I grinned over at her. “Maybe your mom will let us do it every week, then. It’s not like you’ll be missing school or dance.”
“I hope so,” she said as she eyed the colors that had been set in front of her to choose from. “I like this marble color.” She showed me the green and black colors that gave the marbled effect.
I nodded, approving of her choice. “Very pretty, bella.”
For the next forty minutes we were pampered and spoiled. I was pretty sure I had Mia hooked and was more than a little delighted at the possibility to get to do this with my favorite little girl each week.
My phone chirped with an incoming text just as I finished paying. Mia grinned up at me as she recognized the tone I’d assigned for Liam. “Uncle Liam is as bad as Momma.”
I snorted. “You don’t know the half of it.” I pulled my phone from my purse and couldn’t decide if I wanted to roll my eyes or kiss him as I read the text.
Where r u? The shower is about 2 start. I thought u would b here by now. I miss u. Save me from all this girly shit. Luv u.
On our way. Will b there n about 40. Luv u 2. I sent the text and then put my phone away as I took Mia’s hand and we made a run for my car where I’d made Stan wait. I pushed Mia into the back seat ahead of me and closed the umbrella before joining her.
“We nearly took a shower out there.” I laughed as I started to turn toward Mia.
She didn’t laugh back and my eyes lifted, suddenly feeling her tension. I saw her pale face, her big green eyes wide with fear and followed her gaze.
Confusion filled me. Was this a joke? What the hell? Anyone who knew me knew that I hated surprises. “Who the fuck are you?” I snapped and started to reach for the door.
It wouldn’t open. Why the fuck wouldn’t it open? I tried again, but even though I could pull the handle all the way back, the door didn’t open. I slammed my fist against it, wanting out. Needing out. “What kind of joke is this?”
A cool laugh filled the car as a man I vaguely remembered turned to face us. Yeah, definitely not Stan. I’d never heard him laugh, but I was pretty sure that if he ever did, it wouldn’t sound that annoying. Shit. “Child safety locks come in handy every now and then.” The stranger lifted a gun and I realized immediately that it was what Mia had been focused on to begin with.
Suddenly I wished I’d taken more than just Stan with me that morning. Damn it. Liam was going to be so pissed.
My mouth went dry with my own fear. Guns and I didn’t get along and the scar on my chest started to ache just remembering the last time I’d come face to face with one. One that looked a little like the one that was being pointed at my heart right then. Clenching my jaw, I tried to get control of my fear. I needed to keep a clear head. There was more than just me to worry about right then.
I felt Mia start to tremble and I reached for her hand, giving it a reassuring squeeze. “Where is Stan?” Please say he went to get a donut or something.
The man shrugged. “Pretty sure he’s dead.” Fucking hell. Liam was definitely going to be pissed. “Which is what you’ll be before long.” He nodded his head out the window and I was helpless not to look out to try and see Stan. All I saw was another car through the pouring rain. “Put his fat ass in there. He can bleed all over the leather. It’s stolen anyway.”
“Is-is your name Sean?” Mia’s voice shook, but I was so proud of her for being strong. Any other kid would have been screaming right then. I had to give Emmie credit; she had been raising her daughter to be brave. Or maybe it was just that Mia was that much like her mother and able to keep a clear head during a crisis.
Did I know a Sean?
The name echoed in my head for a moment and then I realized why his face was familiar to me. I’d met him a few times in the last few years at various places around LA. He was usually at an event doing an article for Rock America.
The man—Sean—sneered at Mia. Whoa, not a pretty sight. The man wasn’t good-looking in the least. More on the thin side for what I would expect if he’d taken out Stan. I was still holding out hope he’d just gone for donuts. “Yes, little girl.”
“Y-you work with Aunt Harper.” Mia bit her lip. “I saw you a few times at her office.”
Ah, fuck. Well, there was one connection that made sense now. Damn.
“Right again.” His face twisted with what I could only name as rage, turning his not-so-pretty features ugly in a monstrous kind of way. Or maybe that was just my fear talking as I watched the gun wave from me to Mia and back again. “I did work with that bitch. For two years I helped her do the job that was supposed to be mine. Ever since her rich daddy left her the magazine, she put me in customer service and I have to take calls all. Damn. Day.”
“Poor you,” I muttered. “Why don’t you call her and tell her your sob story? Pretty sure you don’t need us to do that, though. So you let us go and I promise we won’t tell anyone you just tried to kill us.” I gave him a smile that was full of sarcasm.
Stop it, Gabriella. Shut your stupid mouth before you get the kid and yourself killed here. The voice of reason tried to warn me, but I was too much of a bitch to listen.
I was so gonna tell. Liam was going to lose his shit and Emmie…
Fuck. Emmie. She was going to go off the deep end. She’d probably kill me for letting this happen. I wasn’t sure if it would happen before or after she took this fucker’s head, though. I could only hope that she let me watch this dude leave the world before she ended me too.
As if I’d just flipped a switch in the guy, his face cleared of the rage and he returned my sarcastic smile. “I couldn’t care less about you and the brat. But she wants you taken care of. So…” He shrugged. “A promise is a promise.”
What the fuck did that mean?
I didn’t know and there was no time to figure it out. Sean turned the gun back toward Mia and my fear skyrocketed. There was no time to think, no time to make a plan. He was going to shoot her. With a cry, I lunged at him, grabbing for the gun. That surprised him and he didn’t put up as much of a fight at first, giving me false hope as I nearly got the gun from him. But then he realized what I was doing and simply pulled the trigger.
There was no big bang that I remembered so clearly from the last time—that haunted my dreams each night. There was no burning followed by searing pain. All I remembered was a slight pinch before I realized that I hadn’t been shot by a bullet.
It was a fucking dart gun.
What the fuck?
I lifted my eyes to Sean, confused and growing more so with each passing second as whatever was in the dart quickly took control of my body. “It’s a tranquilizer,” he informed me calmly. “Did you think I would kill you myself?” He laughed and I saw two of him. The world started to spin and I shook my head, trying to clear it of the static.
Don’t pass out.
Don’t pass out.
“She wants to take care of you herself,” Sean assured me. “You and Harper. The brat, too.”
He couldn’t hurt Harper. She was pregnant. She didn’t deserve this… Whatever this was. And what the fuck was he going to do with Mia? “Don’t…hurt...her,” I thought I said, but things were so fuzzy I didn’t know if the words actually left my mouth.
My head was starting to hurt. I could actually feel my pulse beating at my temples. It felt like I had the hangover of all hangovers. My stomach started to protest and I had enough brain power to wonder if he’d overdosed me with whatever shit he’d just shot me up with. For a moment I had the oddest sensation and I wondered if this was how Liam had felt every time he’d gotten high.
If it was, I couldn’t understand the thrill. Couldn’t understand the need to keep doing it. I would have made a terrible drug addict.
I fell back against the seat and tried to focus. I needed to save Mia. T
ears filled my eyes as she faded in and out of view and I grabbed for her, pulling her close. I was helpless. Helpless. “Don’t be scared,” I slurred just before everything went dark.
Violet was pressing against my bladder.
Groaning, I got to my feet with a little difficulty and first hugged Emmie and then Dallas. “Thanks for an amazing baby shower.”
Emmie grinned up at me. “I’m glad you’ve been having a good time. I know Shane is probably already plotting how to get you to leave, so I’m going to get my hugs now.”
Dallas shook her blond head. “I’m surprised he’s lasted this long.”
“Me too,” I said with a laugh, only to wish I hadn’t. “Darn. I’d better go to the bathroom. This girl is playing soccer with my bladder right now.”
“I don’t miss that,” Emmie muttered.
“I’m not going to miss it either,” I assured her. Although there were some things I would miss once I delivered the baby in a few weeks. Like feeling her kick. She was an active baby and kicked me at all hours of the night.
Some nights Shane and I just lay in bed, the lights on, as we watched her move around in my belly. It hurt, but it was so beautiful to watch that I didn’t care about the pain.
Feeling another kick to my bladder, and not wanting to make a mess of the floor, I carefully hurried toward the ladies’ room. I have to admit that something as simple as relieving my poor bladder felt so good it was nearly orgasmic. And since it was as close to any orgasm I was getting at the time, I savored it.
Once I was done, I washed my hands and reached for a paper towel to dry them. As I turned to leave, the door opened and Rex’s wife, Helena, walked in. I offered her a smile, even though I didn’t feel completely comfortable around her. She was so cool with me at times that I wondered if she actually liked me, but I knew we would have to see each other often since Rex and I were now partners, so I tried to let it go.
“How are you?” I asked as I paused, wanting to talk to her—hoping it would ease some of the tension I’d always felt between us. “You’ve been kind of quiet today.”
Her lips lifted in a half smile. “Oh, you know me. I just like to sit back and take everything in.” She stepped farther into the bathroom and set her purse on the sink. She didn’t bother looking at me as she moved a few things around inside the huge purse. “Have you enjoyed your day?”
“It’s been perfect.” I smiled happily. “It’s still hard to believe that this is happening. I never thought this day would come. Having a baby was a dream for so long that I didn’t even believe the doctor when he first told me I was pregnant.”
Helena nodded, still moving things around in her purse. “Yes. I didn’t believe it when Sean first told me, either.”
She turned to face me, but I was so caught on what she had said that at first I didn’t see what was in her hand. Sean? Why would Sean have told her about my pregnancy? I didn’t even think the two knew each other. Rex had never mentioned it to me, but then again I didn’t expect him to tell me all about his wife. Still, it didn’t make sense for Sean to tell her or anyone else about my pregnancy, and I opened my mouth to ask about it only to snap it closed just as quickly.
My eyes finally fell on what was in her hand as the light bounced off it.
Everything inside of me went cold. Helena had a gun and she was pointing it right at me. More specifically, at my belly.
“What are you doing?” I found myself asking stupidly, even as my hands wrapped around my stomach, protecting my baby. It was obvious what she was doing, but my brain wasn’t working quickly enough to catch up.
“I’m taking back what was mine to begin with,” she informed me with a cool calmness that I was almost jealous of right then. I could barely put together a complete sentence, yet she looked perfectly able to deal with the current situation.
“Yours?” I muttered.
She nodded. “Yes. Mine.” She smiled, as if she were in the bathroom to offer me a tampon rather than threatening my life. “Shane was mine first, Harper, dear. Didn’t he tell you?”
I swallowed with difficulty. It was nearly impossible to get saliva back into my mouth as my eyes remained trained on the end of the gun that never seemed to shift away. “No,” I whispered, fear clutching my stomach like a contraction. “No, he didn’t tell me.”
Shane would have told me if he’d hooked up with Rex’s wife—I was sure of it. We’d spent enough time over the years for me to have sensed it in Shane even if he hadn’t. But there had been no sign from him that he knew Helena as anything more than my boss’s wife. Helena must have lost her mind.
Why else would she say that Shane was hers and point a gun at me?
Shane didn’t remember most of his time with the women before me. He’d told me repeatedly over the last four and a half years that he remembered no one before me because they didn’t matter. I was his beginning and his end. That was all that mattered.
“I thought the pictures would be enough to convince you that I’d had him first,” Helena went on, as if I hadn’t even spoken. “But you couldn’t take the hint. Then, you didn’t even pay attention to the ultrasound picture I sent. Did he even show you? Or did he feel too guilty once he found out you were pregnant?”
Anger started boiling in my veins as I realized what she was saying. She had sent the pictures of Shane…doing those things. She was the one who had sent the letter and ultrasound. Had she really killed Shane’s baby?
“Was there ever a baby?” I demanded, practically seething now.
She shrugged as if it didn’t really matter. “There was, but I didn’t know whose baby it was. I couldn’t keep it in case it wasn’t his.”
This woman was a monster. How could she get rid of her baby like that? How could she heartlessly let it go? It shouldn’t have mattered who the father was. It was an innocent little baby who had deserved life.
But if she’d done that, did it mean she had also nearly killed Ranger? Had she been the one to shoot Gabriella and had almost snatched Mia? My heart turned cold at that thought. Helena had nearly taken Mia. Nausea rolled in my stomach, making Violet protest by kicking me in the ribs. Lower, another pain that resembled a contraction tightened my belly. Holy crap, that hurt.
“Let’s go,” Helena suddenly snapped.
She stepped forward and I had no choice but to back up or have the gun actually touch my stomach. Touch Violet. My back hit the door and it pushed outward. From down the corridor, I could hear everyone laughing, still having a good time while I faced down a crazy woman. I opened my mouth, ready to scream for help. She must have seen in my eyes what I was going to do because suddenly the gun was right against my distended naval.
“Do it. See what happens,” she dared.
Swallowing my fear, I closed my mouth. As calm as she was, I realized she knew exactly what she was doing and wouldn’t hesitate to shoot me.
With the gun now right against my stomach, she didn’t waste any time guiding me toward the exit. I cowered back when the door opened and the rain nearly drowned me. “Keep moving,” Helena bit out and pushed me forward. I stumbled in a small hole and lost my shoe but didn’t dare stop to get it. It wasn’t like I could have put it back on by myself anyway.
I couldn’t see very clearly in the rain so when she stopped suddenly I nearly fell against a car. My clothes were glued to me from the rain and I was already starting to shiver. My hair was dripping into my face, making it even harder to see. “Helena,” I said, trying to reason with her through chattering teeth, “p-please don’t do this. Shane will never forgive you if something happens to me.”
“What Shane doesn’t know won’t hurt him,” she said with a small laugh. I heard what sounded like a trunk popping open and then she was pushing at my back.
I stumbled forward but ther
e was nothing I could catch myself on, so I fell. When my stomach hit something hard I couldn’t help but cry out in both pain and fear for the baby. I landed on something cold and metallic but before I could even realize I was inside a trunk, Helena was pushing my legs in and slamming the door.
Another pain tightened over my belly and I hugged my arms around it, trying to protect Violet, but knowing that I might not be able to.
Five more minutes and then I was taking Harper home.
Five more minutes.
The baby shower was a huge success and Harper was laughing and having a great time. But I was antsy. For some reason I had the strongest urge to grab her and run for the door. I knew she wouldn’t let me, though, no more than Emmie would allow it. Just as I knew I was being overprotective, unreasonable at times, and more than a little bit unbearable.
I couldn’t seem to help it, though, no matter how many times I tried to tell myself I needed to chill out a little. From the moment I’d gotten Harper home from the hospital after the miscarriage scare, I’d gone a little crazy. I was terrified that the least little thing was going to hurt Harper or Violet. I had turned into an overbearing asshole and I was still trying to figure out why Harper still put up with me.
If she didn’t love me she would have probably kicked me out of the house weeks before. Not that I would have gone. My need to protect the two most important people in my life made it hard to breathe at times. I’d be lost without either one of them and one wasn’t even in this world yet.
Axton now had Shaw, so I had nothing to do with my hands as I stood watching Harper from across the room. My bandbrothers and friends had tried to keep me distracted so I wouldn’t mess up Harper’s special day. While they had kept me on the other side of the room from her, they hadn’t been able to distract me long enough not to watch her like a hawk. More than a few times she’d lifted her head from whatever she was doing with the women to give me that bright smile I loved so fucking much. That smile said so many things.