Their Protector: An MC Outlaw Halloween Romance, page 64
She’s sniffling like a child on the couch.
On my way to the Elephant Bar, I start the music. Our soundtrack. That Monica made me.
And as the music washes over me, filling up the Jeep just like it did when Monica was riding in it with me, I think I may be starting to form my first inkling of what love is.
Chapter 19 – Monica
1 Week Later
“I found you!” I call out, peering behind the curtain and then tickling Becky.
“No you didn’t, I’m not here!” she protests. “I even made it so that you wouldn’t think I was here!”
“I know. Good job!”
A couple days ago, some of her toys and dolls appeared, lined up in front of the curtains. This was obviously a planned ruse, because today she was hiding in the very corner of the curtains, and I’d had to move all the obstacles to check.
“I almost didn’t find you before the timer went off,” I told her, seriously impressed with her strategy. “But I did! I see you! I win this round!”
I pick her up and she resists, lightly pounding her small hands against my chest and saying, “You can’t see me! I’m invisible.”
“Ouch!” I say, putting her down and rubbing my breasts.
“I’m sorry, Aunt Monica!” she says, pouting. “Did I hurt you?”
“No honey, it’s okay.”
My breasts feel swollen and tender, as if someone much larger than Becky had beat them up. And I know it isn’t her fault— they’re just naturally feeling this way. To make matters work, when I set her down, I feel nauseous, as if I’m about to throw up.
I can’t possibly be pregnant, I think. There’s just no way .
I try to set aside the gnawing thought, by smiling at Becky and getting back to the matter at hand.
“I think we have time for one more round before your mom comes home,” I tell her. “Which should be any minute now. And as long as Mason doesn’t wake up from his nap.”
I turn my head towards the baby monitor, which shows my nephew sleeping soundly upstairs in his crib.
“All right,” she says, “But I’m going to find you. And then I’ll still be ahead! You found me this time, but not next time!”
I laugh, then turn on the counter above the kitchen stove, as she closes her eyes and begins counting.
My niece takes after me. She’s cutthroat and competitive. Even what started out as a simple game of hide and seek has turned into an endless tally of who’s winning and by how much. At the end of each week, the loser had to do the other’s laundry.
Becky’s too young to do it on her own, anyway, but Susan assigned it to her as a chore to start teaching her responsibility. Usually Susan or I help her wash, dry, sort, fold and put away the clothes. But when she wins hide & seek, I have to do the honors.
And when I win, she has to do mine in addition to hers— which kind of puts an unfair burden on Susan, but she doesn’t seem to mind. She’s glad that Becky has someone to watch her and to be competitive against.
I head to the dining room, where I myself had scoped out a good hiding place earlier today. While Becky was taking her nap, I’d cleared out the entire bottom portion of the china hutch, and now I slink in and close the cupboard doors behind me. I’d put some fabric over the glass windows, and I can vaguely see out to the living room, where Becky’s still counting.
“Ready or not, here I come!” she shouts.
I watch her look for me behind the couch and in the hallway closet, as if I’m some kind of amateur.
Then, the doorbell rings.
Damn it , I think. Susan’s already back from running her errands. She probably wants help carrying in the groceries. She’s going to come in and ruin everything, once she figures out that instead of her nice wedding china that were a gift to her and my brother Mark when they got married, I’m in her china cupboard!
I’m not about to give up my hiding place and lose the round, especially when I’m already in trouble anyway. I’ll just have to explain to Susan that it was for the good of the game, and her daughter’s character. Becky used to pout when she didn’t win, but now she just thinks of a new strategy for the next game.
Suddenly, I think, Why did Susan ring the doorbell? She knows better. I’m surprised Mason didn’t wake up.
I can barely see Becky answer the front door, but I hear her say, “Hello! I’m not supposed to talk to strangers.”
Then I hear a male voice say, “I’m not a stranger. I’m a friend of your Aunt Monica’s.”
Oh my god.
I pull up the fabric, squinting to see as far as the front door in the living. Sure enough, he’s standing there, holding flowers.
“Oh. Then you can help me find her,” says Becky, and opens the door for him. “And help me win the game.”
It’s all I can do to not let out a squeal of excitement.
But I can’t afford to lose this round. I’m behind by two.
Chapter 20 – Ramsey
I had spent the whole flight pondering all the different possibilities that could happen when I randomly show up at Monica’s house. Maybe she wouldn’t be home. Maybe she’d have a guy over, which would be very awkward.
Maybe she’d hate me for showing up announced, and tell me to go back home. Maybe the return address on the package she’d sent me with the soundtrack in it wasn’t even hers, or she’d think I was a stalker for saving it.
Maybe she’d moved away or was out of town, and I wouldn’t even be able to find her. Maybe— and of course, this is the one I’d hoped for— she’d collapse into my arms with surprise and happiness.
But of all the situations I imagined, I have to admit, a kid answering Monica’s door wasn’t one of them.
I decide to just roll with it. Since Monica doesn’t seem to be appearing, I obviously don’t have much choice. And it’s rather amusing.
“What’s your name?” I ask the little girl.
“Becky. And I’m four.”
“Nice to meet you Becky. I’m Ramsey. And I’m old.”
Becky laughs, and I’m hoping that Monica will too. It would make finding her go a lot faster. But she doesn’t let out a peep.
Guess I’ll have to try harder.
“Where is her favorite place to hide?” I ask Becky.
“If I knew that, I’d always win,” she says.
“Good point. I guess she can’t make it that easy on you.”
She glances up at me, in a way that looks eerily similar to Monica.
“She doesn’t make it easy on me,” she says.
“I guess that doesn’t surprise me.”
“I’m going to be just like her when I grow up,” she says.
“It sounds like you already are.”
“Now I just need to find her. Are you going to help me or what?”
“All right, all right. Let me think. Did you check the bathtub? I hear she likes to take bubble baths. Maybe she’s soaking in there with a good book, while we’re going through all the trouble to find her.”
Becky laughs again, and I hear a stifled giggle from somewhere in the next room over.
“She’s in the dining room!” Becky exclaims.
She grabs my hand and leads me in there. We look under the table, and around the corner towards the kitchen, but there’s no Monica.
“Hmmm,” I say. “There really aren’t that many places to hide in here. We’ve about explored all our options.”
“Tell another funny joke,” she says.
“Okay,” I say, trying to think of one on the spot. “But you’re putting me under a lot of pressure here.”
“Hurry up!” Becky says impatiently, pointing towards a timer sitting on top of the stove in the kitchen. “We’re almost out of time.”
“Okay, okay, okay. Why did the female fighter pilot paint her plane pink?”
“I don’t know? Let me think.” Becky scrunches up her cute, still baby-like nose. “So that it would matc
I can’t help but laugh at that.
“No, but that’s a good one,” I say. “Even better than the real answer.”
“Well?” Becky taps her foot. “Why did she?”
“To shut up the douchebag guys, so they can’t make that old tired joke anymore.”
That does it. There’s an eruption of laughter from the china cupboard. I see a flap of fabric fall down in front of the glass window, where Monica must have been watching us.
“There she is! We found her! Yay!”
Becky runs over to the cupboard and pulls the doors open. Monica is scrunched up in an uncomfortable-looking position, laughing loudly now.
“Ramsey, you shouldn’t say those things to a child,” she scolds me, although she’s still smiling.
“What things?” My face is a mask of innocence.
“‘Douchebag,’ she whispers under her breath. “And ‘shut up’…”
“I’m still winning!” Becky says, dancing around the dining room, not paying any attention to the words I shouldn’t have said in front of her. “Hooray! Thank you, Ramsey!”
She runs back over to me and throws her arms around my legs. I look at Monica and shrug, sheepishly.
“We both had an interest in finding her,” I say.
I walk over to the china cupboard and extend a hand, to help Monica out.
“Thanks,” she says, uncurling her legs and arms. “I was pretty squished in there. And it was all for nothing. I didn’t even win, thanks to Becky’s cheating !”
When she’s all the way out of the cupboard, I pull her close to me, and we hug. It’s a long, strong hug that shows me she’s glad I’m here.
“I didn’t cheat!” Becky protests. “There’s no rule against asking for help!”
I lean down to kiss Monica, and Becky says, “Is this the Prince you met on your trip?”
Monica’s face turns bright red.
“Thank you, Prince Ramsey, for helping me find your princess,” Becky says.
“And now he can help me put these dishes back before your mom gets home and kills me,” Monica says.
She goes to the pantry in the kitchen and retrieves some of the plates. I pick up some more and follow her back to the dining room.
Suddenly, we hear a piercing wail. It sounds like someone is on fire.
My instincts kick in, and I say, “What’s wrong? Who needs help?”
Monica laughs and says, “It’s just Mason. The baby. The clattering of the dishes must have woken him up.”
She looks hesitantly towards the top of the stairs, and I say, “Go ahead and go get him. Becky and I can put these plates away.”
I wink at her, and she throws me a grateful look before heading upstairs.
When she comes back down, she’s carrying a little boy, who is looking around in sleepy confusion.
“This is Mason,” she says, and Becky adds, “My little brother. He throws up a lot.”
I pretend to shake his hand, not really knowing how to introduce myself to a baby, and he curls his tiny finger around mine.
“He likes me,” I say, grinning.
He puts my finger in his mouth.
“Or at least he likes to bite you,” Monica says, with a laugh. “You’ll have to excuse him. He’s teething.”
“You’re excused, little man,” I tell him. “But only because you’re so cute.”
“Hey! I’m cute too!” says Becky.
“Yes you are, and that’s why I helped you find your aunt.”
She grins at me. And then there’s a knock on the door.
“Oh crap,” says Monica, looking around at the plates on the table, which haven’t made their way back to the china cupboard.
“I’ll get them,” I tell her. “You go ahead and answer the door.”
She carries Mason over to the living room, bouncing him slightly as she walks, and he coos a little bit. I don’t have much experience around babies, but I have to admit it’s pretty heartwarming. Then again, so is everything that Monica does.
I hurry up to put all the dishes back, just in the nick of time.
“Ramsey, this is my sister-in-law, Susan,” Monica says.
“And Susan, this is Ramsey.”
“Nice to meet you, Ramsey,” Susan says, reaching out to shake my hand. “I’ve heard a lot about you.”
Monica flashes her a glare.
But Becky interrupts us, saying, “He’s really good at hide and seek. He helped me find Aunt Monica!”
“Did he?” asks Susan.
She has a grocery bag in her arms, so I take it from her and ask, “Is there anything else I can help with?”
“I have a few more bags in the car,” she says. “I mean, I might as well take advantage of having a man in the house. It’s so rare these days.”
“No problem,” I say, walking to the front door, as I hear Monica hiss, “Stop it, Susan!”
When I get back in with the groceries, Susan’s holding the baby. Monica must have successfully silenced her, because she just smiles and says, “Make yourself at home, Ramsey.”
“He will ,” Monica says. “This is my home… too… remember?”
The way she adds the “too” makes it clear that Susan is living with her and not the other way around.
“I’m just trying to be friendly!” Susan protests.
“Come on, Ramsey, let’s go upstairs,” says Monica.
“Do you want to play Princess Tea Party?” asks Becky, running after us.
“Maybe another time,” I tell her.
“Go help Mommy put the groceries away,” Monica says.
“All right .” She runs off, in a pout.
Upstairs, it’s finally just Monica and me.
“I am so sorry about that,” Monica says. “If I had known you were coming, I would have arranged a different sort of welcome…”
“It’s no problem,” I tell her. “It wasn’t exactly a planned visit. And I think it’s great that you and Susan live together. I’m sure she really appreciates your help with the kids.”
Monica smiles. “Well, they’re great.”
We stare at each other for a long moment, and then she says, “So, about your surprise visit… what exactly are you doing here?”
“That’s right!” I answer. “I almost forgot. Stay right here. I’ll be back in one second.”
I sprint down the stairs and head outside, to my rental car, where my stuff is. I haven’t brought it in because I had no idea if Monica would want me to stay for a while here at her house or not. In fact, I guess I still have no idea.
But in the chaos of a house full of kids, family, life, laughter… things I’m not exactly used to… I’d almost forgotten what I came here to do. I need to let Monica know how I feel about her— before it’s too late.
Chapter 21 – Monica
I sit down on my bed, my head and heart both spinning as if a tornado whirled through the house, rather than the man I was only supposed to spend one night with. I’m excited that he’s here, but I also have to remind myself that he’s leaving soon.
Ramsey runs back up the stairs, and he has his guitar case in hand.
“I really liked the soundtrack you made me of our weekend together,” he says. “I’ve been listening to it a lot and it reminded me of some things I wanted to do for you that I didn’t get time to do. So I decided to take my chances and fly down here to see you one last time, and cross those things off the list.”
“Okay,” I tell him, not really knowing what to say.
My heart is beating out of my chest so loudly that I hope he can’t hear it.
“The first one is this. You had wanted me to play the guitar for you, but I was too scared of fucking up. As I said, I’m pretty new still, and not very good. But I can at least try.”
He takes his guitar out of its case and sits down at the chair in front of my computer desk, after turning it around to fa
I smile. “Sure.”
He begins to play the Heroes song, but he’s changed the lyrics to fit our own version. “Just For One Weekend.” In fact, he’s changed a lot of the lyrics, so that the song is about the two of us.
I, I will be at war.
And you, you will be in Florida.
Our few days together, they’ll have to end.
We can beat fate, just for one weekend.
We’ll be each other's heroes, just for one weekend…
I, I wish I could stay.
For more, more than this day.
Maybe love could keep up together.
We can beat fate just for one weekend.
We’ll be each other’s heroes, just for one weekend…
As he sings, I try my best not to cry like some overly romantic, cheesy girl. But it’s the sweetest thing anyone has ever done for me. And he’s wrong— he’s very good at playing the guitar, and singing. If he weren’t a damn fine, devoted SEAL, he could easily have been in a band.
“That was beautiful,” I tell him, when he’s finished. “And I have no idea why it took you so long to do.”
I stand up and cross the room, to sit in his lap. He kisses me, and I want to dissolve into him, melt into his lap and stay there all night long.
But then he pulls away and says, “There’s something else I owe you.”
“And what is that?” I ask, curious.
“A proper date. I never got to take you on one.”
I smile. I liked the idea of staying here and making up for lost time, but I guess it couldn’t hurt to eat dinner first.
“So, I’m assuming we’re extending our pact a little longer?” I ask him.
I hope it’s a way to show I’m happy about it, but also not to seem too desperate.
He looks a little bit exasperated, and I feel stupid for having asked it.
“I should have come a lot sooner,” he says, somewhat mysteriously. “But I finally figured, better late than never. All we have is now, right?”
“So let’s go.” He stands up and places his guitar in its case. “But I need to freshen up real quick first. It was a long flight. Can I use your shower?”