Authors: Lisa Cardiff
I placed a tray on the bed next to Hattie. I could get used to waking up next to her every day. She looked so peaceful with her dark hair spread out on my sheets. The morning sunlight flooded the bedroom, highlighting the contours of her body.
I had never wanted the women I dated in my space, touching my belongings and demanding my attention the morning after, but Hattie made me want that and more.
When she left Mexico, I thought I’d be able to forget about her, but it never happened. Days passed, weeks passed, and I craved her more and more. She complicated my life from the minute I saw her, and now I couldn’t imagine my life without her.
Last night, we finally talked about what we meant to each other. We loved each other, but so many obstacles stood in our way. I planned to fight for a life with her even though I didn’t know what it’d look like, because being with her felt…right.
I stroked the side of her face and her eyes fluttered open. “Good morning.”
“Hey,” she whispered. “What’s that?” She sat up, eyeing the tray of food.
“Breakfast in bed.”
She smiled. “Really?”
“Yes. Don’t look surprised. I can be a good guy when I want to be.”
She balanced the tray on her legs and cocked her head to the side. “You know what—I think you’re on to something. You’re not so bad when your moods aren’t all over the place.”
I kissed her. I didn’t have a choice. I had to wipe that sassy smile off her face. “Watch out.”
“Or what?” she mumbled against my lips.
“Or I’ll spend the rest of the day punishing you.”
“Hm.” She leaned against the headboard. “That sounds promising, but let me enjoy my food first. Then you can get to work summoning your inner asshole.”
Chuckling, I averted my gaze. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the plastic bag I’d left on the nightstand last night. My mood dropped instantly. I didn’t want to ruin her morning, but we couldn’t avoid reality forever.
“Ryker,” she said as she squeezed my hand. “You know I was kidding, right?”
“Yeah.” With a forced smile, I grabbed the plastic bag and sat down on the edge of the bed.
Hattie took a sip of her coffee. “What’s that?”
I slipped the box out of the bag and placed it on the tray.
Her lip pressed into a firm line. “A pregnancy test? I already took one a couple weeks ago, remember?”
I swallowed and shifted on the bed. “I know, but I think you should try again. Just to be sure.”
“I feel fine.” She picked up the box and squinted at the small text on the back. “I’m not nauseous, tired, or whatever.”
She held out the box to me. “Save it for me, and if I still haven’t started my period in a week, I’ll take the test.”
I grabbed it out of her hand. “You’re procrastinating.”
Ignoring me, she took a few bites of her toast. “I took a test already.”
“I know, but you may have taken it too early.”
She frowned. “How do you figure?”
“You’d only been home for two weeks. That’s fourteen days.”
“I know how long two weeks is,” she muttered.
I held out the box. “Right, so you agree it might’ve been too early to take the test.”
She tugged on the hem of her shirt. “I’m not ready to know. I’m still trying to put my life back together.”
“Negative or positive, it won’t change anything.” I placed the box in her lap.
“You’re wrong.” She swallowed hard. “It will change everything. What would I do with a baby? I haven’t finished school. I don’t have a job anymore. My family barely talks to me. They think I’m crazy. I’m living off my savings and the money my dad deposits in my bank account every month to assuage his guilt for being a shitty parent.” She rubbed her hand over her face. “I’m a fucking mess.”
I moved the tray from her lap and wrapped my arms around her. “No, you’re not, and you have me. I already told you. We’re in this together.”
“And you won’t be mad if I am…” Her voice lowered until it faded away entirely. Tears bloomed in the corners of her eyes. She looked fragile, like she’d shatter any second. Her eyes were haunted; her golden skin stretched tight over the delicate bones of her face.
“No,” I answered before she could finish the thought.
I hadn’t planned to have a family, but I wouldn’t be mad. I’d spent my life being my dad’s dirty secret and my mom’s life changing mistake. My dad already had a wife and a kid. My mom’s modeling career crashed and burned after she had me. Both of them loved me in their own way, but I always suspected they believed they’d be better off without me. I didn’t want my child to feel that way. If Hattie were pregnant, I’d make damn sure she and my child were happy and had everything they needed.
“Are you sure? Because even if I’m pregnant, I could—”
I pressed my fingers to her lips. “We’re not having this discussion.”
She yanked my fingers away from her face. “What do you mean?”
“After you’ve taken the test, and we know for sure, we’ll talk and we’ll decide what we want to do together.”
“Okay.” She picked up the box from her lap and tapped it against her leg. “Let’s do this.”
I stood up and grabbed her hand, pulling her to her feet. We walked to the bathroom, with our hands intertwined.
She stopped outside the door. “You can wait out here. I don’t need your help to pee on a stick.”
“Whatever you need.”
When she closed the door, I slid down the wall and pulled my phone out of my pocket. It had been vibrating in my pocket all morning. I’d successfully ignored all the calls, but someone really wanted to get in touch with me.
I scrolled through my missed calls. All ten of them were from Ignacio. I hesitated for a moment. Then, I snuck away to the bedroom and called him back. I only had a few minutes, but maybe that’d be enough time to figure out what he wanted.
“Is this Ryker?”
“Yes,” I answered, not recognizing the voice.
“This is Emanuel Rodriquez. I don’t think we’ve met, but I work for you dad.”
“I know who you are.” Ignacio hadn’t introduced us, but he mentioned him often. Sometimes I wondered why he didn’t groom Emanuel to be his successor instead of Rever. Emanuel was dedicated to the Vargas Cartel like Rever and I would never be. He didn’t have a problem dealing with the ugly side of the business.
“I tried to call Rever last night, but he hasn’t answered his phone.”
“If you called from Ignacio’s phone, he won’t answer. They aren’t speaking.”
“Right,” he said. “I forgot.”
“Can I help you with something?”
He sighed. “I don’t know how to tell you this, so I’ll just come out and say it. Ignacio was shot last night.”
My vision blurred, and my breath stagnated in my throat. “What? How?”
“I don’t know the details, but from what little I’ve been told by his security team, it sounded like a paid hit.”
My throat closed and I clutched my phone harder. Ignacio and I weren’t always on the best of terms. He was a hard and sometimes unforgiving man, but he was my dad, and I loved him. “Is he going to be okay?” My voice cracked.
“He’s in the intensive care unit. He was shot in the chest. He has a collapsed lung, and he’s lost a lot of blood.”
“Fuck,” I mumbled in a daze. “What does the doctor think?”
“He made it through surgery and they were able to repair his lung. They’re going to take him off the ventilator tomorrow. We’ll know more then.”
I tunneled my hands in my hair. “Okay. Thanks for calling.”
Emanuel didn’t respond for a moment and the phone crackled with silence. “I think you and Rever should come, just in case…” He didn’t finish the sentence, but I understood what he meant. Ignacio wasn’t a young man, and even if he were, recovering from a gunshot wound wasn’t a sure thing.
“I have to make some arrangements, but we’ll be there as soon as possible.” Details tumbled through my mind. I didn’t think Rever could get on a commercial flight without being arrested. I could try to get him a counterfeit passport from one of my contacts, but it’d take a couple of days. “Maybe three days,” I clarified.
He cleared his throat. “Ignacio’s private jet arrived at Ronald Regan International Airport an hour ago. It can leave as soon as you’re ready.”
I never liked using Ignacio’s plane or taking his money. It always came with strings a mile long, but it’d simplify things. “Thanks. Text me the hospital information. Rever and I will go straight there after we land.”
“See you tonight.”
I disconnected the phone and braced my head on my knees.
With my back facing the stick slated to determine my future, I tapped my fingers against my thighs, mentally counting off the minutes in sixty-second increments. Counting helped me ignore all the questions circling in my brain with ruthless determination.
This was it—the moment of truth.
I rubbed my eyes, sucked in a breath, and spun around. Leaning over, I stared at the white thermometer-like stick, careful not to disturb anything.
Two lines. There were two fucking lines. With trembling hands, I snagged the crumbled instructions off the counter, making sure I didn’t misinterpret them. Nope.
“Oh my God,” I whispered. “I’m pregnant.”
What would I tell my family? My mom would freak. She dropped out of Harvard Law School when she found out she was pregnant with my brother. She referred to it as the dumbest mistake of her life, and here I was, pregnant, unmarried, and months away from receiving my graduate degree.
My vision tilted like I had vertigo, and my knees buckled like an accordion. I clenched the edge of the countertop, barely catching myself before I collapsed. Tears welded in the corners of my eyes, threatening to erupt like a volcano.
What would I do? I paced back and forth with my hand cradling my still flat stomach for endless minutes. Distantly, I wondered why Ryker hadn’t knocked on the door yet. Pausing, I stared at my reflection in the mirror.
I can do this. I’m smart. I can figure this out.
Ryker would help me with whatever I decided. I trusted him. I splashed some water on my face, picked up the white stick, and cracked the door.
“Ryker,” I said, poking my head out. I didn’t see him. I walked into his bedroom, searching everywhere for him.
“Ryker,” I said again.
Five seconds later, he walked out of his closet and dumped a black hard-shelled suitcase on the bed. He didn’t look at me. He didn’t acknowledge me. Instead, he unzipped the suitcase and flipped it open.
“I’m pregnant,” I blurted out before I lost my nerve.
He didn’t respond. He opened the dresser behind him and pulled out a stack of clothes.
My stomach dropped. “Did you hear me?”
He paused mid-stride. His eyes locked with mine. His face was pale and his eyes were red-rimmed, but he smiled. “No. I’m sorry. I was lost in my thoughts. What did you find out?”
I waved my hand at the opened luggage. “Are you going somewhere?”
Sighing, he dropped the clothes on the bed. “To Mexico.”
“Why?” I held out the pregnancy test and wrapped my other hand around my waist.
He eyed the white stick, then he grabbed it out of my hand. “Ignacio is in the hospital.”
“Somebody shot him last night.” He twirled the stick between his fingers. Then, he lifted his head. “You’re pregnant?”
My mouth opened and closed. I didn’t know what to say. Nothing seemed right. Not now. I nodded. “Yes,” I whispered, closing my eyes. “I’m sorry. This is a mess. What do you want me to do?”
His arms closed around my waist, and he wrenched me against his chest. His hand ran up and down the back of my hair. He didn’t say anything as we swayed back and forth. After a few minutes, he turned my face, forcing me to look at him. “You’re going to come with me.”
“Yes. We’re leaving in a couple of hours. We’ll stop by Vera’s apartment on the way to the airport. You can grab your passport and pack a bag, but we don’t have much time.”
Fear ripped through me and my throat constricted. My shuddering breath echoed off the barren walls. “I can’t.” I jerked my head back and forth. “I want to be there for you, but I don’t want to go back there ever again. I don’t want to see Ignacio. I don’t want to stay at his house.” I didn’t need to explain. I didn’t owe him any explanation. He would understand.
“I know, Hattie, but I can’t leave you here. Especially now.”
I stepped out of his embrace and laced my hands together in front of my chest, squeezing them until my fingertips turned pink. “I’ll be okay. It’ll give me time to think. This might actually be a good thing.” I didn’t really believe that. I wanted him to stay, but I knew he couldn’t. Ignacio had committed and ordered innumerable depraved acts, but he was still Ryker’s father.
His dark eyebrows drew together. “Where will you stay? You can’t go back to Vera’s apartment yet.”
My gaze drifted over his room, desperately searching for a compromise. I didn’t want to go back to Vera’s apartment. I still couldn’t ignore that she might’ve helped Evan, even if it was only in a limited capacity. Also, I wasn’t ready to tell anyone about the pregnancy. In a matter of days, I could experience morning sickness, and she only had one bathroom. The stomach flu excuse would only work for a few days.
“I’ll stay here. I’ll get some of my things.” When he didn’t respond, I realized he might not want me in his apartment by myself. “If that’s okay with you. I’d stay out of your personal space. You can keep your study locked or whatever. I won’t tell anyone I’m here,” I rambled.
“No,” he answered, not even taking a second to consider my suggestion.
“You don’t trust me?” Confusion and sadness swirled around me.
He folded his arms across his chest. “I trust you, but I’m not leaving you here to figure out everything by yourself. We need to talk, but I don’t have time to do it right now. I have a plane to catch. I have to tell Rever what’s going on.”
“Did you buy me a plane ticket?”
He shook his head. “We’re not flying commercial.”
“I don’t know,” I whispered. “I’m not sure it’s a good idea.”
“Look, you don’t have to see Ignacio or anyone affiliated with the Vargas Cartel. We’ll stay at a hotel in a touristy area. I won’t take you anywhere near the Vargas compound. You can hang out at the pool while I’m gone. Think of it as a vacation. You won’t have to deal with your family or Evan. We’ll work out the details of your pregnancy.”
My stomach knotted at the thought of facing my mom or running into Evan, but more importantly, my heart begged me to go with him. To trust him. “I could work on my thesis for school,” I said, pushing my forebodings aside.
Striding forward with a smile on his face, he cradled my face and kissed me on the lips hard. “Good. We’ll stop by Vera’s on the way to the airport, and you can grab your laptop and whatever else you need.”
“How long will we be gone?”
“A week. Maybe two, but you can leave anytime you want.”
I searched his face for duplicity, but he looked sincere. “You promise?”
“Yes.” He kissed me again. “Anything you want. I need to see Ignacio, but you’re my first priority.”