Between You and Me(3)

By: Jennifer Gracen

“It’s so wrong that I want my sister to have some fun?” Dane asked him.

“Of course not,” Tess said.

“You just finished months of hard work, pulling off another massively successful Harrison Foundation Holiday Ball,” Dane said to her. “You need a real vacation. To go somewhere and be pampered. I offered to make that happen, since you don’t do it enough for yourself. Sue me.”

Tess rolled her eyes at her big brother. “I love you too, you big nag.”

“I’m a nag now?” Dane put his hand to his chest. “You wound me!”

They all snorted out laughter.

Tess had had enough of this conversation. She rose to her feet and swept her long curtain of curls back over her shoulders. “I’m getting more eggnog,” she said. “Anyone want some?”

The four of them murmured various forms of “no thanks,” and she crossed the room to the cavernous crystal bowl that held enough lightly spiked eggnog for a small village.

Tess couldn’t help but smile to herself as she refilled her mug. Charles, Dane, and Pierce weren’t just her brothers, they were some of her closest friends. They were incredibly devoted to and protective of her, and she counted on them as much as they all counted on her. After all, she’d spent years watching over the three of them. When their parents split up and their mother left home over two decades before, as the only female left in the family, Tess had slowly but surely slipped into the role of mother hen. Some of it was a conscious decision, some of it wasn’t. She never minded—her brothers needed her, even when they didn’t realize it, and she was all too happy to provide crucial emotional support. She was a caring person, with so much love to give—who better to lavish it on than her own siblings, who needed it so desperately?

But they were all fine now. Grown men, they’d all eventually found their place in the world, especially now that they had the help of good women who loved them and believed in them. Tess was grateful beyond words that she genuinely liked her three sisters-in-law. Charles, Dane, and Pierce were strong men, but pairing with women like Lisette, Julia, and Abby had truly completed them. They had all built, or were building, their own families, and didn’t need Tess’s pseudo-mothering like they had before.

And Tess found herself feeling like something was missing. Despite that she had adoring siblings and family, good friends, a fulfilling career running the Harrison Foundation, the family’s massive nonprofit organization . . . maybe it was the holidays and the slight melancholy that could sometimes accompany the season, but for months she hadn’t been able to deny the basic facts: She was creeping up on forty, she wanted a baby, and she’d somehow have to get that done on her own.

She considered herself to be a positive, upbeat person. A woman who accomplished things, took the lead, and knew how to get things done—she didn’t wait around and let life happen to her. Why should having a baby be any different than her other goals and successes? That thought had churned in her head for too long. It was time to take her future into her own hands. She was ready.

“How’s my best girl?” Her father’s confident baritone sounded behind her.

She turned to him with a fake smile. “Great, Dad. Hope you’re having a nice Christmas?”

“I am,” he said. “Thank you again for the painting. What a special gift.”

“I’m glad you like it,” she said as he kissed her cheek. She’d been able to find a small Picasso piece that she knew he’d love to add to his impressive collection, and called in a favor from an acquaintance in Paris to make it happen.

“You’re very thoughtful, as always.” There was the tiniest shift in his gaze, but Tess knew him so well, she steeled herself. “So. Charles tells me that Pierce got Abby pregnant already. I guess expecting my youngest son to call me himself with that kind of news is too much to hope for, eh?”

“Dad.” Tess touched his arm with her free hand. “He only told us last night. They only found out last week.”

“So? He told you all last night. He could’ve called to tell me, or to say ‘Merry Christmas,’ anytime since then. He hasn’t. Yet another intentional snub.”