The Reluctant Wife

by Heather Lovins


Six months earlier.

Charlotte was a woman in her prime. Her hair was still blonde; she even had her figure for thirty. She had a bachelor's degree in Advertising. Unfortunately, she gave up all that she had worked to gain for marriage, to Alex Cahill. He had been charming and outgoing for a rancher. He was six feet tall with broad shoulders, and the prettiest eyes in the state of Texas. She gave up her life, her family and friends in San Antonio to move to the outside of Houston. She did it for love. Now she was giving up her marriage to Alex for her life.

She had spent the last five years being there for him. She did everything for him; gave to him all she had. Why couldn't he do what he promised when they married? He promised to put her above all else.

"Charlotte, where are you going?" Alex came in to find her packing. He truly looked shocked.

"I am getting out. You are never home. I rarely see you any more," Charlotte said with tears in her eyes.

"It's been a busy season. You know that. I need you here with me."

"You never include me in your life, Alex. I am here at home waiting till all hours of the day, waiting to catch a small glimpse of my husband. That isn't right."

"Can't we just talk about this?" Alex didn't want to see her go.

"We have exhausted ourselves and got no where. I am tired of talking. I want a divorce."

"Where will you go?"

"Back home, to San Antonio. I love you but I can't stay here another night, not like this." Charlotte Packed what she could in two suitcases, picked them up and walked out the door. Alex stood back and watched her get into her car and drive away into the night.

July was always the hottest time of the year in Texas. The sun was rising quite early and it was setting too late. Charlotte Monroe had lived in Texas for all of her thirty years. She was used to it. It was six o'clock in the evening as Charlotte walked out to her mail box with the sun still beating down on her. She took her stack of mail from her box when she came across a brown envelope addressed to her from her lawyer. She looked inside to find the unsigned divorce papers from her soon to be ex-husband, Alex Cahill. In the five years they had been married, she never asked anything from him, except maybe his love and attention. Alex had spent so much time in the fields, doing a two man job, that he forgot he had a wife at home. All she asked of him was a divorce and he couldn't even give her that.

"You rat bastard," she thought to herself. Three times she had the papers sent to Alex and three times he had returned them. She ran inside to her apartment, picked up her phone and dialed his number. No answer. Surely, he isn't still out in the fields.

"Looks like tomorrow, I am going to have to drive down to Houston." She said later when she called her best friend, Jill. Jill Baker had been Charlotte's friend for twenty years. They had almost a life time together. Jill was by her side when she had decided to leave Alex six months ago.

"Why?" Jill asked in concern.

"Because that poor excuse husband of mine won't sign these damn papers." Charlotte was so angry. "I can't believe he keeps sending them back. I want to strangle him."

"Sounds to me like you still love him. Why again do you want a divorce?" Jill said with humor in her voice. She had thought those two belonged together. She was supportive of her friend, despite the fact that she didn't agree about the divorce.

"I wanted to come to the city to make something of myself. And I have. I am not one to be barefoot and pregnant while he is out roping his precious cows. I am very happy with my job." Charlotte said with vigor in her tone. "I am the head of my department at TY Ad Agency. I have my own life now. I gave him five years and what did I get in return? Nothing. I just couldn't stay at home and wait all day for him to return from the field. I felt trapped."

"Why didn't you try talking to him?"

"Oh I did. But he kept saying 'Next spring it'll be better, honey, and then I will have more time to spend with you.' It went on like that for 4 years and I had enough. I needed to get out."

"Well I wish you the best of luck tomorrow. Be safe."

A short time later Jill hung up and Charlotte went to go pack. She was not looking forward to this. Not only was it a long drive from San Antonio to Houston, but she was not looking forward to seeing Alex.

She left at 8 a.m. the following morning and got to the Diamond Stud Ranch around lunch time. Alex was just coming in from the corner pasture. The Diamond Stud was his baby. It was a spread of land just outside of Houston. Alex had done well for himself. It was a small spread but profitable.

He looked up and saw the dust from her car as she was pulling in the drive. "Shit," he said into the open air. He dusted his hat off and got ready to do battle with Charlotte. He knew why she had come. He expected it. What he didn't expect to see was the anger in her eyes when she got out of her Mercedes and approached him.

"Hello, Charlotte," Alex said with sunshine in his voice. "Nice to see you doing well. So, what do I owe this pleasure?"

"You know exactly why I am here." Charlotte reached into her shoulder bag to bring out the envelope. "I brought the papers out to you to watch you sign them. You'd have no excuse but to sign them."

"What makes you think I really want this divorce? I am not the one who left. I loved you six months ago when you walked that door and I love you now."

Charlotte ran her fingers through her hair trying to think of what to say. "I know you love me but it isn't enough. There are not enough hours in the day for you to do what you do and love me too. I understand that. I wanted something more. Can't you just be happy for me that I found what I was looking for?"

"How can I be happy for you when you are supposed to be here with me? We had something once. Why can't we try again?" He asked in desperation. He knew once he signed those papers, she would be out of his life forever and he didn't want that.

"It would be the same as before. You have no time for me." He had that irresistible look in those big blue eyes. He still had that power over her, to change her mind at his will. If she didn't turn and run now, she might not have the courage to do it later.

Alex could see Charlotte was getting anxious. She was ready to bolt like a cornered raccoon. He had to take his time and reel her in slowly. For starters, maybe he could convince her to stay a while. He missed her.

"Want to come in for coffee?"

"No, I don't have time."

"Can't you even consider giving us another chance, Charlotte?"

"No, I can't. I have given you five years with nothing to gain. I can't do that again." With that reply, Charlotte turned on her heels and left.

Alex was at a loss of words. It was going to take a miracle to get her back. She was the best thing he ever had and he blew it. What was he going to do?

It was almost eight o'clock when Charlotte returned home. When she left the Diamond Stud, She was so shook up she just drove around for awhile. Deep down inside she still loved him. That was a fact. But love was just not enough. She needed more; deserved more. Even he had to admit that. Their marriage was in shambles when they were together. When she returned home, she was too exhausted to eat or even undress. She went straight to bed and cried. She cried over the fact that he wasn't going to give her what she wanted without a fight, and she cried because she didn't truly want to leave him. There was just no other way.

The next day, Charlotte went to work feeling refreshed and ready to start her day. It was going to be a very busy day. She had a full schedule and she was ready to get started. Right before her two o'clock meeting she came back to her office to find a dozen white carnations, her favorite, sitting there on her desk.

"Who could these be from?" She thought with peaking interest. She looked through the flowers, smelling each one looking for the card. She took the card from the envelope and read it out loud.

"I love you with all my heart. Now and forever Alex." Charlotte didn't know what to think. Alex had never given her flowers before. He never gave her much of anything. When she thought about it he didn't give her nothing. He supported her the best way he knew how. He put a roof over her head. Right then she remembered what made her fall in love with him in the first place; his strength and god help her, those baby blue eyes.

That night when she arrived home, she walked in the door just in time to grab the phone. "Hello?" She answered in short of breath.

"Charlotte, are you ok?" It was Jill. "You sound like you've been working out. Is there a man around?" She asked with laughter.

"No, I just walked in the door. You will not believe what I got today. Alex sent me flowers. Can you believe the nerve of that man?"

"What did I tell you? He still loves you. Why won't you give him a chance?"

"Because things won't change. Listen can I call you back tomorrow? I am really tired."

"Yeah sure. See you later." With that Jill hung up.

Just as Charlotte put down the receiver, the doorbell rang. It was Alex. He was standing in the doorway with his Stetson Hat in hand. He looked almost dangerous. He was standing there in his tight jeans, white muscle bound t-shirt, and work boots. He was quite breath taking.

"You get my flowers," he asked. "I remembered you liked carnations."

"Why did you send them? It doesn't change anything for us. I still want a divorce."

He was no longer in the doorway. He was moving closer and closer to her till she could no longer breathe and they were inches apart. He had her backed into a corner. She could feel his breath on her skin and the scent of him was overwhelming.

"Why are you here?" She wanted and needed to know.

"I sent them because I thought you deserved them. I am here because I want you and you want me too. I know it."

He quickly took her mouth with his. He was rough at first and then he softened up his touch. She tried to resist, but his scent and strength were to over powering. She couldn't resist him. She never could. He quickly picked her up and carried her to her bedroom. She started to resist again and then gave up. She knew she wanted this just as much as he did.

He gently laid her down on the bed and started to take his shirt off. She stopped him. "Here let me," she said with lust in her eyes. She slowly unbuttoned his shirt, one button at a time. Once again his lips were upon hers. Next came the belt and then his pants. His head came from upon her mouth, her lips red and swollen from his kisses.

It occurred to him he didn't ask her if she was willing for this to happen. "Is this what you want, Charlotte," he asked with care.

"Yes, I am sure." Once again, he took her mouth with such vigor and want. In no time at all, her clothes joined his on the floor. He took his time to explore her body. Each breast, he took with care. His hands trailed down to her midsection, his tongue still tantalizing her breasts. He looked up at that moment and caught that familiar look in her eyes, that look of pleasure. He gave her that award winning smile and she gave him one in return. And then he continued on his journey. Every moment seemed like an hour. His mouth ventured down to her sweet spot. She moaned out in excitement. Charlotte felt like she was in heaven and didn't want to come down.

It was then at that moment he took her and they joined in union. She met him with every thrust and every burst of energy that she had left. She climbed the highest peaks till she reached her climax and Alex went with her. They went together.

An hour went past as they laid in each other's arms coming off an emotional ride. Neither wanted to talk, afraid they would ruin the moment. They simply just drifted off to sleep side by side, or so she thought. Alex laid there and just watched her sleep. He knew this had been wrong and she was going to regret it in the morning. After some time had passed, he quietly rose from the bed without waking her. He quickly grabbed his things and swiftly fled into the night. In the morning, she woke to find a note on his pillow.

"Sorry for last night. It was a mistake. I will have those papers in the mail for you soon.Alex" Not love, Alex. Just Alex. Charlotte didn't whether she wanted to punch him or cry. She wouldn't do either. She would just forget about last night and go on.

Several weeks had past since Alex and Charlotte had made love, five to be exact. He had thought about it often. He wished there was something he could do to change her mind. However, in the end he knew he couldn't. He finally relented and took the divorce papers to his lawyers and signed them Monday morning.

"I can't believe it," Charlotte had thought to herself as she got her mail that Friday. She took out the brown envelope and looked through the papers. Everything was signed and counted for. Finally, she thought, things are coming to an end.

That night, she called her friend Jill. "He finally did it. I can't believe after being separated for six months he finally signed them."

Jill noticed her friend did not sound as happy as she should. Was there a hint of regret, Jill thought with a slight smile. "What is wrong, Charlie? You should be happy."

"I know I should be. But I have this empty feeling in my stomach." It was a mixture of sadness and a feeling of losing a part of her.

" I have an idea. Let's go celebrate. I'll buy you a beer."

"That sounds wonderful." She needed to unwind for a while, release some of her stress. Charlotte was starting to feel better already. She quickly got off the phone and went upstairs to change. This was a time to celebrate. She took out her black leather skirt, white silk shirt, and black pumps. She took fifteen minutes to do her hair and makeup. By the time she was ready, Jill had arrived to pick her up. She was feeling revitalized and refreshed.

Jill and Charlotte had arrived at The Durango, one of the biggest clubs in San Antonio, thirty minutes later. Jill had walked over to the bar to order them a drink when a very charming looking guy walked over and sat down. He had the poise and the look; blonde hair, blue eyes, and a devilish smile. She seemed taken back. Not only had it been so long since she had been out, it had been that much longer since anyone of the male nature had looked her way. But, she liked it indeed. He asked her for a dance and she accepted. As they walked out to the dance floor, Charlotte started to feel faint.

"I think I need to sit down. I don't feel so good." He took her back to her table and proceeded to find Jill. When Jill had arrived, Charlotte was white.

Are you alright?" Jill asked with great concern. Never had she seen her childhood friend look so bad.

"I'll be fine. I just feel sick to my stomach." The truth be told Charlotte felt like she was going to be sick. "Can you just take me home?" Not long after, Jill had gotten their coats and they were on their way home.

The following day, Charlotte felt even worse. She tossed and turned all night. The next morning, she barely made into the bathroom before the earth started to spin. After she threw up, she felt some better, but she knew wasn't out of the woods yet. "Not to worry," she thought. "Just the flu." There was some sort of bug floating around the office. She probably just caught it.

The following week, she was still sick. She made an appointment to go see her general doctor, Susan Day, MD. After her exam the doctor called Charlotte back to her office. "Oh my god," she thought to herself. What could possibly wrong? She observed the doctor's disposition when she walked in. She's smiling. Well that has got to be something, she thought. "So," she asked. "What's wrong with me?'

The doctor looked at Charlotte with joy and happiness sparkling in her eyes. "You are going to be a mother. You are pregnant, Charlotte."

"I'm what? How is that possible? I mean, I know how, butI don't believe it."

"Given the symptoms you described and the tests that we ran, this is the final diagnosis. You are about six weeks along, I would estimate. See the secretary out front and she will schedule an appointment for an ultrasound. I do hope this is happy news for you and your husband."

"Oh, god. We are separated right now." She broke down in tears. She couldn't keep it in any more. All the emotions just built up and she just snapped. She barely was in any shape to drive. She took the doctor's advice and had Jill come to pick her up.

"You're what!" Jill didn't know what she was supposed to say to her friend. "Is this a good thing? Are you happy about this?"

"I am still in a state of shock, I think. I mean, what am I supposed to do?"

"I don't know how to ask this but who is the father?"

Charlotte looked at Jill and laughed. "Who do you think? Alex, of course."

"But how? When?" Jill was so confused and yet, so happy for her friend. "Maybe now Charlotte can find what she has been searching for," Jill thought to herself quietly.

"Remember that day that I received those flowers? Well, that night Alex came to visit me and well, things got out of hand. The last thing on my mind at the moment was birth control. What am I going to do?"

"Well for starters, you are going to have a baby," Jill said smartly.

"No, I mean about Alex. What am I going to tell him? He'll want to call off the divorce. He will want us to get back together."

"And that is such a bad thing? Couldn't this be what your marriage needed?"

"Just because I am having a baby doesn't mean he will stay home more. He always took care of his cows before he noticed his own wife; what would make him notice now?" Charlotte started to cry all over again. She was falling apart. Her whole life seemed to be in a shambles.

Jill rushed to her friend's aid with a tissue. "It'll be alright. You'll see. Even if a baby doesn't make Alex straighten up, look at what is before you. Maybe this baby will be a completion to your life."

Charlotte inhaled deeply, thinking that maybe things wouldn't be so bad after all. "You're right. This isn't the end of the world. Thank you for being for being there for me."

"No problem." A short time later, when Jill knew that Charlotte would be okay, she went home. Charlotte went to the bathroom and proceeded to wash her face. She then went downstairs and picked up the phone. She wasn't ready for this but she called Alex. "I need to see you, Alex. We need to talk." She said quickly as he answered the phone.

"Alright. You want to tell me what this is about?"

"Not on the phone. Tomorrow is Saturday and I don't have to work. How about lunch?"

Alex was having trouble dealing the fact she would tell him what was going on. However, he left that alone. "Alright. I will see you around noon."

With that said, they ended their conversation. Charlotte didn't how she was to survive this.

The next day Alex and Charlotte met at the pizzeria for lunch, just down the street from her apartment. It was a small and quaint place to eat. It was noticeable that she was uneasy and nervous.

Alex thought to start the conversation off slow and easy. "So how have you been? It has been awhile."

"I'm pregnant, Alex," she said as the waiter brought them a menu. He quickly dismissed himself, saying he would give them a few minutes to decide.

"Excuse me? Did you just say you're pregnant? By who?"

Who do you think? It's yours."

"But it was just that one time. Are you sure? Are you okay?" He was so taken back he was stumbling for words.

"Yes, I'm sure. I saw the doctor yesterday. Everything appears to be fine. You are definitely the father. But we can get a DNA test done if you want to be sure," she said with little humor.

"No, I am not questioning you. I believe you. It's justthis is so unexpected. So you are moving back home right?"

She should've seen this coming. She was astounded and angry all at once. "What makes you think I am moving home? Nothing has changed. I still want a divorce."

"But why? You are pregnant with my child. I want to do the right thing and take care of my child and wife."

Charlotte started to shake her head. "Because things won't change with you. You will still put your farm before me. I don't even come to a close second when it comes to the Diamond Stud. I understand it is your job. But I was your wife. I needed you too. I can't bring a child into this life wondering if his or her father will be there. Having to embrace one day the question from them of why their father doesn't love them. I can't do that. I can raise this child on my own. I have no problem with that."

"Well I do. This is my child too, Charlie. I take care of my own."

"You have to be there to take of things. You never wanted to consider hiring an extra hand to help so you would be around more. Like I said, I will handle this child on my own. I just thought you'd want to know." Charlie didn't even wait for lunch. She was no longer hungry. She reached for her purse, slid out of the booth and left.

Alex didn't know what to say. Why was she being so unreasonable? He knew she was stubborn and independent, but not like this. Alex knew deep down that he was not the best husband, but what could he do? He had a ranch to run. It was all he knew how to do. What exactly did she want from him?

On her way home she had a lot of time to think. Charlotte could not believe he expected her to come back to the ranch. She had her own life, and now a baby on the way. No matter how much she loved Alex, she wouldn't even begin to consider going back unless a lot of things changed. When she arrived home that afternoon, she went straight to her desk, took the brown envelope containing the divorce papers, stamped them, and proceeded to put them in the mailbox. The world was starting to look better already.

The following weeks were harsh for Charlotte. She couldn't keep anything down, couldn't sleep, and couldn't concentrate at work. The bouts of morning sickness were soon fading out, but would she still have a job by then. When she went in for her four month checkup, Dr. Day seemed quite pleased. She had gained 5 pounds. The baby seemed to be doing just fine. Charlotte was excited when she saw her baby for the first time on screen. It was no bigger than a peanut at the moment, but it was hers. The heart beat steady and strong.

When Charlotte arrived home that evening she found a message on her answering machine. It was from Alex. It had been 3 months since they had last spoken. She wondered what he could have wanted.

"Just wanted to see how you were. I have been thinking about you. Please call me." The message had ended. Her heart went out to him. He was the father. Maybe he should be included. When Charlotte awoke the next morning, she felt better than she had in weeks. Finally she could rise from bed without becoming nauseous. After she had finished her breakfast, she quickly dialed Alex's number. It was ten a.m. on a Saturday after all.

"What can I do for you this morning, Charlotte?" He was in no mood to deal with her nonsense this morning. He had ridden the fence on the back stretch this morning. He was very tired, sore.

"The reason I am calling is to tell you how the Doctor went yesterday."

"Well, so is everything okay?"

"Yes, things are fine. I heard the baby's heartbeat, and I have its very first picture."

God, he didn't want to hear this. He should've been there. Yet, she wanted to keep him at arm's length. "Well, you will have to keep me up on your progress."

She didn't want to say too much for he might read the wrong thing into what she was about to say. "I have given this some thought and I would very much like you to start attending my doctor's appointments."

"I would like that. I would like that very much."

"You need to be a part of this baby's life. You should start at the beginning. I have my next appointment next month on the 13th, at 2 p.m."

"I will put it on my calendar. Thanks, Charlie. This means a lot."

After he hung up, he went upstairs to take a shower. He felt as if they might be getting somewhere. She may not be coming home but she would let him participate in the baby's life. That had said a lot.

Charlie felt she did the right thing. He was after all the father. He deserved to at least have a chance for his child. He would make a good father, she thought. He just had to get his priorities straight. She never asked him to give up his ranch, his livelihood. All she ever wanted was to a part of his life, to have a little attention.

After she showered and dressed, Charlie decided to go a walk. She loved the city in the winter. It was almost Christmas, just three weeks away. Residential and business areas were already starting to put up Christmas lights. She may live in Texas with no snow, but the city was still beautiful. She saw on the news that a cold front was moving in so she quickly grabbed her heavy sweater and headed out the door.

Over the past week, she had noticed that her clothes no longer fit her as well as they had, all do to her pregnancy of course. While she was out, she thought she might stroll down Seventh Avenue and do some window shopping. She might as well see what kind of clothes are out there for pregnant women. As she was walking, she had discovered some nice boutiques. She walked inside, started to shop She had three outfits in hand and was considering a fourth when she heard an announcement. "The store will be closing in 15 minutes due to the weather conditions outside." She quickly gathered the four outfits she wished to purchase and went to check out. She never realized women with child could still dress so nice. She would have bought more, she wanted to, but her hands soon became full. Today she felt truly happy. As she proceeded to cross the street, however, she was so in to her own thoughts that she didn't notice what was coming next.

Just as she stepped out onto the curb, Charlotte slipped on a patch of ice. She fell backwards, smacking her head on the concrete. She was knocked unconscious and her head was bleeding. . A passer by quickly went to Charlotte's aid. He yelled to everyone in the crowd, "Does any one have a phone?" Some one from the back answered saying, Yeah, I do. Help is on the way." He took his handkerchief from his jacket and applied pressure to her head to stop the bleeding.

The ambulance quickly arrived and rushed her to the hospital. One of the nurses from the ER looked through her purse and found Alex as an emergency contact. He gave them Jill's number and told the nurse to call her for she would be closer but that he was on his way. What was he going to do? They told him very little over the phone. He didn't want to panic but what happened to Charlotte and the baby? So many things were rushing through his head. He hastily got into his truck and went as fast as he could to get to the hospital, but was still at least a 21/2 hour drive to San Antonio.

She vaguely remembered the sound of a siren. The smell of antiseptic lingered in the air. She felt nothing until she awoke several hours later in the hospital. She woke up to a nurse just finishing her vital check. The nurse looked at charlotte with a pleased smile.

"Well, look who as come back to join us. How are you feeling, Ms. Monroe?"

"I feel like my head is going to explode. And my body is so sore." My god, she thought. The baby! "My baby, is it alright?"

"Your baby is going to be fine. You just need to get some rest. You gave us a scare though. You sprained your ankle, some minor bruises and a slight concussion. You should fully recover in a few days." The nurse turned her head to the direction of the corner diagonal from the bed. "As for that young man, you need to send him home. He has been here for some time now. Not much sleep, either."

Charlotte turned her head to see Alex sleeping in the chair. Right above him was the clock. It read 2 a.m. The last thing she remembered was walking off the curb onto the crosswalk. He came and never left her side. He had never left his ranch for anything other than getting supplies. He was probably here to ensure the baby's safety, she thought. "Alex? Are you awake?"

He awoke so hard he nearly jumped clean out of his seat. "Yeah, I am now. Charlotte, how are you feeling?"

"I have had better days. The nurse told me the baby is fine. Do you know what happened?"

"You slipped on patch of ice, fell and hit your head. The hospital called me when they brought you in. They also called Jill. She went to the cafeteria to get something to eat. You have been asleep till now. Oh, and the packages you bought were recovered. They are in the closet over there." He pointed in the direction of the door next to the window.

Just then the doctor came in to see her. "You need to stay here until tomorrow afternoon for observation. Then you are to take it easy for awhile. Give your body time to heal. Do you have someone who can stay with you?"

Alex coughed and quickly said, "She's coming home with me."

Charlotte and the doctor both turned to look at Alex. The doctor immediately spoke and said, "Fine." After checking her vitals one more time, she proceeded to leave the room.

"Why would you say I am going home with you? I have a home. And a job."

"The doctor said for you to take it easy. That means you are going home with me."

"Alex, the baby is fine. I don't need for you to take care of me."

"Call your work and tell them you are taking time off. Enough said."

"No, Alex. Not enough said. You can't come in and push your way around. I am not yours anymore. I can take care of myself and don't worry about the baby. It'll be fine."

"I am not just worried about the baby, Charlotte. I care about you too. Just come to the ranch and stay with me. Just for a few days."

She knew there was no arguing with him. She did have some time coming to her. Maybe she would take it after all.

The following day, after she was released, she and Alex stepped outside to go to his truck when she stopped to look at the sky. She would never take it for granted again for she almost lost it. They got into his truck and left. They made a quick stop at her apartment to pick up personal items and things. "I will just be a minute," she said. She didn't want him to follow her up to her apartment. The less amount of contact with Alex the better. She quickly went up to her place and grabbed a suitcase. She was only going to be there a few days after all.

"Are you almost ready?" She wasn't ready for the voice behind her. Alex had followed her up after all. She whipped around so fast at the sound of his voice that she reached for her side in pain. She momentarily forgot about her injuries.

"I told you I would only be a minute," she said in shortness of breath. Why did he have to follow her up here? She could handle this herself.

"I came up to see if you needed some help, and obviously you do. So what else do you need?"

"Some toiletries from the bathroom. My Toothbrush, hairbrush, makeup." She didn't realize how much energy she used. She was so tired. Charlotte didn't like feeling helpless. She struck out on her own so she wouldn't have to feel that way again.

A few minutes later, they finished packing her bag and headed down the stairs. As they were going down, she started to wince in pain. She tried to hide her hurt, and move on but Alex quickly picked up on it. He promptly reached for her arm to help her down. Charlotte looked at him with a frown but slowly started to smile a thank you.

As they approached Alex's truck, he once again reached for her arm to help her inside. Once she was fastened in, he went around to the other side and got in. He started the engine, put it in drive, and they left. It was a three hour ride from Charlotte's apartment to his ranch. After an hour of silence, he looked over at Charlotte. She was fast asleep. He had a flashback. He remembered how he used to watch her at night while she slept. He used to stroke her long hair as it lay across her pillow. God, he missed her, he thought to himself. Her scent in the bathroom as it lingered after her shower. She made his house into a home. Charlotte put joy and life into everything she did. He couldn't stand to see her leave the first time; how was he going to survive it twice?

A bump in the road caused Charlotte to open her eyes. They were almost to the Diamond Stud. They were on the outskirts of the property. She looked to see Alex lost in his thoughts. She wondered what he was thinking, but was too afraid to ask. She would only be here for a few days and then back to her home. Things would be back to normal. I bet Jill is loving this, she thought to herself. Her friend never wanted to see them separate. Her parents were more than happy to see their marriage end.

Her thoughts took her back to when she and Alex first got engaged. Her parents were against them from the start. He wasn't good enough for the Monroe's. He was just a lowly rancher going nowhere. Charlotte thought different. She saw potential in him. Then they were married and she moved to the ranch. After two years she started to see things weren't as easy as she thought they would be. She had no job, Jill was miles away. Her husband was always gone. She felt so alone. It took time but she finally got the courage to venture out on her own. Remembering those times made Charlotte feel like crying. Tears started to trickle down her cheeks.

Alex caught her actions out of the corner of his eye. "Are you alright," he asked. He was afraid the bumpy long ride home had hurt her in some way.

"No, it's just hormones. I'm fine really." She continued to look out the window. If she looked at him, she feared he would see the truth in her eyes.

"We are about 10 minutes from the house. So just relax ok? I promise not to bite." He still had the ability to make her laugh.

"All I want is a hot bath and a nice warm bed."

"Don't worry. I've got that at least. I have a housekeeper so you won't have to lift a finger. Just take it easy."

"You're kidding, right? Mr. Do it Yourself Alex Cahill has some help? Wow. I have to say I am surprised."

Just then she turned to look out the window and she saw the house. It looked different some how, of course she hadn't been here for 4 months now. As they pulled up, a middle aged, slightly white haired woman came out the front door. She looked to be somewhere in her forties. You never ask a woman her age though! She was moderately dressed, wearing blue jeans and button up shirt. The sort of clothing suited for a ranch. Apparently she had been doing some cleaning; she was drying her hands with a towel. She hurriedly approached Charlotte's side of the truck to help her out. Charlotte noticed after looking at this woman's face she had a rough life. Her smile never quite reached her eyes.

"Hi! You must be Charlotte. I'm Mia Douglas. Mr. Cahill told me to be expecting you tonight. I have got a nice stew going and rolls in the oven. Upstairs, I have made up your bed."

"Thank you so much. I think right now I just want a bath and a nap." Charlotte was exhausted.

"Go on upstairs. I will bring in your bags, Alex said as he stood behind her. As Charlotte took off into the house, Alex said in a low voice to his house keeper. "Keep an eye on her. I don't want her to do anything strenuous."

"Don't worry. She and the baby will be fine." Mia had no doubts about that. She worried about Alex though. She had only been working for him a short time, but she could tell he still loved that girl, and not just because of the baby.

Upstairs, Charlotte looked around her room. This used to be cluttered, old and full of dust, she thought to herself. Now look at it. It had a full size bed, a night stand, an old rocking chair in the corner. Up against the wall opposite the window was a refurnished desk. Next she ventured into the bathroom. An old fashioned, four legged tub had replaced the small rusted tub that was there before. There were clean towels hanging up on the rack. Alex had truly out done himself, she thought.

She ran herself a nice hot bath. She needed to soak and take it easy. She undressed hurriedly to get in and savor the warmth. She laid her head back against the tub and closed her eyes. She was just going to relax a minute, then wash and get out.

Outside she heard knocking. Obviously more than a minute went by. She heard knocking. The housekeeper, what was her name, was pounding on the door. Rapidly, Charlotte got out and retrieved her robe that she put on the sink. "I'm coming, I'm coming," she said. She opened the door and stepped out.

"I just wanted to see how you were. You were in there over an hour. Are you alright, dear?" The housekeeper asked.

"Oh, I'm fine. I guess I fell asleep. Thank you for coming to get me. I hate to ask this but what is your name again," Charlotte asked laughing.

Mia joined her in laughing. "That's alright. Call me Mia. Are you hungry? Dinner is almost ready."

"Yes, I am starving. I will be down in a minute. I'm just going to get dressed." Charlotte turned on her heel and went into her room to change. She got in her bag and took out of the maternity outfits she had purchased before her accident. She looked at her self in the mirror that was on the back of the door. My, she was getting round. She took her hand and ran it across her middle. At that moment, in that instant she could be the baby move for the first time. Nothing as strong as a kick, just a flutter. It was a wonderful feeling. Quickly she finished getting dressed and went down stairs to join the others.

Alex and Mia were setting the table in the kitchen when she arrived. They both looked at her and greeted her with a smile. She couldn't believe it. Alex was helping in the kitchen. The food smelled wonderful. She realized she hadn't eaten in over six hours. Definitely not good. All three gathered around the table for this gorgeous meal.

Charlotte was the first to say to Mia, "This is wonderful. What kind of stew is this?"

"It was a recipe of my mother's. It's an Irish stew."

Charlotte was so amazed in this woman; she looked at Alex and said, "You should have hired this woman sooner." The women chuckled as Alex just ate his meal. He was in no mood for laughing. He was truly hurting. Damn this woman, he thought to himself. She just won't realize how much he wants her back.

Soon after they eat, Charlotte rose to help clear the table. "No," Mia was the first to stop the madness. "You are to do nothing."

"Well, then I am heading for bed. Mia, thank you so much for dinner. Good night." She turned and said to Alex, "Thank you Alex for letting me stay here and good night." She walked away and went upstairs.

Sitting down on her bed, she started to think about this baby. Several things ran in her mind. Should it be without its father? Can she really raise it on her own? She looked around the room and really started to see things as they were. She was a lonely woman. Yes, she walked out on her marriage. Yes, she had a great job, nice friends, and a wonderful apartment. Being in this house brought back memories, good and bad. She laid her head down, closed her eyes, and drifted off to sleep.

The next morning, she woke up to the sun shining on her face; feeling refreshed. It took her a minute to realize where she was. She was back on the ranch. She was going to have to face Alex for the next week. She could do this, she thought. They had the housekeeper. It wasn't like they were totally alone. She rose from bed and went to pick out her wardrobe. Seeing how it was a ranch, she opted for maternity jeans and a pullover sweater. She put on her tennis shoes and walked down stairs to find Mia doing the breakfast dishes. Charlotte looked around the kitchen for something to eat and drink.

"I saved you some eggs and bacon from breakfast. I thought you might be hungry. You have two to feed after all."

Mia must be a morning person, Charlotte thought to herself. "Thank you so much. I felt like I slept forever. Look at the time. It's almost ten."

"You have had a rough couple of days. You need your rest." Mia turned her attention back to her dishes.

Charlotte was curious about this woman. Who was she? Has she family. "Mia, tell me about you," Charlotte asked as she started on her eggs.

Mia turned back around, towel in hand. "What would you like to know?"

"Well for starters, I am from Austin. I have lived around these parts only for a short time. I was looking for work when I ran into Mr. Alex. He offered me this job."

"Do you have family?"

"I had a husbandonce. Jimmy died three years ago. I have a daughter. She is in college now."

"I am so sorry about your husband, Mia. I bet you miss him a lot."

Mia looked distant for a moment, then turned to Charlotte and said, "Every day. You never know what you have till it is gone. But my daughter, Hannah, is doing well. She is going to take after her father, that one. He was a good man. Hard worker. He loved his family. I see my husband every day though, in my daughter." Tears started to rise up in both women. They just looked at each other and smiled in understanding. Mia went about doing her daily chores and Charlotte decided to take a leisurely walk.

She went upstairs to grab a sweater and out the door she went. It was a nice day. The temperature was in the sixties, the sun was shining, and no cloud in the sky. Charlotte followed the gravel road that led the barn. Inside, there were five horses, three more than when she lived here. Things sure had changed with Alex since she left. He had more horses and even more cattle, more than enough to take up his whole day, she thought sadly. She slowly raised her hand to touch one of the horses when someone grabbed her from behind.

"Not that one," Alex said. "He has a bite." He slowly moved Charlotte over to the next stall to meet Sugar, his quarter horse. "Now this one will treat you right." Alex stood behind her, took her hand and began to introduce her to Sugar. The horse started to weave her head in anticipation. "I think she already likes you."

Alex continued to guide her hand. Charlotte unknowingly to herself leaned slightly back and inhaled deeply. There was that scent that could only be described as "Man". Alex didn't intend for this to be an intimate moment. However, here he was, standing with his pregnant wife in his arms. They weren't divorced yet. He gradually turned her around to face him. He cupped her face in his hands and ever so gently kissed her lips. His brain said to stop but his heart said to keep going.

She knew this was wrong. She knew they shouldn't be doing this but, it felt so good. She slowly wrapped her arms around Alex's neck and deepened the kiss. Things were getting intense. Charlotte's brain kicked in at that moment and she said, "We have to stop this."

He was trying to catch his breath and replied, "I know. I'm sorry. I got carried away and caught up with the moment. It won't happen again. I should go. I have work." He rushed off out of the barn and she was left alone. How did things get so complicated, she thought to herself. Moving her hand to her middle she was suddenly reminded. As if on cue, the baby moved. For being 4 months along, the baby did move a lot.

A short time later, Charlotte put herself back together and walked back to the house. Hoping not to see Alex for awhile, seeing how it was only one o'clock, she walked into the kitchen to find Mia starting to prepare a roast. Earlier, the two women seemed to reach out to each other and connect. Possibly they could do it again. Charlotte had no one to confide in. Jill was out of town, she told her last night. She needed some one.

"Got a minute, Mia?"

She must not have heard Charlotte come in. She looked startled as she turned around. "I'm sorry. I didn't hear you. Sure. I was almost done any way." She could see in Charlotte's eyes that something was amiss. "What's the matter, dear? Come sit down."

As Mia led Charlotte to the table she began to cry. Mia offered her shoulder to cry on. As Charlotte finished she looked up at Mia. "Everything is such a mess. I really want this divorce, I do, but I love him so much. I'm not sure what's right any more. What if I come back here to the ranch and things are the way they were before? And what about my job? I love my job. I have finally got things on the right track."

Mia looked at her and said, "Do you? Sounds to me you want to be two places at once. I know what it's like to want the best of everything. My Jimmy was no prize. Our marriage started out rough. But he managed to straighten up once Hannah came along. He realized he needed help. He just had to figure out how to ask. Children can have that effect on people, especially men. Charlotte, what you have to ask yourself is what do you want and how do you wish to get it."

Mia left her to go upstairs to finish up her chores. Charlotte wished she knew what do. She had to get home. Things were getting to confusing. She felt like she couldn't breathe. She promised Alex she would stay a few days. I'll give him 2 more, she thought to herself, and then she was going home.

Alex had just finished herding the cattle back to the main pasture for the night. It was an all day job when he was the only one doing it. He thought about what had occurred in the barn earlier. She still wanted him. That was obvious. Sex had never been their problem. The rest of the marriage had been a problem. Alex had really thought that things were going good. Charlotte never complained. But now that he thought about it, he was to busy to notice even if she was. As he headed to the barn to put away his horse, an idea had struck. He needed a helping hand, someone to help him get the job done and someone who knew the ropes. But who did he know that wanted a job like this? He would run an ad in the paper. For so many years, he had been doing this job alone thinking he had to. Maybe he nothing to prove anymore. Tomorrow, he would go into town and place an ad in the Herald.

That night at dinner, Alex made an announcement. "I'm going to get another hand for the ranch."

Charlotte and Mia looked up from their dinner. First they looked at him, and then they looked at each other and smiled. They both knew this was hard for Alex. Charlotte was the first to comment. "All I can say, is it's about time. Do you know who?"

"No, not yet. I'm going to the paper in a few days and run an ad." He looked uneasy about his decision. He looked down at his plate and continued eating. Something was bothering him, Charlotte could tell. His eyes looked weary and he looked deeply stressed. Charlotte wished there was something she could do to ease his troubles.

Later that evening as Charlotte was going up to bed, she stopped at Alex's office door. She knocked, unsure if he was in. "Come in." As she entered she saw him sitting in front of his computer, checking ledgers.

He looked up as Charlotte walked in. Even without makeup and in her robe, she was stunning. He could hardly concentrate. "Ummwhat can I do for you? I thought you had gone to bed."

"I saw your light on and thought I would say goodnight."

Her smile could light up a room, Alex thought to himself. "You said goodnight in the kitchen. What is it you really want?" He was getting hard just having her so close in this tiny room.

"I could tell something was troubling you at dinner. Want to tell me what it was?" She saw something in his eyes at that moment. Desire was burning right through him. She could see it. Her brain was telling her she needed to get out of there, however her hormones were telling her different.

"I don't want to think about that. I want something else." He rose from his chair, walked around his desk in what seemed like two strides. He grabbed her quickly before she had time to run and kissed her. He wanted her so much he could no longer stand it.

"Stop. We need to stop right now."

It was written all over her face that she didn't want this the way he did. He wanted her, needed her. But she was right, yet again. He let go and backed up to the door. He vowed right then he would not do this again unless she was the initiator. She had to come to him.

She looked at Alex with great concern. Her staying here was hard for them both. "I would appreciate it if you took me home tomorrow. I have been here long enough."

"Don't leave because of me. You still aren't fully recovered."

"Alex, I have to. This is difficult for the both of us. I am well enough that I can manage."

He went to her and softly put his hand on her stomach, "What about the baby?" Just then he felt it. At first he looked down at her middle in shock. "Was that what I think it was?" He looked up again to see tears come to Charlotte's eyes. "How long has this been happening?"

"Just a few days." She couldn't stop the tears.

"Oh, baby. Don't cry. I'm sorry for earlier. I was thinking with the wrong head." There was that smile of hers again. "It won't happen again, I promise."

"I'm going to bed now. Goodnight, Alex. But before I go, will you promise to take me home tomorrow?"

He knew he had lost her. She was going home and that would be that. "Yeah, Charlotte. I can do that."

As Charlotte lay in bed later, she thought to herself. Why was he doing all this? He got a maid, and now he is getting help with the ranch. Is he doing it for himself or is he trying to get her back? All these questions rose in her head. It was late. She didn't expect to come up with answers tonight. She was going home tomorrow and that would be that.

He shouldn't have come on so strong, he thought to himself after she left his office. What the hell was he thinking? She high tailed it out of there quicker than a jackrabbit, but should he blame her? Tomorrow he would have to endure the pain of watching her leave yet again. He knew she would want to go home eventually, but not so soon. He acted like such a pure bred jackass.

The following morning, as Alex was warming up the truck, Charlotte was in the kitchen saying her goodbyes to Mia. "You take care, girl. Call me anytime if you need anything," Mia said as they embraced.

"It was so nice to meet someone like you. Please do something for me. Take care of Alex."

Mia looked at her with deep compassion. "You know I will. You could stay a few more days you know."

"I know, but I can't. I will promise to take it easy." The two women embraced once more before Alex came in.

His voice was gruff. "It's time to go, Charlotte." He turned around hastily and walked back out the door.

Charlotte quickly grabbed her shoulder bag and walked out to the truck. Obviously Alex was in no mood for conversation. She turned her attention to the scenery out the window. After an hour of silence she turned to Alex and asked, "Why is it that you waited till now to hire a hand for the ranch?"

He quickly glanced in her direction. "I just felt now was the right time, that's all."

"I have been asking you for years to get help."

"I'm just tired of doing it all myself. I know I'm only thirty but my body is telling me I am too old. Besides, you told me I could attend to your doctor's appointments. So I need someone there to look after things."

Ok, so he was only doing it for the baby. So, was last night one final chance for him to get her back? She didn't know what to think. She only knew she couldn't wait to get home. It dawned on her just then Christmas was only 2 weeks away and she was going to be all alone. How depressing was that?

"Alex, what are you doing for the holiday?" She regretted the question immediately after she asked it.

"Mia is cooking the holiday dinner. After I tend to the stock, I am taking the rest of the day off. Why?"

"I was just curious is all. It occurred to me that this would be the first holiday I would be spending alone. Jill is spending it with her new boyfriend that I have never even met. My parents are traveling Europe."

"If I promise to keep me hands to my self would you like to have dinner with us? I think Mia has invited her daughter. You would have a chance to meet her."

"Thank you for the invitation, but I think I will go ahead and stay home. I have to get used to being alone, right?"

Alex saw the sudden change in her. She would probably chalk it up to hormones if he asked her what was wrong, he thought to himself. He couldn't figure out just what exactly she wanted. Was it freedom and independence? One minute she acted like she had regrets about wanting a divorce and the next, she was back to the woman who had left him some time ago. "What is it you're wanting, Charlotte? Are you having second thoughts about getting a divorce? Do you still want it? What is it really that's bothering you? Are you now afraid of me?"

"Now I'm not so sure of anything any more. The one thing I am sure of in all this mess is this baby. Why does everything have to be so complicated?"

He pulled over to the side of the road, killed the engine, and turned to her. It was about time they had this out. "What is so complicated, Charlotte?"

"This, us. Everything."

"Who says things have to be complicated? Things can be very simple. I love you and it is very obvious you still love me."

Charlotte looked at him searching for the right words. "It was never about love, Alex. That wasn't why I left. You know that."

"If I could go back in time and change things I would, but I can't. I am hiring that extra hand for you Charlotte. I was hoping it would bring you back. Is there any chance in that? Is there any chance in us?"

"I'm sorry, Alex. I just don't know. I want to say yes. I really do. But what about my job and the life I have created for myself? I don't to just give that up."

"I wouldn't ask you to. I wish I could make up for the last three years of our marriage, Charlotte. I would give anything to take them back."

"Isn't there some way we can work this out? Has it really come down to a divorce?"

Charlotte was at a loss for words. He was right. Did it really come down to this? She knew in her heart a divorce wasn't what she wanted, but what if he hurt her again? What was she to do?

"Charlotte, could we work this out, you and me? I'm not asking you to move back in, not right now. Can we take things one step at a time?"

"I don't know. I just don't know. We'll see."

"See, that's a start." Alex turned the engine back on and continued to take Charlotte home. They were making progress.

Alex stayed at her apartment just long enough to bring in her bags. He sat them by the front door, turned to her, kissed her on the cheek and left. She was left with a lot to think about. Should she give him another chance? Maybe he has changed.

Alex drove home with a smile. He hasn't felt this good in a long while. Christmas was just two weeks away. He thought he'd get something really nice for Charlotte. They hadn't made any plans, but he thought he would surprise her. He needed to show her he has changed. Not only for the baby but for her as well. Suddenly, an idea struck him. He should court her, start over fresh, make a new beginning. Tomorrow he would send her flowers enclosed with an invitation. It's better to start off small so not to scare her yet again.

Charlotte woke the next morning, more serene and refreshed than the night before. She had called Jill when she arrived home and they had made plans to do some Christmas shopping around ten. She had to promise to take it easy. She quickly jumped into the shower. Jill would be here any minute. She dried off and picked a red sweater and black maternity slacks to wear with a pair of loathers. She was feeling good about this day. Suddenly the door bell rang. She looked at the clock. It was only nine thirty. Jill must be early, she thought to herself. She rushed downstairs to answer the door only to find a delivery man, with an arm full of red roses. The gentleman politely said, "Is this the Monroe residence?"

"I'm Charlotte Monroe."

"Then these are for you."

She signed the delivery form, tipped the man, and he was on his way. She had a feeling who they were from. She couldn't help but to smile. She sat the beautiful crystal vase down on the coffee table and read the card aloud. "Come to dinner with me @ 7:00 tonight. Pick you up at sixAlex." What was she going to do with that man? He never gives up. Alright, she will go to dinner with him, she decided. He's trying to change. She should at least give him a chance.

A half hour later, Jill arrived and saw the vase of flowers. She couldn't help but to smile. Here was something she could give her friend a hard time about. "So, do you have a secret admirer," she said to Charlotte with a wicked grin.

"They're from Alex, but I guess you already figured that."

This was going to be fun for Jill. These two belonged together, not separated by stupid shit, she thought to herself. "So, Charlotte, what does he want?"

"He wants dinner and that is all I am going to give him. He has already given me this," her hand swept over her round stomach, "the least I can do is give him dinner."

"So how is the little one?" Just as Jill put her hand on Charlotte's stomach the baby moved." Wow, I think you have yourself a dancer in there," she said with a smile. Charlotte nodded in agreement, grabbed her sweater, and they were off.

They hit the small shops in mid town San Antonio first. She managed to find a quaint little shop and found her mother an antique clock, her father a civil war novel she thought he would like. Next they went to the bigger shopping mall downtown. While her friend wasn't looking she found a locket she bought for Jill. They had been shopping for three hours when they stopped for a bite to eat. Charlotte had been craving for some Chinese food. Jill noticed something was on her friend's mind. She hoped Charlotte wasn't in any kind of pain. They had been hitting it a little too hard.

"Are you alright, Charlotte? You're not hurting are you?"

"Oh no, I'm fine, really. I was just thinking. Should I buy Alex a gift? We are technically separated, but I think we are going to try to work things out, one step at a time of course. I just don't know if getting him a gift is saying too much."

"Depends on the gift. What do you want the gift to say exactly? Do you want a gift for the father of your child or a gift that says I want to jump your bones?" One thing about Jill, she had a sense of humor. That was one thing Charlotte loved about her. Charlotte decided on a gift in the sense of the former, not the latter. As they walked on, the girls came across a picture frame shop. She thought of the perfect gift for Alex, An engraved picture frame. She had the perfect gift to put in it. She was going to keep that a secret to herself for now.

As they finished their shopping, it dawned on Charlotte she had nothing to wear for dinner that night. She had plenty of pants and tops, but no dress. She and Jill wandered over to the Mother to Be shop. The store owner was a great help. She showed them a wide selection of dresses in different lengths and styles. Charlotte opted for a velvet red, ankle length dress. Not only did it accentuate her stomach but it brought out her presence as well. The ladies were quite pleased with themselves. They finished with their shopping and Jill took Charlotte home. She looked tired and worn out. A nap was definitely in order. They said their goodbyes and Jill was on her way.

Charlotte went upstairs, hung her dress in the closet, put the gifts she purchased in her night stand and laid down. It was three o'clock now so she set her alarm for five. That would give her an hour to get ready. She was proud of her gift for Alex, she thought as she drifted off to sleep.

Alex was on the road to San Antonio by three. He couldn't believe he was going to court his own wife. Suddenly he was giddy and elated by the idea. It was going to be Christmas soon. Should he get Charlotte something? A small gift maybe. Something that doesn't say too much but says just enough. They haven't been together for some time now, what could she possibly want? He remembered what she used to want. After the first year of their marriage, she wanted a cat; a big fluffy black cat. He always fought her about it. Maybe that would be the perfect gift.

Charlotte could hear the buzzing of the alarm clock. She was sleeping so comfortably she didn't want to wake up. Then it dawned on her, dinner, in an hour! She rose in a flash, showered and dressed all in a half hour. She had enough time to do something with her hair and makeup. It was just Alex, what was she so nervous about? She looked in the mirror when she had finished. She had to admit. She looked good for a woman almost five months pregnant, and she felt even better. Alex would be here any minute, she thought to herself. She made sure to grab her purse and a sweater. One last check and she was ready to go. By the time she got downstairs, the doorbell rang.

"Wow, you look fantastic," he said. She looked radiant.

"You don't look to bad yourself," she replied. He stood in her doorway wearing his usual blue jeans and boots but he had on an actual suit jacket and tie. Charlotte couldn't take her eyes off of him.

He noticed her eyes on him. "Do I have something on my face," running his hand across his cheek.

"No, no. you just look really great, that's all. Are we ready to go?"

"Yeah. I made reservations at that Italian restaurant down by the river," he said while helping her into the truck.

"That sounds fine. I haven't been there in a while."

He went around to his side and got in. Charlotte noticed he looked nervous. It was nice to see a different side of him. Who was this suited man sitting next to her and what did he do with Alex?

To take her mind off of him, she thought to make casual conversation until they reached the restaurant. "So, how is Mia?" For the short time she knew the woman, she thought she made a friend.

"She's fine. Her daughter will be coming in the next week. I had planned to give her a couple days off." Charlotte was beautiful tonight, he thought to himself. He needed to concentrate on the road, but her perfume. Was it new? No, no, he told himself. This wasn't going to get intimate tonight. It was just dinner.

The restaurant was excellent. Their table was quaint, quiet, and lit with candlelight. It was very romantic. While they wait for their dinner to arrive, they continued with mild conversation.

"I managed to hire an extra hand the other day. He's just out of the rodeo circuit looking for work."

"That's great."

"Yeah, I'm not to sure. This is all new for me."

She's never seen Alex react like this. Of course, he's never asked for help before. He thought she would change the subject to make things a little easier for him. "Are you still coming to my appointment next month?"

"I can't believe how big you are getting. Oh my god, that came out the wrong way."

She has never seen him blush. He was truly embarrassed. She thought it was humorous. "Don't worry about it. Yes, I am growing. If you hadn't noticed, I have had to buy new clothes. The baby moves constantly it seems like."

He quickly took her hand in his and said, "You know, Charlotte, that is something we haven't really discussed. How exactly do you feel about all this? I know how you feel about me, but how do feel towards the baby?"

"I don't hate you, Alex, if that's what you think. I am willing to try to work things out with you but I can't promise anything. As for this baby, I love it even though it isn't here yet. It's the greatest thing that's happened for me."

"Me too." They shared a look that spoke of love and understanding. No intimacy, no desire, just an understanding between two expectant parents. They finished the rest of their dinner in silence.

An hour later, he dropped her off at her doorstep and kissed her cheek. She said thank you for dinner and he left. Dinner went better than she had hoped. Alex has truly seemed to soften up a bit. She was starting to feel things might work out for them.

As he was driving home, Alex felt he was really winning her back. It was a long journey but he was finally getting somewhere. She was almost five months along, he only had four and half months left to get her to come home. His next project: clean out the spare bedroom for the baby.

Over the next couple weeks, Alex and Charlotte shared phone conversations, and two dinners. Christmas came before they realized. Alex invited her to come to dinner and she accepted. She missed Mia and couldn't wait to sample her Christmas dinner. She also couldn't wait to give Alex his gift. She was to be there around two and so she was on the road by ten thirty, giving herself enough time. She liked to be prompt.

Mia was the first to greet her at the door. She gave Charlotte a huge hug and a very warm smile. "My, look at you. You are growing." Just then another woman came to stand beside Mia. Charlotte could tell right off it was Mia's daughter. They had subtle differences, but there were similarities. She must have gotten more of her father's features. "Charlotte, this is my Hannah. Hannah, this is Mr. Alex's wife, Charlotte." Mia quickly looked at Charlotte and realized what she said. "Oh, I am sorry."

"Oh, that's ok. Hannah, it's nice to meet you." Hannah quickly took her extended hand.

Mia ushered Charlotte in and took her coat. "Mia, where is Alex?"

"Oh, he had some things to clear up at the barn. He said he would be up shortly." Mia motioned her into the kitchen. Everything smelled heavenly. There were sweet potatoes in the oven as well as baked beans. The ham and turkey were done. It looked like most of everything was done. "Is there anything I can do?" She was dying to help.

"You want to make a salad?" Mia quickly handed Charlotte the ingredients; the lettuce, cheese, two eggs, cucumbers, and so on. "So, how have you been? It's been a while." The older woman looked at her and smiled.

"Not to bad. I have been taking it easy mostly. The baby's great."

Just then, Alex came in with an angry look on his face. He was covered in mud from head to toe. "That stupid mangy animal," he was grumbling to himself. He looked up and noticed he wasn't alone. He had three women trying not to laugh.

Charlotte tried her hardest to suppress her laughter. She had never seen him so filthy. "Are you alright," she asked spilling over with laughter.

"I'm fine. A heifer jumped the fence. Had a hell of a time to getting her back in." He took a good look at himself and couldn't help but laugh either. "You should see Randy. He took the worst hit. Just give me a minute to clean up and I'll be back down."

As he left, Charlotte turned to Mia, "Who's Randy?"

"He's the new hand Mr. Alex got. He's quiet. Stays in the barn mostly."

The three women picked up where they left off with dinner. They were just about done when Alex came back down. "My, it smells good." Dinner was great. The four of them decided to open gifts before it got to late. Charlotte still had to drive home.

Mia and Hannah exchanged theirs first. Then Charlotte gave her gift to Alex. She saw tears in his eyes as he started to open it. It was an engraved picture frame with the baby's first ultrasound photo. He had no words. The silver picture frame had said 'To the greatest dad in the world.' He truly didn't know what to say. He said nothing at all. Hopefully, Charlotte likes her gift just as well. He brought out the box. He had to poke tiny unnoticeable holes in the top as to not give away the gift.

Charlotte untied the ribbon and lifted off the top in anticipation. Inside, curled in a ball, was a tiny black kitten. Now she had tears in her eyes. Alex knew she had always wanted a kitten. The tiny bundle was so precious. Most of the afternoon, the four just enjoyed each other's company with mild conversation. As the afternoon ended Charlotte rose saying she had to go.

"Do you really have to go right now?" Alex didn't want to see her leave.

"Yes, I do. I still have a ways to get home. Oh, thank you so much for the kitten."

He got her sweater and walked her out to her car. "I want to see you again," he said looking at her with that one look, that look that spoke of desire.

"You'll see me on the thirteenth. Isn't that soon enough?" She knew where he was going. She wasn't sure if they were ready for that yet.

"Next week, Thursday, I have some business to attend to. How about dinner afterwards?"

"Alex, really, you don't have drive all that way just for dinner."

"No, but I want to. Please, Charlotte. I want to see you."

He looked at her with those pleading blue eyes. "Alright. Dinner it is."

"Great. See you then." He watched her pull out of the drive before he went back in. This arrangement was really working out.

Over the next week, he spent his days in the field, and his nights making a room for the baby. It was coming along well. He had fresh paint on the walls. He had furnished it with a dresser, crib, and a rocking chair. A lady at the baby store helped him pick out neutral colors for the blankets and sheets for the bed. He found some tiny stuffed bears to go on top of the dresser. He was proud of himself.

Charlotte was finally feeling strong enough to go back to work. She had so much to catch up on that week. Everyone was very gracious as to her return. However, she had meeting every day that week and several reports due. She was swamped. Thursday came and she was still behind. She called Alex to cancel. All she got was the answering machine.

"Alex, I'm sorry but I have to cancel our dinner date. I am overloaded at work. See you soon." Charlotte he would be disappointed, but she couldn't help it. She had work to do and that was important too.

Alex got home just in time to hear Charlotte's message. She's standing me up, he thought. They were doing so well. How could she do that? How could she put work between them? He went upstairs, took a shower and changed his clothes. Maybe he wasn't to take it personal. If she couldn't make it for dinner, then dinner would come to her. He quickly made a phone call. Then, he was off to San Antonio.

Charlotte was still in her office at seven. She was so tired. She was lost in her work when she heard a knock at her door. Who is still here at this hour, she thought. "Come in." She didn't even look up to see Alex walk in with a cart full of food.

"Charlotte?" He didn't want to scare her, but she hadn't even looked up. "Charlotte," he said again.

"Alex. What are you doing here?" She didn't quite understand. Didn't he get her message?

"I thought I might bring you dinner. Hungry?" Why wasn't she excited to see him?

"Didn't you get my message? I was to busy for dinner tonight."

"I know. I brought dinner to you." She still didn't look happy.

"I have no time. I have these deadlines I have to finish and a report I have to do. I just have no time."

"But you have to eat. If not for yourself then do it for the baby."

"The baby is fine. I had a snack earlier. Alex, really, I can't have dinner with you tonight."

He took the food dishes off the tray and started to put them on the desk, then the glasses. He filled them with juice. "Come on, Charlotte. Just a little."

"Alex, I said I can't. Will you just go? I will call you tomorrow." Why wasn't he taking the hint? She had work to do. Just then one of the glasses spilled over everything on her desk. All of her documents that she had spent all night working on.

"Will you look what you did? Alex, I can't replace these like magic. Why couldn't you just go when I asked?" She frantically tried to salvage what was left of her desk.

"I can't believe you're mad? It was an accident. It's just some papers any way. They didn't look important."

"Not important? This is my work, Alex. Can't you understand that? My work is important to me."

"I thought I was important too. I can see where your priorities lie. I thought we were on the verge of working things out."

Was he jealous? Is that what this was about? "You don't like it now that the shoe is on the other foot, do you?"

He was getting angry. "What the hell does that mean?"

"That means now that I have my career back on track you don't like to play second fiddle. Maybe now you know how I felt all those years."

"What I don't get is why you got so mad in the first place. It's not like you were going to stay with your job anyway."

She stopped cleaning for just a moment to look at him. "Just what do you mean? You thought if you wined and dined me all enough, I would come back to you didn't you? You did, didn't you? I am not quitting my job again, Alex. I can't go back."

"You act like me coming here to surprise you has been an inconvenience."

"Look at my desk and say that again. This has been your problem all along. You never listen. I told you I was busy. Is your ranch just a job for you or is it your livelihood? This is my livelihood. I enjoy working. Now you come in here and mess it up, a week's worth of work down the drain. I think it's time you go, Alex."

"Fine, I have better things to do at home any way." He forgot all about the tray, grabbed his hat and stormed out the door. Screw her if her job is more important! He got into his truck and left in a hurry. Right now, he needed a beer.

Charlotte couldn't believe him and his arrogance. Why couldn't he see how much working meant to her? This was not the middle ages any more where the women stayed home. She had so much work she had to redo and finish, but right now all she wanted to do was go home. She gathered what she could salvage, grabbed her purse and keys and went to her car.

A week went by and no word from Alex. That suited her just fine. It took her most of the weekend to finish what he messed up. Maybe she was a little hard on him, she thought to herself. Her doctor's appointment was next Monday; she would apologize to him then. But he had to understand. She was not going to give up what she worked so hard to gain for him, not again.

Alex was sitting in his room, trying to put some perspective on things. He had worked so hard over the past week, trying to forget about what happened between the two of them. He finally completed the baby's room. It was a pale yellow with a blue border around the top with dog shapes sponged in. Despite the fact he had some time to cool off he couldn't figure out what was wrong with her. Shouldn't family come first? And what was going to happen when the baby came. Surely, she wouldn't work while the baby was still little. He just didn't get it. What was wrong with women these days?

He was so consumed in himself; he didn't hear the knock on the door. It was Mia. "Are you ever going to come down for dinner?"

"Yeah in a minute."

"You know, you need to go talk to her."


"Who," she laughed. "You know who. I talked to her you know. When she was here to recover. Don't you see what's going on here?"

"I must be blind. Do tell."

"Sorry boss, but you're being a stupid ass. Don't you see what working does for her? It keeps you from hurting her again and that is what she is afraid of. You two no longer have yourselves to think about here. You two have that baby. She is afraid you're not going to be there. Why should she have to give up working? Why should she have to give up her independence?"

"He looked up at her all wide eyed. " I have never asked her to do that." Then he remembered what he said that night. Just a job. He came barging in, forcing her to pay attention to him. He was being a selfish arrogant son of a bitch. Like he has always been. God, he was so wrong. He looked at Mia for advice. "You're a woman. So tell me what do I do?"

Mia looked at her boss and smiled. "You walk to her on your hands and knees and beg for forgiveness." Easier said than done. He wasn't the begging type. He had to learn and learn pretty quick.

Charlotte arrived at the Doctor's office ten minutes early on Monday. No sign of Alex. He probably wasn't coming. She so wanted to cry. She messed things up so badly. However, she had to be strong and stand her ground. She couldn't let him make the decisions for her any more.

They called her name and she gradually went to the back into the office. They made her put on that paper gown and wait. They took her weight before hand and she gained another six pounds. Her blood pressure looked very good. She and the baby were well on their way.

While she waited for the doctor, she started thinking to herself. What could she do to get him back? He seemed to really want to change. That incident with dinner was as much her fault as his. She was so caught up with workthe way he used to be. All the things she told him she didn't want. She wanted him to be there for her and here she wasn't being there for him. There had to be a way to work things out. This was the twenty first century now. Maybe there was a way she could work from home. That is if Alex would let her come back home. She would finish up here and go beg for mercy.

Five minutes later, Dr. Day walked in. "So, how is mom and baby?"

"Just fine, Doc."

"Okay, let's have you lie back and take a look shall we," the doctor said with a smile. "Now this is going to be cold." She took the jelly and rubbed on Charlotte's belly. Suddenly, the door came open. Alex. Both doctor and mother looked up in surprise. The doctor was the first to say, "Dad, you're just in time to listen to the heart beat." Baboom, baboom, over and over again. "Heartbeat sounds good."

Not to Alex. It sounded like a miracle. This was the first time for him. He wanted to cry. This was his baby. It was their miracle, his and Charlotte's. The doctor noticed the tension in the room. "Let me excuse myself. Charlotte, I will see you in one month."

Charlotte looked at Alex. There was so much to say. "Alex, I am so sorry. About everything."

He was sitting in the chair next to the examining table. He took her hands in his. "No, you don't have to apologize. I am the one who should be. I owe you an apology from the very start. I guess I never respected you as a person, considered your own needs. You gave everything up for me. I have been an ass for so long. I don't want to do that any more. I need you. I need you to help me."

Charlotte was crying and trying to keep her gown in place. That made them both laugh. "I want to come home, Alex. I love you. I just want to come home.

"What about your job and your career?"

" I talked to my boss and he said I could work online. Just come in for meetings on Fridays. Is that alright?"

"That is more than alright. I don't want you to give up your job. And I too want you to come home."

"Good. Now that we have decided, can I get dressed now?" They looked at each other and smiled. Charlotte was finally coming home.

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