Authors: Carol Burnside
Silence filled his ears after her sudden rush of words, broken by the sound of Kate’s sigh. He should come back in a few minutes, but already he’d learned that she wasn’t as calm and sure about having a baby as she pretended.
“No, don’t feel bad. I’ll be fine. We both know there will be enough medical staff in the room to get me though it, but I guess I just wanted someone there to hold my hand. For after, you know?” Kate’s voice was tight now. “I’m looking forward to it and yet, dreading that particular moment.”
She paused again, then continued with a stronger voice, “You’re right. Getting back into normal clothes and my exercise routine is definitely a plus, just like this opportunity is great for you and your family. Tell your husband I said congratulations on the new job. I’m sure your parents will be thrilled to have their grandkids nearby, but keep my number in your phone, okay? I’d love to hear how you’re doing.”
Rio gathered the call was drawing to a close, so he tapped on the door, then stuck his head around it and whispered. “Hey.”
Kate gave him a tight smile from her position on the bed, propped against the headboard with pillows. She looked soft and vulnerable in the blue outfit, with her feet bare and hair tucked behind her ears. “Janice, I’ve got someone here needing to speak with me, so I need to let you go. But congratulations again and have a safe trip.”
After a couple more short responses and a quick “bye,” Kate ended the call. “Did you need something?”
“Exactly what I was going to ask you. It’s been a while since we got back, and I thought you might want a change of scenery, even if it’s another room. I know I do.”
“Rio, you don’t have to stay here with me. I promise I’ll stay put and be a good girl.”
“Thanks, but I’d rather not be around other people right now. It’s awkward because they feel like they need to say something sympathetic, and I’d rather they didn’t remind me during the one moment I might have thoughts of something else.” Why he’d told her that, he wasn’t sure, except he’d begun to feel more at ease around Kate. Not like she was someone he’d met a few days ago. Maybe it was all the physical contact they had because of her mobility constraints.
Even if the situation were different, it wouldn’t have occurred to him to leave her. Give her space, yes, but she was a guest in his home, and he’d been taught better than to leave his guests to fend for themselves. Besides, there was something about Kate that brought out his protective side.
“All right. If you’re sure. Speaking of being around other people, Margaret usually steps in occasionally but hasn’t come by lately. I take it she’s not back from visiting her friends yet.”
“No, but she called to say she was staying for dinner with them and will join us for the movie later. I think this place is too full of memories for her right now.”
“What’s made you antsy? Have you been reading?” she asked with a knowing smile that did nothing to calm his stomach.
There were times he’d pay real money to see Kate’s smile, her face transformed from merely pretty to a real beauty. She looked good in blue. He crossed his arms and raised his chin, braving it out. “Maybe.”
“Ran into some scary stuff, didn’t you?”
He dropped his arms and the pretense, needing to get some of his frustration out. “Damn, you’re not kidding. It’s daunting, the idea of how at your mercy these tiny beings are. I think my hands may be too big to do some of this stuff and what if I can’t differentiate what one cry means from another. I mean, how do you figure that kind of stuff out? Trial and error? While this experimentation is going on, the poor kid is still suffering with whatever is causing him to cry in the first place and probably blasting out my eardrums in the process.”
“Whoa. You really are worked up about this stuff, aren’t you?”
“You’ve no idea.” He dreaded raising this child in ways Kate couldn’t possibly imagine.
She waggled her fingers at him and bounced her brows in an exaggerated attempt at sultry that made him smile despite his worries. “Come give me a ride to the kitchen, and we’ll exchange fears and commiserate.”
He heard his mom’s cautions in his head, but it didn’t stop him from giving her a flirty once over before scooping her off the bed. “Lady, you’ve got a deal.”
Carrying Kate was no hardship. Far from it. He often found himself wishing she needed to move around more because he liked the feel of her in his arms. He really liked her, pregnancy and all. That should scare him, but he was already committed to the most frightening thing he could think of — raising a child. Flirting with Kate felt good and right now he needed to feel good about something in his life.
Once they were settled at the kitchen table with a snack of veggies and ranch dip, Rio asked, as if he didn’t already know, “So what do you fear?”
“Hel-lo. Labor.” Her tone suggested he was crazy for asking. “You know, the painful process by which this child will become yours?”
He didn’t call her on the playful delivery. “I get it, but keep him in there for a while longer, won’t you?”
“Oh, believe me, I’m not eager for the day. Well, that’s not entirely true. Some days I want nothing more than to be trim again and back to my running routine. Then I have one of those sharp pains and the whole birth process makes me want to hide under the bed.”
He canted his head sideways. “Can’t quite see you sliding under a bed these days.”
“Ooh, that was mean.” She threw a baby carrot and hit him in the chest, a smile lurking about her mouth.
Rio caught it on the bounce and popped it in his mouth, making her laugh.
“Zach used to do that, except when it came to green peppers. He hates green peppers.” She looked away and shook her head.
“And Zach is ...?”
“My oldest brother.” She hitched one shoulder. “We’re sort of not speaking right now.”
“Life is short. You should call him and make nice.”
Her gaze locked on his with understanding. “I hear you, but enough about me. We’re supposed to be sharing here. Your turn.”
“Nah. I’ve spewed enough on that subject.”
“Not really. You expressed some frustrations, but I sensed there’s something deeper than that driving them.”
Her probing made him antsy again, so he pushed away from the table and began clearing the dishes and leftovers away. “It’s not like we expected to find solutions. We’re just voicing concerns.”
“Maybe so, but if you change your mind, I’ve done a ton of babysitting in the past. I might be able to calm some of your apprehensions. Better take advantage of my sage advice while I’m still around.”
Rio halted in the process of returning the vegetable tray to the fridge as the truth of what she’d said hit him. Until now, he’d avoided thinking about how it would be after the baby arrived. All this flirty friendship and getting to know each other, while making the present decidedly more pleasant, was going exactly nowhere. In a few short weeks, Kate would be out of his life for good.
Except it didn’t feel like a good thing in the least.
he theater inside Hawthorne House wasn’t huge but was perfect for family viewing, with two rows of four leather recliners arranged stadium style. The walls had been painted a deep plum with dark charcoal woodwork. The acoustical tiled ceiling was charcoal as well, but the real star in the room was the huge screen which took up most of the front wall.
“Wow. I had no idea this was down here, or that this house had a basement for that matter,” Kate said once Rio had lowered her to stand on her own. She re-tied her robe to occupy her hands because every time he lifted her into his arms, she got all flustered and jittery and her feminine muscles clenched in a way that had nothing to do with pregnancy. Damn hormones.
“Most houses in this area of the country have a basement.”
“Yes, but for some reason I never envisioned one of this magnitude having anything so normal. Then again, this is no musty storage room, is it?”
Margaret caught her comment and smiled as she came through the doorway, her matching gown and robe set fluttering over fuzzy slippers. “James loved this room and was quite the movie buff. I think you’ll find there’s a sizable library of films to choose from. Check out Allie’s selection of chick flicks, Kate.”
A groan came from Rio, who’d come to the pajama party in gray sweats that made his eyes shine like silver. According to his mom, he probably didn’t own sleepwear. The thought made Kate a little too warm, though it was a few degrees cooler in this part of the house.
“Let me guess.” The humor in his eyes belied Rio’s hands-on-hips stance. “I’m outnumbered and we’re picking the movie by democratic vote.”
“You got that right.” Margaret’s smile smacked of smug before she turned and winked at Kate. “Come on, Kate, let’s take advantage of our majority.”
“Kate needs to sit and put her feet up.”
“Bug off, buster,” Kate shot back at Rio without thinking, using the casual lingo she often used around her brothers. “I’m not an invalid. I can stand long enough to pick out a movie.”
Rio made a humorous show of backing off and settled into the nearest recliner with a chuckle.
One thorough look at the films Margaret was busy pulling from Allie’s collection, and Kate saw a problem. While they were also wonderful romances,
Return to Me
Sleepless in Seattle
all had someone dying or recently deceased in them. Even in
You’ve Got Mail
, the bookstore had passed to Meg Ryan’s character because of her mother’s death. She grabbed a James Bond flick before Margaret realized the same thing. “Hey, what about an action film with eye candy for everyone?”
“Ooh. Daniel Craig, buff and shirtless.” Margaret’s eyes took on a predatory gleam. “Good call, my dear. Mind you, he’s not Sean Connery, but he’ll do.”
“Mom, please.” Rio made a sound of disgust but popped up to switch on the rear projector and get the movie started. “Secret agent with a fast car and faster women works for me. Don’t care who plays him, 007 is the man.”
The sister of two 007 fans, Kate had seen this one at least three times. She took a seat, pushed a button to lift her feet and sighed as Rio dimmed the lights. Man, she had to be careful not to get too comfortable with all this. She hadn’t expected to feel at home here, but Margaret and Rio were such down-to-earth people that her reservations were fleeing faster than rats on a sinking ship.
Reclined, content and with her tummy full, Kate fell asleep almost as soon as the movie started. She woke to warm lips pressed against her forehead followed by the quiet murmur of a deep, male voice. “Ah, Kate. This is pretty seductive stuff you’re throwing at me. I sure as hell never thought I’d be attracted to a pregnant lady.”
It took her a second to digest what Rio was saying, then her pulse drummed a rapid tattoo. The faint scent of stir fry and warm, male skin filled her nostrils as she fought to keep her breathing shallow.
She was in Rio’s arms. Again. But they weren’t moving.
Parting her eyelids to mere slits, Kate recognized the plush comforter on her bed. Should she pretend to wake up? Before she could decide, Rio whispered, “You smell good.”
It had been such a long while since she’d had honest male attention that Kate couldn’t hold back the smile that bubbled up inside. She tilted her head back so she could see him, looked up through drowsy eyes and murmured, “Thank you.” Her breath hitched at the passion in his gaze. “It’s been forever since I’ve heard such things.”
“It’s been some time since I’ve wanted to say them. For both our sakes, you shouldn’t look at me like that.”
She watched his mouth form the words, then lifted her gaze to his again. A warm flood of emotion covered any internal cautions. “Like what?”
“Like you want me to do this.” Rio tightened his arm behind her, bringing her toward him. He leaned in, closer and closer.
Kate had plenty of time to recognize his intent and put a stop to it. Instead, she stared at his mouth in fascination. Her lungs demanded more oxygen, yet her chest rose and fell deeper than before and her pulse pounded in her ears. Her body was the junkie, and Rio the drug.
Her eyelids were drifting shut when her cargo fluttered awake inside her, bringing into rude focus exactly why this was a bad idea. She pushed against Rio’s chest to stop the forward movement and buried her face in his neck. “This is a really bad idea.”
“Yeah, you’re probably right.”
A strong pulse in his neck jerked against her forehead, letting her know he’d been affected by their near miss too. Oh, man. What if the baby hadn’t moved until after they’d kissed? Then she’d know what Rio’s kiss felt like, and she wouldn’t have to wonder.
Kate sat up and grabbed her stomach as the little guy jabbed beneath her ribcage.
Rio’s hand covered hers, concern in his eyes. “What is it?”
Kate removed her hand, letting him feel for himself the strength of his nephew through her gown.
His eyes widened. “Damn. That has to hurt.”