RUIN – The Free Novella

Ruin Free

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 RUIN

 

The Free Novella

New York Times & USA Today Bestselling Author

Deborah Bladon


 

Copyright

 

First Original Edition, March 2015

Copyright © 2015 by Deborah Bladon

 

This book is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is entirely coincidental. Names, characters, businesses, organizations, places, events and situations either are the product of the author's imagination or are used factiously.

All rights reserved. No parts of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any means without written consent from the author.

 

 

From Me to You

 

I wrote this free novella as a gift to you for the way you embraced Ben and Kayla's story. When I first wrote the RUIN series I felt an instant connection to the characters. They found each other in a world filled with uncertainty and complications. They worked through many difficult moments hand-in-hand and at the end of the series, I knew that I wanted to complete their story by sharing the journey they take towards their wedding and the birth of their baby.

 

I hope you enjoy this glimpse into the future of Ben and Kayla's lives.

 

With all my love and gratitude,

Deborah xo

 

 


 

Chapter 1

 

"You shouldn't be thinking about Alexa and Noah's wedding," he breathes the words quietly into my ear. "We don't have to do everything they do."

He's right. Logically I know that he is but my closest friend, Alexa Foster, has been reminding me for the past several weeks how beautiful her wedding was. I don't need to hear the details over and over again. I was there, standing next to her, as she declared her undying love to Noah Foster, who happens to be the twin brother of my fiancé, Ben. Their wedding was elaborate and beautiful and was held at a hotel in the heart of New York City. It was exactly what they wanted. It's just not what I want.

"Your family is expecting a repeat of their wedding," I say quietly as I lean into his bare chest. "Noah was here earlier and he was talking about how he could speak to the manager of the hotel to see if a date was available within the next few months so we can have our reception there too."

"Noah needs to mind his own business," Ben chuckles deeply. "He thinks because he was born a few minutes before me, that he can dictate my life. He's wrong."

Noah means well. Since he and Ben reconnected, he's become not only a wonderful and supportive brother to him, but also his best friend. They're closer today than they were when they were young children before their mother died. I love Noah like a brother too but his unending persistence about helping to plan our wedding is becoming tiring and overwhelming.

"I want you to tell me how you envision our wedding, Kayla." His hand glides across my back. "Tell me exactly how you picture it in your mind."

My eyes sweep across the rumpled sheets of our bed. "My entire life I've always imagined getting married in Boston. I know we live here now, but my family is there. Tyler and my folks are there. I know they'd come here but…"

"I grew up in Boston too," he starts before he grazes his lips across my bare shoulder. "I love it there. I'd love to marry you there."

I feel a small weight being lifted. I'd wanted to bring up the idea of getting married in Boston since Ben proposed to me a few weeks ago, but with all of the excitement over the pregnancy, I haven't found the right moment yet. I've been hesitant because I know that he still struggles with the pain of losing his mother. They lived in Boston and he's always sullen and withdrawn when we go there to visit my family.

"My dad will love that." His voice is soft. "He's really excited about us getting married and about the baby."

Ron Foster, Ben's dad, pulled me into his arms the moment we told him we were engaged. He's become a central part of our lives this past year. He volunteers some of his time helping to fundraise for the Foster Foundation. We work closely together and it's helped the two of us forge a unique friendship that is slowly turning into a genuine father and daughter connection. My own dad will always come first in my heart, but I've made room for Ron there and I know, without question, that he's going to be an incredible grandfather to our baby. I've seen how tender and loving he is with Alexa's children.

"I'd like to get married soon." I pull his hand to my cheek. "I want to be your wife as soon as I can."

"Nothing would make me happier." A brilliant smile takes over his mouth. "I can't wait to wear a wedding ring. Once it's on my hand I'm never taking it off."

I hold my left hand in the air. "I'll never take this engagement ring off. It's the most beautiful thing I've ever seen."

"You are the most beautiful thing I've ever seen." His gaze falls to my still flat stomach. "I can't even imagine how gorgeous you're going to be when your belly is big and swollen."

"Do you want a boy or a girl?" I ask even though it's a question I throw at him several times a day since I found out I'm pregnant. His answer is always the same.

"I want a baby who looks like you." He shoots back quickly with a smile. "I'm going to tell our baby every day how lucky he or she is to have you for a mom."

The words carry so much emotion for me. Ben and I hadn't talked about having a baby. I wasn't as careful about taking my birth control pills as I could have been and those brief lapses had been all that was needed to take us into the world of parenthood. I have doubts. I have real, true and heartfelt doubts about whether I'm going to be a good mom. I want to be. It's the most important thing in the world to me right now but I'm scared I'll fail.

"I want to be a good mom, Ben."

"Kayla." His fingers are on my chin. He tilts my head up so my gaze is locked on his. "We are going to be incredible parents. You are going to be a fantastic mom. I know it. I want you to believe it."

I nod because I know that the words are coming from a genuine and loving place. He does believe I'll be great at this. The problem is that my doubts are outweighing each and every word he just said to me.

 


 

Chapter 2

 

"Do you think you and Noah will adopt another child?" I motion towards where Alexa's twins are playing on the floor. They've been trying to build a wooden block tower for the past hour and each time they get beyond the ten block mark, they jump up and down so hard in glee that the entire thing topples over.

"We've talked about it." She refills the empty glass in front of me with lemonade. "Noah would like to adopt ten more kids."

I'm not surprised by that. Noah has already jumped into the role of caring and devoted uncle to our unborn baby. He dropped by my office at the Foster Foundation yesterday and brought with him a baby-sized pair of sunglasses. He's an incredible father to Max and Chloe so it stands to reason that he'd welcome our child into the world with open arms too.

"I'm really happy with where we are right now." She waves her hands towards her four-year-olds. "These two run me ragged."

Alexa had gone on leave from her job when the children were placed in foster care with her and Noah. Now that the adoption process is moving forward, she's been debating about giving up her career as a teacher for the foreseeable future. Ever since I told her that I'm pregnant she's been telling me how much motherhood will change me. I know that it will. I feel that already.

"How did you figure it all out?" I blurt out. I don't have to be mindful of what I say around Alexa. We've always been open and honest with one another, save for when I was dating Ben behind her back. That taught me a lot about not only our friendship, but myself too. I need Alexa in my life. She's the closest thing I'll ever have to a sister and within a few weeks, she's going to be my actual sister-in-law. I need her unfettered advice and the only way I'm going to get that is by being completely upfront her with about what I'm feeling.

"Figure what out?" she asks with a cock of her brow. "The kids? Marriage? Both?"

I laugh out loud. As much as Alexa and I are different, our situations mirror one another in many ways. She got married soon after they welcomed the twins into their hearts and home. I may be walking down the aisle first, but my baby is set to arrive in just six months. On paper that seems like ample time to ready myself, but emotionally I'm still just as terrified as I was when I first learned I was pregnant.

"Are you okay, Kayla?" She rests her hand on mine. "Has something happened? Is the baby alright?"

I see the genuine look of concern on her face. Alexa wasn't able to have a baby of her own and I'd struggled with telling her that I got pregnant without even trying. I knew it would impact her on a deep and profound level and it had. She'd wrapped me into a tight embrace while she sobbed into my neck. Her tears were a mixture of the joy she felt for Ben and I and the pain she'd experienced knowing she couldn't have a baby of her own.

"I don't know how to take care of a baby," I say the words softly not wanting the twins to hear. "I can't remember the last time I took care of an infant."

"You held Olivia after she was born," she points out. Olivia is the daughter of our friend Sadie. She's a beautiful little girl with dark hair and sparkling eyes.

"Maybe three times, Lex," I counter. "I never took care of her on my own."

"You take care of the twins sometimes."

"They pretty much take care of themselves." I laugh. "I just have to entertain them when you drop them off at my place. They aren't completely reliant on me."

"Are you scared?" Her voice shifts and I can sense the compassion woven into her words. "Are you afraid that you won't be a good mom?"

I brush my hand over my cheek knowing that the motion is going to do little to quiet all the emotions I'm experiencing. "I remember when I went to the hospital to see Sadie after Olivia was born. I could tell that she knew what she was doing. She looked so comfortable. It was natural for her."

"It will be for you too." She pulls my hand into her hand. "Do you know how scared I was when Noah and I decided to adopt Max and Chloe?"

I turn to look at the twins again. I've rarely seen either of them without a smile on their faces. They've thrived since coming to live with Noah and Alexa. "I didn't know that."

"My entire life I thought I'd have a baby." Her eyes drift to my stomach. "I never knew that I couldn't have children until…"

"I know." I squeeze her hand. Right in the middle of planning for her wedding, Alexa had been given the news, from a doctor, that she couldn't have a child. It had derailed her emotionally in such a profound way that she'd actually briefly ended her engagement to Noah. Thankfully he was able to help her see that adoption was a natural and perfect solution for them.

"I worried about being a good mom when Noah and I started talking about having kids." She closes her eyes briefly. "I talked to Sadie about it sometimes."

I used to feel a sharp stab of envy whenever Alexa would bring up Sadie. They share a close friendship as well but their connection is different than ours and since she's married Noah, we've become even more present in one another's lives. The fact that I'm in love with her husband's brother has only reinforced the bond that Alexa and I have always shared.

"Sadie told me that I had to follow my instincts when it comes to being a mom." Alexa's gaze floats to her children. "She told me that I'll stumble sometimes and that it's okay. Every mom makes mistakes."
"Do you make mistakes?" I ask with a smile.

"Almost every day," she quips. "I know that if I do my best, the mistakes won't matter as much. Noah always tells me that too."

"He's a great dad," I offer as I take a sip of the lemonade. "Ben is going to be a good dad too."

"You're going to both be fantastic parents. Trust yourself, Kayla. That's all you need to do."

 


 

Chapter 3

 

"I don't know how I’m going to keep my hands off of you when you're nine months pregnant." His lips float over my thigh. "I love everything about your body, Kayla."

I'll never tire of hearing him tell me that. Ben has never been quiet about his desire for me. He's the most giving lover I've ever had. He always concentrates on my pleasure before his own. He'll often eat me to an orgasm when I first wake in the morning. I almost fall apart with want when he steps into the shower with me some days so he can fuck me against the tiled wall. Our intimacy hasn't skipped a beat since we learned I was pregnant. If anything, he's become even more insatiable than he was before.

"I'll be so big." I laugh as I pull my hands through his dark hair. "You'll have to stop when I get bigger."

"Stop?" he asks as his tongue glides over my folds. "I can't stop."

I moan loudly. I came earlier when he first got home from work. He'd touched me softly as he kissed my mouth. Just the sensation of his skilled hand and his moist lips had taken me to the edge quickly. I'd dropped to my knees after that and had taken him into my mouth. I licked and sucked the thick root until he came. It was the perfect way to end my day.

"We can't make love when I'm this big." I pull my hands from his hair to hold them in the air above my stomach. "It's not safe for the baby."

He slides one finger gently into my channel as he focuses his tongue on my swollen clit.

I arch my back off the bed, wanting to take everything I can from the moment. He knows exactly how to touch me. He reads every signal my body gives to him.

"Ben," I call out his name. "This feels so good."

The only response is a low moan that vibrates through me. He ups the tempo, lashing me repeatedly with his tongue. "You taste so good."

I push my legs farther apart, pulling on the strands of his hair as I try and guide his mouth. "Right there, Ben. Lick it right there."

He nods as he moves his tongue quickly, focusing on my core.

I feel the rush of the orgasm as it builds. I tense my legs knowing that if I let myself go, I won't be able to control my body's own movements.

I cry out as I feel the pleasure wash through me. He doesn’t stop as I push myself into him. He only focuses more and I can't help but ride the endless wave of pleasure.

 

***

 

"I'm a doctor," he says as he walks back into the bedroom holding an apple in one hand and a glass of juice in the other.

"Really?" I tease. "Why haven't I heard about that before?"

He cocks a dark brow which only adds to his allure. His hair is a mess. I had woven my fingers through it when he was tenderly licking me after I'd come down from the high. Then he'd pulled the blanket over me before he left the room. Now, he's back, completely nude and looking just as handsome as he always does.

"I feel like I always have to remind you."

I throw my head back with a chuckle as I take a mouthful of the water. I reach for the apple, suddenly feeling famished. "Why do you feel like you have to remind me, Dr. Foster?"

"You said that we can't make love when you're big." He points to my body. "There's no medical evidence that will support that."

"Really?" I take a hearty bite of the apple.

"Really." He lowers himself next to me, pulling the apple from my hand so he can take a bite too. "I'm going to fuck you right until you deliver."

I stop chewing to stare at his face. There's a playful glint in his eyes that gives him a boyish charm that I love. I see it there whenever he talks about the baby. "I'm going to be too tired to do any of that."

"You won't have to do a thing." His hand is on my shoulder now. "I'll do all the work."

"So you're going to want me and my big belly to just lie down on the bed while you do me?"

He coughs loudly before his hand jumps to his mouth. "You're way too funny, Kayla. Sex during pregnancy is fine. It's healthy."

"It's healthy?" I toss the question back at him as I take another bite of the fruit. "Is that what you tell your patients?"

"I don't see that many pregnant women," he counters with a sly grin. "If they come into the ER it's because they think they're in labor. Most of them aren't. They're just overly eager."

"Eager to have their babies?"

"Exactly." He pats the bed next to me. "I'm eager too. I can't wait to find out if it's a boy or a girl. Once we know I want to pick a name."

I search his face, looking for any clue that will tell me that this is the moment when I should bring this up. I've wanted to for weeks but each time I found the nerve to do it, I'd stopped myself. I know it's going to be an emotional conversation but I want our baby to have a name as soon as possible and I have the perfect name.

"Have you thought about names?" He pushes my long brown hair back over my shoulder. "What name do you like for a girl?"

"I have a name that works for a boy or a girl."

"There's no name that works for both," he points out. "It's not one of those wild names that a celebrity named their baby is it?"

"No," I say quietly as I reach for his hand. "It's Emerson. I want the baby to be named Emerson."

 


 

Chapter 4

 

Ben is an unbelievably strong person. He has lived through some horrific things in his life including being accused of killing his own mother. He sees life changing injuries and illnesses every day in the ER but he's stoic and calm as he faces it all.

Right now, as we sit in our bedroom, staring into each other's eyes I see a depth of emotion in his expression that I've never been witness to before. He's on the brink of tears. His eyes are welling up with moisture and his hands are shaking.

"It was your mother's maiden name," I whisper as I cling to his hands. "It's the perfect name for our baby."

His lips move as if he's about to speak but nothing comes out.

"I thought about other names but none of them are as meaningful." I push myself closer to where he's sitting on the edge of the bed. "If you don't like it, that's okay. I'll understand. It's just that I want the baby to have a name that is part of her dad."

"Her dad?" The edge of his lip shakes. "You think it's a girl?"

I hadn't expressed that to anyone, but it's something that I feel and have felt since the doctor told me that I was pregnant. I'd even gone to a baby store in mid-town one day after work to look at the small pink dresses and hair ribbons.

"I don't know," I say honestly. "I feel like it might be a girl."

"I feel that too," he confesses as his hand leaps to his face. "When you came to the hospital to tell me you were pregnant, I felt it right away."

It brings an instant smile to my face. "We are probably going to have a son and one day, when he's old enough to understand, we'll tell him we thought he was a girl."

"He'll hate us for that." He chuckles. "Emerson will hate us."

I nod as I hear the name in his deep and controlled tone. It sounds perfect. It sounds just as wonderful as it did when I said it aloud for the first time on my way to work one morning. The cab driver turned briefly to look at me before he jumped to the assumption that I was talking to myself. I was, in a sense. I was talking to my baby.

"Do you like it?" I cup his unshaven chin in my hand, relishing in the feeling of his soft whiskers. "Do you think it will be okay?"

"It's perfect." He reaches forward to brush his lips over mine. "I think it's the perfect name."

 

***

 

"I think we should go to Boston soon," I say as I pull on a pair of Ben's sweatpants and one of my t-shirts. "We can plan the wedding there."

"How many people do you think you want to invite?" He leans back on the bed.

"You should put on some clothes." I pivot back towards his dresser. "I'm going to make us some dinner."

"I'm making dinner." He jumps to his feet. "I can cook in the nude."

"That's dangerous." I point at his groin. "You might injure yourself and as you like to point out, I'm not a doctor so you'd be completely on your own."

"I'm a good cook." He licks his bottom lip. "I can cook an entire four course dinner while not wearing a stitch of clothing."

"Have you done that?" I try to frown. "You cooked some woman a four course naked dinner and all I ever get is one course while you're fully clothed? I call foul on that."

"I've never cooked dinner for any woman but you and…" he swallows hard. "I used to cook dinner for my mother before she died."

I knew when I brought up the baby's name that it would impact him. Even though his mother died more than a decade ago he misses her terribly. I'll often walk into his office and catch him staring at the framed picture he keeps on his desk of the two of them. "You're sure about the baby's name, Ben?"

"I've thought about my mom a lot lately." His hand brushes my arm as he reaches behind me to pull a pair of pajama bottoms from one of the dresser drawers. "I thought about how much she'd love the baby. She would have been the best grandma."

I nod. I wish I would have met her. She had to have been a remarkable woman to have been loved so deeply by both of her sons.

"I want our baby to have her name." His eyes float over my face. "I want to tell our baby all about her."

"You will." I smile softly. "You'll tell Emerson all about her."

 


 

Chapter 5

 

"Did you get the lecture from grandma about having a baby before you're married?" My brother, Tyler, sets a mug of warm, herbal tea, on the table in front of me.

"Herbal tea?" I pull lightly on the square label that is hanging from the thin string attached to the tea bag. "The Tyler Monroe is serving tea?"

"You're not funny." He leans down to kiss the top of my head. "I'll bring you anything you want, Kay. I've missed you."

I've missed him too. When I left Boston the last time, Tyler had just landed a position as the executive chef at Axel Boston. It was something he had done on his own even though I sensed that I could use my connection to the owner, Hunter Reynolds, to help fast track my brother's culinary career. He wouldn't hear of it. When Sadie, Hunter's wife, first realized it was my brother working as a junior chef at Axel several years ago, I'd asked her to tell Hunter not to give Tyler any special treatment. My older brother is a proud man.

"I'll be married when I have the baby." I lift the mug to my lips. "Ben and I are going to get married right away."

"What?" He lowers his tall frame into the chair across from me in the vacant dining room. "When?"

"We're here to make plans." I tap my hand on the edge of the table. "We want to get married in Boston."

"I didn't know." His right hand runs over the tattoos on his left forearm. At first glance, my brother looks dark and menacing. He's always been supportive of every decision I've ever made save for one. He couldn't stand my last boyfriend, Parker, and he wasn't quiet about his intense dislike for him. I think Tyler was more relieved when I ended my relationship with Parker than I was.

"It's important to me that we get married here," I pause briefly to take another small sip of the tea. "You live here. Mom and dad live here."

He leans back in the chair, crossing his arms over his chest. I'll never tire of seeing him in a chef's jacket. Food has always been his passion in life. He was cooking up gourmet dishes for me and my parents as soon as he hit puberty. Being a chef is an integral part of who he is. "I have to tell you something."

"Are you getting married too?" I tease. Tyler and I have never spoken openly about his reputation but it's not a secret that he has an aversion to serious relationships. He's dated countless women since he was a teenager and I can't imagine that changing in the near future. He likes being single and as long as he's happy, I embrace him exactly the way he is.

"It's not that." His voice is deep. "When I came to New York for the funeral I wanted to tell you something but the timing was off."

Our paternal grandfather had died a little over a month ago. His death hit Tyler harder than it hit me. I wasn't close to him but I had gone to the service to support my father and Tyler. It was held at a funeral home and lacked any emotion. It was, in essence, an emotionally void recounting of a barren life. One of my granddad's friends had spoken about his time in the army and the work he did once he returned home. He'd become a tour guide at one of the museums in Manhattan. He did his job well. He took it seriously and stuck to the provided script. When I'd dropped in there to see him more than a year ago, he had stumbled over my name, stepping back when I reached out to embrace him. I'd left the museum feeling awkward and saddened by the emotional distance between us. I never saw him again after that day.

"What is it?" I lean forward to rest my elbows on the table. "Is it about granddad?"

"I found a lawyer to help us with the estate." He scratches the side of his nose. Tyler had called me shortly after the funeral to tell me that our grandfather had divided his estate equally between our father and the two of us. It was surprising news. I've already made the decision to donate my proceeds to the Foster Foundation. My work there has become my life's passion and I know, from experience, that any amount of money will go a long way to helping people in need of medical care.

"I'm glad." I pick up the mug of tea again. I do it to keep my hands busy. I doubt that's what Tyler wants to tell me. I'm not good with surprises and if he's about to tell me that he's going to take one of the many offers he's received from European restaurants, I'll be heartbroken. I want Tyler to know my child. I want to visit him in Boston often after the baby arrives so it can know Tyler just as well as it will know Noah.

"You know how I keep saying that I want to open my own restaurant?" His lips curve into a weak smile.

"You do talk about that a lot when you text me." I motion towards my smartphone which is sitting on the table next to the mug.

"It's happening." He swallows hard before he continues. "It's actually going to happen. I'm going to open a restaurant."

"You're what?" I don't even try and contain my tone. "You're not."

"I am." He looks over his shoulder towards the kitchen. "Hunter and his dad are investing. One of Hunter's friends is too. It's a go."

"I can't believe it," I say excitedly. "You're making your dreams come true."

"We both are." He nods towards me. "You're marrying the man you've been waiting your whole life for and having a baby."

I glance down at my lap. I had every intention of talking to Tyler about the baby. He's always been one of my most vocal cheerleaders. Whenever I've felt any doubt about my abilities, he's been right there telling me that I can do anything I set my mind to. I relied on those pep talks to get me through college and some of my break ups. I need my big brother to help me sort through all of the misgivings I'm having about being a good mom.

"The pregnancy is going good, right?" He leans forward to peer over the table at my belly. "You're wearing a huge sweater. I can't tell if you're showing yet."

"I'm not." I pat my stomach. "I will be soon."

"Do you and Ben want to know if it's a boy or girl?"

I nod. "We're going to find out. Ben really wants to know."

"What about you?" He tilts his head slightly to the left. "Do you want to know?"

"I do." I rub my hand over my forehead.

"What's wrong, Kay?" He shifts his body. "Is everything okay?"

I don't want to derail his exciting news. Tyler has worked hard for years with the goal of opening his own restaurant one day. I need to refocus back on that. I'll have plenty of time to talk to him about the baby and my anxiety. "When will the restaurant open?"

"In a few months," he offers. "That's not the question you should be asking me. You should be asking where it's going to be."

 

 

Chapter 6

 

"Your brother is moving to Manhattan?" The confusion in Ben's voice is evident. "When did he make that decision?"

"It's where he wants to open a restaurant," I try to sound excited. As soon as Tyler told me that he's launching a restaurant in New York City, the logical parts of my brain kicked into high gear. I've heard Sadie's ramblings about how volatile the New York restaurant scene is. Hunter and his father, Bruno, recently launched a new restaurant in Chicago to 'widen their scope,' as Sadie put it. I'm terrified that my brother is going to invest his entire life's savings in a venture that has more of a chance of failing than succeeding.

"You're worried about him, aren't you?" Ben motions for me to sit on one of the oversized chairs. "We can talk about it."

I reach back to touch the luxurious leather before I lower myself into the white chair. We're in Ben's condo in Boston. He bought it years before he met me. The only time we use it is when we come back to visit my family. It's styled in a much different way than our apartment in New York. The paint tones here may be light and breezy, but the rooms themselves lack character. It's obvious, to me, that Ben hired someone to take on the task of decorating for him or he didn't bother to change anything that the previous owner had in place.

"Tyler is smart," I begin before I reach forward to drop my purse on the floor. "I'm just not sure he's that smart about the business aspect of things."

"You've got a talent for that stuff." He sits on the edge of the coffee table in front of me. "Give me your feet."

"My what?" I giggle as I push them against the chair's legs. "You know how ticklish I am."

"I also know that your feet are sore and tired." He motions towards his lap. "Let me massage them for you."

He's too caring for his own good. The last time he tried to give me a foot massage I accidentally kicked him in the groin. He'd doubled over in pain which was quickly replaced with howling laughter. Since that evening, months ago, he has kept a sizable amount of distance between my ticklish feet and his cock.

"No." I giggle. "I'm already laughing. I can't."

"You have months of body changes in front of you, Kayla." He reaches down to carefully scoop my left foot into his hands. "I'm going to bathe you and massage you. I'm going to cook for you and take care of you. This is only the beginning so you better get used to it."

I pull my hand over my mouth as he slowly begins pushing his strong hands into the sole of my foot. As much as I want to jump up and laugh loudly, I try to stifle that. My feet have been aching and although I know that's not related to my pregnancy, I welcome the feeling of being pampered. "I'll try to sit still, Ben."
"You will sit still." He nods towards the chair. "You're going to sit there so I can tell you that your brother knows exactly what he's doing."

"I don't think he does." I try and jerk my foot from his grasp but he holds tightly to it.

"Sit still." He waves his index finger in the air playfully. "You once told me that Sadie's husband knows more about restaurants than anyone else on this planet. Did you not tell me that?"

I did say that. I've long admired the business empire that Hunter and his family have built. "Yes."

"Do you really think he'd invest in a restaurant that wasn't going to succeed?"

"That's not a fair question." I blurt out while I work to control my desire to giggle. "You should try my right foot. I think the left is more ticklish."

"I think they're the same." He winks as he tenderly places my left foot back on the throw rug before lifting the right into his lap. "Don't kick me, Kayla."

I smile as I gaze into his eyes. "I'm trying my best. You don't know how hard it is to not jump up."

"I know it's hard." He looks down at my foot. "You have to trust in Tyler's decision. I think you should start focusing on the positive side of it."

"The fact that he's moving to New York?" I ask even though I know that's exactly what Ben's referring to.

"How great will it be to have him close to us?"

"I'm excited for our baby to know him." I grip the arm of the soft leather chair to quell my need to scream out loud. "I think you're trying to tickle me on purpose."

"No." He shakes his head slightly. "I just realized that the baby's uncles are both covered in tattoos."

I pull on the bottom of my sweater. "I never thought about it but you're right."

"I'm going to be the only one who isn't cool." He pulls his full lips into a twisted frown. "I need to get some tats."

"Tats?" I can't stop the uncontrollable laughter that takes hold of me. "Did Dr. Ben Foster just use the word tat?"

"Shit." He shakes his head as he leans forward to kiss the top of my foot. "That makes me even more uncool, doesn't it?"

I lean forward to cup his face in my hands. "You don't have to be cool. Our baby is going to love you just the way you are."

 


 

Chapter 7

 

"What do you think about the idea of getting married in that park that's close to the house you used to live in?"

Ben and I have volleyed ceremony locations ideas back and forth for weeks. My mother wants us to get married in the expansive backyard of my childhood home but I want it to be in a place that holds special meaning to Ben. He mentioned the church he used to attend when he was a child but I know, from speaking with Noah, that it's the church where their mother's funeral service was held. I want our married life to begin in a place that holds promise.

"Are you talking about the park that my mother used to take me to?" He turns quickly on his heel to look at me.

"Yes." I reach to grab his hand. "The landscaping there is breathtaking. They have so many beautiful flowers. I think it's the perfect spot."

His face softens as he studies my expression. "I thought you wanted to get married in your parents' yard?"

"My mother wants that." I pull his hand towards my chest. "I want us to be in a place that is beautiful and peaceful. My brother used to chase me around that backyard and hold me down while he waved worms over my head."

He laughs loudly. It's so loud in fact that the other people in line at the bistro turn to look at us. "I can't marry you in a place where you were tortured with earthworms."

"The park is perfect." I swallow hard knowing that he's going to hear the emotion in my voice. "I want it to be in a place where you can feel close to your mom."

"I always feel close to her." His hand leaps to his chest. "I'd love to have the ceremony there but I want it to be a place you love too."

"I would marry you in the corridor at the hospital," I tease. "I don't care where it is, Ben. I just want to be your wife."

"I feel exactly the same way." He leans down to kiss me softly.

 

***

 

"You're going to get married in a park?" My mother doesn't have a filter. She says what she thinks and right now she thinks my choice of location for my own wedding ceremony may be the worst decision ever made in the history of mankind.

"It's a special place for Ben," I begin before I place my old cheerleader uniform into a box. "It's special for me too."

"What are you going to do with that?" She reaches into the box, pulling on the edge of the small, red skirt. "You can't donate that to charity. It means a lot to me."

"It means a lot to you?" I elbow her in the side. "Do you wear it for dad when you two are here alone?"

"I…no…Kayla…I mean…" she stammers.

"Holy shit, mom," I shout loudly. "That's disgusting."

"No," she says sharply as she grazes her hands over the legs of her worn jeans. "I wouldn't. I mean your father and I still enjoy those kinds of things but…"

"Stop talking." I pull my hands to my ears in mock jest. "I was going to take the cheerleader outfit back to New York but you can keep it."

"Kayla." She giggles loudly. "I don't want it."

"I'm teasing." I reach to pull her into a warm embrace. "I want to take some of my things home with me so I can show the baby when she's old enough to understand."

"She?" My mom pulls back so quickly that I almost fall over onto the bed. I reach for her hand to balance myself. "Did you say the baby is a girl?"

"No," I correct her quickly. "We don't know yet."

She motions for me to sit on the corner of my old bed. "Sit down, sweetheart."

I do. I watch in silence as she picks up the rectangular cardboard box and places it on the floor. Before she sits next to me she walks to my old desk and picks up a framed picture of me.

"You took that picture right before I caught the bus for my first day of school."

"I remember that day." She holds tightly to the worn plastic frame. "You were my baby. Tyler was already in school and that day I had to say goodbye to my little treasure."

"I was only gone a few hours, mom," I try to lighten the mood. I've been so emotional since I became pregnant. Even a heart touching video online can set off a flood of tears. I promised myself when I came to my parents' house today that I'd try and keep my composure.

"You and your brother were my whole world for a very long time." She carefully places the picture in my lap. "You still are in many ways."

I stare down at the frame, unsure of whether I can bring myself to look at her face. I can tell that she's on the verge of tears. "You'll always be a big part of my life, mom."
"When I found out I was pregnant with you I told your dad that you were our little angel." Her hand leaps to mine. "I knew you were a girl. We waited until you were born to find out but I knew in my heart that you were my little girl."

I feel the tears coming and there's nothing I can do to stop them. "I have a feeling too."

"Once your baby is born, your entire life is going to change." She reaches for my chin. "Nothing will ever be the same for you and Ben again."

I let her guide my chin up so our eyes meet. "I know it will, mom."

"A mother's love is an intense thing." She smiles softly. "You'll do anything to protect that little one. You'll do everything to keep her happy and safe."

"Or him," I point out in the middle of a sob.

"Or him." She nods. "I'm very proud of you, Kayla. You're going to be such a wonderful mother."

"I'm scared." I don't form the words as a conscious thought in my mind before they spill out of me. "I'm really scared, mom."

"I was too, baby girl." She kisses me softly on her cheek. "Look how you and Tyler turned out. You're going to do just fine. I'll come help you. Ben will be there and you'll find your way."

 


 

Chapter 8

 

"I asked the administrator about taking a week off next month so we can get married." Ben slides his suit jacket off his shoulders the moment he walks through the door of our apartment.

"I need to go," I whisper into the phone. "I'll call you later, okay?"

"Who are you talking to?" Ben brushes past where I'm sitting on the couch. "It's not my brother telling you that Noah is the perfect name for a baby, is it?"

I laugh as I end the call with Alexa. "He only suggested that once, Ben. He wasn't serious."

"He was dead serious." He places his own phone on the dining room table before he walks into the kitchen and out of sight.

I pull in a deep breath. Ben and I haven't talked much about our wedding plans since we left Boston last night. After I'd finished packing up some of my childhood mementoes into the box with my mom, we'd taken my parents to Axel Boston for dinner. My family and Ben had toasted to our impending wedding with champagne while I raised a glass of sparkling water. It was the perfect ending to a whirlwind weekend back in mine and Ben's hometown.

"I brought you some juice." He's beside me now, a tall glass of apple juice in his hand. "How was your day?"

"It was good." I take a large sip before placing it down on the coffee table. "I worked until one. Then I came home."

"You ran out of things to do?" he teases as he sits next to me, a bottle of chilled water resting in his hand. "I know you're efficient, but I had no idea you're that efficient."

"I felt tired." I lean back into the soft cushions of the couch. I plopped myself in this exact spot almost five hours ago. I fell fast asleep. The only reason I was awake when Ben came home was because Alexa had called and the ringing of my phone had jarred me.

His eyes slide slowly over my face. "Is that all it is? You're not feeling nauseous or faint, are you?"

"No." I motion towards the glass. "Can I have more juice?"

"You should drink it all." He carefully places it in my hand. "You don't want to risk getting dehydrated. Have you eaten anything since you got home?"

I shake my head from side-to-side as I finish all the juice. "I had a sandwich at work. I've had nothing since."

"I can make you a snack." He's up on his feet before I have time to protest. "I'll get some fruit and you can eat that while I start dinner."

It's a loving gesture but one that's not necessarily welcomed. I'm definitely hungry but I'm also tired. Truth be told, I'd much rather strip off my clothes, crawl into bed and fall asleep for the night. I know the first trimester is when many women feel exhausted. My doctor warned me of that. It's just that it hit me so out of the blue that it's disorienting me. I'm almost at twelve weeks now and I was sure I'd passed over all the typical drawbacks that come with being newly pregnant. Apparently, I jumped to that conclusion too soon.

"Kayla?" He leans down to brush his lips across my cheek. "I'll be right back. I want you to drink some of my water."

"I will." I nod as I take the bottle from him knowing that even if he wasn't the most skilled doctor I know, that allowing him to take care of me is the best possible thing I can do for me and for our baby.

***

 

"I thought you were tired." He brushes the hair off of my forehead. "You told me you were going to fall asleep as soon as you finished dinner."

I had told him that. After Ben cooked dinner for us, I'd heartily eaten every bite on my plate. I hadn't realized how famished I was and even after the light snack he made me to eat while I watched him cook, I still had the appetite of three men. He'd laughed as he watched me finish a tall glass of milk before leaning back in my chair to pat my tummy. I told him I was heading to bed and he promised to join me as soon as he was done cleaning up. Now, twenty minutes later, I've helped him undress and I'm on my knees between his legs with his swollen cock between my lips.

"Fuck, Kayla," he growls into the air. "Suck it just like that."

I love the sound of his voice when I'm pleasuring him like this. It's normally deep and throaty but when he's lost in the clutches of an orgasm it takes on an even richer tone.

I grab the base of the thick root with both my hands and pump it slowly. I suck loudly on the lush head, swirling my tongue around the tip.

"Jesus," he spits the word out harshly as his hands settle in my hair. "I don't want to come like this. I want to fuck you. I need to fuck you."

I look up towards his face and catch his eyes with my own. He's staring down at me his tongue darting quickly over his bottom lip.

"Sit on my cock." He pulls on my hair. "Climb on me. Ride me. Do it now."

I pull back quickly and scramble up his body. His strong hands reach for my arms, yanking me onto him. I don't take more than a moment to position myself above him before I lower. His cock slides into me in one easy motion.

"You're so tight." He grips my thighs. "You feel so good. I'm going to come so fast."

I slow my tempo. I want it to last. I want to savor the feeling of being this close to him. "Don't come yet, Ben."

"Kiss me." His hands fly into the air towards my face.

I lean forward wanting to taste the sweetness of his kiss. I love kissing him. His lips fit so perfectly with mine that sometimes I feel as though I can come just from the sensation of his kiss.

"I love you," I whisper against his mouth. "I love you so much."

"I love you, Kayla." He kisses me hard as his arms encircle me. "I'll always love you."

I have no time to react before he flips us both over in one easy motion. He edges my legs apart with his, braces his hands on either side of my head and fucks me hard and deep until we both come.

 

 


 

Chapter 9

 

"Ben," I sob his name into the darkness of our bedroom as I tap him on the shoulder. "Ben, wake up."
He moves instantly, lurching forward so quickly in the bed that his head almost crashes into mine. "Kayla. Christ, what's wrong? Kayla."

I glance down at my panties. "I'm bleeding. Ben, the baby. I'm bleeding."

"No." He swings his arm wildly through the air. I instantly realize that he's searching for the lamp next to the bed. He taps the base to turn it on and light fills the room. "Not the baby."

"I went to the bathroom." I point towards the bathroom that is attached to our bedroom. "I saw the blood. It's on my panties."

"Let me see." He scrubs his hands over his eyes. "Is there a lot of blood?"

"A lot," I cry out as I pull on his hands. "Fix it, Ben. Please. Please just fix it."

I see the tears in his eyes before he even responds. "We need to go to the hospital. I need you to put on some pants for me, Kayla. Can you do that?"

My eyes dart quickly around the room before they settle on a pair of Ben's sweatpants. I rush over, pulling them over my shaking legs. "We have to go now."

By the time I turn back towards the bed I realize he's already dressed. He's put on a pair of jeans and a dark sweater. His hand is running through his hair as he rounds the bed towards the door. He holds out his hand. "Come with me. Let's go now. I'll call down to the doorman to get a taxi."

I want to run towards him but I'm afraid to move too quickly. "I'm scared. I'm really scared."

He nods as he marches across the floor towards me, scoops me up into his arms and carries me out of our apartment.

 

***

 

I study the room that Ben brought me into the moment we arrived in the ER. I've only been in this space once before. I fell and hit my head shortly after I met Ben and he brought me here. I imagine it was much the same way. He carried me in yelling at the nurses to hurry. He'd called my Obstetrician as the taxi sped through the streets of the city towards the hospital. He'd clung tightly to my hand with his. Both of our eyes were glued to my lap. Ben hadn't seen the blood. I had pulled on the pants so quickly that he hadn't seen what I had in the bathroom.

"We had intercourse," Ben whispers to Dinah, my doctor. "I was rough, too rough."

I want to shield my face from her gaze. Her eyes jump to mine. "That's what it is. That's what caused this."

I look directly at Ben's face and I see the regret that instantly overtakes it. His hand darts out to his side to steady himself. He grabs hold of a cabinet. "Fuck. Just fuck."

"Ben." Dinah's hand leaps to his shoulder. "It's fine. The baby is fine. They are both going to be fine."

I feel my lungs expand as I hear the words. I reach down to touch my stomach. I'd been fearful of asking what was happening when Dinah did a sonogram. I hadn't said a word when she'd taken my blood pressure and asked me to spread my legs so she could examine me.

"The baby is okay?" I ask in barely more than a whisper. "Our baby is okay."
"Your baby is completely fine, Kayla." Dinah brushes past Ben to stand next to me. "You were only spotting."

"It looked like a lot of blood," I counter. "I wiped and there was so much blood."

"It looked like a lot," she agrees quietly. "It's not uncommon for a woman to bleed in her first trimester. It happens more often than you'd realize."

"I know that," Ben says as he rakes his hand through his hair. "I know it but I panicked."

"I'm almost in my second trimester," I point out. I realize they're both doctors and logically they know much more about this than I do, but I know my body. I also know that I will do everything in my power to protect this baby and a big part of that is having a thorough and complete understanding of all the risks, including being intimate with Ben.

"You're right." Dinah sits on the edge of the bed. "When we did the sonogram everything looked good, Kayla. Your baby is just fine."

"What if I start bleeding again?" I nod towards my lap. "What will happen then?"

"It's highly unlikely that you will bleed again." She taps her hand over mine. "If you do, you'll come right back here and we'll evaluate you."

"We should stop having sex until after the baby is born, right?" I stare at her face. I won't look at Ben because I'm fearful of what I'll see in his expression. I love being intimate with him. It's incredible but my baby is my priority now and if I have to give up feeling pleasure for the next six months, I can easily do that.

"I want you to refrain for a few days." Dinah darts her head back to look at Ben before she turns back towards me. "I want to see you next week and once I examine you then, I think you'll be clear to engage in intercourse again."

"Should I stay overnight?" I lean forward slightly. "Do you need to keep me here for observation? I should stay so you can be sure that the baby is fine, right?"

"Ben is going to take you home." She pushes herself back to her feet. "Tomorrow is Saturday so I want you to take it easy. Relax and don't do anything too physical."

"I'll do that." I nod my head. "I'll do whatever I have to do to keep my baby safe."

She smiles softly. "You're doing everything just the way you should be. We'll keep a close eye on the baby but I don't foresee any complications."

I tear up at her words. It's what I've waited to hear since I saw the blood. My baby is going to be fine. In six months I'm going to be holding my little one in my arms. I can't wait for that day.

 


 

Chapter 10

 

"Let's pick a wedding date now." I walk into Ben's home office. "Can we do that today?"

He doesn't turn from where he's sitting. "We can get married whenever you want."
My heart drops at his words and his tone. "I thought you'd be more excited than that."

His shoulders surge forward a touch before he rests both his hands on the desk. "I'm sorry, Kayla. I'm so sorry."

After we came back from the hospital late last night, we'd crawled into our bed and had clung to one another in silence. Neither of us wanted to voice what we were feeling but I knew that Ben was as relieved about the baby as I was. He didn't have to say a word. I could tell by the way he cradled me in his arms and as I rested my head against his chest, I'd fallen into a deep, and much needed, sleep.

"What are you sorry about?" I ask. "Tell me what it is."

"I never want to hurt you." His voice cracks. "I would never do anything to hurt you."

"I know." I rush towards where he's sitting in his office chair. "You take such good care of me. No one has ever taken care of me the way you do."

"I let you down." His gaze is cast towards his lap. "I let you down. I let the baby down."

"You didn't." I push against his shoulder. "Move back, Ben. Push the chair back."

His head pops up so he's looking directly at me. "I shouldn't have been so rough in bed. You're pregnant. I don't know what I was thinking."

"Push the chair back," I repeat.

He does and in that instant I crawl into his lap. I wrap my arms around his neck, pulling one of my hands onto his cheek.

"I don't know how it's possible to love someone this much." He kisses my hand. "I never thought I'd love someone as much as I love you."

"I love you too." I look into his dark eyes. "I found my home with you."

The words touch him deeply. I see that within his expression. "I want this baby so much. I love it already."

"Me too." I take a deep breath. "I was so scared last night. I've never been that scared in my life before."

"When I thought we were going to lose the baby," he sobs quietly. "I've never felt so much pain inside. It was worse than when my mother…"

"We didn't lose the baby," I say it as much to stop his words as to quiet my own emotions. "We are going to have this baby. I'll do everything Dinah tells me to do."

"We both will." He nods. "I'll go to every appointment with you. I'll turn down the practice. I can't work more. I want to be here more. I need to be."

Nothing that he just said registered other than one word. Practice. Ben has been working in the ER for years. It's the place he loves to be. Whenever I've asked him if he ever thinks about opening his own practice, he scoffs.

"Practice?" I repeat the word tentatively. "What practice? You're thinking of opening your own practice?"

His bottom lip quivers slightly before he snaps his mouth shut. His eyes study my face and I know that he's trying to pull together a reasonable explanation for what just slipped out. He didn't mean to tell me. I have to wonder if he was ever going to tell me.

"What's going on?" I push on his shoulder. "Why didn't you tell me?"

He swallows hard. "I'm not thinking of opening my own practice, Kayla. That's not what this is about."

"Tell me what it's about." I suddenly feel as though I've been pushed to the outer edge of Ben's life. We tell each other everything. There are no secrets between us. We made that agreement when I first moved in with him. I'd lived under a veil of lies when I was with my last boyfriend and I can’t do it again. I need transparency and I give it willingly to Ben.

"An old friend is retiring," he starts as he adjusts me in his lap. "He has a practice on the Upper East Side. He has hundreds of patients."

"Dr. Burk?"

"That's him," he says succinctly. "You remember him?"

"It's impossible to forget him." I giggle. Dr. Burk was at the hospital one day when I stopped by to visit Ben during a break. I'd walked into the cafeteria to look for my fiancé and was greeted by the sight of a small, white haired man passionately kissing him on the cheek. Dr. Burk had become a mentor to Ben when he first started in the ER. The older doctor was still seeing patients there back then and the two of them quickly hit it off. He's helped Ben immeasurably when he's lost patients and he's been there to congratulate Ben on his successes.

"He's finally retiring. He wants me to think about taking over his practice for him."

I stare at him. "Are you going to do it? Have you thought about it?"

"I haven't had time to think about it," he counters. "I've been so busy with work. I've wanted to focus on you and the wedding and our baby."

"You need to think about it, Ben." I trace my index finger over his chin. "It's an amazing opportunity."

"It's completely different than working in the ER," he points out. "The energy is different. I'd be helping a lot less people."

"You'd be working the same hours as me," I say selfishly. "You wouldn't work on the weekends, would you?"

"It's a Monday to Friday job. I'd be free to be with you and the baby on the weekends."

I want to scream at him to take it. I can't though. I know how much his job in the ER means to him. I can't push him to take the practice on just because it's what I want. I won't do that. I can't ask that of him.

"Do you want me to take it?" he asks me as his head bows down. "I'll take it if you want me to."

I pull his head into my chest. "No. I want you to decide. I want this to be your decision."

 


 

Chapter 11

"Next Saturday?" Alexa spits the words out right along with part of the bagel she just bit into. "You're not serious?"

I wipe the remnants of her breakfast from my sweater. "I'm serious. We want to get married in Boston next weekend. Can you and Noah come?"

"Like we'd miss that," she tosses back with a smile. "I already have my dress picked out, altered and it's hanging in my closest."

I'd asked Alexa to be my matron of honor a few weeks ago because she's the woman I feel closest to. I had told her to pick a dress that she liked. I didn't want to dictate that. I want my wedding to be about the love that Ben and I share, not about our fashion choices.

"Why am I not surprised by that?" I take a sip of tea. "When did you buy that dress?"

"The day after you got engaged," she begins. "I went out the next morning to find it."

"I hadn't even asked you to be my matron of honor yet." I laugh.

She tilts her head to the side. "I knew you were going to ask. I wanted to be prepared. It's a shotgun wedding after all."

I try and bite my lip to quell the laughter. "It's not a shotgun wedding."

"You're knocked up and you're rushing down the aisle." She leans back in the plastic chair in the bistro. "Isn't that the definition of a shotgun wedding?"

"Ben and I would have gotten married even if I wasn't pregnant," I say as I glance towards my smartphone. "The baby just moved everything along."

"Noah told me that you had to go to the hospital the other night." Her voice is compassionate. "I was really worried."

"It was nothing," I lie. "I'm fine now. The baby is fine too."

"I can't wait to hold the baby." She glances at my stomach before her eyes rest back on mine. "I'm going to love that baby like it's my own."

"I'm counting on that." I lift the mug to my lips again.

"Could you ever have imagined we'd be family?" She reaches across the table to scoop my hand in hers. "Our children are going to be cousins."

"They are," I nod through a veil of tears. "We’re going to be sisters."

"We’re both so lucky." She blows out a puff of air between her lips to stall her own emotions. "We both hit the husband jackpot."

"I hit the life jackpot." I squeeze her hand in mine. "I'm the luckiest woman in the world."

 

***

 

"I didn't know my wedding dress could look like that," my mom says as steps into the bedroom of the condo in Boston. "Kayla, you're a vision."

I had asked my mom if I could wear her wedding dress and she agreed without question. When I told her that I wanted to make a few slight changes to it, she'd given me her whole hearted blessing. The dress had been completely transformed under the skilful hands of Alexa's tailor. The long train has been removed. The skirt of the dress brushes the floor as I walk. The pearl beading that once ran down the front of the bodice has been replaced with lace. My stomach has started to round a bit so the tailor opted to bring up the waist of the dress to allow room for my growing belly.

"Do you like the dress?" I ask even though I see the answer in her expression.

"I love it." She reaches to touch the fabric. "You look more beautiful in it than I did."

I laugh at the compliment. "It means everything to me that you let me wear it."

"You'll keep it." She pats my belly. "Your daughter will wear it when she gets married too."

I reach down to hold my hand over hers. "If it's a girl I'll ask her to wear it."

"How are you feeling, baby girl?" She looks into my eyes. "Have you had any spotting since that night?"

I hadn't dove into the details of what took me to the hospital that night, but I had called my mother to tell her what had happened and that I was fine. She had whimpered on the phone about wanting to drive to New York to live with me until I gave birth. I had calmed her enough to get her to agree to a month long visit right after the baby is born. I need her gentle guidance and comfort during that time. It will help me immeasurably and it will be a gift for my mom too.

"I'm completely fine." I push a lock of her hair back over her shoulder. "The baby is good. I saw the doctor yesterday and she said everything is going great."

Dinah had reassured me after another examination yesterday that the baby is fine. She gave me the green light to be intimate with Ben again and we had made love tenderly and slowly last night. We're both going to be careful until we have our baby.

"Alexa is waiting in the other room." My mom motions towards the living room. "Ben is already at the park."

I glance at the clock sitting next to the bed. "The wedding isn't for another hour."

"Noah called and said Ben wanted to go early to spend time alone." She nods in understanding. "I think it's important for him to spend time there today. You know…"

"He feels close to his mom there," I interrupt. "He went there with her when he was a young boy."

"He's going to be the best dad to your little one. I can see how much he loves you."

"I love him too, mom." I pull my hand to my mouth. "I don't think I could love anyone as much as I love Ben."

 


 

Chapter 12

 

"My entire life I felt as though a part of me wasn't there," Ben says softly. "I knew that I was missing something but I didn't know what that was."

I hold tightly to his hands as I look into his eyes. He's wearing a tuxedo, his brown hair blowing in the breeze. He hasn't stopped looking at me since I walked down the makeshift aisle with my mom and dad.

"My life changed the moment you stepped onto that airplane, Kayla." His tongue darts out to lick his bottom lip. "I saw you and I felt my heart open right there on the spot."

He stops as we both hear a slight whimper escape from Alexa. She's standing next to me, holding the small bouquet of flowers I handed her once I reached Ben and the justice of the peace. Noah is looking right at me from where he's standing by Ben. He's clinging tightly to Max and Chloe's hands. They wanted to be our flower girl and ring bearer and both Ben and I embraced that idea. This is our family. These are the people we love most in the world.

"I will never let you down. I will love you until I take my very last breath and I will help you celebrate every day of our lives together."

I nod as my eyes fill with tears.

"You are my life. You are the reason I get up each morning and you make me the man I am. I love you Kayla Monroe and I am honored that I get to be the man you spend your life with."

"You may share your vows now, Kayla." The justice of the peace's hand brushes my arm as he says the words.

I pull in a deep breath and look to the right. My eyes float over the faces of my family. Tyler came to the ceremony alone and in a suit. I teased him about it when he stopped briefly by the condo to tell me how proud he was of me. My parents are holding hands as they watch me pledge my love and devotion to the man I adore. Ben's father is here too. A wide grin has taken over his face and it hasn’t left since he arrived. He's beaming as he stands next to his brother, Roman, and his nephew, Caleb. These men are my family now too.

Sadie waves briefly to me and I try to contain a wide grin. She's thrilled about our wedding. She and Hunter gifted us with a reception at Axel Boston following the ceremony.

"Kayla?" Ben's voice pulls me back to the moment.

I look into his eyes and I see the path that my life was meant to take. "I love you, Ben."

"I love you," he whispers as a smile tugs at the corner of his mouth.

"I wake up every day and I right before I open my eyes I have to wonder if I'm living in the middle of a dream," I say softly. "When I was a young girl I always imagined that I'd be swept off my feet by a tall, dark and handsome man and then you appeared."

A ripple of laughter fills the air from our family members.

"You have given me more gifts than I deserve in this life." I hold tightly to both of his hands. "You have given me a love that is unconditional and knows no boundaries."

"I'll always love you." He reaches to my cheek to wipe away a tear.

"You've given me a safe and secure place to love and grow." I swallow hard but it does little to quiet my heart. "You've helped me create a beautiful life."

He nods in silence, his eyes never leaving my face.

"I will love you until I take my very last breath too and I am proud and honored that I will be your wife."

"Can I get the rings?" The justice of the peace peers past Ben to where Max is standing.

"I have those rings," Max announces proudly and he opens his small palm to reveal two simple, silver wedding bands. He'd held so tightly to them that they've left an imprint on his hand.

The justice of the peace reaches for them before handing Ben's to me and mine to him. "Ben, repeat after me, please."

"Yes," Ben reaches for my left hand.

"This ring is a symbol of eternity and completeness. I give it to you with everything that I am."

Ben repeats the words slowly while slipping the ring onto my finger next until it settles next to my engagement ring. He pulls my hand to his lips and kisses the rings.

"Kayla, repeat after me."

I reach for the ring and for Ben's hand.

"This ring is a symbol of eternity and completeness. I give it to you with everything that I am."

I hold my beautiful Ben's hand in mine as I slip the ring onto his finger and repeat the words.

"I now pronounce you husband and wife. You may kiss the bride."

Every time I've been at a wedding and I've heard the minister, pastor, or officiator say those words I've giggled to myself. At times I've thought them trite and ordinary but when the justice of the peace asked Ben and me to create a ceremony I'd insisted on leaving those words as part of the script. I wanted to hear them. I wanted to embrace them and I wanted them to linger in my mind as I felt my husband's lips touch mine.

"You are my dream come true," Ben whispers against my lips before he pulls me into a lush and deep kiss.

 


 

Epilogue

 

One Year Later

 

"How was work today?" Ben smiles as he walks into the nursery. "Did you have a good day?"

I always have a good day when I take Emerson to work with me. "It was fine. I was preoccupied. It's hard to accomplish anything when you're staring at this face."

He looks into the crib. "I couldn't get anything done in the ER if I was looking at that angel all day."

I look up into his face. He'd struggled for months with the decision about whether or not to take over Dr. Burk's practice but he eventually decided that he does his best work in the ER. He's confident that Dr. Burk found a suitable replacement. My husband went so far as to offer his services in the form of consultations whenever the doctor taking over for Dr. Burk needs it. He's giving to a fault and it's one of the many reasons I love him so much.

"Do you want to take a shower with me?" Ben points to the baby monitor. "We can take that in with us. Emerson is sleeping so we have the all clear."

It's the same thing he says every time he wants to make love. He's mindful of the fact that I'm still wary about leaving the baby alone for any period of time. I hover, but I need to. It's part of being a mom. I love it. I may have been scared about my abilities but the moment I gave birth, I felt my heart open wide and my instincts kicked into high gear. I've savored every moment I've had with my baby.

"You want to have sex, don't you?" I turn to face him, trying to keep a smile off my face. "You want to take me into the shower so you can have your way with me."

"I can't hide anything from you, can I?"

"We can just go into our room and have sex in the bed," I suggest as I smooth my hand over the collar of his dress shirt. "I'll race you to it."

The baby moves slightly and Ben instantly jolts forward to look into the crib. "We may not have time."

"Oh, we have time." I lean forward to kiss his cheek. "Emerson is going to be asleep at least for another thirty minutes. That's enough time."

"It's not." He brushes his lips over mine. "I want to do things to you. Lots of things. Things that take time."

"You want to do what to me?" I tease.

"I want to start by licking your…."

"Don't say bad things in front of the baby." I push my index finger into his lips to quiet him. "You can't say words like that with the baby this close."

"The baby doesn't understand those words," he points out as he starts to unbutton my blouse. "You know you love it when I talk like that to you."

"I know I love when you do those things to me," I counter. "We need to go now. Follow me."

I turn quickly on my heel and start to march out of the room with a clear destination in mind. I want my husband. I want to feel his body next to mine and I want to show him exactly how deeply I desire him.

"I'll be right there," Ben calls after me. "I just want to give my beautiful daughter one more kiss."

I stop where I am and just as I turn around I see Ben kiss his index finger before he reaches down to brush it against our little girl's cheek.

I pull in a deep breath and soak in the moment. This is my life. This is my everything and I can't wait for the rest of my life with this man and this perfect little girl.

 

 

 

 

A Preview of CHANCE

 

A Full-Length Standalone

 

"You're telling me that I've never fucked you?"

You'd think I'd walk away at this point. It would make sense for me to turn on my heel and march out of his apartment. I'm not even sure why I'm here.

Today started out like any other day. I woke up and then I brushed my teeth after I had a glass of orange juice. I cursed myself for doing that and vowed that tomorrow I'd drink the orange juice after I brushed my teeth. I dressed in a navy blue pencil skirt and a pale blue blouse. I'd let my dark brown hair fall in waves down my back and I'd hurried to make the train before it sped uptown. I walked through the door of my office at precisely two minutes before nine. It was the same routine I followed every single day.

I spent my morning in meetings with the development team and I had lunch with the owner of the company. He'd been focused on his phone. It's normal for him. He can't resist his wife and whenever she texts or calls him, the world, as he knows it, halts on its axis.

Once I got back to my office, I settled in at my desk to go over last month's budget. It was exactly five minutes to two when my phone rang and I dropped everything to get in a taxi to come here. I'm in a spacious apartment on Park Avenue, sitting across from the one man who has popped in and out of my life since I was a child.

"Caleb," I say his name as I cross my arms over my chest. "What the hell was the emergency? Why am I even here?"

His finger darts into the air to silence me. It's a gesture that he knows I can't stand. He's pushing me and if I thought it would benefit me at all, I'd push him right back. I know his game though. I know exactly what's going on.

"I have to go." His deep voice fills the room. "I'll call you later, baby."

I shake my head slightly as he ends the call. "If you called me down here so I could listen to you talk to some woman who can't remember being fucked by you, I have better things to do with my time."`

"I didn't fuck her." He pushes his chair back from the desk as he crosses his long legs. "If I had, she'd remember it."

I cover my face with my hands. "I have a lot to do today. I have to get back to my office."

"Why haven't you quit that job yet, Rowan?" He throws up one hand. "I need you to work with me. I'm prepared to sweeten the offer."

"What offer?" I fumble inside my purse for my smartphone. "You know I'm never going to work for you."

"I know that you will one day." He stands quickly, pulling his large frame up. "Tell me what they're paying you at Corteck and I'll double it."

"I'm not telling you how much money I make." I scan my phone, reading the new emails that have come in since I left the office almost an hour ago. "When have I ever told you how much money I make?"

"When you worked at that fast food place right before you graduated from high school," he points out. "I told you my professor assigned a project about young people in the workplace and you let me interview you."

"You were such an asshole." I don't look up from my phone. "You were twenty-two, Caleb. You should have been partying hard. Instead you were harassing me."

"I was curious." He rounds the desk. "I wanted you to come and work for me then, don't you remember?"

I do remember. I remember how envious I was that he was able to work for his father and that he was pulling in more money than my parents were making combined. Caleb Foster has never had to do an honest day's work in his life and he's still trying to get me to pick up the slack for him.

"I like my job at Corteck. I work in a real office." I scan the home office we're sitting in. "Don't you ever actually go into the office building that has your last name plastered all over the front of it?"

"You mean that one you pass every day when you go to your job at Corteck?"

"I need to leave," I say briskly. "Don’t keep calling me down here for nothing. I have a job to do."

"One day you're going to ditch all that so you can work with me." He grabs my arm as I walk past him.

I stare up into his face. His body may have changed since we were children but the same glint in his dark eyes that I saw when he chased me around the playground is still there. His short hair is darker now than it used to be. There's no denying that he's gorgeous. He knows it and he uses it at every opportunity. He's tall and muscular and if I didn't know him as well as I do, I might even label him as emotionally dangerous. It's the reason I've always avoided getting romantically entangled with him. Caleb breaks hearts whether he's aware of it or not.

"I'm leaving." I pull my arm free of his grasp. "Don't call me again unless you actually need something from me. I'm tired of you wasting my time."

'You don't mean that Rowan." He moves in step beside me. "You don't actually mean that you'd rather I don't call you."

"I mean exactly that." I pat him on the chest. "You can't just interrupt my life for your bullshit."
He presses the call button for the elevator. "It's not bullshit. I'm hurt that you think that's what it is."

I sense the grin on his handsome face before I see it. "Why am I even here? You could have offered me the job on the phone."

"You always say no when I ask you on the phone."

"That's because I'm never going to work for you." I push the call button again. "Is the elevator broken again?"

"It looks that way." He gestures towards a door a few feet from us. "You can take the stairs or you can wait until they fix it."

"I have a lot to do today. I can do the stairs."

I follow him through the doorway into a long and narrow hallway. "Do you want me to walk down with you?" He raises a brow.

"I'll be fine." I reach to open the door but it doesn't budge. "Is this broken too? You'd think a place on Park Avenue would have a better maintenance man."

"The door is fine." He grabs hold of the door handle and gives it a quick twist. He swings it open effortlessly. "You're sure you don't want me to walk down with you?"

"Of course not," I brush past him into the stairwell. "Promise me you're not going to keep calling me for nothing. I have important stuff I have to tend to."

"More important than me?" He swings his arms in the air as he walks into the small stairwell. "Don't try and tell me that our friendship doesn't mean everything to you, Rowan."

"It doesn't." l laugh as I look up at him. "You know that it doesn't. I have to go."

"Wait." His hand pulls on the edge of my skirt. "There is something I need to tell you."

My eyes open wide. "Why do you insist on wasting my time? It's just a game to you. You're lucky my boss doesn't care when I leave in the middle of the day."

"This isn't a game." He swallows hard. "I do need to tell you something. I have to tell you something. I just don't know how to."

I've known Caleb Foster my entire life. I know the instant when something is wrong. A sudden darkness has overtaken his face. It's not just the lighting in this dim and musty stairwell.

"Row." His jaw tightens. "I'm sorry, Rowan. I can't believe I have to tell you this."

"Tell me what?" I grab onto the lapel of his jacket. "Just tell me. You're scaring me now."

His hands clench at his sides. His lips move slightly but nothing comes out.

"Caleb, tell me."

He sucks in a deep breath, cups his fingers around my chin and looks directly into my eyes. "Promise me you'll still be my friend when I tell you. Promise me you won't stop talking to me."

"I promise," I whisper softly. "I'll always be your friend."

"You're the only person I can tell this to. You're the only person who'll understand," he starts before he pauses to pull in a deep breath.

 

 

Coming Spring 2015