Authors: Zoe York
“I hate that I’m so obviously inexperienced.”
Oh. Oh! “Nothing wrong with being inexperienced, honey. You know, I’ve only slept with five men in my entire life. Just so happened, two of them were at the same time. Sex really is…” She’d been about to say that it really is best when it’s inside a loving relationship, but that wasn’t a truth she could stand behind any more. “It’s really something you want to do carefully, with someone who respects you, and what you want.”
So she hadn’t been careful, but Liam had proven the last two points. And in hindsight, she hadn’t loved Evan, not really. It had been far too easy to say goodbye and move on. And she’d loved Dale, but sex between them had been damaging in the end. So love wasn’t a prescription for positive intimacy.
But without it, you end up knocked up and alone…
She blinked and refocused on Stella. “You’ll know when it’s right. And don’t do anything that doesn’t feel right.” The younger woman nervously licked her lips, a question obviously hovering on the tip of her tongue. Evie leaned closer, like a conspirator. “And even though it wasn’t something I’d do again…having two guys paying attention to me, that felt pretty right in the moment.”
“Really?” The exclamation was breathy and sweetly innocent, and Evie threw her arms around Stella and laughed.
Evie and Laney headed out before the party ended, but Carrie distracted anyone from asking why. Evie told her sister about the conversation in the kitchen.
“Now that Carrie knows, it’s not long before Ian and Kyle take it upon themselves to get in Liam’s face, you know.”
Evie rolled her eyes. “Do you think it would make a difference if I asked them not to?”
“You were a great help today, boy.”
Liam grinned at his uncle over the dinner table. “That’s how you’re going to play this? I moved the sheep into the back pasture, turned the manure pile, brushed the horses and did a feed run. What did you do, old man?”
Ted chuckled and tapped his plate. “I made dinner.”
And it was good. “What did you put on this chicken?”
“Lime juice, cilantro and salt.” Ted cocked his head to the side. “You’re really sticking around, eh?”
“Yep. I like this place.”
“And Evie Calhoun?”
“What about her?”
“Claire says you were talking together at the party.”
“Talking’s not a crime.” Liam learned at an early age not to offer more information than was actually being asked, but he heard the defensive edge creep into his voice anyway, and tamped it down. “Do you want more potatoes?”
Ted nodded and took the dish, but his gaze remained fixed on Liam’s face. After a few bites, he set his fork down again. “How’s the real estate search going?”
“Nothing new this week, but I’m in no hurry.”
“You can stay here as long as you want.”
“I’d like to be in town by—” He did a quick mental calculation in his head, figuring out when Evie would hit the third trimester and start needing more help. “November at the very latest, but I’m happy to stay here and give you a break from your chores until then.”
“And eat my food. Maybe you could learn to cook, too.”
“I know how to cook.”
The unspoken question sat between them on the table, and Liam normally would let it lie there, like everything else about his family that he tried to ignore, but Ted and Claire Calhoun were close, and he had something to prove, just no one knew it yet. “I’m not my mother’s son.”
“Didn’t say you were. Wouldn’t have you here if I thought you were.”
“And I appreciate that.”
“But growing up with all that privilege—it’s a far cry from what anyone around here knows.”
“You introduced me to Ty West the other day. He and his brother were on the cover of the National Post a few weeks ago.”
“That’s different, they worked hard for that.”
“And I’m sure my father would claim he works hard, too, but why are you boxing me into a corner where I need to defend him when you know I don’t want to?” Liam pushed hard off the table and grabbed his plate, rattling the fork and knife resting on top of it on his way to the sink.
“You’re right.” Liam glanced over his shoulder just in time to catch his uncle shrug. The older man was looking tired. “And you worked hard today. For a city boy.”
“I’m not going to deny that I’m new to this, but I did okay.” Couldn’t if he wanted to. He’d had a handful of brief visits to the farm over the years—not long enough to catch a glimpse of the blond girls across the road, or he would have probably angled to spend whole summers here—and while he enjoyed the work, it wasn’t what he wanted to do with his life.
“You don’t need to convince me. So who are you trying to convince?”
Oh, just wait and see
They didn’t have anything for dessert, so Ted decided to amble across the road in case Claire still had leftover pie in her fridge. Liam set up his laptop, tethered it to his Blackberry, and by the time Ted returned it was dark and Liam was on his second cup of coffee.
“Whatcha working on now?”
“Renovation budgets.” Three of them, actually. Two for rental properties. One for Evie’s cottage. It was the project manager in him, he told himself. Just hypothetical workflow. In case Evie decided she wanted a third bedroom. Or a master suite. With a tub big enough for two, and a nook for a crib. A pipe dream, but one of them had to be a dreamer. Evie sure as hell wasn’t.
“Well, I’m turning in, I’ll leave you to your work.” Liam barely noticed as Ted made his way through the kitchen and up the back staircase. Above him, a TV turned on, the steady drone of noise quickly fading into the background as well. At some point, Ted turned it off, but Liam didn’t notice until he paused to refill his coffee cup. He was still running numbers and making notes when a quiet thump at the door grabbed his attention.
On the other side, surrounded by the dark of night, were Ian and Kyle Nixon. He didn’t have to think hard about why they might be visiting so late, but he wasn’t going to give them any more information than they already had, just in case.
He swung the door wide open and gestured for them to come in. Ian, taller, darker and wearing a leather jacket despite the July warmth, stalked in first. Kyle followed, carrying a six pack of beer in a slightly more friendly gesture.
“You guys here to see Ted?”
Two notched brows responded in the negative.
“Well, take a seat.” Liam closed his laptop and made room for them at the table, then leaned back against the counter. He wasn’t short or small, but his six foot, buck eighty frame needed all the advantage it could get over the farm boys in front of him.
“The girls had a get together tonight.” Ian started, but Kyle shot him a look, as if to say,
back story not necessary.
“We know about Evie. And we know it’s still early.”
They were hard to read, but Liam figured this was some sort of test. “Did Evie talk to either of you directly?” They exchanged looks—guilty, Liam hoped. “Look, while I’m happy to make new acquaintances in town, because I’m planning on sticking around for a while, I’m not sure how this is any of your business.”
“A while?” Ian pushed away from the table a bit, giving himself space to lean back and plant his feet wide. “Evie’s been through a lot, she doesn’t need you dicking her around.”
“You think that’s the danger here? That I’m going to hurt her?” Liam snorted and pressed himself half an inch taller. “She’s a big girl, she can take care of herself.”
“I’m sure that’s true.” Kyle lifted a bottle out of the cardboard carrying case and handed it over. “A peace offering.”
Liam held the local microbrew for a minute before nodding his thanks. He didn’t have a sister, or a sister-in-law, but he had a few close friends from college, and if a stranger got them pregnant, he’d want to clean their clocks.
But it wasn’t like that with him and Evie. Or it wouldn’t be, eventually. But they couldn’t know that. He didn’t truly yet himself, it was just a wish and a prayer at this point.
“Listen, I appreciate your concern, but I’m not going to hurt her.” If anyone stood to be injured in this adventure, it was him. “But the details are going to stay between us for a while.” While he figured out a way to convince Evie to try some more kissing.
“Is this because she’s older than you?” Kyle probably meant it in a nice way, but Liam didn’t care. He surged forward. Ian’s large hand reached up and planted itself in the middle of his chest.
The older man winced at his brother. “Dude, she’s the same age as Carrie. And you, for that matter.”
“Well, I don’t think he’s interested in dating me, either,” muttered Kyle.
Ian snorted. “Evie’s hot, what does her age matter?”
Liam twisted to the side, now focusing his distemper on Ian. “Keep your eyes on your wife,
Ian chuckled. “Is that how it is, Boy Wonder?”
“That’s what he says Evie calls you.” Ian nodded at his brother.
“That was supposed to stay between us.” Kyle glared at him.
“I’m no good with secrets, man.” He helped himself to a beer. “Besides, I don’t think she’d give him a nickname if she didn’t like him.”
Liam had to agree, although he didn’t like the specific name she’d chosen. Or that he was the last to hear about it. “Are you guys just about done your hero mission here?”
“You clear on the fact that we’ll kick your ass if you hurt her?” Ian tossed the taunt back, and Liam chuckled.
“Good. You play hockey?”
“Shame, thought we might be able to be friends there for a minute.” Ian shrugged when his brother slapped his shoulder. “What? We need a forward.”
Kyle helped himself to a beer. “How about baseball?”
Liam winced. “I have a kayak, and I used to do judo.”
They both groaned.
“How about I buy the beer next time?”
Ian grinned. “That’ll do.”
In the midst of Evie’s life being turned upside down, she’d made an unexpected friend. Karen’s neighbour, and new boyfriend, Paul, had been friendly since they met in the spring, but with the arrival of summer, and his ten-year-old daughter Megan spending more time at his house for the holidays, he’d extended a number of invitations to her and the boys to spend time with them. And sometimes, just the boys. Without spilling her secret, it was hard to explain to Paul how much she appreciated his small gestures, but she did. As soon as the morning sickness and food aversions passed, she was going to bake the man cookies.
When she woke up mid-month feeling almost like her old self, she decided to make the most of the probably short-lived energy and take the boys to the beach before work. They were all over the plan, and everyone scarfed a quick breakfast of homemade protein bars and grapes and changed into their swimsuits. Evie squinted at her reflection in her bedroom, looking for some evidence that her black bikini would reveal a bump, but on the outside, she didn’t look any different. Ha. What a joke. Her body was rioting to the extreme, nothing felt or tasted right, but she could still rock an itty bitty swim suit. Not that she much appreciated it, but soaking up a bit of sun might help her mood.
“Sunglasses, hats, towels, sunscreen, let’s go.” She herded the boys out the door. “Do you want to walk, or take the bikes?”
“Bikes!” Connor dashed ahead to the back of the house to pull them out.
Max lingered for a moment, trailing his foot on the ground. Searching for the right words to something.
“Spit it out, Mr. M.”
He grinned. “Can we go to Megan’s house while you’re at work?”
Evie groaned. She didn’t know Paul well enough to ask him to babysit. An offer was one thing, a request was another. “You’ve been having fun with her, eh?”
“Do you know her phone number?”
“Can you call her now?”
“Well, it would be her dad that I’d call, and I need to think about it.”
“Think about what?” Connor wheeled his and Max’s bikes up the drive.
“We’re going to Megan’s house today!”
“Maybe. I don’t even know if she’s there.” Evie pressed a hand to her stomach as the butterflies did their annoying fluttering thing. “Connor, can you get my bike, too? I’m just going to dash back inside and get some more snacks.” Ginger root and crackers.
The morning air was still a bit cool when they got to the beach, and they had the place pretty much to themselves, so Evie stretched out on a beach towel instead of joining the boys in the gently lapping waves of Lake Erie.
The municipal beach was small but well maintained by volunteers who picked up garbage and left behind enough smooth rocks and shells to keep things interesting. Evie had done her fair share of shore clean up over the years. Even before people like Evan and Carrie had started revitalizing Wardham’s tiny downtown core, their beach had been a draw. Now those visitors finally had other options to keep them, and their money, in town.