His father’s hand tightened on his shoulder. “We all make mistakes we regret. She will forgive, and you can spend the rest of your life making it up to her...”
If she lives. It was the unspoken thought that hung over everything. If she lived. If his baby lived. And Kassius had so casually thrown them away! After she’d disobeyed him, he’d thought he had no choice—as if holding firm to prideful, petulant promises were the true mark of a man!
Loving his wife. Loving his child. Those values were the true mark of a man.
But the realization might have come too late. His relationship with Laney had begun with a car accident. Now, it seemed, a car accident would end it. He’d thought he had eternity to play with. He’d never imagined eternity would end so soon. A memory of his father’s voice came back to him.
She was the only woman I ever loved. I always meant to go back to her. I just thought I would have more time...
Kassius looked at his father, whom he’d judged so harshly. He’d spent over half of his life determined to destroy him, but instead of punishing Boris for his crimes, maybe he should have taken a hard look at his own.
“Thank you,” Kassius said thickly. “For being here.”
“Oh, my boy,” his father choked out, “there’s nowhere else on earth I could be.”
The doctor had come in. They both rose to their feet. Kassius felt the floor trembling beneath his shoes. The verdict he was about to get from the doctor would determine if he would live or die. Because his family was his life now.
“Your wife...” The doctor suddenly smiled. “She is out of danger. She’s stabilized, but still under anesthesia. She broke multiple bones, including ribs. She couldn’t breathe well and lost so much blood. It was touch and go. If the impact had been a little to the right, or it had taken longer for the paramedics to arrive, we might have lost them both.”
Grateful tears rose to Kassius’s eyes. His heart was in his throat. Wiping his eyes hard, he said hoarsely, “And my son? Is he all right?”
The doctor’s smile widened. “Would you like to see him?”
* * *
Laney’s eyelids fluttered. She woke in a dream.
Golden sunshine was shimmering through tall windows. She was stretched out in a comfortable bed. And there, like a miracle, sleeping in a hard chair beside her, she saw Kassius. His handsome face looked weary, as if he’d had very little rest that night.
“Kassius,” she croaked out through dry lips.
His eyes flew open. Leaning forward, he gently took her hand. In spite of the dark circles beneath his eyes and the scruff on his jawline, his handsome face glowed with joyful tenderness she’d never seen there before.
“You’re awake,” he whispered, gently brushing back a tendril of her hair. “Thank God.” He gave a rueful laugh. “It was quite a night.”
For a moment, she wondered what he was talking about. She just felt happy to see him. Then realization slowly crept in that she was in a hospital room, wearing a plain hospital gown. Wires were hooked onto her arms. She heard the slow beep of machines nearby. Parts of her body had been immobilized, other parts covered in bandages. Her brain felt strangely fuzzy.
“What happened?” she said slowly.
His dark eyes searched hers. “Don’t you remember?”
Laney started to shake her head, but it hurt too much, made the whole room twirl.
“You’re still on a lot of painkillers.”
Laney licked her lips. “I...”
She suddenly had a dim, chaotic memory of seeing a semitruck skidding across the road, coming straight toward their car. She remembered seeing it bounce off another car and head straight for her side of the limo, where she was carefully buckled in. She remembered the loud squeal of brakes and the angry blare of a horn. She remembered dropping her cell phone and wrapping her arms protectively around her belly, turning away with her eyes squeezed shut as she heard the sickening crunch of metal on metal and felt the impact.
After that, her memory was jumbled. She remembered crying her mother’s name, and Kassius’s, begging them to help her. She had a strange memory of the thwup-thwup noise of a helicopter and paramedics shouting in French and loading her onto a stretcher before the pain was too great. The last thing she remembered was putting her hands on her belly and whimpering, “Please, you have to save my baby...”
With a gasp, Laney put her hands on her belly now. She looked up at Kassius in horror.
“Where’s my baby?” she cried.
“Shh...it’s all right.” Rising from the chair, he went to the bassinet across the room and lifted out a tiny swaddled form. “He’s here. Right here.”
Returning to the bed, Kassius placed the bundle gently in her arms, on the side of her body that wasn’t broken. He kept his hand on the other side of the baby, supporting his weight, protecting them both.
Laney looked down in awe at her sleeping newborn son, swaddled and wearing a little cap to keep his head warm. Tears rose in her eyes as she marveled at his precious little face. “He’s all right?”
“Six pounds, four ounces—almost three kilograms,” Kassius said proudly. His dark eyes were tender as he gently stroked his sleeping son’s cheek. “For a preemie, he’s a bruiser.”
“Preemie.” She looked up in a panic. “He came too early!”
“He’s fine,” he said soothingly. “His lungs are developed enough he doesn’t need any extra medical care. The nurses and doctors were amazed. But I wasn’t. He has his mother’s spirit.” He looked at her, and his eyes glistened suspiciously as he glanced at her injured body in the hospital bed. “I know even this won’t keep you down for long. We were lucky.” Lowering his head, he softly kissed the top of Laney’s head, and whispered, “I was lucky. To get another chance.”
She looked up at him, her heart in her throat. “So you—forgive me? For what I did?”
“What you did?” Kassius repeated. For a moment, fear gripped her heart.
Then, keeping one hand on the baby, he fell to his knees next to the hospital bed in front of her astonished eyes. His handsome face was anguished.
“You were right about everything, Laney,” he said in a low voice. “Everything. And the way I treated you for trying so hard to save my useless soul...” Reaching for her hand, he kissed it, then pressed his forehead against it fervently, like a prayer. “Forgive me. I almost threw you and the baby away for the sake of my own foolish pride...” He took a shuddering breath, and his voice was ragged, barely above a whisper. “When I said I would get a new wife, a new child...”
“You were angry,” she said in a small voice. “I betrayed you.”
“You, betray me? Never. You saved me. You were right about my father. I spent a long time talking to him last night, in the waiting room...”
“He didn’t want me to suffer alone,” Kassius said. “All these years, he hated himself for lying to my mother. He was haunted, wondering what happened to me.”
“Do you forgive him?”
“I would have once thought it impossible.” He looked up at her, his dark eyes shining with tears. “But now...how can I not? He made a ghastly, unforgivable mistake. But so did I. Treating you so badly... Can you ever forgive me? Will you?”
“Oh, my love,” she whispered. She tugged weakly on his hand. “Yes.”
He rose to his feet, then leaned forward over the bed, supporting their sleeping baby with one hand, cupping her face with the other.
“I love you, Laney. I never knew what those words meant before, but now I do. I love you.”
Her heart skittered as she heard him speak the words she’d feared he would never say.
Straightening, he stood tall and powerful and proud beside the bed.
“And I make you a promise. One I will never break. When I thought I’d lost you, I wanted to die. I knew then that I’d gladly die for you, and our baby. But now I know you’re alive...” He put one hand gently on her shoulder as the other rested on the downy head of his sleeping son. He said softly, “For the rest of my life, I will live for you.”
“I love you,” she whispered, tears in her eyes, turning her face toward his. And he kissed her.
FOUR MONTHS LATER, Christmas had come to the French Riviera with a burst of sunlight and color. And family, Laney thought. Family above all.
They were all there, celebrating the holiday at Boris’s redecorated pink villa on Cap Ferrat. Even Laney’s grandmother had interrupted her world tour for a weeklong holiday visit, with her current boyfriend in tow. For much of the last year, Yvonne had traveled the world with a backpack, a floppy hat and a total fearlessness that still left Laney in awe.
“My boyfriend is great, isn’t he?” her grandmother said archly as the two of them cooked in the huge, bright kitchen.
“Very,” Laney agreed. “Everyone likes Ove.”
“Handsome. Athletic, too. Energetic. I had to beat back the other ladies on the ship with a stick. But I got him,” Yvonne crowed as she stirred the gumbo.
When her grandmother had visited here last month, the Henry women had announced that both Kassius and Boris must give their household staff Christmas off, as Laney and Yvonne would be making Christmas dinner personally.