The stars were fading into the dawn as Chelsea finished packing her clothes in the trunk of her car. She pulled on her hand-woven beanie, but left her fringed leather duster in the backseat. She wasn’t on the road quite yet.
The house sat dark and still. Only Kate stirred, burbling happily in her crib at the end of the single hallway.
Chelsea settled herself on the floor, eye level with the infant. “I don’t hate you, even if I kinda wish you weren’t here. I know you aren’t the reason that Keegan and I don’t work. I also know that he’d come with me if…” She sucked in a deep breath. “Thanks for saving our friendship.” She poked a finger through the slats of the crib and the baby grabbed it happily. “So, in return, I’m going to be the best godmother ever. You have a college fund, and I don’t care what Keegan says, I’m buying you a Stetson.”
“What about the beanie? I like the beanie.”
Chelsea glanced over her shoulder at the dark shadow in the doorway. “You don’t get a say in how I spoil my goddaughter.”
He chuckled. “Who says you’re her godmother?”
“Me. And you and your sister can kiss my ass.” Chelsea tugged gently with her captured finger. “I called my lawyer yesterday and set up the trust fund. It’s modest, but it’s hers.”
Keegan sighed. “Chel–”
“It’s done, Keegan. She can have it when she goes to college or turns twenty-five, whichever comes first.” The tight baby fingers held her fast. “And there’s a second, smaller account, for lessons and summer camps and shit.” Chelsea blinked back tears. “Kids are expensive, and if she needs a dress for prom or whatever…”
Keegan’s thin frame pressed into her moments before his arms tightened, cutting off her breath. “I was joking about that sugar mama shit but thank you.”
A laugh bubbled out of her, soft and sad. “What do I need money for? I take care of myself and Bentley just fine. In fact, that’s why I have to hit the road. My funds need to be replenished. I haven’t worked steadily for a while.”
Keegan pulled in a deep breath before settling on the floor beside her. “Are you going to be okay? You were in a bad place when you got here, but we never really talked about it.”
She shrugged. “We did a little, more than I wanted if I’m being honest.” Keegan snorted a laugh, and she joined him before continuing. “I have to take some time and think.” She tugged her finger free of the baby. “You found something you really wanted, and you didn’t know what is was until it landed in your lap. But you’re happy. I can see it. And I want that for me. But I don’t know what’s going to make me happy.” She jammed her shoulder into his. “Although I am pretty damn sure it isn’t Jackson Hawk.”
He shrugged. “Maybe, maybe not. Running away from him didn’t help. How did you feel before you freaked out?”
She stared at the burbling baby. “Like I missed out on something good because life sucks.” She stopped his response. “And that I had no way to get it back, because that time had passed.”
He nodded. “That’s how I felt about my family until my sister told me she was pregnant and needed help. Now, I have a daughter.”
Chelsea swallowed, blindly grasping for the complicated feelings she couldn’t quite define. “But… what about… Amber?”
“Amber?” Surprise and amusement warred in Keegan’s voice. “What about Amber?”
Chelsea swallowed a thick throat before she could talk. “I don’t know, but for a hot moment she was all I could think about when I was with Jackson… and I didn’t tell him about us.”
Keegan snorted, then rushed out of the room, leaking laughter behind him.
Chelsea stormed to her feet and followed. “It’s not funny.”
“Y-yes, it is.” He wiped at his eyes, hand clutching his stomach. “And one day, you’ll laugh too.” Giggles overtook him for a moment before he could continue. “But until then, as your best friend, I get to enjoy this.”
“Bentley is my best friend.” A tail thumped at them from under the table. “You are a distant second.”
He straightened with a fond smile and wrapped his arms around her. “Get the hell out of here, before we kill each other.” He let her go with a kiss to the forehead. “If talking about this Amber and Jackson thing would help, I’d make you do that. But you aren’t ready yet. So, get out there and kick some monster ass. Come back here when you’re done.”
She stood frozen, unsure of what to do or say. Then she gave Keegan one last hug. He and Bentley followed her to the car in silence, watching as she pulled on her fringed duster.
She met his eye. “I love you. I wish we worked.”
“I love you, and we both know why we don’t.”
Her eyes narrowed. “Somehow, I really doubt that.”
Keegan laughed. “I’ll miss you, princess.”
“You are such an asshole.” She wiped at the sudden tears. “I already miss you.”
“Stop by whenever, don’t worry about calling first.”
She nodded and opened her car door. Bentley hopped in and scooted over his seat before she climbed in. She felt better, but still not great. A double thump from the roof of her car brought a smile. She rolled down her window. “Take care of my goddaughter.”
His voice held laughter. “Take care of the dog.”
She started the car and headed east. The sage and sand followed her that day, with the occasional mountain to break up the terrain. They stopped at a tourist trap and sprung for a hotel. Once the pizza showed up and had been devoured, Chelsea snuggled up with Bentley. “So where to now, Bent? I really don’t know about the East Coast for summer. The humidity might kill me.”
His tail thudded against the bed.
“Although as far from here as—” Her buzzing phone cut her off. She didn’t recognize the number. Her heart sped up, even as she tried to convince herself it was just a telemarketer. “Hello?”
“Well, hello, my little nun.” Jackson Hawk sounded as carefree as always. “You actually answered.”
“Yeah.” She swallowed. “Sorry for taking off, I had a panic attack.”
There was a long pause, before his voice came out slow and more than a little hurt. “I caused a panic attack?”
“No, I caused a panic attack.” She sighed. “I knew I was conflicted where you’re concerned. I shouldn’t have slept with you. It wasn’t fair to either of us.”
“I’m sorry.” He sounded genuine, all hurt gone. “I didn’t realize—”
“It’s okay, Jack.” She took a deep breath. “I’m not sure why I wanted to, but I very obviously did want to sleep with you.”
“Am I that repulsive?” Thankfully, he sounded amused.
“No, but we have a not-so- great history, that mostly consists of hurting each other. I didn’t want to add it, but I did. So, in hindsight—”
His laughter cut her off. “No hindsight, my little nun, and no second chances. We’re hunters, remember?”
She rolled over and Bentley rested a paw on her. “If we don’t get seconded chances, then why are you calling me?”
“A second chance implies that we failed or gave up the first time, and I refuse to give up on you. So, you’re still on your first chance with me.”
Tears pricked at her eyes and her heart thudded. “You mean it?”
For a moment he lost all his playfulness. “Yes.” She heard the smile return to his face. “But I also know that you need time. So, take it. Just… keep me in the loop. Call me, text me, whatever. Let’s actually get to know each other.”
She smiled at the water stain on the ceiling. “You mean, Jackson ‘Man-Whore’ Hawk wants a real relationship?”
“Since the second night we spent together.” He sighed. “Look, I know I fucked up my half of this relationship. But I am willing to give it all the time and work it needs. So we’re not together right now, but can we say we’re working towards that?”
Keegan’s remembered laughter chased away her tightening stomach. “Okay, working towards it. Someday.”
“Someday, my little nun. Some day.”
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