The Difference You Have Made (PREVIEW ONLY)

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Chapter 6 - The Shift

It’s late morning when Cole wakes up the following Monday. He groans knowing right away that he’s very late for work. Luckily, there isn’t anyone to hassle him about it. He sits on the right side of his bed and stretches his arms above his head. A glance over his shoulder reveals Cristiana slumbering on her stomach. The covers are pooled at her waist revealing her naked back. Cole places a kiss on her shoulder before strutting to the bathroom. After his shower, he walks into his bedroom to get dressed. Cristiana is still asleep.

After he’s dressed, he bends down to kiss her awake. “Good morning, Sleepy Beauty.”

Her eyes flutter. “What time is it?”

“Half past nine.”

She gasps, sitting upright in bed. “You’re late for work.”

Cole snickers, “Whose fault is that?” He kisses her again, lingering. “I could always work from home today.”

“Mm, you could, but maybe you should go to the office.” Cristiana pulls the cover up to her chest as she slightly turns her face away from him.

He frowns and slowly straightens himself. “I’ll go into the office, but we need to talk later. Go back to sleep before Liam wakes up. You need the rest.” He winks as he swaggers out of his bedroom.

It’s less than an hour later when Cristiana wakes to the smell of coffee like she does every morning. Except this morning is different, not just because of her lack of sleep the night before. She’s woken up in Cole’s bed. They have blurred the lines. They’ve taken innocent flirtation and turned it into mind-blowing sex that she’s certain she’ll never forget. What does it mean for us?

Cristiana throws the covers off her body and rushes down the hall to her bedroom. She doesn’t want Linda to see her lying in Cole’s bed. Hurriedly she showers and dresses in brown joggers with a forest green long-sleeved t-shirt. She walks across the hall to Liam’s room. He’s awake and jumping on his toddler bed. Cristiana wrestles him down and changes him out of his pajamas.

“Do you want some breakfast?” She asks the little boy with mocked excitement.

“Eggs and cheese!” He cheers. It’s the same thing he asks for every morning.

She lifts the boy onto her hip. “Eggs and cheese it is.” Carefully Cristiana makes her way downstairs carrying Liam. She releases him before entering the kitchen.

“Good morning.” Linda offers her a steaming coffee mug. She gratefully accepts. “How was your weekend?”

Cristiana cautiously takes a sip of her coffee. “It was…interesting to say the least.”

Linda gives a knowing smile. “Is that why your bed was empty when I got here?”

“You went upstairs.” Cristiana covers her face in embarrassment. “I don’t know what happened.” Linda quirks her eyebrows with a doubtful expression. “Okay, I know what happened. It was just so sudden and now I’m so confused. I don’t know what this means. If it even means anything.”

“What do you want it to mean?” Linda asks while placing a small plate of scrambled eggs with cheese on Liam’s highchair.

Cristiana places the boy in his seat. “I don’t think it matters what I want. Cole has all the power.”

Sudden laughter pops from Linda. “Honey, you are sorely blind if you don’t see the power you wield over that man. Cole is crazy about you.”

“Yeah, I bet he was crazy about the last nanny too and you know how that ended,” Cristiana bitterly grumbles.

Linda scowls, “That was not the same. That girl came here with her sight set on Cole. She never wanted to take care of Liam. She didn’t care about anything other than being with a rich man. Don’t compare yourself to her.”

“I’m not comparing myself to anyone. I’m being realistic. I’m the help. Cole is the boss. Last night shouldn’t have happened.”

“I don’t think it’s as simple as that.” Linda places a hand on the young woman’s shoulder giving it a gentle squeeze. There’s nothing she can say to assure Cristiana. It’s a conversation she has to have with Cole.

~~*~~

Cole can’t concentrate. He stares at the written proposal for a new island resort not comprehending the words. His mind isn’t focused on work. It’s clouded with thoughts of Cristiana. Thoughts of what they did last night. He’s far from being a schoolboy dreaming about his next lay. Yet he can’t help but to think back to being with her. Sex doesn’t feel like an adequate word to describe their intimacy. Making love holds too much meaning. We aren’t at that point yet.

The thought disturbs him. Do I want us to ever be at that point? His shoulders shrug in response to his silent question. All he knows is everything between them felt right. But he would be stupid to ignore the tension of unspoken words that surrounded them in the morning. There’s a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach. Cristiana will no doubt try distancing herself from him in an attempt to maintain a professional boundary. That ship sailed way before they ended up in his bed together. It doesn’t mean she won’t try to run. He needs to talk to her before she has time to be bogged down by her own thoughts.

Cole’s contemplating going home for lunch when his father enters his office. “Hey dad.” He shifts around the papers on his desk trying to pull himself back into the world of business.

“Are you busy?” Daniel asks standing in the middle of the office.

“I’m looking over a proposal. Do you need something?”

Daniel crosses his arms over his chest. “We need to talk about your new nanny.”

Tension pours over Cole’s body. The frowning mask on his father’s face tells him this will be an unpleasant conversation. “What about her?”

“I think it’s time for you to send her on her way,” Daniel states bluntly as if expecting immediate agreement.

Cole stares at his father waiting for some sign that he’s joking. None ever comes. “What are you talking about?”

“I’m talking about how familiar you act with that girl,” Daniel spits with obvious disapproval.

“Her name is Cristiana.”

“I don’t care what her name is! It’s time for her to go before you make the same mistake you did with the last one or worse. Perhaps you should look into enrolling Liam in an early learning academy since you can’t seem to keep it in your pants, son.”

Tensely Cole shakes his head. “Thanks for your opinion Dad, but Cristiana is staying.”

Daniel isn’t done. “You need to listen to me about this.”

“I stopped listening to you when it comes to my personal life a long time ago.”

“Think about your son. What’s best for Liam?”

Cole leaps to his feet, slapping his hands on his desktop. “I’m thirty years old. I am more than capable of deciding what’s best for my son.”

“You can’t when your mind is clearly clouded by lust, ” Daniel argues. His scowl deepens on his aged face.

“Dad, you don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“I know enough. I saw the way you looked at that girl. Tell me son, is she taking care of Liam or is she taking care of you?”

“That’s none of your business,” Cole growls. This isn’t the first time his father has tried to exert control in his personal life.

“Wake up Cole! How many times do you have to make the same mistake before you learn from it? You waste your time with women who are only interested in your bank accounts and clout. Your new nanny is no different.”

“This conversation is over.” Cole walks past his father, out of his office, without another word.

Daniel watches his son leave with a deep frown. His wife made a mistake picking Cristiana as Liam’s nanny. The moment he caught a glimpse of her at Cole’s house when they brought the boy home weeks ago, Daniel knew she would be trouble. It’s obvious Cole is infatuated with her. He never thinks clearly when a beautiful woman is around. Cristiana’s beauty is her only good quality as far as Daniel is concerned. It doesn’t matter that Liam has improved since she’s started caring for him. The woman cannot be trusted. Daniel can see the eagerness shining in her dark eyes. She’s looking for a new life and he will be dammed if Cole is foolish enough to provide it for her.

Daniel told Heather to get rid of Cristiana as soon as they drove away from Cole’s house that day. She hushed him and swore he was worrying for nothing. Daniel didn’t believe her. He had a background search conducted on Cristiana and it wasn’t done by Peter. His youngest son tended to encourage Cole’s foolishness. The background search revealed that Cristiana was raised by middle class parents and lived an average life. She has debt from the student loans she took out to get through college as well as from medical payments she never made. Being thrust into Cole’s millionaire world is probably her idea of a big payday. She’s probably planning to swindle Cole out of half of what he’s worth if not more. Daniel knows it won’t be hard for her to do. Cole doesn’t see who she really is. She’ll be his ruin and he’s too obstinate to realize it. Of that, Daniel is certain.

~~*~~

Liam’s soft snores sound as he naps. Cristiana hears the garage door open. It’s afternoon. Linda is grocery shopping. Cristiana know it’s Cole coming home for lunch. He’s been doing that a lot lately. She steps over the baby gate, making her way down the stairs. He’s just entering the kitchen tugging his necktie loose.

“Hey you,” he grins and his eyes brighten.

“Hey,” she responds uncertainly. “Linda is grocery shopping, but I can make you some lunch.”

Cole shakes his head. “I’m fine.”

“Alright, well, Liam is napping so I’m going to my room.”

He jogs after her, catching her hand before she reaches the stairs. “Is everything alright?”

“Why wouldn’t it be?”

“Why don’t you tell me? You’re the one that’s acting weird.” He walks them to the living room.

“I’m not acting weird. I’ve just got a lot on my mind.”

Cole watches her closely as they sit on the sofa. “Is this about last night?” She presses her lips together avoiding eye contact with him. “Speak your mind Cris.”

Her cheeks puff as she exhales. “Last night we crossed the line into something murky and complicated. I’m the nanny.”

He stares at her blankly. “What’s your point?”

“I think that we made a mistake.”

Cole frowns as soon as he hears the words. “Are you saying you regret it?”

Cristiana chews on her bottom lip. “No, that’s not what I’m saying. I don’t regret being with you, but I don’t think it should happen again. I’m confused.”

“Well, I’m not. I don’t regret last night.” He clutches her chin turning her face to him.

“Maybe you should. Maybe we both should.” Her voice is filled with uncertainty. “Where does it leave us today? What about Liam? The nanny before me, you-”

He interrupts, “Do not compare yourself to her. Our situation is completely different.”

“Is it? You said it didn’t work with her because she wanted a relationship and you didn’t. I don’t think I’m emotionally prepared to handle something complicated right now.”

Cole releases her face, running a hand over his head. “What’s complicated about this?”

“I work for you.”

“That doesn’t matter.” He’s growing frustrated with their conversation. She’s searching for reasons to put distance between them. Reasons to run away from what they both want. He has to remind her of how good they feel together. That’s all that matters.

Boldly Cole moves her so that she’s straddling his lap. “Cris, last night was amazing. You know it and I know it. It doesn’t have to be complicated. We’re attracted to each other. Let’s act on that attraction until we’re both satisfied.”

“What about Liam?” She murmurs still chewing on her bottom lip.

“I trust that you can care for my son without letting what we do when he’s asleep interfere,” Cole responds, clutching her chin once more. He pulls her to him placing a kiss on her lips. He feels the moment she surrenders. She pulls her mouth from him, peppering kisses on his neck. He smiles letting her have her way. It’s seconds later when her fingers go to the buttons of his shirt meticulously popping each one before pushing it off his shoulders. In return he pulls her shirt over her head tossing it on the floor. He kisses her breasts perfectly cupped in the black bra she wears. He sucks the skin as she unbuckles his belt and pops the button on his pants. Cole wraps an arm around her waist keeping her in place as he lifts his hips so she can push down his bottoms. Cristiana stands causing him to groan. She giggles as she works her pants down her legs. She kneels before him, taking hold of his erection and slowly stroking it. Her tongue flicks over her lips before her mouth puckers and she lowers her head. Cole slides his hand into her hair. Her head bobs up and down pleasuring him with her mouth. His grip tightens in her hair and his head falls back on the couch.

“Oh baby, just like that.” His voice is husky. She doesn’t quit, sucking him until his toes curl inside his shoes. “Cris, baby you’ve got to stop. I don’t want to cum in your mouth.”

She slowly frees him and stands. He sticks a hand between her thighs pushing aside her soaked panties and inserting his fingers inside her. She moans, her legs shake.

“Come here.” He pulls her onto his lap boldly ripping the garment from her body so she can easily slide down onto him. They both hum with pleasure. Cole watches Cristiana as she rocks her body. Her back arches as she swirls her hips moving rhythmically on him. He holds her tightly and nips at her breasts. They get lost in each other, moving until they both find that cherished release.

“Oh, I can’t believe we did that again,” Cristiana breaths, her head lulling back.

Cole caresses her sides. “Each time is better than the last.” He pulls her face to his taking her mouth in a kiss. “We better clean ourselves up before Liam wakes up and Linda gets back.”

Cristiana’s eyes widen. She jumps off his lap. “I forgot about them!” Hurriedly she gathers her clothes and runs up the stairs. Cole stands, pulling up his bottoms and making his way to his bedroom. He can hear Cristiana starting the shower in her own bathroom. He wants to join her but thinks better of it. He knows they haven’t resolved anything. Their hormones got the best of them. He doesn’t regret any of it. Although he isn’t sure she feels the same.

Cole takes a quick shower and redresses. Linda is putting away groceries when he gets downstairs. He opens the fridge looking for something quick to eat before he returns to the office.

“Judging by your wet hair and the mussed pillows on the sofa, I’m guessing you worked up an appetite. Good thing I bought a new bottle of disinfectant,” Linda says with a knowing smirk.

He laughs, placing a container of leftover chicken and rice in the microwave. “Did anyone ever tell you that you’re nosey?”

Linda slaps his arm. “Yep, and it never stops me. Be careful with her, Cole. She’s still getting over what that coward did to her.”

Cole sighs heavily. “Yeah, I know. My dad told me I need to fire her.”

Linda gasps, “Really? Daniel Skylark ceases to amaze me.”

She’s known Heather and Daniel since college. She was married to a friend of theirs, Scott Bradford. When Scott left her for a younger woman ten years ago, just after their daughter graduated from college, Heather remained her friend while Daniel helped Scott find the best attorney in the state so that he could take everything in the divorce and leave Linda with only the clothes on her back and enough money in her bank account to afford an apartment in Washington Heights. Cole offered to let her live with him until she was ready to be on her own. She refused, so he hired her as his housekeeper. He pays her way too much and yet no matter how she protests, he won’t change it. He’s too good to her. She can never thank him enough.

“My father is a man of few words, but he makes sure those words are clear. He said it like I was just supposed to agree.” Cole gives a humorless chuckle. “He claims he doesn’t want me making the same mistake as last time, but Linda this is nothing like last time.”

“On your part or hers?” Linda questions. She would never try to tell Cole what to do with his life, but sometimes she worries about the decisions he makes.

“Both,” Cole answers confidently. “Cristiana is nothing like Farrah. Farrah took the job just to get near me and I foolishly indulged her. Cristiana is all about caring for Liam. I think she loves him like he’s her own.”

“How do you feel?” Linda gets the food from the microwave and places it in front of him.

“I think Cristiana is the woman I need in my life right now.”

Linda studies the man before her. “Just for right now?”

Cole takes a bite of his food pondering his answer. He shoulders shrug. “I don’t know, and I’m hoping she won’t push me away before I can find out.”

Cristiana walks into the kitchen holding Liam’s hand. “Look who’s awake.”

Cole grins at his son. “Hey buddy. Did you have a good nap?”

Liam groggily nods as he walks to his dad. “I play with daddy.”

Cole pulls the boy into his arms. “Sorry buddy, I have to go back to work. We can play when I get home.”

“Play with daddy now,” Liam whines. His bottom lip trembles.

“We’ll play later, Liam.” Cole’s voice is stern.

Liam throws his head back letting out a wail. “Play now!”

“Liam stop it,” Cole growls while frowning at his son.

“Come here baby.” Cristiana grimaces and reaches for the boy.

Cole lifts his hand to stop her. “I’ve got it handled. Liam, if you don’t stop now, we won’t play at all.”

“Cole,” she admonishes. Threatening the boy is not the way to go. It only makes him act out more. She’s tried telling Cole that several times, but it’s clear he doesn’t listen as she takes Liam into her arms. “Let’s have a snack, then we can watch a movie. Doesn’t that sound like fun?”

Liam sniffles as Cristiana wipes his tears. “Fun with Cris.”

“Yeah, you can have fun with Cris.” She kisses his cheek, walking him to his highchair. Cole watches with amazement as Liam calms and becomes a happy, giggling little boy.

“She’s good for him,” Linda comments on her way out of the kitchen. “She’s good for you too.”

Cole finishes his lunch. “I’m heading back to the office. Are you going to be fine with him?”

Cristiana nods flashing a quick smile in his direction. “He just got a little upset, but he’s calm and being a sweet boy now. We’ll be fine.”

Cole walks towards the door to the stairs leading to the garage. He stops short, snapping his fingers. “Oh, I almost forgot. Rachel said she’ll pick you up at ten on Thursday.” He doesn’t miss the apprehensive look on her face. “What’s wrong?”

“I don’t think I should go,” she admits after placing a bowl of sliced strawberries, crackers, and cheese in front of Liam.

“Why not?”

“Because I have responsibilities. I’m Liam’s nanny. I can’t take a day off to go shopping.”

“We’ve talked about this,” Cole gently reminds her.

“More like you talked and I listened.” She chews the inside of her cheek saying nothing.

“I have to get back to the office. We’ll talk about this again when I get home.” He sighs knowing that it will take more to convince Cristiana than he has time for.

~~*~~

It’s late when Cole gets home. A large problem came up at work that required him to jump on a small airplane and fly three hours out-of-state. It’s well past eight before Cole is able to come up with a temporary solution. He doesn’t make it home until well after midnight. Liam is soundly sleeping in his room. Cole looks over the little guy with a saddened smile. He feels bad for breaking his promise. He’ll have to make it up to him.

He is still learning how to balance his work responsibilities and his responsibilities as a father. The first year of Liam’s life was easier. He was too young to know what was going on around him. That made it easy for Cole to work as much as he needed. His mom and Mrs. Brinkley took primary care of Liam. As the boy got older, he started demanding more and more of Cole’s attention. When Mrs. Brinkley left, it threw Liam’s world off center. Cristiana is righting it, but Cole knows they still have a long way to go.

He leaves his son’s room after placing a kiss on his forehead and goes to Cristiana’s bedroom. Her door is open. He can see her laying on her side in the bed. He leans in the doorway taking in her beauty. There’s so much they need to talk about. They have to address her insecurities. They also need to talk about Cole’s own baggage if they’re going to continue doing whatever they’re doing. That conversation will have to wait. Cole is exhausted. He knows he should go to his room and lay in his own bed, but the thought isn’t nearly as appealing as joining Cristiana. With light steps he approaches the side of the bed that she isn’t occupying, shedding his clothes until he’s only in his black briefs, and slides underneath the covers.

Feeling her bed dip with extra body weight, Cristiana rolls over and snuggles closer. “Liam is very upset with you,” she mumbles sleepily.

Cole grunts, “He won’t remember in the morning.”

She frowns although her eyes don’t open. “I don’t know. The last thing he said before he fell asleep was ‘daddy mean’.” When she doesn’t get an immediate response, Cristiana opens her eyes and lifts herself onto her forearms. Cole is frowning deeply as he stares off. “I’m sorry. I’m not trying to upset you. I just thought you would want a heads up.”

“Do you think I’m a bad dad?” His voice is so low that she barely hears him.

“Absolutely not. You’re a great dad.”

“Be honest. Don’t flatter me just because I sign your checks.”

Her body stiffens as she sits up. “You should know me well enough to know that I would never do something like that. You could stand to pay Liam a little more attention, but when you’re with him that’s all you focus on. You’re a great dad and that little boy knows you’ll do anything for him.”

He sits up as well. “I didn’t mean to offend you. I just worry. I never planned on being a single dad.”

“Where’s Liam’s mother?” The question is followed with stiff silence. Cristiana shakes her head. “Never mind. You don’t have to tell me. It’s none of my business.”

Heavily Cole exhales. “Yes, it is. I have to tell you someday. That day might as well be today. Liam’s mother’s name is Sloan. She and I have known each other since we were babies. Our parents are close friends. Somewhere along the way, we were paired together. We dated until college. She decided to take a gap year for traveling and I went Ivy League. By senior year I was engaged to another woman. Sloan unexpectedly made an appearance at our engagement party. I hadn’t seen or talked to her in years. She was friendly at first, then her true intentions became clear. She didn’t want me to get married. She meddled a lot and eventually my fiancée broke it off. Sloan didn’t stick around for the aftermath. About three years ago she reappeared. She just showed up at my place one night desperate for a friend. I took her in no questions asked. We had sex that night and every night after that, then she was leaving again. That’s her thing. Sloan doesn’t like to stay in one place for too long. She came back some months later right when I was rekindling things with my fiancée and told me that she was pregnant. I asked her to marry me. She agreed. I bought this house for us.”

Cole stops talking and deeply inhales. “She was in the beginning of her third trimester when I decided to surprise her by coming home early. The house was quiet. Too quiet. I should have known something was wrong, but I didn’t realize until I found her unconscious on the bathroom floor. There was so much blood that I thought she was dying. The paramedics kept asking me if she’d taken any drugs. At the hospital we found out that she had overdosed on cocaine. She’d been using it for years but I thought she stopped when she found out she was pregnant. She told me she stopped. She even attended classes for addiction. I thought she was better, but I was wrong. They had to deliver Liam that night. All the drugs in his system nearly killed him. When Sloan was conscious, I asked her why she’d done it. She told me that she’d never wanted to be someone’s mom and wife. I hired an attorney and sought sole custody of Liam. She didn’t fight me on it, especially once I offered her money. Her parents had cut her off. She signed over her rights and left. I haven’t seen or heard from her since.”

There’s a lump in Cristiana’s throat after listening to the tragic story. “I’m so sorry you had to go through that.”

“Don’t apologize. It’s not your fault.” Cole accepted the fact that Sloan wasn’t meant to be Liam’s mother a long time ago. He shakes his head to clear away the thoughts. “So, now you know my past like I know yours. Will you finally stop running?”

“Even after we’ve had sex, you still think I’m running.”

Cole levels his gaze upon her. “Be honest, all day you’ve been thinking of reasons why we shouldn’t repeat last night. Am I right?” Her silence is all the answer he needs. A knowing smirk pulls at his lips. “You’re running.”

“In my defense this isn’t exactly an ideal situation. You’re my boss, and I signed a contract which specifically states that if I fraternize with you, then I’m fired. You know how much I need this job.”

“Cris, you’re worrying over nothing. Firstly, no one has the power to fire you except me, and I’m telling you that it’s not going to happen. And second, even if my mom or sister somehow found a way to fire you, which I highly doubt, I could take care of you for the time being.”

For the time being. The words are like a blaring siren in Cristiana’s mind. Foolish disappointment floods through her. She knows that whatever she has started with Cole is only temporary. Yet somehow his words are a hurtful reminder. She turns away from him, sliding down in the bed to hide her thoughts.

“We can talk about it later. I need some sleep,” she murmurs hoping Cole will get the hint and leave her bedroom.

His arm slides around her waist. “How about we delay sleeping for a bit?” He moves closer so that his chest is pressed against her back. The right answer is no, but she can’t bring herself to say it. If what they’re doing is temporary, then she wants to enjoy every moment while she can.

She rolls over until she faces him with a teasing smile. “Well, I guess sleep could wait for

a little while.”

Cole yanks her into his hold as his mouth descends onto hers. Euphoria floods her body. This feels good. This feels right. She has to enjoy it while she can.

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