Copyright © Grace Harper 2021
The right of Grace Harper to be identified as the author of this book has been asserted by the Copyrights, Designs and Patents Act 1988. Copying of this manuscript, in whole or in part, without the author and her publisher’s written permission, is strictly prohibited. All rights reserved
I cursed in my head, hoping like fuck I didn’t drop dead from a heart attack in the Red & Black mansion. I didn’t need to give the Red & Black owners anything else to add to their list of reasons to hate me.
Taking a long, dry swallow, I looked at my ex-wife standing in front of me.
Head to toe, she was phenomenal. Georgina Saunders always was perfectly put together, right from the moment we met twenty years ago. I couldn’t imagine she kept my name after the divorce, but she would forever be Gina Saunders to me.
Once upon a time.
Gina pierced me with a stare from her blue eyes. Her makeup was perfectly understated. An arched eyebrow waiting for me to speak. If I wasn’t mistaken, she was fighting back a smirk. Something she used to do often when she was trying to win an argument to derail my anger.
I glanced at Amery. Clearly her mother’s daughter in every way. I searched her features to see what she’d inherited from me. A shallow thought, but I needed her to have gotten the best of me.
“Can we stay?” Tara asked from the other end of the room.
“No,” I said.
I must’ve shouted as Gina jumped at the sound of my voice.
“Come on, Tara, let’s go next door. Seb and Alex, can you carry some of these boxes for me?” Erin said.
Both the men nodded. Erin had declared that she’d never want to be friends with me. It didn’t stop me from sending half a dozen boxes of her favourite sweets to her office. It made me stupidly happy she’d accepted the delivery and tucked in.
“Later, Quinn,” she called out in a sing-song voice. “Gina, don’t forget about our lunch date tomorrow. Tara’s coming,” Erin added at the end.
Gina’s eyes never left my face. “Sure, see you at the restaurant at midday,” Gina said.
As soon as the door closed, Amery came to the sofa and sat next to me. She turned to face me, her right leg half resting on the seat of the red leather sofa.
“I’m so glad we get to meet. I’ve been waiting so long for this day,” Amery said.
My head turned to her slowly, scared to break my connection to Gina in case she made a run for it.
I gazed at my daughter. Close up, I could she had my eyes and my confidence by the sounds of it.
“How long have you been waiting, kid?” I asked, giving my daughter my full attention.
Mirroring her pose, I faced her head-on. Gina hadn’t moved. Grateful she was staying, I relaxed.
“Forever. As soon as I was aware, my dad was out there,” Amery replied with a warm smile.
“How long, Amery?” I repeated my question.
“Since I was like, five, maybe six,” she said.
Her casual demeanour was the extreme opposite of what I was feeling. I needed to murder something, or burst into tears, or something in between. I had so many emotions running through my body that I didn’t know what to say or do.
How the fuck did I father a child, and I didn’t know? Was I such an arsehole Gina would keep her from me? The answer to my unspoken question was sitting in front of me, looking like she’d known me all her life.
Amery was beautiful, wearing minimal make-up. Her long auburn hair was flecked with silver highlights. She’d left it loose with most of her hair falling down her back. Slim with a prominent collarbone. Amery appeared healthy, strong, and capable of kicking someone’s arse if needed. Around her throat were half a dozen silver necklaces, some plain and some with pendants. Pale blue jeans with a rip at the thigh, chunky black boots, and a plum zip-up hoodie.
If she was anyone else than my daughter, I would turn her into the next Miley Cyrus. But she was mine, and I wouldn’t turn her into anything she didn’t want to become.
I turned to face Amery fully, rested my hand on her shoulder and looked her square in the face. “I’m over the fucking moon to meet you, Amery,” I said, almost choking on a sob lodged in my throat.
Amery surged forward and threw her arms around my neck, and hung on. My arms automatically went to her back, squeezing her tight. She hugged on for a few minutes, sniffing quietly, and then broke the embrace. Her eyes were shining while giving me a broad grin.
“I want to get to know you, Dad,” she said, clutching my forearm. She’d sat back down on the sofa, facing her mother while she spoke. “We have eighteen years to catch up on.”
That’s when Gina scoffed and broke her straight-backed posture. She turned and walked to the armchair across the room. I was fixated on her arse, in a tight plum pencil skirt with no visible zip to pull down. With a matching plum-coloured satin blouse, she was sensationally put together for this meeting. Very high heels, with a pencil-thin heel and an open toe. When Gina sat in the armchair, she crossed her legs at the knee and stowed away her clutch bag against her thigh.
Slowly drumming her fingers on the armchair, she looked from me to Amery.
“I’m sure your father is too busy for a catch-up,” she said.
Gina had settled in, which was contrary to what she was saying.
I looked down at Amery, who had moved to sit as close as she could to my side.
“Kid, you can have every minute of every day,” I declared.
I got a beaming smile in reply from Amery.
“See, I told you he’d be cool about finding out about me,” Amery told her mother.
I earned a wary look from Gina, who seemed surprised I was behaving this way.
“I am, just a shame it took eighteen years,” I said to Amery and then gave a pointed look to Gina.
“Mum was looking out for me. I get why she wanted to protect me, but we had a deal. As soon as I was eighteen, I was allowed to contact you. I know I could’ve reached out before, but I love and respect mum to do this officially and not blindside her.”
Gina looked on with pride as her daughter spoke. I thought it was ridiculous she forbade her daughter to contact me.
“She doesn’t like surprises,” Amery whispered, loud enough for us all to hear.
That part was true. Gina didn’t like surprises two decades ago. Seemed she hadn’t shaken that preference.
The door opened a few inches, and Erin’s head popped around with her fingers curled around where the door handle was.
“Everyone still alive?” she asked, grinning widely. She looked at all three of us in turn. “Yep, all still breathing,” she called to someone over her shoulder. “I thought I’d steal Amery for a bit. We need a young person’s perspective. We’re too old and married for this particular task.”
I knew she was bullshitting us. She didn’t need Amery. Erin Devlin was an eternal optimist, despite the tragedy that entered her life regularly. She was a peacemaker, and I’d buy her all the midget gems in the world if she wanted them.
Amery wasted no time kissing me on the cheek, then strode to her mother with the same grace as Gina had used earlier and hugged her in the chair.
“Be nice,” Amery said.
Erin held out her hand for Amery to clasp, pulled her out of the room, and closed the door.
“Gina,” I said.
“Quinn,” she said at the same time.
I moved to where she was sitting, crouched in front of her, and rested my hands on the arms of the high-backed chair. I wanted to touch her, but even I knew that was way too soon. Still curious about where her zip was, I focused on more pressing questions.
“We have a daughter?” I asked the obvious question first.
“Yes, I have a daughter,” she answered with an ounce of bitterness.
She withheld Amery from me. Why was she pissed off about having a daughter without me? So many fucking questions I wanted my ex-wife to answer.
“And she’s mine?” I probed.
“Of course, Amery is yours. It’s all over her face. Every time I look in her eyes.” Gina was acerbic in her reply.
I wanted to rub my sternum to get rid of the heartburn.
“Then she’s our daughter and not your daughter. Not anymore. Fuck knows why you never told me,” I said, holding up a hand to halt her reply.
I knew the answer would hurt, and I’d had enough to deal with.
“I know now, Gina, and I’m going to be a part of Amery’s life. Every minute she’ll give me. You can either be there as well, or you can leave us to it. I prefer the former, but it’s your decision. But know this, I am going to be a father to Amery.”
Resigned but not defeated by my vow, she sighed and sank back into the chair to get an inch of distance from me. When I stood, Gina’s eyes followed mine. A flash of familiarity came over her face, and I knew what she was thinking.
It was my favourite position too.
Gina further confirmed what she was thinking by blushing.
She may hate me, but she was still attracted to me.
I could work with that.
Taking my phone out of my pocket, I stared at the hundreds of message alerts on the app icons and ignored them all. I brought up the screen to add a new contact and tapped Gina’s name in the first name section.
“What shall I put as your second name on my phone?” I asked, looking back down at her.
My knees almost touched her bare legs. Gina shifted in her seat at my loaded question. I wanted to drop to my knees, lift her feet out of her shoes, then stroke my hands up her smooth legs under the skirt.
“Lawson,” she answered.
I gave her a knowing nod. “You didn’t marry again but went back to your maiden name,” I commented with a nod.
“How many conclusions have you jumped to?” she asked, dropping her head back to the seat.
“Probably twelve. You’ll need to iron them out. How about dinner tonight?”
I tapped in her surname while she huffed. I waited for her to give me her number. It was obvious what I was doing, but she was busy popping the catch on her handbag.
“Am I allowed your number?” I prompted.
“I’ll need to get it from my phone, it’s a new number. I can’t be bothered to learn another new one.”
Another interesting comment to be stored, along with the other fifty gathering in the back of my mind. Why was Gina getting new numbers?
“It’ll be quicker for me to call you. What’s your number?” Gina said.
“I thought you’d never ask,” I answered with a mischievous smile.
I earned a roll of the eyes for that remark. It was going to be fun sparring with Gina again. My phone rang in my hand as soon as I rattled off my number and stored it under her name.
Her maiden name. Why did my heart beat a little faster at that piece of information?
“I need to find Amery and get home. No to dinner tonight. Rain check. I’ll let you know when I’m free,” she said, standing.
I didn’t step back, which meant we were inches apart. If Gina breathed out just a little, her breasts would brush against my chest. Her perfume was heady and rich, far different from the one she used when we were married. I wanted to bury my face against her neck, wrap my arms around her, and stay there.
Our daughter was tactile.
Gina used to be tactile.
Did she feel our connection after all these years?
Gina held my stare, concentrating on holding her breath, until I backed up and let her out from the confines of the chair behind her.
“I’ll see you soon, Gina,” I said, watching her leave Tara’s office.
The door closed with a soft click. I let my head drop back to look at the ceiling, my arms hanging loose at my sides. What a fucking morning.
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