Unexpected fate, p.6
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       Unexpected Fate, p.6

         Part #1 of Hope Town series by Harper Sloan
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  I spend the next few minutes looking all over for my car keys. I need to get the last of my clothes and shoes out so I can start organizing my closet. My purses and the first, second, and third waves of my clothes and shoes came over early this morning. The girls left to get dinner a little while ago, so I knew they wouldn’t be any help.

  “Where the hell are they?” I grumble, looking in the coat closet before moving into the living room, which is just off the entryway, and bending over to look under the couch.

  “Looking for these?”

  I jump when I hear Cohen speak in a gruff tone just behind me. Coming off the floor with a squeal, I land right in his arms, my back pressed firmly against his chest and his arms clasping my arms to keep my steady.

  “You jerk! Are you trying to give me a heart attack!?” I yell as I push back against him and try to move away. I realize my mistake instantly when I feel him go statue still and his harsh intake of breath against my ear. Then I feel him, really feel him, hard and hot against my back, and it’s my turn to groan.

  “I wasn’t trying to sneak up on you. ” His hips move almost as if they have a mind of their own. “You just didn’t hear me call your name. ”

  “Can you let me go?” I ask.

  “Why, Dani-girl? Scared?” He hums when I push back lightly and roll my hips.

  “Hardly. Just depends on if you want Nate and Lee to see you manhandling me when they come down here. ” I’m only half joking. I wouldn’t call what I’m feeling scared. Well, not scared of him. Scared of the enormity of these feelings? Absolutely.

  “I’ll hear them coming,” he responds.

  His hands shift, and then he spins me so that we’re facing. I look up until our eyes meet, and my breath comes out in a whoosh.

  “You’re so beautiful,” he mumbles.

  “Thanks,” I reply lamely. Thanks?

  He laughs and drops his head some, his brown eyes becoming so dark that they’re almost black.

  And that’s when I hear dumb and dumber with the worst-possible timing in the world arguing about real tits versus fake tits, stomping down the stairs. Cohen drops his forehead against mine, gives my arms a squeeze, and then steps back. I watch, baffled, as he reaches out and holds my car keys up. Mutely, I take them from his hooked finger and watch as he walks away, over to my brother and Lee and starts to weigh in on their conversation.

  Humiliatingly enough, he sides with the fake tit side.

  I could be agreeing that the sky is green and the grass is blue. I have no fucking clue what these two are talking about. I enter in and pretend I have a care about the topic, grunting when I feel would be appropriate, and steal glances over at Dani as she drops her shoulders, her head dropping and her eyes focused on the floor in front of her. She looks so deflated. I just want to pull her back in my arms and take that kiss that was just seconds away from finally happening. Take her in my arms and promise her the world.

  But then I remember why I’ve been holding back and realize I made the right move. She gives me a sad glance before squaring her shoulders and walking out the front door.

  I finally tune in to the conversation around me and shake my head when I realize what they’re talking about.

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  “If you prefer fake tits, then something is wrong with you, Nate,” I say and sigh. “There is something to be said about feeling a woman, all woman, in your palms and you just can’t get the same feelings when you can feel a bag of fluid rolling around under your fingertips. ”

  They both look at me like I’m a fool, and I look between the two of them while playing my words back in my head, trying to figure out what the hell their issue is.

  “Dude, two seconds ago, you agreed with me when I said big, huge, fake tits is the way to go. ” Nate reaches out and puts his hand against my forehead before continuing. “Are you feeling okay there, big guy?”

  Belatedly, it hits me that Dani might have heard me, and I groan.

  Shit.

  “I’m fine, asshole. I just have a lot on my mind. ” Which isn’t a lie. I have a shitload of things I need to do before I leave, and on top of all that, this thing, whatever it is, between Dani and me has me running in circles around myself.

  “Sure you do, Coh. Do you need anything?” Nate asks, no trace of humor left in his tone.

  “Nah. Just need to work on things myself. I’ve got some loose ends I need to tie up before I leave. Mom and the girls are having a hard time with it. Cam and Colt haven’t said as much, but I know they’re worried, and Dad is being Dad. ” All true. I leave out that I also need to figure out what the hell I’m going to do with Dani too before I leave. If I leave things how they are, knowing I’ll be gone for a while, I’ll constantly be thinking about it. If anything, I need to sit her down and at least explain why I’m holding back when it’s clear we both want this.

  Well, it’s clear to me that I want her and she wants me. I’m guessing she has no clue the depth of my desire for her.

  “Makes sense. Don’t worry though. We’ll watch out for the girls,” Lee, ever the peacekeeper and do-gooder, says.

  If Dani were best friends with any other guy, I would probably shit a green brick of jealousy, but not with Liam. He’s helped me chase off more guys than I can remember, and I have no doubt he will continue when I leave.

  “Thanks, Lee. ” I slap him on the shoulder and give him a nod before I head to the door in search of Dani. I almost run into her when she comes back in with a stack of shoeboxes taller than she is. “Whoa, Dani!” Reaching up, I snag a few boxes and smile when her flushed face comes into view. “Show me to your room?”

  She nods, walks around me, and moves up the stairs. I watch her firm ass with rapture with each step I climb behind her.

  Yeah . . . we definitely need to have a talk.

  I CAN’T DO THIS ANYMORE. I just can’t. This hot-and-cold shit with him. Me suddenly forgetting how to act like a normal adult around him. All of it. I’m just so tired of it all.

  I’ve always known he would be stupid to love. I’ve known it since before I made that last tumble ass over elbows and landed in a mass of limbs. I knew before the fall that it would be a painful tumble¸ but I still jumped and fell in love with him regardless.

  “Dani, look at me,” he implores when we step in to my room and place the boxes on the floor of my walk-in closet. “Please,” he adds.

  With a deep breath, I turn and look him in the eye. Gone is the boiling lust, and what’s taken its place is acceptance that we won’t ever be.

  “Talk to me,” he pleads.

  “What do you want me to say? You know how I feel, Cohen. I’ve told you before. I know you heard me in my sleep when I was sick. Plus, there is this . . . thing between us. Bottom line—you know how I feel and it isn’t your fault that you don’t return those feelings. ” I sigh and sit down on my chaise lounge, which Nate and Lee just placed in the middle of my room. “I’m tired of feeling like I need to run or act a certain way around you. It used to be easier to hide the way I feel. ”

  “I don’t want you to hide. Not from me. ”

  I feel my brows pull in at his words, confused by the mixed signal.

  “I don’t want you to be anything but yourself around me,” he continues. “I just don’t know what to do about this, Dani. I know what’s right here. I know what I should and shouldn’t do when it comes to you. It’s just getting harder to keep those lines from blurring. ”

  “What are you saying, Cohen? Spit it out in plain terms so I don’t get your words mixed up and seek hope when there isn’t any to be found. ”

  His face hardens, and he takes a step towards me, leaning down, placing his hands on either side of my hips, and not stopping his body until his face is level with mine. His harsh breaths hit my lips, and I lean back, only to stop when his body follows the movement.

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  “When you were fifteen and you
sat in my parents’ basement, you told me that, one day, I would see you the way you see me. You told me that you would be waiting, Dani. Waiting for me to become yours and you mine. I wasn’t ready, but that doesn’t mean that I didn’t see you and haven’t seen you every day since and thought about what it would be to have you. You told me you would be waiting. You sat there with all the courage in the world and laid it out there, Dani. Are you telling me now that you take it back?”

  “You remember that?” I gasp.

  When he starts talking next, I swear that my heart stops. Shock. But complete wonderment. His voice, a pitch higher, whispers the words I said to him almost ten years ago verbatim. I should know—I practiced them for weeks in the mirror before I worked up the courage to actually say them to him. They were words I would never forget. Especially since he treated me with the indifference of a good friend after—until recently.

  “I’m going to miss you, Cohen. I know you don’t look at me like I look at you, but one day, you’re going to come back and I’ll still be waiting for you. Waiting for you to see me like I see you. Mark my words, Cohen Cage. One of these days, you’re going to be mine. And until you’re ready . . . I’ll be here. I’ll be waiting. ”

  Holy shit.

  “Holy shit,” I repeat out loud when he stops talking. “I can’t believe you remember that. ”

  “I will never forget it,” he vows.

  “What does that even mean?” I throw back. Once again, here he goes with his hot-and-cold shit.

  “That means exactly that. I won’t ever forget it. Just because I haven’t acted on this chemistry between us doesn’t mean I don’t want to. Back then, I couldn’t. You know that it wouldn’t have been appropriate with our ages. And now . . . Now, I don’t even know what it is because my head is in a million different places right now. But one thing I know is that I’m getting ready to leave. I’m getting ready to leave and, Dani, I just can’t put you in the position of being in limbo for months, years, who knows, just so that I can feel what you feel like. ” He drops his head against mine and sighs. “I’ve never wanted someone as fiercely as I want you, Dani-girl. ”

  The tone of his voice is so heartbreaking that my chest clenches.

  “I wish it were a different world. One where I wasn’t leaving and our future wasn’t unknown. If it were, you would have been mine already. ” He gives me a sad, small kiss against my forehead—not pulling back for a few beats. He looks me in the eyes again before pulling himself up and walking out the door.

  Well, if that doesn’t suck, I don’t know what does.

  I might be grasping at straws here . . . but what he didn’t say was that we didn’t have a future at all. Just that he wasn’t sure what it was.

  It’s not much hope—but it’s something. And that was more than I had an hour ago.

  Two weeks later

  “DANI!” NATE YELLS UP THE stairs, his impatience clear as day. He just got here two minutes ago to pick me up and he’s already reached his patience level.

  “What?”

  “You need to stop putting all that shit on your face so we can get going. ”

  “I’m not ‘putting that shit’ on my face, Nate!” I yell back as I recap my mascara and go over my lips again with bright-red lipstick, giving myself one more look to make sure everything is perfect. I have to look perfect today.

  Summer has come to stay in Georgia. If my daddy saw me now, I’m sure he would have a fit over my outfit. I’ll have to deal with him later, but he won’t be able to do anything but complain about it by then. My jean shorts are just shy of what I would consider normal. They cover everything but show a lot—and I mean a lot—of leg. My red tank top is tight and gives me just enough of cleavage.

  I look hot.

  Really hot.

  My legs look amazing. Like, off-the-charts ahhhmazing. The shorts matched with my heels make them look longer than they are. Weeks of working daily at the gym and a few more pole dancing classes have them toned to perfection, and thanks to the sun, my tan is the perfect shade of dark. My long, chestnut locks are hanging down my back in soft waves, giving them that “I woke up like this” look even though it took me almost an hour to get each curl perfect. But my makeup might take the cake. Maddi did it before she left the house, going heavy on my eyes so that my green peepers would pop like crazy. I’m not vain, but I can safely admit that I look hot as hell.

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  It really is a shame that I look this good and I know it might not do any good. I’m frustrated. Ever since that day in my room, Cohen has been like a ghost. Any chance I thought I might have had to try to further our conversation was just kicked like a bug. He just disappeared.

  Okay, he didn’t disappear, but he didn’t exactly make it so that we could ever be alone to have a private chat. Nope. If I tried, he just wasn’t having it. He was hell-bent on keeping his distance, and that shit is ending tonight.

  Nate pulls up to the event hall—a rustic, old log cabin—and grunts a few times when he looks over at me, clearly trying to tell me by his caveman speech that he isn’t happy about my outfit.

  “What is your problem?” I ask, crossing my arms across my chest.

  His eyes narrow, and he grunts again.

  I give him a few grunts of my own. What the hell? Maybe he’ll understand what I’m trying to express verbally if I try to dumb it down to alpha speak.

  “What are you doing?” he asks with his head tilting like a confused dog when I grunt a few more times.

  “Well, dear brother, I’m trying to see if I attempt to vocalize as you and our father do that maybe you’ll answer me back. Clearly, I have no idea what has your panties in a twist today. You’ve been all snappy snapperson since we left my house. ”

  “You. ”

  “Uh . . . can we add a few words to that, maybe a dramatic pause for flair and express a coherent thought that is well thought out and planned to make sense so that it can be understood and processed?”

  “God, you can be such a bitch. ”

  I smile. “Oh? You say that like it’s a bad thing. ”

  He sighs and looks out the front window.

  “Seriously, Nate, what’s going on?”

  “It’s nothing, Dani. I’m taking my bad mood out on you. Doesn’t help that you’re dressed like a tramp just to gain Cohen’s attention. ”

  I look down at my outfit again. I don’t think it’s trampy. Sure, it’s showing my legs off and my top is tight, but I’m hardly indecent.

  “Okay, tramp might be too much, but couldn’t you have worn something that, I don’t know, covers all of that under your neck?” He gestures wildly to my body.

  “You’re being ridiculous. And I’m not wearing anything for Cohen. It’s summer, in Georgia, and, like, over a hundred degrees. I’m pretty sure this is considered overdressed by most. ”

  Okay, so I’m lying. He knows it. It could be considered slightly manic in my desperateness to get some sort of reaction from him.

  “You’re only going to get hurt, Dani,” he whispers so low that I almost miss it, and hearing him confirming my biggest fear brings tears to my eyes.

  “You don’t know that,” I argue weakly.

  He does know that though. Cohen’s his best friend. Regardless of the fact that he probably doesn’t like that I’ve always crushed on him, he’s never tried to stop me. Until now.

  “What do you know, Nate?”

  He doesn’t say anything for the longest time. He just continues to look out the window, taking in all of our extended family as they mill about the parking lot and outside the venue. I follow his gaze when I see it soften slightly and see Ember Locke waving at our direction. Her face falls when Nate doesn’t acknowledge her and she looks over at me. I give her a weak smile but bring my attention back to my brother.

  “He’s bringing a date, Dani. ”

  And cue heart stop.

  It just
drops right into my stomach.

  In all the years I’ve loved Cohen Cage from afar, he’s never, not once, brought one of his dates around the family. I’m not stupid. I know he dates. He practically has girls falling over themselves to get his attention. But throughout the years, he’s never brought them around. And with everything that’s been going on between us for over a month now, I really didn’t think he would stoop this low just to get me to leave him alone. Maybe he didn’t mean to leave a trail of hope in his little goodbye speech the other day.

  “What?” I gasp.

  “You heard me, Dani. Don’t make me say it again. ”

  “Is it . . . is it serious?”

  “He’s bringing her, isn’t he?” He looks over, and I can tell he hates that he is hurting me right now. “I’ve only met her a few times. She’s nice enough. I honestly don’t know her or their relationship well enough to tell you any more. He’s bringing Chance, too. ”

  “Oh,” I say, looking back out the window.

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  “Yeah, oh,” he parrots, reaching over and grabbing my hand to give me a strong, reassuring squeeze. “Come on, little princess. Let’s get this over with. ”

  When we make it inside, things are predictably insane. Whenever we all get together, things tend to go that way. I love my family, but sometimes—like right now—they’re just too much.

  The room is huge, set up that way to ensure plenty of space for the number of guests they plan on attending. Numerous tables are scattered throughout the middle of the room, with some space for the food tables, DJ, a bar, and a huge stage set up across the room. It’s typically used for small, local concerts and some wedding receptions. I guess you could consider it country chic, with the log cabin look from outside continuing inside. They’ve added crystal chandeliers to the vaulted ceilings and carried the décor to the table settings. Mason jars full of wildflowers are at each table, American flags sticking out the center of each, with a red-white-and-blue theme for each table. My attention goes back to the large stage, which takes up the whole back end of the room. It’s covered in a thick, red curtain—and I officially decide that it will be my escape later.

  Obviously, Mom, Dee, and Melissa went all out. I see Mom at the far side of the large room talking to Dee and Emmy. She’s waving her arms around like a windmill, so she’s clearly worked up about something. Daddy is standing by the bar with Beck and Asher. He looks up when we walk in. As always, he knows when one of his girls is near, and I have no doubt, judging by the way his eyes go hard, that he knows I’m upset. Or he’s noticed my outfit. I give him a bright smile, which he doesn’t buy for one second, and I move around Nate to go find Maddi.

 
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