Unexpected fate, p.22
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       Unexpected Fate, p.22
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         Part #1 of Hope Town series by Harper Sloan
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  Right when my booted foot touches the bottom step, I hear a sound that stops my heart. I look over at Nate to see if he heard it and see all the color drain from his face.

  “Fuck!” I yell and start to bound up the steps in threes. “Call Cohen, Nate. Call Cohen and then call your dad. ” I keep running, letting my training take over and my instincts kick in.

  For the last two months, I’ve been in training with the local police department, and for the first time, I’m thankful for every second of that training. I don’t look behind me to see if Nate’s coming. I grab my cell and dial 911 as I continue up the stairs. As I reach their landing, the operator picks up and I give her the short version of what I know. Which is nothing. After rattling off Cohen’s address and telling her to send an ambulance as well as the police, I stop talking and ease up on the cracked door.

  “Sir, is the intruder still on the scene?” the female voice says through the line.

  I feel Nate coming up behind me and hand him the phone. I hardly register his response to the operator. When I don’t hear anything from inside the apartment, I slowly toe open the door and ease inside.

  What I see is a scene I will never forget. If I should live to be one hundred, this image will still be branded in my mind. The walls, floor, and tan couches are all stained red.

  Blood red.

  I can’t see over the loveseat that blocks the view from the doorway into the living room, but I see Chance’s crumpled form behind it, and I slowly move towards him and check for a pulse.

  Strong and steady, thank Christ.

  He has one hell of a bump forming on his forehead, and I check the knife wound he has to his left shoulder, but it’s a clean cut that isn’t bleeding heavily anymore.

  I stand, move around the chair, and feel a sob bubble up my throat.

  “Dani!” I yell and rush towards her. I step over the unrecognizable man that is lying—unmoving—in front of her.

  “He has the knife,” I hear Nate say weakly behind me. He rushes forward and kicks it away before checking the douchebag for a pulse. “Fuck! She fought, Lee. She fought while we were down there dicking around with a goddamn TV!” He stands and kicks the body behind me. “She fought hard enough that she killed a man threatening her with a knife with a damn lamp. ”

  I don’t move my eyes from Dani as I check for her pulse and find it weakly beating against my fingertips. “Help me stop the bleeding until the ambulance gets here, Nate!”

  We both rush, careful of her pregnant stomach, and hold down the wounds we can, and I look into Nate’s eyes and see the same panic I feel.

  That panic never leaves. Not while we soak through the towels we have held against her body and not when I notice that the pulse I keep checking is slowing down.

  Not once—even when the paramedics rush through the door and take over care.

  It doesn’t stop as we rush behind them as they carry an unmoving Dani on a stretcher.

  And not when we’re speeding down the highway behind them on the way to the hospital.

  That panic never leaves, and I know that, if Dani doesn’t make it, it’s a feeling I’ll never get over.

  “Did you get Cohen?” I whisper towards Nate.

  He’s rubbing his bloodstained hands together and doesn’t move his eyes from the back of the ambulance holding his sister.

  “No. ”

  I look away from the road, shocked. “No?”

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  “He didn’t answer and I rushed after you before I called back. I’ll do that now,” he says with a monotone voice. His movements are robotic as he grabs my cell from the cupholder between us and presses the screen until I hear the ringing echoing throughout the cab.

  “What’s up, Lee?” Cohen asks when the call connects. He sounds happy, I notice. “I should be back soon. I’ve—”

  “Coh,” I say, my voice cracking.

  He doesn’t say anything until I hear him roar through the phone. “Where is she?” he screams. “Where the fuck is she?!” I can hear the strain in his voice, and I imagine that he’s running towards his truck.

  “We’re headed to Grady Memorial, Cohen. She’s in the ambulance in front of us. ”

  “Is she—”

  “I don’t know, brother. I honestly just don’t know. ”

  Cohen disconnects the call, but not before I hear the sob that tears out of his throat.

  Another thing I’ll never forget.


  MY MIND GETS ME TO Grady on autopilot.

  Every second it takes to get me there feels like eternity. Not knowing how she is, the status of her injuries, is like fuel to the fire of my misery.

  After slamming the truck in park, I jump out and run towards the emergency entrance.

  Fifteen minutes after the call from Lee.

  Fifteen unknown minutes filled with thoughts of Dani and our child.

  “Coh. ”

  I look over when I hear Lee croak out my name, and when I take in his appearance, I drop to my knees and feel every second of those fifteen minutes weighing me down as I cry out for my family.

  It isn’t until I feel two strong hands press down on my shoulders that I look up and see both my father and Dani’s standing on either side of my fallen body.

  “Get up, son. Get up and pull yourself together and be there for Dani and the baby. Until you hear otherwise, you don’t ever fucking give up hope,” my dad says and holds his hand out to help me stand.

  I nod and accept his hand, standing and turning towards Axel. His eyes are red and bright with emotion. He doesn’t even try to stop the tears that are falling.

  “Her mother will be here soon. She was at the salon when we got word. Melissa went to get her. Let’s go get word on our girl so that I can give my wife something good to focus on, yeah?” He doesn’t stick around to see if I follow.

  I push down my despair and follow behind my girl’s father, praying with every fiber in my being that we get that good news.

  When Izzy came crashing through the emergency room doors with Melissa, Dee, and Sway hot on her heels, we were still waiting for word from the doctor. Shortly after they arrived, my sisters and brothers rushed in. Lyn and Lila rushed to my side and wrapped their arms around me. My brothers, never the ones to wear their emotions on their sleeves, went to Mom’s side but looked at me with unmasked sympathy.

  It didn’t take long before we had overtaken the emergency room and were taken to a private room. Maddox and Cooper showed up with their families in tow. Beck came in next, and after checking on Lee, he grabbed his wife and has held them both in his arms since. Megan was the last one to show, explaining that she got here as quickly as she could find a sitter for Molly.

  Chance walked into the room last, and there wasn’t an eye that didn’t land on him. I untangled my body from the girls and walked over to him, grabbing his shoulder and pulling his body in toward mine, hugging him tight.

  “I’m sorry,” he rasps. “I’m so fucking sorry. I didn’t even see him,” His voice breaks, and I hold him as he loses it.

  “Don’t. He got the jump on you, Chance. You can’t blame yourself for a crazy fuck getting the jump on you. ”

  “It was my job to keep her safe, Cohen. My fucking job. ”

  “No, it was my job. A job that, when she pulls through from this, I will never, not once, take a break from,” I vow.

  I can tell he doesn’t believe me. His guilt and worry are getting the best of him. I shake my head, and after watching him walk over to the chairs on the other side of the room—away from everyone else, who’s huddled together—I walk back over to where Lyn and Lila are sobbing softly to each other and take them in my arms.

  And wait.

  “Reid family?”

  My eyes snap up from the floor, and I rush from my post against the wall.

  “Yeah. That’s me. Well, us. That’s us. ”

  “And you are?” the doctor asks.

  “Her husband,” I hear and look over my shoulder to see Axel stand next to me. “And I’m her father. How is my daughter?”

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  The doctor looks between Axel and me before he moves his eyes to the clipboard in his hands.

  “Sir, your wife lost a good bit of blood, but we were able to replenish that quickly and she was very lucky that her wounds weren’t deeper than they were. The blade missed two major arteries by a hair. She went into labor in transit, and after delivery, our major concern was blood loss and the wound that she had gotten to her side. I can’t stress enough just how lucky your wife is. ”

  “She’s okay?” I question.

  The doctor looks between us again, and for the first time, I notice the noise around us as the family realizes that she’s alive and going to be fine.

  “The baby?” Axel asks.

  And just like that, the room is silenced.

  “Ah . . . ” He looks down at his notes. “You’ll have to excuse me. I was in charge of your wife, and after delivery, she became my sole patient. ” He moves a few things before pausing to read some notes. “It says here that the baby is in the NICU at the moment being monitored, but for a thirty-two-week baby, his vitals are strong. ”

  “His?” I choke out.

  “Yes, his. Congratulations. You have a son. ”

  And then I pass out.

  I OPEN MY EYES AND jerk when my last memories hit my like a tsunami.

  Mark. The knife. The lamp. And my will to live—to fight.

  “She’s waking up, honey. ”

  I move my head and look at my mom, who is standing on the left side of my bed. My daddy is standing right behind her with his arms wrapped tight around her, their eyes red and swollen. I move my eyes around the room and see Nate, his eyes dripping with tears. I give him a weak smile, and he turns his face from mine as he struggles to take control of his emotions.

  I continue my rotation until I look down at the weight pressing against my hip. The dark-brown hair buzzed on the side and overgrown on the top. The strong shoulders heaving with emotion. And I feel his tears wetting my hand he’s holding against his parted lips.

  My heart breaks for the pain he’s in, and I know there isn’t anything I can do to ease it until he works out on his own whatever is running through his mind. I squeeze him, anxious to see those dark-brown eyes. I need him to see that I’m okay—I need to see that he’s okay.

  “Cohen—” I rasp and clear my throat. “Baby,” I beg, feeling my own tears roll down my cheeks.

  His shoulders start to heave when my voice hits his ears. I watch helplessly as the man I love falls apart. I look over to my parents and pray for answers, but I watch as my mom’s own tears cascade down her porcelain skin. My dad has his head bowed and his forehead resting against her shoulder, his body hunched in a way I know can’t be comfortable. I hear the door click and look over to see that Nate has left the room.

  Without getting any help, I move my attention back to Cohen and try again. “Baby, please look at me. I need your eyes. ”

  He struggles to control his emotions, and I watch with my eyes filling with tears as he lifts his head and I get a good look at my handsome man.

  His chocolate eyes are filled with pain, and through the red-rimmed swelling around them, his tears continue to fall. His lips are dry from what I’m guessing is the sobbing I felt against my skin.

  I reach up and run my fingers across his cheek. “It’s you and me against the world, Cohen. Never goodbye, remember?”

  He closes his eyes at my words and gives me a nod. I watch as he struggles again, but he wins against his pain, and when he opens his eyes again, I see my Cohen looking back at me.

  “Just see you soon,” he sighs.

  “Every time I close my eyes. ”

  He smiles. It’s slightly wobbly, but it’s a smile nonetheless, and I return it.

  “We have a son,” he says in reverence.

  “He’s okay?” I study his face for clues, and when the little sadness that was left in his eyes vanishes and he hits me with the full force of his smile, my heart bursts.

  “He’s perfect. ”

  “Perfect,” I cry. “Tell me more,” I beg.

  “He’s big considering he was preterm. Just under five pounds, but he’s a fighter, Dani-girl. They have him in NICU being monitored, but when I spoke to the nurse, she said she could see him coming home in a month at the most. He looks like me,” he adds with his smile growing. “With your lips. ”

  I soak it in, the fact that we have a son. Cohen and my baby together. Our little fighter.

  Seems fitting that a love we’ve both been fighting to withstand, overcome, and, in the end, fight for would produce a little miracle that was a fighter in his own right.

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  “Our little fighter,” I say, repeating the words I just thought.

  He nods, and I swallow the lump in my throat.

  “I thought I lost you,” he says after studying my face for the longest time.

  “Never, baby. Never. ”

  “I thought I lost you, and that was one of the most terrifying experiences I have ever felt. I won’t spend another second without you being mine. I mean it, Dani. When we get you and our boy home, I’ll drag you right to the courthouse, but you will be mine. ”

  I reach out, wrap my hand around the back of his neck, and pull him towards me. “When you learn how to ask me, then we’ll talk. ”

  His eyes flash, and his leans down to give me a deep kiss. I hear a growl from my side and smile against his lips.

  “Hush, Axel. ”

  I feel Cohen laughing softly against my mouth, and I join him only seconds after.

  Four Weeks Later

  “Cohen!” I yell up the stairs. “We don’t need the diaper bag. Come on please. I need to get him home. ”

  I smile when he comes bounding down the stairs and scoops me up in his arms, twirling me in a circle before placing me back on my feet.

  “Our boy is coming home today!” he bellows through the room, the sound bouncing off each wall and echoing through our house.

  “Stop acting crazy and take me to our son,” I beg with a smile on my face.

  For four long weeks—a solid month of going back and forth—we’ve been spending every second we had between the house and the hospital. With the help of our mothers, his sisters, and Megan, our house was fully decorated and the baby’s nursery fully stocked before I even left the hospital. They kept me for four days to monitor my injuries as well as my recovery from my C-section, and since my emotions were so crazy when I got home, I cried for hours as I walked from room to room before finally settling in the nursery glider.

  It was hard to come home without our baby, and I suffered from a bit of postpartum depression, so things amplified after that. I needed my son home and there just wasn’t anything that would make that feeling better.

  Cohen was my rock through it all. He held me when I needed to cry and then again when I needed to scream. He talked me through every second of pain I felt over the events that had happened and taught me that it wasn’t right to feel guilt over a second of it.

  Easier said than done. Because some crazy man had fixated on me, and I’d entertained that by thinking he was a friend. We’d almost lost our son—and Cohen had almost lost us both.

  I know it’s irrational, that guilt, but it’s part of the healing process. Or so I’m told by my therapist. But it’s a feeling I’m not alone in carrying. Nate had a hard time coping after the attack. He felt guilt worse than mine because he hadn’t been in the room. Lee was dealing with similar issues, but he was able to rationalize his pain and focus on the positive—that he was able to save me. They have both joined me for more than a few of my therapy sessions, and I know they’ve been helping us all heal. Cohen is there for everyone. We’ve talke
d about how he felt and how he’s coping with it all. I wasn’t surprised in the least that he was still feeling a deep fear about losing me.

  He’s been working on his issues with letting me out of his sight. It took my father’s sitting him down for him to finally come to terms with the fact that what had happened was a horrible, traumatic experience, and that, if we can’t focus on moving forward and healing, then it will just drag us down until we’re smothered in memories.

  In the end, we were helpless and in a situation beyond our control. Had it not been for their swift response, I have no doubt that both the baby and I would have died in that apartment.

  Chance is another part of the reason I’ve been struggling with so much pain. It kills me that he blamed himself—likely still does. But until he’s ready to cope with that and work on healing, I’m afraid there isn’t anything I can do.

  It’s been easier. He comes around, but I notice that his eyes never leave mine. Like he’s afraid to look away for fear that someone might attack. He threw himself into the investigation of Mark Seymour like a man possessed.

  We found out about two weeks after I was released from the hospital that Mark had been staying in the apartment directly under Cohen’s. Not only had he been watching me for over a year, but he had also had a sick collection of photos of him and me that were horribly Photoshopped. He had created a whole fantasy life—albums after albums of us.

  If that weren’t bad enough, he had set up the apartment with items of mine that he had stolen throughout the year. Things I hadn’t even known were missing. He had a whole life made up for us, and the only thing that was missing was . . . me.

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  After his death, the police were able to locate the bodies of the two men he had slain before he’d stormed us that day. He had left detailed notes about where he’d tossed their bodies. At least, with that, their families would get some closure.

  It’s been hard for everyone. We are struggling with just how insane the man who almost stole my life before it could truly begin was, but we’re all slowly healing. Today will be a big step in that process.

  “I can’t wait to get him home, Cohen. To show him the house and have him under our roof. ”

  Cohen reaches over and grabs my hand, the one he placed a ridiculously huge diamond on three weeks ago—without proposing. “Same here, Dani-girl. It’s going to feel damn good to have my family together in our home. ” He kisses my knuckles, flicks my ring with his thumb, and looks out the windshield with a huge grin.

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