Authors: Laura Florand
Tags: #Romance Fiction
“I love you so much,” he murmured, closing her back against the stone wall of the old building, mostly just to cage her.
Mine, mine, all mine.
His hand fisted around the jasmine climbing up the wall. The building had been used in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries to process the flowers harvested in the region, and in some spots inside it, away from the kitchens, he could swear he still caught hints of rose and lavender when he rested his head close to a wall. But here, in the Provençal night, he could only smell stone and jasmine and her monoï-based shampoo. It was like smelling the essence of starlight.
“I’ll finish up as soon as I can,” he told her, bending down to kiss her.
But she brought her hands to his shoulders and pushed him back, and because he was stupid, he had to work not to tense at even that tiniest rejection. “I have some news.” Her eyes, big in the dim light, made her look almost scared to tell him. “I was trying to wait until you got home, but I just couldn’t wait anymore.”
Something she was excited about, then. The school had finally said she could volunteer? He caught one of her hands on his shoulders and squeezed it while he bit the words back just in case that
her news. She never talked about how hard she had worked to try to get any school around here to let her teach or even volunteer, and how many people had turned her down as if she herself, minus money, was worthless. Probably she didn’t want to make him feel bad for dragging her here.
For dragging her away from that island, where she was so happy and confident and valued, to his world, where people treated her like some very expensive shit. She’d known what it would be like, and she’d still made that choice. For him.
“Yes?” he nudged when she didn’t speak. Squeezing her hand again, he rubbed one thumb down over her knuckles.
Her eyes got so huge he could drown in them. She took a deep breath and then let the words out fast, on a gasp: “I’m pregnant.”
The world stopped.
Right there. Frozen with one of his hands in jasmine, with his forearm pressed against stone, with his wife in the cage of his body, with her hand trapped by his against his shoulder.
His world froze so still that all he could do was stare at the image of himself in the pupils of her eyes, black hair against black, lit only by the light from the kitchens, so that he seemed shadowed by some darker self. The great glass shadow of a self he had to look away from in the mirror, or in any great dark window shutting out the night.
Hell. He was supposed to be looking into her eyes to see
not concentrating on himself.
“You’re—what?” Breath forced its way between the two words, awkward and choppy. His hand crushed the jasmine.
She took a gasping breath and smiled the biggest smile in the world. But blue, night-darkened eyes clung to his as if every single thing depended on him.
So he had to get this right.
?” His gaze ran down her body to her belly, but it looked just exactly the same. Slim. Impossible to fit a baby in there. “Really?”
She beamed and nodded, but her eyes still clung to his. Still waiting for him to do the right thing.
“My God.” Something was happening to his hearing. The world seemed to be pressing up close to his ears and receding in this strange pulsing confusion. This great golden swelling of joy and this dense, gray contraction of fear, over and over. “Really?”
He wanted to kneel down and stare at her belly. But he was suddenly afraid to touch it.
“It’s due in February,” she said. Their baby would be born only thirteen months after they first met.
“Wow,” he whispered. He’d wanted her to get pregnant so bad.
Four black-haired kids, playing with us in lavender fields. We’re going to be so happy. Trust me. Trust me with you.
Trust me not to let this happiness shatter or melt.
Let me have it all.
“That’s wonderful.” He couldn’t get his ears to stop ringing, and the echo of his voice sounded tinny and strange. From the kitchen, pots clanged loudly as the
attacked the last great batch of the evening’s dishes.
“I know!” she exclaimed. But over her smile of happiness, she looked nervous. Her eyes were still clinging to his, as if he could produce miracles.
produce miracles. But not this kind of miracle. Not without her. He looked back at her belly wonderingly. One of his cells was in there, creating something so incredible with hers?
“Oh, wow,” he said again softly.
Oh, good God, they were going to have a baby.
A father. He was going to be a
Oh, hell, what did he know about
“Wow, Summer.” He took her hips, carefully, squeezing them. It was the closest his courage could get to her actual belly. That belly where two tiny cells had joined together and made him a father.
“Isn’t it?” Her fingers kneaded into his shoulders as her eyes searched his face.
In a hammock in the South Pacific, he’d first created this tropical lagoon of a dream for them: four black-haired children, eternal bliss, them wandering hand in hand. Under southern stars, cradled in a hammock swinging by an aqua sea, they’d drawn gorgeous visions of happily ever after.
It felt as if that tropical lagoon had just risen up in one great tsunami wave and knocked him flat.
“That’s wonderful,” he said. Had he just said that?
Why were Summer’s eyes getting so big? Was she scared?
Don’t be scared.
When people were scared, they
The tsunami wave must have shattered his great glass shadow. Its fragments swirled low in his middle now, throwing back reflections of his broken, shadowy self. Only sometimes those shards caught the light wrong and that self didn’t look like an adult. It looked like a black-haired baby screaming,
How long did a baby cry for his mother when she left him, before he gave up and decided monsters must have eaten her?
No monsters had eaten his mother. She’d just decided his father’s world was too tough for her, so she’d gone back to the Pacific island home she loved and not bothered to take Luc with her.
As if maybe
was really what was too tough for her.
Oh, shit, why was that stuff coming up again? As soon as Summer got pregnant, everything about him was supposed to turn
Be healed. Be strong and secure and…oh, shit.
“Are you happy?” He made himself smile at her when he asked it, so that she wouldn’t know that, right when she needed an adult male in her life, her own husband had remembered that he was still a screwed-up kid.
“Of course I am!” Summer dropped her hands from his shoulders to press against her flat belly, blinking out the dark reflection of him just for a second before she opened her eyes again and turned her smile up to full voltage. That beautiful shield of a smile. Luminously gorgeous. His wife was quite literally the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. The world thought so, too, and nipped and bit at her for it, wanting to rip pieces off her to make her less beautiful, like a pack of rabid dogs. “Of
Isn’t this what we wanted?”
Oh, God, he wanted it so damn bad. He wanted to walk hand in hand in lavender fields behind four gamboling children with delicate features and black hair, everything in their lives as secure and happy as an afternoon in a hammock by a lagoon. He wanted it so badly he could
But to get to it, he first had to get through the part where she could run away.
Not all women run away from motherhood. Stop it, you idiot. Stop it.
His heart beat too hard. He felt dizzy, and he had to keep pressing his forearms into the stone wall to keep from slumping his head against it.
“Really.” He looked down between them at her belly but didn’t dare touch it. He could touch anything. He could hold his palm down on a hot pan, as his foster father had forcibly taught him, he could handle molten sugar, he could place an exquisitely fragile net of air and sugar on a dessert and never break a thing. Hell, he’d touched Summer’s body every possible place a man’s hands could touch. But all the sudden, he couldn’t touch her belly. “Are you really happy?”
“Of course I am.” She smiled at him.
If only half of Summer’s smiles weren’t lies. He knew she couldn’t help it. He knew it was her defense mechanism. And yet it would be so damn helpful if he
actually knew what she was thinking.
“Come here.” He turned to rest his back against the wall, pulling her against him as if he was the strong one, as if he was the one who could keep them secure. Not as if he was relying on a wall to hold him up. “There you go.” His fingers kneaded into the base of her spine. There, just on the other side of those bones, his little baby was growing.
Don’t you dare faint, bordel.
That would not reassure Summer that he was strong enough to handle everything
I am. I swear I am. You can always count on me. You won’t
need to dump me and your baby for a better life.
And if I can knead molten sugar, I can keep kneading her spine without jerking my hand away.
A man could always handle more than his body wanted him to realize.
Summer’s hands slid around his waist, fighting their way between stone and his skin, holding on hard.
I’ve got you
, he thought to her as he tried not to pass out. He stroked her spine.
I’ve got this.
Her body slowly relaxed. When all her muscles were melted against him, when all her weight was his, she slowly rubbed her face against his chest in this intimate caress of herself against him. “I love you so much,” she murmured.
He kissed her pale gold hair, his dizziness slowly starting to fade.
.” He chose the man he wanted to be for her and not the man who hid deep inside. “We’re going to be so happy.” He focused on the feel of her hair under his stroking palm. On the weight of her relaxing into him. His arms tightened. He found that knot of joy inside him and breathed on it, trying to coax it to uncramp and trust the air, to let itself become a bonfire that burned out all fear. “We’re going to be so, so happy.”
“Oh, my God!” Summer’s mother exclaimed over the phone from Hong Kong. “Pregnant
Honey. I told you to give him a few years with his beautiful wife first. You don’t want the only thing he associates with marriage to be a fat wife who’s always throwing up.”
Summer sucked in her stomach. Damn. She took a deep breath, trying to relax it, but her muscles just wouldn’t un-tense from that effort to keep it flat, not while her mother was on the phone.
She wished she’d had a chance to talk more to Luc. He’d acted kind of weird last night—not radiant with happiness, more like scared to death with it. And then he’d slipped out so early that morning and so quietly, as if he was afraid to wake her.
Shouldn’t he have wanted to linger? So she could tell him, excitedly,
Hey, I think I’m feeling
! This must be morning sickness!
“Although I’m sure you’ll be an
pregnant woman, honey. But you know, none of us look our best. Keep track of the calories when those cravings hit. There’s no excuse for gaining more than twenty-five pounds, my doctor said.”
Who could eat?
looked revolting today. Except possibly a Popsicle. A Popsicle might be nice. “Right now, I’m starting to feel sick a little,” she mentioned tentatively, fishing.
What’s it like, Maman? Can you give me any tips?
Damn it. Why had she told her mother?
But she knew why. She’d had no one else to tell.
“Oh, good. Honestly, I know it doesn’t feel that way now, but you’re lucky if the nausea goes on longer than the usual couple of months. Otherwise it is
hard to keep the extra pounds off. Although my friend Tru was telling me her daughter found this milkshake that’s the perfect amount of nutrients and calories. It’s called
Did you tell Luc yet?”
For one tiny, odd moment, Summer almost understood something about her mother. Something alien and a little sad, that Mai Corey would assume Summer would call her first before she told her husband. Did her mother think she and her daughter were close? Or did Mai just have that emotionally distant a relationship with the husband she accompanied all over the world? “Yes. He’s…thrilled, of course.” Summer kneaded her belly.
Her mother laughed. “Your father was terrible. I mean, he was very proud to be a father, of course, especially when he thought you were going to be a boy, but oh, my goodness, he couldn’t stand the morning sickness and the big belly getting in his way when he wanted to—well, you know. Never mind. I’m sure you don’t want a picture.” Her mother laughed again.
No, Summer didn’t. She really didn’t. And it had nothing and everything to do with her sudden image of her father’s impatience with his wife’s fat belly when he wanted to have sex. “Don’t tell Dad.”
“Oh, no, of course not, honey! Not until after three months. There’s no point, you know. Until you pass three months, the odds of the pregnancy failing are so high.”
Summer’s breath left her as if she’d just been punched in the stomach. Right in the womb, while she stared from the terrace of their house down to the Mediterranean.
She wanted her island. To curl up at the feet of a comfortable
, help her braid leis while she held one end steady in the grip of her toes, tell her all her worries and listen to tips and stories about babies and pregnancies and eat green mangoes—
Oh, that would be good right now—a green mango. That crisp apple-like consistency but the flavor all its own.
Oh. That would be so good, it was all she could do not to hop straight on a plane in pursuit of some. And maybe curl up in all those scents of tiare and jasmine and take a few days to sink into a world of normalcy and reassurance. A
of pregnancies failed the first three months?