Tomorrow

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Anywhere With You

Jackson

I guess I expected things to be different now.

Thought my life would somehow feel more whole, that the feeling would stay with me wherever I went.

Instead, that same old emptiness, that same old choking was back with a vengeance.

And it was even more difficult now than it was before, because now I was haunted with dreams, dreams of those beautiful brown eyes searching deeply into mine, those perfect pink lips moaning with desire, those soft sweet hands sliding over my shoulders.

I couldn’t shake those images from my brain. They lingered there, taunting me to no end.

So in order to avoid them, I threw myself into my music. Spent my energy rehearsing with the guys and focusing on performing my best at my concerts.

Despite how well I was received everywhere I went, how flawless each performance was, it was easy to see that something was missing.

Cheryl was my lifeline, and I thanked my lucky stars over and over that she was on my side. She spent more time than she should have, making sure I was always ready for any event. She kept me up to date on everything, so that no matter where I went, I always had the proper thing to say, whether it be funny or serious. She even went out of her way on the evenings of each of my concerts to make sure I heard from Ara, and while it may have been just a few words before stepping out onto that stage, it provided that instant pick me up, that sometimes was exactly what I needed to make it through the night.

It was somewhere in the middle of New Orleans that Dustin and Brett cornered me in my dressing room, determined as all hell to figure out what the relationship was between Ara and I.

“Cheryl won’t spill it. She’s more loyal to you than she is to me, and I’m her damn husband.” Dustin was really only joking. I was positive Cheryl told him everything, at least everything she knew.

“What do you want to know?” I tried to shrug them both off. Honestly, inside I was eager to share it with them, these two guys were my best friends and I trusted them.

“Miss Ara, she’s really sweet, and beautiful. You aren’t going to hurt her, are you?” Brett didn’t bother to skirt around the issue, and I was glad, he never was one to be shy about anything.

“I’d rather lose my career than do anything to hurt her.” I met Brett's eyes to show him I was telling the truth.

“We all like her Jack, Cheryl goes on and on about how great she is,” Dustin settled himself next to Brett, grabbing a handful of almonds that were resting in a little bowl on the coffee table, “And it’s really easy to see how good she is for ya, how you act around her, you really like her, don’t you? It’s like night and day, Jack. One minute you’re moping around, whining about this and that, and then she walks into the room, and you light up and start prancing around and stuff.” He flung his arms around in a ballerina fashion, mocking me, but I didn’t mind.

“Yeah, I like her a lot.” Even though I wanted to tell them everything, I held back from blurting out the whole story, at least until I knew what they were getting at.

“Is it serious?” Brett ignored Dustin’s failing arms, scooting over away from him a little bit, “She’s married, right?”

“She’s married.” It actually hurt to say that out loud. I wished I didn’t have to say it, wished I never had to say it.

“Has it gone further than just videos?” Brett kept his voice emotionless, he probably thought I wouldn’t tell them anything if they judged me, but really, I couldn’t hold it in much longer anyways.

“It’s quite a bit further than just videos.” I raised my head to his, letting him know just how much further it was.

Brett's eyebrows shot up in surprise, but it took Dustin several seconds before he processed what I’d just said.

“Hell Jack, you slept with her?” Dustin half snorted, his expression ranging from pure shock to complete pride.

I didn’t answer that question. I figured I made that perfectly clear already. Brett nodded his head quietly, tilting his head to the side, thinking about it a little more before he spoke again.

“She’s okay with it? You’re okay with it? You’re gonna keep it a secret?” He was asking questions, but I’m pretty sure he already knew all the answers.

“We both agreed it would be better that way. And she’s okay with it, so am I, I don’t have much other choice.”

Dustin eyed me steadily; he was finally putting together just how serious I really was, he frowned at me, stopping mid chew to lecture me, “You like her, she likes you, I don’t know why we need to tip toe around this whole thing. Just divorce Layla; Jack, it’s not like it’ll break her heart or anything. You can get Ara to leave her husband; I’m guessing she would. Why are we making all of this so fucking complicated?”

“Cause it is fucking complicated.” I focused my attention on Dustin, trying to keep the frustration out of my voice, trying not to let on that I really wished it could be that easy, “First, if I divorced Layla, it could screw up all our careers, even yours. We could lose everything, and I have too many people who depend on me, the entire crew. I couldn’t live with myself if my own fucking mistakes cost them to be out of a job. And second, Ara’s never once mentioned that she wants to leave her husband, that she wants out of her marriage.”

They both stared at me quietly, Dustin shaking his head in defeat, and Brett giving me this small frown.

“Besides,” I continued on, “We already agreed, we’re going to keep this quiet. I’m not going to interfere with her married life, and she isn’t going to in mine.” Every word coming out my mouth was seamless, but inside, those words were breaking me, because I already knew, deep down inside, I already knew…


Ara

At home, all I really wanted was to be alone.

I wanted to curl up on the sofa with a book, or watch mindless television.

I wanted to drown my mind with so many other things it wouldn’t have the chance to think about Jackson, or Clint.

But it was Clint who filled my every waking space.

From the moment I walked through my front door, he clung to my side, not leaving me for one minute, chatting about how much he missed me, and going on and on about things that happened to him at work. He didn’t ask me anything about my own trip, or bring up Jackson’s name in any way. He just kept right on talking, telling me about this great idea he had, the two of us going on a small getaway, nothing fancy, maybe spend the night in the city, go out to dinner, catch a movie.

Simple stuff really.

And maybe a year ago that would have gotten me all excited, a change up from our regular routine. But this time it just annoyed me, his presence stifled me, and my own guilt was constantly in front of my face.

I was putting on such an act that I could probably match Layla’s performances. I smiled and nodded at each little thing that Clint said. Tried to mimic the enthusiasm I heard in his voice, and crinkle my eyes with false merriment whenever he said anything funny.

It was like talking to a stranger now. The man sitting next to me. I didn’t want to share anything with him anymore, and I didn’t dare mention my attack for fear he wouldn’t let me leave anymore.

I sat there and watched him as he chatted, my expression one of an active listener, but inside I was just studying him, trying to remember what it was that made me want him. He was a stranger to me now, and I wondered just how long he had been a stranger, tried to pinpoint the moment when I no longer really knew him anymore.

Nothing he said genuinely captured my interest, but I asked him questions about his adventures, trying to ease the guilt. It wouldn’t go away, it grew and grew every time I looked into his eyes, it consumed me in every way. But it was also what forced me to keep pretending, to keep smiling. It kept me there in that house, there in that bed.

In my mind I fought with myself, with my heart, over and over again. Every moment of the day, the memories of Jackson and the way he took care of me after I was attacked, the way he smiled and held me in his arms, the way he made love to me. Those images would play out in slow motion, invading my brain at the most inappropriate times, sometimes right in the middle of Clint talking to me. I had to shove those memories to the back of my mind, force them to leave my heart alone, because otherwise, I wouldn’t be able to last one more minute in that house with Clint.

And it nearly killed me.

Because I honestly couldn’t leave Clint, he really didn’t deserve to have his life turned upside down just because mine was. In my head, misguided as it may seem, cynical as it may sound, I couldn’t hurt him or destroy his life as he knew it. This was going to be my burden to carry and live with.

I was tied to Clint, only I didn’t really see him as a husband anymore, more like a really good friend, a friend I wished I didn’t have to sleep with.

That was the hardest part, the nights when Clint would reach for me, and it seemed like he was reaching for me every night.

My stomach would toss and turn. My body would ache to pull away. My heart and hands wanted nothing to do with this. But I did it anyways, what other choice did I have?

It was my own dirty little secret, and I hated it. Hated that it had to be called a secret, hated that I had no other way out, hated that I was tied to it so.

Sometimes I wondered if I was actually fooling Clint. If he really thought I was the same Ara he’d always known, the same Ara he married. There were times when I would catch him watching me, studying me when he thought I wasn’t looking. His eyes seemed to be focused on me but his mind looked like he was a million miles away.

It just kept moving like this, day in and day out. I did everything I was supposed to. I cooked, I cleaned, did the laundry, went to work. Placed supper in front of my husband every night, and breakfast on his table every morning. I did all this with only one man on my mind, counting down the days until I could be with him again.

The only bright spots were those precious few minutes when I would lock myself away in the bathroom, phone in hand, and listen to that sweet southern accent on the other end of the line.

It was Cheryl who always called me, so Clint never heard me say Jackson’s name out loud, but she would only chat with me for several seconds before giving her phone to Jackson. We usually talked right before his concerts, or some scheduled appearances. I would remind him of how great he was and that there were hundreds of people out there so excited to see him.

It was only those nights, the one’s I got to talk to Jackson, that I would sleep through the night.


Jackson

“She’s where?” I looked down at my cell phone in surprise, stopping mid walk across the wooden stage. The ringing of my cell interrupted rehearsal, Dustin and Brett were standing near the corner by the sound box, pretending to be engrossed in their own conversation, but I knew they were both trying their damnest to listen to me.

“Yeah she’s here, and she’s being really nice about it too. I don’t know what’s up, but she says she wants to go over there and talk to you. Maybe she knows Ara’s coming tomorrow.” Cheryl’s voice was completely serious and overflowing with suspicion.

My mind started racing, my entire body stiffening at Cheryl’s words. “You can send her out here. I’ll talk to her.” I started walking across the stage, half shaking my head in disbelief, Layla was going to try and make this difficult every step of the way, I just knew it.

“Okay, I’ll let her go in a second, uhh Jackson, I don’t know why, but she brought the boys.”

Those words made me freeze, practically trip over my own two feet. “My sons? My son is here?”

“Yeah, and the nanny isn’t here. I don’t know why either.”

“Send her out here now Cheryl. Are my boys okay?”

“They look fine. Happy. Okay, I waved her through, she’ll be out there in a minute.”

I spun around quickly and made a beeline for the stage entrance. Something must be wrong, some type of emergency. Layla never traveled with the boys unless she was going on a vacation, and that I would know about ahead of time. By the time I reached the entrance I could see her. She looked perfectly content, cradling Finly in one arm and holding Colt’s hand in the other.

“Jackson! I’m so glad I was able to find you darling.” She gave me this great big smile as she approached me, making me a million times more confused and concerned than I already was.

“Is everything okay? Are the boys okay? What are you doing here?” I couldn’t hold back my worry, but the look in Layla’s eyes sent a little seed of doubt in my mind.

“Everything is just fine. The boys are perfectly okay, well Colt might be ready for his nap, but otherwise just fine.” Layla’s smile looked real, but I had seen that smile enough times now to know the difference.

“I’m glad you’re all fine.” I eyed Layla steadily for a second and then reached down and scooped Colt up. He giggled and threw his arms around me, hugging me tight. I gave him a big squeeze and rubbed his back, I really missed him.

“How’s my boy? Look how much you’ve grown cowboy, almost as big as Daddy now.” Colt grinned at me, reaching up with his small hands, trying to grab at my hat.

“Here you go son.” The hat was way to big for him, and nearly covered his eyes, but he loved it.

I placed him back down on the stage and he galloped around me, his small shouts of laughter echoing around the room. It made Brett and Dustin appear from around the corner and they both surrounded him in surprise, teasing and playing with him, making him a giggling mess.

I turned back to Layla without saying a word, waiting for her to finally tell me why she was here.

She looked slightly uncomfortable, but didn’t back down, “The boys are here to stay with you.” There wasn’t a tremor or change to her voice at all.

“They are? Why?” I wanted to flat out ask her if this was some kind of game, “Not that it’s a problem, I’d be more than happy to keep my boys, both of them.”

“There was a conflict with my movie. I was supposed to have four days off so I let the nanny go visit her family in New Jersey, but I got called in last night. There are some scenes that need to be redone, I have to fly out to London this afternoon, and I don’t have much choice, and I’d really hate to make Maria cut her family visit short after she just got there. I was hoping you’d be able to watch them, just for the next four days.” This time she was telling the truth, I could tell.

“My boys are more than welcome to stay, always, and anytime.” I gave her a curt nod, “I’m glad you brought them to me.”

There was just a hint of nervousness in Layla’s eyes as she watched me, and she quickly turned away, still holding onto Finly so that I wouldn’t be able to see her when she said, “Thank you Jackson, that means a lot to me.”

I was just about to feel sorry for her, to give her the benefit of doubt when the thought suddenly crossed my mind, where was Finly’s dad, and why in the hell wasn’t he putting up a fuss about leaving his son with me.

“Where’s Pete?” I asked her point blank, mostly because I didn’t have time to put up with any bullshit.

“Whaa…” Layla spun around, this little gasp of disbelief falling from her lips.

“Pete, Finly’s dad, where is he?” It was the first time I said his name out loud, the first I ever acknowledged him.

“He’s…he’s…” Layla’s eyes were suddenly full of fear…wide open and staring at me. “He’s already in London.” her voice faltered, “All the directors and producers flew out a few days ago.”

“Does he know? That Finly’s going to stay here?” I was actually surprising myself, that I was being so bold. Not rude, not demanding, just blunt, something I’d never been able to do with Layla before.

“He…he knows. It doesn’t bother him.” Layla was looking everywhere but me when she said that. It crossed my mind that she might be lying, but there really wasn’t anything for her to gain by lying to me about this.

I gave her a curt nod, “You can leave the boy’s things in my dressing room. I’ll cut rehearsal short today. Don’t worry about the boys. They’ll be fine.”

I didn’t give Layla any time to say anything else. I just brushed right past her, picking up Finly’s baby bag in one hand, and reaching for Finly with the other. I walked over to Colt who was still with the Dustin and Brett. I know they heard every word exchanged between Layla and me, Dustin was grinning, this look of triumph on his face, but Brett’s expression was serious, he was trying to figure Layla’s motives out.

Layla just stood there, frozen in her spot for a few moments, her mouth half open. She looked stunned that I’d spoken to her that way, but she didn’t say anything else, and I never looked back to see when she left.

The guys walked over with me to the dressing room, Brett scooped Colt up and bounced him down on the sofa before turning to me. “Have any idea what this is all about?”

I shook my head at him. “None, but I’m sure she’s up to something.”

Dustin snorted, “What wuss leaves his kid with another man?”

“I’m not sure he knows.” I shrugged, “But I don’t care guys. I know how to take care of my boys.”

“That’s right. This is no problem, we got this.” Dustin reached out and swung Colt up over his shoulders, “Me and my little man are gonna have a blast.”

I didn’t hear from Layla at all after that, but I did have Rick track her whereabouts to see if she really headed for London. He told me that she had, and that Pete was there too. I was able to relax a little more after that, and actually looked forward to having Ara meet my sons the next day.


The morning Ara was set to arrive, I busied myself with my boys, letting Colt play with the building blocks that Dustin dropped off, and watching Finly coo and smile in his bouncy seat. Seeing both of them here with me really did leave me with a feeling of contentment, and it didn’t bother me one bit that I blew off rehearsal.

Cheryl should be back with Ara any moment now, and I wondered how her time at home went? Wondered if her and her husband talked, or if she told him what happened to her in Nashville.

I tried a couple of times to put myself in his shoes, tried to guess how he would take it if he found out about us, until I realized that I was already in his shoes, that I had a wife who slept with another man. It did send a pang of guilt through me, because I did know how that felt inside when I found out about Layla and Pete. But as sorry as I felt, I knew it wouldn’t stop me from keeping Ara with me as often as I could. I didn’t like the feeling that I was destroying another man’s life, especially since he didn’t deserve it, but I wasn’t ready to make any other choices, not yet.

Finly cried softly from his chair, and I picked him up gently, rocking him in my arms, humming to him as I walked, until he fell back into a content sleep. I stared down at those pinkish cheeks and tiny fisted hands of the baby boy who put his entire trust and life in my hands, and I never wished so badly that this boy belonged to me, Ara and me.


Ara

Clint was making me real nervous. He knew I had to leave today, he knew that, yet it still seemed like he was doing everything in his power to delay me from packing.

“Come on babe, you can put that off for five more minutes and watch a bit more TV with me.” He patted the seat next to him and then held out his hand to me.

I hesitated, torn. I didn’t want to sit down with him; I really wanted to pack my things so that I would be more than ready when the service car came.

“I shouldn’t,” I stammered, wishing I had a real good excuse, “I might miss my ride to the airport.”

Clint shrugged, still patting the seat next to him, “If you do, that’s fine, I’ll just drive you myself.”

If he was testing me, I knew I better go sit with him, so I mentally gave in and pretended to be interested in the movie we’d been watching. Clint looked pleased, casually tossing his arm around my shoulders and laughing at the funny antics of the comedy show on TV.

I just kept my eye on the clock, counting down the hours, and then the minutes, until Clint knew that I couldn’t stay there one second longer. He wasn’t happy about it, he watched me scramble around tossing anything I could grab into my carry on, not offering to help.

He hugged me really tight, his hands moving to my lower back as he tried to kiss me goodbye. I nearly snapped at him, I didn’t want his hands on me any longer, I didn’t want to feel his tongue in my mouth, I didn’t want any of this, instead, I hugged him back, let him kiss me however long he wanted, and hoped he couldn’t feel how badly I wanted to be gone.

“I’ll see you when you get back babe.” He hugged me once more; his hands resting even lower now.

“Two weeks, they’ll fly right by.” I tried to give him a smile, but I’m sure it came out all shaky and nervous.

He finally let me go and I slid inside the service car, waving goodbye from the window.

I can’t tell you how relieved I felt when those tires started rolling away, how much easier it was to just sit back and breathe. I know it sounds terrible, but there’s no other way to describe it, and I wondered just how long I would be able to keep this up.

The closer I got to the airport the better I felt, and by the time I saw Cheryl waiting for me near the boarding area, I was nearly jumping out of my skin in anticipation.

I could tell instantly that there was something different with Cheryl. Her usual happy self was replaced with a smile that didn’t quite reach her eyes, and hands weren’t waving all over the place when she talked.

“Ara! Are you ready?”

It threw me, made me nervous, the way Cheryl was acting, the guilt that now followed me everywhere was making everything seem unnatural.

“I’m ready. Is everything okay? You look, different.” I tried not to be so straightforward but after everything I just went through with Clint, I didn’t have the patience anymore.

“It’s all good. Come on, we can talk on the plane.”

I nodded eagerly, my heart thumping wildly at seeing Edward again.

But my heart was sorely disappointed when we stepped onto that plane and Jackson was not in sight.

“Jackson?” I turned to Cheryl in question.

“Sorry Ara, I should’ve told you out there but Jackson’s not here. He’s still in Oklahoma.” her voice trailed off as fear gripped me hard and cold.

“Is he okay?” I’m sure she could see it in my eyes, the fear.

“He’s fine, don’t worry, he’s fine. He just couldn’t get away.”

So during the longest plane ride ever, I sat there and listened to Cheryl go on a mile a minute about the upcoming events. The AMA’s were closer than ever and she went over every last detail that she could think of. I was going to walk the red carpet with them, Jackson already gotten a request to perform Broken live on stage that night. There were going to be four different after parties that we would all have to attend. And if the video won, there would be no sleep for any of us that night.

I only half listened. Cheryl didn’t tell me why Jackson wasn’t on the plane, it wasn’t like him, to not be on the plane. All kinds of uneasy scenarios played out in my head, most of them the same, I was no longer of any interest to Jackson.

If I’d thought I was unhappy at home, it was no match for the hole cutting into my heart here on that plane.

The entire plane ride was torturous.

And that feeling didn’t end, Cheryl escorted me to the hotel, not saying much, shooting these little glances of worry my way. I didn’t even try to ask her what was going on, something told me it wasn’t going to be good, whatever Cheryl was hiding, wasn’t going to be good.

She didn’t stay with me, just handed me the card key and gave me a quick hug. I watched her walk away still wondering what she was holding back from me.

I didn’t think Jackson was going to be in that room. I really had no clue he would be standing there in the middle of the living area, right by the luxurious brown leather sofa, but he was.

He looked so handsome, and he was smiling at me.

That smile sent so much relief flowing through me. I just wanted to skip right over to him and throw my arms around him.

But something stopped me. In the middle of my fear and relief, in the middle of tossing my bag down and rushing right up to him, I saw, in his arms, a baby.

It made me freeze, mostly in question. What was a baby doing in Jackson’s arms?

“Hey Beautiful!” That sweet accent filled my ears and he flashed me that adorable little boy grin.

He walked right up to me, still cradling that baby, and I swore I never been more attracted to a man than I was at that moment. There was something about the way he held that baby, that protective gesture, the look in his eyes. It was absolutely breathtaking.

“Hey!” I smiled back at him, “You have company I see.”

“Sure do Ma’am, I’d like you to meet my son, this is Finly.” he was still grinning, clearly proud, and it was contagious.

“Oh!” I looked down into that sweet baby face, never mind that I knew this baby wasn’t really Jackson’s, right now at this moment, it was his, and he was sharing that moment with me. “He is absolutely precious.” I smiled up at him, it felt heavenly, just the three of us.

“Would you like to hold him? Colt is here too,he’s napping.” The pride was still obvious in his voice. It made him all the more gorgeous to me.

“Both your sons are here?” I said in awe, “I would love to hold him.” I stretched out my arms, and he placed Finly gently in my hands. “Hi Finly,” I whispered softly, brushing some his baby curls, “Hi sweet baby.”

Jackson was watching me, his eyes shining in pure delight. He leaned down and pressed a small kiss to my forehead, his hand stroking my cheek. “I’ve missed you Beautiful.” he murmured.

“I missed you.” I tilted my head up to his, enjoying the warmth of his body next to mine.

“You really are a vision right now,” his voice was a little husky, and his hand that was on my cheek slid down near my waist, sending goose bumps all along the way.

“How was your flight? I’m sorry I couldn’t be there.”

“It was fine, little bit long without you, but I managed.” I smiled, rocking Finly back and forth. I was so caught up in the moment I didn’t even notice the room around me, until Jackson asked me if I would like to sit down.

There were soft golden brown drapes framing the windows, and walls were a pale yellow color with small white lines all along them. The fireplace was made of granite and all the end tables had wooden log legs with gleaming smoked glass placed on top of them. The room really was grand. It had that country appeal to it. It fit Jackson perfectly.

“I hope you don’t mind, but they boys will be here until Thursday,” Jackson nodded his head at me, his hands in his jean pockets, “Layla dropped them off yesterday, she had to go out of town, and the nanny’s on vacation.”

I could hear the little bit of hesitation in his voice, he was saying his words carefully, and I wasn’t sure why.

“I think it’s wonderful you get to spend time with your boys.” I looked down at Finly and back up at him. “I know you have to be a great dad to do this.”

His eyes lit up at my words and he grinned again, “You don’t mind? You’ll still stay here? With us?”

“Of course I don’t mind. Would you rather I stay somewhere else?” I half teased. I could see why he was hesitating; he thought maybe I would want nothing to do with this, with his children.

But the thought of being around his boys and watching him be a Dad was something I could only imagine, until now.

“I want you right here Beautiful, with me, with my sons.”

And those words just tugged at my heart in the worst way.


Jackson

I think I fell in love with this woman several dozen times watching her play with my boys. Cheryl gotten me all worried that Ara wouldn’t take to my sons right away.

“It might take some time Jackson, don’t push her too fast. Sometimes women don't want to be around other woman's children. She doesn’t know they’re here and I’m not telling her, so be real slow and gently okay?”

As I listened to Cheryl, taking in everything she was saying to me, I promised her I wouldn’t force this down Ara’s throat, and if she didn’t want to stay here with me because I had my kids, I’d already paid for the adjoining room, I just wasn’t planning on using it, it was mostly for looks, and in case the media began sniffing around.

But she stood in the middle of the living room looking like she belonged there, cradling my boy in her arms, her hair falling over her shoulder as she smiled down at him. She didn’t hold back at all, and the next few days filled me with such emotion, I wished I could’ve gotten down on one knee in front of her more than once.

It was Ara that played patty cake with Colt, over and over again, never looking bored or exasperated, giggling right along with him and ruffling his hair whenever he clapped with her. She hollered and cheered for him when he recited his numbers all the way to ten, never mind that he skipped three and seven, and after the sun set, she’d let him sit next to her of the sofa, his head resting against her shoulder as she read a few of his storybooks to him, until his eyes drifted close.

With Finly she was so watchful over him, cradling him close to her body whenever she held him, singing these beautiful lullabies in her softest angelic voice while she rocked him to sleep. I just felt so damn lucky to have her in my life, that everything I threw at her, she took it all in so effortlessly, as if this is what she was meant to do, and my heart swelled and pounded with every move she made.

“That’s right, this crayon is red, and that one is yellow.” Ara was smiling over at Colt, nodding her head. They were both sitting at the dining table, a million different colored crayons spread out around them. What started out as a coloring session, turned into a learning session right before my eyes, and she was amazing at it.

“Do you see the green one? Yes, good job, that’s green. What are you going to color green on your paper?”

Colt was mesmerized by her every move, his eyes wide and serious as he watched her. He held the crayon in his small hands and his brows furrowed in concentration as he scribbled on his paper. I could tell he was trying his hardest to please her, and his smile would get so wide whenever she praised him.

I just stood there over by the fireplace; my expressions probably matched Colt’s as I studied the both of them. Ara really was exceptional with children, and I vowed to have my boys with me more often from now on.

The night before the boys were set to leave, I could tell Ara didn’t want to let go of Finly, she wouldn’t put him down, even though he had been asleep in her arms for over an hour. I carried a sleeping Colt, lifting him up fro the sofa, and we both walked over to their room so I could put him down in his bed for the night. It made my heart swell; she’d become attached to them.

“I think these two boys here are really going to miss you.” I smiled at her, pulling the covers over Colt, making sure he was tucked in.

“I think I’m going to miss them more.” Her eyes were shining and she held Finly closer to her.

“I’ll make sure they come back, I promise.” I pulled her closer to me, gently kissing her on the forehead.

“You have such beautiful children Jackson, they are really amazing, you’re very lucky.” She smiled up at me, “I always wondered what it would be like, to have a baby.” Her eyes were wide and so full of emotion, it threw me, made me forget that I wasn’t the only man in her life, and the words just escaped me,

“Maybe one day I could give you one, a baby.”

It didn’t dawn on me what I said until I heard her suck in her breath, and I knew my words had hurt her…because I had that same pain in my heart.

I would never…ever…be able to give her a baby.


Ara

If I thought Jackson was gorgeous up on stage singing, if I was awestruck by the way he played his guitar, what I was feeling now completely surpassed that; because Jackson as Daddy was far more enticing than Jackson as Country Music Star.

He had this genuine, raw, compassion for his boys, I could tell he would move mountains for them. He watched over them with such strong affection, making sure they were happy and comfortable. It just moved me in such a way.

There was a change in his voice when he sang to them, something he never used while on stage, something I never heard before. It was reserved just for them, just for his children.

And watching them interact, whichever boy it might be with, nothing else in the world mattered, and I felt so blessed that I was able to witness that.

He would swing Colt up on his shoulders, trotting around the room while Collin giggled and shouted. He would bounce him on his knee for hours on the end, and in the evenings he would play the same lively tune on his guitar over and over because Colt would clap and bob along to the music.

And with Finly, that’s when my heart would melt. With Finly, Jackson would hold him against his body, his arm wrapped securely around him, whisper softly near the curve of his ear when he cried, rock him gently in his arms, never giving any indication that this baby wasn’t his biological son. They had a bond, a promise, and I knew nothing would ever break that.

It made me so attracted to him that every night I would lie in his arms and fantasize that this was my only life, that all this was mine too, that it would always be mine.

And when I would feel his hands on me, his lips moving down my neck, his body connecting with me, moving inside of me, I would get so lost in my fantasy that it would become real, and in that moment, he was my husband, and those two little boys sleeping in the other room, those were my sons, and I just wanted to keep living like this.

And I think Jackson felt the same.

Because when I heard him say those words, heard him say to me that one day he could give me a baby.

The ache that took over my heart.

It matched the look in his eyes.

And I didn’t know if it would ever go away…

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