Reana Malori

Dear Love Vixen,
I don’t know what to do and I need your help! My best friend died one year ago. Since then I’ve been helping her husband with their five-year-old daughter. I didn’t mean for it to happen but… I’ve fallen in love with my best friend’s husband.

I’m so torn. Do women have a ‘Sister Code’ that says we can’t date an ex? Because if there is, I think I’m about to break that rule in a huge way. I’d love nothing more than to climb him like a spider-monkey, but I’m worried that I’m betraying my friend’s memory.

Please help me, Love Vixen. My feelings for him seem so wrong, but I can’t just turn them off. Do I keep my feelings to myself and just deal with my own heartbreak? Should I let him know how I feel? Should I just suck it up and find someone else?

Sincerely,
Confused in Virginia

Dear Virginia,
Oh sweetie, you are in a pickle.

Grief has no timeline and he’s still mourning. You need to take a step back and focus on his child while he heals. You are a remarkable woman to rearrange your life in order to be there for the little girl. With patience and caring he may one day realize what has been right in front of him.

You asked me what you should do? There isn’t an easy answer. Is life ever easy? Listen to your heart. It seems like you already know what to do.

Good luck, hon!
The ♥️ Vixen

**Disclaimer: The Love Vixen concept, letters, posts, and advice are works of fiction. The LV is not a licensed doctor or trained professional, or even a real person. The guidance she gives should probably not be followed because everything is made up by the authors.


Meet the Author!

NEWSLETTER | FACEBOOK | BOOKBUB | INSTAGRAM | AMAZON AUTHOR


The characters I write will not be perfect. None of us are. They will make mistakes. All of the heroes will have redeeming qualities, but on the outset, you may not be their biggest fan. My heroines will be the kind of women you want to hang out with. They’re the women next door, down the street, and around the corner. They are the ladies you would want to spend time with on a Saturday night drinking a martini.

Prologue

Norah

It wasn’t supposed to end this way. The life and memories we’d built together were supposed to last until we were old and gray.

Rebecca had been my best friend for most of my life. Since the first day she walked into our 2nd grade classroom. Her blonde ponytail hung low as her face revealed the biggest smile. My hand shot in the air when the teacher asked the class if someone wanted to be

Rebecca’s buddy. She was going to be my new best friend. After all, we were wearing the same color that day, so our friendship was destined.

And that friendship, that sisterhood, lasted more than twenty- four years. In all my dreams, we would still be laughing together, causing trouble, and being a family until we were old women with no teeth.

The woman lying in bed with IV lines and tubes sticking out of her body was not the woman I’m used to seeing. Her frail body looked so small in that hospital bed. My nostrils picked up that distinctive odor of antiseptic, bleach, and sickness. My body was primed and ready to run away from it all. Maybe this was all one long-ass nightmare. Wetness trailed down my face as I prayed with every ounce of my soul that my best friend would survive. It didn’t matter what the doctors said. What the hell did they know anyway?

“Stop standing over there sulking,” Rebecca called out to me. “I hear you thinking all the way over here, and I need you to stop.”

Pulling away from the entrance to her bedroom, I shuffled over the bed. “I don’t sulk.”

Rebecca grinned as she tried to sit up. Jumping in to help, I fluffed the pillow behind her back. “What are you doing? You should be resting.”

“Stop fussing over me, Norah,” she said in a raspy voice. “You are such a worrywart.”

I sighed before sitting down in the chair next to her bed. “I’m not. I just…” I stopped speaking, the tears clogging up my throat. “Rebecca, I can’t lose you,” I whispered.

Leaning her head back, Rebecca closed her eyes and took a deep breath before turning her head to look at me. “I’m not going anywhere. You’ve been my best friend since I was knee-high to a grasshopper. Do you think I’m ever going to leave you?”

Both of us laughed at her grasshopper comment. Although she had moved to Virginia when Rebecca was young, some of the favorite sayings from her southern belle mother still escaped. Of course, that was one of her favorite sayings, along with telling everyone how she and Norah were two peas in a pod. She swore God must have sent us down to earth at the same time so we could find each other in this life.

Looking at the pale, almost translucent skin of my best friend, I wondered how the hell I’d ever live without her again. What was I

supposed to do now? “Where’s Lilly? Cade?”

Glancing over my shoulder, I motioned with my thumb. “He took her out for a walk. I swear, he practically ran out of here as soon as I showed up. No words, just a grunt as he passed me by.”

She laughed before her breath left, and her body was wracked with deep coughs. “Don’t make me laugh. It hurts.”

Lifting a glass of water, I placed it against Rebecca’s lips. “I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be.” She leaned back and took a few deep breaths. “Listen. Don’t worry about Cade. He just…” she paused, “he’s been worried about me. He’s been using all his time and every resource at his disposal. I tried to tell him to stop focusing on what he can’t control and to just make sure Lilly knows how much I love her. I

wish I didn’t have to leave him alone.”

I couldn’t help the tears that flowed down my face. The love Rebecca felt for her family could not be denied. Ever since their wedding, more than seven years ago, all I could do was watch

Rebecca build a life with the man who’d stolen my friend’s heart. “I’m not worried about Cade. I’m worried about Lilly. She’s my

goddaughter.”

Rebecca nodded before taking a deep breath. “Then you need to be around her more.”

My heart seized at her words. She was asking too much of me. “I can’t, Rebecca.”

“Why? Tell me one good reason why you can’t be around more.

In the last few years, I’ve seen you maybe four to six times a year.”

Watching my best friend pause as she gathered her breath and her thoughts, I couldn’t help but think I should be the one lying in that bed. No husband. No children. My life is my job. Yes, I’m close to my family, but it’s not the same.

“Norah? Tell me what’s going on with you.”

There was no way in hell I was going to tell her a damn thing,

especially with her fighting for her life. “Nothing’s going on with me. You know how work is for me. I’m always busy.”

Rebecca shook her head. “Nope. You work from home. You’re a consultant and make your own hours. Try again.”

“Why are you pushing so hard on this? You know I see you and Lilly when I can. And no matter how much we see each other, or not, you’re still my best friend and my sister. Nothing will change that.” I needed her to know that I would always love her. Other than my parents, she was the only person who meant a damn to me. Well, her and Lilly. That mini-me version of my best friend held a piece of my heart.

“You know why I’m pushing, Norah.” She sighed deeply. “He’s going to need you.”

There was no reason to ask who she was talking about. We both knew. “I don’t think he’ll agree with you on that. That man can’t even be in the same room as I am for more than three minutes.”

A smile lit up Rebecca’s face. “Stop it. You know I’m right. He’s going to need you, and Lilly will need her aunt Norah more than

ever. So, I need you to promise me you’ll take care of them. Both of them.”

I could do nothing but shake my head as the tears flowed. “I can’t. Don’t ask me to do that. You’re gonna fight this. All you need is a bit more time,” I said, squeezing her hand tighter than I probably

should. “You sound like you’re giving up, which I know you’re not going to do. You have to stay with me. You can’t leave us.”

Eyes closing, Rebecca’s words were slower as she began to fall asleep. “The fight isn’t over yet, but I’m tired, Norah. No matter what

happens, you’re my sister. I trust you more than anything. I know you’ll take care of them.”

***

Fuck cancer.

Fuck cancer in its rotten, life-taking ass.

Those were the only words I could think of as we stood in the

rain while Rebecca’s coffin was lowered into the ground. There were so many people here—her work colleagues, family, friends, and neighbors. Everyone loved Rebecca, but no one loved her like I did. We’d experienced our entire life together. Puberty. Acne. Our first bra. First boyfriends. First heartbreaks. College.

Everything. Good, bad, and in between. Every pivotal moment of their lives was spent with each other. When Rebecca married Cade, there was no reason to think things would be different. But if Norah were honest with herself, she knew from the start. The

moment Cade and Rebecca became a serious couple, things would change. There would be no other choice.

Cade and Lilly were sitting next to her. The little girl sat between us as she cried into her father’s chest. My instinct was to reach over and pull the small child into my arms, but I resisted.

Cade’s grip on Lilly was tight, as if he’d never let her go. I couldn’t blame him. He’d just lost his wife and the mother of his child.

Glancing up at him, the expression on his face stopped me cold. He looked straight ahead, but she could see the tears welling in his eyes.

When Rebecca had been diagnosed with Stage 4 pancreatic cancer, it had thrown everyone for a loop. Most of all, her husband. From the date of diagnosis until the day she passed away in his arms, it had been just over one year. She’d gotten a late-stage diagnosis,

and by then, none of the treatments worked. Chemotherapy.

Alternative medicine. Everything. Nothing. After all they’d tried, it was all for nothing. Rebecca was still gone. Cade was without a wife. Lilly no longer had a mother.

I was without my best friend. My sister. The only person who understood me.

What was I supposed to do now?

It was time for me to go home. I’d been coming back and forth to Falls Church to visit Rebecca for the past year. Shortly after

Rebecca’s wedding, I’d moved to Baltimore. It was the best decision for everyone. Especially me.

My heart squeezed with pain and guilt at what I’d done.

I hadn’t been there for my best friend because of something I could never admit to her, no matter how much it pained me to stay away. There was no other choice. The alternative was not an option.

“Let’s go,” Cade said.

I jerked at his words, my mind coming back to the present

situation. Unfortunately, I’d been so lost in my thoughts, I’d failed to realize that Rebecca’s casket was in the ground, and the crowd had begun to disperse.

“I’m sorry,” I said, looking into his hazel eyes. “What was that?” “Food’s back at the house. People will expect us there.” As I

continued to stare at him, he shook his head and picked up his daughter in his arms. “Are you coming or what?”

His words were a harsh reminder that he could barely stand being around me. Good. That was for the best. Maybe I could go home now and not be around Cade anymore. My heart was already

broken, and my friend was no longer here. I could plan to see Lilly on the weekends, kind of like joint custody.

With one last lingering look at the gravesite, I made my way over to the car waiting for me on the street.

“I’m sorry, Rebecca. I’ll miss you so much, but I can’t stay here.

Not with him. I’ll take care of Lilly as best I can, but….” I paused to take a deep breath, “I need to stay away from your husband. If I don’t, I’m going to do something foolish, and I could never betray you like that.”

With one last lingering look, I made my way over to Cade and Lilly. Once there, I reached for Lilly. Cade handed her over, and we climbed into the black limousine. Cradling Lilly’s head on my

shoulder, I sat in the far corner of the vehicle waiting for Cade to

slide his tall form into the car. As they rode in silence, she couldn’t help looking over at the man sitting next to her. Cade wasn’t a pretty man, but his looks could captivate a room. Short, dark hair covered his head, and his thick dark beard was neat and trimmed. The dark suit fit his form like a second skin. Everything about Cade screamed power. From the first moment she’d laid eyes on him more than

eight years ago, she’d been drawn to him.

That hadn’t changed over the years, which made her the worst kind of person.

No matter how much she tried to fight it, she was in love with the man sitting next to her. How could she do this to Rebecca?

She needed to get away from him, from this city.

Chapter 1

Norah

One Year Later

“Norah, you need to come back.”

As I listened to Cade’s voicemail, I could feel my body tensing.

I’d just made it home from spending the weekend with him and Lilly.

My body was tired. My heart was hurting. Being around them for

more than two or three days brought me close to my breaking point.

When I was with them, all I could think about was Rebecca. She should be the one there with them. Not me.

Yet, I also couldn’t help feeling as if I were right where I belonged.

Then he had to go and send me this damn voicemail. Collapsing on my living room couch, I looked around my empty apartment and sighed. My house reflected how I felt inside. Bare. No personality.

Minimalist. I had survived this way for so long. It felt like this was all I knew. This was my real life. Not the one I pretended to have when I was with Cade and Lilly.

Hitting the replay button on my phone, I listened to his entire message again.

“Norah, you need to come back. Lilly won’t stop crying. It’s becoming too difficult for her when you leave. You’re her godmother. I don’t know why Rebecca chose you for the job when clearly you have no desire to step up,” he paused. Then she heard him take a few deep breaths. “You need to be here with Lilly. I expect a return call.”

Asshole!

What did her best friend see in him anyway? All he did was bark orders, especially at me. With Lilly, he was different. Then again, maybe that was it all along. I was simply his late wife’s best friend. To him, I was nothing, which is how he treated me; like the hired help.

Of course, I wanted to be there with Lilly. Hearing her cry for her mom at night broke my heart. All I could do was hold her in my arms and tell her that I loved her, and make sure she knew that I was there for her. Her beautiful blue eyes, so reminiscent of her mother’s, would gaze up at me with tears and doubt swimming in her gaze. For a small child, the experience of losing her mother must have felt like the end of the world. Then here I come, showing up on the weekends with smiles, doing all the things a mother would do, then I would dash away, leaving her alone for the entire week.

Glancing around my house again, I could feel the tears welling in my eyes. It wasn’t because I didn’t want to be around her. No, that wasn’t it at all. I was a damn coward. There, I said it. All things considered, I knew I was doing the right thing. Right?

Cade was probably waiting for me to call, but he’d have to wait a bit longer. Earlier, when his call came through, I was still on the

road from Falls Church to Baltimore. Yes, it was petty, and I chose not to pick up. He’d called three times. The voicemail was left after his final attempt to reach me.

Standing, I walked into the kitchen and grabbed a bottle of

water. Just thinking about the look on his face when I climbed in my car had me shivering all over. Why did I have to be this drawn to him? Not once during their marriage had I even considered overstepping. Then again, that’s also one of the reasons I stopped

visiting so much. When I wanted to see Rebecca, we arranged to meet at a neutral place, or she came to me. It was always easier to

make the excuse that we needed a girl’s weekend. No boys allowed.

Unpacking my weekend suitcase, I threw the clothes in the wash. Then I made something to eat since I hadn’t stopped on the road. Glancing over at the clock, I’d been home thirty minutes and still hadn’t returned Cade’s call. Okay, fine. I didn’t want to talk to him. Remember what I said earlier? Yeah, I feel like a complete coward.

“Ugh. Fine!” I yelled out into the empty room. I picked up my phone and clicked on his name to push through a call. I’d now

switched to a glass of wine because a girl needed some extra liquid courage. After two rings, he picked up.

“Are you on the way back?”

He could be such an asshole. “Wow! Well, hello to you, too. Yes, I made it home safely. Thanks so much for asking.”

His deep sigh came through the other side of the line. “Clearly, you’re safe because you called me. Why do you act like this? Never mind. So, when are you coming back?”

How do I handle this? On the one hand, I needed space. He had no idea how I felt about him, and that was for the best. He’d be appalled and disgusted. Hell, I was halfway disgusted myself.

“Cade, I’ll be back next Friday night. That was the arrangement.

We agreed to that. Why are you changing the rules?”

“Hold on.” I heard sounds on the other side of the line, as if he were shifting around.

“Were you asleep?” I looked over at the clock, and it was only a little past nine. Wasn’t that a bit early?

“Not asleep. Just lying down and reading some reports. I finally got Lilly down to sleep after she spent two hours crying for her auntie Norah to return. Do you know how it feels to hear her crying for you?

Don’t you think she’s been through enough? She can’t take much more of you leaving her right when she needs you the most. My daughter doesn’t deserve this.”

My first reaction was anger that he was blaming me. My second reaction was hurt. It was never my intention to make things worse for Lilly. I thought the weekends with me would be enough. That having me around, even for that little time, would help her get through. Maybe I was wrong.

“I’m not sure what you’re trying to say—” Cade interrupts me before I can continue.

“You need to shit or get off the pot. You’re her godmother.

Rebecca wanted you to be there for Lilly if something ever happened to her. Well, it has. My wife is gone. Your best friend,” he spat out, “is gone. Her daughter needs you. So, what are you going to do? Keep

running. Hide away from everyone who needs you? That’s what you do best, right? Run? Well, I won’t let you. Next time you come back to the Falls Church, then you’re here to stay.”

“Man, you have lost your damn mind.” Now, I’m seething. If I was a dragon, you’d see fire coming from my mouth right now. He was so arrogant and controlling. How did Rebecca deal with his insufferable ass? “You don’t get to tell me what to do. I’m not your wife.”

“Yeah, I know. You’re nothing like Rebecca. She was light and sweet and everything that was right in this world. You are most definitely NOT my wife.”

My words caught in my throat. What was I supposed to say to that? No, I wasn’t his wife. Rebecca brought out the best in everyone she was around. Whenever I was sad, she could bring a smile to my face with just a few words. I was still in a state of shock when he continued speaking.

“Listen, Norah. I’m—I’m—”

In all the time I’d known him, he’d never apologized to me for anything. This was a momentous day.

“If you’re unwilling to help me full-time with Lilly, then maybe it’s best if you don’t come around at all.”

Skkrrrrtt!! Wait. What did he just say? Did I hear him wrong? “Excuse me?”

“You heard me. I can’t have Lilly crying herself to sleep every night when you’re not here. My daughter is everything to me. She’s all I have left of Rebecca. If you can’t be here for her the way she needs, then maybe it’s better if you don’t visit for a while. I need her to have stability. She needs people who will choose to be around.

Losing her mother was out of her control, and she doesn’t understand it.”

“I know that!” I couldn’t help but yell through the phone. “Do you think I wanted to watch my friend die? Rebecca should be here with us. I wasn’t expecting this. My life is here in Baltimore.” I had to repeat the words because they had to be true. My life wasn’t with them. It couldn’t be. There was no way in hell I could step in and be a full-time surrogate mom. That’s not how I was built.

“Then I guess I have my answer.”

This dude was like a dog with a bone. “No, I haven’t given you an answer yet. Cade, what am I supposed to do about my life here?”

“If I recall, you’re a consultant. You can work from anywhere. This house is large enough for you to have your own office for work. Norah, I’m not going to beg you to come back here to help Lilly. I’m simply telling you what she needs. If you can’t be there for us… for her, then don’t come back. If you show up at my doorstep, then I’ll take that as a sign that you’re here for good.”

He honestly had no idea what he was asking me to do. “Cade…”

“If you need to think about it that much, then it seems you’ve made your decision. Goodbye, Norah.” He hung up the phone, and I sat there in silence as I thought over his request… no, his demand.

That man acted as if I owed him something. I didn’t.

No, but I did owe something to Rebecca. She’d trusted me to be there for her daughter. So how could I not do what Cade asked? I’d already noticed that every time I left, Lilly became a little more inconsolable. Her tears would fall faster and harder as she watched me climb into my car for the long drive home every week.

I wanted to be there for Lilly. I needed to be there for her, but what would it do to me, my own peace of mind, if I stayed in the house with them every day?

You know what, I needed to stop being so damn selfish. This was not about me. This was not about my own skewed feelings for a

man that I could never have. Maybe the best thing I could do was just focus on myself and Lilly. Living with them would be no big deal,

right?

My work could be done from anywhere. My apartment lease would continue until I returned, maybe. He didn’t say how long he wanted me to stay with them, but I’m positive it would only be a

couple of months. At least until Lilly was able to sleep at night. I could totally do this.

Although I was going to take him up on his proposal, I wanted to make his ass sweat a little longer. The man was just plain rude.

Ever since I’d known him, he always seemed to get what he wanted. Sure, I’d do this for him, but it would be on my terms. If he stayed out of my way, I’d be fine. Right?

I could feel my eyes drooping as a wave of exhaustion came over me. Time to go to bed. I’d worry about Cade and his demands tomorrow. Right now, I needed sleep.