Written with Regret (The Regret Duet #1)

“What does that mean?”

He shared a knowing look with Doug. “It means you need to accept the possibility that we may never find her. Without a picture or a last name, we have so little to go on.”

“What about the prints you lifted from my apartment after she stole my stuff?”

He sighed. “We got thirteen prints excluding yours. You’d just moved into that apartment. For all we know, those belong to the previous tenants and their family.”

“Or they could match fucking Hadley,” I rumbled, my already waning patience vanishing.

Doug interrupted my meltdown. “Finding her is not going to solve the problem. You need a DNA test. End this before it even gets started. I’ve got a lab lined up. They’ve agreed to rush it, so it will take about thirty-six hours to get the results.”

I swallowed hard and prepared myself to ask the one question I didn’t want the answer to. “And what then?”

“Well,” he drawled, shifting in his chair. “If it comes back that she’s not yours, we walk away. The child will be turned over to social services and the police will handle it from that point on.”

“And if I am…you know…the father?” Christ, I could barely get the word out.

“As long as we have proof of paternity before the child is discharged from the hospital, it will be a breeze to have the child released to you. Because we don’t even have a name to list on the birth certificate, sole custody will be yours. I can’t imagine there will be any issues.”

It was at that moment that I knew Ian had been wrong. With the words sole custody, a vise cranked down so hard on my chest that I was pretty positive I was going to die—or, at the very least, be broken in two.

Having a baby with a woman you didn’t know was bad.

Having a baby with a woman who had robbed you before sneaking out of your apartment was even worse.

But having a baby with a woman who had dumped the child at your door before taking off, thus leaving you—a man who had no idea how to even hold a baby—to care for said child alone for the foreseeable future was by far the worst-case scenario.

And thanks to Hadley fucking no-last-name, I was only one DNA test away from living it all.





CAVEN


My eyes were bloodshot and my body exhausted when I heard the knock on the door.

I knew.

I didn’t even need to answer it.

I’d spent the last thirty-some hours counting cracks in the ceiling while considering every possible ending to this nightmare.

My favorite was the one where Doug called announcing like he was Maury Povich that I was not the father. I had big plans for this scenario. I was going to get a vasectomy and then buy a yacht and sail down the coast, where I’d celebrate every child-free sunrise by standing on the bow naked and yelling “Freedom!” Mel Gibson–style. Not that he was naked in that movie. But in the middle of stress-induced insomnia, I’d thought there was no better way to celebrate my eternal childless status than to be naked.

In the scenarios where I was the father, I spent my time mentally listing all the ways I would absolutely screw up a child in the next eighteen years. It started with your average run-of-the-mill fears. Things like maybe she would become a serial killer because I worked all the time and she was raised by evil, child-hating nannies. I’d Googled nanny agencies shortly after this and left a few sleep-deprived messages on answering machines, asking for the stats on how many of their past clients were now in jail or on the run from the law. Not surprisingly, I didn’t receive any call-backs.

After that, I moved on to the selfish phase where I obsessed about all things Caven: thoughts of losing my mind while listening to a baby scream all day, juggling work and dirty diapers, toys covering my apartment, and never being able to have sex again. It was a pity party of epic proportions.

In the middle of those manic moments was a lot of moral introspection after I’d considered giving the child up for adoption. There were good parents out there who desperately wanted children. There were also shitty ones like my father who were nothing more than wolves in sheep’s clothing. How would I ever be able to tell the difference?

I might not be a good father, but I wanted to at least ensure that she’d always be safe. Which was far more than I’d gotten growing up.

This thought process led to me texting Ian at four in the morning to offer him a hundred million dollars to adopt her if she ended up being my daughter.

The bastard didn’t even try to negotiate before texting me back with a blunt no.

To say I was floundering was an understatement. Most men had nine months to come to terms with the idea of having a child. God was not an idiot. He knew we’d need every minute of that time to prepare. But, apparently, he also had a twisted sense of humor, because I was only given thirty-six hours.

During that time, I went through each of the seven stages of grief. It wasn’t until a thought struck me that I landed somewhere in the realm of acceptance. I’d been adamant about not passing on any part of my father to a child, but that meant I’d never pass on any of the pure and intrinsic good that was my mother.

So, no, I didn’t know how to take care of a baby. But knowing that even a tiny piece of my mother was lying in a hospital across town, living, breathing, and more than likely still crying broke me in unimaginable ways. It had been over twenty years since I’d had anything more than two pictures of her and a necklace that Hadley had stolen to remind me of my mother.

But, now, there was this little girl.

By eight that morning, the window of time from the genetics lab had expired. I knew the results when no one had called or texted. Bad news was an arrow best delivered in person.

She was mine.

My stomach twisted and the weight in my chest became suffocating as the knock at the door sounded again.

I didn’t move. Not even a muscle. I was dressed, showered, and shaved. Shoes on, wallet and phone sitting on the coffee table in front of me. But I wasn’t ready.

That’s the thing about life though. It operates best on the element of surprise.

There were no choices left. No options. No outs.

There was just me and a baby girl who had no idea the quicksand she had been born into.

Ready or not, it was time.

Sucking in a deep breath, I rose to my feet, tucked my wallet and phone in the back pocket of my jeans, and headed to the very same door where this had all started. I didn’t know the first thing about diapers, cribs, or bottles. But I knew to the core of my soul, with an absolute certainty, that I was going to be a better parent than Hadley. And that was based on nothing more than the fact that I was going to be there for that little girl.

Ian and Doug were standing outside when I opened the door, their somber faces confirming what I already knew.

“Hey,” Ian started. “We need to—”

I didn’t let him finish. There was only one thing I needed to know. “When can I pick her up?”





CAVEN


I was ninety-percent sure the hospital staff thought Ian and I were a gay couple adopting our first child. I was a nervous wreck, and in true Ian fashion, he was utterly unfazed. To his credit, he never left my side—not even when we were guided into a small room with four new moms in hospital gowns and forced to watch a video that boiled down to “don’t shake the baby and always put it in a car seat.”

Ian, and at least two of the other mothers, scrolled through their phones the whole time. I, however, had never been so engrossed in a film in my entire life. I needed all the help I could get.

After I miraculously passed the pop quiz they’d passed out after the video, we were escorted into an empty hospital room and handed a stack of papers thicker than when we’d sold Kaleidoscope. Like a good little husband, Ian whipped out a pen, settled in the only chair in the room, and got busy on the paperwork. He knew everything about me anyway, right down to my social security number and mother’s maiden name.

While he made himself useful, I made myself useless, alternating between nervously sitting on the corner of the bed, crossing and uncrossing my legs before giving up and getting up to pace. I couldn’t count how many times I checked the hall to see if the nurse was coming with the baby as promised.

It was the strangest feeling during those few minutes waiting for her. My stomach was in a million knots, but it wasn’t close to anything I would describe as excitement. It was more like an ominous dread.

Dread for what was about to happen.

Dread that I had to wait for it to happen.

Dread that it would eventually be over and I’d be faced with eighteen-plus years because it had happened.

I was considering flinging myself from the room’s fifth-floor window when the door suddenly opened. A nurse came in, rolling a little basket on wheels behind her.

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