I looked at my watch. It was almost noon. Four hours to go and I could soak my aching feet. I was on my fifth straight shift of the week and it had been a hectic one. Alexander Reigns, my employer had simply lost his mind. Thatâ€™s what I thought anyways. I didnâ€™t blame him and I often felt bad for himâ€¦ but lost his mind he most definitely had done.
|Maid To The Billionaire: The Tycoon's Baby by Holly Rayner|
Mr. Reigns was in the middle of a divorce. I had worked for him while his wife lived in the mansion and within a few short weeks of working for them I had come to several conclusions: Mr. Reigns was smart, respectable, kind and with the combination of his dark brown hair and intensely sexy hazel eyes that were surrounded by ridiculously long lashes, he was also drop-dead gorgeous. Mrs. Reigns on the other hand was petty, small, unkind and fortunately for her since she really had no other likeable qualities, she was also drop-dead gorgeous. The pending divorce hadnâ€™t come as much of a shock to the staff. We had all discreetly heard the arguments and watched the couple slowly growing apart. It was in my opinion, for whatever that was worth, the best thing for them both since neither of them had seemed happy for quite some time. Not that anyone was going to ask the upstairs maid for her opinion anyways. I had plenty of them saved up however if they ever did ask me. Besides approving of the divorce, Iâ€™d very much like to voice my opinion to my thirty year old employer that a man in his position in the community should not really spend each and every night throughout the work week partaking of wild partying and loose women. I could easily have these thoughts as I dusted the pictures on the walls and the vases on the tables outside of the master suite, but I knew that if I were ever asked for my opinions, I would more than likely keep them to myself. I could barely form two thoughts, let alone real words when he looked at me with those incredibly sexy eyes of his. With a sigh at that thought, I finished my dusting and began mopping the highly polished marble hallway floor. Once I finished that, the only room I had left to clean before polishing the banister was the master suite. I hadnâ€™t seen any sign of Mr. Reigns this morning, so it was highly likely that he was still asleep. Since the divorce, we had all been asked by the house supervisor Karen to wait for the doors to be open before we cleaned or took anything into the suite. Mr. Reigns was prone to skipping board meetings and sleeping until noon some days and as kind as he could be, you didnâ€™t want to wake the sleeping lion with a hangover; he was prone to hotheaded outbursts when he was under a lot of stress and with the divorce and the pressures of running a multi-national corporation, the stress was plentiful. I almost whined though when I saw them closed. I really wanted to finish up here before I went to lunch. Because of his late mornings that turned into afternoons, I hadnâ€™t been able to get in there until the end of my shift the past two days and it really needed a thorough cleaning. I was mopping past the closed door when I heard his voice. â€œPlease listen to me and hear me this time. I earned the fruits of my labor. Iâ€™m thirty years old. Since I was eighteen I have either gone to school or worked twelve hours out of nearly every day to get where I am. Being married to me and might I add, reaping many benefits while you were, does not give you the right now to take what is rightfully mine thanks to all of my hard work.â€ I wasnâ€™t trying to eavesdrop, but he wasnâ€™t whispering either. I assumed that he was talking to Mrs. Reigns. It wasnâ€™t the first time that Iâ€™d heard him tell her almost exactly the same thing. It seemed that the woman wanted more and more from him. I shook my head, wondering how someone could become so greedy. As I had that thought, the cell phone in my pocket vibrated with a message. I stopped, leaned on my mop and pulled it out. I smiled when I saw that it was from my boyfriend, Jason. I clicked open the message and as I read it, the smile quickly faded. â€œVictoria, Iâ€™m not sure how to say this, but Iâ€™m sure youâ€™ve noticed as I have that things between us arenâ€™t what they used to be. Iâ€™ve been doing a lot of thinking and Iâ€™ve decided that maybe we need to take a break. Maybe taking some time apart will help us decide if we want to move forward with this, or if maybe weâ€™re both wasting our time trying to make something work that just isnâ€™t there. I wish you the best and Iâ€™ll keep in touch.â€ I stared at the phone for a long time. What did he mean a break? What the hell was that? What are the rules when you take a break? Do we see other people? Do we just sit around and look inside ourselves and try to decide if weâ€™re really in love or not? I seriously have no idea what a break means. Heâ€™s also acting like I knew there were problems. I had no idea there were problems. What kind of problems? I thought we were doing fine. Iâ€™m such an idiot. A single tear slid down my face. I was surprised until I tasted the salt at the corners of my mouth. I donâ€™t know why Iâ€™m crying. Obviously, he doesnâ€™t think this relationship is worth more than a text message to just call an end to it. We were supposed to see each other tonight. This couldnâ€™t have waited? A steady stream of tears had begun to make their way down my cheeks. I had to pull myself together. I was at work for crying out loud! I prided myself on my ability to always maintain a professional appearance at work. My hair was always up, I wore very little make-up, my hideously ugly and unflattering uniforms were clean and starched and ironedâ€¦ yet here I stood in the grand upper hallway of this beautiful mansion, unable to stop the tears. I reached into my cleaning cart for a tissue and thatâ€™s when I heard the crack of the door opening. I didnâ€™t mean to look up, it was just an automatic response to the sound. But I did look up and I hadnâ€™t wiped my face yet and now I was not only crying at workâ€¦ I was face to face with my employer. Oh God I wish I could kick Jasonâ€™s butt right now! â€œVictoria? Whatâ€™s wrong?â€ Alexander Reigns was looking at me with concern in his pretty eyes. He looked so sincere and instead of making me stop acting like a sniveling idiot in his hallway, it made me dissolve into a torrent of tears accompanied by huge gulping sobs and the whole bit. God, I wanted to crawl behind the two foot tall priceless vase that sat just to my left and disappear. â€œIâ€™m so sorry, Mr. Reigns,â€ I said between sobs. â€œIâ€™mâ€”Iâ€™m just going to go pull myself togetherâ€¦â€ â€œNo wait, Victoria, please.â€ He came towards me. Even in my current state I couldnâ€™t help but notice how the green of the shirt he wore matched the rim of green around the outside of his irises. His full lips were set in a frown and his perfectly shaped brown eyebrows were drawn together in the middle giving him a sexy, introspective look. Yet I still stood where I was, bawling like an idiot. He put his hand on my arm. It was the first time heâ€™d actually touched me. Electricity raced from the source of that touch down my arm, causing my hand and fingers to tingle. What in the world was wrong with me? This was my employer. The only reason he was touching me was because he found me crying in the hallway outside of his room. I need this job. Stop crying Vicki. Stop it! â€œVictoria? Come with me, letâ€™s have you sit down. Iâ€™ll get you some water.â€ He was trying to steer me into the master suite. I pulled back, softly, but enough to make him stop and again look at my face. â€œIâ€™m so sorry, sir. Iâ€™ll just go down to the staff restroom and clean up. Iâ€™m so embarrassed and I hope youâ€™ll forgive me.â€ He smiled slightly and said, â€œWhat is there to forgive?â€ â€œIâ€™m being so unprofessionalâ€¦â€ He let the slight smile turn into a full one. His dimples showed on either side of his face and his full lips framed a set of the straightest, whitest teeth Iâ€™d ever seen. He was so beautiful and I probably had mascara running down my face. â€œYouâ€™re upset,â€ he said. â€œYou havenâ€™t done anything to me so you have nothing to apologize for. Iâ€™m sorry that youâ€™re upset. Is there something I can do? Someone I can call for you?â€ â€œOh no sir, itâ€™s so silly really. I donâ€™t even know why Iâ€™m crying. Itâ€™s ridiculous.â€ â€œWhat is, Victoria? What is it that upset you?â€ I kind of laughed and snot came out my nose. I covered my face with the paper towel and literally wanted to die. â€œIâ€™m sorry,â€ I squeaked out again. This time he laughed and he took hold of my arm again. â€œCome with me. No arguments.â€ I followed him. He led me to the elevator at the end of the hallway. I started letting myself think all sorts of crazy things like he was walking me out and heâ€™d ask me not to return for my shift tomorrow. I tried to imagine how Iâ€™d pay my rent. We stepped into the elevator and he pushed the â€œBâ€ for basement. The basement was his private domain. It was his personal playground; he had a wet bar and a private theatre and a pool table and even a room with a bed. That was where my luscious employer did his partying since his wife left him. Iâ€™d always appreciated it for the simple fact that if he kept a woman over I didnâ€™t have to come face to face with her outside the master suite in the morning. The doors slid open and Alexander held his arm out in a gesture for me to step off. I did. I didnâ€™t come down here often. Manny, one of the other house staff was in charge of cleaning this area during his regular shift. I only did it on Mannyâ€™s days off. Mr. Reigns led me over to the dark cherry bar on the far side of the main room and patted one of the deep red velvet seats. â€œSit down, Victoria. Iâ€™m going to fix you a drink.â€ â€œOh no sir! My shift isnâ€™t over for a few more hoursâ€¦â€ Smiling again he said, â€œIâ€™m well aware of when your shift ends. You canâ€™t get fired for drinking with the boss though, so Iâ€™m going to pour myself one too. Then, Iâ€™m going to sit down next to you and youâ€™re going to tell me what has you in tears.â€ He was being so kind. It almost made me feel worse about my terrible behavior than if heâ€™d just yelled at me. He had his back to me but I could see his face in the mirror above the bar. He hadnâ€™t shaved today and dark stubble covered his chin and cheeks and across his upper lip. It gave him an edgy, sexy look and it was contrary to his normal well-coiffed business look. His eyes were also rimmed in red; a lack of sleep, I presumed. That added an element of vulnerability; it made him seem more human. I liked it. â€œWhat do you drink, Victoria?â€ â€œIâ€™m not a big drinker, sir. Usually if I have something, itâ€™s just a glass of wine.â€ â€œWine it is then,â€ he said. â€œAnd stop with the â€˜sirâ€™ please. Itâ€™s Alex.â€ I think I felt the color rush to my cheeks. There was no way I could call this man by his first name. I looked at him as some kind of deityâ€¦ it seemed sacrilegious for me to even consider it. He turned back towards me and sat a chilled glass filled with a burgundy liquid in front of me. â€œThank you,â€ I said. I glanced in the mirror now that I could see myself. Luckily since I hadnâ€™t worn much make-up, none of it was streaked down my face. I just looked redder than normal. â€œYouâ€™re welcome,â€ he said softly. Alexander poured himself a beer out of the tap and came around and sat in the chair next to me. â€œNow, what has you so upset?â€ CHAPTER TWO VICTORIA I sat at the bar in the basement on a plush velvet high back chair that probably cost more than my monthâ€™s salary with my boss staring into my blue eyes with his hazel ones, asking me why he found me crying in the hallway. This was not at all how I expected my day to go. What was I supposed to say? I think Iâ€™d be too embarrassed to admit to my best friend that my boyfriend broke up with me in a text message. How the heck was I supposed to sit here and admit that to Alexander Reigns, CEO of Reigns Biotechnical Incorporated? Ugh! I want to die, I really do. â€œI just got an upsetting text message.â€ I said that and then I remembered that Karen had put out a memo over a month ago telling us that she â€œfrownedâ€ on our use of our personal phones during working hours unless we were on a break. I wasnâ€™t on a breakâ€¦ but apparently Jason and I are. Oh damn! Now Iâ€™m crying again. Iâ€™m a hot mess. I sucked down the alcohol in the pretty glass in front of me, barely tasting it. â€œAlexâ€ was smiling at me. â€œI wish you werenâ€™t so anxious around me, Victoria. Iâ€™m just a regular person like you.â€ Yeah, right. I donâ€™t think so. â€œIâ€™m sorry, sir.â€ Laughing now he said, â€œAlex. What was the text message about? Is your family okay?â€ My father took off for parts unknown when I was five. My mother was a pole dancer until she made enough money to buy her own club and now she owns the poles. No, my family is not okay but Iâ€™m sure thatâ€™s not what he meant. â€œYes,â€ I said. Taking a deep breath I decided it would probably be better to just get this over with and then maybe he would let me get back to my work and we could get busy forgetting this ever happened. â€œMy family is fine. Like I said, itâ€™s silly really. I got a text from my boyfriend. I feel really foolish because I had the impression that he and I were doing fine. I was very wrong about that, I suppose. The text said that he thought we needed to â€˜take a break.â€™ I have no idea what that would even entail.â€ He laughed again. This time it upset me just a little bit. He insisted I tell him and now heâ€™s laughing at me? â€œIâ€™m sorry, Victoria. Iâ€™m not laughing at you. Itâ€™s not even a happy laugh. Itâ€™s just that itâ€™s almost exactly what happened to me. I had no idea that my wife was even considering a divorce until the day I came home from work and she had moved out. Sometimes I think we are clueless because we want to beâ€¦ you know? Itâ€™s a defense mechanism, I think.â€ â€œI suppose if I gave it some serious thought, I could find more than one reason why heâ€™s rightâ€¦ starting with the fact that he broke up with me in a text message.â€ â€œYes, I donâ€™t even know him and he lost a lot of points with me for that one,â€ he said, with a wink and a smile. Alexander picked up my glass and said, â€œAnother?â€ â€œI should probably get backâ€¦â€ He waved his hand at me and got up to go back behind the bar. â€œThis mausoleum is spotless, Victoria. One unmade bed wonâ€™t make or break it.â€ I watched him pour us another drink. He sat the wine down in front of me and said, â€œHow long have you been together with your boyfriend?â€ â€œA little over a year,â€ I told him. â€œHow old are you, Victoria?â€ â€œYou can call me Vicki,â€ I told him. â€œIâ€™m twenty-three.â€ â€œIs your boyfriendâ€¦?â€ â€œJason.â€ â€œJason. Is he twenty-three also?â€ â€œHeâ€™s twenty-four,â€ I said. â€œI remember twenty-four,â€ he said, as if he were an old man. â€œItâ€™s that age when you start thinking that you really need to settle down and begin getting your life in order. Some people donâ€™t handle that well. They panic and think they need to go have some funâ€¦ one last fling before theyâ€™re tied down for the next twenty years or so.â€ â€œI wasnâ€™t pressuring him at all. We hadnâ€™t even talked about marriage yet. We donâ€™t live together.â€ â€œThatâ€™s my point though. Does Jason have a lot of friends who are either married or engaged?â€ â€œHis best friend got married a month ago and their other friend from college just got engaged.â€ He nodded. â€œI donâ€™t know Jason and I donâ€™t mean to put ideas in your head that arenâ€™t factâ€¦ so take this with a grain of salt, okay?â€ I nodded and he went on, â€œThatâ€™s probably where the pressure came fromâ€¦ not you, Vicki.â€ I liked the way he said, â€œVicki.â€ â€œYou think heâ€™s afraid Iâ€™ll expect him to marry me?â€ â€œWell, after a year of dating at your age, thatâ€™s the logical next step, isnâ€™t it? Do you want children?â€ â€œSomeday, yes.â€ â€œDoes Jason know that?â€ â€œYes of courseâ€¦ heâ€™s not that thrilled about the idea of being a father. Neither of us had the best examples growing up. I think heâ€™s always been a little concerned that weâ€™ll mess it up too.â€ Alexander surprised me then. He reached over and picked up a piece of my hair that had fallen out of my bun and tucked it behind my ear. It was a quick, gentle touch but it seemed like such an intimate one between an employer and employee. As soon as he drew his hand back I found myself wishing that he would touch me again. â€œYouâ€™re beautiful,â€ he said. I almost fell out of my chair. Instead, I picked up my wine glass and drained it. â€œThank you,â€ I told him, finally. He smiled. He was beautifulâ€¦ incredibly so. â€œAgain, I could be wrong and over-stepping but my thought would be that he said â€˜a breakâ€™ instead of â€˜break-upâ€™ because he knows what a fool he would be to let you go, deep down. But donâ€™t let him make all the decisions here, Vicki. Remember your own self-worth. If youâ€™re not truly happy with him, then spend your â€˜breakâ€™ deciding what it is that you want from him if you do take him back. Realize that by initiating this, he thinks he has the power, but he really doesnâ€™t. Your life and your happiness are in your hands, not his.â€ I forced a smile. My head was buzzing. I really wasnâ€™t much of a drinker and the two glasses of wine had already gone to my head. â€œI will. Thank you. Is that what youâ€™ve been doing?â€ That was such a personal question. I wanted to take it back as soon as I asked it but Alexander didnâ€™t seem offended. Instead he looked embarrassed. â€œNo, I give great advice, but I donâ€™t live it. What Iâ€™ve been doing, Vicki is avoiding it all. I donâ€™t want to fight over material possessions, yet I donâ€™t want to give this woman I was married to for five years everything Iâ€™ve worked for and amassed in my adult life. Does that seem selfish?â€ â€œNot at all. I personally have always had difficulty with the idea of alimony. Itâ€™s 2015 and female or not, Iâ€™m as capable of making a billion dollars as the person I decide to marry is. At least I hope I am. Lately I havenâ€™t been feeling very proud of where I am at this stage in my life. I have always intended to do so much more. I want to give back to the community, you know? I donâ€™t want to live in this beautiful place surrounded by beautiful landscapes and only enjoy it. I want to be a part of the solution to problems like homelessness and environmental issues. I meanâ€¦ obviously I wonâ€™t do that working as a maid, but I donâ€™t intend to do this job foreverâ€¦ Shoot! I mean, I love my job, itâ€™s justâ€¦â€ He laughed. â€œItâ€™s okay, Vicki. I havenâ€™t had a lot of opportunity to speak to you one on one like this, but from what I do know about you, youâ€™re much too intelligent to be doing physical labor your entire life. I would be nothing but happy for you if a better opportunity comes along. What do you see yourself doing someday?â€ â€œI finished my prerequisites for the Physicianâ€™s Assistant program at UC Davis. I just took a yearâ€¦ or two off to save some money.â€ â€œPhysicianâ€™s Assistant, huh? Thatâ€™s admirable.â€ I shrugged. â€œIâ€™ve just always liked healing things. I had a stray animal hospital in our basement when I was a kid.â€ I laughed at the memory of birds with broken wings and stray cats that had been in fights and needed patching up. Back then I would tell my mom I wanted to be a surgeon. She would tell me to â€œMarry oneâ€ instead. Gotta love my mom. â€œSo why a P.A. why not a physician?â€ â€œMedical school is really expensive,â€ I said. â€œPlus itâ€™s very intense. Even when I get into the P.A. program Iâ€™ll have to keep working to support myself. I canâ€™t see myself doing that and still doing well in a medical school.â€ â€œI admire your drive, Vicki. It was one of the many things that Cassandra and I fought about when she lived here.â€ Cassandra is his wife and I had heard one or two of those fights as I kept my head down and tried to pretend I didnâ€™t. â€œShe doesnâ€™t have any at all. She never wanted to work, which I was okay with at first. But I had pictured her heading up charities or at the very least having our children and caring for them. As it turned out, she had no interest in any of that at all. She informed me two years into our marriage that she wasnâ€™t interested in being a mother. I canâ€™t believe that Iâ€™m telling you this,â€ he said suddenly. I realized he remembered who he was talking to. Not thinking I shot my hand out and covered his with it. â€œThat had to be hard. Please donâ€™t worry. I will keep your confidence. I appreciate you talking to me about this so much. I know how busy you are and for you to take time out of your day like this for the likes of meâ€¦â€ He moved his hand, but he didnâ€™t take it away. Instead, he wrapped mine up in it and looked intensely at my face as he said, â€œDonâ€™t do that, Vicki. Donâ€™t say things about yourself like that as if Iâ€™m better than you and Iâ€™m slumming by sitting here having a pleasant conversation with you. The things I just told you about Cassieâ€¦ theyâ€™re not things I shared with anyone else, except my attorneys, thatâ€™s why I said I couldnâ€™t believe I was telling you. It actually feels good to be able to talk to someone about it.â€ I smiled and nodded. He was still gripping my hand. My heart was speeding up and I was suddenly having a hard time breathing. â€œYou can talk to me about any of it, sir. I wonâ€™t tell anyone.â€ He grinned. â€œI really wish youâ€™d stop calling me sir,â€ he said again. â€œTell me about you, Vicki. Where did you grow up?â€ â€œI grew up in L.A. out near Glendale.â€ â€œI grew up here too, in Orange County,â€ he said. Of course he did. I wasnâ€™t certain of his background, but it was obvious wealth wasnâ€™t brand new to him. He wore it so well though. Iâ€™d never seen him be haughty or arrogant about it, unlike his dear wife. â€œI spent a lot of time in Orange when I was young,â€ I told him. â€œMy mother worked in a place there and Iâ€™d go out and spend time on the playground near the pier at Seal Beach or watching the sunset or eating a burger atâ€¦â€ â€œRubyâ€™s!â€ â€œYes,â€ I said with a smile. â€œI loved Rubyâ€™s.â€ â€œMe too, it was my favorite spot.â€ â€œIt was not!â€ â€œSeriously, I used to sit at that booth in the far corner and play music on that little table jukebox and watch the sunset nearly every Friday night.â€ â€œI loved those jukeboxes and I loved that booth too! It was always taken. I think I only actually got to sit there once.â€ â€œIt was probably me,â€ he said with a grin. I smiled back at him, who could help it? It was funny to imagine our lives intersecting like that as kids and us not even noticing. He was seven years older than me though. I was about twelve when I started spending a lot of time down there. He was probably already in college. Still, it was nice to know we had that in common. â€œThank you, sir,â€ I said. Heâ€™d taken my mind off of Jason and I was very appreciative. He laughed and said, â€œYouâ€™re welcomeâ€¦ for what Iâ€™m not sure.â€ â€œFor making me forget my problems and remember being happy on the beach. Really, it was so nice of you to take time out of your schedule for me, sir. I appreciate it.â€ He suddenly had a look in his eyes that wasnâ€™t amusement and his voice was husky as he said, â€œI really wish that youâ€™d stop calling me sir. I want to kiss you, Vickiâ€¦ badly. When you call me â€˜Sirâ€™ it reminds me that I shouldnâ€™t.â€ I was shocked, excited and scared all at the same time. I told myself to politely decline. I told myself to go back to work, and then, I donâ€™t know what came over me. Maybe it was because now he was touching me. Heâ€™d let go of my hand and now his fingertips were lightly skimming along my bare arms and sending delicious shivers throughout my body that landed in the deepest part of my belly. Or maybe it was because of the intense way he was still looking into my eyes and I knew now that what I saw there was desire. Maybe it was all of it. I donâ€™t know. But I opened my mouth and as if I were a bystander and not a participant, I heard myself say his name, â€œAlex.â€ That was his invitation to kiss me. Iâ€™d meant it that way. He took it for what it was. He cupped the side of my face in his hand and leaned in, placing his lips over mine. His lips were so warm, so full and so soft and when his tongue snaked out, my own lips parted and allowed him the access he desired. His wet tongue slipped into my mouth and explored every inch of it. My breath was completely gone and I didnâ€™t care. The kiss was so incredible; I was ready to keep doing it until I passed out. This is how kisses are supposed to be. I loved the way he rested his hand on the side of my face while he tasted my lips, and I loved the way he was demanding, but still sweet. Itâ€™s the kind of kiss that you know youâ€™ll never forget, even if he walked out right now and I never saw him again. That was when I suddenly remembered who it was I was kissing. I pulled back and looked at him while I tried to catch my breath. This man is more than hot. Heâ€™s perfect. Heâ€™s a work of art. Heâ€™s my boss and I just kissed him. I was torn between being giddy over that thought and horrified. I felt like a stupid teenager whoâ€™d just been kissed by the football star. I was gaping at him like a fool and I know my eyes must have been as wide as saucers. What did I just do? CHAPTER THREE ALEXANDER I just kissed my maid. Itâ€™s not that I cared that she was my maid. Sheâ€™s an extremely desirable woman. Today was not the first time Iâ€™d noticed. But talking to her today had put me over the top. She seemed really intelligent and compassionate and just so different from the spoiled, self-centered women I was used to. She was real, and about the time she got passionate about what she wanted to do with her life and none of it had anything to do with marrying a rich man and taking him for all he had. I decided that I liked her a lot. The problem wasnâ€™t that she was a maid; I couldnâ€™t care less about that. Who she was as a person was so much more than that. The problem was that she was a maid that I employed. I just broke all kinds of business commandments. I had honestly only started out to try and make her feel better. Now she was sitting here looking at me with a confused, stricken look and all I can think is that I really, really want to kiss her again. In fact, I was aroused to the point from that one kiss that I wanted to take it further, desperately so. â€œIâ€™m sorry,â€ she said, putting her hand to her pretty lips. Her green eyes looked like saucers and I could actually see the regret there. I felt like some kind of sexually harassing slime ball all of a suddenâ€¦ and she was apologizing to me. â€œDonâ€™t be sorry, Vicki. I initiated it. Iâ€™m sorry. I just really wanted to do that and I should have stopped myself. I know I shouldnâ€™t have. I hope youâ€™ll forgive me.â€ She had tears in her eyes again. Damn it! She stood up and looked like she was about to bolt. â€œNo, itâ€™s really okay. You donâ€™t have to apologize. I kissed you backâ€¦ I should know better, how unprofessional! This whole day Iâ€™ve just been such a mess.â€ She was crying again and I couldnâ€™t stand that now I was the cause of it. She was blaming herself when I was clearly the one who should have known better. I stood up too and without thinking again, I put my arms around her and pulled her into my chest. I realized as soon as her warm, soft body was molded into mine that Iâ€™d made another mistake. But God, she felt so good. It was like she was made to be in my arms. Her light blonde hair smelled so pretty and I was tempted to release the bun she had it in and wrap my fingers up in it. She was shaking against me. I put my lips to her head, just trying to calm her down and whispered against the side of her face. â€œPlease donâ€™t cry, Vicki. I didnâ€™t mean to make you cry.â€ She looked up at me. Her chest was rising and falling rapidly and her green eyes were a mixture of sadness and something else. The something else was what I was focused on. If I was reading her right, she wanted me as badly as I wanted her. Once again, I threw caution to the wind. I was going to take this so far that if she was after a lawsuit, I was handing it to her on a silver platter. I claimed her pretty, heart shaped mouth and as I did, I released her hair from its confines. I hadnâ€™t realized how long it was until masses of it cascaded down her shoulders and back. I didnâ€™t hesitate to wrap my fingers through it. It felt like silk and I thought if Iâ€™d ever seen it down before, I would have kissed her a long time ago. I didnâ€™t believe for a second that she was setting me up. I had initiated the whole thingâ€¦ but even if she were, Iâ€™m afraid this would be worth it. The feel of her tongue in my mouthâ€¦ tentative at first, but now passionate and urgent was going straight to my head. I felt her shift her hips slightly and I knew that she could feel how much I desired her. She wasnâ€™t pulling away though, so I didnâ€™t stop. Instead I let my lips slide down her jaw and find her supple neck. I kissed her there and found the soft piece between her neck and shoulder and took a soft bite. She moaned and I knew that if she didnâ€™t tell me to stop now, I wasnâ€™t going to be able to stop myself. I let my hand slide down her back and cupping one arm underneath her bottom, I picked her up and carried her into the bedroom. I sat her down on the bed and looked down at her. Her pretty hair was across her face and she was looking up at me, breathing hard. What struck me most was the intensity of her gaze. I know that women like to look at me. Iâ€™ve been ogled since I was a teenager, but Iâ€™d never been so incredibly turned on just by watching someone look at me. Just that simple look gave me an ache that I felt all the way to my core. It was more than wanting her; it was a driving need to possess her suddenly. â€œIf you donâ€™t tell me not to, Iâ€™m going to make love to you now.â€ She nodded and I took that as consent. I sat down next to her, drawing her back onto the bed with me and crushed my mouth down on hers. I did my best to undress her as we kissed, but reluctantly, I had to let her go so she could get that ridiculous uniform off. Why havenâ€™t I ever noticed how awful those uniforms are before? It must be something Cassandra came up with in hopes that I wouldnâ€™t mess around with the help the way sheâ€™d told me that her father used to. When Vicki pulled off that horrible dress, I felt my mouth go dry. She was every bit as gorgeous underneath it as I imagined she would be and then some. For all the drabness of the uniform, the underwear she wore so well underneath it was soft and lacy and silkyâ€¦ and hot. I reached up and grabbed her by the waist and pulled her back down to me. I let my mind flicker across all of the bad things that could come out of what we were about to doâ€¦ and then I tucked them away and I tasted the kind of pleasure that even I had never tasted before. *** I was twenty-five when Cassandra and I got married. Twenty-four when I committed to her and stopped having one-night stands with a different girl every weekâ€¦ some weeks every night. I lost count years ago of the number of women Iâ€™d been with, and if most of them walked right up to me on the street today, I wouldnâ€™t have a clue who they were. But I knew instantly that with Vicki, it was going to be different, dangerous even. This was one woman that I would never forget and one afternoon that could fodder my fantasies for a lifetime. I felt like a man utterly starved and suddenly offered a steak. Iâ€™d had sex with someone last night and Iâ€™d already forgotten with whom. With Vicki it wasnâ€™t just her gorgeous body, or her beautiful face; it was the sounds that she made turned me on and the looks that she got on her face and the deep, burning desire in her beautiful green eyes. By the time we were both panting and sweating and clutching tightly onto each otherâ€¦ I already didnâ€™t want to let her go. VICTORIA When Alex collapsed on top of me and I got my breathing under control and I could put two thoughts together again, all I could think was, â€œDear God, what have I done?â€ and shamelessly, â€œDear God, I want to do that again.â€ What was in that wine? Iâ€™ve never had a one night, or afternoon, stand in my life. Iâ€™ve always been a good girlâ€¦ Iâ€™ve only been with three men in my lifetime. The first was my â€œfirst loveâ€ my senior year in high school, the second was my boyfriend for two years in college and the third was Jason who I had been with since. Iâ€™m not the one night stand type. Alex is. Dear God, what is he thinking of me? I might know if I could see his face, but heâ€™s settled into the pillow and pulled my back up against him as if weâ€™re going to spend the rest of the day cuddled here together, as if weâ€™re in love instead of employer and employee. Instead of billionaire and maid. Heâ€™s so warm, and his breath on my neck feels so good. I canâ€™t even let my mind begin to drift back to what just happened between us because Iâ€™ll start shaking all over again. I honestly never knew that sex could be like that. Maybe it was because he was so experiencedâ€¦ maybe it was because our afternoon tryst was so taboo in my mind, but God it was amazing and Lord help me I really did want to do it again. â€œAre you okay?â€ His voice had a sexy sleepy quality to it and that coupled with the heat of his breath against my neck made me shudder. I nodded. â€œMm hmm.â€ I know it wasnâ€™t a brilliant answer, but what was I going to say? I felt him let go of me and I thought, â€œThis is it. I have to get out of this bed naked in front of his eyes and put on that horrible dress and do the walk of shame back out to where my mop is.â€ Alex wasnâ€™t ready to get up yet though and instead of letting me go, he turned me over so that I was now facing him. He put his fingers underneath my chin and tipped my face up to his. He smiled so sweetly and then he lowered his mouth down to mine and kissed me so tenderly that it honestly nearly made me cry again. If this was what one afternoon stands were likeâ€¦ I think Iâ€™ll have another. And I didâ€¦ or we did and afternoon turned into evening and evening into night and I fell asleep in his arms. He was so warm and tender and even my heart was smiling when I closed my eyes. CHAPTER FOUR VICTORIA I woke up thanks to the early morning sun pressing its way into the room via the skylight. I think I was still smiling. The glow from sleeping in Alexâ€™s loving arms was still flowing warmly through my veins. Then suddenly, the glow was replaced by panic. I sat up and looked around. Heâ€™d locked me inâ€¦ but he was gone. Oh Jesus! What if Iâ€™ve made a terrible mistake? I glanced over at the clockâ€¦ it was only six-fifteen. Thank goodness I woke up before Manny came in at seven! Coming face to face with him, fully naked, would have been the icing on this already mortifying cake. I gathered my clothes quickly and as I got dressed I wondered where Alex had gone and when. Did he slip back to his own room in the middle of the night out of the fear that one of the other staff would catch us? Did he have a date? Surely he hadnâ€™t already gone into the office. It was so early. Then again, he didnâ€™t go in yesterday, that I knew for a fact. But today was Saturday; my day off, thank goodness again. I wasnâ€™t sure how I was going to face him. I wondered what he was thinking of me and I couldnâ€™t help but wonder what Iâ€™d just done to my job. I needed this job. I was set to begin my online classes next semester and I had a big payment due soon. How could I have been so stupidâ€¦ and for sex? But it wasnâ€™t just sex. I didnâ€™t want to think that. I was trying hard to discourage myself from thinking that but it was the truth. At least on my end, it wasnâ€™t just sex. Iâ€™d felt a real connection there, or had I just been stupid once again? I got into the elevator and pushed the button for the upper floor where the master suite was located. When I stepped off, the first thing I noticed was that my cleaning cart was still there. Alexâ€¦ or someone had moved it over to the side. The second thing I noticed was that the door to his suite was open. I carefully moved across the upper balcony. All was quiet downstairs. Not even the cook came in before seven. Alex liked it that way. Those were his rules. No staff between seven p.m. and seven a.m. I got to the door and cautiously glanced inside. The bed was made and all looked neat and tidy. I hadnâ€™t made the bed yesterdayâ€¦ I wondered who did. Karen wasnâ€™t usually in on Fridays, but what if sheâ€™d come in for some reason yesterday? She liked me, but she was tough and that was why she had the job of lead staff. Iâ€™d seen her fire people for less. I looked at the cart again and told myself that if it had been Karen, she would have put the cart away downstairs where it went. Did Alex make his own bed? I guess that wouldnâ€™t be completely odd. Heâ€™d done it before. â€œAlex?â€ I called out to the empty room. I advanced a little further inside. The little sitting room with the big stone fireplace was empty as well and the door to the huge bathroom was open and that room was empty as well. I looked at the clock. It was six-thirty now. I had to get out of here before the other staff came in. There would be no logical explanation for me being here in a wrinkled uniform on my day off. Besides, I thought, looking into the mirror on his dresser, I looked like Iâ€™d been having wild sex all night. Or maybe that was just the invisible â€œGuiltâ€ stamp on my forehead. I guiltily retreated and headed for the elevator. I took it to the main floor and left through the locked service entrance in the back of the large, gourmet kitchen, locking it again behind me. Taking a deep breath of the fresh, salty morning air, I made my way to the employee parking area, got into my car and snuck out like a thief. I realized when I got out to the main road that my heart was pounding hard against my ribcage and my breathing was irregular. I made it home just short of hyperventilating and held my breath even as I entered my own apartment, hoping my roommate Liz had gone to work. I wasnâ€™t going to be that lucky. She was sitting at the little dining room table enjoying her coffee as I stole through the door. She grinned broadly and said, â€œWell hello. You look like you had a good night.â€ I imagine that in my anxious state my cheeks were probably flushed and since I was still wearing my uniformâ€¦ â€œUmâ€¦ yeah, it was okay,â€ I said. â€œHow are you?â€ She raised an eyebrow and stood up. â€œIâ€™m going to pour you a cup of coffee while you change. Then, you and I can talk.â€ â€œTalk aboutâ€¦?â€ She took a cup out of the cabinet and turned around and looked at me again. She ran her eyes over my uniform and my disheveled state and said, â€œWhy you were out all night and youâ€™re still in your uniformâ€¦â€ â€œOh, that!â€ I said, trying to sound sincere. Iâ€™m a terrible liar, but I was going to give it a shot. â€œI didnâ€™t have any clean clothes at Jasonâ€™s, so I just put this on.â€ â€œIâ€™m shocked,â€ she said. â€œThat I didnâ€™t have any clean clothes?â€ She shook her head. â€œThat I stayed at Jasonâ€™s?â€ She shook it again. â€œThat Iâ€™m lying?â€ I asked, chagrined. She nodded then with a smile. â€œGo change and hurry back, I canâ€™t wait to hear all about it.â€ I changed into a pair of cutoff sweats and a t-shirt and washed my face, brushed my teeth and pulled my hair back into a ponytail at the nape of my neck. I didnâ€™t feel any better, but I at least looked human. I met Liz back at the table and sat down, taking a sip of coffee. â€œThat is so good, thank you.â€ â€œYouâ€™re welcome,â€ she said. â€œNow, tell me where you were all night.â€ â€œI was at the mansion,â€ I said. I took another sip of coffee. It really was good. â€œHow did you know I wasnâ€™t with Jason?â€ â€œHe came by on his way to work this morning.â€ I almost spilled the coffee, sitting it down too hard on the table. â€œWhat did he want?â€ â€œHe just wanted to pick up the jacket he left here a few days ago. Your bedroom door was closed and I thought you were in there sleeping. I started to go get you but he said to let you sleep, heâ€™d talk to you later. Imagine my surprise when I saw you pull up out the window and then come slinking in here looking all guilty.â€ I breathed a sigh of relief. At least Jason didnâ€™t know. Not that it should matter to him since weâ€™re on a â€œbreak.â€ But still, I wasnâ€™t sure what I thought of myself at the moment. I was really unsure of what everyone else would think of me. Liz looked amused so far. â€œI was really at the mansion all night,â€ I said again, praying she would leave it at that. â€œI thought that yummy boss of yours had a no staff after seven p.m. rule.â€ â€œHe does.â€ â€œThen pray tell what were you doing there all night, and donâ€™t leave out any details.â€ I stood up and went over to top up my coffee. â€œYou want some?â€ She laughed. â€œYouâ€™re bright red. You slept with your boss, didnâ€™t you?â€ I looked away and said, â€œOf course not.â€ Still laughing she said, â€œLook me in the eye.â€ I turned slowly and looked at her and she laughed even harder. â€œOh my God! You slept with a billionaire hunk! Go Vicki!â€ â€œStop it,â€ I said, mortified once again. â€œIt wasnâ€™t like that.â€ â€œWhat was it like?â€ she said. â€œOh please tell me. I havenâ€™t had a boyfriend in three months and Iâ€™ve never had anyone like Alexander Reigns.â€ I sat back down and said, â€œJason broke up with me yesterday in a text message while I was at work.â€ â€œThat snake! I always knew I didnâ€™t like him. Oh Vicki, Iâ€™m sorry.â€ I tried to smile and say it didnâ€™t matter, but the words wouldnâ€™t come out. Instead, I said, â€œIn his defense, he didnâ€™t really say break up. He said, take a break.â€ â€œSame thing,â€ she said. â€œSlime ball.â€ â€œYeah, I guess. I was really upset and I just lost it and I couldnâ€™t stop crying. Alexâ€¦â€ â€œAlex, huh? Cozy.â€ â€œDo you want to hear this or not?â€ â€œI do. Iâ€™m sorry, Iâ€™ll be good.â€ â€œHe saw me and he was so sweet. He fixed us a drink andâ€¦â€ â€œA drink?â€ â€œLiz!â€ â€œOkay, okay. Go onâ€¦â€ â€œWe talked. It was really nice. Heâ€™s really just a normal guy. Itâ€™s easy to forget theyâ€™re human, you know? The elite. The ones we wait on and clean up after. But he really is just normal like any other guy.â€ â€œAlexander Reigns is a God. Ask the cover of any tabloid in the city. And since his wife left him, heâ€™s been seen in the company of more than one model.â€ â€œI know. Iâ€™ve seen him in the company of them first-hand. But he wasnâ€™t like that with me.â€ â€œIâ€™m not being facetious now honey but he obviously did talk you into something. Am I right?â€ â€œIt wasnâ€™t like that though. We talked and I had two glasses of wine and he was just so sweet. He kissed me and then he actually apologized. He told me he would stop there if I wanted him to. I didnâ€™t want him toâ€¦â€ â€œWow, and you spent the whole night?â€ â€œYeah, I fell asleep in his arms. It was sweet and romantic though, Liz. It wasnâ€™t sleazy at all.â€ â€œOh honey of course not. I know you. Iâ€™m having a hard time imagining you sleeping with him at allâ€¦ but I know that you wouldnâ€™t have done it unless there was some real emotion there. I just like to tease. You know that.â€ â€œI know. Iâ€™m feeling a little sleazy myself actually and projecting that on you I guess. When I woke up this morning, he was gone. Now Iâ€™m scared to death. What if I screwed up my job?â€ â€œWhy would he fire you? He came on to you, right? You could easily sue him for sexual harassment.â€ â€œOh I wouldnâ€™t ever do that. That wasnâ€™t how it happened. It was completely consensual.â€ She smiled, â€œI can tell that by the way youâ€™re defending him. My point is that I really think even if he didnâ€™t want to pursue this any further he wouldnâ€™t be willing to take that kind of risk. The wrong person in that situation could take him for millions.â€ â€œI never thought about it that way. I hope he knows that Iâ€™d never even consider anything like that.â€ â€œI donâ€™t know how well your boss knows you, but those of us who do know you well enough know that. I am a little worried about your heart though.â€ â€œWhy?â€ â€œYou seem awfully sad that he left during the night.â€ I shrugged, trying to be nonchalant about it. The truth was, just talking about it brought a deep ache to my chest. â€œIâ€™m sure he had business to attend to or something. I hope.â€ Liz smiled and reached over to pat my hand. Itâ€™ll be okay, honey. You want some breakfast?â€ â€œNo thank you. The coffee was great. Iâ€™m going to shower.â€ â€œDonâ€™t worry yourself sick over this.â€ â€œI wonâ€™t. Thanks Liz.â€ â€œThank you. Your night at the mansion is the most exciting thing thatâ€™s happened to me in months.â€ I laughed, hugged her and headed for the shower. I got really lucky in the roommate department. When I couldnâ€™t stand living with my mother and her endless string of â€œdatesâ€ any longer, I answered an ad in the Orange County Register for a female roommate. That was three years ago and Liz has grown to be my best friend. Sheâ€™s a little older than me. She just turned twenty-nine. Sheâ€™s a beautiful woman with shoulder length dark hair and really intense green eyes. She models for some local catalogs and she does character work as a Princess at the major theme park in Anaheim. She broke up with her boyfriend of two years a few months ago because she found out heâ€™d been cheating on her for almost an entire year. The first two months, she swore off men completely. I could tell now that she was coming back around. After talking with her and taking my shower, I felt slightly better. Then she did leave to go to work and I was left with my own swirling thoughts in my head. By the end of the day I had myself not only fired, but tarred, feathered and strung up in the town square with a giant â€œAâ€ on my chest. After allâ€¦ even if none of the other sins were great enough to punish myself for, he was still legally married. CHAPTER FIVE VICTORIA I woke up Monday morning with the largest butterflies in my stomach in history. I was due at work at seven. I had no idea if I still had a job. I had no idea if any of the other staff knew about what Alex and I had done, and I had no idea what he was thinking of me. How was I going to face him? Iâ€™d never had to face anyone after an afternoon tryst that was going nowhere before. I didnâ€™t have a choice however. I had to go into work and face the music one way or the other. I was a big girl who had made a stupid decision. Everyone does it at least once in their lives, right? I needed to suck it up and if necessary, suffer the consequences. I dragged myself out of bed and into the shower. I stepped in and stood under the showerhead, letting the water beat down over me in steamy rivulets. I closed my eyes and leaned my head into the cool tiles as the heat soaked into my skin. I tried to visualize the stress being washed off me and sucked down into the drainâ€¦ disappearing into the ocean somewhere and leaving me renewed. It didnâ€™t quite work that way, but by the time I was finished showering and I had dressed in my crisp uniform and put my hair into a neat bun, I at least felt strong enough to face whatever came. Iâ€™d been through a lot in my life. I could handle this. When I got to work, I parked in the lot next to the cook, Gregoryâ€™s Mercedes. He was a retired Wall Street millionaire who had gone to culinary school because he was bored. I only knew that because Manny told me. He said that Gregory wouldnâ€™t take any money for working for the Reigns. All he asked was that he be allowed to take what was left over in the kitchen with him each day to share with the homeless shelter he sponsored. Manny also told me that Alex not only agreed; he also gave the shelter a monthly stipend of his own. That was another point in his favor, not that I was looking for them. I knew rationally that our tryst was just that and even if Alex had wanted to make more of it, Iâ€™m sure it would be completely unheard of and unacceptable in his position. I walked into the service entrance, put my purse and sweater in the locker there and then went through the kitchen on my way to pick up my housekeeping cart. I was stopped in my tracks at the sight of Alex, sitting at the table doing some kind of drawing of a landscape on his laptop. Alexâ€™s landscaping designs were brilliant, and although his parents had been wealthy I read somewhere that the only money he took from them was what heâ€™d used to start his business. Since then, heâ€™d amassed his own fortune thanks to his hard work and talent. He must have felt me looking at him because he turned all at once and smiled. â€œGood morning, Vicki.â€ He was smiling. He was still calling me Vicki. My stomach stilled a little bit and against my better judgment, my heart gave a little flutter. â€œGood morning Mr. Reigns.â€ I wasnâ€™t naked in his bed. I knew enough about professionalism to know that during the day with the cook standing not three feet away now, he was no longer Alex. â€œGood morning!â€ Gregoryâ€™s voice boomed as he stepped out of the walk-in freezer. â€œAre you hungry Victoria? I was about to make Mr. Reigns some of my magic waffles before he leaves for his trip.â€ His trip? He was leaving? Why did I care? Oh Vicki! Pull it together! â€œNo thank you, Gregory. I should get to work.â€ â€œAw, come on Vicki, I hate to eat alone. My room is pretty decent today.â€ Alex was still grinning at me and his tone was teasing. It wasnâ€™t unusual for him to invite any of the staff to eat with him. It was well known around the house that he really did hate to eat alone. â€œOkay sir, thank you,â€ I said. I noticed that today, he didnâ€™t seem fazed at all by my use of â€œsir.â€ I wondered if that meant he no longer had any desire to kiss me. I wished that I felt the same. I had to keep reminding myself not to look at his lips. I sat down and Gregory brought me a cup of coffee. Alex continued to work on his project as I tried to nonchalantly study his profile. He was so gorgeous that it should be illegal. This morning he was clean-shaven and wearing a perfectly tailored dark gray suit and light blue tie. He looked good enough to have for breakfast. When he seemingly finished what he was doing, he looked at me and said, â€œSo how was your weekend, Vicki?â€ I glanced over at Gregory. He was running the blender and oblivious to our conversation. Not that we were saying anything wrong, I was just still feeling a little anxious about it all. â€œIt was relaxing,â€ I told him. The truth was, I tried hard to relax but I hadnâ€™t been able to. Iâ€™d driven myself crazy over it all weekend. The good news was, I did a deep clean of the apartment and everything was squeaky clean now. â€œGood,â€ he said. â€œI worked all weekend. Iâ€™m going on a trip to Texas today. Iâ€™ll be gone for at least two weeks, maybe three.â€ I hated that my chest hurt when he said that. What was wrong with me? We had sex, Vicki! Weâ€™re both adults. Get over it! â€œTexas? That sounds fun.â€ He laughed. â€œNot really,â€ he said. â€œIt will be lucrative though. My company won a contract to design a large public garden there. Iâ€™m going to go down and get them started. The whole job is likely to take a few months, but my part should hopefully only be a couple of weeks.â€ Gregory served our breakfast then and while we ate, Manny came in and Alex invited him to join us. I was both happy and confused. I was happy I still had a job and that Manny was doing the job now of keeping the conversation going. I was confused that Alex hadnâ€™t alluded at all to our time together on Friday, or why heâ€™d just left Saturday morning with no word. I wasnâ€™t sure if that was good or bad, but I tried to make myself believe that since I still had a job, it was the best possible outcome. After breakfast, I wished him a good trip and went to work. As I cleaned his room, I tried not to imagine myself someday sleeping in his arms in the giant California King bed. I triedâ€¦ I didnâ€™t quite succeed. By the dayâ€™s end, Iâ€™d decided that him leaving for a couple of weeks would be good for me. It would give me time to get back on track without having to see his gorgeous face every day. The other good news was that with all of my confusion and angst over Alex, it had kept my mind off of Jason. *** Alex was gone for almost a month and by the time he returned I had myself completely pulled together. On top of that, Iâ€™d not only accepted Jasonâ€™s â€œbreakâ€ was a good idea; I was thriving on it. I realized that without the pressures of a boyfriend who could be awfully demanding at times, I got a lot more rest and I got a lot more done. I had started my online classes. I was taking medical terminology and nutrition online. Those were the last two classes I would need to qualify for the program. I hoped to have enough saved up by the next semester to apply. I ran into Alex occasionally and our conversation had always been light and easy. I still wondered sometimes why he never mentioned that day but Liz, always the voice of reason, had convinced me that he probably realized what risky territory he had dived into. I could have cried sexual harassment. I guess that I donâ€™t think like a rich person, or a litigious one. He has to guard his assets because there are always vultures circling. Iâ€™m not a vulture, but after the ordeal he was going through with his soon to be ex-wife, who could really blame him for being cautious. It was Saturday and I got up early because I had a nutrition quiz due by noon. I also woke up because of some amazing smells wafting from the kitchen, down the hallway and underneath my door. Liz was cooking. Sheâ€™d told me not long ago that one way she dealt with her now five months of celibacy was by cooking. She used to be overweight because back then, she dealt with things by eating. She found out that she could deal with it just as easily by cooking yummy foods and just sampling as she cooked instead of eating a full meal. I think I was suffering the most for it. Iâ€™d already gained three pounds this month. â€œGood morning. That smells amazing,â€ I told her, padding out in my robe and slippers. â€œWhat are you making?â€ â€œI have the works,â€ she said. â€œFrench toast, bacon, sausage, fresh fruit and fresh squeezed orange juice.â€ â€œYouâ€™re amazing. Youâ€™re my favorite roommate.â€ â€œI know,â€ she said. â€œGrab some juice and have a seat, Iâ€™ll fill you up.â€ I got my juice and sat down. Within minutes, my plate was filled with beautiful, fattening food. I picked up the maple syrup and began pouring it onto my French toast. I love maple syrup, I usually overdo it. Thatâ€™s why I was surprised that as soon as the sweet, syrupy fragrance hit my nostrils, my stomach lurched. I put the syrup down, pushed back from the table and all but ran into the bathroom. I dropped to my knees in front of the toilet and began to heave. I was shaking and I could feel sweat beading up on my forehead and running slowly down the side of my face. I emptied my stomach and reached up to flush the toilet before almost collapsing back against the cabinet behind me. I was light-headed and I could actually see gray spots in front of my eyes. Iâ€™d never passed out before, so I wasnâ€™t sure, but it felt like I was about to. I leaned forward and put my head between my knees while I let it pass. In the meantime, I heard Liz knock on the door. â€œHey Vicki! Are you alright? What happened?â€ I didnâ€™t answer her right away so she pushed open the door. When she saw me on the floor she sucked in a sharp breath and said, â€œOh my goodness, honey, whatâ€™s wrong? Youâ€™re so pale!â€ â€œIâ€™m not feeling so good,â€ I told her. â€œHere, letâ€™s get you up and back to bed,â€ she said. She helped me to my feet and I stood in front of the sink and brushed my teeth and rinsed out my mouth. Then I mistakenly took a drink of water. As soon as it hit my stomach, I was hanging my head over the toilet again. â€œJeez, honey. You have something bad. Have you been around anyone with the stomach flu?â€ â€œNot that I know of,â€ I told her, starting the teeth brushing process over. â€œWhat did you eat last night?â€ â€œJust the pasta salad. The same as you.â€ â€œHmm, at least itâ€™s probably not food poisoning. I had that once after eating some bad salmon. That was the worst. It was even worse because my periods were spotty back then and I thought I was pregnant.â€ I saw the question in her eyes before she asked it. I was trying to do the math in my own head. When was my last menstrual cycle? Oh damn! â€œIâ€™m not pregnant,â€ I said, too quickly. â€œDid you and Jason use protection?â€ â€œNot condoms, but I was on the pill. We both got tested regularly for STDâ€™s. Jason hated condoms.â€ â€œDid you remember to take them every day?â€ â€œYes Liz. Iâ€™m not pregnant. Itâ€™s the flu.â€ She seemed to accept that and said, â€œOkay honey, letâ€™s get you to bed.â€ CHAPTER SIX VICTORIA I lay in bed, grateful once again for Liz who brought me some saltine crackers and a seven-up and then after putting a bucket by the bed â€œjust in case,â€ she left me alone with my smelly misery. I nibbled on the crackers and after a while my stomach began to settle down. I only took sips of the seven-up, although I wasnâ€™t nauseated any longer, I was still cautious of putting too much into my stomach. I seriously despised throwing up. By noon I felt better and I got up and took a shower. While I was standing under the soft spray, my mind went back to Lizâ€™s questions about the birth control had I remembered to take them every day? There was one week, right before Jason and I started our â€œbreakâ€ where Iâ€™d messed up somehow and forgotten to take one. But Iâ€™d doubled up the next day and the gynecologist had told me once before that was safe. I couldnâ€™t be pregnant. I hadnâ€™t had my period in almost two months, but that wasnâ€™t unusual either. My cycles were fickle and some months, if I was really stressed out, I wouldnâ€™t have one at all. I couldnâ€™t be pregnant. I didnâ€™t have the money to be a mother or the time. Babies are expensive and daycare is even more expensive. What would I do about work? I thought back to when I was a kid and my mother worked at that strip club just outside of Seal Beach. I hadnâ€™t told Alex the day he and I talked about it, but that was why I spent so much time there. She would drop me off at the pier before she went to work from the time I was ten until I got to about fourteen. When the sun went down, there was a little room in the back where I would watch television until she got off at two. I was never allowed in the club area, but I heard a lot of â€œshop-talkâ€ going on between the strippers, since their dressing room was only separated from the room I was in by a curtain. Over the years a few of the other women brought their kids too and we formed a little club and called ourselves, â€œSeal Rats.â€ It was corny, but none of us had much at that point. I love my mother and the older I get, the more I am beginning to realize and believe that she really did do her best. But I always promised myself that I wouldnâ€™t have a kid until my best meant a nice home in a good neighborhood with plenty of food in the pantry and a mom who was either home, or could afford excellent childcare for when she was at work. Of course, there was always a father in there when I imagined it too. It wasnâ€™t fair to give any less to a child. I didnâ€™t want to bring a child into this world and cheat them out of what they deserved. I wasnâ€™t pregnant, that was all there was to it. I spent the rest of that Sunday in my room. I watched a few movies and slept off and on. I considered going and getting a pregnancy test but that would be a waste of money. Iâ€™m not pregnant. Monday morning I woke up feeling good, even more convinced that I had been silly for even considering I might be pregnant. I got ready for work and realized that we were out of coffee, so I left a little early to go through the drive-thru and get one on my way to work. I went to my favorite little hole in the wall shop down by the beach. They opened the drive thru early for the commuters and surfers and I loved their coffee. I told the girl what I wanted over the speaker and then I drove up to the window. As soon as she opened it and the smells of the fresh baked pastries wafted out, I knew I was in trouble. I began to lurch and gag, handed her a twenty and told her to keep the change and then drove around to the small parking lot. I got out of the car and realized the sickeningly sweet smells were out here too, along with the smell of the salty ocean. It all cumulated in me holding onto the front of the car and emptying my stomach into the bushes. It was mostly liquid and a lot of it was bile. I felt really disgusting afterwards and almost called in sick. I looked at the time and decided I had time to run by the 24 hour pharmacy and get a toothbrush and paste. I could use the bathroom there. I really couldnâ€™t afford to miss a day of work. I bought the brush and paste and went into the little bathroom. I brushed my teeth and as if incapable of learning my lesson, I took a drink of water and I was back on my knees and heaving again in no time. When I finished and cleaned up again, I took a long look at myself in the mirror. â€œYou have to take a pregnancy test,â€ I told the image in the mirror. â€œFine!â€ she said back. â€œBut weâ€™re not pregnant.â€ I bought one on my way out. I didnâ€™t have time to do it now. I was already running late for work. I got to work five minutes late and of course, ran into Karen in the locker area. My luck had just been great lately. â€œGood morning, Victoria,â€ she said, glancing at the clock. â€œGood morning, Karen. Iâ€™m so sorry for being late. The traffic was bad today.â€ I stuffed my big purse with the test in it in the locker and closed it. I turned and she was smiling at me. â€œPlease, Victoria. If all of the staff were as conscientious as you, my job would be a breeze. I think all the time you get here early and stay over late can make up for five minutes.â€ â€œThank you,â€ I said, smiling back. â€œAre you okay though, hon? You look a little peaked today.â€ â€œIâ€™m fine,â€ I told her. â€œI was a touch under the weather over the weekend, but much better today.â€ I was still fighting the waves of nausea that hit every five minutes or so but I wasnâ€™t going to tell her that. â€œOkay, well you have a good day. But Vicki if you start feeling poorly again, let me know, alright?â€ â€œI will Karen, thank you.â€ I went through the kitchen and said good morning to Gregory and while I was talking to him, I saw Karen come out. â€œOh darn, I forgot to get some towels for my cart.â€ I went back in and got the towels and the test out of my purse. I put it under the towels and made my way back through the kitchen and into the storage area to get my cart. When I got upstairs, Alex was just emerging from his suite. He again looked incredible. He smiled at me and the dimples creased and my heart raced, as usual. â€œGood morning, Vicki. How are you today?â€ â€œIâ€™m good. How are you, sir?â€ â€œRushed, as usual,â€ he said, still smiling. â€œIt would be nice to have a minute to breathe.â€ â€œYou should take one sir, before your life passes you by,â€ I said. It was something Iâ€™d say to anyone, but not something Iâ€™d normally say to my employer. He didnâ€™t seem offended though. Instead, he had a kind of wistful expression on his face. â€œIâ€™ll keep that in mind, Vicki. You have a great day.â€ â€œYou too, sir.â€ I turned back to my cart and busied myself until I heard the elevator doors close. Once he was gone, I fished the test out from between the towels and took it into his bathroom. Iâ€™d never used a bathroom in the house besides the staff one before, but I couldnâ€™t risk getting caught. I closed the door, quickly read the instructions on the test and did the deed. It was one of those instant ones, but I couldnâ€™t bring myself to look at it right away. I sat it on a tissue on the counter and wiped and flushed and washed my hands before I looked. Dear God, it was positive. Oh damn! What the hell was I going to do now? I wrapped the evidence all up in a towel and just as I opened the bathroom door, I heard the elevator open. Damn! I sat the towel back down on the counter and turned to pretend I was cleaning the sink. Alex walked back in the room. â€œHi,â€ I said. â€œDid you forget something?â€ â€œMy phone,â€ he said, sounding frustrated. â€œThere it is.â€ He scooped it up off the dresser and then looked around the room. â€œYou know Vicki; it looks pretty good in here. Can I ask you to change your routine a bit and do me a favor today?â€ My insides were shaking. I was pregnantâ€¦ most likely with this manâ€™s baby. â€œSure,â€ I said, hoping my voice didnâ€™t sound shaky as well. â€œWhat do you need, sir?â€ â€œIâ€™m having some friends over this weekend and Iâ€™d really like to entertain out by the pool. Could you clean the pool house really well for me and make sure there are fresh linens out there and soap, that sort of thing? Stock the refrigerator with water also.â€ â€œOf course, Iâ€™ll do that right away.â€ â€œThank you so much. Have a good day.â€ â€œYou too, sir.â€ I followed him out of the room and rode down in the elevator with him. I was halfway finished cleaning the pool house when I remembered the test. Damn! Iâ€™d left it wrapped in the towel on his bathroom counter. I felt sick again. Oh God, I had to get that before he came back or someone else found it. I was about to leave the pool house and go do that when I saw Karen headed out towards me. â€œHey Victoria, I have to take off early today. When you finish out here can you make sure the plants are watered in the sunrooms?â€ â€œOf course,â€ I told her. â€œThank you. How are you feeling?â€ â€œIâ€™m as good as new,â€ I lied. I still wanted to throw up. It wasnâ€™t the morning sickness any longer; it was the stress of the situation. â€œGreat! Iâ€™ll see you tomorrow then.â€ I watched her go and then I headed for the house. As I got close to the kitchen door I heard Gregory talking to someone. I was horrified when I stepped inside and saw that it was Alex. â€œJust lie flat on your back sir and make sure the room is completely dark. Itâ€™s the best way to get rid of a migraine,â€ Gregory said. â€œThanks, Gregory. Iâ€™ll try anything at this point.â€ I realized that Alex must have one of his migraines; at least every other month or so he got one that would keep him down for the entire day. I felt bad for him, but I felt worse for me. He was going to lie down in his room and I wouldnâ€™t be able to get the test out of there. I watched him get on the elevator with the sick feeling in my stomach becoming more intense by the second. My head was spinning and I suddenly thought that I was going to either throw up or pass out right then and there. â€œVictoria, are you okay?â€ I looked up and realized Gregory was looking at me. I nodded. â€œJust a little under the weather,â€ I said. â€œIâ€™ll be fine.â€ I went back to the pool house and finished my job there. Then I watered the plants in both sunrooms before I took a chance and rode the elevator up to the master suite. The door was closed and there was no light at all coming from under the door. Alex was asleep and I briefly wondered if Iâ€™d be able to sneak inside and get into the bathroom, get the test and sneak out before he woke up. I let myself imagine the worst case scenario. He would wake up and find me in his bedroom while he was sleeping and heâ€™d think because weâ€™d had sex already I was a creepy stalker. Iâ€™d be fired and would be humiliated to boot. Not a fun scenario at all. I imagined leaving the test where it was. Alex would find it, ask about it and I would tell him that yes, my boyfriend and I are having a baby and apologize profusely for leaving it there, explaining that my mind was a little foggy in the mornings because of the hormones. I finally left for the day with scenario number two as the winner. Maybe Iâ€™d get lucky and heâ€™d sleep through the night and not find it at allâ€¦ just maybe. CHAPTER SEVEN VICTORIA When I got home Liz was in the living room, painting her toenails. I sat down next to her on the couch and just blurted it out, â€œIâ€™m pregnant.â€ She stopped, put the polish down and held her arms open. I fell into them and with my head on her shoulder I cried. I donâ€™t know how long we sat there like that, but when I finally pulled myself together I pulled myself up and said, â€œIâ€™m sorry.â€ She smiled. â€œIâ€™m sorry for you, honey. I know youâ€™re not ready for this. What are you going to do?â€ â€œIâ€™m not sure, Liz. I know for sure I could never have an abortion, so I suppose Iâ€™m having a baby, but beyond that, I just donâ€™t know.â€ â€œDonâ€™t get madâ€¦â€ â€œI wonâ€™t. Iâ€™ve already considered that it could possibly be Alexâ€™s baby. I wonâ€™t know for sure until I go to the doctor and find out how far along I am. God Liz, Iâ€™m such a mess.â€ She put an arm around me and said, â€œYou are not. Lots of pregnancies are mistakes. Mistakes happen and sometimes beautiful things are born from them. If you keep the baby, I have no doubt that youâ€™ll be an incredible mother. If you decide to put it up for adoption, Iâ€™ll be here with you for it all, okay?â€ I nodded. â€œYouâ€™re a great friend. Can I ask you something?â€ â€œOf course.â€ â€œDo you think Alex will think I did this to trap him? You know, to get his moneyâ€¦ I mean, if the baby turns out to be his.â€ â€œWithout really knowing him, I just couldnâ€™t say. But I will say that rich people think differently about things than we do, so itâ€™s possible.â€ â€œMaybe I should just tell Jason itâ€™s his and leave Alex out of it.â€ â€œIs that a better option though? Have you even talked to Jason?â€ â€œNo, not since the text that day. But, I wouldnâ€™t be asking him for anythingâ€¦ I wouldnâ€™t ask either of them for anything. It would just be less complicated if everyone thought the baby was Jasonâ€™s.â€ â€œProbably, but tell me somethingâ€¦â€ â€œWhatâ€™s that?â€ â€œHow strong are your feelings for Alex?â€ I thought about trying to lie to her, but it never worked. She knew me too well, so there was no point. â€œTheyâ€™re there,â€ I told her. â€œAnd theyâ€™re strong.â€ â€œSo maybe he feels the same and heâ€™ll be thrilled about the baby.â€ â€œIâ€™m the maid, Liz.â€ â€œSo what? You have to stop putting yourself down. Youâ€™re an amazing person. Youâ€™re beautiful and smart and funnyâ€¦ I count myself very lucky to be your friend.â€ â€œI wish you were the father,â€ I told her. We laughed and I cried again. Finally, I fell asleep on the couch and when I woke up a few hours later, Liz had covered me up with the afghan and left me a note telling me sheâ€™d gone out with some girls from work. She was such a worry-wart that at the bottom of the note it said, â€œDo Not Hesitate To Call If You Need Me!â€ She really is a good friend. I got up and went in to do my nightly ritual of face washing and moisturizing etc. The whole time, I kept wondering if I should call Jason and at least feel him out about the baby. Like I said, I wasnâ€™t expecting us to get back together and I wasnâ€™t going to ask him for anything, but I had this silly idea that if I told him, heâ€™d be so happy that heâ€™d want to be a part of it and then I wouldnâ€™t have to think about giving him or her away to strangers. Iâ€™d known I was pregnant for less than twenty-four hours and that thought already made my heart ache. That maternal instinct thing is strong. I went out to the living room and picked up my phone. I quickly rang Jason before I changed my mind. He answered on the first ring. That was a good sign, he wasnâ€™t screening me out. â€œHi Vicki! I was just thinking about you.â€ â€œReally?â€ â€œYeah, Iâ€™ve been meaning to call and see how youâ€™re doing with all of this. Work has just kind of been a nightmare. You know how that goes.â€ More so than heâ€™ll ever know. â€œYeah, how are you otherwise?â€ â€œIâ€™m doing okay otherwise. What about you?â€ â€œIâ€™m hanging in thereâ€¦â€ â€œYouâ€™re not mad at me?â€ â€œI was at first,â€ I said. â€œMostly I was hurt. I would like to believe that I deserved a little more than a text message break-up, you know?â€ â€œIt wasnâ€™t a break up. I just thought we both needed some time.â€ â€œTime for what exactly, Jason?â€ â€œTime to decide if us being together for the long run is what we both want. I know too many people who get married and a year or two later theyâ€™re divorced. I donâ€™t want to go through that, Vicki and I donâ€™t want you to have to go through that either.â€ â€œSo what have you decided?â€ I asked him. I was stalling. Maybe telling him wasnâ€™t such a good idea after all. Heâ€™s such a selfish jerk sometimes; I did have to wonder what kind of father he would make. â€œI love you, Vick. I always will. I hope you know that.â€ He said that so sweetly that in spite of myself it made me feel warm inside. I started to say it backâ€¦ out of habit if for no other reason, but I didnâ€™t. Instead I said, â€œBut not enough that you wanted to be with me?â€ â€œItâ€™s not always just about love babe. I donâ€™t know how to explain it. You do everything right. Youâ€™re perfect. I just wasnâ€™t happy.â€ That was a fair, honest answer. It might hurt, but he canâ€™t help how he feels. â€œThank you for explaining it to me, Jason. It helps a little bit. I actually called you for something else and got sidetracked into that. â€œSo whatâ€™s up?â€ he asked. â€œUm, this is weird and hardâ€¦ Iâ€™m pregnant, Jason.â€ There was a long, awkward silence. I could hear him breathing, but nothing else. Finally, just as I was about to forget the whole thing and hang up he said, â€œOh wow, yeah, that is weirdâ€¦ I umâ€¦ I thought you were on the pillâ€¦â€ â€œI was. I am. Nothing is a hundred percent though and Iâ€™ve been really sick in the mornings so I took a test.â€ â€œA testâ€¦ like from the pharmacy, over the counter, that kind?â€ â€œYeah, I bought it this morningâ€¦â€ â€œThose tests arenâ€™t always accurate I hear. A buddy of mine had a girlfriend who took three one time and they all came back positive. She went to the doctor and she wasnâ€™t pregnant.â€ â€œOh, yeah? I was planning on making an appointment; I just havenâ€™t had time yet.â€ â€œOkay, so let me know how that goes. Take care, Vicki.â€ I was left staring at the phone. Was he serious? â€œLet me know how it goes.â€ I put the phone down and lay back down on my bed staring at the ceiling. Maybe it was what I deserved. After all, I wasnâ€™t even sure the baby was his. Ass or not, Jason was right. Before I made any big decisions, I should go to the doctor. I will call first thing in the morning to make an appointment. *** The next morning I awoke to the thought that this was a new day and I was going to face it as such. When I had my break I would call and schedule an appointment with my gynecologist. Until then, I was going to try and keep a positive outlook. Maybe I wasnâ€™t really pregnant, and maybe if I was, things wouldnâ€™t turn out quite as badly as I pictured them. Iâ€™m more capable than I give myself credit for, considering all Iâ€™d already gone through in my life. If it comes down to it and I had to deal with this all on my own, I can do that. I was sick again, but with the idea in mind that it was probably morning sickness, I pushed on and finished getting ready for work. I passed on my morning coffee, knowing Iâ€™d probably have a headache later, but I wanted the nausea to be long gone before I got to work. I took a package of saltines and munched on them on my way. When I got to the gates of the mansion, my whole world blew apart. Normally there was one guard at the gate that greeted people and buzzed the main house if need be. Today there were three very large gentlemen. None of them were the friendly Gus who gave me a donut three times a week, or Haskell who liked to tell me jokes and the latest baseball scores. I didnâ€™t recognize these guys, and none of them looked like they had a sense of humor. I pulled up and stopped and the biggest of the three motioned at me to roll down my window. I did, and as he approached me, I felt a wave of nausea just from the intensity of his glare. â€œI.D.â€ he said, abruptly. I took out my I.D. and handed it to him. He looked hard at it and motioned the other two guys over. They both glared at me and it. What was going on? Finally, he handed it back to me and said, â€œMiss Hart you are no longer employed by Mr. Reigns. You arenâ€™t to report here again or go near any of Mr. Reigns' properties. If you have any personal property inside the mansion, it will be sent to your last known address. Do not contact Mr. Reigns by phone or electronically, nor by mail of any kind. If you have anything you would like to say to him, you can say it through his attorneys who will be contacting you.â€ â€œI donâ€™t understand. What do you mean that Iâ€™m no longer employed? Iâ€™m fired? He fired me and hired some ape to tell me that?â€ I was livid and I wasnâ€™t thinking that here I was addressing said ape in this fashion. I wanted to jump out of the car and run up to that stupid giant house and pound on the door. I wanted to demand that at least one man in my life should have the balls to tell me something to my face for a change! I was so sick of men turning their backs on me. First my father, then Jason and now Alex. Did I have a stamp on my forehead that said, â€œPlease donâ€™t waste your time treating me decently, Iâ€™m not worth it!?â€ â€œYes Miss, youâ€™re fired. Your final paycheck will be mailed to your last known address.â€ â€œStop saying that! Why are you saying â€˜Your last known address?â€™ It is my address. Iâ€™m not a terrorist for crying out loud.â€ â€œYou need to go now Miss or youâ€™ll be escorted back to the main road.â€ â€œEscorted? You would be very sorry if you put your hands on me in any way!â€ â€œI wonâ€™t,â€ he said, still stone faced. â€œBut the police are standing by.â€ The police? What did they think I did? Was something missing? Do they think I stole something? Oh God, Iâ€™m going to be sick! I put the car into reverse and nearly drove right over big and uglyâ€™s foot before he jumped back out of the way. I went backwards all the way to the main road and then when I got there, I had to put it in park, get out and vomit on the side of the road. As I was standing there, heaving my guts out, I caught sight of them watching me. Dear God, what was going on? Losing my job was one thing, but being considered some kind of criminal was entirely another. I wiped my mouth on the sleeve of my ugly uniform. It didnâ€™t matter; I wasnâ€™t going to need it any longer apparently. Before I got back in the car, I threw a gesture at big and ugly at the gate. His expression still didnâ€™t change, but it made me feel a little better nonetheless. CHAPTER EIGHT ALEXANDER I stood in my bedroom and watched what was going on down at the gates on the security monitors. I could see the stricken look on Vickiâ€™s face and God help me all I wanted to do was call down there and tell her there had been a terrible mistake and they should let her through. I didnâ€™t though. Like a coward, I watched a stranger tell her that she was not only fired, but banned from the estate. Then I watched her drive backwardsâ€¦ and somewhat recklessly back to the main road. I took out a pair of binoculars that I used for horse racing and went over to the window. She stopped at the road and got out of the car. She barely made it to the front of the car before she started throwing up. I felt like a weight was sitting on my chest all of a sudden and I could hardly breathe. I did pick up the phone then and I called down to the gates. â€œYes sir?â€ â€œMichael, sheâ€™s sick. Go help her.â€ â€œShe just flipped me off and got back into the car, sir.â€ I laughed. â€œShe flipped you off?â€ â€œYes sir.â€ I laughed again. â€œSorry about that.â€ â€œIâ€™ve been flipped off before sir.â€ Iâ€™ll bet that he had. Michael was my most humorless, almost robotic employee. The attorneys had purposely handpicked him for this sort of thing. â€œOkay then. Thanks.â€ I hung up and stood looking around the massive suite I now stood in, alone. I was always alone. I went into the bathroom and looked at that stick that was now wrapped in a Ziploc baggie. The lawyers wanted it, but I told them Iâ€™d thrown it away. Anyone who knew that Iâ€™d kept it might think I was being ridiculous. The fact was that when Iâ€™d first discovered it, I was thrilled. Iâ€™ve always wanted a familyâ€¦ a big one. Cassandra told me that she did too at first. Two years into our marriage I discovered she was using birth control. We had a big fight and she told me that she wasnâ€™t going to ruin her â€œperfectâ€ body having a bunch of brats. Her â€œperfectâ€ body was â€œperfectâ€ because I bought and paid for it. Sheâ€™d asked me when she was twenty-five, a year after we were married, if she could get her breasts enlarged. I didnâ€™t see any harm in it and I said yes to make her happy. She got addicted after that and I lost count of the procedures sheâ€™d had. After a while it was like touching a Barbie dollâ€¦ she was plastic. I thought about the day Vicki and I made love in the basement. She was so warm and so real and I just couldnâ€™t get enough of her. I had to force myself to get out of bed at five a.m. that morning and go for a run to keep from attacking her again. Just the smell of her hair was intoxicating. When I got back, she was gone. Iâ€™d been disappointed and hurt that she hadnâ€™t at the very least left me a note, or anything. When she came in on Monday and I looked into those gorgeous green eyes, I saw anxiety there, laced with the same warmth as before. I realized she was probably embarrassed, although God knew there was no reason for her to be. That day was the first day in a very long time that Iâ€™d felt needed and loved. I wanted it to last forever. I had decided that it wasnâ€™t fair to start something with her while the divorce was still hanging over my head but I intended to, as soon as Cassandra was finally out of my life. Then yesterday, I walked into my bathroom with the intentions of getting a warm rag to put on my forehead to try and stave off the horrible migraine that was setting in. What I found was a pregnancy testâ€¦ a positive one. I held the little baggie up to the mirror now and looked at the plus sign. I wondered what was going through her mind when she saw it. Iâ€™d panicked when I first found it. I started to call Vicki, knowing it had to be hers. The only other staff on at the time was Karen who is fifty-five, Gregory and Manny. I actually had the phone in my hand and I was primed to push her number when thoughts of Cassandra crept back into my head. The day sheâ€™d left me, Iâ€™d gone to the hotel where she was staying to confront her. When she opened the door to her suite sheâ€™d said, â€œIâ€™m not coming back, Alexander. I hate it there. I hate that house and I hate you.â€ Although I think Iâ€™d fallen out of love with her years ago, her words still felt like someone was stabbing me in the chest with a knife. â€œI bought that house for you, Cassandra. You let me buy it with the idea in my head that we would have children to fill it soon.â€ â€œI never put that idea in your head. That was all you. We should have a modern house in the hills where we can throw fabulous parties. Instead we live in a stuffy old house that looks almost identical to the stuffy old house your parents live in. Iâ€™ve tried to bring life back into it, but thereâ€™s no point. Itâ€™s like living in a museum.â€ â€œIf you would have told me that, I would have sold it for you. But youâ€™re also saying you hate me. Why? What did I do?â€ â€œNothing, Alexander. Thatâ€™s the problem; you do nothing any more except go to work.â€ â€œOne of us has to,â€ Iâ€™d told her. â€œYou have more money than God. Give it a rest and take me on vacation. Have a party. Go to a club. Hell, have an affair! Anything to put some life back into you. Youâ€™re a thirty year old man and you act like youâ€™re fifty.â€ She had a lot more to say that day and I listened. When I left, I called up a few friends that I hadnâ€™t seen in a while and that night I had my first party in the basement. The next morning when I woke up next to some model that was as plastic as Cassandra, I realized that I wasnâ€™t any happier, but maybe at least people wouldnâ€™t think I was old and stuffy. So, I kept up with the parties and the women. I thought maybe one of them would turn out to be different and I could finally meet someone who would love me for me and not the fact that I had billions of dollars in the bank. That didnâ€™t happen either. They were all more than willing to do whatever I wanted them to do and they all had one end goal in mind; bag the billionaire. I was cautious and made sure I used protection when I had sex with them. I let them get drunker than me and then after weâ€™d had wild sex, I poured them into a car and had them taken home. I never let them see my house beyond the basement and I never shared anything personal with them. Then I found Vicki crying in my hallway that day and my mindset totally changed. I was pissed off at Cassandra that day and when I first saw her I thought, â€œOh great, another needy woman.â€ I almost left her there and walked on by. But when her eyes met mine and I saw the genuine pain in themâ€¦ the first genuine feelings I think Iâ€™d seen from any woman in such a long time, I couldnâ€™t resist. I thought Iâ€™d take her downstairs and weâ€™d have a drink or two and I could get my mind off of Cassandra and her nonsense. Once we were down there and we started talking, I was hooked. I had always thought she was beautiful, but I wasnâ€™t going to cheat on my wife and I wasnâ€™t going to come on to the staff. But that day it was different. Cheating on my wife was removed from the equation and suddenly Vicki was more to me than just â€œstaff.â€ She was a vibrant, emotional, intelligent, funny, gorgeous woman and I would have had to be dead to not be affected by her. That day and night were the best of my life so far and every time I think about it now, I still get a warm feeling that floods my entire system. I still want her and every time Iâ€™ve seen her since, Iâ€™ve ached for her. When I told my attorney about the pregnancy test and he asked me how the â€œaffairâ€ happenedâ€¦ I told him it was all me. I came on to her. I saw the surprise on her face that day. I saw that she wanted me too, but she was scared. I was the aggressor. I took advantage of her and if she had sued me for sexual harassment, I wouldnâ€™t have been surprised. But she didnâ€™t and she didnâ€™t say another word about it. She was willing to leave it be and let me make the next move if there were to be one. I told him all of that, and his conclusion for her leaving the test for me to find it was â€œblackmail.â€ He said she was blackmailing me and she wanted me to offer her money to give up the babyâ€¦ heâ€™d actually said, â€œabort.â€ That word made me sick and I told him not to use it again. If she consented to â€œgive upâ€ the baby, it would be only to me. I would make sure of that. Iâ€™m a smart man, some say a brilliant businessman, but I am not well known for my social skills or my ability to maintain relationships. I give away too much of my money to charity and just to anyone who I think needs it, at least I used to. My father hired Noel to oversee my legal affairs before he and my mother retired to Tuscany. He said I was â€œtoo softâ€ and that anything that even smelled like a legal issue should be handled by Noel. So, when I found the test, I called him and now here we are. I want Vicki. I want the baby. I want a family. Noel says I canâ€™t have that and keep my money. The truth is, if I knew for sure that he was wrong and that Vicki wasnâ€™t doing any of this for money, Iâ€™d gladly give it all away and take her and the baby instead. I can make more money. I doubt that Iâ€™ll ever meet another woman that makes me feel the way that she does. CHAPTER NINE VICTORIA I had to stop two more times before I got home from the mansion to throw up. My head was pounding and I felt like my heart had just exploded in my chest. I couldnâ€™t believe this. If there wasnâ€™t something missing from the house and they suspected me, then the only other reason for this would be that Alex found the pregnancy test. But to have me fired over it, and not even speak to me himselfâ€¦ was I that wrong about him? Iâ€™d seen him as a man of compassion, kindness and honesty. Could I have misjudged him that badly? As I had these thoughts, I pulled into the lot in front of my apartment complex. I parked in my usual spot and made my way around towards the door and thatâ€™s when I saw them. There was a large, black car and more men in dark suits. They were parked directly outside of my door. What the hell? â€œExcuse me, you canâ€™t park here,â€ I said. â€œVictoria Hart?â€ a small, balding man with glasses and a suit that was too big asked me. â€œYes.â€ â€œIâ€™m Noel Parker. Iâ€™m Mr. Reigns' attorney of note and Iâ€™d like to come in and speak with you.â€ â€œWhat about?â€ I asked. How dare Alex send first a security officer and now a lawyer to speak with me? How dare the coward not come speak to me himself? â€œIâ€™d rather not do this in a parking lot.â€ â€œI donâ€™t really care what you would â€œratherâ€ do. Iâ€™d â€œratherâ€ not have you in my apartment and you can tell your cowardly boss that if he wants to talk to me, he can do it himself.â€ I started to walk away. â€œMiss Hart, Mr. Reigns is not going to come and see you himself if thatâ€™s what youâ€™re holding out for. Iâ€™m prepared to offer you a settlementâ€¦â€ I turned on the little man and got into his face. Through gritted teeth I said, â€œA settlement? Youâ€™re talking about money? Is nothing sacred that you people think even a life can be bought? You tell your boss he makes me sick and heâ€™s a bigger coward than Jason. I donâ€™t want his money and I will not be forced to do something against my own principles because itâ€™s what he thinks is best.â€ I turned and started in again. â€œMiss Hart.â€ I almost didnâ€™t turn back around, but there was some small, pathetic part of me that wanted to believe Alex was in the back of that car and about to step out and tell me this had all been a big mistake and he wasnâ€™t trying to pay me to get rid of our baby. The baby that I wasnâ€™t even sure I had yet since I hadnâ€™t had a chance to even call the doctor thanks to this circus. â€œWhat!â€ â€œYouâ€™ve been served,â€ some younger man in a suit said, holding out a manila envelope. I looked at it like it was a snake about to bite me. â€œI donâ€™t want that,â€ I said. â€œI served you, Miss. You can take them or leave them here on the sidewalk. Either way, the court process will go on the same, with or without you.â€ â€œThe court process? What the hell?â€ I grabbed the envelope and then as quickly as I could, I unlocked the door and went inside, slamming them out. I threw the envelope down on the coffee table and dropped to my knees in the middle of the room and sobbed. Why was my life such a mess? Where had I gone so wrong? Iâ€™d been working so hard, going to school and Iâ€™d been faithful and loving to my boyfriend and I pay my bills and I abide by lawsâ€¦ why was this happening to me now? After about half an hour of feeling sorry for myself on the floor, I got to my feet and went into my room. I left the offending papers where they lay for now. I washed my face and changed into a pair of sweats and then I called the gynecologist. I made an appointment for the following morning for a pregnancy test. Then I made a cup of tea and finally, settled onto the couch and once calmer, I ripped the envelope open. I pulled out what was inside, and in my hand was a pile of legal forms. I was being sued by Alexander Reigns for: Breach of Contract-In my contract at work it stated that I was not to engage in any type of personal relationships with any members of the household. That clause was meant for relationships amongst the staff, or visitors that might come to the house on occasion. I suppose it was also meant for my employer. The words went on and on in legal jargon which in my brain translated to mumbo jumbo. The gist of it was that if I were to agree to â€œterminateâ€ the pregnancy, I would be paid the sum of one hundred thousand dollars and of course, Mr. Generous would pay for the abortion. Was he kidding? Who pays someone to terminate their pregnancy? I was suddenly sick again. I ran for the bathroom and emptied out the contents of my stomach once more. Not that there was anything there but acid and bile at this point. I just sat there on the floor for a long time wondering what I had done to make Alexander believe I would be a disgusting enough human being to take his money in exchange for killing my baby. I was appalled. Actually I was beyond appalled. I was sickened by it, and I was even more sickened by the fact that Iâ€™d actually thought I had feelings for this man. I pulled myself up off the floor once more and went for my phone. I needed an attorney. I wasnâ€™t going to sit idly by while this man tried to pressure me into doing something I donâ€™t believe in and blackballs me across Los Angeles as well so that Iâ€™m not even able to get another job. He was the one who took me to the basement. He was the one who poured me those drinks. He seduced me. He chose not to wear a condom and now he wants to erase it allâ€¦ including our child and pretend like it never happened. I wasnâ€™t going to allow that. It happened and the life growing inside of me was proof of that. I donâ€™t want his money, what I do want and I believe I deserve, is for him to look me in the eye and apologize for hiding behind it. I called the only person I knew that might be able to help me, Jason. No, that wasnâ€™t really true. My mother could probably help me and when she heard who the father of the baby was, Iâ€™m sure sheâ€™d be more than willing. She would expect me to take him for every penny he had because that was the way my mother operated. I wasnâ€™t going there. Jasonâ€™s best friend is an attorney. The best I can hope for is a discount since I was now unemployed. â€œHey Vicki! Did you go to the doctor?â€ That was how Jason answered the phone. Did anyone genuinely care about me at all? â€œNot yet. Jason, I need an attorney. Do you think Paul might be willing to help me outâ€¦ you know with payments or something.â€ â€œAn attorney? For what? Did you hit someoneâ€™s car?â€ With a sigh I said, â€œNo Jason. I got fired.â€ â€œForâ€¦?â€ â€œAlexander Reigns found the pregnancy test I did at work yesterday. He thinks the baby is his.â€ I heard a long pause and then, â€œIs it?â€ â€œThe day you broke up with me, I slept with him. Iâ€™m not going to apologize, Jason. You left me devastated. I shouldnâ€™t have done itâ€¦ obviously, but I did, and here we are.â€ â€œWow, so he thinks youâ€™re pregnant with his kid and he fired you?â€ I sighed again. I really only wanted an attorney. â€œYes. He served me with a restraining order and an offer for money if I â€œterminateâ€ and a bunch of other stuff I donâ€™t understand. Thatâ€™s why I need a lawyer.â€ â€œWow,â€ he said again. This conversation was going nowhere. â€œOkay Jason, anywaysâ€¦â€ â€œWait, Iâ€™ll talk to Paul, Vicki. Of course I will. Iâ€™m sure heâ€™ll be willing to help you. Iâ€™ll call him right now. Then stay there, okay? Iâ€™m going to come over and bring you lunch. It sounds like youâ€™ve had a horrible day.â€ Lunch? Jason was worried that I had a horrible day? What the heck was this about? â€œYeah, okay. Will you just have Paul call me?â€ â€œWeâ€™ll get you an appointment with him first thing tomorrow,â€ he said, confidently. â€œOkay, thank you. But, I have an appointment with the doctor to have the pregnancy test at eight. Should I cancel that?â€ â€œNo! No, donâ€™t cancel that babe. Thatâ€™s important. If youâ€™re pregnant, you need to know now. I mean, so you can start taking vitamins or whatever to make sure the little guy is healthy.â€ The little guy? Was this Jason I was talking to? â€œIâ€™ll be there within the hour, okay babe?â€ â€œOkay Jason. Thank you.â€ *** Jason was on my doorstep within the hour with a box of Chinese take-out and a bottle of sparkling cider. â€œWow, um, this is really nice,â€ I told him. I was slightly suspicious of his intentions, but I really did need someone in my corner today. â€œLike I said on the phone, Vick, youâ€™ve had a horrible day. I want to make it better.â€ I let him in and he put the food and the cider down on the table. Then he shocked me by turning around and taking me into his arms. He pulled me into him so my head was against his shoulder and he said, â€œI missed you, Vick.â€ â€œReally?â€ I asked, taking a step back. â€œYeah, really. Of course I missed you.â€ â€œYou broke up with me and just yesterday you were telling me we werenâ€™t good for each other. What changed?â€ â€œNothing really,â€ he said. â€œI just heard your voice today and you sounded so distraught. It tugged at my heart and I realized how badly I wanted to be here for you. I didnâ€™t want you to be alone. I wanted to wrap you up in my arms and hold you and make it all better.â€ â€œI donâ€™t get it,â€ I said. He kind of laughed and said, â€œYou donâ€™t get what, Vick?â€ â€œYouâ€™re not angry that I slept with Alexander and that Iâ€™m not sure if the baby is yours or his?â€ He pulled me into him again and said, â€œEverything that happened between you and him was that one day, right?â€ I nodded and he said, â€œIt was my fault. Thatâ€™s why Iâ€™m not mad, Vick. I pushed you into his arms. I doubt that the baby is mine since you and I werenâ€™t doing so well for a few weeks before we took our break, remember? We hadnâ€™t really been having sex.â€ I thought about it then. He was right. If this was his baby, Iâ€™d be close to three months along at least. I donâ€™t think I could be that far along and not be showing any other signs, could I? â€œJason, Iâ€™m sorry that I got you involved in any of this. I just didnâ€™t know who else to call. Youâ€™ve always been there for meâ€¦â€ He kissed me on the side of my head and shushed me. â€œDonâ€™t apologize for calling me, babe. I will always be here for you and the little man, mine or not, okay?â€ I wanted to ask who he was and what heâ€™d done with Jason. I couldnâ€™t believe he was being so easy-going about any of this. He stepped back and looked down at my face and I said, â€œThank you. I donâ€™t mean to seem ungrateful, Iâ€™m just a little confused.â€ â€œI understand,â€ he said. â€œLetâ€™s get some food in you and then weâ€™ll take a look at those papers. You need to keep your strength up.â€ I wasnâ€™t sure if I could eat, but I was willing to try. My poor stomach was bone dry. We sat down and ate and drank cider. I thought it was thoughtful of him to bring something without alcohol or caffeine. Maybe he really did careâ€¦ just a little bit anyways. When we finished eating he helped me clean up which was also out of character and then he said, â€œOkay babe. Where are these papers?â€ We went over to the couch and sat down, side by side with our knees touching. I hadnâ€™t really thought much about Jason lately, not until I called him about the pregnancy. I thought Iâ€™d lost all feelings for him, but it was nice today, him being here like this. I didnâ€™t know how badly I needed someone to lean on until he showed up. I handed him the papers and he read through them. Jason was a physical therapist; not an attorney but he was a smart guy. After a few minutes he said, â€œYep, basically what he wants is for you to agree to an abortion and to never speak to anyone about thisâ€¦ so a gag order to all parties involved. In exchange for that, he wants to pay you a hundred thousand dollars. Itâ€™s a bunch of crap.â€ â€œIâ€™m glad someone else thinks so. Iâ€™m not having an abortion.â€ He kissed the side of my face again. It was really nice. â€œOf course not, babe. I know you donâ€™t believe in that. Had it turned out to be mine, I would have never asked you to do that.â€ How did he suddenly know for sure it wasnâ€™t his? My hackles were back up just a bit. â€œBut heâ€™s not even just asking, heâ€™s pressuringâ€¦ almost blackmailing. He doesnâ€™t want to take any responsibility for this. He wants to hide behind his rich boy shield and let you take all the heat for a paltry hundred grand. Vicki, do you know what this guy is worth?â€ â€œA lot,â€ I said. â€œYeah babe but really, do you know how much?â€ â€œNo.â€ â€œForbes magazine estimated his net worth at two billion last year.â€ I nearly spit out the cider I was drinking. â€œDamn! How does a thirty year old man make that kind of money?â€ â€œFor one thing, he started with money. But heâ€™s an astute businessman too. He started making investments when he was still in college, the article says. He owns a piece of every major electronics company in the world. Every time someone turns on their cell phone or computer, he gets a check, basically.â€ â€œOh, wow. I knew he was rich, but I guess I just canâ€™t really wrap my head around that kind of money.â€ â€œHe owns houses in Europe and two more besides the one he lives in in the U.S. He has a private jet, a helicopter, seven luxury cars, a yachtâ€¦â€ â€œWhy are you telling me all of this, Jason?â€ â€œBecause I want you to see how ridiculous it is that he is offering you a hundred grand. That would be comparable to me handing you a dollar and saying, â€œHere, now go away.â€ He not only wants out of this, he wants out of it cheaply. It makes me furious.â€ â€œWhy?â€ â€œBecause baby, youâ€™re worth so much more than that. How dare he insult you that way by insinuating that not only you, but your child is worth so little to him? Disgusting!â€ I hadnâ€™t thought of it like that. I suppose Jason was right and that was exactly what he was suggesting. I didnâ€™t know what to do about it. I really didnâ€™t want anything from him, but I suppose the hundred grand would at least help me get started. â€œSo you think I shouldnâ€™t take it, or I should?â€ I wasnâ€™t quite sure. Jason was talking about all his money and saying he should pay, but thought the amount was too small. Was he suggesting I ask for more? â€œNo, you should definitely not take it. You should go to every tabloid and newspaper in this city with these papers and let them publish this. Let them show the world what a cheap, uncaring bastard Alexander Reigns really is.â€ â€œI donâ€™t want to do that, Jason. Then my own name will be dragged through the mud too. I want to finish school and get a job and set up a practice, that would hurt me before I got started.â€ He put his arm around me and pulled me in for another hug. Then he said, â€œYouâ€™re right, babe. Iâ€™m so angry with him, I wasnâ€™t thinking. But you know what we can do?â€ â€œWhat?â€ â€œWe can have Paul file a countersuit. You go to the doctor and get this pregnancy verified and then weâ€™ll file a counter suit asking for all your medical expenses to be paid for, a nice house for you and the baby to live in, enough cash to finish school and start your business and enough to ease the pain and suffering that heâ€™s put you through today. This number should be in the millions at least.â€ I sat up and looked at him. â€œMillions? Are you crazy?â€ â€œDo you know what it takes to raise a child, Vicki? There have been studies done on middle class American families that say it takes two hundred thousand dollars to just get a kid from diapers to college. Thatâ€™s with no fancy clothes and no private schools and no vacations and ski lessons. Donâ€™t you want your child to have all of that?â€ â€œWell, I hadnâ€™t really thought that far ahead.â€ â€œBut you do want him to have the best, right?â€ â€œYes, of course I do.â€ â€œThen millions is what itâ€™s going to take. Look Vicki, this is not about me at all, itâ€™s your decision and your life and your baby. I just want to help you.â€ I was suspicious, but I had to take what he said into consideration. Jason and I werenâ€™t together, so what would he really be getting out of this? Could it be that he was really this concerned about my child and me? The more he talked the angrier I got at Alex, thatâ€™s for sure. It still wasnâ€™t about the money, but as I listened to Jason go over the papers I just couldnâ€™t help but wonder what kind of heartless bastard creates a life and pays someone (not very well according to Jason) to terminate it? I was so wrong about him and that thought brought tears to my eyes. Jason looked down at me and said, â€œDonâ€™t cry beautiful, weâ€™ll fix this.â€ Then he brought his lips down to mine and kissed me, softly. It was the sweetest kiss Jason ever gave me. His kisses were usually urgent and fueled by his need for sex. When he pulled back I said, â€œThank you, Jason. It means a lot to me that youâ€™re here.â€ â€œIâ€™m going to be here for you baby. Iâ€™m going to help you through this. We can do thisâ€¦ together.â€ CHAPTER TEN VICTORIA I called Liz earlier in the day and asked her if I could come over. I had news that I wanted to share with her. It was good news for a change. I parked on the street since this wasnâ€™t my home any longer and walked up to the front door. Maybe I should say waddled. I hadnâ€™t really gained that much weight, but my belly seemed to protrude a little further out every day. I was five months along now and definitely showing. My balance wasnâ€™t what it used to be and I know I had to look at least a little funny when I walked. It had been three months since I was served with papers by Alexander that said I had no rights to any of his money or anything in his estate. I really couldnâ€™t spend much time dwelling on it because it only served to make me angry all over again. I didnâ€™t want his money or his estate and I was appalled to believe he thought I did. It had been two months since I moved out of Lizâ€™s apartment and in with Jason. Heâ€™d offered to help me save money since I had no job and an army of lawyers to pay. He was being so sweet and supportive that I thought it was a good idea. It wasnâ€™t. Jason was still Jason and supportive or not, Iâ€™d probably made a mistake. It had been a few weeks now since Iâ€™d run completely through my savings though, so moving out at the moment was not a real viable option. I was twenty-three, pregnant, unemployed in the middle of a court battle and Iâ€™m pretty sure my boyfriend is cheating on meâ€¦ again. I pressed the doorbell and a woman about my age with pretty brown hair and giant blue eyes opened the door. â€œVicki?â€ â€œYeah, hi. You must be Gloria.â€ Gloria was my replacement. Lizâ€™s new roommate. I felt a pang of irrational jealousy in my chest every time I thought about it. Iâ€™d left her high and dry. Of course she needed another roommate to help her pay the bills. â€œCome on in, Liz is expecting you but she just got home from a run so sheâ€™s in the shower. You want some coffee, or tea?â€ â€œNo thanks,â€ I said. Caffeine was not on my list of approved food items. I was doing my best to follow a strict, healthy diet. If nothing else good came out of this mess I was in, I at least wanted a healthy baby in the end. â€œI almost didn't recognize you from the photos Liz has of the two of you. Your hair is different, I think.â€ â€œIâ€™ve been out of work for a while and with the baby coming Iâ€™ve been trying to save money wherever I can,â€ I said. I was embarrassed to admit it, but I wasnâ€™t going to lie. I knew that I didnâ€™t look my best. I had to have priorities though. â€œI started playing kitchen beautician. Itâ€™s awful.â€ â€œOh no itâ€™s not!â€ Gloria said, sincerely. â€œItâ€™s cute. Youâ€™re gorgeous, so I doubt it would matter if you shaved it all.â€ Great, she was nice too. Now I couldnâ€™t even hate her for taking my place in my best friendâ€™s heart. â€œThanks,â€ I said with a smile. â€œHey! Is that my former roommate I hear?â€ Liz was coming down the hallway. She stopped when she saw me and cocked an eyebrow. I knew exactly what she was looking atâ€¦ my hair. â€œStop it, I was just telling Gloria that I know itâ€™s awful.â€ She laughed. â€œItâ€™s notâ€¦ awfulâ€¦â€ She tilted her head to the side to look at it from another angle. I laughed too. Liz was the only one who could insult me and make it fun. â€œI took a little too much off the top.â€ â€œWe can fix it,â€ she said, confidently. â€œGloria, would you mind getting our customer set up in one of the kitchen chairs with a cup of juice or something disgustingly healthy? We have to take care of the bun in the oven too. Iâ€™ll grab the supplies.â€ â€œNot at all,â€ Gloria said with a grin, â€œRight this way.â€ Shaking my head and smiling, I followed the pretty brunette into the kitchen. I took the seat she offered me and chose apple juice from her list of â€œhealthyâ€ drinks. She tied a towel around my neck and a few seconds later Liz appeared with a small box in hand. â€œWhatâ€™s in the box?â€ I asked her. â€œItâ€™s better if you donâ€™t know,â€ she said in a conspiratorial tone. I laughed again and said, â€œWhat makes you think I trust you to do this?â€ She looked at my hair with the eyebrow cocked again and said, â€œAt this point, honey I think youâ€™d trust my Uncle Bernie.â€ I guess I couldnâ€™t argue with that. She went to work on me. She touched up my roots and had me rinse and blow dry before beginning the cut. While she was cutting, Gloria brought out her gel nail manicure set and went about doing my nails. â€œSo where is Jason today?â€ Liz asked me while she worked. â€œHe had a thing at his friendâ€™s house out in Santa Monica,â€ I said. â€œA â€˜thingâ€™?â€ â€œI donâ€™t know a barbecue or something.â€ â€œWhy arenâ€™t you with him?â€ â€œUmâ€¦ I just wasnâ€™t in the moodâ€¦â€ â€œDonâ€™t lie to me,â€ she said. â€œI always know when youâ€™re lying.â€ â€œIâ€™m not lying.â€ â€œYour nose is a foot long, Pinocchio.â€ I laughed, and then sobering quickly I said, â€œHe is uncomfortable explaining the baby.â€ Liz sighed and rolled her eyes. Gloria looked up from my nails and started to say something, but changed her mind. â€œYou can say it,â€ Liz said. â€œVicki knows how I feel about Jason. You may as well join me.â€ Gloria smiled sadly and said, â€œI was just going to say that Iâ€™m sorry for you that he feels that way. Iâ€™m sure you donâ€™t like being hidden away.â€ â€œI donâ€™t think of it like that,â€ I said. â€œHeâ€™s a professional and most of his friends are young up and comers. Theyâ€™re married with kids of their own. Here I am carrying my billionaire bossâ€™s illegitimate child.â€ â€œJason broke up with you and forced you into Alexanderâ€™s arms. Then, Alexander didnâ€™t want any part of taking responsibility for his part in this. Youâ€™re the only one here stepping up and they both need a kick in the pants.â€ Lizâ€™s face was red. She got passionate when she was defending someone she cared about. More than one boyfriend had also burned her over the years, so men were not high on her list at the moment. â€œIâ€™m stepping up because no matter what part either of the two men played in this, I played mine as well. Iâ€™m choosing to have this child, not to punish either of them, but doing that anyways in a way. Jasonâ€™s been way more supportive than most men would be in this situation, I think.â€ Liz snorted again and I saw Gloria bite back a smile. She stuffed whatever she had left to say on the subject. I was sure it was plenty and I loved her for caring so much. â€œThere,â€ she said. â€œFinished. You are so pretty, Victoria. And you know what else?â€ â€œWhat?â€ â€œYouâ€™re smart and funny and resourceful and you have a great heart. Neither of those jerks deserve you if you ask me.â€ Okay, she didnâ€™t completely stuff it. â€œThank you,â€ I said. She waved a hand in front of her face. â€œStop it, youâ€™re going to make me cry.â€ I laughed, â€œYou started it.â€ â€œI know. Iâ€™ll stop. Go look at yourself.â€ I went into the bathroom and was shocked by what I saw. My hair is naturally a dark blonde. Iâ€™d gone lighter over the years when I was able to afford to have it done. Liz had lightened my roots and put some gold highlights in it. Sheâ€™d also layered it softly around my face to get rid of the bluntness that I had put into it when I tried to do it myself. It was all even and soft and pretty now. I loved it. Her face appeared in the mirror behind me and I smiled. â€œI love it! Thank you.â€ Liz hugged me and said, â€œI love you and remember that youâ€™ll never have to put up with a man if you donâ€™t want to. This will always be your home. I will gladly clean out my crafts room today if you want to move back in.â€ Still smiling but with tears in my eyes I said, â€œAnd youâ€™ll listen to a baby screaming at three a.m. every night in a few months, or try and have a date while he eats mashed peas in his high chair?â€ She nodded, â€œAll that and more, gladlyâ€¦ waitâ€¦ he? Youâ€™re having a â€˜heâ€™?â€ I smiled, â€œThatâ€™s the reason I stopped by,â€ I said. I turned to the mirror and fluffed my hair and said, â€œI didnâ€™t know I was going to get the beauty treatment too. I got the ultrasound yesterday. Itâ€™s a boy.â€ Liz grabbed me and we hugged again. â€œYay! Iâ€™m so happy, Vicki. I know things are hard right now, but Iâ€™m so proud of you for following your heart. Just promise me that you wonâ€™t raise him to be a man.â€ I laughed again, â€œIâ€™ll see what I can do,â€ I told her. It was so nice that someone was happy. As it would turn out, Liz was the only one in my life who felt that way. I was so grateful for her. I was even more so about an hour later as I sat in the booth of a downtown diner across from my mother. â€œYour hair isâ€¦ interesting,â€ she said as I sat down. â€œHello to you too, mother.â€ My mom is forty-six. She looks like sheâ€™s twenty-five. She has the same blonde hair I do but she has hers professionally lightened and styled. She never misses an appointment, even when I was young and we were struggling financially. She said her looks were her only asset. She tried to make me believe the same thing but Iâ€™ve resisted that notion so far. Iâ€™d hate to think that all I was good for was to look at. My mother wasnâ€™t growing old graciously either. Everything about her had been lifted, tucked or sculpted. The picture left is beautiful, but you really donâ€™t want to peel the canvas back and see what is underneath. â€œDonâ€™t be snippy!â€ she said. â€œYou just lookâ€¦ motherly with that haircut.â€ â€œWell I guess itâ€™s good that Iâ€™m about to be a mother then,â€ I said. â€œIt will be, when you can get that cheap bastard of an ex-boss of yours to pay up.â€ She was team Jason on that point although there was no love lost there either. â€œMom, are you not even a little bit happy that weâ€™re having an addition to the family?â€ I asked her. I knew she wouldnâ€™t be happy about a baby. She wasnâ€™t the grandmotherly typeâ€¦ or the motherly one. She frowned and said, â€œYouâ€™re broke and unmarried. Iâ€™m too young to be anyoneâ€™s grandmother. What is there really to be happy about, Vicki? Iâ€™ll be happy if that bastard pays you what he owes youâ€¦ unlike your father who got away Scott free.â€ She was hopeless. My father and the men she danced for and now served had ruined her outlook on family and love a long time ago. We ordered our lunches and when I asked for the club with avocado on sour dough she frowned again. At least Iâ€™m assuming the face she kept making was frowning. Sheâ€™d had so much Botox that it was hard to tell. â€œWhatâ€™s wrong now, mother?â€ I asked. â€œIâ€™m just hoping you know that weightâ€™s not going to drop off by itself when you have that kid. I was out of work for six months after I had you just trying to get my figure back.â€ I rolled my eyes. â€œIâ€™ve gained ten pounds mom and Iâ€™m more than halfway through my pregnancy. Besides, Iâ€™m not a pole dancer.â€ â€œTen pounds can make all the difference,â€ she said, taking a sip of her lemon water. With a sigh I almost asked her, â€œWhat difference?â€ but I didnâ€™t. I knew it would have something to do with me catching a man who could â€œsupportâ€ me. She was an independent businesswomanâ€¦ albeit the owner of a strip club. She should understand that all women do not want to be â€œtaken care of.â€ No matter how good she looked or how hard she tried, sheâ€™d never achieved it even at almost fifty. I simply said, â€œThanks mom, Iâ€™ll keep it in mind,â€ as I did with so many other things. â€œI have a client who is looking for a housekeeper if youâ€™re still looking for a job.â€ That got my attention. I definitely needed a job. Iâ€™d spent so much money on this lawsuit that I wasnâ€™t even certain that I wanted to pursue any longer that I was having trouble paying my own bills. It was one thing I had to be grateful to Jason forâ€¦ at least I had a roof over my head and food in my belly. Iâ€™d feel so much better though if I were contributing to that. Plus, my lawyer wasnâ€™t going to take my I.O.U. much longer. But this was one of motherâ€™s â€œclients.â€ I was a little concerned about that. â€œSomeone you know well?â€ I asked her. She shrugged and said, â€œWe had a brief affair a few years ago but then his wife found outâ€¦â€ â€œYeah, thanks Mom, but no thanks,â€ I said. Iâ€™d met a few of her â€œclientsâ€ over the years. Iâ€™d fought off advances from a few of them as well. Not upstanding citizens in the least. She just rolled her eyes at me. â€œI found out that Iâ€™m having a boy,â€ I told her, trying to change the subject and hoping to get some kind of emotion out of her about the baby. â€œHmm,â€ she said. The waitress had just brought our lunch and left. She had taken one bite of her salad. â€œThis salad dressing tastes like itâ€™s loaded with calories. I donâ€™t think that porky waitress gave me the light stuffâ€¦â€ And that was how the rest of our meal together went. I left there with most of the happiness Iâ€™d had when I left Lizâ€™s house gone. I left the diner and went to the one place Iâ€™d always felt good, Seal Beach, to the pier. I browsed through a few of the small shops, but mostly I just stood on the edge of the pier and looked out at the ocean. The sea was an unbroken, calm underneath the gentle sun. The small ripples of water that lay across it were sprinkled with millions of light fragments; each one tiny, but together they were intense and beautiful. I slipped out of my shoes and stood there like I did when I was a kid, with the feel of the rough wood underneath my bare feet and began to feel nostalgic. My life had never been much to be excited over but it had never seemed as lonely as it had since Alexander turned his back on me. I know that we never had a real relationship, but before that day we spent in the basement, I was able to look forward to at least one smile or one kind word from him almost every day. He was never anything but kind and respectful and I missed that. Jason wasnâ€™t mean or abusive, but I always get the feeling that heâ€™s never harbored much respect for me either. When we were together before any of this happened with the pregnancy he was always quicker to point out my flaws than he was to say anything kind. Usually, he just said nothing at all and he touched me even less, thatâ€™s what led me to believe maybe there was another woman in the picture. Maybe Iâ€™m wrongâ€¦ either way; I was beginning to quickly recognize that moving back in with him had been a mistake. The sun was beginning to get low in the sky and I still had some things I needed to do before nightfall. I turned and began heading back down the pier towards the lot where I parked my car and in the distance I saw the shadow of a man who looked very familiar. He was strolling along slowly, dropping pieces of sourdough for the pigeons and seagulls and every so often stopping to look at something that had caught his eye out in the water. It was Alex. The direction he was facing put his eyes looking directly into the sun. I hoped that also kept him from being able to see me. As much as I wanted to see him, I was sure he wasnâ€™t interested in running into me. I put my head down and walked quickly on the far side of the pier, I passed him and continued to head for my car. I was almost to the end of the pier when I felt a strong hand on my shoulder. I knew it was his before I turned around. CHAPTER ELEVEN VICTORIA I stopped walking and took a deep breath in before turning around to face him. Alex was looking at me with those intensely sexy hazel eyes and his brown hair was blowing in the breeze. I watched as his eyes traveled down to the bulge in my belly and back up to my face. His expression didnâ€™t give away what he was thinking, but I would have given a million dollars to find out what it was. He was dressed casually in a white cotton shirt that buttoned up the front and rippled across the muscles in his chest and arms in the wind. He had on blue jeans, which was unusual, but he wore them well. â€œHi,â€ I said, not knowing where else to start. â€œHello, Vicki.â€ I loved the way he said my nameâ€¦ still. God, what is wrong with me? This man fired me. Heâ€™s suing me. Why does he still give me that warm, tingly feeling all over? I needed to not be here, with him standing here looking at me. It didnâ€™t help my thought processes at all. It only made me want to kiss him although I should be kicking him instead. â€œI was just leavingâ€¦â€ â€œPlease donâ€™t go,â€ he said. I felt a pain in my chest. Iâ€™m not sure if it was fear or excitement. Either way, I was screwed because I knew that I wouldnâ€™t leave. â€œSit with me for a few minutes. Iâ€™d like to talk to you.â€ Damn it! My lawyer has strongly advised me against this. Iâ€™m positive that his had too. The way that my stomach felt and the pounding in my chest were probably good reasons why. I was already willing to forgive and forget and heâ€™d barely said hello. â€œOkay, just for a minute,â€ I said. We walked silently to a wooden bench in the center of the pier that looked out over the ocean. It was another of my favorite spots when I was a kid. We sat down and he said, â€œHow are you feeling?â€ â€œIâ€™m doing well,â€ I said. â€œAnd the baby?â€ â€œHeâ€™s good,â€ I told him, automatically putting a protective arm across him. â€œHe?â€ he said. â€œItâ€™s a boy?â€ I nodded. I wondered if he was being polite or if he was really interested. â€œWhen is he due?â€ he asked. He seemed genuinely interested. â€œIn August,â€ I said. I heard him sigh heavily and I chanced a glance at his face. He looked sad and I was suddenly overcome with the need to tell him everything that my lawyer told me not to discuss. â€œAlex?â€ He looked at me. God, it was hard to think when those eyes were on my face. I swallowed the lump that had built up in my throat and I said, â€œI didnâ€™t leave that pregnancy test there for you to find.â€ He wrinkled his brow and stared at me for the longest time before he said, â€œWhy did you leave it?â€ Taking a deep breath I said, â€œIâ€™d been really sick in the mornings. I thought I just had the flu. My cycles hadnâ€™t been regular and my doctor changed my prescriptionâ€¦ my roommate was the one that suggested I might be pregnant. I had woken up that morning obsessing over it. As you know, Jason had just broken up with me and I wondered what I would do and what he would say if I were pregnant. At that pointâ€¦ since you and I had only been together that one timeâ€¦ I just hadnâ€™t considered it may be yours. I bought the test on my way to work. I was a nervous wreck and I thought you were gone for the day so I used your private bathroom so that I wouldnâ€™t get caught. Karen called me away from my work and then you came home early and I was just never able to retrieve it.â€ â€œHow do you know that the baby is not Jasonâ€™s?â€ he asked me. It was a fair question. â€œFor a couple of months before you and I were together, Jason had been really stressed at workâ€¦ at least that was the excuse he gave me. I was super busy with work and schoolâ€¦ It had been at least two months since weâ€™d been together in that way by that day that you and I were. I would have been further along if it was his. I only really realized that later on, after you served me with the papers and locked me out of the mansion.â€ Okay, the last part was intended to wound. Heâ€™d hurt me and I wanted to strike out just a little. It hit its target, he winced. â€œSo you didnâ€™t intend on telling me at all?â€ he asked. â€œI donâ€™t know, Alex. I didnâ€™t have the chance to get that far. Your reaction was quite unexpectedâ€¦ and frankly, insulting.â€ â€œInsulting?â€ he asked. Did he really not understand how it could be? â€œOf course. Wouldnâ€™t you be insulted if someone accused you of blatantly laying a trap for them and trying to milk money from them?â€ â€œWomen do it all the time.â€ That statement annoyed me. He was right, but men did things that werenâ€™t okay either and you couldnâ€™t hold it against them all collectively. â€œMaybe,â€ I said. â€œBut Iâ€™m not one of those women. I never wanted anything from you, Alex. That day we spent together was special to me and I held itâ€¦ I still hold it in my memory as one of the most special days of my adult life. But, I did not initiate it. I never would have. Iâ€™m not saying Iâ€™m without responsibility here but Iâ€™m willing to shoulder my part of it. Iâ€™m willing to raise this child and do whatever it takes to give him a good life. If you have no interest in being a part of that, I would never force it.â€ â€œWhat about the lawsuit?â€ he asked. â€œYouâ€™re asking for a lot more than just child support.â€ I could see that the wheels in his brain were turning, but I couldnâ€™t tell from his questions where they were leading him. â€œYou brought that on. After I got the papers, Jason told me that since youâ€™d taken away my livelihood I should counter sue. He made it about the baby and how he deserved to be taken care ofâ€¦ I honestly never wanted to do it this way. I hate this. I was just so hurt and angry and Jason was the only one being supportive so I listened to him. Of course the lawyer I saw thought it was a great idea too... Men,â€ I said, to make my point that it wasnâ€™t only women who were greedy. â€œI really do hate all of this.â€ â€œI do too,â€ he said, sadly. I was surprised. Not necessarily because he hated it, but that he was willing to admit that he did. â€œIâ€™m a good businessman,â€ he said. â€œSome might even say brilliant. But as you have borne witness to Iâ€™m sure, Iâ€™m not that astute when it comes to personal relationships. My wifeâ€¦ when she planned to divorce me, was trying to take me for everything I had. The only thing stopping her from doing that was the great legal advice and maneuverings of my family lawyers. When I found the test, I consulted one of them about what to do. He told me not to worry about it; they would handle it, so I let them. It all got so out of hand.â€ â€œIâ€™m glad to know that,â€ I told him. â€œIâ€™m glad to at least know you donâ€™t believe in your heart that I had any sinister intentions. Alex, all I ever wanted from you was my job. I think you would even have to admit that I was good at it. I will need a way to support my child. If you can find it in your heart to allow me to come backâ€¦â€ â€œVictoria, my wife and I are back together.â€ That sentence was like a knife slicing straight through my heart. If all I wanted was my job, then it shouldnâ€™t, I know. The truth was, I would probably never stop wanting Alexâ€¦ but it was never about money. Not even for a second. I could see how me being in his home working every day, pregnant with his child while he was trying to make things work with his wife wouldnâ€™t be okay. â€œOhâ€¦ okay. Well, I should really be going.â€ I felt embarrassed and ashamed for asking him for my job, yet here I was, pregnant with his child and he was willing to let me do without even that. My head was so confused, bouncing from one emotion to the next. My stomach felt sick and I needed to get out of here. I stood up and so did he. â€œVictoriaâ€¦â€ â€œYes?â€ He took me by the shoulders and then leaned down and pressed his lips to my forehead. That simple kiss sent waves of shock racing through me. â€œTake care of yourself,â€ he said. â€œAnd the baby.â€ I just nodded and took a step back before turning and quickly walking away. I didnâ€™t want him to see the tears in my eyes. ALEXANDER I stood on the pier and watched Vicki go. I had to wonder if I was making the biggest mistake of my life. Sheâ€™s pregnant with my child, my childâ€¦ a little boy. I let her step off the end of the pier before I put my hands in my pockets and began walking in the same direction. The lawyers tell me that there is no way of knowing yet. If I want a relationship with the child, I can have them order a DNA test after the baby is born. If I want a relationship with my own child? What kind of man would I be if I didnâ€™t want that? When I say I do want a relationship with my child, they start talking about money again. What kind of man worries more about money than the woman who is bringing a new life into this world? This was done all wrong and Iâ€™m just not sure how to fix it. I know now that what I should have done was talk to Vicki and asked her about the test. I should have kept the lawyers out of it. I should have followed my gut instincts about her and trusted that she wasnâ€™t out to get anything from me. But Iâ€™d trusted my instincts about Cassandra too and look how that turned out. It was an ironic thought, considering that I was going home to her. About a month after I found out about the baby, Cassie had come to me and said she made a mistake. She said that she loved me and she wanted me back. My suspicions were that she finally realized that she wasnâ€™t going to get anything more out of me than the original pre-nup had designated. Getting back with her was something my lawyers had pushed for because they were actually worried if she got the right judge, she might. I donâ€™t love her anymore, but I did let her come back. If I analyze them now, I know it was for a few reasons. The first one was that as a man who ran a multi-national company, I was forced to attend a lot of benefits and dinners and social gatherings. Iâ€™m ashamed to admit it, but since Cassie grew up in a similar world as I had she fit in at those things and she knew how she was expected to act. The other reason I took her back was my own behavior. When I was doing the partying and sleeping with different women every night, I knew that it was detrimental to my wellbeing. But that had been an easy way for me to deal with being alone and the stress of the divorce. Taking Cassie back would solve both of those problems. The third, and probably the most realistic reason that I allowed her to come back was because I wanted Victoria. I wanted her so badly that Iâ€™d lay awake at night thinking about herâ€¦ Iâ€™d catch myself sitting in meetings thinking about herâ€¦ Iâ€™d look for her everywhere I went. I almost didnâ€™t believe it was her today, I thought Iâ€™d seen her so many times before. Iâ€™d let my attorneys convince me that she was a gold-digger and Iâ€™d convinced myself that she was no good for me. Being with Cassie would be another deterrent to me to keep me from pursuing her. Seeing her today brought all of those feelings rushing back. I didnâ€™t just want to be a part of my childâ€™s lifeâ€¦ I wanted his mother. What I was supposed to do about that, I wasnâ€™t sure. CHAPTER TWELVE VICTORIA When I got home from the beach, Jason still wasnâ€™t there. I cleaned up the apartment some as I let my talk with Alex run through my mind and then went online to do another job search. I applied for a few positions in the city and even a few that were far out in the county. The trouble I was having was that before anyone was willing to let you into their multi-million dollar estate as a service person, they wanted to do an extensive background. If that were done in my case, they would easily find out about Alex and the baby and the court battle. That would make anyone hesitant to let me into their home and their lives and I wouldnâ€™t blame them. I applied anyways. I wasnâ€™t really qualified for anything else yet. Iâ€™d taken the semester off of school to see what happened with the baby. It was likely that I wouldnâ€™t be able to go back for more than one. The baby would need me and I would have to work. I clicked off the internet and sighed. I wasnâ€™t quite sure how I got myself into these messes. I made myself a cup of decaffeinated tea and took it out on the balcony of the apartment. I sat there trying to sort out my feelings for Alex. There was no denying that I did have feelings for him. Someone from the outside looking in might be prone to tell me that Iâ€™m crazyâ€¦ he never cared about me at all. Heâ€™s turning his back on both me and his child. But when I look into his eyes I see something real there. I see something that for whatever reason, heâ€™s afraid to admitâ€¦ heâ€™s afraid to feel. But he was back with his wife, so what could ever come of it? Nothing. I could accept that, I suppose, but I didnâ€™t want all of this animosity between us nevertheless. I was already tired of fighting. It wasnâ€™t my nature. I felt a raindrop fall against my skin, and then another and another. I sat there, unmoving, not wanting to go back into the apartment and wait for Jason to decide to come home and admit that this is my life. I finally moved my chair back so that the rain didnâ€™t hit me directly and I sat there and watched it fall. The moon hung full in the hazy Los Angeles sky and underneath the cloud cover I could almost glimpse an eclipse of blazing stars trying to force their way out and be seen. Thatâ€™s what I felt like most of the time. I knew that I had it in me to shine. I knew that I had it in me to succeed. But somehow I kept allowing the clouds to get in the way. I needed to start making some changes in my life and when I heard Jason come in the front door I told myself that right now was as good of a time to start as any. I stood and went into the house. He looked at me curiously and said, â€œWhy are you sitting in the rain?â€ I shrugged. â€œJust thinking,â€ I said. â€œHow was the barbeque?â€ â€œIt was fun,â€ he said sitting down on the couch. â€œWhat did you do today?â€ I sat down in the chair across from him. â€œI saw Liz. She fixed my mess of a hair for me.â€ He looked at my hair, but he didnâ€™t offer a response, I guess a simple compliment was too much to ask for these days. I didnâ€™t wait for it. I knew it wasnâ€™t coming. I went on and said, â€œI had lunch with my mother.â€ He rolled his eyes and smirked at that. My mother and the fact that Iâ€™d continued to have a relationship with her had been the source of more than one of our arguments over the years. He thought I should be ashamed of her and cut her off completely. I thought that sheâ€™s still my mother in spite of her character flaws. I would probably never completely cut her off. I really believed that in spite of it all, she did her best. I went on and said, â€œThen I went to the beach for a while and took a walk on the pier.â€ â€œHmm,â€ he said, completely disinterested. Sometimes I wasnâ€™t sure why he asked or why I bothered. â€œDo you see the lawyers tomorrow?â€ â€œYes.â€ â€œGood. Are things progressing?â€ I shrugged. â€œI wanted to talk to you about that. I saw Alexander today.â€ That got his attention. He sat up off the couch and with his eyebrows pulled together he said, â€œWhy? Didnâ€™t the attorneys tell you to stay away from him?â€ â€œThey did and I have been. I just ran into him and he wanted to talk.â€ Jason snorted and said, â€œI hope you told him where to go.â€ â€œNo, I sat and talked to him for a while,â€ I said. He looked annoyed, but I went on quickly before he could interrupt me. â€œHe says that he never wanted any of this. He was confused like I was. Before he even had time to think it all through, his lawyers took it out of his hands. His legal counsel is driving this lawsuitâ€¦â€ â€œOf course he said that, Vicki. This is exactly why you werenâ€™t supposed to see him. Heâ€™s going to try and make you think heâ€™s the good guy here. Youâ€™re too naÃ¯ve to deal with this.â€ The naÃ¯ve comment bothered me, but I let it go, for now. â€œHeâ€™s not a bad guy, Jason. This is just an odd situation. I donâ€™t think either of us meant to put ourselves here.â€ I know that I didnâ€™t want to be here and Iâ€™m sure from his reaction he didnâ€™t either. â€œThatâ€™s not the point. He was the smart one here. He should have known better than to dip his wickâ€¦â€ â€œExcuse me? He was the smart one?â€ First Iâ€™m naÃ¯ve and now Iâ€™m stupid. â€œYou know what I mean. Heâ€™s the owner of a multi-billion dollar corporation. Youâ€™re the maid.â€ I stood up, getting aggravated and beginning to feel angry. â€œJeez Jason, why not just slug me in the face. It would hurt less.â€ He was being as disparaging as Alexâ€™s lawyers had been. â€œIâ€™m not trying to hurt you,â€ he said, simply. He didnâ€™t apologize for it though, or take back what he said. I think he truly believed I was too naÃ¯ve to handle my own lifeâ€¦ or stupid. â€œI donâ€™t think youâ€™re ever trying to hurt me, Jason. Iâ€™m beginning to believe that youâ€™re just really that oblivious to my feelings that you donâ€™t care either way. Itâ€™s like this lawsuit. Itâ€™s all you ever ask me about. I went to the doctor yesterday; did you even bother to ask me about that? Did you know that I had an ultrasound and found out the sex of my baby?â€ He looked at me long and hard and then he asked, â€œWhat is it?â€ â€œIt is a baby, Jason. It is a child. It is a little boy and Iâ€™m his mother and I love him. Iâ€™m tired and I donâ€™t want to do this lawsuit any longer. I donâ€™t want to fight any more for things that I donâ€™t even really want or need.â€ He sighed like he was growing weary of indulging me and then he said, â€œYou donâ€™t want or need millions of dollars? Wow, youâ€™re a bigger person than most of us,â€ he said, sarcastically. I didnâ€™t care for his tone and again, it made me angrier. â€œListen to me, Vicki. I am thinking of you and the baby even if you donâ€™t believe me. How are you going to support it?â€ â€œHim Jason! Him! Stop calling my baby an it!â€ â€œOkay,â€ he said with his palms up. â€œJeez, calm down. Youâ€™re missing the pointâ€¦â€ â€œNo, I get it, I do. You are worried I might ask you to support â€œitâ€ if I donâ€™t have millions that I won in some stupid lawsuit that I donâ€™t want to be a part of. I get it.â€ â€œI wasnâ€™t worried about you asking me to supportâ€¦ him, Vic. But you and he deserve more than to just be ignored by the man who started all of this, donâ€™t you think? Especially when a few hundred thousand a month wouldnâ€™t even faze the manâ€ â€œYou know what, Jason? I do believe that he and I deserve more. I just donâ€™t believe that a lawsuit is the way to get what we deserve. I also believe that in time, Alex will come around and understand that I was never trying to trap him.â€ â€œYouâ€™re going to drop this suit, arenâ€™t you?â€ He wasnâ€™t annoyed any longer. He was pissed. It suddenly set in that he didnâ€™t care if I got any money or not. It was about what he might get out of all of this. The slime ball. â€œYes, I think I am,â€ I told him. I wanted to smile. He looked deflated and then the anger kicked back in. He stood up and put his large frame in front of me. It was an imposing stance and I actually think it was meant to intimidate. All it did was make me angrier. Who did he think he was trying to push me into continuing a lawsuit I wanted no part of? A lawsuit that he had pushed me into in the first place for his own personal gain while he tried to act like he was being supportive of me. â€œYouâ€™re a fool,â€ he yelled at me. â€œHow many times in your life will you be handed this kind of opportunity?â€ I actually laughed when he said that. Heâ€™s right. I have been a fool, but what made me one had been trusting him, not dropping this lawsuit. â€œYou call this an opportunity as if itâ€™s a job or winning the lottery. Itâ€™s taking money away from a man who worked for it. I donâ€™t need millions to raise my baby. All I need is a good job, desire and love. Iâ€™ve got all of that.â€ â€œI canâ€™t believe what an idiot you are and I canâ€™t believe that Iâ€™ve wasted all of this time on you.â€ In spite of the fact that I realized he was the one in the wrong here and what he thought of me really didnâ€™t matter, the realization that he was only with me because of what he thought he would gain in the end, hurt. â€œI agree with you. Again, Iâ€™m a fool and maybe an idiot as well for trusting you. Iâ€™m finished with that. Iâ€™m dropping this lawsuit.â€ â€œGood luck supporting yourself and that brat youâ€™re carrying!â€ I smiled at him. â€œThanks. Iâ€™ll do fine and weâ€™ll be fine. Iâ€™ll have my things out of here tomorrow and Iâ€™ll leave the key,â€ I said, taking my purse and heading for the door. â€œGood riddance!â€ he yelled, as I went out and closed the door behind me. Good riddance is right. Good riddance to fake relationships and silly lawsuits. Hello to my new life. I rubbed my swollen belly. Our new life. VICTORIA I knocked on Lizâ€™s door for the second time that day. When she pulled open the door and saw my face she hugged me and then she invited me in. â€œIs it okay if I sleep on your couch tonight? I have to figure some things out tomorrow about money but then Iâ€™ll rent a hotel room.â€ â€œNo, you will not. Youâ€™ll stay here like I told you earlier. Iâ€™ll clean that room out tomorrow and weâ€™ll set up the day bed. You can sleep on the couch tonight.â€ â€œBut what about Gloria?â€ â€œSheâ€™s not going to mind,â€ she said, â€œAnd as much as I like her if she did, Iâ€™d still pick you. Youâ€™re my best friend.â€ I had tears in my eyes as I said, â€œIâ€™m not sure how long it will take me to get back on my feet.â€ â€œBut you will. Youâ€™re going to have your baby and finish school and become a P.A. who makes a lot of money and makes everyone feel better. Until then, if a best friend canâ€™t help you, who can?â€ â€œIâ€™m not sure what I did to deserve you in my life. Thank you so much. I will pay you back for all of this.â€ â€œFriendship is not about keeping score or keeping a tally sheet.â€ I knew she meant that. I might be striking out big time in the boyfriend department, but I did hit the lottery when it came to friends. I hugged her tight and said, â€œIf I didnâ€™t have you, I donâ€™t think Iâ€™d have gotten through any of this.â€ â€œYou wonâ€™t ever have to worry about it,â€ she said. â€œIâ€™ll make some decaf tea and you can tell me whatâ€™s going on.â€ She made the tea and we took it out on the terrace. The rain had stopped and the sky was clearer now and the stars were able to take their stage. Once we sat down she said, â€œWhat did Jason do?â€ I laughed. Taking a breath in and letting it out slowly I said, â€œItâ€™s a little more than that, I guess. For one thing, Iâ€™m dropping the lawsuit. I talked to Alex today.â€ â€œYou did?â€ she said, excitedly. It was what sheâ€™d been telling me to do from day one. She didnâ€™t know Alex and she was angry at what he was doing, but she could see that I genuinely cared for him. â€œYeah. I ran into him on the pier.â€ I told her about our conversation. â€œYou know you have feelings for him, right?â€ With a smile I said, â€œYes, I figured that out. But thanks.â€ â€œWell,â€ she said. â€œSometimes youâ€™re a little hard headed. He must be a good guy if you feel so strongly about him.â€ â€œMaybe,â€ I said. â€œBut look at Jason. My track record is not so good.â€ â€œYou never really thought you loved that guy, did you?â€ I shrugged. â€œI suppose not loveâ€¦ but feelings nonetheless.â€ â€œOh well, weâ€™re all entitled a mistake or three,â€ she grinned. â€œWe live and learn, honey. All of us. I personally think that youâ€™re doing the right thing. Even if nothing ever happens with Alex, I believe what I said earlier, youâ€™re strong enough to do this on your own and Iâ€™ll help you in any way I can. Jason is an opportunistic creep and youâ€™ll be much better off without him.â€ I nodded. She was right about Jason. I didnâ€™t doubt that. I did hope that she was right about me being strong. Sometimes I felt it and sometimes I felt like I was just faking my way through it. CHAPTER THIRTEEN ALEXANDER I was sitting at my desk, trying to get some real work done. The problem was I couldnâ€™t stop thinking about Vicki. â€œMr. Reigns, Mr. Bronte is on line one,â€ my assistant told me. Bronte is the lead attorney on the civil case against Victoria. I had left a message for him this morning, telling him I wanted to drop the suit. Maybe after I talked to him, my frame of mind would be better. â€œHerb! Thanks for getting back to me.â€ â€œAlex, I got your message about dropping the lawsuit. I have some concernsâ€¦â€ â€œListen Herb, thereâ€™s no need to argue with me. My mind is made up. I want to drop this suit. Itâ€™s ridiculous and should not have ever been started in the first place. I let other people do my thinking for me. I donâ€™t want to do that any longer.â€ â€œWell, as much as I disagree with you and fear for your assets in this case, I wonâ€™t argue with you. Youâ€™re the boss. I also received word from Miss Hartâ€™s attorney this morning. Sheâ€™s dropped her suit as well.â€ â€œReally? Did he say why?â€ I wondered if it had to do with our talk. That was what drove me to it. Not so much her words, but the feelings she expressed to me in her eyes. She didnâ€™t want this or anything material of mine. That much I firmly believed. â€œPretty much the same silly reasons that youâ€™re giving me. She told him it never should have been filed in the first place and that she didnâ€™t want a dime. Maybe we could still get her to sign an agreement that states she doesnâ€™t want anything and doesnâ€™t feel entitled to anything and wonâ€™t sue in the future for anythingâ€¦â€ I hung up on him. I didnâ€™t want to hear her called a gold-digger anymore, even if it was in a roundabout way. For some reason, the news that Victoria had dropped her suit made me feel ecstatic, like the stressors of the past several months had suddenly been lifted. Itâ€™s not about the money; itâ€™s about the fact that it proves I was right about her. I knew that she wasnâ€™t a gold-digger and I suspected she had feelings for me. I think this proved both of those things. Where to go from here was still a question Iâ€™d have to give a lot of thought to but at least I had a starting point. I dialed the staff number for my home and waited for Karen to pick up. â€œReignsâ€™ residence, Karen speaking. How can I help you?â€ â€œHi Karen, itâ€™s Alexander.â€ Iâ€™d known Karen my whole life. I felt comfortable with her knowing my personal business. She never shared it. She was one of the most loyal and faithful people Iâ€™d ever known. â€œWell hello Mr. Reigns, what can I do for you?â€ â€œI need you to get in touch with Victoria Hart and offer her job back.â€ â€œExcuse me sir? Isnâ€™t there a restraining order or something like that in place?â€ I knew that Karen liked Vicki and all of this had been hard on her as well. â€œYes, there is Karen, it was all a mistake. Please notify the other staff of that before Vicki gets back. I donâ€™t want this to be unnecessarily hard on her. Sheâ€™s pregnant, so Iâ€™m sure there will be some other restrictions, but I trust you to handle all of that. When you talk to her, tell her that if sheâ€™d like to come back, she can start the first of July. That will give me a few weeks to take care of the legal nonsense.â€ â€œYes sir.â€ She sounded pleased. â€œKaren, be nice to her please. Sheâ€™s been through a lot.â€ â€œI like Victoria sir. I was very sad to see her go. Iâ€™ll be kind; you can be assured of it.â€ â€œThank you.â€ After I hung up with Karen, I called back the attorneys and we worked out what steps I would need to take to get rid of the legal restrictions on her being at the mansion. They would actually have to take the steps; I would just need to sign the paperwork. I told them to get on it at once and I wanted something on my desk by tomorrow. Then I made the second to last call on my list, to my wife. â€œAlex,â€ Cassandra answered. She sounded like I was interrupting her. â€œAre you busy?â€ â€œIn the middle of my massage,â€ she said. I wondered why she needed a massage every week when she never really did anything. â€œWhy are you calling in the middle of the day? Is there a problem?â€ She could be such a witch. â€œNo, Cassie. I just wanted to tell you that Iâ€™ve re-hired Victoria Hart as the upstairs maid. Sheâ€™ll be starting back on the first of July.â€ I didnâ€™t have confirmation that she would say yesâ€¦ but I was hoping and trying to stay confident. â€œThe blonde?â€ she said. â€œYes.â€ â€œWhy was she let go again?â€ â€œThere was a misunderstanding,â€ I said. I was hoping sheâ€™d leave it at that for now. I had yet to tell her that Vicki was carrying my child. I hadnâ€™t wanted to let her get involved in the lawsuit. She would have been ruthless. Now that it would be dropped, I would tell her about it in good time. At least before the baby came. I fully intended at this point to be a part of my sonâ€™s life. â€œItâ€™s been cleared up and we have had temps in and out of the house. I donâ€™t like that. I prefer a stable crew.â€ â€œMakes sense,â€ she said. â€œThe one we have now is terrible anyways. I told Karen to tell the agency not to send her back. She made the bed with no top sheet yesterday!â€ I rolled my eyes. â€œGood then, itâ€™s settled. Iâ€™ll see you tonight.â€ â€œLooking forward to it,â€ she said. She didnâ€™t sound like she really was, but she said things like that so if I accused her of not being affectionate, she could throw it back in my face. â€œOkay then, have a good day, Cassie.â€ I hung up with a smile on my face that my wife had nothing to do with. I was going to get to see Vicki again every day. I hoped. Lastly, I called the payroll department. â€œPayroll, this is Lydia.â€ â€œLydia, this is Mr. Reigns.â€ Lydia is another loyal employee that had been with me from the beginning. â€œGood morning sir.â€ â€œGood morning, Lydia. I need you to do something for me and I need it done quickly.â€ â€œOkay sir.â€ â€œWill you please figure up how many hours Miss Hart who was let go from my house staff in March, has missed if she worked full time from the day she was let go until the end of June?â€ â€œOf course sir.â€ â€œWait, thereâ€™s more. After you do that, cut her a check for those hours and have it sent to her address by courier. Iâ€™d like it done today, and the sooner, the better.â€ â€œOkay sir, Iâ€™m on it.â€ I hung up with her feeling satisfied that I was at least taking steps to rectify the damage I had allowed to be done to Vickiâ€™s life. I didnâ€™t take precautions when we had sexâ€¦ I was more responsible for this than she was. I was in a place of power and some might say I abused it. I had no intentions of doing that, but I had done it nonetheless. All I wanted now was to fix it. VICTORIA I had to spend an hour at my attorneyâ€™s office signing forms to drop the lawsuits. They were not happy with me. They kept repeating the same things to me about how he could blackball me in the community and how I might not be able to get another job. They said I could sue him for harassment. I had the proof in my belly. I didnâ€™t want to hear any of it. I knew money was what they were most concerned about and it was theirs, not mine. I still owed them close to a thousand dollars. They hadnâ€™t been all that worried about it because they assumed they would get their money from the billionaire when this was all over and done with. I apologized profusely, but the bottom line was that they couldnâ€™t proceed without me. I assured them that as soon as I got a job, they would be first on my list of creditors to pay. They didnâ€™t seem impressed with that, but it was the best that I could do. I went by Jasonâ€™s apartment after that. He was at work, but I had text to ask him if I could pick up my things. He was curt, but he said that I could. I only really had clothes there. I had left my things in storage when I moved in with him. I could get them out now and the storage bill would be one less payment I had to worry about. God bless Liz. I got back home around noon with my two suitcases and overnight bag. My dear Liz had the craft room all cleaned out already before she left for work at ten a.m. Sheâ€™s amazing. I was about to call and find out how much it would cost to have a moving service pick up my things in storage and deliver them with no idea how Iâ€™d pay it no matter what it cost when the doorbell rang. I went to answer it and a young man in a blue polo shirt that said, â€œAnderson Couriersâ€ on it was standing there with an envelope in his hand. â€œCan I help you?â€ â€œHi, are you Victoria Hart?â€ â€œYes I am.â€ â€œI have a delivery for you.â€ I suddenly felt sick to my stomach remembering the service of the court papers that day from Alexâ€™s attorneys. I told myself if these were more of that, they wouldnâ€™t have come by courier. â€œWhat is it?â€ I asked him. â€œJust an envelope,â€ he said. He held up an envelope that looked like the one my paychecks used to come in. Exactly like it. It was even marked with the Reigns logo and it said, â€œPayroll Departmentâ€ in the corner. â€œCan you sign here for it?â€ he asked me, holding out a clipboard. I didnâ€™t want to. It was either a mistake or a cruel joke. I was paid up to the day I was fired and even paid for my sick leave and vacation time. What could this be? â€œMiss?â€ The guy was looking at me strangely. I must have zoned out for a second. Finally, telling myself to stop being a coward I took the clipboard and signed my name. He handed me the envelope and I thanked him and went back inside. I stared at it for a long time. If it had been a snake, it would have bitten me several times before I finally turned it over and began to rip it open. My phone began ringing at the same time. I almost ignored it, but I worried that the lawyers may need something else from me. I went over and picked it up. I felt like I was caught in an alternate universe. The number on the phone was Karenâ€™s office number at the mansion. â€œHello?â€ â€œHi Vicki! Itâ€™s Karen.â€ â€œUmâ€¦ Hi Karen.â€ â€œHow are you, honey?â€ She would know if she had bothered to call, was my first thought. My second one was that I was being too harsh. She needed her job too. I shouldnâ€™t even hint that she should have risked it for me. â€œIâ€™m doing good Karen. How are you?â€ â€œIâ€™m well too, thanks. How is the pregnancy coming?â€ I looked down at my big belly. â€œItâ€™s fine. The baby is healthy. Iâ€™m huge.â€ She laughed and said, â€œI doubt that.â€ Then she sobered and said, â€œIâ€™m sorry I havenâ€™t called to check on you. Things have been strange around here to say the least. Iâ€™ve had to work twice as hard to keep up without you. The temps they send are just not your caliber.â€ I smiled. It was nice of her to say those things about me and it made me feel good. â€œThank you, Karen. I appreciate the kind words.â€ â€œAre you working anywhere now?â€ â€œNo, unfortunately I havenâ€™t found anything.â€ I was hopeful. Maybe she was calling to give me a referral. â€œOh no, thatâ€™s very fortunate,â€ she said. â€œIâ€™m sorry?â€ I thought Iâ€™d misheard her. Surely she didnâ€™t just say it was â€œvery fortunateâ€ that I hadnâ€™t gotten another job? â€œIâ€™m calling you on Mr. Reignsâ€™ behalf to offer you your job back starting on July the first.â€ I was suddenly shaking. Alexander wanted me to come back? Was that good? Bad? What about Cassie? â€œReally?â€ I said, before I remembered who I was talking to. â€œHave you ever known me to kid?â€ Karen laughed. I laughed too. â€œNo, I guess I havenâ€™t.â€ Karen is a sweetheart, but a prankster, sheâ€™s not. â€œThank you, Karen.â€ â€œWell, as much as I wanted you back, I canâ€™t take credit for it. It was all Mr. Reigns. When you come in weâ€™ll talk about how your duties will change because of your pregnancy and also weâ€™ll need to discuss maternity leave.â€ I hadnâ€™t thought of any of that. My thoughts were dancingâ€¦ I have a job! â€œThank you,â€ I told her again. After I hung up, I did a little happy dance. I wondered if this was because Iâ€™d dropped the suit. I wondered if that meant heâ€™d dropped his? I looked at the envelope in my hand again and finished pulling it open. Then I reached in and pulled out its contents. It was a check for a lot of money. I stared at it for a minute and then flipped it over. The stub showed that I was being paid for all of the hours that I hadnâ€™t worked since I was let go all the way up to July. Alex had to have authorized this check. If he were here, I would kiss him. I was so happy. It was so funny, how life could change in an instant. I put my hand across my belly and said, â€œThings are going to be okay little one. Mama loves you.â€ CHAPTER FOURTEEN VICTORIA The three weeks between the day I found out I got my job back and the day I reported back to work flew by. I was super excited to go back. Iâ€™d missed everyone. I had also missed having a job period, and I hated to admit it but most of all, I missed Alex. I did admit it to Liz. I had to ask her if she thought that was a really bad reason for me to go back, especially since he was back with his wife. â€œIs that the only reason?â€ she said. â€œNo, not at all. I need a job and I really liked it there. My co-workers are great and the pay is good.â€ â€œThen there is nothing wrong with accepting it. Honey, you canâ€™t help how you feel. Your actions you have to be concerned with. I donâ€™t believe you would ever have an affair with a married man, so I think youâ€™re okay. Just watch your heart. Try not to let it get too broken or youâ€™ll end up cynical like me.â€ â€œAt least no one takes advantage of you,â€ I told her. â€œAnymore,â€ she said. â€œThank you, Liz.â€ â€œItâ€™s what friends are for,â€ she said again. I received papers about a week after that day saying that the lawsuit had been dropped on Alexâ€™s end. It was another thing I was apprehensive about. I kept wondering if bringing me back was some kind of stunt for court. I didnâ€™t want to be paranoid, but it had been a really hard few months. The papers were filed the day Iâ€™d dropped mine. I guess we both had the same idea. I used the money I got to pay off my lawyers and my storage. That left me a little to live off of and help Liz and Gloria pay bills until I started back to work and got paid again. I had a check-up at the doctor and he said things were going very well with the baby. My life was finally back on track and I couldnâ€™t be happier about it. I was a little nervous about going to work after what happened the last time I was there. I was wondering how many of the staff knew what had really gone on. Plus, being seven and a half months pregnant was a little different in and of itself. When I got to the front gates, the security man greeted me warmly and welcomed me back. Karen hugged me and fussed over my tummy bulge and the cook wanted to feed me. But best of all, Alex was at the kitchen table and when he heard the cook offer me pancakes and eggs he said, â€œYes Vicki. Please join me.â€ I nervously sat down next to him and he looked at me with soft eyes and a smile and said, â€œIâ€™m glad you agreed to come back. Weâ€™ve all missed you around here.â€ It was kind of surreal. So much had happened since the last time Iâ€™d sat at this table with him. The cook loaded me down with pancakes laden with butter and syrup. As I took a healthy bite I thought: If my mother could see me now, sheâ€™d have a heart attack and remind me how many calories were in what I was eating. I didnâ€™t care. I was happy and it was delicious. â€œSo how are things with the baby?â€ Alex asked me. â€œEverything is good,â€ I told him. â€œIâ€™m taking a semester off school after he is born and Iâ€™m working on finding someone reliable to watch him so I wonâ€™t have to take too much time off.â€ I had no idea how to hire childcare; it was one of those brand new things to me. Iâ€™m sure Iâ€™d have a million more of them before my baby was grown. â€œBring him with you,â€ Alex said, nearly knocking me off my chair. â€œYou donâ€™t want to leave an infant alone with a stranger.â€ â€œNo I donâ€™t, butâ€¦ I meanâ€¦â€ He smiled. â€œIâ€™ll hire a nanny. We can go through the agency where they are all background investigated and have references. Weâ€™ll make him a nursery. Please consider it,â€ he said. I was considering how expensive that would be. I wondered if the cost would come out of my wages. He looked like he was about to say something else but Cassandra walked in. In my mind it was like what Dorothy must have felt like the first time she saw the wicked witch. Cassandra gave me a look that said she didnâ€™t approve of her husband eating with the help, but she didnâ€™t seem jealous or angry at all. I had to assume that for all Alexâ€™s big talk about hiring a nanny and making a nursery, his wife didnâ€™t know the baby in my belly was his. â€œI should get to work,â€ I said. â€œYeah, you probably should,â€ Cassandra said, dismissively. Alex glared at her and then he turned to look at me and again he smiled. â€œWelcome back.â€ I smiled and nodded at him and as I was walking away I heard Cassandra say, â€œYou didnâ€™t tell me she was about to pop. Sheâ€™ll only be here a month and weâ€™ll have to hire a replacement. What were you thinking?â€ I was too far away to hear Alexâ€™s response, but I could tell that Cassandraâ€™s attitude hadnâ€™t changed at all. As I was doing my work that day I thought about all of the times when I was a kid that I had seen a house like this one and thought about how happy all of the people inside must be. I was sure that with all of that wealth they couldnâ€™t want for anything, but it was obvious when I watched Alex and his wife together that they both wanted for a lot. Neither of them was happy and I couldnâ€™t understand why someone would choose to live that way, simply because of the money. My days fell back into a routine easily. I knew the layout of the mansion like the back of my hand and I knew how both Alex and Cassandra liked things done. Cassandra seemed to be around all of the time to tell me in case I didnâ€™t. In spite of that, I was still glad to be back. It was good to see my old friends again too. Manny found out that I was having a boy and started a campaign for me to name the baby after him. Every time I saw him, heâ€™d present me with a different version of the name that I could call my son. â€œWhat about Manuel?â€ he said. â€œToo ethnic for a blonde haired, blue eyed boy,â€ I told him. I honestly hadnâ€™t thought about names yet. Iâ€™d been too preoccupied with other things. He laughed and the next time I saw him he said, â€œManly.â€ I cracked up and just said, â€œUm...no.â€ A few days later I was cleaning the banister and he walked by in the foyer below and said, â€œMan.â€ Laughing I said, â€œToo old for a baby.â€ â€œLittle man,â€ he said with a grin. â€œIâ€™ll consider it.â€ I had almost worked my way to the bottom when I saw Karen letting three men into the front door. They looked like construction workers and were armed with tools and cans of paint. They smiled at me as they passed me on the stairs and I watched as Karen led them up to the room at the end of the hall from the master suite. On her way back down I asked, â€œWho are they?â€ â€œTheyâ€™re designing a nursery,â€ she said with a smile. â€œReally? I thought he was only joking.â€ Karen took my hand and said, â€œLetâ€™s sit for a minute.â€ Iâ€™m not sure if she knew what she was asking of a woman who was almost eight months pregnant. I had to squat and spread my legs wide and kind of fall back onto the stairs. â€œIâ€™ve worked for Alexander since he was twenty-two years old. This will be my eighth year here. Before that, I worked for his parents for fifteen years so Iâ€™ve known him for most of his life.â€ â€œWow, thatâ€™s great,â€ I said. â€œIâ€™ve noticed something about him lately, Victoria.â€ â€œWhatâ€™s that?â€ I asked. I was assuming that she was going to say something about the baby but I was surprised when she said, â€œIn all of those years, Iâ€™ve never seen him look even a tenth as happy as he looks when youâ€™re around.â€ â€œUmâ€¦â€ I wasnâ€™t sure what I was supposed to say to that. It made me feel good and bad at the same time. Karen wasnâ€™t looking for a response though. Karen smiled. â€œAlexander is a brilliant man. His IQ is beyond genius level, did you know that?â€ â€œNo. I mean I knew he was smart, thatâ€™s obvious. I had no idea how smart I guess.â€ â€œThat kind of intelligence comes with a price. Heâ€™s been taught social skills. He was raised to be a perfect gentleman, but when it comes to relating to real, live human beings on any kind of intimate level, he really hasnâ€™t ever had much practice at that. He worked to build his company for years. When he turned twenty-five and had his trust fund at his disposal, he could have easily used that to live on for the rest of his life. He chose only to use enough of it to expand his company and the rest of what you see was all Alexâ€™s hard work. Throughout all of that he didnâ€™t have time to date or maybe it was a shy thing, but either way, he just didnâ€™t. I wasnâ€™t surprised when the announcement came that he and Cassandra were engaged. I honestly think he married Cassandra just because heâ€™s known her since he was a kid and it was easy. He lost his mind for a while when she left because heâ€™d been too busy in school to sow his wild oats before he met her. I could tell though that even that didnâ€™t make him happy. What I am trying to say is what happened between you and himâ€¦ he didnâ€™t know how to handle that. Thatâ€™s why he turned to his attorneys. They only have an interest in his money. Itâ€™s their job and they do it well. He even took Cassandra back, based on their recommendations. Itâ€™s obvious when you see them together that itâ€™s not where they belong. He was miserable when she first came back but then suddenly you were back and he was designing a room for your baby. Heâ€™s happier doing that than Iâ€™ve ever seen him. I would be willing to bet that he has no idea how to express any of that to you.â€ â€œHe hasnâ€™t shared much with me on a strictly personal level, no. He does seem excited about the nursery and hiring a nanny. I really appreciate his help.â€ â€œHe is excited. Heâ€™s excited about the baby. Heâ€™s not just doing this to help. Heâ€™s wanted one for a long time. I can see the yearning in his eyes when he looks at other peopleâ€™s children. Now youâ€™re giving him one of his own.â€ â€œYou know itâ€™s his?â€ I had a feeling that she did, but I hadnâ€™t told her so I wasnâ€™t sure. She nodded. â€œAlexander shared it with me in confidence. You donâ€™t have to worry. I wonâ€™t tell anyone.â€ â€œIâ€™m not worried,â€ I told her. â€œJust surprised.â€ â€œHeâ€™s going through a lot and he doesnâ€™t have many people he can trust to talk to. Iâ€™m hoping that by telling you all of this about him youâ€™ll keep it in mind and not get too discouraged while heâ€™s trying to figure all of this out. Keep in mind that heâ€™ll have to deal with Cassandra and then stave off the lawyers and then there would be his parents.â€ Karen obviously thought I expected him to marry me or at least be in some kind of relationship with me. â€œOh Karen, Iâ€™m not thinking along those lines. I know Alex has commitments. I wouldnâ€™t expect him to give any of that up for me. Weâ€™re not anywhere near there.â€ â€œHe should be expected to change his priorities. Heâ€™s going to be a father,â€ she said. Karen was old school and I didnâ€™t doubt it pained her that I put myself in the position of becoming pregnant without being married. She wasnâ€™t being judgmental about it though and I appreciated that. â€œHe needs to make some changes. If not for you, then for the child you share, and I think he would even be willing to. I think the nursery is proof that heâ€™s considering it, but heâ€™s going to have to do battle with a few people before that can happen. I just wanted to make you aware. Itâ€™s scary to gamble with your future. But, I think if youâ€™re willing to wait for him Vicki, he wants exactly what you can offer him.â€ I didnâ€™t know what to say to that. She was in a long-winded kind of way, telling me that Alex has feelings for me and the baby and that eventually he will be ready to tell all of the people who are pulling the strings in his life that we are what he wants. I hope sheâ€™s right. I wonâ€™t let myself get too attached to the fantasy, but I definitely have one. In it, Alex and I are together and raising our child together, the way it should be. The way I think it should be anyways. The way Iâ€™d really, really like it to be. â€œThank you, Karen.â€ â€œYouâ€™re welcome. Iâ€™m so glad you havenâ€™t given up on him yet. It had to have been hard over the past few months.â€ â€œIt was, but as hard as it is to be looked at as a gold-digger it was harder being away from him.â€ I couldnâ€™t believe Iâ€™d just admitted that out loud to anyone other than Liz. Karen seemed pleased by it. She gave me a one-arm hug and said, â€œIâ€™m rooting for you. If it means anything, you would be the last person that I would suspect of gold-digging.â€ CHAPTER FIFTEEN ALEXANDER Having Vicki back in the house, for me changed the entire dynamics of it. I suppose because I hadnâ€™t had to do without her before I hadnâ€™t realized just how much I needed her in my life. I realized how valuable she was while she was gone. She was great at her job, but that wasnâ€™t her only value. As a matter of fact, to me, it was a small part of it. The real value was her smile every morning. It was always so warm and genuine. People smiled at me all the time, but none of those smiles ever gave me the same feeling. While she was gone I went around with an empty, lonely feeling in my chest. And then there was the baby. I really tried not to get myself too excited about it. I tried to be willing to allow Vicki to raise him and not announce or broadcast the fact that he was mine. I know that it wonâ€™t truly be fact to anyone else until there is a DNA test, but in my heart somehow I know that he is mine. To my lawyers, that made me naÃ¯ve. Iâ€™ve tried more than once to tell Cassandra about it. Every time I begin to broach the subject I imagine how angry sheâ€™s going to be. Hurt, I could handle. I could profusely apologize and do all that I could to make the hurt go away. But Cassandra wasnâ€™t the type of woman that would get hurt over something like this. She would get angry and she would be out for bloodâ€¦ mine, by way of my bank account. She would also be angry with Victoria and that would be the worst part. Sheâ€™d be out for her blood too and I couldnâ€™t just stand by and watch that happen. So, in order to stave off the drama, I just havenâ€™t told herâ€¦ yet. â€œAlex!â€ Speaking of Cassandraâ€¦ â€œIâ€™m in here!â€ I called to her. I was in the nursery. It was coming along beautifully. She stepped up behind me in the room I was having made into a nursery. I heard her snort. Weâ€™d already had words about this and she didnâ€™t know yet that he was mine. â€œThis is a ridiculous expenditure,â€ she said. â€œYouâ€™ve already voiced that opinion, Cassandra, but thank you. I can afford it.â€ â€œWho does this, Alex? Who makes a nursery in their home that they donâ€™t need for the maidâ€™s child? If I didnâ€™t know any better I would think she was your mistress.â€ I turned to look at her. Each time I did lately and I saw the hatefulness that was set in the lines around her eyes and her mouth, I wondered what Iâ€™d ever seen there in the first place. â€œWhat makes you think sheâ€™s not?â€ I asked her. She looked at me suspiciously for a few seconds and then she said, â€œEven you wouldnâ€™t stoop low enough to sleep with the help.â€ I let it go for now. She was going to focus on Vicki being the help. It was going to make me angry. I tried another tactic, guilt. â€œIn my defense, I did believe at one time that I would need this. You let me believe that.â€ It didnâ€™t hit the mark. She wasnâ€™t going to feel guilty about it. Iâ€™m not sure if she even possessed such an emotion. â€œLetâ€™s not beat that old dead horse again, Alex. What time does our plane leave?â€ â€œAt four.â€ I had a meeting with an important client in Belize. Cassandra, of course, insisted on coming along and making it a â€œvacation.â€ I am planning on using the time in paradise to let her know about the baby. It had to be done. I didnâ€™t want to do it here. Maybe sheâ€™d calm down before we got back. â€œI donâ€™t understand why we couldnâ€™t have left earlier. Youâ€™ve wasted this entire day on this ridiculous project of yours when we could be lying on a beach by now.â€ â€œIâ€™m not going to Belize to lie on a beach. Iâ€™m going to work.â€ â€œOf course you are. Thatâ€™s all you know how to do. Iâ€™m going to lie on the beachâ€¦ all day, every day.â€ â€œWeâ€™re only staying until Friday.â€ It was Wednesday now. I didnâ€™t want to be gone too long. â€œAre you kidding? A day and a half in Belize? Youâ€™re crazy. I wonâ€™t have time to do anything. I want to go shopping and have dinner in that little restaurant we found last time, right on the beach. A day and a half? What kind of a vacation is that?â€ â€œItâ€™s not a vacation,â€ I said again. â€œItâ€™s work, Cassie.â€ â€œFine. Then when you wrap up your business we can stay an extra week and that can be the vacation.â€ She was on a permanent vacation. She could actually go anywhere she wanted to by herself. For some reason, she wanted me on her arm. Maybe I was the trophy and not her. â€œI donâ€™t have a week to waste sitting on a beach in Belize, Cassandra. I run a corporation. I have to work. If you want to have money to go on a vacation ever youâ€™ll understand that. We have plenty of beaches around here if you want to sit on one.â€ She snorted. â€œRight, Iâ€™ll sit next to a couple of tattooed teenagers making out or a fat, middle-aged woman chasing her dirty little brats around down at your favorite hangout. Jesus Alex, youâ€™re a billionaire. Act like it.â€ She was such an incredibly obnoxious snob that sometimes I could hardly stand it. I turned on her and said, â€œExactly how should a billionaire act, Cassandra? Maybe I should be a snob like you and talk mean about people and down to them?â€ â€œHe should act like he has some class. He shouldnâ€™t be trolling nasty beaches and broken down piers in Seal Beach. He shouldnâ€™t be having breakfast with his maid and he really shouldnâ€™t be designing nurseries for her. It gives people the wrong idea. I donâ€™t know whatâ€™s gotten into you, but this has to stop!â€ â€œOr what, Cassie? Youâ€™ll leave me? Been there and done that, remember? You came back because you canâ€™t live off the paltry million dollars a year alimony you were â€˜entitledâ€™ to!â€ â€œI shouldnâ€™t have to live off of that. Iâ€™m entitled to a lot more and you know it.â€ â€œNo, I donâ€™t know it. You didnâ€™t work for any of this. Hell, even as a wife youâ€™ve been sub-par! You spend your days in pursuit of your own beauty and your own pleasures. None of it has anything to do with me or you being my wife.â€ â€œOh really?â€ she said, with narrowed eyes. â€œSo youâ€™d rather have some woman who let herself go? Some fat chick with dark roots and cellulite?â€ â€œJesus, Cassie. Youâ€™ve missed the point, which is that itâ€™s not about how you look! Itâ€™s never been about looks! I donâ€™t want a wife that I can present to the world like a trophy for crying out loud! I want a wife that I enjoy talking to. I want a wife that makes me want to come home at night. I want a wife that will hold my hand and walk on the beachâ€¦ my beach! And, most of all, I want a familyâ€¦ something you refuse to give me.â€ Rolling her eyes she said, â€œToo bad. Youâ€™ve got me and youâ€™ve also got enough money to go to Russia or China and adopt an orphan or something. Make sure you hire lots of nannies though because Iâ€™m not taking care of them. This is like the time you insisted on getting that stupid puppy I didnâ€™t want. Maybe the kids will get ran over by a delivery truck too. I have to go pack.â€ She turned and left the room, the same way she always did when we talked about having a family. She left me feeling sick this time. She was a terrible person. I heard her heels on the tile floor and then I heard her say, â€œI need my things packed before two. Iâ€™ve laid out what I plan on taking. Make sure itâ€™s all packed and handled with care.â€ â€œYes maâ€™am,â€ I heard Victoriaâ€™s voice. She must have been in the hallway while we were arguing. I wondered how much she heard, and I wondered how many other times sheâ€™d heard us. When I think about finally ending it with Cassandra and telling Vicki that I want to be with her and try and make a life with her and the babyâ€¦ I worry sometimes about some of the things she may have heard me say to Cassandra. Between that and the lawsuit nonsense, I had to wonder what she must think of me. VICTORIA Alex and Cassandra were going on a vacation. That shouldnâ€™t bother me. Sheâ€™s his wife. Iâ€™m his maid. I folded the third skimpy bathing suit sheâ€™d laid out and put it into her suitcase. I caught myself wondering why she wore anything at all. None of the suits would leave a thing to the imagination. Then I chastised myself for my own jealousy. I wasnâ€™t jealous of the suits, or the vacation, I was jealous that she was going to get to spend time with Alex and I wasnâ€™t. Every time he went on a business trip or a vacation, even before the baby, I missed him. Something about just knowing heâ€™s near made me all warm and tingly inside. Iâ€™d heard them arguing earlier again. Iâ€™d felt a little guilty this time because I realized that she was angry about the nursery. I know that I hadnâ€™t asked him to do that, but the fact that he felt the need to do this for me both touched me deeply and made me a little nervous about the future. Heâ€™d told me that he wanted a relationship with the baby and I wanted him to have that. But given the fact that his wife didnâ€™t even know it was his yet and that she was already angry about him designing a nursery for the â€œmaidâ€™s kid,â€ I had to wonder how it was all going to go. And then there was the far future that I tried not to worry over. I know that Iâ€™d be much less stressed if I stayed focused on the here and now but I donâ€™t intend to be a maid forever. Once Iâ€™ve had the baby and gotten back on track with my life I fully intend to continue to pursue my dream of becoming a Physicianâ€™s Assistant. That was going to mean not coming here every day. By then, if Alex and the baby have a relationship how will I take him away? Then there was the other sinister, ugly little thought that seeped into my mind unbidden and unwelcome sometimes. What if he decided he wanted the baby and he tried to take him away? I wanted to believe heâ€™d never do that, but Iâ€™ve seen first-hand how much control his lawyers have. The thought of Cassandra being my childâ€™s caretaker made me shudder. I would never let that happen, no matter how far or how fast I had to run. â€œHello Victoria,â€ I heard his voice behind me. I finished folding his wifeâ€™s black lingerie and put it in the bag before I turned around. â€œHello,â€ I said. â€œI was just getting Mrs. Reignsâ€™ things packed. Did you need me to get yours ready too?â€ He smiled. Something inside of me melted. â€œNo thank you, Vicki. This is a business trip. Iâ€™ll just need my suits which are already in the wardrobe bag. I can pack my own underwear.â€ â€œOh, I thought it was a vacation. I mean, Iâ€™m sorry. Itâ€™s none of my business anyways.â€ Embarrassed and again chastising myself for being so forward, I turned back to my work. I felt a jolt of electricity race through my veins, starting at the spot on my shoulder where Alex had laid his hand. I turned back towards him, dangerously close to his face and those full, soft lips. â€œDonâ€™t apologize to me, Vicki. I know that you work for me, but Iâ€™d like to also think weâ€™re friends. Friends are allowed to make conversation with one another.â€ I nodded, only because my mouth was too dry to speak. I was watching his mouth as it moved and I barely heard the words because all I could think about was how badly I wanted to kiss him. I was a mess. Maybe it was the hormones. Maybe once this baby was born I could stop lusting after my boss and think about getting a real life again. I knew one thing for sure; when I looked at his face I didnâ€™t believe that he would ever try and take my babyâ€¦ at least I didnâ€™t want to believe it. CHAPTER SIXTEEN VICTORIA I woke up on Thursday morning having strange, tight feelings in my abdomen. It wasnâ€™t really pain, just a tightness that wasnâ€™t there before. I took a long hot shower before getting dressed for work and that seemed to relax it some. When I made it to the kitchen, Liz and Gloria were having breakfast. â€œGood morning, sunshine. There is French toast and bacon on the stove.â€ â€œThanks, Liz. I think I need tea and crackers today.â€ With concern in her eyes Liz said, â€œWhy? Whatâ€™s wrong? You shouldnâ€™t still be having morning sickness. Youâ€™re too far along for that.â€ I smiled to alleviate her anxiety. Just as she was looking at me, one of the tight feelings turned into a painful cramp. I willed myself not to wince. I didnâ€™t want to worry her. â€œNo, not morning sickness. Maybe just a touch of a stomach bug or somethingâ€¦ Iâ€™m sure it will pass.â€ â€œI have to get to work, ladies.â€ Gloria got up from the table and took her dishes to the sink. â€œYou girls have a good day.â€ â€œYou too!â€ We both told her. I made my tea and when I sat down with it at the table, Liz was still looking at me funny. â€œWhat is it?â€ I asked her. â€œAre you sure youâ€™re alright? Are they working you too hard at the mansion? You shouldnâ€™t be over-doing it. Youâ€™re so closeâ€¦â€ Smiling I interrupted her and said, â€œThe most stressful thing Iâ€™ve done all week is pack Mrs. Reignsâ€™ expensive underwear and swimsuits. Iâ€™m fine, really.â€ As I assured her of that, my stomach clenched again. She made a face at the mention of Cassandra and said, â€œWhere is she going?â€ â€œShe went to Belize with her husband.â€ â€œHeâ€™s taking her on vacation when youâ€™re so close to having his baby, really?â€ â€œLiz, first of all, itâ€™s a business trip. Second of all, she doesnâ€™t know this is his baby. Third of all and most importantly, sheâ€™s his wife, not me.â€ â€œHeâ€™s really lucky this is you and not some other woman. Any other woman would have told his wife by now and had this splashed all over the tabloids.â€ â€œMaybe,â€ I said. â€œBut I donâ€™t think he deserves that. I honestly believe he is doing his absolute best with all of this, just like I am.â€ She snorted again and stood up with her dishes. I had a hand on my belly. â€œAre you sure youâ€™re okay? I can call in to workâ€¦â€ â€œIâ€™m fine,â€ I told her again. â€œYou canâ€™t call in. Youâ€™re a minion for the parade today.â€ She laughed, â€œYes I am. Iâ€™ll be stuffed tightly into a yellow suit gasping for fresh air all day. Whoo Hoo! Love my job.â€ She was being facetious. She really did love her job. Iâ€™d gone and watched her character stuff before at the theme park. She was great. â€œI have to go to work in a few myself. Have a great day, okay?â€ â€œYou too,â€ she said, still with a worried look. â€œYou call me if you need anything okay?â€ â€œI will.â€ I watched her go, thinking about how lucky I was once again. After I finished my tea and straightened up a bit, the tightness had completely gone away. I dressed and went into work and began my day. â€œMando!â€ I was dusting the guest room furniture when I heard the voice. I looked up to see Manny standing there. He had brought the workers up to do some more work on the nursery. I laughed. â€œMan-Do? Really? Would you do that to your child?â€ â€œI might,â€ he said. â€œBut since Iâ€™m gay I may never get the chance to find out.â€ I tried not to look shocked. I had no idea Manny was gay. I saw him suppress a smile as he said, â€œAre you going to judge me now?â€ â€œHave you judged me for being unwed and pregnant?â€ â€œNot in the least,â€ he said. â€œThatâ€™s how I feel about you being gay, Manny. It doesnâ€™t change who you are to me. Youâ€™re my friend. Your lifestyle doesnâ€™t factor into that.â€ He smiled broadly then. â€œThanks, so Man-do?â€ Laughing, I said, â€œNo way.â€ He left to head for the basement. Now that Alex wasnâ€™t having parties down there every night, there was a lot less for him to do. I saw him a lot more. But that was good. I liked him a lot. I finished the guest room and was passing by the nursery. I hadnâ€™t allowed myself to look at itâ€¦ especially after witnessing more than one fight between Cassandra and Alex over it. I wasnâ€™t sure how I felt about it still. Too many conflicting emotions. â€œMiss?â€ I stopped. One of the workers was calling to me. â€œYes?â€ â€œI needed an opinion on something. I saw that you were pregnantâ€¦ Iâ€™m sorry, I donâ€™t mean to presumeâ€¦â€ I laughed. â€œI am pregnant,â€ I said. It was so obvious yet he was afraid of offending me. â€œIs this nursery for your baby?â€ he asked. â€œYes, at least for now. Iâ€™m sure Mr. Reigns intends it for anyone who needs it.â€ â€œOh, well since it will be your babyâ€™s for now, maybe you could look at the closet for me and see if it looks like it will work.â€ â€œUmâ€¦ sure,â€ I followed him into the room and stopped dead in my tracks. The walls were a pale blue colorâ€¦ so pale they were almost white. The windows, two large ones, were trimmed in dark blue and the seat cushions in them were a dark and light blue paisley. There was a white crib and dresser, a changing table and a rocking chairâ€¦ It was huge and it was beautiful and it was completely furnished, right down to toys and blocks in the dark blue squares that hung on the walls. There was even a bookcase filled with bedtime story books. I had tears in my eyes. â€œMiss? Are you okay?â€ one of the workers said. Embarrassed, I shook off my emotion and said, â€œYes, itâ€™s just so lovely. Youâ€™ve all done a great job.â€ â€œThanks, most of it was Mr. Reignsâ€™ direct instruction. He didnâ€™t get technical on the closet though.â€ He pulled open the double doors of the closet and my jaw dropped. It was a walk-in closet with rods above and below to hold clothing and a spinning rack for hats and shoes. I knew that was what they were for, because they were both full. So was the upper rod. There were clothes and hats and shoes and an entire wall filled with diapers. Iâ€™d bought him one or two things, but this was an entire wardrobe. â€œYou see this here?â€ he said, pulling a smooth oak table out of the wall. â€œItâ€™s supposed to be another changing space. It folds up out of the way here when youâ€™re done with it. Iâ€™m just worried itâ€™s too tall. Mr. Reigns approved it, height and allâ€¦ but I look at you and think you wonâ€™t even be able to reach the baby.â€ I walked over closer. He was right. The table came up level with my neck. I looked at him and said, â€œHow tall are you?â€ â€œAbout six two,â€ he said. â€œWill you stand right here?â€ I asked him. He came over and stood next to the table. I knew what it was for. It was Alexâ€™s table. It was where he would put the baby when he changed him. The tears flooded my eyes again. He really was preparing to be a father. â€œYou okay?â€ he asked again. I smiled and nodded. â€œJust pregnancy stuff,â€ I said. â€œI think if thatâ€™s the way Mr. Reigns asked for it, he probably has his reasons. Iâ€™d leave it.â€ â€œOkay, thank you, Miss.â€ â€œYouâ€™re welcome,â€ I told him. I took one last look at the beautiful room. Then I walked back out and got my cart from the hall outside the guest room. I started to push it towards the master suite when I suddenly felt a gush of warm liquid rush down my thighs and puddle on the floor. I looked down at it in horror. Did my water just break? It couldnâ€™t haveâ€¦ it was too soon. I took a towel off my cart and draped it over the puddle in the floor. As I bent over a pain ripped through my stomach as if to prove that too soon or not, this was it. I made sure the puddle was covered so no one would slip in it and I waddled into the guest room. Taking my phone out of my pocket, I called the front gates. The man on duty today was named Raymond and he was always really nice. â€œHi Raymond, itâ€™s Victoria.â€ â€œHello there, Miss Hart! How is the day going?â€ â€œWell Raymond, I believe that Iâ€™m in labor.â€ â€œWhat?â€ he sounded nervous suddenly. â€œWhat should I do?â€ I smiled through the pain of the next crampâ€¦ or contraction I suppose it was. â€œIâ€™m going to call an ambulance Raymond. I just wanted to let you know so that you wouldnâ€™t be surprised.â€ â€œMiss Hart, you sure seem calm for a lady who is about to have a baby.â€ â€œItâ€™s a really good act,â€ I told him, honestly. â€œIâ€™m a wreck.â€ I hung up with Raymond and called the ambulance. I told them the address and that the front gate was expecting them. Then I hung up and waddled to the elevator. I was getting nervous because the pains were becoming more intense. I didnâ€™t want to have the baby here. When I got to the main level I made my way to Karenâ€™s office. One look at me and she was on her feet. â€œVicki? What is it?â€ â€œThe baby is coming,â€ I said. â€œMy water broke and Iâ€™m having contractions.â€ â€œOh no! How early is it?â€ â€œAbout five weeks,â€ I told her. I was trying not to think about that. I was trying to stay positive. I think Karen realized too that this was no time to worry. It was too late for that anyways. â€œIâ€™ll call an ambulance,â€ she said, picking up the phone. â€œI did that already,â€ I told her. â€œI also let the front gate know theyâ€™re coming.â€ She laughed. â€œEven in labor, youâ€™re efficient. What should I do then? Should I call Alexander?â€ â€œNo! No, donâ€™t bother him. I can do this. Iâ€™ll call my roommate. Sheâ€™ll come be with me.â€ Karen looked sad, but she nodded. I heard the doorbell ring and looked back at her and said, â€œWish me luck.â€ â€œThe best,â€ she said with a hug. â€œAs soon as my shift is over I will be there. I canâ€™t wait to meet him.â€ I put my hand over my belly and felt a flutter of anticipation. â€œMe too,â€ I said. My little man would be in my arms by the end of the day. I refused to believe that anything could go wrong. CHAPTER SEVENTEEN ALEXANDER I had just finished with my first meeting of the day when my phone rang. I looked at it and saw that it was the house calling. I excused myself and stepped out into the fresh, salty air. â€œHello?â€ â€œMr. Reigns, itâ€™s Karen.â€ I could tell by the tightness in her voice that something was wrong. â€œWhat is it, Karen? Whatâ€™s happened?â€ â€œIâ€™m not supposed to be calling you. She didnâ€™t want to disturb youâ€¦â€ â€œKaren, just tell me what is wrong.â€ â€œVictoriaâ€™s waters broke. Sheâ€™s on her way to the hospital.â€ â€œOh my God, alone?â€ â€œShe said she would call her roommate, but for now, yes, sheâ€™s alone.â€ â€œDamn! Okay, thanks for calling me, Karen.â€ I hung up and called my pilot. â€œHow long before you could file a flight plan and get me home?â€ â€œWe could leave within the hour, sir.â€ â€œOkay, but the sooner the better, alright? Iâ€™m headed to the airport now. Get everything ready.â€ â€œYes sir.â€ I hung up with him and called Cassie. She was out of the beach, of course. â€œWhat is it, Alex? We donâ€™t leave until tomorrow. Why are you bothering me?â€ â€œI have to go home,â€ I told her. â€œWhat? Now? Why?â€ â€œVictoria is in labor.â€ I heard the hesitation. All along I had wondered if sheâ€™d figured it outâ€¦ or heard the rumors. â€œSo why does that involve you?â€ she finally said. She sounded reluctant to ask, but it was a fair question. This wasnâ€™t the way Iâ€™d wanted to do this, but it had to be done. â€œCassandra, Iâ€™m sorry I didnâ€™t tell you this before.â€ I was already stepping into the back of the car that would take me to the airport. â€œThe baby is mine. Victoria and I were together one timeâ€¦â€ â€œYou bastard! You cheating slime!â€ With a sigh I conceded in my head she had a right to be angry. Taking another deep breath I said, â€œI didnâ€™t cheat. You and I were in the middle of divorce proceedings. I slept with her. She got pregnant. I wish I could tell you I was sorry, so that you would feel betterâ€¦ but Iâ€™m not.â€ The airport was only ten minutes away. We were already driving up to the hangar when she said, â€œThis is what that stupid nursery was about! You knew all along and you had ample opportunity to tell me you lying, cheating bastard!â€ I stepped out of the car and said, â€œYou have a right to be upset, Cassie. But I wonâ€™t stand for you calling me names. When you get home, weâ€™ll talk about this and figure it out.â€ â€œIâ€™m not raising that maidâ€™s brat!â€ â€œYou would never be expected to,â€ I told her. â€œVictoria will be raising her child and I will be there to help her as much as she needs.â€ â€œYouâ€™re insane! Youâ€™re married! Do you know what the tabloids will do with this?â€ â€œI donâ€™t care. Iâ€™ve thought about this a lot, Cassie. You know as well as I do that you and I are not going to last forever. We may as well just cut our losses now. I want to try and make it work with Vicki and our child.â€ â€œYouâ€™ll be very, very sorry Alex! Youâ€™ll rue the day you met that manipulative little tramp!â€ With a low growl I didnâ€™t even know I possessed I said, â€œYou can call me what you like. Do not ever refer to my child as a â€œbratâ€ again, or his mother as anything other than the beautiful lady she is.â€ Before she was able to spew any more ugliness, I hung up. Strangely, I felt better than I had in a very long time. VICTORIA The ambulance delivered me to the emergency room and from there I was taken to the OB/GYN wing of the hospital. A lady with a clipboard came and checked me in and I did the best I could answering her questions between my labor pains. When I finished with her, an elastic strap with a fetal monitor on it was attached around my abdomen. The nurse started an IV in my hand and took my vital signs. â€œTake deeper breaths, honey,â€ she said. I tried. It was hard to breathe when your insides felt like they were being ripped out. She took the oxygen sensor reading again and still not satisfied she turned on a small oxygen tank and put the tubes in my nose and said, â€œJust relax and breathe normally.â€ Sure, relaxâ€¦ right. I wonder if sheâ€™d ever experienced labor. I wasnâ€™t even that far into it and I was sure that there was going to be no relaxing for me. After she did all of that, she put on her gloves and said, â€œWeâ€™re going to see if youâ€™re dilated.â€ My feet were put into the dreaded stirrups and she did her checking. It was almost as uncomfortable as the labor pains. When she was finished, she snapped off her glove and said, â€œYouâ€™re only at about two. Weâ€™ll see how you progress. We might have to have you walk for a while to speed things along.â€ Walking sounded like torture at the moment. My belly seized up into another pain and this one traveled across my back. The nurse watched me and looked at the monitor. â€œTheyâ€™re about five minutes apart. Theyâ€™ll get closer as you progress and youâ€™ll dilate more. Are you going to want the epidural?â€ â€œNo,â€ I told her. â€œI want to do this all natural.â€ She raised an eyebrow but she didnâ€™t say anything. She fussed around me a little more. â€œOkay, Iâ€™ll be back in about half an hour. Press the call button if you need me before that. Is there anyone waiting that you would like me to send in?â€ â€œNo, no one thanks.â€ I hadnâ€™t called Liz. There was no reason for her to leave work and sit here worried. I would call her after. â€œMaybe I could call someone for you? Dad?â€ Dad is in Belize with his wife. â€œNo thank you,â€ I said, simply. Her eyes looked sad, but Iâ€™m sure sheâ€™d seen it before. She left and suddenly I was alone. I had another terrible cramp and I realized that the little man was trying to tell me that I was wrong. I wasnâ€™t alone and after today, I never would be again. After the cramp passed I rubbed my belly and said, â€œYou and me, kid. We can do this. Weâ€™re going to be okay.â€ ALEXANDER The flight seemed to take forever. It was almost a five hours. I wondered if I would get there in time, or if the baby would already be here. I wondered how much danger the baby was in by being a month early. I kept thinking about her going through this all alone. I could hardly stand the thought of it. All I knew of having a baby was what Iâ€™d seen in the movies and on television, but it looked very painful. No one should be alone in that kind of pain. Vicki shouldnâ€™t be aloneâ€¦ in pain or not. I was going to do whatever I had to do once I got there, to make sure it never happened again. I took out my laptop and typed in: premature labor and delivery. I read through a lot of medical sites. None of them seemed to worry much about a baby that was born at thirty-five weeks. It seemed that everything major would be developed and working by that time, the major concern would be weight and developmental milestones. After that, I read through some of the testimonials of people who had children born premature. One woman whoâ€™d had her baby at thirty-five weeks noted that at that point the child wasnâ€™t even considered premature, but â€œpre-term.â€ She said he was four years old now and keeping up with his peers in both his growth and his development. Another mother said her son was only three pounds at birth. The doctors thought he would be small and sickly most of his life. Heâ€™s fifteen now, she said and over six foot tall. Reading all of that made me feel better. It also made me feel strange. I knew I was getting attached to the idea of having a son. I just hadnâ€™t realized how attached. I was thinking about things now in the future; when he learned how to walk and talk, when he started school, when he had his first girlfriend. I wanted to be there for all of it. I wanted to be someone that he could look up to and respect. I didnâ€™t want to just be some rich guy who had a gaggle of lawyers at his disposal that told him what to do and how to do it. I also wanted to be with his mother. I wanted Vicki more than I had allowed myself to admit. I care for her so deeply that my chest physically aches when I think about it. Cassandra can take the money. The tabloids can have a field day. My parents can give me their quizzical, disappointed look. I donâ€™t care because I knew that this had actually worked out perfectly. Iâ€™d fallen for her by accident and it took everything that happened in between to make me realize that she was the one Iâ€™d been waiting for my entire life. CHAPTER EIGHTEEN VICTORIA I realized as I was dilated to about eight and the contractions were about two minutes apart, the reason God had invented the maternal instinctâ€¦ if not for that, I may have just given up and said, â€œForget this, Iâ€™ve changed my mind.â€ But there was that instinct there that drove you on. You knew that you had to do this and make sure this baby came safely into the world. I wanted that more than anything at this point. I wanted him to be safe and healthy. While I lay there for the two minutes that seemed to only be two seconds, between pains, I tried to imagine what he would look like. I hoped that he had Alexâ€™s eyes and maybe my blonde hair. Heâ€™d be gorgeous. I canâ€™t imagine that heâ€™ll be anything else anyways. I often wondered if parents of unattractive children would even know if they were unattractive. I doubted it and then I thought about my mother and her endless criticisms. I vowed that no matter what, Iâ€™d never be like that. I was going to do my best every day to tell him something good about himself. I wanted him to grow up knowing that anything was possible as long as he believed in himself. I was finally beginning to believe that about myself, but it had been a long time in coming. â€œVictoria! How are you?â€ My doctor had arrived at last. â€œHi Dr. Patterson. Iâ€™m doing okayâ€¦â€ Another pain seized me. He watched the monitor as it did. â€œI know youâ€™re probably a little bit anxious because weâ€™re a little early. But at this point, the chances are youâ€™ll have a very healthy baby. He will likely be smallâ€¦ but if we have to, weâ€™ll keep him here until he gains enough weight. His heartbeat is good and strong and youâ€™re young and healthy, so all should go well.â€ I nodded, another pain was starting; I tried to breathe through it, but it was getting harder. I could feel the sweat begin to bead up and roll down the side of my face. I was really glad Iâ€™d pulled my hair back this morning or it would be a sticky mess in my face. â€œTheyâ€™re getting a lot closer. Are they harder too?â€ I nodded again. Iâ€™d barely begun to relax from that one and another started. Involuntarily a little cry escaped my lips. â€œIâ€™m going to have the nurse come in and weâ€™ll check you again. I think you may be ready.â€ The nurse came in and together she and the doctor checked. He said that I was dilated to ten and â€œfully effacedâ€ whatever that meant. I didnâ€™t care. I just wanted to get this show on the road. I concentrated on the pains while the bed was broken down and moved around underneath me. I heard the doctor say that he was â€œcrowningâ€ and I could push soon. â€œSir! You canâ€™t just come in here!â€ I turned my head and thought I was hallucinating. Alex was standing in the doorway and the five foot tall nurse was trying to block the big manâ€™s way into the room. His face looked more determined than Iâ€™d ever seen it. â€œItâ€™s okay. Heâ€™s the father.â€ She stepped aside. I think he would have stepped over her if she hadnâ€™t. He came up to the bed and grabbed my hand. â€œAre you okay? Is the baby okay?â€ With tears in my eyes I nodded. â€œWeâ€™re fine. What are you doing here?â€ â€œKaren called me, thank God. I wasnâ€™t going to let you go through this alone. Besides, I wanted to be here. I want to see my son be born. I hope thatâ€™s okay with you.â€ I felt a tear escape down my cheek as another pain hit me. I tightened my grip on his hand. It was amazing how much it helped to have him to hold on to. When I could speak again I said, â€œItâ€™s better than okay. Thank you.â€ He looked distressed, like he hated seeing me in pain. It made my heart feel good, especially when he leaned down and pressed his lips to mine. When he stood back up, I had the worst pain Iâ€™d felt so far and I felt an incredible need to bear down. â€œDoctor! I need to push.â€ He was doing something on his end and he said, â€œHang on just a second Vicki, just one more secondâ€¦â€ â€œNo! I have to push now!â€ Alex still looked distressed, but he put his hand on my forehead and brushed the hair there back and made shushing noises. â€œYouâ€™re doing so good Vicki. Iâ€™m so proud of you. You can do this. Thank you for doing this. Thank you for not letting anyone pressure you to do something you didnâ€™t believe in. Iâ€™m so very proud of you.â€ â€œOkay Vicki,â€ the doctor said. â€œWith the next pain, push as hard as you can.â€ I started to nod, but the pain hit and I pushed. I felt like I was crushing Alexâ€™s hand but he didnâ€™t seem to care. â€œYou can do this. You got this. I canâ€™t wait to meet our son.â€ It only took about three pushes and he was out. The pain was over. I was shaking all over and my baby was cryingâ€¦ loudly. Alexander was grinning from ear to ear and suddenly a wiggly, wet little baby boy was laid across my belly. I looked down at him, all covered in muck and I knew that I would never see anything as beautiful again. â€œLook what you did,â€ Alex said with tears in his eyes. â€œHeâ€™s beautiful.â€ â€œHeâ€™s perfect,â€ the doctor said. â€œA little small, but not too bad. Dad, do you want to cut the cord?â€ Alexâ€™s eyes were a mixture of joy and terror. Alex looked at me as if asking for permission and I said, â€œGo ahead.â€ The babyâ€™s cord was clamped close to his belly and the doctor handed the scissor things to Alex. His hand trembled slightly as he snipped and once the baby was loose the nurse said, â€œI have to clean him up and weigh him. Heâ€™ll be back in a minute or two.â€ Alex was still staring at him in awe. â€œHurry,â€ he said. He dropped down in the chair next to my bed and lay his head down against me. I could smell his musky shampoo and I couldnâ€™t help myselfâ€¦ I ran my hand through his soft hair. He closed his eyes and just lay there for a few seconds and then he lifted his head up and looked at me again. I saw the same awe and wonder in his eyes that heâ€™d looked at the baby with and it filled me up with such strong emotion that I wasnâ€™t sure what to do with it allâ€¦ so I cried again. *** The nurse brought our beautiful boy back to us, wrapped tightly in a blanket. He was all cleaned up and his skin was pink and beautiful. He was so small that as I held him I was afraid he might break. He was wearing a little stocking cap and Alex pulled it up and peeked underneath. â€œBlonde fuzz,â€ he said with a grin. The baby had his eyes closed, so I hadnâ€™t seen the color yet, but none of that mattered. He was gorgeous and like the doctor said, â€œPerfect.â€ â€œHow much does he weigh?â€ I asked. â€œFour pounds eleven ounces,â€ the nurse said. â€œWow, thatâ€™s incredible,â€ Alex said. â€œItâ€™s amazing that something that weighs less than five pounds can be such a perfect little person.â€ â€œIt is amazing. Itâ€™s also amazing that I already love him so much. My chest feels like itâ€™s going to burst when I look at him.â€ Alex reached over and let his finger trace the round line of his tiny little face and said, â€œMe too.â€ I looked up at him and I could see that he was as consumed by this child as I was. That did my heart good because no matter what ever happened with he and Iâ€¦ anything or nothing, the baby would have a father who would love him. â€œDo you know what you want to name him?â€ he asked me. â€œNo, not yet,â€ I said. I thought about Manny and all of his silly names. â€œWhatâ€™s your middle name?â€ I asked him. â€œMichael,â€ he said. â€œHmm, I like that. What about Michael Alexander Reigns?â€ He pulled his head up to look at my face quickly like he was afraid I was kidding. â€œReally?â€ I nodded, â€œYes, I like it, donâ€™t you?â€ The tears began to flow freely down his face and he said, â€œI love it. I didnâ€™t think you would give him my last name.â€ â€œIs that okay?â€ â€œI donâ€™t think I could put into words how okay it is,â€ he said. He touched the babyâ€™s cheek again and said, â€œHi there, Michael Alex. Iâ€™m your daddy.â€ We sat there silently staring at him, watching him sleep, watching him breathe and finally I asked the question that had to be asked. â€œWhat about Cassandraâ€¦ and the lawyersâ€¦ and the tabloidsâ€¦â€ He sighed and said, â€œCassie will not be easy. Sheâ€™s angry and I understand that she has a right to be. But most grown-ups would take that anger and try to begin their own new life. Cassie is not most grown-ups. Sheâ€™ll come at me hardâ€¦ and you.â€ â€œI should probably not work at the house thenâ€¦â€ â€œCassieâ€™s not going to be at the house, Vicki. Iâ€™m going to finish the divorce. I donâ€™t love her. Iâ€™m not going to stay with her out of fear that sheâ€™ll take my money any longer. My attorneys can deal with her and Iâ€™ll do my best to help them reach a settlement with her that sheâ€™s satisfied with. But I donâ€™t want to be with her any longer. Weâ€™re both miserable and itâ€™s as unfair to her as it is to me.â€ That news made me happier than I probably had a right to be. I felt a little ashamed that a divorce made me happy. But Iâ€™d heard so many awful fights and Iâ€™d borne witness to the fact that he was right; they didnâ€™t belong together. â€œI want to share him with you, Alexâ€¦ but please promise me something.â€ â€œAnything,â€ he said. â€œPlease promise me you will never try and take him from me. I couldnâ€™t bear it. I already love him so much that the thought of being without him makes it hard to breathe.â€ He shook his head and looked back down at our son. â€œI promise. I would never consider it. He needs you and you need him and we need each other. Weâ€™re a family now. How â€˜bout that, Michael Alexander? You made us a family.â€ He looked up at me again. His long, dark eyelashes were wet with residual tears and he said, â€œVicki, Iâ€™m so sorry for everything. After we were together that day in the basementâ€¦ I was so confused. I didnâ€™t understand why being with you had made me feel so differently from being with the other women Iâ€™d been with since Cassie left. I was overwhelmed by the emotional part of it and it scared me to death so I just tried to ignore it and pretend it never happened. That was so wrong.â€ I reached up with the hand that didnâ€™t hold our son and touched his face. â€œIt was a confusing situation,â€ I said. â€œMaybe,â€ he said. â€œBut my behavior was inexcusable.â€ â€œBut not unforgiveable, and thatâ€™s what matters.â€ He brought my hand to his lips and held it there for a few beats. â€œThank you,â€ he said. â€œI need to apologize for so much moreâ€¦ the lawyers, the fights with Cassie that you had to overhearâ€¦ I thought that I was grown up and a man of the world and then I slept with my maid and realized I didnâ€™t know anything at all.â€ I laughed. â€œI think I have a lot of that growing up stuff left to do myself,â€ I told him. â€œMaybe Michael can help us with that.â€ â€œVicki?â€ â€œYeah?â€ â€œCan I hold him?â€ â€œOf course.â€ I scooped the tiny little man with one hand under his bottom and kept the other under his head as I handed him to Alex. Then I watched as the baby yawned and stretched and peeked open one of his little eyesâ€¦ his hazel eyes. He looked at his daddy and the look on Alexâ€™s face was priceless. They were bonding and I knew that my baby would never have to want for anything, most especially love. When Alex was able to tear his eyes away from Michael he said, â€œMichael and I were wondering if his Mama might consent to having a date with his daddy when she gets out of the hospital?â€ I laughed and said, â€œMama would love thatâ€¦ but I donâ€™t think Iâ€™ll be able to get too far from him for a while.â€ â€œThatâ€™s okay,â€ Alex said, looking down at his son. â€œHe has a standing invitation.â€