CHAPTER ONE

Alexis

THE FAINT LIGHT OF DAWN crept through the curtains as the baby’s cries echoed down the hallway. Moments later, silence fell.

Kellan never cried for long, no matter what hour of the day or night he awoke. Aiden and Emily both doted on their baby boy and picked him up the moment he so much as uttered an unhappy sound. Such a lucky boy, his daddy loved him and showed his devotion to his wife and children every single day. Aiden vowed he’d never leave his family.

My own husband, Joel, had made that same vow once upon a time. Silly me for believing him. Our son, Daniel, now slept in our friends’ house, rather than our own.

We’d received a warm welcome here when everything collapsed, and I’d become fed up with Joel’s intolerable behavior. But then, Aiden had been my friend first. I’d introduced Aiden and Joel when we’d summered here as teenagers. They would have met anyway at school that fall, but I liked to believe I’d brought them together and helped cement their friendship.

Soft footsteps sounded in the hallway outside my room followed by the creak of the stairs. I’d grown accustomed to the constant late night wanderings in the house as the occupants of this happy home included both a newborn infant and Aiden’s teenage daughter, Savannah.

Now wide-awake, I crawled from between the cozy sheets and tiptoed into the hall to peek in at my son. Daniel’s deep and even breathing was broken only by the occasional slurp as he sucked the thumb he’d crammed into his mouth. Resting a hand over my aching heart, I peered at his precious face. Tears sprang to my eyes as I brushed my fingers over his soft brown hair. He reminded me of his daddy with his hazel eyes and long thick lashes.

Daniel’s sweet face caused a flurry of conflicting emotions. I both loved and hated my husband at this moment. I hoped things would get better and Joel would return to us, but I feared the worst.

“Alex,” Aiden whispered from behind me. “Everything okay?”

I brushed at my eyes before facing him. “It’s fine.”

Aiden frowned. “Give me a minute to deliver this”—he held up a glass of water—“and we can go for a walk. Daniel should sleep for a couple more hours. We’ll be back long before he’s up.”

I nodded. “I’ll get dressed.”

He disappeared into the master bedroom, and I retraced my steps to the guest room.

After splashing cold water on my face, I ran a brush through my tangled hair and scooped it into a ponytail. Puffy red-rimmed eyes reflected back at me, the dark circles beneath them vivid reminders of too many sleepless nights. I tapped the skin with my fingertips but soon abandoned the futile attempt to appear rested.

As I trudged down the stairs, the fragrant smell of fresh coffee rose to my nostrils. I rounded the corner and leaned against the kitchen counter, fixated by the wisps of steam rising from the two travel mugs. “I could drink a gallon of that.”

“Then you’re in luck.” Aiden added a touch of cream and sugar to each and hand- ed one to me.

 
I gulped a mouthful. “Ouch!” Grimacing, I pressed a fingertip to my lips.

“Careful.” He rubbed my arm. “It’s hot.”

“Yeah, you’d think I’d have figured that out.”

We ambled down the beach in the opposite direction from our house. My house? I wasn’t sure anymore. Not about anything. “Emily doesn’t mind me stealing you away?”

“No, she’s feeding Kellan, and there’s nothing I can do to help. I’d planned to lounge on the deck with my morning coffee, but this is better. It’ll give us a chance to talk without interruptions.”

“You read me like a book.”

“We’ve known each other forever.” He gave me a knowing look. “You can talk to me about anything.”

I sucked in a breath and concentrated on the cool sand squishing between my bare toes. As we walked, Aiden permitted the silence to linger, providing the time I required to organize my thoughts.

This man knew me, understood me, and I was grateful. Everyone assumed Tiffany and Jenna were my best friends, but they were wrong. I considered Aiden my dearest friend, akin to being my brother. People never appreciated how much time we’d spent together as kids, or how much we’d shared.

When a guy became your best friend, you could expect less of the drama women seemed to love. Though, none remained unscathed by the Tiffany debacle. She’d made so many mistakes, and it pained me to admit I’d let people convince me it had been Aiden in the wrong.

I’d betrayed my best friend with the pressure I’d placed upon him. Yet here he was, still my closest and most trusted confidant in the entire world. He’d helped me pick up the pieces of my shattered life, allowing me to lean on him. Like a true friend, he’d welcomed my little family into his home, even as he and his wife juggled the demands of a new baby.

“Having trouble sleeping? Or is Kellan keeping you up?”

“I can’t shut down. I keep thinking about him... About us and how our marriage is crumbling.” I shuffled a few paces closer to the water, allowing it to lick at my toes. I loved this beach, but this morning even the soothing rush of waves and dawn calls of the gulls did nothing to relieve the all-consuming ache in my heart.

“I understand.” He emitted a heavy sigh. “This should’ve been one of those amazing summers. Our group is together again, and I’d hoped we’d start new traditions and put the past behind us. But here we are, me sidelined and you in limbo.”

“Limbo.” I considered his comment for a moment. “Yeah, that feels about right. I want to talk to Joel, but he clams up or disappears out the door. It makes me furious, and then I can’t stand to even look at him. And what he did to you! I don’t know how you’ll ever forgive him.” Meeting his dark eyes, I sniffled. “He almost took you from us, and I’m not sure I can forgive him for that.”

“I wish I had the answer.” Aiden swept a hand through his dark hair before reaching for mine. “He put the three of us in serious danger that day. The past few weeks he’s been a ghost, and barely acknowledges my existence. There’s only one thing I’m sure of—he needs help. But, he has to want it, and right now, he doesn’t.”

“You’re a doctor. Is there any way we can force him?”

“Only if he becomes a danger to himself or other people.”

“He was dangerous to you. His stupidity nearly cost you your life. No one wants to acknowledge it out loud, but we all know it. Emily watches you like you might fade away. Isn’t what he did to you enough?”

 
“No, it’s not. He’s not purposely inflicting damage on other people, or himself.” Silence fell for several steps. “At least, I hope he didn’t do it on purpose. It was a care- less, stupid, drunken move.”

There it was, something I feared. Aiden doubted Joel’s motives. “Yes, Joel was careless, and his idiotic behavior almost killed you. He knows better, and Vanna said you warned him to sit and touch nothing because you knew he was tanked.”

“Yeah, I did know, and he rambled on about some things earlier. I should never have turned my back. That’s my mistake.”

Clamping my teeth on my lower lip, I fought to control the cascade of tears run- ning down my face. “I couldn’t bear losing you. You’re my brother, the one who I can always talk to, the one who’s always been there. Every breakup, every crappy date, and even when my mom died. You were there. Until I married Joel, and we drifted, but... I finally have you back, and I almost lost you. Forever.”

“But you didn’t.” He wrapped me in his arms. “I’m here, Lex. Don’t worry, you’ll get through this.” Aiden wiped away my tears and placed a kiss on my forehead.

All the words stuck in my throat as a shiver ran down my spine. Every time I thought about Aiden being in that freezing water, at how it must have felt, at how he’d almost been lost to us...

“Cold?”

“A little.”

Aiden peeled off his sweatshirt and tugged the soft fabric over my head.

I tucked my arms into the long sleeves. It held the heat from his body, and his familiar scent, and it comforted me. “Thanks.”

We continued along the beach, finally arriving at our favorite log. The tree had toppled during a summer storm years ago, and many times we’d sat in this very spot and aired our troubles.

“Anything I can do to help?” He slid an arm around me, and I leaned against his firm chest. “I hate to see you two at odds.”

“You’ve let me cry on your shoulder, allowed me to move into your house, and you’ve been amazing with Daniel at a time he’s missing his daddy. You and Tom have both stepped up, and I appreciate it more than words can express.” I half-shrugged. “I should’ve bet on a different horse.”

“Well, everyone knows men are animals.” He squeezed my shoulder. “And Joel has been an enormous horse’s ass lately.”

“Ha-ha.” I forced a smile. “You’ve got that right.”

The sun appeared on the horizon, creating a bright path across the ocean. The water glinted and sparkled as the first golden rays warmed my face. I lifted my chin and closed my eyes, inhaling the fresh salty air. A multitude of vivid memories surfaced in my mind. We’d spent many summers here both as teenagers and as adults, and most of them had been amazing. This year nothing felt right.

I gathered the courage to voice the question. “What’s up with you and Tiffany?”

“Ahh, I wondered when you’d ask.” He rubbed the back of his neck. “She asked to see Vanna.”

“What? After all this time?” I tilted my head. “How do you feel about that?”

“Not great, but I talked to Vanna and put the decision into her hands. Tiffany’s her mother, and at one time Savannah wanted nothing more than to know her. Tiffany called the other night.”

“Hmm, I figured. You get that look when it’s her, like you’d rather be anywhere else.” I rubbed his arm. “She’s put you in a tough spot. There are days when I wish we could transport back in time and fix it all. Rewind that spring and summer we turned fifteen.”

 
Aiden stared at the water with a thoughtful look on his face. “This may seem strange, but I’m not sure I’d make different choices. If someone appeared right now and gave me the option?” He shook his head. “I’d never wish Savannah out of existence. Despite everything we’ve gone through, I’ve learned and experienced so much, and I have my daughter, here and now.”

His heartfelt words made me reconsider my wish. What would I do if I were given the opportunity to rewrite my past? I couldn’t imagine my life without Daniel. And even though Tiffany had broken Aiden’s heart, his precious daughter had become his saving grace. “Change even the smallest thing and the effects ripple out,” I whispered.

Aiden nodded. “I’ve accepted that all the pain and turmoil in my life led me to this moment. It’s meant to be this way.”

“What did Savannah choose?”

“She said no.” Aiden bowed his head and shuffled his feet in the sand. “Telling Tiffany was awful. She melted down.”

“As in she—”

“Sobbed and ranted and screamed at me. But you know what’s strange? Even af- ter everything Tiffany’s said and done, I felt sorry for her. She may never know our daughter.” He dragged in a long breath and turned his head away. “She blames me for Vanna’s refusal to see her. What if she’s right?”

“She’s not. You gave her the chance, and she refused it.” I paused. “But I am sorry. This summer will go down as one of the worst in history.”

My heart ached for him. Aiden’s life had never been easy, and now he struggled with even more heartbreak. His continuous support amazed me. He’d ensured my survival during my latest tragedy, even as he battled his own demons. I took his hand between mine and wished I could ease the incessant pain—for both of us.

 
“It’ll all work out.” The words sounded hollow, and I wasn’t sure if I meant them for Aiden, or myself.

“You’re right, it will.” He scrubbed his hands over his face. “We should head home. Emily might need help with the baby.”

We remained silent for the walk back. Aiden seemed to be lost in his own thoughts, and I let him be.

“There you are.” Emily smiled as we entered the kitchen, swaying on her feet to keep the baby nestled against her soothed. She tipped up her chin to accept Aiden’s kiss. “We planned to go into town today, Alex. Care to join us?”

They seemed perfect together, and so damn happy, I wanted to cry. Had Joel and I ever looked this content after Daniel had been born? I shook my head. “Thanks, but I think I’ll stay here.”

“How about we take Daniel with us, and you get some sleep?” Emily raised her brows.

“No...”

She kept her gaze trained on me, one eyebrow rising higher as she studied me. “It wouldn’t be a problem.”

I glanced at Aiden, who gave the briefest of nods. “Okay, thank you. I’ll get him ready.”

“I’ve got him.” Vanna appeared in the doorway with a fully dressed Daniel on her hip. “I’ll feed him some breakfast.”

A lump formed in my throat, and after giving my son a good morning kiss, I returned to my room. I hated to admit it, but I craved the break. I loved my son, but my Daniel had become an untiring live-wire from the moment he’d learned to keep his balance. Over the summer he’d graduated from halting wobbly steps to an all-out run. Without Joel’s assistance, every day was a marathon.

 

Chapter 2

 Joel

Where was I? My head pounded, creating its own beat, and my eyes were glued shut. It seemed like forever before I gathered sufficient energy to pry them open.

The blackout curtains I’d given Alex such a hard time about I now appreciated more than words could express. The mere thought of the bright rays of the rising sun invading my space made me nauseous, and I involuntarily clenched my eyes shut.

She hadn’t come home last night. Again. I figured she was holed up at Aiden’s house. He’d come to her rescue like he always did, and the thought made me unreasonably angry. People underestimated the strength of their connection, but I’d never forgotten the conversation she’d had with me that day an eternity ago.

“You spend way too much time with my best friend.” I’d been irritated when she’d run to Aiden yet again for advice after one of our scraps.

“He’s your friend, Joel, but he’s mine too. In fact, he was mine first. I introduced you to him. Remember? Aiden’s my best friend in the entire world.” Her blue eyes had been deadly serious.

“Your best friend? I thought that was Tiffany or maybe Jenna. Besides, you can’t have a bestie who’s a guy. It never works unless they’re gay, and Aiden’s far too interested in chasing skirts.”

My loving wife—well, girlfriend at that time—had smirked and agreed on at least one part of my statement. Aiden Hamilton loved women. Particularly a certain long-legged, blue-eyed blonde named Tiffany Baxter. But Alex still asserted a man and woman could be best friends without the added complications of a romantic entanglement.

The way she explained it, she thought of Aiden as her brother and trusted confidant. Given over ninety-five percent of women panted after the guy, it seemed impossible. Hell, even I had to admit he was damn good-looking with an enviable physique most men would kill for.

Chick magnet was what I called him. Put him and our friend Ryan together shirtless on a beach and they’d draw a crowd of ladies. Not that Tom and I were so bad. We were far from it, but I always felt inadequate beside Aiden. Add Ryan and it became intolerable.

At first, I’d assumed Alex nurtured a secret crush for Aiden as they’d seemed inseparable. Then, she’d orchestrated for him to spend time with Tiffany, and I reevaluated my assumptions.

It took a couple of years, but I finally won her heart and thanked my lucky stars a woman like her would choose me over him.

Despite my initial jealousy over Alex, he and I had become great friends over the years. Well, we were close, until I sent him overboard. I barely remember the afternoon, but shame prevented me from admitting that fact to anyone. The memories were hazy, smoke-filled illusions I’d continuously struggled to connect in my muddled brain.

However, I recalled Savannah screaming, the tears cascading down her cheeks as she fought to manage the unruly sailboat. It had lurched and dipped in the rough seas making my stomach roll along with it. She’d pounded her fists against my chest and screeched at me until the words and reality cut through. Even now her words echoed through my brain. That day had become the stuff of nightmares.

Savannah exhibited many of Aiden’s personal strengths and qualities even though she appeared to be a mirror image of her mother. Between her efforts and his determination to stay afloat, he miraculously survived the dunk in the frigid waters. If it had been me in the drink that afternoon, surely I’d be drifting around the bottom of the ocean about now, nothing but food for the fishes.

The buzzing of my phone finally sank into my consciousness. By the double vibration pattern and the chime, I knew immediately who was texting me at this forsaken hour—of the afternoon I suddenly realized. It was already past noon.

How are you doing this morning? Or is it afternoon already?

I imagined her accompanying snicker as she typed the message. She knew I’d be suffering today.

Fabulous.

I’d let her read whatever she wanted into my reply.

Awake. A good sign. Is she home??

Nope. Still holed up down the beach.

Guess you haven’t talked to her then. Meet for brunch??

Yup. One, usual spot.

Taking that as my cue to haul my ass out of bed, I dragged myself into the bathroom, avoiding even the briefest glance in the mirror. No point in examining the mess I’d become. Instead, I cranked the water on full blast and stepped in, tipping back my head and letting the heat sink into my weary soul. I chased my steamy shower with two extra-strength pain tablets and a reheated cup of coffee.

At five minutes before one, I sidled into the café. Crystal already occupied our usual booth by the window.

“About time.” She tapped impatiently on the table top with her manicured nails before waving down the waitress to fill my cup.

“It’s not one yet. Anyway, I had to shower. I was only half alive.” I sipped at the hot coffee as soon as it was poured. “Ah, better.”

“I bet. How’d you even get home last night?”

“Uh, cab. I didn’t have my car.”

“Oh. It’s a good thing, though I suppose you would’ve passed out before you managed to leave the parking lot.” She stared out the window, still drumming her fingers annoyingly against the wooden tabletop.

“Waiting for someone?”

“Gwen is joining us.” She smiled brightly.

“Why’d you have to invite her?” I muttered.

“There she is.” Crystal waved and threw me a warning look. “Be nice.”

Before I could protest further, Gwen appeared and slid into the booth, squashing me up against Crystal.

“Joel Nichols. Didn’t know you were joining us… Again.” She scanned me up and down. “You’ve looked better.”

“Felt better too.” I opened the menu, throwing a ‘why-did-you-have-to-invite-her’ look at Crystal. Stabbing pain lanced through my temple as Gwen relayed last night’s adventure in her overly cheery high-pitched voice.

Thankfully, the waitress interrupted with offers of more coffee and we placed our orders. I managed to tune out the subsequent nattering until our meals arrived, and then picked at the food on my plate as I half-listened to Gwen drone on about nonsensical crap. I hated the inane small talk, but I couldn’t say much of substance in front of Gwen. The woman was a notorious rumormonger.

“Look.” Gwen tugged at my arm. “Isn’t that Tiffany? And who’s she with?”

I did a double take before sinking lower in my seat. Damn!

Emily bounced and swayed and rubbed her son’s back as he snuggled against her chest in the baby sling. The slim young woman beside her tossed unmistakable honey blonde hair over her shoulder and pointed to something on the menu board.

I understood why they assumed she was Tiffany. Hell, the first day I met Savannah, it struck me that she looked exactly like her mother, except for those deep brown eyes of hers. Those were Aiden all the way. It hadn’t taken more than a second for me to add up the pieces and figure out why Aiden had so willingly welcomed the orphaned teenage girl into his life.

Gwen slid from the booth and sashayed across the floor before I could open my mouth to protest. I watched helplessly as she rested one of her manicured claws on Savannah’s shoulder.

“Tiffany?” Her shrill tone carried clearly through the air.

Both Savannah and Emily turned, the older woman studying Gwen with serious green eyes.

“Sorry, you have the wrong person.” Emily slipped an arm protectively around Savannah’s shoulders.

Gwen took a step back. “Oh. I’m sorry. You reminded me of a friend of mine.” She threw a glance at us.

I hunched down in the booth wishing to disappear, but Emily’s gaze followed Gwen’s. Her eyes narrowed. Pinned in place, I hung my head, not daring to meet her inquisitive stare.

Gwen crossed the floor and sat beside me. “Wow, that girl is—”

Aiden picked that moment to stroll in the door with Daniel in his arms. My son had his arms wrapped around my friend’s neck and rested his head on Aiden’s shoulder. The ache spread as Aiden rubbed his back soothingly. I felt like a voyeur into Aiden’s happy life, which my son was clearly a part of, while I’d been exiled.

Emily lifted her chin and accepted a kiss as he slipped his free arm around her waist. Savannah leaned in and whispered in his ear, and I could imagine exactly what she said because he turned and stared directly at me.

Crystal elbowed me. “Is that her? His wife?” she muttered. “Wow.”

“Yeah.” Wow was an understatement in my opinion.

The dark-haired woman cuddled against Aiden was beautiful and sexy. Her sweet nature and genuine smile made her even more attractive, and only weeks after giving birth, she looked amazing. Her full womanly post-baby curves suited her, her hair shone, and she practically glowed with happiness.

Gwen smirked. “She’s not so great. Look at that ass! She’s rather fat.”

“She had a baby, Gwen. Don’t even pretend she’s anything but stunning.” Crystal rolled her eyes at the other woman. “You’re jealous because she married Aiden, and he’s off the market.”

“I’m not jealous!” Gwen waved her hand impatiently. “Who’s the girl?” She openly ogled the group. “Until she turned, I could have sworn it was Tiffany. There’s something different about her, though familiar at the same time.”

I couldn’t take my eyes off them either, and I wondered if Alex would appear. If she arrived and found me there with Gwen and Crystal I was done for. Not that the Hamilton clan discovering our brunch meeting was much better, but none of them would cause a scene. To my relief, the group settled in a booth on the opposite side of the restaurant.

Concentrating on my coffee, I half-listened to Gwen natter on and pick apart Emily. A sudden silence fell.

I forced my eyes upward. Of course, he wouldn’t just eat and leave me alone! However, my annoyance faded rapidly at the sight of Daniel nestled in his arms.

“Aiden,” Gwen purred as she played with her hair and batted her hazel eyes.

“Hi… Gwen. Crystal.” From the unimpressed look he bestowed upon the two ladies, I could imagine what he was thinking. He then focused on me. “I don’t mean to break up the party, but someone wants to see you.” He bounced Daniel lightly.

My son’s sleepy eyes regarded me. I wasn’t so sure Daniel wanted to see me at all. He looked incredibly content resting against Aiden’s chest, but I had missed him terribly. However, I’d been too afraid to call or go to Aiden’s house to get him. Now the guy stood in front of me, offering me the chance.

“Let me out.” I pushed Gwen lightly to propel her out of my way and rose from the booth. Aiden transferred my son into my outstretched arms, and I rocked Daniel against me. Dropping a kiss on his hair, I closed my eyes, inhaling that sweet little boy smell I’d missed so intensely.

“Do you want to sit with us, or should I have his meal sent over?”

I glanced up. “You’ll let me have him?”

“For a couple hours, but I’ll take him home with us.”

“Can I take him for the afternoon?”

“I don’t know.” He tilted his head. “Are you planning to stay sober and spend quality time with him? Or pawn him off?”

Biting my lip, I sighed. “You don’t trust me with my own son?”

“Should I?” He pulled me aside, lowering his voice. “You look like crap, Joel. You’re hung-over and you’ve been drinking excessively. Your judgment is questionable. I want you to see Daniel, but if you put his life in jeopardy because you’re letting Crystal lead you around by the balls, or if he gets hurt… You know what’ll be coming your way.”

“He won’t. Let me have him this afternoon, and I’ll bring him home safely. I’ll take him to the park.” I couldn’t believe I was begging for the right to take my own child.

“Promise me. Look me in the eye, and swear there will be no drinking, you’ll give him your undivided attention, and have him back at our house no later than five. And stop hanging around the likes of Crystal and Gwen. You’re married, Joel.” He paused, studying me. “I seriously hope you’re keeping it in your pants, or you are so done.”

Forcing myself to look at him, I shook my head. “No, nothing has happened with Crystal. No sex, I swear.” As hard as this was, as much as I wanted to shout ‘fuck off, none of your business,’ I couldn’t lie to Aiden or evade the question.

His searching look burned into me, but I refused to blink or avoid it, and he finally nodded. “Keep it that way. It’s bad enough you’re spending so much time with her, instead of Alex.”

“I won’t hurt Daniel, and I won’t drink. I need to see my son.”

“Yeah, you do. Call your wife, get down on your knees, and beg her to forgive you. If you let her go you’ll regret it. Alex is the best thing that ever happened to you. You’d better make the effort soon, or your marriage will be over. Is that what you want?” His voice was low, the anger evident and simmering only inches below the surface. “Is it?”

“No. It’s not. I love her, but I don’t know how.”

“That’s crap. It’s easy. Stop texting and hanging out with Crystal McKenzie. Quit drinking, get your ass home and keep it there. Pay attention to your wife.” Aiden moderated his tone, but there was a not so subtle warning in there. “Be back by five or I will hunt you down. Do you have a car seat for Daniel?”

“We have one in each car.” I nodded. “I promise he’ll be safe. Does Alex know I’m taking him?”

“I’ll let her know.” Aiden brushed his hand over Daniel’s hair, ruffling it gently. “See you at five. Bye, Daniel. You be good for Daddy.”

I glanced at Crystal and Gwen who were doing their best to pretend they hadn’t been straining their ears to eavesdrop on our conversation.

Gwen’s gaze followed Aiden’s every step as he returned to his table, her eyes bright with interest even as her cheeks flushed. “Damn, did he hear us talking about his wife?”

I sat and bounced Daniel on my knee. “I’d bet money he’d heard at least part of it.”

Crystal’s heavy sigh was audible. “So, now you have your kid all afternoon? Kind of puts a damper on the plans.”

“I haven’t had much time with him lately, so I’ll feed him and then I should take off. I promised Aiden I’d have him back by five.”

“What business does Aiden have ordering you what to do?” Crystal smirked at me. “You’re a total pussy, letting the guy boss you around with your own kid.”

“Aiden’s practically Daniel’s uncle, and he cares.” I smiled as the waitress placed a kid’s meal in front of me. “I need to do this. I won’t be coming tonight.”

“Fine.” She huffed, but then gave me a look. “So. If I didn’t see Aiden with my own eyes, I’d never have believed he’d actually gone through with the whole marriage deal. I thought he was terminally single.”

“How married is he?” Gwen winked. “You could invite him out with us one night.”

I laughed out loud, and Daniel stared up me, startled. I brushed a soothing hand over his hair and resumed bouncing him. “He’s about as married as it gets, Gwen. Does he look like he’s about to shop around? Look at them together.”

We all turned our heads on cue. Aiden cuddled Kellan in one arm with Emily sitting so close she was practically attached to him. Her adoring expression as she gazed at her husband and son said it all. The pure unadulterated love they shared emanated all the way from across the room. “Besides, I didn’t realize there were various levels of married.”

Crystal snickered. “Clearly there are, Joel. You’re on your own level at the moment. Or hadn’t you noticed?”

“Ha, well…” I scooped a spoonful of mashed potato into Daniel’s mouth.

Truly, there was no good answer to her comment. It seemed there was the ‘unofficially separated’ kind of married, and the ‘my wife is too pissed to talk to me’ married. Or possibly even ‘I can’t go see her because until today I could barely stand to look Aiden in the eye’ type of married. Alex practically lived at his house these days.

I hated to think about it but damned if I’d explain or justify anything. Especially not to Gwen. Instead, I figured I’d take advantage of the fact that Aiden—one of Gwen’s all-time favorite subjects—sat across the room. He’d escaped her feminine wiles, and she’d never hung around with us after he’d gone all gaga and sappy over Tiffany.

“Aiden’s son is two months old. The teenager’s name is Savannah.” I smirked, unable to contain myself. “She’s Aiden’s daughter.”

“What? How can he… How old is she?” Gwen’s eyes widened.

I casually sipped my coffee, sneaking a glance out of the corner of my eye. “Sixteen.”

“He would have been fifteen? Wasn’t he dating…?” Gwen squinted.

Crystal stared at me. “Holy crap! That girl is Tiffany and Aiden’s sixteen-year-old daughter?”

“Best kept secret in town, but it’s one hundred percent true. Look at her. She’s Tiffany junior. You even thought she was Tiffany.”

Daniel grabbed my hand, and I fed him another bite.

Gwen and Crystal both examined Savannah for a long moment.

“Don’t stare! You’re being obvious.” I paused for effect. “Savannah lives with Aiden in Boston, and mama bear has been denied visitation rights. Aiden told her to bugger off.” I couldn’t help but enjoy the reaction or the looks on their faces as they added it up. Not that it was much of a secret anymore, but still, a part of me felt like an ass laying out their private business to the exes.

“Humph. Well, they look like a sickeningly and disgustingly happy little family. I wonder how long it’ll last.” Gwen glowered across the restaurant.

Savannah cast a glance in our direction and squinted as she caught Gwen’s look.

“Stop staring, Gwen,” I muttered.

Crystal rolled her eyes. “I don’t get how neither Aiden nor Tiffany ever let on they’d had a kid. Secretive.” She dropped some cash on the table. “We should bail and leave you to your rug rat.” She curled her lip as she spoke, giving Daniel a sideways glance. “Bye. Call if you change your mind about tonight.”

 

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