First Came Baby

By: Kris Fletcher

CHAPTER ONE

KATE HEBERT HAD always prided herself on being able to multitask. But even she was amazed when she realized she was painting a wall with her right hand while cradling her five-month-old in her left arm—and that she was doing both while breastfeeding.

“Check it out,” she said to her sister, Allie. She raised the paint roller and wiggled little Jamie. “Call me vain, but I’m feeling seriously badass at this moment.”

Allie started laughing. “Wonder Woman has nothing on you.”

“We should write our own comic book. Super Mom. Instead of bracelets that can deflect bullets, she would have a nursing bra that bounces insults back at rude people.”

Allie snickered. “Didn’t Wonder Woman have a fancy lasso for making bad guys tell the truth? Maybe instead of that, Super Mom could shoot guilt trips with her eyes.” She pitched her voice slightly lower in an imitation of their mother. “You want to tell me exactly what you’re doing? And don’t bother saying it’s nothing, because I can see by the look in your eyes that it’s definitely something.”

Kate laughed hard enough that she had to put the paint roller into the tray or risk ending up with a polka-dot floor. Probably the wisest course, since the purpose of this work was to make the place marketable, not marked up.

“Good idea.” Allie nodded toward the dormant roller. “In fact, you should sit down for a few minutes.”

“I’m fine.”

“I know you are. Now. But in about two or three minutes you’re going to realize that you haven’t had anything to drink in a couple of hours, and you’re going to get suddenly and horribly overcome with thirst and exhaustion. Then I’m going to remember that I promised Mom I wouldn’t let you overdo it, and I’m going to feel guilty and run off to get you some water. And when I come back you’re going to be half-asleep in the chair. So then I’ll have to burp Jamie, which means I have to get him off your boob, which kind of grosses me out. And then, he’ll probably spit up on the clothes I have to wear until this room is done. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather bypass the drama. So. Sit.” She pointed at the ancient wingback Kate had dragged into the room. “I’ll be back in a minute.”

Kate had a fleeting notion to argue, then decided it would be easier to go along. Because though she hated to admit it, she did feel a little thirsty. “Okay.” She lowered herself into the chair slowly, so as not to interrupt mealtime—though these days Jamie was more likely to be distracted by new sights and sounds than by movement—and settled in.

Oh. That felt good.

“Bring me a cheese stick, too, will you?” she called in the direction of the footsteps echoing down the stairs. Allie’s answer came not in words but in a snort of laughter that Kate easily recognized as code for told you so.

As alone as it was possible to be with someone doing the vacuum cleaner thing at her breast, Kate closed her eyes and breathed out tension. Not that she had been working too hard. Far from it. She was still new-mama tired, but she hadn’t made it to the ripe old age of thirty without learning how to pace herself. Nor did the tightness in her shoulders have anything to do with painting. She’d been doing plenty of that over the past months as she brought Nana’s house back to life. Well, as much as she could do on her own.

No, it wasn’t exhaustion or painting that had her wound so tight. It was the reason behind them.

Jamie was slowing down a little, the space between his swallows growing longer. Time for a burp. She broke the suction, raised him to her shoulder and patted his back while rocking in the chair and talking over his wails.

“I know, I know. You don’t like to stop. But we do this every time, buddy. You might want to learn that pattern.”

His little head smashed against her shoulder. Hard.

“Ow! Don’t get violent, okay? You’ll get more in a minute. But then you have to give me time to really paint, because the room has to be done this afternoon. We need to get it ready for—” she lowered her voice “—for your daddy.”

So much for relaxation.

She patted some more, focusing on the April-fresh air coming through the window she’d cracked open, trying to soothe the anxiety that gripped her every time she thought of Boone coming home. Not that he had ever lived here, in either this house or Comeback Cove. Not that he even thought of Canada as home anymore.

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