Authors: Nancy Barone
Published by Bookouture
An imprint of StoryFire Ltd.
23 Sussex Road, Ickenham, UB10 8PN
Copyright © Nancy Barone 2013
has asserted her
right to be identified
as the author of this work.
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in any retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the publishers.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, organizations, places and events other than those clearly in the public domain, are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or locales is entirely coincidental.
Loads of awesome people to thank:
First of all, Oliver Rhodes of Bookouture for seeing
my potential as well as that of my heroine Erica.
It took a keen eye and a lot of guts.
Huge thanks also to my editor, the lovely Emily Ruston
who patiently trudged through long sentences, complicated thought processes and a plot that took quite a bit of unraveling.
To Simona, Liz and Arianna, my Tuscan sisters. Over the last twenty-five years we have stuck together through losing family, jobs, lovers, and even a few pounds. I miss you guys so much!
To all of my Matera Brainstormer Buddies and
powerhouses—Kim, Rosemary, Sheila, Lizzy, Claude,
Anselm, Eloise, Beate, Shannon and everyone I haven’t mentioned. Particular thanks go to Elizabeth Jennings and Christine
Witthohn for their wisdom and constant encouragement.
To the owner of Book-Obsessed Chicks, Kimberly
Radicy Rocha. You are a special Chica!
To my parents and sister who have put up with me all these years, believing I’d eventually get there.
To my beloved husband—who has absolutely nothing in
common with Ira—and who has always supported me
by cheering me on, doing the dishes, putting laundry
away and bringing me flowers to say he loves me just the way I am.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
I looked up from my desk at the two beaming men in suits. “Yes, Mr. Lowenstein?”
“Can you see our very favorite client out, please?”
“Certainly, sir. This way, please, Mr. Smith,” I nodded with a courteous smile and ushered the satisfied duck with the golden eggs out of the office.
“Have you locked up for the night, Miss Cantelli?”
“And have you sharpened all the pencils?”
“Don’t push your luck, Ira.”
“Okay,” my boyfriend grinned. “Let’s go home, honey.”
was just over the threshold of Ira’s spare bedroom from which he operated his newborn company, Tech.Com.
Once in the living room, he slipped his tie off and grinned. “That’s two excellent clients in two days, Erica,” he rejoiced as he gave me a smacking kiss on the mouth. “At this rate we’ll be a known brand within a year!”
I smiled. Ira was on top of the world. Was now the time to tell him?
“I need a smoke. Order a pizza or something, we’re going to celebrate. Back in a mo,” he promised and let himself out through the back door of the small apartment we’d rented out together.
It was the second week of October and the snow had fallen, plunging autumn right into the dead of winter. The afternoon before, Ira and I had been sipping hot chocolate by the window, naked under the patchwork quilt, admiring the red and orange landscape. And, just like the sudden winter had fallen upon us, catching us unprepared, so had some unexpected news of my own.
I sighed, changed into my nightie, and studied my stomach. I wouldn’t be showing for another couple of months. Could I wait that long before telling him? Slipping into my galoshes and throwing a coat over my bare shoulders, I ventured out into the tiny backyard of our first home together. Not being exactly a gazelle, I slipped and slid, desperately trying to stay upright, flapping my arms frantically to stay on my feet. He watched me, puzzled and helpless, and before I could even yelp, I landed on my ass in a heap of snow.
“You okay?” Ira laughed as he ditched his cigarette and came over to crouch next to me.
“Argh,” I huffed. “Sure.” Considering my ankle hurt, that I’d snapped a nerve in my back and looked like a homeless streetwalker, I was peachy.
He smiled down at me, his face red from the cold. How to tell him? It was way too early in our relationship; he’d only asked me to move in with him—and into his company—just a few weeks before. How could I spring this on him with minimal damage to our relationship, and just as he was starting out?
I looked around, stalling as he helped me up. Our backyard had suddenly become a palimpsest of mud and snow, and depending at what angle you scraped your boots into the ground, you’d get either dirty wet brown caking the last of the dead leaves, or the purest, whitest snow. A bit like our present situation. If I could rub my galoshes the right way, it could be a clean, happy start to the rest of our lives. If I scraped haphazardly, I’d find only mud.
I looked at the love of my life, the man of my dreams. Ira Lowenstein was the one I wanted to be with, and if we were going to build a family together, here was step one. A little too early, perhaps, but I knew we’d be okay.
“Come on,” he said with a grin and pulled me up, using both hands—for balance I hoped, and not because I was beyond the one-arm job. Ira pulled me close and kissed my lips. His nose was cold.
“It’s a mess, this backyard, isn’t it?” he said.
I nodded, rubbing my cheek against his shoulder.
“Ira...” I swallowed, my heart rate picking up, already tap dancing against my ribs and in my ears. I had to tell him. It was now or never. But I kept holding my breath, hoping I’d turn blue in the face, be rushed to a hospital where, after hours of agony (not mine, but Ira’s, being afraid that I was going to croak), the doctor would finally emerge and say, “It was touch and go there for a while but now she’s perfectly all right—and thankfully so is the baby.”
To which Ira would blink and whisper, ‘Baby? I’m going to be a father?’ And he’d be so happy he’d take me home and we’d celebrate with nice hot chocolate and glazed doughnuts.
Ira chuckled, bringing me back to reality. “I know, I know, I’ve been neglecting the garden. But I promise as soon as spring comes, I’ll put up a nice deck for you and we can have barbecue parties and invite all your friends, okay?”
“Maybe even a swing set for kiddies,” I suggested, watching him as my heart leapt into my throat. Was that the right way to introduce the news? How was I supposed to know? A glance in his direction told me it probably wasn’t.
Ira’s red face went white. “Well,” he tittered. “It’s a bit too soon to talk about that. Maybe one day, who knows?”
My heart thudded against the bottom of my stomach, dead still.
“What?” he said. It wasn’t a,
‘What did you say?’
what. It was a,
‘Please tell me you’re joking?’
“Three weeks, at the most.”
Ira scrambled and slipped on the ice. I steadied him. Not a good start. His face was sweaty, his eyes wide. I sighed.
“Look, I know you’re shocked—even I can’t believe I’m going to be a mother. But it’ll be okay.”
He looked at the ground for a long time, as if trying to find insect footprints in the snow. After what seemed like forever, he looked up. “I’m not sure I’m really ready to be a father just yet, Erica,” he said quietly. “I think we should consider our options.”
I blinked at him. “Options?” I whispered, understanding but hoping I hadn’t.
“We’re much too young to start a family. We have a company—our livelihood to nurture. How is a baby going to get our lives into gear?”
And then, the realization. The painful truth. I was too numb to move. But I could still think, and I could certainly still speak.
“You don’t love me, do you?” I whispered. Any man in love with his woman would have been overjoyed to learn she was expecting a baby from him. At least the men in my historical romances would.
He looked at me for a long moment, like when you examine fruit at the grocer’s before buying it.
Please say you love me,
I silently willed him.
Please don’t tell me I’ve thrown my heart away.
Ira sighed and wrapped an arm around my shoulders. “Of course I do, silly. Now why would you get so dramatic?” And then he kissed me tenderly and broke out into a grin. “Let’s get married. Let’s have kids.”
I stopped holding my breath. “Really?”
Ira tapped my nose gently. “I love you, you love me. Hell, how hard can it be?”