He didn’t love her. To him, she was interchangeable. Any woman would do. Any child. All he needed was window dressing for his revenge.
Fury and despair coursed through her, and without thinking, she grabbed the giraffe decoration and ripped it half off the wall with a cry. Then she saw what she’d done, and she collapsed into sobs, covering her face with her hands as she fell on her knees to the brightly colored rug.
All a lie. All something she’d done to convince herself that Kassius could change.
He couldn’t. He didn’t even want to.
Kassius was destroying his own soul, and she was helpless to save him.
She cried herself to sleep. At dawn—sunrise came early in late August—she found Kassius’s side of the bed hadn’t been slept in. Hadn’t he come home last night? She crept downstairs and saw his laptop bag outside his home office. She peeked in the open door and saw him sleeping fitfully on the black leather sofa. She exhaled.
She was starting to push open the door to talk to him, then stopped. What was the point? He was so lost in his childhood grief and rage that he’d spent a lifetime planning his revenge. He didn’t see how destructive it was. Whether or not Boris Kuznetsov deserved punishment for what he’d done so long ago, Laney felt with all her heart that her own baby deserved a father who knew how to love. How to forgive.
But Kassius was so lost in his anger, telling him that was a waste of time.
Laney’s eyes suddenly narrowed.
If only she could just get the two men to talk, face-to-face. That was the answer—it was always the answer. Maybe the problems wouldn’t be solved, but it had to be more satisfying than all this sneaking around, grudge holding, revenge. They had to talk and get this in the open.
She recalled the stark look in Kassius’s dark eyes as he’d said, I will never see you again. Neither you nor the baby. For a moment, fear gripped her.
She looked down at her belly, putting her hand protectively over her baby. She was only three and a half weeks from her due date. She thought of the risk she would take, trembling between love and fear.
But her life had taught her to choose love. Wasn’t that worth the risk? She had to try to save him as she hadn’t been able to save her mother. She was the only one who could. She told herself that his words had been spoken in anger, to try to control her actions. Kassius was too good a man to actually desert her, and especially not their baby.
As Mrs. Beresford—who had volunteered to come here from London to look after them—made breakfast, Laney took a long shower and then got dressed in a simple cotton sundress and sandals. As she ate scrambled eggs, croissants and fruit at the dining table, her stomach fluttered with nerves as she looked up Boris Kuznetsov’s address.
By late morning, when Kassius still hadn’t left his home office to talk to her, she realized he was probably on the phone wrapping up the final loan right now and preparing with his accountants and attorneys to move in for the kill. It was now or never. She made her decision.
Going down to the garage, she discovered Benito conversing with the driver as he waxed the limo. They both snapped to attention when they saw her.
“Do you need me to drive you somewhere, madame?” he asked respectfully. She backed away.
“Um, no...” She saw the key to the sports car hanging in the open wall safe and snatched it up. “I’m just running a quick errand.”
“Monsieur Black prefers that I drive you...”
There was no way she was going to risk him finding out where she was going. Not before this silly business was settled and smoothed over. “Thank you, but it’s not necessary,” she stammered. “It’s just a little thing, and I want to surprise my husband.”
She thought of how surprised he’d be. But first, she had to get into the sports car. With her big belly, the low-slung seat was a tight squeeze, and very low to the ground. Once in, she wondered if she’d ever be able to get out again.
“All right, madame?”
“Absolutely.” Swallowing, trying not to be nervous, Laney started the engine, automatically turning the air-conditioning on full blast. Even with the coast’s cooling sea breezes, August in Monaco felt uncomfortably hot to her at her advanced state of pregnancy. She’d gained thirty pounds, plus the growing baby felt like her own personal furnace. The blast of cool air was welcome as she also rolled down the windows and drove the tight, curvy coastal road west, over the border into France.
Her hands were shaking as a half hour later, she turned onto Cap Ferrat, the famously beautiful green peninsula jutting out into the shining blue Mediterranean, one of the most expensive residential areas in the world. It was filled with gated villas owned by famous people, from tech billionaires to rock royalty. She passed a few guarded gates before she reached the right one. She stopped at the gatehouse.
“Madame?” the guard said respectfully.
Laney licked her lips awkwardly. “I’d like to see Mr. Kuznetsov,” she blurted out. “He’s not expecting me. Please tell me that I’m the wife of Kassius Black, and I bring news of his son.”
The guard turned back into his guardhouse, and made a quick call. He returned looking stern. “He says he has no son, madame.”
“I’m speaking of the son he abandoned in Istanbul.”
The guard spoke quietly again, and when he turned back to face her, his expression was wide-eyed. “You’re to go in at once, if you please.”
Laney drove through the gate, passing overgrown gardens before entering a courtyard. Behind the big stone fountain was the entryway to the villa, which was big, pink and gaudy, with an amazing view of the sea behind it.
She parked the black sports car in the courtyard, next to a shiny red convertible with a Monaco license plate. She turned off the engine. The flowering trees and brilliant bougainvillea were a riot of color, but she noticed the garden seemed strangely overgrown, almost entirely wild, as if no gardeners had touched it for months.
She was doing the right thing, wasn’t she? Laney’s hands tightened on the steering wheel as she took a deep breath. Right or wrong, it was too late to turn back. She had to take courage for what lay ahead.
She felt ungainly as an elephant climbing out of the low-slung sports car. Especially when she saw the slender, well-dressed blonde who’d just come out of the mansion. Her lips parted in shock.
It was Mimi du Plessis, her old boss, the American-born Comtesse de Fourcil.
When she saw Laney, her red lips curled.
“If it isn’t my former employee. Now the glamorous Madame Black.” Coming closer, Mimi looked her over contemptuously. “You really think you’ve won it all, don’t you, Laney? You think he will love you. He won’t. You’re nothing but a broodmare.” She patted the glossy red convertible. “Do you like it?” She smiled viciously. “Your husband had it delivered for me this morning.”
That explained the midnight call Kassius hadn’t wanted to explain. Laney blessed her investigator. Otherwise, she’d have believed her husband to be unfaithful and been devastated. As it was, she lifted her chin defiantly.
“I know all about it,” Laney said. She tilted her head as she faced her old boss. “So what was he paying you for this time? Was it the final payoff for facilitating his very last loan to your boss?”
Mimi looked disappointed. Tossing her blond mane, she said spitefully, “Much good it will do him now. I brought all the paperwork for the loan, but Mr. Kuznetsov was suspicious about why anyone would lend him money now, when his company is bankrupt, or why I would choose to help him when he’s had to let all his employees go. The game is up. Nothing left for me now but to find some wrinkled old rich man to marry.” She sighed. “But I told him what he wanted to know. All the loans he’s taken over the last two years have secretly been from the same man—Kassius Black.” Her smile widened. “So all the gifts your husband gave me were for nothing. He’s still busted.”
Laney stared at her old boss, this beautiful, empty woman, divorced four times, who cared about nothing and no one. “I feel sorry for you,” she said quietly.
Mimi’s eyes blazed, then she gave a brittle laugh. “Sorry for me? Don’t be ridiculous. Everyone wants to be me.”
Climbing into her gorgeous red convertible, the comtesse adjusted the mirrors and drove away from the pink villa with a squeal of tires and a cloud of dust that left Laney coughing.
Looking up, she saw an older man, trim and well dressed, with salt-and-pepper hair, waiting anxiously by the front door. Recognizing him, she came toward him, smiling, and extended her hand. “Thank you for seeing me.”
He shook her hand, then motioned for her to follow him inside.
Laney walked through the villa, which was oddly sparse of furniture. She saw rectangles on the walls where the wallpaper was suspiciously bright. He saw her glance, and gave a rueful smile.
“I’ve had to sell off a few unnecessary things. Like paintings.” He looked at her, and added kindly, “And turn off the air-conditioning, I’m afraid.” That explained why the villa felt so uncomfortably hot.
He escorted her into a large sitting room, empty except for a few antique cushioned chairs and a table. A breeze came from the open windows overlooking the sea. “Would you care for some tea, Mrs. Black?”