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“I’m sorry to hear that,” Devon said sincerely.

Cam waved the sympathy away. It did him no good at this point. “Have you seen her? Has Ashley said anything about her at all? She’s avoiding me and it’s starting to piss me the hell off.”

Devon cleared his throat. “Pippa was out at the house the other night. She’s pretty upset at the moment.”

Cam sat forward. “Upset about the pregnancy? Has she changed her mind about having the baby?”

Devon held up his hand. “Slow down. Nothing like that. As far as I know, she’s taking the pregnancy very well. Things aren’t going so well for her business plans, though. Apparently the lease she’d signed for her shop fell through and she’s not having any luck finding anything else suitable. She’s on a pretty tight budget, and now with a baby on the way, she’s starting to panic.”

Cam swore long and hard. “Damn fool, stubborn, mule-headed female. All she had to do was agree to marry me. Or move in with me. She had options. A hell of a lot of options.”

Devon stared at him like he’d lost his mind. “Marry you? Move in with you?”

“I know what you’re thinking, and yes, I’m obviously out of my mind. But damn it, Dev, all I can think about is what if something happens? Something I could prevent? I just need…”

“I know, man,” Devon said softly. “So what are you going to do?”

“Hell if I know,” Cam muttered. “What is there to do? She doesn’t seem to want anything to do with me. At least, not yet. And I’ve tried—really tried—to give her the space she seems to want and need, but I’m getting impatient here. I’ve tried to call her. Arrange dinner. She always has something else to do. She was supposed to tell me when her next doctor’s appointment is but so far I’ve heard nothing. I need to know she’s safe and is taking care of herself and the baby. How can I do any of that when she won’t agree to see me?”

“Try letting go of the past and stop allowing it to overshadow every single thought and decision. You can’t change the past, but you can sure screw up your future.”

Red-hot rage clouded Cam’s vision. His fingers curled into tight fists and he sat there, refusing to even look at his friend because he knew Devon meant well but he also knew he’d do or say something he’d regret if he wasn’t careful.

How the hell could Devon possibly understand? He wanted to tell Devon that he wouldn’t be so quick to give advice if something happened to Ashley and their child, but he couldn’t be so cruel as to even make Devon contemplate such a future. He wouldn’t do it to his worst enemy.

“I’m sorry,” Devon said, regret heavy in his voice. “No one expects you to ever forget. I just think at some point you have to be willing to move forward and take a chance again.”

Cam nodded curtly, still refusing to look Devon’s way.

“Look, if it’s any consolation, Pippa is mostly devoting her time to trying to get her business started. Ashley’s been helping her come up with ideas. I doubt her avoidance is personal. She’s stressing because now that she’s pregnant, she feels even more pressure to get her business off the ground so she can provide for her child.”

“She wouldn’t have to stress if she’d just accept help from me,” Cam growled.

“Have you offered? And I mean in a no-strings kind of way?”

“Maybe my mistake is in asking her. It occurs to me that when given the opportunity to say no, women will, if for no other reason than to be contrary.”

His mood brightened considerably as he warmed to the idea that had just taken root.

“The trick is not to ask but just do. Wouldn’t you agree, Dev?”

Devon gave him an uneasy look. “You’re on your own, man. Don’t ask me to get involved. I’m not going to help pave the way for you to have your nuts painfully removed.”

“Chicken,” Cam drawled.

“Hell, yeah. I’m chicken. I know what side my bread is buttered on. I’ve discovered in a very short time that Ashley’s happiness or sadness has a direct bearing on my own.”

For a moment pain sliced through Cam’s chest, robbing him of breath. He envied Devon with a ferocity that left him bereft. Devon was happy. He’d discovered the joys of marriage and the love of a woman. He was looking forward to fatherhood with the innocence of a man who didn’t realize that happiness was fleeting. That everything could change in a moment’s time. And that you could go from being on top of the world to hell in the blink of an eye.

Cam knew. And if he had any say in the matter, he’d never know that kind of pain again.

“But I’ll wish you luck,” Devon said cheerfully. “If nothing else, you’ll provide me with entertainment.”

Cam sat back in his chair. “You underestimate me.”

Devon studied him for a long moment and then pushed forward in his chair. “What exactly do you want here, Cam? You say you don’t want a relationship. Don’t want commitment. Don’t want anything resembling a permanent situation. And yet you’re pursuing Pippa relentlessly and are frustrated by the fact that she’s giving you precisely what you want, which is a pass on all of the above-mentioned things.”

Cam’s eyes narrowed. It was a damn good question and one he didn’t have a ready answer to. Nor did he really want to examine all the reasons why he was pulling marriage proposals out of his ass. “I want to do everything in my power to make sure she and my child are safe and taken care of.”

Devon sighed. “You can’t protect them from everything. Bad things happen. You can’t live your whole life expecting disaster.”

For Cam, the conversation was over. He ignored Devon’s remarks and steered the conversation to business. But Pippa was very much on his mind, and even as he discussed the latest progress on the resort in St. Angelo, he was already formulating his idea on how to rein Pippa in.

The sooner he was certain of her safety and well-being, the faster his own life would get back to normal. And he’d keep telling himself that until he damn well believed it.


Pippa dug her hands deeper into the pockets of her coat and hunched her shoulders forward as she hurried down the sidewalk toward her apartment. Snow flurries blew furiously around her and the wind cut ribbons across her body, chilling her to the bone.

She clamped her elbow down on her purse when the wind blew it up and then readjusted the strap over her shoulder so it was crossways over her body.

It had been a dismal day in a long line of dismal days, and to make matters worse she was battling morning sickness and overwhelming fatigue. It disgusted her how much she needed to sleep in order to feel human.

She rounded the corner and breathed a sigh of relief. Just two more blocks and she’d be home. As soon as she got inside her apartment, she was going to put on her jammies, curl up with a cup of hot chocolate and then sleep for about twelve hours.

What a party animal she was. She was one happening chick. From having endless energy and being able to function on just a few hours of sleep a night to not being able to hold up her head unless she got about fourteen hours in. Pregnancy had turned her into a pathetic, boring lump.

She was so deep into her thoughts that she wasn’t immediately aware of the car pulling to a stop on the street beside her. When she did notice, her heart lurched and she stepped hastily back. Just as a hand curled around her elbow.

She let out a startled cry and then quieted when she saw who it was who held her.

“Cam, you scared the life out of me!”

“Get in,” he said tersely. “It’s freezing out here.”

“It’s just a block and a half to my apartment!”

Ignoring her, he steered her toward the open car door and she sighed as a wave of warm air hit her square in the face. Okay, so maybe riding the rest of the way wouldn’t hurt. She slid across the seat, Cam getting in after her. He shut the door and gestured for the driver to pull away.

“You haven’t returned my calls,” he said in a clipped voice. “You have an uncanny knack of never being at home when I come by. Your friends, amazingly enough, have no idea where you are at any given time.”

The sarcasm made her flinch, but guilt made her wince even more.

When the car didn’t slow as they passed her apartment, she leaned forward. “Right here! My apartment is right here.”

“We aren’t going to your apartment.”

She sank back against the seat and sighed wearily. “Look, I know I’ve been avoiding you. I’m not offering any excuses. But, Cam, please, I cannot deal with you tonight. I’m tired. I’m in a terrible mood. I’ll only make you crazy.”

To her surprise, he cracked a smile. “At least you’re honest.”

The sudden change in his demeanor unbalanced her. He was so damn…appealing…when he smiled.

“Where are we going?” she asked irritably.

“Somewhere I think your mood will be much improved.”

“Cryptic bastard,” she muttered.

To her annoyance, his grin widened. But just as quickly, his brows drew together and he turned to face her fully. There was no anger in his eyes, but there was most definitely determination. Oh, yes, he was clearly telling her that he’d finally cornered her cowardly butt and he wasn’t going to let her go this time.

“What gives, Pippa? Why won’t you return my calls? I thought we had an agreement. I don’t even know when your doctor’s appointment is. Or have you already been?”

She frowned. “Of course I haven’t. I told you that I’d let you know so you could come with me.”

“You said a lot of things that haven’t exactly come to fruition,” he said darkly.

“I’ve been busy,” she burst out in frustration. “I’ve got a lot on my mind, including how the hell I’m going to support a baby. Much less myself. I’m stressed beyond your imagination, Cam. Cut me some slack here. Your life may not change so much but mine sure as hell will.”

His eyes grew stormy and his lips tightened into a fine line. She knew she’d gone too far. She knew she’d been careless with her words. She wanted to bite at someone and he was the unfortunate victim because he just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Not that it was entirely her fault. She could be at home where she wouldn’t annoy anyone but herself. But he’d played Mr. Kidnapper and Mr. One Thousand Questions, so in her mind he deserved what he got.

Only he didn’t deserve it and she knew it. He’d made the effort. He was doing and saying all the right things. Sort of. But it had been hard for her to come to terms with her pregnancy and what it meant for her. How did anyone do a complete one-eighty in their life and just keep on trucking? Maybe some people managed it, but Pippa wasn’t one of them.

“You think you’re the only one struggling with this, Pippa? Let me tell you, it sucks not knowing what the hell is going on with you. It sucks not to know if you’re okay, if the baby’s okay, if there still is a baby. Would you like living with that kind of uncertainty?”

Guilt gnawed at Pippa like a hungry beast. He hadn’t deserved her avoidance, and maybe, just maybe, if she had been more willing to include him, they could have tackled this whole thing together instead of her worrying incessantly about how she was going to manage alone.

“I’m sorry, Cam.”

She leaned forward and then threw her arms around his broad shoulders, hugging him tightly. He stiffened at first as if he had no idea how to take the impulsive gesture. Then he gradually relaxed and put his arms around her, as well.

She hugged him fiercely, burying her face in his neck. It felt good to just hold on to someone stronger than herself because she needed that support.

“I’m sorry,” she said again. “I’m no good at this. You don’t deserve the way I’ve treated you, Cam. I’m so sorry.”

He gently pulled away and put a finger to her lips. His eyes were soft and so focused on her that she shivered. “How about we just make a pact going forward,” he said gruffly. “Don’t leave me out of the loop and stop avoiding me.”

She nodded, and settled back into his arms.

He stroked her shoulders in a soothing pattern and then said close to her ear, “I’ve got a surprise for you that I think will alleviate some of this stress you’ve placed yourself under.”

She pulled away, hating to leave that comforting haven, but she wanted to know what the heck he was talking about. He must have seen the obvious question in her eyes because he shook his head.

“We’ll be there soon. It isn’t far from your apartment.”

With that cryptic remark, he closed his mouth and settled back against the seat. He pulled her into his side and directed his gaze out his window as they navigated through traffic.

Just a few more blocks up, the driver slowed and pulled to the curb in front of an upscale cluster of retail businesses. Cam opened his door, stepped into the cold and then reached back for Pippa’s hand to help her out.

As soon as she stepped onto the pavement, her gaze went to the shop on the corner of the busy intersection. Her mouth fell open as she saw the sassy storefront sign.

Pippa’s Place. Catering Done Your Way.

It was sort of perfect. Hot pink. Flashy. Contemporary. And girlie! It fit her to a T.

She dropped his hand and surged forward to stare into the window. The inside was immaculate. Already set up with a seating area to the left and a large counter with a display for all the yummy things she’d fill it with. There were two registers at each end of the counter.