Unexpected fate, p.18
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       Unexpected Fate, p.18
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         Part #1 of Hope Town series by Harper Sloan
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  “I’m going to be a father,” I gasp, holding on to the countertop with a white-knuckled grip. “Holy shit,” I breathe.

  Dad laughs, and Mom smiles. It isn’t lost on me that they’re excited about this news.

  “Do you know if it’s a boy or girl?” I question.

  Dad opens his mouth to respond, but Mom beats him to it. “I talked to Izzy about it last week and she said that Dani had refused to find out. She said that she didn’t want to know unless you were right there with her to find out at the same time. She held strong on that she didn’t want to know until you were home—or obviously if she went into labor. Izzy said that Dani believed that you were going to be missing so much that she didn’t want to take that away from you. ” Mom smiles and leans against my dad’s side.

  “Shit,” I puff, once again feeling the extremes of my rushed judgment.

  Even through everything she’s been going through alone, she still put me and my feelings ahead of her own. I’m sure she wants to know what we’re having, and that she wanted me there badly enough to wait for something that huge is humbling. And it makes me feel like an even bigger jackass for even thinking that she had been with another man. The girl saved herself for me for almost twenty-two years.

  “I think I need to go to my girl,” I state. “Shit. What if she’s so pissed she isn’t even willing to hear me out?”

  “Son, the one thing I know from experience is there is no problem too big for true love to conquer. Just take a look around you. Everyone you know has been faced with a challenge in their relationships. Challenges that, even at the time, felt unbeatable, but if what you had—for however brief before you left—gave you even a sliver of promise that I think it did, then you don’t stop until you fix what’s broken. ”

  When I don’t speak, Mom picks up where he left off. “You’ve been pushing her away for years, my sweet boy. I know you struggled with how you felt for her, so it was no shock for me when I found out that you two had finally come together. I hurt for you—so badly—when you had to leave before you two even got started, but I knew, I just knew, that you two had that ‘staying power’ kind of love that I felt when I met your dad. Nothing—and I mean nothing—can change that. You’re going to screw up—that’s a promise—but all that matters is that you work your hardest to fix it. ” She walks over and wraps her arms around me. Standing on her toes, she kisses me on my stubbled cheek. “You, my darling boy, need to stop thinking that you aren’t allowed to feel the way you do for the woman you love. It was only a shock to her hardheaded father, but according to Izzy, he’s admitted how to-the-moon happy he is that his baby girl has found a man he truly thinks is worthy of her love. ”

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  That feeling I had in my throat earlier comes back, but this time, I’m able to clear my throat and push it down. Hope is blossoming in my chest at her words.

  “I know you’re eager to go find her, but I think we need to address a few things before you leave, son . . . alone. ” He gives Mom a look, and she returns it with a small, worried nod.

  “I’ll leave you two. I love you, Cohen. I’m so happy that you’re home safe. ”

  I give her a hug, bend to kiss her cheek, and follow my dad into his office.

  He shuts the door behind him and walks to lean against his desk. “You aren’t going to like this, Cohen. ”

  “I figured as much when you mentioned this needed to be done without Mom. I’m guessing she doesn’t know?”

  “She knows enough that she’s aware of the issues that have been going on. However, she doesn’t have a single clue at how dire they’ve become as of today. I’ve got to say, you have incredible timing, son. ”

  He takes a deep breath, and without thought, I steel myself for whatever news he has to share with me. I’m guessing that it has everything to do with that ominous message from Chance and the chat with Axel. The one that was instrumental in having Krajack rush my assignments and my ass back home in record time.

  “You know about the flowers. The first note she got was shocking enough that it’s had everyone on high alert. She hasn’t been alone, not even for a second. ” He walks around the desk, hits a few keys, and turns the computer so I can see the scanned document.

  My skin crawls in outrage and anger when I read the words. When I think about how Dani must have felt when she saw this, my heart starts to beat wildly. Fuck. I should have been here for this. I should have been here to protect her from harm and I wasn’t. That is my burden to bear and one I’ll work every day for a lifetime and then some to make up for.

  “Is this the last of it?” I ask through clenched teeth.

  “Not even close. ”

  “Explain,” I spit, my mind going into survival mode, and the hunter I’ve been trained to be fights for control.

  “After the note, she passed out. ” He holds his hands up when I open my mouth to explode. “Stop and listen, Cohen. Don’t go off half-cocked until you know all the facts. Now that you’re home, you need to know what you’re up against. ”

  “Keep going,” I rush out.

  “The flowers didn’t start up right away, but they didn’t stop. We were able to intercept enough of them that Dani doesn’t even know just how bad it continued to be. Axel was concerned about her being in the early stages of pregnancy and what the added stress could do to her and the baby. Understandable considering his and Izzy’s past. We’ve tried, but thus far, we have been unsuccessful in tracking down the origin of the purchases. ”

  I can feel myself becoming angrier and angrier. The need to protect what’s mine is starting to manifest into a craving to kill whoever is threatening her safety.

  “I promise you, Cohen. She was never alone. Either there was someone at the girls’ house or she was at work. The few times she went out with everyone, there was always Liam, Nate, or Chance with her. As much as Axel hated it to begin with, her wanting to stay at your place so that she could be near you, whatever that means, gave us a little peace of mind because we all know that Chance is more than capable of protecting her. They’ve formed a friendship since you left and that’s all it is—a friendship. ”

  “I get that now. What else is there?”

  “Today, she was at work and ordered some lunch. I think she had been there for about five hours before she placed the order. According to the surveillance cameras we have placed in the doorway and on the salon floor, there wasn’t anyone alarming. Clients that Sway has confirmed are regulars and no new ones. The stylist and staff. The camera and production crew for that Sway All the Way show. That’s it. Dani ordered Chinese, and when the order came, the delivery person brought in the food, had her sign, and left. We lost her when she went into the breakroom to eat, but I’ve seen what she found when she opened the bag . . . and what it did to her. You aren’t going to like this,” he warned.

  “Just fucking tell me so I can get to her, Dad. ” My anger becomes a palpable thing.

  “What you need to do is calm down, because as pissed as this is going to make you, you need to be there for her. I have no doubt that what you saw was a terrified woman being comforted. Sway sent someone over for help, but with Axel and Beck out of town and Maddox up to his elbows in case backlog, Chance and I were the ones who showed up. Chance took her out of there while I waited for the police and secured the scene. ”

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  “What. Did. She. Find?” I grind out forcefully.

  He sighs and returns his attention to his computer. Within seconds, the monitor is turned my way and I have to fight the urge to throw up.

  My God! What in the fuck?

  “Someone has their sights on her, Cohen. This is one of the first times that she’s actually dressed to show off her stomach. Normally, she wears baggy clothing, and honestly, I wouldn’t have been able to tell until today. She dressed up—according to Megan, who rushed over to help Chance earlier—to show off her pregnancy because she knew the cameras w
ould be back after a two-month break. Whoever this is, they honestly didn’t know about the baby until today. That I’m almost positive about. ”

  “They’ve been watching my woman, Dad. Watching her close enough that this was a clear threat. You read that first letter. We’re dealing with a fucking lunatic. Someone who views her as theirs. What do you think is going to happen now that I’m home? Just by being with her, I’m placing her and my unborn child in danger. ”

  He studies my face for a beat. “But your being gone is killing her. Plain and simple, Cohen. It’s not been easy, despite the brave face she’s kept. You can protect her. You will protect her. Don’t let some stupid thought that she’s better off without you even enter your brain, son. I raised you better than that shit. ”

  I shouldn’t be surprised that he so clearly read me.

  “I need to go to her. ” I state.

  “You need to go to her,” he agrees.

  I give him a quick hug and all but rush out the door.

  With a renewed sense of confidence and the feelings of overwhelming fear for her and our child, I speed through the streets and make my way to the woman who I, just hours before, wronged.

  I have a lot to make up for, but my parents are right. When you feel something as powerful as what Dani and I share, you don’t ever stop fighting for that. I’ll be damned if I let some crazy fuck threaten the future I will have with Danielle Reid.

  I DIDN’T EVEN CRY WHEN Cohen stormed out of the apartment. The shock from the day still held my tears at bay. I wanted to. God, how I wanted to. But I managed to keep my shit together. When that door slammed shut, I stepped away from Chance and, without a word, locked myself in Cohen’s bedroom.

  I should be angry. I should be so mad that I leave and never look back. I should be a lot of things, but what I am is numb.

  Never did I think I would have that kind of reception from Cohen when he returned. I had envisioned it in my head over and over. The homecoming I would give him. How happy I would feel when I was able to tell him about our child. The love I would feel from him.

  I don’t know why I didn’t even stop to consider that he would look at me with distrust and accusations. I guess I just believed him to be better than that.

  I sigh and turn to my side, my nose burning with emotion but my eyes still dry. My hand carelessly rubs against the light kicking coming from my belly. I squeeze my eyes shut, willing the memories of this afternoon out of my head when I once again think about the terrible image that met me from the lunch sack.

  When I open my eyes again, I realize that I must have fallen asleep. The sun, which was been dropping when I laid my head down, is long gone, and through the window, the moon is casting a soft glow around the room. I can hear Chance moving around outside of the room. I should go talk to him. Ask him to at least take me home. But even with the earlier events, I don’t want to leave the one place where I’ve felt close to Cohen.

  I hear the doorknob shake, and it’s followed by some scratches. And then the light from the hall filters into the otherwise dark room.

  Looks like Chance got sick of waiting for me emerge.

  I keep my body still, waiting to see what he’ll do next. Chance isn’t exactly a man of many words, so I’m guessing I’ll get a quick, “Let’s go. ”

  I almost jump out of my skin when I feel the bed depress. I move to leap out of the bed when two steel bands carefully wrap themselves around my body and I’m pulled back against a hard, warm body. I struggle, panicking with the thoughts of Chance being in Cohen’s bed with me. That is, until the familiar scent of Cohen invades my senses and my body instantly deflates. The tears I was doing such a damn good job at holding off rush to the surface when I feel his body—a body I’ve missed for so damn long—hold me even closer.

  “Dani-girl,” he groans.

  His head drops to my neck, and I feel his lips against my skin before his arms let up slightly. But only long enough to travel from my chest and for his warm palms to stretch out against the small bump that holds our child within.

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  “God, Dani,” he breaths out with a slight tremor.

  That right there is all it takes for me to hiccup once, twice, and a third time before a huge sob vibrates through my body.

  “Baby,” he exhales. “I’m so fucking sorry, Dani. More sorry than you could ever imagine. ”

  It takes me a second to calm down, but when I do, I shift and turn in his arms, instantly missing the feeling of his hands against my belly.

  “You thought that I . . . that Chance and I . . . Cohen, you believed the worst in seconds. I haven’t set eyes on you in months, and the second I do, you actually believed that I had been with another man—Chance of all people. ”

  He drops his forehead to mine and doesn’t speak for the longest time. He runs his fingertips through my hair, down my face, and over my lips. His eyes follow every movement his hand makes. He doesn’t stop until his fingers are pushed into my hair and he’s holding my head in his hand. I wait until he locks eyes with me, unwilling to back down about how his reaction made me feel.

  “You have no idea what it’s been like to be without you this long, Cohen. My heart felt like it was only beating half beats. I felt like I was missing a part of myself for so long. I craved the day that you would return and I would feel whole again. I had that feeling for one night—one night, Cohen! I knew within hours of being with you that I would stop Heaven and Earth if it meant that I could just have one more second. I didn’t doubt in the power of that . . . the power of us. So please tell me how in the world you could take one look at me after all of that and think what you did. ”

  His eyes close tight before he opens them and looks at me, his lids filling with unshed tears.

  My mouth drops in shock. I have never seen him cry. Never. He’s always been someone who holds his emotions close, but not in a way that keeps him closed off. It’s just how he’s wired. So seeing him let me in so effortlessly and letting me physically see how much this is costing him is huge.

  “I can’t justify how I felt away with excuses, Dani. That is all it would be—one giant, fucking stupid excuse. I’ve been running on fumes since I got word that there was trouble brewing at home. Running on fumes that would bring me home to you, baby. I lived the knowledge that, if I just hurried up and finished my shit, you would be in my arms—where I could keep you safe. It’s been the only thing I could see for months. Months. The second I got back, I did what I needed to do so that I could get home to you. Drove through the night and into the day with one thought on my mind. You. When I walked in and saw you in Chance’s arms, I didn’t even see anything other than someone other than myself touching you when I haven’t been able to for fucking months. My jealousy got the best of me, and I can’t apologize enough for that. ”

  I narrow my eyes at him. “I saw your face, Cohen. You looked at me and saw my belly and thought the worst. Don’t even deny it. I got the same look from my own father, so trust me when I say that I know exactly what that looks like. I didn’t even dream that I would get that from you. ”

  His eyes flash, and I see the remorse dancing behind his sorrow. “I’m not proud of it, Dani. I’m fucking ashamed that I even let the thought, however brief, cross my mind. Nothing I say can make that up to you. Nothing. But I promise, baby, that I don’t think that you were unfaithful to me. ”

  “Yeah, Cohen, you do. Somewhere deep inside of you, you felt that. ”

  He shakes his head. “No, baby. I don’t. I promise you that. What I did feel was every single emotion and helpless feeling I’ve had crash into me at once. The pain of being away from you when I knew you needed me. The worry that I wouldn’t be here when you needed me. Everything that has haunted me day to day and week to week. That and the crash of adrenaline I had been riding high on since I got back stateside just got the best of me. My jealousy got the best of me and turned me into someone I’m not proud of.
I’ve never felt this way towards someone, Dani. It’s all new to me, and I guarantee you I’ll fuck up again, but I’ll spend my life making it up to you. God, Dani . . . please fucking tell me that I didn’t let my temper get the best of me and ruin us. ”

  One tear escapes his eye, which is followed by another, and another. His breathing is picking up, and his chest is rising rapidly under where my palms are resting.

  “You hurt me. ”

  “I know, baby. I know,” he sighs.

  “I’ve been dreaming of the day you would return to me and I would feel whole again. Dreamed of it, Cohen. Every night that you’ve been away from me, I’ve pleaded with God to bring you home in one piece. ”

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  “Fuck, Dani-girl,” he chokes out, his eyes closing and again tears leaking down his handsome face until they disappear in his stubble.

  “It’s been the only thing that’s kept me from falling apart with the shit life has thrown at me. You and your love. ”

  He doesn’t look up, but his arms lock even tighter around me and he pulls me closer to his warmth.

  “Even though you hurt me—and, God, did you hurt me—the only thing I craved since seeing your face again was this feeling right here. This feeling of your arms around me, your heart beating strong and healthy against my palm, and the life we created moving between us. Through all that pain, the only thing I wanted was the one person who’d caused it. ”

  “Stop, please, Dani,” he begs.

  “I’ve loved you for a lifetime, Cohen. A lifetime doesn’t just give up when the other part of me makes a mistake. A lifetime takes that mistake and turns it into a building block for an even stronger foundation. ”

  His eyes snap open and his hopeful gaze locks with mine. “Baby?”

  “I love you, Cohen. That will never change. But don’t ever hurt me like that again. I’m strong, baby, and I’ll make as many building blocks as we need until the day my last breath leaves my body, but don’t make me build them out of pain. ”

  His eyes flash, and in seconds, his lips are against mine.

  Hard and demanding.

  He takes my mouth in a bruising need that steals the breath right out of my lungs.

 
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