Their Protector: An MC Outlaw Halloween Romance, page 119
On the night before the big game, a knock sounded on my door. When I opened it, Brian McMurray stood in front of me. He was the star running back, a solid man with a friendly smile and Hanson’s best friend.
“Can I talk to you for a moment?” he asked.
I nodded and let him step into the room. He walked to the middle of the room and turned around.
“I don’t mean to meddle, Miss Townsend, but I can’t help but notice something’s up between you and Hanson.”
I blinked at him. “If you don’t mean to meddle, then, why are you?”
Had Hanson sent him to talk to me?
He shook his head. “I don’t know what’s going on between the two of you, but he’s a wreck. I missed out on my chance for love, but I’m not going to let him miss out on his.”
I looked at him, wondering what he meant, but he didn’t elaborate and instead just kept talking about Hanson instead of about himself.
“I’m not under the illusion that you were the one in the wrong. Hanson can be a real ass. But I need you to know the full story before you judge him for whatever he did.”
I frowned and sat down on my bed.
“Okay, I’ll listen,” I said.
Brian nodded and pushed his hands into his pockets.
“I know you’ve been called out to fix up his image, and there were parts that needed fixing for sure. But he was suspended for six games for something he didn’t do.”
I frowned. “You’re talking about the DUI?”
Brian nodded. “Yeah.”
“I know,” I told Brian. “He’d told me. He wasn’t even driving that night and had instead just fallen asleep in the limo. I mean, that’s what he said anyway…”
I trailed off, embarrassed that I was doubting Hanson, but not knowing what to think anymore.
“Hanson wasn’t the one who fell asleep in the limo. It was me. I had been partying hard and got some wild hair and declared I was going to drive home. I’m a lightweight and not used to drinking so much and I can’t handle it as much as some of the other guys on the team can. I was adamant that someone better give me the keys and a car. So, Hanson got the limo keys and took me in there to sleep it off. While we were in there, the cops came.”
“Oh.” It dawned on me. “So, when Hanson told me that he wasn’t driving but he had keys in his hand and was in the car…”
“It was because of me.” Brian nodded. “He was babysitting me, making sure I didn’t go anywhere. The keys had been in my hand, because I was insistent on trying to drive but Hanson told me to just lay my head down and think about it, so I passed out like that. Then when the cops came he just took the keys out of my hand and took the fall. He didn’t even tell me until the next horrible day when I sobered up and bailed him out of jail and begged him to tell me exactly what happened, because I felt so bad.”
“Why would he do that?” I asked.
“Hanson knowns how hard it’s been for me to get where I am, and I’ve been through some crazy shit in my short lifetime. He’s a nice guy, nicer than you know, and he’ll put others before himself in times where you least expect it.”
I looked at Brian, unable to find the words. I was completely speechless.
“He knew what it would do to my career, and he took the fall for me,” he continued. “He was suspended, and in the time he was off, he spiraled out of control a little. It’s all my fault. But I can guarantee you, Lacey, he hasn’t even looked at another woman since he met you. You changed everything about him. I know everything looks bad but he’s acted like you guys are in a committed relationship when, to my understanding, you’re not, right?”
I shook my head. We were not, in fact, together and I had, in fact, literally pretty much run away from him. I sucked, big time.
“Well, you wouldn’t have been able to know it. He is head over heels for you. That photo with the woman,” he said. “The blond?”
“She set him up. Something like the model at the gym, but worse. Her friend had a camera, and she set him up to nail him. I don’t know why, but she did it. Everyone wants some drama by being with Hanson and if he won’t be with them, they just act like he was. But I can guarantee you he wasn’t. Hanson wasn’t interested in her at all. He turned her down. All he could talk about was you.”
“Me?” I asked.
The news was too much. I was getting confused.
“I don’t understand,” I said.
Brian sighed. “I’m not here to tell you what to do. If you don’t want to be with him, that’s your business. But don’t judge him too harshly. He’s a good guy. And he seems absolutely devastated that whatever happened between you… happened… to end things, I mean.”
He looked at me, but I don’t offer any explanation. He continued.
“So, just in case it had anything to do with that night or otherwise with your perception of him, I just wanted you to know what things were like from my perspective. I feel that’s the least I could do for him, after everything he’s done for me. Even though he would kill me if he knew I was here talking to you.”
He nodded at me when I didn’t have anything to say to that and walked to the door.
“I have to get ready for the game.”
“Thanks for coming…”
I told him as he walked out, and I wanted to add, I guess?
It cleared up some things, but left me feeling shitty. I didn’t know why I hadn’t just opened up to Hanson and talked about things.
Brian disappeared. I put my hands on my stomach and took a deep breath, letting it out slowly. My head spun with the information Brian had given me. Hanson had taken the fall for Brian? Why would he do that? I didn’t even know if I would do something like that for someone.
I understood that Brian had come with the best intentions. Instead of clearing things up for me, though, I felt even more torn.
Not only was Hanson someone that had been building his reputation up bit by bit, it turned out he was also a damn decent guy. I was having his baby. Killing his reputation now seemed worse than ever.
When I thought about the baby, I couldn’t figure out if it was better for the baby to have a father who might potentially walk out on him, or never know his father at all. And I suppose it wasn’t fair of me to think that Hanson would walk out on him; I had just been thinking worst case scenario.
Perhaps my father had struggled with similar issues, but it felt like he’d been wrong and I was right. Or was I just as wrong? Was I justifying it the same way he might have done once? His reputation had been on the line, and he’d made a mistake.
Were we really all that different?
I had to get ready to go to the game. It was why I was here, but I didn’t want to go. I didn’t want to watch Hanson and know that I would never be able to make it all right again. I didn’t want to get dressed and pretend to be fine when I wasn’t.
I wanted to stay locked in the room, in bed, feeling sorry for myself. If I weren’t pregnant, I would have drunk all the alcohol in the little fridge. Instead, I had to make do with coffee and tea and morning sickness that came at all times of the day.
When I couldn’t hold it anymore, I picked up the phone and dialed the number by heart. I waited for the phone to ring, and when it did, I prayed it wouldn’t go over into voicemail.
On the last ring, Kina picked up, out of breath like she’d been running.
“I didn’t think I would hear from you,” she said. “I thought you’d be getting ready for the game.”
“I should be,” I said. I swallowed hard, trying not to cry. “I just needed someone to talk to.”
My voice cracked at the end of my sentence.
“Hey, what’s wrong?” Kina asked, knowing that I was crying. “Tell me what happened.”
I took a deep breath.
“It’s such a long story and I don’t know what to do.”
“Okay, start from the beginning,” she said.
And I did.
I didn’t play well in the game against the Houston Hornets. We’d still won, but it hadn’t been thanks to me. I guess the team had gotten used to winning without me.
Lacey had been there to watch, but I didn’t get the feeling she’d been very interested. She had sat down the entire time, quiet and dejected when I’d found her next to Coach.
I knew what was getting to her, of course. She was pregnant with my child, and we weren’t together. I didn’t think it would make any woman happy, but Lacey was different.
At least, she was different to me. I had fallen for her. I had to admit to that. There had to be some way to make this work.
She was pregnant with my child. When I’d heard the news, I hadn’t known how to react. I hadn’t thought something like this would ever happen. I should have considered it, with how much I’d fucked around, but the truth is that you never feel it until it hits you personally.
At first I hadn’t felt good enough to be the father of this child and a partner to Lacey. She was the kind of woman that deserved a real man to court her, to take her out, to make love to her, to marry her. I was none of that. I was a player who had fucked her a few times and had been hoping to leave it at that.
She deserved more.
That was what it was about. She deserved more than me. I wanted her, but what was I offering her? A man that had been with so many women he’d lost count? Sure, I could give her money and security and all that, but what did she really want?
I felt like I wasn’t enough. My image was bad. She of all people would know. And I was an asshole. I was better some days than others, but a better asshole was still an asshole.
No, I wanted Lacey to have the best. And me? I wasn’t the best. Although, being a father did sound like something I could get used to. I’d always wanted to do it. Just not so soon. I’d wanted it to be when I was ready. When I was a better person.
I’d had a ten-year plan where I became so fantastic I was practically someone else. I guess meeting Lacey had just pushed me in that direction faster than I had been planning to get there.
“Are you going to be in this mood all the way home, or are you going to talk to her?” Brian asked next to me.
I glanced at him.
“Leave it alone, Brian,” I said.
He shook his head. “Look, man. You bailed me out when things were up in the air for me. I can’t exactly do that for you here, but I want to help you. And if you really want to be happy, you’ll go talk to her. At least try to work it out.”
I frowned at him. “What makes you think I want to be with her?”
Brian chuckled, shaking his head. “You’re an idiot, you know that? You’re running away from the one thing that might do you some good in that life of yours. The one you keep fucking up so much. Go talk to her. I know you’ve fallen for her.”
I wanted to protest, but Brian was right. And he knew me well enough.
“And if she doesn’t want me?” I asked.
“Then you’ll know you weren’t a pussy, and you gave it a shot.”
I swallowed. “Kind words,” I said sarcastically, getting up.
Brian clapped me on my shoulder.
“Remember, the worst you can get is a no. But imagine you get a yes. Right?”
I nodded. Right.
I walked through the curtains that blocked off the first-class section and scanned the seats, looking for Lacey. I finally spotted her, her head down like she was reading something. She had a window seat, and the kid next to her looked like he couldn’t be older than eighteen. I walked to him.
“Why don’t you go sit in my seat for a while?” I asked him.
I held out my ticket.
He frowned at the ticket. When he looked at my face, his eyes widened.
“You’re Hanson Bell.”
I nodded. “Yeah. First class is full of Sharks today. Go to Brian McMurray, and tell him I sent you. He’ll introduce you around.”
The kid got up and left. I grinned, looking at him go through the curtains.
“I think you just made his day,” Lacey said.
“Maybe even his whole year. What a story to tell his friends.”
“If they believe him,” Lacey said and smiled. She had dark circles under her eyes, like she hadn’t slept in a while. She looked worn out and tired.
“Do you mind if I sit down?”
She shook her head, and I sat down next to her. She held a book open on her lap.
“What are you reading?”
“Timeline,” she said. “But I can’t really concentrate.”
I nodded. I didn’t know where to start.
“Look, about us... I don’t want to lose you. I want to be in your life. And the baby’s life. I really do.”
Lacey shook her head.
I thought she was about to tell me not to talk about it in public, or maybe not at all. But she surprised me.
“No, I’m the one who should be saying this,” she told me, looking into my eyes. “I’m sorry I ran away. I was just scared.”
I frowned. “Why?”
She took a deep breath and let it out in a shudder.
“I don’t want kids,” she said. “I never wanted kids. I was the love child of a preacher who was too proud to admit to his mistakes. He left my mom to fend for herself and a daughter who always wondered what she did wrong. I don’t want that. I don’t want a family I can disappoint. I’m scared because I made a baby that might be disappointed.”
I blinked at her. “That was a very serious story in a very small nutshell,” I said.
She pulled up one shoulder and looked at me again. Her eyes were a brilliant blue.
“I don’t really like talking about it, but I thought you ought to know why I freaked out. And I want to apologize. I should have been stronger.”
I shook my head. “I totally get it. It’s a big deal. But life is about potential disappointment and also potential reward. You have to risk one to get the other.”
“Now you’re sounding like me,” she said.
I couldn’t help but laugh. But then I got serious again.
“Well that’s good. Because I fucking love you.”
Her mouth dropped open and I reached over and shut her jaw for her. She jolted like I’d shocked her. I realized I’d just said it on a plane full of people, many of them my teammates. I realized this meant for good, for real. But it was time I claimed what was mine, no matter how much she might protest. I knew it was best for her, for me, for our baby.”
“I love you, too,” she said. “But I have no experience at any of this. I don’t know that I could be a good mother. I don’t even know if I’d be a good girlfriend.”
“Sorry,” I said. “But I disagree. I think you’ll make a wonderful mother. And a great girlfriend. Or wife.”
She blinked at me.
“I’ve been thinking about it. I’m not going to leave you hanging with a baby by yourself. But it’s not just because it’s the right thing to do. I want to be with you, Lacey.”
She shook her head, her face confused.
“I don’t understand,” she said.
“I’ve fallen for you,” I said, making it clearer. “And I want you to be my girlfriend. The mother of my child. My wife, eventually. I mean, maybe. As long as you lose all the baby weight.”
Her eyes widened in anger. “What the hell?”
I grinned sheepishly. “I’m kidding. Sorry, bad joke. But I was only joking about the last part. I meant the rest of it. I want to be with you.”
She shook her head but I noticed she couldn’t help but smile. Then she became sullen again.
“You don’t date. You sleep around. You’ve never been a one-woman guy.”
I nodded. “You’re right. I was all that. But then I met you. I don’t want to be all of that anymore. And yes, there’s a baby now and that egged me on. But it’s only made me realize how much I want to be with you. I want to do the whole fami
She looked terrified when I talked about the baby. I leaned forward slowly. She held still, and I pressed my lips against hers. She trembled lightly, and she stayed frozen against my lips for a moment before she kissed me back.
“I’m not going anywhere,” I said. “I don’t intend on leaving you in the lurch or abandoning our child. I’ll stick by your side. It’s you and only you, baby. And this baby, of course.”
I put my hand on her stomach.
“Can I feel it kick?” I asked her.
“It’s too early for that,” she said, and laughed.
As she laughed, her eyes started tearing up. When the tears spilled onto her cheeks, I wiped them away with my thumbs.
“We’re going to be okay, okay?”
“I don’t know how,” she said.
She leaned against me, her head beneath my chin. I put my arm around her shoulders and held her tightly against me.
I shook my head. I didn’t know either, but I knew that if we were together, we could make it happen.
“Do you trust me?” I asked.
Lacey moved so she could look at me.
It was a serious answer, one she had thought about.
“And just for the record,” she said. “I’ve fallen for you, too. I’ll give being a girlfriend my best shot.”
“That’s all a guy could ask for,” I told her, happy at last.
A year later
Anyone who’s been pregnant would know that it’s not a walk in the park. Your body swells up, there’s no space for your organs, you can’t reach your toes anymore, and you crave things that no one in their right mind would eat otherwise.
That wasn’t the hardest part for me, though. The hardest part for me had been the fear. I had been terrified of what it would mean to have a baby. I had gone from single, independent, and only out to have sex, to a girlfriend and a mother in less than a year. It was a big change, especially for someone who had had the worst views of family, growing up.
Hanson had made every effort to ease my fears. He had been supportive and strong, caring and there for me whenever I needed it. When I’d craved something in the middle of the night, he’d made sure I got it. When I’d sat crying on the floor because I’d dropped something and hormones had taken over, he’d picked it up for me and consoled me like I had every right to sob like a child.
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