Happily Ever All-Star:A Secret Baby RomanceBy: Sosie Frost
A Secret Baby Romance
We had a love-hate relationship. Mostly hate these days.
Sure, the minty miracle kept me fresh as a daisy during the first day of my neurological fellowship with the Ironfield Rivets. And the astringent peppermint let me smile and talk to my patients as I restored the confidence I unceremoniously hurled into the toilet.
But…it had a darker side.
The pungent, stomach-twisting paste possessed a harsh scent, a shocking taste, a terrible grittiness, and a bubbling foam. Brushing my teeth became a self-fulfilling prophecy. Throw up. Hate myself. Stare at the toothpaste. Curse the ribbon of positive-pregnancy-test blue cutting through the middle of the gel. Brush teeth. Hold nose.
Why did I even bother sitting in my equipment-closet turned office? I should have evaluated the team from behind my newfound porcelain desk.
I couldn’t keep this up. Not only was I throwing up four times a day, the long-lasting-fresh-breath-crystals were getting lodged in my soft pallet. After the second time I sneezed out a burning foam, I got a little cranky. Well…crankier. At least my nose wouldn’t have any cavities, aside from the hole where my brain once resided.
The fellowship was the career opportunity of a lifetime, but it was a risk taking the gig after realizing I was pregnant.
My step-mother was right—wicked as she was. Dentistry was the easy money. Unfortunately, oral surgery didn’t dig deep enough into a person’s head. I was all about the brain.
Though lately, I’d spent more time with my legs stirrup’d to an OBGYN’s table than kicked back on my desk in the neurological center of Ironfield Regional.
Not today though.
Today, I was the doctor again.
Sure, my tests didn’t involve lube or speculums, but I held out hope. Neurology was an ever-evolving field. And I would have loved an epidural to subdue my last patient of the day.
The Rivets second-year tight-end might have had severe neurological problems, but hell if I could sit him down long enough to take the baseline test. The exam was designed to be completed in less than fifteen minutes. Thirty-five had passed. And twenty seconds.
Believe me, I was counting.
Somehow, Lachlan managed to tab out of the computer program, crash my system on a shady fantasy football site, chase a spider-turned-dust-bunny into the ductwork, and break my only non-flickering set of fluorescent lights on a wayward toss of a ball.
“Please…” I covered my face. “Please, Lachlan. It’s after five. I’m tired. I want to go home. Can you please just take the test?”
Lachlan grinned. Those dimples saved his ass. Scolding him was like kicking a puppy. I couldn’t punt him away. Instead, I grabbed the spritzer bottle on my desk. My office didn’t come with air conditioning in this August heat, but the ice water cooled me down. I flicked the nozzle into a steady stream and aimed for the Rivets’ most infuriating player.
“Hey!” He ducked from the mist. “Okay, okay. I’m sorry.”
“This is a timed test. It establishes a baseline evaluation of your cognitive abilities—if you have any.”
“I don’t know what you’re worried about. My head is fine.”
Like I hadn’t heard that before. The twenty players that tested before Lachlan attempted to convince me that they didn’t need the league mandated exam. The word concussion scared them—which was good. This game was violent, brutal, and it had hurt a lot of men. I didn’t take no for an answer. I sat them down and got their results.
This was important work. When—not if—they got hurt on the field, they could take the same test once more. We’d compare the data from both tests and assess if they’d sustained a concussion. A player could try to bluff his way back into the game, but the brain wouldn’t lie.
I checked my watch. “If it takes you more than twenty minutes to match some shapes and remember a simple series of numbers, I wouldn’t clear you to walk down Sesame Street, let alone play in a professional football game.”
Lachlan wasn’t listening. He spun his wedding ring across the desk. I slapped a hand over the gold band.
He reached for his ring. “Careful with that. You don’t know what I had to do to earn it.”
“I’ll give it back if you concentrate. Fifteen minutes. That’s all I ask.”
“Can’t you hook me up to some electrodes or something? Zap me with lightning?”
“I’m Doctor Merriweather, not Doctor Frankenstein. You aren’t permitted to attend training camp without completing this exam. Do you understand?”
He grumbled, but that got his attention. He started the test, but I stopped him before he clicked through the first series of questions.
“You’ve misspelled your name, didn’t enter your birthday, and the answer to sex isn’t all the time.”
“You haven’t met my wife.”
“She must be a saint. Finish the test.”
Lachlan typed entirely too much information into the computer, but I could edit out the dirty limerick he composed to describe his recurrent symptoms. I let him work, plopping into my chair with an exhausted sigh.
My butt went down…but my girls popped up.
The blouse valiantly attempted to contain my newfound assets, but my breasts had swelled to obscene proportions. Peeps in a microwave. The molehill made into a mountain range. My once lackluster credentials now intrigued my patients more than the PhD framed on the wall.
I heaved an exhausted breath.
The middle button on my blouse had teetered on the brink of surrender all day. A pep talk at lunch and a bit of scotch tape on the inside of my shirt had bolstered its fortitude, but I’d asked for miracles.
The straining button popped from my shirt, and a faux-pearl flung across the office to lodge in Lachlan’s ear.
Too bad we weren’t playing golf. That hole in one might have made for a good story instead of a potential trip to the emergency room to check his ear drum.
“Ow!” He shook his head. “I’m sorry! I’m taking the test!”
The button dropped to the floor. I kicked it away and slapped a hand over the blouse. No need to encourage my chocolate cannonballs to blast out of my shirt as well. My new body was one hell of a battlefield, and the only person losing was me.
My waist hadn’t changed…yet. My chest was out of control—like a Willy Wonka curse that punished me for sneaking Reese Cups for breakfast instead of Greek yogurt. Years of chess clubs, library study sessions, and medical school hadn’t prepared me for this sudden boon to my appearance.
Sure, it was unethical to say I was a proctologist, but it had scared away the team and halted the flood of phone numbers, party invitations, and wildly inaccurate anatomical drawings.
“Lachlan, you shouldn’t have to count on your fingers.” I rubbed my head. “There’s no math questions. It’s all memorization.”
He buzzed his lips. “I might need to redo the test.”
First do no harm. Do no harm. Do no harm.
“Are you sure you didn’t hit your head on the field today?” I asked.
“Nah, still conditioning.” He yawned. “Sleep deprived though. The baby isn’t sleeping through the night yet.”
I forced a smile.
Uh-oh. Was it a smile? Or did I flinch?
Oh god, he didn’t realize I was pregnant did he?
If anyone found out, I’d be ruined.
Then again, if Lachlan Reed couldn’t repeat a series of three numbers forwards and backwards, there was no way this Sherlock had deduced that I was pregnant. We were just making small talk. Conversations held by normal people who weren’t competing for a cutthroat, prestigious fellowship. My secret was safe, and so was my job.
I still couldn’t believe I nearly blew this chance on the wrong man.
Technically, I had done more than blow him.
I restarted the test for Lachlan, but the instant his hand clicked the mouse, the laptop went black.
He leapt away from the computer. “That wasn’t my fault.”
I had the feeling most disasters in the Rivets organization were Lachlan’s fault.
I clicked the mouse. Nothing. Pressed the power button. Nothing. I reached for the power cord, but I didn’t expect the snap.
A moment of terror stilled me. Was it a rib? The heel of my shoe?
Oh God, I wished it were my neck.
Nope. It was my bra. The jagged slip of the underwire punched inwards. I yelped and burst upright.
Lachlan jerked away. He tripped over the power cable, whipped the laptop off the desk, and ducked as it smashed against the floor.
“That…might have been my fault.” Lachlan handed me the spritzer bottle. “Go ahead.”
I gave him one squirt. “You know…you’re young. You probably haven’t had any concussions yet.”
“Would we really be able to tell a difference?”
“Awesome! Can I go? Gotta get home and see my son.”
“Please.” I pushed him to the door. The underwire attempted to puncture my lung, and I forced a smile. “I’ll…do your assessment later.”
Much, much later.
A flash from the hallway blinded both of us. The team’s photographer—Elle—came to collect her husband. She carried both a camera and her four-month old baby boy. She trusted Lachlan enough to hold the child, though I suspected she’d hook her husband to the baby leash when they ventured into a crowded public location.
“How’d he do?” Elle tucked her camera into a converted diaper bag. Her little boy reached for the dyed red ends of her hair. “Is he healthy?”
A man that irritating would outlive all of us. “We didn’t get very far, but I think he’s okay. He…might have some undiagnosed ADD issues though.”
Lachlan took her hand. “Let’s go, Red. I got some rookie hazing to take care of.”
Elle rolled her eyes. “You’re hazing?”
“So…explain to me how you got taped to the goal posts yesterday?”
“That was an accident.”
“Right.” She poked her baby’s nose. “Say bye-bye to Daddy, Nick. He’ll probably be hogtied and stuffed in a locker tonight.”
“That only happened once.”
Elle thanked me, nuzzling both her baby and her husband. The two deliriously happy, wretchedly sweet, and unabashedly perfect lovebirds scampered away with their lovely family, shared smiles, and squirming baby boy.
And that was fine.
So I didn’t have a husband. Or a boyfriend. Or a supportive father for my unborn baby.
I did have a killer rack and peppermint flavored burps. What more could a girl want, especially with an MD and specialization in neurology? Plus, I had been offered a fancy new office converted from my very own Ironfield Rivets’ supply closet!
Modern day fairy tale, right?
I retreated to my office and closed the door. My laptop rested in shards on the floor. The fellowship didn’t leave much in the grant for new computers, but it was better to ask for forgiveness than to tell the organization I was three months pregnant.
Even if I denied it for a long as I could.
It’s not a pregnancy. It’s heartburn.
It’s not morning sickness. It’s a two-and-a-half-month flu.
That’s not a baby in the sonogram. Just a friendly, neighborhood tapeworm.
At least I had a bit of privacy to fix my bra now. The damn thing mutinied under my shirt, and I struggled to unlatch it before the straight-jacket permanently embedded in my skin.
The cracked underwire had shredded through my blouse. The material, already stretched too thin courtesy of my freed jubilees jiggling their way to freedom, ripped from arm pit to sleeve. The bra tangled in what remained of my shirt. I gritted my teeth and tugged.
How the hell had it knotted in my blouse? I’d earned a goddamned doctorate neuroscience…and I got tangled in my own bra?
“And I’m supposed to bring a child into this world.” I bundled my shirt and curled my hand through the sleeve. “Even a baby will squirt outta me easier than this.”
I gave it one good heave. The blouse ripped and my bra snapped. The strap adjustor pinged me in the face.
Whoever knocked thought my yelp was permission to enter. The door swung open.
“Doctor Merriweather, is it possible—”
The Rivets’ head coach paraded into my office, halting his steps to watch as I groped under my shirt and struggled to stuff the unruly parts of me back into place.
“Oh!” I spun before I flashed the coach with more than just my cookies. A carefully crossed arm hid the chocolate chips. “Coach Thompson, I didn’t hear you…”
He wasn’t alone.
And in the briefest of moments, I recognized the man he led within my office.
This. Wasn’t. Happening.
It couldn’t be him.
Coach Thompson cleared his throat. “Doctor Merriweather, do you have time to complete one more examination? We’re ready to sign his contract, but first he needs to be medically cleared to play.”
Coach Thompson presented me to the most gorgeous man I had ever seen.
My step-brother’s best friend. My first, last, and only real crush of a lifetime.
I knew awkward moments. I’d lived my life through a series of minor embarrassments—like waving hello at someone who meant to greet the person behind me or bashing into a door marked pull instead of push. Every day was another opportunity to drop a full cup of Starbucks on the store’s floor, and I usually met that challenge head-on. Even this was a little cruel for fate.
“Jude Owens,” Coach Thompson introduced us. “I’d like you to meet Doctor Aurora—”
Jude’s smile twitched into a glint of confidence, that suave composure he mastered when we were young. I fell in love with him when I was ten. Almost twenty years later, my stomach still fluttered in his presence.
He surveyed my impromptu office with the lone degree on the wall. His voice—that mixture of quiet poise and rugged masculinity, riveted me in place.