Proof of Their Sin(12)

By: Dani Collins

Why did she care, though? She’d been prepared to raise this baby alone from the moment she had suspected she was pregnant. She had come to New York convinced she didn’t need or want his support on any level.

While a hidden part of her had basked in the chance to draw a little of Paolo’s attention one more time.

Even though his regard had always scared her a little. Like a possum under a suddenly bright light, she’d always skittered away or curled into herself or into the nearest shadow—preferably those cast by larger-than-life people like Ryan. But she had thought, right up until Paolo’s first caustic remark tonight, and especially after his tenderness in Charleston, that he’d felt at least a little warmth toward her.

His expression held nothing but cynicism and contempt, however, as he waited for her to absorb his rejection of her claim.

She hid her devastation behind a proud posture, keeping her back arrow-straight as she finally preceded him from the elevator, faltering when she realized this wasn’t her floor but a private suite. “What—”

“We need to talk,” he said, stabbing security buttons beside the elevator panel. “In private, and uninterrupted.”

“Are you out of your mind? Dragging me to your room is what started this!” Despite her apprehension, an irrepressible jolt of anticipation hit low in her belly. The unwanted receptiveness to his advances made her feel intensely vulnerable. For another long second, she couldn’t move, couldn’t look at him.

“Throwing Charleston in my face right now is a mistake, I assure you,” he said dangerously. “How far along are you?”

She set a tender hand on her waist, breathless with alarm. She was locked in a situation she should have been smart enough to avoid while sensual memories wouldn’t shake from her scattered mind. And she felt weak. It occurred to her how badly she had neglected this baby today, too preoccupied with facing Paolo to take care of herself and the growing life inside her.

“You can do the math,” she murmured.

“Three months since we were together, but I can see the weight gain starting. Is that why you slept with me? To disguise some married man’s bastard?”

“Oh, stop it!” she spat. “Have I asked you to be a father?” After losing her own and suffering Gerald as a substitute, she’d concluded that father figures were overrated. Her grandmother had filled all the necessary parental roles just fine, thanks.

Wanting to finish with him before her delicate hold over her control slipped completely, she paced into the lounge, bypassing the narrow aisle between the sofa and coffee table for the wider band of area behind the furniture. As she spun, her skirt billowed in a way her lungs couldn’t. She was aware of his scrutiny like a scientist behind a mirrored wall, watching a distressed animal seek escape from its cage.

“Yes, people are going to notice soon that I’m pregnant,” she stated, trying to drag deeper breaths into her compressed lungs. “They’re going to speculate that it’s yours. I owed it to you to prepare you for that, so here I am.”

“So you’re keeping it.” The words were flat and uninflected.

It was an unexpected blow that winded her.

“Of course I’m keeping it! I’ve waited years for a baby.” She tried to say it calmly, but she couldn’t help the residual fury over Ryan’s duplicity, letting her try to explain to his mother why they weren’t conceiving when he had privately known exactly why. “How can you suggest I not keep it? You’re Catholic. And don’t you dare ask if I slept with you to get pregnant. I’ll slap you, I swear I will. I thought I was infertile.”

She spun again, still pacing, feeling like one of those little metal ducks quacking her way along the upper ledge of a carnival tent. Paolo’s laser gaze seemed to track her like the red dot of a sniper’s rifle while he weighed her words.

“I know this baby looks like a disaster, but it’s a miracle.” Her agitation at having to explain without being able to explain kept her blood vessels tight, her muscles tense, her focus dim and narrow on the walls rushing by.

“I’m willing to minimize the damage by leaving the country, but it’s going to come out, Paolo.” She’d managed to ignore her anxiety over that eventuality, but it threatened to overwhelm her as she spoke of it. Her feet moved quicker and she felt the walls closing in. Her mother’s shame and disappointment, Ryan’s mother’s horrified incomprehension... It would be a nightmare and Lauren didn’t even have her grandmother to stand by her.

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