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One year later



I reached behind me and tugged the zipper of my gown half way up my back before it caught, not moving. I sucked in and tried again.


“You look like you need some help.”

Michael stepped behind me and carefully worked the zipper over the twenty-first-century corset of lycra and stitching I needed to fit into the dress I’d purchased just a couple of months ago for this year’s Barrels and Bows. Had I known what was ahead, I would have waited and bought a larger size.

“It’s too early for my clothes not to fit. This doesn’t bode well for the coming months,” I murmured and smoothed the dress in the mirror.

The image staring back at me was lovely, and I could sort of breathe. Michael looked mouth watering in his tuxedo. He kissed my cheek, sweeping his hands down my bare arms and examining our reflection in the bathroom mirror.

“Stop it. You look amazing, and you’ll keep looking amazing for the next nine months,” he assured me.

“The doctor says the countdown is at seven and a half.”

“Seven months, seven years, whatever. You’ll keep looking amazing.”

“You’re faith is inspirational.”

“It’s not faith. You’re all the proof I need.” He trailed a series of pecks down my cheek and over my exposed collarbone peaking out of the red-sequined boatneck bodice.

I laughed and ducked out of his grasp. “Everyone is waiting. Mom’s already grumbling because we missed dinner. If you keep going, we’ll miss the party. ”

His hot breath tingled my shoulder. “And that’s bad because?”

“We have to go, make our announcement, and get the hell out of there.”

“Nice plan. The sooner we get down there the sooner we get back. But you know once you tell your mother our news, she won’t let you leave. She’ll drag you around to tell everyone in attendance and accept congratulations.”

“Ugh. I know. Just don’t let them rub my stomach. I will not make it through the next several months with people touching me willy nilly. It’s weird.”

He wrapped his hands around my midsection and dropped his face into my upswept hair. “I’ll protect your belly with my life and take my scalpel to anyone who fucks with you.”

Swiveling around, I tapped his chest. “Thank you, guardian of the pregnant belly.”

“I live to serve.”



* * *

“You’re late,” Mom grumbled through the mask of a smile when we caught up to her in the Starwood ballroom ten minutes later.

“That’s my fault, Marie. I’m dragging a little today since I wrapped up surgery late yesterday and drove most of the night to get here.”

She grinned at her son-in-law. “It’s okay. Everyone understands how busy you must be as a surgeon, but you missed the big news.”

“What news?” I asked.

“Anthony and Sarah are expecting! Isn’t that wonderful? I’m going to be a great aunt! Not quite as good as being a grandmother, but I’ll take it.”


She waved her hands. “No, no. I’m not trying to put pressure on you. I know you two have had your troubles, and I’m just glad you’re still together. Not that grandchildren wouldn’t be wonderful.  Theresa is already bragging about the new addition to the family.”

I saw my aunt on the other side of the room holding court with some Star Energy executives. Her first Barrels and Bows post scandalous, two-year exile was turning into quite the event.

“Well, knowing Jude, he could already have kids somewhere. Maybe she hasn’t beaten you to grandma status,” I joked.

“How could you say such a thing? I shudder to think that I might have—”

She didn’t get to finish the statement before my brother was at her side.

“If I had kids somewhere, their mother would have hit me up for child support by now, so I’m in the clear. Stop spreading rumors, sis.”

I snickered. “I was only kidding. Besides, Michael and I—”

“There they are!” Mom beckoned to Anthony and Sarah. “I haven’t had a chance to congratulate you two.”

“Thanks, Aunt Marie. It’s been a few weeks since we found out, and I’m still wrapping my head around it.” Anthony looked shell shocked, but happy.

“Congratulations. When are you due?” Michael asked my cousin’s wife.

Sarah blushed. “August. It’s still early. We weren’t even going to say anything, but Anthony’s mom found out and spilled the beans.”

She looked about as uncomfortable with the sudden public attention to her uterus as I knew I was about to be in a few minutes. I tugged on Michael’s sleeve. He turned from the group.

“What?” he whispered.

“Maybe we should wait to say—”

Before I could finish, Carter and Nisha stopped and hugged Anthony and Sarah, offering their congratulations.

“Thank you,” Sarah said to Nisha.

“You’re welcome. It’s exciting news,” she replied and looked over at Carter, whose eyebrows rose as he cleared his throat.

“It is, and we have some news of our own.”

Nisha clutched her abdomen with both arms.


Because nothing got past my mother, she launched herself at Nisha, enveloping her in a bear hug.

“Oh, my God! You too?”

“Yes. We’re due at the end of July.”

Tears filled my mother’s eyes, and I started to panic. She was going to be a puddle before the night was over.

“Oh, how exciting! Where’s Angela? She must be over the moon. I know I would be,” Mom exclaimed, searching the crowd for Carter’s mother.

“I think she’s already started shopping,” he replied, chuckling.

“Two new babies in the family. So nice.”

I ignored the wistful note in Mom’s voice and looked at Michael. For a moment, I thought we should wait and not detract from Anthony and Sarah’s news, but now, it was Anthony and Sarah and Carter and Nisha.

Michael tilted his head at me, then put an arm around my waist, murmuring. “Yay or nay?”

I lifted my chin. “So Michael and I have some—”

“You’re pregnant?” Mom shrieked so loud, passing partygoers turned in alarm.

She flung her arms out. Jude nudged her.

“Mom, calm down. You can’t assume—”

“Yes,” I said, putting her out of her misery. “I’m pregnant. Due around Independence Day, so you’re on track to be a grandmother before Aunt Theresa.”

Her dancing arms became fists pumping. “Yes. Oh, I’m so thrilled.”

I found myself in the center of another round of hugs and back slaps.

Nisha whispered in my ear. “This is going to be quite the ride.”

“No shit.”

“Oh, for God’s sake, Willa, you’re going to have to clean up your language. You’re about to be a mother.”

She reached for my stomach, and Michael pulled me back.

“She’ll be an excellent one. Salty language and all, Marie.”

“I know. I know.”

Mom’s voice caught, and she hugged me again.

“But I’ll try to watch the language,” I promised her. “If you promise to let me figure things out on my own unless I ask for help.”

“Of course,” she said, stepping back and dabbing her eyes with a tissue from her clutch. “You know me. I’d never think to interfere.”

I hugged her tighter, but looked at Michael over her shoulder.

Yeah, he didn’t believe her either.


Check out the next book: Cross Roads