- Shopping Bag ( 0 items )
Can you ever escape your past?
Jon Swartz is an adult recipient?the second one?of a scholarship awarded by an anonymous donor. A single father, he comes to Shelter Valley, Arizona, to begin his life anew. He's a man with a secret past, a past he has to hide to protect both himself and his two-year-old son, Abe.
Lillie Henderson, a child life specialist, has her own history of loss and betrayal. She and Jon are brought together by ...
Can you ever escape your past?
Jon Swartz is an adult recipient—the second one—of a scholarship awarded by an anonymous donor. A single father, he comes to Shelter Valley, Arizona, to begin his life anew. He's a man with a secret past, a past he has to hide to protect both himself and his two-year-old son, Abe.
Lillie Henderson, a child life specialist, has her own history of loss and betrayal. She and Jon are brought together by Abe—and by an attraction they can't deny. They have to decide not to let the emotions and mistakes of the past sabotage their hopes for the future. Abe's happiness depends on it. And so does theirs!
Hot and heavy with baby, Lillie Henderson knew the pains would pass. She wasn't going to deliver for another month, at least. False labor was common. Birthing class said so. The pains weren't acute enough to be labor. They were symptoms of dread. Alone in the elevator, she held the basketball-like protrusion that used to be a flat tummy and pushed the button for the eighteenth floor.
"We have to talk, Lillie," Kirk had said when he'd asked her to meet him at his office—a top-floor suite with a windowed view of Camelback Mountain in his father's Phoenix PR firm.
Jerry Henderson, Kirk's father, and his third wife, Gayle, were out of town for the summer. Which made Henderson Marketing Kirk's sole territory. He'd called a meeting on his ground—not on mutual or neutral ground. Lillie didn't miss the ploy. In the almost three years they'd been married, Lillie had figured out that many of Kirk's actions were strategically devised to get the results he wanted.
The elevator slowed to a smooth stop and the door opened, showing her the plush blue-gray carpet that covered every inch of the Henderson offices except the kitchen and bathrooms. Original Picasso sketches lined the walls in between solid mahogany doors that remained open—unless private business was being discussed—to get the maximum benefit from the walls of windows inside the rooms. The entire floor had been designed to convey a sense of openness that was meant to translate to an atmosphere of trust.
Lillie had been breathlessly nervous the first time she'd visited the offices as Kirk's fiancée. She'd been a college senior then, studying child and family development.
In the three years since, she'd graduated and become employed as a child life specialist, but the nerves were as bad as ever. Some things didn't change.
Her long, chocolate-brown hair curled loosely down her back and she could feel its weight on her shoulders. She'd left it down for the interview, in spite of the triple-digit heat outside. And she'd donned her one pair of expensive maternity dress slacks, purchased before Kirk had learned that the baby she was carrying was going to be born with serious birth defects.
The nice thing to do would have been for Kirk to meet her at the elevator. She'd texted to let him know she'd arrived, just as he'd instructed. He'd texted back, telling her to come on up.
Since the doctor's distressing diagnosis two months ago, Kirk hadn't shown any deference to her pregnant state. He hadn't spent many nights in their mountain-view home, either, leaving her to tend to her grief and worry and growing discomfort alone in their elite gated community.
He'd spent a lot of nights away before the doctor's pronouncement, too. Just not as many.
Kylie, the firm's latest blonde receptionist, smiled from behind the massive, curved desk directly across from the elevator.
"Good morning, Mrs. Henderson," she said in her lilting saccharine voice. "He's expecting you." Kylie's smile didn't quite reach her eyes, but Lillie had never felt any animosity from the receptionist, who was likely a year or two older than Lillie's twenty-three. What she felt coming from the other woman was more like pity. She was sick of pity.
Kirk's was the third office on the right—directly across from his father's. His door was the only one closed. And, based on the rooms she'd passed on her way in and the morguelike silence of the space, his was the only one occupied, too. Not unusual for July in Phoenix. Half of the population left the scorching desert temperatures in the summer for cooler climates.
Standing in the hall in front of that closed door, her black Coach purse hanging from her shoulder, Lillie contemplated turning around and heading back the way she'd come. She was not a possession, or a pet, who had to perform on command.
It was possible Kirk wasn't alone, but not likely. Kylie didn't usually make mistakes.
That closed door was as deliberate as everything else Kirk did. As orchestrated as his smooth-talking charm had been during their senior year of college when he'd wooed her—an orphan without a home to visit during holidays—into his bed.
He was making her knock on her own husband's door. Making her ask for permission to enter his abode. Treating her as little more than a stranger.
He was going to ask for a divorce.
She'd come because she didn't want the conversation to happen at home, where she'd found a measure of peace.
Knocking, she thought about one of her patients, little Sandra, the six-year-old who'd recently undergone surgery to fix the damage done to her back in a car accident the previous spring. Employed by a local children's hospital, Lillie had supported Sandra through every procedure since the accident, and had learned far more from the spirited redhead than she'd been able to impart as Sandra's child life specialist.
No matter how much pain she was in, Sandra never lost the smile on her face—even when there were tears in her eyes. She never backed down from her willingness to take life head-on.
Kirk kept her waiting a full minute. She heard him clear his throat once as he approached from the inside.
"Lillie, come in," he said, pulling open the door.
Without meeting his gaze, she entered, taking in the spectacular view, the pristine room and the uncluttered desk before settling in an armchair on the other side of the room. She'd be damned if she was going to be dumped sitting like a client in front of his desk.
Couldn't he have waited until after the baby was born?
Her husband, dressed impeccably in the gray suit he'd purchased the summer before and a deep maroon shirt she didn't recognize, stood, hands in his pockets, just to her right. He walked to the window and over to the bar.
"Can I get you something to drink? A glass of wine?"
Glancing at her stomach, at the evidence of the baby Kirk had already written off, she said, "I can't drink. You know that."
He had the grace to look chagrined—and she had a feeling that his remorse, the regret that shadowed his eyes, was sincere. "I just figured you know with the way things are, it wouldn't matter "
Her chin ached with the effort it took to keep her expression placid. "His heart is malformed, Kirk. He isn't dead. Alcohol consumption could cause brain damage."
This time the pity was in his eyes. "The doctor gave him a ten percent chance of living through gestation. And no chance at all of surviving more than a year outside the womb."
"He also said they won't know for sure what we're dealing with until he's born and they can run more thorough tests."
As a child life specialist, a trained and certified child development advocate who helped children and their families through times of crises, she'd witnessed medical miracles. Some things weren't up to professionals.
And he hadn't summoned her to this lunchtime meeting to discuss their son's fate. "I'd like some cranberry juice, if you have it."
Nodding, he filled a glass with ice from the bucket on the bar and, reaching underneath, pulled out an individual-size bottle of juice, opening it to fill the glass.
Pouring himself a shot of Scotch on the rocks, he brought both glasses over to set them on the table next to her and sat in the armchair on the opposite side. Taking a sip of his drink—a stiff one even for him—he leaned forward, his forearms on his knees, hands clasped, and turned toward her.
"You know about Leah."
His mistress. "Yes." She'd suspected, when Kirk had started coming home late, that he had a lover. She'd confronted him about it and he'd told her the truth. He'd also told her that the woman meant nothing to him and that he'd already ended the affair. He'd sworn that he loved Lillie. That she was his life. He'd agreed to go to counseling. He'd had tears in his eyes.
She'd just found out she was pregnant.
And she'd believed him.
"She's pregnant, Lillie."
Pain shot through Lillie's lower stomach. She stared at Kirk, her mind completely blank.
"The baby's mine."
"How far along is she?" She should be feeling something.
He hadn't ended the affair.
"I wanted you to hear it from me."
She nodded. Made sense.
Braydon Thomas—named for Lillie's father, who, along with her mother, had been killed in a car accident when she was nineteen—kicked against her, the feeling faint, almost like air bubbles, in spite of the fact that she was at thirty-two weeks' gestation.
"She asked me to move in with her."
"She knows you're married."
The girl had no scruples. No ethics.
"I told her yes, Lillie."
"You're married," she said again, numb. Fueled by whatever force it was that got her through the hard times, she sat there.
"I know." His brows drew together and his eyes shadowed. "I feel horrible about this but she loves me and I love her."
One usually asked for a divorce before falling in love and starting a family. She'd have liked to point that fact out to him, but didn't see any good that would come out of doing so.
"Is that where you go when you don't come home at night?"
She'd kicked him out of her bed when she'd found out about his affair—until she could welcome him back with an open heart.
What more could she say?
"It's not as if you're head over heels in love with me," he blurted into the silence.
He was right. She'd married him because she cared about him deeply. Because she loved his father and Gayle. The family they all made together. Because they had so much in common, enjoyed being together. Because they'd wanted the same things out of life. Because he'd been her first lover and she'd found him incredibly attractive.
She didn't want her marriage to end. But she couldn't live with infidelity. Couldn't be in a relationship without trust.
She couldn't settle.
"I'm not going to file for divorce," Kirk was saying. "You'll have full insurance coverage throughout the rest of your term."
He was having another baby. Presumably a healthy one.
"Leah has her own insurance," he said, continuing to fill her silence with information she didn't want.
And had to have.
"I'll still be paying the bills, the house is all yours, the car."
"I cover my own car payment," she reminded him, just to keep the facts straight. She paid the utilities on the house, too. Kirk might live like a wealthy man, but the money belonged to his father.
The elder Henderson kept his son on a tight budget. For Kirk's own good, Lillie had discovered.
"Braydon's medical bills are going to be exorbitant," she said. "We'll have co-pays."
His upper lip puckered. "Do you really think it's wise to run up bills when the doctor says there's no hope? Why put ourselves in debt, or put him through all kinds of tests, if there's nothing they can do?"
"Until he has the tests, we don't know for sure that there's nothing they can do."
This was her field of expertise now. She spent her days advocating for and providing for the needs of children who were suffering in a long-term care unit at one of Phoenix's largest children's hospitals. She was there during treatments, to see that the patient suffered as little as possible, to make certain that environments were best suited to the comfort of the child. To be soothing when pain was impossible to avoid.
But with her degree, she was qualified to work in schools, in the court system, even at funeral homes to help children cope with the trauma of losing loved ones. She was trained to make sure that everything possible was done for the good of the children. Her own included.
With a heavy sigh, Kirk stood, hands in his pockets again, his mostly untouched drink on the table.
"You haven't said anything about me moving in with Leah."
"I don't want you home with me if you don't want to be there."
"You're okay with it, then?"
"No, Kirk, I'm not okay with my husband moving in with his pregnant lover," she said, her shaky voice evidence that she must be feeling something. She stood, too. "How could I possibly be okay with that?" she asked, tears in her eyes as she finally faced him. Stood up to him.
"I'm also not foolish enough to believe anymore that you want me or our marriage, and I know that you always get what you want."
That didn't come out as she'd meant it to. "I don't want you in my home wishing you were with someone else. Thinking about someone else."
He nodded. "I'm sorry, Lillie."
She believed him.
And two months later, on the day Braydon breathed his last, she filed for divorce.