“I’m pretty sure I should be asking you that question,” Nick shoots back. “Since you are the one standing here, threatening my girlfriend, on her property. Which you should probably stop doing. Now.”

“Your girlfriend?” Karl sounds as astonished as I feel.

He looks back and forth between the two of us while I all but melt with relief. I’ve looked pathetic entirely too many times in front of Karl and Sasha over the last few months, and I will be forever grateful to Nick for saving me from further humiliation right now, while my head is still spinning and my heart is still breaking.

Not over Karl, of course, but over the baby I wanted so badly and for so long.

“I’ll have you know,” Karl says, trying to stand taller than Nick but falling woefully short, “Mallory is my wife. I have every right to be here.”

“No, you don’t,” Nick says. “Not after she’s asked you to leave.”

“Do you really want to get into a debate over the law with me?” Karl’s eyes narrow. “I’m an attorney, and I assure you this is perfectly legal.”

“Yeah, well, I’m an attorney, too—and apparently, a much better one than you, because I can assure you that you’re wrong. And that you’re trespassing, which is very much against the law. So”—he waves his hand in a dismissive gesture—“you can scurry on back to whatever hole you crawled out of now.”

Karl’s face turns so red that, for a second, I actually think he’s going to have a stroke. Sasha must think so, too, because she comes awkwardly shuffling up the driveway toward him.

“I didn’t know you were dating anyone,” Karl says, accusation thick in every syllable.

“And I didn’t know you were about to become a father.” The words come out of nowhere before I have any idea that I’m going to say them. “Looks like there’s a lot we don’t know about each other anymore. Then again—” I shoot a look at Sasha, who is staring at Nick with her mouth open and more than a little avarice in her eyes. “That’s always been the case. Hasn’t it, Karl?”

My ex looks like he is about to explode, which—not going to lie—I would totally be here for. He’d make a big mess, of course, but it’s a small price to pay for this whole nasty divorce business being over quickly. Plus, I’d get everything, and as I glance back over at Sasha’s burgeoning belly, that feels about right at the moment.

“You don’t actually expect me to believe you’re an attorney, do you?” Karl spits out.

Nick looks more amused than insulted at the obvious cut. “I don’t give a shit what you believe.” He squeezes me tighter, his hand stroking up and down my arm in an obvious display of affection meant to make Karl even angrier. “Facts are facts. I’d say that Mallory has a type, except…” He trails off on a derisive little laugh as he looks Karl up and down.

Karl’s hands fist at his sides, and alarm shoots through me. “You son of a bitch.”

Nick gives him a look that practically dares him to take a swing at him. Even though I’m horrified at the idea, there’s a small part of me that wouldn’t mind seeing my ex arrested for assault—not because I actually want him to go to prison but because I am apparently vengeful enough to relish the thought of him being disbarred and losing the practice he all but worships. The law practice I worked so many long hours to help him build.

“Karl, let’s go.” Sasha’s voice is high and grating, her eyes filled with fear as she looks between Nick and Karl.

Of course she’s afraid—if Karl gets disbarred, she and her baby would lose their meal ticket, not that it’s the baby’s fault.

It’s that thought that has me stepping forward, putting myself a little between Nick and Karl. Whatever else is going on here, the baby doesn’t deserve to suffer for choices their parents made.

Nick growls a little at my movement even as his hands come up to rest—warm and secure—on my shoulders. I know this is all fake, that it’s just a show for my ex, but I can’t help leaning back into the strength and heat of him, just for a little while. It’s been so long since I’ve had anyone to lean on.

“I’m not going anywhere,” Karl snaps at Sasha. “Not until Mallory signs the fucking divorce papers.”

“If that’s the case, then you leave me no choice but to call the police,” Nick says. “Because both Mallory and I have told you there’s not a chance in hell that she’s signing those papers without consulting her attorney. Not when New York and New Jersey are both no-fault divorce states that believe in a fair and equitable distribution of marital assets.”

He drops his hands from my shoulders, and I have to force myself not to whimper at the loss. But then I realize the only reason he pulled away is because he has to reach for his wallet. I step back again and watch as he takes a card out and offers it to Karl.

“I’m not Mallory’s lawyer,” he says. “But she is at my firm. I expect you to contact us by Wednesday with a full accounting of all marital assets—or I’m sure my partner will be more than happy to see you in court. And I think we both know that the judge won’t look kindly on an adulterous ex trying to cheat his former wife out of her fair settlement just so he can pay for his pregnant mistress—a mistress who, by the looks of it, got pregnant before the separation even took place.”

Nick puts his arm back around me—but this time, it’s around my waist—and smiles down at me with twinkling eyes. “I hope this hasn’t put you off dinner. I have plans for you later, and you’re going to need all the energy you can get.”

And I can’t help the cheesecake smile I lay on him. Full wattage, no holds barred. How did he know Karl showing up with his pregnant mistress would make me feel undesirable? Like I’m not woman enough to satisfy my man or some other archaic feeling that I really shouldn’t be having right now but am? The next words are out of my mouth before I can stop them. “I hope those plans include that wild thing you did with your tongue last time.”

Like a switch has been flipped, the teasing glint in his eyes turns to molten lava in point-two seconds flat. As though he completely forgot Karl was even standing there, he leans down and whispers against my cheek, “You can count on it.”

A shiver of anticipation skates along my skin as Nick pulls me tighter into his side and steers me back to the patio, Karl and Sasha dismissed.

“Looking forward to hearing from you,” Nick tosses over his shoulder right before he opens the back gate and ushers me through.

Chapter Twenty-Two

   As the gate closes behind us and I settle back into the hard metal patio chair, the loss of Nick’s warmth and strength is immediate. The cold seeps into my bones so fast, I shiver.