Chapter Nineteen

Ethan couldn’t believe his luck.

He hadn’t been thrilled to be woken with a frantic phone call from the bar. But after he’d made his way into The Thirsty Lobster and fixed everything in his power, he’d calmed down. Or maybe it was the amazing eggs benedict that Samantha whipped up for him in the kitchen.

In either case, he was about to head back home and talk Lauren into returning to bed with him when he’d received a call from his friend Bobby. Bobby, whom he now owed a free drink, a big meal, and some kind of favor.

After months of searching, Ethan had nearly given up on trying to find the old arcade game. Did the bar truly need a Ms. Pac-Man machine? Maybe not. But it had been Ethan’s favorite as a kid, and he’d been determined to track one down.

His friend Bobby always knew a guy who knew another guy, and that guy owned one. After some back and forth, they agreed on a price. The only catch? Ethan had to pick it up today. No sweat off his back. He had an SUV, and he was more than willing to make the four-plus hour drive to get it.

“That was weird,” Joe said.

Ethan looked over as they sorted through the lists for inventory. “What was weird?”

Joe leaned back, jutted his chin toward the front door. “Lauren.”

Ethan put the clipboard down. “Huh?”

“Lauren just left without saying goodbye.”

After a quick glance around the bar, Ethan turned toward the door. Lauren was gone? “Maybe she’s in the restroom.”

Joe shook his head. “I saw her leave.”

It wasn’t like the hair on the back of his neck stood up, but Ethan definitely felt some kind of uneasy feeling. “That is weird,” he agreed.

“You guys have a fight or something?” He held his hands up in front of him. “It’s none of my business, but she looked a little off when she came in here. Plus, she was kind of pale in your office.”

Pale? His pulse picked up. The very last thing he wanted was for Lauren to get sick. She had enough on her plate as it was.

“Listen, we haven’t really talked about it, but I obviously know Lauren is pregnant,” Joe said quietly.

Ethan let out a deep sigh. He wasn’t upset that Joe knew his business, but he was annoyed at himself for not discussing it before now. “She is. We’re having a baby.”

A grin spread across Joe’s face, and he held out a hand for a healthy shake. “Congrats, man. That’s really great news.”

“Thanks. We’re excited. And surprised. And still a little shocked. And maybe a little anxious.”

They both chuckled.

“I can imagine,” Joe said. “I like Lauren a lot. I just wanted to make sure she was okay.”

“You know, I’m sure she’s fine. You know how Lauren is—a social butterfly. She probably just saw someone she knew outside and got caught up in a conversation.”

“Maybe,” Joe said with a shrug.

“I’m sure she’ll call or text shortly. Actually, I’ll call her from the road. I didn’t even get a chance to tell her about Ms. Pac-Man.”

“Your other girlfriend,” Joe said as he threw a rag at Ethan.

Ethan tossed the rag back. “My first girlfriend. Get it right. I’m a one-woman man.”

Even as they joked around, something still felt off. Ethan gathered his belongings, said his goodbyes, and headed out to his car.

If Lauren hadn’t been feeling well, she would have told him, he assured himself. In fact, he would be the first person she’d tell. He was the father of her baby. That put him at the very top of her list of important people.

He was her person. And she was his.

That thought made him grin. Finally, after years of going it solo, after a crappy marriage, he’d found someone who respected and cared for him.

He started up the car, fixed his GPS, and pulled onto the street. Then he punched Lauren’s contact. He didn’t sweat it when she didn’t answer.

But when she let it go to voicemail the next time he called, that uneasy feeling crept back up.

Seemed like “his person” was avoiding him.

Lauren spent the rest of the day driving up and down the coast, stopping at spots she used to love when she was younger.

There were a couple of scenic overlooks with out-of-this-world views. She went to Serenity Beach, a local favorite because tourists never flocked there. With large stretches of beautiful golden sand, there was nothing to do except walk and meditate.

Her last stop was a community garden. The hometown gardeners had really stepped up their game since the last time she’d been there. Rows of gorgeous flowers in an array of colors blew in the gentle breeze. The fresh scents of tomatoes, peppers, zucchini, and other vegetables reminded her that she needed to stop and eat at some point.

After a quick internet search, she let out a relieved breath that one of her favorite foods was still okay to eat while pregnant. So, she grabbed a lobster roll at a roadside food truck.

It was a perfect day. At least, in terms of the weather. She took pictures, sent some of them to social media, and even did a couple of videos. But mostly, she thought.

She knew she shouldn’t have just left the bar like that. Ethan had called earlier in the day, but for the most part she’d been able to ignore him. She sent him a quick text saying she was working. That had held him off for a couple hours.

When she got sick of walking down memory lane—or maybe it was when she got sick of thinking—she headed back to Grams’s house. She pulled into the driveway, shut off her car, and emerged into the quiet night. It was colder than usual for a summer evening. Unlike the lighter, friendly breeze from earlier in the day, the ocean was now whipping a chilly wind around, and Lauren shivered.

Then her phone let out a ping and she saw another text message from Ethan. Immediately, she shoved her phone in her purse and let out a different kind of shiver.

She didn’t want to deal with Ethan right now. What was the point? He’d proven today that he was still the same Ethan. The person who could pick up on a whim and leave. Hadn’t she been with him the night before, snuggled up next to him in his bed, dreaming of the life they were going to start together? Not twelve hours later, he was packing a bag and heading out to parts unknown. If she hadn’t stopped at the bar, would he have even told her?

Irritated and pissed off and…sad, she stormed into the house. She could hear Gabby and Grams back in the kitchen, the sounds of pots and pans clanking and cabinets opening.

Turning in the opposite direction, she saw Brooke had once again taken over the living room with an explosion of wedding samples. A large swath of ivory tulle was hanging over a lampshade, and a dozen cake toppers dotted the coffee table, both end tables, and the couch.

“Can’t a girl get any privacy in this damn house?” she muttered under her breath.

“Something you want to share with the class?” Brooke asked, holding two different candles in her hands, clearly deciding between them.

Her sister had the best hearing in the world at the worst possible moments. She ignored Brooke and went directly to the cabinet built into the base of the stairs. They used it for storing luggage.

Lauren started rifling through the bags until she found her purple suitcase. She yanked until it began to move.

“What are you doing?” Brooke asked, causing Lauren to jump a mile.

“Jesus, B. Scare a person to death.”

Undeterred, Brooke leaned against the stairs. “Taking a trip?” She jutted her chin out toward the luggage.

Lauren straightened, blowing out a big breath in an attempt to get her now-messy hair out of her face. “Yes. I’m going back to the place where I belong.”

With that, she grabbed her suitcase and made her way up the stairs and into her room. She was aware of Brooke’s feet on the staircase because her sister was wearing heels—of course she was—and the click-clack of the Jimmy Choos annoyed her.

She ran up to her bedroom and immediately went to the closet and started pulling clothes out and throwing them onto the bed. All she could think about was her condo, her friends, her life back in Virginia waiting for her.

Only, her life would be a tad different when she returned. She’d have to swap early happy hours for gyno appointments and her spin class for prenatal yoga.

“What are you doing?” Brooke asked again.

Lauren paused for a second to take in her sister standing in the doorway. Brooke’s eyes were drawn together as she took in the scene.

“What does it look like I’m doing? I’m packing.”

Brooke sighed. “That’s not what I meant. What are you doing with Ethan?”

“Don’t start with me, Brooke.” Lauren walked to the bed, began to hastily fold clothes. “He doesn’t owe me anything.” She looked up at her sister as the words tumbled out of her mouth. She wasn’t even sure if she was saying them to Brooke or to herself.

“What the hell do you mean he doesn’t owe you? Of course he does. He’s the father of your child. The two of you are connected now for life.”

A life full of not knowing where he was or what he was doing. Years and years of hoping to hear from him. How fun, she thought with a bitter taste in her mouth. She swallowed hard.

“What’s going on, L?”

Lauren turned her back and focused on the suitcase. “Ethan is leaving.”

“Where’s he going?”

She threw a shirt into her suitcase. “I don’t know.”

“When’s he coming back?”

She reached for her pajamas, which were in a ball on her pillow. “I don’t know.”

“So, you don’t know where he went or when he’s returning?”

Brooke was really starting to irritate her. “No. All I know is that he has left Seaside Cove. Probably forever,” she finished with a pout.

Brooke’s eyes widened. “Did he say he was leaving forever?”

“No. But I know him. He had a bag packed and, and…he’s gone.”

“Come on, L. He could be on a guys’ trip or visiting his folks.”

“That’s not the point.” Brooke leveled a look that Lauren couldn’t ignore. “It’s not.”

“Tell me, then, oh wise one: what’s the point of this little tantrum?”

Tantrum? Her sister, queen of dramatic, over-the-top outbursts was lecturing her?

“The point is that Ethan is Ethan.”

Brooke waited, hands held out in a questioning pose. “What the hell does that mean?”

“He’s unpredictable and spontaneous.”

Brooke let out a fake gasp. “The horror.”

“Shut up. It’s not funny. It’s, it’s…terrifying. He can just pick up on a whim and move to Alaska.”

“Is he planning on moving to Alaska?” Brooke asked with a head tilt.

“He isn’t planning anything. Because Ethan doesn’t plan. Or think ahead. Or take into consideration anyone around him and how his capricious actions will affect them.”

It was true. Ethan had that desire to travel. That need to drop everything and try something new on a whim. “He’s all, look at me as I jump on my Harley and ride off into the sunset without a plan or, or…GPS or anything.”

Brooke narrowed her eyes. “Does Ethan even have a motorcycle?”

“No. Fine. So, he jumps in his Honda. Same thing.”

“I think we might need to dial it back here.”

Lauren grabbed her cell phone cord and started winding it around her hand. She shook her head vigorously.

Brooke leaned against the wall. “This has to be some kind of pregnancy hormone thing, because you are not usually this irrational.”

Could it be hormones? Or was it the fact that she was in love with him? She loved Ethan, and before she could even tell him, he’d left town. Lauren felt tears welling up in her eyes, but she was quick to cough and suck them back down. She would not cry over him. She refused.

Brooke walked farther into the room, stood on the other side of the bed. “You’re going to fuck this all up.”

Lauren’s head snapped up. Brooke rarely swore, and when she did, she stuck to the less offensive words.

“Did I get your attention?” Brooke asked. “Good.”

Lauren swallowed hard. “I appreciate your concern, but I don’t need a lecture.”

Brooke swept out a hand to take in the pile of clothes on the bed. “Obviously, you do. I’ve called you a lot of names over the years. But I never took you for a coward.”

Again, Lauren came to full attention. “You think I’m scared?”

“I think you’re terrified.” Brooke narrowed her eyes. “I’m just not sure what you’re scared of exactly.”

She threw a shoe into her suitcase. “I had a realization this morning.”

Curiosity dawned on Brooke’s face. “What kind of realization?”

“None of your business,” Lauren said defensively.

Brooke rolled her eyes. “Just tell me already. I’m going to figure it out anyway.”

She wanted to pace. She always thought better that way, but there simply wasn’t enough space in the room. Instead, she’d have to settle for sniping at Brooke. “Why do you even care?”

“Hell if I know,” Brooke snapped. “I mean, what with you being so super sweet to me all the time.”

Rolling her shoulders back, Lauren eyed her sister. “I’d be a lot nicer to you if you ever took a moment to think of anyone but yourself.”

Brooke’s hand went straight to her hips. “I can sense you’re about to call me selfish. Which is really comical, considering I just dropped work to follow your sorry butt up here and make sure you’re okay.”

Dang it. She was right. Didn’t that just irritate Lauren more.

The fight started seeping out of her, leaving Lauren tired and defenseless. She picked up a headband and threw it in the suitcase with the strength of a mouse before collapsing onto the soft cushion that covered her window seat.

“I love him,” she whispered to her sister.

“Okayyyy,” Brooke dragged out. “Now we’re getting to the heart of the matter.”

Lauren didn’t like this one bit. She was the oldest sister, and she was used to being the one that helped pick up the pieces. She dried the tears. She pointed out when one of her sisters was being irrational.

“Yeah, well,” Lauren began. “I love someone who has no problem picking up and taking off for parts unknown. I don’t even know how he feels about me.”

Lips pursed, Brooke gave a definitive head nod. “You’re incredible. You know that?”

Lauren didn’t know what her sister meant, but she rolled her eyes out of habit.

“Of course he loves you. He’s been in love with you since high school. Why do you think he was third wheeling it all the time?”

Sometimes she really underestimated Brooke.

“Ethan is a real stand-up guy, Lauren. Not just a great man but the father of your child. So, he went somewhere. You didn’t even ask him where he was going. Instead, you’re pouting like a child and running away.”

“Shut up, Brooke. I really don’t want to hear this right now.” She grabbed a handful of bracelets and threw them into the suitcase without even taking the time to properly pack them.

“I don’t particularly want to say it. But since you’re too thick to get it yourself, I feel like it’s my sisterly duty.”

When Lauren wouldn’t respond and wouldn’t look up, Brooke took matters into her own hands. She grabbed the top of Lauren’s purple suitcase and slammed it shut. Then she slapped her hands on top of it.

“Do you have any idea how lucky you are? I mean, what the hell? Do you know how many people would kill to have someone look at them the way Ethan looks at you?”


“Do you know how many women want to have children? Do you have any idea what it’s like to think you might never get a chance to carry your own baby?” Tears filled Brooke’s eyes.

Whoa. Lauren froze. This conversation had taken a sharp turn, and she wasn’t sure she was following the new route.

Brooke pointed at her. “You’re getting everything that so many people want. A baby with a man who adores you. A man who actually listens to you. A man who doesn’t belittle your efforts and question every single thing you do and say.”

Lauren sat down on the edge of the bed and took in her sister with her flushed cheeks and bright eyes. “Are we still talking about me and Ethan?”

Brooke took a deep gulp. “You’re scared, and it doesn’t have anything to do with the baby or Ethan going somewhere for a couple days.”

“What does it have to do with?” Lauren asked.


She groaned. “Come on, Brooke.”

“I know you make fun of me for being a hopeless romantic. But I don’t care. Love is real. It’s strong and sweet and confusing and amazing and horrible and wonderful, all at the same time. And you have it, Lauren. Damn you, you found real love.”

Lauren looked at her sister. Really looked. Brooke presented a good front. But there was a crack. Something that hadn’t been there before. And that crack gave Lauren access to see into the inner workings of her sister.

“What’s happened?”

Brooke shook her head. “Nothing. Listen, you would be such a fool to give up on Ethan.”

“I’m not giving up on him. I’m claiming my independence. I’m keeping it intact while he’s off doing god knows what with god knows who.”

“You’re running scared. That’s not something a worldly, successful, self-sufficient, independent woman would do.” Brooke tugged on a piece of Lauren’s hair as she walked by.

Just as Brooke was about to step out of the room, Lauren stopped her.

“Mom threw everything away for Dad, and look what that got her.”

The look on Brooke’s face could be described as nothing short of pitying. “That’s not true.”

“What do you even know about love, Brooke?”

“Way more than you, apparently.”

“You’ve been engaged to the supposed ‘love of your life’ for how long?” She used air quotes to emphasis the ridiculousness of Lucas being Brooke’s true love.

“What’s your point?”

“You plan weddings for a living. Why haven’t you started planning yours?”

Brooke froze, cast her eyes to the floor. “You’re clever, L. And you’ve always been good at turning our arguments around. But this isn’t about me right now. It’s about you and how you’re a chickenshit.”

She jumped up. “Shut—”

Brooke snapped to attention. “Don’t tell me to shut up again. You’re going to mess up your life and the life of that beautiful unborn baby because you’re what? Scared? Cowardly? Stubborn? Well, I have three words for you. Get. Over. Yourself.” She turned on her heels and started for the door. Before she crossed the threshold, she stopped, faced Lauren again. “You know, for being the oldest of us, you have a lot of growing up to do.”

With that, Brooke finally took her leave. Lauren lowered herself to her window seat again and sat unmoving for a long while. Brooke’s words reverberated through her head over and over until she couldn’t take it anymore.

Without looking back, she grabbed her purse and hightailed it out of the house. She hurried down the long driveway, ignoring her car. She needed to walk.

When she got into the center of town, she didn’t stop for any of the people she passed who called out greetings. She just kept going, walking in circles, going down dead-end streets and turning abruptly around, until she reached an area in the town’s park that overlooked the ocean.

Suddenly exhausted, she slowed down to a near crawl. The breeze coming off the water brought a barrage of fishy aromas. Wasn’t it strange how some days the ocean smelled fishier than others?

Her stomach did a little turn. The ocean smelled gross, and she loved Ethan.

She dropped down onto a bench.

Maybe he did love her. So what? Why did that bother her?

Her parents.

It always seemed to come back to them. Her mom had loved her dad, even when he’d been mean to her. Even when he’d left her.

She loved her mom, and she still thought about her every single day. Ellie Wallace had been amazingly sweet. She cared deeply about everyone in her world. She was the type of person who would drop everything if someone needed her. She’d be there at three in the morning if someone called.

And Lauren knew rationally that it had been cancer that killed her. Yet, she’d always suspected her mother had really died of a broken heart.

Because her husband had left. Because she’d allowed herself to fall in love.

Feeling beyond angsty, Lauren popped off the bench. And that’s when the shooting pain hit her right in the lower stomach. It was like something on the inside was ripping away, and she felt a sharp, stabbing pain in her abdomen.

She crumpled to the ground as terror filled her. The baby!