Epilogue – Gen 2

One year later……

Ages:  Cole & Dannie 34,  Reagan and Ryan 9,  Taylor 11

Cole and Dannie took off for a long weekend getaway to celebrate the first anniversary of their ‘pinky promise’.  Their last morning there, Cole and Dannie prepared breakfast together in the small kitchen of the rented condo. Instead of eating inside, they stepped out onto the terrace to enjoy the morning solitude together.

Cole couldn’t stop the corners of his mouth from turning up as he watched Dannie.  Her hair fluttered gently in the calm sea breeze, while she lazily drank her coffee, lost deep in her thoughts.  She took his breath away. If this was a dream, he never wanted to wake up.  Dannie had been a godsend and had healed his broken heart along with his broken family.  The only thing missing, he thought sadly, is to let Taylor know I’m her father.

He remembered when his mother officially adopted him and presented him with a new birth certificate.  I made him feel as if he finally belonged. He would be able to offer that, and more, to Taylor.  He thought about bringing it up again today but decided not to.  He didn’t want to spoil the rest of their weekend with hurt feelings. That’s the only thing they’d really argued about so far, deciding when to tell the kids the truth about Cole being Taylor’s father.  He wanted to tell her right away, but Dannie wanted to wait until the twins were 14 and Taylor was 16. Her rational was the kids would all be mature enough to understand what it really meant. Plus, she argued, it would give them time to bond as a family first. Cole figured she was more worried about Taylor’s reaction and was just postponing the inevitable. He knew she would have done it if he insisted, but he didn’t want to force her.

It wasn’t like Taylor hadn’t easily accepted him as a father figure. In fact she craved it. Taylor was such a sweet child, so much like her mother and very eager to please. That asshole Ryker had never even tried to be a father to her. He reminded him of Avery in so many ways. Two losers that didn’t deserve children.

Reagan’s acceptance of Dannie as a surrogate mother was less instant. She had become a bit withdrawn and brooding after Dannie and Taylor moved in.  Cole knew it was because she was afraid to trust Dannie, even as she and Taylor had become fast friends.

Ryan, on the other hand, was laid back and rolled with the punches. He said what was on his mind, and most of the time, it was inappropriate. Cole had more than one talk with him about his language.Reagan usually giggled at his ‘potty’ jokes, having become used to his behavior, but Taylor was appalled, which just fed into his bad behavior.  Regardless, much to Cole’s relief, Dannie’s sweet nature had eventually managed to win both of his children over.  He knew Dannie loved them as if they were hers.

Dannie sighed softly and put her coffee down. Cole knew, whatever she’d been thinking about, she was getting ready to tell him.

“Cole?” she said, a little hesitantly, “How would you feel about having another baby?”

Cole caught his breath and accidentally inhaled his coffee instead of drinking it.  “Are you….?” he choked out, and coughed some more.

Dannie laughed nervously. “Oh Cole, I’m sorry,” she said as he recovered, “I guess I could’ve phrased that a little better. Baby, I’m not pregnant.”

He couldn’t help the sigh of relief that escaped his lips or the way he slumped back into the chair. He was more traumatized from the experience with Avery than he thought.  With the addition of Taylor and Dannie to his family, Cole’s life felt complete. Still, she had thrown him for a loop and he remained speechless, trying to process how he felt about her question.  Did he want to add their family?

When he didn’t say anything right away, Dannie started backpedaling. “If you don’t want to, it’s okay,” she said softly, shaking her head.

He could hear the disappointment in her voice and it made his chest tighten. He thought maybe he knew why, but he needed to hear her say it. Because as sad as she sounded, he wasn’t sure this was the right thing to do and it pained him. Avery’s pregnancy ruined their marriage. It was probably doomed anyway, but things changed so dramatically when the twins were born, it scared him to think about messing up what he and Dannie had found with each other.

He finally found his voice. “Dannie, I’m sorry.  It’s just a lot to digest. But if it’s on your mind, I need to understand why…I mean…I love you sweetheart, but babies change things…. so why this sudden desire to have another child?”

Dannie sighed softly. “You’ll probably think it’s for all the wrong reasons. Mostly, though, it’s because I love you.” She smiled sweetly before going on. “You are such a loving, giving father, and I truly want to have another baby with you.  The right way.  And, before you say anything, it’s not completely selfish. I truly think a child, would help create new, happy memories. And not just for the two of us, but for the kids too. I’m not sure how to explain it, I just feel like a baby would truly bond us all together.  He or she would be ours. Not yours or mine, but ours and theirs too.”

Cole leaned across the table and kissed her softly once she stopped talking. She had shocked him. He thought it was her biological clock ticking, which had been Avery’s reason for getting pregnant – or maybe it was to sink her claws into his family further, he wasn’t really sure which.  Regardless, Cole was deeply touched by Dannie’s heartfelt reasons to want to have a child with him. He knew he couldn’t say no. And really, he knew, he didn’t want to say no. Not anymore.

When he pulled back from their kiss, he pushed a few stray hairs back behind her ear while he searched blue eyes that were glittering with emotion. Dannie was holding her  breath waiting for his response. “Every time I think I can’t possibly love you more, you do something like this, and I do,” he finally said, then paused for a few seconds, giving his beautiful lover a mischievous grin. “So, how soon can we start this baby making?”

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 ❤️ Thank you again for readin❤️

I hope you fell in love with Cole, Dannie and their children as much as I did.

To Be Continued with a Prologue for Generation Three…..

Go back to Chapter 2.82

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Chapter 2.82 – A Day at A Time

This time, instead of sitting in uncomfortable silence on the drive back to Cole’s house, Dannie and Cole made small talk, and decided where they wanted to take the kids to eat.

Dannie kept stealing glances at Cole while they chatted about nothing. He looked – almost happy. A million times better than he had just an hour ago and she was immensely relieved. It pained her that her actions cut him so deeply. He had been through enough hurt already.

She had made so many mistakes and it almost cost her dearly. How could she have ever thought keeping Taylor secret from Cole was a good idea? Of course he would have embraced his child. She didn’t want to disappoint anyone, but honestly, she was a little afraid of Ryker. She didn’t want to think about him anymore. She wasted 15 years of her life doing what her Dad wanted, and then what Ryker wanted, trying to keep them happy.  She had finally escaped, and was going to do what she wanted, but now, she wasn’t sure what that was anymore.

She knew she desperately wanted Cole to continue to be a part of her life. Even if it had to be as friends only.  She was terrified he would hate her. But he forgave her. When he hugged her, she felt truly loved for the first time in – well – maybe ever. She thought Ryker’s jealousy and controlling nature meant he loved her. She was wrong. He wanted to own her. And when they finally got married, it only became worse.

She had been ready for a simple, boring life with her daughter. But now Cole made it complicated. But was it a good or bad complication? She was grateful he had forgiven her and surprised that he still wanted to see her – to date her even. That thought brought a smile to her face in spite of the obstacles that were still in front of them.

“You getting out?” asked Cole surprising her out of her thoughts. He was looking at her with so much tenderness that it made chills run through her. Yes, this was going to be really hard. She was already falling in love with him. Or was it just lust? How could she be sure and not make another mistake?

When they walked into his home, the kids were in the playroom with his Nanny, Sarah. Cole told her their plans and asked if she wanted to join them. She politely declined.

“Mom!” exclaimed Taylor when she saw her ran to give her a hug. She and Taylor were two peas in a pod. They were as close as any mother and daughter could ever be. She loved her little girl more than anything.

Then Cole introduced his children. “Ryan, Reagan,” he called out, “I have someone I want you to meet. This is Dannie Perkins, a very, very good friend of mine, and as you can clearly see, Taylor’s mother.”

The look in his eyes as he introduced her warmed her heart. He wore his heart on his sleeve. She could see the love he had for his children when he called them over. He had a similar expression when he looked at her. He needed to stop or she was in trouble.

This was the first time she had seen the twins and she almost gasped out loud. He was right. Taylor and Reagan looked like sisters. Duh, she thought to herself, they are sisters.  “It’s a pleasure to meet you both,” she finally said to them. “You have a very cool dad. But I suppose you know that already.” She and Cole exchanged a quick glance. He smiled, she melted.

“You guys hungry?” asked Cole grinning. He was rewarded with a resounding chorus of yeses from the three kids. It would be their first ‘play date’ with the children. This really is a new beginning, she thought and smiled to herself.

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Dannie was getting ready for her and Cole’s first official non-play date date. She and Taylor had been spending a couple of days a week with him and the twins either at the park or his house. Finally he asked her if she would like to go out to eat. She knew they had a lot to settle that hadn’t been done yet because they needed privacy to talk. She was excited and nervous. She was 33 but had butterflies like a teenager going out on their first date.

Part of her nerves had to do with the test results. They had come in the mail the day before, confirming what she already knew. Regardless, she cried when she read them.  It was like one more weight had been removed and she hadn’t realized how heavy it had been until it was gone. This was getting real, and people would know.

Her mom walked in and saw her and she knew it was time to let them in on her secret. It was almost harder to disappoint them, than it had been to tell Cole.

Her father rolled his eyes and started to say something about that being the reason Ryker messed around, but her mother, thankfully, cut him off.  He seemed more upset that his grandchild’s father was not a famous football star, but the town vet. He wanted to blame her for their divorce.

She told them she had a date with Cole, her daughter’s father, and that they were now seeing each other regularly.  Her Dad flipped out.  He knew all about Cole’s ex-wife being in prison. As she listened to him rant, she decided she didn’t care what he thought. He was part of the reason she married Ryker in the first place, so she tuned him out. She knew he loved Taylor, she just hoped it wasn’t less now.

But her mom was her rock.  She had helped her through her divorce and would help her through the next few months while she and Cole figured things out.  Her mom knows first hand what a compassionate person he is, because she takes their dog to him.

When Cole rang the bell, she blew out a slow breath and answered the door. When she saw him standing there, dressed up for her, her heart skipped a beat. She was already falling hard for him. Cole had the power to make her feel better.

When he let out a low whistle, her insides turned to jelly. No one had made her feel this way in a very long time. 10 years ago maybe – at the reunion.

She stood there with her mouth open and he took her hands in his. “You look beautiful Dannie,” he said with a smirk. Then he dropped her hands and motioned towards his car, “After you.”  She was hopelessly hooked on this man.

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Once they were seated and their food ordered, she decided to tell him about the test. “Cole. I got the results back. You officially have three children.”

He smiled and his eyes sparkled. “I adore Taylor,” he said. She could hear the love in his voice for his newest daughter. “She’s beautiful, sweet and polite. Just like her mother. You’ve done a wonderful job with her.”

Dannie felt heat run up her neck and into her face at his compliment. “She has been easy, such a blessing.” She stopped and huffed out a small breath. “Cole, until yesterday, you were the only person that knew about Taylor. I told my parents last night. I had to. Mom saw me crying over the test results.”

Cole’s expression changed from admiration to concern in an instant. “You mean, you never told anyone at all? You carried that secret alone for all this time?”

Dannie swallowed hard. “You were the first to know. It’s only right that you were, but it felt good to finally share it with them too.”

Cole smiled at her. “My mom told me something similar. Actually it was when Laney cheated on me with YOUR ex-husband. I was understandably upset. And she told me when you share your pain, it only hurts half as much. Evidently my real mother told my dad that. And it got passed down. But sweetheart. It’s true. If you have someone to share what hurts, it somehow makes it more bearable. Like, when you came to the trial with me, it helped so much to have you there.”

Dannie was getting emotional. Cole was the best thing to happen to her since Taylor. She wanted to jump across the table and kiss him. But she couldn’t let herself get carried away and ruin their fragile friendship. “I’m glad it helped. I will have to remember that.”

“So I probably should tell my parents too, if that’s okay with you.” said Cole.

He asked? Sweet Cole. “Of course. Whenever you are ready. But, make sure to tell them we don’t want it to get out until we are ready to tell the kids. It would be terrible for them to find out…like you did.”

“Okay. What about Ryker?”

“I’ve already contacted my lawyer and he is sending papers to him letting him know and to stop the child support. I have offered to pay back what he has paid so far,” replied Dannie.

“I will pay it. She’s my daughter and whatever he was sending you, I will start sending too. We are in this together – remember?”

“It’s just hard Cole. I promise I didn’t come back to try and get money from you.”

“Dannie! I know you didn’t. Please, stop apologizing for stuff you didn’t do!” he said, frustration obvious in his tone. Then he looked at her curiously for a minute. “Did Ryker abuse you? Is that why you always apologize? Please, be honest with me.”

“No. He never hit me. You’ve asked me that before,” she said honestly.

“It’s just you act like you don’t have a say in anything, and do whatever anyone says. LIke you’re afraid to express your wishes. I guess it’s just that hint of fear that didn’t used to be there back in high school. You were more confident then. You’re not afraid of me – are you?”

“No. You are considerate and sweet. I’m not afraid of you Cole. Maybe afraid of losing your friendship again, but not of you.”

“I’m not going anywhere Dannie. But that’s what it is, isn’t it. Ryker made you afraid. He controlled you. When you weren’t with him, you seemed really happy. Why’d you go back?”

“Cole, do we have to do this?” she said sheepishly.  She really didn’t want to discuss Ryker.

“I just want to understand you better. That’s what we’re doing, aren’t we? Dating so we can get to know each other. I want to know what makes you act afraid. That’s all.”

“I went back with him because he was being nice – okay? And…” Dannie paused not wanting to go on and ruin the mood.

“And?” asked Cole prompting her to continue.

Dannie sighed loudly and continued. “My father idolizes Ryker and had always wanted us to be together. He wished he had a boy to play sports with. So he kept pushing us together. He was thrilled when we got married. And he doesn’t like that I’m getting ready to publish a series of cheap romance novels. He was okay with it while I was with Ryker. Said it was a stupid hobby, but figured the wife of a football star didn’t need a real job.”

“That sucks,” deadpanned Cole.

Dannie couldn’t help but laugh. “Yes. It did, does.”

“And Ryker?”

Dannie rolled her eyes. “He told me what I needed to do and when. But, I knew he worked really, really hard. It’s a tough profession and takes a toll on the men both physically and mentally. So I had to be there for him when he needed me. When he would get hurt, and he did a few times, it stressed him out badly. The fact that I defied him and came to the reunion caused a huge fight. That’s why I was so upset. He wanted me to be there for him. But he didn’t need me. He was in training camp all day everyday and then came home and crashed. He just wanted me in the stands. I was just arm candy.” Dannie felt relief flood through her at having unloaded her frustrations.

“Dannie, don’t make excuses for him anymore,” said Cole. He looked upset even though his voice was soft. Then he smiled at her. She was all kinds of confused by him. “Feel better?” he asked.

How did he know?  she wondered. “Yes. I guess you tricked me into sharing my pain. You sneaky man.”

“Maybe,” he said with a smirk, “But, you know, I will never demand that you do anything. I’m not Ryker. We will discuss it. You have an opinion. It counts and is valued.”

“Cole,” I love you, she almost said, but swallowed her words. Did she? She had said that before, but it was meant as ‘I love you as a friend’, not ‘I’m in love with you’. “We should talk about when to tell the kids,” she said instead.

Cole got serious. “Yes. I’ve been thinking about that too. They have been through so much, I’m not sure I want to tell them yet. What do you think?”

She smiled at him before answering. “I think you are probably right. I am sure the twins are still feeling vulnerable after their mother was yanked out of their lives. And well, Taylor was uprooted and is expecting to move again. I do need to let her know we aren’t, but I suspect that will be a welcome conversation. I think we do need to wait.” Dannie fiddled with her wine a bit before continuing. “And we need to figure us out. Whatever that means, and however long it takes.”

“We should establish some ground rules. Right now, all I want to do is take you to the nearest hotel. But I don’t think that would be a good idea. You and I are both still reeling from the past few months, and now we have just added another stressor on top of all of that.  We need to go slow and make sure what we might be feeling isn’t just lust, or the need to not be alone. And Dannie, I’m not saying that lust is all I’m feeling for you. It’s not. But there’s so much more at stake now. We have to be sure.”

Dannie was close to tears at his speech. She wanted the exact same thing. To blow off dinner and go to a hotel. “I know, but Cole, how will we know?”

“I’m not sure. Take it a day at time I guess. And maybe we should take sex off the table. A no sex pact will take the pressure off. It will give us time to get comfortable with each other and what we want out of this relationship. Whether to remain BFFs or move to the next step. Plus that gives us time to get to know each other’s kids. God, this feels so clinical.”

Dannie couldn’t help but laugh. “Sorry. It’s not funny. But you are right. We are both so gun shy that we need ground rules to feel comfortable. How did our lives get so messed up?”

Cole shook his head. “Impulsive decisions maybe? So we need ground rules for the kids too.  I think we should wait to see how things go between us before telling them. It’ll be better if our relationship is settled first, that way we can answer their questions with certainty.”

Dannie held up her glass. “To ground rules,” she said, feeling relieved. He was right, the pressure was suddenly off.  She felt like she could breathe, even though she still wanted to find that hotel, she knew it was better to wait. She’d just stock up on batteries.

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Cole and Dannie were alone together in a cabin in the woods celebrating the union of their two families.  Dannie thought back over the last nine months since they instituted the ‘no sex pact’.  She learned that she could trust Cole, but he had been hurt badly and it had been harder for him to give her his trust and therefore his love.

A year had passed since Avery’s conviction. She and Taylor spent every weekend and at least one day during the week together with Cole and his children.  There was no doubt they had a strong physical attraction to each other.  But he was right to make them go slow.  He had to be sure.

Four months into their agreement, Ryan, who she learned had no filter, asked when they were getting married. The the girls chimed in excitedly. It was nice to see Cole smile at their excitement.  He could see that his children had accepted her and there was no doubt that Taylor adored him.

Only a few days later, they shared their second ‘first’ kiss.  Dannie remembered it vividly. Taylor had asked if she could spend the night with Reagan.  So after the kids were in bed, she and Cole settled on the couch, with a glass of wine to relax, and watch a movie together before she went home.

Instead of turning on a movie though, Cole surprised her. He took the wine from her and pulled her into his lap. Then, he kissed her. It was gentle and sweet at first before blind passion took over.

Dannie was ready for him right then and there.  But, when she moved to push off his shirt, he stopped her and whispered – ‘no sex pact’ – and apologized.  At least he kissed her again.

It had been difficult to stop, but it allowed her to think straight. Even though, when she got home, all she could think about was his kiss and had to give herself relief. She imagined he was probably doing the same thing. She giggled in the dark, and figured it was good fodder for her books.

After three months of making out like horny teenagers, Cole said the three words she had longed to hear. I love you.  Evidently they just slipped out, and she cried when he said he was sorry for saying it. He was going painfully slow and each next step was hard for him. She knew by now, she loved him very much, and it had hurt for him to want to take back his declaration of love. He was afraid. And part of that was her fault.

The next time he told her how he felt, it was very deliberate.  It was one of their date nights at dinner in the late spring.  She wanted to cry this time because she knew he had reconciled his feelings about her.  She responded in kind.  Then he blew her mind and asked her if she and Taylor would move in with them as soon as school was out for the summer.

When he brought up marriage, she sadly suggested they wait until they told the kids about Taylor.  Taylor would be the only one without the Murdock name, and she didn’t want her to feel ‘different’.  In reality, Dannie was the only one that wasn’t a Murdock. Cole didn’t question her and she was relieved.  She was afraid he would take it as rejection.  Later they would decide when the right time was to tell the kids the truth about Taylor.

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“Mmmm,” said Dannie and sighed, “That was amazing.” She closed her eyes and leaned into Cole’s chest.

Cole relished the feel of her in his arms. They had waited so long. “It was…,” he readily agreed. He kissed her forehead and chuckled. “But maybe it’s because it’s been a helluva long time since either of us have had sex?”

“Don’t you dare say that Cole Murdock!” objected Dannie. “That’s so mean and so not true. Well, the ‘helluva long time’ part is, but that’s not what made it amazing and you know it. It’s because we made love. And you know what else? I truly believe Taylor was conceived in love as well. For me, it wasn’t just sex, it meant something.”

“I do know,” he said grinning. “I felt it too. I love you Dannie and I want to make love to you for the rest of our lives.”

Dannie let out another contented sigh and looked up at him. “Promise?”

Cole pulled her closer. “Promise,” he said, “because if you ever left me I might just die.”

Dannie giggled. “I’ll never, ever leave you, so no dying.….” she said and giggled drunkenly again.

Her tinkly giggle gave Cole chill bumps and he smiled. Not so long ago, he had been afraid he would never hear it again.

Then she wiggled her little finger in his face, her eyes glowing. “Pinky swear!  Neither of us will ever leave the other. We’re together forever.” She ended her sentence with a flourish.

Cole laughed at Dannie and her pinky swears. But he didn’t care, he would do it for her. Hell, he’d probably do just about anything for her. He scooted around so he could hook his little finger with hers. “I love you, so I happily pinky swear that I will never, ever leave you. We’re together forever.”

After they hooked pinkies, Cole kissed her deeply.  Then they lay back down together.

“Are you happy now?” asked Cole teasing.

“Yes,” said Dannie and locked her fingers with his.  “It felt like we just said our own private marriage vows. And now we’re married by virtue of our Pinky Promise to each other. I know, it’s silly. But don’t you dare laugh at me.”

He bit back his laugh because that’s exactly what he was going to do. “It’s not silly Dannie, it’s true,” agreed Cole and smirked at her, “Pinky Promises don’t have expiration dates, remember? They’re forever.”

The End…..    

Of Gen 2

Go to the Epilogue >>>>>>

Go Back to Chapter 2.81

A/N:  I have a Casting Call thread for Gen 3.  It contains sneak peek pics of Gen 3 kids as teens! Click here to see them and get inspired!

To my readers:  Thank you for hanging in there with me, reading and commenting. And for those whose sims you let me have to use and abuse – I am eternally grateful.  You guys make what I already love doing  even more fun!  Gen 3 will begin the week of January 20th. Thanks again!  ♥♥♥♥♥ 

♥♥♥♥♥ Happy New Year! ♥♥♥♥♥ 

Chapter 2.81 – Explanations

Cole changed out of his scrubs and poured himself a drink while he waited for Dannie.  He hoped the alcohol would calm his nerves. However, when the doorbell rang, his hands were still shaking and his stomach felt like he swallowed rocks.

“Come on in,” he said flatly as he opened the door for her.

“Thank you,” replied Dannie, with a smile that didn’t reach her eyes.  “Where’s Taylor?”

“They are out back playing,” said Cole, with a calmness he didn’t feel. “They are fine. Miss Sarah is with them.” He turned and went into the dining room, sat down and pointed to the chair across from him.

“Cole, are you okay?” asked Dannie as she took the offered chair.

He inhaled sharply before answering. “No. I’m not, so I’ll get straight to the point,” he said as he looked her in the eye, “Dannie, please, tell me I’m wrong and it’s just a crazy coincidence that Taylor and Reagan look like clones of each other.”

“Oh…” squeaked out Dannie and closed her eyes for a moment, hiding her face behind her hands. When she opened them and met Cole’s gaze, they were swimming in unshed tears. “I’ve wanted to tell you for so long. But I couldn’t, and then it was too late. I didn’t know for sure until after she was born.” Then she looked down, unable to look at him any longer. “I knew as soon as I saw her,” she added so softly he almost didn’t hear her confession.

Cole was livid. She didn’t even try to deny it. His hands involuntarily balled into fists as he spoke.  “That was NINE years ago Dannie!” he barked out, “And all this time, you let that asshole think she was his? And didn’t think even once you should let me know I had a daughter? How in the hell could you do that to me?”

Dannie jumped back at his harsh words and continued to study her hands. “You were married,” she said, now softly crying, “You were happy, planning a future. I couldn’t drop this on you and destroy that.”  She finally looked up before adding, “Obviously, in hindsight, it was a terrible decision.”

“Fuck Dannie,” he said running his hands through his hair. His heart was racing and his hands were shaking. “We are both divorced and yet, you still didn’t tell me. I suppose you are letting him pay child support too. Why? Goddammit Dannie! She’s MY DAUGHTER!”

Dannie was crying uncontrollably now.  “Cole … you don’t understand….” she said between shuddering breaths.

“Damn right I don’t understand!” he bellowed. He inhaled sharply, his voice sounded foreign to his own ears and unnerved him even more. He clenched his jaw tight enough to crack a tooth in order to regain some semblance of control before he spoke again. “Dannie, you should just take Taylor and leave. I need to work this out in my head. I’m so angry right now I can’t think straight. But I promise you this – It. Isn’t. Over.” Cole’s voice shook with the last words. Everything was so fucked up.

“Cole, I need to explain, please – please, don’t make me leave yet,” begged Dannie through her tears.

He stopped and looked at her. Really looked. She was a complete mess and that twisted up something inside of him. What was he doing? He took a deep breath trying to maintain the control that hung by a thread. “You couldn’t get away from me fast enough after the verdict. Now I know why. Fine. But, we have to get out of here. I don’t want the kids to accidentally overhear us. Sarah can watch them. We’ll go to the park.”

She nodded her agreement, the word ‘okay’ barely audible.

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Cole calmed down slightly on the way over.  Neither spoke in the car, each trying to process this change in their lives. Once there, he found a table away from other park goers.  “So – Dannie. Do you want to tell me what in the fucking hell were you thinking?” Anger and pain still colored his words even though he tried to remain calm.

Dannie cringed a little before beginning, but was no longer crying. “When I saw you at Nicky’s wedding, and watched how hard you were trying to make your relationship with Yasmine work, that’s when I knew I needed to do the same and fix my own marriage.” She sounded almost apologetic when she spoke. “I had badly wanted a baby for about a year but Ryker wasn’t ready. So, when I got back from the wedding, we sat down and talked. I hoped it would show I was still committed to our marriage and Ryker finally agreed. I was so happy.”

She stopped and took a shuddered breath before continuing. “But then, Ryker and I argued horribly about me even going to the reunion. He was still angry with me when I left. I was hurting and you made me feel wanted in a way he never really had. He wanted to own me. You wanted to care for me. Cole…I have always loved you. And after that night I knew it was probably more than deep friendship. And it made me realize I didn’t love Ryker. And probably never did. I made up my mind to leave him.”

Cole felt sick at his stomach listening to her. Why didn’t she tell him how she felt? She wasn’t making any sense. “But you didn’t you leave him? Why not?” he asked.

She looked at her hands again. “When I got home, Ryker was being sweet and apologized to me. Something he rarely does. I felt so guilty for cheating on him. So, I stayed and,” she paused and swallowed hard before adding, “we were together.”

Cole couldn’t help the look of disgust that must have been clear on his face at her words.

She threw her hands up in frustration. “Cole, he was my husband and he didn’t deserve to have me cheat on him. And things really were better for awhile after that. When I realized I was pregnant, I truly didn’t know whose child it was. If she wasn’t Ryker’s I planned to leave. But then, when you called and said you were married, I suddenly felt trapped, so I didn’t go through with the paternity test. I convinced myself, it didn’t matter and she was likely his anyway.” Dannie started crying again, barely able to get the words out.

Cole silently waited for her to pull herself together. Timing again. Always wrong for them. He knew what she was talking about. He had felt it too after their night together, that they could be good together. But she was married.

Finally, she went on unable to look at him. “I obviously knew I was pregnant when you called To tell me you were married, but I couldn’t tell you. I waited and texted later so you wouldn’t know I was lying about my due date.”

Cole remembered when she told him she was pregnant, and she was right, he had mentally calculated to see if she could have been pregnant with his baby. He felt guilty for being relieved it wasn’t his. Her story was making him sick. She had passed off his child as another man’s for nine years, staying in a bad marriage because he married a sociopath on the rebound. Yes, in hindsight, his dad was right, he was hurting after Yasmine left him, and Avery had made him feel wanted. Fuck!

“But Dannie….” he finally choked out, “once she was born…I don’t understand, you didn’t want to be with Ryker, but you stayed. Why didn’t you trust me?”

Dannie looked up at Cole. “After she was born, I knew . . .  she looked, looks, so much like you,” she whispered as a ghost of a smile appeared through her tears. “Taylor was a ray of sunshine in my life. She is the best thing that ever happened to me.  I was happy.  She gave me a reason to get up everyday. And Ryker, he more or less let us be. He didn’t expect anything from me after she was born. So it was easy to lose myself in being her mother.  And, well, you were married and very happy with your own family.  There was no reason to destroy your life over something that couldn’t be changed.”

She stopped and took a cleansing breath. Cole was afraid to speak, he was so angry and hurt.

She continued….“I found out through the gossip mags that he had been cheating on me. He was pissed when I confronted him, and at first denied it. Then he finally admitted it. Said he had to get it somewhere. So I filed for divorce. At first, he threw a fit, but then, he said he didn’t care. He didn’t need to be saddled with a wife and kid. And well, you know the rest.”

She stopped talking, tears staining her beautiful face, evidently finished with her story. Cole was still trying to process that he had another child, and her mother, Dannie, of all people, didn’t think it was important enough to let him know.

“Cole…say something, you’re scaring me,” she said on the verge of tears again.

“Dannie…I thought I knew you…but now, I don’t know you at all. You sat with me for three fucking weeks in that courtroom. God, I wanted to see if we might be able to make a life together. But the entire time, you were plotting to take MY child and run away. To hide her from me and let that son of bitch continue to believe she was his!” His words started soft, but by the time he got to the end his voice was hard and bitter again. He couldn’t help it.

She gasped at his accusations. “OH NO! No Cole. As soon as I got the advance on my book, I was going to get a lawyer and cut him out of her life. He’s practically already done that himself anyway. And yes, I took his money, for Taylor, not me. It’s all in a college fund. Then… if you weren’t with someone, I was going to tell you.”

“God Dannie!” said Cole in frustration, “You don’t think Taylor would eventually want to know who her father was? And so what if I was with someone else. Big. Fucking. Deal.  If she loved me, it wouldn’t have mattered. It was almost ten years ago! Taylor is my child, I had a right to know! You made me miss nine years of her life! You took that away from me!”

Dannie was crying again. “I’m sorry Cole. I know I was wrong.”  She put her head down and sobbed.

Cole just stared at her, hurt and numb. “I want a paternity test done immediately,” he said with an eerie calmness. “Then, I want that asshole cut out of her life.  And Dannie, you cannot move away. Taylor has to be told. My kids have to know too, that they have a sister.”

“Okay,” agreed Dannie meekly. She had her arms wrapped around herself rocking back and forth. Then she added, “Cole, please don’t hate me. I couldn’t bear it. You’re my best friend, I love you.”

At her plea, Cole really looked at her for the first time since he figured things out. He realized she was broken, like a little bird, no longer able to fly. He had broken her. But, wasn’t that what he wanted?  To get back at her for the wrong she had done? To make her suffer as much as him? He had so much anger inside, so why did he suddenly have the urge to comfort her?

She wasn’t angry with him for his demands. In fact, she had quickly agreed to them without question. There was simply no fight left in her. Between her living with an asshole for fifteen years, and now him ripping her apart, she was only a shell of herself.  Gone was her positive outlook and tinkly little laugh,  replaced now by tears of regret and something else. Sorrow and pain that she would have to carry for the rest of her life.

Dannie was hurting as bad, if not more, than he was. She had stood by him when he needed her the most and asked for nothing in return. But was that just to ease her guilt?  He didn’t think so. And looking at her now, he wondered how hard it must have been for her not to tell him. She said she loved him and he believed her.

Cole was confused by his conflicting emotions.  He wanted to hate Dannie for lying to him, but on the other hand, he wanted to ease her pain. And then, there was Taylor. God, Taylor, his daughter. The one whose life could still be salvaged in this mess. She was living breathing proof that their feelings for each other were complicated and deep. They had to figure this out, for her. They would – together and that gave him some comfort.

His anger began to slowly fade, replaced by compassion. This was Dannie, his best friend, he loved her. The awareness that he still held deep feelings for her hit him hard. No wonder he was so angry. He had been hurt deeply by the one person he trusted the most.

Dannie had become uncomfortable with his silence and studied her hands once more as tears dripped off her chin and into her lap. She was a wreck, and finally, Cole’s need to comfort her won out.  He reached across the table and covered her hand with his. “Dannie. I don’t hate you. I love you too…you have been my best friend forever.”

His words prompted a fresh round of tears. “I’m….so….sorry….forgive me….please.” She choked the words out between her sobs.

Cole stood up and pulled her into his arms to comfort her, and maybe himself a little too. It felt right to have her in his arms and that surprised him in a good way. His instincts to try to date each other were right. “I do forgive you, Dannie,” he whispered, “But we have a lot to figure out. I believe you did the best you could to make a good life for our daughter and not ruin mine, all at the expense of your own happiness.”  He chuckled softly.  “It was stupid as fuck, but….who am I to judge? I am not exactly the king of good decisions.”

“I was so wrong,” she said into his shoulder.

He hugged her tighter and she clung to him. They needed each other. He needed her to feel how deeply he cared for her, and not just because of Taylor. “You made a choice, the one you thought was best for everyone involved,” he said as gently as he could, “It wasn’t made out of malice, but out of love, and probably a healthy dose of fear.”

He released her and looked into her blue eyes, made even bluer by the redness surrounding them. He gently pushed her hair from her face and wiped away the tears staining her cheeks. “No more tears,” he said quietly, “Okay? We will figure this out.”

She nodded and gave him a ghost of a smile. Cole was relieved, finally, the timing might be right for for them even if the circumstances were complicated.

Cole sighed and leaned his forehead against hers. He searched her face for any sign of rejection, but saw only hope. He wanted badly to kiss her lips, swollen from crying, and make all of the pain of the past 10 years go away. But it was too soon. He needed to go slow. His heart couldn’t take another mistake, even though she didn’t feel like a mistake.

12-28-18_8-25-20 AMFinally, he spoke. “I’m sorry for the way I behaved. I had no right to make demands of you. I hope you don’t leave though, because I can’t wait to get to know my, no – our daughter. But also because I still want to get to know you, Dannie. We’ve both been forever changed by life’s cruel jokes, or maybe just our bad decisions. My earlier offer still stands. Let’s see where this goes. Let’s spend time together – have play dates with the kids. Learn to trust each other again. You aren’t alone in this anymore. No matter what, we are in this together and I couldn’t be happier about that.”

Dannie smiled and touched his face lovingly before replying. “You certainly don’t owe me any apologies. I’m sorry for not telling you sooner. It feels like a huge weight has been lifted. I hated deceiving you. And now that you know, Cole, I couldn’t possibly leave. Willow Creek is where we belong.”

Cole’s smile took over his face. “Well, in that case, why don’t we start right now? I’m sure everyone is starved. Let’s take the kids to get burgers. It can be our first date.”

Dannie finally smiled a real smile and Cole’s heart melted. He took her hand and threaded his fingers with hers. He gave her hand a little squeeze and when she squeezed back, he knew, their friendship had survived, and in fact was possibly blooming into something more.

They walked hand in hand out of the park in a much better place than when they arrived.

Go to Chapter 2.82>>>>>>

Go Back to Chapter 2.80

Chapter 2.80 – New Friend

Three weeks later…..Cole woke up to the twins storming into his bedroom.  “It’s moving day Daddy! Get up!” said Ryan shaking him.

Today they were finally getting settled into their own home.  When Avery was arrested, they had immediately moved in with Cole’s parents.  As part of the divorce, his and Avery’s home was sold so Cole had been looking for a new place. Leroy approached Cole and asked him if he would like to buy his home. It had become too much for him to manage alone and he was going to move in with Cole’s parents.  He jumped at the chance and they had it remodeled with the kids and Miss Sarah in mind.

Cole sat up laughing and ruffled Ryan’s hair. “Oh… yes it is! Are you guys excited or something?” he asked.

“Yessss! My new room is soooo cool!” said Ryan.

Cole looked at his daughter who didn’t seemed thrilled at all. “What’s wrong Reagan? I thought you liked your room too.”

“I do,” she said looking miserable.

“Then why the sad face?” asked Cole gently.

“I want my Mommy,” she said and burst into tears.

Cole pulled his eight year old daughter next to him on the bed. “Honey, I know you do. We all wish things had been different. We talked about this with the counselor. Mommy loves you still. She just got mixed up with a bad person and she made some bad choices. Now she has to pay for those choices.”

“But you got divorced! You said you weren’t! You lied!” cried his little girl.

Now it was Ryan that looked miserable. “Don’t cry Reagan…”

Cole’s heart was breaking and he hugged his daughter tighter. “Reagan, baby, at the time I said that, I didn’t know what…..”

“Daddy,” interrupted Ryan, looking guilty, “I told Reagan. I’m sorry. I told her Mommy kissed a bad man and he made her do bad things.”

“Ryan, where did you hear that?” asked Cole.

Ryan averted his eyes and didn’t answer.

“Ryan,” he said more forcefully.

“On TV …. and the Internet,” admitted Ryan.

Cole figured they were curious, because even to an 8 year-old, his explanations felt hollow. He was going to have to tell them more of the truth. He just didn’t know how much truth they could deal with. But not now.

“It’s okay Ryan,” said Cole gently, “You were JUST trying to help. Is Grandma up yet?” Ryan nodded so he continued. “Okay. Then why don’t you run get dressed and tell Grandma that Reagan and I’ll be down in a minute.”

“Reagan, are you okay?” asked Cole after her brother was out of the room.

“I want to see Mommy,” she said, and wiped her face with her hand, “You said she loves us. She must be sad too.”

Cole hadn’t planned to take them to see her. He didn’t want them exposed to that. It seemed that choice might now be taken from him. He wanted to pretend like she had died. But Avery wasn’t dead. She was still their mother and Reagan craved a mother figure. He didn’t know what to say. Truth was, he didn’t think he could see Avery without losing it.

Finally the words came. “Reagan…you understand that Mommy is in prison, right? And I don’t think they let children go there. But I will check. And baby, honestly, she might not want to see you. Okay? And I know she doesn’t want to see me.”

“Why did she kiss that bad man?” she asked.

“She doesn’t love me anymore sweetie. Sometimes people fall out of love, or find someone they love more. But that’s not true for parents and their children. No matter what, parents always love their children. It’s a universal rule. I love you and Ryan more than anything or anyone.”

“I love you too Daddy. Please – don’t be mad at Ryan. I sorta helped him look on the Internet.”

Cole almost laughed, even with the seriousness of the situation. Those two had each other’s backs and didn’t even know it. It must be a twin thing. “You know you can ask me anything, right? Anything at all. I’ll never, ever be mad for you asking a question,” he said and kissed the top of her head. “Now you go get dressed and let’s eat. It’s moving day!”

As he watched his little girl leave his room, Cole’s thoughts drifted to Dannie and their last conversation, three weeks ago, at the restaurant. She hadn’t called or texted since. He must have really upset her. He knew the kids would adore her. Who wouldn’t. But then, that could be a problem, especially for Reagan. Should she bond with Dannie and Dannie left, she would be devastated. In fact, Dannie had similar concerns for her own little girl. After seeing Reagan’s state of mind this morning, maybe it was just as well that he and Dannie had parted ways.

He sighed to himself and got up to get dressed. Sadly, the timing for them was still wrong, even though they were both single. Things were just too tangled up and complicated.

******************************************************************************

Cole’s now smaller family got settled into their new home just two weeks before school started. The twins were going to go back to public school since the case was closed and the media was leaving them alone. They were super excited.

He and his mom took them shopping for school supplies and clothes over the weekend. Cole didn’t know how he would have gotten through the last year without his family’s support.

Afterwards, they took the twins to the park to let them burn off some of their energy. He and his mom sat down while they played and made new friends.

“Cole, what happened with Dannie?” asked Sofia, “I thought you two were getting close during the trial.”

“She’s moving away soon and we didn’t want the kids to get attached and then have them leave. Plus, neither of us is looking for a relationship. Everything’s just still too raw. We are friends, that’s all. Oh, and I’m worried about Reagan. She wants to see Avery. I don’t know what to do.”

Sofia let put a slow breath. “I’m sorry Cole. You probably need to talk to Avery. Will she even want to see them? And maybe the counselor too.”

“Maybe counselor first. I don’t want to give Avery any indication that Reagan might want a relationship with her.”

“Daddy! Grandma!  I made a new friend!” said the subject of their conversation.

“You did?” asked Cole, “that’s nice!”

“She’s going to be in the same school as me and Ryan but she’s a grade ahead. That’s even better! I have an older friend!”

“Hobnobbing with the upper classes, huh?” replied Cole teasing her. “Why don’t you go get Ryan and say goodbye. We need to get going.”

When she left to do as instructed, Cole looked at his mom, “Well, maybe she will forget about seeing Avery when school starts and I won’t have to worry.”

“Maybe. But you know, Reagan’s like a dog with a bone sometimes, she doesn’t often forget,” warned Sofia.

“Thanks Mom!” said Cole rolling his eyes.

A few minutes later the twins ran up. “Bye Taylor!” they yelled together.

******************************************************************************

It was the first day of school and you would have thought it was Christmas because the twins were super excited. Reagan hadn’t mentioned wanting to see her mother since the morning that they moved. She had been busy talking to her new ‘friend’ on FaceTime and was ready to start school to make more new friends.

They only lived two blocks away from their new school, so they begged to walk and Cole finally agreed. He secretly followed them to be sure they got there.  Miss Sarah said she would follow along on the days that Cole had to be at work early.

They took off happily discussing the new school and friends they would make.  It made Cole smile.  Phil tried to follow so Miss Sarah had to call him back.

Cole walked back into the house after the twins were safely in the school building. He suddenly felt very lonely. He needed to get to the clinic, but it was a slow day since it was the first day of school, so he didn’t need to hurry.

He sat down with a cup of coffee to think. He decided to wait to talk to anyone about Reagan unless she brought up seeing Avery again. Hopefully she had simply been anxious about moving out of her childhood home.

Cole got up, put his cup in the dishwasher and got ready for work.  He wanted to be home when the kids got home so he planned to leave early, at least today. Sarah would be there for them after that.

******************************************************************************

Cole managed to make it home just before the kids. They were super excited and talked non-stop about the day’s activities. Evidently they were suffering no ill effects from having a mom that was incarcerated. At least not yet. He prayed it would stay that way.

After they ate and did homework, they played for awhile.  Finally,  he rounded them up for bed. He knew as they got older they wouldn’t want him tucking them in anymore, but until they told him to stop, he was going to.

First he went to Ryan’s room and he was sitting up in his bed.  “Dad,” he said, “do you think Reagan’s new friend is going to be my friend too?”

“Of course. Reagan loves you the best, and if someone wasn’t your friend, then she wouldn’t be theirs.”

“I hope so,” he said then climbed into bed and turned over, “Night Dad,” he added, seemingly satisfied with Cole’s assurances.

“Good night Ryan,” said Cole and kissed his son before heading into his sister’s room.

She was waiting for him, much the same as Ryan was so he sat down next to her.  “Hey Reagan. Ryan says you made a new friend today.”

Reagan grinned up at him. “No silly,” she said, “She’s not new. I met her at the park a couple of weeks ago. Remember?”

“Oh yes…Taylor? She’s a she not a he?” asked Cole.

Reagan laughed. “Yep Daddy. You weren’t listening.”

“Oh, my bad. So, you two aren’t excluding Ryan are you?”

“No. He acted like he didn’t want to hang out with us girls.”

“Hmmm. Well, be careful not to hurt his feelings. He might be a little jealous of your new friend.”

“Okay Daddy. We will invite him to play.”

Cole hugged her tight before tucking her in. “Okay, love you sweetie. Goodnight.”

Cole turned off the light in Reagan’s bedroom.  He went to sit out on the tiny balcony off the Master Bedroom and enjoy the cool evening breeze.  Phil followed him out and sat down next to him.  “Well, at least you were faithful,” he said to the old dog and scratched his ears.

As he watched the people jogging or the few cars coming and going, he felt more alone than he had in a long time. Watching his children grow up and begin to find themselves, and not have anyone to share it with was difficult. But at least they seemed to be doing well. In the excitement of getting back to school, Reagan had never once mentioned her mother again, much to Cole’s relief.  He would take it.

******************************************************************************

The following week, before school, Ryan and Reagan asked if Taylor could come home with them. Cole was happy to see them making friends. “Sure,” he said, “as long as it’s okay with her parents.”

“Yippie!” squealed Reagan and throw her arms around him. “Thank you Daddy!”

Cole laughed, it was good to Reagan so happy for a change. “I well let Miss Sarah know to expect a friend to come home this afternoon.”

*********************************************************************************

That afternoon when Cole got home, he saw his kids playing outside with a little blonde headed girl. He figured she must be Taylor.  He went over to say hi to the kids and their playmate and Reagan quickly hugged him.

“Hi Daddy!” she said, as the little girl  on the other swing began to slow herself down.  “This is Taylor!”

Cole turned to say hi.  She looked familiar, even though he didn’t think he had had seen her before. “Hi Taylor! What’s your last name Taylor?” he asked, hoping a last name might jog his memory. Maybe she had been with her parents in the clinic.

The blue-eyed little girl looked up at him, “Hi Mr. Murdock. It’s Perkins. It’s nice to meet you. Thank you for letting me come over.”

Cole was shocked. She had to be Dannie’s daughter. That’s why she looks familiar, he thought. But, why is she here and why didn’t Dannie tell me? “Is your mother’s name Dannie?” he asked to be certain.

“Yes sir!” she said grinning, and that grin tugged at something in his subconscious. Maybe because it was her mother’s grin.

“Does your mom know you are here?” he asked still looking at her intently.

“I don’t know,” she said suddenly frowning. “My Gramma does. She said it was okay.”

Reagan got out the swing and stood next to Taylor. “Daddy, do you know her mommy?” she asked looking at her friend.

Cole caught his breath. He looked between the girls again to be sure he wasn’t imagining it. That was what was tugging at him. She reminded him of his own daughter. They could be sisters. If what he thought was true, it was no wonder Dannie didn’t want him to meet Taylor. He felt sick. And then, anger took over.

“Daddy?” prompted Reagan when he didn’t answer.

“Uh, yes sweetie. We are actually old friends. Taylor, when is your birthday?” he had to be sure even though it seemed an inappropriate question.

“March 15th, Mr. Murdock,” replied Taylor.

“March 15th?” Cole felt sick. Dannie said May, he remembered because he did the math. She lied.  “Okay sweetie. You guys go on and play,” said Cole.

He turned around and walked inside so he would be out of earshot of the kids and Sarah, who was keeping an eye on them.

When he got inside, he called Dannie with shaking hands.

“Cole? Hi,” she said sounding curious.

He took a calming breath and tried to keep his voice even. “Dannie. Did you know your daughter is here at my house?”

She inhaled sharply. “Oh…No, I – I didn’t. I knew mom let her go to a friends house. But she didn’t say it was your kids. I hope she isn’t causing trouble.”

“No, not at all. She and the twins are having fun together. I thought you might want to come on over. We can have dinner together before you take her home, since you haven’t moved yet.”

“Cole, that’s not necessary. I’ll just have mom come get her. I was on a roll with my book and…”

“No Dannie,” he said stopping her, “I would like to see you anyway, and the kids will enjoy it.” He had a hard time keeping the anger out of his voice.

“Okay. I guess. Should I bring something?”

Cole closed his eyes before answering to calm himself.  “Just yourself,” he said and disconnected the call.

Go to Chapter 2.81>>>>>>

Go Back to Chapter 2.79

Chapter 2.79 – The Trial Part 2

Dannie held true to her word and came to court every day. She sat next to Cole and he held her hand tightly.

When the testimony got to be too much for him, she would gently pull him into the hallway. Unfortunately, as a result, she wound up on the news as his new love interest. They had even figured out who she was, ‘the ex-wife of star quarterback Ryker Perkins’ and high school friend of the accused’s ex-husband.

It quickly became apparent that the trial was a sentencing trial.  It was clear Avery was guilty.  But guilty of what, and to what degree, was up to the jury to decide.

Finally, after a week of testimony, both sides had examined and cross examined witnesses and presented their closing arguments.

When the judge finally sent the jury out to deliberate, Cole had to be walked out of the courtroom with Ben’s help.

“Cole, why don’t you let Dannie take you home,” suggested Ben. “We will call you and let you know what happens. This is just too much. You don’t have to be here.”

Yes, I do,” said Cole, “I’m okay now.  Besides, she was my wife. If anyone should have known, it’s me. And I chose not to question her. I wanted to believe we were okay. If anyone should go, it’s Noah. Noah, go home to Ami and be with her and Will. She shouldn’t hear it on TV – and all alone.”

“Cole’s right,” said Ben. “It’s gonna be all over the News as soon as the verdict and sentencing are announced. Ami shouldn’t be alone.”

“Are you guys going to be okay?” asked Noah.

“Go,” they all said in unison.

He took a deep breath, turned and left, leaving just the four of them. He had his phone in his hand, no doubt calling Ami to let her know he was on the way.

“Ben…” said Sofia, big tears in her eyes. He put his arm around her and pulled her close and she buried her head in his chest for a few minutes until she could compose herself.

“Are you okay Cole?” whispered Dannie.

He slowly shook his head. He couldn’t comprehend that Avery was being convicted of conspiring to kill his sister.

“Oh Cole, it’s not your fault. I know you know it in your head, you just have to convince your heart,” said Dannie.

“I know,” he said with raw emotion, “You’re right. I don’t know what I would have done if you hadn’t been here. Thank you.”

She took his hand before replying. “Well, I am, so don’t worry about it.”

They found seats and waited, comforting each other with just their presence.  Finally, just over an hour later, the doors opened and Cole felt his insides do flips. He had to take several deep breaths before he could get up.

Everyone began to file inside, the air of anticipation thick. Some were murmuring quietly among themselves, while others were stoically silent.

Once seated, the judge invited the Jury Foreman to read the verdict.

She stood. “We find the defendant, Avery Coulter Murdock, guilty of conspiracy to commit murder.”

“The defendant is sentenced to 15 years in prison.” Each juror in turn verbalized their agreement with the verdict.

Cole began to cry silent tears as he looked at Avery sobbing in her seat. He didn’t know if it was relief that it was over, or knowing she was going to spend 15 years of her life in prison that made him cry. All he knew was he felt empty and hurt inside.

Ben and Sofia were more worried about Cole.  Ben had taken one of Cole’s hands and Dannie the other.

The uniformed officer walked over to Avery and cuffed her. She turned and looked at the Cole and his parents, tears running down her face. “I’m sorry,” she choked out, wild-eyed, as she was lead out of the courtroom.

Cole couldn’t look at her. “Sorry?” he muttered Cole under his breath confused as he looked down. He was glad when she was out of sight. He never wanted to lay eyes on her again.

“Come on son,” said his dad, “Let’s get you out of here.”

Cole took a deep breath. “Yes, let’s get out of here. I could use a drink. How about you? Mom, Dad, Dannie?”

***********************************************************************************

When the waitress came over, they ordered a round of tequila shots to take the edge off. Then they ordered their drink of choice. Cole laughed at his mother and Dannie at the faces they made after shooting the tequila.

“Definitely not a Jell-O shot!” said Dannie laughing. Sofia readily agreed and just like that, some of the pain was already lessened.

“I’m so glad we sent Noah home,” said Ben. “He said Ami broke down, but she’s okay now. I think it’s just the relief that it’s over, combined with the horror of what happened. It’s just so hard to believe that someone we all trusted so completely, could wind up being a sociopath.”

“Let’s talk about something else,” said Cole not wanting to dwell on Avery and bring the mood back down. “Dad, tell us about the origination of Tiramisu! I’ve always wanted to know that story.”

“Tiramisu?” asked Dannie with a confused look on her face, “The dessert?”

His parents looked at each other affectionately. He could swear his dad had tears in his eyes, before they both started to laugh.

“What?” asked Cole to get their attention.

Finally Ben said, “Okay,” and took a deep breath. “You sure you want to know?”

“Hell yeah!” replied Cole enthusiastically.

Ben told them the story of how his mother had made the dessert for him with the express purpose of luring Sofia to his apartment for dessert, after he finally got the nerve to ask her on a date after not dating-dating for nearly two years.

Everyone was warmed by the sweet story.  It sounded so much like something Cole’s grandmother would do. And it was nice, especially after the horrible few weeks they had all just gone through.

“Well, Ben, on that note, we should really get home,” said Sofia.  Then she smiled at Dannie and Cole, “You two stay as long as you like.”

“Ohhh,  I might get lucky and get some Tiramisu!” said Ben waggling his eyebrows.

“Dad!” said Cole. “Ohhh,” said Dannie. “Benjamin!” said Sofia – all at the same time. Ben just winked at his son. Then he got up, grabbed his wife’s hand and they walked out whispering and giggling with each other like a couple of high school kids.

“He’s totally getting dessert!” said Dannie through her laughter. “I used to be so afraid of your Dad! But you just have to get to know him. He’s so cool, really. And he is totally in love with your Mom. They are so cute.”

“Yes,” said Cole wistfully, “I envy their relationship. They balance each other out. I really tried hard with Avery,” he stopped and took a deep breath. “Okay, not going back there. As for Dad, he has a lot of layers and honestly, I still don’t even know what they all are. I don’t see him loosen up like that very often. I guess we are going to have to do tequila shots again so I can get him talking,” said Cole with a little laugh. He was feeling so much better than when they first came in.

“Oh my god. Yes! I totally want to be there when you do that!” said Dannie.

They both suddenly got quite at the gravity of her comment. “Dannie. Don’t move away. I have loved being able to see you every day. You know they left to give us time alone, right? I haven’t felt this good since Ami’s accident. There’s nothing that says you have to move.”

“Cole, I just need to get away. I honestly didn’t come here to hunt you down. I needed a place to stay while I worked through my book. But when I saw what was happening, well, I wanted to be there for you. Friends – remember?”

“Yes, we are friends. So as a friend, why do you really feel like you have to move? Why are you being so cryptic? Yasmine left me because of her secrets. She wouldn’t trust me and it finally drove a wedge between us. And Avery…well…secrets. Suffice it to say, secrets suck.”

Dannie looked at her hands for a minute before speaking. “Some secrets are better left secret.”

“Was Ryker abusive? Dannie don’t keep that shit to yourself!” said Cole suddenly worried about her safety.

“No….Cole. It’s not Ryker. Not like that anyway.”

“Fuck. Do I look like an asshole? Why does every single female feel the need to keep secrets from me?”

“No,” said Dannie softly, “You are a very sweet man. Maybe, they just don’t want to disappoint you.”

“So, you’re saying I need to be an asshole so there’s nothing to lose and they can tell me what’s wrong?”

Dannie smiled sadly. “No…that’s not what I mean.”

“So what then Dannie? You don’t want to tell me and are fucking going to move because of it? You sound just like Yasmine.” Cole spit out the words like they were poison.

“Cole. We aren’t in a relationship,” Dannie reminded him.

“You aren’t giving us a chance to be either,” said Cole.

“What?” asked Dannie, clearly surprised at his words.

“Dannie, I’m sorry. That was out of line.  Look, I enjoy your company. You have been supportive through this whole ordeal, without judgement. I just think there has always something between us. I mean, if there wasn’t, that night at the reunion wouldn’t have happened. The timing for us has always been wrong.”

“Cole…don’t,” said Dannie shaking her head.

“Don’t what?” he asked, totally frustrated now. “Don’t at least try to see if there could be something between us? Hell, I just got a new beginning handed to me. We are both free now. Unless….God, you still love Ryker?”

Dannie took a deep breath. “No, I don’t. I haven’t for a long time. But, I need a new beginning too. Away from here. And we can’t just…”

Cole tore at his hair in frustration. “Dammit Dannie, I wasn’t asking you to sleep with me!  I was asking you to stay so we can see where this goes. Take it slow. And if it doesn’t then, it doesn’t.”

“I’m sorry Cole, I don’t think that’s a good idea.”

Cole was done. Maybe it was best he didn’t complicate his life further anyway.  He was just being selfish wanting her to stay.   “I need to go,” he said softly, and stood up to leave, “I’m sorry Dannie. I guess we both probably need more time to heal and get our heads on straight. Thank you being here for me through this mess.  It meant a lot and I won’t ever forget it. Maybe you can tell me where you land when you get there. Goodbye Dannie.”

Dannie looked like she might cry and he didn’t understand why. He was leaving – giving her what she wanted. He threw enough cash on the table to cover the bill. He took a deep breath and turned around.  He walked away from Dannie, from Avery and all the horror of the past year, hell, the past 9 years, and towards a new life –  as a single father of two amazing children.

Go To Chapter 2.80>>>>>>>>

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Chapter 2.78 – The Trial – Part 1

NewspaperCole filed for divorce right after the horrible meeting at BASE when his world fell apart.  He obtained sole custody of the children. Avery didn’t even try to contest it. The divorce was final within a month. Telling them they may never see their mother again was the most difficult thing Cole ever had to do.  Months of therapy seemed to help, or maybe it was just time.

Avery’s arrest and upcoming trial made front page news, both local and national. They sensationalized the story as one of greed, sex and betrayal. The mysterious disappearance of Spencer Granville only added to the sensationalism.  It was speculated that he got wind of his impending arrest and fled the country, leaving his lover to take the fall.

Cole tried his best to protect the kids. He was forced to take them out of school to keep the kids from teasing them, or the photographers from snapping pictures. Cole was very glad Sarah was a retired school teacher and could easily home school them.

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Six months after Avery’s arrest……

Seeing his ex-wife again was something Cole did not want to do, but he couldn’t not go to the trial. He had to do it for Ami. She refused to go, but Noah was like him, he had to be there. Their little boy, William (Will) Benjamin Redcliffe, was only 4 months old. Ami told him she preferred to take care of her future and not live in the past.

When Cole walked into the courtroom with his parents and Noah, it all seemed surreal. Cole hadn’t seen Avery at all since the morning before she was arrested and he wasn’t looking forward to seeing her now. She disgusted him. He had been in therapy for almost six months. He was better now, and off the anti-depressants, but it still hurt to think about the last nine years of his life wasted.

Not long after they were seated, Avery walked in, flanked by her attorneys. She looked so lost and beaten down.  Seeing her brought up all the feelings he thought he had dealt with.

When she looked up and they locked eyes, it sent chills down his spine. It was a look of pure hatred. Like everything that happened was his fault.  His stomach felt like it was filled with rocks.

Fortunately, only a minute later, the Bailiff stood up. “All stand for the honorable Judge Patterson…..You may be seated.”  The judge sat down and banged his gavel and the trial began.

When the attorney for the prosecution began to layout their case, Cole couldn’t take it. It was harder than he thought. He got up to leave the courtroom.

When he turned to walk out, he couldn’t look at anyone and watched his feet as he hurried out the door.

He went into the bathroom and splashed water on his face to stop himself from getting sick.

When he came out, he heard a familiar voice behind him. “Cole….are you okay?” she asked, her voice echoing in the empty space, stopping him in his tracks.

Could it be?  he wondered, as he turned to be sure.  “Dannie….?”

“I saw you leave the courtroom. I was worried about you. I’m so sorry Cole,” she said. Tears were in glistening in her eyes, and she seemed unsure if he would even want to talk to her.

“Dannie…” he said again, and this time opened his arms for a hug, “Thanks. It’s so good to see you. But, how and why are you even here?”  When they released, he motioned towards the seating area and they sat down together.

“I live in Willow Creek now, with my mom. God, the trial is all over the news and, well, I wanted to be here for you. Moral support.”

Cole snorted, “Or to watch the train wreck,” he said,  “But, why do you live with your mom?” He was suddenly curious, Avery forgotten for the moment.

She sighed and frowned before answering. “Ryker was cheating on me. So I divorced him. Funny how that worked out. He was always jealous of other guys, and then he was the one to cheat. Well – except for that one time…”

“I’m so sorry Dannie,” said Cole sincerely.  Now that he had experienced how bad it hurt to have someone you love cheat, he knew what a horrible lapse in judgment it had been for him to have gone into Dannie’s hotel room all those years ago.

“About Ryker? Or our one time?” she asked with a smirk.

“Both,” he said honestly.

“Don’t be sorry, about either Cole. I’ve had a time to get over it.  But this isn’t about me. . How are you holding up?”

Cole sighed. “Lots and lots of therapy and a few antidepressants. Actually I’m off the drugs, but I just couldn’t sit in there and listen. To think I loved her. And I think, at one point, she really did love me too. But what she did….”

“How’s your sister. I didn’t see her, but Noah’s in there.”

“She’s been distancing herself from it. It’s weird. She was the target and could have died. But she pretends like nothing happened. I guess it’s her way of dealing with it. Of course, she does have her hands full with the baby.”

Dannie finally smiled. “I’m happy for them. I never thought Noah would settle down.  But maybe, Ami doesn’t want you and your dad to feel bad. Avery was your wife, and she worked for Ben for years. Everyone trusted her.”

“Yes, maybe,” agreed Cole.

Ben’s parents and Noah came out of the courtroom, followed by a steady stream of people that were also inside the courtroom.  Suddenly the empty atrium was filled with the buzz of conversation.

“I’m glad you left,” said Ben, “Avery lost it and started yelling so they called a 10 minute recess to get her calm again. I don’t think this trial is going to last long.”

“She’s evil,” said Cole sadly, “But she wasn’t always. Why do people change?”

“Who knows what causes people to lose touch with reality,” said Sofia softly.

Ben turned to Dannie. “Hi Dannie. It’s nice to see you again. I wish it was under better circumstances,” he said and reached out and took her hand.

“Cole’s a good friend Mr. Murdock. I wanted to be here for him,” she replied.

Then she turned to Noah. “Congratulations on your baby and your marriage,” she said.

He smiled proudly and pulled her into a hug.  “Thanks Dannie, it’s good to see you. I have pictures.”

Dannie couldn’t help but laugh. “I would love to see them,” she said.

“Well, looks like they are starting again,” said Sofia, ” Maybe we can look later.  Cole, why don’t you two stay out here.”

“No Mom, I need to face this,” he said, then he looked at Dannie, “Would you sit with us?”

“Of course,” she said, “Let’s go.”

He took her hand, feeling better with just that little contact between them. They followed the crowd back to the courtroom.

********************************************************************************

Back in the courtroom, the prosecution began their case, calling up Mickey to comment on the pictures of Avery and Spencer they had sat up on an evidence board.

Some of them were the really bad ones Cole hadn’t seen. Tears began to form. Tears he thought he had already spent.

Dannie noticed and took his hand. He looked at her gratefully. It made it so much easier to know he had a friend sitting there with him.

The prosecution thankfully rested their case and the trial convened until the next day when the defense would present their side. Cole could finally breathe again. He felt like he had been holding his breath through the entire thing.

When they all filed out, Cole didn’t let go of Dannie’s hand. He was hanging onto it like a lifeline. Her touch made it easier to breathe.

When they finally made it outside, Cole didn’t want to go home to his parent’s house. He was too emotionally drained to pretend he was okay for his kids. “Dannie, do you want to grab dinner or do you need to get home to your daughter?”

Dannie smiled sweetly. “I can call Mom and let her know I won’t be home for dinner.”

“Thanks. Uh, can we take your car? I came with my folks,” said Cole.

“Sure,” said Dannie and fished her phone out of her purse.

**********************************************************************************

“What happened to us?” asked Cole as they waited for their food. “We are both grown ass adults with kids, both of us living with our parents.”

“I made too many bad choices. I never should’ve let Ryker talk me into going back with him. I think I felt pressured by my Dad. Weird huh?  And then I compounded it by marrying him.”

“I guess, I should have waited to marry Avery too. We ran off to Vegas on a whim, because she got me a puppy.”

Dannie snorted. “I’m sorry. I know it’s not funny, but here we both are,” she said, “right back where we started.”

“Why didn’t you tell me you and Ryker were getting a divorce?” asked Cole.

“It was happening at the same time Ami was in the hospital and I didn’t want to bother you.”

“So, when was it final?” asked Cole.

“Four months ago. I moved here six months ago with Taylor,” she said.

“How’s she taking it?” he asked.

“Well, I have full custody.  Ryker gets her whenever he has time, which is almost never. She doesn’t ever want to go. How fun is it for a nine year-old to hang out with a bunch of football players.”

“I wish it had been that easy for the twins. Reagan thought her mother hung the moon. She always wanted to be like her. Ryan is a bit more laid back. He was never as close to her as Reagan tried to be. We started family counseling right after she was arrested. Thank goodness they have their grandparents.  My Mom adores them and they love her. Also, we have a Nanny that is homeschooling them until all of this ugly mess is over. At least that is one constant.”

“I’m so sorry. But at least you have a great support system. My Dad was not happy about my divorce. Tried to blame his sleeping around on me. His hero had fallen and he didn’t want to admit it. But mom let him have it, so he’s dealing.”

“Well, my poor father is carrying around so much guilt. I wish he would do counseling too. It really helped me and the kids. It doesn’t make it go away, but it does help relieve some of the guilt, so you can at least learn to cope.”

Dannie’s smile faltered, and she looked thoughtful for a moment before speaking. “I don’t know if you ever lose the guilt, not deep down.” Her eyes were glassy. She blinked quickly and sniffed away the tears that were swimming in her blue eyes.

“Hey….you okay?” asked Cole.

“Yes,” she said and smiled, “just, all of this is so emotional.”

“So, any plans to move out?” asked Cole.

“Yes. Just trying to decide where I want to live. I’m not going to stay here. I need to get away and start over,” she said, sounding sad about it.

Cole was disappointed to hear that. “Why not stay here? I just got my best friend back. I don’t want to lose you again.”

Dannie smiled. “It’s complicated Cole. I need to get away.”

“I’m not sure what’s so complicated, but I bet we could find something in Newcrest you could afford. I’m actually moving out of Newcrest. I am buying my grandfather’s house in Willow Creek. He’s going to live with my parents. It’s plenty big enough for the twins and for Sarah to live with us. I sold the house that Avery and I built. I couldn’t go back there.”

“Sarah?” she asked.

“The Nanny,” said Cole grinning.

Dannie’s eyes got big. “Oh, of course. I just…you hadn’t mentioned you were seeing anyone.”

“I’m not. I’ll probably be single the rest of my life,” said Cole.  “I have a bad track record when it comes to women.”

Dannie frowned. “Oh. I’m sorry. So, what do you think about Brindleton Bay? You lived there four years.”

Cole got serious and reached across the table taking Dannie’s hand in his. “Dannie, don’t move away. You’re my very best friend. We can be here for each other. Our kids are about the same age, I’m sure they would get along.”

Dannie pulled her hand away and picked up her wine.  “I’ll be leaving in about three months. Sadly, it won’t be before school starts.  But, I am getting my books published. I finally got a publisher interested in my sleazy romance novels. They want it to be a series, so I have to make a lot of edits, but that’s easy enough. Once they are ready, I will get an advance. Then I will be able to support me and Taylor without depending on money from Ryker.” When she mentioned her daughter’s name her face softened and she smiled.  “You would like Taylor. She’s a very sweet child.”

Cole’s heart warmed at the obvious love she had for her daughter and the corners of his mouth inched up.  “I’m sure she is. She has an awesome mother. Why don’t you bring her by the house this weekend. The twins would love to have someone to play with. And it would be a nice distraction from all the drama.”

Dannie’s face fell. “I don’t think that’s a good idea. I don’t want to introduce her to a bunch of new friends just to break her heart when we move again.”

“Well, I’m just gonna have to make it so great here, that you want to stay.”

“Cole, I really don’t think so, but I do appreciate the thought.”

Cole got serious again. “Are you going to go to the rest of the trial?” he asked hopefully.

“I will, if you want me there. That’s what friends are for, right?” she said smiling.

“Yes, please, if you don’t mind the salaciousness of the trial, I could really use a friend. It’s just so hard to know I loved that woman. Maybe I smothered her and she ran. I don’t know. And sorry if I almost broke your hand today, but I couldn’t hold Noah’s hand like that, Ami might get jealous. ”

“She was foolish and greedy. It wasn’t your fault.  And Cole, you can hold my hand and squeeze as hard as you need.” She stopped and held up her pinky finger grinning. “Just be careful of the pinky.”

Cole laughed a belly laugh. Probably the first since his Dad told him about Avery six months ago.  He loved Dannie dearly.  She was such a good friend. “If I get carried away, remind me, but I’ll try to be careful of that pinky finger.”

Go to Chapter 2.79>>>>>>

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