Page 35 of Rags to Riches Baby

“Why was it a nightmare?”

“Because, for a start, she was three years older than me. Dad didn’t seem to care about cradle robbing. She was beautiful and she fawned over him like he was the most amazing man she’d ever met. I guess he needed that after all those years alone. It was obvious to everyone but him that she was just after his money. He was blinded by her beauty and was so desperate to find someone to love him that he fell right into her trap. They got married within a year and she got pregnant with Danny pretty quickly. Before his second birthday, Candace had spent all my father’s liquid assets and charged up all his credit accounts into the millions. When he finally put his foot down over her spending, it was only because he had no choice. She had wiped him out. He cut her off financially and she split almost immediately, leaving Danny behind. I guess he wasn’t worth taking just for the child support checks when she could do better on her own. Last I heard, she married another tech billionaire from Silicon Valley. One of our competitors, if you can believe her nerve.”

Oliver didn’t want to drone on and on about Candace, so he got to the point as quickly as he could and waited to see what Lucy had to say about it. Very little, it turned out. Instead, they sat together in an awkward silence that seemed to stretch on forever.

Finally, Lucy spoke in a small voice. “So that’s why.”

“What do you mean?”

“That’s why you automatically presumed that I’m an awful person. Because of her.”

Now that he’d gotten to know Lucy better, he was ashamed to tell her as much, but he knew it was true. That’s what experience had taught him. “I’ll admit it colored my opinion, yes.”

Lucy pushed herself up in bed and tugged the sheets to her chest defensively. She had a pained expression lining her brow and the corners of her mouth were turned down just slightly. “Colored your opinion, my foot,” she snapped. “You didn’t know me from Adam and you lashed out at me as though you’d seen a sketch of my face on a Wanted poster or something. You thought I’d conned your aunt just like your stepmother conned your father. Admit it.”

“It’s not—”

“Admit it,” Lucy pressed. “You thought I was such a horrible person that I was willing to steal all your aunt’s belongings out from under you all. Do you think I killed her, too?”

“Of course not!” Oliver replied. “Don’t be ridiculous. Do you think I’d be lying in bed with you if I thought you were capable of something like that?”

“Okay, so not a murderer, but certainly a swindler.”

Oliver twisted his lips in thought for a moment before he turned away from Lucy’s accusatory gaze and sighed. “Okay, I guess I did. But you have to understand that the situation with Candace left me suspicious of everyone’s motives, not just yours. On a date, the moment a woman asked what business I was in or what area of town I lived in, I could feel this anxiety start to creep in.”

“Those are pretty common first date questions.”

“I know,” he said, feeling foolish about the whole thing but unable to suppress it. “But it felt like women were just trying to figure out how much money I had. Or if they knew my family and showed an interest, I convinced myself that it couldn’t be because they were genuinely interested in me. Watching Candace work my dad over was hard. Especially since we couldn’t say a bad word about her to him. Trust me when I say we tried, but he wouldn’t listen. In the end, he looked like a fool and I never wanted to make that same mistake.”

“So a woman couldn’t possibly be interested in you because you’re smart or handsome? Well dressed? Did you ever think that maybe one of those women was just interested in seeing if you had a big…garden?”

“I do have a larger than average garden.” Oliver started to laugh, and then he clapped his right hand over his eyes in dismay. “Oh, you’re right. I know you’re right. I erred on the side of caution.”

“And what good did it do you?”

Oliver looked down at Lucy, her naked body warm and curved against him. “It got you here, for a start. If I hadn’t been so suspicious of you, I might not have followed you around and therefore, might not have fallen for your many charms.”

Lucy smirked at him, unimpressed by his flattery. “And now that you’ve fallen for my charms…do you still think I conned your aunt?”

He knew this was a critical moment in the relationship he’d never expected to have with Lucy. After spending this time together, he should know, one way or another, if she was guilty of everything he’d accused her of. If he thought she was innocent, he’d say so right now without hesitation. And yet the seconds ticked by without his answer as he struggled with his prejudices.