Time flew by when you were having fun, or so it felt like to Rae. Snapping a photo of Eva and Brian playing on the xylophone, she walked into the living room and smiled at her ten month old daughter.
“Brian, she’s just a baby, what are you trying to teach her now?” Brian was on a social trip and had stopped by to check up on her and the baby. Because of Rae’s unusual past, they were keeping an eye on her development.
“You have to start early. Do you know she will respond to me, no matter what language I speak to her in?” He sounded amazed.
“Well, I do have her on that Baby Genius program and I try to speak to her in a different language every day. I’m hoping we can even go to Spain in a couple of years and check out some of those old buildings. I think Rebecca might have been Spanish by birth.”
“Is she still not appearing to you?” He looked up at her in concern.
“It’s like she disappeared off the planet.” She was flabbergasted at Rebecca’s absence. They’d never been apart for this long and it scared her and made her feel very lonely.
“You might want to think about returning to Moonlight Falls. I’m pretty sure she’s still there.”
She looked sharply at Brian. “You’ve seen her there?”
“No. But I think I have an idea about what’s going on.”
“What? Tell me,” she demanded.
“Not yet, not until I’m sure.” With that, he continued to point out the keys he wanted Eva to hit, speaking to her in German. Frustrated, Rae walked out the room and went to make dinner. Return to Moonlight Falls? She’d have to take Eva. Would Connor come with them? If he couldn’t, would he be upset with Eva leaving the country? She rubbed her eyes and started taking food out of the fridge.
Rae walked onto the patio of Adeya’s home. She hadn’t seen her sister for almost six months as Ade and Noe had moved back to Starlight Shores in the hopes of finding a cure for her infertility. Rae had purposely stayed away knowing that Eva was a painful reminder of what Ade couldn’t have, but desperately wanted. So it was a shock when she received a phone call from her sister, asking her to come for a visit with the baby.
“Hey pretty lady! What are you doing out here?” She asked Adeya. It was starting to get chilly as summer turned to fall. In another month, Rae would be one.
Turning around Ade motioned toward the painting on her easel. “One of my students left her drawing here and asked me to bring it to her tomorrow. I was just bringing it in from the cold.” She looked at Eva. “Wow, she’s gotten big!”
“Yeah, I can barely carry her in my arms anymore. Do you want to hold her?” Rae asked tentatively. She never knew what mood her sister would be in.
“If she’s that heavy, I probably shouldn’t since I can’t do any heavy lifting anymore,” she said with a grin.
It only took a second for Rae to grasp her meaning. Staring down at Ade’s stomach, she said in awe, “Seriously? The treatment worked?!”
“Yes! Oh my God, Rosie. Noe had to practically hold me down to keep me from saying something until we knew for sure. I’ve been dying to tell you for eight weeks, ever since I found out!”
Rae felt tears of joy slide down her cheeks. All Ade ever wanted was to have a family of her own. She adored children and it had broken Rae’s heart when they’d learned she couldn’t conceive. But this sounded promising. Her sister was over two months… “How far along are you?”
Beaming, Ade said, “Thirteen weeks. Thirteen glorious, wonderful, amazing weeks!” She pulled Rae into a hug, baby and all. Eva patted at Rae’s face, fascinated by her mommy’s tears. Smiling down at her, she cooed at the toddler. This was very exciting news. Wait until she told Connor. At that thought, her smile thinned. Connor had moved out four months ago, but it was still hard to think of him as separate from her.
She would not think about him or their weird situation. Even if he was at the house all the time and he sometimes stayed over and they still shared a bed on those nights that he did. Shaking herself, she tried to pay attention to what her sister was saying. “…and Sonya told me that she got engaged to some random guy as soon as it became obvious that she was expecting. If you ask me, I don’t think it’s wise to marry someone just because you’re pregnant.”
“I’m sorry, who are we gossiping about?” Rae also didn’t think it was smart to tie yourself to someone just because you were having their baby. She still believed in love, even if it hadn’t worked out for her. Look at her parents and Ade, they were happy. Even Sarah had found someone – although marrying a man almost twice your age with children that were barely younger than you wasn’t ideal, at least she was happy with him.
“Layla, she’s pregnant and the rumor is she’s marrying this guy so people won’t ask her who the father really is.” Rae froze at the mention of Layla’s name. She was pregnant? A sense of alarm threatened to rise up in her throat and choke her. She hadn’t told Ade about finding Connor and Layla together that morning, in fact, she’d never mentioned that morning to anyone. It had paled into insignificance once the baby was born. And she refused to think about it after for fear that the anger she carried around would overwhelm her. But now all her hard work to keep it in was crumbling around her. Eva let out a sharp cry and Rae loosened her hold on the baby.
“It’s getting colder out Ade, let’s go back inside.” She turned towards the door. Layla was pregnant? Who was the father…was it Connor?
It took three days for her to get an opportunity to ask Connor about the pregnancy. He’d been stuck at work all weekend and couldn’t make it out to the house before Tuesday. The moment he walked in, however, she was on him. “Did you hear about Layla being pregnant?” She watched him closely, hoping to see his reaction to her words. But instead of looking guilty, he just looked tired and wary.
“Yeah, I heard,” was all he said.
“Well, I heard that the guy she’s engaged to isn’t the father.” She was fishing and doing a bad job of it. Gossip just wasn’t her thing, but she had to know. Was he the father?
Sighing, Connor took her hand and rubbed his thumb across her knuckles. “What is it you really want to know, Rosie?”
She wanted to pull away but she left her hand there and asked, “Are you the father? Is that a possibility?”
He looked down at their joined hands and entwined their fingers, her wedding ring flashing in the light. She’d continued to wear it even though they’d been legally separated for over four months; he was still her husband and she still had the right. “No Rosie, not even a slight possibility. Not now, not since I met you on that rainy day over six years ago.” He looked up at her, “Not with Layla or anyone else but you.”
“But what about the day I walked in on you two in the living room?” There. She’d brought it up.
“Rae, nothing happened. You walked in on me comforting a friend who’d had a bad night. Yes, she did stay over, but she slept in the guest room, I swear it. I would never do something like that to you. Ever. Why is it so hard for you to believe me, to trust me?” He let go of her hand and slid his fingers through his hair. She was tempted to smooth down the mess he made of it.
“I did trust you, remember? And then you told me it was all a lie. It’s a little difficult believing anything you say now. Even though I want to – and I do want to.” She felt like combing through her own hair. They were terrible communicators! “I’m trying, but until you admit that you don’t love me as selflessly as you think you do, we’re not going to get anywhere. I will not go back to the way we were, naïvely thinking that love would get us through anything. It won’t, most of the time it’s the reason we mess up in the first place.” She looked away and admitted, “I can’t live with the thought that one day you’ll want to leave again.”
He reached for her and she knew what would happen next. He’d kiss her, tell her he loved her and that he was sorry and then she would wake up in bed with him, feeling worse than before. Maybe it was time to make their separation final and try to move on. He was a great father and she knew he would be there for Eva, but she needed someone who would be there for her too.
She pulled away. “Not tonight Connor, I have too much to think about.” She took his hand and they went in to say goodnight to Eva. Stopping at the front door, he pulled her into a hug and kissed her forehead. She closed her eyes and savored the moment, feeling herself weaken, ready to tell him that she’d changed her mind, that yes, he could stay. But before she could get a word out he was pulling away.
“I’ll be back tomorrow morning and I’ll make Eva’s breakfast.” She frowned then remembered – she had that breakfast conference in the morning and would have to leave early, too early to make Eva her morning meal of baby mush. Plus, the toddler seemed to like Connor’s homemade version better than her prepackaged ones – mush was mush to Rae.
“Thank you,” she said. How did he remember the small things, like baby mush? He just shrugged, pulled on his jacket and walked out to his car. She followed behind him and stood on the porch, watching him drive off.
As Connor drove up to the bar, he wondered again what she was doing there in the first place, she didn’t drink. He parked around back and hustled inside. It was getting colder out, which meant people would start using their fireplaces more often, which meant he’d have less time to spend at home. Walking into the place, he scanned the room looking for her. His eyes caught on the bartender instead and he frowned. She seemed familiar, but from where? As he looked around, he tried to place her face but couldn’t really focus on the thought. Then, as he was circling back, he saw her sitting at the end of the bar.
Walking up to her, he said, “Fancy meeting you here.”
Rosie looked up and smiled at him. “Thank you for coming. Mom and Ade had to leave, but the bartender was fixing me a special drink. Do you want to try it?” She took a sip of her drink
Her words were slurred and she was listing a little to the left, a sure sign that she’d had enough to drink. “How many of these have you had Rae?”
“Hmm? One, maybe two at the most.” She blinked up at him. Yeah right, no way she was this drunk off two drinks.
Signaling for the tab, he pulled her to her feet. “Come on, I’ll take you home.”
She pushed away from him. “I don’t need you to do anything for me, thank you very much! I’ve been doing just fine by myself. I got through my pregnancy alone, didn’t I? I’ve thrown a birthday party without you. I think I can manage to get home.”
What the hell was this about? “Rosie, you called me, remember? You asked me to come get you.”
“I remember, I’m not stupid. I know you think I am. I know you must laugh yourself silly every night at my expense. I was too dumb to know I was getting played. You knew I needed a friend, you knew I had no experience with men and you took advantage of that. You’re no better than the rest of them! Laughing behind my back, calling me a freak when they thought I couldn’t hear. Or maybe they knew I could and said it anyway. But not to my face, never to my face. I’m a princess, you know. No one would dare insult a princess…at least not openly. But I saw the way they looked at me. ‘There goes Little Boo Peep.’ ‘Do you think they need a fireplace with her in the house?’ ‘Quick, get some marshmallows before she burns out.’ That was one of the worst ones.” She seemed to crumble at those remembered memories and turned away from him.
“I thought it would be different after I changed but still no one would come near me, no one would touch me, except for Cameron. He was the first person outside of my family to truly be nice to me. When he asked me to Prom, I was ecstatic. He was my first kiss. I had no idea what I was doing, but he smiled at me and said he thought I was beautiful.” Tears started running down her face then. Connor knew this story – that little bastard had only kissed her because someone dared him to; his friends wanted to know if she felt like a normal girl.
“Rosie, I’m so sorry.” He reached out to her again, wanting to hold her and kiss away the pain. She pulled away again.
“Don’t touch me. I don’t want you, in fact, I want a divorce. There is a man back in Moonlight Falls who would be more than happy to be with me. He’s a werewolf; he understands what it’s like to be different. He’ll protect me from people like you.” Her eyes narrowed as she said this, accusing him of crimes others had committed against her.
He was shocked, she wanted a divorce? But they’d been getting along so well, he’d hoped to bring up the discussion of his moving back home. How could he have read her so wrong? “Listen, let me take you home to Eva, I’m sure the babysitter wants to leave and we can discuss this there, okay?” People were starting to look at them and the last thing he needed was for someone to recognize her and start paying attention to her words. He wasn’t even going to comment on the werewolf thing, supernatural mumbo jumbo was her thing, but this was obviously the drinks talking.
“Eva. My beautiful baby girl. Do you know Layla tried to insinuate that she wasn’t yours? She called me a whore to my face, but I fixed her! I wish I’d had these powers during my teenage years. Cameron would have hesitated to mess with me then.”
Connor let her ramble on while he maneuvered her out the bar and into his car. He’d come pick hers up in the morning.
When they got home, he thanked the babysitter, checked in on Eva and went to make sure Rae was okay. She’d decided that he couldn’t stay over anymore, but he was going to crash in the guest room, just to make sure she was okay. Plus, she would be in a bad mood in the morning and someone would have to look after the baby.
As he walked in to say goodnight, he saw her standing there, swaying on her feet. He wanted to tell himself that she was so drunk, she didn’t know what she was doing or saying, but he’d never been one to lie to himself. She knew exactly what she wanted and it obviously wasn’t him. Between staying over some nights and being at the house so much, he’d always assumed they’d get back together, that she just needed time to trust him again. And he was a patient man, he’d told himself he would wait and earn her trust again, even if it took another four years. He loved her too much to just let her go. Her asking for a divorce had been a blow he wasn’t expecting and he was still reeling from it.
She turned around and spotted him standing by the door. “Connor, come in, help me get out of this thing.” She gave him her back, pointing out the zipper on the back of her skirt. Where the hell did she find this outfit anyway? She barely had on enough clothes to be considered decent. This wasn’t his Rosie, she would never wear something like this. But that wasn’t his concern anymore, was it? She wanted a divorce.
He got her unzipped and out of her clothes, including her boots and stockings, then he went to her drawer and found his favorite of her lingerie, a blue silk nightgown. She’d bought it for their honeymoon, knowing that blue was his favorite color. “Here, put this on,” he said.
She took it from him and stroked the fabric. “This is the one I wore the night we got married. Do you remember? You said I looked beautiful.”
He helped her put it on, and looking into her eyes, said, “You still are.” He kissed her softly – once on the lips, once on each eyelid and lastly on her forehead, lingering there, breathing gently. He felt like crying.
“Connor?” She whispered.
“Two years is a very long time to pretend we’re okay.”
“I hadn’t known we were pretending.”
She sighed and wrapped her arms around him. “Stay with me tonight.”
He would be an idiot to say yes and pitiful to boot. “Okay.”
Rae opened her eyes to blinding light and immediately shut them again. She had such a splitting headache! She lay very still, trying not to move as even the action of opening and closing her eyes made her head hurt. She tried to calm down her breathing, her heart beating to the tempo of the pounding in her head.
She was just starting to feel better when someone shifted on the bed next to her. She sighed, it was probably Connor. All her talk about making their separation final had flitted away almost as soon as he’d left that night and now, three months later, here he was, back in her bed. She felt like an addict at times like these, she’d stay clear of him and then one touch, one sweet word and she was back to square one. If she wasn’t afraid her head would explode, she’d laugh at herself.
“Good morning,” she murmured quietly. Even with her eyes shut, she knew he was looking at her. Felt his gaze on her face. She opened her eyes just a crack, testing the light. It wasn’t so bad anymore, so she lifted her lids a little higher, slowly focusing on the man lying beside her, studying her. “How much did I have to drink last night?”
“So you remember last night?” He asked softly, almost sadly.
She was about to shake her head no but thought better of it. “Not really. I remember sitting at the bar, trying out the bartender’s signature drink, but then it gets hazy after that. I don’t even remember you being there but you must have been because you’re here now. Unless you came by after I got home?” That thought chilled her, she didn’t want to think about driving drunk, she could have hurt someone!
He looked at her and sat up, the movement causing her stomach to do all kinds of flips as the bed dipped. “You called me to come get you.” He stopped, as if he didn’t want to continue the conversation. Eva’s cries came through the baby monitor then and she groaned. Her baby girl had beautiful healthy lungs that produced loud, shrill sounds that could split your eardrums wide open. Connor reached over and turned the monitor off. “I’ll go see to her.”
“Thank you, you’re a god among men.” And then she buried her head under her covers and shut out the world.
Rae woke up some time later and felt marginally better. She got out of bed and went to brush her teeth and wash her face. Her mouth felt dry and her throat ached as if she’d been screaming or crying the night before.
When Connor walked back into the room she hugged him. “Thank you for taking care of Eva this morning and for getting me home last night.” She didn’t mention that he’d stayed over, even though after the whole pregnant Layla thing, she’d put the kibosh on their sleepovers. Having sex with Connor was great, but it did things to her mentally that weren’t so great. The last three months they’d spent doing things as a family, but he always went home after they put Eva to bed. She needed those boundaries, otherwise she forgot why he wasn’t living there in the first place and their relationship became muddied. She needed clarity if they were going to work things out.
He gave her a smile and then withdrew from her embrace. She frowned, something was wrong. “What is it? Is something wrong with Eva?”
“You don’t remember a single thing you said to me last night?” He stood there looking at her and as she stared back she saw a bunch of different emotions flash through his eyes. Connor was not the type to keep his feelings to himself. If he felt it, he’d share it and she could see the effort he was making to keep whatever it was inside.
He walked away from her towards the bed and that simple turning of his back had her feeling more alone than she cared to admit. “Nothing, I must have had more to drink than I thought; it sure feels that way this morning anyway.”
Turning toward her he said flatly, “You asked me for a divorce last night.”
Rae was stunned. She’d done what? “What? There’s no way.” But hadn’t she been thinking about doing just that for the last three months? At least up until last week, when she’d decided that he was the one who wanted time, not her. She’d realized that two years was too long to have to wait for the man who’d vowed to love her forever. She’d decided that she wanted her husband back and had gone out with Ade and her mother to talk it over with them. She would swear she only had one drink and only at the insistence of the bartender. In fact, had she left her mother and sister at the bar while she went to bed with Connor? “What happened to mom and Ade?”
He snorted. “They’d left long before you thought to call me.”
“But if I asked for a divorce, why are you here?”
“You asked me to stay and like an idiot, I stayed. Even after all of it, I stayed. Pathetic, isn’t it?” He sounded defeated.
“Connor, I don’t understand…” Her voice trailed off. How could she have said those things when she was feeling the exact opposite and then remember none of it? She’d never gotten drunk before, couldn’t even stand the taste of hard liquor. If it wasn’t an Amaretto Sour, she didn’t want it. Were they really going to get a divorce now? This was not what she’d wanted at all!
Rae asked Connor to take Eva for the day so she could do a few chores and just think about what to do because something must have happened to her last night. “I do not want a divorce,” she’d said firmly. He’d looked at her with so much doubt and she’d felt unbelievable guilt. Had she thought about divorce? Yes. Did she want to divorce her husband? No. So why had she said those things to him last night?
These were the thoughts racing through her head while she took her frustrations out on her garden, pulling up weeds. Something strange was going on and she was going to get to the bottom of it. One drink – she yanked at a particularly stubborn root – was not enough – yank – to make her say – yank, yank – stupid, hurtful, untrue things!
She sat back on her haunches and decided she’d call Brian and ask his opinion. Maybe her physiology had so changed that alcohol affected her differently and her aversion to liquor had been a natural deterrent. Maybe something was wrong with her brain, maybe she had a tumor…maybe she was just going insane. Sighing, she wiped the sweat off her forehead. The look on Connor’s face this morning was an eye opener. If she ever doubted that he wanted to be with her, his expression put those doubts to rest. He seemed devastated at the prospect of losing her. But if that was true, why had they been apart for two years?
After puttering in the garden, she took Dune over to the practice field and took him through his paces. He was getting old and got grumpy when he wasn’t left alone, but he still had it in him and she needed something that required concentration. She felt scattered and if truth be told, scared.
She’d called Brian while she had lunch and explained to him what had happened the night before and he’d said something that made her lose her appetite. “Isn’t that almost exactly what happened to Connor? He had more to drink than he thought and said some things he later told you he never meant to say?”
A chill had crept up her spine at those words. That was exactly what happened. But that had been in France, how probable was it that the same bartender had served her here in Appaloosa? She wanted to dismiss it as coincidence but she didn’t believe in that, not after everything that happened to her. If the universe wanted something from you, it would connive to get it, no matter the consequences. But who would go so out of their way as to cross an ocean to separate her and Connor? And why would anyone want to do that?
“How are you feeling?” Rae asked her sister.
“Exhausted, but happy. Benji is a light sleeper.” Adeya looked down at her son and smiled. Rae had come as soon as she heard about the baby’s birth. Ade and Noe had a beautiful baby boy they named Benjamin, after Noe’s grandfather.
“Mom called and told me to tell you she was sorry she couldn’t be here, Kaitlynn is having a hard last few days.” Rae couldn’t say she was surprised by this, as her baby sister didn’t have an easy time now that it was just her and her much older parents. Of course she didn’t have to go and get herself into so much trouble while still in high school, but everyone made mistakes.
Sighing, Ade sat in the rocking chair. “That girl is going to cause mom to have a heart attack one day. She is just so damn rowdy. I wonder if maybe I should ask her to come live with Noe and me. I’d thought about doing it last year, but then I found out about Benji and completely forgot. I could have prevented this from happening.”
Rae leaned her hip on the baby’s dresser. “I don’t think a change of scenery would have helped. There is just as many opportunities for her to get in trouble with law in Starlight, especially in such a large town. It can’t be easy knowing you were conceived accidentally. Granted, so were we, but mom was younger and more willing to put up with our BS.” Rae shrugged, “Hopefully this will ground her a bit, and I will look into art programs she can attend.”
Benjamin started making cooing noises and Rae picked him up. “Hey there little man. Are we excited to see Auntie Rae? Yes, we are, aren’t we!” She continued to play with the baby as Adeya walked over to the dresser. “Oh, I think Benji needs a diaper change. Mmmhmm, yes we do.”
Adeya laughed. “Yeah, I figured as much.”
As she placed the baby on the changing table, Rae looked at her sister. “I asked Connor for a divorce.”
Her sister looked up at her in shock. “But I thought we’d agreed you’d try to get him back home? What made you change your mind?”
“I don’t know. I don’t even remember saying it. Connor says I was drunk – and you know I don’t drink. You were at the bar with me that night; I sipped club soda all night!” Shaking her head, she swapped the baby’s dirty diaper for a new one that Ade passed her. “He says I raged about Cameron and threatened to go live with Caleb. Caleb! I barely know the man, why would I even bring him up in conversation?”
Picking the baby back up, she moved to the crib to place Benjamin back in. “He says I seemed very sure of what I wanted. But when we got home, I asked him to say the night.” She turned to Adeya, who’d moved over to the door to dim the lights. “I don’t want to divorce my husband, Ade. That’s the last thing I want. How do I fix this?”
Adeya looked over at Rae with sad eyes. “Ask him to move back in, don’t draw up divorce papers. Find out who is trying to separate the two of you.”
And this was why Rae loved her sister so much. Adeya knew without Rae having to bring it up exactly what she’d been suspecting. Someone was trying to tear her family apart. First through Connor in France and when that didn’t work out, through Rae.
“It’s just too much of a coincidence that the exact same thing happened to the both of you,” Adeya said, shrugging.
“That’s what I’ve been thinking too. But who would try to do something like that? I didn’t think I had any problems with anyone and who’d hate Connor? He saves people’s lives for a living.”
Adeya shrugged again. “Who knows, but we’ll find out.” She winked at Rae and headed out the door.
Rae loved her sister. She really did.