Her eyes briefly close as if she’s overwhelmed by my words. I want to reassure her that she’s safe, but when she focuses on me again, her expression makes my entire body go cold.

She hasn’t told me everything. Whatever it is must be a secret of great magnitude. It’s etched into the small lines of worry around her eyes and the way she tightly clamps her jaw. She swallows hard, an obvious effort to shore up some confidence in herself.

“What is it?” I ask, taking a full step away. Instinctively, I realize physical proximity is not a good idea right now.

Lower lip trembling, she speaks, her voice sounding like fractured glass. “There’s no easy way to say this—”

“Just spit it out, Leighton,” I demand with a bark of annoyance. My tone and the comfortable use of her new name causes her to physically jolt. Almost involuntarily, she reaches toward her purse, but then drops her hand.

She bites down into her lower lip… hard. It’s the move of a woman needing to ground herself while allowing the time to pull herself together. Her gaze darts to the door, and it’s clear she’s considering just leaving.

But I’m not going to let that happen since she must need to tell me something potentially devastating for her to show up on my doorstep.

Leighton drops her head, and it’s easy for me to acknowledge her new name because I’m fairly sure the woman I used to know—Tracey—is no more.

Ever so slowly, she lifts her eyes until they focus on mine. Lips pursing, she cuts my legs out from underneath me.

“When they came to take us away that night,” she whispers, “I was pregnant.”

A rushing roar fills my ears, and I can feel a vein in my forehead pop. I go deaf for several brutal moments as I try to process what she just said, then I realize I can actually hear the thud of my heart as it batters the inside of my rib cage.

“What?” I rasp, fingers involuntarily curling into the palms of my hands until they form tight fists.

“I didn’t know,” she quickly adds, as if that makes a difference. “I found out a few weeks later. But, like I said, they wouldn’t let me call you.”

“And…” I force out through gritted teeth. She seems to be leaving out a particularly important piece of information.

“And…” She exhales forcefully, as if the burden of the secret is too much for her to carry for even another second. “I have a son. His name is Sam.”

“Don’t you mean we have a son?” I ask, my tone low and cruel.

Leighton’s face loses all color, the slight ducking of her head indicating the question embarrasses her.

I advance toward her, barely able to control my fury. My words come out slowly, coated in ice. “Do you mean to tell me that I’ve had a kid for all these years, and you kept him from me?”

“I wasn’t allowed—”

“Bullshit,” I yell, and her mouth slams shut. Her eyes dart to her purse, then to me. I lean in until our faces are separated by just a few inches. My voice is shaking. Fuck, my whole body is trembling. “You should have found a way to tell me. Seems to me that you and Rich have been living safe and large. But you’re here now, aren’t you? Which means you could have found a way to let me know.”

She knows my words are true, which is probably why she doesn’t even attempt to defend herself. Her shoulders slump, and her gaze falls to the floor.

I don’t feel an ounce of sympathy.

“So why are you here now, Leighton?” As I emphasize her new name, I hope she can hear the distaste coating it. “What… need money? Child support for all those years? Looking for a quick payday?”

Not responding, she continues to look at the floor. It enrages me.

Putting my hands to her shoulders, I give her a hard shake to get her attention. I demand she explain herself. I need to make sense of this.

“What in God’s name do you need from me, Leighton?” I snarl. Eyes filled with fear and distrust meet mine. “How much do you want me to write the check out for, huh? Hopefully not too much because—let’s face it—you weren’t that great of a lay to begin with.”

The minute the words are out of my mouth, I regret them. Not necessarily because I hurt her, but because I just compared the value of my kid to her pussy, which is so not right.

Immediately, I release her and retreat a step. I scrape my hand through my hair, a sure tell of my frustration and helplessness. Once more, my words now weak with fatigue, I ask, “What do you want?” Obviously, I’ll support my kid—if she’s telling the truth—but I just want her out of my house for now.

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