Love Realized (The Real Love Series)
Author:Melanie Codina

CHAPTER ONE

Gillian heard the words “cannon ball” screamed about two seconds before the giant splash of water hit her back, startling her and refreshing her all at the same time. “You’re so lucky my hands are full,” she yelled over her shoulder toward the pool, “or I’d be coming in after you.”

Standing in the midst of chaos, a smile spread across her face. What person wouldn’t enjoy spending time outside today? The clear blue Southern California sky stretched above, with the only disturbance to the horizon being the periodic wisp of a cloud. The sunny eighty degrees made it hot enough to take a dip in the pool, but not so hot that you couldn’t stand in the sun without melting. This was the weather San Diego was known for. It was the perfect type of day to spend in the yard, she thought, around the pool, surrounded by most of her favorite people, celebrating the birth of her youngest son, Dylan.

Of course the turnout was just as she expected, almost everyone was present and accounted for. But then, that was never a doubt because their friends were just like that; they would always come. Those who couldn’t make it for the whole gathering would come as soon as they were available, because with this crowd of people, the parties were never over quickly. And let’s not forget that everyone loved her kids—let’s face it—they were great kids. Duh!

Okay, okay, so maybe she was a little biased on that subject matter, she laughed inwardly. But standing there in the midst of friends and family, she couldn’t help but feel a slight lump form in her throat when taking in her surroundings. The lump got bigger when she caught sight of her youngest playing with the other kids in the pool. As sappy or cheesy as it sounded, her children were her biggest accomplishments in life. They always found new ways to shock her, infuriate her, overwhelm her, and make her smile. All in equal parts too. Jonathan, Madison, and Dylan … they were her world.

Some people may not feel that way about their own lives, especially if they had started parenting at an early age like her. But Gillian had no regrets. Sure, things could’ve been easier for them, but she had seen plenty of people who followed the stereotypical timetable for having a family, and of course they didn’t all have success stories. All of that aside, when Gillian did start her family, at the ripe old age of seventeen, her life was no longer hers. It belonged to the little baby she had brought into the world, and she had absolutely no problem with that.

When the shocking announcement was made to family and friends that Gillian was “in that way,” it was as if there was some type of time warp to the 1950s when everyone would look at her with some kind of pitiful look and shake their heads as if she was the only teenager who had ever had sex with her teenage boyfriend. Some even felt it necessary to point accusatory fingers at her boyfriend, Logan, since he was older than her. Not older by much, but he got the bad rap because he was a year ahead of Gillian and had already graduated when she had Jonathan.

It was comical to think about how that really used to get a rise out of Logan, like he was the evil villain who stole her virtue. Well he didn’t steal it per se; he did take it, but that was because she presented it on a silver platter to him, complete with an invitation to return anytime he wanted. Yep, mutually beneficial was a good description of what happened. You know that saying—her parents liked to use it—“it takes two to tango”… well, of course it does; it wouldn’t be fun, otherwise. Regardless, the results of all that “tangoing” had a prolonged effect on their lives, but Gillian wouldn’t change that for the world. She and Logan became a statistic the minute that pregnancy test showed its double blue bars to them. And the result of those little blue bars was a bouncing baby boy, Jonathan.

Some people attempted to call her Jonathan a mistake, or an accident, simply because she had gone and gotten “knocked up” in high school and had him before she graduated. Gillian’s defense to this point of view was, well at least she could hug her mistake, and he hugged her back. And what nice hugs they were! Jonathan loved his mom and never hesitated to show her that with hugs—not those stupid one-armed hugs kids give when they’re too cool to show affection—real, full two-armed hugs, daily, and kisses to the cheeks whenever he came or went. Those one-armed hugs seemed to come exclusively from Madison. That is, if she was even blessed with the opportunity of getting that close to her daughter.

Yes, Jonathan was a momma’s boy, and Gillian loved every minute of it. He was the outgoing, Varsity soccer-playing, polite, good-grade-getting, seventeen year-old boy, who was about to be a senior in high school. His rapid growth spurt over this summer had brought him only one inch shy of his father’s six-foot two-inch height. With his thick, wavy brown hair, bluish-grey eyes and a smile that was electric, she knew he was going to be a heartbreaker. Probably already was, if he was anything like his father. Jonathan had the looks, the personality, the brains, and the athletic talent; he was the total package. And as his mother, she couldn’t be more proud. However, being the oldest of three, he certainly provided a misconception for Gillian that all children listened to their mother and were never difficult.

Yes, her oldest son was an anomaly. Needless to say, other mothers were jealous. His good behavior, coupled with Gillian’s age difference from other mothers, never made her very popular on the sideline of the soccer field, or the playground for that matter. Especially since it seemed that everyone expected her son to be an out of control child with the social skills of a common street thug, or have shitty grades simply because his mother was a teenager when she had him. God, how she hated stereotypes and statistics, even more so when they affected other’s opinions of her kids. But the upside to being grouped in a crappy statistic was proving said stereotype wrong … and oh how she loved doing that!

Those stupid stereotypes were the very reason she made Logan wait to marry her. Of course, he proposed when she was pregnant with Jonathan, but she turned him down and told him that having a child was no reason to get married. Waiting to get married ‘til Jonathan turned one was the smartest thing they could’ve done. Logan understood her reason for wanting to wait, but she was certain that it must’ve been a blow to his ego for her to say no that first time. Gillian wanted to marry for love, regardless of the fact that she and Logan couldn’t seem to keep their hands, and other body parts, to themselves.

Once she accepted his marriage proposal, and they got married, the second addition to their new family came just shy of ten months later when Madison was born. Madison quickly changed all of Gillian’s expectations she may have developed from Jonathan.

Madison was the highly emotional, soon-to-be sophomore, fifteen year old girl that was always demanding attention. She was the typical “Daddy’s Little Girl,” who recently decided that they were no longer allowed to call her Maddie. Somehow, the nickname they had called her for years suddenly sounded “immature.” Gillian snorted to herself, thinking that the only immature thing about using the nickname was how Madison acted. She would ignore you if you called her Maddie and would just wait until she heard her full name, except if Logan called her that, of course. Daddy’s Little Girl and all; it was adorable and annoying as hell!

So, to put it simply, it was only immature when her mom called her that. Well, she had always heard that mothers of teenage daughters were expected to battle with them over the littlest things. True to form, they battled just yesterday over the way Gillian yelled too much at Madison’s soccer games. She played soccer for a competitive club team, and there was certainly no way that Gillian could contain her enthusiasm when the team was doing so well. Besides, she knew for a fact that she wasn’t one of those crazy-screaming-for-no-reason-soccer moms that she couldn’t tolerate. She knew this because she had verified this with anyone that she could ask. Talk about being paranoid that your daughter might get upset.

Many other parents, as well as other players, had reassured her that she was not the crazy soccer mom. This was only the case if you asked her daughter. God, she hoped she wasn’t like that with her mom. There really wasn’t anything wrong with her cheering from the sidelines, other than it was just Maddie being a moody teenage girl. Besides, she didn’t think she was doing anything different than when she cheered on the boys’ team, and Jonathan had no problem with that. Just another thing to add to the list she liked to call The-Teenage-Daughter-Hates-Everything-Her-Mother-Does-List.

Unfortunately, Madison recently made the decision to give up her high school soccer career and tried out for cheer instead. Of course, she made the team; she had been doing dance competitions since she was five years old. And while it bummed Gillian out that Madison wasn’t going to be playing soccer at the high school, she quietly did a fist pump, since she was a cheerleader in high school, too. But of course, she kept that bit of information to herself and avoided pointing this out to Maddie. Because it’s a known fact that the moody teenage girl would definitely change her mind, simply because of that. It was exhausting to step over all the proverbial land mines that her second child placed in front of her. The other battle with her daughter being a cheerleader was Logan acting like the stereotypical father and not wanting his daughter parading around in those short skirts and jumping up and down.

Recalling her conversation with him about Madison making the team made her giggle a bit. Gillian’s reply to his blatant “Hell no” didn’t help her cause at all. Considering her defense was, “Well I was cheerleader,” in which his reply was, “Exactly my point Gillian; I know exactly what I was thinking when I saw you in your cheer uniform each and every time. You think I want all those pimple-faced high school boys thinking that about my daughter … hell no!” And really, her only way to diffuse the situation was to distract him. Okay, so seduce him was the more appropriate term for it.

She lowered her voice to a seductive whisper and leaned her body against his. She looked up at him through hooded eyelids while her hands rested on his chest and said, “And what exactly was it that you were thinking about when you saw me in my cheer skirt? Did you like what you saw?” Logan’s low growl, as his lips crashed down on hers, was a firm answer that he liked the thought of her in her cheer skirt. Then she softly whispered in his ear and asked him if he would like to see her in her cheer skirt again sometime; he lifted her up and carried her to the bed. All thoughts of his daughter were surely gone as he proceeded to show Gillian exactly how much he liked the thought of her in her cheer skirt again.

Once that was taken care of, she was able to focus on other cool aspects of her daughter being on Varsity cheer—first and foremost, when attending the Varsity football games, her daughter would be none-the-wiser that her mom was yelling her support for the school from the stands with all the other parents. The crowds allowed that, and it was another private little victory for Gillian. Small pat on the back for that, considering those are quite rare wherever Madison was concerned.

Rounding out the family, last but not least, the role of little big man belonged to Dylan, who turned eight years old today. She felt her smile get bigger as she watched Dylan playing in the pool with his too long, dark brown hair, which he wanted to grow out. He really needed a haircut, but she felt she could indulge him a little while longer. Dylan was a lot like his older brother, Jonathan, and certainly idolized everything his brother did. She could only be thankful that he was a great role model; otherwise they would surely have problems.

Dylan also played soccer and had to make sure he wore the same jersey number as Jonathan did or else he wouldn’t play. What else could she say about Dylan other than he loved his Legos, was usually found attached at the hip to his best friend, Ryan, and possessed actual magical powers. That’s right, her son could literally melt his mother’s heart with a smile. He was definitely the perfect conclusion to the family they started so many years ago.

Speaking of good role models … She caught sight of her oldest as he emerged from the house. “Hey Mom!” Jonathan called toward her as he made his way into the backyard, followed by two of his friends, all wearing their soccer uniforms, having just come from a game. She felt a little guilty for not being able to go to his game, but she knew he understood. She smiled back at him as they made their way over to where she was standing. Jonathan leaned over and kissed her on the cheek, thankfully avoiding hugging her since he definitely smelled like he just came from a game. His friends, Nick and Robby, also leaned in and kissed her, simultaneously, on both cheeks while carefully avoiding the tray she was carrying. They had all been friends since elementary school and had spent plenty of time in her house.

She accepted the kisses and smiled at them. “Hi boys, how was the game? I'm sorry I couldn’t make it.”

“Don’t worry about it, Mom; I know it’s a rare occurrence for you to miss a game—you’re allowed a free pass every now and then. But you did miss my goal.” Jonathan feigned like he was hurt, but she could see the smile he struggled to hide. “Oh and we won 2-1; it was a tough game.” She congratulated him on the win and ignored his horrible attempt at giving her a hard time and looked to his friends.

“Why don’t you all go in and change out of your gear so you can come and eat. We’re about to put the meat on the grill. But do me a favor, don’t leave all that sweaty gear lying around, we have guests. Last time I couldn’t figure out where the smell was coming from ‘til I found a set of shin guards under the couch.”

“Thanks Mrs. B!” they said in unison as they followed Jonathan into the house to change.

Yes, lucky just wasn’t a strong enough word to describe how fortunate she was to have what she had. Well, maybe she felt that way because she was always the type of person who saw the glass as half full.

Logan, however, her husband of sixteen years, never sees things the same as her. To him, the glass was always half empty. She liked to think that that was what made them so compatible. She was the positive to his negative. Her optimism was the direct contrast to his “worst case scenario” attitude, and in lots of situations, she could apply just a little direction to his overwhelming thoughts and bring him back to level ground. Heck, in some cases, his attitude, coupled with his ability to speak his mind freely, had her diffusing situations in his wake. For instance, when they were out to dinner and the poor waitress got a full dose of Logan-the-ass because he had a bad day. Of course, this always prompted Gillian to give an apologetic look and place a few extra bucks on the table. While she understood and accepted his surly attitude at times because she loved him, she also knew that the girl behind the counter at a coffee shop didn’t have to, and why should she?

No, Logan Baxter had never been accused of being anything less than intense, and with great intensity such as his, he often left her in awe. Unfortunately, Gillian was not the only one Logan had in awe over him. He was definitely attractive with his light brown hair, eyes that reminded her of blue jeans and nicely tanned skin from all the Southern California activities they took part in. Sadly, and as could be expected, combine his good looks with his inability to realize he had all he needed, there were definitely skeletons in the closet of their marriage. Fortunately, though, they had moved past it, locked up those skeletons, and things were good between them. Oh sure, from time to time those skeletons tried to fight their way out of said closet, but Gillian had made sure it stayed locked up good and tight.

Gillian caught sight of Logan standing by the new backyard bar situated by the pool, which he proudly built with Jonathan, just for this party. “What better event could there be to finish a bar for than an eight year old’s birthday party,” was Logan’s argument when she questioned why he was doing that instead of what she directly needed accomplished. Statements like that only had her rolling her eyes and walking away, but she was still smiling, though.

She recalled the look on his face when Logan fed her that line of crap, which was promptly followed by Jonathan rolling his eyes and shaking his head. He stood behind his father, where only Gillian could see him, and directly acknowledged to his mother that he knew his father was a total smartass and completely full of shit. The replay of the memory just made the smile spread across her face again.

As if he heard her thoughts, Logan looked up at her, and one side of his mouth quirked up into a devilish half smile, while he arched an eyebrow giving her that “how you doing” flirtatious look she loved. And yes, it made her blush and giggle slightly. That’s right, she’s a giggler. It always amazed her how he could do that to her. She loved it and got equally irritated by it because she knew there were times he got away with far more than he should have.

There she was standing amongst her party guests, blushing and smiling like a fool when she had things to be doing. Attempting to focus on her role of hostess, she turned toward the house when a voice rumbled in her ear.

“What’s that smile for, sexy?” Her smile got even bigger. Now the day was perfect; Jake was here. Always falling into the playful banter with one of her oldest and dearest friends was second nature for Gillian. Jake Michaels was always a flirt with her; it stretched all the way back to high school, and it was just part of their relationship. Of course, it was also easy to do since he was as sweet and sexy as they come.

Tall, dark, and handsome was certainly a phrase that could easily be used to describe Jake, with his chocolate brown hair and light brown eyes that resembled topaz. And let’s not forget the broad shoulders and chest that sported the perfect proportions for his six-foot two-inch frame. Seriously, she had no idea how she ended up with all these good-looking men in her life? Hell, when they all were indulging in pool time, it looked like freaking spring break, with real adult males instead of those still trying to grow chest hair.

Jake leaned in to kiss her on the cheek, which she offered up gladly because he was easily one of her favorite people. “Just relishing in the joy of all these handsome men in my life,” she said with a wink.

“Well then it’s a good thing I got here, so you really have something to smile about.” Both of them laughed as Jake winked back. Gillian loved that she still had Jake in her life, even after all these years; they always had a good time together.

“Hey, I found some party guests at the front door, and I brought them in for you since they said they rang the doorbell. Hope that’s okay; he says he works with you.”

“Oh, thanks, I didn’t even think about people who aren’t used to just walking into my house like the rest of you guys do,” she said as she nudged him with her hip.

“Well if I announced myself, then you may not let me come over, and then how will I get to have dinner with one of the hottest moms I know.”

Gillian couldn’t contain her giggle. “Damn Jake, you sure know how to make a girl’s day. Now go check in with the birthday boy, he was looking for his “favorite uncle” earlier. Of course, that always gets under my brother’s skin when he hears Dylan say that.”

Jake laughed out loud at that. “Which is exactly why I have trained Dylan to call me that, just to get under Sean’s skin … it’s so much fun. How about Ryan, has he been good?”

“He is always good for his favorite aunt. Both boys have been in the pool for hours … the two of them should be sprouting gills any minute now.”

Ryan was Jake’s son, from a brief marriage to a woman who couldn’t be bothered with settling down with just one man. They divorced when Ryan was only one, after Jake walked in on her with another man. She then followed this man to Florida and didn’t have any problems with granting Jake full custody of Ryan. Jake loved his son and didn’t want him to be subjected to a woman who couldn’t seem to focus on anyone but herself.

“Hey, we have matching titles: you, the favorite aunt, and me, the favorite uncle. It’s a wonder the rest of these yahoos ever get paid any attention at all.” Jake smacked her on the ass and walked away to search for Dylan and Ryan while yelling toward the pool, “Has anyone seen the birthday boy? His favorite uncle is here!” Gillian just laughed as she turned around to look where her brother, Sean, was sitting with his wife, knowing that Jake only did that to rile him up. Boys will be boys, regardless of their age.

Turning toward the house, she spotted Adam, her co-worker, standing by the gated entryway to the pool area with who she assumed was his wife, bent forward talking to their daughter. Gillian quickly tried to recall what her name was, but failed, and hoped he would introduce her. When Adam spotted her, he smiled and waved. He looked a little too excited to be there, but she knew that since they had moved to the area recently, they were probably short on friends. Gillian smiled back at him and started to head in his direction, wanting to say hello and welcome them before bringing the burgers and dogs she was carrying over to the grill.

As she got closer, the woman standing next to Adam stood up and turned around to resume her position next to him. All of the oxygen suddenly vacated Gillian’s lungs, and apparently the need to bring in more seemed to escape her mind. Forgetting to breathe, forgetting everyone around her, she stood there staring into the eyes of this woman. A woman whose eyes and face had already been etched into her mind. A woman branded into Gillian’s memory. A woman who has, until now, only existed in Gillian’s mind or in secret pictures she had come across in the past. A woman who was not supposed to be here, in her yard, at her son’s birthday party … or even in this damn state for that matter! A woman who sure as hell should not be within an arm’s reach of Gillian. A woman who possessed the power to bring Gillian to her knees from heartache.

This was not just any woman; this was the woman! The Other Woman! She could just hear the hinges of her marital closet creaking open with a deafening metal on metal sound. Exit skeletons! Jody Spencer was the other woman who Logan loved. Loves? Now would be a very good time for the ground to open up and swallow her whole. Because, as unbelievable as it should be, Logan’s mistress was standing there in front of her, staring back at her.

Gillian just stood there and stared at the woman. She saw the realization cross the woman’s face when she figured out who she was looking at and where she was. She hadn’t figured it out as quickly as Gillian did, but then again, it was doubtful that she gave much thought to Gillian, other than maybe to laugh at her while wrapped in Logan’s arms. Dammit! This cannot be happening, she silently begged, the desire to have someone knock her out and put her out of her misery was climbing by the second.

Gillian’s concentration was broken when she heard a loud clattering sound causing her to jump. With a sudden intake of air, she realized that the sound was her dropping the large metal tray carrying all the meat for the grill, which now resided in a pile surrounding her feet. Damn! She didn’t have to look around to know that everyone was looking in her direction. Good job, Gillian! Way to draw attention to the mistress. Adam bent over to help pick up the mess, as did someone else, but Gillian couldn’t take the time to look because she couldn’t break her eye contact with Jody. Wouldn’t that show weakness? She was sure there was some animal kingdom show that said the predator never takes his or her eyes off the prey … yeah, don’t break eye contact; show her who has the power here … or some shit like that.

Jody looked wide-eyed and even a little scared. She should; she essentially just walked into the lion’s den. At that realization, a tiny bit of sympathy passed through Gillian, but was quickly squashed down. Jody then flickered her gaze to Adam and then back to Gillian, before slightly glancing around the crowd of people. Good, she broke eye contact first. I win. Maybe she watched one too many shows on Animal Planet. Maybe she was looking for help or even an escape route. Maybe she was looking for Logan to confirm that she was, in fact, standing face-to-face with Gillian Baxter.

She couldn’t believe this was happening here. This was sacred ground to Gillian; the mistress had no business being on her turf. She was a threat, and Gillian needed to protect her family from this evil woman. She needed to protect herself from the embarrassment that was going to follow when everyone found out who this was standing in front of her.

The rambling going on in Gillian’s head was interrupted when Adam stood up with the tray, and Logan suddenly appeared in front of her. Looking at Gillian, he asked, “Babe, what happened?” She wanted to look at Logan, but she couldn’t take her eyes off of her—the threat—the one person who could provide her with the ultimate of embarrassing situations. This woman almost destroyed her world, and possibly still possessed the power to successfully destroy her world for good this time.

When Gillian didn’t turn to look at Logan, he must have turned to see what, or rather who, she was looking at. She realized that this interaction between them was obscured from where Logan was sitting. The arm that Logan had placed on Gillian’s back stiffened, and that was when she knew he had realized that the shit was about to hit the fan.