Misadventures with the Boss (Page 30)
“Is that…?” she asked, but I was too busy gulping down my next breath to answer her. The air was thinner than I remembered and harder to come by.
And then, all at once, my panic was gone. Replaced instead with white-hot boiling anger.
Why was he here?
My stomach twisted, and I clenched my teeth, balling my hands at my sides as it sank in why he was here—what he must have done. I’d told him specifically to stay out of it, that we were finished, and he’d ignored me because that’s what he did. He barreled over people’s wants and needs. I relished the anger that overshadowed the pain of heartbreak and held it close and tight.
Stepping away from the crib, I crossed the room and swung open the front door, marching down the front path until I was only a few feet from him.
“What are you doing here?” I demanded.
For a moment he said nothing, and a new, strange expression crossed his face. It wasn’t his usual stern, business demeanor or his angry, tough-guy act. It was almost something like…hurt.
His voice was tight when he finally answered, “I could ask you the same thing.”
“What do you mean? This is my sister’s house. I don’t owe you any explanations.”
“Don’t you?” His voice was cold now, and his gaze flicked to the window behind me, where the crib and mobile still sat, a massive admission of my guilt.
“That’s Hailey’s,” I lied a little too quickly.
“I heard you,” he said simply and then waited as I let the truth wash over me.
He knew. I’d been caught red-handed. My heart sank into my stomach, and I clutched the space there, certain the baby could feel my rioting emotions.
“You have no right to be here,” I tried again. “I told you to stay away.”
“And what right did you have to do that?” he demanded, his voice rising slightly now. “What right did you have to keep me from my child? To not tell me?”
“We both know I was making the right decision,” I shot back.
“For who? For you? You wanted to raise a child who would never know his father?” He speared a hand through his hair and blew out a long breath. “You’re unbelievable. All the lies… You had me thinking your sister was sick. I came all this way to help her. To help you.”
“Nobody asked you to do that,” I said. “In fact, I recall pleading with you to do just the opposite.”
“Maybe you didn’t ask, but that’s what good people do. They help the people they love. They don’t lie to them over and over and f*****g over again, Piper.” He was yelling now, but I was too distracted by his words to say anything.
The word “love” had shot through me like an arrow, piercing the empty space where my heart used to be.
“Say something. Defend yourself at least,” he demanded.
“Y-You love me?” I whispered.
“I thought I did.” His gaze was like a glacier. “But now I realize I don’t even f*****g know you. How could I love the woman who tried to keep my child from me and then stands by her choice when she gets caught?”
I swallowed hard. “Jackson—”
“No, save it, Piper. There’s nothing you can say or do that will make this okay.”
“I thought about telling you,” I tried. “But I know how you feel about children, and I thought you would be better off…”
“How nice of you to make the choice for me,” he spat. “You know what? You’ll be hearing from my lawyer, and I only want to hear from yours. I can’t even stand to look at you right now.”
He glowered at me with full, unadulterated fury, and I stared back, my lips pursed as I crossed my arms over my chest. There was nothing I could say or do to fix this. No way I could make what I’d done make sense. Not to him. Not when he was like this. Hell, maybe never.
So instead, I stood there, heartsick, watching as he marched back to his car. Before he got inside, though, he stared back at me, his eyes icy.
“I have a right to be in my child’s life, and I will. Whatever it takes, Piper. So don’t think this is the last of this.”
With that, he climbed into the car and reversed onto the street, speeding off in a plume of exhaust and hatred.
All the while, I stood stock still, watching him go and dealing with my own tangled mess of feelings. My hurt at the way he’d looked at me, the anger that he’d meddled, my frustration that he would never understand.
But most of all, my heartbreak. He’d loved me… Loved me enough to want to fix my problems even after I’d cast him aside. And I…
I thought of that night on the rooftop garden. Our trip to the museum, all those lunches and dinners shared in his office. The few rare times I’d gotten to really see him for who he was.
Those moments when my heart shone like a thousand bits of light.
I loved him too. And now he would never know it. Our child might never know it, but I did. I loved him with all my heart.
Which was why I’d tried to spare him all of this.
But now, after everything, I was the one standing here, my head in my hands, having lost every last piece of my life.
I heard the door open again behind me, and I knew my sister was watching me from the porch.
“You heard?” I asked lifelessly.
“Yeah. I’m so very sorry, sis.”
“Me too,” I replied, a wedge of emotion clogging my throat. “Me too.”
For a long while, we were silent. Hailey stood over the tea kettle, watching as the water began to steam, and I sat at her little round kitchen table, my hands folded in front of me.
I studied every detail of them, every line along my knuckles, every vein beneath the skin. Anything to keep my mind from Jackson and the way he’d looked at me when he’d sped away.
Anything to keep me from what felt like a never-ending rush of humiliation and shame.
The high-pitched scream of the kettle sounded, and I closed my eyes, listening to the burble of water as Hailey poured water into mugs.
“Green or Earl Grey?” she asked in a muted tone.
“You have decaf? The caffeine isn’t good for the baby.”
“Oh, right. Still getting used to…well, yeah. Give me a second.” She rummaged in her drawers and then snapped one shut before I heard the soft thud of her feet on the linoleum floor and then the gentle scrape of the wooden chair as it slid backward.
“Open your eyes. Nothing to hide from here,” Hailey said, and I looked up to find her placing a mug in front of me.
Turning, she grabbed some sugar and milk from the island in the middle of her dated, cherry kitchen and thunked them onto the middle of the matching table.
“Okay,” she sighed. “Now, let’s have some tea and talk about what might make you feel better. Maybe we could talk baby names? I like Tallulah, personally.”
I shook my head, wrapping my chilled hands around the scalding cup in front of me.
“I’m not sure anything is going to make me feel better. I mean, how could he just leave like that?” Gripping the string of my tea bag, I plunked it up and down and then stared down into the darkening water.
“Like, he wants to prove that he’s going to be here for this baby, but the second he finds out I’m pregnant, he’s back on the road again?” I let out a humorless laugh. “Frankly, it’s exactly what I expected from him. I shouldn’t be surprised.”