“It is,” she said, turning to the stove. “You do like pancakes, don’t you?”
Slade grinned and hitched a hip onto the edge of the counter. “Show me a Baron who doesn’t, and I’ll show you an imposter.”
Lara smiled and began pouring batter onto the griddle. “How many of you are there? Barons, I mean.”
“Well, let’s see. There’s the old man—Jonas, our father. And there’s Travis and Gage, my brothers. And our stepsister, Caitlin, although she’s really not a Baron…” He paused, and his voice softened. “You’ll like them all, Sugar, even my old man. And they’ll like you.”
“I hope so,” she said, with a nervous laugh. “Have you told them yet? About us?”
“No. Not yet. My brothers have been having some problems of their own. And everything happened so fast with you and me…” Slade reached for another strip of bacon. He didn’t want to talk about the unpleasant circumstances of their marriage, especially now, after the night they’d shared. “How about you? Have you told anyone?”
Lara flipped a row of pancakes. “No.” Her voice was so low he had to strain to hear it. “There’s only my mother and my sister. And—and I’m not close with either of them.”
“Oh,” he said, and waited for her to say more, but she didn’t. He tried to imagine not feeling close to Trav or Gage but it was impossible. “So, uh, where do they live?”
“Outside Atlanta.” Lara began stacking pancakes on two plates. “My mother’s on her third husband. Or maybe he’s her live-in. I’m not sure. All I know is that he treats her like dirt. My sister’s married.” She looked up, her eyes suddenly bright with defiance. “Her husband treats her the same way.”
“Hey.” Slade eased off the counter edge. “Lara, darlin’…”
She brushed past him and put the plates on the table. “Breakfast is ready. Let’s eat before it gets—”
He felt her shudder as he took her in his arms. She stood rigidly within his embrace and he knew she wanted him to let her go but he didn’t. He couldn’t, not once he’d glimpsed the pain she carried. Instead he gentled her as he would a spooked filly, running his hands lightly up and down her back, letting his warmth surround her. After a long time, she put her arms around his waist and buried her face in his neck.
“I’m sorry,” she whispered.
“Don’t be.” He pressed a kiss into her hair. “Would it help to talk about it?”
She never did, never had. It wasn’t that she was ashamed of her mother…well, maybe she was, just a little. But if she told Slade about her, and how hard she’d worked not to repeat her life, he might understand…
Lara looked up at her husband and wondered if her mother had ever felt this way. It didn’t seem possible but perhaps her mother had once loved her father, almost as much as she loved Slade. Maybe she’d put her trust in her husband, the way she was tempted to put her trust in Slade.
Love, and trust. That was what it took, to make a marriage.
Lara shuddered, and Slade’s arms tightened around her. “Darlin’, what is it?”
“Nothing,” she said, “it’s nothing.”
She looked up. The look on his face was so serious that she was almost afraid to hear what he was going to say.
“My childhood wasn’t exactly Happy Days, either,” he said. His voice was gruff but his touch was gentle as he stroked her hair back from her face. “You and I are going to do a lot better than that for our son.” He put his hand under her chin and lifted her face to his, his heart catching when he saw the glimmer of tears on her cheeks. “And for each other, darlin’. I promise.”
Lara shook her head. She wanted to tell him not to make promises because promises were painfully easy to break but he bent to her, before she could speak, and kissed her.
“Breakfast can wait,” he said softly. “Come with me, Lara. Let me show you the best way to greet the morning, and to begin the rest of our lives together.”
The rest of our lives together. The words sang in Lara’s heart.
“How?” she whispered.
Slade swept her into his arms and kissed her. She sighed and buried her face in his neck as he carried her back to their bed.
* * *
The weekend ended far too soon, but it led into a wonderful week.
By Friday, Slade felt like an old married man.
The thought made him grin. f
Slade Baron, husband and father. Who would have believed it?
He was happy, he thought, as he put his signature to a stack of letters Betsy had brought in a few minutes before. Happy? That was the wrong word. Of course he was happy. What man wouldn’t be, if he had a gorgeous, passionate wife and a son who was obviously going to grow up to be a rocket scientist or a star pitcher for the Red Sox or maybe an architect who would outshine even his old man?
Slade’s grin widened.
What he was, was complete. Yes, that was it. For the first time in his thirty years—his almost thirty years, he thought, glancing at his desk calendar—for the very first time in his entire life, he felt whole. He had a wife and a son, and they had closed a circle he hadn’t even realized needed closing.
It was time to break the news to Trav and Gage and Catie. And to his partners, who’d already figured something was up because, as Jack had put it just yesterday, he kept walking around looking like a cat with an endless supply of canaries in cream sauce. Well, he would tell them, all of them—right after this weekend.
It was going to be a very special weekend.
He suspected Lara was going to give him a birthday present. She had that look about her the last couple of days, the one that said she knew something he didn’t. He smiled. He might be in for a surprise but she was, too. He was going to tell his wife she’d already given him the most precious gifts in the world. First Michael, and now herself. She was the best thing that had ever happened to him. He wanted to tell her that, in a very special setting.
It was the reason he was leaving early and heading home, unannounced.
Slade slipped on his jacket and picked up the letters. Whistling softly, he strolled from his office, dropped the letters on Betsy’s desk, wished her a pleasant weekend and headed to the street.
Last weekend had been wonderful. He and Lara had walked in the woods, and fished. Well, he’d fished. Lara couldn’t bear the thought of putting a worm on a hook so she’d simply sat beside him, dangling her feet in the cool lake water. Later, he’d cleaned the trout he’d caught and cooked them over the grill on the deck, and then he’d enticed Lara into stripping down to the buff and going skinny-dipping. They’d made love in the water, and then he’d carried her back to the cabin and they’d made love again.
Slade grinned. “Control yourself, Baron,” he murmured, as he got behind the wheel of the Jaguar.
It had been a great weekend, but this one was going to be even better.
That was why he was heading home two hours early. He’d made all his plans days ago. First he would fly them to New York in his Comanche. He’d stay low, out of the way of the big planes, so she could see how beautiful the city was, from the sky. That view had always made his skin prickle, and he wanted to share
it with her.
Then they’d take a taxi to the Plaza, where he’d booked a suite overlooking the park. They had dinner reservations at a French restaurant Ted Levine said served the best pot-au-feu this side of the Atlantic and afterward, he’d take her dancing, then finish the evening with a carriage ride through Central Park. And first thing tomorrow morning, he was taking his wife to Tiffany’s. A woman should have an engagement ring and a wedding band, even if her husband gave them to her after the fact.
He’d give her a weekend to remember, tell her what she meant to him…
And try not to wonder how many other men had done the same stupid thing.
“Hell,” Slade said. He pulled the car to the curb, oblivious to the sudden angry blast of horns behind him.
Why did he keep thinking that way? It didn’t matter how many men there’d been before him. What counted was that there’d never be another man after him. He’d made it clear that he expected Lara to be faithful and besides, they made each other happy. She wouldn’t look elsewhere. She wouldn’t need to.
“Damned right, she won’t,” he said, and headed into traffic again.
He entered the house through the back door. Helga was at the sink. She looked up in surprise and he put his finger to his lips.
“Upstairs,” she whispered, and he smiled and eased past her.
That meant Lara was in their bedroom. Their bedroom, he thought, as he went toward it. After last weekend, neither of them had even suggested sleeping alone. Amazing, how his life had gone from disaster to paradise in so few days.
He paused in the open doorway, smiling as he caught sight of his wife. She was sitting on the edge of their bed, her back to him, talking on the telephone in a low-pitched voice.
“No,” she said, and gave a soft, husky laugh, “no, he doesn’t suspect a thing.”
Slade felt the smile freezing on his lips. He told himself to make some noise. Clear his throat, shuffle his feet—do something, anything, to let her know he was listening…
“There’s no way he can find out, not if I don’t tell him, and believe me, I won’t. Uh-huh. Yes, I know. Lots and lots of champagne.” She laughed again, the sound low and intimate. He could see that she’d crossed her legs and was swinging one foot, back and forth, back and forth. “I’m willing to leave the details up to you. I know, I know; we don’t know each other very well but…Fine. I’ll meet you there. Yes, in the suite. At seven. Well, maybe a bit later, if I can’t come up with an excuse my husband will buy. Me, too. I can’t tell you how much I’m looking forward to tomorrow night, Elliot. Uh-huh. Yes. Goodbye.”