The next morning, Andy dialed Aaron’s cell phone. Please don’t be in a meeting with Fiona, he thought.
“Hey, Aaron. Yes, it’s me!” Andy smiled. “Are you alone?”
“Yeah, I’m in my office. What’s on your mind?”
“Remember how I’ve been trying to get you down here? This is it. I’m prepared to make you an offer you can’t refuse.”
“Just tell me when, and I’m on my way. Andy, you wouldn’t believe how insane things have gotten. Get me out of here.”
“How about this weekend? A private jet will pick you up, and you’ll stay in an exclusive resort. We’ll discuss business over dinner at a five-star restaurant. I’ll make sure the trip is worth your while, Aaron.”
“Dang, man. I’m on board already. You don’t have to go through all this expense. Just send me a contract, and we’re done.”
“Let me do this, Aaron. Besides, wouldn’t you like to meet Kirby? He knows your work, and he’s mighty impressed.”
“Kirby. That name sounds familiar, but not entirely from soccer. I know it from somewhere else. The last name is Kemp?”
“Yeah. How do you know him if not through the team?” Andy was intrigued.
“Kirby Kemp is a billionaire entrepreneur. Andy, he owns half of the island in resorts and restaurants. How could you not know that if you work for him?”
“It never occurred to me to ask. But it explains how he can afford to keep spoiling the crap out of Danae and me. Our house is under reconstruction to expand for the baby, and he has us in the same resort you’ll be staying in when you come down. He probably owns it.”
“Search him on the internet. I’d be surprised if he didn’t own that resort.”
“I’d feel funny doing that. But, I need you down here for negotiations. Can we cement this for Friday night?”
“Yes, Andy, let’s do this. I have nothing to lose.” The team was a mess, and Aaron was tired of it.
“Fantastic! Please let Wyatt know I will contact him within the week. Kirby is motivated to bring him on board, too.”
“I will let him know. He’ll be ecstatic. Andy, you just made my day. I was dreading practice today, but now I have something to look forward to. I’ll see you on Saturday morning, my friend.”
“Sounds like a good plan. I can’t wait. Oh, and Aaron?”
“See if you can grab Travis’ jersey when they come in, women’s medium. Danae doesn’t have one, and I know she would love it. I’ll get it during the season opener next week, so I can bring it home with me.”
“Already thinking ahead to score points with your sweetie. Good job, Romeo,” Aaron chuckled. “I’ll grab one. You can reimburse me when I see you.”
“Thanks, Aaron, I owe you one. On Saturday, we’ll have a beer together on the beach.”
“It’s a date,” Aaron chuckled. “See you then.”
Andy hung up the phone. Now to make the arrangements for Aaron’s trip, he thought. He wrote an email to Kirby:
Good morning Kirby,
I am making arrangements to accommodate Aaron Hall this weekend for negotiations. He is very receptive. Please inform me of specifics, ie., salary, benefits, etc, so I can be prepared for the upcoming meeting unless of course, you’d rather join Danae and me for dinner with him. Together, Aaron and I will make the Sharks a championship team. You can count on it.
Living the dream,
He was gathering information for the weekend when Kirby’s reply came:
Good morning Andy,
I am attaching a file with your access codes for the resort. You can book Aaron’s itinerary straight from your computer using the arrow icon on your desktop. The VIP suites area is only used by me for special guests, so it will be open any time you need to book it. The jet can be reserved via phone, the number is in the Rolodex on your desk. The pilot likes to be back in Isla Paradiso by 9:00 pm at the latest, so try to book with this in mind.
Let’s meet tomorrow morning, say 9am, to discuss what you need to know to start, and we’ll go from there. I have every confidence that you’ll bring Aaron Hall onboard. On Sunday morning, we’ll have brunch so I can meet him. I look forward to seeing you tomorrow.
Living the dream with you,
Excellent! He thought. Andy opened the email and retrieved his login and password for the resort. The system was simple to navigate, and within minutes he had the VIP suite reserved for Aaron. Next, he called to reserve the jet for a round trip between Starlight Shores and the island. Lastly, he called Aaron with his itinerary.
“Andy!” he answered happily.
“Aaron, I have great news. I just finished making arrangements for Friday evening. You have a 4pm flight from Starlight Shores via private jet. Upon your arrival, a limousine will bring you to the resort. On Saturday evening, Danae and I will host you for negotiations and dinner at a five-star restaurant. And on Sunday morning, we’ll meet with Kirby and Rae Kemp for brunch.”
“Holy cow, I couldn’t write all that down,” he laughed. “Repeat everything you said after my name.”
“Don’t worry, slacker, I sent the information to your private email. You’ll be getting that anytime now.” Andy snickered quietly.
“Hey, so do you mind if I plus one on this?”
“Well, that depends. If it’s Devin or Fiona, I’d have to say a big fat no.”
“Yeah, like I’d bring the problems with me. No, wiseguy, Wyatt wants to come along, too. I told him I’d ask.”
“Absofreakinlutely Aaron! This is wonderful! Tell him to come ready to negotiate, too. The suite is big enough for the two of you to have your own bedrooms and bathrooms, if you don’t mind sharing the space.”
“I don’t have a problem with it if he doesn’t, but I doubt he will. He wants out of the situation as badly as I do. Smitty is ready to retire, but we’re all working on the project you gave me. I’m almost to the point where I can peg him, just a few more days and I’ll have him. I’d record him, but I know it’s not admissible in court. But we’ll all give written statements to that effect.”
“Aaron, I don’t know what I’d do without the three of you. Please, tell Smitty we miss him, and happy retirement. Let Wyatt know I’ll copy him on that email, and we’ll see you both on Saturday morning.”
“I can’t wait,” Aaron said excitedly. “See you then.”
Andy had to call Kirby. He was too excited to wait for an email.
“Andy, what can I do for you?”
“Kirby, I have some extraordinary news. It seems we’re getting two for the price of one this weekend. Wyatt Searcy is joining Aaron Hall.”
“Andy, my boy, I’m so proud of you. I knew you were a go-getter. Since the two of them will be there, Rae and I will join you and make it a six top on the table. I can’t wait to meet them.”
“They are very motivated, so we have much going for us. Everything is already arranged, and their itineraries have been emailed.
“Well dang, Andy, you don’t need a secretary. You’re handling this like a champ. But, if you find you could use a helping hand, please don’t hesitate to tell me. You know you can have almost anything you want or need.”
“I don’t want to take advantage, Kirby. You’ve spoiled Danae and me plenty.”
“Nonsense!” Kirby replied. “I want to make sure you are happy here, so you don’t go wandering somewhere else. So, whatever it takes to make you happy, I’m on it.”
“Oh, we’re not going anywhere else. We are very blissful here on the island. Danae still gets a little homesick, but when she sees the mess the Llamas are in, maybe it will help.”
“It might make her sad, so be ready with something special for her. Her father has a long history there.”
“I’m going to buy her one of her dad’s jerseys to wear when I’m there next week. She will love it because she doesn’t have one. They were always sold out.”
“How are you going to get one, then?”
“I still have connections. Two of them are coming this weekend.”
“Right,” Kirby laughed. “Well, I need to get to the restaurant, Andy. Thanks for letting me help you celebrate Danae last night. She is a sweetheart. You guys are adorable, the way you were flirting together last night.”
Andy blushed, a little embarrassed. “Thanks. I’ll be in touch soon, Kirby.”
“Alright!” And they hung up the phone.
The week went by quickly, and before Andy knew it, Friday afternoon had rolled around. Aaron called him on the way to the airport, Wyatt Searcy with him.
“Hey, Andy! I just wanted to let you know that Wyatt and I are on the way to meet the jet. We’re on time for a 4 o’clock departure, and we’ll be in tonight.”
“Aaron, you’re just the man I wanted to talk to! Do you have the shirt for me yet?”
“I do, but I don’t have it with me. You mentioned bringing it back next week after the game.”
“That’s the plan. I just wanted to make sure you had one for me. Is Wyatt excited about coming down to see us?”
“We both are, Andy. I think Fiona suspects something is up, but neither of us care. He’s a free agent in less than a month, and I’m hanging by a thread anyway. You could offer me a penny over what I’m making now, and I’d sign just to get out.” Andy heard laughing in the background. “Wyatt just agreed with me.”
“You guys are making my job way too easy. By the way, Kirby and Rae Kemp will both be joining us tomorrow night for dinner. Wait until you see Danae, guys. She is positively glowing.”
“Neither of us can wait. You promised me a beer on the beach, Murph. I’m holding you to it.” Aaron laughed.
“I’ll be there. It will be like old times.” They talked for a few more minutes and hung up the phone.
It was only thirty minutes until the offices were closed for the weekend, but Andy still had arrangements to make for the team’s season opener in five days. The team was arriving the day before and staying in the eastern hills resort for a night, and would depart for Isla Paradiso nearly immediately after the game. Andy would fly in with the team, but stay an extra night for PR and pleasantries with the opposing team management. He was not looking forward to the meeting. Since the Llamas still had no management, Fiona and Cael would be sitting in, and Andy anticipated it would be pretty uncomfortable.
With the rooms booked, the flights arranged and his own accommodation reserved, Andy was ready to clock out for the weekend. Before he left his office, he texted a quick message to Kirby:
I just heard from Aaron and Wyatt. They are en route to the Starlight Shores airport, and I expect them tonight. I also finished arranging travel and accommodation for the game next week. Will forward details when I have them compiled. Danae and I will see you tomorrow evening, 7pm.
He turned the key in his office door and locked it for the weekend. As he walked to his car, Andy dialed Danae’s cell phone.
“Hey sweetie,” he greeted her. “How’s my girl?”
“Tired. But I’m happy. Our children are playing together quietly, I know you’re on your way home from work, and I’m looking forward to seeing the guys this weekend.”
“I crazy love you, Danae. If tomorrow night wasn’t a business thing, I’d invite Darcey and Clint to come along with us. I hear Clint got the job he’s been trying for, and I’m so happy for him.”
“Yes! I hope that alleviates some of their stress now. She would never ask for help, but I might send her some anonymously. I don’t feel right keeping all Daddy’s money. But she insists he left it to me and you.” Danae shrugged. “She’s entitled to some of it.”
“So, no comment on how I said I crazy love you, huh? I see how you are.” Andy pretended to be hurt, but inside he was stifling a laugh.
“Nope. No comment.” Danae snorted, trying not to laugh herself.
“What’s for dinner tonight? Or do I need to stop somewhere and bring something home?”
“I thought we could order in. My feet are swelling up, and I know we have a big day tomorrow.”
“Sounds good, my sweet. I’ll be home in a few minutes.” They hung up the phone.
“Lysie, guess who is coming home!” she sang. Elyse, who had been playing blocks with Eamon, perked up.
“Daddy!” she squealed.
“Dada! Dada!” Eamon joined in.
When Andy walked into the suite, Danae had both of the kids worked up and excited to see him, and they both toddled to him for kisses and hugs. She stood back and watched her children pour their love into their daddy, and vice versa. Andy loved his children almost as much as he loved his wife. But when he finally freed himself from squealing little people, he walked to Danae and pulled her into his arms.
“Ooh, it’s so good to hold you, my sweet.” He took a deep breath, delighting in her scent. “You smell delicious,” he whispered into her ear.
“Welcome home, babe,” she greeted him and kissed him tenderly. “So the guys are on their way?”
“They are indeed! Tomorrow night at this time, we’ll be getting ready for dinner with them and the Kemps.”
“I hope I have a dress that still fits. My belly has grown a bit in just a week.” Even though she was 17 weeks pregnant, the waddle was already starting. “You know, I might have to sit these meetings out soon if I can’t dress the part. Being pregnant was never part of the plans here.”
“But I couldn’t be happier, Nae. I mean that.” He touched her belly gently and rubbed it. “I’m so in love with this little person, and we haven’t met him or her yet. Do you want to know, or be surprised?”
“I don’t know. What do you think?”
“We’ve done one each way. Maybe it would be good to find out, so we can plan a nursery.” Andy kissed her again.
“Mama, chee!” Elyse said adamantly. “Chee!”
“What does she want, Nae?” Andy asked.
“Macaroni and cheese. Are you hungry Lysie?” Danae cooed at their daughter.
“Chee!” she replied and then babbled in some unintelligible baby language. Danae smiled.
“I’m on it. What would you like, Nae?”
“I’m thinking just baked chicken with rice and steamed veggies. Maybe a slice of cheesecake for later.”
“I started something with the cheesecake, didn’t I?” he laughed.
“Maybe,” she replied. “Maybe the baby wants it.”
“Sure, blame the baby.” He ducked and ran from her, watching for projectile couch pillows.
“Chee!” came Elyse’s increasingly annoyed cry.
“Okay, Lysie. Daddy’s going to order your macaroni and cheese.”
Andy was up a little later than usual, expecting a call from Aaron once they landed on the Isle. Their suite was right next door, and they weren’t in yet. Danae was resting in the bedroom, so he decided to wait on the deck out front in a lounge chair, a beer in hand.
About forty minutes later, two guys with very familiar voices were walking toward the VIP area, and Andy perked up. As they got closer, it was apparent that Aaron and Wyatt were talking and walking toward the suite.
“Well, as I live and breathe!” Andy greeted them. “Welcome to Isla Paradiso, gentlemen!”
Aaron walked to him and gave him a bro hug, and Wyatt did the same. “Nice place you got here, Murph,” Aaron quipped.
“Well, it’s not home, but it will do while we wait. Can I get you guys a beer?”
“Of course!” Wyatt piped up. Aaron opened the room with his key card and confirmed their luggage had arrived. Andy went into the suite for three beers, one for each of them, and passed them out.
“Have a seat, guys!” Together, they sat around and talked like they hadn’t seen each other in years instead of just a month or two.
“You know, a beer tonight doesn’t get you out of the beach tomorrow,” Aaron teased.
“Yeah, I know. Hey, I hope you don’t mind but I’ll have my family in tow when we do the beach tomorrow. Danae wants to let the kids play in the sand.”
“Is she going to do any swimming?” Wyatt asked.
Andy thought the question was odd, but ignored it. “Probably not. But she’ll help the kids with sand stuff. They love to play in it.”
“Kids are fun at the beach,” he quipped, and the conversation returned to normal.
“Dinner will be at 7 tomorrow night. A limo will pick the four of us up at 6:30 out front by the lobby. Kirby and Rae will meet us there.” Andy said. The beer was going down too easily, but he didn’t mind. It wasn’t something he did on the regular.
“So, are you ready to hear what’s going on with your brother-in-law, Andy? He is the most petty, vindictive SOB I’ve ever met. But we’re so close to nailing him.” Aaron was ready to bring the details.
“Yeah. This I’ve gotta hear.”
“He talks about Danae all the time, now that I can’t stop him anymore. Lionel was my backup when I had the ban in the locker room. Fiona doesn’t have my back. Smitty has come very close to pounding him, but he is so close to retirement, he doesn’t want to risk anything.”
“And he shouldn’t. The guy is no spring chicken anymore, let’s face it,” Andy laughed. “Devin could probably beat him with no hands. Poor Smitty.”
“Well, anyway, he stops just short of admitting that he knows it’s a sham. But I’ve seen him talking to a reporter and few Paparazzi recently, so something big is getting ready to go down soon.”
“Oh great,” Andy sighed. “I wish he would just leave her alone. She called him a colossal screw up the day Travis died. I see that has proven true.”
Aaron took the last swig of his beer and clanked the bottle onto the deck. “As much as I’d like to sit and get silly with you, Andy, I’m tired.”
“Yeah, me too. How about you Wyatt? You haven’t said much.”
“I’m beat, Andy.” Wyatt’s country drawl was accentuated when he was tired. “Thanks for bringing us here, though. I can’t wait to get out of the Shores.”
“It’s our pleasure. Rest well. If you’d like, come here for breakfast in the morning. I’m sure Nae won’t mind.”
“It’s a plan, then!” Aaron and Wyatt both said goodnight, and they went inside.
Andy went in and locked the door behind him. He tiptoed lightly into their room after he checked on the kids, and saw Danae sleeping soundly, so he undressed and climbed into bed with her, wrapped himself around her and he fell asleep with her safely in his arms.
Though two beers wasn’t usually enough to knock Andy for a loop, the morning after effect was quite different. He woke to a pounding headache and the sounds of a fussing baby boy in the kitchen area. Danae was already up, and for the first time in a while, her absence in bed did not rouse him.
He dressed in his robe and pajama pants and walked to the main living area, where Danae was trying to feed Eamon some soft fruit.
“Eat it, don’t eat it, son. Just don’t cry anymore. Please!” she begged him. Andy’s presence in the room was just what she needed, and she ran to him and hugged him.
“Baby, I’m not feeling well, and Eamon is just being a brat. Hold me?”
“How aren’t you feeling well, honey? Is it the baby?”
“No, nothing like that. My back just hurts and I am so bloated, I can’t wear my wedding ring.”
He held her close and just let her sniffle a little. Gently, he kissed the top of her head. “Do you want me to feed him, honey?”
“If you want. I was going to see if we were doing something with the guys before I got breakfast for the kids, so I thought fruit would settle him.” And then she realized he wasn’t fussing. They both looked at him to see him munching on the cut pieces of mango and pineapple she’d given him. “Well, I’ll be…”
“Shh, let him be a moment, and let me hold you.” He rocked her in his arms gently. “The guys are coming this morning, by the way. Do we have something for Lysie if she wakes up?”
“Yes, she likes cold cereal, and she’ll eat that. Eamon usually has hot cereal or eggs for breakfast, depends on what I feel like making for him.”
Andy was making a mental note of the breakfast order. “What would you like, honey?”
“I’d love to have a little bit of you, but there’s no time right now.”
“I meant for breakfast, silly,” he chuckled.
“So did I,” she replied. “But, instead of you, I’ll have an omelet, I guess. I need more protein. The doctor said so.”
“Then an omelet it is. I should walk next door and find out what they would like.” He kissed her and closed his robe around his waist. “I’ll be right back.”
Andy returned five minutes later with Aaron and Wyatt in tow, and Danae had no chance to get changed before they arrived. She had on a tank top and a pair of shorts, but with a 17-week baby bump, a bit of her belly was exposed. Plus, with no bra on, she felt a little underdressed. But the guys were there, and so was she.
“Hey Danae,” Aaron greeted her, and hugged her. “You’re looking great!” he quipped.
She blushed madly. “It’s good to see you, Aaron!”
Wyatt approached her timidly. “Good to see you, Miss Danae,” he said, and hugged her.
“Wyatt, always a pleasure,” she nodded. “If you’ll excuse me, I need to change into something more appropriate.”
When Danae had left the room, Aaron piped up. “You weren’t kidding when you said Danae was glowing, Andy. She looks amazing.”
“It’s the baby hormones,” he smiled. “She looks so sexy when she’s pregnant.”
“Well, she’s your wife. I’m not allowed to have that opinion, Andy.” Aaron laughed. They both noticed Wyatt blushing.
“What’s up, bud?” Andy asked him. “You’ve been bashful since you got here last night. This isn’t like you.”
“It’s just that, Danae is here.”
“I don’t talk real good around the ladies,” he spoke softly, his country drawl making a reappearance. “Kinda shy, if you know what I mean.”
“She won’t bite ya,” Andy said, and clapped him on the shoulder. “Make yourselves at home guys. This is my son, Eamon. He’s a little cranky this morning. He’s teething.”
Danae reappeared in something more comfortable, with Elyse on her hip. “Say good morning, Lysie.”
“Morgin,” Elyse said sleepily. Aaron chuckled.
“Good morning sweetie pie,” he said, waving at her.
Andy ordered breakfast for all of them, and they sat outside at the table on the deck with coffee, juice, two high chairs, and four adults. After breakfast, they got dressed for the beach and headed to the private beach owned by the resort. Danae had both kids, Eamon in her arms and Elyse walking by her side, while Andy walked ahead with the guys, laughing and joking like they were never apart.
When they found a spot in the sand, Danae grabbed an umbrella and set it up to shield the kids from the sun, and rubbed some sunblock onto their skin. Andy and the guys went to the tiki bar and grabbed some beers and sat on the beach some fifteen yards away, talking and laughing. I hope this isn’t what having them here will be like, she thought, especially after the baby comes. She would need him. But she was willing to chalk it up to their reunion, and nothing more.
After about an hour playing in the sand, Danae noticed Wyatt staring at her. When he saw that she noticed him, he quickly looked away. Though she wasn’t wearing a bikini, she still felt underdressed under his constant gaze. He was making her uncomfortable, but she didn’t want to make waves, either. So she tried her best to play with the children and not pay attention to him. But each time she looked his way, his eyes were fixed upon her.
After their third or fourth beer, Danae called Andy, who was feeling no pain. “Andy, can I talk to you a minute?”
“Sure, my sweet,” he slurred mildly. “What’s on your mind?”
“Wyatt has been staring at me most of the morning, and I don’t know what to think of it.” Andy’s breath reeked of beer, and she didn’t like it.
“He’s harmless, baby. He’s just a little shy around women. Don’t worry.”
“Babe, you’ve had enough beer for the morning, too, don’t you think?”
“Yeah, probably one more and I’m good,” he laughed.
“How about no more,” she said firmly.
“I’ll have another if I want another,” he said. He walked away from her as Aaron was bringing another round to him.
Danae picked up the umbrella and placed it where she found it, gathered the children and started back toward the room without Andy even noticing she had gone. He and Aaron were having too much fun on the beach. But Wyatt left the beach shortly afterward, following Danae and the kids at a safe distance.
About 50 yards from the suite door, she noticed Wyatt behind her, and she panicked. Picking Eamon up and taking Elyse’s hand, she tried to hurry. But she noticed he was gaining on her position. She fumbled at the door with her key card, and he was running to catch her. And she was still standing at the front door, trying to open it when he reached her.
“Why did you run, Miss Danae?” he asked.
“If I can be blunt, Wyatt, you’ve been making me uncomfortable all morning.” She lowered her eyes to the door. “I can’t get this open.”
“Here, let me try,” he said, holding his hand out for the key. He gently took it from her and slid it into the lock, which opened on the first try.
“Thank you,” she said meekly. Despite every alarm in her head going off, telling her not to invite him in, she said, “Come on in, if you’d like. I just have to change the kids, and I’ll be out. Make yourself comfortable.”
Danae put both kids into the shower and rinsed the sand off of them, dried and dressed them before she put a cover-up on over her bathing suit. She gave both of the children their sippy cups with water and set them in their room to play while she and Wyatt sat in the living room.
“So, Wyatt, how are you enjoying your time here so far?” she asked him politely.
“It’s beautiful here. Danae, can I ask you a question?”
Uh oh, she thought. “Sure, Wyatt.”
“Are you happy with Andy? Because I’ve seen some things back home that suggest you are having problems.”
“I don’t feel comfortable discussing my marriage with you,” she said plainly.
“I don’t mean any disrespect. It’s just, Andy is one of my best friends. I don’t want to see him hurt.” Wyatt spoke softly, but firmly.
“You don’t have to worry about me, Wyatt. I love that man with everything I have.”
“Your brother has… well, he has pictures of you in various states of undress with a man who isn’t Andy.”
“He,” Danae felt dizzy,” He what now?”
“Devin has some pictures of you, naked ones. I’ve only seen one of them, but you were with a man who clearly wasn’t Andy. His skin was much lighter.”
Suddenly, Danae felt sick. “I need Andy…” she said. Where’s my phone? She thought. Her head whirled, and she thought she heard Wyatt speak, but all she heard was garbled noise. She found her phone in the beach bag and dialed Andy’s cell with shaky hands.
A nearly drunk Andy answered the phone. “Hello?”
“Andy…” she barely spoke. “I need you.”
He almost immediately sobered up. “Where are you?” Suddenly, he was panicked. She wasn’t where he had left her.
“At the suite. Hurry…” she said before she passed out.
“Aaron, I gotta go, man. It’s Danae.” The two men almost ran back to the suite, both suddenly feeling sobered.
Andy burst through the door and found Wyatt sitting on the floor with her, holding her head in his lap and stroking her hair. “What happened?!” Andy screamed.
“We were just talking,” Wyatt said. “She got dizzy and fainted.”
“Why didn’t you call emergency, Wyatt? She’s pregnant!”
“It didn’t look serious. We were talking before she got dizzy.”
“What did you say to her?!” Andy was livid.
“I was asking her about some unsavory pictures her brother has of her. I had to know who the man was in the pictures, Andy, because it sure wasn’t you. You’re one of my best friends, and—”
“Pictures? What pictures?”
“Devin has a stack of naked photos of Danae, some of them she’s alone, but some she’s with a lighter skinned guy. Andy, it’s definitely not you.”
“This is preposterous! There is no way there are any naked pictures of Danae. They have to be doctored. Aaron, do you know about this?”
“No, this is the first I’ve heard of it.” Aaron was just as surprised as Andy.
Andy knelt down beside her and touched her. The skin on her face was clammy, but she was breathing, her color was normal. He picked her up from the floor and put her into his lap, rocking her in his arms. “Danae, honey, wake up love.”
She finally came to a few minutes later, and when she saw Andy’s face, smelled the beer on his breath, she wanted to be angry, but she had bigger fish to fry than a drunk husband and his best friend. Danae began to cry. “Andy…”
“What’s wrong, honey? Talk to me.”
“What about Devin?”
“He found my camera, he took the memory card from it. Oh, Andy, I’m in trouble.”
“What are you talking about?”
She tried to stop crying long enough to speak, but it was difficult. “That fishing trip Darcey and I took at Sim State. It was warm, and we skinny dipped in the lake. We thought no one was around…” She cried again so hard, she almost couldn’t breathe. “A Paparazzi was taking pictures out of our sight, he took almost 4 dozen naked pictures of me alone, never mind what he had of Darcey, but Clint took the stick from his camera before he could use them.”
Andy was familiar with the story, but it was the first time he’d heard about the Paparazzi. He started to shake his head. “No, No…”
“Devin must have found that memory stick before he moved out of Mama and Daddy’s house, and took it from my camera. I never thought of it again. I forgot all about it, actually. But I guess he didn’t.”
“Oh honey, oh Danae… No no no!” Andy held her and rocked her in his arms.
“Andy, this could ruin you.” She sobbed harder.
“Baby, I’m not worried about me.” Andy started to tremble, knowing these pictures, if they were released to the public, could ruin her life. In the wrong context, it would paint her in a terrible light. Andy knew he had to get on top of it, but first, he had to come clean to Kirby.
“Aaron, would you sit with her for a minute? I have a phone call to make.”
“Sure thing, Andy.” He sat on the floor with Danae and held her as she cried.
Andy walked onto the deck and dialed Kirby’s number with shaking hands. “Andy! What can I do for you? Are we still on for tonight?”
Tonight! Holy crap. “I sure hope so. Kirby, something has come up, and I need to disclose it. We’ve been made aware of some potentially unsavory photos that exist of Danae. We have learned her brother has in his possession a memory stick from a Paparazzi’s camera that had several dozen photos of Danae and her sister, naked. I know this has potential for very bad press with the team, and I don’t want to be a distraction. I am prepared to tender my resignation if that is what I need to do.”
“Well, don’t worry about the team. I can handle negative press. And no, I absolutely don’t want your resignation, Andy. There’s no need for that. But let me see if I understand this. Devin Jones has naked photos of his sisters? He is a truly sick man. What exactly is he planning on doing with these pictures?”
“Your guess is as good as mine right now. Wyatt has seen one of them. They have been doctored, and apparently, she is with someone who is not me in some of them.”
Kirby sighed. “How is Danae holding up? How’s the baby? She surely doesn’t need this frustration right now.”
“So far, she’s okay, just afraid. She is terrified I will lose my job and my reputation. I’m more worried about hers. I fear this will paint a target on her back for every nut job in the country who wants a piece of her.”
“She doesn’t have to worry about your job, Andy. You’re not going anywhere. I will help you and Danae however I can.
“Thanks Kirby, I appreciate your support. We’ll see you tonight.” They hung up. “Well, my job is safe,” Andy announced as he walked back into the suite. Danae was still crying, laying on the floor, almost inconsolable. And in the den, going unheard for almost ten minutes, was a very tearful Elyse. Andy walked to the den and picked her up. “Oh Lysie, you’re okay, sweet pea.” He kissed her tear-stained cheek and cuddled her close. He put her down on the floor, and seeing her mother crying, Elyse walked to her.
“Mama, no cwy,” she said softly, kissing Danae on the cheek. “Doan cwy.”
She looked at her daughter, sitting on the floor looking at her, her brown hair curled around her face. “Lysie…” she wailed and started crying again.
Elyse walked closer to her and wrapped her little body around her mother, repeating in her ear, “Doan cwy Mama.”
Andy paced back and forth. “Wyatt, what made you follow her back here?” he asked.
“I wanted to ask her about the pictures before I said anything to you about them, just in case they were real. I know you had a problem with that reporter during your presser.”
“Well, now I know exactly what the reporter was talking about.” He wrung his hands nervously. “How clear are the pictures, Wyatt? Can you tell it’s Danae?”
“The one I saw, yes. There is no doubt. Her face is clear as a bell. Freckles and everything.”
“Does it look like the ones of her were doctored? Like her head placed on a generic body?”
“Well, I don’t know what she looks like… naked. So I can’t tell.” Wyatt looked a little embarrassed.
“Who has the one you saw, Wyatt?”
He blushed a deep, dark red. “I have it on my laptop.”
Andy was stunned. Aaron shook his head. “You screwed up big time, Wyatt,” Aaron scolded him.
“Little ears,” Andy reminded both of them. “Do you have your laptop with you, Wyatt?”
He nodded in shame. “I’ll go get it.”
Andy choked back bitter betrayal, and he was angry. “I don’t know what to think about this Aaron. Why does Wyatt have a naked photo of my wife on his computer?”
“This is the first I’ve heard of it, buddy.”
Wyatt knocked gently on the door, and Aaron let him in. “Let’s see it, please,” Andy asked, his voice icy.
“Them.” Wyatt corrected.
“I thought it was just one,” Andy said, getting angrier.
“No.” Wyatt waited for his laptop to boot, and as soon as it did, he opened the email Devin had sent him. The email header, however, might have been the only thing that could have saved Wyatt’s friendship with Andy, for it read, Fake Danae Pictures. Attachments, 27 photos.
Andy clicked on the attachments and watched in horror the slideshow of pornographic photographs of Danae that Wyatt had on his computer. “I am forwarding this to my email, Wyatt.” He didn’t ask, Andy just did it. The original email was traceable back to Devin Jones’ Llamas email address. “How many of these pictures did you see?”
“Just one.” He pointed to a photo of Danae by herself. “This one. I couldn’t bring myself to look at any more of them.” Wyatt hung his head in shame.
“So, you got these from Devin for… what exactly?” Aaron asked him.
“It was part of the project you asked me and Smitty about. I knew he had them. I asked him for them, but we had spent a long time going back and forth about whether or not they were real. He couldn’t convince me, I just wasn’t sure. I was concerned about you, Andy. I didn’t want to see Danae hurt you. So, I set Devin up, but seeing how mad you are, I don’t know how good that worked out.” Wyatt shook his head. “I know I screwed up my job prospects with you here, Andy, and I don’t blame you for being angry.”
“Well, I’ve seen all 27 of them, and they’re all really Danae. There is no doctoring on any of the pictures of her.” He knew her body intimately. Every freckle, every blemish, every dimple, stretch mark, and muscle. And every one of those pictures was her, in all her naked glory. “The one guy looks like Clint, but if so, he was superimposed near her, and I’m not sure where Devin would have gotten nude photos of him, anyway. I know the story of that day. I wasn’t aware the guy that injured Clint was Paparazzi, or that there were pictures taken, but I know Clint never saw either of them naked that day.”
Andy walked back to where Elyse and Danae had curled up and fallen asleep. He picked the baby up and put her into her crib, and Eamon was put into his crib as well. “Dinner will go on tonight fellas, and Wyatt, you’ve helped my slander case more than I could have hoped. That was well played. Thank you for only looking at one of them. The harsh reality is, they exist. But now, we have proof they have been altered, and they are bogus. Thank you.” He sat down by Danae. “I’m sorry our beer on the beach got cut short. We will see you at about 6:15 to walk for the limo together. All of us. Sound good?”
“Yes boss,” Aaron teased. “Hey, this is going to be okay. Wyatt did good.”
“Yes, he did. I’m proud of you, Wyatt. I wish you hadn’t asked Danae, but I understand why. We’ll see you later. Remember, it’s five stars. Dress up, gentlemen.”
They both nodded and walked back next door. Andy had a frightened wife to deal with. He knew once he woke her, she would cry again. Hopefully, he would be able to convince her everything would be okay.
He gently picked her up, even with the twenty or so pounds she had gained with baby weight, she was still light for him to lift, and he carried her to their room and laid her on the bed. He curled up with her and kissed her lightly until she roused. But as soon as she saw his face, she cried. “Andy, I’m so sorry…” she started.
“Shh shh shh,” he spoke softly. “It’s going to be okay, honey. Do you still have the pictures from that card on your computer or a laptop, my sweet?”
She sniffled and sat up. “I think they’re still on the cloud in a secure folder. I saved all my photos from college onto the cloud so I could paint from them someday.”
“Could you retrieve them using my laptop?”
“I think so. Why, babe?”
“Sweetie, Wyatt did something amazing. At first, I was ticked off, and I was going to tell him to leave, and I never wanted to see him again. He told me he had the pictures on his laptop that Devin had of you. He was very ashamed to have them. But I wanted to see if they were really you. Of the three of us, I’m the only one who knows what you look like. So I forwarded the email Devin sent him to my email. Baby, look at the header.”
She rubbed her eyes and looked at the tiny email on his smartphone. “I can’t read it.”
“It says, ‘Fake Danae Pictures.’ Devin sunk himself with that email header. He knows they are fake, but yet he is intending to spread them as if they are real. That’s our proof of malice for a slander or/and libel case.”
“That’s what we need to prove, isn’t it? Malice?”
“Yes, honey. Wyatt played him like a Stradivarius. With that email header, it will discredit every photo he leaks. Plus, if you have the originals, we can compare those to the doctored ones.”
“Why did Wyatt follow me back here like a predator, babe? He scared me.”
“He’s a little awkward around women. He hasn’t been with many, if any at all. But he had both of our best interests in mind. He did good. I owe him a lot right now.”
“Please, tell me we’re going to be okay, Andy. I’m sick over this, trying to figure out how Devin knew about that memory stick. Darcey, Clint and I were the only ones who knew about it.”
“Don’t worry, honey. Kirby isn’t going to fire me, and we’re going to fight this in court. We’ll hit Devin where it hurts him, and he’ll stop. I promise we’ll make it better.”
She put her arms around his neck and sobbed onto his shoulder. “I hate my brother.”
“Join the club, honey. He is a contemptible pig.” Andy kissed her softly. “Honey, it’s three o’clock. Do you want to take an hour nap, or do you want to get ready to go soon? We have to be in the lobby by 6:30.”
“I can’t face anyone, babe. Not now. I’m so humiliated.”
“I’m the only one who saw the pictures, my sweet. Wyatt only saw one, and he only looked at your face.” It was one of the tamer ones on his laptop. Some of them had been disgustingly edited.
“Please, don’t make me go.”
“Danae, I need you, sweetie. You’ll be okay. No one will bring it up, I promise.”
She sighed heavily. “I’m only going because you need me. My heart isn’t in this today.”
“Rae will be there, love. You ladies can talk together while we’re doing business. How does that sound?”
“It sounds better. I’ll make sure I have recent pictures of the kids. We haven’t seen Rae since we moved here. It will be good to see her again.”
“That’s my girl,” Andy smiled as he covered her face in soft, sweet kisses. I crazy love you, Danae. Always and forever.”
“I love you, my handsome prince.” She snuggled up close to him and let him love her.
Janelle arrived promptly at six o’clock to care for Eamon and Elyse and sat to play with them. They had already been fed and bathed and were ready for an evening of fun with her. Danae was still primping, fussing with her hair and the last dab of makeup. Andy was mostly finished as he stood in the living area, and regretted his earlier foray into morning drinking. The beer on the beach with Aaron turned quickly into overindulgence, and he wasn’t feeling his best.
“Come on Nae,” he urged her. “The guys will be here in a minute to walk with us.”
“I’m almost ready,” she called to him, dabbing some vanilla perfume onto her pulse points. She slipped a little cash into her bag from the wall safe in their bedroom and took her pashmina from the closet. When she emerged from the bedroom, she looked like a glamorous movie star from Bridgeport. Andy was dazzled.
“Holy wow, my sweet. You look incredible.”
“Was I worth the wait?” she cooed as she walked toward him.
“I’ll let you know later,” he flirted with her. “We’re headed out, Janelle. You have our numbers if there’s a problem. We shouldn’t be later than eleven.”
“Have fun, Mr. and Mrs. Murphy!” she called to them.
Andy took her arm and led her outside where Aaron and Wyatt were waiting for them. The guys saw Danae and were both speechless. But Aaron couldn’t resist a dig at Andy.
“Well, you clean up well Andy. You know, you married way out of your league. She outclasses you big time.”
“You don’t have to tell me twice, Aaron. I’m a lucky man.” Andy smiled at her as they walked.
The limo was waiting for them at the lobby, and the three gentlemen nearly fell over themselves trying to help Danae into the car. Wyatt, a naturally shy man, was really thrown out of his comfort zone with her. But he couldn’t help but stare at her, either.
The driver took them to the beach restaurant. Confidently, Andy approached the host podium and announced their entrance. “Mr. & Mrs. Murphy, Mr. & Mrs. Kemp await your arrival. Please follow me.” Kirby and Rae stood as Andy and Danae approached, and Andy introduced his two friends to his boss.
“Mr. Searcy, Mr. Hall, welcome to Isla Paradiso,” Kirby welcomed them. “I trust Andy here has accommodated you appropriately?”
“He has, Mr. Kemp,” Aaron stated. “It’s a pleasure to be here.”
“Please, guys, call me Kirby, and we’ll all be on a first-name basis tonight.” Everyone agreed. “So, Aaron, I know you come to us with an impressive resume. Tell me about yourself.”
“Well, I was born in Sunlit Tides, and I graduated from a private university on the west coast near the Tides with my degree in physical education. My first job was head coach of the lady Starfish in the Tides until Emmitt Murphy headhunted me to lead the Starlight Shores Llamas several years ago. Of the five years I spent there, we were champions three years in a row, though the first championship was truly due to two people. One of them sits here with us tonight,” he pointed toward Wyatt. “I appreciate being considered for this opportunity. I’m ready for a new challenge with a new team.”
“How about you, Wyatt? Tell me about yourself.” Kirby sat, rabidly interested in the two men who sat before him.
“Well, I was born and raised in Appaloosa Plains and went to Sim State. I played all four years on their Llamas team on a full scholarship and graduated with my degree in communications, which is really odd because I’m not a very outgoing person. Not like Andy.” He blushed and took a sip of water. “I played very briefly for the Plains Mustangs and was traded to the Shores Llamas about six years ago. I was still a rookie when I was put into the championship game by Travis Jones and made a household name. I owe everything to him, actually.” Wyatt looked at Danae and smiled. “To this angel’s father.” She blushed madly.
“Well, Andy has confidence in you both, and I’ve seen both of you in action. I’ll let Andy do the negotiations this evening.” Kirby was prepared to approve just about any offer Andy made them, his trust in the young team manager was complete.
Andy was intimately aware of the salaries each of them made in the Shores, and he knew Kirby was shocked at how little each of them was being compensated. The starting offers were commensurate with their talents and comparable to what other players on the team were making. Andy wrote down a figure for each of them and handed them the slips of paper. Aaron’s offer was a 75% raise, and Wyatt’s was close to twice his Llamas contract. Aaron shook his head in disbelief.
“Andy, you can’t be serious about this number,” he stuttered. “This is insane.”
“We can go up, Aaron, if it isn’t enough,” Kirby stated. “Keep in mind, we’re also covering your moving expenses, plus each of you will have a benefits package that includes a car, a boat, health insurance, and life insurance.”
“Up? I’m not even worth the number Andy gave me, Kirby.”
“This is just a little more than what our current coach is contracted for now,” Andy said. “Your talents far exceed his, Aaron.”
Wyatt stared at his slip of paper, in the same state of unbelief as Aaron. “I think you have one too many numbers on this offer, Andy,” Wyatt said quietly.
“There was no mistake, Wyatt. That is truly your offer.” Andy said confidently.
“I don’t even have to think about it, Andy. I’m in.” Wyatt smiled. “When do I start?”
“We can discuss that in detail in the morning,” Kirby said. “I have contracts ready for you both. Do you have families in the Shores? Children?”
“No, I’m a single guy,” Wyatt said. “This is unbelievable,” he stammered, still in shock. “This will change my life.”
“With Aaron as the head coach, and Wyatt as team captain, I see good things ahead for the Sharks. What do you say, Aaron?” Kirby asked.
“Oh yeah, I’m in. Absolutely. I have nothing to tie me down in Starlight Shores, not anymore.”
“Andy, congratulations on a job well done.” Kirby praised him. Danae took Andy’s hand and squeezed it. “We will have the contracts ready for both of you in the morning when we meet for brunch at the resort restaurant. Sound good?”
Aaron and Wyatt both nodded enthusiastically. With the business of the evening done, the six of them sat and enjoyed a good drink, fine food, and exquisite company. The two ladies chatted quietly among themselves while the guys talked sports. Rae was captivated by Danae even more than she had been during their first meeting.
“Congratulations on your new little one, Danae,” Rae began. “When did you find out you were expecting?”
“Believe it or not, the day after we arrived here. I was feeling sick. My sister is a doctor, and she always has pregnancy tests in her med bag. It was a very long shot, but all my symptoms were there.”
“Interesting. Why was it a long shot, dear?”
“I only have one ovary. We lost a pregnancy last year. It nearly killed me, and when my tube ruptured, it caused some damage. So, as you can imagine, our chances of being pregnant again were pretty low.”
“Well, Danae, I had no idea. I’m so sorry you had to suffer a miscarriage. That’s one of the hardest things to endure. Kirby and I lost one before our daughter and son. We know that heartbreak well.”
“My sister and I are rainbow babies ourselves. My parents lost their first pregnancy. In fact, one of the conditions of selling our family home was that the tree in the yard be allowed to remain. It was planted in memory of my older brother or sister.”
“Wow, what a lovely tribute to their lost baby. I wasn’t aware Travis had lost a second child. How is your baby doing?”
“Doing great! I can’t wait for our 20-week ultrasound. We’re going to find out what this one is ahead of time. We didn’t know with Eamon, but we did with Lysie. Sorry, Elyse. We’ve recently started calling her Lysie. My sister started it, and it stuck.”
“Aww, that’s cute! I like it.” Rae gazed at the photos Danae showed her on the phone. “Oh wow, that’s a great picture of you two,” she remarked. “Your expression is pure bliss, Danae.”
“I’m a blessed woman, Rae. That man. He is my rock, my hero. My Andy. He’s my prince.”
“You remind me of a younger me, Danae. Never lose that magic. Work hard to keep it. Andy is a special guy. Kirby knew it the second he met him.”
Danae smiled. “I did, too.”
After dinner, the four friends rode back to the resort together in the limo. Danae was quiet, still a little embarrassed from earlier, and tired. With her head on Andy’s shoulder, she dozed off while the guys chatted.
Andy had the limo driver deliver them to the back lot, where Andy had his car parked, so Danae didn’t need to walk very far. He helped her into the suite, got her ready for bed and tucked her in. Though he was tired, he wanted to spend some time with the guys. He walked out onto the front patio with three beers and passed them around.
“Andy, are you sure that the offer was real? How in the world can you do it? The Sharks are a nothing team right now.” Aaron asked.
“Kirby knows what he wants, and he’s willing to pay for it. He wants to make this team a championship team, and he knows I can help deliver that. You and Wyatt have the right stuff.”
“I hope we’re worth the money, Andy,” Aaron said. “I’m putting a lot of eggs into this basket.”
“I’m all in myself, Aaron. I’ve been given the freedom to build my staff, negotiate contracts, make this team great. And you, my friend, are going to help me.”
“Every step of the way, buddy.” Aaron raised his beer bottle and clinked it with Andy’s.
“Wyatt, you’re quiet tonight. Is everything okay?” Andy asked.
“I am. Still in shock over tonight’s deal. Do soccer players really make this kind of money, ones that don’t have the name recognition like Travis? I know he was valuable. I don’t feel like I am.”
“Wyatt, you’re worth more than you realize. But Kirby sees it. Hell, I see it. This is why we brought you guys here. So you can see that there is life beyond the Shores, and it is glorious.” Andy took a swig of beer. “I gotta stop drinking this stuff. I feel like I’ve been buzzed all day.”
Aaron laughed. “You have been. The champagne Kirby served was insane. Just out of this world good. But mixing beer and champagne is a recipe for disaster.”
Wyatt nodded in agreement. “You won’t want to get sick when you have that hot little missy waiting for you inside.”
Andy noticed a common theme with Wyatt and his mentions of Danae. “Is there something wrong, Wyatt? Did you and Danae have a problem today, other than the obvious? I feel some tension when you speak of her.”
“No, I’m okay,” Wyatt answered. “I’ve just never seen someone as beautiful as she is.”
“Thank you,” Andy smiled. “She is my beautiful princess.”
“She does look good on you, Andy,” Aaron noted. He glanced at his watch. “Again, I hate to be a party pooper, but it’s late. Thank you for everything tonight, Andy.”
“Yes, thank you,” Wyatt agreed. “We will see you for brunch tomorrow morning.”
“I look forward to it,” Andy said as he waved to his friends.
He went back into the suite and kicked his shoes off. Quietly he tiptoed into the den and checked on his sleeping children, tucked each one in and kissed them goodnight.
Danae was sleeping when he got to the bedroom, so he got undressed and climbed into bed with her, wrapped himself around her, and fell asleep peacefully.
“Wyatt, I thought Andy was going to tear your head off when you told him you had those pictures of Danae on your laptop. But I have to admit, you did both of them a favor today.”
“My main concern was for Andy. I wanted to know what Danae knew about them. I had no idea what a can of worms I was opening.”
“I’m surprised you were so concerned about him,” Aaron said.
“Why would you say that, Aaron?”
“Oh come on, Wyatt. Everyone knows how you feel about her.”
“Everyone but Andy. I’d like to keep it that way.” Wyatt looked down from Aaron’s face. “Besides, it’s not like I’ll ever be with her. Once Andy came into the picture, I knew I had no chance with her anymore.”
“You should have spoken up when you had the opportunity. Maybe it would be you with her instead.” Aaron settled into the sofa.
“I doubt it. She was always out of my league, Aaron. But I had hoped someday she would notice me.” Wyatt sighed deeply.
“We need to find you a nice girl, Wyatt. Maybe you’ll meet your soulmate here.”
“My soulmate is married to one of my best friends. I’ll have to settle for second best.”
You don’t know that Danae is your soulmate, Wyatt. You’ve never been out with her.”
“It’s the way I feel when she is near. I’m not normally that shy, but she is so beautiful.”
“Well, I understand. She is stunningly beautiful. But she is also deliriously happy and totally in love with him. You have to accept it and move on, Wyatt, before it eats you alive.”
“I know.” He got up from the chair. “I’m going to bed, Aaron. See you in the morning.”
The next morning everyone met with Kirby and Rae for brunch, even the children. Rae fussed over both of them, but remarked how much Elyse resembled Andy.
“Everybody says that,” Danae said. “And she does. He loves his little girl.”
“I can see why,” Rae cooed at the young girl. “She is beautiful, Danae. You two make pretty babies.”
“It is exactly what Emmitt told us when she was born.” Danae was happy the children were behaving. It was their first time at a restaurant.
While Rae and Danae fussed over the children, the men were busy with contracts and business deals. Each of them signed a five-year contract, with all of the promised benefits.
“I’d love to have you here in two to three weeks, if that’s possible. I know the beginning of the season isn’t feasible with it beginning on Wednesday night, but maybe by the third game?” Kirby was ecstatic to have his team shaping up.
“Actually, I can be here next week,” Wyatt stated. “My contract is almost up and I have very little to move. Bachelor pads are notoriously small and poorly furnished.”
“How about you, Aaron?”
“I’d have to turn in my resignation, and given the state of the team, I can’t predict how it will be received. She might make me stay or she might fire me on the spot. The assistant coach would be a poor lead coach in my opinion. You know, don’t mind me,” Aaron laughed. “I’m thinking out loud. Two weeks would be doable either way.”
Andy and Kirby both smiled. Things were looking up for the Isla Paradiso Sharks.
After brunch, the guys had to catch their return flight to the Shores, but both of them were hopeful for a bright new future. Andy and Danae both saw them off as they walked from the courtyard back to the lobby.
“Andy, I am so proud of you! You killed it this weekend. If you keep it up, maybe you’ll get a raise and promotion soon yourself!” Danae wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed him tenderly.
“I’m at the top of my game right now,” he replied. “But I am already overpaid for the job I’m doing. I need to grow into another raise and step up my game. Speaking of stepping up, I owe you at least one night of my love and affection.”
“You think I’m going to let you get away with only one?” she purred, kissing him again.
“I did say at least one,” he groaned, her kisses felt so good. “And we can start now.” He took her hand and led her to the bedroom, and closed the door behind him.
Up next: Chapter Eighteen, Generation Five