Written with Regret (The Regret Duet #1)

“Do you have any reason to believe the child is yours?” the older, gray-haired police officer asked.

Avoiding his gaze, I stared blankly at the screen of my laptop as Kaleidoscope booted up, all the while fighting the urge to throw up or tear out of my skin and run as far away from that apartment as I could get—possibly both.

In the twenty minutes since we’d found the baby, I’d spent all of them thinking back on my night with Hadley.

I wasn’t an idiot. When your sex life revolved around one-night stands or the occasional repeat performance, protection wasn’t optional. I had a busy life, and if I didn’t have time for a relationship, I sure as shit didn’t have time for herpes or a toddler. I’d worn a condom every damn time I’d been with a woman for as long as I could remember. And that night with Hadley, I’d gone through at least four.

But it was the one time, when I’d woken up to her riding my cock, that was currently torturing my thoughts.

One time. One fucking time.

“Mr. Hunt?” the cop prompted.

Squeezing my eyes closed, I hung my head. “I don’t know. Maybe.” Oh, God. Maybe.

“Right,” he muttered. “Well, do you happen to remember Hadley’s last name?”

I looked up from my computer to scowl. “If I did, I probably would’ve mentioned that when she robbed me.” I cut my eyes to the team of paramedics huddled around my couch, inspecting the baby. It was still shrieking to the point that I feared the soundwaves were going to split my head.

Christ. How had I gone from chugging champagne and celebrating a multimillion-dollar business deal to listening to a baby who may or may not be mine screaming its head off?

Everyone, including Veronica, had left. Turns out, having a baby dumped on your doormat was a real mood killer. Ian was still there though, quietly standing in the corner, typing away on his cell phone. Every so often, he’d pause to ask how I was doing.

I had no interest in conversation. I was too busy searching for Hadley all over again.

When she’d taken my wallet months earlier, I’d had no way to track her down. And trust me, I’d tried. Cameras at the small bar we’d met in were nonexistent. I’d spent an exorbitant amount of time trying to track down footage of us walking back to my place, but by that point, it had been over twenty-four hours and the whopping two businesses that had cameras aimed at the street had already purged the previous day’s recordings.

My own damn building didn’t even have working cameras.

It was a nightmare. That woman had taken close to ten thousand dollars in electronics. But I’d have gladly let her keep them all if she’d just returned my wallet.

I wasn’t a particularly sentimental man, but inside that leather bi-fold was the necklace I’d stolen off my mother’s neck while she’d lain in a coffin when I was ten. After months of watching the cancer crush her spirit and ultimately her body, my father hadn’t even waited for her funeral to purge everything she had ever touched. My older brother, Trent, told me that it was part of Dad’s grieving process. However, the morning of the service, when a woman showed up with a U-Haul, I’d figured the quick cleanup had more to do with her than it had the loss of my mom.

So, when I saw my mother, pale and lifeless, wearing the tiny silver heart she never took off, I pretended to lean in and kiss her just before they closed the casket. With a whispered apology, I snatched that necklace from her neck and tucked it into my pocket.

Short of two pictures I managed to hide under my mattress while my dad was ridding her memory from our home, that necklace was the only thing I had left.

I’d been livid when Hadley had taken it from me.

But, now, maybe it had been a blessing in disguise. Because, this time, I was ready for her. I’d added cameras to the front of my building. One image of her leaving after dumping the baby and I’d be able to identify her once and for all.

And then hopefully make her come back.

With Kaleidoscope open on my computer—my login thankfully hadn’t been terminated yet—I scanned through the footage of the last few hours. I watched as all my friends and the other residents came and went in fast forward without the first sign of Hadley’s fiery-red hair, and before I knew it, the police were rushing in on the screen, catching me up to the present.

Frustrated, I rewound another hour, not knowing when she had entered the building. For all I knew, she could have been hiding out there all day, waiting for her moment to spring her bundle of lies on me.

“Mr. Hunt,” the cop called. “I need your attention up here.”

The baby was still crying and my blood pressure was rising by the second, making my tone rougher than I had intended as I replied, “No, what you need is someone to find this woman.”

He reached across the bar dividing my living room from the kitchen and pointedly closed my laptop. “Eyes on me.”

I had negative amounts of patience left, and my six-foot-four frame swelled, shoulders taut, muscles thrumming. “Don’t touch my computer again. Ask your goddamn questions, but keep your hands off my shit. Got it?”

Ian closed in on me. “Chill. They’re here to help.”

With that baby rupturing my ear drums, I had no chill left. I was coming apart at the seams.

Holding the cop’s stare, I opened the top on my computer, daring him to argue. “Look, I understand that you’re doing your job here, but I assure you I can find this woman before you can.”

“Maybe, but Kaleidoscope is no longer legal to use in criminal investigations.”

I ground my teeth. “Then I suggest you close your eyes.”

He flicked his gaze to Ian in silent warning like he was my damn keeper or something, but I didn’t bother with my best friend’s reaction. I had work to do.

I hit play again.

“There.” Ian pointed at the screen.

I paused the video and zoomed in on a brunette in a short, black skirt and heels, carrying a black oversized purse. Even if she was wearing a wig, her nose was too big, her legs too short, and her skin too tan to be Hadley. “That’s not her.”

He moved his finger down to the bag. “It might not be Hadley, but that’s the baby.”

My back shot straight as I leaned in close. Sure enough, there was the corner of a yellow blanket peeking out of the bag.

A wave of adrenaline surged in my veins.

If it wasn’t Hadley, then maybe it wasn’t even her baby.

Most importantly, if wasn’t her baby, it was impossible for it to have been mine.

I blew out a ragged breath. I didn’t give a shit if it was some fucked-up extortion attempt. At that point, I’d have been downright gleeful if someone was trying to scam me for money.

I just couldn’t be a father. After the bastard I’d had for a dad, it was best for everyone that my genes were never passed down.





CAVEN



Fourteen years earlier…



The little girl’s finger trembled beneath mine. I shouldn’t have gone to her. I was only putting her in more danger. But the damn kid wouldn’t stop moving. If he’d walked by and seen her, that maniac would have put a bullet in the back of her head without hesitation.

As far as I’d been able to tell from my vantage point, he was killing anyone he could find with a pulse. I couldn’t leave her there. She reminded me too much of myself as she lay on the floor, crying for her dead mother. I’d been there once, and I’d never forget her cold, lifeless body. It’d felt like I was going to die that day too, and there hadn’t even been a gunman running rampant.

I held my breath as his footsteps grew closer. He hadn’t made it deep enough into the food court to see us yet. Instead, he’d been staying close to the doors at the entrance. He’d eventually run out of victims up there, and when he did, I’d be the first to go. That little girl with the big, green eyes? Well…she’d be next.

I just needed a few more minutes. The police should have been there soon. If I could just get the two of us somewhere hidden to wait this out, we’d actually have a chance at making it out alive.

Another round of shots rang out and the kid jerked, a muted cry escaping as she shimmied over until she was flush with my side.

“Stop moving,” I hissed, sliding my arm over her shoulders, bending my elbow so it covered both of our faces. Only then did I pry an eye open.

Tears were streaming down her cheeks even with her eyes closed, and her lips were quivering as though she were fighting back a scream—a scream that would get us both killed.

As the deafening cracks continued to ring in the air, I did the best I could to keep her calm. “It’s okay. It’s okay. It’s okay,” I chanted softly. “Just be still. It’s almost over.” Those words were as much for me as they were for her. The only thing louder than the gunshots was my heart drumming against the floor.

Everything fell silent again. But this time, it was truly silent.

There were no more cries.

No more gasps.

No more moans.

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