Holden Bainbridge stared at the resume in his hand; taking deep shallow breaths he focused on keeping his fingers from crushing the expensive linen paper in his fists. Rage unlike any he had ever known encompassed his entire being, threatening to choke him on his own spite. The letters swam on front of his eyes as a reddish haze clouded his vision.
Kimber Knowles, PhD. She hadn’t taken her husband’s name-if she has a husband. Holden didn’t want to even consider why the very fact she might be well and truly wedded caused bile to threaten to erupt from the depths of his gut. Surely it wasn’t because he still wanted her. Those days were well over it. He couldn’t allow himself to go there; never again. Despite the racing of his pulse as he considered the implications of Kimber moving back here, he refused to even entertain the tiny spark of hope he had fostered down in the deep recesses of his heart and mind for nine long years. She was poison; a deliberate Jezebel whose true nature came to light too late. He had to be strong against her siren song. Not just for himself, but he must stand firm for his little girl.
A sharp pang of fear braced him as he thought about his daughter. Had Kimber come back for her? Did she think she could take away his child? The possibly made his body turn stone cold. It would be a cold day in hell before he would ever allow that to happen. Kimber had walked - no ran away from both him and the baby they had created. She didn’t deserve to know how sweet and wonderful little Kimmie was. She would never get her calculating hands on his baby girl. Hadn’t she said she never wanted to be a teenaged mother? That she hadn’t wanted the stigma of raising a child, let along a mixed race child? Well, it was too damn late now. He hadn’t had a problem with it. As if he would have ever left her to raise Kimmie alone. But had she bothered to tell him? To let him know? He would have told her then; he would have moved heaven and earth to be with her, to be there for her. But she had never allowed him that. She had never given him a change. Instead she had thrown their child away like so much trash.
“Why are you showing this to me?” Holden queried the dean, all too afraid he already knew the answer. His palms began to sweat, his throat dried painfully. No, no, no! Please God, no. Not when I have finally started to live again. Well, somewhat anyway.
It had taken years to free himself from Kimber’s shadow. Not that he was afraid he would fall under her spell again. That ship had long since sailed. No, he was terrified that the bitterness and anger that had chocked the life out of him for so long would rise again. He was terrified of what it would mean for Kimmie. For so long after Kimber had disappeared from his life, he hadn’t been able to so much as smile at another person but his daughter. He had dropped out of his formerly full social life entirely, focusing on his child and his education, then later his career. His had terrified his parents with the withdrawn, distant man he had become. How could he explain to them that Kimber had taken his heart with her when she left? And as for her rejection of their child, well Holden didn’t think anything could have hurt worse. They had been so in love, or so he had thought until Dr. Knowles, Kimber’s father had shown up on his door holding the newborn as if she was a pile of dung.
“She is starting on Monday,” Dean Whittaker was completely oblivious to the dread engulfing Holden. “She will be in your department. I am counting on you to ensure her smooth transition.”
There is was. As Department Head there was only two things he could do. He could pretend he had no past with this woman and hope like hell she would too, or he could quit. According to this resume, Kimber had made quite a name for herself, receiving her Bachelor’s in three years and her Doctorate in three; and from Harvard no less. She had quite a few widely acclaimed papers under her belt and no less than three textbooks used institutes of higher learning world wide. What would he look like rejecting her? It was a major coup for
Pacifica University, a small private school nestled in the heart of the Southern California coast, to attract such a rising star. He happened to know for a fact contemporary classic literature was her passion, always had been, and his department was in sore need of a contemporary classics professor.
Then there was that part of Holden that wanted to see her again; that needed to see her. He couldn’t decide if it was to convince himself that she was as heartless as her actions decried, or to see if she regretted any of her actions. Did she hurt as much as he had, or even a fraction as much? Did she really think she could just waltz her way into his daughter’s life? Didn’t she understand the way she gave up their precious baby girl sealed the deal? Never would he allow her within fifty feet of Kimmie! He would not allow one picture, one phone call, and sure as hell no actual physical interactions. Kimmie believed her mother had died in child birth, and damn it, it would stay that way.
So, what was he going to do?
He would not give up the position he worked his ass off to obtain. He was the youngest Associate Dean and Department Head in
’s history. If he were to leave and go to another school, it would take years to work himself up to the position he now held. Besides that, he was being groomed for the dean’s position. He didn’t want to give that up and start all over again. He had worked his ass off to get were he was. Pacifica
Then there was Kimmie. This was her home, the only one she had ever known. There was no way he was going to uproot his happy, well adjusted child and thrust her into a position where she knew no one. His mother, who had retired not long after Kimmie was born, took care of her when Holden was working late or away from home. Kimmie’s grandparents were an integral part of his daughter’s life. It would kill his parents to take their only grandchild away from them. It was not something he could ever consider doing. He never could have raised her half as well without their help. Never once did they question the new addition to their family, although his mother, who had once loved Kimber like she was her own daughter, not refused to even utter the name of Kimber Knowles. The normally loving, accepting woman wouldn’t spit on Kimber if she was on fire. There was no way he could tear her granddaughter away from his mother just to run away from the ghosts of his past.
So it was ignore the past then. He could be distant and cool, letting Kimber know on no uncertain terms would he welcome her back into his life or his daughter’s. If she dared to attempt to bring up Kimmie, he would hit with court injunctions and protection orders so hard and so fast she wouldn’t know what happened to her. He was going to have to call his lawyer, maybe get several lawyers, just to be prepared.
Given the dean appropriate lip service, Holden left the older man’s office as soon as he could. He needed to mentally prepare a plan of action. He would make Kimber very sorry she even considered coming here. He would make her life a living hell. Holden gave it six months max before she was putting in her resume elsewhere. The school would just have to take the hit. He couldn’t have here around, fucking with his delicate equilibrium. The first thing he had to do was get Kimmie far away from here. She was currently hanging out in his office, her favorite pastime. Although Kimber wasn’t expected until Monday, he couldn’t take the change of the two meeting. He needed to prepare his parents for what lay ahead.
Taking the stairs two at a time rather than waiting for the elevator, he fairly sprinted to the other side of the massive brick building that made up the English Department. He couldn’t understand his own need for urgency, but he felt to his soul something earth shattering was about to happen. It was kind of like the weird phenomenon that animals had right before a natural disaster. He needed to get his child out of here. A series of events he could not control or stop once they began was fast approaching. He had to stop it before it was too late, before it destroyed them all.
Entering his suite, Holden was brought to a dead stop.
He couldn’t move his feet! There it was - the scene that haunted his nightmares for nine years was unfolding right in front of him. Yet, this was not the way he had envisioned it.
Holden was always imagined a cold, calculating witch dressed in the height of fashion looking gorgeously unattainable. It had been easier to hate her that way. He wasn’t prepared for the soft vulnerability of the woman drinking in the sight of his child; their child. She was just as small and feminine as she had been in high school. Petite yet generously curved, perhaps fuller than she had been. She was swathed in cloth, although it was a fairly warm day. Covered from neck to ankle in shapeless, yet colorful linen with a definitive Bohemian feel, she looked as if she didn’t paid much heed to the way she looked other than to make sure she was passably presentable. It was very much unlike the Kimber he had used to know. Her eyes shone with the shimmer or unshed tears, her hands knotting the fabric of her overly long shirt. He body trembled as she stared, wide eyed and disbelieving at her daughter, a daughter she had never known.
Waves of anguished battered Holden from his stance at the door. This was the Kimber he had known, a little lost and so vulnerable it damn near broke your heart to stare into those brown eyes for to long. He could see the faint tremble of her body as she swallowed down unimaginable pain. He knew it on sight because he had lived it for so very long.
Was she faking it? Was it guilt that made her look as if she would fall apart at any second? There was a woman behind her, hold her elbow in a death grip as she too looked at Kimmie, who was chatting excitedly about having the same name and how her mother had died. The horror that reflected on Kimber’s face was no artifice. When Kimmie started in about her father, Holden wanted to dig a deep hole and hide.
What had he done?
Kimber didn’t have to say a word, her stance and the raw pain on her face said it all. She didn’t know. He wasn’t sure how it was possible, but she had no idea Kimmie had been here the entire time. Reginald Knowles had lied. Kimber had never given up her child for adoption. He felt like throwing up as he recognized the woman at Kimber’s side. Tawny Manning had been her best friend in high school. He believed Tawny had moved to
after finishing law school. San Diego
It hit him that at any time he could have looked Tawny up and discovered the truth, but he hadn’t. Hell he could have asked her back in high school, but he had been so full of his own fury, he hadn’t considered asking any of Kimber’s friends. He had taken his righteous anger and fostered it into something of a rage, hiding his child away from anything having to do with her mother and denying Kimber to her. He had been so set on laying the blame at Kimber’s feet, he never considered an alternative. Knowing her father, the first thing he should have done was question his motives.
While he still had no idea how this had happened, he knew Kimber well enough to recognize when she was hurting, and the pain she was showcasing was all too real. There was a time when he had known her better than anyone else. While he doubted that was true now, he did know he had screwed up badly.
“How could you?”
Holden didn’t want to look up. That voice washed over him, throwing him back in time. A rich alto; smoky and unintentionally sexy, and right now filled with so much pain and betrayal. He had heard that tone so many times before, but never directed at him. How many times had he held her in his arms to chase the pain away? How many times had he tried to move heaven and earth to make it all better? He seriously doubted she would allow it now.
Holden staggered when the palm blazed fire across his cheek. He heard Kimmie’s cry sounding far away.
“Daddy!” His little girl was horrified. Little did she know how much he deserved that slap. But she would all too soon.
How could he tell his baby girl he deserved it?
“Do you have any idea how long I looked for her?”
Kimber’s voice vibrated with the pain and anger he was not sure he was man enough to face. Still, he raised his eye to face her head on, immediately wishing he hadn’t. Her dark russet skin was still clear and unlined, her topaz eyes glittering with pain, anger and confusion. She was so damn beautiful. He had forgotten how fresh and innocent her beauty was.
Damn he wished he could pull her close and make it all better. If he thought he was over her, he had been ten times a fool. He would never be over Kimber. He reached out only to have his hand slapped away. A sharp pain pierced his heart as surely as she had driven a knife straight through its core. He had to make this better; he had to make it right.
“Don’t you ever touch me!” Kimber hissed, her eyes spitting fire. “How could you keep her away from me? Did you hate me that much?”
Yes, he had. But now he knew it was for naught. She wasn’t the one who had betrayed him. Not like he had apparently betrayed her.
He watched helpless as she stormed away, her friend trailing in her wake. She was doing a damn good job of keeping it together; he had to give her that. Kimber wasn’t weak by any means, but she was sensitive. Some people mistook one for the other. She wouldn’t break, but she would hurt like hell. He knew she would cry half the night over things she couldn’t change, piling guilt on her own head when it belong firmly placed on others, like him.
“Daddy, why did she do that? She was so nice to me,” Kimmie had run to him, grasping on to his leg like it was her lifeline. “Why did she slap you?”
He looked down at his little girl who looked so much like her mother, everyone staring in wide eyed fascination at the scene between the new professor and their usually reserved department head could probably put two and two together. Those who couldn’t would no doubt be filled in shortly.
Ah, well. Things would only get messier from here. Why the hell not just get all out there for people to gossip at their heart’s content? He had a feeling this was nothing compared to what was coming. Now that he knew it was him who had been the heartless asshole, he would stop at nothing to win back the only woman he had ever loved. Not so much because he needed to make amends, and he so did. No, seeing Kimber again, the real Kimber and not the witch that had been nothing more than figment of his imagination had opened wounds he though cauterized and healed over. He loved her. He had always loved her. Piling the anger on top of anger had only dulled the underlying truth.
She may be a different person now, but he didn’t care. He had let her slip out of his life once before. Now, knowing what he knew, he would be the worst kind of fool to let her go again. He didn’t give a damn what might have been in his way. Nine cold bitter years had past and what did either of them have to show for it? Pain? Mistrust? Their own stupid notions of right and wrong? He still didn’t know the whole story, but he really didn’t need to. Even if what Kimber had said those horrible things her father had told him and his parents, it wouldn’t have made a difference. As soon as he saw her, every feeling, every emotion came rushing back with a clarity as if it were only yesterday they were stealing kisses between classes or sneaking off to be together at night. He had never stopped loving her. Now he had to prove it and prove his was worthy of her.
“I made her mad sweetheart,” he whispered to his precious child. “And now I have to make it better.