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The Client: A Second Chance Romance by Hazel Parker (1)

The Client

Arabella Wilder has a new client.

She makes her way to the new brewery in downtown Princeton. After spending the morning in her four-story townhouse with her three-year-old son and au pair from Barcelona, she’s ready to get back to work. She loves her baby boy, but she’s ready to jump back into her passion: setting up two strangers who will hopefully fall in love and live happily ever after.

The suburban winter is gray and chilly. Arabella looks up at the charcoal clouds fast approaching Palmer Square where the brewery and her new client awaits her. She smooths out her long blond hair that she hasn’t cut since she got pregnant four years ago.

Pushing open the glass double doors of the brewery, Arabella glimpses her reflection in the window and feels confident.

Arabella walks down the long gray hallway where a popular song, loud voices, and cool air greet her. She tells the young brunette hostess that she’s meeting Adam Smith. The hostess grabs a menu and gestures for Arabella to follow her through the narrow walkway between the packed tables to a booth in the back where a built man in a baseball cap sits hunched over a laptop.

Her new client.

Through his navy-blue blazer and white-collared shirt, she can tell from his build that he works out regularly. Maybe he’s a local heir ready for a commitment after looking for love in all the wrong places? Maybe he’s a Wall Street wizard ready for Mrs. Right after dating the entire New York City model scene? Arabella’s heart races at the challenge of matching a wealthy playboy with the love of his life. He just needs an ambitious, smart woman who won’t let him walk all over her.

“Mr. Smith?” Arabella looks at the top of the navy-blue baseball cap with a cream-colored letter G on it. She wonders what the G stands for: a university? A boarding school? A private hedge-fund?

She’s sure that Adam Smith isn’t his name. Her billionaire clients prefer to remain anonymous until they meet her and vet her. They want to avoid any leakage to the press that they’ve resorted to matchmaking to find the one.

As the cream G disappears and a slightly tanned face appears, Arabella inhales sharply. Those hazel eyes that turn green in the sun, those two dimples, that self-satisfied smile. She is very familiar with this face.

“Corbin Goode!” She’s frozen, standing beside the table.

Corbin thanks the hostess who quickly retreats back to her post. Arabella remains standing beside the booth. The shock of seeing Corbin after avoiding him for four years leaves her frozen. Her blood runs cold. Her heart pounds in her ears.

While she didn’t outright ghost him, she did break up with him rather abruptly during an unseasonably cold February. She remembers her breath forming white clouds as she breathed out the frigid air trying to gather the courage to break up with the most eligible bachelor in New York City. Looking back, she wonders if she made the right decision. Standing before him now, she can’t help but second guess her younger self.

“Arabella Wilder.” He grins, and a stream of memories flood her.

She remembers the twinkle he got in his eyes just before his soft lips kissed hers for the first time on a snowy winter night five years ago beneath a street light in the Meatpacking District. He hailed a black cab for her. She stood in the open door of the car with her face tilted up to the unbelievably gorgeous man she had just danced the night away with. She remembers the surprisingly smoothness of his hands as he caressed her face. She remembers his scent: a mixture of men’s cologne, that new-clothes fragrance, and masculinity. Her body warms at the memories of their year of making love. Her body misses his.

She wants to stay, and she wants to go.

She wants to hug him, and she wants to run from him.

She stands frozen with indecision and growing regret.

Why did she break up with him?

“What’re you doing here?” She feels foolish staring at him. She feels guilty about breaking up with him after an amazing year of fun and passion. She feels like she owes him an explanation, but she can’t possibly tell him the truth.

“What are you drinking?” He smiles his I’m-a-good-guy-who-happens-to-be-hot smile.

“I’m not. I’m meeting a client.” She looks at his hand gesturing for her to have a seat in the booth beside him. A memory of him sitting in a booth in a steakhouse in midtown flashes through her mind. He was wearing a tuxedo. She was wearing a long white dress. They were attending the fundraiser of a scholarship foundation to help underprivileged students attend college. He pulled her into his arms in the booth and kissed her neck. Goosebumps run up her arms at the thought of his lips on her skin. She hopes he doesn’t notice.

“What’re you drinking?” He motions to the server who appears instantly.

“I’m not.” She shifts from one high heel to the other, trying to decide how to bow out gracefully.

“Two vodka tonics.” He says to the young brunette dressed in a tight black t-shirt and black pants. She nods and hurries off through the crowd.

“I’m not drinking. I’m working.” Arabella glances around the bar and back at his amused hazel eyes at her discomfort.

“Please, have a seat.” His smile takes on a hint of shyness. “I haven’t seen you in years.”

Arabella looks at his open palm and remembers the feel of his hand on her face when he kissed her tenderly so many days and nights. She remembers the warmth of his hands caressing her cheek, her neck, her back. She breathes deeply to focus on the moment.

She cannot flirt or fall back into the pattern of fun and sex with Corbin again.

Never mind that he was the best sex she ever had.

Never mind that he’s the father of her son.

He can’t find out.

Ever.

After everything he’s been through she promised herself that she would never become one of those gold-digging women, so she disappeared.

“Corbin,” she slides into the cool leather booth and leaves ample space between them. “I’m sorry for your loss.”

“Thank you.” He takes the cool glasses of vodka tonic from the server. “Hungry?”

“No, thanks.” Arabella reaches for the straw and stirs the ice. The sound of the ice clinking against the glass keeps her in the moment.

She has a lifetime of things to say to Corbin. But, she swore that she’d never entangle him in her complicated life. A life that became complicated four years ago when they ran out of condoms the winter night of their one-year anniversary. It was snowing. The fireplace in his place was blazing. The scent of a fire and his sweat intoxicated her. They decided to keep having sex. She was on birth control. He was clean. She succumbed to the false belief that since she had never gotten pregnant before, she probably wouldn’t get pregnant the one time they went bare. She sighs at her faulty logic.

Corbin sends the server off through the after-work crowd of suits, collared shirts, and expensive leather. A popular song comes on and a group of college girls at the end of the bar squeal, throw their hands up, and begin to dance. Arabella smiles at the scene. A few years ago, she and her best friends—Sasha, Nora, and Audrey—would have been that group of girls dancing and singing and drinking at the bar. Now, her good friends are scattered throughout the world building their careers. They text and call each other to keep in touch.

“I don’t have time for a date.”

“I’m not asking you out.”

His amused eyes take in her sleeveless form-fitting cream-colored dress that stops just above her knees. Arabella likes to wear shades of white when meeting her clients to send subliminal messages of matrimony to them. She’s not sure of the science behind her technique, but all of her clients have gotten married. She doesn’t want to mess with process even if it is a tad superstitious.

“I’m meeting my client.” She sits up straight and scans the bar. She wants to believe that one of the men at the bar will disengage from his conversation and walk over to their booth and introduce himself as Adam Smith. She sips her drink. The cool liquid calms her nerves. She wishes she had the courage to face him.

“I’m your client.” Corbin’s signature self-assured grin spreads across his face. Arabella’s heart warms to his smile.

“I don’t have time for games, Corbin. What do you want?” She doesn’t want to be cruel. But she doesn’t want to prolong the uncomfortable meeting. Awkward for her at least; perhaps not for him.

She sips her drink again. She wants to run the glass across her forehead to calm herself down, but she doesn’t want to mess up her makeup. She hasn’t put on a full face in years. All those years she spent at home with her baby boy it just wasn’t a priority.

She starts to smile at the thought of her son running to the door with open arms when she gets home. She looks into Corbin’s eyes and sees him watching her, intently. She suppresses the smile.

“What do I want? Is Arabella Wilder really asking me that question?”

She blushes at the acknowledgment of the irony of the question. She remembers sitting beside Corbin in a crowded, trendy beer garden. She remembers leaning towards him to be heard over the happy hour crowd. She remembers his thigh muscle tensing against hers when she said that she couldn’t date him anymore because she needed to get serious about her life. She remembers the range of emotions that flashed across his face: shock, confusion, sadness. Corbin wore an unfamiliar smile. It was hurt and embarrassed and resentful.

It was the resentment that upset her the most.

He was the most happy-go-lucky guy she had ever dated. She didn’t want to cause him any acrimonious feelings. She reached to touch his days-old beard. He leaned back from her hand as if her touch would sting him. She felt a sharp pain in her gut at the reality that she wouldn’t be able to touch him whenever or wherever she wanted to again. She could barely watch him struggle with all of the feelings dancing across his face that she was causing him with her words.

Then he smiled. It was a self-protective smile. A smile that said, I-won’t-let-you-hurt-me or I’m-already-over-you. She wanted to explore his feelings, but she knew that she already lost that right the moment she told him it was over.

“What do you want from me?” Arabella quickly regrets her choice of words.

This isn’t going well at all. She doesn’t want to open up Pandora’s Box and unleash the range of feelings that she managed to stuff down into the recesses of her mind the day she walked away from Corbin T. Goode. He’s from such a good family. His family is in oil and gas. They all went to elite New England boarding schools and Ivy League colleges.

Corbin is great—on paper. Her parents’ dream union. But, four years ago Arabella wasn’t ready for the alignment of old-moneyed families. She wasn’t ready for a shotgun wedding. Not that her parents would’ve need a shotgun to get Corbin to marry her. Not that she would know. She didn’t think he was ready. She never asked.

Arabella cried for months. She buried her love for him in the busy work of preparing to give birth to her baby. Their baby—in secret.

She’s afraid of what he’ll say to her if he finds out the truth. Will he be angry? Sad? Cruel or vindictive?

“I want love.” Corbin’s words suck the air out of her lungs.

She blinks rapidly. Is he asking her to love him again?

Now, after four years have passed?

Is she ready to let herself love him again?

“I mean, I want you to help me find love.” He studies her face beneath the bright lights in the busy bar. The air conditioner blows wisps of blond hair into her eyes. Her manicured fingers brush the hair away.

“Why me?”

“Because you’re the best.”

Her heart skips at the compliment. She’s at a loss of words. This never happens to her. She usually guides her clients through a list of questions. But, sitting across from the only man she ever truly loved, she is speechless.

“How?”

“I’ve seen your show.” They laugh together.

She’s embarrassed at the small amount of fame she acquired from her cable matchmaking show. She’s known as the Billionaire Matchmaker. The title is a play on her own billionaire-heiress status. Her family made its fortune in international shipping. She’s lucky enough to pursue the life she wants.

In college, she started fixing up high profile-friends with career-minded college friends. Then her reputation and business took off. After graduation, she got a cable TV show where she fixed up billionaires with career women who could hold their own in the presence of ambitious men.

“Remember that guy who took his best friend on his date? She was so pissed off.” He laughs.

Arabella shakes her head. She remembers that client. He was in his late twenties, balding, and refused to go anywhere without his assistant—a tall, slender model. Even though Arabella asked her client if he was in a relationship with his assistant, he always denied it. But, after the first date where he brought the model to dinner and dancing with the lawyer-with-a-heart-of-gold, Arabella cut her ties with him.

“Whatever happened to that guy?” Corbin sips his vodka tonic. He rests his forearms on the cherry wood table and looks straight into Arabella’s eyes.

“I have no idea.”

“You didn’t follow up with him?” His eyebrows raise.

“After I cut ties, I don’t look back.” She instantly regrets her choice of words.

“Don’t I know it.” He leans back in the booth, folds his arms across his muscular chest, and examines her. “Arabella, why did you break up with me?” He asks softly.

She glances over his navy-blue blazer with gold buttons, white collared shirt, and khaki pants. At first glance, he looks like every other preppy guy who went to the prestigious Chevalier Boarding School in Princeton. If her parents had known she was dating Corbin T. Goode, they would have met with his parents and compelled him to marry her when they found out that she was pregnant. But, she refused to tell them who the father of her son was. Tragically, her parents died in an airplane accident nine months after her son was born.

Arabella remembers getting the call and then reading in the papers the morning after: that her dad’s beloved red-and-white Piper Saratoga IV single engine with the tail modified to a “T” disappeared off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard Airport. She remembers the gut-wrenching grief she cried as she held her baby. She knew in her heart that her parents would not survive. The news covered the planes disappearance: first, the Federal Aviation Administration reported that her dad’s plane failed to arrive in Bridgeport, Connecticut; then, the U.S. Coast Guard launched their search and rescue operation; two days later, fragments of the Piper Saratoga IV were found in bits and pieces on the Atlantic Ocean floor. Arabella cried for days. Her only reason to get out of bed was her son. She lived for him. She fed him, bathed him, soothed him. He saved her. Without her baby boy, she would’ve never got through it.

Aware that she’s been staring at Corbin for a beat too long, Arabella clears her throat. She thinks about telling him the truth—the whole truth. But she dismisses that thought quickly.

She can’t. Can she?

She wonders if telling him the whole truth is a good idea. She doesn’t want to hurt him anymore. She wants to help him find love. Even if it’s not with her. She takes a sip of her drink stalling. Corbin continues to watch her in the silent speculation of a guarded, yet hopeful, man.

“It was bad timing.” She finishes the glass of water in front of her and scans the bar for the server, not interested in the vodka.

Corbin looks around and waves for the brunette to bring them another.

“Bad timing for what?”

“I wasn’t ready for anything serious.”

“Were we serious?”

“We dated for a year.”

“Were we dating?” A smile curls his lips. She can see him going over the many nights of steamy love-making at his place, at her place, at hotels throughout the city.

“Seeing each other.” Arabella takes the cold glass from the server, thanks her, and gulps it down. She’s given up trying to appear cool. Her nerves are unraveling. All of the sadness that she thought she had cried out over leaving Corbin was threatening to well up and send her into the ugly-cry. She exhales. She tries to find a way out of this conversation.

“Were we seeing each other?” He asks playfully. He enjoys her discomfort.

“You know what I mean.”

“No, I don’t. What do you mean, Arabella?”

“I mean, we dated for a year—”

“Did we date?” He interrupts her.

“What would you call it?” She raises her eyebrows. She doesn’t like being on the defense. She wants him to stop his interrogation. She wants to leave this booth. But, she doesn’t want to leave Corbin’s side. She misses sitting near him, looking into his hazel eyes, and bantering with him.

“We were kicking it.”

“Is it the nineties now?” She leans back in the booth in an attempt to compose herself.

“Sure.” He grins. “Do you remember how we met?”

“How could I forget.” She smiles in spite of herself.

“The Anti-Valentine’s Day dance.” He laughs. “You wore a little black dress.”

“You wore a tuxedo. Why?” She shakes her head.

“I was being ironic.” He smiles sheepishly.

“We danced all night.”

“More like bumping and grinding.” He laughs.

“You walked me to my taxi.”

“And kissed you good night.”

“You tried to go home with me.” She shakes her head.

“Hey, I had to try. You were hot.” His eyes rake over her dress. “Are hot.”

The light banter turns heated and Arabella blushes. She wants to take control of the conversation. Her good manners tell her to just say thank you. Her reluctance to flirt with him tells her to keep quiet. But, she doesn’t want to be rude.

“Thanks.” She looks down at her drink and twirls it on the coaster.

“Not drinking?” He nods at her drink.

“Not much.”

“Why not?”

“I stopped a few years ago. Never picked it up again.”

“Why?”

Because I had your baby. The words choke her throat. She gulps down her water and then chews on an ice cube.

“Why’re you avoiding my questions?” He leans both elbows on the table. Then leans towards her and says in a conspiratorial whisper, “Tell me, Arabella, is now a good time?”

Her heart stops.

She cannot believe that after all these years, Corbin T. Goode is hinting at a second chance. Her mouth drops open. She always hoped in the back of her mind when she was up late or early with her baby that Corbin would come knocking on her door one rainy night and take her in his arms. But, he never reached out to her. Never called. Never messaged her. And why would he? Until today, she thought that he had deleted her from his life.

“I’m not sure.” She closes her mouth and swallows her nervous. Her heart beats so quickly that she has to lean towards Corbin to hear him over the music and college girls singing and loud bar conversations.

“How will you know?” He coyly asks as Whitney Houston’s hit song How Will I Know begins, and the girls at the bar sing along.

They smile at the pun. Their eyes lock in mutual admiration. She feels the rekindling of the camaraderie and attraction and love.

Was it love?

Is it love?

Arabella must put an end to this walk down memory lane before she finds herself telling Corbin everything.

“I guess, I’m waiting to make sure I know how I feel.”

“And how do you feel?” He leans closer to her, closing the space between them. His tone is light and playful. His eyes are earnest and hopeful. She knows him well enough to know that beneath his nonchalant exterior, lies a volcano of emotions. His pupils darken. He wants her. She wants him. But, she must resist him.

“I feel like...I would be able to find the right woman for you.”

He leans back into the booth and looks disappointed in her answer. He reaches for his drink and downs the rest. He waves for the server to bring him another.

“Okay, Arabella. This is how you want to play it?”

“Corbin, you called me to be your matchmaker.”

“You think you can find the right woman for me?” His eyes peer into her heart.

She feels like he can see her dilemma. He can read her face, but he can’t figure out the why behind her words.

“I know I can.” Arabella sits up straight. She loves a good challenge. “Can I ask a few questions?”

He nods.

She reaches for her bag and takes out a manila folder with the name Adam Smith on the tab. She opens it, glances over a sheet of paper, and then looks up at Corbin.

“So, you spend your time around the most beautiful women in the world—”

“Used to.”

Her eyes dart from his left to his right eye. She searches for sincerity.

“Used to?” She can’t help but wonder when did Corbin Goode stop being a bad boy?

“After Dana died in the car accident—”

“I’m sorry for your loss.” She blinks back tears threatening to well up.

“Thanks.” He clears his throat.

They share a moment of grief. She looks down at her paper and asks the next question.

“Why now?”

He looks away at a TV screen where a music video is playing. The Pop Princess is dancing on a deserted beach near clear blue waters. She looks seductive and happy. On the bottom of the screen flashes the news caption: We miss you, Princess.

“I’m ready. I haven’t had any girlfriends since Dana passed.” He pauses. “The only girl in my life is my daughter, Chloe.”

“You haven’t dated anyone?”

He shakes his head.

“It could be awkward because I keep memorabilia and photos of Dana in the house to keep her memory alive for Chloe… It’s difficult to find the balance between keeping enough in the house to remind Chloe of who her mom was yet limiting it to where I can move on and try to find love again.”

Arabella stares at Corbin. She is moved by his honesty. When she dated him, he was honest with her. But, she always assumed that he was dating other women when she went away some weekends with her girls. He was known for dating supermodels and divas and celebrities. She always wondered why he dated her. Not that she had low self-esteem. She was just aware of her status in life: she was the heir to the Wilder fortune. Her family’s shipping business generates hundreds of millions of dollars in international sales. While in the future she thought that Corbin would make a great candidate, at twenty-one, she never thought of him as a long-term boyfriend. She never thought that he thought of her as a long-term girlfriend either. He was a confirmed bachelor at twenty-five.

Now, she’s twenty-five, and he’s twenty-nine.

She considers that maybe she was wrong.

“What do you think Dana would tell me if she knew that you hired me?” Arabella reads the question from a list titled, What to ask a widowed client.

“I think she would tell you to do it. She wanted me to be happy.”

“I think that Dana would be happy that you’re looking for love. I saw your wedding photos.”

“Oh yeah?” He smiles with a hint of sadness.

“Not going to lie. I looked up the photos online. They’re beautiful. She loved you. She would want you to be happy.”

They look at each other in another moment of silence filled with questions unasked. Both wait for the other to say something first. They’re aware of each other’s pregnant silence. Each dare not speak first and break the spell of the moment.

Arabella clears her throat.

“Remind me how long has it been since Dana passed?”

“Um, it’s been two years, four months.”

“How old is Chloe?”

“She’ll be 4 in December.”

“Wow. Corbin T. Goode with a baby girl. That’s awesome.”

“You ever think of having children?”

Arabella’s eyes grow wide. She did everything in her power to keep her baby a secret. She nursed him at her parents’ Greenwich home, even after they died. She hired the au pair and who tagged along when she was shooting for her show in New York City and Jersey City and Atlanta.

“Or are you waiting to be sure?” He winks at her, letting her off the hook.

“You got me there.” She takes in another ice cube and crunches on it, grateful to have something to do with her mouth other than talk. She looks at her paper and dreads this next part of her job. The home examination. The last thing she wants to do is enter his home and see how he lives and meet his daughter. A little girl named Chloe whom Arabella would love to introduce to Tucker so that he’d have a playmate.

“So, I also looked up your home.”

He laughs.

“And I see that you have a lot of photos and artifacts from Dana’s career. Do you feel like you have so much of the Princess of Pop’s presence that a woman couldn’t walk into your home and see herself there?”

“Well, no. I think that, um, I owe my daughter the presence of her mom in the house. I also have a legal responsibility to the estate to keep Dana’s image alive.”

“Would it be possible to see your home?”

“Now?”

“If you want. I like to do home visits to see how my clients are living.”

“Why?”

“I want to see if you’re living in the past.”

“Are you living in the past?”

The direct question sends Arabella back to the past. She’s sitting on the toilet in her bathroom holding a pregnancy test in her hand. Two pink lines appear in the window. She’s staring at the test and willing the second pink line to disappear. She tells her cell phone to call her friend Nora. Nora Thomas—corporate lawyer. She’s practical, logical, and orderly. Arabella needed Nora to talk her into an abortion. Arabella remembers the conversation went very differently from how she expected:

“Nora, I’m pregnant.”

“Excuse me?” Nora says something to someone and then comes back on the line. “It’s nine on a Monday morning. There’s only so much shock I can take this early in the week.”

“I don’t have time for jokes. I’m freaking out.”

“Who’s is it?”

“Rick’s.”

“Who’s Rick?”

“You know, Humphrey Bogart.”

“Ohmygosh, you watch too much TV. Rick’s Cafe guy?”

“Yes.”

“Why not say his name?”

“Because, we’ve only been dating a year and I don’t want to name his name.”

“A year is a good amount of time.”

“I’m only twenty-one.”

“He’s, what?”

“Twenty-five.”

“Maybe he’s ready to settle down.”

“He’s got a yacht and a private island that he parties on regularly.”

“And you know this…”

“Because I’ve been there with him. And he’s there, now.”

“Without you.”

“Mmmm hmmm.”

“So, he likes to party. So do you.”

“Yeah, but I’m not off having random sex with strangers.”

“Is he?”

“I’m assuming he is.”

“You two aren’t exclusive?”

“No.”

“Do you want to be?”

Arabella stared at the pregnancy stick. She couldn’t bring herself to say yes.

“That’s a yes. You’re such a commitment-phobe.”

“I’m twenty-one!”

“So is Whitney and she’s been with her boyfriend since boarding school.”

“Whitney’s an aberration.”

“Sasha’s been with her boyfriend for a year.”

“Really?”

“Well, on and off. But, time adds up. Hold on.” Nora said something to someone. “Listen, I can’t talk for too long. I’m due in court in a few hours.”

“Anything interesting?”

“Some man is claiming that our pharma-client’s drugs made him suicidal.”

“Did it?”

“Immaterial. The question is whether he can afford to prove it before his money runs out.”

“Oh, Nora!”

“Arabella. Did you call me to have a conversation on ethics?”

“Well, yes. I mean, is it ethical for me to...get rid of the baby?”

“How long have you been pregnant?”

“Um, we conceived four weeks ago.”

“How do you know?”

“We ran out of condoms and went bare—”

“Arabella!”

“I know. I know. It was stupid.”

“Yes—”

“It was the only time.”

“Once is enough.”

“I know! Nora, I don’t need a lecture right now.”

“Sorry.”

“I just need your support.”

“Whatever you decide. I’m here for you, girl.”

“Thanks.”

“Love you girl. I gotta go.”

“Love you too. Call me later.”

“Will do.”

The phone clicked off. Nora never says goodbye. She doesn’t like the finality of it. She prefers to end the conversation with love.

She looks at Corbin. “Maybe I am living in the past.”

“Look at that. Miss Wilder answers a question finally.”

“So, how about that home visit?” She gathers her papers and closes the manila folder. She takes out a pen, strikes out the name, Adam Smith, and writes Corbin Goode above it.

“Don’t forget the T.”

“Right.” She adds his middle initial T.  Then she stashes the folder in her bag. She looks around for the server to settle the bill.

“I’ve got it.” Corbin waves to the server who seems to keep an eye on their table all the time. She appears instantly and hands a black check-holder to him. Smoothly, Corbin places some cash inside of it, closes it, and hands it back to the server. “No change.”

“Thank you, Mr. Goode.” She smiles and scurries away.

“She knows your name.” Arabella slides out of the booth and stands up on shaky legs.

“Everybody knows my name.” He gives a self-effacing smile that takes Arabella off guard. She finds that she can’t predict this new Corbin. She doesn’t know what he’ll say, what he’ll do.

She manages a weak smile in return. She spies the exit in the distance. First, she has to maneuver her way through the lively crowd in various stages of intoxication.

“Follow me.” Out of habit, Corbin takes Arabella’s hand and leads her through the after-work crowd.

Following closely behind him, she can smell his cologne and clean clothes scent. She can see him popping the labels off his non-iron dress shirt like he did the year they were together. He never laundered his clothes. They simply disappeared from the floor the next morning. He never went shopping either. His clothes simply appeared in his closet. She marveled at the easy life his money afforded him. Not that her life isn’t as easy. But, she does re-wear her clothes and sends them out to the dry cleaners. Her parents made her make her own bed. They didn’t want her to grow up spoiled and useless. She tells Tucker to make his own bed. She wonders if Corbin will supply Chloe with an endless closet of new clothes.

Inhaling Corbin’s cologne, holding his strong warm hand, Arabella feels the deep-down clench of her muscles. The old feeling of desire and anticipation make her cheeks flush. She tells herself that he’s just being a gentleman. She tells herself that her body’s just reacting to the memory of all those days and nights they spent together. She looks up at the waves of dark brown hair escaping out of the back of his baseball cap. She’s surprised that he still lets his hair grow long. She suppresses the urge to reach up, take off his cap, and tousle his hair. Her hands ache to touch him. She misses the way he took command. She always liked his decisiveness.

The crowd thickens in the waiting area. The lights are dimmed. Roaring conversations and loud music fill the cool air. Corbin looks back at Arabella and smiles darkly. Then he turns, takes her in his arms, and they are dancing to an up-tempo pop song.

“Oh!” Arabella says in surprise as he presses her body to his and they dance through the drunk crowd.

His muscular body presses her torso to his. His pelvis moves against hers. They step to the beat of the music through the crowd. Arabella feels warm. Her pulse quickens. She follows his lead. She can’t believe that they’re dancing.

Breathing in Corbin’s masculine scent, Arabella allows him to guide her through the crowd to the long hallway that leads out onto Palmer Square. Dancing into the chilly winter air, away from the loud music and warm crowd, Arabella feels light-headed from being so close to Corbin’s body.

They stand beside each other just outside of the bar-restaurant’s double glass doors. Her heart beats loudly in her ears.

Suddenly, a bike messenger zooms down the sidewalk, almost crashing into them. Corbin pulls Arabella close to his body. He steps back against the double doors. His arms hold her so tightly against him that she can feel the bulge in his pants. She can’t breathe. She needs to separate from him. But, she doesn’t want to. She looks up at his face in wonder. How is it, after all these years that her body still responds to his?

“Off the sidewalk!” Corbin yells at the messenger.

“My bad!” The cyclist swerves back into the street and waves to them as he zooms down the street.

“What the—” Arabella shakes her head.

“You okay?” Corbin’s face is so close to hers that she feels his warm breath on her forehead. Both of his arms are wrapped around her, clutching her tightly. Her arms hang awkwardly at her sides.

He loosens his hold on her and brushes her bangs out of her eyes. He smoothes her hair and stares into her eyes.

Arabella is sure that Corbin can feel her heart beating through her chest. She can barely hear him through the roar of blood in her ears. His eyes are nervous, eager, and uncertain. She feels his desire growing in his pants. She feels her body clench deep down in reaction to his erection. It’s been so long since she’s stood this close to a man, since she’s been held in a man’s arms. She wants it to last and last. But, she clears her throat and steps away. His hands fall from her body.

“Yeah. Thanks.” She whispers. Instantly, she misses the feel of his body pressed against hers. But, she reminds herself that she’s here to do a job. She’s here to fix Corbin up with the future Mrs. Corbin. She’s not here to rekindle an old romance.

But, staring into his now green eyes in the winter sunlight, she finds herself glancing down at his pink, full lips. She wants him to kiss her even more than she wanted him to kiss her that first night on Valentine’s Day five years ago.

He meets her searing stare for seconds or minutes or what feels like forever. She shivers.

“You cold?” He notices her lack of winter coat. “Where’s your jacket?”

“I don’t wear one.”

“Why not?” He frowns and drapes his wool coat on her shoulders. She hadn’t noticed him carrying it before. She was too caught up in the feel of his hand and his body against hers.

“I live nearby?”

“Where?” He scans Palmer Square, the gray cement streets bordering the once green squares of grass, the beige sidewalks meeting at right angles in front of red-bricked shops and white-painted window-panes. Their view from the restaurant takes in a statue of a green lion in repose on a pedestal. Beyond the statue are low barren shrubs, empty rows where flowers will bloom in a few months, and low black chain-link fences to keep the dogs off the once green lawns.

Arabella imagines the barren trees growing sensuously towards each other. She imagines their branches reaching for each other as if in an infinitesimally slow dance or a never-ending embrace. She can almost smell spring coming.

“Across the square in a townhouse.”

“Maybe you can show me sometime.”

Her heart stops at the thought of showing Corbin her home.

Never.

He would see Tucker’s toy trucks and cars and blocks scattered on the hardwood floor. Even if her au pair managed to clean up the toys and keep Tucker in his nursery, the pictures of Tucker and Arabella on a yacht in the Caribbean, on a helicopter over the Grand Canyon, and on a cruise ship headed to Alaska would give her secret away.

“Maybe.” She decides that delaying giving Corbin an answer is the closest she can get to not lying. She never wants to show Corbin her home. How would he feel knowing that she had his baby and never told him?

“I parked by the library.” Corbin gestures to the walkway that passes the renowned ice cream shops and quaint boutiques. Walking along red brick pathways, they cross at the crosswalk, walk around the many windows of the Princeton Public Library, and enter the parking lot.

He stops to pay for parking at an automated machine. Arabella marvels at how much cheaper the hourly rate is compared to the hourly rate in New York City parking garages. Corbin puts his arm around her waist and motions for her to follow him.

“This isn’t necessary.” She stiffens at his touch of his hand on her back. Afraid of how much she likes it.

“I don’t want anyone running into my matchmaker.” He smiles sardonically at her.

“Thanks.” She walks rigidly. But, she wants him to slide his hand down to her bottom like he used to do and grab it. But, he keeps his hand at an appropriate resting point. She’s both relieved and annoyed at him for being such a gentleman.

Was he always so...nice?

Maybe?

They stop at a black car that looks like a 911 Porsche, except it has two white stripes running up the hood.

“Nice.” Arabella can’t help but admire the car.

“Thanks.” As Corbin’s boyish grin spreads across his face. He opens the passenger door for her. She dips into the all black leather interior. It has a new car scent.

When he gets in on the driver’s side and pushes a button to start the engine, she asks:

“Is it new?”

“It’s on loan.”

“Loan?”

“Buckle up, Miss Wilder.” He nods at her seatbelt. She clicks it. He nods in approval. “I’m a member of an exotic electric car rental club.”

“How often do you get a new car?”

“As often as I want.” He turns on the radio, and an angelic woman’s voice accompanied with strings and light piano fills the car.

“I love Enya.” She looks over at Corbin in surprise as he pulls back the shade on the sunroof. A dusting of snow covers the roof.

“Why’re you looking at me like that?”

“I don’t recall you listening to Enya.”

“There’s a lot about me you don’t know, Miss Wilder.”

“Why’re you calling me Miss Wilder?”

“Because I’m your client, right?” His sardonic smile returns.

“Right. Mr. Goode.” She feels giddy and edgy. She knows she shouldn’t flirt with him. But, she likes it when he flirts with her. She hopes he’ll continue. She hopes he’ll stop. Her stomach knots up at the contradictions between what she thinks she should do and what she wants to do.

He steers the car out of the parking garage and out onto the local streets of downtown Princeton. Arabella looks at the children bundled up in winter coats. She notices the teenagers and college kids in light jackets and flip-flops. She marvels at their ability to stay warm in the cold. She sees mothers jogging while pushing strollers visiting.

Immediately, she sees herself jogging in designer leggings and windbreaker, pushing an athletic stroller, and glancing lovingly at her husband—Corbin. He probably still jogs, given the excellent shape he’s in. She remembers he used to practice capoeira and jiu-jitsu. Glancing over his athletic physique, she thinks that he probably still does.

Arabella’s eyes wander over to Corbin’s profile, down his chest, and back up to his eyes.

“Yes?” He asks with the same sardonic smile.

“I hope you don’t think anything’s going to happen at your house,” Arabella says without thinking and immediately regrets it.

“Miss Wilder, I’m a gentleman. Remember?”

“Hmmm,” she does remember. She remembers how he used to ask her permission to kiss her, to touch her, to make love to her. He said that he wanted her consent each step of the way. She thought it was hot. He never asked in an uncertain way. He was always confident that she’d say yes. He almost dared her to say no and to sleep with her untouched in his bed. She did once. She remembers fighting the urge to masturbate in bed while he slept beside her. She finally gave into the urge. He punished her for it in the most delicious way.

“What’re you smiling at?”

“Nothing, Mr. Goode.”

“You’re a bad liar.”

“Fine. I’d rather not say.”

“Why?”

“It’s personal.”

He broke out in a roar of laughter. The sound of his deep voice resonated through the car. It shot through her body. Blood coursed through her veins and ran straight to her heart and between her legs. She exhaled sharply. She wasn’t ready for the physical reaction to his laugh. They used to laugh together all the time.

“Why’re you laughing?”

“Because I know you.”

“You do not.” She sits up straight in protest. Her breasts strain against the seatbelt.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” He glances sharply over at her and at her chest, then back at the road.

“I mean, do we ever really know someone?” She leans into the seatbelt.

“We know what they show us… What happened to the romantic I met years ago?”

“Romantic?” She shakes her head. “You must have me confused with another woman. We met at an anti-Valentine’s Day party.”

“Ouch. I remember... I remember everything.”

The word everything hangs in the air like a dare.

She wants to ask him what else he remembers. But this question could lead to a slippery-slope of feelings. Feelings better left locked in a trunk in the attic of her mind. She breathes in his cologne in the small space of the sports car. She wants to get out and run.

“How much further?”

“Tired of me, already?” His voice sounds hurt.

“No!” She answers too quickly, too emphatically. “I am just eager to get match making.”

“Just a few more minutes.”

Inside, Arabella is a bundle of contradictions. She hopes that Corbin sits her down on his couch and confesses his love for her. She hopes that she has the courage to confess that she’s always loved him. But, the fear of what if rears its ugly head. What if he gets mad when she tells him that she had his child and kept it a secret for almost four years? What if he sues her for...for estrangement? She isn’t sure what he could sue her for, but he’s rich, and maybe he could find something? Intentional infliction of emotional distress?

She remembers Nora telling her about a case where a plaintiff sued another one of big pharma clients for intentional infliction of emotional distress. She doesn’t remember what their argument was. But, Nora won. She always won. She was scary in the court. Lawyers feared her. She was a modern Medea, out for revenge against a scorned lover. Except, Nora’s revenge extended to all parties she deemed weak who allowed themselves to be taken advantage of by big pharma companies. She had no sympathy for the wounded. Arabella always wondered who hurt Nora. But, she never asked.

Corbin expertly drives the car onto a long driveway with a high black wrought iron fence. He stops at a keypad and punches a few numbers in. Then the gates slowly swing open. Arabella tries not to look impressed. He maneuvers the car along a gray gravelly road that seems to go on for a mile.

“Are we there yet?” She hopes her joke doesn’t come off too corny.

“Just about.” Driving beneath the canopy of leafless trees that meet in intricate designs like lacy lingerie, Arabella can’t help but imagine herself putting on an Agent Provocateur black lace bra and panty with nude and black suspender belt that connects to black lace thigh-highs. Corbin loved peeling off her panties and leaving the suspender belt and thigh-highs on, when they made love.

Arabella crosses her legs at the memory of Corbin fingers gliding up her legs, caressing her, teasing her. She feels that deep down clench, and she interlaces her fingers to keep from gripping the car door.

“You okay?” Corbin asks with a funny sound in his voice.

“Yeah, why?”

“You look like you need to take a shit.” He raises his eyebrows at her.

“Very classy.” They laugh. She watches the four-car garage door slide up slowly. Inside are other cars hidden beneath beige car covers. As soon as the car stops, Arabella opens her door and jumps out.

“Hey! I would’ve gotten the door for you.” Corbin calls through her open door.

“I just need to stand up.” She shuts the door—careful not to slam it—and breathes deeply, counting down from ten. When she gets to one, he appears on the other side of the car. It’s so low that she can see his entire torso over the hood.

“You okay?” He raises his eyebrows.

“Yeah. You already asked me that.”

“You’re acting funny.”

“Am I?” She swallows.

She wills her eyes not travel down his ridiculously toned torso again. She wills herself not to wonder if he’s still growing hard for her. What does it matter? She’s not going to kiss him or make out with him or have sex with him. She tells herself this over and over again. She hopes that she can withstand touching him through the house tour.

Being so near to him brings into sharp focus her four years of celibacy.

After Tucker was born and the blow from the loss of her parents she just wasn’t intersted. For two years she felt fine not having sex. Then in the third year her libido came back, she started to pleasure herself again. Now, in the fourth year, her libido seems to have been awakened by the undeniably hot Corbin. No wonder she stayed with him for a year. He’s a gentleman. He’s the best sex of her life. He’s available. She stops herself from thinking about their future together.

She was hired to set him up with someone else. Some other lucky lady. Someone who she hopes will treat him well. Treat him better than she did.

“Right this way, Miss Wilder.”

She wonders why he’s calling her Miss Wilder.

She follows him through the pristine garage, through a glass door and into a spacious kitchen.

“Wow.” She can’t help but exclaim about the open floor plan. The blue and white French kitchen with steel appliances and an island that opens up to a spacious family room takes her breath away. There’s a glass showcase that takes up the entire wall opposite them where the TV and entertainment system usually stands. Inside is a life-size cardboard figure of the Princess of Pop.

“Wow.” Arabella moves towards the showcase.

Inside on glass shelves are seven golden Grammys, one Emmy, one Tony, and one Oscar. Above the awards are seven large black frames with platinum records with the names of Dana’s best-selling albums. Below the awards are enlarged reproductions of her bestselling album covers: there’s Dana wearing a nude rhinestone bodysuit against a sky-blue backdrop and singing into an old-fashioned microphone; there’s Dana reclining on a white chaise lounge wearing a white retro one-piece swimsuit with a halter-neck and high-waist shorts; there’s Dana’s face in black-and-white with her hands delicately touching her cheeks and her eyes closed.

“I keep those for Chloe.” Corbin trails behind Arabella to the showcase.

She turns to the wall to the right and takes in the large four-square portraits of the Princess of Pop done in the style of Andy Warhol’s iconic silk prints of Marilyn Monroe. Each background is a different color: red, yellow, green, blue.

“This is...amazing.” Arabella looks at the many frames on the glass end tables of Dana posing and smiling in various evening dresses: there’s Dana wearing a red dress as an homage to Marilyn Monroe when she sang happy birthday to a former president turning 80; there’s Dana wearing a long silk black gown on the red carpet at the Grammys; there’s Dana in a Victorian gold and cream gown that trails down the entire staircase at the entrance of the MET to the Gala.

She turns around and takes it all in: the large brown leather couch in sections with large ottomans and the glass coffee table with children’s books covering it. On the blond hardwood floor are various children’s toys: American Girl dolls, Build-a-Bears, half-finished puzzles, LEGO castles, and space stations, and boats.

“Chloe’s toys.”

Arabella sees the twinkle in Corbin’s eyes when he speaks about his daughter. His obvious love and care for his daughter pulls at Arabella’s heart. Her heart strains against the secret she’s keeping from Corbin.

When she thinks about her job to set up Corbin with other women looking for love with a billionaire, she feels jealous. She’s not a jealous woman. She was never jealous of Corbin or any of her boyfriends. They always sought to lock her down. She loved that Corbin never asked her to be his girlfriend. He never tried to keep her home. He let her go out dancing with her girls. He let her vacation separate from him. The space he gave her so freely allowed her to stay with him for longer than any boyfriend—non-boyfriend—that she ever had.

Although Arabella and Corbin were never official when they travelled together they would have appeared to be. They went to friends’ birthday parties and engagement dinners together in The Hamptons, West Palm Beach, and Aspen. They spent many weekends away from New York City making love in his family homes in Nantucket, Jackson Hole, and Napa Valley. Arabella loved holding Corbin’s hand and walking along the crowded streets of New Orleans and the deserted streets of Newport, Rhode Island. She loved surfing with him in sunny Big Sur, California and warm Kauai, Hawaii.

She picks up a silver-framed black-and-white photo of Corbin and Dana laughing with baby Chloe in between them on a porch swing.

“Where was this?” Arabella tilts the frame to Corbin who walks up behind her and looks down over her shoulder. She inhales his cologne. Her heart beats quickly. She resists leaning back into him.

“This was in The Hamptons in August...a few months before Dana died.” Corbin’s eyes appear far away as if he’s back on the porch with the mother of his child.

“You really create a space for Dana in Chloe’s life.” Arabella turns to look up at Corbin standing so close that if she leaned back, then her bottom would fit into his pelvis. She resists the urge to lean into him. “How will you create a space for...a new woman in your life?”

He looks into her eyes and appears distressed.

“Not someone to replace Dana,” Arabella quickly adds. “No one could ever replace her but for a woman coming into your home…this is a lot.” She wants to stop before she digs a bigger hole for herself but at the same time her professional opinion is he needs to tone it down if he is indeed ready to move on.

“That’s why I called you. I need help finding balance. How much do I keep for Chloe to remind her of her mom? How much do I clear out to make room for someone...else?”

Arabella wants to look away from Corbin’s eyes, but she dares not miss out on his hopeful, loving, lustful gaze. The familiar feeling of anticipation fills her. She relishes Corbin’s closeness. She is gleeful and frightened of the possibility that Corbin could be thinking about loving her. A fireball of hope explodes in her gut. She’s ablaze deep within at the chance at love again with the one-who-got-away—the one-she-let-get-away.

“I think I can help you with that.”  She turns to face Corbin. “I can help you make space for that special woman and to help you get back out there.”

“Do you want to meet Chloe?”

Arabella nods because she’s afraid she’ll blurt out a confession in this moment of intimate conversation.

“This way.” Corbin nods in the direction of a glass staircase. He reaches for Arabella’s hand and leads her up the stairs. She allows him to hold her hand and she wonders why she doesn’t pull it away. She knows she should. Feels she should. But, she likes the feel of his large hand holding hers. She likes being led by this confident man and responsible single dad.

“I love this staircase. It reminds me of the one in the Apple Store in Hangzhou.” She admires the embedded bolts that disappear into the glass bannister with smooth, curved railings.

“Thanks. I know it doesn’t fit in with the French decor, but I really wanted a touch of modernism in our home. Dana did nearly all of the decorating. I fought for this staircase. So, it means a lot to me that you like it.” He smiles shyly at Arabella.

She knows that she should pull her hand away. But she likes the feel of his hand holding hers. So she holds Corbin’s hand and takes a trip through the life she could’ve had, if she had told Corbin she was pregnant.

Walking along the blond hardwood floors on the landing overlooking the expansive living room, Arabella hears the sound of a little girl’s laughter. A delightful sound. The lightness and innocence of it fills her with warmth. Arabella wants to laugh with the little girl and share her brightness.

“Chloe!” Corbin approaches a room where the door is wide open.

Panic takes over Arabella. The thought of Chloe seeing her dad holding some woman’s hand makes her feel weird so she pulls her hand away. Corbin glances over at her and then back at Chloe who jumps up and bolts across her nursery and into his open arms.

“Daddy!” Her girlish voice warms Arabella like sunshine on a summer day. The room smells of lavender and cookies.

A portrait of happiness: Corbin holds Chloe up into the air high above his head, and she squeals in delight. Arabella imagines Corbin holding up Tucker similarly and hearing him screech with happiness. Corbin pulls Chloe into his arms with a hug.

“Do it again, Daddy!” Chloe shrieks.

“Ready?” Corbin raises Chloe into the air as if lifting a lightweight. She giggles in the high-pitched voice of a little girl.

“Again!” Chloe commands in the way that only little girls can demand of their dads.

“Mr. Goode,” a woman appears in the doorway, “Chloe just ate a chocolate chip cookie. Mind you don’t get her nauseous.”

“Aw, we don’t want that, do we?” Corbin asks Chloe who giggles in response and shakes her head vigorously. Corbin sets Chloe down on her two little bare feet. Then he squats down to her eye level and says, “Chloe, I want you meet someone.”

The little girl stares into her dad’s eyes, captivated by everything he says. The look of adoration in Chloe’s eyes reminds Arabella of the way Tucker looks at her. There’s so much trust, love, and faith in their children’s eyes. She doesn’t ever want to disappoint her son. She doesn’t ever want to disappoint Chloe.

Suddenly, Arabella feels ashamed of her secret. She hates herself for dumping Corbin. She regrets hiding her pregnancy. She resents all of the decisions she made to keep Tucker away from his dad for three years. She tastes the bitterness of bile in the back of her throat.

“Chloe,” Corbin turns to create a circle for Arabella to join him and his daughter, “this is my friend, Arabella.”

“A-ra-bel-la.” Chloe sounds out the multisyllabic name. Arabella kneels down to get on Chloe’s eye level.

“Very good!” Arabella extends her right hand to shake Chloe’s hand. Unsure of whether a hug is too familiar.

Chloe mirrors Arabella and gets down on her knees. Arabella sits down on the floor to get even lower to meet Chloe’s eyes. Chloe sits on the floor and giggles.

“Do you want a cookie, Arabella?” She jumps up and instead of shaking Arabella’s extended hand, she grabs it, and leads Arabella into the warm and brightly lit room.

Inside the pink and white decorated room with a full wall of glitter, Arabella feels like she just stepped into a wonderland. There are various dollhouses in different stages of remodeling with furniture inside and outside on the floor. There are a plethora of multicultural dolls wearing business suits or beachwear or athletic-wear sitting and standing and sleeping through the room. In two corners of the room are unfinished large-piece puzzles depicting partial unicorns and rainbows.

Lead by Chloe’s tiny, warm hand, Arabella skips over the dolls and building blocks and toy cars to the window seat where a round table and four chairs wait for their occupants.

“Tea time!” Chloe shouts. “You sit here!” She commands Arabella to sit in the seat against the wall. “Daddy, you sit here!” She points to the seat across from Arabella. “Luz, siéntate aquí.” She points to seat adjacent to Arabella. “Yo, me siento, aquí.” She sits across from her au pair.

“Wow, she speaks Spanish.”

“Dana wanted Chloe to be bilingual,” Corbin says with pride.

“I’m part Puerto Rican,” Chloe says proudly.

“And the other part?” Corbin asks.

“Italian-American.”

Corbin high-fives his daughter. Then she busies herself with a pink ceramic tea set with fuchsia flowers and green petals decorating them. First, she carefully pours invisible tea into the four tea cups with gold rims. Then she uses a golden tong to pick up plastic sugar cubes one at a time.

“Arabella, how do you like your tea?” Chloe asks with a British accent.

“I take two sugars. No cream. Thanks, darling.” Arabella mirrors Chloe’s British accent and the two giggle. The little girl slowly picks up one cube at a time and drops them into the empty cup before Arabella.

“Daddy,” Chloe picks up a sugar cube with the difficulty of a child practicing her fine-motor skills, “Two sugars with cream, yes?” She drops the first cube into his cup without waiting for a response.

“Quite right, darling.” Corbin says in a bad British accent that makes them all laugh.

“Daddy, you must work on your accent.” Chloe plops the second sugar cube into Corbin’s cup. They roar with laughter.

The sound of Corbin’s unabashed laugh cracks open Arabella’s heart. She feels as if her heart froze the day she walked away from him and now the ice in her chest shatters in a million pieces under the tenderness of his happiness.

She thinks about Tucker and all of the fatherly love he’s missing out on. She thinks about the resentment Tucker may feel against her when he’s older and learns that his father lives a few miles away from him. She thinks about the imaginary games Tucker and Corbin and Chloe could play, if Arabella would tell Corbin her secret. Tears well up in her eyes. She needs to distance herself from the heart-melting scene of love.

“Excuse me.” She stands.

“Wait! We have cookies!” Chloe holds up her little hand to stop Arabella from running away.

“I just need to make a phone call.” She must see her son. She must tell him that she loves him, misses him, and that she’ll be home soon. She can’t stand herself for denying him this afternoon of fun with his extended family. She needs to assuage her guilt.

“The cookies!” Chloe yells.

“She’ll be right back.” The au pair smoothes out Chloe’s fine brown hair that curls over her forehead and ears.

“Hurry!” Chloe admonishes Arabella.

“I shall.” Arabella remembers her British accent as she skips out of the room.

Corbin watches her escape the scene of domesticity.

He recalls the moment she left him sitting alone in the crowded beer garden four years ago. A sharp pain shoots through his gut. He wonders what he’s doing. He wonders why he reached out to her, why he invited her to his home, why he introduced her to his daughter. What made him think that a commitment-phobe and billionaire heiress would suddenly stop running from love? Stop running from him.

But he can’t help but try.

He silently curses himself for bringing her into Chloe’s nursery. He thinks it’s too much, too soon. He’s pushed her away. He’s done everything but declare his love for her. He wants to ask her for a second chance. But, if he asks her now, she may run. He can’t afford to lose her again. He looks over his shoulder at the doorway. He hears Arabella whispering. He wonders who she’s talking to and what she’s talking about.

Out in the hallway, Arabella is looking at a pink-cheeked Tucker sitting on his au pair’s lap and staring with wonder into the phone. She asks him about his afternoon. He tells her about the LEGO castle he built, and the umbrella tent he built, and the building block railroad he built in the living room. He asks where she is, why she’s there, and when she’s coming home. His sincerity and eagerness and trust pull on her heartstrings. She answers his questions and assures him that she’ll be home soon. As she ends the call, she turns around to find Corbin standing in the doorway watching her with intense curiosity.

Her heart stops. How long has he been there? What did he hear? What did he see?

“Corbin?” Her voice goes up an octave. “How—I mean—when—um—how long—”

She can’t bring herself to ask the question without sounding suspicious or defensive.

He leans against the doorway and crosses his arms against his pecs. He’s watching her. Noting her nervousness. Observing the way her hands fiddle with her cell phone and her eyes dart from his face to his body.

“Daddy!” Chloe yells.

“Saved by the child,” Corbin speaks Arabella’s thoughts aloud. He sees her shoulders relax. “After you.” Corbin turns and gestures for Arabella to walk by him in the space left in the doorway.

Slowly she walks towards him as if she’s headed to the principal’s office. She feels like she’s in trouble. She is worried he will ask. The heaviness in her chest admittedly wants to let this secret out. She is terrified by the thought of Corbin’s natural feelings of betrayal, anger, and disappointment that would understandably follow her shocking revelation. She hears herself telling him, Corbin, we have a son. His name is Tucker. Do you want to meet him? Her fear of hurting him halts her impulse to tell her secret.

When she reaches Corbin, he doesn’t move out of the doorway. Her body must brush past his to get into the brightly lit room. When her entire body grazes his, an explosion of lighting bursts through her skin. She blinks back the volcanic rupture of carnal desire for this gorgeous man, this family man, this sexy single dad. Her step falters. He uncrosses his arm and steadies her with his hands, gripping her waist.

At that moment, Arabella turns sharply to stare into his hazel eyes. Like Daedalus, she knows she’s flying too close to the sun—the heat that Corbin exudes. Her breath hitches. His gaze is anxious. Her lips yearn to kiss his. She remembers the feel of his soft lips on hers. His warm palms flatten on her lower back.

“Arabella,” his voice is husky.

“Daddy!” Chloe breaks the spell Corbin holds over Arabella.

“Come on.” Corbin gently guides Arabella into the room.

Numbly, Arabella puts one foot in front of the other. It’s been so long that she’s been blinded by desire. She can’t think. She can’t breathe. All she can feel is the closeness of Corbin’s gorgeous body beside hers and his expert hands guiding her back to the miniature tea set.

“Who wants cookies?” Chloe squeals as Arabella and Corbin sit opposite each other.

“I do!” They say at the same time.

“Jinx!” Chloe giggles. The group erupts in laughter at the silliness of the moment.

After several cookies and cups of invisible tea with many lumps of plastic sugar, Arabella says that she must go. Corbin tells Chloe no more cookies because he doesn’t want her to ruin her dinner. Chloe asks Arabella in a British accent to stay for dinner. Arabella declines. She says she must get home. Corbin insists on driving her home. She can’t think of an excuse to avoid sitting alone in his car with him. So, she hugs Chloe goodbye and says adiós to Luz.

Back in the four-car garage, Corbin grins mischievously at Arabella and says:

“Check this out.” With the dramatic flair of a magician, Corbin yanks the beige dust cover off of a car. A shiny black Rolls-Royce 12 EX appears. He takes a key fob off a hook near the door and presses a button. The car beeps. The doors rise like butterfly wings in a diagonal arc up to the ceiling, revealing all black leather interior.

“Butterfly doors. Impressive” Arabella waits for the doors to open completely.

“Hop in, Cat Woman.”

“Thanks, Batman.”

The two lean into each other in fits of laughter. Their eyes tear up. Arabella wonders if she’s delirious. She wonders if the strain of keeping her secret is driving her crazy. Her laughter turns to tears. The tears she’s been suppressing all afternoon are free-flowing. She can’t stop them. She’s embarrassed. She’s angry at herself. She doesn’t want him to see her cry.

“What’s wrong?” Corbin wraps his arms around her shaking body.

She leans her head into his strong shoulder and lets go. She cries so hard, she’s afraid that Chloe will hear her through the closed door. The unwelcomed sob shakes her body. Arabella is relieved and embarrassed and unmoored. The sobs set her adrift on a wave of sadness. She holds on to Corbin to keep from getting completely lost in her regret and grief and anguish. Breathing the clean scent of his laundered shirt and cologne, Arabella finds solace in his shoulder and arms that hold her.

“Arabella, what is it?”

She shakes her head. While she’s not the praying type, she prays to the powers-that-be for the strength to tell Corbin the truth. She sees that she must, or her guilt will destroy her. Sniffling, fighting to control the tears, Arabella sits up and looks straight into Corbin’s eyes.

“I have something to tell you.” She doesn’t want to be dramatic. But, she doesn’t want to blurt out the truth. She wants to tell him the whole story.

“Go on.” He pulls a white handkerchief with the initial C.T.G. in black printed on the corner. He wipes the tears from her face.

She fears that her makeup is a mess. She takes the handkerchief and dabs at her eyes, thankful for the water-resistant mascara she put on this morning. When she dabs her nose, trying to be ladylike, but failing when she blows her nose, she takes in Corbin’s masculine scent. She wants to keep the handkerchief pressed to her nose. But, she doesn’t want to look crazy or desperate. So, she wipes her nose and then grips the handkerchief in her right hand.

“When we were together…” She takes a long deep breath.

He nods in encouragement.

“I got pregnant.” She braces herself for a barrage of questions.

His green eyes shift to a hazel yellow. She wonders if the change in color indicates a change in emotion or just a shifting of the light.

“Valentine’s Day.” His voice sounds far away as if he’s back in that bedroom with her, agreeing to go without because neither one of them wants to stop having sex to go out to get condoms.

She nods her head.

“Why didn’t you tell me?”

She shakes her head.

All of her reasons sound inadequate. She was young. She was scared. She was scared of what he would say, what his parents would say, what his friends would say. She was scared of the tabloids labeling her a gold-digger, a delinquent, a hot mess.

How can she tell him that she didn’t want a shotgun wedding? That she didn’t want to live with any social stigma of single-motherhood? So she took on the decision by herself and kept the pregnancy a secret.

After what feels like an eternity of staring helplessly into Corbin’s eyes, Arabella says:

“I was scared.”

“Did you get an abortion?”

The lie, yes, is on the tip of her tongue. But she knows it’s too late to lie now. His honest hazel eyes exude sympathy. He wants to console her. He wants to help her.

Unable to find the words, she shakes her head again.

“Did you miscarry?” He searches her tear-stained face for a sign, an indication of what happened all those years ago.

She shakes her head.

“Tell me. What happened?”

“I...went to the clinic...to take care of it—”

“Alone?” He runs his hands up and down her arms to comfort her.

“No. With Nora.”

“Why didn’t you ask me to go with you?”

She shakes her head.

She’s at a loss of words to explain why her twenty-one-year-old self took the actions she did. She wasn’t thinking straight. She was terrified.

She feels like she can’t tell Corbin any of this without sounding selfish or shallow.  

“So, you got an abortion?”

Again, it would be so easy to say, yes. But she can’t.

“No.” Her voice comes out in a whisper.

“What did you do?” He searches her face for information.

For once, she is a blank slate. She is full of guilt and shame. She swallows, gathering up the courage to tell him. She grips the handkerchief in her hand and fingers his initials.

“I went away.”

“Where?”

“To our home in Greenwich.”

“You told your parents?”

“Only that I got pregnant accidentally. I didn’t tell them by who.”

“Why not?”

“I didn’t want them calling your parents, scheduling a sit-down, and then arranging…” She can’t finish the sentence without sounding harsh.

“Our marriage.” He grunts. He stops rubbing her arms. His hands drop at his side. “Would that have been so bad?”

“I was twenty-one. You were twenty-five—”

“Old enough to raise a child.”

“Would you have wanted to get married?”

“If you’d given me the choice.” His jaw locks. His face muscles tense.

She thought he might become upset. She wasn’t prepared for his anger.

“I—”

“You what, Arabella? Made the decision for the both of us?” He runs his hands through his wavy hair. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

“I was scared.” She fights to keep her voice from rising.

“So, what? His angry tone alarms her.

She has never seen him mad before. In the entire year that they dated—or kicked it or whatever—he never got upset or even annoyed. If she was late, he was all smiles and kisses. If he got cut off on the highway, he said that the other motorist must’ve been in a rush. If he was bumped walking down the busy New York City streets, he said: “If they knew better, they’d do better.” He was always mellow. Nothing ever upset him.

Her eyes widen in fear at how poorly this unplanned reveal was going. She should’ve asked him to meet her at a popular restaurant during a busy time, so that he couldn’t make a scene, just like she did when she broke up with him. She never planned to tell him this. Her timing is all wrong. She looks to the car to escape. She wonders how she can ask him to drive her home, without abruptly ending the conversation.

“Arabella.” He says her name like a prayer, a plea, a petition for her to stop this waking nightmare.

She can see the wheels turning. She can see him connecting the dots.

“Tell me.”

She inhales deeply and starts talking fast—afraid that she’ll say too much. But, there is no too much now. Now, it’s only whole truth.

“I told my friends, accept for my close ones, that I enrolled in an intensive Ivy League MBA program online, that I didn’t have time to meet up with them, and that I’d contact them when I graduated.” She pauses for him to ask her a question. He stares at her bewilderment. She continues: “After nine months of living with my parents in our Greenwich home and taking birthing classes—”

“Alone?”

“With my mom. My dad didn’t want to sit through any childbirth classes.” A faint smile crosses her face as she recalls him bowing out of that duty. She refocuses on Corbin’s incredulous face and pushes on to finish her story. “I gave birth on November seventeenth, nearly four years ago. I had a baby boy.”

“A boy.” His voice becomes wistful and hopeful. “Where is he?”

“At home.”

“I want to meet him.”

“Right now?”

“You’ve kept my son from me for four years—”

“I’m…I’m sorry.”

“My son.” He shakes his head. “My parents would’ve been thrilled.”

“Really?”

“Are you kidding me?” He stretches his arms up over his head. “All they ever wanted was a boy. They were disappointed when Dana had a girl. They didn’t say it. But, it was on their faces. They wanted a boy to continue the Goode family name. They would’ve welcomed you into the family with open arms. A Wilder? The merging of two blue-blood American families? Forget about it. They would’ve thrown a wedding to rival Gatsby’s extravaganzas.”

“Don’t get me wrong, they love their granddaughter. They adore Chloe.” He steps back from Arabella and examines her face. “I want to meet him.” He turns and gestures for Arabella to get into the passenger seat of the big-bodied black Rolls Royce.

Settling into the seat, Arabella reaches for the seatbelt and clicks it before Corbin climbs into the driver’s seat. He clicks his seat belt, presses a button, and silently the engine starts up. She feels the purr of the electric engine. The butterfly doors close. She runs her hands along the smooth leather and she wonders how many other women have ridden in this car. Quickly she dismisses the thought. Corbin said he hasn’t dated since Dana died. She believes him. He never lies. Unlike her.

She glances around the interior. Five years ago, Corbin would’ve taken her into the expansive backseat, hiked up her skirt, kissed her at the apex of her legs until she was hot and wet and ready for him. The thought sends hormones flooding her veins. Arabella crosses her legs to clamp down on her rising desire. Now is clearly not the time.

Corbin glance over at her legs. He knows. She knows he knows. He knows that she knows he knows. Another time he would’ve joked about it. He would’ve turned off the car, grabbed her, pulled her into the back seat, and made love to her with her back pressed into the backseat and her legs spread around his waist.

Now, he glances away, presses a button, and watches the garage door open in the rearview mirror.

How far they have come from their fun and free-love days.

Will Corbin forgive her?

The nerves are settling in her stomach making her feel ill, not know how this is going to go.

Corbin jabs the radio button, and the soothing sounds fill the loud silence of the car. Arabella tries to ignore the foreboding feelings rising in her gut, threatening to spill over into another loud, ugly cry. She looks out the passenger window, turning away from Corbin’s gorgeous profile, to soothe her anxiety. She can’t escape his cologne calling to her. She presses her legs together and wills her carnal reaction to stop. Her mind goes back to Tucker to distract her body.

How will she explain to Tucker who Corbin is? Will Tucker accept Corbin as his dad?

She was careful to read him children’s stories about single parent families. She wanted Tucker to learn that there are families with one mom who loves her child just as much as the families with two parents.

She always knew that she’d have to explain to Tucker who his father is. She just didn’t know it would be today.

Gripping the black seat belt across her chest, she wishes she could skip to the end where she and Corbin magically end up together. Or go back and tell him about the pregnancy. She wishes she had a script for what to do next.

She feels powerless over the outcome. The helplessness scares her.

For the second time, she prays to the powers-that-be to make everything okay.

“Which townhouse?” Corbin’s voice is thick with words unsaid. She can’t tell if he’s holding back tears or anger. Probably both.

“The last one on the corner of Paul Robeson Place.” The red-brick, four-story townhouse with the rounded exterior and snow-topped window sills beckons her to come in from the cold. She misses her son, his stories, his toys. She misses his cuddles. Her muscles pain to jump out of the car, run up the cement walkway, and four steps to her front door.

Corbin parks in an empty spot in front of her building.

“Lucky.” She marvels at his ability to find good parking spaces in New York City when they dated and now in Princeton.

Corbin smiles, turns off the engine, unbuckles his seatbelt, and turns to fully face Arabella.

“Arabella?”

Sharply she turns around to face Corbin—the father of her child, the heir to the billion-dollar Goode fortune, the widowed dad.

She shakes her head. She doesn’t want to talk anymore. She just wants to get out of the car, open the door, let Corbin into her home, and introduce him to his son.

“Nervous?” He runs his hands through his wavy hair.

She was so busy marinating in her guilt and sorrow, that it hadn’t occurred to her that he would be feeling trepidatious.

She nods her head. “You?”

“Uh, yeah.” He swallows, looking deeply into her eyes for assurance. Then says, “Shall we?” He presses a button, the doors open up, they climb out, and the doors close down. Corbin jogs around the car to help her to the sidewalk.

Her heart aches at the act of chivalry. He was always such a gentleman. He never smoked. He rarely drank. Although they did have one or two drunken nights. He never got wasted and blacked out. He always wore suits or blazers, even though he didn’t work in an office—he didn’t work at all.

She wonders why she ever broke up with him. Sighing, she links Corbin’s arm.

As if in slow motion, she leads him to her front door. As if floating above her body, she watches herself pull her keys out of her bag, unlock the front door, and step into the warm room. Corbin follows her. He closes the door behind him, shutting out the cold February air.

Inside, the warmth of the fireplace and the aroma of the fire feel like home to Corbin. He suspected that something had been wrong for Arabella to suddenly break up with him four years ago. He never guessed it was this.

“Mommy!” A brown-haired little boy bounds across the hardwood floor and jumps up into Arabella’s arms. She inhales his baby powder scent.

“Tucker!” Lifting him up off the floor, she hugs him tightly, and sways to the right and left.

“Tucker,” Corbin whispers.

Arabella looks from her son’s trusting and love-filled eyes to Corbin’s disbelieving and joyous eyes.

“You named him Tucker.” His voice cracks.

Arabella puts Tucker down on the floor. She squats to get on his eye level. He squats too, just like Chloe did earlier. Arabella laughs. Tucker giggles. Corbin joins in too.

“Tucker, I want you to meet someone.”

“Who’s this, mommy?” Tucker is unafraid and unabashed.

Corbin squats down to get to Tucker’s eye level. Tucker sits down on the floor, just like Chloe did earlier. Corbin laughs with tears in his eyes.

Earlier, he thought that his problem was how to rekindle his love with Arabella under the guise of asking her to set him up with his future wife. Now, he thinks his problem is bigger, deeper. How does he welcome his son—his namesake—into his life and forgive his mom for hiding him for so long?

“This is your—” Her voice falters. “This is your daddy.”

“Daddy?” Tucker’s eyes widen in amazement. He takes in Corbin’s baseball cap, black hair like his, hazel green eyes like his, and olive complexion like his.

“He looks just like you.” Arabella’s voice comes out in a barely audible whisper.

“Daddy?” Tucker takes a step towards Corbin.

Arabella’s secret that she kept from most of the world, that she kept from Corbin is now out in the open. She wishes there were a guide to how to introduce your secret child to his dad. She wishes she knew what to say next or how to say it. She watches silently, hoping Corbin will accept Tucker—and herself—with open arms.

“Come here, buddy.” Corbin’s voice is barely an audible whisper.

“Daddy?” Tucker moves slowly, as if approaching an exotic animal at the zoo. He takes in Corbin’s navy-blue blazer, khakis, cologne, and green socks.

“Avocado!” He points to Corbin’s socks and laughs.

“Avocado?” Arabella asks.

“They’re a birthday gift from Chloe.” Tears threaten to spill down Corbin’s face.

Arabella fights the desire to reach over and wipe his tears when they fall.

“Come here, big boy.” Corbin reaches for Tucker who jumps into his open arms. Corbin hugs the son he never knew he had until moments ago. Tears spill down his cheeks.

As if contagious, tears pour down Arabella’s face. Aware that her makeup is probably in patches now, she retrieves Corbin’s handkerchief from her pocket and wipes her cheeks.

“Miss Wilder,” the au pair says from across the room, “shall I prepare dinner for three?”

Arabella looks from Ana to Corbin and searches face. He’s enraptured with his new-found son. His splitting image. He ruffles Tucker’s hair and wrestles with him. Rough-housing the way Arabella never does and always hoped a dad would play with her son someday. Her heart constricts at the mistake she made in keeping her son from his dad.

“Would you like to stay for dinner?” Her throat tightens with emotion.

“Of course!” Corbin says.

“Macaroni and cheese!” Tucker wrestles Corbin to the floor then pops up.

“And broccoli,” Ana tells Tucker. “Come wash your hands.”

“Coming, Daddy?” Tucker holds onto Corbin’s hand.

“Yes!” Corbin stands and follows his son to the guest bathroom off the foyer where everyone takes turns washing their hands.

Over a dinner of gluten-free macaroni and goat cheese, sautéed broccoli, caramelized onions with mushrooms, and baked chicken, Tucker tells his dad all about their house in Connecticut and their apartment in New York and their bungalow in the Bahamas. Corbin listens closely, looking at a mirror image of himself when he was a boy. Over a dessert of home-baked apple pie with vanilla ice cream and hot cocoa, Tucker questions Corbin’s knowledge of sea animals, warm climates, and tropical rainforests. Corbin answers all of his son’s questions and asks him if he knows what is the tallest mountain and the widest desert and the deepest canyon in the world. Enthralled, Tucker soaks up all of his dad’s words.

They bond instantly as if time—or Arabella—had never kept them apart.

At bedtime, Tucker begs his mom and dad to read him a bedtime story. Corbin’s eyes fill with tears as he reclines in the blue race car bed—at Tucker’s insistence—and reads him The Kissing Hand. Corbin wipes tears from his eyes when he finishes reading the story and closes the book.

“Daddy,” Tucker’s childlike voice warms Corbin’s heart, “why’re you crying?”

“Because I’m happy.”

“Why don’t you smile?”

“I’m smiling too.” Corbin grins through his tears.

“Go to sleep, Tucker.” Arabella smoothes out his long brown hair and kisses his forehead.

“Will you stay with me?” Tucker asks his dad.

“I have to go home.”

“Why?” His sleepy eyes flutter closed. He forces them open.

“Because your sister is waiting for me to read her a bedtime story.”

“My sister?” Tucker yawns. “I have a sister? Mommy, how come you never told me?” His eyes flutter closed again.

“Mommy made a really big mistake. She was going to wait until you were older. Remember how I told you that sometimes adults make mistakes?”

Tucker nods sleepily with his eyes closed.

“Well, mommy made a mistake.” Tears spill down her cheeks again. She hasn’t allowed herself to cry since her parents died until today. She needed to take care of her son. She needed to film her show. She needed to keep it together for her son and her clients.

But, now that she’s in the blue race car bed with her son and his twin dad, she feels free to cry. Cry for keeping Tucker a secret from Corbin. Cry for wanting a second chance with Corbin. Cry for thinking that love may be possible for them after all these years.

The soft sound of Tucker’s deep breathing and his sweet breath fills the space between his mom and dad.

Corbin clears his throat. “I should go.”

Arabella wipes the tears with his handkerchief. She nods, unable to speak. Slowly she climbs out of the bed. Corbin mirrors her slow-mo moves.

Silently they leave his bedroom, turn off the overhead light, leave the nightlight on to illuminate the many yellowish glow-in-the-dark stars on the ceiling, and pad down the hardwood stairs.

In all her fantasies of Tucker meeting his dad, Arabella never dreamed that he’d meet him on a random winter night.

At the bottom of the staircase, Arabella holds on to the bannister to keep herself from falling into Corbin’s arms. She wants to collapse into his arms. She wants him to declare his love for her.

He stops at the front door on the welcome mat, turns around, and stares into her eyes. Gazing into her blue eyes, he takes in her hand gripping the banister, her high heels standing on two different steps as if she’s about to go down—or go back up—the stairs.

He examines this little boy’s many colorful toys spread throughout the home. The baby photos of Tucker on the walls and end tables. Corbin’s eyes wander over the prints of baby feet and baby hands. Slowly his eyes settle on Arabella’s. With wonder and resentment, Corbin asks:

“When were you going to tell me?”

“I don’t know.”

“What was your plan?”

“I didn’t have one.”

“Why didn’t you tell me?”

“I don’t know.”

“All those years ago.” His voice trails off. “We could’ve been a family.”

“We—” Arabella bottles up the hope swelling inside her. Hearing him vocalize the hope recently born within her gives her the courage to ask: “We could have a playdate. With Chloe and Tucker.”

Corbin grins the same easygoing smile that captivated Arabella’s heart five years ago.

“Chloe would love that.” A rush of emotion floods through Corbin. He feels light and bright with the possibility of a future—of a family—with the-one-who-got-away.

Up until this moment, Corbin wasn’t sure if he was ready to forgive Arabella. He wasn’t sure if he was ready to absolve her of the wrongs she did him: breaking up with him, disappearing from his life, having their baby, hiding their baby from him. But, now? After losing Dana to that horrible accident? Now, he’s ready to try to forgive Arabella. He’s ready to think about forgiving her—if she asks.

“How about tomorrow?” Arabella is astonished by her resolve. She is startled at her courage.

“No time like the present.” Corbin hovers in front of the door. Not moving towards her. Not moving away.

Arabella hesitates. Does she make a move? Step forward? Walk into his arms? She wants to. Or does she wait for him to make the first move? She waits.

“So…” She leans on the banister. “See ya tomorrow?”

“Tomorrow.” He turns to unlock the top and bottom locks. He lets himself out. As he closes the door behind him, he looks back at her and says, “And tomorrow and tomorrow.”

The door clicks shut.

And just like that, Corbin Tucker Goode is back in her life. Arabella doesn’t know how this will work or where this is going.

The memory of a summer date five years ago sparked when Corbin surprised her with tickets to see Macbeth in Central Park. She had wanted to see a play in the Shakespeare in the Park summer series. But, she never had time to wait in line and get tickets for that day’s showing. Corbin was always attentive. He remembered everything she said. Even when she thought he was distracted. She mentioned to him over dinner once that her favorite Shakespeare monologue was Macbeth’s speech: “Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow.”

Hearing Corbin’s deep voice say that line made her heart flutter. Just those words unleashed a battalion of hope inside her. A brigade ready to fight for her love—for their love.

Arabella remembers Corbin’s theatrical embrace after he said those lines in Central Park beneath a canopy of green leaves. He hugged her, turned her, and dipped her back over his leg like a tango dancer. She laughed. He brought her up into his arms. They kissed.  

She shakes her head at her foolish and rash response to the pregnancy.

If only she had told him.

If only she hadn’t panicked.

If only, if only, if only.

But, now she has a second chance. She hopes.

She slides out of her high heels and twirls around in the toy-covered living room. She hops over Tucker’s trucks and police cars and ambulances in her dance of joy. She’s so happy, she wraps her arms around herself and pretends that her arms are Corbin’s arms holding her. She collapses onto the couch, closes her eyes, and conjures up the feel of his lips on hers.

 

*****

The next morning Corbin texts Arabella: Picnic in the park? Noon?

She grabs her cell phone that has been on the coffee table while she built a gray LEGO castle with Tucker on the living room floor. Quickly she texts back: Sounds good.

Instantly he replies: We’ll pick you up then. I’ll bring Luz too. Chloe can’t go anywhere without her.

A tinge of guilt touches Arabella’s excitement. She looks up at Ana who walks by with a basket of laundry. They smile at each other. Arabella doesn’t know what she would do without Ana. All those months after her parents died and she felt like she couldn’t get out of bed, Ana helped care for Tucker. They took turns bathing him, changing him, dressing him. Arabella breastfed him and cuddled with him. But, she had little energy for the domestic duties: cooking, cleaning, laundry. Now that Tucker is almost four and running and jumping and pulling things down, Arabella feels like she needs Ana more than ever. She can understand why Corbin is bringing Luz.

She dashes off a response: We’ll bring Ana too. Tucker adores her.

And just like that, Arabella has a date. A date with Corbin.

Is it a date?

Technically, it’s a playdate for Chloe and Tucker. Their nannies will be present. Knowing Corbin he will probably bring his chef. He likes to travel with his staff. It makes his life easy. It explains why he’s so easy-going. If he needs something he finds it, buys it, or acquires it.

If she’s being honest with herself, she knows that she’s not so different. She has hired chefs and housekeepers and butlers from time to time when she had events (like Tucker’s birthday parties), and she needed help. She’s had her friends over when she had a last minute billionaire client who needed her assistance in Dubai or China or India.

Speaking of friends… Arabella hasn’t spoken to any of her girls all week. She clicks open her phone and writes in the group chat with Sasha, Nora, and Audrey:

Arabella: Girls! Guess what?

Audrey: What?

Arabella: I have a date.

Sasha: A date?!

Nora: With who?

Arabella: Okay, brace yourselves…

Audrey: The suspense is killing me

Arabella: Corbin

Nora: Ummm, I’m confused.

Sasha: Corbin Goode?!

Audrey: Billionaire Corbin Goode?!

Nora: I thought you weren’t dating.

Sasha: How did this happen?

Audrey: Corbin who you dumped???

Arabella: Girls, yes. That Corbin Goode.

Nora: So, you two are dating again?

Arabella: Well, it’s sort of a playdate. For his daughter and my son.

Sasha: Omfg. Arabella Wilder?! Are you kidding me?

Nora: Mistake. Big mistake. Somebody’s gonna get hurt.

Arabella: Thanks for the support, ladies.

Audrey: Well, if you’re happy…

Arabella: I am happy. I’m excited. I never thought I’d see him again.

Nora: Never? Did you tell him?

Arabella: Yeah

Sasha: How did he take it?

Arabella: He seemed happy.

Nora: Define seemed? Did he smile? Cry? Scream?

Arabella: He was actually pretty chill about it

Sasha: Chill? Hmmm…

Arabella: Ladies, can you just be happy for me?

Audrey: I’m happy for you! You deserve happiness.

Sasha: Just be careful...

Nora: And go slowly.

Arabella: Okay, okay. I will. Thanks lovelies!

Arabella closes the chat group. She leans over and ruffles Tucker’s hair. He smells like lavender shampoo. He laughs as she fixes his hair.

“Ready for a picnic?”

“With Daddy?” Tucker’s hazel eyes widen in excitement.

“Yes!” She stands up, picks up Tucker, and swings him around the sun-drenched living room.

Outside the windows, white snow is melting. The end of February seems to be bringing warm March weather. Arabella hopes that the bright sun and blue sky are good omens. She hopes that the winter clouds have gone and the snow is done.

It is not until two hours later that Arabella realizes the implausibility of a picnic in February. She was so excited about Tucker meeting Chloe—and seeing Corbin again—that she didn’t think about the improbability of finding a patch of green grass in Princeton to spread a blanket on and sit down and enjoy the nonexistent warm sun.

Her phone rings at noon. Corbin’s name appears on the screen, and her heart melts. She remembers all of the excitement she used to feel every time he called her. She feels the warmth and the anticipation of seeing him now.

“We’re here,” Corbin’s voice warmly speaks to her through the cell phone.

“We’re walking out right now.” She nods to Ana who picks up a large blue bag stuffed with all their crap.

Ana zips up Tucker’s navy-blue winter coat. She helps him put on his Thomas the Train book bag. Then Arabella opens the front door to see a black Tesla SUV parked in front of her home.

With a ball of sunshine warming her from within, Arabella holds Tucker’s hand, and they skip to the SUV. When they get close, the side door opens up slowly like a falcon’s wings.

“Oooooh,” Tucker’s eyes grow wide as the doors rise.

From inside the car, the light squeals of Chloe float out to greet them.

“Who’s that, Mommy?” Tucker points at Chloe sitting in the middle row passenger seat closest to them.

“Please don’t point.” Arabella gently lowers Tucker’s hand. “That’s Chloe...she’s your…your sister.”

“Sister?” Tucker gawks at Chloe as if she’s a magic trick. He seems to be waiting for her to turn into a rabbit.

“Daddy!” Chloe calls to Corbin who hops out of the driver’s seat and jogs around the car to take the bags from Ana. “Who’s that?” Chloe points at Tucker. Her au pair tells her in Spanish not to point.

Corbin drops the bags in the trunk, and the door closes automatically.

“Chloe,” Corbin says gently, “this is your brother, Tucker.”

“Brother?” She raises both her hands like a confused emoji.

Tucker laughs at Chloe’s gesture. The two feed off of each other’s laughter and squeal in delight.

“Hop in.” Corbin holds out a hand to help Tucker into the car. “Tucker, you can sit across from your sister in the middle row.”

Tucker places his little hand into his dad’s bigger version of his olive-toned hand. Gingerly he helps the little boy up into the SUV. Tucker stares wide-eyed at Chloe as he walks around her and climbs into the car seat behind the driver’s.

“Ana, Luz,” Corbin turns to Ana who nimbly pulls her slender frame into the SUV. “Luz, Ana,” Corbin nods at Luz who sits in the back row of the six-seat electric vehicle. The two nannies converse in Spanish. Chloe and Tucker chime in a few Spanish words.

“They’re both from Barcelona.” Arabella hears the similar Spanish accents flitting back and forth between the nannies.

Corbin presses a button, and the door floats down.

“Oooooooh!” Tucker’s excitement fades into the soundproof vehicle.

Corbin moves to open the front passenger seat for Arabella and bows dramatically, “My lady.”

She tilts her head back and laughs.

“A bit dramatic.” She pulls herself up into the front seat.

Corbin extends a hand to steady her. His palm rests on the curve of her waist. Although she’s wearing a coat, she’s acutely aware of his palm pressing into her. Heat and happiness sear through her veins. She inhales sharply.

“Everything okay?” He peers into her face.

She tilts her head back and looks up through the windshield and says, “You can see the sky.”

“Panoramic windshield.” Corbin grins that boyish grin that reminds her of when he surprised her with tickets to a sold-out Broadway show and she gushed at his thoughtfulness.

Arabella settles into the front seat. Thinking about the night they had together after the Broadway play makes her squeeze her thighs tightly together. She stops herself from crossing her legs to appear too obvious. Corbin knows her mannerisms. He knows when she’s happy—when she’s horny. They stare at each other.

Unexpectedly, with the winter air competing with the warm air blowing out of the car’s heaters, Corbin reaches for the seatbelt and pulls it down across Arabella’s breasts. Her breath catches. Her nipples harden. She gazes into his green eyes turning hazel. She recognizes desire in his eyes. She presses her thighs even closer as a delicious pain darts through her. Her heart pounds. He says something. She can’t hear him.

“Excuse me?” Her breath is husky.

He leans close to her face to reach into the car to click the buckle.

“Wanna be safe.” Corbin’s breath hitches.

Arabella’s breathing grows shallow. She hears yearning in his voice; sees the longing in his eyes. He wants her. He leans so close that if she were to tilt slightly forward, her lips would graze his.

“Is that all?” Arabella regrets the question the instant it escapes her lips.

“You tell me.”

She can smell bacon and coffee on his breath.

“I hope not.” She whispers.

“I’m gonna move away from you now, Miss Wilder.”

“Are we back to Miss Wilder?”

“You tell me.” With that, he leans away from her and shuts the passenger door.

She swallows. Glancing into the side mirror, she watches his athletic physique walk around the back of the car to the driver’s side. When he gets in, he puts on his seat belt, looks over at Arabella, and then turns to the group in the back.

“Everybody ready?” His voice is light again.

“Ready!” Chloe screams and throws her fists up in the air.

“Ready!” Tucker imitates his half-sister.

The nannies give Corbin the thumbs up.

“Alright. Let’s go!” Corbin turns around, presses a button, and the car self-drives out of the parking space.

“Where are we going?” Arabella looks at Corbin’s gorgeous profile. Her stomach clenches. She wills her body to cool off.

“That’s a surprise.” He grins, winks at her, and then drives down the gray streets covered with white salt, melted white snow, and clumps of sand.

The drive through the suburbs of Princeton is smooth. The children play “I spy” with Ana and Luz. Arabella tries to get Corbin to tell her where they’re going. He laughs at her guesses and tells her to enjoy the ride.

They pull onto Princeton University campus. The electric SUV glides along campus and turns onto a narrow road that leads to a sprawling glass-enclosed greenhouse.

“What’s that, Daddy?” Chloe’s high-pitched voice fills the interior.

“A greenhouse.”

“But it’s white.” Chloe strains against the seat belt to see through the front window.

The adults erupt in laughter.

“I know. But, inside there are green plants.”

“Ohhhhh.” Chloe stares at the large windows that appear frosted.

“We’re here!” Corbin announces to everyone in the car.

The six occupants bounce out of the SUV. The nannies carry the children’s bags. Corbin carries two sizeable wicker baskets. Arabella carries Tucker’s backpack that he forgot in his excitement when he hopped out of the car.

Corbin swings the door open, and a gush of warm, floral, humid air greets them. Arabella’s cheeks warm up from the cool winter air. He gestures for them to follow him. They walk along a clay-red hallway with palm trees and green leaves and bamboo sticks line the walkway. Arabella, Tucker, and Chloe trail their hands along the smooth and rough tree trunks.

“Ooooooohhhh,” the two children say when they step into a large room with high glass ceilings misted white from the snow covering it.

“It’s summer time!” Chloe runs to a fountain in the middle of the sprawling room lined with more palm trees, green bamboo sticks, ferns, and orchids.

Tucker runs after Chloe and tries to reach up over the red-bricked two-feet high bench encircling the pool of warm water.

“Be careful!” Arabella trails after Tucker.

Corbin and Arabella spend the next hour with the children sitting around the fountain, catching the water sprouting from the mouths of clay fish decorated into the side. Chloe and Tucker squeal when they plunge their hands into the basin, trying to touch the bright orange and white Koi fish swimming below their feet.

Thoroughly soaked from the children splashing water, Arabella and Corbin carry their children to an enormous green and brown quilt that Ana and Luz spread out beneath hanging green ivies and budding blue flowers.

Arabella keeps stopping herself from pinching herself. She cannot believe that she’s spending family time with Corbin and their son and his half-sister. Delirious with happiness, she can’t stop laughing when Tucker rips open a box of animal crackers, and they fly through the air. The laughter is contagious as the group scrambles to clean up the cookies. Chloe and Tucker sing in their light and innocent voices:

“Clean up! Clean up! Everybody clean up!”

Lunch is a smorgasbord of hors-d'oeuvre sandwiches cut into triangles. The aroma of the meats and seasonings mingle with the tropical scents of damp earth and budding flowers like lavender lilacs, white jasmines, blood orange honeysuckles, and midnight blue hyacinths.

After everyone eats, Chloe and Tucker doze off with their heads in their nannies’ laps. Ana and Luz sit on the opposite side of the massive quilt. Facing each other, the nannies chat in Spanish about their hometowns and the plans they have for their lives if they become American citizens one day. Arabella and Corbin sit across the California-king size brown and green quilt in the opposite corner.

Listening to the two twenty-one-year-olds make plans for their futures, Arabella can’t help but feel wistful. She longs to make plans for her own future. She wants to make plans for a happy family. She wants Corbin to make plans for them to fly to Hawaii, snorkel in Maui, surf in Honolulu, and then do it all over again in the clear blue waters of Bali and off the warm beaches of Fiji. She doesn’t know how they would get from where they are—formerly estranged—to where she dreams they could be—married with more children. Having been separated once, she doubts they’ll ever be apart again. She wants to believe that this is their fresh start. She wants to believe that this is their second chance. She wants to believe in love.

She wonders how they can begin dating. She wonders if this is a date. It’s definitely a play date. A chance for Tucker and Chloe to meet and bond.

“Arabella?” Corbin had been talking to her, but she was looking at his full, pink lips.

“Yes?” She blushes at her blatant staring.

“Are you gonna eat that?” He gestures to the last bacon and chicken sandwich on a small round plate in her hand.

“Yeah.”

“Doesn’t look like it.”

She frowns and brushes her hair out of her face.

“Here,” Corbin gestures for the sandwich. “Let me.”

Unsure of what he’s about to do, Arabella trusts Corbin’s good intentions. She allows him to take the plate from her. Unexpectedly, he grabs it with his fingers and brings it to her mouth.

“What are you doing?!” She throws her hands up.

“Your loss.” He takes a big bite out of the sandwich. Some crumbs get on his face. He uses his other hand to catch crumbs from falling onto the quilt.

“Hey! That was mine.” Arabella leans forward.

“So, now you want the sandwich?” he says with a full mouth. He licks the crumbs from his mouth.

Shivers run up her spine at the sight of his pink tongue. She remembers what his tongue did to her. She remembers how it invaded her mouth and danced with her own. She remembers it parting and penetrating her between her legs. Electricity jolts up through her body. She inhales sharply.

“I always wanted it.” She stares wistfully into his eyes, unsure of what exactly they were talking about now.

“Okay, Miss Wilder. Are you ready for it?” He raises the rest of it and hovers it before her mouth. She opens her mouth. He holds it just before her. Her gut clenches with anticipation. She wants him to put the bacon and chicken sandwich into her mouth. She sits still. She waits for him to make a move.

“Yes. I’m ready.” Her voice comes out husky with unresolved desire.

“Open wide.” He enters her mouth, lays the sandwich on her tongue, and makes her take the entire portion of what’s left into her mouth.

She chews the oversized portion slowly while staring into her eyes. She wonders what he’s thinking. She wonders what he would do if the children and nannies weren’t there. She wonders what they’ll do tonight when they put their children to bed.

Arabella holds Corbin’s eye contact long after she finishes chewing and swallowing. She’s full of questions she dare not ask him. She wonders if he feels the same way.

“We should get going.” He looks over at the children. “They’re knocked out.” He grins. Arabella returns his smile. She loves the ease with which Corbin talks. She loves his plain white collared shirt and navy-blue pants with little cyan whales on it. She loves his dark green socks with light green avocados on it. He loves that Chloe has on matching avocado socks.

Ana and Luz pick up the children, while Arabella and Corbin pack up the trash, clean up the crumbs, fold up the quilt, and put empty containers back into the two wicker baskets.

“Nice, Mr. Goode.” Arabella admires Corbin’s physique as he stands holding the blanket and the two picnic baskets on each arm.  

“Are you talking about my packing skills or my socks?” He sticks his leg out and lifts up the cuff in a peek-a-boo manner.

Arabella bursts out laughing. She tilts her head back and grabs her stomach.

“I love the sound of your laugh.” His husky voice knocks the wind out of her.

Again, her breathing becomes shallow. She parts her lips. Then licks them. Trying to tamp down her desire, she looks at the two sleeping children. Her amorous thoughts are chased away by loving thoughts of sitting on Corbin’s large sofa, holding Tucker in her lap, snuggling into Corbin’s side, and holding Chloe’s hand as she lays in her daddy’s lap.

This vision of a happy future—a happy life—creates an ache in Arabella’s gut that almost makes her double over in pain. How is it possible for emotions to cause the body so much pain?

“You okay?” Corbin tilts his head to the right.

“Uh huh.” She doesn’t trust herself to speak.

She remains silent on the entire drive back to her red-bricked townhouse. The three-year-olds sleep in their car seats. The nannies speak softly in Spanish in the backseat about where they went to school, what they studied, and what they plan to do in the future.

Back at her luxury townhome, Arabella lets Tucker continue to nap in his race car bed. Ana sits with him in his room, reading a book in a rocking chair beside his bed. Luz stays in the SUV with Chloe. Corbin kisses his son’s forehead goodbye. Then he follows Arabella down the hardwood staircase.

He stops at the front door on the welcome mat, turns around, and stares into her eyes. Gazing into her blue eyes, he takes in her hand gripping the banister, her winter boots standing on two different steps as if she’s about to go down—or go back up—the stairs. She looks poised to move, but he’s unsure if she’ll move towards him—or away.

Corbin looks around the living room. He yearns to finish the puzzles, color the jungles with him and stack building blocks with his son. Corbin can’t help but feel left out. And angry. He missed out on his son’s first words. He missed on his son’s first steps. He missed out on his son’s first tooth. How many other firsts would he have missed out on if he hadn’t reached out to Arabella, hoping for—hoping for what? For love?

How could he have ever thought that he could rekindle a relationship with a woman who hid her pregnancy and his son from him for three years? How does he know that she won’t leave him again? How can he be sure?

Slowly his green eyes settle on Arabella’s blue. With wonder and resentment, Corbin asks:

“How could you?”

“Corbin—” Her hands flutters to her mouth. Afraid to speak. Afraid she’ll say the wrong thing.

“How could you keep me from my son?” His voice cracks. His eyes tear up, then fill with venom. An anger that Arabella has never seen before on his gorgeous face contorts his good looks into something ugly. Alarming.

“Are you mad?” Her voice is hoarse from the tension of not crying.

“Mad?” He leans his head back and speaks to the ceiling, “She asks me if I’m mad.” He spreads his arms wide in an uninviting gesture. “You hid my son from me!” His voice reaches a tone unfamiliar to Arabella. Anger. Bitterness. Resentment.

“Keep your voice down.” She looks back up the stairs. “Tucker is sleeping.”

“My son,” he pauses to glare into her eyes, “is sleeping. I know. Because I just put him to bed.”

“We—”

“We? We?” He leans back in a partial backward bend so that his head touches the closed door behind him and says to the ceiling. “She said we!”

“I see you’re upset,” Arabella begins. “I was thinking that maybe we—”

We? Again, this word, this word I am unfamiliar with. Where was this we when you got pregnant? Where was this we when you decided to have our baby on your own?” He shakes his head. His arms are still spread wide as if in supplication to the heavens.

“Corbin, I made a mistake.” She steps back up another step. “I was thinking that we could talk about...joint custody.”

We could talk about joint custody?” His voice reaches a high pitch. “Joint custody? Gee, thanks. Thanks for letting me see my son.”

“I’m sorry I never told you.” She takes a tentative step down and inhales deeply to gather the courage to ask him what she’s been wondering all afternoon. “Can we start over?”

“Arabella, you broke my heart!” The force of his anger and bitterness punch her in her gut.

His animosity disturbs her warm home and diminishes the welcoming crackle of the fireplace and the residual aroma of baking cookies.

She fights the urge to turn around and run up the stairs. She wants to take them two at a time. She wants to put miles between herself and this unfamiliar, bitter Corbin. She wants the happy, loving, fatherly Corbin back. She wants him out of her home.

Gripping the bannister, Arabella pivots and runs up the stairs.

“Arabella!” Corbin calls.

She races along the hardwood floors, past her son’s bedroom, past the au pair’s closed bedroom door that shares a bathroom with Tucker’s bedroom, past the framed photos of her parents and her son on a playground and on a horse and on a tricycle.

She runs down the hall to the master bedroom. Shutting the door behind her, she kicks off her leather boots, jumps on her bed and pulls the extra soft beige cashmere blanket around her shoulders and over her head. Covering her mouth with both of her hands, she stifles her body-shaking sobs.

Downstairs, Corbin runs his hands through his wavy hair. Abandoning the pose of a performer beckoning to his audience, he looks around the room once more before turning to leave. He opens the door, steps through it, closes it, and it locks behind him. He crunches along the newly fallen snow on the cement steps and walkway. In the short distance it takes for him to get to the Tesla, hop in, and start the engine, he’s already shooting a message to his private investigator: Goddard, get me background info on Arabella Wilder and her son Tucker Wilder.

Corbin’s private investigator, Goddard, aka go-to-guy for all things shady, responds immediately: Yes, sir.

Impatiently, Corbin steers the electric SUV that he hoped would impress Arabella and he pulls off into traffic in downtown Princeton. The afternoon sun shines through the barren branches, dappling the street with sun and shade alternatively. Bright puffs of white clouds threaten to snow. He feels like Arabella’s changing moods are as unpredictable as the shifting clouds in the night sky. She is impossible to read.

 

*****

 

The next morning Corbin’s phone rings. Incoming call from Goddard. Corbin accepts the call. Goddard’s face appears on the screen with a cigarette hanging from his mouth.

“When are you going to give up those cancer sticks up?” Corbin puts his smartphone in a dock on his desk while he goes through images and articles about Arabella Wilder online. Several blogs mention her matchmaking business and cable show. None mention her son.

“What’s the point in living if I have to give up all the good?” Goddard stations his phone on his work desk.

“Cigarettes are good?”

“One man’s meat is another man’s poison.”

“Alright, what did you find on Arabella Wilder and Tucker Wilder?”

“Arabella Wilder, owner of the Billionaire Matchmaking dating service and star of the cable television series, Billionaire Matchmaking, is single, never married, and has no children.”

“No children?” Corbin tears his eyes away from the many photos of the blue-eyed blond Arabella standing in various form-fitting dresses with her assistants in promo photos for her show online.

“Officially. However, there is a Tucker Wilder. Born on November seventeenth in twenty-fourteen in a hospital in Greenwich, Connecticut. Arabella is listed as his birth mother.” Goddard clears his throat.

“The father?”

“Listed as unknown.”

“Send me the birth certificate.”

“Sending it now.” Goddard looks away from the screen, types something, and Corbin’s phone pings with the received files. “Apparently Arabella got an MBA online from an Ivy League university while living in Connecticut and waiting to give birth.”

“What else do you know about the kid?”

“Dark brown hair. Hazel-green eyes. Olive colored skin.” Goddard looks directly into camera phone at Corbin. “Something you want to tell me?”

“The year that Arabella and I...were apart…she gave birth to our son.”

Goddard whistles.

“And you know this how?”

“She just told me.”

“What do you want to do about it?”

“Can I sue for custody?”

“You could...this is America. Did she say that she’d fight you on custody?”

“No. She said that we could have joint custody.” Corbin bites back the bitterness of the memory of Arabella asking him for a second chance.

He was ready to start all over when he saw her in the bar, saw her holding his son, saw her playing with his daughter. But, after the full gravity of the revelation that she broke up with him to conceal her pregnancy and his son hit him, he couldn’t forgive her. That level of deception—or drama—is not anything he wants to be a part of. He swore off drama when he stopped dating international models and Hollywood actresses.

“I can get your lawyer to draw up some papers for shared custody.” He puffs on his cigarette.

“Make it so.” Corbin clicks the red button on the screen to end the call. The screen goes black, and he’s left looking at his reflection in the glass: his long wavy brown hair peeking out from underneath his baseball cap, his hazel-green eyes, and his day’s-old beard. He rolls his eyes at his reflection.

Then he takes off his baseball cap and runs his hands through his hair. Exasperated. He wants Arabella to pay for keeping his flesh-and-blood from him for so long. He wants her to feel the pain and sadness and humiliation that he felt the day she dumped him. He wants her to regret ever keeping secrets from him. And he knows exactly how to make her suffer.

Corbin unlocks his phone, taps on the text message icon, and types Arabella Wilder. Then he speaks his text message into the microphone: Miss Wilder, I’m ready to move forward with the matchmaking. Is twenty-four hours enough time to put together the first date?

He grins. He can imagine the shock and hurt she’s feeling as she reads his message. She’s so proud. He thinks that she just may go through with the date, even if it comes at the expense of her pride and feelings.

He stares at the screen waiting for a response.

The recipient of his text message, Arabella, sits on the floor with Tucker trying to put together an intricate puzzle of the dark blue ocean filled with multicolored fish. An episode of Thomas the Train plays on the TV mounted on the wall opposite the couch. The scent of bacon and eggs and waffles waft out of the kitchen where Ana cooks brunch. The crackling fire keeps the living room so warm that Arabella gets up to open the windows a little.

When she returns to the floor, she sees her screen light up. She picks up the phone to find a message from Corbin. She thinks that he may be asking for forgiveness. She will forgive him. She thinks that it’s time for her to ask for forgiveness. She never really apologized for all the mistakes she made. Ready to do the right thing—the mature thing—Arabella taps on the screen to view the text message.

Her jaw drops.

Her blood boils.

She looks up and around the room as if waiting for Corbin to appear from the hallway. She shakes her head. She cannot believe that he wants to move forward with the first mixer. In twenty-four hours. She’s so offended that she dashes off a message to her friends in the group chat.

Arabella: Girls!

Audrey: What?

Nora: What happened?

Sasha: How was the date?

Arabella: There was no date.

Sasha: No date?!

Nora: I’m confused. Did he stand you up?

Arabella: No

Nora: Did you hang out?

Arabella: Yes

Nora: Was there food involved? Transportation? Laugher?

Arabella: Yes. Yes. Yes.

Audrey: Sounds like a date to me!

Sasha: So… details!

Arabella: He wants me to put together a mixer for him

Nora: Wait. I’m confused. You had a date, and then he asked you to set him up with someone else? Why?

Arabella: He was upset...about everything…

Sasha: Understandably

Nora: Lemme guess. You two had a great afternoon. You made some overtures for a fresh start. And he blew up. Sound about right?

Arabella: Omg. Yes! How’d you know?

Nora: I see it all the time.

Audrey: Where?

Nora: In my divorce cases.

Sasha: Nice, Nora

Nora: I don’t mean to be the bearer of bad news

Audrey: Then don’t be

Nora: But there are other furies than women scorned.

Sasha: A scorned lover seeks revenge. News alert.

Arabella: What should I do?

Nora: Give him what he wants. He’s paying for it, right?

Arabella: Yes

Sasha: I agree. He wants his mixer, let’s give it to him

Arabella: Let’s?

Sasha: I’m coming. You need help, girl

Arabella: Thanks Sash!

Audrey: I’m coming too.

Arabella: Thanks, Audrey!

Nora: As much as I hate to miss this Shakespearean tragicomedy, I have to prepare for court.

Audrey: I’ll text you updates.

Nora: Please do!

Arabella: Ladies, he wants the mixer set up in twenty-four hours. Can you meet me at my place by noon?

Sasha: Done

Audrey: You got it

Arabella: Thanks lovelies!

Arabella clicks out of the group chat. She leans over and ruffles Tucker’s hair.

“Ready for brunch?”

“Yes!” Tucker drops the puzzle pieces in his hand and races to the half bathroom to wash his hands.

A few hours later, Sasha and Audrey show up together at Arabella’s door. She flings it open, spreads her arms, and group hugs her girls.

“I love you girls!” She holds them tightly.

“Can we come in? It’s freezing out here.” Audrey ushers Arabella into the warm living room.

“It’s not that cold.” Arabella closes the door behind her friends.

“Audrey’s freezing because she’s been living in Hawaii.” Sasha shifts her long blond hair over her shoulder and pulls off her winter coat.

“Hawaii!” Arabella sounds excited.

“Let’s get down to business,” Audrey changes the subject as she yanks off her snow-laden boots. “I love being your assistant. I want to look through your database. Read the profiles. See who’s the best fit for Corbin.”

“No. Not the best fit. The worse fit. Right?” Sasha pulls off her winter boots.

“No, Sash. I have to do the right thing. Give Corbin the matches he deserves. It’s the least I can do.”

“But, he’s just doing this out of spite.” Sasha hangs her coat in the closet by the door and then steps over several toys to get to the sofa.

“Maybe...but he’s still a paying client.” Arabella walks down the hallway. “Follow me, girls. This way to my office.”

Once ensconced in the all-beige office with glass tables and ergonometric black office chairs, the three friends sit and face an enormous flat screen TV mounted on the wall to the right of the door. Large computer monitors cover the glass tables behind the friends. The shades are pulled shut.

Arabella presses play on the remote control in her hand. A gorgeous Corbin wearing a tuxedo and sitting on a brown leather bar stool in front of a gold cloth backdrop begins speaking on the screen.

“Hi, I’m Corbin T. Goode. I’m here because I’m looking for love. I feel optimistic. I know Arabella Wilder’s track record. And I know that she can find me the one.” He grins shyly at the camera.

Arabella presses pause.

“He knows your track record?” Sasha swivels in her chair. “Sounds like a message.”

“A message that she’s an amazing matchmaker.” Audrey stares pointedly at Sasha.

Arabella looks at her friends, then back at the screen and presses play.

“I moved to Princeton when Dana got pregnant. Before Dana, I lived in New York City. But, once she told me about our baby, I was ready to move to the suburbs and start our family.”

Arabella exhales. This is supposed to be a routine client in-take. This is supposed to be business as usual: watch the client video, find out what the client wants, search the database for matches suitable for the client, and let nature take its course.

But, each time Corbin says pregnancy and family and I was ready is like a punch in her gut. Regret fills her: if only she had told him that she was pregnant; if only she hadn’t listened to her parents’ advice to hide the pregnancy; if only she had stayed in New York City. What would’ve happened? She knows that she can’t repeat the past. But, she can’t help but think about it.

“I’ve stayed in Princeton for the past four years to raise my daughter, Chloe.” Corbin smiles when he mentions Chloe.

“Oh.” Arabella can’t help but feel guilty about keeping Corbin’s son from him for so long. She can imagine him smiling proudly as he talks about Tucker.

Sasha and Audrey each reach over and squeeze Arabella’s arms. She smiles thankfully at them. What would she do without her girls? They never judge her. They always support her. Even when they may have disagreed with her for hiding her son from his father, they didn’t openly criticize her. They asked her questions—said they’d love her no matter what. Seeing her two best friends sitting with her now when they could be anywhere in the world warms her heart.

“Ever since Dana passed, I haven’t had a girlfriend. The only girl in my life is Chloe.”

“Awww,” Audrey and Sasha say simultaneously.

Arabella knows that she should feel sorry for Corbin—and she does. But, she also can’t help but feel hopeful. She hopes that if he’s ready for love, then maybe he’s ready to forgive her. Maybe he’s ready to open up to her. Maybe?

Off screen, a guy asks Corbin: “Who’s your celebrity crush?”

“Summer Hill.” He laughs.

“You like brunettes?”

“No, I don’t have a physical type. I have a personality type. I like strong, independent women. I like creative women. Entrepreneurs.”

“Women who don’t need you financially.”

“Exactly. I need to know that she’s with me for me...and not for my money.”

Arabella pauses the video. It freezes on his gorgeous grin and twinkling hazel eyes. She feels like he’s looking right at her, even though she knows that he’s not.

“So,” she looks at Sasha and then Audrey, “he wants an independent and beautiful woman. Someone like Summer Hill or Dana Devonne.”

“What a tragedy. What happened to her.” Audrey shakes her head.

“He’s been through a lot. He needs someone caring, empathetic, kind,” Sasha says.

“Preferably a single mom.” Arabella adds: “Or someone ready to be a stepmom. Since he’s a single dad.”

“Someone who wants to live in the suburbs. Princeton is not New York City,” Sasha says.

“Someone who will honor Dana Devonne’s legacy,” Audrey ticks off their requirements on her left hand. “Right?”

“Absolutely.”

Throughout the afternoon and into the evening, Arabella, Audrey, and Sasha go through her database. They look for attractive single moms who are entrepreneurs. They narrow the pool down to twenty-four eligible bachelorettes. Then Arabella picks up her phone to call Corbin. She holds Audrey’s hand while she waits for him to answer. The phone rings four times. Just when Arabella thinks it’ll go to voicemail, Corbin picks up:

“Hey.” He sounds out of breath.

“Did I catch you at a bad time?”

“Just exercising. What’s up?”

“I forgot that you jog.” She remembers a sweaty Corbin wearing a soaked white t-shirt clinging to his muscles. She remembers his black jogging pants hanging off his pelvis. He was beautiful—is beautiful. She loved running her hands over his abs.

“Arabella?” Corbin pants. “Are you still there?”  

Sasha pokes her in the side and whispers, “Say something.”

“Uh, yeah, Corbin. I’m, uh, just calling to say that I’ve selected a group of amazing women for you to pick from.”

“Good.” He pants.

“The mixer will be in twenty-four hours, per your request.” Her heart races at the sound of him panting. She remembers the times he spent panting with her.

“Uh-huh.” The sounds of feet pounding on a treadmill is heard in the silence.

“Be ready at nine tomorrow evening at Carlyle’s.”

“Why nine? I said 24 hours.”

“Umm, because…” She looks at Sasha and then Audrey before quickly saying, “Tucker was asking when he would see you and Chloe again, and I was thinking that maybe we could all have dinner tomorrow and then put the kids to bed before the mixer.” The words come out in one long stream.

“He was asking for me?” Corbin sounds softer. Where he was distant and distracted before, now he sounds present and interested.

“Yeah.” Arabella’s eyes tear up. What is she doing? Why is she fixing him up with other women? Why can’t she just tell him to date her? Why can’t he see that she’s the one for him?

“Dinner at seven. Bedtime at eight. I don’t want to make it a late night. Chloe gets up early in the mornings. We like to have breakfast together.”

“We do too.”

A pause full of feelings unsaid ensues. Arabella doesn’t ask Corbin to think about dating her. Corbin doesn’t ask Arabella how does he forgive her for hiding his son.

“See you tomorrow.” Corbin’s voice is brisk. He hangs up before she can say goodbye.

Sasha and Audrey are listening.

“Well, that went…” Sasha looks to Audrey for help.

“Well?” Audrey shrugs her shoulders.

“So, dinner with the ex?” Sasha shakes her head.

“Bad idea,” Audrey says.

“Why?” Arabella moves away from her friends. “Tucker wants to see Corbin.”

“Who else wants to see him?” Sasha asks.

“Ladies, I asked you here to support me.”

“And we are.” Audrey reaches to hug Arabella who steps back.

“But, we have to be honest with you.” Sasha steps towards Arabella. “What kind of friends would we be if we just blindly agreed with you?”

“I need your support,” Arabella begs her friends with her eyes.

“And we support you.” Sasha wraps her arm around Arabella’s shoulders.

“We just need you to be real. With yourself.”

Arabella nods. She knows that her friends mean well. She knows what they mean. She knows that if she goes into this mixer pretending that she doesn’t want Corbin to choose her, then she’ll set herself up for an even bigger disappointment when he chooses one of the amazing women she’s invited to his mixer. She’s setting herself up for heartbreak. At the very least, she could see it for all that it is and all that it is not.

Her legs feel weak. She reaches for a chair and collapses into it. She’s glad that she’s decided to do the right thing and find the best possible match for Corbin. She’s glad that she’s decided to acknowledge that she still wants Corbin—still loves Corbin. But she acknowledges that she doesn’t have the right to ask him to be with her. She already broke his heart once. She doesn’t want to do it again.

 

*****

 

The next night at seven on the dot, Corbin shows up with Chloe at Arabella’s townhouse. Tucker runs to the door and yells, “Daddy!” Corbin bends down, swoops his son up in his arms, and hugs him tightly.

The fatherly love warms Arabella’s heart. Chloe marches inside and extends her arms up for Arabella to pick her up. Arabella laughs, stoops down, picks up Chloe, and hugs her. Chloe smells like strawberries. Her skin is soft as a baby’s. Arabella smoothes out her dark hair, which is in two little pigtails with pink ribbons tied around them.

“Luz did my hair.” Chloe cuddles into Arabella’s arms.

Arabella’s heart expands at the sight of Corbin carrying Tucker. Luz trails behind them and closes the front door.

“Dinner’s ready!” Ana calls from the kitchen.

Luz walks around the four towards the dining room. She helps Ana place the dishes onto the dining room table setting for four. Luz and Ana eat in the kitchen. Their chatter is heard intermittently as the housekeeper enters and leaves the kitchen carrying water or apple juice or coffee.

To onlookers, the four look like a happy family. Enraptured, Corbin listens to Tucker’s stories about dinosaurs. Enchanted, Arabella listens to Chloe’s stories about rainforests. In the natural rests in the ebb and flow of the dinner conversation, Arabella’s eyes drift over Corbin’s gorgeous face. She takes in his model-like good looks, his athletic frame, his strong hands. She watches the way he slices his steak, the way he cuts his baked potato, the way he sips his coffee. Everything he does exudes confidence.

She wants to run her hands along his bespoke suit. She wants to run her hands through his manicured hair. He seems to have gotten it done for the occasion. He catches her staring at him multiple times. The first time he looked away. Resentful. The second time he looked back at her. Annoyed. The third time he raised his eyebrows. Curious. The fourth time a smile threatened to spread across his face. Amused.

Arabella knows Corbin well. She knows when he’s happy—when he’s horny. His eyes dance across her low cut little black dress. She always dresses for a date on the nights of her mixers. Part of her brand is being as attractive as the potential dates, but being professional and off-limits.

For years she prided herself in being a great catch. Now, she wants Corbin to catch her. She wonders if he feels the same way.

“Bedtime.” Corbin claps his hands. His cuffs rise, and a white-gold diamond encrusted watch catches the light.

“Nice watch,” Arabella says.

“Thanks.” Corbin picks up Tucker. “It was a gift from Dana.” He perches Tucker on his right side.

“Sleepover, Daddy?” Chloe looks expectantly at her dad.

“That’s right. You and your brother are having a sleepover tonight.” He reaches down and scoops Chloe up into his left arm. He carries his two children down the hall, up the stairs, to Tucker’s bedroom where a second race car bed has appeared.

“Mine is blue!” Tucker yells. “Chloe, yours is red!”

Chloe nearly jumps out of her dad’s arms to run to her race car bed. She jumps on the comforter, burrows under the sheets, and squeals with delight.

Corbin takes off his blazer. Arabella’s heart pounds at the sight of him taking it off. He catches her watching him. She blushes. She tells herself to get control of her feelings. She can’t blush like a teenager every time he looks her. He smiles. She can’t tell if it’s pity or genuine. She feels like he’s trying to make her feel comfortable. She almost wishes that he’d go back to yelling at her. Nice Corbin is breaking her heart.

After he reads his children a bedtime story, they beg for a second one. Then Ana and Luz come in to read the same story again to the siblings. Arabella and Corbin kiss their children goodnight.

Both impeccably dressed, Arabella and Corbin walk side-by-side down the hallway and down the stairs. She resists the urge to reach out and hold his hand. He resists the urge to take her in his arms.

“I’ll see you there.” Corbin turns to look into her blue eyes at the door.

“Huh? Yeah.” She pulls her coat out of the closet.

“Allow me.” He takes her coat and holds it up for her. She slips her arms into it. He adjusts it on her neck as he did so many times in that past. His hands rest on her shoulders. She stands still. Afraid to lean forward. Afraid to lean back.

“See you soon.” His voice is husky.

She turns around to look into his eyes. He whips around and avoids eye contact. Quickly he unlocks the door and leaves.

She’s glad that she’s wearing her best little black dress. She’s glad that she asked him over for dinner. She hopes that she can stop herself from staring at his gorgeous face during the mixer. She doesn’t want to mess things up...for him...for herself...for their kids.

 

*****

An hour later, deep into the mixer at the trendy brewery in Palmer Square, Arabella is a tight ball of nerves. The air conditioner is blowing, but she’s breaking out in a sweat. She’s mortified. She keeps dabbing at her forehead with Corbin’s white handkerchief from the other night. The occasional pop song by Dana doesn’t help her mood. Arabella feels like The Princess of Pop is looking down on Corbin. She wants to do the right thing. She wants him to be happy. She wants him to be with her. Would he be happy with her...again?

She shakes her head to chase away the thoughts of reconciliation. She doesn’t have the right to ask that much of him.

Standing at the bar drinking a bottle of cold water, Arabella watches Corbin chat and joke and flirt with the many successful and beautiful women she invited to the mixer. It’s tearing her apart. She sees him lean toward a dark-haired beauty and then sees the woman throw her head back and laugh. Arabella’s stomach tightens. She fights the impulse to run over and stop the conversation.

She texts her girls.

Arabella: Help!

Sasha: What’s wrong?

Audrey: What’s happening?

Arabella: He’s flirting.

Nora: Isn’t that the nature of a billionaire mixer?

Arabella: Yes. But, it’s killing me.

Sasha: Tell him.

Arabella: I can’t.

Audrey: What’ve you got to lose?

Arabella: My client. My dignity.

Nora: Do you even want him to be your client?

Audrey: And pride cometh before the fall.

Arabella: No @ Nora.

Sasha: So, tell him.

Arabella: When?

Audrey: Before he picks a date.

Nora: How will you feel if he picks a girl and she isn’t you?

Arabella: Sick.

Sasha: So, tell him.

Arabella: Okay. Okay. Wish me luck.

Sasha: Break a leg.

Audrey: Good luck!

Nora: You don’t need luck, girl.

Arabella rings a cowbell at the bar. The ladies turn to look at her. Some say, “Awwww.” Some giggle. Corbin smiles at them and looks over at Arabella.

“Okay, Mr. Goode.” Arabella walks up to him. She looks out at the restaurant full of beautiful women in all shades of skin color and lengths of hair and body shapes. “It’s the moment of truth. Let’s go chat. Ladies, hang tight. Have some more wine. We’ll be back. Mr. Goode will pick his date. See you all soon.” She waves at the ladies.

Corbin nods his head. He doesn’t trust himself to speak. He feels a flood of emotions. Emotions he’s been keeping at bay since he saw Arabella a few days ago. He feels tense, trepidatious, and timid. He feels his heart beating. Three words are coursing through his veins. He’s afraid of these words. Afraid of what they’ll do to him. Afraid of what he’ll do.

Out of habit, Arabella laces her arm around Corbin’s. He allows her to take his arm. She guides him to a booth at the back. The same booth where they had their first encounter after four years.

“Here we are...again.” Corbin slides into the booth.

Arabella slides in.

His eyes dart down to her cleavage. He smiles warmly at her.

“How much have you had to drink?”

“None.” He drapes his arms along the rim of the booth. His jacket sleeve slides up. His jeweled watch catches the light. His eyes darken.

Arabella clenches her thighs together. This is not going the way she planned.

“Who do you pick for your first date?”

“This is tough. I need your help.” A smile dances across his face.

“Okay. Who’re you looking at?”

“It’s between two.”

“Who are the two?”

“I’m not good at names.”

“What do they look like?”

“A blond and brunette.”

“Okay. From their body language, could you tell who really wanted you?”

“The blond.”

Arabella’s heart skips a beat. She stares directly at him. She wonders: is he talking about her? Is he playing with her?

“What makes you feel that way?”

“The way she looks at me. The way she blushes when I look at her.”

“Okay. You don’t remember her name?” She swallows.

She wants him to pick her. She also wants to be professional. She doesn’t want to lead him to pick her. She wants to be fair...to him...to the clients. She wants to do the right thing. But what is the right thing? What should she do when she feels herself falling for the guy whose heart she broke years ago? Does she declare her love to him? Does she disappoint her clients waiting to date a billionaire? Does she risk his rejection...again?

“Yeah.”

“You do?”

He nods slowly. His eyes are earnest. He leans towards her. He starts to say something. He stops. He swallows. Runs his hands through his perfectly wavy dark brown hair.

“Arabella—”

“Corbin—”

She wants to know what he’ll say. She doesn’t want to know what he’ll say. “Why did you want this mixer?” Arabella’s voice cracks. She restrains herself from crying or yelling.

“Chloe has been asking me about finding a girlfriend. She doesn’t want me to be lonely.”

“Corbin, this mixer will only work if you’re open to it working. Your daughter wants you to find love. You say you want to find love.”

“I do.”

“Then open your heart.” She brings her hands to her chest.

“Maybe this was a mistake. I have Chloe...and Tucker now. I don’t have time to date.”

“No time? You have Luz to help raise Chloe. I have Ana. You have a chef and a housekeeper and chauffeur and...what else? A gardener? You have time. Don’t use your daughter as an excuse to stop you from making time for yourself. What do you want?”

“I want—” He stops himself. “What do you want?”

“Huh? Me?” She shakes her head.

“Yes, you. Arabella Wilder. What do you want?” He leans closer to her. Brings his arm down from the top of the booth. Glides the back of his knuckles down the length of her arm. A trail of goosebumps rises where Corbin’s hand touches her arm.

“This is isn’t about me. This is about you. You… you...” Her voice catches. She wants to plunge on. But the last time she took a leap of faith, he crushed her. She stares at him wondering what he’ll say. “Forgive me.” Her voice comes out in a whisper. “Please, forgive me. I never meant to hurt you.”

“After Dana died, I didn’t want to love anyone else again. I didn’t want to feel anything again. It hurt too much. Losing Dana. But, I had Chloe to take care of. She was my reason to get up in the morning. My reason to make pancakes and bake cakes like Dana did…” His eyes take on a faraway look. He seems to be reliving a memory. “Then, I read somewhere that on the other side of our greatest pain is our greatest joy.” His eyes search hers. “You were my greatest pain.”

“I’m sorry.”

“I know.” He takes her hand. “So, I got a therapist. Started doing yoga. Meditation. And I was finally able to feel the pain. Now I’m ready to let love in.”

“Corbin, do you forgive me?” Her voice is husky.

“Yes.”

“Can we try again?”

“Yes.” He loosens his tie and clears his throat. “I promise to never lose my temper again.” He runs the back of his hand down her cheek.

“I promise to never keep another secret from you.” She cups his face. The rough hair of his 5 o’clock shadow sends shivers up her spine. She remembers the feel of hair on her inner thighs. She wants him to kiss her...down there. She clenches her thighs.

“I promise to never raise my voice again.” He runs his other hand through her blond hair and pulls her face towards his.

“I promise to never run again.” Her voice is soft.

“I...love you. Arabella.”

“I love you too.”

Corbin cups her face with both of his hands. He looks into her eyes as if asking a question. She nods slightly. He pulls her close. Their mouths meet.

His mouth is soft and moist. She moans. Her lips part. His tongue enters her mouth. Gently he strokes her tongue. Cautiously her tongue meets his. His massages hers. First relief, then anticipation, then desire flow through her. Her temperature rises. She breathes in his cologne and masculine scent. Her body always responds to his. She always wants him.

Arabella feels like they’ve been kissing forever. She forgets that she’s working. She forgets that he’s her client. She forgets about the girls.

Corbin moves a hand through her hair. Gently, he eases his tongue out of her warm, wet mouth. They open their eyes. He cradles her soft cheeks in his hands.

“So, why don’t we take this back to my place?”

“Yes…” She wants to lean back into his kiss. But she remembers that she’s at work. “I just need to...take care of a few things.”

Arabella floats towards the main floor where the girls are waiting to hear who Corbin picked. She tries to summon up some semblance of feeling sorry, but she can’t even pretend. She’s not sorry that Corbin picked her. She’s completely, totally relieved. She knew that once she spoke honestly to him, then they would be able to forgive each other and to move on. Okay, maybe she didn’t know. But she hoped.

After telling the women that Corbin didn’t choose any of them, she promised them that she would invite them back to another billionaire mixer where they’d have the opportunity to meet another billionaire and to find love.

As she leaves the restaurant, Corbin sends her a text message: I’m sending you a Lyft. Black Mercedes. Alex is the driver.

A burst of excitement explodes inside her. She cannot wait to see him again.

Arabella: Ladies!

Sasha: What happened?

Audrey: Did you tell him?

Arabella: We spoke.

Nora: And?

Arabella: He forgave me!

Audrey: I love it!

Sasha: Woohoo!

Nora: What next?

Arabella: He sent a Lyft to take me to his place.

Audrey: Already?

Nora: Get it, girl!

Sasha: Well, you did date for a year.

Audrey: Have fun!

Arabella: I shall. Thanks girls. Love you.

Audrey: Love you back.

Sasha: Awww, we love you too!

Back at Corbin’s house, Arabella is a bundle of emotions: nervous, excited, anxious. Her knees feel weak. She knocks on the front door. It swings open.

“Come upstairs!” he calls from above.

She steps inside the dimly lit home. At night the display case with Dana’s awards glows with little lights lining the shelves. Arabella closes the door behind her. She enters and crosses herself as she passes the display case. Even though she’s not religious, she wants to show her respect from Dana. She hates that Corbin experienced so much pain in life. She hates that she caused him some of that pain. She rushes past the awards, up the beautiful glass staircase, down the long hallway in the opposite direction of Chloe’s room to the master bedroom.

“Corbin?” She steps into the candlelit room. A king-size four-post bed stands with white curtains in the center of the room. Enlarged photographs of international skylines adorn all of the walls. The skyscrapers of New York City hang over the king-size bed.

“Hello, beautiful.” Corbin stands at a fireplace opposite the bed and to her right.

“I love fires.” She drifts towards the mantle. Suddenly shy, she stands in front of him.

She reaches up and runs her hand through his hair. The intimate gesture touches Corbin’s heart. She’s grooming him. He pulls her into his arms. He grips her arms just a tad shy of painful. Her breath quickens.

Arabella moans at the pleasurable-pain. She wants him to punish her...just a little. Her mouth parts. His tongue explores her mouth. He expertly strokes her warm tongue with his. He can smell her perfume. Something delicate like flowers.

She slowly returns the strokes to his tongue. They move in an erotic embrace that brings them both to their knees as their tongues caress each other. They land on the white fur rug.

She’s all sensation: soft lips, warm mouth, smooth tongue, strong hands, viselike pleasurable pressure.

His strong hands grope her back, dip to her waist, and move down to her willing bottom. His other arm holds her face in place. She feels pinned in a sensual assault.

Arabella moans.

“Make love to me,” she says against his hungry lips.

“I’ve missed you.” He kisses her through their words.

“I’ve missed you too. I can’t wait any longer.”

“What were you waiting for before?” He kisses a trail along her jaw, then nibbles on her neck.

“Love.”

“I love you, Arabella.” He holds her arms and presses his erection against her pelvis.

He decides to get sexual revenge on her body. He wants her to cry out his name. He rakes his fingers down her shoulders, down her hips, up her black dress, up to her lace panties, and pulls them down in one gesture.

Arabella pants.

Corbin yearns for her. He wants her to be his…all his. Now that he knows that she loves him… He wants her to be his...matrimonially.

Gently, he shoves her down into the fur. She giggles.

“Bends your knees.”

She complies.

“Good girl.” He grins.

He crouches down and inhales the scent of her sex. She smells heady, intoxicating, feminine. His nose finds her warm, wet apex. His hands grope her rear. She fits perfectly into his palms. Her petals open to his mouth. He licks and flicks her clit.

Her heart races. Warm blood rushes through her veins. Happiness explodes in her gut. Seeing Corbin’s curly black hair between her thighs, reminds her of all the nights he spent pleasuring her. She slips her hands through his soft curls. She relishes his warm and firm tongue eliciting lightning bolts of pleasure from her clitoris.

“Corbin.” She grips his hair in pleasurable agony.

Her breathing comes louder.

He inserts a finger into her massaging her pleasure spot.

Corbin looks up across her the dirty blond hair on her mons pubis. His eyes sear into her soul.

“Yes.” She pants.

Her breathing quickens. He holds eye contact with her. The intensity of his stare coupled with the fingering and his tongue flicking her clitoris obliterates all thoughts.

She wants him inside of her.

She’s been so tightly wound since she saw him. She needs to relax.

Arabella feels something grow deep inside of her. She’s hot and bothered in the most enjoyable way she’s ever been. Her body trembles. Sweat trickles down her forehead, her back.

“Corbin!” she cries.

His expert hands and tongue destroy all thoughts, all sense of time and place. She’s all senses: heat, wet, quivering, release.

“Come, baby,” his deep voice commands her.

At the sound of his masculine voice, Arabella erupts. She climaxes into his open mouth. Her tightly wound existence splinters into thousands of pieces beneath him. She shudders as waves of pleasure roll through her like the aftershocks of an earthquake. She comes and comes and comes.

“You’re so beautiful, Miss Wilder.” Corbin wipes his mouth on his shirt. He pulls it off.

Deftly, he undoes his pants. Pulls them off.

Arabella’s eyes widen at his erection.

“That’s all you, babe.” He retrieves a condom from his jeans pocket.

Expertly, he opens it and rolls it down his hard-on.

“You’re delicious.” He smiles down at her. “Exactly like I remember.”

Her long blond hair lays perfectly on the fur. He pulls her dress up over her head. Then unhooks her bra with one hand.

“You’re so wet.” He kisses her lips. “I like that.”

“I’m all sweaty.”

“No, I mean your pussy’s wet.”

“Corbin!” She giggles.

“I love it when you say my name. It’s sexy.” He moves her hand and kisses her palm. “I miss your sexy body.”

She groans. “You’re sexy… Listen… can we go slowly? I’m tight… I haven’t had sex in years.”

“Me neither. We can go slowly…but, remember…sometimes it’s better to take it all in at once, rather than ease it in…It can be more painful if you go slowly.”

“I forgot.” She reaches up and caresses his powerful abs.

“That’s my experience…we can go slowly at first.”

“I’m ready.” She looks wide-eyed at him.

He wants to be her provider, her protector.

Corbin places his hard-on at the entrance of her pussy. He grips her hips. He kisses her lips quickly one more time. Then he thrusts inside of her.

“Corbin!”

He stills. He fills her completely. She fits him like a glove.

“Are you okay?”

“Yes!” Her voice is thick with desire.

“I’m going to move in and out of you, babe.” His voice is heavy with restraint. It takes all of Corbin’s years of experience to hold himself still inside of her tight warmth.

He pulls out slowly and to the tip of his shaft. Then he re-enters her canal of warmth. She shudders beneath him. He’s overwhelmed with the trust she places in him. He sees the want in her eyes. She hungers for his cock.

“Take me, Corbin,” she whimpers.

“Okay, Arabella.”

He grips her hips.

The heat from the fireplace dies down as their heat for each other increases. He looks into her eyes and thrusts inside her.

“Oh,” she moans.

He eases in and out of her. He wants it to be exquisitely enjoyable.

He picks up the speed. She catches his rhythm and meets his thrusts. He continues thrusting as he palms her and presses against her clitoris.

“Corbin!”

He slides his other hand around to her derriere and slips his pinky finger into her nether region. She shudders in sweet agony.

Arabella is lost in the all-consuming sexual pleasure. His expert hands touch her in all the ways she loves. He moves continuously in and out of her. He lays his torso on her breasts, resting his weight on his forearms.

He speeds up.

She moans. She wraps her arms around him. She feels the familiar tingling in her veins. Her muscles tighten. She digs her nails into his back. He groans.

“Arabella. Come for me.”

She remembers the sweet agony of multiple orgasms. She arches her back. Her body trembles beneath the muscular Greek god that Corbin is. Her body quivers at the intense warmth pulsing in and out of her. The volcano erupts again. She climaxes on his cock. She cries. The cathartic releases buckles her body. She calls his name over and over as he thrusts a few last times harder and deeper until emptying his semen inside of her.

“Marry me, Arabella.” His voice is gruff.

“Yes.” She wraps her arms around him.

“I love you.”

“I love you too.”

 

THE END

 

 

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