The Consequence of His Vengeance - Page 70

She’d asked Mrs. Pollifax to make all her father’s holiday favorites, ham, plum pudding, potatoes, in hopes of tempting him to eat more than his usual scant bites. They’d even brought the dining table into the great hall, beside the big stone fireplace, so they could have dinner beneath the enormous Christmas tree.

Letty wanted this Christmas to be perfect. Because she knew it would be her father’s last. The doctor had said yesterday that Howard’s body was failing rapidly. It would likely be only days now.

Her heart twisted with grief. Her only comfort was that she’d tried her best to make his last few weeks special.

A lump rose in Letty’s throat as she looked up at the two-story-high tree, decorated with sparkling lights and a mix of ornaments, old and new. Some of them Letty had treasured since childhood. And now they were back here, where they belonged. Funny to think she had Darius to thank for that. If he hadn’t found her in Brooklyn and stopped her from taking that desperate bus ride out of the city, the ornaments would have been long lost to a junk dealer or the landfill.

Without him, she wouldn’t be here now. Her father couldn’t have come to Fairholme for his last Christmas, nor would her baby be here for his first one. It was because of Darius. dpg

She missed him. No matter how much she denied it. No matter how she tried not to.

Every time some thoughtful gift had arrived at the house, she’d pictured how her father had looked in the hospital, so pale and alone. She’d remembered how Darius had taken her love for granted, and selfishly lied. She’d told herself she was done loving someone who could never love her back.

But as the gifts tapered off, and the phone calls stopped, and the letters stopped arriving in the mail, she hadn’t felt triumphant. At all.

“I hate him,” she said aloud. “I never want to see him again.” She wasn’t sure she sounded convincing, even to her own ears. So turning to her son, she held out one of the homemade ornaments. “Look!”

“Gah,” the baby replied, waving his little hands unsteadily.

“You’re so smart!” She let him feel the soft fabric of the dove against his cheek, then put it back on the tree before he tried to eat it. “Your grandma Constance made that,” she said softly. “I just wish she could have met you.”

Her six-week-old baby smiled back, Letty would swear he did, even though her father continued to rather annoyingly claim it was only gas. Letty knew her own baby, didn’t she?

Even though Darius didn’t.

The thought caused an unpleasant jolt. She’d thought she was doing the right thing to exclude him. She couldn’t allow such a heartless man near her baby. Even if he was the father.

But Darius hadn’t even laid eyes on their baby, or held him, or heard the sweet gurgle of his voice or his angry cry when he wasn’t fed fast enough. Darius had already missed so much. Six weeks of sleepless nights, of exhaustion and confusion.

But also six weeks of getting to know this brand-new little person. From the moment her son had been placed in her arms at the hospital, Letty had felt her heart expand in a way she’d never known before.

Darius didn’t know that feeling. He didn’t know his son at all. Because of her actions.

Two weeks ago, her baby had been irritable and sleepless at midnight, so she’d wrapped him in a warm blanket and put him in the stroller to walk him up and down the long driveway, behind the gate. Then she’d seen a dark sports car driving slowly by.

Darius! She’d practically run to the gate, panting as she pushed the stroller ahead of her. But by the time she reached the gate, the car was long gone. For long moments she stared through the bars of the gate, looking bleakly down the dark, empty road, hearing only the waves crashing down on the shore. And she’d realized for the first time how empty the house felt without him, even with her father and her baby and all the household staff. She missed him.

No. I don’t, she told herself desperately. And if she hadn’t filed for divorce yet or hired an attorney, that was only because she just hadn’t had the time. Taking care of a newborn, caring for her father and decorating for Christmas would be enough to keep anyone busy, wouldn’t it?

Letty’s lips twisted downward. She’d said things that would never be forgiven. She’d made her choice clear. She’d used his every olive branch as a stick to stab him with.

That car probably hadn’t even been his. He’d probably moved on entirely, and if she ever heard from him again, it would be only via his lawyer, demanding custody. She stiffened at the thought.

Carrying her baby up to the nursery, she fed him, rocking him for nearly an hour in the glider until he slept and she was nearly asleep herself. She smiled down at his sweet little face. His cheeks were already growing chubby. Tucking him gently in his crib for his late afternoon nap, she turned on the baby monitor and crept out of the darkened nursery.

She closed the door softly behind her. Light from the leaded glass windows reflected against the glossy hardwood floors and oak paneling of the second-floor hallway, resting with a soft haze on an old framed family photo on the wall. She looked at her own chubby face when she’d been just a toddler with two parents beaming behind her.

Trying to ignore the ache in her throat, Letty started to turn toward the stairs. Then she heard low male voices coming from down the hall.

Her father’s bedroom was the nicest and biggest, the room he’d once shared with her mother, with a view of the sea. He rarely got up from his bed anymore, except when Letty managed to cajole him into his wheelchair and take him down in the elevator for a stroll around the winter garden, or to sit in a comfortable spot near the fire, beneath the Christmas tree, as the baby lay nearby.

But the male voice Letty heard talking to her father didn’t sound like Paul, his nurse. Who was it? Frowning, she drew closer.

“Yes,” she heard her father say, his voice a little slurred. “Always a good kid.”

“I can’t believe you’re saying that, after everything.”

Hearing the visitor’s voice, low and clear, Letty’s knees went weak outside her father’s door. What was Darius doing here? How had he gotten into Fairholme?

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