Written with Regret (The Regret Duet #1)

“Don’t bullshit me. It’s a Saturday.”

“And yet here I am on the phone with you.”

“Today, Caven. If you’re going to fuck me this hard, the least you can do is buy me a drink first.”

I laughed and peeked around the corner. She was already at the table, sipping on orange juice in a wine glass, a plate of untouched pastries sitting in the middle. I was right. She was pissed. But I really needed to seal this deal before word got out and he actually found someone to give him the three hundred million he probably deserved.

I jumped out of view when her head popped up.

This was going to be a clusterfuck. But I did have to pick up a few things before the party. Surely I could squeeze in one drink without it being considered work.

“One drink. And it has to be near me.”

“You’ve lost your damn mind if you think I’m driving to Jersey today.”

It was only a forty-five-minute commute to the city. If I could do it every damn day, this guy could do it once.

I was pointedly silent.

“Okay, okay. Fine. Two fifty. Twenty-five percent and I’ll drive my ass to Jersey. However, I need you to bring a gun because if I catch the suburb bug and start looking at houses while I’m there, I need you to kill me immediately.”

Victory sang in my veins. “Noted. I’ll text you the address.” I didn’t give him the chance to get another word out before I hit the end button.

I typed out a quick message to Ian before shoving my cell in my pocket. Then, drawing in a deep breath, I patted down the inside of my jacket to make sure the black velvet box was still inside and prepared to face the music.

“Rosie. My baby,” I purred as I exited the hallway. She was easily the most beautiful thing I had ever and would ever see, even when her angry, green glare landed on me with the attitude of a scorned woman in her twenties.

I shot her a wink as I made my way to the table. When I got close, I reached for one of the muffins.

She slid the plate away. “You’re late.”

“Yeah. I know. I’m sorry.” I straightened the lapels on my navy-blue suit.

While I was in the shower, she’d slipped a formal handwritten—in crayon—invitation under the door, inviting me to her royal birthday breakfast. Or at least that was what I’d thought it said. It was really just her name, a birthday cake, and a stick figure drawing of the two of us holding hands. As I was drying off, she’d yelled, “I’m hungry, so dress like a prince!” through the door before I heard her feet scurrying away on the wood floor. This was the second year of princess birthday breakfast, so I’d thankfully prepared with chocolate chip muffins and pink-sprinkle donuts. Ya know, the breakfast of royalty everywhere.

I stopped halfway to my chair and gave her a once-over. “Wow, you look incredible.”

Her hair was a messy nest of red waves, a silver crown precariously perched atop her head, and her baby-blue ballgown was straight out of Cinderella, complete with elbow-length gloves and plastic gemstone bracelets.

She harrumphed and looked away, begrudgingly muttering, “Nice tie.”

I toyed with the end of it. “Yeah? You like it?” It was the most hideous monstrosity I’d ever seen. Bright yellow with slopes of brown on the top and bottom, it was a giant silk banana. No prince would ever be caught dead in it. But she’d bought it for me when Ian had taken her shopping for Father’s Day, so I wore it when I didn’t have to leave the house. “Mind if I sit down, your highness?”

Her glare turned into a full-on scowl, and I had to bite my lip not to laugh.

When I got settled across from her, I made another attempt at a muffin, and this time, she let me have it. I jerked my chin toward the full platter. “I thought you said you were hungry?”

“I know you were working.”

I slapped a hand to my chest. “Who, me? Working? Today? It’s a Saturday. That would be strictly against the rules.”

“It’s not just Saturday,” she huffed. “It’s Rosie-Posie day.” Her eyes narrowed into a powerful glare a four-year-old should not know how to possess. “I heard you on the phone.”

I hooked a thumb over my shoulder. “You mean just now in the hall? Pssh. That wasn’t work.”

“Now, you’re going to make up a story,” she said before leaning back in her chair and linking her fingers like she was sitting in a boardroom rather than a breakfast nook. “Go ahead. Let’s hear it.”

Clearly this was not the first time she’d caught me working. She knew the drill.

And so did I. “See, when I took the trash out earlier, there was a baby seal in the middle of the road with a bunch of plastic straws stuck to his flipper.” I leaned toward her. “See why we have to recycle?”

“We don’t live near the water.”

“Right? Which was why I was so surprised to find him there.”

Her scowl became more scowly, but I’d committed, so I had to see it through.

“I was only late today because I stopped traffic, carried him to safety, and removed all the fishing net.”

“You said straws.”

“Yeah, but when I got closer to him, it was a bunch of straws, a fishing net, and a boot. Don’t get me started on why there was a random boot, but in my experiences rescuing seals, there is always an old boot involved.”

She pursed her lips, but it was only to hide a smile. With my Rosalee, that was halfway to being out of the doghouse.

“Anyway, that was the seal’s dad on the phone, calling to thank me. I told him that I was in a rush for my girl’s birthday breakfast, but he just wouldn’t stop going on and on about sending us two hundred million fish as his way to say thanks. Apparently, that’s the seal equivalent of a muffin basket. I tried to tell him that we didn’t need that much fish for just the two of us, but he wasn’t having it. So then we started arguing. I know it’s rude not to accept a gift, but where would we even keep two hundred million fish?” I paused to tap my chin. “We could probably fit at least a million of them in your room.”

“Ewwww!” she cried, adorably crinkling her freckled nose.

“Maybe another million if we cleaned out from under your bed first.”

Her eyes flashed wide and she shook her head so fast that it was all I could do not to laugh. But she was smiling and not giving me the death glare anymore, so I continued to ramble faster with each sentence.

“But that would still leave us with two hundred forty-eight million. I tried to tell him that we’d take twenty five percent, but that’s still, like, fifty million, and I don’t think your playroom could hold more than a hundred fish max with all the junk you have in there, so the rest would fill our whole house.” I popped a chocolate chip off the top of the muffin into my mouth and shrugged. “I’m not sure about you, but I don’t want to smell like a salmon for the rest of my life. Unfortunately, Mr. Seal would not back down.” I paused dramatically, lifting a finger in the air. “But then I got an idea.”

“What?” she asked, damn near giddy, all her frustration with my punctuality forgotten.

I made a show of looking around the empty space before curling my finger to signal her closer. When she got as far across the table as her torso would allow, I whispered, “I gave him Uncle Ian’s address.”

She burst into a fit of laughter, the crown on the top of her head shaking with her shoulders as she giggled.

Smiling, I listened intently, like it was the first and not closer to the billionth time I’d heard the masterpiece that was her laugh. It was moments like that that filled my chest with more happiness than I’d known was possible four years earlier.

How had it already been four years?

In some ways, it seemed like it was just yesterday that I’d held that tiny, squishy baby on my chest in the hospital. But, in other ways, it seemed like an eternity ago. I honestly couldn’t remember my life without her.

Technically, I didn’t remember much of the first four months of my life with her, either. Bringing her home from the hospital had been a culture shock. My life of coming and going as I pleased had been over. Even going to the gym had become a scheduling nightmare, and that was assuming I’d had the energy to do anything more than climb out of bed, fix a bottle, and get right back in bed to feed it to her. Sleep deprivation was no joke.

I hired a nanny for the first week, but I never left the house because I’d convinced myself that something was going to happen to Rosalee while I was gone and it would have been all my fault because I wanted to maintain my six-pack. A six-pack that’s only purpose was that of a hood ornament. It wasn’t like I had the time to entertain the idea of having sex again.

Veronica had sent me exactly one text message after that night we’d found Rosalee.

She asked if she’d left her purse at my house.

She hadn’t.

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