Authors: J. Thomas-Like
a n d t h e
Also by J. Thomas-Like
The Widow and the Rock Star
The Widow and the Will
Copyright © 2016 J. Thomas-Like
Cover Art by James,
Author Photo by Chasing Light Photography
All rights reserved.
First Edition: June, 2016
This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance of characters to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental. The author takes full responsibility for any errors and holds exclusive rights to this work. Unauthorized duplication is prohibited.
This book is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each reader. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.
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Table of Contents
This is for my family.
The third time’s the charm.
It seems that I always acknowledge the same people for the same reasons. That just goes to show that I have found myself a tremendously supportive and loving network of family, friends, and writers who make all the difference in the world.
Gale Deloney and Pam Campbell-Deloney: once again, you went above and beyond to help me make the medical bits as realistic and plausible as possible.
Natalie Rhymer, Jason Dandy, Tuesday Twomey, Brian Grant, and Matt Gross: Write Club is an integral part of my writing process. Without it, none of my novels would have come to fruition. I owe you all BIG.
Madeline Freeman, Parker Cole, Andy Lockwood, Bailey Soper, and Sara Beth Cole: Powerhouse never ceases to amaze me in all each member has to teach and give. May we all achieve the level of success we want and then pay it forward to the up and coming.
Beth Dagitses, Lisa Hudson, Ruth Gross, Janine Cairo, and Tina Wilson: my courageous beta readers. Without you, the little things would get missed. Thank you for taking the leap of faith with me.
“I can’t believe I’m
getting used to this.”
Pepper Taylor winked at her best friend, Vivienne Foster. They waited for their turn to walk the red carpet at the Los Angeles premiere of the movie based on Viv’s best-selling novel,
The Widow’s Path
. “I told you it would get easier.” She patted Viv’s enormous belly and grinned when she felt the baby kick. “It helps to have this to show off. When you feel happy, you look happy. And honey, you’re ecstatic!”
Viv laughed and caressed her swollen stomach through the silky material of her Valentino gown. “It’s definitely mellowed me. Somehow, I don’t mind all the attention now.”
Pepper snorted. “Oh sure, you’re going to push me out of the way and mug for all the cameras. I can see it now.” She pretended to turn her head away with a mock sniff, but couldn’t keep a straight face. How she loved to tease her best friend.
“The only thing I’m going to be pushing is this baby,
of me. God, I’m happy, but I am
this pregnancy thing.” Vivienne winced as she pressed on the small of her back with both hands. “My back’s been killing me all day. I think I slept funny last night.”
Pepper offered her a sympathetic smile, wishing she could understand what Viv was going through. Sure, a nasty backache was something everyone experienced from time to time, but pregnancy was not one of Pepper’s accomplishments.
Definitely not going on my resume
, she thought. That suited her just fine. Kids had never been on her radar and, while she was pleased as hell for Viv, it wasn’t something she intended to pursue.
Watching Viv rub her back and shift from foot to foot, Pepper looked around for a chair or something to lean on. “It won’t be long now. Do you need to sit?”
“Hell no! I might not get back up!”
They leaned against one another and chuckled just as their significant others joined their sides, carrying bottles of water and napkins filled with hors d’oeuvres. Will Foster mastered the casual rock star look in his simple black tuxedo and plain white, high collared shirt with no tie. His brown hair was in that typically fashionable disarray that was so popular and Pepper thought he wore it well. Will leaned in to kiss Vivienne, but all he got was her temple as she zeroed in on the snacks.
“Thanks,” she said through a mouthful of cheese. “I feel like I haven’t eaten all day.”
“Your wish is my command, babe.” Will patiently held his hand and makeshift tray in the air as she devoured every last morsel.
Gabe offered Pepper some cheese and crackers as well, but she shook her head. Instead, she observed her best friend and sighed, a tiny smile lifting the corners of her mouth. In less than two years, Viv had settled her mother’s estate in Michigan, moved permanently to California, and married the man of her dreams all while the movie of her book was being made. The biggest surprise, of course, was the pregnancy. Unplanned and unexpected was an understatement, but it was the cherry on top of the sundae Viv’s life had become.
Pepper snuggled up to Gabe, grateful to be right where she was in that moment. If it hadn’t been for Viv, Pepper would never have met Gabriel Seigal, the absolute love of her life. Sometimes it was hard for her to believe that they had found one another, not being the kind of person to believe in fate or God or anything like that. Instead, she chalked most of her life up to the chaos that was the universe, tragedies and triumphs alike. They had fallen in love and become devoted to one another, and now that she had him in her clutches, Pepper would make damn sure he stayed there.
“Are you going to finish that?” Vivienne pointed to the napkin Gabe held in his hand.
“No, hun. Help yourself,” Pepper said, her eyes twinkling, but not wanting to hurt Viv’s feelings. “But eat up. You and Will are next.”
“And then us.” Gabe nuzzled her ear, placing a small kiss on the lobe. He looked so handsome and distinguished in his navy blue tuxedo, slim, black tie and white shirt. Pepper felt her heart flutter every time she looked at him. The gray flecks in his hair were a smidge more pronounced than when they’d met, but his eyes were still a warm, kind blue. He’d taken to sporting a very closely trimmed beard, which enhanced his dignified appearance. “You’re stunning, darling.”
That silky, British accent always gave her the chills. She felt her cheeks warming at the compliment and glanced down at the Donna Karan she wore. The buttery yellow color complemented her bronzed skin to perfection, and all of the crystals twinkled and shone like individual stars on the simple sheath silhouette.
“Thank you.” She reached around to cup his face and pull his cheek to hers. Closing her eyes, she sighed and enjoyed the feel of his bristles. Soon, their lips were pressed together, and the familiar heat of passion spread through her body.
A production assistant appeared, interrupting the intimate moment by clearing her throat, and began herding them toward the entrance to the red carpet. She expertly grabbed all of their water bottles and trash, balancing them with her clipboard and headset, never once losing the easy smile on her face. Pepper opted to keep her bottle, and the PA gave her a doubtful look. Thinking fast, the clever blonde hid the bottle within the folds of her shawl. “Better?”
“Perfect. Wait for Ms. Streep to move to the next station and then go ahead.” The PA nodded and rushed off to instruct the next pairing behind them.
Seconds later, Pepper watched as Vivienne and Will approached the first stop along the long stretch of red carpeting. There would be four different marks where they needed to pause and pose for the photographers. Pepper frowned as she noticed Vivienne’s pace slow, little by little. “Something’s not right,” she whispered to Gabe. She tightened her arm linked through his as she strained to see the expression on Vivienne’s face. The smile seemed natural and when she gazed up into Will’s face, she looked sublime.
Maybe I’m being paranoid
“Come on, love.” Gabe he pulled her forward. Vivienne and Will were on the move to their next spot, leaving the first mark open. “Smile.”
“Now that’s the first time I think anyone’s ever had to remind me to do that.” She instantly flashed a dazzling smile as the cameras worked to capture every single moment. Pepper couldn’t take her eyes off Vivienne, though. Not only had her pace slowed, but now the swing of her hips looked off, almost like she was limping.
“Pepper! Pepper!” the photographers yelled, trying to make her look their way. The natural response to her name brought her attention frontward for half a second, but in her peripheral vision she saw Vivienne stumble and lean heavily into Will.
“Viv!” Pepper yelled as she took off running for her best friend, ignoring the rest of the crowd and background noise, trusting that Gabe would follow and keep up. When she reached Vivienne’s side, she could see a look of pain and horror there. Pepper knew the shit was about to hit the fan.
“Get me out of here!” Viv moaned, clutching her belly. The noise of the crowd swelled like a tidal wave and the clicking and flashing of cameras intensified. Pepper could feel the horde of photographers’ breath as they surged forward, straining against the barricades so they could get a better shot.
“What happened?” Pepper linked her arm through Vivienne’s and, together with Will, lifted her to her feet. “Gabe, go find help!” With a quick nod, he ran off.
“I think my water broke.” Viv spoke through clenched teeth and a pained smile. “And I do believe the stabbing sensation in my gut is a contraction.”
“Oh shit!” Pepper turned around, searching for Gabe and help.
“I’m gonna kill Dr. Perry,” Will muttered. “He said you were fine. He said you weren’t due for another two weeks.”
“Yeah, well, I guess this baby had other ideas,” Vivienne growled, digging her fingernails into his arm while trying to keep herself upright.
“We need to call an ambulance. Viv, don’t move, stay still!” Pepper clasped hands with her.
“Here? With all these damn cameras? Are you
?” Vivienne groaned. She took a step, then froze.
“Now what?” Pepper was mesmerized by the appalled look on Vivienne’s face.
“Uh, my water really
Pepper looked down to see a growing wet spot on Viv’s dress and a small puddle between her slightly puffy feet, clad in black satin ballet slippers.
“Oh my God!” Vivienne wailed. She was fixated on the puddle and starting to hyperventilate, so Pepper whipped her water bottle out of its hiding place, opening and dumping it on the ground in one smooth motion.
“Oh, just look what I did! I’m such a klutz!” she shouted as event employees swarmed the area with napkins. Pepper took Vivienne by the elbow to keep their forward progress.
Gotta get her out of here
Another PA popped out from behind the temporary wall that was the backdrop for the event and led them through the opening to escape the media’s eyes. Only two steps into safety, and the paramedics were upon them with a wheeled stretcher at the ready, swooping Vivienne up onto the gurney.
With Will holding her left hand and Pepper holding her right, Vivienne was trying to take deep breaths, but that didn’t seem to keep the tears at bay. She looked to each of them and frowned. “I’m so sorry,” she whispered. “I’m so sorry.”
“What the hell are you sorry for?” Pepper demanded. “You’re having a baby. Don’t apologize for anything.” She patted Vivienne’s hand and nodded to bring the point home.
“I ruined everything.”
“No you didn’t.” Will hurried beside the moving gurney but managed to lean down and kiss her cheek as he said it.
“Of course not!” Pepper insisted, wishing she could kick off her stilettos. That was all they needed, her tripping and falling on her face as she tried to keep up.
Vivienne gave a little grunt, but Pepper wouldn’t let it go. “I’m serious! When was the last time you saw a beautiful woman in Valentino go into labor on the red carpet? The movie couldn’t ask for better publicity.”
“You sound like Jake.” Vivienne gritted her teeth and grimaced.
Pepper grinned at the thought of Viv’s self-serving, overbearing agent. “Well? If the shoe fits.”
As the paramedics loaded Vivienne into the back of the waiting ambulance, big, fat tears rolled down her cheeks. “I’m scared,” she whispered as Will climbed in beside her and Pepper was forced to let go of her bestie’s hand. A lump clogged her throat, but she forced it down with a fierce swallow and grinned at Viv.
Pepper winked and lifted her chin. “See? I knew you’d steal the show!”