Page 44 of The Other Man

“Why couldn’t you ask Dair to come into hiding with you?” I asked her once.

“He has too much of a public profile.  There is simply no way to hide him.  The best we could do was to keep him out of it.  Also, I don’t think he’d want to.  I’m pretty sure he hates me now.”

I doubted that very much.  I didn’t know him well, but I did know that Dair was not a man with hate in his heart.  Not for anyone, but particularly not for one of the sweetest women I’d ever met, who also happened to be pregnant with his child.

And also, who wouldn’t fall for a girl like Iris?   She was young and sweet, funny and joyful, and of course, there was her extraordinary beauty.  Sure, like her brother, she had some fascinating and troublesome quirks, but I was guessing that a man like Dair would find those quirks well worth the payoff.  Hell, with what I knew of him, I thought he’d find most of them endearing.

We had fun together, Iris and I, but always under her bright surface, I could see that something weighed heavy on her, and I knew that it was Dair.

“I wonder if he’s moved on.  It seems likely.  We didn’t part on the best of terms, so I doubt he’d even think of waiting for me,” Iris lamented.

I didn’t know what to say to her.  I wanted to reassure her, but I also knew it would be cruel to give her false hope.

“You know, for a while I thought it’d be you he moved onto,” she added.

I’d gathered that much, but she wasn’t done.

“And then I looked into you.”

“You mean Heath did.”

She cringed just enough to look guilty as hell.  “No, I mean I did, too.  Pretty extensively.  I just wanted to know what kind of a woman you were, if he was going to end up with you.  And everything checked out.  Everything.  You’re just good people.  You make friends everywhere and treat people well as a rule.  Hell, you even give a Christmas bonus to your gardener.”

God, she was scary sometimes.  How could she have possibly found that out?

“Eventually, I was even kind of okay with the option.  I saw you out with your boys—”

“You followed me, too?”  For some reason when Iris said she’d checked me out, I’d thought it was all internet dirt.  The idea of her following us around just struck me as several shades more crazy.

“Only a little.  It didn’t take much.  I saw you having dinner with your boys, and I knew I’d seen enough.  Dair couldn’t do better than you.  I knew I wasn’t better.  I know I’m as fucked up as Heath, in my own way.”

“He couldn’t do better than you, either,” I told her gently.  “Any man would be lucky to have a woman like you.”

And she had her pick.  Just about every man within ten miles from my sons to her bodyguard were more than a little smitten with her.

But just any man wasn’t an option for Iris.  She was devoted to Dair, whether he was a lost cause or not.  She was a go down with the ship kind of girl.

And it wasn’t all pining and sadness for her.  We had our share of fun.

We both loved to dance.  Whenever we were feeling particularly stir crazy, we’d put on some music, turn it up loud, and have an impromptu dance party.

Her obsession with Beyonce, or as she called her, Bey, was contagious. We drove my boys crazy, randomly singing the lyrics from her latest album.

And we loved to coordinate pranks.

Bubble wrap on the toilet seat, the mayo jar refilled with vanilla yogurt, just to name a few.

The two of us pregnant at the same time was not something anyone would want to mess with.

And we were both obsessed with bad reality television.  The worse the better.  We’d binge watch it together, though I was pretty sure it lowered both of our IQs.

We kept each other busy, which was good.  We both needed to stay busy to stay sane.

My husband was still a mystery to me, one I’d have liked more time to analyze.  He was gone more often than not.

“Where does he go?” I asked Iris.

“Heath is taking care of some things that need taking care of,” Iris told me solemnly.

“Care to elaborate?”

“I’m so sorry that you were dragged into this, but he’s not just doing this for me anymore.  We have made enemies that will never let us live in peace, that will use anything to hurt him.  You’re in as much danger as I am now.  Some key targets need to be eliminated if we’re ever going to have a shot at making it through this.  Long story short:  He’s making it so we can live a normal life again, someday.”

Well, hell, it was darker than I’d thought, but I had asked.

Heath came home whenever he could, and though his visits were erratic, he usually managed to stay for a few weeks at a time.

Those weeks were what I lived for.  We even got to squeeze in the occasional date.

Those dates were never dull.

“You make me crazy, and I’ll be honest, I’m not sure that’s a good thing; I was already crazy enough,” Heath told me on our first such date.

We were out to dinner at the only French restaurant within a hundred miles of our remote, temporary home.  It was crowded to bursting, but Heath managed to get us a table without a reservation.

“You’ll be fine,” I assured him.

“Me, maybe.  And you, definitely.  It’s everyone else you should be worried about.”

I laughed, though I wasn’t sure what he was getting at, I could tell he was being his version of sweet.  “How so?”

“You make me want to go around the room and make every fucker in here kiss your feet, just for the privilege of being in a fucking room with you.”

God, I loved him.  Every screwed up, quirky thing about him got to me in the best way possible.  “You do understand you’re being romantic right now?” I told him.

“I’m not sure the world can handle my flavor of romantic.  Let’s hope it doesn’t increase my body count.”

He wasn’t exaggerating all that much.  His flavor of romantic was possessive to the point of violence.  God help any man that stood too close to me while Heath was watching.

It was definitely a rough edge of his that I had to work hard on softening.

Which was hypocritical of me.  I had a jealous streak where he was concerned that was a whacked out mile long.  He got as much female attention as I did male, and I hated it.

I never had to do anything about it, though.  Heath was about as flirtatious as an angry rattlesnake.  If some poor woman was crazy enough to approach him, he never hesitated to set them straight.

I fucking loved that.

I secretly got a kick out of watching him shoot these poor girls down.  He was rather brutal about it, and the more aggressive they were, the more mean he was when he let them have it.

“I’ve got no patience for that shit,” he told me once, right after a smoking hot blonde had approached him while he was ordering popcorn at the movies.  “None.  What the hell was wrong with that twit?”

He was mean and magnificent and completely oblivious to every woman on the planet but me, and I adored every inch of him.

When I was about six months pregnant, he went off the radar for longer than usual.

Long enough that Iris and I were starting to get nervous.  We usually heard something from him.

Even the other agents didn’t have any word for us.

When he came home, at last, I couldn’t help it, I cried like a baby.

I told myself it was the hormones, but he had a hard time keeping his composure, as well.

He came to me first thing when he got to the house, taking me in his arms, face buried in my neck, one big hand rubbing my belly.

He was gasping, fighting for air.

“I didn’t think I’d make it back to you this time.  I didn’t think I’d ever see you again.”

That broke me.  God, did it hurt.  The helplessness was excruciating.

He dropped to his knees, face nuzzling into my belly.

I stroked his hair and tried to comfort him, tried my best to put on a brave face, because this time I could see he needed that from me.

It was long time before he let me go, and when he did, he went straight to Iris.

He wrapped her in those huge arms of his, nearly making her disappear.

She stood stiffly, though it was only because she knew him.  He was affectionate with her, and she was an extremely affectionate girl, but she knew better than to touch him back.

“It’s okay,” he murmured to her.  “You can hug me back.”

She did, slowly, tentatively, her eyes going straight to me, big fat tears in them and huge helpings of gratitude, like I’d just granted her a long wished for gift.

Later that night in bed I got a look at his body.

“Oh, darling, what have you done to yourself?” I asked him softly.

He’d been shot again.  Twice, in the gut.  The wounds were still fresh, but from the placement, I assumed that at one point they’d been nearly fatal.

“What I had to, to make it back home to you.”

Iris had her baby soon after that.  It was a boy that she named Alasdair Cameron after his father.

Tags: R.K. Lilley Romance