“What are you really here for?” Ben demanded, still showing nothing but scorn. “A payoff? You thought you’d extort from a bighearted old lady because you know I have nothing, now that I’ve paid a fine and lost my company?”
“You’ll come back when the baby is born, then?” He didn’t seem to possess any compassion for the position she was in, but she laid her predicament bare anyway.
“I have nothing, Ben. I used the last of my savings to get here. I can’t work. Not in this industry.” She’d been waiting tables while staying on a friend’s sofa, but couldn’t bring her baby back to that tiny apartment. Her option was the slum she’d been raised in or what she had come here prepared to do.
“So you are looking for a handout. Quelle surprise.”
“I believe your grandmother was in the same boat—pun intended—when she came to America?”
She had been so touched when he had related the story of a young woman escaping unrest in Hungary by selling an earring given to her as an engagement promise only to wind up in a strange country, alone and pregnant. When she learned her lover had been killed, she sold the earring to a fellow immigrant who proposed marriage to the desperate single mother. Together, they had established a jewelry store that had become one of Manhattan’s iconic destinations for the wealthy and discerning, falling deeply in love and having two more children, including Ben’s father.
“My grandmother didn’t light a match on her lover’s life and disappear,” Ben scoffed.
“Were we lovers?” Henriqua challenged hotly. “Because the last thing you said to me was that sleeping with me was a mistake and we couldn’t keep doing it.” She held his gaze, refusing to blink and let her brimming tears fall. “That’s the real reason I left. I didn’t have anything worth staying for. Did I?”
She had been fathoms deep in love with him when he had said, We can’t keep scurrying around.
She had known it, but hadn’t been able to bring herself to cut things off. Being rejected by him was a blow she hadn’t seen coming.
“You said you didn’t want to be accused of getting ahead by sleeping with me,” he reminded.
That had been true. After Vincent had cast doubt on her grades, she’d needed more than ever to be seen as succeeding on her own merit. But she had also been scrambling to save face.
“You said that we should pretend it hadn’t happened.” His fierce gaze dropped to her midsection.
“I didn’t want to make presumptions about your feelings.” She set her hand against the swell where the baby hadn’t moved lately. “I didn’t want you to think I was trying to get ahead that way.”
“And what am I supposed to think now? When you’ve cost me everything, but didn’t even come here to see me?”
“I thought the baby would be better off with your family,” Henriqua said in a small voice that begged for leniency. “If you can raise it without your anger with me coloring things, then of course I’ll relinquish it to you.”
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