Kylie squealed and immediately threw her arms around Joss, hugging her tightly, ignoring startled looks from other restaurant patrons seated in close proximity to the women’s booth.

Chessy immediately rose, though her stomach had plummeted, and rushed around since Kylie separated Joss and Chessy. She slid in on the other side of Joss and tugged her away from Kylie’s fierce grasp.

“I’m so happy for you,” Chessy whispered so she didn’t have to choke the words out around the lump forming in her throat.

Joss hugged her back and then pulled away, her gaze piercing as she studied Chessy.

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“Thank you,” Joss said quietly. “Now perhaps you can tell us what’s going on with you and why you look so unhappy. Is it Tate? Have things gotten worse?”

Chessy’s heart sank. She should have known of all people she couldn’t fool her best friends. And now that Joss was basking in the glow of her news—glorious news—and the realization of a long-time wish come true, the very last thing Chessy wanted to do was dampen the celebration.

She reached down, grasping Joss’s hand and squeezing. “This is your moment to shine, girlfriend. We can talk about my woes another time. Right now we need to be toasting the mother-to-be and planning all the fun stuff like baby clothes and possible names! Oh my gosh, Kylie, you and I have to plan a kick-ass baby shower for Joss. The likes of which no one has ever seen. And we’re so making the guys get involved. No wimping out because it’s a girly activity.”

Kylie and Joss exchanged looks, as they often did when they didn’t think Chessy could see, and Chessy inwardly winced that she was evidently the cause of so much worry for her friends.

“Do you honestly think for one moment that I would be so wrapped up in the wonderful news of my pregnancy that it would override everything else?” Joss asked, clear reprimand in her tone, though it was the gentlest of reprimands.

Joss was hardly the kind of woman who ever came across bitchy or mean-spirited. She simply didn’t have it in her. She was kindness personified and had the biggest, most forgiving heart of anyone Chessy had ever known in her life.

Chessy held up her hands. “I know, hon. I know. Believe me, I do. I’d just rather not rehash it all on a day we should be celebrating. It’s not like anything has changed. It’s just the same old story and I’m just being a whiny, needy baby. Things will get better.”

Joss lowered her voice, her eyes filling with love, so much love, for her best friend that it nearly brought tears to Chessy’s eyes.

“I know it had to be hard to hear that I’m pregnant,” Joss said gently. “I know you’ve wanted children. That it was once what you and Tate both wanted and that you still do but he’s the one wanting to hold off now. And now you’ve even questioned the motives for wanting a child now. We’ve had that discussion recently and agreed that until you and Tate get beyond this current rough patch that a baby would only complicate matters.”

Chessy wasn’t going to lie to the women she loved most in the world. Her best friends. Her sisters. Her rocks.

“I won’t say it doesn’t sting a little. Okay, a lot,” she amended when she caught sight of the look Kylie shot her. One that said you aren’t fooling anyone, girlfriend. “It’s no secret that I’ve wanted children. A big family. I want what I was never given as a child. I want a brood of little ones that are secure in the fact that they are loved and wanted with every single part of my heart and soul.”

“You want for them what your parents never gave you,” Kylie said softly.

Chessy shot her a look of understanding. Chessy and Kylie had one thing in common as far as childhoods went. They were both unwanted, but the similarities ended there. Kylie had suffered a horrific, abusive childhood at the hands of the monster that was her father.

Chessy could never say she was abused, physically or verbally. She simply didn’t … exist. Not to her parents. Chessy had been a very unplanned child to parents who’d never intended to have children. And as such, they didn’t change their lives to adjust to having a child. They simply went on as before, Chessy being an unwanted nuisance. Her childhood had been one of neglect, not abuse, but then some would argue that neglect was indeed a form of abuse. Chessy hadn’t been physically harmed, but emotionally? Definitely.

Tate knew of Chessy’s childhood, her memories of being lonely and overlooked. It had infuriated him and he’d vowed she’d never feel that way with him. Until … now. He’d always made it his priority to put her first. Her wants, her needs, her desires, some of which she expressed, but mostly Tate intuitively understood and satisfied them for her without prompting. He often fulfilled needs she hadn’t even realized she had at the time. He’d always gone above and beyond to give her all the things she’d lacked as a child.

God, she wanted that back. She wanted her husband back. Wanted for things to be the way they had been before he’d branched out on his own, forming his own financial planning company with a partner who’d then bailed, leaving him to meet the needs of all their clients.

And in her heart, she knew that Tate was still acting on his desire to see to her every need. He never wanted her to lack for anything he could provide. Financially. She knew his heart was in the right place, but money wasn’t what Chessy wanted most. Financial security was all well and fine, but at the expense of her marriage? She just wanted her husband back. The one who saw to her emotional needs above all else. Not her financial needs. Because money was no substitute for love, no substitute for the man she adored beyond reason. How could she get him to understand that without causing a rift between them? One that may not be able to be repaired. And she simply couldn’t countenance that. Nothing was worth losing Tate over. Certainly not her ridiculous insecurities and needy, clingy demands that seemed insignificant in the larger picture. Most women would be grateful for a husband who busted his ass every single day to provide for his wife. How to explain that material things meant nothing to her if they came at the expense of her marriage and the broadening gap forming between them?

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