“I heard you. I know you’re moving to Utah. I know you’re leaving me behind.”
“What?” Carin glanced to Bryson, who shared her confused expression. “Is that what you think? That we would leave you behind?”
Bettina threw her hands up in the air. “Well, aren’t you? You can’t take me with you and this is the job Bryson has always wanted, right? You’re going to have your perfect baby and perfect job and you’ll forget all about me.”
Tears ran down Carin’s face while she shook her head quickly but it was Bryson who stepped up and placed his hands on Bettina’s shoulders.
“Oh, Betts. One day you’re going to have to believe that we love you.” He smiled and bent down so they were eye-to-eye. “We aren’t going anywhere without you. In fact, we have an appointment with Stephanie on Monday. Everything has finally settled and we can begin the process to adopt you.”
Bettina’s eyes went wide and her mouth open and closed several times before she could form words. “You… You want to adopt me?”
Strangled laughter escaped between Carin’s sniffles as she came to stand next to her husband. “You’re such a smart girl, baby, but you refuse to see what’s in front of you. We love you. You are our child just as much as this new baby will be. You belong with us.”
Bettina threw herself at both of them and Bryson absorbed the impact while they both wrapped their arms around her.
I stayed at the Lampkin home until almost four that afternoon, going over everything we would need to proceed with the adoption. Bryson had received a promotion but the position wouldn’t start until that summer and since Bettina had been with the Lampkins for so long, I knew we would be able to expedite the adoption.
The afternoon wasn’t all rainbows and sunshine, however. Bettina was given some pretty heavy consequences for sneaking out and shoplifting, but I had never seen a child accept their punishment so readily. Honestly, I had never seen Bettina look so happy. That little girl had been through so much in her short life and it finally looked like the weight of the world had been lifted from her shoulders.
“Thank you, Stephanie,” Bryson told me when he walked me out to my car. “I don’t know how the three of us would have managed without you.”
I smiled and gave him a quick hug. “I should be thanking you guys. You changed her entire life.”
“Just as much as she changed ours.”
He went back inside once I was behind my steering wheel and I pulled my phone out. I had missed a few calls and text messages but I ignored everything and pressed Jared’s name, who had called me three times.
“You know,” he said immediately when he answered the phone. “When a man and a woman take their relationship to the next level and then the woman ignores the man’s calls the entire next day, he starts to get a complex.”
I chuckled softly and dropped my head to the headrest behind me. “I texted you.”
“Only like two hours ago, Vanilla Latte. You left me in suspense until that point.”
“I’m sorry,” I told him, feeling like an ass. “I was just so involved with everything that time got away from me.”
“Well, Chris and I were worried and so we’ve decided that you have to make it up to us.”
“Yeah? And how do I do that?”
“Go to dinner with us.” I could hear the smile in his voice. “Chris has never been out to a restaurant so let’s make tonight his first.”
I turned my key to start my engine. “Deal. I’ll be to your place in about twenty minutes.”
“Good. See you soon, sweetheart.”
We ended the call and I pulled out of the Lampkin’s driveway so I could drive across town.
Kenneth greeted me at the door and let me into the elevator. When I made it to the twenty-first floor, Jared’s door was open and I could hear him talking to Chris inside. I crossed the threshold and found both of them on the floor on their stomachs.
Chris was one of those abnormal babies that loved tummy time and his head control was amazing because of it. I watched as his father lay in front of him making faces and Chris just smiled like Jared hung the moon.
“You making Daddy do his tummy time, Christopher?” I asked, closing the door behind me and dropping my bag onto the kitchen table. I lay on the floor next to Jared and the baby gave me a big smile. Jared leaned in and pressed a quick kiss to my lips.
“We were just killing time until our favorite girl showed up. You hungry?”
I nodded and reached out to jiggle Chris’s cheek with my finger. “I’m always hungry, Hart.”
We both moved to our feet and I scooped Chris into my arms. He had a bit of drool on his chin and it ended up all over my shirt when I cuddled him to my chest but I didn’t care.
Jared grabbed the diaper bag and I kept the baby as we headed to the elevator. Kenneth held the door for us and we went right to Jared’s car. He took the baby from me so he could buckle him in and I chuckled once we were both in our own seats.
“What’s so funny?” he asked and I gestured to the backseat.
“You. Remember when you couldn’t even hold a baby? Now you’re a pro.”
“I’d probably still be holding him like a ticking bomb if it hadn’t been for you.” He reached across the console and grabbed my hand, kissing the back of it before tucking our conjoined hands into my lap.
I forced myself not to swoon and looked out the window at the passing city. I had never been in his car before with the exception of the time I’d checked the infant seat and the few times I had taken Chris out or buckled him in.
It was clean and still had that new car smell, something that didn’t surprise me when it came to Jared. It also had leather seats, something that wasn’t really ideal in the Phoenix heat but I was pretty sure Jared had realized that already since he had a cover over his seat.
We ate at a local Italian restaurant and passed the baby back and forth during the whole meal. He eventually got fussy and drank his bottle in my arms while staring up at me intently. I pressed a kiss to his forehead just as the server showed up to give us the check. She accepted Jared’s card and placed it into the billfold before smiling at us.
“I just wanted to say that you three make the cutest little family.” She gestured to Chris with her free hand. “It’s always nice to see a devoted mommy and daddy in here.”
I shook my head, feeling like a total imposter. “Oh, I’m not his mom.”
“You’re not? Oh.” She gave me a confused look and cleared her throat. “I’m sorry. I just assumed. I’ll be right back with this for you.”
When she walked away, Jared chuckled softly. “You just made that so awkward.”
“I know and I feel bad. I shouldn’t have said anything.” I pulled the bottle from Chris’s mouth and used a burp cloth to clean his face. “I just didn’t want to step on any toes.”
“Yeah, because Angela’s toes are so close to the situation that it would be easy to smash them flat.” He reached across the table and squeezed my free hand. “The panic on your face right there was interesting, too.”
“Shut up,” I mumbled, moving the baby so I could burp him. Jared just chuckled and thanked the server when she came back. I made sure to smile at her so that she didn’t think I was a total bitch.
The drive back to his place was quick and we were parked in his spot before I knew it. Jared held Chris in one arm and wrapped the other around my waist as we headed towards the building. Kenneth was waiting, holding the door for us so we could walk in. When Jared thanked him, he just smiled.
“My pleasure, Mr. Hart. I hope you two have a great evening.”
“Hart?” A voice said behind us and we all turned to see a man walk through the general entrance. “Jared Hart?”
“That’s me.” Jared let go of his hold on me and adjusted his grip on the baby. “Can I help you?”
“Man, you made this easy. Here.” The guy thrust a manilla envelope at Jared and once it was out of his hands, offered us a grin. “You’ve been served.”
Kenneth surged forward but the guy turned and took off outside, the doorman on his heels. Jared stared down at the envelope with his brows furrowed. I gently took Chris out of his arms and watched as he opened the flap.
“He’s gone, sir. I’m sorry about that,” Kenneth said when he reappeared and Jared glanced up with a shake of his head.
“If it hadn’t been now, he would have kept trying until he got the papers to me.” He slipped a stack of documents out and began reading them silently. Suddenly, his whole face went pale and his eyes met mine.
“Angela is suing for custody of Chris.”