Mature (18+) Audiences. Contains bad words and sex-y scenarios.
“I mean this in the most respectful way, sweetheart, but why do you think we need your ex-husband’s approval?”
Sydney looked back over her shoulder at Dmitri, tapping her chin with a ballpoint pen, the list in front of her longer than it had been just a few minutes ago.
“It’s not approval, per se,” she clarified. “I just want to tell him before we make the announcement. Joel and I are still friends.”
Dmitri kissed her bare shoulder, the sheets draped haphazardly around them. The Mediterranean Coast served as a picturesque backdrop, but she was the most beautiful thing in all of Greece. She and Joel might still be friends, but he was grateful to the man for letting her go. Sydney Donovan was everything he’d ever wanted in a woman—strong and intelligent with a mind for business—and, while he hadn’t planned on things moving this fast, he knew he didn’t want her going anywhere unless he was included.
Correction . . . he didn’t want her or their little one going anywhere unless he was included.
“I just don’t want him to be blindsided, you know?”
“Then why do you keep putting off your dinner with him?” Dmitri gently pulled at the sheets, leaned over her body, and kissed just below her navel. “Sooner or later, he’ll find out.”
Sydney lay her hand on the slight rise in her stomach. “I still have time.”
“Just tell him, sweetheart.”
“You don’t understand, Dmitri.” She rolled onto her back and flicked the pen between her fingers. “Joel and I fought about this. Like, it was a big issue for us. Half the reason we couldn’t work things out was because I wasn’t sure about motherhood the way he was sure about being a father. You and I haven’t even been together six months yet, and I’m three months pregnant.”
“The Caribbean certainly was,” he kissed her hip, “intoxicating.”
She laughed. “The Caribbean and all of its rum.”
“That too.” He pressed another kiss to her stomach. “Syd, are you happy with me? I’m happy with you. I don’t regret the way we’ve done things.”
Tears sprung in her eyes. “I’m happy with you, Dmitri.” After his fourth kiss, he tried to sneak lower, but she grabbed his head and pulled his face up to hers. “List first. What am I missing?”
She turned back onto her side.
He positioned himself behind her, one long arm draped over her, his hand on her stomach. “First of all, my love,” he scanned the list, “there’s no crib.”
* * *
“Oh my goodness, he’s so beautiful.”
“He’s American? They do have good-looking men there.”
“I could stare at him all day.”
Ayesha rolled her eyes. Josiah’s school had thrown a family night at the Vasa Museum in Stockholm, and close to all the kids in his grade segment, mellanstadiet, were in attendance. Virtually every teacher had also shown up in addition to the normal crowd that flooded the site on the weekends.
Most of the crowd didn’t bother her. She smiled at families walking with their children, young couples, groups of friends . . . but those damn single women. They were the ones she wanted to dropkick, whispering and staring, fawning over Joel like they didn’t see her standing right next to him.
Hell, not all of them were single, either.
Some of them even had handsome men on their arms. The men weren’t Joel, but nobody was.
Was she not being possessive enough with him?
She held his hand, rubbed his back, kissed and hugged him. At one point, Theo walked between them, holding both their hands. Joel didn’t wear a ring, but she did. Was it too difficult for them to conceive that someone who looked like him could be there with anyone but Rihanna or Scarlett Johansson? Or did they see her and just not care because Joel was that damn good-looking?
“Excuse me?” A young blonde walked up to them, so shy she couldn’t meet Joel’s gaze. “You have beautiful eyes.”
Joel smiled. “Thanks.”
Ayesha darted a look at him.
The woman released a breath and scurried off.
Josiah and Theo were in front of them in the middle of the crowd, looking over a metal railing separating the visitors from the platform where the ship rested. A tour of the museum was about to start, and it would end with them viewing the massive warship that hung in the middle of the room. Theo, sucking on those fingers, leaned against Josiah. Josiah stroked his little brother’s head, and she hoped it was always this way between them, even when they fought or disagreed.
Another woman started in their direction, so Ayesha slipped her fingers through Joel’s. He brought their joined hands up to his mouth and kissed the back of her hand. She tilted her chin, and he leaned down to kiss her mouth, letting the kiss linger for a moment.
See? He’s mine. Stay in your lanes.
“Look at you being all possessive,” he teased.
“‘Thanks,’ though?” She frowned. “Thanks? That’s it?”
“What else was I supposed to say?”
“How about ‘my girl tells me that all the time’ or something along those lines?”
“Oh. I get it now.” He gave the back of her hand another kiss, puffed up his chest, and raised his voice. “Excuse me, everyo—”
Ayesha cut him off with a hand on his mouth. She’d had to grab the back of his neck and drag him down to even accomplish the maneuver.
“What are you doing?”
He pointed at his covered mouth.
She removed her hand.
“Telling the world that you’re my woman,” he said, a sly grin on his face. “At least, telling this room. I thought that’s what you wanted?”
They’d explained to the boys about their official change in relationship status and exactly what that meant. She hadn’t seen them happier, even on Christmas morning. Josiah said he “knew it,” and Theo had then chimed in with, “I knew it too,” even though he had no idea what the “it” was.
“Whatever.” She shoved him in the side, a grin stuck to her face.
The tour began with a brief history of the vessel which revealed that the museum had been built around it, a ship with an even shorter run than the Titanic; it sank only a half-hour after it launched. Over three hundred years later, the massive ship’s parts were salvaged.
As the museum orator spoke, Theo loudly asked the woman, “Why do old ships always sink?” and “Did they make them too heavy?” followed by, “I’m five and even I know that was gonna sink.” They were poignant questions and observations, but Ayesha gave him a stick of gum to give his mouth something else to do.
The boys’ eyes grew wider and wider looking up at the ship’s black and dark brown body. Josiah introduced Theo to a few of his school friends, and all of them were kind to him. A couple of the girls who thought Theo was så söt, so cute, were able to get Theo to hold their hands for a minute, but he eventually gravitated back to his brother. Josiah’s personality often meant people with good hearts flocked to him, and the friends of his Ayesha and Joel met seemed to fit the bill.
It had been a few weeks since they moved in with Joel, and Theo still slept between them, but he didn’t appear to have any more nightmares.
As much as she wanted to jump on Joel, she found she didn’t have the heart to encourage Theo to sleep by himself again just yet. She’d gotten used to waking up with his little hands on her face and his feet in Joel’s ribs. Sometimes, he woke her up with kisses. Others, she woke up to find him and Joel still asleep, Joel’s arm around him while Theo lay on his chest or across his body. She wanted to hold on to those moments for as long as she could. Her little guy wouldn’t be little forever, and if he shot up as Josiah had, he wouldn’t be little for much longer.
Ayesha turned to the voice, and Theo’s teacher cut through the crowd to make her way over to them, dragging her husband along.
“So glad you could make it, Miss Savea,” Lilly Mason said, shaking Ayesha’s hand. “This is my husband, Trevor.”
The man tipped his head in greeting. “Hello, there. Nice to meet you.”
For some reason, the fact that an Australian accent left his mouth made the fine hairs on Ayesha’s arm stand up. It wasn’t exactly unusual for Theo’s Swedish teacher to have an Australian husband, but it was . . . something.
“Is Theo having a good time?” Lilly asked.
Ayesha gestured. “See for yourself.”
Whenever Theo was enraptured enough by something, he didn’t jump or run or fidget. This afternoon, notwithstanding him giving the orator the third degree, he’d remained so captivated, there’d been little to no desire to wiggle, sprint, or do cartwheels.
“He’s such a wonderful boy,” Lilly gushed. “I love having him in my class. I’m glad he had a chance to be here today. He is so good with facts!”
Lilly held out her hand to Joel. “Hello, Mr. Lattimore. Good to see you as well. Theo tells me he loved the book you read together.”
They shook hands.
“So did I,” Joel said.
Ayesha noticed Trevor didn’t offer to shake Joel’s hand as he was too busy studying her like he recognized her from somewhere. He reminded her of Simon Baker, but with at least fifty pounds more muscle. The man was about as big as Gage.
“How has Theo’s sleep been?” Lilly continued to question. “Good, I hope.”
“Great,” Joel answered. “No issues.”
“Well, you still have the number if you need it.”
Ayesha and Joel nodded.
“Sweetheart, you’re crowding them.” Trevor tugged on his wife’s arm. “You two enjoy the rest of your time here. Mr. Lattimore, Mrs. Savea . . . nice to meet you.”
The two men still didn’t shake hands.
The couple weaved their way back through the crowd.
“Hey, boys?” Joel called, and he tipped his head to let Theo and Josiah know he wanted them closer. “Eesh, he called you Mrs. Savea. Not Ms. Savea, not even Mrs. Lattimore, but Mrs. Savea.”
“Maybe Lilly told him I’m a widow?” Ayesha asked, but even she’d felt the odd chill the man left behind. “And why would they call me Mrs. Lattimore?”
He lowered his brows. “You’d have a problem with that? You’d have a problem being Mrs. Lattimore? You hurt me with your words, Ayesha.”
She laughed. “Aww, I’m sorry, baby.”
Joel leaned down and gave her a quick kiss. “Stay here with the boys? Right here. I’ll be right back.”
Before she had a chance to ask him where he was going, he was off.
“Ma, did something happen?” Josiah asked. “Because there was a man watching us.”
She looked at him, only needing to slightly lower her head. “What man?”
“He’s gone now.”
“Where was he watching you from?”
Josiah pointed. “Right where Joel’s headed.”
* * *
“You want to tell me why you keep popping up in places where my woman is?”
The man turned around.
“It’s Adrían, right?” Joel asked. “You’re not a teacher, and you don’t have any kids. You show up at the restaurant, call her phone, and now you’re here. I’m going to need you to explain how that works.”
He’d spotted Adrían shortly after Lilly and her husband walked up, the man trying to blend in with the sea of people around them. It probably would have worked had he been six inches shorter and watching someone else’s woman and children.
Adrían extended his hand. “We finally meet.”
Joel shook it, and they drew back at the same time before they ended up with permanently set jaws, bent fingers, and fractured wrists.
“To answer your question, I’m not following Ayesha,” Adrían said. “I’m following Theo.”
“And why the fuck are you following my son?” Even though they were in a more secluded part of the museum, Joel knew the staff wouldn’t appreciate having to clean up a man’s blood, so he forced himself to think about Ayesha, Theo, and Josiah needing him in their lives to stop him from taking the life of the man in front of him.
A smirk played along Adrían’s mouth. “I thought his father was dead.”
“Look, I already know you and Eesh have a past, but this shit has got to stop. You’ll get yourself killed fucking with the wrong man’s family.”
The smirk widened, and Adrían’s veil of civility slipped, briefly. “I’m following him because of Ayesha. I understand Theo’s been having nightmares. He’s been talking about a ‘veeny,’ but she doesn’t know what it means. She asked me if it was Portuguese, and it’s not, but I did some research, and I think I know what it is.”
Joel told himself the man was lying. Ayesha wasn’t still talking to him; she would have said something. Then again, he’d agreed to dinner with Syd without telling her, but nothing was going to happen between him and Syd. She simply said they needed to talk, and he had an idea about what it was if her fuller breasts and rounder face were any indication.
This motherfucker, he didn’t trust.
Yet, something sparked in his chest that felt a lot like betrayal. Ayesha’s explanation of who “Adrían” was at the restaurant hadn’t been complete. She might have said they hadn’t been anything serious, but her face told him she’d had feelings for this man. That didn’t mean she still did, and he was certain she didn’t, but the omission of information was the issue.
“What does veeny mean?” Joel asked.
“It’s a name. I used to do consultant work in Maui. Some of the work took me to the schools in the area. My company did a lot of data analysis, reporting . . . things like that. There was a janitor who used to work at Theo’s school.”
It was a lie.
Joel noticed the slight flicker of Adrían’s right eyelid.
Still, he listened.
“The man’s name was Lavigne.” The veil slipped again, revealing hatred this time before Adrían set it back into place. “He was fired for inappropriate behavior around the students.”
Everything the man said was a lie except for the name.
Joel folded his arms. “So you think it might be this guy? Did you ever see him interacting with Theo?”
“I didn’t have to. I’ve met him. He’s a sick fuck. Abnormal. Thinks his shit doesn’t stink. I’d like to think he’s gotten or he’ll get what’s coming to him.”
“And you’re telling me this because?”
“Because I love her.”
Joel’s shoulder twitched. “You don’t say.”
“It’s not what you think. I would never, in a million years, hurt Ayesha or the boys. That’s the God’s honest truth, and I’m Catholic. I really, truly just want her to be happy, and she is that. With you.”
Joel glanced to make sure he could still see them, and they’d moved slightly off to the left to sit on a bench along the wall. Theo stood between Ayesha’s knees and Josiah sat next to her.
“Look, man, I get it.” He sighed. “I’m with Ayesha now so . . . I get it. But you’re going to have to back the fuck off. I’ve got this. I can take care of my family.”
Adrían cocked a brow. “At least let her know I hope Theo’s night scares go away.”
Another pang hit Joel’s chest. “How do you know about those?”
“Like I said, she told me.”
“She doesn’t talk to you.”
“Why would she talk to you and not tell me?”
Adrían shrugged. “I don’t know.”
They stared, sizing each other up. This man wasn’t who he claimed to be. There was more to him, something that reminded Joel of Dez. Trevor, from earlier, had reminded him of Gage.
“Well, I’ll see what I can do with the information.”
Adrían offered his hand again. They shook, this time without the threat of broken limbs.
“There’s more to you than you show,” Adrían acknowledged.
Joel ticked his head to the side. “Time will tell.”
He walked off and rejoined Ayesha and the boys.
They finished the tour, grabbed a bite to eat, and headed home.
He avoided Ayesha’s gaze for the rest of the afternoon. He didn’t hold her hand, didn’t kiss her, and discreetly pulled away when she tried. Each rebuff made her even more confused and hurt, and it hurt him to hurt her, but Adrían knew too much shit. She had to be talking to him, and she definitely dreamed about him. Passionately. He never heard his or even Curtis’ name trickle from her pretty lips at night, but he’d surely heard that fucker’s.
On the way home, he sent the Lavigne information to Julien.
When they got to the house, she asked if they wanted to help her with dinner, but he took the boys out back to kick around a soccer ball. Hopefully, with some time to herself after all the buzz of their day, it would wear her down and she’d have no choice but to confess.
Theo and Josiah carried the dinner conversation, and Joel caught each time she looked at him, her eyes a mix of that same confusion and pain. He held her gaze, each and every time, but he didn’t offer comfort or an explanation. After dinner, he cleaned the kitchen and declined her help when she offered.
Raising Theo and Josiah had to be the only reason she put up with him like this; she had experience dealing with extended periods of immaturity. One of his bigger flaws was the way he shut down when he was hurt. There could be a simple explanation for everything, and he was more sure there was than he believed there wasn’t, but he didn’t want to hear it. He didn’t want to hear she was still, in addition to dreaming about him, talking to some man who’d fucking seen her naked.
On her way to give Theo a bath, she stopped at the bottom of the stairs and called out to him as he set a stack of plates in one of the high cabinets.
“Joel, what’s going on?”
He didn’t glance back. “Nothing.”
“That’s a lie.”
“Okay, so maybe there is something, and I just don’t want to talk about it.”
“When do you want to talk about it?”
Her palm suddenly graced the middle of his back. It was amazing how much that simple touch soothed him, made him want to hold her and bury his nose in her scent. But he closed the cabinet and went to search the pantry for absolutely nothing.
She sighed, said a low, “Okay, then,” and headed upstairs.
While she bathed Theo, he helped Josiah with his homework, and then he stayed up talking with the boys until Theo’s eyes crossed and his eyelids drooped. They said good night to Josiah, and he took Theo to the master suite.
The door opened, and she looked up from her book, smiling. “Hey.”
He set Theo down on the mattress without meeting her eyes. “I’m going downstairs for a little bit to watch TV.”
“There’s a TV in here.”
“I don’t want to wake Theo.”
Theo cuddled up to Ayesha, going right to sleep against his mother’s warm body.
Joel left the room without saying anything further, went downstairs to lie on the sofa, and turned on the TV. Ayesha and Josiah had gotten him hooked on that Grimm show, and he was already three seasons deep.
At some point, he fell asleep.
“Joel, wake up.”
“Hmm?” He rolled onto his back. “What’s up?”
“Why are you still down here?”
He sleepily motioned to the TV. “I was watching Grimm.”
“It’s past midnight, and the TV was watching you. Did you plan to sleep down here?”
He yawned. “Maybe.”
Her eyes watered and fuck, did it hurt to see.
“You’ve been ignoring me since we left the museum. Why? I thought the four of us had a good time.”
He stared at her face but offered nothing by way of explanation.
She sat on the edge of the seat cushion near his chest. Had he treated her better at any point that afternoon, it would have been the perfect position for her to play with his hair while he looked up at her with a million ways going through his mind about how to make their relationship last. This particular stint of difficult, closed-off behavior didn’t exactly make the cut.
“Okay, fine.” She smacked her palms on her thighs. “Don’t tell me. Don’t talk to me, if that’s what you need right now.”
Her hair wasn’t wrapped up in a scarf, which meant she’d had no intention of going to sleep. Not without him.
“But don’t do this.” She motioned to his frame. “I want to sleep next to you, even if I’m pissed at you or you’re pissed at me. Joel, if we argue, come to bed. If we disagree on something, come to bed. Rest your head on the pillow next to mine at the end of the night if things are still okay, whether or not they’re perfect. I want you there, I need you there, and I love having you there. But, if you feel differently, say so now.”
It was the quickest someone had ever made him feel like an ass, and he’d had a talent for being a major one when he was a teenager. His father and friends had never failed to tell him so.
“Joel, what did I do? You’re ignoring me, turning away from me. This is about me, not something else. At least tell me what I did. Maybe I can make it up to you.”
He changed to a seated position and gave her enough space to kneel on the cushions, facing him. “I’m sorry, Ayesha. When something’s off with me, I tend to do this. I shut down. Pull away. Turn into a jackass. It’s not one of my best traits.”
“How did I trigger it?” she asked. “Because I know it was me. You’re trying to stay away from me, specifically.”
Her eyes softened. “I won’t lie. It hurts.”
“And I’m a piece of shit for hurting you.”
“Talk to me, then.”
He couldn’t tell her it was Adrían. If she still had feelings for Adrían and that was the reason she’d kept their conversations a secret, he didn’t want to have to bear the pain of the truth or the pain of watching her lie to him.
Regardless, they were still going to be together. Her pretty ass was stuck with his petty ass. She was his—his girl, his woman, his future. His second chance. And it was a hell of a second chance. The universe had to love him to send him Ayesha after everything he’d already had to deal with. He’d been so sure he could never love again, and then not only did he love again, he loved even harder than before.
He drew her over to him, her bent knees on either side of his waist, and tried to pull her mouth down to his. She resisted, and he felt then what he’d done to her all afternoon.
“Tell me the truth about your feelings for Adrían,” he said, his voice lower than he’d intended for it to be. “You loved him. He wasn’t some fuck-buddy. It hurt when you two broke things off. I saw it all over your face. If I wasn’t in the picture and he’d popped back up into your life like he did at the restaurant, would you be with him right now the way you’re with me?”
She eased away from his face, but his hands kept her in place on top of him.
“Where’s all this coming from? No, Adrían’s what I said he was. I lost Curtis a year before I met Adrían. Curtis, Joel. There was no way I loved him.”
“That’s not what your face says, Eesh.”
“Then stop reading my face and listen to my voice. Adrían wasn’t exactly a blight in my life. Yes, I loved being with him and the sex was amaz…” She closed her eyes and sighed so hard, she shuddered.
“Was it?” Joel goaded. “So you’ve been thinking about it?”
“Look,” her tongue darted across her bottom lip, “you’re acting like this happened last year. This was years ago. Theo wasn’t even walking yet when I met Adrían.”
“The man popped up at the restaurant—”
“I had nothing to do with that!”
“—and you’ve been moaning his name in your sleep ever since.”
Her face fell. “I . . . have? More than that one time?”
“You don’t moan my name. Not even Curtis’ name. Your feelings ran a lot deeper for this guy, and for some reason, that makes me feel like I’m on fire and being burned from the inside out.”
She looked off to the side.
“And every time I touch you or kiss you or even see that fucker’s face, I think about it. I see you in bed next to me squeezing your thighs together with that . . . with another man’s name on your lips. Ayesha, will I ever be good enough for you?”
He’d known the insecurities he’d developed about himself after the divorce, as well as the raw intensity of his and Ayesha’s relationship, were at play. Saying it out loud added an unexpected, complicated layer.
“Is that what this is about?” She raised her hands as though getting ready to touch his hair but lowered them back to her sides. “You feel like I’ll leave you for him?”
“Or someone else.”
“Because I don’t know how to make you happy!”
“I am happy, Joel!”
She closed her eyes and clasped her hands in front of her face. “I don’t know what to say to make you feel better. Throw me a lifeline or something.”
“Ayesha, I,” love you, “really want this. But, the more I realize that, the more it makes me think I’ll do something to fuck it all up. The way I feel about you,” terrifies me, “makes me feel like I’ll hold on to ‘us’ so hard, I’ll end up crushing ‘us.’”
She reached out and thrust her fingers through his hair, and it stole a groan from his throat. This. He wanted exactly this.
“Eesh, I think Syd’s pregnant.”
Ayesha tugged her hands out of his hair. “Pregnant? Like, with a baby? Of course, it’s a baby. What I mean is, is it…did you…are you two…is it your baby?”
It never dawned on him that she would think it was his baby, especially with the way he’d dropped the news.
“Dmitri’s,” he clarified. “At least, I’m assuming.”
Her shoulders sagged. “Is that what she came to tell you?”
“All she said was that she wanted to have dinner so we could talk. She framed it like she was going to tell me she and Dmitri were moving in together or something, but Syd must have forgotten how long I’ve known her. She’s pregnant. I don’t know how far along, but that’s what it is.”
Pregnant by a man she’d known less than six months. A man she wasn’t married to yet. She could barely stomach having a kid with him, her ex-husband. At least, that was how it felt. How did he know he wouldn’t fall for Ayesha, settle into this life he loved with her and their boys, only for it to be ripped from him? God, he couldn’t survive if they were taken from him.
Ayesha kissed his forehead. “I get it.”
“I want you, Eesh.” He squeezed where his hands rested at her hips. “Bad. I’m dealing with shit with you that I’ve never felt or experienced, and it’s making me crazy, possessive, and territorial. This is new territory for me. It’s not that I ‘don’t’ want to lose you. It’s that I ‘can’t.’”
She pressed another kiss against his forehead and then one lower, between his eyebrows, her hand still playing in his hair.
“Honestly, Joel, I’ve never thought much about my feelings for Adrían,” she admitted. “I was lonely when I met him. So lonely. To be held again, kissed again . . . it felt more than wonderful, but it didn’t stop me from feeling lonely. I didn’t love him. I’d say I cared deeply for him, but that’s not what this is.”
He came as close to the question as possible without asking. “If you’d picked up instead of me that day, would you have talked to him?”
“Probably.” She kissed the corner of his mouth. “Like I said, I don’t hate him. I cared about him. Maybe I still do. He never had a bad word to say about me, and he always treated me with kindness and respect. I would have talked to him, but baby, he ain’t you.”
She moved lower, warm tongue flicking and soft mouth sucking his neck. His grip tensed and relaxed, and he gently eased her forward so he could feel where she was hottest. Where she was probably already soaking wet like the night in the dining room. Had Theo not come barging in, he would have ended up balls deep inside her, her tight flesh wrapped around him while he fucked her through the wall.
“Eesh, we can’t keep going like this.” He groaned as she dragged her tongue up the column of his neck. “We might end up married.”
Sarcasm dripped in her response. “Oh, no. Whatever would I do if I ended up married to Joel Lattimore? How would I live?”
“Remember our fantasy?” she asked. “How, in our alternate world, it didn’t take us long to get married because of how long we’ve known each other? How long we’ve had feelings for each other?”
“That’s how it is. I feel like we’re moving at a good pace for us, to be honest.”
“A good pace when Theo’s already calling me ‘Daddy,’ I’m telling people he’s my son, and we’ve had our first argument?”
“Who are you telling that Theo’s your son?”
She’d put on one of his shirts which hung too large on her, so he pulled the left sleeve down her shoulder. A creamy, brown breast with its luscious, dark nipple popped out.
He leaned forward and flicked her nipple with his tongue, and she went rigid. When he flicked again, this time faster, and sucked the nipple and areola into his mouth, her fingernails descended into his shoulders.
“I didn’t get a chance to mention that my nipples are very sensitive.” Her words were woven between gasps. “Extremely sensitive.”
He sucked again.
Her fingernails sunk deeper.
“Like nipple orgasm sensitive?” he asked, lips brushing her skin.
“Close to it.” She spread her legs and rocked against his erection. “Very close.”
“I’m sorry for how I treated you, Ayesha.” He pulled down the other sleeve and swirled his tongue around the right nipple. “I’m so sorry.” He sucked the orb into his mouth and rolled the taut bud against the ridged surface just behind his teeth. “Forgive me?”
She reached between her legs.
“Show me, baby.” He covered her hand with his. “Show me how to touch you.”
She nodded, took his hand, and slipped it into her panties. Then she singled out his thumb and moved it along her clit. After a few motions, he picked up how she wanted to be touched, and he fingered her while moving between her left and right breast, sucking in time to his play between her legs, blowing and licking until her nipples were tight and firm.
“I forgive you,” she managed, voice light and airy.
He moved his fingers in a circular motion, applying pressure to the sides of the swollen nubbin.
“I’m gonna come. Joel,” she grabbed onto his shoulders and increased the rocking speed of her hips, “I’m gonna come for you, baby.”
He closed his eyes and pressed his forehead against her chest when he felt her cream on his fingers.
Lucky ass fingers.
Now his mouth and dick were jealous.
At some point, she’d unlaced the drawstring on his pajama bottoms, so by the time he noticed where her hands had gone, she’d already pulled him out.
“Eesh, I’ll do better communicating next time. I didn’t mean to shut you out and hurt you. I can do better if you give me a chance to.”
“Of course, I will.” She raised and rubbed the tip of his dick along her slit, back and forth. “I don’t want anyone else but you.”
She lined him up with her opening, he angled her hips, and she lowered.
“Ah . . . fuck.” He thrust his hips up, meeting her the rest of the way. “Damn it, Ayesha.”
“Mama? Joel? Where are you?”
She tossed her head back. “You’ve got to be kidding me. I left him in a dead sleep.”
Despite the interruption, Joel stroked again, and her moans reminded him of watching a breeze move over the surface of the lake out back.
“It’s what kids do.” He slid his thumb over her right nipple, pumping his hips, sac tightening the deeper he went into her pussy. “They cock-block their parents. It’s in their genes.”
“Mama? Joel? I’m scared. Where are you?”
“Stay right there, Theo,” she called. “Mama’s coming up.”
He drew Ayesha down and kissed her forehead. “It’ll happen when it’s supposed to. Right now, we just have to hold back the urges until he’s okay again.”
She pressed her lips against his and kissed him in such a way that he pushed into her four more times before they, begrudgingly, separated.
“Are you coming to bed?” she asked.
“Yes.” He looked at his dick, firm and glistening. “In a . . . minute.”
“I wish I could help you.”
“Oh, me too.”
She fixed her clothes, headed for the stairs, and then called down to him that Theo had already gone back to sleep before she even walked into the room.
“Come on up,” she added. “Let me help you.”
He turned off the TV, went upstairs to their room, and she took his hands, pulling him to the bathroom. They wanted to make love. They desperately wanted to make love. But he didn’t have the heart to help Theo sleep in his own room yet. Once he did, he wouldn’t be able to walk in and see Theo cuddled up with Ayesha, them wrapped around each other, or wake up with Theo’s feet in his rib cage.
“Lock the door,” she whispered, but their voices couldn’t be heard above the exhaust fan.
He did as he was told.
She sat on the edge of the large tub, dragged his pajama pants back down, and had him in her mouth before he had a chance to blink.
“Shit, Eesh. Fuck. That’s good, baby. Just like . . .”
The way she worked him with her lips, tongue, and even slight grazes with her teeth—and with how much he wanted her—it didn’t take long before he was spilling down the back of her throat, teeth clenched to suppress a groan, her eyes locked with his the entire time. That eye-contact fucked with his head in ways he’d never be able to explain.
“Now that the edge is off,” she licked away a bit of moisture beaded at his tip, “how about we clean up and get ready for bed all over again?”
A little under an hour later, they were in bed, Theo between them. When his body registered their weight on the mattress, he woke up slightly and scooted over to Ayesha. Joel watched them, heart tugging.
“Mama, can I stay with Uncle Gio and Auntie Mo on the weekend?”
Ayesha’s eyes connected with Joel’s above Theo’s head. “Why’s that?” she asked.
“Uncle Gio’s building a swing set for Aleksi, and Auntie Mo said they need my help. And Josiah wants Uncle Gio to teach him M-M-A.”
“I could do that,” Joel offered. “I fight t—”
“But,” Ayesha cut in, “Giorgio can teach Josiah ‘on the weekend,’ and then Joel can teach him when we get back. Auntie Xara and Uncle Mike planned a special trip for your mama and Joel, but I wasn’t sure we’d be able to go.”
“Because of me?” Theo asked.
“No, baby. Something else.”
Theo yawned, twisted, and scooted over to Joel.
Joel wrapped him up and kissed his forehead. “Theo, are you sure you’re okay to spend the weekend with Uncle Gio and Auntie Mo?”
“Uncle Gio’s scary, so the man won’t hurt me. I perfer to be with you, but he needs my help. Aleksi’s too little to help.”
Joel gave Theo’s forehead another kiss. “You’re right. You are pretty helpful.”
Theo giggled, gripped Joel’s shirt with one hand, and drifted off to sleep without his fingers in his mouth.
“Are we really going somewhere?” Joel whispered.
Ayesha nodded. “Check your email.”
He grabbed his phone and opened an email from Xara that read, “Kiss and Make Up in Malmö.”
“I called Xara while I was cooking for advice because I didn’t know how I’d hurt you,” Ayesha confessed. “So, she and Mike did this.”
With Theo attached to him like a baby sloth, he couldn’t go to her, so he motioned for her to come closer. When she did, he interlocked their fingers.
“My shutting down wasn’t helpful in my first marriage, and it won’t be helpful for us going forward,” he said. “I’m not in the business of hurting you, Eesh. I don’t want to hurt you.”
She smiled. “We’ll make up in Malmö.”
“We’ll more than make up.” He kissed her fingers, the back of her hand. “I promise.”
* * *
Ayesha twisted her wedding band around her finger and stared at Theo sleeping almost on Joel’s chest, the two of them precious together. She and Joel would make love on this trip. No kids and a romantic getaway was a recipe for him being deep inside her all night—finally. But she didn’t want to make love to him with Curtis’ ring on her finger.
It had been years since she’d last taken it off, only to shower and have it cleaned. Joel had confessed something painful to her by telling her he was pretty certain Sydney was having the same baby he felt like she hadn’t wanted to have with him. It was only fair she did something painful as well if she wanted her relationship with Joel to progress.
She would have to move ahead.
Look to the future.
Take off her wedding ring.
She sighed, flipped onto her stomach, and reached across to slip her fingers between his. He squeezed her hand and mumbled, “Love you, Eesh,” without ever opening his eyes.
And the way her heart danced . . .
07: Let it “Snoh”
She nodded and faced the audience.
Lights were in her face.
Joel had come closer to the stage, and she could see him watching her, the long fingers on his right hand tapping those on his left. All he’d worn was a simple navy-blue shirt, a blazer, jeans, and brogue boots, and he was the best-looking and best-dressed man in the room.
The piano came in first, followed by the drums.
Ayesha took a deep breath, closed her eyes, and sang.