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Pregnant in Pennsylvania (Fifty States of Love #1)
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When you’re from a place like Clayton, PA, you either leave as soon as you can, or you never leave. We can’t even say we’re a one-stoplight town, because we don’t have a stoplight, just a traffic circle on a minor local highway. Here in Clayton, everyone knows everyone, and gossip and rumors are a way of life.
So, when my high school sweetheart leaves our son and me for a woman in another state, it’s the talk of the town for months, if not years. Even my motor-mouthed, wild child of a best friend, Cora, can’t rustle up enough trouble to keep my name off their lips for more than a week or two.
So, when I meet a handsome, single man not from Clayton, I assume he’s just passing through.
It was just supposed to be a night of fun with my BFF before school starts—one last hurrah before lesson plans and homework and packing lunches and school pickup lines take over everything. It wasn’t supposed to lead to an intense, sizzling connection—an attraction which despite my most vehement denials goes far beyond the physical.
The real question now is…will it end in another heartbreak for me and my son, or could it become a Happily Ever After?
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“Hey, Mom?” Aiden, my eight-year-old son, is on the floor, playing with LEGO® bricks, building what looks like is going to be a robot.
“Hmmm?” I’m absently scrolling through Facebook gossip about the new principal at Aiden’s elementary school, but mostly watching Aiden build his robot.
“Why did Principal Mackey quit?”
I look away from my phone and focus on Aiden. “What? Oh—he didn’t quit, honey, he retired.”
“What’s the difference?”
“Quitting would mean he decided he didn’t want to work there anymore, like he got a new job or something. But Principal Mackey is retiring, which means he’s not working at all anymore.”
Aiden uses his teeth to pry apart a couple of pieces, spitting one out and placing the other in a particular spot. “So what’s he gonna do all day, then?”
I laugh. “I don’t know, sweetie. Golf? Work in his garden? Travel with Mrs. Mackey?”
He uses his teeth to pry apart two more pieces. “Sounds boring.”
“He’s been a principal for thirty-eight years, so maybe he’s ready for some boredom,” I say. “Don’t use your teeth, Aiden. You have, like, three of those orange piece-remover things.”
He rolls his big gray eyes at me. “Yeah, but Bobber chewed one up, I lost one, and the other one is in this huge pile somewhere,” he says, gesturing at the big box of Lego pieces. “Anyway, my teeth work just as good.”
Bobber is my parents’ dog, and a mischievous little thing.
“But your teeth might break,” I say.
“Dude, it’s fine.” His slightly too-long blond hair dangles in front of one eye, and he brushes it away absentmindedly.
I frown at him, nudging him in the ribs with my toe. “Don’t call me dude, dude.”
He wiggles away from my toe—his ribs are his most ticklish spot. “Okay, okay!” He settles back on the floor when I stop tickling him. “I won’t call you dude…buddy.”
“Don’t press your luck, buddy,” I tease. “I was gonna do pizza for dinner, but I could make grilled chicken and broccoli instead…”
Aiden shoots me a horrified expression. “Have mercy, Mommy dearest! Anything but that!”
I laugh, tickling him again with a toe. “Don’t you forget it, mister.”
Aiden cackles, squirming away and tossing Lego pieces at me in self-defense.
Our doorbell rings, just then—three times in quick succession, followed by the sound of the door opening: it’s my best friend, Cora. “Is there tickling happening in this room?” she says by way of hello, jumping into the living room with her hands clawed.
Aiden scrambles to his feet with alacrity. “Nope! There was no tickling happening.”
“I think there was!” Cora says, her voice energized with wicked glee. “I know the sound of tickling, and I WILL NOT BE DENIED!”
I laugh as Aiden takes off running, scattering Legos everywhere as he tries to escape Cora; it’s hopeless, though—Cora loves nothing as much as to tickle Aiden until he begs for mercy. Indeed, the pursuit is short—Cora corners him by the couch, wraps him in her arms from behind, and tickles his ribs until he’s half crying and begging her to stop.
She stops tickling, but doesn’t let go right away, peppering his forehead and cheeks with kisses until he’s ripping free with a fake disgusted shudder, wiping at his face.
“You always get lipstick on me, Aunt Cora,” he complains.
She licks her thumb and extends it toward him. “Here, I’ll get it off…”
“NO! That’s even worse! It’s bad enough when Mom does it!”
Cora pretends to shuffle sadly to the couch, slumping down onto it as if he’s ruined her entire life. “Fine, whatever, see if I care. No more tickles, no more kisses.”
Aiden sighs, a sound of exhausted long-suffering. “Don’t be dramatical, Aunt Cora. You can still kiss me, but you’ve gotta slow down with the tickling. I almost peed my pants.” And, in fact, he’s doing the pee-pee dance, poking at himself.
I laugh. “Well go, then, you big goofball!”
He rabbits off at a run for the bathroom, the door slamming, the toilet seat clanking loudly.
Cora flops onto her back on the couch. My best friend since forever, Cora is my diametric opposite in just about everything. Where I’m a homebody, she’s a party girl; where I’m quiet, she’s loud; where I’m reserved and cautious, she’s outspoken and bold. She gets us into trouble, and as Miss Sweetness-and-Light-and-Innocence, I get us out of it.
She’s been hauling me out to parties for our entire lives and I always try to resist, only to succumb to her wheedling in the end. Which is what’s about to happen.
Aiden comes back into the living room, plops back down on the floor, and goes back to playing Legos.
“So.” Cora sits up, curly, glossy black hair swaying. Her bright green eyes twinkle mischievously. “School starts up next week.”
I play dumb. “Yep. Summer goes by fast.”
She scoots across the couch in a comical series of hops. “And you’ve barely done anything all summer.”