What follows is chapter one from Reckless at Heart, the first book in a new Pine Harbour series. It may contain typos and errors that will be corrected before publication.
Reckless at Heart will release June 2, 2020.
Chapter Two is also available to read here: https://www.zoeyork.com/reckless-at-heart-chapter-two/
“Daddy, I’m pregnant.”
Owen Kincaid felt the three words more than he heard them. His daughter Becca gave him a beseeching look from across the living room. He felt the weight of them, the immediate and heavy truth that this could—would—change everything. He knew in the back of his mind that he was supposed to say something supportive, something understanding. Hell, he understood all right.
He’d been there, done that, got the too-young parent t-shirt himself, hadn’t he?
Eighteen years ago, in fact.
The roar in his ears made it hard to think, hard to figure out how to respond in any way that wasn’t scary—or scared, if Owen was being honest. He’d been sprawled out on the couch, waking up after a midday nap before an evening shift tonight, when Becca came home ten minutes earlier. His cue to make some food and be a good dad. She’d disappeared into her room, then reappeared, finding him in the kitchen. “Can we talk?” she’d asked, her voice tight.
Then she’d turned on her heel, making him follow her into the living room of his small, three-bedroom bungalow. He’d been prepared for a confession about her car. A fender bender. Or ready to go to battle if she’d been let go from her job at the golf course, where she worked part time on the banquet staff. He could have commiserated if something had happened at school.
She was pregnant?
God. Fucking. Damn. She was eighteen years old. A baby herself. His baby.
She stood up from her seat across from him—carefully, warily—and moved closer. His fist clenched hard at his thigh, and she covered his white knuckles with her own fingers. She was shaking.
“Dad, it’s going to be okay.”
That was his line. That’s what he was supposed to say. But he couldn’t, so he opened his arms instead, and she fell against him.
He’d known she was growing up. He couldn’t keep her a kid forever. He thought he had done his best, but he’d failed. “Are you okay?” He finally said, his voice full of gravel and regret and undisguised anger, too. There was no hiding that, so he didn’t try.
And she picked up on it, too, because she didn’t answer his question.
“Don’t be mad,” she whispered.
“Not at you, baby.” He closed his eyes and clenched his jaw, inhaling roughly before rubbing her back. “Did you…do you know…Does the fa—” Nope. That was a word that wasn’t crawling out of his throat right now. Father. Some little punk-ass kid knocked up his daughter.
You were that punk-ass kid nineteen years ago.
But history wasn’t supposed to repeat itself like this. He’d done his best, they had done their best, to give Becca everything despite how young they were when she arrived. Her mother may not have been his soul mate, but they were decent co-parents. They’d just celebrated Becca’s birthday four months ago.
Him, his ex-wife, her husband, and Becca’s shithead on-again, off-again junior hockey player boyfriend who dumped her a week later.
And the anger roared back to life. “Becca, tell me it wasn’t Hayden.”
“Daddy, don’t be mad at us.”
Us. There would be no us with Hayden. The kid had his eyes firmly locked on the NHL, and nothing—no one—would get in his way. Not a girlfriend. He’d made that clear to Becca every time they broke up. So there was no chance he’d prioritize a child. Owen could kill him. With his bare hands, and he’d enjoy every second of the murder.
“I’m sorry,” he said gruffly. “I’m not mad.”
“You are.” She’d always been able to see right through him like that.
He shuddered and kissed the top of her head. “I was thinking you’d banged up the car, that’s all.”
“No.” Another small sound.
He forced himself through a calming breath. “Well, that’s good. Have you told your mom yet?”
“She’s not home. I stopped there first on my way back from the store.”
He froze. “Did you just find out?”
She nodded, a tiny little jerk of her head, and his heart cracked open. She’d taken a test and he was the first person she told. Because her mom wasn’t home, and if she had been, Becca would have done it there. But still, he’d been the first one…and he’d reacted like it was the end of the world.
The end of his Great Bachelor Plans, maybe. But not the end of the world. And it was the earliest of days. She had time to think and make decisions, and he couldn’t get ahead of himself guessing what would happen.
“Ah, shit. I’m sorry. It is okay. It’s going to be okay.” He squeezed her again, wanting to make it all better, but this was monumental. And she needed Rachel. “One thing at a time. Do you want to call your mom now? She can come here if you want some privacy with her.”
Rachel had three young kids and a loud husband, Hudson, who was a decent guy but he treated Becca like a kid still. That wasn’t going to help in the next while.
“I don’t know. I don’t want to tell her on the phone.” Becca’s voice was tiny now.
“Do you want me to call her? I can ask her to come over.”
Owen didn’t know where his phone was. He’d find it in a minute. Had he left it in the kitchen? He’d been fiddling with that damn bachelor life wish list. Shit that didn’t matter nearly as much as his daughter.
Becca was quiet for a long stretch. Then she gave him a tight squeeze before moving back. “Thanks.”
“I love you.” It came out raw, but at least that was honest.
“This doesn’t have to change anything. I can still move out next summer.” But her voice was small and unsure. She knew he’d been counting down the months until she graduated.
And now he felt like the world’s biggest asshole. Fuck. “Don’t worry about that.”
“One thing at a time, kiddo.”
Her face crumpled. No, she wasn’t a kid anymore, was she?
“Look.” He waited. “Look at me.”
She paused, then lifted her head, her eyes watery but fierce. “What?”
“Whatever you need, I’ll be right by your side.”
“I don’t know what I’m going to do.”
“That’s okay. You’ve got some time to think about it.” He swallowed hard. He had an overnight shift to get ready for. “I have to go to work. Are you going to be okay?”
“If you want your mom to come over…”
She nodded. “Maybe.”
But by the time he was in his EMT uniform and getting ready to head to the Pine Harbour Emergency Services Building, Becca hadn’t called Rachel, and to Owen’s surprise, she’d decided she didn’t want him to do that just yet, either. “I need more time. I don’t want to tell anyone else.”
He dragged in a rough, ragged breath. “Okay. This is our secret for now. Deal?”
She nodded solemnly. “Deal.”
Owen hoped that promise wouldn’t come back to kick him in the ass later. But Becca was a grownup now, at least officially.
Her teen years had sped by in a wild kaleidoscope of parties and growth spurts and the occasional scholastic achievement, but mostly it had felt like a period they had all just barely survived. He’d been looking forward to some breathing room next. To her moving out and finding her passion in life. And in the quiet that would follow, he’d had big plans for himself. Hobbies. Dating, and not just the furtive hook-ups of his past. A real social life that wasn’t dictated by making sure his teenager was safely tucked into bed by her curfew.
That wasn’t going to be a worry tonight, though. Becca was already wearing her her flannel pyjamas and had scrubbed her makeup off.
Still… “I’m just around the corner if you need me. I can be here on my pager if need be.”
She shook her head. “I’m going to watch something and go to bed early.”
“Call me if you can’t sleep.”
“I’m not going to call.”
Owen ignored that. “Call me if you need anything.”
“I need some alone time.” She said it like a confession, and he realized he was crowding her. He’d want the exact same thing in her shoes—had, in fact, locked himself in his bedroom nineteen years earlier so he could stare at the ceiling.
“Got it. I’m going.”
As she disappeared into her room, and he turned on his heel to head to work, a complicated wave of concern and regret flooded his mind. What could they have done differently?
Had he failed her somehow? Had they romanticized what it had been like to be teen parents? Becca was loved, God damn it, but that didn’t mean having her so young hadn’t been brutally hard.
Maybe the pregnancy wouldn’t last. He had a flash of guilt for wishing for a miscarriage, to take the choice out of her hands. More than a flash. That dark thought carried him all the way to work, where he parked out back and let himself in the side entrance.
In an ideal world, he’d make it to his office without running into anyone, and be able to bury himself in work.
It was not an ideal world.
The sound of voices drifted toward him from the kitchen. There were two cooking and eating spaces in the building, a full-fledged kitchen on the ground floor that was mostly used for the weekly training night for the volunteer firefighters, and a break room upstairs with a kitchen and microwave. That was where his paramedics grabbed a bite in between calls. Nobody had time to clean up from a full meal, and God forbid anyone left something behind for Owen to find.
He didn’t strictly speaking have a don’t use the downstairs kitchen rule, but it was understood that the space was only for cooking larger meals for the whole group. Or so he thought.
Laughter broke out. “Catch it!”
“We can’t do this during the day. The EMT supervisor’s a real—”
Owen stepped into the doorway and cleared his throat as he took in the scene. Two firefighters, not volunteers, but guys attached to his station from the main firehouse in Wiarton, were standing on either side of the microwave. One was holding a bag of popcorn. Owen knew his face was thunderous, because yeah, he had a tendency to be a real something when people were messing up his space. “I work evening shifts from time to time as well, you know.”
The kid holding a bag of freshly microwaved popcorn clearly did not know that, because he dropped it, sending greasy kernels skittering all over the floor.
“There’s a microwave upstairs,” Owen growled.
“Someone else was using it.”
“Patience is a virtue.”
The kid’s face blanched. “We’ll clean this up.”
Owen glanced at the floor. “Soap and water to get the oil off the floor.”
Nights like this made him second-guess his decision to take the supervisor job when they built this new station. For most of his career he’d been happy to be a paramedic. The shift work had been tricky to work custody around when Becca was little, but when he was off, he was off, and in the summers he’d been able to be home with her for almost half the week. But as college loomed closer and closer for Becca, the promise of more pay—and a more regular schedule—had won out.
Somewhere along the way, he’d lost his sense of humour about things like tossing popcorn.
Owen felt old.
And as he sank into his chair behind his desk, he longed for the days when his daughter’s biggest worry was whether she would get both Barbies she wanted from Santa.
At eleven o’clock, she texted to say good night. He was in the ambulance bay updating the whiteboard on the wall and he stopped as soon as his phone vibrated.
Becca: I’m going to sleep now. Front door is locked.
Owen: And what about the back door?
Becca: Left that hanging wide open for the monsters to get in.
Owen: Love you.
Becca: Love you too.
The rest of the night passed without incident. He listened to some dispatch calls to make notes for performance review meetings, got ahead on some of his other monthly tasks, and finished his shift by taking inventory on the gear in his own truck.
When he got home, Becca’s bedroom door was still firmly shut.
But she wasn’t asleep.
His phone lit up with a text message as he was thinking about knocking to wake her for school. It was a group message, sent to both him and her mother. Apparently, Becca had decided it was time to tell Rachel.
Becca: Can we have a team meeting after school today? At Dad’s place?
Team meetings are what they’d taken to calling co-parenting discussions when Becca hit the teen years and demanded they include her in any talks that related to her—which was every talk between him and Rachel.
On the screen, dots appeared. Then disappeared, and finally reappear.
Rachel: What time? I need to pick up the little ones at three-thirty.
Becca: Dad’s on nights, so he needs to sleep but he’s usually up by the time I get back. Remember I don’t have a class last period. How about two?
It was such a grown-up reply. Thoughtful, which she wasn’t always, because teenage hormones were something wild, but when she was…man, she was a good kid.
Not. A. Kid.
But he thought of everyone younger than him as a kid, especially his own daughter, and God damn it, he was too tired to fix that right now. He sighed and shook his head, then tapped out a quick reply that it worked for him.
Fifteen minutes later, she found him in the kitchen. She was dressed already, in skin-tight jeans and an oversized sweater, with a full face of makeup on.
“I made oatmeal,” he said gruffly.
She smiled faintly. “I probably can’t tell you that I need to go, can I?”
“You’ve got five minutes. Eat a real breakfast for me, okay?”
She grabbed a bowl and the glass jar of brown sugar. “Oatmeal, huh?”
“It’s good for you.”
“You haven’t made oatmeal in years.”
“And I’m regretting that right now, so…eat up.” As if more oatmeal would have prevented this turn of events.
She shoved the bowl into his hands. “Only if you eat some, too.”
He didn’t feel like eating, but she’d cornered him with logic. “Fine.”
This had been their dynamic for so long. He did his best, even when it wasn’t enough, but at least it was something. And she showed him how to be a better person, too.
Oatmeal for dinner. Then some sleep. Then… He wasn’t looking forward to what was coming later that afternoon. Depending on how it went, he might need a drink. Or a game of darts. He could pin his list of bachelor life dreams on the board and aim for each of them one by one.
Read chapter two here: https://www.zoeyork.com/reckless-at-heart-chapter-two/