Written with Regret (The Regret Duet #1)

My heart stopped and my lungs momentarily forgot how to process oxygen. I’d seen that little girl in Ian’s arms when we’d first found her at my door, but that was before I’d known she was mine.

This was different. This was monumental.

This was terrifying.

“Here she is, Dad. Your little princess,” the nurse all but sang, parking the basket directly in front of me.

My hands shook as I willed my heart to beat again. She was tiny—even smaller than I remembered—wrapped like a burrito with a pink-and-blue-striped hat pulled snug on her head. All I could see of her were eyelids, chubby cheeks, and pouting lips suckling on nothing.

She didn’t look like me.

She didn’t even look like Hadley for that matter.

She just looked like a baby.

“You want to hold her?” the nurse asked.

“Uhhhh…I think I’m good for now. Actually, maybe I should watch that video again.”

“Oh, come on now. This one doesn’t bite.”

With wide eyes, I swung my puzzled gaze her way. “Do some of them bite?”

Laughing softly, she scooped the baby into her arms. Then she propped it on her shoulder before whispering in her ear, “Your daddy’s funny.”

Daddy. Jesus. What the hell was happening?

“Go ahead and hop up on the bed and get comfortable. I’ll hand her to you. She just ate, so she should be snoozing for a while.”

I flashed Ian one last pleading look, suddenly hoping he had reconsidered that hundred-million-dollar offer, but his only response was a chin jerk toward the bed.

Shit. Okay. I could do this. I was a grown-ass man. She was a tiny baby. It could be worse. She could have been one of the biters.

“Should I, uh…take off my shoes or anything?”

The nurse rolled her eyes with a smile. “Just get on the bed.”

After sparing one last longing glance at the window, I climbed up.

Swear to God, my back had barely hit the upright bed before the nurse plopped that child on my chest.

Instinctively, one of my hands went to the baby’s butt and the other to the back of her head, but that was literally the only instinct I had. “Whoa, whoa, whoa,” I called as she started to walk away. “What am I supposed to do now?”

She grinned and shrugged. “Get to know your daughter.” As she walked to the door, she called over her shoulder, “As soon as you get that paperwork finished, I can start on getting you guys out of here. The doctor will be in to give her one last look before you leave, but give me a buzz if you need anything.”

Had it not been for the fact that I was balancing a child on my chest with both hands, I would have given her a buzz right then.

I looked to Ian. “She’s just going to leave us alone with her like that?”

Ian chuckled. “Did you think she was going to come home with you too?”

“Good point. Go ask her how much she makes and tell her I’ll double it.”

He shook his head with a smile and walked over to the bed. With two fingers, he stroked her cheek. “You sure this one’s yours? She’s cute.”

I looked down at her, doing my best to lean to the side to see her face without having to move her. I didn’t know what I’d expected. Maybe some latent fatherly emotions to suddenly rise to the surface the moment I touched my own flesh and blood. But, to be honest, I didn’t feel anything. Which was obviously the first clue that I was going to be a total failure at this parenting gig. “I feel like I’m holding someone else’s kid.”

He moved back to the chair and started on the paperwork again. “That’ll change.”

In a show of pure positivity, I shot back, “What if it doesn’t? I’m pretty sure my dad never liked me. Maybe that’s just the way my family is built.”

His head came up and he gave me a slow blink. “Caven, I’m not even going to waste time commenting on your dad. You can’t base your ability to love your daughter on that asshole. Look, I’ll be honest. I can’t think of a man less equipped to be a father than you are, but you’ll figure it out. You’re a good man with good intentions. That’s, like, ninety percent of parenting right there. So stop stressing about liking her and worry about her becoming a teenager and growing boobs. That’s going to be the scary part.”

I barked a laugh, quickly silencing it when the baby jerked as though I’d scared her.

We both fell silent, and as he went back to filling out paperwork, I stared down at my daughter.

Holy shit. My daughter.

It was so surreal. In the span of a few days, my life had changed so drastically that it wasn’t even recognizable anymore. And that change was going to continue in the days to come. She wouldn’t stay a baby forever. One day, she’d be a grown woman, holding a baby of her own, looking back on her life. She didn’t have a mother, but I could give her something worth remembering. I could give her a father she wanted to pass on parts of to her children—DNA she could be proud of.

There were going to be a lot of failures in my near future, but dammit, I could give her a good life.

“What do you want her middle name to be?” Ian asked.

My head popped up. “Her middle name? What’s her first name?”

His dark brows drew together. “I assumed it was going to be Keira. That was what the note—”

“Fuck the note,” I hissed. Fighting against gravity, I shifted her up my chest until her head was just below my chin. Lazily trailing my hand up and down her back, I kept my voice low. “Hadley abandoned her. She made that choice, but that is the last one she will ever get to make. She’s mine now and her name is not fucking Keira.”

He smiled, beaming with pride. “Okay, then. So, what’s it going to be?”

I swallowed hard and nuzzled my chin against the top of her hat. There was only one woman who deserved the right to name that baby, and unfortunately, she’d died when I was ten. She would have loved that little girl—unquestioning and without judgment, welcoming her into our family with open arms and a bright smile, including a smack on the back of my head for taking so long to come around. Fresh as the day I’d lost her, grief punched me in the gut. I closed my eyes and imagined her face.

She was the only happy memories I had of my childhood.

And she was about to become my daughter’s first too.

“Rosalee,” I whispered. “Her name is Rosalee.”





CAVEN



Four years later…



“I’m hanging up now,” I growled into the phone. I’d been on that damn call for over an hour, negotiating the never-ending deal.

“Now, wait just a minute, boy. I’m not done here.”

I bit the inside of my cheek, trying desperately to control my temper. Boy? Seriously? I was going to kill Ian for passing this guy off to me. Lance Goodman had been attempting to talk me in circles for days. He was arrogant and pushy, and he thought he shit gold bars, but damn if he didn’t have a tech security firm that was going to be worth millions by the end of the year thanks to a new development in safeguarding cryptocurrency. It was a side of the market I knew nothing about, but private investing didn’t always require expertise other than how to wire funds. This was absolutely one of those times.

“I hate to say it, Lance, but I’m an hour past done. It’s clear we can’t make this work.”

“Who said we couldn’t make it work? Three hundred million will get you twenty percent. Just say the word.”

I sighed, pinching the bridge of my nose. We’d looped right back around to where this conversation had started. Money was great and all, but I was already late for a date and my patience was shot. Ian had been adamant on getting at least twenty percent, and since my best friend couldn’t charm five pennies from a nickel, the schmoozing landed on my shoulders.

There was no chance in hell I was paying three hundred million for a company that was currently only valued at double that. Sure, there was tons of potential with the new launch and I was willing to invest in that, but for fuck’s sake. This was ridiculous.

“Look, Lance. Ian and I both wish you the best of luck. But your evaluation is bullshit and you know it. Two hundred million for twenty percent is the best I can do. If you have another investor on the hook willing to do three for twenty, then as a businessman and friend…” God, I was full of bullshit. I rolled my eyes at myself as I buttoned the top button on my suit jacket. “I highly suggest you take it. But, unfortunately, we’ve both reached our bottom lines. And they don’t match. It’s time we stop wasting time and move on.” Straightening my tie, I glanced down at my watch. She was going to be pissed I was late. This would not bode well for the party later. “I need to go. Have a good da—”

“Two fifty and twenty-one percent,” he rushed out before I had the chance to hang up.

I froze, a slow grin curling my lips. The fact that he’d upped the percentage told me this deal was more than just him taking on a new investor. He needed cash—and fast. Why? I didn’t know, but Ian would take a hard look at his financials before the deal was finalized, so I didn’t hesitate before countering with, “Two fifty and twenty-five.”

He let out a string of cuss words. “We’ll discuss it over a drink this afternoon.”

“Nope. My day’s packed.”

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