Written with Regret (The Regret Duet #1)

And I breathed, free and easy, as if it were the first day of my entire life.

Taking the champagne from my hand, Ian inspected the label. “Christ, are you chugging vintage Dom? This bottle could have paid our rent in college.”

“Didn’t you hear?” I leaned in close and whispered, “We’re loaded now.”

He kept his eye on the bottle, an unmistakable grin pulling at the corners of his lips. Yeah. He was proud of us too.

He lifted his gaze to mine, that subtle grin stretching into a full-blown smile. “Ah, fuck it.” He threw the bottle up for a long draw.

I roared with laughter and my head filled with a high that had nothing to do with the alcohol.

Things were just…good.

Life had never been easy for me. Chaos had been following me like a dark cloud, looming and hovering, casting its shadow far and wide despite how bright the path in front of me should have appeared. After growing up the way I had, where happiness had been more of a privilege than a choice, I knew better than to believe that that moment would be anything other than fleeting.

And one second later, the universe proved me right.

My attention was drawn from Ian when the doorbell rang. People had been coming and going all night, not bothering with courtesies like knocking. I’d greased the palms of the couple who lived downstairs not to call the cops if things got rowdy. But it was only nine. Things were far from rowdy. Especially considering that Veronica was still wearing clothes.

The idea made me grin down at her, taking a peek at her cleavage.

“I’ll get it,” Ian said. “I’m heading out anyway.”

“What?” My head snapped up. “You just got here.”

“Yeah, and I’m just leaving. As very appealing as watching you get shit-faced before sneaking off to your bedroom sounds, I’d rather my ears fall off than be forced to listen to one more minute of Brandon’s bullshit investment opportunities. Heads-up, he’s waiting on you so he can pitch a dodgeball-brewery combination in Milwaukee.”

“That sounds like a legal nightmare.”

“My thoughts exactly. Now, I’m leaving, so it’s your job to break the news to him. And I swear to God, Caven, if I wake up in the morning to find logo mockups for Fast Ball Brewing in my email, I will hunt you down and—”

“Yeah yeah yeah. Maybe on second thought, you should go.” I took the champagne and passed it off to Veronica before giving him a shove toward the door. “I have six hundred million dollars to blow tonight. The last thing I need is your voice of reason in my head.”

“Half,” he grumbled. “Only half of that money is yours, asshole.”

“Right. Right. Half. I’ll try to keep that in mind while shopping for malted-barley-shaped dodgeballs.”

He glared at me over his shoulder, a lip twitch giving him away as we made our way to the door.

It was March, but the city had been hit by a cold snap including a light dusting of snow, and we were expecting more overnight. While Ian got busy doing the abominable snowman routine with his coat, scarf, and gloves, I opened the door to see who had rung the bell.

A cursory check revealed an empty hallway.

And that’s when I heard it: the sound that changed not only my entire life in the present, but my life for all future days to come.

At first, it was just a grunt, but as if that baby could feel my gaze, the minute my eyes made contact, it let out a sharp cry.

Confusion hit me like a lightning bolt, sending me back a step. I used the doorframe for balance as I took in the yellow blanket with a hole only big enough to reveal a pale-pink face.

“What the fuck?” I breathed. Glancing around the hall, I waited for someone to jump out and start laughing. When no one spoke up to issue a punchline, I took a step closer and repeated, “What the fuck?”

I was utterly unable to process the absurdity in front of me.

Of course, I knew the facts.

It was a baby.

On my doorstep.

Alone.

But the why in that equation was glaringly absent.

“Uhhh,” Ian drawled, peering over my shoulder. “Why is there a kid at your door?”

“I have no fucking idea,” I replied, staring down at the squirming and now-screaming bundle. “It was just there when I opened the door.”

Ian shoved me to the side so he could stand beside me. “You’re shitting me, right?”

“Does it look like I’m shitting you?”

He looked from me to the baby, then back again. “How did it get there?”

We were two incredibly smart men who had created a technology empire out of nothing. But, clearly, a baby was too big for either of us to wrap our minds around.

I swept an arm out and pointed to the kid. “I have no fucking clue, but I’m assuming it didn’t catch a cab.”

A light of understanding hit his eyes. He moved first, stepping over the crying baby and hurrying down the hall, searching around the corner near the elevator before returning alone.

The party continued behind me, but even with the door open, the loud chatter was no match for the ear-piecing cries happening in that hallway.

Veronica suddenly appeared beside me, her body going solid as she stammered out. “Is that…a baby?”

“Back up,” I urged, throwing my arm out to block her path as though the infant were going to suddenly morph into a rabid animal. And let’s be honest, I knew nothing about babies. Anything was possible.

Ian dropped to his knees, scooping up the wailing child. Meanwhile, I stood there like a gawking idiot, paralyzed by a weight I didn’t yet understand.

“Call the pol—” He stopped abruptly and reached into the top of the child’s blanket. “Oh shit,” he whispered, his wide, panic-filled eyes flashing to mine.

“What?” I asked, stepping toward him to get a better look at the kid. Only it wasn’t that tiny baby cradled in his arms that made my heart stop and bile rise in my throat.

There, in my best friend’s hand, was a folded piece of notebook paper that had been tucked into the child’s blanket. From the looks of it, the paper was unremarkable in every sense of the word. Blue lines, white spaces, hanging remnants from where it had been haphazardly ripped from a spiral bound notebook. Even the crease was crooked. But it was my name scrawled on the outside in messy, black ink that made it the most remarkable paper in existence.

I snatched it from his hand and, with blood roaring in my ears, opened it.



Caven,

I’m sorry. I never meant for this to happen. This is our daughter Keira. I’ll love her forever. Take care of her the way I can’t.

Written with regret,

Hadley



The hall began to spin, my head feeling like every ounce of blood had been drained from my body. The thundering in my ears faded and the loud chatter of my guests, who were suddenly aware that something was happening at the door, roared to life.

And then the chaos finally found me all over again—the past playing out in my head like my life flashing before my eyes.

I knew Hadley. If that was even her real name. Or more accurately… I’d known Hadley—for one night. We’d met at a bar. She was stunning, with waves of thick, red hair that had caught my attention the minute I’d walked through the door. Upon approach, I realized that it was her eyes that made her the most mesmerizing woman I’d ever seen because they weren’t the bright-green irises that flashed on the back of my lids every night as I woke up in a cold sweat. She seemed a little dry and serious, but she had a sharp, sarcastic wit. The physical attraction was mutual, and two drinks later, we were back at my apartment, naked, and fucking until we were on the verge of a coma.

Or at least I had been nearly comatose.

Hadley, on the other hand, had more than enough energy to ransack my apartment before taking off with my computer, iPad, cell phone, and wallet. The very same wallet that contained the only thing I’d had left of my mother.

I’d immediately called the police when I’d realized what she’d done, but short of a few red hairs left behind on the pillowcase, Hadley had all but vanished.

Until tonight.

“Caven?” Ian called. “What’s it say?”

I sucked in a deep breath and looked at the baby in his arms. The blanket had fallen off its head just enough to reveal a patch of fine hairs, more orange than its mother’s red.

I hadn’t heard from Hadley in over eight months. It seemed awfully convenient that she’d reappeared long enough to dump a child she claimed to be mine on the night the Kaleidoscope deal had been finalized and the contents of my bank account had become public knowledge.

“Call the police,” I declared, turning on a toe and walking back into my apartment, leaving Ian standing in the hall with Hadley’s child.

Shoving through the crowd of concerned onlookers, I headed straight to the bottles of liquor lining the counter. I didn’t bother with ice or even a glass. I threw back that bottle of vodka, hoping like hell the burn of the alcohol could numb the panic coursing through my veins.

Through it all, that baby never stopped crying.





CAVEN


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