Angie looked at her. “I’ll be in the kitchen. Yell if you need me.”
Shannon gave her sister a smile, thankful she was there.
Victor stumbled through the door, running a hand through his hair. The five o’clock shadow on his face looked a little more like a full weekend of stubble. “Can I use the bathroom?” he asked.
Shannon motioned for the door where the washroom was and used the time he was in there to collect her thoughts.
Let him say his piece and then move him on his way.
He returned from the bathroom looking like he’d run a wet comb through his hair. His eyes were a little more focused, and some of the color had returned to his face.
“Thank you for not turning me away,” he said once he took the seat opposite her.
“I considered it.”
He paused, picked his words carefully, from what she could tell.
“I screwed up.”
“Yeah, you did.”
“I’m sorry. I could tell you I had been up for hours, that my emotions were shot, wondering what would happen if the tabloids told the truth . . . but all that would be making an excuse when I really don’t have one.”
Shannon felt some of her anger dissipating with his words.
“I trust you, I do. I know I didn’t show that with how I reacted, but believe me, I do.”
“A trusting man wouldn’t have behaved that way.”
“It’s Paul I don’t trust. I know I’m not the biggest catch out there. That your ex shares your past, and that you might just want him back.”
“I don’t want him.” With all certainty, Shannon knew her life with Paul was over and not worth repeating.
“I know that now. I do. Please hear me out. I realized, with all my time alone circling the globe the last few days, that your single status since your divorce means that the break between you and him really hurt you. The fact that you made it clear that you weren’t a person I could play and get away with it . . . your defensiveness when we first met . . . all of that fueled my head, and my imagination ran with it. I told you I was going caveman. I’m not proud of it, but I can’t seem to stop myself when it comes to you.”
“Even the caveman needs to trust when he’s out hunting, Victor.”
“I have never been a jealous person. Not with Corrie, not with anyone. Until you. The thought of you leaving scared the crap out of me. And then you did it. This has been the longest three days of my life.”
She could relate to that.
“I love you, Shannon. And I will do anything to make it up to you.”
Hearing him utter that four-letter word was music to her ears. She cautioned herself. “When a man tells you what you want to hear . . .”
“I’m not giving you a line.” He leaned forward, rested his arms on his knees. “When Corrie left me standing alone like a groom on top of a cake, all I could think of was . . . well, that’s over. I didn’t chase her down and force her to hear me. But I’m here, Shannon, and I’m going to force you to hear me. I love you! I want you in my life, my world . . . my arms. I’m going to make mistakes and screw up, but I hope you care enough about me to find forgiveness and a second chance. I’ve been an asshole all my life, and sometimes I fall back on those habits. I need you to ground me.”
He reached out and took her hand in his.
She searched his eyes and found them welled with unshed tears.
A lump that had formed in her throat sat like a rock in a stream that air needed to flow around. Her breath sounded like a choking engine. “Letting you in has been the most daring thing I’ve done in five years. You have the power to devastate me.”
He took both her hands, squeezed them hard. “I won’t. With God as my witness, I will never be that man. I can’t stop you from walking away, but it won’t be my back you see leaving.” He leaned forward, rested his head on their joined hands.
Shannon’s hands started to shake, the decision to risk pain for the love he offered or go on living in the world alone . . .
She removed one of her hands from his and placed her palm on the side of Victor’s face.
Slowly he looked up at her. “The problem with loving someone is that even if you walk away, the love is still there.”
“Don’t walk away.”
A single tear fell from her eye. “I love you.”
He captured her hand against his face, pushed into it, and closed his eyes. “Say that again.”
“I love you, Victor.”
He opened his eyes, took her face in his hands, and brought her lips over to his. Their kiss was salty with her tears and sweet with their hearts.
He broke their kiss to pull her into his arms; his steel embrace locked her in the moment.
“Don’t ever leave me,” he whispered.
“Always give me a reason to stay.”
He stood, taking her to her feet with him. “I’m going to give you my name, my life, my family. I’m going to give you all the babies you want. I’m going to shackle you with all the reasons I can.”
Shannon shook her head, placed a finger over his lips. “All I need is your love.”
“You already have that.”
The world shifted and fell into place. “We’re doing this.”
He nodded. “If you ask me, it’s already done.”
And he kissed her one more time.
One Year Later
The playroom in Shannon and Victor’s new home took up the entire basement.
Playpens were set up and being used as cribs for Lilliana—or Lilly, as Wade and Trina called their eight-month-old daughter—and Max, Avery and Liam’s nine-month-old son.
Some of Shannon’s recent photographs peppered the walls of the room.
Lori half sat, half lay on the plush sofa, her belly propped up on a pillow.
“How is that sciatica?” Trina asked as she handed her a wineglass full of milk.
“Great if I don’t lay on my right side. I swear these kids are killing me already, and they’re not even out yet. Good thing there are two of them, because I’m not doing this again.” Lori and Reed had visited a fertility clinic when their attempts to get pregnant without it failed.
“That’s what you say now,” Trina said. “You’ll change your mind.”
Lori massaged her right hip and flexed her leg. “I don’t think so.”
Shannon eased herself into the rocking chair Trina had just left after feeding Lilly and putting her down for a nap. Simon, her unborn son, kicked a rib before he started dancing on her bladder. “Victor and I are waiting a year and then doing it again. Back-to-back . . . all the diapers at once.”
Avery tipped her wineglass in the air. “I can drink to that.”
Shannon toasted with sparkling water, regretted it when she realized she would have to vacate her comfortable seat to use the bathroom . . . again. “I just realized that the last time I had alcohol was at my wedding.” A small ceremony that had taken place during their First Wives meeting at Trina and Wade’s ranch in Texas. With two of her best friends heavy in their pregnancies, Lori stood beside Shannon, and Justin took his place beside Victor.
The memory of Victor’s face when she’d walked around the corner and up the small path to exchange vows with her husband was etched in her brain forever.
They both cried, which got Trina and Avery going, and before you knew it there were sniffles rising up like a chorus from those who watched.
Angie had flown in with the promise of returning after Simon was born.
Paul announced an engagement shortly after the papers grew bored with Shannon and Victor. His future wife was young. Not Corrie young, but at least a decade separated them in age. Shannon couldn’t help but wonder if he’d found another woman to fake forever with. She was just exceptionally happy that person was no longer her.
And Corrie, she got a visit from Reed with a list of crimes he would see she was charged with if she approached Shannon again. Seems that was all it took, because Corrie stopped coming around.
“That’s what happens when you get pregnant on your honeymoon.”
Shannon shifted positions in an effort to get comfortable. The task was useless this close to her delivery date. She gave up and stood. “I have to pee again.”
Trina and Avery laughed.
“I don’t miss that,” Avery said.
Shannon left them alone with their conversation about Kegel exercises.
“Okay, Simon . . .” Shannon spoke to her son once they were alone. “I need you to give Mom a little break.” A pull along her back told her that was wishful thinking. When she stood from the toilet and looked down, she realized her blissful night of relaxing would have to wait.
She blew out a breath and looked at herself in the mirror. She used the brush to pull her hair back, tied it in a loose knot, and applied a little lip gloss.
“Let’s do this,” she said to herself with a smile.
She emerged from the bathroom and walked past her friends to the stairs.
“Going somewhere?” Lori asked as she walked by.
“My water just broke.”
Avery jumped to her feet.
Lori set her glass down and rolled off the couch.
Trina was already up the stairs.
“You have hours, you know that, right?” Avery asked after giving her a hug.