Jean starts to leave, her nails scratching into the painted trim of my doorway. “You will not stay late or spend any time with him that isn’t one hundred percent about work. If you do, he’ll find out about Tasha, and I’ll tell your dad that you’re banging the boss.”
She slams my door behind her, causing everything in the room to rattle. It’s only from my years as a moody teen and slamming the door repeatedly that I’ve gotten all my art affixed in such a way it won’t fall.
I climb into my bed and cry. Jean has ruined everything. There’s nothing I can do that will end well for any of us. I can’t be with Beck, not if I want to protect Tasha. Jean would destroy that friendship in a heartbeat. And to lose my father’s trust at the same time? I sob into my pillow, throat burning with the tightness of my grief. Just when I started to get my pieces put back together, Jean had to come destroy it all.
I could leave. The thought flits through my mind and is discarded almost immediately. Yes; I could leave now and raise our baby alone. Could, but I won’t. I can’t do that to Beck. It nearly destroyed him when Tasha’s mom cheated on him and then left. I won’t be the cause of that much pain. I care about him too much.
I can’t be with him, not with Jean blackmailing me to stay away, but I can’t leave him either. We still have time for me to figure out how we can raise the baby without being together.
It’s still early, but I curl up in bed without having eaten supper. The food wouldn’t stay down now anyways. At least I did take one of the vitamins Beck bought for me and the baby. That’s something.
My blankets are soft, a refuge against the world outside my door. Beck’s shirt is inside my pillowcase, hiding from prying eyes, and I reach for it, letting my fingers close around the cuff. “Oh, Beck,” I cry. I’m only twenty-two; this is too much. “I don’t know what to do.”
My bowtie tightens each time I swallow a mouthful of champagne, or at least it feels like it. I’ve tugged at it more times than I can count, and I’m reminded of why I normally wear a clip-on when I have to dress up. Tonight has to be perfect. Sliding my fingers deep into my pants pocket, I feel for the house key I had made for Lia. If nothing else, I’m going to convince her to go public with our relationship; that will make everything else easier. No one needs to know how sudden this has been for us; the fact that we’re together will be enough. I have to have her, and knowing how long she has wanted me makes this façade of merely being coworkers into a knife that drags along my ribcage whenever I see her.
“That’s your secretary?” I already regret inviting my brother to the company party, but he’s attended all the prior ones. Uninviting him would have caused more questions than I’m willing to answer. Scott takes a step toward Lia, and I grab him. He’s not going to make a move on my woman.
“That’s Lia, Paul’s daughter,” I confirm.
My brother stops, does the math, and shakes his head. “Little Lia grew up to be a hottie. Does Tasha have any older friends who are just as attractive?”
Hearing her name, Lia looks up at me from her perch on a barstool, and her eyes are swollen despite a makeup job that would rival any magazine photoshoot. I doubt anyone who is unfamiliar with her will notice. Her jaw tightens when she sees me staring, and I watch her hands flex before she spins around, returning to the cold shoulder from before she melted in my arms and begged me to just give her a bit of time.
“I don’t think she likes being your secretary, brother dear. That or you pinched her derriere one too many times.” I watch as Scott wanders off to find a woman a little closer to his age to hit on, and I pray that he doesn’t try and take someone to my office for a little “I’m the boss’s brother” nookie on my desk. It wouldn’t be the first time.
The rooftop garden has been decorated to look like a magical palace, complete with a water fountain doubling as a bar with mermen bartenders. I had no part in the decision on tails; I had given my company’s advertising team full creative control over the party. That’s one mistake I won’t be making again. At least the Christmas lights and greenery make for plenty of places to sneak off a text to Lia without worry of being caught.