Unexpected fate, p.16
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       Unexpected Fate, p.16
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         Part #1 of Hope Town series by Harper Sloan
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It’s hard to believe that something I never knew I was missing would take root and make it impossible to imagine leaving her again. I know without a shadow of doubt that this will be my last deployment. When it comes time to reenlist, I won’t regret my decision to stay home and start my life with her.

  It sounds fucking nuts, but after all of this time away, I know where my future is, and it damn sure isn’t in a big fucking sandbox, getting shot at daily.

  The second I get home, I’m going to pull her father aside and beg for her hand in marriage. Then make my girl mine forever.

  I smile when I think about the future we’re going to have. That right there has been the only thing that’s kept me sane. Years, so many damn years, I pushed these feelings away, and there’s no way I’m going to waste a second more before I make sure she knows how I feel.

  “Yo! Cage, boss man told me to make sure you got this. Came over urgent a second ago. ”

  I look over when Ferguson hands me a folded piece of paper. I unfold it and realize it’s an envelope with just my name on it.

  “The hell is it?” I snap, wanting nothing more than to get some sleep.

  “No clue. He took a call, took some notes, then stuffed it in here and told me to find you ASAP. So I found you and did what I was told. Now, take the shit so I can get some grub. ”

  I snatch the envelope from him and walk away. I’ve never cared for Ferguson, but he’s a damn good soldier.

  We were lucky tonight. Things were winding down here, and we finally made it to base camp after having been gone for three weeks on another mission from hell. I will be able to have a shower and actually eat food that doesn’t taste like hard shit.

  Page 60

  Walking away from the mess hall, I quickly look for the building we were using as mission control for our unit. After shutting the door and enjoying a second of silence, I open the letter.

  I had hoped you would be home by now, but I’m assuming this was a multiple-mission assigning and you’re looking at closer to a year. Fucking sucks, brother. Wrap up what you can and get home. Your girl needs you. I don’t want to fuck with your head over there, but I can’t impress it harder. I wouldn’t be bothering with this if I didn’t think it was necessary. Do what you need to do. Wait it out and hurry it up, call or fucking write. But she needs you and it should be something that’s handled sooner than later. I’ll keep her in my sights the best I can, Cohen. Stay safe. –Chance

  With trembling hands, I refold the note and try to calm myself down. I’ve known something was wrong. I’ve felt it since the day I left. That feeling has turned my gut into a constant pain. Feeling like I’ve been needed at home is nothing compared to knowing I’m needed and not being able to do a damn thing about it.

  “Fuck!” I roar and slam the door open hard enough that the very foundation the room is build on is sure to feel its force.

  I set off for my CO and pray that he can tell me how the hell to speed this bullshit up so I can get home to my girl.

  I’m not sure what I look like when I approach my CO, but he is more than accepting that I need to get a call home. Typically, we don’t get the opportunity to contact anyone back home. Our missions are like that. We need our focus to be spot-on. Anything else would result in one thing. Our death. We’re out “hunting” for weeks and months at a time. Searching for our target, sleeping with our backs against each other, hiding whenever we can. Crawling through the desert in conditions that are as bad as it gets. We eat, sleep, and breathe with the single-minded focus of a warrior. A killing machine. When situations at home cause our focus to waver, they’re willing to do whatever it takes to point our focus back into the tunnel-vision mindset of a robot. Which is essentially what we’re trained to be.

  And with my mind spinning with a vague-as-fuck message from home, things would end up dire if I were hunting. Chance fucking knows better than to send some fucked-up shit like that. He knows that the only thing it would do is take my mind from the mission and make me become consumed with worry. Something I can’t afford to have happen.

  CO Krajack has me stuffed into a room with a secure line home in minutes of my handing him Chance’s letter. My first call—Dani.

  With each ring that goes unanswered, my heart starts to pick up speed, and my palms are so wet from the dread I feel pouring out of me that I almost drop the phone.

  “Mother FUCK!” I thunder through the silence surrounding me.

  “Breathe, soldier. Pick someone else and fucking call them,” Krajack grinds out from the doorway behind me. “Won’t do a bit of good to sit there acting like a little girl. Try your father. ”

  CO Krajack and my dad served together. They spearheaded our unit, and Krajack made it his life’s goal to see it turned into the baddest of the bad. Having him know Dad didn’t make life easier for me when it came time for training. If anything, he pushed me harder than anyone else. But he’s also the only one who would know me well enough right now—and correctly guess that I am way too fucking close to tearing the shit out of anything that gets in the way of me finding out what’s wrong with my girl.

  I nod, grabbing the satellite phone and pressing the buttons I need to in order to connect me with Dad’s cell, praying that he answers.

  “Cage,” he barks.

  “Dad,” I say in a way I know he will instantly know I need him.

  “Son?” His tone instantly alert.

  “Tell me why I got a letter from Chance telling me to get the fuck home because Dani needs me? You know I can’t deal with this shit. If she needs me home, I’m going to be wrapped up in that and—god dammit! You know, Dad. You fucking know how my head is going to be if I don’t know what’s going on. ” I feel Krajack place his hand on my shoulder and give me a firm squeeze.

  “C-man, I don’t know. Mom and I just got back in town the other day. I know something happened when she left work the other day, but Axel hasn’t briefed me yet. ”

  “Fucking shit,” I mutter.

  “You got the call. Call Axel, son. As much as I miss my boy and would love the time to talk, you need to get your head on straight so you can get the hell home. I love you, son. ”

  “Love you too, Dad. ”

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  He rattles off Axel’s cell and, after the promise that I’ll keep my focus, says goodbye.

  I hang up, give Krajack a stressed look, and make another call—hoping and praying for answers this time.

  It takes one ring for Axel’s cell to connect.

  As if he’s been waiting for my call.

  The dread in my stomach intensifies instantly.

  “Cohen. ”

  Not a question. He’s been waiting.

  “Had Chance call an hour ago. I figured you would have called sooner than this. ”

  “Don’t play games with me, Axel. I know you have your issues with me right now, but do not play games with me. I don’t owe you an explanation, but my first call went to Dani—where it should have gone. Then Dad, who couldn’t give me shit, so here I am, calling you and hoping you shut the fuck up with the warnings about your daughter and give me what I need to know. Is my girl okay?”

  He doesn’t waste a second. “Respect the hell out of you right now, Cohen. It’s not a secret that Dani means the world to me and, if I could keep her under my wing for the rest of my life, I fucking would. But,” he sighs, “I was reminded that it’s time to let go and let her fly. Pleased as fuck that she’s flying to a man I admire and that I believe is man enough for my girl. Just fucking remember, she was my girl before she was yours. There are things going on here that are much bigger than you and me. Things that I have no right in passing on to you, but I can’t stress it enough that you need to either get home or get ahold of Dani. ”

  “Ax—”

  “I know what it’s like to be over there, Cohen. To make sure your focus doesn’t waver and that you don’t end up dead. I’ve lived that shit, so I fuck
ing know. But I wouldn’t have gotten word to you if I didn’t feel it was needed. Dani’s threats have picked up in a sense. Flowers stopped, but she got a letter the other day that makes me believe things are more than just an admirer. As much as it kills me, she doesn’t need or want her father right now. I know how Krajack works. You’ll be over there for years if he doesn’t wrap shit up. He picks your missions wisely. Some to keep your training sharp and some that are more than needed to help stop this motherfucking war. What I can’t stress enough is that what doesn’t serve a purpose need to be dropped so you can get back stateside. Move your missions up in order of importance and get home to my girl. She’s safe and I won’t let that fact change. Not now and not ever. ”

  “What the fuck! How is that not supposed to mess with my head, Axel?”

  “That wasn’t the purpose, but you need to know that shit’s going down that doesn’t look like it’s going away any time soon. You need to know that your clock isn’t going to just keep ticking and that it’s time to get the fuck home. ”

  “You’re telling me that I shouldn’t be worried some freak is after my girl and that I should be home?”

  “What I’m telling you is that you need to turn into that little invincible shit you were as a kid. Do your job and do it quick. Then get the fuck home. ”

  “You have to know this isn’t going to do shit but make me worry about her. ”

  “I won’t let shit happen to her,” he vows.

  “You better not, Axel. I know you love her. That can’t be argued, but I would die for that girl. I would die for her and kill any motherfucker who harms a hair on her head. I’ll talk to Krajack and see what needs to be done to cut our time here down. ”

  “You do that,” he says, and the line goes dead.

  I drop the phone on the table, more confused than I was before I called home. All of these vague hints and half tells. Not one thing I can grasp that makes me feel confident that she is okay until I get home.

  “He’s right, you know?” Krajack says from my side. “We pick and choose between training exercises that serve no purpose other than to sharpen your skills and those that eliminating the enemy. I was hoping to have four to seven more months left with you over here, but with this intel, I’ll do my best to cut that in half. Best I can do. Keep your head where it needs to be, Cohen. I can’t afford for you to lose your focus. ”

  “I appreciate that, sir. ” I sigh with resignation that I’m stuck here and my girl needs me.

  This is going to be the hardest next few months of my life.

  Three months later

  THINGS HAVE BEEN A LITTLE easier these last three months. I still miss Cohen, but shortly after I found out about the baby, he was able to get a message through e-mail that he would be home soon. Of course, his soon was in the next few months, but that was better than the unknown timeframe we had been working with since he left.

  Page 62

  With the push of strength that his short e-mail gave me, I felt like I could face the world. We still didn’t know exactly when he would return, but we knew it would be soon.

  Things at work have been easier, too. When I got back after my fall, Sway was predictably in his extreme mothering mode. He would only let me work half days, and those days that I did work were always light. No coloring or heavy treatments. I was restricted to cuts and the like. Actually, now that I think about it, he hasn’t let me do a color in almost a month. Every single time, he intercepts my client.

  Devon wasn’t too happy about losing his star drama maker, but he worked it in as me being too depressed to work because of my lover having broken my heart.

  Whatever.

  Surprisingly, Don’s been the annoying one this time. He seems to think my sole purpose in life is to make his job easier by making sure I do things for ratings alone. He wants certain shots, or for me to do one of the lines he has written to give the show more drama, or the one time he asked me to fake a fight with Stella and fake slap her.

  I don’t fucking think so.

  Mark’s actually been the voice of reason this time. He joined me for lunch in the breakroom a few times before they left to go back to California, and I like to think we had some sort of a friendship. I gave him some pointers on how to win over the girl he’s been dating. I guess you could say I have a soft spot for the guy now.

  Of course, they haven’t been around for almost two months. There was apparently a big issue with Devon’s production team back home. Some big-time embezzlement stuff with the higher-ups, and until they could recover some funding that was stolen, they had to pause filming. Last we heard from Sway was that today would be their first day back. I am looking forward to seeing them. I hope that Mark was able to use some of my tips to get closer to his girl.

  Unfortunately, one thing that didn’t stop in the last three months was the weekly flower deliveries. They picked up about two weeks after the letter that was found on my car. So far, they’ve been impossible to track, always paid for with a prepaid Visa, and the order placed online. Maddox, the IT guru at Corps Security, has been struggling to actually nail down a location since whoever is actually placing the orders is smart about covering his tracks. So far, the orders have been placed in different locations all over the globe. Well, according the IP addresses, that is.

  Needless to say, things have been a little on edge with no answers.

  Between Lee and my brother, there has always been someone sleeping at our house. Dad had what already was a top-of-the-line security system replaced with one I still needed a manual to figure out. He’s gotten even worse since I started showing. It’s like my belly’s growing—the sign that the baby is in fact very real—kicked his protective tendencies into overdrive. That tangible sight was all it took. He went as far as to steal my car keys two weeks ago and demand that I let him pick me up for work from that day forward. That was short-lived and got him in the doghouse with Mom for almost a week.

  Never a dull moment with him.

  Another thing that has changed is my new friendship with Megan. I really feel terrible about my first impression of her when I thought that she was dating Cohen. She’s become a huge support and go-to person for advice. Chance told me that my friendship and the bond she can give me over my pregnancy has given her something to focus on, and he thinks it’s helping her heal. She has her moments, but I think he’s right.

  “What are you going to wear today? Planning on showing off that adorable little bump for the cameras?” Megan asks from where she’s lounging on my chaise lounge in the corner of my room.

  I look over at her in the mirror I’m using to fix my makeup. She has Molly, her adorable four-year-old daughter, bouncing on her feet with a smile dancing across her beautiful face.

  “I think so. Now that I’m over that weird ‘I’m not fat—I’m pregnant’ stage, I find myself wearing the tightest things I can find just so I can show it off. ”

  “Dani?” I hear Molly say in her singsong voice. She sounds like a little angel. “Can I play with your jewsree?”

  “Sure thing, tink. ” I ruffle her blond curls when she skips towards my dresser.

  “You know she’s going to destroy your jewelry box again,” Megan laughs.

  “Eh, let her have at it. I moved all my valuable pieces after the last time. I swear she broke my heart with those tears. I almost told her she could have my grandmother’s hand-me-down pearls!” I tease.

  “Tell me about it. I would probably give that girl anything she wants with just the smallest tear. God help me, she’s spoiled rotten. ”

  Page 63

  “Nah, she’s just well loved. ” I give her a smile and pull on my tight, black dress. It hugs my belly perfectly, and the pencil skirt makes my legs look great. I’ve been putting on a little weight in my thighs, but now that I look closely, I just look curvier. My breasts, on the other hand, have really benefited from my pregnancy. I actually have cleavage without havin
g to use a damn good expensive bra to get. “How are you doing, Megs?” I ask, pulling on my black silk blouse.

  Today is the second birthday of her late husband since he passed away. It’s a testament to how far she’s come since the sad girl who was at Cohen’s going away party. She’s smiling today when I fully expected her to be locked in her house, crying.

  “I’m doing a lot better, Dani. Really, I am. It gets easier every day that passes. I still miss him like crazy, but I’m trying to follow your lead and see the beautiful things in life and focus less on the things that I can’t change. I was a mess when he was deployed during my pregnancy with Molly. I still don’t know how you’re able to wake up every day with such a positive outlook. ”

  I look over at her with a small smile. “I don’t know if it’s so much of a positive outlook or the knowledge that, regardless of what life throws at me, I’ve been blessed with what life I’ve lived. I can’t spend my life worrying about what might be or what could have been. I lost a lot of time with Cohen. We had one brilliant, eye-opening night together, and it might sound ridiculous, but if that was the last night I ever have with him, I’ll cherish it forever. ”

  She gives me a nod, and I know she understands. We’ve talked about her holding on to her happier memories and letting go of the hard ones. She understands where I’m coming from.

  I know it sounds stupid. One night of us being an “us” was all it took for me. I could have had an hour and the outcome would have been the same. He’s the other half to my heart. It’s been like that for as long as I’ve known him, and no time frame could change that.

  I look over my bed at the photo I had blown up and framed in a huge display of just how much I miss the man.

  The image my mother gave me months ago—the one of Cohen and me sitting on my parents’ dock almost twenty years ago. The one that proves that we’ve been building this connection for longer than we both could even imagine.

  I spend a little more time with Megan and Molly before I have to head into work. After hating the cameras in my face for so long, it’s going to be weird embracing them today. Megan was right. Now that my bump is one hundred percent recognizable, I want the world to know about my little baby.

  “Hey, Sway,” I say when I walk into the salon.

 
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