I needed to calm down.
I needed to be like ice, so I went where I was always pristine and put together in my mind.
I was on the stage with the crowd sitting behind the spotlights.
It was me, the music, and my body.
Everything and everyone was pushed out.
I was bending. I was soaring, dipping, twisting, and I was rounding out on a perfect arabesque. And all the while, it was only the music and me.
It was working.
I went through an entire dance routine in my head before the waiter came back with our drinks.
Two shots were placed in front of me.
I immediately took both.
His eyes lit up, and he leaned back in his booth.
Waiting me out.
My eyes met his. It was the first time I was looking at him straight on since we slid into the booth. Well, it was the first time I was looking right at him since I walked into the bar, and simply put, he took my breath away.
Now he was seeing me better, and some of the amusement faltered.
He frowned, just a slight bit.
He was cluing in. This wasn’t a social call where he was going to get laid. That was what he’d been thinking. I wasn’t another of those girls who were still here. They hadn’t moved on. They were at his vacated table, and they were whispering, watching us. They were holding on, still waiting for him.
They lived in that world, his world. Not my world.
All the more reason to get done with what I came here to do.
Time to rip off the Band-Aid.
“You had a relationship with Valerie Robertson?”
His lips thinned. “Yes.”
Time to tell him the first part.
I leaned forward, slamming a protective wall around me because this was going to hurt both of us.
And I told him.
“Valerie was my half-sister. She’s dead.”
Her words were a gut punch. I felt the blow.
I sucked in my breath instead, feeling the sting and pain slice through me.
I’d just been thinking about her.
I was reaching for my bourbon, needing the burn, when I heard the rest from her.
The rest that I wasn’t at all prepared to hear.
“She also had a daughter, who’s yours.” A piece of paper was laid out on the table, and she slid it over to me. “This is her birth certificate.” She pointed at a line. “As you can see, Valerie named you as your daughter’s father. Valerie left me part guardianship. We had you investigated, and Carl reported that you didn’t seem to be living a lifestyle where you would want to be tied down with a child. Because of that”—she slid another piece of paper to me—“I’d like you to sign over your parental rights, and we can all continue with our lives after this.”
It happened in slow motion.
She had a daughter…
I heard her. I saw her lips moving, but there was a pulse in the air. A beat. I heard it. I felt it.
The world was falling away, lessening, and it was me hearing a break in my life.
It was a crack.
I felt everything shift.
The left turned to right. The right, left.
I was spinning on an axis. Round and round.
Everything stopped. Paused.
Everything was frozen in motion. Because now the words she was saying were real.
From in my chest.
All were my heartbeats, but they all felt different. From different parts of my body. I felt them all.
I slapped a hand over that paper.
Valerie was dead.
That was sad. Regretful.
But there’d been a nagging. I didn’t know. How could I have?
But the nagging.
It kept at me. Over and over again.
I let it go.
I didn’t love Valerie.
There’d been a reason I hadn’t fought for her.
But… She had a daughter. She’s yours.
The world had been small to me before. On that beat, on those words, the world got real fucking big.
Colors changed. Deepened. Now I could see the colors in the colors when I hadn’t been able to before.
Everything was different now, and when I took another breath, I leaned forward, and snarled, “What’s her name?”
“Excuse me?” Her face was a blank mask.
Fuck that blank mask.
I leaned forward and gritted out, “What’s her goddamn name?”
She blinked. “Nova.”
“How old is she?”
A second blink. Her mask didn’t slip. “She’s eighteen months.”
I did the math, and fuck. Fuuuck. Valerie was pregnant the last time I saw her.
She was pregnant and… was that why it was my last time to see her?
No. I—fuck. I didn’t know what to think here.
“She got married.”
A twitch now from her.
Her mask slipped. I saw the instant loathing there, and it was strong. A brief blip and her mask was back. “He’s not her father. He’s not in the picture at all.”
“How do you know?”
She sat up straighter, though I didn’t think she could get straighter. Her eyes flashed from indignation as though I’d insulted her. “Because he has no rights to Nova. There’s an existing restraining order against him for Nova. And Valerie wouldn’t lie about that.”
I pointed at the birth certificate. “Yet she did for eighteen fucking months.”
Also, restraining order? Who was this guy, and why would Valerie’s kid need one against him?
She winced, saying softly, “Thirteen months.”
Her eyes were on the birth certificate. “Thirteen months. She’s been dead for six months.”
I felt punched all over again.
I’d forgotten in the brief time she told me about ‘my daughter.’
“Nova Nathaniel Robertson. She named her after you.”
It was another blow.
Not my last name.
But she had named her after me?
Right. I needed to get some answers before I did anything else. I locked everything down.
“Where is she?”
“She’s with my father right now. Her grandfather.” She looked down at her lap.