Bedding the Billionaire
Page 3

 Ruth Cardello

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Her cell phone showed three missed calls from Abby.
Colby rolled into a seated position and gurgled up at her mother.
“You’re right, Colby. Mommy’s just too proud to ask her for help. Auntie Abby would fix this, just like she’s always fixed everything and the worst part is that she wouldn’t even be angry with me. She expects me to do shit like this. Hell, why shouldn’t she? This is what I do.”
Sucking on one fist, Lil’s daughter met her eyes with the concern of a child who only knows that her mother isn’t happy but doesn’t know why.
Lil continued on as if her daughter could understand. “How could I have done this?”
From the moment she’d received the news that she was carrying a new life within her, something in her had shifted. One incredibly painful weekend of self-reflection had birthed some difficult resolutions. No more letting Abby support her, clean up after her, save her from the consequences of her actions. No more lamenting on what she thought her life should have been.
It was time to grow up.
Although she’d always stood up for her beliefs and done what she’d thought was the right thing, where had it gotten her?
A long string of dead-end jobs.
A future that was as bleak as her bank account.
Not a life you bring a baby into.
So, Lil had enrolled in college courses and resolved to stop compulsively speaking her mind–at least where her employers were concerned. Too bad she hadn’t kept her thoughts to herself when Abby had asked her opinion of Dominic. Of course, there was no way she could have known how wildly in love her sister would fall or how much of an effect that relationship would have on her own life.
Dominic seemed to have good intentions and it wasn’t that his offers of financial assistance weren’t tempting, but any proximity to him was a bit like inviting a tornado into your yard–he didn’t understand boundaries and without meaning to he could destroy everything you’ve worked for.
If Abby was overprotective, Dominic was downright smothering.
At first, he hadn’t accepted her declaration that what she really wanted from the both of them was the freedom to stand on her own two feet. After a few verbal scuffles, things had calmed and Lil had started to feel that Abby and Dominic finally understood.
I just want time to prove to myself that I’m not a complete screw up.
And I was doing fine…until this morning.
Lil groaned.
Mothers don’t embarrass themselves in the news.
Mothers were supposed to be steadfast and responsible.
At least, that was the type of mother Lil remembered having when she was younger and it was the kind of mother Abby had become to her when their parents had died in a car crash when Lil was thirteen.
Abby would never have spoken to that woman without double-checking her credentials. She wouldn’t have let her bruised ego get the better of her and spouted those comments about Jake. She definitely wouldn’t be hiding in her house hoping this would all magically go away.
Outside of Dominic, Abby was as impulsive as the sunset.
And I’m about as reliable as the weatherman.
Poor Colby, you chose the wrong womb.
Instead of cheering her, the joke brought unexpected tears of frustration to Lil’s eyes. It doesn’t have to be like that anymore. A person can change if they want to badly enough. “I’m going to be a good mother to you, Colby. I promise you that. I’m going to be someone you can be proud of.” It was hard to feel bad for herself when her daughter held up two drool covered hands in a silent request to be picked up. Lil cuddled her baby into her neck and shook her head sadly. “Right after this one last screw up.”
In her moment of need, she reached for the impossible.
I wish you were here, Mom. I don’t know if I can do this without you. What if I can’t be the person I’m trying to be? What if Colby pays the price because I can’t get my shit together?
There was no chill to the room, no apparition or voice from beyond, but for just a moment Lil felt her mother with her and a tear escaped down her cheek. Her young daughter patted it away with a coo.
You’re right, Mom. It’s going to be okay because I will make it okay. I’m a strong, independent woman and I don’t need anyone to solve my problems for me.
The news station had tricked her into giving an interview. That had to be illegal. She needed a lawyer. One of her high school friends had just passed the bar. Maybe he could write up something that would force the station to pull the tape.
With Colby on one hip, Lil dialed the number of a woman she loved like family. “Mrs. Lawson, is Aaron home?”
“Lil! I was going to call you, but I figured your phone must be ringing off the wall. Are you okay? I saw the news.”
An explanation gushed out of her. “I didn’t give the interview. Well, I did, but I didn’t mean to. Some woman called and pretended to be Abby’s assistant and I fell for it. She told me that Abby had asked her to prep me for potential questions from the press.”
“Oh, honey. I figured it was something like that. You must be a wreck. What did Abby say?”
“I haven’t actually spoken to her about it yet.” Lil had been trying, somewhat unsuccessfully, to avoid Abby since the night on the island when she’d made a complete fool out of herself by confusing Jake’s light flirtation with something more serious. If she never saw him again, it would be too soon. She didn’t want to tell Abby about that humiliating night any more than she wanted to explain her latest folly.
Mrs. Lawson clucked her disapproval, but only said, “Well, Aaron is home, but he’s sleeping. What do you need?”
Lil chewed her bottom lip before asking, “Do you think he could write up something that threatens the station with legal action if they go forward with airing it? I’m hoping if I get it there this morning they will pull the interview.”
“Of course he can! I’ll go wake him up. This will be good for him. He’s been applying for jobs since he graduated, but you know him–he won’t accept a position that requires he relocates. I love that boy, but he worries about me too much. It’s not healthy. He’s starting to get depressed. If he doesn’t find something soon, he’s going to have to start up his lawn business again or he won’t be able to pay his college loans. Maybe someone will notice him through this and offer him something local.”
“I hope so! Thanks. Tell him I’ll be there in about thirty minutes. I’m just going to change and pack Colby up.” Lil began to mentally review the outfits in her closet. Luckily she’d purchased a navy jacket and skirt for her interviews. Wasn’t navy the choice of those who wanted to be taken seriously?
I hope it’s the color that says, “I mean it, I’ll sue you.”
Mrs. Lawson said, “I’m sorry you’re going through this, Lil, but it’ll be nice to see you. What if I make you lunch? Just like the old days?”
“I won’t be able to stay. I’ve got to get to the station early if I’m going to stop this from happening.”
“I’ll brown bag it for you.”
“You don’t have to go to any trouble.”
Mrs. Lawson was insistent. “No trouble, Lil. Aaron wouldn’t have made it out of high school without you. If you won’t marry him and make me happy, the least you can do is let me feed you.”
“You know we don’t feel like that about each other.”
The older woman sighed. “I know, but a mother can dream.”
No, they can’t, Lil wanted to say. Mothers have to put their dreams aside and start making responsible decisions.
Mrs. Lawson knew Lil well enough to sense her real distress. She made a sympathetic sound and said, “It’ll work out, Lil. You just get yourself together and come on over early. You’ve got a big day head of you.”
Lil agreed, hung up and carried Colby to the bedroom with her. She tied her hair up in what she hoped was a serious looking bun. Her confidence increased as she layered on the armor of her business attire.
A stranger stared back at her in the mirror. What did people say? “Dress for the job you want, not the job you have.” In this case, she was dressing for the person she wanted to be. If the shoes were too tight and the skirt felt restrictive, well it was something she was determined to learn to love.
She gathered Colby’s supplies.
Bottles. Check. Diapers and wipes. Check. Puff snacks. Check.
A big day.
She slung a diaper bag over her shoulder and secured Colby into her portable car seat.
That’s one way to describe it. All I have to do is get by the reporters, get the letter and convince a station manager that pulling an interview and receiving flack for doing it will be preferable to whatever litigation Aaron chooses to threaten them with.
Completely do-able.
As long as the day doesn’t hold any more surprises.
Chapter Two
Making it to the car wasn’t as bad as Lil had anticipated. With a hand shielding Colby from the flashes of cameras, Lil had rushed through the press, refusing to respond to the questions they’d thrown at her.
“How much did they pay you for the interview, Lil?”
“What’s your big confession?”
“Are you doing this because you’re jealous of your sister’s recent publicity?”
After securing Colby in the back seat, Lil hastily slid into the driver’s seat of her little, red Ford Focus and breathed with relief. Unfortunately, she wasn’t going to get anywhere very fast with those reporters blocking her driveway. She considered simply backing up and forcing them to scramble. That’s what the old her would have done in a heartbeat and she wouldn’t have given a thought to possible consequences.
The new her was trying to figure out how not to give them another reason to feature her on the news tonight.
Her cell phone rang.
Great. That’s the last person I want to talk to right now.
When she didn’t answer, he merely rang again.
Impatiently swiping her phone to connect, she said, “What do you want, Jake? I’m a little busy right now.” She’d given up trying to impress him.
“Where are you going?”
The hair on the back of her neck rose. “How do you know I’m going anywhere?”
“I’m parked across the street.”
A quick turn confirmed his claim.
“Shit.” Lil quickly checked her daughter in the mirror. “Don’t worry, Colby, Mommy is going to stop swearing after today. Don’t remember any of this.”
“Are you talking to me?” Jake asked.
“No,” Lil shook her head. “Sorry. I was–.” Lil stopped herself from sharing what would only make her sound crazier than she already felt. “What are you doing here, Jake?”
“I wanted to see you.”
If only that were true.
“You mean Dominic sent you.”
“Does it matter?”
It shouldn’t, but it did. There could never be anything between them; he’d said so himself. Those words still stung even all these weeks later.
“Not at all.”