Unexpected fate, p.10
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       Unexpected Fate, p.10

         Part #1 of Hope Town series by Harper Sloan
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  I give her a smile, and I’m instantly rewarded when her full lips tip up and she gives me one of her own. “Baby, I think that, when I get home, your father is going to kick my ass, because there is no way I can give this up. Here is my honesty. You ready?”

  She nods her head.

  “I want you to think about this from every angle, because that’s what I’ve been trying to do. I would be damn proud to have you on my arm, in my bed, and to share my life with. I understand it’s going to be a fight when it comes to your dad, but that’s a fight I’ll take if you’re by my side. Our moms, yeah . . . that’s not something you need to worry about. Trust me, baby. They’ll start planning a wedding the second you and I let them know where we stand. My dad just wants me to be happy. And I guarantee you he will have my back when it comes to your dad. As for Nate, we don’t need to worry about him either. I’ll handle him. Sounds like my sisters aren’t going to be a problem, and my brothers will be right there with Lyn and Lila. ”

  I pause and shift our bodies so that she is lying under my body, her legs spread wide and her hips welcoming the pressure of my own. “The only issue I have here is knowing that I’m leaving tomorrow, and in doing so, I’m leaving you and what is most definitely starting between us. I’m not the type of man who likes knowing that his woman is alone, and if you needed me, I wouldn’t be here. I don’t like knowing that, if you’re sad, I can’t make it better. If you’re sick, I won’t be there to make you better. If you’re scared, I can’t chase away your nightmares. Bottom line, I won’t be there for you, and that isn’t something a man like me can stomach easily. ” I drop my head, give her a small kiss, and pull away, looking into her bright and hopeful eyes. “But, Dani-girl, I’m also a selfish man, because even knowing all of that, it doesn’t make a difference. It’s you and me, baby. You and me against the world. ”

  I wipe the tear that leaks out of her eye before it can trail down her cheek to the radiant and very happy smile that has spread across her lips. Even when I drop mine to hers, the smile remains. And later—much later—when she is moaning my name, it still never slips.

  My girl, my Dani-girl, is happy.

  “You’re mine?” she asks.

  “Yeah, baby. And you’re mine. ”

  With a full but heavy heart, I hold her all night long. My eyes never once leave her sleeping—and still-smiling—face. I memorize every inch of her, from the way she feels in my arms to how she smells like wildflowers in the rain. When she moans in her sleep and huskily whispers my name, I know that, when I leave tomorrow, I’ll be fighting every instinct I have to run back to her. It’s going to be an uphill battle, but this will be one worth every second of yearning, because in the end, when I come home and she’s right back in my arms, I’ll be the luckiest bastard alive.

  IT’S HARD TO SEE THROUGH the tears clouding my vision. To see through the sadness my heart feels as I watch him get dressed. Watching him pack his things. Pull on his boots or grab his jacket. All the things I won’t be watching again for months. Little, mundane tasks I’m trying to sear into my mind so I’ll never forget. How his fingers look when he’s hooking his belt through his jeans. How his brow furrows when he’s trying to figure out how to get a little more space out of his carry-on. Even though I know he will come back to me, knowing that we’re starting something so beautiful off with a big, ugly fog surrounding us has me in pieces.

  He looks over when he finishes zipping the last zipper and gives me a sad smile. I’m sure my eyes are looking at him exactly as his are gazing into mine. Like this is it and if we don’t see each other again, then we should make this second last a lifetime.

  I bring a hand up and angrily swipe away a tear. I hate crying. It’s a sign of weakness, but I’m helpless to stop them. My heart, while full to bursting with the knowledge that he is mine, is breaking.

  “Dani-girl,” he says on a sigh. “You’re killing me with these tears. ”

  He sits on the bed and pulls me into his arms. When his strong arms wrap around me and the comfort that always comes when he’s near sinks into my skin, I only cry more.

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  “This isn’t goodbye,” he vows.

  “Never goodb-b-bye,” I stutter.

  “It’s ‘see you soon’,” he whispers.

  “Every time I close my eyes,” I promise.

  We don’t need words after that. What more needs to be said? I have to believe that, even brand new, we have the kind of connection that can beat anything.

  He holds me in his arms for another ten minutes. Ten whole minutes that I feel complete. When his phone beeps, letting him know that his parents are on the way, he gives me a deep kiss before pulling back and standing from the bed.

  “Stay as long as you want, Dani-girl. I like knowing you’re in my bed even if I’m not here. ” He stops when I let out a big sob-like hiccup. Leaning down over where he placed me in the middle of the mattress, he gives me another long and deep kiss. “See you soon, my heart. ” With one more kiss, he stands, grabs his stuff and walks out the door.

  I’m not sure how long I stay in the middle of his bed, surrounded by his scent and the memories of the night before. It isn’t until Liam shows up and wraps me in his arms, causing my sobs to double in force, that I realize the sun has long since set and Cohen is likely gone by now.

  “Wh-what are you doing here?” I ask when I’m finally able to calm down.

  “Cohen sent me a text a little after nine this morning. Told me that, if I didn’t see you by lunch, I was to go find Chance and get the key to the apartment. Lunch came and no Dani, so here I am. Come on, little princess. Let’s get you home. ”

  Lee turns his back when I move the covers off my naked body, throwing my shorts and one of Cohen’s shirts over his shoulder. When I pull the cotton tee over my head, I know instantly that it must be the one he wore the night before. The scent of him, so fresh and powerful, almost brings me to my knees. I have to bite my lip to keep it from wobbling and victoriously keep the tears at bay.

  “Here,” Lee says with a smile. “I grabbed a few more and the body wash and the bottle of that shit he wears off the counter in his bathroom. ”

  When I look at him like he’s lost his mind, he laughs, throwing the body wash, cologne, and three shirts he was holding in my arms.

  “What? You were standing there sniffing that one like you wanted to rub it all over yourself. Might as well make it so you can have some to last. ” He shrugs his shoulder, collects my purse from the floor next to the nightstand, and takes my hand before leading me out of the apartment.

  Chance is fixing some food in the kitchen when we walk out. He gives Lee one of those manly head-jerk things and me a small smile.

  “See you around, Dani. ”

  I nod, but I know I won’t see him around much. Not now that Cohen is gone.

  God, he really is gone.

  “Do you think she’s dead?” the voice asks, and I feel something sharp poke my hip.

  “No, but I think she smells like she is,” another voice replies.

  “It does smell . . . funky in here. I wonder, if we move her, what’s going to be growing on those sheets. ”

  “Ugh, Maddi—you’re so gross!” Lila snaps.

  “Shut up, you two,” Lyn mumbles.

  I feel the bed dip, but I pull the sheets over my head. “Go away. ”

  “Fat chance in that happening. Time for some tough love, bitch,” Lyn snaps before pulling my comforter off my body. “Seriously, Dani. It’s time to take the shirt off. ”

  “No. ”

  “Oh yeah, it’s happening. Either you can take it off on your own accord or I’ll be forced to cut it off. Do you want me to cut the shirt? Huh, Dani? Do you want me to cut it into tiny pieces?” Lyn barks, standing from the bed and placing her hands on her hips.

  “You wouldn’t dare!”

  “Try me. It’s been three days since Cohen left. Do
you see Lila and me moping around the house? No, you do not. You’re acting pathetic, and it’s time to snap the hell out of it. ”

  What the hell? Who does she think she is?

  “What the hell, Lyn! Who do you think you are to tell me that I shouldn’t be upset?”

  “I’ll tell you who I think I am! I’m your best friend, but I’m also his sister. I get to live this right along with you, but I have the added benefit of watching you fall apart all the while I’m holding my worry about him in because I don’t want to make you snap any more than you already have. ”

  Oh.

  “I love you, Dani. I’m so happy that you and Cohen had that before he left, but right now, you have to stop acting like he isn’t ever going to come home because he will. He will, Dani. I swear. ” Her eyes start to water, and I want to kick myself for making her feel worse when I should have swallowed my upset and been there for them.

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  “I’m sorry,” I offer weakly. And I am. It hurts still, having the memory of his body holding mine so fresh, but she’s right. I’m grieving him as if he won’t ever come back.

  “Go get a shower and you can get your ass to work today so I don’t have to deal with Sway going nuts over you missing another filming day. ”

  I nod my head and climb out of the bed. When I go to pull off Cohen’s shirt, I look over my shoulder to where she is standing. Maddi and Lila must have dipped out the door while we were talking. She raises one of her black, perfectly sculpted brows and looks down at my hand on the hem. I narrow my eyes and instantly decide that this shirt—and the others I’m sure she doesn’t know about yet—will be hidden well.

  And I’m not even ashamed of the smile I have when I drop some of Cohen’s body wash on my loofa and start to get lost in the memories.

  Memories that will keep me going long after he comes home.

  Yeah . . . totally normal.

  Ten hours of hell later, I’m ready to kill someone. I’m missing Cohen terribly, but that feeling was exasperated tenfold by Devon, his two idiots, and—God love him—Sway.

  Devon wanted to know when “the romantic drama hunk” was coming in next, which was brought up when it was clear there wouldn’t be anything show-worthy happening in the salon today. Lyn went nuts and threw one of her eye shadow pallets at him.

  Devon’s “assistants”—and I use that word loosely because I haven’t seen them actually assist with anything—wouldn’t stop being icky. The short one actually picked his nose, twice, and the second time almost had me throwing up my lunch when I saw him eat it. Then the other one . . . I can’t put my finger on exactly what about him I don’t like—but it’s there. And his openly staring at every female in the room doesn’t exactly give him any checks in the pro side.

  And then Sway.

  I might actually kill him.

  Really.

  I was in the back mixing some color for Jenna Nixon’s pink touch-up when he came up behind me and tried to measure my bust. Like, full-on threw one of those measuring tape things around my body and told me to stop wiggling so he knew what size he needed to order for burlesque day at the salon.

  I do not fucking think so.

  And okay, I might have been a little overdramatic when I elbowed him in the stomach, but he crossed a line with the measuring tape.

  Needless to say by the time the workday was over, I was more than ready to call it a night. If I’m this bad after just three days, I hate to think what I’ll feel like as more pass.

  And it’s with that thought that I find it.

  I find the reason I need to solidify that strength I need. A reason to smile again.

  I’m not sure how I missed it earlier, but I wasn’t exactly in the right frame of mind the morning he left—or each day after for that matter—so it makes sense that I didn’t see it before. Tucked in one of the side pockets of my purse is a white envelope, sealed, with my name scrawled in masculine writing on the outside.

  Not just my name.

  The name only one person calls me.

  My chin wobbles when I hold the letter that Cohen must have tucked in there at some point the night before he left. Part of me wants to rip into it and devour each word. But the sensible part of me wants to savor each word knowing that these are going to be the words I need to keep me going.

  Dani-girl—my sweet Dani-girl.

  You have no idea how long I’ve been watching you sleep. I feel like, if I stare at you for the rest of the night, it might be enough to last me until I came home, but even as I write this down, I know it wasn’t enough.

  It’s funny how I’ve lasted almost twenty-six years without knowing what it felt like to have you in my arms. I’ve had your naked body against mine for one night and I know it was a feeling that I will struggle to be without. I don’t know a better way to explain it other than it just felt like you were always meant to be there.

  My dad used to tell me that your father used to get so pissed when we were kids because wherever I went, you weren’t far behind, and whenever we were in the same room, I was always watching you. He told me once that, even back then, it was like we had some invisible cord pulling us together. I don’t think I understood it until last night. I’ve always used excuse after excuse to push the feelings I had for you aside.

  Anyway, my point is, while I was sitting here in the dark, watching you sleep, it hit me how much it’s going to rip me in two when I have to walk away from you in the morning. Seeing you in my bed, sated and flushed from just taking you again, will be something I think about for nights to come.

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  It was unexpected, baby, but it was fate. It’s our unexpected fate, and I have no doubt in my mind that this happened at the perfect time, for us, even if it sucks knowing I won’t hold you in my arms for a while, I’ll carry the memories of last night with me every second of every day that I’m gone. And when I come home, I’m not sure I’ll ever let go of you.

  Danielle Reid, you’ve burrowed your beautiful soul right into my heart.

  Stay strong, my beautiful Dani-girl, and know that, wherever I am and wherever you are, I’ll be thinking about you. Know that, when I get home, there won’t be a second that passes that I don’t show you just how much you mean to me. I was a fool to push this connection we have away for so long, and for that, I’m sorry, but now, it’s you and me against the world and there isn’t anything that could take that feeling away from us now.

  Remember, I’ll see you soon—every time I close my eyes.

  Love,

  Cohen

  When I finish reading the letter, my eyes are wet with tears, but this time, they’re tears of acceptance that I can and will make it through Cohen’s deployment, and when he gets home, it’s going to be him and me against the world.

  And I can’t freaking wait.

  Two months later

  “DANI!” I HEAR LILA YELL up the stairs.

  I smile to myself because I know what’s coming. The same thing that’s been happening every single Saturday at nine o’clock in the morning for the last two months.

  I look at the red roses sitting on the corner of my desk and smile. I do the same when I pass the dozen on my nightstand, and then again when I reach the end of the hallway and see the other dozen that will be replaced today on the accent table right before the stairs.

  For the last two months, like clockwork, I’ve gotten a delivery of a dozen red roses. There’s never a card, but I don’t need one. There is only one person who would send me such an extravagant gift every week. When the first delivery showed up, it was the morning after I had read Cohen’s letter, and it was the fortification I’d needed. The girls didn’t say much—not at first. Then, when it was clear I wasn’t going to jump off the deep end, they took me off suicide watch and started in with the questions.

  I told them what I could without giving them the intimate details of Cohen’s and my relationsh
ip. We were together and would remain together until he got home. I explained to them that I wasn’t going to mention it to anyone else past them and Lee. I didn’t want to rock the boat. They don’t understand or agree, but for now, they’ve left that alone. I think part of me is still worried that this is a dream. That Cohen will return and either change his mind or realize that it wasn’t what he thought he felt. But also, I am selfishly waiting until I have his strength by my side before I tell everyone else.

  And by everyone else, I mean my father.

  “I went ahead and signed for you. That delivery dude is creepy as hell. ” Lila hands me the flowers with a roll of her eyes. “I swear my brother has gone soft,” she mumbles under her breath as she walks away.

  “Where are you headed today?” I ask while taking a big whiff of the flowers.

  “I picked up a Saturday class for some extra credits. ”

  “Damn, Lila! Aren’t you worried that you’re going to burn yourself out one of these days?” Flowers forgotten—well, almost forgotten—I look over at her with concern. She’s been going hard for so many years that I really never stopped to think that maybe she might be pushing herself a little too much. “What’s the rush, babe?”

  “It’s just something I need to do, Dani. I don’t know how to explain it any other way. I just keep picturing all the kids that need my help and I don’t want to give them anything less than one hundred percent. ”

  I give her a smile before placing the flowers on the table just inside the entryway. Walking over to where she’s picking at her nail polish, I wrap my arms around her and give her a big squeeze.

  “You’re going to be awesome, Lila. You would be awesome even without all these extra years of school, but with them, you’re going to be unstoppable. ”

  She smiles but doesn’t acknowledge my words. “Do you want to catch some breakfast before you head off to meet Lee?”

  “I’d like that. I feel like all I’ve been doing lately is working. Ever since Devon had to rush back to Los Angeles and he left Don and Mark in charge, things have been a little intense. ”

  We walk down the hall and into the kitchen. Lila plops down on the barstool as I go straight to the fridge and start pulling out the ingredients I need to make French toast. Lila doesn’t cook—ever. Not unless we want to be vomiting for weeks. The last time she tried to cook dinner for the house—when we had the brilliant idea that we should do a rotation so one single person didn’t have to do all the cooking—she started a small grease fire, burned noodles, and made cheese toast without removing the plastic film over the slices.

 
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