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“Dumplin’, are you okay?” Marat asked, sounding concerned.

“Yes. Sorry, I just need the restroom.”

“It’s on the way to the nursery. Come on.”

Sofia offered to show me, and I waved away Marat’s offer to accompany me. I didn’t need a babysitter. I could pee and find my way back to the party just fine on my own.


I liked to pride myself on being secure in my own skin. But right then, nothing felt right. Not my clothes or my shoes or my hair. Not the heavy sapphire on my finger. Or the ornate house and grounds around me.

There was nothing wrong with any of that stuff. It was me. I was the common denominator in all of it. I was the square peg trying to fit int the round hole.

I don’t belong.

The feeling was overwhelming, and I blinked back the tears welling in my eyes.

Why did we have to come here?

I was almost okay with the lie I was living with Marat. Every day I pretended not to fall for him a little more. I took his touches and kisses with glee. Like a greedy child gorging on sweets, uncaring about the repercussions.

But I wasn’t a child. I knew the price I’d pay for ignoring my heart, I just didn’t know I was going to have to pay it so soon.

Yeah, I’d been fooling myself, thinking I could be okay with a loveless marriage. But that was not me. I led with my heart. And it wasn’t like Marat wooed me. Hell, he didn’t even propose. He just tricked me into this whole thing.

Anger surged, and it was better than the feeling hopeless. Goddamn him.

I should have demanded an annulment the second he told me what he did. But I didn’t, and we were married now.

I was so pathetic. Tears spilled over onto my cheeks, and I wiped them absently.

I was so fucked up and so lonely. So sad and desperate that I was willing to believe this man—with his fallen angel looks and billions of dollars, with his effortless charm and seductive smile—wanted me.

A thirty year old waitress with too many curves and not enough scruples.

I was delusional. Or just plain dumb. You name it. That was me.

I gladly took the crumbs Marat tossed me and clutched them to my chest like they were something dear. He didn’t love me. He never made me any promises. He didn’t have to.

Hell, he barely had to crook his finger in my direction. I was putty in his hands.

This was all me. The hope I refused to look at was mine. Not his. Not put there or encouraged by him in any way.

I was the one who secretly nurtured it inside my innermost heart. The desperate wish Marat would one day fall for me was my own.

And as I walked down the beautifully decorated hallway of his brother’s house that same private plea seized inside my chest, dying an agonizing death as I finally forced myself to face it.