Between You and Me(2)

By: Jennifer Gracen

Charles’s three older children from his first marriage sat huddled in the far corner of the room, playing hand-held video games with some other cousins close to their age. The youngest Harrison, Pierce, and his wife, Abby, were absent, and Tess felt it keenly. But Pierce would rather die than spend a family holiday with their father, and gladly went to Abby’s family for every major holiday. Tess couldn’t fault him for that, given the tumultuous history, but she still missed her baby brother.

At least Pierce and Abby had been at Charles’s house the night before. Charles always hosted Christmas Eve, and it had been a lovely gathering. Only twenty people, only closest family, with the exception of the Harrison patriarch . . . which was why it was a lovely gathering. No vitriol, no stress, no walking on eggshells waiting to see who’d fire the first verbal shot that would kick off a horrible fight. Last night had been even more special, though, as Pierce and Abby—who’d just been married in a lavish ceremony in August—shared their surprise news: Abby was pregnant. They’d only found out a few days before and were bursting with it. It was a lot sooner than they’d planned, but they were excited and their joy was palpable. Tess was thrilled for them.

She sipped her eggnog again and gazed at the Christmas tree. The lights blurred as she zoned out and slipped deeper into her thoughts. More than anything, she wanted a baby of her own. There was no reason that she couldn’t make it happen. She was thirty-seven, healthy, wealthy . . . but she lacked a candidate for the father. She had always believed in love, and been deeply in love twice in her life. The second time, she’d come close . . . and then had to break her engagement after being betrayed. In the years since then, she’d hoped to find someone else, but she knew the truth of it: she didn’t trust enough to open her heart that completely again. She dated perfectly nice men, and some not so nice . . . none were a father-to-her-future-children candidate.

And over the last few months, spending time with Charlotte had driven it home more than ever: she wanted children of her own, and time was ticking away.

By Thanksgiving, she’d decided to take matters into her own hands. She had the means, so why not? This was one of the times that being born into a ridiculously wealthy family, along with making her own strong and vital career, gave her benefits and options that other single mothers didn’t have. And while a part of her wanted to talk about it with her brothers . . . most of her wanted to keep it to herself until she was actually pregnant. They’d all have something to say, and for once, she didn’t want to hear it if it was negative. Not from any of them.

“Hey, Tesstastic.” Dane’s jovial voice interrupted her thoughts. “You sure Julia and I can’t convince you to spend a few days with us in Cancun?”

Tess smiled but shook her head. “You’re both sweet to ask, but I don’t need to be a third wheel during your three-week jaunt in paradise.”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Dane scoffed. “You’re no such thing.”

“Colin is coming for the whole second week,” Julia pointed out. Her grown son from her first marriage was a quiet, kind young man. “We won’t be alone. He’s not worried about being a third wheel.”

“He’s twenty-four,” Tess reminded them. “He’s not worried because he’ll be at the bars and clubs every night trying to pick up women, I’m sure.”

“God, I hope so,” Julia said. “But it’s not a good reason for you not to come too. Come on, who wants to be in New York in January? It’s miserable. Come down for a week.”

“Again, I thank you both,” Tess said. “But I . . . have plans of my own. They would overlap.”

“You do?” Dane arched a brow. “Why didn’t you just say so?”

“I tried, brother dear.” A grin tugged at the corners of Tess’s lips. “You keep asking anyway. Which is sweet, but . . .”

“I think I smell a deflection tactic,” Dane said.

“I think you should leave her be,” Charles piped in. Lisette bit down on her lip.