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The stick was pink.
Lainey Keeler squeezed her eyes shut, lifted the test with one trembling hand, then peeked with her right eye only.
Yup. Definitely a pink line. Maybe she needed to check the instructions to be sure .
Oh, God. How had this happened?
Okay, so she knew the technicalities of the how. In fact, she knew the when. Lord help her, that was the kicker.
Her eyes swam and her stomach rolled as she reached for the test box anyway, knowing what she'd see there. Knowing the result would read the same as the four other sticksall different brandsin the garbage.
Knowing she'd been screwed in more ways than one.
So this was the price she paid for one night of lust infused with a heavy dose of stupidity. She slumped on the cold tile of the bathroom floor and let her head thunk on the vanity door. Hysterical laughter bubbled in her throat and she pressed her fingertips to her temples. Did it count, fifteen years after graduation, that she'd finally bedded the star quarterback? The same one she'd nurtured a killer crush on all through high school?
And managed to conceive his baby?
"And here I thought I had the flu," she said to her calico cat, who observed her from the doorway. Panda's squinty blink in response could have meant anything. "Why didn't being pregnant occur to me?"
Single and pregnant. Right when she was starting a new business and her life couldn't be more unstable.
What would her parents say? She winced at the thought. At thirty-three, she was supposed to be burning up the career ladder. Instead, much to her family's chagrin, she burned through careers.
Chewing her lower lip, she took a last look at the pink line, then tossed the test stick in the trash with the others. Five pregnancy tests couldn't be wrong, no matter how much she wished it. She needed a plan.
"A plan is good," she said to the cat in the doorway. Panda meowed in response. Shoot, what was she going to do? She stepped over the cat and hurried into the small hallway, facing straight into her pocket-sized bedroom. Panic kicked up a two-step in her belly. She'd need a bigger place. The cozy one-bedroom apartment above her shop, The Lily Pad, worked beautifully for one person and an overweight cat. But adding a baby to the mix ? Babies needed so much stuff. She laid her hand on her still-flat belly. A baby.
Good God, she was going to be a mother.
She clenched her eyes shut and willed the tears away. What kind of mother would she be? Her ex and her family told her over and over she tended to be flighty and irresponsible. A baby meant responsibility, stability.
What if it turned out they were right? She certainly hadn't demonstrated good judgment on the night of her reunion.
The thought sliced her to the core and she took a deep breath. No time to cry. Not when she had a shop to open in a few minutes. Beth Gatica, her friend and employee, was already downstairs. She swiped at her eyes, tried to think.
"Where do I start?" she wondered aloud, trying to get her head clear enough to think.
A doctor. She'd need a doctor. Her usual doctor happened to be a friend of her family's, so she'd definitely have to head over to Traverse City.
Since she felt better with something to do, she reached for the phone book.
"Lainey?" Beth's voice came through the door connecting the apartment to the shop. "Are you okay?"
Lainey fumbled the phone book and caught sight of herself in the small mirror next to the door. Dark blond hair already escaping from her ponytail? Check. Dark circles under her eyes? Check. Pasty skin? Yikes. Wasn't there supposed to be some kind of pregnancy glow? "I'm fine," she called. "Be right there."
"Okay, good. Because we've got a problem."
Well, of course they did. Lainey marched over and yanked open the door, almost grateful for the distraction. "What kind of problem?"
"Come see." Beth turned and hurried down the stairs, long dark curls bouncing. The fresh, cool scent of flowers hit Lainey as they entered the workroom. Beth tipped her head toward the older of the two walk-in coolers. "It's not cold enough, Laine. It's set where it's supposed to be, but it's nearly twelve degrees warmer in there."
"Oh, no." No. She needed the cooler to last another yearlike she needed the van with its iffy transmission to last another six months. Preferably twelve. A headache began to pulse at the edges of her brain at the thought of her nearly empty bank account. Using only one cooler would mean reducing inventory, which meant possibly not being able to meet the needs of her customers. Which meant less income. And she couldn't afford to lose a single cent at this point.
To say The Lily Pad operated on a shoestring budget was to put it optimistically.
She pulled open the door, even though she didn't doubt Beth. She could feel the difference as soon as she walked in. She tapped the thermostat with her finger. Maybe it was stuck somewhere? She should be so lucky.
"Call Gary at General Repair," she said to Beth. "See if he can get us in today."
"On it." Beth hurried to the phone.
Lainey headed to the working cooler to do some rearranging. Some of the more delicate flowers would have to be moved over.
She tamped down the spurt of fear and worry that threatened to explode. No point inviting trouble, and Lainey figured she had enough to fill her personal quota. She closed her eyes and inhaled the fresh, green scent of the flowers, with their overtones of sweet and tangy and spicy. It always, always relaxed her just to breathe in the flowers.
But not enough, today, to rid her of her worries. About choking coolers. About babies. Lainey smothered a sigh. If she'd stayed home two months ago part of her predicament wouldn't be here. She'd invited trouble. Or, more accurately, trouble had invited her.
Of course she hadn't turned him down.
"Gary will be here at eleven," Beth said from behind her. "Want me to help move things?"
Lainey glanced at her watch. An hour and a half. "Sure. We'll just move a few for now. Let's group them by the door so we can open it a minimum of times." The colder it stayed in there, the better for her bottom line. She couldn't afford to lose a cooler full of flowers.
"Are you okay, Laine? You're awfully pale," Beth commented as she lifted a bucket of carnations out of the way.
Lainey sucked in a breath. Should she tell Beth? They'd been friends for years. Beth wouldn't ridicule her for her mistake with Jon. It would feel so good to tell someone .
"Lainey?" Beth's head was cocked, her brown gaze worried. "What's going on?"
"I'm pregnant," she blurted, and burst into tears. Beth hurried over to her, nearly knocking a bucket over in the process.
"Honey, are you sure?"
Lainey nodded and swiped at the tears. "Pretty sure." Five separate pink lines couldn't be wrong.
Could they? "I'll have to go to a doctor to confirm it, though."
"Oh, Laine." Beth hugged her, stepped back. "How far along? I didn't know you were seeing someone."
Lainey closed her eyes. Here we go. "Well, I'm actually not. I'm about eight weeks along." She'd let Beth do the math.
"So that'soh." Beth drew out the word and her eyes rounded. "Your class reunion."
"Yeah." Lainey couldn't meet her friend's gaze. Her poor baby. How could she ever explain the circumstances of his or her conception?
"So who's the daddy?"
"Jon Meier." Lainey could barely say his name. "We ah hit it off pretty well."
Beth gave a wry chuckle and opened the cooler door, a load of calla lilies in her hands. "So it seems."
"I have to tell him, Beth, but he lives so far away. Plus the whole thing was pretty forgettable, if you know what I mean. We used protection, but obviously " She shrugged and swiped at her leaking eyes again. "It didn't work." An understatement if she'd ever heard one.
"He's not father material?"
"I don't know." It wasn't as if they'd discussed things like personal lives. "Plus he lives in LA.
He's in some kind of entertainment industry work. He's not going to pull up and move back to Northern Michigan." He'd made his contempt for the area crystal-clear.
"Sometimes having a kid changes that," Beth pointed out.
"True." Lainey didn't want to think about it. "But I think we were pretty much in agreement on how awkward the whole thing was." So much for sex with no strings attached. The baby in her belly was a pretty long string. The length of a lifetime, in fact.
She wanted to bang her head on the wall. What had she been thinking, leaving with Jon that night? Was her self-esteem so damaged by her divorce she had to jump on the first guy who smiled at her?
Best not to answer that.
"I think you'll be a wonderful mom," Beth said, and Lainey's throat tightened.
"Really?" She couldn't keep the wobble out of her voice. Beth's confidence touched her. Her family would look at her being single, pregnant and nearly broke and lose their collective minds. She shoved the thought aside.
"Of course. You're wonderful with my kids. Now, let's get this finished before Gary gets here."
"It could go at any time?" Lainey could not believe she'd heard the repairman correctly. A yearshe only needed twelve measly months. Why, oh, why was that too much to ask? "Are you sure?"
"Yes. We can cobble this along for a few more months. But you are definitely going to need a new unit." Gary's lined face wasn't without sympathy.
She took a deep breath. "Do what you have to, Gary. I need it to last as long as possible."
The repairman nodded and returned to the cooling unit.
Beth stood at the counter, ringing up a large bouquet of brightly colored carnations. A great sale, but not nearly enough to buy a new cooler. Or even a used one.
"Thank you. Have a great day," Beth said to the customer as he exited the shop. To Lainey she said, "What's the news?"
"We're going to need a new cooler. Sooner rather than later, probably." Exhaustion washed over her and she sank down on the stool behind the counter. "Even used, that's not something I can swing yet." Or possibly ever. No cooler, no business. No business, no cooler.
No business, no way to provide for the baby.
A wave of nausea rolled through her at the thought. Another failure. This one could be huge.
"Oh, man." Beth leaned on the counter. "Well, let's see. We've got the Higgins wedding coming up. We need more weddings. The funeral business has been picking up. That's good. Maybe ."
She hesitated, and Lainey knew what her friend hadn't said.
"Maybe if my mother sent business my way we wouldn't be in this predicament," she finished. "I know. I agree. I've asked." The answer, while not in so many words, was that the florist her mother used had been around a lot longer and wasn't in danger of folding. The implication? Lainey would failagain.
Beth winced. "I know you have. I just wish she'd support you. I'm sorry I brought it up."
"It's okay. It's the truth. I don't know what will change her mind." Lainey stood up. "Let's finish getting the deliveries ready."
As Lainey gathered flowers and greenery she wondered if she'd let her business go under rather than ask her parents for a loan. They'd give her one, with plenty of strings attached, and she'd have to crawl to get it. This was supposed to be her chance to prove she could make something of her life without advanced degrees or a rich husband.
Right about now it didn't seem to be working.
Gary came out of the cooler, toolbox in one hand, invoice in the other. "You're all fixed up, Ms. Keeler. Can't say how long it'll last. Could be one month. Could be six. I'm sorry I don't have better news."
"The fact it's running right now is wonderful," Lainey said. "Thank you. I appreciate you coming on such short notice."
"Anytime. Have a good day, ladies." He left the store and the bell above the door chimed, its cheerful sound mocking Lainey's mood. She looked at the amount on the invoice and sighed.
She'd known when she bought the shop nine months ago there were no guarantees on equipment. Even in her current financial bind she didn't regret taking the plunge. This shop felt right to her in a way none of her other jobs ever had. Right enough, in fact, that she hoped to someday buy the building outright.
Working steadily throughout the morning, they completed their orders. The repair seemed to be holding for now, thank goodness. Lainey slid the last of the arrangements into the back of the van and closed the door. "All set, Beth. Hopefully we'll get more this afternoon."
"Fingers crossed." Beth climbed in and turned the ignition. She leaned back out the window. "I'll stop at Dottie's Deli and grab lunch on the way back. I think we've each earned a cheesecake muffin after this morning."
"Mmm." Lainey perked up at the thought. Everyone knew the calories in Dottie's heavenly muffins didn't count. "Sounds wonderful. Thanks."
She held her breath as Beth thunked the old van into gear and drove off. Relief washed over her. After this morning she'd half expected the thing to go belly-up out of spite.
"Don't borrow trouble," she reminded herself as she turned and went inside.
The chime of the door caught her attention and she hurried to greet the customer.
Fifteen minutes later she started on a new arrangement, this one for a new mom and baby at the hospital. They really needed more of this kind of businessmore happy occasions like.
Lainey gulped and gripped the edge of the worktable, her eyes on the array of delicate pastel flowers she'd gathered. She only had about seven months to stabilize her shop and get ready to be a new mom herself. A single new mom.
No one could ever accuse her of doing things the easy way.