The Ryder Townhouse:
“Oh my goodness, Kyra,” Cassandra gasped in excitement as she held her friend’s shoulders to steady them both. They laughed together at the unexpected meeting at the foot of the steps. They’d nearly collided together, so distracted with other thoughts as they’d been walking.
“Cassandra,” Kyra exclaimed in equal pleasure. A giggle escaped her lips as she reached out to hug her long lost friend. Stephen stood behind her, bracing his heart for a moment as he recovered from the shock of nearly witnessing their collision on the stairs.
“It’s so good to see you again,” she smiled happily. She’d been so focused on welcoming Blake home that she hadn’t expected to instead be seeing Kyra in the house. Perhaps Blake hadn’t even come home yet, she realized with a start. Looking down at the empty front hallway, she asked, “Is Serena here too?” If there was one person she’d been looking forward to seeing again, it was Serena.
“Actually,” Kyra conspired mischievously, “Serena had to forego our trip at the last minute.”
“Oh,” she helplessly sighed. The disappointment in her eyes was evident.
“It was for a very good reason though,” Kyra explained, continuing to smile as she told Cassandra the news they’d recently learned. “Serena just found out that she’s carrying Jacob’s baby.”
Cassandra’s spirits rose swiftly as her eyes lit up with true excitement. “Serena is pregnant,” she exclaimed. “That’s wonderful!” Suddenly remembering her failing manners, her eyes fell down to gaze at Kyra and she remarked, “I so happy for both of you! You must all be feeling so blessed right now.”
“We have been blessed,” Kyra agreed wholeheartedly, remembering how different life had been for them, just one year earlier.
“That’s very true,” spoke a deep voice of assurance from the front door as it quietly closed.
Cassandra’s face dropped just a little as she caught sight of the man standing there, his appearance as strong and sure of himself as ever. Without warning, tears of happiness burst forth from her eyes to see that Caleb had returned to her life at long last.
Unable to help herself, she strode forward to give him a genuine hug. She could scarcely believe how much she’d missed him during these last few months away from the manor.
Smiling down at her compassionately, Caleb wiped a few tears from her cheeks, understanding what she was unable to say at that moment. He felt a tinge of regret that he hadn’t made more of an effort to come and visit her since the wedding.
“We’ll all have plenty of time to spend together this month,” he promised her with a smile of encouragement.
“That’s right,” Stephen interjected in an effort to try and break the tension he suddenly felt mounting in the room. “You’ll be there when my grandchild makes its entrance into the world, won’t you?”
Smiling as well now, knowing she’d begun to make a spectacle of herself, she agreed enthusiastically that she was in for a real treat later this month at Damon Manor. “I can’t believe I’m going to be there for that, really…”
Forcing the concern in his eyes to lighten a little, Caleb gave Cassandra’s shoulders a brief squeeze before letting go of her completely. He hoped her emotional outburst had merely been for the fact that she’d missed them all so much. He would hate to think she really was that unhappy living here at the Ryder townhouse.
“Oh, Caleb,” Kyra called out before she could forget to remind him. “My mid-wife?”
“Yes, of course,” he replied with a nod. “I asked her to sit tight in the other coach until I found out what arrangements had been made here.”
“Everything has been taken care of,” Stephen assured them. “Your escorts have all been rented rooms in town for the night, but I had a room prepared upstairs near yours for the mid-wife.”
“Thank you,” Caleb responded. “I’ll go and fetch her then,” he told Kyra.
Unable to help herself, Kyra smiled over at him with an intentional pat to her stomach. “You just never really know when the baby might decide to—“
“No,” Caleb held up a finger of warning to her. Dare she tease him about such a thing, he warned with just one look. “Don’t even suggest it in jest,” his voice fairly growled.
Bursting out in a fit of laughter, Kyra quickly reached for her father’s hand. “Let’s go and see Mother now,” she invited him.
Happy to see the fire between Caleb and his daughter still burned as bright as ever, Stephen led her up the steps with a proud smile planted firmly on his face.
“I’ll be right back,” Caleb told Cassandra as he turned back to the door.
Nodding up at him happily now, feeling remarkably more at ease, she turned away from the sight of him heading out the door. Her hands folded together in a demure fashion at her waist, although inside she was whispering a small prayer of thanks to the heavens above for the return of the circle of her friends. It didn’t even occur to her to turn around and look when the front door slowly shut closed behind her.
Standing silently behind her, Blake felt his heart constricting in his chest as he caught his first sight of her unnoticed. If she had any idea at all what he was thinking at that moment, he mused. The urge to draw her into his arms for a brief hug was consuming his thoughts so completely right now. But, no… He knew that wasn’t to be. A hug would be the last thing she’d expect from him, even with such a long separation between them now over.
Standing so quietly in the room, Cassandra began to get the uneasy feeling that she was not standing there alone. The hair on the back of her neck was beginning to rise as she felt the slightest warm breeze grazing her sensitive skin.
Her eyes shifted ever so slightly as her hands clasped together more fully. It was then that she forced herself to turn around, feeling the weight of his presence even before she first caught sight of him.
“Blake,” she breathed unexpectedly. Caught completely off-guard, she felt her heart picking up speed as she tried to gather her thoughts together. What had she been thinking before she’d run into Kyra on the steps? All at once her mind was drawing up a complete blank.
Held motionless in his own state of shock, Blake felt a little off balance as he fully took in the sight of her for the first time in weeks. He was completely awed by what he saw as he looked down at her.
For the first time in years, Blake felt completely disarmed in the presence of a woman, and he was so surprised to realize why that was. It wasn’t just to be standing before his wife that had him so taken aback… She had changed… Somehow during the last weeks of their separation, Cassandra had changed, and he was held speechless for it.
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