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Atlanta, GA, United States
I am the New York Times, USA Today, and Amazon Best Selling author of The Proposition, Proposal, Music of the Heart, and Nets and Lies. I am represented by Jane Dystel of Dystel and Goderich for all books except for Proposition and Proposal.
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The Proposition

The Proposition



The Party: A Proposition/Proposal Novella

The Party

Prequel to The Proposition

Katie Ashley

Copyright 2013 Katie Ashley Productions

Smashwords Edition


To the readers and fans of The Proposition

Glancing at the clock on the car’s dashboard, Emma cringed. Her pampering day at the spa had run a little late. Okay, thirty minutes wasn’t exactly a little late. Now it was only an hour before she and Aidan were supposed to be at his company’s Christmas Party. Somehow in that hour they were going to have to drop Noah off at Aidan’s niece, Megan’s, house since she had graciously offered to baby-sit for them.
When she rolled to a stop at a red-light, she dug her phone out of her purse. Her fingers flew over the keyboard as she typed Five minutes from the house. Hair stylist was behind. So, so sorry. She didn’t know how much good trying to text Aidan would do. Her last few messages had gone unanswered, and she was afraid to call the house in case Noah was still napping.
He had surprised her that morning at breakfast with an early Christmas present—a gift certificate to Spa Sydell where she could spend the day getting pampered with facials and massages before having her hair and make-up done for the party. Now that she was a stay-at-home-mom, she relished anytime she could have a day just for herself. It had been the most amazing present, especially since Aidan was spending the day having “man” time with Noah.
But now Emma didn’t even want to begin to wonder how Aidan was getting ready for the party with Noah crawling around and getting into everything. All she had left to do was slip into her cocktail dress, but when she had left Aidan and Noah earlier in the day, Aidan was in his ratty sweatpants and hadn’t showered or shaved.
She whipped the car into the driveway and eased into the garage. Grabbing her purse, she hopped out and hurried into the kitchen. Beau met her in the doorway. “Hiya, boy. Let me guess. Daddy is pissed and not speaking to me?” Beau cocked his head at her, causing Emma to laugh. “Okay, let me rephrase that. Where are the guys?”
He wagged his tail before turning around and heading out of the kitchen. “Okay, I’ll follow you then.” Glancing into the living-room, she saw the television was on. “Aidan?” she questioned as she started down the hallway. Beau sat outside the master bedroom doorway, thumping his tail on the floor. Emma smiled and patted his head. “You’re such a good boy. Thanks for letting me know where they were.”
When Emma started into the bedroom, she skidded to a stop. Lying on one side of the bed, Aidan was sleeping soundly with his right arm draped over his head. Next to him, Noah lay in the same position. A smile curved on her lips, and she couldn’t stop the warmth spreading through her chest at the sight of the two people she loved most in the entire world. Digging her phone out of her purse, she tip-toed over to the bed. She snapped several shots of the mirror images of father and son.
Now she knew why her texts had gone unanswered. He wasn’t upset—he was dead to the world. Easing down beside Aidan, she leaned over and kissed his cheek and then planted a chaste kiss on his warm mouth. “Wake up, sleepyhead. It’s time to get ready for the party,” she said against his lips.
While Aidan barely stirred, the sound of her voice caused Noah to stretch his fists over his head and kick his legs. Emma reached over Aidan’s waist to pick Noah up. Kissing his cheek, she said, “Hey angel. Did you miss mommy?” His drowsy blue eyes opened—the same piercing ones his father had. A small grin formed on his lips, which caused Emma to melt. His tiny hand came up to brush his fingers over her cheek. She kissed each one of them before pretending to nibble them, which always made Noah laugh. “I missed you, and I’m going to miss you tonight, too. But Megan is going to take good care of you, and you’ll get to play with Mason.”
Noah cooed in response, reaching for the strands of her auburn hair that he loved to twist between his fingers.
At Aidan’s snore, Emma shook her head. “Come on, let’s wake up Daddy.” She sat Noah next to Aidan. “Go on. Wake him up,” she instructed. With a grin, Noah immediately reached over and smacked his hands over and over on Aidan’s chest. “Dada!” he cried.
Aidan’s eyes flew open, and he gazed wildly around the room before finally taking in Emma. His mouth opened in a wide yawn before he spoke. “Now there’s a wake-up call. Just glad he wasn’t close to my crotch,” he muttered before rubbing his eyes.
Emma laughed. “Hey, I tried kissing you, but you wouldn’t wake up.”
With his trademark sexy smirk, he replied, “Damn, I hate I missed that one.” He started to move closer to her, but she pushed him back.
“Well, you wouldn’t have missed much with Noah in the bed, not to mention the fact we’re going to be late to the Christmas Party.”
“Who cares about being on time? We can just make an appearance.” Pulling himself into a sitting position, Aidan stared at her for a moment, drinking in her appearance. “You look beautiful,” he murmured.
Warmth filled her cheeks. “Thank you. And thanks again for my early Christmas present. I had the most amazing day.”
He smiled. “You’re welcome.” He reached out to tenderly take one of her loose curls between his fingers—he and Noah both had an obsession with her hair. “I’m so glad you left your hair down.”
“I did it for you—I know you like it loose wavy.”
He winked at her. “Just like the first night I ever saw you.”
With a grin, she said, “Yes, but the difference in that night and tonight is I’ll be coming home with you. Unlike two years ago when I said you were the last man on earth I would ever sleep with.”
Aidan chuckled. “What a difference a couple of years can make, huh?” He leaned over to nuzzle her neck. “You gotta admit that we’ve made the most of the past twenty-four months. Not only did you end up sleeping with me many, many times—”She smacked his arm playfully to which he pulled away and winked at her. “But you married me, gave me a beautiful son, and are now pregnant again with my child.”
“With your daughter,” Emma teased.
With a groan, Aidan replied, “We’re not sure it’s a girl yet.” He sighed and shook his head. “But if it is, I hope she never, ever dates a guy like me.”
“Now stop running yourself down. You’re a reformed manwhore, remember?”
“That’s right.”
“The past is past, and all we have is our present and the future.”
“But we wouldn’t necessarily have now if it weren’t for my notorious past or your rather tragic one.”
Emma smiled. “That’s true. I guess we owe everything to one party, huh?”
Aidan nodded. “Yeah, we sure as hell do!”

The shrill sound of a cell phone ringing cut through the hazy levels of Aidan Fitzgerald’s subconscious. Rolling over in bed, he slapped his hand blindly along the nightstand to find it. Once his fingers made contact, he snatched it, rubbed his thumb over the bar and brought it to his ear. “Ello?” he murmured drowsily.
“Please tell me you haven’t forgotten what today is?” his father’s voice boomed into the phone.
With a groan, Aidan pulled himself into a sitting position in the bed. He cupped the phone to his ear and then furiously rubbed the grit and sleep out of his blue eyes. “Good morning to you too, Pop.”
“I swear on all that is holy that if you’re hung-over at your godson’s baptism I will personally beat your ass!”
His father’s words doused him awake. Glancing over his shoulder, he read out the time on the digital clock. 9 am. Three hours before he was expected at Christ the King for his great-nephew’s baptism. Although he was probably the least suited for the job, somehow he managed to let his niece, Megan, convince him to take the role of godfather for her baby, Mason. “I’m not hung-over, Pop. I was just sleeping late. It is Saturday, and not all of us have bodies that are regulated to military time.”
When his father harrumphed disapprovingly into the phone, Aidan formed a perfect picture in his mind of his father’s almost certain indignant expression. He could just see him gripping the cordless phone tight along with his ramrod straight posture as his snowy white head of hair shook disapprovingly. “Yes, I can only imagine you needed the rest after a late night doing God knows what,” Patrick grumbled.
A smirk curved on Aidan’s lips when he thought of the previous nights R-rated escapades. Thinking back didn’t help the morning wood he was already sporting. “Look, I’m awake, and I’ll be there to pick you up at eleven, which will give us a whole hour before the service. Okay?”
“You better be.”
“And miss another guilt trip? I wouldn’t dream of it,” Aidan said before he hung up. He tossed the phone back onto the nightstand. Burrowing back under the covers, he then spooned up against the leggy blonde who had been his Friday Night Fuck Buddy for the last six weeks.
“You have to leave?” Lydia asked with a yawn.
“Not yet,” Aidan replied, snaking his hand up to cup her breast.
As her nipple hardened under his touch, Lydia gave a soft moan. “What was the phone call about?”
He paused in kissing her bare back. “Just my dad. He wanted to make sure I was awake and sober for my godson’s baptism today.”
Lydia snorted. “You’re going to be in church at a baptism?”
“Yep, I’m the godfather,” he replied, pressing his erection into her naked backside.
Teasingly, she wiggled away from him. “I thought godparents were supposed to be moral and spiritual guides for children.”
Aidan chuckled. “Are you trying to say I’m going to be a bad influence for Mason?”
She glanced back at him. “Come on, Aidan. You’re the last person on earth who needs to be giving any guidance to a kid. All you know is drinking and fucking.”
“And I’m pretty damn good at both of them, aren’t I?”
Lydia giggled. “You and that ego of yours.”
“Can we please stop talking?”
“Except for dirty stuff?”
“Exactly.” Aidan nibbled his way up her bare shoulder. “Today is going to be such an emotional hassle. I just want to forget about all that shit by fucking you senseless. Your body is always such a good distraction.”
Instead of warming to his touch, Lydia stiffened. “So basically you want to use me?”
Aidan’s lips stilled on her neck. “No, that’s not what I meant.”
She whipped her head back to pin him with an icy stare. “That’s sure what it sounded like.”
He gave a frustrated grunt. “Wow, that’s a nice 180 on the emotions.”
“Well, excuse me that I don’t take too kindly when a man insinuates that I’m only good for screwing his mind off of things.”
“That’s not what I meant. But don’t try to call what this is between us more than it really is.”
She cocked her eyebrows. “And what do you consider us?”
“We’re fuck buddies, Lydia. What is it exactly that we do if it’s not use each other for sex?”
“I think what we’ve been for the last six weeks is a little more than your clumsy summation,” she snapped.
“Oh Christ, don’t tell me you’re now looking for an invitation to go with me to my godson’s baptism today?”
“I’m sure as hell not. I was just making conversation.”
Aidan shook his blonde head. “I can see where this is going. You think meeting my family will magically make us more than two people who meet for sex once or twice a week?”
Sliding away to the edge of the bed, she pulled the sheet against her chest before glaring at him. “You can be a real asshole, did you know that?”
Aidan threw up his hands in frustration. “Right now all I know is I’m confused at what the hell is your problem? I thought we’d been having a lot of fun together, and we could have some more—specifically before I had to leave for a real hellish day.”
“We were having fun, but I don’t want to be used by you, Aidan. No woman likes the idea that she’s just a piece of ass to be used whenever or however some jackass wants to, especially when he wants to emotionally check-out for a while. I am a person, you know, with feelings.”
Oh Fuck. Here it was. The ‘I want more’ conversation that inevitably ruined every good friends with benefits or hook-up situation he had ever been a part of. Things had been going so great with Lydia. He’d met her one night after work at his favorite hang-out, O’Malley’s. They’d done an hour or so of drinks with the typical mindless get to know you conversation before going back to her place for the hottest sex he’d had in a long time.
After the third round of sex when he was crawling out of her bed to leave, he’d broached the subject of meeting up once or twice a week. Still in a sex haze, she’d been more than willing. So for the last six weeks, he’d been well satisfied by what they had, and he wanted nothing more.
Of course, the problem was that he always went into every sexual relationship making it clear that he would not want more. But every single time it got fucked up by some chick clinging to the desperate hope that they would be the one to tame him. With hate and loathing for him burning on Lydia’s face, it would now seem she was about to join the long line of former flings.
He cocked his brows at her. “So that’s it? We’re done because you’re suddenly feeling used?”
Lydia tore back the sheet and shot out of bed. “Get out! Get out of my house, you sorry son of a bitch!”
“Fine, I’ll be happy to,” Aidan grumbled as he unraveled himself from the comforter. Just as he stood up from the bed, Lydia threw his pants at him. They smacked into his face followed by his shirt. “Jesus, I’m going, okay? Trust me that I don’t want to stay here with you one second longer.”
He jumped into his pants. Her tirade had doused any desire he had along with his erection. He didn’t bother buttoning them up or putting on his shirt. He snatched up his shoes that he had kicked off in the living room before stomping out the front door.
One phone call from his father had managed to cock block him with Lydia forever. What was it about chick’s and meeting families? The last time he had actually dared to bring a girl around his family was almost six years ago. It had been just two years after he had broken things off with his former fiancée, Amy. At the time, he hadn’t thought anything about asking his newest flame to join him. After all, it was just a harmless 4th of July BBQ—or so he thought. But the moment his flavor of the month met his mom and dad all she could hear were wedding bells. Two days later she started referring to them as “we”, and Aidan stopped calling her. He didn’t do “we”.
He never did and never would.
Well, that wasn’t exactly true. He had tried monogamy, relationships---even an engagement, but he had been so badly burned by it that he vowed never again. Seven years later, he was happy being a confirmed bachelor with no plans of ever settling down. Even though it seemed to be his family’s mission in life to get him married, settled, and with a houseful of kids.
Aidan shuddered as he pulled into his driveway. No way in hell was that ever happening.
After taking a leisurely shower and then shaving, Aidan had slipped on his finest suit before heading out the door to pick up his father. Just as he expected, Patrick was already waiting for him in the driveway. “It’s just now eleven,” Aidan said as Patrick opened the door.
“I didn’t say anything.”
Aidan grinned. “I was just stating facts in case you tried to say I was late.”
“Do you really think I’m that much of a crotchety old man?” Patrick mused as he buckled his seatbelt.
“You’re starting to get that way a little bit, Pop.”
Patrick chuckled. “It must be the fact I’ve been spending too many Saturdays down at the VFW. Those other senior citizens are rubbing off on me.”
Aidan grinned. “Yeah, I’m sure that’s what it is.”
“Did you remember Mason’s gift?”
Fighting the urge to roll his eyes, Aidan replied, “Yes, Pop. I did.”
“I was just asking. Why are you being so testy? Not enough sleep last night?”
Aidan tore his gaze off the road to stare at his father. “I plead the fifth on that one, thank you.”
“That sounds pretty guilty to me. You should have brought your lady friend to the Baptism.”
With a snort, Aidan replied, “No, I don’t think so.”
“Ashamed of your family?”
“Of course not. Besides, she’s not much of a lady, least of all a friend. We’re not anything anymore.” Under his breath, he muttered, “Not that we were much to start with.”
Patrick sighed. “I still hope that one day before I die, I get to attend your son or daughter’s baptism.”
Aidan couldn’t help jerking his hands on the wheel, which caused the car to swerve on the road. “Pop, please. I’d like to make it through today without a guilt trip, okay?”
“So it’s wrong for me to wish you were married and had children?”
With a grunt, Aidan whipped the car into the parking lot behind the church. “I’m going to say this, and then I’m done with conversation, okay? The closest thing I’m ever going to be to a parent is standing up as Mason’s godparent. Got it?”
Patrick nodded sadly. “Fine son. Whatever you say.”
“Good. Now come on. It isn’t every day your first great-grandchild is baptized, right?”
“That’s true,” Patrick said, with a smile.
After getting out of the car, Aidan popped the trunk. He took out the bag from the jewelry store that held the finely wrapped package with Mason’s cross in it. Even though he had gotten a small one, Aidan imagined it would dwarf Mason’s small form for quite a while. The kid was barely six weeks old—a little young for a usual baptism, but since it was close to Christmas, it was the best time to get all the family together, including his sister, Julia, who lived out of state.
As they stepped into the church, Patrick motioned Aidan to one of the side rooms. When he opened the door, he was bombarded by his sisters and their families. All his nieces and nephews wanted hugs and to tell him about what had been going on at school or dance classes or soccer practice. He gave each of them his undivided attention. Finally, they abandoned him for Patrick, and he could take a relaxing breath.
After handing over Mason’s gift to his brother-in-law, Tim, he turned to his sister Angie.
“Well, if it isn’t The Godfather,” she mused.
He grinned. “The one and the only.”
She hugged him tight. “We’re so honored that you agreed to do this for Mason. He’s a lucky little man.”
Aidan pulled away to stare skeptically at his sister. “Frankly, I’m still surprised I even made the list of perspective candidates period. Surely there were more…how should I say this? Suitable choices?”
Angie shook her head. “You were the only one in the world Megan wanted.”
A gentle tug pulled at Aidan’s heart at the mention of Megan. He had always tried hard not playing favorites with his nine nieces and nephews, but he had always had a strong bond with her.
Pulling off his coat, he glanced around the room. “Speaking of, where are Megan and the Little Man of the hour?”
She laughed. “Oh, she’s inside with Mason. She said she wanted to get in a few rosaries before the Christening.”
Aidan nodded as the volume in the room seemed to magnify with all his younger nieces and nephews. Needing an out to the chaos, he said, “I’ll go sit with her awhile.”
The corners of Angie’s lips quirked up. “Maybe you should stop off in the confessional first?”
“Ha, ha,” he muttered before slipping out of the room.
Standing at the doors leading into the church, he peered at the altar. He spotted Megan on one of the front benches, kneeling down on one of the risers. He strode up the aisle. When he saw that she was finished praying and merely gazing up at the giant crucifix, he knelt and crossed himself before sliding onto the bench beside her.
“Hey Hot Mama,” he said in a low voice.
She grinned at him as she slipped her rosary into her coat pocket. “Hey Ankle. Glad you could make it.”
Aidan shook his head at her old nickname for him. As the first grandchild, Megan spent a lot of time with Aidan’s parents. When she first started talking, she couldn’t say ‘Uncle Aidan’. Somehow his name got meshed into ‘Ankle’. None of his other nieces and nephews called him that—it was just one aspect of their special bond.
Aidan craned his neck to eye Mason’s sleeping form in the carrier beside Megan. “You know I wouldn’t miss this for anything in the world. I mean, it’s not every day a man as young as myself gets made his great nephew’s godfather.”
“Trust me, I’m very honored to be in your presence.” Megan eyed him up and down before shaking her head. “I’m assuming you had a wild night last night.”
“What makes you say that?”
“Hmm, from the bags under your eyes and the fact Papa called me twice this morning to see if I had heard from you.”
Aidan swept his hands to his cheeks. “Seriously? I thought I looked pretty fabulous.”
“Always so cocky.” Megan nudged his shoulder playfully. “Sure we don’t need to douse you with a little holy water?”
“Ha, very funny. Your mother was already advocating that I skip seeing you and head straight for confession.”
“I’m sure she has a point. I mean, seriously, when was the last time you were in church?”
Aidan quirked his blonde brows at her. “What is this, the Spanish Inquisition?”
Megan laughed. “Oh, man, that reminds me of our Monty Python marathons.”
Aidan grinned. “Your mom got so pissed when I let you watch that when you were like seven.” He shook his head. “I couldn’t believe you were smart enough to get most of the humor.”
“You were always such a bad influence, but I loved you anyway.”
Leaning over, Aidan kissed Megan’s cheek. “And I loved you, too, even though a lot of the time you were an aggravating little pest.” At her outrage, he winked. “We had some good times together, didn’t we?”
“Yep, we did.”
They sat in silence for a few seconds. “So how are you holding up?” He motioned to Mason. “You know, being a new mom and all?” Aidan asked.
Megan fiddled with the hem on her dress. “I’m hanging in there.”
Crossing his arms over his chest, Aidan said, “Now you know it isn’t polite to lie to your favorite uncle.”
She sighed, blowing a few blonde strands out of her face. “Okay fine. Being a single mom is a lot harder than I thought it would be, even with Mom and Dad’s help. I’m stressed out all the time with trying to finish nursing school, and mentally…I’m borderline falling apart. How’s that?”
Aidan put an arm around her shoulder, drawing her close to him. “Aw, sweetheart. I hate to hear that.”
Megan shrugged. “It’s okay. Nothing you can do.”
“Still no word from the douchebag?”
Glancing down at her hands folded in her lap, Megan shook her head. “Nothing since he sent the last check after he signed with the Falcons.”
Aidan growled at the thought of the punk who had knocked-up Megan. If he could just get his hands on him…He didn’t give a shit that the jerkoff was a 6’3 offensive lineman for the Atlanta Falcons. He would still make sure to rearrange his face as well as taking his testicles as a souvenir.
“I know what you’re thinking, and he’s not worth it,” Megan said.
With a wink, Aidan replied, “You let me worry about that one.”
“At least with the money he sent, I can get my own apartment. I need a little independence from Mom and Dad.”
Aidan shook his head. “You should stay home and mooch off them as long as possible.”
Megan giggled. “Thanks a lot. I would think you of all people would understand about wanting to stand on your own two feet and not have your life choices over-analyzed constantly by your family.”
“You have a point there,” Aidan mused. He could only imagine how Angie loved giving Megan daily advice about what she was doing right or wrong. Hell, she did it to him, and he wasn’t even her child. But as the oldest of his sisters, Angie had always been his second mother. And in the five years since his mother’s passing, she relished the job with new vigor.
Tightening his arm around Megan, he said, “So you’re willing to throw away rent on an apartment, but you won’t take me up on my offer?”
She rolled her eyes. “Seriously, Ankle? There is no way in hell you would really want me to live with you.”
“Hey now, watch your mouth. We’re in church for Christ sake!” he joked.
Megan laughed. “Listen, it’s really sweet of you to offer, but trust me, you would be regretting it an hour after Mason and I moved in.”
“I would barely see you guys with the guest bedroom upstairs and my late hours. I could even move Beau out to the backyard and give you the basement.”
“Let me guess. Part of the bargain would include me doing your laundry and cooking your meals?”
Rubbing his chin, Aidan replied, “Hmm, that sounds good.”
“Of course it does to you.”
“Nothing wrong with you taking care of your favorite uncle.” When she didn’t reply, Aidan squeezed her shoulder. “Okay, I was just teasing you, and I wouldn’t expect you to do laundry and cook. Why won’t you let me help you out?”
Megan shook her head. “It’s very sweet of you to offer, and I should jump at the chance. But I need to do this on my own.”
“Fine. Be a stubborn ass.”
“It’s a Fitzgerald family trait, remember?”
Aidan grinned. “That it is.”
“Well, I think in your generosity you’re not thinking clearly about what a buzz kill it would be having me and Mason at your house.”
“Is that right?”
“Mmm, hmm, just think about this one. You’ve brought home your flavor of the week for some hot sex, and she either sees some young chick running around or hears a baby crying. Dude, you would so be striking out in the bedroom with some major blue balls.”
Aidan widened his eyes. “Margaret Elizabeth McKenzie, what a mouth you have in church!”
“I learned it all from my very naughty uncle.”
With a grunt of frustration, Aidan said, “I’ll have you know I don’t bring women home.”
She rolled her eyes. “God, you are such a player.”
“Not you too?”
Megan grinned. “I can’t help but highlight the error of your ways. I mean, I’ve been played by your kind many, many times and burned even more. I’m a woman scorned, remember?”
Aidan winced at the thought of how he treated women—girls very much like Megan. How could he want to castrate Mason’s father when he wasn’t any better himself? Well, except for the fact he made damn sure to always wear a condom to ensure there weren’t any Little Aidan’s running around out there.
Megan glanced down at her watch. “Will you keep an eye on Mason for me while I go to confession real quick?”
Aidan’s eyes widened as he took in the sleeping infant in the carrier. “Um, Meg, I don’t—“
“Oh come on. He’s dead to the world, and you’ll be fine. Besides, you’re his godfather.”
“Yes, a position I’m wishing I hadn’t agreed to.”
Megan swept her hands to her hips. “I need to go to confession before I stand at the altar with my son, Ankle. Are you really going to tell me no?”
“Fine, fine. Go on.”
“Thank you,” she said, before kissing him on the cheek. Her heels clicked down the aisle. It hadn’t been a full minute after Megan disappeared into one of the confessionals that Mason began to stir in his carrier. Leaning over, Aidan rocked him a little, hoping to avert a crisis. But when the baby’s tiny face crumpled, Aidan muttered, “Oh shit.”
A wail erupted from Mason’s lips that echoed throughout the church. “Hey Little Man, don’t do that.” He rocked the carrier faster, which just seemed to piss Mason off more.
“You really should pick him up when he’s crying like that,” a voice said over his shoulder.
He glanced back to see his sister, Becky’s, three sons staring skeptically at him. From eleven year old, Percy’s, exasperated expression, Aidan knew it had been him giving the advice.
“Fine,” Aidan grumbled. He bent over and gently slid his hands underneath Mason’s writhing body. Already outfitted in his Christening gown, Aidan found it hard to grab onto more than just lace in his hands, especially since he was worried about hurting him. Finally, he rescued Mason from his baby carrier hell. Aidan propped him on his shoulder and gave him a few reassuring pats. “All right, Little Man. You’re free. Give it a rest with the crying,” he said.
His thirteen year old nephew, John, snorted. “Wow, Megan must’ve been smoking something when she chose you as godfather.”
Aidan scowled at John over Mason’s head. “For your information, I was the only one she wanted for the job.”
“Give him his passie,” five year old Georgie suggested.
Aidan furrowed his blonde brows. “His what?”
“Dude, you gotta be kidding,” John said. He leaned over Aidan and grabbed Mason’s diaper bag. Digging inside, he pulled out a pacifier and waved it at Aidan before sticking it in Mason’s wide-open mouth. Immediately, the baby calmed down.
With a sigh of relief, Aidan’s gaze swept over the three boys. All three wore khaki pants, white button down shirts, red ties, and blue blazers. He shook his head and grinned. “Nice get-ups. You could pass for a boy band like the Osmond’s or something.”
“The who?” Percy asked.
“Never mind,” he mumbled. Glancing past the boys, he sighed with relief at the sight of Megan coming out of the confessional. He was more than ready to hand Mason back over to her.
She grinned at him. “Couldn’t resist Mason’s charms?”
“Ha, very funny.”
“Yeah, I heard him all the way in the confessional.” She reached over and took Mason from him. Nestling the baby close to her chest, she then smiled at Aidan. “You know, you looked like a natural holding him.”
Aidan opened his mouth to protest, but John’s snickering interrupted him. “Seriously? He could barely get Mason out of the carrier, not to mention he had no idea what a pacifier was.”
“He can always learn,” Megan argued.
“Yeah, don’t hold your breath on that one,” Aidan replied.
It was then that the priest came striding up to them. “Miss McKenzie, we’re ready to begin.”
Megan nodded. “John, Percy, Georgie—go run and tell the others it’s time.”
“Okay,” Georgie replied before sprinting down the aisle.
After the boys hurried off, Megan grinned. “Ready?”
Aidan smiled back at her. “As ready as I’ll ever be.”

Adjusting the last place setting on the table, Emma Harrison stepped back to surmise how everything looked. Not that her three best friends really cared about the set-up. Tonight was about camaraderie and support rather than appearances. But the perfectionist and Public Relations side of Emma felt the need for everything to be just right.
Candlelight flickered throughout the dining room while muted orchestra music played festive holiday carols in the background. Although it was Christmas time, the centerpiece of the table wasn’t poinsettias. Instead, it was a huge arrangement of vibrant wild flowers—much like the ones in the mountains where she had grown up. In the middle of the flowers was a picture of her late fiancée, Travis.
Today was December 15th--the five year anniversary of his death. The day that marked the end of the perfect life they had together. It had all been taken away because a drunk driver leaving a holiday party had crossed the center line—killing himself and Travis instantly.
Most people couldn’t fathom having a celebration of life party for someone who was dead. But when the first anniversary of Travis’s death approached, Emma’s best friend since 7th grade, Connor Montgomery, broached the subject of marking the date each year with drinks and dinner from Travis’s favorite restaurant. Emma had liked the idea and invited along Travis’s roommate and best friend from medical school, Nate Rossi, and his fiancée, Casey Turner, who happened to be her best friend as well.
The first year they had tried eating at the restaurant, but it was too loud and crazy for the emotions they were feeling. The next year they decided to host it at someone’s house—with the same food and drinks but with a more intimate type setting for the somewhat somber occasion.
The doorbell ringing brought her out of her thoughts. She hurried to the front door and threw it open. “Hi guys!” she cried.
Her best friends of seven years, Casey and Nate, stood on the porch, bundled in coats and scarves from the December chill. Casey waved her hands, which both held wine bottles. “Hello, hello. We come bearing spirits.”
Emma laughed as she eyed the alcohol in Nate’s hands as well. “I’m glad to hear it. Connor texted me about five minutes ago that he was on his way from picking up dinner.”
Nate grinned as he and Casey stepped into the foyer. “It’s only for my love of Travis that I eat the Olive Garden’s alleged Italian food.”
Shrugging out of her coat, Casey nodded. “Remember the time we took him to a more authentic place Downtown, and he was like, ‘This isn’t real Italian food!’.”
“Poor Travis. He had too much of the mountains in him to be very continental,” Emma mused.
Nate shook his head. “That was just part of his charm.”
Emma smiled. “That’s true.” She’d just hung up their coats when Connor burst through the door, laden down with food bags.
“I’m here, so we can get this party started,” he bellowed.
“I think I might be slightly more excited for the food than your presence,” Emma teased.
“Whatever,” he replied, leaning in to kiss her cheek. He then made his way past her into the dining room to deposit the food bags on the table. Plates were passed around, and the food was slid from plastic to-go containers onto Emma’s late mother’s china. Then the wine was poured into crystal goblets. Once everything was ready, they sat down.
Throughout dinner, the wine flowed as freely as the conversation. For a while, they danced around the ghosts of the past by catching up with the present. It wasn’t until the plates had been cleared that Travis once again became the topic of conversation. “Please tell me you made Trav’s favorite dessert?” Connor asked, rubbing his belly.
Emma grinned. “What do you think?”
Connor’s eyes rolled back in bliss. “Thank God. I’ve been craving Red Velvet cake all week!”
After heading into the kitchen for the cake courtesy of her Grammy’s secret recipe, Emma came back into the dining room. As she passed around the slices, they began to follow through with another tradition—telling a favorite Travis story.
When it came time for Connor’s, he took a long gulp of wine. “My favorite Travis story…” He inhaled deeply as he cocked his head. “It would probably be when I came out to him.”
Emma groaned and covered her eyes. “Oh God, not that one.”
Nate glanced between her and Casey. “Wait, I don’t think I’ve heard this one.”
Casey shook her head. “Me either.”
Connor grinned. “See, I’ve saved the best story for last.”
Emma snorted. “I don’t know about that one.”
After shooting her a look, Connor continued. “So picture it—”
Emma giggled. “What is this, the Golden Girls with Sophia and ‘Picture it—Sicily?”
Connor cleared his throat. “Can I just tell my damn story please?”
“Fine, fine.”
“So as I was saying, here we were in an empty football locker-room. Travis and I had equipment duty, so we’re the last ones back in from practice. We’re standing there in nothing but our jock-straps, and it just hits me—”
“That you’re in love with Travis?” Casey asked.
“God no!” Connor replied. He turned to Emma and smiled. “No offense, Em. But Travis was so not my type.”
She grinned. “None taken. Now finish the story.”
“Anyway, so he’s getting his shit out of his locker to go take a shower, and I know it’s now or never time. I mean, I’d come out to Emma like a few weeks before. Like her, Travis had been my best guy friend since middle school, so I knew he needed to know. My heart was thundering so loud in my ears I was sure he could hear me. But I knew that I couldn’t wait one more day, least of all a minute, without telling him that I was gay. So, I grabbed his shoulder, whirled him around, and said, “Trav, I know you’re going to hate me after I tell you this, and I’ll understand if you never speak to me again. But dude, I’m gay.”
Nate’s dark eyes widened. “Holy shit. What did he do?”
Connor’s lips curved into a wide smile. “He goes, ‘Conman, that’s nice of you to want to unburden yourself to me when we’re both stark ass naked, but I’ve known you were batting for the other team for a long, long time. And I could give a shit less. You’re my buddy, and that’s all that matters’.”
Casey glanced over at Emma. “Had you told Travis about Connor coming out?”
Emma furiously shook her head. “No, of course not. It wasn’t my story to tell.”
With a laugh, Connor said, “You could have knocked me over with a feather at his reaction. But that was Trav. On the one hand, he was this typical, rough and tumble, manly man jock. But then he also had a hell of a tender side.” Connor sighed. “He was the sweetest, most accepting guy I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. And one of the best friends I’ve ever had.”
Tears stung Emma’s eyes. “That’s true.”
Casey held up her wine glass. “To Travis. One hell of a stand-up guy who was taken from us far too soon.”
Emma leaned forward and clinked her glass with the others. “To Travis.”
At a little before midnight, Casey and Nate started to leave. As Nate helped Casey slide on her coat, she asked, “So we’re still on for the office party tomorrow night, right?”
Emma wrinkled her nose. “I don’t know, Case.”
“And why not?” Casey asked.
“After tonight, the last thing I want to do is get dressed up for a bunch of meaningless conversations over cocktails and hors d’ouvers.”
Casey wagged her finger at her. “With Nate working, you promised you would be my date. Besides, you haven’t been at the company that long. You need to make an appearance.”
Emma exhaled a defeated breath. As much as she hated to admit it, Casey was right. After four years at her old job, she had transferred to Burke and Company back in October at the request of one of her former work colleagues. Her boss, Therese, had pulled a lot of strings to get her the job and the sizeable pay increase. Emma knew couldn’t let Therese down.
“Fine, fine. I’ll be your date.”
Casey grinned. “Good. I’m glad to hear it. And wear something super sexy. Since it’s the building Christmas party, there will be more than just the eligible, single guys at our company.”
Rolling her eyes, Emma asked, “Let me guess. You would advocate the green dress you picked out for me to wear when I sang at that corporate party last year?”
“Ooh, the one that’s practically backless, has a plunging neckline, and shows off that fabulous rack of yours?”
“Yes, that one.”
Casey bobbed her head. “Oh yeah, you’ll have the men eating out of the palm of your hand.”
“Fabulous,” Emma muttered.
After giving Nate and Casey both lingering hugs, they headed out onto the porch. “Bye guys. Love you lots,” Emma said, waving one last time before she closed the door. She walked back into the living room and then flopped down on the couch beside Connor. Letting out a long, drawn out sigh, she gripped one of the pillows to her chest.
“It’s no good, Em.”
“What?” she asked.
“The act you’ve got going on.”
Emma cocked her eyebrows at Connor. “What act? I think it’s time to cut off your wine, especially if you won’t crash here for the night.” When she reached to take his glass, he smacked her hand away causing them both to laugh.
“You’re unhappy. I can tell.”
“Of course I am. Today always makes me sad,” she argued.
Connor shook his head. “There’s more than that.” He leaned closer to her to where their thighs and shoulders bumped together. “Tell me.”
Nibbling her lip, Emma stared down at her lap. “You know what it is.”
“The baby thing?”
She nodded.
            “Is it because of mine and Travis’s last phone call?” When Emma shrugged, Connor gave her a sad smile. “I’ll never forget the way he sounded that day. I don’t think I had ever heard him happier in all my life—well, except for the night of your engagement party. ‘Conman, you’re never going to believe it. I’m going to be a daddy!’ he said.” 

Tears stung Emma’s eyes as the painful memory seared into her soul began to fester and burn. She’d been a week late for her period. She was an emotional wreck thinking she was pregnant, but Travis was ecstatic. Although they had been engaged for over a year, Emma still didn’t want to consent to them getting married. There was Travis’s medical school to think of and her starting her career. But Travis didn’t care about any of that—he just wanted Emma to be his wife.
Sniffling, Emma wiped the back of her hand across her nose. “He kept saying, ‘Yeah, now you’ll have to go ahead and marry me like I’ve been beggin’ you to’!” she said, her voice choked with emotion. She didn’t stop to wipe the tears rolling down her cheeks. “He never knew any different. I got my period after he left for work the day he was killed.”
Connor reached over and drew her into his arms. Hard, guttural sobs wracked her body as Connor rocked her back and forth. “Emmie Lou, he died one of the happiest men in the world. Be thankful for that.”
“I am…but he never should have died. He should be here with me. He should be with Nate doing his internship, and we…we should have children.”
“It’s no good to think that way,” Connor argued. He pulled away to cup her face in his hands. “You have to move on. Travis would want you to be happy—to find someone else to make a life with and to become a mother like you’ve always dreamed of.”
At his mention of motherhood, Emma’s breath caught. An idea—a somewhat crazy notion for someone like her—had been flickering within her for months. As much as she tried pushing it aside while rationalizing that it couldn’t or wouldn’t work, it continued to grow. “Connor, if I asked you do something for me, would you?”
His dark brows shot up questioningly. “Why do I feel I should probably say no?”
“What is it?”
Hesitating, she drew in a deep breath. She wasn’t sure if she could actually come out and admit it. Finally, she found the courage to ask, “Will you have a baby with me?”
Jerking his hands from her face, Connor shot off the couch. “Excuse me?”
“You’re the only man in the world I love. I want you to give me the child I’ve always wanted—I want you to be my baby’s father.”
Connor’s eyes bulged. “Emma, you do recall that I am very gay and in a relationship with a man that I love. I can’t…” He raked his hands wildly through his hair. “I wouldn’t even know how to begin to do that with you.”
At his bewildered expression and his words, Emma couldn’t help laughing. “I’m not asking you to sleep with me to conceive the baby.”
“You’re not?”
Emma shook her head. “No, of course not. I meant that I wanted you to be my sperm donor—like in a clinic and all, not a bedroom.”
Staring at her in shock, realization finally dawned on Connor, and he let out a long, exaggerated breath. “Oh…thank God.”
“But thanks for letting me know that having sex with me would be the greatest nightmare of your life,” Emma joked.
With an apologetic smile, Connor sat back down with her on the couch. “Don’t be offended, Emmie Lou. You know the ‘no women for me’ ship sailed a long time ago.”
“Hmm, yes, I believe I had something to do with that back then as well.”
Connor winced. “I just thought if I tried making out with a girl, I’d know once and for all if I was really gay.”
Emma laughed. “And I’m glad I helped you figure it out.”
With a grin, Connor said, “If I remember it correctly, I did get it up for you.”
“Oh, ew!” she cried before covering her face with her hands. She immediately thought back to Connor’s fifteenth birthday party. All their other friends had left, leaving them alone in his parents’ basement. Although girls were crazy about him, Connor never settled down or dated much. Instead, he preferred flirting with them and hanging out with Emma.
After sneaking half a bottle of his dad’s Jack Daniels, he tearfully confided in Emma that he thought he might not be attracted to girls at all. He begged her to let him kiss her, to make out with her to see if he really was gay. Considering she’d never gone past first base with anyone, she was more than a little reluctant. Emma peeked at him through her fingers and shook her head. “I can’t believe you were the first guy to feel me up.”
Connor chuckled. “I do believe I did a little more than feeling you up. I’m pretty sure I dry humped you into oblivion that night until I came in my pants!”
Emma smacked his arm playfully. “Ugh, I can’t believe you remember all that.”
“Yeah, it wasn’t just the fact I was making out with my best friend that was a major turn off. It was that to finally… come I had to fantasize about a dude.”
Rolling her eyes, Emma said, “Once again, thank you so much for reminding me of that fact. It’s totally not given me a complex or anything in my extreme dateless state!”
“Oh come on, Emmie Lou, you had half the male population jonesing for you back in the day, and if you got your head out of your ass and back into the dating game, you would see that straight dudes everywhere want to bang that hot bod of yours.”
“Yeah, they want to bang me. They just don’t want to get to know me or have committed relationship. Once they find out I’m old-fashioned and won’t have sex right off the bat, they run away.”
After an awkward silence, Connor sighed. “This is where you bring up the baby part again, right?”
“I can’t believe you would act so surprised about it all. You know how much I want a child—how I’ve always wanted a big family. I’ll be thirty in a few months. It’s not now or never time, but it’s getting close.”
“So why not find some dude to settle down with and have kids. You know, get on Eharmony or something like that. I mean, surely Nate has to know some eligible men to hook you up with.”
Emma huffed with frustration. “I’ve not had an actual relationship since Travis, and I’m not sure if there’s really anyone else out there for me.”
“But you haven’t even tried. I mean, with your mom’s cancer and her dying, you shut down for so long. Maybe it’s time to really put yourself back out there again,” Connor argued.
Shaking her head, Emma said, “Aren’t you listening to me? I want a baby. All my life has been loss and death.” She brought her hand to her abdomen. “I want life growing within me—a part of me and my parents.”
Tears sparkled in her eyes. “I have so much love to give a child. Please, Connor.”
He grabbed his wine glass and downed the remaining contents. He then rose off the couch to stumble back into the dining room. Emma watched as he snatched the last wine bottle and refilled his glass. When he came back to the doorway, he shook his head. “But why do you need me? Why can’t you just go to a sperm bank and pick out a sample from a Brad Pitt with a 170 IQ?”
“Because I don’t care about Brad Pitt looks and high IQ’s.”
Connor snorted. “Thanks a hell of a lot. You sure don’t know how to sweeten the pot, do you?”
Emma rolled her eyes. “That’s not what I meant. I was thinking way past superficial things, but while we’re on the subject, yes, you will bring the most excellent DNA to my baby, both in looks and in intelligence, okay?”
“Whatever,” he grumbled before taking another long gulp of wine. He flopped back down on the couch beside her.
“Connor, don’t you see the bigger picture here. If I can’t have a baby with someone I’m romantically in love with, I still want it to be with someone I love. I know you’re a good and decent person, and you would be such a good father.” When he didn’t say anything, Emma leaned closer to him. “And think about your parents. Besides Grammy and Granddaddy, my baby wouldn’t have grandparents, and I know that yours are amazing to your sister’s kids.”
“That’s true,” he murmured, still not meeting her expectant gaze.
Emma sighed. She knew she had just thrown him for a loop, and it was going to take him awhile to process everything. “Look, I’m sorry that I brought it up.” When she started to rise off the couch, Connor grabbed her arm.
She furrowed her brows at him. “Okay what?”
He exhaled noisily. “Okay, I’ll be your baby daddy or sperm donor or whatever.”
Emma’s chest constricted, and she almost couldn’t breathe. “Really?”
Connor nodded. “Yeah, why not.”
“But are you sure? I mean, you don’t need more time to think about it?”
“Nope. Let’s have a baby.”
Emma squealed with pleasure before throwing her arms around Connor’s neck and squeezing him tight. “Oh my God! I can’t believe you’re really going to do it!” She pulled away to kiss both his cheeks. “I love you so very much.”
“I love you too, Emmie Lou.”
She nuzzled her head against his neck. “But what made you change your mind?”
Emma jerked her gaze up to meet his. A grin curved on Connor’s lips. “It was like I could almost hear him telling me to do it—to make you happy since he couldn’t.”
A mixture of happy and sad tears pooled in her eyes. “I can never thank you enough for doing this. I can’t imagine being happier than I am at this moment.”
He rubbed his thumb across her cheek. “I think the day we find out you’re good and knocked up will beat this one.”
She smiled. “Or the day our baby is born?”
Connor nodded. “And if it’s a boy, I wanna name him Travis—Travis Connor Montgomery.”
“I would like nothing more, especially for the baby to have your last name.” She titled her head at him. “But what if it’s a girl?”
“Travisina?” Connor suggested.
Emma giggled. “No, I don’t think so.”
Connor laughed. “We’ve got time to work on a girl’s name.”
“As long as he or she is healthy, I don’t care what we have.”
He pushed away from her to grab up their wine glasses. “Let’s drink to our future child.”
“To our baby,” Emma said before toasting with Connor.

Aidan swept through the front doors of the Commerce Country club. He nodded at a few of his fellow colleagues. His fingers went to adjust the tie on his tux. He had barely been in the damn thing for thirty minutes, and it already felt like it was choking him. Spotting his best work buddy, Blake, he weaved in and out of the couples to meet up with him.
“Well, hello, Fitzy, how goes it?” Blake asked.
Without a response, Aidan jerked the glass of Scotch from Blake’s hand and downed it in one fiery gulp. “Hmm, that bad huh?” Blake asked with a smirk.
“Sorry man. I’ve been in family hell all damn day.”
“The Baptism thing?”
Aidan nodded. “That was at noon, but then there was a party at my sister’s house.” Aidan shuddered as he thought of how he had gotten corned by each of his sisters throughout the afternoon. Although they hit him at different times, their message was a unified one. He was thirty-two years old, and it was time for him to settle down and carry on the family name. It had been a living hell. “I just escaped an hour ago.”
Blake furrowed his brown brows. “You mean, there wasn’t any good booze at the party to at least take the edge off?”
“Yeah, but if I had started downing it like a lush, that would have just given my sisters more ammunition to give me shit about. Not to mention my dad would have joined in on the tirade as well.”
“Then I guess it’s time you started drinking heavily. Why don’t you head on over to the bar and get us both another Scotch?” Blake suggested.
“I may make it two for me and one for you,” Aidan grumbled.
“Pace yourself buddy. The night is young.”
Aidan bobbed his head and once again weaved in and out of the crowd. He was almost to the bar when someone jostled into him, causing him to lose his footing for a moment. He whirled around to see a vision before him. He had seen and screwed beautiful women before, but she was something altogether special and enticing. Her alabaster cheeks flushed with embarrassment, and she was hiding her face behind a shroud of her fiery auburn hair that fell in waves down her bare back. And damn if she wasn’t wearing an emerald dream of a dress that hugged her ample curves like a second skin. He loved red heads, but most of all, he loved red heads in green. Something about the color brought out every perfect feature they had.
“Are you okay?” he finally asked.
She nodded her head furiously. “I’m so sorry. My heel got caught in the carpet for a second. That’s why I bumped into you.”
He gave her his best sultry smile. “No harm done.”
“Once again, I’m sorry,” she said.
Before he could stop her, she spun around and headed for the other side of the room. As he watched her retreating form, he shook his head and fought the urge to adjust himself with the heat pooling below his waist. Now there was an interesting development. She was just the kind of woman he would enjoy taking home and ensuring she screamed his name over and over when she came. The shy guise she had going on stoked his interest because he could pretty much bet that with the color of her hair, she had a fiery personality to match it.
After grabbing up the two Scotch’s, he headed back to Blake. Two of his other work buddies, Chris and Oliver, had joined Blake. “Hey guys,” Aidan said with a beaming smile.
Blake gave Aidan a quizzical look as he took his glass. “Did you throw back a couple more of these?”
“No why?”
“Because you have a bounce in your step that you didn’t five minutes ago.”
Aidan chuckled. “That’s because I found the woman I’m spending the night with.”
“Damn, you work fast. Who is she?” Chris asked.
“She’s a fiery redhead in a green dress that I’m going to enjoy spending hours coaxing the inner hellcat out of.”
Oliver moaned. “Emma fucking Harrison.”
Aidan widened his eyes. “Really? You could identify her just by that measly description I just gave you?”
Crossing his arms over his chest, Oliver said, “Long ass legs, fabulous tits, green eyes, long red hair and kinda shy?”
Aidan choked on his Scotch. “Yeah, that’s her.”
Oliver shook his head. “Good luck with that one, bro. She works on my floor, and half of the dudes there have tried to hit that and struck out.”
Gulping down the last of his drink, Aidan only grinned. “Oh, I do like a challenge. I usually come harder at the end of the night.”
Chris and Blake snorted with laughter. “Only you, man,” Blake replied.
“You gotta admit that the chase is hot,” Aidan argued.
Chris shrugged. “Not when I’m horny as hell like I am tonight. I’d rather them just fall over with their legs open.”
“Whatever, man,” Aidan said, craning his neck through the crowd. Finally, he spotted his emerald hottie. “What did you say her name was again?”
“Thanks. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go work on getting Emma to pry her lovely thighs apart for me.”
“Good luck. You’re going to need it,” Oliver said.
Aidan only shook his head. He never needed luck to seal the deal with a woman. He had his looks, his sex appeal, and his personality. So what if a few inept PR guys had struck out with Emma. He wouldn’t.

He was staring at her again…and smiling. After catching the very handsome guy she had bumped into earlier eyeing her across the crowded room, Emma had vowed not to look in his direction again. Instead, she had tried focusing on the conversation between Casey and the other girls from her floor. But when she’d peeked up through her eyelashes, she’d caught him looking. He didn’t seem embarrassed by the fact he was openly staring at her. So she had finally gotten up the courage to give him a shy smile back.
And that was the game they had been playing for the last five minutes—stealing glances and smiling at each other.
“Who are you grinning at?” Casey asked.
“No one,” Emma quickly lied.
“Ooh, I think Em’s on the prowl,” Therese said with a grin.
“I am not,” Emma protested.
“Yes, you are,” Casey said, her gaze scanning the room. “So who is the lucky guy?”
Emma sighed. “Fine. I literally ran into him a few minutes ago on the way back from the bathroom. He seemed really interested, but I was too mortified by getting my heel caught in that stupid rug to stay and chat.”
Casey grinned. “Ooh, sounds promising. Is he hot?”
Without glancing over, she could see the guy’s image in front of her as plain as day—the piercing blue eyes, the sandy blonde hair, and his tall, somewhat muscular form. “Yeah, he was really handsome.”
Casey’s dark eyes widened. “Oh shit it is on! Em just called a dude handsome.”
“Oh whatever.” She nibbled her lip for a minute before finally saying, “I really would like to know who he is. I-I’d like to talk to him again.”
“Talk to him? No baby girl, we’re so getting you a date at the least. I mean, I haven’t seen you this stoked about a guy in forever,” Casey said.
“So where is he?” Therese asked.
“Well, don’t make it obvious. But he’s leaning up against one of the marble columns.”
She didn’t dare look as the others turned their gazes on her mystery man. Casey gasped in horror. “What’s wrong? Who is he?” Emma asked.
“No, absolutely not. That’s Aidan Fitzgerald.”
Casey shook her head wildly. He’s sex on a stick, Em, so you need to stay the hell away from him unless you wanna get used!” she had replied.
Therese nodded. “He has the worst reputation as a womanizer. I heard that he could only keep older secretaries because he slept with all the others.”
Emma’s eyes widened. “Seriously?”
Her other friend, Rachel, said, “He was caught at last year’s charity benefit with his pants around his ankles doing some donor’s wife.”
“There’s no telling how many women he’s banged in this building,” Casey said.
“Oh God,” Emma murmured as she fought the waves of nausea rolling over her. How in the world had she managed to bump into such an asshole? When she glanced up at him again, he was still staring—or maybe it was more that he was leering at her.
“Shit, I think he’s coming over here,” Casey said.
When they started inching away, Emma’s mouth gaped open. “You’re leaving me alone with the notorious manwhore?”
Casey rolled her eyes. “You’ll be fine. Just tell him where to get off.”
“Thanks a lot,” Emma grumbled.
With a definite swagger in his walk, Aidan came striding up to her. “Hello again.”
“Hi,” she said shortly.
“I thought after our earlier meeting that we never got the chance to be formally introduced. I’m Aidan Fitzgerald.”
“Yes, I know.”
“You do?”
Emma smirked at him. “Yes, your reputation precedes you.”
Aidan cocked his brows at her. “Oh, so a pretty thing like you from Public Relations knows all about my exploits in Marketing?”
“How did you know I—”
He grinned at her. “I have my spies, especially those who happen to know all sexy as hell redheads named Emma in PR.”
Emma fought the urge to roll her eyes at him. God, he was so cocky. If there was one thing she couldn’t contend with in a man it was ego, and she wasn’t sure she had ever met a man who thought more of himself than Aidan did.
Lowering his voice, Aidan asked, “So what do you say we get out of here and maybe go back to your place? Somewhere we could get to know each other a little better.”
“Are you propositioning me, Mr. Fitzgerald?” she asked curtly.
His eyes widened in surprise. “You can call me Aidan, and all I want is to go somewhere a little less crowded. We can stop by a bar first if you would prefer.”
She crossed her arms over her chest. “Yes, I’m sure you would prefer getting me drunk off my ass so I would sleep with you more willingly, right? I mean, what are the odds that you actually want to hear my take on the economy or who is going to win this year’s Superbowl?”
At the bewildered expression on Aidan’s face, Emma had to bite her lip to keep from laughing.
“Excuse me?” he demanded.
“Oh, I think you heard me just fine. I would imagine you’re not used to getting turned down. But listen very carefully when I say that I do not appreciate being propositioned by the company manwhore.”
Undaunted, he pursed his lips. “Is that right?”
“Yes, it is.”
He leaned in closer to her, his fingertips feathering along her arm. “Babe, if you’re afraid of your friends thinking badly of you because you want to fuck me, then we don’t have to leave together. No one has to know but you and me.”
Emma jerked her arm away. “I do not want to sleep with you.”
Aidan grinned. “Oh yes, you do.” He lightly tapped her temple. “Your mind is telling you to be repulsed by me because of my womanizing reputation, but your body thinks otherwise.”
“I don’t think so,” Emma huffed, taking a step back. She didn’t like the fact that it appeared her body was reacting to him, especially the heat growing between her legs.
            Leaning over, his breath scorched against earlobe. “Then why are your nipples suddenly hard?”
Emma gasped and shoved him back before crossing her arms over her chest. “Maybe because it’s December and it’s cold?” She shook her head. “Honestly, you are absolutely and positively disgusting.”
“Angry sex can be really hot, and if I had to wager, it’s been a while for you.” He winked as he pulled her to him. “So you can just take it all out on me.”
His triumphant smirk drove her over the edge. “I’m going to say this one last time. You are the last man on earth I would ever sleep with. It may be shocking to you, but I actually have principles and scruples, and they’re all saying that you are one of the most self-absorbed assholes I have ever met. There are worse things than being single and going without sex, Mr. Fitzgerald. Leaving here with you and letting you touch one inch of my body would be the most degrading thing I would ever have to go through. So I will kindly ask that you remove yourself from my presence. Because one way or the other, you are leaving. Either I’m going to call security or knee you in the balls to get you to go.”
Aidan’s mouth gaped open in shock before his blue eyes narrowed at her. “Fine then. Your loss.” He then turned and stalked away, leaving her breathless.
Casey and the others came hustling back over to her. “Oh my God! You were amazing, Em!” Casey said.
“You heard?” Emma squeaked.
Casey nodded. “We tried not to eavesdrop, but we couldn’t help it.”
Therese grinned. “You really told him.”
“Yeah, I guess I did.”
Rachel patted Emma’s back. “You should really be proud of yourself. I don’t think he’s ever had a woman talk to him like that.”
Emma sighed. She didn’t know how she felt. Now that the adrenaline was no longer pumping through her, she didn’t feel so cocky. Instead, she felt mortification at what she had said to him. She hoped she never, ever had to face him again.
Casey took her hand. “Come on. Let’s get you a celebratory drink.”
Emma laughed. “Seriously?”
“Yep, we all need to toast the day you told off Mr. Aidan Manwhore Fitzgerald!”
“Do you mind if we do it somewhere else? I don’t want to run the risk of running into him again tonight.”
“He’s already left.”
With a gasp, Emma said, “Really?”
Therese bobbed her head. “He blew right out the front door of the club right after you told him off.”
Casey grinned. “So we have the whole place to ourselves to drink and unwind. Okay?”
Forcing a smile to her lips, Emma said, “Okay.” There was nothing more that she wanted to do at the moment than forget meeting Aidan Fitzgerald.

Glancing down at her phone, Emma grimaced. Stupid Atlanta traffic. It didn’t matter if she left thirty minutes or an hour before she needed to be somewhere, it never failed that she would be late because of gridlock. Her heels clicked along the pavement as she hurried down the sidewalk to It’s a Grind Coffee-Shop. Her face broke into a wide grin at the sight of Connor waving from a table by the window.
As she pushed through the door, the familiar bell tinkled over her head. She powerwalked over to Connor. “I’m so, so sorry! I left in plenty of time, I swear.”
He smiled. “It’s okay. I went ahead and ordered for you.”
“Aw, you’re so sweet.” She leaned in and gave his cheek a kiss. Easing down in her seat, she shrugged out of her coat. When she caught Connor’s gaze, she cocked her eyebrows as concern flooded her. “Are you okay?”
Connor sighed. “Jeff and I have been fighting.”
“Oh no. I’m so sorry to hear that.” Emma reached out and squeezed his hand. “You’re not breaking up, are you? I mean, you two seemed so perfect and happy.”
Tears shimmered in Connor’s dark eyes. “Not if I agree to his ultimatum.”
Emma’s brows furrowed. “Please don’t tell me he wants you guys to move again. I couldn’t bear the thoughts of you living in Savannah. It’s too far away.”
“It’s not about moving.”
“Then what is it?”
A strangled cry erupted from Connor’s lips before he turned away from her. “Please tell me what it is,” she begged.
Connor finally brought his haunted gaze to hers. “He says he’ll leave me if I go through with fathering your child.”
Emma jerked her hand from his and covered her mouth in horror. “But why would he demand something like that of you?”
Connor shrugged and ran his hand maniacally through his hair. “He’s always been a little jealous of my feelings for you. He thinks if I have a kid with you, that’s just going to make our bond even stronger.”
Biting down on her lip, Emma didn’t dare argue the truth in Jeff’s assumptions. Having her child be part of Connor would always bind them together. “But he knows you’re going to sign a contract saying you won’t have any financial or emotional obligations.”
He shook his head. “He’s not stupid, Emmie Lou. He knows the minute my child is growing inside of you, I’ll be emotionally invested.” He gave her a sad smile. “And how could I not? I love kids, and I love you.”
“But it doesn’t have to be something that tears you guys apart. What if I talked to him? What if I—”
“It’s not going to change anything.”
A jagged, agonizing pain tore through her chest, and she had to fight to breathe. “You aren’t going to be my sperm donor anymore, are you?” she questioned in a whisper.
“I’m sorry, Em, but I can’t,” he replied with tears once again in his eyes.
Her emotional torment quickly turned over to anger. “Yes, you can! You’re just being selfish and won’t!” she snapped.
Connor jolted back like she had slapped him. “Em, please. I’ve been with Jeff for three years. I love him. I’m committed to him, and he is to me.”
“And I’ve loved you and been by your side for eighteen years. If Jeff really loved you, he wouldn’t make you choose between us or deny you the opportunity to be a father.”
“He’s not ready to be a dad yet. I have to respect his wishes.”
Emma threw up her hands. “Fine, then he doesn’t have to be a father and neither do you. All I need is your DNA from a clinic!”
“I can’t.”
Tears stung Emma’s eyes. “You’re really going to keep me from becoming a mother?”
With a scowl, he replied, “I’m not the only option. There are thousands of donors out there you can pick from. You don’t have to have me.”
“I told you before that I didn’t want to have a baby with just anyone. They could mix up the samples, and I could end up having some serial killer’s kid. More than anything in the world, I wanted to know and love the person—just like a do you.”
“I’m sorry, but you’ll have to find someone else.”
Tears streamed freely down her cheeks. “How can you do this to me? You promised that you would help me—that Travis was telling you to do it—and now you’re just going to turn your back on me?”
“It’s not that easy, Em.”
“It seems pretty cut and dried to me. I guess that’s what hurts the most. I don’t know why you won’t fight for me—to make an ultimatum with Jeff.”
Connor’s dark eyes narrowed at her. “Don’t you get it? I have fought for you! I’ve argued with Jeff until I’m blue in the face, but this is where we’re at now. I can either chose you and lose the man I love, or I can chose not to be your sperm donor.”
Emma shook her head. “You forgot one part of that last statement. If you choose not to be my sperm donor, then you lose me too.”
When she started to rise out of her chair, Connor grabbed her arm. “Emma, don’t do this!”
“I’m sorry. But that’s just the way I feel.”
“But you know how much I love you,” Connor protested.
“Maybe. I mean, I thought you loved me, but I guess just not enough.” She then slung out of his grip and stalked out of the coffee-shop. Fumbling in her purse, she dug out her phone as she hustled down the sidewalk to her car. She could barely hold down the sobs as she dialed the familiar number. “Hey Case, it’s me. You got a minute?”

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