Arella turned and twisted her head, trying to get away from the bottle. Shrugging, I placed the bottle on the small table beside the chair and lifted her back to my shoulder. I rubbed her back for a few minutes, but that didn’t seem to calm her any. Remembering when Mia had been colicky, I kept one hand on my niece’s back and started patting her on her bottom. Mia had always liked that and would calm down after a few minutes of it, but stop and she would be back to screaming the house down.
I patted and patted. Arella’s cries slowly started to fade until she was only making little shuddering hiccup noises. I didn’t stop patting and with the next little hiccup was rewarded with a burp that would have done her father proud. Grinning, I brushed a kiss over the back of Arella’s sweet-smelling head and started rocking, never once stopping the patting to her little bottom.
Eventually, the baby tired herself out and fell asleep. I didn’t dare stop the patting though.
Neveah got tired of reading to her bears after an hour or so and asked if I would play tea party with her. If I hadn’t had her baby sister in my arms, I would have gladly sat at her table with her dolls and let her dress me up like a fairy princess or any other character her heart desired, but I couldn’t risk putting Arella down just yet. The tiny little thing needed her sleep and the house was actually quiet for the moment.
“How about I order you some dinner, precious?” I offered instead.
Her blue-gray eyes brightened and she offered me her sweet smile. “Mac and cheese?”
“If that’s what you want, baby doll.” I lifted my phone and clicked the app for the restaurant up the road from my own house. Thank gods for that damn app. I didn’t want to talk too much and wake the baby.
I ordered a ton of food and then shot a text to Harper to let her know I was going to be at Drake’s house most of the evening.
K, babe. Working late anyway. Love you.
I grimaced at her return text. She was working late again. I knew she had work to catch up on, but she didn’t need to be stressed with long hours at work. Gritting my teeth to keep myself from calling her and asking her to just come home at her normal time, I sent her a text that told her I loved her too and put the phone back on the little table where the still-full bottle of breast milk continued to sit.
By the time the food arrived, I had to chance putting Arella down. Carefully I placed her on the little activity set’s blanket and covered her with a pink receiving blanket. Taking Neveah’s hand, we got to the door before the delivery guy could ring the bell. I gave the cash to Neveah to hand to the teenager because she liked feeling like a big girl, and took the box of food from him.
I had the baby monitor in my back pocket so I could listen for the baby, even though I knew I would probably hear her without it the instant she woke up. With Neveah right behind me, we went into the kitchen and I put a plate together of mac and cheese and organic chicken nuggets. Lana would have beat my ass if they hadn’t been organic. A sippy cup of apple juice to drink completed her meal and I finally made myself a plate of mashed potatoes, green beans, some of the mac and cheese that I’d ordered for Neveah, along with two pieces of fried chicken. I wasn’t sure if Lana would appreciate the food I’d ordered, but I knew Drake sure as hell would.
Neveah told me all about her day up until I’d arrived while we ate and I listened intently to every word that came out of her mouth. The kid was smart and took after her Uncle Shane completely, or so I liked to bait my brother by telling him as often as possible. I might never get to be a dad—something I was completely okay with—but I would make damn sure I was the best uncle in the fucking world. She was talking great these days and she wasn’t even two yet.
After we had eaten I cleaned up and put the dirty dishes in the dishwasher before returning to the playroom, trying to make everything as easy as possible on Lana. Arella was still sound asleep so I played tea party with Neveah for a little while. I liked playing it with Neveah a little more than I did with Mia. At least my adorable little niece didn’t try to put lip gloss on me, although she did like to put her hair bows in my hair. Which was why I tended to keep my hair as short as possible these days.
Arella woke up around seven thirty, hungry and whining, but not full-on screaming yet. I lifted her into my arms and tucked her against my shoulder as I took her and Neveah into the kitchen to make the baby a fresh bottle. For ten minutes I sat in the rocker back in the playroom and fed the fussy little thing.
It was just before nine when Lana came into the playroom where I was sitting on the floor reading to both girls. Neveah was sitting in front of me with all her favorite dolls and stuffed animals while I held Arella against my shoulder, once again patting her on her little rump as I read softly to them. The baby wasn’t crying, but she wasn’t happy either. She made little whimpering noises from time to time. Seeing my sister-in-law in the doorway I paused long enough to shoot her a smile before continuing with “Goodnight Moon”.
With the last page over I closed the book and got carefully to my feet. Lana’s honey-brown eyes were wide with wonder as she watched me walk toward her. “How…?”
I gave her a smug grin. “She just needed some Uncle Shane time,” I teased as I transferred the baby from my shoulder to her beautiful mother’s. “Honestly, Lana, I’m not sure how I got her to calm down. I remembered Mia being like this when she was a baby and started patting her on her bottom like Layla showed us.”
Arella let out a tired-sounding wail and started sniffling around her mother’s chest, obviously hungry again. Figuring it was time for me to go, if Lana was going to start popping out her boobs, I kissed them all goodbye and headed out.
“Night-night, Un-ca Shane,” Neveah called as I started for the door.
“Shane?” I glanced back at Lana when she said my name, worried when her voice broke slightly.
Turning, I gave her a thorough once over. In the weeks since she’d given birth, Lana had lost the baby bump, but she didn’t have the healthy afterglow that I’d seen in some women. She was battling anemia just as she had with Neveah, and she looked exhausted. Her normally slightly golden complexion was pale, bordering on pasty. “Sis?”
Her chin trembled ever so slightly, breaking my heart. Fuck, I hated it when the women in my life cried. “Thank you. I don’t know what we would have done without you today.”
I crossed the distance between us and wrapped her carefully in my arms. Pressing a kiss to her forehead, I stepped back. “I’m here anytime you need me, sis. Night or day.”
“I promise to make you a ‘World’s Greatest Uncle’ award,” she murmured, and I was glad to see a small smile on her trembling lips.
“I’ll add it to my shelf of other ‘Best Uncle’ trophies,” I promised with a wink. Dropping one last kiss onto her forehead, I left them.
The drive back to my own house took less than two minutes. I noticed the lights were on and my heart squeezed, glad that Harper had made it home. Using my key to get in, I called out for my gorgeous wife before I’d even kicked the door shut behind me. “Beautiful?”
“In here,” she called back and I followed the sound of her voice into the living room.
Dressed in pajama shorts and a camisole, her hair pulled into a messy knot on top of her head, and not one ounce of makeup on her gorgeous face, Harper Stevenson was the most beautiful creature I’d ever set eyes on. I stopped to get my fill of her, my breath shuddering out roughly when I realized that I wasn’t ever going to get my fill.
The television was on some rerun of some crime show that tended to be more horror than anything else and she was diving into one of the pints of lemon gelato that we kept in high supply in the freezer.
Ranger’s head was resting on Harper’s legs, his long body stretched out, taking up the majority of the couch. The only time he moved was when Harper offered him a small bite of her dessert and then he went back to his comfortable position, content to be next to his favorite person in the worl
A year ago—fuck, six months ago—I would have been pouty about that damn dog getting more attention than I did. Now, I was just glad that he was still around. Don’t get me wrong, I’d always loved the mutt but, after nearly losing Ranger, I’d changed my tune toward him really quick. I didn’t get jealous—much—of his time with her. That beast could have as much of Harper’s attention as she wanted to give him as long as we still had him.
Tired, I crossed to the couch, scooped Harper up, making the dog whine at the loss of his human pillow. Smirking at the dog, I took the now empty spot and tucked my prize close. Harper leaned her head against my shoulder and took another bite of her gelato before offering one to me. I let the cold treat melt on my tongue, savoring that slightly tart flavor before swallowing.
“How was work?” She usually dived into the gelato as soon as she walked through the door when she had had a rough day.
She shrugged. “Got most of my pile caught up. Had a meeting with Rex.” She lifted her head, a frown making her brow pucker ever so slightly, her violet eyes glazed with tiredness. “I told him I’m going to start looking for a new PA after New Year’s. I’m getting fed up with Sean.”
“I never did like that dickhead.” The few times I’d met her personal assistant, I’d wanted to slam my fist through his face. The creep had a way of making you feel beneath him with just a smirk. I hadn’t cared when he’d pulled it on me, but when he’d done the same to Harper I’d nearly torn his head off. The only thing that had stopped me was Harper warning me she wasn’t going to bail me out of jail—again—for aggravated assault.
“I kind of liked torturing him, but it’s getting old and I need someone who is actually competent enough to get things done on time.” She mumbled something I didn’t catch under her breath and took another bite. “Rex understood and told me he was surprised I hadn’t wanted to get rid of him sooner.”
“Got anyone in mind for his replacement?”
“Yeah. I’m stealing the receptionist.” She grimaced. “But Rex said he would just trade the two places, so I might not get rid of Sean altogether. Still, I figure it won’t be for long. I’m not the only one who doesn’t like Sean and if he’s out there screwing up everyone’s messages and other crap I know Rex will get rid of him pretty quick. Plus, he will have to see Peterson more often than not out at the reception desk. You know he’s a pussy when it comes to Peterson.”
I grinned, liking her bodyguard a hell of a lot more every time I remembered that little fact. “Give me another bite.”
She scooped up a larger bite and I sucked on the spoon for a few seconds, releasing it only when she gave me a sexy little pout. I kissed the pout away and swallowed my dessert with a wink. Pink filled her cheeks and my body went instantly hard. After four years of being together, two of which as my wife, I could still make her blush.
Fuck, that never got old.
“Finish your gelato, beautiful. I’m ready for bed.”
“Or we could take it with us,” she murmured suggestively, her long lashes lowering in a way that had my cock straining to get free.
That was all the incentive I needed. Tightening my arms around her, I stood and headed for the stairs, taking them two at a time so that we could get to our bed as quickly as my feet could carry us, with Harper giggling the entire way.
I was an hour late for work on Monday morning, but I was smiling to myself as I stepped off the elevator with Peterson right behind me. I hated being late, but when my reason was because my husband hadn’t wanted to let me out of bed, I could live with it. A woman would have to be insane not to want the kind of wakeup call I’d gotten that morning.
Our weekend together had been perfect. We’d gone over to Drake and Lana’s house and babysat the girls while my brother-in-law and friend had taken a long nap. Arella was still fussy and it seemed no one but Neveah had gotten any sleep Friday night. Drake and Lana had been ecstatic to see us and Lana had been in tears with gratitude for it when we’d finally left Saturday night.
Sunday we’d taken Mia out for ice cream. Ever since the near miss, Shane had needed some extra time with our little niece. So did I. We’d nearly lost her to who knew what kind of psychopath who could have hurt her—or worse. I knew Shane was still blaming himself for what had nearly happened and was thankful to Emmie and Nik for letting us spend some extra time with Mia.
“Good morning, Harper.” Hannah, the receptionist that I was hell bent on stealing as my new PA, greeted me with a smile as she handed me a stack of mail and several messages when I reached her desk.
Of everyone in the entire building, Hannah was most likely the only person who wasn’t intimidated by Peterson. She even shot him a bright smile and I wasn’t completely surprised when he tilted his head at her—his only show of any kind of emotion that I’d ever seen him express with the few exceptions when his pissed-off-meter had shot through the roof. That had happened more than a few times over the summer. I figured he kind of liked Hannah and I hid a knowing grin behind my travel mug of coffee as I headed to my office.
Putting my key into my office door, I was surprised to find it already unlocked. Frowning, I tried to remember if I’d forgotten to lock it on my way out Friday night. Rolling my eyes at myself, because I was getting forgetful lately, I opened the door and crossed to my desk after using my foot to close the door.
My stack of mail was larger for some reason, heavier than I could ever remember it being, so I set my travel mug down along with my few messages that needed to be returned. I was taking my seat behind my desk even as I was thumbing through the mail. I got trash mail all the time from hateful Demon’s Wings fans so I normally had at least five pieces of mail to shred, but there was normally legitimate business mail as well. Some of it was inner-office mail, including reminders and even some legal docs from time to time that I would have to deal with.
Finding the piece of mail that seemed to have been the cause of my heavier than normal stack, I lifted it. There was no return address on it, nor even postage on it, so I knew it was something from one of the other floors. Grimacing because it was a thick yellow envelope that normally came from the legal department, I opened it.
Probably one of the pictures I’d approved hadn’t been liked by someone in the rock world and they wanted to sue me and the magazine. It wouldn’t be the first time, and it sure as hell wouldn’t be the last. Normally it was just someone who hadn’t liked the way they had looked in a certain picture, others it was because they hadn’t liked what our journalists had written about them. Unlike some of the trashier magazines that didn’t fact check and just printed the first juicy piece of news that came their way, we always made sure that what we printed was the truth. Rarely did any of the lawsuits go far.
Leaning back in my chair, I pulled out the stack of pictures, my brow wrinkling when I realized that was all it was. No legal notice saying why they had been rejected or who was rejecting them. Just pictures. At least twenty of them, blown up to eight-by-ten size. Knowing legal wouldn’t have sent them to me, I turned the stack over.
Only to wish I hadn’t.
All the blood rushed from my head and I was thankful I’d sat down before opening the envelope. My heart stopped as I took in everything.
It was obviously a hotel room, from the generic alarm clock and cheap lamp on the nightstand. The pillows were white, as were the sheets. Sheets that were only half covering the man lying on the bed, lost inside the woman beneath him. My gaze instantly went to the dimple right above his left ass cheek then zeroed in on the ink on his arm. To that fucking star tattoo on his elbow. I couldn’t see the woman’s face, only her very perfect set of breasts. One arm was lifted, probably holding the cellphone that had taken the picture.
Bile rose in my throat but I was quick to stop it as I tried to breathe through my nose. Fingers trembling, I lifted the glossy sheet and looked at the picture underneath the first o
ne. I’d known who the man was as soon as I’d seen the first, would have known him anywhere, but the second picture only confirmed it.
Oh. Fucking. God.
Please. Not him.
There was no use in begging, though. I knew it was him and there was no use in denying it to myself. No use in pleading with God or anyone else who would care to listen to my prayer. It was right there in glossy colors for me to see perfectly that the man having wild sex with some faceless bitch was no one other than my husband.
Tears burned my throat as I lifted one picture after another, each one more graphic than the last. The images burned into my memory and I knew they would haunt me for eternity. There were still several more to go through when I came across one that forced a cry from my throat that I was powerless to contain. The stack of pictures fell onto my desk, scattering across the top as the tears started falling.
Dropping my head into my hands, I tried to hide from the scenes depicted in the pictures.
I knew it would happen eventually. That I couldn’t hide from the past. From Shane’s past. I wasn’t stupid. I figured Emmie and Natalie had hidden plenty of this shit from me, and they had been doing an amazing job. It was one of my biggest nightmares, to come face to face with the reality of Shane’s past. To have everything he did with me behind closed doors blatantly flaunted at me that he’d done the same things with other women.
I couldn’t hide from it now.
My stomach roiled, the bile refusing to stay down this time. Shoving back my chair, I bent and reached for my trashcan as I puked my pain out.
My office door swung open without warning but I couldn’t lift my head from the trashcan. “Harper?” Peterson’s voice was full of authority. “Harper?” His tone was sharper this time and I heard his footsteps as he hurried across the office toward my desk.
“Peter-son.” I moaned and lifted my head enough to look at him. He was standing over my desk now, his gaze going from me to the mess that was my desk. “Make it go away,” I pleaded. “Make it go away.”