Calder kissed Astrid’s cheek, smiling when she rolled over in her sleep. He needed to run home, shower, then head to work. He wished she would change her mind and stay at his place, but staying over wasn’t an imposition. Her house held warmth his pretentious condo lacked.
Such a stubborn woman.
He drove into the city, hoping Astrid didn’t confront her ex. Her misplaced guilt complex about Remy pissed him off. The asshole damaged women down to their marrow.
Did he have a plan for the future? Not yet, but wasn’t willing to admit defeat, even if their newfound relationship shook his usual steady foundation. She made him take notice of the world outside his comfort zone. His family never endured hard times or heartache other than the loss of his mother.
Cal senior was coming into the office, a subject he kept from Astrid. She had enough on her plate. He most likely planned to shake up his son’s lives and would berate him for dating a common girl with no connections or wealth.
His old man threw a crystal ashtray at the wall when he broke off his engagement, not because he cared Clair cheated on Calder, but because he had to tell all of his influential friends the embarrassing news. But time moved on and their only living parent recently started behaving differently, more laid back. His pushing of Chris to bring him into the family business had been a rare gesture of kindness. One that showed he believed in him.
In all his children.
At least, that’s how Calder perceived it.
At eight sharp, all four Lewis men converged in the large conference room awaiting their father. Cody made Marla brew fresh coffee with the gourmet brand Cal Sr. preferred to go with fancy pastries from his favorite bakery. The ladies sat at the end of the table, and he smiled at Flo, knowing his dad would be glad to see her. He often wondered if his father had an affair with the old broad. She was amazing at her job, honest, and never complained. Cal Sr. refused to let Chris fire her, although he could understand why he wanted to. It was a power play to take charge of the staff, a tactic he’d never win since he wasn’t even an equal partner after Cal Sr. promoted an attorney over him two years ago. Selling their names because they began with a C became a gimmick and a joke, something the other partners secretly laughed behind their back at.
Cal Sr. strolled into the room a quarter to nine. Late. Their dad was a punctual ogre, so they were a little confused. Also, he wore a polo shirt with khaki shorts and running shoes instead of a suit. At seventy years old, his appearance was striking, especially with his dyed charcoal hair offsetting the deep green eyes he passed to his sons. Calder knew he used Botox, but he appeared healthy and they hoped they looked half as good at that age.
Chris greeted him first, offering a handshake, “Father, how are you?”
He ignored his hand, pulling him in for a hug. Chris’s jaw went slack, making him snicker as his brothers embraced him awkwardly. Their father never displayed affection, but some things changed.
“Junior!” Cal Sr. held his arms wide for the youngest to approach, “Look at you!”
Calder grinned, hugging his dad. His father smiled, clutching his shoulders. “You resemble your mother the older you get,” He softly confessed, “At least you inherited my eyes. You dress like a real lawyer, but are you?”
Shrugging, he stepped back, “I have one client, but it’s a slow case. You know how it goes. You’re in a rare mood, should we worry?”
Chris glared at his bluntness, but their father laughed good naturally, taking a seat at the head of the table. Calder and Cody sat on the left, Chris and Cameron on the right. Florence and Mallory nodded from the other end.
“Hello ladies,” Cal Sr. warmly greeted them, “Flo, I heard your granddaughter got into Yale?”
“Yes,” she beamed, “We’re very proud.”
“That’s wonderful,” Then he winked at the woman in front of everyone, making Chris’s mouth drop again, “We should catch up over dinner.”
She visibly blushed, fiddling with the folders near her, “Oh... well, that would be nice.”
“Father,” Chris interrupted, then cleared his throat at the frown he received, “I have meetings to attend this morning. Cody has the financial charts.”
He turned to Cam, “When are you going to have a baby? What is April, ten years younger than you?”
All eyes swiveled to Cameron. He shifted in his chair, flushing so red Calder felt bad for him.
“April is younger,” he slowly answered, “but she isn’t ready—”
“You should be!” Cal Sr. cried, “Chris, we never see yours. What are their ages again?”
Chris stiffened at the mention of Sarah and Sam. He shot his father a tired smile, letting on he found the conversation annoying. “Sarah’s nine, and at the top of her class. Sam’s eight and plays lacrosse. They won’t be coming home this summer.” Chris’s tone of voice remained detached, but his glare held Cal Sr.’s in a silent challenge.
“Why the hell not?” he pounded a fist down on the wood, “I’ve decided I want our family to behave like one. My grand-kids need to know me and spend time with you.”
“This isn’t the place to discuss such matters,” he sniffed, “And just because you decide on something, doesn’t mean we agree. My children live happily where they are. Let it be.”
Calder’s eyes widened in surprise. Chris was the perfect son when they were growing up. Now, it seemed he was standing up for his pompous self. He worked too hard, and he probably thought their father was baiting them. Calder considered the whole situation hilarious, but he wasn’t the tight ass his other brothers were.
“Father,” he cheerfully tried to break the tension, “I’m glad you’re so relaxed.”
“Yeah, because I have a girlfriend. I’d like to take you to lunch to discuss her.”
He straightened, dismissing Chris’s snub for the moment, “Well, that’s wonderful. You should bring her. I actually wanted everyone to join me at the mansion on Saturday for dinner. That includes you, Marla, Flo, and Mallory. Nothing fancy, cookout and cocktails. The weather’s perfect for swimming, so don’t forget your suits.”
“Great idea,” Cody took his cue from Calder’s acceptance of their father’s positive shift, “I haven’t been home in ages. Dates allowed?”
“Of course,” Cal Sr. gave a lewd wink, “Oh... ladies, you are welcome to invite friends too. So, tomorrow at five?”
His sons agreed, and the women looked shocked but pleased to receive an invitation. Chris and Cameron had meetings, giving curt goodbyes before exiting the room. Cody and Calder chatted with their father until Cody realized he had to get to court.
Cal Sr. clapped his hands together, “Where shall we lunch with your new girl?”
“The Italian Door is decent,” Calder nervously answered, “Are you sure today’s good?”
He sighed, “Junior, you and I have never been close, but aim to do better. I want my sons to remember me not as a cold, black-heartened lawyer, but as a man. See you at noon.”
Then he briskly walked out, leaving Calder nervous but hopeful. He went to his office without running into any of his brothers. He wondered if they were as perplexed as he was by their fathers’ abrupt change in attitude.
Calder sat behind his desk, swiveling around to peer at the view of the city. His father knew Astrid, or rather of her. She had worked there for three years, after all. If his dad really meant what he said, he would accept Astrid, right?
The time was nearing eleven when he finally called Astrid. She didn’t pick up. The panic that twisted his insides made him curse. He still hadn’t gotten over the fact he was in love with her and needed to make certain she was safe at all times. The anxiety was short-lived when she rang back a minute later.
“Sorry,” her sweet voice dripped sadness, “I was in the bathroom. I’m fine. Don’t ask questions.”
He frowned, “Can I ask at least one?”
Her giggle sounded forced, “All right. I’ll allow one Mr. Lewis.”
“Funny you should use that title,” he said to prepare her although he himself wasn’t ready, “My father came in this morning.”
“Oh, yeah? Is everything okay? He usually popped in once every six months. Chris used to be a real jerk afterward.”
“They had words, a shocker on Chris’s part. Seems our father has melted the ice around his heart and now wants in our lives. We’re meeting him for lunch at noon,” he kept talking, hoping she wouldn’t form an excuse to bail, “It’s at the Italian Door, so dress nice.”
“Calder!” she gasped, “You want me to eat with your dad? Are you serious? The man never acknowledged my presence except to snap my skirt was too short once. Which, by the way, wasn’t.”
He smiled, “Hey, I don’t give a shit if he likes you. I love you. His sudden interest won’t make up for the last twenty-five years he’s missed.”
“Baby…” she sighed with sympathy, and he swallowed a prideful retort, “I will be ready. Did you tell him about me?”
He figured she would ask, “No. I’ll be there at 11:30.”
“That only gives me fifteen minutes!” She screeched, “You didn’t mention you’re dating an ex-employee? He has no clue?”
He saw Cody coming down the hall through the frosted window by the door. “Princess, just get your fine ass ready and we’ll talk later.”
“Aargh!” she pouted, ending the call.
Calder was still chuckling when he exited his office, intercepting Cody, “What? I’m out for the day.”
“Lunch with daddy?” he rolled his eyes, “You get off making us wonder about you, don’t you?”
He shrugged, striding to the elevator. Cody tagged along, much to his annoyance. At least it was Cody hounding him instead of Chris. “Wonder all you like,” he impatiently tapped his foot.
“Father was off,” Cody pressed, “Right? I mean, since when does he care about Sam and Sarah? He sent us away every summer same as Chris does with his kids.”
Calder nodded, “But maybe that’s why he wants to reconnect now. Age makes some people see the mistakes of their youth. I for one hope you take advantage of this chance to spend time with him.” The lift opened to reveal four men, and he stepped into the corner. Cody followed before the doors slid shut, and he withheld a curse.
“Why do you make it sound as if you won’t?” Cody hissed, leaning close, “Do you think Astrid will change his mind?”
“She and I have bigger problems,” Calder snapped, “Why not ask Cameron his opinion?”
“Because he’s a type two Chris wannabe,” he snorted, “and he’ll just use father per usual. April fucked me last spring, you know?”
Calder exhaled when they reached the parking level. Random assholes didn’t need to hear his family’s sordid business.
“April let me do things to her I’m sure Cameron never does,” Cody laughed, still following along, “Have you seen her lately? Her tits are like this nice cum—”
“Bro!” he snapped, pushing the fob on his key chain to unlock the Porsche, “Please spare me the details of your fornication with our brother’s women. If you ever touch Astrid, I’ll maim you.”
He stepped toe to toe with his older brother, lowering his voice so Cody’s simple mind would not misunderstand the heartfelt threat. “You fucked our brothers’ wives?” Calder watched the confidence in Cody’s grin fade, “In high school, you picked off my girlfriends for laughs! If you hit on Astrid or make her uncomfortable in any way, I’ll beat the shit out of you. I won’t turn a blind eye like Cameron or Chris.”
Cody crossed his arms, “I wouldn’t do that! I never fucked Julia. April and I are closer in age than Cam anyhow. Don’t threaten me because the slut spreads her legs for other men.”
Calder took a step forward, punching Cody square in the jaw. He staggered in his expensive leather oxfords, cursing as he steadied his footing. He shook out his knuckles and his brother gawked at him in shock after he recovered.
“I was a boxer in college so consider yourself lucky we’re related,” he spat.
“You’re a dick!” Cody whined, rubbing his face, “You can have the bitch and her psycho boyfriend. Maybe you should all move in together and take turns fucking her. Don’t think Chris hasn’t told father about Astrid. I’ve got shit to do,” he sniffed, trying to act composed, “Unlike you Calder, who’s too busy running after a worthless tattler, we work.”
He ignored Cody’s attempt to rile him up further, letting him have the last word. He made his point. His brothers were all self-indulgent assholes. He studied his fists, which bore a few scars from past fights. His skills might be rusty, but knew how to throw a punch. Astrid shuffled to his car when he jerked to a stop outside of her house, still fuming over Cody’s insinuation he was in a Throuple.
Astrid looked beautiful, and he ran his eyes hungrily over her body as she smiled shyly. She pulled her dark hair up into a soft bun, exposing the diamond earrings he’d bought. The light blue dress she wore accentuated her curvy hips and breast. He never tired of seeing her sunny smile, because she glowed.
“Hi,” he inhaled the sweet scent of her skin when he leaned in to kiss her pink lips, “I’m sorry I snapped on the phone. It’s been a weird morning.”
She tenderly caressed his cheek, brows scrunched in concern, “I bet. Are you okay? You look a little stressed. More than usual, I mean.”
He was glad she cared enough to ask instead of ignoring his obvious mood and gave her a reassuring nod, focusing on the road explaining, “My father tends to start fires then walk away. He expects everyone to visit our family mansion in the hills tomorrow. The ladies at the office too, if they’re brave. Fathers behavior was completely unexpected today. You’ll see.”
“You must love him,” She sighed softly, “Even if you don’t get along.”
“He didn’t expect to raise us alone, but it’s whatever now,” his tone dripped with bitterness.
“People aren’t perfect, no matter how strong they try to appear. Everyone has issues,” she wisely said.
He twined their hands together to elevate the tense atmosphere, “Astrid, you and I have bigger problems than my old man. I thought going out to lunch would surprise you.”
She laughed, “To say the least! Thank you.”
“For just being who you are and not hiding me from your family.”
Calder swallowed hard, hoping he wasn’t making a mistake. Cal Sr. could destroy this naive girl with his cruel manipulations. He kissed the back of her slender hand, expecting the worse from his father.