19

Kelly watched herself in the floor-to-ceiling mirror. She raised her left leg a little higher, trying for the perfect line.

“That’s right,” Miss Angelina said approvingly. “Stretch. Like Kelly, girls. See how hard she tries.”

Kelly felt a sharp pain in her leg and her hips, but she ignored it. Perfection came at a price. How many times had she been told that? Dance class was the only place she never screwed up, so she was determined to be the best here.

Against her will, her gaze slid from her own reflection to the window high in the opposite wall. She could just catch a glimpse of blue sky and part of a palm tree. If she closed her eyes, she could imagine the sound of the surf. She knew if she asked, Francesca would take her to the beach later. That they would talk and have fun. That Francesca would never say anything more about Kelly apologizing to her father, even though Kelly knew she wanted her to.

Kelly knew it was the right thing to do, too, but it was hard to say the words. Hard and scary. Because what if he was still mad? What if saying she was sorry wasn’t enough? What if she didn’t matter?

“And turn,” Miss Angelina called.

The instruction caught Kelly off-guard. She began to rotate, then something happened and she was falling. Her ankle twisted painfully as she slammed into the ground.

“Kelly!”

She glanced up and saw Francesca rushing forward. Her notes for her paper lay scattered on the floor. Miss Angelina crouched by Kelly.

“Where does it hurt?” the instructor asked, reaching for her ankle. “Not broken, I think. Just a slight strain.”

Pain shot through her, but that wasn’t why Kelly started to cry. Instead the tears formed because she was tired and because she desperately needed her dad to be proud of her and to maybe even love her, but what if he didn’t?

It was too much. All of it. What she wanted was to go home. So when Miss Angelina made her stand and put her weight on her sore ankle, it was so much easier to simply fall into the pain, let her eyes roll back, and faint.

Sam hurried into the house. “Is she all right?” he asked when he saw Francesca coming down the stairs.

“She’s fine. The doctor says it’s a strain, not even a sprain, and she’ll be dancing her heart out by Monday.”

“I don’t think I can take any more,” he muttered as he set his briefcase on the floor and loosened his tie. “This has been the week from hell.”

“Tell me about it,” Francesca murmured.

“At least tomorrow’s Friday.”

“Oh, goodie.”

He glanced at her. “You don’t sound happy the week is almost over.”

She shrugged. “Like you say, it’s been one thing after another.”

He pulled off his tie, then shrugged out of his jacket. “We’ll make sure we have a quiet weekend together. Just the three of us. How does that sound?”

“Good.”

Francesca smiled, but he could see there was something bothering her. Before he could ask what, she stepped back and pointed upstairs. “Why don’t you go check on our patient.”

“Sure.” He gave her a light kiss, then started up the stairs.

Kelly lay on top of her bed, her right foot propped on two pillows. Sam crossed the room and sat on the edge of the mattress.

“A sports injury, huh? Are you scarred for life?”

Kelly rolled her eyes. “I’m fine. It was just a silly twist. I don’t know why I wasn’t paying attention more.”

“Francesca said you fainted, too. It must have hurt pretty bad.”

She shrugged.

“Tough, huh?”

“Maybe.”

He brushed her curls off her forehead. “Are you supposed to ice your ankle?”

“For the first twenty-four hours. We’re taking a break.” She stared at him. “Are you mad?”

He frowned. “Why would I be?”

“You had to leave work early and stuff. I thought…”

Kelly didn’t want to say what she was thinking. That she hadn’t wanted Francesca to call Sam because if he didn’t come home, it would mean he didn’t care. And she wanted him to care. But she didn’t want to know if he didn’t.

Still, he was here, and he looked worried, which was good.

“I wanted to know you were all right,” he said gently, and smiled. “You’re my daughter. I care about what happens to you.”

Her chest tightened. “Really?”

“Absolutely.”

She stared into his eyes and tried to see if he meant it or not. She wanted to believe him so badly she could barely breathe. Maybe if she apologized for taking his credit card, he would say something else really nice.

She opened her mouth. “I know I was-”

Francesca walked into the room. “So maybe it’s time to come up with a different hobby,” she said with a grin. “Something safer, like painting.”

Irritation ripped through Kelly. As much as she liked Francesca, she hated that she’d just waltzed in here when things were going so good with her dad. If Francesca hadn’t interrupted, she, Kelly, could have apologized.

“Unlike you, I actually have my life together,” Kelly snapped without thinking. “I don’t intend to be a poor struggling student when I’m almost thirty. I intend to be successful.”

As soon as the words were out, she knew she’d made a really big mistake. She felt small and mean and sick to her stomach. But that wasn’t the worst of it. The really bad part was the look in her father’s eyes when he turned back to stare at her, and the pain and betrayal on Francesca’s face.

Francesca made a small, choking sound and quickly left the room. Sam stood.

“Dammit, Kelly,” he muttered. “What is wrong with you?”

Tears filled her eyes. “I don’t know. I’m sorry.”

“You’re telling the wrong person.”

Horror filled her. She’d hurt Francesca, which she’d never meant to do. “I didn’t mean it.”

“But you said it.” He shook his head. “You might have your life planned out, but at the rate you’re going, you’ll be living it alone because no one is going to want to be with you.”

She was crying too hard to see very much, but the silence that followed told her she’d been left all alone.

Francesca made it down stairs, but she couldn’t find her purse. She was still fumbling through the kitchen when she felt Sam come up behind her. He turned her, pulled her into his arms, and held her close.

“I’m sorry,” he murmured.

She shook her head, trying to say it was okay, that she understood, only it wasn’t and she didn’t. Kelly’s words had pierced her like poisoned arrows. They’d struck deep and true, wounding her to the soul. In a couple of short sentences she’d reduced Francesca to that scared, stupid kid she’d always been. The one who was afraid of never being smart enough to make it in the world. The girl whose grandfather had told her over and over that she wasn’t to worry her pretty head about it-some nice man would take care of her. But Francesca had never wanted to be taken care of. She’d wanted to be strong enough to stand on her own. And she was. Only it didn’t feel like it.

“Oh, honey, I know it hurts,” Sam whispered into her ear as he stroked her back. “You’ve been on Kelly’s side since the second she walked into this house. You’ve put yourself out for her, and this is your reward. I wish I could change things.”

He drew back and cupped her face. “For what it’s worth, I think you’re amazing. These past few weeks have shown me that you’re a very special woman, and I’ve been lucky to have you in my life.”

Light poured from his eyes. A warm, gentle light that bathed her in a glow that should have made her happy enough to float.

Instead, it terrified her.

“Sam, don’t,” she said, pushing away from him. “Don’t say anything nice about me.”

He stiffened. “Because I’m changing the rules? Because I want more than something casual?”

It was as if someone had ripped her heart from her chest. If she hadn’t been pregnant, if she hadn’t spent the past month lying to him, she couldn’t have been happier to hear those words and know that he cared about her. Maybe even loved her. Because over the past few days she’d come to see that he mattered more than anyone ever had.

She could imagine a life with him, a future. She could see them growing old, being happy. Sam didn’t see her as a pretty face, or an ornament. He saw her as a confident, capable woman. He depended on her, believed in her. He thought she was strong. He thought of her as his equal. A partner. With him, she’d finally found everything she’d ever wanted.

But could she keep it?

“Please sit down,” she said, moving to the kitchen table and pulling out a chair. “We have to talk.”

He grimaced. “Four words every man hates to hear.” He took a seat. “Let me guess. You’re not interested in anything more than an affair.”

Tears burned in her eyes, but she blinked them away. “You couldn’t be more wrong.”

He brightened. “Great. Then what’s the problem?”

There was no easy way to break the news, so she went for blunt and simple. “I’m pregnant.”

He stared at her, then laughed. “Right. So tell me. What’s going on?”

She sighed. “I’m not kidding. I’m pregnant.”

He didn’t speak, didn’t react. Instead he just sat there, looking at her. She tried to read his expression, but she couldn’t.

“When?” he said at last.

She wasn’t sure if he was asking when she’d gotten pregnant or when she’d found out. Neither was going to please him.

“I’m about seven weeks along. It must have happened the first night we were together.”

He stood up and very deliberately pushed in the chair. Tension tightened his body and his face. His mouth got pinched, his eyes narrowed.

“Pregnant?” he asked, his voice low and disbelieving. “You’re having a baby?”

She nodded. “I know this is a shock to you-”

“A shock?” He paced to the far counter, then leaned against it, his arm folded across his chest. “A shock? How the fuck did this happen?”

The attack shouldn’t have surprised her, but it did. She gripped the table. “The usual way.”

“We used a condom.”

“I know. I was there.” Something occurred to her. “Are you doubting that this child is yours?”

“Of course not. I don’t think you’ve been sleeping around, if that’s what you’re getting at, but holy hell, did you have to go and get pregnant? Isn’t having Kelly drop into my life enough for one month?”

She’d known he wouldn’t be happy, even though that had been her fantasy. She shouldn’t be surprised he was upset. Neither of them had wanted this. Except after she’d recovered from the shock, she’d found that she liked the idea of a baby-especially Sam’s baby.

“I didn’t do it on purpose,” she said. “I would say we have equal responsibility here.”

He shook his head. “I know. I’m sorry. I don’t mean to blame you. But a baby. Now. I didn’t want…”

His voice trailed off, leaving her to fill in the rest of the sentence. He hadn’t wanted Kelly and he certainly didn’t want a baby? Was that it? Or was it even worse? He didn’t want to tell her he refused to have anything to do with their child?

“I’ll be fine,” she said as she rose. “You don’t have to be involved.”

He frowned. “I’m not going to abandon my responsibilities here.”

His responsibilities. Because of course he didn’t want the baby.

“How long have you known?” he asked.

She was so caught up in feeling rejected that she spoke without thinking. “About five weeks.”

The quality of the stillness in the room changed to something dark and dangerous. Francesca instinctively took a step back.

Sam didn’t move, but that didn’t mean he was still the same caring man she’d grown to love. He seemed to get bigger, angier. Whatever last hope she might have clung to died when his expression of frustration and confusion turned to loathing and contempt.

“It’s not what you think,” she said quickly. “Dammit, Sam, don’t give me that look. I’m not the enemy here. I didn’t tell you because Kelly had been in your life all of two or three weeks. You were still in shock and you didn’t need one more thing to worry about.”

“The words sound right,” he said, his voice low and almost silky. “Tidy, reasonable. You were thinking about my feelings. I really appreciate that.”

“Stop it,” she demanded. “You don’t need to be sarcastic.”

“Then tell me what I need to be. You lied to me. You betrayed me.”

She knew the danger in him thinking that. “I didn’t lie.”

“You withheld the truth. In my book, there’s not much difference.” He glared at her. “You’ve been lying for weeks. I let you in my house, in my life, in my bed. I made love with you. I thought you were different. I thought you weren’t anything like Tanya, but damn if I wasn’t wrong. Looks like I picked another winner.”

The unfairness of the accusation froze her to the bone. “No! That’s not true. I’ve been here for you. I’ve been good to you and to Kelly. I don’t deserve this.”

“What made you finally want to tell me? Do you need money?”

She felt as if he’d slapped her. “How dare you say that to me?”

“I can say anything I damn well please. When I think about all the times I’ve listened to your advice. Like you knew what the hell you were talking about. Like you weren’t in it for yourself.”

He moved toward her, which made her walked backward until she bumped into the stove. He stopped less than a foot from her and loomed over her.

“You’re nothing but a liar, and if you think for one second you can use this against me, you’re wrong. I don’t care what it takes, but you’ll never get a piece of me or my daughter again.”

Horrified didn’t begin to describe what she was feeling. What about their baby? What about her feelings and his? He cared about her-she’d been sure of it. How could that have died so quickly?

“You’re wrong,” she said. “About me, about all of it.”

“Get out.”

He turned and walked out of the kitchen. Francesca stared after him. She didn’t know what to do, and then it didn’t matter because she couldn’t be in this house one second longer. She ran to the foyer, where she found her purse by the front door. After picking it up, she raced outside and vowed never to return.

Kelly carefully held on to the stair railing. Her ankle throbbed, but that wasn’t the reason she couldn’t seem to move. Nothing was right. Maybe nothing would ever be right again.

She’d started to come downstairs to apologize to Sam and Francesca. She’d wanted to make everything right. But instead she’d heard them fighting. It had been bad. Way worse than anything that had happened with Tanya and her boyfriends.

Francesca was pregnant. Kelly had figured out that much, and if Francesca was going to have a baby, then she didn’t need Kelly to be a part of her family. Not when she was going to have a child of her own. And Sam had thrown Francesca out. Which meant they weren’t going to get married. And if Sam found someone else, she might be as horrible as Raoul. He might decide that his new fianc?e wouldn’t want a twelve-year-old hanging around, and then he would send her away.

He would send her away, and she didn’t have anywhere else to go.

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