Wife by Design

By: Tara Taylor Quinn

CHAPTER ONE

Three years earlier

“WE HAVE TO TALK.”

Glancing from the baby in her arms to the man standing in the doorway of their bedroom, Lynn nodded. Brandon had been acting odd since before Kara was born, moving into the spare bedroom ostensibly so his tossing and turning didn’t make Lynn more uncomfortable than she already was.

And now five weeks after their daughter’s birth, he was still using the spare room.

“Come on in.” She patted the bed beside her. The baby had just finished her 9:00 p.m. feeding and should sleep until midnight. Lynn had napped that afternoon. She could manage without more rest. And even if she couldn’t, she would. Brandon was her life—and was obviously having a hard time adjusting to sharing their world.

At least, she prayed that was the problem.

He joined her on the bed, and she placed his pillow against the headboard so he could sit propped up beside her. Ignoring the pillow, he turned his gaze to Kara and remained seated on the edge of the bed. The sadness in his smile scared her.

“Brandon? What’s going on?” They’d been best friends since the ninth grade. Knew everything about each other.

He looked from her to Kara. “She’s perfect, Lynn. Everything we hoped and more…”

But? She heard it there. His chin taut, he stared silently at the baby.

“You want to hold her?”

Nodding, he reached for the soft, blanketed bundle sleeping against her. Cradling Kara’s body easily on one arm, the baby’s head safely nestled between his biceps and chest, Brandon looked comfortable, natural, as though this was his fifth child, not his first.

His gentleness, as always, touched her deeply.

“She’s great, isn’t she?” he said, his voice thick with emotion. Reminding her of their wedding day, of standing at the front of the church that was filled to capacity with their friends and loved ones and hearing the catch in his voice as he vowed to love her forever. There’d been no mistaking his sincerity. Listening to him, she’d known very clearly that he spoke a truth beyond words. Brandon’s love was real. The kind that came from someplace more powerful than the human mind or heart. From that point on she’d never worried that they’d make it. She’d known their marriage was safe.

Taking comfort in the memory, Lynn smiled. Nodded. “Yeah,” she said, loving the sight of her engineer husband holding their infant daughter. “We made a beautiful baby, Bran, just like we always said we would.”

Looking at Brandon, she waited for him to raise his eyes to her—for their eyes to meet in the silent communication that had been their gift even in high school. The private smile that soothed her deepest fears. Or made her heart race, depending on the moment.

Brandon didn’t look up. And her heart raced. With fear. “Hon, what’s the matter?”

Had Kara’s advent into their lives created a gap between them? She’d read about the possibility. About husbands feeling rejected, neglected, a little jealous even.

“She hardly ever cries,” he said. “I expected a lot more crying.”

“We’re lucky she’s not colicky.” Any other time Lynn would have been happiest sitting with Brandon, talking about their baby.

“Diaper changing is a breeze, too,” he said. From day one Brandon had insisted on being a full contributing partner in their daughter’s life. Apart from the feedings that, biologically, he couldn’t manage. “A lot easier than those plastic dolls they made us practice on.”

He’d knocked the baby stand-in onto the floor the first time he’d tried to get the slippery disposable diaper fastened around it. She grinned, remembering. He didn’t.

Kissing the top of the sleeping baby’s head, Brandon transferred their daughter gently back to Lynn, still not meeting her gaze.

If she didn’t know better, she’d think he’d just said goodbye.

Feeling desperate, she said, “I was thinking maybe we should plan a night out, just the two of us, next weekend. It’s my six-week mark.”

The doctor had said they could start having sex again at six weeks postbirth.

“Lynn, we need to talk.”

Suddenly she didn’t want to continue with her attempt to draw him out. She was tired. Postpartum.

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