Having Tanner Bravo's Baby
Crystal Cerise stood in the cute little kitchen area of her one-bedroom apartment, staring out the window over the sink at an uninspired view of the parking lot. She was two months’ pregnant. And that evening, over dinner, she intended to break the big news to the father of her child.
The salad was made and waiting in the fridge. The main course, lasagna, was almost through baking. Its tempting smell filled the air. Crystal looked down at the open loaf of Italian bread on the counter in front of her. Ready for the garlic butter. She picked up the spreader and began slathering it on, pausing for a glance at the yard-sale kitchen clock—a red vintage treasure with big Deco-style white numbers that usually made her smile. Not today, however. Today, it would take a lot more than a whimsical wall clock to make Crystal smile.
6:05. Twenty-five minutes until he arrived. Oh, she did not want to do this. But putting it off would only make the job all the harder in the end. Or so she kept reminding herself…
God. How could she have let this happen?
The answer was simple: chemistry. She and Tanner had it bad for each other. Neither of them wanted to be driven nuts with mutual lust. They constantly agreed that they’d never do that again.
And then they did do that again. And again.
Sadly, other than between the sheets, the two of them weren’t a match in any way. She knew he considered her a flake, though he never actually used the word. Uh-uh. He would talk about her “Woo-woo ways” and give her a hard time for the way she’d packed up her car and moved to Sacramento on what he considered a whim.
“Better a flake,” she muttered, reaching for the paprika, “than overly serious and broody and grim.” She shook the paprika onto the garlic-buttered bread. And controlling. Oh, yeah. Tanner Bravo was way too controlling.
She should never have had sex with him. Not the first time. Or the second. Or the third or the fourth.
She set the can of paprika down. Hard. And stared out the window some more.
Raging lust had made her careless. And now there was a baby coming. A baby she would keep, thank you very much. Crystal may not have been practical or thrifty all that wise. She was scared to death she’d be a terrible mother.
And yet…well, she simply could not refuse such a huge gift of the universe. Especially not in light of what had happened when she was sixteen.
So. She would keep the baby.
Twice in the past couple of weeks, she’d tried to tell Tanner that there was going to be a baby and that she was keeping it. Both times, they’d ended up having sex. As per usual. And after the sex, well, she was so disgusted with herself for giving in to her crazy yen for him yet again, that she never did get the words out.
Truth to tell, she still felt the urge to put off telling him. More than once that day, she’d found herself reaching for the phone, ready to call him and cancel this little get-together tonight. The desire to back out had been especially compelling at about two o’clock that afternoon—right after she quit her job. Because, please. Who wants to be newly unemployed and telling a man she’s pregnant, both on the same day?
Frowning, Crystal stared out the window some more—and blinked in surprise when a wiry gray head popped into view. It was Doris Krindle, who had the one-bedroom next door.
Frantically, Doris mouthed, “Nigel? Have you seen Nigel?”
“Omigod,” Crystal cried in sympathetic distress. “He got out?”
Doris nodded, hard. Nigel, her enormous black-smoke Persian, was an inside cat all the way.
It was three steps from the kitchen sink to Crystal’s dinky entry hall. She pulled the door wide on Doris’s deeply tanned, wrinkled face, and asked, “How long has he been gone?”
Doris pressed her bony hands to her chest. “Oh, I wish I knew for sure. I went to the store. When I got back…” She shook her head so her wiry silver curls bounced. “He’s terrified of being outside. Usually, when I open the door, he runs the other way. But I’ve looked all over the apartment. He’s gone. Just…gone.”
Crystal took her by her thin shoulders. “Stop. Take a breath. Think thoughts of peace and positive outcomes. He can’t have gone far.”
“Oh, I do hope you’re right.”
“Come on,” Crystal said briskly. “We’ll find him. You’ll see. We’ll start by going through your apartment again…” She turned Doris to point her in the right direction and gave her a gentle push along the concrete walk toward her apartment door.
Tanner Bravo rolled up the windows, killed the Mustang’s engine, draped a hand over the steering wheel and glared out the windshield at the white stucco wall of Crystal’s apartment complex.
She’d invited him to dinner. Why?
Since they were always planning not to have sex again, they never did things like go on dates, or share a meal with just the two of them, alone. They would hook up without planning to at family events: his niece DeDe’s dance recitals, Sunday dinners at his sister, Kelly’s….
At least once a week, it seemed, they ended up in the same room together, surrounded by family. Simple proximity—that was all it took, though in front of the others, they would fake complete lack of interest in each other for all they were worth.
Even when it was time to go home, both would try their damnedest to keep up the pretense that they had no intention of getting naked and crawling all over each other the minute they were alone. They would say their goodbyes to his sister and her family and drive away in their separate cars.
And then one of them would weaken and call the other. The other, breathless, would say yes.
And after that? His place or her place, it was always the same: hot and wild and absolutely amazing.
Damned if he wasn’t getting hard just thinking about it.
But an invitation to dinner at her apartment? That wasn’t the way they did things. Something was up.
And what the hell was that noise? Some kind of alarm or something, coming from inside the building.
Tanner got out of the car. Yeep, yeep, yeep, yeep…
Sounded like a smoke alarm. It seemed to be coming from Crystal’s place….
He raced the hundred yards or so along the walk to Crystal’s door, the alarm growing louder with each step. When he got there, he raised his hand and knocked, yelling, “Crystal!” good and loud.
She didn’t answer. But the door, not quite latched, drifted open.
Gray smoke billowed out. From inside, the smoke alarm shrieked. Yeep, yeep, yeep, yeep…
Tanner shouted, “Crystal, Crystal!” No answer.
Was she in there defenseless, unconscious from smoke inhalation? The thought made his heart pound the walls of his chest like a wrecking ball and his gut clench tight. “Crystal!”
Again, she didn’t answer. So he pulled the top of his shirt up to cover his nose and mouth, dropped to his hands and knees to get under the worst of the smoke, and crawled across the threshold, shouting her name.
click to read Chapter Two
back to excerpts page