Genre: Contemporary Romance
Date of Publication: 12/16/14
Word Count: 72,000
Cover Artist: Fiona Jayde
After discovering she's infertile, Lydia Ryder has all but convinced herself that she doesn't need children or a family to be happy. All she needs is her camera, her passport, and a damn good manicure. And maybe, maybe a sexy male travel companion. But when her job as a magazine photographer lands her in the small town of Maple Grove, NH, a precocious ten year old and her single father barge into Lydia's life, turning what she thinks she wants onto its head. In this town full of happily ever afters, Lydia finds herself wishing for things she had sworn off long ago...
When Cameron Tripp's wife passed away from heart disease, he thought he'd never find love again. He certainly never would have expected a woman like Lydia Ryder to waltz into his life and awaken his dormant heart and libido. But despite his better judgment, Cam finds himself drawn to the vivacious and argumentative outsider. He quickly learns that, like him, she knows all about misplaced trust, heartbreak, and how quickly a family can fall apart if you let it.
The edge of the heavy card stock bit into Lydia Ryder's palm as she gripped the pamphlets. Numbness crept up her body, beginning with her toes until it nearly swallowed her.
“There are alternatives when and if you're ready to be a mother. Premature ovarian failure doesn't necessarily mean you can't have children. There are plenty of options. In vitro, adoption... ” Dr. Seaver's voice faded into the recesses of Lydia's mind. Even though the doctor only stood only a few feet away, it may as well have been miles.
Lydia stared, hypnotized by the pamphlet in her hand. Coping with Infertility...
She wasn’t even thirty years old, too focused on her photojournalism career to consider a serious relationship, much less a family. Hell, she didn't even know if she wanted children, and yet here she was—with nature making the choice for her.
“Depression can be very common in the wake of a discovery like this. I'm referring you to a therapist—someone you can talk to. And in the meantime, we'll start you on estrogen therapy. You'll feel a lot better once your hormones are balanced. Lydia...are you listening?”
She jumped at the weight of Dr. Seaver's palm on her shoulder. With rapid fire blinks, she raised her gaze to the gynecologist. “Yes. Yes, I'm listening. Thank you, Dr. Seaver.”
She pushed off of the exam table, hiking her leather camera bag and laptop case onto her shoulder and draping her blazer over an arm. Taking the prescriptions the doctor held out, Lydia tucked it into her purse along with the folded pamphlet.
There was another few minutes of chatting, but she could barely focus enough to listen. It was as though she was submerged in water, straining to hear those above her.
When she left the building, the roar of New York City traffic was like white noise, as comforting as the sound of waves crashing or crickets chirping.
When she left the building, the roar of New York City traffic was like white noise, as comforting as the sound of waves crashing or crickets chirping.
The prescriptions and pamphlet—merely three pieces of paper—weighed heavy in her purse. It was a boulder on her shoulder. Moisture welled in her eyes, the tears burning like acid, but she blinked them back. She would not mourn. She would not cry over something she never had and didn't know she even wanted.
With a glance at her watch, she felt the relief that she wasn't yet late for Noah Tripp's press conference. She passed by a Newsstand off of Hudson, that horrible article that her name was now attached to sat front and center, nestled between People and Us Weekly. Noah Blue: Hot Actor, Cold Heart. She cringed at the cover; at the differences between the portrait she took—a smiling Noah against a simple white backdrop, paralleled against the dingy, dark photo that the ghost writer found of him drunk at a club.
It was her first ever mainstream magazine article. She understood why the Daily View wanted one of their veterans ghosting her. But did they have to so utterly botch her article? Not to mention the fact that they used off the record information. By the time Lydia had read the new copy, the article had already gone to print and it was too late. The ghost writer claimed that it would be their word against Noah's.
She pushed on, ignoring that queasy feeling in the pit of her stomach. To make matters worse, a rival magazine, City Star, saw the Noah Blue article and liked it so much that they offered her a full time job.
She hadn't said no, but she also hadn't said yes. Gotcha journalism and TMZ reporting was the last thing she had expected her life to become when she graduated with her BFA in photography and writing. Her throat tightened, sweat forming beneath her button down shirt with June's hot sun beating down on her. But now? These medical bills were going to add up if she didn't get on a better insurance plan. And how often did photographers get the opportunity for salaried jobs with paid vacation and sick days? It was a good opportunity; even if she only did it for a short time to pay off some bills. Lydia pushed her eyes to the ground, watching carefully as she huffed down the city sidewalk toward the press conference. The building was just ahead—a tall, corporate looking building that was plopped right in the middle of the West Village's old city charm.
She froze, waiting at the stop light from across the street as city traffic whizzed by. She blinked as dark hair, olive skin and dimples came into view. Noah Blue. Standing just outside the building talking to another man. Oh, God, she felt sick about what had happened. The Daily View using that story about his sister-in-law's funeral was just appalling. And even though the magazine's lawyers had warned her to stay far away from him, she just couldn't. She owed him an explanation; an apology.
The light turned green and she rushed forward as Noah walked into the coffee shop that was in the lobby of the building. Her laptop and camera bag bumped her hip with each bouncing step. What the hell was she even going to say? What could she say?
She shook the doubtful feelings away. It didn't matter. She needed to apologize; even if it opened herself up to a lawsuit. She needed to look this man in the eyes and tell him that she had nothing to do with that story—but even still, that she was sorry.
She pushed through the glass doors as the familiar smell of heady arabica wafted by her. Scanning the bustling cafe, she looked for those signature blue eyes and dimples that made Noah Blue Tripp famous. How did he manage to disappear so quickly? There was a huge line of people waiting to place their orders. Then again, he was a star...maybe they let him through to the front of the line? She weaved her way through the crowd, just in time to see a glimpse of Noah getting on the elevators in the lobby.
Damn. But maybe it was better this way. She didn't even want to go to this press conference—she knew exactly what happened with that article. What else was there to learn?
That nauseous feeling flooded her core once more and she leaned against the wall beside the restroom door. Was it the hormones Dr. Seaver had injected her with today? Or was that her stupid conscience rearing its head? Either way, it felt horrible. She felt horrible.
Pushing off the wall, Lydia turned and reached for the bathroom door just as it swung open. Abroad-shouldered man in a plain white T-shirt and perfectly fitted jeans barreled toward her. He didn't look up as he shook his hands of water. Defined muscles pushed against the shirt in the most delicious way, and she stood frozen to the floor as he collided with her. Her ankles wobbled over the pencil thin heels she wore, and she yelped, stumbling backwards as a strong hand darted out, steadying her just in time.
She began an apology as he said, “I'm so sorry,” His voice boomed over hers, and her mouth went dry at his tone—one hundred percent masculine and utterly delicious. She could dip that voice in chocolate and eat it for dessert.
He smiled. A genuine smile from a stranger in New York was not a common thing. Two dimples formed on either side of his mouth. Heat raced across her body, and Lydia's skin tightened under his gaze as it swept her face.
His chest was heavy with each breath and she watched as his expression shifted into something more melancholy, reminding her of where she'd just come from. She placed a palm on her purse, remembering the pamphlet.
“My fault,” he said as he dropped his hand from her elbow. She'd barely noticed he had still been touching her—it felt that comfortable, like his hands were simply meant to be on her body.
A heaviness sat in her belly as a thought hit her hard like a bucket of ice water. Dating—meeting men...it would never be that easy, flirty thing again. Sooner or later, if things got serious, she'd need to have the infertility conversation. She was suddenly very thankful that his hand was nowhere on her anymore.
Shrugging, she gave him a small smile. But even as she lifted the corners of her lips, she could feel the quivering sob forming in her chest. Like a striking match, it started small, but given the circumstance could quickly form into a roaring fire.
His jaw tightened as he swallowed and creases settled across his sun-weathered face. “You can do this,” he said, almost as though he knew; as though he understood.
Her fake smile sagged, and for the first time all day, Lydia allowed herself to feel the full weight—the full sadness of her loss. She didn't bother brushing off the runaway tear.
The man stepped to the side. Slowly, she reached for the doorknob, pausing just before she opened it. “Thank you,” she answered, looking up into his bright blue eyes once more. She smiled, warmed by the kindness of this stranger, before closing the door behind her.
After splashing some cold water on her cheeks and taking a moment to collect herself, she exited the bathroom and moved to the end of the long line. Somehow, the crowd was comforting. And even though there wasn't a single friend in the coffee shop, Lydia felt far less alone in the presence of strangers.
Two people ahead of her, she saw the man from the bathroom. Just as she looked up and caught his eye, he turned his head back toward the menu board. Lydia exhaled a silent breath. Of course he wasn't interested in her, not in that way. No man wanted to date a crying woman.
“Mommy! Mommy! I want a blueberry muffin!”
The child's voice came from directly behind her and cut right through to her heart. With a stiff spine, she turned to find a little girl with light brown hair, ruddy cheeks, and light eyes. Heat flushed across Lydia's face, and her chest expanded with a held breath that felt like a bubble lodged just to the right of her heart.
“Is that how you ask for things?” the mother asked, her voice razor sharp.
The little girl groaned, and the next thing Lydia knew, the kid was stomping and thrashing her limbs around. Her screams pierced through the low, chattering hum of the café.
The mother gave a weary sigh and somehow managed to talk over the screams. “You have until three. One—two—”
Lydia shifted, looking to the board uncomfortably. What do you do in this situation? Pretend like it wasn't happening? Ignore the tantrum? Hardly any of Lydia's friends had kids yet—she could count on one hand the number of times she held a baby. The noise abruptly stopped.
“Now apologize to mommy.”
Mommy. Mom. Mother. Mama. Lydia clamped her eyes shut, squeezing as hard as she could as though this subtle movement could completely eradicate any thoughts of children or motherhood from her mind.
“Kids,” the man in front of her murmured with a snort. “Who needs 'em, right?”
Lydia's eyes snapped open, excitement pulsing in her brain. Was bathroom guy talking to her again? But instead, she was met with the gaze of a different man directly in front of her. He was handsome in a much different way than the guy from earlier. Kids, who needs 'em. Was he kidding? She scanned his body—he was in great shape, even if a little pretentious in the way his shirt was rolled just perfectly to the elbow.
Lydia gave a polite smile. “Right. Who needs them,” she answered. She could barely read her own inflection. Was that sarcasm? Hesitancy? Hell if she knew her own thoughts anymore. And she felt suddenly exhausted.
“No, I'm serious.” He spun to face her. His gaze flicked down to the child before meeting Lydia's once more. “The planet is far too populated as it is.”
Lydia swallowed hard, her throat burning. She considered that statement for a moment. She supposed he wasn't wrong about that.
His eyebrows lifted. “Don't get me wrong. Kids are cute and fun for like, an hour. But I love my life. I'm fulfilled by my job, my friends, romance...I don't need a kid to satisfy some weird biological clock.”
Up until an hour ago at the doctor's office, Lydia had been pretty pleased with her life, too. She didn't love her new gig freelancing for trashy magazines specifically, but she loved photographing and reporting. She loved her friends and the freedom to date as she pleased. Maybe this would be okay. Lydia's breath became heavy, and she examined the men in front of her. Both offered her exactly what she needed to hear in a moment that she needed clarity more than anything. Two very different sets of advice...advice they hadn't even realized they were giving. “Thank you,” she whispered before she could stop herself. There were plenty of men who didn't want children. She didn't have to be destitute of love and relationships just because she couldn't have kids.
He gave her an odd look, confusion marring his handsome features.
“Sorry, mommy,” the little voice whimpered. “May I please have a blueberry muffin?”
There was a rustle as the woman peeked beyond Lydia at the glass case. At least seven people were ahead of Lydia, and there was only one muffin left. Lydia hoped she was gone before the next tantrum started.
“I swear,” the guy said, “there should be an area where kids are strictly not allowed.”
Lydia felt a small smile flick at the corners of her mouth. “There is. It's called a bar.”
Ahead of them, she heard the quiet snort of a laugh from the bathroom guy.
The man in front of her grinned, his gaze traveling the length of her body. “I'd drink to that.” He slipped a hand into his front pocket as the line lurched forward. “I'm Jason.”
“Lydia.” Brushing her hand to her clavicle. Rolling her neck to each side, she tried to ignore the noise as the little girl's whining behind her grew louder once more. To be fair, the line was taking forever.
The line moved again, and they were nearly to the front. From his back pocket, he pulled out a business card handing it to Lydia. His smile softened, crinkling around striking eyes. “Lydia, I hope I'm not being too forward...but I'd love to take you out to dinner. Call me sometime.”
He didn't wait for her answer before turning to one of the open baristas. The man from the bathroom finished paying and crossed toward Lydia. His bright blue gaze met hers and for a moment, everything stood still. She swallowed, taking the final opportunity to memorize the way his dark hair curled around his ears; it looked like he had been running his hands through it all day. Angled features and stubble dusted along his chiseled jaw. A grin lifted his face, and those damn dimples flanked another breathtaking smile.
And he was headed directly for her.
He paused at Lydia's shoulder, so close that she could smell the traces of cedar and smokiness on him—like a campfire. Something heavy buzzed between them as he held her gaze. Warmth seethed through her body and despite this heat, she shivered.
Blinking, he brushed by her, crouching in front of the little girl, holding out the last blueberry muffin. He grinned wider, looking up at her mother. “Here ya go.” He dropped it into her hand with a wink. “Blueberry muffins are my little girl's favorite, too.”
Lydia's stomach knotted as smile lines creased his face and though he looked tired, he also had a peace to him that she didn't find very often in Manhattan residents. “Be a good girl for your mommy, okay?” He pushed off his knees, standing once more as the mother thanked him.
With a final look at Lydia, he left the coffee shop. Without saying another word to her. Heat and embarrassment rose like high tide from her belly. But for what exactly? She hadn't done anything wrong. She gulped. Or had she?
Stepping up to the counter, Lydia ordered her tall, sugar-free, soy vanilla latte as memories of her mom and her shitty childhood consumed her thoughts. Looking on the bright side, at least now she wouldn't end up pregnant with a baby she didn't want like her own mother had. She couldn't do that to any child. And maybe she didn't want one. Maybe that parental gene was absent in her family. And this was nature's way of taking care of the decision for her.
Lydia sipped her latte, savoring the warm flavor. Its comforting steam billowed around her mouth, and she sighed. This was okay—she was okay. She didn't know the first thing about kids or babies. And if she changed her mind...well, just like Dr. Seaver said, she had options. In the meantime, she needed to find a way to pay for these medical bills.
Through the window, she watched as the man walked confidently down the street, sipping out of his to-go cup.
She lifted a chin and reached into her purse for the pamphlet, dropping it into the trash along with the referral for a therapist. This was a good thing, Lydia thought as she rested a hand to the door.
“I love you, Mommy.”
Lydia's belly tightened, and her grip froze on the handle. You can do this, she repeated to herself, grabbing her cell phone and dialing.
“Yes, hi, Mara? This is Lydia Ryder. I would like to formally accept your offer with the City Star. I can start next Monday.”
About the Author:
Katana Collins Katana Collins splits her time evenly between photographing boudoir portraits and writing steam-your-glasses romances. Between navigating life as a small business owner, a first-time homeowner, and a newlywed, Kat is in a constant state of "OHMYGODINEEDCOFFEENOW."
She is the author of the Soul Stripper trilogy, Wicked Exposure, and the graphic novel, Cafe Racer, co-written with Sean Murphy.
She and her comic book artist husband commute back and forth as they please between Brooklyn, NY and Portland, ME with their ever-growing family of rescue animals (up to two dogs and a cat and still counting!). She can usually be found hunched over her laptop in a cafe, guzzling gallons of coffee, and wearing fabulous (albeit sometimes impractical) shoes.
Visit her on the web at www.katanacollins.com , on Twitter @katanacollins, or find her on Facebook www.facebook.com/KatanaCollins