Sorry this is late! I was away at a lake cottage with NO INTERNET ACCESS. I survived, but barely :-)
Jack sat back and took a breath. “Okay. Remember Brittany Fullerton?”
She blinked. “Yes, of course.” How could she forget? Brittany had been Jack’s high school girlfriend. In their senior year, Brittany had gotten pregnant. It had been an agonizing time for all of them―Jack and his family, Brittany’s family, Ally and Carter too, as they tried to help their best friend get through it.
“Well,” he wrestled with the words. “She didn’t have a miscarriage.”
She stared at him. “Huh? Yes she did.”
“No. She told me she did. Her parents made her stay away from me. She called me and told me she’d had a miscarriage. Then we went away to college and I never saw her again. Apparently she moved away from Garden City and lived with some relatives. She had the baby in December that year.”
“Oh my God,” Ally whispered, her breath catching. Holy freaking crap. “How do you know that?”
“She called me. A couple of weeks ago.”
Ally shook her head, still dumbfounded. “She called you? How did she know how to get hold of you?” And I didn’t, were the unspoken words in her head.
“She tracked me down through the agency. She e-mailed me. It took a while for it to get around to me. When I got it, I called her. She lives in LA now, believe it or not.”
“Wow. I don’t know what to say.” She blinked, her head whirling. How could this be? Questions ricocheted around in her brain. “Why? Why did she call you now? Why did she keep that from you all these years? Oh, my God, Jack.”
“I know. I had all the same questions.” He gave her a rueful smile. “I only talked to her for a few minutes on the phone so I don’t have all the answers yet.”
“Is it...do you have a son...or a daughter?” Her insides clenched with emotions that she couldn’t even begin to identify, so many of them, tangled and twisting.
“A daughter.” Jack’s lips compressed and he looked down at his hands. “She’s nine years old. Her name is Sarah.”
“Wow.” No other words came to mind. Just...“Wow.”
“Yeah. Took me by surprise, too. My life is pretty much turned upside down right now.”
Memories of the night Jack had told her about Brittany’s pregnancy flooded Ally’s mind, all those emotions deluging her again, and her throat closed up. He’d been devastated by the pregnancy, had agonized over what to do. He’d wanted so badly to do the right thing, but the choices he’d faced had been formidable―standing by Brittany and being a father to his child, or leaving to pursue the photojournalism career he’d always wanted. No, not just wanted. He’d been destined for that career.
He was her best friend. Back then she’d vowed to stand by him no matter what, and she had. And she would do it again. Her anger toward him dissipated like morning fog in the sun. She never could stay mad at anyone for long. Especially Jack.
She laid a hand on top of his warm brown fingers. For a moment they just looked down at her hand on his, so much smaller, her skin pale compared to his dark tan. Then Jack turned his hand and clasped hers and raised tortured eyes to her face.
* * *
“Oh, Jack,” she said again, her velvet-soft voice brushing over him. “That is unbelievable.”
“She said she’ll explain more when I see her. So here I am.”
“You haven’t seen her yet?”
He shook his head. “Just got off the plane a few hours ago. I stayed in London last night. I’m kind of wiped, so I planned to call her tomorrow.”
Ally nodded again, her fingers twined with his.
“You may as well stay here tonight,” she said slowly. “You’re tired and it’s no big deal. We...I mean, I have a guest room. You can try to get hold of Carter tomorrow.”
“Thanks.” What a fucking roller coaster ride this was. He’d expected a warm welcome from his old friends, discovered they’d split up, found out Ally was pissed as hell at him. Now she’d offered to let him stay there ...relief lightened some of the worries weighing him down although a hard knot remained in his gut.
“What are friends for?” She cleared her throat.
“I did keep in touch with Carter, I swear to you.” He wanted her to believe him. “I assumed he was passing on news to you. I don’t know what the hell he was doing, but please believe me Ally.”
She gazed back at him, eyes full of questions but then she nodded. “We’ll track down Carter tomorrow and find out what the hell game he was playing.” Her pretty mouth firmed. “I know you and he are still friends, but I have no problem giving him shit.”
Jack felt his mouth quirk into an unwilling smile. Ally never said a bad word about anybody, always tried to avoid any conflict, never liked to fight or argue. Unlike Carter. And here she was, ready to take him on. Interesting.
“You must be exhausted,” she said. “Are you hungry? I can make you something to eat.”
He shook his head. “No, not hungry, but I am beat. It’s...” he glanced at his watch, “...four a.m. my time.”
“Oh, lord. Come on. I’ll show you the guest room.”
“I’ll just run out to the car and get my stuff.”
“Okay.” She blew out the candle and a wisp of jasmine-scented smoke curled up from it.
He turned and left the room, ran down the front door steps of her home in the dark to the rental car. He found his canvas bag on wheels and another of camera gear and hauled it all into Ally’s place. She waited in the hall.
Three bedrooms and a bathroom occupied the upper floor. By the hall light Jack could see a computer sitting on a desk in the third dark room. Ally showed him the bathroom, provided towels, then led him into the guest room. The furniture all looked like flea market finds, the old iron headboard painted a shiny white, the nightstand a chipped, scratched table. He dropped his gear in front of a dresser also painted glossy white. None of it matched, but the whole of it was charming.
Ally switched on a light and looked around. “It’s not luxurious,” she apologized. “I haven’t spent a lot of time decorating it. I don’t have many overnight guests.”
“It’s fine, Ally.”
They stood there looking at each other for a moment. She was so gorgeous―breath-stealing, heart-slamming, sexy-as-hell gorgeous. He longed to reach out and touch the silky, thick auburn hair, run a finger over those faint freckles on her nose. Her eyes grew darker and she swallowed.
“If you need anything, that’s my room.” She pointed across the hall. “Good night, Jack.”
He watched her close her bedroom door, then shut his own. He was so exhausted he was seeing double, but he had a feeling sleep was going to be difficult.
He stripped out of his clothes and slid naked between the sheets of Ally’s guest bed, clicked off the lamp, then lay there staring at the ceiling. The moonlight shining in the window cast everything into blue and grey shadows.
What the hell was with Carter? He’d never told Ally he’d heard from him? Fuck! No wonder she was pissed at him.
And Carter cheating on Ally. The dumbass. He’d messed up the best thing he’d probably ever have. Jack had no idea who Carter had cheated with, but no way could she be anywhere near as great as Ally. What a fucking idiot Carter was.
Memories of high school when Carter had moved to Garden City swarmed Jack’s mind. Carter had apparently left a girlfriend in Mariposa, but it wasn’t long before he was dating Jenn. And how about all the times in college Jack had suspected Carter was screwing around on whatever girl he’d been dating at the time. Jack had never said anything to Ally about that. She never could see Carter’s faults. She just loved everybody.
He folded his arms behind his head, wide awake despite his body’s fatigue. Strangely, tomorrow he was about to call Brittany, who he hadn’t seen in nine years, about his new-found daughter―yet all he could think about was Ally.
He should be thinking about his daughter, dammit. Would he meet her tomorrow? What would she be like? He didn’t know much about kids. Nine years old...he tried to remember back to his own childhood. What, grade three? Four? His memories were faint.
It was bizarre, becoming a father overnight. He didn’t feel like a father. Not even a little. Could he even be a good father? And how could he have any kind of relationship with a child, when his job took him to the other side of the world? He almost choked on the panic rising in him.
Get a grip, man. He was here and he had to deal. He rolled over, punched the pillow flat.
But his thoughts drifted back to Ally. Seeing her again had been just as disturbing as he’d feared, but he wasn’t sure if the fact that Carter was out of the picture helped...or made it worse.
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Extreme Close Up Chapter 4