“They do,” I assured her. I wasn’t as happy to be out of bed as I’d been when I’d woken up that morning. My feet hurt like a bitch and my head was killing me.
“I’ll let the doctor know.” She finished taking my vitals, shook her head at the number that popped up on the screen of the portable blood pressure machine, and then told us the doctor would be right with us.
“They’re working quick today,” Harris commented as he pulled his phone out to play with. “They never take you back like that.”
“I know,” I muttered. That they had, worried me, but it wasn’t the only thing on my mind. I had a bad feeling about the visit.
“You’re sweating, Nat. Want me to get you some water?” Linc offered.
“Yeah, thanks. That would be nice.” He stood to go get it, but the door opened and in walked Dr. Chesterfield.
The man had been Emmie’s doctor when she’d been pregnant with both Mia and Jagger, and he had taken great care of me during the last few months of my pregnancy. The usual smile he had ready for me each visit, however, was absent when he entered the room. “Natalie, how are you feeling?” He took in my red face, sweating brow, swollen feet and hands, and grimaced. “Forget I asked that.” He dropped down on his chair and shook his head at me.
“Well, how do you feel about having a baby today?”
Linc, who’d been about to retake his seat, nearly stumbled. “What?” His voice came out half strangled, his face now pasty white.
I was sure my face was no longer red. I’d felt the blood drain from it at the doctor’s question. “Today? But…I still have three weeks until my due date. I…” I swallowed hard. “Dev’s not even here.”
“Your blood pressure is off the scale, you have protein in your urine, and I’m sure if I listened to the baby right now it wouldn’t be happy. I’m not even going to check to see if you’re dilated, because it wouldn’t matter. We need to induce you today.” He pulled out a paper from the folder I’d just noticed he’d had with his usual iPad. “I think it will be safer for both you and the baby if you delivered sooner rather than later, Natalie. Take this over to the Women’s Center. They’ll get you all taken care of and I’ll be over in a few hours to check on you and we can bring baby Cutter into the world in a few hours.”
Tears flooded my eyes. “What if something’s wrong with her? She still needs time to cook. I’m not ready for this.”
The doctor patted my hand. “Yes, you are, dear. Trust me. You’ll be glad to have that little girl in your arms later. Right now, with the way things are looking, she will be a lot safer out here than in there.”
I clutched the paper he’d just given me. “Harris, call your dad.” I needed Devlin to know. I needed… Fuck, I just needed him to be here to hold me. Why had I told him to go to work? Why hadn’t I been like other wives and thrown a fit for him to attend the appointment today? Now he was at least forty minutes away and I was having to face… Hell, I didn’t know what I was going to have to face.
He already had the phone pressed to his ear. “Gotta cut the session short today, Dad. Go home and grab Nat’s bags and meet us at the hospital.”
“What?” I heard my husband explode even from across the room.
Harris pulled the phone away from his ear, grimacing in pain. “She’s being induced,” he explained. “We’ll see you there. Okay?”
I held out my hand, needing to talk to him. Needing to hear his voice. Harris sighed and handed his phone over. “Dev?”
“Nat?” His voice sounded choked up and I had to bite my lip to keep from sobbing. That was fear I heard in his voice and it only escalated my own. “Are you okay?”
“The doctor thinks it will be safer for the baby if we have her today,” I tried to explain. I glanced at the doctor and he nodded his head, offering a grim little smile. “Can you get Ax to drive you to the Women’s Center? I don’t want you to drive.”
I heard him suck in a harsh breath. “Okay. I’ll be there soon, baby. Now give me back to the boy… I love you.”
I clenched my eyes shut to keep even more tears from falling. “I love you, too.”
Harris took the phone back but I didn’t look at him as he spoke to his father again. “I will, Dad. I promise. Be safe.”
The doctor stood and offered his hand to help me down from the exam table. “These things happen every day, Natalie. You’re going to be just fine.”
I wanted to believe him, but in that moment I was terrified. Three weeks early wasn’t that bad, right? Luca and Lyric had come a lot sooner than that and those two were perfect. Trinity would be okay. She would be healthy. That was all I cared about. If something was wrong with her because my damn body couldn’t take being pregnant for as long as she needed, I wouldn’t have been able to live with myself.
“I’ll see you soon. My staff over at the Women’s Center will be expecting you.”
I nodded and followed him out of the room, Harris and Linc right behind me. Thankfully the Women’s Center was just a few blocks from the doctor’s office, but I was in no condition to walk it. Harris got behind the wheel of my SUV and drove the short distance to the facility.
If I’d had a clearer head, I would have already been calling a hundred different people. Emmie, my brothers. Jenna and my father. They would both want to know when I had Trinity, but I doubted very much if my mother did. I hadn’t talked to her at all since I’d told her I was going to marry Devlin. Jenna and my dad had still kept in daily contact, though, and I wished with all my heart that Jenna had been with me right then.
“She’s upset, but otherwise she seems fine.” I turned my head to find Linc sitting in the back seat with his phone to his ear. “Yeah, the first flight out will be a good idea. She loves you too. Bye, Jenna.”
I could have kissed my best friend right then. “Th-thank you,” I whispered.
He gave me a wink and put his phone to his ear again after punching in someone else’s name. “Yo, Shane. You’re about to become an uncle. Round up the rest of the family and meet us at the hospital.”
The staff over at the Women’s Center didn’t waste time when I arrived. Like Dr. Chesterfield had said, his staff were expecting me. Two nurses had quickly appeared as soon as I’d given my name at the reception desk on the first floor. They’d given Linc and Harris odd looks but hadn’t protested when they had followed us onto the elevator.
Up on the labor and delivery floor, I was taken to a private room where a bed was already made up. On the other side of the room the things that would be needed to treat the baby once it was born were ready to go. The older of the two nurses had told me that I would deliver in this room—unless something happened that required a C-section—and afterward I’d stay in the same room. Keeping the mothers in the same room made the transition a little more emotionally bearable, the younger of the two had told me with a kind smile.
Linc and Harris stayed in the room while the two nurses took me into the bathroom, helped me shower and then dressed me in a hospital gown that was surprisingly soft. Back in the room, they made me get in bed and then waited until I was comfortable before attaching all the machines to me. One to monitor the baby’s heart, one that the older nurse explained would measure my contractions when that joy started, and then a heart monitor for me as well as the blood pressure cuff that would check my pressure every fifteen minutes.
The younger nurse started prepping my arm for an IV and I blindly reached out, needing someone to hold my hand. I wasn’t a fan of needles. A sweaty hand clasped mine and I didn’t have to lift my eyes to know that it was Harris. His hands were just like his father’s, just like the rest of him. He was practically Devlin’s clone. “It’s okay, Nat. You’re okay. Dad will be here soon.”
The needle pierced the back of my hand and I blinked back tears. “I hope so.”
“Okay, we’re going to get one bag of fluid into you and then start the Pitocin. That’s when you need to let us know if you want an epidural or not, Mrs. Cutter.” The older
nurse lifted her brows at me. “We have the anesthesiologist on standby for you, so just give the word and it’s yours. But I have to tell you that Dr. Chesterfield has recommended it adamantly. The pain will only raise your blood pressure and put you and the baby at more risk.”
“Of course I want the fucking epidural,” I snapped at the woman. When she just continued to smile at me, I felt bad about my tone and sucked in a deep, steadying breath. “Sorry,” I muttered. “I just wish my husband were here.”
Her brows lifted. “Neither of these two guys are your husband?”
“Harris is my stepson,”—I glanced up at him and then over at Linc—“and Linc is my best friend.” Her mouth gaped open for a second and I stiffened. “If you even dare try to get rid of either one of them, I will throw you out the fucking window.”
The younger of the two nurses laughed softly. “Is she usually like this?” she asked Linc.
“Only when she gets surprised with things she can’t control,” Linc told her honestly, ignoring the doe-eyes the nurse was batting at him right then.
I wanted to laugh at the sight of the nurse trying to flirt with him. At first sight, no one could tell Linc was gay. Not even at second or third sight. He was one of the manliest men I’d ever met and I loved him unconditionally.
“Do you really want your…stepson in here when you deliver?” the older nurse asked, sounding almost judgmental now.
“Of course I want him in here,” I cried. “He’s going to be her godfather.”
“I am?” Harris asked, sounding so shocked that I lifted my eyes to look at him.
“Damn it,” I muttered. “It was going to be a surprise.” Frustrated tears burned my eyes and I couldn’t blink them back fast enough as they spilled down my face. “Your dad and I wanted to ask you after your sister was born.”
“Ah, Nat.” Harris bent and wrapped his arms carefully around my neck. “Of course I want to be her godfather. It means a lot that you would want me to.”
“Ladies, if you’re finished with Mrs. Cutter for the moment, perhaps you could give us some alone-time?” Linc stepped forward and practically herded the two nurses toward the door. “We will call for you if you’re needed.”
The door had barely closed behind the two women when it slammed open, nearly hitting Linc in the face. Devlin rushed into the room, his face nearly as red as I was sure mine had been at the doctor’s office an hour before. Wild aquamarine eyes roamed over the room until they landed on me lying there in that small hospital bed.
“How are you?” he growled as he crossed the room in only a few large strides, dropped the suitcase and diaper bag I’d packed weeks before, and wrapped me in his loving arms. His face buried in my hair, which had thankfully grown out a good deal, and I felt him suck in a deep, ragged breath. “Are you in any pain?”
Relief washed through me as soon as his arms were around me. More stupid tears flooded my eyes and I was helpless to hold them back as he shook in my arms. “I’m fine,” I whispered. “I’m just so glad to see you. This is scary, Dev. What if something is wrong with her? What if…What if I didn’t do the right things and she’s sick?”
“You’ve done everything right, baby. You and Trinity will be fine, I promise.” He lifted his head to press kiss after kiss to my face. “I love you so fucking much, Nat. I’m not gonna let anything happen to either of you.”
It was just after seven when Harris came out of the maternity ward. The waiting room was packed with all the people who loved my sister. From Emmie and Nik with both their kids, to Lana and Drake and their two girls. Jesse and Layla had the twins and Lucy with them. There was Axton and Dallas with Cannon, as well as Wroth and Marissa. Even Liam and Gabriella were there, plus Harper and myself.
Harris looked pale but he was grinning. Everyone in the waiting room breathed a sigh of relief at that grin.
“Well?” Emmie was the first to demand.
He shook his head, seeming dazed. “Trinity Anne Cutter was born at six thirty-seven, weighing five pounds, two ounces, and is eighteen inches long exactly. Nat is fine, but exhausted. Trinity doesn’t seem to have any complications and has a very healthy pair of lungs.” The boy glanced around, saw Lucy standing between Jesse and Drake, and his face changed. “She’s beautiful, Lu.”
The younger girl stepped forward and hugged him. “I’m so glad they’re both okay.”
I watched Harris’s body seem to relax as he hugged his friend tightly. “So am I.”
The waiting room door opened again and Linc walked in, wiping sweat from his brow. “I don’t care who has another baby, I’m not going to watch that shit again—ever.”
Dallas and Harper both laughed as they hugged him. “You did a good job, I’m sure of it,” Harper said, soothing her friend. “Did she scream curses at you and Devlin?”
“Nope.” The big man shook his head. “She was pretty calm for the most part. Until she started pushing and told the doctor…” Linc’s green gaze went to all the kids in the room and he grimaced. “Let’s just say her irritation was with the dude and not any of us.”
“Can we see the baby?” Lana asked as she bounced Arella in her arms.
“Soon, I think. The doctor is patching Nat up right now and then they want to get her to try to breast feed. Devlin said he’d come out and let you all know when you can see Nat and Trinity,” Linc assured everyone.
Relieved that my sister was okay and that my newest niece was fine, I leaned back against the wall and watched the rest of my family. It wasn’t until right then that I realized this would be for Harper in the not-so-distant future. Our family and friends would be in a waiting room like this waiting on news of my wife and child. They would be there to help us celebrate the birth of our son or daughter. This wildly relieved happiness coursing through my chest would be for my kid and not just for my nieces.
Without realizing it, a smile lifted my lips. As if she were thinking the same thing, Harper turned from talking to Linc and Dallas and offered me the same smile. Our secret was eating her up, and it was starting to do the same to me. Hopefully we would get to share it with the people we loved soon.
Leaving her friends, Harper crossed the room and wrapped her arms around me. Thankfully her morning sickness had started to calm down and she hadn’t thrown up in a few days now. “Are you as excited as I am?” she whispered close to my ear so no one else would hear.
I pulled her closer. “Probably more,” I told her with a laugh. “I don’t know why, but this makes it all seem more real.”
“I know,” she said and sighed happily against my shoulder. “I feel almost as if I could float right now, Shane.”
“Don’t worry, beautiful. I won’t let you fly away.” I kissed her temple and then pushed away from the wall. “Come on, let’s go get everyone some coffee.”
The next few hours were filled with laughter and excitement over getting to see the newest addition to our family. My baby sister and my father arrived just before Devlin appeared in the doorway to say we could go back and see the baby, but only a few at a time, and the younger kids would have to stay behind. Hospital policy or some shit.
Emmie and Nik went back first with Jenna and Clyde, so Harper and I watched Mia and Jagger. They were only gone about ten minutes before Emmie and Nik returned. Jagger, who had been happily sitting on my lap while I flipped through a magazine, let out a happy grunt when he saw his mother, and Emmie gave her son a beaming smile as she bent to take him from me.
Layla and Jesse decided to take their turn because the boys were getting restless and they wanted to get them home and into bed. Lucy went back with them while Harper assured Layla she would watch over the boys. With my arms now free, I held out my hands to Lyric and he shook his head stubbornly at me before going back to the padded blanket on the floor where his mother had put him with his favorite toys.
Luca, however, had other plans. Harper was standing by the door with Emmie and Nik as
they talked about the new baby and how Natalie was feeling. Luca decided to make a run for it and was gaining speed as he headed toward the door.
At least it had looked like he was going for the door. By the time I realized his devious little mind wasn’t planning on getting out, Luca had already wrapped his arms around Harper’s leg. “Pwetty,” he told her with a smile I couldn’t decipher on the little beast.
Harper crouched down so that she was on the toddler’s eye level and kissed his cheek. “Thank you, Luca.”
With a move I knew he must have learned from his father, Luca lifted a chubby-fingered hand and touched Harper’s cheek lovingly. “Mine,” he said with a nod, as if that were that and his word was law.
The adults around him chuckled, but Harper just kissed the little boy’s cheek again. “Sorry, buddy, but I belong to Uncle Shane.” She lifted her eyes and gave me a wink. That wink left me stupid for a second and it wasn’t until Harper straightened to return to the conversation she’d been having with Emmie and Nik that I could think straight again.
Luca, not deterred by Harper’s assurance that she belonged to someone else, stretched up on his tiptoes and touched her shirt. “Mine,” he said again and patted her stomach.
Harper froze at the same time I did and lowered those violet eyes to our honorary nephew. She stared down at him for nearly a full minute before a bright smile lifted at her lips, making the waiting room shine with the radiance of it. She bent and scooped Luca into her arms and kissed his cheek once more. “Maybe one day, little guy.”
Luca let out a contented sigh and laid his head on her shoulder, his hands automatically going to her long hair and wrapping the silky strands around his fingers. By the time his parents returned, Luca was sound asleep so Jesse gathered up Lyric and the diaper bag while Layla carefully took her sleeping son and they quietly made their goodbyes. Lucy came in to say goodbye to us all and then Harris walked the Thorntons out to their car so he could have a few extra minutes with his best friend.