It was still early in the morning as a pair of little feet clad in pink and white sneakers skipped down the path. Waving at the guard stationed at the back door, Elaina stopped in front of him and motioned for him to bed down.
Keeping a serious look on his face, Juan crouched in front of the little girl, whom all the guards adored. They still laughed over how she managed to get her pony, Goldie, into the boss’s bedroom. “Good morning Miss Elaina,” he said with a nod.
“It’s Deego’s birfday!” Elaina announced in a loud whisper.
“Then it’s a very special day,” Juan responded.
Elaina nodded. “My Mommy say I wake up Deego!”
Juan bit back his smile as the little girl bounced on her toes excitedly. “You know what, I have a feeling Diego will love to be woken up by you this morning.”
Waiting as patiently as she could – which wasn’t easy – Elaina clapped her hands as Juan opened the door.
Tearing up the back stairs as fast as her little legs could carry her, Elaina reached the landing and tiptoed to Diego’s door, finding it cracked open. Being as quiet as possible, she pushed open the door and slipped inside. Diego was sure going to be surprised!
The startled yell from down the hall woke Lorenzo and Skye. Groaning, Lorenzo rolled over and looked at the clock. It was six in the morning. A high pitched scream and giggle soon followed and Lorenzo pulled the pillow over his head. “It’s too early,” he claimed from under the pillow.
Skye reached over and took the pillow off his face. “Get used to it,” she said, sitting up. “Once these two arrive neither of us will be sleeping peacefully.”
Of course she was right. Lorenzo usually wasn’t one to sleep in anyway, but he had been up late with Jason and their security team, working on their first strike against Manny and Mateo. He could have sworn he had just laid down when all the commotion began.
“Don’t you want to find out what’s going on?” Skye asked.
“Not really,” Lorenzo said, rolling over to look at her. “I’d rather lie here with you.”
Smiling, Skye kissed the tip of his nose. “Today’s going to be a busy day,” she said. “What time is Diego’s gift being delivered?” she asked.
“It’ll be here this afternoon,” Lorenzo said, brushing his fingers through her hair, cupping the nape of her neck and pulling her closer. “I’m having it brought in in an unmarked trailer so he won’t know what it is until we’re ready.”
“He’s going to love it,” Skye said, her lips inches from his.
Nodding in agreement, Lorenzo closed the small gap between them, taking her lips in a deep kiss.
Wrapping her arms around him, Skye pulled him closer to her – or as close as she could with her large belly between them. She moaned softly and parted her lips for him, his tongue sliding between her lips.
Deepening the kiss, Lorenzo slid his hand from the nape of her neck down her back, feeling her shiver at his touch. Rolling her onto her back, Lorenzo leaned up on his elbow, hovering over her.
Breaking the kiss when the need for air arose, Lorenzo looked down into the eyes of the woman he loved, the woman who was the mother of his children, the woman who had been by his side through the good and the bad.
“You are so beautiful,” he whispered, voice thick with the undeniable love he felt for her. Over the last couple of years, Skye Chandler-Quartermaine had become his saving grace – and he was going to treasure her until his dying day.
Not sure how to respond to the overwhelming emotions in Lorenzo’s eyes, Skye swallowed the lump in her throat. This man had given her so much without even realizing it. He gave her a sense of purpose and belonging, a feeling of being needed and wanted – of loved unconditionally; he gave her the two amazing miracles growing inside of her and a family that loved her for who she was – faults and all. She wasn’t sure she could put into words what she felt for this man. There weren’t words adequate enough.
Smiling, Skye cupped a stubbled cheek with her hand. “I feel beautiful with you,” she whispered. “Even though I am starting to resemble a beached whale.”
“Never,” Lorenzo assured her. “Carrying our little boy and girl has only enhanced your beauty.”
She loved when he smiled, when he let down his guard. It brought a light into his pale blue eyes, smoothed out the worry lines at the corners of his eyes and on his forehead. Another scream had her smiling. “I think you should go and find out what’s going on out there.”
“I’m sure we’ll know soon enough,” he said and sure enough, the bedroom door flew open and Elaina ran in, straight for the bed.
“Poppi! Poppi!” she squealed, running to his side of the bed.
Lorenzo lifted her up and onto the bed in between himself and Skye, where she burrowed under the covers. Before he could ask what was going on, Diego came into the room, his hair and t-shirt soaking wet.
“I know she came in here,” Diego said, stalking into the room.
“Who?” Lorenzo asked casually, not giving away the little extra lump under the covers. “What happened to you?”
“I was sleeping and that little rug rat came into my room and threw a glass of water on me!”
Skye bit her lip to keep from laughing. “Diego, you knew it was dangerous to leave a glass of water on your bedside table where she could reach it. It’s not the first time she’s done this.”
Lorenzo nodded in agreement. “And maybe you should have locked your door.”
Diego shook his head. “Is it so much to ask that I get to sleep past six on my birthday at least?” he groused.
“Sorry son, but I have a feeling our sleeping in days are about to be over,” Lorenzo said with a sad shake of his head.
Running his hands through his wet hair, Diego wiped them on his pajama pants. “Well, in case anyone is interested, I happen to know Grandmother is making her delicious chocolate chip pancakes . . . I guess I’m going to have to eat them all by myself.”
As Diego moved to his father’s side of the bed, Lorenzo eased out of the way. The little lump was trying not to wiggle at the thought of those chocolate chip pancakes.
Skye shifted over as Diego whipped back to covers and scooped up Elaina in his arms, throwing her over his shoulder.
“DEEGO!” she screeched happily, her little legs kicking in the air.
“No way!” Diego said, marching out of the room with her. “And no pancakes until you help me change the now wet sheets on my bed.”
“I am tired of waiting, Mateo,” Manny said as he entered his brother’s room in the small house they were borrowing. “We need to act now.”
Mateo looked up from the magazine he had been flipping through, tossing it aside. “You need to practice patience,” he said calmly.
“While we’re sitting here playing house, Morgan and Alcazar can be plotting to take us out at this very moment!”
Leaning back, Mateo laced his fingers behind his head. “There is no need to rush, brother,” he said, a slow smile creeping across his mouth. “Lorenzo Alcazar and Jason Morgan are way too distracted by their families to think about us and when we’re going to strike. They’ve let their guard down.”
“And what do you plan to do about that?” Manny countered. His brother’s laid back, calm ways could be infuriating.
“Have faith, Manny,” Mateo answered. “All will fall into place. But I do have a plan. And it’s time to let you in on it.”
“Skye, my dear, are you okay?” Esmerelda asked, setting a tall glass of orange juice in front of the expectant mother. “You’re pretty quiet this morning.”
Letting out a sigh, Skye sat back in her chair. “I’m fine,” she tried to assure the older woman, but a glance up at her told her it wasn’t working. She bit her lip. “Is it normal to start feeling nervous before giving birth?”
Esmerelda sat down in the empty chair beside Skye. “Yes, it is,” she said. “Are you nervous about the actual labor part of it?”
Rubbing her hand over her belly, Skye shook her head. “I don’t think so. I know a lot of pain will be involved, but the end result will be worth it. I think I’m more worried about what kind of mother I’ll be.” At Esmerelda’s quizzical look, she continued. “My childhood was a mess, to put it lightly. In fact, most of my life was a mess. I used manipulation and games to get what I wanted. I’ve lied and schemed – and done most of it drunk. I’ve ruined people’s lives for nothing. What kind of mother will that make me?”
“I haven’t known you very long, Skye, but from what I do know, you’re no longer that woman. You are brave and loving. I have seen you with Elaina, the way you listen to her, are there for her. She loves you. And I’ve seen you with Lorenzo. You’ve stood by his side through the darkest times of his life. My son, I believe, is a better man for being with you. I believe you are going to be a wonderful mother.”
Blinking back the tears in her eyes, Skye nodded. “Thank you,” she whispered. To hear it out loud like that. To know the person she once was was not the person she was now, it was a heady thing. But what Esmerelda said was true. And it wasn’t just Lorenzo who was a better person – she was too.
Lorenzo stepped away from the kitchen door quietly, making sure his mother and Skye didn’t know he was there. Skye had expressed before her uncertainty about being a good mother. He had done what he could to assure her, but it was evident that it was still a doubt in her mind.
Pushing his hands through his hair, Lorenzo walked down the hallway to his office. He wasn’t sure how he was going to be able to assure Skye she was going to be a wonderful mother to their children. In a way, she already was to Diego. She supported him and looked out for him. She listened to him. Was interested in his life. How could she still doubt that she wouldn’t be a good mother?
“Am I interrupting?”
Lorenzo looked up to see Jason standing in front of his desk. He hadn’t even heard the man come in, but that wasn’t unusual since Jason usually moved so quietly – an asset in this business. “No, come on in.”
Jason sat in the black leather chair in front of Lorenzo’s desk. “Spinelli’s hacking into the Ruiz finances. It seems Manny didn’t learn from the last time we got in.”
“Did he find anything yet?” Lorenzo asked. This time, they were not going to take the money; they just wanted to know where it was coming from.
“Not yet,” Jason said with a shake of his head. “He said something about a few more firewalls or something.” He shrugged. “But I’m sure he’ll find they’re being backed by someone. Manny couldn’t have regrouped all the money that was taken from him before. And Mateo was working as a priest for years; I doubt he had a substantial amount of money to back whatever it is they are planning to do.”
“They could be laundering money for another organization,” Lorenzo commented, thinking aloud, leaning back in his chair, his fingers steepled. “The question is who did they align themselves with?”
“The Ruiz family was well connected, it plausible Manny kept in touch with those contacts. He could have tapped them for help, offered to move money for them in exchange for protection, a place to hide out, maybe even to back their plans financially.”
Lorenzo had a feeling Jason was on the mark with that one. They just had to figure out who it was. “Let me know what Spinelli finds out. If we can make a case for money laundering, we can alert the proper authorities, flush out their backers. I’m sure they won’t be too happy if they’re exposed.”
Jason knew they were playing a dangerous game, but it had to be done. They couldn’t sit around anymore and wait for Manny and Mateo to strike. If they were going to be the ones to come out on top, they were going to have to move first and keep ahead the whole way.
Sam pulled open the large doors, her hands wrapping around the heavy black iron ring used as a handle. She stepped into the vestibule of the church, the silence almost unbearable in the large space. Clearing her throat, just to make some kind of noise, she stepped into the main room, her feet sinking into the plush carpeting of the the long aisle.
What would it be like to walk down this aisle, Jason waiting at the other end, waiting for her to become his wife, the mother of his daughter? Sam’s heart thumped in her chest as she tried to visualize the scene.
Sam turned and smiled. “Father Coates, hi,” she said, the breath hitching in her throat releasing.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to startle you,” the priest said apologetically.
“It’s okay,” Sam assured him. “I was actually here to see you.”
Father Coates smiled and showed her to his office in the rectory. “So, what can I help you with?”
“Jason and I are getting married,” she began.
“Ah, yes. Esmerelda was in here earlier in the week nearly bursting with the news,” he said with a smile.
Sam laughed. “I’m surprised she hasn’t taken out an ad in the newspaper,” she said. “So I was hoping you can help me set things up for the ceremony. It’ll be small, family and close friends only.”
He nodded as he made a note of her plans. “Did you two have a date in mind?” he asked, flipping to the calendar.
“Oh, ummm . . . not yet,” she admitted, biting her lip. “What’s available?”
Father Coates laughed. “Well, that’ll depend on what month your looking at and the month will depend on what you and Jason want.”
Sam nodded. “So I’ll talk to Jason and get back to you?”
“I look forward to your call,” he said, standing and coming around the old, but ornate desk.
After promising again to call him back with the date, Sam walked back down the aisle, again trying to image what it would be like to walk down it on Jason’s arm as his wife.
“And how are we going to lure them out since you don’t want to use they’re family?” Manny asked his brother after Mateo had finished detailing the plans he had in mind.
“We use the threat of harming their family to draw them out,” Mateo said. “We won’t give them a choice.”
Manny shook his head. “They won’t buy it,” he declared. “They would need proof of some sort.”
Mateo eyed his brother. “True,” he agreed. “So we give them proof.”
Mateo only smiled.
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