Authors: Amber Garza
Nothing could’ve prepared me for how I would feel when I first saw her. For most of my pregnancy, I’ve tried to keep my feelings for the baby neutral. That’s why I always referred to her as the baby. And it’s why I didn’t want to know what the sex was. I liked thinking of the baby as a thing, not a real person.
Because she’s not. She’s my aunt and uncle’s child.
I know I’m doing the right thing. I’m not ready to be a mom. Besides, if I had kept her, Dusty would always be in my life, and in hers. There’s no way I could do that. Not to her or to me. Aunt Molly and Uncle Alex will be great parents. I’m giving my child an amazing gift – the chance at a blessed life with two loving parents.
Still, when I looked into her little pink face for the first time, into the eyes that are so much like mine, I felt a tug on my heart unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. I love her in a way I’ve never loved anyone before.
That’s why it was easy for me to immediately hand her over to my aunt and uncle.
I love her too much to keep her.
Isn’t there a saying that goes, “If you love something let it go?” Well, that’s what I’m doing. I’m not sure this is the scenario the phrase was referring to, but I definitely relate to it at this moment. I love the baby so much that I want her to have the best life possible. And I know that life is with my aunt and uncle.
I can picture it all in my head. She’ll live in their cozy house in Prairie Creek with the large tree standing guard outside her window. On Sundays she’ll sit in the pew and listen to her dad’s messages. She’ll attend Prairie Creek High School, and maybe even date a boy on the baseball team. Her mom will walk her into town on Saturdays and they’ll peruse the antique shop and maybe grab an ice cream cone. And Aunt Molly and Uncle Alex will love her unconditionally. They’ll give her the upbringing she deserves.
“Hey.” My head bobs up at the sound of Cal’s voice. He enters the hospital room, a bouquet of red roses in his hand. On his head he wears his baseball cap, and it reminds me of the first time I saw him. It’s strange how much everything has changed since then. My perception of Cal, my perception of this town. I was such an angry, sullen person when I got here. It’s funny that in this town that I once saw as a prison, as hell on earth, I blossomed into a woman. I’ve grown into the person I was created to be. I found myself, and in the process learned to love myself.
And I have Cal to thank for most of that.
“Hey,” I answer in a groggy voice. Shifting in the hospital bed, I push myself up so I can sit higher.
Reaching behind me, Cal adjusts the pillow behind my back. “How ya doing?”
“Okay,” I say.
“Taylor, it’s me. You can be honest.” After setting the roses down on the table near my bed, he touches my hair lightly. It’s damp from sweat, but that doesn’t stop him from stroking it gently. Then again, with as much time as he spends on a baseball field, I doubt a little sweat bothers him. I find it endearing.
And it breaks me open. A tear trickles down my cheek, and my lips wobble. “The nurses took her down the hall a little while ago. My aunt and uncle are with her.”
“I know it’s hard,” Cal speaks softly. Leaning over, he presses a kiss to my temple. It’s one of my favorite things about Cal. The way he’ll kiss me on my forehead or cheek. In the past when a guy kissed me it was meant to lead to something. But often Cal will kiss me as a way to comfort me or show his love. It’s not sexual. It’s not meant to go anywhere. It’s only meant as a show of affection.
I’ve never told Cal I love him. It’s not that I haven’t known it for a long time, but I guess I’ve been scared. I told Dusty I loved him after only a few weeks, and look where that got me. In the past, telling someone I loved them was the same as handing my life over. It was the same as being trapped. The person owned me, had power over me. I never want that with Cal.
However, I know it will never be like that with Cal, because he’s not like Dusty. He’s not like any guy I’ve ever met. He doesn’t want to control me. He wants the best for me.
If today has taught me anything, it’s that love is powerful and selfless. And you need to grab a hold of it while you have it.
“Cal?” I say, gathering courage.
“Yeah?” His gaze crashes into mine.
When we first started dating I would get lost in those gorgeous eyes of his. And I love how that hasn’t changed after all this time. I still find myself drowning in them. “I love you,” I blurt out.
A smile spreads across his face. “Oh, Taylor, I love you too.”
“You do?” My heart skips a beat.
“I have for a long time now. I just didn’t want to scare you off by saying it too soon.” He steals a kiss on my mouth.
“I’m not scared, Cal. Not of you. Not of us,” I speak against his mouth. “In fact, I’ve never felt so safe and secure in my entire life.”
“I’ll always protect you, and I’ll always be here for you” Cal says. “You know that.”
I nod, emotion rising in my throat. “I need that now.”
His arms come around me, and he draws me close.
“Is it weird that I miss her?” I speak into his chest.
“Not at all.”
“She was a part of me, and now I feel kind of empty,” I confess.
“She’ll always be a part of you,” Cal says.
Sniffing, I draw back and look into Cal’s face. “I keep telling myself I’m doing the right thing. I am, right?”
“Taylor, not only are you doing the right thing, but you’re doing the brave thing. You’re doing the most amazing thing.”
“Deep down, I know that’s true, but sometimes I feel like maybe I’m being selfish. I mean, now that she’s here, I’m free to go and do whatever I want. I can finish high school, go to college, or get a job. My future is open before me. And I feel like one day she’ll want to know why I gave her up. Why I didn’t fight for her. Why I didn’t keep her.”
“And when that happens, you’ll tell her the truth,” Cal says. “You’ll tell her that giving her up was the hardest thing you ever did. But you knew your aunt and uncle could give her a life you never could.” Reaching for one of my hands, he threads our fingers together. “Taylor, you’re not being selfish. And it’s okay for you to look forward to your future because you’ve given your daughter a bright one.”
He’s right. I just turned seventeen. I don’t have a job or a husband or a college degree. Honestly, I don’t even know what I want to do for a living. I know that if I keep the baby I will do my best, and in the end it might even be good enough. But I know my aunt and uncle will do better than I can right now.
One day I’ll be a mom. And I’ll be a damn good one.
That’s just not today.
And it sure as hell isn’t with an abusive guy like Dusty.
Thinking of him solidifies my decision.
My daughter should have a dad like Alex, not like Dusty. He would destroy her, and I can’t let that happen. This is the only way to ensure that it won’t.
“Thank you for being here,” I say to Cal.
“I’m always here.”
“I know.” Staring into Cal’s eyes, I see the bright future he’s talking about. The one that’s filled with possibilities and hope. One that I never thought I’d have.
PLAY NICE (Make the Play #3) – Hayes’ story - coming spring 2016!
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When I first decided to write the MAKE THE PLAY series, I had no idea who the third and fourth book would be about. But I always knew the first book would be about Christian and the second book would be about Cal. While writing PLAY SAFE, I fell in love with Cal. He quickly emerged as one of my favorite characters, and I couldn’t wait to write his story.
When I first opened up this manuscript, it was easy to jump right into Cal’s mind since I felt like I got to know him so well in PLAY SAFE. Taylor was a little more difficult for me. She was closed off and quiet – much like she was to everyone else in Prairie Creek – with me. It took a lot of coaxing to get to know her. But as I peeled back the layers, it became this beautiful unfolding. I felt like I got to know her piece by piece, and in turn, that’s how Cal, and how you, the reader, got to know her as well.
By the end of the book, she stole my heart. And I honestly think she’s one of my favorite heroines I’ve ever written.
I always knew what Taylor’s secret would be, even before I knew the character would be Taylor. Adoption is an issue close to my heart as I’ve known many friends who have been unable to conceive and have adopted. Also, one of my close friends growing up was adopted, and I was able to see firsthand what a beautiful gift adoption is. My friend has the most amazing family. She’s lived a wonderful life, and that was all thanks to the selflessness of her biological mother who gave her to a most deserving family.
Also, I was a young mom (I guess I still am). I chose to keep my baby, but I was married by that point and felt I could give my son a great life. I don’t regret my decision for one minute, but I was twenty-one, not seventeen like Taylor. Had I gotten pregnant earlier than I did, I might have been faced with this choice. And if I had been, I’d like to think that I would make the decision that was best for the baby. That if I couldn’t care for my child the way he or she deserved, that I would be selfless enough to give my baby to a family who could give he or she that life.
Toward the end of writing the book, I did waffle a little. A part of me wanted Taylor to be able to keep her baby. To raise it, maybe with the help of her family. But ultimately, I knew that wasn’t the right choice. Not for Taylor, and not for her baby. And I realized that it wasn’t sad that she gave her baby up. It was beautiful, selfless, and brave. In the end, I’m glad I went with my gut. I’m glad Taylor is free to pursue whatever she wants to do in life. And I’m glad that her aunt and uncle have a baby to love and care for. But mostly, I’m glad Taylor’s baby will live an abundant life filled with love and riches.
I hope you understood what a painful decision this was for me (and for Taylor) and I hope you were able to embrace it.
As always, I have many people to thank:
First, I have to thank my husband Andrew. Your constant love and support is what keeps me going every day.
Second, I have to thank my kids – Kayleen and Eli. You two make life fun, and you inspire me daily.
Third, I have to thank those who helped me shape this book. They are as follows:
Matt and Kagen – your baseball knowledge is priceless. Matt, thanks for helping to rewrite scenes, and for assisting me in the “guy dialogue.”
Lisa Richardson – Not only are you the best editor ever, but you are super flexible. Thank you for being understanding when I had to push back my deadline, not one but two times.
Megan Squires, Cambria Hebert, and Cameo Renae – Thank you for helping me when I questioned the plotline and almost rewrote the entire book the night before it was finished. Thank you for talking me down off that ledge and inspiring me to finish.
Dr. Falke – Thank you for encouraging me to stick with my original storyline. Your timely advice was exactly what I needed.
Fan club – Your enthusiasm keeps me going.
Matt at the Cover Lure – Your cover is so perfect. I’m in love with it.
Beth Shelby – Thanks for being my blurb fairy.
And mostly, thank you to God. Everything I do is for you.
Amber Garza is the author of the bestselling
Playing for Keeps Series,
as well as many other bestselling young adult romance novels including
Tripping Me Up
The Summer We Fell
. She also has several new adult and adult romance novels including
Break Free, Star Struck
Head Above Water
. She has had a passion for the written word since she was a child making books out of notebook paper and staples. Her hobbies include reading and singing. Coffee and wine are her drinks of choice (not necessarily in that order). She writes while blaring music, and talks about her characters like they’re real people. She currently lives in California with her amazing husband, and two hilarious children who provide her with enough material to keep her writing for years.