Written with Regret (The Regret Duet #1)

I hadn’t thought about Hadley much over the years. Not surprisingly, the cops had never found her, and if I was being honest, I didn’t care if they ever did. The fiery hate I had for that woman was only tolerable because of the way I loved our daughter. No. Strike that. My daughter. Hadley didn’t factor into any of that.

When Rosalee was three, she’d asked if Alejandra was her mommy after watching some silly cartoon on her iPad. It had broken my fucking heart, because not only did she not have a mother, I didn’t even have an explanation for why.

The truth—Your mommy was a selfish bitch who didn’t care about anyone but herself so she abandoned you and never looked back—seemed a tad harsh for a child. So I went with a slightly gentler approach and told her, “Well, there are all kind of families in the world. Some kids have two daddies, some have two mommies, and some have a mommy and a daddy, but the extra special ones? They just have a daddy who loves them double as much.”

Alejandra had given me a disappointed scowl, which I’d strategically avoided by tickling Rosalee into exhaustion.

No. It wasn’t my finest parenting moment. One day, she’d realize that I lied and I’d have to find a way to tell her the truth. But that day could wait. Hopefully forever.

I cleared my throat and removed the necklace from the box. “No, this isn’t my mom’s. That one was lost a long time ago. I had this one made just for you. It’s identical to hers though.” I draped it around her neck, clasping it with bumbling thumbs.

“It’s so pretty,” she whispered, toying with the heart.

Dodging the crown, I kissed the side of her head. “Just like my Rosie Posie.” I walked back around to my seat. “Now, am I forgiven for being late?”

She aimed a bright, white smile my way. “Maybe. Did you remember to get the pony?”

I tipped my head to the side. “I was supposed to get a pony?”

Panic contorted her round face, which was more little girl than baby now. “Yes! You promised you’d get one for my party. I told Molly and everything.”

I abandoned the joke when her eyes started to fill with tears. “Hey, hey, hey. Relax. Of course I got the pony. She’ll be here at two, so you’ll have her to yourself for a whole hour before your friends get here.” I scooted my chair around to sit beside her and placed a donut on her plate. “Stop stressing. Okay? The party is going to be great. Molly, Ava, and Paisley are coming. Plus about fifteen other kids from your gymnastics and dance classes. We’ve got plenty of food and flowers on their way. And before you even ask, yes, you can decorate the door.”

“Did you remember the goodie bags?”

I gave her hand a squeeze. “Your faith in me is insulting. Of course I remembered the goodie bags. I personally filled them with cigars and whiskey.”

“What!”

“I’m joking. Every bag got two glow-in-the-dark bracelets, a pack of scented markers, one lip gloss, and enough candy to ensure no parent will ever allow their child to come back to our house again.”

She smiled, which made my mouth stretch too. I’d do anything for that smile—this included spending my Friday night filling two-dozen glittery, pink bags with over a hundred dollars’ worth of junk that would all be in the trash can by the end of the weekend.

“Did you get the unicorn cake?” she asked.

“Not yet. I’m supposed to pick it up at noon. I have a few more errands to run too, like picking up the balloons and ice. I texted uncle Ian though, and he’s going to come over and help you and Ale decorate. Okay?”

“Okay, but if he tries to bring Star Wars stuff, I’m not inviting him to my next party.”

I laughed. “Fair enough. I’ll be sure to warn him. Now, what do you say we stop worrying about the party and just eat our breakfast? It’s Rosie Posie Day. And on Rosie Posie Day—”

“We eat sweets,” she finished for me.

“All day long.”

She giggled, and instead of tearing into her donut, she climbed into my lap, sliding her plate over next to mine.

When she was younger, she’d insisted on sitting in my lap at every meal. Alejandra had told me that it was a bad habit to form. I didn’t mind though. I loved being close to her just as much as she loved being close to me. Over the last six months, she’d been doing it less and less, opting for her own chair at the table rather than my thigh. It was bittersweet. I missed my baby girl who needed me for everything, but I was so damn proud to see her growing up and embracing her independence.

But I didn’t care how old she got. If she wanted to crawl into my lap and eat her birthday donut every year for the rest of my life, I’d sit there, smiling like a maniac in an ugly banana tie, eating one with her.





HADLEY


Every little girl dreams of the fairytale. The white knight rushing in to save her from the clutches of evil. After that they fall in love, move to a castle, have babies, and live happily ever after.

By that definition, my life should have been a fairytale too.

When I was eight years old, Caven Hunt saved me from the worst kind of evil to walk the Earth. It didn’t matter that I was a kid. I’d fallen in love with him immediately, unquestionably, and without hesitation.

But that was where my fairytale ended.

Instead of the castle, I moved into a small three-bedroom ranch-style home with a grandfather who could barely remember my name most days. I struggled for years with severe PTSD and depression, and eventually, I convinced myself that some lives just weren’t worth living.

Years later, there was a baby, conceived on accident during one of the darkest moments imaginable. But that darkness was a summer’s day compared to the pitch black that was the day she was born. Now, that innocent child was only mine in the sense that my DNA ran through her veins. She belonged to Caven in every way that truly mattered.

At the end of every fairytale, the one thing that always remains consistent is the happily-ever-after. It wasn’t going to be mine, but there hadn’t been a night that passed where I didn’t pray that it would be hers.

The only way I’d slept at night was knowing that Caven had her. She’d be safe with him. The same way I had once been.

To some, it would seem like I was the villain of the fairytale. The evil mother come back to wreak havoc on the white knight and his little princess.

But hurting him was never part of the plan. After everything he’d given me, I owed that man my life.

It was just… I owed that innocent child more.

“What the hell are you doing?” I whispered to myself, my heart in my throat as I drove through the iron gates in front of a towering gray-stone mansion. The sprawling green lawn was manicured to perfection, and the rich bed of newly blossoming spring flowers bore the touch of a professional. It was the start of a warm spring in Jersey. We didn’t usually see flowers until May. Though, judging by this place, those flowers had been planted specifically for the party.

Her party.

Her birthday party.

I couldn’t believe she was turning four. She wasn’t a baby. Not even a toddler. At four years old, I’d already started taking pictures. I had memories of making mud pies in the backyard with my sister and arguing with my mother over a hideous dress she’d sewn for me.

Keira was four and had no idea who I was.

Guilt slashed through me as I imagined her growing up without a mother. Regardless of how deeply it gutted me, I knew with my whole heart that it was the best thing that had ever happened to her.

The Hadley from four years earlier had had no business raising a child. That woman was nothing more than a shadow of the eight-year-old who’d lost her innocence in the midst of a bloody, heartbreaking tragedy. The gunshots and screams still haunted her even though it had been over a decade. Her demons were unshakable, their claws anchored so deep into her soul that they seemed impossible to escape. Therapy hadn’t helped. Medicine only took the edge off. Self-harm, self-loathing, and self-sabotage had become a way of life. Sure, that Hadley could have kept the baby. She could have tried to be a good mother, but she never would have been able to forgive herself if—and ultimately when—she’d failed.

Not everything was black and white. It was often in the gray areas where the hardest decisions were made. And four years ago, in the darkest gray imaginable, dropping Keira off to Caven had been the only option.

But that was a different time.

A different place.

A different world.

And a different life.

The Hadley of now was a different person.

When the monstrous task of living had begun to suffocate me, I’d considered ending it all. Thankfully, my mother’s green eyes, frantically trying to figure out how to keep me alive even as she took her dying breath, flashed on the backs of my lids, convincing me to give therapy one last try.

And, this time, it changed my life.

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