The Free Obsessed Novella
The Free Novella
New York Times & USA Today Bestselling Author
First Original Edition, January 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 want to begin by thanking each and every one of you for sharing in my journey. I published the first OBSESSED novella last February. I fell in love with Jax and Ivy then and I've tried to keep their unique love alive by including them in other books. This free gift novella is a way for readers to get a glimpse into the lives of the characters as they adjust to being married and parents.
This is the final chapter in the story of Jax and Ivy but you will see these characters in other novellas, including FUSE, which is the story of Brighton Beck, Jax's brother. FUSE is a standalone novella releasing this month.
I hope you enjoy this final glimpse into the couple who started it all for me.
With all my love and gratitude,
"Do you think you can pencil me in for lunch next Tuesday?"
I turn quickly on my heel to stare at my husband. "Jax, that's not funny."
"It's not funny, but it's accurate." He reaches out his hand. "I miss you, Ivy. I never see you anymore."
He's not exaggerating. Ever since I was invited to be a guest on one of the national morning shows, my time hasn't been my own. They wanted me to share a few of my original jewelry pieces before the holidays. Once my segment aired, Whispers of Grace's website has been inundated with orders. Since I custom make each piece myself, I've been spending most of my days, and evenings, in the studio above my shop. That meant that Jax was relegated to spending even more of his time with Jackson. I can't blame him for his attitude. Until last week, he was negotiating a new business venture with Alec Hughes, one of the most influential men in all of New York City. When that deal fell apart, Jax retreated into himself. We haven't discussed any of it, but I know that he has to feel resentful that all of my career dreams are coming true, while his are on hold.
"I can make it home for dinner tonight," I offer.
"Don't make promises you can't keep, beautiful." He pulls me into his arms. "I hate eating dinner alone. For that matter, I hate eating breakfast and lunch alone too."
Jax only resorts to guilt if he's trying to be persuasive. I know that all he really wants is for the two of us to spend more time together. We've only been married a year. For most couples that would mean that the honeymoon phase isn't over yet. Unfortunately for Jax, and me it means we are a year overdue for taking a honeymoon. "I'm being serious. I'll be home for dinner tonight."
"I'm holding you to that." His eyes scan the store. "You should think about hiring another sales person. You don't have enough staff to handle all these customers."
He's right. It's Tuesday morning and already there are at least a dozen people in the store. I need to hire more staff but that means vetting applicants and doing interviews. A few months ago Jax would have handled all of that for me. Now, I have to do it alone. "You can come back and work for me a few days a week, Jax. It would help until I can find someone else."
I see the wince on his face before I hear the trepidation in his tone. "It's not a good idea. We both know I get too controlling."
I do know that and my selective memory is trying to block it out. I need the help but he's right. I don't want the two of us to revert back to where we were. I felt stifled by Jax's need to control every aspect of the business of running the store. I knew instinctively, back then, that it was just his razor sharp corporate mind rising to the surface. When he started making crucial decisions without me, it was time to break ties. Now, most of his time is devoted to Jackson.
"I need to go pick up Jackson from the sitter." Jax leans down to kiss me softly. "I'm going to cook something extra special for tonight. I'll have it ready at eight."
"I'll be there." I pull my arms around his neck. "It's a date."
"I thought you were cooking dinner for us." The words, completely misplaced in this moment, float off my lips and into the still and heated air.
""You didn't just say that, beautiful." His breath brushes against my thigh. "You're not thinking about food when I'm feasting on you, are you?"
I'm not. I'm trying to catch my breath. When I got home thirty minutes ago, Jax was waiting for me at the door of our apartment in nothing but a towel wrapped around his waist. I didn't have time to react before my dress and lingerie was on the floor. When my husband is greedy like this, I lose myself within it. He wants me. Every word that has left his lips since he carried me to our bed is proof of that.
"Jax." His name escapes my lips settled into the urgency of a moan as he glides his tongue slowly over my folds. "It's so much. I feel so much."
"Ivy." He pulls back slightly. "I crave you. My body literally aches when I'm not with you."
It's the very same for me. "I love how you make me feel."
I thrust my back into the soft, now rumpled, sheets of our bed as he pushes one of his long fingers into my channel. "I've been imagining this moment all day. I was hard in my meeting earlier when I was thinking about how you taste."
I can't string together any words that would come out as a lucid response. Instead I push my cheek into the pillow as my hands tangle in the strands of his soft brown hair.
"You're going to come for me and then I'm going to come inside of you," he growls.
My body twitches involuntarily at the promise of his cock. Jax is only the second man I've ever been with intimately. I know, without reservation, that he'll be the only man I'll ever be with. My body was made for him.
The unyielding pressure of his skilled tongue on my core sends me into the deepest throes of an intense orgasm without warning. I fly over the edge quickly and completely, calling out his name over and over again.
"If my cock wasn't so hard, I'd eat you again." His words are barely more than a whisper.
I open my eyes, pushing my hair back from where it's settled onto my sweat dampened cheek. He's there. He's towering above me. His perfectly chiseled chin bowing down as he leans forward to kiss me. I pull my hands over his broad shoulders, wanting to cling to him as he takes me.
"You're everything to me, Ivy." The words get lost in the movement of his lips against mine.
"I love you," I manage to say just at the moment that he enters me.
"Ivy. God, Ivy."
I cling to his shoulders, wanting him to still for a moment while I adjust to the sensation of him being fully within me. "Just wait, Jax."
"Wait?" His lips brush across my forehead. "I need to fuck you. Waiting isn't going to work."
I smile at the confession. "No, wait for a minute. Please. Just one minute. I love how it feels when you're inside of me."
He pulls back just enough that he can get a clear view of my wetness before he slowly glides his cock out of me. "You're the most beautiful thing I've ever seen. How did I get so lucky?"
He asks me that almost every time we make love. I never have an answer. I ask myself the same thing every morning when I wake up next to him. "Jax, please."
"Is the minute up?" He pushes forward, his cock sliding effortlessly between my folds and into me again. "Can I fuck my wife now?"
I smile up at him and nod softly.
He pushes back, grabbing my hips in his hands as he finds a slow and easy rhythm. "I want this to last all night, beautiful."
I want that too. We haven't been intimate in more than a week and that's my fault. I've been so busy. I try to speak but the only sounds I can pull from deep within are a series of low moans.
"You love this as much as I do." He breathes the words out inside a deep grunt.
I buck my hips off the bed to take him even deeper and I'm rewarded when he ups the tempo. "Christ, Ivy. You're going to make me come so hard."
I want it. I need it. I need to feel this connected to him every moment I can. "It's so good, Jax."
The words spur him on. He leans forward, his hands jumping to the mattress on either side of my shoulders.
I reach up to cradle his face in my hands as we both give in to the overwhelming pleasure of the moment.
"Where's my son?" I ask as I walk into the kitchen after standing under the stream of a hot shower for the past twenty minutes. "Jackson isn't here, is he?"
Jax's eyes dart up from the stove. "You ask that now after you screamed my name so loud in bed that the people on the street outside could hear you?"
I feel my cheeks blush pink. "I wasn't that loud."
"What?" He cranes his neck towards me. "What did you say?"
"I said…" I begin before I catch a quick glimpse of the smile that slides over his full lips. "You're teasing me."
"I can't hear you because you pierced my ear drum when you came. You should have been an opera singer."
I shake my head slightly trying desperately to control the huge grin I know is taking over my mouth. "You're hilarious, Jax."
"I am pretty funny." He nods rapidly. "Your son, who also happens to be my son, is at the sitter's house."
I glance past him to the clock on the wall. "It's almost nine, Jax. It's too late for him to be there."
"Shirley said he could stay the night." He turns back towards the pan that he's sautéing vegetables in. "I'm making you a stir-fry. You haven't eaten since this morning, have you?"
I don’t answer. He knows that when I'm busy working on a project that food is the last thing on my mind.
"Ivy, did you hear me or did you blow your own ear drum with all that noise you were making?"
"I want to go get him, Jax." I glance down at the plain white robe I'm wearing. "I'll dry my hair and put on some clothes."
"Beautiful." He grabs my elbow just as I turn to leave the kitchen. "He's already asleep. We can go get him early in the morning."
Disappointment rushes over me. When I was on my way home, I had visions of Jackson sitting on my lap while I ate dinner with Jax. I miss my little boy and now, the knowledge that I won't see him until morning washes over me. "I miss him, Jax. I was counting on seeing him tonight."
"What time were you planning on going to the store in the morning?"
My eyes float over his expression. It's not a question that is meant to sound confrontational, yet given the push and pull that has been born out of my need to keep up with the growing demand for my jewelry, I can't help but absorb it as such. "I need to be there early," I answer honestly. "I have an order for a bridal gift that has to be done tomorrow afternoon."
His gaze settles past my shoulder. "I thought we could have breakfast as a family."
I want to toss back that we could have had dinner as a family tonight if he wouldn't have taken it upon himself to arrange overnight care for Jackson. Being petty won't help anything. "I want to see him. Breakfast all together sounds like heaven."
His face brightens. "It's going to mean a lot to him, Ivy."
"I know," I acquiesce knowing that my son misses me just as much as I miss him. "It means a lot to me too."
"I'm pretty sure I knocked you up."
Jackson teeters on my lap as I jar my head to the right to stare at Jax. "What did you just say to me?"
"You're pregnant, aren't you?" He motions towards the two eggs, bacon and toast that are still sitting untouched on my plate. "You didn't eat when you were pregnant with Jackson either."
My hands involuntarily jump to cover my son's ears. "What are you doing, Jax? Why talk about this in front of him?"
He reaches to grab my hands, cupping them in his palms. "He doesn't understand us, Ivy. He's a year- and- a-half."
Jax may be right but the idea of talking about anything even remotely related to having another baby isn't what I want to be doing right now. I want to focus on the baby I already have and the fact that I need to be leaving him again within the next ten minutes if I have any chance of getting those bridal pieces finished on time. The sitter only dropped him off twenty minutes ago and I already have one foot out the door. "We should talk about this later."
"You're losing weight again."
"I'm not," I counter. I have no idea if I am or not. I can't remember the last time I got on the scale and I can't say that I've noticed my clothes fitting any differently. "I weigh the same as I did after Jackson was born."
"You have that look about you." He munches on a piece of overcooked bacon. It had been my one and only job in the kitchen this morning, but when Jax grabbed me into a deep kiss, the bacon had burnt to a crisp. He was still intent on eating it though to prove to me that I wasn't the worst cook he'd ever met.
I don't have any look about me other than being exhausted and frustrated. "I'm not pregnant, Jax."
"You might be." He skims his hand over Jackson's blond hair. "I hope it's a little girl."
Since Jackson was born, Jax has brought up the idea of another child on an almost weekly basis. It's not that I don't want another baby. I long for it but not right now. Right now my life is filled with as much as I can reasonably handle. Truth be told, most of the time, I don't feel as though I'm handling it all that well. I'm stretching myself too thin as it is. I want to become a mother again when I know I can work part-time and still maintain the integrity of my business. It's my mother's legacy.
"Do you want a boy or a girl, beautiful?"
My eyes float over his handsome face. I have to tell him. I have to say the same thing I've been saying to him every month for the past year. "I'm not pregnant, Jax. I'm not."
"How can you be sure?"
Giving my very intelligent husband a lesson in female anatomy is going to take up too much of my time. I have to be bold and direct. "I just finished my period."
He can't mask the disappointment that flashes over his eyes. "You didn't tell me."
I can't argue that point. I've fallen into the habit of telling Jax right away when I start my period. I had forgotten this month given everything that was going on. "I'm sorry. I've been so busy."
Not one single word leaves his lips as he scoops our son into his arms, stands and walks into the kitchen in silence.
"How did you know it was the right time to have Olivia?" I glance across the display case at Sadie. "Is that too personal of a question?"
She pulls her gaze from the silver earrings she's been studying since she walked into my shop a few minutes ago. I'd been busy with a customer, and after being told by one of the sales staff that Sadie was waiting for me, I'd hurried through my appointment. Our friendship was still just in the blossoming phase and spending time with her was helping me wade through the maze that is motherhood and work.
"I'm…I'm sorry, Sadie." I shake my head as I look down to try and cover my embarrassment. "You don't need to answer that."
"We're friends, Ivy." She skates her hand over mine. "I'm not uncomfortable answering anything you ask me."
The words mean more than she can know. I first met Sadie Lockwood when she walked into my store to purchase a birthday gift for her mother. I had no idea at the time the connection that she held to Jax's family. Sadie had received the heart of Jax's cousin, Coral. Coral was killed in a car accident when she was a teenager and now, years later, Sadie and Jax's close friend, Hunter Reynolds, are building a beautiful life together. I've spent more time with Sadie the past few months and our relationship has gone from the wives of two men who are close friends, to a budding friendship between the two of us. I need it. After being betrayed by my best friend, Liz, I've been wary of getting close to anyone other than Jax.
"Hunter and I just knew that we wanted to have a baby together."
"Was part of it wanting to give Cory a sibling?" I ask out of pure curiosity. Sadie's stepson Cory is an amazing older brother. I've seen it with my own two eyes when she's brought him and Olivia into the store to visit me.
"We never had a discussion about it," she pauses as she takes a deep breath. "It's not like the two of us sat down and decided that we'd have a baby so Cory would have a brother or sister. It was just something we both understood was important for all of us. Hunter loves kids as much as I do. We're going to try for another one in a couple of years."
Her exuberance isn’t lost on me. The expression on her face can't hide how much she cares for her children. "Jax wants us to have another baby too."
"Jax does?" She raises a perfectly shaped dark brow. "You don't want to have another baby?"
I have to tread lightly. I know how close Sadie and Hunter are and we're not quite at the point in our friendship where I can ask her to keep secrets from her husband. If I tell her I want to wait another year or two to give Jackson a sibling, I don't doubt that Jax will get wind of it by tonight.
"Do you want Jackson to be an only child?" She taps her hand over mine to grab my attention.
"No." I pop a grin onto my face. "I want another baby too."
"That might be hard with all the travel Jax has coming up," she continues. "When Hunter told me about the new restaurant that he's opening with Jax, I had visions of him being gone all the time again."
My hand darts to my chin. I'm actually afraid that my mouth is hanging wide open. Thankfully, it's not. I don't respond because I have no idea what the hell she's talking about.
"I know how selfish that sounds, Ivy." She blinks slowly. "It's just right now I've overloaded with the kids, my new job and school. I can't handle my husband being gone that much."
I feel like I've been thrown into the middle of a pool of confusion with no life preserver in sight. I'm drowning in the murky details. I can't be that wife who doesn't know what's going on in her husband's life. I am, obviously, but I'm not about to let Sadie see that I am.
"Everything works out the way it's supposed to, right?" she offers. "Listen, I need to run. Maybe we can do lunch next week."
"Lunch next week," I repeat back. "Sure."
"Did the store burn to the ground?" His head pops up from his computer screen.
"What?" I bark the question out at him. "Why would you say that?"
He glances at the window of our home office. "I see daylight. I never see you when it's still light outside."
He's trying to be funny. I can tell from the sly grin on his handsome face. My husband's sense of humor darts to the surface when he's trying to conceal his true feelings about difficult things. The incessant and almost, non-stop jokes about my work schedule are a mask for his anger and resentment.
"Sadie came by the store earlier," I say while trying to sound as neutral as I can. I don't doubt that Sadie was telling me the truth but I want to give Jax the benefit of the doubt. In this case, I'm hopeful that the travel that she was talking about is confined to a day trip to somewhere upstate.
"How's Sadie?" he asks back out of necessity. I can tell he's not invested in the answer. The mere fact that he's once again typing something on his laptop's keyboard is evidence of that.
"She's fine," I answer calmly. "She brought up something that I want to talk to you about."
"What's that?" He tosses back with his eyes still glued intently to his computer's screen. "Is it about getting together with them for dinner? I told Hunter that you were too busy right now."
It's an ironic statement coming from the lips of a man who apparently has been planning the launch of an entirely new career behind my back. "It's about your new restaurant."
His index finger jumps to his lip. I watch in silence as he rubs it slowly over the skin below his nose. "My what?"
My intention wasn't to blurt it out like that. I wanted to lead up to it, but I'm irked that he hasn't pulled his attention away from his computer long enough to address me. "Sadie told me that you're partnering up with Hunter to launch a new restaurant."
"Sadie said more than she should have." I catch the words as they fly out quickly, under his breath. "I asked her not to say anything."
The admission stings more than it should. The knowledge that he asked his best friend's wife to harbor a secret about his investment in a new venture bites into me. Jax and I have tried desperately hard to not hide anything from one another. In the beginning of our relationship, secrets had almost pulled us apart. Now that we're married and raising a child together, honesty is the basis for the foundation we're growing together.
"The details are still being worked out, beautiful."
I look up to see him staring right at me. I see the flash of regret beneath his expression before it disappears under a smile.
"Where is the restaurant, Jax?" It's a question that has been pulling at me since Sadie mentioned that Jax would need to travel. It's the worst possible time for him to be away, given the unexpected interest in my jewelry. I've come to depend on Jax to take on the task of taking care of our son. Now, that may all change.
"It's in Chicago." He glances past me to the open doorway and I briefly wonder if he's going to get up and walk out mid-conversation. It wouldn't be the first time it's happened. "It's a new Axel location."
"I had no idea you were even considering getting involved with something like that," I say the words softly not wanting all of the conflicting emotions I'm feeling to seep into them. I feel as though I'm standing outside the perimeter of a circle that Jax has drawn. I feel, for the first time since I said my wedding vows, like my husband is pushing me into that position.
"I told you I was weighing a few options in terms of investing." They're the calculated words of the businessman I first met. Back then, Jax was entirely too intent on getting revenge for his late father. His target, at the time, was my former fiancé. I had watched Jax take on the task of getting back the company that once belonged to his family. I had gotten caught up into the middle of that firestorm and it almost destroyed my love for Jax.
I want to bring up the fact that the only business dealings I've heard of recently are the failed ones with Alec Hughes. That's a sore spot that I'm not interested in poking at right now though. I shift back and forth on my feet, the heels of my black boots tapping out a rhythmic beat on the hardwood floor. "Sadie made it sound more like the deal was done."
"Beautiful, " he starts before he sighs deeply. "You've been busy. I didn't want to throw this on you on top of all of that."
"Throw it on me?" I bite the question out through clenched teeth. "This is our life, Jax. We're supposed to talk about things like this."
He pushes his hands against the desk before pulling his large frame from the office chair. "I need this, Ivy. I miss being out there."
"Out where?" I gesture towards the window. "Out in the business world?"
He scrubs the back of his neck with his left hand. "I miss it. I need it."
"What about Jackson?" I ask the one question that has fueled the entire conversation. My son is the reason I raced out of the store after Sadie left. "I didn't realize you were considering something that would take you away from us overnight."
"We'll figure it out." He tilts his chin towards me. "We'll balance out our schedules and work out something with the sitter."
"Shirley?" I throw her name at Jax. "We can't ask her to do more than she's already doing."
"We'll hire a nanny." His brow cocks. "We'll make it work because we need to."
I cover my face with my hands to try and regain my composure. "I don't want a nanny, Jax. I want us to raise our son."
"I've taken care of him for the last year and a half." He crosses his arms over his chest. "I'm going back to work."
The finality of his words jars me into the reality of the moment. "So that's it? We're not going to sit down and discuss this?"
"You have your career." He motions towards the bracelet on my wrist. "I'm restarting mine. There's nothing to discuss."
I stand in silence as he brushes past me and walks through the door and into the hallway.
"Jax is in Chicago." I give my father an enormous hug. "It's just going to be you, me and Jackson."
"Me and my two favorite people? I'm the luckiest man in the world." My father reaches down to scoop Jackson into his arms. "Grandpa brought you a present."
Jackson smiles as he runs his small hand over my father's bristled chin.
"How long are you staying?" I motion towards my father's suitcase. "I'll get that."
He nods before he places a light kiss on Jackson's cheek. "He looks more and more like you every time I see him, princess."
The nickname pulls at my heart. I've been bottling up my emotions for the past week since Jax laid down the gauntlet regarding his career. I've tried to bring the subject up, to no avail, almost every night since he told me he was diving back into the business world. When he announced two days ago that he was taking a trip to Chicago to firm up the details of his deal with Hunter, I had only nodded in response. He left yesterday with a quick kiss on my lips before he walked out of the apartment.
"I was surprised when you called yesterday to say you were coming." It's not a question. I know that my father could hear the strain in my voice when I spoke to him three days ago. I was overwhelmed with everything and even though I hadn't confided directly in him, he knew. He instinctively knew that I needed him and he had wasted little time getting on a train in Boston to come to New York.
He wraps his arms tighter around Jackson, pulling his head into his shoulder. "I'm going to spend the afternoon playing with my grandson and then tonight, I'm going to have a heart-to-heart with my little girl."
I smile as a tear flows down my cheek. "I need that, dad."
"I know, Ivy." He nudges me with his shoulder. "Your old dad can feel it."
"It's his pride." My father takes another sip of his coffee. "That's all it is. It's Jax's male pride kicking in."
If only it were that simple. My father hasn't spent that much time with Jax since we married so I can't fault him for not truly understanding my husband's motivations. Jax is proud. I've been a witness to that every day since I met him but I also watched as he took on the role of being Jackson's primary caregiver. I watched him change diapers, and do laundry and read bedtime stories even when our son was so young that he couldn't comprehend what was going on. Jax loves being a dad. I don't doubt that.
"I don't know." I grasp my coffee mug tightly in my palms as I rest the rim against my lips. "It seemed to come out of the blue, dad."
"That's what you think." He taps his finger on my forehead. "I see it differently."
I'm tempted to end the conversation right here. I would never accuse my father of being jaded when it comes to Jax. Their relationship may not have been ideal to begin with, but they've overcome most of their differences. They get along well whenever we travel to Boston to see my dad or when he comes to stay with us. I can't help but still feel there's a lingering sense of doubt behind my father's eyes. I've always assumed that was born from his belief that no one would ever been good enough for me, but now I'm beginning to wonder whether he's able to see a part of Jax that I can't recognize because I love him so deeply.
"How so?" With those two words I open myself up to something I'm not sure I'm ready to hear.
"Your career has taken off." He pats his hand on my knee. "I saw you on television, Ivy. I couldn't be prouder of you."
The words hold a lot more meaning than he likely realizes. Even though my father has never confessed it directly to me, I've always sensed that he resented me strictly based on the tragic fact that my mother died shortly after giving birth to me. We've never spoke of it but since I've become a mother, his attitude towards me has softened greatly. I see more acceptance and love when I look at him now.
I bite my lip to ward off the approaching tears. "I want you to be proud of me, dad."
"I am." He leans forward on the couch to scoop my hand into his. "I always knew you'd be a champ at anything you took on."
I stare into his face as I absorb the words. He's aged since I saw him a few months ago. His deep green eyes are now sunken in and his skin has taken on a dull ashen tinge. When I asked him if he was feeling okay at the train station I was gifted with an offhanded response about worrying too much about him. I am worried. "You're sure you're okay, dad?"
"The train ride did me in." He reaches forward to rest his coffee mug on the wooden table. "I'll turn in soon but I want to talk about Jax first."
"We can talk about it tomorrow," I offer as much to give me some time to gather my thoughts about my marriage as to give my father a chance to catch up on his sleep.
"We're talking about it now."
I don't argue the point. I know better than to try and send my father to his room. "It feels like he's changed so much the last few weeks."
"Is there more to it than him taking on that job?" My father cocks a brow. "Is there something you haven't told me?"
There's a lot I haven't told him simply because he's my father. I'm not going to dive into the intimate details of my strained relationship with Jax. My father doesn't need to carry the burden of that worry on his shoulders along with everything else. "Jax wants us to have another baby."
"Wait." His hand darts into the air between us. "You're telling me that he wants another baby now?"
"Now isn't soon enough," I say under my breath. "Until a couple of weeks ago, it's all he talked about."
"How would that work?"
I raise both my brows before I burst out laughing.
"No." His face flushes red as he shakes his head vigorously from side-to-side. "I'm wondering how you two are going to balance a new little one, Jackson and both your careers?"
It's a valid question and one I have no reasonable answer to. "We can't do it, dad. Something has to give if we have another baby."
"Do you think that something has to be your career, princess?"
I hadn't considered the thought. "I'm not ready for another baby right now. Jax is, but I'm not."
"Does he know that you feel that way?" he asks as he reaches to grab his coffee mug. "Have you told Jax you're not ready?"
"I have." I rest my own mug on my thigh as I run my finger over the handle. "I told him it was too soon."
"You know before you mother died she wanted to start her own jewelry business too." His gaze drops to his lap. "I didn't support it. I wanted her to focus on raising your sister and you."
I've heard the stories before. My father has thrown scattered details of my mother's lost dreams into the conversations we've had over the years. Knowing that she was never able to share her design gift with the world was one of the main reasons I'm so intent on making Whispers of Grace, my own jewelry company, a success. She's the inspiration behind everything I do.
"Things were different then," I offer because I can still see the guilt that shrouds his expression when he talks about her. "Life was different."
"Maybe so," he says quietly. "All I know is that I took something away from her I can't ever replace."
"I don't want to take anything away from Jax." I mean the words. Stealing any part of his identity or what he needs from him isn't something I can do. I won't suffocate him within our marriage. I want him to have a life that fulfills him, just as much as I want one that fulfills me.
"Jax has been a great dad since Jackson was born." My father tilts his chin towards the hallway in the direction of Jackson's room. "He's devoted his life to that little boy."
He has. I've been in awe of Jax's dedication to Jackson. "I can't argue with that. Jax is an amazing father."
"Being a dad fills a big place in here." He pats his hand over his blue dress shirt. "Maybe Jax has more room to fill."
"That why he wants another baby?"
"Another baby would be a gift for all of you." A small grin pulls at the corners of his mouth. "A job that stimulates him and makes him feel useful might be what he needs to fill the empty space that's just inside of him."
"Maybe," I say even though I'm not convinced. "I still feel like it came out of nowhere."
"Jax is a proud man." My dad uncrosses his legs and edges himself to the end of the couch. "His wife is a huge success. I think he just wants to feel some of that himself again."
"You might be right."
"I bet I am." He stands before leaning forward to brush his lips across my forehead. "Bedtime for me, princess."
"Everything in Chicago is falling into place." Jax tips his chin towards my father. "You're going to have to come down for the restaurant opening."
"You tell me where and when and I'll be there for you, son." My father reaches to grab Jax's shoulder.
I watch Jax's expression soften before he darts his gaze down. The audible sound of him swallowing is the only noise in the room. He's touched. It's not something that happens to him often but I recognize the signs immediately. My father's approval means as much to Jax as it does to me.
"My dad is going to take Jackson for the day." I motion towards my father's glass. "Do you want more orange juice?"
"I'm plum full, princess." He taps his hand over his slim belly. "Your husband sure knows how to cook."
"He does." I smile at Jax. "I had no idea he would be here to cook us both breakfast. It's such a nice surprise."
It's a huge understatement. When Jax slid his nude body into bed with me at two this morning, I thought I was caught in the middle of a dream. When I felt him wrap his arms around me while he whispered that he couldn't bear the thought of another night away from me, it made me melt inside. I'd quickly fallen into a deep sleep listening to the comforting beat of his heart.
"Are you sure you can handle Jackson for the entire day?" Jax takes another mouthful of food.
"I can run circles around that boy," my dad jokes. "We're going to have a great time together."
"You can call me anytime today if you want a break." Jax pulls his smartphone out of the pocket of his black pants. "I'll come rescue you."
"We're going to meet Ivy for lunch at one." My father dips his chin toward Jax's phone. "Why don't you check your schedule and see if you can join us."
"I don't have to check." Jax rests the phone on the table. "I wouldn’t miss that lunch for anything."
Even though I know I should already be at work, with my head buried in a project, I can't move from this spot. The three most important men in my life are all in the same room and I never want this moment to end.
"I thought we could talk before you dad and the big guy get here." Jax presses my palm into his lips. "There are things I need to tell you."
The words sound much more ominous than his expression conveys. I stare into his eyes. They've always given me a glimpse into what is going on inside of him. I can see that something is weighing on him. I saw it this morning when he was picking at the pancakes he made for my father, Jackson and I.
"Bad things?" I ask even though I don't want to know the answer. "Just tell me."
He motions for me to take a seat behind my design table as he pulls a wooden chair across the floor. "Sit down, Ivy. Please sit."
I give in to the plea mainly because I can feel my knees going weak. "You're scaring me."
He runs both of his hands over his face. He hasn't shaved since he left New York a few days ago. The growth of beard on his face makes him that much more devastatingly handsome. "I never want to scare you."
I want to reach out and circle my arms around his neck. I want to pull him into a deep embrace and make everything that he's about to tell me wash away. I want our lives to be perfect but I know that's impossible. "You are."
"Do you remember when we met?"
I smile at the gentle reminder of the night in the gallery when I turned around to see Jax's face. I was there with my best friend at the time. She was trying to get noticed by Jax's brother, Brighton. It was his art show. "At Brighton's show."
"Ivy." He rests both his hands on my knees, pulling at the hem of my red dress. "You were so breathtaking. I couldn't believe any person on this earth could be that beautiful."
I feel tears approaching but I don't want to ward them off. I want to revel in the words. I want to know that he still sees me that way. "You were so handsome," I offer because it's the truth.
"Then we got married and had Jackson." He traces a path over my exposed knee with his thumb. "You're even more beautiful now that you're a mom."
I rub my hand over my neck. He can't know how deeply those words touch me. Being a mom has awakened something within me. My little boy is everything to me. "I love being a mom."
"I love being a dad." A small grin pulls at the corner of his mouth. "You know I want to be a dad again."
"I know." I nod slowly. "I want another baby too. I hope you know that I do. I just don't want…"
"I know." He leans forward to rest his forehead against mine. "I know that you want to wait awhile. I know."
"You want a baby now." It's a declaration. I don't have to ask the question because there's no uncertainty. Jax has made it clear to me that being a dad again is on the top of his to-do list.
"I want my wife to be happy."
They're not the words I expected him to say. I had readied myself for an onslaught of reasons why waiting for another child wasn't beneficial. I thought Jax would launch into a speech about how the timing was perfect for another baby.
"Your career is on fire, beautiful." He reaches to run his index finger over my chin. "I told everyone I met in Chicago about my wife and her jewelry."
"I've worked really hard to get to this place, Jax." I don’t need to expand on that. He's watched me work tirelessly to get my pieces noticed. He knows how vitally important it is to me that I grow my business.
"You're the hardest working person I know."
"I'm not going to be this busy forever." I reach to cup his cheek in my palm. "I have to find other designers who share my vision and I need to hire more sales staff."
"You're going to do all of that." He presses his hand over mine. "You're going to do anything you set your mind to."
"What about you?" I stare into his deep brown eyes. "Are you doing what you want to do?"
"The restaurant?" He cocks both brows.
I nod. "Are you enjoying that?"
"I'm helping Hunter and that feels good." He stops to pull in a heavy breath. "It feels great to be working alongside him."
It's not a direct answer to my question but it's a start. "I wish you would have told me about it before Sadie did."
He closes his eyes briefly. "Hunter's initial investor pulled out and when the deal with Alec fell through, it all fit into place. I had the money. Hunter needed it and we get to work together."
"When were you going to tell me, Jax?" I push because I've needed the answer to the question since I first heard about the restaurant.
He stops to study my face. "That night, Ivy. I swear that I was going to tell you the night Sadie brought it up."
I can't tell if the answer is meant to appease me or not. "Hunter had already told her. I felt out of the loop not knowing about it."
"You've always told me that you want me to find something that will help me feel fulfilled." He traces his lips over my palm. "You make me feel fulfilled, beautiful. The restaurant is just a temporary distraction."
"A temporary distraction?"
"I'm helping with the initial set up and then Hunter's on his own." He pulls his chair closer to me. "Once the grand opening happens I'm back to being Ivy's husband full-time."
I pull back from the deep, lush kiss to study his face. He looks so at peace. "You're saying that once you open the restaurant, you won't need to travel to Chicago anymore?"
"No," he whispers into the still air between us. "I'm saying that once the restaurant opens, Hunter is running it and the only work I have to do is to enjoy my share of the profits."
"Jax." I lean forward to kiss him softly again. "Jax, I want to say something."
"Is it something about me locking the door to your studio so I can pull that dress off of your beautiful body?"
I smile at the suggestion. "My dad will be here with Jackson soon. We can't do that."
"We have time." He doesn't steal his gaze away from me. "I can eat you. I'll put you up on your design table, I'll get on my knees and I'll eat you until you come."
My sex aches at the suggestion. Last night I wanted to slide my body over his and take his hard cock between my lips but we'd both fallen asleep so quickly. "We can't."
"We can, beautiful." His hand races a path up my thigh. "You're not wearing any panties, are you?"
I laugh loudly. I pull my dress up to reveal my pink lace panties. "I am so. See."
"It works every time." He leans forward until his lips are brushing over my neck. "You want it as badly as I do. You can't even keep yourself covered."
"You're bad." I whisper into his ear. "If you weren't so bad, I'd suck your cock right here."
His breath stops as his shoulders stiffen. "I heard something about my big cock."
I push my lips together to stifle a giggle. "I didn't say it was big."
"You don't have to say it, Ivy." I feel his smile as he breathes the words into the skin on my neck. "I feel it when I'm inside of you and you moan because it fills you so completely."
The small groan that involuntarily escapes my lips now only proves his point. "Jax, please."
"I want you so much." His hands are on my thighs. "Let me have you now, Ivy."
I only have to nod my head slightly before he's on his feet. In one fluid motion, he's across the studio. I hear the lock of the door before I he turns around to face me.
"Take off your panties or I'll rip them off."
He's not joking. I've learned, since we've been together, that Jax Walker is not a patient man when he wants my body. He doesn’t let any lingerie stand in his way. I actually buy extra panties now just because I know that I'm bound to lose a pair or two a month when his desires can't be tamed.
I slide the panties slowly off my body before I rest my elbows on the edge of my design table. "Fuck me like this, Jax. I'm ready."
"You can't be ready." He's behind me now. I hear the unmistakable sound of his zipper lowering. "I need to eat you first."
He's on his knees before I have time to respond. I moan at the first sensation of his tongue against my moist folds. I almost cry out when I feel his thumb circle over my clit.
"You're so wet, beautiful."
I lower my head so I can push my mouth into my hand. I can't scream here. The customers and staff that are downstairs in my store will hear my heated cries. I have to quell what I'm feeling even though it's virtually impossible when I'm this close to an orgasm.
"Lick my clit, Jax," I whisper. "Please, I'm so close."
He slides his tongue over my pussy until it settles on my swollen center. "You taste so good. I could eat you all day."
The words are enough to push me even closer to the edge. I jerk my hips back, wanting even more contact with his mouth. "Do it, Jax."
"My greedy wife. My greedy wife wants to come." He sucks my clit between his lips as the words leave his tongue.
I arch my back as I feel the heat of the orgasm barreling down on me. I know it won't take much to push me over the edge. I need this. I need to feel this.
He moans deeply as my knees shake. "Come. Come for me."
I try to reach back to grab hold of his head but it's fruitless. I pull my hands to my mouth as I shake from the sheer depth of the pleasure he's giving me. "Jax," I call his name out softly as I fall into the middle of an intense climax.
I fall forward as I feel my legs quake beneath me. Jax is moving. I feel his hands race up my sides. He's pushing on my back, pulling on my hips and with a deep, low and primal grunt; his cock is completely inside of me.
"I love fucking you." His voice is quiet. "Christ, Ivy, this is too good."
I push back into him wanting his cock to slide even deeper than it already is. "Fuck me, Jax. Hard."
"You love it," he growls. "You love how it feels."
I whimper. He's right. I don't have to tell him that. He can feel it just by the way my body is rocking into his. I'm so wet. I'm on the verge of coming again already.
He ups the tempo. The rhythmic sound of the table being pushed slightly forward with each thrust is mixed with our moans. He's giving in to the pleasure. I'm giving in. I can't hold back anything.
"I'm going to come so hard." He pulls slightly on my hair. "I'm going to come so fucking hard."
I only nod into my hands as I lose myself in the moment, in the feelings, and in the pleasure only this man can give to me.
"I need you to sit down here." He points to one of the chairs next to the consultation table in the store. "Please, beautiful, just sit here for me."
I look at the chair. It's made of soft, white leather. Jax chose the chairs with my father when they were designing this space for me. They both know me so well. I couldn't have imagined a more perfect store and studio. "I can't, Jax."
His eyes dart from my face to the entrance of the store. "I think you should sit."
It's not that he's trying to be controlling. At the very least, he's not trying to control me. He's as panicked as I am. After we'd made love in the studio, he'd helped me clean up before kissing me for what felt like endless moments. When I had finally glanced down at my phone I realized it was after two. My father was over an hour late for our lunch date.
I scroll my finger over my phone again before I call my father's number. I hold my breath. It's the third time I've called in the past fifteen minutes. With each passing ring, my anxiety only increases. "He's not answering, Jax."
He runs his hand through his now messy brown hair. "Did he tell you where he was taking the baby?"
I push back to this morning and my father's decision to keep Jackson with him instead of allowing me to take him to the sitter's apartment. "He said something about one of the museums and I told him Jackson wouldn't like that."
"Which museum?" He takes a step towards me. "Try and remember."
"I don't think he said which one, Jax." I reach to grab his hand. "I'm thinking but I don't remember him saying which one."
He brings my hand to his lips. "I need to make some calls. I'll send someone to each museum to look for them."
"I can go look." I move to walk towards the door. "I can go to the MoMa."
"Your father doesn't seem like a MoMA guy to me, Ivy."
He's right. The idea of my father taking Jackson to the Museum of Modern Art doesn't make much sense. My father has never understood any form of modern art other than the drawings that my sister and I created for him in school.
"My sister," I mutter the words beneath my breath before I pull my finger over my phone's screen again.
"I need to make some calls," Jax mouths to me.
I nod in understanding as I bring my phone to my ear after pulling up my sister's home number.
"Daddy took Jackson for the day," I spit the words into the phone the minute she picks up. "I can't find them."
"Do you have a recent picture of the boy?" The police officer tries to whisper the words to Jax but in the stillness of my now closed store, I can hear every syllable.
Jax pulls his phone from the pocket of his pants. "I took this one today when I woke him up."
The crack in his voice brings more tears to my eyes. It's after six now. There's no more racing from one museum or park to another in an effort to locate my father and Jackson. They're nowhere to be found. Jax's brother, Brighton, has been at our apartment since shortly after three waiting for them to come home, but he's still there alone. Hunter is here with us now and judging by the look on his face, his words of encouragement about my father taking the wrong subway or becoming disoriented, are just that, empty words of hope. He's pacing back and forth.
"I have one," I offer as I look down at my phone and the face of my beautiful little boy. "This is my favorite one."
"Let me see, Ivy." Hunter is crouching in front of me now. "Can I see it?"
I hold tightly to the phone as I turn the screen towards him. "I took it a few weeks ago. It was the last time I took him to the park."
He nods slowly as he tries to pull a grin over his lips. "He looks like he had a lot of fun."
"He was laughing," I say quietly. "I was going to take him again but I've been so busy."
"You'll take him tomorrow," he offers with no conviction in his tone. "You and Jax can take him together."
I pull my gaze past Hunter's face to Jax. He's not looking at me. His eyes are glued to the door of the store and the people passing by on the dimly lit sidewalk.
"Sadie is going to pick Layla up at the airport." Hunter taps his hand on my hand. "I called Layla to tell her to look for Sadie."
I turn back to look at him. "Layla is coming?"
His eyes dart back to look at Jax before settling back on me. "She's your sister. She's very worried too."
I had handed the phone to Jax after Layla told me that she hadn't heard anything from my father since he left Boston to come to New York. She was concerned. I could hear it in her voice and when she started to ask me questions about how I could let him take Jackson out in a city that he wasn't familiar with, I couldn't handle it.
"When will she be here?" I pat his watch. "Is it soon?"
"Very soon," he assures me. "Sadie can bring her to your apartment. I can take you there now."
I shake my head, panic rushing through me. "No. Daddy said he would bring Jackson here. I can't leave here."
"Ivy." Jax's voice is hovering in the space above me. "Beautiful. Please go with Hunter. I'll stay here to wait."
"I can't leave here," I repeat. "Jackson will be hungry. He hasn't had lunch yet."
Hunter stands and I listen intently as he whispers something to Jax.
"Why isn't he looking for Jackson?" I pull on the leg of Jax's pants. "Why is that policeman just standing there?"
"The police have issued an Amber Alert, beautiful." I hear the resignation woven into each word as he slowly says it. "The entire city is looking for our boy."
"The hospital?" I cling tightly to Jax's hand as he leads me out of the door of the store and into the car waiting by the curb. "What happened? Is he hurt, Jax?"
"He's fine." He kisses my forehead as he tells Leonard, his driver, to get us to the hospital as quickly as possible. "He's cold and hungry, but he's fine."
I finally let out a deep sigh of relief. Not more than a few moments had passed after Jax told me about the Amber Alert and the policeman got a call that my father and Jackson had been located. They were brought into the ER by ambulance. "What about my dad?"
Jax's body stiffens as he runs his hand across my hair. "We can find out once we're there."
I bolt upright, as a sudden realization floods me. "They're at the hospital. Why are they there?"
"I don't know much." He turns so he's facing me directly now. "All I do know is that Jackson is fine."
I'm buoyed by the words but they don't negate the strong sense of worry that is overwhelming me. "Something happened to my dad."
"We'll be there right away." He pulls me closer again as the car moves through the congested streets of Manhattan. "Whatever it is, we'll deal with it together."
"Are you his next of kin?" The doctor repeats the question for the second time as I lean back into Jax's strong chest.
"Please." I finally find my voice again. "Don't tell me he's gone. Please don't say that."
"No." He reaches out his hand to touch my shoulder. "I'm sorry. Your father had a heart attack, Mrs. Walker. He needs a procedure to open the blocked artery in his heart. We need your permission to do that."
I stare at his nametag. "Dr. Foster?"
"It's Ben." He reaches to cup my hand in his. "Please call me Ben."
"Ben," I repeat back. "Please do whatever you can to help my father."
"He's been moved to the cardiac ward on the third floor." He nods towards the elevator. "If you can sign the forms now, they'll begin the procedure immediately. Time is of the essence."
"Yes," I offer without thought. "We just came from seeing our son. The nurse said he'll be fine. Is that true?"
When Jax and I had raced into the examination room, Jackson had his arms wrapped tightly around the neck of a beautiful nurse. The smile on his face was all Jax and I needed to see to know that he'd be just fine. The nurse, named Vanessa, had assured us that Jackson was completely fine.
"Nurse Meyer explained what happened?" Ben's eyes dart from my face back to Jax's. "She explained about the park?"
I nod. After we had hugged Jackson for what felt like an hour, Vanessa had pulled us aside to explain that Jackson was found sitting on the grass in the park stroking my father's hair. My father was unconscious at the time, lying flat on his back with his hands crossed over his chest. The paramedics didn't know how long they had been there like that but my father's wallet and phone were gone when they brought them both into the hospital.
"Judging by your father's condition I don’t believe he was unconscious for long before the paramedics were called," Ben continues. "They were brought in with a backpack. It's at the front desk."
I pull in a heavy breath. "I'd like to sign those forms now. I want my dad to be okay."
"I'm guessing I'll never get to babysit my grandson again." My dad shuffles his feet slowly across the faded tile floor of the hospital's hallway. "I blew that."
I laugh loudly. It's the first time I've felt any real joy in days. "Jackson is fine. You're fine. I think you can handle him once you're feeling strong again."
"Do you think Jax can bring him down for a visit tomorrow?" His eyebrow pops up. "I want to give him a hug."
"You can give him a hug tomorrow," I offer trying to stifle a smile. I know I'm not doing a very good job.
"Why are you so giddy?" My father stops mid-step and I almost trip over myself.
"You need to warn me if you're going to stop like that." I giggle as I adjust my heel back into my shoe. "I'm supposed to calmly walk you up and down the hallway twice. No tripping allowed, dad."
He turns slowly to face me. "You're spending too much time here, Ivy. I know you have a store to run."
I stare at his face. The color has come back into his cheeks and he looks more rested than he has in months. His surgery was only three days ago, but the change has been almost instant. "I have a father to love."
His bottom lips quivers as his eyes fill with tears. "I let you down, princess. Someone could have taken our little guy away from me at the park."
"He's fine, dad." I pull my arm around his waist. "Jackson is fine and you're going to be fine. We aren't going to think about what ifs."
"Your sister told me that you sent her down to the store." He starts walking forward again at a slow pace. "You know that meant a lot to her."
When Layla had arrived at the hospital, we'd clung desperately to each other. Even though she's my older sister, our relationship has never been close. It's been cordial but closeness has always escaped us. The other night, we sat together into the wee hours of the morning, reminiscing about our childhood, talking about our children and sharing our feelings. Those few hours in the quiet of the cardiac ward's waiting room with cold coffee in paper cups nestled in our hands, we finally discovered our bond.
"Layla showed me a bracelet she made, dad." I hold up my wrist to display the beaded creation my sister had been wearing when she arrived at the hospital. "Did you know that she did this in her spare time?"
"I know that she looks up to you."
He can't fully comprehend how deeply those simple words move me. My sister had gone to college and graduated with a prestigious business degree. She had worked for an Internet start-up before putting it all on hold to become a full-time mom. Her life's dreams had changed over the years but her passion for creating jewelry had never disappeared.
"She knows that she's not as talented as you, Ivy." He stops again with a soft touch to my elbow to slow me down. "She knows that you got that gift from your mom."
"Layla is going to work with me." I reach up to adjust the front of his hospital gown.
"She's going to design jewelry?" There's no masking the surprise in his voice.
"No." I chuckle softly. "I asked her but she didn't want any part of that. She said she'll stick to making these bracelets for her kids and for me."
"What then?" He pushes my hair back behind my shoulders. "What's she going to do for you?"
"She's going to help me find a store manager and some new staff to help out." I can hear the sense of relief in my own voice. "She's also going to handle looking for new designers to help me."
"I need help, daddy," I admit. "Layla and I talked about the idea of giving some new designers a chance. They can create some pieces and I'll sell them at the store. They may even be able to help me with custom pieces."
"You're sure that's what you want?" He cocks a brow. "You're sure you want to give up that much control? I know how much that business means to you."
"I'm sure that my family means more to me than anything in this world." I lean my head onto his shoulder. "I'm sure that I want to see Jackson and Jax more."
"I like that idea." He stops to pat his hand over my hair. "I'll come to New York to visit more too."
"I've been thinking about that, dad." I reach to pull his hand into mine. "I think you should move here until you're stronger."
"Here?" His eyes dart past me to the nurse's station. "Here as in New York?"
"Here as in the same building Jax and I live in." I tap my foot onto the floor. "I know you won't live with us. I know you like your own space."
"I'm used to living alone," he agrees.
"There's an available apartment in the building. Jax says it's a good investment property."
"I can't afford to live there, princess." He covers his hand with his mouth. "I know how much apartments cost here."
"We're buying the apartment. You'll live there for free."
"No." He turns to start walking again. "I won't do that."
"Dad." I step in front of him to halt his path. "I need you to be close to me. I really need you to be close to my son. You're the only grandparent he has."
"I can stay a few months," he acquiesces. "I'll pay Jax rent every month."
I already know how Jax will respond to that idea so I say the only thing I can think of in the moment. "You can babysit in exchange for rent."
The laugh that escapes my father is all I need to know that everything is going to be just fine.
"Remind me never to invest in another restaurant, beautiful." Jax circles my belly button with his index finger.
"You've only been involved in that for six weeks, Jax." I reach to pull the sheet over my nude body but it's trapped beneath Jax. "You're tired of it already?"
"Do you know how hard it is to find a head chef?" He shakes his head slightly from left to right. "They're not easy to find."
"I thought you told me that you had an old friend from high school who was a chef?" I weave my fingers into his hair as he rests his head on my stomach. "What happened with that?"
"She didn't pass Hunter's test." He shrugs his shoulder. "She had to cook one thing for him and she messed up."
"What did she have to cook?" I ask even though I have very limited knowledge of all things culinary related.
"I have no idea." He chuckles deeply. "It sounded delicious. It didn't taste delicious."
"It's too bad it didn't work out," I say with little meaning. I'm still floating from the orgasm I just had. Jax and I had make love slowly when I got home from work. Jackson is at my dad's place for dinner. Having this time alone with my husband is just what I need to recharge after a few weeks of getting my dad settled into his new place and training the new staff my sister hired.
"I promised her the job so she's pissed," he continues. "Who knew that not all chefs are good cooks?”
"Nathan's wife is a chef," I offer. I know that my friend Nathan isn't Jax's favorite person but at the very least, he doesn't cringe every time I mention his name now. "Her name is Jessica. He says she's the best cook in the world."
"Really?" He slides his body over so he can look directly at me. "You should give me Nathan's number. Maybe she wants a job."
"They're in Boston now." I stroke his chin. "They had a baby. I doubt that they're going to want to move all the way to Chicago for your restaurant."
"Is she a head chef?"
I smile at the question. Even though he's been grumbling non-stop about the amount of work that's been involved in opening Axel Chicago, I can tell that his investment goes beyond what he's contributed financially. I know he wants to make a success of the endeavor as much for himself, as for Hunter.
"I don't know what that even means, Jax." I purse my lips together. "What's the difference between a head chef and a regular chef?"
"Money, I guess." He smiles. "Will you give me his number so I can call and find out if she's interested?"
I glance around the rumpled sheets of our bed. "I can't seem to find my phone."
"You think you're funny, don't you?" he teases. "I'm in the middle of a chef crisis, and my beautiful, naked wife is cracking jokes."
"You smiled." I point at his lush, full lips. "I saw you smile."
He pulls his tongue slowly over his bottom lip. "I didn't smile."
"You did." I nod slowly. "You won't admit it, but you know I'm funny."
"I think you're perfect." He rests his head against my bare stomach again, cupping my right breast in his large hand. "I think you're probably the most perfect person who has ever been born."
"Jackson is perfect," I say softly.
We've both clung tightly to our son since the episode a few weeks ago when he was missing. Those few hours when we were caught together in the desperate panic of not knowing where our son was had bonded us together in a completely new way. We've spoken about it since, even though whenever one of us brings it up, we both end up in each other's arms in tears. Those hours had shown me how strong my husband is. They taught me about priorities and balance. I learned that taking anything for granted is foolish and shortsighted. I was bound and determined to find a balance between being a wife and mother and running my business.
"Jackson is a genius." The smile within his words is evident. "Today he said he loves me twelve times."
I'd gotten the same beautiful words tossed out at me when I gave Jackson a bath this morning. "Love mama," he had said and I'd cried into my hands for ten minutes straight.
"I love him so much, Jax." I stroke his forehead. "He's just the right blend of the two of us."
"He is." He nods slowly. "It's like you said, he's perfect like you."
"I'm not perfect," I point out. "I've made a lot of mistakes."
"You're perfect to me." He squeezes my breast again.
I jump slightly at a bite of pain that comes with the pressure.
"I hurt you." He pushes himself up until he's resting on his elbows. "Did that hurt, Ivy?"
I rub my fingers over my nipple. "It was just a little pain."
"I didn't squeeze that hard." He tilts his head slightly to the left. "Does this hurt?"
Before I have time to shift my body, he's squeezing my left breast and I pull back from the burst of pain. "Jax," I cry out.
"Ivy." He's on his knees now. "Tell me what's going on. Why are you in pain?"
I wanted to wait to do this. I hadn't said a word to him when I walked into the apartment earlier. I'd stopped at the store on my home to buy a pregnancy test. I wanted to do it in the morning, after he'd gone off to fetch Jackson at my dad's place. I needed the quiet of a moment alone to see the results. I wasn't planning on keeping it from him but this time, I felt different. This time I hoped and wanted the same thing he did. I want there to be a baby in our arms soon. I want to see that joy on Jax's face when we bring our new child home from the hospital. I want my father to hold another grandchild in his arms. I want my family to grow and I want that now.
"Jax." I can't still the emotion in my voice. "You know how we've both been so caught up in everything since my dad's heart attack?"
"There's been a lot going on, beautiful." He shifts his body so he's right next to me now. "Are you not feeling well? Is it all the stress?"
"I'm feeling good." I smile at how understated that is. I'm feeling more content right now than I have in my entire life.
"Why are you in pain?" He tilts his chin towards my chest. "You're getting your period, aren't you?"
I stare at him as I realize that the usual disappointment that accompanies those words isn't there this month. He's as happy as I am even though he has no idea that I'm about to tell him something that may change the entire course of our lives.
"Ivy?" He reaches to touch my shoulder.
"I bought a pregnancy test." My hand darts up to his cheek. "I bought it on my way home today."
His eyes scan my face slowly as if he's searching for confirmation of the words. "A pregnancy test? You're late?"
"My last period was before my dad got to New York. It's been over two months."
"Ivy." He stares at my mouth. "Say that again."
"I think I'm pregnant. I think we're going to have a baby."
"I love you, beautiful. I love you so much." He pulls me into his chest, rests his chin on my forehead and holds me tightly.
"I don't even know why you're taking the test." He's sitting on the edge of the bed naked. "I can tell already that you're pregnant."
It's just past four in the morning. We haven't fallen asleep yet. We clung to each other for an hour after I told Jax that I think I'm pregnant. Then we'd made love before he started listing off baby names.
"You can't tell." I stomp my foot on the cold hardwood floor. "How can you tell?"
"Your tits are huge." He motions towards my chest. "Look at them."
I roll my eyes even though I know that he likely can't see my expression given the fact that I'm standing in the darkness. The only light in the room is the sliver that's escaping from the slightly ajar door of our bathroom. "They look the same as they always do."
"They're always big," he says huskily. "Right now they're huge."
I pull my hand up over my mouth to control the fit of laughter that's escaping me. "How much longer do you think I need to wait to check the results?"
"You're pregnant, beautiful." I watch as he shifts his body on the bed. "I can feel it."
"Come with me to check it." I hold out my hand, hopeful that he can see it. "Please, Jax."
Before I have time to react, he's on his feet, scooping me up into his arms. He kisses me lightly as he treads carefully across the darkened room to the bathroom. I squint as he pushes the door open with his foot.
"I can't look." I hide my face in his bare chest. "Please, Jax. You look."
He takes a heavy step forward, still holding me within his arms. I cover my eyes with my hands as I feel him lean forward. His breathing stops and for a brief moment I feel his arms quiver around me.
"Tell me," I whisper. "Tell me."
I'm greeted with nothing but silence. His breathing has stalled. His voice isn't there. I feel my chest cave in. It has to be positive. We both want it to be positive.
I slowly pull my head up, squeezing my eyes shut to try and adjust to the bright light of the room.
"Jax?" I say his name as I open my eyes slowly to look at his face. "Jax?"
He's staring at me. A serene calmness has settled over his entire face as tears stream down his cheeks. "We're having another baby, beautiful. We're having a baby."
"I knew it." My dad stands slowly from his chair to pull both Jax and me into an embrace. "I thought you looked different, princess."
The one and only trait that my father and Jax seem to share is that they both think they can tell when I'm pregnant, even though neither brought it up before today.
"It's going to be a girl." My dad says as he rests his hand on my stomach. "You're going to have a daughter who looks just like you."
"I can't tell you how much I want that," Jax interjects. "I've dreamed about that since I met you."
"I just want a healthy baby," I say to them both even though I've been searching online for tiny dresses since I realized I missed my period. "I want a beautiful, healthy baby."
"You need to tell our boy." My father gestures to where Jackson is sitting at the kitchen table eating the bowl of cereal my dad got him before we arrived. "Do you think he's going to be excited?"
"I think he's going to love being a big brother," Jax chuckles. "He can teach her all kinds of tricks."
"He can teach the new baby all kinds of tricks," I correct him. "We won't know if it's a boy or girl for a few months."
"I just realized something, princess." My dad turns to look directly at me. "I think I may need to move here permanently."
My heart stalls with the words. I've been trying to convince him to do that since he was released from the hospital. I know he loves Boston, but having him this close to me has been a true gift. I've been able to spend time with him every day. "You mean that, dad?"
"I helped your sister when she had her kids." He winks at me. "I need to help you too."
I don't hesitate as I pull him into a deep embrace. "I can't tell you how much I need this, dad. Having you here will make everything that much more perfect."
"You need someone to help control him."
"Jackson isn't that bad, dad," I begin before I stop to look at my son. "Maybe when he starts with the terrible twos he'll be harder to manage but I doubt that…"
"I wasn't talking about Jackson." My dad taps my shoulder. "I was talking about Jax."
My eyes dart up to Jax's face and the wide grin that's overtaken it. "You're as funny as your daughter. Has anyone ever told you that?"
"If I'm anything like my daughter," my dad stops to cup my face in his weathered hands. "I'm the luckiest man in the world."
"I'll give you a run for that title." Jax kisses the top of my head. "I think we're both lucky to love her."
I study my father's face before turning to look at my husband and then my son. "Life can't get much better than this but I know it's about to and I can't wait to see what's next."
One Year Later
"I told you Jacey was the perfect name for her." I smile down at her tiny face. "Don't you think it suits her to a tee?"
"I think you're a fucking genius, Ivy," he whispers as he leans down to graze his lips over her forehead. "She's a Jacey through and through."
"You shouldn’t swear in front of her, Jax." I push against him with my shoulder. "I know she can't understand it now, but you have to stop with the swearing. Jackson is going to pick it up and then Jacey will and then, well, it's just a bad idea."
"Look at you being all prim and proper." He leans back on the bed to study me. "You weren't so worried about curse words when you were coming hard last night."
I blush at the reminder. After we'd put Jackson to bed, and had put Jacey down for a nap, Jax had followed me into the bedroom. Although we'd only been intimate a handful of times since the baby arrived, each had been more amazing than the last. We were closer than ever and our bodies were now so familiar with one another. Jax is my home in every sense of the word.
"I'm glad you took a few weeks off to stay home with us." Jax traces his finger over my chin. "I love just being a family."
I love it too. Stepping away from the store to focus on my family has become my main priority. Business is booming and with the new on-site manager that I've hired, I can take time off with the reassurance of knowing that everything will be running smoothly until I return. The fact that I've hired two designers who have touched a chord with my regular customers is only fueling my business more.
"I heard you talking to Hunter on the phone about investing in something new." I hadn't wanted to bring it up until Jax did but my curiosity is getting the better of me. "Is it another restaurant?"
"It is." He looks me directly in the eye. "I told him I'd have my advisor look it over but I'd need to be a silent partner this time. I'm going to focus on just us for the next few months at least."
The fact that he wants to do that means everything to me. We'd had a serious discussion about what we needed to do together to raise our children in the best possible environment. Being there for them was important to us both and having my father close by offered the reassurance that both our children would grow up knowing that they are surrounded by love and support.
"After that maybe you'll hire me at your store."
I can't stifle a laugh. "Jax. You don't remember what happened last time you worked for me?"
"This is our family." He gestures towards Jackson who is sitting on the floor playing with a set of wooden blocks before he leans down to kiss Jacey's cheek.
"Yes, this is our family." I nod my head in agreement.
"Your store is our family business." He leans forward to kiss my cheek. "You have made every one of my dreams come true. Now, we're going to work together to make every one of your dreams come true too."
I nod as I feel my eyes well with tears. "You've already done that, Jax. Every dream I've ever had has already come true."
"This is just the beginning, beautiful. We have a lifetime of new dreams we need to make come true and we're going to do that together, "he says softly before he glides his lips over mine.
Preview of FUSE – Coming This Month
"I don't have trouble finding women who want to fuck me," he says the words with so much effortless ease it's as though he actually believes them. "Once I tell a woman who I am, I'm usually in bed with her within the hour."
Um… what? Is this real? Is this what my friends meant when they told me to stay clear of men who are New York born and raised? Is he serious? "You're not serious?"
"I'm Beck. Brighton Beck." He extends his hand and it hangs in the air between us.
"Good for you." I move my eyes from his outstretched, vacant hand to his vibrant blue eyes. "I'm new here so that means nothing to me."
A slight smirk pulls at the edge of his full lips. "New here?"
"Not just here." I wave my arm around the crowded bar. "I'm new to Manhattan."
He nods as if that small detail is going to give him more understanding. He doesn't want to know about me. That's not why he's here. I've been watching him since my shift started. I'm the third waitress he's hit on. Both of the ones before me were blonde with big blue, puppy dog eyes. I didn't realize he had no preference until he waved me over. The fact that I'm a brunette with brown eyes cements the fact that this man is after one thing and one thing only. He wants a fuck partner for the night.
"Is there something I can get you?" I look past him to where a new group of frat boys has just settled into a booth. It's not my station, unfortunately. I've learned quickly that flirting will get me a full tip jar by the end of the night and frat boys don't hold too tightly to their wallets once they have a few beers in them.
"What's your name?" Brighton shifts slightly on the stool he's perched himself on. "I bet you have a beautiful name."
He'd lose that bet. I have a name that my mother thought was perfect until I decided I wanted to be a lawyer. "My name is Zoe."
"Zoe?" He skims it over his lips. "That's gorgeous."
"Do you want anything?" I stare directly at his face. He's actually gorgeous. His hair is dark and a tousled mess. His jaw is covered with the beginnings of a beard. If I wasn't so focused on keeping my mind in the game of life right now, I might take him up on his offer to spend the night together. I haven't slept with a man in months and jumping into bed with a guy like this would be a nice distraction.
"You," he says a little too happily.
I shake my head. I don't need this. "I have other customers to tend to, so unless there's something I can get you…"
"My girlfriend got married today." He slams his hand down on the small, circular table so hard the empty glass in front of him teeters slightly. "She got married to my best friend at the hotel across the street an hour ago."
I'm not a bartender. I don't hear the stories of woe and trouble that dot the landscape of the bar on any given day. I usually take orders, drop them off and collect my tips at the end of the night. I'm not equipped for this. "I'm sorry to hear that."
"She wasn't really my girlfriend." He reaches up to run his finger over his lips. "I slept with her in Paris."
"What's her name?" I ask before I dive into the more important question. "Do you want a refill?"
"Alexa." He nods briefly, pushing the glass towards me. "Whiskey."
I place it on the tray I'm holding before I turn to walk away. "I'll be back in a flash."
"Have you ever been in love, Zoe?" I feel his hand on my elbow. "Have you ever loved someone so much it tore you apart inside?"
My breath stalls at the question. He can't possibly know what he's asking me. I should ignore him and walk away. I can send his drink back with one of the other girls he was hitting on. They'll take the tip and maybe give him the comfort he needs. He's obviously falling apart inside.
"Do you know what it's like to lose someone?" I can feel him lean closer to me as he asks the question. "No one knows what I feel inside."
"I know." I turn back around and look directly into his face. "I know exactly how it feels."
Preview of TRACE – Part One – Coming This Month
"There's a word for men like you." I try to sound as civilized as I can.
I look to the left to avoid eye contact with him. The man is devastatingly handsome. I can't say I'm surprised he realizes it. "No."
I look at his face. He's smirking at me. He's actually standing in front of me, smirking. "No."
"Well-hung?" His gaze drops down to the front of the hospital gown he's wearing.
In instances like this I need to be professional. I'm a nurse. I'm a trained professional. If my eyes follow the path of his, there's no telling what I'm going to see. "No."
"You didn't even look," he teases. "Your eyes haven't left my face even though I'm here because I have a pain in my ass."
It's too easy. He's handing it right to me on a silver platter but I'm on duty so I can't react at all.
"Mr. Ryan." I glance down at the chart in my hand. "I get that you can't sit on the exam table because of the pain in your derriere, but you need to stay within this cubicle. Dr. Foster is going to be here shortly and if you're not here, it's just going to prolong the process."
"It's Garrett." His eyes settle on my name tag. “Vanessa, I'm in a lot of pain here."
"What exactly happened to you?" I already know the answer to this question. He crashed his bike and knocked himself out cold. It's worth hearing how he'll put a spin on it though. According to his chart he's a lawyer. Every lawyer I've ever known blurs the line between fact and fiction effortlessly.
"I was riding my bike in Central Park this morning." He shifts on his feet slightly. "I like to do that every morning to keep in shape."
"It's important to exercise." I don't look up from his chart.
"I was riding along and turned a corner and that's when I saw them." He shakes slightly.
If he falls over on my watch, I'm going to need to write up a report and I hate writing up reports. "Maybe you should lean against the stretcher."
He nods as he pushes his hand against it. "I was just riding along and I saw them, and after that everything went black."
"The paramedics that brought you in said you hit a tree." I wince at the image of that. "They said you were lucky you were wearing a helmet."
"I could have been luckier."
"How so?" I turn towards the curtain. Dr. Foster should have been in here by now. I'm going to need to find him.
"If I would have caught what I was chasing when I crashed, I would have been the luckiest guy in Manhattan."
"What were you chasing when you crashed?" I lean in waiting to hear the part of the story everyone in admitting has been dying to know. How does a grown man veer so far off the assigned bicycle path that he hits a huge tree head-on?
"I was chasing the most perfect pair of tits I've seen in a long time."
"Are you serious?" I lean closer to have a look at his eyes.
"I'm dead serious." His hands bolt to the air in front of him. "They were round and plump. She was jogging on the path and I saw them bounce and then they bounced again."
"That's just…" my voice trails because anything I want to say may result in my being suspended. Offending a patient is a definite no-no and I've already had two warnings. I only have one more before I'm out the door for good.
"I'm going to get Dr. Foster." The sooner we get this guy out of here the better.
"Her tits can't compare to your ass, Vanessa. It's seriously the best looking ass I've ever seen."
I can't resist. I know that there's a chance I'm going to regret this but I do it anyway. "No, I'd disagree with that."
"You can't." He shakes his head slightly even though it's the worst possible thing for him to do after slamming it into a tree. "I'm an ass man and your ass is the best looking one I've ever come across."
"Actually." I take a step closer to him. "You're the best looking ass I've ever come across. No, wait. That came out wrong."
He starts to turn to reveal his naked ass beneath the hospital gown he's been wearing since he arrived.
"I meant to say that you're an asshole,” I spit out through clenched teeth.
I don't need to turn to recognize that voice. It's Dr. Foster. That one and only chance I had left to keep my job just disappeared into thin air.
About the Author
Deborah Bladon has never read a romance hero she didn't like. Her love for romance novels began when she was old enough to board the bus, library card in hand to check out the newest Harlequin paperbacks. She's a Canadian by heart, and by passport, but you can often spot her in New York City sipping a latte and looking for inspiration for her next story. Manhattan is definitely her second home.
She cherishes her family and believes that each day is a gift for writing, for reading, and for loving.