Kristina looked up in surprise as a shadow fell over the table she was sitting at. The two people standing at her table were two she hadn’t expected to see. She greeted Leslie and Jessica with a tentative smile.

Jessica graced her with an adorable smile in return. “Hi Ms. Kristina.”

Kristina looked over at Leslie who gave her an apologetic smile. “Hi.”

Kristina put her fork down. “Hi Jessica. Leslie. This is a surprise.”

Leslie shrugged. “I know. Jessica and I have dinner here every Wednesday night and she saw you. I thought it would be rude if we didn’t at least come over to speak.”

Jessica looked up at her mother and tugged her hand. “Can’t we eat with Ms. Kristina?”

Kristina froze at the thought. She hadn’t seen Leslie and Jessica since they came into the office for their cleaning a little over two weeks ago.

While she cleaned Leslie’s teeth, she had kept the conversation light and general, not delving into anything personal. Even now she still didn’t know what Robert’s relationship was to them and she was trying to convince herself that she didn’t care.

Leslie gave a slight shake of her head sending a wave of relief through Kristina. “No. We don’t want to interrupt Ms. Kristina any more than we already have.”

Jessica’s expression became so crestfallen Kristina felt her heart turn over in her chest. It wouldn’t kill her to allow the duo to join her for dinner. Otherwise she would just sit alone with her racing thoughts and feel bad about disappointing a precious little girl.

On the other hand this could be disastrous. Yes Robert was her boss but the kiss they had shared changed the dynamics of everything. She tried her best to avoid him, only talking about patients and their treatment. When it was time to go home she raced though her clean up routine and raced out the door before Robert had time to escort her to her vehicle. She had come to the conclusion that he was lethal.

She glanced at the disappointed looking Jessica before looking up at Leslie. “The two of you are more than welcome to join me.”

She didn’t miss the look of surprise on Leslie’s face and wondered if inviting them to join her was a wise decision. It was too late to change her mind now.

She was given a moment of reprieve when Leslie and Jessica’s order number was called. They were back before she had time to take a good breath.

What had she been thinking?

Kristina tried to smile when they sat down at the table, across from her. Leslie made sure Jessica was situated with her food before arranging her own. She smiled at Kristina again.

“Thank you again for allowing us to join you. I hope we aren’t intruding.”

Kristina shook her head and picked up her fork trying to focus on the food in front of her. She had come to Marcy’s expecting to enjoy a meal with a home cooked taste to it. By the time the night was over she likely to be on the receiving end of a little more.

“You aren’t. Eating dinner by one’s self has it’s disadvantages.”

Leslie gave her a wry grin. “It also has it’s advantages as well. Besides I know eating dinner with two complete strangers is not always ideal.”

Kristina smiled. “In West Texas is anyone ever really a stranger?”

Leslie laughed. “No. No matter how bad you might want them to be.”

Leslie picked up her own fork with one hand and pulled her plate closer to her with the other. “So how is it working with Robert?”

Kristina almost choked on the bite of green beans she just ate. “Um . . . well it is interesting.”

Leslie grinned. “In a good way or a bad way.”

Kristina remained silent while she chewed trying to figure out how to answer the question as politely as possible. She felt like she had no choice but to be completely honest. “Both.”

Leslie laughed. “I know what you mean. Robert has a way of making you like him on one hand and irritating you on the other.”

Leslie looked over at Jessica with a wistful expression on her face. “He also has a way of making you grow attached to him.”

Leslie looked back at Kristina and spoke in a hushed tone. “Sometimes I worry about Jessica being so fond of him. I don’t want him to feel obligated to take care of her.”

Kristina remained quiet, not quite sure how to respond. Not sure if she should. Leslie prevented her from having to say anything by taking a bite of her own food. It seemed the relationship between Robert and Leslie was more complicated than she thought.

“So, you and Robert seemed to be getting along very well.”

This time Kristina did choke and she coughed a few times before picking up her drink to get herself back under control.

“Why do you say that?”

Leslie shrugged. “The two of you seem to work well together the day Jessica and I came in and he has nothing but good things to say about you.”

Kristina tried to keep her panic from bubbling to the surface. She couldn’t believe he was talking about her to another woman. Especially one he seemed to have a deep connection with. Even though curiosity ate at her she didn’t want to know what he said. She was going to be awake half the night just knowing he was speaking of her.

“We get along well enough,” Kristina muttered.

A look of surprise flickered across Leslie’s face. “I don’t mean to pry. I just thought . . .”

Kristina gave her a look of understanding. “I know. Let’s just say my working relationship with Robert is a little complicated.”

“I know exactly what you mean,” Leslie replied before taking a bite of her food. She finished chewing and gave Kristina a small smile.

“My personal relationship with Robert is simple and complicated at the same time as well.”

Kristina held her hands up. “Your relationship with Robert is none of my business. I’m not interested in Robert, I swear.”

She surprised herself by being able to make the statement with a straight face and without stuttering.

Leslie’s mouth fell open in shock and she shook her head. “Oh no. My relationship with Robert isn’t like that at all. It’s a long story but I will tell you if you are interested. I promise it will clear up a few things.”

Kristina lowered her hands. Curiosity fought to claw it’s way to the surface but she did her best to hold it back. She wanted to know everything about Robert’s relationship with Leslie but she wouldn’t let it show even if it killed her.

“You don’t have to tell me anything about what you share with Robert, that is between you and him.”

“You are right but it isn’t a secret. The people who know Robert and I know the story. Besides working in the dentist office you are bound to hear about it.”

Leslie shrugged. “I’m surprised you haven’t heard about it before now but at least this way you will get a accurate recount. About six years ago I was involved with a guy named Justin. He was gorgeous and he was a heartbreaker, only I didn’t know it at the time. By the time I found out I had already fallen for him.”

Leslie sighed. “Robert didn’t really like Justin at first but he accepted him because of our friendship. Robert and I grew up together. Our parents lived on the same street all of our lives.”

Leslie smiled. “They still do. Robert and I were . . . are so close that a lot of people suspected otherwise. It never mattered to Robert and I. We always knew what our relationship was.”

Kristina could understand the statement. It was a very accurate one for she had been unsure of what to make of Leslie and Robert’s relationship. To some degree she still was.

Leslie stared down at her plated for a moment before looking back up. “About a year into my relationship with Justin, his mother passed away. We were all grieving and after the funeral services we went back to Justin’s place and began drinking. One thing led to another and I ended up having unprotected sex with Justin.”

Kristina kept her expression in check. She couldn’t begin to comprehend what that felt like. It was the one of the smartest things she had insisted on in her relationship while with Warren, with any man. Sitting here knowing what she did, she realized just how intelligent her decision had been. She cringed at the idea of having a child with Warren. Talk about a nightmare.

Leslie exhaled softly. She looked over at Jessica who was finished with her food and now seemed engrossed with the doll she had been carrying earlier. Leslie looked back at Kristina with a sad smile.

“I don’t remember a lot of it but then again I don’t remember much about that night. Robert wasn’t as drunk as Justin and I were so he drove me home. Robert decided he would crash on my couch. I think we ended up having a few more drink and the next thing I remember was waking up next to Robert in bed, sans clothes.”

Kristina felt her stomach drop. She didn’t want to think about Robert and Leslie sleeping together. Sure Robert was her boss and she had no intention of pursuing anything with him, yet knowing they had been together would make her look at things in a totally different light. She wouldn’t be able to work with Robert in any capacity.

Leslie closed her eyes briefly. “I felt so guilty. Robert assured me we hadn’t done anything but I could tell he wasn’t one hundred percent certain himself. We decided we would never speak of that night again. Then I found out I was pregnant. I thought my world was going to crash and burn.”

Kristina was struggling to keep up with this winding tale. The story she was hearing could easy be a scene in a soap opera.

Leslie laughed but it was void of humor. “I never would have imagined I would be pregnant and unsure of who the father of my child was. It was the most trying time in my life. I could still remember the looks on Justin and Robert’s faces when I told both of them. Robert was hurt because I didn’t believe him about not sleeping together. Justin was pissed off at being a father when he wasn’t ready to be.”

Kristina finally found her voice. “I’m sure that was tough.”

As soon as she said the words she knew it was the understatement of the year. She could recall how devastated how she had been with the way her relationship ended with Warren and a child hadn’t even been involved.

Leslie reached over and brushed a wild curl of Jessica’s face. “It was very difficult. Justin broke up with me right away insisting I was trying to trap him. Robert stuck by my side the entire time. He went with me to almost every doctor’s visit even carried Jessica’s sonogram picture around in his wallet. He was everything I wanted Justin to be.”

Kristina knew about that type of longing all too well. She hadn’t wanted Warren to be a lot of things to her, including faithful but it hadn’t happened. Leslie continued on pulling her out of her own mental rambling.

“In so many ways Robert became Jessica’s daddy. Then Jessica was born and I had to make the hardest decision of my life. I had to find out for sure who Jessica’s father was. So the DNA test was done and Justin turned out to be the father, proving Robert right.”

Leslie took a sip of her drink. “Justin didn’t change his mind about being involved with Jessica in anyway. Fortunately neither did Robert. Through it all he has been my solid foundation, Jessica’s as well.”

Kristina looked over at Jessica who had abandoned her doll and was rubbing her eyes. Leslie scooted back from the table and opened her arms. Jessica didn’t hesitate to crawl into and Kristina’s heart gave a hard thump at the sight. She wanted to have that at some point but a few years in the future and after she found a decent guy who fit the bill.

“I’m glad Robert has been a father figure for her but I didn’t want her to get too attached because one day Robert is going to meet someone that he wants to settle down with and start his own family. I don’t want her to feel like she is second best because in spite of everything that has happened I have never regretted having my baby. I never want her to feel unwanted.”

Kristina gave Leslie a sympathetic smile. “Jessica is a special little girl and somehow I don’t think Robert would be that kind of guy. Besides you may meet a special man of your own who will care for you and Jessica as much as Robert does.”

Leslie laughed. “I don’t think so. I have my hands full working a full-time job and taking care of Jessica. I don’t see myself dating again until she is off to college.”

“Impossible. You will meet someone before then.”

Leslie rolled her eyes. “Well he is taking his sweet time showing up.”

Kristina laughed. “My mom has always said good things come to those who wait.”

Leslie smiled brightly. “I believe that but I’m not waiting. There is no need to. As much as I would like to have a significant other in my life Jessica and I do fine as we are. Most men flinch or hesitate when they find out I am a single parent. Sometimes I still get mad as hell about Justin tossing us aside so carelessly.”

Leslie shook her head. “It doesn’t bother me as much as it used to because even as a friend Robert makes up for most of the crappy things Justin has done to me and his daughter by abandoning us without looking back.”

Kristina hesitated slightly before asking her next question. “Have you heard from Justin at all?”

Leslie shook her head. “No. The last time I saw him was about two years ago. Robert told me he heard from a neighbor that Justin left town to head to San Antonio.”

Kristina shook her head. “It’s sad that he doesn’t see his daughter like he should.”

Leslie shrugged. “I hate to say it but it might be better for everyone.”

Kristina looked down at Jessica who was asleep in her mother’s arms. “Justin made it clear he didn’t want to be tied down with a kid and he wouldn’t have been a good father because he isn’t mature enough. I won’t even mention his strong trait of selfishness.”

“Does Jessica know Justin is her father?”

Leslie nodded. “Yes she does but she always says she would prefer for Robert to be her dad. Robert concedes halfway by letting her call him daddy Robert.”

The phrase made so much more sense now and Kristina couldn’t keep a small chink of armor around heart from falling away. She would have never guessed Robert would be the type of guy to take the role of surrogate father but he had and he seemed to be doing a good job. It was obvious he cared a lot about Jessica and Leslie as well. She was willing to give him credit for his big heart but it didn’t change anything. Robert was still off limits.