Russian Billionaire's Secret BabyBy: Lia Lee
Paul was on his way out the door before I called his name. He turned to face me, carefully refusing to meet my stare. “Don’t tell her who I am,” I said, the words tearing up my throat. She wouldn’t come if she knew it was me.
Paul nodded and closed the door behind him.
I walked back over to the painting and picked it up, ready to put it where it belonged in the center of my life. Staring at it once more, she took over my mind.
A soft smile curved the corners of her lips as I kissed her again. The moonlight lit up her hair, and the few candles still flickering clung to life even as the danger of burning out lingered. Her smile filled with pain as my words sank in.
Overhead, the rain drummed softly on the glass roof and streamed down the panes. She loved the sound of the rain and the smell of it, so we’d left the door open.
“Do you want me to quit school for you?” she whispered, her sparkling green eyes darting back and forth between mine.
That’s exactly what I wanted.
“Is that what you’re asking me to do?” Somehow, she was dry eyed, still focused on me like we were the only two people in the world. And for months, we had been.
Was that what I was asking her?
Hanging the painting like a centerpiece, I stepped back and studied it.
Would I have given everything up for her? My art, my sculpting, my school? Hell no.
Was I a selfish bastard that had demanded she give up her art for me?
“Are you excited for the job interview, Mom?” My eight-year-old daughter, Ashley, asked from the table as she delicately nibbled another bite of her pumpkin oatmeal. With the fall bite in the air, we’d been cozier with warm foods to heat the soul.
“I am.” That was an understatement.
When I’d found out the gallery I currently curate for was closing, I’d been stuck in a mad scramble for a new job. After all, I had a daughter to provide for.
I picked up her painting from where she’d put it on the island. The bold colors inspired a faster heartbeat, and I soaked it all in.
“Relax your eyes!” she said.
I did so, and a sudden new plane opened up the painting. The abstract colors rearranged into shimmering water reflecting streetlights in blue and amber as well as billions of stars in a not quite night sky. It was beautiful enough to bring tears to my eyes.
“This is beautiful,” I said, my voice breathy. I didn’t know how she did these almost, not quite 3D paintings with nothing but talent.
“Thank you.” Ashley sounded proud. “I’m scared.”
I turned to her, lowering the painting and leaning on the counter as she took another bite of food while seated at the breakfast bar. “Scared? Why, honey?”
She peeked up at me, then shrugged, shoving her food around her bowl with her spoon.
“Is this about the exhibition?” I asked. Her school was putting on a kind of talent show for the artistic kids to show off their various skills. It had been a no brainer to put some of her work up for display. I wouldn’t be surprised if she managed to land an agent at it.
She didn’t respond, and I walked over and wrapped my arms around her. Settling onto the stool next to her, I held onto her as she leaned into me.
“Did my dad like to paint?” she asked, her blue eyes meeting mine.
A fist wrapped around my heart and squeezed it into pulp. My throat closed around a cactus-like lump that ached as I struggled to find an answer. These questions had been coming more and more frequently…and I wasn’t ready. I didn’t have answers for her.
“He did,” I whispered, holding her tighter. “Now let’s get you ready for school.”
As if she sensed I was done talking about it, she popped the last bite of oatmeal into her mouth as I stood up and grabbed my purse and keys. “Don’t forget your jacket,” I told her as she put her bowl in the sink.
While she was grabbing her jacket, I took a minute and blinked back tears, refusing to remember the man who’d left me with a wound so deep it had never really healed.
I had Ashley. She was the only thing that mattered. Nothing else was important.
Forcing the thoughts away, I felt a flutter in my belly as I thought about my job interview.
“Ready,” Ashley said solemnly as she walked into the kitchen, jacket on, before turning toward the front door.