Author: Aurora Rose Reynolds
Series: Until Him, #1
Published by Self-Published
Release Date September 29, 2015
Genres: Erotic Romance, New Adult Romance
More Info: Goodreads
Ellie Anthony isn’t looking for love. She isn’t even looking for a man, but when Jax Mayson insists on keeping her and her daughter safe, she’s left with no choice but to trust him. Now she just hopes she doesn’t get hurt when she falls hard for a guy who’s known for breaking hearts.
Jax Mayson knows that Ellie is his BOOM the moment he sees her. When he finds out she has a daughter, he realizes he wants a family, and he will do whatever is necessary to keep both of his girls safe, even if that means facing the demons from his past.
Love isn’t always what we want, but it’s always what we need.
By the time I arrive at the hospital and get put into a room, I’m at my wit’s end. My body is exhausted from having nothing really substantial to eat or drink over the last couple of days, and my mind is a mess from what I have just survived. On top of all that, I need to get to Hope.
“I’m really okay,” I repeat for what feels like the hundredth time to the doctor, who has been checking me over since coming into my room a few minutes ago.
“Ruth, let’s start an IV,” he says, looking over my head at the nurse, once again ignoring me and pulling my arm towards him.
“I need to get to Hope,” I whimper, yanking my arm out of his grasp when the nurse walks around the bed with the needle in her hand.
“Let the doctor put in the IV, Ellie,” the guy named Jax says, taking my other hand in his and smoothing his thumb over my palm. He hasn’t left my side since I walked out of the woods. I’ve been trying to ignore him, but am failing miserably. He’s a giant, and intimidatingly good-looking, which makes it nearly impossible to be in his presence without acknowledging him.
“You don’t understand. Hope needs me,” I cry as the doctor takes my arm again, placing the needle into my skin, causing tears of frustration to fill my eyes.
“Hey, don’t cry. I’m sure you dog is okay,” Jax says softly, running his fingers over the back of my hand.
“Ex-excuse me?” I sputter, turning my head towards him.
“Cat?” he asks, frowning.
“Hope is my daughter,” I hiss, pulling my hand from his grasp.
“Daughter?” He pales, searching my face. I’m not surprised by his reaction. That’s the normal response I get from men when they find out I have a kid, but something inside of me whimpers from his response.
“Daughter,” I affirm, lifting my chin, and then look at the doctor to glare. “I need to get out of here now.”
“Fuck me,” Jax mumbles, but I ignore him and continue to shoot daggers at the doctor, which does nothing as he places the IV bag on a hanger above my head.
“I’m sorry, Mrs. Anthony, but you’re severely dehydrated and we’re going to need to keep you here for at least a few more hours.
“I’ll drink some water,” I tell him, tempted to rip the IV out of my hand and stab him with it.
“Get some sleep.” He ignores me once more then walks away to speak with the nurse.
“This cannot be happening,” I mumble, falling back against the bed and feeling my eyes suddenly grow heavy, making me wonder if they put something else in the IV.
Waking to the sound of whispering, my eyes blink open slowly. The room is dark, with the only light coming from a TV in the corner, casting a blue glow throughout the room. As my eyes focus on the TV, I double blink. Jax’s uncle, Nico, is standing with a group of officers in front of the house I had been taken to, and the woman in front of the camera is speaking, but the volume is so low I can’t hear what she’s saying as the cameraman pans from the woman to the truck that had been driving after us. Sitting up, I find the remote next to the bed and turn up the volume.
“The two women were then chased by this truck while trying to get away on a four-wheeler they took from one of the assailants. One captor is dead and the other is still missing. If you have any information regarding the whereabouts of the suspect, please call the number listed below,” the woman says before the scene is gone.
Replaced by a man and woman sitting behind the desk at the news station, announcing, “Tonight, you can watch Dan Seagan’s special report about sex trafficking in the Nashville area.”
Pulling my eyes from the TV and sitting up, I reach for the phone next to the bed, dialing the only number I can think of that will lead me to Hope.
“Hello?” my aunt answers on the first ring.
“Aunt Marlene,” I get out through a strangled breath, holding the phone closer to my ear. “Have you seen my mom?”
“Did, but she’s gone now,” she mutters, and I hear her light a cigarette. I’m sure she’s sitting in her recliner, where she always is, with her feet propped up, smoking cigarette after cigarette and watching TV.
“Where’s Hope?” I close my eyes, praying my mom didn’t take her with her.
“Hope’s with me. When are you coming to get her?”
“I’m in Tennessee,” I whimper, not knowing exactly how far away I am from Kentucky.
“I know. Your mama was here when the news came on,” she tells me.
Tears fill my eyes, but I refuse to let them fall. I refuse to let these people hurt me anymore. I wasn’t surprised my mom told my aunt what happened or that she didn’t care. My mom stopped caring about me when my dad died, when she no longer had to pretend my brother and I mattered to her more than her next high.
“I’m on my way. Please tell Hope I’ll be there soon.”
“I gotta work tomorrow night, so keep that in mind,” she says right before the line goes dead. Setting the phone in its cradle, I rub my eyes.
My family is what most of America would classify as trailer trash. I hated that term growing up, but we were poor and lived in a trailer. There was a time in my life when I was okay with the kids at school calling me that, because I knew I might’ve lived in a trailer and been poor, but at least I had my family. Then, when I was seven, my dad died in a coal mining accident, leaving my older brother and me alone with my mom, who had an addiction to pain pills. Even though she was sick long before we lost my dad, we never suffered because of it. My dad always made sure we had food and clothing. We didn’t have much, but we had each other. After he passed away, we lost everything.
Looking over my shoulder at the open doorway, my gaze connects with Jax’s concerned one. I don’t know what to make of him. I still don’t understand how someone who has just met me could show me more care in just a few hours than the people I have known my whole life.
“I need to get to Hope,” I say, placing my fingers on my throat, which I’m just noticing is dry and scratchy.
“I know, baby. I’m gonna take you,” he says, stepping into the room.
Baby? Why do I like that? Why do I get warm all over every time he calls me that?
“Thank you.” I close my eyes in relief then open them, saying, “I’ll pay you back as soon as I get home.”
“No,” he rumbles, making me jump, which seems to cause his jaw to grind. “I mean that’s not necessary,” he says gently, shoving his hands into the front pockets of his jeans giving me a chance to really look at him.
I wasn’t kidding when I said he’s a giant. His shoulders are so wide I’m pretty sure I could fit twice between them. His hips are lean, his thighs thick, and his legs are long.
His head is covered in a ball cap, drawing attention to his eyes that seem hazel in the dark, and he has an angular jaw, full lips, and an almost perfect nose that has a slight tilt to it.
“My mom and dad are here. Mom brought you some clothes if you want to change before we leave,” he informs me, taking a step towards me then stopping and pulling his ball cap off his head, giving me the opportunity to see his hair for the first time. It’s dark brown, and it’s short on the sides and longer on top.
Standing and running my hands down the front of my dingy jeans, I look over his shoulder into the hall, where there’s a woman with red hair standing next to a man who looks like an older version of Jax. The moment my eyes connect with hers, she steps into the room.
“Honey,” the woman calls softly, “why don’t you go wait in the hall with your dad while I help Ellie get changed?”
“Mom.” He shakes his head, not taking his eyes from me.
“Come on, bud,” the man, who I’m assuming is his dad, says, stepping slightly into the room.
Jax pulls in a breath then releases it, looking at me like he doesn’t want to leave. Weirdly, I don’t want him to either.
“I’ll be right outside,” he says after a couple beats.
“Sure,” I whisper, fighting myself from going to him.
“You can come back in once she’s dressed,” his mom tells him when he doesn’t move then squeezes his shoulder as he moves past her out of the room.
Once the door is closed, the room becomes even darker, but then the light comes on, causing me to squeeze my eyes closed in surprise.
“Oh crap, I’m sorry. I didn’t even think,” the woman mutters, and I see through my closed eyelids when the room go dark once again.
“It’s okay; you can turn it on.”
“Are you sure?” she prompts.
“Yeah.” When the lights turn back on, it takes just a moment for my eyes to adjust, and when they do, I watch Jax’s mom step closer to me.
“I know my son didn’t introduce us, but I’m Lilly, and you’re Ellie, right?” she asks, studying me.
“Yes,” I choke out and she frowns, walking to the bed. Picking up a pink cup off the side table, she brings it towards me, holding it out for me to take.
“Just take sips, honey,” she says gently, with her hand under mine like I might drop the cup. “Is that better?”
“Yes, thank you,” I say, surprised to hear my voice crack again, but this time with emotions from having someone look out for me.
She nods, taking the cup back and setting a bag on the bed.
“Jax said you were small, so I just grabbed some of my yoga clothes for you.”
“Thank you,” I mumble absently, watching her pull out a pair of black yoga pants and a tank with a jacket to go over it from the bag.
“Do you want to wash up a little in the bathroom?”
I follow her gaze to a door I hadn’t even noticed and nod. Taking the stuff, she helps me into the small room murmuring “I’ll be out here if you need me” closing the door behind her.
Turning on the water I don’t even look at myself in the mirror above the sink as I strip off my clothes and grab a few paper towels, soaking them. Scrubbing myself from head to toe, being careful of my hands, which are still sensitive from carrying a two-by-four around as a weapon.
Once I’m as clean as I’m going to get without a shower, I catch my reflection in the mirror and cringe. My dark hair is matted, my skin pale, and my brown eyes are sunken in. “You’re alive,” I remind myself, pulling on the yoga pants that are a little too long, but they are clean and thankfully fit. Then I put on the tank and cover it with the jacket before slipping my sneakers back on and running a hand through my hair, watching as dried leaves and dirt fall to the floor. Giving up on getting the knots out, I pull it all up on top of my head and spin it into a bun, tucking the ends in.
“Everything fit, thank you,” I say when I step out of the bathroom, finding Lilly sitting on the bed with her head bent, like she’s deep in thought.
“I’m glad.” She smiles softly then her head tilts to the side, studying me. “Jax said you have a daughter.”
“I do.” I nod, taking my old clothes to the waist basket and dropping them in.
“And your mom did this to you?” she asks, catching me off guard with her question, making my body go solid in response.
Licking my lips, I turn to look at her. “She did.”
“Does she live near you?” she questions softly, looking me over.
“About twenty minutes away, with my aunt.”
“So…your daughter’s father?”
“He’s dead,” I say, feeling tears fill my eyes at the thought. “Hope isn’t my biological daughter. Edward, my brother, and his girlfriend, Bonnie, were hit head-on by a drunk driver. Both died on impact. Hope survived with only a few scrapes. I was granted custody of her the next day on my ninetieth birthday, when she was just four weeks old.
“I’m sorry,” she whispers quietly.
“It was a long time ago,” I say, wrapping my arms around my waist.
“Do you have a job back home?”
My body stiffens further and I feel my eyes narrow. I know people make assumptions about me all the time because of where I live and how I grew up, but I went to school and got my hairdressing license when I turned eighteen and have been on my own since then. I’ve worked hard at making a life for me and Hope, so her future will be brighter than mine and Edward’s. I know that’s what he wanted for her, and for me.
“I do hair,” I reply, just because I don’t want to be rude after how nice she has been.
“I know this is going to sound completely outlandish, but have you ever thought about moving and starting over somewhere else?” she inquires softly.
Sure, I had thought about it, but as a single mother, I was only able to save a few dollars here and there. Having a child isn’t cheap, and I refuse to use government assistance. My mother did it for years, even though she could have worked. “I’m only asking, because this is a nice place to live, a good place to raise a child.”
“Maybe someday,” I mutter, feeling uncomfortable.
“I was a single mother for awhile,” she says, surprising me. “I know how difficult it is to raise a child without having people around you can lean on. Not that I’m saying you don’t have that, but—”
“All I have is me,” I cut her off. Yes, I have a few friends, but no one I can trust. Not really, anyways, and family…I don’t have that either. It’s always been just Hope and me.
Her eyes go soft and she stands from the bed. “You could move here. My friend owns a salon in town. He’s always looking for help, and Jax already said you could stay with him until you got on your feet. He’s hardly home anyways.”
Stay with Jax?
Yeah, no thank you.
“We would all feel better knowing you’re here—at least until the other guy is caught.”
Oh, God. How did I forget about him? I don’t know if he knows where I live, and what if something happens to Hope? Closing my eyes, I rub my forehead, feeling a headache coming on.
“I know you want to keep your daughter safe, and my son will make sure of it.”
“I don’t know.” I open my eyes. This is too much to handle right now.
“Sometimes you have to jump off the ledge with both feet, honey. I know this is a scary time to be making big life changes, but I believe everything happens for a reason, and maybe…just maybe…you’re supposed to take a chance on something new.” She reaches out, rubbing my arm.
My grandma once told me, Devour life without chewing, and pray that you don’t choke. Could I do that now? Take a chance and pray for the best? “Are you sure your friend needs help?” I hear myself ask without even realizing it.
She smiles then nods. “I’m positive.”
“Maybe I have a concussion,” I mutter, surprised I’m really thinking about doing this. It’s not like me to take unnecessary risks.
“I’ll be here for you whenever you need me, and I know my husband and daughter will do the same, along with Jax.”
Oh, God. Jax. I’m not sure what to do with him, but I need to keep Hope safe, and the farther I get away from my family, the better, not only for her, but for me as well.
“Okay,” I state.
“Yes, I need to make sure my daughter is safe,” I explain softly.
Her arms wrap around me in a hug and she mutters, “I promise things are going to be better now.”
I’m not so sure about that. I feel like I just went from the frying pan into the fire.
“Thank you again for taking me.” Pulling my eyes from the road for a brief moment, I look at Ellie. Her head is resting against the window her, legs pulled up onto the seat, tucked near her ass, and her arms are wrapped tight around them. One thing I’ve noticed about her over the last few hours is she’s always wrapping her arms around herself or tucking her body into a tight ball. It’s like she’s forcing herself to stay together.
“I told you I got you, baby,” I say gently, wanting more than anything to take her hand in mine, but every time I touch her, she freezes up like she’s waiting for me to strike out at her, and I would be lying if I said that didn’t piss me the fuck off. It does; it feels like a slap in the face every time it happens.
“I know,” she whispers, and the tears I hear in her voice cause a sharp pain in my chest.
“This is the turnoff.” Her feet go to the floorboard and her hands to the dash as she sits up taller, moving her face closer to the windshield. We drive up a long dirt driveway with forest and the occasional broken down car on each side. When we make it to the top of the hill, a singlewide trailer comes into view, with junk cars and garbage piled up out front.
As soon as I come to a stop, she opens her door and hops out before I can tell her to keep her little ass in the cab. I don’t even know how I’m going to deal with the range of emotions that have settled over me since seeing her for the first time.
“Fucking Boom,” I mutter, getting out behind her and doubling my steps until I’m able to reach her side, where I wrap my hand around her waist and pull her closer to me. She’s so fucking tiny that the top of her dark head sits right at my chest. So fragile, from her too soft skin to her petite size. And she’s mine.
“Took you long enough,” a very large woman says, opening the front door to the trailer. Her blonde hair is pulled away from her face with a headband, and her large, round body is incased in what looks like a baggy dress with long sleeves. I know right away this must be Ellie’s aunt Marlene, her mom’s sister.
“Where’s Hope?” Ellie asks from my side. I wrap my hand tighter around her to keep her in place.
Taking a puff off her cigarette Marlene tosses the butt into the yard while stepping back into the trailer as we come up the creaky wooden steps that lead inside.
“Where’s Hope?” Ellie asks as we step into the small living room. Feeling a shiver slide through her and I give her side a squeeze reminding her that she’s not alone. No way will anything ever happen to her again.
“Hope’s asleep in the back bedroom.” Her aunt points down a long hall then looks at me. “Who’s him?” she asks, but Ellie pushes past her and rushes down the hall, ignoring her question.
Jesus. It takes everything in me to keep my mouth shut. Crossing my arms over my chest, I wait for Ellie, ignoring the woman, afraid of what I’ll say if I speak.
“You a cop?”
“I’m not a cop,” I growl, wanting to tell her she shouldn’t look relived by that.
“That niece of mine has always acted like she’s better than all of us. Figures she’d meet a guy who thought the same.”
My fists clench and drop to my sides. I don’t know much about Ellie, but there isn’t a doubt in my mind that she is better than this dump and her fucked up family.
My gaze goes toward the open mouth of the hall and collides with Ellie, who is holding a little girl in her arms; her face is pressed to Ellie’s chest, her long, dark hair hanging over Ellie’s arm, and her legs wrapped around her side.
“What is it, baby?” I question, closing the distance between us.
“Can you hold her while I get her stuff?” she asks in a hushed tone.
“Sure,” I mutter, and she slips the sleeping little girl into my arms. Her small, warm body presses close to my chest and I lift her higher, adjusting her in my arms.
“Hurry, baby,” I tell Ellie as her eyes stay fixed on me. “Babe,” I say, and she double blinks then turns around, heading back down the hall, and my eyes drop to the tiny girl. I know she’s three from the info Ellie gave me. Her skin is the same cream color as her mother’s. Her cheeks are slightly rosy from sleep, her lips are in a small pout, and her long lashes fan out across her cheeks. She’s beautiful, and she hasn’t even opened her eyes.
“Her dad never even seen her grow up,” Marlene says, putting another cigarette in her mouth.
I look down at the little girl and imagine her being mine and never seeing her. The thought alone causes my heart to bleed and my arms to tighten around her. “Don’t light that,” I growl when she lifts a lighter to the cigarette hanging out of her mouth.
“It’s my house.”
“I don’t give a fuck. You can wait until we’re gone.”
Her face screws up, but she pulls the cigarette out and closes her hand around it.
“Ready,” Ellie says, carrying a large bag over one shoulder then a smaller diaper bag in her other hand. I pull the large bag from her, being carful not to wake Hope as I carry her outside to the truck. Once I have Hope buckled in the car seat I had my mom pickup when we were still in the hospital I lift Ellie up into the cab and pull her seatbelt around her.
“Yeah, babe?” My hands stop and my gaze meets her beautiful brown eyes that are surrounded by long dark lashes.
“I can buckle myself in,” she whispers, and my eyes drop to her mouth. She has a gap between her front teeth that I have become obsessed with since meeting her. Really, I’m obsessed with her mouth. Her lips are plump, the bottom slightly fuller than the top, the pink so dark that I want to lean in for a taste, just to see if they’re as soft and sweet as they look.
“You owe me for watching Hope,” her aunt says from behind us, breaking the moment and causing a growl to vibrate my chest.
“Stay put.” I click her seatbelt into place, stepping back and slamming the door. Once I’m a few steps away, I set the locks and the alarm so I’ll know if Ellie tries to get out then storm up the few stairs into the trailer. Pulling the door closed behind me, the small room turns almost black, the only light coming from a small window in the living room, and a smaller one above the sink in the dirty kitchen.
“What are you doing?” Marlene asks, and I can hear the nervousness in her voice as she backs away toward the kitchen.
“I’m going to give you a chance to be honest with me. I’m going to ask you where Ellie’s mother is, and I want you to tell me the truth. If you don’t tell me where she is now and I find out later on that you knew her whereabouts and kept that from me, I’m going to make you pay for that mistake.”
“You ain’t the law. You can’t talk to me like this,” she says, putting her hands on her wide hips and looking toward the door.
“You’re right. I’m not, and that information should lead you into doing the smart thing,” I snarl.
“She’s my sister.”
“I don’t give a fuck if she’s the fucking Pope. Tell me where she is.”
“I don’t know,” she says quietly after a long moment.
“You sure you want that to be your final answer?” I ask her, turning toward the door.
“It’s the truth.”
“Remember I warned you,” I say, opening the front door and stepping down the rickety stairs to the grass.
“What about my money?”
“Get it from your sister,” I tell her, clicking the alarm for my truck and swinging up inside. I’m so pissed that I can actually feel my heart pounding in my neck. I want to take a can of gasoline and light her damn trailer on fire.
“What did she say?” Ellie asks quietly from my side as I pull out onto the main road. I pull my eyes from the asphalt and look over at her quickly, seeing a sadness in her eyes that makes my fist tighten on the steering wheel.
“Ellie,” I say in the same tone and feel my lips twitch.
“I don’t know what you could possibly think is funny right now,” she huffs, and I see her cross her arms over her chest out of the corner of my eye, the action making me smile. Fuck but she’s cute.
“So annoying,” she mumbles under her breath, making me chuckle.
“Mama.” I look over my shoulder at Hope, whose eyes are open and locked on her mom in the front seat.
“Angel baby.” Ellie pulls off her seatbelt, gets up on her knees, and leans over the backseat. Pulling off the side of the road, I put the truck in park, walk around, to help Ellie out but before I get there she’s out and has the back door open and is trying to get Hope out of her car seat.
The moment she has Hope unbuckled and in her arms, sobs begin to wrack Ellie’s small frame. Without thinking, I wrap my arms around both of them as a feeling of rightness settles in my gut.
“It’s okay, Mama.” Hope pats her mom’s back, making Ellie cry harder.
“I know, Angel,” Ellie says, pulling her face away from Hope’s neck and kissing her forehead. “I missed you.”
“I misseded you too. Gwama said you were workin’,” she says, putting her hand on her mom’s cheek and looking into her face.
“I was, Angel, and guess what.”
“What?” Hope asks, and my heart does another tug when both their faces light up with smiles so bright they steal the air right out of my lungs.
“Mommy has a new job.”
“Yay!” She laughs, and Ellie places her hand on the back of Hope’s head and dips her backwards, whispering in her ear.
“I love you, Angel baby.”
“Lub you, Mama,” she says then her eyes come to me and she tilts her head to the side.
“Hope, this is Jax,” Ellie says, and I watch her cheeks get pink as she realizes her body is pressed against the length of mine. “Jax, this is Hope.” She steps away, turning so Hope is facing me.
“It’s nice to meet you, Hope.”
“You too, Ax.” She smiles, showing off a gap between her front teeth that makes her even more beautiful.
“All right, Angel, get back in your carseat,” Ellie tells her, and she climbs up into the seat then locks herself in place. Not trusting her, I check to make sure it’s secure then tap the end of her nose, making her smile before I shut the door.
Once I’m back behind the wheel, I head towards Ellie’s place so we can pick up her stuff. Do I feel shitty I told my mom to find a way to get Ellie to Nashville, even if she had to use her fear against her? A little, but at the end of the day, she will be under my roof, so fuck it. All’s fair in love and war, right?
“Turn here,” Ellie says, bringing me out of my thoughts. Frowning, I turn and enter a large trailer park. I know places like these; rent’s cheap, making it easy for everyone and anyone to live here. Following Ellie’s directions, we pull up in front of a small singlewide trailer. Just from the outside, I can tell she is one of the few people in the park who takes pride in her place, judging by the flowers on her small front porch, which have died in her absence, and the colorful floral flag hanging off to the side of the front door, welcoming anyone who might come for a visit.
Shutting down the truck, I hop out and round the hood, taking in my surroundings. Two trailers down, there are a group of guys sitting outside in lawn chairs, drinking beer. A little farther down from them, I watch a man pass a small bag of something off to a kid who’s probably no older than seventeen.
“From now on, wait ‘til I open your door,” I tell Ellie, taking a sleeping Hope from her arms.
“Why?” She frowns, shutting the door.
“Because my mom would kick my ass if I didn’t.”
“Oh.” She presses her lips together like she’s trying not to smile, making me want to lean it and kiss her.
“Ready.” She sighs, going to the porch, lifting the edge of the mat, and pulling out a key.
“Are you kidding me?” I growl, looking at the key in her hand.
“What?” she asks, opening the door and stepping inside.
“Ellie, baby, you do not leave a key to your house in such an obvious place. That’s basically an invite to anyone who comes over to walk inside and steal all your shit.”
“Nothing has ever happened before.” She shrugs.
“Thank fuck but there’s a first time for everything,” I tell her, trying to gentle my voice, which is hard to do considering how pissed I am, knowing a single mother is living in a place like this with a key under her motherfucking doormat.
“I won’t do it again,” she says, reading my face.
Nodding, I lay Hope down on the small couch by the door then look around.
The place is small but homey. A small flat screen TV sits in front of the couch on a stand with tons of picture frames scattered across the surface, most containing shots of Ellie and Hope, but in a few are pictures of a man holding a baby. There’s one with the same man, but this time his arm is wrapped around a woman as she looks down at the small bundle in her arms while he smiles at the camera. I wonder absently if that was Ellie’s ex, but still can’t drag enough courage to the surface to ask.
Pulling my eyes away from the photos, I take in the rest of the space. A stylish chair sits in the corner, adding color to the room, and it matches the drapes on the windows. In the kitchen is a small dining table, with two chairs that are old but still fit with the decor.
“I don’t know what I should bring,” Ellie mumbles, walking into the kitchen and looking around.
“Whatever we don’t take now, we can come back for,” I tell her softly, moving to her side. “My place has everything you’ll need for now.”
“Are you really sure about us staying with you?” She tucks a piece of hair behind her ear. “I know your dad said he could get us an apartment in town.”
“I’m sure.” I feel my chest vibrate. I don’t want her or Hope out of my sight. And God, I love my dad, but I was ready to pummel him when he suggested that. “Like my mom said, I’m hardly home. I work a lot, and my place already has security set up. It’s the safest place for you.”
Her eyes go to the couch, and I know without Hope there wouldn’t be a chance in hell Ellie would be moving in with me.
“I really do appreciate it.”
“Baby,” I murmur, watching her eyes slide half closed, “I’m glad I can help.”
Licking her lips, her eyes go soft then move to the couch again.
“Hope will want her bed.”
“Show me where it is and I’ll put it in the truck now, while you get your clothes and stuff packed up.”
Nodding, she heads down a short hallway and stops at a room that is smaller than my closet at home. There isn’t much in the space, just a small, child size bed and a white dresser, along with stuffed animals scattered over a pink rug. “I’ll get this; you go start packing,” I rumble, rubbing her arms. She looks over her shoulder at me, and her lips part when she realizes how close I am.
“I…I’m g-gonna start packing,” she stammers then slips under my arm and heads down the hall. I follow her with my eyes until she’s out of sight then smile. She may not want to admit it, but she wants me as badly as I want her.
Heading into Hope’s room, I pull her pink bedding and mattress off her bed then pick up the frame. I move it out to the living room, checking to make sure Hope’s still sleeping before taking it to the truck.
It doesn’t take long to get everything packed up and in the back of my truck. We will have to come back in a week to clean the rest out but we got everything they will need for now. When we hit the road back home, we only stop once for gas and to get the girls something to eat.
“Baby, we’re here,” I whisper, running my finger down Ellie’s cheek, not really wanting to wake her up. She had fallen asleep with her head on my thigh ten minutes after we left the restaurant. I don’t even think she realized what she was doing when she laid down. I know she has to be exhausted after everything that happened.
Blinking up at me, she wipes the corner of her mouth then sits up quickly, looking around.
“This is your house?”
Looking out the front windshield at my house, I wonder why she looks so scared. It’s not the nicest house on the street, but when it came on the market a year ago for a hundred grand under market value, I had to buy it, and have been slowly fixing it up since then. “Yeah.”
“It’s really nice.” She swallows then looks at the other houses on the block.
“It’s your home now too,” I say softly, wanting to get rid of that look on her face, the one saying she feels like she doesn’t belong here.
“Until I have enough money to get somewhere else,” she murmurs, rubbing her eyes.
Ignore that comment I grit my teeth and get out of the truck before I can tell her there is no way in hell she’s ever moving out.
“Get a grip before you scare her the fuck off,” I growl under my breath, opening her door and helping her out. I then open Hope’s door and grin when her face lights up.
“You wiv in a castle!” She smiles, unhooking her belt, catching me off guard when she throws herself at me.
Looking back toward my house, I guess it kind of does look like a castle. The old grey brick Victorian with two round rooms on each side of the house gives the look of towers, the white scalloping along the edges, and in the middle is a window that resembles a lookout point.
“I guess I do,” I tell her, setting her on the ground.
“Sooo cooool,” she breathes, peering up at me with her big brown eyes, making something deep inside of me settle.
Pulling my hat off, I turn toward Ellie. “Why don’t I take you guys inside and you can look around, while I bring everything in?”
“Are you sure?” she asks, picking up Hope then looking in the back of the truck at all of her stuff, most of which is in black garbage bags.
“I’m sure. Plus, you really should be in bed resting after everything that has happened,” I say, taking her hand and leading her up the front steps, letting her go long enough to open the door and walk over to the keypad to shut off the alarm. “The code is zero-four-zero-three. I want the alarm on anytime I’m not in the house with you.” Watching her nod, I take her hand again and lead her through the house, showing her the living room, kitchen, and downstairs bathroom before moving her to the stairs. “You can have your pick of rooms.”
“Where’s your room?” she asks when we make it to the second-floor landing.
“At the end of the hall.” I nod my head toward my room and she looks in the opposite direction. She drops my hand and sets Hope on the ground, opening the door in front of us, almost the farthest from mine, which makes me bite back a smile. A few feet and a couple doors between us isn’t going to matter in the long run, but I’m willing to give her the sense of space for now. “We’ll take this room.”
“There’s plenty of space for Hope to have her own room,” I tell her softly.
“I’d feel better if she was close, at least for now,” she replies just as quietly, taking the piece of hair that is constantly falling out of the bun on top of her head and tucking it behind her ear.
“Mama, I wanna wiv in the tower like a real pwincess.”
I turn my head and see that Hope has opened the door at the opposite end of the hall from mine, the second room that has a round section that juts out into the front yard, with large windows, and a seat underneath them.
“You don’t want to sleep with me?” Ellie asks her, and Hope’s face scrunches up adorably like she’s trying to think about it then she shakes her head.
“I’m not a baby, wemember?”
“No, I guess you’re not.” Ellie sighs then looks at me, biting her bottom lip. “Are you sure you don’t mind us taking up two rooms?”
“Positive.” I smile, and she looks toward the end of the hall at my door then back toward hers, and my smile gets bigger. I can practically hear the wheels in her head turning. “Why don’t you guys get cleaned up while I bring everything in?” I say, opening the door to the bathroom.
Hope jumps up and down, squealing, “Bafftub! Bafftub!” making me laugh.
“I’ll bring your clothes up first. That way, you’ll have something clean to change into afterward.”
“Thanks, Jax,” Ellie whispers.
“No problem, baby,” I tell her then look down at Hope when she grabs my hand, tugging on it.
“Mama’s not a baby.” She giggles then runs into the bathroom, making me laugh.
Leaning on the doorjamb, I watch as the two of them turn on the tub then pull myself away, closing the door when they both take off their shoes.
I have never really put much thought into having kids, but I could get used to hearing Hope giggle. Moving downstairs, I pull out my cellphone and press send on my mom’s number when I see she’s called a few times.
“Don’t you know how worried we’ve been?” she scolds after the first ring.
“You knew I was driving.” I know my dad isn’t really included in that ‘we’. It’s all my mom; she’s always worried.
“You have Bluetooth,” she mutters, sounding annoyed.
“Ellie and Hope were sleeping, and I’m not gonna answer the phone with the girls in the truck.”
“Oh, God, it’s really happening, isn’t it?” she whispers, making me frown.
“Nothing,” she says quickly. “How’s Ellie feeling, and what’s Hope like?”
“Ellie’s tired, but I think she’s okay. Hope is cute. You’ll love her.”
“I wish it wasn’t so late,” she grumbles, making me smile.
“You can come over tomorrow. If I know Ellie at all, she’s gonna want to head over to the salon in the morning.”
“I can take her,” she says immediately as I pull two of the bags from the back and take them inside.
“Thanks, Mom,” I say sincerely.
“I’m happy to help.”
“He’s right here. Hold on,” she says, and I’m sure she is sitting on my dad’s lap, or tucked into his side, where she always is.
“Hey, bud,” I hear his deep voice come over the line.
“Hey, Dad. You busy tomorrow?”
“Nothing’s on the schedule. What’s up?”
“I need to get Ellie some wheels. You got time to go with me?”
“Sure, I’ll bring your mom over in the morning, since I can tell she’s chomping at the bit to meet Hope, and we’ll head out from there.”
“Thanks,” I mumble, taking the two bags up the stairs and setting them in bedroom Ellie chose.
“Anytime. Get some rest and we’ll see you in the morning.”
“See you then,” I say, hanging up and heading back outside. My phone vibrates again, and I look at the screen and shake my head when I see Mellissa’s number pop up, with the emoji of a butcher knife that my sister Ashlyn put next to her name. Mellissa and I dated in high school, and hooked up over the summer one time. I thought maybe she had changed with age and college, but she was a bigger bitch now than she was back then. Pressing ignore on her call, I put my phone in my pocket and take the rest of the stuff into the house. Once I get everything upstairs, both girls are in Ellie’s room lying in bed.
“Thank you for bringing everything in,” Ellie says.
“No problem.” I shrug. She gets out of bed, and that’s when I realize she’s only wearing a shirt that hangs down to the middle of her thighs. My eyes track her as she walks toward me. Taking in the creamy expanse of her thighs and the way her hair looks down over her shoulders, I can picture her walking toward me naked, her hair brushing the tips of her breasts.
“Ax, I wuv your bafftub,” Hope says, bringing me out of my perusal of her mother.
Clearing my throat, I look around Ellie to Hope, who is now standing on the bed and bouncing.
“I’m glad, sweetheart,” I say, and she smiles then hops off the bed, luckily landing on her feet. I rush to her, feeling my heart in my throat, then pick her up off the ground, muttering, “Be careful.”
“No jumping on the bed, Angel,” Ellie says, and Hope grins then wiggles out of my hold, running out of the room, past her mom.
“She’s a handful,” Ellie mumbles, looking from the door to me again.
“She’s sweet.” Besides, I was already getting the feeling I was going to have my hands full with both her and her mother. “You look beat.”
“I am, but Hope wants to sleep in her bed, so I’m gonna go get it set up for her,” she says yawing turning towards the door.
She stops then turns to look at me over her shoulder. Something works within her gaze, but her head dips before I’m able to decipher it.
“Thanks,” she mumbles, walking out of the room. Following her to Hope’s door, I stop behind her. “She’s already asleep,” she whispers, tilting her head back to look at me. Tipping my chin toward her, I place my hand on her shoulder then reach around her with my other hand to shut off the light. “You even found her a nightlight,” she whispers, almost like she’s in awe.
Roaming my hand down her arm, I rest it on her waist, giving her a squeeze. This time she doesn’t flinch, but shivers. “Go to bed, babe you need to rest.”
“Okay.” She swallows, and I notice a pinkness to her cheeks that wasn’t there before as she stops at her bedroom door.
“I’m right down the hall if you need me. Do you remember the code for the house?”
“Zero-four-zero-three,” she says, nodding.
“Good girl.” I smile, reaching up and running my finger down her cheek. “Mom and Dad will be here in the morning.”
“Mom said she would take you to the salon if you want to go.”
“I do.” Her face brightens.
“I had a feeling you would want to.” I smile then she yawns again. “Get some sleep.”
“Goodnight, Jax,” she says quietly, walking into her room.
“Night, Ellie,” I murmur, watching her door close before heading down the hall to my room. The minute I’m inside, I kick off my boots and take off my jeans and tee then go into the bathroom. Something inside of me settles deep, something I didn’t even know I had been looking for all along.
I knew about the ‘Boom’; every man in my family knew about it from the time they were little. Most of us chalked it up to some old wives tale, but that doesn’t mean I hadn’t been hoping it would happen to me one day. I grew up watching the way the men in my family were with their wives, knew the strength of their relationships and the bonds they shared, how rare it actually was to have something run so deep, something that nothing could ever come between.
I know I now have that under my roof; I just need to convince Ellie of the same thing. I need to show her our future could be beautiful if she’d give it a chance. With that thought, I go to bed hoping that one day Ellie will be climbing into bed next to me while our kids sleep down the hall.
Copyright 2015 Aurora Rose Reynolds