After what felt like an eternity, I finally started to feel better. Upon retreating from the bathroom into the kitchen, I peered at the digital clock programmed into the microwave and dismayed at the fact that it was five in the morning. Physically, I was exhausted, but I was mentally wide awake thanks to my arguably intimate relationship with my toilet bowl. I debated whether or not I should just go back to bed and try to grab a few more hours of sleep, but restlessness within me kept me from doing so. I circled the kitchen island a few times, hopelessly aimless. My hands were itching to do something, to keep busy, so I opened the door to my pantry and pulled out the ingredients I’d need to bake up a storm.

My abuela and I used to spend entire weekends baking up cookies, muffins, and tiny cakes to bring to school for the bake sale. The fact that our goodies would sell out in mere minutes was always a point of pride for her. Over the years, I’d picked up various tricks by watching my abuela work, like how you should always fold your meringues to keep the airy lightness or how you should never walk away when tempering chocolate. After a few hours puttering about the kitchen, I’d made several banana chocolate chip muffins and ridiculously rich brownies. I wasn’t even particularly a fan of either, so I enjoyed them purely from an aesthetic perspective.

The golden glow of the sun streamed in through the apartment’s front windows, providing a perfect view of the street down below. Traffic was starting to pick up, cars honking occasionally at one another to make a turn while pedestrians made their way hurriedly to work. I supposed I should get the day started, too. Sure, I had a little under nine months to get ready for the baby, but I’d never been one to put things off. The sooner I busied myself with preparations, the sooner I’d stop stressing.

That was the hope, at least.

But first, I had to figure out what on Earth I was going to do with all the pastries I’d made in my morning mania. I was just so full of energy, a light buzz overcoming my common sense. I carefully placed the muffins and brownies in a large Tupperware container, pressing its red lid down until I could hear an audible click. After slipping out of my embarrassingly pink pajamas and into a plain white summer dress, hair pulled back into a messy bun, I made my way out the front door with the box of treats. My feet carried me forward, destination largely unknown to me until my eyes fell upon a car garage located on a busy street corner. Two of the garage doors were already wide open, mechanics scurrying around with heavy equipment. Above the building was a large sign that read: Joe’s Auto Fix.

I carefully approached the garage, listening to the clanging of metal tools and the clamor of employees making small talk about what they did over the weekend. I felt out of place here, completely out of my element. The garage smelled faintly of sweat, motor oil, and rusted metal. Lingering in the air was the bitter scent of car exhaust, so I was admittedly anxious to hurry and get out of there. I figured that the pollutants I was breathing in couldn’t be good for the baby. But when I saw Joe out of the corner of my eye, all of my concerns immediately flew straight out the window.

He was shirtless. And a bit sweaty. And he was absolutely ripped.

This was by no means the body of a boy straight out of high school that I remembered. This was the body of a man. A hulky, strong, devilishly handsome man. Taught, tanned skin rolled over hard, defined muscles. Joe had broad shoulders and a chiseled chest, almost outshined by the six-pack he sported. Grease smudges stained his forearms as the light sheen of sweat highlighted his toned biceps, and I blamed his lack of shirt for drawing in my eye to his sharp jawline and undeniable pout.

I let out a shaky breath. What was going on with me? Why, after so many years, was I so interested in Joe? In high school, it had been nothing more than a harmless crush. It had been something unrequited, and maybe still was. I partly blamed my raging pregnancy hormones, but a part of me also wanted to blame Joe for how well he handled adulthood. Who gave him the right to look as fine as he did? I desperately needed answers, even if it was only to distract myself from how stupidly nervous I was feeling at the mere sight of him.

“You look lost. Can I help you, miss?” asked a man standing just off to the side.

Nicole Casey Books | Romance Books |