Aspen shot her a grin.
Logan just smirked.
I shared his look. “You’ve matured. No comeback?”
He tsked me, frowning. “I’m happily in love, my soul brother.” He raised his chin at Quincey. “When your dad calls, just hand me the phone.”
“Are you serious?”
He dipped his head down. “It’s why I’m here.” He clasped me on the shoulder. “Why he pays me the big bucks.”
“Your retainer is still being debated.”
He laughed, his fingers curling in on me before letting go. “How about whoever carries the most bags in only has to pay me a third of what I quoted them?”
I snorted. Logan wasn’t going to charge me for this, and we both knew it.
They were laughing.
I was dumbfounded.
How could they be laughing at a moment like this? That wasn’t rational.
I turned to Ricci. “Have I made a mistake? I have, haven’t I? Oh my God. What are we doing? How do we get out of this?”
Ricci shared a look with Nate’s sister before moving toward me and curling an arm around me. “Okay. Normally, I wouldn’t recommend you have a drink, but I think tonight is an exception. And you heard Nate. Why don’t we hand your phone over right now? That way, you don’t even know when your father starts calling.”
Oh God. “He’s going to send police here. He’s going to say we’ve been kidnapped or something like that.”
“We’ll hold off on the booze until the cops leave then.”
I was almost swaying on my feet.
We were here.
Yes. We were. I had to take a second because I was in shock.
We were in a position where I was expecting red and blue lights to roll up wherever I was, and in my emotional state, they were coming to take me back to him. I knew rationally that wasn’t the case, but I wasn’t in a rational state right now.
Trauma. That was the state I was in.
Ricci was watching me with concern, and she had reason. I knew what I was feeling. It was something I’d endured through the years, but this was different. This was a break from Duke, and I was almost cursing over what a mess my life had become. Ricci didn’t—well, no one knew I’d gone to see a few therapists over the years.
They were all paid for by Duke, so when my problems started to lead back to him, the counseling got cut off real quick. Still, there’d been one counselor who’d been so kind. Her office was in Portland, and I did the drive every few weeks to see her. I was sure she had moved down to California by now, or that was what her email said. It was a customary one sent to her previous clients, but my email had been bcc’d, so I assumed all the others were, too. I’d been sad to see she was moving, but she wasn’t too far away. She had followed up with me and given me lists of resources and other referrals to places I could go that weren’t paid for by Duke Royas.
She helped more than the others.
I shut it all down.
In a switch, it had to go because I couldn’t live in that world any longer.
I had shit to do and a child to take care of now. End it all.
All that was gone in the blink of an eye.
I heard Nova crying in the distance and moved for her. My voice sounded like it was coming from so far away, not from me. “I need to go to Nova. I’m sure she’s scared.”
“Uh. No.” Ricci was frowning but stepped aside. “Nova’s here, and she’s happy as can be.”
I heard a baby crying.
Whose baby was that? But it didn’t matter. Nova was smiling and trying to pull out chunks of Nate’s sister’s hair. I thought she stopped doing that, but I guess she hadn’t. Now she was trying to put Miss Penguin inside Aspen’s head.
I stepped forward, smoothly taking Nova to me and cuddling her against my chest. “Heya, little Nova Beanie. How are you doing?”
She took one look at me and started shrieking.
I closed my eyes, leaning forward to rest my forehead against her shoulder. I wanted a second, one second, and then I’d let her down. She wanted to run, and she probably wanted to eat.
“I have some milk in a bag for her.” I looked at Aspen. “Could we warm some of that for her?”
Nova was still shrieking in my arms.
Aspen and Ricci shared a look.
“Uh. Quince.” They must’ve come to an unspoken decision because Ricci stepped forward and moved to take Nova from me. “I can see the kitchen from here, so how about I go and warm Nova some milk? Aspen will show you where your rooms are and everything. You can get settled in, too.”
I was in a daze, but I noticed that Ricci was reaching into my pocket for something.
She handed that off to Aspen, who tucked it into her pocket and smiled brightly at me. “For Logan. Just thinking ahead.”
He would need to hear from me, though. That was my thought about Duke, about when he would call, but a wave of exhaustion hit me. Could someone be both ready to run a marathon and sleep forty-eight hours all at once?
The front door opened, and Nate came in first.
His eyes found me, darkening. His lips thinned, but he didn’t say anything. His arms were completely full of our bags. He deposited them on the floor and turned to head right back out. His friend was coming behind him, doing the same.
Aspen gently touched my arm. “This way.”
We had staff who did that stuff.
I frowned, going with her. “I don’t remember the last time I saw my father carry someone else’s bag for them.”
That was an odd thing, right? Was I wrong?
I blinked a few times, noticing the hallway now.
The floors were hardwood. The walls were painted white with no paintings or pictures. It was a bare wall, but all of a sudden, I remembered that he just bought the place. Hell, he was getting settled in himself.
I hadn’t asked about the house.
Was it safe for Nova?
Had he baby-proofed everything?
What kind of paint was on the walls? Were those lights LED?
“Did Nate go through all the rooms here?”
Aspen put a hand on my arm, and she must’ve heard the alarm in my voice because she said soothingly, “He did. We walked through everything together. We looked at every wall socket. All the furniture was bought with rounded and soft ends, and the ones that aren’t have been baby-proofed.” She stepped closer, making sure to look me in the eyes. “The house is safe. That was very important to Nate. I promise.”