“You are a natural at mothering Leo’s daughter. Not that I am surprised by that; you’ve always been a nurturing person.”
I freeze in place where I’m filling a plate with food for Violet’s dinner and swivel my head to look at Paige. “Excuse me?”
My best friend pushes her glasses up her nose. “I was observing you interacting with Violet, and I must say that over the last two years, you have truly thrived in your role as her mother figure. She is lucky to have you.”
It’s a struggle, but I think I’m successful in hiding my wince at her words. Because they hurt a little, and I don’t want anyone to know.
The truth is, my relationship with Vi is amazing. She’s a great kid, easy and open with her affection, and of course, her love of dance gives the two of us a deep bond.
But I’m not her mom. I’ve been “Rena” since day one with her, and it’s never bothered me. At least it never used to. But lately, as Leo and I talk about expanding our family some day, I’ve found myself trying to envision having a baby of my own. And despite always having it in the back of my mind as something I’d want someday, I’m starting to wonder if someday will ever come. Because right now, Violet and Leo are all I want. Our little trio is perfect, and I don’t want to disrupt that.
Yet, I do want to be a mom. I want to be her mom. And no one knows this, not even Leo. The last thing I want to do is put any pressure on either of them, most of all Violet. If she only sees me as her stepmother but never wants to call me Mom, that’s fine. She’s not my kid, she’s Leo’s. I’m just lucky enough to be a part of her life.
Paige is still looking at me, and her scrutiny is making me uncomfortable. She’s way too insightful of a best friend sometimes.
“I’m lucky to have her,” I say quickly to fill the space. Paige arches one brow at me and nods slowly.
“Right. So. I’m just gonna get this food to her.” I hurry away from her, quickly finding Violet with Layla, where they’re both loving up on Mila and Jackson’s two dogs. Once I’ve dropped off her food, I duck inside the house and head to mine and Leo’s bedroom to give myself a minute.
Two years of being with Leo and Violet, and I have loved every second. The bedtime snuggles, the rainy-day dance parties, the first day of kindergarten. It’s been an amazing experience.
And even though her biological mother is completely out of the picture for good, I would still never want to make any assumptions about my role in Vi’s life.
“Baby? You okay?”
I lift my head off the bed slightly as my perfect, amazing, sexy man comes into the room.
“Yeah, just needed a minute.”
He sits down beside me, his hand finding my bare leg and stroking it gently. “So then, the truth is, you’re not okay? Because it’s not like you to need a minute when we’re in the middle of a party with all of our friends.”
For the briefest of seconds I consider telling him what has me feeling off. But of course I don’t.
“I guess I’m just tired,” I say, rolling onto my side. “Probably because of a certain hot cop who likes to keep me up way too late.”
Leo rolls us both over so that he’s on his back and I’m on top of him, but then we hear the unmistakable thunder of Violet’s feet pounding up the stairs. We hastily sit up, just in time for her to run into our room.
“Daddy, I finished eating. Now is it time?”
“Time for what?” I ask.
“Vi!” Leo groans.
“But you said we could do it after I ate dinner, so I ate really fast,” Violet whines.
My head bounces between them. I’m completely confused. “What the heck are you two talking about?”
They continue to ignore me.
“I meant after everyone finishes, kiddo. Not just you. Rena and I haven’t even started eating.”
Vi’s lower lip starts to stick out. It’s her secret weapon and one that Leo is helpless against. “But Daddy, that’s going to take forever.”
“Hello,” I stand up, waving my hands. “Am I invisible? What’s going on?”
Leo reaches out and takes my hand, threading our fingers together as he lifts his eyebrows at his daughter. “What do you think Vi, should we tell her?”
Violet bounces up and down. “Yes! Ooh, can we tell her now and then go have dessert?”
“What about doing it in front of everyone?”
“Okay, okay. It’s your show. Go for it.”
I’m so lost. And when they do their secret handshake, which they created last year, I have to turn my eyes away. This is one of those daddy-daughter moments when I can’t help but feel excluded, even if that wasn’t their intention. But when you combine that with whatever big secret they’re hiding, plus my already rocky emotions from earlier, I’m not handling it well.
“Rena,” Violet says, taking my other hand.
I look down at the girl I adore more than anything. “Yeah kiddo?”
“Can I call you Mommy?”
My jaw drops to the floor. I don’t realize Leo has dropped my hands until he’s standing behind Violet, smiling lovingly at me and holding some papers.
“It wouldn’t just be a change in your name, Tippy,” Leo says gently, turning the papers around so I can see them. “We want you to adopt Violet. Be her mom for real.”
I sink to my knees, tears streaming down my face as Violet launches herself into my arms.
“This means yes, right?” she asks, her words muffled by my shoulder. I can’t form a response, so I just nod jerkily.
“That’s a yes, baby girl,” Leo says, and his voice is choked with emotion. I reach blindly for him, and he joins our tight hug.
Eventually, I pull back just enough to be able to cup my hands around Violet’s cheeks.
“I would be honoured to be your mom, Vi. Thank you. I love you.”
Her arms fling around my neck again. “I love you, Mommy.”
If anyone had asked me twenty years ago if I ever thought I would be here, in this moment with this man and his — no, our — amazing daughter, I would have laughed in their face.
That was then, this is now.
And now, everything I’ve ever wanted is in my arms.
And I don’t ever plan to let go.
I assumed my secret crush on my next door neighbor would stay just that – a secret.
Until my best friend dared me to ask Hunter Callaghan out.
I never turn down a dare…
It started as a way to get back into the dating scene after having my heart broken, but it quickly turned into something more.
The golden retriever energy Hunter shows the world hides a softer, vulnerable side. Emotions that he keeps locked away from everyone… Except me.
I see him for who he is, and it’s those hidden depths that have me falling for him.
Being with Hunter is a dream come true. Until my meddling brothers start to pull at the seams of what we’re building. Now I’m worried the man I’m falling for will ignore what’s in his heart, and push me away.
Our relationship began because of a dare, but now I know the truth of who he is, I know this could be the start of forever.