Aiden stretched his arms over his head and worked out the kinks as he rose from his seat. Everyone around him had emerged from their flight-induced stupor and begun collecting their carry-on bags from the overhead bins. The low buzz of conversation filled the passenger cabin.
He slung his bag over his shoulder and followed the rush of excited passengers as they tromped up the gangway and into the O’Hare terminal.
"Mommy! We're home!" A small boy's shrill voice pierced the air.
Aiden wished that word created such delight in his own heart, but sadly, that word had ceased to have any true meaning long ago. He hadn’t truly lived in Chicago for years. In fact, he’d barely set foot in the States since he’d been packed onto an airplane bound for Europe at the tender age of fifteen.
He wandered slowly and gazed around, in no hurry to reach the baggage claim.
When he finally arrived, most of the passengers were already in the arms of their loved ones, and the excited calls and murmurs of family members flowed around him. He glanced away as one girl threw herself into the arms of an older woman he could only assume was her mother.
Aiden shuffled toward the baggage carousel and leaned against a pillar as the joyful reunions continued around him.
Aiden glanced up at the uniformed man standing before him. “That’s me.”
“Can I retrieve your bag, sir?” The man’s brows lifted as he stood stiffly in front of Aiden.
“There.” Aiden motioned to the bag as it slid from above and landed with a soft thunk on the silver conveyor.
The man nodded and maneuvered through the gathering crowd, scooped up the bag and wound his way back. “I’ll drive you home, sir.”
The sedan drew smoothly to a halt in the circular drive. Aiden waited patiently as the driver hopped out and opened his door.
“Thank you.” Aiden inhaled deeply and stared at the imposing stone mansion. Forcing his feet forward, he approached the imposing wooden doors, which swung open at his approach. “Hi, Bernard.” He nodded to the butler.
“Welcome home. Mr. Hamilton requests that you report to him in the study, sir.”
Aside from Bernard, no one was in sight, and the house was dead quiet. There wouldn’t be any warm welcome or red-carpet rolled out for the errant grandson as he returned to the fold.
Aiden nodded. Request. Demand would be more accurate. It wouldn’t be prudent to keep Thomas Hamilton waiting. He proceeded down the hallway and tapped on the door frame before entering the dark-paneled room.
“Aiden.” His grandfather stared icily from his seat behind the oak desk. “You appear suitably well.”
“Grandfather.” Aiden straightened and retained a level tone and expressionless visage even as the hatred rose within him. He longed to vent it upon the imperious man in front of him. However, he forced it deep down inside. Binding it tightly, he shoved it into the dark recess where he’d locked away the tumultuous events of those months.
“Your grandmother will be home soon, and dinner will be served at seven sharp. Here is the package with the information on your apartment. Be packed and ready to leave for Philadelphia by next Thursday.” His grandfather threw an impatient glance his way. “That’s all.” He waved toward the door before bending his head, already engrossed in his paperwork.
Aiden turned wordlessly and headed immediately for the massive staircase. Upon reaching his room, he pushed the door shut. It didn’t look any different, but that was to be expected. The maids had kept it spotless, awaiting his return. Dropping onto the bed, he rested the back of his hand across his eyes. All too soon he’d have to face them. They’d expect him to present himself at dinnertime, and for him to act as if nothing had changed.
The only saving grace was that in one week, he’d be leaving for Philadelphia. Then his family could go on as if he’d never been here at all.
Aiden peered into the hallway and then tiptoed toward the staircase. Nobody seemed to be around, but one could never tell in this house. The staff was paid to be silent and unobtrusive, and they had a habit of popping up from nowhere.
Though he supposed he wasn’t a child any longer, so they couldn’t do much to stop him. His grandparents had retired to their bedroom, and Aiden couldn’t wait to escape the heavy and oppressive atmosphere in the place.
Slipping into the garage, he scooped a set of keys from the rack. He shouldn’t be driving it—he’d been given his own car—but when had that ever stopped him? Hitting the garage door opener, he slid into the buttery soft leather seat, gripping the wheel.
Turning over the engine, he grinned as it purred to life. Easing the car out of the garage, he navigated the dimly lit drive without the lights. It wasn’t until he turned onto the main road that he flicked them on, and retracted the convertible roof. Aiden hit the gas, listening to the satisfying roar of the precision engine. Ah, freedom at last.
His grandfather would have a coronary if he caught Aiden driving his pride and joy, but… What the hell? Leaning back in the luxurious seat, he cranked the sound system, grimacing at country twang pouring through the speakers.
“He still has no taste in music,” he muttered, stabbing at the button on the steering wheel.
Tapping to the beat of the new song, he enjoyed the warm evening air sweeping past as he whipped by the familiar streets. Lowering the volume, he turned onto one of the peaceful residential streets, finally gliding to a halt at the curb.
Hopping from the car, he scanned the area. It was quiet and dark, as he’d expected. Trotting down the sidewalk, he veered into the yard and ran across the grass. Pulling at the trellis he tested it carefully, hoping it would bear his weight. He scaled it with ease and perched on the window ledge.
Tapping lightly on the glass, he waited, and then tapped again. A face appeared at the window moments later. The girl’s eyes widened, and she slid open the glass.
“Aiden!” she whispered breathlessly as she extended her arms toward him. “You’re… here! When did you get back?” Tiffany brushed at her eyes and threw a panicked look over her shoulder.
“This afternoon. Get dressed,” he whispered back. “Come for a ride with me.”
“I don’t know…” She hesitated and glanced toward her door.
“I haven’t seen you in forever, Tiff. Please?”
“Shush! They’ll hear you. I’ll be down in a minute.” She motioned him away, still throwing anxious looks toward her bedroom door.
Aiden lowered himself to the ground and stepped into the shadows as he waited for her to join him. Soon he heard the scrabble and he assisted her down.
As soon as her feet touched the grass, she threw her arms around him. “I’ve missed you, so much. I thought you were never coming back.”
Aiden rocked her against his chest. “I’m sorry. I didn’t have a choice.” Burying his face in her hair, he inhaled, finally feeling like he was home.
“It’s been forever!” Peering up at him through red-rimmed eyes, she smiled. “You’re so tall. And…”
“Let’s get out of here before someone sees us.” Linking their fingers, he tugged her toward where he’d parked the car.
“You’re going to be in so much trrrrrouble.” A grin spread across her face as she sang out the final word. “Does your grandfather know you have his Porsche?”
“Are you kidding? You know how he is about his cars.” Aiden rolled his eyes, even as his lips twitched. “Besides, he’ll never know.”
Turning over the engine, he headed toward the lake, taking the familiar route to their favorite spot.
As soon as he shut off the engine, Tiffany turned toward him. “How have you been? I can’t believe you’re here!” She brushed her fingertips over his cheek. “I’ve missed you so desperately.”
“You got the letters?”
“Most of them, I think. Alex was great, she smuggled them to me.” Her vibrant blue eyes shone with tears.
Aiden cupped her face in his palms. “It is so good to be here with you.”
They stared at each other for a silent moment, before their lips met. At first, it was tender and gentle, but it grew quickly, becoming deeper and more passionate.
“Aiden,” she murmured as she slid her hands under his shirt, pressing herself against him.
He pulled her closer, luxuriating in the feel of her soft lips on his, plundering her mouth. This whole night had been impulsive, but he simply had to see her, and now she was in his arms again. He simply couldn’t let go.
“Backseat?” he whispered before capturing her sweet mouth again.
Aiden tumbled over the seat, and then lifted Tiffany, encouraging her to join him.
“Aiden!” She giggled as she landed on top of him.
“Shh.” He wrapped his arms around her, kissing her deeply as his hands spanned her tiny waist.
Tiffany slid a leg over so she straddled him. Peering into his eyes, she ran her fingers through his hair. “I can’t believe you’re here.”
“Me, either.” Wrapping a hand into her honey blonde hair, he pulled her to him and nuzzled against her neck.
Tiffany leaned back enough to peel her shirt off, then pressed her mouth to his.
Aiden kissed her back, and his heart pounded as he caressed her soft skin. With a flick, he unhooked her bra and tossed it aside, burying his face against her.
“Aiden… Love me,” she whispered against his hair.
Cuddled with Tiffany on the leather seat, he rested his cheek against her long honey blonde hair, savoring the feel of her in his arms.
She sighed, snuggling against his chest. “I forgot how amazing we are together.”
Dropping a kiss on her temple, he closed his eyes, not wanting to think about the others who’d been in their lives during their forced separation. Brushing his fingertips up and down her arm. “You’re not… seeing anyone, right?”
She shook her head. “No.” Lifting her chin, she blinked at him slowly. “Can we not talk about it? We agreed, Aiden. You were gone so long…”
“I know.” He kissed her lips. “Tiff?”
“Did you get my letter? Have you thought about Philadelphia?”
She sat. “Philadelphia? What about it?”
“So you didn’t get it? I’m moving there in a week. I’ve been accepted to medical school.”
“You only got home.”
“I want you to come with me.”
“To Philly?” A frown settled onto her face. “What would I do there?”
“Go to school?” Aiden grasped her arms. “Please, Tiff, we’ve been apart so long, but I have to do this. You know I’ve always wanted to be a doctor.”
“Dr. Aiden Hamilton.” She brushed his hair back from his forehead. “That has a beautiful ring to it.” Biting her lip, she shook her head. “I can’t move to Philly. I start classes at the Art Institute next week.”
Aiden’s heart sank. His hard work over the past three years had paid off, and now his dream was coming true. Would he be forced to live it without Tiffany? He’d anticipated this moment for so long. It was bittersweet having her in his arms, but knowing they’d be parted again far too soon.
Relaxing against his chest, she sighed softly. “It feels like we’ll never be together again.”
“We can visit? Long distance relationships aren’t ideal, but here we are together after almost three years. Can we at least try?”
“Philly is certainly much closer than wherever you happened to be overseas on any given day. Do you think it will work? My dad…”
“You’ll be eighteen at the end of September. What can he say?”
“He could refuse to pay my tuition. I only have a small scholarship, and if he takes away the money he promised, then I can’t go. It’s all I’ve ever wanted, you know that.”
“We’ll find a way. For now, we could keep us a secret. We’ve kept secrets before, Tiffany.”
“Please, don’t.” She burst into tears, pressing her face into his chest. “I can’t even talk about it. Please don’t make me relive it, Aiden.”
“Hey.” Wrapping his arms around her, he held her tight. He felt her pain acutely. It had been even more difficult for her than it had for him. “We don’t have to talk about it, honey. But, I love you, and I want us to be together. Will you consider it? After all this time apart… maybe I should apply for medical school in Chicago.”
“No, you can’t give that up. Besides, can you really stay here? You can’t live this close to your grandfather after everything.”
Aiden stared at the stars as silence fell over them. It seemed an impossible situation. Whenever they managed to find their way to each other, inevitably they were torn apart. He’d loved this girl forever, and now he’d have to leave her all over again.
He let his eyes slide shut and snuggled her against his chest, wishing everything were different.