But she had a business to run and a new bartender to get acclimated. At least Tuesday was a traditionally slow night.
No good deed goes unpunished. She could hear her mother's words as clearly as if the woman was standing beside her. God, what would her mother say when she found out what Bailey had done? She had a feeling that confrontation would be worse than morning sickness and labor combined. The situation was just so complicated. Her mother hated complications.
Bailey wasn't a particular fan, either.
With a sigh, she readjusted the ponytail high on her head. Now wasn't the time to think of that. She'd work it out later, maybe when her brain wasn't focused on not throwing up. She dug a pack of gum out of the front pocket of her jeans and unwrapped a piece with a grimace. The juice from the gum would only upset her stomach further, but she hadn't thought to bring her toothbrush. Taking a deep breath, she flung open the door and stepped into the hallway.
And almost collided with a broad chest that was not supposed to be there. She put her hand out, her palm coming in contact with firm, warm flesh beneath a knit shirt. She indulged herself for a brief moment before she caught her balance and stepped back.
Dark brows drew together over deep blue eyes rimmed with long thick lashes, and a long-fingered hand closed around her elbow.
"You okay?" Blue Eyes asked in a husky voice.
She nodded and took another step back, breaking his hold. This time, the pitch in her stomach had nothing to do with her morning sickness and everything to do with—wow, he was hand‐ some, dark-haired, with a lean face and a sexy mouth.
Not to mention that chest.
Ridiculous thoughts for a pregnant woman to be thinking. "We're, ah, closed until four."
"Yeah, I know. I'm Rick Cassidy, the new bartender."
Holy hell. Well, he'll certainly bring in the women. She cast about in her brain for what her manager, Manuel, had told her about the new bartender. He had another job—one that didn't go with being a bartender.
"You're a teacher, right? Middle school or something? Is that going to interfere with working here?"
"I've already made arrangements on the days I need off, but the school year's wrapping up, and I'll be yours all summer."
Those words shouldn't have affected her, being pregnant and nauseated and all, but they were accompanied by a flash of straight white teeth and a wink. She pushed aside the rise of interest. He was an employee, someone she'd be helping to train.
And she'd heard hormones didn't kick in until the second trimester. She was barely eight weeks along.
"Did Manuel let you in?" She looked past a broad shoulder for her manager to save her from herself.
"The door was open, but I haven't seen him. I was back here hunting him down."
Scowling, she brushed past Rick and headed into the main part of the building, her darling, all polished wood and brass, with a bar that wrapped around and several booths and tables across the floor. If Manuel left the door open, anyone could come in.
She found her manager in a back booth with his tablet computer, placing the order for next week. "Your new bartender is looking for you."
Manuel popped up off the bench to shake Rick's hand, then looked at Bailey. "You look like hell. Are you sick?"
She hadn't told her employees her condition for the same reason she hadn't told her mother, though she expected her employees would be more sympathetic. But she didn't want to have to explain it, not yet. "I'm fine. Stomach's a little upset." She felt her face heat at the admission in front of Rick. She wasn't used to being embarrassed—or sick, for that matter.
"Okay, well, you take it easy and I'll show Rick around."
Oh, thank heavens. Her own hormones were messy enough without adding testosterone to the mix. "I'll grab a ginger ale and finish up here." And see if there was some stale popcorn behind the bar. Stale salty popcorn sounded really good right now.
BY THE TIME the bar opened, she was feeling better, almost normal, and her thoughts weren't quite so focused on the life in her womb. Hell, before this started, she'd never even thought the word "womb" in regards to herself, only when saying the Hail Mary.
Oh, her mother was going to have a fit.
She sat at the end of the bar, near the condiments, and watched Manuel work with Rick as she nibbled at a turkey sandwich from next door. Again, Tuesday night wasn't a big test, just some people coming in after work, a few friends meeting, a couple of regulars. The test would be Thursday night when the Spurs entered the next round of the play-offs and customers came to watch on the big screen TVs set up on either end of the bar. She hadn't wanted TVs, really, but they had paid for them‐ selves within a week. Working game night would show her if Rick could keep his cool. Now he was smiling and joking and serving beer, though he'd mixed a couple of easy drinks, too, with little effort.
Bailey noticed the women paying attention to him, watching him move with that economy of movement and easy grace. Yes, ladies, tell all your friends about Summers' hot new bartender.
The door opened and her brother Mitch and his partner Dean walked in. Mitch's face lit up when he saw her—though he'd just been in last week—and he crossed the room to hug her, lifting her off the barstool.
"How are you feeling?" he asked, a little too loud, with too pointed of a look at her belly.
"Sh!" She glanced behind the bar to see if Manuel or Rick noticed, but she couldn't be sure. Rick was watching with some curiosity. She wriggled free of her brother, accepted a quick peck from Dean, tugged at the hem of her blouse and turned to Rick. "This is my brother Mitch and his partner Dean. Dean and Mitch, meet Rick, the new bartender."
Mitch leaned forward to shake Rick's hand, and this time Bailey watched Rick closely. Since Mitch had come out seven years ago, she'd been wary of people who treated him with any kind of hesitation. But Rick gripped his hand firmly, and did the same to Dean with a nod of acknowledgement.
"Oh, well done, Sis," Mitch murmured, elbowing her discreetly. "Not my doing. Manuel's."
"Ah, well, you can reap the benefits."
"Not for seven more months, I won't." And by then, Rick
would be gone, no doubt, especially since he was a teacher. She didn't expect he could keep up two jobs during the school year.
Mitch wrapped his arm around her shoulder and hugged her against his side. "Thank you for doing this for us. You have no idea what it means."
"Of course I know what it means, or I wouldn't have done it." She pulled away from him, not wanting to discuss it here, not where they could be overheard. Her surrogate pregnancy couldn't be a secret for long, but she had a feeling she was going to get really tired of explaining it. She had never considered having a child of her own, but when Mitch and Dean decided they wanted a baby and had started thinking about surrogacy over adoption, well, she couldn't stop thinking about it. It was only nine months of her life, and then she could go back to normal. "Rick, could I get a whiskey sour and a glass of Shiraz down here? And maybe half a glass of ginger ale. No ice."
She took her place back on the bar stool with the computer tablet.
"Feeling okay?" Dean asked, sitting beside her and looking at her half-eaten sandwich.
"Just wary of putting anything into my stomach I don't want to see again."
Mitch rubbed her shoulder in sympathy. "It will pass."
"I hope." She'd heard horror stories of women who had morning sickness all day, every day, of their pregnancy. She shiv‐ ered at the concept.
"So what's his story?" Mitch sat on the barstool on her other side, and nodded at Rick as he walked away after serving them their drinks.
She twisted the silver ring on her thumb. "He's my employee. Not interested in his story."
"Okay, how about my life is complicated and I'm not interested in his story."
"Only partly true."
Her brother knew her so well, which was why she'd agreed to carry a baby for him and the love of his life, donating her egg, so that their child would have both Dean and Mitch's DNA. That, and she hadn't been in a relationship in a couple of years and didn't have anyone in her life that would object. But she couldn't let him tease her into interest in the new bartender. Besides, what kind of man would want a woman who was about to grow as big as a house?
She managed to steer the conversation to his day at the museum and Dean's at the bank, only interrupting them a few times to answer a phone call or fetch more chips from the back. After they finished their drinks and paid, at their insistence, she walked them to the door.
"We decided to wait until after Mom's birthday, then tell her," Mitch said at the door. "I don't think I can keep this from her for long, but I learned my lesson when I came out just before Christmas."
And hadn't that been the worst Christmas ever? Their very strict and religious mother had not easily accepted that her son was gay and had canceled the holiday. Bailey hadn't realized how much she valued tradition until that year. Bailey took a deep breath. Her mother's birthday was in two weeks.
"Okay. How bad can it be?" Even as she said the words, she knew. It would be bad.
Rick let himself into his apartment and tossed his keys on the table by the door. They slid across the surface to the floor, but he was too tired to pick them up. What had he been thinking, starting this job at the end of the school year, when he was watching the calendar as much as the kids? When his ass was kicked from weeks of testing?
He was thinking that he needed money, a lot of it, and quick. He'd paid his way through college tending bar, and while tips hadn't been great tonight, the place hadn't been too busy, either. The couple of nights he'd checked it out before applying for the job, it had been bouncing. He'd make it up. Who needed sleep anyway?
He headed for the shower and leaned against the tile as the water sluiced over him. A benefit of the job was the lovely owner with her long blonde hair, big brown eyes, aristocratic features and trim, athletic body. Manuel had caught him staring at that fine ass when she'd restocked the chips, and given him a definite hands-off sign.
Of course. She was his boss, the owner. No possibilities there, but he could still enjoy. His life was too crazy now anyway. He needed the money, and he needed to stay awake in class tomorrow. Wasn't going to happen if he couldn't keep his mind off a sexy blonde with a great ass.
After a hunt for his keys this following morning—they'd slid into the fringe of the carpet—Rick arrived at work just as the tardy bell rang. Shit, he was never late, but he wasn't going to survive the day without caffeine, so he stopped in the teacher's lounge to fill two tiny Styrofoam cups—the only ones left this late in the year, when teachers needed caffeine more—and check his box for any paperwork he needed. He tucked the accumulated papers into his messenger bag, picked up the two cups and headed for the door.
"Hey, Rick, I've been thinking about you," Susan Torres, the journalism teacher, stopped him at the door. "How's your brother?"
"Well, you know." Fighting depression. In constant pain. Bedridden. He didn't want to talk about his brother's accident and resulting broken back, especially to a coworker he didn't know that well. "Recovering."
"Good. I've been praying for him and you." She placed her slender hand on his arm and let it linger.
A coworker he didn't know that well, but who wanted to change that. She was lovely, tall and slender, long dark hair, big eyes, natural make-up. Just his type. But her timing couldn't be worse. He'd ended a long-term relationship a couple months back and started a new job. Add to that his visits to the rehab hospital and babysitting his niece and nephew so his sister-in- law could get things done. He had no time to even think about dating. He stepped back, breaking contact. "Thanks."
"Look, if you ever want to talk, I kind of know what you're going through."
"Yeah?" He shifted his messenger bag higher on his shoulder. He needed to get to class, but couldn't just walk away. "What happened?" "My brother drove into a low-water crossing and the car got pushed off the road. He almost drowned but was rescued. Still, he suffered some injuries, and he was never quite the same. So I kind of know. It was a while ago, and he's mostly recovered, but...it was a long road."
Long road. That sounded about right. Worse—or maybe better, who knew—Riley had two kids who needed him, and a wife struggling to make ends meet as a maid at a Riverwalk hotel. She might not even be able to hold onto that for long. Add the hospital bills to that...thus the second job. Better him than her.
He nodded. "I'm glad he's doing better. It'll take Riley awhile, but we have hope. But right now, I've got to get to class. My kids are waiting."
Her face fell and she stepped back, letting him pass.
He didn't mean to hurt her, but he had no room in his life for a woman.
BAILEY SUMMERS WAS SITTING at the bar, her head in her hands, when he walked into Summers that afternoon.
"Still not over that bug?" he asked, and her head snapped up, her eyes wide, alarmed.
She started to get off the stool, but her foot caught and only his quick capture of her elbow saved her from falling on her fine ass. Soft skin covered deceptively strong muscles, but he was only allowed to register that for a moment before she yanked her arm away.
"I'm not usually so clumsy."
"I don't mind. Lets me do a good deed."
She snorted. "You're here early."
"Yeah, I came straight from school. Made more sense than
going home and coming back." He swung his messenger bag onto the counter and sat.
She sat, too, slowly, though, like she didn't want to. "Papers to grade? You want a Coke or something?"
"Sure, I'll get it," he added quickly when she started to rise. "Want some more ginger ale?"
"I have a pitcher of weak green tea back there in the fridge, if you don't mind."
He rounded the bar and frowned at her. "Maybe you should go see a doctor. Or at least go home and get some rest. From what I've seen, Manuel can run the bar okay on his own.”
She narrowed her eyes. "Last night was a slow night. Trust me, you'll need me more the rest of the week."
"You won't do us any good if you're sick."
"I'll be fine," she said through her teeth as he passed her the iced tea.
Stubborn woman. He raised his hands in surrender and stepped back. He poured his own beverage and crossed to the other side and opened his bag.
"So I don't think I've ever met a man who was a middle school teacher and not a coach. You're not a coach, right?"
"Nope. U. S. History."
"Not a history fan?"
She shook her head.
"I love it. All that cause and effect. It's like a puzzle."
"I suppose. The kids probably love you, girls especially." "Why's that?"
She lifted her eyebrows. "Oh, come on, now. You have a mirror."
He laughed softly as he dug for a pen. "To middle school girls, I'm an old man. I'm in my thirties."
"I remember crushing on a teacher when I was in middle school. Spanish. Senor Benavides. Looking back on it, it was probably more his personality than his looks. Though a lot of it was hormones. So why'd you become a teacher?"
He shifted on the barstool to face her. "Ever have that one teacher who inspires you?"
She shook her head. "No, not really. Other than Senor Bena‐ vides, that is."
He chuckled. "For me, it was Mr. Hoyt. Sixth grade English, right after my dad died. I had no desire to be there, no desire to write or read or diagram sentences. I gave him hell, and he never gave up on me."
"Not many people can say that..about many people."
"I know. But I wanted to be someone that people could say that about, you know?"
She made a noncommittal sound.
"What about you? What made you want to run a bar?"
"It was my uncle's. I worked here in college. He saw that I loved it, so he retired earlier than he planned and sold it to me. I'm still paying it off, by the way."
"But it wasn't what you planned to do."
"No, I was pre-law. I'm not really sure if my parents are more relieved that I'm a bar owner or not."
He snorted, finally locating a pen in the bottom of his bag, which suffered from end-of-the-year-itis as much as he did. "Want to help me grade?"
"Thanks, no. Being a teacher wasn't even in my top ten choices."
"Working two jobs," she countered, sliding off the barstool. "I have some phone calls to make. You can hold it down out here until Manuel comes in, right?" But she didn't wait for an answer before hurrying down the hall to her office, leaving her drink behind.
You can read the rest of What (Not) to Expect When You're Expecting, available at all retailers.