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But there were subtle changes that only someone that had spent years loving her and memorizing every line of her body and every nuance of her expressions would pick up on. For instance, that creamy, carefully made-up face had a hint of ashy green to it. The way she was picking at the muffin in front of her, and clutching the herbal tea I’d ordered for her, made me think she’d entered the phase of her pregnancy where nausea was her constant companion. Her painstakingly maintained mane of blond locks was also looking a little rougher than usual. Kallie wasn’t the type to throw her hair up in a ponytail and head out, but today her silky waves were piled up in a topknot that looked like it hadn’t been brushed or styled. She was also wearing sneakers. In the nearly nine years that we’d known each other, I’d never seen the woman in anything other than designer footwear that cost almost as much as some of the used cars I moved through the shop.

They weren’t huge differences but they were enough that it made the woman I had thought I was going to spend the rest of my life with feel like a stranger. She seemed unsure of herself and nervous, which was also a huge change in the dynamic between us. For the majority of our relationship Kallie had me wound tighter than a string around her little finger. I was so scared of losing her, of losing her family and the only sense of security and normalcy I’d ever known, that I’d let her lead me around by my dick and dictate the entirety of the way we were together. I never argued with her, never pushed back, and that meant she always had the upper hand. It wasn’t a smart move on my part. She was already spoiled as the baby in the Carmichael household and she had some serious princess tendencies that I’d always secretly hoped she would grow out of. As it turned out, having me at her beck and call only intensified her sense of entitlement. I’d literally created a monster, one that had no problem tearing my world apart and feasting on my heart.

I sighed and rubbed a hand over my tired face. I’d slept restlessly last night, caught between satisfaction and guilt at the artful way I’d maneuvered Poppy into agreeing to spend time with me. I wanted to feel bad for manipulating her into a situation she’d obviously wanted to say no to, but I couldn’t. I wanted to be around her and I wanted her to get used to being around me. I knew it was selfish and that I was walking over very dangerous ground, but I couldn’t stay away. She was hiding and I was seeking.

“I told you I was going to be here for you and the baby, Kallie.” I picked up my coffee and took a healthy swig. “I didn’t say I was going to be happy about it.”

She made a noise low in her throat and her fingers tightened on the mug until they were almost white. “I hate how awkward things are between us.” She looked up at me under her long lashes. “I’ve apologized a million times, Wheeler. Are you ever going to forgive me?”

I blew out an aggravated breath. “Have you told your parents why I called the wedding off yet?”

She flinched and as her gaze shifted away I caught a glimpse of guilt in her eyes. She didn’t need to answer my question when her actions answered for her.

I snorted and leaned back in my seat so that I could put as much physical distance between the two of us as possible. “So your mom and dad still think I dropped you for nothing, that I kicked you out of the house that I bought for you, for no reason?” I wanted to scream at her, to tell her to grow the hell up, to shake some sense into her. Instead, all I did was shake my head in disappointment. “They think I left you out in the cold even though you’re having my kid?” It was so disappointing. They were the only real parents I’d ever known. They took me in no questions asked the minute Kallie brought me home. I fell in love with her family almost as quickly as I fell in love with her. The way they’d had no problem believing the worst about me when Kallie and I split hurt almost as much as letting her go. Dixie had offered no less than a hundred times to intervene. She hated the way her parents had turned on me and wanted desperately to set them straight, but I refused to let her get involved. I was used to being let down by the people that were supposed to love me, so if they wanted to think the worst, I was inclined to let them. Plus, it was practically impossible to come clean about why I’d finally walked away without laying all the secrets Kallie wasn’t ready to share out on the table. Too many years being the one that protected her meant I couldn’t sell her out just to gain her parents’ favor.

She exhaled slowly and lifted her sky colored eyes up to mine. “I’m going to tell them. I just haven’t found the right time. Everything has been crazy with Dixie getting hurt and then deciding to move to Mississippi. I don’t want to put any more on them at the moment.”

It was an excuse. She didn’t want to pull the curtain back on the real reason for our split. She wasn’t protecting anyone but herself. “What does Roni think about all of this?”

Roni was the woman that Kallie had been having an affair with, while she was still involved with me. She was the woman that Kallie realized she wanted to be with more than the man she had spent the majority of her youth with. Kallie loved me, but she was supposed to be with Roni more.

At least that’s what she told me when I confronted her after her older sister let the cat out of the bag by accident. Dixie would never have shared such a personal secret but I’d ambushed her one night after Kallie told me about the baby. I needed to vent and there ended up being a whole lot of yelling and confusion, most of it on my part. Somewhere along the line Dixie thought the reason I was upset was because of Roni when she thought I was talking about Kallie’s affair instead of the baby. Dixie felt horrible for spilling her sister’s deepest secrets but I wasn’t sure Kallie would have ever come clean to me if she hadn’t.

Her gaze shifted away again and she chomped down on her lower lip. “She isn’t happy. Since I’ve been staying with my parents, there hasn’t been much time to see her or to talk to her. She wants me to tell them the truth too, but neither one of you knows how hard it is for me.” She shifted in her seat. “I’m already a runaway bride and an unwed mother. I feel like that’s plenty of disappointment for them to deal with right now.”

I sighed and leaned forward in my seat. “They are not going to be disappointed in you because you fell in love with a woman, Kallie. They are going to be disappointed you lied and hurt people that love you and care about you while trying to hide who you really are and who you really love.” I shook my head at her. “That’s why they’re so mad at me right now. They think I hurt you.”

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