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Finally, he lifted his head.

“She sounded so scared. I’ve never heard Jessie sound scared before about anything.” He pulled Nik closer. “I have to go now.”

She nodded.

“I know.”

But he sat there with his arms around her for a minute, her head in his chest, his nose in her hair. It was so hard to let go, but he did.

“Go, they need you,” she said.

He walked into his bedroom to throw on a clean shirt and grab a hoodie. He came back out and sat at the table while he put his shoes on. Nik stood next to him and stroked his hair while he tied his shoes.

When he stood up and saw the kitchen, he put his head in his hands.

“Oh shit. What am I going to do about the enchiladas?”

She shook her head.

“Don’t worry about that. I’ll stay here and deal with them. Just give me whatever instructions you need to.”

He hugged her.

“Oh, thank you so much.” He checked the timer. “Okay, those are done in thirty minutes. When you take those out, the chicken ones cook for only twenty, with five minutes with the aluminum foil off at the end.” He stepped back. “Are you sure? You don’t have to do this, I can just . . .” She put her finger on his mouth to stop him from talking anymore.

“I’m sure. Go to the hospital. Keep me posted about Jessie?”

He kissed her hard on the mouth as an answer.

Chapter Seventeen

. . . . . . .

On his way up to the maternity floor, Carlos wondered if anyone else in his family had gotten to the hospital yet. Probably not, but Tia Eva and his mom must be right behind him. He’d talked to Angela in the car on the way there, but she was on her way from Santa Monica, so it could take her God only knew how long to get there.

He quickened his pace as he got closer to Jessie’s room. What if she wasn’t there? What if she was already in surgery and hadn’t had time to tell him? The room door was closed, and he knocked only once before opening it.

“Jessie!” She was on the bed, Jon sitting next to her and holding her hand.

“Thought you might be done with me already, huh?” she said. But she said it with a crack in her voice.

He made it to her bed in three steps so he could hug her.

“No, asshole, I thought you might already be in surgery, that’s all.” He stood back. “What’s the plan? How are you?”

She took a deep breath and closed her eyes.

“The doctor said they’re going to do a C-section. Soon,” Jon said. He squeezed Jessie’s hand. “It’s going to be okay. They do these all the time here.”

Carlos took her other hand.

“They do, I promise. I work here, remember? Would I work at a place where I’d worry about my cousin having surgery? Hell no. You and the baby will be great. I promise.”

She nodded without opening her eyes.

“Thirty-four weeks is a pretty scary time to do this. My poor little girl. I thought I could hold on at least another month for her.”

Carlos put his finger under Jessie’s chin until she opened her eyes and looked at him.

“Jess. Jessica. Do not blame yourself. This isn’t your fault. You have done everything right. Everything. You came to the hospital today because you just wanted to double-check, even though you thought it was fine—that was you making all of the right decisions to keep your little girl as healthy as she can possibly be. Doing this C-section, even though it’s something you never wanted, is you making another choice for your little girl, okay? This hospital has a great NICU, and you’re in really good hands. I promise.”

She nodded as tears slid down her face.

“You’ll stay? Until she’s out? Until it’s all done?”

He gripped her hand.

“You’re going to have to send me away—that’s how long I’m going to stay.”

The door banged open, and his mother and aunt stormed into the room.

“Jessica!” He stood back to allow his aunt to throw her arms around Jessie. “Mommy will take care of everything.”

He and Jon locked eyes. He barely managed to not laugh out loud. Leave it to Tia Eva to give them some levity.

It was only about ten minutes later when the doctors came into the room to prep Jessie for the surgery and kicked everyone but Jon out. They all filed into the nearest waiting room. Thank God his mom was here to calm Tia Eva down. He put his arms around his mom for a minute. She hated hospitals.

“Anyone want anything while we wait?” he asked them. “I can go to the cafeteria to get us something to eat or drink.”

“Oh, I couldn’t eat anything!” Tia Eva said.

His mom smiled at him. They both knew she’d want something as soon as he left.

“I’m sure Tia won’t be able to eat anything, but why don’t you bring us back some coffee and maybe some cookies or something like that? We might be here for a while. Coffee might be good. Don’t you think, Carlos?”

“Great idea, Mama,” he said, and walked out of the waiting room before Tia Eva thought of something she might want.

On his way down in the elevator, he pulled his phone out of his pocket. Shit, he’d forgotten to charge it last night, and now he was down to three percent battery. Did he still have that charger in his office? He hoped so, or else this was going to be a very long night.

He had texts from many of his family members, but he ignored them all and clicked on the text from Nik.

How’s Jessie? How are you?

He sighed. He wished he was back at his house with her, laughing and eating enchiladas. He could really use one of her hugs right now.

She’s about to have an emergency c-section. I got to talk to her for a little bit. She’s anxious and scared but powering through. I’m in the waiting room with my mom and aunt for the foreseeable future, just escaped to the cafeteria for drinks and snacks.

The elevator doors opened, and he walked into the cafeteria. All hospital cafeterias were terrible in their own ways. His, like many newer hospitals, had been trying to do a healthy food push, which meant that the food was no longer terrible junk food, but terrible healthy food.

Is Angie there yet? That’ll help, right?

He filled up three coffee cups, one with a ton of milk and sugar for his aunt and two others with decreasing amounts of both for his mom and himself. He found a stack of oatmeal raisin cookies and grabbed as many as he could carry. He texted Nik when he was in line to pay.

Not yet, she’s on her way from a meeting on the westside so it could be a while.

Oh shit, he needed to let Angie know about the C-section as soon as possible. But his battery was almost gone, and he did not want to tell her with his mom and aunt right there. He could run to his office right now, but Tia Eva was probably upstairs even more worried than he was. He needed to get back there. And he couldn’t text Angie about this from his almost dead phone—she’d freak out when she couldn’t get in touch with him.

Nik already knew what was going on. Could she call Angela?

No, he didn’t want that. He liked to keep his personal life and his family strictly separate. And plus, Angela would go crazy with the whole “girlfriend” thing then.

But this was an emergency, and he didn’t seem to have a better option.

Can I ask you a huge favor? Can you call my sister and let her know Jessie’s in surgery now for a c-section? Long story but she doesn’t know yet and my battery is almost out. I might have a charger somewhere, but I should let her know asap.

He stared at his phone until she texted him back. Luckily, there were a number of people ahead of him in line. Saturday early evenings were busy times in hospital cafeterias.

Of course, just text me her number.

He sent Angie’s number to Nik and walked back to the elevator balancing all of his beverages and food.

* * *

• • •

Nik checked the timer on her phone. Five more minutes before she needed to take the enchiladas out of the oven. She had a minute to call Angela before the timer went off.

The problem was that the thought of calling Angela freaked her out. Would his sister be mad about her having this news when actual family didn’t? Nik wouldn’t blame her if she did. Also, she had no idea what Carlos had told Angela about her, if anything. She knew that Carlos and his sister were really close, but she didn’t know if they talked about stuff like this. At the bar after the baseball game, Angela had seemed relaxed and funny, just like Carlos . . . but it could be a different story if she knew Nik was sleeping with her brother.

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