Lacey had felt dizzy, watching as John knelt in front of the stroller, speaking softly to their baby. His tone was gentle, protective, kind. Loving.
But John had spoken to Lacey that way once, too.
She caught her breath when he rose to his feet, towering over her, broad-shouldered and sleek. As always, he was dressed for business. He’d probably come directly here from some cutthroat acquisition or merger for his billion-dollar global conglomerate.
That was what John did best. Conquer.
“We should go,” he said coldly now.
Lacey licked her lips. “Go?”
He glanced around them grimly. “We’ve entertained your friends for long enough, don’t you think?”
For the first time, Lacey noticed the other women in the community-hall basement were watching them avidly, though as she looked up, they pretended they were only interested in their cookies and punch.
If any other father had suddenly shown up at the single mothers’ support group, Lacey had to admit, she would have been keenly interested, too.
She glanced at Hallie, Tess and Lola by the folding chairs. Those three hadn’t told their exes about their babies either. But then, Lacey reflected, they must have their reasons. Just as she’d had hers. She glared at John.
“I’m not going anywhere with you.”
Narrowing his eyes, John glanced down at their baby in the stroller. “You owe me that much.”
“I don’t owe you anything.”
“You took my child, Lacey.” His voice was low. “You never even gave me a chance to love her. Are you really so selfish that you’d put your own pride above Taffy’s right to have a father?”
Staring up at him, Lacey sucked in her breath.
Was that what she’d done?
For the last year, she’d believed steadfastly she’d done the right thing. John didn’t love her. He didn’t want to marry her. He didn’t want a child.
But what if that had just been her hurt pride talking?
Sometimes you’ve got to put salt on your humble pie and eat it, her mother had often said. She’d also said, Family isn’t just the most important thing. It’s everything.
Her mother, Delia, had had good reasons for that belief. Lacey’s father had left before she was born, just as Delia’s own father had, many years before. But growing up in their warm, comfortable home in Rockaway Beach, with three generations of Tremaine women living under one roof, Lacey had always felt loved.
But as a child, she’d sometimes wondered about her father. Why he’d left. Why he’d never come back.
I’m sorry, baby, Delia said sadly whenever Lacey asked. He was charming, but unreliable. He just didn’t want to be a daddy.
Lacey took a deep breath. Her mother would have been horrified that she’d kept Taffy away from her father. As John had said, she’d never even given him a chance.
Trembling, she looked up at his coldly accusing eyes.
If he truly could love Taffy, and be a devoted part of her life forever, could she truly be selfish enough to refuse?
She couldn’t. No matter what it cost her.
“All right,” she said in a low voice.
“All right?” John demanded.
Lacey lifted her eyes to his, feeling wretched. Being close to him, forced to look at his darkly handsome face and hear his husky voice, when she knew he didn’t love her, nearly killed her. But she did it. For Taffy.
“I’ll come with you,” she whispered.
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