Read an Excerpt
NORA CARSON HAD ALWAYS found it hard to say no to Maggie, even when she knew that her bullheaded best friend was being stupid. Though Nora, at nineteen, was only three months older than Maggie, the younger girl had a way of making Nora's common sense sound pathetically boring.
And if making Nora feel like a fuddyduddy didn't work, Maggie had big sad eyes and a killer pout, a little-girl-lost look that turned Nora--and just about everyone else--straight to mush.
This late-autumn Saturday, Maggie's nineteenth birthday, was no exception. Maggie, who was eight months pregnant, woke up with a hankering to go sailing. Nora knew it was a rotten idea, and so did Dr. Ethan Jacobs, the young obstetrician who had begun as Maggie's doctor when they'd arrived in town three months ago--and ended up more like a love slave with a stethoscope.
But neither of them could resist Maggie in a Mood.
So here they were, halfway to nowhere, with the Maine coast receding as Ethan's sails filled with crisp, clean wind. The cooler at their feet bulged with fried chicken, egg-salad sandwiches and bottled water. Ethan had caved in to Maggie's pressure first, and admitted that he knew a tiny island Maggie would love. Just a couple of miles wide, it had everything, he said--a green forest, a cliff, a small white waterfall.
Best of all, it was completely uninhabited. The perfect place to make the world go away for an afternoon.
They'd been on Ethan's tiny day sailer for almost an hour--the island was about ten miles offshore--when suddenly Maggie hopped up onto her cushioned seat and let out an exhilarated squeal.
"This is the best birthday ever! Oh, my God, I love this day!"
Nora, who was sitting at the back of the boat, couldn't help smiling. Maggie's spiky brown hair stood straight up in the wind, and her pregnant stomach looked as rounded and full of energetic purpose as the sails above her.
Maggie's moods were always infectious. If she was depressed, everyone around her suffered. But if she was happy...
"And I love you!" Maggie climbed down and wrapped Nora in a bear hug. She turned to Ethan, who was angling the tiller, and, taking his face in her hands, covered his parted lips with a loud, smacking kiss. "And you, my dashing seafarer!"
Then she whirled away, and, with a contented sigh, leaned over to drag her fingers in the green current that rushed along the side of the boat.
Nora caught Ethan's gaze. Behind his wire-rimmed glasses, he looked stunned, as if he'd never been this close to anything as dazzling as Maggie. The sails began to luff, as Ethan forgot to steer, but he corrected the mistake and shrugged sheepishly, his cheeks pink.
Just last night, he had confessed to Nora that he was in love with Maggie. When Ethan had finished rubbing Maggie's feet, which had been sore after a long day waiting tables at the lobster shack, she had stumbled off to bed, leaving Nora and Ethan alone together.
He had flushed the entire time he spoke. He knew it was inappropriate, he said, given that Maggie was his patient, but he couldn't help it. She'd made her way into his blood, and he was going to ask her to marry him.
What did Nora think? Would Maggie say yes?
Nora wasn't sure. For all her childlike displays of emotion, Maggie kept her deepest truths in darkest secret. That's how you knew something really mattered to her--the bubbling stream of chatter suddenly dried up to dust.
Though they'd been best friends since they'd eaten paste together in kindergarten, Nora had accepted that there were things she'd never learn, no matter how many times she asked.
Like where Maggie got that old-fashioned gold ring she wore on a chain around her neck.
Or who was the father of her baby. "Land ahoy!" Maggie leaned way out this time, pointing east. "I see it!"
"Maggie," Ethan said sharply, "don't lean out so far! You could fall overboard!"
"Stop being such a worrywart." Maggie cast a sour look at Ethan, then went back to dragging her hand in the water. "Even if I did fall over, I know how to swim."
Nora gave Ethan a look, too. She tried to signal that bossing Maggie around was not a good idea. Maggie hated domineering, patriarchal men--probably because her father was one of the worst. Nora knew that Mr. Nicholson had hit Maggie, at least twice, and she often wondered what else might have happened that Maggie didn't confide.
But Ethan wasn't paying any attention to Nora. He was still watching Maggie, and his mouth was set in an anxious line. Nora looked over at her friend, too. Maggie had both hands on her belly, and her face was gripped in a sudden, strange tension.
"What is it?" Nora leaned forward. "Is something wrong?"
"I'm fine. Carry on."
Ethan's dark brows pulled together. "Are you having contractions?"
"I'm fine, sailor." Maggie waved her hand nonchalantly, clearly trying to lighten the mood. Nora couldn't blame her. Ethan did hover a bit. "Colin was just giving me one of his Morse code messages. You know, punch-punch-jab-poke. I think he said something about nappy turfday."
Nora smiled. Maggie always called the baby Colin, though the ultrasound had been inconclusive as to sex. She'd decided it was a boy, and, as usual, the facts didn't really concern her.
But Ethan wasn't buying it. He reached out with a doctor's instinctive authority and put his hand on Maggie's stomach. "I don't like it. You sure he's not saying something about going into labor?"
Maggie stood up and moved beyond Ethan's reach. "My Morse code is pretty rusty, but I think I could tell the difference between 'Happy birthday, Mom," and 'Look out, here I come!"
She glared at him. "Colin is fine. I said carry on." It always frustrated her when the universe didn't fall right in line with her plans. "Look, not only is this my birthday, but this may be the last completely free day I have for--oh, say eighteen years? So don't you two go all smothery and cheat me out of it, okay?"
Ethan adjusted his glasses. "But in the third trimester--"
Maggie stood on the seat, stepped one foot up onto the gunwale and pointed her hands over her head in the classic diving position. "I'm going to that island," she said, "if I have to swim the rest of the way."
Ethan laughed nervously. "Get down, you dork. Do you want to slip?"
He wasn't really concerned that she'd jump. But Nora knew Maggie better than he did. She glanced quickly toward the island, calculating the distance. Only about a hundred yards. Maggie could swim it. And, if he didn't back off, she just might.
"Ethan, don't piss me off." Maggie wasn't laughing. "You're not my father."
"No, I'm your doctor. I simply can't allow you to take foolish risks--"
Nora groaned. Too bossy. He even sounded a little like Maggie's father. Maggie despised her father.
She dove into the ocean with an emphatic splash.
Ethan lurched. "For God's sake, Maggie!"
She ignored him, her arms cutting through the water with a brisk freestyle. Her feet churned up little green-white whirlpools, and soon she was moving faster than the boat.
"She's a great swimmer," Nora said when Ethan turned around to give her a horrified, open-mouthed stare. "At home, we swim all the time."
"But she's eight months pregnant! She has no idea how dangerous that is."
He looked down at the water, and Nora knew he was thinking of diving in after Maggie.
"Bad idea," she said. "You know how stubborn she is. She'll fight you till you both drown."
Though his adoration made him act silly sometimes, Ethan wasn't stupid. He knew when he was outmaneuvered. Obviously the only thing they could do right now was stay close to Maggie, and get to the island as fast as possible.
He sat, wiped his water-speckled glasses on his shirt, and then grabbed hold of the tiller. It took several seconds, but he adjusted the sails until they caught the wind.
They were only a few yards behind Maggie, just a few feet to her left--Ethan was steering as close to the wind as he could, so that they wouldn't separate much. Her small white face kept turning toward them every other stroke. Once, Nora could have sworn Maggie stuck out her tongue at them.
"Little brat," Ethan murmured. But Nora saw that he was smiling--and, in spite of her annoyance with Maggie, she felt happy for her. How great to have someone love you so much they even found your flaws adorable.
Back in high school, Maggie's edgy personality had scared off most of the guys. She'd had only one boyfriend, as far as Nora knew--a short, dumb fling with Mr. Jenkins, their senior biology teacher who shortly afterward had married the English lit teacher and had moved out of town. Nora assumed Mr. J. must be the father of the baby, though of course Maggie wouldn't discuss it.
But perhaps Mr. Jenkins had been a sign. Maggie needed someone a little older, a lot wiser.