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Excerpt: No Kind of Hero

Excerpt: No Kind of Hero

Book 2: Portland Devils

Beth turned at his approach. Well, everybody turned at his approach. Gracie was making that kind of an entrance. He dumped the diaper bag into the stroller with one hand, kicked the chair out, sat down, and plopped the nipple into Gracie’s mouth.

Blessed silence, except for the thup-thup-thup of a very greedy baby.

Beth said, “I guess babies have their own ideas.”

Evan laughed, to his own surprise. “Yeah. You could say that. They work your blood pressure up like that to make you do what they need.”

“I suppose it’s a sort of evolutionary thing,” she said. “Human babies being born so helpless and all. Not like ducks.” She indicated the creek, where a mother mallard was giving swimming lessons to eight fuzzy ducklings. “Babies are helpless because they have big heads, right? Because of brain size?”

“Uh . . .” He adjusted Gracie in his arm and tipped her bottle up so she wouldn’t swallow air. “Brain size?”

“Their heads are big in comparison to, say, puppies, because human brains are so big,” she said. “They can’t get born as . . . as far along, because a woman couldn’t give birth to them otherwise. It hurts a woman a lot more already than a puppy hurts a dog. Imagine if babies had to be born able to walk. Think how big their heads would be. You’d never get them out of there.”

This was what he’d always loved about Beth. The way her mind worked, the things she said. She seemed so quiet, but she was so damn smart. “I’m surprised you got born at all,” he said, and found that he was smiling despite every bit of better judgment. “With how big your head must have been. So tell me why Gracie has to scream for that bottle. Evolution-wise.”

“Well,” Beth said, “she’s helpless. She can’t get it if you don’t give it to her. She can’t even reach for it and bring it over to her mouth. She has to scream, and her scream has to trigger something in everybody who hears it—not just you, but you most of all. It’s better, though, if it triggers that response in everybody—that almost everybody within earshot is agitated and wants to do something, because a baby’s mother wouldn’t always be around, right? She needs to be able to signal somebody else besides her mom, or she won’t survive.”

That one wiped the smile off. He’d been stabbed in the heart, and she was trying to twist the knife? That wasn’t like Beth. But then, he didn’t know who Beth was anymore. Eight years was a long time.

He looked down at Gracie, at the dreamy look on her face, at her hand rubbing over her hair like the pleasure of getting that milk was so good she had to feel it all sorts of ways, and thought, I might not have a girlfriend anymore, but I made a good trade.

A few seconds passed before Beth said, her voice sounding much more constrained, “I just realized I should apologize.”

“You just realized that, huh,” he said before he could stop himself.

She wasn’t drinking her milkshake. He was looking at his—which was melting, of course—wishing he could drink it, and she was just shoving the straw up and down in hers.

“You should drink that,” he said, “before it melts.”

She shrugged, still not looking at him. “I haven’t been doing so hot at eating lately.”

He remembered that. When she got tense and stressed, she had trouble eating. It had driven him crazy, and then, when she’d been lying around in bed with him, eating a sandwich he’d made her, rubbing her bare legs against his as if she couldn’t bear not to touch him . . . he’d felt like her hero. Her safe place, where she could relax.

Stop that. What was he, the world’s slowest learner? Gracie was done with her milk, and he put her up on his shoulder, started to pat her back, and said, “Maybe you should give me that apology, then, and then you’d be able to drink your shake.”

She took a deep breath, then said, “I realize I shouldn’t have been talking to you like you were still a single guy. I came up to you on the beach, and I know that if I’d been your wife, that wouldn’t have been all right with me at all. For your old girlfriend to be trying to reconnect like that, to ask you to be friends. I’d have hated it. Sorry. I saw you, and I . . . I suppose I didn’t think. But I’ve thought since.”

“I don’t have a wife,” he managed to say. If I’d been your wife.

She made an impatient gesture with one hand. “Your girlfriend. Your fiancée. I don’t know. Whatever she is, I was out of line. I’m sorry.”

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