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Always Enough

Always Enough

 

 

 

By: Kay Edwards

 

 

Shakespir Edition

Copyright © 2016 by Kay Edwards

All Rights Reserved

 

 

About The Author

 

Kay Edwards is a country girl. She is still quite new to the publishing scene, but has already released seven books. This is her eighth book. It is first in her new series, The Felix Brothers Trilogy. Kay has taken us from small town Pennsylvania to Texas in her last two series. In this series, Kay takes us into the world of the rich and famous of New York City’s business world. Join Kay as she takes you through three different journeys of love. Let her introduce you to Stefan, Trevor, and Liam Felix as they meet the women God has ordained for them.

In the first book of this series, you will fall in love with Wendy and Stefan. As they learn to deal with loss, you will see them forge a delicate friendship that blossoms into love. Kay hopes you enjoy getting to know this couple as much as she did when she dreamed them up.

 

 

 

Dedications and Recognitions

 

I would like to dedicate this book to my readers. The emails and messages are what keep me writing. Thank you for taking a chance on a new author.

I would also like to take a moment to thank my newest proofreader. Terry Lapaglia Ross, you have blessed me beyond words with your honest critique of my work.

Of course, I have to thank my family for giving me space to create and write.

 

Prelude

Wendy glanced down at her nephews. Taking a deep breath, she took each of their little hands in hers. The three turned and walked away from the grave of her sister. Wendy would miss Gracie with her entire being. She thanked God for the time they had together. She thanked Him, for the two boys her sister had entrusted to her to raise, and prayed that He would give her all she needed to do that.

Sean looked up at her. “Are we going home with you?”

Wendy smiled sadly at him. Her voice was soft and gentle. “You are going home with me.”

Cory turned and looked once more at the grave. Tears ran down his cheeks as he sniffled. “I love you, Mamma.”

Wendy’s heart was broken. Her older sister was her best friend. She looked at the boys and knew that she would do everything in her power to raise them how her sister would have wanted. She knew that God would not leave her as she embarked on this new journey.

 

Chapter One

 

Three Months Later

 

Wendy was running late. She had dropped the boys off at her neighbor’s apartment and then rushed out the door. Her brown hair was not put up as she had wanted, and she was hot. Summertime in New York City was not chilly this year. Not that it ever was. She rounded the corner of the building and dashed into the elevator looking more adorable than professional.

Stefan looked at the woman standing by him. It was evident she was flustered. “What floor?”

Wendy dropped the piece of paper. She picked it up. She was beyond rattled. Looking at her shaking hands, Wendy spoke. “It looks like the fortieth floor.”

Stefan took a deep breath. He really hoped the woman standing there was not the one he was interviewing in ten minutes. He was tired of dealing with flirty woman fresh out of college. This one was cute and more than likely knew it. He frowned as he realized he had not even looked at the age of his latest applicant. He decided to do a little probing. “I take it you are here for an interview.”

Wendy nodded. She glanced at him as she spoke. “I am. I am a bit nervous. I hope they give me a chance.”

Stefan grimaced. “It sounds like you are young.”

Wendy looked down at her hands. Her voice shook. “I am, but I really need this job. I had a job that I needed to quit. The fact I didn’t give notice is a drawback for me.”

Stefan was surprised she admitted it. She was not flirting with him now; maybe he had misjudged her. Of course, maybe she didn’t know who he was either. “Why did you choose not to give a notice?”

Wendy glanced up at the man. She shrugged her shoulders. It was not like this was the person who was going to interview her, she decided, to be honest. “My boss made me uncomfortable. I was what he was looking for until he realized I was not interested in more than work. I… I just don’t want to do that. There is no integrity in that.”

Stefan was surprised. The woman was actually very attractive. In his experience, some women used that, alone, to get ahead. The door opened at the fortieth floor. He waited until she got out. He watched her go to the receptionist desk. While she was occupied talking, he walked past her and into his office unnoticed.

Wendy knew she had only a few minutes until her interview. She had hoped to collect her thoughts while she waited. She also had wanted to get her nerves under control. When they called her name, she stood up and followed the older woman back to the office. When she entered, she stopped. She felt defeated before the interview even started.

Stefan stood and held out his hand. “Good morning Ms. Collins.”

Wendy shook his hand and tried to smile. Her voice was soft. “Good morning Mr. Felix.” She had no doubt that every person in New York City knew who this man and his brothers were on sight. Everyone except her. She started kicking herself for not listening to her friend Carla and doing some research.

Stefan indicated she should sit. When she was seated, he decided to continue the interview he had started in the elevator. “You said you need this job. You are only twenty-two and fresh out of college. What makes you different from my other applicants?”

Wendy looked up at him. “I am only interested in doing my best. I don’t know your other candidates. I can’t tell you what makes me different from them. I can only tell you about me. If you give me a chance, I will not let you down. I graduated top of my class because I worked hard. I will always give you my best.”

Stefan spoke again. “Unless I want more than work…?”

Wendy stood and looked at the man. She started feeling sick in her stomach at the insinuation. Tears stung her eyes, and her voice was choked. “I’m sorry. I think I wasted your time. Please have a nice day.”

Stefan stopped her as she started walking toward the door. “Wait, I’m not asking for more than work. I apologize if that is how you took it.”

Wendy nodded. She slowly walked back to the chair and sat down. She looked at him and waited for him to ask more questions.

Stefan had a few more things he needed to know about her. “How flexible are you?”

Wendy was surprised by the question. She was under the impression this job had set hours. “I’m not sure what you mean.”

Stefan leaned back in his chair. “There may be times I need you to attend certain functions with me. Our clients like us to rub elbows with them. That would require a bit of flexibility sometimes.”

Wendy needed a bit more information to answer that. “Would it be last minute requests or would I have time?”

Stefan was not sure what to make of that question. “Time for what…?”

Wendy knew she had no choice but to explain her hesitation. She had not even been considered for three jobs because of the boys. “I would need time to find a sitter.”

Stefan looked at her application again. He glanced back up at her. “Your application does not say you are a mom.”

Wendy nodded. “I’m not.”

Stefan was still confused. “Why do you need a sitter?”

Wendy stood again. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to waste your time.”

Stefan stood as well. He intercepted her at the door. For needing a job so bad, she seemed set on running away from him. “I’m interested in what you have to offer this company. Please finish the interview.”

Wendy took a deep breath and looked up at him. “I would need a sitter for my nephew’s. I’m their legal guardian.”

Stefan nodded as he guided her back to the chair. He looked at her application and then back at her. “You are only twenty-two.”

Wendy was not sure what he wanted her to say. She nodded. “I am.”

Stefan sat back in his chair again. He regarded her curiously. “Why do you have your sibling’s children and not your parents?”

Wendy felt tears sting her eyes. She looked down at her hands. “My sister died three months ago. My parents were killed in a fire, four years ago. I’m all my nephews have, and they are all I have. I don’t need your sympathy. I need a job. I have a sitter I can use if I have notice.”

Stefan was not untouched by her words. He answered honestly. “We usually can give you notice that you will be required at a function. If there is no notice, I will allow you to bring your nephews to my place. My daughter’s nanny can help with them. How old are they?”

Wendy glanced up from her hands in disbelief at him. She was surprised that he would say that his nanny would help. She answered the question. “Sean is four and Cory is six.”

Stefan smiled. “My Macy is three. She would be fine having them over to play.”

Wendy continued to stare into Stefan’s face. Her heart was in her eyes. “I can do this job, Mr. Felix. I just need a chance.”

Stefan could not disagree. If he had, to be honest, she was, exactly, what he was looking for. He wanted someone that could get the job done without being flirtatious or too forceful. The men he had interviewed came across as aggressive, while the women were coy. Wendy came across as just what she was; a person that was willing to work hard. He stood and walked to the front of his desk. He leaned back against it as he regarded her again. “I think I am willing to do that, Ms. Collins. Since I know you quit your last job without notice, I would like you to start as soon as you have a sitter lined up.”

Wendy looked up at him. For the first time since she had taken custody of the boys, she felt like, maybe, there would be hope for them. She whispered softly. “Thank you.”

Stefan asked her softly. “How did she pass?”

Wendy swallowed the lump in her throat. She bit her bottom lip to keep from crying. When she had herself under control, she looked up at him and spoke. “She was hit by a drunk driver. She was here and then she wasn’t.”

Stefan could relate to the pain he saw in her eyes. He picked up his card and gave it to her. “My personal number is on the back. If you do not get me here, please call my cell. Like I said, I would like you to start as soon as possible. You also need to know we have a sign on check for you. As soon as you leave here, you will go down to HR and sign the paperwork they have for you. When you leave them, they will give you your first check.”

Wendy looked at him surprised. The fact she could pay the sitter up front was more of a blessing than this man knew. She spoke to him softly. “Thank you, for letting me show you that I can do this, Mr. Felix.”

Stefan grinned. “You are welcome. I’m looking forward to seeing what you have to offer this company. Have a good day, and don’t forget to call me, Ms. Collins.”

Wendy smiled as he escorted her to the elevator. He reminded her to stop at HR on her way down. When the doors closed, she leaned against the back wall. “Thank You, God. Thank You for helping me find this job.”

Stefan turned back to his office. He looked at the receptionist. “Cancel all of the other interviews set up for tomorrow. I just filled the position.”

Walking into his office, he shut the door and picked up the phone. He called down to HR and gave them Wendy’s name. When he hung up, he looked out of his office window over the city. He was the CEO of one of the most powerful companies in the world. He was one of the youngest CEOs that had ever acquired his success. Today that didn’t matter to him. What mattered was the look on Wendy’s face when he had offered her the position. He absolutely believed she would be an asset to his company. He had not seen that kind of honesty in a very long time. A knock drew his attention. He looked up.

Trevor grinned at his brother. “How goes the search for that assistant you’ve been looking for? Rumor has it you found your ‘man.’”

Stefan gave his older brother a look that said he didn’t appreciate the air quotes. “I found a person I do believe will be a fit.”

Trevor walked in and took a seat. “I heard she is young and not hard to look at.”

Stefan watched as his younger brother, Liam, walked in with a grin. “I take it you don’t have anything better to do either?”

Liam looked at Stefan. “You and I both know I am always all ears when I hear what the HR people have to say.”

Stefan glanced at his brothers. He was aware that they were worried about him. If he had, to be honest, he didn’t blame them. It had been almost two years since his wife had died of cancer. They honestly thought he didn’t date because he was still mourning. In some ways he was. But, that was not the only reason he had not dated again. He had a daughter to consider now. She came first. He glanced at them and was honest. “I hired her because I really do believe she is the right fit. I think if given a chance she will give this company all she has.”

Liam looked at his brother. “So, is she attractive?”

Trevor leaned forward and smiled. “We heard she was very attractive.”

Stefan took a moment to think about Wendy. He gave them his honest opinion. “She is cute.”

Liam spoke to his brother gently. “Don’t’ you think it is time?”

Before Stefan could answer, a knock sounded on the door. He smiled when he saw Wendy.

Liam looked at Trevor and grinned.

Wendy peeked in at her new boss. She waited for him to wave her in. She made a wide berth around the men in his office. “I am sorry to disturb you. Your receptionist said you were not busy.”

Stefan shook his head. “I’m not. These two are my brothers, Liam and Trevor.”

Wendy was still very nervous. Her voice was soft. “It is very nice to meet you both.”

Stefan had watched women fall all over themselves to get to his brothers. Wendy looked like she wanted to run. “Did you forget something?”

Wendy forced a smile on her face. “I wanted to tell you that I am available as soon as you need me. My sitter is retired so she has no issues with any schedule you choose.”

Trevor was curious. She looked young. “You are married?”

Wendy glanced at him. She remembered her boss at her last job and took a step away from him as she answered. “I’m not married.”

Stefan spoke as he looked at his computer calendar. “If you want to start Monday, I have more time that day to show you the project I’m on right now.”

Wendy smiled. “That will be okay. What time should I be here?”

Before Stefan could answer the question, Liam spoke. “How old are your kids?”

Wendy bit her bottom lip. It had been an, already, overwhelming day. The thought of talking about her sister’s death and her nephews brought tears to her eyes. She glanced at Stefan.

Stefan spoke to her gently. “I’m fine if you show up at 9 am.”

Wendy’s voice was shaky. “Thank you.”

The men watched her walk out. Stefan looked at his brothers. “I can’t believe you did that to her. Her sister died, and she has custody of her nephews.”

Liam grimaced. “I kind of feel like a heel right now.”

Trevor shoved him. “You should. I do too.”

Stefan looked at the papers in front of him. “I have a lot of work to finish before the weekend. If you two could go, I would be grateful.”

Stefan watched his brothers leave. He sat down at his desk and tried to get the look on his new assistant’s face out of his mind. The pain in her eyes was heartbreaking. Taking a deep breath, he got back to work. Monday would get there soon enough.

 

Chapter Two

 

Wendy looked at her hands again. Of all the things her little nephews could do, a manicure with permanent marker, while she slept, never once crossed her mind. The doors to the elevator opened, and she stepped in with the other three people waiting to go to work. The way her morning had gone, it did not matter if these three owned the world. She was not in the mood. She waited for one of them to say something.

The three brothers looked at their new employee’s fingers. All of them were trying hard not to laugh.

Stefan knew he could not give in to his desire to snicker. He almost gave up his self-control and let the chuckle he had built up out when she turned and looked at all three of them.

“Do not say a word. Not one…” Wendy heard the elevator door open for her to get out. After making eye contact with each one of the men, she turned, held her head high, and walked toward Stefan’s office.

Trevor couldn’t take it anymore. As they entered the office, he gave in. He could not help but tease her. “You need to get your money back. That is the worst manicure I have ever seen.”

Stefan apologized as he started chuckling too. “I am sorry it really is funny. What happened?”

Wendy looked at her nails and grimaced. She had to admit that she could understand their desire to laugh. In their eyes, she was sure it was funny. She, however, wanted to yell. “I think my cheek has holes in it from biting it. My nephews did this while I was sleeping. They were so proud of their handy work for my first day of work.”

Liam chuckled at the faces she was making. “How did you sleep through that?”

Wendy pulled out a bottle of nail polish remover, from her purse, as she answered him. “I’m a newly single mom with two kids. I fall into bed most nights and don’t even remember how I got there. I’m just glad they didn’t go for a facial.”

Stefan watched her start taking it off. He glanced at the Sharpie that had fallen out of her purse and picked it up for her. “I think you dropped something.”

Wendy looked at it and shuddered. “I have to put that back on before I walk in the door.”

Stefan shook his head. He knew that was a very, bad idea. “You should not do that. They will do it again if you do that.”

Wendy shrugged her shoulders. She didn’t want to contradict her new boss, but she did. “I’m not worried about that. I can always take it off.”

Liam looked at Stefan. He could tell his brother was getting ready to give Wendy some parenting advice. He sat down and waited to see how that would go for him. In his opinion, Wendy didn’t seem very open to what his brother had to say.

Stefan’s voice held some authority on the subject of children. “It is imperative to set some ground rules. Trust me, the next time it may not be your fingernails. You may get that facial you are dreading.”

Wendy started biting the inside of her cheek. She nodded and said nothing. She didn’t believe her boss understood the situation at all.

Trevor chuckled. He could see Wendy wanted to say something and was choosing not to. He decided to throw some fuel on her flame. “Stefan knows these things. He has a daughter who is three-years-old.”

Wendy looked at Trevor. She knew what he was up to. She chose to ignore his comment.

Stefan could also tell Wendy was trying not to say anything. He shook his head. “I’m not trying to tell you how to raise them. I’m just giving some friendly advice that my nanny gave me. When my wife passed, I was lost. As Macy got, older, I didn’t say no to her as I should have. My nanny pointed out that it may not be the best parenting strategy. Macy was turning into quite a little stinker, because of my choice to say yes, instead of no.”

Wendy looked at her nails. The remover was not taking all of it off. If she had, to be honest, she didn’t want them to do this again. She looked at her new boss. Maybe, he did understand this single parenting life that she had. “I think I may take your advice on this. I have no desire to wake up to this again. I guess I just don’t want to hurt their feelings when they were honestly trying to do something nice.”

Trevor watched his brother’s reaction to Wendy’s confession. It was interesting to see his brother relaxed for once. Stefan apparently wanted to help his new assistant.

Wendy glanced at Stefan. She voiced one of her biggest fears in a shaky voice. “I don’t want to break them. I am just winging this day to day with them.”

Stefan took the bottle from her so she could work on her nails more. His voice held no sensor as he spoke. “It is a delicate balancing act. You could probably tell them that you liked that they wanted to help, but in the future, it would be more helpful to have a card to bring with you. It can’t hurt to show them how hard it is to get it off either.”

Wendy thought that was a very, good idea. “I can do that. I don’t break their little hearts for doing something nice, all while redirecting their energy. That is some pretty helpful advice.”

Stefan watched as she finished cleaning her nails. When she was done, he started explaining the latest project they were working on as he handed her an electronic tablet. As much as he had enjoyed their little talk about parenting, it was time to work.

Wendy took notes as Stefan spoke. At some of the areas, she had suggestions she marked down on her device.

As lunch approached, the receptionist brought in sandwiches and coffee. Wendy nibbled on the food while she continued to take notes and work the program she was using. As Stefan finished and asked for suggestions, Wendy pointed out the things that stuck out to her.

Stefan looked at her suggestions on his tablet and had to agree that they worked better than his original plan. They revamped everything on the original design to include the ideas.

Wendy looked over Stefan’s shoulder at the final design on his computer. “It looks really smooth now. It was good before, but I think this client will fall in love with this. You may not have to worry at all about your bid.”

Stefan had to agree. “It really does look like something worth paying a bit more for. This is impressive.”

Trevor sipped at his coffee. “We have that second bid coming in right on top of this. The dinner party for that is the day after the dinner party for this one. We have a busy two weeks. My assistant is already starting plans for that.”

Stefan had forgotten about the dinners. He glanced at Wendy hoping she could make it to them. “Are you going to be able to attend the dinners with us? Trevor and Liam’s assistants will be there.”

Wendy didn’t see a problem with it at this point. “If you give me the dates, I’ll text Mary now and see if she is able to keep the boys for me.”

Stefan nodded. “If she can’t, they are always welcome to join Macy and her nanny at the penthouse. I’m sure Macy would be thrilled with the company.”

Wendy glanced at the dates he wrote down. The Saturday one looked like it was going to run late. “I am going to be dragging at church on Sunday morning.”

Stefan chuckled. “You should just sleep in.”

Wendy shook her head. “I don’t want to. I like going to church. Trust me when I say, you like me going to church too.”

Liam was the only brother that went to church. He was seriously asking her to explain. “Why do you say that?”

Wendy didn’t even try to sugar coat it. “I don’t think I am a very nice person without Christ. The weeks, that I miss church on Sunday. I do more, apologizing then I should. I can be very nasty with my words.”

Trevor chuckled at her words. He couldn’t see this woman being anything but pleasant. “I doubt it.”

Wendy shrugged her shoulders delicately as she confessed one of her past escapades. “I ended up in handcuffs once because of my mouth. I was sixteen and knew everything. The police officer I was mouthing off to disagreed. The three months I was grounded after that, proved I didn’t know anything. I thought my mom was going to kill me.”

Liam choked on his coffee. “What did you say to the man?”

Wendy giggled. “I told her she had man hands when she gave me a ticket for speeding. That sensor, that adults have, was not quite working for me as a teen. Let’s just say, it escalated, and I had some major apologizing to do. I also had to clean out the officer’s garage. I was super ashamed of myself when I realized how much I liked her. She was very nice.”

Trevor shook his head. “I’m thinking, that taught you some respect.”

Wendy chuckled. “It really should have, but I am still positive it is Jesus that keeps my sensor button in check. The trips to the principal’s office after that showed me I still had some self-control to learn.”

Stefan had his doubts about Christ. He used to believe in Him, but after his wife died. He had a hard time believing. He changed the subject to the second project. Liam and Trevor’s assistants joined them as they started working out the details for it.

Wendy again took notes. Her mind started seeing things the way that had begun to become her norm. She took notes and again added suggestions. Stefan looked at one of the suggestions as he was talking. He stopped midsentence to speak with her. “How do you do that?”

Liam looked at the notes Wendy was sending to them on their tablets. “That is really, interesting. I want to know too.”

Wendy was not sure how to answer the question. She absolutely hated it when people noticed it. Some of her college friends poked jokes at her strange way of looking at things. The reason that she did look at things like she did was a bit heartbreaking to talk about.

Trevor, also, looked down at the tablet in his hand. He glanced at the notes and then back at her. “These are actually things I don’t usually think of. They are good suggestions.”

Liam looked at Stefan. “Maybe we change how we start our projects. It may save time if you have her beside you as you start your thought process. The more time we cut off of the brainstorming, the faster we put in our bid.”

Stefan couldn’t argue with that. Wendy’s point of view was unique. “It would save us hours.”

The group continued to work. The fact was that Stefan needed them to work. Not having a proper assistant for the last month had set him a few months behind on certain things. He glanced at one of the projects Liam had on his tablet in front of him. “I thought we had that done already.”

Liam looked up. “We did, but I think we could benefit if Wendy took a look at it.”

Wendy was embarrassed by the attention. She glanced at it on her device. In seconds, she broke it down to something the same yet entirely new. She looked up. “This is how I see it.”

Liam looked at it and then sent it to Stefan’s tablet as he spoke. “You are right. She is going to be an asset.”

Wendy continued the work that was given her. She chose to ignore the compliment.

Trevor chuckled. “You really are not into the attention thing. I would love to know how you can see things this way. It would be interesting to learn.”

Wendy decided to give it a shot. “Ok, I can try to show you, why I see things like I do. When you see this exit here as fine, I put the same exit in a crisis scenario. When I do that and change it, it opens the area up differently in my eyes. What I look at as a safe exit, most look at as a really nice, spacious place. I can see you all like what I’m doing. However, I enjoy seeing it like this, for a different reason than you all do.”

Stefan looked over the other project she was working on. “Why do you see it that way?”

Wendy didn’t think of making anything up. She told them the truth. “My parents were killed in a fire. We were at a hotel and couldn’t get out. The exits were not clearly marked and very narrow. My sister’s husband went to find my parents and never came back. The building was up to code; that didn’t help my parents or brother-in-law. After that fire, it was just my sister, the kids and me.”

Stefan shook his head, to remove the images put there out of his mind. He glanced at his brothers, before, he spoke. “How old were you?”

Wendy continued to mark things on her device as she answered. “I was eighteen. My sister was twenty-two. She had just had Sean. We didn’t go after our parents because we needed to get the kids out first. We watched the hotel burn, knowing those we loved were still inside.”

Liam was shocked at how monotone her voice was. “It doesn’t bother you?”

Wendy answered without even looking up. “It bothers me a lot. I choose not to let it define who I am. I cry. I just do it alone.”

The group continued their work for the next few hours. As it came time for Wendy to leave, she stacked some papers, that she had been working on, beside her tablet. “Were would you like me to keep my work?”

Stefan looked at her surprised. He realized he had been remiss. “I’m sorry. We kind of got distracted with your nails today. I didn’t show you the office you will have.”

Wendy followed him into an office next door to his. It was very spacious, there was a door from Stefan’s office, and another door out into the hall. She glanced at him. “I didn’t expect this. I thought a cubical would be okay for me.”

Stefan leaned against the doorway. He chuckled. “You and I are working as a team. Trust me; you will need this.”

Wendy put her papers on her desk. She turned and smiled. “I say our first day was a success. How did you see it, Mr. Felix?”

Stefan held the door open for her as she walked past him. He followed her to the elevator. “I think you stood by your words on Thursday. You told me I would not regret giving you a chance. You were right. Today has been a success.”

Chapter Three

 

Stefan rang Wendy’s doorbell. His brothers and their assistants were waiting in the limo. He smiled as Wendy answered the door. He was surprised when she grabbed his arm and dragged him inside her apartment. “I don’t know what kind of reward to give them for being so good. All I can think of is baby dolls and ponies. They may take me out if I get either of those for them. Help me.”

Stefan glanced down at two cherub-faced little boys. He chuckled at their wide-eyed mutinous expressions. “I take it, that you started, to promise them something, but didn’t finish your ideas. They look ready to riot.”

Wendy nodded. She looked up at him with imploring brown eyes. “What do little boys really like? They have all sorts of cars, but I want to give them something special. I thought they were going to tie me up and put me in the closet when I turned on Beauty and the Beast.”

Stefan grimaced as he chuckled. “I’m thinking, I would be doing the same thing. You don’t put that movie in for a little boy. You could always promise to buy them, Peter Pan.”

Wendy thought that sounded grand. She spontaneously hugged Stefan, and then, turned to address the boys. “Sean and Cory, you both have been so, well behaved this week. Would you like me to get you a new movie?”

Stefan grinned at the look on the boy’s faces. They still needed convincing. He spoke from behind her. “She was thinking about getting Peter Pan.”

Sean looked at his older brother. “Does that have girls and princesses in it?”

Cory nodded. “It does, but they aren’t princesses like the others. Wendy is just a girl. The other is an Indian princess. It has way more boys than girls, and it has a pirate, too.”

Sean smiled up at his aunt. “I will like a movie if Cory does. I like that Aunt Wendy is in the movie, too.”

Cory rolled his eyes. “Aunt Wendy is not in the movie. The girl has the same name, is all.”

Wendy smiled as Mary walked in from the kitchen. She was thrilled that Stefan had solved her problem for her. Peter Pan was her solution, and she was going to run with it. “It is settled then. I will get you the movie, and you two will continue to be well behaved.”

Stefan watched as the littlest one gave Wendy a sloppy kiss.

Cory started fidgeting. His eyes held worry. “You will be back?”

Wendy nodded. “I will do everything I can to come home to you, Cory. I give you my word.”

Stefan could almost taste the little boy’s fear. He was curious how Wendy would handle it.

Wendy knelt in front of Cory. “I know you worry. I am so sorry you do, but you have to know that even if I don’t come home, God loves you. He has not let you down, and He won’t.”

Cory nodded. He kissed her on the cheek. “I don’t think He plans on taking you too. I still worry, though.”

Wendy agreed. “I don’t think God will let anything happen to me, either.”

Stefan was furious that Wendy would answer the child like that. When they left and got into the elevator, he spoke to her in anger. “Why didn’t you just say you were coming back? He needed you to tell him, that you were coming home. What were you thinking?”

Wendy looked up. Seeing the anger in her boss’s eyes, she backed away from him. A lump formed in her throat. She answered truthfully, as she tried to swallow the fear she felt. “I told him my thoughts. I will never tell him that ‘nothing’ will ever happen to me. I am giving him the same answer my sister did when she was alive. He never said the last thing to her, though. I think he really does trust, that God won’t let anything happen to me. Why does that bother you?”

Stefan glared at her. His anger was evident in his eyes. “What if you don’t come home?”

Wendy started to get sick. She had only ever seen anger like this one other time. Her old boss had backed her against a wall, when she had rejected the pass, he had made at her. He backed down when she threatened to call for help, but she had been, terrified. Her voice shook as she answered him. “If I tell him I’m coming home, and I don’t, what am I saying then? I’m doing my best.”

Stefan shook his head. When the door opened, he was surprised when she darted out of the elevator.

Wendy could hear Stefan’s footsteps behind her. She walked faster until she was almost running. Her fear kept her going.

Liam and Trevor stood outside the limo. Liam looked at Trevor. “Something isn’t right. She looks terrified.”

Wendy felt Stefan’s hand on her elbow. She shook it off and turned. “Do not touch me! I won’t let you hurt me.”

Stefan was surprised by the fear he saw in her eyes. He put his hands up. “I’m sorry. I was trying to figure out why you were running.”

Wendy’s voice was choked. “You were so, angry. I didn’t understand where it came from. I… I didn’t want to be your target if you lost control. I didn’t want you to harm me.”

Stefan could see his brothers waiting, but he knew he needed to clear the air with her. “I’m sorry. I know you don’t know me, but I promise you, I would never lay a hand on you in anger.”

Wendy looked at her hands. Her voice shook a little. “I… Maybe I overreacted.”

Stefan’s voice was gentle. “You didn’t overreact. I was angry, and I did nothing to hide it. You didn’t know, that I would not hurt you. I’m sorry I let my anger show like that. Are you ready to go?”

Wendy nodded. When he took her elbow, she tried not to tremble.

Liam looked from Wendy to Stefan. His voice held concern. “Is everything ok?”

Wendy didn’t make eye contact as she nodded her head.

Stefan told them the truth. “I just acted like a jerk and scared her. Once she realizes I mean what I say, I hope she will be ok.”

Liam looked at Wendy. “Are you ready to go?”

Wendy looked at Stefan. She needed this job. The look on his face said that he really was sorry. She answered softly. “I’m ready.”

Stefan glanced at her. He really was sorry for his behavior. When he touched her elbow, to guide her into the limo, he was glad she didn’t tremble at his touch.

Liam smiled at Trevor. They both were curious about this strange relationship, between their brother and Wendy. Stefan might not know it, but he cared what his new assistant thought.

It took the limo about twenty minutes to get to the estate that the party was at. As Wendy got out, she turned and looked at Stefan. “This is not a house. This is a mansion.”

Stefan could see the awe in her eyes. He looked at Liam and Trevor. This estate was smaller than theirs. In fact, each brother had their own sizable living space aside from the kitchen area that they shared. The Felix’s mansion had seven living areas. Each area had at least three bedrooms, two bathrooms. and a sitting area. Their home was enormous.

Wendy felt Stefan’s hand on the small of her back as they started toward the mansion. She glanced at Liam and Trevor and realized they were not treating their assistants the same way. She glanced up at her boss worried again that he might be being forward.

Stefan could see the play of emotions on Wendy’s face. When she looked up at him, he spoke, softly. “They have been here before and know where they are going. I’m keeping you close so you can learn.”

Wendy nodded and smiled relieved. “Am I that obvious?”

Stefan chuckled. “Maybe only to me you are.”

The two walked into the foyer. Wendy leaned against Stefan and whispered. “If my mouth drops open, please shut it for me. I find that kind of behavior appalling.”

Stefan grinned down at her. “I can do that.”

Trevor looked at Liam, as he watched Stefan and Wendy walk in front of them. “He is more interested in his new employee than he realizes.”

Liam agreed. “I think she is interested in Stefan, too.”

Stefan turned and looked at his brothers. “I’m showing Wendy how we socialize. Are you two and your assistants ready?”

Liam nodded toward Violet. “She is already talking to the person given to her.”

Stefan followed his gaze. He turned back to Wendy and spoke with a grin. “I guess it is our turn.”

Wendy nodded and allowed him to continue guiding her. She watched and listened as he spoke to the man in front of her. She listened closely to how he phrased things. When the man turned and talked to her, she was ready.

Stefan smiled at Wendy’s ability to speak as he did. She didn’t give too much away, but still said enough to keep the client interested, in what their company had to offer. When the man walked away, he leaned down and whispered. “You are a fast learner.”

Wendy giggled. “I was, more or less, mimicking you.”

Stefan watched as her eyes continued to go around the room. He was curious what she was doing.

Wendy acknowledged the question, before, he asked it. “I’m making note of the exits. It is my habit.”

Stefan chuckled. “Am I that obvious?”

Wendy used his words from earlier. “Maybe just to me.”

The two continued to talk with clients for the next two hours. Wendy had to use the restroom. She asked one of the staff if they could direct her and started that way. She waited her turn in line. The women ahead of her were talking, loudly. She could not help but hear their words.

Darlene looked at her friend Jessa. “Did you see who Stefan Felix is with tonight?”

Jessa snickered. “That dress she is wearing leaves a lot to the imagination. I’m trying to figure out if she is his date or his assistant. She is dressed like his assistant, but he seems awfully protective of her.”

Wendy looked at the lady beside her and giggled. “Those two are kind of rude.”

Darlene continued to talk. “I hope she is his assistant. I love how that man looks in a Tux.”

Jessa snickered. “You and half the female population think he looks yummy in a Tux.”

Wendy really had not paid attention to that feature of her boss’s wardrobe. She looked around to see if her boss seemed yummy. When she spied him, she grinned and whispered. “I guess he is passable.” She made a mental note to tell her boss, what these two were saying. It was hysterical.

Jessa grinned. “I know I would love to take his wife’s place.”

Darlene giggled. “You and me both… She has been dead for almost two years. I wonder how long he plans on mourning her. From what I hear, this is the cutest assistant he has gotten since her death. He does not tolerate flirts.”

Jessa spotted Wendy. She knew the woman had heard them. She decided to ask Wendy questions herself. “Are you his date?”

Wendy shook her head no. “I am his assistant.”

Darlene gave her a condescending look. “I’m thinking, even his assistant should be dressed better than you are. What bargain store did you get that thing from?”

Wendy chuckled. “You are going to have to do better than that to bother me. I’m his assistant. As you said, I’m new. Of course, I can’t just go out and buy an expensive gown. I’m happy with who I am.”

Darlene was now curious. “We really don’t bother you do we?’

Wendy shook her head and stepped forward as the line moved. “Not at all…”

Jessa was curious. “Why?”

Wendy shrugged her shoulders. “I guess I have more important things to think about.”

Darlene snickered. “What could you have to think about that is so important? You are not that old at all.”

Wendy had no intention of answering her. She smiled at them. “I think it is your turn.”

Jessa looked at Darlene. “Is she dismissing us?”

Darlene shook her head. “I do believe she is.”

Wendy grinned. “I’m not dismissing you. I’m choosing to remain mysterious. If a girl doesn’t have a wardrobe, she has to have something on her side.”

Jessa laughed. “I think she is trying to make us feel better about dismissing us.”

Wendy really had to go. “I am flattered that you both are so interested in me, but I really need to use the restroom. If you two aren’t going to use it, may I go first?”

Darlene and Jessa stood aside and allowed her to go. A few minutes later, Wendy emerged from the bathroom. She passed the women. “You both have a great evening.”

Stefan watched Wendy walk toward him from across the room. He was very curious what Wendy had said to the two women, that she had been talking to. Their faces looked like they were confused and offended all in one.

Wendy grinned at her boss. “Well, Mr. Felix, what should we do next?”

Stefan nodded toward the women. “What was that about?”

Wendy snickered. “I don’t think you want to know.”

Stefan looked down at her. The twinkle in her eyes made him curious. “I think I do.”

Wendy stood back and looked at him from the top of his head to his feet. She grinned. “They were saying that you looked yummy in a tux. They also insinuated I look a bit underdressed.”

Stefan could actually feel himself blush. He knew Wendy saw it too. The little imp looked like she wanted to laugh in his face.

Wendy nibbled her bottom lip. She was doing her best not to laugh at Stefan’s blush. When she looked at him, she grinned. “I did tell you that you didn’t want to know. However, you really are a lovely shade of red. Let me see if I can find your brothers. I am almost positive they do not want to miss this.”

Stefan tugged her hand when she started walking away. “You are a brat. Why did I hire you again?”

Wendy giggled. “I think it has to do with the fact I’m brilliant. According to them, I’m not much to look at, but hey, I have my brain going for me.”

Stefan chuckled. He shook his head. “It doesn’t bother you does it?”

Wendy looked up at him. “I have a lot more to worry about than how I look. Like I told them, I’m happy with who I am.”

Stefan shook his head. “You are actually very cute. I think they are wrong.”

Wendy started to nibble her bottom lip. She didn’t want this man to notice her like that. She glanced up at him as insecurities began to surface.

Stefan realized what he had said. His voice was soft. “I promise I didn’t mean that in an inappropriate way. What they are saying is wrong. I just wanted you to know that.”

Wendy nodded. She looked up at him. “I just get nervous I guess.”

Stefan started walking with her. He glanced down at her. “Was his pass that bad?”

Wendy visibly shuddered at the thought. “I had to threaten to call for help. He had no intentions of letting me go. I was frightened when he pushed me against a wall.”

Stefan could see how a simple comment he made would make her nervous. “I’m sorry. I didn’t realize it would bother you. I just wanted to assure you the women were wrong.”

Wendy nibbled her bottom lip again. She had seen this man angry and didn’t want to repeat that. Wendy was worried but didn’t want him to know. She pasted a smile on her face and said, softly. “There was no harm done.”

Stefan could tell she was done with the conversation. He pretended to believe her as they continued to socialize. When she glanced up at him a few minutes later, he leaned down and spoke to her. “I know you are upset with me. I’m sorry. You don’t have to worry about me. I’m not going to hurt you in any way. You don’t have to pretend to be ok.”

Wendy could see he was sincere. She glanced down at her hands and then back up at him. “This time, I mean it, when I say no harm done.”

Stefan was relieved she believed him. “Now Ms. Collins, let’s wrap this evening up and go home to our kids.”

The two finished the night and did, exactly, what Stefan suggested. They each went to their homes and to the little arms that waited to hug them.

 

Chapter Four

 

Sunday morning was there, and Wendy was ready to face the day. This would be her first time serving on the worship team for their church. She was not nervous. She was ready to talk to God in song.

Wendy sat on her stool and began singing a duet with their worship pastor. She loved this part of the week. It was her time to honor a God that had done so much for her. The words of Glorious Day flowed from her mouth as she worshiped Jesus.

When worship ended, Wendy found her seat, beside her friend Carla, and listened to the sermon. The pastor talked about finding peace. This was something that Wendy could say she sought daily. She also knew that there were days she fell very short.

The fact was she was a mom of two boys she didn’t know how to raise. It scared her to think that they had no male influence in their life to teach them how to be men. She knew that many single moms did this, but she was worried they may have some answers she didn’t. She turned in her Bible to the passage the pastor was reading from.

The words of John sixteen verse thirty-three spoke to Wendy. Her world was full of turmoil for sure. She lived day to day waiting for the next trial to begin. She struggled to find peace in her world. She knew she needed to focus on the fact that Christ had already seen her future. No matter what happened, Christ did have her through it. She felt a deep sense of conviction as she listened to the sermon.

Although Wendy felt that feeling of conviction, she was also aware that if she thought about it long enough, she would justify her sin of worrying. She was taking notes on things she needed to do. Things that would be done with the purpose of actively seeking peace.

Carla leaned over. “I want you to know, if you need a break, I’m able to watch the boys. Sometimes, finding peace means taking some time for you.”

Wendy smiled at her friend. It was always nice to know that her best friend had her back. “I may take you up on that.”

The two sat and listened to the rest of the sermon. Wendy was touched by her friend’s offer. She was honest enough to acknowledge the fact, that she was exhausted most days. This was a life she had not asked for. It was also a life she would not give up for anything. Gracie had talked to lawyers within a month of her husband and parents’ deaths. Wendy remembered her sister’s fear that the boys would not have anyone if something happened to her. It had made things easy for Wendy, that Gracie had taken the time to ensure her children’s future.

As the pastor ended the sermon, Wendy and the rest of the worship team made their way to the front. Wendy took comfort in the last song that was sung. She stood on stage and sang. She claimed the promise, of being able to hide in God, and allow Him to bring her peace when life seemed to be too much. As they were dismissed, Wendy felt the stirring of that peace in her heart.

Liam stood in the kitchen of the penthouse. The men had decided to spend the weekend there since they had clients to socialize with. He put a bite of his cereal in his mouth, as he continued to get ready for church. He glanced up and was surprised, to see Trevor standing there with his Bible.

Trevor knew Liam was surprised. The man was choking on his cereal. “I did grow up the same way you did.”

Liam nodded. He had been praying for both of his brothers to come back to a relationship with God. His voice held emotion. “I know. I guess…”

Trevor left him off the hook. “I get it. I have not exactly been living for God. I have seen you, every Sunday, get ready and go. It always made me feel a bit guilty. I know where I need to be. Meeting Wendy has changed me. Her faith is just that. It has been tested. I want to get back to that kind of faith.”

Liam smiled at his brother. “I’m glad you are coming.”

Trevor walked over and poured himself a cup of coffee. His voice was thoughtful. “I have been making some pretty stupid choices these last few years. When Mom and Dad moved down to Florida, it made it easy for me to ease my way out of church.”

Liam said nothing, allowing Trevor to speak his mind. He knew some of the mistakes Trevor was talking about. He would never forget, waking up, one morning, to a scantily clad woman sipping coffee, in their kitchen, like she owned the place. Unfortunately, none of the brothers had realized their parents had flown in for a visit during the night. As long as Liam lived, he would never forget his mother explaining to the young woman, in her motherly no-nonsense way, that she needed to go and never return.

Trevor chuckled. “I take it that you are remembering the time I brought Heather home? I may be a grown man, but I felt like I was three that day. Our mother was furious.”

Liam laughed as he cleaned his bowl. “She could have cared less that you were twenty-seven at the time.”

Trevor walked with his brother toward the elevator. “She certainly let me have it. I assumed I was too big to get the belt.”

Liam laughed as they stepped in. “Mom sure did show you how wrong you were to assume that.”

Trevor pushed the button to go down to the parking garage. He looked at Liam and confessed softly. “I have not touched another woman since that day. I knew what I was doing was wrong, no matter how willing she was. I would never want a man to treat our niece like I did her.”

Liam nodded. “It is hard staying pure. I’ve come close to giving in to temptation. It is difficult saying no. I’m not boasting when I say this, but we are rich and not too bad to look at. I’ve had many offers. I guess I want what Stefan and Deanna had. Their love was genuine. It was Christ centered. I don’t understand why God took her.”

Trevor followed Liam to the car after exiting the elevator. “I don’t know why God took her either. I am glad you have never allowed that question to cloud your judgment. Once you give it away, it is harder to say no. I know, that even though I was not living like I should have been, God was the one that helped me. I could not look at another woman, without understanding, she was someone’s sister, daughter, or even niece.”

Liam pulled out of the parking space. He looked over at Trevor. “Have you asked Christ to forgive you?”

Trevor nodded. “I have. I’m ashamed to say that it has only been in this last week that I have asked.”

Liam grinned. “All that matters is that you did.”

Trevor sat back and enjoyed the ride. He looked over at Liam. “If Stefan falls for Wendy, she won’t be able to, even, consider him. He is not living the Christian walk.”

Liam glanced at his brother. “I have thought of that. I just can’t help but believe that God will work that out. Wendy came into our lives for a reason. From day one, I knew she was different. She had no desire to have our attention on her. Stefan is different with her.”

Trevor looked at the church he had left a few years ago. He watched Liam steer the car toward a parking space. The two got out of the car and headed toward the entrance. When Trevor walked in, he looked at Liam. “I missed doing this.”

Liam glanced at Trevor. “I missed having you here.”

The service started. Trevor and Liam prepared their hearts during worship to hear what the pastor’s message would be.

Liam watched the pastor take the pulpit. He listened to the pastor as he read Galatians chapter one verses six through ten.

Pastor Keller looked out at the congregation. He knew he had a huge responsibility to the people of this church. What he was getting ready to say was breaking his heart. “As all of you know, we had our church denomination’s national conference last week. I have prayed long and hard about what I am about to share with you today.”

Liam looked at Trevor. “This is different.”

Trevor had been to church enough to sense that too.

The pastor paused before speaking again. “There were some things addressed at the conference that were changed. I have searched the scriptures for the justification of these changes. In doing that, I have found only one truth. If I teach that sin is not sin, I will be judged for that. I have found the verses I just read to you as well. I am not permitted, as a Christian, to preach anything other than the Gospel of Christ. My heart is broken that our denomination seems to be straying from the truth.”

Liam leaned forward on his knees as he watched the pastor get control of his emotions. He whispered a prayer for the man to be able to finish.

After gaining control of his emotions, Pastor Keller continued. “It is with regret that I inform you all this will be my last Sunday. I will no longer be a part of this denomination. I will encourage you all to seek churches that speak the truth of sin in love. I have been asked to condone and encourage all sexualities and the exploration of sexual freedom. As you know, there is not one verse in the Bible that gives me permission to do that. While I will always show respect to my fellow man, I will not sit by and love a person to hell. I must address sin as such and not ignore it. My heart is heavy that I must encourage the people I have grown to love to seek a different place of worship. I will not stand down, without letting you know, that the person who will be taking my place will abide by our denomination’s new nonbiblical outlook. If you have any questions, I want you all to feel free to talk to me about them. I am heartbroken about this, and want you all to understand the importance of why I will not and cannot do what they are asking.”

Trevor and Liam listened as the pastor continued to pour out his heart. They listened to the things he was asked to stop addressing as sin. When it became hard for the pastor to continue, they both prayed that he would have the strength to continue. As the pastor ended his sermon, they looked around and prayed for those that were hearing it.

Liam was stunned at what the preacher was saying. He had known that Pastor Keller was concerned about the direction the denomination seemed to be heading. Even with that knowledge, he was shocked at what he was hearing. He was also concerned for his brother. This was not how he wanted Trevor’s first time back at church in years to go. It sounded like they would need to find another church. He started praying that this would not discourage his brother from seeking Christ again.

Trevor leaned over to Liam. “It sounds like we need to start looking around for a solid church. I’m not even sure where to start with that.”

Liam was relieved. He nodded his head. “I guess we can figure it out this week.”

Trevor continued to listen as the pastor expressed his concern for his flock’s souls should they decide to stay. He had to agree with the pastor. Staying was a very, risky option. He knew his parents would concur with what Pastor Keller was saying. He also knew he needed to call his mom and apologize again for his lack respect regarding Heather spending the night with him. When the pastor finished, he stood as they worshiped again in song before they were dismissed.

As Liam and Trevor headed back to the car, Liam looked at Trevor. “That was not what I was expecting.”

Trevor had to agree. “It was an exciting first day back in church. It was also my first test. I’m going to continue to seek Christ even through this.”

Liam unlocked the car doors. “I’m happy to know that. I was worrying about that. I love you and Stefan. It concerned me to know that you two were not ready to face eternity.”

Trevor buckled his seat belt. “I guess now we pray for Stefan. There are two souls involved in his case.”

Liam agreed as he started to drive back to the penthouse. “I have asked him so, many times about bringing Macy with me. He always says no.”

Trevor thought of Deanna. “Macy’s mom would be heartbroken to know that Stefan is not taking Macy to church. Deanna loved Christ. She was not afraid to die.”

The men continued to talk the rest of the drive. They would be going back to the estate later that day, but decided to make it a point to wake up early and have devotions together before they went to work. Though the day had some very tense moments with what was going on at the church, it also held promise for a continuing walk with Christ for both men, even in the midst of a troubled church.

Chapter Five

 

Monday morning found Stefan and Wendy in a very tense meeting. Wendy watched as the client and Stefan looked over the plans. The client owned a number of hotels. His name was Malcolm Stratherd.

Stefan glanced at the plans as Malcolm pointed out certain things he wanted to be changed. It was a project Stefan had done before Wendy was hired. Stefan spoke to Malcolm. “I know you want certain changes made, but I need to you be specific about what you think is missing.”

Malcolm pointed to three areas of the blueprints. “Something just doesn’t flow here. I know it looks right. I even thought that they looked fine when I accepted your bid, but the more I look at them, the more I get the feeling it could be something more.”

Stefan looked at Wendy. He and Malcolm had been friends a long time. He had hoped to keep Wendy out of sight on this project but knew her eyes would be helpful. “What do you see?”

Wendy hesitated. She was comfortable around the Felix brothers, but this was a stranger to her. He was also too close. When Stefan made room beside him, she was relieved. Standing beside Stefan, Wendy looked over the plans. She started making notes on the exits and then she looked at the area’s Mr. Stratherd had indicated. When she finished, she handed the tablet device to Malcolm. “I see this. I’m not sure if that helps, but I believe it will give the area’s you are talking about more class. It will also exceed the building codes for exits.”

Malcolm studied the notes. He looked up at Stefan. “I like it. Rumor had it you hired a beautiful face. This one seems to have brains.”

Wendy looked down at her hands. His words made her nervous. She swallowed hard to keep the sick feelings at bay. She glanced up at Stefan and spoke, softly. “I have the other two projects waiting for me. Should I go do them?”

Stefan nodded. He knew Wendy was not comfortable. Stefan also had expected his friend to voice his opinion on Wendy. “We have our first meeting for the one this afternoon. That would be great.”

Malcolm watched Wendy leave. He spoke after she left. “She is very easy to look at.”

Stefan clenched his jaw doing his best to keep his temper in check. He could, still, feel Wendy’s distress at Stratherd’s words. He decided to ease the conversation back to the project. “Do you like the way it flows now? If you do, I can get these changes approved for the building permits.”

Malcolm glanced up at a man he had known for years. He looked at the doorway to Wendy’s office. He sat down and looked at Stefan. “You’re protective of her. Is there something between you two?”

Stefan was getting angry. “I know you like to play games. She can’t be one of them. I’m asking you as a friend to let this drop.”

Malcolm was intrigued. He had not seen this side of Stefan in years. “Why?”

Stefan walked over to his desk and sat down. He glanced up at Malcolm. “Four years ago she lost her parents and brother-in-law in a fire. Three months ago she lost her sister to a drunk driver. She is a single mom to her sister’s two boys. Malcolm, I know you like a challenge. I’m, again, asking you as a friend to let this one go. She has been hurt enough.”

Wendy stood in the doorway. She listened to Stefan and Malcolm’s conversation. Taking a step back into Stefan’s office, she looked at the men. When Malcolm looked at her, she didn’t hide the tears his words had caused. Her pain was real. She wanted him to see it.

Malcolm looked at Wendy and then Stefan. His voice was contrite. “I guess I do have a conscience. I assure you both; I will not speak so inappropriately again.”

Wendy whispered softly. The men could hear the relief in her voice. “Thank you.”

After Wendy had walked back into her office, Malcolm sat back in his chair. Glancing at Stefan, he spoke. “I can see why you hired her. She is brilliant, and she is not a flirt. She seems to do her job and nothing more. She fits the bill of what you have been looking for since Dee’s death.”

Stefan nodded at the blueprints. He flinched at Malcolm’s reference to his wife. He was ready to change the subject. “You never answered the question. Do you like the changes?”

Malcolm grinned. He knew he was being dismissed. “I do. It was, exactly, what I wanted, even if I didn’t realize it.”

Stefan chuckled, knowing his friend was trying to lighten things up. “She is really, good at that. Thanks for not pursuing her.”

Malcolm smiled. “I know I may come across as a bit of jerk. Normally, that is the right assumption. She kind of tugs at the heart strings, though.”

Stefan shook Malcolm’s hand as they finished their business. After Malcolm had left, Stefan walked over to Wendy’s door. He knocked on the side of the doorway. When she looked up at him, he smiled. “Are you ok?”

Wendy looked down at her work. When she glanced back up at him, he could see the torment in her eyes. “Mr. Felix, is it me? Do I do something that makes that happen?”

Stefan was surprised. He walked in and sat down on the chair in front of her desk. “It is not you, Ms. Collins. Why would you think that?”

Wendy felt miserable. Tears stung her eyes. “I guess because it is the second time that it has happened. I thought maybe I was doing something.”

Stefan leaned forward and put his elbows on his knees. “You have not done anything wrong. Ms. Collins, you are not ugly, and some men are just not so nice, when they notice that. I’m sorry you think this is on you, but it isn’t. Malcolm is my friend. I knew he was going to hit on you. I was hoping to keep you out of sight, but I needed your help. I’m sorry that his pass made you think it was you.”

Wendy nodded. She took a deep breath. “This is not your fault either. Like you said, some men aren’t nice. I’m glad you and your brothers aren’t like that.”

Stefan knew he needed to leave her alone. The fact was he really wanted to hug her and tell her it was ok. He knew that would only make her feel, worse. He stood and smiled down at her. “I guess I need to get back to work.”

Wendy smiled at him. She remembered a question she had wanted to ask him and had forgotten. “Will it be ok, if a friend of mine drops the boys off here today? It will be, about a half hour, before work finishes.”

Stefan nodded. “That will be all right.”

The two worked until lunch. Wendy was so engrossed in the project that she was surprised when a plate of chips and a sandwich was placed in front of her. She looked up at Stefan and gave him a lopsided grin. “I guess I’m a bit too focused. I do love this work.”

Stefan sat down with his plate. “You really are. Can I ask you a question?”

Wendy nibbled a chip. She smiled at him. Wendy’s smile faded, slightly, when she noticed him hesitate. “Sure…”

Stefan knew he had to word this just right. He didn’t want to freak her out but knew that it could. “Violet calls us all by our first name. Julia does as well. There are three of us Felix men. If my dad stops by when he visits from Florida, it goes up to four Felix men. Would it bother you to call us by our first names?”

Wendy could tell he was worried. She knew he was not being forward with her. Wendy’s heart was touched that he cared about her comfort. She nodded. “I have no problem with that. It may take me a while to remember, so you may need to remind me.”

Stefan swallowed the bite of food he had in his mouth. “Do you want me to keep calling you Ms. Collins or is Wendy ok?”

Wendy decided to tease him. She did a theatrical wave of her hand. “I suppose you may call me Wendy. If you happen to add Queen in front of it, I’ll answer every time.”

Stefan laughed at her joke. “Thank you, your highness. I appreciate it.”

Wendy continued to nibble her food. She remembered, what the two women, in line at the bathroom at the dinner party, had said about his wife. She spoke hesitantly. “Stefan, I want to thank you for understanding my loss and my vulnerability. I’m sorry you have had your own to deal with.”

Stefan glanced at her. “Thanks. As you know, the pain lessens. It is nice, knowing you get that.”

Wendy looked up at him. Her voice was soft and thoughtful. “I worry that they will forget her. Gracie was so, beautiful. To know her, was to fall in love with her. Her beauty radiated from the inside out.”

Stefan understood what Wendy was saying. “Macy never got to know her. I show her pictures of Deanna. I try to tell her, who her mom was. Can I tell you something?”

Wendy nodded. She sipped her water as she watched the play of emotions on his face. “You can tell me anything.”

Stefan took a deep breath. He admitted something to Wendy that he had never confessed to anyone. “I’m not doing what Dee would have wanted. She believed like you. Dee believed in Christ. I used to, but after her death, I guess. I question if God is someone I want to know. I have never told Macy about Christ. Deep down inside, I know I should, even if it is only to help her understand her mother.”

Wendy knew she needed to be careful with her response. She didn’t want to come across as being judgmental. “It hurts not understanding why God took them. It is hard to trust, that He sees something I can’t. I do know He loves me. He loves you and Macy too. When you are ready, He will be waiting.”

Stefan nodded. He smiled. “I think I will be ready sooner than later. Trevor is back in church now too. He and Liam are looking for a new place to worship, but they have both told me they are praying for me. I wish I had your faith.”

Wendy looked at Stefan. It was time for her to confess a few things. “Can I tell you something now?”

Stefan glanced up at her surprised that she wanted to share. “You can if you want to.”

Wendy hated being vulnerable. She knew Stefan needed her to be that now, though. “I cry myself to sleep most nights. When Gracie died, I was so angry. I actually went into a room away from the boys and just yelled at God. If I have, to be honest, I even used a bit of language I’m not proud of. I’m terrified of failing the boys. I’m not a man. How do I teach them to be men? I question my faith more than I should. You aren’t alone, Stefan. I get what you are saying.”

Stefan was surprised by Wendy’s confession. He observed her body language. “You didn’t want to share that with me. Why did you?”

Wendy looked at her boss. “Like I said, I wanted you to know that I get it. I also wanted you to know that God does too. He created us to be who we are. He listens when we are ticked off. He sees every tear that hits my pillow and yours. He knows you, Stefan. He is ok with your anger. Tell Him how you feel. He will listen, and just like any good relationship, it will free you and Him to grow again. You have to weed things out, so the sunlight can shine on you again. When the sun comes, you will thrive.”

Stefan regarded the woman in front of him. For the first time since Deanna’s death, he felt understood and accepted. Stefan also felt a stirring in his heart; he was unsure of at the moment. He glanced down at his plate and then back up at Wendy. “Thank you for saying that. I wish I could put into words how much it means to be understood.”

Wendy nibbled her sandwich, again. She knew Stefan was more than a boss. When she looked at him, she knew he was aware of that too. “How do we do this friendship thing? You are my boss.”

Stefan took a deep breath. “It is different for us. It has been from the beginning. I guess we just acknowledge that it is ok for us to vent and be friends.”

Wendy nodded. This was not something she was entirely comfortable with. Being friends with Stefan gave him the opportunity to hurt her, and that scared her. She decided, to be honest with him. “This is hard for me. I don’t like letting people close.”

Stefan chuckled. “That makes two of us. I knew from the first time I met you in the elevator you were going to be trouble.”

Wendy giggled. “I was, absolutely, mortified, when I realized I had just confessed my last job’s issues to you. I almost turned around and left.”

Stefan raised an eyebrow. He chuckled softly. “There was no ‘almost’ about it. I think I had to encourage you to come back two or three times before we finally finished the interview.”

The two finished their lunches in comfortable silence and then got back to work. They had just finished their second meeting of the afternoon when Wendy’s friend showed up with the boys.

Liam and Trevor looked at each other as Wendy’s receptionist ushered the boys and Wendy’s friend back.

Trevor could see Stefan’s surprise. He was curious to see what his brother would do.

Liam chuckled. “I’m thinking, our brother is a bit jealous.”

Stefan looked at Wendy. He tried not to frown when she smiled at the man.

“Hey, Brandon… How were they?” She asked as the boys ran to her.

Brandon chuckled. “They were great. We did guy things.”

Cory remembered Stefan. He surprised the man by walking over to him and crawling into his lap. He looked up at him. “Aunt Kim yelled at us a couple of times. Uncle Brandon made her mad.”

Stefan looked up at the man for clarification.

Brandon glanced at Stefan and held out his hand. “I’m Brandon. I’m the worship pastor at Wendy’s church.”

Stefan shook the man’s hand. “I’m Stefan, Wendy’s boss.”

Brandon looked at the Felix brothers. He almost laughed at how protective they seemed of Wendy. He decided to explain. “Kim is my wife. We, men, kind of made a bit of a mess.”

Sean walked over to Stefan refusing to be left out. He crawled up beside his brother.

Stefan was surprised at the scowl Wendy was giving Brandon. He tried not to smile. She was not happy.

Wendy looked at Brandon. She frowned at the man as she put her hands on her hips. “Please tell me you made them help clean up.”

Sean laughed. “Aunt Kim called Uncle Brandon a big kid. We almost started a fire.”

Liam laughed as he watched Brandon start to get uncomfortable.

Brandon held up his hands. “Now, I can explain, Wendy. I didn’t know my wife had a candle burning. Us men started playing with the swords and things just happened.”

Wendy looked at Brandon through narrowed eyes. “What kind of swords were you three playing with?”

Brandon glanced at Stefan. “Do I look like I would give them real ones?”

Stefan shook his head. “You don’t, but I suggest you keep explaining. Wendy doesn’t seem to have a problem believing you would.”

Brandon looked at Wendy. “They were the soft toy ones. You have to teach a man the art of swordsmanship. It is a man thing.”

Wendy shook her head. “I bet Kim was just thrilled with that. I need to write down all of these man things. I am almost positive you are making most of this up. I hope you helped her clean it up.”

Brandon frowned at Wendy. “Of course, I did. Have you seen my wife’s pregnant belly? She is getting ready to explode. I’m not stupid.”

Wendy raised an eyebrow at his use of words. Her voice was soft, too soft. “I really hope you don’t use the term ‘explode’ around her. Are you really using that term in front of me?”

Brandon looked at Liam, Trevor, and Stefan. “I actually did. I don’t recommend it at all. You know how women can be…”

Wendy glanced at the men in the room. “Why don’t you four enlighten me? How can us women be?”

Stefan looked at Brandon. The man had dug himself an enormous hole. He had no intentions of joining him in the space he had dug. “You are on your own. I like living and breathing.”

Brandon glanced at Wendy. He held up his hands like he was defending himself. “I apologize for that statement from the bottom of my heart. I would greatly appreciate it if my wife does not hear about this.”

Wendy’s laugh held no mercy. “I won’t forget this. I expect to hear from your wife that she has been getting foot rubs. I suggest you also get her that wrap she wants.”

Brandon chuckled. “You ladies really do stick together.”

Wendy glanced at the men. “We have to. You men can really be clueless. A fire…really?”

Brandon knew it was time to leave. “Are you coming tomorrow?”

Wendy smiled. “I’ll be there. Tell Kim that I love her.”

Brandon looked at the men. “It was nice meeting you. If you are ever in our area on Sunday, feel free to stop by for church.”

Liam looked at Trevor. They both followed Brandon out of the office. They had all intentions of visiting the church sometime in the near future.

Wendy looked at Stefan holding the boys. “I think they like you.”

Stefan laughed. “It appears to be the case.”

When Trevor and Liam walked back in, the four adults talked a bit more before it was time for Wendy and the boys to leave. Wendy left knowing that she and Stefan had started a very, nice yet delicate friendship. Stefan watched Wendy, and the boys leave, wondering why he had been jealous of Brandon, until, he realized the man was married. He shook his head knowing he would need to evaluate that in the near future.

Chapter Six

 

It had been two weeks since Stefan and Wendy had forged a fragile friendship. It was a Friday night, and the two were once again at a function to socialize with clients.

Stefan leaned down and whispered in Wendy’s ear. “I see our two friends from our very first night out. I’m not sure they spotted me in my tux yet.”

Wendy followed his gaze and giggled. She teased him with a sparkle in her eyes. “Would you like to go walk by them? They do find you yummy in that tux.”

Stefan chuckled. “You would like that wouldn’t you?”

Wendy looked up at him. Her eyes shined with laughter. “Mr. Felix, you wound me with such accusations. I’m am always proper and restrained.”

Stefan nudged her with his elbow. “You need to stop picking.”

Wendy didn’t agree to anything. Instead, she changed the subject. “I believe that man there is the one you assigned me to chat with. It is time for me to earn my money. You go walk by the girls.”

Stefan watched her walk over to one of his clients. He chuckled as she glanced back at him and winked after making her little comment. He couldn’t help but be impressed as she engaged the man in conversation.

Stefan took his eyes off her and watched his brothers walk over to him. “She sure knows how to talk to them.”

Liam chuckled. “She seemed like she was giving you some grief before she went over.”

Stefan laughed. “The first time we ever did this. Two women talked about me in my tux. Wendy likes to torment me about it.”

The night went on for another hour. Stefan and Wendy found themselves together numerous times comparing notes. As the evening started to slow down, Wendy found herself in the bathroom line once again. She turned and smiled when she heard the familiar voices behind her.

Darlene spoke. “Well look who we have here.”

Jessa chuckled. “It looks like your wardrobe is doing better.”

Wendy laughed. “I got this at the thrift store. I’m glad you like it.”

Darlene started choking on her drink. She looked at Wendy incredulously. “Are you kidding?”

Wendy shook her head. “Not at all. I like a good bargain.” She couldn’t help but wink at Darlene. “It seems you do too.”

Jessa snorted. “Why do you need to worry about bargain shopping? You are young, and I know the Felix brothers pay excellent wages.”

Wendy giggled. “I told you I want to stay mysterious.”

Darlene was not sure if she wanted to be catty to the woman or not. She had seen how Wendy and Stefan talked during the party. A part of her was jealous.

Wendy looked at the women. “It’s my turn.”

Jessa watched her walk into the restroom. “She really is kind of interesting.”

A few minutes later, the women watched her come out of the restroom. Jessa stood in front of her. “You have to, at least, tell us your name.”

Wendy smiled at her. “I was never keeping that a secret. I’m Wendy.”

Jessa was getting ready to introduce herself when Wendy’s phone rang.

Wendy looked at her cell. She was unaware that her face showed her worry. Even to the Felix men, who were all across the room.

Jessa looked at her. “Is everything ok?”

Wendy answered the phone. It took the Felix men less than a minute to get to her. The panic on her face could easily be seen from across the room. Her voice shook as tears formed in her eyes. “It’s ok Mary. What hospital did they take him to?”

Stefan listened to Wendy’s side of the conversation.

Wendy’s voice continued to tremble as tears made their way silently down her cheeks. “I understand that you had to call an ambulance. I just need to know where they took him.”

Stefan watched the play of emotions on Wendy’s face. When she ended the call, he looked at her. “What’s wrong?”

Wendy started crying in earnest at his question. “Sean fell and gashed his head wide open. Mary had to call an ambulance. Stefan, he is on his way to the hospital, and he’s alone. The boys are terrified of hospitals. In their eyes, their mom went into one and never came home. I left them, and now one of them is hurt. I’m not good at this mom thing.”

Stefan could see she was starting to panic. He knew she couldn’t blame herself. “I know you’re upset, but you need to try to calm down. Wendy, you are a great mom to those boys. I’ve seen how they look at you, but you have to know accidents happen.”

Wendy shook her head as she continued to sob. “I can’t do this. Cory was screaming his head off for Mary. He thinks Sean is dying. They both need me.”

Liam looked at Wendy. “Trevor and I can go to your apartment and stay with Cory. You and Stefan go to Sean. It will be ok.”

Wendy was shaking. “Mary said there was so, much blood.”

Stefan looked at Wendy. “You can’t panic. They both need you to stay calm. I know you are scared, but you have to stay calm.”

Wendy’s voice was anguished. “They both need me. Who do I choose? I need Gracie to show me how to take care of her boys.”

Stefan took her hand. He had to calm her down. “You have to go to Sean; he is alone. Liam and Trevor will go to Cory. Wendy, it will be ok. Let’s get to Sean. Gracie knew you could handle them. I know you can too.”

Jessa looked at the men. “I’ll go with Darlene if you need to use my limo. We can make sure your assistants make it home as well.”

Stefan nodded. “That would be helpful. Thank you, Jessa.”

Wendy hugged Jessa surprising her. “Thank you.”

Jessa returned her hug. She couldn’t help but admire the spunky woman.

Stefan knew Wendy was close to losing it again. He guided her to the car. “Wendy what hospital?”

Wendy looked at Stefan. “She said they were taking him to Mount Sinai.”

Stefan watched Wendy try to calm down as the limo headed toward the hospital. When she couldn’t seem to pull it together, he pulled her into his arms. “It will be ok. You cry now. When we get there, he needs to see you calm.”

Wendy leaned her head against Stefan’s chest. She felt him rub her back as she continued to cry. When they pulled into the hospital parking lot, she was staring blankly at nothing.

Stefan touched Wendy’s face. “Are you ready?”

Wendy looked up at him and whispered softly. “I think so.”

Stefan took her hand. He didn’t let go as they walked into the ER. He listened as Wendy spoke to the receptionist. When a nurse came out, he put his arm around her as they were escorted to the room Sean was in.

Wendy looked at Sean. The little boy looked terrified. She rushed to his bedside. “I’m here. It will be ok.”

Sean sniffled. He looked up at his aunt. “They need to fix my head.”

Wendy looked at the nurse who was holding gauze on her nephew’s head. She spoke, softly. “How many stitches?”

The nurse answered her gently. “The doctor said at least ten.”

Wendy pasted a smile on her face. She felt Stefan put his hands on her shoulders and leaned back against him. Looking at her nephew, she spoke to him softly. “I need to you be brave. Can you do that for me?”

Sean started crying. “I don’t want them to put needles in my head.”

Wendy spoke gently. “They have to. I’ll be right here. I won’t leave you, but you have to be strong.”

Sean looked at Stefan. “You won’t leave me will you?”

Stefan smiled. “I’ll stay with you and Aunt Wendy.”

Wendy watched as the doctor came into the room. She knew they were getting ready to start doing the sutures by the Papoose board they were carrying. She leaned against Stefan again, knowing, this was going, to get worse, before it got, better.

Stefan leaned down and whispered in Wendy’s ear. “Do not let him see you cry. We both know what is going to happen now.”

Wendy nodded. She soothed her nephew as they positioned him on the board. “I’ll hold your hand down here. They need to do this, so you don’t move.”

The doctor explained to Sean what he was going to do. He told Sean he would feel the first pinch of the needle but after that, it would be numb.

Stefan spoke to Sean. He soothed the child with his words. “You try to take deep breaths when you feel it. Before you know it, you won’t be able to feel a thing. I had to do this when I was your age.”

Sean looked at his aunt and Stefan. A determined look crossed his face after he heard Stefan’s words. “I can be brave.”

Wendy held Sean’s hand while her other hand held Stefan’s. She felt the reassuring squeeze the man gave her.

Stefan kissed the top of Wendy’s head. “It is almost done.”

Wendy nodded. She watched as they started to numb Sean’s head. “You’re doing great. You’re almost done with the pinches.”

Sean breathed. Tears ran done his little cheeks. When his wound was finally numb, he took a deep breath and looked at Stefan. He whispered. “Did I do good?”

Stefan smiled at the boy. His voice was gentle. “You did great buddy. Just a little more to go.”

An hour after they finished the stitches, the doctor released Sean. Stefan looked at Wendy. He was aware he needed to be careful, how he worded, what he was going to say next. “Liam and Trevor are taking Cory to our estate. We will meet them there.”

Wendy looked at Stefan alarmed. “Why?”

Stefan held Sean in his arms as they started toward the exit. “You need some help. Let us be there for you. We are friends, Wendy. This is what friends do.”

Wendy nodded. If she had, to be honest, she didn’t want to be alone with the boys for the night. “Stefan, thank you for doing this.”

Stefan settled Sean in a booster seat. He hugged Wendy close. “You are more than welcome. I’m glad I could do this.”

Wendy felt Stefan kiss the top of her head again. She closed her eyes and absorbed the comfort he offered.

Twenty minutes had passed before they arrived at the Felix Estate. Wendy looked at the size of the mansion. She was suddenly feeling frightened.

Stefan hugged Wendy close. “You will be okay. The staff has one of our extra living spaces ready for you and the boys. Liam and Trevor are with Cory now waiting for you.”

Wendy looked up at her boss. “Stefan, if my mouth drops open close it for me.”

Stefan chuckled at her attempt of a joke. “I will. I know you find that kind of behavior appalling.”

Wendy knew she was trembling. When he hugged her close, she looked up at him.

Stefan felt a wave of protectiveness engulf him at the vulnerable look in Wendy’s eyes. “Let’s go.”

Wendy nodded but seemed unable to move.

Stefan unbuckled Sean as Trevor opened the door and reached for him. He got out tugging Wendy with him. Putting his arm around her, he guided her to the door. He knew she was starting to panic again. “I’m still the same man you eat lunch with.”

Wendy looked up at him and nodded. “I’m sorry.”

Stefan held her hand, as they followed Trevor to the suite of rooms designated for Wendy and the boys. “I understand. You had a bit of a rough start with bosses. I assure you that you will be all right. You are safe here, Wendy.”

Wendy looked up at him with a timid smile. “I trust you, Stefan.”

Stefan didn’t know why those words made his heart race, but they did. He smiled down at her. “I’m honored that you do.”

Wendy watched as Trevor settled Sean in the same room as Cory. She kissed each of the sleeping boys on the forehead. Leaving the door open, she allowed Stefan to guide her to the room she would be sleeping in. It was diagonal from the boys’ room. She picked up a pair of shorts and t-shirt. Looking up at Stefan she grinned. “I take it these are yours.”

Stefan laughed as he pulled her into his arms. “They are. I’m sure they are going to be a bit big, but the shorts have a drawstring.”

Wendy wrapped her arms around his waist and put her head on his chest. She whispered softly. “You saved me tonight. I don’t know what I would have done, without you and your brothers.”

Stefan spoke gently to her. “I’m sure you would have done the same for me. Now, you get some sleep, and I’ll see you in the morning.”

Wendy watched Stefan leave the room. After she had got dressed for bed, she put her cell on the bedside stand, making sure her alarm was set to get up and have her devotions. She crawled between the sheets and closed her eyes. For the first time in a very long time, Wendy did not even think about crying herself to sleep. Stefan had come through as a friend for her. She went to sleep feeling blessed.

 

Chapter Seven

 

Wendy looked at her surroundings a bit confused. Her morning alarm was sounding, but she was not in her own bed. It took her a few moments to remember where she was. She crawled out of bed and went to check on the boys. Looking at her phone, she took some time to read a devotional and pray. After doing that, she headed out of her area hoping to find the kitchen and some coffee leaving the suite doors open.

Gretchen paused outside the kitchen door. She watched as a young woman started making coffee. That the young woman was wearing one of her boys’ clothes was evident. She frowned up at her husband. “I thought I taught Trevor a lesson about this.”

Aaron looked down at Gretchen. He was getting ready to speak when a little hand tugged at his shirt. He knelt beside the little boy. “Hello, little man… Who might you be?”

Sean whispered. “I’m Sean. I got a big booboo.”

Gretchen grimaced as the little boy pointed to his head. She knelt beside her husband. “Is that your mommy?”

Sean shook his head. He sniffled back tears. “That’s my Aunt Wendy. She’s my mommy now. My mommy died.”

Gretchen and Aaron watched as the little boy walked hesitantly into the kitchen. They stayed out of sight as they watched and listened.

Wendy watched Sean walk toward her. She held out her arms and gave him a hug. Picking the young boy up, she sat him on the counter. “You scared me last night, Sean. I was so worried about you.”

Sean looked miserable as he nodded his little head.

Wendy spoke to her nephew gently. “Why did you disobey me, Sean? I told you not to jump from the bunk bed to the dresser. I told you that you could get hurt.”

Sean now had tears running down his cheeks. “I thought I could make it.”

Wendy cupped the little boy’s chin. “I see. If you had made it, would that make it right?”

Sean looked at her confused. “It wouldn’t?”

Wendy shook her head, indicating that it was not. “Sean, even if you had made the jump and not gotten hurt or found out, you still disobeyed me. You sin when you don’t obey. Do you understand that, Sean?”

Sean looked down at his hands. “I’m sorry.”

Wendy hugged the little boy. “I forgive you, but I’m not the only one you need to say sorry too. Like I said, when you disobeyed me, you sinned.”

Gretchen covered her mouth as she watched the little boy bow his head. The entire scene brought tears to her eyes. The way the young woman had handled her nephew was beautiful. Her heart was melting at the sight.

Sean prayed. “Dear God, I’m sorry. I love you, Jesus. Amen.”

Stefan smiled as he watched Sean’s arms go around Wendy. He looked down at his mom. “I assure you, I don’t need a belt.”

Aaron was surprised. He looked at his son. “She is with you?”

Stefan looked at his dad. “She is, but not like that. She is my new assistant.”

Gretchen and Aaron looked at each other. As parents, they sent a message to each other that they could always hope. They smiled at their granddaughter who was in her father’s arms. They also noticed another little boy who had his arms wrapped around their youngest son’s neck. Aaron looked at Liam. “Who do you have there?”

Cory smiled at them. “I’m Cory. I’m six. I’m hungry too.”

Stefan laughed. “I guess we need to go find something to eat.”

Wendy looked up as everyone entered the kitchen. When Liam let Cory down, the boy ran into his aunt’s arms. He glanced up at her. “I thought Sean was dying. Miss Mary had blood all over her shirt just like you did with Mamma.” Cory started to get upset as he continued talking. “The men came and took Sean away just like they did Mamma.”

Stefan looked at Wendy. His voice was a whisper. “You and the boys were there?”

Wendy touched Cory’s face gently and spoke, softly. “We were there. She took her last breath in my arms.” She kissed Cory’s forehead. “Sean is ok. I’m sorry you were scared.”

Cory wiped at his tears. “I love you.”

Wendy picked him up and hugged him close. “I love you too.”

Stefan shook his head trying to erase the image of Wendy watching those she loved die. He knew she and her sister had watched the hotel burn. He had not been aware that she had been with her sister. He knew now was not the time to ask her more about it.

Liam looked at his parents. He smiled as they realized Stefan was a bit attached to his assistant. He wanted to chuckle at their hopeful expressions.

Stefan looked at Wendy. “Wendy, this is my mom, Gretchen, and my dad, Aaron. Mom and Dad, this is Wendy Collins.”

Wendy smiled at the couple. She was surprised when they each hugged her instead of shaking her outstretched hand.

Gretchen whispered in Wendy’s ear. “It is very nice to meet you. You can call me Mamma Gretchen.”

Aaron was not going to be left out. “I, of course, will be Papa Aaron.”

Wendy spoke. “It is nice to meet both of you. Thank you for the welcome. I have to tell you what great men you raised. They were lifesavers last night.” She winked at them, before, she added. “They are a bit homely, but once you get past their looks…”

Stefan frowned at her playfully. “Homely? I’ll remember that.”

Gretchen and Aaron exchanged a look as Wendy continued to torment their middle son.

Macy frowned as Trevor picked up Cory and Liam picked up Sean. She looked at her grandmother and whispered. “We has boys.”

Gretchen chuckled. “I think we can be kind.”

Macy’s frown intensified as Cory hugged Trevor. “They is my uncles.”

Wendy was surprised when Macy held her arms out. She took the little girl.

Macy glanced at the boys. “I has you, aunt.”

Wendy smiled at Macy. Her voice was gentle. “Sharing is helpful. It means we have a special way of making people happy.”

Macy looked up at Wendy. She forgot all about teasing the boys and listened to the woman intently. “It is?”

Wendy adjusted Macy on her hip as she walked over and poured a few mugs of coffee. “It is. It is like you have an ability to make people smile. Watch…”

Macy paid close attention as Wendy handed Gretchen a cup of coffee. When her grandmother smiled at Wendy, she looked at Wendy with big eyes. “I sees…”

Stefan’s heart did a flip as he watched Wendy teach his daughter to share. He knew he would have to evaluate that reaction later.

Wendy looked at Macy. Her voice was gentle as she continued her lesson. “Now you help with the second one. Hold my hand right here and we will give Grandpa his.”

Macy did as Wendy said. When her grandfather smiled, she looked at Wendy. “I share uncles?”

Wendy nodded. “I think that is a very, good idea. When we share, it makes, not just others happy, but Jesus too.”

Macy brow furrowed. “Who is Jesus?”

Wendy realized what she had just done. She hesitantly looked up at Stefan hoping he wasn’t mad at her.

Stefan felt ashamed that Wendy was doing what he should have been doing all along with his daughter. When she looked at him, he smiled. His voice was soft. “Go ahead.”

Wendy started to explain Jesus in a way Macy could understand. “Jesus is my very best friend. It is because of Jesus we can go to heaven someday. He loves us and wants to be our friend. He also wants us to be nice. I can’t see Him, but I know with my whole heart, he is there.”

Macy looked at her uncle. “Uncle Liam says that my mommy is with Jesus.”

Stefan held out his arms for Macy. When she went into them, he spoke. His voice held a note of regret. “Uncle Liam is right. I should have told you sooner. Macy, I’m sorry I didn’t.”

Gretchen looked at Aaron. She motioned him down with her head. When he leaned down, she whispered. “We’re keeping her.”

Aaron could not disagree. Watching Stefan’s new assistant with Macy and her daddy was touching. Wendy was exceptional. He smiled as he continued to watch.

Cory looked at Macy. He smiled. “Our mommy is with yours. Our daddy is there too.”

Macy smile. “I want Jesus. He can be friend?”

Wendy listened to Stefan talk to his daughter. She walked over and picked up her cup of coffee and started sipping on it. When Aaron and Gretchen walked over, she smiled at them. “If you tell me where things are, I can start breakfast.”

Aaron and Gretchen showed Wendy where things were. It was not long before everyone was helping make breakfast.

Gretchen watched her sons interact with all of the children. She had been praying for Stefan since Deanna’s cancer had claimed her life. Her son had decided, the day that Deanna had taken her last breath, that he was done with God. Gretchen knew Deanna would have been heartbroken to know that. The fact was that she and Stefan had gotten into some pretty good arguments about his actions. She showed Wendy where some of the other things they needed were, thanking God that He brought this unique young woman into their lives.

Stefan watched Wendy and his dad joke around in the kitchen. He chuckled as Wendy gave him her infamous frown. Of course, his dad just laughed like he and his brothers did.

Wendy glanced at Aaron. “I can see where your boys get their horrible sense of humor from.”

Liam nudged her out of his way. “I need to get something unless you want to get it for me.”

Wendy looked at the item he was pointing to on the top shelf. She shook her head. “You better be careful. You may be bigger, but I’m not afraid to hit you. I am one tough cookie.”

Cory piped up at that announcement. “No, she isn’t. A man grabbed….” The little boy’s statement was cut off as his aunt darted around Liam and put her hand over his mouth.

Wendy felt like she was blushing to her toes. She laughed nervously. “I’m sure they don’t need to hear that story. How about you do Aunt Wendy a favor and keep that between us.”

Wendy had just finished her little speech when Sean decided to finish the story. “Aunt Wendy punched him right in the nose for touching her butt. Then she hit him with her umbrella.”

Liam busted out laughing. His eyes were widened in surprise. “You didn’t?”

Cory was nodding his head frantically, while Wendy continued to hold her hand over his mouth.

Since his mouth wasn’t covered, Sean was more informative. “He said bad words after she did that. Aunt Wendy said we aren’t allowed to talk like that ever after she hit him again.”

Wendy closed her eyes as she felt herself turn red. When Liam laughed, she glared at him. She wanted to groan at the tidbits of information her nephew just gave her boss’s family.

Stefan looked at Wendy. That she was uncomfortable about them knowing was evident. He was just getting ready to assure her it was ok when she yelped and jumped.

Macy looked up at Wendy. “You legs soft. Nanna, her legs soft than you legs.”

Wendy glanced at Macy. She knew her face was only getting redder. “Ummm…. Thank you.”

Macy was not done. “Daddy, come feel. Aunt Wendy leg soft.”

Wendy started backing away as the little girl continued to rub her leg. She tried to think of something to get the little girl to stop touching her. “Macy, that tickles.”

Macy smiled. “I like tickles. Do you like tickles? Daddy loves giving me tickles. He can tickle you.”

Wendy covered her face with her hands. She was absolutely beyond mortified now. She groaned embarrassed at the things coming out of the children’s mouths.

Cory looked at his aunt. His eyes narrowed as he announced his observation. “Your face looks funny.”

Sean agreed with his older brother in a thoughtful voice. “It is red. Would you look at that?”

Wendy glared at Stefan who was now leaning against the counter laughing. “This is not funny.”

Stefan shook his head. He gave Wendy his honest opinion. “This is hysterical.”

Cory went to open his mouth again. Wendy was thrilled when Liam picked him up and headed for the other room with him. When Macy and Sean started to speak again, Trevor and Aaron each hoisted a kid up and followed Liam.

Stefan watched his mom follow everyone out of the room. He and Wendy were alone. “Are you ok?”

Wendy felt him nudge her. She looked up at him. She knew her face was still red. “I’ll live. I can’t believe they all went crazy like that. We need to make sure toast is ready before they are even in the kitchen from now on.”

Stefan chuckled. “When Macy asked me to touch your legs, I almost choked on my coffee.”

Wendy started putting the pancakes on the hot griddle. “I didn’t overstep with Macy earlier?”

Stefan shook his head. “I should have been doing that all along. You didn’t overstep anything.”

Wendy flipped the pancakes. “I was worried.”

Stefan remembered Wendy’s remark earlier about her sister. “Wendy, I’m sorry you had to see your sister die. I didn’t know you had been there.”

Wendy looked up at Stefan. Her voice was soft. “I knew the moment I looked at her; she was going to die. I was so, scared.”

Stefan understood what it was like to stand by helplessly and watch someone you cherish pass away. “If you ever need to talk, I’m here.”

Wendy nodded as she wiped a tear from her cheek. “Thanks, Stefan.”

Stefan watched her continue making breakfast. “I’m going to church with my family tomorrow. We will be at your church. Our church has decided to become politically correct instead of Biblically correct. Are you ok with that?”

Wendy looked up at him surprised and pleased. “You are ready?”

Stefan nodded. “I am. I want to thank you for being so open with your pain. It has helped me seek God again. You are right. He loves us. I don’t need to understand now. I am willing to, simply, trust.”

Wendy was humbled by his words. She smiled up at him. “I’m glad you are ready. I think you will enjoy our church.”

Stefan had one more question. He didn’t want to overstep, but he really wanted Wendy to be close. “So, would you be willing to spend the night tonight and go with us? We can go to church together then.”

Wendy chuckled. “I can do that. Are you nervous or something?”

Stefan grinned. “Believe it or not. I actually am very nervous. People see us Felix’s and assume that because we have money we are different. From the time we were little, our parents have taught us that we are sinners in need of a Savoir. Even when I stopped going to church, I knew that had not changed. I may have pushed it down, but I knew. My need for Christ is no different than yours.”

Wendy was almost finished making the pancakes. She glanced up at him. “It is sometimes hard to share my story. As you know, I was not the most comfortable telling you. I’m glad I did.”

Stefan touched her cheek. “You are an interesting character, Wendy Collins. I’m pleased that we are friends.”

Wendy knew his touch was innocent. It still made her feel funny. She lightened the mood. “As new friends, we can always disappear with this stack of chocolate chip pancakes and eat them all ourselves.”

Stefan chuckled. “If my parents weren’t here to chastise us, I would be with you on that.”

The two picked up the plate of pancakes and bowls of fresh cut fruit. When the table was set, they called the rest of the group to come and eat. It was a morning full of laughter. It was a morning that held the promise of new and beautiful friendships.

Chapter Eight

 

Wendy and the boys were dressed and ready for breakfast. Stefan had taken her back to the apartment to get clothes for church the night before. They could hear the voices in the hallway as they started leaving their suite.

Stefan looked at the boys and Wendy. He glanced at Liam. “I’m thinking, we are overdressed.”

Wendy turned and looked at the family. “Some people will be dressed like you. Others will be dressed like me. I assure you it isn’t a big deal. I always wear what I’m comfortable in.”

Trevor turned around. “I’m wearing jeans. I have to dress up all week. I like the idea of being comfortable in church.”

Gretchen looked at Aaron. “I’m with Trevor. I’m not wearing jeans, but a nice pair of slacks sounds nice.”

The boys and Wendy headed toward the kitchen. She set the table with bowls, before finding the boxes of cereal and putting them on the table.

A few minutes later the rest of the family joined them. They all ate breakfast and then headed to Wendy’s church. Stefan looked at the three kids in booster seats in the back seat and then at Wendy. “This is fun.”

Wendy smiled up at him. Her voice was sincere. “I like having you all with us. It is usually just the boys and me.”

Stefan followed Wendy’s directions to the church. As they entered the parking lot, Stefan could see the differing ways people were dressed. He was glad he changed. Trevor was right; it was nice to know they could feel comfortable. His dad had opted to keep his Sunday clothes on, and it was pleasant to see that others did that as well.

Wendy held onto the boys’ hands. She smiled up at Stefan, who had Macy in his arms. Her eyes twinkled. “Are you ready?”

Stefan winked at her as the rest of his family caught up. His heart was beating a little faster as he answered his assistant. “I am more than ready. Lead the way and I will follow.”

The group walked into the gathering area. Wendy took the coffee a, very, pregnant Kim handed her. Kim’s voice sounded frustrated. “Here, drink this for me. Tell me how awesome it is in detail.”

Wendy laughed as she made the introductions. Kim shook hands with the family. She glanced over her shoulder at her husband and frowned. “Brandon is driving me crazy. He locked up my chocolate stash. I think we may need marital counseling after this.” She looked back at Wendy. “So, don’t keep me hanging. How is the coffee?”

Wendy sipped the brew in front of her. She raised an eyebrow. “It tastes great.”

Kim sighed. “I’m so ready for a cup of coffee again. I also want my usual carefree husband back.”

Aaron chuckled. “We men can’t help but worry when you ladies are having our baby.”

Kim winked at him. “I guess I can forgive him then.” She glanced back at Wendy. “Do you want me to take the kids to class? I’m heading that way.”

Wendy looked at Stefan. “Will Macy go? If not, she can stay with us.”

Macy started wiggling out of her dad’s arms. Her little voice was confident. “I go wif da boys.”

Stefan gave Wendy a lopsided grin. “I guess we have our answer.”

The group watched Kim walk away with the kids and then started for their seats. Wendy felt Stefan’s hand at the small of her back. A part of her was a bit curious about the feelings it caused. A bigger part of her was ready to worship and see what God had for her today.

Carla looked at her friend. She then made eye contact with each of the bachelors. “I turn my back for one week, and you start taking charity cases. Seriously, these guys have a face only a mother could love.”

Wendy stared at Carla’s black eye. “That is probably one of the most offensive and bizarre distractions I have ever heard. What happened to your eye?”

Carla cringed as she looked at the others. “I was really hoping that outrageous remark would work. Wendy is a nag.”

Wendy shook her head. She had a good guess at what had happened to her friend. “I’m waiting for an answer.”

Carla watched as the worship team headed for the stage. “Would you look at that? It seems like this has to wait until after church. You run along now.”

Stefan and his family watched Wendy frown at her friend before going up on stage. He looked at Carla. “She sings?”

Carla moved aside as they all sat down. She giggled. “You are in for a treat. Wendy is a ball of energy when she worships. Her abandon is contagious.”

Brandon spoke to the congregation. “Today we are going to be doing a variety of worship songs. Some of them are, older; others are not.”

Gretchen looked at Aaron as they listened to and watched Wendy start praising God. It was evident that Wendy loved Christ. As the words to the song Adonia, flowed from her heart and soul, Wendy’s passion for her Savior was undeniable.

Stefan could not take his eyes off of the worship team. If he had, to be honest, his eyes were on Wendy more than the others. She glowed with her love for Christ. It took him a little bit to remember he needed to be gearing his heart toward Christ, not Wendy.

As the congregation stood and worshiped, Stefan joined them. He recognized two of the next songs they sang. The last two were new to him, but he still read the lyrics. As worship finished, he was surprised when Wendy stayed on stage.

Pastor Dale stood up and started speaking. “I asked a few people with some hidden talents to do kind of a skit today. I have been led to preach on a very distinct topic today and hope this ‘skit,’ and I use that term loosely, helps you get a new perspective on it.”

Aaron leaned over and spoke to Gretchen as the skit started. “Wendy is hysterical.”

The congregation listened to Tobymac’s song Feel It fill the sanctuary. They started laughing as Wendy, and two others started lip syncing to it. It was evident that each of the three people was trying to ‘out’ lip sync the others.

Stefan’s jaw dropped open, as it soon became apparent that not only could Wendy lip sync, she could break it down, unlike the other two. Liam and Trevor were both holding their stomachs as they watched the other two people give up trying to keep up with Wendy. Liam leaned over and spoke to Stefan. “Your assistant can dance.”

Stefan chuckled. “She is full of surprises. She, really, is a ball of energy.”

When the song ended, and the congregation stopped laughing, Wendy and the others left the stage and took their seats. Stefan leaned over and whispered in her ear. “It was awesome.”

Wendy’s eyes sparkled. “It was fun.”

Pastor Dale started his sermon. He read Matthew chapter fifteen verses seven through nine. When he was done, he looked out across the congregation. “I have realized in my life, ‘lip service’ is not going to cut it anymore. I have often asked myself how sincere is my walk with God. When I’m speaking to others about Jesus, am I merely talking or am I really passionate about my faith? Am I trying to get others to see Christ so they can see my point of view, or am I trying to help a soul see the danger of hell to their mortal soul? Now, I have Wendy’s permission to say, what I’m going to say next. Which do you think was lip service? Was it lip service when she sang Adonia? I, personally, don’t believe that was the case. What about the other song? How many of us do just that? Wendy and the others moved their lips. However, no sound came out of their mouths. They all went through the motions and mouthed the words, nothing more.”

Wendy took notes as the pastor continued to preach. She made sure that she jotted down things that were specifically her weaknesses. She continued to listen and learn as she wrote.

Stefan listened to the pastor’s words. He knew that he was just coming back to Christ. Stefan admitted to the things that could go wrong if he chose not to be sincere in his walk. He leaned back and put his arm around Wendy without thinking. When she looked up at him surprised, he grimaced, as he started taking his arm down. He whispered. “Sorry, it is kind of a habit.”

Wendy could see he was a bit upset with himself. She murmured softly. “If you need to stretch, I’m ok. I trust you. Keep your arm there.”

Stefan nodded. “I guess I’m not exactly tiny.”

Wendy smiled and then went back to taking notes. She soon forgot her bosses arm stretched on the seatback behind her.

Stefan continued to listen to the sermon. He realized how easy it would be to start doing lip service just to get by. Stefan had always known that he was placed in a unique position to help those that had less. He wanted his walk to be more than just words in his own comfort zone. Stefan wanted to follow Christ’s leading with everything. Stefan wanted to let Christ tell him what he was supposed to do with his daughter and his assets. He looked down as Wendy leaned against him. He knew she was unaware that she had done it. Turning his attention back to the sermon, he acknowledged that he wanted Christ to lead him on what to do with this special friend. Wendy was starting to fit perfectly into his life and his heart.

When service ended, Wendy looked up at Stefan. “How did you like it?

Stefan chuckled. “I thought the skit was hysterical. It actually really did tie into the sermon. I liked it. It helped me see a few things that I needed to be aware of in my life.”

Wendy nodded. “Me too.”

Stefan smiled as Wendy’s face became determined. He knew her friend was about to be questioned again.

Wendy glanced at Carla. “How did you get the black eye?”

Carla looked at the group as they waited for her answer. She took a deep breath. She frowned at Wendy as she responded. “I went to help Clair. She was at the club last night and called. She needed my help.”

Wendy stood up and looked down at Carla. Her voice was angry. “Are you crazy? You cannot keep doing that yourself. Why didn’t you call me?”

Carla glanced at her as she stood up too. “You have two boys now to consider. I’m not calling you. I have this.”

Wendy knew she needed to calm down. She got herself in check and then spoke. “You and I both know you do not have this. Your sister is going to get you hurt or killed. She needs help.”

Carla sat back down. She looked up at her friend. Tears formed in her eyes. “I don’t know how to help her. I can’t even fathom why she does half the stuff she does.”

Wendy looked at her friend’s long sleeved shirt. She gently took her hand and rolled up her sleeves revealing more bruises. “Did Jake do this to you?”

Carla nodded. “I had to get her out of there. I’m alive, so I guess you can say I handled it.”

Stefan looked at his mom when she nodded he glanced at Carla. “Do you want to join us for lunch? Maybe we can find a way to help.”

Wendy watched the play of emotions on her friend’s face. She knew Carla enough to know she hated people knowing her family’s problems. Wendy spoke to Carla gently. “Please let us help.”

Carla nodded. Her shoulders slumped in defeat. “Ok. I’ll come.”

Wendy turned and looked up at Stefan. Her eyes were tormented as she spoke. “Thank you.”

Stefan touched her cheek gently. “I find I like making you happy, Miss. Collins.”

Wendy leaned slightly into his touch. When she realized what she was doing, she stopped and looked back at Carla. Wendy chose to focus on her friend and not the feelings her boss’s touch seemed to be stirring in her.

As the group went to pick up the kids, Aaron and Gretchen smiled at each other. To them, it looked like their son was falling in love again. It was something that pleased them both, since the one he seemed to be falling for was Wendy. They were both were quite smitten with the young woman.

 

Chapter Nine

 

Fall was coming and so was school. Carla sat in Wendy’s office. “She is doing so much better. The Felix’s help was needed. She has gained a few pounds and seems to be more like herself.”

Wendy smiled at her friend. “I’m so happy for you. Jake was killing her slowly.”

Clara looked down at the fresh bruise on her arm and grimaced. “He was furious last night when he came to my apartment asking about her. Thanks for letting me crash at your place until I find a new apartment. I have filed a restraining order, but you and I both know that won’t stop him from hurting me to get to my sister.”

Wendy glanced at Stefan standing in the doorway of her office. She answered her friend as she continued to look at her boss. She knew why he was there. “It is no problem. You take your time. You are going to be fun to have around.”

Clara stood up. “I’ll see you tonight.”

Wendy glanced away from Stefan and smiled at her. “I’ll see you tonight.”

Stefan walked in and sat down after Carla walked past him. He looked at Wendy knowingly. “Are you still freaked out about Cory?”

Wendy laughed. “You know me too well, Mr. Felix.”

Stefan chuckled at her formal use of his name. “Well, Ms. Collins, you seem to be unhappy about that.”

Wendy’s giggle turned into a groan. Her eyes were imploring her boss for an answer he might not have. “Stefan, how do I do this? I don’t want to send him.”

Stefan looked at Wendy. He had been thinking about a way to help since he busted her crying the day before. “How about I stop by and pick up the boys and take them school shopping? I know Sean isn’t going to school, but we can do a guys’ night. You take that time to calm down and relax.”

Wendy glanced at Stefan. “Are you sure?”

Stefan winked at her. “I’m positive. I think it would be fun.”

Wendy stood and walked around her desk. “You are a life saver. Now, if, only, this will work and we can just get my nerves under control.”

Stefan laughed. “I think that will need more intense therapy if it doesn’t.”

Wendy wrinkled her nose at him as he stood and walked toward her. “Shame on you, Stefan….”

Stefan took her hand and tugged her into his arms. “I’m your friend. I like helping you and teasing you all in one.”

Wendy swatted him. “I think you like the teasing more.”

Stefan chuckled as he gave her a quick hug. “I know I do.”

Wendy glanced at the entrance to her office as a knock sounded on her door. She looked at one of her assistants. “Hi. How is that report going?”

Sabrina smiled as she handed Wendy a stack of papers. She looked at Mr. Felix. “Your eleven o’clock is here sir.”

Stefan winked at Wendy, before, he started for the conference room. “Thank you, Ms. Elliot.”

When he walked out, Sabrina looked at Wendy. “What is the deal with you two?”

Wendy had already taken her seat again. She looked up from the papers she had started to read. “What?”

Sabrina gave Wendy a coy smile. “You and Mr. Felix… What is going on?”

Wendy was honestly perplexed at Sabrina’s question. She answered truthfully. “We are friends. We go to the same church. He helps me with my boys, and I help him with Macy.”

Sabrina was not sure she believed that. “The other two seem close to you too.”

Wendy started getting an uneasy feeling at the underlying implication. She spoke to the woman truthfully. “We are just friends. I know their parents also. It is nothing more than that.”

Sabrina raised an eyebrow. She was bolder than she should have been. “You mean to tell me, that you hang out with all three of the Felix brothers, and that is it. Every one of them is hot. I can’t imagine you would say no if they offered.”

Wendy knew it was time to end this conversation. Her voice was a little shaky. “I am telling you that I am friends with all of them. I am nothing more. If I were more, it would be none of your business. The men you are talking about are our bosses. I can’t imagine that they would want to be talked about like this. I’m asking you to stop.”

Sabrina held up her hands. She realized she crossed a line when she saw the tears in Wendy’s eyes. “I’ll stop. I’m just curious.”

Wendy took a deep breath. She was glad Sabrina backed down. Right now, Wendy was speaking the truth. She knew that that might change in the future, but Wendy could cross that bridge when she came to it.

Sabrina turned to walk out. She stopped cold. Liam stood in the doorway. The look on his face said he had heard the entire conversation.

Liam knew Wendy was upset. He looked at Sabrina. “Would you like to ask me any questions, Ms. Elliot? If you want, I can have my brothers join us, and you can ask all of us the same questions you just asked Ms. Collins.”

Wendy walked over and stood beside Sabrina. She didn’t want the woman to get into trouble. “Liam…”

Liam looked at his friend. “You know those questions were unacceptable.”

Wendy nodded her head. “I do. I also know she isn’t the only one that has questions. I think it is ok, to let others see there is nothing inappropriate going on. I believe her when she says she is curious.”

Liam shook his head. It was apparent he disagreed. “You are way too nice Wendy. A person, you are in charge of, should never feel like they can ask you those kinds of questions.”

Wendy knew Liam wanted to fire Sabrina. Her eyes implored him to listen to her. “Please don’t. If this isn’t a lesson learned, I don’t know what is.”

Sabrina looked at Wendy. A new respect formed in her heart for her boss. “You are asking him to keep me?”

Liam answered the question for Wendy. “That is, exactly, what she is asking me to do.”

Stefan now stood in the doorway. His meeting had been a quick one. He was concerned by the look on Wendy’s face. “What’s going on?”

Wendy knew Stefan would feel the same way Liam did. She also knew Stefan respected honesty. She looked at Sabrina and spoke. “Tell him. Don’t leave anything out.”

Sabrina looked, at the men, and recounted the conversations, which she had had with Wendy in its’ entirety. She did, exactly, what Wendy said and left nothing out. Sabrina knew she had screwed up. She added one more thing. “If you decide to let me go, I do understand. What I said to Ms. Collins was out of line. I have no one to blame but me.”

Wendy looked at Stefan. Her eyes begged him to forgive Sabrina and not fire her. Deep down inside, Wendy knew Sabrina had voiced what many others were thinking. “Stefan, she knows we are only friends. She would have to be blind not to. If she stays, she can answer the questions we are all aware others are thinking.”

Stefan looked at Liam. “What are your thoughts?”

Liam was still mad, but he could see the wisdom in what Wendy was saying. “Wendy is right. We should let her stay.”

Stefan looked at Sabrina. His gaze turned to Wendy. “This is your call. I won’t question it.”

Wendy watched the men leave. She looked at Sabrina. “Do you see now?”

Sabrina knew how close she had come to losing her job. She looked at Wendy. “You really are interesting.”

Wendy chuckled. “Now you are starting to sound like Stefan.”

Sabrina looked at her boss. “Thank you. I am so sorry I spoke to you like that.”

Wendy regarded the woman beside her. “We all say things we regret. I forgive you.” Wendy hesitated a moment, before, she added. “Sabrina, I don’t want to lie to you. I am friends with Stefan. I know that may change, but I need you to know. I’m a Christian. I won’t be doing anything inappropriate with him.”

Sabrina glanced down at her hands. In her entire life, she could not recall having anyone specifically tell her she was forgiven. Sabrina knew she had been forgiven many times, but to have the words spoken to her touched her soul. She looked back up at Wendy. “Thank you for saying that and for trusting me enough to explain how things are between you and Mr. Felix.”

Wendy nodded. She looked at the papers on her desk. “You’re welcome. Now, I guess it is time for us to get back to work.”

Sabrina walked out of Wendy’s office. She smiled at Stefan as he walked in. “I really am sorry, sir.”

Stefan looked down at her. “I forgive you.”

Sabrina glanced back at Wendy and then walked away.

Wendy peered up at Stefan. When he sat in the chair in front of her desk, she continued to look over her desk at him. “Thank you for trusting me.”

Stefan leaned forward and put his elbows on his knees. He grinned. “You are well aware that I like making you happy.”

Wendy nodded. She knew they had needed to talk for almost two months now. She finally asked what she knew he was waiting for her to ask. “Why?”

Stefan looked at her. He knew honesty was the only way to deal with Wendy. “I’m falling for you. I’m not like your other boss. I promise no matter what, I will treat you respectfully. I won’t lie to you about this, though.”

Wendy glanced down at her hands. She knew he spoke the truth. Now it was her turn. “I don’t mind you falling for me. I’m trying to figure out my feelings for you too.”

Stefan looked at her. “You sometimes seem worried about my intentions. I need you to know they are honorable. I see a future with you and the boys. I wouldn’t pursue this otherwise.”

Wendy knew he spoke the truth. He had taken the kids for her many times in the last month just to hang out. He understood their need for a man in their lives. He also seemed to recognize that short embraces were all she could handle at the moment. “We can go slow? Friendship is enough for you right now?”

Stefan nodded. “I’m ok with that. I probably need that too. A part of me feels guilty about my feelings for you.”

Wendy understood. “The way your parents and brothers talk about her, makes me wish I had known her.”

Stefan glanced at the ring he still had on his finger. He looked up at Wendy. “She would have liked knowing you too.”

Wendy watched him take the ring off his finger. “Stefan…?”

Stefan looked at Wendy. His voice was soft. “It is time, Wendy. I can’t keep wearing this knowing I’m falling in love with you. I’m ok with this. I know she would be too.”

Wendy was, actually, feeling a bit sick with the onslaught of emotions she was feeling. “This relationship stuff kind of makes me nauseous.”

Stefan chuckled. “I’m not sure how to take that.”

Wendy grinned. “I guess that sounds kind of wrong. I’m kind of new to these emotions, though.”

Stefan heard a knock at the door and turned. “I guess I need to go.”

Wendy smiled at him. “I’ll see you later.”

Crystal looked at Wendy. “I have the other papers you asked for ready.”

Wendy took them. “Thanks for getting these so fast.”

Crystal nodded. She had watched Mr. Felix put his wedding band into his pocket. She really liked Ms. Collins. “He is happier with you here.”

Wendy looked up from her papers. She started getting worried again.

Crystal smiled. “I won’t say anything to anyone. I like you. I’m pretty good at reading people, and you are one of the few good ones.”

Wendy glanced back at her papers and then at Crystal. “Thank you for saying that.”

Crystal chuckled. “You are welcome. I like working underneath you. I have had some pretty nasty bosses. You are anything but that.”

Wendy knew Crystal was older than her. She could see the woman’s wedding band and decided to venture into new territory. “Do you have kids?”

Crystal nodded. “I have three.”

Wendy looked at her again. “Are they school age?”

Crystal smiled. “Two of them are.”

Wendy was so relieved. She stood up and walked around her desk. “I need your advice. I’m sending my six-year-old to school for the first time. I am having an absolute breakdown.”

Crystal was surprised that Wendy had children. “You have kids?”

Wendy nodded. “I am my nephews’ legal guardian. I know Cory went to school last year, but it was so different where we lived. Here it is more intense. This is the city. His school is huge, and I’m worried about his reaction to that. Crystal, I am freaking out about this. I have tried to calm down and can’t.”

Crystal chuckled. “You need to breathe. It will be ok. I know it is hard, but he will be okay. If you are starting to freak out, he will too. Am I right, when I assume you are a Christian?”

Wendy nodded and smiled. “You are.”

Crystal smiled. “Then you know this worry is not of Christ. Pray about it. I’ll pray with you every day if you want, but you need to let God handle this anxiety.”

Wendy was thrilled that she was willing to do that with her. “I would appreciate you praying with me. Thank you, Crystal.”

Crystal winked at her as she started out of the office. “Us single moms have to stick together. I lost my husband a year ago, and let me tell you, I worried about everything. You have a blessed day.”

Wendy watched her leave. “You too Crystal.”

Wendy went back to work feeling great. She and Stefan had, finally, talked. She now knew she had a sister in Christ she could chat with that understood being a mom. Her life was full of blessings. Wendy was glad she had taken the time to see them.

 

Chapter Ten

 

Wendy sipped her coffee as she puttered around the kitchen. It was Labor Day weekend. The first week of school was behind them, but a full weekend of activities still was ahead of them. All of them had to do with work.

She smiled at one of the maids that had started to set the breakfast table. “Thank you for your help.”

The maid smiled at her. “It is no problem. Do you need help with breakfast?”

Wendy nodded her head. “If you could cut up some fruit, that would be great. It will give me time to work on the rest of the meal.”

The maid went to work on the fruit. Wendy started to make the biscuit dough.

Wendy glanced at her helper. She smiled as she asked the young woman a question. “What is your name?”

The maid looked at her surprised. “I’m Gabby.”

Wendy grinned. “I am very, happy to meet you Gabby. I haven’t seen you here before. Are you new?”

Gabby regarded the woman standing beside her. She was brand-new to this estate. She was finding out something different every day about the people she worked for. Their respect for their employees was the first thing she had noticed. “I just started last week.”

Wendy smiled. “That explains it then. I’m Wendy. It is very nice to meet you Gabby.”

Gabby cocked her head. “I like working for you.”

Wendy choked on her coffee. She giggled at Gabby. “You don’t work for me. I’m Stefan’s assistant.”

Gabby was confused. “I thought…” Realizing she should probably not say anything, Gabby stopped talking.

Wendy grinned. “You could see that Stefan and I are close friends?”

Gabby blushed as she put the apple she had just cut up into a bowl. “I did.”

Wendy gauged her words, before, she spoke. “Stefan and I are trying to figure some stuff out. I assure you I’m not offended. We are friends right now, but we both know that may change.”

Gabby smiled. “Thanks for clearing that up.” Her voice lowered to a whisper. “I like you, Wendy. I hope it all works out for you and Mr. Felix.”

The two continued to work. When Gabby was done with cutting the fruit, she excused herself to go and see to other chores.

Wendy thanked her and then went back to making breakfast.

Stefan smiled at Gabby when she walked by. He walked into the kitchen. When Wendy saw him, he smiled. “Good morning.”

Wendy poured him a cup of coffee and handed it to him. “Good morning to you too. How was your sleep?”

Stefan sipped his coffee. “It was nice. Do you need help with anything?”

Wendy shook her head. “I’m going to put these into the oven and then make the gravy. Gabby helped me with the fruit. You can just sit back and enjoy your coffee.”

Stefan leaned down and kissed the top of her head. When she looked up at him, he winked.

Wendy raised an eyebrow and then winked back. She blushed a little at her actions. Flirting was new to her.

Stefan chuckled as he walked over and sat down at the breakfast bar.

Wendy started making the sausage for gravy. She looked up at Stefan. She had never really been in a relationship before. “It is kind of awkward and fun all wrapped up into yuck.”

Stefan grinned at her choice of words. He had not missed her blush when she had winked at him. “I would have to agree. It will get less ‘yuck’.”

Wendy put the fire on low as she started to make the gravy base. She made a face. “I sure do hope so.”

Stefan smiled at her gently. “I do too.”

Wendy could feel herself blushing, again. She decided to change the subject. “What exactly does this shindig of yours look like? It sounds like an all weekend party.”

Stefan raised an eyebrow to let her know he was aware that she was changing the subject. He decided to let her. “Unlike the ones we go to, my dad has stood firm that we don’t serve alcohol at ours. We keep ours more picnic style. You will be fine wearing jeans if you want.”

Wendy smiled. “I brought a few sundresses. Are they fine?”

Stefan nodded. “They will be ok. Like I said, it is more casual.”

Wendy watched Stefan go and rinse out his coffee cup. She turned up the fire and started to make the gravy. Wendy knew he was looking at her as she cooked. When the gravy was thick enough to serve, she took it off the heat and then turned around. Stefan was leaning against the counter by the sink looking at her. The look on his face made her feel warm inside. “What are you thinking?”

Stefan was surprised she asked. He held out his hand to see if she would take it. When she did, he pulled her into a hug. “I’m thinking, you look adorable in my shorts.”

Wendy giggled against his chest. She slowly wrapped her arms around his waist, returning the hug. This was the first time they had done this just to show affection. Stefan usually only hugged her when she was upset or dealing with something. Her voice was a whisper as she confessed. “I like your hugs. They make me feel warm.”

Stefan kissed the top of her head again. “I like your hugs too.”

Wendy jumped a foot when she heard Cory’s voice. “You aren’t going to kiss her on the lips are you?”

The couple turned to look at the little boy. Wendy could feel herself blush as she realized Cory was not alone.

Liam chuckled. The look in his eyes was devilish. “Aren’t you going to answer the little man’s question?”

Wendy glared at Liam. “You need to be nice.” She jumped and yelped as Macy felt her leg again.

Macy looked up at her father. “Before you kiss, you feel leg. Aunt Wendy leg soft.”

Stefan frowned at his brother when he started laughing harder. Stefan looked down at Macy. “I don’t think I should.”

Cory had to add to Stefan’s comment. “If he does, Aunt Wendy might punch him in the nose.”

Wendy groaned as her nephew brought up the elevator incident again. She glanced at Stefan’s parents for a little help.

Gretchen hit Liam’s arm. She gave him her best frown through her smile. “You need to leave them alone.”

Sean looked at Gretchen confused. “Why we need to leave? I just got here.”

Liam picked Sean up. “My mom is telling me to stop picking on your, Aunt Wendy and Uncle Stefan.”

Sean smiled in understanding. He wrapped his arms around Liam’s neck. “I love you, Uncle Liam.”

Liam hugged him back. “I love you too, Buddy.”

The group put the food on the table. After Aaron had blessed the food, they started to eat and discuss the day’s events. It was apparent that the day was going to be busy. Ms. Shelly, Macy’s nanny, would be taking care of the kids. The adults would be socializing with clients and potential clients.

When breakfast was finished, Wendy and Gretchen left the table to go and get ready.

Gretchen looked at Wendy, before, the younger woman went into her suite. “We love you. You know that right?”

Wendy looked over at her. “I do. I love all of you, as well.” She paused before adding. “Thank you for accepting me and the boys.”

Gretchen smiled at her. “It is easy to accept all of you. Thank you for accepting Stefan. You bring out the best in him. We want this friendship you two have with each other. We want to see where it goes, too.”

Wendy blushed. “I’m not used to this. It makes it easier knowing you all approve.”

Gretchen grinned. “We, really, approve. You are part of this family now.”

Wendy watched Gretchen walk down the hall to her suite. She opened her door and walked into her set of rooms. After getting her stuff together, she went and got her shower. She took her time drying off, before dressing in a yellow sundress. Running a brush through her hair, Wendy opted to pull it up into a ponytail. Taking one last look at herself in the mirror, she left to go and join the others.

Stefan was talking to Trevor when Wendy walked into the room. He stopped at the sight of her. “This is going to be a very long day.”

Trevor followed his brother’s gaze and chuckled. “I’m thinking it is going to be hard keeping your eyes off of your assistant today.”

Stefan glanced at his older brother as another thought hit him. “After thinking about this, I’m not worried about ‘my’ eyes.”

Trevor lost his smile. “You’re right. You need to stay with her today. I can think of at least five of our clients that will try stupid nonsense with her.”

Stefan nodded letting his brother know that he agreed. He walked over to Wendy. When she smiled up at him, he leaned down and kissed her forehead. “You look stunning.”

Wendy blushed at the compliment. “Thank you.”

Stefan winked at her. “You are welcome.” He took her hand. “They will start trickling in soon. If it is ok, I’m going to stick near you.”

Wendy looked at him surprised. “Really?”

Stefan grimaced. He knew he should tell her some of the men would be a bit forward. He didn’t want her to think it was her fault, so he decided to give her a generic, but honest, excuse. “This is your first event like this. I just want to make sure you are ok. I was intimidated a bit my first time doing this weekend.”

Wendy nodded. She conceded to his knowledge of the event. “Ok. If you think it is best, I’m fine with that.”

Stefan took her hand and brought it to his lips. “You, really, do look lovely.”

Wendy blushed. “You need to behave. I’m going to resemble a beet at this rate. I can feel my face getting red.”

Stefan chuckled as he tugged her into his arms and gave her one last hug, before, the event started. “Now that you let me hug you, I can’t seem to stop.”

Wendy giggled as he let her go. “I like that you can’t stop. As I said earlier, Mr. Felix, your hugs make me feel warm.”

Stefan continued to hold her hand as they headed toward the area the guests would be. He wanted to run something by Wendy, before, they went out. “I would like not to hide who we are. Is that ok?”

Wendy looked up at him. She was surprised and pleased by his request. “I’m ok with that.”

Stefan took a deep breath. He was relieved she said yes. “You are one interesting character, Wendy Collins.”

Wendy giggled. “You are kind of interesting yourself.”

Stefan turned as he heard a familiar voice behind them. “I see you have figured out you like her.” Malcolm Stratherd said with a grin.’

Wendy leaned into Stefan’s side as she recognized Malcolm.

Malcolm felt like a heel. His voice was gentle when he spoke to Wendy. “I assure you, there will be no nasty comments coming from my lips.”

Wendy nodded. She was unable to speak past the lump in her throat. Remembering his hurtful words from the first time she had met him, she couldn’t pretend otherwise.

Stefan felt Wendy tremble. He saw his mom across the patio. “My mom looks like she could use some company.”

Wendy felt like she had been given a reprieve. She breathed a sigh of relief. “Thank you.”

Malcolm chuckled as he watched her walk briskly away. “I, really, left the wrong impression on her. I assure you, I will not hurt her again with my words.”

Stefan knew his friend was genuine. “She will be all right.”

Malcolm regarded Stefan. “You have feelings for her?”

Stefan nodded; his eyes were still on Wendy. “I do. She is a bit shy about our feelings changing. She is still willing to figure it out, though.”

Malcolm smiled. “I’m glad your heart is ready again, my friend. My dad says God is good even when things are not easy.”

Stefan looked at his lifelong friend. “How about you? Where do you stand on God, Malcolm?”

Malcolm glanced at Wendy. “I felt horrible for what I did last time to her. Her tears touched a part of me that all of my mom’s preaching couldn’t. I’m back where I should be.”

Stefan was surprised. “I didn’t know.”

Malcolm chuckled. “From what I understand, she has had that effect on Trevor too.”

Stefan nodded. “It is a little hard to ignore her steadfast faith. It seems firm, even though, she has lost almost everyone she loves.”

The men conversed a few more minutes, before, they started to mingle with others.

As Stefan walked toward Wendy, she turned and smiled at him. He put his arm around her waist and kissed the top of her head.

Wendy’s heart skipped a beat. She whispered softly. “What was that for?”

Stefan winked at her. “I’ll tell you later.”

Wendy knew they only had a two-hour window between the lunch and the supper gatherings. She nodded willing, to wait. “Ok.”

 

Chapter Eleven

 

Stefan and Wendy walked around together for another hour. Wendy made sure she still did her job even in the relaxed atmosphere. After another few minutes, Wendy excused herself and headed for the restroom.

Wendy walked into the foyer and looked at the line. She had no desire to wait and decided just to go to her suite.

“Where are you going?” Jessa spoke from behind Wendy causing her to jump.

Wendy looked at her and Darlene and smiled. “How are you two doing?”

Darlene’s eyes narrowed. “I thought you told us you were Stefan’s assistant.”

Wendy nodded as she answered the woman’s question. “I am.”

Jessa chuckled. “He always kisses his assistants on top of the head? I think not.”

Wendy smiled. “I am his assistant. I am also his friend.”

Darlene looked at Jessa. “I think she is delusional on friendship.”

Jessa glanced at Wendy. “I agree.”

Wendy laughed. “We are trying to figure the rest out. I promise that is the truth. Our feelings have changed. I was honest with you when we last talked.”

Jessa nodded. “Ok. I’ll believe you. How is that little boy of yours?”

Wendy grimaced as she remembered that night. “He had to have ten stitches. I don’t think I have ever been so freaked out in my life. When his brother saw the blood, all he could think about was their mother’s death.”

Jessa ventured a question. “How did his mom die?”

Wendy nibbled her bottom lip. “A drunk driver hit her. I held her as she took her last breath.”

Jessa swallowed the sudden lump in her throat. “I’m sorry.”

Darlene regarded the woman in front of her. She was not sure she, really, liked her. The fact was Stefan Felix was a man she had set her sights on before he had married the first time. She tried to discourage Wendy. “You are young. Doesn’t it scare you that you are in charge of two kids now?”

Wendy nodded and answered honestly. “It, absolutely, scares me to death, but it gets a bit easier every day. Now, if you will excuse me, I need to go.”

Jessa and Darlene looked at each other as she walked up the stairs. “Where is she going?”

A little voice answered behind them. “Aunt Wendy is going to our rooms.”

Jessa turned and looked at an adorable little boy. His cheeks were, absolutely, delicious to look at. When he held up his arms, she didn’t hesitate and picked him up. “Who are you?”

Sean smiled. “I’m Sean. I escaped.”

Jessa giggled. “Did you, now? Where did you escape from?”

Sean spied Liam. “From the nanny. We shouldn’t let Uncle Liam see us. He’ll take me back.”

It was too late. Jessa watched as Liam Felix walked up to them. He grinned at her. “I see we have an escapee.”

Jessa chuckled. “You sure do. He is an adorable one. The inmates of this prison are entirely too cute.”

Liam held out his hands to take Sean. Sean had other plans. He wrapped his arms around Jessa’s neck. “I like it here.”

Jessa laughed. “You heard him.”

Liam looked around. “Where is Wendy? Stefan said she came in here.”

Sean smiled. “She went up to our rooms.”

Liam nodded. He then realized what that looked like. He looked at the women. “She and the boys have an assigned suite when they stay here. I promise you it is not anything inappropriate.”

Jessa chuckled. “Relax, Wendy seems like a nice person, what she and Stefan do is none of our business.”

Liam shook his head. He knew he needed to explain further. “That is just it. They would not want you to think that. We are Christians.” He glanced at Sean and kept it delicate. “It would be a sin for them to be together unless they were married.”

Darlene looked at Liam. She snickered. “You believe that way?”

Liam nodded. He didn’t let her open distaste of the idea sway his answer. “I do.”

Darlene shook her head in disbelief. She was going to speak but spotted Wendy. She kept her thoughts to herself.

Jessa watched Wendy come back down the stairs. She laughed as Sean started to hold her tighter.

Wendy shook her head at her nephew. “You are supposed to be with Ms. Shelly.”

Sean smiled brightly. “I like being here.”

Wendy folded her arms across her chest. She was just getting ready to tell him he needed to go back when Macy’s voice sounded behind her. “Aunt Wendy you look beautiful.”

Macy held up her arms for Wendy. Wendy picked her up. “How did you get out?”

Liam was wondering the same thing. He could see Ms. Shelly losing track of one, but he couldn’t see her doing that with two.”

Macy shrugged her shoulders. “Ms. Shelly told Sean to go get help.”

Sean piped up as he remembered he didn’t escape. “She did say that.”

Wendy looked at Liam alarmed as she asked the children. “Why?”

Sean smiled. “I locked the door and didn’t know how to open it.”

Liam started for the playroom. The rest followed him. Wendy frowned at Sean. “You should have told Ms. Jessa.”

Sean smiled. “I forgot.”

As they entered the playroom, Liam spoke to the empty room. “Ms. Shelly…?”

Ms. Shelly spoke from the other side of the closet door. “I’m in here.”

Wendy looked at Liam. “She sounds calm. That is a good sign.”

Liam unlocked the door and opened it. Cory bolted out. “It stinks in there like feet.”

Ms. Shelly looked down at her young charge. “It is a shoe closet. I would imagine that is the source.”

The group watched as Ms. Shelly took charge of the kids again. Wendy gave the boys each a look before she left.

Jessa chuckled. “You have the ‘behave’ look down.”

As they made their way back outside, Jessa couldn’t help but notice Stefan walking toward them. She smiled at Wendy. “You, of course, will keep us in the loop.”

Wendy grinned. “You two are funny.”

Stefan nodded at the two women. “Ladies, if you don’t mind, I need Wendy for a few moments.”

Jessa and Liam grinned at each other as they watched what happened next. Darlene fumed.

Wendy looked up at Stefan. “What do you need me for?”

Stefan smiled down at her. “I’m not sure yet. I’m sure I’ll figure out something other than ‘I think you’re pretty.’”

Wendy laughed. “You are shameless, Mr. Felix. I may have to speak to your mom about your boorish manners.”

Stefan grinned. “I’m thinking you like me just a little bit, Ms. Collins. I’m willing to go so far as to say that you are starting to, really, enjoy my attention.”

The couple walked away from the others unaware of the attention they had drawn.

Stefan and Wendy socialized for the next twenty minutes. Wendy smiled at Darlene as she walked up to them.

Darlene spoke to Wendy. “Would you be willing to show me the garden paths? They look lovely with the fall flowers coming out.”

Stefan winked at her as she left his side. Wendy smiled at Darlene. “I would love to.”

The two walked down the paths. Darlene would stop and smell some of the blooms along the way. She glanced at Wendy. “You seem to fit in here.”

Wendy touched an orange flower. She looked at Darlene. “I feel like I do. I’m careful with how often the boys and I stay. I don’t want to compromise.”

Darlene raised an eyebrow. “Your beliefs?”

Wendy nodded. “The most important relationship I have is with Christ. I want to make sure my actions honor Him first. Everything and everyone else is second in my life.”

Darlene sat down on a bench. She looked around. “We are away from the party here. You can’t even hear the music.”

Wendy sat down beside her. “I love coming here. It is peaceful.”

Darlene stood up. “Stay right here. I’ll be back in a second. I want to get this spot on my cell.”

Wendy nodded and closed her eyes. She breathed in the warm air and enjoyed the moment alone. When she opened her eyes, she was surprised to see she was not as alone as she thought. A sick feeling started to fill her as she saw the three men standing in front of her. Her voice was soft. “Can I help you?”

Damian Blackhart grinned. “You sure do look like you can.”

Wendy stood and started backing away. “I would like to go.”

Damian’s brother Gordon snickered. “I bet you would.”

Wendy’s eyes filled with tears. She looked at the third man. “Please let me go.”

Eric Stine looked at her. He smiled gently. “You are beautiful. Don’t you want us to show you how beautiful you are?”

Wendy shook her head no. She could feel her heart beating wildly. “I want to go.”

Damian and Gordon started walking toward her. Damian spoke. “We want you to stay.”

Wendy was terrified. The men’s eyes held their intent. “Please don’t do this.”

Eric Stine was in front of her now. He touched her cheek softly. “We are just men. Certainly, you can’t be afraid of us. You seem to let Stefan Felix touch you.”

Wendy’s cheeks were wet with tears now. She turned her face away from the man’s touch. “We have never done what you are saying. I never have… Please don’t.”

Eric’s smile was deceptively gentle. “I will show you what you’ve been missing.”

Wendy pushed at him when he touched her shoulder and started to run his hand down her chest. She sobbed as she spoke. “Don’t.”

Malcolm’s voice was like steel as he addressed the men. “I suggest you all find your way back to the party.”

When the men turned startled. Wendy dashed past them and down the path. When strong arms grabbed her, she started to scream.

Stefan looked down at Wendy. He pulled her close. “Wendy, it’s me.”

Wendy heard Stefan’s voice. She started sobbing into his chest.

Stefan looked up to see the other men on the path. Malcolm looked furious as he spoke. “They trapped her.”

Damian grinned. “We were just having fun.”

Eric looked at Wendy. “She didn’t seem to mind.”

Malcolm shoved Eric. “I disagree. She appeared to care a lot. She said no. I suggest you keep moving back to the party, and when you get there, all three of you need to continue moving toward your cars. It is time for you to leave.”

Stefan picked Wendy up into his arms. He walked down the path and through the now curious crowd and into the mansion. He looked at his mom. “I need you.”

Gretchen followed Stefan up the stairs. She opened the door to Wendy’s suite. Stefan gently put her down on the sofa.

Stefan spoke. “I need to go talk to Malcolm.”

Gretchen watched her son leave. She watched Wendy curl herself into a ball. “What happened?”

Wendy started shaking again. “She left me alone. Darlene, she left and then they were there.”

Gretchen’s voice was gentle. “Who was there?”

Wendy shook her head. “I don’t know their names.”

Gretchen asked her softly. “Are you ok? Did they hurt you?”

Wendy spoke, softly. “Mr. Stratherd stopped them.”

Gretchen was relieved. “Would you like a cool cloth on your face?”

Wendy shook her head no as she curled more deeply into the sofa. She tried to breathe and calm herself.

A knock sounded at the door. Wendy watched as Gretchen opened it.

Jessa walked into the suite. She looked at the tears on Wendy’s face and felt true sympathy for her. “It was Darlene that told them to do that to you.”

Wendy stared at Jessa. “You knew?”

Jessa shook her head. “I didn’t know. I would never have been a part of something like that. Darlene has always liked Stefan. She was jealous. She thought if they violated you, Stefan wouldn’t want you anymore.”

Wendy shuddered. Tears continued to run down her cheeks. “I was so, scared. They wouldn’t let me go.”

Jessa walked over to her. “I wish I had known. I would have stopped her from doing this to you.”

Wendy closed her eyes. She tried to forget the looks she had seen in the men’s eyes. When Gretchen sat down at the end of the sofa, she put her head into the older woman’s lap and took the comfort she offered.

Jessa watched Gretchen push the damp hair away from Wendy’s cheeks. She was sad that Darlene’s jealousy had hurt her new friend.

The two women stayed with Wendy until Stefan returned. By that time, Wendy was in a fitful sleep.

Chapter Twelve

 

Two weeks had passed since Labor Day weekend. Wendy was in her office at work looking at the next two projects she was responsible for. She glanced up as a knock sounded on her door.

Crystal smiled at Wendy. “I have a Mr. Blackhart here to see you.”

Wendy looked up to see an older gentleman she didn’t recognize standing beside Crystal. She did, however, know his eyes. Crystal turned to leave. Panic shot through Wendy. “Don’t’ go!”

Crystal looked at Wendy surprised by her loud request. Seeing the fear in her boss’s eyes, she nodded and stood to the side. She tried not to show it, but Wendy’s reaction to this man’s presence worried her. She paid close attention to what was being said.

Wendy watched the man enter. She had never met him, but she knew who he was related to. His sons’ eyes had the same distinct gray color as his. When he walked closer to her desk, she stood and backed away. Her voice reeked of fear. “Please stop.”

Adrian Blackhart regarded the young woman in front of him. His sons had told him their side of the story. The evidence they had lied to him, again, was right in front of him. What he saw in this young woman’s eyes, could not be faked. He spoke to her gently. “I wanted to come and personally apologize for my sons’ behavior two weeks ago. I assure you, I will not harm you.”

Crystal looked at Wendy surprised. She walked over to her boss and stood beside her. She had no idea what happened, but her message was clear. He would have to go through her to get to Wendy.

Sabrina had been walking by and overheard the man speak. The man’s words alarmed her. Glancing at Wendy, she decided to join Crystal. She would not let this man touch her boss.

Adrian’s eyebrows rose. Her staff’s loyalty was evident. Only a fair boss could get the kind of respect this woman seemed to have.

Wendy looked at the man in front of her. He had not hurt her. She was still afraid of him, even though, she knew it was not a justified fear. Her voice was soft. “Their sin is not yours. You have nothing to apologize for. There is nothing you have done that needs to be forgiven, Sir.”

Adrian nodded. Her gracious words touched him. He couldn’t help but envy the Felix brothers this employee. Her show of respect toward him was evident even though she was afraid. “I will leave you. I just wanted you to be aware that what my son’s tried to do has not been ignored by me. There are going to be consequences for their actions. I will be speaking to my friend Mr. Stine as well. Have a good day Ms. Collins.” When he turned, he stopped and nodded to the Felix brothers, who were all standing behind him. He wanted to chuckle at the looks on their faces but didn’t.

Wendy watched the man leave. As soon as he was gone, she bolted for the garbage can.

Crystal knelt beside Wendy and pulled her hair back. She looked up at the men for an explanation. “What happened?”

Stefan spoke as he walked over and knelt on Wendy’s other side. “She will tell you when she is ready.”

Liam handed Stefan a paper towel. “He should have checked with us before he did this to her.”

Trevor agreed. “He wanted to see her response to him. I hope he is satisfied.”

Wendy took the paper towel from Stefan. When he pulled her onto his lap, she cuddled into him and closed her eyes. Taking a few deep breaths, she started to calm. “I’m ok now.”

Stefan smiled as she eased out of his lap. He touched her cheek. “Are you sure?”

Wendy nodded. “I’m sure.”

The men left. The two women did not. Crystal sat on the chair in front of Wendy’s desk. She had no intentions of leaving Wendy’s office until she found out what was going on. That her boss was afraid of Mr. Blackhart was more than evident. “What happened?”

Sabrina was concerned as well. She stood beside Crystal. “You can trust us.”

Wendy looked down at her papers. Tears were in her eyes when she looked back up. “A woman was jealous of Stefan and me. She pretended to be kind to me. When she asked me to walk with her in the Felix’s estate garden, on Labor Day weekend, I did. She left me alone.” Wendy swallowed the lump in her throat. “She wanted three of her male friends to…” Wendy looked back down at her papers unable to finish as the tears spilled down her cheeks.

Sabrina was livid. “This Jesus thing you have me hooked on is not working right now. I want to cuss and kill. How dare she do something so foul. As a woman, I don’t understand why she would want you to be violated like that.”

Wendy looked up at her surprised. “You are a Christian?”

Sabrina glanced at her. “I’m trying to be angry here, but yes. I had to know why you were so sweet. Crystal explained it to me.”

Crystal had to ask Wendy how far it went. “Did they?”

Wendy shook her head. “Malcolm Stratherd stopped them. I was so, scared. I was in the back of the garden. No one would have heard me until it was too late.”

Sabrina looked at Wendy. She glanced at Crystal, before, she asked her next question. “Who was the woman?”

Wendy had no intentions of answering that. “It is over now. What’s done is done. My job is to forgive.”

Sabrina shrugged her shoulders knowing Wendy would not give her the name. It was worth a try, though.

Crystal watched housekeeping come in and take out the garbage. She smiled as Wendy thanked them and apologized. Every person was equal in this woman’s eyes. “I, honestly, think you are a neat person.”

Wendy looked at her surprised. “Thank you.”

Sabrina chuckled and glanced at Crystal. “It is the fact she is clueless that makes her so neat. She is kind to everyone. I’m not sure I could forgive such a horrible act.”

Wendy smiled at her. “As a Christian, you have no choice but to forgive. I’m sure you will get to that lesson in church sometime.”

Crystal watched Stefan walk in with a plate of food. She laughed at the mutinous look on Wendy’s face.

Stefan winked as he put it on her desk. “Eat.”

Wendy frowned at him. “I’m not hungry.”

Stefan shrugged his shoulders. “I don’t care. You need to replace the food you lost.”

Wendy looked at the food. She glanced up at him. “What if I don’t?”

Stefan started walking out the door. “I’ll call my mom.”

Wendy shook her head. “I don’t like you right now Stefan.”

The women could hear him laugh and answer from the hallway. “I know.”

Sabrina laughed. “I take it his mom does not take no for an answer?”

Wendy chuckled. “If she had her way, I would be living at the estate with my boys. She wouldn’t let me go back home until Sunday a week ago.”

Crystal laughed. “I take it her husband is the same.”

Wendy giggled. Her voice held a conspiratorial note. “I have Papa Aaron wrapped around my little finger. He does not say no to Macy or me.”

Aaron chuckled from the doorway. “You have me there.”

Wendy smiled up at him and blushed. “I see the boys called you.”

Aaron walked in. Sabrina was surprised when Wendy stood up and hugged the older man. She was even more surprised as the man gave her a fatherly kiss on the top of the head. “I only have two girls to take care of. They know I would be upset if they hadn’t.”

Wendy sat back down. “I’m fine they, really, didn’t need to call you.”

Aaron looked at the sandwich on her desk. “I’m thinking, you won’t be fine if you don’t eat that.”

Wendy frowned. “You brought Mother Gretchen with you?”

Gretchen winked at Sabrina and Crystal as she walked in. “Of course, he did. Now, eat your sandwich.”

Wendy picked up the food and started to nibble on it. She stopped frowning and smiled as Gretchen and Aaron talked to Crystal and Sabrina. When she finished her sandwich, she looked up. “Am I off the hook now?”

Gretchen smiled. “I don’t think so. If you are not keeping food down again, I believe that you need to come back home with the boys.”

Wendy frowned. “I was upset. I’m keeping it down.”

Gretchen winked at Crystal. “I know she is not arguing with her Mama Gretchen.”

Sabrina looked at Wendy. “I think you should go. I love it when my parents take care of me.”

Wendy looked at the stack of papers in front of her. “I’ll agree to stay if you all let me get back to work before I get fired.”

Aaron snorted. “I doubt that. I happened to know your boss is a bit bias where you are concerned.”

Gretchen looked at the other two ladies. “Now, you two need to make it a point to come Saturday for game night. Crystal you just bring those kids you were telling me about with you. It will be easier if you all plan on spending the night.”

Wendy laughed as she turned the woman’s words back on her. “I suggest you listen.”

Crystal agreed to show up with her little family. She took the papers Wendy was done with and got back to work.

Gretchen and Aaron gave Wendy another hug, before, the left.

Wendy sipped at her drink, as she continued to go over the first project. She made notes on the side of the blueprints in front of her as she made her changes. She glanced up as Stefan walked in. Her heart did a flip. She looked down at her hands.

Stefan chuckled. “Me too.”

Wendy laughed. “I’m thinking we are getting beyond the yuck part.”

Stefan agreed. “I have been past that for some time. Are you ready for the meeting?”

Wendy stood up and walked around her desk. She handed him her notes. “What do you think? I like this a bit better than the company’s original idea. If they don’t like it, I have a second set of notes.”

Stefan stood beside her as he looked at her notes and then the blueprints. He had to agree both ideas were great. “I like both of them a lot. Put them both on your device and let the client decide. I’m thinking, the only thing they will need to determine is which they like the most. I still can’t get over how your mind works.”

Wendy looked up at him and giggled. “Mr. Felix, you are going to make me blush.”

Stefan shook his head as he nudged her with his hip. “You need to learn to take a compliment. And, just a heads up, I plan on making you blush for the foreseeable future.”

Wendy giggled as he pulled her into his arms. “We are at work. You have to behave.”

Stefan kissed the side of her head, before letting her go. He gave a long-suffering sigh. “I guess if you insist.”

Sabrina chuckled from the doorway. “You two are way too adorable for you own good.”

Wendy jumped as she shoved Stefan away from her. “He did it.”

Stefan laughed. “She is right. I did it.”

Sabrina shook her head giggled. “Your last meeting of the day in conference room two. Make sure you wipe those smirks off your faces, people. We have a business to run.”

Wendy watched Sabrina leave. She glanced at Stefan. After elbowing him, she giggled. “You heard her boss. We have a business to run. Now get your thoughts off of your brilliant assistant and back in the game.”

Stefan laughed as he followed her out of her office. “I can’t believe that I thought I was in charge of this place.”

Wendy giggled and winked. “I know.”

The meeting went longer than expected and before everyone knew it. The day was done, and it was time to go. Stefan was happy to hear that Wendy and the boys would be spending more time at the mansion with him. He couldn’t help but be thankful for the blessings God had given him, as they headed toward the elevator.

 

Chapter Thirteen

 

Wendy looked at the people around the game board. She grinned shamelessly. “It appears we have another bankruptcy.”

Stefan shook his head. He had to admit. This was a side of Wendy he was not aware of. It was rather interesting. “You are a bit competitive. Don’t you think?”

Wendy glanced at Stefan. Her voice held a fake air of superiority. “I believe you are a bit upset about your impending bankruptcy. I’m not sure you understand the game. The goal is to monopolize. It is called Monopoly for a reason.” She acted like she was thinking, as she cocked her head to the side. “Huh… I didn’t think I would need to explain that to you.”

Stefan elbowed her playfully. “Be nice.”

Liam looked at his brothers. “She is brutal. She could run the company for us.”

Sabrina frowned at Wendy. “You need to trade properties.”

Wendy laughed. “I think, Sabrina, that you need me to trade. As you can see, I have three monopolies. I don’t need to trade anything. I just need to take each of you out of this game one by one, as I sit back and relax on my fake yacht.”

Aaron chuckled. “She has an interesting head for business.”

Wendy smiled. “Thank you, Papa Aaron.”

Stefan rolled his eyes. “He spoils you more than he ever did us. Your head for business is to take over everything and trade nothing.”

Wendy winked at Stefan. “As you can see, Sir, it works. And, for the record, Papa Aaron does not spoil me overly much.”

Liam had to disagree. “He spoils you rotten. You have gone from the pleasant person we have all come to love, to an aggressive takeover machine.”

Wendy grinned at Crystal, who was the first one she eliminated. “I think they are being sore losers.”

Crystal laughed. “Either that or you are being a bad winner.”

Wendy leaned over and whispered to Trevor. “I, really, am a bit of a gloat when I win. I love winning.”

Trevor elbowed her. “You need to be nice.”

Wendy looked at Stefan. “Your brother just elbowed me.”

Stefan laughed. “I know. You are being a brat.”

It only took Wendy another half hour to finish off the rest of the players. She looked at Stefan. “I did warn you this was my game.”

Stefan took her hand as they started walking toward the kitchen. “Yes, you did. However, you didn’t warn me about the fact you gloat without shame.”

Wendy giggled, before, she looked at Sabrina and Crystal. “We should do a lip sync battle next.”

Sabrina and Crystal looked at each other surprised as all the men yelled ‘no’ at the same time.

Wendy frowned at them. “I see you are worried about my ability with that too.”

Stefan pulled her into his arms and kissed the top of her head. “I will admit to that for sure. You are the lip sync queen.”

Liam relayed to the two ladies their first time in their new church. Sabrina looked at Wendy. Her voice held a note of disbelief. “No…”

Wendy giggled. “It was so, much fun. I can rap too.”

Stefan looked down at her. “Seriously…?”

Wendy smiled up into his face. “I’m telling you. I can totally rap. Ask Kim.”

Gretchen chuckled. “I become more attached to her every time she opens her mouth.”

Wendy looked up at Stefan. “Your mother is a fabulous judge of character.”

Stefan grinned. “I can’t argue with that. I’m kind of attached to you too.”

Liam looked at Sabrina. “I’m getting a bit nauseous.”

Sabrina laughed. “I think they are cute.”

Crystal chuckled. “I’ve seen how Skyler flirts with you. Of course, you think they are cute.”

Sabrina giggled. “I wish he didn’t have to work tonight. He would have enjoyed this.”

Wendy glanced at Sabrina. “Where did you meet him?”

Sabrina peered at Crystal. “I met him at church. Crystal took me with her after our talk. A month later he asked me out.”

Crystal smiled at Aaron and Gretchen. “He, really, is a good man.”

Wendy looked at Crystal’s hand. “I am sorry about your husband. We have never really talked about him.”

Crystal glanced down at her finger. “I know most people keep their rings on because they miss the person they were married to. I do it to remind me, I’m ok if it is just Jesus and the kids and I. My husband was not very nice. I made a series of stupid mistakes as a kid and married young. I will let Christ pick my husband if He wants me to have one. I did love him, but life with him was very, difficult. If I have, to be honest, his death stopped him from hurting me. We were young and didn’t know Christ. He came from a background full of neglect. I didn’t even have a voice in my own house. He never laid a hand on me, but his words and actions were brutal. I almost lost myself in the mental abuse he dished out to me. Through all of it, however, I had never envisioned being a widow at twenty-six.”

Trevor looked at her. “I think we all have things that have taught us lessons. Your story may help someone else think twice. That is a good thing. I am sorry that you were treated like that, though.”

Wendy nodded. “I am too. Thanks for telling us.”

Crystal smiled as she took a deep breath. “It felt good to let you know. Now, off the depressing stuff and onto the sweet stuff.”

Stefan took Crystal’s hint and started scooping ice cream into bowls. He put some on the tip of Wendy’s nose. “Would you look at that. You look cute even with ice cream on your nose.”

Wendy wiped it off and giggled. “You better be careful. I may see if a facial looks good on you.”

Everyone grabbed their bowls as Stefan dished them out. They added their toppings and then headed to the family room to watch a movie.

Stefan looked down at Wendy, once they left. “It looks like it is just you and me.”

Wendy smiled up at him. “It does.”

Stefan very slowly reached around her and dipped his finger in the ice cream. “I think you need to be reprimanded for your lack of grace in winning.”

Wendy backed away. “I’m thinking, I don’t.”

Stefan held up his finger. “I don’t know. You need to come up with a pretty good reason on why I should not put this on your face.”

Wendy looked at Stefan. When he winked at her, she realized something. Her voice was soft. “I think I would like to throw myself on the mercy of the court. Are you willing to hear what I would like?”

Stefan raised an eyebrow as he kept walking toward her. He saw a change in her face. He was curious. “Ok.”

Wendy stopped backing away. She looked down at her hands before glancing back up at him. “Stefan… I think I would like to know what it is like to kiss you.”

Stefan didn’t need to be asked twice. He touched her cheek gently as his lips found hers. When she leaned up, he pulled her close.

Wendy whispered against his lips. “Definitely, not yuck anymore.”

Stefan looked down into her face. “Definitely, not yuck.”

When Stefan kissed her again, Wendy sighed. The couple jumped apart as Macy’s voice reached their ears. “Daddy is kissing Aunt Wendy.”

Gretchen and Ms. Shelly looked at each other as Gretchen spoke. “It appears he is.”

Wendy knew she was blushing again. She didn’t care, though. She glanced up at Stefan. When he looked down at her, she smiled.

Stefan was relieved that she didn’t appear to regret their kiss. He smiled back at her. “I guess we should get the kids their ice cream.”

Wendy giggled. “I guess we should. We both know Macy is going to need food in her mouth after this.”

The two dished out the bowls for all of the children. Crystal came in with her three kids to help them put the toppers on. She chuckled as Macy started speaking. “Daddy was kissing Aunt Wendy. Nanna told me not to tell my, Uncle Liam and Uncle Trevor.”

Liam walked into the kitchen. “What aren’t you supposed to tell me?”

Wendy looked up at Stefan. Her voice sounded dreamy even to her. “Macy’s daddy was kissing me.”

Stefan glanced down at her. He touched her cheek as he whispered softly. “Macy’s Aunt Wendy was kissing me back.”

Liam shook his head and frowned. “Well, that takes the fun out of it.”

They all went into the family room to watch a movie. Stefan and Wendy sat side by side. Wendy glanced up at Stefan as she took a bite of her ice cream. “I think I will be a sore winner all the time. I, really, like throwing myself on the mercy of the court.”

Stefan whispered in her ear. “I do enjoy being the court.”

Wendy finished her ice cream and snuggled into Stefan’s side. When he kissed the top of her head, she smiled up at him. “This is fun.”

Stefan chuckled. “It certainly is.”

Cory looked at Stefan. His voice was stern. “I sure hope you didn’t get cuties.”

Trevor chuckled. “It seems, to me, my brother thinks, it is well worth the risk.”

Crystal giggled. “I would have to say you are right.”

Before the movie ended, almost everyone was asleep. Gretchen looked at Aaron. “I am enjoying this.”

Aaron smiled. “Are you giving what I suggested some thought?”

Gretchen cuddled into her husband’s chest. “I am.”

Wendy looked at Stefan. He had all three kids sleeping on him. She smiled at Sabrina. “It is a good look for him.”

Sabrina giggled. “It surely is. Trevor doesn’t look too bad either.”

Crystal raised an eyebrow. “I’m thinking, you two need to stop.”

Wendy laughed. “I don’t know. You have to admit. Trevor does look very comfortable with all three of your boys using him as a lazy boy.”

Sabrina yawned. “I’m going to go get ready for bed, and then help you two carry the kids. It is obvious the men here are a bit tired.”

Wendy looked at Crystal. “If you want to get ready, I can stay.”

Crystal nodded as she stood up. “I will take you up on that.”

Wendy watched Stefan sleep. She looked at the boys and Macy. “He genuinely does look good with them.”

Aaron smiled at her. “I have to agree.”

Wendy started to feel a bit scared. Tears stung her eyes. She looked at Gretchen and Aaron. “I can’t trust that God will let me keep any of them.”

Gretchen smiled at her in understanding. “Aaron and I have had five children. Our oldest two were twins. We had them for a few hours, and then, they were gone. We were then blessed with a daughter. God only allowed us a short time with her, as well. I know it is hard, but you can’t live in fear, of who God will call home next. All you can do is live.”

Wendy wiped a tear from her eye. She realized that Gretchen was right. She nodded. “I can do that.”

When Sabrina and Crystal came back out, Wendy went and got her night clothes on. As she came back into the family room, Crystal chuckled. “Those do not look like your clothes.”

Wendy grinned. “They are Stefan’s. I guess it is our thing.”

Stefan was awake now. He smiled at Wendy. “I’ll go get ready and then help you with the kids.”

Wendy nodded as she pulled Macy into her arms. She smelled the little girl’s hair as she snuggled her close. Winking at Gretchen, she said, softly. “If she gets to feel my legs, I get to smell her strawberry shampoo.”

The adults started picking up kids. Sabrina, Gretchen, and Crystal picked up Crystal’s boys and headed toward the suite that was prepared for Sabrina and Crystal. Aaron took Macy, as Stefan and Wendy picked up Sean and Cory. After the boys had been settled, Wendy and Stefan walked toward her suite door. Before they got to it, Stefan tugged Wendy into his arms. He kissed her softly. “Goodnight.”

Wendy whispered. “Goodnight.”

Stefan touched her cheek one last time before leaving. Wendy watched him go. A part of her was still afraid to hope, for a future with him. A bigger part believed this man and his daughter were already her and the boys’ family. She touched her lips and smiled as she went toward her room. As sleep claimed her, Wendy dreamed of her and Stefan’s first kiss.

Chapter Fourteen

 

Three weeks had passed since the game night. Wendy had just put the boys to bed when her doorbell rang. She looked through her peephole and became a bit confused.

Carla spoke from behind her. “Who is it?”

Wendy shook her head. “I don’t see anyone.”

Carla frowned in confusion. “Let me take a peek.”

Wendy watched her friend look out into the hallway. “Do you see anyone?”

Carla shook her head. “I don’t. Let’s not open the door. I’m worried it could be Jake.”

Wendy’s cell rang just as she was getting ready to agree with her friend. She answered it as she watched Carla. “Hello?”

“You have caused my brother and me some problems. We were honestly hoping you would just answer the door.” Damian’s voice made Wendy start to shake.

Wendy spoke. “I didn’t mean to cause you any trouble. Please leave me alone.”

Damian chuckled. “You are the politest person I have ever met. My father was smitten with you. He disinherited us, you know?”

Wendy sat down to keep from falling, down. “I didn’t know.” She said, softly. When he knocked on the door, she jumped. She watched Carla as she picked up her cell to called the police.

Gordon’s voice was now on the phone. “I think we would like to come in. Your boys are in there, aren’t they? I bet you would be very cooperative to keep them safe.”

Wendy could hear the lock being picked. She ran to the door. There were three locks, and all of them were trying to turn. She started crying as she realized all three men were outside her door. She dropped the phone as she stopped two of the locks.

Damian’s voice could be heard through the door. “Let us in Wendy. We will be nicer if you just take what you earned. You should have kept your mouth shut when my dad came to see you.”

Wendy didn’t take her hands off the locks. Her hand was cramping with the force they were using to turn the lock. She whimpered as her hand slipped and another lock turned.

Eric now spoke through the door. “We just want to talk. There is only one lock to go. Let us in, Wendy.”

Wendy knew they would have to make too much noise to get to her if they tried to kick the door in. She ignored the fear their evil voices caused as they tormented her. They thought she would have to give up soon. What they didn’t know, was that Carla lived with her. She only needed to hold on long enough for the police.

Eric’s laugh sent chills down Wendy’s spine. “How long do you think you can do this? There are three of us. We will take turns turning that last lock.”

As the voices continued to tease her through the door, Wendy’s fear turned into anger. She realized the police were probably about there. A part of her wanted to see their faces when they were caught trying to break into her home.

“Are you crying, Wendy?” Eric’s voice teased again.

Wendy stayed silent. She held fast to the lock. Carla walked out of the back and held up her fingers. Wendy smiled. In less than five minutes the police would be there.

Gordon laughed. “I think she is ignoring us. It will be hard to do that once you start getting tired. As soon as we are in, you will not be able to ignore us at all.”

Wendy sagged against the door as she heard the police start yelling at the men. She covered her face and sobbed realizing what could have happened if Carla had not been there. She would have gotten tired. They would have gotten in. Her neighbors were elderly. She had never seen any of them awake at this time of night. The more she thought about what could have happened, the sicker she became. If they had waited for her to go to bed instead of tormenting her, they would have been able to pick the locks. Whatever they had used had worked.

Carla pulled Wendy away from the door as an officer knocked. She opened the door and allowed the officer inside.

Wendy walked over to the sofa and sat down. She drew her knees close to her as she watched the officer speak to Carla.

After an hour, the police had all the information they needed. Carla locked the door behind them and looked at Wendy. “Are you ok?”

Wendy shook her head. “If they had been smart and not called, they would have gotten in.”

Carla had thought of that too. She sat down beside her friends. “Why don’t we take turns watching?”

Wendy had heard the police say there was a good chance Eric Stine’s mother would bail the men out. She looked at Carla. “I’ll take first watch.”

Carla nodded as she walked back to her room. Instead of going to bed, she called Stefan. She knew they needed to leave. She also knew her friend would not ask for help.

Wendy put her forehead on her knees. She prayed, silently that Christ would protect her little family through the night. She asked Him to keep her alert, while it was her turn to watch and listen for danger. Twenty minutes passed. Wendy heard a knock at the door. When her cell rang, she answered it as she dashed to hold the locks. “Please go away.”

Stefan spoke. “It’s me. Let me in.”

Wendy was confused. “Stefan…?”

Stefan was furious she hadn’t called him. He had no intentions of speaking to her about it until the next day. “It is me. Look out your peephole.”

Wendy looked out. She could see all three of the Felix brothers waiting to be let in. She opened the door.

Stefan knew she was going to be difficult. The fact she hadn’t called them told him this was not going to be easy.

Wendy locked the door behind her as she closed it. She turned and regarded the men. “Why are you here?”

Stefan took a step toward her; he was surprised when she backed away. His voice was gentle. “It is only me.”

Wendy was exhausted. She blinked her eyes. When Stefan walked toward her again, she let him hug her. She whispered. “I’m tired.”

Stefan spoke, softly. “Why didn’t you call? Why didn’t you trust me to help you?”

Wendy shook her head. “I don’t know. I guess I thought I could handle it alone.”

Liam looked at Wendy. “You need to leave with us. You can’t stay here.”

Wendy shook her head. “I don’t want to leave. What if they come back? Everything I have is here.”

Trevor looked at her. “What is more important than your life?”

Wendy whispered softly. “The only things I have left of my parents and Gracie are here. I won’t let them take them from me. I…” Her voice trailed off as she looked down at her hands.

Stefan gazed at Wendy. “How about we call the office and have one of our security guards do his shift over here? He can sit on a chair outside the door.”

Wendy thought for a moment. “That is only a temporary fix. What about after that?”

Trevor coughed and looked at Liam before he looked back at Stefan. He watched Stefan put a lot of thought into his next words.

Stefan knew she was going to, really, hate his idea. “After tonight, we come back and pack you up and move you, Carla, and the boys to the estate.”

Wendy eased herself out of Stefan’s arms. She glanced up at him with a look of disbelief on her face. “What did you just say?”

Liam grimaced at the look Wendy was giving his brother. He thought maybe he could help. “You, Carla, and the boys would be safer there. Stefan’s idea makes sense.”

Wendy knew Stefan was right on some level. The idea of what it looked like was not something she wanted to embrace. She already fielded some very tough questions regarding how it looked. “I’m not sure we should.”

Stefan took a deep breath. “Why?”

Wendy decided to be blunt. She knew she was going to blush, but she also knew she needed, to be honest. “People that need to see Christ in us are going to think we are sleeping together. You and I both know some have already assumed that. The fact is we are setting ourselves up to do just that if I move in. We are well chaperoned now. If we live together, there will be times you and I will be alone at the estate. I’m not sure I’ll say no if one kiss goes too far. I would love to say I would, but when it comes to emotions, they can sometimes take on a life of their own. We can’t embrace the appearance of sin.”

Stefan could see her wisdom. He also knew she needed to be protected. He looked at Liam and Trevor. “She is right.”

Trevor had an idea. “What about the penthouse? They could stay there.”

Stefan nodded. “That would work. How do you feel about that?”

Wendy realized it still looked bad. She also knew being on her own was not safe. “I am willing to give that a try.”

Stefan knew she was overwhelmed. He held out his hand. “Let us help. I know you do not like this, but I promise we will do our best to avoid appearing inappropriate. I need to know you are safe, and you need to be safe.”

Wendy took Stefan’s hand. When he tugged her into his arms for a hug, she couldn’t help but giggle. “This is not a very, good start Mr. Felix.”

Liam had called the office. One of the night guards, actually, lived in the building beside Wendy’s. He was due in at the office in an hour, but instead of going in, tonight he would simply walk across the street.

Carla looked at her friend. “He will be here to watch everything in thirty minutes. Why don’t we pack some clothes for the boys and us?”

Wendy nodded. She glanced up at Stefan. “How long do you think it will take before we can come back and pack everything else?”

Stefan thought for a moment. “I can have our penthouse staff come help you tomorrow.”

Wendy glanced back up at him. “I’m sorry if I don’t sound grateful. I truly am worried about how it looks.”

Stefan winked at her. “I understand. I can’t say I want that story going around either. I, also, can’t say I want that rumor to be true. It would be best if we avoided that kind of temptation.”

Liam watched the two women head down the hall. “You are going to let her know, that she can’t move out of the security of the penthouse? The danger isn’t going to pass just because she finds another place to live. The men will discover it if she moves and take her.”

Stefan grimaced. “I will. I’m taking baby steps here. She looked ready for a fight.”

Trevor chuckled. “She is going to be spitting mad when she realizes you didn’t tell her that up front.”

Stefan nodded. “I know. I’m hoping we are married before she figures it out. It will be harder for her to ignore me if I’m sleeping beside her.”

Liam laughed. “Good luck with that. I’m thinking, unless you go to Vegas, you have a week.”

Trevor glanced at Stefan. “You see your life with her now?”

Stefan nodded. His voice was thoughtful. “I miss Dee. She will always have a place in my heart, but I am falling for Wendy. She hasn’t shoved her way into my life. She has glided into my heart. I can’t imagine life without her here. I am enjoying my life with her in it.”

Liam knew his brother still hurt. He also knew that ache had lessened with the arrival of his new assistant and friend. Wendy had been a soothing balm to his broken heart. “I’m happy for you.”

Stefan looked at Trevor and Liam. “What about you two? It seems to me I am the only brother willing to get married.”

Trevor chuckled. “I won’t lie. I’m ready. I just haven’t met the right girl yet. I’ll be twenty-nine in May. I always pictured myself as having children by now.”

Liam had to agree. “I know I’m the youngest, but I am ready too. I know most think I still have plenty of time. I’m only twenty-five, but I am ready for God to lead me to my future wife.”

Stefan’s voiced an idea. “Why don’t we make it a point to pray about it?”

Liam looked at Trevor. “I think that sounds like a very, good idea. I’m in if you are.”

Trevor nodded. “I’m in. I like the idea of praying for my wife before I know her.”

Stefan smiled. “Then it’s settled. We can start praying at night before we head to bed.”

The three men continued to talk as the women packed. Stefan watched Carla come out with a suitcase.

Carla looked up at Stefan. “If you want to keep your temper in check, I suggest staying out Wendy’s bedroom.”

Stefan glanced down at her. “Why?”

Carla shrugged her shoulders. When Stefan headed down the hall to Wendy’s room, she looked up at Liam. “I told her I was cheating to get my own way on this. That nutcase is climbing the closet shelves. She is going to fall and break her neck.”

Stefan knocked on the door. His mouth dropped open at what he saw. “I think you need to get down from there.”

Wendy glanced back at him. “I think Carla has a big mouth.”

Stefan walked over to her. When he held out his hand, she took it. As soon as she was safely on the floor, he spoke. “I’ll make sure the staff brings step ladders.”

Wendy frowned at him. “I was all right.”

Stefan didn’t agree or disagree. When he saw her nibble her lower lip, he smiled. “Are you ok?”

Wendy nodded. “I’m just thinking.”

Stefan raised an eyebrow. “About what…?”

Wendy was going to answer him when he seemed to figure it out himself. She sighed against his lips as he kissed her softly.

When Stefan ended the kiss, he looked down at Wendy. “I’m thinking, this isn’t the best room in the apartment for us to be kissing.”

Wendy looked at the bed and blushed. “I didn’t even think about that. I would have to agree. We are not off to a very, good start on this. I’ll be glad to get my own place again.”

Stefan ran his hand on the back of his neck. He made a face and proceeded with caution. “Wendy, can I tell you something?”

Wendy looked at Stefan. He seemed uncomfortable. “Sure.”

Stefan pulled her into his arms as he spoke. “You can’t move out of the penthouse.”

Wendy tried to pull away, but darn if Stefan wasn’t allowing it. She really wanted to be glaring at him when she spoke. “That is not an option.”

Stefan grimaced at the anger he heard in her voice. “Wendy, I need you to think about this. If you move away from the security of the penthouse, those men will get you. Worse than that, Cory and Sean may have to witness what happens when they do. There is no place for you to go, after the penthouse.”

Wendy’s anger started to dissipate. She knew Stefan was right. She was not happy that he was right, but she knew he was. She conceded softly. “I guess I have very few options.”

Stefan’s heart was not immune to the hurt he heard in her voice. “Wendy, it will be ok. Let me keep you safe.”

Wendy responded to the caring she heard in his voice. “I will trust your judgment on this. I guess it is almost time to go. Isn’t it?”

Stefan picked up the suitcase she had packed. “The guard will be here soon. Why don’t we go get the boys ready?”

Wendy glanced up at him. “That sounds like the only thing left to do.”

The two headed out of the room. The next few minutes were spent gathering kids and clothes. Liam grabbed a chair from the kitchen table for the guard, when he got there, and then the group left to go back to the estate. Wendy, Carla, and the boys left to go and seek refuge from another crisis that seemed to arise in their lives.

 

Chapter Fifteen

 

Wendy got off the elevator on Monday morning. She, Carla, and the boys had lived in the penthouse for a few weeks now. She walked toward her office. Seeing Stefan start for his office she shook her head. “Mr. Felix, I would like a word with you.”

Stefan grimaced and turned toward Wendy. “Of course, Ms. Collins…”

The office staff looked at each other. It was evident their boss was in a bit of trouble. Sabrina chuckled as Wendy spoke. “Your office or mine…?”

Stefan looked around the room. “I think I like the idea of witnesses. How about right here?”

Crystal giggled drawing Wendy’s frown. She shrugged her shoulders.

The elevator door opened again, drawing Wendy’s attention. When Liam stepped off and then tried rush back in, her voice stopped him. “Mr. Felix I would love it if you could join your brother. I need a word with you both. I need a word with Trevor too, but the coward ran when he saw me.”

Liam frowned at Stefan. “I told you she would find out.”

The staff were all curious now. Stefan spoke. “Now, Wendy…. I mean, Ms. Collins, they are boys. It is our job to teach them boy things.”

Wendy looked at the men. “I’m trying to figure out how armpit farts are an absolute must in teaching boys to be men.”

Liam tried to defend them now. “We did tell them it was only to be done with the guys.”

Wendy nodded. “I would love to hear how saying one’s name while belching is beneficial. Which one of you can explain that to me? I can’t wait to hear this.”

The staff was snickering now. Stefan frowned at Sabrina. “This isn’t funny.”

Wendy spoke. “That is one thing you and I can agree on, Mr. Felix.”

Stefan decided to see if sweet talking would work. “Is there anything I can do to make it right? I want to help.”

Wendy nodded. “You can go speak to Cory at school. They just called. It seems your lessons disrupted the entire class. I would also love it if you could let the principal know that I did not teach him those obnoxious tricks. The man thinks I’m responsible for my nephew’s antics.”

Liam’s eyes widened. “That kid really does not follow directions.”

Wendy shook her head. “I disagree. He followed the directions he wanted to and disregarded the rest. What were you three thinking? I teach Macy how to make cookies and color butterflies. You three teach my boys to act like… piggies. I teach Macy how to be sweet and kind.”

Stefan smiled and got a goofy look on his face. His voice was soft. “You do a great job teaching her.”

Wendy rolled her eyes. “I’ll see you when you get back, Mr. Felix.”

Stefan chuckled. “I could have sworn I was the boss here.”

Liam grimaced. “I honestly don’t think this is the time to bring that up.”

Wendy watched Stefan head toward the elevator. He gave her a flirtatious wink before he stepped inside. She looked at Liam. “You three are big kids.”

Liam started walking toward his office. He laughed. “I will not deny it.”

Looking around the room, Wendy spoke. “Do not leave your kids with those three.”

Sabrina giggled. “I am so glad you work here. It has been fun coming to work. I bet your boys are having a blast, even if they are being taught some things you wouldn’t show them.”

Wendy smiled as others agreed. One of the men grinned at her. “It truly is a man thing.”

Crystal chuckled. “I loved it when Mr. Felix said he wanted witnesses.”

Wendy shook her head. “I could barely get the boys to bed last night. I should have known something was up. I’m positive the other drivers close to me at the red lights could see my blush as I talked to the school.”

Crystal grinned. “I know it isn’t funny, but it is kind of funny.”

Wendy shook her head and sighed. “I guess we should get to work.”

Sabrina handed Wendy some papers. “Here is you next project. I have the details you normally like, but this one has a few twists. I took the liberty of adding some extra notes.”

Wendy smiled. “Thanks. You surely are getting to know me quite well.”

Sabrina grinned. “You are welcome. Now I have some work to catch up on and so do you.”

The two went their separate way. Wendy sat in her office for the next hour working on the project. She glanced up at Stefan when he walked in.

Stefan sat down. “The school is aware that I am responsible for Cory’s behavior. Cory has assured me he will not be disrupting class again, and I would like to take you on a date.”

Wendy looked up. She was not sure she heard him quite right. “You want to what?”

Stefan grinned. He leaned forward and put his elbows on his knees. “We have never gone on a date. I want to take you out. I want to court you.”

Wendy smiled. “You want to court me?’

Stefan chuckled. “You are not making this easy.”

Wendy giggled. “I have never had a man ask to court me. What does that mean?”

Stefan stopped joking and answered her honestly. “I want to marry you some day. I want to get to know your heart. I want to know you on many levels. I want to know who you are without Sean and Cory, without work, and without others around.”

Wendy was not quite sure how to take his words. She knew he was serious. He just told her he was interested in her as a future wife. She looked at Stefan, for the first time, as a future husband. She could see a future with him as well. She was suddenly quite shy. “Ok.”

Stefan’s voice was thoughtful. “I have talked to Ms. Shelly. She agreed to watch the boys. Can I take you out on Friday?”

Wendy was more than willing to take this step with Stefan. She nodded. “I think that would be lovely.”

Stefan smiled at her. “I guess I need to plan our first date. Now, I suppose we need to get back to work. We have a meeting this afternoon.”

Wendy nodded. She watched him leave her office. She tried to evaluate the feelings he always seemed to evoke.

Taking a deep breath, she, finally, went back to the work in front of her. She paused only once more to eat a quick bite, before, it was time for her to go to the meeting.

Stefan sat as Wendy took charge of the conference room. He had understood early in her employment, that she was able to do a better job than him in certain gatherings. He watched her explain the plans to the clients. He had to smile at how confident she was as she spoke.

Wendy looked at the group of men and women in front of her. She asked for questions at the end of her presentation. When a woman raised her hand, she nodded for her to speak.

“I am looking at these plans and can’t help but notice both are well within building codes for exits. Is that deliberate?” The woman asked as she took notes.

Wendy nodded. “I am very deliberate with that. If the building is safe as well as pleasing to the eye, it benefits everyone.”

The woman nodded as she took notes. She then glanced back up at Wendy. “This is your design?”

Wendy smiled. “It is my design.”

“I like it. I am thrilled to see Mr. Felix understands your talent. A colleague, of mine, lost a hotel a few years ago in Florida. The exits were a problem. It was a miracle no one lost their lives. There were people with severe burns, but all managed to get out. That was unacceptable.” The woman said as she packed up her stuff.

Wendy’s voice was soft. “I do my best.”

Eve Cantu glanced at Wendy. “Your best is more than enough. Mr. Felix, I would like to stop taking bids from other companies altogether. Your company has always had a great deal of integrity. With your new assistant here, I am more than willing to seek your price first.”

Wendy sat down. She took notes as Stefan started talking. “I am going to assume you want Ms. Collins doing them with me.”

Eve nodded. “I, definitely want that. I know that contracts need to be drawn up if I make you my exclusive firm, but I would like to give this a go.”

Stefan looked at his brothers. “This is agreeable to you both as well?”

Trevor and Liam both nodded.

Eve glanced at Wendy as she took notes. “How do you feel about this, Ms. Collins? We ladies need to stick together.”

Wendy looked up at her surprised. “I’m agreeable to whatever the Felix brothers want to do. I work for them.”

Eve chuckled. “I can see you enjoy your work. It is refreshing to find new talent in this field that wears a skirt too.”

Wendy grinned and nodded her head toward the brothers. “I’m thinking, they couldn’t pull it off, even if they did try to wear one.”

Eve laughed as she grimaced. “I can honestly say that mental picture will keep me laughing all week.”

Wendy watched the woman leave. She glanced at Stefan. “I guess we did ok with that meeting.”

Stefan laughed. “You have no idea how big of a deal this is. Her coming to us exclusively will be news that gets around. We may end up with a lot more guaranteed contracts, after this.”

Wendy looked at the men. “And, that is a good thing, right?”

Liam shook his head. “You still don’t get it. Your value just went up. People will be looking to steal you away from us.”

Wendy frowned. “I’m not going to leave you three. You are my new family.”

Stefan chuckled as he pulled her into his arms. “We didn’t think you were. Even though we are close, it is only fair to let you know; you should ask for a raise.”

Wendy rolled her eyes. “I’m living in the penthouse rent-free. I think we can call that my raise and be done with it.”

Trevor’s voice was soft. “You honestly don’t care about the money, do you? All the wealth we have means nothing to you.”

Wendy was confused. “Why would your money mean something to me? It isn’t my money.”

Liam glanced down at her. “It is a curse and a blessing all in one. I would love to find a girl that likes me for me and not my wallet. That thought is foreign to you because it is something that has not crossed your mind.”

Wendy knew she was jaded a bit in her thinking. Just, not in the same way these men were. “I’m not going to lie to you. I honestly thought most wealthy people were more like Eric Stine and the Blackhart brothers. It never really occurred to me that you could be hurt too.”

Stefan thought about her old boss. “Who was your old boss?”

Wendy shook her head. “His name is on my resume. I don’t want to talk about him.”

Trevor glanced at them. “Why?”

Wendy was done with the conversation. She smiled at the men. “I need to finish a few things up.”

Stefan watched her leave. He glanced at her brothers. “Her former boss made a pass at her. He tried to force the issue when she said no. I never took the time to see who he was. I guess I need to.”

Liam wholeheartedly agreed. “Of course, you need to. He could be at any one of the parties we go to. If he gets her alone again, it may end more like it did at our party or worse.”

The men talked for a few more minutes, before heading to their respective offices. Stefan didn’t hesitate to pull Wendy’s resume. By the end of the day, he had the name of her old boss. Stefan would make sure to be more aware of parties that he and Wendy attended. He had found a woman he could cherish, and would do so now by watching out for her. Even if she was stubborn about accepting his protection.

 

Chapter Sixteen

 

Wendy looked at Stefan. “So, now that I’m getting good at it, you want to quit?”

Stefan chuckled. “Actually, now that you are addicted to it, you need to quit.”

Wendy laughed as she continued to play the video game. “You are just upset because I’m beating you. This must be a real blow to your ego. Cory says you are good at this.”

Stefan glanced down at her. “I know how to distract you.”

Wendy snickered. “I doubt that.”

Stefan unwrapped a piece of chocolate. He waved it under her nose. “Are you sure about that?”

Wendy could smell the sweet aroma of the chocolate. She tried to focus on the game, but the temptation of chocolate was too much. “We have only gone on two dates. Shame on you, Stefan, for figuring out my weakness when it comes to candy.”

Stefan chuckled as she dropped the controller. When she reached for the candy, he pulled it away. “What are you willing to give me?”

Wendy knew he wanted a kiss. She decided to turn the tables on him. “How about, if I win this race you still give me the candy as well as the box of it you have in the kitchen?”

Stefan raised an eyebrow. He was intrigued with her proposition. “What do I get if I win the race?”

Wendy smiled up at him. “What would you like?”

Stefan grinned. “I want to take you out two nights in a row.”

Wendy shook her head in agreement. “I can accept that. I have beaten you just about every time.”

Stefan sat beside her and picked up his controller. He chuckled as he started racing.

Wendy realized what the man had done. “You tricked me. I take it you have been letting me win?”

Stefan winked at her as he easily took first place. “I might have done that. I wanted to be a gentleman about the entire thing. Beating you at this would not have been noble.”

Wendy giggled. “That nobility went right out the window when we added a prize. You are a scoundrel, Stefan. I may have to tell your mother about this.”

Stefan pulled her into his arms. He kissed her softly. “Are you going to tell my mom about that?”

Wendy shook her head. Her voice was soft. “I think I will keep that between us.”

Stefan knew that they needed to talk. He was enjoying, their date, and dreaded talking to her, about some things he had found out. He leaned back against the sofa. When she cuddled into his side, he kissed the top of her head. “The holidays are coming up.”

Wendy looked up at him. She could tell something was on his mind. “I know they are.”

Stefan smiled at her. “We will be going to more parties than normal.”

Wendy nodded. “You told me that. I’m ready. Carla is able to stay with the boys. When you, Liam, and Trevor need to stay the night at the penthouse, the rooms will be ready.”

Stefan hugged her close, as he got to the point of the conversation. “Wendy, I looked up your old boss on your resume.”

Wendy didn’t say anything. She waited for him to finish. Her heart was pounding. She had a feeling that she knew what he was going to say.

“I need you to stay with one of us at all times when we are at these parties,” Stefan said, softly.

Wendy suddenly felt cold. She cuddled closer to Stefan trying to chase away her fear.

Stefan closed his eyes. He could feel her trembling. “I should have told you sooner. I just didn’t know how.”

Wendy nodded. “Mr. Jamison will be at the parties, won’t he?”

Stefan kissed the top of her head. He held her close. “He will be at a few of them. I’m sorry. If you want to stay home, I understand. I won’t make you do anything you are uncomfortable with.”

Wendy shook her head. “I will not let him keep me at home. I want to go. He can’t hurt me anymore. I don’t work for him.”

Stefan whispered softly. “We won’t leave you alone. I’ll tell Liam and Trevor.”

Wendy nodded. She didn’t like the idea, of being at a party with the foul man. However, she refused to cower in fear, of what he had tried to do. “I trust you, Stefan. I know you will do what needs to be done to keep me safe.”

Stefan was humbled by her absolute faith in him. He whispered softly. “What have I done to deserve you?”

Wendy’s voice was soft. “I was wondering the same thing about you.”

Stefan knew their date was almost over. Liam and the kids would be coming down the stairs any minute. “I think maybe just one more kiss.”

Wendy sighed as he kissed her softly. When he pulled away, she smiled up at him. “I certainly think this dating thing is quite nice, even when you tell me bad news.”

Stefan could hear Macy and Cory arguing. “Well, I guess that is our cue.”

Wendy laughed. “Maybe we can make a run for it.”

Stefan winked at her. “You stay here and get the movie ready. I’ll take care of it.”

Wendy watched him head toward the sound of little voices. She smiled, as she heard him speak to the two children, causing issues. Wendy couldn’t help, but lose another tiny piece of her heart, as he gently explained to them how to be nice to each other. She watched as each child walked, into the room, and found their corner to stand in. When Stefan walked back in with Sean in his arms, her heart caught in her throat. She glanced down at the DVD player, and then, up at Stefan. Suddenly insecure, she spoke, softly. “I’ll go make the popcorn.”

Stefan was not sure what was wrong. He handed Sean to Liam. “I’ll go help her.”

Wendy watched Stefan walk into the kitchen. She didn’t move as he walked up, to her. Her voice was barely audible. “I can do this.”

Stefan leaned his hip against the counter. “I know. Wendy, what’s wrong?”

Wendy felt tears stinging her eyes. She didn’t want this to happen this way. She was supposed to feel warm and fuzzy. Instead, she felt fear. If she was alone, in her realization, she had a lot to lose.

Stefan could see Wendy’s tears. He was not sure where they came from. His voice held concern. “Please, Wendy, talk to me.”

Wendy looked up at him. “I… I realized I’m already in love with you. Stefan, I don’t want to be alone here.”

Stefan smiled as he pulled her into his arms. “I love you too. I’ve known since our first date. I’m sorry I didn’t tell you.”

Wendy glanced up at him. “You do?”

Stefan touched her cheek. “I love you. I guess we can say you are braver than me. I was afraid to tell you too.”

Wendy looked down at her hands. “Stefan, why is this so scary? I have always imagined falling in love a bit different.”

Stefan understood what she meant. “When I realized I was in love with you, I can honestly say I was afraid too. You and I have lost so much. I think it is scary for us because we have a better understanding of what we have to lose.”

Wendy put her head on his chest. When his arms went around her, she whispered. “We’re in love.”

Stefan felt her tremble. He kissed the top of her head. “We are in love.”

Wendy could hear the little voices in the next room. She eased out of Stefan’s arms. “I think we have popcorn to make.”

Stefan grimaced as Macy’s loud voice reached his ears. “I’m thinking, you do. Macy seems to be in a bit of a mood today.”

Wendy thought for a moment. “I’ll get Macy. You do the popcorn.”

Stefan raised an eyebrow. “Why?”

Wendy’s voice was hesitant. “She senses things. Her mood may be our fault. Let me talk to her.”

Stefan had not thought about that part of their relationship. “Ok. You go ahead.”

Wendy glanced back at him, as she headed toward the family room. She followed Macy’s unmistakably angry voice. When she walked into the room, Liam looked surprised to see her. He walked over and handed her the disgruntled child. Wendy pulled Macy close to her. “I love you.” She whispered softly into the little girl’s ear.

Macy sniffled. “I love you.”

Wendy walked out of the room. When they were in the front sitting room, she sat down on a sofa. Wendy didn’t say anything for a few moments. Instead, she cuddled Macy close. After Macy’s tears had subsided, she spoke to the little girl. “You are not happy today?”

Macy snuggled closer to Wendy. “I not.”

Wendy kissed the top of the little girl’s head. “Can you tell me why?”

Macy shook her head. “No.”

Wendy’s voice was gentle. “Do you know why?”

Macy shook her head again. “No. I just sad.”

Wendy continued to hold the little girl close. “Do you know how much I love you?”

Macy glanced up at her. “No.”

Wendy stretched her arms out wide. “I love you more than this. I love you higher than the sky. I would never hurt you. Do you know that, Macy?”

Macy’s little face seemed a little less sad as she spoke. “You love me lots?”

Wendy giggled. “I love you lots and lots.”

Macy’s brow furrowed. “You love Daddy?”

Wendy pulled the little girl back into her arms. “Do you want me to love your daddy?”

Macy shrugged her shoulders. “Daddy still loves me if he love you?”

Wendy whispered softly. “Can I tell you a secret about love?”

Macy nodded. Her eyes were big, as she waited for Wendy to speak again.

Wendy’s voice was gentle but sure. “It does not get little. It grows, larger. Your daddy loves you more now than he did yesterday. Did you know that?”

Macy’s eyes never left Wendy’s face, as she spoke. “He does?”

Wendy nodded. “He does. His love for you will always grow bigger and bigger, even if he loves someone else. That is how God made us.”

Macy wrapped her little arms around Wendy’s neck. “I love you and daddy.”

Wendy hugged Macy tight against her. “I love you and your daddy too.”

Stefan watched his daughter and Wendy from the doorway. It had never occurred to him, that his daughter would feel afraid, as she sensed he and Wendy’s growing love. When Wendy glanced at him, he smiled. She had sensed something he had not. He couldn’t help but acknowledge the fact that, in his life, God had blessed him with two extraordinary women.

Wendy stood with Macy in her arms. She walked over to Stefan and glanced up at him. When he kissed her softly on the forehead, she closed her eyes and sighed. She smiled as he did the same to Macy.

Stefan took his daughter out of Wendy’s arms. “I love you, Macy.”

Macy touched his face with her little hands. “Aunt Wendy says it grows.”

Stefan nodded. “She is right. I love you more each day. Are you ok now?”

Macy cuddled into his chest. “I ok.”

The three walked back into the family room. Liam smiled as he watched Sean and Cory cuddle up to Wendy and Stefan when they sat down. He couldn’t help but think this was a beautiful family God was piecing together. Liam was happy for his brother. God had blessed Stefan even when he was in the midst of doubting.

Chapter Seventeen

 

A week had passed since Stefan and Wendy had spoken their love for each other out loud. The two were enjoying the cold air of impending winter, as they walked hand in hand in a small park near the estate. Stefan glanced down at Wendy. “Are you cold?”

Wendy took a deep breath of the cold air. “I’m fine. I love all of the seasons. Each of them has their own distinct smell. Winter smells crisp and clean.”

Stefan nodded as they continued to walk. He rubbed the back of his neck nervously with the hand not holding Wendy’s. He glanced back down at her. “Wendy, you know I love you. I…” He pulled a little black box from his pocket and opened it. “I want forever with you. Will you marry me?”

Wendy looked at the ring. Tears stung her eyes as she whispered softly. “I would be honored to be called yours forever. Yes, Stefan, I will marry you.”

Stefan had not realized how nervous he had been. His hands shook as he took the ring and put it on her finger. He whispered his love softly, as he kissed her gently.

Wendy had known that Stefan had wanted a future with her. She had not realized, how much his proposal would mean to her. Happy tears streamed down her cheeks as she kissed him back. “I love you, Stefan Felix.”

Stefan used his thumb to wipe away her tears. He knew his own eyes were misty. “You have danced quietly, into my heart, and touched my soul, Wendy. I love you so much.”

Wendy touched Stefan’s face. “Thank you for letting me into your heart. I cherish you, Stefan. I cherish the family we are building.”

Stefan pulled her close for another kiss. He put his forehead on hers, once, he eased his lips away. “I think I should be thanking you.”

Wendy looked at the ring on her finger. She realized how perfectly it fit her hand. She looked up at him. “How did you know my size?”

Stefan chuckled. “Carla kind of helped me.”

Wendy’s eyes were bright with happiness. She touched his face. “I didn’t know I could be this happy.”

The two kissed once more, before walking back to the estate. They talked about their future along the way. They each agreed that the kids needed to be reassured that they were all still loved. When they reached the front door, Stefan pulled her close for one last kiss. “I love you.”

Wendy whispered softly. “I love you too.”

Stefan opened the door. He stood aside so she could enter first. Taking a deep breath, he glanced down at her. “I guess we go tell the kids.”

Wendy nodded. “I’m kind of nervous about this.”

Stefan had to agree. “They are young. I’m hoping they understand we love them all.”

Wendy turned at the sound of little voices. She smiled up at the man she had given her heart to. “Here we go.”

Stefan watched as Ms. Shelly walked into the foyer with the children. He smiled at her. “We have them. You go take a break.”

Wendy held out her hands for the boys as Stefan picked Macy up. “Why don’t we talk?”

Cory looked up at the adults. “We were good. Are we in trouble?”

Stefan chuckled. “You are not in trouble. We want to talk to you three, nothing more.”

Wendy followed Stefan into the sitting room that she had used to speak to Macy. When they all were sitting, Wendy started talking to the boys. “You know how much Uncle Stefan and I love you boys right?”

Cory nodded. Sean smiled. Cory spoke. “We love you too.”

Wendy touched Cory’s face. “How do you feel about all of us being a family?”

Cory looked at her confused. “We are a family.”

Wendy glanced at Stefan. “I know we are. We want to change it a little.”

Stefan could see Wendy struggling for the right words. He could also see Cory’s angst. He handed Macy to Wendy and then picked Cory up and sat down with him. “Cory, I want to marry your Aunt Wendy. I want you and Sean to live here with Macy and me.”

Cory looked down at his hands. “Why does Macy get a mommy and daddy? I want to leave.”

Stefan looked at Wendy surprised. It had not occurred to either of them that Sean and Cory would feel this way.

Wendy looked at Cory. “We aren’t leaving. We can talk about this. Cory, do you want to stop calling us Aunt and Uncle?”

Cory’s little face was tormented. “I miss my mamma.”

Stefan hugged the little boy close. “Cory, Macy has a mommy in heaven too. It isn’t easy to look at things different, but your mamma would be ok with us talking about this.”

Cory looked at his Aunt Wendy. “You are my mommy now, aren’t you?”

Wendy watched the play of emotions on her nephew’s face. “I am your mommy now. I take care of you. I love you.”

Sean leaned against Wendy as he sensed his brother’s torment. “What’s wrong, Aunt Wendy?”

Cory looked up at Stefan. “What happens to us? What will you do to us, if you marry Aunt Wendy? We are just nephews.”

Stefan spoke to the boy gently. “You are not just nephews. Cory, I want to be your dad. If you don’t want to call me that, I understand, but just like your Aunt Wendy is your mommy now; I want to be your daddy. Do you understand that?”

Cory sniffled loudly. “I think so. Sean and I don’t have to leave?”

Stefan kissed the top of his head. “I plan on keeping you all. I would never ask you to leave. You would have a new sister.”

Macy frowned. “I don’t want a brother.”

Stefan grimaced at the look on Macy’s face. He was thrilled when Wendy fielded that comment. “Macy, remember when we talked about sharing? It is nice to share. You will have two big brothers to protect you. I had a big sister growing up. It was fun. Sharing your daddy will give you something new too.”

Macy looked like she was reconsidering. “They love me too?”

Cory glanced at Macy. His big brother attitude came through his insecurity. His little chest puffed out. “I will love you. I will take care of you like big brothers do.”

Stefan spoke to Cory. “You and Sean will be great big brothers to Macy. Are you feeling better about this? I really do love you, Cory. I love you and Sean both. I like the idea of doing guy things like we do now.”

Wendy frowned as she spoke. “Of course, he is going to do fewer armpit farts.”

Stefan gave her a flirtatious wink. “I will have some new sweet talking tools, once we are married. I don’t want to take that off the table just yet.”

Wendy blushed crimson. “You need to stop. We are not married yet.”

Stefan chuckled as he tormented her. “I thoroughly love that color on you. It brings out your eyes.”

Cory spoke as well. “Why do you change color like that? I agree with Uncle Stefan. You look nice when that happens.”

Wendy giggled. “We will explain that when you get a bit older. Now, are we all good with this?”

Cory nodded. “We are going to be a family.”

Sean glanced at Cory. “I like it if Cory does.”

Macy looked at Wendy. “I want you with me. I like.”

Stefan watched as Liam walked in the room. “It looks like we all agree.”

Liam smiled at Wendy and the kids. “I am happy for all of you. I wanted to let you all know, that Mom and Dad are on the way. They knew something was going on.”

As if on cue, the front door opened. All of the kids ran for the front door, with Liam. Stefan pulled Wendy into his arms for a private kiss. “I love you.”

When he ended the kiss, Wendy looked up into his eyes. “I love you too. I am so, happy, Stefan. I had no idea that day in the elevator would lead to this.”

Stefan stood and held out his hand. He smiled as she took it. “I guess we go celebrate with the family now. I know for a fact Carla is ready to see how we did with the size of the ring.”

Wendy allowed him to lead her out into the foyer. She looked at Aaron and Gretchen’s faces and knew they were happy with the news.

Gretchen hugged Wendy. “I love you. I am thrilled to hear you said ‘yes.’”

Wendy returned the motherly woman’s hug. “I love you too. Thank you for accepting me into your family from the beginning.”

Aaron hugged Wendy, once Gretchen finished. “I had a feeling you would end up being one of my girls.”

Wendy giggled. “I hear we do no wrong.”

Aaron winked at her. “I am completely sure of that. I try to tell Ms. Shelly that about Macy. Of course, she disagrees.”

Wendy looked at Stefan. “I’m sure your son will have those moments too.”

The group headed toward the kitchen. The staff was already in the process of preparing a special celebration meal. The rest of the day was spent celebrating the promise of Stefan and Wendy’s tomorrow.

Chapter Eighteen

 

It was Friday night and work duty called. Wendy stood beside Stefan, scanning the group of people in front of her, for the client he had wanted her to talk to. She glanced up at him and smiled. “I will be okay on my own. You don’t have to stay beside me.”

Stefan glanced down at her. “I think we will agree to disagree on this.”

Wendy frowned up at him. Her voice held her annoyance. “I do not concede to that at all. I know you are just trying to keep me safe, but what is going to happen in a room full of people? I’ll be ok, Stefan.”

Stefan knew what she was saying made perfect sense. He also knew that he would never forget the terrified look on her face when she had run into him Labor Day weekend. Looking down at her, he reluctantly yielded. “You go ahead and do your thing. Just, make sure you stay in here.”

Wendy squeezed his hand. “I love you.”

Stefan touched her cheek. “I love you too. I’m sorry for being so, bossy.”

Wendy laughed as she walked away. “You are allowed to be. You are my boss.”

Stefan watched her walk up to the client he had assigned her. He knew she would be all right, but couldn’t bring himself to go and speak to his client. He watched as Malcolm made his way toward him.

Malcolm followed Stefan’s gaze. He chuckled. “You have got it bad my comrade.”

Stefan looked at his friend. “I have it really, bad. I asked her to marry me.”

Malcolm glanced at Wendy’s hand. He shook Stefan’s hand. “I can see she said yes. Congratulations. You are one blessed man.”

Stefan watched as Wendy ended her conversation and walked toward him. His voice was thoughtful. “I certainly am blessed. She is one exceptional woman.”

Wendy smiled at the men. “What are you two talking about?”

Malcolm looked pointedly at the ring on her finger. “We were talking about the great news. I am happy for both of you.”

Wendy leaned into Stefan’s side when his arm went around her. She smiled up at the Malcolm. “Thank you.”

The three watched as Liam walked over to them. He had a worried expression on his face. Wendy instinctively leaned into Stefan’s side more deeply.

Stefan gave Wendy a reassuring squeeze. “I’m right here. You are ok.”

Liam looked at Stefan. “Darlene is here with Damian, Eric, and Gordon. Keep her close to you.”

Wendy shuddered. She had been more prepared to run into her ex-boss. “Why are they here? This is more of a business party.”

Malcolm answered Wendy’s question. “The clients tend to bring their families during the holiday parties. It is not unusual to run into them. My guess is the Blackhart brothers are here with Eric. Darlene is like Jessa. She will one day be taking over the family business. She is almost always at these things.”

Wendy had been aware of that. What she had not counted on, were the three men. They didn’t even know her but seemed intent on hurting her. She was ready to leave but knew she couldn’t. They all still had work to do.

Stefan could feel Wendy trembling. “I know this is not fun, but I’m right here. No one is going to hurt you.”

Wendy saw her next client. “I guess I need to go talk to them. I know you’re watching. I’ll be ok.”

Stefan winked at her. “I find I like watching you. Go ahead; I’m right here.”

Malcolm spoke as he watched her walk away. “I’m trying to understand why they are so fixated on her. It is like Darlene gave them a bone.”

Stefan shook his head. “They showed up at her apartment. She lives in the penthouse now with her roommate and the boys. She is more than a conquest to them now. They know she is innocent. It drives them for some reason.”

Wendy focused on the business woman in front of her. She listened as the woman spoke, of different designs, she had for the new spas she was opening.

Sherrill Miles was thrilled that Stefan Felix’s new assistant had sought her out before she had left. She had been talking with Eve Cantu. From what Eve had said, this woman was brilliant with her designs. “What would you think of my office calling Mr. Felix and setting up a meeting this week? I would love to see what you would do with our blueprints.”

Wendy smiled. “I am sure my boss would be thrilled with that idea. I positively enjoy my job. I love the challenge, of making something safe and sleek all in one.”

Sherrill grinned. “From what my associate Ms. Cantu says, your designs certainly are one of a kind.”

Wendy looked at her hands. “It is just how I see things.”

Sherrill observed Wendy’s demeanor. “You may be uncomfortable with the compliment, but from what I hear, it is a well-deserved one. I am looking forward to seeing what you can do for me. I’m opening seven new spas, in four different cities. That means I have four different safety regulations to deal with for the exits.”

Wendy knew that would be a challenge. The thought thrilled her. “I am, absolutely looking forward to it now.”

The two woman talked for a few more minutes, before, Wendy walked back over to Stefan and Sherrill left the party.

Stefan put his arm around Wendy. He knew she was still troubled. He kissed the top of her head. “I’m here.”

Wendy nodded. She didn’t say anything as her eyes darted around the room. Knowing the men were there, was wreaking havoc on her emotions. She decided to talk business, in hopes of getting her mind off of the worry. “Ms. Miles will be asking for a meeting this week.”

Stefan looked down at her surprised. “Really?”

Wendy glanced up at him. “You didn’t think I could do it?”

Stefan was blunt. “She does not give me the time of day. I was not sure that she would even want to talk to you. I knew she wouldn’t want to speak to me. I have been bidding on her projects for over a year now.”

Wendy giggled. “You have? I am so glad you didn’t tell me that. I would have been so nervous when I was talking to her. I guess she finds you as homely as Carla does.”

Stefan chuckled. “Now you are just being a brat. You and I both know that was a diversion.”

Wendy laughed. “It was a hysterical one. She really thought it was going to work, too. Like I was just going to ignore her black eye.”

Stefan stiffened, as he watched Darlene making her way toward them. He knew Wendy had seen her as well when she started trembling.

“Stefan, I want to go. I don’t want to see her.” Wendy’s voice shook.

Stefan knew the worst thing they could do was run. He pulled her closer to his side. “I’m here. We need to face this. You know running from her is going to give her more power. We can’t do that. Trust me, Wendy, I won’t let them hurt you.”

Wendy nodded as she observed Trevor and Liam also heading their way. She whispered a prayer under her breath.

Darlene frowned at the way Stefan seemed to be guarding Wendy. When she walked up to them, she snickered. “You sure are protective of your new assistant. You should be careful, Mr. Felix, people, may start talking.”

Stefan looked down at Wendy. He smiled as he touched her cheek. “I’m not worried about that. I asked her to marry me. She said yes.”

Darlene’s mouth dropped open. Her eyes went to Wendy’s hand. When she took a step toward Wendy, Liam blocked her path. Glancing at Stefan, Darlene hissed. “Will you still want her, if the boys get to her?”

Stefan didn’t hesitate to answer that question. “There is nothing that could make me love her less, but I will make sure anyone involved, in harming my fiancée, is brought to justice. That includes you, Darlene. Unless you like orange jumpsuits, it is time to end this. Even if Wendy were not in the picture, I would not consider you anything but foul. I have never been attracted to you, even before I married Deanna when you were throwing yourself at my brothers and me.”

Darlene was livid. She hissed. “Maybe I’ll have her hurt now, just to hurt you.”

Stefan stepped forward, as he put Wendy behind him. “I’m filing a police report tonight. If anything happens to her, you will be their first suspect. Thank you for opening your mouth in front of witnesses.”

Darlene looked around the room. Stefan was right. Everyone within earshot had heard her threat. Their host was among them. It was obviously time for her to leave. She turned and stormed toward the exit.

Eric Stine’s father was also one of the witnesses. He nodded at Stefan, before turning to find his son.

Stefan watched Darlene leave. He turned and pulled Wendy into his arms. He knew they were being watched, but he didn’t care. Wendy was terrified. Anyone watching could see her shaking.

Malcolm looked at Stefan. “You need to go file a restraining order. I’ll get the names of those that heard her threaten Wendy’s safety.”

Stefan was grateful. “Thank you. I’ll call you later.”

The crowd of guests watched Stefan leave with Wendy. They buzzed among themselves at what they had witnessed. The scandal of the evening was not that Stefan Felix was marrying his assistant. The scandal of the night was the threatening words used by Darlene toward Wendy.

 

 

 

 

Chapter Nineteen

 

Wendy stretched. She frowned confused as an arm tightened around her. Looking down, she saw a hand on her stomach. Turning over, she looked into Stefan’s laughing eyes. “How did you get here?”

Stefan chuckled. “The question would be; how did you get here? I’m where I started last night.”

Wendy looked around at the slumbering children. All three had been between them when they had gone to sleep. It seemed like the floor had not been what they had hoped for. Each, of the children, was now on either the sofa or the love seat. Wendy realized she must have moved over to Stefan in her sleep.

Stefan teased Wendy. “I guess you find me irresistible in your sleep too.”

Wendy elbowed him. “You need to learn some manners.”

Stefan pulled her back against him. “It is still early. You should go back to sleep.”

Wendy turned in his arms. “We are not married. I should go back to sleep over there. Don’t you think?”

Stefan shook his head. “We have three chaperones and our own blankets. I believe that you can stay right here.”

Wendy giggled as he winked at her. “You need to be good. If they see us cuddled up like this, we are not setting a good example. Not to mention, Macy says what is on her mind. She will be telling everyone we slept together. I honestly think going over there sounds safer.”

Stefan had to agree with her argument. They had church in a few hours, and he had no doubt his daughter would be relaying all sorts of information to the people in her class. “You have a point.”

Wendy smiled. “I know I do.”

Stefan kissed the top of her head, before, he let her go. The two settled back down and went to sleep.

 

Macy, Sean, and Cory watched Wendy and Stefan sleep. Macy looked at Cory. “They married?”

Cory shook his head as he continued to frown. “I don’t think so.”

Sean looked at his sleeping aunt. “They are married. I wanted Uncle Stefan to stay with us. Aunt Wendy said not till they are married.”

Cory remembered the conversation. “They must be married then. They are sleeping and together. Aunt Wendy said after they was married Uncle Stefan would stay with us. Aunt Wendy said Uncle Stefan couldn’t stay with us like other mommies and daddies do until they was married.”

Liam and Trevor were doing their best not to laugh, but the entire scene was hysterical. They also knew it was a bit confusing to the young kids.

Macy frowned. “I thought they wait to marry.”

Cory had to agree. “Me too. Aunt Wendy said after the new year we would talk.”

Sean smiled. “I’m glad they are married. I like Uncle Stefan.”

Liam walked in and picked up Macy. He whispered to the boys. “I think we need to go into the kitchen.”

Sean smiled as Trevor picked him up. “Uncle Stefan married Aunt Wendy.”

Trevor chuckled. “I think we need to talk, about that, a bit more before they wake up. I don’t believe that is the case.”

Sean frowned again as they entered the kitchen. “Uncle Stefan should not be sleeping with Aunt Wendy. They need to be married. Aunt Wendy said.”

Liam had his head on the counter laughing. He looked at his brother. “I know this really isn’t funny, but you have to admit, it really is funny.”

Trevor could not disagree. He chuckled. “We may want to consider skipping church today. These three have no tongue guards. I can just hear them now talking to their teachers.”

Macy looked at her uncles. “I want church.”

Cory frowned at them. “We want to go. Why would we stay home? I feel ok. Don’t you?”

The men started talking to Macy and Cory. Neither of them noticed Sean slip out of the kitchen.

Sean walked back into the family room. He sat down on the floor beside the sleeping couple and stared at them.

Wendy stirred causing Stefan to tighten his hold on her waist. She was still half asleep, so instead of rolling away from him. She turned in his arms and cuddled into his chest.

Sean observed the couple. He frowned. He was almost positive this was what Aunt Wendy said Uncle Stefan should not be doing.

Stefan smiled as Wendy cuddled closer to him. He knew they should get up before the kids did. He just wanted to savor Wendy’s presence in his arms a little longer. He pulled her even closer as he kissed the top of her head.

Sean was done watching. He stood up and put his little fists on his hips, just as the men from the kitchen came running in. His little voice sounded furious. “Uncle Stefan, did you marry my Aunt Wendy?”

Both Stefan and Wendy came awake with a start.

Wendy looked at Sean’s face and realized what had happened. She grimaced as she looked at Stefan. “I did it again.”

Sean looked mortified at his aunt. “You did this.”

Stefan was aware now was not the time to laugh, but the little guy’s indignant face was more than he could take. He started to chuckle. “Sean, I promise, this was ok.”

Sean did not agree. “Aunt Wendy said you were not supposed to sleep by her like other mommies and daddies do until you was married. You is not married to her.”

Liam and Trevor were leaning into each other they were laughing so hard. Stefan frowned at them. “This is not funny.”

Trevor shook his head as he disagreed. “This is really, funny. You thought so too, until about twenty seconds ago.”

Wendy looked at Stefan. “I do not know how to explain this. Your brothers are not helping. Would you two control yourselves?”

Cory now considered himself an authority on the subject, of what happened. Uncle Liam had talked to him. He walked toward his brother to explain. “It is ok Sean.”

Wendy looked at Cory surprised. “It is?”

Stefan shook his head as he clamped his hand over Wendy’s mouth. “Be quiet, and let Cory do our job for us.”

Wendy pulled her face away from his hand and frowned at him before she turned her attention back to Cory.

Cory took Sean’s hand. “We was all here. They are not allowed to sleep ‘alone,’ until them is married. Since, we was here. It is ok.”

Wendy knew her face was on fire, again. She laid back down and covered her face with her blanket. Of all the things to happen, this was not how she wanted to start her Sunday morning.

Stefan chuckled at Wendy. He looked at Sean. “Are we ok buddy? I promise your Aunt Wendy is safe with me.”

Sean looked at Cory. “If Cory says it is ok, I will say it.”

Wendy sat back up. “Now, if you all decide to share this story at church…” She glanced at Stefan. “Who am I kidding, we all know they are going to share.” Turning her attention back to the children, she spoke again. “If we decide to share this story at church, remember to say all three of you were in the room and that the room was the family room. We had a slumber party after we watched movies.”

Macy nodded. “I do that.”

Liam looked at Trevor. “It sounds like they are making sure the kids get their facts straight. I can’t imagine what could go wrong with this.”

The entire group was unaware of the fact that Gretchen and Aaron had flown in the night before. While the house was sleeping, they had arrived and made their way soundlessly to their suite. Gretchen spoke from behind them. “Wrong with what…?”

Wendy closed her eyes as Sean started explaining. “Aunt Wendy and Uncle Stefan were sleeping together, but it’s ok.”

Aaron stood behind his wife. He looked at Stefan. “You were what?”

Stefan pointed to all of the blankets. “We were all out here sleeping. Wendy, just kind of, ended up in my arms.”

Gretchen raised an eyebrow. “Did she now…?”

Wendy laid back down and covered her face with the blankets. She was completely mortified with the entire conversation. How could something so innocent sound so not?

Macy smiled up at her grandparents. “We was all here. It ok now.”

Cory nodded his agreement. “Uncle Liam says, since we was here, it is ok. They just can’t be like other mommies and daddies until they are married.”

Wendy groaned from under the blankets. “Will someone please put food, into the mouths of the youngest humans in this room.”

Gretchen laughed. “All right you three, come with Grandma.”

As soon as everyone left the room, Stefan peeked under Wendy’s blanket. He knew he shouldn’t, but couldn’t seem to help himself. “You really do find me irresistible, when you’re sleeping.”

Wendy glared up at her future husband. “This is not funny, Stefan.”

Stefan laid back down beside her. When she snuggled into his chest, he laughed. “You really are not learning your lesson here.”

Wendy giggled as she realized what she had done. “I guess I’m not.”

Stefan kissed her forehead. “We need to go and have breakfast with everyone else.”

Wendy giggled. “I thought Sean was going to demand, that you take me out and marry me today.”

The two headed toward the kitchen. They laughed at the morning’s events, while they still could. Each of them knew church would be an entirely different ball game.

Chapter Twenty

 

Wendy sat beside Stefan in church. She almost groaned out loud as Pastor Dale spoke. She frowned at Liam and Trevor, as they tried not to laugh and failed.

Pastor Dale looked out at his congregation. “I would like to address a different topic today. As Christians, we are called to look different to the world. We are also called to be examples. We are called to do things that would not cause others to stumble. I’m not just talking about those that are not Christians. I am also speaking of those that are family. Our children, brothers, and sisters need to see our actions reflect our faith.”

Stefan grimaced as he turned in his Bible to the first passage. First Thessalonians chapter five verse twenty-two was a passage that unquestionably addressed he and Wendy that morning. As innocent as their actions were, it did appear, to the children, as something wrong.

Wendy listened to the pastor explain the first passage. She glanced at Stefan and knew he was feeling the same way she was.

Pastor Dale spoke from the pulpit. “I know that many of us do things that are innocent. I’m asking you to think about what those ‘innocent’ acts look like to others. Are your actions looking anything but innocent to others? Are you avoiding the very appearance of evil? When you don’t do this, you are setting yourself up to be, what the Bible tells us not to be.”

Stefan was beyond uncomfortable as he turned to the next two passages in his Bible. First Corinthians chapter eight verse nine and Romans chapter fourteen verse thirteen were both very precise about not causing others to stumble. He knew what Macy had thought that morning. He also knew she didn’t understand the dynamics of an intimate relationship between a man and a woman. She only knew that they could not be a family until he and Wendy were married. What she saw was the opposite, of what he told her was right. Even if it truly wasn’t wrong, it still looked that way.

Wendy listened to the sermon. She took notes as he asked them to make a list of things that were innocent, but didn’t look that way to others. She knew that there were a few things she needed to be more careful of. She was convicted, in a new way, to be the person Christ called her to be. As she continued to write, certain things became glaringly obvious to her.

Stefan leaned down and whispered. “I hope you are ready to set a date. I also hope it is soon.”

Wendy glanced up at him. She pointed to a few of her notes and smiled. “I am ready.”

Once the pastor ended his sermon, he opened the alter for prayer. When Stefan stood and held out his hand, Wendy took it. The two of them went forward and put their relationship in the hands of God. They understood, the delicate souls, that God had entrusted them, and promised to do a better job protecting them, from appearances that would hamper their spiritual growth.

 

A few hours later, Stefan and Wendy looked at the calendar. Wendy was getting a bit nervous as they looked at dates. “That is very close.”

Stefan nodded. His voice was gentle. “Why are you upset?”

Wendy looked at her hands. She didn’t know how to explain her feelings to Stefan. The thought of being married was intimidating to her. “You have been married before. Stefan, this is unknown territory for me. You know what happens after you say ‘I do.’ I’m still figuring out how kisses make me feel different.”

Stefan touched her cheek. When she closed her eyes and leaned into his hand, he smiled. “You trust me more than you know. I will keep you safe, as you figure the rest out.”

Wendy nibbled her bottom lip. She thought about what he was saying. She tried not to panic at the thought of being married. She glanced up at Stefan her heart was in her eyes.

Stefan smiled at her. “Instead of March, why don’t we go for April?”

Wendy knew one month should not make that much of a difference, but it did. She closed her eyes relieved. “That sounds perfect.”

Stefan chuckled. “You do know? I want you to be comfortable too. I don’t want you to take everything I say and run with it. I want your point of view as well. It is ok to tell me what you want.”

Wendy glanced up at him. “I don’t know why I felt so out of control there. The thought of March was terrifying to me.”

Stefan tugged her into his arms. He kissed her softly. When she leaned into him, he deepened it.

When their kiss ended, Wendy’s voice was thoughtful. “March doesn’t sound so, bad.”

Stefan chuckled. “I take it you liked that kiss.”

Wendy knew she was blushing. She put her forehead on his chest. “Let’s just say; I can see the benefit of having a March wedding.”

Stefan watched her as she took another look at the calendar. He smiled as she pointed to the third weekend in March. He glanced down at her lovingly. “Are you sure?”

Wendy smiled up at him. “I am positive.”

Stefan winked at her as he took her hand. “I guess we go tell the others now.”

Wendy let him lead her toward the kitchen. Before they entered, she stopped and looked up at him. “Maybe just one more kiss, I want to make certain this is the right move for us.”

Stefan did not have an issue with that request. He knew it was time to end the kiss when his thoughts started wondering.

Wendy caught her breath. “I hope we can make it to March.”

Stefan laughed. “I was thinking the same thing. We need to wait until we are married, to kiss like that again.”

Wendy blushed as she glanced up at him. “That was a very impressive confirmation.”

Stefan shook his head and chuckled. “You are fun to convince.”

Wendy put her hand on her cheek. “I need to stop blushing before we go in there. You and I both know, one of the kids will say something.”

Stefan laughed. “My guess would be one of the boys. They really like pointing your color out. If you were wearing shorts, we know Macy would be the culprit of your embarrassment.”

Wendy giggled. “She sure would be.”

Stefan watched Wendy’s color return to normal. He smiled down at her. “Are you ready now?

Wendy nodded with a grin. “I’m ready.”

The two entered the kitchen. Stefan put the calendar on the counter and pointed to the date. “This is the weekend we decided on.”

Carla had joined them for lunch. She looked at the date and then at Wendy. “That is not that far away. We need to get shopping.”

Gretchen agreed. “We should make it a date for next Saturday. I’m sure Stefan will be all right with the boys.”

Stefan looked down at Wendy. “I know I’ll be okay. If you want to go, I think you should.”

Wendy smiled at the other two women. “I guess it is settled then. We go dress shopping next Saturday.”

Gretchen looked at Aaron. “I think we need to stay here until after the holidays. I want to have fun with this.”

Liam kissed Wendy’s cheek. “Congratulations. I would say welcome to the family, but you already are part of the family.”

Wendy smiled at Liam. “Thanks.”

Trevor kissed her cheek too. “I’m happy for both of you.”

Stefan grinned as his brothers hugged him. He remembered a conversation that he and Liam had when he had first hired Wendy. “It seems you are right, Liam. I think I am a bit drawn to my new assistant.”

Liam laughed. “You were furious with me for pointing that out.”

Wendy looked at Stefan surprised. “You were mad?”

Stefan glanced at her. “I went out of my way to hire you because you were not flirty, only to figure out, I would not mind you flirting with me. It was a bit frustrating.”

Wendy giggled. “I bet it was. I can’t say I had the same problem at all.”

Stefan frowned at her. “You are such a brat.”

Wendy wrinkled her nose at him. “I know.”

Stefan’s cell rang. He winked at her, before, he walked away to answer it.

Wendy glanced at Liam. “I bet you showed lots of mercy toward your brother, while he was dealing with all those feelings. Didn’t you?”

Liam chuckled. “You are absolutely being a brat now.”

Stefan walked back to the group. “Malcolm is on his way over. I’m thinking we may have a new person coming to our church. He seems a bit upset with the sermon he heard today.”

Trevor was surprised. “Malcolm is back in church?”

Stefan nodded. “He started going back before Labor Day.”

Cory looked at his aunt. “I can’t wait until Uncle Stefan is with us all the time.”

Macy frowned at Cory. “Me too?”

Cory put his arm around Macy. “You too… You are going to be my little sister.”

Wendy smiled as Macy put her arms up. She picked her up and nuzzled her blond curls. “Does that make you happy?”

Macy wrapped her arms around Wendy’s neck. She whispered softly. “I want you for mommy.”

Wendy hugged her back. “I want you too.”

Stefan watched Wendy and Macy interact. His father was beside him. “I love watching her with Macy.”

Aaron followed his son’s gaze. “She is an extraordinary woman. Your mother told me the first day we met her that she wanted to keep her.”

Stefan chuckled at the information. “I bet she did.”

Aaron glanced at his son. “I really am happy for you. You have been blessed with two pretty unique women in your life.”

Stefan nodded. “I always wondered why God took Deanna. For the last few months, I have thought about it from a different point of view.”

Aaron looked at his son curiously. “How have you looked at it?”

Stefan tried his best to explain it. “I guess, my mind was saying that if the plan was always to take her, maybe God blessed her too. Some people never know love. They don’t know what it is to hold their newborn in their arms. Deanna was able to do those things. It hurt to lose her, but if that was my calling, I’m glad she had Macy and me. My only regret is how I acted after her death.”

Aaron was impressed that Stefan had been able to see Deanna’s death from another point of view. They may never know, on this earth, if that was how it was to be looked at. It was nice that Stefan didn’t need to comprehend it now for him to accept it.

Stefan looked at Wendy. “I am not guaranteed tomorrow with her. If God takes her too, I would hope that I could trust Him now, like I didn’t before.”

Aaron watched Wendy laugh at something Gretchen said. “I’m thinking God is going to let you keep her. I can’t see how His plan would be otherwise, but I am happy to hear that you are willing to understand He is in control.”

Stefan nodded. “It was the hardest thing I have ever had to acknowledge in my life. Now, if you will excuse me, I think I need to go hug a very special lady.”

Wendy glanced over at Stefan. When he smiled and walked toward her, her heart beat a bit faster. His love was written on his face. When he pulled her into his arms and hugged her close, she whispered. “I love you, Stefan.”

Stefan kissed the top of her head. His voice was emotional. “I love you too. I am so happy that God saw fit to bring you into my life, even when I didn’t deserve you.”

Wendy closed her eyes and enjoyed the warmth of his embrace. She felt beyond blessed that God had chosen such a loving man for her. She smiled as she realized, March suddenly seemed far away. “I am blessed, too, Stefan.”

Aaron and Gretchen watched the couple. They held hands and smiled at the picture of their son and his future wife.

 

Chapter Twenty-One

 

Wendy glanced around the party. She looked up at Stefan. “I’m thinking, it will be ok for me to go on my own.”

Stefan didn’t even speak. The two of them were in the middle of a nice sized fight. The fact that one of the client parties was that night did not help them hash it out. He knew she was upset with his decision to keep close to her. Regardless of the fact that they were fighting, he had no intentions of leaving his guard down.

Wendy frowned up at him. “Stefan, we can’t fight here.”

Stefan took a deep breath. He glanced down at her. “We aren’t. I don’t want a fight to be the reason I let my guard down. If something happens, do you honestly want to ask me to live with it?”

Wendy shrugged her shoulders. She was miserable. They had been fighting since that afternoon, after their premarital counseling appointment. One of the clients he had assigned her was closer to them now. “I can see what you are saying. He is right there, now. Can I please go?”

Stefan nodded. “I’ll watch you from here.” He observed her as she walked over to the client.

“Trouble in paradise?” Malcolm spoke from beside him.

Stefan glanced at his friend. “She is being completely stubborn. I am trying to figure out, how to get her to see things my way.”

Malcolm glanced at Stefan. “Because her way is wrong…?”

Stefan shook his head. “It isn’t that. I guess… I don’t know.” He was suddenly frustrated, with the fact, he had been asked that question.

Malcolm nodded. “So, let me get this straight, she isn’t wrong, but you are mad. Am I missing something in all of this?”

Stefan frowned at his friend. “Are you saying she is right?”

Malcolm held up his hands. “I’m not saying anything. You told me she wasn’t wrong, but you want her to see things your way. I’m wondering if you tried to see things her way, or if this is a one-way street.”

Stefan watched Wendy talk to the client. She was laughing and smiling, but he could tell neither reached her eyes. “If I have, to be honest, I guess I didn’t.”

Malcolm raised an eyebrow. “Has she tried to see it your way?”

Stefan honestly didn’t know. “I can’t answer that. I honestly don’t know, but if I had to guess, I would say no. Neither of us tried to see the other’s point.”

Malcolm watched as Wendy started back toward them. “I suggest you both get your tempers in check and talk. There could be more than one answer to this.”

Stefan nodded. He watched his friend walk away. Looking down at Wendy, he knew she felt just as upset as he did. He just was not quite sure how to talk about it. Regardless of his thoughts now, this was not the place to speak about it.

Wendy felt Stefan’s arm go around her. She leaned into him seeking his comfort. She was mad at him, but that didn’t mean she stopped loving him.

Stefan kissed the top of Wendy’s head. “We will talk after. We can be mad and still be in love.”

Wendy nodded. His silence had been unnerving. In her eyes, it was cruel. She knew they needed to speak about that as well. It helped to know he was willing to talk. Her heart was still hurt, however, the pain eased at Stefan’s willingness to talk.

Stefan saw a client he needed to speak to. He guided Wendy toward the man. He felt her stiffen beside him. Following her gaze, he became more confused. “You know him?”

Wendy nodded as she leaned closer to Stefan. “I went to college with him.”

Zane walked up to the couple. He smiled at Wendy. “I thought that was you.”

Wendy glanced up at him. “How are you?”

Zane looked at Stefan. “I’m fine even though you broke my heart.”

Wendy frowned. “I hardly broke your heart. I’m thinking more like your ego.”

Stefan watched the man laugh. He tried not to get jealous, but couldn’t seem to help himself. He looked at the man. “How did she break your heart?”

Zane laughed. “She is right. It was my ego. I spent an entire semester building up the courage to ask her out. When I did, she turned me down flat. Wendy didn’t date. Every one of us guys thought we would be the one to change her mind.”

Wendy frowned again at Zane. Her voice was angry. “You all were hurtful about it. If you want to tell the story, I suggest you tell it all. You all took bets on who would be the one I said yes to.”

Stefan put his arm around Wendy. He knew she was upset. He didn’t care what it looked like if he comforted her. He looked at Zane.

Zane glanced from Wendy to her boss. He hoped that he and his friends had not set her up to be preyed on. He also knew he had a job to do. He was a bit torn about doing it now.

Wendy looked at Stefan and then at Zane. She realized that Zane had walked up to them when they had started walking toward him. “Is Mr. Felix your designated client?”

Zane glanced at the couple. “He is.”

Stefan looked down at Wendy. He knew she was still upset. “Should I give him a chance?”

Wendy nodded reluctantly. “The past is just that. I’m ok now.”

Stefan decided to make sure Zane realized who the woman he hurt was. “My fiancée says I should give you a chance. I’ll listen.”

Zane’s relief was evident. He was thrilled Mr. Felix was willing to listen to him. He was more thrilled that he had not set Wendy up to be hurt by others.

Wendy listened to Stefan and Zane talk. She watched Liam make his way toward them. When he was beside her, he nudged her with his elbow. “You two still fighting?”

She nodded her head. “We sure are. We plan on talking after the party.”

Liam glanced down at her and grinned. “I think you should tell me what you are fighting about. I may be able to help.”

Wendy laughed drawing Stefan and Zane’s attention. Both men listened to her answer. “I have no intentions of telling you what we are fighting about. You just want to be nosy.”

Liam chuckled. “You are right. You have to admit, fighting after the second premarital counseling session is interesting. How could I not be curious? Did you realize you were getting the cranky brother?”

Stefan shook his head. “You need to mind your own business.”

Liam raised an eyebrow. “I do not have any business to mind. I like yours better.”

Stefan turned back to Zane and started talking to him again. The young man was actually making some nice points. It was time to get some information and then finish up. He still had other clients to speak with.

Wendy stayed beside Stefan the rest of the night. She could tell he was still mad, and she knew she was too. They chose not to allow that to stay between them. When it was time to leave, she was ready.

Stefan sat beside Wendy in the limo. After taking Liam and Trevor’s assistants home, they headed for the penthouse. He knew that both he and Wendy would need to keep their tempers in check. He also knew he needed to listen with the intent of seeing her point of view.

Wendy did not like fighting. The closer they got to the penthouse, the more nervous she became. She glanced out the window as they pulled into the parking garage under their building. She whispered softly to herself. “I hate this.”

Stefan heard her whisper. He agreed softly. “I do too.”

Wendy took the hand Stefan offered as they exited the limo. She was sad when he let go of it as they walked toward the elevator.

Stefan knew he should have kept her hand. He also knew he had let go of it to hurt her. When they stepped into the elevator, he glanced down at her. He saw the tears that she was trying to hide. Taking her hand in his, he whispered softly. “I’m sorry.”

Wendy continued to look at the ground. Her voice was also a whisper. “I’ll live.”

Stefan was confused by her words. He glanced at Trevor and was surprised to see the anger in his brother’s eyes.

Trevor could see Wendy’s distress. That Stefan was trying to hurt her was obvious. That Stefan regretted it was also obvious. It didn’t change the fact, he wanted Stefan to know that he had all intentions of holding him accountable.

As they entered the penthouse, Stefan led Wendy to one of the setting rooms. His heart broke when she looked up at him. Tears streamed down her cheeks.

Wendy’s voice was choked. “You can’t treat me like that when we fight. You can’t treat me like I’m not loved. It hurts. I do not want to survive in this. I want to grow and thrive, not just live day to day hurting.”

Stefan watched her put her face in her hands and sob. He felt genuine remorse for his actions. He sat down beside her and pulled her into his arms. “I love you. I really am sorry.”

Wendy cried against his chest. She didn’t hide the pain he had caused her. When his arms tightened around her, she started to calm. “I love you too.”

Stefan waited until she calmed completely. He knew they still had to talk about the crux of their fight. He decided to be as honest as she was. “Why don’t you want me to take care of you?”

Wendy was thrown by his question. She leaned away from him. “Is that what you think?”

Stefan nodded. “I don’t see what else it could be.”

Wendy realized how wrong she had been in her thinking. “I want to keep working because I love what I do. I would do it for free and let you take care of me if that’s what you want. I know once we have, more kids, that will change. I just want to be there with you right now.”

Stefan made a face as he realized he had not understood her intent. “I thought it was because you didn’t trust me to take care of you and the boys. I’m sorry. I didn’t understand.”

Wendy looked at Stefan. “Stefan, I want to stay your assistant. I can work from home on some days and come to work with you on days we have meetings. I can spend three days a week with Macy and Sean, while the other two I’m with you. I know you will take care of me. I want to, still, take care of you. I like that we make a good team. I don’t want to give you up in that way.”

Stefan could tell she had put a lot of thought into what she was saying. “I have to admit; I would miss not having you near me at the office.”

Wendy glanced up at him. “Can we compromise? I love being your assistant. I do not like the idea of anyone else being there for you as I am.”

Stefan could not find fault with her argument. “I would like to compromise. With the number of meetings, we have, it may pay for you to come in with me on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. That schedule can always change if it needs to.

Wendy was relieved. “Thank you for seeing my point of view. I love you. I would have stayed home. I would have been sad doing it, though.”

Stefan leaned down and kissed her gently. He pulled her close. When he pulled away, he spoke, softly. “I am sorry I was cruel in my anger. I will need to work on that.”

Wendy leaned up and kissed him softly. “We are human. I’m almost positive, this is not going to be our last fight.”

The two chatted for a few more minutes before they each headed toward their rooms. They both were ready to speak once more with Pastor Dale. The counseling was doing what it was intended to do. It was hashing out the thoughts of two separate people so they could become one. It was a bit more painful than either realized, but the benefits seemed to make sense.

Chapter Twenty-Two

 

It was two weeks before Christmas. Wendy and Stefan had a meeting with Eve Cantu and Sherrill Miles at the same time. The two women had decided one of Sherrill’s spas would be perfect in one of Eve’s hotels.

Wendy sat in the conference room reviewing her notes. She kept getting stuck at one of the exits. The fact was it met the building codes. However, it still looked too narrow for Wendy. She glanced up when Stefan walked in. “I can’t get this. It is frustrating me.”

Stefan walked over and sat beside her. He could see what she was talking about. He put his arm around the back of her chair as he leaned closer for a better look. “I see that it is up to code, but you are right, this is way too narrow.”

She leaned against him without thinking as she scanned the blueprints. She rearranged a few things and then looked at it again.

Stefan kissed the side of her head, unaware they had an audience. “That is perfect. I knew you would figure it out.”

Wendy giggled, when he poked her side. She smiled at him. “You need to be good; we have a meeting to prepare for.”

Eve looked at Sherrill, before glancing back at the couple. She gave a small cough to draw their attention to the fact they were there. She was surprised they didn’t jump apart.

Wendy smiled up at the women. “I had a bit of snag, but I think you will like the result.”

Sherrill glanced at Stefan. “Did you help her?”

Wendy was unaware of the women’s train of thought. She answered for him. “He was my cheering section.”

Stefan chuckled at the look on Eve’s face. He decided to put the women at ease. “What can I say? She is the brains in the relationship.”

Wendy snorted. “When it comes to the kids you have that right. Which reminds me…”

Stefan cut her off. He knew what she remembered. “I think they are ready to get to work.”

Sherrill glanced at Stefan and smiled. “I actually am curious. What were you reminded of, Wendy?”

Stefan frowned. “I think we need to talk business.”

Wendy winked at Eve and Sherrill. “I bet he does.”

Eve was intrigued with this relationship. They were not trying to hide the fact they liked each other. She smiled at Wendy. “What did you remember?”

Wendy smiled at Stefan. “You have witnesses. I thought you liked that.”

Stefan saw Trevor passing in the hall. “Trevor, Wendy wants to talk to you.”

Sherrill chuckled as a very nervous looking Trevor walked in the room.

Stefan looked at Wendy. “It was his idea.”

Wendy had no idea what they had taught the boys this time. She did, however, know that they did teach them something. The boys were doing all sorts of hushed talking, since spending the night with the brothers. Glancing at the men, she took a shot in the dark. “Which part did you each teach?”

Stefan and Trevor looked relieved when Crystal popped her head in the door. “We need you two for a moment.”

Wendy watched them leave. She leaned forward and talked to the women. “I have no idea what those three did, but my guess is Liam saw us talking. He is the one that called them out of the room. My nephews have been whispering nonstop. That means those three rascals told them to keep it a secret. You would think I would be ashamed of myself tricking them like this, but when Stefan and I get married, I have to have a clear picture of what I’m up against.”

The two women now looked at Wendy’s hand. Eve laughed. “I was trying to figure out why you two didn’t seem to mind us seeing that you liked each other.”

Wendy was surprised. “I guess I assumed most people knew.”

Sherrill’s spouse was a bit of a stinker too. She smiled at Wendy. “I have all intentions of using this ploy on my husband. He is always teaching the kids something new I disapprove of.”

The women watched as the men walked back in. Eve almost lost it, when she saw Liam with them.

Wendy didn’t even look up from the blueprints. “I take it you three have your stories straight now?”

Sherrill chuckled as she realized Liam was going to take the lead. “Now, Wendy, we thought they were asleep. Once we realized they were not asleep, we had to explain to them why the game was so violent. Stefan did tell them that you didn’t want them playing shooting games yet. He also explained that the game was for us bigger guys.”

Wendy was not born yesterday. “You seem to be leaving something out.”

Stefan looked at Eve and Sherrill. “Maybe we should get back to our meeting. We don’t want to waste these two ladies valuable time.”

Sherrill waved her hand. “No, I insist you waste my time. This is fun.”

Eve had to agree. “I would not miss this for the world. I have never seen three men look so, guilty.”

Trevor was done being held, hostage. He frowned at Wendy. “Ok. So, we taught them how to land, correctly when jumping off the back of a couch. It isn’t like they broke anything. It is all in the landing. In my opinion, it was a public service. It should keep both boys out of the ER.”

Liam had something to say too. “They insisted we teach them at least a bit of shooting. It isn’t like the guns were real. It was a video game.”

Stefan added to Liam’s comment. “They were shooting aliens, not people. We did explain you never point a gun at another person.”

Eve put her head on the table. If someone had asked her to stand, she knew she would not be capable. Wendy’s ability, to get these men to confess, was hysterical.

Wendy glanced up at the men. “I see. Is there anything else, you think you are all leaving out?”

Stefan couldn’t think of one thing. He was almost positive they had confessed to everything. His eyes narrowed. Wendy seemed entirely too calm. “What else do you know?”

Wendy knew she was busted. “I can’t think of anything else. I just wanted to make sure nothing was missed.”

Stefan looked at his brothers. “I think we have just been played.”

Wendy fixed a few things on the blueprint in front of her. Eve almost fell off the chair, when Wendy spoke again. “Like violins…”

Liam frowned. “You mean to tell me you didn’t know anything.”

Sherrill snorted. “She does now. You three sang like canaries.”

Eve added to Sherrill’s comment as she hiccupped in laughter. “They sang like three canaries in harmony.”

Trevor looked at Stefan. “I can’t believe we fell for that.”

Wendy glanced back up at the men. “I can’t believe you played violent video games with the boys after teaching them how to jump properly off furniture. I guess we are all a bit in awe right now.”

Eve was laughing so hard now she was crying. She looked up at the astonished faces of the three brothers. This was the best meeting she had had all week. She had never known the Felix men like this. They were always sure of themselves and professional. There were times she had actually thought them a bit stuffy. They were anything but that now.

Stefan looked at Wendy. “Can we get on with the meeting now?”

Wendy nodded as she handed the blueprints to Sherrill and Eve. “How does this look?”

Stefan glanced at the paperwork. He had to chuckle. “You are extremely, good at multitasking my dear. These plans look great. When you add that to the fact, you were manipulating us the entire time…”

Wendy grinned. “Thank you. Now all we need to do is figure out a way to stop you three from telling our boys to keep secrets from me.”

Eve and Sherrill talked to the group a few more minutes. The plans that Wendy had tweaked looked great. The women were ready to have each of their lawyers draw up the business contracts. The hotel and spa idea was going to be more than that. It was going to be a new venture involving three companies. It also looked like it was going to be very successful.

Stefan watched their clients leave. He turned and looked at Wendy. “You have been a very naughty assistant.”

Wendy shook her head. Her voice took on a more serious tone. “You have got to stop telling the boys to keep secrets. It sets them up for danger.”

Liam didn’t follow her reasoning. “It is jumping off furniture and video games. How can that put them at risk? I’m not following, Wendy.”

Wendy glanced at the men. “I agree. It is harmless when you three do it, but when someone hurts them and tells them to keep it a secret, then it isn’t fun anymore. They are around more people than you three.”

Stefan had not even looked at it that way. He realized what they had been inadvertently doing. He sat down at the table. “I didn’t think about that. I’m sorry. When you put it that way, I can see the danger you are talking about.”

Wendy nodded. She smiled. “I love that you three want to teach them things. I’m not mad. You tried to put them in bed, and they got out. Things happen. I do get that. I just want them to know they can tell me anything, even if it is bad.”

Trevor looked at Wendy. “I’m sorry too. Stefan is right. We didn’t think about what we were teaching them. I will do my best to set it right.”

Wendy smiled at the three men. “I forgive all of you. I understand what it is to get caught up in the moment of fun. And let’s face it, you three know how to have fun.”

Liam gave her a sheepish grin. “We do, don’t we?”

Stefan looked at Liam and Trevor. “I think we should back up our apologies with chocolate. She really likes candy.”

Wendy laughed at Stefan. “You get me enough candy. I’m good. I promise.”

Liam chuckled. “You seem to have this parenting thing all figured out. Candy may be the reason for that. You have been on your ‘A’ game since Stefan found your weakness.”

Wendy giggled. “I am not even close to having it figured out. I just know some things from experience.”

Trevor frowned. “How do you know the secret thing?’

Wendy looked at the men sadly. “That is why Carla’s sister is so messed up. She was told to keep a secret. Drugs and alcohol are her way of dealing with that dark secret. I was able to learn that lesson from someone else’s experience.”

Liam shook his head. He was relieved it was not Wendy that had been asked to do that, but he was upset that any child would be hurt and told not to tell. “That is very sad. I was not aware that she had something that caused her to act like that.”

Wendy glanced at Liam. “You all have helped on that front. The counseling she is getting in rehab has helped her face her past. Clair is even hopeful now.”

The four of them talked a bit longer. It was almost time for the group to leave. When Liam and Trevor left the room, Stefan pulled Wendy into his arms for a goodbye kiss.

Wendy looked up into Stefan’s face. “March is taking forever to get here.”

Stefan agreed as he kissed her one more time. “It certainly is. I love you so much. I’m ready to have you beside me, when I wake up in the morning.”

The two packed up their papers and headed for the elevator. Tomorrow would be another day. It would also be a day that brought them one step closer to their wedding and the start of their lives together.

Chapter Twenty-Three

 

It was the last party of the season before Christmas. Wendy stood beside Stefan comparing notes when a voice behind them drew their attention.

“I see your boss finds you just as comfortable to look at as I did.” Kyle Jamison snickered.

Stefan put his arm around Wendy. They turned and looked at Kyle.

Kyle took his time looking at Wendy. He started at her feet allowing his eyes to settle on certain areas of her body. He knew he was making her uncomfortable. That was his intent. When he finally looked at her face, he was not surprised to see the tears in her eyes. His voice was soft. “You are stunning.”

Wendy looked down at her hands. She leaned against Stefan knowing he would not let this man hurt her.

Stefan glanced at Kyle. “I don’t understand men like you.”

Kyle was curious. “I’ll bite. What kind of man am I?”

Stefan looked down at Wendy. Anyone looking at him could see his love for her written all over his face. He glanced back at Kyle. “You had a great employee. If you had not pushed her, you would have had a great friend. I don’t understand a man that thinks it is ok just to take that. I don’t get a man that would believe that it is ok to force any human to accept their advances. You looked my fiancée up and down to make her feel uncomfortable, and as you said, she is stunning. You, however, missed what truly makes her striking. Wendy is sweet and kind. She is more than a beautiful face.”

Wendy glanced up at Stefan. When he touched her cheek, she closed her eyes and leaned into his touch. When she opened her eyes, it was apparent she loved Stefan just as much as he loved her. She whispered softly. “I love you.”

Stefan smiled at her gently. “I love you too.”

Kyle glanced at the people around the couple. He knew he had a reputation for being a womanizer. He realized at that moment; it may cost him. Wendy had left him and started working for Stefan Felix. As Stefan became fond of her, it seemed so did a lot of their mutual business associates. He knew it was time to save face, even if he was not sincere. “I apologize for my rash behavior. Please, accept my congratulations on your engagement.”

Stefan watched Kyle walk away. He glanced down at his future wife. “Thank you for trusting me to keep you safe.”

Wendy smiled up at him. “Thank you for keeping me that way.”

Eve Cantu spoke from behind them. “I bet you he is kicking himself now for pushing you away. He lost a few of my contracts, because of your work.”

Stefan and Wendy turned. Wendy smiled at Eve. “I can’t wait to see the finished product with our latest venture.”

Eve grinned. “I can’t wait either. I may have to take a week and enjoy it. We are pleasantly busy this year.”

Wendy and Eve continued to talk, while Stefan continued to look for his set of clients. He had to agree with Wendy. He was ready for Christmas. He looked forward to the boys and Wendy spending the holidays with them at the estate. Spying one of the people on his list, he smiled down at the women. “I’ll be right back.”

Eve watched him go. She smiled at Wendy. “How did you do it?”

Wendy was not sure what Eve meant. “How did I do what?”

Eve chuckled. “Since his wife died, Stefan Felix has been one of the most sought after bachelors in New York City. I’m trying to figure out how you managed to draw his attention.”

It never occurred to Wendy to lie. “I didn’t do anything. It just happened. Not in a fast way, but slow. He was my boss. Then Stefan and I became friends. I’m not sure it could have happened any other way. I didn’t trust him at all, after dealing with Mr. Jamison. I guess, he took the time to earn it. If I have, to be honest, I took the time to gain his trust too. He is more than just a Felix. He is Stefan.”

Eve smiled at Wendy. “You are unique to look at it that way. I refuse even to think of marriage because of my money. Men seem to be more drawn to that; then they are me. I wish there were more people like you.”

Wendy was thoughtful as she spoke. “I have learned one thing. I have always assumed money meant no problems. I learned that everyone has problems. It is just a different set of them. It may be hard, but if you open your heart to true love, you will never regret it. I love how it feels when we are spending time with each other.”

Eve shook her head. “I think I’ll stick to the occasional romp.”

Wendy blushed understanding her meaning. She whispered softly. “You are worth more than that.”

Eve glanced at Wendy. She could see the pain in the woman’s eyes. “You care about what I do?”

Wendy nodded. “I don’t see just exits differently. I see people that way too. I want something better for you, then just giving yourself away. You were not made for that. You were made to be cherished.”

Eve thought, about what Wendy had just said. She didn’t feel judged by Wendy. She felt cared for. She smiled. “I will think about what you are saying.”

Wendy nodded. “If you ever want just to talk, I’ll listen. God does love you. If you give Him a chance, He will love you more than you have ever thought possible.”

Eve glanced at Stefan and then back at Wendy. Wendy’s frankness put Eve at ease. “You and Stefan have never been with each other, have you?”

Wendy blushed at the idea. She giggled nervously. “No. We are waiting for our wedding night.”

Eve felt off about her ‘romps’ for the first time in her life. “You really are an interesting person.”

Wendy laughed. “I have been told that a time or two. I guess I just don’t see it.”

Eve chuckled. “I think that is why you are likable. You really don’t see it.”

Wendy glanced up as Stefan walked over to her. She smiled at Eve. “I guess our girl time is done for now. I mean what I say. Call me if you need to chat.”

Eve surprised even herself by giving Wendy a quick hug. “I will do that. You two have a great Christmas.”

Wendy watched her leave. When she felt Stefan’s hands on her shoulders, she leaned back against him. “I wish people could see how beautifully broken they are. God loves them so much.”

Stefan kissed the top of her head. “I will never get tired of hearing you talk like that. You really are something else.”

Wendy watched as Malcolm and Liam talked. She chuckled. “Malcolm is totally falling for Carla. She is not being easy about it either. She does not trust him at all.”

Stefan glanced down at her. “He is sincere.”

Wendy nodded. “I know. Carla just needs to see that. Stefan, she and her sister had a very rough life growing up. Carla will not trust just anyone. It has to be earned. Whoever wins it, will find her worth it. She has a pure heart.”

Stefan rested his chin on top of her head. “Can I tell him that?”

Wendy didn’t see anything wrong with that. “You can. Tell him to show her his gentle side. She will come around. She may not admit it, but she is attracted to him too.”

Stefan had another idea too. “We can always do a movie night. We can invite Sabrina and her boyfriend, Crystal and the kids, and then Malcolm.”

Wendy giggled. “Are you being a matchmaker?”

Stefan chuckled. He realized he probably was. “I guess I am.”

Wendy turned in his arms. “I think it is cute. I suppose it is just one more thing for me to love about you.”

Stefan shook his head. “I suppose your silence is going to cost me?”

Wendy’s laughter floated to those around her. The couple was unaware of their audience as they interacted. She cocked her head to the side. “I’m thinking, chocolate will be a good place to start, but you have to admit this is big. I may need some gummy bears too.”

Stefan laughed. “You drive a hard bargain. I’ll have them for you in less than twenty-four hours.”

Jessa chuckled as she spoke. “You two really need to tone down the cute factor. You make the rest of us look boring.”

Wendy turned with a grin on her face. “I have been keeping you in the loop. You aren’t allowed to complain.”

Jessa hugged her friend. “You are right. I can’t complain. It is interesting watching people when you two are together.”

Wendy was confused at Jessa’s statement. “How so?”

Jessa laughed. “When you giggled at Stefan, the people around you were giggling too. I really think you have endeared yourself to quite a few.”

Wendy glanced around. “People are watching us?”

Jessa nodded. “They sure are.”

Stefan rolled his eyes. It was apparent Wendy was getting ready to say something outlandish. He was not left waiting.

Wendy looked at Stefan. “I should make my rapping debut. I have an audience and everything.”

Jessa snorted with laughter at the look on Stefan’s face. She decided to back her friend up. “I think that sounds fabulous.”

Stefan shook his head. “Just what she needs…”

Wendy and Jessa talked a bit longer before it was time to leave for the night. Stefan guided his, soon to be, bride toward the limo. Glancing around, he had to admit Jessa was right. People were watching. He was glad that he and Wendy had committed together as a couple, to avoid the appearance of evil. These parties were not just a place to do business, now. They were also a place to shine the light of Jesus to lost souls.

 

Chapter Twenty-Four

 

Wendy looked at her cell. “How much longer are you going be?”

Carla yelled from the other side of her bedroom door. “I’ll meet you at the car. I’m just about done. You sure are in a rush.”

Wendy shook her head. “I’m rushing because we are already late. I’ll grab the boys and their bags and meet you at the car.”

Carla opened the door and walked out. “I have to pack my bag quick; then I’ll meet you there. By the time you have the bags in the trunk, I’ll be there with bells on.”

Wendy shook her head and laughed as she picked up her and the boys’ overnight bags. “I’m almost positive that is a lie.”

Carla winked at her. “You know me too well.”

Wendy pushed the button for the elevator as she handed each of the boys their bags. “Are you two excited?”

Cory nodded as he smiled up at his aunt. “I can’t wait for Christmas.”

Sean glanced at Cory. “If he likes it, I do.”

Wendy chuckled. “I’m going to have to work on you. It is time to start thinking on your own.”

The three stepped into the elevator. Wendy pushed the button for the garage. She glanced down at the boys. Her heart was thrilled with the idea of spending Christmas break at the Felix estate.

When the doors opened, Wendy spoke. “Please stay right with me. I don’t want you to dart in front of a moving car.”

Sean stayed right by her side. Cory stayed by Sean. Wendy smiled at how well behaved they were. She popped the trunk and took the boys bags. “You two get in.”

Cory giggled. “I’m so, excited.”

Wendy chuckled, as she walked to the back of the car. She frowned not hearing any car doors shut. After closing the trunk, she spoke. “I thought I…” Wendy’s words died on the tip of her tongue.

Clair’s ex-boyfriend, Jake, held Sean in his arms. The man looked at Wendy and spoke, softly. “Where is she? I’m almost positive that I have the upper hand here.”

Wendy held out her arms. “Give him to me, Jake. This is a line you don’t want to cross.”

Jake started laughing. He yelped and dropped Sean when the little boy bit his hand. “You little brat.” The man yelled as he reached for the boy.

Wendy launched herself at Jake. She looked at Cory and screamed. “Get in the car! Don’t look, Cory, just get Sean in the car!”

Jake was letting out a stream of curses as he pulled Wendy off of him. His fist slammed into her face. “Where is she?”

Wendy saw stars as the man started to punch her. When he tried to kick her, she grabbed his leg and held on.

Jake reached down and pulled Wendy’s hair causing her to let go of his leg. He held her against the car. Jake tugged her hair again. “Where is she?”

Wendy started screaming. When his hand covered her mouth, she bit him.

Jake raised his fist to hit her again. He was stopped as Carla launched herself onto his back. She pulled his hair and clawed his face forcing him to release Wendy.

Wendy watched as he grabbed Carla off his back. She pushed herself off the ground to help as she watched his fist make contact with Carla’s face.

Carla continued to kick and scratch. She screamed trying to draw security’s attention.

Jake got her off of his back and kicked Clara in the head. He grabbed Carla’s hair and hit her in the face. His fists showed no mercy.

Wendy was on Jake’s back now. She pulled at the man’s hair. Her tiny fists hit his face trying to make him release Carla. She was also screaming hoping to draw security’s attention.

Carla tripped Jake causing him to stumble forward. When he landed on the ground, she grabbed one of his arms. Looking at Wendy, she spoke. “Grab his other one. We need to hold them behind his back.”

Wendy grabbed his other arm. She ground her knee into his back causing him to yell in pain. Her cheek was on fire. She could feel the blood trickling down her face. She almost started crying, as she heard feet running toward them.

Carla looked up at two armed guards ran up to them. “I have a restraining order against him. We need the police.”

One of the guards called the police, while the other one cuffed Jake. As soon as Wendy was able to move, she pulled the car door open and pulled her boys into her arms. Their screams and tears started to calm as she held them close. “I’m so sorry you had to see that.”

Carla looked at her friend. “This is all my fault.”

Wendy shook her head and looked at the man on the ground. “This is his fault.”

It was an hour before the police finished talking to them. Both women refused medical treatment. Wendy buckled the boys in their boosters and kissed each of them. “Let’s go.”

Carla looked at Wendy. “They are going to be livid we didn’t call them.”

Wendy nodded. “I know. I just want to get to them. The police have Jake. What could they have done? They would have come here only to take us back to the estate.”

Carla disagreed. “They would have made us go to the ER. They are not going to be happy we didn’t go get checked.”

Wendy frowned. “We can avoid talking about it all together. What they don’t know won’t hurt them. The EMT bandaged us up quite nicely. I have no desire to go to an ER and be separated from my, already, terrified boys.”

Carla had to agree with her reasoning. “We can always say we wanted to wait and see if they would come with us.”

Wendy glanced at her friend. “I’m not lying. Why are you so worried?”

Carla’s voice was choked. “Wendy, he was after my sister. This is my fault, and I’m almost positive the Felix’s will see it that way too.”

Wendy shook her head. “This is not your fault. No one there is going to think that. They love you like family. I get that you are worried. I’m sorry you and Clair had such a painful childhood, but not everyone thinks you are disposable. I know I don’t.”

Carla looked down at her hands. Tears streamed down her cheeks. “I certainly hope you are right. I honestly like the Felix family. I don’t want them to throw me away, too.”

Wendy pulled into the drive of the estate. “I love you, Carla. You are worth so much more than you know. I can’t wait for you to see that. When this family hugs on you today, embrace it. It is time to put your past where it belongs.”

Carla looked over at Wendy. “I promise I will try to believe that.”

Wendy parked the car. She made a face. “Now we need to go explain our disheveled appearances.”

Carla looked at Wendy. “I think we look a bit more than disheveled.”

Wendy frowned at her friend. “You need to think positive.”

Carla watched as Malcolm and Stefan came out of the mansion. “Ok. Let’s put it to the test, shall we? I say we act like nothing is wrong.”

Wendy nodded. “We can give it a shot.”

The two women got out of the car. They knew their plan was a bust when both men stopped and stared at them.

Wendy turned away from Stefan and opened the back car door. She whispered to Carla. “We can let the boys explain.”

Cory and Sean bolted out of the car. Their fear was still very real. Wendy watched Stefan kneel and pull them close.

Carla watched as Malcolm walked closer to her and Wendy. She glanced away and then back at him. She moved closer to Wendy. The others were out now. Liam had the boys and Stefan was with Malcolm.

Wendy took Carla’s hand. She was suddenly afraid. She swallowed the need to run.

Malcolm spoke, softly to Stefan. “They seem afraid of us.”

Stefan had to agree. “I was thinking the same thing. I didn’t understand a thing the boys were saying. I’m not sure we will get anything from them either.”

Wendy looked over her shoulder as the men got, closer.

Stefan was standing in front of her now. He touched her face gently. When she closed her eyes and leaned into his hand, he knew her fear had passed. He gently pulled her into his arms. “Are you ok?”

Wendy could not find her voice. She nodded her head against his chest.

Malcolm didn’t stop his slow approach until he had Carla in his arms. When she started crying, he whispered. “It will be ok.”

Carla shook her head. “He found me.”

Stefan thought he understood. “Jake found you at the penthouse?”

Wendy spoke now. “He picked Sean up and threatened to hurt him. Sean bit him.”

Carla’s voice shook. “I came down. He had Wendy. I had to help.”

The women started taking turns putting the story together for the men. Malcolm glanced at Stefan as they painted a nasty picture.

Wendy looked up at Stefan. “I’m sorry I didn’t go to the hospital. I just wanted to get here. I needed to get here.”

Carla was shaking. She waited for Malcolm to stop hugging her. She waited for this family, to tell her she was not welcome. She was surprised when she felt him hold her closer.

Stefan looked at Malcolm. “What are your thoughts? They did drive themselves here.”

Malcolm took a deep breath. “I think they have been through enough. I’m not a doctor, but I would think if they needed one, the EMT would have insisted they go to the ER.”

Stefan leaned away from Wendy and touched her face again. “Does it hurt?”

Wendy nodded. “My face feels like it is on fire.”

Carla had to agree as she touched her cheek. Her voice was soft. “He has a wicked right hook. I see stars every time he hits me.”

Wendy agreed. “I never understood that term until today.”

Stefan looked at Malcolm. “I am not happy either of them understands the term.”

Malcolm had to agree. “How often does he do this?”

Carla looked down at her feet. When Malcolm cupped her chin and tilted her face up, she closed her eyes so she didn’t have to look at the disappointment she was sure she would see.

Malcolm’s voice was gentle. “Stop hiding, Carla, and talk to me.”

Carla slowly opened her eyes. She didn’t see disappointment. She saw concern. She answered the question. “He has been doing this since he started dating Clair. When she broke up with him and went to rehab, it got worse. He wants to know where she is and has all intentions of beating it out of me. I have a restraining order, but it doesn’t work.”

Malcolm looked at Stefan. “I have a friend at the DA’s office. We may need to take them to the ER even if they are fine.”

Carla glanced at Wendy and then Malcolm. “Why?”

Stefan answered the question. “Medical documentation of your injuries will help.”

Wendy didn’t like going to the hospital. She glanced at Malcolm. “Are you sure?”

Carla was right there with Wendy. “I don’t want to go. They will poke and prod. Can’t we just take pictures of the bruises?”

Wendy looked at the men hopefully. The look on their faces said it all. Her shoulders slumped. “Let me tell the boys we need to go someplace. I can’t tell them it is a hospital, though.”

Stefan smiled in understanding. “I get that.”

Malcolm looked at Carla’s face and realized she was going to be more difficult. He touched her face causing her to look up at him. “I’ll stay with you. I promise. The best way to protect you is to get these injuries documented.”

Carla nodded. She knew he was right. “I’ll go.”

Malcolm pulled her close again for another hug. He smiled as her arms went reluctantly around his waist. It was the first time since he started pursuing Carla that she hugged him back. He knew she was worried he was going to hurt her. He had all intentions of proving her wrong.

Stefan and Wendy came back with Gretchen. It had been decided they would take the limo. The men looked at each other as they watched the women get reluctantly into the limo. What was supposed to be the start of the Christmas celebration, was put on hold. It was, first, time to start doing something about the danger that followed Carla, and now, Wendy.

Chapter Twenty-Five

 

Stefan sat up in bed as he heard Sean’s scream pierce the air. It had been two days since Wendy and Carla had shown up at the estate with bruised and bloody faces. Throwing his legs over the side of his bed, Stefan hurried to the next room.

Sean held his arms out. “Don’t let him hurt me.”

Stefan picked the boy up into his arms. He pulled him close. “I’m right here. No one is going to hurt you.”

Sean cuddled into Stefan’s chest. Tears streamed down his cheeks. He whispered. “He kept hitting Aunt Wendy. He wouldn’t stop.”

Stefan stood with Sean in his arms. “I know. I’m sorry I wasn’t there to stop him.”

Sean closed his eyes as Stefan sat in a rocking chair. “Why did he do that?”

Stefan started rocking. He kissed the top of the little boy’s head. Wiping away the child’s tears, he shook his head. “I don’t know. It is tricky trying to understand something like that.”

Sean’s eyes were still closed. “I wish you and Aunt Wendy were married now. I feel safe here.”

Stefan had no intentions of saying out loud that he agreed with the boy. It had been a good thing that Wendy and Carla had gone to the ER. Wendy had a fractured wrist and Carla had a small skull fracture. The two had no idea how hard they had been hit and thrown. He knew Carla and Malcolm were getting ready to have a nice sized fight. The man had no intentions of letting her go back to the penthouse. He recognized Wendy would be just as thrilled, when he told her, he agreed with Malcolm.

Sean’s breathing was deep and even. He cuddled into Stefan’s chest a little more as he murmured in his sleep.

Stefan rocked the child a few more minutes. When he was sure Sean was totally asleep, he stood and put him back in Macy’s bed. Wendy had needed a break from this. He was glad he could help her. He left the room, leaving the door cracked open. When he turned, he saw Wendy standing just inside his suite door.

Wendy knew she and Stefan needed to be careful. She needed him to hold her, though. The door to the suite was wide open. She glanced up at him unsure how to ask.

Stefan walked over to Wendy. He took her hand and led her to his sofa. He could see she had been crying. Sitting down, he pulled her onto his lap. He whispered softly. “We need to get married. You and I both know March is too far.”

Wendy nodded and closed her eyes. She was exhausted. Her voice was sleepy. “March is too far.”

Stefan looked up at the knock at his door. He smiled as Malcolm walked in. Wendy glanced at Malcolm before closing her eyes again.

Malcolm sat down on an armchair. “This is really getting complicated.”

Stefan chuckled. “I can’t disagree with that.”

Malcolm yawned. “Carla just now went to bed. She put one movie in after another to keep herself awake.”

Stefan glanced at the doorway. “I’m thinking, she did not quite make it there.”

Malcolm observed Carla hesitate at the door before walking in. He watched her sit down on the love seat.

Carla curled up into a ball. “I can’t sleep.”

Malcolm saw her close her eyes. He looked at Stefan. “Like I said, this is getting really complicated.”

Carla sat up and looked at the men. “I’m watching another movie.” She stood and started for the door.

Malcolm took her hand and tugged her onto his lap. “You need to sleep.”

Carla shook her head. “I need not to be sitting on you like this.”

Malcolm glanced at Stefan. “We have two other people in the room with us.”

Carla yawned. She really was tired. “Maybe just this once.” She cuddled into his chest and closed her eyes.

Stefan knew both women were out cold. He looked at Malcolm. “Do you have a game plan yet?”

Malcolm glanced down at Carla. “I have no idea how to approach this subject. As long as Jake is out on bail, these two are not safe. I would be happy if she stayed here.”

Stefan knew he had, to be honest with Malcolm. “I don’t want to fall. Malcolm, I was married. I know what it is to be intimate. If we are left alone, I am worried one kiss will lead to one of our beds.”

Malcolm decided to be just as honest with Stefan as he was with him. “Stefan, I get it. You know the lifestyle I had before coming back to Christ. I have to pray all day long to keep my mind in check. Adding Carla to it has not helped my thoughts. Meeting her has helped me see how badly I want to keep our relationship pure. If she ever acknowledges, we are in a relationship.”

Stefan chuckled. “She has to know how serious you are. You showed up two days ago to watch a movie and then go home. These two showed up looking like they had just paid purgatory a visit, and you decided to take my invitation to stay.”

Malcolm grinned. “I had never been so happy to be asked to stay in my life. I didn’t want to leave her.”

Stefan kissed the top of Wendy’s head. “She really did quietly become my world. I fell for her fast. The more she spoke during her interview. The more I wanted to protect her. I can’t even pinpoint, when I wanted to be more than a protector to her. I’m ready for her to be my wife.”

Malcolm knew what Stefan was talking about. “It took me all of ten minutes to want to know Carla better.”

Stefan shook his head. “It took you all of ten seconds. When she didn’t walk all over herself to gain your notice, you noticed her.”

Malcolm couldn’t even deny it. “She didn’t even spare me a second glance. I was completely intrigued.”

Liam spoke from the doorway. “We brought coffee and Cory.”

Stefan looked over at his brothers. Trevor had a tray of mugs, while Liam had a sleeping Cory in his arms. He glanced at Malcolm. “So much for the divide and conquer approach tonight.”

Liam sat down and adjusted Cory in his lap. “I have never heard anyone scream in fear like he did. I’m glad Mom took Macy.”

Stefan couldn’t disagree. “It was evident that Carla and Wendy were not getting any sleep with the boys having nightmares.”

Trevor handed each man a mug of coffee. “I can’t believe they are sleeping through us talking like this.”

Liam looked down at Cory. “He thought Wendy was going to die. I wasn’t even sure he was going to go back to sleep. As you can see, he did, but the second I try to put him down, he wakes up.”

Malcolm glanced at Stefan. “Do you think your building will let you take a peek at the footage? I know the police have a copy of it, but I would love to see, exactly, what happened.”

Stefan agreed. “I’ll call in the morning and see if they can send it to my email. They are all very shook up.”

Sean’s scream pierced the air again. The men were not prepared for the reaction of the women and Cory.

Wendy went wild in Stefan’s arms, while Carla did the same in Malcolm’s. Cory’s scream joined Sean’s as Trevor ran for the child in Macy’s room.’

Stefan tried to calm Wendy. Her fists and claws were fighting an enemy only she could see. When her little fist hit his face, he grimaced. “Wendy, you’re safe.”

Wendy looked at Sean in Jakes’ arms. Fear and fury shot through her body. She fought Jake with everything she had. She could hear Stefan and stopped fighting. She looked at Jake. “Why do you sound like Stefan?”

Stefan knew she was almost awake. His voice was gentle. “Because, I am Stefan.”

Wendy started to open her eyes. She looked at Stefan. “I heard Sean scream.”

Trevor held the little boy in his arms. “He was screaming. He was sleeping like you.”

Carla grimaced as she looked at Malcolm’s face. “I am so, sorry. I didn’t mean to do that. I was defending the boys.”

Malcolm was surprised at the worried look in her eyes. “I’m not mad. You were dreaming.”

Wendy looked at her friend. She was still a bit tired and spoke without thinking. “They won’t ask you to leave. I told you that.”

Stefan looked at Malcolm before he glanced at Carla. He spoke to her. “Is that what you think? Carla, you are like family now. We don’t bail because bad things happen.”

Carla looked at Wendy. “I told you not to say anything.”

Wendy glanced at her friend. “I’m sorry. I didn’t think. I’m just so, tired. I don’t know half the stuff coming out of my mouth.”

Carla nodded. She tried to ease off of Malcolm’s lap.

Malcolm pulled her close. “I would like you to stay and go back to sleep. Let me do this for you.”

Liam agreed. “We are all here. You are all tired. We can help.”

Trevor looked at Wendy and then at Carla. “She is already out again. So are the boys. It will be ok. Go to sleep.”

Carla put her head back on Malcolm’s chest. She whispered softly. “I’ll try.”

It took all of five minutes for Carla to be out. Malcolm looked at Stefan. “I can’t believe she thought we wouldn’t want her.”

Liam glanced at Wendy. “What she told us about Clair makes it a bit easier to understand Carla. I guess they were never taken care of like they should have been.”

Malcolm frowned. “What happened to Clair?”

Trevor relayed the story to Malcolm. He watched the play of emotions on Malcolm’s face and tried to say something positive. “From the way Wendy made it sound, it was only Clair that happened to.”

Malcolm nodded as he swallowed the lump in his throat. “I hope you are right.”

Stefan looked at his friend. “What if he isn’t?”

Malcolm glanced down at Carla. “I guess I have to convince her I’m not someone that would do that to her.”

The men continued to talk and sip their coffees. It was still a few hours before sunrise. They knew they would be tired, but they also knew that it was worth it for those that they cared about to get a good night’s rest. By the time morning dawned, they had all taken the time to pray for the women and boys. They had asked that God would give them peace as night fell again. They asked that God would help them to know how to best help Wendy, Carla, Sean, and Cory, as they dealt with the trauma they had endured and seen.

Chapter Twenty-Six

 

Stefan flinched as he watched Jake’s fist come down on Wendy’s face again. He spoke to Malcolm as they continued to watch the footage. “I wasn’t prepared for this. He is not holding back.”

Malcolm agreed. “I can’t believe they got off with hairline fractures. Carla should have had some type of bleeding you would think.”

Liam turned his face away as he watched Jake hold Wendy against the car. He had seen enough. “I can’t watch anymore.”

Stefan nodded as his brother left. He had to admit it was hard to stomach. Not only could he see the assault, but he could also see the terrified faces of Cory and Sean. “He must have been drugged up on something. Look at those two. He is throwing them both around like rag dolls.”

Malcolm grimaced as he watched Carla getting hit. “How did they not pass out cold. He gave them quite a beating. It took them some time to gain the upper hand.”

Stefan’s voice was soft. “Those little boys watched the entire thing. Look at their faces. I want to do this man some bodily harm right about now.”

Trevor agreed. “I can’t believe they let him out on bail. Malcolm, I really hope your connections get this monster off the street.”

Aaron also watched the footage. He shook his head. “I can’t believe Carla thought we wouldn’t want her anymore. This man is vile.”

Stefan turned it off after watching Wendy calm the boys. He shook his head. “I don’t know how to help them. This is what they see when they close their eyes. It is no wonder they can’t sleep.”

Trevor pulled out his cell. “We can always look it up on the internet. I’m sure there must be some helpful things on there.”

Stefan listened as Trevor gave them a list of different things to choose from. He glanced at Trevor. “Aren’t they in the kitchen now drinking coffee?”

Malcolm answered for Trevor. “I think they are.”

Trevor looked at his father as the two men walked toward the kitchen. He grinned. “I know this is not funny, but I have got to see this.”

Aaron watched as Malcolm took the cup of coffee in front of Carla away. It was apparent that Wendy had seen it as well. He shook his head at the look on the woman’s face as Stefan walked toward her.

Wendy picked up her cup of coffee and started sipping it. Her eyes never left Stefan’s eyes. “I’m not sure why Malcolm wanted to risk his life like that, but you should know this will not end well.”

Stefan chuckled as he watched her sip her coffee fast. “We are only trying to help.”

Carla frowned at Malcolm and then Stefan. “Exactly how is this helping? I’m trying to figure out if jail is worth the crime. Give me back my coffee, Malcolm.”

Stefan looked at the women. “Trevor looked some things up online.”

Trevor held up his hands as the women turned toward him. “I didn’t tell them to come in here and take your coffee. These two decided to do that themselves.”

Wendy continued to sip her coffee. “We are tired. This is helping us stay awake.”

Stefan decided to try another approach. “If you try this now, it could benefit you tomorrow. Don’t you want to have a good night’s sleep for Christmas Day?”

Wendy took the cup away from her lips. “I’m listening.”

Malcolm looked at Carla. “We looked up some ways to help you four sleep. It may help if you try them.”

Carla looked at the cup he put in front of her. He was letting her know; he would not stop her from drinking it. She didn’t pick it up. She glanced up at him. “I’m listening too.”

Wendy sat her cup of coffee on the counter as they explained what they had found out. She frowned at Stefan and Malcolm. “We do not need you drawing us bubble baths. We can do that ourselves.”

Carla was a bit concerned. “I have to give up the movies? Malcolm, I do not like this relationship right now.”

Malcolm was immediately thrown off the subject at hand. “So, you agree we are in a relationship?”

Carla shook her head. “I fell asleep on your lap last night. I may not be happy about all these feelings, but I’m not dense.”

Aaron coughed. “I think we should get back to the subject of helping everyone get a good night’s sleep.”

Stefan and Malcolm continued to lay out their plan for that evening. They smiled as they finished.

Wendy looked at Stefan. “I guess we could give that a try. It sounds like it may work.”

Carla agreed, but she had a few concerns. “We can’t do this all of the time. How do we ease back into normal once we are back at the penthouse?”

Liam choked on his coffee. He smiled at Trevor. “This is going to get fun.”

Stefan frowned at his brother. “You are not helping.”

Wendy looked at Stefan. “What exactly is he not helping with?”

Stefan smiled and touched Wendy’s cheek. When she closed her eyes and leaned into his touch, he spoke to her gently. “I’m keeping you and the boys here. Malcolm wants Carla to stay too. It is a great idea. Will you stay?”

Wendy sighed not really hearing Stefan. “Ok.” Her eyes opened as his words sunk in. “You are what?”

Carla put her hands on her hips as she looked up at Malcolm. “I do not recall giving you permission to boss me around.”

Malcolm rolled his eyes. “I will never ask permission to come up with ways to keep you safe. Stop being difficult about this.”

Trevor chuckled at Malcolm’s lack of finesse. The look on Carla’s face was hysterical. He glanced away as the man frowned at him.

Carla took a step toward Malcolm. “What did you just say?”

Wendy knew she and Stefan were going to be having words about this, but right now she wanted to see what would happen.

Malcolm knew he had not quite worded things right. He decided to start over. “Please let me help keep you safe. I can’t watch you getting hit like that again. You have a skull fracture. Your beautiful face is cut and bruised. If he comes for you again, it could cost you your life, and me someone I would love to get to know better.”

Liam leaned over and spoke to his father. “He’s good. Look at her; she is all dove eyes now.”

Carla glanced at Wendy. “I will do whatever you do. He is being rather nice with his words right now.”

Wendy frowned at Malcolm. “Of all the things to say, it had to make sense. What is up with you men, saying just the right thing?” She turned and looked at Stefan. “We have to make sure that we avoid looking like we are doing something wrong.”

Stefan shrugged his shoulders. “Or, we could move the date closer.”

Wendy thought of the way it felt to sleep in his arms. Wendy had to admit; she felt cherished and safe in his arms. She did like sleeping there more than she should. Wendy knew he thought she was going to disagree. Taking the time to weigh the temptations this new arrangement would bring, she had to agree. They needed to move the date closer. She glanced up at him. “We are done with our counseling. I’m okay with the middle of January.”

Stefan was getting ready to argue his point when it hit him what she said. “Wait… What did you just say?”

Wendy picked up her cup of coffee. Walking over to the sink, she poured it out. “I can see your point. I didn’t save myself, so I could ‘almost’ make it to my wedding night. It was hard enough staying only a week at a time and not giving into the attraction. There is no way I want to push temptation, by living together months at a time. Unless Jake is back in jail in a few weeks, this is the safest place for us. Months is, exactly, what we are looking at.”

Stefan pulled out his cell and looked at the calendar on it. He looked back up at her. “That only gives us three weeks. Are you sure?”

Wendy nodded. “I am positive.”

Trevor looked at Liam. “That is not how I pictured this going at all. I thought for sure she was going to be difficult.”

Liam nodded. “I have to agree. I thought for sure she would be giving him a bit more grief.”

Wendy glared at Trevor and Liam. “I’m standing right here. You two need to be nice.”

Trevor chuckled. “We are being nice. It would be rude to talk about you behind your back.”

Stefan shook his head. “You both need to stop.” He took Wendy’s hand and led her out of the room.

Wendy glanced up at him when they walked into one of the sitting rooms. She knew he was concerned with how quickly she had agreed to move up the wedding. “I’m ok with this, Stefan. I’m ready.”

Stefan touched her face. “Are you sure? I don’t want to push this unless we have to. I want a beautiful wedding. I also want a honeymoon we remember fondly. I don’t want to scare you.”

Wendy thought for a moment. She decided, to be honest. “It is getting harder for us even when there are people around. We have had at least three different occasions, in which we had to censor ourselves. Even without Jake in the picture, it’s time for us to take the next step. I want to be married to you. I want everything that entails too. I assure you, I am not afraid of our honeymoon.”

Stefan glanced down at her. He knew it had been difficult for him to keep his mind in check. It had not even occurred to him, that she did too. He had always assumed the kisses affected him more than her. He took a deep breath. “I guess we are getting married in three weeks.”

Wendy smiled up at him. “I think you should kiss me now, a chaste kiss of course. The ones that leave me breathless and blushing, we need to save for the honeymoon.”

Stefan chuckled as he pulled her into his arms. “I think I can do that.”

 

Chapter Twenty-Seven

 

Wendy knew she was in trouble, as she glanced at the knife in Jake’s hand. She had come down to her car to get a folder she had forgotten for a meeting she had that afternoon.

Jake slowly walked toward Wendy. “Where is she? All you have to do is tell me. I won’t hurt you or Carla ever again. I love her.”

Wendy swallowed the lump of fear in her throat. It was her last day at work before her wedding. She had almost not come today. Closing her eyes, she whispered a prayer.

Jake stood in front of her. He reached out and gently touched a piece of hair that had come loose from her bun. He smiled, as she turned her face away, and then spoke. “I never really looked at you. You are beautiful.”

Wendy tried not to show her fear, but the tears she was trying to keep in her eyes, started to make their way down her cheeks. She knew she didn’t want to make him mad. Her wrist was still in a cast. She looked down at her feet and whispered softly. “Thank you.”

Jake stood closer to Wendy now. He took a deep breath. “You smell so, nice.”

Wendy was shaking. She felt the knife on her neck. “Please, Jake…”

Jake was not really concerned where Clair was right now. Being close to Wendy was an absolute rush. He kissed her forehead and was surprised to hear a sob escape her throat. “It’s ok. I won’t hurt you. Don’t you like me?”

Wendy nodded. “I like you, Jake. I… I just am having a difficult time breathing.”

Jake put the knife he had in his pocket. In his warped mind, this was his new girlfriend. He put his arms around Wendy and pulled her close. “Why are you so tense?”

Wendy’s voice hiccupped as she answered him. “Jake, I… Please, I can’t breathe.”

Jake chuckled. “I’m sorry.” He stepped a little bit away from her. “Is this better?”

Wendy nodded. “It is. Thank you.” Wendy’s mind was racing. Jake was obviously crazy. He still stood between her and freedom. She had to find a way to get around him.

Jake looked at Wendy’s cast. He gently picked up her arm. “I’m sorry. You know I didn’t mean to do this?”

Wendy glanced up at him. “It’s ok. Jake, can we walk?”

Jake’s eyes narrowed. He pulled her back into his arms. “I would like to go for a drive. Why don’t we do that instead?”

Wendy was not getting into a car with him. She started shaking. “Jake, I think I’m going to be sick.”

Jake frowned at her. “Is my baby not feeling well?”

Wendy hit her knees. She felt him hold her hair back as she became violently sick. She had to get away from him. He was now behind her. If she could just get him to let go of her hair, she could run. She took his outstretched hand as she stood back up. She stumbled back against him on purpose throwing him off balance. “I’m sorry.”

Jake smiled down at her as he helped her steady herself. “You don’t have to be sorry.”

As soon as he released her, Wendy kicked him as hard as she could and ran. She heard him yell. Wendy screamed as she heard his footsteps start after her. She hit the elevator button but knew he would get her if she waited for it to open. She ran between two cars. As she crouched down, she listened for his footsteps.

Jake looked around the garage. He was furious. How could she treat him like that? Didn’t she know how much he loved her? “Come on Wendy… Come out and talk to me.”

Wendy prayed quietly. She heard the door of the elevator open but knew he stood between her and the elevator. She laid down flat on the ground and eased herself, under the SUV she was beside. She held her breath, as she watched his feet walk toward the space she had just occupied. When she saw he was in the area she had just vacated; she eased out on the other side.

 

Stefan looked at Sabrina. “Have you seen Wendy?”

Sabrina smiled at him. “She went down to get a folder from the car.”

Stefan glanced down at his watch. They had agreed to meet in his office to review some things. It was not like her to be late. He looked back at Sabrina. “How long ago did she go?”

Sabrina glanced at her computer screen. “She should be back any second. It has been almost five minutes.”

Stefan started walking away. He turned back around. Something wasn’t right. He looked at Sabrina. “Please, call security and have them meet me in the garage on level three.”

Sabrina picked up her phone to do as he said. She watched him push the elevator button.

Stefan was feeling sick in his stomach. Something was wrong. When the door opened, he got in and pushed the button for the parking garage. He whispered a prayer. “Please help her be ok.”

The doors closed leaving Crystal and Sabrina looking at each other. Worry, for their boss and friend, was written all over their faces.

 

Wendy moved silently between the cars. She could see, Jake’s feet, and did her best to keep distance between her and him. She held her breath as he walked past the car she had managed to squeeze under. Tears streamed down her cheeks. She blinked trying her best to keep her vision clear.

Jake voice was angry. “Is this how you treat someone who loves you? Wendy, I came here to find Clair, but after seeing you again… Can’t you see we are supposed to be together? When I find you, and I will find you, I will teach you how to respect a man.”

Wendy slowly let out a shaky breath as his feet moved away from the car. When she saw his feet leave, she eased out from under the car. Crawling on her knees, she continued to try to keep him in her sights as she slowly maneuvered her way toward the elevator.

Jake stopped and listened. He smiled and started walking toward a sound he assumed was Wendy.

Wendy saw him coming her way fast. She didn’t have time to get under a car. Standing, she ran. Tears blurred her vision, as she tried to get away from him.

Jake grabbed Wendy and pulled her back against his chest. He whispered softly. “Now we leave.”

Wendy went wild until he held the knife up to her throat. She decided to pretend to pass out. Maybe if he had her dead weight to carry, it would slow him down. She closed her eyes and went limp.

Jake picked Wendy up into his arms and started for his car. He was almost there when the elevator door opened. He ducked between two cars and sat down with her between his legs. Putting the knife back up to Wendy’s throat, he whispered in her ear. “I know you can hear me. If you want to live, you will stay quiet.”

Wendy whimpered as she nodded her head. She could feel the cold blade against her throat. She turned her head into Jake’s chest pretending to seek comfort from him. Very slowly she eased her hand up, putting it between her neck and the blade.

Stefan looked around. He didn’t see Wendy anywhere. The elevator opened again. He turned and watched as three security guards walked out. He was just getting ready to tell them he overreacted when Wendy screamed.

Wendy pushed against the blade with her hands as she screamed. She threw her weight back against Jake and tried to stand. He tripped her causing her to hit her knees.

Stefan watched in horror as Jake raised his knife above Wendy. He yelled her name.

Jake felt a sharp pain in his chest. He was suddenly unable to breathe. He looked around as everything became fuzzy. The last thing he saw was a security guard, with his gun drawn, looking at him.

Wendy screamed as Jake’s dead body fell on top of her. “Get him off me!” She kicked and pushed at him as she continued to cry. “Get him off…”

Stefan ran to her and pulled her from under Jake. He pulled her close. His voice was choked. “I have you. I’m here.”

Wendy sobbed into his chest. “He wanted to take me. He didn’t want Clair anymore. He wanted to take me…” She continued to repeat her words over and over again. Her body would not stop shaking, as she tried to tell Stefan, what had happened.

Stefan picked her up into his arms. He started for the elevator. “We will be in my office when the police and EMS arrive.”

One of the guards walked over. “I’ll come with you.”

Stefan held Wendy close as the guard pushed the elevator button. When they stepped in, she shuddered against him again. “I’m right here.”

Wendy was starting to calm down. She was now whispering one phrase, over and over again, as her body continued to shiver in fear. “He wouldn’t let me go.”

Stefan kissed the side of her head to calm her. He was surprised when she started pushing at him and screaming. Her one hand was sliced open and bleeding. He couldn’t let her hurt herself. “Wendy, it’s me.”

Wendy felt Jakes lips on her head again. She shoved against him. “Let me go!”

Stefan let her go. He watched as she shoved her way into the corner of the elevator. “Wendy, it’s me.”

Wendy looked up at the guard and then back at Stefan. The elevator door was open now. She could see the staff looking at her. “Stefan…?”

Stefan nodded. “It’s me.”

Wendy started sobbing again. When Stefan bent and picked her back up, she grabbed the front of his shirt. “He wouldn’t let me go.”

Stefan whispered softly. “I know. I have you, now.”

Liam came out of his office. “What happened?”

Stefan started down the hall toward his office. “Jake changed his affections.”

Liam looked at the guard. “Is she ok.”

The guard nodded. “She should probably go to the hospital, she has a nice sized slice on her one hand, but I think she will be just fine.”

Liam shook his head. “Hopefully, they put him behind bars now.”

The guard shook his head. “He is dead. Chase shot him. He will not be bothering anyone ever again.”

Sabrina walked past Liam. “I’m going to her. She needs more than Stefan right now.”

Crystal agreed. She nodded at Liam as she passed him.

Stefan looked up from his office sofa when the women walked in. Wendy was curled against him. “She is starting to calm.”

Crystal nodded as she walked over to Wendy. She sat down beside Stefan and touched her gently. “Are you ok?”

Sabrina looked at the blank stare on Wendy’s face. “It will be ok. We are right here. When you are ready, you talk to us.”

Liam had called Trevor up from a meeting a few floors down. The two walked into Stefan’s office. Trevor shook his head. “She is bleeding. She needs medical attention.”

Stefan knew Trevor was right. His voice was gentle. “Are you feeling better? Do you know who I am?”

Wendy whispered softly. “He wasn’t going to let me go.”

Stefan swallowed the lump in his throat. “I’m here. Wendy, do you know who I am?”

Wendy buried her face in Stefan’s chest. She started sobbing again. “He was touching me and holding me. He wasn’t going to let me go.”

Stefan held her close. “Who has you, now?”

Trevor held his breath as he waited for Wendy to answer Stefan.

Wendy took a deep breath. She started to calm down. She whispered softly. “You have me, Stefan.”

Stefan looked at her face as she leaned away from him. He softly kissed her forehead. “Who kissed you?”

Wendy touched his face with her shaky hand. “You did. Stefan, I was so, scared.”

Stefan cupped her face in his hands. “I am so sorry I didn’t try to find you sooner. I’m sorry he hurt you again.”

Wendy closed her eyes as Stefan’s thumbs wiped away her tears. Her voice was barely audible. “You came. I knew you would.”

Stefan pulled her back against his chest. When she was settled, he spoke again. “Wendy, he is gone now. One of the security guards shot him.”

Wendy nodded against his chest. She understood what he was saying. She watched as paramedics came into Stefan’s office.

Stefan could feel her tensing up. He knew she didn’t want to go to the hospital. “I need to know you are ok.”

Wendy started shaking her head. “I’m staying.”

Stefan closed his eyes. He could hear the fear in her voice. “Wendy, you are hurt.”

Wendy started crying again. “I don’t want to. Don’t make me. Please, Stefan, don’t make me.”

Stefan spoke to her gently. “I’ll be with you. If they don’t let me come with you, I’ll take you myself, but you need medical care.”

Wendy sniffled. “You won’t leave me?”

Stefan’s voice was choked. “I will not leave you. I will be there the entire time.”

Wendy watched as an EMT hunched down beside her. When he gently took her arm and put a blood pressure cuff on it, she didn’t fight him. “I’ll go if you can.”

The medic nodded and smiled at Stefan, assuring him he could go with Wendy. Stefan watched as they took her vitals. When they got out a needle to start an IV, he grimaced. “Is that necessary?”

Wendy saw the needle and tried to pull her hand away. She shook her head. “I don’t want one.”

Stefan listened as the medic explained why an IV site would be helpful. He knew Wendy was not convinced. She kept her un-casted hand buried in his chest.

Wendy listened to the medic. When he was finished explaining the IV site, she whispered. “I don’t want one. I don’t want them to give me anything, that will make me sleepy. I don’t care, if it is to help me stay calm.”

The medic nodded and put the stuff back in his bag. Stefan felt Wendy tense up when it was time to put her on the gurney. She started shaking again. “You won’t leave me?”

Stefan held her hand. He could feel the blood from her wound, but knew she didn’t want him to let go of her. “I’m staying right here with you.”

Wendy, reluctantly, let Stefan put her down. She held onto his hand, as they secured her on the gurney and then wheeled her out of his office toward the elevator. She closed her eyes and focused on the feel of Stefan’s hand. She knew he would keep his word and stay with her. She breathed in and out, allowing his touch to calm her completely. This was not how the day was supposed to go, but she was grateful, to have Stefan by her side.

 

Chapter Twenty-Eight

 

Wendy sat up in bed. She shuddered trying to get the nightmare out of her mind. She took a deep breath trying to gain control of her thoughts.

Stefan glanced up at his wife. He touched her hand knowing she was still half asleep. “I’m right here.” It had been just over three months since Jake had been killed. Wendy’s physical injuries were healed. Her mental ones were still an issue.

Wendy lay back down beside Stefan. “They are getting better.”

Stefan pulled her against his chest. “I wish they were gone. I don’t like seeing you afraid.”

Wendy felt his lips on her forehead. She closed her eyes and absorbed her husband’s strength. She sighed softly as their morning alarm went off. “I almost made it through the night. I feel rested.”

Stefan loved how she felt in his arms. He kissed her softly. “I love you so much. I could stay here forever.”

Wendy snuggled into his chest. “I would let you keep me here forever. I love you too.”

Stefan reached for the devotional and his Bible. As they had done every morning since they were married, they started their day seeking God first. When they were done praying together, Stefan watched Wendy get out of bed.

Wendy put her robe on and headed for the shower. She smiled back at Stefan. “It still feels funny being married.”

Stefan watched her as she paused at the door of their bathroom. He chuckled. “It is hilarious when new clients realize why I’m flirting with my assistant.”

Wendy giggled as she turned. “Of course, your assistant certainly does like to flirt back.”

Stefan heard the shower turn on. He put on his sweats as he walked toward their closet. Hearing a knock on their bedroom door, he changed directions.

Cory looked up at Stefan. “I can’t button my shirt.”

Stefan knelt in front of him and helped. He kissed the top of his head. “Have you had your breakfast yet?”

Cory nodded. “Uncle Liam helped me pour some cereal.”

Stefan held up his hand for a high five. “Good job, your mom and I will be out in a few minutes.”

Cory threw his arms around Stefan’s neck and hugged him tightly. “I love you, Dad. I like calling you that too.”

Stefan hugged the boy back. “I like being called that.”

Cory gave Stefan another high five before heading back to the kitchen. Stefan watched him close the suite door before turning back toward the closet.

A few minutes later, Wendy joined Cory, Liam, and Trevor in the kitchen. She smiled at Trevor. “Are you ready for the interview today?”

Trevor frowned at her. “I am not.”

Wendy giggled. “You did know your assistant was married. Things happen.”

Trevor knew his sister-in-law was being a brat. He turned the tables on her. “So, when are you and Stefan going to present us with a new niece or nephew?”

Wendy blushed. “I guess you put me in my place.”

Liam laughed. “You really do turn all sorts of color.”

Trevor took a deep breath. “I’m happy for her and her husband. She is very excited to be a mom.”

Stefan walked in and pulled his wife into his arms. He looked at Trevor. “You know, I kind of dreaded interviewing my assistant too. It kind of turned out for me.”

Liam laughed at the look on Trevor’s face. “It could happen. You never know.”

Trevor shook his head. “I’m hoping to meet a nice girl at church. I am not sure every workplace romance has the ability to turn out as nicely as it did for you two.”

Carla laughed from the doorway. “I was hoping the same for me too. Didn’t quite work out that way.”

Trevor shook his head. “Your new job agrees with you because you were dating the boss before he hired you. Not all of us can date our assistants.”

Carla giggled as she poured some coffee in her travel mug. “He was a bit high-handed about the position. I’m glad he insisted.”

Liam chuckled. “Malcolm had no intentions of letting you out of his sight after Jake.”

The group made their way toward the door. They would drop Cory at school before heading into the city. Stefan stopped and just watched his family get into the minivan. He made eye contact with his wife. Her love was evident in her eyes. He glanced at his new son, as he climbed in with Liam. His heart was overwhelmed by the grace that God had given him. Christ had taken a heart, that was hurt and angry, and transformed it into one that lived for His purpose. Stefan knew, God’s tomorrow for him may not always be comfortable, but it was always enough.

 

 

Note From The Author

 

If you enjoyed the first book of this series, please join Trevor for his story in A Heart’s Strength. In the second book, you will meet Bri. A tragic past puts Bri in many difficult situations. As Trevor finds a way to earn her trust, Bri opens her heart to a gentleness she can’t ignore. You will see a heart’s determination to not just survive but thrive as Trevor helps Bri realize not everything is lost. Kay will pull your heartstrings with this one. A Heart’s Strength is available for pre-order now.

 

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Always Enough

Stefan Felix is no stranger to loss. His faith in Christ has been shaken to the core, and he is not sure he cares to find it again. When Wendy Collins gives a glimpse of herself to him his office building's elevator, Stefan finds himself giving her a job he normally wouldn't have given to a woman so young. The two form a delicate friendship based on a mutual understanding of loss. Wendy's unshakable faith in the midst of tragedy opens Stefan's heart back up to his Savior's unconditional love. Stefan soon realizes Wendy and her young nephews fit perfectly into he and his daughter's world. When danger finds Wendy, Stefan will stop at nothing to keep her safe. Will God ask him to say goodbye, again, to a love he wanted for a lifetime? If that is God's will for Stefan, will he be able to say that God's love is always enough, even, when tomorrow is not guaranteed?

  • Author: Kay Edwards
  • Published: 2016-11-03 05:20:16
  • Words: 60731
Always Enough Always Enough