1st to Die Page 1


Emma Harrison stood back to admire her hard work. A brief smile of satisfaction flickered on her face. Somehow she had managed to perform an almost miraculous undertaking of transforming the dingy 4th floor conference room into an exquisite pink dream. She was especially proud of herself considering decorating and party planning weren’t exactly her forte. Of course when it came to selling the image any mother-to-be would want in a baby shower, her position at one of the premiere advertising agencies in Atlanta helped a lot. Cocking her head, she noticed the It’s a Girl banner was hanging slightly to the left. After she fixed it, her fingertips smoothed over the pale pink tablecloth adorned with refreshments and colorfully wrapped presents for the upcoming arrival.

She blew an errant strand of auburn hair out of her face and tried smoothing it back into the knot at the base of her neck. Yes, this is exactly what I would want for my baby shower…if I ever get to have one. A stabbing pain entered her heart before crisscrossing its way through her chest. It was a feeling she was becoming all too familiar with as her thirtieth birthday loomed around the corner, hovering over her like a dark cloud, while motherhood, along with Mr. Right, still evaded her. Being husbandless and childless was all the more painful after her parents’ deaths. After losing her mother two years ago, she had sworn she would replace the love she had lost by finding a husband and having a child. Unfortunately, nothing in her life seemed to work out as well as she planned it in her head.

Struggling out of her thoughts, she flipped her watch—the one that had belonged to her late mother—over to read the time. Only fifteen minutes before the guests, mainly her coworkers, started arriving. Okay, Em, it’s time to get your game face on. The hostess of the shower can’t let the green eyed monster of jealousy consume her and cause her to go apeshit, flipping over tables and throwing gifts in a Hulk-like rage! Get a grip!

The pep talk did little to still the churning emotions coursing through her. She gripped the table until her knuckles turned white. As the silent tears streamed down her cheeks, she quickly wiped them away. Raising her deep green eyes to the ceiling, she thought, Please help me get through this.

“You know, I have a nail file in my desk drawer if you want to slit your wrists. It would be a hell of a lot quicker than what you’re doing now!”

Emma jumped and clutched her chest. She whirled around to see her best friend, Casey, smirking at her. She frantically swiped the remaining tears from her eyes with the back of her hand. “Jeez, Case, you scared the shit out of me!”

“Sorry. I guess you were just so lost in misery and self-loathing that you didn’t hear me say your name.”

Ducking her head, Emma replied, “I don’t know what you’re talking about. I was just checking to make sure everything looked all right before everyone gets here.”

Casey rolled her eyes. “Em, what were you thinking agreeing to this? It’s slow emotional suicide.”

“How could I not? Therese is the one who got me the job here. She taught me everything I know. She’s gone through three rounds of In-Vitro Fertilization. If anyone deserves a baby shower, it’s her.”

“Yeah, but you didn’t have to be the one to throw it. I mean, she would have totally understood—especially with everything that’s happened lately with Connor.”

Emma’s phone buzzed on the table. She glanced at the ID and grimaced. “Speak of the devil.”

“Is he still calling and texting nonstop?” Casey asked.

“Yep. Lucky me.”

“Let me answer. I’ll tell that asshat you’re going to get a restraining order or something.”

“He’s harmless, Case.”

“You just need to tell him to man-up, grow a pair and give you some sperm.”

A giggle escaped Emma’s lips. “As tempting as that would be, I’d better pass. The whole sperm/baby thing is what started this whole mess to begin with.”

Casey gave a frustrated grunt. “The very fact you’re considering having someone donate sperm is ridiculous.” She placed her hands on Emma’s shoulders. “You are way too beautiful and sweet and amazing to give up on the dating world to have a kid.”

“Nice pitch there with the compliments. Have you ever thought of working in advertising?” Emma mused.

“Ha, ha, smartass. I wasn’t trying to sell you anything. It’s the damn truth. I don’t know when you’re finally going to believe it. Most of all, I want to know when the men around this city are going to get their heads out of their asses and see it too!”

Emma threw her hands up in exasperation. “Case, considering my biological clock is clanging, rather than ticking, I think it’s a little late for all that.”

“But you’re not even thirty,” Casey protested.

“I know that, but I’ve wanted a baby since I was twenty. I want—no I need—to have a family again. Losing my parents and not having brothers or sisters—” Her voice choked off with emotion.

Casey rubbed Emma’s arm sympathetically. “You’ve still got lots of time for babies. And the husband could still come along. ”

Rolling her eyes, Emma said, “Might I remind you of the idiot parade I have had the misfortune to go out with in the last six months?”

“Oh, come on, they weren’t that bad.”

“Are we grading on an extreme curve or something? First, there was Andy the,” she made air quotes with her fingers, “practically separated accountant whose wife tracked us down on our date and proceeded to go mental on him in the middle of the Cheesecake Factory.”

“Shit, I remember him now. Didn’t the cops get called?”

“Oh yes. I had to call Connor to come get me because they were both arrested for disrupting the peace!”

“So there was one bad seed in the mix,” Casey argued.

“Then there was the mortician who regaled me all during dinner about the ins and outs of embalming, not to mention I think he had a pretty unhealthy attachment to some of his dearly departed clients.”

Casey made a gagging noise. “Okay, I’ll admit that necrophilia could turn anyone off from dating for awhile.”

“Awhile? How about a freaking lifetime, Case?” Emma shuddered. “Thank God, it was one date, and he never touched me.”

“So two bad eggs. There’s a whole city of men out there, Em.”

Emma swept her hands to her hips. “And I guess you’re having selective amnesia about Barry, the dentist?”