“Ellery,” I heard Connor whisper as he opened the door and walked in.

He climbed into the bathtub, behind me, fully dressed, and wrapped his arms around me.

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“I’m so sorry, baby,” he began to cry. “I’m sorry for everything you’ve been through today. I just wanted to shield you from the scariness of the world. I wanted to protect you, Ellery. I need you to try and understand why I did what I did and why I behaved the way that I did. I love you so damn much.”

Bringing my arms to his, he loosened his grip around me and I turned around to face him. He tilted his head as he stared at me and tried to wipe away the mascara stains from under my eyes. Bringing my hand up to his face, I gently wiped away each tear that fell from his eyes.

“Look at you; your clothes are soaking wet.” I smiled softly.

“It doesn’t matter as long as I’m holding you.” He smiled as his hand softly swept across my cheek.

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“Do you forgive me?” I asked.

“Of course I forgive you. Do you forgive me?”

“Yes, I love you way too much not to.”

I sat down at my easel to start my third painting. A peaceful feeling was restored throughout my body now that Ashlyn had been found guilty and sentenced to twenty-five years in prison with no possibility of parole. Connor was more relaxed, and so was I without the trial hanging over our heads. Julia was growing so fast, we could barely keep up with her. As the sunlight beamed through the windows, I decided to take advantage of the beautiful day and take Julia to Central Park. I grabbed my sketchpad and headed up to the penthouse. As I stepped off the elevator, I saw Mason and Julia in the living room.

“I’m giving you the afternoon off because I’m taking Julia to Central Park.”

“Oh goody, can I come?” Mason asked as he handed me the baby.

I felt bad telling him no, but I wanted to spend some time alone with my daughter.

“Aw, Mason. I’m sorry, but I really just want to spend some time alone with Julia. Considering all the shit that went on, I feel like a horrible mom that I haven’t spent as much time with her as I should.”

“I understand, Mama.” He smiled as he kissed me on the cheek.

“I do need you to do me a favor, though. I need you to go to the spa for me,” I said as I grabbed my purse and pulled out my wallet.

“What do you need from the spa?” he asked.

“I need you to get the works done: massage, manicure, and facial.”

“Are you serious?”

“Yes,” I said as I handed him some money. “Consider this a perk because you have done so much for Connor and me, and we appreciate it. I know it isn’t much, but it’s a start.”

“Are you kidding? It’s awesome. Thank you, doll face!” he said excitedly as he kissed me and headed towards the elevator.

As I smiled and kissed Julia on the nose, I desperately wished that Connor could join us in the park, but he had back-to-back meetings all day, plus a conference call. I put Julia in her stroller, packed her diaper bag, grabbed a blanket, my drawing pad, pencils, and bottled water. After I made sure I had everything I needed, I pushed the stroller onto the elevator and walked to Central Park.

The flowers in the Conservatory Garden were as beautiful as always. As I was pushing Julia, I looked ahead and noticed there was no one in my favorite spot. When I reached it, I spread out the blanket on the grass, kicked off my shoes, and took Julia from her stroller.

“This is my favorite place, Julia. I hope that it’ll be yours too someday.”

I laid her down on the blanket and took off her socks. She started kicking and moving her arms around while making the cutest cooing sounds. I opened up my drawing pad and began drawing the picture I had envisioned for my painting. Looking over at Julia, I started to sketch a field of flowers. A few moments later, I heard my phone ring. As I pulled it from my bag, I smiled when I saw it was Connor calling.

“Look; it’s your daddy,” I said as I showed Julia the phone. “Hello,” I answered.

“Hey, baby, I was thinking we could have lunch together.”

“That sounds nice. What time?”

“How about now? Turn around,” he said.

I turned around and watched as Connor walked towards me with a bag in his hand. Grinning from ear to ear, I hung up and set my phone down.

“How did you know I was here?”

Before sitting down on the blanket, he kicked off his shoes and took off his socks. “I talked to Mason. I tried to call you earlier and it went straight to voicemail, so I called him and asked him to put you on the phone, and he told that me you and Julia were here,” he said as he sat down and kissed me.

“I thought you had back-to-back meetings and a conference call today?”

Connor picked up Julia and started playing with her. “I did. I had a couple of meetings already, but when I found out that my wife and daughter were in Central Park, I wanted to spend the day with them, so I cancelled the rest of my meetings.”

“I’m so happy you’re here with us.” I smiled as I stroked his cheek. “What’s in the bag?”

“Open it and find out.”

I picked up the bag and looked inside. “Aw, you brought us hot dogs.”

“I know how much you love them here.” He smiled.

As I took the hot dogs from the bag, Connor put Julia in her stroller.

“There’s something I need to discuss with you,” he said.

“Okay. What’s up?”

“I don’t want you to be mad that I didn’t discuss this with you first because it just sort of happened suddenly.”

As I gave him a worried look, he smiled and cupped my chin in his hand. “Don’t worry, it’s nothing bad.”

I let out a sigh of relief as he began to tell me what he did. “I’ve invested in Vinnie’s art gallery in Chicago. I’m now his partner.”

“What?” I asked in confusion.

“His partner pulled out at the last minute and left him with a half-finished gallery and not enough funds to complete it and get it ready for the opening. He called me and asked if I would be interested in investing in the gallery and being his partner. I had my business attorney draw up the legal papers and he’s coming to the office tomorrow to sign them.”

As I sat there and stared at him, I needed to tell him something that I’d been thinking about for a while.

“Can I be totally honest with you about something?”

“Of course, baby. What is it?”

“I thought you already owned the art gallery and that you didn’t want to tell me.”

The look on his face was dumbfounded. “Why would you think that?”

“I don’t know. It’s just a feeling I had.”

“Well, you were wrong. I had nothing to do with that gallery until this morning. I can’t believe you would think that I wouldn’t tell you something like that.”

“Really?” I said as I cocked my head and pursed my lips.

“Right. Point taken,” he said while nodding his head.

After we ate our hot dogs and Julia had fallen asleep, Connor and I lay down on the blanket. I snuggled up against him as he put his arm around me, and we looked up at the sky.

“This is a perfect day,” he said as he kissed my head.

“Every day is perfect when we’re together.” I smiled.

“I’ll never forget the day I found you lying here, in the rain. You were so sick, and I was so scared. You broke my heart that day, baby.”

“How?” I whispered.

“By telling me you were lying here so that no one would know you were crying. You have no idea how that killed me inside to hear you say that.”

I lifted up my head and looked at him. “I’m sorry. My life was so different then. You saved me from myself.”

He looked down at me and his lips brushed against mine. “We saved each other.”

Even though I wanted to stay in this spot forever, our heartfelt moment was soon interrupted by Julia’s cry. We both smiled as we got up and Connor took her from the stroller.

“I think it’s time we head home,” I said as I started packing up.

“I think you’re right.”

After kissing Julia on both cheeks, Connor put her in the stroller and pulled out his phone.

“Who are you calling?” I asked.

“Denny. I’m telling him to come pick us up.”

“Tell Denny I said hi!” I smiled as I took the stroller and started walking.

“Ellery Rose Black! Come back here with that baby!” he said rather loudly.

I turned my head and looked at him with a big smile on my face. “Have fun in the limo by yourself, Mr. Black! My baby and I are walking home.”

Before long, Connor was right behind me. “You are so stubborn.”

“I know, and that’s one of the reasons why you love me.”

“Just one of a million, baby. Just one of a million,” he said as he put his arm around me.

Chapter 24

Connor

Ellery had been working hard on her paintings. The opening was next month and she still had two more pictures to paint. Mason had gone to California for a week with Landon, so I helped out as much as I could with Julia so Ellery wouldn’t worry about taking care of her. I had given Claire the day off to take her husband to the doctor, and Peyton was out of town with Henry. I had planned to stay home and work, but my attention was needed at the office. I tried to call my family for help, forgetting they were all out of town as well. Ellery had just left for the studio and Phil called, stating that I needed to be at the office for a meeting regarding the new Chicago building, and today was the only day it could be done. I looked at Julia as she sat in her bouncy seat.

“Listen, Julia. Daddy is going to take you to the office and I need you to be extra good. Okay?”

As she smiled at me, she screeched. She thought it was funny that I asked her to be extra good. I put her in her car seat, grabbed the diaper bag, and stepped into the elevator. Today was Denny’s day off, so I would have to drive the Range Rover to work. I stopped by Ellery’s studio to let her know that I was taking Julia with me. As I walked through the door, she turned around and looked at me.

“Hey, honey, what’s up?” she asked as she walked over and kissed me.

“I’m taking Julia to the office. I have a few things that I need to do.”

“By yourself?”

“Yes, by myself. Do you think I’m not capable of spending the day with my daughter alone?”

“No, I think you’re capable. Good luck, sweetie.” She smiled as she bent down and kissed Julia’s head.

I put my hand on the knob, turned it, and opened the door. Turning around and looking at her, I said, “Was that good luck for me or for Julia?” I asked in confusion.

“It was for both of you.” She laughed.

As I put Julia in the back and buckled the car seat, she started to cry. Shit, I thought to myself, and I was already running late for the meeting. She had just eaten so I knew she wasn’t hungry, and I had just changed her diaper before we left. I reached in the diaper bag and pulled out her pacifier. Ellery wasn’t too keen on her having it, but this was an emergency. When I put it in her mouth, she stopped crying. I let out a sigh of relief as I climbed in the driver’s side and headed to the office. Traffic was horrible, and Julia started crying again. I looked in the rearview mirror and her pacifier had fallen out of her mouth. Her screams grew louder as I tried to reach back and grab it. After I finally found it, I put it back in her mouth, but she didn’t want it. She spit it out and started screaming. I didn’t want to call Ellery because I didn’t want her to worry, so I dialed the next best person: Mason.

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