Sin City Wedding (Dynasties: The Danforths #3)


by Katherine Garbera

One

Larissa Nielsen had imagined how she'd look when she saw Jacob Danforth again. None of her ideas involved wearing her oldest pair of leggings and a tie-dyed Florida T-shirt. But the early-morning call from Jasmine Carmody, a reporter with the Savannah Morning News, had left Larissa no choice. She needed to talk to Jake before Jasmine told the world who Peter's father was.

Now Larissa was sitting in her car in front of Jake's Savannah town house like some crazy ex-girlfriend stalker. She wished she were just waking up back at her house in Riverside. She wished their morning routine wasn't disrupted and she and her three-year-old son could welcome the day on their dock overlooking the Savannah River. Instead, she was about to do something, her conscience reminded her, she should have done a long time ago.

She shone the light of her tiny flashlight on the pages in front of her. A collection of Robert Frost poetry had always been her saving grace. She'd used it to escape from life more than once and this morning, while she waited for time to creep by, it provided the escape she desperately needed from her chaotic thoughts.

A rap on the car window startled her. She glanced up to see the faint outline of a man. The man leaned down and she looked into dark brown eyes she'd never forgotten. His tough-guy look faded, replaced by a welcoming smile when he recognized her. She unlocked her door and Jake opened it.

Larissa wasn't a person anyone would call timid. But suddenly she felt like the Cowardly Lion. And it wasn't anything like the green floating head of the Great and Powerful Oz that scared her. She knew the man behind the curtain and she knew he would be royally pissed when she told him he had a three-year-old son.

Peter slept quietly in his car seat and she double-checked that his favorite blanket was tucked next to his chin before getting out of the car. The March morning air was chilly. She shivered a little and rubbed her hands on her arms, praying the tinted windows wouldn't reveal her son until she had a chance to tell Jacob herself.

"What are you doing parked in front of my house at seven in the morning?"

Jake was dressed in running shorts and a sleeveless T-shirt that was stained with sweat. He must have left before she'd arrived. She smoothed her hair down, wishing she'd had the time to make herself look more presentable.

He looked as good as she remembered. Would he feel as good? Somehow she knew he would, despite the fact that it had been almost four years since she'd had sex. She forced her gaze from his muscled chest to his face.

"It's a long story."

"About four years long?"

"You have no idea."

"Well, then let's get comfortable. Come inside and I'll make you some coffee. You know I'm famous for it."

She couldn't help but smile. Even when they'd been nothing more than friends, Jake had always been able to make her laugh. But she couldn't leave Peter sleeping in the car.

"Actually, I have something to tell you."

"And you can't do it inside?"

"Well … no."

She leaned back against the driver's door and tried to find the right words. She swallowed once then licked her lips. "Um … this is harder than I thought it would be."

"I wish I could help you out, Larissa, but I have no idea what you're trying to say."

She shook herself. She'd be matter-of-fact. She was known for her practicality. "Remember that night at the reunion."

"How could I forget?" he asked, running the tip of one finger down the side of her face. Shivers of awareness coursed through her. Jake had always elicited a response from her even when he wasn't trying to.

"I haven't forgotten it either," she said.

"Is that why you are here?" he asked. He leaned closer toward her, surrounding her with the heat of his body and his earthy scent. His dark eyes focused on her lips and she felt them tingle. Without thinking, she licked her bottom lip and he tracked the motions with his gaze. Dammit, this was getting out of hand. His touch on her face moved to her mouth, stroking her bottom lip with his thumb.

"Larissa Nielsen on my doorstep. I can't quite figure out why. Why now? Why are you here, Larissa?"

"A reporter contacted me about your uncle's senate bid." Larissa knew the only way to the truth was through the story of what had happened. Because the reason she'd been keeping Peter a secret hadn't changed and if Jasmine Carmody hadn't called her, Larissa would still be at home in Riverside watching the sun rise and drinking D&D Coffee's special morning blend.

"Those damned reporters. They won't leave any of us alone." Jake ran his fingers through his thick curly hair in a gesture she'd seen her son make when he was on the verge of a meltdown.

"I'm sorry," she said, knowing Jake treasured his privacy above just about anything else.

"Hey, babe, it's not your fault. So why are you here?"

"She knows about our one-night stand," Larissa blurted out.

"I wish you wouldn't call it that. I wanted to see you again."

He'd called her several times, but she'd dodged his calls. Eventually she'd moved to Atlanta with her college roommate to make sure Jake never found out their one night had consequences.

Jake hadn't been ready for fatherhood then. D&D's, the coffeehouse Jake had co-founded with his cousin Adam, had been about to go national and Jake hadn't really changed all that much since college. He was still the fun-loving, Saturday-morning-soccer-playing guy he'd always been. And she knew from bitter experience that a woman who tied a man down became a burden. She'd vowed long ago to never become a burden.

"I had my reasons for not meeting you in Cancun." She nibbled her lower lip. Just tell him.

"Our one night together isn't really that newsworthy, honey. Don't worry about that."

"Actually, it is," Larissa said.

"Why, did the reporter have pictures?" Jake asked with a bad-boy grin that brought that night back in vivid detail. It had been a steamy summer night, and in his arms she'd felt like the most beautiful woman in the world, not the plain Jane she'd always been.

"Yes, but not of us."

"Then who?" he asked, becoming exasperated.

Oh, God. "Our son."

Jake staggered back from her. "Did you say son?"

"Yes, his name is Peter, Peter Jacob, and he's three years old."

Jacob reached for the back door but it was still locked. "Unlock it."

She did and he opened the door and looked down on their sleeping son. Peter's curly hair was the same dark shade as Jake's. He reached out for Peter's head with a touch so gentle that she knew she'd made a mistake in not telling him sooner.

But the past had taught her a bitter lesson, and she'd always dreamed that her life would be sitcom perfect. Instead reality was very different. All the excuses she'd made to herself for the past three years sounded lame now and when Jake glanced up at her, she knew he'd think so, too.

"My son," he said, looking down on Peter with a wealth of emotions that she hadn't suspected Jake could feel.

* * *

His son. He still couldn't really take it in. Parenthood was an alien concept to Jake. He reached for the buckle on the car seat but couldn't figure out how to operate it. Nothing in his life had prepared him for this. He'd have to give his brother Toby a call later; he was the only expert on fatherhood he knew.

"Get him out," he said to Larissa. His hands were shaking. He was a father.

She brushed past him. Her slender body had remained unchanged over the years since they first met. Her clear blue eyes had always struck him as the most honest he'd ever looked into—until today.

Larissa put her hand on his back and leaned into the car. One of her br**sts brushed against his side and arousal moved through him like lightning. He felt the heat from her hand on the small of his back burn through his shirt.

She pushed against him as she leaned into the car, balancing herself with the touch on his back. Reaching out, she ruffled Peter's hair. "Morning, sleepyhead."

"Morning, Mama," he said.

They had a bond. A bond that Jake had never wanted but now suddenly envied. Maybe this was what he'd been searching for lately. Maybe this would fill the restlessness that his work and partying couldn't.

Jake reached for his son and the boy recoiled, pulling a ragged-looking bear and a tattered blanket closer. Tucking the edge of the blanket between his lips, Peter looked at Larissa.

"It's okay, baby. Jake's a friend." Larissa turned toward him, her breath brushing across his cheek. Her mouth was fuller than he'd remembered.

"He's kind of shy around new people," Larissa said.

"The word Dad is foreign to him?" Jake asked, to remind himself that Larissa wasn't the sweet girl from his memories. She was the woman who'd had his child and kept it a secret.

"He's only three. Some things take time to remember."

"Did you have a problem remembering too?" he asked sarcastically.

Jake had always loved women. He'd never had any trouble with them. Women were meant to be protected, he knew, even though his track record on this front wasn't great. But how did you protect someone who had betrayed you?

She sighed. "If you're going to treat me the way I deserve to be treated, I'm going to take Peter home and come back by myself. To him you're a stranger who's mad at his mom."

He realized she was right. For better or worse, Peter's entire world revolved around Larissa. And making Larissa cry or angry probably wouldn't help Peter to like him. He straightened from the car and took the two steps back to the sidewalk.

She lifted their son out, brushing a soft kiss against the top of his head and rubbing his back before setting the boy on the sidewalk. It was obvious how deeply Larissa cared for her son. He shouldn't be surprised. She'd always had a nurturing quality about her. Originally it was what had drawn him to her.

Peter clung to the back of Larissa's leg, watching Jake with the same intensity that his mother did. Why hadn't she trusted him enough to tell him he had a son?

"Did that reporter follow you?" he asked.

"I don't think so."

"Let's go inside just to be safe."

She nodded and bent to pry her son's hands from her thigh. She took the small hand in her own and as Jake watched them, he realized the two of them were watching him. Waiting to see what he'd do. Frankly, he was out of his element.

He bent down on one knee and held out his hand to his son. Peter hesitated, then handed Jake the bear. "Oh, he's giving you Mr. Bear. That means he likes you."

"I'm glad one of you does," Jake said.

Larissa watched him with those soulful eyes of hers. And he felt like a big mean bully. He tried to get past his anger so he could remember all the reasons he liked her but he couldn't.

"Oh, Jake this isn't about liking you," she said, softly.

He glanced up at her. "Then what is it about?"

"Me not being the right woman for you."

"Well, I do tend to like a different sort of woman."

"I know. Tall, blond and built."

"Nice opinion you've got of me, Rissa. But I'm not that shallow. I meant honest. I like my women to be honest."

She flushed. He knew that anything else he said now would be mean and sarcastic, but sending her away with the son he'd just discovered wasn't an option.

He pivoted on his heel without saying another word. Unlocking the door to his town house, he turned left and entered his living quarters. The living room was sleek and sophisticated. All chrome, glass and Italian leather. The entertainment center was top of the line and he'd just had a new large-screen plasma TV installed on Friday.

Larissa and Peter stood in the doorway as if afraid to enter. How old was his son? He knew she'd told him, but he'd been trying to grapple with the fact that he was a father and hadn't paid attention. It had been almost four years since he'd seen Larissa so Peter would have to be about three. What did kids that age do?