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Their Protector: An MC Outlaw Halloween Romance, page 76


Their Protector: An MC Outlaw Halloween Romance

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  Chapter 7 – Riley

  I follow Jensen and our two visitors over to the couch. My stomach still feels tight, and I don’t know if it’s contractions, Braxton Hicks, or nerves, since I sense that they came to talk about something serious. I make a mental note to call my doctor’s office in the morning to see if I should go in and be checked up.

  “Jensen, I have to tell you something I hope you don’t hate me for,” Harlow says, clearing his throat.

  I look back and forth from Harlow and Whitney but neither of their expressions give much away about the reason for their visit. Whitney’s face looks pale and worried. I think about what Monica said earlier and hope they’re not here to tell us they can’t have children.

  That’s silly , I tell myself. Harlow specifically said he needed to talk about something else .

  But my mind seemed incapable of thinking of anything except pregnancy and babies lately. I guess that is to be expected, under the circumstances. I shake my head, willing myself to pay attention.

  “Okay sure,” Jensen says. “You know we don’t keep anything from each other. We’re a united front. Always.”

  “Well, that’s why I think you might be mad at me,” Harlow says. “And you’d have every reason to be.”

  Whitney nods, a flash of light in her eyes that clues me in on the fact that she’s the one who persuaded Harlow to come tell Jensen whatever it is he’s about to tell him.

  “Right now, Mom’s at Louie’s,” Harlow says quickly, and then immediately looks like he wants to pounce on Jensen, put his finger over his mouth so he can’t say anything. “Hear me out.”

  “What the fuck is she doing at Louie’s?” Jensen asks. “And why didn’t you make her leave?”

  “Don’t worry,” Harlow says. “She’s with Larson. She’s safe.”

  “Larson—” Jensen shakes his head back and forth, as if trying to understand and failing. “I was just with Larson. I was just at Louie’s. I don’t understand what’s going on. I thought Mom was at your house. She ran out of here and we were just about to call you.”

  “She ran out of here?” Now Harlow’s the one to look confused. “When? Why didn’t you—”

  “Look,” I cut in, and Whitney nods again, as if encouraging me to step in. “There’s no need to fight. Let’s just calm down and take one thing at a time.”

  “Good idea,” Whitney agrees.

  I have to admit, I feel guilty for letting his mom leave earlier. But rationally I know no one should blame themselves or anyone else. There is nothing one can do to stop her once she sets her mind to something.

  “Well, Larson called me from Louie’s and said Mom showed up there, pretty belligerently trying to order a beer,” Harlow continues. “She refused to leave, and Jeff was going to call the cops before he realized… you know…”

  He trails off and I know his unfinished sentence is that she was our mom.

  “…that she was with Larson,” he finally finishes. “Larson told Jeff he could handle it.”

  “How do you know all of this?” Jensen asks.

  “Larson called me,” Harlow says.

  “ You ?” Jensen looks crushed, and I can tell his train of thought is going something like this: After all this time, I let Mom live with us, and I support her, yet people call Harlow— my irresponsible little brother— when she’s in a jam?

  “Jensen,” I say quietly, putting my hand on his leg. “I’m sure he just didn’t want to worry you, knowing you have a baby on the way.”

  “That’s it exactly,” Harlow says. “He says you had just left there, in a hurry to get home to see Riley. He didn’t want to bother you with this. And he…”

  Harlow’s mouth clamps shut, as if he’s said too much. But Whitney’s looking at him expectantly, encouragingly, as if there’s more for him to tell us.

  “He knew that I was having some issues with Mom,” Harlow finally finishes.

  “What do you mean, issues with Mom?” Jensen asks. I take his hand and squeeze it, but he’s upset. “And why would you tell Larson but not me?”

  “Well, honestly, there are a couple things I haven’t told you,” Harlow says. “And I don’t really know why. I guess I just wanted to be the caretaker for once. The one to handle things. But obviously I blew that.”

  His cheeks are red, and I can’t help but feel sorry for him. I can understand where he’s coming from. Jensen has always been the peacemaker, Ramsey the protector, and Harlow, just the little troublemaker. Sure, he’d come a long way after his helicopter crash and Whitney had helped him get stronger and more mature. But he had probably seen this as a chance to prove himself, to show his brothers that he is finally a man and not just their kid brother.

  “What exactly haven’t you told me?” Jensen asks.

  I can tell he’s really mad but he’s trying to be gentle with Harlow. He must feel for him too.

  “You know how Mom’s been coming over to our house a lot?” Harlow asks.

  “Yeah…” Jensen says.

  Whitney looks down at the floor, as if embarrassed.

  “Well, a couple times, I caught her drinking,” he says.

  “What!” Jensen explodes.

  “I know,” Harlow says. “I didn’t tell you because I knew you’d hit the roof. You have enough on your plate to deal with. I was trying to handle it.”

  “Harlow, the reason she goes to your house to drink is she knows that a condition of staying here is that she not drink,” Jensen says. “She was doing fine for a while. She was taking her meds, she was staying away from booze. What the hell?”

  “I know,” Harlow says. “Don’t you think I know that? That’s why I haven’t wanted to tell you.”

  Jensen huffs and then stands up, walking around as if trying to diffuse his anger. Whitney looks fearful, as if some irreparable riff had happened and couldn’t be repaired.

  “It’s okay,” I tell them. “We’ll work this out.”

  “I’m sorry,” Harlow tells Jensen. “Really. The first time, I told her that was it. If she did it again, I was telling you. Then she did it again. So I told her she wouldn’t be able to come over again. I feel really bad, because I think that’s why she went to the bar instead.”

  He’s shaking a bit, as if he might throw up. I feel the exact same way, but I don’t know if it’s from emotions or pregnancy. My morning sickness had gone away during my second trimester. I shouldn’t be feeling nauseated right now. A searing pain gripped my stomach, radiating from one side to the other, but then it was over nearly as fast as it came, thank goodness.

  “Look,” I say, trying to solve the problem at hand so that I can go take a bath and relax. “None of this is really that much of a surprise. The doctor said she might relapse. We have all known the risks. I’m guilty of hiding my own feelings, myself.”

  At this, Jensen stops pacing and looks at me. Harlow and Whitney are also looking at me. I decide there’s no better time than the here and now to explain what I mean. Sure, in private with Jensen would be best, but apparently this is a family affair.

  I start to realize that maybe Ramsey should be here, but, as if on cue, there’s a knock at the door.

  Chapter 8 – Riley

  “It’s open,” Jensen says, throwing his hands up in the air as if the whole world is just going to visit us tonight. “Come in.”

  “Hey,” Ramsey says, their mother’s arm drooped over his shoulder. Her other arm is around Larson, who walks in behind them and also says hello. “Got a special delivery for you.”

  Their mom looks completely out of it, half asleep in a zombie state.

  “She must have taken too many of her meds,” Harlow says. “Or maybe got a hold of some street drugs.”

  Everyone shrugs. Either one is a good possibility with her, or perhaps both. I rack my brain to remember how she looked and smelled on the staircase. I wasn’t paying the best attention to her since I had been in the middle of doing something else. But it’s entirely possible she had been drunk, or

  “Hi guys,” Monica says, her head appearing in the doorway before the rest of her followed. “James is with Susan. Sorry to be back here so soon.”

  She nods at me, and I say, “It’s a good thing you guys are here. We were just… talking.”

  “That’s always a good thing,” says Monica, winking at me. “I’m going to help them take her upstairs and then we can all sit down.”

  “Okay,” I tell her.

  Good old Monica. Always knowing when to give other people privacy.

  “So, as I was saying,” I continue, as the four of them make their way up the stairs. I figure that Jensen’s mom is too far gone to hear or make sense out of anything we’re talking about. “I’ve been holding back some feelings about your mom.”

  “So have I,” Jensen says, looking so grateful to be able to tell me.

  “What?” I ask him, confused.

  “I’ve been thinking we really should start listening to the doctor. And maybe take her to that home…”

  His face falls as he says it, as if I’m going to mad.

  “I was thinking the same thing,” I tell him. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

  “Well, I know how you like taking care of her,” he says. “And I really do appreciate all your help. I don’t want you think we’ve failed. We’ve done the best we can but at this point…”

  “I feel exactly the same way,” I tell him. “But I didn’t tell you because you always…”

  I trail off, but Harlow picks up my sentence for me. “Want to rescue her.”

  “Yes,” I say softly.

  “I’m sorry I didn’t tell you what I was thinking,” Jensen says. “It would have saved a lot of guesswork. And, truth be told, Harlow, I had my own suspicions she might be drinking again. That’s something I was holding back from telling everyone too. Because I didn’t want everyone to think I fucking failed. Or to hear everyone say ‘I told you so, Jensen…’,”

  Harlow starts laughing and we all look at him.

  “What is it?” I ask.

  “Just that, all of us weren’t telling the others our true thoughts for that very same reason.”

  All of us are laughing our asses off when Monica and Ramsey come back downstairs.

  “What’d we miss?” Monica asks, as they sit down on our recliners. “Larson’s upstairs keeping watch on Mrs. Bradford, so she doesn’t try to run off again.”

  “Oh, lots,” says Whitney.

  Another pain grips my stomach, and I try not to squirm. I grit my teeth, not wanting to interrupt catching Ramsey and Monica up on things.

  “You look good,” Monica says to Whitney, surprised.

  “Um, thanks?” Whitney answers, looking at me with a cringed expression. We both laugh.

  “Sorry, I didn’t mean it like that,” Monica says. “You’d just seemed really… down, lately, and I’m glad to see that it looks like you’re in better spirits.”

  “Oh,” Whitney says, smiling. “I’m just really relieved that things have come out into the open.”

  “What has?” Ramsey asks, obviously clueless.

  “The long and short of it is that we’re going to put Mom in that home,” Jensen says.

  “Finally!” Ramsey exclaims, nearly pumping his fist in the air. “I think this is a really good decision.”

  “Yeah,” Monica says. “The last thing you need with a new baby on the way is to have to try to deal with someone so sick only doctors probably know how to deal with.”

  She points upstairs.

  “ If they even know how,” Harlow adds.

  “Guys, don’t be mean,” Jensen says, always the peacekeeper.

  “We’re not,” Monica protests. “It’s true. She’s sick. She needs help above and beyond what we’re able to give her. You two certainly tried your best and it’s admirable.”

  “I’m glad we can all be here together to deal with it,” Ramsey says. “Even if the circumstances are less than ideal.”

  “Of course,” Jensen says. “That what we do. We’re brothers united, back when we were kids, when we were SEALs together, and now that we’re facing this crisis.”

  “Brothers and their wives united,” Whitney jokes, and I start to laugh but abruptly stop.

  I feel another pain— most definitely a contraction— coming on, and I grip my stomach. This time, I can’t help but stand up and bend over a little bit, trying to ease the pressure and catch my breath.

  “Yeah,” I say, sitting back down after a minute. “This baby just keeps giving me these… practice contractions. Maybe strong Braxton Hicks or something.”

  “Hmmm,” Monica says, a concerned look crossing her face. “That looked a lot stronger than Braxton Hicks.”

  “Are you sure you’re all right, honey?” Jensen asks, rubbing my back.

  “Yes,” I tell him, but I’m really not sure. I guess I’ll find out when I get another contraction.

  “Okay,” says Harlow, nodding as if that’s that. “Now we just have to figure out a plan to get Mom to peacefully go to the home.”

  “You mean as peacefully as possible ,” Ramsey says. “Because there’s no way she’ll go without a fight.”

  “I don’t know,” Jensen says, slightly shaking his head. “You guys haven’t been here most of the time she has been staying with us, until pretty recently.”

  “You’re right,” I agree. “She was surprisingly peaceful. It was nice. And then this… relapse… or whatever.”

  Suddenly I’m struck by a pain so strong I can barely breathe. It seems to grip my windpipe, my stomach, and even my thighs, and squeeze with all its might. At the same time, it seems to want to break my pelvis, because I feel tremendous pain down there as well.

  I stand up and move back and forth from one foot to the next.

  “Riley!” Monica says. “I know this has been a stressful evening and that stress can cause contractions but I really think this might be the real thing…”

  “Are you okay?” Jensen asks at the same time, looking panicked.

  “I think I might need a real fitness ball now,” I joke, but before I can even laugh, a gush of liquid comes pouring down my legs.

  “Well, I think we’re going to have to make a plan for Mom after I have this baby,” I tell them. “Because I think my water just broke.”

  Chapter 9 – Jensen

  1 Week Later

  It’s a bright and sunny day as we walk to Dad’s gravesite. Riley is carrying our son, whose little eyes are struggling to stay open.

  “Hurry,” I whisper. “He is only awake for such small amounts of time during the day.”

  “You’re going to be eating these words when he’s older,” Monica says, pulling James by his hand. “Then you’ll be like, ‘It’s bed time, go to sleep, and he’ll be like, ‘No, I don’t waaaaant to!’”

  “Hey!” James proclaims. “That sounds like me .”

  “It sure does,” Monica says.

  “Well, he certainly makes up for it by waking up at night,” Riley says. “He’s got his days and nights mixed up.”

  She holds him up close once we get to the gravesite and gather around. “Don’t you?” she asks him, blowing bubbles with her lips. “Don’t you, don’t you, don’t you? You’re a little night owl! But you’re the cutest little owl there ever was. Yes you are, yes you are!”

  I smile at how happy she is. She loves our little boy more than life itself. And so do I.

  Ramsey and Monica are at our side. We wait a second for Harlow to help Mom down the hill. Then Harlow and Whitney— always the last to arrive anywhere— scurry down it, apologizing with each step.

  “Okay,” I say, clearing my throat and then taking our son into my arms. “We’re gathered here today for several reasons, Dad. The first is, Riley and I are happy to introduce you to our son, Andrew Michael Bradford.”

  Everyone beams at the little creature who manages to stay away for one more minute before closing his eyes. I carefully pass him back to Riley, who puts him i
n a baby carrier she’s wearing on her chest. His eyes open again for just a moment before he snuggles up against her and drifts back off into a peaceful sleep.

  Everyone claps and makes comments such as, “Ooooh, so that’s what it is.”

  “Yes, that’s right,” I tell Dad, and all of them. “Andrew. And we call him Drew for short. We wanted you to be among the first to know. We didn’t tell anyone else until we could come here today, all together.”

  “Drew,” Harlow says, laughing. “I love it.”

  “What?” Whitney asks, looking at all of our faces. “I don’t get it.”

  “When Jensen was little, he colored all over the walls with a magic marker. Now, you have to understand that he was always Mr. Prim and Proper, insisting everyone’s language was right, like a little know it all.”

  “Shut up,” I tell him, but I’m chuckling.

  “Jensen kept saying he made art on the wall,” Harlow continues. “When Dad saw it, he obviously became upset. He asked all of us one by one, ‘Who drew on the wall? Did you draw on the wall?’”

  Now Ramsey is cracking up just as hard.

  “When he got to me, I said, ‘No, Dad, I didn’t,’” he says, picking up the story where Harlow left off. “When he got to Harlow, same answer. But when he got to Jensen, and said, ‘Who drew on it it? You drew on it, didn’t you?’ And Jensen gave himself away by saying, ‘No, Daddy, my name’s not Drew! It’s Jensen! Jensen made the art on the wall!”

  Now everyone laughs, and I look over at my own sleeping son again, wondering when the day will come that he will inevitably draw on the wall.

  “He didn’t want whoever this mysterious ‘Drew’ was to get credit for his artwork,” Ramsey says, laughing.

  “Dad was laughing so hard that Jensen didn’t even get into trouble,” Harlow says.

  “He was always Dad’s favorite,” Ramsey says. “He never really got into trouble.”

  “Guess that’s why I got into so much trouble when I was a bit older,” I say, shrugging.

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