“So you don’t know about any of this?”

“Any of what?” he asked.

She sucked in a breath. She’d known there was a good chance she would run into Ethan again. Or his wife. Or both. But she’d never imagined anything like this.

“I came back to see you five years ago,” she began. “No, I came back a few weeks after I left, but you were in bed with Pia.”

“What?” He stiffened. “I didn’t…” He half turned away, then faced her again. “It’s not what you think.”

“I thought you were both naked and in bed,” she said, struggling to keep her voice even. “It doesn’t matter. Screwing around with Pia isn’t the point.”

“I didn’t screw around.”

“No? Then your intense and meaningful relationship isn’t the point, either. I came back to tell you that I was pregnant. When I saw you in bed with Pia, I took off. I was too hurt, too angry. You’d denied me in public and then slept with one of the girls who delighted in tormenting me.”

She squared her shoulders. “More irrelevance, right? The point is, I always wanted you to know. So I showed up here five years ago to tell you about Tyler. I spoke to Rayanne and told her. Then I got a letter from you saying you didn’t want anything to do with me or Tyler and to stay away from town.” A letter apparently written by Rayanne.

Ethan stared at her as if he’d never seen her before. Emotions flashed across his face. Disbelief, confusion, anger.

“Tyler isn’t your husband?”

“He’s my son. Your son. He’s eleven. And he’s here.”


ETHAN HEARD THE WORDS BUT THEY made no sense to him. Son? As in a kid? An eleven-year-old boy who was his?

“You never told me.”

The words came from him, although he couldn’t feel himself speaking. He was still trying to make sense of the information. A baby? No. Not a baby. A child. His child.

“I did tell you,” Liz reiterated, putting her hands back on her hips, looking as if she was prepared to take him on. “I just explained that. I’ll admit I didn’t make much of an effort when I came back the first time, but the whole naked-in-bed-with-Pia was more than I could handle. I came back a second time.”

“Stop.” He glared at her, anger growing. “You’re lying.”

“I told you-I still have the letter. I can have my assistant send it overnight. It will be here day after tomorrow.”

He knew there wasn’t a letter, mostly because he’d never written one.

He turned and walked back to the gate, before facing the house again. Liz stood silhouetted in the glare of the porch light. He’d been so damned happy to see her. He’d wanted to come talk to her. Now this.

“How the hell can you stand there and tell me I have an eleven-year-old son I’ve never known about?” He stalked toward her, fury growing. “You didn’t bother to tell me that you were pregnant? What gives you the right?” He swore.

“I did try to tell you,” she countered. “You were too busy screwing Pia.”

He grabbed her arm. “I don’t care if I was burning down the entire town. You were pregnant with my child, and I had the right to know.”

She jerked free. He let her, mostly because of how he’d been raised. It was the right thing to do.

“I cared,” she snapped. “I cared a lot. You were supposed to love me. You convinced me it was safe to love you back. You took my virginity, then let someone call me a whore in front of all your friends.”

“None of that matters.”

“Of course it matters. It speaks to who you are as a person. It’s the reason I didn’t try very hard.”

The unfairness of the accusation burned. “I was a kid,” he growled.

“So was I. Eighteen, alone and pregnant. If you expect a break, then I get one, too.”

“No. It’s not the same. He’s my child. You deliberately kept us apart for years.”

Liz drew in a breath and nodded slowly. “I know. That’s why I came back to tell you five years ago.”

He didn’t believe the bullshit story about talking to Rayanne. He didn’t care about anything except he had a son.

He pushed past her and headed for the door. “I want to see him.”

“No!” Liz grabbed his arm and held on with both hands. “Ethan, wait. Not like this. You can’t just walk in there and blurt it all out. He’s only eleven. You’ll scare him.”

He could have kept walking. She didn’t have the physical strength to stop him, but as her words filtered through the haze of anger and resentment, he recognized that something-or someone-was more important than both of them.


He stopped.

She released him, then came around so they were facing each other again. “I’m shocked, too. And sorry about all of this. I swear I thought you knew.”

“I want to meet him.”

“I agree. But we need a plan. He has to be prepared.”

He narrowed his gaze. “You lost your right to decide what happens the day you chose to keep him from me.”

She raised her chin. “That’s where you’re wrong. This isn’t a game. We’re talking about a child’s life. As for rights, I’m his mother and you’re not on his birth certificate.”

He’d never wanted to hit a woman before. Never wanted to punish one. Intense rage grew until it nearly overwhelmed him.

“I’m not saying I don’t want you to have a relationship with him,” she continued. “I do. That’s why I came back before. Of course I want that. I’m pissed, too. You said you loved me and yet you never bothered to look for me when I ran away. Based on what I saw with Pia, did you even miss me at all?”

“What does that matter?” He swore again, then took a step back. “You stole eleven years from me, Liz. Stole time and memories I can never get back. Do you really think hurt feelings from high school come close to measuring up to that?”

“I’ll accept responsibility for the first few years,” she told him. “But not the last five. Why do you refuse to believe me? I was here. I spoke to Rayanne. I’ll show you the letter as soon as it gets here. In the meantime, go talk to your wife.”

He stared at her. Of course. She wouldn’t know. “Rayanne is dead.”

Her eyes widened. “Oh, God. I’m sorry.”

He glanced up at the house, wanting nothing more than to break in and take what was his. He might loathe Liz with every part of him, but she was right about one thing-Tyler was the only one who mattered in this situation. Bursting in and grabbing him would only terrify the kid. Ethan wanted a better start than that.

Not that he should have to worry about that, he thought grimly. If he’d known about Tyler, he would have been there from the beginning. Been a father.

“I’ll be by tomorrow after work,” he said quietly. “I want to meet him then.” He met her gaze. “No excuses.”

She nodded. “I’ll tell him tomorrow, prepare him.”

“Going to make me an asshole?”

“Of course not.”

“What have you told him before now?”

“Nothing. I wouldn’t lie to him. I told him there were things I wouldn’t talk about. He doesn’t always like that answer, but he accepts it.”

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