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“You are not thinking clearly—”

“I called Carl.”

He stopped.

I didn’t want to play this card, but he was giving me no choice.

So I played it. “You never paid back that loan.”


“To the mafia family in Canada? The loan you took out from them for your casino? You cheated them.” I held up my phone. “Carl sent me the proof.”

If he could’ve killed me, he would’ve. Right then and there.

His hands jerked up, but then he froze.

Those hands stayed up, and they curled forward as if he were imagining it was my neck he was squeezing. His nostrils flared as if he were enjoying that he was pretending to kill me.

“You ungrateful bitch.”

“Drop everything you’re planning against Nate and me, or I’ll send this proof to those people.” I wasn’t bluffing when I told him this, but I was about to bluff what I was going to do next. “Nate knows people who can get in contact with them. It would not be hard to do it, and Carl told me their reputation. They’re not as bloodthirsty as most mobs, but if you fuck them over, you are annihilated. Simply put. Seeing that the proof is coming from your own daughter, I don’t imagine they’d want to reach out to enact their revenge on the blood that’s turning you in. Though I could be wrong. If I am, then I am. So be it because I am more than willing to die to save Nova from you.”

He stared at me, long and hard.

It was a full-on glare.

Hatred and the promise of violence lurked in his gaze, but I held firm. My dancing façade was firmly in place, but also the mere fact I was Nova’s mother and God help those who try to hurt a mother’s child.

I’m right here, sister. I’m not leaving you.

I felt another tear slip past and fall down my cheek. I let it go. That was a good tear because I felt my sister there with me, and I felt her support, and I now fully believed in the afterlife.

I love you, Valerie.

I love you, too, Q.

I almost smiled, hearing her use Nate’s nickname, but then my attention flew back to Duke.

“He will never love you.”

My knees almost gave out from relief because that was his capitulation. He was giving in. He would just spew as much hate and hurt before he did, though.

My throat closed up. I was used to his hurtful words. Those weren’t the ones that would disarm me.

“You don’t think I know that?”

He frowned, his eyebrows pulling in. He cocked his head to the side as if unsure how to take that from me.

“I know he’ll never love me. I’m not her, but Dad, I don’t care. I have enough of you in me to be selfish with him for Nova. Nate doesn’t love me. He’s told me this. He’s never lied to me, but I’ll love him. I’ll love him for as long as he’ll have me. And when the time comes that he finds the one he does love, I’ll step aside so he can be with her. We’ll figure it out. Nate is a good man. I’m Nova’s mother now, the one on earth for her, and he won’t take that away from Nova. He’ll do what’s best for her. He’s everything you aren’t and thank God for that.” Another tear fell. “Thank God that I’ll know what it feels like to love someone who’s like him, who’s nothing like you, because I’ll be better for it.”

His eyes were so cold.

It hit me that he wasn’t questioning the proof I had or the ability I had to go through with my threat. I almost laughed at that, because in that sense, he wasn’t dumb. He knew I’d do it, no matter if it meant my death with his.

“You’re out of my will.”

“Totally okay with that.”

“You’ll cease to exist to me.”

“That’s how I want it.”

He mashed his lips together. I could see him grinding his teeth, but he had nothing else to say. He turned and left, and I reached for the bed. My knees were giving out. I caught myself and had to throw myself half on the bed. One leg got in, and then I was okay.

I wasn’t falling anymore.

“You don’t think I love you?”

I looked up, freezing once again.

Nate stood there, a stricken look tightening his face.

I couldn’t answer. I could say it freely to Duke, but to say it to Nate? Say it to the one who did have the power to shatter me with mere words?

I was back to trembling, but it was my whole body this time. I had nothing more in me to pull myself together. The dance armor was gone. I’d used up all my strength.

“Answer me.” His jaw clenched. “You don’t think I love you?”

“You told me you didn’t.”

His eyes were blazing, but I couldn’t name the emotion.

I didn’t think I dared. I didn’t think my heart could take it.

“That was early on. Did you ever think that I could’ve fallen in love with you since then?”

The question didn’t make sense to me.

Maybe a normal person, yes, but… I shook my head. “People don’t love me, not unless they have to.”

“Are you kidding me?” he hissed out. His nostrils flared.

“My family doesn’t have a choice, but anyone else… they have a choice. Why would you choose me?”

He growled, showing me his teeth, and I jerked back.

“You’re fucking beautiful. You’re an amazing mother to Nova. Why the hell don’t you see what I see? From where I’m standing, the question is why wouldn’t I?”

But he swept out after that, and I was left…

Confused. I didn’t know what that meant because it couldn’t mean what…

No. It couldn’t.

“…They don’t love you.”

I was just left, feeling suddenly empty, like I lost something I didn’t know I had.



Nate was withdrawn to me for a few days.

His friends were kind, but they felt the distance, and one by one, they began leaving. I knew they didn’t leave because of it. If anything, I think they stayed longer because of that. They weren’t the sort of friends who shied away from real situations, real feelings.

They were the kind that when the tough got going, they just got tighter.

They doted on Nova, but she was taken the most by Taylor and Mason. If either of them were in the room, Nova ran to their side. Taylor would crawl on the floor with her, tickling her. Mason would pick her up and pretend to fly her around the house. The giggles were nonstop. As for my own friends, Matthew and Ricci visited.

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