Should have named her Renesmee.

All those baby books lied, or they committed dramatic sins of omission. Either way, nothing prepared you for motherhood. Especially not for nursing. Little Jillian performed baby acrobatics during most feedings, attached to Laura’s nipple with tiny little glass-like protrusions masquerading as teeth ripping into her six, seven times a day. No one had warned her about this. None of the baby books really emphasized the fact that at some point, you would be nursing a baby with teeth like the edge of a razor. If nipples were meant to look like shredded, bloody, Chinese lanterns, then Laura had perfected the art of breastfeeding a six month old. Her daughter might as well have been named Renesmee, and Laura might as well be nibbled to death by a great white shark.

It was just like when Jillian was a tiny newborn and Laura had come to the startling realization that she was a fart hostage, trapped with this little rear end that emanated deathly biological weapons-grade methane, inches from Laura’s face. And she had nowhere to go. She was this little being’s source of food, and the food was what fueled those noxious gases wafting up into Laura’s face, making her a fart hostage.

Thank God for her eReader. And thank a slightly lesser god for the Fifty Shades phenomenon. While Laura was no fan of that particular book, or that particular series, she had found a wide array of books that allowed her to escape into a completely different reality while she was trapped on the couch.

Sylvia Day made the bondage of motherhood tolerable. So did Melody Anne, and Lexi Blake, and Shayla Black. Sara Fawkes and Georgia Cates, and so many other authors who wove these amazing tales of women who needed to lose control in order to gain it. It was fascinating even though, in so many cases, the plot line seemed the same. She could take a book, a series like Sylvia Day’s Crossfire series, or Julie Kenner’s Claim Me series, or Maya Banks’ Breathless Trilogy, and go off into another world. Laura found herself devouring these books, and then imagining herself in the role of the heroine.

Not like she didn’t have two heroes right here, right now, at her disposal whenever she wanted them.

Somehow that made it all worse.

Loving Dylan and Mike was more than she’d ever expected. Living with them day to day was like being divinely inspired on an emotional, and psychological, and spiritual level. But the reality of a messy house, an infant with high needs, of a postpartum body that reminded her of two hundred pounds of jelly stuffed inside a giant balloon—that? That made her just reach for the eReader.

While she’d always felt insecure about her body, and had always been overweight with curves on top of curves, now, six months postpartum she still felt six months pregnant. It was as if her curves had rebelled and multiplied in her sleep, as if some sort of mitosis had taken place against her will. She felt ugly, and fat, and stretched out, and so thoroughly undeserving of the two very sculpted, lean, and exceptionally hot men who claimed to love her.

They did love her, and she knew this. It wasn’t as if they were lying—it’s more that they were being nice, right? They were saying all the right things that you’re supposed to say after someone’s given birth to your baby. But she knew. She knew they didn’t find her body attractive. It must have been a chore to sleep with her. It must have involved a lot of imagination, thinking back to how she’d been when she’d met them just fifteen months ago. That body was the one that they really loved.

This body? No one could love this body. No one.

Letting her mind float off to other men and women, people far more together than she was, and finding something predictable, comfortable, and yet racy and mind expanding, was safe. The few times she’d made love with Mike and Dylan since the birth of Jillian should have been wonderful, but it was as if there were only two people there. Laura had to check herself out because she couldn’t believe what she had become. She couldn’t fathom that they really wanted her.

As she sat on the couch, there was one person who did want her, one-hundred-percent. Laura’s love for Jillian was so deep and so intense that it guided her through those first few months. The love that the three of them shared for her was unbounded, untamed, and every day felt new.

What receded, though, what had firm boundaries around it, ever tightening, was Laura’s sense of sensuality, of being something other than Jillian’s mom. She figured that was normal. She figured that’s what everyone went through. As the idea that she could be seductive, and attractive, and draw Mike and Dylan to her the way that she had when they met, as that faded…she hoped that they could still love her unconditionally the way that all three of them so thoroughly loved Jillian.

Her books didn’t let her down. They were like her ice cream, always there, welcoming her with a smile, and never demanding anything of her. If she had to be in control, if she had to manage one more detail in her life, she was going to explode. It was easier to withdraw. It was easier to pour everything she had into Jillian, and to micromanage her baby, so that as a part of her died off, another part could blossom.

Guilt could be overwhelming, especially when Dylan placed a loving hand on her ass, or Mike came at her with a kiss that had more heat behind it than affection. From the outside, she was so all-consumed with Jillian that she just didn’t have room for more than affection. It was a facade she carefully constructed, and to some extent the guys were going along with it. Every time she imagined making love she felt twin emotions that battled for domination within—and not the heady, come-fuck-me domination in her books.

It was the kind of overwhelming oppression that guilt possesses. She didn’t feel worthy of sensuality, so she evaded their passes. They slowly pulled back, confused but unsure of how to talk about it, and when they tried she brushed them off. Stayed up late until they fell asleep. Took extra long with Jillian in the rocking chair in her bedroom.

Tears threatened to fill her tired eyes as Jillian reached up and grabbed a fistful of Laura’s blonde hair. The baby giggled, mouth full of breast, and spurted milk everywhere, which made Laura laugh and cry at the same time.

Another set of emotions battling within.

Books let her feel something about anything but her life.

And that’s where the love remained unconditional.

“I know you didn’t invite me here for the mint cannoli or the fried pickles with guacamole-horseradish sauce,” Josie announced, eyebrows so high she thought they’d be permanently wedged in her hairline. What was this all about? A summons to Jeddy’s was always welcome, but usually it was Laura doing the summoning. The call from Mike had been interesting, the request to meet just him and Dylan—sans Laura—a tad odd.