Prudence Carlson has been lucky in life. A fulfilling wedding-planning business run with her girlfriends in Colorado, plus the best guy friend ever in her firefighter bestie Finn. All that’s missing from it is a baby. Luckily, it’s the twenty-first century—Pru can take matters into her own hands. She doesn’t need to find true love to create the future love of her life.
Except all this talk of babies and insemination and…Pru and Finn cross a line they never expected to. Sure, one night of passion won’t change their close friendship. Until Pru goes in for a fertility check-up to find… she’s already pregnant.
As best friends, Pru and Finn have survived college, new jobs, and bad breakups, but can they survive crib shopping, birth classes, and late-night cravings? Especially when Finn has never considered himself even remotely Daddy material?
Coming August 12, 2019!
Read the first chapter below:
Men sucked. And Prudence Carlson didn’t mean that metaphorically.
Her last date had literally sucked her finger into his mouth five minutes after they met. She supposed he was trying to be sensual, licking the bit of whipped cream she’d scooped up from her hot cocoa, but it had just creeped. Her. Out.
And left her with no whipped cream.
He’d been the latest disappointment in a long line of horrible dates. Which was why she’d deleted all her dating apps and sworn off men for good.
After a string of shallow high school relationships—the best of which lasted all of six months—dozens of bad first dates, and Terrence the Terrible, her ex who was supposed to be The One but after two years together, left her the second he got a shiny job offer halfway across the country…she was done.
Admittedly, that wasn’t entirely fair of her. Terrence had offered her the chance to move with him, but at the time, she’d been starting up her own business with her friends. A move wasn’t in the plan, and long distance hadn’t appealed to either of them.
I can’t pass up this opportunity, Pru.
But he could pass up on her. On their future.
Whatever. She was over it. Over him.
It had taken almost eight months and an entire store’s worth of rocky road ice cream to navigate that rocky road of abandonment. But when she’d jumped back into the dating game, her heart just hadn’t had any trust in romance.
Even her parents, rest their souls, most days had been so wrapped up in each other, they’d completely forgotten they had a daughter.
Pru tugged on her ponytail, adjusting the perfect hairstyle. There was no sense in focusing on the past. Playing the “what if” game only led to heartbreak. If Pru wanted to achieve her goals, she had to think about the future, her heart’s desire.
Too bad she needed a guy to get her heart’s desire.
“No,” she spoke to herself in her empty bedroom. “I don’t need a guy. I just need his…stuff.”
Glancing at the binder in her lap, she turned the page she’d been staring at for the past ten minutes, jotting down her notes in the yellow notepad at her side. Page after page of pictures, facts, bios, and health histories filled her brain, each one going onto the pros and cons checklist she was compiling so she could select the perfect candidate. The perfect donor.
The perfect second set of DNA for my baby.
Ever since she’d received her first baby doll at seven, Pru knew she wanted to be a mother, to have a family. One like the families she saw on TV. They always looked so happy and loving. Logically, she knew they were all actors playing roles and that family problems didn’t get solved in half an hour with a laugh track behind you. Still, art imitated life, right? It had to exist..
And since she’d never had anything like that, she’d create one herself.
Something she lost too young. The void in her heart, the aching, yawning hole, had gotten smaller over the years, filled by her loving great-aunt and wonderful friends, but it hadn’t disappeared completely. She didn’t think it ever would, but she knew creating her own family would help. Start something new—wasn’t that what life was all about?
At one time, she thought she could start that family with Terrence, but…
Whatever. That ship sailed long ago. He hadn’t been The One like she’d thought.
The One is just a silly fairy tale used to sell movies and merchandise.
Great Aunt Rose’s oft-spoken words rang loudly in her head, as if the woman were sitting right beside her on the creaky ten-year-old mattress instead of resting peacefully in Fairmount Cemetery. A sharp pang struck her chest, dead center.
“Miss you, Auntie Rose.”
The silent room didn’t answer, but she didn’t expect it to. Pru didn’t believe in anything as silly as ghosts. Her best friend, Finn, had given her the nickname Practical Pru, and she supposed it fit. Better than wishing on stars and hoping your dreams came true. If you wanted something, you had to work hard and make it happen.
“And that is exactly what I’m doing.” She glanced at the new information on the page she’d just turned. “With the help of one of you generous gentlemen, of course.”
The whole traditional way to get a family hadn’t been working for her. And who said a family had to look like Even Stevens? Families came in all shapes and sizes. So she couldn’t find or trust a man to stay by her side through thick and thin. So what? If she wanted a baby, there were advances in science and guys willing to fill a cup for fifty bucks.
Thanks to them, Pru could take destiny into her own hands.
An image of a tiny, squishy, squirming baby filled her mind. Moisture gathered in her eyes, and she sniffed as a wave of longing washed over her. Her arms ached to hold her future baby. To shower the little peanut with all the love she had. When she pressed a hand to her chest, the strong beat of her heart pounded against her palm, every thump hitting with a steady surge that seemed to echo one word in her mind…
Baby, baby, baby.
For the past five years, she’d scrimped and saved, even with the ups and downs of starting a wedding planning business with her roommates—yes, she saw the irony in a woman who planned happily-ever-afters for a living not believing in them herself—and she’d managed to stash away a nice nest egg for the fertility treatments and upcoming baby expenses.
Pru was nothing if not a planner and expert budgeter. That’s why she handled the books for Mile High Happiness, the wedding planning company she and her two roommates ran. Denver had been experiencing a boom lately thanks to all Colorado had to offer: the majestic mountain peaks, the bustling city, and the legal…plant life.
Starting a business was always a risk, but the picturesque appeal of the Mile High City and surrounding areas made it a premier wedding destination for locals and visitors alike. Six years in and the women were successfully running in the black with no signs of slowing down. She had her awesome friends, an amazing job, and a padded savings account. Now all Pru needed was her baby.
“So, who’s the lucky fella going to be?”
A loud chime made her jump before she realized it wasn’t the book of donors answering her but her cell phone indicating a text message. She snorted, silently chiding herself for her silliness, reaching for her phone.
F: Need a rescue.
The best friend code.
She and Finn had made a pact in high school: if either of them was on a bad date and needed rescuing, the other would drop everything and come right away. Though she’d been on numerous bad dates with creeps, jerks, and just plain bores, she’d only used their code a handful of times. She preferred to end things herself. Finn, however, despite his muscular physique and plethora of tattoos, was a big ol’ softie and could never end a date without an excuse—no matter how badly it was going.
If she had a dollar for every time he’d used the code, she could have paid for ten babies by now.
Oh, goody, the dimly lit pool hall that still reeked of cigarettes even though smoking indoors had been banned in Colorado since before she’d been legally allowed in bars. She sighed. Time to put on her BFF pants and rescue her sweet but clueless bestie.
The man really needed to learn how to end a date that wasn’t going well. Maybe she should give him a cheat sheet of easy-out excuses.
Although, truthfully, she didn’t mind that her friend needed her.
Taking care of the people in her life gave Pru a sense of warmth deep in her heart. When her friends were happy, she was happy. So she didn’t mind rescuing Finn from bad dates or making sure her roommate, Mo, drank enough water after a midnight margarita party, or even seeing to the needs of her great aunt during her last years, as the old woman’s health had failed her.
Closing her binder, she tucked it and the notepad into her bedside drawer before heading out of her room.
She glanced into the kitchen table as she passed, spotting her roommate and business partner, Lilly Walsh, sitting in one of the dark oak chairs they’d bought at a thrift store, a pile of seating charts spread out before her on the table.
“Yep. Best-friend rescue duty calls.”
“I don’t understand why that man has such trouble dating,” Moira Rossi, her other roommate and business partner, said as she closed the fridge door, a slice of cake in hand. “He’s a solid twelve. How does he have so many bad dates? If I went out with him, I’d have my panties off before we got to dessert.”
“You have your panties off with an eight before salads, Mo,” Lilly gibed without looking up from her charts.
“Yeah, but that’s because I enjoy exploring my sexuality. Not all of us live the stifled life of a nineteenth-century crone.”
Pru chuckled as Lilly sighed with a shake of her head. Mo simply smiled, shoving a bite of cake into her mouth. The three women were as different as night and day, but they’d all been assigned as roommates in college, and somehow, they’d just clicked and been together ever since.
“Honestly, Pru,” Mo continued, sitting at the table and offering Lilly a forkful of cake. Predictably, the dark-haired woman waved her off, preferring salty snacks over sweet ones. “I do not know how you’re friends with Finn and don’t demand benefits. I bet he gives really, really good benefits.”
First of all, ew.
Second of all, she and Finn had been friends since the seventh grade.
Sure, she wasn’t stupid. She knew her bestie was what some might call insanely hot. His deep blue eyes and sandy blond hair gave him the perfect boy-next-door look. His full tattooed sleeves and the undercut hairstyle he sported gave him a bad-boy vibe. The man was what Aunt Rose had referred to as a walking hot flash. Then there was his job. As a firefighter, Finn was a bona fide hero. What woman could resist that?
Yes, her bestie was hot, and a hero, but they’d been friends too long for her to throw everything away for one night of sex. And it would be one night. Much like he’d given her a nickname, she’d given him one: First Date Finn. Because the women who did make it to a first date rarely saw a second.
Finn liked to keep it light and fun. And no way would Pru risk their years of solid friendship just for fun. She’d lost too much in her life. She refused to lose Finn, too.
“I’m leaving before you make me vomit.”
She grabbed her jacket and headed out the apartment door to the sound of Mo laughing. The elevator was notorious for taking forever, so Pru skipped it and made her way down the stairs. She needed the cardio anyway. A healthy body was important for the plans she had.
The sharp chill of night air smacked her in the face as she pushed open the exit door and headed outside. Being mid-October, the days were still pretty warm, but the city cooled at night. Not cold enough to warrant hopping in her car, though—the bar was only a few blocks away, and parking in Denver was a bitch.
It took less than ten minutes to get there. Once she showed her ID to the bouncer, she headed inside. Loud cracks and the smack of hard plastic billiard balls assaulted her ears, and the low din of conversation followed close behind. Her eyes took a moment to adjust to the dim light of the room. Strikers was located just off the 16th Street Mall, where large buildings with bright lights and businesses with flashy signs lined the street.
After a few blinks, she could see the room clearly. The bar along the far wall was packed, as always, with people clamoring for the bartender’s attention. Twelve large pool tables took up the center of the room, all occupied but none of them sporting a six-foot-tall tatted firefighter desperately trying to escape a date.
She moved farther into the room, ignoring the catcalls and disgusting propositions from a table of drunk men, one of whom appeared to be a future groom, if the Last Night of Freedom T-shirt was anything to go by.
In her years planning weddings, she’d seen everything, from solid relationships to disasters waiting to happen. She tried to believe in love—it was a part of her job, after all—but people made it so hard sometimes. Didn’t matter. She handled the finances. Lilly and Mo dealt with the clients, and they believed, Mo especially, in all that mushy crap enough for all of them.
At the back of the pool hall was a sparse collection of small high-top tables, where she finally spotted the object of her quest. Finn sat at one of the tables with a woman who was chatting away, vibrantly waving her hand in the air as she spoke. She didn’t look like a serial killer. Light blond hair, cute black dress, spiky red shoes Pru knew Lilly would kill for. A pleasant smile lit her face as she continued speaking, barely pausing to take a breath. Pru didn’t see what was so wrong with this woman that Finn needed to text her for backup.
But he had. So here she was. Duty called.
“Hey, Finn. I’m so glad I found you.” She hurried over to the table, making sure she sounded breathless, as if she’d run the five blocks from her apartment. Must have worked because Chatterbox immediately closed her mouth. “You have to come home right away.”
Blondie glared at Finn, a murderous rage suddenly lighting her eyes. “Oh shit, not again!”
Huh, maybe she was a serial killer.
“You’re married, aren’t you, you bastard!”
“What?” Finn held up his hands. “No, I’m not. This is my friend Pru.”
She’d say one thing for her bestie: He may not know how to break off a date well, but he sure as hell would never use a cruel lie to do it.
“Oh, sorry.” Blondie winced. “I don’t mean to jump to conclusions but I’ve had a few bad experiences with guys saying they’re single when they’re not.”
Pru nodded. Preaching to the choir, sister.
“So, what’s wrong?”
She glanced over at Finn. Oh right, she was supposed to be rescuing him.
Usually they used the “personal emergency” excuse. Vague, urgent, but nothing horrible. Tonight, though, Pru found herself in a mood. Finn had dragged her away from important donor research. Not that he knew that, because she hadn’t shared her plan with him yet—or anyone else, for that matter. And here he was with a woman who seemed perfectly nice, if a little chatty, and he couldn’t work up a single “I don’t think this is working”?
Trying her best to hide her smile, she shook her head sadly. “It’s Bruiser.”
“His dog,” she said, answering the confused woman’s question.
Finn’s chair scraped loudly, threatening to tip over with the force as he stood. “Bru Baby? What happened? Is she okay?”
She felt slightly guilty for the look of panic in her best friend’s gaze. Slightly. He deserved some panic for being such a wuss that he needed a rescue from an easily escapable date.
“I think she got into your fungus cream again.”
His eyes narrowed, catching on. “Oh, did she now?”
“Yup.” She rolled her lips to keep the laughter from escaping.
“You have a dog?”
He turned to face his date, panic abated since he knew Pru was messing with him and his fur baby was fine. Finn didn’t have any fungus cream in his apartment. The annoying guy didn’t even have the decency to get athlete’s foot and create a bit of physical disgust she could crow to Mo about.
“Yes. A rescue. Adopted her two years ago.”
His date gave a sort of smile-frown. “Oh, that’s sweet, but I’m allergic to dogs. And cats. All animals, really. I tried to get a hamster once, but I ended up with red eyes and a swollen throat two hours in.”
“Oh. I guess this won’t work out, then.”
For crap’s sake! She came all the way over here to rescue him, and all he had to do to get out of the date was mention his dog? Finn owed her big time.
“I guess not, but it was nice to meet you. I hope your dog is okay.”
After making sure his date had a ride home—because even if he couldn’t break a date, Finn never left anyone stranded—they made their way out of the bar and onto the streets.
“I can’t believe you used my dog as an excuse.” Finn glared at her. “We agreed never to make it personal.”
“And I can’t believe you still can’t tell a woman ‘things aren’t working out’ like a grown-ass man.”
“Not all of us are as blunt as you, Pru. Some of us have sensitive feelings that bruise easily.”
She snorted, rolling her eyes, because if there was one thing Finn didn’t do, it was bruise easily, in his feelings or body. Her bestie was a rock.
Still, he did care about others to the point of sacrificing his own happiness at times. Finn cared too much. Probably why he became a firefighter. Finn hated seeing anyone in any kind of pain.
“Fine. I’m sorry for using Bruiser as an excuse.”
He grinned, the left side of his mouth ticking up higher than the right, as it always did. Slinging an arm around her shoulders, he gave her a squeeze.
“It’s all good. Thanks for bailing me out. Bailey was nice, but I couldn’t get a word in edgewise with that woman. She talked nonstop from the moment we sat down until you showed up. The minute she said she likes Wes Craven movies I knew it was a bust.”
“You could have just told her about the time you cowered under the blankets like a big ol’ baby during Chucky.” Pru chuckled. “That would have turned her off in a heartbeat.”
He glared, nudging her with his hip as they walked. “I didn’t ‘cower like a baby.’ I was checking my phone and didn’t want the light from the screen to affect your viewing.”
She snorted. “Sure, you were just being considerate.”
“I was. Besides, that doll is creepy as hell.” He shuddered. “Toys should not come to life, especially with the soul of a serial killer inside them.”
Her bestie would run into a burning building without a thought about the danger, but that same guy was too scared to watch anything with psycho killers or ghosts. She did not get it.
“Why’d you go out with her in the first place?”
He shrugged. “We both swiped right.”
Charming. Sometimes she so did not understand her generation.
“So, where’d you park?”
“Park? On a Saturday night? Are you kidding me?” She shook her head. “I walked.”
The smile left his face, brow turning down with disapproval. His large, muscular arms, covered with amazing works of inked art, crossed over his chest as he stared her down. Not hard to do, since he stood a good seven inches above her.
“You walked? At this time of night?”
“Yes, Dad. I’ve lived in the city for most of my life. I know my way around.”
Gaze narrowing, he bent until his nose almost touched hers. “So have I. Which is how I know it’s not safe to walk the city streets alone at night. Dammit, Pru, I never would have texted if I knew you were going to walk by yourself.”
She knew he was only looking out for her, but it still made her angry that he was right. Walking at night in the city wasn’t the smartest move for a woman alone. Another reason why men sucked.
“Come on, I’ll give you a ride back.”
He started walking toward the curb where his 2011 Harley-Davidson Sportster was parked. Reaching into the side bag, he grabbed his extra helmet and tossed it to her. She caught the heavy safety equipment, shaking her head as she slipped it on.
“I still think it’s stupid you bought this thing.”
The used motorcycle was his pride and joy, second only to his dog.
“You can’t even ride it half the year.” Motorcycles and snow did not get along.
“Yeah,” he said, strapping his helmet on and straddling the large bike. “But I can ride it the other half.”
Solid point. But she still thought it was a silly purchase. Her pragmatic brain couldn’t wrap itself around six-months of idleness for such an expensive item.
“Hop on, and I’ll take you to get food before I drop you off.”
“You better.” She slid behind him, wrapping her arms around his waist. “You owe me an extra-large chili cheese fry and a large strawberry shake for tonight.”
He chuckled, the vibrations rumbling through his back and into her chest, which was pressed up firmly against him. For safety reasons, of course.
“Extra-large chili cheese fries and a strawberry shake coming up.”
“Large strawberry shake. Don’t get cheap on me, Jamison.”
Finn started the bike, the engine rumbling to life between her legs. The bike might be useless during the winter months, but it did have its advantages. If she weren’t so terrified of crashing every second she rode this damn thing, she might get one herself just to rev it up and enjoy the ride.
“Large strawberry shake,” he agreed on a shout, right before he backed them up and took off down the street.
Pru held tight, eyes squeezed shut as she accepted the terrifying thrill of riding something doctors so often referred to as “donor mobiles.” Her night might have been interrupted, her plans for specimen selection slightly delayed, but it was okay. She was sure that when she was a mother, she’d have to learn to adjust and go with the flow. Besides, Finn had needed her, and she’d always be there for him, just like he was always there for her.
But will he be there when I become a mom?
She honestly didn’t know.
She knew she needed to talk to him about all this, and her roommates, too. She wasn’t the only one affected by her decision, even if she was doing it alone. As soon as she picked a donor, things would start progressing. The people in her life needed to know about her decision before that happened. They’d support her. She was sure of it.
Didn’t matter. She wanted this, and she was going to do it no matter what anyone said. So yes, she’d tell Lilly and Mo and Finn. Just maybe not tonight.
Tonight was all about those delicious chili cheese fries.