“Oh dear,” Calla murmured.
Beside her, Jax leaned back in his chair and eyed Nick. “They are always like this, by the way.”
“Can’t take my sister anywhere,” Cam replied, grinning when her glare turned deadly.
“More like I can’t take you anywhere.” Avery elbowed him as she smiled across the table at me. “How are you feeling?”
All the eyes landed on me, and I resisted the urge to squirm in my seat. “I’ve been doing good. It’s been an . . . easy pregnancy so far.”
“She’s been really tired,” Nick cut in.
A look of sympathy crossed the little redhead’s face. “Oh God, same here. I think I finally got to the point where I sort of feel normal, but now I feel like I’m carrying a basketball around.”
“It’s a soccer ball,” Cam corrected, leaning over and brushing his lips across her forehead. “A beautiful soccer ball.”
I eyed her. “You don’t look like you’re carrying a soccer ball.” Actually, she looked like she had the last time I’d seen her.
Avery’s eyes lit up. “Thank you for that, but that’s only because I’m sitting down.”
“Stand up,” Teresa urged as Jase reached over, curving his hand around the nape of her neck.
She pushed back her chair and stood, and yep, there was no mistaking that Avery was clearly pregnant. Her pale blue sweater was tight, stretching across a very well-defined bump. She framed her stomach with her hands. “As you can see, a soccer ball.”
I laughed. “That is not the size of a soccer ball.”
“Maybe a deflated one,” Jase commented.
Avery giggled as she sat back down. Immediately, Cam draped his arm around her shoulders. “It sure doesn’t feel that way.”
Nick’s gaze tracked from Avery to me and a soft smile appeared on his face. It took no leap of imagination to figure out that he was picturing me with a bump the size of a half-deflated soccer ball. And there was also no missing the look of complete anticipation in his gaze. He really wanted this baby.
But did he really want me?
The moment that thought crossed my mind, I pushed it away and focused on the conversation. There was no way I was going to let my neurosis ruin tonight.
Nick was definitely the quietest one in the group, sitting back and just taking it in. The food arrived, and I was surprised to find my appetite wasn’t up to par. I ended up eating only half of my well-cooked steak and mashed potatoes. It might have had something to do with the initial awkwardness of who we were having dinner with, but neither Cam and Jase nor their significant others batted an eyelash over my presence. Neither did Nick.
Took me a few moments to realize and fully accept that no one at this table—the only ones who had a right to have an opinion on any of it—cared about any of that. Some of the awkwardness was in my head, a consequence of previous experiences, but these people didn’t care. A strange sort of weight lifted from my shoulders. It wasn’t guilt or remorse, nothing like that, because no one had ever done anything wrong or to be ashamed of. It was more like a bit of the wall between me and the two girls had finally snapped in half. They accepted me and I accepted them.
The past was formally in the past.
Fatigue crept back up on me Tuesday during work and stayed throughout Wednesday and into Thursday.
So when I had to haul an armload of the new desk calendars to the supply room, I wanted to take breaks. Maybe even a nap halfway there, between two empty cubicles. No one would notice.
According to all the pregnancy related stuff I’d looked at, exhaustion was fairly common, but I hadn’t thought it would be this bad. All I wanted to do was sleep.
As I neared the supply room, an overwhelming scent smacked me in the nose. Heavy cologne. Ugh.
Rick was nearby.
I rolled my eyes as I pushed open the door to the supply room with my hip and stepped inside. What I saw—what I heard—nearly knocked me flat on my rear.
“I said stop—”
Rick was in the room, but he wasn’t alone. His back was to me, and I could barely see who he practically had pinned against the shelf with his massive body, but I saw her small hands push at his chest. I heard him laugh like it was a joke. Skin along the back of my neck crawled.
“What in the actual fuck?” I said.
Jerking back a step, Rick whirled around, his already ruddy face turning about three shades of red. A small form darted out between him and the shelf. Jillian’s face was pale as her gaze connected with mine. She tugged on the hem of her thick sweater.
“It’s not what you think,” Rick said, swinging toward Jillian. “Tell her it’s not what—”
I stepped forward, prepared to whack Rick over the head with the heap of calendars. I was pretty sure that what I saw and what I heard was exactly what I thought. “Jillian, go get Mr. Bowser.”
Rick looked like he was about to stroke out.
“D-Dad said I c-could grab some Post-it notes,” Jillian explained, her brown eyes wide. Her lower lip trembled. “That’s all I was doing and he—”
“Jillian, go get Mr. Bowser now.”
“I wasn’t doing anything,” Rick said, puffing up his chest. “I was just talking to her.”
My hands tightened around the edges of the calendars as Jillian stopped beside me, her cheeks flushing pink. “You were not trying to talk to me, you asshole.”
Rick opened his mouth, but I cut him off. “Please get Mr. Bowser,” I said to her.
Jillian darted out of the room as I kept an eye on Rick. Fury rose in me, but so did another bitter, acidic emotion. I knew he was a creep of the highest order, but I hadn’t known he was this bad. I should’ve reported him to Marcus the moment he had been inappropriate with me.
“Fuck,” he grunted, moving as if he was going to come at me.
I held my ground. “You take one step toward me and I swear to God I will kick your balls so hard they’ll end up in your throat.”
“You are such a creep,” I said, anger lancing my words. “Such a fucking creep—a stupid, fucking creep. The boss’s daughter?” I shook my head. Andrew was going to ninja kill him.
And it appeared like Rick also realized that, because the blood drained out of his face. A second later Marcus appeared in the doorway. I turned to him as I placed the calendars against the wall. “I walked in on this asshole—”
“Jillian told me,” Marcus interrupted, his voice scarily calm. “Stephanie, would you please leave the room. Rick and I need to speak before he gathers his belongs and gets the fuck out of this building.”
Oh. Oh wow.
I left the room with a quickness.
Jillian was waiting in the otherwise empty hallway, her eyes glassy as I approached her. Her hands were twisted together. “Thank y-you for coming in. He followed m-me in there and I . . .” She trailed off, pressing her lips together.
I stopped in front of her, keeping my voice low. “Are you okay, Jillian? Did he hurt you?”
“No.” She gave a quick jerk of her head.
Something horrible occurred to me in that moment. What if this wasn’t the first time he’d accosted Jillian? “Has this happened before?” I asked.