“It can’t be fixed.”
“Yes, it can. Elizabeth is a lot more sympathetic toward human nature and its many flaws than you are by far. But you’ll have to admit a few things about yourself, first.”
“I’m a selfish ass. I know it.” He’d heard it from her, although not in quite such explicit terms.
“Well, yeah. But that’s not what I’m talking about. You have to start trusting the people you’re closest to. That means trusting we know what’s best for you when it’s obvious you don’t have a clue,” Dan said.
“Do you trust us?” Dallas asked, getting in on thekick Ryan while he’s downaction that Ryan was trying hard not to resent. But his friends were perfectly serious, and the truth was, he did trust them. He also trusted Elizabeth.
He was the one with the problem.
“I trust you.”
“Okay, then.” Dan made himself comfortable, which guaranteed Ryan was about to experience the exact opposite effect. “Here’s the first harsh truth you need to hear. Elizabeth came to you because she believed you had a right to know you’re going to be a father. She likely expected a small amount of emotional support. In return, you issued her an ultimatum that went against everything she believes in. Then, when she didn’t make the choice you wanted—and you’d better believe it’s her choice—you let her walk away. You’ve got to stop testing your friends and start trusting us more. You didn’t give Dallie and me a choice about the money and you didn’t give Elizabeth any real choices, either. Will you man up and be a father, at least?”
“No.” He was adamant about that.
His friends stared at him in disbelief.
“My mother spent her whole life doing her best to make sure I didn’t turn out like her father. I’m not going to raise another Giaco Cienetti, either.”
“Try raising another Ryan O’Connell,” Dallas said, shrugging his shoulders, as if the solution were really that simple. “Your mother managed to do it mostly right. I have faith in Elizabeth, too. If that’s all you’re worried about—that you’ll end up with a Giaco junior—she’s the perfect person to see that doesn’t happen.”
“Do you love her?” Dan interrupted.
More than anything. He’d missed her every second of every day. He’d never regretted anything more than letting her leave, especially with so many unresolved issues between them. The condom calamity was a poor second. He had to work himself into a coma to get any sleep.
He couldn’t admit any of that though. If he started unloading those feelings, he’d lose what little control of himself he had left. “What kind of question is that?”
Relentless interrogation was one of Dan’s strengths. “A fair one. Here’s the second harsh truth. You’re going to be a father, whether you like it or not. Elizabeth is going to raise this baby, with or without you. She’s a beautiful, smart, practical woman. She’s got her own money and she doesn’t need you. Sooner or later, she’s going to find someone who’ll be more than happy to be a father to her baby. Right now, you have a say in who that father will be. Once Elizabeth finds someone else, you’ll have no say at all. Is that what you want?”
He’d been so focused on her having a baby he didn’t want that he hadn’t considered the possibility she might someday find another man. One more thought to keep him sleepless at night.
“You can be a real bastard,” he said to Dan.
“I take it you’re starting to get what you stand to lose.”
“Yeah. I do.” And it scared him, because if—when—she found someone else, there’d be no getting her back.
It might be too late for him already.
“I always figured you and Hannah would be the first to have kids,” Dan said to Dallas, while Ryan quietly hyperventilated in silence.
“We might have, if only I’d shown Ryan how to use those condoms I gave him,” Dallas replied. “In my defense, I usually only have to give that demonstration to teenagers.”
“I know how to use a condom,” Ryan said, once the dizziness passed—as if that was what was important right now. He had to find some way to make this right.
The solution he’d searched for the night she’d told him she was pregnant suddenly presented itself with a clarity that lit up the dark pub. He might not be able to love any child he’d helped spawn, but he had no trouble at all loving Elizabeth. He couldn’t imagine a woman more perfect.
He’d ask her to marry him and pray she said yes. They’d take the future one step at a time. How long might it take for a child’s sociopathic tendencies to emerge, anyway? Eight years? Ten? Maybe twelve?
Leila headed toward them, their bill in her hand—another, more direct, hint that the pub was ready to close.
Dallas reached for his wallet. “I’ll get it.”
“Why are you sitting here?” Dan demanded of Ryan. “Shouldn’t you be on your way to Chicago by now?”