Her agent rolled his eyes.
I slid a paper across the table to them with our basic offer. Danica looked at it and started to nod, but her agent gave her a look.
“We can make this work, Danica, but let me do my job, will you?”
We went back and forth over a few points, and by the time I left, we’d come to terms. I told her I’d have our lawyers send the contract over tomorrow.
We parted ways, with Danica giving me the European-style kiss on each cheek.
As far as women went, Danica was stunning, which was why she worked as a top model. Her blonde locks hung in waves that looked natural but probably cost hundreds of dollars to achieve. Her eyes were a bright liquid blue. She had a waif-like body; thin, long, not so different from my wife’s. If anyone was going to cause me to feel arousal, it should have been Danica. But when she kissed my cheeks, I felt nothing but relieved that we would have a deal and that the meeting was done and I could go home.
Bella was the opposite. Her long thick hair was straight and so dark it was almost ebony. Her eyes were blue, but a dark hue, like sapphires. Her skin was pale which made her rosy cheeks and pink lips stand out. And her body was lush with curves.
I shook my head as I rode in the car back to my penthouse apartment on the upper west side of Manhattan. I had no business thinking of Bella like that. Or Danica. But my response to Bella baffled me. I hoped to hell it was an anomaly and wouldn’t happen again. With the France deal coming together, we’d be spending lots of time together and I didn’t need my hormones wreaking havoc.
I arrived home ready to be a dad instead of a CEO.
“Welcome home, Mr. Alexander.” Mrs. Douglas greeted me at the door. She was a stout sixty-something woman with thick bluish-gray curls. She’d lost her husband around the time my wife died and she needed something to fill her time since her children were all grown. I needed help with Lily, so it turned out to be an ideal situation for all. “Are you hungry? I’ve got food warming.”
“I’ll have it later. Is Lily in bed?” It was after eight-thirty, which was my five-year-old daughter’s bedtime.
“She is. She’s waiting for a bedtime story.”
“Thank you for staying late tonight.” I meant it. Having Mrs. Douglas had been a God-send. Lily was a shy child, struggling to adjust to school, but Mrs. Douglas was patient and kind with her. And she was nearly always available in a pinch, like tonight when I had to work late.
“My pleasure. Will there be anything else?”
“No. Thank you.”
She got her purse and coat from the hooks in the entryway. “I’ll see you in the morning then.”
When she left, I locked the door for the night and headed to Lily’s room. It was exactly as a child’s room should be: filled with color and everything she needed to indulge her imagination.
“Daddy.” Her smile filled my heart and made me forget the long day. She held her arms out to me and I sat on her bed to hug her.
“Where’d you go today?” I asked her.
Her eyes, so much like her mother’s, sparkled with excitement. “To the moon. Mrs. Dougie and I made a rocket. See?” She pointed to the other side of her room where a large refrigerator box stood decorated with the US flag and a window. It always amazed me how Mrs. Douglas could find and repurpose anything.
“Did you find the cheese?”
“Daddy, there’s no cheese on the moon.”
She laughed. “No. Will you read me the story about the mouse?”
“Yes.” I reached over on her bedside table for the book that explained what would happen if you give a mouse a cookie. When the story was finished, I kissed her goodnight. She closed her eyes and settled into her bed to sleep. I watched for a minute, feeling so damn grateful to have her, while feeling a twinge of sadness that her mother wasn’t here to see Lily grow and blossom. She was about to finish kindergarten and I knew Joanna would have been so proud of her. She probably would have been able to better help Lily adjust to school.
Joanna and I had planned to have several children. Once the business was on solid financial ground, we decided to start a family. By then we’d been married for nearly ten years. For years, we were unsuccessful. When we went to a fertility specialist, they diagnosed Joanna with cancer. But after treatment, she went into remission. The next year, Lily was born and we couldn’t have been happier.
Two years later, we tried again. At thirty-seven, Joanna felt like she was running out of childbearing years. We were so happy when she missed her period, a sure sign we’d been successful at creating a sibling for Lily. But weeks later, the diagnosis was cancer, not pregnancy.