“His clothes aren’t secondhand!” she declared, her blood rushing furiously through her veins. “They’re not from Bloomingdale’s, but they aren’t rags, either. I know that to you we look like we live in squalor, but we don’t. It’s a small apartment, but it’s in a quiet neighborhood near the park where he can play. He has food and toys and most importantly, all the love, stability and attention I can possibly give him. He’s a happy, healthy child.”
Sabine didn’t want to get defensive, but she couldn’t help it. She recognized the tone from back when they were dating. The people in his social circles were always quick to note her shabby-chic fashion sense and lack of experience with an overabundance of flatware. They declared it charming, but Sabine could see the mockery in their eyes. They never thought she was good enough for one of the Brooks men. She wasn’t about to let Gavin tell her that the way she raised her child wasn’t good enough, either.
“I have no doubt that you’re doing a great job with Jared. But why would you make it so hard on yourself? You could have a nice place in Manhattan. You could send him to one of the best private preschools in the city. I could get you a nice car and someone to help you cook and clean and take care of all the little things. I would’ve made sure you both had everything you needed—and without taking him from you. There was no reason to sacrifice those comforts.”
“I didn’t sacrifice anything,” Sabine insisted. She knew those creature comforts came with strings. She’d rather do without. “I never had those things to begin with.”
“No sacrifices?” Gavin shifted in the car to face her directly. “What about your painting? I’ve kept an eye out over the years and haven’t noticed any showings of your work. I didn’t see any supplies or canvases lying around the apartment, either. I assume your studio space gave way to Jared’s things, so where did all that go?”
Sabine swallowed hard. He had her there. She’d moved to New York to follow her dream of becoming a painter. She had lived and breathed her art every moment of the day she could. Her work had even met with some moderate success. She’d had a gallery showing and sold a few pieces, but it wasn’t enough to live on. And it certainly wasn’t enough to raise a child on. So her priorities shifted. Children took time. And energy. And money. At the end of the day, the painting had fallen to the bottom of her list. Some days she missed the creative release of her work, but she didn’t regret setting it aside.
“It’s in the closet,” she admitted with a frown.
“And when was the last time you painted?”
“Saturday,” she replied a touch too quickly.
Gavin narrowed his gaze at her.
“Okay, it was finger paints,” Sabine confessed. She turned away from Gavin’s heavy stare and focused on the yoga mat in her lap. He saw more than she wanted him to. He always had. “But,” she continued, “Jared and I had a great time doing it, even if it wasn’t gallery-quality work. He’s the most important thing in the world to me, now. More important than painting.”
“You shouldn’t have to give up one thing you love for another.”
“Life is about compromises, Gavin. Certainly you know what it’s like to set aside what you love to do for what you’re obligated to do.”
He stiffened in the seat beside her. It seemed they were both guilty of putting their dreams on the back burner, although for very different reasons. Sabine had a child to raise. Gavin had family expectations to uphold and a shipping empire to run. The tight collar of his obligations had chafed back when they were dating. It had certainly rubbed him bloody and raw by now.
When he didn’t respond, Sabine looked up. He was looking out the window, his thoughts as distant as his eyes.
It was surreal to be in the same car with Gavin after all this time. She could feel his gravitational pull on her when they were this close. Walking away from him the first time had been hard. They dated for about a month and a half, but every moment they spent together had been fiercely passionate. Not just sexual, either. They enjoyed everything to the fullest, from spicy ethnic foods to political debates, museum strolls to making love under the stars. They could talk for hours.
Their connection was almost enough to make her forget they wanted different things from life. And as much as he seemed enticed by the exoticness of their differences, she knew it wouldn’t last long. The novelty would wear off and they would either break up, or he would expect her to change for him. That was one thing she simply wouldn’t do. She wouldn’t conform for her parents and the small-minded Nebraska town she grew up in, and she wouldn’t do it for him. She came to New York so she could be herself, not to lose her identity and become one of the Brooks Wives. They were like Stepfords with penthouse apartments.