Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
Her eyes darted from her soon-to-be ex-husband down to the sleeping baby in his arms. “Anthony?” Charlotte Price stared at her estranged husband—the one man she loved with every fiber of her being, the one man she was now looking to divorce. But what he held in his arms pulled her attention even more. Not a what…a who. A hotshot Hollywood director, Anthony Price didn’t look too comfortable with the bundle wrapped in a pink, silky blanket, a swirl of black hair dotting the top of her head. And speaking of hair, Anthony’s stood on end. The top three buttons of his royal-blue dress shirt were undone, and was that.. oh, yeah, that was spit-up. The milky-white substance spread across the top of one broad shoulder, and she’d bet it had traveled down his back, as well. If she weren’t so shocked she’d laugh at the irony of this entire situation. Her husband holding a child. She’d always wanted to have a child with him…but he’d never been ready. “Rachel’s daughter,” he said in a gravelly voice. Rachel. Anthony’s sister who had suddenly died in a car crash less than a week ago, leaving behind an eight-month-old little girl. An ache spread through her as she eyed the precious child, and Charlotte opened the door to her best friend’s apartment just a bit wider. “Bring her in and lay her down.” Charlotte showed him through the apartment she’d been staying in while her friend was off traveling, taking her dream vacation. Charlotte had packed only her most favorite clothes and other essentials, unsure of when she’d have a place of her own. She was getting the alone time she needed to think things through. But she kept coming to the same conclusion as far as her marriage was concerned. Their life together was over. No matter how hard she tried, no matter how much she wanted Anthony to love her the way she deserved, it just wasn’t meant to be. And now that he was here, she couldn’t help but wonder why he’d come to her. Did she dare hope he wanted to work things out now? Was he willing to try the therapist she’d suggested? She’d moved out in June, and now nearly three months of awkward calls, not to mention the one time a month ago he’d come for a visit to talk and they’d foolishly ended up in bed, was about to come to an abrupt halt. Communication had always been a major issue in the nine years of their marriage. The sex, however, had never been a problem because most of the times they were alone, they were naked. But talking was inevitable—over more than just his surprise bundle. She had an appointment on Friday to file for divorce. “I’m afraid to lay her down. She cried all the way here,” Anthony told her, panic lacing his voice. “I gave her a bottle and she threw up all over me, then cried some more. A three-hour car ride and she didn’t fall asleep until about ten minutes ago.” More than comfortable with babies of all ages, Charlotte gently slid her hands between her husband’s hard body and the soft bundle. With care she laid the baby down in an oversized armchair, tucking her back against the cushion so she couldn’t move too much. Then Charlotte grabbed a velvety throw pillow and laid it beside the baby so she wouldn’t roll off. With questions mounting in her mind, Charlotte motioned for Anthony to step into the kitchen, where she could still keep an eye on the child over the wide granite bar that separated the two rooms. “What is going on, Anthony?” she demanded in a harsh whisper as soon as he came to stand beside her. “You have to help with Lily.” Help with Lily? “Oh, Anthony. Oh, God.” A sense of what he meant enveloped her and left her just a bit more crushed. He wasn’t here because he loved her and wanted her back—he wasn’t even here for sex. He was here because he couldn’t take care of the baby alone. Ironic that he wanted her to play family now, when for so long he had used his career as a crutch not to have children. She knew she needed to keep her distance. For so long she’d let him pull her back into a troubled marriage with suave words and material things in hopes that his attention would soon follow—only to be left heartbroken again. Obviously, their ideas of love landed on two opposite ends of the spectrum. The saddest part, though, is that she knew he loved her in his own way. He just loved making the next big blockbuster more. But Anthony had come to her, seeking her help, and that said a lot. The man had never been vulnerable, never needed anything or anyone, and he’d never opened up or talked with her about his feelings. If he wasn’t in work mode, they were naked. And she didn’t know why it had taken her this long to realize that even though she loved him, she deserved better. “I’m the next of kin,” he told her, throat thick with emotion. “We’re the only family she has left, Charlie.” The nickname he’d given her when they were dating in college had lost the charm it once held. She peeked into the living room at the baby just before his words registered. “Wait. What do you mean we are the only family?” “We were named in the will as the guardians in case of Rachel’s…death. Because she was artificially inseminated, there’s no father to contest this.” Charlotte leaned against the island in the small kitchen. A baby, a husband, had always been her dream, but that was before she’d decided to end her marriage, before the maleficent tabloids and her husband destroyed her dreams and crushed her spirits. Before she’d become pregnant last year when he was away on location, filming, then miscarried that child and suffered the heartache alone. A child she’d never even told him about. “We can’t raise that baby, Anthony.” She leveled her gaze at him, praying she could remain strong when all her dreams were finally within her reach. “We’re separated.” “So you keep reminding me every time I call,” he muttered. “Look, I’m just as scared, but we have no choice. Rachel was the only sister I knew growing up. Surely you understand.” Oh, no. She would not be swayed by him reminding her of the heartache she’d suffered when she’d lost her twin sister at the tender age of ten. “It’s not that I don’t understand. You know I do.” She steeled herself. “But some things just aren’t possible, Anthony.” Questions whirled around in her mind. She didn’t know where to start, what to do next. This couldn’t be happening. Forget that she needed distance if she wanted to make any attempt at a normal life without the hurt of seeing Anthony every day. Forget that she still loved this man but couldn’t live knowing she didn’t rank above the next major motion picture. How could she move on if she was forced into being an instant parent? The one thing she’d wished for their entire marriage was a baby. Be careful what you wish for. Charlotte ran a hand through her hair, nerves getting the best of her. “Did you know we were listed as guardians? Didn’t she ask you? You never mentioned anything like this to me.” Anthony shook his head. “I didn’t know. We discussed years ago if either of us ever had children, we’d put the other down as guardian in the will, but I never heard a word about it since Lily was born. Children’s Services can contest the will, but they don’t really have a leg to stand on, considering I’m family. My background check was clean and they’re overwhelmed with so many other cases. Basically, she’s ours now. Or she will be after the court hearing in ninety days.” The ache in Charlotte’s heart deepened with the way he mentioned Lily as his own. She would’ve given him that gift at any time, but his dreams and career had always taken precedence. “What do you want me to do, Anthony?” She tilted her chin, hands on her hips, shoving the hurt and loss aside. “You can’t expect me to take up playing house with you again. It won’t work.” “We have no choice,” he told her, glancing over to see Lily. He dropped his voice when she stirred. “The will stipulates that we are the guardians and we are listed as a married couple. The court will finalize this guardianship in ninety days. Give me ninety days. That’s all I’m asking. Don’t give them a reason to take her from me. Then we can decide what’s best. Who knows, we may be able to work this out between us.” Charlotte didn’t like being manipulated, and she certainly didn’t like being forced to stick close to the man who had shattered their marriage yet still turned her on with just a glance from those sultry gray eyes. How could she live like that? And three months? Might as well be three years. The heartache in the end would be the same. Actually, what she hated the most was how he so willingly dropped everything for this new family when he’d never done so for her. And it wasn’t just Lily. He’d been spending more and more time lately with his biological mother. A Hollywood actress, Olivia Dane had given Anthony up nearly forty years ago in a secret adoption. Olivia had gone on to birth two more children, one of them being Anthony’s nemesis, Bronson Dane. Charlotte had barely caught her breath from being shunted aside for his new family and now he was adding another layer to her hurt. Dangling this promise of a family in front of her as if they would all live happily ever after. Considering her upbringing and the tragic death of her sister, she knew better. “This won’t work, Anthony,” she repeated, fear gripping her heart. “I can’t live with you again, not for any amount of time. I’m trying to move forward and I can’t do that if I’m getting pulled back into the life that left me shattered.” She hadn’t meant to voice her thoughts out loud, but now she had, she wasn’t sorry. He nee… Whatever The Price by Jules Bennett