Once More Chance (Chance #2; Rosemary Beach #8), Page 2Abbi Glines
I was trying hard not to look completely disturbed by this. I couldn’t picture Major as beautiful by any stretch of the imagination. But then, all I knew was the ten-year-old Major, not the twenty-one-year-old who could attract a woman who shouldn’t want him.
A swift knock on the door got our attention, and all eyes in the kitchen turned to the door as the grown-up version of Major Colt walked into the room.
His green eyes were almost emerald. I was surprised I hadn’t remembered that. An unsure smile touched his face as he looked at his aunt and then at Mase. I took a quick glance at the rest of him. He had to be at least six-four now, and every inch of him was well built. Thick, corded arms that reminded me a lot of Mase’s were showcased in the short sleeves of his gray T-shirt.
“So you slept with your stepmom.” Those were the first words to break the silence. Of course, they came from Mase.
“Mase Colt-Manning, I am going to tan your hide,” Maryann said in a stern voice, quickly wiping her hands on her apron and making her way to Major. The small smile that tugged at Major’s lips as he looked at Mase made me think maybe he wasn’t going to get as upset as Maryann thought he was. It wasn’t like he was a kid who was taken advantage of. He was every bit a man.
He turned to look at Maryann but stopped when his eyes found me. He paused, then began grinning. A real smile this time. He recognized me. Not surprising, since my face had been all over the media the past two months.
“Well, if it ain’t Little Miss Gone Missing,” Major said. “You’re even prettier than the photos they keep showing of you on TV.”
“Easy,” Mase said, and took a step to stand between Major and me. “I realize you’re Casanova now, but she ain’t available for romancing. I’m sure Uncle Chap will have a new wife soon, and you can see how long it takes to get in her pants.”
“Enough!” Maryann said, slapping Mase on the arm like a naughty child before pulling Major into a hug. “We’re thrilled you’re here. Ignore your cousin’s attempt at humor. He has no filter, and I apologize for that.”
Major returned her hug and smirked at Mase over her head, which didn’t even reach his shoulder. “Thanks, Aunt Maryann. I won’t let him get to me. I can handle it, I swear.”
“Unbelievable. He sleeps with his old man’s wife, and you’re taking up for him and babying him like he’s the victim.” Mase said, but there was no resentment in his tone. He was smiling as he said it.
The door opened again, and Mase’s stepfather stepped inside. Even with a limp, he was still a looming presence. Height was definitely a Colt trait. “Glad you’re here, boy,” he said to Major. “But I’m hungry, so you’re gonna have to let go of my wife so she can feed me.”
Major laughed this time, a loud, full laugh that made us all smile.
“Message fifty-five. Each day, I think this will be the last day I get your voice mail. That you’ll eventually answer me. I just want to hear your voice and know you’re safe and happy. I want you happy. I’m fucking miserable. I’m losing sleep. You’re all I think about. I miss you, baby. I miss you so bad. So damn bad. Just knowing you’re safe and healthy would help. Rush assures me you’re fine, but I need to hear it from you. Anything . . . I’ll do anything. Just talk to me.”
I hated that sound. It mocked my pain and put an end to the few seconds when I felt like I had Harlow’s ear. But she probably wasn’t listening to my messages, anyway. I was pretty damn sure she would have called me by now if she had heard even one of my desperate voice mails. She wouldn’t be able to ignore me.
Rush had told me she wasn’t at Mase’s mother’s house in Texas, but I was about ready to visit Mase and find out what he knew. I didn’t care about the extra security I’d been warned about. I would go to fucking jail if it meant I could get some answers. I would give anything to know where Harlow was.
My phone rang, and for a second, my heart stopped. For a split second, I let myself hope it was Harlow. Even though, deep down, I knew it couldn’t be her. Glancing down at the phone, I saw Rush’s name lighting up the screen. He wasn’t Harlow, but he was the only connection I had to her right now.
“What?” I said into the phone as I stared up at the ceiling.
“Not sure why I call your grumpy ass anymore,” Rush replied.
I wasn’t sure, either. But if he called, I would answer. Even if he didn’t know where Harlow was, he was the only one I could bring myself to talk to about this. I felt he understood. He might be the only person who understood just how torn-up I was.
“It’s late,” I told him.
“It’s not that late. Blaire just went upstairs to rock Nate to sleep.”
Rush had his happy little life now. A wife he worshipped. A son he adored. I was happy he had everything he ever wanted. Neither one of us had known what a normal, healthy family was like. Now he did. Now he had that. But me . . . maybe I could have when Harlow was still here. Maybe.
“I know you’re not in the mood to talk, but I’m just calling to check on you. Blaire mentioned that I needed to call you and see how you were before she went upstairs.”
Apparently, Blaire really had forgiven me. I wished I could tell Rush I was fine. That I could breathe normally and my chest didn’t continually ache. That I didn’t feel lost and helpless. But I couldn’t tell him that. The truth was, I needed Harlow.
“Were you OK when Blaire left you?” I asked him, knowing the answer already. I had been there. I had forced him to get out of the house.
“No,” he replied. “You know I was a complete mess.”
“Yeah,” was my only response. At that point, I hadn’t understood him. But now it all made sense. He had been ripped in two, and he was expected to live each day like everything was normal, clinging to the hope she’d come back to him. “I’m sorry for making you leave your house and get out back then. I didn’t get it.”
Rush let out a low, hard chuckle. “It might have helped me some. Don’t apologize. Sitting around thinking about it would have fucked me up worse. I didn’t have a job to lose myself in every day like you do.”
“Have you talked to her?” I asked, unable to help myself. I needed something. Anything.
“She’s good. She’s safe. She asked how you were. I told her you looked like shit and you weren’t doing so great.”
If she was listening to my voice mails, she would know that already. I wasn’t holding anything back when I called her. I was wide open with her, baring my soul. “Will she ever forgive me?” I asked, closing my eyes, afraid of his answer.
“She already has. She just isn’t ready to open up again yet. She’s dealing with a lot right now. Her mother and Kiro, then this . . . just give her more time.”
If she’d forgiven me, why wasn’t she listening to my voice mails? Why wasn’t she at least answering when I called? “Tell her I just want to hear her voice. She doesn’t have to talk to me long—just a minute. I want to tell her I love her. I want to tell her I’m sorry. I . . . just need to tell her I need her.”
Rush was silent a moment. Anyone else would have made fun of how vulnerable I had become. Not him. “I’ll tell her. Get some sleep. Call me and check in some. Blaire worries.”
I swallowed against the lump in my throat. We said our good-byes, and I dropped the phone to my chest and closed my eyes, letting images of Harlow fill my thoughts. They were all I had now.
“Your phone’s ringing,” Mase said as he walked outside toward me with my phone in his outstretched hand. I was on the swing that had been hanging here in the yard since we were kids, alone with my thoughts.
“Who is it?” I asked, afraid to look. I was getting weak. If it was Grant, I wasn’t sure I could ignore him anymore.
“Blaire,” Mase replied, tossing the phone into my lap. “I’m heading down to the barn. Got some feed coming in, and I need to show Major what jobs I’m passing off to him now he’s settled in. You need to talk to Blaire. Then th
ink about calling Grant.”
I touched Answer on my phone, then held it to my ear. “Hello?”
“Hey. Haven’t heard from you in a few days. I wanted to check in and see how things were going.” Blaire didn’t know about the pregnancy. I trusted her with everything except keeping secrets from Rush. She’d tell him, and I knew Rush would tell Grant. He wouldn’t be able not to. So I kept that secret close.
“I’m doing fine,” I replied, not even believing my own voice. “How are things there?” I asked, unable to say his name.
“You mean, how’s Grant? He isn’t doing well. Still the same pattern. Lots of work and little sleep. He doesn’t talk to anyone but Rush, and now he’s begging Rush daily to tell him where to find you. He’s pitiful, Harlow. He needs to hear your voice.”
My heart squeezed, and I blinked away the tears in my eyes. Knowing he was hurting was hard to accept. But how could I call him and not break down on him and tell him how much I missed him? That wouldn’t help anything. He would only be more hurt when I refused to tell him where I was. “I’m not ready,” I told her.
Blaire let out a sigh, and I heard Nate’s laughter in the background. Baby laughter was all I needed to remind myself why I couldn’t let Grant know what was going on.
“Blaire, can I ask you something?” It was out of my mouth before I could stop myself.
“Of course,” she replied.
Nate’s little voice started chanting “Dada” over and over.
“Hold on a sec. Rush just walked in, and Nate gets excited when he sees his daddy. Let me take this in another room,” Blaire said.
I wanted what Blaire had. More than anything . . . I wanted that. I wanted to watch Grant with our baby. The child we created. The child that was inside me. But would Grant want that?
“OK, I can hear you better now. What is it you want to ask me?”
Closing my eyes tightly, I hoped this wasn’t a mistake. “Before Nate was born, would you have given your life for his? Did you love him that much?”
Blaire didn’t answer. She was silent for several seconds, and I started to think I’d said too much. That she would figure out why I was asking her this.
“He was a part of Rush and me. I would have done anything for him from the moment I knew he was inside me. So, yes,” she said. Her words were slow and almost tortured, but I knew she was being honest. I also knew that she’d understand my choice. “But Rush wouldn’t have felt the same way,” she added.
The emotion clogging my throat made it difficult to respond. “Yeah. I didn’t think so. I, uh, I need to go. I’ll talk to you soon.” I didn’t wait for her to reply before ending the call, dropping my phone into my lap, and covering my face with both hands, letting the sorrow free. I sobbed for the life I might not be able to give my baby, for the possibility that I might not be there if the baby was born, and for the life I wanted so badly with Grant but feared I’d never have. I cried until all the tears dried up. Until I couldn’t cry any more. Then I covered my stomach with my hands and sat there as the breeze dried my tear-streaked face. It was time I found the strength I needed to do this. To say I wasn’t scared of dying was a lie. I was terrified, but I would do it if it meant this baby inside me could live. This life was a part of me and the man I loved. The only man I would ever love.
Before I’d met Grant, I hadn’t known what it felt like to be completely in love. I had watched couples and daydreamed about the day a man would look at me with devotion and adoration in his eyes. I had imagined walking down the aisle toward a man who saw and loved only me. A man who loved me in all of my awkwardness. A man who loved me and my imperfect heart. For a moment, I was sure I had found that . . .
My thoughts were interrupted by Maryann’s red Dodge truck coming down the gravel road that led from the white farmhouse to Mase’s log cabin. Maryann hadn’t been by in a couple of days. Major had been a good distraction for her. I knew my next doctor’s appointment was coming up. They wanted me in every week since I was considered high-risk. But I wasn’t sure which day she had set my next visit for.
Instead of going to lunch at the house, I had stayed here the past two days. Alone. I was safe alone. I also wanted to give them time to talk about family things with Major. I knew he wasn’t comfortable discussing them in front of me. I wasn’t his family. The only problem was, I had nothing to do to fill my time. I was left to my thoughts. Reading was something I used to escape into, but now I couldn’t seem to stay focused on the story.
My thoughts were always on Grant and the future.
The truck came to a stop, Maryann’s door swung open, and her jeans-clad legs swung out as she jumped down. She was a natural beauty. Every cowgirl I had ever imagined looked like Maryann to me. Tall and slender, always dressed in snug jeans, riding boots, and a button-down plaid shirt tied at her waist. The cowboy hat on her head was the finishing touch. It wasn’t feminine at all but dirty and used.
She walked up the steps and turned to look at me with the concerned frown of a mother. A mother I’d never really had. “You trying to worry me, girl?” she asked, studying me closely.
I shook my head. “No, I’m sorry. I just haven’t been hungry, and I need to be alone.”
Her frown lines increased. “You been up here crying is what it looks like to me. Crying ain’t good for you, your heart, or that baby. You gotta snap out of this. If you’re crying over that Carter boy, then call him. Talk to him. You need the full force of your strength and willpower if you’re gonna do this, girl. You can’t be depressed and ready to give up.”
I hadn’t thought about that. But talking to Grant meant I could no longer protect him. “This will terrify him. I’m trying to keep him safe from this. His greatest fear in life is losing someone he loves.”
Maryann put her hands on her hips and rolled her eyes. “You have got to be kidding me. Is that boy so much of a wimp that he can’t handle life? If he’s a real man, he’ll step up and be the rock you need right now. If he can’t do that, then he ain’t worth your time.”
She didn’t know how broken Grant had looked when he’d found out about my heart. He was a wonderful man who had trusted me. I had kept something from him that would have spared him from getting hurt. If I had just told him about my heart the day he showed up in my room with Chinese food, he never would have risked this. He would have been safe. I wouldn’t have known what it felt like to be held by him or touched, but he would be safe. His heart would be safe. I’d selfishly taken that choice away from him.
“He deserves more,” I told her. That was all I could say.
“To hell he does. If he won your love, then he won the lottery. You hear me? He’s a lucky man. Nothing else matters. You’re a beautiful, smart, loving, pure woman who lights up the people around her.”
A smile tugged at my lips. “Thank you.”
Maryann loved me like a mother would. Growing up, she had been a great stand-in, though my mind sometimes wandered to what life would have been like under different circumstances. Until recently, I had believed my mother died in an accident. A few months ago, I discovered she was alive in a hospital in Los Angeles, though mentally vacant and incapable of most basic functions. When the media discovered the secret, they also discovered me, which was why my face was spread across TV screens throughout America.
She walked over and sat down on the swing beside me. “Don’t thank me for being honest. Just calling it like I see it.”
I often wondered how someone like Maryann could have gotten mixed up with my dad. She was so real. So full of life and so smart. The man she had spent most of her life with made sense. They fit. But Maryann and Kiro were a hard couple to imagine.
“You’re tough, you’re strong. You always have been. Even as a baby, you were so determined. Kiro adored you, but now you know he worshipped your mother. She was his light. She found the man inside no one else had ever seen and drew him out. Watching him with her amazed me. I couldn’t hate her. In fact, I admired her. She was such a
sweet soul, just like you. I see her in you so much. So does your dad.” She stopped and squeezed my knee. “If you want this baby, then I believe you can do it. I believe you’re strong enough. I’ve seen that strength throughout your life, and I think you can do it, but you have to embrace it. Don’t let pain and fear control you, or you’ll lose.”
I let her words sink in and realized she was right. It was time I got strong. My baby needed it. And I needed to be strong for all of us.
“This is the fifty-seventh message. Fifty-seven days. I’m sitting here staring out at the Gulf, like I used to do with you. Nothing is the same without you here. I can’t even go near the bar in my kitchen. Remembering what we did there is too difficult. Everything reminds me of you. If I could hear your voice tonight, Harlow, if I could just hear you tell me you’re OK . . . I would be better. I would be able to take a deep breath. Then I’d beg. I would beg you to love me. I would beg you to forgive me. I can’t—”
I stood on my balcony staring out at the water as voice mail cut me off, then disconnected the call. Watching the waves crash over the shore used to comfort me. Now they reminded me of the fear that had started all of this. The fear that had made me say words to Harlow that she didn’t deserve to hear.
Losing Jace had marked me deeper than I realized. You live your life never once thinking that when you walk away from a friend or loved one, you might never see him again. Drowning in the Gulf was the last way I expected to lose a close friend. It was unexpected and tragic, and it had changed everything for me.
I had wanted to protect myself from that kind of pain in the future. Moving on and living normally after that was impossible. Bethy, Jace’s girlfriend, was proof of that. She was like a ghost now. She never smiled, and she rarely spoke. The happy gleam in her eyes was gone. I hated being near her. I hated being reminded of what could happen to all of us. She wasn’t living without Jace—she was just surviving.