She opens her mouth like she wants to argue, but she doesn't. She suddenly closes it and stares straight at me. "Is that what all this baby-proofing was about?"
"Yes. I meant what I said. I want you both to be happy here."
"I am happy, but…"
"But," I repeat and give her a playful look. I know she's about to interject with something about Elan. "No buts, just for tonight. Let's pretend it's me, and you, and Max, and no one else."
"Okay," she whispers.
After Max is washed from head to toe, Kylie grabs the towel.
"Let me," I tell her. Fishing him from the tub, I carefully lift his wet, slippery little body, knowing I'm holding something very precious.
After Max is dried and in a fresh diaper, I dress him in one of my T-shirts. The thing falls to his ankles and he thinks it's hilarious. Kylie does too, they both openly giggle and dance around my bedroom. My home has never been filled with this much laughter. This much love. It stops me in my tracks. I just stand there, holding a wet towel, soaking it all in.
Max heads to the bed, and grabs fistfuls of the duvet cover and begins pulling himself up onto the bed.
"Mumma." He pats the bed bedside him. "Pa-pa," he says patting the other side.
His innocent gesture means so much more, but of course he has no way of knowing that.
"It looks like he wants to stay the night again," I say, watching for Kylie's reaction. Obviously nothing would make me happier. "What do you say?" The promise of another intimate encounter dances delicately between us. The hungry look in her eyes gives away her desire. "Say yes," I tell her.
"Yes," she breathes.
We settle on either side of Max, as he instructed, and I lift the copy of Goodnight Moon from the shelf beside my bed. I hand the book to Kylie, but she shakes her head.
"No, you read it tonight."
I open to the first page and begin, wondering how long it's been since I last read a children's book.
Pace's masculine voice reading Goodnight Moon puts me in a happy little place of bliss. One where there are no thoughts of custody arrangements looming over me, or the pull of two very different men, for two very different reasons.
Max is evidently in his happy place too. His eyes are big and he listens attentively, staying as quiet and still as a little mouse.
I don't think he's ever had a man read to him before, and there is something distinctly different about the entire experience. In addition to his rich, deep tone caressing the words, Pace lingers over different parts of the story, points out objects on the page and names them, pauses at the turn of each new page so they can admire the illustration. It's a magical thing watching them read together. If what Pace said was genuine, we could have this every night. The thought is intoxicating.
After Max is asleep, we clean the dishes together in silence. I sense we're both processing the weight of everything that's happened between us.
Sometimes I wish I was a normal girl, to which the normal rules of dating applied – dinner and a movie and a kiss on my front porch. It seems so much easier, so much less confusing, without all the complications of my family obligations and responsibilities. But of course, I wouldn’t trade Max for anything in the world, so that's out.
"How's your arm?" Pace asks out of the blue.
"Still sore, but I'm managing." I feel like I can be honest with him, even if I don’t want to totally admit to my weakness.
"We're just about done here, why don’t you go relax in the living room?" he says. "I'll finish up here, grab a beer, and then join you."
"Okay." I know better than to try and argue.
Pace's living room is still destroyed with toys scattered everywhere, so while I wait for him, I pick up every last toy, one at a time and line them up in a neat pile along the wall. It seems the only item he forgot was a toy box to house all these new treasures.
When Pace wanders in a few minutes later with a bottle of imported beer dangling in one hand, he takes a brief look around and shakes his head at me. That delectable smirk and dimpled grin makes me weak in the knees. Good thing I'm already seated.
I know he knows the effect he can have on a woman when he's working his game, but I don’t think he has any idea how deeply he can affect me without even trying. Just the sight of him provokes a physical response in my body. My belly is a mess of nerves, my palms begin shaking and my breasts feel so sensitive, they're tingling for his mouth again. I'm terrified Pace can see right through me when he looks at me like that – all intense and brooding. But the next words out of his mouth ease my mind. He doesn’t know I have sex on the brain.
"Do you even know how to relax?" he asks.
I don’t respond. I'm a single mom who works full-time. My opportunities for lounging and eating bon-bons are limited to say the least.
He chuckles, his mood suddenly turning light. "Come here." He sits down on the couch and pats the cushion beside him. I slide closer, wondering what type of relaxation he has in mind. Something of the orgasmic variety, I hope. I want to bitch-slap my subconscious. No. Definitely no.
Pace places his hands at my waist and turns my body so I'm angled away from him. I'm reminded instantly how powerful and strong he is, remembering how he so easily lifted me onto the desk when we made love. A thrill of excitement races through me. I recall the exquisite feeling of his wicked hands on my skin, his lips at my throat, his powerful cock sliding in and out of me. Everything had been perfect, but I couldn’t allow myself to think about that now. Not when Elan was seemingly back in the picture. Pushing those thoughts from my head, I focus on Pace's large hands on my shoulders. He gives them a squeeze, and I swear my muscles go instantly lax.