“Well okay, I get this can be serious, but do I need to come over right now to take care of their crazy?” he asked.
“There’s more,” she said slowly.
“Our night of tequila shots and the fun that ensued afterwards…”
“Mmmm yes, that was more than fun.” His gravelly voice gave her that sexy shiver again.
“Yes well, we have some consequences to that foray into pleasure. I’m pregnant and now Gran and Brownie think we’ll be getting married,” India explained.
“With my baby.”
“And our grandparents set us up to be married.”
“That’s about the size of it.”
India listened to the silence for a moment and wondered if he’d passed out.
Finally he spoke. “I’ll be there in about forty-five minutes.”
“Okay. Brownie is on her way so just come on up to my place,” India replied.
“Um, are you happy, sad, or going to put my nuts in a vise?” Mikael asked.
India smiled. “No nuts in a torture implement, and I don’t know how I feel yet.”
“Understandable, see you in a bit.”
India disconnected the call and looked at the phone in her hand. Well, they’d gone and done it, thus becoming the age-old adage of one night of pleasure leading to a lifetime of consequences. She pressed her hand against her still flat belly and rubbed it gently. One of the rooms she’d be designing now would be for her own son or daughter. She heard laughter and squeals of happiness from downstairs and knew Brownie had arrived. India got up from the side of her bed and went into the bathroom to shower and get cleaned up.
This should be interesting,
she thought. A child might bind her and Mikael together and she couldn’t help but feel kind of happy about that. Maybe she was lucky and could be in love with her best friend.
The four of them sat around India’s kitchen table, and there was nothing but silence. India fiddled with the corner of her placemat while their grandparents grinned like loons. He met Brownie’s gaze and frowned. She had the good sense to wipe the smile off her face and look down at her hands. He loved her, she’d been nothing more than an utterly amazing grandmother who raised him. God knows where his parents were. He only knew his mother from pictures. The first face he could remember was Brownie looking down at him when he was sick in bed. Then her hair was black as a raven’s wing, and now it held more gray than black. She wore it tied back with a scarf like she was Elizabeth Taylor and could give the woman a run for her money when it came to looks and class. But right now she and Etta were in so much trouble. Plus, he and India had lots to talk about.
“I guess we should start by saying we meant no harm,” Brownie said.
“Honestly, it’s all worked out for the best.” Etta picked up the teapot and poured hot water into the teacups she’d set out. “India, yours is mint for your morning sickness.”
“A contract, Brownie?” Mikael looked at her worriedly and noticed the paleness to her chocolate skin. “Have you been really sick?”
“Oh, she can barely keep anything down but now that we know what it is I can feed her to suit,” Etta said cheerfully. “We’re having a great grandbaby.”
Brownie clapped her hands in delight. “I can’t wait to see what you do for the nursery, you are so very creative, India.”
“Gran, Brownie, do you not see how this was completely and utterly crazy, right?” India said. “You don’t expect us to go through with this?”
Etta looked at her in confusion. “Well yes we do, it’s a binding contract.”
Brownie nodded. “In many cultures this could be punishable by the family who reneges on the contract being cast out of the village. I for one will not be the one who nullifies this arrangement.”
Etta shook her head. “Me neither, now that the baby is on its way, you two need to settle down.”
“We don’t live in a village, Brownie, we live in New York!” Mikael yelled in exasperation.
“You can’t force us to do this.” India folded her hands across her chest. “I’m still considering a nursing home.”
“We’re not saying right now, but in a few months before the baby is born, everything is so new for you both and there’s lots of planning to be done,” Brownie pointed out.
“Yes, exactly. We can wait until you’re six months along and get a good non-denominational pastor to do it in the backyard under the gazebo.” Etta smiled. “Eat the ginger cookies Brownie brought dear, they’ll help with your nausea.”
“Ooh yes, the gazebo would be perfect, and we can get white lilies to line the aisle, tea candles for a nice nighttime setting.” Brownie clapped. “I saw this pregnancy wedding dress website I can show you Etta. Such lovely dresses.”
India looked at him. “Do you believe these two?”
“I know.” Mikael shook his head.
Secretly he was actually seeing the grandmothers’ point of view. After their night together he could think of nothing but her. Every time he called and got her voicemail, a lance of disappointment coursed through him. That night was the turning point in his life. He saw the woman he wanted in his arms and in his bed. He wanted India and was reevaluating life after their night together. He recalled the jealousy he felt since they were old enough to date and she had a boyfriend. That wasn’t brotherly love he was experiencing.
“We should go downstairs so you can talk, and let you get accustomed to the idea,” Brownie said. She was looking at Mikael with a small smile on her face.
Jeez, is it that easy to see
? he thought, panicked. He tried to mask his happiness behind a poker face before they left him and India alone.
“A very good idea, Brownie, we can boot up the computer and you can show me the wedding dress site,” Etta agreed. “Mikael, make sure she has that tea and eats a few more cookies. I’ll make something good for dinner and bring it up for you later, Honeybee.”
India said nothing as their grandparents left. When they heard the door click she dropped her hand on the table. “Kill me now, just kill me.”
He pulled his chair closer to her and concern laced his voice. “Is it that bad? Do we need to take you to the hospital?”
“No, it’s not that, well its half that, but the Grans are insane, they’re expecting us to get married!” India moaned.
“Would that be such a bad thing?” he asked quietly.
She lifted her head and looked at him in amazement. “Did they feed you the Kool-Aid before you got here?”
“You’re carrying our child.” Mikael hesitated and his heart dropped at his next thought. “Are you planning to keep the baby?”
She slapped his arm. “Of course, what kind of stupid question is that? You were with me many Sundays at church. Though I don’t go much anymore doesn’t mean I’ve lost my faith base.”
“I know, I’m sorry for asking but you never know how people may think,” Mikael said. “A baby could ruin dating and all that stuff.”
“I’m not my mother, I would put my child first in all things,” India said stiffly.
Mikael sighed. “I didn’t mean to insult you, but I don’t know what we should do now. We have chemistry, India. I’d like to see where it goes, especially now.”
India met his gaze. “Is this because I’m pregnant? I’d prefer to be a single mother than make you feel like you’re trapped in a relationship you don’t want to be in. We can share being parents just as easily.”
He cupped her cheek, happy to feel her skin again, and said gently, “If India had just answered my call I could’ve asked her out on a date long before now.”
“Maybe India thought that you’d think our night was a mistake but felt like you would feel obligated not to hurt her feelings,” India answered.
He smiled. “She’d be wrong.”
India gave her first trembling smile. “Okay, then we’ll learn this together.”
Mikael pressed his forehead against hers. “We’re going to be parents.”
“Mmm-hmm, but right now you need to move because I’m going to be sick.”
He barely pushed his chair back before she was running toward the stairs that led to her bedroom. Mikael sat at the table for a minute before going upstairs to follow her. While Brownie had left her three story brownstone as one big family house, Etta divided hers into to a duplex, giving India the biggest apartment with the two floors. He recalled how India refused until Etta explained her arthritis kept her from climbing stairs like she should, and she didn’t need that much space. He remembered when he helped India move in, and it calmed him knowing at least one of them were there to be close by in case the Grans needed them. Right now she needed him, so Mikael turned back to get the tea and ginger cookies. By the time he got upstairs she was laying face first across the bed.
“You should have this tea while it’s hot, and settle your tummy,” Mikael said and placed the tray on the bedside table.
“Can you please just put me in a coma until this phase is over?” India pleaded.
“I wish I could help you, sweetheart. Come on, get into bed under the blanket and maybe take a nap,” Mikael cajoled.
“That sounds good.” India sighed and moved under the blankets he held open.
Mikael said, “I’d like to come back when I’m done with work on the base so we can talk and maybe have dinner?”
She looked up, and he drowned in her eyes which were the color of decadent melted chocolate. India smiled and his breath stopped in his chest for a second. She was so damn gorgeous it made him ache.
“I’d like that,” India said and yawned.
“You rest, and I’ll see you about eight tonight.” He leaned down to kiss her, and she put her hand over her mouth. He kissed her knuckles instead.
“Just threw up, brushed teeth but no kissing the ick right now,” she said.
“I’ll take a rain check for later.” Mikael grinned. “And I plan to collect.”
“Go be a soldier and let me drink my tea,” India grumbled good-naturedly.
“I’m happy about this, India, I really am,” Mikael said suddenly. “Even if our grandmothers are bat-shit crazy.”
“They’d call it eccentric,” India pointed out.
“That’s what bat-shit crazy people are supposed to say,” Mikael replied.
Her laughter followed him down the stairs, and he was smiling when he closed her front door. It had a safety lock that clicked when the door closed so he made sure it was firmly closed when he left. In India’s belly she carried precious cargo in the form of their unborn child. He’d do anything to protect them and vowed to make her happy.
He was still in a good mood as he went over the Verrazano Bridge and took exit ninety-two to Fort Hamilton Army Base. Most people thought that the base was in Staten Island but it wasn’t, it was still in Brooklyn and was considered part of Bay Ridge. It was where the borough actually ended. He was lucky enough to have his military occupational specialty, or MOS, take him back to the city he loved after being based all over the United States. He’d been deployed three times, twice in Iraq and the last stint in Afghanistan, a seven-month tour. All the while he thought he had a girl at home waiting to love him, and Celeste was just crossing her fingers that he’d die. Wait, that wasn’t quite true, she wanted to marry him before he kicked off. All that was in the past because he had India and the baby. He knew he’d have to take it slow and easy with her, but being her best friend for years give him an in. He knew her emotions in and out and was ready for any roadblocks she might put up. When she got scared she tended to put up walls, and Mikael had every intention of knocking them down one by one.
He pulled into the office building where he worked on the grounds of Fort Hamilton and frowned when he saw a familiar red and black Miata.
There was no way in hell she needed to be there now or ever again. He got out of his car, and she was leaning against her car wearing a crisp white business suit and six inch stilettos. Her sunglasses masked her eyes, and she had her brunette hair down and in wild waves. He remembered when he thought she was so sexy but even then he looked past the calculative looks in her eyes. The little questions about his grandmother’s life as an artist in SoHo and the famous people they knew and much more were clues he had let slide.
“What are you doing here?” he asked bluntly when he stood in front of her.
She made her red lips into a pout. “Don’t be that way, Mikael. I came to talk so we can work things out.”
He gave a short laugh. “You really think that is going to happen?”
She took her sunglasses off and shook her hair. “Everything you thought you heard or saw was all misconstrued.”
Mikael said, “Oh, the life insurance policy in your case, or the background check on my family assets and holdings were mistakes? Wow, how could I have ever thought you were being a money hungry bitch?”
“There’s no need for names,” Celeste said coldly. “I was making sure I was protected if something ever happened to you. You are a soldier and you do get deployed. As a business woman I was thinking ahead.”
“You sell real estate and badly,” Mikael pointed out. “I met you trying to get me to buy a condo and even though I was attracted I still didn’t jump. No, you’re floundering for cash and I was supposed to be the money tree.”
“You’re being childish…” Celeste stopped herself and tried another tactic. “You remember how good we were together.”
“Yes, you were very… professional,” Mikael let the double meaning sink in and watched malice flare in her eyes.
There’s the true Celeste.
“If you have no business on base, I suggest you leave. Don’t use my name to get on here again, you won’t be on my visitors list.”
“Is that how you’re going to be?” Celeste said.
“I don’t want you, I doubt I ever did. I’ve moved on and you should do whatever it is you do best,” Mikael answered.
She laughed. “You’ve moved on? Please, who are you trying to kid? I was the top of the line and you think you can find better than me? You, honey, you aren’t working with all that much.”
“Oh, a knock on my manhood, I’m crushed. Don’t flatter yourself.” Mikael shook his head. “A knock-off Prada business suit and you think you can hurt my feelings? My grandmother has a few hundred of the real things. I can spot a fake—you, your clothes, and your purse. I’m going to be married and I have a kid on the way. Trust me, it was easy to forget you. Go away, Celeste. It’s almost four and the early bird special at Denny’s will be starting soon. Maybe you can find your next mark there. Some of those old guys have more than their pension stuffed away in their mattress. You can get in on the ground floor.”