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According to your aunt Patti, I'm supposed to record my feelings, maybe even impart wisdom. I'm not known for being particularly nurturing or wise, but here goes. Lesson #1: Life's full of surprises.
That was the minimum wait time listed in the pregnancy test's step-by-step directions. Delia Carlisle knew not even a full minute had passed, much less three, so why bother checking the gold watch she'd treated herself to after signing new tenants to a posh Richmond, Virginia, office park? Still, she glared at the timepiece, mentally urging the hands to tick faster. No one had ever accused Delia of being patient.
Fifty seconds down, one hundred and thirty to go.
She sat on the edge of the Jacuzzi tub, drumming her well-manicured nails on the deep green tile. Damn, she needed a cigarette. They were in her bedroom nightstand, however, and the last thing she wanted to do was to wake up Alexanderaffectionately known as Ringo or, when he annoyed her, less affectionately known as That Man. As in, "That Man is harassing me again to quit smoking."
"I want to keep you around," he'd said last week, frowning at her lighter.
"Worried about outliving me? Don't be." Normally, Delia was in more danger of being called insensitive than hypersensitive, but in the past few weeks she'd become increasingly aware of the six-year age difference between her and her junior lover. "I plan to be stunning in black and looking for a new boy toy the day of your funeral. Poor thing, I'll probably wear you out before you hit forty."
He'd merely grinned in that way of his. "You can try."
A strong sexual appetite was something she and Alexander DiRossi hadalways had in common. Until recently.
She'd been alarmingly disinterested lately. Was their relationship approaching its inherent expiration date? While Alexander had far outlasted any of her other lovers, Delia didn't believe in forever. It would almost be a relief to blame her flagging libido on familiarity or boredoma romance coming to its natural conclusion, rather than because her body was aging. When exactly had she stopped feeling like herself, emotionally and physically. What had happened to her energy?
At forty-three, she'd told herself she was in her primeconfident, experienced and successful as an agent for a commercial leasing company. Yet she'd noticed that the last few agents hired by her employers were considerably younger than Delia. She'd seen the way girls who hadn't even hit thirty ogled Ringo.
The nickname dated back to a conversation Delia had had with two of her friends just before Valentine's Day, when Alexander moved into her town house.
"I knew you were getting serious," newlywed Kate St. James had exclaimed, "but cohabitation? You?"
"Is it wise to move in with someone you've only been seeing for two and a half months?" Patti Jordan had fretted.
"This is so unlike you!" Kate had said simultaneously.
It was unlike Delia. She'd lived with a lover only once before, and none of her relationships had ever made it past the year mark. She preferred short and sweet to messy entanglements and even messier breakups. But the idea to let Alexander stay with her for a while had been her spontaneous suggestion and hadn't given her the itchy, claustrophobic sensation she'd experienced the last time a man had broached the subject.
She'd shrugged off Patti's and Kate's astonishment. "His lease was up. He didn't want to renew, but hasn't found anything else, so I said he could stay with me. He's at my place most nights anyway. In a couple of months, he'll get restless or I'll feel smothered and he can resume his original plan of looking."
With Alexander officially becoming Delia's Significant Other, Kate and Patti had dubbed him Ringo to go with their husbands, Paul and George. That had been six months ago.
Now, leaning forward on the tub's edge and rubbing the small of her back, Delia took mental inventory of the Beatles' hits and wondered if they'd ever released a song appropriate for her current predicament. You're overreacting. No doubt she would start her period in the next day or so and reflect on these three excruciating minutes with amusement.
But if she really believed that, why was she carefully avoiding looking at the white plastic stick lying flat next to her? She had a random memory of her elementary school teacher warning students that they weren't to stare directly at a solar eclipse. Delia turned her head in the other direction, again studying the watch that sat on the half wall surrounding the tub. Three minutes, fifty seconds.
Her time was up.
Taking a deep breathwishing it included nicotineshe carefully lifted the stick by its plastic thumb grip. Her eyes went wide and uncomprehending for a moment before she blinked the image back into focus. A strangled noise of protest gurgled in her throat. Holy shit, two lines.
Two. Straight. Pink. Lines.
The directions had said one line might be lighter than the other, but these were so dark and vibrant she worried they might somehow be visible through the door. As if Alexander could roll over on one sculpted shoulder, face the bathroom and know she was pregnant on the other side. Damn him. She should have known better than to date a virile Italian stud muffin. Though she'd never gotten around to taking time off work and having anything surgical done, she had a longstanding prescription for a hormone-based contraceptive. Apparently it had been no match for That Man.
In all fairness, the warning that came with the birth control did stipulate a 93 percent rate of effectiveness; statistically she'd been pushing her odds. But when she'd emerged from her twenties and thirties unscathed, it had seemed ludicrous that she might conceive in her forties!
Maybe it wasn't the birth control that had failed, she thought suddenly in a mingled moment of hope and hysteria. Maybe something had gone wrong with the test! After all, who knew how long the sealed stick in its long-ago-opened multipack had been lurking under her bathroom sink? Maybe it was expired and unreliable. Maybe the tile around the tub wasn't a completely level surface and had skewed the results. Maybe she was so tired after waking up in the predawn hours of this August morning that her eyesight was blurred.
She pressed the heels of her palms against her eyes. When she'd managed to relax her heartbeat to a slightly below jacked-up-on-illegal-stimulants racehorse level, she took another look. Still two lines. According to the piece of plastic she was tempted to snap in half, forty-three-year-old Delia Carlisle was going to be a mother.
Delia stayed still as Ringo pressed a quick kiss to her forehead, keeping her eyes closed until she heard the front door open, then shut, downstairs. She normally enjoyed sleeping in late on the weekendher personal reward for high-intensity workweeksbut falling back to sleep hadn't been an option this morning. Then again, neither had been talking to Alexander. So, she'd faked itsomething she'd never had to say in the course of their relationship.
Since when are you a coward?
Well, there was a first time for everything. The frickin' pink lines had proved that. Besides, what would she have said? "Have a nice trip to New York. By the way, I'm pregnant." This was her uterus, after all; she would tell him when she was damn well ready. Not that she could imagine when that would be.
Antsy with shifting emotions, she kicked off the sheets and comforter. She needed to get out of here for a little while. Maybe she should call Patti or Kate and ask if they wanted to meet for breakfast.
Not Patti, she decided almost immediately.
Richmond housewife Patti Jordan was one of Delia's un-likelier acquaintances, practically Delia's opposite. The two women had become increasingly involved in each other's lives through fellow country club member and mutual friend Kate St. James. Though Patti's and Delia's dissimilar personalities often led to minor clashes, each of them would defend the other to an outsider. Delia was an only child, but she imagined squabbling siblings were much the same way.
Overachiever Kate St. James was closer in outlook and lifestyle to Delia, although forty-two-year-old Kate had married a widower with children. Kate was struggling to find her footing as a stepmother, a situation complicated by her new husband being sentenced to several months in a minimum-security prison due to a perceived corporate crime.
I should visit Kate. With news of a possible pregnancy, Delia might shock Kate into temporarily forgetting her own problems. Both of them mothers? It was like a bad cosmic joke.
And Delia had never felt more like a punch line in her life.
Delia was not the "girly" sort. She'd never hosted giggly slumber parties at her house as a teenageralthough she had lied once about attending a sleepover to meet a boyfriend and she hadn't joined a sorority in college. Still, she'd learned enough about business that she made it a point to network with other women at her country club. One club member and fellow unmarried professional was Shauna Adair, an OB-GYN who was as competitive on the tennis courts as Delia. Shauna wasn't her doctor, but Delia hoped their casual friendship would excuse her calling on a Sunday morning. At a red light between her town house and Kate's, Delia scrolled through some saved numbers, hoping she had Shauna's programmed into her cell phone. Bingo. The phone rang as Delia accelerated through the intersection.
"Shauna? It's Delia Carlisle."
"Hey, killer. Haven't seen you on the courts lately."
"Well, I thought I'd give you a break."
Shauna laughed. "Beating Brooke Campbell just isn't as satisfying as winning against you. She doesn't have your serve."
Normally Delia would have rejoined that nobody had her serve. She was in a class by herself. "Shauna, if I wanted to talk to you about something medical, would there be doctor-patient confidentiality?"
"Technically you're not one of my patients. But if you have something you need to discuss, you don't have to worry about my gossiping about it over canapés."
Dead air hung between them as Delia found herself unable to voice the situation. She gripped the steering wheel in frustration. Get some balls. Of course, if she'd had those, she wouldn't be in this predicament.
"I'm pregnant." Out loud it sounded even more surreal than it had when she'd been alone in her bathroom at oh-dark-thirty. "At least, I think I am, based on two missed periods and two pink lines. In your professional opinion, how reliable are those over-the-counter tests?"
"Pretty accurate. There have been instances of misdiagno-sis, but false negatives are more common than false positives. I take it you haven't had the results confirmed?"
"I just found out. Haven't even told Alexander yet. So you can see why this conversation needs to remain confidential," Delia added. "I probably shouldn't have called, only I have some questions."
"Such as?" Shauna sounded 100-percent like a detached medical professional, not the glib, trash-talking tennis opponent who'd answered the phone.
"Drinking. Even Iknow enough about pregnancy to know alcohol isn't recommended." Delia cast a glance at the bottle of champagne on the passenger seat next to her. It had been the only unopened booze in her apartment, and she'd grabbed it on impulse to give to Kate. The already-opened stuff Delia would either throw out later or drink in a one-woman party if the plastic stick was proven incorrect.
"Don't let any previous drinks bother you," Shauna advised. "Drinking is more harmful as the embryo develops and in repeated doses. Lots of women imbibe before they learn they're pregnant, and most babies are just fine."
In an absent way, Delia was aware her question had been answered, but mention of an embryo had distracted her. It was a freaky, sci-fi-sounding word she'd never expected to hear in relation to herself.
"Delia? Was there anything else?"
Yeah. A whole boatload of elses, considering she'd never imagined herself in this position. "My age. Aren't babies borne to women over forty more likely to have, I don't know, problems?" She was fuzzy on the specifics. She'd never been around a baby and rarely around pregnant women; her mother had been unsuccessful in conceiving after Delia.
Though Alexander had made some halfhearted noises about a co-worker who'd recently become a father and that they should invite the new parents over for a congratulatory dinner, Delia's day-to-day life rarely brought her in contact with youngsters. Kate's stepchildren, Neve and PJ, had been at the wedding, but they'd lived at a private boarding school until Paul's arrest, then spent the bulk of the summer at the beach with their grandparents, only arriving home yesterday. Patti had a son, but Leo was a teenager with a driver's license and an active schedule.
After taking a moment to weigh her response, Shauna answered, "There are some statistical concerns for women who are pregnant after thirty-five, but nothing I'd automatically stress over, not with so many other factors involved. What if you came into my office tomorrow? You could wait to see your regular gynecologist if you're more comfortable, but if you want to swing by early, I'll meet you first thing. We can at least determine for sure whether or not you're actually pregnant."
"Thank you." The sooner she had answers, the better. Then again, that had been her rationale for searching for that lone plastic test stick in the wee hours of the morning, and look how that had turned out so far.
By the time Delia disconnected the call, she was pulling into Kate's driveway. Though competent and intelligent, Kate was no more a domestic goddess than Delia, so it was a surprise when her friend offered, "You can join us for waffles," with a manically bright smile.
Once they reached the usually spotless kitchen, it became clear waffles were not on the immediate menu. Batter slicked the white countertops and a foul-smelling steam rose from the waffle iron. Kate's preteen stepdaughter was attempting damage control.
Kate sighed. "You go talk PJ into cereal," she instructed the girl, "and I'll clean this up."
Delia placed the bottle of champagne on the island. She didn't know why she was so fixated on getting rid of the damn thing. She wasn't such a heavy drinker that she was going to pop the cork and start guzzling. But the bottle was an uneasy reminder of how suddenly and drastically her life could change. Was the pregnancy why her libido had gone into recent hibernation?
Great. Her love life was on the fritz, she would have to give up drinking, cigarettes and possibly caffeine. Plus, she'd get fat. Force her to knit unending pairs of pastel-colored booties and she'd officially be in hell.
Kate glanced over, catching Delia scowling at the champagne.
Delia pushed it across the counter. "You should put this away for some occasion." Like when Paul got out of prison? "I actually brought it over as a gift. I, um, won't be drinking much for a while."