I can’t help but think Paige wasn’t that lucky.
“I told him to leave it alone, but you know Miles. When he’s got his mind set on something, there’s no stopping him. He found out that Alexander was involved in human trafficking, prostitution, money laundering, illegal gambling and selling stolen guns. I think I may have been the only piece of his life that kept him somewhat human, because from what Miles uncovered, he’s truly a monster. I don’t know how he’s managed to avoid the inside of a jail cell for this long, but the amount of money he has keeps him clean. He’s got a lot of businesses around the city that funnel the money. He thinks I was ignorant to all that went on, because if I had dirt I would have used it by now. Or maybe it’s the twenty-four-hour security Miles keeps on me, or the overprotective measures he uses to keep me safe.”
I nod, because I understand all too well.
He turns to me then, his eyes soft and warm. I squeeze his hand, letting him know I’m here and I’m real.
“There’s so much about Alexander that’s horrible, and the things he’s done…?” She breaks off and lets out a breath. “There are so many things I wish I could change, but I can’t. We just have to move forward and try to live our lives the best way we know how.”
I can’t imagine living through what she has, and possibly the guilt she carries. But looking into her soft eyes, and seeing her still able to smile shows her true strength. She looks to Oz and then to me.
“Two beautiful women have found their way to us, and for that I’m thankful,” Vivien says, looking at me. “Paige is very special to me, though I know it’s harder for her to see it that way. I hope that one day she understands how much I care for her. And maybe one day you and I can have that, too.”
Warmth spreads in my chest, thinking about having a mother in my life. What I’ve always wanted.
“And maybe then you can get on those ten grandbabies Miles promised me.”
“Mom,” Miles warns, and Vivien laughs.
She wiggles her eyebrows at me and points between us. “Don’t wait too long. I’m not getting any younger.”
The cloud of sadness passes, and all talk of Oz’s father is pushed aside.
“Mallory, I think it’s time I get you back to work,” Oz says, standing up and holding out his hand for me.
I take it and stand up, then we say our goodbyes to Vivien.
She wraps me in a soft embrace, and I melt into her. I never knew how much I needed a hug like hers until I got it. She pulls back, squeezing my arms again and giving me a big smile.
“Lunch next week, Mallory?”
I nod happily, unable to hide my excitement.
“Good, we’ll leave Miles at home then.”
She gives me a wink as she turns to him, giving him a hug and shushing his protests.
I walk out of the garden holding Oz’s hand, feeling light and cheerful. “She’s an amazing woman with an amazing son,” I say as Oz holds open the door for me.
“Flattery will get you everywhere, my sweet Mallory.”
We walk through the lobby and onto the elevator. Before I can push the button for the accounting floor, Oz takes my hand and hits the button for his.
“Oz, I need to get back to work.” I lean into him playfully, but the look on his face is serious. He runs his knuckles along my jaw and the look in his sapphire-blue eyes is so intense, I reach up and grab his wrist. “What’s wrong?”
“My mom told you her story about my father, and now I want to tell you mine.”
The elevator dings, and the doors open revealing his secretary seated at her desk. She stands when she sees us, and they exchange a look, and she nods. It makes me anxious. He grips my hand a little tighter as we walk toward his office and to the double doors.
I’m hesitant, but then he moves his hand to the small of my back and opens the door in front of me. When I step inside I see a blonde woman facing away from us, and a big man in a suit next to her, his hand on her waist. She turns when she hears the door open and gives a soft smile.
I’m shocked when I recognize her as Ivy Lennox. My mind churns as she stands there, her hands twisting in front of her. She’s wearing a cream summer dress with a matching cream blazer, the sleeves pushed up. Her peach-colored sandals look expensive, like the rest of her, and I remember thinking when I saw her in the picture in the article with Oz that she appeared wealthy. I don’t know why that irritates me, but it does. But maybe it’s her presence that’s doing it. The large man beside her is in a dark suit, and he stands in such a way that’s protective. And my annoyance turns to curiosity.