“I’m not sure I’m the best person to give you advice,” he said cautiously. He still couldn’t believe Rose had driven out to his place to ask for it, especially after the cold shoulder she’d given him earlier. He hoped it was a sign she wanted to patch things up. Maybe she was more interested in him than he’d thought. His gaze fell on her left hand and he took in the ring still on her finger. Jason was still in the picture. On the outskirts, yes, but definitely in the picture. Until that ring came off, he had to be a gentleman. He took a seat across from her.
“It’s not for me,” she said. “It’s for a friend.”
A friend. Of course. “Shoot.”
“If you were a man and you’d been with a woman,” she began, blushing faintly, “and she got pregnant…”
Cab, who had so far enjoyed where this question was going, sat back in his seat. Pregnant? Was she pregnant?
“…but you were married to another woman and you didn’t want her to know about the baby, what would you do?”
Cab blinked. Okay, Jason wasn’t married to another woman. As far as he knew. “Well…” Hell, what would he do?
“What I mean is…” Rose sighed in frustration. “Obviously this guy doesn’t want to claim paternity, and the girl who’s pregnant thinks that’s for the best. She doesn’t like him anymore since he’s being such an ass. But what about the baby?”
He raised his eyebrows, experiencing the distinct sensation of being swallowed by quicksand. “The baby?”
“Shouldn’t the baby figure in all of this? I mean, she could let the guy off the hook and not tell anyone that he’s the father, but that means the baby will be raised nearly in poverty. Shouldn’t the guy be held accountable?”
Well, shit. She really did want advice for a friend, didn’t she? He’d hoped that was just an excuse to come and see him. Although maybe it was. She’d never come to him for advice before. Was this some kind of round-about apology for being short with him earlier today and for leaving the Cruz ranch without even saying good-bye? If it was, he’d take it. He wanted Rose to feel like she could talk to him. Whether or not they ever had the chance to take things further—which they wouldn’t unless she removed that ring from her finger—he wanted to be her friend. A good one.
“Here’s the thing,” he said. “I’d never back away from my responsibility as a father. When I marry a woman—and I will marry the woman I have children with—I’ll stay married for good. However many kids I have, I’ll support them. That doesn’t just mean I’ll pay for their upkeep. I’ll be there for them, too. Any man who doesn’t step up the same way doesn’t deserve to be a father.”
She stared at him. “You mean that, don’t you?” she said softly.
“Of course I do. Life isn’t all that complicated. People make it complicated. They overwhelm themselves with options. For me, when it comes to kids and responsibility, there is only one option.”
She held his gaze for a long moment, a funny look on her face. If he didn’t know better, he’d swear she was a little turned on by what he’d just said.
“Okay,” she said. “But what about my friend? Should she force the issue? She can take him to court and make him take a paternity test.”
“Do the benefits outweigh the cost of having that kind of jerk in her life? Because once she forces him to pay child support he’ll think he has every right to tell her how to raise her kid. He could even try to get custody and force her to pay child support to him.”
Rose’s eyes went wide. “He could do that?”
“He probably wouldn’t win,” Cab said. “But he sure as hell can try. Sounds like he can outspend her on lawyer’s fees.”
“Maybe you’d better let your friend decide what’s best for her,” he said gently. “Eat your supper, it’s getting cold.”
She looked down at her plate. Picked up another bite of mac and cheese with a sigh. “Thanks,” she said when she’d swallowed. “For everything.”
“Next time let’s go to DelMonaco’s,” he said, finishing the food on his plate. “What about the rest of your life? Everything okay?” She looked up at him sharply, so he added, “What about work?” That was a safe enough topic. He wanted to keep her talking about herself. He wanted to know more about what made Rose tick.
She made a face. “I need a new job.”
“Really? I thought you were pretty good at the one you have. I’ve heard you can tell from the ring if a couple is meant to be together.” He reached across the table and touched her engagement ring.
She tried to pull her hand away. “That’s a whole other can of worms,” she said.
He held onto it, touching her ring again. “What about this one? What does it tell you?”
Her shoulders slumped and the fight went out of her. “Nothing,” she said in a quiet voice. “Not a damn thing. It never did. I didn’t even know I could tell people’s futures from their rings until I started working for Emory. When Jason gave me this one I didn’t get a twinge! We’re over, Cab. I’m going to leave him.”
“Really?” He had to fight back a smile, jerk that he was. Forcing his face into concerned lines, he took Rose’s hand and squeezed it. He hadn’t seen that one coming. Maybe that explained why Rose had driven out this way. Maybe she wasn’t ready to tell her closer friends but needed someone to talk to nevertheless.
“You’re the only one I’ve said that to,” she said, echoing his thoughts. “I haven’t even talked to Jason about it. I don’t know what I’m going to say.” Her eyes filled with tears and he stood up and rounded the table to get to her side. Instinct had him gently pulling her into a hug, and she came willingly, resting her head against his chest for a minute. Cab relished the feel of her in his arms. He knew she only wanted comfort from him, but he’d take what he could get. Maybe one day soon she’d be ready for more. When she pulled back a few minutes later, he tried to bring things back to normal.
“Sit. Finish your dinner.” He nodded toward the remains of her food.
“I think I am finished.” But she took her seat again. He made his way back to his, wishing he could stick closer to Rose, but he refused to take advantage of the situation. She needed to tie things off with Jason before he asked her out. He frowned in concentration. He didn’t want to back off too far, either, or Jason might find a way to recapture Rose’s heart.