“It’s not weird,” I told him, and when he turned his head toward me, I didn’t have to see him to know there was a dubious look on his face. “Okay. It’s a little weird, but I understand why you haven’t. I don’t know her well, but she doesn’t seem like someone who’d hold something against you that you had nothing to do with.”

“But how hard for her could it be to realize she’s working alongside the son of the man who was basically responsible for her life being ripped apart? That can’t be easy.” His voice was quiet. “I just . . . I don’t want to mess up her life.”

Oh gosh, that hurt to hear, and there was something about those words that made me think of what he’d said earlier about being in a relationship before. Was that why he was so against relationships? Because somehow he didn’t think he deserved it because of his father and the house fire? Seemed like such a leap, but the fact that Nick had felt that working at Mona’s was atonement for something his father did worried me.

“You were in a serious relationship once, weren’t you?” I asked.

“Yeah.”

I took a deep breath. “What happened?”

“It was a girl I was seeing in college. We were serious, and for a while, I thought . . . it would be for the long haul.”

An irrational surge of jealousy lit me up. The intensity surprised me, and I sort of wanted to smack myself. How could I be jealous of a girl who was no longer in the picture? Wait. Oh my God. What if he was still in love with her? My stomach dropped.

“Anyway,” he continued, oblivious to my internal freak-out, “when my grandfather got sick and all that started happening, things got stressed between us. I don’t think she could deal with everything I had to do. At first I didn’t get to see her a lot, dealing with him. We grew apart, and then it was just over one day. It sucked, but hell, if she couldn’t handle my grandfather being sick and me taking care of him, what would she have done if I had gotten sick?”

“What a bitch,” I blurted out.

Nick chuckled as he let go of my hand and circled his arm around my waist loosely. “What about you? Haven’t been in a serious relationship since high school?”

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“I don’t even know if I can say that relationship was really serious or not,” I admitted dryly.

His hand smoothed up my side. “So what’s your deal? You don’t believe in love?”

The question caught me off guard. “I believe in love. I do. I just . . . I was never in love. Not like with my parents. They loved each other. I mean, every time you saw them together, heard them talk to one another, even if they were mad, you could hear the love in their voices. That’s the kind of love I want. I just didn’t settle for less.”

“Hmm . . .” His hand made a slow sweep back to my hip. “You’re using the past tense there, Stephanie.”

My name—I really liked it when he said my name.

“Um, my dad was in the marines,” I said, and it felt strange saying this out loud, because it just wasn’t something I talked about often. “And he was overseas a lot. When I was fifteen, he was home during the summer, and it was great. Then he headed back over. He never came back.”

Nick didn’t speak as he lifted his head and pressed a soft, chaste kiss against my forehead. I swallowed, but that damn knot was back, lodged in my throat. “He was shot, and I remember sitting on the stairs when the two officers told my mom that it was quick, that he didn’t suffer. And I also remember thinking, how did knowing that help anything? Now I get it. I’m happy he didn’t suffer, but at fifteen I just . . . it didn’t make it easier.”

“I’m sorry,” he said quietly, and then kissed my forehead again. “I obviously didn’t know your father, but the fact he went over there and gave his life for the rest of us, he was a good man.”

“He really was,” I whispered, smiling sadly. “My mom never remarried nor has she seriously dated. I don’t think she ever will. Till this day, she wears his dog tags. Only takes them off when she showers. Doesn’t matter what she’s wearing.” I swallowed again, clearing my throat. “Yeah, so, there’s that.”

He lifted his hand from my hip and lightly brushed my hair back from my face. His hand lingered on my cheek. “Is that a picture of your dad on that shelf?”

Surprised flickered through me. “You saw that?”

“Yeah, when I got up to get the water. I’m observant like that.”

“Wow,” I murmured.

“It also could’ve been because I noticed that bikini picture first,” he admitted, and I laughed. “I mean, come on, who wouldn’t notice that?”

“Wow,” I repeated.

“Somehow I think your second wow was less impressed.”

I laughed again, and while the seriousness of the conversation was like a third entity in the bedroom, I felt my lips curve into a broader smile. “You can’t stay the night, can you?”

“I fucking wish. I’ll need to leave by three,” he said, his hand moving back down, closing around my hip. He squeezed. “I don’t like to keep Kira there too late if she has to head home.”

“Understandable.” I paused, knowing we only had a few hours left. “Are you hungry or anything?” I asked.

“No. You?”

I shook my head and was glad we weren’t getting out of bed right now. I wanted to soak up the moments with him before he had to leave. It felt good having this conversation with him. We weren’t just scraping each other’s surfaces anymore. This was . . . this was real, and we were digging deep, going beyond the initial layers.

Nick shifted suddenly.

I squealed when he threw the comforter off us and cold air washed over my skin, spreading goose bumps. His body quickly replaced the source of heat, and I wasn’t complaining when he nipped at my neck.

“Come to think of it,” he said, those lips traveling over my throat and then down, “I am hungry. For breakfast.”

“Breakfast?” I asked as his lips coasted over the swell of my breast. When his tongue got involved, I so got it. Throwing back my head, I laughed loudly, and that laughter quickly turned into gasps and moans, but that smile . . .

That smile didn’t leave my face.

Chapter 21

As the time drew closer to my first real pregnancy appointment, the more nervous I became. It wasn’t a normal nervousness. More like being excited and anxious all at once. The feeling made me want to eat things. Lots of things.

Actually, I pretty much just wanted to eat things in general.

And I seriously didn’t think it had anything to do with being pregnant. It was like my head was using being pregnant as an excuse to eat everything in sight.

I’d finagled a long lunch for the day of the visit and I spent the better part of Wednesday morning trying not to eat the last Reese’s pumpkin or punch Rick in the nuts. Every time he passed my desk, he was staring me down like he was either picturing me topless or my head exploding.

When it rolled around to the time for me to leave, I locked my computer and stood, grabbing my jacket from where I had it folded and stashed, along with my purse. As I turned around, pushing my chair in, I saw Brock walking toward Marcus’s office. I immediately looked for Jillian, because whenever I saw him, she wasn’t far behind. Last week, when he stopped into the offices, she was with him, almost like his little shadow, but today he was alone.