Baby by Design
Designing Love - 1
For Gigi, who would’ve been leery of Tony, too…until she saw him in a suit.
And for Gramma Reet, who taught me the greatest show of love is a good, hard cheek pinching.
How’d a girl get so lucky to have grandmothers like you?
First and foremost, I have to acknowledge my editor, Barb Wilson. She makes me feel like a rock star when I know I’m anything but.
I also couldn’t have written a book like this without intimate knowledge of a big, loud, loving Italian-American family. I’m truly blessed, and I love you all.
And finally, ovarian cancer left a hole in my life and my heart when it claimed my grandmother. In an effort to do my part to make sure future generations can avoid a similar pain, I’ll be donating a portion of proceeds from this book to the Ovarian Cancer Research Fund.
“My God, he cleans up nice.” Trish DeVign said the words around a mouthful of anise-flavored birthday cake while she stared at a suit-and-tie clad Tony Corcarelli. His colorful tattoos were covered by the sleeves of a fitted single-breasted jacket and navy dress shirt. His pitch-black hair was combed away from his face. And he’d shaved, leaving a slight contrast of color on his cheeks and chin, drawing her eyes straight to his unblemished lips.
“Too bad he’s such a screw up.”
Trish tore her gaze from Tony to level her best friend with the stink eye. “That’s not a nice thing to say about your brother.”
“It’s true. Look at him playing paper football with the kids while he’s dressed in an $800 suit. He should try spending less on clothes, keeping more of that money in the bank, and acting like a grown-up once in a while.”
Trish sighed as the sinfully handsome man flicked a white triangle across the table to the tune of children’s cackles. “I think it’s cute.”
“You would. Shoot. Aunt Helen’s got a slice of cake big enough to prompt diabetic shock. Where’s my mother?” Angie whipped her head in all directions and growled. “I’ll be back.”
Alone in the midst of familial chaos, Trish tapped her nails on the bottom of her plate and looked around the banquet room of Cestone’s Italian Restaurant. Four generations of Corcarellis were a sight to be seen; a sight that made her smile even though it made her heart hurt. In the corner of the room, middle-aged women fussed over the food tables, directing servers, corralling cookies, and spearing meatballs, while in the center of the room, middle-aged men ate until their belt buckles popped. All around, the older generation talked…and talked…and talked, punctuating every sentence with nodding heads and waving hands. She loved them all, but it was the children that tethered her heart, tugging her toward their joyful noises.
“Tony, me next. I’ll kick your as…”
Trish surmised the kid to be about twelve, and when he noticed her approaching, he bit off his last word amid oohs and ahhs from other kids around the table.
With sheepish eyes he looked from her to his cousin. “I’ll beat you is all. That’s what I was gonna say, Tony. Honestly.”
“Sure you were,” Tony said with a grin that tightened the tether on Trish’s heart. “Just gimme ten minutes to throw some cake down my throat and I’m all yours.” He stood, smoothed a hand down the button line of his suit coat, and blinded her with the full power of his male magnetism. All it took was a crooked smile, one that created a dark dip in his left cheek, not quite a dimple—no, dimples were too cute for a man this…edgy. “Hey, Boss Lady. I’d ask you to join me for cake, but I see you beat me to it.”
Trish looked down at her empty plate and swallowed the ridiculous butterflies that escaped their netting whenever Tony came around. “What can I say? It was delicious.”
He grinned again. “In that case, you should have another.”
She’d been raised by a bone-skinny woman who espoused never eating a second serving of anything. Despite the doctrine being tattooed on Trish’s brain, Tony Corcarelli was the kind of guy who could convince a girl to splurge. A classic bad boy, he was capable of more harm than good. But the good… Mmm. Mmm. Mmm.
Trish shook her head, scattering the thoughts that had her wallowing in adolescent purgatory, and reached for a more comfortable, competent topic. “How’s the Jorgen’s sofa coming along?”
“Should be done tomorrow. I can have the wingbacks ready next week.” There wasn’t a wrinkle on or around his lips, just smooth, perfectly puffed skin that circled a mouth decorated with teeth so white they were a sin on a man that dark.
“That’s fine. I’m still waiting on the completion of a couple inlaid rugs, but the sooner the better. I want to keep this project on time.” She sounded professional…and uptight, which was out of place for their surroundings but so much better than sounding like a crushing teen.
“So don’t go changing the fabric on me again.” He dropped his chin to his chest and regarded her through wide, smoky eyes. “Ya hear?” And then he winked.
Her stomach tumbled, churning the cake she’d eaten into cream.
“There you are.” Jackson wrapped a sweaty hand around her bicep. “I have to go.”
Tony lifted his full brows. “Duty calls, Doc?”
“Something like that.”
But Trish knew better. Jackson wasn’t on-call. He simply wasn’t fond of the Corcarellis, something she’d learned on the car ride to the restaurant when he called them “Jersey Shore without the booze.” The comment nagged Trish until she couldn’t dismiss it as a poor attempt at humor, so she added it to the mental column of negatives vs. positives she kept for all her dates.
“Enjoy the rest of your evening, kids,” Tony said with another crooked grin and a bob of his brows as he maneuvered around them. It was the kind of look that insinuated the rest of Trish’s evening would be filled with hot, sticky, adventurous sex.
Trish would be lucky if she got a goodnight kiss. Looking up at prune-faced Jackson, she sighed. Three dates in, and already the negatives assigned to his list dipped perilously close to the kiss-off line.
“Tony, wait.” A frilly-dressed, raven-haired girl shoved between Trish and Jackson to scurry after Tony.
Trish watched Tony turn and catch his little cousin as she leapt into his arms. The heartfelt, unscripted gesture made her smile, but when she turned back to Jackson he was scowling.
“These people have no manners,” he grumbled. “And too many kids.”
Thirty minutes later, after enough goodbyes, arrivedercis, and double-cheek kisses, Trish tucked inside Jackson’s Porsche and listened to his continued complaints.
“That was a waste of three hours.”
“I disagree. Nonna turning eighty-five is a big deal.”
He rolled his eyes. “She’s not your grandmother. None of those people are related to you—thank God. You could’ve sent a card and some flowers. Why subject yourself to that circus?”
That circus was all Trish wanted from life—not that specific circus, but a circus of her own. Loud, brash, unconditional love, not the kind of love that was earned by good behavior and hefty bankrolls. She sighed, because this part of getting to know someone in order to ascertain compatibility was always the most uncomfortable. “I’m adopted.”
“Oh.” He glanced at her as he adjusted his grip on the steering wheel. “I didn’t know that.”
Considering how much Jackson adored her surgeon father and socialite mother, she couldn’t help but wonder if he was disappointed she didn’t share the sacred DeVign genes.
“It’s not really a big deal until I’m around a family like the Corcarellis,” Trish continued. “Then I start to wonder what my biological family is like.”
Road noise swirled between them as she waited patiently for his reaction.
He snorted. “If you ask me, that’s dangerous thinking. I mean obviously you’re better off now. Look how lucky you are. Hell, I’d stand in line to be adopted by the DeVigns.”
She bet he would. “Yes, well, there’s something to be said for knowing where you came from. Don’t you think?”
“If I came from a family like the Corcarellis, I’d never want to know. Somebody needs to gift them with a lifetime supply of birth control so they stop polluting the gene pool.” He laughed.
She clenched her hands in her lap and stared out the window at the shadowy shapes and lighted signs flying by. “I’ll skip the nightcap, Jackson. Just drop me off at home.”
“Oh. Hey.” He slowed at a stoplight and stretched an arm across the top of her headrest. “I was kidding. I mean, they’re accommodating enough. They’re just rough around the edges, and it takes some getting used to.” He smiled as he leaned closer, and for a second, hope bubbled in Trish’s chest. “For a guy like me who’d rather have non-anesthetized surgery than kids, it’s a real stretch to relate.”
Every one of those stupid, hope-filled bubbles popped. “The light is green,” she said, redirecting his attention to the road and her attention to the nauseous pit in her stomach.
She was tired of this; tired of getting her hopes up only to have them trashed. At thirty-two, according to her calculations, eight good baby-making years remained. She’d spent the last two years methodically dating, hoping for a ring and white dress. But when she imagined a lifetime with each prospect, and concluded it was more like a life sentence, she lowered her standards. After all, she was an independent woman who didn’t need a man to help her raise a child. But she did need a man to help her make one…and for more than his sperm. She wanted his family history, too. The impersonal, anonymity of creating a baby with a bodiless stranger from a donor clinic wouldn’t work. She wanted her baby to have a complete medical history, intergenerational stories, and at least a quarterly look at his or her dad.