THE DAY I SAW HER 12 страница

“You coming to the gym?” I quietly ask, massaging her butt with the palm of my hand.

She doesn’t stir. Pressing against her back and scenting the back of her ear, I nip her playfully, then tongue her ear, and my cock hardens instantly, and a quick glance at the clock tells me there’s time for that. “You’re the most fuckable thing I’ve ever had the pleasure of seeing, touching, and sucking the hell out of,” I rasp, nuzzling her.

She sighs softly. I force myself to get up and brush my teeth, then I grab my clothes from the closet and ram my legs into my sweatpants. She’s still asleep, and I’m still hard, so I set my T-shirt aside, and go back to bed to wake her.

I pull the sheet down so the cold air makes her skin pebble and I can lick all those little cold bumps on her ass. I bite one cheek, then the other, sliding my hands between her legs to cup her pussy, growling softly when my cock starts pulsing, but when she doesn’t squeal or so much as move, I frown and ease back to look at her.

Last night she was tired, and yet she still let me have her. She was languid as I fucked her, letting me turn her, suck her, finger and tongue her. She kept coming fast and hard for me every time, her eyes dewy and sleepy, watching me as I told her how good she felt, how good she smelled . . .

You’re so hard for me, I love having you in me, she breathed, half-asleep.

I want to fucking live in you, I said, again and again, as I’ve said before.

She sighed and came, and after our fight, I still couldn’t have enough, so after relaxing for an hour or two, I woke her up, scented her, and fucked her, loving how wet she was.

She’s sleeping so soundly now I can’t wake her again. Running my eyes down her curves, I make love to every inch with my eyes, then I pull the sheets and cover her back up, leaning over as I brush her dark hair behind one ear.

I press my lips to her ear, “Dream of us.” Then I pat her butt again and stand. I bounce in place a few seconds to bring the blood from my cock back to my limbs and brain, then I head out to the kitchen to find Diane already on breakfast.

Pete is already in the living room, dressed and with the car keys.

I grab a green bar and a protein shake, tell Diane to feed my girl, and then we’re off.

We’re not a block away when Pete’s phone beeps. He answers, “Yeah,” and starts listening, his smile vanishing and his face paling by the second. My instincts shift into overdrive. My heart starts kicking harder and deeper.

BROOKE.

BROOKE.

BROOKE.

Pete swerves the car around and tosses me the phone as he speeds back into the hotel driveway. Diane’s voice screeches out of the receiver before I even place it on my ear, “Get back here! Get back here please!” she begs.

I see red.

Before the car screeches to a halt, I yank open the door and charge out and into the elevator, my reflexes lightning fast. Pete slides in behind me, and neither of us says a word as I press the floor button over and over as we head up.

“REMINGTON!” Diane screams from the door when I charge out the elevator with Pete running after me. I charge past Diane and slam the door wide open only to see Brooke motionless on the floor, a puddle of water surrounding her, and soft crying sounds trembling out of her.

And there are . . . scorpions! All over her! Lightning fast, I charge over, grabbing and crushing them in my hands one by one. Stingers sink into my palms, but there’s no pain. All my senses are honed in on Brooke. The way she’s crying, the way she’s trembling, everything I see making me half mad. I toss the last scorpion aside and pull her like a man clinging to life into my arms, and she’s shaking and whimpering while I struggle to breathe through my nose, my body trembling with the need to fight and protect her, my system overloaded with adrenaline as a rage unlike any other starts bubbling in my veins.

“I got you,” I passionately hiss as I wipe her tears, squeezing her to me. “I got you. I got you.”

If I lose her, it’s over for me. I’m done.

“A woman just came and knocked! She said Remy had ordered the box for her!” Diane cries out between sobs.

I don’t hear the rest of what they’re saying. I squeeze Brooke closer to my body and bend to her little ear. “I’m going to kill him,” I angrily promise her. “I swear to god, I’m going to kill him so slowly.”

Pete is whacking the scorpions with a frying pan, telling me something which runs in through one of my ears, and out the other.

I’m too busy rubbing my hands up Brooke’s arms and run my eyes up and down her body, inspecting her skin for marks. “Where did they bite you? Tell me exactly where, and I’ll suck all the poison out.”

“I . . . e-everywhere . . .” she says, looking helplessly up at me. God, I love her, I love her I love her and I’m sucking every drop of poison out of her.

“You shouldn’t suck on these—let me have a look at her,” Pete says as he comes over.

She’s trembling so hard, I fucking can’t let go, so I shake my head and tighten my arms around her and rock her. “I got you, little firecracker, I got you right here in my arms,” I whisper fiercely. Brooke trustingly clings to me, and it guts me that I just left her, safe and warm in my bed.

Rage and impotence flood me.

“Rem, let me see her,” Pete insists.

“No,” she moans, clutching me. “Don’t let go, don’t let go,” she continues to moan.

“Never,” I promise in her ear, my heart crashing fiercely into my ribs. Never.

I need to protect her. I need to make it better. I need the poison out of her body if it’s the last fucking thing I do.



“According to Google, they’re Arizona bark scorpions. Venomous but not deadly,” Pete says as he searches his phone.

“Hang on to me,” I whisper to Brooke, and when her arms are tight around my neck, I lift her up and cross the room.

“Where the heck are you going with her, Tate?” Pete demands.

“To the fucking hospital, dipshit,” I growl, angrily heading toward the elevator. I’ll walk us to the hospital if I have to, but there’s a familiar buzzing in my body, and I’m starting to believe I might even fly us there.

Pete yells after me, “Dude, Diane just called the EMT. Let’s just take a fucking chill pill and give her some Benadryl.”

“You. Take a chill pill. Pete,” I snap back.

Fucking motherfucker.

Brooke is almost fucking convulsing in my arms. She can’t focus. She’s been stung by these asshole animals and I need her. To be. Tended.

“I’m awright,” she says as she blinks dazedly at me, “I’m awright, Wemy. . . .”

My body temperature plummets. I look at her, and she’s not only talking in a way that makes me want to kill something, but she’s staring at my fucking ear like it’s one of my eyes! “FUUUUUCK ME!”

The elevator doors roll open, and Riley steps off. “All right, what’s going on? Coach is waiting at the gym, Rem. . . .” He sees Brooke in my arms, and his eyes widen.

“Live scorpions,” Pete informs. “Venomous, but fortunately not deadly.”

“I can’t bweathe,” Brooke says, looking at my ear again, as if waiting for my ear to explain this shit to her.

I can’t fucking see anymore, my vision is blurred from my rage and impotence and I want to kill. Kill. KILL.

“The poison spreads through the nervous system, but it doesn’t enter the bloodstream. Try to stay calm, Brooke. These bark scorpions are nasty suckers. Can you feel your legs?” Pete asks.

She shakes her head as she wheezes out air, and Pete leans over to inspect the damage. “Let me see that. . . .” I extend out her arm so that he looks at the stings, and I look directly into Pete’s eyes, “I’m going to kill him,” I tell Pete.

“It’ll be all right, B,” Pete tells her, watching me warily and staring into my eyes with growing alarm as he adds, “I’ve had the experience once. Awful, but you really don’t die from a North American scorpion.”

“There’s a note! I turned the box over and there’s a note!” Diane cries.

“What does it say?” Pete walks back to the suite’s open door, grabs the note, and automatically reads. “ ‘You’ve kissed me. Now you’ve been kissed back by the Scorpion. How does it feel to have my venom in you?’ ”

My testosterone spikes. My heart jerks. My body tightens. Adrenaline shoots through my body and my mind snaps. My control, my fucking sanity. Snap! I’m going to kill Scorpion, and I want to dismember him before I do. Spreading his teeth across the floor. Pulling his brain out of his fucking head.

I’m fully engaged.

I’m going to dismember and get rid of the fucking threat. NOW!

Brooke moans softly, and I look down at her, pale, scared, and trembling, and my murderous determination grows tenfold at the thought of anyone, anyone, messing with my girl!

“Pete, I saw his goons downstairs in the lobby. I think he’s here at the hotel,” Riley says.

“The motherfucker is probably downstairs waiting for Remington,” Pete murmurs, rubbing a hand across his face.

“Oh, he has it coming!” I thunder. “He’s already dead!”

I’m going to make it slow. And painful. And I’m going to shove a burning firecracker up his fucking ass AND WATCH HIM EXPLODE!

Brooke. She’s trembling. She’s holding onto me, expecting me to protect her. He got to her in my fucking hotel suite! I will never fail to protect her again. Nothing will ever hurt her again. I am Remington Tate—Riptide—and I am HER MAN, HER PROTECTOR, and I am going to take care of this RIGHT. NOW.

Blood boiling, I’m touching the back of her head, and I look at her face, her glazed eyes and the tears on her skin, and I’ve never been more ready to commit murder, but I manage to speak softly when I tell her, “I need to do something right now. I love you. I fucking love you to pieces, and I’m going to come back and put you back together again, all right?”

She nods and trembles, and my gut is being cut on the inside, because I don’t want to leave her either, goddammit.

“Why is she shaking like this, goddammit?” I ask Pete as I carry her back to the room.

He looks at me apologetically. “It’s the nervous system being affected. She sustained several stings, so it’ll be painful. While the EMT is on his way, let’s give her some Tylenol.”

Tylenol, yes. Tylenol and murder. My body is so wired and I’m single-minded. I feel like a robot who’s just been programmed to kill, and the fact that he hurt my little firecracker was the trigger button.

Heart pounding, muscles tightening, system overworking, I carry her back to the room and set her on the sofa, inhaling the top of her head. Every minute that motherfucker enjoys life while Brooke has trouble breathing is penance. Every fucking bite I see on her skin screams at me to go hurt whoever hurt her.

That’s right. I’m Death. I am fucking Death and I’m coming for him now.

“I’m going to go crush him now,” I tell her. With all the love I feel for her, I’m doing it.

I’m charging off to the elevator and hear Pete yell after me. “Damn it, he’s full speed ahead, Ri, go after him before he sees Scorpion or any of his goons— Diane! Get some cold compresses and wait for the EMT. We need to go get that man!”

Ha. They’re not fucking stopping me. I head for the stairs so they won’t find me in the elevator and run down several flights.

When I shove open the exit door into the lobby, I see them immediately. He’s right there. Scorpion. Two goons. He’s looking at me. I look at him and curl my fists. “You’re dead, asshole.”

He grins. “Your crowd is waiting,” he says.

The elevators to my right ping.

Riley steps off, and he sees me.

“Rem,” he says cautiously, holding the elevator door open as he spots Scorpion and his crew. “Rem, I can’t let you do this.”

“Don’t make me break you, brother,” I warn him, and that’s when I feel a prick behind me.

The darkness pulls me, but I’m not going down. I’m not going to go down until Scorpion bleeds to death and Brooke is safe in my arms.

“Dude, you weigh a fucking ton!” Riley adjusts me as he and Pete start trying to get me up the stairs. “Good job, Pete, those assholes didn’t even see you behind him.”

“Fuck you,” I growl.

God, fuck me. Fuck Pete. Fuck Riley. Fuck Scorpion I’m going to kill that motherfucker on the ring! I hope it’s a submission fight and he’s so fucking proud he won’t submit and I’ll just BREAK. HIS. FINGERS. THEN HIS ELBOWS. HIS FIBULA. TIBIA. HIS SKULL. THEN HIS NECK.

The guys are panting, floor by floor, and they both keep telling me to hang on while I keep telling them to take me to Brooke.

“Hang on, buddy,” Pete says breathlessly as he helps Riley bring me back to the room.

“Need to see Brooke,” I insist.

They get me on the bed and I hear Pete telling Riley to “Get the other side” and ask me what the hell he’s going to do with me.

“Brooke,” I angrily tell them.

“She’s coming, dude!” Pete says, laughing at my stubbornness.

They prop a pillow up behind me and I see her. Diane is helping her to bed, and I look worriedly at her.

My girl. God my girl hurt because of me.

“Okay?” I rasp out.

She smiles softly at me as she eases into bed and pulls the cover over us both, sliding her fingers into my hair.

“More than okay,” she says, her eyes bright with love and understanding. All the tension in my body leaves me when she speaks to me. I was fighting not to succumb to the sedative, but her voice makes me unwind, and I succumb to her.

♥ ♥ ♥

BROOKE HASN’T RECOVERED from the stings, and I’m still black as fucking midnight.

She’s been sleeping too much, and she spent the flight to Las Vegas sequestered in the toilet. The word pregnant has been popping out of Diane’s mouth.

Pregnant.

Eight letters, one word that makes my chest swell, my cock hard.

“I’m not pregnant!” Brooke’s been telling me.

She keeps denying it, but I swear to god I can almost smell it on her. I smell it on her and it makes me even harder.

While she takes a home pregnancy test, I’ve run around a worn path on the hotel carpet, but the urge to fuck is still acute. Now I’m shadow boxing between the bed and the seating area, trying to get rid of all this extra energy and pull the blood out of my cock. Pump, swing, pump. Holy shit, she could be pregnant. My balls draw tight at the thought and my cock jerks again. God, I hope she’s pregnant. Now. I fucking pray she’s pregnant. Sensing her all of a sudden, I turn around, and she’s watching me with a lost, thoughtful look in her eyes.

“You check yet?” I ask impatiently.

She jerks at my voice and looks at me, looking thoughtful and delectable. Once again, my cock goes up.

“Brooke?”

She gnaws on the inside of her cheek and frowns, her expression uncertain.

“Did you or did you not pee on a stick, baby?” I prod.

“I did! I told you I did!” She goes back into the bathroom and comes out with a white stick. She looks at it, and I’m so restless, and so primed to mate, I continue pumping the air.

I swear if she’s not pregnant, we’ll remedy that soon. I’ll keep fucking and taking and claiming her until she is. I want to be the father of her children. I want her to be mine. Every breath, every sigh, every moan of hers, mine mine mine. Her body mine, to have my children, to have me inside her. Mine to protect, to pet, to kiss, every inch mine to run my tongue over.

Feeling hot and hungry for her, I watch as she studies the test result, and I want it so bad, I’m running out of patience. “What’s it say?” I demand.

“It says . . .” She stares down at the stick, then she sets it aside, and starts walking over to me, and she looks fucking adorable, and womanly, and vulnerable.

“Remington, don’t forget this,” she whispers, framing my face in her hands and looking into my eyes. “You’re black right now, and I don’t want you to forget what I’m going to tell you. I need all of you here with me.”

“Hey.” I frame back her face in mine, looking deeply into her eyes. “I got you.”

“God, please do.”

“Yeah, I do. I got you. Now what’s wrong here? Hmm? If you aren’t, then we figure out what’s wrong with you. If you are . . .”

She runs over to get the test, then she returns and extends it out. “Two lines means, supposedly, that I am.”

My eyes remain on hers for a moment. Does she want to be? Fuck, she better want to be. She better be.

I stare at the screen at the end of the stick and immediately see the double lines.

I frown because I need to be sure, but already, my insides are buzzing with pride.

I still see two lines.

More buzzing in my body, buzzing in my skin. I think I just grew ten sizes wide and high.

I lift my gaze to her, and she looks uncertain, as if she doesn’t know whether to be worried or happy. “Come here.” Unable to hold back my smile, I pick her up and lift her into the air, smacking a kiss on her abs, then I toss her down on the bed. She squeals and bursts out laughing as I fall on her.

“You’re a crazy man! You’re the only man I know who throws his pregnant girlfriend onto a bed!” she cries.

“I’m the only man,” I correct her, “as far as I know. There’s only one man in your world, and it’s me.”

“All right, but don’t tell my dad I agreed so easily . . .” she whispers, rubbing my shoulders, gold eyes shining on me. I want this baby to have those eyes. That perfect smile.

“Brooke Dumas pregnant with my baby,” I tell her. In case she didn’t see the fucking test, now she fucking knows she’s pregnant by me.

She grins happily, and that pure little grin feels like a kiss all along my pulsing cock. “My head is reeling. Kiss me.”

I drop my head and trail my tongue in to mate with hers, then I drag the back of one finger across her cheek. “Make it look like you,” I whisper.

“You’re the one who gave this to me,” she counters.

“No, you’re giving this to me.”

“All right, we’re both such giving souls.”

She laughs, and I laugh with her and roll to my side, gathering her in my arms so I can kiss her all over. “You’re mine now, from the top of your pretty dark head to the soles of your little feet.” I caress her face and kiss her eyelids, and I’m so fucking delighted, I swear things are actually moving in my chest. “Don’t even think about leaving me again or I’ll come after you and so help me god, I’m going to tie you to where I am, and where I sleep, and where I eat. Do you hear me, Brooke Dumas?”

She nods breathlessly. “There isn’t a single part of me that doesn’t know I’m yours.”

She seizes my hand and spreads it over the curve of her breast, right over her heart.

I clench her breast possessively so she remembers its mine, and I bend my head and kiss her. “I’m so crazy about you,” I rasp, and I drag my hand down her lovely curves and pet her.


PRESENT

SEATTLE

Gah!”

The only sound in the silent church comes from one of the front rows, and it is followed by soft laughter nearby.

“Rem, that boy is priceless. He already feels like he’s the shit and he’s not even one,” Pete murmurs behind me.

I glance at my son and he’s slapping Josephine now, saying, “Gah!” every time he hits her. Brooke says he’ll be just like me, but I hope he’ll be better than me.

The doors of the church swing open, and I straighten and stand in place, like I’m supposed to, the anticipation slowly gnawing at me. I rub my thumb along my ring when a figure in white steps forward—and my lungs empty in a whoosh. Fuck me, look at her. Only Brooke does this to me. The noise inside me stills and I feel whole and content, at peace, the instant my eyes lock on hers. And she’s so fucking beautiful in that dress my collar suddenly chokes me.

Music starts playing. My bride’s music.

When she starts walking toward me, I feel like every step makes me grow inside my suit the way only she can make me, and I’m about ten sizes too large now and burning beneath the fabric. She didn’t hide her face behind a veil. Every step, I see her smile. Her huge, wide, I-fucking-love-you-Remington-Tate smile.

This is my woman pledging her life to me.

This is me, pledging my life to her.

My eyes run over her face, and it’s the same face I look for every morning in my bed, and every moment I’m in the ring, and every second in between. She’s that girl, with the marshmallow mouth that looks soft and inviting, and those eyes, gold as a lioness’s, and yet she tells me she’s no longer a girl. She’s a woman now. A mother. A wife. My wife.

The dress covers her completely, tight around her top and spreading wide at the skirt. She looks so fucking beautiful I want to mate her, take her, right now, slammed by thoughts of grabbing her into my arms, ripping off the dress’s buttons and her panties, then spreading her open so I can claim my wife, every sigh of hers, every inch of skin.

I’m so fucking ready for this, I step off the platform to receive her a couple of steps earlier and I lock gazes with her father when I approach. He’s unsmiling, his eyes wet, but there’s no antagonism in his stare. “She’s all yours,” he tells me thickly.

I’ve already slipped my hand to her small one when I nod and murmur, “Thank you,” then I bring her up with me to the altar. She stands trembling in excitement at my side, and I duck my head and lean over, brushing my nose against hers so she tips her head back to look at me. Our stares hold.

“Ready?” I ask when we hear the priest begin the ceremony.

“Dearly beloved, we are gathered together here in the sight of God to join together this Man and this Woman in holy Matrimony . . .”


PAST

BAD NEWS

Sometimes I wonder if it’s me.

If there’s something about me that repels the good. And the pure. Or if I’m just not meant to have a family.

Brooke is having trouble keeping our baby, and now we’re flying in silence to Seattle.

I carried her to the plane; no Pete, no Riley, no Coach, no Diane flying with us. I want her all for me. All for fucking me.

I can’t even talk.

I can’t even fucking think.

My girl. Our baby.

Breathing slowly, I sit on the bench on the back of the plane and stare up at the ceiling, breathing in and out as I stroke my fingers down her soft hair, her head propped on my lap as she lies down the length of the bench. She’s so sad and quiet I can barely take it.

The doctors don’t want her traveling with me.

Brooke thought it so ludicrous, she laughed when the last one left our hotel suite, then she looked at me, not laughing anymore. “You can’t seriously be thinking of sending me back? Right? Remington, I’ll lie down. I won’t fucking move. This is your son. He’s going to hang in there! He will. I don’t see how being sent away will stress me any less. I don’t want to go home. I’ll stay in bed all day, just don’t take me back!”

My god, I felt like someone was whacking my chest with an axe, especially when I slowly spoke to Pete, who was quietly standing nearby, and I watched her face crumple when I told him, “Get the plane ready.”

She cried all night, and all I could do was hold her. “You can’t protect me from everything,” she whispered, sniffing.

“I can try.”

Now we’re flying in silence, heading for Seattle.

Where I won’t touch her, smell her, or see her.

Bending down to my lap, I kiss the top of her ear, her earlobe, the center of her ear, and there, I whisper that I’m going to miss her, that I’m going to need her to be good, to take care of herself, that I fucking need her.

She doesn’t want to talk. She’s sad and I don’t even know how to make it better. She’s my woman and how do I make her smile again? How do I protect her from the child I gave her?

Quietly, I pull out the extension of my credit card I just got her. “Use it,” I whisper.

She stares at it in stubborn silence, but she doesn’t take it.

“Brooke,” I warn, placing the card into her palm. “I want to see charges. Daily.”

She looks unimpressed by the fact that I want her to spend whatever she fucking wants, and put it on me. I smile down at her, while Brooke looks somberly up at me, not smiling.

Reaching up, she drags her fingers along my jaw. “When I came back, I promised myself I’d never leave you.”

“I promised myself I’d never let you go. What else do you expect me to do?”

I brush her dark hair behind her face, surveying her for a moment. “We’re going to be all right, little firecracker,” I tell her. I glance at her flat little stomach and spread my hand out, trying to encompass as much as possible. “We’ve got this.” I rub her gently and look deep into her eyes. “Don’t we?”

“Of course we do,” she says, but she studies me as if she’s not certain. “It’s just two months, right?”

I tweak her nose. “Right.”

“And it’s not like we can’t communicate in other ways.”

“Exactly right.”

She sits up and starts massaging my shoulder. “Let your body rest. Ice yourself after your workouts. Warm up properly.”

Fuck. Her warmth. The sound of her voice. I dip my nose into her neck and inhale, listening to her breathe me in. I pull her closer and lick her neck, then whisper, so she understands, “I can’t let anything happen to you, Brooke. I can’t. I had to bring you back.”

“I know, Remy, I know.” She runs her fingers through my hair and looks at me, as tormented as I feel. “We’re going to be all right, all three of us.”

“That’s the point of all this,” I whisper, reminding myself as well as her.

“And like you say, we’ve got this. We really do.”

“Damn right we do.”

“You’ll be back before we even have time to feel sad or miss each other too much.”

“That’s right. I’ll be training and you’ll be resting.”

“Yeah.”

When we fall silent, we stay close, and she whispers, “I left some arnica oils in your suitcase. If you have any muscle soreness or any pain.”

“Are you still seeing blood?” I ask, and when she nods, my concern and frustration feel like a spiked ball in the middle of my chest.

“Every time a cramp starts, I feel like it’s going to come out of me,” she admits.

Soothing a hand down her back, I press a kiss to her forehead. “I know it’ll kill you not to run. Stay off your feet for me.”

“Not as much as it would kill me to lose our baby,” she whispers.

We ride in silence toward her apartment, and I scoop her out of the car and carry her into the building. She clings to my neck as we walk into the building, up the elevator, and into her apartment, and she feels so right in my arms, I don’t even know how I’ll let go of her. “Stay. Remington, stay. Be my male prisoner. I promise to take care of you all day, every day,” she whispers.

I laugh softly, and I look into her laughing, pleading gold eyes, and I don’t even know what to do with her, I want to sink in her and live in her.

She gives me a tour of her place, and then we go into her room.

I take in our surroundings as I set Brooke by the foot of the bed. Her room has earth-toned walls. Framed photographs of biceps, triceps, and abs. A nutritional chart, and a framed quote that says:

A CHAMPION IS SOMEONE WHO GETS UP WHEN HE CAN’T—JACK DEMPSEY

There’s a big wall with pinned photographs. And there she is, sprinting past the finish line with a number 06 in her chest.

I reach out to run the pad of my thumb down the length of her running figure. “Look at you,” I say, turning. She’s right behind me. Standing, like she shouldn’t be. I scoop her up and set her on the center of the bed, brushing some escaped tendrils of hair behind her shoulder. “Stay off your feet for me,” I chide.

“I will. I forgot. It’s habit.” She scoot backs on the mattress to make room for me and then she pulls me over her, whispering in my ear, “You should go or I won’t let you leave me.”

Instead, I cuddle her to me, my arms wrapped around her waist as I scent her, slow and deep, then I lick her slowly, then kiss her and murmur, “When you tell me you’re in bed, this is what I’ll picture. This is what you see.” Her eyes glisten with tears as she quietly nods.

“I’ll be back soon,” I assure her, curling my palm around her cheek as one lone tear slides down her cheek. I try to smile. “I’ll be here soon,” I repeat.

“I know.” She wipes her cheek, turns her head, and kisses the inside of my palm, then she forces my finger closed around her kiss. “I’ll be waiting for you.”

“Shit, come here.” I crush her in my arms, and she trembles and starts crying for real.

“It’s all right,” I whisper, rubbing her back, but she sobs harder. I whisper it’s all right, but the way she cries guts me. It’s not anything close to right. She needs me. She fucking needs me and she will be here, without me, struggling to keep our baby. Our baby that might just end up being like me, and instead of making the woman I love happy, our baby will hurt her, just like I do. It pains me. Maybe the child I put in her isn’t right. Maybe it’s not strong. Maybe it’s just like me, and everything I don’t want her to have to struggle with.


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