One step closer a stepbr.., p.26
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       One Step Closer: A stepbrother, stand-alone novel., p.26

           Kahlen Aymes
 

  The kind old woman appeared in the bathroom doorway and the expression on her face was sad. “Of course he is. I always thought you and Caleb might end up together. If something is happening between you two, don’t you let that little conniving bitch keep you apart.”

  Wren’s eyes widened as she looked at Jonesy’s reflection in the mirror. Wren couldn’t remember the housekeeper ever swearing in all the ten years she’d known her. It was clear evidence of how strongly she disliked Macy.

  “I had the same dream. I’ve always loved him, Jonesy.”

  “I know, dear. It’s as plain as the nose on your face.”

  Wren flushed in embarrassment. If it were this clear to Jonesy, did everyone else know? Macy’s behavior clearly showed her suspicion. But, what about Caleb? Did last night mean as much to him as it did to her, or was it just one of those times you hear about; that everybody has sex around funerals as verification of life? She inwardly groaned and hoped her feelings weren’t pouring out in her expression. “Even Lois Lane fell in love with Superman. Caleb is my Superman.”

  “I know. I love the two of you like my own family.” Jonesy’s weathered face was full of sadness, her eyes glassed over, and she swallowed hard. Her voice thickened with emotion. “You’re like my own children or grandchildren and I hate to see you go your separate ways. I’m not sure what will become of me if that happens; you’re the only family I have.”

  Wren was still wrapped in a towel but she walked over and put her arms around the older woman. “Oh Jonesy.” Wren hugged her tightly, trying to reassure her. “Nothing will change. Cale will take care of you. We both adore you.”

  Jonesy patted Wren’s back. “Not if Macy has anything to say about it. ”

  Wren wasn’t sure what Caleb planned to do with the estate or the company, but she was certain he wouldn’t leave Jonesy out in the cold. “I don’t know exactly what Caleb’s relationship is with her, or what he’ll do with the assets, Jonesy, but what I do know is that he won’t turn his back on you. Macy, or no Macy.” Wren had seen Macy trying to be close to Caleb, and while he was considerate of her, Wren hadn’t seen him return her affection and it gave her a small ray of hope. She went to her dresser and gathered clean lingerie, taking them back to the bathroom to put on in privacy.

  “Well, I can’t stand her,” Jonesy retorted. “Men think with the wrong head, if you ask me!”

  Wren went into her closet to retrieve her dress followed by the difficult realization that Caleb had spent time in bed with Macy, too. Until she was able to see and talk to him she could only guess at his real feelings. “Truthfully? Me either. Did she go with Caleb to the church?” She finally asked the question that had been eating away at her.

  Wren wished she could confide in Jonesy about her confrontation with Macy the day before and her night in Caleb’s arms to get her advice, but they were running late. It might not be a good idea anyway. Wren stepped into her dress and turned, silently asking Jonesy to zip it up.

  “Fortunately for us, yes.” Jonesy slid the zipper into place and patted Wren’s back lightly with one hand.

  “I just hope she’s thinking of him more than of herself. It’s gonna be a rough day for him. He seems so strong, but I know he’s more vulnerable than he lets on. Despite his estrangement from Edison, I know he’s hurting.” Wren was thinking of the way he’d melted into her arms in grief. “The first night I was home; the first time Caleb saw me, he lost it. We both did.”

  Jonesy nodded knowingly. “I don’t know how he could avoid having unresolved issues. He doesn’t need that gold digger muddying the waters. He has enough to deal with.”

  “I know. I can’t lie; I’ve questioned Macy’s motives, myself.”

  “That girl is out for number one, so thank God he has you.”

  “He also has you and Jonathan, Jonesy.”

  Jonesy stood up and started to leave. “Yes, he does. You’d better get dressed honey. Jared is waiting for us out front. I’ll see you downstairs.”

  ***

  THE FUNERAL WENT by in a blur.

  Dex and his dad were there. Caleb saw them sitting in the pews when, Wren, Jonesy, Macy, and Jonathan took their seats in the front pew. Veronica was also in attendance, Caleb noted with disdain. He’d expected her to be there but even so, it grated on his nerves.

  He’d kept Wren up all night, making love and talking, so he decided to let her sleep in. He had barely slept and he was tired, he wanted the day to be over with so he could talk to Wren and they could get on with their lives. He knew she’d still want to dance, and they’d have to work out the logistics. He was anxious to tell her how he felt; how he’d always felt and that he wanted to be with her. He was ready to do whatever it took to work it out.

  Despite his exhaustion and the impending funeral, he felt happy. The night with Wren had radically changed the future. He was confident in his decision to give her half of the estate. She hadn’t said she loved him, but he could feel it in every touch. Sex without love wasn’t what he and Wren had shared.

  Macy had been waiting to pounce the minute he was dressed and came upstairs for breakfast. Jonesy had his ready, but wasn’t expecting Macy and the older woman had to scurry to make a plate for her as well.

  He’d wanted to have some time to speak to the elderly woman alone and make clear that her place in the family wasn’t going to change and he’d hoped to use the early morning to do so, but Macy had effectively ruined his plans with her presence. He couldn’t remember a time when Jonesy hadn’t been in the Luxon house and he didn’t want that to change. When Macy indignantly demanded Jonesy make her breakfast, it made Caleb decidedly pissed off. Jonesy was the closest thing to a grandmother he had, and he’d be damned if he’d let anyone treat her like a servant.

  In the car ride to the church, he’d debated whether to have it out with Macy over her treatment of Jonesy, but then decided it would be a waste of time. He’d already told her he’d be staying in Denver, but he wanted to make it clear that their relationship was over. In fact, he couldn’t wait until she left to return to San Francisco. He wanted time with Wren before she had to go back to New York, but he needed to have that conversation with Macy first.

  Caleb was preoccupied with all that needed to be done. He needed to go back to San Francisco for a few weeks to resign his position with his firm, sublet his apartment, and to pack up his things. Wren had another week or so of her break before she’d go into rehearsal for her next production, and Caleb hoped he could convince her to spend it with him while he packed up. She could fly back to New York directly from the west coast.

  Caleb wasn’t prepared for the sadness that overcame him during the service, especially at the cemetery. He stood between Macy and Wren during the short interment service and all he could do was stare at the large dark grey marble headstone with his mother and father’s names on it. The date of death for his dad would need to be added, but his mother’s was there and it choked him up. He was once again a twelve-year-old kid, who’d just lost his mother. His eyes filled with tears and he used one thumb to quickly brush one away.

  Macy was clinging to him almost the point of annoyance as they left the church, during the ride in the back of the limo to the gravesite and on the walk to it. His eyes met with Wren’s more than once and he could tell she was hurting when she’d quickly look away. He was certain she was feeling confused by Macy’s behavior and his allowing it, after their night together.

  Truthfully, he felt like hell over it. He wanted to be near Wren but he didn’t want a scene. He needed to get the funeral and the entire day behind him before he told Macy he was ending things between them. They hadn’t been physical in any intimate way since he’d set eyes on Wren the night she arrived in Denver.

  A small rush of guilt overtook him. It hadn’t been that long since he’d taken Macy to bed, but he never said he loved her. At the time, he hadn’t thought he’d even see Wren, let alone that they’d share such an incredible night together. He didn’t k
now how he bottled up his feelings for so long. After a night in her arms, he was ready to explode with love for her, and he didn’t like hiding it from anyone… Mostly, he hated that Wren didn’t know for certain that he loved her.

  Wren stood quietly next to him; his instincts screamed to reach out, slide his arm around her, and pull her close to his side. Sensing his emotion, her small hand slipped into his and their fingers threaded together.

  Caleb inhaled deeply as she squeezed his hand as the priest spoke a few words and said a prayer. There were only about thirty people in attendance and they drifted off, leaving Caleb, Wren and Macy at the graveside.

  “Would you mind giving me a minute?” he asked of Macy. “I’ll meet you at the car.”

  She glanced up into his face and Caleb could see the conflict in her expression. “Sure,” she answered quietly and started to walk way, sending Wren a glance to see if she would follow.

  Wren started to do follow Macy, but Caleb’s hand tightened around hers. “No, stay.” He shook his head, looking down at her. It was a sunny day and they both had on sunglasses so she couldn’t see his eyes.

  Macy’s lips pressed together and she resumed her solo trek to the waiting limo.

  Wren’s free hand moved up to close around the outside of Caleb’s elbow. “Are you doing okay?”

  He knew the day had been hard on her, too. “I’m okay, but I wanted to talk to you. It’s over with Macy. I haven’t touched her since I laid eyes on you again, and I need you to know that. I told you; there’s no going back.”

  Wren had spent the last couple of hours wiping at tears, but her eyes started to burn again. She rested her head against his arm and shoulder, as they stood side-by-side facing the casket. She squeezed his hand again. He was still thinking of her. Her throat ached as she tried not to cry out loud. She nodded without looking at him. “Okay.” It came out as a thick whisper.

  “Okay,” Caleb affirmed. “Did you see Veronica? Has she tried to talk to you at all?”

  “I did see her, but Jonesy and I were running late because I overslept, so there wasn’t time for her to corner me.”

  “Good. Just stay close so I can intervene if needed.”

  Wren’s heart was so full of him she could hardly get the words out.

  “I’ve missed you, Superman.”

  Caleb’s handsome face split into a big smile and his heart suddenly felt lighter. He wanted to laugh out loud. This woman’s respect and love was all he wanted in the world. The future looked bright.

  “Are you ready to go?” he asked quietly, finally moving to wrap an arm around her shoulders.

  “Yes.”

  Caleb and Wren walked to the waiting limo and the driver opened the door for them. Caleb waited as Wren slid into the seat across from Macy, and when he entered, it was Wren he chose to sit next to. It would have been disrespectful to hold Wren’s hand or touch her until Macy knew where he stood. He couldn’t touch Wren, but he’d be damned if she wouldn’t be beside him.

  ***

  “WREN!”

  Wren turned around to see who was calling her name, though she already knew. She’d managed to avoid speaking to her mother for the entire wake and funeral, but now, waiting for Jonathan to read Edison’s will, Veronica was here and quickly moving toward her.

  Ugh! she thought.

  Seeing Veronica was inevitable given there was cash on the table, but something Wren was not looking forward to. Her mother was a harsh and intimidating reminder of all she’d suffered at her hands.

  Wren cringed and put up her hand to stop her mother’s approach. The one thing she’d learned from Caleb was that words could only hurt you if you allowed them to.

  “I don’t have time talk to you now, mother,” Wren said when Veronica stopped directly in front of her. Veronica was still beautiful, but in a stiffer, more plastic, sort of way. Her eyebrows were unnaturally frozen and her top lip barely moved when she spoke. Clearly, she’s had some work done. Veronica tried to hug her daughter, but Wren stood stiffly and didn’t return the embrace. She searched for Caleb, who was deep in conversation with Jonathan and wasn’t looking her way.

  “Nonsense,” Veronica brushed off Wren’s dismissal. “They’re talking and if I know lawyers, they never start on time.”

  Wren rolled her eyes. “I’m sure you’d know.”

  Veronica pulled at the lapel of her new black jacket, ignoring her daughter’s jab to deliver one of her own. “This is nice fabric, but the outfit is boring, Wren. Surely you could have done better?”

  Wren’s eyes narrowed in hatred. One sentence in and her mother was finding fault. “This is a funeral, not a rave,” she said wryly, registering the very low cut neckline of her mother’s tight, body conscious dress. “But then, everything’s a party to you.”

  Veronica smiled tightly. “There’s no need to be nasty, Wren. Let’s play nice, shall we?”

  “What are you even doing here? I thought you moved to San Diego with your your latest victim?” She was unable to hide her disdain for the woman who had destroyed her childhood, and could have destroyed her entire life.

  Veronica smiled and raised her shoulders. She neither confirmed nor denied whether she had a new man in her life. “I’ve been asked to be here! Eddy must have included me. Caleb probably thought he’d get it all.” She sniffed haughtily.

  Wren wanted to vomit at her salacious tone. “I can’t imagine why.” Wren waved her mother in the direction of the large conference table. “It’s going to start soon, so let’s take our seats.”

  They were in the conference room at Jonathan’s firm; Westwood Barker. The room was modern with glass walls separating it from the rest of the office, a long dark wood table and sixteen plush leather chairs around it.

  She gestured toward the table, but Veronica wasn’t about to let her conversation end. Macy was sitting in a seat that Caleb had held out for her about halfway down the table and Jonesy was seated across from her. The room was large for the few people in attendance.

  “Who is that attractive young woman?” Veronica pointed to Macy.

  “A friend of Caleb’s,” Wren answered quietly. She was silently praying her mother would stop asking questions. “Sit down, mother.”

  “Friend or lover?”

  “How would I know?”

  Veronica’s thin eyebrows shot up. “I thought you and he were as thick as thieves.”

  “Yeah, well don’t think too hard, I wouldn’t want you to hurt yourself,” Caleb said sarcastically, breaking into the conversation. He hurled a dirty look in Veronica’s direction and rested a hand on the back of Wren’s back. “Let’s get started,” he said, nodding toward the other end of the table.

  Veronica was happy to take a seat to Macy’s left, and Caleb and Wren were seated on her right. Jonesy, seated across from them got up and moved, closer to the end next to Jonathan.

  “Jonesy,” Veronica nodded in her direction. “How are you?”

  Jonesy’s obvious dislike of the woman was obvious. She huffed and didn’t respond. Veronica’s fake smile faded and was obviously embarrassed by the snub. She quickly turned her attention to Macy, introducing herself.

  “That’s a horrible idea; sitting the hag next to Macy,” Caleb murmured in Wren’s ear.

  Birds of a feather, Wren thought. She simply nodded and took the seat Caleb had pulled out for her.

  Jonathan joined them, holding a manila envelope. “Have a seat, Caleb.”

  When they were all seated, Jonathan placed the sealed envelope in front of him.

  “Let’s just get to it, shall we?” He didn’t wait for an answer. “As you all know, Edison was not just a client, he was a good friend of mine for more than thirty years. I’m honored to be trusted with this task.” He turned the envelope over and opened it, sliding the contents out on a table. There were several sealed letter envelopes, and the flat pages of the will. He cleared his throat and started reading in a clear voice.

  “I, Edison Allan Luxon, residin
g at 530 South University, Denver, Colorado, declare this to be my last Will and Testament, and revoke any and all wills and codicils dated previously.”

  Wren could sense Caleb’s uneasiness as he shifted in his chair. Could he really be worried that Veronica would get the bulk of the estate? Wren had no doubt that Edison had nothing but dislike for her mother. It was evident over the past few years when he’d shipped her off on work assignments or vacations without him much of the time. After speaking to Caleb, she realized now, that was part of the MIT deal to keep her away from her.

  Jonathan continued: “ARTICLE I: Funeral expenses and payment of debt. I direct my executor to pay my enforceable unsecured personal debts and funeral expenses of my last illness, and the expenses of administering my estate from the funds in my main checking account at the Bank of Denver. ARTICLE II: Money & Personal Property.”

  Wren was grateful for her position between Jonathan and Caleb. She didn’t think she could stand being next to either Macy or her mother, no matter what the circumstances. She’d seen the way Macy glared at her in the limo and several times since they arrived at the firm. Caleb’s hand rested on the table next to her and she found herself wishing for him to steady her by holding her hand. She glanced at him out of the corner of her eye. He was sitting back in his chair, plucking at his lips; his eyes trained on Jonathan, who continued to read.

  “To my housekeeper and longtime friend, Alice Jones, I leave the sum of one million dollars USD.”

  Jonesy gasped. “Oh my goodness!”

  Caleb and Wren both smiled at her as she grabbed a tissue from her purse and dabbed at her eyes. “You deserve it Jonesy,” Caleb said quietly, nodding his affirmation of his father’s decision.

  Veronica’s lips pressed together in agitation. “Oh well, Eddie was richer than God. That’s just a drop in the bucket.” She was whispering to Macy, but everyone heard her. Caleb rolled his eyes and shook his head, and Jonathan stopped and shot her a disgusted look before he continued.

 
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