I take a deep breath and straighten my shoulders, refusing to be cowed by the growing anger on his face. Fear and fury and a decade of repressing every emotion that could even maybe make someone feel uncomfortable builds like a tidal wave inside me.
“I dropped out of law school at your suggestion to help cover our bills and your tuition. Then I worked right alongside you to build our law practice. From the very beginning, I scrimped and saved and shopped all the auctions to find decent furniture for the firm on a shoestring budget. I spent the first couple of years cleaning the offices—on top of being office manager for a pittance—because you said we couldn’t afford to have a janitor come in and clean for us.”
“You think because you cleaned a toilet or two, you should be entitled to half of what I built?” He sneers.
“What we built.”
Karl smooths his palm over his tie and shoots me a patronizing look. “Well, I’m sure that makes sense in your little fantasy world, but you’re wrong on so many fronts. Just to take one example, the condo.”
“Our home.” The one I found, the one I cleaned, the one I made livable.
He shakes his head and speaks in a kind of overly polite and completely insincere tone as he looks around at Aunt Maggie’s house, no doubt noting every crack in the sidewalk, chip in the paint, and barely-hanging-on roof shingle. “It’s owned by the law firm and isn’t a marital asset. The firm, as you’ll recall, is mine. My name’s on the door, not yours. You didn’t even finish law school. The office manager doesn’t get half. Maybe you should have finished getting your law degree.”
The gaslighting bastard! “Someone had to pay our bills.”
His lips curl upward in a know-it-all smirk. “So you admit you freely made your choice.”
I’m still reeling from the callous narcissism of his response when I hear the door slam on Karl’s beloved Aston Martin.
It’s nearly dark, but he parked right beneath the streetlamp, so I can see Sasha perfectly as she gets out of the car. It’s just un-freaking-believable. I can’t believe his audacity in bringing his mistress here when he’s trying to talk me into signing the divorce papers.
It’s like waving a red flag in front of a bull, because every time I see her, all I can think about is the way our eyes met in his office that day. The triumphant look on her face as she put her hand on Karl’s head and told him how to please her while she looked straight into my eyes. The bitch.
“Get out of here,” I snarl at my ex, fed up with him and this entire conversation—not to mention the whole situation. “You can throw the biggest hissy fit in the world, and it won’t matter. I’m not going to sign those papers until I hire an attorney and I get a fair settlement. I’m not walking away from the longest decade of my life with nothing to show for it. In fact—”
I break off on a gasp as Sasha turns to the side…her hand cupping her slightly rounded belly. She is directly under the streetlight, and its glow makes her obviously pregnant silhouette impossible to miss.
Oh my God.
Oh. My. God.
I’ve never been hit by a bus, but I imagine it would hurt less. Every part of me is in pain. My bones ache. My head pounds. My heart, oh my God, my chest feels like it’s being crushed.
I blink a few times, praying that I’m seeing things, but when I glance back over at Sasha, she looks exactly the same. Breezy sundress, long blond hair, hand pressed against her round stomach.
“She’s pregnant,” I whisper before I can stop myself.
The word reverberates in my head over and over and over again. Karl’s mistress is pregnant. At least five months, by the look of her, too.
“I don’t understand,” I murmur. And I don’t. At all.
I all but begged Karl for a baby for the last half of our marriage. He never wanted one, despite what he told me when we got married: that we just needed to wait.
One more year to get the practice off the ground, Mallory. We can’t afford day care yet.
I’m so busy right now and so are you. We should build up the practice a little more first.
I don’t have time to talk about this today. I’ve got to get to court.
There’s plenty of time to have a baby. We can talk about it next year, when we have more time.
He put me off dozens of times until I finally stopped asking. And now, we’ve been separated less than three months, and Sasha is pregnant?
Very, very pregnant from the look of her, actually, but I don’t have the energy to consider what that means yet.
I knew he was low, knew he was narcissistic, thought there was nothing he could do to shock me. But apparently, I was naive, because right now, I am shaken to my very core.
The bastard. The unbelievable bastard.
My stomach churns, and suddenly I’m terrified that I’m going to throw up.
“What’s there to understand?” Karl growls. “I love Sasha and she loves me. We’re having a baby together, and both of us would really like for that baby to be born inside of wedlock. So if you could get over your little fit of hysteria and sign these papers, we can all just move on with our lives.”
Once again, he shoves the folder with the divorce papers at me. I am so shaken that this time, I don’t even think to refuse. I just take the folder and stare down at it blankly.
Karl sighs, like he’s the one who is put upon in this situation, like my shock and heartsickness are major inconveniences for him. Then he clicks the pen open and holds it out to me. “Just sign the papers, Mallory, and we’ll get out of your hair.”
“Mallory’s not signing anything without her attorney present.” Nick’s voice rings out loud and clear through the quiet night, and suddenly he’s right next to me, trying to ease Karl’s loathsome folder from my death grip. He turns to me and says more gently, “Hey, baby, give me this, okay?”
I know I should say something. I even want to say something—the last thing I want is to look pathetic in front of Nick. Or Karl. But as I glance back and forth between them, my brain is still reeling from shock and no words will form—at least no words that I’d want to say in front of Nick.
He must have gotten that, because suddenly his arm is around my shoulders, and he’s pulling me into him, sheltering me against the solid, muscular strength of his body.
“Who are you?” Karl demands.
Nick raises an imperious brow at him, and it looks nothing like when he raises a brow at me. With me, it’s amused if sometimes annoyed, but with Karl? With Karl, it looks an awful lot like a threat. Even more so when Nick squares his shoulders and pulls up to his full height—an impressive five inches taller than Karl.