“Hey, baby,” Reese said, dropping my hand as we crossed over to her bed, which was by the window. Em didn’t have a roommate. I wondered if that was because she’d gotten lucky, or if Hunter had scared the nurses into giving her space.
Probably best not to ask.
Reese leaned over and kissed her forehead, then sat down on the bed next to her. I stood beside him, which should’ve felt awkward but it somehow didn’t.
I was just happy to see Em alive and well.
“So I hear you saved my ass,” Em said to me, her eyes full of gratitude. Not a hint of blame or wariness—she obviously had no idea I’d been a prisoner when I discovered her bleeding. Guess that was on a need-to-know basis, something I found very comforting. I’d just as soon she didn’t find out I’d tried to kill her dad. I had a feeling she’d hold a wicked grudge.
“I did my best,” I said quietly. “You scared me—thought we might lose you. How are you feeling now?”
“Weak,” she replied. “Sad. They told me it was a girl. It’s strange … I was kind of scared when I saw the positive pregnancy test, but I loved her. I wanted her. I can’t believe she’s gone.”
“I’m so sorry.”
Em nodded, a hint of red around her eyes. I glanced up at Hunter, seeing shadows written in his face. They’d obviously both wanted her. I hoped they’d get another chance … Ectopic pregnancies could do a lot of damage.
“You tired, little girl?” Reese asked, reaching out to catch Em’s hand. “You want some rest? We can go wait outside.”
“No,” she said, squeezing his fingers. “I’m just glad you’re here.”
“Hello, Reese,” a new voice said, and I looked up to see a girl standing in the door frame. This had to be Kit, the daughter I hadn’t met yet. I recognized her from her pictures, although they’d all been taken before she’d adopted her current style. She looked like a Betty Page pinup, all vintage clothes, sculpted black hair, red lipstick, and tough-girl attitude.
Like Em, she was stunning, but in a completely different way.
Reese stood and walked toward her. She flung herself into his arms, squeezing him tight as he lifted her up for a hug. He’d told me she liked to pick fights with him—and I had a feeling calling him by his first name was part of that dynamic … But clearly when shit hit the fan, the Hayes family stood together. After long seconds he let her slide back down to the ground and she stood back, smiling at him with a hint of vulnerability in her face.
Then her eyes found me, and they narrowed.
“This her?” she asked, her voice sharp. Em sighed heavily and Hunter rolled his eyes. Time to step in and diffuse, I decided.
“I’m London Armstrong,” I said in a clear, friendly voice as I walked over and held out my hand. “You must be Kit. I’ve seen so many of your pictures, but none of them are recent. I love your look—very classic.”
She sniffed, signaling clearly that it would take more than flattery to win her over. Alrighty, then. I’d try another tactic.
“Reese, would you like me to go and get coffee for everyone?” I asked. “Let you have some family time together?”
He raised a brow, but Kit looked triumphant. Clearly she thought she’d scared me. Not the case, but I wasn’t looking to butt heads with her. Em was her sister and Reese was her dad—this was about them, not me. I saw right through this girl. Under the belligerence was an undercurrent of fear and insecurity. She needed to know I wasn’t here to take her father away from her, and the best way to communicate that was with space.
They could have their moment without me.
“I’ll help you,” Hunter said suddenly. I nodded, surprised. Up to this point, I would’ve bet a hundred bucks that he wouldn’t be leaving this room for anything.
He followed me into the hallway. “Cafeteria’s this way.”
We started walking, falling comfortably silent. I had no idea why he’d come with me, but if I needed to know, he’d say something. I felt like my role here was to support, not question.
“They should have time together,” he said finally. “They’re tight, but Kit and Reese love to fight. Like two alley cats. Us being in there just gives ’em one more thing to fight about, and Em doesn’t need that.”
I laughed, shaking my head as it fell into place.
“They’re not the easiest of families, are they?”
“You got no fuckin’ idea.”
We bought the coffee and carried it back slowly, but despite our best efforts the errand only took about twenty-five minutes. I knocked on the door and pushed it open carefully. Em lay back in the bed, Kit cuddled up next to her on top of the covers. Reese sat between them and the window, leaning back in his chair casually. He rested one ankle across his knee, watching over his girls as they whispered quietly to each other.
Then he looked up at me and smiled, pale blue eyes creased with warmth, obvious pride written all over his face.
“C’mon in,” he said.
I glanced at Kit, but she ignored me. Em winked, patting the side of the bed. I walked over and sat down awkwardly in the tiny sliver of space, wondering what the future held for me with this family.
Only one way to find out.
“Who wants coffee?”
ONE MONTH LATER
I leaned forward into the bathroom mirror, carefully brushing mascara over my pale lashes. Outside the bathroom door I could hear Mellie and Jessica arguing about something—the cabin was only about a thousand square feet and I was very, very happy that Melanie would be moving into student housing in a few weeks.
Wasn’t sure how much more of this I could take.
Loud music started blaring as I brushed my hair, changing abruptly to rap as I smoothed on lipstick. That would be Jessica taking control of the stereo.
It switched back again and I realized a full-on musical battle royale was starting outside the tiny bathroom. Taking one more quick look at myself—not perfect, but I’d do—I stepped out, prepared to start yelling. Before I could, the music stopped completely. Both girls stood in the living room, glaring at each other. Melanie had started standing up to Jessica in recent weeks, something I’d always wished she would do. Now I regretted that wish because I lived in a war zone.
“You’re a fucking idiot,” Jessica growled. I took a deep breath, prepared to tell her off. Melanie beat me to it.