Kaden waited in the foyer before the family gathered to read the will. Brianna’s car appeared at the gates a moment later, and his heart picked up a beat. He never thought he’d be eager to see a beat-up Mazda, but he couldn’t help feeling excited to see her. Pathetic really, considering the hell she’s been through. He’s probably the last person on earth she’d want to see.
She parked in front, obviously not planning to stay long. He came out of the house and greeted her on the steps. She wore a slinky black dress with a knot at the waist that accentuated her breasts. She was beautiful in every right.
“Kaden,” she climbed the steps and didn’t think twice before pulling him into her arms. “I’m so sorry.”
If anyone knew him, she did, and she knew how close he was to his grandfather. His eyes were puffy enough as it was, but he didn’t shed any tears. He allowed himself to revel in her softness while she was here.
“You didn’t have to come, but I’m glad you’re here.”
She smiled, looking up at him. “Tim was like a grandfather to me, too. Hell, he even planned on us getting married when I was what, twelve? You weren’t much older.”
He nodded. “Fifteen.”
She shook her head. “How’s Evelyn?”
“Grandma’s holding up well.” He led her to the side, where a glider sat in a secluded patio. She took a seat and he sat beside her. “Georgie and Buster are taking it pretty hard. They don’t understand Granddad isn’t coming back.”
“Poor things.” They slid in silence, gliding back and forth.
“I’m sorry about the whole restaurant thing.” Kaden blurted. “I-I didn’t know what to say to you, and I sure didn’t expect to see you that night.”
“Kaden, I really didn’t want to talk about us. I’m here for you and to pay my respects. Talking about us only makes me angry.” She leaned forward, stopping the gentle gliding motion.
“Do you agree with your mother?”
Kaden furrowed his eyebrows. “Agree with what?”
She turned toward him. “She thinks you should be in Shiloh’s life and even threatened to take her away from me if I didn’t let you. I can’t let you take my baby away, Kaden. She’s everything to me now.”
Kaden stiffened as if all his muscles had a charley horse at the same time. “I’m not taking anything away from you. When did she say this?”
“A week or so ago. She stopped by on a Saturday and told me all this.” She looked like she wanted to cry to him, and instinctively, he wrapped his arms around her.
“Don’t worry about her, sweetheart. I’ll take care of it.” She still smelled of the same strawberry shampoo she favored. The same damn stuff he had to use every time he showered at her place.
For so many years they’d had a platonic relationship. He had spent so many nights at her house when he visited town and never once thought about touching her sexually. Not until she called him that one afternoon and needed his shoulder to cry on.
Brett, her current boyfriend, had dumped her and along with the relationship had gone her job. He had to admit, the damn job paid well considering all she did was wait on tables, but then again the damn meals cost almost as much as a normal working class citizen made in a week.
She’d called him for support, and he gave it to her. He opened the wine and let her have at it, knowing she’d be perfectly safe in the comforts of her own home. He must have been drunk as well, because never in his right mind would he have allowed himself to take her. Not in the condition she was in. And never, ever, would he have not used a condom. Even drunk he still made sure he covered himself before taking a woman—for his protection more than theirs.
But that night he had let his good sense and good judgment go out the window, along with his rational brain. And now they had a baby because of it.
He pulled back staring in her eyes. “Will you let me see her?”
“Uh, I thought you didn’t like kids.”
She had him there. “Maybe my kid will be different.”
When she hesitated, he continued. “Just for an hour. You can be there the whole time, and I give you permission to beat the hell out of me if I do something wrong with her.”
She laughed. “I suppose. How could a girl refuse that kind of offer? I told you I’m off tomorrow. You can come by my place any time.”
He nodded. For some reason, Brianna had been blessed with the peacemaking skill. She always looked for a way to solve people’s differences, no matter what the situation.
“Oh, I don’t live at the house anymore. Mom and I rented a small townhouse on the opposite side of town. It’s in a nice neighborhood. Not as nice as the house, but Mom likes it. It’s closer to town, and she doesn’t have to wait that long for an ambulance if she needs oxygen.”
He knew Regina had a lung condition, and it had to be difficult for Bree to take care of her mother and the baby. Especially since she worked at the restaurant and did more than her fair share of supporting her family.
“But anyway, remind me to give you directions.”
“Kaden? We’re about to start—oh, Brianna. When did you get here?” Blair stepped around the corner looking elegant as ever with a wine glass in her hand.
“Earlier, Mom.” Kaden turned toward her. “Did you tell Bree that I’d take away Shiloh from her?” Blair looked like the cat that ate the canary. Kaden shook his head. “Unbelievable, Mom. You know damn good and well, I’d never take that child from Bree because she’s an exceptional mother. And how dare you go see her at her home and threaten her with something that is none of your concern.”
Blair tipped the glass back, downing the last of the drink. “I was looking out for the benefit of the family. You should have demanded a paternity test and, if the baby was yours, demanded that you get visitation rights.”
Kaden pinched the bridge of his nose. “The baby’s mine, Mom. No paternity test needs to be taken.”
“So trusting. Why not have it put in writing?”
“Because I know!” Kaden stood taking the few steps necessary to the concrete railing.
“You can’t be certain. You have money. She can’t pay her bills. How do you know it’s not a ploy to get you to support her? Did you think about that?”
“Mother, I’ll not repeat myself again. Butt out and let me handle my business my way.” Taking a deep breath of fresh air, Kaden leaned against the railing.
“Fine. You’re wanted inside for the reading.”
His mother turned with a huff and went through the doors she came from.
Kaden could feel Bree’s eyes on his back, though he didn’t know what to say. He just stood up to his mother for her and everything Blair had said could have been true. He didn’t really know if Shiloh was his baby. He’d never seen her and didn’t dare ask questions. Brianna didn’t offer any answers. He believed her when she said she was a virgin and knew she hadn’t been with any other guy. So that ruled Brett out.
“You didn’t have to stand up for me,” Brianna finally said, coming up behind him. “You have every right to assume those things.”
“Yeah, but you’re about the only person outside my family that I trust.” He turned and saw her small body closer to him than he would have thought. Amazing that he didn’t even hear her make a sound. “Thank you for coming tonight, even though I’m sorry my mother did that to you.”
“No sweat. You sounded like you needed a friend on the phone.” She smiled and looked toward the door. “So are we going in, or are we going to sit out here all night?”
“Are you giving me a choice?” He wished she were.
“Sure. I’m just here for the ride.”
He grinned, knowing better than to piss off his father. He thought she knew it too, because she had a sly look in her eyes—the one she had when she was up to no good. God, how he missed hanging out with her. She made his life fun.
“Come on.” He grabbed her hand and led her to the doorway. “It’s like ripping off a band aid. Pull really quick and then be done with it.”
Once inside, every one of his family members gathered around to hear what his grandfather declared. His grandmother received the house and most of the assets. His four kids received equal shares of stock options, putting their small fortune at around five million a piece. And the grandkids received funds set aside for them.
“Oh, Kaden’s has a note beside it.” Greg, who was executor of the will, looked up at his son. “It says here that you are to be married before you receive the money.”
Kaden’s eyes widened. “Married? Why do I have to be married?”
Greg looked toward Bree, who stood next to Kaden, hand clasped hard in his. “Because your grandfather wanted you to be happy. He even stipulated who you are to marry.”
Bree’s face blanched. Kaden knew what was coming before Greg even said it.
“He wants you to marry Brianna Lynn Miller within thirty days of the date of death, or no money will be settled. To anyone.”