Nick tried not to think about it and wanted to pretend it hadn’t happened. In fact, he wanted to kick himself because he’d liked kissing someone who wasn’t Cara. Spencer’s thoughts ran along the same lines. She hated herself for enjoying it, and for being a part of the fact that Nick had betrayed Cara. It didn’t matter that it had been just one kiss, they both still felt equal parts thrill and guilt over it.
From now on, they both thought, they were going to work extra hard to stay away from each other.
Sydney sat at the kitchen table and watched her parents move around the kitchen, trying extra hard to stay away from each other and being super polite. It was a little too weird for her, especially since it was the first time she’d seen them in the same room together without any arguments brewing between them. Spencer was making pancakes while Nick rummaged through the pantry in search of something.
Sydney propped her chin on her hand and watched, curiously, as Spencer barely flicked a glance at Nick.
“Nick, can I please have the chocolate chips?” she asked politely.
Nick didn’t even bother looking over his shoulder at her. “There aren’t any chocolate chips in here.”
“I saw them there yesterday. They’re there.” Spencer continued to beat the pancake batter. “Third shelf on the right.”
He shuffled stuff around in the pantry and, without turning around, tossed the bag over his shoulder. “Found them. Here.”
Spencer caught the bag one-handed. “Thank you.”
“Okay.” Sydney frowned at the two of them. “What’s going on here? The two of you are acting really weird.”
Nick backed out of the pantry, Spencer stopped beating the batter, and they both stared at her curiously. “What?” they asked simultaneously, then exchanged glances before they looked back at their daughter.
“See! That’s exactly what I’m talking about!” Sydney shook her head. “This whole weekend, you guys tried to avoid each other like the plague, and, now, you’ve been in the same room for a whole twenty minutes, and you haven’t had a single fight. It’s almost too Mike and Carol Brady for me. Did I wake up in the Twilight Zone or what?”
Spencer opened her mouth to respond, but the sound of the doorbell cut her off. Nick zoomed out of the room, calling, “I’ll get it!” over his shoulder. Sydney stared after him, her brow furrowed, while Spencer went back to pouring pancake batter onto the frying pan.
A few minutes later, Nick hurried back into the room. “Sorry, I can’t stay for breakfast. Cara and I are going out, so, Sydney, I’ll see you tonight or something. That sound good?”
“How come you have to evade every question I have?” She folded her arms over her chest.
“Syd, I really have to run.” He kissed her forehead, not wanting to answer her questions and knowing that she knew how he felt. “I love you, and we’ll hang out tonight. Okay?”
“Fine.” She pouted a little and waited until she heard the front door close before she huffed out a breath. “I’m not a baby, you know.”
Spencer didn’t turn around. “I know you’re not. Who said you were?”
“Why do you and Dad treat me like I’m a kid? I can handle more than you think.”
Spencer slid golden pancakes onto a plate and set them in front of Sydney. “Honey, your father and I know exactly how much you can handle. We’re very proud of you. But.” She waited until Sydney looked up at her. “We’re not hiding anything from you.” Only from ourselves, she thought wryly. “I promise.”
Sydney shrugged and stabbed a pancake. “Yeah, sure.”
Spencer slid into a seat across the table from her daughter. “Sydney, have I ever lied to you?”
“No. But you have avoided and evaded. A lot.” Sydney poured more syrup over her pancakes. “Which one are you doing this time?”
Spencer sighed and took the syrup to pour over her own pancakes. “I’m telling you the truth. If there was anything to hide, well, it wouldn’t be hidden. Haven’t you ever noticed that your father can’t exactly keep his mouth shut?”
“Maybe.” Sydney cracked a smile. “He is kind of a big mouth, isn’t he?”
“Yes, but don’t tell him that. Your father also has a short fuse on his temper.”
Sydney paused in the act of spearing another piece of pancake onto her fork. She studied her mother for a moment. “Hey, Mom?”
“Hmm?” Spencer nibbled on a chocolate chip.
“Why don’t you ever call Dad by his name?”
“Huh?” Spencer looked up, confused. “Of course, I do.”
Sydney shook her head. “No, you don’t. You always say ‘your father’ or something. Why don’t you ever call him Nick?”
“I, uh, guess I never noticed that I did that.” Spencer mulled it over, puzzled. “Strange.”
Breakfast was silent after that, though Sydney discreetly watched her mother and saw each one of the myriad of expressions that ran over Spencer’s face. Interesting, she thought. Very interesting.
“Try on the green, Leigh.” Kristin held out a sundress in a dramatic shade of vivid green. “With your skin color, it’ll look fabulous.”
Leigh took the dress and held it in front of her, studying herself in the mirror. “It kind of makes it look like I have less wrinkles, right?”
Her second, and youngest, child, Isabel rolled her eyes. She’d arrived from Orlando that morning and had been just in time to meet up with her mother, Kristin, Sydney, and Spencer to go shopping. “Mom, I don’t think anything can hide your wrinkles at this point. You’re beyond hope.”
“You’ll know what it feels like soon enough.” Leigh tucked the dress in the crook of her arm and tugged on her daughter’s ponytail. “It’ll be your turn before you know it. I’m going to try this dress on. Let me know when Spencer comes out with that red one.” She vanished into the dressing room.
Kristin tucked her arm through Isabel’s. “You should lay off your Mom and the old age comments, you know. One day, it might just come back to bite you in the ass.”
Isabel shrugged. “I’m only seventeen. I’ve got plenty of time.” She slipped her arm away from Kristin’s. “I’ll go check and see if Sydney found anything.”
Kristin shook her head and settled into a chair in a corner of the dressing room’s waiting area. She was about to hit sixty, and, though Kevin always told her she looked fabulous, she felt every bit her age. Her legs couldn’t exactly take the running around she’d once been able to do. Fortunately, her mind was still sharp, and, since her arrival in Tampa, she’d had plenty to ponder on. Not the least of which was the woman who stepped cautiously out of one of the stalls.
“Well?” Spencer held out her arms and turned in a circle. “What do you think? Isn’t the red too bright for me?”
Kristin smiled. “Actually, no. It’s perfect, and the color doesn’t even clash with your hair. What is your secret, by the way? You don’t even have a single hint of white in that gorgeous hair of yours.”
Spencer lifted a hand to her hair. “Oh, it’s there. I guess it just blends in really well.”
“Maybe. So, want the dress?”
Sydney and Isabel returned, and Sydney’s arms were piled high with more clothing. She stopped when she saw her mother. The dress Spencer wore was sleeveless and fit her perfectly. The low, slashing neckline was dramatic, and the back was bare to the waist. It was loose enough that Sydney knew her mother would be comfortable wearing it, but it still made her mother look, well, outrageously sexy. And, because it was just weird to think about her mother as sexy, she held out another outfit.
“You have got to get that one, Mom. You look really, really good.” She grinned when Spencer smiled a little at her reflection. “You know you want it. Just get it. And, try this on, too.”
Spencer took the new pair of clothes from her daughter and shook her head. “This is the last thing I try on. It’s your turn, honey. I’ll get this dress, but I really want to see you try on that turquoise one. I bet it’ll go really well with your eyes.”
Kristin nodded enthusiastically. “Definitely. And, Isabel, go try on that black halter top one. It’s just daring enough for your young age.” She grinned when Isabel rolled her eyes. “Hey, if you can’t take it, don’t dish it. Right?”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah.” But both girls vanished into stalls to change.
Leigh came out in the green sundress she’d taken to try on. “I think I’m going to get it,” she told them before her eyes widened at the sight of Spencer. “Wow. You have to get that. You look ten years younger. Not that you look old now, of course. And I’d love to know your secret, by the way,” she added.
“Get in line,” Kristin told her as Spencer blushed. Then, not giving her the chance to speak, she continued, “I swear, if she were still with Nick, his eyes would pop out of his head if he saw her in that.”
Inside her stall, Sydney froze with her fingers on her buttons and listened.
Spencer cautiously picked at the hem of her skirt. “Maybe. But we’ve been over for years. What’s the point in bringing that up?”
“Oh, no reason.” Kristin waved it off and winked at Leigh behind Spencer’s back. “I was just saying.”
Leigh caught on and asked, “What’s the deal with the two of you now, anyway? Last I heard, you could barely tolerate being in the same place together, but, all of a sudden, you’re staying at his place this week? How’s that going?”
“It’s okay,” Spencer replied carefully. “We’re not fighting, really. I think that surprised both of us, but we’re okay right now.”
“That’s good. God, how awkward would it be if you were still in love with him, right?” Kristin patted Spencer’s arm. “Good thing you’re not. I have to say, it would take a stronger woman than me to stay at my ex-fiancé’s house when he was getting married to someone else.”
Spencer shrugged. “It’s not so bad. I mean, we still annoy the hell out of each other, so I don’t feel much more than irritation towards him. I’m pretty sure Nick feels that way, too.” Although, her mind reminded her, he hadn’t felt so irritated when he’d kissed her mindless the night before. Because it made her skin warm, she stifled the memory. “So, yeah, it’s not so bad.”
“And, in a couple days it’ll all be over,” Leigh pointed out. “Well, good for you. I’m glad we got to see you again. Even if you did wait to see us until we’re old and haggard.”
“Oh, please.” Spencer chuckled, relieved at the switch to a safer subject. “You’ll never be old and haggard. Besides, you’ve got a great guy like Howie to love you, despite the wrinkles and whatever.” She glanced over at Kristin. “And, you. Kevin’s got you on this pedestal, and you’ll never be old for him. Both of you have it made.”
Kristin managed a small smile. “You’ll find someone, too. You’ll see.”
Spencer smiled a little, too, before she stood. “I’d better go try on that other outfit. I’ll be right back.”
When she was gone, Kristin and Leigh exchanged looks and shook their heads. Inside her stall, Sydney smacked her forehead. It looked as though it was time for more drastic measures. Obviously, simply expecting nature to run its course was not going to work.
“Mason,” Sydney’s annoyed voice hissed out on the speakerphone of his cell phone. “This is not working out the way I need it to.”
Mason chalked his cue and rolled his eyes. “I told you it wouldn’t. Give it a break, Sydney.”
Baylee raised his brows. “Secrets are no fun, you know.”
“Is that Baylee?” Sydney’s voice perked up. “Hi, Bay!”
“Hey, Sydney. What’s wrong?”
Mason shook his head. “Don’t encourage her. Seriously, man, you don’t wanna know.”
“Hey!” Sydney sounded insulted. “I thought you were on my side, Mason.”
“I am. But your plan is ridiculous. This isn’t a movie.” He cursed a little when his aim went wide and only one ball fell into a pocket. “Your turn, Baylee.”
Baylee leaned against the pool table, studying it. “What’s the plan involve, Sydney?”
“Are you going to help me?”
“What’s it about?” he asked again, chalking his cue.
There was a short silence before she spoke again. “I’m trying to get my parents back together. I need to find a way to get them alone and get them to realize that they’re still in love with each other. So far, in four days, all they’ve managed is to quit fighting. Dad’ll be married by the time anything more happens. So, I need a new plan.”
Mason picked his phone off the edge of the pool table. “Listen, Sydney, we’re busy right now, and I’m sure Baylee will tell you that this is a terrible-”
“I’ll help,” Baylee interrupted him. “Meet us for breakfast at the hotel tomorrow. I think I can come up with a couple of ideas by then.”
“Really? Baylee, you’re the best!” Sydney’s cheerful voice bubbled over the phone. “I’ll see you guys tomorrow then! Thanks so much! Bye!”
Baylee snapped the phone shut, dropped it into Mason’s hand, and noticed his frown. “What’s your problem?”
“Why are you encouraging her? There is no way Nick and Spencer are going to fall for each other in the next three days.” Mason folded his arms over his chest and frowned. “Not to mention, it’s wrong of us to try to toy with people’s emotions.”
Baylee shot him a disgusted look. “Dude, I thought you wanted to be a doctor, not a fucking shrink.”
“Are you in or are you going to chicken out with your emotional crap? Spencer and Nick have always belonged together,” Baylee pointed out. “They just need a push.” He lifted a brow. “Well?”
Mason really didn’t want to, but he thought of Sydney before he turned to see Baylee’s teasing expression. “Ugh. Fine. I guess I’m still in.”
It was nearly two in the morning when Spencer set aside the files of paperwork that she’d brought along with her from her office. She knew that it was pointless of her to take a vacation and still work during it, but she couldn’t help it. She loved her work. But, at the moment, she loved something else more.
Creeping out of her room, she tiptoed down the hall and carefully pushed open the door. In the light from the hallway, she studied her sleeping daughter. Sydney always looked so peaceful when she slept, even though her arms and legs were flung dramatically across the bed. Her blanket was already tangled around her legs, and Spencer had to smile. Ever since Sydney had been a baby, Spencer had loved watching her daughter sleep. All that energy that Sydney had during the day was finally at rest.
Nick found Spencer standing in the doorway to their daughter’s room when he came up the steps a few moments later. He’d been working overtime on the material he wouldn’t be able to work on while he was off on his honeymoon. Plus, being in the studio allowed him to ignore Spencer’s presence. Now, though, he couldn’t avoid it.
“What are you doing?” he whispered into her ear and grinned when she jumped.
She spun around to glare at him. “Nick. Don’t do that! Jesus, you gave me a heart attack.” But it wasn’t just the fact that he’d startled her that caused her heart to race.
Nick could tell, from the look in her eyes, that she was remembering what had happened between them the night before—just like he was. Blinking, he looked over her head at where Sydney slept. “Look how cute she is,” he murmured with a small smile, changing the subject easily.
Spencer turned to where their daughter slept. “Even when she’s sleeping, she’s all over the place,” she whispered.
“She’s perfect. Even when she drives me crazy, I can’t believe she’s my kid.” Nick grinned when Sydney mumbled in her sleep and smashed her face into her pillows. “She never stops moving, does she?”
“Nope.” Spencer shook her head. “Ever since she was little, I’ve always loved doing this every once in a while. Even though it’s been twenty-one years, I still can’t believe she came from us. That we made someone that precious, that wonderful.”
Nick leaned his head against the doorway and, needing to, reached for her hand. When their fingers linked and held tight, he felt content. “She’s ours.”
Los Angeles, California
Nick glanced over at the passenger seat where Spencer sat, staring out the window. Usually, she was a bundle of energy and would’ve gushed over everything that had happened at the Unbreakable LA premiere party, but she’d been uncharacteristically quiet all night. In fact, ever since he’d picked her up at the airport that morning, she’d barely said anything more than was absolutely necessary. Maybe she was just tired, he thought and pulled into the driveway of his house. Maybe he was just blowing things out of proportion.
When he turned the engine off, Spencer didn’t move. Nick reached out and laid a hand tentatively on her shoulder. “Spence? Is everything okay, baby?” She didn’t say anything, but she shifted away from his hand. He frowned. “Are you feeling okay?”
This time, she turned her head to look at him. Her expression was blank and worried him. “What’s with the questions, Nick? Stop staring at me like I’m on a slide under a microscope or something.”
His frown deepened. “It’s just that you were really quiet all day, and I just wanted to know if you were okay.” He held up his hands. “Don’t get pissed at me for wanting to know if my girlfriend is okay.”
Now, her expression was angry. “You want to know if I’m okay?” she hissed. “I’m not. I’m absolutely not okay, Nick! And you’re partly to blame, too.”
“What? What did I do?”
“What didn’t you do, Nick? Damn it.” She shook her head. “I shouldn’t have come out here today.” She turned to shove open the door, but Nick caught her arm. “Let go of me, Nickolas. I’m going inside.”
He pulled her back. “Not until you tell me what the fuck is wrong with you. You’re usually normal, so this is freaking me out.”
“It’s freaking you out? Oh, that’s fine.” She yanked her arm out from his hand. “That’s just great. Why don’t you see how you feel about this?” She climbed out of the car then stuck her head back in to glare at him. “I’m going to have your baby in six and a half months! That’s what the fuck is wrong with me.”
She slammed the door and stalked into his house, leaving Nick staring, shocked, at her retreating figure. Long minutes passed as he sat there, frozen. He was going to be a father? How had this happened? he wondered. Of course, he knew how it had happened, but he couldn’t believe Spencer was actually pregnant.
Not that she’d been happy about it. He’d always expected that, if he’d ever screwed up and knocked up a woman, she’d probably be through the roof about the idea of having Nick Carter’s kid. This was a blow to his ego to see that Spencer was obviously not happy.
He climbed out of the car, and, walking up to his front door, he carefully pushed it open. He searched the first floor for her before climbing the stairs to the second floor. He had no idea what he’d say to her when he found her, but he knew that they had to talk about…about their baby. Even the word baby made him gulp nervously.
He found her in his bedroom, sitting on the edge of the bed with her arms wrapped around herself. She didn’t move an inch, and Nick sat cautiously next to her. He had no idea what to say, but he couldn’t help but chance a glance at her stomach. He didn’t know if he was relieved or disappointed to find that it was still flat.
“Spencer. Uh, I don’t-” He licked his lips nervously. “When did you find out?”
She continued to stare at the floor. Her voice, when she spoke, was dull, emotionless. “Three weeks ago.”
“What? Why didn’t you tell me?”
Now, she looked up at him, and he could see her face showed her weariness and anxiety. “I don’t know, Nick. I mean, at first, I couldn’t believe it either. It took me a while to really realize I was pregnant. After that, you were in Europe and doing all of your promo stuff. How the hell could I just drop such a bombshell on you?” She sniffled back the tears that threatened to spill out of her eyes. “I didn’t even mean to tell you now, but I couldn’t hide it anymore. It’s been eating at me.”
“You’re not going to, um, have an a-a-abortion, are you?” Nick had never really considered abortion until this moment, but he knew he wouldn’t let her get rid of their baby if she wanted to do so. Wanted or not, mistake or not, it was his kid.
Spencer’s eyes widened. “Are you kidding me? I could never do that.”
“Oh, good.” He breathed a sigh of relief. “That’s good.”
“Nick, I know you’ve always said you don’t want a family, and I didn’t mean to mess that up for you. I just don’t know what I’m going to do now.” She placed a hand on her lower belly. “I’m just getting started on my career, and I know you’ve got a crazy, busy schedule. If you, uh, don’t want the baby, I can take care of it. It’s no big deal.” Spencer stared at her feet, afraid of what he would say. “I can just go back to Nashville, and we can pretend this, us, never happened.” She knew that, if he said okay to this plan, it would rip her heart to pieces.
Nick stared at her bent head and worried. She was right about both of their careers being important, and she’d been right that he hadn’t wanted a family, not ever. He thought of his life without Spencer, baby or not, and thought of how it would feel.
No Spencer would mean no one to make him laugh or make him really think about things he’d never thought of before. She always pushed him to be more than he was and stop falling into the dumb blonde act that everyone else had always expected from him. Without Spencer, he wouldn’t have anyone to sing along to Journey with in the car or practice the Soulja Boy dance when only she was there to watch him make an ass out of himself. He wouldn’t be able to go for those pointlessly long drives and talk about all the stupid, silly things that randomly occurred to him on such drives. She was always good at listening to his ideas about his record label and had really pushed him to get things going on that end. Plus, without Spencer, who else would call him on all the moronic things he did or said on a daily basis?
“Don’t go,” he whispered.
Her head came up slowly, and her gray eyes were huge when she looked at him. “What?”
He cupped her cheek gently, rubbing his thumb over her cheekbone. “I don’t want you to go. I have no idea how to take care of a baby, but you got pregnant for a reason. This is our baby, and I guess I want to be there for you, for it. If it means I get to keep you with me, then I’ll do this.” He wasn’t sure how to tell her he loved her, but he hoped she understood what he was trying to say.
There was the beginning of a smile on her lips. “Really?”
“Really.” Nick brushed his lips over hers. “Stay with me. We’ll figure things out.”
Her arms came around him tight. “Oh, god, I’ve been so worried. I thought you’d hate me.” She rested her head against his shoulder.
“Hate you?” He shook his head. “I have no clue how to take care of babies, but I don’t think you being pregnant could make me hate you.”
Spencer was quiet for a few moments. Then, “Nick, what are we going to do? You live here or in Tampa, and I live in Nashville. Where are we going to raise this baby? How are we going to take care of it together?”
Nick didn’t know what to say because he was still stuck on the fact that he was going to be a father. He wondered what his friends would say about it when he told them. Then, he thought about Spencer’s questions. Everything from here on out seemed so murky and uncertain. The only clear thing was that he wanted to be with Spencer.
When the idea occurred to him, he didn’t bother thinking twice. “Spencer.” He tipped her chin up to look into her eyes. “Will you do something for me?”
“Yeah, okay.” She frowned. “What is it?”
“Will you marry me?”
Her eyes widened. “Oh, Nick. You don’t have to-”
“No, I want to. Seriously, I’ve never thought about marriage with anyone else but you. And it’s not just because of the baby,” he added, knowing exactly what she would think. “I want you with me all the time, and I really want this. So…will you marry me?” His palms were sweating, and he hoped she wouldn’t say no.
Spencer knew if she let herself, she’d find a thousand reasons to say no. Only one reason to agree seemed important at that moment. She was in love with him.
“Yes,” she told him and watched his face light up. “Yes, I’ll marry you. Let’s do it.”