Unprotected: A Cinderella Secret Baby Romance (69th St. Bad Boys Book 4), page 10
My throat closed, making it hard to breathe.
The air wheezed in my nostrils, lungs tight.
But no, the show must go on. So I was making pumpkin pie.
The kitchen was a mess of orange guts, soft vegetable flesh, sugar, flour, and pie tins. I needed everything on the tabletop, but was too much of a wreck to put it together right.
Because Evan was out there somewhere. Was he on his way to see me? Was he already the CEO of the company?
My hands shook and I could barely hold the knife properly to cut the pumpkin into slices for the blender.
I don't cook a lot because fresh ingredients are so expensive. And frankly, it’s easier to buy from the store sometimes. But the tools come out when I'm stressed, and I'm sure as hell stressed now.
Because my thirty days with Evan were just about over. I can barely believe it. The time flew by so quickly, nothing more than a flash in the pan. I want him to want me, but he doesn't. Or maybe he wants me but I want him to too much?
Shit. This was so confusing and I shook my head miserably, looking at the half-gutted pumpkin.
Suddenly, the doorbell rang. I jumped and nearly sliced off my thumb, narrowly missing the soft pad. Who could that be?
Oh wait, the ring was supposed to come today. My heart jumped, pulse beating rapidly. The six carat pink diamond that we’d used so sinfully in the jewelry store was arriving today.
And sure enough, a special courier dressed in all black stood on the doorstep. When I opened the door, I could feel the scrape of his eyes on my oversized T-shirt, pumpkin clumps stuck to my cheek and clothes. But these people are all business, and a professional smile curved his lips.
He held a clipboard toward me.
“Sign here, please.”
I scribbled my name and then a small box was tucked in my hands.
“Have a good day, Miss,” the man said smoothly before getting into an unmarked van. Wow, James Bond for sure. But maybe that was the point. They wanted to move undetected through the city given the high value items in their charge.
Because this was the ring! My beautiful, six carat diamond was finally here.
Trembling fingers popped open the velvet box. And I stared at what was supposed to be the six carat princess cut diamond in a platinum setting.
But this wasn’t a diamond.
This was glass.
I was sure of it. Although I don’t know very much about expensive jewelry, anyone with eyes could tell. This fake ring was as obvious as a beard on a woman in high heels, dull and cloudy compared to the real thing.
It wasn't a diamond at all.
It was a facsimile, just a pretend stand-in.
My stomach dropped.
This was a mistake. Had to be.
I grabbed the phone and called the number for the jewelry store.
“Hello!” I stammered the greeting as soon as somebody answered. “Is this Mr. Lozano?”
“No.” The voice on the other end of the phone was snooty and cold. “He isn't available at the moment. What can I do for you?”
“Um...my...fiancé ordered a ring and it just got delivered.” I gave him Evan's name and information. “But it's not a diamond, it's glass. The delivery must be a mistake.”
“One moment, Miss,” the voice said busily.
I heard rustling in the background then some tapping sounds from a keyboard. When the guy came back on the phone, his voice was downright cold.
“Is this Miss Margaret Lake?” he asked perfunctorily.
“Yes, that’s me,” I stammered. “Maggie.”
“There's been no mistake.” He didn't bother to say “Miss” this time. “The delivery was correct.”
I couldn’t even manage a gasp this time, hands frozen on the phone. My heart raced at sixty miles an hour, unable to believe the words.
“You there?” the voice sounded tinny in the phone. “You have the correct delivery,” the salesman emphasized again. And the next words sliced through my heart. “In fact, Lozano’s did you a favor because we don’t usually trade in glass. Our shop works exclusively with diamonds and other precious stones, but because Mr. Lincoln asked for this special accommodation, we did this for you. You're actually very lucky.”
Evan never meant to get me a diamond?
This was all pretend from the get go?
Trembling, I ended the call. The Cinderella fairy tale was already beginning to explode. Because of course, the diamond was fake. It was just a prop to make things look real.
God, what did I expect? Of course, Evan Lincoln wasn’t going to actually give me a two hundred thousand dollar piece of jewelry. I wasn’t worth that.
Swallowing heavily, the tears began to spill from my eyes. The fairy tale was really over. This wasn't about the money or baubles. Because I don't care about any of that. I cared about something I couldn't have, that no money could buy.
I thought he felt something for me.
I thought the billionaire cared, that his soul was moving in my direction.
But this piece of glass told me something different. It told me that I’d been a dumb girl, dreaming dreams that never existed. I’d been caught up in my reverie with a lot of hopeful “what ifs” and “maybes.”
But there were no what ifs.
There were no maybes.
Evan was a prince, and I was a nobody.
The chasm between us was wide and deep, as big as the Grand Canyon.
And the fake ring was proof of that. Everything was an illusion. Feelings? What feelings? There were never any feelings, period.
Plus, the billionaire was already starting to wind down the show for his parents, giving me a great big glass ring instead of a diamond.
My heart wept. Every tear that trailed down my face was another ounce of hope sapped, another joule of vitality gone. The phone fell from limp hands and I collapsed on the living room floor.
I should just take the ring and wear it. Yeah. That's what I should do. Walk around with this big pink glass ring on my finger because that’s all I’d ever get.
Pain slashed through my chest once more, making me gasp.
But I couldn’t put on the fake ring. It hurt just looking at it, the glass burning in image on the backs of my eyelids.
It represented my stupidity.
Everything that I’d never have.
The impossible, out of reach for a poor girl who works with her hands.
Tears dribbled from my eyes and into my mouth and I gasped, trying to catch my breath. What next?
Because this wasn't how I pictured it while taking the pregnancy test this morning. After missing my period and then vomiting for twenty minutes, I knew I had to check. And it was true. Evan Lincoln's fertile seed had done its duty, and now I had a baby inside me. Evan and I were going to have a child.
But he never wanted a child.
He never wanted me.
So I was going to have Evan’s baby. Alone.
The glass ring had showed me that much at least.
I sniffed again and stood on shaking legs, smearing my cheeks with pumpkin and flour. I couldn’t stay here. I loved the animals at DoggyMart, I loved the city, I loved Evan. But I had more than myself to care for now. I had a baby to think about now.
So I had to go because this was Evan’s city … and my broken heart wouldn’t let me stay.
Henry’s an asshole and I was done with him. That was that.
There was no anger anymore. No recriminations. No hate.
I was just done.
Because it was all about the future now, and that meant Maggie. From this clusterfuck, something amazing had happened, and that was my beautiful brunette. With her by my side, anything was possible. It was gonna be tough for sure. I was going to put in
And with the right woman, the world was my oyster.
I squeezed my hand around the pink diamond in my pocket.
Oh shit, oh shit. Because I wanted to propose. I wanted to bend my knee not to my father, but instead for the sweet thing who deserved my love and loyalty.
“We're here, sir,” my driver’s voice rang out.
The limo pulled to a slow outside the female’s place, headlights cutting through the darkness of her neighborhood. I levered myself out, pulling at the dark suit. Holy shit, was I nervous? Sure enough, my heart thumped hard, palms a little sweaty.
Fuck. The girl had me wrapped around her finger. No worries, this was gonna be the best day of her life.
And with several loud raps, I knocked on the door. But oddly Maggie didn't answer. I checked my watch again. Yeah, she was already done with work at the pet store and should be home by now.
I knocked again, louder this time. Then called her on my cell phone.
Again, no answer.
Was she sick or something? Is that why she couldn't come to the door? I grabbed the key she kept under the mat and unlocked the apartment.
My heart caught in my throat, before exploding with a series of deep, painful throbs.
Because it was completely empty.
No clothes. No signs of Maggie. Just the furniture that came with the place, the walls bare and plain. I spun around in the empty apartment with disbelief. What the hell?
Furiously, my hand scrabbled at my cell again. And this time, I left a message.
“Where are you, Mags? I’m at your place. There’s—” No, I couldn’t ask her something like that over the phone. “Just call me when you get this.”
The phone clicked off, leaving me with ominous silence.
What the hell was going on? I’d just seen the brunette yesterday. Why would someone vacate so fast? Did she break her lease?
The mysteries swirled, but I’d get a hold of her. No worries.
But then a flash of something caught my eye, and I bent, slowly retrieving the object from a corner of the apartment.
A diamond? No. A glass copy of the one in my pocket.
What the hell?
Oh shit! The jeweler completely fucked up and sent a glass diamond to Maggie. Why the fuck would he do that? Was this some sick joke?
The real gems are locked up safe at all times, insured to the hilt with security guards standing by. So why the hell had he sent a glass bauble to Maggie? For kicks?
I picked it up and the glass winked dully. No way Maggie thought for a second this crap was real.
I was going to kill Raul Lozano. Why the hell did I pay this guy all that money for if he was going to fuck up something as basic as this?
If his mistake made her run ….
A sharp pain sliced through my hand. I looked down. I’d squeezed the glass ring so hard that it cut into my palm. Blood dripped between my fingers and splashed on the floor. But the pain was nothing compared to what was going on in my chest. Now that shit fucking hurt.
Maggie. I need her back here.
I had to get her back.
I have no choice. I can live without Lincoln Conglomerate. Hell, money was practically growing on trees, cash hailing down on my head in hard pellets. Girls like Maggie are a differen story though. No way would I find another treasure like the brunette. And I didn’t want to. She’s the only female for me.
The blood rushed from my head and I stumbled back into the wall, barely able to stand.
Maggie. No. I couldn’t lose her.
But where was she?
My mind spun furiously. I’d never met her friends or family. I guess it was self-protective on her part, she didn’t want to bare parts of her life that should stay secret.
So what did that leave?
Wait, the pet store. It was a long shot. It was late as hell and DoggyMart would be closed but I was desperate. I grabbed my phone, hands shaking like crazy.
“DoggyMart, this is Leah speaking. How can I help you?” The woman sounded hesitant on the phone.
My teeth clicked together, jaw tense from strain.
“Hey, Leah. This is Evan Lincoln. I'm looking for Maggie. Can you tell me where I can find her?”
“Oh, damn!” the saleswoman muttered. “I knew I shoulda let the phone keep ringing.” The last bit was under her breath but I heard every word loud and clear.
What the hell was this bitch smoking?
“Do you know where Maggie is?” I demanded.
A click sounded, and then buzzing dial tone.
“Hello?” was my demand. “Hello?” Shit, did that ho hang up on me? I dialed back, and this time the call went straight to voicemail, a recorded line telling me that DoggyMart was closed for the night.
Fuck! What the hell? In my mind, I was already at DoggyMart and beating some answers out of this stupid Leah person. But by the time I got there, she'd probably be long gone.
But what else could I do? What other options were there?
Her father. Maggie talked about her father once. What the hell was his name again? Oh yeah. XXX Lake. My fingers felt as big as sausages as I typed the name on my phone.
Come on, come on!
And soon enough, some creeper service located XXX Lake’s number and address. In a frenzy, I dialed the number and mentally crossed my fingers.
Ring. Ring. Ring. The tone buzzed through my ears for what felt like forever. But nobody answered.
God damn it! Furious with myself, I smashed the phone into the wall. It exploded in a dozen pieces, plastic and glass flying everywhere.
This can't be it. I can't lose Maggie like this over some stupid fuck up. What the hell was Lozano thinking?
Even worse were my thoughts about myself. I’m the biggest idiot in the world. I had a real gem in my hands, a treasure worth more than her weight in gold. And I let it slip through my fingers because of some stupid fuck-up at the jewelry store.
Because I let my dad rule my life.
I let my greed to be CEO overwhelm everything.
Maggie was there the whole time … and I just couldn’t see it.
I stumbled back against the wall, phone pieces crunching under my thousand dollar Italian shoes. All the money in the world was mine. Endless possibility. Opportunity that others would give their right arms for. But the one thing I wanted wasn’t for sale.
Two years later …
I should have locked the store up and gone home long ago now. It was dark outside and so late that walking from the bus stop with the stroller made me nervous. But the baby bunnies had just come in and I wanted my son Ryan to see them.
“They're cuties, huh?”
Sitting on his blanket next to me on the floor, my little boy gurgled and grinned. He reached his hands towards the bunnies but I kept them just out of reach so he wouldn't accidentally hurt them. One of the rabbits hopped into my lap, its nose wrinkling adorably.
I had to work during the day so this was precious quality time with Ryan. I don’t see him as much as I want because it’s hard to be a single parent with a full time job. There are so many responsibilities and difficult trade-offs.
But I do the best I can. And besides, day care wasn’t so bad. It wasn't like the workers were mean or anything, but sometimes I just felt incredibly guilty leaving Ryan at that place. There were so many kids tumbling and crawling everywhere. How could my sweet boy get the attention he needed?
But unfortunately, it wasn’t a choice. I had to put food on the table. I had to put a roof over our heads. That was our fate in life. So Ryan went to day care, and I went to work at a local pet store nearby. Frankly, I was lucky to get this job because when they asked for references, I’d stumbled.
“Oh sorry,” was my mumble.
The eagle-eyed woman looked me up and down.
“No references?” she asked sharply.
“No ma’am,” was my mumble. “Sorry about that again.”
But the woman sighed dramatically and then scribbled something.
“Well you’re lucky we’re short on help,” she grunted. “We need someone so bad that I’m gonna overlook this. Can you start tomorrow?”
Actually, I couldn’t. I was new to the town, a pregnant girl just starting to show. But I nodded, swallowing.
“Yes, ma’am. I’ll be here nine sharp tomorrow morning.”
And that was that. So here I am at Doggies R Us, working as a sales associate once more. But it’s a dead end job this time. There’s no way I can go to school while holding down a full time position and raising a child. So those dreams of being a veterinarian? On hold for now. Maybe even forever, frankly.
But it’s okay. Because the reason I’m doing this is for my baby. Ryan’s the light of my life, a little boy with dark hair and a cherubic expression. He looks just like a miniature version of his father, down to the dimple in his right cheek.
I haven’t seen the billionaire in two years. What is he up to? What is he doing? Probably CEO of Lincoln Conglomerate by now, ruling it with an iron fist. I wouldn’t be surprised if Evan ousted his dad, taking one hundred percent control as soon as possible.
He’s an asshole, completely ruthless.
Once I was no longer needed, the diamond was off the table. I got glass, not the real thing.
So why do I miss him?
Why do I miss someone who’s ruthless and cold, using me like a puppet?
But it didn’t matter. That was old history now. It was time to move on. So here I was with my son, playing with the bunnies and trying hard not to think about the past. I'm definitely not thinking about the man who spurted heavenly jizz between my thighs, making me scream with ecstasy.
I’m not thinking about the man who could make me laugh at the drop of a hat.
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