I stared out at traffic twenty-three floors below and shook my head as I held the phone to my ear. “A continuance. Why? And how long? God, Chris is going to be walking before this is all resolved.”
“She hired a new lawyer and he claims he needs time to prepare. We’re looking at August now,” Valerie said with annoyance in her voice. “I’m pretty sure three months is overkill but the judge is really sympathetic to her for some reason.”
I groaned and closed my eyes. The whole debacle with Angela Roberts was getting old. It was the end of May, just a week and a half after the custody stuff had been resolved, and her trial was supposed to start the next day. I had a shiny subpoena that said I was still going to be testifying. I’d spent hours with the prosecutor, Kaleb Lansing, the day before preparing my testimony.
“Everything’s the same, Steph. She can’t come near the little guy.” Valerie sighed. “I’ll call you if I hear anything else.”
“Thanks, Val,” I replied, waving at Robin when she appeared in my office door. “I’ve got to run but I’ll talk to you later.”
Robin sat in the seat across from my desk and eyed me warily. She looked pretty good for a woman who was going through bi-weekly chemotherapy. Her brown hair was completely gone and even though she looked gorgeous with or without it, she had taken to wearing headscarves around the office or if she had to go to court. Other than that, she didn’t seem any different. The only time you could tell when the fight was obviously taking its toll was the first few days after chemotherapy. Those were the days she usually stayed home, though.
I hung up the phone and filled her in on what Valerie had just told me. She rolled her eyes and picked up the picture frame I had just added to my desk a week before.
“I wonder if they’re preparing an insanity defense. Maybe that’s why they want more time.”
I shrugged and leaned back in my chair. “As long as she stays far away from Chris, she can claim whatever the hell she wants.”
“How is little Christopher?” Robin asked, placing the frame back in its spot. “He’s almost five months old, right?”
“Yeah, he’s twenty weeks today.” I smiled as I took a quick look at the framed photo. Chris was in his bouncer, smiling at the camera. He’d changed a lot from the baby I found in the garbage. “He just mastered rolling from his back to his stomach and is trying really hard to figure out how to sit up on his own. He’s pretty perfect.”
“And his father?” Robin’s eyes twinkled with mischief, causing me to laugh, and I nodded once.
“Jared’s good, too. I’m actually taking him to meet the rest of my family on Sunday.”
It’d been a little more than two months since everything had changed and two weeks since Jared and I had gone out on our first date. We still hadn’t had sex. I spent more nights with him than without but hadn’t initiated anything beyond a kiss and sleeping in his arms. He was following my lead, not pressuring me in the slightest bit, and I was pretty sure he’d wait forever if I asked him to.
Not that I would. I was completely head over heels in love with that man and had been for a long time. It was something I’d realized while we were walking through the Desert Botanical Garden that night. I had been in love before but the love I felt for Troy seemed so innocent, so young compared to what I felt for Jared. My feelings for him were all consuming, like I was drowning in them and didn’t want to come up for air.
Now I just needed to tell him.
“Your family will love him. Are you taking the baby?”
“Definitely.” I nodded and watched as Robin moved back to her feet. “You look good.”
“I feel good, Steph. I’m kicking this cancer’s ass. Quit doing such a good job because you’re making me look obsolete.”
I rolled my eyes and sat back in my chair. “Whatever. I think they all tolerate me because they’re afraid of you.”
We both laughed as she waved and walked out of my office. The weeks in between chemo had her in such high spirits.
Jared wasn’t any happier than I was to hear about Angela. Even though the hearing had gone our way, we were both still nervous. The thought of her getting anywhere near Chris made my stomach hurt. I was infinitely thankful for the secure building the Hart boys lived in.
Jared and I spent the weekend doing the things that had become routine with us. On Saturdays, we usually took Chris to the park where he was quickly getting attached to the infant swing they had set up. The smiles he’d give when we pushed him melted my heart and filled the camera roll on my phone.
After the park we’d do something like the zoo, the pool in his building, or take Chris to a playgroup at the library. I also spent quality time with my laptop on Saturday afternoons as I tried to stay ahead of my work. Even though I always offered to go home so I could work, Jared would insist that I sit in his home office to get it done. If Chris went down for a nap, he’d join me in there and play video games while I lost myself in paperwork. It worked for us.
We always went out for breakfast on Sunday mornings and would go grocery shopping immediately after. Shopping with a baby was definitely more time consuming than shopping alone was. Even though there were two of us to split holding him, people constantly stopped us to adore him and ask plenty of questions. I was getting used to being referred to as his mom and stopped correcting people. It was just easier that way.
After the grocery store, we went back to Jared’s place and Chris napped while we put groceries away and tidied up the condo. Jared never failed to protest when I’d start to help him clean up but despite that place not being my residence, I spent almost as much time there as he did.
Mom had been a pest since Bri let it slip I was seeing someone. She was constantly asking when she was going to meet him and had a few choice words to offer me when she learned that Briana and Marco had spent time with the baby. It didn’t matter how many times I told her that Briana had met Jared before I even had since he and Marco worked together, the only way to stop her tirade had been to agree to invite him
It was shortly after five when I parked my SUV up against the curb in front of my childhood home and saw that my sibling’s cars were already there. I turned my head and smiled at Jared.
He nodded and pushed open the passenger door with his own smile. “Ready.”
I grabbed the diaper bag from the backseat while Jared unbuckled Chris. I might have admired him from behind as he leaned over, too. He was wearing a pair of navy blue shorts and a white t-shirt that had the logo from his college. When he straightened back up with Chris in his arms, his green eyes caught me staring and I just smiled unashamedly.
He chuckled and leaned in to press a quick kiss to my lips. “Let’s go in.”
The three of us walked up the path to the house and I didn’t bother knocking on the front door before I turned the knob. No one was in the living room and I could hear voices coming from the den in the back of the house.
When we walked into the kitchen, my mom, Rhea, and Briana all glanced over at us instantly. I smiled and squeezed Jared’s hand.
“Hey, guys.” I pointed to my mom and Rhea. “Jared, I want you to meet my mother, Elaine, and my sister-in-law, Rhea. You obviously know Bri. Guys, this is Jared Hart and his son, Christopher.”
My mom wiped her hands on a towel before moving towards Jared with one outstretched and a smile on her face. “Jared, it’s very good to meet you. My daughter has told us a lot about you.”
Jared nodded and offered me Chris so he could shake my mother’s hand. “It’s nice to meet you, too. You have a lovely home.”
Rhea flashed me a thumb’s up after she’d shaken his hand and I grinned back as Austin and Lila walked into the kitchen.
Lila’s eyes lit up when she saw Chris. She held her hands out impatiently as she tried to get away from her father.
“This is my niece, Lila, and she is completely obsessed with any human smaller than her,” I said with a chuckle, stepping towards my brother so the babies were closer to one another. Lila instantly reached out and gently touched Chris’s cheeks and a big smile blossomed across his lips. He squealed and kicked his legs happily.
“Do you need any help with dinner, Mom?” I asked, tearing my eyes away from the cute exchange in front of me. My mother shook her head and gestured to the family room.
“No, baby. Grab yourselves some drinks and head into the family room. Your father would love to meet Jared.”
Jared pulled two bottles of water out of the fridge and followed me back into the next room. My father was in his usual armchair with Eldon planted in the matching one next to it. Kate was on the couch with Ryder in her arms while Marco sat on the floor playing a board game with Stella and Tanner.
Both of the older kids greeted me enthusiastically and allowed me to plant kisses on their little cheeks before they went back to the game. Marco stood to hug me and he greeted Jared with a handshake. Once Marco had sat back down, I turned to the rest of my family.
“Jared, meet my father, Richard, my sister and brother-in-law, Kate and Eldon, and their amazing little people, Tanner, Stella, and Ryder. Guys, this is my boyfriend, Jared, and his son, Chris.”
My father stood from the armchair and smiled warmly at Jared as they shook hands. When their hands dropped, Dad reached over to tickle Chris’s chin with his fingers. Chris, being the happy kid he was, let out a small squeak and bounced in my arms happily, causing my dad to laugh.
“Good to meet you, son. We’ve certainly heard a lot about you and your little boy here.”
My father sat back down in his chair and I took the spot on the couch next to my sister while Jared took the one next to me. Ryder and Chris, who were just a few weeks apart, eyed each other warily, causing Kate and me to laugh.
“You work in sales with Marco?” Eldon asked Jared, not bothering to pull his gaze from the TV. I caught Marco’s eye roll and my whole body went stiff as I turned to put Eldon in his place. Before I could, Jared placed a hand on my thigh and answered.
“I guess you could say that. We work in marketing, which is a form of advertisement. Marco and I are more involved in the creative aspect and we try to ensure that the things we come up with are fresh and innovative.”
Eldon grunted in acknowledgement but didn’t respond. With him blissfully silent, my father and Jared fell into conversation that centered around baseball season. I didn’t hear much of what they said and instead conversed with my sister while we tried to get the babies to interact.
Ryder was a lot more serious than Chris but even he was cracking smiles as the little guy in my lap kicked joyously. Kate laughed and leaned in to run her fingers through Chris’s soft hair.
“He’s beautiful. You look good with a baby on your hip, Steph.”
“I’m not surprised you picked up someone with a kid,” Eldon commented loudly. “Don’t they say it’s harder to have kids the closer you are to thirty? Your eggs are probably drying out.”
Silence descended over the family room. My father snapped his head around to glare at Eldon while Marco narrowed his eyes in the same direction. Both of them looked like they wanted to say something but words had failed them.
Jared’s whole body stiffened next to me. The tension radiated from his body and when I turned to look at him, I realized that the only other time I’d seen him that angry was when Angela had been at his door. When he spoke, there was so much loathing in his voice that it was shocking.
“That’s a terrible thing to say to someone. What the hell is wrong with you?”
“Shit,” Kate muttered, pushing to her feet quickly. “Eldon, can you take Ryder and change his diaper so I can feed him?”