Taking a deep breath, Shelby Harrison laid her hand over her bulging stomach, felt the baby’s solid kick, and smiled.
“You’re not doing your panting.” Ben covered her hand with his, grinning when the baby kicked again. “Pretty awesome, isn’t it?”
Shelby nodded, tears momentarily filling her eyes. When she’d agreed to be a surrogate mother for her sister, Debbie, and her husband Ben, she’d never dreamed Debbie wouldn’t be alive to see her baby.
Shelby hoped the baby was a girl, a little girl who looked just like her mom. Shelby swallowed back tears, remembering only too vividly the car accident that had killed Debbie over four months ago.
Thank God Ben had taken an active role in this pregnancy or Shelby didn’t know what she would have done.
The baby kicked again and Shelby was reminded of beginnings, not tragic endings. “The Martin baby is getting too big for her britches.”
“Then you’d better practice your Lamaze techniques so you’ll be prepared to help get her out in a few weeks.” Ben patted her stomach. “Now breathe deep. Let me see that diaphragm move.”
“Breathe deep, the man says.” Shelby shot him a withering look. “I don’t have a diaphragm anymore. I don’t have anything down there but baby. I’m beginning to think I may never even see my feet again.”
Ben looked down at her feet. “You don’t want to see them. They look like blown up latex gloves.”
Shelby grimaced. That’s exactly what they felt like too. She couldn’t believe her life, couldn’t believe she was due to have her sister’s baby in only six weeks. And she certainly couldn’t believe she was about to bring an infant into the world who had no mother, only an aunt whose life was so busy she had no business even owning a parakeet.
Her throat burned with emotion and she fought for control. Her sister was supposed to be here, damn it, helping her through this, being her coach. It was not supposed to be like this.
Shelby sucked in a deep breath and reminded herself why she’d done this.
Debbie hadn’t been able to carry a baby and had begged Shelby to be a surrogate mother so that she and Ben could have a biological child. Shelby had desperately wanted to help her sister and Ben start their family. She’d known it would be a difficult nine months. But she’d been willing to do this for her little sister, the little sister she had always taken care of, had always been so close to they could tell what the other was going to say before the words were out.
The plan had been to carry Debbie and Ben’s baby for them, hand the bundle of joy over to her proud parents, and then get on with her life as an account supervisor with a prestigious advertising agency.
Now everything had changed, and for the first time in her life Shelby felt truly overwhelmed. Suddenly she had to get out of this mommy class. She wasn’t a mother. She was a career woman, a tired-to-the-bone career woman who wanted this over with. She struggled to a sitting position, not quite able to sit up straight. “I need to go. I have to call a client about a meeting tomorrow.”
Ben frowned. “Class isn’t over.”
“It is for me. Now help me up.”
Standing, Ben held out a hand and hoisted her to her swollen and achy feet, then followed her out of the room.
Opening the door for her, he escorted her out into the crisp autumn evening. She lifted her face to the cool breeze and fought back tears for what seemed like the millionth time that day.
Ben rested a hand on her lower back, her achy lower back. “I know this is hard, Shelby. You’ll never know how much you doing this means to me. If I didn’t have my baby to look forward to, I don’t know what I’d do.” Ben swallowed hard several times, obviously fighting his emotions, and gazed out over the parking lot at the bright orange sunset.
He glanced down at her. “Debbie and I wanted a baby for years. You made that possible. Try and remember that these last few difficult weeks.”
“I know,” Shelby said with a sigh. “I’ll be okay. I need to go home and rest.”
A look of concern furrowed his brow. “What can I do to help you?”
Shelby swiped away a tear with the back of her hand. Ben put his arm around her shoulder and she leaned against him for a moment. He was a good man, strong and solid. No wonder Debbie had loved him so deeply. He would be a good daddy. Debbie would have been a terrific mom.
Swallowing back tears, Shelby straightened and patted Ben on the chest. “I’m okay. I’ll be here next week. Same time, same place, bigger tummy, even more swollen feet.”
He chuckled. “We’ll get through this together. Go home and prop up your feet.”
She sighed wearily. “Sounds like a plan. And I’m going to do just that, right after I talk to my client and pound some sense into him. The man wants the most ridiculous logo for his new brochure you’ve ever seen. We’re meeting tomorrow afternoon, so I’m giving him some more options tonight to think about.”
“Promise me as soon as you’re out of your meeting with him tomorrow you’ll go home and rest,” Ben said. “I’ll bring over pizza so you won’t have to do a thing for dinner.”
When she started to protest, he waved her away. “It’s the least I can do. Now go.”
Shelby opened the door to her Camry and scooted in, being careful not to hit her stomach on the steering wheel. Lord, at the rate she was going, she wouldn’t be able to drive the last month of this pregnancy. She’d always kept her five foot, two inch frame in tip-top shape, but no matter how good of shape she was in, there was only so much room for a baby in her small frame.
Groaning, she started the car and headed for home, glad that the day was over except for a phone call, and even more glad that Ben was bringing pizza over tomorrow. It would be a long day with several important meetings and she’d be glad she didn’t have to worry about dinner.
She supposed her assistant, Charles, could handle one of those meetings, but she didn’t want to turn anything more than she had to over to him. He was already breathing down her neck, just waiting to pounce on any loose ends and make her look bad. The tighter rein she kept on him the better, lest he get the idea he could take over her accounts.
She wished she could trust him because she’d never felt so exhausted. The next six weeks were going to be really rough, but she was starting to realize that having this baby and giving her up wouldn’t be a piece of cake either. Even though she kept reminding herself she had never wanted to be a mother, lately she’d been feeling a subtle shifting of emotions.
During the last few weeks, she’d noticed an attachment beginning to unfold with the infant she nourished within. When she prodded on her bulging stomach, she could feel the baby’s tiny feet and bottom as it pressed against her.
She was sure the baby was a girl, even though she and Ben had decided against an ultrasound. Ben wanted to be surprised, said it gave him more to look forward to.
Shelby wondered if the baby would have her and Debbie’s brunette coloring with dark eyes or her dad’s blonde hair and blue eyes. “Oh Debbie,” she murmured, rubbing her tight stomach. “It wasn’t supposed to be like this. I want you here for your baby’s birth. She needs her mommy. And I need my sister.”