“I know you said you’ll always be around for me and the baby, and while that might be true right now, there’ll come a point when you can’t, and I’m trying to accept that.” I suck in a deep breath. “I don’t want you to feel obligated to me, Hunter. When you’re ready to date and forget about this fake marriage, just let me know. It’s tearing me apart knowing my fucked-up situation holds you back. I can’t be that person. I won’t be.”
He tenses, grabbing the steering wheel tight before glancing over at me. “You have nothing to worry about. I know we’re just friends, Lennon. So stop believing you’re going to ruin some relationship of mine that doesn’t even exist because you’re not. I don’t know if you noticed or not, but I haven’t been with anyone in a while—and before you even start, it’s not because of you—I don’t want to be with anyone. Especially not right now.” His words linger, filling the car.
I open my mouth to say something, realizing how confused I am thinking about this. Instead of speaking, nothing comes out. I want to ask him how he can feel that way, how he can be so content with this plan or how it could mess things up with his potential dating life. But I don’t. My hormones are completely out of whack, and I’m overly emotional. I need to gain control because in ten minutes, we’ll be face to face with my parents. I can’t show up upset or crying with a man I’m claiming to be my husband. It would be the worst first impression ever. My mother will instantly notice and it’ll be a conversation I don’t want to have before I drop the pregnancy bomb on them.
“Listen. We’re almost there, and I think it might be best to put this all on hold and talk about it later when we’re back home. Right now, we have a fake marriage to pull off. We have to get into character and play the part of the madly in love newlyweds for my unsuspecting parents.” I look over at him, and he nods in agreement.
“That’s probably for the best,” he says, turning down my parents’ street.
I swallow down the knot in my throat as the house comes into view. We pull into the driveway, and I try to gain an ounce of strength though I feel like I’m crumpling from the inside out. Hunter grabs my hand and squeezes.
“Do I look pregnant?” I ask him with a smirk. I’m purposely wearing a baggy shirt because although I’m only fifteen weeks pregnant, my small bump is noticeable in tight shirts, and they can’t know how far along I really am. It would ruin our entire story.
“You look great,” he reassures me with a wink, which should calm me down, but I’m hit with a rush of nerves. “Let’s do this, wifey.”
“What if this is a disaster? What if my parents freak the hell out? What if they figure out we’re lying and this was all for nothing? What if—?”
“Lennon.” Hunter’s deep voice snaps my gaze up to his eyes. He wraps a hand around the nape of my neck and pulls me close until our lips collide. I instantly relax, letting his mouth erase all my fears. He pushes back, and I frown. My breathing is erratic as I replay what just happened in my mind. “Better?” he croaks out as if the kiss affected him too.
“Uh-huh,” I manage to say, thoughts of my parents vanished. Why does he have this effect on me? I blink, wishing I had time to figure it out, but knowing I don’t.
A chuckle escapes him. “Good. We’ve got this.”
“Right.” I nod in agreement. “Did you just kiss me to get me to shut up?”
“I’d never.” His light tone has me thinking otherwise. “Let me say this, I’ve not met a woman’s parents who haven’t loved me.”
I scoff with a chuckle. “Oh, overconfident, are we? Well, my parents aren’t like most,” I remind him.
Hunter lifts my hand and presses a soft kiss to my knuckles. Electricity streams through me when my eyes meet his. “It’s going to be so damn believable, we might end up believing we’re actually married by the end of the trip.”
His encouraging words have me laughing, and I feel a lot better. Hunter knows what he’s doing, and we’ve prepared for this.
Hunter gives me a reassuring smile, then opens the door to get out. Rounding the car, he comes over to open mine. He helps me out, being the sweet gentleman I’ve only seen these past few months. As we walk around to the trunk, I glance down at my left ring finger and wonder what the actual fuck I’m doing. There’s no time to break it down, though, because my mother’s voice causes me to still. When I look up, I plaster a smile on my face. She closes the space between us, then pulls me into a big hug with my father behind her.
“Lennon! I’m so happy you’re finally here,” she squeals. “How was the flight?”
Hunter pops his head up from the trunk and gives her his infamous boyish grin. My mother’s eyes meet mine right before her jaw falls to the ground. He does seems to have that effect on people. My mother included.
“Mom. Dad. This is Hunter,” I introduce. He gives my father a friendly handshake, and my mother hugs him. I think I even catch her squeezing his muscles.
“So is this my surprise, honey?” she asks, grinning wide.
Hunter lets out a hearty laugh.
“So now you know where Sophie and Maddie get it from,” I tell him, my cheeks heating.
Mom’s eyes light up. “So you’ve met all my girls?”
“I have,” he tells her, but before the conversation can go any further, my father suggests we head inside, which I’m grateful for. Hunter swings his duffel bag over his shoulder and grabs my carry-on as Dad takes my giant suitcase. As we’re walking to the door, Hunter places his hand on the small of my back, making my entire body light up. I’m trying so damn hard to find my confidence as we step inside.
I keep my left hand hidden and so does Hunter, not wanting my parents to notice the rings until we’re ready. Dad suggests we go into the sitting room and catch up.
“Do you guys want some coffee? I’ll get a pot ready,” Mom asks, and we both nod, though my heart races because she’ll definitely notice that I’m not drinking caffeine.
“That’d be great, Mrs. Corrigan,” Hunter says. Dad takes a seat as Mom heads into the kitchen. Hunter and I sit on the sofa across from him. We chat about the flight, my job at the school, and he asks how Sophie and Maddie are doing. Hunter’s as calm as can be, keeping eye contact and loosely resting his arm around my waist, but I feel as if I’m unraveling one thread at a time.
It’s easy to lie to them over FaceTime, but I’m not sure I can actually do it to their faces. I try to swallow down my insecurities because so much rides on this week.
Mom comes back and sits next to Dad. I know this is when the real grilling will begin.
“So…are you the Hunter I spoke to on the phone a few months ago when Lennon was avoiding me like I was the plague?” She’s being direct, almost too direct.
Hunter’s smile doesn’t falter a bit. “Yes, ma’am. I was. I didn’t want you to worry.”
Mom nods. “I appreciate that because I was, especially after everything that happened with Brandon.”
I was hoping she wouldn’t bring him up so quickly. The color drains from my face as I think about this trip and how I was supposed to be here with him. The guilt of what we’re doing stabs me in the gut, knowing how different it’d be with Brandon by my side, but it’s too late. It’s now or never. Mom continues, but I’m lost in my head until I hear her next words.
“Are you Lennon’s new boyfriend?” She looks accusingly between us, her brows furrowed as if she’s trying to solve a mystery.
I open my mouth, but I can’t seem to get the words to come out. I choke, knowing I need to say something, but I’m at a loss.
“Actually,” Hunter speaks up when he notices I’m freezing. Moving a few inches closer, he tightens his grip on me then grins. “I’m her husband.”
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