Straight Up Love (The Boys of Jackson Harbor #2)(3)

“Hey there, birthday girl.” Maybe it shouldn’t be so easy to hide the fact that I’m half-hard right now, or that ten seconds ago I was fantasizing about getting her off on this bar. Then again, I’ve had years of practice.

She sways a little in her red Mary Janes and grips my wrist. Normally, any touch from Ava is something I tuck away to fantasize about later. This touch, however, is more a drunken attempt at balance than affection—not that she ever touches me sexually outside of my imagination.

“I’m gonna have a baby,” she says, her voice a failed attempt at a whisper.

Goodbye, erection. “You’re what?” I stare at her for a beat, trying to make sense of her words. I look to the crowd at the bar to see if anyone else heard this, but they’re all too preoccupied with each other and their drinks to notice us. My gaze shifts to her group of friends, as if they might be able to explain what’s happening here. She can’t be pregnant. I didn’t even know she was seeing anyone.

“It’s okay,” she says. “I can do it. I don’t need a man. I can do this on my own. So . . .” The expression on her face makes me wonder if her last drink is on a short trip back out of her. She’s not the only one feeling queasy. Her news is making me feel like there’s an elephant playing hopscotch on my chest. “So, can you help me?”

I really have no idea what to say because I’m not sure what she’s asking. Can I help her raise her child? Or will I work her hours at the bar around daycare? I frown and realize she’s still holding something by her side. “Is that a turkey baster?”

“It was a birthday present. Aren’t you listening? I’m gonna have a baby, and I want your help.”

I still don’t know what my help entails, but who am I kidding? It doesn’t matter. If Ava needed my right arm, I’d look for the nearest hatchet. “Anything you need, Ava.”

She fucking beams at me. “Oh! Seriously? I thought it might be too much to ask.”

There’s nothing she could ask me that would be too much. But this hitch in my gut at the idea of her having another man’s baby? I can deal with that later. “You’re drunk, aren’t you?”

“So drunk.”

“Right.” Another thing to deal with later. Tomorrow, we’ll have a conversation about drinking and pregnancy. An absurd conversation to have, considering she’s the most responsible person I know, but we’ll have it anyway. Maybe she just found out. Maybe liquid courage made her take a test in the women’s restroom.

She giggles. “I can’t believe this is happening.”

That makes two of us. “Come on. Let’s get you to bed.”

She grips her turkey baster with both hands—I’ll have to get the story on that tomorrow too—and dutifully follows me up the back stairs to the apartment over the bar.

As I shut the door behind us, I see my home with new eyes. I moved here in college while I was managing Jackson Brews and taking a full course load. It was convenient at the time, and then I never bothered to find anything else. It’s never mattered. But if Ava’s going to have a baby, is she really going to want to hang out here with the kid? While it’s nice enough, the loft-style one-bedroom, one-bath isn’t exactly childproof. As I imagine a kid falling through the rebar spindles and down the open staircase, I grimace. I’ll definitely need to find something more suitable.

A baby. She’s having a baby.

It’s like the day she told me she was engaged to Harrison all over again. Except instead of making a fool of myself, this time I’m going to take it in stride. I’m going to deal with this like a friend should. Not like a lovesick idiot.

I head to my tiny kitchen and fill a glass of water for her, and when I turn around, she’s right there. She scans my face with those big brown eyes. “I’m so lucky to have you in my life, Jake.”

She’s close. So close I could dip my head and kiss her, and long-denied desire makes my chest tight. “I’m not arguing.” I hand her the glass of water. “Drink this.”

She obeys, downing half the glass before handing it back to me. “Do you think I’ll be a good mom?”

“The best.” Swallowing, I take a step back to put some space between us. I half expect the ache in my chest to subside with some distance, but it doesn’t. She’s having a baby. “Come on. Bedtime.”

She turns toward the couch, where she insists on sleeping when she crashes here, but I place my hands on her shoulders and turn her toward my bedroom.

“I need the couch tonight,” I lie. “You’re going to have to sleep in my room.”

“Oh, I’m sorry. Sure. I don’t want to be in the way.” She steps into my bedroom and unbuckles her Mary Janes. I pull back the covers, and she crawls into my bed, eyes already at half-mast. Will a baby put an end to girls’ nights that lead her giggling and pink-cheeked at my place?

“Wait,” she says as I pull the covers up over her. “Did we talk about the baby?”

I’m not sure she’ll ever be able to talk about a baby without my gut knotting painfully. If anything, I’ve been cool and patient with Ava—just waiting for the day when she’d see me as something other than the goofy kid next door or the high school jock who’d jump into bed with any girl who was willing. I’ve been patient. Too patient. Because now she’s having some other guy’s baby. I’m already making plans to restructure my whole life to help in any way I can, but I’ve forgotten one essential piece to this puzzle. What happens when she tells the baby’s father? Whoever he is, he’d be an idiot if he didn’t find some way to make her his.

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