Authors: Lisa Ruff
Tags: #American Light Romantic Fiction, #Romance: Modern, #Contemporary, #General, #Romance, #Romance - Contemporary, #Fiction, #Fiction - Romance, #Man-woman relationships, #Pregnant women
Patrick stared at her for a long moment. “What about Steve? Does he know you’re here?”
The question caught her off guard, making her reply harsh. “I don’t think that’s any of your business.”
“Yes, it is,” Patrick said in a low tone. “Everything about this is my—”
“Patrick, dear. Why don’t you introduce me to your friend?”
The red-haired woman had come up beside him without either of them noticing. She examined Kate with the same clear gray eyes as Patrick’s, but hers were bright with curiosity and a touch of humor.
“I’m Elaine Berzani.” The woman held out a hand, grasping Kate’s with birdlike bones. “Patrick’s mother.”
“I’m so glad to finally meet you,” Elaine said cheerfully.
“It’s nice to meet you, too,” Kate replied.
“Patrick didn’t mention that he had invited anyone.”
“I hope I’m not intruding.”
“Oh, gracious, no. The more the merrier.”
“Give us a minute, will you, Ma?” Patrick asked. “Kate and I need to talk.”
“Nonsense. What you need is a nice plate of barbecued chicken.” Elaine ignored her son’s scowl and slipped an arm through Kate’s. “Come along, dear. You look hungry.”
“Mrs. Berzani, I—”
“Please, call me Elaine.” She patted Kate’s arm. “We can’t have my newest grandchild starving to death, can we, dear?”
Kate turned to look at Patrick, shocked speechless by Elaine’s words.
“Who told you?” he asked.
“Ian did. The day you hit your truck.” Elaine looked surprised. “Am I not supposed to know? Is it a secret?”
Patrick ran a hand through his hair in obvious bewilderment.
“Well, it won’t be one for long now, will it?” Elaine patted Kate’s stomach affectionately. “Pregnancies never are,” she added with a laugh.
“Mrs. Berzani, I—”
Kate. Please, I insist.” The older woman beamed a smile at her. “I can’t tell you how pleased I was to hear about the baby. Of course, it would have been better to hear it from the source—” she shot a look at Patrick “—but no matter. What
matter is that you are here today.”
All at once the small woman enfolded Kate in a warm embrace. The unexpectedness and the sincerity undid her. Tears welled up in Kate’s eyes and a sob slipped out from her throat. She closed her eyes against more tears.
Elaine’s grip tightened and she rubbed a comforting hand over Kate’s back. “There, there, dear. Having a baby’s a roller-coaster ride, isn’t it?”
The understanding words broke the dam inside Kate. She started to cry in earnest, great, gasping sobs of sorrow, happiness, anger and joy all jumbled together. She had no control. All she could do was hold on and wait for the end. Kate felt hands grasp her, drawing her away from Elaine. Seconds later she was clasped in Patrick’s strong arms. The fit was so much better, his shoulder at the perfect height for her head, his grip the exact pressure she needed to feel secure.
Slowly, her sobs subsided. Kate kept her face turned into Patrick’s neck. She could hear the steady thud of his heart in her ear and felt her own heartbeat slow to match it. His hand stroked her back, soothing her from nape to waist. Another more delicate hand patted her gently, too. A napkin was slipped into her hand and Kate grasped it blindly.
“Oh, no,” she moaned.
“It’s all right, Katie,” Patrick said softly in her ear.
She lifted her head and saw the large damp spot on Patrick’s gray T-shirt. She blotted it with the napkin until Patrick grabbed her hand.
“Don’t worry about it.” She looked up to see him smiling tenderly down at her. “A little salt water hasn’t hurt me yet.”
“I’m sorry,” she whispered. “It’s just that your mother was so nice. I didn’t expect it.”
Patrick pressed a kiss to her lips. “No, I’m sorry.” He squeezed her gently. “This is my fault.”
“Sometimes I forget you’re pregnant,” he interrupted. “My sister, Jeannie, cries all the time when she’s expecting. We take turns seeing how little a thing will set her off,” he said with a glint of mischief in his eyes.
“And Charlie is ready to scalp you all by the end of the first trimester,” Elaine added with a slap at her son’s arm.
Patrick merely grinned. Kate turned to face Elaine, slipping away from Patrick. He only let her go so far, keeping an arm around her waist.
“I’m sorry, Mrs. Berzani. I don’t usually cry all over people I’ve just met.”
With a soft touch, Elaine grasped Kate’s hands in hers. “I knew there was something bothering my son. I’m glad you’re it. Now, Patrick, bring Kate along for some food,” she added with one last squeeze of her fingers. “Antonio will be just as thrilled to meet you.”
Kate found herself in the midst of the crowd of people under the pavilion. Patrick stayed at her side, introducing her to first one, then another person. The names went in one ear and out the other. Someone pressed a bottle of beer into her hands. Patrick whisked it away and called for a can of soda. He kept the beer for himself, took a long drink, then dropped a kiss on her lips. Kate blushed and pulled away.
The can of soda arrived, carried by Ian. He grinned at her and offered her a damp cloth, too. “Ma said you might want this, Kate.”
“Give me that,” Patrick said, taking the cloth. “Hold this.” He handed her his beer and ran the damp fabric gently over her cheeks.
“Let me do that, Patrick.” Kate reached for his hand, but he dodged her grasp. “I should go clean up. I must be a mess.”
“You look fine, Katie.” He pressed a kiss to her lips again and several women giggled.
Elaine arrived at their sides, looking at the couple with a proud smile. “A little water never hurt anyone. Besides, we’re going swimming later. We’ll all look just as water-logged then.”
“I think Kate and I will pass on the swimming. We’ve had too much fun around the water lately,” Patrick said. He tossed the cloth away and took his beer back from her. “Let’s get something to eat.”
Taking her arm, he drew her through the crowd to the barbecue. A tall man with dark hair turning silver presided over the smoking grill. He had on an apron that read I’d Rather Be Sailing, and a red baseball cap cocked back on his head at an angle. Kate immediately knew she was looking at Patrick’s father.
“Pop, this is Kate.” Patrick pulled her in front of him. “Kate, this is my father, Antonio Berzani.”
“How do you do?” Kate said, holding out her hand.
Antonio dropped his spatula on a plate. “Ellie! Is this the one?” he shouted to his wife. At her nod, he reached out and took Kate in a hug, lifting her from her feet before setting her gently back down. He held her at arm’s length, beaming a huge grin at her. He put a large hand on her belly, a gesture so like Patrick’s that Kate felt tears sting.
“Welcome to the family,” he said gruffly. “Both of you, welcome.”
He pulled Patrick into his arms then, hugging him with bluff blows to his back. “Patricio, you’ve done good,” he added, kissing him on both cheeks.
Kate felt the situation spin out of her control. “Oh, but—”
“We need to feed her, Ellie,” Antonio said. Elaine had come to stand at his side. “Give me a plate.”
Kate’s eyes widened as she saw two pieces of chicken, three sausages and a hamburger loaded onto the large paper plate and shoved into her hands.
“Get her some potato salad, Patricio,” Antonio instructed. “And some lasagna. Don’t forget the corn, either!”
Patrick steered her through the crowd to a table filled with dishes. “Don’t worry,” he said, taking another plate and filling it with various salads and savory treats. “I’m eating half of this. Just don’t let Pop know you didn’t finish it all by yourself.”
“Patrick, we do need to talk,” Kate said as he led her to a table near the side of the pavilion, under the spreading branches of a tall tree.
“Eat first, then talk. That’s the Berzani rules.”
“But they think we’re together.”
“Aren’t we?” Patrick took a drink of his beer, then laid a napkin on her lap and handed her a fork.
“No,” Kate said seriously. “We’re not.”
“Because of Steve?”
“I don’t think he matters.”
Patrick ate a bite of chicken. “Why not?”
“He doesn’t…” She looked away across the park. “Apparently, I overestimated my own appeal.”
Patrick gave a snort of derision. “He’s a fool.”
He broke a roll apart, buttered it and handed her half. The simple gesture touched her. She took the roll and bit into the softness. The flavor piqued her appetite. She picked up her fork and joined Patrick in demolishing the heap of food on the two plates. A third dish, filled with three more types of salad and two ears of corn, slid onto the table in front of them.
“Pop sent this over,” Ian said as he joined them at the table. His own plate was filled to monumental proportions.
“Keep eating like that and you’ll get fat,” Patrick said, pointing at the pile of food.
“Hasn’t happened so far.” Ian shrugged, eyeing them closely. “You two finished fighting for the day?”
Kate and Patrick exchanged a quick glance. “We weren’t fighting,” Patrick denied.
“Only because Ma intervened.” He took a bite of baked beans. “You’re the talk of the party.”
Kate flushed and Patrick frowned. “Back off, Ian.”
A short, pretty woman with red hair just like Elaine’s joined them at the table. “Can’t you guys go one minute without snapping at each other?”
“Of course we can,” Ian said. “What’s our personal best, Patty?”
“I don’t know.” Patrick put his fork down to make an exaggerated count on his fingers. “Maybe five, six minutes?”
The woman smiled at her. “I’m Jeannie McGuire. Older sister to these two idiots.”
“So, what’d Patty do to make you cry?”
“Jeez, Jeannie,” Patrick protested. “Why do you always blame me?”
“Why wouldn’t I?” Jeannie’s large blue eyes were innocent. “She shows up, you walk over and she’s crying. Be warned,” she confided to Kate. “He’s an awful tease. I recommend you ignore him as much as you can.”
Patrick laughed. “If only you’d follow your own advice.”
Jeannie shot him a glare, then turned back to Kate. “As bad as he is now, he was worse when we were kids.”
“Remember on that J-boat Pop had, when you thought he’d drowned?” Ian asked.
“Oh! That was awful!” Jeannie put a hand to her chest. Her eyes were round with remembered horror. “When we were kids,” she said to Kate. “We were out sailing on this little boat and Patrick pretended to get hit with the boom. He goes overboard and disappears. I completely freaked out. Ian’s looking over the side and I’m screaming at him.”
“I saw Patty catch the boom when we turned and dive off the boat,” Ian added. “He popped up right away, but Jeannie missed it. She’s screaming like a banshee and Patty gives me the signal to keep my mouth shut.”
“I kept looking over the side of the boat on one side, and Patrick would swim to the other,” Jeannie said.
“It was so funny.” Ian took a sip of his beer. “Jeannie was streaming snot and I’m
trying not to laugh.”
“It was awful!” Jeannie aimed a smack at Ian’s arm. He ducked and laughed again. “You were
funny.” Patrick joined them in enjoying the memory. “She wouldn’t speak to us for days.”
“I got you back, though, didn’t I?” Jeannie said, her eyes narrowed. “With the shaving cream.”
Patrick chuckled. “You did at that.”
“Mom!” A boy of about seven ran over and tugged at Jeannie’s sleeve. “Dougie pushed me down.”
“What did you do to Dougie first?” Jeannie asked.
The boy squirmed but defended his innocence. “Really! I didn’t do nothing.”
“Exactly,” the boy agreed. “We were just playing soccer and Dougie kept hogging the ball—”
“Meaning he was winning, so you decided to even the odds,” Patrick interrupted.
Jeannie held up a hand to stop the protest that was tumbling out of her son’s mouth. “Go back and apologize to Dougie for trying to cheat.”
Charles Alan. Or you can sit here with us adults until you learn to play the game by the rules.”
Jeannie eyed her son sternly and he huffed a sigh of defeat. With a soft smile she pulled him to her and pressed a kiss to his forehead. “I know it’s a drag being youngest, but cheating isn’t going to help anything.”
With another dramatic sigh, the boy turned and ponderously walked away toward the other kids playing soccer. Jeannie shook her head and turned back to the table.
“Just wait. In a few years you, too, will have this kind of fun.”
Obviously, their “secret” was no such thing here. Kate shifted uncomfortably, and felt like a fraud. The Berzanis were all so welcoming to her. Even Patrick seemed certain of the future. And there was something different about him, surrounded by his family. Kate hated to think that Evan might be right; seeing him with them did make a difference. Or was she imagining it? Maybe she just felt envious that he had the family she had always wanted.
“Maybe we’ll have a girl,” Patrick said to his sister. “She’ll be just like Kate.”
“I hope you have ten boys all
like you,” Jeannie said. “Sorry, Kate. I wouldn’t wish that on you, but on Patrick?” She paused, then shot her brother an evil grin. “Oh
“Because he was so awful to you as a child?” Kate asked.
“To me and everyone else!”
“Come on! I wasn’t that bad,” Patrick protested.
Ian chuckled. “Yeah, you were. I think Mom started to get gray hairs the minute you were born.”
Kate looked over at Patrick. “Just what did you do, besides tormenting your sister?”
“Nothing. I was a good little Boy Scout.”
“Hardly,” Jeannie said. “If you can think of any trouble a kid could get into, Patrick got into it. I thank my lucky stars my two boys don’t have
the imagination and foolhardiness that Patty had as a kid.”