It was Andy’s first trip since the plane crash that would have taken his life, and Danae was terrified. This time, there could be no talking him out of going. There was no later flight, no negotiations left open. This trip was mandatory, period. He was traveling to Sunlit Tides to negotiate a player trade and contract, and as the team manager, that was his job.
“How long will you be gone?” she asked.
“Minimum of two days.” He had to make sure he had two uniforms with him, plus business casual and his tuxedo, in case he needed to schmooze the player the Llamas wanted desperately to sign. All his work clothing hung in a garment bag, ready to bring downstairs.
Danae tried to be brave, but inside she was dying. “You will call me, right? The second you’re on the ground.”
“Of course, my sweet. You have my word.” He looked at her and hated to see her so frightened. “Come here, love,” he held his arms open for her. “I know this is scary for you. But I feel safe. Fiona will be coming along. Her father feels it’s important she knows how to negotiate.”
“When is Lionel retiring? It’s odd that someone just a year older than you is taking over as CEO at SVP.”
“He says a six-month timeline, but I’m not sure. He wasn’t well the last we spoke, and he seems to be fast-tracking Fi into the position.” Andy packed the last part of his clothing and personal items into his bag and zipped it closed. “Well, all I need to do is catch the limo in the morning. I’m all packed.”
Danae swallowed a sob. “Wake me before you leave.”
“Of course, I will. I’m going to need some sugar before I head out,” Andy purred. “Is the baby fed?”
“Yes, he’s asleep, and I’m ready for bed.”
“Well, then let’s make the most of it,” he cooed. They kissed and loved each other until they fell asleep.
The alarm on his phone woke him just a few hours later, and he pulled himself away from her grasp and went into the bathroom to shower and shave. The running water woke Danae, and when he was finished and drying off, she sat and watched him.
“This feels familiar,” she said softly.
“What are you doing awake, my sweet?” He asked quietly.
“The shower woke me,” she whispered. Though she was scared, she didn’t have the same sense of dread within her.
“I’m sorry, honey, I didn’t mean to wake you this soon.” He finished drying off and brushed his hair to untangle it. He usually let it dry on its own, as it was pin straight naturally. He needed to fly in his PR uniform because the meeting was just 90 minutes after his flight was due to land. “Has the baby been awake at all?”
“No, he’s still asleep. I’m hoping I can get some rest after you leave.” She yawned and reached for her pajamas to put them on.
“No,” Andy said. “Wait until after I’m gone.”
She looked at him, her head cocked. “What?”
“To get dressed. I want to remember you just like that.” He walked over to her and pulled her up to him. Tenderly, he embraced her and kissed her. “Mmm, that’s it, baby.”
“You’re not making this easier,” she sighed. “I’m going to miss you so much.”
“When I’m lonely tonight, I will have this moment to think of, and I will be less lonely. But I’ll call you, honey. I will need to hear your sweet voice.”
Danae wiped tears from her eyes. “Even though I know you have to, I wish you didn’t have to go. I love you, Andy.”
“I love you, too.” He hugged her tightly and kissed her. “I need to get going, sweetie. I’ll call you as soon as we land. You have my word.”
She thought she would be okay, but she broke down crying, and he held her for just another minute. “I’ll miss you,” she finally choked out. “Be safe.”
“I’ll do my part, love.” He pulled away from her after he kissed her one last time. “I love you,” he whispered, his heart broke as he watched her cry.
She sniffled and couldn’t speak. But she blew Andy a kiss as he walked away, down the stairs and outside to his limo.
After she heard him lock the door, she quickly got dressed in her pajamas and laid back down. But she was anxious and sure that sleep wouldn’t come until she knew he was safe. She reached for his pillow, the one he slept on every night, hugged it to her chest, and cried.
Andy didn’t realize how difficult it would be to leave her, and for a brief moment, he considered quitting his job and taking one that didn’t require traveling. The entire trip to the airport, he wept quietly in the back of the limo.
Danae was still wide awake when the baby cried at his almost usual time, seven o’clock, and nearly on the nose. His cry was a welcome distraction from the fear. Andy’s flight would be taking off in less than half an hour, and she imagined he was boarding as she picked Eamon up from his crib. “Good morning, sugar plum,” she cooed at the baby and saw him smile at her. “There’s my good boy!” she smiled back at him, his happy sounds cheered her up. She changed his diaper and settled into the rocking chair outside the nursery to nurse him. She talked to Eamon as he ate, more for her benefit than his.
She felt her phone vibrate in her pocket and scrambled to answer it, her heart in her throat. “Hello?”
“Hey, my sweet,” Andy’s voice answered. “I just wanted to tell you how much I love you.”
“Oh, babe,” she sniffled, “I love you. I miss you already.”
“I miss you, too. I don’t have much time. I have to put my phone away. But I wanted to hear your voice. Tell me that you love me.”
“I love you. I love you. I love you.” She spoke softly, but clearly, making sure he heard it.
“I’ll call when we land, sweetie. Danae, I love you.” He blew a kiss through the phone line, and they hung up.
She wiped the tears away from her eyes and looked at the face of her baby son. “Your daddy loves you, Eamon,” she whispered. “But don’t you worry. He will be home soon.” He began to fuss, and Danae sat him up to burp him. He looked at her and giggled, and she nearly melted into her chair. It was his first real giggle, almost a belly laugh. “Oh babe,” she sighed. “What you’re missing breaks my heart.”
Danae got Eamon fed before Elyse woke up, wanting breakfast. She needed a break, a place to hide while she waited for Andy’s phone call. But there was no one to watch the kids, no one to help her. So, she put Eamon into his swing and then sat down to play blocks with Elyse. Andy’s flight was 2½ hours long. It’s going to be a long morning, she thought.
Danae was helping Elyse with potty training when her phone rang, and she almost passed out from fright. Her hands shaking, she answered it, her voice quivering.
“Danae? Did I catch you at a bad time?” It was Sheila from the Sing-A-Gram company.
She breathed a sigh of relief. “No, it’s fine, Sheila. What can I do for you?”
“We have a job opening for a higher level singer if you are interested. We’ve had more than a few customers asking for you specifically. I’ve meant to make this call for a few months, but I know you’re off playing mommy.”
Danae might have been interested in her offer. The fact that people still asked for her more than two years after her resignation impressed her. But then Sheila made the snide comment about her being a mother, and that was the end of her interest. “I have more than I can handle with these two little ones,” Danae started. “I don’t have the time to—”
“What can I do to make this more appealing? A huge account is ready to walk away if we don’t have you on the talent roster.” Sheila paced on the other end of the phone. “I’m begging you, Danae. We can’t lose this client.”
“Sheila, I made it pretty clear when I left that I’m not singing professionally. My family is my priority. These two little angels and their daddy are my whole world. There isn’t a dollar figure that could pull me from them. I’m very sorry.”
Danae could hear her shuffling papers. “I can’t even entice you with a gig at the Binder Clips Center? It would be a headline act. You can sing your great grandmother’s songs, and with your voice? Danae, that’s a winning combination. Imagine the places that concert alone would take your career!”
“Mama! Up!” Elyse called to Danae, her arms up and hands grabbing for her mother.
“Look, why would I help you? You made it clear you thought I was making a big mistake when I left to raise my family—”
Sheila interrupted her again. “And I’m giving you a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to correct that mistake! Please Danae—”
“Wrong answer. I’m hanging up now,” Danae stated, getting angrier. “I wish you luck with your problem. But my ‘mistakes’ are my biggest priority and the loves of my life. Goodbye, Sheila.” Elyse still sat at her feet, her arms in the air, just seconds away from screaming. “Yes, my sweet girl, up it is!” she said, lifted the baby girl into her arms, and snuggled her.
Danae’s phone rang again minutes later, still too early to be Andy, and she answered it, her voice shaky with anxiety. “Hello?”
“Hey, honey,” Andy’s voice greeted her. “We’re on the ground early. We made excellent time.”
A wave of relief washed over her. “Oh, thank goodness, you’re safe!” she exclaimed, trying very hard not to cry. “It’s so good to hear your voice,” she said. “How was your flight?”
“Smooth sailing. No turbulence, no problems. I even got a nap on the way. Now I have to fix my hair again, but it’s all good.” He stifled a yawn. “How are you doing?”
“I’m tired. I never got back to sleep this morning. I’m trying to get Elyse to settle down for a nap, but she is wide awake. I think I’d have a better time trying to bathe a cat.” She wanted to laugh, but it would use energy she just didn’t have.
“Call Leslie if you need some time, honey. You know there is cash in the safe in our closet.”
“I know. I might if I get desperate. I feel better now, so maybe I’ll sleep tonight.”
“Well, I need to get off this silver bullet and get ready for my meeting. Baby, I love you, and I’ll call you when I am in my room tonight.”
“Okay, Andy. I love you so much.” They hung up the phone, and Danae cried, all of the bottled-up tension and worry poured out of her.
“Mama?” Elyse walked up to her and looked into her eyes. “No cwy, Mama.” And of course, that made her cry even harder as she picked up her sweet, precious baby girl.
“I won’t cry anymore, sweet pea. Mama loves you.”
“I wuv Mama.” And Elyse wrapped her little arms around Danae’s neck. She sat and cuddled her daughter, weeping tears of joy, love, and regret. It was another cute first that Andy had missed.
Andy returned to his resort room after a very stuffy dinner out with Avery Tillman and his wife, Dina. He was still no closer to signing him on the team. He was frustrated and needed Danae’s arms around him. But she was over a thousand miles away, getting the children ready for bed. Starlight Shores was two hours ahead of Sunlit Tides, and it was bedtime back home.
He dialed his phone, and Lionel answered. “Hey, Lionel, I’m just checking in with the progress report. I know it’s late, but we’re just getting in.”
“Hey Andy, I’ve been waiting to hear all day. How’re the negotiations going?”
“Rough. Tillman has a few conditions, and one of them you may not like.”
“Oh? What’s that?”
“He won’t sign on as long as, and I quote, ‘that effing Jones kid is on the team.’ It might be a problem.”
Lionel sighed. The boy was good, but Devin Jones was a liability for the team—too many scandals and a terrible attitude. “Let me think about this, Andy. Tarah and I will discuss it, and talk to Aaron and Smitty. I’ll get back with you in the morning.”
“Don’t wait too long. Avery’s a flight risk,” Andy half-joked. “I guess we need to decide who is a better fit for the team: Devin Jones or Avery Tillman.”
“Who are you thinking is better, Andy? You know I respect your opinion.”
Andy had bad blood with his brother-in-law. But, he knew it was unethical to let his personal feelings interfere with the team. “I’ve seen Tillman play, and he’s outstanding. But I know Jones is almost better than his father was. It will be a tough call, Lionel.”
“Well, thanks for the update. Fiona will be there in the morning.”
“Sounds good, Lionel. Rest well.”
“You too, son.” Lionel hung up the phone.
Andy slumped in his chair, Danae on his mind. He needed her, and he wasn’t sure a phone call would be enough. Nevertheless, he dialed her cell.
“Hello?” came the sleepy voice on the other end of the phone.
“Hi, my sweet,” he said softly. “Did I wake you?”
“Yes, but it’s okay. I’ve been waiting for you to call since your dinner meeting. How is it going?”
“Not good,” he replied.
“Oh, no!” she exclaimed. “What’s wrong?”
“The guy we want to sign, Tillman, has a few conditions, and one of them might be tough to meet. Lionel and Tarah are reviewing it now.”
“Well, that stinks!” she huffed, frustrated for him.
“How are the babies?” he asked.
“They’re awesome. Eamon gave me a perfect belly laugh earlier. I hate that you’re missing all his firsts.”
Andy sighed. On top of a frustrating day, he missed his family. “Sweetie, I miss you. I need your arms around me.”
“I miss you so much, Andy. The bed is cold on your side. It’s unbearable. I’ve been wearing one of your shirts that I haven’t washed yet because it smells like you.”
“It’s cold and empty on your side here, too. I could be home tomorrow night if this negotiation goes south.”
“Oh, you’ll never guess who called me today.”
“By the tone of your voice, I’d say it wasn’t a good call.” Andy chuckled.
“Sheila, from the Sing-A-Gram company.” Danae got a naughty smile on her face. “She was in a pickle and needed my help.”
“Oh, really? The woman who thinks our children are mistakes needed your help. That’s rich.”
“Yes. One of the biggest clients is ready to pull their contract unless Sheila puts me back on the payroll. She sounded pretty desperate.”
Andy laughed. The irony was delicious. “I hope you told her no.”
“You know, I might have been on board with going back part-time until she made a snide remark about me ‘playing mommy.’ That ticked me off.”
“That would have made me angry, too.”
“Oh, and get this. Sheila said she was giving me the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to fix my mistake.” She almost heard Andy’s eyes rolling over the phone. “I nearly told her where to stuff it.”
“Good for you, sweetie! I love you so much.”
“I love you too, babe.” Sleep was heavy in her voice.
“I will let you know what’s going on tomorrow. I know you’re tired. I won’t keep you. Good night, my beautiful princess. Sweet dreams.”
“Good night, my handsome prince,” she cooed, “and sweet dreams. I love you.”
“I love you more.”
They hung up the phone. Andy went into the bathroom to wash up before going to sleep. Andy crawled into a king bed by himself, incredibly lonely. “Oh honey,” he said out loud to no one, “I miss you like crazy.” And he fell asleep with Danae on his mind.
Andy’s phone rang early the next morning. “Andy, this is Lionel. Do you have a moment?”
He rolled over and looked at the clock. It was 5:21 am. “I do, yes. Just give me a minute to get my head on straight.”
“Did I wake you?”
“Yes, but it’s okay.” Andy muted the phone and yawned. “Alright, what’s on your mind?”
“Tarah and I consulted with Aaron and Trey Smith and got their opinion. Since Devin is on his last chance and everyone’s last nerve, and since Aaron is quite tired of his shenanigans, we are willing to sacrifice him to pick up Avery Tillman. I know this probably won’t be a popular choice with your wife, but Devin brought this upon himself.”
“As far as the salary range is concerned?”
“We can match Devin’s and go up to 30% above, plus a nice benefits package, including a car, full health benefits, you know, the standard.”
“Thanks, Lionel,” Andy replied, taking notes. “Don’t fire Jones until I have this finalized. It would be a shame to lose him if we don’t pick up Tillman.”
“Agreed,” Lioned concurred. “Fiona will be at your morning meeting with the Tillmans. She caught an early flight out this morning.”
“Perfect.” Andy was conflicted. Though he loved the idea of Devin not being on the team, he saw the potential for conflict with his wife.
“Let me know after your meeting, Andy. I look forward to hearing from you.” Lionel hung up the phone.
Andy sighed. I’m glad this wasn’t my decision, he thought. Danae’s relationship with Devin wasn’t the best, but he was still family.
He decided to call Danae, even though he suspected she wouldn’t be awake yet. He was just about to hang up when she answered, almost out of breath.
“Good morning, sweetie,” he greeted her.
“Mmm, good morning, babe. I was dreading waking up without you. I’m so happy you called.”
“Me too. We have some possible resolution on this contract conflict, so if I can smooth talk this guy into signing, I’ll be home tonight, honey.”
“Oh, babe! That is awesome! I’m not going to leave you alone once you’re home. I hope you know that.”
“I was just going to say that same thing.” Andy smiled from ear to ear.
“So what was the problem?” she asked innocently.
“The player Lionel wants on the team refused to work with someone who is already playing for the Llamas. So if I can get this new guy to agree to and sign a contract today, the other player is gone.” Please don’t ask me who, he thought.
“Well, that’s odd,” she remarked. “Surprising that Lionel would agree to ditch a player to sign a new one. This guy must be a great player.”
Andy nodded, even though she couldn’t see him. “He is. Lionel and Tarah met with Aaron and Trey last night, so it was a unanimous decision among the four of them.”
“Well, I can’t wait to see you tonight!”
“Hopefully tonight, sweetie. It depends on whether or not I can get this guy to sign that contract. If he doesn’t sign now, I’m sure Lionel has other tricks up his sleeve. That’s why Fiona is coming in. She has the particulars about what they’re offering.”
“I thought she was already there?”
“She was supposed to be here with me yesterday. I guess Lionel needed her at home.”
“I see,” she said. Like I don’t need you here at home, too, she thought.
“Oh, sweetie, I love you so much.”
“Andy, I love you to the moon and back.”
“I hate to cut this short, but I just noticed the time. I need to get into the shower and get ready for our morning meeting.”
Danae sighed. “I don’t want you to go, but I know you have to. Please negotiate this quickly so you can come home. I miss you like crazy.”
“I miss you too. I swear, I will make all of this up to you when I get home, baby.
“Be safe and good luck, Andy. I love you.”
“Kiss those babies for me, sweetie. I love you.”
Andy met Fiona in the conference room at the resort, where they due to meet Avery and Dina Tillman for additional contract negotiations. “You look lovely today, Fi,” Andy greeted her. “How was your flight?”
“Calm and uneventful,” she replied. “I’m thankful for that, too. So, you know my father has authorized this transaction. If you do the deliberating, we’ll go over the thresholds you can negotiate up to before they get here, and I will sign the contracts in your stead since I’m here. No offense, Andy.”
“None taken. I’m glad this wasn’t my decision to make about Devin. Danae will not be pleased. She still might not be happy with me if she thinks I had any role in it or could have prevented it.”
“Andy, Devin Jones brought this upon himself. You shouldn’t worry about it.”
“If I tell Danae why he’s been hanging by a thread, it would probably change her mind.” Andy had neglected to tell her that Devin had been speaking of her as though she was the whore of Starlight Shores, and he had taken all he could handle, listening to Devin slander his wife in that way.
“Keep that in mind as your ace in the hole, Andy. Just in case.” Fiona stood and fixed a cup of coffee while they waited on the Tillmans to arrive. “I hope this goes well, so I don’t have to leave Father for very long. I worry about him.”
“I do, too. Danae needs me at home, too. Her two hands aren’t quite enough for those two little ones sometimes.”
“You should hire a nanny or a butler. Someone of your status could afford some help.” Fiona’s words seemed cold.
“Well, she loves spending time with them. She’s very good at juggling their time, and she still manages to be well-rested on most days.” Andy spoke proudly of her. She was a fantastic mother.
“It sounds like she is managing well without you.”
Andy let it slide. Neither one of them were managing well without the other. Someday, he hoped everything would slow down, and he would get to spend time with the babies while they were little. A soft knock came at the door, and Fiona welcomed the Tillmans into the conference room.
“Welcome, Avery, Dina. We have some good news for you this morning, and hope that you’ll find our latest offer acceptable.” Andy greeted them. “Can I get you coffee? Water?”
“Oh, no, thank you,” Avery stated. “We just came from breakfast. So, what is your offer today?”
“Well, we are prepared to offer you a salary comparable to what you are making now, plus a generous benefits package, including a new car, full health benefits for your family, term life policy, things like that.” Andy laid the offer out on the table.
“I can stay where I am for the same salary and not move my kids to a new city, new schools, new friends. Plus, I refuse to play on any team that has Devin Jones on it. I recognize he is Travis’ son, but that kid is a liability. I won’t be associated with him.”
“We are proposing an additional 30 percent on top of what you are making now, plus the owner is willing to sever ties with Devin Jones to secure your contract with the Llamas.” Andy extended the new offer. Fiona would have to approve any other changes, and he was grateful she was on hand.
“That’s impressive, Mr. Murphy. I understand Devin Jones is related to your young wife.” Avery Tillman considered the proffer. Andy nodded when Dina spoke.
“But, what about relocation expenses?” she objected.
“Done,” Fiona offered. “Mr. Tillman, my father would like you to be on this team. He sees your potential. The team captain, Trey Smith, looks forward to working with you, as does Aaron Hall. As you know, Mr. Hall is from your hometown of Sunlit Tides. He has already given the team two winning seasons in a row. We look forward to many more under his leadership.” She looked at Andy, and he nodded. She was a darn good negotiator.
Avery and Dina Tillman looked at each other. “May we have a few moments to discuss this in private, please?” he asked.
“Take all the time you need,” Andy agreed. “We’ll be just outside in the lobby.”
Fiona looked hopeful. “How do you think it’s going in there?”
“I think they’re going to sign. We’ve removed the obstacles and objections, and given them everything they want. In return, we get the name recognition, the merchandise revenue, and hopefully playoffs for the next five to ten years.”
“It’s a good investment,” Fiona agreed. “The merchandise alone will be phenomenal for the team.”
“Do you have the contracts already done, Fi?”
“I do. Father and I finished them up early this morning. I haven’t slept since yesterday. I’m surprised I am still awake.”
“Then, I guess we wait.” Andy sat down, sipping a cup of coffee.
The door opened, and Avery called them back to the room. “You have made a fantastic offer. But, we have discussed it, and we want to keep the children in their schools.”
“Is there anything we can do to sweeten the deal for you?” Andy asked. Lionel was not going to be happy if his first contract negotiation failed.
“It’s not the offer, Mr. Murphy. We just don’t feel the move is good for our family right now. I’m sorry to string you along like this. But I’m just going to sign back here for this year. We appreciate your generous offer, however.” He held his hand to Andy to shake.
“Very well, Mr. Tillman. We certainly respect your decision, but I’m sorry we couldn’t make a deal today. Fiona and I wish you the best.” Andy shook Avery’s hand firmly.
“Have a safe trip back to Starlight Shores,” Dina Tillman offered. “And thank you again for everything.”
The Tillmans left the resort, and Andy slumped in the chair. “Your father is not going to be happy with me.”
“Oh, I think you’ll be okay, Andy. I don’t think Tillman ever had any intention of signing with us. He was just flirting with us to see what we had to offer. For the record, I wasn’t completely on board with firing Jones. As cocky and arrogant as he is, he’s one of our best players. Getting rid of him to sign someone else—it’s almost like cutting off your nose to spite your face. Not a smart business decision.”
“But what are his sales in merch? He’s not getting a quarter of what his father did. Shoot, even months after his death, people are still buying Travis’ jersey, Fi. Without that revenue, we might come up short.”
“Well, it will be my job to worry about merchandising and budgeting. There will be others, and the mid-season trades might open up a new player or two. Another season, and we’ll be negotiating for Wyatt Searcy to return. He’s a big name, too, thanks to Travis Jones.”
“We’re lucky to have him.” Andy took his last sip of coffee. “Well, one good thing comes from ending negotiations this early. I get to sleep in my bed tonight, and you get to be home for your dad.”
“True. Are you set to head to the airport? I never took my bag from the limo.” Fiona gathered her briefcase and phone.
“Yes, mine is in the limo as well.” They would share a ride to the airport, but their flights would depart for two different destinations. “Before we head to the car, I just need to make a phone call. I never get good reception in the limo for some reason.”
“Very well,” Fiona said. “I’ll call Father and let him know.”
Andy walked outside the resort and dialed Danae’s cell phone. She saw his number on caller ID and answered it excitedly. “Hello?”
“Hi, my sweet,” he greeted her. “I have good and bad news.”
“Oh, no. Well, what’s the bad news?”
“We couldn’t make a deal on this player. He didn’t want to move after all.”
Danae smiled. “Does that mean your good news is that you’ll be home tonight?”
“That is my good news, yes. We’re leaving for the airport shortly. Hopefully, I’ll be home in time for dinner tonight.”
“Oh babe, you’re for dinner tonight,” she growled at him. “I can’t wait.”
He smiled slyly. “I can’t either my sweet. I miss you like crazy.”
“I miss you too.”
“Well, let me go, honey, so that we can get on our way back home. I’ll call you when we land. I love you, sweetie.”
“I love you, Andy. Be safe.”
The limousine pulled up in front of the house just after 5 pm, about thirty minutes earlier than expected. Danae was nursing the baby, and Elyse was playing with a stuffed toy on the floor when his key turned in the front door.
“Daddy!” Elyse said correctly, the first time she had uttered that word so clearly, and waddled to Andy.
Danae’s head turned towards Elyse’s little voice and saw her beloved kneeling down, his arms wrapped around their daughter, covering her face in kisses. “There’s my little sweet pea!” Andy exclaimed.
“I wuv Daddy,” she said, planting a wet, baby kiss on his cheek. Elyse never said it before, and it took him entirely by surprise.
“Oh, sweet pea!” Andy wept, “Daddy loves you so much!” The look on his face said it all. He was tired but so thankful to be home.
He put Elyse back down on the floor and walked to where Danae sat and kissed her. “Oh, sweetie, you taste so good,” he purred.
“Wait until later,” she cooed at him. “It’s so good to have you home, babe.”
“It’s good to be home. Everything worked out for the best today, for everyone involved. You, me, the kids, the team, your brot—” He stopped himself short and hoped she didn’t catch it.
“My what?” she asked.
Way to go, Andy. You need to stop talking without thinking, he thought to himself. “Your brother.” He sighed.
“Devin? What does he have to do with this whole thing?”
“Sweetie, he was the player Lionel would fire, had we signed the other player from Sunlit Tides.”
Tears stung her eyes. “And you were okay with this?”
“Not really,” No, that wasn’t true, he thought. “Well, sort of. But it all worked out.”
“What do you mean ‘sort of’?”
“Devin is—well, you know he is hanging by a thread with Aaron. Do you have any idea why?”
“It doesn’t matter, Andy. He’s my brother!”
“Danae, if I tell you, it will end any chance of a relationship with you and your brother, probably for good.”
“And if you don’t tell me, you’re sleeping on the couch tonight!” She was angry.
“I never wanted you to find this out, honey. Smitty came to me just before you had Elyse with some news he had found out about Devin. It was the reason why he was at the dinner we had with my dad, Darce, Clint, the night your uncle passed away. Remember, he said he was sitting out a game?”
“Yes.” Her voice was cold.
“Trey caught him talking about you and Darcey in the locker room. It wasn’t very complimentary.”
“Talking about us, how?”
“Well, what earned him his first game out was telling everyone on the team that you and Darcey were…” He couldn’t bring himself to say it. The words made him feel sick.
“We were what, Andy?”
“He told everyone you and Darcey were making your way around the town.”
“What do you mean?”
“Screwing around, Danae. Like you and she were low-class hookers.”
It took her breath away, and she was livid. But as she tried to speak, she realized Andy was right. Devin had changed since he got on the team, and it wasn’t for the better. Her anger turned to grief, and she cried. “He said that?”
“I’m afraid so,” he confirmed, her tears broke his heart. “Smitty has no reason to lie about this, Nae, and he has even less motive to cause trouble with you and Darcey. Devin has only gotten worse, but now he leaves Darcey out of it. He knows that talking about you makes me angry. For some reason, he loves nothing more than to tweak me.”
Andy clenched his teeth. “Aaron can’t do anything about it unless he or Smitty hears anything firsthand, and he’s sneaky. Devin makes sure Smitty and Aaron are not within earshot when he’s disgusting. And you know, there are guys on that team who eat that stuff up, Nae—the same guys who disrespected your dad. It’s one of the reasons I don’t like you being around the guys when I’m not there. The way they talk about you is disgraceful, and I am afraid one of them will try to take advantage of you.”
“I can’t believe it, but then again, I can.” She sniffled and wiped tears from her eyes. The betrayal was extensive, and she would have a hard time forgiving it if she could at all.
“So when this Tillman guy said he didn’t want to be on the team if Devin was still on the roster, we all felt it was a perfect out. But Tillman backed out on us.” He hugged her close. “I’m sorry I had to be the one to tell you about your brother, honey. He makes all of us sick.”
“He was doing this when Daddy was still alive?” Andy nodded his head. “No wonder Devin couldn’t face him.”
“Your father knew what Devin was doing, Nae. It was just one more of the many ways Devin disappointed him. Your dad never wanted you to know what he was doing, and we had agreed to keep it between us. I’m mad at myself for slipping up.” That’s two promises broken, he thought.
“Why did he treat me like a delicate flower, Andy? Did he think I couldn’t handle the truth?”
“Well, to him, you were a delicate flower. He always wanted to protect you, Nae. He made me promise to protect you and our children with my life. And I will. I just hope I never have to make that decision, because it’s probably one you would never forgive me for making.”
The very idea of that made her emotional. “I hope it never comes down to that, Andy. But I know the feeling because I would die to protect those babies myself.”
“I have an idea. Since it’s getting late, and I’m hungry, why don’t we get some take out delivered here? That way, neither of us has to cook and clean up. And it will give me some time with the kids before they go to bed.”
“That sounds like an excellent plan,” she agreed. Danae was thankful he changed the subject. The whole discussion about Devin had upset her, and dinner together would be a welcome distraction.
After the kids were fed, read to, and asleep, Andy and Danae sat by the fireplace, enjoying a glass of wine and each other’s company. He sat with his feet up, and she laid down with her head in his lap. Andy reached to stroke her hair as they talked about his trip.
“So, it sounds like your trip was a waste of time, babe.”
“Yes and no. It was a valuable experience for Fiona, and for me, too. I learned I couldn’t close every deal. It’s unrealistic to expect it.”
“I suppose that’s true.” She sat up to take a sip of wine. “I learned that I need you every night.”
“I already knew that, my sweet.” He caressed her cheek. “That is not news to me.”
“I learned that I could trust the airline to fly safely back and forth. For now.” She smiled as she watched the flames in the fireplace. The gas upgrade to the hearth was nice, but she missed the crackle of wooden logs and the aroma of the fire. “I also learned I need a better way to cope once you’re traveling once a week. Living in fear is no way to live.”
“Honey, there is no need to be afraid. Flying is safe.” He motioned for her to sit up, and he stood to turn the gas off in the fireplace. “Let’s go to bed,” he suggested, and when she stood, he picked her up off the floor and carried her upstairs, where they loved each other into the early morning hours, until they finally fell asleep.
Up Next: Chapter Twelve, Generation Five