Return to poughkeepsie, p.35
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       Return to Poughkeepsie, p.35

           Debra Anastasia

  He brought it to her lips and tilted it so she could have a bit more too.

  “Thanks.” Livia ran her hands through his hair, smoothing it to look like a newscaster’s. “I loved my naughty bath. It’s like Vegas up in here.”

  He kissed her again. “Any time.”

  “You’re a gift to me. Truly.”

  He hugged her again. “You as well. I almost lost it for a while. I was really close to letting go of my mind after you were gone.”

  “I’m sorry.” She touched his lips.

  “I hate that that’s in me. A chance like that. It worries me.” Blake rubbed her arms while he exhaled.

  “Don’t worry, because in there with that concern is my heart. And you know I’m too stubborn to let you go. The sun can’t have you. You’re mine.” She traced his scar.

  “I believe that. You’d actually tell the sun to go to hell, wouldn’t you?” He smiled at her.

  “I won’t have to. You’re stronger than you give yourself credit for.” She touched his wedding band.

  “I love you.” He kissed the top of her head.

  “I love you too.” Livia knew she would sleep fantastically now. She could hear the bed calling to her.

  They put on fresh pajamas and crawled in. They were just about settled when Kellan woke up crying.

  Blake laughed. “Nice of him to wait until we were done. You sleep. I’ll get him and warm up a bottle.”


  Shark Week

  ACCORDING TO COLE’S CALCULATIONS, Chery had just over five months left before giving birth to her son. A son. My son. They’d told him the sex when he met with her and Chaos one afternoon a couple weeks ago. Not telling Kyle about this was the hardest thing he’d ever done, but he couldn’t bear the thought of getting her hopes up for nothing. At least Chery had been sympathetic, rather than weirded out when he’d brought pictures of Kyle to their meeting, rather than the real thing. And by the end of their time together, everyone seemed to feel sure this was right.

  Tomorrow was his next Sunday meeting with Chery, and he hoped to bring Kyle. He just had to explain it all first. The lawyer was ready to draw up the paperwork, but he didn’t dare take that step without her. He adjusted the flowers on the table just as he heard her hit the alarm on her car outside. The pasta dish he had simmering was one he’d wanted to cook for a few weeks now.

  He met her at the door as she inserted her key into the lock. “Hey, sexy. Welcome home. How was the early shift?”

  She smiled for him, and they kissed quickly as she set down her bag and sunglasses.

  “It was early. People should not be allowed to get sick. But I’m done now, hallelujah. And that means the weekend starts now! What are you making in there? Smells like the devil’s balls—delicious.” She licked her lips and winked.

  “Did you edit that comment for me?” He locked the door and reset the alarm.

  “Yes. I know you hate it when I talk about God’s balls.” She reached inside her shirt and unlatched her bra, ripping it out through the armhole. When she threw it at him, he caught it without comment. She did this every day. Kyle shimmied her shoulders. “Got to shake the wrinkles out of these bastards. They’ve been in jail all morning.”

  He wrapped his arms around her, eventually cupping the prisoners. “And what did they do wrong this time?”

  “Please, they’re criminally awesome.” She nipped at his bottom lip. “Louis here stopped my purse from knocking over my coffee this morning, and Clark pressed the shift key on the keyboard.”

  “Impressive. Glad they do tricks. Still don’t know why they’re named after guys.” Cole ran his thumbs over her nipples.

  She feigned a frown. “Because they’re travelers. Lately they’ve been headed south.”

  Cole laughed. “Never a dull day with you.”

  “That’s the plan. Hey, why so fancy? I didn’t forget an anniversary or something did I?” She slid her hand down his pants and used her thumb to mimic his movements on her breasts.

  “What? No. That’s my job. I just made you lunch. But if you keep that up, we won’t be eating anything at all.” He kissed her.

  She ended the kiss by rubbing her nose on his. “Can’t.” She pushed away and pointed at her crotch. “Shark Week!”

  “How you can tempt a man…” He tickled her as she pretended to be offended.

  “Let’s eat then, Iron Chef.”

  Cole dished out the food and felt so nervous he barely ate any. Kyle seemed to love it.

  “What’s up? You feel okay? You seem tense.” She squinted and looked him over.

  He stood and got the folder he’d prepared for her. It was now or never. He totally doubted himself now—why had he kept her out of the loop, visited Chery without her? He wanted to throw up.

  She looked scared. “Is it Beckett? Is everyone okay?”

  “No. It’s happy stuff. Good stuff. Nothing that’ll hurt us.” He hoped. He prayed.

  He opened the folder and removed a picture of the baby in utero. He slid it over to Kyle and let her look.

  “I don’t know what this means.” Her hands were shaking.

  He took the picture from her and held her hand. “I’ve waited to tell you. And I hope that was the right choice. A few weeks ago Beckett came to me with a story. And I’ll tell you the whole thing, I promise. But the gist of it is he knew a woman who was pregnant with a baby she couldn’t raise.”

  She pulled her hand from his. Her eyes filled with tears, and she covered her mouth with both hands, shaking her head back and forth.

  This did nothing to bolster his confidence, but Cole powered forward. “I’ve been in contact with the mother for a little while. We’ve met. And both she and I really believe this is right for all of us—if it’s something you want.”

  Tears fell over the tips of her fingers.

  “I’m sorry I didn’t tell you. I wanted to meet Chery, and I wanted to give her some time to really be sure. And I think she’s as sure as anyone can be in this situation.”

  Kyle continued to shake her head. His stomach felt like he’d gone over the first hill on a rollercoaster.

  “Say something. I’m dying here.” Cole thumbed the paperwork he’d prepared to show her.

  “This isn’t possible. I’ve Googled the shit out of adoption. We have to have, like, body cavity searches and four million dollars in checking.” She stared at the sonogram picture.

  “Well…” Cole moved some of the papers around in his folder. “It’d be a little off the beaten path.”

  “Cole Bridge, is this illegal? Are we buying a baby?” He liked the word we in her sentence, but not the accusing tone with which it was delivered.

  “No! Of course not. Beckett knows a lawyer who helps with this sort of thing. I don’t know. I’ve researched it backward and forward. I’ve met with Chery, Beckett’s guy, and a lawyer of our own. It should be okay. I’ve told Chery from the beginning that I’d like her in his life.”

  “His?” Kyle went to touch the picture again, but stopped herself like she was afraid she’d get burned.

  “A boy. The baby is a boy.” Cole couldn’t believe how much he hoped in his own heart. He’d wanted this for Kyle, but now he knew he wanted to raise this boy too.

  “I can’t even look at him. Please put it away.” Kyle stood from her chair and left the kitchen.

  He nearly collapsed as he heard her angry stomps above him. Never had he really thought she’d be anything but happy.

  He took the picture and kissed it before placing it back in the folder. He held his head, stopping his tears from coming like he did in the old days, back when he was a kid. He focused on the sound of his breathing, ignoring everything else for what seemed like an eternity.

  “You want this?”

  He hadn’t heard her return, so her voice so close was a shock. He didn’t look at her, just opened his eyes and focused on the table.

  “Cole, you think getting some sort of illegal crack baby from Beckett’s kid-
supplier is a good idea? I can’t even believe you would carry this so far. No wonder you didn’t tell me anything about it.” He heard the scrape of a chair as she sat back at the table. “It’s actually cruel. This was mean. And you don’t have a mean bone in your body. Where’s this coming from, Cole?”

  He looked at her now, taking in her angry, beautiful face. “You know what? You’re right. Here I was thinking it’s some sort of miracle. My brother just happens to be able to help me find a baby. To think that I could save a kid from the fate I had. Without us he’s going to foster care—at least to start.”

  He watched as her anger faded. “Babies find homes really quickly,” she countered.

  “Really? Sometimes you’re in and out your whole life. Your first memories are a jumble of people and places. Your parents just won’t sign the damn papers.” He inhaled and counted silently backward from ten. He’d told Kyle bits and pieces of his childhood, but he never laid it out end to end for her to examine. “It’s fine. It’s over. I’ll call Beckett tomorrow. I never wanted to make you feel bad or criminal. That’s that.”

  He put the folder in the drawer in the kitchen where he’d been cultivating it over the past weeks. “I’m going to mow the lawn.”

  As he headed toward the garage, Cole promised to pray for Chery and that boy every day for the rest of his life. Because for a few weeks, in his head at least, he’d been that baby’s father.

  Eve looked around her Manhattan apartment: neat, clean, organized. All evidence of the last three weeks she’d spent wandering through here had been erased. She’d run from Poughkeepsie to escape Ryan, escape Beckett, escape her past—spent some time cloaked in New York City’s anonymity. She’d resigned from her job here months ago, so she’d spent her days training at the gym and walking through the streets, trying to clear her head. She couldn’t go back to her pretend life again, but she couldn’t quite let it go, either. Trapped, paralyzed—that’s how she felt about everything, and she kicked herself for her weakness. And then finally it had come to her: she had to go. Start over someplace new. Find out who she wanted to be, who she could be, what her kick-ass skills could be used for besides actually kicking ass. Maybe that had worked for Beckett and maybe it hadn’t, but this wasn’t working for her at all.

  She’d booked a ticket to California and packed four suitcases. The rest would stay, and the landlord could rent it as furnished. This was the last suitcase. She just needed to tie up a few loose ends and find a way to tell her dad. Exhaling, she pulled the handle out of the bag and turned it, taking one last look around her place. For years she’d waited here. For Beckett. For her life to come to her. To forgive herself. All she’d become was harder.

  She wasn’t expecting the knock on the door. The doorman would never have just let someone up. There were perks to the obscene price she paid for this place. She looked through the peephole: nothing. The absence of someone in her line of sight assured her it was bad news. Or the person was bad news.

  She unlatched the locks and pulled open the door. He leaned against the outside wall of her place, looking at his hands. His deep blue eyes met hers and the shock of his presence coursed through her. She stepped backward and let him in.

  Beckett filled the room. “Nice place.” He nodded toward her suitcase. “You got a plane to catch?”

  She didn’t answer.

  “Surprised I found you? Don’t be. You saw me at the height of it, when I had plenty of people to do the little shit. But I can find anyone. And I’ve always known where you were.” He made a show of strolling the length of her apartment.

  She let go of the suitcase and crossed her arms in front of her.

  “Dressed up…Going on a date? Judging from the beaten-down posture of your cop lately, I’m figuring you dumped him.” He picked up an empty vase from her living room’s built-in shelf.

  She didn’t want him making light of Ryan. She turned and looked out the window. The gray, rainy day made for a somber view of the skyscrapers.

  She heard him put down the vase and continue his walk all over her soon-to-be-former residence.

  “How’s Rodolfo?” Her words were tight in her chest. She was the reason he worked for the bag of bones.

  “He’s a dickwad and a crazy person. And his son’s delusional—a lot like Mary Ellen, I’m betting. Both he and Sevan are making me work for this deal, and I sense the old corpse is getting a little impatient.” Beckett sat on her couch and kicked his fancy Italian shoes up on her coffee table. “So where you headed, killer?”

  His old nickname for her sent a shiver through her body. She wouldn’t show it. “Leaving here.”

  “You done with Poughkeepsie too?” He picked up an expensive piece of metal art from her end table and began tossing it from hand to hand.

  “My father lives there so I’ll never be done. Why are you here? Just to prove you know where I am?” Eve watched him carefully. His coat had fallen open and she could see the weapon strapped there. The art went higher and higher, almost touching the ceiling. “Don’t break shit. I want my security deposit back.” She tapped her foot with impatience—and excess energy, if she was being honest with herself.

  He palmed the art and set it down, pulling his feet from the table. “Just checking on you, baby. Seeing if you still want to grind my balls into mulch or what.”

  “You can’t just pop up, or pop in. That’s not the way it works. I have a meeting.”

  He stood just as Eve went to walk past him, blocking her way. They were way too close. She looked everywhere but at him, but she could feel the heat from his chest.

  “But I will. Until the day I die. Which—good news for you—should be soon.” He clicked his tongue and stepped aside.

  Eve shook her head, grabbed her suitcase, and left Beckett in her apartment. Everything sexual in her wanted to take him to bed. It actually hurt to close the door between them.

  She drove the few miles to the warehouse where she trained, but this time she didn’t change. It was a ghost town, and she headed straight to the locker room.

  Shark was in a towel. “What kept you?”

  Eve raised her eyebrows instead of responding.

  “You’re a hard bitch, you know that?” He stood, dropping his towel.

  She shrugged, still silent.

  “Fine. What’s going on?” He walked slowly to a locker, dressing and flexing at the same time.

  “Tell me everything you know about Beckett Taylor.” Eve sat on a bench.

  “I’d say you know more than me, pretty lady. Is he a screamer or a grunter?” Shark slipped on boxer briefs and a T-shirt.

  “I’m not giving you any more jerk-off material than you already have.” She gave him a hard stare.

  “Fine. You’re a sweetheart, by the fucking way.” He tipped an imaginary hat to her.

  “Suck my dick.” She exhaled her frustration.

  “Oh, does the princess have somewhere else to be?” He put on a pair of jeans and took his time threading a belt through.

  “You have two more minutes before you know what your own ass tastes like.”

  “You’re assuming I don’t already know. Now your ass might be a nice snack.”

  Eve stood and stepped toward him. “Don’t make this ugly. You’re being a prick for no reason.”

  “Fine.” He buttoned his shirt. “Rodolfo is set to test Beckett tonight. Thinks he’s moving too slow on their deal.”

  “Blood in, blood out?” Eve was surprised Beckett hadn’t been hazed through a beating already.

  “Sort of. It’s bare-knuckles, old-school fisticuffs. Beckett’s men versus Rodolfo’s.” Shark spritzed on too much cologne.

  “That’ll work in Taylor’s favor. His guys can hold their own.” She leaned against a locker near Shark.

  “Seriously? Are you too damn young to know anything? Rodolfo fights dirty. It’s all a show. He’s notorious. Rodolfo will take half of Beckett’s men. Then Beckett will have to beg the old bastard for the lives of the rest o
f his guys. It’s a twisted game. But Beckett gave the guy his nuts as a party favor, and evidently his negotiation skills aren’t cutting it.”

  “He’ll never take his men into that.” Eve shook her head.

  “No. He’s not going to. That’s the thing. Crazy beast is going to the fight tonight alone. Refuses to take his people. Told them he’ll shoot them on sight if they show.” Shark began putting on his shoes.

  Beckett’s visit today suddenly made more sense. He was saying goodbye. Eve turned and walked out of the locker room.

  Shark rushed to catch up. “Wait, that’s it? What about tit for tat?”

  Eve stopped and gave him a look. “I kept Micki safe, and I didn’t just make you wear your dick as a hat. That’s enough tits for you.”

  She left the warehouse, ignoring Shark’s protests. Beckett was prepared to die tonight. She got in her car and knew what she had to do. If she could get there in time…

  Kyle walked upstairs slowly, clutching the folder. It had been a tense afternoon, a silent dinner. Unable to stop herself, she’d pulled Cole’s research out and paged through it after he went upstairs to shower. He’d done an amazing amount of work. There was a picture of Chery and long transcriptions of their meeting and phone calls. He’d catalogued the prenatal reports by date. Cole had clearly grilled Beckett’s man and seemed to have a very legal-looking route to follow for adopting the baby. He even had a page of carefully printed name choices. John McHugh Bridge seemed to be at the top.

  Those details had swirled through her mind for hours, and although she still couldn’t articulate her feelings, she was tired of sorting through them alone. When she got to the top of the stairs, the light from the hallway illuminated her husband where he lay in their bed. The room itself was dark. She could see the scars of the childhood he rarely spoke about littered across his chest. They faded a little every year, she’d noticed.

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