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“Mom, he isn’t going to associate your house with anything negative.” Dani popped open the door and bent inside to help her mom buckle Noah into his car seat. “Is it so crazy that I just want to be home with my son?”

Her mom closed the opposite door without answering, and Dani kissed Noah’s cheek. “Hang on, bug, while I talk to your grandma.”

Noah just pulled up his LeapFrog tablet off the seat next to him and turned it on.

Dani closed the door and faced off with her mom, shooting daggers at her. “Noah is my son, and the only reason I am not pulling him out of this car and taking him home with me now is that I don’t want to upset him. But I am no longer a child, and you do not get to tell me what I will and will not do with my son.”

Her mom puffed up like an angry turkey, glaring right back at her. “I told you that I had this under control, and you didn’t have to change your plans for us, but you’re so obsessed with being the perfect mother that you push

aside all the other elements in your life you should be tending to. You won’t be twenty-four forever.”

“For God’s sake, Mom, would you just cut the bullshit? You don’t need to manage my life anymore. I’m not the same stupid girl I was three years ago.”

“No, you’re not the same girl. In fact, you’re so far removed from her, sometimes I poke at you just to catch a glimpse of her. As crazy as you made me, you had such a spark in you, so much life. Now, your whole life revolves around Noah.” Her mom shook her head at her. “I just think that you’ve gone from one extreme to another, and you can meet in the middle, you know. You can still make smart choices and be young. Because someday, sooner than you think, Noah is going to have his own friends, and he’s not going to want his mom smothering him.”

“That’s many years off,” Dani said.

“Well, for tonight, you’re off duty. Go home. I’ll bring Noah back after church tomorrow.”

“Why do you insist on taking Noah to church? He’s not even two, and you force him to sit there for an hour listening to things he doesn’t understand.”

Her mom’s face turned an ugly shade of purple. “Noah does just fine, and besides, it’s good for him to learn about his Maker. There is nothing wrong with instilling good moral values in children.”

Sure, because it worked out so well for me.

“And before you say anything else to needle me, can we just hug and say our good-byes? Unless, of course, you want to tell me about your new friends?”

Since I’m definitely considering never seeing him again, I think not.

“Good-bye, Mom.”

TYLER STARED AT the screen of his phone until it turned black. Then, he slid his thumb across the screen and stared some more. For some reason, he just couldn’t bring himself to call Dani. Maybe it was the way he had left her on her porch, cold and without any explanation. Or, perhaps it was that it was nearly eleven o’clock at night, and he was afraid she’d already be asleep.

Besides, he wasn’t even sure what he wanted to say to her.

Maybe that you’re sorry for being a tool and that your friends are a bunch of dipshits?

Except now, he could see his friends’ point of view, and it had him questioning what he was doing with Dani all over again.

Where are your balls, man? Just text her. You already swore to take things slow. What happened to all the brave talk about her being different?

Getting up his nerve, he texted, Hey, how’s Noah?

Setting his phone down on the table, he got up and walked away from it. His gaze caught Duke’s, who was following him across the room with his smoky eyes.

“What? I texted her.”

Duke’s floppy ears perked up, and he barked at him.

A half a second later, his phone chimed. He didn’t even realize he was flying across the room to answer it until he flopped onto the couch. Picking up his phone, he read her message.

He’s okay. He had a battery in his ear. Feeling like the worst mother in the world, and to top it all off, my mom wouldn’t even let me bring him home. How are you?

What did he say? That he felt like a jerk about the way he’d left things with her? Or was that too honest?

You aren’t a bad mom. Shit happens. And he’s fine, right? You shouldn’t be so hard on yourself.

Look at him, being all supportive and understanding.

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