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She shoots me a searching look then, those blue eyes penetrating deep into my soul.

“Are you, Ben? Knowing how I use my flute to entertain men? Knowing that I’ve spent time in a straitjacket because they were afraid I would hurt myself?”

I nod, and then take a chance. I cup her face in my big hands and look deep into Michelle’s eyes.

“I love you. All of you, sweetheart. Even the parts I don’t know yet, and the parts you might want to hide. It doesn’t matter. You’re my brave, beautiful woman, and I love you even more because of the struggle.”

Michelle blinks away tears, but now, her lips are trembling.

“Do you really mean it, Ben?” she whispers. “Because I think I love you too.”

I nod.

“Absolutely, baby,” I growl. “With all of my heart. This past week was horrific, and I was dying a slow death, unsure if I’d ever see you again.”

Then, I pull the gorgeous woman close and kiss her hard. Her lips are plush and sweet, and immediately, her mouth parts against mine, granting me entrance. God how I’ve missed her, and I groan deep in my chest. But then, Michelle pulls back, biting her lip.

“There’s actually one more secret I have to tell you,” she says in a soft voice.

I raise a brow.

“What is it, honey? Again, you can tell me anything, and I will accept you the way you are.”

She nods, biting her lip once more while tears spring to her eyes.

“I’m pregnant,” she says in a soft voice. “Remember how there were a few times when we didn’t use protection? It must have happened during one of those times because I’m expecting your baby now.”

At first, I’m totally shocked. My eyes go wide as my heart races, and I can’t move. But then, I pull Michelle into my arms and kiss her hard and deep, trying to convey the depths of my joy.

“Thank you, sweetheart,” I rasp. “You make me so happy.”

“So you’re not upset?” she asks in a trembling voice.

I give a rough shake of my head.

“Upset? Hell no, honey. I’m thrilled, and I can’t wait to have this baby with you. I’m in my forties, sweetheart, and I thought the opportunity to be a father had passed me by, but you’ve made it happen. Thank you, sweetheart,” I rasp, my voice breaking a bit. “You’ve given me the best gift of all.”

With that, Michelle sighs and I pull her close, kissing her again.

“I love you,” I rasp.

She smiles against my lips.

“I love you too, Ben Culver,” she whispers. “Always and forever.” It’s true too because in this case, we had to look past ourselves. We had to look past the lies, the smoke screens, and any perceived injustices or slights. Instead, by keeping our eyes on the bigger picture, we were able to come to a satisfying resolution for all: love, along with saving the lives of countless women whose futures were bleak. I treasure my woman for being able to see the forest for the trees, and I know that with Michelle’s wisdom and continued growth on both of our parts, we will make this family work because in the end, it’s love that binds us together.



A few months later.

Ben wraps his arms around me from behind and cradles my huge belly in his hands. The baby kicks at that moment, and we both laugh.

“I can’t believe we’re back,” I say, marveling at the empty ballroom around us. The Long Island mansion looks pretty much the same as it did when we visited the first time, although of course, it’s empty now and there are certainly no women on pedestals. But the Sheriff’s auctioning the mansion as part of the Sim brothers’ forfeiture case, and we decided to come by one last time before it’s sold.

To be honest, the place gives me the creeps, even if I know that it’s just a house. Still, this is where countless women were subjugated, and I hope once the mansion’s sold, that the new owner will tear it down and re-build again. That would be very fitting, at least in my mind.

“Didn’t you say Alana was coming to the auction?” Ben asks, kissing my neck from behind.

I smile, leaning into him.

“Yeah, and she should be here soon. She wanted to come because she wanted to see the scene of the crime for herself.” I hug my belly and shudder. “It is a gorgeous mansion, after all, even if it’s tainted in my mind.”

Ben nods. “Yeah, but hopefully the U.S. government makes some money off this thing, and is able to pass along some of the funds to the victims as restitution. After all, there must be so many women who need therapy and counseling as part of their fresh start in life.”

I nod, somberly.

“Yes. And I’m glad we had a part in it, Ben. I’m glad we helped put those criminals into jail, even if I felt betrayed at first.”

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