It was the first time she’d been warm in days. She leaned back against the rim of the bathtub, her hair clipped up. Steam rose in the chilly bathroom, and she wanted to close her eyes for a moment as she listened to the quiet in the house. Neil was still here, and he always gave her a sense of wellbeing, as if he was looking after things. Tomorrow would come soon enough, when he had to leave. Her heart sank at the thought.
“You’re not going to fall asleep, are you?” Neil was looking down, taking in all of her. She hadn’t bothered with bubbles, and she could tell by the heat in his eyes that he appreciated the view.
“Cat asleep?” she asked, as Neil had been reading her a story when she climbed in the bathtub.
“Fast asleep in her own bed.”
Candy was happy. All the furniture had arrived, filling every empty room. She couldn’t wait to sleep on her pillowtop mattress, and it was nice to have their clothes in drawers, a dining table, a sofa. Neil had spared no expense.
She could do with very little, but Neil liked nice things.
“So, how about if I wash your back?” Neil pulled off his sweater and dumped it on the floor, then stepped out of his jeans. “And your front.”
She scooted forward and let him climb in the bath behind her. She leaned back against all his hardness and his warmth. His hand went over her breast and then in the water, over her flat stomach and lower. He leaned down and kissed her neck, at the same time touching her where she truly belonged to him. He knew just how to caress her to have her spreading wider, as wide as she could in the confines of the bathtub. He ran his teeth over the skin on her shoulder, and she gave him more of her neck. He made her feel desired.
“Oh, Neil, do you have the baby monitor?” she asked. She felt him still, and she started to sit up when he flattened his hand on her stomach and pulled her back against him.
“The monitor’s on the counter,” he said. “Stop worrying. Now, where were we?”
Candy put her hands on his legs and turned. He must have had some idea what she was planning, as he put his hands on her hips and lifted her so she could straddle him. She could feel how ready he was as she ran her hand over his chest and through the dark hair that covered it. She loved to feel his pecs and lower, over his washboard abs. She didn’t know when he found the time to work out, but she knew he believed it was important to stay in shape, not only to look good but to feel good. He said it kept the mind sharp, too. Right now, her hands appreciated the feel of his dedication to his body.
He slid his hand over her hips and started to lift her, pushing his way inside her, lowering her down and holding her until he filled her. She gasped as he ran one hand up her back, his fingers in her hair, pulling until the clip slipped out. He pulled her head closer. She could feel his warm breath as he parted his lips, and her eyes went to the fullness of his mouth, which could touch her and do things to her that drove her wild. She kissed him, his tongue touching hers. Even though she was on top, he was moving her, holding her, controlling her. He just wasn’t a man to give that up, and she smiled against his lips.
“Hmm,” she murmured.
He broke the kiss, his lips so close to hers. “What’s so amusing?” He kissed her again, and she leaned into the kiss.
“You’re not letting me have my way with you,” she whispered back, feeling his warm breath. She could taste him on her as he ran his hands up her back, skimming her sides, touching all of her as a sly grin spread over his face. His eyes were teasing, at the same time turning a darker shade of brown. They brightened as he sank deeper into her, holding her to him.
“I love you, Candy.”
She loved hearing him say those words, they meant so much more as of late. Now, with him buried in her so deeply, she could feel how much he meant it. It was in his touch, something he couldn’t hide, not from her. Never like this.
He let her move.
“I’ll be gone ten days, and then I’ll be home. We’ll get a Christmas tree just like we talked about, and there’ll be lots of presents underneath for you,” Neil said, tucking Cat’s shoulder-length dark hair behind her ears. It was so fine, just like a baby’s. She stared up at him with such love in her dark eyes. He knew she didn’t understand Christmas. She’d never had one, being an orphan, stuck in her silent world. This year, he wanted to give her everything and see the wonder in her eyes when they first lit up the Christmas tree, when she saw the pile of gifts and tore open the shiny wrapping.
“Daddy, stay,” Cat said in a flat voice. She was doing so well with her speech, and her cochlear implant was now attached behind her ear. She’d come so far, and he’d do anything for her—a little girl who was now his.
“I can’t, honey. Daddy has to go and get Mommy’s horse and donkey and clean out the apartment and our house in Mexico. I’ll bring back all your toys.” He rubbed her head and kissed her cheek as he held her in his lap. She fisted her hands in his sweater and wouldn’t let go.
Candy was holding Michael, swaying with him in her arms, and he was jamming his fist in his mouth, fussing. “Michael, come on. What’s wrong, baby?” she whispered, and Neil could see how tense she was. He could hear the frustration in Candy’s voice, which was unusual, but then, Michael had been oddly fussy for weeks.
“Has he got a fever?” Neil asked, and Candy’s lips firmed. She touched his forehead with her cheek.
“He’s a little warm, but not overly. I’ll take his temperature, but I think his tummy is upset. He threw up all his formula this morning. He has a few times this week. Maybe it’s time I take him to a pediatrician. Emily gave me the name of hers. We need to have someone local, anyway, for Cat, as well.”
Neil took in his baby, who was wearing a green striped sleeper, wiggling in Candy’s arms. He could see how unsettled he was. He tightened his hold around Cat, and then all of a sudden, Candy started crying, tears streaming down her face. He stood, Cat in his arms.
“Mommy sad,” she squeaked.
“Hey, what’s going on?” Neil said. He touched her shoulder and slid his arm around her as she tried to rock Michael. Neil took in his baby’s scrunched-up face.
“I’m just so tired. I don’t understand why you won’t hold him, Neil. Is there something wrong with him?”
When she looked up at him, he was taken aback by the misery he saw in her eyes. She was truly distressed, and it was obviously something she’d been holding on to for a while. “No, nothing’s wrong with him,” he said. “Don’t create something out of nothing. You’re his mother. I’m sorry. Why don’t you let me hold him, and you can take a nap?”
“You have to leave, remember?” she snapped as she pulled a light blanket around the baby.
Neil put Cat down and was at Candy’s side before he could think it through. He took the baby from her. “There’s time still. Brad’s not here yet, and my flight doesn’t leave for two hours.”
She gave him one of those looks, as if she didn’t believe him, and he kept his expression together even though holding Michael and feeling the heat from his little body—his biological son—was tearing him up inside. But he knew how to hide what he was thinking, what he was feeling, and right now he needed to get his wife out of this room before she started asking any questions. She was figuring a lot of things out, and he didn’t want to go anywhere down that road. He needed to pull it together.
“Are you sure?” She hesitated before tucking long strands of hair behind her ears, then watched him. No, it was more like studied him. He wondered if she was about to say something as Michael started fussing again and wiggling in his arms.
He had to look down at him. Taking in his face, his tiny little lips and his tiny hands, Neil had to swallow. When he looked up, Candy was watching him closely. “If you don’t go now and lie down, Brad will be here, and then I’ll have to leave. I don’t want to leave you like this. I’ll worry.” He said it more sharply than he’d meant to, but he was unraveling inside, right here, right now, in front of his wife. He prayed not one shred of his anguish showed on his face.
“And Cat?” She touched the little girl’s head, and Cat gazed up at Candy with love as she stood on her tiptoes, reaching for her.
“Cat, you stay here with Daddy,” Neil said, and he reached for her hand before Candy could pick her up. “Go on, Candy.”
He watched as she started up the stairs, stopping halfway up and gripping the railing as if she was expecting him to change his mind. “Go,” he said again.
This time, she continued up to the second floor and into the master bedroom at the top of the stairs; he let out a breath in relief. Hiding his feelings, keeping the secret of Michael, the baby who was truly his, was causing everything to unravel around him. How long could he keep it buried? Forever, if it was up to him, but he was a realist, and he knew his brother and father were right when they said Candy would figure it out. She was a smart woman. Soon, she’d be asking him specific questions, ones he didn’t want to answer. No, his family was right. He was running out of time—and it would be better if the truth came from him.
When he got back with her horse, donkey, and all their belongings, in the days before Christmas, he would tell her. Yes, that would work. It would give him time to get used to the idea and come up with the best strategy to come clean.
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