Unexpected fate, p.15
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       Unexpected Fate, p.15
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         Part #1 of Hope Town series by Harper Sloan
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  “I can’t believe you went out with her crazy ass again,” Lila snaps. “The last time you went out with her, didn’t she go on and on about how many babies she wanted to have with you AND detailed out their names and what they would look like?”

  “Christ, you must love crazy,” Lyn mumbles.

  “Oh, shut up. It wasn’t that bad. Plus, I was horny. ”

  “You’re disgusting,” Lila sighs.

  “All right. Enough of this shit. What’s going on with you?” Lyn says.

  “What makes you think something’s going on?” I hedge.

  “Don’t play me for a fool. First of all, you don’t come home at all last night. You don’t answer your phone. Your car is still at the salon! And if that isn’t enough, when we went home to Mom and Dad’s for dinner, Cam was going on and on about how he and Colt overheard Dad telling Mom about how you got some fucked-up letter after work today. Then he said that you had to go to the emergency room. If that’s not enough to know something is most definitely up with you, then you’re insane. ” She takes a deep breath, and for the first time, I see through her anger and the worry she must have had all night for me, instantly making me feel guilty.

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  Taking a strengthening breath, I point to the couch. “You two might want to sit down. ”

  “SO LET ME GET THIS straight. You got some fucked-up letter at work and proceeded to pass out. You went to the doctor, found out my brother knocked you up, and then your dad flipped his shit and accused you of basically being a slut?” Lyn finishes her rehashing of my last twenty-four hours with a dramatic sigh. “Wow. When you decide to go for the shock factor, you really put your all in it. ”

  “I’m going to be an aunt?” Lila says breathily.

  “Holy shit, we’re going to be aunts!” Lyn screams, and I wince when her loud tones hit my ears.

  “Did you just register that little nugget? What part of ‘my brother knocked you up’ didn’t register that fact?” Lila smarts.

  “Oh, shut it, Lila! I’m in shock here. ”

  “So . . . I take it you two don’t share my father’s immediate reaction?”

  They both stare at me with a mix of outrage and sadness. Like I’ve lost my damn mind, which is a feeling I share with them both at the moment.

  “You’ve been in love with my brother for years, Dani. Even if that weren’t the case, you aren’t the type of person who strays when you’re in a relationship. Regardless of where the other person is, you’re loyal to your very core. ”

  I smile at Lila’s words. I didn’t realize how badly I needed to hear that they believed me.

  “I’m sure he regrets it, Dani. You know your dad. He’s hotheaded, and as protective of you as he is, I’m sure the ‘whole letter on the car, falling and getting hurt, and then finding out he’s about to be a grandfather’ took a toll on him. Yeah, I think it’s safe to say he was probably tipping over the boiling point. ” Lyn reaches over and rubs my hand. “That doesn’t excuse it. You have every right to be upset. I just can’t figure out why you wouldn’t call us. ” She gives me a sad smile, but there’s no judgment in her gaze.

  “I needed to be around Cohen. I’m not even sure I realized it at the moment, but the second I got here—surrounded by his things—I don’t know how to explain it. I just felt like I was . . . home. ”

  Lila has a big dopey smile on her face, and Lyn is looking at me in complete understanding.

  “You still could have called us, Dani. We would have been here in a second. Did you think we would be upset or something?” Lyn pushes.

  “It has nothing to do with that. I promise. I was still wrapping my head around it all myself. I wanted to be here, alone, and spend time with Cohen the best I can without him being here. My God, I sound like a complete nut job,” I groan and drop my head into my hands. “He left here thinking he had one type of girl and he’s going to come home to me being a complete basket case. Who comes over to their boyfriend’s place so they can sniff his shit and hug his pillow?”

  They both throw their heads back and laugh. The tension is broken just like that.

  My girls get me. They always have, and that will never change.

  “How about we spend the rest of the night doing girly shit and binge-watch some old One Tree Hill shows?” Lila asks as she stands to give me a big hug.

  “At the risk of sounding even crazier . . . can we do that here?” I ask.

  “Sure thing. I mean, I don’t think smelling my grungy brother will be quite as comforting for me as it is for you, but I’m down. ” Lyn laughs. “We need to get some junk food too. Fatten you up already! I can’t wait for you to have a cute little belly. Oh my God! I still can’t believe my niece or nephew is cooking away in there. ”

  I stop, causing them both to bump into me in the middle of the hallway. My jaw goes slack and my eyes wide.

  “Holy shit. I’m gonna get fat!” I spin, grab the nearest body, and shake her shoulders. I can hear Lyn laughing her ass off behind an equally shocked Lila. “I’m going to be a big freaking whale by the time he gets home. He left me all skinny, toned, and hot, and he’s going to come home and I’ll be like, ‘Oh hey, big boy, guess what? I ate a whale and you knocked me up!’”

  Why are they laughing so hard? Can’t they tell how much I’m freaking out here? There is no damn way he’s going to want me all fatty mcfat fat.

  “This is going to be terrible,” I groan and turn my back on two of my best friends, who are losing their sanity with how much they’re laughing. When I hit Cohen’s room, I crawl back in the center of his bed and wrap my arms around one of his pillows.

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  “You’re a mess, Dani. Cohen isn’t going to just stop loving you because you have a belly. Plus, I hear some guys actually find it even more attractive. Stop freaking out over something you have no control over. Warning though, he will be shocked. I know my brother, and he might just pass out when he finds out. ”

  I gasp and shoot up to my elbows to glare at Lila. “Do what?”

  “Do you really think he’s going to not even be a little shocked when you tell him that he gave you a little going-away present? No man would be able to take that kind of news without a little shock, Dani. Don’t worry about it. It’s all going to be fine. One thing about Cohen, and you know this, is that boy was made to be a father. He’s always looked forward to when he will settle down and start a family. I think it comes with the whole idolizing our dad thing. ”

  “What the hell are you talking about?” I question her.

  “Just ask Lyn. When we were busy planning our weddings and what big, bright futures we would have as kids, Cohen would always tell us about how he couldn’t wait to get older. He would be a hero just like Dad and have a house full of kids and a woman he loved to warm his bed. Of course, I never understood the last part. ” Lila finishes and sits down next to me, pulling the pillow from my body and shoving it behind her head. “He’s going to be so happy it’s you, Dani. ”

  I look at her for a beat, letting her words sink in, before I feel a big, crazy smile take over my lips.

  Well, that all sounds like a dream come true.

  Hours later, we are still sitting in Cohen’s bed. Junk food is spread all over the comforter and season two of One Tree Hill is starting on Cohen’s television. Thank you, Netflix, for making girls’ emotional television binging so much easier.

  Lyn and Lila did what they do best. They took my thoughts out of my head and made me stop freaking out. Every time I got quiet, they would knock every doubt I had out of my head.

  We spent time looking at the ultrasound pictures and talking about baby names and what he or she would look like.

  I am hoping for a boy who will have his father’s strong features and gorgeous, brown eyes. The girls are hoping for a girl so that we can dress her up in all of these adorably cute outfits they already started looking for.

Look at this one, Lila,” Lyn squeals and turns her phone to show Lila whatever new outfit she found online.

  “Hey, Dani,” I hear from the front of the apartment, and I almost jump out of my skin.

  “Holy shit, he scared the crap out of me,” Lyn says with her palm pressed to her chest.

  “You and me both. ” I climb over Lila and make my way down the hallway to where I think I heard Chance’s voice. Right when I come out of the hallway and into their large, sunken living room, I halt in my tracks and feel my body lock up with tension.

  Chance walks my way and gives me a reassuring squeeze on my shoulder before he continues down the hall. I turn and see him step into Cohen’s room and shut the door behind him.

  Well, I guess that means the girls won’t be coming to my rescue.

  With a deep sigh full of dread, I turn, square my shoulders, and face my father.

  “You look like you’re ready for battle, little princess,” he says solemnly.

  “That’s because I feel like I’m gearing up for one. ”

  “Dani—” he starts, going to take a step towards me . . . until I hold up my hand to pause his movement.

  “I think it would be best to stay over there, Daddy. This can’t be fixed with a hug. ”

  His eyes close, and I can tell how much it’s costing him to hold himself back. I have no doubt that he regrets what he said, but the fact remains that, however fleeting, the thought went through his head.

  “You all but called me a whore, Daddy. Your own daughter. The one you raised to believe in the power of love, and despite your over-the-top protectiveness, I found that love. That once-in-a-lifetime soul mate connection you and Mom have. I never, not in a million years, expected that from you. ”

  His face softens, “Baby,” he sighs. “I’m so sorry. ”

  “Do you really believe that, after loving Cohen for as long as I have, with the first hurdle our relationship is faced with, I would run to another man?”

  He shakes his head, his eyes never leaving mine.

  “I can understand that you’re having a hard time with the fact that I’m not a baby anymore. I haven’t been one for a long time, but I always knew you would struggle with letting me go until you literally couldn’t hold on anymore. But what I can’t understand is why you reacted the way you did. ”

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  “Please, my sweet little princess, let me hold you. ”

  I’m not sure if it’s the slight tremor in his deep voice that causes the first tear or if it’s the one of his own sliding down his face, but the second that tear falls, there isn’t a thing I can do to keep him from crossing the room.

  “I needed my daddy,” I sob into his chest. “I needed you and all I got were accusations I never in my life thought you would throw at me. I needed you to hold me and tell me that everything would be okay and that you loved me. But you pushed me away and it broke my heart. ”

  “God, Dani. Please stop. ” His arms tighten around me, and I feel my feet lift off the ground. His head drops to my shoulder, and I feel him take a deep breath.

  “I can’t breathe,” I gasp and squirm against him.

  He gives me another squeeze before he lightly drops my feet back down. When he pulls back and I get my first look at his red-rimmed eyes, my heart breaks a little.

  “I don’t know how to forget what you said to me, Daddy,” I sigh. “I expected your shock. I expected your anger at Cohen. But most of all, I expected your love. ”

  He clears his throat. “Sit down, little princess. I think, maybe, I can help with that. ”

  I follow behind him and sit down on the worn, leather recliner. Daddy sits next to me in the matching one, and I wait for him to talk. I have no idea what he thinks can give me—maybe some insight on how he reacted to my pregnancy—but I wait.

  “I don’t think I can explain just how it feels to grow up with shit parents, Dani, but the ones I had—they were as shitty as it gets. I never wanted you or your brother to know how bad it was for me when I was growing up. Never wanted that for you, but I think you need to hear some of it . . . to understand why I am the way I am. ”

  I lean back and wait for him to continue. It’s his show now.

  “My parents . . . They were never sober. They were never not high off some drug. They never talked to me with anything other than hate. That was my life until Social Services took me and I ended up in the system. That wasn’t much better, but I wasn’t beaten and I ate enough that I didn’t starve. But it was lonely, Dani. It was terribly lonely. Until I met your mom. Trust me when I tell you that I know exactly what you mean when you talk about a once-in-a-lifetime soul mate. That was and is your mom for me.

  “You know about me being deployed and what happened to me and your mom during those years and the ones that followed. But I don’t think I’ve ever told anyone, outside your mother, what it felt like when, years later I found out that our baby didn’t make it. God, Dani . . . To hear how your mother suffered killed me, but to know that part of us had died gutted me. I know the rational side of it. I went to a few therapy sessions with your mom to have those quacks throw it out there in terms I could understand. For a child who grew up the way I did, to live that lonely life void of love, a child with the woman I loved more than life, was my second chance. I remember the day your mom told me, all those years after, and sitting on the dock behind the house, vowing to God that, if I was blessed with more children, I would never stop protecting them. I would give them the love, safety, and life I never had. ”

  He stops and wipes a tear that escaped my eyes. I don’t speak. We sit in silence while I wait for him to compose his thoughts.

  “I know I take it to a level that is just too much when it comes to you, Dani. I look at you, seeing so much of your mother, and I’m reminded of that sweet, stars-in-her-eyes woman I left all those years ago. That I left to a life of hell for years. I see the pain I couldn’t protect her from, and it makes me hold you just a little tighter. I think I rationalized with myself that, if I just held on as long as I could, you would never know that kind of pain. ”

  “I still don’t understand how you could even think that I could do something like this to Cohen, Daddy. How I could cheat on him?”

  “I don’t think that, baby. I didn’t think it then, and I don’t think it now. There is no excuse for what I said. I’m not disappointed in you. I’m disappointed in me. I was scared, Dani, and that’s the simple truth. I was terrified when I heard them say you were pregnant. All of those old wounds just sliced right open, and what I felt all of those years ago came back tenfold. Only this time, it was my girl, my little princess, and I was terrified to my core. ”

  Never in a million years did I expect that from him. My father? The big, bad Axel Reid was scared? Nope. Never.

  “The second you left and I realized what I’d said, I wanted to chase you down, but your mom said that I should give you time. Well, actually, she screamed at me for being a jackass. I’m always going to look at you as my little girl, Dani, and there isn’t anything that could change that. I’m damn proud of the woman you’ve grown to be, and I love you more than life itself. I can’t tell you enough how sorry I am for letting my emotions and temper get the best of me. ”

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  “You hurt me,” I tell him.

  “I know, and it kills me. ”

  After hearing where he was coming from, my heart settles a little and I understand where he was coming from. Even if it still hurts, I know it’s more because the words are still fresh in my mind. He’s always been hot to the touch when he feels things deeply. That’s just how he’s wired. And honestly, if I had been thinking clearly, I probably would have anticipated a reaction like his. Doesn’t make it okay, but I can’t hold a grudge because he was blinded by the pain of his past.

  “I love you, Daddy. ”

  “I love you too, little princess. ”

  “You have to let m
e fly now,” I whisper.

  “I know I do. I know. I don’t want to let go, Dani, but at least if I have to I know you’ll be in good hands. ”

  “You’re really okay? With Cohen and me . . . and the baby?”

  “Yeah, sweetheart. I really am. I’m scared, I won’t lie about that, but I’ll work on not projecting that on you. Just don’t expect me to change overnight. My little girl having a baby of her own? Jesus, Dani. ” He pauses, stands, and pulls me up so he can give me a kiss on my forehead before wrapping me up in his strong arms for another hug. “I’m still going to kick his ass. You know that, right?” he says, his voice rumbling against my ear that’s pressed against his chest.

  “No, you won’t. ”

  “Oh really? And why is that?” he asks and pulls back to look at me, his green eyes shining.

  “Because you won’t hurt me like that. ”

  “I’m still going to yell at him. Maybe even throw shit,” he counters.

  “Yeah, now that I can see. ”

  He doesn’t stay long after that. I know the girls are probably about to bust down the door to make sure I’m okay. I walk him to the door, my heart feeling so much more whole since he came by. With the promise to come over for dinner the following night, he leaves me with a hug.

  With a smile on my face, I walk back down the hallway, feeling much lighter than I did earlier. Things aren’t just going to be magically easier from now on. There’s the small fact that Cohen doesn’t even know he’s about to be a father, but I have no doubt in my mind that he will be able to see this miracle for what it is.

  At least, that’s the hope I will wrap myself in until he returns.

  EVERY FUCKING DAY, I START to resent the life I always thought I wanted. Fighting a war I don’t see ever ending is starting to pay its price on my sanity, and my heart is starting to feel heavy with every passing second I am away from home.

  I miss my family. My parents, sisters, and brothers. I hate knowing that they are at home worrying about me and my safety. I know every time I’m away in training or deployed that my mom doesn’t sleep well and my dad has nightmares. My sisters do better, their belief that I’m invincible helping that. And my brothers hide their worry in beer and sex.

  But worst of all, I miss Dani.

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