Title: No Easy Choice
Series: Sisters of Fire #3
Author: Kathryn Shay
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Release Date: July 13, 2021
Firefighter Annie Ferris O’Shea has it all: an idyllic marriage to her high school sweetheart, an exciting career and a circle of wonderful friends. But when she gets pregnant, everything changes. Will she and Colin be able to adapt to a new lifestyle or will their lives dissolve into old patterns and expected roles in society?
Annie leaned against the bar and looked out at the crowd who gathered at Brothers&Sisters, a firefighter hangout, for the fiftieth birthday celebration of Ben Benedeski, Colin’s lieutenant on Truck 1. She breathed a sigh of relief.
“What’s that for?” Trish Mackenzie had come up to her.
Man, she was so pretty with a new haircut that framed her face and called attention to her eyes. Annie tugged on her own overgrown hair, which she’d tried to curl.
“This is the first time I’ve been out in ten days.”
“Peach is your color.”
“I finally fit into my favorite blouse and capris.” She’d been working out for months now. She ran sometimes before Colin left for work, or took Bridget on power walks, plus she’d picked up a stationary bike at a garage sale real cheap.
Trish scowled, then. “But seriously, you haven’t been out of the house since our last get together?”
“Bridget got sick and we’ve been cooped up inside. We couldn’t even go to the park.”
“Honey, going to the park with a baby isn’t getting out.”
Annie sighed. “Colin’s been working two jobs—one at his parents’ gas station and of course the firehouse. So, I’m pretty much stuck in the house.” She could hear sadness in her own voice.
“I could have come over to spell you.”
“And risk getting the baby’s cold? She’d slobber all over you. That’s why I didn’t ask you or the others for help. Even Colin’s mother. But Bridget’s well enough today, so I asked Cora to watch her. She was excited about it.”
“I understand, but that sucks.”
“Yeah, it does.” Ready to change the depressing subject, she smiled over at her friend. “So, are you excited about the wedding in a few weeks?”
“I’m excited about taking vows with Nathan.”
“How sweet. I felt that, too.”
She shrugged. “I still feel that way, I guess. It’s just hard having a baby to take care of now. I know, I know, I cried for two years because I couldn’t get pregnant, so I bite my lip not to complain.”
“Quarantined for 10 days with a sick infant is worth complaining about.”
Colin came up to them. He was cute in his green T-shirt and khaki shorts. He held out his phone. “It’s Mama. You should talk to her.”
“What does she want?”
“I don’t know, she asked for you.”
Motherly concern overshadowed husband annoyance. “Hi, Mama. What’s going on?”
“Bridget won’t stop crying.”
“She’s up this late?”
“She woke up flushed. I took her temperature. It’s only 99. But her nose is stuffy and I did what you said about the vaporizer.”
“I’m sure you did. One of us will be there in fifteen minutes. Rock her and keep her head elevated.”
She handed the cell back to Colin and explained the situation. Trish turned around to the bar to give them some semblance of privacy. “What should we do?” she asked her husband.
“You have to go home.”
He gestured to the room. “This is my station house’s party. Ben’s my lieutenant. My whole crew got subs so we could have the night off.”
“Colin, this is the first time I’ve been out in ten days.”
“I guess. Do you want me to go?”
Her heart sank. “You don’t want to take care of our sick child?”
His expression said, No. “Sure, but she probably wants you. Not me.”
Annie glared at him, then set down her beer, none too gently. “Never mind, I’ll go.”
He reached for her arm. “I’ll walk you to the car.”
“Don’t bother.” She strode away. When she reached the door, Trish caught up with her and tugged her around.
“This isn’t right, Annie.”
“I know. But I take care of my kid.”
“Colin could do it.”
Annie let out a heavy breath and felt tears threaten.
“Want me to come with? You’d at least have somebody to talk to.”
“No, Ben’s your lieutenant, too. Tell him I had to leave?”
“Sure.” She leaned over and kissed Annie’s cheek.
Annie hugged her and left.
On the drive home, she talked to herself. Honestly. Colin could have let her have the night off, but he’d been right about the party for Ben. So she tried not to overreact. This was all temporary, anyway. And something she’d freely chosen—not to go back to her job for two more months after the paid maternity leave. When she did return to work, things would change, and she didn’t want to be a wimp about what happened in the meantime. She’d put her big girl panties on and do what she had to.
When she walked into her house, she heard the screaming in the living room, where she found Bridget, clearly upset, clasped against her mother-in-law’s shoulder. “I’m sorry, Mama, I left right away.”
Cora stood and handed the baby to her. “I called Sean, dear. He’s coming to get me.”
Nodding, Annie dropped down on her rocker and cuddled Bridget close. She quieted almost immediately.
“She wanted her mama.”
“Or her daddy.”
Cora’s brow furrowed. “Colin? Why should he come home? He works so hard to earn money for you, he deserves a break.”
Annie bit her lip before she spoke. “I know. You were raised like that.”
And Annie knew how much her mother-in-law believed in traditional roles. When Annie was sixteen, her mother Mary died and her father had taken off years before. Cora O’Shea was best friends with Mary, who’d named Cora as Annie’s guardian. The entire family treated her like an O’Shea, except Colin, because they’d already fallen in love at fifteen.
Annie was two years younger than Colin, who went to Bingham College to get a two-year associate degree in fire suppression. Meanwhile, she took the same fire department recruit course as he had and when she graduated, they both went to the fire academy together.
Sean arrived and beeped the horn from outside. Cora headed to the door, but she turned back. Annie knew the woman loved her, too.
“How long since you’ve been out, Annie? Didn’t you go to one of those Sisters of Fire things?”
“I missed one. Bridget was sick.”
Staring at Annie, Cora cocked her head. “That’s not right either. You should talk to Colin. Or I will, if you want.”
“No, I will, Mama.” She gestured to the door. “You better go. Pa doesn’t like being kept waiting.”
Bridget began to fuss again when Cora left. She could sense Annie’s mood. She’d left breast milk for the baby tonight, but she opened her blouse and bra and Bridget clamped right on. And quieted.
As she nursed, Annie thought about the circumstances of her life. Circumstances she’d coveted for a long time. Still, she could be angry at having her only night out spoiled.