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He stopped again, staring at her, his mouth still open. Then he snapped it shut. He glared at her. “Fine.”


Cesare turned to the baby. He knelt by the stroller. He looked into Sam’s chubby face. As Emma watched, his eyes slowly traced over the baby’s dark eyes; exactly like his own. At the same dark hair, already starting to curl.

“Um,” he said, awkwardly holding out a hand toward the baby. “Hi.”

The baby continued to suck the pacifier, but flung an unsteady hand toward his father. One little pudgy hand caught his finger. Cesare’s eyes widened and his expression changed. He moved closer to Sam, then gently stroked his hair, his plump cheek. His voice was different as he said more softly, “Hi.”

Seeing the two of them together, Emma’s heart twisted.

“You named him Sam?” he asked a moment later.

“After my dad.”

“He looks just like me,” Cesare muttered. Pulling away from the baby, he rose to his feet. “Just tell me one thing. If I hadn’t come to Paris, if I hadn’t seen you today—would you ever have told me?”

She swallowed.

“You really are unbelievable,” he ground out.

“You don’t want a family.” Her voice trembled. “All you could have given him was money.”

“And a name,” he flung out.

“He already has both.” She looked at him steadily. “I’ve given him a name—Samuel Hayes. And I earn enough money. Not for mansions and private jets, but enough for a comfortable home. We don’t need you. We don’t want you.”

Cesare ground his teeth. “You’re depriving him of his birthright.”

She snorted. “Birthright? You mean you’d have insisted on sending him to a fancy school and buying him something extravagant and useless at Christmas, like a pony, before you ignored him the rest of the year?” She shook her head. “And that’s the best-case scenario! Because let’s not pretend you actually want to be in the picture!”

“I might...” he protested.

“Oh, please.” Her eyes narrowed. “All you could have offered was money and heartbreak. Better no father at all than a father like you. My child will never feel like an ignored, unwanted burden.” She straightened her shoulders, lifting her chin. “And neither will I.”

Cesare stared at her. Then his mouth snapped shut.

“So that’s what you think of me,” he muttered. “That I’m a selfish bastard with nothing but money to offer.”

She stared at him for a long moment, then relented with a sigh. “You are who you are. I realized last year that I could not change you. So I’m not going to try.”

His handsome face looked suddenly haggard. In spite of everything, her traitorous heart went out to him. Living with him for seven years, learning his every habit, she’d seen glimpses of the vulnerability that drove Cesare to a relentless pursuit of money and women he neither needed nor truly wanted. When he came home late at night, when he paced the hallways in sleepless hours, she’d seen flashes of emptiness beneath his mask, and the despair beneath his careless charm. There could never be enough money or cheap affairs to fill the emptiness in his heart, but he kept trying. And Emma knew why.

He’d lost the woman he’d loved, and he’d never be able to love anyone again.

Even through her anger, she felt almost sorry for him. Because without love, what could there be—but emptiness?

“It’s not your fault,” she said slowly. “I understand why you can’t let anyone into your heart again. You loved her so much—and then you lost her...” At his expression, she reached her hand to his rough cheek. Her voice trembled as she whispered, “Your heart was buried with your wife.”

Cesare seemed to shudder beneath her touch. “Emma...”

“It’s all right.” Dropping her hand, she stepped back and tried to smile. “We’re fine. Truly. Your son is happy and well. I have a good job. My boss is a very kindhearted man. He looks out for us.”

Something in her voice made him look up sharply.

“Who is he? This new boss?”

She licked her lips. “You don’t know?”

He shook his head. “After you left, I tried my best to forget you ever existed.”

It shouldn’t have hurt her, but it did. Emma put her hands on the handlebar of the stroller. “That is what you should do now, Cesare. Forget us....”

But he grabbed the handlebar, his hand over hers. “No. This time, I’m not letting you go. Not with my son.”

She swallowed, looking up at his fierce gaze.

“You only want us because you think you can’t have us. No is a novelty, it’s distracting and shiny. But I know, if I ever let myself...count on you, you’d leave. I won’t let anyone hurt Sam. Not even you.”

She tried to pull away. He tightened his grip.

“He’s my son.”

“Let us go,” she whispered. “Please. Somewhere, there’s a man who will love us with all his heart. A man who can actually be a loving father to Sam.” She shook her head. “We both know you’re not that man.”

The anger in Cesare’s face slid away, replaced by an expression that seemed hurt, even bewildered.

“Emma,” he breathed. “You think so little of me—”

“You heard her,” a man growled behind them. “Let her go, damn you.”

Alain Bouchard stood behind them with two bodyguards.

Cesare’s eyes widened in shock. “Bouchard...?”

Alain was a powerful man, handsome in his way. In his mid-forties, he was a decade older than Cesare. His salt-and-pepper hair was closely clipped, his clothing well-tailored. His perfect posture bespoke the pride of a man who was CEO of a luxury goods firm that had been run by the Bouchard family for generations. But the red hatred in the Frenchman’s eyes was for Cesare alone.

“Let her go,” Alain repeated, and Emma saw his two burly bodyguards, Gustave and Marcel, take a step forward in clear but unspoken threat.

For an instant, Cesare’s grasp tightened on her hand. His eyes narrowed and she was suddenly afraid of what he might do—that a brutal, juvenile fistfight between two wealthy tycoons might break out in the Champ de Mars.

Desperate to calm the situation down, she said, “Let me go, Cesare. Please.”

He turned to her, his black eyes flints of betrayed fury. “What is he doing here?”

“He’s my boss,” she admitted.

“You work for Angélique’s brother?”

She flinched. Strictly speaking, that might seem vengeful on her part. “He offered me a job when I needed one. That’s all.”

“You’re raising my son in the house of a man who hates me?”

“I never let him speak a word against you. Not in front of Sam.”

“That’s big of you,” he said coldly.

She saw Gustave and Marcel draw closer across the green grass. “Please,” she whispered, “you have to let me go....”

Cesare abruptly withdrew his hand. There was a lump in Emma’s throat as she turned away, quickly pushing the baby stroller toward Alain.

“Are you all right, Emma?” Alain said. “He didn’t hurt you?”

Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Cesare stiffen.

“Of course I’m all right. We were just talking.” She glanced behind her. “But now we’re done.”

“This isn’t over,” Cesare said.

His handsome face looked dark as a shadow crossed the sun. She took a deep breath. “I know,” she said miserably.

“Allons-y,” Alain said, putting a hand on the stroller handle, just where Cesare’s had been a moment before. They walked together down the path and out of the park, and at every step, she felt Cesare’s gaze on the back of her neck. She didn’t properly breathe until they were out of the Champ de Mars and back on the sidewalk by the street.

“Are you really all right?” Alain asked again.

“Fine,” she said. But she wasn’t. A war was coming. A custody war with her precious baby at the center. She could feel it like the dark clouds of a rising storm. Trying to push aside her fear, she asked, “What were you doing at the park? How did you know we were there?”

“Gustave called me.”

Her brow furrowed. “How did Gustave know?”

Alain’s cheeks colored slightly. “I sometimes have my bodyguards watch you, at a distance. Paris can be a dangerous city...”

His voice trailed off as they were passed by two elegant women dripping diamonds and head-to-toe Hermès.

“This neighborhood?” Emma said in disbelief.

He gave a graceful Gallic shrug. “On ne sait jamais.” His expression darkened. “And it seems I was right to have you followed, with that bastard Falconeri showing up. He’s Sam’s father, isn’t he?”

She was sure he meant to be protective, but her privacy felt invaded. “Yes,” she admitted. “But I don’t blame him for being upset. I never told him I was pregnant.”

“You obviously had reason. Is he going to try to take the baby?”

“I don’t know,” she said in a small voice.

“I won’t let him.” He stopped, looking down at her with his thin face and soulful eyes. “I’d do anything to protect you, Emma. You must know that.”

Tags: Jennie Lucas Billionaire Romance