The house phone went silent and as soon as I heard Axton’s voice I realized Linc had probably answered it. “Hey, bro. Get your wife to the hospital. If she wants to see this baby enter the world, she’d better get a move on. We just got here and the doc says Dallas is already dilated to a seven. It can happen at any time, man.”
“What?” Harper exclaimed into her own phone. “Okay, I’m on my way. Cross your legs or something. Don’t you dare have this baby without me, bitch.”
I could hear Dallas laughing through my own receiver and realized that Axton was in the same room as his wife. “Where’s Cannon?” I asked my friend as I got out of bed and headed for the closet where Harper was already tossing on clothes.
“Kenzie’s home for winter break. She offered to keep him because Austin and Tink are here with us.” He sounded a hell of a lot steadier than he had when Dallas had gone into labor with Cannon back in February. Maybe Dallas had slipped him something to calm his nerves. Or maybe he was sweating buckets and I just couldn’t see his face to know.
From the background I heard Dallas groan. “Sonofabitch!” she cried out.
Axton inhaled sharply and I realized my friend didn’t have it as together as I’d originally thought. “Get the fuck here, Stevenson. I gotta take care of my wife.”
The line went dead and I found myself just standing there staring down at my phone. Was this a taste of what I would go through when Harper went into labor? Oh, fuck. Fuck. Fuck. Fucking, fuck, fuck. My legs went weak and I fell onto the ottoman that was beside the closet as I pictured the most important person in my life going through the pain I’d just heard in Dallas’s voice.
There was a hard knock on the door seconds before it opened and Linc stuck his head in. “Hey, Kenzie said that Dallas is at the hospital. You guys ready?”
“I’m putting my shoes on now,” Harper told him. “Grab me a water out of the fridge, okay?”
Linc left to get it, but I just sat there, still trapped in the hell of the possibilities that were to come when Harper had our baby.
“Shane?” Soft hands touched my face, pulling me out of my personal nightmare. Violet eyes were bright with a mixture of amusement, concern, and urgency. “You okay?”
“I’m gonna mess it up.”
Her brows lifted. “Mess what up?”
I lifted a hand and touched her still-flat stomach. She was nearly out of her first trimester but I could tell some big differences in her changing body, and I was enjoying each and every one of them. “This,” I breathed, my throat feeling tight with emotion. “I’m gonna fuck it up. I want to hold your hand through it all, but you know how I am when I see blood that’s not my own. How am I supposed to help you if I can’t keep it together to watch our miracle come into the world?”
She crouched down in front of me, her eyes soft with love and understanding. “You’re going to be great. You’ll just keep your eyes on mine and never look away. Okay? I’ll have Dallas and Emmie in the room with me for all the other stuff. Okay?”
My eyes widened. “Emmie? You want her in there with us? I thought…” I’d thought Linc or Lana. Emmie had been further down the list of people I would have expected Harper to have wanted in there during delivery. Not because Harper didn’t love and appreciate Em, but because she had a stronger bond with her other friends.
“Emmie deserves to be in there with us, don’t you think?” She smiled and my heart literally hurt at the sight of how beautiful she was. “Aunt Emmie needs to welcome the newest addition and give her kiss of approval.”
Tears filled my eyes and I pulled her onto my lap, burying my face in her hair. I knew we should have been rushing to get to the hospital, but right then I needed a few seconds of breathing Harper in. “Yeah, beautiful. She needs to do that.” For me, Emmie was the most important chick in my life, second only to Harper. She was my sister by choice, my voice of reason, a part of my heart and attached to my soul in a way I could never begin to explain to an outsider. That Harper wanted her in the delivery room with us told me that she understood my connection to the first girl who had ever burrowed her way into my heart.
The door opened again and Linc stuck his head in. “Hey, hurry the fuck up.”
Ranger barked at him unhappily and I let Harper go so she could give the dog a goodbye hug while I quickly dressed.
Not bothering to wake Peterson or Theo, I drove the three of us to the Women’s Center where I knew Axton was waiting on us. As soon as we got to the labor and delivery floor, Axton came into the waiting room and grabbed Harper’s hand. “She’s at nine,” he’d told us, looking pasty and sweating so much his shirt was soaked.
The waiting room was already filling up with family and friends. We’d just done this a few weeks ago with Natalie so this was nothing new to most of us. Dallas’s dad and stepmother were sitting by the nearest window. Tink patted her husband on the back reassuringly while Austin Bradshaw rubbed his hands repeatedly over his face. Linc and I took the chairs across from them just as the waiting room door opened and Nik and Emmie came in.
“Any word?” Emmie asked as she and Nik sat beside me.
“We just got here,” I informed her. “But Axton didn’t look too good. Said she was at nine. What the hell does that mean?”
“It means that she’s dilated to nine centimeters,” Nik explained, a pro now it seemed since he had two kids of his own. “It’s almost time for her to push, dude.”
“I’m going to start getting security taken care of,” Emmie said as she stood. “Keep me posted, okay, babe?”
Nik stood long enough to kiss her and then dropped back down next to me. My eyes followed Em until the door closed behind her before I looked at my bandbrother. “How is she?”
“Better. She’s been to three visits with Dr. Rayner.” He grimaced and slouched down in his chair to get more comfortable. “It’s going to be a slow process, but we’re getting there. He’s got her on melatonin to help her sleep and so far she’s been getting a few hours each night. But, hell, bro. That’s a few more than she had been getting.”
I nodded my head but my hands clenched into fists against my thighs. I hated that Emmie was having to go through all that shit. When my bandbrothers and I had gotten custody of her after the death of her evil mother, I’d promised myself that she wouldn’t ever have to be afraid of anything ever again. Yet, there she was, having to face a new nightmare.
One that was all my fault.
CHAPTER TWENTY THREE
I flinched as Dallas cried out in pain for the third time in as many minutes. Her contractions were coming even faster and I knew that it was nearing time to push. I didn’t envy her this part of the pregnancy, but still, just watching her heightened my own excitement for when it would be me lying in that bed getting ready to push out my child.
“Baby…” Axton’s voice cracked as he held her hand and wiped her brow with a damp cloth. “Just breathe. You got this. You’re okay.”
“Shut the fuck up, Ax.” I bit my lip to keep from grinning as my best friend gave her husband a glare that would have turned anyone else into stone on the spot. “I hate you.”
His hands shook as he continued to wipe the sweat off her face. By the looks of the poor guy, he needed that more than Dallas at that moment. It was obviously killing him to see her in so much pain.
Within seconds Dallas was breathing out a relieved sigh. She turned tired blue eyes back to her husband. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean that.”
He nodded. “I know, baby. I know.”
“It hurts so bad, Ax. I don’t remember it hurting this bad with Cannon.” Her chin trembled. “I’m so tired.”
Tears filled Axton’s hazel eyes. “I know, baby. I know.”
Dallas opened her mouth to say something else but then clutched at her stomach. “Fuck!” she screamed. “Fuck!”
I moved closer to the bed, hating that there was nothing I could do for my best friend. “I though
t she was going to have an epidural,” I whispered to Ax.
“There wasn’t time,” he whispered back. “By the time the doctor finished the epidural on the woman in front of Dallas, she was already too far along to give it to her.”
Dallas lifted her head. Her hair had been pulled back into a ponytail, but it was starting to fall and was soaked in sweat. “Go tell that fucking doctor to get his goddamn ass in here,” she yelled at Axton. “I’m pushing in two minutes whether he’s here to catch this kid or not.”
“Shit,” he muttered and practically ran out of the room.
Dallas watched him for only a second before she was clutching at her stomach again. “Ah, fuck. Fuck. FUCK.”
I took Axton’s spot, wiping her brow and holding her hand. At one point there had been a cup of ice chips, but she’d grabbed them during a particularly ugly contraction and told Axton to go fuck himself and his ice chips. I hadn’t known whether to laugh or run, but as soon as the contraction was over she’d apologized and told Ax she loved him more than life.
The grip she got on my fingers nearly crushed them. “What can I do?” I asked, feeling worthless just standing there.
“Distract me,” she begged. “Make me forget.”
My mind raced but I couldn’t for the life of me think of anything that would get her mind off the kind of pain she was in. There were a million things I could have told her to distract her, but not one came to mind so I blurted out the one thing I wasn’t supposed to tell anyone. “I’m pregnant.”
Dallas’s head snapped up mid-contraction. “What?” she screamed, blue eyes wider than the moon. “Really?”
I bit my lip. It had just slipped out, but now that I’d told her, I actually felt like a weight had been lifted from my shoulders. “I’m almost out of my first trimester.”
“Oh, my God.” Tears filled her eyes that had nothing to do with the pain she was in. “Oh, fuck. Harper,” she said, beginning to sob. “I’m so happy for you.”
The door started to open and I lowered my head. “Please don’t say anything to Axton. We’re keeping it a secret for as long as possible. With this stalker thing…”
She nodded her head quickly. “I won’t say a word.” Tears spilled free and even though I could see that she was having an intense contraction from the monitor hooked up to her belly, she was just staring up at me with wonder in her baby blues. “Harper…” Her voice quivered. “Oh, Harp.”
Tears filled my own eyes and I tried to blink them away as Axton and the doctor came into the room with two nurses. We were both smiling by the time they reached us.
Axton’s face went even more ashen at the evidence that we’d both been crying. “What happened?” he demanded.
Dallas shook her head. “Nothing. Not a damn thing. I’m just…so happy…to get this baby out of me.”
“Good,” the doctor said with a serious frown on his face as he gloved up and moved to the end of the bed. Dallas shifted and then muttered a harsh curse as the man did something I couldn’t see. “Looks like we’re ready to go. Nurse, let’s get everything ready.”
“Your lazy ass should’ve had it ready by now,” Dallas snapped as another contraction hit her hard. “Fuckin’ hell, people. Hurry the hell up.”
Axton took the other side of his wife and bent to kiss her cheek. “You okay?” His eyes were flowing over her and then turned to me, as if blaming me for whatever he saw in his wife’s face that he didn’t understand. “What were you two talking about?” he demanded in a hard voice.
“Leave her alone, Ax. She’s been keeping me distracted.” Dallas reached out and touched my cheek, wiping away the last of my tears. “You’d better return the favor, bitch.”
I let out a relieved laugh. “I promise.”
“Goooood.” The word was drawn out as yet another contraction hit her. “Holy shit, one of you losers do something,” she yelled at the nurses. “You keep up this slow-ass pace and I’ll deliver this kid myself.”
I was sure they thought she was full of hot air, but Dallas was a registered nurse. One of the best there was after graduating top of her class from one of New York’s top-ranked nursing schools. She could have delivered her own baby if she had to, and from the evil glare she was giving everyone right then, I knew she was only moments away from doing just that. Dallas didn’t make idle threats. Ever.
The next twenty minutes went by in a bizarre haze, as if everything was going at warped speed, yet was slowed down at the same time. Once the doctor told Dallas she could start pushing, it was only a few minutes before my new godchild was making her entrance into the world known.
Dallas was openly crying while Axton sobbed and kissed her over and over again. I looked down at the doctor cleaning the baby off through a mist of my own tears. She was screaming the place down, angry at the world for her having to leave the safe haven of her mother’s womb.
“Does Dad want to cut the cord?” one of the nurses asked.
With shaking hands Axton cut the cord and then Bradshaw Harper Cage was placed on her mother’s chest. Almost instantly, baby Shaw quieted, soothed by the comforting sound of the heartbeat that had been her personal music box for the last nine months.
“She’s so beautiful,” I breathed as I looked down at my goddaughter.
“She looks just like you, Dallas.” Axton wiped his tears away before brushing a kiss over the back of Shaw’s head.
“She already has my attitude,” Dallas said with a tearful laugh. “Hey there, precious girl. Tell these idiots to hurry up so Momma can sleep.”
While the doctor and his nurses finished up, I excused myself to give Dallas and Axton some alone time with their daughter and went out to tell everyone the good news. The waiting room had filled up since I’d gotten there. Lana was there, minus Drake and the girls, but she was seated between Nik and Shane. Liam and Gabriella had arrived as well as Zander and Annabelle who were freshly engaged as of the big Christmas party Emmie had thrown the week before.
As soon as I opened the door, all eyes turned to me. I looked at Austin. “Your granddaughter is beautiful. Momma and baby are doing just fine, despite having called every person in the room just now fucking idiots. Not sure I would have done that when the doctor still had to do a little more work to my…area.” Everyone in the room laughed at that, but then again, they all knew how Dallas was. “They haven’t weighed Shaw yet because Dallas won’t let her go long enough to do that, but she has a set of lungs that makes me think she’s going to be captain of the cheerleading squad when she gets older.”
Shane stood and came to me, wrapping me in his arms and kissing me. I lifted my eyes to his and quietly confessed what I’d done. “I…I kind of let it slip to Dallas…”
His eyes widened for a moment but then he shrugged. “I’m surprised you haven’t told her before now. Don’t worry, beautiful. I trust Dallas with your life.” He brushed a soft kiss over my lips. “Just Dallas though, right?”
I nodded. “Axton wasn’t in the room.”
“Maybe we can tell everyone else soon.” He gave me a grim little smile, but I could see a flash of excitement in his blue-gray depths. “I’m getting anxious to tell Em and Drake.”
“Let’s wait until I start showing, first,” I suggested. Things with the stalker had been weirdly quiet but I felt like it was just the calm before the storm. I didn’t like having it hanging over our heads like that, and wanted to keep our secret close for as long as possible. Once I started showing, however, we wouldn’t really have a choice.
For now, I’d gotten to tell the one person I’d been aching to share our news with and I was content to keep it to ourselves for the moment. I was happy.
We were happy.
CHAPTER TWENTY FOUR
“Emmie!” I was in a rush and of course I felt like I was forgetting something. “Em!”
She walked into the living room where I was fumbling in my pockets to make sure I had my keys, phone, wall
et… What the fuck was I missing? Big, green eyes were bright with amusement as she held out the wrapped present I’d had shipped here so that Harper wouldn’t mistakenly find it.
That some of the dark shadows had started to fade now that she was getting more sleep made some of my tension ease. Things had been quiet since that last stupid letter from the stalker and I was praying that it was all over. Harper wasn’t so sure and continued to look over her shoulder, as if waiting for something bad to happen to cancel out the excitement of our newfound joy.
Relief washed over me when I saw what Emmie was holding. That was what I’d been forgetting. I snatched the present from her hands and brushed a kiss over her cheek. “Did she get the flowers I ordered? Are the reservations set?”
“Of course she did, and yes they are.” She opened the door and pushed me through it. “Go or you’re going to be late.”
I sucked in a deep breath, trying to relax. Fuck, you would think this was my first Valentine’s Day with Harper. I was so damn nervous and didn’t even know why.
Get it together, Stevenson.
Muttering a curse, I jogged down Emmie’s driveway and hopped into the back of the waiting Town Car I’d hired for the night. Harper was meeting me after work for dinner and if I didn’t hurry she was going to get there before me.
Pulling out my phone, I sent her a quick text. How is work going?
Less than a minute later my phone chimed with her reply. Good.
I frowned down at the screen. Really? That was all I got? Good? Had she really gotten the flowers I’d sent or had Emmie just been trying to get me to relax and leave? Nah, she wouldn’t lie about something like that.
So what was up with my wife?