“We wouldn’t have wanted to be anywhere else, would we, darling?” Reginald wrapped his arm around my waist and smiled charmingly down at me.
“No, of course not. It was an honor to be invited to your wedding reception. Thank you for having us,” I murmured, glancing at Harper as she smiled so lovingly up at Shane. “Congratulations to you both.”
“Thanks,” Shane said with a smirk at me, but I could see the anger blazing out of his eyes. The hurt. The pain. My heart clenched at the sight. I’m so sorry, my love, I wanted to say but didn’t. One day, I promised him with my eyes. One day I will make this all up to you.
After a few more minutes the couple moved on to speak to their other guests. I went back to our table with Reginald. While he went off to get me another glass of champagne, I let my eyes drift to Shane who was now out on the dance floor with his little niece in his arms.
Little Mia Armstrong giggled as her beloved uncle swung her around to the music, singing along with her to the words of the popular pop song that the little girl obviously enjoyed. Even though I’d never really liked children, the sight was cute and I found myself actually smiling at the two.
Shane would make a good father, and for him and only him would I dare to even think about having a child of my own. It would make him happy, so I was sure I would give him a son or daughter. Eventually. I still had a few more years to enjoy my stunning figure.
While I continued to watch, I saw Emmie gazing adoringly after them, her big green eyes smiling happily at her daughter and adopted brother. The world knew that Emmie worshiped her daughter, the little creature who was her spitting image.
What, I wondered as my hate for the woman continued to grow with each passing second that I looked at her, would Emmie Armstrong do if something happened to that lovely little girl?
End of April, Present Day
Harper was the first one awake. She was up, already showered, and looked ready to conquer the world. With a yawn I sat up in bed as my beautiful wife rushed around our hotel suite with the force of a tornado. Normally Harper was a slave to sleep, craved it almost as much as she did my touch, but today was important to her.
Today was the last shot we had. At least that was what we’d agreed when Emmie had found Dr. Bambach, the leading fertility specialist in the world. After more than a year of seeing one doctor after another, being told repeatedly that Harper was never likely to get pregnant and having to watch her heart break a little more with each slap in the face, we were ready to hear what Bambach had to say. Harper had promised me that she would take what the doctor said as gospel this time, and if it wasn’t the news that she wanted—which I knew was the most likely scenario—that we could finally talk about the other options we had available to us.
With the money we had, the options were endless. There was adoption, something I was more than willing to do. The world was full of kids who needed someone to love and protect them. We were already godparents to Dallas and Axton’s baby boy, Cannon. But if what Harper wanted was a child who was part of both of us, we could find a surrogate and she could carry our child—something Harper had refused to think about in the past because she wanted to carry our baby herself. Or so she claimed. I knew the real reason, even if she wouldn’t admit it out loud.
I knew that she would see any surrogate as someone more worthy of me than herself. Her insecurities still hadn’t completely faded.
Beautiful little idiot.
Harper hadn’t believed me when I’d told her that it didn’t matter to me if we never had a child of our own. If we never had a child—period. She was all I wanted in life, all I needed. She still had no idea just how much I loved her. How much I worshiped her. I doubted I would ever fully be able to show her how much she meant to me, and I was learning to live with that.
Even though she had promised me she would accept whatever Dr. Bambach said and wouldn’t let her heart be broken if we got bad news yet again, I knew it had been a lie. There was no way her heart wouldn’t take a beating if we got bad news yet again. I was trying to prepare myself for the aftermath of the doctor’s visit. She would cry, silent little tears that would shred my heart. She didn’t sob anymore because she knew how much it hurt me to hear them, but that made it worse because I knew she wasn’t letting out her grief like she should.
After the tears would come the weeks of depression where she would fall into some dark hell that I was helpless to pull her out of. Ranger would mope around the house, cuddling with her and loving on her. Yeah, I was jealous of that little mutt because I knew he could help heal Harper’s heart more than I could.
If things went as I was expecting them to today, then I figured Harper wouldn’t pull out of her depression until mid-summer. Ranger would enjoy that because she always went on a shopping spree for the dog, buying him toys and treats and spoiling him even more than usual. Then she would remember me, finally, and we would go back to being the happy couple we were supposed to be. I was okay with her forgetting about me for a few weeks, knew that she needed that time to herself to get over the fact that she wouldn’t ever experience having our child growing in her stomach. I loved her enough not to be hurt that she pushed me away during that short time.
I just hoped it didn’t last too long this time around. Just as I hoped it would be the last time—like she had promised—and we could finally move on.
In the process of pulling her long hair into a ponytail, Harper saw that I was awake and dropped down next to me on the bed. I wrapped my arms around her waist and pulled her against my chest, my lips already searching for hers. Our good-morning kiss was slow, full of all the love and passion that I knew would never fade even if we lived to be a hundred years old. I felt her starting to melt against me and knew if I didn’t pull the E-brake we would end up being late for her doctor’s appointment.
Reluctantly pulling back, I brushed a soft kiss over the tip of her nose and nudged her to get up. Selfishly I knew I wouldn’t be getting out of bed until she did. As long as she was still on the mattress then I was going to be too, and that just begged for all kinds of delicious things that I ached to do to her.
With a happy little grin, she got up and finished tying her hair with the black band she still had. Dressed simply in jeans and a T-shirt that nearly matched the color of her violet eyes, Harper looked like a teenager rather than the twenty-five-year-old woman she was. I wanted to strip her and lick every inch of her beautiful body, but I knew that wasn’t possible.
Later, I promised myself.
No. Probably not later. Later she would be crying.
Clenching my jaw, I turned toward the bathroom before she could see the look on my face. I didn’t want to upset her yet. There would be plenty of that later.
“Did Emmie say if Ranger was okay?” Harper called out to me as I walked into the bathroom.
I smirked and rolled my eyes. “Yes, beautiful. Ranger is fine. Mia is having a blast doggy-sitting for us.”
I did my business and then reached into the shower to turn on the water just as Harper appeared in the bathroom doorway. “Hey…” She paused and sank her teeth into her bottom lip, distracting me but not enough to not notice that she wanted to ask me something she wasn’t sure how I would answer.
I crossed the bathroom and wrapped my arms around her small waist, letting my hands drift down over her luscious ass and pressing her against my aching body. “Hey,” I murmured with a wink.
“Do you think Ranger is lonely? I’ve been thinking lately that maybe…well...” I brushed my lips over hers, stopping her flow of words.
“You want to get Ranger a brother or sister?” Pink filled her cheeks but she nodded. I kissed her again. “Good idea. We can talk about that more when we get home. Okay?”
It was actually a great idea and something I was going to look into the second we got home. Maybe it would help Harper get over the disappointment that Dr. Bambach was going to give he
r today a little quicker. I was willing to do anything to make her get over today as fast as possible. Anything.
I started to release her but she looked up at me through those thick lashes in a way she knew I was helpless to resist. “I love you,” she whispered. “I love you so much.”
I didn’t know why, but a lump filled my throat and I had to swallow a few times before I could speak. “I love you too, beautiful. Always and forever.”
The parking lot at the fertility clinic was nearly deserted when Peterson pulled our rental up to the door. I gave the man a curt nod as he opened the door for me and then reached in to help Harper out of the back seat. Her fingers trembled ever so slightly and I tightened mine around hers, offering her my strength.
She gave me a bright smile, but I saw the way her eyes were already turning dull. This was her last hope, our last hope. A hope I wasn’t sure we would find here, or ever. Clenching my jaw, I tugged her toward the door and let her enter first.
Emmie had already taken care of the paperwork in advance, having emailed everything the staff could possibly need, including all of Harper’s medical records from every doctor we’d seen over the last year as well as my smaller medical history file. She’d even taken care of payment and anything else that might need to be dealt with. She knew how important this visit was for us.
She also knew that I would be in hell for the next few weeks if this visit turned out just like the others.
Thankfully the staff all spoke perfect English and there were no communication issues. The place was empty except for staff, and the receptionist ushered us back to the doctor’s office immediately. Privacy was necessary and this place knew exactly how to keep things hushed up. Emmie had made sure of that. I didn’t want the paps telling the rest of the world that Harper couldn’t have a baby. Demon’s Wings fans crucified her every time they saw her in the trash magazines and even the respectable ones. If you could call them that.
In the office Harper took one of the chairs in front of the desk while I paced from one side of the room to the other. I was nervous as hell, because I knew that Harper was about to get her heart broken yet again. Needing to distract myself, I glanced at the wall that was covered in newborn babies being held by the same man. Dr. Bambach, I presumed. He’d helped all of these kids’ parents bring them into the world. Would he be able to help us too?
I paused and looked over at her. She looked so small sitting there, so pale and innocent. I didn’t want the real world to stomp that innocence out of her, but it did a little more every fucking day. “Beautiful?”
“It’s going to be okay,” she tried to assure me. “I promise that no matter what Dr. Bambach says, I’ll be okay. I swear it.”
I gave her the smile I knew she was hoping for. We both knew she was lying, but I let her get away with it. “I know, beautiful.”
Before she could say anything else the door opened and in walked the doctor and a nurse. Dr. Bambach was a middle-aged man in decent shape. His hair was streaked with gray but he had a receding hairline. I noticed he had a chart tucked under one arm as he stepped forward and offered me his hand. “Mr. Stevenson?”
I nodded as I shook his hand. “Call me Shane. And this is my wife, Harper.”
The doctor gave her a big, warm smile as he took her hand next. He didn’t shake it, though, and I felt a shot of irritation. It wasn’t that he was flirting with her; I could tell that wasn’t the case. I just couldn’t handle when strangers touched her for more than a second. Fuck, I could barely stand it when some of our family touched her for longer than a second. She called me a caveman, but when a man had something as precious as Harper in his life, he tended to become a Neanderthal. My bandbrothers were just as bad with their wives so I didn’t figure I was in the wrong.
“A pleasure to meet you, my dear.” He still held on to her hand as he spoke quietly to her. “I understand that you are having some trouble conceiving. I hope I can offer you some answers.”
Harper swallowed hard. “Yes. Yes, I hope so too.”
Finally, he released her and turned to the nurse whom I was just now taking note of. She was dressed in a white skirt and a button-down matching shirt with flat, white dress-shoes. In her hands she carried a laptop that she set on the desk before taking the chair beside it. “This is my nurse, Mrs. Gregory. She’s just going to be taking notes for us during this consultation. If for whatever reason you need to reach me after today, it will be best to email her and one of us will get back to you immediately.”
Mrs. Gregory barely lifted her head to look at us but she smiled kindly. The doctor surprised me when he took the empty seat beside Harper and turned toward her, but I didn’t care. I was better off on my feet, so I could pace if I needed to. “I’ve looked over all of the files you sent us, Harper. I understand that you have gone to eight different specialists in the States?” She nodded, her teeth sinking deep into her bottom lip. “From what I saw they all had the same thing to say.”
Again she nodded. “They all said that my PCOS…”
Bambach nodded when she trailed off. “Yes. I’m sure you know the reasons behind why PCOS is such an issue when trying to get pregnant. Put simply, it is a hormonal issue. For some women, they don’t have a period, for others—and like yourself—their periods are incredibly heavy. Excess body hair and acne are also a couple other symptoms. From what I read, your heavy flow and the acne are both easily treated by birth control pills.”
He reviewed Harper’s history with her for a few more minutes while I stood against the opposite wall, watching and listening. I’d been through this eight other times over the last year so I knew the drill. He was going to ask her all kinds of personal questions, get her to confess some of the most intimate things about herself, and then tell her all about the different fertility treatments they could do for other women with other fertility issues, but there was nothing he could do for her. It was the same smoke they all blew up our asses.
“I’m not going to make you any promises, Harper,” the doctor began, and I naturally tensed, ready for Harper’s face to fall as soon as he was done. “Only God can know your future, but I may have a solution for you. I stress may because it hasn’t been successful for most women. It’s still in the early days yet. In the last fourteen months we have been working on a new hormone therapy for women who suffer from PCOS. It is still in the early testing stages, as I said, but we have already successfully delivered ten babies from mothers who have PCOS.”
Wait… What did he just say?
I couldn’t believe my ears. Of all the things I’d been expecting to hear, and I’d heard them all, having a possible solution hadn’t been one of them.
Harper gasped at the same time my heart stopped beating. My eyes zeroed in on my beautiful wife and I saw her eyes fill with tears, but for the first time they weren’t the heartbreaking kind. At least not yet. The look in her violet eyes was full of so much hope I couldn’t help but feel a little of my own.
“Ten?” she whispered.
Dr. Bambach nodded with a small, almost sad smile. “Yes. But that is only ten out of three hundred, Harper.”
My hope evaporated. Ten out of three hundred. Only ten women had gotten pregnant out of a case study of three hundred. Three percent. I wouldn’t have put money on those odds. Harper, however, was actually laughing.
“But that’s ten women who got to hold their babies that never thought they would.” She dashed her tears away with her fingers and grinned up at me, but when she saw my frown her grin dimmed. “This is good news…right?”
I blew out a long sigh. “I don’t know, beautiful. Ten out of three hundred. That means whatever treatment this guy is offering has a ninety-seven percent chance of not working, baby.”
The doctor nodded, understanding written on his face. “That is very true. But we are working on new treatments every day as well as better-advancing the hormone therapy. Not everyone responds the same way because not everyone’s hormone
chemistry is the same. Some react to certain things quicker, some not at all. If you and your wife are willing to proceed with this new hormone treatment, I would monitor her reactions and make any changes as soon as I knew there was a need to.”
I scrubbed both my hands down my face. The hope on Harper’s face was killing me. Gods damn it. This was worse than if we’d walked in and been told the same song and dance for the ninth time. This fucking doctor was giving her a small taste of hope, but she might never get the outcome she craved.
How would she handle it when she realized that? How deep would she fall into depression when she wasted six months, a year, a fucking decade by putting her faith in this doctor and didn’t get what she wanted so desperately? I wanted to give her the fucking world, but this—the hope, the waiting, the huge chance that she still wouldn’t get what she wanted—it would slowly kill all her joy and faith in life.
“How long would I have to be on this hormone treatment?” Harper’s question had me dropping my hands. She was speaking to the doctor but looking directly at me. “How long before I’ll know if it’s going to work?”
“Of the ten who got pregnant, one was on it for only a few weeks, the others from two to seven months. I changed some of their dosages three different times.” Bambach stood and walked toward me, knowing that he’d already sold Harper but that he still had to sell me on the idea. “I’m still working with at least fifty of the women who were in the initial trial. The others weren’t willing to put their hearts on the line anymore, but the fifty-plus that I’m still working with improve their chances of having their own child every day that they stay on it.”
My head was starting to pound as I listened to him go on. I wanted to be the voice of reason here but, between the doctor and the hope in Harper’s eyes, I couldn’t find the strength to open my mouth. I knew I was most likely going to regret it before long, that I would have to watch all of Harper’s passion for life slowly fade with each passing month she didn’t get the results she wanted. I’d have to watch her heart break at a slower pace than the last eight times we’d seen specialists.