Expected publication: February 13th 2018 by Mira Books
Louisville, Kentucky, 2015
All Allison wanted was for this conversation to be over. That and she hoped the heavy gray clouds would part and the sun would appear. It could go either way today—sun or rain. She stood at the kitchen window, peeling old white paint off the sill as she waited for the Kentucky sky to make up its mind. Meanwhile, sitting behind her at the table, her lover, Cooper McQueen, gently ruined her life.
Then, a small mercy—the clouds split wide open. The sun shone bright enough to momentarily blind her. She exhaled in her relief. Allison had always loved the rain. She could forgive McQueen for leaving. She would never forgive him if he’d ruined the rain for her.
“She’s pregnant,” McQueen said. “She’s due in April.”
“You’re happy about it,” Allison said, working another strip of paint off the edge of the frame. She felt a silly sort of triumph when it came off in one long white ribbon.
“Cricket,” he said softly, apologetically. “Look at me.”
Allison wanted to walk out right then, walk out and look back. She should have, she knew. Instead, she turned around and faced him. He’d just ended it and here she was, still obeying his every command.
“I’m sorry,” he said.
“It’s all right, McQueen,” she said, shrugging. “We knew this would happen eventually. Not you getting some strange woman you picked up in a bar pregnant, I mean. But…”
“But…” He sat back in the chair.
“You are happy about it, though, aren’t you?” she asked. “You can be honest with me. I’d appreciate it.”
She was lying. She was lying through her teeth. She didn’t want him to be honest with her. She wanted him to lie to her, lie as hard as she was lying to him. She wanted him to tell her he wasn’t happy about it at all, that he didn’t want to end it, that his hand had been forced, that if given the choice he’d throw caution to the wind and marry Allison tomorrow, even if it did cause a scandal, even if it meant his kids might never speak to him again…
“Yes,” he said. “I’m happy about it.”
“I’m happy for you, too, then.”
Allison had sensed that morning that today was going to be the day. Instead of calling her to let her know when he’d drop by—for sex, of course, there was no other reason he ever called her—he’d called instead to tell her he had some mail of hers he was bringing over and a pair of earrings he’d found in his bathroom drawer.
“She has her own money. She’s thirty-seven. A little bit more age-appropriate than you,” he said. A joke. He was trying to make her laugh and, damn him, it worked. But it was a very small laugh. Her lover—or, she supposed, ex-lover—was Cooper McQueen, who was very possibly a billionaire if one got creative enough with the accounting. He was also forty-five to her twenty-five. She’d been his mistress for six years, although she’d known him for seven. The worst part of it all was what a cliché the whole tawdry thing was. At eighteen she’d gotten a job working for McQueen as his daughter Emmy’s weekend babysitter.
“Congratulations,” Allison said. He was trying to spare her pain by not admitting how thrilled he was to have child number three on the way. He and his wife had divorced after two kids, and he’d confessed to her a long time ago that he always felt someone was missing from the family. Not her. She wasn’t family. She was an employee.
“It’s going to be an adventure,” he said, his voice neutral.
Going to be… He was already seeing the future with this child, with this woman. There was no talking him out of ending things. It was already done and over. Now if she could only get through the rest of this conversation without falling apart. She’d gone six years as the secret mistress of a very wealthy man without falling apart once in his presence. She hated to ruin her streak.
“Does she know about me?” Allison asked. An important question.
“I told her,” McQueen said. “After she told me.”
“She asked you to get rid of me, didn’t she?”
“No, in fact. She said I could be in the baby’s life if I wanted to keep you, but I couldn’t be in hers if you were still in the picture. For the kid’s sake, I thought we should try to make it work.”
“You should, yes,” Allison said. Even she couldn’t deny he was doing the right thing—finally.
“She told me to tell you she was very sorry,” McQueen said. “And she means it. She didn’t know about you. This isn’t personal.”
“No, of course it isn’t,” Allison said. “What’s her name?”
McQueen paused before answering as if weighing Allison’s motives in asking. “Paris. Paris Shelby.”
“Tell Ms. Shelby I appreciate that. And I understand.” Allison paused. “Must be special. You kept me through three girlfriends.”
“I’m crazy about her,” McQueen finally admitted. It was a knife in her heart. A small knife, but serrated. It did damage.
“And you’re sane about me,” she said.