If your ex arrives in your hometown eighteen months after you walked out on him while you were eight months pregnant, follow this list of rules before you give him a second chance.
Rule #1 – Don’t stand in the way of your brothers who want to rough him up.
Rule #2 – Don’t meet him for coffee and agree to allow him to meet your daughter.
Rule #3 – Don’t drool when your daughter falls asleep on his chest for the first time.
Rule #4 – Don’t let him hold your hand. While we’re at it, no hugs, no kisses on the cheek… just no physical contact in general. That only leads to remembering better times.
The last one is the most important...
Rule #5 – When you find yourself needing someone’s help and you’re tired of always asking your family, don’t let him be the one who’s there for you.
Because all those good qualities of his will suck you right back in and you’ll have no chance of fighting your feelings, especially now that he’s ready to be a father to your daughter.
Book 9 of The Baileys Series
A soft, warm breeze flows into the restaurant when the door opens, and all the guests turn toward the door to see who’s arrived.
Jamison stands with his suitcase next to him, gaze scouring the space as though he didn’t just walk into a Bailey baby shower. My breath seizes and my throat closes up for a second before I react.
I shift eighteen-month-old Palmer behind me. She squirms, but my grip only grows tighter to keep her hidden in place. She hits my thighs, whining and not understanding, but I don’t budge.
You’d think we were being held at gunpoint from the way my heart races and sweat beads along my back. My mama bear instinct has kicked in and it’s fierce.
My free hand covers my swollen belly, his eyes follow my movement and his face drains of color.
My brothers and brothers-in-law line up shoulder to shoulder in front of the rest of us. Kingston’s in the middle, arms across his chest.
He’s the most protective since he’s been playing the part of Palmer’s pseudo dad for the past eighteen months.
She tried to call him daddy last week, and I had to have the conversation about how he’s her uncle, not her daddy. Thankfully, she got distracted and didn’t ask any other questions.
I’ll never allow her to not know the truth of who her father is, but she’s too young to understand.
Then again, I never thought he’d be standing in front of me right now. I imagined that when we came face to face again, I’d have my life in order.
I’d have my travel blog up and running, not still doing freelance work. I wanted to have my own house, not be living in my brother’s apartment.
I wanted to be stunning and gorgeous, not thirty pounds heavier with swollen ankles and fingers that look like sausages.
The only real physical asset on me right now is my breasts that have doubled in size.
“Hey, King,” Jamison says in his Scottish brogue. He’d lost a lot of his accent after living in America for so long, but it’s still there.
Half the guests gasp—I assume over the fact that he used my brother’s nickname. My brother’s wife Cleo reaches out and squeezes my shoulder.
Kingston’s stance widens, and Palmer continues to hit my thighs. I loosen my grip on her and she slides between my legs, running forward.
I reach for her, but she wiggles out of her yellow cardigan and out of my hold.
Phoenix snatches her before she can break past the wall of testosterone, but Palmer kicks and throws her tiny fists at her aunt, whining and screeching.
Phoenix glances at me, silently asking what I want her to do. I nod for her to let my daughter go. Let the bastard see her. See what he gave up.
Phoenix lowers Palmer’s feet to the floor as my entire family watches with rapt attention. I know my daughter and who she’ll go to, and I trust that he’ll protect her.
As I assumed, Palmer snakes around Kingston’s leg, peeking out from behind him. His hand comes down on her head as he looks over his shoulder at me, probably wondering why I’d allow this. But I nod.
Jamison’s here. He’ll see her at some point, and it’s better for me to have my family supporting me when it happens.
Kingston scoops Palmer up in his muscular arms.
She signs to him. Who?
King looks to me for an answer, and I shake my head. So Kingston signs back. Nobody.
Palmer’s curiosity isn’t satisfied though. Why here?
Kingston blows out a breath, not happy to be in the situation I’ve put him in. This is my responsibility, not my big brother’s, so I step forward, but Phoenix’s hand clamps down on my wrist.
I shake it off and go around my brothers’ defensive line. I guess I know where Palmer gets her unwillingness to listen.
“Don’t, Sedona,” Denver says in a soft tone.
I hold up my hand. “I have no choice. He’s here.”
We talk about Jamison as though he’s not right in front of us. His eyes haven’t left my stomach yet. Not even to look at the little girl in Kingston’s arms.
The ironic thing is that I look much the same as I did the day I walked out on him.
He had passed out on the couch, and like some sad movie character with my suitcase in hand, I gave him one last glance before shutting the door on that chapter of my life.
“Sedona,” Kingston says, and I turn.
Palmer signs at me. Mommy. Mommy.
I hold up my finger to her. When I turn back to Jamison, grabbing him by the arm to drag him outside, his eyes are locked on Palmer, his feet planted firm.
My heart gallops like a wild horse racing through the wilderness. I want to run over to Kingston, snatch Palmer out of his arms, and run away as fast and far as I can.
Granted, that wouldn’t be fast or far with how pregnant I am, but still.
Tears fill Jamison’s eyes, and I look back at Palmer, who’s now fixated on her father. She’s too young to see what the rest of us do. Their shared blue eyes. Their same thin nose and thick wavy hair.
Although her hair is darker than his, resembling more my shade, no one could deny she’s his. And there’s no doubt, with his full attention on her, he’s put it all together.
If he’s drunk like he was when I left him, he could think he’s warped back to eighteen months ago and I’m still carrying his baby.
He takes his hand off the suitcase he wheeled in and lifts both hands. Palmer focuses on him as if she’s watching the Lake Starlight baseball team.
My girl loves baseball, something her uncles couldn’t be happier about. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe she sees the resemblance, even at her young age.
Jamison signs to her. Hello. Nice to meet you.
My head whips to Palmer as she smiles, signing back. Hello.
Oh hell no. I grab Jamison’s arm again, pulling him out of Terra and Mare.
He follows without a fight this time, and I release him as soon as we reach the sidewalk.
But seeing all the faces of my family plastered to the windows, I grab him again and move us farther down the sidewalk and out of everyone’s sight.
“Yer pregnant?” he asks.
“That’s obvious. What are you doing here?”
Now that the immediate threat to Palmer is gone, my gaze skates across him. I hate that my body isn’t listening to my brain.
He looks good, healthy—and resembles the guy I fell in love with, not the guy I left. His cheeks are rosy, his body lean with muscle.
His bright blue eyes sparkle, no longer dull and glazed over as they had been for so long.
Our eyes catch as though we both took a trip down memory lane, except I definitely don’t resemble the woman he fell in love with.
I’m far from that seventeen-year-old girl he’d flirt with in the hallway of our high school.
“I’m here for you and our daughter.” He says it as though he can snap his fingers and we’ll grab our bags and be off. But that’s Jamison’s way. He got everything he ever wanted until he didn’t.
And then he decided to destroy his life.
I cross my arms and his eyes dip to my cleavage. He probably forgot how big my breasts got with Palmer because a bottle of vodka was more appealing than I was in those days.
“Sorry, we’re not available.”
“I’m clean,” he rushes out. “For a year.”
“Good. I’m happy for you.” It’s true. I might not love Jamison anymore, but one day, Palmer will want answers and I’d like to tell her that her father got his shit together.
“I never should have let you leave.”
A huff escapes me. “Hard to fight for us when you’re passed out. I was always curious how many days it took you to realize I’d left you.”
He looks dazed, as if he doesn’t remember. Probably kept waking up and thinking I was at the store. “I want a second chance.”
I shake my head.
“Is she deaf?” he asks, changing the course of our conversation.
But I want to keep all things Palmer away from him until I have a better idea what’s going on with him these days. “Listen, I’m in the middle of something. Are you staying at Glacier Point?”
If he is, I’ll be pissed at my brother-in-law Wyatt for not giving me a heads-up that my ex booked a room.
“Um, I haven’t booked a room anywhere yet. I just flew in this morning.”
“So you were just going to wheel your suitcase around and hope you found me?” Typical unprepared Jamison.
“I wasn’t sure. I’ve been planning this moment for so many months, and now that I’m here, so close to you, I didn’t know what to do. My plan went out the window.
“Yer gorgeous, by the way, but you were when you were pregnant with our daughter too.”
He reaches out to touch me, and I retract my arm. “Funny, I never thought you noticed.”
His head tilts, and he tries to use that same look that would get me to forget our stupid fights back when we were together. Well, not this time.
This isn’t him leaving the toilet seat up or not loading the dishwasher.
“I’ve loved you since I’ve known you. Of course I noticed you. You glowed just like you do now. But tell me, do I have competition? Who’s the father of your baby?” He glances at my left hand and I pull it behind my back.
A million lies flash through my brain like comic-strip thought bubbles above my head. My ring doesn’t fit anymore, so I took it off. We’re not engaged… yet. But all of it is a lie, so I go with snark.
“My life is none of your business.”
He nods. “Just hear me out. One coffee or tea or whatever you can drink in your condition.”
I roll my eyes. “I’m happy you’re doing well, but nothing is going to change between the two of us.”
His shoulders slump, and he says nothing for a minute. “Just one coffee. I understand yer mad, I would be too, but I’m only asking for you to hear me out.”
I fight the impulse to say yes. He was always hard to say no to, hence how I ended up pregnant. “I don’t know. It’s been a long time.”
“Please, Sedona. Please.” A line forms at the bridge of his nose as he pleads with me.
The door of Terra and Mare opens, and we glance over to find Kingston wheeling out Jamison’s suitcase and resting it by the side of the building.
Instead of going back inside, he stands there with his arms crossed, staring at us.
“King,” I say with an irritated tone.
“It’s just such a beautiful day. I want to take full advantage.” He shoves his hands in his pockets and his head circles up to stare at the sky.
The door opens again a second later and Stella shoots me a sympathetic look while trying to drag Kingston back inside the restaurant. They exchange a few words, but Stella wins per usual.
Once they’re gone, I say to Jamison, “Now is not the time. I have to get back in there.”
He nods. “Tomorrow?”
I exhale a big breath. “I don’t know.”
I guess I wouldn’t mind some explanations after all this time.
Plus, it gives me an opportunity to tell him it’s completely over between us since he seems to be on a mission to win me back—if what he says can be believed. “Fine.”
He reaches out again and I step back. His hands fall to his side. “Thank you.”
“But not here.” I glance around.
“I’ve kept us out of Buzz Wheel for this long, and I don’t want that changing. A lot of people still know you here. Meet me in Sunrise Bay. Tomorrow at ten o’clock. There’s a diner called Two Brothers and an Egg.”
“Perfect. I’ll be there.” He smiles and I ignore the way it chips at my defenses.
I nod and walk back toward the entrance to Terra and Mare.
I circle back to face him.
“Is she deaf?”
I nod and move to open the door, but my curiosity gets the better of me. “How do you know how to sign?”
“My uncle was deaf.”
So there’s the answer to the question about Palmer’s deafness.
He must see me trying to remember ever meeting his uncle because he says, “He died when I was over here during senior year, remember?”
Vaguely, but we had so much going on, and we were trying to figure out how we would stay together after high school ended.
Though now that I’m thinking about it, all I remember is him not going home for the funeral because his family couldn’t afford the airfare.
“Bye, Jamison,” I say.
He raises his hand. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”
I open the door and disappear into Terra and Mare, taking my seat.
Palmer slides off of Stella’s lap and climbs onto mine. The one thing I miss most now that I’m so pregnant is that I can’t get her as close as I want when I hug her.
She nuzzles in my arms and rests her head on my belly because it’s her nap time.
Phoenix sits next to me and grabs my hand, conveying that we’ll get through this. I know she believes that.
I run my free hand through Palmer’s hair and watch her breathing become shallower and shallower as she drifts off to sleep.
Oh, baby girl, our world just blew up and you don’t even know it.
But rest assured, I’ll never allow him to hurt her the way he’s hurt me. That’s a promise.