Tuesday, June 12, 2012

EXCERPT: Who's Your Daddy?

Author: Lauren Gallagher
Publisher: Samhain Publishing
Format(s): ebook, print (coming soon)

Chapter One


These digital tests didn’t leave any room for denial. There was no “well, maybe that line isn’t really there”. No “is it really two lines?” No “I’m just seeing double, that’s all.” Not with this little bastard. In a half-inch-long window, in bold black print on a deceptively bland gray background, eight tiny letters offered no ambiguity or uncertainty.

Holding on to the bathroom counter for dear life and staring at that single word, I could have gone for some ambiguity or uncertainty. A few minutes, maybe even a few seconds, to let it sink in slowly. But no, ever the practical one, I’d gone for the brand with the clearest, least mistakable result, so there could be absolutely no doubt, and that was exactly what I’d gotten.


I closed my eyes and exhaled, pretending that single word wasn’t emblazoned across the insides of my eyelids. Taking long, deep breaths, I tried to keep the nausea at bay. I’d already been sick today. And yesterday. And every day this week and the better part of last week. So much for blaming my mom’s cooking, even if I had gone to my parents’ house for dinner a few times.

It didn’t take any mental calculations to figure out when this had happened. I was exactly six weeks and four days pregnant. Eight weeks if I went by the weird school of thought where the clock started two weeks before actual conception. Whatever the case, I had been pregnant for six weeks and four days. I knew when and where it had happened.

What I wasn’t so sure about was who the father was.

I groaned and rubbed my forehead with the heels of my hands. This wasn’t me. I didn’t do one-night stands. 
I didn’t have casual sex. Hell, I’d barely had any sex at all in the last few years, and in the six weeks and four days that I’d been officially divorced, I’d only done so once.

Well, twice.

Several times, actually. In spite of myself, I shivered. For as much wine as the three of us had consumed, those two just didn’t quit.

Donovan and Isaac had been good friends of mine for ages. I knew Don long before he met Isaac five or six years ago, and the three of us were super close. Of course, my ex-husband hated that. It was tough to say what bothered him more: the fact that I was so close to two other men, or the fact that they were gay. Why I ever thought to marry a man who was so homophobic, I didn’t know. But then, I couldn’t really remember why I’d thought to marry him at all, and divorcing him had been one of the most liberating moves I’d ever made.

The night my divorce was final, I’d gone to Don and Isaac’s to spend the evening celebrating. The amputation of the gangrenous husband growth, as Don called it, was complete, and I was free to move on.

And what was a celebration without wine?

One bottle had loosened our tongues enough to get us talking about more intimate subjects than usual. Two had coaxed Isaac into admitting to some bi-curiosity and a desire to indulge that bi-curiosity before he turned forty next month. Three had been enough for all of us to admit a very strong and very mutual three-way attraction. Somewhere before we got to the bottom of the fourth bottle, my shirt had come off, and the rest was a patchwork of sometimes blurred, sometimes clear moments of amazing sex.

Not that it took a genius to figure out how it had happened. Whether it was the alcohol, or just the fact that none of us had had any reason to use them in the last several years, we’d completely neglected to use condoms. I hadn’t had sex with anyone since, and it had been months before that.

No two ways about it. Either Isaac or Don was the father of this baby.

“Shit,” I breathed into the otherwise silent bathroom.

I’d just started getting on my feet. It had taken me almost two years to save enough money to leave my husband. Divorces were expensive—but oh, so worth it—and my bank account was still in the intensive care unit. As it was, I was living with my sister in a cramped two-bedroom apartment that wasn’t even big enough for the two of us. I’d moved in with her until I could get on my feet.

How the hell was I going to take care of a baby when I could barely afford to take care of myself?

And since when was I the type to be reckless with sex or a dear friendship? This wasn’t me. I didn’t do this.

I opened my eyes. Maybe I could tell myself this wasn’t me, but that plastic stick with its verdict on the screen begged to differ.

A lump rose in my throat, and I forced it back. That had been happening a lot the last week or two. One of many reasons I’d bought that damning little test. The last thing I was going to do now was succumb to hormones and fall apart. That wouldn’t solve anything.

Solve anything. Right. Because this was a situation that could be resolved, tied up in a neat, tidy little bow and shelved in the past with a promise not to be so stupid in the future. My friendship and their relationship would make it through without a scratch, everything would settle down and be the same as it always was.

Oh, except for the part where I’d be a single mom. And one of them would be the father. And one of them wouldn’t.


Why did the first decent sexual experience I’d had in years have to turn out like this? And “decent” didn’t begin to describe it. Good God. If there were no strings, no baby, no worries, I’d have slept with them again in a heartbeat. They were amazing. Don was deliciously rough, one of those men who understood that “pull my hair” didn’t mean “just give it a little tug”. He knew it meant “fucking pull it and make it hurt”. Isaac, on the other hand, was gentle, almost tender. Some of that may have been timidity because of inexperience. If I remembered our semi-drunk conversation beforehand, he’d never been with a woman before that night.

“You wouldn’t know it,” I whispered to my reflection, shivering at the memory of his touch. Sex with them was like sex with fire and water. One hot, one cool. One gentle, one violent. Completely different, completely complementary, and easily the most intense sexual experience I’d ever had.

The most disastrous too, apparently. I closed my eyes and swore again.

Okay. Okay. Get it together. Stop bitching to the bathroom mirror and…and…do…something.

I exhaled. I desperately needed some advice. Or at least someone to tell me that the world would not, in fact, implode in the next forty-five seconds and yes, I could get a handle on this. Somehow. Maybe.

I gave the test one last glance, then tossed it in the trash and left the bathroom to see if my sister could spare a few minutes for Carmen in Crisis.

Rose was in the kitchen, flitting around and tidying up. My heart sank. She must have been about to leave. Her Bible and keys were on the counter beside her purse, and she already had on her jacket.

“Hey, kiddo,” she said over her shoulder. “I’m heading to work, and I’ll be home a little late tonight because I’ve got Bible study. You’re welcome to whatever’s in the fridge, and I made some—” She cut herself off when she looked at me. Her brow furrowed. “You okay?”

I swallowed that lump in my throat again. I am not going to cry, damn it. “You’re on your way out, so…” Damn it, stop shaking, voice. Come on.

She tilted her head a little. “I am, but if you need something…”

I dug my teeth into my lower lip. Don’t cry. Don’t cry. Don’t cry. Her approaching footsteps didn’t help matters. Don’t cry, Carmen. It’s just hormones. The ache in my throat intensified. Hormones that wouldn’t be there if I wasn’t pregnant. Oh, God, I can’t believe this.

She put her hands on my shoulders. “What’s wrong?”

I sniffed, willing myself to keep it together. “I’m…” The word stuck in my throat. Shifting my weight, I whispered, “I’m pregnant.”

Rose’s eyebrows shot up. “You’re…what?”

“Pregnant.” I exhaled and ran a hand through my hair. Just saying it made it more real. I looked her in the eye, steeling myself against whatever reaction might come.

“You’re pregnant.”

I nodded.

“Oh.” She chewed her lip for a moment, then gestured at one of the chairs at the kitchen table and took a seat in another. “Come here, come here.”

“Rose, you’ll be late, you don’t have—”

“I can be late. Now sit.”

Sighing, I pulled out one of the chairs and sat.

“How far along?” she asked. “Or, do you know?”

Six weeks, four days and a few hours. “About two months.”

Her eyes lost focus, and she was probably mentally calculating how much time had passed since my divorce. “I don’t want to pry,” she said softly. “But I didn’t even think you were dating yet.”

“I’m not,” I said.

“But you…” Her raised eyebrow finished the question.

I tucked a strand of hair behind my ear and avoided her eyes. “The night my divorce was final, I…”

“You had a one-night stand?”

“Well, sort of.”

“Sort of?” Her chair creaked as she shifted slightly. “What do you mean, sort of?”
“I mean, it wasn’t just some stranger or anything, but it wasn’t exactly…” I paused and released a sharp breath. “It was a friend.”

She nodded slowly, eyes unfocused again as she processed what I’d said before she finally spoke. “Well, I guess that’s better than a stranger.” There was no judgment or disgust in her voice. Finding a pro among the cons, something that would make even this situation a little easier to approach and deal with. Ever the pragmatic one, my sister. She inclined her head. “So, how exactly did it happen?”

“I kind of got a little drunk.” I exhaled, my confession weighing heavily on my shoulders as I worked up the nerve to say it. “So did Don. And, um, so did Isaac.”

Rose’s eyes widened. “Don and Isaac?”

I nodded.

“Aren’t they…” She shook her head, blinking a few times. “I thought they were gay.”

“They are.” I paused. “Well, they’re actually bi.”

“Really? I didn’t know that.”

“I didn’t either,” I said. “I mean, I knew Don was, but not Isaac. Anyway, they are, and we…” I made a flippant gesture. “And here I am.”

She didn’t say anything for a long moment, instead staring at the table and thumbing her chin. “Well, to be perfectly honest,” she said at last, “I don’t think you could have picked a better man to knock you up than one of those two.”

“What do you mean?”

“They’re both good men. If you’d both been single and I’d known Don was even interested in women, I’d have been forcing you on him from the day you met him.” She paused. “And let’s face it, with DNA from one of those two combined with someone from our family? That’s going to be one gorgeous child.”

I laughed. “I hadn’t thought of that.”

She patted my arm. “Always have to look for the silver lining, sweetie.”

“Can always trust you to find it, can’t I?”

“It’s what I’m here for,” she said. “And you know, I still can’t believe they’re not gay. I never knew they went both ways.”

I scowled. “To be fair, we were pretty drunk.”

“Come on, Carmen. If he was sober enough to…” She pursed her lips. “Well, anyway, if they were sober enough for this to even happen, then I highly doubt it was just the alcohol.”

“Maybe not,” I muttered.

We were both quiet for a moment. Then Rose cocked her head.

“So, what are you going to do?”

Do? Oh, crap. There were decisions to be made. Actions to be taken. I was still reeling from the test results, still trying to get my head around the reality of it. I hadn’t even begun to think about my next move. About any move. Like the fact that, somehow, I’d have to figure out how to handle this financially.

And, I thought with a panicked shudder that almost resulted in a whimper, the baby still had to come out at some point.

That thought sent my head spinning, and I groaned, rubbing my temples. The room listed beneath me, and the contents of my stomach tried to lurch upward.

Rose touched my arm. “Hey, you okay?”

I nodded. Through my teeth, I said, “Just a bit queasy.” A bit. Yeah. Just like I was “a bit” pregnant. When the nausea and dizziness had receded a little, I opened my eyes and lifted my head. “Sorry.”

“Don’t apologize,” she said. “You sure you’re all right?”

I nodded. “Anyway, what was it you asked me?”

“I asked what you’re going to do.”

“I don’t know.” I rested my elbows on the table and rubbed the back of my neck. “I haven’t really thought that far ahead.”

Rose put a gentle hand on my shoulder. “Are you going to tell them?”

My blood turned cold. On some level, I knew that was a conversation that would have to happen, but her question brought its inevitability to the forefront of my mind.

“I have to tell them,” I whispered. “But, my God, what if this hurts their relationship? I mean, only one of them can be the actual father, and—”

“Carmen, hon.” She squeezed my arm. “Breathe. Don’t work yourself up over all the what-ifs until you actually talk to the guys.”

“I just can’t help worrying.”

“I know you can’t,” she said. “But I would go talk to them. Sooner than later. Then you can worry about real concerns, not the ones your mind is creating.”

“Good point,” I whispered.

“So, before you work yourself into a panic over it all,” she said, “I’d suggest talking to them. It’ll be easier to figure out where to go from here if you’ve got their support.” She paused. “They’ll be supportive, won’t they?”

I chewed my lip. They were my two closest friends in the world. I couldn’t imagine either of them turning their back on me now. Then again, I’d never put them in this kind of position before.


I looked at her and nodded. “Yeah, I think they will be. I hope they will be, anyway.”

“I’m sure they will. They’re both good guys, hon.” She glanced at the clock. “Do you need me to stay, or—”

“Go ahead,” I said. “I’ll call them. Maybe I can talk to one of them one-on-one.”

She patted my arm. “Good luck. And if you need anything, or just need to talk, you know I’m here too.”

I smiled. “Thanks.”

She stood and hugged me gently. “Any time, kiddo. And I’ll pray for you.”

After she’d left, I went into the living room and sat on the sofa, staring at my cell phone. She was right. I needed to call them. If I didn’t, and even if I did, I really would spend an inordinate amount of time coming up with every possible what-if scenario until I’d worked myself into a panic attack or something.

What if they resented me? What if this damaged their relationship? What if this screwed up our friendship, assuming having sex hadn’t already taken its toll? What if? What if? What if?

There was only one way to find out, and Rose was right. It was better to tell them than sit here and worry myself sick. Well, sicker.

I pulled up Isaac’s number on my phone. Don was probably on duty at the firehouse, but Isaac would be at his office, so I’d try him first. I wasn’t sure I had the nerve to try twice. That, and push came to shove, if Don was on duty, I could speak to Isaac one-on-one. Hopefully Don would forgive me for that. He was reasonable enough and knew me well enough to chalk it up to the need to not be outnumbered, or to just get it off my chest sooner than later, whatever.

In fact, he was probably reasonable enough to be less concerned about who I told and when, and more concerned about the more pressing issue of what I’d said.

I cringed inwardly and hit Send.

Isaac’s receptionist answered. “Family Counseling Services, Angela speaking.”

I cleared my throat. “Hi, um, is Isaac in the office?”

“He’s with a client,” she said. “Can I give him a message?”

I hesitated, but then said, “Yes, please. Would you have him call Carmen? He knows the number.” I considered adding that it was urgent, but that would only make him worry. Might as well save his blood pressure until I dropped the bomb.

“I’ll give him the message,” Angela said.

“Thank you,” I whispered.

We hung up, and I stared at my phone, wondering if it was the anticipation of his call or these damned hormones that made my stomach twist and turn.

Not that it mattered. I shoved the phone in my pocket and hurried down the hall.

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