From Chapter One, Knotted
James dropped Sydney and Vaughn off at the hospital while he took their luggage to his and Moira-Selene’s house a few miles away. They found Isabelle’s room without incident, but they were stopped by a coffee-brandishing Nicole Smith standing outside in the hallway waiting for them.
The young woman looked as if she hadn’t gotten a good night’s sleep in a couple of days, and her jerky movements indicated that the caffeine was the only thing keeping her upright. Her jeans and T-shirt had seen better days. But excitement flashed in her brown eyes, belying the pastiness of her milk chocolate skin.
“Hey Nicole,” Vaughn greeted her before he hugged her. “Holding the fort down for us?”
“You know I can hold it down in any situation,” Nicole quipped. She paused and stared at them for a long moment. “You two look exhausted. You need to sit down, get some caffeine or something.” She looked to Vaughn, eyes over-bright.
Isabelle’s curly dark brown hair was worn loose and it had grown in the four months since she and Sydney had last seen each other. Sydney smiled encouragingly at her as she pulled up a chair next to Isabelle’s bed.
“How are you feeling?” Sydney wanted to know.
Isabelle inhaled, held the breath for a couple of beats, and then exhaled. “I’m fine.” She smiled a bit, tone conversational. “I told them I didn’t want any drugs. When the baby comes, I want to feel everything.” Then she softened and tentatively reached out for Sydney’s hand.
The truth was, Sydney did not hate Isabelle. Isabelle was not as venomous as Lauren Reed, and the woman honestly cared about other people’s feelings—including those of Sydney herself. Sydney remembered the night that Isabelle had single-handedly took down the Covenant with her newfound powers of the Tricorn Goddess; she had been woman enough to observe Vaughn’s feelings for Sydney and step aside. A lesser woman would have tried to come between them. But not Isabelle. She had not done it to be a martyr, but because she knew it would be best for the man she loved. And as Sydney took Isabelle’s offered hand she realized that Isabelle didn’t hate her either.
“Thank you,” Isabelle said softly.
Sydney managed a smile, but it was dimmer than the first. She was well aware of a solemnity in the room as if something huge and grave were lurking in the corners. She could no longer feign mirth.
And neither could Isabelle.
“There is a reason why I called you in here without Michael,” Isabelle explained gently.
“I assumed you wanted to talk to me alone.” Sydney massaged Isabelle’s knuckle with her thumb as she winced a bit. At that moment, Sydney felt like delivering comfort. “Does it hurt a lot?”
Isabelle closed her eyes and bore the contraction. “Sometimes it’s like a little nagging prickle, and then sometimes it’s like a buckling ache.” She opened her eyes. “But back on subject. I wanted to talk to you about the baby.” Isabelle squeezed Sydney’s hand before she could speak. “I’m going to come right out and say it. Sydney, I want you to be my baby’s godmother.”
Sydney froze with bewilderment. Of all the things in the world that Isabelle could have said, this was not what Sydney had expected. She examined Isabelle’s face, her eyes, for any sign of guile. What she found was a nervous woman out on a limb doing something she felt she might be ridiculed for.
“Godmother?” Sydney said the word in an incredulous voice as she worked out the concept in her astute brain. Did that mean that she would have to wear muumuus and aprons with flowers on them? No way. She was being silly. It meant something much more important than clothing choices…
Isabelle nodded. “Yes.” She grinned a bit impishly, her green eyes alighting with mirth. “What—did you think I was going to declare war on you or something? Or maybe you thought I would make you wear one of those ugly I’m With Dad t-shirts while you were with Michael.”
Laughter burst out of Sydney before she could help it. “Oh God, if you make me wear something like that ever I will declare war on you.” That comment made Isabelle giggle helplessly. They laughed over that for a moment, relishing in the alleviated stress.
Once the air was still between them again, Sydney simply asked, “Why me?”
Isabelle didn’t hesitate. “Because I know if anything happens to me, I can trust you to care for my baby. I…” She trailed off as she dealt with another contraction. Sydney waited patiently for her to finish and squeezed back when Isabelle clutched her hand. After a few moments, Isabelle resumed her sentence. “Nicole didn’t argue when I discussed it with her. I know you and I are not close, but I feel that I know you well enough, Sydney. You are rational and responsible. Not to mention you have the determination of a horned bull.” That observation made Sydney smile. “And on some level, you have a heart big enough to care about me and this child.” She relaxed her grip on Sydney’s hand. “I hardly mean to gain your friendship by offering you this. This means more to me than a popularity contest.”
Vaughn knocked upon the open door then, startling them from their exchange. Sydney and Isabelle both looked at him with two sets of wide eyes. When he appraised their expressions, his easy smile disappeared into an anxious frown.
They were in this together, whether they liked it or not.