Read an Excerpt
"Thank you for coming, Ms. Miller." The attorney motioned for Skye to take a seat in one of the beige armchairs facing his desk. "I know this is a difficult time."
Yes, a very difficult time. Ten months after her brother Aidan's death, they'd buried her sister-in-law, Cassie. Rare as it was in this day and age, Skye believed her brother's widow died of a broken heart. Cassie fell into a depression after Aidan's death and never quite pulled herself out of it.
Now Skye numbly sat down across from the lawyer prepared to discuss custody of her orphaned niece, the beautiful toddler Skye hadn't allowed herself to love.
"I don't really understand why I'm here," she stated as she settled into the leather chair. "I thought Cassie's parents would take Ryann."
"I'll explain everything in a few minutes," Phil Bourne assured her. "We're waiting for another party. Ah, here he is."
"Skye." Warm, strong hands cupped her shoulders and squeezed.
Rett Sullivan. Aidan's best friend. And her first love.
The one person who would understand how much she hurt. The one person she'd taught herself to forget.
Suddenly it was too much and the tears she'd held at bay for so long rose up threatening to overcome her. She bowed her head, fighting for composure.
"I'll give you a few minutes." The attorney stepped out of the room.
"I know how alone you must feel." Rett hunkered down beside her. A tall, dark-haired man, his broad shoulders filled her vision while his familiar blue eyes snagged her light brown gaze. "I hope you know you can always call me. The Sullivans consider you family."
Of course. The Sullivans.
"Than" Her throat closed up, and she finished with a nod.
"Aw, babe." He tucked the fall of her hair behind her ear. "I miss him, too."
She squeezed her eyes closed her, tried to breathe. But it was too much; she'd held the tears back too long. With a stifled sob, she rose intending to push past him for a moment of privacy and stepped into his arms instead.
Immediately he enveloped her in an embrace of strength and warmth. He crushed her to him, threading his fingers in her short black hair to hold her close. She clung to him even as her composure splintered and broke.
And then she felt the wetness against her temple. Oh, God. Tears flowed as evidence of his sorrow broke through her numbness. In the heat and comfort of his arms she let the grief consume her.
Skye didn't know how long they cried together, but for that short time she didn't feel so alone. He smelled so good, of soap, man and a hint of spice; so familiar and a little like coming home.
"I miss him so much," she said on a shuddering breath. "And now Cassie's gone, too."
"I can't believe I've lost them both."
"They're not gone as long as we have our memories."
Okay that would sound hokey from anyone but Rett, who came from a large, close-knit family that had known its fair share of loss. It was meant to comfort, for that reason it helped. But not much.
Nothing really helped, except not feeling.
"It's not the same."
"No." He agreed and left it at that. Because truly what more could he say?
She took a half step back and looked up into his blue eyes, the power of them made stronger by the evidence of his grief. Tall and broad shouldered, he tempted her to lean on him. She'd known him for more than twenty-five years, loved him for a part of that time, but he hadn't been in her life for a long time.
There was too much history, too much pain between them for them ever to be easy with each other. She'd reconciled herself to that fact a long time ago.
But in these minutes of shared grief she welcomed his presence, took comfort in his nearness. That is why she pushed away and squared her shoulders.
"I'm fine now. Thank you." She snagged a couple of tissues from the box on the attorney's desk.
He accepted a tissue but watched her carefully. "Nobody expects you to be strong every moment."
"And crying solves nothing. Excuse me, I'm going to freshen up." She looked around for her purse. "Tell the attorney I'll be back in a few minutes."
In the small bathroom she rinsed her hands and face with cold water. It helped to restore her composure. New makeup and a few minutes alone helped more. An answer to the question looping through her head would be even more helpful.
Why was Rett here for a conversation about Ryann?
With her mask back in place, she tucked her purse under her arm and returned to Mr. Bourne's office to find her answers.
"Rett Sullivan, the designer." She heard the attorney talking to Rett as she approached. "From Sullivans' Jewels right?"
"Yes." Rett acknowledged the connection. "My brother Rick handles the business side. Aidan Miller was manager of the downtown store."
"I bought my wife's engagement ring at Sullivans'. You're good, not the same cookie-cutter stuff as everyone else."
"I'm sorry for keeping you waiting." The men rose when Skye entered the room. She took her seat and began by repeating her earlier comment.
"Mr. Bourne, please tell us why we're here. As I mentioned, I thought Cassie's parents were taking Ryann."
"Actually no. Mr. Gleason suffered a stroke a couple of years ago plus they're older. They don't feel they can handle a toddler. They'll be happy with regular visits." Phil leaned back in his chair and met their gazes across the desk. "Cassie has left custody of Ryann to the two of you."
Skye blinked at him then bowed her head to hide her expression. The news rocked her to her soul. How could Cassie do this to her? The betrayal was like tearing a bandage off a fresh wound.
With Rett sitting next to her, the past rushed toward her releasing all the painful emotions long suppressed, the disappointment, the lost hope, the betrayal. The loss.
So much loss over the years.
There must be some mistake. She couldn't do this.
"Ms. Miller? Ms. Miller, are you okay?" The attorney called for her attention. "Can I get you some coffee or perhaps a water?"
"What?" Startled, she blinked him into focus. "Oh. I'm sorry." She declined the offer of refreshments with a shake of her head. She knew she must be white; she'd felt the blood leave her cheeks. Maybe that's why she couldn't thinkher brain was deprived of oxygen. Maybe it had nothing to do with the fact her niece had just been placed in her care.
"Please continue. As you can tell, I'm surprised. Mr. Sullivan and I are not a couple. And neither of us has spent much time with Ryann."
"As an only child, Cassie's options were limited, but she was confident in her decision."
"How could she be? I'm not equipped to raise her, and I wouldn't trust Rett with a puppy"
"Hey," Rett protested.
"Sorry." She spared him a glance. "But we both know you're a player and haven't had the care of a child for more than an hour or two your whole life."
Rett shrugged. He couldn't deny her claim. But while she didn't know why he was here, he did.
This wasn't part of the plan. Aidan wasn't supposed to die. Rett wasn't supposed to raise Ryann. Skye wasn't supposed to get hurt. It all caused Rett's head to spin.
"Cassie was comfortable with her choice because she felt you would both have been Aidan's choice. If you refuse to take this on, Ryann will end up in foster care."
"may agree to take her, but it's my belief Child Services will agree with their original assessment that they're too elderly."
"Child Services will be evaluating us?"
"It's standard, yes."
"Right." Skye popped to her feet and began to pace. "I loved my brother, but I have a one bedroom apartment. How is this going to work?"
Bourne shuffled papers. "Ryann has a healthy trust account that can be used for her care."
"I have plenty of money," Rett interjected. "There's no need to touch Ryann's account."
Skye turned to him. "You're seriously considering doing this? You know your entire life is going to change?"
"What choice do we have?" Rett caught himself tapping his thigh in a mindless beat, a sure sign of his restlessness. He clinched his hand into a fist and rested it on the arm of the chair. All these formalities chafed his nerves. "The Gleasons are good people, but I agree a toddler is too much for them to handle full-time. We can't let her go into foster care."
"Rick and his wife can take her." Skye offered up Rett's twin brother who was married with a son about to turn one. "Or one of your other brothers."
"No. It has to be me. What's wrong, Skye? Is this about what happened fifteen years ago?" Of course it was. If the past was in his thoughts, it had to be in hers.
Her scathing glare nearly burned his retinas.
"It's not irrelevant. Fate made it pretty clear we were not a good parent combo."
"You were never a fatalist before."
A scoffing laugh escaped her. And her teeth snapped as if she'd bit back a caustic comment. He sympathized; she had had a tough year. Heck when it came to loss of loved ones, she'd had a tough life starting with her mother when she was only six.
"That was a long time ago. Obviously fate has a new message for us courtesy of Cassie. I can't let Ryann go into foster care, Skye."
Then you can take her, Rett knew the words hovered on the tip of her tongue. He gave her points for swallowing them.
"Why does it have to be you?"
"Rick was Aidan's friend, too. We both know he would take Ryann. You said it had to be you. Why?"
Rett silently cursed. He should have known she was too smart to fool. So truth or lie? He wasn't against prevaricating to save her from being hurt, but he didn't relish starting a partnership with her based on a lie.
Damn, why hadn't Aidan told her? Because there was no way Rett could tell her now without hurting her. And she'd already suffered so much.
It felt like a bitter betrayal from a man he still mourned. He was so angry. His muscles twitched with the desire to see his buddy across the ring, to go a few rounds pounding on each other until someone came out smarter than they went in.
Too late for that now. Now he needed to think about Ryann.
"Because she's my daughter."