Unexpected fate, p.7
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       Unexpected Fate, p.7

         Part #1 of Hope Town series by Harper Sloan
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  She left the house almost an hour before me to come and help set up. The girls had spent the night back at their parents’ house so that they could spend more time with their brother, so I knew they wouldn’t be here yet.

  Liam stops me before I even get two feet into my quest for Maddi to say hey and gives me a big hug.

  “Are you okay?” he asks, not even breaking to say hello.

  Another infuriating side effect of being surrounded by overprotective alpha males is their inability to leave well enough alone. They sense that one of the females in our group is upset and they just can’t not try to fix it.

  “Stop, Lee. Don’t turn on your protector crap right now. I get it enough from Nate and Daddy. I’m fine. Just fine,” I snap.

  “Uh, right. I’m just . . . I’ll just go find Zac and Jaxon now. ” He holds his hands up in a mock surrender and walks slowly backwards. Away from me and my special brand of crazy.

  I watch him walk away until he stops where Asher and Chelcie’s boys are standing with Cam and Colt.

  “Aren’t you a happy camper. You were fine an hour ago. How could your day change so swiftly?” Maddi laughs, coming up to my side and wrapping her arm over my shoulders.

  I allow myself two seconds of soaking up her support before I duck under her arm, grab her hand, and drag her through the tables and out the back door.

  “What in the hell,” she mumbles, struggling to keep up with me. Which is laughable, really, with her long legs against my short ones.

  I let the back door slam behind us and pull her farther behind the building and the dumpsters. No way I’m chancing anyone overhearing us.

  “What has gotten in to you, Dani?” Maddi inquires when I finally drop her hand.

  “Did you know that Cohen was bringing a date?”

  “Do what? You’re kidding, right?”

  “Dead serious,” I all but yell. “Nate just told me in the car that he was bringing someone. That’s all I know. But, Maddi . . . surely it’s serious if he’s bringing her here! Oh my God, oh my God. I need to leave. That’s what I need to do. ”

  “Actually, you should probably just try and calm your shit down and stop acting like the world is over. It’s Cohen. I’m sure that she is just a friend or something. I don’t know, maybe she’s homeless and he is bringing her so she can get a meal. Maybe she is part alien and using him to get to know our culture. Whatever the case may be, you freaking yourself out over it isn’t going to do a bit of good. ”

  “Why do you have to make so much sense?” I ask sarcastically after she stops talking.

  She, in turn, gives me a glare that would make her father proud.

  “Aliens? Really?” I laugh.

  “Oh, shut up. And you know I make sense because I’m the smart one. Plus, with the twins not here yet, someone has to keep your ass from overacting. Oh! I know. Let’s call Lyn. She’ll know what’s up. ”

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  She pulls her cell out of her back pocket, and after a few seconds of fiddling with it, she presses it to her ear.

  “Hey,” she says into the phone. “Are you alone?”

  This is ridiculous. I should just leave now and save myself the gut-crushing pain of seeing another woman in his arms.

  “Is Cohen bringing a date?” she whispers and looks around the side of the dumpster.

  “No one is coming, Maddi,” I whisper back.

  “Then why are you whispering too, smarty pants?” she snaps and turns her attention back to her phone call. “I know that, Lyn, but Nate told Dani that he was and now she’s freaking the hell out . . . I don’t know where he heard it . . . No . . . Well, then who is she?”

  Oh shit. It’s true. I should definitely leave. Maybe if I cut through the woods to the industrial park, some nice trucker will take me to Mexico.

  “Oh really? Oh . . . yeah . . . No . . . Shit. Okay. Bye. ” She looks down at her phone before looking up at me. Her eyes hold nothing but sympathy.

  “It’s true?”

  “Looks like it,” she whispers before pulling me into her arms. “Okay, plan B. Let’s turn this frown upside down. So he’s got a friend with him. We don’t know anything else, so let’s just pretend they’re friends and just friends. Lyn didn’t know much. Just that her mom told her that he’s brought her by the house a few times this last week. That’s all she knows. Let’s try not to stress about it, okay? You, my friend, look hot, so let us just enjoy the day. You continue to be hot, and aside from being polite, ignore him and his special friend. There will be plenty of other guys here tonight, so it’s time to get your flirt on. Do you need me to go sneak you some booze?”

  “Maddi, I’m old enough to drink. I don’t need you to sneak me anything anymore. ” I laugh.

  “Right. Well, it’s time to act like you could care less and have some fun. Don’t let this hang over you—not tonight. Tonight is about making sure Cohen knows his family loves him before he leaves. No sad faces or jealous eyes. This thing between you two will work itself out, I promise. ”

  “Yes, sir, Maddi, sir. ” I salute her, and after a few giggles, we take off on a mission to practice my acting.

  I’ve always been good at acting.

  Even if I feel like my heart is breaking inside.

  It isn’t his fault I feel this way and he doesn’t. Or I should say that I feel this way and he isn’t willing to let himself.

  One thing’s for certain though. If Cohen Cage wanted me like I want him, he never would have let it go this long without taking it. Taking me and never letting go. Instead, he’s just playing more games in his quest to keep me at arm’s length. Because he is making decisions about the future without even considering that maybe I believe he’s worth waiting for.

  Time to put on my big-girl panties and pretend that the other half of my heart isn’t going to be in the arms of another woman.

  “LITTLE PRINCESS, WHAT THE HELL are you wearing?” Daddy rumbles, taking my beer out of my hands. “No,” he snaps, playfully slapping my hand and takes a sip.

  “I don’t think so,” I laugh and grab it back.

  He raises one dark brow but doesn’t make a move to take my drink again. He had the hardest time when I turned twenty-one and could legally drink. He kept switching out my beers for apple juice the whole night.

  “Want to tell me what has you down so I can go fix it?”

  “Nothing is wrong, Daddy,” I mumble into my cup.

  “Right. You get that I wasn’t born yesterday, yeah?”

  “Oh yeah, I know that. You were born, like, fifty years ago. ”

  I snicker to myself when he starts bristling. He hates to be reminded that he’s over that fifty hump. I’ve seen pictures of him when he was my age, and honestly, if it weren’t for the light peppering of gray, you would never know he was fifty-one. He’s still one of the largest men I’ve ever met. He towers over Mom and me at six foot six, with muscles that have only gotten bigger and bulkier over the years. It’s clear to not just me, but every friend I have had over the years that my daddy wasn’t just hot when he was younger—he still has it.

  “Don’t think I didn’t notice you going solid when the twins got here. Did you girls get into a fight? Does this mean you need to come home now?”

  I roll my eyes and laugh. He’s been trying to find reasons to get me to move home ever since he got back from his trip and realized I was gone. For a whole day, he wouldn’t leave my living room. I think he would still be there if Mom hadn’t shown up. All it took was her to whisper in his ear, and just like that, they were gone.

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  Of course the first conclusion he comes to is that the girls and I are fighting. He probably wishes we were. Which is really silly because one thing about Lyn’s, Lila’s, and my friendship—we don’t fight. We never have and I don’t see it happening any time soon.

  Okay, well, time to divert his attention.

ope. We’re fine. It was . . . uh, cramps, Daddy. You know, period stuff. ”

  He looks horrified. Which was the goal. Daddy doesn’t talk female issues. I asked him once to grab me some tampons from the store one day. He threatened to take Nate’s car away if he didn’t go instead. Nate came back thirty minutes later and threw the box at my head, cutting me right above the eyebrow and losing his car anyway for hurting me. To this day, I like to leave tampon boxes in Nate’s car.

  “Uh . . . yeah. I’m going to go over here with the guys and talk about football and boxing. You know, guy stuff. ”

  I smile to myself when he walks away. God, he’s too easy.

  “Cramps, my ass,” Liam laughs, throwing his arm around my shoulders and pulling me close. His strong hold makes it clear that I’m not getting away without talking to him.

  I take a deep swallow of my beer and look up into his chocolate eyes.

  “I don’t think they’re dating, if it makes a difference. He’s hardly said one word to her, and she is sticking close to Chance’s side. Chance, who I’m guessing isn’t dating her either, looks like he would rather be anywhere else than glued to her side. ”

  I look across the room where Cohen is talking to his brothers, Camden and Colton. As if he senses my gaze on him, his eyes meet mine, and he frowns when he sees Lee’s arm around me. His eyes move back to mine, and even from the distance, I can see them heat. That fire that burns across my skin.

  Okay, so he still wants me.

  What the hell ever.

  “Yeah, that right there. A man doesn’t get jealous of someone he knows is just a friend if there isn’t something else there, Dani. I’ve told you this a million times over: he’s scared. Think about it and you know I’m right. His parents, your parents, all of the relationships mixed in that would go insane if you two got together. Sure, it could have a happy ending, but he isn’t going to upset the fold. Not when it could just as easily go bad. ”

  “It wouldn’t go bad, Lee. ” And it wouldn’t. I know it with everything I am that it would be a flawless love.

  “You can’t know that. Not for sure, anyway. Regardless of what your stubborn little heart tells you, you can’t predict these things. ”

  “Are you telling me I should give it up? Give him up?”

  “Never, Dani. I would never tell you to give him or your feelings for him up. You know my parents’ story. Dad never once gave up on Mom, even when it seemed fruitless. What I’m trying to get at, but clearly doing a terrible job of, is that if you believe with one hundred percent of your soul that he’s your other half, don’t you dare stop until you’ve had a taste of it. ”

  Oh shit. My throat is burning. I swallow thickly and nod my head, not trusting my words.

  “Do you think he knows how bad it is?”

  “That you’re in love with him and that you don’t just want him to fuck you?” Liam guesses correctly.

  “Yeah, that. ”

  “He isn’t stupid, Dani. He knows. Or at least he has an idea. Look, before, it wouldn’t have been good for him to even entertain the thought. You were too young. I’m not saying that isn’t an issue for him now, but you’re almost twenty-two, so I don’t think that’s it. You know him. You know how important his family . . . this family . . . is to him. All I can tell you is to talk to him. He leaves tomorrow. Just talk to him. I know you guys talked before, but obviously, you didn’t talk enough. Make him hear your points, and don’t leave anything out. You say that he’s saying no because he’s leaving . . . well, don’t let that stop you. If it’s really that simple, then go for it. ”

  “What about that girl?” I question, my mouth having a hard time getting the question out.

  God, he’s right. I’m eaten up with jealousy over her. She’s pretty. Blond, busty, and tall. Everything I’m not. She is my complete opposite in every way.

  “Who? The date? Yeah . . . something tells me you really don’t have to worry about her. Seriously, Dani. She hasn’t gotten up from that table he parked her at when he got here. If a girl were here with a man like him, you better believe she wouldn’t be leaving his side. In case you haven’t noticed, there are a few overly horny men in this room. ”

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  “You’re so sick. ” I laugh and look up at Liam’s smiling, handsome face. “What would I do without you, Lee?”

  “Probably get lost in life, Dani. It would be tragic. Just confused and walking in circles around reality all of the time. ”

  I throw my head back and laugh. How absurd the thought is. He knows I’m as independent as it gets. But he’s halfway right. Just like without the twins, I would be lost without Lee in my life. My skin tingles, and I stop laughing to look around the room. Cohen’s stopped talking to his brothers and is scowling over at Lee and me. His hand grasping his beer is turning white around his fingertips.

  “Uh oh. Could the bear just come out of hibernation? Looking at his prey for the first time since a long, cold, lonely winter?” Liam snickers.

  “Shut up,” I hush, punching him hard in the stomach, only to pull my hand back when his rock-hard abs cause millions of little tingles to shoot up my arm. “Did your body just break my hand!?” I screech when the pain won’t stop.

  “The hell?” I hear growled, and before I can react, Daddy wraps me in his arms and looks at my hand. I let the familiar scent of leather and cinnamon calm me down, and I fight back the stinging tears and burn in my throat. “Liam Beckett, did you break my daughter?!”

  “Oh come on. She hit me! I didn’t break her. Well, my perfectly chiseled body might have hurt her slightly. But it wouldn’t be an issue if she would learn how to keep her hands off of me. ”

  “You little shit,” I laugh over my father’s shoulders.

  Liam laughs loudly, “I’ll go get some ice for the big baby. ”

  “Don’t call my little princess a baby!” Daddy yells after Liam.

  “I’m fine, just hit him weird,” I say to soothe his worry.

  “How many times do I have to tell you not to hit like that? I could see your form was off all the way across the room. Should have gone for the crotch. Always go for the crotch, Dani. ”

  Oh lord, here we go. He’s been teaching me how to kick a man’s ass since I was five and Zac stole my doll. Of course, his first lesson was for me to always go for the crotch.

  “Daddy, I wasn’t trying to hurt him. We were just joking around. ”

  “Joking around? You aren’t supposed to joke around with boys. I need to look into that island. Ship your ass off,” he grumbles under his breath.

  It’s going to be a long night.

  Four long-as-hell hours later, the parents have all left. Which was a relief. Not that it isn’t fun to have everyone around, but I know we’re all ready to let loose and enjoy the night. They wanted to keep the beginning of the evening just the close families. More intimate so that way we could all spend some time with Cohen. Through the hours, more of our friends came—some of Cohen’s from school and some from Basic Training. Everyone is ready to make sure he enjoys his last night home for the next year. This is his second deployment, and I don’t think it will ever get easy.

  Cohen joined the Marines after he finished his football career at University of Georgia. He probably could have gone pro, but he’s always wanted to follow his father’s footsteps and join the Marines. Then again, for a boy who wore a cape for the majority of his childhood, it makes sense that the hero inside him would win.

  The first time he went overseas, I was depressed for months. Worried, sad, and heartbroken. It was hard to watch his parents struggle with their worry and his siblings deal with the fear, and everyone in general just had a hard time knowing he was fighting in the middle of a war zone.

  Like his father, mine, and the rest of the father figures in our close-knit family, Cohen was special ops, and when he was deployed, it was lights out for communication. It was months until we finally he
ard an update from him. In the thirteen months that he was gone, he was able to call home twice.

  This time, he already warned his family that this would most likely be a longer tour. A longer tour and even less of a chance that he would be able to get in contact with us often.

  I would be lying if I said that I wasn’t terrified for him. Not because I have doubts in his abilities, but because of the very real fear that, no matter how trained he is, something terrible could happen to him over there.

  “What’s got that frown on your face, Dani-girl?”

  God, that voice.

  I suck in a deep breath when I feel Cohen sit down next to me. His smell instantly surrounds the dark haven I’ve escaped to. I thought I was doing a good job hiding back here. The party had gotten pretty rowdy when the parents left. Usually, I would be right there with them, but with Liam’s words still floating around in my head, I just needed a moment to myself. To collect my thoughts and figure out a way to get him alone so I could force another talk.

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  When no one was looking, I walked behind the stage curtains, plopped my ass down in the middle of the floor, lay back, and let the vibrations of the DJ’s music lull me and the darkness wrap around me like a comforting hug.

  “Nothing, Cohen. Just thinking. ”

  “Thinking about what?” he pushes.

  “Are you scared?” I ask, sitting up on my elbows to look at him.

  He turns his head but doesn’t speak.

  Given this opportunity to take him in, I don’t waste a second. His dark eyes are looking directly into mine. Searching for what, I’m not sure, but one thing I’m certain of is that he isn’t looking at me like a man who has a girlfriend should. Or whatever she is. His hair is freshly buzzed along the sides and slightly longer on the top, which makes me wonder who cut it for him since I know I didn’t. He usually keeps it a little longer, perfect for all the times I’ve imagined running my fingers through it when I’m not in the middle of cutting it. The light beard he was sporting all year is gone, which allows his strong jaw to show. I love it when he shaves, but I also love the look of his beard. Every time he swallows, his jaw flexes in this sexy way I’ve never been able to control lusting over. Jaw porn. With Cohen, it’s a very real thing.

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