Luca gazed at her with hard eyes. “Esattamente, Maria. She is your daughter, and yet look at how hard she is holding on to my wife.”
Vivian hugged Eula to her tightly, and the way the little girl’s body shook with her tears wrenching her heart. “Hush, principesa. I’m here. Papa and I are here for you.”
“I want to be with Mama,” the little girl whispered to her.
Vivian’s eyes stung. “I s-see.” She had made the most appalling mistake then.
Hearing Eula’s words, Maria covered her mouth with both hands as she tried to look overwhelmed by her emotions. “Oh, Eula, I want to be with you—-”
“No!” Eula had shouted the word out, and she hugged Vivian fiercely. “I want Mama!”
The words repeatedly stabbed Vivian, and her arms around the little girl started to loosen.
“Noooooo!” Eula, who correctly guessed that Vivian was about to give her up to Maria, let out a loud, hoarse sob. She looked at her stepmother pleadingly. “I want Mama. I don’t want to be with Mummy. I want to be with you, Mama.”
Vivian wiped the tears off Eula’s cheeks. “Don’t cry.”
Eula whispered, “But you’re crying, too, M-Mama.”
“I’m not,” she sniffed.
A pair of strong hands settled on their backs, and the two looked up at the billionaire’s handsome face, its aloof, aristocratic edges softened by a look of tenderness.
“There’s no need to argue.” He pressed a kiss on Eula’s cheek and touched Vivian’s lips. “You both are crying.”
Not wanting to be forgotten, Maria tried to struggle away from Luca’s bodyguards but when they didn’t let go, she called out desperately to her daughter, “Eula, my little baby, why did you cry? You gave me such a fright—-”
Even though she was still in Vivian’s arms, Eula couldn’t help shrinking back at hearing Maria’s voice. Her arms once again tightened around Vivian’s neck. “I want to stay with Mama—-”
“Eula!” Fury had Maria’s face contorting into something unrecognizable and ugly, and the sight of it had the little girl shrinking back further. “Think about what you are saying.” Maria managed to keep her voice steady even though she was itching to yell at the brat and discipline her with a good hard slap to the face. “Think about what Vivian and your papa want to hear you say.”
Maria’s words reminded Eula of her nightmare.
Your papa doesn’t love you.
Vivi doesn’t love you.
No one loves you.
Eula turned to Vivian, saying brokenly, “I want to be with you, Mama—-”
Vivian couldn’t understand the way Eula was staring at her. It was as if she had broken the little girl’s heart, and she said fiercely, “And I want to be with you, too.”
But it was as if Eula hadn’t heard her, and the girl continued haltingly, “Maria says you won’t want me when you have a new baby.”
Vivian’s eyes widened.
“She says papa won’t want me, too—-”
Eula choked out, “Because Mummy said you’re giving me away—-”
The penny dropped, and Vivian and Luca turned to Maria in unison.
Luca’s ex-wife shook her head, panic written all over her face. “Eula must be lying—-”
Luca took a threatening step towards her.
“I mean, she must have misunderstood,” Maria anxiously corrected herself. “She’s a child. She makes up things.” She forced herself to laugh and looked at the people around her. “That’s normal for a child, right?” But the crowd of parents and teachers that had formed around them stared back at her stonily.
Luca had enough of Maria’s antics. “Take her out,” he ordered his bodyguards. He looked at Vivian. “Will you two be alright if I leave you alone for a few minutes?”
She could only nod, still shaken at discovering the Maria had the gall to psychologically torture her own daughter in such a way.
When Luca left, the crowd slowly dispersed, and in an effort to get things back on track the principal announced the official start of the conference. Left alone with Eula, Vivian told the little girl tremulously, “You’ve been my little girl from the start, you know.”
Eula shook her head. “No, I’m not.”
“Yes,” Vivian said fiercely, “you are. I’m a princess, and you’re a princess, and you are my daughter because you came from here.” She touched her heart. “That’s how you became my baby.” Her voice caught. “That’s w-why you’ll always, always be my baby—-”
“But what if you have another baby?” Eula asked haltingly, not meeting her eyes.
“When your papa and I have a baby, you will have a l-little brother or sister. The baby will live here—-” Vivian touched her heart. “And in your papa’s heart, and lastly…here.” She touched Eula’s heart. “This is how we stay connected to each other. This is what makes us a family, and why—-” She paused meaningfully, willing her daughter – her lovely, wonderful daughter of her heart – to connect the dots.
A smile slowly broke over Eula’s lips. “We’ll live happily ever after?”