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Cover for The Pregnancy Test, which features an image of a pregnant woman budled in a winter coat, with a man standing behind her with his gloved hands on her belly.

The Pregnancy Test



Sloan Thompson gritted his teeth as he shut off the pickup, then turned to face his daughter in the passenger seat. Slowly counting to ten, he forced himself to relax his grip on the steering wheel. The move had been tough on all of them. “Lucky for you, then, our house is actually in Millcreek, huh?”


“The mailing address is Erie.” Brook folded her arms and leaned her forehead against the window. “I don’t see why we couldn’t just stay in Texas.”


He had a long list of reasons, and ninety percent of them came back to the sullen teenager next to him. She needed a new start. New friends. Friends more appropriate than the crowd she’d run with in Fort Worth.


“Well, I like it.” Ashley released her seat belt and leaned into the front, wrapping her arms around Sloan’s neck. “It’s closer to Granddad and Aunt Rae. And I can’t wait for snow!”


He chuckled, grateful for the six-year-old’s enthusiasm. At least she cooperated. If only she could stay six until her twenty-first birthday, then magically fast-forward to adulthood, skipping over adolescent hell. “I’m glad you like it, Peach, but let’s not rush the snow, huh? Besides, I don’t think August is prime snow time, even this far north.”


A huge green-and-yellow truck rumbled to a stop in front of the house. “Okay. Operation Moving Day will now commence.”


“Whoopee.” Brook toyed with her seat belt, but left it fastened.


“Look, Granddad’s here! I can’t wait to have all my stuff again.” Ashley slammed the door and ran toward her grandfather.


After living with his father for the five weeks since he’d started his new job as chief engineer for an Erie media group that included a TV station, Sloan knew exactly what Ashley meant. He couldn’t wait to have all his stuff back, either. And while he appreciated his dad taking them in while they searched for a house, he needed their own space again. “Brook, I want this day to go smoothly. Make that happen and maybe you’ll have computer privileges tonight.”


She turned to him, her pierced eyebrow arching in a way that made the little silver ball move.

God, how he hated that thing. But it had been one of his many compromises, an attempt to ease the friction between them.


“Great.” The single word dripped with sarcasm. “The internet isn’t hooked up, is it?”


“Not yet.”


“So I still won’t be able to talk to my friends. When are you going to give me back my cell?”


Sloan sighed, then reached for the second cell phone attached to his belt and held it aloft. “Thirty minutes tonight, but only if everything’s done to my satisfaction. And you keep your attitude in check today.”


“Okay.” She slid from the truck.


Pretty pathetic that he was reduced to bribing her with phone time. But it beat listening to her grumble the whole day.


By midmorning, all the furniture was in place. His sister Rachel paced the screened front porch, directing traffic while jiggling her fussy ten-month-old son in her arms. “Those boxes go in the third-floor attic for now,” she instructed one of the movers. Frequent relocations while growing up in a military family had made both Sloan and Rachel experts on unpacking and setting up a household.


Sloan lifted a white rag from Rae’s shoulder and wiped at Jamey’s mouth, where drool oozed around the small fist the teething baby chewed on. “Your momma’s bossy, do you know that?”


“I learned from a pro. My big brother.”


“Nah, we both learned from the old man.”


“I heard that,” their father hollered from the living room, where he was involved in arranging Sloan’s surround sound system.


Rachel smiled. “Busted.”


Sloan shrugged. “Nothing new about that. He won’t ever need a hearing aid.” The light in his sister’s eyes warmed him. For the longest time he’d thought he’d never see her smile again, but his new brother-in-law, James, and James’s daughter, Molly, had put the spark back in Rae’s life.


Still, the baby had sort of surprised Sloan. After all the effort it had taken for her to recover from losing her son, he hadn’t expected her to risk motherhood again. It was quite a testament to James and Molly that they’d taught Rachel to risk so much for love.


Feet thundered down the stairs inside the house, and Sloan turned to find Molly and his younger daughter in the foyer. “We got Ashley’s bed all made, Mom. What’s next?”


“Good job. Now start unloading the boxes and put everything away. Don’t just dump it onto the floor. Away.”


“Okay. Come on, Ashley. Bet we can have it done before my dad and Brook get her room together!” Molly grabbed Ashley by the hand, dragging the smaller girl back upstairs.


Another pair of movers climbed the porch steps, arms loaded. Rachel studied the symbols on the sides of the boxes. “Take those down to the basement, please.” She shifted the baby onto her other shoulder. “Wonder if James is getting anywhere with Brook?”


“I doubt it. Brook’s not stupid. I’m sure she suspects we’ve ‘planted’ him with her on purpose.” He ran his hand through his hair, raking back the annoying piece that fell across his forehead.


“Hey.” His sister placed her hand on his elbow. “Remember, you’re not alone anymore. We’re just over an hour away now, not twenty. Dad’s only twenty-five minutes from you. We want to help.”


“I know.” That was what had brought him north in the first place, to be near them again. But he wasn’t sure if, even with the support of his family, he could reclaim his daughter and get her back on the right track. “And I need that help. I love her, Rae, but damn, sometimes she makes it so hard.”


“Parenthood’s not for sissies, is it?”


Sloan shook his head.


“Good thing you’re not a sissy then.” Rachel grinned, and for the first time in a few years, he felt optimistic. Maybe Brook wasn’t lost to him after all.




BROOK SMOOTHED the blue-and-purple comforter, then flopped down on the bed, watching her aunt’s husband rebuild her desk. Real subtle of them to assign the shrink as her work partner.

At least so far he hadn’t said much of anything to her, besides the necessary stuff, like where did she want this or that. Come to think of it, even though she’d met him several times at family reunions and holidays, she’d never spent much time around him.


No question her snooze dad thought she could use counseling. Like she needed some other adult asking stupid questions and not really listening to the answers.


A moving guy—the cute young one with the tight gray T-shirt and great muscles—stepped into the room, biceps bulging as he gripped a garment box. “Here’s another one of yours.” He smiled at her and set it next to the closet.


“Thanks.” Brook stretched, knowing full well what it did to the tank top she wore—not that she was stacked or anything, but still, she wasn’t bad—and then bit back a grin when the guy’s eyes widened.


“Uh, sure.”


“More boxes?” Uncle James prompted him. “That need to be brought in? From the truck out front?”


“Oh, right.” Moving Guy flashed her another quick smile, then turned and headed out.


Uncle James caught him in the doorway. “Have you noticed her father? Her grandfather? Both former military men. Both very protective of their family. Especially the females. Especially the ones who are still minors.”




“She’s fifteen. Jailbait for you. So keep your eyeballs to yourself or one of the Thompson men is likely to knock them right out of your head.”


The guy’s tanned face lost some of its color. He gave her one more quick glance, then disappeared down the hallway.


Brook climbed from the bed, grabbing a blade off her dresser to cut the tape on the garment box. “Jeez, you’re as bad as he is.”


“He being your father, I assume.”


“Who else?” Brook plucked some clothes from the bar in the box and hung them in the closet.


“There’s nothing wrong with your father wanting to protect you.”


“There’s nothing wrong with me wanting to breathe, either.”


“Yes, I saw what your ‘breathing’ did to that guy. Playing with fire like that is likely to get you burned.” He reached for another cable and disappeared again behind the old-school stereo that was her prized possession.


“Yeah, well, it’s cold here in the north and maybe I just want to be warm.”


The furniture muffled his response. “Warm and burned are two different things.”


“Whatever.” Brook fingered the fringe on her favorite short skirt before putting it away. “I think

it’s pretty sad that they sent you up here to analyze me.”


He straightened and looked at her. “I’m thinking it would probably take more than a day to analyze you, Brook. You seem like a rather complex person to me. Besides, I’m not allowed to treat family. It’s unethical.”


“Yeah, right. You can’t stop yourself, from what Aunt Rae’s said.”


His face colored a bit. “Well, official and unofficial are also two different things. I’d always be happy to talk to you, Brook, or offer you some advice.”


“And then spill your guts to my father. No thanks.”


“If you want to talk to me confidentially, that’s not a problem.”


Brook tipped the box over and dumped several pairs of sandals and mules onto the floor. She knelt in the closet doorway. “I’m fine.”


He chuckled, making her glance up in surprise. “That’s what your Aunt Rachel always says, no matter what. Even when she doesn’t mean it.”


“Well, I do.” She turned her back on him and kept positioning her shoes. Who was she kidding? Her father had totally messed up her life, taken her away from the only home she’d ever known, her friends, her boyfriend, Brian.


And according to her sources, Brian, that slimeball, was already sniffing around Heather Blake. Which explained why he hadn’t been taking her phone calls or answering her IM’s the few chances she’d had to use a computer after they’d left Texas.


Yeah, her life was just great.




“THE DOG STILL HATES ME.” Jenna Quinn watched the little brown-and-white Cavalier King Charles spaniel jump onto the couch and snuggle up to Margo. The remainder of the pink slush oozed from the smoothie machine on her kitchen island, so Jenna flipped off the tap.


“She doesn’t hate you. You just haven’t bonded yet.”


“Okay, she doesn’t hate me. But she doesn’t like me much, either. I wish I knew what was wrong with her.”


“She misses your grandmother, same as you do.” Margo scratched the dog’s ears.


“Yeah, well.” Jenna didn’t want to talk about that. Despite eight months’ grieving time, she missed the carefree, vivacious woman who’d taught her so much about life. And from whom she’d inherited, among other things, a pet she hadn’t been prepared for.


“Your first mistake was trying to un-paper-train her. I don’t think that scored points with her. And you have to admit, a paper-trained dog is much easier—you don’t have to take her out, especially in the winter. For another thing, stop calling her ‘the dog.’ Try using her name.” Margo glanced down at the animal on her lap. “Right, Princess?”


“Thank you, Dr. Dolittle. Here.” She pressed the cold glass into her friend’s hand, then collapsed into the recliner. She surveyed what was now the living room of her loft apartment. The tall, three-section oak entertainment center divided the space, concealing her bedroom on the other side. “Drink up. That’s to say thanks for helping move the furniture. This place really needed an overhaul.”


Margo raised her glass in salute. “No problem. And you’re right. I mean, really, you’d had that arrangement for what, three whole months?” She laughed before sipping her frosty daiquiri.


“Yeah, well, I have to change what I can these days.” Ever since sinking her savings and her inheritance from her grandmother into buying—well, mortgaging—the building and opening her own casual jewelry store downstairs, Jenna had been grounded.


No, not grounded. That made it sound like she was being punished. Okay, sometimes that was how she felt. She searched for a better way to phrase it. Putting down roots, maybe. Trying her best to change her wanderlust ways.


Moving the furniture around helped preserve what was left of her sanity.


“So, now, tell me. How was your date last night?”


Jenna groaned. “I’m giving up men.”


Margo snorted, then choked. Her face turned the color of the drink she set on the coffee table. She coughed and spluttered, waving a hand as Jenna moved forward to the edge of the seat. The dog, long-plumed tail swishing through the air, licked her cheek.


“I’m okay.” Margo cleared her throat to prove it, then gently moved the spaniel aside. “It’s just the idea of you giving up men is so, so…ludicrous! Hon, you draw men like you draw breath. It’s a force of nature. Unstoppable. And you’d probably die if you tried.”


“Thanks. You make me sound like a first-class slut.”


Margo giggled. “No, you’re not! I never said that. You’d only be a slut if you slept with them all, which you don’t. You just…” She shrugged. “Experience them? Date them? Smile at them? Like I said, you can’t help yourself. It’s out of your control.”


“That’s so reassuring. I can’t control it, and I’d die if I tried.”


“Need I mention I’d probably die, too? I mean, how can I live vicariously through you if you give up men?” Margo sighed, settling back against the cushions, drink in hand once again. Princess laid her head on Margo’s lap.


“Get one of your own and live it up for yourself. I’ve been telling you that for years.”


“I’m trying. It’s just that, well, the guys I meet through work are either body-worshipping egomaniacs, or they think dating me is a great way to get free massages. ‘Hey, sweetie, could you just rub my shoulder?’” she mimicked in a low voice. “Either that or they think certified massage therapist means hooker.”


Jenna laughed. Margo’s complaints hadn’t changed a bit since she’d left the day spa and rented space downstairs from Jenna-the-new-landlord, opening her own naturopathic shop combined with a massage-therapy office. “Someday the right guy is just going to walk into your life. Trust me.”


“Perfect. And in the meantime, you share your love life with me. So tell me, what put you off Mr. Last Night?”


“For one thing, he got annoyed when I bowled a better game than he did.”


“Oops. Hate that competitive guy thing.”




“What else?”


Jenna wrinkled her nose. “He smoked. I had to come home and shower to get the smell off me. When am I going to remember to ask first?”


“Strike two. Yuck. I don’t have to ask if you even bothered to kiss him goodnight. Blech. Might as well suck on an ashtray. What was strike three?”


“Strike three was three years old.” Jenna pressed her thumb and pinky together, then held up the remaining fingers. “I got to meet her because Joe was running late, so he picked me up before dropping her off at the babysitter’s. And while she was a sweet little thing, her daddy kept looking at me all night like he was measuring me for an apron.” She shuddered. “On our first date.”


Margo burst into laughter again. “Oh, girl, he didn’t know you very well, did he?”


Jenna narrowed her eyes. “Gee, thanks. With a friend like you…”


“Just being honest. If a best friend isn’t honest with you, who will be?” Margo retrieved a black notebook from the end table. She traced the pink script lettering on the front. Take-Out Menus.


“Here. Use some of your fantastic non-apron-related skills and get us some dinner. You owe me more than a drink for my furniture-moving services.” She gestured toward her empty glass. “I’ll take another one of those, too.”


After some debate over which type of food they were in the mood for, Jenna ordered Chinese. Egg rolls, beef and broccoli, and Szechwan chicken complemented the second batch of strawberry daiquiris. With a favorite movie running on Netflix, their girls’ night in was well underway.


When the end credits rolled, they cleaned up. “You want to do a final drink on the deck?” Jenna asked. “It’s a beautiful night.”


“Nah. I’ve had my limit, and it’s been a while, so I’m gonna go now. But thanks.” Margo picked up her purse.


“Okay. Since I don’t have to drive, I’ll finish off that little bit of daiquiri I stuck in the freezer. Wait a minute and I’ll walk out with you.”


They stepped through the sliding glass doors that led from the dining area out to the deck. A sticky August breeze stirred the branches of the oak just over the fence behind her building. Jenna set her glass on the railing, then lifted her face toward the sky. Clouds blocked the stars. She inhaled deeply, catching the distinctive scent of approaching showers. “Guess I’d better drink fast.”


Margo headed for the stairs, pausing at the top. “By the way…” She pointed at the glow in the upper window of the house behind Jenna’s building. “Did you happen to get a look at your new neighbor? Very cute.”


Jenna clamped her lips tight before the demand for a better description could emerge. Besides, the new neighbor she had seen was a little girl. Married men were off-limits. Nor did she want to date a single guy with kids. Hence no more Joe. It wasn’t that she had anything against children, per se. They were great at a distance. It was just the idea of being responsible for another person, especially a little one, was…overwhelming.


She had enough problems with a dog.


“Admit it, you really want to know. Tall, sandy-blond hair, nice shoulders, and a to-die-for butt. Great-looking guy.”


Jenna groaned. “Oh, that is so not fair. I saw a little kid. Damn.”


Margo chuckled and shrugged. “Sorry. Hey, I’m not averse to kids. Maybe I’ll have to investigate the new neighbor and his hot buns a little closer.” She started down. “Night, hon. Catch you on Monday.”


Jenna leaned on the railing, sipping her drink and staring over the fence. A to-die-for butt? On an off-limits dad?


That really wasn’t playing fair.

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