She paused and wondered when to spring her news. A normal woman would wait until dinner was served and they basked in the news of the waterfront deal. A normal woman would bide her time and ease her husband into the idea.
Alexa admitted she’d never been normal. The news of his success bode as a good omen to spring her own news.
“I can’t drink anymore.”
He smiled at her and resumed seasoning the salmon. “Trying to lay off the sauce, huh? It’s not this stupid diet, is it? Wine is good for the blood.”
“No, not the diet. I was at the doctor’s today and he said I couldn’t drink.”
He glanced at her and frowned. “Are you okay? Are you sick again? I told you to see my doctor instead. Yours is that weird holistic guru who likes to give out herbs and stuff. I had to practically tackle him to give you real drugs when you had pneumonia.” He threw the potatoes in the roasting pan and drizzled them with olive oil.
“No, I’m not sick. There’s something else he told me.”
“Oh.” He set the spoon down and turned with a touch of panic. “Baby, you’re starting to freak me out. What’s going on?”
His concern touched her. She took his hands and squeezed tight. Then spilled out the news.
“Nick, I’m pregnant.”
Pure shock glimmered in his eyes but Alexa was already prepared. She calmly waited for the realization to hit him so they could talk. She knew Nick wouldn’t give in to his emotions, but remain logical and rational.
He carefully removed her hand from his and took a step back toward the counter. “What did you say?”
She took a deep breath. “I’m pregnant. We’re going to have a baby.”
He seemed to search for his words. “But that’s impossible. You’re on the pill.” He paused. “Aren’t you?”
“Of course. But these things sometimes happen. Actually the doctor said—”
She blinked. He looked at her as if she’d become a two-headed monster. Unease trickled through her. She retreated from him and took a seat at the kitchen table. “I know this is a shock. It was for me, too. But a baby is coming and we have to talk about it.”
He remained silent, and she gentled her voice. “I never planned for this. I never planned to make this a real marriage. But I love you, Nick. I’ve just been waiting for the right time to tell you. And I’m sorry I sprung it on you like this, but I didn’t want to wait. Please say something. Anything.”
She watched as her husband transformed. The man she loved and laughed with began to recede. The distance between them grew with an arctic chill that caused a shiver to race down her spine. His face was carved in stone. And as she waited for his next words, Alexa suddenly had a horrible premonition they’d taken another turn in the road.
Nick stared at his wife. “I don’t want this baby.”
The crumbling wall of ice suddenly regenerated and slammed back in full force. The only emotions that seeped through the cracks were resentment and bitterness. Oh, she was good. He’d fallen hard for her act and now he’d pay.
She blinked. Shook her head. “Okay. You don’t want the baby. I understand you’re scared, but maybe with some time your feelings will change.”
The words Gabriella had spoken months ago taunted him. His father’s same promise echoed in his head. He’d been warned Alexa would use any means possible to trap him, but he hadn’t believed it. He’d fallen for her innocence, and ended up falling for her.
He’d clearly warned her from the beginning, and stupidly believed she’d respect him enough not to try and trap him.
And now she loved him.
He almost choked on a bitter laugh. Since the moment he had discovered those loan papers and met with his father, doubt battled with his need to believe in her. So, he’d let the matter go and decided to trust her. To trust she’d tell him the truth about what she used the money for on her own.
But now she revealed her deceit, with her glowing face and eyes filled with triumph.
She was having his baby.
The rage swirled up and encompassed him in a black, buzzing cloud. “What’s the matter, Alexa? Wasn’t the one hundred fifty grand enough for you? Or did you get a little hungrier along the way?”
He saw pain transform her face but now he knew the ruse and knew it well. Her voice wobbled when she spoke. “What are you talking about?”
“Game’s up. You’re a smart girl. The end of the contract is looming. Hell, we’re already at five months. You weren’t sure what would happen, so you had a little accident to cement the deal. Trouble is, I don’t want the baby. So, you’re right back to square one.”
She leaned forward and wrapped her arms around her stomach. “Is that what you believe?” She took a ragged breath and her body shuddered. “You believe I did this on purpose, to trap you?”
“Why else would you tell me you’re on the pill so I’d stop wearing condoms? You admitted you wanted money from the beginning, then conned me by pretending to be independent. Kept me off balance.” He gave a humorless laugh. “Refusing the new car was smart. I bought that act good. But you were really holding out for the big time.”
“Oh, my God.” She bent forward at the waist, as if in physical pain, but he stayed where he was and didn’t feel anything. Very slowly, she climbed out of the chair. The glow was gone. Her face reflected a ravaged grief that made him hesitate only a second. Then he hardened his heart and made himself face the truth about his wife.
She was a liar. She’d use an innocent child to get what she wanted, and the only casualty would be the baby. He shuddered with revulsion at the way she still played the game, looking to be the victim.
She gripped the wall and stared with horror from across the room. “I never knew,” she said huskily. “I never knew this was what you really thought of me. I thought—” She took a deep breath and lifted her chin. “I guess it doesn’t matter what I thought, does it?”
She turned to leave and he flung his last words at her back. “You made a big mistake, Alexa.”
“You’re right,” she whispered. “I did.”
Then she left.
The door shut. He stood in the kitchen for a long time until he heard the quiet patter of feet. Old Yeller sat beside him, his yellow eyes filled with a quiet knowledge that Alexa was gone for good. He gave a low whimper. The house rang with an eerie silence. They were both alone again, but Nick had no emotion to cry.
He was glad the dog grieved for both of them.
Nick stared out the window in the kitchen. Old Yeller lay by his feet. A cup of steaming coffee sat at his elbow.
He wandered his days like a ghost. Work kept him busy, so he poured all his energy into his designs, then tossed and turned in bed all night. He thought of Alexa, and his unborn baby.
The bell rang.
He shook his head and made his way to the door. Jim and Maria McKenzie stood outside.
Grief overtook him at their familiar figures, but he pushed the emotion back and opened the door. “Jim, Maria, what are you doing here?”
He assumed they came for one reason—to completely demolish him. He prepared for Maria’s tears and pleas for his unborn child. He expected Jim to punch him and curse him for hurting his baby girl.
Nick straightened his spine and got ready to take it all. He was surprised they’d waited so long. Hell, maybe her parents’ rage would help. He needed to feel something—he’d even welcome pain. Eventually, he needed to contact her regarding the rest of the contract and see what they could pull off for image sakes. He wondered what tale she’d spun to her parents about him.
“May we come in?” Maria asked.
“Of course.” He led them through to the kitchen. Old Yeller slunk behind the curtain, still not used to unfamiliar people. Nick gave his head an absent pat before retrieving two mugs. “I have coffee or tea.”
“Coffee, please,” Jim said. Maria declined and they both sat. Nick busied himself with retrieving cream and sugar and tried to ignore the knot in his gut.
“I’m assuming you’re here to talk about Alexa,” he began.
Jim and Maria exchanged an odd look. “Yes. She’s been avoiding us, Nicholas. We think something’s wrong. She doesn’t take our phone calls. We visited the store to make sure everything was okay, but she made excuses and shuffled us out.”
Jim nodded. “She hasn’t spoken to her brother or Izzy and Gen, either. We decided to come over ourselves and talk to her. Tell us, Nick. Are you two having problems? Where is she?”
The strange Twilight Zone feel of the scene made his head spin. Nick looked at the older couple at his kitchen table and wondered what the hell he was going to say. Alexa hadn’t told them about the baby. Or their breakup. Obviously, she didn’t know how to handle the situation.
Nick smothered a groan of agony. No way was he confessing what had happened. They weren’t his family. They weren’t his responsibility. “Um, I think there may be something going on at BookCrazy. Poetry night.”
Maria clasped her fingers around his. The mingling of strength and gentleness made him want to weep. Her eyes filled with concern. “No more lies. You are part of the family now. Tell us the truth.”
Her words shook the lock on the box deep inside him. Family. She still believed he was part of the family. If only it was the truth and his wife hadn’t betrayed him. Nick bowed his head. The words burst from his mouth before he gained control. “We broke up.”
Maria sucked in her breath. He imagined Jim glared at him with hatred. Nick surrendered to the inevitable. It was time to confess his sins. Every last one of them. The carefully planned ruse crumbled before him, and he realized he needed to take the leap himself. It was time her family knew the truth.
“What happened?” Maria asked tenderly.
Nick released his hold and got up, pacing back and forth as he struggled for the words. “Alexa told me she was having our baby.” He closed his eyes at the immediate joy that sprung over their faces. “But I told her I didn’t want it.”
He lifted his chin and refused to turn away. The familiar ice wrapped around him protectively. “I warned her from the beginning I can’t be a father.”
Maria looked at him with all the understanding in the world. “Nicky, why would you say such a thing? You will be a wonderful father. You are loving, and firm, and have so much to give.”
He shook his head. “No, I don’t. You’re wrong.” The words about Alexa’s betrayal hovered on his lips but he bit them back. He refused to break her parents’ hearts by telling him of their loveless marriage. “There are other personal reasons, Maria. Things I can’t discuss. Things I may not be able to forgive.”
“You’re wrong, Nicholas,” Jim said softly. “There is always room for forgiveness. If you love each other. I betrayed my children’s trust. My wife. I ran and turned my back on everyone I promised to cherish. But they forgave me, and we are whole again.”