John reeled at the word. Standing in the community center, surrounded by strangers, he staggered beneath the weight of the news.
Lacey’d had his baby.
He was a father. And he had been for months. He just hadn’t known it. She’d purposefully kept it from him.
“How could you not tell me?” he said hoarsely.
“You made it clear you didn’t want me…” Lacey glanced behind her at the stroller and then lifted her chin defiantly. “So I thought you wouldn’t want her.”
Her? The baby was a girl?
He had a daughter. One he hadn’t known about. An ache lifted to his throat, of anger and pain and loss.
“You thought wrong,” he ground out. He nodded to the red stroller. “Is this her?”
He knelt abruptly in front of the sweet, chubby baby. Feeling a sense of vertigo, he said gruffly, “Hi.”
The baby looked up, puzzling at him with black eyes exactly like his own. And the last of John’s uncertainty fled. He didn’t even need a paternity test. There was no question this child was his.
The baby had a plump face and short, wispy dark curls. Her cotton shorts showed fat, dimpled legs as her bare feet stuck out of the stroller.
“What’s her name?” he asked thickly.
“Taffy,” Lacey said behind him.
“Taffy Drakos,” he tried out.
She paused. “Taffy Tremaine.”
John whirled to look at her, shocked at the fresh betrayal. She hadn’t even given his child his surname. As if she were ashamed of the proud, ancient name of Drakos.
Or maybe, he thought grimly, so she could try to keep his daughter secret from him forever.
Had Lacey hated him so much? Just for turning down her irrational proposal, which she’d blurted out without apparent thought, fourteen months before? For that she’d been willing to punish him beyond imagining—both him and their child?
Cold fury filled him. She’d done this. All of this.
Turning away from her, he looked at the baby, keeping his voice gentle. “Hello, Taffy. I’m your father.”
The baby frowned, and then unexpectedly burst into a wide smile, as dazzling as sunshine, showing four tiny teeth like pearls in her pink gums.
And that was all it took. John’s heart exploded, expanding bigger than his chest.
He’d heard this phenomenon could happen for new parents, but he’d never believed it. His own wealthy, distant parents certainly had never treated John with any particular affection.
But he already loved this child. He’d just met her, and he knew he would die for her.
“You said you weren’t ready to be a father,” Lacey whispered beside him. He looked up at her grimly. She was pale, her dark ponytail swaying over her graceful neck and bare shoulders, above her white cotton sundress. “What was I supposed to do?”
He rose to his full height.
“Tell me the truth,” he said coldly. “Not lie to me for a year.”
Her cheeks burned red, and she dropped her gaze.
John looked down at her breathtakingly beautiful face, his eyes tracing unwillingly over her warm skin, the generous curves beneath her sundress. His body stirred. Even now, he realized, he wanted her. In spite of his pride. In spite of her deceit. He still wanted her. His jaw clenched.
And he hated her for that most of all.
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