A Promise for the Baby by Jennifer Lohmann He always does the right thing There's one exception to Karl Milek's rule—the Vegas weekend that leaves him with a night to remember, and a beautiful new wife he'd rath...
There’s one exception to Karl Milek’s rule—the Vegas weekend that leaves him with a night to remember, and a beautiful new wife he’d rather forget. Those divorce papers are put on hold, however, when Vivian shows up on his doorstep pregnant.
Karl offers her shelter and everything else she needs until their baby is born. Yet soon he realizes that he could definitely get used to seeing Vivian in the mornings, sharing dinner with her at night…and inhaling her jasmine scent. But he doesn’t think he can risk giving his wife the one thing she wants most—his love.
Karl Milek has changed so much from when I first imagined him as the stern, uptight older brother in Reservations for Two to when he finally found love in A Promise for the Baby. When I first started writing Reservations for Two, Karl was a Chicago alderman planning a run for mayor. If you know anything about Chicago politics, then you know that they are bent like a paperclip. Sure, I could pretend that the incorruptible Karl Milek got elected alderman, but I’d have to rely on my readers pretending as well. So, I hunted around for another job for him, one that fit with his hatred of any rule-breaking. I knew Inspector General was the right choice when a friend of mine told me I should pick a less boring type of lawyer. The City of Chicago has a big Office of the Inspector General and I made heavy use of their great website (http://chicagoinspectorgeneral.org/), but, of course, all mistakes are mine. Karl also dated a lot in the process of getting his book to print. When he was still running for mayor, he dated a poor graduate student working in his campaign office. He also dated a marathon runner (whose character has been reimagined and will appear in another book). Those are just the women who made it on paper; Karl has had other dates in my mind. None of these women challenged him and, eventually, both Karl and I were bored and had to move on. That’s where Vivian comes in.
On the surface, Vivian is all wrong for Karl. She’s a stranger to Chicago. She’s got a checkered past and her adherence to a sense of right and wrong can be pushed about by her strong ties to family. But it’s those strong ties to family where Karl and Vivian really connect and here is where Vivian’s story changed a lot. On her blog Word Wenches, Jo Beverly has a post about marriage stories and the marriage of convenience (http://wordwenches.typepad.com/word_wenches/2013/02/marriage-stories.html or vows before love, as she calls them). One argument Beverly makes is that the heroine must start out as low as you can make her; she’s the romance equivalent of Jason Bourne waking up naked in the ocean and not remembering his own name. Only with all the heroine’s resources taken from her can you really see her strength. I read this blog post after I’d already realized I had to edit out Vivian’s family members to make the story work. And so poor Vivian had her mother, brother, and all her extended family edited out until all she was only left with an unreliable father.
Editing away Vivian’s family also changed a lot about her background. Instead of being as culturally rooted as Karl, Vivian is suddenly moving about the country with her father and those opportunities to connect with the culture of her forbearers are gone. There are some remnants in Vivian’s life, but only those things I thought would survive a single father who’s not much interested in anything resembling roots. If you are curious about the history of the Chinese in America, I recommend reading Iris Chang’s The Chinese in America: A Narrative History (http://www.amazon.com/Chinese-America-Narrative-History-ebook/dp/B002JF1N6O/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1380314161&sr=8-1&keywords=the+chinese+in+america). Hopefully I will write another book that will give me the opportunity to write about Chinese food in the same way I wrote about Polish food in Reservations for Two.
On other bits and bobs in the novel: Karl and Vivian attend a performance at the Lyric Opera (http://www.lyricopera.org/). I had season tickets there when I was in college and loved it (even though I could only afford the cheap seats and so was about one row from the very top). One of the operas I saw was Jenufa. In The Guardian, Charlotte Higgins called it the perfect opera and it’s pretty damn close. If you have a moment, give a listen to the finale (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9QQyKa8c4ak).
As always, here are people to whom I owe a beer:
Just as he determined that the living room was empty, he noticed Vivian leaning against the rail on his terrace, looking north over the skyline of Chicago. With the room lit up against the dark night sky, Karl could only make out contours of her slim body. When he turned off the lights in the living room, her form gained substance. She reached up with her arm, pulling her hair off her neck and over her shoulder, exposing skin to the cold.
The night they’d spent together existed in a dream world, but his memories of the morning after were clear and sharp. He remembered waking up to find her sleeping, her black hair spread across the pillow and her neck exposed. He remembered looking at the knobs of her spine as they trailed from her nape down her back and under the covers. How kissable those knobs had looked. But then he’d gotten out of the bed to make coffee, found the marriage certificate and any thought of kissing her neck was gone.
Stepping outside into the cold pushed away those memories. They were married, she was in Chicago, and kissing the slim line of her neck had never been further away from possible. “Do you have a winter coat?”
She was standing outside in jeans, her sweater and pink argyle socks. “I’m not cold.”
Even in the hazy moonlight he could see goose bumps dotting her neck, but she didn’t shiver or tuck her hands around her body for warmth.
“I bought the apartment for this view,” he said, folding his arms on the railing of the terrace and leaning forward to look out over the city with her.
“What are the names of some of the buildings?”
He pointed out the Aon Center and Smurfit-Stone Building. “If you’re still here in the summer, maybe you can go on an architecture boat tour. Or they have walking tours year-round.”
“You don’t have curtains.”
“No.” Removing the curtains was one of the few changes he’d made when Jessica had moved out.
“Not even in your bedroom?”
“I value openness.”
“You should come west.”
“I’ve been to Vegas.” He slid closer to her on the terrace. Not so close that their arms touched, but close enough to feel her presence. She still smelled like jasmine.
“Not Vegas. Vegas is the flashy west. I mean southern Idaho, where you can see for miles in every direction and there’s nothing but sky and canyons.”
“Is that where you’re from?”
“I graduated high school in Jackpot, Nevada. It’s right across the border.”
He’d married a blackjack dealer from a town called Jackpot. The world had an unfortunate sense of humor. “It would’ve been a shorter drive from Vegas to Jackpot.”
She turned her head to the side to look at him, the corners of her mouth turned up in a mysterious smile. “Shorter, yes, but there’s nothing for me in Jackpot. Plus, it would be wrong not to let you know you’re going to be a father.”
“A phone call would’ve sufficed.”
“Would you want to learn that you’re going to be a father with a phone call from a stranger?” She didn’t slip again and admit to not being able to go home, as she had when they’d been talking in the living room.
He didn’t have an answer to that question. If asked this morning, he would’ve said yes. Now, standing next to Vivian on his terrace, looking at the lights sparkle across Grant Park and smelling her jasmine perfume, he wasn’t so sure. Her neck was even more kissable up close.
“Dinner’s getting cold.” He pushed off the railing and walked back into the apartment, not looking to see if she followed.