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The arrangement 23, p.12

The Arrangement 23, page 12

 part  #23 of  The Arrangement Series

 

The Arrangement 23
 


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  “Your heart doesn’t know the difference.”

  I gawk up at him. “That’s not fair. Are you serious? This is actual grief? I’m not crying for me?” It feels selfish, like I’m a tearful asshole because I’ve killed someone. Again. I can’t even think about it. It’s like my brain is trying to shove a chicken back into an egg. It doesn’t want to go there.

  “Of course you’re crying for you.” The doc walks over and sits beside me. He glances across the room before smoothing his palms over his scrubs.

  “How could you possibly know that?”

  The man doesn’t search for the right words. They just tumble out. “Because I know your story. Avery, you lost so much. You thought you were alone, found out you weren’t—had family—and then discovered your brother was the one who ruined your life and killed everyone you loved. You should cry for you, for things going the way they did. Bottling up emotions won’t help you. Venting, crying, and dealing with what happened will help you get past this. You won’t forget, no one would expect you to, but you can move forward.”

  “Who are you?” I meet his eyes, slightly unnerved that he knows so much about me although I’ve never met him. “I thought you were a doctor on call for the Ferro family. That’s not the truth, is it?”

  His gaze flicks to the floor as he takes a breath and pauses. When he glances at me side-long, he adds, “It a partial truth. I am a doctor for the Ferros. I met Constance when I was working an ER in Aruba. She offered me a job here anytime I wanted it. At first, I declined.” He clears his throat and avoids my eyes, studies his hands. “I remember you.”

  The words are less confident than the others. Almost as if the doc wasn’t sure he should have said them. “What do you mean? Remember me from what?” I sniffle and try to keep my nose from running down my face.

  The doc plucks a clean handkerchief from his pocket and extends his hand toward me. “I was there when you were delivered. Then I helped you and your mother escape.”

  I take the hankie and dab my eyes and glance over at him, surprised. “You were?”

  “Yes,” he says. “It was an unusual situation. It was a delivery in a hospital back when we didn’t ask if the mother or child was in danger. I was young and idealistic, barely into my first year. No one looked twice at me when I wheeled you two outside and put you into a cab.”

  I regard the man who protected my mother. “Did you know her back then? Mom, I mean.”

  He nods his head. “Yes.” The word is barely a whisper. He avoids my gaze for a moment and explains, “I knew her when she was young. There are some people that you never forget, and she was one of them.” He smiles but it’s bittersweet, as if there’d been possibilities with Mom at one point, but then they turned to dust.

  “You loved her?” It’s beyond blunt, but I see it in his eyes. Once upon a time, this man cared very deeply for my mom.

  He nods once, and it’s barely perceptible. “She was a good friend, back in high school.” He doesn’t comment further on their relationship. Instead, he continues telling my story. “She insisted that you be kept with her at all times and even followed you down to the nursery. New mothers can certainly be protective, but not to that extreme. I knew something was wrong because I knew her. She wouldn’t let you out of her sight. It made me wonder, and I finally asked if something was wrong. The expression on her face said everything.”

  “She told you about Victor?”

  He shakes his head. “She didn’t have to—I knew something was very wrong. She was so afraid. I did something drastic, and acted because she was a friend. There are certain people you can’t walk away from, certain people you take risks for, no matter the cost. I hoped I did the right thing by granting her wishes and sneaking the two of your out of the hospital. I took your lives into my hands and often wondered what happened to you both—if it was mercy or a mistake. I’d hoped that if I couldn’t find you, neither could Victor.”

  Mom never spoke about this man, and I can’t help but wonder why. I suppose it would be odd to talk about an old friend once she married Daddy. I file the facts away so that I can talk to her about it someday.

  Then I confess, “It was mercy. Mom had a few moments of joy between the shadows. I remember her smile, the times she forgot to look over her shoulder and got lost in the moment.”

  The doc is quiet and then glances to the room across the hall. “You should talk to her.”

  Reluctance slithers around my neck, and I confess, “I don’t know what to say. I feel so guilty like this was all my fault. Even if it wasn’t, it all happened because of me.” I’m wringing my hands and getting dangerously close to hitting the exhaustion wall. There are things I want to say to her, questions to ask. Anger and joy mingle in my chest along with remorse and relief. It makes me mute.

  He nods slowly, making sounds of understanding, then lifts a palm, asking, “What if she feels the same way?”

  I reply softly, “She shouldn’t.”

  “Neither should you, but you do.” He presses his wrinkled lips together and changes the subject. “Can I look you over? I know you’re hurting.”

  “Yeah,” I murmur. I sit down on the edge of the coffee table and stare at an ugly painting on the wall and the thick golden frame.

  The doc examines me, treats the wound on my temple, cleaning it and applying liquid stitches. The doc talks as he works, telling me about what he’s done since he last saw me, how he left the States and worked at a medical mission in Uganda before moving to Aruba a decade ago. He didn’t come home until recently when he heard that Victor Campone died. He always thought they’d find him. When he saw the headline that Campone was shot, he called Constance and asked if that job was still available. He’s been on staff ever since.

  He dabs ointment on my cheek, “In the meantime, I did what I could, where I could. It’s not much, but one life touches another and so on.” His voice is soothing and keeps my mind from bouncing haphazardly.

  “My mother used to say that.”

  He chuckles softly and glances at her. “Is that so?”

  I nod. “Yeah, I suppose that’s where I got it from, and it’s why I couldn’t give up on Sean, despite all the things people said about him. He changed. Vic didn’t.”

  “Or maybe neither of those men changed at all. You saw Sean for what he is beneath all the turmoil. You also saw Vic for what he was as well. Having faith in people can bring out the best in them, but I don’t believe we ever truly change. We just continue, moving forward, with scars that remind us of our mistakes. A man who can look in the mirror and remember those errors is far less likely to make them in the future.”

  I shake my head and smile up at him. “You’re a walking oxymoron. You know that? You think you can’t save anyone, but you spent twenty years literally saving people. I think there’s a disconnect between your head and your heart.” Like calls to like and in this case, I know he’s like me—wanting to see the best in people and always hoping. It’s a precarious way to live, but that’s the point. He lives. He doesn’t shrink back and withdraw from the world.

  The doc offers a grin and places his hands on his hips and laughs lightly. “Touché. The world needs more people like you. Straight and to the point. So, Avery, is there anything else I should check before I tend to the others?”

  The smile falls from my lips as I ask, “Is the baby alright? I just found out that I’m pregnant and I’m almost too afraid to ask. Vic hit really close.” I touch my side gingerly and wince. I’m sure there’s a flowering bruise creeping up my ribs.

  “I can check. How far along are you?”

  I tell him I’m not certain, but maybe eight weeks or so. He presses the stethoscope to my belly and is too quiet. He listens for a long time and then puts it down. When he looks at me, I’m so afraid.

  “Is she all right?” My voice chokes. I can’t swallow. “You can’t hear her heartbeat, can you?”

  “I shouldn’t be able to hear anything yet, but I can. I suspect that yo
u’re further along than you guessed. Maybe ten to twelve weeks?”

  “She’s okay?” I cover my mouth with my hands as I try not to cry. I kept thinking I’d never see her. I figured I’d lost her.

  “Yes, she appears to be fine. We can run more tests tomorrow just to make sure.” He smiles broadly at me as I start to cry. I’m shaking and trying to stop, but I can’t. The emotional firehose takes over and there’s a spray of tears and worry in my soft sobs.

  A slight touch is on my shoulder a few moments later. Mom is standing there, lips parted, looking down at me. Her expression caught between pride and joy.

  “You’re having a baby?” The corners of Mom’s mouth twitch as her lips pull into a smile. “Oh, Avery. I thought that was why you put your hand there like that, but I didn’t want to say anything. I wasn’t certain until just now.” She wraps her arms around me, and we both cry, sitting on top of a tiny table in front of the fire.

  CHAPTER 20

  I hadn’t planned on talking to anyone about the baby before I spoke with Sean, but the way tonight played out didn’t go that way. When Sean finishes with their meeting, Peter offers to take Mom to the Ferro home in the city.

  I stare at Sean, “Your family has an apartment? Why the hell were you in a hotel?”

  He lifts a brow at me with a crooked smirk. “I was trying to keep you away from them.”

  “That didn’t work out.” I snort a laugh and pad over to Sean, bone weary. “Please tuck me in.”

  “Of course. Where are we staying? I heard you’ve come into some money and you don’t need me anymore,” he says teasing before pressing a kiss to my forehead.

  I lift my hand and press my finger to the tip of his nose. “Now you know, without a shadow of a doubt, that I did not choose to marry you for your money.”

  “I knew that before today.” He watches me carefully, his eyes boring into mine.

  I’m close to his face, leaning into his chest. His brothers are in the hallway, talking to each other. Jon laughs loudly, and Peter’s face turns red. Peter is the shy version of Sean, while Jon is the adaptation that says everything he’s thinking. The three of them are lucky to have each other.

  “So, where should we sleep? I suppose that you would rather not stay here.” Sean cocks his head to the side and glances down at me, dark lashes soft against his skin.

  I frown and shake my head. “No, I never want to step foot in this place again. As soon as it’s out of probate, this house is gone.”

  “Good.” He’s tender, sweet, and kisses my brow as he ignores his siblings who are waiting for him. “I also thought you’d like to be near your mother and arranged for it. We’ll head over with her in a moment. I’m sure you two have a lot to talk about – I heard she’s speaking. That’s an excellent sign.”

  Yeah, a baby would make anyone talk. I’m afraid Sean is going to hear the news from someone else. Admiring his beautiful face, I whisper, “I need to tell you something.”

  Sean presses a kiss to my forehead. “So tell me.” He peers down at me as if he’s expecting me to blurt it out right here, right now.

  “It’s kind of private.” I glance at his brothers who are still in earshot.

  “Oh,” he grimaces. “You can tell me when we get to the house.”

  The Ferro home in the city turns out to be a massive penthouse on Park Avenue. I don’t know why I’m shocked, but I am. It’s immaculate, decorated in a similar style to the Ferro mansion in deep colors, posh fabrics, and ornate decorations. I gape as we walk inside.

  Constance will show up here at some point as well. With the Ferro mansion still in pieces, there’s nowhere else to go. Sean assures me that we can find our own place quickly. Even with my inheritance tied up, he has plenty of money to get whatever we want—even a little cape cod with a white picket fence. If I could have any home, live anywhere in the world, I’d still pick that little house in the suburbs of Manhattan.

  After scrubbing off all the gore and grime, it’s nearly sunrise. The horizon grows brighter, chasing away the night. I stare out the window, lying on my side, in a warm bed waiting for Sean. My eyelids lower and then dart open a few times.

  That’s all I remember until I wake up with Sean’s warm body next to mine a few hours later. He’s breathing deeply, slowly. His dark lashes are like black fronds against his smooth cheek. I close my eyes and fall back to sleep.

  When I finally rouse, I stare off the edge of the bed. There’s a thin slit of orange sunlight on the hand-carved wood floor. I stare at it sleepily and wonder if it’s dusk or dawn. I don’t even know what day it is and I really don’t care. I roll over and find Sean awake with his eyes on me. His hair is tousled and dark stubble lines his jaw.

  He smiles at me and gently strokes my hair. “Hello, Miss Smith. How are you this evening?”

  I grin at him and stretch carefully. Every muscle aches and my head is throbbing. “I feel like I had the shit kicked out of me last night. Oh wait, I did.” I scoot closer to him and rest my head against his chest. “When did life get so weird?”

  “The moment I met you.” He grins down at me before squeezing me lightly, being careful to avoid the sore spots.

  “Hey!” I tip my head back to look into his face which bears a pleasant expression. His lips curve up as if he has a secret. “There’s something different about you today. Or tonight. Whatever it is.”

  “Oh?” He grins broadly and then laughs, delighted. Then he leans in close and whispers, “I know your secret.”

  I frown unable to conceal my disappointment. “Someone told you.” Indignant, I sit up and jut out my lip. “Who would do that?”

  “My mother. Who else?” He’s laughing, completely happy.

  “Sean,” I whimper softly, “I wanted to tell you.”

  “I know, but I was awake for a little bit earlier, and it came up.”

  I hesitate for a moment. “You’re happy about it? I didn’t know how you’d react if you were ready or not.”

  “Of course I’m ready.”

  I smile, relieved. “Thank God. I didn’t know what you’d do. I mean, it’s a big deal—”

  “Avery, you’re spectacular. You know that right? You are completely perfect,” he preens, bursting with pride. There’s still a big playful smile on that gorgeous face.

  “So you’re okay with it?” I’m still cautious, and shocked he’s so pleased. I thought he’d be anxious about a baby, about settling into a life together.

  “I’m fucking elated.” His hands are flying as he talks, animated and cheerful. “Seriously, no one has ever done what you did and lived to tell the tale.”

  I blink at him. Silence. He’s still laughing and stops when I don’t say anything. After a moment, I lift my finger and confess, “I don’t think we’re talking about the same thing. ‘Live to tell the tale’ isn’t exactly flattering for you. I guess it’s accurate…sorta.” I snort a laugh and try not to smile.

  Sean arches a brow at me. “Why, what are you talking about?”

  “No,” I shake my head. “You tell me what you’re talking about first.”

  He eyes me suspiciously. “Mother told me what you talked about last night. About you standing up to her. She said that you didn’t back down and traded secrets like a pro. She told me this morning that I found a good one, and not to fuck it up.” He laughs for a moment, then adds, “What were you talking about?”

  I start laughing and do a faceplant onto the bed and instantly wish I hadn’t. I’m so sore. I chuckle into the sheets, instantly happier. He doesn’t know about the baby. I get to tell him. Elation and anxiety mingle together and bounce through my muffled laughter.

  Sean lays across my back gently, careful not to crush me, and pulls my shoulder up in an attempt to see my face. “Avery, what’s so funny?”

  “Besides the fact that your mom likes me?”

  “Yes, although that’s a reason to smile.” He nuzzles a kiss against my neck and repeats, “Tell me your secrets, Miss Smith.” The
warmth of his breath wisps over my ear as the scent of him fills my head.

  I swallow hard, heart pounding, and glance over my shoulder at him. Those blue eyes are curious and lingering so close, with lips near enough to kiss. “Well, I have a secret.”

  “I know you do.” The corners of his mouth tip up into a sexy grin.

  “I’m not sure I want to tell you yet,” I tease, still smiling at him broadly. With a flick of my hand, I add, “I mean it’s pretty major.”

  He tickles my neck with a seductive kiss. “All the more reason to share.” Stubble lines his face along with a nasty gash and bruise that runs up his arm to his shoulder. “Miss Smith, Avery, My Love—tell me.”

  I press my lips together and then blurt out, “You’re going to be a daddy.” I catch my lower lip in my teeth as time stands still. The moment is surreal. Everything feels a million times louder, slower, and more colorful—more important.

  His voice is soft, surprised, “Are you serious?” He pulls away to sit up. I roll over to watch him and the way his eyes seem to be filling with hope. “How do you know?”

  “Yes, I’m serious. And I know because the doctor confirmed it.” More tension makes things intensify. After a nervous giggle, I add, “And I peed on a stick. It’s legit.”

  His eyes are searching mine, looking for something he can’t find before they drop to my middle. When he glances up at me, he asks, “And it’s all right? You were hurt. Is he…?”

  “She’s alright. I think it’s a girl.”

  He smiles softly, in awe. “We’re having a baby?” I nod, and nerves lick the insides of my stomach. “We’re having a baby!” He shouts and grins at me, full wattage.

  Sean leaps up and dances around the room, naked, forgetting himself for a moment. Contagious excitement bounces through the room as I sit on the bed and giggle. Sean dances like a leprechaun, kicking up his heels and swinging around the bedpost. All he needs is a green top hat.

  Then he bounds onto the bed, pulling me closer to him and then takes my face in his palms. “Why didn’t you tell me sooner?”

 
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