“It’s okay,” Allison exclaimed as the volleyball splashed in the pool beside them unheeded. “Sammy and I have been swimming all week.”

Devon released a pent up breath. “You could’ve told me that before my stomach dropped to my toes.”

“Right.” Trey relaxed his grasp on the boy who kicked and splashed and squealed in delight.

Devon strove to bring her pulse back to normal.

“We win, at twenty one!” Rick shouted from Logan’s side.

“I call interference,” Trey retorted, his eyes on Sammy until he seemed assured the child would actually float on his own.

“Trying to save my son’s life gives you a pass,” Logan assured with a deep fondness in his tone as he watched his little boy giggle in the water.

Then Rick and Vivi Dunn’s four kids leaped into the pool. Rick sighed. “I guess adult time has gone into recess.”

The team rivalry quickly dispersed, and the focus shifted to family.

Near the net, Rick showed his boys how to play pool volleyball, while Mindy and Isaac stood on the other side to catch the ball and throw it back to the kids. Adam and Liam commenced with handstand competitions in the pool. Logan played with his son, flipping Sammy upside down and catching the boy right as he hit the water’s surface, while Team Stone scattered and headed toward their wives or congregated around the stocked outdoor bar.

“Hey, gorgeous.” Trey’s voice drifted over her like a caress.

An instant smile touched her lips. “Hey, handsome.”

Truthfully, she didn’t care anymore who saw them together, exchanging intimate gestures, words and smiles. She adored him and couldn’t help showing it. Her shell of self-protection had crumbled in the past week. She had nothing to hide from him.

Or wait. She still had one thing, and she needed to reveal that to him as soon as the time seemed right and nonthreatening. Though when it came to the way Trey regarded family, no time would be right.

Allison clinked a spoon against her glass of soda water to make an announcement. In the pool, Trey paused in his game of tossing Sammy back and forth between him and Logan. Allison smiled. “This event is to celebrate my amazing husband, Logan. It’s his thirty-fifth birthday. Congrats, honey.”

Cheers rose up among the guests. Trey exited the pool, toweling off as he came to stand beside Devon.

“I also want to share some exciting news,” Allison said. “Logan and I are pregnant with baby number two.”

Shouts and congratulations echoed through the crowd. Devon laughed with genuine happiness for her friend, and when Trey’s hand cupped her shoulder, she pressed her fingers over his.

He kissed her temple and murmured, “Someday, that’ll be us.”

Stunned by his statement, it took a moment to register that he’d just said he wanted her to be the mother of his children. At first a primal thrill rose up inside her, but then a horrible sinking sensation gripped her heart and her knees threatened to give out.

Trey wandered over to Sammy and sank to his haunches so the small child could grasp his fingers. He looked over at her and winked, his smile filled with certainty.

A random dream floated through her consciousness. My God, we would have beautiful dark-haired, dark-eyed babies.

Struggle and fear sank into her with ruthless claws. Reality smacked her with such force it knocked the breath from her lungs, and she gasped. Everything inside her ached with a wish that had been slashed apart, and she felt as if her organs were shutting down one by one.

Moving blindly, she fled the pool area, darting into the house. She locked herself in the bathroom and gripped the sink, wondering if she’d throw up or pass out. Either one would spare her from the agonizingly honest discussion she had to face.

Children would never be possible.

The emptiness in her womb throbbed and expanded like an invisible tumor threatening her life and her dreams. Of course she’d wanted family, love, acceptance, but life had dealt her a different set of cards. She’d accepted that, damn it. Until Trey.

“Babe, are you okay?” he asked, concern heavy in his tone.

No, she wasn’t okay. She desperately wanted something with him that she couldn’t have.

Separation. That’s where this was leading. God, why had she ignored the truth this long? Deluding herself into imagining her future could be different than what it was?

Something she’d learned in ROTC came back to serve her well. She inhaled on the count of four, held her breath for four beats, then exhaled on the count of four.

“Honey, you’re scaring me,” he said beyond the door. “Please, answer me.”

Four counts in. Four counts hold. Four counts out.

Finally, she found the courage to unlock the door and twist the knob. Trey rushed in. “Hey.” He hugged her tight against him, and she almost lost herself in the sensation of being cared for completely. “I know you’ve been through a lot the past few weeks.” His arms tightened around her, so compelling, so secure. “Just let me be here for you.”

A knife twisted in her gut while he held her against his warm bare chest. A shelter against all storms. “I need to go,” she whispered. “Now.”

“Sure, yeah. We can do that.” Trey went to retrieve their suitcases, stashed in Logan and Allison’s spare bedroom where they’d planned to spend the night. Even the best laid plans went up in flames. Like her future with him.

By the time he guided her out the door, he’d donned jeans and a t-shirt. He loaded their suitcases into his trunk and they left without a word to anyone. Undoubtedly, their quick quiet exit would draw attention soon, but the sickness in her soul left little room to care what anyone thought.

Rolling back the top of his convertible, Trey reaffirmed his grip on the steering wheel. “What’s going on?”

Making a fist, she held her hand against the center of her chest. It was time to come clean with the truth. “Trey, I was offered a job opportunity in Phoenix, and I want to take it.”

At first, his forehead smoothed with a blank expression. Then deep grooves formed between his eyebrows. “When did this come up?”

“Last month. I was contacted by a company that programs gaming software, like the war we waged against the zombies at the arcade. It’s something I’ve always dreamed of doing.”

Tension rippled along the muscles of his forearms. “Are you moving?”

“After I fly down for my second interview and sign the offer, yes.”

A vein throbbed in his temple. “So that’s it? I don’t even get a vote? Or have the past two weeks meant nothing to you?”

Tags: Vanessa Waltz Billionaire Bodyguard Suspense
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