Author’s Note: So I almost opened the story with this scene. I guess because I liked the interaction in it. Well, that and I wrote it to do a prompt and then didn’t post it. Oops?


“I’m thinking… maternal instinct.”

“Not funny, Darren.” Fi glared at him, shaking her head as she leaned back in her chair, cursing under her breath. She shouldn’t. Small ears would hear, and they didn’t need that on top of everything else. The whole situation was messed up, and she didn’t want to make it worse. She could do so much damage. She knew that. It would be all too easy for her to ruin yet another life. She let out a breath.

“I know you’re tired, and I know that the circumstances aren’t ideal, but you should be proud of what you managed there. Not everyone can quiet a baby like that. It takes skill.”

“Or duct tape.”

Darren shook his head. “Don’t say that. You know you don’t mean it. That’s just a lot of stress talking.”

“I know. I feel like such a monster half the time.” She closed her eyes, trying to will away the memories, but they wanted to come, unbidden, and overwhelm her. “I know it’s not her fault. I’m trying to be good, not allowing myself to take it out on her, but she shouldn’t be here. How do I get stuck with this? I left. When I found out what he did, I walked away. This isn’t my responsibility.”

“You know what you need? A break.” Darren rose, crossing over to take the baby from her. “Go upstairs, get some sleep, and in the morning, you’ll feel better.”

“You’re supposed to be borrowing my couch so you can get back on the road in the morning, remember?”

“I can spare a few hours. I have to admit, things would be a lot easier if I wasn’t terrified of flying,” he said, rocking the infant in his arms. Fi almost smiled at the sight, but then she’d known for a long time that Darren was good with kids. She’d seen him with their nieces and nephews, and they all loved him. Then again, it was easy to be loved when you traveled so much and always brought toys and other gifts on the rare occasions when you did show up. “Fidelity, I mean it. If you don’t go get some rest, I will pull rank on you and call in the big guns.”

“You are not calling my brother.”

Darren froze. “You didn’t tell them about this? Are you insane?”

“I was never supposed to get stuck with the baby that my husband had with another woman, okay? I was going to tell them that I was filing for divorce, but then Richard died, and so there was no point in that. They know he’s dead. That’s all they need to know.”

“It is not. I am holding a child that—”

“As soon as someone locates her relatives, she’ll go to her family. Her real family. Not me, not the woman he betrayed because I couldn’t give him one of… those things.” Fi pointed to the baby and shook her head. “Bastard. Damn it. I don’t want to do this. I’ve been okay so far, and I will continue to be okay. I am going to take you up on your offer and get some sleep, and maybe by morning they’ll call and say that they found her family. I’ll give her to them and no more baby that refuses to eat from a bottle, no more feeling guilty because I resent her, no more anything…”

“You are tired. Go get some sleep,” Darren told her, shifting the baby to his other arm so that he could push her toward the stairs. “Can I say it now? I know it’s speaking ill of the dead, but you know I never liked Richard—”

“I know, but you are not my brother, not even my brother-in-law, so you are in no place to lecture.”

“I didn’t say I was going to lecture you. I don’t really lecture, do I?”

“You do.”

“Then let’s skip it. You just get some rest, okay?”

She nodded, putting a hand to the bannister as she started up the stairs. “I’ll show you where Richard set up her nursery. If you need anything that’s not down by the couch, it’ll be in there. I don’t want to go in there again, but if you need to know where anything is—”

“I’ll be fine. We’ll be fine. Sleep. Now.”

She smiled. “I will try. Thank you, Darren, for all of this. It’s not your responsibility—”

“We’re almost family. It’s fine.”

“Just because your sister married my brother does not make you obligated to take care of my husband’s kid.”

He rolled his eyes. “You left out that I’m your brother’s best friend and have been for years. There’s that, too. Now, do I have to push you into the bedroom or are you going to go quietly?”

“Maybe. It’s—This isn’t easy, not after what he did or having him die like that… I hate my own bed thanks to him.”

“You want the couch? We can switch.”

“Actually… Yes, I do.”

Next: How Nice Is Too Nice?

Back: The Clarity of Being on the Outside

Beginning: The Loss of Eight Years

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