Off the Cuff by K.I. Lynn

I rocked the baby in my arms, trying to settle her down. Was she hungry? Did she have a dirty diaper?

My heart sped up as I stared down at her scrunched-up face. What was I thinking?

Panic began to settle in. Only four hours had passed since Social Services called and told me I had a niece. Then, they told me I had to take the baby, or she was going into foster care. Did I let someone else take her? The decision had been a total gut reaction—of course I’d take her.

I wasn’t even aware that my little sister, Ryn, was pregnant, but I hadn’t seen my sister in six months. Not since her last appearance, when she was strung out and desperate for money.

Was she pregnant then? I did the math and began to shake as anger filled me. For years Ryn had chosen drugs over everything, and it seemed having a baby had done nothing to change that.

She ran. Left the hospital and was gone. Disappearing into another crack den.

“Are you hungry?” I asked the tiny baby in my arms. The baby girl didn’t even have a name. My sister couldn’t even do that for her.

Once again, because my sister was addicted to drugs, I was left trying to pick up the pieces.

The baby let out another high-pitched cry, deepening the vibrations inside me. What had I gotten myself into? I knew nothing about babies, and in one afternoon, I had one.

Tears filled my eyes as well and I blew out an unsteady breath.

Thankfully, Social Services was able to provide me with some staples to get me by, but I was going to be spending all night on Amazon one-clicking the crap out of the baby section.

It was only Tuesday. What was I going to do about work in the morning? I’d found a job that I loved and had an amazing boss, but how was he going to react when I suddenly had to take time off? Did I even qualify for any type of family leave?

The suddenness of my parenthood was going to be a huge adjustment, and I needed to strategize. That would have to wait until after I talked to my boss.

If I wasn’t a hyperventilating mess by then.

The biggest hurdle would be my boyfriend, Pete.

In the four years we’d been together we’d talked about our future, about getting married and having kids, but in all that time he’d never done anything to make it happen.

Every time I brought it up, he came back with some excuse. “We’re still young, Roe. We’ve got time.”

A vibrating buzz moved through my veins and worry crawled in. I began to second guess myself, but another little grunt from the bundle in my arms tugged at my heart and reminded me that no matter what, she was worth it.

The door lock clicked and I turned toward the entry, my stomach in knots. Pete stopped mid-step, his brown eyes wide.

“What the hell is that crying?” Pete said as he stared at the baby in my arms. “Are you babysitting?”

“Hey, babe.”

He glanced around the room, his eyes bouncing to the bags lying on the floor. “Explain,” he said as he scowled at the baby in my arms.

I knew that tone. After years together I’d heard all of his intonations, and the hard edge and sharp snap of the word through clenched teeth told me that this conversation was not going to go well.

“This is my niece,” I said, turning the baby to show him her face in hopes it would tame him.

“Ryn had a baby?” he asked, then looked at her, his mouth turned down.

“And she’s going to live here.”

His eyes widened. “Here? With us?”

I swallowed hard. “Yes.”

He shook his head. “No. Call Ryn and tell her to come pick her brat up.”

“Pete! What the heck?” I knew where he was coming from. Ryn had dumped problems on our doorstep many times over the past few years, but this wasn’t the same. This was a baby who needed me. An innocent who needed help.

“Where the hell are we going to put a baby? This apartment is barely big enough for the two of us.”

While the Lenox Hill apartment we were living in was larger than our previous apartment, it was still a small one-bedroom—New York City living at its finest.

“I don’t know, but we can figure it out.”

He shook his head. “No. No, it can’t stay here.”

“She has nowhere else to go,” I said through clenched teeth. There was no discussion—she was staying.

“I don’t give a crap. It’s not our problem! Let someone else deal with it.”

I lifted my chin and shook my head. “She’s family. I’m not going to give her to strangers.”