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 (4 page)

BOOK: Baby on Board
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“Let me get my purse.”

Patrick waited on the porch until she returned, then led the way to his truck. He opened the door for her and helped her inside. It struck Kate how thoughtful he was in these small, gentlemanly ways, but so
thoughtless
in other, larger ones.

“I’ve been thinking about what you said yesterday,” Patrick said, once they were out of her driveway and headed down the road. “About me not being around for you and the baby because I race. I would be here, Kate.”

“All the time?”

“As much as I can. I could cut back on the racing.”

“But you still plan to race,” she said quietly.

Patrick’s jaw clenched, but his voice was even when he spoke. “Yes, I still plan to race.”

“Then you’d better turn the truck around.” Kate’s tone was flat and hard.

“Wait a minute. I thought the problem was that I was gone so much of the time. Now you’re telling me I can’t race at
all?
” Patrick spoke slowly. “What is this, some kind of test for fatherhood? How many other qualifications are you going to throw in?”

“It’s not a test.”

“What is it then?” He looked over at her briefly, his eyes cool.

Kate shifted uncomfortably in her seat. “What happens when you’re out racing, Patrick?”

“What do you mean?” He frowned, confusion in his tone. “What has this got to do with—”

“On that last race, your boat almost sank.”

“No, it didn’t.” Patrick shot her a glance. “Are you talking about the knockdown?” He snorted, shaking his head. “They kept calling it a broach, but it wasn’t even close. The mast didn’t touch the water.”

“Patrick, I saw the footage. The boat looked like it was going to go completely over.”

“I was
there,
Kate. We were fine.”

“They said you were taking too many risks with the boat. You were pushing too hard. You should have been more careful.”

“Careful doesn’t put you in the winners circle,” Patrick said stiffly. “That’s what it’s all about. Those guys weren’t out there. They didn’t know the conditions. I did.”

“But they said you had too much sail up. That you
always
have—”

The truck jerked to an abrupt stop at a red light and Patrick turned to face her. His eyes were intense, his jaw set. “The commentators second-guess everything, Kate. That’s their job. If you kept listening, you would have heard them say that my tactics brought us from the back of the fleet to second place. If I’d had a day longer, I’d have
won
that race.”

Kate stared back at Patrick. She bit her lip, not wanting to continue the argument but unable to stop herself. “It sounded like you pushed too hard.” She paused. “Like that day last February.”

A car horn sounded behind them. The light had turned green and Patrick put the truck in motion. “That was different,” he said, keeping his eyes on the road.

Was it so different,
Kate wondered,
or just more of the same?
She turned her face to look out the side window, remembering the cold, brilliantly clear winter day. The fierce wind had seemed to light a spark in Patrick’s eyes. He and his team were match racing another boat across the Chesapeake, from Baltimore to Rock Hall. She dropped him off at a marina in the Inner Harbor and drove around to meet the boat on the other side of the Bay.

Waiting for him at the dock, she heard Patrick’s voice on the VHF radio in the marina office. The dockmaster had turned up the volume to follow the race’s progress. Patrick and another man argued about how close he was sailing to a container ship. The man—the ship’s pilot—told Patrick to change course. Patrick refused. “Don’t worry about it,” he said. “I’ll clear you.”

“Change course
now,
Captain. I have the right-of-way in the shipping channel.”

“Actually, I have the right-of-way, since I’m under sail, but I don’t have time to argue about it,” Patrick’s voice had crackled back. “Maintain your course and let me worry about mine.”

With that, Patrick had signed off and Kate waited, tense until she saw his boat round the breakwater. She rushed out of the office and down to the dock in time to see the Coast Guard also pull alongside the pier. The Coast Guard officer had been coldly furious with Patrick and berated him for jeopardizing the safety of his crew. Patrick claimed that he knew exactly what he was doing; there was no risk. The officer said it was reckless and threatened to revoke his license. Finally, Patrick apologized. That hadn’t been the end of it, though. “I’m not wrong,” he had muttered after the Coast Guard officer walked away. “And I won the race.”

Kate had felt her stomach sink. He was so certain that he was right, that the risks he took were not risks at all. Every day that she followed his race across the Atlantic Ocean, she had the same feeling inside. It grew agonizingly stronger when the boat had nearly capsized. Patrick Berzani lived on the edge and he liked it just fine out there.

Patrick turned the truck left at a stop sign and Kate saw that they were heading down to the water.

“Where are you taking me?” she asked.

“I need to check on a boat. Do you mind?”

“I thought we were going for a ride.” It was just like Patrick to plan one thing, then change his mind midstream.

“We are. This is just a slight detour.” Patrick turned off the road and into a gravel parking lot.

“What marina is this?”

“It belongs to my parents,” he said, pulling into a parking spot next to another car. “You’ve never been here, have you? I was going to bring you once.”

“That was in March. It was too cold, blowing like crazy and raining sideways.”

“Today’s the perfect day then. Come with me. You have to see this boat.” Patrick opened the door and jumped out of the truck.

“I’d rather wait here.”

“Come on, Kate.” He coaxed her with a smile. “It’s too hot to stay in the truck.”

Kate couldn’t think of a reason to say no, not without revealing her fears. Boats of any kind made her nervous. It wasn’t the boats that worried her, really. It was all the water around them. She had successfully avoided getting on one with Patrick so far, but her luck had apparently run out.

When he got out of the truck and came around to her side, she slid out and let him take her hand to lead her to the docks. Down the ramp, Kate could feel the slight give of the wood surface as it absorbed their steps. She swallowed. Her hand involuntarily tightened on Patrick’s. He looked over and smiled at her, curling his fingers around hers. She couldn’t even bring herself to pull away, as she knew she ought to. His hand was a lifeline she wasn’t willing to let go.

Kate nearly laughed aloud as they walked farther and farther out over the water.
Of course,
she thought,
the boat would be all the way at the end of the dock.
She had feared she would freeze in terror when she was out on the pier, with the water all around, but she surprised herself. It wasn’t so bad. The floats moved a bit underfoot, but they felt stable, not likely to suddenly tilt and dump her in the creek.

Without Patrick pointing it out to her, Kate knew immediately which sailboat he meant to show her. She knew next to nothing about boats, but she knew fast when she saw it. This one was sleek and low to the water. Its blue hull reflected the ripples around it and the new stainless steel fittings sparkled in the sun.
Blue Magic
was emblazoned across the stern. The wood railings gleamed, layered with a golden varnish as smooth as freshly blown Pyrex.

Patrick toed his shoes off on the dock beside the boat, swung aboard and turned to extend his hand to Kate. She took a step back. There was no way she was getting on that thing, no matter how nice it looked.

“Come aboard. I’ll give you a tour.”

“No, thanks,” Kate said, shaking her head. “I can see it from here.”

“Jump on, Kate,” Patrick urged. “This boat is amazing. It’s a Hainesworth. You have to see it to believe it.”

“I can believe it just fine from here.”

“Come on. It’s a rich man’s toy. They don’t make many like her.”

Kate struggled for a minute before letting curiosity take over. She did wonder what a boat like this would look like inside. From the outside, it was a beautiful, sleek machine. As long as it stayed tied to the dock, she would be fine.

She slipped off her sandals, reached out and took Patrick’s hand. As she stepped aboard, the boat gave slightly, though not much more than the docks had. Once she was on deck, Patrick released her and Kate felt a moment of panic. She watched him walk to the cockpit with casual grace. She set her jaw.
I can do this,
she told herself.
It’s safe. Perfectly safe.

Moving cautiously, holding her hands out for balance, Kate followed Patrick’s path. The boat felt solid, and though it sloped toward the water, the bare teak deck under her feet was rough enough to keep her from slipping. Kate found natural handholds, too: a wire, a rope, a railing on top of the cabin. When she reached the cockpit, Patrick took her hand again as she stepped down into it.

“You made it,” he teased with a grin.

Kate merely smiled back nervously. “I’m walking for two now, you know.”

“Welcome aboard.” He bowed with a flourish and kissed her hand. “To both of you.”

They stood on a wooden grate inset into the floor of the open cockpit. Behind her was a large wheel on a white pedestal. On either side, seats stretched the length of the well, topped with navy-and-cream-striped cushions.

“Wow. Very nice.”

“Wait until you see below.” Patrick pushed open a sliding hatch opposite the wheel and lifted another hatch board out of the entrance down to the cabin. “The companionway stairs are steep, so turn around and treat them like a ladder.”

Kate followed his instructions and cautiously made her way down the steps. She was glad she was barefoot. The wood was varnished and felt slippery, even with the ridges carved into each step for traction. Once down below, she turned around and gasped. “It’s so short.”

Patrick laughed, his hands resting on his knees as he bent over in the low-ceilinged cabin. “It’s a day-sailer. No one’s expected to spend too much time down here.”

She looked around. Despite the low headroom, the boat looked like someone’s living room—a very wealthy, very short, someone’s living room. Everywhere she looked, varnished teak gleamed golden warmth. Matching sofas ran along either side of the cabin. The cushions were covered in pale cream leather, plump and inviting. Behind the settees were built-in cabinets, each with a louvered door and gold-plated knob. Patrick flipped a switch on a panel next to the steps and recessed lighting brought the interior to life.

“Some toy,” Kate murmured.

Patrick chuckled. “It’s only used for afternoons on the Bay, maybe evening sails. If you go somewhere overnight, you get a hotel. Though it has a cozy V-berth in the bow.”

“But it’s such a big boat.”

“Forty-two feet of glorious perfection.” At her look of incredulity, he shrugged. “Fitzgerald was right. The rich are different than you and I.”

“Different meaning they’re crazier.”

“Something like that. I know the owner. He’s a good guy. He’s just got more money than sense.”

“So what are you doing with it?”

“It’s new and he wants all the systems checked over before he takes her out.”

Kate frowned. “But, if it’s new, shouldn’t it be ready to go?”

Patrick snorted. “That’ll be the day. A boat like this usually has a fathom-long punch list of things that don’t work. And that’s better than most. I’ve seen some boats that practically had to be rebuilt after they left the factory.”

“So you test things, sail it, then fix what’s wrong?”

Patrick nodded. “Let’s go up topside.” He gestured her to precede him, and turned the lights off.

Once back in the sunshine, Kate slipped on her sunglasses. Patrick joined her and sat down on the bench in the cockpit. He seemed in no hurry to leave.

“Don’t you need to do something here?”

“I did it when we first went down below. I checked the hydraulic fluid, made sure it wasn’t leaking.”

“So, we can go?”

“Or we can talk here. It’s a nice morning for enjoying the water.”

Kate sighed and sat opposite him. Nestled in the protection of the comfortable cockpit, she felt less afraid of the water all around her. She opened her mouth to speak and the boat shifted, startling her.

“Hey, Patty,” Ian said as he stepped onto the cushion beside Kate and sat down next to her. “And hello, Kate,” he added, dropping a kiss on her cheek.

Kate smiled at Ian, happy to see him. She had liked him from the moment Patrick had introduced them. The brothers were vastly different—Ian reserved where Patrick was gregarious—and they balanced each other out. Patrick always surging ahead, Ian, more cautious and thoughtful, keeping him in check. It was a pleasure to be with these men who were friends as much as brothers.

“What are you doing here?” Patrick seemed surprised by the intrusion.

“I thought you might need a hand,” Ian said. “Unless you’ve changed your mind. Not that it’s ever happened before.”

“If it’s a good idea, why change it?” Patrick asked. He sounded annoyed.

Ian cocked his head as he looked at his brother. “Because your track record stinks?”

“Don’t you have some chunk of wood that needs to be cut or drilled?”

“I think I can be more useful here.”

Kate looked back and forth between the two men. She felt as if she were at a tennis match, but she didn’t know who was ahead. “Is something wrong?”

“Not yet,” Ian said with a shrug and stood up.

The boat shifted again. Kate turned to see Evan McKenzie climb aboard. She was less than happy to see him. As much as she liked Ian, she and Evan were like sandpaper and silk: they could rub each other threadbare. Evan was almost like Patrick, but with some key ingredients missing that left him too arrogant, cocky and sometimes just rude.

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