By: Beverley Kendall

Beneath his tan, a blush stains high on his cheekbones. “I know she’s mine,” he states, his voice low and rough. If he were a child, he’d be squirming in his seat. Instead he glances away.

I should be gloating in triumph at having a first-row seat to his obvious embarrassment, but what I feel is more like having something sharp poke at a wound that hasn’t fully healed.

Slowly, he shifts his gaze back to me. “Paige, I’m sorry. I fucked up. I should never have left Brianna no matter what was going on between us. No matter how I felt. She’s the innocent in all this and she deserved better from me. She deserves better from me going forward.”

Yes he was wrong to abandon his daughter. She’s who’s most important in all this. But I can’t help but note that he didn’t say he was wrong to leave me. And I’m pissed at myself that it stings. Not the deep yawning pain of almost a year ago, but it stings nonetheless.

“What’s the real reason you’re back, Mitch? Is it because of the papers you think I sent you? Do you think I want you to give up your parental rights?” This much I’ve been able to get from everything he’s said so far, and it explains his presence here.

He shakes his head in denial. “No, I’m here because I want to see my daughter. I’d already decided to come home before I read the papers.”

“Well I didn’t send them.” But I have a pretty good idea who did. “Not that I haven’t thought about it,” I add to let him know it’s not beyond the realm of possibility.

A flicker of alarm flashes across his face before it’s quickly replaced by one of resolve. “I’d never sign it.”

“Fine,” I say, giving a careless shrug. “And now that you know your parental rights aren’t in jeopardy of being taken away, you can head on back to New York.”

“I’m home for the summer.”

“Am I supposed to be jumping for joy?” I ignore the uncomfortable dip my stomach takes.

He responds with a weary sigh.

“Look, right now is not a good time.” This is an emotional gauntlet I don’t want to deal with today. And I’m going to be late for my study date.

When I make a move to open the car door, Mitch reaches out as if to stop me. His hand grazes mine. He quickly jerks it back as if he’s been burned.

I feel as if I’ve been burned, which is not a good sign of things to come.

“Please, Paige. I just want to see her.”

Damn him. Why did he have to come back when I’ve gotten used to not having him in my life? And why does he have to look so—so pitiful? I prefer it better when he makes it easy for me to hate him.

“And I brought her this.” He opens the brown shopping bag at this feet and takes out a white stuffed puppy with black spots.

Bree is crazy about puppies. His sister must have told him that.

His eyes implore me in a way that makes me feel as though I’m having my arm twisted.

No. No. He’s not going to get his way. Not this time.

Turning back to him, I take off my sunglasses and look him square in the eye. “Look, Mitch, the last time we had any sort of conversation, you accused me of cheating on you. Then you walked out of my house and out of my life. Now you come back without having the decency to call beforehand and expect me to drop everything because you’ve come to some epiphany and want to play daddy? I don’t think so. Now if you don’t mind, I have somewhere to go.”

“Please, Paige, I want to have a relationship with her.”

“Relationship?” I hiss the word, finding his use of it offensive. “You mean one as strong as the one we had?”

“Say what you want about a lot of things, but we had a good relationship before you got pregnant,” he says, sounding pretty adamant about that.

Yeah, before I forgot to tell him we needed to use a condom when he surprised me by coming home that one night during spring break last year. Our relationship certainly didn’t survive my mistake.

“You know my mother always said you can never judge the true strength of a relationship until it’s been tested. Well if there’s one thing—besides my daughter—that I can thank you for, is teaching me that. It’s one of those life lessons everyone has to learn, and I’m glad I got mine sooner than later. I wouldn’t have wanted to waste another second on you.”

He flinches visibly. “Paige, would you—”

The sound of a door opening and Trent calling my name cuts Mitch off, turning our attention to the direction of his voice.

Sigh. Trent’s probably wondering why I’m still here.

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