Staring through unblinking, watering eyes, he watched as his mother rested her hand on the boy's head while talking with Faith. Even with the mounting evidence, it wasn't until the boy happened to glance at him that it all became crystal clear.
Michael straightened, his direct gaze piercing right through Miguel. Frowning, the young boy took a jerky step forward. "Dad?"
"Miguel – "
He turned to his mother with eyes narrowed. "How long have you known?"
Meredith poured a cup of coffee and looked out the window over her kitchen sink. "Since two weeks before you left for Princeton."
Fury seized his chest, thankfully cutting off his ability to say the vicious things that were on the tip of his tongue.
"Uh oh," she said, turning to face him. "It's never good when you become speechless."
"What the fuck do you expect me to say?!" He ran a hand through his hair, his pacing across the travertine floor growing more frenzied. "Christ. I had a right to know."
"And she intended to tell you." His mother watched him move with her cat-like green eyes. She was still stunningly beautiful; her face still very much like it had been when she'd been a popular prime time television star. "As soon as you graduated."
"She was so afraid she was going to ruin your life."
"And you didn't absolve her of that bullshit notion."
"It wasn't bullshit. She was a young girl, still in high school. She wasn't going to be able to go with you. At that time in her life, she needed stability and her mother. You wouldn't have left her, not like that. And even if we'd convinced you to go ahead for a year, you would have insisted she join you after the baby was born, which would have taken her away from her support system and jeopardized your studies."
He glared at her.
"Too reasoned for you?" She waved one hand, so damn confident she'd done the right thing abetting Faith in keeping their child a secret. "I'll be honest: when she first came to me, I thanked God for allowing you to dodge that train wreck. She had you by the balls with Michael. He was going to be a direct siphon into your bank account."
"You were always wrong about her," he bit out. "I told you that."
"I couldn't take your word for it. You were young, in love, and salivating with lust. It will sound cliched, but I thought she had you in a sexual spell."
Spotting a framed photo on a shelf, Miguel went to it and picked it up. It was Michael as a toddler, beating two dandelions together in the garden and laughing. "Was this taken around the time I graduated?"
"And still no one told me."
"That's your fault."
He looked at her over his shoulder. "Excuse me?"
"There wasn't a single time you called or wrote where you didn't extol the virtues of your latest girlfriend. It seemed clear that you'd moved on. Faith was terrified you'd take her son – "
"Michael," she corrected. "She was afraid you'd set up a homestead in New York with your society wife and she'd lose both you and your son."
"And you didn't absolve her of that notion either!"
"Why weren't you honest in your correspondence?" she shot back, leaning into the counter. Even though she was unlikely to leave the house again, she was wearing a silk blouse, pencil skirt, heels, and a sapphire choker. "I'm your mother. You could have told me the truth."
He barked out a laugh. "While you were lying to me? While you were so heroically saving me from a gold digger, I was supposed to tell you I was wretched without her? That there were nights when I couldn't breathe for missing her?"
"Instead you deliberately fed me what you wanted her to hear, didn't you?" Her voice and eyes were soft with compassion. "You wanted her to think that you'd already forgotten about her and found someone better, which made you adversaries for Michael. Pride did you both in."
The truth hurt as much as the lies. "Does Dad know about Michael?"
"No. But Michael knows about you. He has a biased view, of course. Faith doesn't see any of your faults. Well… that's not true. She does see them, but she loves you for them."
God… how had they managed to fuck up perfection? What they had together…
They had a son. Together. The family he'd always wanted with her.
"I have to go." He headed toward the archway that divided the kitchen from the living room.
"Go easy on her!" she shouted after him.
"I'm not done with you," he shouted back, slamming the front door closed behind him.
He found her on the beach.
Faith had known he would, when he was ready. They'd come here often in high school. With a blanket and boundless passion, they'd made love here more times than she could count. She'd like to think that love still lingered here, in memory, and that they could hold on to it and weather the storm. But that was a small hope amid big issues. There was so much between them now, so much she'd put between them. How could he ever look past it all? She knew how she would feel if she'd lost ten years of Michael's life.
She felt him approach without turning around. Miguel Santos was like a force of nature. In business or the bedroom, he swept through like a tornado, so exhilarating and dangerous. She waited with her bare feet dug into the cool sand and her arms clasped around her upraised knees. Wind whipped through her hair, drying her tears nearly as fast as they fell.
He sat down beside her. "Where's Michael?"
"At the shop. I didn't want him to see me like this." She blew out a shaky breath. "I don't want you to see me like this. I have no right to cry."
His hands curled into fists in the sand.
"I'm sorry," she said softly, her gut knotting at how cold and hard-faced he looked. She'd prayed never to see that look of betrayal on his face again. Something inside her died at the sight of it.
"We are so perfect together." He stared at the horizon. "And yet we fucked this up."
"I know." More tears fell and she brushed them impatiently away. The waves crashed against the shore in rhythmic roars. Seagulls screeched overhead, their wings stretched to ride the powerful ocean breeze. She would forever associate those sounds with Miguel and the pure, untarnished love he'd once had for her.
"We're going to have to do better when we're married."
Her gaze jerked back to him.
"Don't look so shocked," he muttered. "We know what we've got, what we're willing to do for it. We just have to stop making decisions for each other without talking about things first."
Her mouth curved with self-derision. "You say 'we,' but it's really me."
"Not true." He reached over and took her hand. "I never asked you what you wanted. I just assumed you wanted the same things I did."
Her fingers linked with his. "We've got so much shit to wade through. How do we get to the other side of this?"
"We need counseling, and we'll get it. We'll have to work on us for a while. Figure out how to compromise, discuss possibilities, get rid of resentments, and move forward as one unit. Piece of cake."
She laughed, but more tears fell. Turning, she pushed him back into the sand and straddled him. "So we forgive and we heal, and we learn to compromise and live happily ever after?"
Propping himself up on his elbows, he stared up her. "Yes, mi amor. Is that so hard to believe? I can bend and you can trust. We can do this. We love each other to the point where we're driven to do crazy things. If we put as much effort into staying together as we put into staying apart, we'll be in great shape."
"You're so certain you can make everything work out the way you want, aren't you?" She was amazed love and hope could mingle so easily with pain and regret.
He lifted one shoulder in an insolent shrug. "You love that about me."
Faith set her hands over his heart to feel its beat. "I do," she agreed softly. "You lead the way, I promise to follow this time."
"Not follow. We do this together." He set one warm hand over hers. "Side-by-side, each giving a little ground so we can meet in the middle."
Nodding, she said hoarsely, "I can do that."
"This might be my best birthday ever."
"It'll only get better." She bent down to press her lips to his. "I promise you that."READ MORE >>