“I’m sorry baby. I’m sorry for everything.”
“Ben, what’s wrong?”
His long pause reminded me just how far apart we were. “I needed to hear your voice.”
His tone was somber, sad. Something was wrong. “You don’t sound well. What time is it there?”
“Six in the morning.”
He was either up early or really late from the night before. “Did you sleep okay? Why did Fiona answer your phone last night?” The memory came rushing back with resounding clarity.
“Yeah. She said you were asleep.”
“I must have had too much to drink and passed out. I’m sorry.”
“Ben, did something happen with Fiona?” I couldn’t shake the unmistakable feeling of panic creeping into the edges of my brain.
“You know I would never do anything to hurt you, right?”
I swallowed the thick lump in my throat. “Yeah, I think so.”
“I wouldn’t, baby. I promise. Just trust me, okay?”
I didn’t answer, my mind abuzz with questions. There was something he wasn’t telling me but I wasn’t brave enough to ask just then.
“Okay?” he asked again.
“Yeah, Ben. I trust you. I just don’t trust Fiona.”
“I can handle Fiona. Just don’t worry, okay?”
“I miss you,” I admitted, my voice a tiny whisper.
“I miss you more. Not long now and then I’ll be home.”
I could not freakin’ wait. I hated the feeling that Fiona thought Ben and I were getting too close and had purposely created this distance between us.
The day Ben was due home, work dragged by at a horrible pace. I tried to focus, I did my best, but my gaze constantly wandered to the clock. Ben’s flight was due in later that morning and he’d promised to come straight into the office to see me. We were going to lunch. Unless I could talk him into taking me straight home for a midday romp between the sheets. Eating was overrated. And I’d missed him terribly.
At ten o’clock, Gunnar stopped by my desk. “Come on. Fiona wants everyone gathered in the conference room to make some big announcement.”
I looked at him curiously. Maybe she was announcing my promotion. I rose from my desk and stood a little taller in my heels. I’d done well in Paris, and I put up with all her diva demands with a smile on my face. It was paying off. “What do you think it could be? Heard any rumors?” I asked as we ventured down the hall.
Gunnar nodded, a sly smile overtaking his mouth. “Yeah. Rumor has it she’s finally pregnant.”
What? “Fiona? Pregnant?” I couldn’t picture her as a mother. Not at all.
Gunnar’s brows pinched together. “I thought you knew Ben was helping her—giving her those fertility injections, taking her to her doctor appointments.”
Holy Mother. All the air was sucked from my lungs but I managed to draw a small, shaky breath. “He never told me.” My voice was a harsh rasp.
“Her meds were flown in from the U.S., delivered on ice, and had to be refrigerated. I thought for sure you were coordinating all that.”
I shook my head. “No.” They’d kept it all some big, elaborate secret. I was beyond hurt. He may have said he didn’t have feelings for her, but by spending his time caring for her, his actions painted a different story.
Something about the entire situation made my scalp tingle.
Gunnar and I stood at the far end of the narrow conference room while everyone filed in. The large table in the center sat empty as everyone gathered around. It would be standing room only—and a tight squeeze. This must be some big announcement.
Fiona appeared a moment later with Ben beside her. I wanted to run to him, throw myself in his arms, but the crowded room prohibited that. He met my eyes and I sucked in a breath. He looked terrible. Tired and upset about something. Like he’d just gotten some horrible news. I’d wanted nothing more than to see him for the past three weeks, but suddenly I felt unsure. Unsure about where we stood, unsure about his distant calls these past couple of weeks. Had he changed his mind about me? About wanting a relationship?
In contrast, Fiona stood next to him looking bright eyed and bushy tailed. Whatever had been ailing her in Paris had obviously cleared up. She looked well. Happy. Happier than I’d seen her in a long time. I wondered if what Gunnar had said could be true. . . .
Before I could process all of the tangled emotions overtaking my system, Fiona cleared her throat to speak.
A hushed silence fell over the room.
“Thank you all for your work while we were away. Our lovely boy Ben killed it as usual.” She smiled fondly at him. “But the reason I wanted to assemble the group today is to share some very exciting news.” When she smiled at Ben again I was struck with an overwhelming urge to hit her in the face. With a chair. “I’m expecting a baby.”
My stomach twisted violently, turning sour as my breakfast threatened to make an appearance. If Gunnar had been right about this . . . was he also correct about Ben taking an active role? I was already uncomfortable with their relationship, but being lied to for months on end . . . I felt sick.
“Who’s the father?” someone asked from behind me.
A slow smile curled on Fiona’s mouth and her eyes met Ben’s. “Someone ever so dear to me.”
She and Ben shared a look that communicated so much. They were carrying on a private conversation without exchanging a single word. It was unnerving, and even more so because I had no idea what was being said.
I elbowed my way through the crowded room and headed straight for the women’s restroom.
Tears blurred my eyes as I locked the door on the handicapped stall and slid to the floor. It was disgusting to sit on a public bathroom floor, but I had little choice. My legs weren’t working at the moment.
The entrance door flew open. “Emmy, we need to talk.” It was Ben.
Ten minutes ago I’d been so desperate to see him, to feel his arms around me. And now I felt completely devastated and unsure about everything.
I didn’t want to face him, didn’t want him to see me cry. But I needed some answers. There were signs all along. Signs I ignored. The phone calls he wouldn’t take in my presence. I wondered if they were from Fiona. That time she was in his room and he wouldn’t let me in . . . all those nights he’d been short with me on the phone when he was alone with her in Paris . . .
Still hiding in the end stall, I cleared my throat, fighting to keep the tears at bay. “Gunnar told me you’d been helping her. You lied to me.”
“I’m sorry about that, baby. So sorry. When Fiona came to me and told me about her fertility struggles she asked me not to say anything to anyone. I gave her the injections, but I swear it was harmless.”
“Ben . . . are you the father?”
He didn’t answer for several of the longest moments of my life. Eventually he slid down the wall, sinking to the floor until he was sitting across from me. I could see his feet from my view underneath the door. “Will you come out so I can talk to you?”
That was not the answer I needed. My heart thumped erratically in my chest. “Do you really think that’ll make this easier?”
He sighed deeply. “I suppose not.”
Several long seconds ticked past before I spoke again. “Tell me, Ben. The truth.” I deserved that much at least, but I held my breath, unsure if I would be able to handle his answer. I wiped the tears from my cheeks, wondering where this story was going and if it could possibly have a happy ending for me and Ben. Maybe I was being foolish hiding from him in a bathroom stall.
“Shortly after you left Paris, Fiona was devastated about the artificial inseminations not working. She’d had many rounds, and none of them took. She asked me to sleep with her.”
A tortured cry escaped my throat and I clasped a hand over my mouth to silence it.
“She was a wreck emotionally, so I told her she could spend the night in my room. I didn’t think she should be alone just then. But that’s all I was planning on—sleeping. I ordered us dinner and we watched TV and shared a few bottles of wine. I drank too much and passed out. Sometime later, I woke in the middle of the night with Fiona on top of me. She had . . . she was . . .” He hesitated. “She was riding me.”
I didn’t try to stop the cry that escaped my throat. I hung my head and wept, gulping for air. “That’s rape, Ben. You can press charges.”
“I’m not pressing charges. I invited her into my bed. We were both drunk. She was severely depressed. . . .”
I didn’t know what there was to think about. Whether they were drunk or not, that was not okay. I hated Fiona. She could burn in hell for all I cared. “She took advantage of you . . .” She should be punished for that.
“Emmy . . . she and I used to be lovers. That type of thing was normal—her waking me up that way. . . .”
Oh my God . . . that could be Ben’s baby inside of her. Silent tears streamed down my cheeks. Panic gripped my heart. I wished I could plug my ears, pretend none of this was happening. Instead, I gripped my chest, pressing my palm against my heart, begging it not to falter. It thumped unevenly as pain surged inside my chest. I swear I felt the exact moment my heart broke, shattering inside me with a sharp, distinct pain.
Ben continued, “I threw her off me and cursed her out. But I’m not pressing criminal charges. She apologized and said she wasn’t thinking clearly . . . she was crazy from the wine and fertility drugs . . . and she’s been my friend for a long time, Emmy. I can’t do that to her.”
The weight of the knowledge that he didn’t want to see her punished was crushing.
“So, you’re going to be a dad.”
“Maybe. Or a sperm donor. She says I can be as involved as I want to be,” Ben added.
Holy shit. I couldn’t bear the thought that he’d be forever tied to Fiona. Hell, maybe they’d even give a real relationship a go. For the baby’s sake. I fought off a wave of nausea and suppressed a groan with my fingers pressed over my lips.
“Emmy? I’m sorry, I never should have let her stay the night, share my bed. But I didn’t plan on this. . . .”
I needed to be away from him. I didn’t even want to share the same air. Rising on shaky legs, I wiped my eyes and exited the stall. Ben leapt to his feet, his gaze holding mine in worried suspense. The adrenaline coursed through my system and pushed my body into action. I needed out of this room.
His hands darted out to stop me, resting on my shoulders.
“Don’t. Touch. Me,” I bit out.
He dropped his hands, looking hurt. Good. Served him right. He’d lied to me for weeks. He’d been inside Fiona and had helped her for months before that.
“I wanted to tell you. But I knew you’d get mad. And I don’t think it’s possible she got pregnant from that night, Emmy. I told her I couldn’t be the father. I didn’t even . . . uh, come . . . but she just keeps insisting she has a feeling.”
My hands flew to my hips. “Ben, you don’t have to come to get a girl pregnant. Didn’t you pay attention in ninth-grade biology?”
He bit down, his jaw tensing. “I don’t think the baby’s mine.”
“Oh you don’t think it is—how comforting.” What a f**king moron.
“Emmy . . .” He fisted his hands and shoved them in his pockets.
“You know what, I hope it is. You two will be very happy together.”
Ben frowned. “This is exactly why I didn’t want to tell you. I’ve asked for a paternity test. We’ll get this worked out. I promise you. Just trust me.”
“I’m sorry. I can’t do that. There’s been too many secrets. Too much deceit where that woman’s concerned. I can’t. I can’t do this anymore.” I lifted my chin and shoved past him, exiting as quickly as my shaky legs would carry me.
Three Weeks Later
I took one last glance in the mirror after the makeup artist had finished with me and saw Fiona approach from behind. Just f**king great.
I spun to face her, my expression impassive. I was here to do my f**king job. Nothing more.
“Have you had sugar?” Fiona asked, her fingers reaching out to touch the dark circles I knew lined my eyes.
“Of course not.” I stepped back out of her reach. I was barely eating, I wasn’t sleeping for shit, and my work was reflecting it.
Fiona noticed my movement and frowned. We hadn’t talked much after I requested the paternity test and mailed her a check to cover the costs. It was cold, but so was what she’d done to trick me into bed with her.
I didn’t need some big declarations of feelings—I knew how Fiona felt about me. And how I would never feel about her. Especially now.
We worked together. That was a necessity for the time being. She’d already booked me for several upcoming campaigns and I would see them through. That didn’t mean I was okay with her touching me, trying to act like we were still friends, or inviting me out to dinner after a shoot. I showed up to the shoots, did my job, then took off for the hotel. I didn’t socialize with her, or anyone, for that matter.
I had become something of a loner in the last few weeks. Drinking enough to pass out at night just so I could shut off my brain and escape the constant memories of her. Her. My beautiful, sweet girl.
I missed her. I missed the soft beat of her heart lulling me to sleep at night. I’d booked every job I could, trying and failing miserably to keep Emmy from my head. I didn’t want to be home alone in the quiet solitude of my apartment, a place I’d once loved for being so serene. Now it was too quiet, lifeless, and I wasn’t man enough to be alone with my thoughts, so I threw myself into my work. I’d considered traveling to Tennessee, knocking on the door of every Clarke in the state if that meant finding her. Until Braydon reminded me they were fond of guns down south, and not-so-delicately pointed out that Emmy didn’t want to see me. She’d been the only girl to bring out these emotions in me, the only girl to crush my heart when she’d left.