Authors: Anna Adams
Tags: #Contemporary, #Romance, #Fiction, #Forever Love, #Family Life, #Adultery, #Extranged Husband, #Her Sister Faith, #Brother-In-Law, #Car Accident, #Cheating Lovers, #Deceased, #Eigthteen Months, #Nephew, #Happy Family, #Family Drama, #Late Spouses, #Love Grows, #Emotional Angst, #Dear John Letter, #Paternity, #Charade, #Topsy-Turvy, #Conscience, #Second Chance
After searching for a tissue, Isabel continued, “And told Faith I never wanted to see her again, but I didn’t want them dead. Do you?”
“I’m not sure.” He wasn’t sure about anything. Faith had left a note before she’d driven away with Will. She’d claimed Will had turned to her for comfort because Isabel had rejected him. If not for Isabel, they’d never have grown close enough to fall in love.
Even if that was true, was their adultery really Isabel’s fault? Shouldn’t Will have fought for his marriage? Ben had known he and Faith had problems, but he’d never considered divorce.
Shutting Isabel’s door, he walked along the side of the car. His best friend had made love with his wife and created the baby who slept in a crib down the hall.
And Isabel had known. With a few words, she could take his son for her family. He imagined himself in her place, watching her mother fall apart, her father walk around like a monolith without emotion. And Tony could make them both better.
How could he trust her? Until he knew what she was going to do, he couldn’t let her out of his sight.
Right now, in my world, family is a fragile thing. Ironically, I’ve just finished a story with the same theme,
Another Woman’s Son.
The relationships in this novel are complex. Ben Jordan and Isabel Barker both knew they had problems in their marriages, but they had no idea they’d lost so much until all they had left was the small boy who binds them together. In the end, they discover that, along with the boy, they have a mutual talent to love and forgive and create a future.
As I wrote this book, I began to realize that loving and forgiving are the best gifts we can give our families, no matter how we grow or fracture or adapt. If a moment comes that requires everything we have to offer, love and forgiveness are good places to start.
I hope you’ll enjoy this story that remains with me still. I’d love to hear from you. E-mail me at [email protected]
896—HER DAUGHTER’S FATHER
959—THE MARRIAGE CONTRACT
1154—THE SECRET FATHER
1168—THE BRIDE RAN AWAY
1188—THE PRODIGAL COUSIN
1248—HER LITTLE SECRET
To the three I lost last week:
Edith Taylor Adams
I have many mothers, but you were the one who loved
me out of choice, from the day I met you. Thank you for
my husband and my “brothers,” for the you in Sarah’s hands
and Colin’s smart mouth and Jen’s ambition and Stevie’s
willingness to always try something new. The plan still goes—if
this thing with Steve doesn’t work out, you and I are always
Ma and daughter. I love you.
You were the sophisticate in our family. You plucked your
eyebrows and indulged in a bit of the grape, and I hear your
smoky laughter right now. I loved your stories so much, the
anticipation was more than half the fun. In fact, you were a
lot of the fun in my childhood. I’m missing you so.
I wish I’d known you better. I wish you hadn’t gone.
May peace find you and surround you,
and may you know you are beloved.
her face and blinked hard at the silver skeleton and black waterproof cloth of her umbrella. As long as she didn’t let the tears fall, she wasn’t crying.
She was a fraud. A widow who wanted to throw herself on her husband’s coffin, kicking and screaming—with rage. Each snowflake that smacked her umbrella was a drumbeat reiterating one word in her head.
Cheat. Cheat. Cheat.
She stared at the cheater’s casket. Snow decorated the improbably polished mahogany with white lace and mixed with the tears of the real mourners who clustered around Will’s open grave.
She wanted to scream the truth. Will had cheated on her. With her sister.
damn him—and damn Faith, too.
He and Faith had made a baby, despite the fact he’d always told Isabel he wasn’t ready for children. Faith and Will had been trying to run away with eighteen-month-old Tony the afternoon they’d died in a car crash. It was the only explanation for the
suitcases the police had found in the wreckage. Tony, miraculously safe in his car seat, couldn’t explain.
Isabel turned her face away from Will’s coffin, grateful that her nephew had survived. She couldn’t look at her parents or at Ben Jordan— Faith’s husband. Ben had also been Will’s best friend. And Isabel’s, too.
She hadn’t looked at her family this morning when she’d seethed and mourned at her sister’s service. Three months ago, after a day in the park with Tony, Isabel had asked Will again if he was ready for a child of their own. She’d tried to explain how much she longed for their baby. Instead of his usual “I’m too busy” excuses, he’d taken a deep breath and confessed to his affair with Faith.
Isabel had stared, disbelieving as the words flew like weapons. She’d begged him to say he was lying. He had promised he’d be faithful after an earlier affair at a time when their marriage had been young and troubled. She’d forgiven him then. He’d promised, after all.
And Faith—she’d never betray her own sister. Isabel lowered her head and pulled her umbrella closer to shut out the world. Fickle, beautiful, lucky Faith would never steal her little sister’s husband and then pass off his child as her own and Ben’s. She’d never ask Isabel to be godmother to her own husband’s out-of-wedlock son. Faith had flaws, but she wasn’t a monster.
A small groan escaped Isabel’s lips. Ben leaned toward her, his shoes creaking in the early January cold. She felt guilty and eased away from him. Three months ago, she’d left town without telling Ben what Will had told her. If he’d done the same, she wasn’t sure she could forgive him.
The minister lifted his hands. “Please bow your heads for a blessing.” He hadn’t strained himself with an extensive eulogy. Had the snow put him off? Or maybe Will, in a fit of regret, had confided in him, and he couldn’t do an adulterous man justice.
Isabel stared at her black pointy-toed shoes and refused to pray. She’d abandoned Ben because she’d made herself a fool for Will, and she couldn’t find courage or the words to admit how gullible and stupid she’d been. How straight-to-the-bone her husband’s infidelity cut her even now.
They’d married straight out of college, and she’d worked as a copywriter for an advertising agency while Will became known for the innovative textiles he’d manufactured. After two years of phenomenal success, he’d decided he didn’t want anyone to think his wife had to work. Isabel’s job ruined his image as a provider and a philanthropist.
From the moment she’d resigned, the power balance between them had shifted. Bored stiff in her empty home, she’d thrown herself into any volunteer opportunity.
Will had approved of all efforts that got their
names in the paper, but he’d badgered her for time she should have devoted to him. When she’d said she might be a coat on a hook that he took down the second he came home in the evening, he’d reflected on that first affair, said she’d driven him to find someone who loved him the way she’d promised to—for better, for worse.
To hide mistrust she’d never overcome, she’d tried harder to be the wife he wanted.
What an idiot she’d been. Humiliation nearly strangled her. She’d never be dependent again, never try to please a man as part of some twisted love ritual. She’d never live another lie.
From somewhere inside, laughter came. Inappropriate, hysterical laughter. Fine time to take back the reins of her own life.
She swallowed with effort. She didn’t need Will to tell her hysteria was unsuitable in a widow.
Ben must have thought she was choking. Taller by several inches, he looped his arm around her shoulders. She jumped. Once he knew what she’d kept from him, he’d never touch her again. He’d never trust her.
On her first day at the University of Virginia, Isabel had been carrying a mountain of clothes from her car to her dorm when she’d literally stumbled over Ben and Will repairing the VW bug they’d shared. They were already in their junior year.
Talk led to “chance” meetings that became dates
between her and Will. Always, Ben hovered at the edges, disappearing when appropriate, supportive when Isabel had feared Will might leave her for some other girl who’d thrown herself in his way. Will had been a flirt. A harmless one, Ben had always reassured her.
And then Ben had met Faith and they’d fallen in love, and the world had seemed perfect. Sisters who’d married best friends. Four best friends in all, who agreed to live in D.C.
Faith had discovered English Meadows, an “executive subdivision” of two-acre, green-beyond-belief estates in Hartsfield, Virginia. Ben and Isabel had tried to hold out against such a strong dose of well-to-do, covenant-laden suburbia. Big brick houses on small patches of grass.
Faith and Will had called them socialists in a capitalist world.
She glanced at Ben’s dark-clad legs, all she could see of him with her head down. Had he noticed Will and Faith’s stray looks of longing? Low-voiced conversations that only now seemed significant.
“Amen,” said the minister.
A few women cried out loud. One man coughed, trying to hide his grief. Most of these people knew she’d separated from Will. They shook hands with Ben, barely muttering condolences her way before they bolted for their warm vehicles.
A line of cars snaked down a slithery path that
marked the snow-covered road on the cemetery’s hill. Smoke rose behind gleaming black trunks, but distance and the brisk January wind buffered the engine sounds.
One woman seemed overwhelmed, trying to hide hushed sounds of anguish behind a white handkerchief. Another friend of Will’s? Isabel turned away from her and teetered over the snow to take her mother’s arm.
“Mom,” she said, unable to comfort her with more. Amelia Deaver turned into Isabel’s arms, burying a sob in her shoulder.
Her father caught her mom’s waist. “Amelia,” he said, his own voice husky. “Come on, honey. Let’s go back to the hotel.”
“Faith.” Isabel’s mother sobbed the name, and her pain finally made Isabel cry, too. She’d loved her sister. She would rather have fought her for Will than lost both of them. But she’d left, believing Will’s claim that he’d found his one true love in her sister.
“Mom, let’s go.” They had to endure the reception at the Fitzroy Hotel, a central location for friends and employees. She pushed her mother’s short wavy hair back. “You’re shivering. You’re going to get sick.” The men in coveralls, hovering beneath the bare branches of a tree about a hundred yards down the road, weighed on Isabel’s mind, too. She didn’t blame them for wanting to finish their job in this weather, but neither did she want to watch them.
“I’m sorry.” Her mother straightened, wiping her nose. “You’ve lost so much.”
Isabel hated deceiving her mom. “I guess numbness protects you,” she said. Three days had passed since the police had called.
“It won’t for long.” Amelia took her hand. “Where are your gloves, honey?”
Ben produced them from his pockets. “I found them on the ground beside the car,” he said, handing them back.
“Thanks.” Isabel took them without looking him in the eyes. “We’ll meet you at the hotel.” She glanced at her grieving mother. “Maybe you could bring Tony over to their hotel in the morning?”
“I wish you’d all stay at the house.” Ben cupped her mother’s elbow, and Amelia looked at Isabel’s father. “George,” Ben said, “don’t you think you and Amelia would be more comfortable at my house than in a hotel?”
“I don’t mind coming during the day, but I can’t face Faith’s things.” Amelia dissolved in fresh tears. “I have to be able to leave when it gets to be too much.”
“I was thinking of Tony,” Ben said. “He needs his family around him.”
“Is-a-bel.” Amelia stuttered over her name. “Why don’t you drive to the reception with Ben? Your things are still in your car, and he came with us. Afterward, you could stay at Ben’s until Tony’s better.”
After that horrible conversation with Will, Isabel had fled to Middleburg, three hours away in horse country, where she’d found a job in an even smaller ad agency than the one where she’d worked after college. Because of the blizzard that was finally subsiding, she’d arrived this morning, barely in time for Faith’s service.
But stay in her sister’s house? Where her husband had no doubt made love to Faith? “I can’t.”
“What?” Her father’s straight mouth turned down. “Ben’s right about Tony needing us.”
If Ben knew the truth about his son’s birth father, he’d never let one of the Deavers near his child again. And Isabel, riddled with regret, hardly trusted herself not to blurt the truth, if only to relieve her own suffering.
“Don’t make me—” She stopped as three pairs of eyes zeroed in on her. Her mother thought she should be more generous. Her father couldn’t understand her selfishness.
God alone knew what Ben thought.
“Helping Ben take care of Tony will ease your mind about Will and Faith,” her mother said. “Occupy your heart, sweetie.”
“Mom.” Her mother could be a little dramatic.
“I’d appreciate it.” Dignity covered Ben in armor. He wouldn’t cheat on his best friend. He’d never have looked at another woman. Even though
she hadn’t managed to fully trust her own husband, Isabel believed in Ben’s loyalty.
And she owed him because she’d kept Faith and Will’s secret.
“What?” her father said again. “No arguing?”
“You’re right.” She kissed her mother’s icy cheek.
“Thanks. I’ll feel better, knowing you’re with Tony.”
Isabel longed to see the baby, but she dreaded entering her sister’s house. “We’ll see you at the hotel.” She suspected they would try to leave as soon as they said hello, or they wouldn’t be shoving Ben into her car. She hugged her father. “Will you come to Ben’s in the morning?”
“Join us for breakfast, George.” Ben seconded her invitation.
“Sounds good.” Her father had eyes and concern only for her mom. He helped her over the slippery, uneven ground. His voice filtered back. “Maybe we shouldn’t have asked Isabel to go. She’s just lost her husband and her—”
“She lost Will three months ago,” her mother said, loud enough to crash like cymbals around Isabel’s head. “She began to mourn then.”
Were divorce and death one to her mother? Will hadn’t lived long enough to give her a divorce—or answers. Why—how—had he fallen in love with her sister?
She turned and finally looked at Ben, praying the truth wouldn’t scream from her face.
He stepped away, his hands behind his back, his feet grinding loose gravel that barely covered the frozen mud. “What do you know?”
His question tied her tongue.
“I’ve been waiting for you to show up since the accident.” Anger made his voice deeper, richer than she’d ever heard it. “Come on. I need the facts and you know them.”
“Facts?” Stunned, she marveled at the act he’d put on in front of her parents.
“Tell me the truth.”
“You must know.” Three months ago, she’d been just as upset as he was now.
“You did know.” He turned on his heel as if he didn’t dare keep her within arm’s reach. “You knew and you left without telling me.”
“Why did you think I left?” There was so much hurt in his too-straight back she yearned to comfort him. She couldn’t even offer a straight answer until she knew what he’d learned on his own. How could she be the one who told him the truth about Tony?
“You and I were friends.” He faced her again. “I loved you—and Will. You walked out of my life and Tony’s. You let me find out my wife had an affair with your husband.” His eyes glittered. She’d never seen Ben cry. “You let me stumble onto the fact that Tony doesn’t even belong to me.”
What a hypocrite she’d been, moaning about betrayal. Her umbrella tilted in her hand. “I’m sorry.”
“Who gives a damn about sorry?” Snow covered his black hair but melted on his face. Grief made him ugly.
“I thought I was dying for a while. I know I should have told you. I’d have felt betrayed if you’d left me living in a fake marriage, too, but I couldn’t find the words or the way to tell you.” His hard face didn’t soften. She started toward the car. “Faith was my sister.”
Ben pulled her to a stop. Her new black heels slid on the icy ground. She’d dressed to the teeth, and she intended to burn every stitch on her back as well as her purse and shoes. She was going to survive her husband’s lies without one reminder of this day.
“I’ll take you home so you can say goodbye to Tony.” He all but bared his teeth in a snarl. “But you and your parents are no longer welcome in my house.”
“I haven’t told them, either.”
“It’s a matter of time.”
“Stop manhandling me.” A scientist rather than a salesman like Will, Ben hadn’t perfected tact, but he’d never before carried a club. “If you keep us out of your house, people will notice something’s wrong. And Tony’s your son in all the ways that truly count.”
“You say that because you feel guilty. Eventually, you’ll realize you could raise your nephew. Do you think I don’t know how badly you want a child?”
“I wanted my husband’s child,” she said, feeling stupid and gullible again as she admitted it. “I thought I had a marriage.”