Protecting Her Secret Son(2)

By: Regan Black

Daniel cocked a hip and rested a hand on the hammer in his belt. “You’ve done great work for us. I can certainly use more time in the coming weeks if you’ve got it to spare.”

She wanted to leap on the offer and purposely bit back the instant agreement. Her budget was like walking a tightrope and everything had to be balanced with Rachel, the friend and neighbor who kept an eye on Aiden while she worked. “Are you talking about the charity house?”

“Yes.” He stepped up to the window, peering out at the crew. “The timeline is ridiculously tight there, but we need to get it done before the weather changes.”

As the end of October closed in, the temperature would drop and the first reward would be the trees going from bright summer greens to the burnished tones of autumn golds and reds. It was her favorite season. The transition meant longer sleeves and shorter days packed with trips to the park for Aiden to play and collect fallen leaves. How much of that time did she want to miss for the sake of enhancing her bottom line?

“That sounds like you want me doing more than painting.”

“You’re one of our best with tile. That new ADA shower is big, not to mention the flooring. Plus upgrades in the kitchen, too, that could fall to you. I mean to take this one beyond practical. I want it to be something special,” he finished, his jaw set in a determined line.

That required lots of hours added on to her usual painting and finishing work with those tasks. She knew they were going with the best and most efficient crew there, for the family as well as the general company schedule.

When he shifted his stance to face her, the sunlight through the window seemed to disappear in his thick black hair and sparkle in his deep blue eyes. Belatedly, she realized he was smiling at her, patiently waiting for some reply.

“I can manage all of that.” She resumed her painting, deliberately shaking off the lingering effect of her curious hormones. Gorgeous and hot Daniel was her boss. While she had yet to count herself out of the dating game, being a single mom cast a big shadow over that aspect of her life.

“What’s on tap for the rest of your weekend?” Daniel asked.

“Nothing too exciting.” At least nothing he would find exciting. She and Aiden had a standing plan of action on Saturdays. After the obligatory trip to the park for slides and swings, there would be a big cheese pizza to go with the cartoon superhero marathon tonight. Once Aiden was in bed, she planned to tape off her tiny kitchen and give it a fresh coat of paint. “I’m giving my kitchen a little face-lift.”

“Need any help?”

She carefully set the brush across the cup of paint. Avoiding his gaze, she floundered for a polite way to turn him down. He had to know she had a son. She didn’t keep Aiden a secret from the crew, and Daniel had been on the site at least once or twice when she’d had Aiden with her to watch the big delivery trucks or cement mixers. On his fourth birthday, the crew had given him a tool belt complete with plastic tools so he could pitch in when she brought him to visit a site.

In her back pocket, her cell phone buzzed, belting out the old-school ringtone she used for unknown calls and text messages. Saved from the awkward moment, she set aside the paint cup and pulled out her phone, swiping the screen to view the text.

No words, only a picture of her son. He was strapped into a car seat, his shirt rumpled, his pale blond hair windblown, and his cheeks and eyes were red. His lashes were spiked with tears and his lower lip thrust forward in a pout.

What had happened? Why would her neighbor send this rather than call? Then she realized what she was looking at and her heart thudded in her chest. The fabric on the booster seat was all wrong and Rachel’s van didn’t have black leather upholstery.

Staggered, terrified by her worst fears, she dropped the phone as she doubled over, clutching her stomach as if she’d taken a punch.

Daniel caught the phone and steadied her with a hand at her elbow. “Shannon? What’s wrong?”

“I—I’m not sure.”

The ringtone sounded as another text came in and she grabbed the phone from Daniel.

If you want to see your son again, tell his father to cooperate.

Her stomach clenched and she clapped a hand over her mouth. Whoever was behind this had chosen the wrong leverage. She’d never had any influence over Aiden’s father. Naturally, the sender’s number was blocked, but she hit the icon to call back anyway. It rang and rang, and no one answered.

“I have to go,” she said. With tears blurring her vision, she scrolled through her call history and dialed the sitter. No answer. She tried Rachel’s house phone, stumbling out the front door of the nearly complete job site.

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