Lisa Benedict only needed a date for a bar mitzvah, but when the escort she hired arrives he’s not just good looking, he’s also kind, gentle, and protective. He makes her feel sexy again and she wants to keep him around. But she doesn’t know that the terrible abuse Gale suffered at the hands of one of the Hollywood elite keeps him from being able to trust her no matter how much he wants to.
Gale loved being with Lisa and her sons, but when she put a contract in front of him, he thought she wanted to enslave him as another woman had threatened to do before. He fled. Months later, with some therapy behind him, he wants to try again. Will she be willing to take him back after the way he stormed out?
And if she does, is he going to be able to trust her to not reject him when she learns the truth?
“That I would get lost again, and you wouldn’t know where I was.”
“That’s why you don’t run away. Somebody should always know where you are.” Gale knelt and put Matt on his feet. “Go take a shower.” He turned to Stevie. “Promise me you’ll never do this again. Something really bad could have happened to you.”
“We wanted to see you. We missed you.” Stevie’s lower lip quivered. “We wanted a guy. Mom and Catalina and Mrs. D’Amato are all girls. We need a guy.”
“Your dad is a guy.”
“Dad’s a jerk.”
Gale couldn’t disagree with that. “But what were you going to do if you couldn’t find me?”
“You got lucky. Next time, you might not get so lucky.” Gale brushed Stevie’s hair off his face. Next time… “Promise you won’t run away again.”
“I promise. But what do I do if I want to see you?”
“Can you let me and Gale talk about that?” Lisa asked.
Gale hadn’t realized she’d followed them upstairs.
“I’m sorry, Stevie, but I’m still too angry with you for running away and taking your brother to reward you with visits from Gale. Now go get changed into your play clothes while we talk.” Lisa turned and went down the stairs.
Stevie scowled at her but went into his room.
Gale followed Lisa to the sitting room, stopping at the door. “I swear I had nothing to do with them running away.”
“I know.” She continued across to the bar. “Drink?”
“No, thanks. I haven’t had dinner and it’s a long drive home.”
“Something to eat, then? Catalina always has something in the fridge for the boys.”
“No, thanks.” Gale clenched his fists, bracing for her anger. If he hadn’t gone to that swim meet, Stevie wouldn’t have gotten the idea to come hunting for him. He never should have stopped here at all.
Lisa poured herself a drink, drank it, and poured another one. The silence in the room stretched out, punctuated only by the sound of Jared shouting at the officers outside.
“Aren’t you going to yell at me?” Gale asked.
“Causing all this.”
Lisa laughed. “No, because you didn’t cause anything, and I’m a little too punchy with relief at having the boys home.”
“But if I hadn’t come over here last week, they never would have thought of me again.”
“No, they think about you. Catalina says they talk about you all the time when I’m not home. They really like you. It’s sad.”
Disappointment was worse than anger. “Maybe I could come visit sometimes when you’re not home.”
“I’m a little too angry to talk to you about that, too.”
“So, what did you want to talk about?”
Lisa studied him for an eternal moment. She held the glass in her hand as if she had forgotten about it. “You created a swath of destruction in my life that I’m not sure I can forgive. Much of that is my fault. I allowed you too much access. I cared too much for you. And I gave you too much power over my happiness.”
Gale tried to swallow, but his throat was so tight he couldn’t. She looked so blank, so helplessly miserable, that he wanted to fix it, but his usual tools of sex, flattery, and degrading himself weren’t going to work. If he could only pause life here and ask Sherry what he should do. Should have accepted that drink. “Is there anything I can do to fix it?”
“Can you go back in time to the day before I called your agent to arrange our first date?”
Gale shook his head.
All the air was sucked out of the room. No. Gale stared at Lisa, sipping her drink with that lost expression on her face. Outside, Jared was yelling, but Gale wasn’t sure if it was at the police still in the driveway or into his phone.
Little footsteps came down the stairs. “Mom?” Stevie stood in the doorway.
Lisa set down her drink and knelt, holding out her arms. Stevie ran to her, throwing himself into her embrace. Matt barreled through the room and into his mother’s arms, his hair still wet from the shower.
Gale watched them. He was never going to be a part of that picture. She didn’t want him here. The boys thought they did, but they were little. At best, they’d remember him like he remembered the one or two of his mother’s boyfriends who had noticed his existence when he was a kid. Jake, who took the training wheels off his bike and taught him to ride without them. Terry, his baseball coach, who paid the fees so he could play with the team and who was often at his house when Gale went to bed at night, but never when he woke up. Gale backed out of the room. This was not his beautiful house and that was not his beautiful family.
“Well, where are my kids?” Jared demanded when Gale walked out the front door.
‘They’re inside with Lisa.”
“It’s my weekend.” Jared turned to the officers. “You have to enforce the custody agreement. I want my sons.”
“I think we can give their mother a few minutes with them. They have been missing for several hours,” the officer said.
Gale made his way to the driver’s side of his truck. His gut ached like he’d just taken a mortal wound.
“What was your plan?” Jared shouted.
Gale turned and found the other man had stalked him to the front fender of his truck. “What?”
“Were you going to ransom them? Did you get scared at the last minute?”
“They came looking for me on their own.”
“You told them how to find you, didn’t you? But you knew the police would get involved and your ass would be in jail.”
“You stupid son of a bitch,” Gale snarled. “You can’t take any responsibility, can you?”
“You were going to kidnap them, and you panicked like a pussy.”
“They came looking for me because they didn’t want to spend the weekend with you. Pretty sad when your kids choose one of their mother’s ex-boyfriends over their father.”
“What did you promise them? Candy? Toys?”
“Nothing. They wanted me to take them to a museum we went to last summer because you didn’t take them on vacation like the custody agreement says.” Gale blinked as the three days of hanging out with the boys, going to museums, eating ice cream, and swimming rushed back over him.
“What were you doing taking care of my kids?”
“Your job,” Gale shouted. “You had a beautiful house and a wonderful wife and great kids, and you are such a clichéd douche bag that you threw away everything any real man ever wanted, everything I ever wanted, to bang your fucking secretary.”