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Unexpected fate, p.5
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       Unexpected Fate, p.5

         Part #1 of Hope Town series by Harper Sloan
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  IT SHOULD HAVE BEEN AN easy workout. Chance, my roommate and ex-Marine brother, said that I needed to get my shit in gear and get off the couch since I would be shipping off in two weeks.

  The plus side of being in a unit that was as dark as it gets is that we aren’t reporting to a base every day and dealing with shit day in and day out. We report, but it isn’t to a base in the middle of the public eye. No, our shit is buried deep. We have once-a-month training missions that can last up to two weeks. Those keep our skills sharp and our bodies ready.

  We were lucky this time. Normally when we’re needed overseas, things have gotten worse than they can control. Then we come in and clean house.

  This time, we’re being sent in with notice, which always means we’re going to be gone for a long period of time with no set end date. We could be over there for a few months or over a year. Mom is her normal freaking-out-but-staying-strong-and-supportive self. Dad, I know, is worried, but he won’t speak a word of it. He’s been there. The Special Forces unit I’m in is almost a carbon copy of the one he served on almost thirty years ago. He is more aware of the reality that I might not come home than anyone else is. But he also knows that this is very much a part of me and wouldn’t dream of being anything less than supportive.

  Chance served with me during our last deployment, but when we were ambushed and, in turn, he was injured, he was discharged honorably and has been heading up the personal security end of Corps Security ever since. We’ve been roommates on the home front ever since boot camp, and I wouldn’t have it differently. He’s just as much of a brother to me as Cam and Colt. He’s been so busy in the two years since moving to town, often out of town for long periods, that he has rarely gone out with all of the crew.

  “Yo, Cohen. Isn’t that Maddox’s daughter?” Pause. “Uh . . . and your sisters? And Axel’s kid?”

  My head was already turning when he mentioned one of Maddox’s girls, then a little quicker when he mentioned the twins, but the second he mentioned Dani, my head snapped so rapidly that it’s a shock I didn’t break my own neck.

  “What in the hell?” I ask, not expecting an answer.

  “Damn, you didn’t tell me the girls were looking like that these days,” he grumbles and lets out a deep, “Umphh,” when I elbow him in the gut.

  “Shut the fuck up,” I snap. “Is that the fucking pole dance room they just went in?”

  “One in the same, brother,” he laughs on a sharp exhale. “Did you have to give me all your strength, fucker?”

  “Don’t be such a baby. I hardly touched you. ”

  “Hardly touched me. Well, Superman, you don’t know your own strength. ”

  I spend the next hour and then some fuming, imagining what is going on behind those doors. The more I think about it, the more I fume. I take it out on every piece of equipment I hit. I push my body to the edge just to get some of the anger out before the girls get out.

  Page 17

  To make matters worse, what I thought would be a good idea to get my curiosity out of the way backfired in a big way. Ten minutes ago, I thought it was brilliant to just peek. Just a little peek to make sure there wasn’t anything crazy going on. But that peek will forever be branded in my memory as one of the hottest things I’ve ever witnessed.

  Dani coming unhinged and all but fucking the air between her and one black, metal chair.

  I’ve been fighting a raging boner ever since one of the facility’s staff members came and shut the door, giving me a warning about dis-enrollment if I am caught again.

  Ever since then, her body and the way it looked, moved . . . Fuck me. I’ve been picturing every way I would take her when I finally hear Chance’s voice break through my fantasy.

  “Don’t look now, Iron Man, but the girls have emerged, and now, they’re all hot, flushed, and sweaty,” he whispers down at me from where he’s spotting my lifting.

  I slam the bar home and leap off the bench, pausing to punch him in the gut again before I stomp through the gym.

  “Oh my God,” my sister, Lila, laughs.

  “Uh oh,” I hear Maddi giggle.

  I don’t even look at them.

  “This is going to be so freaking good,” Lyn chuckles right as my hand snags Dani around her tiny elbow and forces her to turn until her startled eyes are looking up into my own.

  “Shit,” she mumbles.

  “What. The fuck. Was that?” I seethe.

  “What was what?” she hedges.

  “Do not fucking play games with me. You went into there to do what? Knit a sweater?”

  She narrows her eyes but doesn’t speak. I can hear my sisters laughing and look over to give them a hard stab of my eyes. I would never talk down to my girls, but right now, they’re pushing the limits of my patience.

  “I know what goes on in there, Dani-girl,” I say and point behind her in the direction of the pole dancing room. Every man in this building knows what goes on in that room. We’ve been watching fine-as-hell chicks go in and out of there for years. The instructors alone are enough to keep some of these douchebags going for years in jack-off fantasies. “What I want to know is what in the fuck you think you’re going to do with what you learned in there, Dani? Hm? Who in the hell is he?”

  I can’t stop the shit coming out of my mouth now. Ever since that night in her bed when I watched her sick with a fever dream all night with my name escaping her lips, all I’ve been able to think about is Dani. The only thing I’ve wanted is to throw her over my shoulder and take what my body keeps screaming is mine.

  But it isn’t mine.

  Not yet. If I weren’t about to ship off for a future unknown, I would throw her down and take her right fucking now. The only problem is, as much as I want her, I won’t take something when I can’t give her anything in return. And unfortunately, right now, I can’t give her anything but the next two weeks. For a woman like Dani, that would never be enough. However, that doesn’t mean I’m going to sit on my thumbs and let her show that sweet body off, work herself in preparation for someone else.

  I do not think so.

  “That isn’t any of your business,” she huffs and pulls her arm out of my hold.

  “You don’t think?” I ask, narrowing my eyes to slits.

  “I don’t think. I know. ”

  “That’s where you’re wrong, baby. ” I step into her space and wait for her to make the next move.

  “I’m not wrong, Cohen. Realistic. I’m not the one who’s afraid. I haven’t been afraid to admit how I feel for a long time. You, on the other hand, well . . . I’m sick of waiting for you to come to terms with it. Time to move on. ” She crosses her arms, and I want to groan when it brings attention to her tits. I’ve always been a breast man, but even though she isn’t huge, there is more than enough to fit perfectly in my palms and I’ve been thinking about it for way too long.

  “I’m not afraid of you,” I scoff.

  “You’re terrified,” she challenges.

  “You’re delusional. ”

  “Ha! As if. Have a good workout, Cohen. ” She reaches up and pats my cheek, still trying to play off this indifference. If her palm didn’t linger a little too long on my stubble, then I would possibly believe her.

  What happened to my sweet Dani-girl?

  I watch with a slack jaw as she turns, her long ponytail slapping me in the face, and struts out of the gym. My sisters, Maddi, and Stella all trail behind her, laughing.

  Page 18

  MY BODY IS SHAKING SO badly that, once we clear the gym’s front doors and get out of sight of the windows, I almost collapse.

  “I am so proud of you,” Lyn says, reaching out to take my black heels out of my hand so I don’t drop them. You do not drop Louboutins on the ground. Ever.

  “Holy crap, that felt . . . amazing! I mean, I kind of feel like I’m going to puke, but holy crap!”

  “Told you. Confidence. It me
ans everything when dealing with men. ”

  “When did you get so smart?” I ask her, trying to calm my heart down after that showdown with Cohen.

  “When you started letting your hormones take over your common sense. ”

  “Bitch,” I laugh.

  “Slut,” she smiles.

  That night, I’m pretty sure I am still feeling the adrenaline of my Cohen showdown. He sent me a text shortly after that simply read, “We need to talk,” to which I responded with a very mature, “No we do not. ” He didn’t reply, but then again, that isn’t Cohen’s style. When he wants something, he just takes it. I have a feeling that, the next time I run into him, there will be a whole lot of taking.

  Daddy was up when I came home, but I’d left the heels in the car and pulled on some sweatpants and a hoodie over my normal workout gear. He narrowed his eyes, but didn’t say anything. I swear that man knows everything.

  It is most definitely time to move the hell out.

  “Dani?” I hear Mom yell from the kitchen.

  “Hey, Mom. What’s up?”

  “Nothing much, sweetheart. I just wanted to let you know your father and I are going up to the mountains next weekend. ” She looks up from her dinner prep and gives me a smile.

  My mom, even at her age, with some gray hair mixed into her dark-red locks, is beautiful. You would never guess that she has two children. She’s just a little taller than I am, but where I got all slim and small, she has the curves. I’m pretty much an exact replica of my mom—which is why Daddy has called me his little princess since the day I was born. Mom is his princess, so it makes sense.

  “And you’re letting me know this because you’re worried Nate will starve?”

  She gives me another smile. “No, my smartass daughter. I’m letting you know this and telling you that there are some boxes in the attic that you can use and giving you a heads-up that I’ll have your very loving but overprotective father hours away and unknowing for four days. Plenty of time for you and the girls to get you packed up and moved into their new townhouse. Melissa and I checked it out this afternoon, and it’s in a gated community, so when your father does become aware that you moved out on a sneak attack, he will only be upset for a little while. ”

  I look up at my mom and have to fight back the emotion. Not because she is basically kicking me out—lovingly, of course—but because she is giving me the one thing I have been basically begging for.

  “You’re helping me escape?” I whisper.

  “I’m not helping you escape, sweetheart. That would imply that we’ve been holding you hostage,” she laughs. “I would keep you home for as long as I could, but I know you need to fly. And if I don’t help make sure it’s at least done in a way that your father can’t argue about when he does find out, then you’re never going to convince him that you aren’t his little toddler just learning how to walk. He was made to protect you, baby. He loves you and it comes from a good place, but even I can admit it’s time. ”

  “What about Nate?” I ask.

  “What about him? That big old baby wouldn’t know what to do without me to wash his clothes and feed him. ”

  I laugh because she is not wrong.

  She turns and walks over to the sink to wash her hands. After drying them off, she walks over to me and gives me a big hug. I soak up the strength of her love and pull back to look into her eyes.

  “You’re okay with this? He’s going to be so mad,” I laugh.

  “I’m okay with it. And your father mad isn’t a bad thing if you know how to calm him down,” she jokes with a wink.

  “God, Mom! That is so gross. ”

  We both laugh, and I thank my lucky stars that I lucked out with such amazing parents.

  “Why don’t you go change out of your gym clothes and those sweats you think fool anyone with. Then you can come down here and tell me what’s going on with you and Cohen. ”

  I gasp and look at her in shock. “What? How?”

  “Oh you silly girl,” she says and tucks a piece of hair that fell from my ponytail behind my ear. “Not only have I been watching this unfold for years, but I watched him all but fly out of here the morning after he stayed with you. Not only that, but the twins are chatty with their mom, and their mom is chatty with me. ”

  Page 19

  “Oh, God. This is so embarrassing. ”

  “I don’t see why. Just because I haven’t been screaming it doesn’t mean that I haven’t been your biggest cheerleader when it comes to you ending up with Cohen. Go get changed and come fill your mom in. I think we have about an hour before the men come looking for food. ”

  I make my way up to my room and think about everything she just said. Obviously, the girls didn’t know or they would have said something today. I can’t believe she and Melissa went through all of this trouble. Especially knowing that Daddy is going to hit the fucking roof when he comes home to find I’ve moved out.

  This should be fun. Maybe I can talk the camera crew from work into following me home. You know, for video evidence if he snaps and starts to go all Hulk-raging mad.

  “Start from the beginning, Dani. I’m having a hard time following here. Lyn said what now?” Mom asks and hands me the spoon to stir the sauce.

  “Okay, so we might have had too much wine, but she had some brilliant idea that all I need to do is work on my confidence when it comes to my . . . sexual side, and then the rest of it will fall into place with Cohen. ”

  “And she said this because why? Because you’ve been a little shy with him lately?”

  “Mom! Yes. It’s been terrible. Ever since he was here with me when I was sick, things have just been weird. It’s like my body is hyperaware of him when he comes around. Then boom, I turn into a mute freak. ”

  She laughs, stirs the noodles and moves over to work on the salad. “Sweetheart, that—everything you’re feeling—is completely normal. You and Cohen have been traveling two different roads on the way to this point for so long that it only makes sense that there will be a head-on crash when you finally connect. You should listen to her. She’s right. ”

  “I am listening to her. That’s why we went to the pole dancing class,” I mumble.

  “You did what?” she asks, shocked.

  “We went to a pole dancing and sensual empowerment class at the gym. It was a lot of fun, but it really worked. And . . . uh, Cohen was there when we left. ”

  “Oh wow. And how did that go?”

  “I think my heart is still about to beat out of my chest. ”

  She laughs and reaches over to pull me toward her body. “That, my sweet girl, is the calm before the storm. If you think that is powerful, just wait until you’re hit with it full force. ”

  I shiver and she laughs.

  “What are my girls in here gossiping about?” Daddy says, coming into the room and around the island to give me a kiss on the forehead and one to Mom that has me looking away.

  “You two really need to remember that some things can’t be unseen,” I gripe.

  “Little princess, just how do you think you got into this world?” he asks and then booms out a laugh when I cringe.

  I look over at Mom, who gives me a wink, and shake my head when Daddy continues to laugh.

  I watch them both for a little while and pray, not for the first time, that one day I’ll have what they have.

  Hopefully one day soon.

  “DAD IS GOING TO KICK your ass,” Nate grumbles under the weight of my favorite reading chair that he and Liam are carrying up to my new bedroom.

  The townhouse that Mom and Melissa picked out for the twins, Maddi, and me is a lot more than just that. It’s a freaking townhouse on crack. It’s a five-bedroom, three-story, huge-ass house located in one of the best gated communities around. She clearly downplayed it. I expected them to have put the house in their name, which I would have had a huge problem with, but Thursday morning, I had
a call from the realtor asking me to meet him in his office on my lunch break. Seems my mom and Melissa had gone above and beyond. They had put first and last months’ rent as a down payment and wouldn’t even entertain the arguing. Emmy had been there with them. Three against four should have given us good odds—but then they brought out the big guns and started to talk about ‘the dads’ finding out and what would they say if we weren’t in the best of the best.

  Whatever.

  We signed the lease, all four of us, and in less than thirty minutes, we were handed the keys.

  It was amazing!

  It’s been two days since Mom took Dad up to the mountains, and I’ve enlisted Nate and Liam to help me get the heavy stuff out of my room. Mom told me to take all the furniture, but I felt too bad about it knowing that, if Daddy came home to an empty room, he very well might have heart failure. My new bedroom suite is being delivered tomorrow. Maddi and I went in on the living room stuff and entertainment systems. Lyn and Lila picked up the kitchen and patio furniture.

  Page 20

  “If he kicks my ass, what’s going to happen to you? You’re the one who helped me move out!” I laugh when his face pales.

  “Don’t be such a baby, Nate,” Liam says, continuing to lift the chair up the stairs.

  I give him a smile. Liam Beckett, Aunt Dee and Uncle Beck’s son, has been my best friend for so long that I couldn’t imagine moving out and not having him here to witness this moment. I’ve been begging for him to come help hold my dad back so I could make my escape for years. I’ve always been close with Liam. Our mothers have been friends forever, and since we’re close in age, we just kind of became buds. We were born close together, so we were lucky to grow up together and hit each grade in the same class. There was one year—third, I think—that we weren’t in the same class. Mom and Aunt Dee say all the time that I cried for weeks until they realized I wouldn’t stop until the school moved Liam into my class.

  I don’t believe it for a second. Even if there is home video footage of it somewhere.

  “Lee, where did you put the keys to my car?” I call up the stairs, where he and Nate climbed with my reading chair.

  “I don’t know, Dani. Look by the front door table thingie!” he yells down.

  “It’s an accent table, doofus!” I yell back.

  “What the hell ever that is,” I hear him grumble.

 
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