Jillian looked away as she swallowed hard. “No.”

I didn’t believe her. “Is he why you’re leaving here?”

She choked out a laugh. “No. Not at all. I . . . I better go talk to my dad.” She started backing up. “Th-Thank you again. Really.”

Watching her all but run out, I stood there for a moment, a thousand horrible thoughts cycling through my head. I walked back to my desk in a daze.

About an hour after Rick the Creep was escorted out of Lima Academy and Jillian had long since left the facility, Marcus opened his office door. “Stephanie, can I see you for a minute?”

I immediately pushed to my feet and went into his office, having no idea what to expect. I didn’t think I was in trouble for reporting Rick, not based on how pissed he’d been and how quickly he’d handled the situation, but what if I was? What if I lost my job? With a child on the way, that would be so, so bad.

But even if this went downhill fast, I didn’t regret stepping in. No way. I just wished I had said something earlier.

“Can you please close the door behind you?” Marcus asked as he rounded the desk.

I quietly closed the door and sat down on the edge of the chair in front of his desk, folding my hands in my lap.

Marcus sat down, dropping his forearms on the desk as he met my stare. “First off, I want to thank you for stepping in and helping Jillian out.”

“You don’t need to thank me for that,” I said.


He continued. “You said something that gave me the impression that this wasn’t the first time you’d witnessed his inappropriate behavior here. Is that the case?”

I nodded in agreement. “He said a few things to me that I didn’t feel were very appropriate, and once he got too close to me in the elevator. He . . . he rubbed up against me.” I felt the tips of my ears burn. “I told him that he ever did that again, I would report him.”

“Did he bother you after that?”

“No. He stayed away from me, for the most part.” My gaze flicked to the large window behind him. “I . . .”

“Say what you want,” Marcus said.

I shook my head as I sighed. Guilt churned my stomach. “I just wish I’d said something the first time he was inappropriate. Then that wouldn’t have happened with Jillian.”

Marcus leaned back in his chair, hooking one leg over the other. “I’m going to be honest with you, Stephanie. I understand why you said nothing. You’re new here, but I hope that none of us have given you the impression that we’d tolerate that kind of behavior.”

“You haven’t,” I replied quickly.

Marcus smiled, but it didn’t reach his dark eyes. “But I do wish you would’ve come forward. None of us want any of our employees or their families to feel unsafe here. If something like this ever happens again, I want you to come to Deanna or me immediately. Do you understand?”

“Yes. I do.”

I was dismissed after that, but the yuck feeling lingered. Part of me wanted to find Rick and kick him in the balls. The other part of me wanted to smack myself for not reporting him when he crossed the line with me. I had handled it, but my head had to have been stuck up my own rear not to realize that if he treated me like I existed purely for his entertainment, he had to treat other women the same way.

I just hoped that my initial suspicions with Jillian weren’t accurate, but I did have the feeling that Rick would probably have to relocate. Not only was Andrew going to be pissed, but once Brock found out, I was betting Rick was a dead man.

On the way home, I stopped at a hamburger joint and picked up a fast dinner since I was too tired to make something. I knew the fatigue had to be normal, and I didn’t mention it to Nick when he texted around seven. The last thing I wanted him to do was worry. Besides, I had my doctor’s appointment on Friday and I could bring it up then.

I didn’t tell him about what happened with Rick earlier. Even though I had handled my own issues with Rick, knowing Nick, he was not going to be happy to hear about Rick’s pervy behavior.

After pulling on my pajama bottoms and a loose shirt, I walked into my bathroom and stood sideways in front of the mirror. Pulling my top up, I checked myself out in the mirror. No visible bump. Not really, but I tried to imagine myself with a soccer ball.

I doubted I’d be as adorable as Avery, but my lips curved up in a smile as I slid my hands to my belly. Just the last couple of days, I’d been thinking about how I would broach the topic of my pregnancy with Marcus. It wasn’t going to be easy, but I would need to say something soon.

Twisting, I tilted my head to the side as a niggle of doubt crept into my thoughts. Shouldn’t I be able to see some sort of bump? Something at nearly fourteen weeks? According to the five million mother-to-be pictures I’d seen, the answer was yes, but . . .

I dropped my shirt and resisted the urge to Google more rare pregnancy issues that I could go the rest of my life never knowing about.

Walking out to the living room, I turned the Christmas tree lights off and then grabbed a glass of orange juice from the fridge and started back toward the bedroom, my sock-covered feet silent on the wood floors. It was early, but after a bearlike yawn, I was so ready for bed. I had set the glass down and reached for the remote when a sharp, stabbing pain cut across my lower stomach, knocking the air out of my lungs.

“Ouch,” I whispered, placing my hand against my stomach near my left hip. “Whoa.”

The pain burned as it faded off. I stood, staring at the glass of juice. My mouth dried as a horrible thought popped into my head. Is something wrong? Heart pounding, I waited several minutes, and when the pain didn’t return, forced out an uneven breath. I was fine. The pain probably had nothing to do with the pregnancy and more to do with the fast food I’d eaten for dinner.

Climbing into bed, I shoved my legs under the comforter and picked up the remote. I clicked on the TV, flipping to the HGTV channel, and it wasn’t long before I dozed off listening to couples argue over yellow walls and brown carpet.

When I jerked awake hours later, sitting straight up in bed, I wasn’t sure what woke me. My throat was incredibly dry and my skin felt damp with sweat. The TV was still on, volume turned down low. I pressed the back of my hand against my forehead, but I was cool. Had I had a nightmare? Leaning toward the nightstand, I reached for the remote when the pain sliced through my stomach again. I sucked in a gasp as I froze. The pain was like period cramping, but a bit stronger. It slowly eased, but was immediately followed by a strange pressure that sat low in my stomach.

I flipped on the light with a shaky hand. Not a minute later, the pain struck again. The cramp was severe, causing my body to jerk in reflex, and before it eased off, there was a sudden wet feeling.

This wasn’t normal.

My stomach dropped as I jerked the comforter off the bed and stumbled to my feet. The cramping hit again. It was like my entire stomach was inside of a fist that was squeezing and squeezing, and as soon as it lessened, it fisted again.

Turning around, I reached for my phone as my gaze fell along the bed. My heart stuttered. Panic exploded as I stared down at the mattress. “Oh my God.”

There was blood on the sheets.

Chapter 27

The bright lights of the emergency room were harsh, leaving no space to hide from the reality of the situation. All I could do was stare up at those lights until halos formed around them.