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Home > Aflame (Fall Away #4)(5)

Aflame (Fall Away #4)(5)
Author: Penelope Douglas

It was better that way. Out of sight, out of mind, and it worked, too, because every time I heard my mother’s voice or got an e-mail from my brother or a text from someone back home, I thought about her.

Tate.

My mother leaned in close, her chocolate hair, same as mine, falling over her shoulders. “I’ve got an idea. Let’s start over,” she chirped and straightened her back. “Hey, son.” She smiled. “How are you doing? I’ve missed you. Have you missed me?”

I let out a nervous laugh and shook my head. “Jesus,” I breathed out.

Aside from Tate, my mother knew me better than anyone. Not because we’d shared so much mother-son time over the years, but because she’d lived with me long enough to know I didn’t like unnecessary bullshit.

Small talk? Yeah, not my thing.

Plopping my ass down in the high-back leather chair, I placated her. “I’m doing fine,” I said. “And you?”

She nodded, and I noticed the happiness that made her skin glow. “Keeping busy. There’s lots going on back home this summer.”

“You’re in Shelburne Falls?” I asked. She spent most of her time about an hour away in Chicago with her husband. Why was she back in our hometown?

“Just got back yesterday. I’ll be staying for the rest of the summer.”

I dropped my eyes, faltering for a split second, but I knew my mother saw it. When I looked back up, she was watching me. And I waited for what I knew was coming.

When I didn’t say anything, she egged me on. “This is the part where you ask me why I’m staying with Madoc and Fallon instead of in the city with my husband, Jared.”

I averted my eyes, trying to look disinterested. Her husband used to own the house in Shelburne Falls, but he gave it to Madoc when he married. Jason and my mother still stayed there when they were in town, and for some reason my mother thought I was interested.

She was playing me. Trying to get me intrigued. Trying to get me to ask about home.

Maybe I didn’t want to know. Or maybe I did . . .

Talking to my brother had been easy these past two years away. He knew not to pry, and he knew I’d bring up anything I felt like talking about. My mother, on the other hand, was always a time bomb. I always wondered when she’d bring it up.

She was in Shelburne Falls, and it was summer break. Everyone would be there.

Everyone.

Instead, I rolled my eyes and leaned back in the chair, determined not to indulge her need for playing games.

She laughed, and I looked up.

“I love you.” She chuckled, changing the subject. “And I’m glad your disdain for small talk hasn’t wavered.”

“Are you?”

She tipped her chin up, her rich eyes sparkling. “It’s comforting to know some things never change.”

I gritted my teeth, waiting for the bomb to detonate. “Yeah, I love you, too,” I said absently and cleared my throat. “So get to the point. What’s up?”

She tapped her fingers on the desk in front of her. “You haven’t been home in two years, and I’d like to see you. That’s all.”

I had been home. Once. She just hadn’t known it.

“That’s it?” I asked, not believing her. “If you miss me so much, then get your ass on a plane and come see me,” I teased.

“I can’t.”

I narrowed my eyes. “Why?”

“Because of this.” And she stood up, revealing her very pregnant belly.

My eyes grew wide, and my face fell as I wondered what the fuck was going on.

Holy shit.

I felt the vein in my neck throb, and I just stared at the ski slope running from her neck to her waist, and . . . and it couldn’t be real.

Pregnant? She was not pregnant! I was twenty-two. My mother was, like, forty.

I watched her flatten her palms on her back and slowly lower herself back down into a sitting position. I licked my dry lips and breathed hard.

“Mom?” I hadn’t blinked. “Is this some kind of joke?”

She offered a sympathetic look. “I’m afraid not,” she explained. “Your sister is due to arrive within three weeks . . .”

Sister?

“And I want all of her brothers here to greet her when she does,” she finished.

I looked away, my heart pumping heat throughout my body.

Holy shit, she’s fucking pregnant.

Sister, she’d said.

And all of her brothers.

“So it’s a girl,” I said, more to myself than to her.

“Yes.”

I rubbed the back of my neck, thankful that my mother was light on the chatter, so I could process this. I had no idea what to think.

She was going to have a baby, and part of me wanted to know what the hell she was thinking. She’d been an alcoholic for about fifteen years while I was growing up, and while I knew she always loved me and she was ultimately a good person, I’d also be the first person to burst her little bubble and tell her she had sucked as a parent.

But the other part of me knew that she’d recovered. She’d earned a second chance, and after five years sober, I guessed she was ready for it. She’d also been a perfect surrogate mother to my half-brother, Jax, when he came to live with us, and she had an amazing support system now.

Just one that hadn’t included me since I’d been absent.

Her stepson, Madoc, and his wife, Fallon; Jax and his girlfriend, Juliet; my mother’s husband, Jason; the housekeeper, Addie . . . everyone was there for her except me.

I shook my head clear and turned back to the screen. “Jesus . . . Mom, I . . . I’m . . .” I was stammering badly. I had no clue what to say or do. I wasn’t touchy-feely or good with this kind of stuff.

“Mom.” I swallowed and looked her in the eye. “I’m happy for you. I never would’ve thought—”

“That I wanted more kids?” she cut in. “I want all of my kids, Jared. I miss you very much,” she admitted. “Madoc and Fallon are watching over me, since Jason is finishing up a case in the city, and Jax and Juliet are being wonderful, but I want you here. Come home. Please.”

I cleared my throat. Home.

“Mom, my schedule is . . .” I searched for an excuse. “I’ll try, but it’s just—”

“Tate’s not here,” she cut me off, dropping her gaze. My pulse echoed in my ears.

“If that’s what you’re worried about,” she explained. “Her father is in Italy for a few months, so she’s spending the summer there.”

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