Laney was incredibly touched and grateful for what Kassius had done for them—all of them. She’d tried to be satisfied. She’d reminded herself that Kassius was a good husband and would be a good father. She’d told herself that every man had secrets.
But she couldn’t let it go. And now she understood why.
“What’s his father’s name?” she whispered now, but as the investigator told her, she’d already known what it would be. By the time she hung up the phone, all the pieces were clicking into place. The loans he’d made to a man who was unlikely to ever repay. The secret gifts to Mimi du Plessis.
Laney thought of the hard light in his eyes the night of their wedding, when he’d shown her the empty land where his grandparents’ elegant mansion used to be. This precious house meant everything to them. After they died, I bought it. Had it demolished. It was the only thing that made sense.
She knew why he kept coming back to Monaco and what he was after. And why.
Laney paced through the afternoon, waiting for Kassius to come home. When he finally did, it was hours later. She was sitting wearily by the wide windows overlooking the sparkling lights of the city in the dark night, and the dark sea beyond.
Kassius frowned at her, obviously shocked to find her awake so late, with a bottle of scotch on the table beside her.
“You’re drinking scotch?” he said in disbelief.
Well might he be surprised—she hadn’t had even a sip of champagne since she’d discovered she was pregnant. Opening the bottle, she poured some in a short crystal glass. “It’s not for me.” She held out the glass. “It’s for you.”
Setting down his laptop bag, he looked at her with a frown and slowly took the glass.
“I know who you are, Kassius,” Laney said quietly, looking up at him from the sofa. “And I know who your father is.”
He took a small sip of scotch, watching her. “Do you?”
Exhaling, she nodded. “All this time, I’ve wondered about your expensive gifts to Mimi du Plessis and your endless anonymous loans to her boss. Now I understand. You didn’t want her to tell Boris Kuznetsov all those loans were from the same source—you. You didn’t want him to get curious about you. Because if he looked at you too closely, he might recognize you as the eleven-year-old boy he abandoned in Istanbul. Cash Kuznetsov, the illegitimate son of Boris Kuznetsov and Emmaline Cash.”
“How did you learn this?”
“An investigator. I got his name from Ángel Velazquez.”
For a long moment, Kassius looked at her, then he barked a laugh. Lifting the glass, he drank all the scotch in a single gulp. He set the glass down with a clunk.
“Fine,” he said abruptly. “You got me.”
“What are you trying to do to him?” she whispered, hoping against hope she was wrong.
He poured himself another glass of scotch, then considered her. “Destroy him, of course.”
His sensual lips curved in a bitter smile. “Like I told you, Kuznetsov wasn’t around much when I was growing up. He was a busy man, working in Moscow, and had to do lots of travel throughout the Soviet union and beyond. That was how they’d met, when she was a stewardess based out of Istanbul.” He took another sip of scotch. “After he abandoned us, after my mother got sick, I went through her papers and found his address in Moscow. I wrote letters. He never replied. When I was sixteen, I hopped a train to Moscow and found out why. He was already married.”
“Oh, no,” she breathed.
He shrugged. “I saw him walking, arm in arm, with his beautiful blond wife in her fancy clothes, into a mansion, followed by three golden retrievers bounding at their heels. So cozy. So rich. So happy.”
Laney sucked in her breath.
“I was so shocked I stumbled back. Straight into a metal fence. That’s how I got this.” He traced the raised white scar on his cheekbone. His lips twisted. “He’d strung my mother along for sixteen years, promising her he’d marry her someday and buy her a candy-pink villa in the South of France. I still remember how happy those dreams made her. She always believed he was coming back to her. I didn’t have the heart to tell my mother what kind of man he really was.”
Laney suddenly understood so much. “No wonder you hate the idea of love,” she whispered brokenly. “To you, all it means is a lie.”
His jaw clenched, and he looked away, toward the vast darkness of the sea.
“I didn’t want you to know, Laney,” he said heavily. “Because it’s not your way. I wanted you to keep your ideals about love. About me,” he added quietly.
She slowly rose from the sofa. At eight months pregnant, she had to push herself up with a little more force than in the past.
Grabbing his hand, she placed it over the spot on her belly, where she felt her baby kicking inside her.
“That’s our son,” she said in a low voice. His eyes went wide.
“Son?” he breathed.
She smiled bashfully. “I know we promised each other we would wait to find out, but well... I couldn’t help myself from asking at my last appointment.”
“A son.” He blinked fast. “Perfect. I’ve already got my hands on what’s left of his company. All he has left now is the villa. If he takes one more loan, I will have that, too.”
Pain ripped through her. “Don’t do this. Revenge won’t make you happier. It won’t. Please, just let it go!”
“Let it go?” He stared at her incredulously. “He has to be punished for what he did.”
“Please,” she whispered. “For my sake. For our baby’s. Just talk to him. There might be extenuating circumstances. You don’t know.”
His eyes hardened. “I know enough.”
“Listen...” Her voice cracked. “I was angry all the time when I was a teenager, hating my mother for leaving us, blaming her for dumping everything on us so she could run off and be free. But I was so unhappy. So awfully unhappy. I didn’t want to feel that way. So I decided to forgive her. To remember the good times. I chose love—which is what I feel for you, Kassius.” She took a deep breath and lifted her gaze to his. “I love you.”
His expression looked frozen. “You love me?” he said in a low voice. “After everything I told you?”
“You’re a good man. I know it.” She put her hand over his as their baby kicked again. “Don’t hurt your father. Our child’s grandfather.”
He pulled back his hand, looking angry. “You care so much about the man?”
“I care about you. And our baby. And what this revenge will mean for us—all of us.”
His sensual mouth curved. “You’re part of it, Laney.”
“It was always part of my plan. A beautiful family, a wife, a child. Kuznetsov’s wife divorced him for another man long ago. He has no other children. After I take his villa and tell him who I am and why I’ve ruined him, he’ll know he’s lost every chance at happiness he might have had. Including his only family who might have loved him. His own grandchildren will never know his name.”
Laney stared at him in shock.
“No wonder you wanted to marry me,” she said numbly, feeling heartsick. “No wonder you were so determined from the first night to get me pregnant. I thought it was love at first sight. But for you, it was only revenge...”
Reaching down, he put his hand on her shoulder. “Not only that. Not anymore. I’ve come to trust you, Laney. That’s why I’m telling you the truth.”
Great, she thought bitterly. Now he was trusting her.
Her eyes narrowed as she shook her head. “If you’re not going to try to talk to him, I will—”
Kassius’s expression changed in an instant. He grasped her shoulders tightly, looking down at her with a ferocity she’d never imagined. “If you even think of telling Kuznetsov, you are dead to me, do you understand? I will never see you again. Neither you nor the baby.”
Shocked, she searched his gaze.
“I don’t believe you,” she said slowly.
“Don’t you?” His jaw set. “I think you do. If you betray me, I will divorce you, Laney. I will start new. Find another woman. Have a different child.”
His grip tightened. “You’re hurting me!”
He released her. She rubbed her arm, feeling hurt and bewildered by the savage change in him.
“I have to trust you, Laney.” Kassius looked at her for a long moment, a mixture of emotions crossing his face. When she didn’t answer, he grabbed his laptop bag and left the penthouse without another word. The front door closed with a bang.
But it wasn’t her arm he had injured. It was her heart.
She stared after him, filled with despair. Walking around the enormous five-bedroom luxury flat, with its wide windows overlooking the sea and harbor, she felt alone, aimless and lost.
Laney stopped in the doorway of the cheerful nursery she’d decorated for their baby. She’d been so happy when she’d gotten Kassius to put up the goofy giraffe on the wall. She’d convinced herself that he was starting to open up to her. To care.
If you even think of telling Kuznetsov, you are dead to me, do you understand? I will never see you again. Neither you nor the baby. If you betray me, I will divorce you, Laney. I will start new. Find another woman. Have a different child.