Page 45 of The Other Man

We called him Cameron, or Cam for short.

And a few short months later, I had my own.

Heath made it home just in time to be there for the birth of our son.  We named him Gerard, after my father, who, God willing, he’d someday get to meet.

Fatherhood was good for Heath, I saw right away.  It softened some of his rougher edges.

And he was a good father.  What he lacked in practice, he made up for in effort.  It more than balanced out.

Heath doted on both of the babies, as did Rafael, Gustave, and even Mason.

With all of that adult attention, Cameron and Gerard lacked for nothing.

When little Cam was just a few months old, Iris and Heath had to leave for a long stretch.

It was time for the trial of the century.

It was excruciating for Iris, as it would be for any new mother, to leave her baby for so long, but she knew I’d care for Dair Jr. like he was my own, and so it eased some of that great burden for her.

We watched the trial on TV.  It was intense, watching a determined Iris take down one of the most powerful politicians in the country.

Her grandmother wasn’t the VP anymore by that time, but it was a technicality.  The woman still had pull in Washington.

I knew this because I was glued to the television twenty-four/seven, and all anyone did was talk about her.

Iris didn’t get to come back to see us for the duration of the trial, not even for a visit.  It was just too dangerous for her, and for us.

Even Heath only came back once, right as the proceedings were coming to a close.

It was a bittersweet reunion, because he’d been gone for months and could only stay for one night.

That goodbye was one of the worst of them all.

He cupped my head in both hands, making me look at him, straight into his eyes.  “Listen,” he urged in his soft, gravelly way.

I couldn’t hold back tears.  Something horrible was going to happen on this trip.  I just knew it.  Something that would break me.  I could see it in every line of his tense face.

“Listen,” he repeated.  “We’re going to be separated for a bit.  We just are.  I can’t say for how long.”  He swallowed, and I watched his throat move, his big Adam’s apple bobbing in a way that reminded me just how young he was.  “But listen, and I mean this, do not turn on the TV.  You are not to watch the news, you understand me?”

I nodded that I did and promised that I wouldn’t.

That lasted about three days.

It was on every channel.  Francis Baker, as Iris was known to the public, had been assassinated in broad daylight, mere days after the trial was over.

The story went that at a stoplight, a van pulled up beside the car she was transported in, and six men in ski masks jumped out of said van.

She was dragged from the car, and her driver and one of her bodyguards, who were both wounded in the attack, witnessed her being shot at point blank in the temple.  One of her bodyguards was also reportedly killed, a big blond man, they said, though no name was divulged.

Heath knew this was coming, I told myself.  It has to be fake.  It has to be.  How else would he have been so sure it was coming?  Why else would he have asked me not to turn on the TV?

I wanted to believe it was all a lie, but it hurt like it was the truth.

I held our babies close and prayed that they would come back to me.

TWO MONTHS LATER

We’d moved again.  The second place in as many months.

Raf and Gus took it well, considering that we kept uprooting their lives.  I was eternally grateful to them for handling this all with grace, for going so far out of their way to keep from adding to my already vast burden of guilt.

We were somewhere in Arizona, in the middle of freaking nowhere, of course, in a large house, on a huge property with high gates and lots of land.

Our guards had been doubled since the incident with the van.  We had men on the perimeter as well as in the house.

I had the babies both in high chairs, feeding them tiny spoonfuls of green mush when I heard the front door open.

This wasn’t unusual.  With all of the agents roaming around, people were coming in and out at all hours.

Still, I called out, “Hello!” and wondered why no one answered back.  The agents assigned to us were usually very good about announcing themselves.

I didn’t have to wonder long.

Heath and Iris, looking tired but healthy and whole, came striding into the room.

I started to shake, every bit of me, top to bottom, from the marrow of my bones to the very outer layer of my skin, shaking.  Trembling like I had a fever.

But it wasn’t a fever, it was a rush of relief so profound and pure that it knocked the breath out of me.

I’d wondered over the last two torturous months what I’d do if I saw him again.  If I’d scream and rail at him for putting me through this, or if I’d embrace him and weep, be so relieved to see him that it’d trump all of my anger at the pain and uncertainty he’d put me through.

But after one devastating look at him, it wasn’t even a question.

I launched myself at him, running across the room, flinging my arms around his shoulders as I jumped up against him, legs snaking around his hard thighs and gripping.

He grabbed my ass with one hand, my shoulder with the other, pulling me even tighter to him.

I buried my face in his neck and breathed him in.  He kissed my temple.

I wanted to say so many things, but none of them seemed as important as this, just touching him, taking him in.

One of his big hands snaked into my hair and angling my face to him, he crushed his mouth against mine.

I pulled back enough to look at him.  We stayed like that, panting, breathing each other’s air as I stared into his eyes.

They were still cold.  They would never be warm.  I knew that by now, just as I’d known that they’d never be the windows to his soul.

But it hit me then what was.

His soul was in his touch.  His reverent lips, his mastering hands, his seeking body—those were the things that showed his hand and betrayed his true feelings.

His reverent lips told me that he loved me, his trembling hands told me that he needed me, and his seeking body told me he trusted me.

I soothed him, made him feel whole again.

He invigorated me, made me feel alive again.

He was mine and I was his, and no matter how long it took him to make it back to me, I’d be there waiting for him.

THREE YEARS LATER

It was late spring in Vegas.  That brief time of year in Sin City where it was actually nice outside; hot out, a perfect day for the pool, but with the temperature still sitting somewhere reasonable in the double digits.

We were enjoying a BBQ at Dair’s friend, Turner’s, house.

Since we’d returned home, this had become a weekly thing.  Turner loved to entertain.

It was good to be home.  It had taken years, but at last, here we were.

The running was over, and we were slowly settling back into some semblance of normal a life.

A heavily pregnant Iris sat in the shade on a chaise lounge beside me while our husbands threw the boys around the pool.

She was patting her big belly, proud as punch about it, as she always was these days, when she asked me, “Are you and Heath having any more?”

I was mid sip of sangria, and I nearly spit it out.

I shot her a look, an are you out of your mind? look.

“Are you out of your mind?” I asked aloud, when I was done choking.

She laughed, and finally I laughed when I saw that unsurprisingly, she was messing with me.

Gerard was anything but a regret for me.  He was one of my four biggest blessings in life, in fact, but it was no question that I was now done with the child-bearing times of my life.

We didn’t speak for a time as we watched our boys in the pool.

Heath had a giggling child in each arm and carted them around like they weighed nothing.

Neither boys were small.  Gerard was bigger, Cameron taller, but they were both large and heavy for their age.  When I picked either of them up, my entire body had to brace itself, and my back bowed with the burden, but they both looked like they weighed about as much as a feather when Heath was holding them.

I don’t think anyone quite expected it, but Heath was very good with kids.  He was a devoted father and uncle, dedicating a great deal of his time to both boys.

He said they calmed him, which was surely strange as they were both bundles of nonstop energy.

But it was good, because he was retired now from working for the government and taking some time off to stay at home with Gerard while I got back into pursuing my passion for photography.

He talked about different jobs he could do with his vast experience and many specialized skills.  He’d likely start up a security firm, sometime down the road.

But he wasn’t even worried about it now.  Now, he was enjoying some much deserved and hard earned time with his family.

I was distracted briefly from my musings as Cam made a mad dash out of the pool, running for the grassy lawn, Gerard hot on his heels.

Iris and I shared a look.  They were at it again.

Our sons were close cousins, near inseparable, so this was a fairly regular occurrence.  They had near opposite personalities, but they were still best buddies.

“Gerard!” Heath barked, and our son stopped what he was doing, which happened to be pinning his cousin down for no good reason that I could tell.


Tags: R.K. Lilley Romance
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