I take a sip, and Teagan says, “I thought that was for Ethan.”
“He’s running late, and he won’t mind sharing with me.”
“You two are ridiculously cute.” She lowers her voice. “You need to tell him.”
I nod. After I talked to Teagan this morning, I decided she was right. No good will come of keeping this secret longer than necessary. I just want to talk to Kathleen and let her know why I have to come forward. “I haven’t been able to reach Kathleen, and I feel like she should know before I do it.”
“But you’re going to.” My friend looks worried. “Soon?”
I nod. “I’m in love with him, Teag. And I can’t do anything about it until he knows the truth.” I just have to tell it without telling the truth about Kathleen’s trip and why I agreed to lie in the first place. Unfortunately, with only half of the story, my lie doesn’t seem noble in any way.
We weave our way through the crowd, and I spot Ethan near the Olaf sculpture, his hands in his pockets.
Lilly spots him too and rushes forward. “Daddy!” She wraps one arm around him and holds on tight to her hot chocolate with her other hand. “Nic bought me peppermint hot chocolate. She told me a story about the peppermint fairy and the ice goblin she taught to be nice and then they became friends!”
“Did she?” He turns, and his face is etched with anger. About the hot chocolate? No, he wouldn’t be upset about that. But he is angry about something. His jaw is hard, and he nods a greeting to Teagan then locks his cold eyes on mine. “Nic seems to be full of stories. This afternoon, I even believed she was pregnant.”
“What?” I shake my head. Is that why he’s angry? Did he think I was hiding a pregnancy from him? “No, Ethan. I’m not pregnant.”
“I know. Your sister is the one who’s pregnant.” He drops to his haunches to kiss Lilly’s forehead.
That’s when I see Veronica.
“Hi, Nic,” she says, her eyes bouncing between me and Ethan. “Surprise!”
Ethan stands and points his thumb at Veronica. “I just met your sister, Veronica.” His eyes glitter with anger as he says her name. “She was thanking me for letting her sister Nicole fill in for her when she couldn’t be here.”
“Oh, fuck,” Teagan whispers beside me.
I swallow hard and step toward him. “Can we talk in private?”
His nostrils flare. “Your sister and I already talked. I don’t think I have anything left to say.” He takes his daughter’s hand. “Lilly, baby, we have to leave. Say goodbye to Nic.”
I can only stare at Veronica. It wasn’t supposed to happen like this. I was supposed to tell him myself.
“Why don’t you catch up with your sister?” Ethan says. “Do whatever you need to do. You can pick up your stuff after Lilly goes to bed.”
“What?” Lilly looks up at me with wide eyes. “Why are you picking up your stuff, Nic?”
“It’s okay, baby.”
Ethan closes his eyes, pain sweeping across his face for a beat before he looks at his daughter again. “She’s not leaving forever, baby. She just isn’t going to sleep at our house anymore.”
I look at Ethan and shake my head. “Talk to me.”
“I can’t,” he says, but this time his voice is so low that I can barely hear him. “I don’t know who you are.”
“You do.” My vision goes blurry, and I realize I’ve grabbed his hand. I’m desperate for him to listen. I feel like if he walks away, I’m going to unravel completely.
Lilly drops her cup and wraps herself around one of my legs. “You promise you won’t leave, Nic?”
“You’ll see Nic tomorrow,” Ethan promises, his angry eyes on me. Do you see what you’ve done? Do you understand what this is going to do to her?
“We’re drawing a crowd,” Teagan says softly behind me.
“You lied about who you are,” Ethan says. “How am I supposed to believe anything else you tell me?” He shakes his head, but when his gaze drops to Lilly, the anger falls away. He looks back at me, and my heart skips as I realize his anger was replaced with sadness. “Damn you, Nic.”
“What the hell just happened?” Veronica frowns and watches Ethan walk away. “He came up to me and hugged me when he thought I was you. He hugged me, Nic. That isn’t a typical employer-employee thing to do.”
“They’re in love, you idiot,” Teagan says.
Veronica shakes her head. “Not again, Nicky. Come on, you were going to start a life for yourself in February, remember? You applied for all those jobs.”
“I fell in love with him,” I say helplessly.
“You always fall in love. You throw away everything for the guy and then he screws you over.” Her eyes fill with tears. “You said I could come with you. You said you were going to start anew somewhere.”