The first time he saw her, she couldn’t have been more than a couple of months old. He and Miles had recently returned from their first tour in Iraq, and Ben was eager for his only brother to meet his firstborn. Bass had little interest in babies, but Miles dragged him along anyway.
He lounged in a kitchen chair while Miles held the baby and Rachel made dinner. Ben kept popping back and forth between stirring the soup on the stove, making sure his brother wasn’t dropping the baby, and watching the Bears game in the living room. During one of the latter trips, they heard him give a loud whoop and call for Miles to “get in here.” With an indulgent little sigh, he stood up and tried to hand the baby to Rachel. She smiled and held up her floury hands in protest. Not skipping a beat, Miles veered toward Bass instead, neatly depositing the little bundle into his arms. Bass gave a groan of defeat while Rachel turned back to her baking and laughed at him.
“Sorry, Bass,” she said. “Either you hold her or there won’t be any dessert.”
He chuckled ruefully. “I might just rather go without dessert.” Rachel shot him an exasperated look over her shoulder.
He looked down. She was asleep, tiny thumb tucked in her mouth, and it wasn’t so bad. He was fairly certain he hadn’t held a baby since his youngest sister was that age. He didn’t remember them feeling so feather-light and fragile, but he’d been a lot smaller then as well.
“Charlotte, huh?” he asked, wondering why they’d picked that particular name. It sounded oddly stilted and old-fashioned for a baby. He’d never met a Charlotte before, but the image it called to his mind was that of an old woman.
“It was my grandmother’s name,” Rachel explained as she kneaded the pie crust. “She was…the best woman I’ve ever known.”
Her back was to him, but Bass didn’t miss the catch in her voice. “I’m sure she’d say the same about you.” He meant it, too. Rachel was a hell of a woman.
She turned to look at him again. She was the least emotional woman he’d ever encountered, but there was a sparkle of tears in her eyes. “Thank you, Bass,” she said quietly. Then she blinked, and the sparkle was gone. “There’s another reference in there too, but Ben would kill me if I told you.” She flashed a smile and turned back to making the pie.
Bass smirked. “Well you gotta tell me now.”
He could hear a fond smile in Rachel’s voice. “Ben’s favorite children’s book. Charlotte’s Web.”
“Charlotte’s a little girl?”
Rachel’s head whipped around to stare at him in disbelief. “You never read Charlotte’s Web? Wilbur the pig? Templeton the rat?”
He extricated his right arm from the baby’s blanket and rubbed the back of his neck awkwardly. “Well no. I wasn’t much of a reader as a kid.”
He didn’t like how amused she was by this. “Charlotte is a spider. Hence the web.”
Bass let out a bark of laughter. “You let your husband name this poor kid after a spider?”
“After my grandmother. Ben says the spider is just a bonus, and that she’s the best fictional portrayal of true friendship he’s ever read.”
Rachel raised an eyebrow at him as she turned the pie tin to crimp the edges of the crust. “Maybe if you read more, you’d understand. That was the first book that ever made me cry. Charlotte’s selfless and kind, and she saves someone’s life. I’d be very proud if our Charlotte turns out to be like either of her namesakes.”
Bass looked down at little Charlotte as she squirmed in her sleep and snuggled against his chest. He chuckled and said, “Still, I think the poor little thing might need a nickname until she’s grown up.”
“Probably.” He looked up to see Rachel had washed her hands and was leaning against the counter watching them thoughtfully. “You know, Bass, you don’t look nearly as uncomfortable holding a baby as you’d like everyone to believe.”
He scoffed at that. “This isn’t another lecture about ‘settling down,’ is it?”
“No,” she said mildly. “I just want to make sure you think about what you really want out of life. Endless flings get old eventually.”
Bass felt his smile fade on his face. “Should I go get Miles? Because I think that’s who you’re really trying to say this to.”
Rachel’s eyes hardened. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” She always, always pretended Bass didn’t know about her and Miles. As if Bass wasn’t closer to Miles than his own brother was.
Bass raised a skeptical eyebrow.
“I’ll take Charlotte now,” she said stiffly, ignoring him. The baby woke up as she transferred from Bass’s arms to Rachel’s and started fussing a little. Rachel swung her gently in her arms, expression suddenly transformed in a tender smile. She’d never struck him as a maternal woman. She was all strong will and quick wit and prickly edges, always had been and always would be. But there was a new dimension to her now as well. He looked away, feeling like he was intruding in an intimate moment.
Despite her slightly unfortunate name, Charlotte was a very lucky little girl.