Page 17 of Wild Night

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“No. That’s not what I’m saying. I’m just not waiting for Prince Charming to arrive and sweep me off my feet. I’ve finally realized that me going for what I truly want—”

“A baby,” he added.

“Isn’t tied to me having a ring on my finger. This isn’t an all-or-nothing proposition.”

“Yeah, but it’s going to be a heck of a lot harder to date with a kid. You know that, right?”

“Seriously, Colm? Is the male ego so large and so fragile that it can’t stand up to an independent, single mother?”

“Of course not.”

“Oh, okay, so if it’s not that, then I guess I’m supposed to cave to some archaic societal stricture that says a woman has to wait for marriage before she can become a mother because the poor, simple-minded female couldn’t possibly raise a child on her own. Is that right?”

“You’re putting words in my mouth that I’m not saying.”

“Are you thinking them?”

He paused, then—wise man—he shook his head. “No. I’m not. I meant what I said the other night, Kelli. You’ll be a great mom, and I know you’re perfectly capable of doing it on your own.”

“It’ll probably be easier without a man,” she grumbled.

He chuckled. “Probably.”

She gave him a rueful, apologetic smile. “Sorry. I guess you can tell I’m sort of gearing myself up to defend my decision against the naysayers. There are going to be plenty of people in my life—other friends, colleagues at work, my mother—who are going to feel it’s their God-given right to express their opinion about how I should live my life.”

“You can blame social media for that. Just remember, it’s your decision, your life. If anyone doesn’t agree, just say fuck ’em.”

“You’ve met my mother, Colm. Do you seriously think that’s going to work?”

Colm didn’t bother to hide his wince. “Maybe you shouldn’t tell your mom until the kid’s eighteen and off to college.”

Kelli laughed. “Believe me, I’ve considered that.” She loved her mother, she really did. But her mother tested her. Frequently. Daily.

If a person looked up overbearing in the dictionary, Barb Peterson’s picture would be there as the prime example. No doubt every teacher and principal Kelli ever had was glad to see the backside of her leaving their class or school forever, not because of anything she did, but because it meant they wouldn’t have to deal with Barb anymore. Her mother was loud, brusque, narrow-minded, and demanding, and, as much as it shamed Kelli to admit, she’d spent her entire life completely mortified by the woman.

“Don’t envy you that conversation,” Colm said, and his tone was so serious, so kind, she knew he wasn’t giving her shit. He was sincere.

“Thanks. I don’t know how—”

Before she could continue, Padraig stumbled over, his speech slightly slurred. “Oh man. Who left you two alone together? Is everything okay over here? Do I need to ring the bell to end the round?”

“Wow. Bourbon much, Farmer Collins?” Kelli asked, when she caught a whiff of his breath.

Padraig rarely got drunk. In fact, Kelli could count the number of times on one hand, and four of those would have been in the weeks after Mia’s death.

Tonight. He was…

“Jesus, Paddy,” Colm said, scowling. “You’re plastered.”

Emmy stood next to him, looking absolutely adorable. She’d talked Padraig into doing a partner costume with her—something Kelli took the time to point out to Colm as a way of teaching him what a true partner costume looked like. Padraig was a farmer, while Emmy was a strawberry.

Emmy gave them a wry grin, obviously as taken aback by Padraig’s current state as they were. “Apparently, he did some pregaming down at the pub with your Pop Pop before the party started.”

“Shit, I’d say he pregamed, tailgated, day-drank through the game, and celebrated the triple overtime win. How about some water, Paddy?” Colm offered, intent on leading his brother to the kitchen.

“Nope. I’m having fun. Water will just kill my buzz.”

“I’m not sure there’s enough water in the world to do that,” Kelli said. “But just for argument’s sake, what do you say we give it a try?”

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