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Nik looked down at Fisher.

“Stop moaning. You’re fine; you’re not even bleeding.”

He struggled to his feet and glared at her.

“My face is my most precious commodity, next to my body. I can’t believe this.” He turned his back on her and walked to his car. “I should call the police on you.”

“What, and tell them you got punched by a girl?”

Nik laughed all the way up to her apartment. She kept replaying the scene in her mind where she’d punched Fisher, and it made her happier every time.

She unlocked her front door and dug around in her freezer until she found a bag of frozen vegetables for her knuckles. Just think, less than two months ago she’d been so freaked out by Fisher’s texts that she’d had to have Carlos search her apartment, and now, she’d knocked him to the ground all by herself. Carlos would love this story so much.

Shit. She couldn’t tell Carlos.

She sank down on the couch and put her head in her hands.

She had plenty of people to tell who would be excited for her. Courtney and Dana would crack up. Natalie would be thrilled. So why did it hurt so much that she couldn’t tell Carlos?

Because Carlos would have been so proud. He was the only one who knew how far she’d come. He’d seen her that night; he’d been worried about her; he’d cheered her decision to go to Natalie’s class. Courtney and Dana had guessed, and Natalie had helped, but Carlos knew. He’d been so ready to protect her, but she’d protected herself.

He would have loved that. He would have been so happy for her and impressed that she’d stood up for herself. That’s what was so great about Carlos, damn it. Why did he have to go and ruin everything?

Courtney and Dana had said that she needed to learn how to be vulnerable, but she’d been vulnerable with Carlos in a way she hadn’t been with any guy in years. She’d let him know how scared she was that first night they’d gone out, when she’d let him search her apartment. She’d told him what Justin had said about her writing and how it still made her insecure sometimes. She’d cried with him when the baby was born. Maybe none of those things would be a big deal for someone else, but they were for her.

Ugh, why was she back to thinking about Carlos? She went to the kitchen to pour herself a drink. She deserved one for her triumph.

Maybe not rosé—she wasn’t going to let Carlos’s jokes about it ruin her favorite wine forever, but why push herself right now? She made a gin and tonic and brought it back over to the couch.

“Cheers!” She lifted the glass with her unbruised hand. It had been so great to watch Fisher fall to the ground. She took a sip of her drink, thought of the bruise that was probably already marring his perfect face, and smiled. God bless that woman in the stroller.

She took out her phone to text her girlfriends.

Fisher was waiting in front of my building when I got home today, and long story short, I punched him in the face.

Mere seconds later, Dana texted back.

!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

And then like twenty of the fist-in-the-air and fireworks emojis.

Courtney screeched in.

WHAT

OMG

TELL US EVERYTHING

Nik grinned and relaxed into her couch cushions. Who needed Carlos when you had girlfriends?

She texted them the whole story—one-handed—and then, halfway through her gin and tonic, she fell asleep on the couch. She woke up two hours later from a dream about Carlos high-fiving her. When she realized it was just a dream, she started to cry.

Should she text him and tell him what happened? God knows she wanted to. But he was probably still pretty mad at her.

And if he wasn’t? Texting him wasn’t fair to him. He deserved more than she could give him—than she knew how to give him.

Instead, she texted a picture of her raw knuckles to her friends. Their responses made her smile through her tears.

Chapter Twenty-two

. . . . . . .

Carlos sat at his desk and stared at his phone. His meeting had been canceled at the last minute. That unfortunately gave him time to make that phone call he’d been avoiding all week.

All week? He’d avoided making that call for the past five years.

He picked up the phone.

“Yes, hi. I’d like to schedule an appointment with Dr. Guerriero? Just a physical. Yes, Carlos Ibarra.” He swallowed hard, as the person on the other end took his insurance information. “I totally understand if you can’t get me in for a while—oh, you have a cancellation tomorrow? I don’t know if . . .” He took a deep breath. “What time tomorrow?”

He hung up the phone and stared out the window. Tomorrow. Damn it.

No, tomorrow was too soon. He should call back to reschedule. He picked up the phone.

“Dr. Ibarra?” One of the nurses poked her head into his office, and he put the phone down again. “There’s someone at the front desk to see you. She says she’s your cousin?”

He stood up. If Jessie had left the NICU to come over to his office to see him, it was either really good or really bad news.

“I’ll be right there.”

He almost ran down the hall.

“Jessie?” He poked his head into the waiting room. The huge smile on her face answered his question. She ran over to him, and he threw open the door so she could follow him back to his office. But the door was barely shut before she threw her arms around him.

“We get to take her home today! Yesterday they said maybe, but I was too scared to tell anyone. Last night I couldn’t sleep, partly because of the fireworks going on all night, but mostly because I was just praying that I would have my baby at home with me by tonight. And my prayers were answered. Just a few hours for them to do all of the paperwork and to give us all of her instructions. Oh, Carlos! I get to take my baby home!”

He hugged her tight and pulled her down the hall to his office. Once the door was closed, he hugged her again.

“I didn’t think she’d be able to go home this early. You’ve got a fighter on your hands. When they told me you were here to see me, I . . .” He wiped his eyes. “Anyway, this is wonderful. I’m so happy for you and for Eva, who won the mom lottery.” He took a step back and handed her the tissue box on his desk. “Where’s Jon? Do you need help getting Eva home?”

Jessie took a handful of tissues and shook her head.

“He’s upstairs with Eva. I’ve barely stopped crying since the doctors told us she could go home today.”

Carlos gently pushed her down in one of the chairs in front of his desk and sat next to her.

“And you, you’re okay?” He shook his head. “No, you don’t have to tell me. I’m your cousin, not your doctor.”

She leaned over to hug him.

“Just for that, I’ll tell you that my blood pressure is almost normal. And I can even fit into some of my pre-pregnancy shoes now. Not clothes, let’s not be ambitious, but I was getting very nervous I’d never be able to wear those Tory Burch flats again, so that was a tiny relief.”

His office phone rang and he ignored it.

“I don’t know who Tory is, but if that’s a relief to you, it is to me, too. Do you need anything? Food, diapers, a crib, bottles, anything?”

She laughed, even though tears were still trickling down her face.

“Don’t forget, you already brought me those enchiladas. We’ve already defrosted one pan and have been eating them all week. And I think my mom has spent all day every day since Eva was born cooking for her little namesake; my freezer is going to be filled to bursting soon. I don’t even know what else we need. I’m mad at myself for not letting my friends push the date of my shower up. I thought it was tempting fate, if you can believe that. Thank God someone already bought us the bassinet so she has somewhere to sleep.”

He made a mental note to buy whatever was the most expensive thing on the registry. Okay, okay, maybe Angela was right; he could pull back a little. The second most expensive thing.

She stood up.

“I should go. I probably have to sign a bunch of stuff, and I can’t wait to get our little girl out of this hospital, even though I’m sort of terrified to pull her away from the people taking care of her.”

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