Their Protector: An MC Outlaw Halloween Romance, page 66
But I know I have to tell Ramsey.
I wash my hands, brush my teeth and then splash some water on my face. I have no idea how long I’ve been in here, but I know it’s been a while. I hope that if Ramsey is awake, he isn’t worried about where I’ve been.
I open the door, determined to spill the beans. But Ramsey is lying on his stomach on my bed, just staring at his hands, with a deep, brooding look on his face.
“Are you okay?” I ask him, anxiously wondering if somehow he knows what I’ve been up to.
I don’t believe him.
“I just… you know. It kind of sucks that I have to head back so soon, and to Afghanistan again.”
I sit down beside him and begin rubbing his shoulders.
“Don’t get me wrong,” he adds, quickly. “I love what I do. I know that part of the job is being called to serve, and in fact, that’s often the most exciting part. You understand how that is.”
“But I do get worried. About whether my mom will be okay without me. About what will happen if… like Harlow… or, worse, like your brother…”
He trails off, and I don’t say anything.
“I’m sorry,” he says, quickly. “I didn’t mean to bring him into it.”
I let my fingers walk up his spine, not sure how to respond.
“It’s okay,” I say finally. “You can share anything on your mind with me.”
Because boy do I have a doozy for you , I want to say, but I don’t. I’m really not sure that I should now. He’s already worried about so many things. A baby could be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. I don’t want to be more of a burden on him. I could handle the secret for now.
“I shouldn’t be so glum,” he says, sitting up and taking my hands in his. “I only have a little bit of time left before I have to catch my flight back home, and I came to have a nice time with you. I am having a nice time with you.”
I squeeze his hand, to show him that I agree. I don’t trust myself with words right now.
“What do you want to do with our last hour?” I ask him.
He raises his eyebrows seductively and says, “What do you think?”
“Oh, stop it,” I say, hoping he’s joking.
I’m sure I’ll want one last tangle in the sheets before he leaves, but right now sex is the furthest thing from my mind. When Ramsey and I are together like that, it feels so intimate, so close… and I’m afraid I’ll feel deceptive. Or that I’ll tell him, and regret it.
He leans in his head in close to mine and kisses me.
“Well, why not?” he asks.
“Because I’m hungry, for one thing,” I tell him, which is an understatement. My stomach feels nauseous, like if I don’t get something in it pronto, it will rebel by eating itself.
“Oh yeah, I guess there’s that,” he says. “Is there somewhere we could order in or get some carry out, or should we go somewhere?”
I think about it. In the meantime, I reach into my bedside drawer, where I keep some fig bars, “There are definitely some options. But actually, I need a little snack right now.”
He look at me, not suspiciously, but I can’t help but add, “I’m always hungriest in the morning.”
I’d have thought that Ramsey would want to walk by the ocean one more time, but then again, it’ll be a lot harder to have sex if we aren’t at home. And maybe it would be nice to spend a little more one on one time, just relaxing.
“There’s a place by the boardwalk where we could order some burritos, and bring them back here,” I tell him, thinking a compromise may bring the best of both worlds.
“Okay,” he says. “If you’re sure there’s nothing else you want to do before I have to leave for six months?”
The way he says it makes my heart speed up, as if we’ll see each other again when he gets back. But I don’t say anything and rather I just try to think about his question.
“Well…” I say, finally coming up with an idea. “You’ve met my family now… or at least the ones who live in town. And although I met yours, it wasn’t exactly in the same context.”
I pause, thinking it’s a pretty bold suggestion, but he kind of opened the door with his remark about leaving for six months, and maybe his response will show me more about where we really stand. I’m also trying to find a solution to his glumness, a way to cheer himself up with the knowledge that his family will be fine while he’s gone.
“Should we maybe call and Skype with them while we eat?” I propose. “You could tell your brothers how nice the beach is, that maybe they might want to bring their ladies here. And then your mom would probably feel better knowing that when you get back, a family vacation awaits…”
I stop, as I realize he’s laughing. Not just chuckling, but holding his stomach in a belly-gripping fit of giddiness.
“Oh my god, that’s a good one, Monica,” he says, as if we were having a joke contest and it had been my turn. “That’s really funny.”
“Ha ha,” I say, trying to figure out the joke.
“That would be such a crazy idea for sure,” he says. “Obviously my brothers know nothing about us. And if they did, I’d be the laughing stock of the unit.”
It takes me a minute to recover from the shock. I can’t believe he can be so romantic, and then turn around and admit I’m his dirty little secret. I guess we’re not on the same page after all.
Suddenly I’m really glad I didn’t tell him I’m pregnant. I know I can handle this on my own, and it looks like I’m going to have to.
“Oh, I know, right?” I say, willing myself to sound as if I think it’s all a big funny joke, too. “That would be hilarious. Just kidding. Psych! There’s nothing I really want to do. I was just wanting to make you laugh.”
“Good one,” he says, wiping a tear of laughter from his eye.
He finally finishes laughing, but not without some extra chuckles that drive his point home, each one feeling like a dagger to my heart.
“So how far away is this burrito place on the beach?” he asks. “I’m trying to calculate whether we have time to go there, come back for one last lovemaking session, shower and head to the airport for my flight at noon.”
“Your flight is at noon ?” I ask, checking the clock on my bedside table, feigning concern as well as I’d just feigned laughter. “I didn’t know it was that soon.”
“I told you…” he says, and it’s true, he did. I just want a reason to get him out of here as soon as possible, because I’m so pissed at him.
“Oh, I must have misheard you,” I tell him. “We’d better get a move on it. The traffic can be so bad on the way to the airport.”
“Okay,” he says, looking disappointed, and I almost feel bad. “So I should just get ready now?”
“Yeah, and there’s a diner down the street where we can grab some food if we have time before you have to rush to the airport.”
“Okay. Well, that’s too bad.”
We shower and dress and walk down to the diner. He holds my hand, but it just doesn’t feel the same.
“They have burritos here too,” he says, trying to make the best out of a bad situation, and I smile and say, “Great! Convenient to eat on our walk back.”
When we get to his car, he says, “I had such a great time. I wish I didn’t have to go so soon.”
“Same here,” I tell him, just because it’s what’s expected of me to say.
What I want to say is that he shouldn’t have even come if it was just for one more night of casual sex, but I know that would be unfair of me. I know I signed up for this, willingly, and that it’s neither of our faults that it changed on my part but not on his.
“I liked adding an extra night to our Just for One Weekend,” he adds, but to me it’s like an old, tired joke, and I can barely eke out a pretend laugh.
He leans down to
But my attempts fall short, and the only positive thought I have is that at least now I know for sure where he stands. It was fantasy on my part to think he’d want to be with me for anything longer than this last extended weekend.
“Goodbye, Ramsey,” I tell him, as he presses me against his chest for what I know will be the last time ever.
“Goodbye for now, Monica,” he says, and I want to tell him to stop getting my hopes up. But at this point, I just want him to leave without any drama.
I need to start focusing on what lies in front of me. My life, without Ramsey, and with his child, who he can’t know about.
He drives away and I crumple up the burrito wrapper in my hand, as if it’s my heart.
Chapter 25 – Ramsey
“Mom, I hope you have an appetite, because this pizza place is to die for,” I tell her, as we enter Carmen’s Pizza.
“It’s Chicago style deep-dish pizza,” Riley joins in. “So we can pretend that we went even further away than we did!”
We’ve taken her to Santa Fe on the train, for a little trip before Harlow and I are deployed. It’s our last day of R&R and tomorrow we report for travel.
“I don’t know why we couldn’t just stay in Albuquerque and eat at Los Cuates,” Mom says. “It’s my favorite restaurant and I love when you boys take me there.”
“We’ll take you there next Sunday, Ma,” Jensen says. “Aren’t you glad we’re doing something exciting and different before Harlow and Ramsey leave?”
Mom just shrugs.
The waiter comes over and we order two pizzas and some sodas. One of the best things about this place— in addition to the delicious food, of course— is that they don’t serve alcohol. As far as I’ve heard, Mom has been behaving herself since our little chat, but I don’t want anything to change that.
“How’s the moving going, Mom?” I ask her.
She’s spent the last couple of days moving her things from my house to Jensen and Riley’s house, and she’s going out of her way to show how unhappy she is about the change.
“Yeah, Ramsey has to be filled in on what’s going on at his own house,” Harlow jokes. “Because he was off on his ‘spirit quest,’ and wasn’t there.”
Everyone laughs, but they’ve been seriously wondering about my whereabouts. I told them I needed time alone, and to get a break from mom and not be around when she moves out, because she was driving me crazy.
It’s true (I just left out the part about going to Florida to see Monica), and I think they bought it, except that Whitney keeps giving me looks that are either knowing, or curious, or both. Even now she raises an eyebrow at me, but I try to ignore it.
Maybe she’s just being nosy. She’s been looking particularly happy all day, for a woman whose boyfriend is about to go off to war. I’m relieved when the pizza arrives, and I can eat instead of being grilled about my whereabouts.
“This is really delicious,” Whitney says, and I’m glad that she’s done being skeptical of me.
She’s the only one who of us except for Mom who hasn’t been here. It’s been a favorite of Harlow’s and Jensen’s and mine, and Jensen introduced Riley to it fairly recently.
Mom appears to enjoy the pizza, but she doesn’t say anything one way or the other. She’s boycotting me, and refusing to have a good time, because I’m making her move out. I don’t know why she thought I’d let her stay in my house alone, but it’s not happening, no matter how much of a fuss she makes.
“Well, Mom,” says Harlow, mid-way through the meal. “I wanted to tell you that I love you and I’ll miss you while I’m gone.”
“Me too,” I say, between bites.
“I’m glad we could take this little trip together,” Harlow continues.
“Me too,” I agree again.
“And Whitney and I have an exciting announcement to share,” he says.
I’m about to say “Me too,” just out of habit, but my mouth hangs open, as I realize what he’s about to say. Both Jensen and Riley look shocked, too. Mom just goes on eating, as if she doesn’t know, or doesn’t want to know, that something exciting is happening.
“ What?” Riley says, looking at Whitney with a slow smile that spreads across her face.
“Yes, we’re engaged,” says Harlow, nodding solemnly but with obvious glee peeking through.
Whitney reaches into her purse and pulls out a diamond ring. She slips it on her finger, glowing brightly.
“I decided to hide it until Harlow made the announcement,” she says. “For shock value.”
“Very nice!” says Riley, reaching across the table for her hand. “Let me see!”
She holds up Whitney’s finger, displaying the large diamond glistening brightly.
“Good job,” I tell Harlow, a little miffed that he hadn’t even included me in the preparation discussions. “I can’t miss it from here.”
“Hazard pay comes in handy,” he laughs. “And I didn’t want to leave for Afghanistan before putting a ring on it. So, I popped the question yesterday.”
He says it in a nonchalant way, but it’s obvious he’s happy. I would have thought that Harlow had become such a sap, if I didn’t know how much he truly cares for Whitney, and how good they are together.
“Well congratulations, Harlow,” Mom says, dryly.
She’s always been a bit jealous of any other girls, and I’m sure she was happier when all three of her sons were single.
Whitney doesn’t let Mom’s tone get in the way of her happiness.
“Thank you, Mrs. Bradford,” she says, blushing and gushing at the same time. “I’m really so happy that Harlow proposed. It’ll make the separation so much easier.”
“It’ll go faster now that you can plan for a wedding!” Riley says. “How did he propose? Fill us in on all the details!”
“Well,” says Whitney, smiling so much she can barely talk. “He took me to the duck pond at UNM, and we had a picnic lunch. He’d made sandwiches and brought wine and everything.”
“Impressive!” I shoot a proud glance at my baby brother.
“Did you have any idea what was coming?” Riley asks.
“No, not at all!” Whitney says. “We had discussed getting married eventually, but it always seemed like an in-the-future type of conversation. Since we haven’t been together that long, I assumed it would be something we discussed more in depth when he got back. Although, of course, if it were up to me, we would already be…”
She takes a deep breath, and we all know that she was about to say “married by now.” But she catches herself, and says “We would have gotten engaged right away! That’s how sure I am.”
“Awww!” says Riley.
“Yeah, so I thought it was just a going away picnic,” Whitney continues. “I knew it was super romantic and sweet, but I had no idea what was really coming my way. But then he took out some bread crumbs so we could feed the ducks. One of them was much heavier than normal…”
“…and I said, ‘You probably won’t want to feed that one to the ducks,’” Harlow jumps in, laughing.
Whitney is cracking up.
“He had hid the ring inside a big piece of bread to surprise me, but then he was afraid I’d throw it away and it’d be gone forever,” she says.
“I began to worry that I’d hid it too well!” Harlow says. “I imagined some duck getting it and swallowing it, or taking it into the pond, where it would sink down to the bottom. Either way, we’d never see it again!”
“You’d have to take the duck to the vet and do something to make him… well, you know… since we’re still eating…” Riley says, laughing along with Whitney.
Everyone’s laughing now, even Mom.
“So, I kind of ruined it…” Har
“No, you didn’t!” Whitney protests. “It was perfect!”
“…but in the end, I think I pulled off the surprise pretty well. I got down one knee on the picnic blanket and asked her to marry me, since she’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me.”
“Awww,” Riley coos.
She looks almost as choked up as Whitney does. I have to admit, it’s really touching.
“Good job, brother!” says Jensen, raising his plastic glass of soda.
“To Harlow and Whitney!” I say. “Long live the latest Bradford couple.”
“Another one bites the dust,” Jensen says, and we laugh as we toast.
If he only knew , I can’t help but think. I may be the latest Bradford Brother to have fallen in love, even though I wish it weren’t true.
Chapter 26 – Ramsey
Later, as Harlow helps Whitney onto the train platform, and she turns around to look at him with sparkling eyes, I feel a surprising pang of longing and loss.
Or perhaps it isn’t that surprising.
I know that Monica and I shared something I’ve never felt for anyone before. But that doesn’t mean it can last, like Harlow and Whitney or Jensen and Riley. There’s no way it could be the real thing.
I’m quiet during the train ride back, although everyone else’s mood is boisterous and happy. Whitney takes time out from discussing wedding plans with Riley to ask, “Hey Ramsey, you okay?”
“Yes, of course,” I tell her. “I just don’t have much to contribute in the way of details about flowers or decorations.”
“But you’ll play the guitar for the ceremony, right?” she asks.
“Oh good. I need to steal that element from Jensen and Riley’s wedding. It was beautiful.”
I smile at her, and turn back to my thoughts of Monica once Whitney and Riley start discussing catering options.
* * *
When we get back to Albuquerque, I say goodbye to Riley and Whitney— neither of whom I’ll see again for six months— before they drive Mom home. I’ll say goodbye to her tomorrow morning before I leave.
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