Cannon, p.18
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       Cannon, p.18

         Part #3 of A Step Brother Romance series by Sabrina Paige
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  We're in the limo, driving back to my place, until Hendrix taps on the tinted glass and asks the driver to detour, driving around for a while to lose any paparazzi, until he finally ends up a small apartment complex.   "It's nothing fancy," he explains, leading me through the front door.   "Okay, it's kind of a dump, so brace yourself.   I just want to show you something. "

  Page 71

  The apartment isn't a dump as much as it is bare of anything resembling Hendrix's personality.   It's stark, empty except for a few pieces of furniture, some clothes, and a few boxes.   "Did you live here?" I ask.

  "It worked," Hendrix says simply.

  He takes my hand and sits down on a bed, and opens a box.   "I want you to know who I am, the years when I was gone.   And what my father said…"

  "Hendrix," I say, holding my hand up.   "You don't need to explain. "  But I close my mouth when he starts talking, words that seem to pour out of him, a floodgate that doesn't want to close.   He tells me about the guys he was with, the rest of his squad that was killed in an IED blast in the mountains in Afghanistan.   He tells me about the guilt he has for surviving, how he runs for miles at night instead of sleeping, how he couldn't think about the future because he couldn't see one for himself.   He talks and talks and talks, almost without taking a breath, and I hold his hand, not saying anything until he's finished.   Then he looks up at me, and says, "I've been a coward.   It's the reason I never said I loved you before. "

  My heart feels like it's bursting, and I'm not sure if it's more because it's broken for him, or because I finally know I love him.   Then he reaches into the box and hands me a stack of letters.   "This is the other reason I've been a coward, Addy-girl," he says.

  "What are…"  I open the one on top, my eyes scanning over the first few lines, and if I thought my heart were going to burst with love for this man before…

  Addy-girl,

  Twenty-two days.   I have twenty-two days left in this shithole.   Two hundred and eighteen days of this deployment down and I'm alive.   My squad's alive.   Twenty-two days and we're going home, and I swear that I'm going to say the things I've wanted to say to you since I left. I'm sure you've written me off by now.   But if I get home, I'll tell you that there hasn't been a day since I left that I've not thought about you, that you haven't been at the forefront of my mind.

  I look at the other letters in my hand, all addressed to me.   The full impact of what I'm holding hits me and I start to cry.

  Hendrix reaches up and wipes a tear from my cheek.   "I couldn't say what I wanted to say.   And then after…what happened with my squad…I stopped. "

  "And then you came home," I say.

  Hendrix slides his arms around me.   "And then I came home. "  He pauses.   "It's kind of lame, I know, writing you. "

  I laugh, and he pulls back and looks at me.   "Are you laughing at me?"

  "I'll show you later," I say.   "I have a notebook full of songs, Hendrix.   They're all about you.   You wrote letters, I wrote songs. "

  "I guess we're both lame," he says.

  "I guess we are. "

  Hendrix kisses me then, and I know that regardless of what happens, the fallout from the awards show, that everything will be okay.

  Addy snores in her sleep – not lightly, either.   She's in her third trimester and she sounds like a damn freight train.   She's propped up on pillows, several behind her back and one under her knees, like she's sleeping in a recliner, and I reach over and slide my hand over her rapidly-growing belly, trying not to wake her.

  I don't sleep any more now than I did before, but it's not because I'm running anymore.   In fact, I've stopped running away from everything.   When I told Addy I loved her, I meant it.   I didn't want to let her go.

  We holed up for a week after everything happened.   The day after, I thought Addy would be screwed.   But her fans loved the song, and the clip of her speech and the song was replayed everywhere.   Addy went out swinging, too.   She hired a pit-bull of an attorney and a public relations team and she fought like hell when the record label tried to claim that our relationship was a breach of her morality clause.   We did the press circuit, interviewing on talk shows, and surprisingly, the public was largely supportive.

  It wasn't all rainbows and butterflies.   Addy settled with the studio and her contract was terminated.   But she didn't wind up owing them anything, and she was free of all of it.

  Addy snorts a little, and moves gently, her hand covering mine, and I snuggle in next to her, breathing her in, and closing my eyes.   I might not sleep, but I'll lie here contentedly with my future wife and child.   I know I have a future with them.   And that's enough.

  Page 72

  I walk across the white sand, blindingly bright in the sunlight, my hands smoothing the fabric of the white sundress over my increasingly large belly.   Hendrix takes my hand, and he has the biggest smile I think I've ever seen.

  "You sure you want to do this, sweet cheeks?" he asks.

  "Are you sure you want to do this with me?" I ask.   "My feet are swollen, and I'm not even walking anymore, I'm waddling everywhere.   Like a duck.   A big fat giant duck. "

  Hendrix turns me around, slides his arms around me, across my belly, his face in my neck.   "I'm definitely sure," he says. "I've never been more sure of anything in my life.   This is what I want.   With you, and with our son. "

  We're having a boy.   I'm going to be a mother.   And, as of today, here on the beach, a wife.   Everything is as it should be.   Really, it's better than I could have ever imagined.   I was prepared for it to all go badly, the fallout after the awards show.

  It wasn't easy, that's for sure.   I lost my cushy contract with the record label. And some friends.   My mother and Hendrix's father haven't spoken to us.   His father never said anything else about the fight they had, though, not to any media outlet.   My mother, on the other hand, is supposedly writing a tell-all book.   But my sister Grace has been one of my biggest supporters, and we're closer than ever.   And I know that our son and Brady will grow up together.

  I'm writing songs like crazy now.   I started my own label, an indie one, and I'm going to put out a folk album in a couple of weeks.   I'm also marrying Hendrix – in approximately five minutes.   And we're having a baby.

  When the minister says, "You may kiss the bride," Hendrix smiles.

  "Hell, yeah," he whispers in my ear.   And when he kisses me, it's just like the first time, under the grove.   We're sixteen years old again, teenagers with our whole lives ahead of us, and the world stops spinning, and just like that, everything is as it should be.

  My life might not be a total fairy tale, the way everyone – including me – thought it would be when I was first discovered.   But even if it's not perfect, and Hendrix and I are nowhere close to being fictional royalty, it's our story.   We'll live our version of happily ever after.

  And that's enough.

 
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