𝐀𝐧 𝐞𝐱𝐜𝐞𝐫𝐩𝐭 𝐟𝐫𝐨𝐦 𝐔𝐍𝐅𝐎𝐑𝐆𝐄𝐓𝐓𝐀𝐁𝐋𝐄 𝐛𝐲 𝐃𝐞𝐥𝐚𝐧𝐞𝐲 𝐃𝐢𝐚𝐦𝐨𝐧𝐝
𝐏𝐚𝐫𝐭 𝐨𝐟 𝐭𝐡𝐞 𝐅𝐚𝐦𝐢𝐥𝐲 𝐅𝐢𝐫𝐬𝐭 𝐥𝐢𝐦𝐢𝐭𝐞𝐝 𝐞𝐝𝐢𝐭𝐢𝐨𝐧 𝐛𝐨𝐱 𝐬𝐞𝐭 (𝐨𝐧𝐥𝐲 𝟗𝟗 𝐜𝐞𝐧𝐭𝐬!)
𝐑𝐞𝐥𝐞𝐚𝐬𝐞: 𝐅𝐞𝐛𝐫𝐮𝐚𝐫𝐲 𝟗, 𝟐𝟎𝟐𝟏
He rose from the crouched position and looked down at her upturned face. She was a cute little replica of her mother, with the same complexion and a pair of sparkling brown eyes. She’d only been briefly mentioned in an article he’d read online about Ivy about how she managed her career as an executive while being a mother. There hadn’t been a single photo of her daughter anywhere, though. Ivy had done a good job of keeping her out of the media spotlight.
“It was nice talking to you,” Lucas said. He suddenly realized he didn’t know her name. “What’s your name, darlin’?”
“Katie. Well, it’s actually Katherine, but everybody calls me Katie.”
“That’s a pretty name. My mother’s name is Katherine, too.”
“Sure is. Well, it was nice to meet you, Katie.” He paused, struck by a random thought. Katherine? Why would Ivy give her daughter his mother’s name?
Probably just a coincidence. After all, his mother and Ivy had been close during the time she and he were involved, and he could tell his mother had been disappointed when their relationship had ended. Maybe Ivy just liked the name Katherine.
His brow furrowed. Surely it was also a coincidence that Katie happened to enjoy writing, like he did.
Writing is my hobby, and I love it. My mom said I’m like my dad in that way.
Mommy said his words were like magic.
“Mister, are you okay?”
Sweat broke out on his forehead and he swiped it away. He looked more closely at Katie and noticed things he hadn’t before. He couldn’t honestly say he saw a resemblance to him in her face. She resembled her mother, but where Ivy had a rounded tip to her nose, Katie’s was flatter and broader, similar to his. And her eyelashes reminded him of his own.
No big deal. Lots of people had broad noses and long lashes, right?
He swallowed. He couldn’t shake his crazy idea. It took root and germinated.
Could she be his daughter? Was that why he felt inexplicably drawn to her?
No, none of his musings made sense. He shook his head. Katie was too young, clearly only about six or seven years old. He and Ivy would have been broken up long before her conception. She would have been happily married to Winston Whats-His-Face during the time Katie was conceived.
“Yes, I’m fine,” he said, his voice thick, his mind still racing. “How old are you, Katie?” he asked.
“I turned eight in April, but I can’t wait until I turn nine, because my Uncle Cyrus said he’s going to buy me a gold-plated cell phone. Mommy says I’m too young, but Uncle Cyrus says all the kids have cell phones, so why shouldn’t I. My mom worries a lot.”
He barely heard the last part of what she said. His brain quickly did the math. If her birthday was in April, that meant Ivy had probably gotten pregnant the summer they’d spent together.
The direction of his thoughts sent his mind reeling. His heartbeat tripled, the pounding echoing in his head. He recalled a broken condom, his panic, and her promise to take the morning after pill. They’d had an agreement. Surely she would have told him if she was pregnant.
He spun around when he heard a soft noise behind him. Ivy stood in the doorway, her eyes wide with apprehension.
“Mommy, Mr., um, I don’t know his name, but he’s a writer, too—”
“Go to my office and wait for me in there, please,” Ivy said, her voice tight.
“Okay.” Katie picked up her pencil and notebook. She paused at the door. “Bye, mister.”
She slipped from the room and Ivy and Lucas stared at each other in silence. He was still processing his thoughts.
“I thought you’d gone.” Underneath the stiff tone, there was an odd note to her voice—a sort of breathlessness.
“I’m still here.” He watched her closely. “Getting to know Katherine.”
He didn’t hear her indrawn breath, but he saw the way her chest hitched. He stepped closer.
“Funny how you gave her the same name as my mother.”
“You think so? I’ve always loved the name Katherine.” She tried to appear calm but didn’t quite pull it off. Not when the pulse at her throat was beating out of control.
“And she loves to write, just like her father. Isn’t that something?”
She licked her lips. “Nothing special about it. Lots of kids take after their parents. Some children develop a love of sports. She happens to love writing.”
“What did your husband write?”
“A lot of things. A little bit of this and that.” She obviously couldn’t think of a lie fast enough.
“Interesting.” Lucas slowly rubbed his jaw. “You know what else is interesting? She told me she’s eight years old.”
Raw panic flashed in her eyes. Bolstered with confidence, Lucas continued. “She said her birthday’s in April,” he said through gritted teeth. Anger and disbelief billowed in his blood. “Isn’t that interesting?”
There was no mistaking the anxiety in Ivy’s face.
“I don’t know why her birthday would be interesting.” She glanced at the gold and diamond encrusted Cartier watch on her wrist. “You know what, I better go. As I mentioned, I have a lunch date.”
“Not so fast!” She half-turned when his voice whipped out to stop her.
Lucas slammed the door shut before she could escape and moved into her personal space, so close he saw the different colors in her pupils—a dark chestnut and a smattering of lighter brown specks.
“Counting backward nine months—”
“Whatever it is you’re thinking—”
“Look me in the eye and tell me I’m wrong, Ivy,” he snarled. “Tell me!”
She pressed back into the wall and a trembling overtook her shoulders. He moved closer, crowding her.
“Tell me the truth,” Lucas said, clenching his fingers into tightly balled fists. “Tell me the truth, goddammit!” His voice had risen louder and his words came out harsher than he’d intended, but he couldn’t suppress the emotion overtaking him.
Ivy shook her head slowly, but she didn’t respond. She didn’t have to, because he saw the answer in her eyes.
“Jesus,” Lucas muttered, taking two steps back. His legs became unsteady, and his heart thundered beneath his ribs. “Ivy…” He swallowed, at a loss for words and overwhelmed by the burning in his chest that made it hard to breathe. “She’s my daughter, isn’t she?”