A Promise for the Baby

By: Jennifer Lohmann

CHAPTER ONE

VIVIAN SAT ON an uncomfortable chair in the starkly decorated lobby of her husband’s apartment building and waited for Karl to come home from work. She’d been waiting for hours, her feet propped up by a couple of suitcases, garnering suspicious looks, but the doorman hadn’t kicked her out yet. He’d tried, but she had a marriage certificate that said she was Karl Milek’s wife. Unwilling to throw her out onto the street, he’d also been unwilling to let her into Karl’s apartment.

She was pretty sure he was regretting both decisions. At least Xìnyùn, her father’s blue parrot, had stopped talking an hour ago. His chipper conversation wasn’t welcome in this modern building and his brightness was an unwanted distraction in the white-and-black interior.

Every time someone came through the rotating doors, the February winds whistled and Xìnyùn responded with his own tune, dancing up and down the rainbow ladder in his cage. Not a single person who’d walked past had smiled at Xìnyùn’s antics. Her husband lived in a building as cold as his hands.

She had called his office five times, but “he is in a meeting,” they said. “We will pass on the message,” they said. She didn’t tell them she was his wife. With divorce terms agreed upon, he probably hadn’t told his coworkers about his Vegas mistake. He’d probably figured—as she had—that their secret would keep until the divorce was finalized, and then it wouldn’t matter anymore. They’d be divorced and have moved on with their lives. But now she needed him, and she needed him to be her husband. Outing him to his coworkers seemed a poor way to gain his cooperation.

What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.

She was supposed to have stayed in Vegas.

The energy in the lobby flared when her husband walked through the door. He was the cold, stiff man she remembered from their morning after, and he didn’t seem to be any warmer with all of his clothes on—and not hungover. Maybe he didn’t notice the freezing temperatures outside. He wore a forest-green scarf wrapped around his neck and a tan wool coat as though they were for show, so the people around him wouldn’t wonder at his ability to walk through snow naked and not get frostbite. No hat covered his brown hair. His hazel eyes were more attractive when not bloodshot, but glasses didn’t soften the sharp planes of his face. She had assumed his face only looked hard when angry—but he didn’t have a reason to be angry. Yet.

She needed Karl to be the man whose eyes had been mostly brown when he’d offered to buy her a drink, but had turned a lush green when she’d brushed her hand against his as she reached for that drink. The man who’d noticed her shiver and tucked her tightly against him as they walked out of the hotel, even though they had both known she wasn’t cold. The man who had made her laugh when she felt as if nothing in her life could ever be funny again.

Perhaps that man had been an illusion and as fake as the Luxor pyramid, given flesh only by the carnival lights of Las Vegas. That she was even sitting here in the lobby of this apartment building was evidence that she wasn’t as immune to Las Vegas magic as she thought she’d been.

The doorman scurried over to her husband, his arms out in supplication and face creased in apology. Tingles shot down her spine when Karl looked over at her. He showed no hurry as he walked across the lobby to her, his face as blank as she remembered.

“You were the woman calling my office today,” he said in greeting.

“Hello to you, too.” They hadn’t planned on seeing each other again, but there was no reason not to be civil. In theory, theirs was an amicable divorce. “Can we talk somewhere private?”

His eyes took in the pile of suitcases and the birdcage sitting next to them. He didn’t nod or say a word, just picked up the birdcage and a suitcase and walked toward the elevator. Vivian scrambled to her feet, slung her purse over her shoulder, picked up two more suitcases and hurried to follow him, the heels of her boots clicking on the marble floor.

On the elevator ride up to his apartment, Vivian opened her mouth a couple times to speak, but Karl silenced her with a raise of his eyebrow. “You wanted private. We can at least wait until we are in my apartment.”

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