No! No! No! This couldn’t be happening. He couldn’t be here. I scrambled to my feet as the shock of his presence traveled through me. My heart was already beating out of my chest and then wham! I met the piercing intensity of his glare and a huge wave of panic rolled and heightened and then came crashing down—the apex focused solely in my stomach, as if someone had delivered a furious blow to my abdomen. My eyes swept up and down the boardwalk and then along the beach in hopes of spotting Kellan, but he was nowhere in sight. It was just me—I had to face this alone.
I shivered at the coldness of his tone. I didn’t know how to respond. My head was thumping with such intensity that I felt it behind my eyes. I felt dizzy. Too many thoughts and emotions collided inside me and I couldn’t focus. I swallowed and attempted to clear the clog of cotton that had suddenly settled in my throat.
“Aiden,” I replied. This was bad—very bad. The erratic hammer of my heart was so strong that I felt a pulse all over my body. I looked down at Lyric in my arms and then back at the intimidating man standing before me. His face was hard and tight, and his eyes cast rays of fuming heat. “How did you find me?” My voice was shaky. I swallowed again. I couldn’t let him see how freaked out I was.
“I knew where you were all along.” He glanced at the baby, his gaze lingering on the sweet bundle in my arms, and then he looked back at me.
I pulled Lyric closer to my chest. “Oh.” I was at a complete loss for words. The shock of seeing Aiden standing there was utterly paralyzing.
“Why are you here—in Belize, I mean?” I took another glance at the boardwalk, frantic to spot Kellan. He’d said his meeting wouldn’t be more than an hour or so, but it had been far longer than that.
“You know very well why I’m here, Aria,” he replied coldly.
My mind raced as I considered the possible scenarios that could have led him here. “If I knew, I wouldn’t have asked, Aiden.” He was his normal, intoxicatingly handsome self on the outside, but he wasn’t the lover who’d eventually allowed me to know the man behind the name. I searched his fierce green eyes, desperate to find some familiarity to cling to, but there was nothing. I didn’t see any signs of the man who I’d grown to love—that man was long gone. I was now looking into the unimpassioned eyes of a stranger, and I wanted to be somewhere else, anywhere else but here, facing the one person I thought I’d never see again.
He glanced at the baby a second time. Had Aiden learned the truth? And if he had, what would this mean for Lyric? For me?
He looked up from the baby with stormy green eyes. “There’s a conversation we need to have, which is about nine months overdue.” He stalked closer, and I intuitively stepped back.
I couldn’t find my words. I just stood there, staring. The air around us seemed too still, and the sickening feeling I initially felt doubled as I watched the anger radiate from him like steam billowing from boiling water.
He pulled out his phone and placed a call. “I’ve found her,” he said, speaking into the phone.
Who had he called? “What are you doing? Why are you here?”
“I think it’s fairly obvious, Aria. I’m here for my son.”
“Your son? I don’t know what you’re talking about, and I don’t want to know. I made it clear when we last spoke that I didn’t want you to follow me. My feelings about that haven’t changed. I don’t want you here, and I’d like for you to leave.”
“You would like that, wouldn’t you?”
“I don’t like unexpected visits. They have phones, you know,” I said.
His brow arched. “Are you saying I should have informed you? Isn’t that rich,” he replied, his voice laced with acidic sarcasm.
He looked past me and I followed his gaze. Four men dressed in dark suits were quickly approaching us. I looked back at Aiden. He didn’t say anything, he merely glared at me.
One of the suits went straight to Lyric’s K’tan.
Lyric, who’d been amazingly quiet up to this point, began to stir in my arms. His tiny little lips were quivering. Not now Lyric, not now. I gently bounced him in my arms. “It’s okay, sweetheart,” I whispered. I placed him on my shoulder and gently rubbed his back. Aiden’s face softened as he observed my interaction with Lyric. He stared at the fussy little angel lying across my chest, and his angry mask shifted.
“We need you to come with us, ma’am,” said one of the suits.
I glanced at the stranger and then back to Aiden. “Who is this? And what makes you think I’m going anywhere with any of you?”
“Aria, I need you to cooperate, or I’ll have the officers ensure that you do,” Aiden said.
I glanced toward the boardwalk. There were two police officers looking in our direction. “I’m not moving until you tell me what the hell is going on.”
Aiden nodded toward one of the suits, who stepped forward to speak. “Ms. Cason, I’m Clayton Trimble, Mr. Raine’s attorney, and we’re here to perform a paternity test on the minor child.” He motioned toward Lyric. “We’ve obtained the appropriate court documents and the resources to perform the testing immediately. Should the paternity prove to be Mr. Raine’s, we’ve made arrangements for an emergency custody hearing. We’re quite confident Mr. Raine will be awarded full custody, and the child will be returning to Chicago with us.”
“The hell! On what grounds?” I exclaimed, glaring at Aiden, but he disregarded my question and walked over to the other suit. The officers were approaching, and I was frightened as the reality of what was going on started to set in.
My attempts to soothe Lyric had failed miserably; he was now bawling. I reached for his pacifier and started bouncing him again until he eventually calmed. I looked at Aiden and he appeared just as agitated as Lyric. He pointed at me and then at the attorney.
Aiden knew the test was just a formality. He was prepared to take Lyric! But who would have told him? My sisters? April? My doctor? Did it really matter at this point? People like Aiden had a way of getting what they wanted. And Aiden wanted Lyric!
My heart rate rocketed as I rushed toward him. “Aiden… why?” I asked, grabbing his arm.
He looked at me with a distasteful glare and shrugged away from me. “I could ask the same of you,” he retorted.
I’d seen contempt in his eyes before, but this was different than anything I’d ever witnessed. He was every bit the ruthless man I’d observed when he dealt with people who crossed him, only this time the menacing glare was far worse, and it was directed solely at me. I knew this would end badly. Just as I opened my mouth to attempt another protest, he turned away and one of the officers stepped behind me and urged me to follow Aiden. I anxiously peered at Lyric. I didn’t want this to touch him—but it was too late.
I had yet to move. I couldn’t go with them. I couldn’t! I fought the urge to run, knowing full well it wouldn’t get me anywhere, but I had to do something. Think, Aria. Think.
“Ma’am, if you’ll come with us,” the officer urged again.
There was nothing I could do—I didn’t have any options. I reluctantly took a step in Aiden’s direction, and the police ushered us back to my house. A short while later we were walking up the drive to my home and there were two women dressed in scrubs standing near my front door.
Why did Aiden have all of these people involved? I felt like a wanted criminal—a dangerous one, at that. “Aiden, who are these people?” He didn’t answer me. “Aiden!”
“Ms. Cason,” the attorney started and then cleared his throat. “Anja Schmidt and Jodee Cummings are the nurses from Menudos Labs. They’re here to gather samples for the paternity test,” Clayton answered.
My stomach was doing summersaults. I couldn’t believe Aiden would do this! I didn’t know what to do. I needed to calm down and think of a way to stop him. No way in hell would I let this happen, regardless of supposed court documentation.
Aiden had pulled in security, police officers, attorneys and God knows who else. I needed to contact my own attorney. She knew the truth, and I needed her now more than ever.
I’d retained Robin Lenzy’s services upon my arrival to Belize. I’d wanted to know my rights and have contingencies in place should something like this ever arise. And although we’d outlined a plan should Aiden ever contest custody, part of me didn’t think it would ever come to this. I reached into my pocket for the keys as I cradled Lyric in my arms. Somehow, in the midst of the mayhem, he’d fallen asleep. Maybe it was the walk from the beach that pushed him to his slumber. I was a little less frazzled knowing he was unaffected by this shit—at least for the moment. Every moment would be crucial from this point forward.
I opened the door and everyone followed me into the living area. “Okay, so now what? What are you expecting to happen here, Aiden?”
Of course he didn’t answer; his bald attorney spoke for him. “Ms. Cason, as I previously stated, we need to establish paternity, and we have the means to immediately initiate that process. We’ll need to take a DNA swab of Mr. Raine, the baby, and you.”
The nurse, whose nametag said Anja, reached for Lyric, and I stepped back. I wanted to smack her across the face. I needed to remain calm for Lyric, but I couldn’t just release my child to some random stranger. “Get away from him,” I said, as calmly and sternly as possible.
She looked at Aiden.
“Aria, don’t fight me on this. I guarantee you will lose,” he threatened.
Oh, so he finally has a voice. Fucking asshole.
There was a noise at the front door, and a few moments later Kellan walked in. He surveyed the room and the visitors, and his normally welcoming expression shifted immediately. His eyes settled on Aiden. I’d only seen that hardened look on Kellan’s face on one other occasion, and it was also in response to Aiden. “What the hell is going on, Raine?” he demanded.
My eyes darted to Aiden. His frame had become even more rigid and his eyes iced over. “This is none of your concern. You’re actually part of the problem. I suggest you leave before I do something I’ll regret,” he warned.
“The hell I will,” Kellan replied and stepped toward him. Aiden met his stride but before they could connect, the suits grabbed Kellan, pulling him back from Aiden.
“Get your fucking hands off of me!” Kellan yelled. He tried to shake them off but they didn’t release him until Aiden gave them permission to do so.
Kellan glared at Aiden for several heated seconds before finally reining in the violence that I knew was right at the edge. I let out a sigh of relief when Kellan slowly turned toward me. “Aria, what’s going on?” he asked, walking over to me.
“I’m not sure. Aiden just showed up on the beach with these people and, and… I don’t know.” I started to get flustered, and my eyes burned, but I wouldn’t dare cry in front of Aiden. I took a deep breath and choked back the tears. I tried to explain to Kellan but I was sure Aiden could see I was falling apart. I looked away from the worry in Kellan’s eyes and saw Aiden staring at me. There was no sympathy, no love—just an empty stare.
“He’s demanding a paternity test and threatening to take the baby!” I exclaimed.
Kellan spun around to face Aiden. “What the fuck is your deal? You can’t just barge in here and demand testing on a child that you think is yours,” he said, glowering at Aiden.
His words did nothing to shake Aiden’s confidence. “I have court documents that state otherwise.” Aiden nodded toward the bald man, who pulled some papers from his jacket and passed them to Kellan.
Kellan scanned the documents and looked up at me and then Aiden. “Couldn’t you have at least given Aria some type of notice instead of just springing this on her?”
“She had no regard for me, why should I have any for her?” His tone was as cold as ice. It was as if he were coated in permafrost.
“You’re a real piece of shit, Raine. I fail to see what Aria ever saw in you.”
Aiden smirked. “I think you know exactly what she saw in me, and knowing you’ll never measure up really gets under your skin, doesn’t it?”
I knew that would strike a nerve with Kellan and I was sure Aiden knew it, too. He was such an ass. I watched with bated breath, hoping Kellan wouldn’t let Aiden goad him into a fight. Kellan looked at the bodyguards and then back at Aiden. Kellan was the more muscular of the two, and he also had about an inch or so on Aiden in height. He was in great shape, so I was sure he would have given Aiden a run for his money, but this was not the time to see who could thump his chest the loudest. “Kellan, please…don’t.” This was just starting and I already had reached a breaking point—I couldn’t take any more of this.
Aiden directed his heartless glare at me. The fiery darkness of his eyes pierced my skin and tore away at my soul. Kellan may not have known what Aiden’s deal was, but I did. Aiden was a man who’d been deceived, a man who’d been savagely scarred by a woman he’d trusted with his heart, a woman he’d loved more than he’d loved any other woman.