I’d known his voice right away. Hell, I’d heard it in my dreams for the last six months. I probably would’ve been able to pick it out of a crowd of people screaming. For a moment, I wondered if I was dreaming again. It had been known to happen, after all; sometimes I got so tired that I laid my head down on the counter up front and caught a little snooze. Was all of this in my head? Was I actually drooling over my inventory sheets?
But no. When I turned my head, there he was, the same Kade Braggs of the short blond hair, deep hazel eyes, and . . . yeah, there was the dimple. My heart began to pound a faster rhythm, sweat broke out in fun places like under my arms, between my legs, and under my distended belly. And the baby, probably getting a big old dose of adrenaline from Mom, began to squirm within me.
Everyone I knew assured me that from the back, it was impossible to tell that I was pregnant. Kade was far enough from me and standing at such an angle that I figured he couldn’t see how my black shirt stretched over the bump. Maybe I could keep it that way. Maybe I could play it cool, have a conversation with him over my shoulder, and then he’d walk away, thinking, wow, that friend of Cassie’s really was a bitch after all. She couldn’t even bother to turn around to say hello to me.
I wasn’t ready to be honest with myself about why I didn’t want to face Kade and do the big reveal. It might have been that by now, I’d finally come to a place of acceptance, where I realized that I was on my own here. Maybe it was because I knew that even if Kade was pleasantly surprised about this development, he was still going to have questions that I wasn’t sure I was ready to answer.
So I kept my back to him and made my answers short and terse. I’d listened to his explanation about why he was here at Fort Davis and his asshole roommate. I’d tried to close the conversation with my standard exit line, “Good to see you.” But Kade had other ideas.
He’d invited me to join him for coffee, and I wanted to cry. I’d been missing coffee like crazy. I’d cut back on the caffeine at my doctor’s recommendation, but the truth was that the taste of it made me ill nowadays. I missed it in theory, but I couldn’t stomach it in practice.
It wasn’t the idea of coffee, though, that made me realize I’d boxed myself into a corner. It was Kade’s casual mention of the books he planned to buy, books that I would have to ring up for him up front at the cash register. Shit. Holy fucking shitballs.
I’d answered him with resignation in my tone that I’d meet him up front. There was still a slim chance that if he walked ahead of me, I could stay out of his sight long enough to duck behind the counter and hope that he wasn’t observant enough to notice.
He’d evinced surprise that I worked here, at a bookstore, adding, “You didn’t use to work in a bookstore, did you? I thought you were in law school and had a job at some big firm. What happened?”
Now that was the million-dollar question, and since he’d asked me directly, I knew I couldn’t go on deceiving him. The time had come to pay the piper or whatever that saying was. I’d turned around, making the most of the big reveal, hoping that he noticed how good my boobs looked in this shirt before he saw the huge lump of belly below them.
The expression on Kade’s face was not unlike the ones I’d imagined all these months. Shock . . . yup, there it was. His eyes were huge and filled with a mix of surprise and disbelief. His mouth had dropped open a little, and I resisted the urge to tap his chin with my finger and tell him he needed to close it before he caught flies. His neck had actually snapped back a little, as though I’d jarred his entire world simply by turning around.
“Uh . . . Leah. Wow.” He swallowed, his Adam’s apple bobbing. “Oh, my God. You’re, uh . . .”
“The medical term is pregnant. But you can always go with the genteel expecting or with child or in a family way. There’s also the less polite but often popular knocked up or bun in the oven.” I braced one hand against my lower back. “So, I guess we’d better talk. I still have another hour here before I can close up, which means we can either have the conversation up front, or we can meet later this week.” It all sounded so controlled and civilized when I made that offer, as though we were going to discuss points of law.
Kade was still staring at my middle, but at my words, his eyes jerked up to meet mine. “Talk . . . so . . . Christ, the baby is mine? I’m the . . . the . . .”
Resentment burned in my throat. “I think the word you’re looking for is father, although in this case, if you’d prefer the less-involved sperm donor, that’s your prerogative. But yes, Kade, this baby is yours.”
Now, something more akin to betrayal and temper flashed in those eyes. “You didn’t tell me. Fuck, Leah, how could you not tell me something like this? If I hadn’t happened to come up here for TDY and run into you here tonight, would you have ever told me? Or would my kid have gone through life thinking his father didn’t care about him when the truth was that I didn’t even know he existed?”
Suddenly, all the weight of the day landed on my shoulders in a crushing swoop, and I could barely stand. “Look, I’ll try to explain, but can we please go up front? I have a chair there, and I really need to sit down.” I massaged my lower back, moving my fingers up and down.
Instantly, Kade downshifted from anger into concern. “Shit, I’m sorry. Are you okay? Come on, let’s get you sitting. By the register, you said?”
“Yeah.” I led the way, conscious of Kade’s gaze on me with every step. I hoped my ass looked decent in these jeans . . . and then beat myself up for caring what he might think. I had to play this cool, at all costs.