Read Baby on Board Online

Authors: Lisa Ruff

Tags: #American Light Romantic Fiction, #Romance: Modern, #Contemporary, #General, #Romance, #Romance - Contemporary, #Fiction, #Fiction - Romance, #Man-woman relationships, #Pregnant women

Baby on Board (2 page)

BOOK: Baby on Board

“No, it doesn’t end like this. It’s too good between us.”

Kate stood and faced him. This was possibly the hardest thing she had ever had to do. More than anything, she wanted to go to him and press herself against his strong body. She wanted—ached—to feel his arms close around her as he held her tight. But she wouldn’t. She couldn’t just think of herself. Not anymore. She stiffened her spine.

“We had a good time, Patrick. But that’s over.”

He looked at her silently, his expression a carefully controlled mask. Some indefinable emotion swept through his eyes, turning them a dark and stormy gray. “I can’t believe you mean that.”

“Believe it. While you were gone, things changed.”

“I know that.” He shoved his hands into the pockets of his jeans. His tone was flat and hard. “That change is exactly what we need to talk about.”

The color drained from Kate’s face. She closed her eyes and felt almost dizzy. When she opened them, Patrick was watching her intently.

“Who told you?” she asked.

“Shelly. I saw her down at the coffee shop twenty minutes ago.”

Kate wrapped her arms around herself and stared out the window on the summer afternoon, then back at him, not knowing what to say.

“When were you going to tell me, Kate?”

“I wasn’t.”

“What?” He shook his head slowly, as if he couldn’t believe what he was hearing. “I am the father, aren’t I?”

Kate’s temper rose at his implication, but she tamped it down. “Yes, Patrick,” she said with a slight snap in her voice. “You are. Technically.”

he repeated. “You make it sound like I was just a convenient sperm donor.”

Kate winced. “That’s not what I meant at all.”

“Then what did you mean?”

She sighed. “Look. I didn’t intend to get pregnant, but I was—I
—happy that it happened. I’ve always wanted to have a child and now I will.”

“Great! So what’s the problem? We’re having a baby. I’m going to be a father. Break out the cigars!”

“No, Patrick.
having a baby.” He opened his mouth, but before he could protest, she continued, “I’m having this baby, and I don’t think you should be involved.”

“I don’t see how I can be any less involved.”

“I meant…” Kate paused and took a deep breath. He was making this much harder than she had planned it to be. “My baby
going to have a father. But it won’t be you.”

“It’s a little too late to make that choice.” Patrick’s tone was dry as he raised an eyebrow at her. “I
the father.”

Kate shook her head. “Not in that way.”

“Oh? So who is the father
in that way?

“I’ve got a list of possibilities, but I—”

“A list! And I’m not on it?” With a laugh, he leaned against the workbench again. “What kind of joke is this?”

“It isn’t a joke.” Kate could feel her face flush, but she kept her chin high. “Face it, Patrick. You would not make a good father. I’m looking elsewhere.”

“You can’t make a decision like that on your own, Kate. You aren’t the only one involved here.”

“You’re right,” she agreed softly. “There’s someone else to think of now. I want what’s best for the baby. That is not you.”

His silver eyes darkened like a storm rolling in from the sea. “You have no idea what kind of father I would be. And you don’t have any right to deny me my child.”

She squared her shoulders and tilted her chin higher. “Patrick, you’re never here. A child needs two parents.
Are you willing to give up racing so you can be that kind of father?”

“Just because I like to sail doesn’t mean I can’t be a good father.”

“Then you’ll give up racing?”

“I don’t
to give up racing to be—”

“Yes, you do.” Kate spoke right over him, ignoring his protest. “This baby needs you here to hold her and love her. She needs you to tuck her in at night, to worry when she’s sick, to catch her when she takes her first steps. She needs you
Patrick, not out in the middle of the ocean. Or in some foreign port forgetting she exists.”

“I wouldn’t forget my own child,” he said harshly.

“So you say. But when you race, you seem to forget all kinds of things.”

“How do you know anything about it, Kate? You’ve never even
out on a sailboat.”

“Whether I know how to sail or not is not the point.” Kate was exasperated now, losing control of her temper again. “We’re talking about whether you’ll be here for this child or not.”

He glared at her, but Kate wasn’t about to back down. She knew what it was like to have a father who was never around. Her baby would not suffer the same fate. Not if she could prevent it. She would protect her child from that pain, even at the expense of her own heart. Kate turned away from him and felt the heat of the furnace on her face. Usually comforting, this time the blaze fired her anger and unhappiness. She needed to get away from Patrick. If he wouldn’t leave, then she would; Kate moved to the door.

Patrick followed and grabbed her by the arm. When she jerked free, he slipped his arms around her. “Please, Kate. Don’t run away. It’s my baby, too.”

She wriggled in his grasp. “You won’t be the kind of father a child needs. You won’t be here. You’re just a sperm donor.” She didn’t hesitate to use his words against him.

When she tried again to break from his embrace, one of his hands slipped over her abdomen, onto the soft bulge there. Kate stopped struggling. They stood still for a long moment. Kate could feel his breath in her hair and his heart beating against her back.

Slowly, Patrick’s other hand slid to her abdomen. He gently cupped the slight swelling where there had once been a flat expanse of skin. Kate didn’t stop him. The shield she had erected against him slipped a little as he touched her. This was the father of her child. No matter how she tried to stop it, having him stroke the life they had created brought a lump into her throat.

He spun her around in his arms and raised her shirt. After gazing at her pregnant belly for a long, silent time, his eyes met hers.

“How long?” he asked.

“Four and a half months.”

He put a hand on her stomach again, spreading his fingers as if to encompass all that lay beneath the surface. The back of his tanned hand was dark against her pale skin.

“Can you feel anything yet?”

Kate nodded. “She’s pretty active. At first it was like having a butterfly trapped inside, but now it’s like she’s dancing.”

“She?” He raised an eyebrow. “It’s a girl?”

“I don’t know. And I don’t
to, either, but I don’t like saying ‘it’.”

“I am the father, Kate.” He glared at her. “Don’t take that away from me.”

With a jerk, she pulled back, tugging her shirt down over her stomach. “It’s not about what I want or you want. It’s about my child.”

Patrick locked his eyes on her. “Our child.”

“Her happiness is all that matters to me. I don’t think you’re willing to be that unselfish. I’m not sure you can be.”

“You won’t even give me a chance, will you?” Patrick thrust a hand through his long hair. He paced away from her across the studio, holding one hand to the nape of his neck. He stood with his back to her for a long minute, then dropped his hand and turned around. “I didn’t get you pregnant and then just walk away.”

“I know that.” Kate took a deep breath. “Look, for me, everything’s changed.”

“You talk like it’s been years. It’s only been three months.”

“Three months without you. Alone. On my own, with a child to think about. My life is different now, Patrick.” She placed a hand over her abdomen where his had rested. “I don’t think you’re capable of giving me what I need or what a child needs. And, honestly, I can’t afford to give you the chance to hurt me again. Or the baby.”

“Kate, I—”

“No, Patrick. I’m tired and I don’t want to argue about this anymore.”

“We need to—”

Kate put up a hand. “No, not today.”

He clenched his teeth. “This morning I found out I was going to be a father. Now you tell me I’m not. I need time to think about this. We both do. I’ll come back tomorrow.”

Kate shook her head. She imagined he wasn’t going to let this lie. He was a stubborn man. She also knew that he wouldn’t win. The baby trumped every argument he could make. He wouldn’t be there as a father for her and nothing less was acceptable.

“Not tomorrow. I have an appointment.”

“With who? Your doctor? I’ll go with you.”

“No.” Kate felt a flush creep up her cheeks.

She turned away and began to rack her tools on a Peg-Board panel hung across from the worktable. The loose mandrels clanked together as she gathered them up and put them in a cabinet drawer beneath the board. Carefully, she poured the two dishes of glass frit back into their jars and put them in a rack at the end of the table. She picked up the paintbrush she had dropped earlier and put it in a jar of cleaning fluid. With a rag, she wiped the smear of paint off the table. Patrick watched her closely, but she refused to meet his gaze.

“So you’re meeting one of my replacements.”

Kate spun to look at him, wide-eyed. “Who told—” She stopped abruptly when she saw his face. He had been guessing, but her reaction had confirmed it.

“You’re serious about this, aren’t you?” He crossed his arms over his chest. “Damn it, Kate. I can’t believe this.”

Keeping her flushed face averted, she put away the glass rod he had fidgeted with and screwed the lid on the jar of paint. She swished the brush in the cleaner and dried it with a rag.

“Don’t believe it, then, but there’s nothing else to say. I’ve made my decision.”

“This is crazy.” He stalked to the door and wrenched it open. “This is not over. Not by a long shot.” He strode out of the workshop, slamming the door behind him.

Kate jumped at the sound, then plunked herself down on the stool with a sigh. The baby moved restlessly inside her. Soothingly, she stroked the small bulge.

“It’s okay, sweetheart. Mama did the right thing.” Kate let out a hiccupping sigh as tears ran down her cheeks. “It’s over now. It’s all over now.”

Chapter Two

Patrick skidded his truck into a parking space at the marina, jammed it into neutral and turned off the engine. The gravel lot was nearly empty. Most of the vehicles belonged to marina employees. Their cars were easily distinguished from the boat owners’ by age, abuse and layers of dirt. Like Patrick’s Dodge: once white, it was now a dull, mottled tan and sported a V-shaped dent in the roof where a mast had accidentally landed on it.

He sat in the pickup, staring out the windshield, hands braced on the steering wheel for a long, silent minute. Then, in a burst of movement, he shouldered his door open, got out and slammed it closed as hard as he could. The truck rocked on its suspension from the force of his fury. Out of the air-conditioned cab, the hot July breeze from the Chesapeake Bay wrapped around him like a wet towel. At the back of the truck, Patrick reached over the tailgate and grabbed his bag of sailing gear.

She can’t deny me my own child!

The thought had him dropping the bag and curling his fingers over the warm metal tailgate.
She has no right.
But what could he do about it? With a growl of pure rage, Patrick balled his hand into a fist and slammed it into the tailgate. The blow dented the panel just above the O and shot searing pain from his knuckles up his arm.

“Damn her to hell!”

He spun away from the truck, tucking his hand into his armpit. The action did nothing to soothe the agony. He sat down heavily on the back bumper, still cradling his battered appendage. “Damn her,” he repeated softly.

The pain overwhelmed his fury. Slowly, anger was replaced by an ache in his heart that seemed to complement the throbbing in his fingers. That ache was a surprise, a hurt for something he hadn’t even known he cared about. He ran his uninjured hand through his hair and lowered his head, hunching his shoulders. His mind reeled and lurched but came up with no direction. Studying the swirling patterns of gravel beneath his feet did nothing to help untangle his thoughts.

“Hey, what’s up?” a deep voice asked.

Patrick looked up to see his brother, Ian, standing over him. One black eyebrow was raised in question over his dark brown eyes.

“You don’t want to know,” Patrick said.

“The reason you just punched your truck?” Ian grinned. He held a canvas tool bag in one hand, a coping saw sticking out one end. The other hand balanced a long oak plank over his shoulder. “Yeah, I want to know.” Deftly, he swung the board down and leaned it against the tailgate. He dropped the tool bag in the bed of the truck and took a seat next to Patrick on the bumper. His long legs matched Patrick’s as they stretched out from the truck. “Spill it.”

Patrick sighed and rubbed a hand over his face. He could think of no way to dress up the truth and make it sound better, so he just blurted it out. “Kate’s pregnant.”

Ian shook his head and laughed outright. “Well, I suppose it was bound to happen. The Berzanis are a fertile bunch.” When Patrick glared at him, Ian shrugged. “So, this is a bad thing?”

“No, it’s not a
bad thing.
” Patrick ground the words out from between clenched teeth.

“So why attack your truck?”

“Kate doesn’t want me involved.”

“That’s a bad thing.” Ian was silent for a moment. “How’d you screw this one up?”

“I didn’t screw up!” Patrick rose to his feet to pace. All the anger he had felt came rushing back, pushing aside the hurt. “She thinks I can’t be a good father if I’m at sea all the time.”

Ian looked at Patrick, his eyes dark and thoughtful. “I see her point. Tough to be good at something if you’re not there to do it.”

“I could be a good father whether I race or not.”

“What, you’re going to get the kid a berth in the Trans-Oceana race? Show him the ropes before he can crawl?”

“Of course not.”

“Then how are you going be around to do the fathering?”

“Who said I wouldn’t be around?”

Ian looked at his hands. “You just did.”

Patrick gritted his teeth in frustration. “I wouldn’t race all the time. I could cut back some.”

“Sounds reasonable. Did you tell her that?”

“She wouldn’t let me. She just kept saying she didn’t want me involved.” His jaw tightened. “She’s got a list.”

“A list?”

“A list of potential fathers. She doesn’t want me, so she’s, she’s…interviewing other candidates, I guess.”

“Really?” Ian was silent again. “What are you going to do about it?”

“Stop her. What else?”

“All right, then.” Ian stood and turned to grab his tool bag out of the truck. Before he picked up the board again, he ran a hand across the dents in the tailgate. “That’s number three. How long have you had this rig? Two years? When are you going to stop punching it?”

“Better my truck than your ugly face.” With his good hand, Patrick grabbed his own bag.

“As if you’d even have a chance,” Ian scoffed, but he smiled at Patrick.

They walked across the parking lot to the marina office, gravel giving way to concrete near the building that housed it. The walkway spread out to the right and joined with the large, open space where the travel lift sat idle. A blue sailboat hung suspended in its canvas slings as Bart, the travel-lift operator, pressure-washed the scum from the hull. Small piles of barnacles, dislodged from the propeller and shaft, lay under the boat. A waft of ripe algae filled the air, borne on the mist from the pressure washer.

At the door to the office, Ian leaned his plank against the wall and held the door for Patrick. “You’d better get some ice on that.”

Patrick examined his knuckles, flexing his fingers gingerly. “Doesn’t feel like I broke anything this time.”

“That’s progress,” Ian said solemnly, but his eyes twinkled as Patrick laughed.

Cool air-conditioning bathed their faces as they walked inside. Before them was a long, waist-high counter, bare except for a display of brochures at one end, a three-ring binder and a large desktop calendar. The calendar was filled with writing, every date covered, with notes made in the margins, as well. Behind them, against the window, stood two wooden chairs with a low table between them. Supposedly for waiting clients, Patrick could rarely remember anyone actually sitting in the chairs. Most of the people who stepped through the door at A&E Marine were longtime customers who walked behind the counter to grab a cup of coffee from the small break room in back. Or they borrowed some tool. Or they leaned against the counter and talked and talked, sometimes for hours.

Elaine Berzani looked up as they entered the office. She sat at one of two desks behind the counter.

“What have you done this time, Patrick Michael Berzani?” she asked, bustling around the end of the counter and taking his hand. “Ian, go get your brother some ice.”

“Ma,” Ian protested. “Patty’s the one who smacked his truck. Let him get his own ice if he’s going to be so stupid.”

Elaine leveled a glare at her eldest son. Ian sighed and dropped his tool bag with a clank, disappearing into the break room. Coming back, he thrust an ice-filled towel at Patrick.

“Here, stupid.”

“Thanks, ugly.”

Elaine frowned at her sons. “Stop it, both of you. Patrick, sit down and keep that ice on your hand. Ian, your father just called and said Jimmy Johnson is down looking at his boat. He’ll stall him as long as he can, but you’d better get there right away.”

“I told that idiot it wouldn’t be done until next week,” Ian grumbled, picking up the tools again.

“Don’t call your father an idiot.” Patrick grinned at Ian and was rewarded with a rude gesture.

“You should be handling Johnson, not me, bro. You’re the one who should have test-sailed the damn thing by now.”

Elaine rolled her eyes. “Somebody better go. I think the healthiest and sanest one. I’ll tend to the injured and insane.”

“Tell Dad I’m on my way. You want to go get a beer after?” Ian asked Patrick.

“Yeah. I’ll be down on my boat. Tell Jimmy I just got back and I’ll take his boat out tomorrow.”

Ian nodded and left the office. Elaine went back behind the counter and picked up the walkie-talkie. After she had delivered the message to her husband, she turned and sat down. Her gray eyes surveyed him expectantly. She was a pretty woman, small and sprightly. Dressed in jeans and a powder-pink polo shirt, she looked more like Patrick’s older sister than his mother.

Patrick took a chair at the desk that faced hers and propped his feet on the corner. His bruised knuckles felt better—numb from the cold, but better.

“So you punched your poor truck again. What did it do this time?”

“Nothing. I was mad.”

Elaine pursed her lips. “That’s a news flash. About what?”

Patrick shrugged. “It doesn’t matter. I’m over it.”

The look on his mother’s face told him she didn’t believe this fabrication any more than the other lies he had told her. “That’s the third time, isn’t it?” She shuffled a few papers on her desk. “Or is it four?”

Patrick shrugged. “Ian counted three.”

Elaine kept her eyes fastened on him, as if she knew what he was thinking. Patrick said nothing and looked out the window behind her at the docks and the water.

“Well,” she finally said. “You haven’t told me the other two reasons why you hit your truck, so I shouldn’t be surprised that you won’t tell me about the third. I’m only your mother. I just brought you into this world. I don’t suppose I have any more use in your life.”

Patrick grinned. The grin turned into a laugh. “That was good, Ma. Are you giving lessons yet?”

He could see a smile trying to break out on her face, but she wagged a finger at him. “You watch yourself, Patrick Michael.”

“But, Ma.” Patrick’s eyes danced with suppressed laughter. “I’m only saying that a master at their craft owes it to the next generation to pass that skill along.”

Elaine laughed and threw a pencil at him which he caught in his good hand. “Stop it, now.” She sobered. “If there’s anything you need to talk about, you know I’m here to listen. And tell you what you should do. Like a mother is supposed to do.”

“I know that, Ma.”

The phone rang and Elaine lifted the receiver. Patrick ignored her conversation, twirling the pencil between his fingers. How could he tell his mother about Kate? Where would he even begin? From the beginning perhaps; he had been sitting in the coffee shop, when his head was turned by a peal of sharp, ringing laughter. It came from a woman at the counter. Running his gaze over her slim, lithe form, he had felt something flicker inside him. Long legs, a sweetly rounded bottom and the taut curve of pert breasts: what wasn’t to like about that? Her hair had seemed alive, too, as some stray draft of air caught the long, golden curls and sent them dancing around her head. When she turned and he caught a glimpse of her face and her chocolate-brown eyes, he knew he had to meet her.

Elaine got up, phone in the crook of shoulder and neck and went to a bank of file cabinets along the back wall. How could he tell his
about how hot it had been between him and Kate after that first meeting? That was
information to share with a mother. Nor did he want to talk about how suddenly, today, Kate had turned so cold. It cut him to the bone that she could douse the fire so easily, even as she carried his child inside her. The more he thought about it, the more miserable he felt.

Elaine hung up the phone. “All these phone calls! How am I supposed to do any work around here? I never appreciated Tricia until after she’d gone.”

Patrick dragged himself out of his muddled thoughts. “What happened to her?” He used the pencil to gesture to the desk where he lounged. “I thought she would have chased me out of her chair by now.”

“She moved to Boston two weeks ago.”

“Boston?” Patrick gave a shiver. “What would she want to do that for?”

“Love.” Elaine smiled at him with a twinkle in her eye. “Isn’t that what makes us do all the stupid things we do in life?” She cocked her head to one side, once more looking at her son expectantly.

“I wouldn’t know.” The words were a mutter as he avoided her eyes. He dropped his feet to the floor, rose, and tossed the pencil back to her desk. “I’m going down to the boat.”

“How’s your hand?”

Patrick lifted the towel and looked at his knuckles. The skin was blue-white and didn’t hurt, but he could see some swelling. “It’ll be all right.”

“Keep the ice on it.” The command was all mother.

He nodded, picked up his bag and swung the door open. “See you later.”

“Oh! Before I forget, Jeannie wants you to call her about the picnic on Saturday.”

“What does my darling sister need now?” Patrick asked irritably.

Elaine shook her head at Patrick. “Be nice. She needs you to help her with the coolers and ice.”

“Isn’t that why she has children?”

“It’s a
picnic, Patrick. That means everyone gets to help.”

Patrick rolled his eyes. “I’ll call her.”

He stepped outside and pulled the door shut behind him. Sighing, he took a deep breath. It was like sucking air through a wet rag—a
wet rag. It signaled the start of another steamy July in Maryland that would probably last through August. Hoisting his bag on his shoulder, Patrick walked toward the docks that stretched away to the right, past the travel-lift pad.

To his left, three rows of about fifty boats stood on jack stands. Half of those would be gone in a week, to be replaced by others in need of quick repairs or a coat of paint. The other half were serious refits, boats completely stripped of hardware and rigging. Some sported tents of plastic, behind which Patrick could hear the low hiss of an air compressor or the high whine of a gel-coat peeler. The sharp, sweet smell of hot fiberglass mingled with the fecund aroma of the shore. Behind the rows of boats were sheds for the yard’s various repair shops: one each for engines, gel coat, paint, canvas and so on. Ian’s wood shop was among the largest buildings—big enough to fit an entire boat during the winter. Fragrant with raw wood and varnish, the scent there always reminded Patrick of the childhood he had spent on his parents’ old boat.

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