Neil wanted to be a father more than anything. It was his dream, his burning desire, to have a family—but it was the one thing Candy couldn’t give him; a child, his child. That had been taken from her at her darkest hour, when she had been left barren after an emergency hysterectomy was performed to save her life. She had been so young! She knew it wasn’t fair, but she’d learned to live with this agonizing, hollow feeling deep inside; though it was an emptiness she couldn’t share with her husband, only Sable, who understood the deepest parts of her soul, the things she couldn’t say to anyone.
She also knew there were still options if they wanted to have a family. One door had closed while another had opened. The doctors, and their family, all meaning well, had said so—but Candy knew her husband well enough to realize that his dream of having a child of his own was the one thing that would always come between them. Oh, he loved her. She knew that, as he wouldn’t have married her once she’d given him the opportunity to walk away. She wondered, though, if there were times he regretted what he’d done. Maybe she was reading too much into it, but this was what she did on her mornings alone with Sable as they walked side by side down their sandy white Cancun beach.
When she tossed around the idea of what was next in their journey, it always came down to one thing—how much she loved Neil. To stop loving him would be like suffocating herself. She couldn’t do it. She loved her magnetic, charming, and powerful husband—and he was hers. Every time he was with her, he touched her, talked to her, took over her thoughts and senses. His hold over her was unsettling, now that she was away from him and had the space to think, but she had to admit there was something addictive about him giving her all his attention. He knew how to look after himself, too, which added to the attraction and the dynamics between them. Of course, his confidence and inner strength made her believe he would always take care of everything. He made her feel safe, loved, and cared for…as if she were in a bubble that could burst at any moment.
Neil Friessen was everything to her, and the man still had the ability to take her breath away. She just wished she could be as confident in their love, especially considering Neil was oblivious to the fact that any warm and breathing woman would have given him a second look, doing everything she could to get closer to him. It bothered Candy, though she knew this was a sign of a lack of faith on her part. Neil was smart and loving, always holding her hand and waking her with a wild, burning passion every morning, and she loved all of that about him, but she still couldn’t tell him about this feeling she had, this building confusion, as if something was about to change everything—all because of what he was proposing now—a surrogate. He had mentioned it the night before, out of the blue, but just the idea of another woman carrying his child was too much to bear. Candy shut her eyes at the thought of another woman stepping in to do something she couldn’t. It left her feeling impossibly lonely.
Sable nudged her shoulder as they walked side by side down their beach until the resort, in full construction, came into view. She stumbled and slowed at the chaos of the pounding, the constant buzz of power tools, creaky scaffolding, and workers. She stopped by the fence that was the gateway to her private beach—and to Neil’s multimillion-dollar resort. He was erecting it where her house had once been, the property owned by her father, which he had left to her when he died. What had once been there had been swept away by a storm the previous year.
It had been her land, though she had lost it to her creditors. Neil had coveted that land for years, but after buying and paying for it, he’d given it back to her. It had been a gift of love, and she hadn’t been able to deny her husband his dream. The beachfront resort he was now building had once been an obstacle between them, but she trusted him to do what was best for the land because of how much she loved him.
Candy looped the lead rope around Sable’s neck and slid the halter around his muzzle and over his nose before tying it at the post. He was starting to skitter from the noise, and their connection had been lost. She held him steady when a sudden bang had her heart racing and Sable spooking. “It’s all right, Sable,” she murmured. “Let’s turn around and head back home and away from this noise.”
It was loud and chaotic, a huge project that provided jobs to a community that desperately needed them. She understood that, but it was hard to let go of what had once been. The tide had turned, changing her life in ways she could never have imagined. She had once fought this sort of change, but her love for Neil had helped her overcome her fears.
“Candy!” she heard her husband call out, and she picked up their pace, starting back down the beach until she spotted him.
He was dressed so neat and tidy, with dress pants and a white shirt. His dark hair was neatly groomed, and he walked purposefully toward her. “I’ve been looking everywhere for you,” he said. “Why didn’t you tell me you were taking your horse out and coming down here to the beach?”
She kept walking toward him. It was always his eyes, their intensity, that reached out to her and pulled her to him. She could never look away—even though being with Neil, being his wife, sometimes made her feel as if she were drowning.
“Next time, let me know if you’re coming down here,” he said. He glanced over her shoulder at the fence and the workers on the other side; there was something in his expression that had her looking back.
“Neil, I always came down here before,” she said. What was going on? At times, Neil could be overbearing and overprotective; it stoked her temper, but there was something about the way he watched the workers that bothered her.
“I don’t want you down here alone anymore. Can’t that just be the end of it, Candy? Why do you have to question everything?” Neil said, sounding annoyed.
This was so unlike him, and she found herself watching him the way she would Sable, trying to figure out what was going on. He sighed and shook his head, gesturing toward the construction.
“I didn’t mean to say it like that,” he said. “I just can’t explain it. There’re a lot of riffraff around right now, workers coming in from all around Mexico, and I haven’t had the chance to get to know any of them yet. I don’t want to be worrying about you right now, and I don’t want something to happen to you. Do you understand?” He stepped closer to her, and Sable nudged him as he put his hands on her shoulders. His eyes slid down, and she knew he was taking in her very short white shorts, white tank top, and sneakers. He lifted her long, dark hair over her shoulders and tucked strands behind her ear. For a moment in time, it was just them. “Tell me you’ll listen to me,” he said, “just this once.”
How could she deny him when he looked at her the way he did, as if she was the only thing that existed for him in that moment?
“You know how much I love this; the beach, the ocean, spending time with Sable,” she said. “I need to do this every morning. It’s who I am, Neil, and you agreed to keep this part of the beach ours.”
He touched her cheek and rubbed the pad of his thumb over her lips as he tilted his head closer, really taking her in. It was distracting, he had to know. “I promise I’ll come down with you every day,” he said. “It’s just not safe right now. It won’t always be like this, Candy. I promise.”
She could smell his minty breath. She could feel his warmth even though his lips hadn’t touched hers yet.
He took a deep breath and said, “I got a call from a possible surrogate.”
She couldn’t help the way her body instantly stiffened.
Thankfully, Neil didn’t appear to have noticed, as his hand slipped away and dropped to his side. He stepped back, looking impossibly happy. “She’d like to meet us in an hour.”
She felt as if she were being sucked into a vortex. Her ears rang as she watched joy fill his expression. She hadn’t even had time to digest the idea, and now he was barreling right ahead as if he wanted no further discussion. No matter how hard she tried, she couldn’t see eye to eye with him on this. Why did he always have to move so quickly on his ideas?
Maybe her feelings were showing, as his smile faded and his expression became serious. “What’s wrong?” he asked.
“I just don’t understand why you feel a surrogate is the only answer. I mean, you haven’t even considered adoption, and there’s an orphanage so close by. There’re a lot of children, young children, who need parents, Neil.”
“Candy, you know how I feel,” he said. “I want a baby, a child of my own. You already know that with an international adoption, there would be a waitlist, interviews, red tape. We’re Americans, Candy. As difficult as it would be to adopt in the U.S, we wouldn’t even know what we were getting into here. We’d be old by the time a baby became available. No, this is better; less mess, fewer problems.”
She wanted to finish for him, to say what she knew he was really thinking. He wanted a child with his blood, his genes, one that was biologically his. If there was one thing about Neil Friessen, it was that when he wanted something, he never allowed anything to stand in his way.
“I see. So your mind is made up?” She swallowed the lump that had formed in her throat.
“Candy, we’ve discussed this. We’ve already decided. I know you want a baby. I saw how much you loved looking after the babies when we stayed in Montana at Andy and Laura’s. You have no idea how happy I was to see how comfortable you were with Chelsea. You loved holding her. I could see how much you wanted a baby. Let me give that to you.”
“Neil, I loved caring for Chelsea and Jeremy. Your cousin’s twins are adorable babies. But I’m also a realist. I think we need to talk about other ways. You only mentioned surrogacy last night! I need time to digest this, to discuss all the aspects of it with you. I need to be comfortable with this entire process.”
She could feel him pull back even though he hadn’t moved one step. He looked away and sighed. She knew he felt disappointed, annoyed, frustrated—the same way he felt whenever he couldn’t get her to think his way. She was smart enough to let him believe he’d convinced her, and she remembered what his mother had once said: The Friessen men are so strong, both physically and emotionally, that , at times, it would have been easy to lose herself.
“Candy, why do you have to argue and overanalyze everything when a good thing comes along?” he said. “Sometimes you just have to go with it. Please don’t fight this, baby. Let’s talk to her. We’ll figure it out.”
He went to reach for the lead rope to take Sable from her, but she held tight and started walking. “So where are we meeting this woman?” she asked, swallowing again. This feeling, whatever it was, had stirred up all her vulnerabilities; the ones she thought she’d put to rest long ago.
“Here,” he said. “She’s coming to the house.”
Every nerve in Candy’s body zinged, and she stopped suddenly. Sable picked up on her shock, prancing and raising his head. Neil reached for the rope before Candy could gather herself and took it from her hand.
“Let’s go,” he said. “You have enough time to get cleaned up and put on something nice.” He started walking away with her horse. “Candy, come on,” he called out over his shoulder.
Candy watched as Neil walked away. He was her husband, who had taken over everything and in turn had provided her with a life any woman would give her right arm for. For some reason that she couldn’t explain, their marriage was snowballing into something else, and she realized she was quickly losing who she was—losing her sense of self and her ability to stand on her own two feet. It bothered her because he was making it so easy for her to slip into that role of being cared for, allowing him to handle everything. The problem was, that if something ever happened to Neil and she found herself alone, she would be more vulnerable than ever.
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