A/N: Hey everyone. I'm trying to get these chapters out as fast as possible. :) I just wanted to thank those who commented, eager to know more on what happens. It gives me so much motivation to continue, and I appreciate it.
Also note, I don't have an editor for this book as of yet. So if there are grammar errors and punctuation errors, I'm sorry. Anyhoo, enjoy!
The day of the Moore’s anniversary party had arrived. A few days prior, Aaliyah had spent her time planning and prepping the pastries to serve during this evening’s event. Although her face looked quite weary from lack of sleep, her eyes brightened with the joy that came from doing what she loved to do best.
For the cake, she settled on a cream tart number cake that came out absolutely gorgeous. It was stopped with strawberries, pink macarons, meringue kisses, purple mums and a few multicolored sprinkles.
An assortment of flower filled macarons with creamy flowers that include roses, blossoms, and daisies blooming in a colorful shell and several other pastries to match
As Aaliyah boxed the last of the desserts for transport, she stepped back and marveled at her work. It had been so long since she had catered to an event. Both nervous and excited, she hoped the Moore’s along with their attendees would enjoy what she had to offer.
While she waited for Jason, she took the opportunity to put away her folded towels in the linen closet. She placed a few on the top shelf and startled at a knock causing her to knock over a box, scattering the items onto the floor. She cursed under her breath.
“Be right there!” She called out.
Aaliyah knelt down and quickly picked up the scattered items around her. Her gaze fell to her old identity card. She wasn’t sure exactly why she still kept it around. Maybe why she had a hard time parting with it was because it served as a reminder of who she was, where she was going, and what it took to get there. She sighed and dropped it back inside the box and placed the lid back on before shoving it back inside the closet.
She went to open the front door. There stood Jason, still as handsome as ever. News of their relationship had spread quickly. And while Samantha wasn’t keen on Aaliyah not revealing the entirety of her situation, she couldn’t dispute the love in Jason’s eyes when he looked at Aaliyah nor her expression of pure adoration when she was with him. Lucas has simply said it was about time for them to get together. He had known the minute they paired up at the bar to compete against them that something was developing between them, but had decided not to interfere and let their relationship bloom.
“Hey,” he said, lifting a hand in greeting. “I heard something drop. Everything okay?”
“Yeah,” She smiled, motioning him inside. “I was just putting away some towels and a box from the top shelf fell down.”
“Ah, okay.” He smiled before growing more serious. He pulled her close and kissed her hair. “I’ve missed you.” His words prompted her smile.
“I’ve missed you, too.” she said, pressing closer, inhaling the sweet scent of his body. God, how she had missed this; this feeling of love and safety that only came when she was with him.
They clung to each other for what seemed to them like forever but in reality was only a few minutes. Jason’s hand massaged the small of her back and her hands grew tight around his neck. His mouth soon followed, pressing hot kisses to her neck, making her inhale sharply as a stab of heat spiked in her core. He trailed his lips to her jaw and down her throat, suckling briefly at the pulse point there.
Aliyah’s hands gripped his shoulders a little harder as every kiss made her nerve endings sizzle. Her lower belly growled as a tingly feeling enveloped her chest and radiated through her body. She pressed herself towards him and smiled as she felt his growing erection and his rapid heartbeats. All of a sudden, Jason pulled away from her and cleared his throat sharply.
“Babe, we’ve got to go now if we want to make it early,” he said with a wink. She nodded quickly, chiding herself for losing concentration so quickly.
Aaliyah pointed Jason in the direction of the dessert boxes and he carried them gingerly out of the house and placed them in the truck. During that time, she straightened her dress and fixed her makeup that seemed to have melted from the sweltering heat that had emanated from her brief moment of passion with Jason. She exhaled aloud as she twirled and admired herself once again in the full length mirror. By God, she looked ravishing; she hoped that the Moore family would think the same.
To Aaliyah, the Moore house looked inviting at first glimpse: Victorian, gabled, roomy, with deep porches front and rear. It stood a half mile off the county road, at the end of a gravel driveway, surrounded by one hundred twenty acres of land.
Awe mingled with her growing anxiety. In a few hours she would be face-to-face with a handful of the town’s most wealthy and influential people. She felt so far out of her comfort zone, it just wasn’t funny. She took a deep breath and shook out her hands anxiously, wishing her body would relax a little.
Sylvia Moore appeared on the front porch when she heard Jason’s truck in the driveway, and she came quickly down the steps to the stone walkway to greet Jason and her. She was a lovely, girlishly slim woman in her early or mid fifties, with stylishly short blond hair, wearing tan jeans and a long-sleeved emerald-green blouse with green embroidery on the collar, simultaneously chic and motherly.
Jason introduced her. “Lia, this is my mother, Sylvia.”
Aaliyah was surprised when Sylvia embraced her, kissed her on the cheek, and, still holding her close, said, “I’ve heard so many wonderful things about you from my children. Samantha tells me you’re the sister she’s never had, so I want you to feel at home here, sweetheart. When you’re here with us, this is your place as much as ours.”
Aaliyah stood stiffly at first, so unfamiliar with the rituals of family affection that she didn’t know quite how to respond. Then she returned the embrace awkwardly and murmured an inadequate thank-you. Her throat was suddenly so tight that she was amazed to be able to speak at all.
Sylvia stepped back, smiling. “Sweetheart, we have been dying to meet you!” She grabbed Aaliyah’s hand and guided her to the broad flight of porch steps. “Come on in. I want you to meet Jeffrey. I’ll send someone out for the desserts here shortly.”
Sylvia led them into a large kitchen where Jason’s father was pulling trays out of the oven. He was wearing an apron over blue jeans and a T-shirt. Now she knew where Jason got his fashion sense.
“Jeffrey, come say hello to Aaliyah.” Sylvia said.
Jason’s father pulled off his oven mitts and the apron and joined them at the edge of the room. Tall, with graying dark brown hair, he was handsome and had a kind smile, his eyes glittering when they met hers. She saw so much of Jason in him.
“Wonderful to meet you finally. The kids speak very highly of you.” He surprised her next with a big hug, then, he took one of her hands in both of his, which were rough and work worn, and with feigned solemnity he said, “I hope my son has been nothing short of good when he’s around you.”
Aaliyah giggled. “Yes, he’s a perfect gentleman.”
Jeffrey pulled away and clapped his son on the shoulder. “Atta boy!” he said. “Don’t lose this one, son. She’s a keeper.”
Jason looked over to her, smiling warmly. “She really is.”
“I hope you like chicken parm,” Jeffrey said, easily filling the silence.
“I love it.” Aaliyah replied.
“Oh, that’s right. Jason tells us you’re a phenomenal cook. Damn, I hope this measures up.”
Jason took a beer out of the fridge. “All right, guys. Tone it down. Seriously. Want to get some fresh air?” He asked Aaliyah. “Otherwise these two will literally suffocate you with questions and compliments.”
“That doesn’t sound so bad,” Aaliyah joked. Jason’s parents seemed amazingly sweet. She was definitely feeling overwhelmed, though.
“You kids head out to the deck. Lunch is almost ready. Hopefully by then Samantha and Matthew will be here.” Sylvia said, motioning them out of the kitchen. Jason ushered her out of the room, his hand resting on the small of her back, and they passed through a large living room and onto a deck that spanned the length of the house, overlooking the beach.
“I could get used to this view.” Aaliyah said quietly.
“Me too,” he murmured.
After a few minutes, Samantha joined them, with Matthew in tow.
“Li, Li,” he squealed, giving her a tight hug.
Her throat tightened with emotion. Too much hugging. She couldn’t handle all these people being so happy to have her close. Before she could overthink it, Sylvia announced that lunch was ready.
They all settled at the table outside on the other side of the deck. She sat between Samantha and Jason, which was a relief.
Lunch was a long, leisurely affair because the Moore’s liked to talk to one another and thrived on talking to one another. They were careful to include Aaliyah and seemed genuinely interested in what she had to say, but even when the conversation wandered to family matters of which Aaliyah had little knowledge, she somehow felt a part of it, as though she was, by a magical osmosis, actually being absorbed into the Moore clan.
“Aaliyah, tell us about your family,” Sylvia asked.
“Mom,” Jason snapped.
“What?” She shook her head, wide-eyed, and looked back to her.
“It’s okay.” Aaliyah said. “Um, my mother passed away when I was twelve. My father is no longer in the picture, so I don’t really have a lot of close family now.”
“Oh, sweetheart, I’m so sorry.”
She shrugged, not wanting to seem emotional or upset about it. Plus, she’d barely scratched the surface. “Thank you. It’s fine, though. I get to make my family wherever I go now.”
Samantha grinned and leaned into her a little.
Jeffrey finished a bite of salad. “Tell us more about yourself. Jason tells us that you are not from here. Where are you from?”
She glanced over to Jason whose lips twisted into an annoyed grimace.
“California,” she replied.
“Oh, a Cali girl,” he said, amused. “What city?”
“A big change in scenery I’ll say. So what made you want to move here to Port Isabel?”
Aaliyah hesitated. “Honestly, I just wanted something new; someplace where I knew could feel...safe.”
Jason’s eyes softened at her words.
“But the people here are what drove me to stay,” Aaliyah smiled. “I’ve become too attached.”
The chit chat continued for a while and then the sound of cutlery hitting the plates began to die down as everyone finished the food on their plates. Sylvia slid out of her seat and reached for the dishes on the table.
Aaliyah jumped up from her seat. “Here. Let me help.”
“Oh no, sweetheart. You’re our guest.”
“It’s fine. I don’t mind.” She smiled reassuringly.
Together they left the deck, their hands ladened with dishes. For a second, Aaliyah feared that there would be an awkward moment of silence, but thankfully, Sylvia swiftly snapped her out of her thoughts.
“Jason talks a lot about you,” Sylvia said. “When he’s around you, his face lights up. I don’t think I’ve seen him this happy in a long time.”
Aaliyah gave her a small smile and placed the plates down into the sink. “He makes me happy too.”
“I’m so glad you two found each other. It blesses my heart to see that Jason has found a good woman like you,’’ Sylvia continued. Aaliyah’s mouth spread open in a wide grin for she was unsure of what to say next. The older woman gave her a warm pat on her back as she dropped the dishes in the sink and urged her to join the others outside.
Aaliyah breathed a sigh of relief as they left the bustling lunch with Jason’s family and escaped to the white tent below to set up for that evening.
“Sorry. They’re completely crazy,” he mumbled.
“It’s okay. They’re really sweet actually.” A quiet happiness bubbled inside her at the unexpected turn this afternoon had taken.
“Well now that they’ve met you, they’re going to be hounding me nonstop about you. Don’t think for one second this is going to be your last Moore family dinner.”
She laughed. “I look forward to it.”
Their eyes met as Jason smoothed the crease out from the tablecloth.
“Can I ask you something?” he finally said. “You don’t have to answer if you don’t want to.”
“Anything,” she said.
“Earlier when my father asked why you chose to stay here you said you wanted a place that made you feel safe.” Aaliyah tensed at his words. “I know I said you could tell me when you were ready, and I still want that, but I just have to ask. Are you running from something?”
Aaliyah sighed, as if she’d known all along he was going to ask but still had to steel herself to answer.
“Not something. Someone.” She answered truthfully. “And I do want to tell you more about me, about everything, and I will, I promise. I just don’t think this is the best place or time for me to tell you.”
Jason nodded but said nothing.
“But whatever this is, with us, it’s not safe.” She told him. “It’s not safe for you.”
Gently, he brought his hands up and framed her face. He tilted her head up, bringing them eye to eye. “I don’t care.” He thumbed her cheek. More contact, every touch overwhelmed her. Her eyes brimmed with tears that began to fall now.
He hushed her and brushed away the tears. “You don’t have to run anymore, Lia. You don’t have to be afraid. You’re safe here with me. I promise.” He gripped her shoulders and skimmed down her arms, resting there only a moment before he caught her lips in a gentle kiss.