I had given in last night and taken another of the sleeping pills my obstetrician had prescribed me. I hadn’t been able to sleep since Daddy passed away, and I’d called my doctor desperate for help. Jeremy had also offered to stay with me, but I had sent him home. Seeing Cage yesterday had haunted me. As ridiculous as it sounded, I felt like I was doing something wrong by wearing Jeremy’s ring. It was as if I was cheating now.
He was going to want to talk to me today. Jeremy had said he had agreed to wait until after the funeral, but that he had said the baby was his. He wasn’t trying to deny it. The Cage I had loved and trusted would want our baby. But the Cage who had left me and turned from me when I had needed him most wouldn’t want a child. Maybe he was coming to tell me that he wanted to relinquish all rights to the baby to Jeremy. The thought made me sick to my stomach.
Even after everything that had happened, I didn’t want Cage to not want our baby. I wanted my little girl to have a daddy who adored her. I wanted her to have what I had. Sure, Jeremy had promised to be there for us, but he would never really love Cage’s child the way a daddy loved his child. He’d always remember whose child she really was.
I looked out over the land as I sat rocking on the front porch swing. This was mine to take care of now. I had to make it work. I was terrified of letting my daddy’s hard work be for nothing. I couldn’t let it go. It was my home. I wanted my daughter to grow up there too.
Jeremy’s truck came over the hill? reminding me that we had to decide what to do about the stockyard this next weekend. Would we make any new purchases or would we wait? I watched him roll to a stop down by the barn. He loved this land too. He was a good man. He had been there for me through everything.
He jumped down out of the truck and reached inside to grab his hat before closing the door. Watching him walk toward me I reminded myself every reason why I’d said yes. I glanced down at my empty ring finger. I hadn’t ben able to put the diamond he’d bought me last week on my hand this morning. Some days I couldn’t wear it because it felt wrong. Like I was pretending again. I hated pretending.
Lifting my gaze, I looked back at his face and saw he too had been looking at my bare ring finger. He never mentioned it when I didn’t wear the ring. Another reason I loved him.
“Morning,” he said with a smile that didn’t meet his eyes.
“Good morning,” I replied, tucking my hands between my legs so that neither of us was tempted to look at them again.
“You sleep okay?” he asked as he walked up the steps and then leaned against the railing.
“Yes. Thanks to sleeping pills. I slept fine. You?”
He nodded. “Yeah. I slept good enough, I guess.”
I wasn’t sure what to say to him then. We’d never had awkward moments before. We had them more often now. It was like we were in some strange limbo. We were engaged, but yet we’d never kissed. I couldn’t imagine kissing Jeremy. It was one of the reasons I pretended. Facing the truth was too complicated.
“He called me about thirty minutes ago. He’ll be here soon. You ready for that?”
I knew who “he” was. I didn’t have to ask. I was surprised he’d called Jeremy though. Why not me? Was he accepting my engagement to Jeremy that easily? My gut twisted. Deep down I’d thought he might be upset about Jeremy and me. Seems like once again I was wrong about Cage York.
“It’s time we talked. He deserves the chance to decide what he wants to do about Bliss. Daddy was right. Bliss is Cage’s, too. He should get a voice in what her future holds. Are you ready for that? If he wants to be a part of her life?”
Jeremy shifted his stance and crossed his arms over his chest. “You decided to go with Bliss,” he said instead of an answer.
Daddy and I had talked about baby names when he was awake and able to talk. Bliss had been his idea. I had been leaning toward Heidi. He had said that he believed my little girl was going to be my bliss. She’d bring me the happiness I thought I’d lost. I knew the night he closed his eyes for the last time that her name would be Bliss.
“Daddy named her,” I replied.
Jeremy nodded. “I like it.”
We stood there not looking at each other and not talking. Knowing Cage was on his way and he held the answer to what would happen next weighed on both of us. I wondered if Jeremy hoped Cage would be Bliss’s dad. Maybe he didn’t want that kind of pressure just yet. Would he want a child of his own one day? If we married, we would eventually have children.. . .
I couldn’t think about that. I couldn’t even imagine kissing Jeremy. Much less that. It seemed wrong. Guilt ate at me. What had I agreed to? I needed my daddy. I needed to talk to him. Tears stung my eyes and I prayed I wouldn’t cry.
“He’s here,” Jeremy said
My head snapped up and I looked down the road to see Cage’s car slowly coming down the driveway. I remember how he used to speed down the road and jump out of the car to catch me as I threw myself at him. Things were so different now. My hand went to my stomach on reflex. It was as if I needed to protect her from this. What if this was the moment her father walked away from her without a fight the way he had with me? I didn’t want that kind of rejection to ever touch her.
“You want me to step inside, or go on down to the barn and start my day?”
He was offering to give us time alone to talk. I was torn. I didn’t want him to feel unwanted, but this was a conversation that his presence could hinder. Cage may want him there. I wasn’t sure yet. “I’m not sure,” I replied honestly.
Cage’s door opened and he stepped out. Even now my heart picked up its pace at the sight of him. The jeans he was wearing hung low on his narrow hips. The snug-fitting black T-shirt he was wearing didn’t hide the fact his n**ples were pierced. He slid his aviator sunglasses off and threw them in the seat of his car before closing the door and turning to look at me. His eyes didn’t even acknowledge Jeremy. They were pinned on me.
My excitement at seeing him was mixed with fear and pain. His eyes dropped to my stomach and I remembered that my hand was covering it protectively. His gaze lingered there before they lifted back up to pierce me with their dark blue intensity. He wasn’t here to give up our baby. He didn’t have to speak for me to know that. I could see it in his eyes.
“Maybe we should have some time to talk alone,” I told Jeremy, reaching over to squeeze his hand reassuringly. I didn’t want Cage saying anything to upset Jeremy. He didn’t deserve it.
“I’ll be in the barn,” he replied, turning and leaving the porch before Cage reached the steps. I watched Jeremy leave, and I tried to compose myself before looking back at Cage.
When I heard his booted foot hit the first step, I forced myself to look at him. His eyes were still locked on me. “Eva,” he said, then his gaze dropped again to my stomach.
“Hello, Cage,” I replied. My nerves were obvious by the way my voice cracked.
His eyes were on mine again. “I’m sorry about your dad. He was a good man.”
I only nodded. I wanted to yell and scream that he wasn’t here for me. That he let me watch my daddy die without him here to hold me. But I didn’t. I sat silently.
“When were you gonna tell me about our baby?” he asked. He wasn’t going to beat around the bush. He was here for a purpose.
“I was busy with my daddy. I didn’t have time to deal with it. You didn’t want to talk to me and you’d let me go. I figured it didn’t matter when I told you. I was gonna let you know, though.”
Cage worked his jaw, and I knew he was controlling himself. He wasn’t happy with my response. “You didn’t want me to call you, Eva. You told me what we had was destroyed. You didn’t want me anymore. I was your biggest mistake.”
I had been so upset then, and my emotions had been all over the place. I hadn’t known I was pregnant then. I couldn’t remember everything I’d said to him. But the pain that flashed in his eyes as he repeated my words sliced through me.
“I was hurt. I wanted to hurt you back.”
“You succeeded,” he replied.
I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. “You’re not here to rehash the past. What’s done is done. You’re here to talk about, Bliss. We need to discuss her and your intentions for her future.”
The angry set in Cage’s jaw vanished and his eyes softened. “Bliss? Is that her name?” The gentle tone in his voice sounded almost reverent.
“Daddy liked that name,” I replied. I wasn’t changing it.
“He did good. It’s perfect.”
I hadn’t expected that response. I wasn’t really prepared for this conversation at all. It had gone much differently in my head. The cold emotionless man who wanted out was not what I was getting. This one was. . . This one was the Cage I’d loved. The one I’d thought was my world.
“I’m glad you like it,” I managed to say.
“Does she move yet? I mean. . . can you feel her?” he asked, taking a tentative step toward me and stopping.
I only nodded. I was having trouble with my words. This was the gentle Cage I remembered. How did I hurt this Cage? I couldn’t be business like with this Cage.
“I want to feel her move,” he said, lifting his awed gaze from my stomach to meet my fascinated gaze.
“She isn’t moving right now,” I replied.
“You’ll tell me when she does?” he asked hopefully.
I couldn’t tell him no. I nodded. “Of course.”
He seemed pleased with that answer and stepped back to lean against the railing that Jeremy had leaned against earlier. Cage’s long legs crossed at the ankles in front of him, and the hem of his shirt lifted just enough when he crossed his arms over his chest that I saw a hint of his hip bones and lower stomach. I loved that part of his body. Jerking my gaze away from his bare skin, I couldn’t look back up at him. He’d have noticed where my attention had been.
“Are you in love with him?”
I kept my gaze fixed on the front yard. I didn’t want to look at him and talk about this. He’d see right through me. But could I lie to him? “I love him.”
“I know you love him, Eva. I didn’t ask that. I asked if you were in love with him.”
No. I wasn’t in love with him. Cage knew that. Jeremy knew that. Why was he asking me this? “We need to talk about what you want to do about Bliss. Not about me and Jeremy.”
“You’re wrong. I’m not here to just talk about Bliss. I’m here to talk about us. It’s past time we talked about us.”
Anger rose in my chest. How I could go from confusion to pain to anger all in five minutes? I didn’t know, but Cage York managed to bring out all my emotions. “You’re right. It is past time. You had your chance and you didn’t want it. The chance to talk about us is over because there is no”—I swung my gaze back to meet his—“us. Not anymore.”
Cage shook his head slowly and dropped his hands from his chest. Then he took two long strides to stand in front of me. He leaned down, putting a hand on each side of the rocking chair until his eyes were level with mine and only inches away. “Make no mistake. There will always be an us. You can pretend like what we had never happened. You can ignore your feelings. Hell, baby, you can even marry Jeremy f**king Beasley. But there will always be an us. No one and nothing can change that.” He let go of the chair and went back to his previous position.
I took a deep breath when I realized I had stopped breathing. I wasn’t ready for this. I thought I was, but I was wrong. Again. “I can’t do this with you today. I need more time.”
“I’d like to give you more time, sweetheart, but you’re carrying my baby. Not Jeremy’s. Mine.” His eyes hardened at the mention of Jeremy. “I want my baby. I’m not letting another man step in and play daddy to my kid. And I sure as hell ain’t letting him play house with my woman, either. This is far from over.”
He moved, and I prepared myself for him to get up in my face again, but he didn’t. He was leaving. I watched him walk over to the stairs. “Because I love you more than any goddamn thing on this f**king planet, I’m gonna let you have one more day. You just lost your daddy, and I’ll never forgive myself for not being here with you. I’ll live my life regretting it. But I’ll be back. You’re mine, Eva Brooks. Always. You told me that yourself and, sweetheart, I’m holding you to it.”
“You gonna go back in that apartment of yours? Or is it gonna sit empty for the rest of your life?” Preston asked as he slid a beer toward me and took the seat across from me.
“I’ll go back in it when Eva and I are together again,” I replied and took a drink.
“Heard she was engaged. That sucks man.”
“She’s mine. That ring is temporary.”
Preston nodded. He wasn’t going to argue with me. “Manda thinks y’all will work it out.”
“We will. I won’t lose her.”
“She admit the baby was yours?”
“Didn’t even try to deny it. She isn’t a liar. She just doesn’t trust me. I deserve it. I might not have done what she thinks I did, but she’s right about one thing. I didn’t fight for her. I let her words hurt me. I withdrew because it’s what I f**king do when someone tells me they don’t want me. My damn momma screwed me the f**k up. I let my past control how I dealt with Eva’s rejection. The woman who gave me life still manages to f**k up my life without even being around.”
Dewayne sat down at the table with us and I glanced over at him. I hadn’t seen him since I had been back in town. His head was shaved now.
“Sounds to me like you f**ked it up. Own it man. Don’t blame it on the bitch who birthed you,” he drawled.
I stared at him as his words sank in. Fuck me. He was right. I’d let my insecurities about being loved control me, and then I’d used what my momma had done to be my excuse. Eva deserved a man. Not a whiny-ass baby who used damn excuses for their mistakes. I wasn’t going to make excuses for my shit. Not anymore.
I would make her love me again. I wouldn’t explain anything to her. I would just be the man she needed. The one I hadn’t been. The one my woman and my baby deserved. How the f**k I was supposed to do that, I wasn’t sure, but I was gonna go do it.
“You’re right,” I finally replied.
Dewayne smirked. “I’m always motherf**king right. It’s what I do.”
Preston chuckled and I had to admit: The dude made me smile. I had missed home. It was time I grew a damn pair and got my shit together. Eva’s daddy would have never made excuses. He wouldn’t have hid from his pain by refusing to even go to his home. He was a man she had been proud of. I wanted to be that too.
I laid a twenty on the table and stood up.
“Where you going? We just got here,” Preston said as I shoved my stool backward.
“To get my shit and move back into my apartment for starters,” I told him.
“What made you suddenly decide to move back in? Five minutes ago you couldn’t go in the damn place.”
I didn’t want to waste my time explaining this to Preston.
“I’ll see y’all later,” I said instead.
“What the hell?” Preston said, looking at me like I had lost my mind.
“He decided it was time to be a man,” Dewyane replied, and I just grinned as I walked to the door.
* * *
Deciding to stop hiding and take my life back had been easy when I’d been sitting in the bar with Dewayne as he’d taunted my manliness. But standing in the front door of my apartment and looking at the empty space where Eva’s piano once sat was taking the f**king air from my lungs. I stood there and let the times I’d walked in this door and she’d been sitting there playing, then smiling up at me, replay through my mind.
I closed the door behind me and dropped my bags on the floor. The silence haunted me. Eva’s music and her laughter were gone. She wasn’t going to come walking out of our bedroom, grinning at me. I’d let her push me away when she needed me most. I could blame Ace for setting me up. I could blame my momma for my insecurities. But I’d done this. It was my fault I’d lost her.
Tomorrow I’d start proving to her I was worth her love. I knew what I was gonna do then. No begging for forgiveness; those were just words. No excuses; those were just weak. It was time I showed her with my actions.