A baby. She’d soon be holding a sweet baby in her arms. Kassius’s and hers.
She felt overwhelmed by emotion, caught between joy and anxiety. Her family’s words came back to haunt her.
Face it, Laney May. The man doesn’t respect you.
But Kassius did respect her. She knew he did. He always told her she was beautiful and how much he desired her. He told her he couldn’t wait to marry her and start a family. He thanked her for accompanying him to business dinners—“You’re a natural, you charm everyone”—and as for her cooking skills—well, his enthusiasm for that knew no bounds.
On Valentine’s Day, she’d made him a romantic dinner in the house’s enormous kitchen, with all of his favorite dishes.
“I’m in love,” Kassius had moaned, his expression one of pure ecstasy. Unfortunately, he was looking at the fried chicken as he said it.
And maybe that was the problem.
Laney shivered under her grandma’s quilt.
She didn’t just want him to love her fried chicken, or her jambalaya, or her gumbo. She wanted him to love her.
Because she was in love with him.
She couldn’t deny it anymore. Couldn’t tell herself it was just a crush. Honestly, she’d been in love with him from the day he’d hit her with his car.
For her, it had been love at first sight.
But for him...?
Kassius never mentioned love. And though she tried to convince herself that he, too, must have also loved her at first sight—otherwise, why would he have proposed marriage?—she feared she was deluding herself. He had such hard edges. He rarely spoke of his feelings, or desires beyond sex or food or the next business deal. He sometimes spent hours working out at the gym, coming back bruised from sparring at the dojo. What drove him so hard?
She wished she knew. But when she asked him personal questions, he changed the subject. He didn’t ask her about her feelings or her past, either.
If only he would trust her enough to let her in. If only he could love her. If only the news of their coming baby could be the crack that would let light, and love, into his heart!
The bodyguard peeked in an hour later.
“I just heard Mr. Black’s plane isn’t expected till later. Do you need anything, Miss Laney?”
She smiled up at him from the sofa, grabbing a magazine. Winter twilight was starting to fade through the windows, but she felt too exhausted to bother turning on a light. “No, thank you, Benito. I’m good.”
And he, too, departed for his own suite of rooms in the basement, where he was always available in case of trouble, as a backup to the security alarm in their very safe neighborhood.
Laney’s eyes soon grew heavy. She must have fallen asleep, because she woke in darkness when she heard the front door slam. Hearing Kassius’s voice, she sat up on the sofa, ready to call out his name.
Then she heard a woman’s low, throaty laugh in the foyer. “You’re taking a risk, bringing me here.”
Heart pounding, Laney sank down lower on the sofa, lifting the quilt back up to her forehead so they wouldn’t see her as they walked by the open doorway.
“What will you do if your sweet little Laney finds out?” The woman continued. Her voice was familiar. Very familiar.
“She won’t. She’s a deep sleeper, especially lately.” Kassius’s voice was low and cool. “Better to do it here, where no one can see us.”
“Ah, so the little angel sleeping peacefully upstairs has no idea what you’re up to? I thought you two were so close. I heard you were engaged.”
“Funny sort of engagement. Seems she went from being my servant to yours.”
Hardly breathing, Laney peeked over the back of the sofa to see Kassius, looking devastatingly handsome as ever in his suit covered by a long black coat. And the woman with him—her old boss, Mimi du Plessis!
“Here,” Kassius said to her, grabbing a black velvet box from a drawer. “As promised.”
She opened it and smiled. “You’re a man of your word.” Lifting her blond hair off her neck, she glanced back at him flirtatiously. “Put it on me.”
Setting down the box on the entryway table, he lifted out an exquisite diamond necklace and wrapped it around her throat. “There. Good?”
“Good.” Turning back, she looked up at him and observed, “You know, it might have been cheaper for you to just marry me instead of paying me in gifts.”
“Or not,” she agreed. She gave him a mock salute. “Until next time.”
Mimi du Plessis walked out of the foyer, her sharp little heels clacking against the marble floor. When the front door closed behind her, Kassius exhaled, pulling off his long black coat. His shoulders looked weary.
Trembling, Laney rose from the sofa and rushed into the brightly lit foyer. When Kassius saw her, his tired face lit up. But she was way past caring about that now.
“What the hell is going on?” she demanded.
It was so unlike her to curse, he stared at her in shock. “Laney—”
“What was she doing here? Why did you give her jewelry? Why?”
His expression shuttered. Turning back to his laptop bag, he pulled out his computer, then glanced back at the dark sitting room. “Eavesdropping, were you? Waiting in the dark to see what you could discover?”
“I fell asleep on the sofa, waiting to tell you—” She bit off her words. “It doesn’t matter! I heard you!”
“And just what do you think you heard?”
“Are you having an affair?” she choked out, feeling wretched.
“Are you serious?”
A wave of nausea hit her, and she was suddenly afraid she might throw up into the potted palm at the bottom of the stairs. “Is she the one you actually love? Is that it? Was that why you proposed to me—just to make her jealous?”
Kassius’s jaw clenched. “If you’re going to talk crazy, I’m going to bed.”
But as he turned away from her, Laney’s knees sagged back toward the wall. Suddenly he was there, catching her. He searched her face fiercely.
“I’m fine.” Her teeth were chattering. “Just furious, and...” Terrified. That’s what she was. Terrified.
“You’re not fine,” he said, and without asking for permission, he lifted her up into his arms.
She felt too weak to fight as he carried her upstairs. Setting her down softly on their bed, he poured her a glass of water from the en suite bathroom. “Why didn’t you tell me you were ill?”
“It’s—nothing,” she said weakly.
He stood by the bed. His lips curved downward. “I’m calling a doctor.”
“I already saw one...”
“Just tell me the truth,” she pleaded. She grabbed his arm, looking up at him. The nausea was starting to abate, but her heart was filled with pain. “Do you love her?”
He looked down at her in the shadowy bedroom. “Of course I don’t.”
“Because if you do—”
“I’ll never love her. Or anyone.”
His answer, far from being reassuring, made everything even worse.
“Anyone?” she said through dry lips. She took a deep breath, looking up at him with anguish. “You’ll never love me?”
He sat down on the bed beside her. “No,” he said quietly. “Sorry.”
Her face was hot, her eyes burning with shame. “Won’t—or can’t?”
“What’s the difference?”
“Then why did you propose to me?” she said hoarsely.
“For the reasons I told you.” Reaching out, he stroked a tendril of her hair. “Sex. Home. A family. Children.”
“But all that is supposed to spring from love.” She licked her dry lips, tried to be hopeful. “Maybe in time...”
His expression hardened. “No, Laney.” He pulled away. “I thought you understood. I’m not a sentimental man. It’s not in my nature.”
“What happened to you?” she choked out. “To turn you like this?”
Kassius stared at her for a moment. Then, rising from the bed, he went to the window. He pushed it open and took a breath of the cold February air.
Winter in London had a hard chill, different from Monaco or New Orleans. Or maybe it was Laney’s soul that felt so suddenly frozen. Maybe it was her heart.
She watched a curl of cold winter wind blow against the curtains as, for a long moment, he looked out blankly at the iced-over city. Then he looked at her. “Love was never part of the deal. You knew that.”
“I didn’t, I never knew that!” she cried.
He exhaled. “Well, you know now.” He looked at her. “Do you want out of our engagement?”
Laney might have said yes, she wanted out. If she had known from the beginning that he would never love her...that he would only give his money and his body but never his soul, not even the tiniest bit.
But it was too late now. She couldn’t leave. Not when she was pregnant with his child. After growing up with the heartbreak of having her mother put her own selfish, ultimately futile pursuit of happiness ahead of her family’s needs, Laney had sworn she’d never do the same. Nothing mattered more to her than family. Nothing. Her unborn baby deserved a father, especially a loving one, like she believed Kassius would be. And as long as he loved their baby, she told herself she could live without him loving her.