WE STOOD IN THE MIDDLE OF HIS office, holding each other as if we’d blow away otherwise. And maybe I would have. He held me to him, keeping me, and my thoughts, in place.
“It’s going to be okay. You’ll see we can do this. Our baby will be loved; he’ll have a good life. We can give him a good life.” His words kept going, probably reassuring himself as much as he was reassuring me.
He pulled back, looking down at me with a shaky smile. “Talk to me, tell me you believe me. Tell me you won’t leave. Take back what you said earlier.” His words strained and grip tightened with every syllable, the end more of a demand than request.
I shook my head and closed my eyes as I pressed myself to him. If I spoke, it would come out in sobs, releasing the well of tears I was holding back.
“What does that mean?” his voice was a desperate whisper, his cheek pressed to the top of my head as his arms tightened. “Please. Regan. You have to say something.”
And the moment I tried, the dam broke and I was shaking in his arms. An overwhelming relief flooded out of me, limitless sadness as well.
It seemed there was no good choice to make, I only hoped I was making the best one. Really, it was the only one. I didn’t know how to live without him anymore, I didn’t even want to try.
At some point, he moved me to the couch and cradled me to his chest, holding me until I could breathe again. By the time I could speak, his shirt was soaked and my face was slick with tears. My thoughts were less jumbled but no less scary. Only now, I at least was certain of my path.
He waited with an empty expression, something I’d only seen rarely from him, but I knew it meant he was terrified.
I picked up his hand, tracing the lines of his palm so I didn’t have to look into his hollow eyes; they looked like the ghost of the man I loved. “I can’t leave you.”
“Thank God.” He choked on his voice, body deflating as he pulled me into him. His fingers slid through my hair, down my back. His cheek pressed to mine, skin absorbing both our tears. Then our lips found each other, moving like puzzle pieces finding their fit.
He spoke into my lips, “I love you and our baby.”
I kissed him back, pulling his neck to keep him pressed to me, and I gathered my strength and pushed down my fear.
When we parted, he was smiling, a small smile, but still. His own fears seemed to have disappeared and that light was back in his eyes.
“We can do this” He gripped my waist, breathless, and on the verge of excitement. “I— Damn, I don’t even know, but we’ll figure it out.” He leaned back on the couch, pulling me with him. His chest rose and fell with his deep breaths.
“This is going to change things. A lot has to change.” I spoke even, staring at the coffee table in front of us instead of looking at him.
“I know.” His arm moved up and down my side. “First thing is, you can’t work here anymore.”
I knew that was coming, but it still stung to know I was being pushed out again. “You won’t be working here much longer anyways, right?”
He nodded. “Once I find a spot for a new club, I can sign it over. I have to prepare Ian for everything, but I can start cutting back my time here and give him more control now.” His other arm circled around me, pulling me closer to him. “I’ll have more time for you.”
Until the new club opened, but I didn’t voice that concern yet. “What about meeting with the real estate agent? I want to still go. You can’t cut me out of everything.”
He gripped me tighter, and I sunk with his chest as he released a breath. “Yeah, that should be okay.”
“Really?” I pulled back to look at him, more excited than I should have been, but I hadn’t expected an easy acceptance.
The corner of his mouth tugged up. “Yeah, this new club will be good for us. You can be involved in the startup when the meeting’s are legit.” He lifted his wrist, checking his Rolex. “We’ve got time, come on.” He rose to his feet as he explained, “We can go see your coach, let him know you can’t fight anymore, and then we’ll go get lunch before we meet with the realtor. My baby needs to eat.”
He was home, he had to be. He’d come into the room hours ago to change, but I had been half asleep.
I was awake now and his side of the bed was still empty. He hadn’t left, had he? Sliding out of bed, I walked down the hall, the light from the next room over let me release the breath I was holding. He was in the home office. The door was silent as I pushed it open, my bare feet almost as quiet. But he looked up from his computer as I entered the doorway, eyes soft and hair a mess from the path his fingers ran through it.
“Babe, come here.” He rolled his chair back, extending his arm to me. “You should be in bed.”
“So should you.” I walked around the desk, into his arm, and he pulled me to sit on his lap. I studied his computer screen. “Still considering that one?”
“It had the best location of the three, but the rents steep. We’d need to get it up and running quick, and then pray like hell it does well. Ms. Wedam said it’d go quick though, so I have to make a decision.” He sighed and turned his head towards me. “You still feeling sick?”
“Not at the moment.” My nausea came and went, without warning. “Weren’t there other investors that could help deflect the start up cost? Only the one showed up on Friday.”
“I don’t want to pull in more. I want this to be us, our thing. Sanjay’s the only person I brought in because his only demands are to approve our location, get VIP when he comes to the place—he already would have anyways—and a twenty percent return on his investment. Once he gets that back, it’s all ours.”
“And he approves of this place?” I nodded to the screen and Gage nodded. “What about Viktor?”
“Viktor’s only concerned is that he’ll have a place to filter money through. So as long as we turn a profit, he doesn’t care.”
Gage’s phone vibrated on his desk. He lifted it up to read the text. “Fuck.” His thumb typed on the screen as he explained, “I told this shit to Ian before I left a few hours ago, and already he’s texting about how to close our accounts at the end of the night.” He tossed the phone onto his desk. “It can wait till tomorrow, I’m not going back in tonight.”
“You mean this morning, you’re not going back in this morning. It’s nearly five am.”
He groaned as he leaned back in the chair. “Then I guess I better enjoy what time I have with you before you go to class in a couple of hours.”
“Oh wait.” I stopped him before our lips met. “What about Dexter? He want’s to know if he should reserve us seats.”
His head dropped back. “It’s that Friday after thanksgiving right?”
“Even if I sign today, the new club can’t open till next month, but Ian should take over the strip club by then…so yeah, that would be a good time to go see them. I can’t believe that bastard’s jumped from boxing though.”
I smiled, sliding my hands around his neck. “I’ll let him know today.”
He grabbed my arms. “But don’t tell him about the baby yet. Let’s keep that a secret for now. Okay?”
I nodded, meeting my lips with his, tasting the cool sweetness from the energy drink he had been sipping on. But his lips warmed quick, moving with mine, and when his tongue swept into my mouth all I tasted was him.
“Oh. My. God. It’s true. You’re Pregnant,” Kendall spoke from the other side of the stall.
“Shut up.” Her words made my stomach hurt more than throwing up rice did. I took a few breaths, my stomach stabilizing, and braced myself to walk out and face her.
She was frozen in a crazy, wide-eyed smile. “Sara told me you quit boxing because you were pregnant. I was waiting for you to say something, but…” she glanced at the stall behind me, eyes narrowing. “Do you need gum or something?”
I walked past her to the sink to wash my hands and rinse my mouth with bottled water. Coach Finnegan was the only person we told, and he promised not to tell, but he’d lied.
“Thanks,” I mumbled, taking the gum from her. “Who knows? I didn’t want to tell people yet.”
She paused, letting me walk in front of her as we left the bathroom. “I don’t know. I think the team knows. Hey,” she grabbed my arm, “don’t look so down, this is exciting. Congratulations.”
I gripped my book bag tight, walking down the hall to the exit. “We just weren’t telling people yet.”
“All right. I get it.” She bumped shoulders with me, stopping at the front of the building. A smile spread, and then she pulled me in for a hug. “I won’t tell anyone. But I’m happy for you.” She stepped away. “I’ll see you tomorrow. I got to get to Psych before I’m late again.”
I walked along the tree-lined sidewalk, burnt orange and red leaves swirling everywhere in the wind. It should be pretty, and I tried to focus on the positives. Things were going to be all right. But all I could see was death. Even the prettiest of the leaves were dying and they crunched under my boot.
A car pulled up to the sidewalk and rolled along beside me.
My heart raced as I glanced at the tinted windows. I kept walking, the pressure of the gun in my boot giving me some reassurance. Plus, the campus was busy with people walking by, crossing the lawns to my right. The dark town car meant nothing.
“Regan,” Alessandra’s voice called from a crack in the window.
I kept walking, picking up my pace.
“Regan,” Her voice was sharp this time. “Don’t be an idiot, I just want to talk.”
I stopped short, turning to the car. “I’ve got class. We’ll have to talk another time.”
“Get in.” The passenger side door opened and a man got out. He opened the back door for me, and Alessandra spoke from inside, “We’ll take you to your next class.”
The suited man stood with his hands clasped in front of him, watching me with a slight smile on his lips.
I took a step back and he took a big one forward, grabbing my elbow.
“Stoyt,” She lifted her finger with the command and the man dropped my arm. “Leave her be. You don’t want to talk, fine. I only thought you were interested in stepping up. My mistake.”
I stepped away from the large man at my side, but couldn’t walk away. Her words circled me, and her smile held me. She knew something, and she wanted to tell, that much was clear in her eyes.