Kit held up the blue book with white stickers, spelling out The Bay Bible. “This book will tell you any and everything you would need to know, right down to a mosquito bite.”
I blew out a puff of air, cocky air. “I’m pretty sure I can handle a mosquito bite. I didn’t need a tab for that one. I’m not stupid, just not made for this daddy stuff.”
“What you put on your mosquito bite isn’t the same as hers. You have to be careful with all those chemicals. A little bit of baking soda and water does the same thing.”
“Oh, okay, yeah, that makes sense,” I admitted while I stepped off my pedestal, accepting defeat, the thought of my grandma using that same home remedy crossing my mind. Nope, didn’t know how to do this, and I didn’t want to. I was doomed, she was doomed, and this was a horrible idea.
“You’re going to be fine.”
That wasn’t what I was worried about. Not fully. “And what about the girl? You’re trusting someone who has never been around little kids. Ever.”
“I’m trusting her with her dad, and stop calling her the girl. Her name is Bay.”
“Yeah, I know. Why you would name a child, Bay is beyond me. Especially when your last name is Berry.”
“Hey, I gave her your name. I could have given her mine.”
“Whatever, it’s still a stupid name. How much time do I have, Kit? I have to pack up this place, get a job and get out of the city.”
Kit frowned while her head did this little jerking thing. Like I had just slapped her across her face. “You’re leaving Nashville?”
“I know you’ve only seen the ceiling of my apartment, but I’m sure you noticed the size? Where’s she going to play? Where is she going to sleep? And, what? Am I just going to make her a bed in my guitar case while I perform on the streets until two in the morning? Of course, I’m leaving Nashville.”
“I remember your apartment, idiot, but where would you go?”
“Idit,” the tiny little voice said from the bed.
Kit laughed and scolded her with a lighthearted tone. “You can’t say that.”
“I don’t know yet. I just sent out a resume right before I called. I’ll let you know when I know.”
“But what kind of job? I mean what can you do besides sing?”
I shook my head a little with that one, deciding not to tell the dumb twit. Not because I wasn’t proud of the degree I had gotten as a backup plan. It was more because she didn’t think I was capable of such an accomplishment. She didn’t know shit about me, and it pissed me off that she was so quick to judge. “Oh, I don’t know, Kit. I bet I could mow lawns, or maybe change some oil or something.”
Kit’s frown never changed and she continued to start each sentence with, but. “But where would you go? I thought you would stay close to your family. You know, so they can help with Bay.”
I did the frowning that time. “See, this is why this is wrong on so many levels. You don’t know me any more than I know you. My family lives in Michigan. Not Nashville. I came here right after high school.
“But I met your sister.”
“Bridgett, yes. She just so happened to be visiting that weekend. She doesn’t live here. She’s a social worker back home. Not here.”
I could almost see the air being exhaled as Kit’s eyebrows sank with both her shoulders. She looked back at Bay, dumping raisins onto the bed, and back to me. “This changes things.”
“It does?” I questioned, wheels spinning like crazy in my head while I tried to contain the excitement.
“Yeah, I mean I was already having an issue with how immature you are, but moving her from place to place with no family. Yeah, I don’t know.”
Normally the immature remark would have pissed me off, but honestly, it was sort of true. Although in my defense, I had nothing to be mature about. It sounds selfish now, but at the time, I didn’t really think about Bay being my responsibility. My duty to my daughter consisted of six hundred dollars set up to automatically deposit into Kit’s bank account on the first day of every month. At least, I wouldn’t have to send that anymore. Surely a baby didn’t cost that much.
“I’m sure we’ll be fine. I’m not going to move her from place to place. Why do you think I need to know how much time I have until you fly halfway across the world?”
“You have no idea how much I want this, Brantley. It took me months to ask you. I wouldn’t even consider it if it wasn’t you.”
I didn’t understand that at all. “Why? I’ve never even been in her life.”
“Because nobody but you will love her like I do.”
I didn’t touch that one either. How could she say that, knowing we didn’t even know each other? “When do you leave?”
“Six weeks,” Kit replied in a faraway tone. Her head turned back to Bay and a smile took over her entire face.
That didn’t give me much time, but it wasn’t like she hadn’t asked six months before. That’s just how long it took for her to talk me into it, begging and pleading until I finally caved. And I still wasn’t one hundred percent convinced. My eyes moved past Kit to Bay, throwing both hands into the air, calling out some incoherent chant, raisins scattered all around her. “I’ve never changed a diaper.”
“She’s doing great on the potty. If you’re lucky, I can have her out of diapers before you get her. There is one thing, Brantley.”
“Here it comes. What?”
“I want her back. You have to sign something promising to give her back. You can see her and get her on weekends, but you can’t keep her. I’m getting her back.”
That wouldn’t be a problem. “Sure, whatever. I’ll call you in a few days.”
“Thank you so much, Brantley.”
“Yeah, yeah. See ya.”
I closed my laptop, seeing my guitar case propped in the corner. My sad guitar. The one that I would retire for an eighteen-month-old. What the hell was I doing?
Dark. Powerful. Dangerous.
Philip Mason has all of Chicago under his thumb. Except me.
We met in a perfect storm of violence and lust. He saved me and then disappeared from my life. Now I pretend I never knew that kind of darkness. I focus on midterms and campus parties, as if they can wipe the slate clean.
Then he turns up outside my dorm room—wounded and barely conscious. He’s the head of a crime syndicate, a powerful man, but he needs me now. There are traitors in his midst.
I can help him, but I can’t fall for him.
It was dark outside, grown late, and I hadn’t eaten dinner yet. Somewhere out there, Philip was probably dining with crystal and expensive wine. Meanwhile I’d probably order a pizza with one of those coupons by the door.
A low sound raised the hair on my neck.
Oh God, I’m not alone.
My gaze swept over the small dorm room. From here I could see the tiny bedroom area and the kitchenette. I could see almost the entire space. Empty.
Maybe it was just one of my neighbors getting busy and—
The sound came again, louder. A shiver ran through me. It was coming from outside the room, but not from either side. It was coming from the door.
I crept over and looked out the peephole. An empty hallway bulged in the distorted lens.
Now I was doubting myself. Had I actually heard something? Maybe it had come from the dorm room across the hall. When I first moved here, it had been shortly after my “ordeal,” as my adoptive mother called it. I had jumped at every sound, both real and imagined, more traumatized by my brush with danger than I’d wanted to admit.
My gaze snapped to my phone.
I could call my adoptive mother right now, but I knew she wouldn’t want to be bothered. I could call the building management, but I knew what would happen. The same thing that had happened last time I called them. They’d send my floor advisor to check on me. If there was anything scary in this hallway, she’d have to face it first.
And if there wasn’t anything scary, if it was my imagination again, the PTSD I didn’t want to acknowledge, well then everyone would know how fucked up I was inside.
No, I had to be overreacting. This was nothing. There was no one in the hallway. And even if there was, it would be some drunk guy, passed out on the wrong floor.
I’m a normal college student, I reminded myself. I’m not afraid of anything.
Both of those things were lies, I was neither normal nor brave, but at least I could send a drunk frat boy on his way.
I opened the door a crack. Nothing.
Relief filled me, and I opened the door wider.
A body slid inside, slumped over without the door to support him. A short scream escaped me before I caught myself.
He was wearing a three-piece suit stained with blood, his expression slack, eyes glassy with pain and delirium. Philip.
Oh God, he was hurt. Really badly hurt if he couldn’t stand up. Horribly hurt if he’d ever have come to me of all people. I didn’t have time to process the shock of it, of seeing him again. I had to get him out of sight. If he’d been injured like this, someone was after him. Someone would want to finish the job.
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