He rose and worked out anyway.

“Don’t ask,” Bella said to her aunt as Charlotte looked at her with concern.“How can I not?” Charlotte asked. “You have circles under your eyes. Your smile is a grimace.”


“I just have to soldier through,” Bella said. “It’s one day at a time right now. Okay,” she amended. “One hour at a time. It will get better. It will just take time.”

“What happened?” Charlotte asked.

“I don’t want to talk about it,” Bella said.

Charlotte sighed. “Well, I realize this is horrible timing, but Fred and I have decided to get married.”

Bella blinked in amazement. “You’re going through with it?”

“Yeah,” Charlotte said. “He says he can deal with anything that happens, even a recurrence of my cancer.”

Bella smiled despite her own pain. “What a man.”

“Yeah,” Charlotte agreed. “What a man. We’re going to do it in two weeks.”

“So soon?” Bella said.

“When you get to be our age you don’t want to waste time. We’re going to go to the justice of the peace then have a party at my house. Would you be a witness?”

“Of course,” Bella said, and hugged her aunt. “I’m so happy for you. You deserve this.”

“Thank you, sweetie. Your time will come. I know it will,” Charlotte said, but Bella had given up on Michael.

Bella had finally realized that to be willing to surrender to love was to be strong. She deserved to be loved.

Michael’s cell phone vibrated as he reviewed the balance sheet for one of his restaurants. He glanced at the caller ID and picked up. “Hey, Rafe, what’s up?”“I’m in town,” his brother said. “Feed me an early dinner.”

Michael glanced at his watch. “It’s three o’clock now. Are you going back tonight?”


“Yeah,” Rafe said. “Now that I have Nicole and Joel, I don’t like being away overnight if I can help it.”

“Big switch for you,” Michael said.

“Yes and a good one,” he said. “So where do you want me to meet you?”

Michael was tempted to get a rain check. He hadn’t been in a social mood since Bella had left. But Rafe was his brother, and after all they’d been through, he couldn’t brush him aside.

“What are you in the mood for? Steak, Asian, seafood?”

“I’d like a good greasy burger and fries,” he said.

“You got it. Meet me at Benson’s downtown. See you in a few,” he said, and hung up.

A half hour later, he and his brother sat in the bar of one of Michael’s popular downtown restaurants. The server took their order as soon as they sat down.

Rafe grinned in approval. “One of the things I like about eating with you is how great the service is. There’s never a wait.”

“I doubt you do much waiting wherever you go,” Michael said.

Rafe shrugged and studied Michael. “Hey, are you okay? You look a little rough around the edges.”

“Thanks, bro,” Michael said wryly. “I’ve been working a lot lately.”

“Yeah, well take a break every now and then. Even us Medicis have to do that.”

“When I get a chance,” Michael said and changed the subject. “How is Nicole?”

“Morning sickness appears to have hit except for her the nausea is worse in the evening. She can’t stand the smell or sight of any kind of meat.”

Michael nodded. “That’s why you wanted a greasy burger.”

“Yeah, this may be my only chance for a while. But I’m not complaining. She’s worth it,” Rafe said. “And this time, I’ll be with her and the baby from the beginning.”

Michael knew that Rafe still suffered from not knowing he’d had a child for the first three years of Joel’s life. “It looks like you and Joel are getting along pretty well.”

“Oh, yeah. He’s a great kid. Nicole has done an amazing job with him. She sends her best, by the way, and still wants the recipe for that cake Bella made. You don’t mind passing that on for me, do you?” Rafe asked as the waiter served their meal.

Michael had suspected the subject of Bella might come up, but he’d hoped it would happen nearer the end of the meal. His appetite suddenly disappeared. “That might be tough. Bella and I aren’t seeing each other anymore.”

Rafe blinked in surprise. “Really? I thought she must be important if you were introducing her to us. But I guess it’s easy come, easy go.”

“I wouldn’t go that far,” Michael muttered and took a drink of water.

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