and tomorrow at nap time…”



“Mm sounds amazing,” I told him, “Go, go check on the steaks. I’ll try and survive without you.” I feigned a swoon with my arm across my face. I felt his weight shift on the bed and then he bent down and kissed my arm. It was a sweet, sensual move. When he was gone, I reluctantly got up and dressed. Eric woke up before dinner was finished and by the time I changed him and he and I got out to the patio, Aiden had dinner on the table, even Eric’s dinner. He had made it all himself from scratch. My heart felt like it was going to burst with the love I was feeling for him. How many billionaires actually cooked dinner for their wife and kids?



Dinner was delicious and with it we each had a glass of sweet wine that Aiden had brought off the yacht. It was from France he said, and the best wine that I had personally ever tasted.



After we had all finished eating, we took a walk on the beach, hand in hand. Eric toddled along and we all made frequent stops for him to inspect or discover one thing or another along the way. Aiden had thought ahead to bring a bucket so that we had something to carry all of Eric’s finds in back to the bungalow. It was a perfect family afternoon. I couldn’t imagine anything better.



Aiden and I made love again that night and fell asleep in each other’s arms. The next morning I woke up to the smell of cinnamon rolls. Aiden was gone and when I made it out to the kitchen I found Eric in his high chair covered in cinnamon icing and Aiden taking another batch of rolls out of the oven.



“You made cinnamon rolls?”



“Not from scratch,” he admitted with a grin. “I had them stocked in the freezer. But I cooked them to the perfect temperature and iced them when they cooled.”



“That’s the hardest part,” I said with a grin.



“Damn straight it is,” he said with a grin of his own.



After breakfast Aiden said, “There’s something that I have to do. I may be gone a while, will you trust me that this is about us and I’m not taking off on you to work or anything sinister like that?”



I laughed, “I’ll do my best to keep an open mind.”



He kissed us before he left and then as he was going out the door he said, “Oh yeah, I left yours and Eric’s clothes for this afternoon’s activity out on the bed for you, but promise me you won’t look in the garment bag until I get back, okay?”



“This afternoon’s activities?” I said. I had to laugh at that. He sounded like an activities director.



“Trust me, you’ll love it,” he said. “I love you; I’ll see you in a bit.”



Eric and I got dressed after he left. I have to admit that I was really curious about the black garment bag that was lying on the bed. But, I had promised him so I didn’t look. I took the baby out to the beach and he and I played in the sand and the surf until it was time for lunch and a nap. Not long after Eric got up, Aiden returned from whatever mission he had been on.



“Okay, are you two ready to dress up pretty and go on an adventure with Daddy?”



“We are dying to see what you have planned for us,” I told him. “It’s all Eric has talked about.”



He laughed and looked at his son, “Well, you’ll just have to wait a few minutes later little man. Go with your Mama and get dressed, our chariot is waiting.”



I shrugged and Eric seemed to be playing along with a confused look of his own. We went into the bedroom and when I unzipped the wardrobe, I nearly fell on the floor. It was my wedding dress and veil. My shoes were even there and in a shoe box next to the bed were my white flip flops and a gorgeous fresh orchid bouquet.



Eric’s suit was new, but the same color as he’d worn at the wedding. He’d long since outgrown that one. I dressed him first and then took him out to his father. Aiden was dressed in what he wore for our wedding, a handsome tailored suit with an orchid buttoner.



“Wow little man, you’re going to outshine the groom,” he said to Eric.



“What is this? What are we doing?”



“We’re renewing our vows. I want to re-promise you that this is all for better or worse and for richer or poorer until death does us part.”



“This is so…Thank you for doing all this, it’s so romantic,” I told him.



We shared a kiss and then I went to get ready. I curled my hair and put on my make-up in record time. I was so excited. When I was ready, Aiden picked up Eric and took my hand. Outside, just like the day we’d gotten married almost two years before was a white carriage covered with big, colorful tropical flowers and being pulled by a big, white horse. Eric was fascinated by the horse and Aiden took the time to let the baby pet him and talk to him before they got into the carriage.



We were taken to the spot where we’d gotten married the first time. There were no chairs set up, but a beautiful altar had been erected and covered with flowers and we found the minister who had married us as well as two of the staff who worked for Aiden on the yacht who were there as witnesses.



I was stunned, pleased and delighted and a whole gamut of other emotions. I was especially surprised when we got to the part where Aiden and I had said our vows before. I still had mine memorized, so I said the same ones. Aiden said his then and surprising me further he went on to say, “On our wedding day, I said those particular vows, and I meant them. I never meant to break even so much as one of them. Because that day, I loved you more than I’d ever loved another living being. I thought that was going to be enough to keep me from doing anything that would hurt you. I was wrong about that though. I forgot to factor in the part about being human and making mistakes. You never forgot that though. You’ve accepted my mistakes over and over and you’ve opened up your huge heart and you’ve forgiven me no matter how many times in the past year and a half that I have tested those vows.



In that short time, you have taught me that in love, there is forgiveness and there is something new to learn every day out of every situation. I want to thank you for that and I want to promise you that as we grow together and I learn more about how to be a husband and a man, that I will make less mistakes and you will have less to forgive. I want today to be our fresh start. I vow to you no lies, no secrets, and to never ever give you a reason to believe that you don’t own my heart now and forever…because you do and you always will. Today I reaffirm my love for you.” He turned to Eric then and with a proud smile he said, “And to you too.”



My eyes were brimming with emotion as Aiden pulled me in for a heartfelt kiss. The past year had at times pushed me to my absolute limit, but being on that beautiful beach with my husband, and our son by our side, I knew that things would only get better from here. We could finally start again. Hopefully, in time, Aiden would be able to move on from the pain of his past and maybe even begin to heal those old wounds and build a friendship with Jake again. Regardless, I know for certain where Aiden’s heart and loyalty lie and I am determined not to let anything come between me and my family, ever again…



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