I'm on the floor with Aidan when Laurelyn and Emma come in. The minute he sees Emma, he is no longer content with me and begins throwing another one of his screaming tantrums. I pick him up from the floor and pass him off to his mother. "Here, take your titty baby."
"Jack Henry! I can't believe you said that."
"It's true, Laurelyn," Emma agrees. "Aidan is a boob man." She goes to the couch with him and pulls a blanket up over her chest for coverage and begins nursing him. It's her third kid and she quit going into another room after Mila was born. It seriously freaked me out the first few times she did it in front of me, but I guess I'm used to it now because it doesn't bother me anymore. "I hated to leave him all day, but I needed to have a selfish moment and get away for a while. He wasn't terrible, was he?"
"We had a man-to-man chat and I talked him down from the ledge."
Emma gives me an apologetic look. "That bad, huh?"
Yeah, it was pretty bad for a while but I hate to tell her how her kid showed his arse. "Maybe for a little at first, but he got over it."
"Let me guess. Evan dumped him on you?" She knows her husband well.
"Nah. He was busy with the girls so Aidan and I did some male bonding. I haven't gotten to see him much since he's been born. After he got over his little pissed-off spell, he was fine until he saw your boobs. Then he was done with Uncle Jack."
Laurelyn is shaking her head and I suspect I'll be in trouble about the titty baby and boob comments when she gets me alone later, so I make an attempt to smooth it over. "Did my beautiful bride find a dress?"
She immediately begins beaming and I'm certain that's a good sign. "I did."
I know she won't tell me, but I ask anyway. "What does it look like?"
That's exactly the response I expected. "You're not gonna tell me anything about it?"
"Not a chance." Shocker. "You'll find out when you see me on our wedding day."
"Telling me about it isn't the equivalent of seeing you in it before the wedding."
"I know, but I want it to be a complete surprise."
I shrug. "Whatever you want, love."
She slips off one of her shoes and rubs her foot. "Right now I just want to go back to the apartment and rest. These McLachlan women put a hurting on me with this shopping thing. I couldn't keep up with them."
"It's a genetic thing for Mum and Chloe." They will not be stopped. "Emma had to be trained and you will be too."
"We'll see." Probably won't happen. Shopping isn't really Laurelyn's thing.
She isn't making a move to sit and I take that as a sign for us to head out. "I think I need to get my bride-to-be home and run her a warm bath and then massage her feet."
She slips her shoe back on. "You have no idea how perfect that sounds."
Emma looks at Evan. "You could take lessons from your brother."
I can tell that pisses him off. Good. "Okay. Send these three kids home with them and I'll be happy to run you a bath and massage your feet if that's all I have to do—more than glad."
"You don't have to be so cranky about it."
"I'm tired. These kids have done me in today."
"So now you get what it's like for me all day, except you didn't have a human vacuum using you as a dummy."
Laurelyn and I look at one another and begin easing toward the door. I'm pretty sure neither of them notices our escape. We get in the car and begin laughing simultaneously when we look at each other because we know we'll be the same way, even if neither of us says it. And I can't wait.
The week has flown because I've been so busy making wedding plans. I can't believe how helpful Margaret, Chloe, and Emma have been. There's no way I could've pulled this together without their help. I will be forever grateful.
We're in a formal restaurant for our engagement dinner party. Margaret said it was going to be a few friends and family. Yeah, right. There are at least thirty guests present and that doesn't include the immediate McLachlan family.
I've met too many people to keep them straight and I've explained more times than I'd like about my career. I excuse myself to the bathroom, but it's because I need a quiet minute away from the chaos.
I'm leaning forward over the sole bathroom sink, applying a fresh coat of lipstick, when I see the reflection of a woman standing behind me. Our eyes meet in the mirror—and it's an awkward moment—but I allow her to win the stare-down when I avert my eyes. "I'm just finishing up here."
"I debated if I should follow you in here or not."
What a strange thing to say. "Excuse me?"
"I couldn't in good conscience not warn you about the man you're sitting with at dinner tonight."
She's an attractive blond, probably in her late thirties. He told me he's always dated older women and I can only assume she's one of his former companions. I've often wondered what this might feel like—running into one of the other twelve before me. I thought it might be a little easier after the whole Audrey thing, but it isn't. As I stare back into the blue eyes in the mirror, I could be sick at any moment. "What number are you?"
Her tone is bitter. What if she's a freak like Audrey? It might be best to nip this in the bud so she doesn't get any crazy ideas. "I know all about his history, but he doesn't do that kind of thing anymore. We're engaged to be married."
"I wouldn't be so sure about that if I were you, honey. It hasn't been that long since he propositioned me in a hotel bar and took me upstairs."
I wonder what she's calling not long ago. "When?"
"It was March twentieth. I remember the date because it was my birthday."
I feel my heart and stomach swap places as my nausea increases. "I don't want to hear anymore."
"I'm sorry to be the one to break it to you, but I'd want someone to warn me if the situation were reversed. Even if he is gorgeous, you don't want to be with a creep like that."
Why does the room suddenly feel so warm? How can I feel so hot yet break into a cold sweat? Oh, everything is spinning. I reach up and begin to fan myself with my hand. "I need to sit down."
She helps me to the settee against the wall. "I think they say you should put your head between your knees if you feel like you're going to pass out."
I wasn't just feeling like I was going to faint. I was feeling like I was going to die from the pain of learning that the man I loved had been with this woman after I left and then lied to me about it. "You don't look so well. Can I get someone for you?"
It's too bad Addison wasn't feeling well tonight. I wish she were here. "Would you please go to my table and tell the woman in the purple dress that I need her without alarming everyone else that I'm not feeling well?"
"Of course. I'll be right back."
I begin to feel worse after she leaves, so I lower myself to the floor. I'm afraid I'm about to black out so I'll end up down there anyway, and it's better to be there by choice than by force.
I think I must've been unconscious for a brief moment because when I open my eyes and look up, Emma and Jack Henry are standing over me. Emma is on her knees beside me and she's holding my head in her lap while she blots my face with wet paper towels. "Calm down, Jack. She's starting to come around now. Honey, are you okay?" I blink several times but my blurry vision only slightly improves.
"She's clearly not okay because she passed out." I hear the fear in his voice. "What would've caused that?"
"Could she be pregnant?" Emma asks.
Jack Henry hesitates before answering. "Of course, there's a possibility but I don't think she is."
I hear the blond explain, "I'm afraid it's my fault because I told her what you did to me at the Langford Hotel several months ago."
"What is she talking about, Jack?" I hear the confusion in Emma's voice.
"What the fuck did you tell her that caused her to end up like this?" He's angry.
The door creaks open and then I hear Margaret's voice. "Good Lord, what happened?"
"She passed out," Emma and Jack Henry say in unison.
"Should we call an ambulance?"
I blink some more and my vision improves, so I try again to find my voice. When I do, it's weak. "No. Ambulance." I strain and see I can't sit up on my own. "Help me sit up, Em."
"I'll help her," Jack Henry says as he reaches for me.
"No. I don't want you to touch me," I say when I feel his hand on my arm.
"What's going on here?" I hear the confusion in Margaret's voice. "Why would she say that?"
"It's nothing—just a little misunderstanding." I wish that were the case.
The blond is still there and offering unwanted help. "Maybe she needs something to drink." I could certainly use something dark, straight, and stronger than me.
"No, thanks." He walks over to the door and holds it open. "I think you've helped quite enough. Your assistance will no longer be needed here."
I shouldn't be but I can't stop myself from being angry with the blond woman—for being with him then, for being here now.
"Go away." She takes one look at my face and it registers that there's no place for her here, so she walks out.
Em attempts to help me to my feet, but I'm still a wee bit wobbly.
"I'll be the one to take care of her." As much as I want to, I don't argue. Instead, I allow him to help me from the floor because I don't want to cause a scene in front of Emma and Margaret. Although I'm incredibly hurt and furious with him right now, I'd never want them to find out about the things he's done with other women, including the one he apparently fucked only a few days after I left. Keeping them in the dark has nothing to do with protecting him; I'm keeping his secret to myself to protect them from seeing him the way I do right now.