Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Faith & Betrayal Update

Hi guys! First off let me say I'm sorry it has taken be so long to update you on the progress of Faith & Betrayal. I found out in late February that my husband and I would be expecting our first child. I quickly became very ill with severe hyperemesis. I have been struggling for the past nine months to feel somewhat like my old self and have been unable to continue to write during that time. Baby boy is one tough nugget and is very healthy it has just been me that has been not doing well. I'm only a few weeks from my due date and I can't wait to meet my baby boy. I will be sure to update you all when he makes his arrival. Faith & Betrayal will be finished as soon as I get back on my feet. As a thank you for waiting so patiently here is the first five chapters. I'll be sharing more excerpts as I continue to write. I hope you enjoy them!


“Tess? Do you hear me?” My beautiful blonde friend, Paige Daniels, questioned me from across her horses stall. She had just won the world championships and was on cloud nine, but she knew something was wrong with me. We have always had such a strong friendship, sometimes I think she knows me better than I know myself.
“Everything is great,” I smiled back at her trying to mask what was really going on inside of me.
“You know I don’t buy that shit,” she glared at me as she pulled off her horse’s saddle and headed down the barn aisle away from me.
I knew she wasn’t buying my brave-face act that I was putting on, but I didn’t feel like I had a choice. I didn’t want to spoil her big win tonight with the drama that is currently my life. It didn’t matter anyway. I was in a shit situation and I had put myself there. Nothing I did or didn’t do now could change that fact. There was no way out of this one, no this time I had really fucked up.
“You might as well just tell her, Tess. She is going to find out sooner or later,” Paige’s handsome husband, Cutter said tipping an eyebrow up at me.
“How do you know?” I asked shocked that somehow my dirty little secret was already out.
“I do know what TMZ is, Tess.”
“Shit, it’s on TMZ already?” I screeched.
Cutter simply nodded and left me alone to think about how I was exactly going to handle this monumental disaster.
The fact that the gossip sites had already gotten wind of what was going on was something I hadn’t expected. I thought I would have at least a few more days before the rest of the world discovered my own personal horror I had been living with for the past year.
The truth is I fell in love with the devil. I saw the warning signs early on and I did nothing to slow it down, I jumped in head first knowing it would end badly. I’m not exactly sure what that says about me, but I know it’s not good.
“So are you going to tell me yet or what?” Paige asked glaring at me as she reentered her horses stall.

“Paige…” I start but didn’t know what to say. I can’t find the words to tell her what’s happening.

“Look Tess, whatever it is we will get through it, together. Don’t you remember what a mess I was a few years ago? You helped me through that. Please just tell me what’s going on. I know it’s really bothering you,” she pleaded.
“Ash is on drugs,” I blurted out. “Coke mainly but I suspect he has used other things as well. Chase and Liam got him checked into rehab,” I breathed a sigh of relief finally telling my best friend at least part of the hell I had been living recently. Paige looked stunned as she digested what I just told her.
It was true, my rock star ex-boyfriend, Ashton Parker, the lead singer of the current hit band, Southtown was eyes deep in addiction. I knew it’s a fairly regular thing in the industry but for some reason I just couldn’t believe Ash would fall victim to the partying lifestyle. He was such a strong person. Sure he was wild and a rocker, but he had never been into drugs. Not until this past year when everything changed and the band became somewhat of an overnight success.
Ashton and his two best friends, Liam and Chase started the band in high school. They started off small doing local gigs at the bar scene in their hometown of Irvine California. It didn’t take long before they were invited to play in bars in Los Angeles and the boys made the move North to LA. I met Ash there. I was attending the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising.
“Tess...Tess, do you hear me? Are you ready to go?” Paige waved her hand in front of my face.
“Yeah sorry. I’m ready.”
“Babe, Tess and I are going to take one of the trucks we will meet you at the restaurant.” I watched as Paige kissed her husband goodbye and he whispered something sweet to her that had her giggling. I envied them. They had an unbreakable love. It had been tested to the absolute limit but in the end it couldn’t be broken.
“Let’s go Tess.”
I followed my best friend toward the dim lit parking lot of the Oklahoma City fairgrounds.
“Alright spill it. I know you aren’t telling me everything, I know you better than that Tess. I know you are upset Ash is on drugs but I also know there is a lot more to it,” Paige demanded.
We had only made it half way into the parking lot. I thought she would at least let me get in the truck before she confronted me. I knew she could tell I wasn’t telling her everything. I also knew she wouldn’t pry it out of me until we were alone.
“Is it really as bad as what your face says it is?” She was studying me, trying to guess what horrible thing I would tell her next, as if what I already admitted wasn’t bad enough. “Was he cheating on you? Because I swear I will chop off—”
“He was doing that too but no, that isn’t what is wrong.” I hung my head in defeat. Not a single other person knew what I was about to say. I wasn’t worried Paige would tell someone but I was worried once I spoke the words out loud it would break me. I had been doing a hell of a job living in denial these past weeks but it had gone too far, it was time to face the truth.
“I’m pregnant.”
Paige gasped and rushed to hug me. “Oh God, Tess.”
I held onto her clinging to her warmth and goodness. I hoped that my body could soak it up like a sponge. I had literally traveled through hell and felt the full weight of all of Ash’s demons stuck to me. That’s the funny thing about dealing with an addict, even if you aren’t doing the drugs with them they can still make you feel you are.
“What are you going to do?” Paige pulled back from our hug and prepared to analyze my reactions.
“I’ve decided to keep it. I just… I just couldn’t bare the thought..” My voice cracked just thinking of the other possibilities.
“Does he know?”
“Yes,” I sighed in frustration. I winced thinking of the ugly scene that transpired between us.
“What did he say?” Paige prompted.
“He just started screaming at me that I was trying to trap him and that I was just like all the other groupie sluts. He wants nothing to do with me or this baby.” I knew the tears would come now. I could talk about everything else without cracking but not this, not his outright betrayal to me and our unborn child.
“Oh Tess!” Paige engulfed me in another huge hug as she saw the tears slip down my face.
I just shook my head in response fighting back the storm that was brewing inside of me. I would tell Paige the entire story but not yet. Everything was just too raw and I was trying my best to keep it together. Paige understood and let me quietly try to regain my composure.  It took a few minutes but the tears finally stopped.
“What do you want to do?” Paige asked.
Most people would probably assume she was talking about going to dinner but I knew she was asking much more than that.
“I’ve decided to come home. I’m leaving school. It’s for the best.” I felt a pang of despair thinking of how close I was to finishing my degree but in reality it no longer matter. My life had changed in an instant and what I thought was going to happen would never come to pass. I just had to accept it.
“Well, I always said we should be pregnant at the same time,” Paige said smiling brightly at me.
“You’re pregnant?” I asked surprised at her confession.
“Yes, Cutter doesn’t know yet. I am waiting to tell him until tonight. If he knew before the show he would’ve hovered over me the entire time. You know that would have pissed me off,” She explained, smiling at me. I was happy for my friends, they were getting everything they wanted in life.
“Alright, we better get going before every one wonders where we are. Everything is going to be okay Tess. I promise you it will be,” She said pulling me alongside her toward her large Dodge truck.
* * *

Two more days on the road and we would be home. I watched as the desert of Arizona whizzed by the passenger window of Paige’s truck. She convinced me to ride home with her claiming a road trip would be good for me. She and Cutter had an extra truck to drive home anyways since Cutter had bought a new one while in Oklahoma. I let Paige tell Cutter what was going on and he agreed a girl’s road trip would do me some good. We would be in California in another few hours. I tried to mentally prepare for the last leg of our journey but I knew it would be hard.
Paige and I were going to stop and pack up my apartment in LA and haul it back to Washington. I didn’t really have a game plan yet but Cutter and Paige insisted I stay with them until I figured it out. I was thankful I had them.
I also had the unfortunate task of telling my father the news when I returned home. I knew he was going to come unglued. My father and I have a strained relationship, at best. My Mother always blamed it on his own strict Chinese upbringing for his coldness. Nothing I did ever pleased him. He was less than thrilled when I announced I was going to study fashion and design in California. He thought I should become a doctor or lawyer. My Mother was the only one who could bridge that gap between us. I found myself missing her more and more lately. It had been hard to deal with my father since she passed away from breast cancer a year ago. I knew I could’ve confided in her about what was happening and she would have offered support without judgment.
My father on the other hand, could always be counted on to pass judgment. He had warned me about Ash and his lifestyle. He told me dating a rock star would end badly and he was right. It not just ended badly, it literally ruined me. But how could I have known? It had started out so differently. I closed my eyes hoping to drown out my anxiety of what was to come and find comfort in the memories of the Ash I once knew, the one that made me fall in love with him.
We met my first year at FIDM. I was living in an apartment outside of Los Angeles. I was on my own for the first time in my life and loving it. Well, that is until my apartment was almost broken into in the middle of the night, scaring the hell out of me. I had been asleep and I heard something crash in my living room. I jumped out of bed in a rush and flipped on every light I could, hoping to scare whoever or whatever made the noise. I was lucky because my tactic worked and I was only left with a broken window. The responding officer that night suggested maybe it was time for me to get a dog or alarm system if I was going to live on my own. I thought about it for a few days and ended up getting a dog. I’m not sure if I really rescued him or rescued his original owner. I found him on local website claiming they needed to re-home him. Moxie, a part schnauzer part who-the-heck knows puppy came home with me that day. The girl I adopted him from was a young college student who said she didn’t have time for a puppy. At the time I thought she was just immature and couldn’t handle the responsibility of dog. I thought she was giving him because she wanted to stay out and party but couldn’t do that with a puppy. But like I said that was what I thought at the time. I quickly began to realize I may have been mistakenly adopted a very small furry terrorist.
The first four months I cried myself to sleep in frustration almost every night. He may have been the cutest puppy ever but he was an absolute monster. He wouldn’t let me sleep, he crapped in the house, chewed on my furniture and worse he loved to eat my clothes! I was strongly considering giving him up when the girl next door invited me to the dog park. Her name was Karson and she had the cutest wiener dog named Wilma. Mox seemed to like her and two could play for hours. I quickly learned the trick to dog ownership was taking at least one trip to the dog park a day and lots of puppy play dates.
I had tried out many of the different dog parks around LA but Mox and I seemed to like the one closest to our house the best. It was there I met Ash and Indie. Indie was a beautiful blue nosed bully pit and she had an equally beautiful owner. He was tall dark and mysterious. Most of his arms were covered in tats. He even had a few on his neck. I had never really been attracted to that type of guy but there was something about him that intrigued me. His eyes were a deep chocolate brown and they looked like they held thousands of untold stories. I was captivated by him.
It took me a few weeks of before I finally worked up the nerve to talk to him while our dogs played. I started off by asking him about his dog. He quickly corrected me and told me it was his girlfriend’s dog that he was just taking care of because she worked during the day. As soon as he said the world girlfriend my gut twisted with jealousy. I didn’t even know his girlfriend but I was instantly jealous of her ability to be close to him. There was something haunting about him and it unnerved me. I wasn’t usually the type to be affected so easily. Sure I had my share of boyfriends but none that I ever held my interest for very long. But I could tell this guy was different, he could challenge everything I thought I knew about myself and the world.  

Chapter One
Five years later…
“Mom do you have to go?” Bianca, my beautiful and demanding five year old daughter pleaded from the backseat of my Volvo. I had to go to New York City for a few days. I had a meeting with a major retailer to sell my line of children’s clothes in their stores. About a year after Bianca was born I began developing a line of kid’s clothes and within two years I had my very own store. I named it Bows and Ties. The store has been doing great and my clothing line has been selling out online and in my little shop.
“Yes I have to go B. I thought you were excited to stay with Auntie Paige and Uncle Cutter. You love staying the night there. Don’t you want to play with Cadence and Weston?”
“I do but I’m going to miss you Mommy,” she said smiling sweetly as I glanced back at her in the mirror.
“Alright, let’s hear it. What do want?” Although I hated to admit it, she had the charisma and charm of her father. It was undeniable. She also had his dark features. At first her dark brown eyes were like a constant reminder of the pain he had caused me, but now I only remember the good times. Regardless of the way Ashton Parker had treated my heart he ended up giving me the best gift I could ever ask for, my beautiful baby girl. I know now I got the only good that man had to offer.
“Well… I was hoping that I could ride with Cadence while I was at Auntie Paige’s house.” Bianca unfortunately had become horse crazy thanks to her Aunt. Horses scared the hell out of me. They are huge animals that have minds of their own. I didn’t like the idea of my baby girl strapped to the back of one of them, but I knew she loved to ride so I have reluctantly agreed.
“Only if you promise to only ride The Biz and you have to have Aunt Paige lead him around,” I negotiated my terms. I knew Paige would look after her and wouldn’t let her get hurt but I still had my mommy anxiety.
“But Mom… I can steer on my own now,” She whined.
“Those are the rules. Take them or leave them,” I said sternly.
“Fine,” She huffed and folded her tiny little arms over her chest in defiance.
I tried not to laugh at her attitude. Ever since she turned five she had become exceedingly more dramatic. I turned up the radio in an attempt to distract both of us from the horse riding show down I had found myself in the middle of.
It only took a few seconds before I recognized the song and quickly changed the station. It was Southtown’s newest hit, Always. Of course it was a stupid fucking love song. I’m sure Ash had written it for his gorgeous super model girlfriend, Adrian Blackstone. She was the current “it” girl in Hollywood. She was tall, rail skinny and jaw-dropping perfect. She and Ash’s pictures were splashed on every tabloid; the media couldn’t get enough of their romance. It personally made me sick to my stomach every time I saw a picture of them together. The worst was standing in line at the grocery store. It seemed every tabloid had some story of them on the front. The hardest ones to see were the ones claiming she was pregnant. The first time I saw one claiming Adrian was going to have Ash’s baby, I ran to my car and cried in the parking lot for a half hour. I’m better now, I try to pretend I have no idea who Ash Parker is or ever was.
“Mom turn it back I love that song,” Bianca requested from the backseat in total ignorance.
Of course my daughter loves the one song that literally cuts daggers to my heart, but I remind myself this is the only connection to her father she will get. So I flip the station back and listen as my baby girl sings along with her father about always loving a woman that is not me or his daughter. I pray for the strength not to cry in front of her.  

* * *
I remind myself that Bianca will be fine and try to steady my nerves as I board the plane to New York City. Paige reassured me that she could handle everything. I know she can, but it is the first time I have left my baby girl for more than a night. For the past five years I have focused only on her and making her life the best it can be. That is why this trip is so important. Getting my clothing line in major department stores could really jump start my little business and give Bianca and I a new life.
I settle into my seat in the middle of the plane and put on my headphones. The sweet older lady next to me I could tell would like to chat but my nerves can’t deal with that right now. I need to zone out and try to relax. I click through the stations on my phone and land on top alternative hits. I never use to like alternative type music, I was always a pop type of gal but Ash had changed all that. Listening to angry music is the only reminiscing about my life with Ash that I allow. I listen to the painful melody of Halsey’s Hold Me down and it transports me back in time.
I had been going to the dog park every day, sometimes twice a day with Mox. The story I told myself is that I was doing it for Mox, so he could get his energy out. The real truth, however, was that I went every day to see him. We had become friends and our dogs were very clearly in love with each other. While the dogs would race around the park, Ash and I would sit and talk sometimes for hours. At first I tried to keep my feelings in check always reminding myself that he very much had a girlfriend. It wasn’t until one Sunday at the park Ash announced they had broken up. I listened quietly as he explained that they had been drifting apart for some time and the feelings weren’t there anymore. He explained that she left her dog, Indie with him because her new apartment wouldn’t accept a pet. I tried my best to seem empathetic when really I was overjoyed at the news, but it hardly mattered. Ashton Parker would never be interested in me; he liked bad girls that had dark secrets. Girls like his ex that had tattoos and liked to ride on the back of motorcycles. He would never be interested in a prissy straight-laced girl like me; we came from two different worlds.
“Mam? Mam?” I felt a tap on my shoulder. I turned in my seat startled to see the stewardess with the drink cart already. “Would you care for a drink?”
“Sure. Apple juice, please.”  I waited for the stewardess to fish a bottle of apple juice from her cart. After she handed me my drink I readjusted in my seat and continued to stare out the window of the plane thinking about the past. 
It was about a week after Ash’s breakup announcement that my whole world was flipped on its axis. Karson, my neighbor, and I had walked Wilma and Mox to the park to play. Karson and I had become pretty good friends. She frequently came to the park and would sit and chat with Ash and I. Karson, however, picked up on my dirty little secret right away seeing the monstrous crush I had on Ash. I prayed he had no idea. Karson loved to tease me frequently when it was just her and I about it. She thought Ashton had a thing for me too. I thought she was crazy. But looking back Karson was in fact right. That day Karson and met Ash in the park he invited us to a party his band was throwing at his house. Karson quickly accepted the invite for both of us. I just sat there staring at Ash thinking about what if he found out about my little secret crush on him.
The house was packed when we arrived. There were people spilling out onto the sidewalk as we walked up. Karson and I made our way inside to find Ash. It didn’t take us long and we found him in the kitchen entertaining a gaggle of girls. Every one of them was vying for his attention and making eyes at him. I smiled at him and he quickly left his group to greet us.
“So glad you made it. Can I get you ladies something to drink?”
“A beer would be great,” Karson shouted over the music.
“Tess?” He looked at me for an answer.
“Beer is fine,” I replied.
Ash grabbed two beers from the fridge and motioned for us to follow him. We did and we proceeded toward the backyard. It was a bit less crowded but not by much.
“I want to introduce you to my friends,” Ash explained as we came up to a group of guys near a keg. “Ladies this is Liam, Chase and Bronx.”
Three of the most gorgeous yet terrifying looking guys all directed their attention at us and said hello in unison. Liam had dark features and tan skin covered in tattoos. He looked like the very definition of a bad boy. Chase was equally as sexy with dirty blonde hair and hypnotic hazel eyes that made me blush. Bronx had fiery red hair and his skin was dusted with iridescent freckles. He looked like a rocker version of Prince Harry and I could tell the girls loved it.
Karson immediately perked up meeting Ash’s friends. She was a flirt and I could tell she was about to put on one hell of show for the guys. Ash must have noticed too because he chuckled lightly watching the guys take interest in her as well.
“Do you want to see Indie?”
“Sure,” I told him and followed him back in the house.
Ash led me to a room and unlocked a door with a key. “I locked her in my room because of all the people.”
As I crossed the threshold of the doorway Indie excitedly jumped off the bed and launched herself onto me. I stumbled backward from the impact crashing into Ash.
“Indie!” he scolded her and pushed her back.
“She’s fine. She probably thinks I have Mox with me.” I playfully pet Indie as I made my way in the room. I looked around at the surroundings of Ash’s bedroom mesmerized. It felt strangely intense being in his personal space. There is something intriguing about being in someone’s bedroom for the first time.
“Actually, I think she is just excited to see you,” Ash’s words pulled me from my intimate assessment of his room. I turn to look at him and he is watching me. I feel a shiver run down my spine realizing something unspoken is passing between us, which excites me and terrifies me at the same time.
Ash closes the small space between us and grabs my beer from my hands setting it on the nightstand table behind me. I don’t have a clue what he is doing but I know that if I talk I will ruin whatever is about to happen, so I remain quiet.
“The truth is Tess it’s not just Indie who’s excited to see you. I am too,” he reveals in a husky tone.
I can feel my Asian skin turning pink and my eyes growing wide as I watch Ash’s eyes roam over mine. I’m still too afraid to talk so I just stand there completely still waiting for him to reveal what he is thinking.
“I like you Tess,” he proclaimed.
“You do?” I wasn’t trying to by coy or shy. I was seriously in shock that he just said that. I wasn’t his type and I think we both understood that.
He let out a deep laugh that was almost devious. “Yes, I do.”
I again couldn’t speak. None of this made sense. Sure we had become friends over time and yes we flirted but never did I think he would be interested in me.
“Tess…” I refocused when Ash reaches out and lightly brushes a stray stand of hair out of my face. When I look up at him our eyes locked and I can feel the heat between us. I may not have understood what was happening between us but I could sure feel it. Something in my expression must have given me away because Ash swiftly kissed me. It was unlike anything I had ever felt before. It literally made me lightheaded but in the most amazing way. It wasn’t a gentle kiss but that’s what made it so incredible. Before I could realize it I was pushed against his bedroom wall pinned relishing in his demanding kisses. Somewhere in the back of my mind a voice told me to slow down and think about things but I ignored it. I had always wondered what it would feel like to kiss the mysterious and dangerous Ashton Parker and I was not going to lose my chance now.  

Chapter Two

“Miss… Miss hello?” I felt someone tapping my shoulder gently. I pried my eyes open to find myself in a totally empty airplane minus the stewardess who was delicately trying to wake me.
“Oh sorry I must have really been out,” I told her awkwardly as I stood up to leave.
“Happens all the time,” she said as she flashed me a sympathetic smile. I smiled back and thanked her as I grabbed my carry-on and hustled off the plane.
And hour later and a cab ride from hell through New York City I was finally at my hotel. I was relieved to be there and get settled in. The retailer interested in my clothes had paid for my room and it was beautiful. It was corner suite overlooking Central Park. After I settled in I called Paige to check on Bianca.
            "Hey lady! How is New York?” Paige asked excitedly.
“Great. I just got in. How is everything at home?
“Well let’s see it has been pouring buckets since you left… Cadence and Bianca are busy playing dolls in their make-shift fort Cutter built them in the living room. And Weston is busy trying to break it down so the girls have been chasing him around the house trying to catch him for the last hour. So yeah everything is good.”
I could hear the kids screaming in the background. Only Paige would be so nonchalant surrounded by such chaos. “I seriously owe you big time, huh?”
“Nah, we love having B here. You know that.”
“I know… it’s just I haven’t left her before. It has always just been me and her, you know?” I tried to keep my voice from cracking as I confessed my feelings to my best friend.
“I know Tess but she is fine, really she’s having a blast. You are doing the right thing and it is going to go great tomorrow so stop stressing.”
Paige knows me so well. I didn’t even have to tell her I was having anxiety about the meeting she just knew.
“Can I talk to B real quick?”
“Bianca, your momma is on the phone!” I heard Paige scream but with no answer.
“I think they ran upstairs do you want me to go get her?” Paige asked.
“No, I’ll call back before I go to sleep. I’m going to go find something to eat, I’m starving.”
“Sounds good. I’ll tell her you will call her before bedtime.”
“Talk to you soon,” Paige said before she hung up the phone.
* * *
Across the street from the hotel was a cute little deli and bakery. I ordered a club sandwich to go. It didn’t take long and I was headed back through the lobby of the hotel when I saw her, Adrian Blackstone and all her glory. I had never seen her in person before, but of course she was more beautiful than her pictures suggested. I physically felt ill seeing her. I knew she had nothing to do with my breakup with Ash and she probably had no idea I even existed but something made me instantly hate her. I knew it was unfair but it didn’t matter. She had the heart of the man that had stolen mine years ago and had yet to give it back, in some ways that made her an evil accomplice that deserved my disdain.
I continued to stand their watching the long-legged supermodel strut across the marble floor of the hotel’s grand lobby thinking how cruel life is when I heard a voice that made my hair stand on end.
“Babe!” Ashton Parker came through the front doors of the hotel just in time to greet his gorgeous girlfriend. She willingly went into his arms and they shared a passionate kiss. I watched in horror as I felt a thousand knives cut into my heart. If I thought life was cruel a few minutes earlier, I now realized it was an evil bitch that was dead set on revenge. All of it was too much to take in. I quickly turned and made my way to the elevator. There was no way I wanted to risk coming face to face with my past, especially not when his leggy supermodel girlfriend was wrapped around him like a pretzel.
I felt ill the rest of the night. I didn’t eat my sandwich, I just couldn’t. I called Bianca and said goodnight. Paige could tell something was up when I talked to her again but I didn’t want to get into it. The only thing I wanted to do was fall asleep and attempt to erase what I had witnessed earlier. I needed ten hours of solid sleep and I would feel like myself again. I would be ready for my big meeting. I kept reminding myself I wouldn’t let anything wreck this opportunity I was given, not even Ashton Parker and his new supermodel girlfriend.
* * *
“Well congratulations, Tess. We have a deal.” I reached up and shook the hands of the department store executives. I couldn’t believe it. They had met every one of my conditions and then some. My line of kid’s clothes was going to be sold around the world in less than six months. This was a game changer for me. I could now expand my store and hire someone to run it while I worked on my new designs. I couldn’t wait to call Paige and Bianca to tell them the great news.
After I said my goodbyes and signed what seemed like a thousand pieces of paper I headed back to my hotel. I climbed out of the taxi, paid the driver and began walking toward the front doors.
I should have known he was there. I have always been able to sense him when he is close, but I had hoped it was just a cool breeze and my high from my meeting that gave me shivers.
I stopped instantly hearing his voice and looked up to only to be met by the one man who left me in pieces.
“Hello Ash,” I replied as politely as I could.
He stepped closer to me and I could feel his eyes roaming over me, analyzing every detail of me.
“How are you?” He asked, eagerly.
“What do you want Ash?” I had no patience for his shit. I was having one of the best days of my life and this asshole had to go and ruin everything.
He shifted nervously. “Look I know I owe you an explanation—”
“No actually you don’t. We are good,” I cut him off.
He sucked in a deep breath. “Tess I would really like to talk. I think there are things to discuss.”
I always knew deep down this day would come. I realized long ago it was a possibility he would want to know about his daughter, possibly even meet her. But why of all days did it have to be today.
“Fine, what do you want to discuss.” I was being purposefully hateful but I couldn’t help it. This man cast me aside while I was pregnant with his child. To me he was the lowest level of pond scum there was. I just wished my body and heart responded the same way my mind did to him.
“I can’t talk right now but will you meet me tonight? Ten O’clock at the bar in the lobby, okay?” There was a hint of desperation in his voice that seemed odd.
“Alright,” I replied curtly and began walking toward the hotel entrance once again.
“Tess…” he grabbed my arm before I could leave sending a jolt of electricity shooting through my body. “Please come tonight. There are things that I need to say.”
I didn’t answer him; I just nodded my head once letting him know I would be there. He let go of my arm and quickly disappeared into a waiting black SUV.
I quickly hurried through the busy hotel to my room. I needed to think and get my shit together before I had to meet Ash. I knew what he wanted but I wasn’t sure I was ready to give it to him. I understand that he is Bianca’s father but he had made it very clear that he wanted no part of our lives. He may have had a change of heart in the last five years but I have no forgotten what he had done. Disgusting things like that can’t every truly be erased.  

Chapter Three
“Holy balls, Tess! Congrats!” Paige squealed in my ear over the phone. I had just told her the good news about my clothing line.
“Thanks, I think it will be great.” I was distracted and not really paying attention to the conversation with Paige. I was so preoccupied with worrying about meeting Ash soon.
“What the hell is going on? I can hear you stressing over the phone. You need to relax this is great news.”
I knew Paige thought I was having anxiety over the clothing line deal I struck today but in reality I hadn’t even been able to think anything about it since running into Ash in the front of the hotel today. I could care less about my clothing line or any of it now. The only thing that truly mattered to me was Bianca and Ashton Parker had the ability to ruin everything for her.
“I saw him today,” I said quietly into the phone.
“Who?” Paige asked in total confusion.
I didn’t answer her. I refused to say his name.
“Oh shit. What does he want? Are you okay?” My friend was catching on to my fragile mental state.
“He wants to talk. I agreed to meet him in the hotel bar in a few minutes.”
“Do you think he wants to see B?” Paige asked nervously.
“I don’t know. I’m not sure what he wants. He could want joint or sole custody for all I know.” My voice cracked on the last part. I was going to come apart at the seams any minute.
“That’s not going to happen. No court in their right mind would award him any type of custody. He’s an addict.”
“Yes, but he is a famous addict with lots of money. I know him Paige; if he wants her nothing will stop him.”
“Then we will fight him. Cutter and I will help you. He will not take your daughter from you Tess. I promise you.”
“He’s taken everything else from me.”
“Listen to me, Tess. You need to get your head on straight. You need to go into this with confidence and fight. You can’t let him mess with your head. Do you hear me?” Paige was almost shouting now. I couldn’t blame her. She was trying to desperately to get my head back in the game.
“I hear you. I just need a few minutes to think before I have to go meet him. I’m going to go splash some cold water on my face and get ready. I love you Bestie. I’ll call you after.”
I didn’t wait for her reply, I just hung up.
Paige was right though, I had to fight. I needed to go downstairs with a clear head and clear objective. I would not let Ashton Parker try to destroy me, not this time around. 

* * *
When I arrived in the lobby bar I didn’t see Ashton so I just sat down at the first table near the door. I figured if things went really bad I could at least make a quick break for it. The bar was pretty empty except for a few business men who were loudly recalling their glory days of college and a couple practically dry humping each other in a corner both across the room. I nervously played on my phone as I waited for Ash. I didn’t exactly know what to wear I paced in front of the bathroom mirror in my room several times trying on different outfits, but none seemed the right thing to wear when meeting your ex randomly after five years.
“When did you do that?” I heard from behind me, startling me forcing me to drop my phone to the tabletop. He grabbed my wrist and stared at it. I peered up at a very sexy Ashton Parker dressed in dark jeans and sporting my most favorite very worn-in leather jacket.
“Huh?” I didn’t know what he was talking about all I could think about is how good he looked and how he made my skin burn from his touch. I quickly reminded myself how much I hated him and what his true purpose was for this meeting.
Ash could see the anger slid over my face and take hold. He dropped my wrist and walked around to the empty chair across from me. “The tat. When did you get it? I never took you for a tattoo girl.”
That pissed me off somehow. I could get a tattoo if I wanted, it had nothing to do with him if that was what he was thinking. He was not the boss of me. I had gotten it on Bianca’s first birthday. I had survived my first year of single parenthood and I felt like I needed to commemorate it some way. It was a simple tattoo. On the inside of my right wrist I had the word faith in cursive script. It was done in white ink so it wasn’t too noticeable but it did glow off my tan skin if you were paying attention or got close enough.
“I got it a while ago,” I snapped back. I refused to offer any other explanation.
“I like it. It suits you,” he said looking at me intently.
The heat from his stare was making it hard for me to think straight. I felt my old self, my weak self, coming back.
“Can I get you two a drink?” A very perky waitress appeared at our table. She smiled brightly at Ash and I could tell she recognized him as the mega rock star he had become. I don’t think she even looked in my direction.
“Diet coke for me. Tess what would you like?” Ash looked at me waiting for a response.
“Oh, um, water is just great,” I told our waitress, not looking at Ash.
“I’ll get that right away Mr. Parker,” the perky waitress said before she scampered off.
“I’m surprised you didn’t order your usual gin and tonic. Giving your liver a break for a few hours?” I surprised myself at the bitter jab. But it was the truth. The Ash I knew loved his alcohol and was always ready to party.
“I’m four years sober in December,” he said quietly.
I instantly felt like a jerk, not that he hadn’t deserved that jab, but I was sorry I had thrown his addiction in his face like that. “Sorry. I wasn’t aware you had stopped drinking.”
“It’s okay. A lot has changed since we saw each other last. It’s been a long time, Tess.” He smiled slightly.
“It has been a long time Ash. The last time I saw you I promised myself it would be the last. So please tell me why I am here right now?” I was ready to get to the bottom of this. I needed to know what it was Ash wanted to say and if it was about Bianca I had to decide what I was going to do about that.
Ash took a deep sigh and placed his hands on the table. He was clearly struggling with whatever he wanted to say. I braced myself for the worst.
“I wanted to talk to you about that night you left. I need to explain some things to you. I owe it to you and I know that—”
“Ash, I moved on a long time ago. I don’t need to go over it, I really don’t,” I cut him off.
“Maybe you don’t but I need to say some things so if you would just please hear me out,” he pleaded.
I simply nodded hoping to just let him say whatever he needed and get the hell out of there.
“First off I wanted to tell you how sorry I am for everything. I made a mess of my life and yours. I was spiraling out of control and forced you right along with me. I’m so sorry for that, Tess.” His dark chocolate eyes looked so distraught I couldn’t help but feel a twinge of sadness for him. Addiction is a dirty evil thing and it rarely just messes up one person’s life, it has the lethal ability to obliterate anyone in its path.
“My alcohol and drug abuse had become so insane. I was drinking and using every day. I know you knew this, even though I thought I was hiding it well. I know I did horrible things and I said horrible things. Some I remember and some I’m sure I have no idea about, and for that I am also sorry. I need you to know that Tess. I know I abandoned you and you must hate me for that. I know that is why you disappeared. I don’t blame you for that. It was probably the smartest choice you ever made. I want you to know that I tried to reach out to you when I was in rehab several times but no one could track you down. I’m sorry this apology has taken so long. You really should have gotten it years ago. I have hurt a lot of people and it has taken me years to repair those relationships but I never got the chance with you. I needed to try to at least make some sort of amends. My counselor at rehab always would tell me it was never good to have ghosts from the past because they will eventually become demons in my future.” He half smiled at me waiting for my reaction.
I was totally confused. He didn’t mention anything about Bianca or me ever being pregnant. Did he not remember? Should I ask him or should I just let it go?
My thoughts were interrupted when my cell phone buzzed on the table in front of us. B’s smiling face projected back across the screen. What impeccable timing. I quickly hit the ignore button and flipped my phone over, hoping the picture had gone unnoticed.
“You have a daughter?” He asked.
“Uh yes, she’s a girl.” I spat back him.
“How old is she?” Is he serious right now?
“Uh, five,” I replied confused at his cat and mouse game he was playing.
“But you’re not married,” He asked and pointed to my ring finger.
“No I’m not,” I answered in complete confusion.
“Is her father in the picture?” He asked seemingly sincere. My mouth dropped open.
Holy shit. He doesn’t know. He freaking doesn’t have a clue we have a daughter. Should I tell him? What if I didn’t tell him? Will that make me a horrible person? Is that fair to Bianca?
“I’m sorry that’s none of my business.” He looked apologetic.
“No, it’s fine. I’m just not used to people asking questions. We have just always been on our own so sometimes I forget that’s not really the norm.”  It wasn’t a total lie, but it wasn’t exactly the truth either.
“Well she is a lucky girl to have you as a Mom, Tess.” He smiled at me.
Do I tell him? What do I say? Should I just blurt it out?
I didn’t know what to do, so I took the easy road and did nothing. I’m so going to hell for this. “Thanks. Well I should probably be going.” I stood up indicating our little reunion was over.
Ash stood up as well. “Thanks for meeting me tonight, Tess. I’m so glad I ran into you. I’m glad I could finally put a few more of my demons to rest.”
I smiled back at him. I was truly happy for him. I was glad he was sober and I accepted his apology. Although, it couldn’t change what happened between us at least now I could get rid of some of the pain I felt.
“I accept your apology, Ash. I wish you nothing but the best.” I don’t know what possessed me, maybe it was the sadness in his eyes or maybe I just wanted one last touch from the man who drove me wild, but I reached up and kissed his cheek. Ash was caught off guard by my boldness, but he quickly responded by grabbing ahold of my shoulders clutching me so close to him. He stared deep into my eyes and I knew he felt the same thing. It was still there between us after all this time. It would probably always be there, that potent toxic connection. I once lived for that feeling but now I just fear it, because I know wherever it is, pain quickly follows.
“Tess…” Ashton wanted to vocalize what was happening between us but didn’t quite know how and I couldn’t let him pull me back in.
“Take care of you Ash,” I said stoically. I turned and walked away out of his grasp for the last time. 
Chapter Four 

I hadn’t slept a wink when I boarded my plane back to Washington. I was more than exhausted; I was dead on my feet. I tried to put everything that happened with Ash last night out of my mind but I just couldn’t let it go. I eventually called Paige to tell her what had happened. She was just as shocked as I was that he didn’t have a clue about Bianca and me she didn’t exactly agree with my choice not to tell him. I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised Ash didn’t remember I had been pregnant. He did tell me there are things he remembers and some he just can’t. I guess that horrible day is one his mind erased all together. I wish I could say the same.
I climbed into my window seat and tried my hardest to sleep. If I just had some rest I could think things out, but of course my subconscious had other plans. 

Five years earlier…
“Tessa you have to come, he needs you. You know you’re the only one he will listen to,” Liam pleaded with me over the phone.
“Fine. What time are we doing this?” I asked exasperated that things had declined this far.
“Six o’clock at the house. All the guys will be there,” He told me.
“I’ll be there,” I replied and hung up.
I swore two weeks ago I would never go back in that house. I had broken up with Ash for the last time. Things had become a nightmare and Ash had turned into more than just a monster. His addiction had completely taken over his life. He couldn’t go a day without drinking and using now. What started out as his “recreational drug use” turned into habitual use in a little over a year.
The first time I had caught Ash using coke was the day his band, Southtown was tapped to open up for the Kings of Leon on their next big tour. The guys threw a huge house party and like usual it went into the wee hours of the night. I had fallen asleep in Ash’s room and I woke up wondering where he was and I found him in the living room snorting coke from the kitchen counter with two other guys I had never met before. I of course freaked out at him and left. I had never been one to do drugs or even be around people who did. It was a deal breaker for me and I told him that. I accepted that day that his rocker lifestyle was not for me. We were worlds apart. However, the next day I woke to find Ashton sleeping on my doorstep. He apologized and swore it would never happen again. I agreed to forgive him on the condition he would never use drugs again. I was such a fool.
“Hey Tess. Glad you came girl,” Chase said as he let me in their grand beachfront mansion. The boys bought the house shortly after the tour with the Kings of Leon. It’s a gorgeous house with tons of bedrooms all overlooking the Pacific Ocean.
“Where is he?” I asked Chase nervously looking past him.
“Grant took him to dinner. They should be back soon. Everyone else is in the living room.”
Grant was the guys’ manager. He had always indulged Ash in his partying ways but now I suppose even this had surpassed his limits.
“Hi Tess,” Liam hugged me when I entered the living room that held about a half dozen of Ash’s friends.
“Hey,” I smiled weakly at him.
“Okay, I think we are all here. If you could all just take a seat. Grant and Ash will be here soon but I wanted to say a few things first so we are all on the same page.” I could tell Chase was on edge as he addressed us.
I took a seat next to Liam on the couch and leaned against him for support.
“Everyone knows that Ash has hit a new low here. He is completely off the rails. Liam and I believe he’s using every day and we know he is completely dependent on alcohol. Things can’t continue like this. He has to get help. Grant has arranged for him to go to a place in Texas but he has to agree. I think it is important that you all know that Liam and I have talked about it at some length and if he won’t get help we are kicking him out of Southtown.”
An audible gasp sounded from a couple people. I’m sure to some in this room the breakup of the band was unconscionable, but to others like myself, it was the only way force him to get help.  Ashton only had one thing left he truly cared about and it sure as hell wasn’t me. I’m not sure when he stopped caring about me but I knew it had been a long time. It was crystal clear when I walked in on him two weeks ago making out with a random chick on the balcony of his bedroom. I had no clue who she was, probably a groupie that came to party. It didn’t really matter who she was, it had been over for a long time, and she was just the final nail in the coffin. He didn’t even make an attempt to apologize or deny it. Instead he offered to have a three way with me. He was obviously high as shit so I left without a scene and I hadn’t returned until tonight.
“I heard what happened a couple weeks ago. I asked around and found out who that chick was and it turns out she is friends with Grant’s girlfriend. We banned her from the house,” Liam said quietly to me as we waited for Ash’s arrival.
“It’s alright Liam. It doesn’t really matter. Things between us had been done for a long time; I just wasn’t willing to let him go.”
“I’m sure when he gets clean he will make things right. He loves you. He has always loved you, Tess.”
My heart broke a little bit more in that moment. It was hard enough having that conversation with myself but now that Liam was saying it, it was even harder to accept things were truly over.
“I love you Liam,” I told him at an attempt to keep my emotions held back.
Liam just gave me a small smile in return. He knew I was having tough time and I appreciated him not pushing me to talk more.
My mind was reeling. I had found out that afternoon I in fact was carrying Ash’s baby. I couldn’t even begin to process it. I only agreed to come here to get Ashton sober. There was no hope for our relationship that was over, but I needed him to be sober for our baby.
“Whoa, what the fuck is this shit!” I heard the front door hit the wall behind it. Ash was home.
“Just hear everyone out first,” Grant said closing the door that had been flung open by Ash.
“Absolutely fucking not. You fuckers can all go to hell. I know what you’re doing. I’m not going to some program. I don’t have a problem,” he said as he stumbled into the room.
He was clearly drunk and high out of his mind.
“Ash, man, we just want to talk.” Chase stood up trying to coax him in the room.
“You know what Chase you can go fuck yourself. You know what your problem is, you’re a pussy. You never could party hard,” Ash slurred.
“Come on Ash, we all care about you,” Liam tried.
“What is she doing here?” Ash pointed at me and glared. “I thought we were done.”
I ignored him.
“She cares about you too,” Liam continued.
“Nah, she don’t. She hates me. She can’t stand me. She doesn’t like my partying. But guess what, this is me. I’m a rock star and this is what rock star’s do!” he screamed the last part at me.
“We just want to get you healthy, Ash. You can’t keep going like this,” Grant tried to step in.
“I don’t have a problem!” Ash screamed again.
I watched Chase standing nearby not saying anything but I could tell he was getting more pissed by the redness climbing up his neck to his face.
“We are kicking you out of the band,” Chase said calmly but with force.
“You’re what? You can’t do that. I am the band. I am Southtown. I’m the fucking lead singer. There is no band without me!” Ash was hitting a new level now.
“Then there won’t be a band. Liam and I agree on this, man. Either you go to rehab or we refuse to play with you.”
Ash lunged at Chase taking a swing at him but Grant quickly grabbed him around the waist and restrained him. My heart broke for Chase. I could see how difficult it was for him to say that to his best friend, but it was necessary. He was trying to save his life.
“Fuck you. Fuck you both. You can take the band and shove it up your asses!” Ash wiggled out from Grant’s hold and stormed up the stairs. A few seconds later we heard his bedroom door slam so hard it shook the walls.
“Well that went well,” Liam said looking defeated next to me.
“He’s not going to go, he’d rather kill himself than get help,” Chase said almost in whisper.
Against my better judgment I stood up and headed toward the stairs.
“Where are you going Tess? I don’t think that’s a good idea right now. He’s really out of it tonight,” Liam pleaded with me.
“It’s okay. I need to say something to him. It may just change his mind,” I told him and proceeded up the stairs.
What Chase and Liam didn’t know is that I held a trump card and I was hoping it was just enough to get Ash to agree to help.
“Ash? Can I come in?” I said lightly knocking on his door.
It took him a while before he swung the door open letting me come inside. “What do you want?”
“I need to tell you something.”
“Fine, but make it quick. I’m out of here. Screw those douche bags.” He was crazily throwing crap from his dresser on the floor and clothes from his closet in a bag.
“Can you stop and listen for a moment? This is important?” I pleaded with him.
He stopped his madness and looked at me. In that brief moment I could almost see the man I used to love. He was there, underneath the booze and drugs. It gave me the encouragement I needed.
“Ash, I’m pregnant,” I blurted out and then nervously waited for his reaction.
He was quiet for minute. I watched as the man I used to know processed what I was saying. I think I even saw excitement in his eyes but it was quickly erased by the black demon he had been fighting. He stared at me, searching my face for something. It gave me chills and I knew it wasn’t going to be good.
“Get the fuck out!” He screamed all of a sudden and pointed at the door.
“No Ash, we need to talk about this!” I screamed back at him. I had hoped he was having a moment of clarity but I was clearly wrong.
“No, get the fuck out of here. I never thought you were a groupie slut like the rest of them but I guess you fooled me. You’re just saying that to try to trap me so you can take all my money. You’re just a fame whore like the rest of them. But you know what, that’s not going to happen. I don’t give a shit if you are carrying my child. I don’t want anything to do with you or it. No one is going to trap me. You were just a piece of pussy. There is plenty more out there.”
I shuddered at his harsh words. “You don’t mean that. It’s just the drugs talking.”
He didn’t even respond he just grabbed his wallet and pulled out a wad of bills, tossing them on the ground in front of me. “Here, take care of it. I never want to hear another word from you.”
He grabbed his bag, pushing past me and left. I stayed in his room letting the tears slide down my face. I knew then I was truly alone. Ash was too far gone. He was broken and there was nothing left of him. The good in him was all gone and all that remained was evil. It was then I realized I was going to have to do this all on my own. Ash would never know his child.
Three days later Ash overdosed in a hotel room. I had already left town and when I returned to get my stuff Ash had already checked himself out of his first rehab. There was no choice for me; I had to move on focus on my baby.  

Chapter Five

“Momma!” Bianca ran up to me jumping in my arms as I got out of my car.
“Oh it’s good to see you baby,” I said squeezing her tightly against my chest. It felt so good to be home. Maybe now I could sort everything out and make sense of what I needed to do or not do.
After my plane landed in Seattle I drove the entire two hours north thinking of what had transpired in New York. I would be lying if I didn’t say I was having some serious doubts about my decision to not tell Ash about Bianca. Perhaps I had made a colossal mistake.
“Glad your home, Bestie.” Paige gave me a comforting hug.
“Thanks. I’m glad to be back,” I told her.
“Come in, I have tea ready in the kitchen,” She said leading the way inside.
“Mommy can I go play with Cadence?” B smiled up at me.
“Sure baby. I’ll be in the kitchen with Auntie Paige.”
I watched B run off around the side of the house towards the giant swing set where Cadence was playing. I watched my baby girl smile like she didn’t have a care in the world and I hoped that would remain true. I hoped I hadn’t made a decision she would hate me for later on.
“Alright, let’s hear it,” I could tell Paige was all ready to give me a lecture.
“What?” Paige said shrugging her shoulders in denial.
“I know you have an opinion on what I did, so let’s hear it.”
“Okay, look I get it. I understand you are protection Bianca. You don’t want her to get hurt by him. I can see that. But do you think maybe you’re doing it for other reasons as well?” Paige leaned over the counter and sipped her tea waiting for my reaction.
“Like what?”
“Like maybe you don’t want Ash in her life because it’s easier on you.”
I immediately felt myself recoil in defense at her accusation. “No!”
“Okay,” she said holding up her hands in an attempt to diffuse the situation. “I just had to ask. I could understand why you would feel that way. I know I did when I was in that situation with Cutter.”
She was not playing fair now bringing up her past with Cutter. They had been broken up and Paige found out she was pregnant and she wasn’t going to tell him until I convinced her to tell him.
“It’s totally different. You guys were just recently broken up and he wasn’t an addict. I told Ash I was pregnant and he wanted nothing to do with either of us. In fact he told me to get rid of it and tossed a wad of cash in my face. He just now claims he doesn’t remember that.”
“Do you believe him?” Paige asked the real question. If I believed Ash had no idea he had a daughter then maybe just maybe he deserves to have a second chance to know her, but if I thought he did know then he was just the world’s worst person ever.
“I don’t know… I think he is telling the truth.” Actually I knew Ash was telling the truth. The old Ash, the sober one, was the one I had met again in New York and deep down I knew he wasn’t a liar.
“So what are you going to do?” Paige pressed me, knowing she would get me to crack.
I let out a deep sigh and looked out the kitchen window to the kids playing outside. I hadn’t fully come to a decision until I saw Bianca. When I saw her, I knew I couldn’t deny her a chance to know her Dad, even if I hated him to the core.
“I’m going to tell him,” I muttered still not looking at her.
“I thought you would say that so I did a little research.” She grabbed her tablet from the counter and put it down in front of me. “Southtown is coming to Seattle next month.”
Of course they were. “I guess I will tell him then. I suppose I could try to get a hold of Liam or Chase and they could get me backstage.”
“I think it’s the right decision. Cutter and I have been talking about it and if you want me to go with you I will.”
“You told Cutter?” I demanded slightly pissed.
“Yeah of course I did. I wanted a male prospective,” she said totally unaware of my annoyance.
“And what did Cutter think?” I was curious now.
“He thought you should tell him even though he thinks he is a piece of shit.” She smiled lightly at me. “Oh and he said he would kill him with his bare hands if he hurts you or B.”
Typical Cutter. He had become like an older brother to me and was fiercely protective of me. When I started dating again Cutter had more questions than Paige did about the guys. I loved him for that. Since my Mother had passed away and my father and I had a strained relationship, Paige and Cutter were my family. I depended on them and I trusted them.
“Well I better get B home. I need some rest.”
Paige rounded the counter and hugged me once again. “It’s for the best. You will see.”
“I hope your right.” I hugged her back and thanked her for taking care of Bianca.
* * *
It had been a week since I was in New York and I had come to terms with my decision to tell Ash. I hadn’t reached out to Liam or Chase yet. I didn’t want to give them a chance to tell Ash I was coming. I needed the element of surprise on this so I didn’t lose my nerve.
I was working in my office in the back of my shop Bows & Ties. I had gotten the new designs for the store from the architect. I was expanding the store since landing the clothing deal with the department store. I heard the front door chime and I assumed it was Paige dropping off Bianca. I had asked Paige to pick her up from kindergarten today so I could meet with the builder and architect about the store.  
I was just coming out of the office with Sadie met me in the hall. Sadie just graduated high school and had been working for me for the last couple years. She was a bubbly and blonde. The good Lord had blessed her with more looks than brains, but she was sweet and easy to be around so she made the perfect employee.
“Uh there is someone here for you,” She told me looking slightly confused. I didn’t think much of it though, because Sadie is generally always confused.
“Thanks Sadie,” I told her as I passed her and headed toward the front of the store, assuming it was likely one of the guys I had met with about expanding the store.
I stopped dead in my tracks though when I saw who it was standing there waiting for me.
“Hi Tess,” he said in that low seductive tone that used to make me shiver with desire. He was dressed to kill in his dark washed jeans ripped jeans, black hoodie and dark baseball hat. His neck tattoos peeking out from behind his sweatshirt. He was equal parts dangerous and equal parts sexy as hell. I felt my stomach flip flop and forced myself to remember that he was evil incarnate.
“What are you doing here, Ash?” I demanded.
“I came to see you,” he said through a sly smile.
“I can see that, but why?”
“I needed to see you. After seeing you in New York I decided I needed to see you again because—”
He stopped talking as soon as he heard the door chime behind him and I watched in utter horror as my worst nightmare came to light.
Bianca came bounding in the store. “Mommy! Guess what Auntie Paige just bought me.”
I watched as Bianca then noticed I was talking to a stranger and she fixated on him. “Hi!”
I leaned down and protectively picked B up in my arms. It was just an instinct I had to shield her from him. Once B was in my arms I looked back at Ash and I could see his face had changed. He was staring back at her and I knew he was slowly piecing it together. It was pretty easy when you saw her in person. She looked just like him with her dark curls and dark eyes. Plus she had his same charisma and charm.
“Okay don’t get mad. I didn’t buy her a horse, just riding lessons—” Paige stopped talking as soon as she realized what she had just walked in on. “Oh shit.”
“Paige, will you take B for a while?” I asked walking over and handing her my baby girl.
Paige nodded and took B from me.
I waited until they left the store before I tried to speak again.

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