I’m having fun.
I love you.
You’re worrying, stop it.
I love you.
“She’s still there, brother.”
I turned my head from watching Harper as she stood and hugged Dallas and then Emmie. They were all laughing and I knew Dallas would take care of her, so I guessed it was safe to look away and talk to Drake. “We’re leaving soon.”
“Figured as much.” Drake grinned and lifted his glass of iced tea to take a drink. “You seriously need to chill, little brother. You’re gonna drive Harper crazy and that won’t be a good thing once your baby girl is here.”
I shrugged. “I’ll chill when Violet is here and I can hold her and not have to worry about her and her mother.”
He threw his head back, openly laughing out loud at me. “You are so delusional. You think that feeling is going to just evaporate once you have that baby in your arms?” He shook his head, causing his long hair to fall into his face. “It only gets worse, Shane. And not just a little. You think you spend every second of the day worrying now? Wait, dude. Just wait.”
I grimaced and turned my gaze back toward Harper, only to find her leaving the room. I started to follow, but when I noticed she was just going to the bathroom, I relaxed. Seeing my hesitation, Drake chuckled. “Come on. Let’s get some of that cake before you hogtie your wife and desert us.”
Mutely, I followed him to the small table where the cake had been put. Emmie had outdone herself with finding the perfect bakery for the cake. It was shaped like a huge pink present, complete with a dark pink bow. There was even a small white gift tag that said ‘For Violet’.
Drake cut me a big piece of the cake and handed it over, along with a fork. “Eat and then you can take her home.”
I nodded and took a bite.
“Dray,” Lana called out from across the room. “Babe, do you have the other diaper bag? Arella needs to be changed.”
Drake pushed his own plate into my hand and left me without a backward glance. “It’s in the car, Angel. I’ll get it.”
Shaking my head at his retreating back, I put his plate down and found a chair to finish my cake. As soon as I was done, we were leaving.
Five more minutes.
“Want some company?”
I lifted my head to find Rex standing beside the table where I was sitting. Using my foot, I pushed back the chair beside me, silently inviting him to join me. I hadn’t seen much of Rex in the last few months. He’d been busy with work, and since Harper was home with me there hadn’t been any reason to see him. So it was a surprise to see how pale he was. The guy looked bad. Really bad. Like he hadn’t been eating or sleeping.
“Are you sick?” I couldn’t help but ask.
Rex’s lips pressed into a hard line as he sat down. “Depends on your definition of sick. Helena and I are having problems again. She hasn’t been herself lately. I’ve been trying to convince her to go into rehab, but she won’t hear of it.”
I blinked, drawing a blank on who Helena was for a second. Then it came to me. His wife. Why didn’t I readily know who his wife was?
Because she didn’t matter, that’s why. Unless a chick was family, I didn’t really notice them. Looks… Name… None of that mattered to me. Call me a prick for having tunnel vision, but I just didn’t give a shit about anyone who wasn’t Harper or family.
“That sucks, man. Sorry to hear it.” I took another bite of my cake. “Is it drugs?”
Rex grimaced. “I don’t know what it is, honestly. She’s been having spells where she just gets moody and then practically hysterical. She starts throwing things and raging like she’s mad at the world. Other times she gets quiet, almost depressed. She closes herself off and I can’t reach her. Then the next day it’s like none of it happened. Like a switch was turned off and she’s back to being the woman I fell in love with.”
“She sounds bipolar to me, dude.”
He nodded. “Yeah. I thought so too. But she won’t even talk to me about it.” He sighed and ran a hand over his face. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to unload on you at your own baby shower.”
I shrugged. “I was the one who asked.”
“Harper?” Lana appeared at the door that led from the bathrooms. She was holding Arella against her chest as she looked around the room worriedly. “Harper?” Her voice grew louder. “Harper, where are you?”
Without thinking about it, I pushed away from the table and headed toward my sister-in-law. “She just went to the bathroom a little while ago. I saw her,” I assured her.
Lana shook her head. “No. I know that. She said Violet was pressing on her bladder so she went to the bathroom. That was like ten minutes ago. She’s not in there.”
My stomach clenched, but I refused to panic. She’d just gone to the bathroom. What could have happened between then and now? Right?
“I’ll find her,” I assured Lana as I moved past her toward the bathrooms.
I walked down the small corridor where the ladies’ room was and didn’t bother to knock before stepping inside. “Harper? Beautiful?” No answer and I found all the stalls empty. Shrugging, I stepped out of the bathroom and glanced around.
Maybe she’d felt sick. There was an exit just past the men’s room and I hurried toward it. Opening the door, I was nearly drowned by the rain as it poured down just outside. She wasn’t out there and I knew she wouldn’t have chanced standing out there without an umbrella. She knew I would worry she would get sick and I trusted her not to put herself at risk like that.
The back parking lot was empty, though, and I turned to step back inside when I saw something in the puddle right beside the door.
A black ballet slipper.
I bent and picked it up. It was soaked but I instantly recognized the shoe.
Harper had been wearing a pair just like this one. I remembered because her stomach was so big now she needed help putting her shoes on. Dread filled my chest and I had to suck in one deep breath after another as I turned and ran back into the ballroom.
“Harper?” It came out a bellow, but I didn’t care. “Harper, answer me.”
She had to be here. I’d just overlooked her, that was all. She was fine. Harper was fine.
Kids were still laughing and running around. Friends and family were mingling and enjoying the rest of the cake, talking about who had won whatever stupid baby-shower game. I looked for Luca in the crowd, hoping he had just snuck in some Harper-time so he could call her round stomach ‘pwetty’ again. But the kid was with his twin, running around with Jagger who was playing tag with Neveah.
“She’s not in here,” Emmie said as she stepped in front of me. “What’s wrong?” Her eyes landed on the shoe clutched in my fist. “Is that her shoe?”
I nodded. “She’s not in the bathroom. This was outside, by the restrooms.”
She pressed her lips together. “Okay, don’t panic. She’s probably just off with one of the other women doing something.”
“She’s not. Everyone else is in here.” I shook my head. “Something’s wrong, Em. She’s not here.” I could feel it in my gut.
Harper wasn’t there.
“What could happen to her here, Shane? No one here would hurt her.” Emmie took my hands in hers, trying to make me see reason, but I noticed that her fingers were ice cold. “She’s fine.”
“What’s wrong, Emmie?” I demanded, seeing the paleness of her face. She wasn’t telling me something. I could see it in her eyes, feel it in the deathly cold fingers clenching mine. “Where’s Mia?” I breathed when I realized that I hadn’t seen her running around throughout the last hour.
Emmie swallowed hard. “She’s on her way. She just got caught in traffic with Gabriella.” She gave me a smile that didn’t reach her eyes and it did nothing to relieve my worry. “Liam’s been texting with her. They’re fine.”
I wanted to believe her, ached to believe her, but I couldn’t. Not even
for a second. “Find Harper,” I commanded, my voice low and dangerous. “Find her, now.”
Peterson was still in the SUV because we hadn’t really needed him during a family event like a baby shower. I’d thought she would be safe with her guard waiting in the vehicle, but now I was realizing that I’d been wrong. I ran toward the entrance and out into the rain. The guard had parked the vehicle close to the front door. Seeing it and him still in the driver’s seat, I pounded on the window.
He quickly lowered it. “What’s wrong?”
“Have you seen Harper out here?”
His eyes widened as if he thought I was losing my mind. “No, of course not. She wouldn’t be out here in this.”
“She’s missing.” My voice actually broke and I could feel my knees going weak. The reality was starting to set in and I was going to lose it. “She’s missing.”
Peterson opened the door and got out. “I did see a car leave about ten minutes ago. Rex’s wife. Helena Brennen, right?”
“What? He’s still in there. I didn’t see her leave.” What the fuck was going on? Why would Helena leave without Rex?
Was Harper with her?
“It’s been raining so hard I couldn’t tell for sure, but it looked like her,” Peterson assured me. “I didn’t see anyone with her, but that doesn’t mean anything.”
Before my eyes, I watched Peterson change. He lost the blank-faced expression I was used to and his eyes became assessing, as if he were going over every possibility and not liking any of them. “We need to talk to Rex.”
“Fucking right we do.” I followed Peterson back into the building.
Inside, Emmie had been working her magic. Everyone but the kids and a few of the moms were standing around watching her, none of them daring to say a word as they watched the redhead move around the room. “I’m sure we will find her,” Emmie said with that damned forced smile again.
“Em…” I got her attention and she turned to face me and Peterson. “He saw Helena Brennen leaving about ten minutes ago.”
“Helena?” Rex stepped forward. “What? Why would she leave? I have the keys to our car.” He pulled them from his pocket, showing us all that he had them.
“She could have brought her own,” Emmie told him, her voice cooler now.
“But why would she leave? We have dinner plans for later. I don’t understand.”
“Neither do I,” I growled. “But I want to.”
CHAPTER THIRTY ONE
I was in a nightmare. That was what this was. Just another nightmare. Any minute now I would wake up and be safely at home in bed beside of Nik. I’d wake him up and he’d kiss me and soon I’d forget all of this.
But it wasn’t a nightmare.
I knew it, but I couldn’t convince my mind of that fact.
Peterson had moved us into a smaller room. Nik, Jesse, and Liam had followed us, leaving Drake to watch Jagger and soothe Lana and the others who I refused to let leave yet. Shane had grabbed Rex and dragged him along with us, though, and I was glad for that. He might have answers to all my questions.
As the door shut behind us, I grabbed Liam’s phone and read through the messages he’d said Gabriella had been sending him. They looked just like the others in the message queue. The words were the same, the abbreviations were the same. Nothing about them made me think that anyone but Gabriella had sent them to him.
My gut, however, was screaming that they were all a lie. Something was wrong. Why had it taken her more than an hour past when she had promised she would arrive? Traffic shouldn’t have been that bad.
“Call her,” I commanded Liam as I pushed the phone back into his hands. Hands that were just as cold as my own and trembled twice as badly. “Don’t stop until she answers.”
He nodded and put the phone to his ear. I watched him as he waited. And waited. And waited some more. “It’s going to voicemail,” he told me in a choked voice and tried again. “She’s not picking up.”
“Keep trying,” I snapped at him and turned to face Shane and Peterson. Nik was beside me now, his hands going to my waist, but I was numb. I didn’t feel the usual fire from his touch. My entire body was cold, feeling as if it were turned to solid ice.
All I could think was that Mia wasn’t there and she should have been there. Gabriella wasn’t there, and even though I had days when I didn’t want to see her, I wanted her there now. Harper was missing. She’d just disappeared from the baby shower.
Disappeared. Almost as if she hadn’t even been there to begin with.
I hadn’t questioned Mia’s absence when I should have. Hadn’t listened to my gut instinct when she and Gabriella hadn’t shown up at the promised time. I’d even tried to downplay Shane’s concern when he first couldn’t find Harper. Stan not answering his phone should have set me into gear. I should have done something. I should have already been looking for her. Should have called Roger, who had the day off, and had him go with Mia that morning to begin with.
“Tell me all about your wife,” Peterson ordered Rex as he stepped closer to the man.
I watched him pale, which should have been impossible with how pasty his skin already was right then. He looked like an accident victim with his paleness and the dark circles under his eyes. It had been a while since I’d last seen Rex Brennen, but I remembered him having a little more meat on his bones. It was obvious to me something was wrong with him.
Rex’s Adam’s apple bobbed twice before he started talking. “I married Helena six years ago. We only dated for about six months before her parents started dropping hints that they would like to see us married, so I popped the question.”
Shane crossed his arms over his chest, glaring at the man. “You said earlier that she’s been having issues, that the two of you have had problems. Do you think she could hurt herself? Could she hurt Harper?”
Rex’s eyes widened. “No, she wouldn’t hurt herself,” he started to assure us adamantly, but then his gaze clouded over. “I don’t think she would, anyway. I can’t understand why she would try to hurt Harper, though.”
Peterson lifted a brow. “What is her maiden name?”
“Saunders,” Rex was ready to supply. “She was a trust fund brat. I don’t think she’s ever worked a day in her life, but she did go to college and has a degree in journalism. I tried to get her to work at the magazine, but she refused. She would rather stay home and spend my money.” Rex gulped nervously, but then again anyone probably would have been nervous to have Peterson staring at them like he was currently doing to the man.
“How did you meet her?” I asked, trying to piece their marriage together, hoping that it would help figure all this craziness out.
“At a concert. I was supposed to do an interview with Nik and Jesse after a Demon’s Wings concert but I got sidetracked when I bumped into her.” He gave me a grim little smile. “You tore me a new one when I never showed up.”
The fact that I’d let him have it for leaving my guys hanging didn’t surprise me. “She was at a concert?” That did surprise me, however. What little I’d seen of Helena, I hadn’t put her down as the typical groupie who normally followed the band around, even back then. I tried to think back to all the chicks I’d kicked out of my guys’ lives but there were just too many of them. Helena was too coldly collected, her makeup always perfect. Never so much as a hair out of place.
Rex gave a small laugh, pulling at the collar of his shirt uncomfortably. “Yes, she was a wild one back then. I’m pretty sure her parents were fed up and would have cut her off if she hadn’t married me when she did. They were grateful to me for turning her around. She changed her hair, started covering up the birthmark on her chin, and got a new wardrobe. She was pretty daring back in the day, but then again, I might not have noticed her if she hadn’t been.”
“Birthmark?” Liam repeated, lowering the phone he’d kept to his ear for the last few minutes as he kept trying to call Gabriella. He stepped forward, getting in Rex’s face now.
Rex took a step back, more intimidated now by the rocker than the bodyguard. “Yes. She has one on her chin.” He lifted a finger and drew a weird circle on his chin. “Right here.”
Liam’s hands balled into fists but his eyes were full of something I couldn’t even begin to name when he turned them on me. “Emmie, that was one of the things Brie remembered about the chick who shot her. The birthmark.” He sucked in a sharp breath. “She has nightmares every night, and every time she can’t stop talking about the birthmark.”
Fear tightened around my heart, making my chest feel like an elephant was sitting on it. “Mia said the same thing. ‘The funny spot on her chin, Momma. The funny spot.’” Tears burned my eyes and I turned away from them all, burying my face in Nik’s chest. “Oh, my gods,” I cried as it fully set in that something had happened to my daughter. “Mia.”
I felt him trembling, knew that he was just as shattered as I was, but trying to be strong for me. Right then no one could have been strong enough for me. My world was crashing down around me. So many things were falling into place, but none of it made sense.
“Helena’s the stalker,” Shane growled. “She’s the one who did all that shit. She nearly killed Ranger. She took Mia and shot Gabriella.”
Around me everyone started talking all at once, their voices angry and violent, but I couldn’t hear a single word that was said.
Where was Mia?
“But she’s been here all day,” Jesse said, trying to be the voice of reason. “The chick and Rex, here, were some of the first to arrive. Liam actually talked to Gabriella before that. Maybe Mia and Gabriella are just stuck in traffic like she keeps texting they are.”
The faintest glimmer of hope filled my heart, only to be squashed into nothingness when Rex spoke again. “Sean,” he said, spitting the name out like a vile curse.
“Who the fuck is Sean?” Nik spoke for the first time. His voice was low and rumbled in his chest, making my heart beat faster at how dangerous it sounded.
“Sean?” Shane barked. “What does he have to do with anything?”