Authors: Kate Davies
The bar was packed.
A band with more enthusiasm than talent wailed in the corner, amps cranked to eleven. Just like high school dances, no one was actually dancing, but unlike his somewhat-hazy memories of high school, the alcohol was in full view.
A group of men with varying rates of hair loss and belly growth stood next to the bar, drinking beer and sharing memories from their senior year of football. Women in nice dresses sat in booths, chatting over margaritas and glasses of wine. Couples stood in random groups scattered around the pub, some drinking, some not. A blonde to his left squealed loudly enough to catch his attention, then pushed past him to fling her arms around a guy making his way back from the pool tables.
It was a raucous, friendly, enthusiastic crowd, and he should have felt right at home. After all, these were his high school classmates. Sure, maybe he’d only been at their school for a couple of years, but that was the longest period of time his family had lived anywhere. It had been the one place he ever felt like he fit in, like he belonged. And that history was still there. It was why he was here, right?
Marc sighed and moved a little farther into the pub. That was a lie. He was really here for one reason only.
Not that he even knew if she was going to be here tonight, or at the reunion at all. He didn’t know if she still lived in town, if she’d gotten married and moved away, if she had gone to college and earned her business degree like she’d been planning since freshman year. Lord knew he hadn’t followed the path he’d been expected to take, and his life had gone a very different way than he’d thought it would back in high school. Not that he regretted it—only that it had detonated his relationship with Bree so spectacularly.
Showing up here was the ultimate crapshoot.
If he’d kept in touch with anyone after graduation, he could have gathered a little intel, gotten some pointers before arriving. But he’d left for boot camp and hadn’t looked back. Now, ten years later, he was starting to see the flaws in that decision.
Looking around, he didn’t see Bree, but that didn’t mean anything. The place was jammed, and there were all sorts of nooks and crannies where people could be, corners he couldn’t see around from this vantage point. At least if he stationed himself near the entrance, he could catch her if she tried to make a break for it.
Marc snorted quietly to himself. Even in civilian clothes, off the clock, he still thought like a military strategist. Well, what could you expect after ten years in?
He had two options. He could stand here at the entrance to the pub, set up his own little reconnaissance and keep watch. Or he could have a drink, relax and see if the information he was looking for would come to him.
Much as he wanted to be in control, looming in the doorway glowering at everyone who entered or exited was likely to be counterproductive.
A beer it was.
He walked over to the bar, squeezing into an empty spot and signaling the bartender. “Whatever amber you have on tap,” he said, and pulled out his wallet.
The bartender nodded and got him the beer, then walked over to the next customer. Marc turned around and leaned against the counter, beer in hand. On either side of him, people made their way up to the bar, flagging down the bartender to shout their orders over the music.
“I don’t fucking believe it.”
Marc looked up in time to see a blur of a figure swoop down on him in a half tackle, half hug that brought him right back to his school days. “Rafael,” he said with genuine pleasure, giving the smaller man a fierce bro-hug back. “You haven’t changed a bit.”
Rafael stepped back, a grin firmly in place. “Hell, no. Same old me. You, on the other hand—” He looked Marc up and down, frowning. “I’m kind of impressed that I recognized you, actually. Where the hell have you been the past ten years?”
Marc shrugged. “Iraq, Afghanistan, Iraq, brief sojourn to Germany, back to Iraq.”
Rafael shuddered. “Better you than me, man. You get leave for the weekend?”
“I’m actually stationed near here now,” Marc said. “Have been for a few months.”
“Does Bree know?”
“I don’t think so.”
The other man frowned. “You haven’t seen Ben?”
. Confused, Marc tried to remember a Ben from their high school class, but came up blank. He shook his head. “No, can’t say that I have.”
“Huh.” Rafael, smile gone, waved vaguely to the other side of the bar. “Well, hey, good to see you, but my wife is waiting over there, so...” He walked away, leaving Marc more confused than ever.
Who the hell was Ben?
Eyes narrowed, he looked over at Rafael, now standing on the opposite side of the bar. What if this Ben was Bree’s husband? Maybe that’s why the name came up when he’d mentioned her.
Damn. He should have tried harder to get in touch with some of his old friends before the reunion. It probably would have helped out with this whole situation.
He looked around, hoping to see another friendly face in the crowd, but he only made it partway before he stopped, narrowing in on the one person he truly wanted to see.
Bree. There she was. Standing in the shadows, staring right at him.
He stared back. Neither of them moved.
His breath caught, just a little.
Over the years, he’d told himself that the visceral, physical reaction he’d had to her back in school was just a function of being seventeen years old. Now that he was older, more mature, he’d be able to look at Bree without getting an instant hard-on.
Apparently, that was a crock of shit. He had the kick of adrenaline—and the rush of blood to his groin—to prove it.
Maybe this reunion was going to be more complicated than he’d thought.
Well, only one way to go, and that was forward. He set his half-finished beer on the counter and headed her way.
* * *
What the hell was she doing?
She’d had the opportunity. When he’d first walked over to the bar, turning his back on the door, she’d had the perfect chance to run. He’d never have noticed her slipping out.
And now it was too late.
Because there he was, standing in front of her, just inside her comfort zone. She couldn’t break eye contact to save her life. She felt like prey, watched by a predator that was no less frightening for being so familiar.
He’d never hurt her. Never physically. But she remembered how emotionally wrecked she’d been by the aftermath of their breakup, and had no intention of opening herself up to that pain again.
“Marc.” Her heart was beating too fast, her breathing rapid and shallow. If she wasn’t careful she was going to start hyperventilating.
“You look good.”
She wasn’t sure how he could tell, considering his gaze had never left eye level. “Thanks. So do you.”
Actually, “good” was an understatement. His blond hair, now cut military-short, accentuated his bone structure in a way the soft curls of high school hadn’t managed. His eyes were more noticeable, the piercing blue framed by those thick dark lashes she’d always envied. He’d filled out, too, his lanky teenage frame now tautly muscled and toned.
Bree gritted her teeth. All the memories, all the emotions were clamoring for attention, and she was a little weak.
She looked around. No one was riding to her rescue. Instead, they were surrounded by people avidly not-watching their meeting. Probably hoping for fireworks or a blowout on a reality-TV scale. Where the hell was Tess when she needed her?
Bree took a step back. “I didn’t expect you to be here tonight. You didn’t RSVP.”
“Nope,” he said with a shrug. “I wasn’t sure if I was going to make it or not.”
“What changed your mind?”
Marc leaned forward. “You.”
“I hated the way we left things.” He crossed his arms over his chest. She could see a dusting of blond hair on his forearms.
“Marc,” she said quietly.
“Are you married?”
She stared at him. Where had that come from? “No,” she said.
She shook her head.
“Good. Because there’s something I have to do.”
He took another step closer, cupped the back of her head with a warm palm, and kissed her.
* * *
It was supposed to be just a little kiss. A brush of lips, no hint of tongue, a gentle pressure before lifting away. Nothing sexual or passionate about it.
But his mouth touched hers and all his good intentions disappeared.
He tugged her closer, wrapping his free arm around her back, and teased her mouth open with his tongue. She didn’t respond, not at first, but right as he was about to pull away, she whimpered softly and kissed him back.
It had been ten years since he’d tasted her, ten years during which he should have forgotten her mouth, her tongue, her white teeth nipping at his lower lip. It was an intoxicating mix of the familiar and the new, and he delved in again, wanting more, wanting it all.
Her hands, caught between their bodies, clenched the fabric of his shirt as she held on. Their feet were tangled together, the two of them caught up in an embrace that had been ten years waiting.
Reluctantly he stepped back, aware that he was instantly, painfully hard. Apparently, that hadn’t changed, either.
Her eyes were still closed, her chest rising and falling in gentle pants.
He used to wonder, if they met again, whether the spark would still be there, or if it would have faded into distant memory.
Guess that question was answered.
Damn, he still had it bad for her.
And she could probably tell. So could everyone else. A quick glance around confirmed that the two of them were drawing a lot of attention from their former classmates.
Of course they were—when the Cutest Couple goes through a very public and painful breakup, seeing the two of them together again is bound to intrigue people. Especially when they’d just kissed each other in a very public place.
He shifted uncomfortably, glad for the dimness of the room and the generous cut of his slacks. He may have left the teenage years behind, but apparently his cock hadn’t gotten the message.
It was going to be a long night.
Bree finally blinked her eyes open and looked around. Releasing her grip on his shirt front like it had been dipped in acid, she took a big step back. “What the hell was that?”
“It’s been a while, but I’m fairly sure they still call it a kiss,” Marc joked. Then he clamped his mouth shut at the furious expression on her face. No teasing, then. Check.
“No, seriously. I haven’t seen you in ten years and you think you have the right to just walk up and kiss me like that? What if I had a boyfriend?”
“I asked. You told me you didn’t.” He took a step closer to her.
She held her hand out and stiff-armed him from getting closer. “That’s not the point!”
“I’m sorry, Bree. I just saw you and it was like the past ten years never happened at all.”
“And that’s the whole problem.” She sighed. “Okay. Fine, whatever. Are you going to be around the whole weekend, or is this just it?”
“Were you planning to come by at any point? If I hadn’t been here, would you have even called?”
“I don’t know,” he said, figuring honesty was the best choice in this situation.
“Shocker,” she muttered. “So what would you have done if I wasn’t at the reunion this weekend?”
Where was she going with this line of questioning? “Um, I’d probably have asked around, maybe gotten in touch later on. Since I’m stationed at McChord, it’s close enough that...”
His eyebrows knit together as he took in her expression. What the hell had he said now? “I’m back in the state. Only about an hour away. That’s how I was able to get here for the whole weekend.”
“But you just moved, right?”
He shrugged. “A few months ago. I’ve been stationed all over the world, but finally made it back home. Or close to it.”
“So you’ve been less than an hour from Silverton for months now. Months. And you’ve never bothered to make that drive until now?”
“No reason to,” he said. “At least until the reunion.”
“No calls. No email. You’re unbelievable.”
He frowned, wondering where this outburst was coming from. Why was this suddenly such a big deal? “To be honest, I wasn’t sure what kind of reception I’d get,” he said. “We didn’t leave things on the friendliest of terms.”
“Right. So it’s my fault?” Her voice was rising in volume and pitch, her eyes flashing with anger. “I knew you were a coward when you didn’t respond to my letter. But I assumed you were somewhere halfway across the world all this time, that maybe if you had the opportunity you’d at least come introduce yourself. But no.”
“Introduce myself? Bree, what in the hell are you talking about?”
She plowed on, her voice shaking with intensity. “It doesn’t matter to me anymore. It clearly hasn’t mattered to you for the past ten years. But you can be damn sure it would have mattered to our son!”
“Our...what?” Marc flashed ice cold, then hot with fury. “What the hell are you talking about?”
She was standing frozen in place, one hand clasped over her mouth as if she was trying to hold the words in.
Too little, too damn late.
“I must have heard you wrong. It sounded like you said ‘our son.’ But that can’t be right, because we don’t have a son. I don’t have any children at all.”
He hadn’t wanted children. Not while he was at risk of being deployed at a moment’s notice, not while the world was such a dangerous place for a soldier. He wasn’t going to leave behind a significant other, let alone a child, under those circumstances.
He’d seen the damage that had done to Bree, the pain of losing a soldier father. He’d experienced how it had caused so many problems in their relationship.
There was a reason he hadn’t dated seriously since joining the army. No attachments, no hard feelings, no responsibilities beyond the commitments he’d made toward Uncle Sam.
“Don’t act all surprised,” she sneered. “Lying doesn’t look good on you.”
“Who’s lying?” He leaned forward, eyes narrowed. “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
“You knew,” she stammered, staring at him. “I sent you that letter.”
“What letter?” Even to his own ears, his voice sounded loud, echoing off the walls of the pub. Reining in his rapidly rising temper, he repeated, “What damn letter?”
“The letter I mailed you when I found out I was pregnant!”
Marc drew in a deep breath, trying not to explode. “Which was when?”
She threw up her hands. “About two months after you left for boot camp.”
Two months. He calculated the date, realized that by then—”Where did you send it?”
“The address you gave me the day you left town.”
Boot camp. Which, by that time, he’d completed and had been stationed overseas.
“I wasn’t there,” he said, teeth gritted. “I was out of the country. I never got the letter.”
“You never...” Her voice died away. Eyes wide, she whispered, “You had to get it. You had to have known.”
“Hate to break it to you, sweetheart, but just because you want it one way doesn’t mean that’s the way it went down. Listen closely. I. Never. Got. The. Letter. So this whole ‘you have a son’ bullshit? First I’ve ever heard of it.”
She looked like she was going to be sick.
Marc didn’t blame her. He felt the same damn way.
He had a son? He was a father?
No. No fucking way.
“Let me get this straight. Two months after I left for boot camp, you found out you were pregnant. And you’re sure it’s mine?”
Her eyes narrowed. “One hundred percent,” she hissed.
He held up his hands. “It’s a reasonable question. We used protection, you know. Every time. And I don’t know what your social life was like after I left town.”
“I had no social life,” she shot back. “You think I would go out and have sex with someone else that soon after we broke up? Don’t you know me at all?”
“I thought I did,” he said.
She shot him a withering glance. “And the whole protection thing? Remember how I got food poisoning the week before prom?”
Boy, did he. It was like the
scene come to life.
“Apparently, if you throw up your birth control pills too many days in a row, they’re not as effective as you think.”
. That made sense. A horrible, awful, fist-clenched-in-the-pit-of-your-stomach sense.
“So you find out you’re pregnant,” he said, trying to regain the thread of conversation. “You’re positive I’m the father. I’m in the army. So you decide to send me a letter.”
“And when you didn’t hear back from me, you did what, exactly?”
She was silent.
“Called my CO? Sent another letter? Tried to reach me online? Contacted my fucking family?”
“Your family moved back to Virginia,” she protested. “Right after graduation. How was I supposed to be able to find them?”
“That’s a bullshit excuse and you know it.”
She looked away.
“So that was it? One fucking letter and you’d done your duty?” He threw up his hands. Seriously, she thought that had been enough? And now she was telling him here, in front of everyone? This was horrible enough without adding a full audience of former classmates to the mix.
Even though most of them probably knew about the situation already.
Oh my God, everyone thought he was a deadbeat dad, didn’t they?
He looked around the pub. The people surrounding them had long since given up pretending they weren’t paying attention and were all looking at the two of them, listening avidly.
Fuck them all. Let them listen.
“And when you didn’t hear back from me, you thought—what? I didn’t care?”
She glanced away.
“Great. So not only did I get you pregnant, I’m now an asshole deadbeat dad. Great to know you thought so highly of me.” He couldn’t take another minute of this conversation. “I have to go.”
“Where are you going?” She looked both guilty and panicked.
“I don’t know. Somewhere. I need to go think, figure this whole thing out.”
“Marc, wait—” She reached out her hand, then let it drop back down.
can wait for a while. You’ve had ten years to adjust to parenthood. I’ve had ten fucking minutes.”
“Okay, I understand. Just...let me talk to Ben first. Before—”
Ben. His son’s name was Ben. He hadn’t even had input into that decision.
That’s why Rafael asked...
He was going to be sick. Or punch the wall. One of the two.
“Are you telling me you haven’t had ten years to prepare
for this possibility?”
She swallowed hard, enough so he could see her throat working. “I just...don’t want him to get hurt.”
“And there’s that wonderful opinion of me again.” He shook his head, disgusted. “Don’t worry. I wouldn’t want to cause our son any distress.”
He’d reached the absolute end of his rope. With one last glare, he turned around and stalked out of the pub.
* * *
Bree stood, frozen, watching Marc leave. He opened the door, strode through, let it slam shut behind him.
He never looked back.
Everyone else, however, was looking all they wanted. She glanced around to see her classmates staring at her, a few starting to whisper to each other.
She and Marc had put on quite a show.
Tess. Where was Tess? She turned in all directions, her ponytail whipping from one side to the other, but Tess was nowhere to be found.
Probably back in the kitchen or taking care of some emergency or other.
Great. The one true ally she had here tonight had missed the whole damn thing.
Everyone else, on the other hand, had had a front-row seat for the drama that had just played out. They’d seen everything, heard everything. And in just five minutes, they’d gone from Deadbeat Marc to Bitter Lying Bree.
They were all staring at her. Looking at her, judging her. God, it was just like being eighteen, unmarried and pregnant again.
She fumbled for her purse, hands shaking. She dug for her keys, her fingers trembling so much she could barely grab the key chain.
Teeth clenched in a poor approximation of a smile, she pushed her way through the crowd and headed for the door. Any attempt to talk to her was brushed off with a shake of the head and a brisk walk to the exit.
Outside, she rushed to her car, unlocked the door and flung herself inside. Wrapping her fingers around the steering wheel so tightly her knuckles turned white, she tried to figure out what the hell she was going to do next.
The door to the pub opened up again, noise and light spilling out onto the walkway, and it spurred Bree into action. It only took three tries, but she got the car started, put it into gear and got the hell out of there.
* * *
He had a son.
A son who was apparently named Ben, probably close to ten years old, who had lived his entire life without ever meeting his own father.
What had Bree told the kid about him? That he was a deadbeat? An absentee father? That he didn’t care enough to even try?
Or did she just not talk about him?
That was probably it.
He shook his head and turned the radio up a little higher. He was trying to calm down, not spin his blood pressure into the stratosphere.
He still couldn’t wrap his brain around the situation. He’d been a father for a decade and never known it.
No. He wasn’t a father. Fathers spend time with their kids, take care of them, shoulder the responsibility and share in the joys. He’d had none of that.
He’d been an unsuspecting sperm donor, and shut out of the whole process from that point on.
And knowing now that Bree had believed the worst of him for such a long time—damn, that hurt.
Clearly, she’d never known him at all if she thought he could walk away from his child without a second thought.
He couldn’t. He wouldn’t. And now that he knew the truth, there was no way he’d throw this chance away.
This weekend, he was going to meet his son.
A yellow light blinked on down in the lower corner of the dash, and he realized that he’d managed to run the gas tank down to basically fumes.
Marc looked around. With a grim smile, he realized that he was almost to Makeout Ridge. He and Bree had spent many evenings there, keeping half an eye on the clock, racing curfew back home in an effort to squeeze as much out of their dates as physically possible.
It was where they’d first kissed. First fumbled touches underneath clothing. First time...
Prom night. When they’d whispered everlasting love between caresses, promised forever as they moved together in the backseat of his car, bodies slick with sweat, rented tux jacket wrinkled beneath them.
The next week, he’d joined the army. And learned just how short “forever” really was.
Marc pulled a U-turn and headed back into town. He needed a full tank, something to eat and a place to stay for what was left of the night.
No way in hell was he missing the rest of this reunion, even for a quick trip back to his apartment on base. Years of always being prepared meant he had a full kit in the trunk of his car, and whatever he didn’t have, he’d buy at the mall.
It was time to retreat, regroup and plan.
Tomorrow, he’d take action.