Excerpt – Fateful Days

Chapter 1

Eden Brinker turned away from the kitchen table where her youngest sister, Elaine, was demolishing a dish of ice cream, to peek out the living room window. Her two children were on the swings, chattering happily. A nice change from their arguments during breakfast.

Only a week before the kids start school. Not just Kenny this year. Ivory, too.

Kenyon was dark-haired like his uncles, his green eyes as mesmerizing as his father’s. Eden’s son was looking forward to second grade. He’d already loaded his backpack with the supplies they’d purchased. Eden had hoped his casual enthusiasm would rub off on his sister, but Ivory’s mood about school was mixed. Going to kindergarten wasn’t something Eden’s daughter was all that keen about.

Some days she declared she was a big girl now because she was going to school just like her brother. In the next breath she plaintively stated that Mommy should come, too, so she wouldn’t be alone. At five years and two months, Ivory—called Ivy within the family—was constantly in motion. Eden recalled how shyly her daughter had approached life until sometime after she turned four. Last year, Ivory seemed to come into her own, no longer content to tag after her big brother. Instead, she’d started talking back to him, as well as the adults in her life.

Hale had taken in stride—proudly, in fact—Ivory’s transformation into a miniature of Wonder Woman. He encouraged her, after telling Eden she ought to be proud that they were raising a daughter who would never become a pushover. Iona Lambert, Ivory’s grandmother, didn’t agree. She held decidedly old-school views of how a woman should act, what being a woman meant.

“I think Ivy pays close attention to Aretha when you put her albums in the tape deck, hon,” Hale had said with a chuckle. “Ivory’s going to be our ‘natural woman,’ insisting on inspiring R- E-S-P-E-C-T from everyone she meets.”

Eden sighed. Hale. Her husband. What’s he going to say if…

She glanced out the window again at an argument that seemed to have developed between her children. The tree house? Again. Eden sighed. Kenny was in the tree house his father and Uncle Chris had built. Ivy was determined to climb the ladder after him, in spite of Kenny’s shouted declaration that girls weren’t allowed. Eden watched as Ivy shouted back at her brother from her perch on the third step from the ground. Would she continue climbing, or give up, as she had the other day, and stomp into the house, complaining to her mother about mean boys, mean brothers?

Eden moved toward the door to interrupt, then hesitated. Hale had suggested, more than once, that she allow the kids work out their differences, that each would be stronger for it. More empathetic, too, he’d said, claiming Ivory needed that lesson more than Kenny. Hale’s probably right.

Her gaze shifted to the calendar on the wall next to the back door. The children’s first school day would be a first for her, too. She would come back from dropping them off, to a house empty of the sounds of her little girl as she rearranged the furniture in the doll house her father had made, or begged to watch a DVD, probably picking one where she knew all the words and music and happily sang along.

“Are you going to keep staring out the window at your kids or come back and listen to me? Better yet, if you’re not going to finish your ice cream, can I have it?”

Eden glanced over her shoulder at Elaine, who’d come over to diss her ex-fiancé.

“You can have it.” Deciding to let the kids work out their differences without her input, she returned to her seat at the kitchen table and pushed her ice cream dish closer to Elaine.

Elaine pulled the dish into range of her spoon and scooped up some of the chocolate mint ice cream. “Are you still worried about Ivy managing to stay awake without an after-lunch nap now that she’s starting kindergarten?”

“No. I’m sure she’ll do just fine.” Eden took in her sister’s work wardrobe, a pale pink blouse setting off a burgundy jacket and matching pencil skirt. “You know I’ve been looking forward to Ivory starting school.”

“Then why don’t you sound happy? Or is it that you have yet to get serious about looking for a job? Like you’ve been threatening for months? Do you want something part-time or full-time?” Elaine’s brows rose with each question. “Or does Hale not want you to go back to work? Is that it?”

Hale. Her husband hadn’t exactly discouraged her, but his enthusiasm for her job search had seemed less fulsome than Eden preferred. She recalled him running his long fingers through his sandy brown hair, leaving it sexily rumpled when he’d said she didn’t have to go back to work if she’d changed her mind. All because she’d complained that finding the right job was more difficult than she’d expected.

“You know Hale isn’t standing in my way. But I thought it would be easier to find the right one.”

“Why don’t you just go back to the college where you worked before? I’m sure Dad would put in a good word for you. Hale, too.”

Elaine waved off Eden’s stuttering objection.

“Okay, okay. So you don’t want to go the nepotism route. But you have a history there, even if the only people who knew you back when are Hale’s boss and the secretary. Arlene what’s-her-name, right?”

“Helen. I doubt I’d like Mr. Randolph any more now than before, especially after he was promoted into the top job. If you ask me, Hale should have been given that position.” Eden shook her head. “Going back to the finance office is one job I don’t want. Besides, my previous position isn’t available. Hale said the person who took my place left almost eighteen months ago when they reorganized the office. What I used to do is being handled in that new IT office. I’ve decided I need to think more broadly, consider positions that use my skills for other than straight finance work.” She gazed at Elaine as she ate the last scoop of ice cream from Eden’s bowl.

“You know it’s been seven years since I set foot in an office. Hale’s always talking about how much the work of the finance office has changed since he introduced all those new computer programs. He enjoys having the latest and greatest, newest gizmos and gadgets, the best possible programs to streamline the work. Besides, he’s had his hands full lately trying to convince Andy to let him incorporate more security measures. If I worked there, all I’d hear from morning till night is how difficult Andy is. Get enough of that when Hale comes home these days. I’d rather find a job somewhere else, one where everyone’s happy, or at least the problems are different.” She nibbled on the last of the cookies she’d arranged on a plate to go with the ice cream. “Besides, I’m not sure I could jump right into another finance job like what I was doing before Kenny was born.” She wiped her mouth, certain her lips showed evidence of the crumbly cookie.

Elaine nodded. “Maybe you’re right. I’m sure you’ll find something. With all Hale’s contacts around town, not just on campus, he ought to know the offices that are hiring. Even though he’s been supportive of you staying at home.”

“I haven’t asked for his help, Ellie. That would just be another form of nepotism, if you ask me.” Eden shook her head. “I need to find a job myself.” Eden pursed her lips, recalling her last conversation-qua-argument with Hale. “He doesn’t care if I work part-time or full-time. In fact, his only suggestion the last time we talked was that maybe I should start with something I can do at home. Sort of like dipping my toe in the water instead of just jumping in the deep end with something full-time. But I miss not talking to adults all day. Or at least being around them. I’m not sure working at home would feel the same as actually getting dressed and going to an office, even if it’s only for half a day.”

“You’re probably right.” Elaine stood up, reached for the ice cream dishes and placed them in the sink.

As if to emphasize how much she’d been thinking about the job she had yet to land, Eden added, “Working in my pajamas isn’t what I want—or even wearing a pair of jeans and my favorite sweatshirt. Why shouldn’t I work with adults all day like he does, or you and Deb? I’ve been wondering about my vocabulary. I keep thinking I talk more like the preschoolers Ivy hangs out with than like adults.”

Elaine shrugged, then grimaced. “As long as you practice adult talk with Hale, which I’m guessing you do, what does that matter? Or is something going on between you two? Is that why you’ve been so down in the dumps? I thought you’d be turning cartwheels now that you can go back to being a grown-up in an office.”

Eden chose not the mention the subject of their latest spousal argument. “Do Fletch and Lexi still have date nights like when they first moved here? They used to drop Chance over when they went out, but they haven’t asked to do that this summer.”

Elaine shrugged. “Probably because they’ve asked me to watch him. Ever since Norm dumped me.” She grimaced, then giggled. “That weekend you guys went camping, Lexi asked Chris and Teddy to watch Chance. Turns out Chris helped put together Chance’s new train set and Teddy said it was like sitting with two kids, one age seven and the other one old enough to know better. Still can’t believe Teddy finally tamed Chris. Wanna make a bet about when those two get married?”

Eden relaxed at the change of topic. “Good idea. I’ll write down your guess and check in with Deb and Lexi, too. Whoever’s guess is closest takes the rest of us out to dinner.”

“We should invite Teddy to join us. Make it a sisters’-only party. So we can help her plan the ceremony.”

“And make sure she understands that we’ll protect her from whatever Mom might want her to do.”

Elaine nodded. “Put me down for the last Saturday in November. Something tells me they’ll pick a date when the construction business isn’t all that busy.”

Eden jotted down Elaine’s selection along with her own, for mid-December, and shoved the papers into a jar, which she topped with a lid and placed on the middle shelf in the pantry.

Elaine wiped her hands on a towel and claimed the seat next to Eden. “Getting back to you and Hale. Are you guys having issues?”

“No, but we barely have time to talk these days. I can’t even remember when we’ve had a date night. Just the two of us.” She grinned ruefully at her sister. “I guess taking the kids to their favorite fast food place doesn’t count, does it?”

“But weren’t you the one who told Deb and Lexi how important it is, especially after babies?” Elaine smirked. “Speaking of, I think Deb and Todd are practicing to make little Miss or Mister Perfect these days, if you get my drift.” Her cheeks pinked up.

“Their business, not ours, sis,” Eden berated mildly.

“You’re right. None of my business.” Elaine reached for her purse. “Maybe you and Hale should reinstitute date nights now that both kids will be in school. If you need a sitter, call me. My nights are free. Or you could call Chris and Teddy. Give them practice with two kids instead of just one.”

Eden snorted. “Kenny would love that. He thinks Chris hung the moon, ever since he helped Hale with the tree house. Which reminds me.” She went to the window and saw that the children were both back on the swing set. Hale was right. Again. Kenny and Ivory must have resolved their previous argument about the tree house. Maybe girls were no longer banned.

Eden grinned at Elaine. “You feel better now that you’ve buried No-Good Norm with all that ice cream?” She huffed. “To think he wasted more than three years of your life.”

Elaine nodded. “So much for long engagements being a good thing. Why did I ever think that?”

“It wasn’t you, sis. Mom was the one who said it and you were too much in love to consider the consequences.”


Eden hugged her sister. “Deb and I have decided we need to find you a nice guy. Too bad Fletcher doesn’t have a new associate at his firm. Like Todd. Maybe Teddy could help. I’ll ask her if any of those buff and suntanned construction guys are single.”

Elaine frowned. “No, don’t. You know I’ve sworn off men. Totally.”

“Seriously?” Eden smirked. “Doesn’t sound like Miss Social Butterfly Lambert to me.”

“Well, at least until I don’t end up in tears again for being so stupid.” Elaine’s chin quivered ever so slightly.

“What about at the mall? Aren’t there any new store managers—single ones—you’d consider?” Eden asked. “It’s been ages since I’ve cruised the stores. About the only places I visit these days are the children’s clothing and shoe stores, and the food court. And it’s always a zoo. Too noisy, too crowded.”

Elaine shook her head. “We’re getting two new vendors, but not until closer to Halloween. And I only rarely handle that part of the business.” She glanced around the room. “With all the new kiosks we’re making room for during the holidays, in between the holidays, even after the holidays, I’ve got too much on my plate right now to worry about meeting a guy, going out on a date. I’m going to play spinster for a while. At least ten years.” She paused and grimaced. “Or maybe five.”

At Eden’s groan, Elaine laughed.

“Too long? Okay. Then how about if I hold off until after the New Year? No men for me until at least January. I’ll be your favorite always-available babysitter until after Chris and Teddy get married.”

Eden turned on the dishwasher. “Offer accepted. You should have seen Ivy when she met her new teacher last week. Mr. Wyecliff has to be the tallest teacher for the younger grades, maybe even the whole school. She kept saying how much taller he was than Hale. Even asked him if he could touch the ceiling.”

She walked with Elaine to the front door. “Tell you what I’m going to do, sis. While I make the rounds interviewing for a job, if I see a good candidate who looks like he might be right for you, I’ll scope him out, ask the key questions. You know, if he’s single, heterosexual, plans to make Pacific Knoll his forever home, that sort of thing. And get his name. You can take it from there. That way, all you have to do is dust off your social skills. I’m sure you’ll find the right guy this time.”

After her sister left, Eden wondered if Elaine was serious about avoiding the singles scene for months. She’d seemed more subdued than the last time they’d had a chance to share ice cream and a sisterly chat.

Eden looked up at the sound of the car entering the garage. She opened the kitchen door, and the children scampered in ahead of Hale. Eden plastered a smile on her face. No sense giving Hale a reason to tell me I don’t have to find a job. Her husband was so good at reading her moods, especially when he suspected she felt less than 100 percent happy.

~ ~ ~

While Hale read to the children before shooing them into their rooms to prepare for bed, Eden retrieved her phone from her pocket. Deb’s returning text included a wedding date guess for Chris and Teddy and mirrored what Eden had been thinking since Elaine had gone home. Ellie swearing off men, even temporarily? Never imagined she’d do that.

Lexi’s smiley face emoji followed with her wedding date bet and a message Eden suspected Elaine might have suggested. Will you and Hale go out with Fletch and me next Saturday? He wants to try out a new restaurant that just opened. Let me know.

Hmm. A shared date night with her brother and sister-in-law? Maybe Hale would be willing, knowing he’d have a man to talk to, someone unlikely to want to discuss what Eden had been discussing with him for the past several weeks. Discussions about the problems he was facing at work usually ended in his saying there was no real solution except time and Anderson Randolph’s retirement. Or the other topic that left her feeling less than gleeful, her thus far unsuccessful hunt for a job. She’d been conducting the search in fits and starts, interrupted by children’s questions and other parental concerns. Work, going back to work, having an adult life again. Eden feared she might never experience that elusive new job except in her dreams, if that other issue she had yet to mention to Hale happened to become yet another mutual concern.

~ ~ ~

Eden’s stomach growled, a reminder that she’d skipped breakfast as she concentrated on helping Ivory and Kenyon get ready for school. Kenny had wakened, eager to leave for school, but Ivory was whiny and giggly by turns as she prepared for her first day at all-day kindergarten. Leaving later than planned wasn’t helping Eden’s mood.

“Kisses for the first day, kids,” Hale said when he and Eden walked with the children to the front of the nearby elementary school. Kenyon brushed his face against his father’s, looking momentarily embarrassed.

“Do we have to, Dad? In public?”

Hale ruffled his son’s hair. “Gotcha,” he said, and bumped Kenny’s shoulder with a closed fist. “How about a high five and hug instead of a kiss now that you’re a big second-grader?”

Kenny grinned and slapped his father’s outstretched hand, then gave Eden a quick hug.

“Bye, Dad. Bye, Mom,” Kenny called out. He spotted a friend, waved to him and trotted up the steps with the other boy.

Ivory clung to her father before reaching for Eden’s hand.

“You’re going to have so much fun, Ivy,” Hale enthused. “I want you to tell me all about it tonight.”

Ivory’s curly white-blond ponytails bounced when she nodded. “Okay, Daddy. Will you take me to meet my teacher?”

“Can’t today, babycakes. If I don’t leave right now, I’ll be late for work. Mommy will walk you in.”

Eden gave Hale a look of barely disguised resentment that he was leaving Ivory’s first day at the big-kids’ school to her. Hadn’t he walked Kenny in his first day? He’d declared it was a beautiful day, and that he’d walk to work. After all, Lambert-Knoll College was only ten blocks away, up and over the hill.

“Call me if you want me to pick you up tonight,” she said, hoping Hale would come home with news of an opening somewhere in town. Even if it meant she was breaking her rule about getting tips from him.

“Will do, hon. You going to be okay?” He lifted a shoulder toward the elementary school, his nonverbal acknowledgement that Eden would be alone all day for the first time since Kenny’s birth.

She nodded, kissed him good-bye, then forced a smile in her husband’s direction as Hale stepped out of the way of a group of children running toward the school entrance.

Eden squeezed Ivory’s hand. “Are you ready to see your new teacher and the other kids in your class, sweets?”

“Uh-huh,” although the little girl hesitated to take a first step toward the building.

“Then let’s do it. Didn’t Kenny say how much he liked kindergarten?”

“But he had a lady teacher. I’ve got a man teacher.”

“I’m sure Mr. Wyecliff is very nice. Remember when we met him at the New Teachers open house?”

“He’s really big,” Ivory declared. “Even bigger than Daddy.”

“Yes, he is.” Eden recalled thinking the lanky man was at least six feet, six inches tall, with the long arms of a basketball player. Hadn’t middle sister Debra said she thought he’d played semipro ball before becoming a teacher?

Eden entered the building with Ivory and paused to catch her breath. The shouts and laughter of children greeting one another echoed down the long hall of the building. “Come on, Ivy. It’s this way.” She turned to the right and entered a shorter, quieter hall. At each door, a teacher stood, smiling as students entered their rooms.

“There he is,” Ivory pointed. “He’s so tall,” she declared.

Eden nodded. Her impression at the late summer meeting had been of a man who looked like he could hold at least ten of his charges in his arms simultaneously. His bald head shone in the light from the ceiling fixtures and his laugh reminded her of her older brother, Fletcher. Deep and full-bodied, but kindly. And he looked eager to meet the children in his charge.

His deep voice contained a hint of laughter. “Hello, Ivory Brinker. I’m happy you’re in my class this year. Can you find your desk? I put your name on it and a special gift, too.” The man nodded at Ivory before smiling at Eden.

Ivory pulled her hand away. “I already know my name,” she said. “Let me look.” She trotted around the room between the clusters of desks, stopping at one with a tented piece of card stock that sported her name in large letters. Next to it sat a small stuffed kangaroo.

“Look, Mommy! A kangaroo! With its own little baby ’roo.” She held up the stuffed animal, beaming.

Eden glanced up at the teacher, who murmured, “I remembered what she said about wanting to visit Australia. Excuse me for a moment.” He turned back to the door and welcomed another child, a boy, whose tears streaked his cheeks, as he clung to his father’s left leg.

Ivory pulled Eden into a crouch. “That boy over there looks like he’s scared. Do you think he’s afraid of my teacher, because he’s so big?” Her blue eyes widened.

“Maybe you could tell him that everything will be fine,” Eden suggested.

“Okay.” Ivory left the kangaroo on her desk and approached the little boy. “Hi. I’m Ivy. What’s your name? Teacher gave me a kangaroo. Want to see what he gave you?”

Mr. Wyecliff managed to shift the child’s hand from around his father’s leg and into his large paw. With Ivory on the other side of the boy, he walked him to a desk, on which sat a polar bear.

“Wow! You got a white bear!” Ivory exclaimed. “Did you know they live in Alaska? My daddy went there once and he brought me a picture. Of a mama bear and her two babies!”

Watching Ivory engaging with the little boy, Eden knew that her little girl was going to be fine. “I’ll see you later, Ivy. Kenny’s going to walk home with you. Don’t forget to wait for him.”

Ivory waved. “I won’t. First-day kiss?” she asked.

“Of course.” Eden bent down to give her a kiss.

“Bye, Mommy.” Ivory turned back and began chattering to the other child, who was hiccupping quiet sobs.

At the door, Eden smiled at the teacher. “Will you remind her to wait for her brother? He’s in second grade.”

“Be happy to.”

“Have a good first day.”

He nodded. “I’m sure it will be.”

Eden climbed into the car, her heart full, and aching only slightly less than when she’d entered the large building, determined not to cry now that Ivory was in school. All-day school seemed so final, a sure sign her daughter was growing up and away from her. So unlike the small neighborhood preschool Ivory had attended only two hours a day, three days a week. Missing a day or two there hadn’t been a bad thing, not like now. The two car seats in the back of her years’-old SUV were reminders of how full Eden’s life had been at home, and how empty it now felt with both children in school.

She pulled the papers she’d shoved into her purse and reread the job descriptions she’d printed off the previous weekend. Full-time jobs, the kind on which to build a career. If only it wasn’t so long since she’d worked outside the home.

She and Hale had agreed that she would be a stay-at-home mom until the children were in school. She’d loved being home, although this last year had been harder than the others as she’d looked forward to what she’d begun referring to as “becoming an adult again.”

If only Hale hadn’t acted hurt that she wanted to bring in another salary. She knew he was worried about their personal finances. He’d reminded her more than once that an unexpected emergency could decimate their meager savings. Her quiet statement that a second income would take some of the pressure off had not resulted in his encouragement that she go ahead with her plans to find a job. Instead, he’d continued to assure her that they could make it on what he earned.

She’d never doubted that he was doing well in his position in the finance office at Lambert-Knoll College. And he’d been promoted twice in the last six years. But the raise they’d expected with his last promotion had yet to materialize: one of the costs of staying at a small private college, whose endowments never seemed to match the changes required with a steadily increasing enrollment and the hiring of new faculty. Her question about why the administrators couldn’t see that the people running the various offices deserved raises, too, just like the faculty, had resulted only in Hale shaking his head. He’d run his fingers through his hair, then slid them down to squeeze his nape, a gesture Eden thought of as purely Hale, whenever he felt stressed.

What if their car needed a new clutch? What if the house needed a new roof? It was twenty years old. And the renovations they’d planned when they moved in, right before Kenny’s birth, had somehow never happened. Even though Chris, the builder in the family, had offered his expertise more than once.

Eden knew college costs were much higher now than when she and Hale had attended. A second income would assure a college fund for Kenny and Ivory. Hale had agreed that Eden’s money going into a fund for their children was a wise plan. He seemed to find this use of her money more acceptable than using it to buy groceries.

She looked back at the elementary school. Two students ran up the steps and into the building just as a bell rang and the doors were pulled shut by the principal. She stood beside the car, about to slide behind the wheel just as nausea overtook her. She dove for some nearby bushes and dry-heaved, hoping no one saw her.

I should have eaten breakfast this morning. But she’d been too busy overseeing Kenny climbing into his clothes and then spending extra time with Ivory’s hair. Thank goodness Hale had taken over in the kitchen, urging both kids to eat up so they could learn lots, his usual admonition to Kenny. But he’d looked askance at her when she ate only a single bite of her eggs and refused the mug of coffee Hale placed in front of her.

“Nerves,” she’d said, anticipating his question. But his skeptical expression forced her to speculate on the other possible reason she felt so awful.

Eden left the school parking lot and headed out of town, determined to find out if she was right, even as she clung to the hope that she was wrong. Twenty minutes later, she pulled into the parking lot of an unfamiliar pharmacy. She slid out of the car, glanced to the right, then to the left. Pleased that the store didn’t seem very busy, she spotted a man behind the counter toward the back of the store. He was filling prescriptions.

“Excuse me. Pregnancy tests?” Eden croaked, wishing her mouth didn’t feel so dry, wishing her heart would stop racing.

The pharmacist pointed to her right. “About halfway down that aisle.”

Eden snatched up a bottle of aspirin and paused to check out the different pregnancy tests, their boxes lined up like so many accusatory soldiers on the shelf. She selected two, paid for them and the analgesic, and trotted back to her car.

On her return to Pacific Knoll, she pulled into a fast food place, and ordered food and an extra-large glass of water. She slid the breakfast burrito back into its bag, unable to face it, and gulped down the water. When she felt certain she was ready, she headed for the women’s room and opened both pregnancy tests, peed on the respective sticks and waited. And waited some more, her chin resting in her palms, her elbows pressed almost painfully into her thighs, determined to give the tests plenty of time. She wanted them to be accurate in their negativity, even as she feared the results would tell her something else.

When she concluded she’d waited long enough, she forced herself to check the results. The first stick showed a distinctive blue cross. The second stick spelled it out in letters she couldn’t ignore. Pregnant. Two for two. She stifled a groan, tossed the evidence into the trash and adjusted her clothes.

As Eden approached the turnoff from the highway that would take her home, she debated calling Hale then concluded, No. I’ll wait until tonight to tell him. She suspected he would be happy. Or would he focus on what another baby meant for the family expenses? Maybe she should take a page out of Lexi’s pregnant-again playbook. Say nothing until she was past the three-month mark, because of the baby Lexi had lost last year. Only Fletcher knew until after Lexi went to the hospital.

She recalled Lexi’s reaction, and Fletcher’s, to their miscarriage the previous year. They had been devastated. Fletcher, even more than Lexi, probably because she had helped Fletcher to see that his love for his first family in no way took away from the love he had for Lexi and Chance. Eden liked to think it was a legacy from his first wife, Jacquie, and infant daughter, Raffie, who were killed by a drunk driver. They’d taught Fletcher how to love, and Lexi and her son were the beneficiaries of that lesson.

Deb, too, wanted a family, although she claimed she and Todd had nothing to report yet on their baby-making efforts.

Hale was her husband, the father of this baby. Didn’t he deserve to know what she didn’t want to tell him? What she didn’t want to accept?

She’d never considered having an abortion. Was it even in the cards? But how could it not be, when another baby would totally interfere with what she’d been planning, looking forward to, yearning to do, for months? To say nothing of what another baby would do to their budget, which barely seemed to cope with two growing children. I need a job, not just for my mental health.

Had Iona questioned having a third baby when she became pregnant with Deb? Eden doubted it: her mother had always wanted a large family. But what would Deb say if she knew what Eden was contemplating? Would she question her? No, Deb would understand. She loved her job, but had never mentioned becoming a stay-at-home mom after having children. And the budget issues Eden worried about were a non-issue for her sister and Todd, a lawyer in Fletcher’s firm.

Eden pulled into the driveway, walked into the house and stared at the wall calendar. When had it happened? She’d missed only one period, but endured two days of nausea, both of which she thought she’d hidden from Hale. He had asked why she’d only picked at her dinner earlier in the week and if she thought she was coming down with something when she’d spent so much time in the bathroom. And this morning, she couldn’t face the eggs he’d made for her, even though he’d kept his questions to himself. He trusted she would tell him whatever was bothering her. Hale had always trusted her. One reason she loved him.

She flipped the calendar back to August. Nothing out of the ordinary that month. Back to July. No? She looked again at the family’s August activities. The exclamations around their camping trip weekend seemed to fly out at her.

She recalled how much she and Hale had allowed their enjoyment of their last camping trip of the summer to extend late into the night. She recalled their peaceful walk along the shoreline of the lake under a starry night sky, the children so exhausted from swimming and hiking and racing around under the trees that they’d collapsed in their sleeping bags almost immediately after a hotdog dinner with s’mores singed over a campfire. Now she wondered if she’d just wanted to be swept away in her love for her husband, in the happiness her children had displayed while they tramped through the woods and played in the water of the lake shortly after they pitched their tents.

This pregnancy was her fault. She’d assured Hale she wasn’t fertile when he’d asked after admitting he forgot to pack condoms. Obviously, she’d miscalculated. But damn his little swimmers!

Eden approached the breakfast dishes still in the sink. She scraped them, placed them in the dishwasher, and turned it on. Remembering the burrito in her purse, she threw it away, wrinkling her nose at the stomach-turning smell of sausage and egg, and rummaged in the refrigerator for an apple.

As she nibbled the fruit, she imagined herself on the job, answering questions of her boss, participating in a group meeting with the other employees, much as she’d done years before. She dropped the apple core into the trash, grabbed up a book and took a seat in the living room, in the chair that provided her a view of the front yard and the sidewalk down which her children would skip as they walked home from school.

After several minutes during which she found herself unable to concentrate on the words that swam on the page, she turned sideways in the chair and leaned her head back, the warmth from the sunlight coating one cheek and the side of her neck. She imagined where she might find that elusive job she’d been dreaming about, one she could do while pregnant, maybe even after a brief maternity leave.

Should she take the bus or drive to that downtown office that was seeking an experienced finance executive? Wasn’t that how they’d described the job? She was sure if they selected her, she’d have a well-appointed office. She’d spend her days answering peoples’ questions, participating in conference calls. Or should she apply at that realty office? It was a less prestigious venue, but one likely to need someone skilled in money matters. After all, buying and selling houses involved many thousands of dollars per transaction. She’d never paid much attention to realty offices, but work there might prove interesting, a challenge, different from what she’d done before.

Then there were those other jobs that she’d circled, even though she’d been less inclined to call them. Taking care of the books for a diner felt beneath her, less of a challenge. Nor was she interested in interviewing for that position a trucking company was offering. Why had she even sent them her resumé? She imagined herself surrounded by men with grimy hands and sweaty shirts. But was that fair? She knew nothing about the trucking company’s employees. Besides, didn’t women also drive trucks these days? Maybe the owner was a woman. There was no way to know when the information she’d gleaned from her internet search referred only to the person she was to reply to as B.J. Wagner. Those initials could as easily refer to Barbara Jean as Bubba Joe.

Now that she was pregnant, how would Hale feel about her taking a job, even one that was short-lived? He felt so strongly about babies and small children needing their mother. Would her income be large enough to cover childcare and the contribution she intended to make to the children’s college fund?

Eden closed her eyes and allowed her mind to drift away from those questions, so vexing because the answers skittered out of reach, like so much dandelion fluff on a brisk breeze.

Nearly an hour after settling herself in the chair, Eden jerked and opened her eyes at a sudden buzzing sound. Temporarily confused, she glanced down at her watch, before realizing where the sound was coming from. My phone? But who was calling her at eleven in the morning? Was it about Ivory? Kenny? Something was wrong at their school? She lurched out of her chair, hurried into the kitchen, and grabbed her phone.

Caller ID showed Hale’s name.

“Hi, hon. How’d it go?” he asked.

Eden’s heart began a slow gallop. Had Hale guessed that she was pregnant? They’d joked for years that he was psychic when it came to her moods, to her worries.

Before she could ask, he clarified, “You know, with Ivy. First day at school with the giant killer. What’s her teacher’s name again?”

Eden closed her eyes for a moment, relieved, and took the time to breathe in and out slowly. Oh. Ivy.

“Mr. Wyecliff. Everything went fine. She got distracted by one of her classmates. Her teacher had little stuffed animals for each child. So cute. He remembered when she talked about Australia. Her gift was a kangaroo.”

“That man knows how to get a kid’s attention.” Hale chuckled.

“Yes.” Her heart slowed to a trot. “Um. Do you need a ride home? Is that why you called?”

“No need. But have you heard from Paige Landvik? At the bank?”

“No, why? I made sure we weren’t late with our last mortgage payment.” Her anxiety about that one-week-late August payment returned with a rush. A result of her last-minute preparations for their camping trip. Hale had wanted to leave as soon as he got off work that day. She’d forgotten to drop the bills in the mail slot when they passed the post office. Not that their late payment had generated a penalty. But Paige, long a friend of the Lambert family, had called to ask if there was a problem she should know about.

“Never crossed my mind, Edie. Did you know the bank’s opening a new branch south of town? They’re looking to hire people, according to Paige. Just thought I’d let you know, in case you want to follow up. After all, that’s all we talked about all summer—you and your new job.”

Was Hale goading her? She couldn’t tell. Eden glanced out the window at the sound of a lawn mower starting up across the street. “Could we discuss it when you get home?”

“Of course.” A pause told Eden her husband was wondering why she hadn’t reacted with enthusiasm. “Or have you changed your mind about a job now that Ivy’s in school?” he asked, his words coated with gentle concern.

“No, of course not.” He was so caring. Tears threatened to prevent Eden from saying more. I have to tell him. He deserves to know. And doing so would give Hale hours to think about what another baby would mean for their family.

But before she could do so, Eden sucked in a breath in hopes she could stop what was rapidly becoming a losing battle. She pressed a hand against her roiling stomach, then lowered her head and blurted out, “Gotta go, Hale. We’ll talk later.”

She ran for the bathroom.