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Cara opened her door and blinked, surprised.  “Nick? Baby, what are you doing here?”

Nick shoved his hands in his pockets and struggled with guilt before he said, “I need to talk to you.  I know we agreed we wouldn’t see each other until Saturday at the church, but I really need to talk to you.”

His voice was serious enough that Cara stepped back and let him in.  She’d been in the middle of trying to finish up her latest strip of cartoons, but she thought the grim expression on Nick’s face was more important than the lives of her comic strip characters.  “You’re starting to scare me with that expression, Nick.  What’s going on?”

He didn’t sit next to her on her couch when she sat.  He was too nervous to sit and decided to pace her living room instead.  It was bright, bold, and colorful, just like Cara.  He hadn’t meant to come here and hadn’t meant to tell her, but he had to.  He knew that it would have been wrong to start their marriage with lies.  “I know this is going to hurt you, but I need you to know,” he turned to crouch in front of her so they were eye level, “that I never meant for any of it to happen.  I want to apologize ahead of time and to let you know that I don’t think I’ll ever be able to make up for it.”

Now, she was past scared and into terrified.  “Please, just tell me what happened.”

“I slept with Spencer last night.”

A shocked silence followed.  The green of her eyes darkened, and her breath hitched in surprise, shock, hurt; Nick couldn’t tell, and he was afraid of what she might say next.  This woman had been by his side for three years, during which he’d put her through a lot.  But never infidelity, he reminded himself.  He’d been uncharacteristically faithful to her, but all it had taken was Spencer Wilde to make him fall off of that wagon.

“Please,” he whispered, cautiously taking her hands in his own.  “Say something.”

Cara yanked her hands out of his and shoved him aside as she stood and moved to the far side of the room.  From there, she stared at him with dark eyes and pale skin.  “I should be surprised,” she said quietly, her voice expressionless.  “I should be seriously surprised and shocked that you slept with her, but I’m not.”

Nick straightened and shoved his hands back in his pockets.  He wanted to take the coward’s way and not look her in the eyes, but he didn’t.  “Cara, I don’t know how many ways I could apologize, but I know it’ll never be enough.  I-” He broke off when she held up a hand.

“You still love her, don’t you? In twenty years, she’s always been there in the back of your mind, in your heart.  Hasn’t she?” Her voice never lifted, but Nick felt guilt stab viciously in his gut.

“I don’t know.  Honest to God, Cara, I don’t know.” He shook his head, truly not knowing what lay inside of him for Spencer.  “All I know is that Spencer will always be something to me just because she’s the mother of my kid.  Past that, we’ve always had this weird thing between us, and I doubt either of us is happy about it.”

Cara hugged her arms around herself and rubbed her arms for comfort.  “What do you want me to say to that, Nick? That it’s okay that you have this strange attraction to your baby mama, even though we’re getting married? I want to marry you, Nick, you.  I don’t want three people in our marriage.  It’s got to be just you and me.” She turned away to stare out the window.  “I tried to tell myself that you were better than this, that you’d never betray me, that, even though Spencer was back in the picture, you would never do anything to hurt me.” She looked over her shoulder at him, her eyes saddened.  “I guess I was wrong.”

Nick took a step towards her.  “Tell me what you want now.  Please, I need to make this right for you.  I do love you, Cara, and I hate hurting you.  It would be stupid if I tried to use the excuse that I was too drunk to know better.  It won’t change the fact that I’m breaking your heart.  So, please, tell me how to fix it or make it better.”

She was quiet for so long, and Nick’s terror that things wouldn’t be the same grew.  Finally, she came back to sit on the sofa and patted the space beside her.  “Sit, Nick.” When he hesitated, she managed a small smile for him.  “I’m not going to yell at you, so will you sit?”

When he sat, Cara sighed a little.  “I’m not going to be able to forget about this, and I don’t know if I’ll be able to forgive you just yet for it.”

Nick closed his eyes briefly in relief.  He knew that expression in her voice.  She wasn’t angry with him, and she wasn’t going to throw him out.  “Okay,” he said carefully.  “That’s better than I deserve.”

“It definitely is,” she agreed.  “The thing is, Nick, I love you.  For better or worse, I’m in love with you, and I want to spend the rest of my life with you.  I knew your reputation when we started dating, and I have to admit that I’m surprised you lasted three years without cheating on me.”

His brows shot up.  “Should I feel insulted?”

Cara smiled.  “Maybe, a little.  But it’s true, and, besides, you have no place to judge what I say at the moment.”


“We’re supposed to get married the day after tomorrow, and I still want to marry you.  Part of me—a tiny part—is glad this happened before we got married.” She shook her head.  “I’ve seen the worst of you, Nick Carter, and you’d better thank your lucky stars I’m not getting out a gun and killing you for breaking my heart this way.”

Not caring that she would resist, he couldn’t help but scoop her up into his arms and hold her close.  “Everyday, for the rest of my life, I’m going to thank those lucky stars and God that you’re so wonderful.” He kissed her lightly.  “I love you, Cara, and I’m going to spend years making this up to you.”

She let her head rest on his shoulder and felt slightly better.  “It’s nice to know I’ll have a slave for a while.” Feeling the rumble of his laughter, she smiled and tried to convince herself that things would be fine now.

And didn’t believe it for a second.


When Spencer had finally gotten rid of enough mortification to attempt to show her face outside of her room, she found that the house was empty.  She figured that Sydney was at her internship, and Nick…well, she didn’t care where he was as long as he stayed away from her.  She was poison to his impending marriage, and she wanted no part in hurting Cara.  She seemed like a nice woman, and, as she’d had no objections to Spencer’s presence in Nick’s life and home, Spencer figured Cara had a heart of gold.  

She definitely wanted no part in breaking that heart.  Knowing Nick, he would succeed in doing so all on his own, but that would be between him and Cara.  But, there was definitely a way that she could help Cara out, Spencer thought.  If she took herself out of the picture, Nick wouldn’t do anything else stupid and ruin the best thing he had going for him.  So, maybe, it was time for Spencer to have a change of scenery.

Even as she turned to leave the kitchen to go up and pack, the phone in her pocket beeped.  Two beeps meant her office, and Spencer hurried to pick up.

“Hello, this is Spencer Wilde…Ryan, what can I do for you?” She listened carefully as one of her top assistant district attorneys explained the latest twist in one of the most convoluted Spencer had seen cross her desk in years.  “Okay, Ryan, let me get something to write on, and then you can give me all the details.”

She searched two of Nick’s kitchen drawers before finding a pad of paper and a pen.  Pulling out a chair at the table, she settled down with paper and pen.  “Okay, now, start at the beginning and give me everything we know about Mr. Hines’ business…”

Three hours later, Nick came home to find Spencer seated at his kitchen table and deep in conversation on her phone.  The table itself was covered in reams of paper, and he knew by the tone of her voice that it was someone from her office on the phone.  His back instantly went up as anger and annoyance prickled at him.


January 2008
Nashville, Tennessee

“Damn it, Spencer! You’re almost five months pregnant, and I don’t want you working like this.” Nick paced her tiny living room and tried to understand his stubborn, overachieving, workaholic fiancée.  “Stress is bad for the baby, and I don’t want something going wrong.  Why can’t you just try to understand?”

Spencer sat in an armchair, her hands folded over her rounded belly.  “I’m fine, Nick.  I don’t want anything going wrong, either, so I’m not going to be stupid enough to take chances.”

“Yeah, but how is getting no sleep and working round the clock on a goddamn case helping you stay healthy?” He turned on her, his blue eyes blazing with anger.  “Are you even eating three meals a day?”

“You’re not my mother, Nickolas, so don’t try to be.” Her own temper was straining, but she didn’t let it slip, knowing it would get ugly if it did.

He stifled the urge to scream and shake her.  If he’d had to fall in love with someone, he thought viciously, why on earth did it have to be a stiff-necked lawyer who never listened to him?  “I’m your fiancé! And that’s my kid you’ve got in there.  I have every right to make sure you’re doing things right and taking care of yourself.  I know that firm you work with has maternity leave, so why the hell can’t you take it?”

“Because I don’t have to!” she exploded, unable to keep up the choke-hold on her anger.  Now, she leapt up to get in his face.  “You don’t know what I can handle, but I do.  I know there’s maternity leave, and I thought about it.  There’re dozens of women who work right up until they give birth, Nick.”

“Yeah, dozens, but they’re not you.” He grabbed her hand, squeezing it hard enough to make her stop.  “I don’t care about any other woman, I care about you.  I’m going on tour in two weeks, and I don’t know how often I’ll be able to make it back to see you.  I just need to know that you’ll be fine, but, if you’re working yourself into exhaustion, that doesn’t count as fine to me.” His hand rested on her belly now.  “This is our baby, Spencer.  I need her to be safe and healthy.  I need you to be safe and healthy.  Please, just listen to me.  Just this once.”

Spencer softened a little, knowing that he really did care.  He just didn’t understand that her work was so vital to her life, too.  She would never take chances with their child, but he couldn’t seem to see that.  “My work is my life, Nick.  I’ve spent years trying to make my mark, and I’ve been allowed to head this huge case on my own.  It’s a huge opportunity for me, and I couldn’t just let it go.” She saw him open his mouth to retort, but she cut him off.  “I promise you this, though.  I’ll take care of myself.  I’ll sleep eight hours a night, I’ll take all of my vitamins, eat healthy, and not stress so much.  It’ll have to be enough for you, Nick.  Please.”

He sighed, knowing it was the best he’d get.  Right now, anyway.  “Okay.” He gathered her close and felt her arms come around him.  The bulge of her belly was between them, and he smiled when he felt their baby move inside of her.  

Things were going to be fine, he told himself.  They had to be.


Nick said nothing as Spencer continued to talk on the phone about extortion, blackmail, and burglary.  He half-listened as he moved around his kitchen aimlessly, his anger building up with every minute that passed.  It suddenly felt as though he’d been tossed back twenty one years to when Spencer would drop everything to take care of a case.  It had annoyed him when they’d been together, and it annoyed him now when they weren’t together but she was still doing it in his home.

Of course, on top of all that annoyance was the fact that he’d slept with her the night before, had hurt Cara in the process, and now had no idea where to go from here.

When she finally hung up and started to gather up papers, he didn’t say anything.  Spencer wondered why he was so quiet.  Was it because of what had happened between them the night before?  “Nick.” She turned to see him leaning against the counter, his eyes narrowed on her.  Her belly clenched for a moment.  “So, uh, how was your meeting?”

He lifted a shoulder.  “Fine.  It was for one of my newest artists, and he’s going to be a great addition to the Kaotic family.”

“Oh, that’s good.  Good for both of you.”  Then why was he burning a hole in her forehead with his eyes?

“Yeah, it is.  You know what’s better, though?” He straightened and took a step towards her, anger flashing in his eyes.  “I can leave work at work and not bring it home with me.  I’m not surprised you haven’t learned to do that yet.” His gaze swept over the papers scattered over his kitchen table.  “You’re still a workaholic, Spencer, and I hope to God that Sydney doesn’t turn into you.  I still can’t believe she wants to be a lawyer, but I hope she doesn’t ruin her life by burying herself in her work.”

Spencer grabbed onto the tail end of her temper as it rose.  “I know your opinion of my work habits hasn’t changed, Nick, and I still don’t think it’s fair of you to judge me.  So let’s just drop it, okay?”

“I just came back to my home and found your work everywhere.  It just became my business now, too, and I don’t like it.  No wonder you never married, Spencer.  It wasn’t the fact that you’re uptight and stuck up; it’s because a guy knows that, when he’s with you, he’s not your top priority.  You’re too in love with your work and yourself to give a guy the time of day.” Nick shook his head.  “I feel sorry for you.”

“Well, who the hell asked you to feel sorry for me?” she snapped.  “I’m happy the way I am, and I don’t need a man by my side.  I’m sorry that I worked in your precious home, and I didn’t mean to.  If I’d known you would ream me out like this, I wouldn’t have stepped one foot in this house last week.” She grabbed her papers and files and began to stalk out of the room.  Then stopped.  She spun on her heel and jabbed a finger in his direction.  “And, another thing.  Sydney won’t waste her life working with the law because she knows she’s doing something that helps people, and that’s what she wants.”

Nick snorted.  “Right.  Sure.  Helping people is fine, but what about enjoying life? Having fun? You haven’t done any of that in your life because all you ever do is work.  Was the law really worth sacrificing everything for, Spencer?”

Her vision blurred as her heart cracked.  This was a question she’d asked herself rarely over the past two decades, and, because she was unsure of the answer, it hurt that Nick would shoot it at her as well.  “You have no right to judge how I’ve spent my life.  Maybe I’m happy with what I’ve done, Nick.  Not all of us have the luxury of getting through life by singing a couple of pathetic love songs.” Her breath hitched as sobs built within her chest.  “You know what our problem was all those years ago? You know why we didn’t work out?”

“Yeah.” Nick ran a weary hand through his hair as his anger began to drain.  It always hurt to think about their past.  “Because you wanted and loved the law more than you wanted or loved me.  Your priorities were screwed up.”

Spencer stared at him for a moment then shook her head.  “No! Damn it, that’s the exact opposite of how it went.  You never once respected my work, my passion for it, and my need to make justice work.  You just saw it as a competitor for my attention, and you didn’t want me working because it took me away from you.” She laughed bitterly.  “How fucking ironic is that, Nick? Your work took you around the world on tours, and you spent days and nights in recording studios.  I never once gave you grief over that, did I? I always accepted it, and I didn’t mind that you were gone for weeks.  But you did care about how my work did the same, and you still do.” She rubbed her hands over her face, willing back her tears with great effort.  “And, like you could never respect my work, you never respected me either.”

“That’s bullshit,” he began, but she stopped him.

“That’s not bullshit.  It’s the truth.” Spencer was horrified as the first tear slid down her face.  “Damn it, I respected and still respect the hell out of you and what you do.  Your music touches people the world over and always has, but you could never see that mine does the same thing.” She swiped a hand over the tears that spilled down her cheeks.  “Why do you do this to me, Nick? Do you hate me that much that you feel the need to hurt me for even breathing the same air as you?”

He didn’t like seeing her tears, and the sheer misery on her face made something within him ache to just hold her and erase the pain.  In defense, his anger grew.  He shook his head.  “I don’t hate you, but you deserved the rest.  You’re allowed to love your work, Spencer, but you take it too far.  It didn’t have to take over your entire life.”

“Oh, like yours didn’t?” Fresh tears spilled over as anger and pain spiked within her.  “Being a Backstreet Boy defined who you are, Nick.  Don’t you dare deny it, either,” she snapped when he opened his mouth.  “Everything you are is because of your work and those four men you worked with.  You wouldn’t be the guy I wanted to marry all those years ago if your entire life hadn’t been shaped by your work.  Hell, you would never have come to Nashville if it hadn’t been for the Backstreet Boys.”

Nick couldn’t deny the fact that being one of the Boys had made him.  But, while he was still flying on temper, he didn’t want to admit she was right either. “Yeah, and if it wasn’t for Sydney, I would wish that I’d never stepped foot in that city.  The only good part about being with the bitch that you were—and still are—was the fact that I got my daughter out of it.  Otherwise, I wish I could erase you from my life, my world.  I’d definitely be better off.”

Spencer had no words, simply no words to respond with.  Her heart had just shattered into a billion tiny, sharp pieces, and every shard stabbed her.  Each breath she took was painful.  “I’m so sorry,” she whispered.  “I’m so sorry that I ruined your perfect life.  You couldn’t possibly know how badly I want the ground to open up and swallow me at this moment, so that I could be out of your way.”

He winced and felt horrible at the look on her face.  He knew he’d gone too far this time, and he wished he could take back the words.  “Spencer, I’m sorry.  I didn’t mean—I just—I’m sorry.  That was a really awful thing to say.”

“Don’t bother apologizing, Nick,” she said in a dull, hollow voice that scared him.  “I should’ve learned my lesson all those years ago.” She bent to gather up the papers that had fluttered out of her arms.  When she straightened, she looked him dead in the eye, and he could see the deep, dragging despair in her eyes.  “There’s just one thing you should know.”

“Spencer.” He stepped forward and reached for her, but she backed away.  If it hadn’t been for the fear and pain in her eyes, he would’ve pulled her close to him.

“You wanted to know why I never remarried, why I never found a man to spend my life with.  The answer to that is that I couldn’t give someone else my heart when it still belonged to you.”  She battled back the hysterical feeling that clawed up from her chest to her throat.  “I fell in love with you twenty two years ago, and, for some reason, I never stopped.  With all the hatred and all the anger you’ve thrown at me over the last twenty years, I should’ve stopped loving you, but I didn’t.  I couldn’t.” She let out a shaky breath.  “And, even now, even when you’ve gone and wished me dead, I still can’t stop loving you.  That’s my cross to bear, and I’ll do it.  But I’ll get out of your way, so that you can get on with your life.  Like you said, I have my work to comfort me.”

Stunned, Nick could do nothing more than watch her walk slowly out of the kitchen.  He could hardly believe her words, but he’d seen the truth of it in her eyes.  It made him feel like the most vile of creatures.

Spencer stopped in the doorway and looked back at him with unbearably sad eyes.  “Goodbye Nick.”

He stood where he was, unable to fully comprehend what had just happened between them.  He was still standing there when, twenty minutes later, he heard her footsteps and the thump of her suitcase on the stairs.  When he heard the front door close, he sank into a chair and wondered how things had gone so horribly wrong.