Authors: Lisa Ruff
Tags: #American Light Romantic Fiction, #Romance: Modern, #Contemporary, #General, #Romance, #Romance - Contemporary, #Fiction, #Fiction - Romance, #Man-woman relationships, #Pregnant women
He went down the ramp connecting the docks to land. The floats bounced slightly with each step and undulated in the wake of passing boats. Like the water they floated on, they rose and fell with the tides of the Chesapeake. Pilings spaced every forty feet or so, driven deep into the mud of Crab Creek, kept the whole maze of docks anchored in place. Patrick passed the small powerboats slipped closest to shore, where the water was shallow. Beyond those were larger, more elaborate yachts, all gleaming fiberglass and bright chrome. Last, in the deepest water, were sailboats.
Patrick turned left onto a narrower dock perpendicular to the main pier. A couple of men, fellow sailors who kept their boats at the marina, greeted him. Otherwise the dock was quiet, as it usually was during the weekdays. It would be busy later; tonight was race night. Patrick flexed his fingers, testing their strength. He winced when two gave him a stab of pain. Maybe he would have to sit this race out.
Ten slips down, Patrick arrived at his boat,
a sleek, white sailboat with green canvas over the boom and mainsail. He slung his bag onto the cabin top, then stepped up and over the lifelines onto the deck. The boat rocked gently as he boarded. Patrick adjusted his rhythm to that of the boat and nimbly hopped into the cockpit. There, he pushed open the companionway hatch and pulled out the drop boards to open the cabin.
He went down the steps inside the boat, and threw his bag on the settee that ran along the right side of the boat. The icy, dripping towel went into the galley sink. Moving forward through the cabin, he opened hatches and ports, letting the late-afternoon breeze wash the heat and musty smell out of the boat.
He pulled open the icebox. It held more beer than it had when he left three months ago. He took out one can and, just as he opened it, heard a knock on the hull.
With a smile, he grabbed another beer. “Evan, come aboard!”
Evan McKenzie climbed over the lifelines and sat on one of the cockpit seats as Patrick tossed him a can. He popped the tab and took a deep swallow. Patrick climbed out into the cockpit to join him.
Tall, blond and lanky, he looked like Patrick’s fair-skinned twin. They had been best friends ever since age twelve when they had tried to beat each other to a pulp over a protest in a sailing dinghy race. After that start, they had gotten into more trouble than seemed possible to their long-suffering parents.
“Welcome back.” Evan’s greeting was followed by a hearty belch.
“Thanks.” Patrick clunked his can against Evan’s in a toast. “Thanks for restocking the icebox.”
Evan grinned. “Only seemed fair, since I drank what you left in there.”
Patrick often thought that his friend looked like a used-car salesman when he smiled like that, sunglasses hiding his green eyes. In fact, he was a car salesman, albeit new ones, and very successful at it. It had something to do with the charm that oozed out of Evan’s pores. He could sell a monster pickup to an eighty-year-old grandmother with cataracts or a minivan to a teenager looking for a chick magnet. Patrick didn’t understand it. If he didn’t know Evan well, he wouldn’t trust him on a bet.
“How’d the big race go?” Evan asked.
“You didn’t check the site?”
Evan tipped his glasses down to eye Patrick, then pushed them back up. “Please. I’ve got better things to do with my time than track your wake.”
Patrick snorted his disgust. “We took second.”
” Evan whistled. “Not bad for a bunch of amateurs.”
Patrick flipped him off good-naturedly and leaned back against the cockpit coaming.
Evan eyed the swollen, bruised hand. “You get in a fight or something?”
“Punched my truck.” Patrick flexed the fingers, again feeling a stab of pain. “Didn’t break anything. But I don’t think I’ll race tonight.”
Evan shook his head and slid around to lean his back against the cabin, stretching his legs out along the seat. “Who pissed you off?”
Patrick saw his brother coming down the dock and didn’t answer. Ian climbed on board.
“Ian! You see your brother’s knuckles?”
“Yep. That truck will never be the same.”
“Any good reason?” Evan cocked his head. “Or just staying in practice?”
Patrick ignored the joke and went below to get his brother a beer. He didn’t want to talk about Kate right now. Maybe not ever.
“It has something to do with a woman.” Ian took the can Patrick handed him.
“Naturally. Kate?” Evan asked.
Ian nodded. “You’ll have to pry the details out of him yourself.”
Evan swiveled his head to look at Patrick, one eyebrow raised above the edge of his sunglasses. “She dumped you!”
Patrick sighed. “Look, can we talk about something else?”
Evan and Ian looked at each other, then back at Patrick. “No,” they said in stereo.
“He knocked her up,” Ian volunteered.
Evan’s mouth dropped open and he looked at Patrick over the rim of his sunglasses again. Then he pushed them back up and started to laugh, loud and long. Patrick took a deep drink of his beer, emptying it. He went back down and got another. When he returned, Evan was still laughing, wiping tears from the corners of his eyes. Patrick glared at Ian, who shrugged innocently.
Finally, Evan got control of himself. “Damn, that’s perfect,” he said on a final gurgle. “Here’s to you, Dad,” he added, raising his drink.
“That’s the tricky part—” Ian began.
“Whose mess is this anyway?” Patrick interrupted.
“Yours, Patty,” Ian said. “So, tell him.”
Evan looked back and forth between them. “What rest? She’s knocked up. You get married, live happily ever after until you don’t. End of story.”
“That’s the problem,” Patrick began reluctantly. “She doesn’t want to get married—”
“That’s perfect!” Evan crowed.
“She doesn’t want to get married to me.”
“Kate doesn’t think Patrick is father material,” Ian said. “He’s gone too often racing.”
Evan snorted. “What difference does it make if he’s here or not? He’s the father.”
“Tell that to Kate.” Patrick popped the tab on his beer and took a long swallow.
“She’s going to find a guy who’s more qualified for the position,” Ian elaborated when Patrick fell silent.
“Wow!” Evan swore. “That’s hard-core.”
“She wants me to give it up,” Patrick added grimly.
“That’s ridiculous. You’re a world-class skipper!” Evan straightened from his slumped position. “She might as well ask you to stop breathing. What’s she got against sailors anyway?”
Patrick shrugged. “Search me. She’s never even been sailing.”
“Well, you can fix that easily enough.” Evan patted
“So what are you going to do?” Ian asked.
“Somehow, I have to change her mind. I have to show her that I can be a good father.”
“Hey, I know! Just borrow one of Jeannie’s kids for a few days to cart around with you. Kate’ll get the idea.” Evan chortled at his own joke.
“Knock it off, Evan.” Patrick glared at his friend. “I’m serious.”
“Oh, come on. It’s not like she has guys lined up to marry her,” Evan scoffed. “She’s
“She has at least one,” Patrick countered. “She’s meeting him tomorrow.”
Evan shook his head and took another swig of beer. “I don’t believe it.”
“I do,” Ian said quietly.
Evan looked at him.
Ian shrugged. “She’s beautiful and vivacious. She’s an artist. Smart, too. And she runs her own business. The fact that she’s pregnant wouldn’t be that much of a deterrent for some guys.”
“It would be for
“No one’s asking you to step up to the plate, McKenzie,” Patrick said.
“Sounds like no one’s asking you to, either, Berzani,” he shot back.
“Shut up, both of you,” Ian interjected. “So, how are you going to change her mind, Patty?”
“Go see her tomorrow, before she meets this other guy. If I can talk to her, I think I can make her see it could work.”
Ian nodded while Evan shook his head. “It’s going to take more than fancy talk.”
“Maybe I should take your advice, then,” Patrick said slowly.
advice?” Evan asked, surprised.
“Yeah.” Patrick nodded as he thought through the idea. “I should take her sailing. She’ll understand everything then.”
Evan grinned. “Brilliant!”
“I don’t think that’s such a good idea, Patty,” Ian said, frowning. “She’s never sailed and—”
“That’s why I should do it,” Patrick interrupted. “I’ll surprise her and show her how great it really is.”
“But what if she hates it?” Ian asked.
“Never happen,” Evan said. “I’ll go along to do the work and Patrick can play skipper.”
“I am a skipper,” Patrick said drily.
“Yeah, yeah. Whatever.”
don’t think you should do this.” Ian looked back and forth between them. His dark eyes were worried. “At least don’t spring it on her.”
“No, Patrick’s right,” Evan said. “It works better if he surprises her. She’ll love it!”
Patrick ignored his brother and Evan. He wasn’t sure how he felt about becoming a father, but he wasn’t going to let Kate push him aside before he figured it out. He had to change her mind. Taking her sailing was the perfect first step. Perfect.
Kate carried her cup of tea out onto the brick patio behind her house. The early-morning air was cool and fresh after the heat and humidity of the previous day. Later, it would be hot, but now the temperature was perfect. She sat on a deck chair and looked at the garden.
Peeking out from behind the daisies, peonies and petunias were fantastical ceramic creatures sprung from Molly’s fertile imagination. Some of the beasts sported smooth, shining skin in ocher, sienna and russet. Their eyes glinted slyly. Others were rough-hewn and mossy, features grumpy and fierce. Between them, shining spires of red, green, blue and yellow glass—creations from Kate’s studio—spiked skyward. Delicate orbs of lustrous silver and gold glass hung from the branches of the wisteria, catching the light and reflecting it back to the house.
At the edge of the patio stood several large ceramic pots, also Molly’s handiwork. Crimson geraniums spilled over their sides, spicing the air with scent. Kate took a sip of her tea and savored the morning air. She emptied her mind, trying to concentrate on the whimsical beauty of the garden, but it was no use. All too soon, the pansies and marigolds were overlaid by Patrick Berzani’s angry face. She closed her eyes and sighed.
As the baby fluttered in her stomach, Kate went over the previous afternoon in her mind.
Her argument with Patrick was all she could think about, worry about. The night had been filled with disturbing dreams about him. In one, she and Patrick had soared through the air like eagles. They each held the hand of a tiny baby that squealed and giggled. Kate had felt exhilarated and free. When she turned to her companion, his face had changed, and her brother Danny looked back at her through large, sorrow-filled eyes. The baby’s hand slipped from her grasp and the two figures dropped away from her, falling through the air, becoming smaller and smaller. Kate had tried to scream but couldn’t. She woke with a gasp, her heart pounding. After that, she had given up on sleep and dreams and risen to make tea, hoping a new day would put the old one behind her.
Kate opened her eyes and looked up to see a tall woman in a bright orange-and-gold caftan step onto the patio. Her wild hair was caught up in a messy bun on the back of her head, tendrils flying and dancing as she moved.
“Molly! Good morning. When did you get back?”
“Late last night. I should still be sleeping, but the morning’s too glorious to miss.” The older woman brought her mug to the table and sat across from Kate with a sigh of satisfaction.
“How did the festival go?”
“Amazing,” Molly said, excitement lighting her oval, tanned face. “I sold everything! There wasn’t a cup or a vase left at the end.”
“Fantastic. I’m glad it went so well.”
“Me, too. It was definitely worth the trip.” Molly studied her carefully. “You look tired.”
“I didn’t sleep well.”
“You’ll have to get a nap in later.” Concern shone in the pale blue eyes looking at Kate.
“That’s my plan.”
“Good.” With a nod, Molly leaned back in her chair and stretched like a cat, slow and long. She closed her eyes and raised her face to the sun, smiling happily. “Oh, what a
Kate smiled as she watched Molly. She knew her aunt wouldn’t care one iota that the sun highlighted every line on her face. She had told Kate often enough that she didn’t understand women who fought time. There were too many other interesting things to do with life than trying to look young. She was a woman comfortable with herself and her age.
With her hair, her wild caftans and a love for bright lipstick, Molly was the stereotype of an artist. She lived alone, happy and content by herself, in the house next to Kate’s. A common wall joined the two residences and they shared the garden with separate patios on either end. Behind the houses, fronting the main street was the retail shop they also shared. On the other side of the alley was the studio with Kate’s furnace and Molly’s kiln.
Their work complemented each other’s perfectly. Their shop, Fire Works, was popular and profitable enough. Molly claimed that Kate’s fantastic glasswork was the reason. The pieces had an airiness and delicacy that tempted the eye. Kate returned the flattery, pointing out how much of Molly’s colorful, fanciful pottery flew out the door every day. They had been in partnership for five years, ever since Kate had finished school and her apprenticeship.
It was through Molly that Kate had found her passion. As a girl, she had been fascinated by the clay and minerals her aunt used to create pottery. Shaping the raw materials and burning them into a new, solid form intrigued her. With Molly’s encouragement, Kate took it one step further and discovered molten minerals—glass—and her true artistic calling.
Kate ran her finger along the rim of her tea mug. Bright green with stripes of blue, pink, purple and orange, it was one of Molly’s bolder designs. She didn’t want to spoil the tranquility of the morning, but she had to talk to her aunt, the one friend in whom she could confide.
Molly’s eyes snapped open. “You saw him! How did it go?”
“Not so well. He knows I’m pregnant.”
“You told him?” Molly asked in surprise.
“No, Shelly did. She told me she thought he knew. Oh, Molly,” Kate groaned, covering her face with her hands. “I made such a mess of it all. When he asked about the baby, I just panicked. Then I lost my temper.”
Molly chuckled. “I’m sure it wasn’t that bad.”
“It was bad enough.” Kate sighed. “I should have been cool and firm. I’ve already made the decision, right? All I have to do is stick with it.”
“Does he know what you’ve decided?”
“He does now,” Kate said ruefully. “Poor Patrick.”
Molly snorted. “
my fanny. He deserves whatever he gets. He’s the one who disappeared without a word.”
Kate sipped her tea. “I suppose so. I can’t help wishing I’d handled it better, though.”
Who would have guessed that she, even tempered to a fault, could be so moody? When she got weepy during a commercial for laundry fabric softener, she had known something was wrong. A trip to the doctor had confirmed her suspicions. She had cried, then laughed. More than once since, Kate had found herself laughing and crying at the same moment. The abrupt mood swings embarrassed her, but she had no control over them. She sighed again, regretting yet another emotional outburst.
Molly leaned forward, her elbows on the table. “Did seeing him change your mind?”
“No. Nothing’s changed.” Kate looked at her aunt and shrugged. “He gave no excuse for not keeping in touch, just that he was busy with the race. He said he was sorry, but that doesn’t mean much.” She paused, then added in a whisper, “He forgot about me. What if he forgets his own child, too?”
Tears swam in Kate’s eye as she said the words aloud. It hurt right down to her soul to experience that indifference again. She thought she was over the pain but apparently not. Being abandoned by someone you loved was something you never got over.
Molly reached out and took Kate’s hands in hers, squeezing them tightly. “You know what the future is like with Patrick Berzani. If you want a different childhood for this baby than you and Danny had, then
need to take charge and make it happen.”
“I know I do,” Kate said, feeling comfort in her aunt’s warm handclasp. “But am I nuts, Molly?”
“Wanting a good father for your child?”
Kate nodded, looking at Molly hesitantly. “At least, going about it the way I am seems crazy to
sometimes,” she admitted.
Molly looked at her intently. “Well, as I’ve said before, it’s a bit out of the ordinary, but I wouldn’t call it crazy. And you could raise the baby on your own. I’ll be here to help.” She cocked her head to the side. “But then I will be anyway, regardless of what happens.”
Kate felt a lump rise in her throat seeing the support and love in her aunt’s eyes. “What would I do without you?”
“Probably get along just fine.” Molly released her hands and sat back.
“I doubt that.” Kate sipped her tea, silent for a minute. “You know, you’re part of the reason I want a family for this baby,” she said, stroking a hand across the slight mound of her stomach.
“Me? Why do I get the blame?”
Kate smiled at the astonishment on Molly’s face. “Because you’ve been the best aunt in the world, and the best friend. You’ve been more of a mother to me than my own.”
“Isabelle never had a maternal bone in her body. That’s not your fault, Kate. She has your father and that’s her life. End of story.”
“I know. I stopped expecting her to act like a mother a long time ago.” Kate shifted in her chair. “But you’ve given me a taste of what a real family could be like. I want more aunts like you. And uncles, brothers, sisters, everything. For me and my baby.” Leaning forward, Kate set her tea to one side. “I want a family, Molly. A
honest-to-goodness family, with squabbles and fights and holidays and vacations all jumbled up together.”
“You want what you never had.”
“Yes, I suppose so,” Kate said with a nod. She rested her elbows on the table. “That’s why Patrick won’t do. What’s the point of building a family with a man who’s never going to be around? Or who would forget us as soon as he left the house?”
She and Molly shared a sad smile, then her aunt chuckled. “Besides, it would never work out. He loves water and you’re deathly afraid of it.”
“Does he know that yet?”
“No. I couldn’t tell him. How do you tell a man who loves the sea that every time you get near water more than three feet deep, all you can think about is drowning?”
“He’d probably understand if you told him about your first and only swimming lesson,” Molly said. “Not everyone’s father begins by tossing their five-year-old into the deep end of the pool.”
“It wasn’t quite that bad.” Kate shook her head. “It doesn’t matter what story I tell Patrick anyway.”
“True enough.” Molly picked up her mug. “So what’s on your schedule today? Are you working in the studio?”
“Maybe later. I’m going to tackle some designs here at the house this morning, then I have lunch with Steve Craig.”
“Bachelor number one.” Molly laughed.
“I wish you’d stop calling him that.” Kate frowned as she sipped her tea.
Molly was unrepentant. “I can’t help it. I don’t think your scheme is crazy, but it
funny. It’s so like you—creative but excessively well planned.”
“Well, it’s planned up to a point. I’ll see what Steve thinks about my crazy idea before I start patting myself on the back.”
“The worst he can say is no, right? Then it’s on to bachelor number two.” With that, Molly rose from the table. “I’m going over to the studio for a while. Is Shelly in the shop today?”
“Yes, she’ll open up at noon.”
“Good. I’ll give her a call later and let her know I’m around if she needs help.” Molly sauntered off the patio toward the studio.
Kate took her empty mug into the house to begin her day. Just how the day would go, she had no idea. It depended on Steve’s reaction to her proposal.
She had known Steve Craig for two years. They had gone out a few times when they first met, but there had never been a spark for Kate. Steve still called her once in a while, but she had always evaded his invitations for dinner or a movie. Now, since she wasn’t looking for herself, she evaluated him in a different light.
Steve was gentle and kind. He had patience and humor, two more important qualities for raising a child. He was stable, too, owned a house not far from hers and had lived in town for more years than she had. She couldn’t pick someone more likely to be there for her baby. He owned his own plumbing contracting business with ten employees and a reputation for quality work. Today, she would find out if he was interested in the additional job of becoming a father.
After a cool shower, Kate pulled a sundress out of the closet. The yellow print was cheerful and bright, in contrast to her glum mood. She wound her long hair into a twist and anchored it against the back of her head with a gold clip. Wispy tendrils immediately worked their way out to tickle her cheeks and the back of her neck.
In consideration of the afternoon heat, Kate put on a minimum of makeup. She smoothed on tinted sunscreen, followed by a little eyeliner to bring out the gold in her brown eyes, mascara and lip gloss. Grabbing her white sandals, she left her bedroom to get her sketch pad from the living room. As she walked down the hall, the doorbell sounded. Who could that be? It was too early for Steve. She pulled open the door and wished she had checked the peephole first.
“Good morning.” Patrick smiled at her.
Startled, Kate was at a loss for words. She reminded herself that she was not giving in to this attraction. She must be strong.
“Good morning. What are you doing here?”
Patrick leaned a shoulder against the door frame, close enough for her to be surrounded by the aroma of his after-shave. The crisp lemon scent reminded her of other mornings after he had spent the night with her. His beard was heavy, so he usually rose early and shaved, then came back to bed. To her.
His cheeks would be soft and
—Kate gritted her teeth, forcing the memory away. That didn’t matter now.
“I thought we could take a drive this morning.” Patrick was solemn. “To talk.”
Kate shook her head. “I don’t think so.”
“Come on, Katie.” He took her hand. “We do need to talk about this more. You know that.”
She shook her head again, but he squeezed her fingers lightly. “Please, Kate.”
The quiet entreaty swayed her as a demand could not have done. She remembered again how badly she had handled yesterday. Patrick was right. They did need to talk. He had to see the truth; the best thing he could do for the baby was recognize that he was not the right man for the job and step aside. It wouldn’t make him a bad person. Just the opposite; it would show that he really did have the best interests of their baby at heart.