Authors: Lisa Ruff
Tags: #American Light Romantic Fiction, #Romance: Modern, #Contemporary, #General, #Romance, #Romance - Contemporary, #Fiction, #Fiction - Romance, #Man-woman relationships, #Pregnant women
“Skip the explanations, Patrick. Just take me home.”
He hesitated, then stuck the key in the ignition. They made the journey back to her house in complete silence. Kate kept her head turned away from him, looking out the side window the entire way. At her house, he pulled into the driveway and turned off the engine.
“Don’t get out,” Kate said. “I’ll see myself inside.”
“I’m sorry, Kate.”
She shrugged. “I know. Me, too. It’s over, so let’s just move on, okay?”
She turned away and slid out, closing the door with a firm thud. Patrick watched her walk around the hood of the truck. She didn’t look at him once and he felt like banging his head on the steering wheel in aggravation. It had been a disastrous morning. Now they were back to square one or somewhere worse. He got out and followed her. He couldn’t just let it end like this. She was halfway up the steps when he caught up to her.
“I really am sorry for what happened. Can we just talk about this, please?”
She turned and looked at him, her eyes dark and enigmatic, before continuing up to the front door. “I don’t think there’s anything to say.”
Patrick moved and took her arm gently, preventing her from inserting her key into the lock. “If I had known you would be so frightened, I would never have taken you out there.”
that, Patrick. You don’t have to keep apologizing. I’m as much to blame for what happened as you are. I should have told you I was afraid of the water.”
“Then why won’t you talk to me?”
“Because there isn’t anything else to say,” she repeated.
“Of course there is. We have to talk about the baby, Kate. I want to be a part of its life, of
life. I think we can make it work between us.” His voice trailed off as he watched incredulity spread across her face.
“You really are something, Patrick Berzani. You
think that, after this morning, there’s hope for you and me? Well, guess what? I’m thinking just the opposite. Today, you demonstrated precisely why I want you far away from me and this child.”
“What did I—”
“What made you think taking me for a sail was a good idea? Especially without any warning?”
“I thought if I could show you how good it was out there—”
“You told me you wanted to
Patrick. Not sail.”
“I wanted to talk. Honest!”
“I suppose we were going to have a nice chat, just the four of us? You, me, Evan and Ian? You’re hopeless.”
“I didn’t know you were going to freak out.”
“That’s not the point!” She was shouting so loud, the whole neighborhood could probably hear. “The point is that you risked my life out there and the life of our child!”
“You didn’t ask me if I could swim. Or give me a life jacket. Or even tell me where one was,” she said, ticking off points on her fingers. “Does that sound like good father material to you? I’m
four-and-a-half months pregnant
, Patrick. What if I’d gone in the water?”
Patrick ran a hand through his hair and walked to the edge of the porch. He turned back and looked at Kate. With her hair waving softly around her head, her face flushed with anger and her eyes bright, she looked beautiful. If only she wasn’t so stubborn. If only all his plans for the morning hadn’t gone so wrong.
“So where do we go from here?”
A car drew up in the alley next to the studio, drawing Kate’s attention. Her eyes flickered over his shoulder, then back to his face. Patrick couldn’t read her expression, she had closed herself to him completely.
“I don’t see how we can go anywhere.”
He opened his mouth to dispute her words, but was interrupted by the man who had gotten out of the car.
Patrick turned to look at the tall, barrel-chested man coming up the walk. He had a round, cheerful face with a wide smile and bright blue eyes. Those eyes glanced at Patrick for a second, then returned to Kate. He climbed the steps of the porch and took her hands in his, kissing her on both cheeks. Patrick’s fists clenched.
“You look gorgeous,” the man said.
“Hello, Steve,” Kate said with a slight smile. “Are you early or am I late?”
“I’m a bit early,” the man admitted. “I couldn’t wait to see you.”
Kate unlocked the front door, then glanced at Patrick. “Thanks for stopping by, Patrick.”
“Aren’t you going to introduce us?” Patrick asked.
Halfway through the door, Kate turned around, obviously reluctant. “Steve, this is Patrick Berzani. Patrick, Steve Craig.”
“Pleased to meet you.” Steve shook Patrick’s hand.
“Let me guess. You’re one of my replacements.”
Steve looked puzzled. “Replacements? What do you mean?”
“Leave it alone.” Kate glared at Patrick, but he ignored her.
“Congratulations. You’re Kate’s first choice,” he told Steve.
“Well, that’s good news,” Steve said jovially. “I’ve been working on her for two years.”
“It’s taken you that long?” Patrick raised an eyebrow.
“Just leave,” Kate said. She took a position between the two men, facing Patrick.
He looked over the top of her head at Steve. “I’m really honored to meet you. It takes a heck of guy to volunteer to raise another man’s child.”
“Kate, what’s he talking about?”
“You mean she hasn’t told you?” Patrick asked.
“Shut up, Patrick,” Kate said stonily.
is going on here?” Steve asked.
“Well, you see, Steve, Kate’s pregnant.” Patrick smiled disarmingly at his rival. “I’m the father, at least biologically, but since I’m not quite up to her standards, you’ve been selected to take my place.”
Patrick watched with satisfaction as Steve’s eyes widened and his mouth opened and closed several times like a fish gasping for air. Kate flushed bright red.
“Of course, I don’t intend to just disappear. I’ll be hanging around, keeping an eye on things in case—”
“That’s enough.” Kate’s arms were folded tightly across her chest as she scowled at Patrick.
“I suppose you’re right. I’d better be going. You two have a lot to talk about.” Patrick smiled slightly as he brushed a finger over Kate’s cheek and nodded at the other man. “Nice meeting you, Steve.”
He turned on his heel and walked back to his truck. As he got in and drove off, anger once more burned a hole in his heart. She might think that it was over, but it wasn’t. Not now and not ever.
With her safety goggles strapped in place, Kate scooped up a glob of molten glass from the crucible with the end of a blowpipe. She kept the pipe turning as she placed the ball onto the flat steel marver and rolled it into an oblong shape. The glass glowed a bright orange as she worked, losing color slowly as the heat dissipated. When it was smooth, she rested the pipe on a floor yoke, thrusting the glass-covered end of it back into the oven. Rollers on the tall, Y-shaped stand kept the pipe rotating and balanced the weight of the glass. Even through the dark goggles, she had to squint as she stared into the glowing flames of the oven.
A swell of strings from the stereo followed the choreography of her work. The baby kicked in time to the music, as if demanding to be a part of the creative process. Kate laughed and patted the small life inside her. From the first, the baby had been most active whenever Kate worked in the studio. She wondered if her child would be a dancer, since she moved to the music so much. The baby fluttered again, a one-two punch against her stomach.
Either a dancer or a soccer player.
When the glass was hot again, she pulled the yoke back and blew a series of staccato puffs into the pipe, watching as the oblong expanded. One hand in a Kevlar mitt cupped the globe to control the shape as she blew and spun. She could just see the pattern of irregular spots where specks of metal were suspended in the walls of the vessel. In the hot, glowing glass, only her imagination could see what the final colors would be: deep red and gold flecked with silver strands. She took off the mitt and put the globe back into the oven until it was a white-hot blaze, then pushed the glass down into a sand mold. The mold formed the bottom of the piece and gave it a sharp, jagged base to contrast against the smooth sides of the bowl. She used a hand-torch to keep the neck hot and blew more air into the pipe, expanding the globe.
As she worked, Patrick was never very far from her mind. Steve pulled a close second. Though she hadn’t seen either man for two days, she was still angry. And hurt. Kate felt a flush climb her cheeks that had nothing to do with the temperature in the studio. How
Patrick stick his nose in something that wasn’t his business. Why couldn’t he understand that it was over between them?
When the globe reached the size she wanted, she allowed it to cool slightly, and then used a wooden mallet to break away the mold. With a dollop of hot glass, she attached a punty to the newly exposed base. She scored the neck with a jack and broke the blowpipe free with a tap of a mallet. Deftly, with smooth turns of her wrist, she kept the shape rolling and turning, this time with the punty.
She wasn’t any happier with Steve. After Patrick’s bombshell, her so-called suitor couldn’t get away fast enough. The whole fiasco with Patrick and Steve had shaken her resolve about finding a father for her child. Maybe she should just raise the baby alone. Then she wouldn’t have to deal with the male half of the species at all. Kate’s lips tightened. More heat from the torch kept the glass pliable as she worked to expand the mouth of the globe and used a wood paddle to flatten the rim.
Her mind still on Patrick, Kate grabbed another small glob of glass, spun it out and traced it around the lip of the opening, creating a smooth bead. She rested the punty on the floor yoke and put the orb back into the oven for more heat. When she judged it hot enough, she pulled it out and twirled it sharply. The bulbous globe abruptly became a bowl. Swinging the punty as she twirled, she added a decorative wave around the lip and finished the piece.
Molly walked in just as Kate brought the bowl upright. “You’re just in time. Give me a hand for a second, will you?”
Molly grabbed a set of Kevlar mitts off the rack. When she had the bowl cupped in her hands, Kate tapped it off the punty and opened the annealer. Molly set it inside, where it would cool for a few days, the heat slowly dissipating until the glass hardened. Kate shut the door.
“That was gorgeous,” Molly said. “I’ve never seen you do anything like that before.”
“It’s a new process using a sand mold.”
“I hope there’s more where that came from.”
“I don’t,” Kate said sharply. “Given who inspired it.”
“Patrick? Is that why you’re worked up?” Molly asked with a sympathetic smile. She slipped off the gloves and wiped her brow. “Patience, dear. It will all work out.”
Kate tucked a strand of hair back into her bandanna. “I hope you’re right, but just now I’m losing hope.”
Her aunt gave her a hug. “You’ll get your family, Kate. You just have to keep working at it.”
“I’ve got to go get a load of clay,” Molly said. “Do you need me to run any errands for you?”
“No, but thanks for the pep talk.”
“That’s my job,” Molly said with a chuckle.
Molly left the studio and Kate pulled out another blowpipe. She started forming a small glass vase and continued mulling over her situation. When she finished the piece, she looked at it critically and started another. Four hours later, she placed a third vase alongside the first two and the bowl. Kate closed the door to the annealing oven. She ought to be happy; for the first time in days, she had finished four pieces that pleased her. The bowl might even turn out to be one of her best works yet. Her aggravations had finally fueled her art instead of interfering with it.
Kate turned off the lights and closed the door behind her with a snick of the lock. Outside, she breathed in the summer air, which, despite the heat, felt cool to her after hours in front of her furnaces. She could smell the spicy scent of geraniums from the garden, a welcome change from the acrid odor of hot dichroic. Pulling off her bandanna, Kate ran her fingers through her hair to let the breeze lift and separate the long damp strands. Walking leisurely along the path to the house, she spied a visitor seated on her steps. He rose when he saw her.
“What are you doing here?” Her question was blurted out without thought.
“Why, hello, Kate,” Evan McKenzie said. His eyes were hidden by sunglasses, which gave him the appearance of an enforcer. “It’s a pleasure to see you, too.”
Kate flushed with embarrassment at his pointed pleasantness; her question
sounded rude. “Hello, Evan,” she said, keeping her tone neutral this time. “What can I do for you?”
He stuck his hands in his trouser pockets. “I’m here because of Patrick.”
“Oh? Is it any of your business?” Kate moved around him and up the steps.
He stopped her with a hand on her arm, pulling off his sunglasses to hold her gaze with his own. “He’s my friend. I’m making it my business.”
Kate saw the determination in his face and sighed. “All right. Come inside then.”
Evan followed her into the house, down the hall to the kitchen. He took a seat at the table while Kate pulled a pitcher of iced tea out of the refrigerator. She filled two glasses, gave one to Evan and sat down across from him. After drinking deep of the icy liquid, she set the half-empty glass on the table and looked at him expectantly. He fidgeted with his own glass, but didn’t take a sip. She ran a finger over the condensation that had formed on the side of her glass. The room was quiet except for the faint tick of the clock on the wall. Now that he was here, Evan seemed to have nothing to say.
Finally, he spoke. “Kate. About Patrick—”
“Did he send you?”
Evan looked surprised at her question. “Me?” he asked, then laughed once. “I’m the last person Patrick would send as an emissary.” His cool green eyes warmed as he laughed a second time in genuine amusement.
“Then why are you here?”
“Because he’s been my best friend for nearly twenty years. I know him.”
“That’s nice but—”
“He’s very sorry about what happened on the boat.”
“I know. I accepted his apology already.”
“He still feels at fault.”
Kate rubbed a hand across her forehead. “Look, I know you’re here to help Patrick, but this really is just between him and me.”
Evan’s gaze sharpened, but his voice remained smooth. “Then why not make an effort to work things out with him?”
Kate took a sip of tea. “He’s not cut out to be a father.”
Evan snorted. “Come on, Kate. Who really knows what kind of parent they’ll be before they’ve got a kid to practice on?”
Kate opened her mouth to speak, but Evan beat her to it. “You haven’t seen all sides of Patrick. He’s great with kids. Have you ever seen him around his family?”
“No. I’ve only seen him with Ian.”
Evan leaned forward and shoved the glass of tea to one side. He clasped his fingers together and surveyed her coolly. “What if I told you that family was one of the most important things in Patrick’s life?”
“I wouldn’t believe you.”
“What if I could prove it to you? Would you give me a chance to do that?”
Kate was uncertain what she should—or could—answer. “I’m sure Patrick loves his family, but that doesn’t have anything to do with him and me.”
“Sure it does,” he said softly, his eyes intense. “This is about building a family, isn’t it? And whether Patrick’s qualified for the job. But you’re dismissing him before you’ve done a thorough background investigation.”
Kate squirmed in her seat. “So how are you going to prove to me that I’m wrong?”
“Tomorrow. One o’clock at Bayside Park. Be there.”
“Patrick’s parents are having a picnic for the marina crew and the family.”
“I really don’t think this is going to make a difference, Evan.”
“I think you’re wrong.” Evan paused. His eyes were fierce, boring into hers. “But don’t take my word for it. Come see for yourself. You owe him that much, Kate. He may not be perfect, but he’s a good guy.”
“I never said he wasn’t.”
“No?” Evan stood, pulled his sunglasses out of his shirt pocket and slipped them on, hiding his eyes again. “But you made him think it, which is pretty much the same in my book.”
“I don’t want to hurt him, but I have to think of this baby.”
“Then do it for the baby. Come to the picnic because you owe it to your child to see what Patrick is really like when he’s with his family.”
She couldn’t read him at all now, not with the sunglasses masking his face. She was reluctantly impressed with his defense of Patrick. She hadn’t thought Evan capable of a serious conversation like this.
“Okay, Evan. I’ll see if you’re right. I’ll come to the picnic.”
“Good. I’ll see you tomorrow.” His mission accomplished, Evan turned to go. Kate followed him through the house and out the front door. On the porch, he looked back at her.
“You’re a good friend, Evan.”
“He’s family. I would do anything for him.”
“I believe you mean that.”
“I do.” Evan tipped his sunglasses down, letting her see how serious he was.
“One more thing.”
“Remind me to never buy a car from you.”
“Haven’t lost a sale yet,” he said with a grin and a wink.
With that, Evan McKenzie turned and walked down the sidewalk to where a sleek red convertible waited. He got in and drove away with a single parting wave. Kate watched him go, silently chewing over his words. She couldn’t believe he had talked her into going to the picnic. As she went back inside and closed the door behind her, she muttered, “What have I done now?”
ATE PULLED HER CAR
into a parking space and turned off the ignition. Signs posted at the entrance to the park had directed her this far. Sounds of laughing, screaming children would lead her the rest of the way. She could hear them even with the windows rolled up. Kate made no move to join them. The car started to warm in the sun, but still she sat. She was sure that if she got out of the car and joined the picnic, she would be committing herself to something. What, she wasn’t sure. But surely, just attending a picnic didn’t mean she had changed her mind about Patrick. A hot dog and potato salad were not going to miraculously make him a better father. So why not start the car and drive away?
Because you owe it to Patrick. You owe it to your baby.
Kate grimaced. The voice of her conscience sounded remarkably like Evan McKenzie’s. The thought was enough to goad her into moving. She grabbed her purse and slid out of the car, letting the joyful sound of children lead her toward the festivities.
She walked over the hot asphalt, then onto grass and under trees, where she felt immediately cooler. Across the lawn, a large pavilion was filled with picnic tables, a barbecue and people. Smoke drifted up and over the crowd as they set food on the tables. A red, green and white banner strung between posts announced the “Annual A&E Marine Picnic.” Balloons and streamers decorated the rest of the pavilion, waving gently in the breeze.
A Frisbee landed at Kate’s feet, startling her. She reached down to pick it up just as Evan came jogging over.
“Kate. What took you so long? I was beginning to think you’d chickened out.” He held his hand out for the disc.
“Smart-ass,” she said tartly.
Evan grinned. “And that’s one of my lovable traits.”
“Does Patrick know I’m going to be here?”
Turning abruptly away, he shouted across the lawn. “Hey, Patrick! You’ve got a guest!” Then he turned back to Kate. “He does now.” Evan threw the Frisbee to a young boy and ran off.
Kate saw Patrick spin around at Evan’s shout. He was standing under the wide branches of a tall maple, an older woman with bright red hair by his side. The shout drew everyone’s attention to Kate. She tried to ignore the stares and kept her eyes on Patrick as he walked toward her.
“Hello, Kate. What a surprise.” His greeting was friendly enough, but she could see the suspicion in his body, the way he walked, the stiff set of his shoulders. “What are you doing here?”
Kate lifted her chin. “I got a special invitation. From Evan.”
Patrick slid his sunglasses to the top of his head. His eyes were opaque, but his brows rose, signaling his surprise. “Really? What’d he have to do to drag you here?”
She shrugged. “I can leave if you want.”