I live to hold her together.
Killian McCreery only has two dreams . . .
Fight for the UFL.
He’s watched her give her time and her body to men who don’t deserve to breathe her air. He’s waited, worked hard to become the kind of man she deserves, hoping one day, when the time is right, he’d get the opportunity to make her happy. After a painful anniversary, he finally gets his chance.
But life has a way of sucker-punching its victims—striking when they least expect it in the most devastating ways.
Killian loves me.
But I screwed up. Big time.
Axelle Daniels appears to be the typical college student—parties, hangovers, and men. No one knows that inside she’s a mess, and no amount of booze or meaningless relationships have managed to fill the cracks in her heart. But Killian knows. He’s been there since the night it all began and has never left her side.
When she wakes up one morning to find the consequences of her actions have caught up to her, even Killian’s white-knighthood can’t save her now.
Fate is put to the test when, for the first time in their five-year friendship, they no longer have each other to lean on. When he becomes a UFL superstar, she hardly recognizes the man he used to be. And she no longer needs him to hold her together.
With the foundation of their friendship gone, they’ll discover that even a love that is meant to be needs to be fought for and destiny is a choice.
Three years later…
I thought Blake thoroughly prepared me. He swore he’d prepped me on everything to expect so there’d be no surprises. I expected the crazy. I even expected the sudden swings from laughter to tears. I learned quickly which situations called for a hug, which called for my presence and not my voice, and which called for retreat. I’ve discovered sex is often the best fix, and at other times the suggestion is a punishable offense.
I’ve studied, paid attention, and mastered the role of helpmate.
But all that didn’t prepare me for what I walked into now.
Nope. I’m searching through my mental toolbox of responses and coming up empty.
“Um…Ax, baby…you uh, you okay?”
My eyes rake over her very pregnant and bare-ass naked body as she lies on our dining room table as if she’s a buffet waiting to be devoured. Blood pounds through my body, my hormones sending signals that my brain is trying hard to reject.
She’s beautiful! Let’s make love to her right here, right now.
I’m not so sure that’s a good idea. Making love to the mentally insane might not be in our best interest.
“I wasn’t okay.” She keeps her eyes closed. “I am now.”
She says she’s okay, so I take that as a signal to approach. I pull out a chocolate-brown leather-covered dining room chair. When we bought the table a couple years ago Axelle insisted we get the biggest one they had that could extend to fit sixteen people so we could host the holidays.
Never knew she’d be lying naked on it covered from top to bottom in what looks and smells like grape jelly.
I reach out and pull her hand close, kissing her knuckles. Yep, that’s concord Smuckers all right. “Is this for me?” We’ve experimented with some pretty wild shit in our marriage bed, it wouldn’t shock me if she set this all up so I’d come home from training to ravage her sticky purple body.
She giggles and smiles. “No, but I like where your head’s at.”
“Were you having a craving?”
Her head lulls to the side and she grins through purple tinted skin. “No.”
“Hmm.” Then what the fuck is she doing?
“I was hot.” She says it so sweetly and innocently but with a tone that says, duh, why else would I be lying on the dining room table naked covered in jelly.
I lift my eyebrows. “Hot.”
Whatever you do, never give away how you really feel. Perfect the art of hiding your true reactions and putting on a mask that says, “Absolutely, babe. I get it.” The worst thing you can do is show fear. Understand?
Blake’s words filter through my head so I simply squeeze her hand and nod.
“When I was little and I’d get a sunburn my mom would rub aloe vera gel all over my body and I’d lie on my bed under the fan.”
I look up and see the ceiling fan rotating on full speed.
“Except, I ripped the house apart and…” She shrugs. “We didn’t have any aloe vera gel.”
“Ah…so you went for jelly.”
Her eyebrows pinch together. “No, that would be stupid.”
I slam my mouth shut and wait for her to continue knowing it’s better to just let her get it out before I respond.
“I went to the drugstore to get some aloe vera. I drove in the heat, walked alllll the way across the parking lot—do you know how hot tarred asphalt is when it’s 190 degrees outside?” She lifts her eyebrows for a response.
She laughs and smacks my arm leaving a blob of purple against my skin.
“Don’t make fun of me. I’m being serious.”
“No, I don’t know but I’m sure it’s hot.”
“It’s over nine-hundred degrees, Kill.” Her eyes are wide and she’s not smiling. I don’t have the heart—or more accurately the balls—to tell her that’s scientifically impossible so I nod. “I walked all the way across that parking lot, the heat shooting up my legs and baking our child all for aloe vera and guess what?”
I don’t want to guess, I’ll be wrong. I know I’ll be wrong. “What?”
“They were all out.” She drops her head back and tilts her chin to the fan. “Some stupid excuse about it being August and tourists getting sunburned. I think they saw me coming and saw I was pregnant and they must hate babies or something so…”
I pat my phone in my pocket and contemplate calling my father-in-law to let him take this one, but the last time I did that she cried on the phone for an hour about some movie with Miley Cyrus. Blake gave me so much shit for putting him through that I can’t stomach doing it to him again.
“I was going to have a very heated discussion with the manager about their feelings toward babies when I passed the jelly. Figured grapes grow from the ground like aloe so…” She motions to her body. “Here I am.”
I begin to ask why not just turn the air conditioning down, or stick her head in the freezer, or take a cold shower, but Blake told me the first rule of pregnancy is to never question their crazy.
“You’re wondering why I’m on the dining room table.”
“No, makes sense you’d want to be on a surface that was easy to clean and I know how much you love those fancy sheets you bought so the bed wouldn’t work.”
Her eyes flicker open. She pushes herself up and turns toward me. The underside of her much fuller breasts rests on top of our baby who’s been growing in my wife’s gorgeous body for nine months.
I suddenly have a craving for grape jelly.
“You get it.” Her face is lit with wonder and awe. “You understand.” She bites her bottom lip but I don’t miss the way it trembles before she does.
Uh-oh. Here come the tears.
“Of course I get it, Ax.” I push up and brace my hands at either side of her hips, leaning in to press my mouth to hers. “You were hot.”
“Yeah.” She sniffs and looks down at her body as if she’s seeing it for the first time. “Oh no…” Her shoulder shake with silent sobs. “I’m a mess.”
“No, baby, you’re not.”
“I am, look at me.” She presses her forehead against my shoulder and I see even her hair is matted with jam.
I pull back to meet her eyes now streaming with tears. “So this is for me.”
“What?” She calms a little, maybe in confusion.
I motion to her purple body. “This. You know how much I love taking care of your messes.”
A hint of a smile tilts her lips. “You do?”
“You know I do. Are you ready? Or do you want to lie out here for a little longer?”
She looks around me to the kitchen where I now see a dozen empty jelly jars. “No, I think I’m good.”
I scoop her up under her knees and the nearly dried jelly pulls at the hair on my arms. “Hold on.” She locks her hands around my neck and I pluck her from the table.
She’s heavier now, but nowhere near too heavy for me to carry. I cradle her to my body and move through our dining room to the open kitchen. With my foot I’m able to knock open the large glass doors that lead to the backyard and more importantly the pool.
“How was your day?” Her voice is casual as if she’s not naked, in my arms, and covered in purple goo.
“Good. Training with a couple new guys, getting Wade ready for his title fight.”
I kick off my Adidas and step into the pool that we got with a graduating shallow end because Ax wanted it to simulate the ocean. I get to thigh deep then squat and sit with my fragile wife still in my arms. The crystal water turns foggy around us as the pool water pulls the sugary slim from her skin.
I run my hands along her arms, her legs, her neck and chest, saving my favorite spot for last.
I move my hand in big circles feeling the lumps of our daughter’s tiny body balled up inside her. “How’s our little girl?”
Axelle sighs against my neck. “I think she’s part fire because I swear she’s cooking me from the inside.”
“It’s summer in Vegas, baby. It’s supposed to be hot.”
“What does that even mean?”
My eyes widen when I realize what I’ve done. “It means, you’re absolutely right. Our daughter is half fire.” I continue to hold our baby while pressing a kiss to her lips. “Just like her mom.”
I lie her back just far enough to get her hair wet and she closes her eyes as I massage her head, working the jelly out of her hair. I question why the hell she rubbed the shit on her scalp but I’m not stupid enough to ask out loud.
When I pull her back up she collapses into my chest. “You’ve never broken your promise, Kill.”
My heart warms at the mention of the vows we made the day we got married. “And you’ve kept yours.”
“Yeah, but my part’s easy.” She snuggles deeper into me. “I’m a basket case and you’re one of the best MMA fighters in the world with a genius level IQ.”
“You think I’m smart?” I peek down at her and she looks up at me, brushing her wet hand against my cheek.
“More than smart, you’re a genius.”
“And do you think a genius wouldn’t know something special when he saw it?”
“There hasn’t been a single day since I laid eyes on you when you were sixteen years old that I haven’t loved you. That I wouldn’t have given up every single dream I ever had, every one of my successes and aspirations. I’d have dropped it all in heartbeat for a chance to be with you.”
“But you didn’t have to.”
“Nope, I didn’t.” I drop a kiss to her nose. “Can’t fight fate, baby.”
She sucks in a shaky breath and grins. “Killian…wake up.”
“It’s time…wake up.”
He blinks open his eyes and peers up at me from his pillow. “Whoa…I just had the weirdest dream.”
Sitting on the edge of our bed, I grin and run my fingers through his hair. “Not another one.”
He yawns and pulls me to him, curling his body around me to put his head on my lap and his lips to my belly. “Yeah, but this one was weirder than the others.”
The OB warned me that pregnancy hormones combined with irrational fears would make for some pretty intense and sometimes terrifying dreams, but Killian’s been having them. Not me.
I continue to sift my fingers through his thick dark hair while he rains kisses on our unborn daughter. “As much as I’d love to sit here and listen to you share your dream about how I turned the nursery into a disco club or how I filled the house and gorged myself on sushi—”
“That one was intense.”
“—I think we should get going.”
He pushes up, bracing his weight on an arm. “Wait, are you…I mean, is it…?
I cup his jaw and lean in pressing a kiss to his perfect lips. Will I ever get used to him being mine? This strong, powerful, sensitive and loving man is all mine. I’m the luckiest girl in the world. Well, the second luckiest, because Everly Mae McCreery gets Killian for a dad. “Yes, it is. My water broke about…” I check the clock on his bedside table. “Forty-seven minutes ago.”
“Shit!” He hurls himself out of bed and stumbles across our bedroom I assume searching for clothes.
He trips and catches himself on the dresser. “Ouch—dammit. I need, do I need to, wait…”
With a heavy sigh I lean over and flip on the light.
“Thanks. Listen, you just um…” He rips through a drawer pulling out shirts and socks. “Relax, and I’ll get a bag together.”
“I already have our bags.” I motion to the doorway of our room where two bags sit packed and ready.
His gaze whips to mine. “You did that?”
He pulls a shirt over his head, his hair sticking up all over the place, and crosses to me. “Contractions, are you having those?”
“Yes, but they’re mild and still twenty minutes apart.”
“Okay, that’s…I need my phone and—”
I stand up and grab his glasses off the bedside table, sliding them onto his face and staring into his focusing eyes. “Brush your teeth, wash your face, I made coffee and we’ll go.”
He wraps me in a hug and his heart races against my ear. “I’m a mess, how are you so together?”
“I don’t know.” I lean back and stare into his whiskey colored eyes that darken with worry. “Maybe it’s because we’re about to welcome our daughter into the world, or because I know that even when you’re frazzled you’d die before you let anything happen to me, maybe it’s because we’re right where we were meant to be and that alone is enough to keep me calm.”
“Or maybe it’s because for the last nine months I’ve been freaking out enough for the both of us.” A shaky smile touches his lips.
“Maybe.” I push up on my toes and kiss his chin just as a contraction builds in my lower back and womb. “But Kill?”
His hands roam the length of my back in firm strokes.
“Unless you want to deliver this baby yourself, you need to get moving.” I fold over and brace my hands on my thighs.
“Shit!” He kneels down to see my face. “Breathe, baby.”
“Get your…shit ready…Kill.”
He jumps up, gets his shit ready, and takes me to the hospital.
Wrapped in the arms of my husband with our daughter pressed to my chest I can’t help but look back on the things that got us here. I question the idea of destiny and whether all paths lead to the same outcome. Did we waste too much time getting to where we needed to be, or was the time we spent apart worth it to end up where we are?
I have to believe it was.
Killian says we spent too much time fighting the inevitable, that fate would win out either way and any time apart was time we could’ve been together.
None of that matters now, because staring that the tiny dark-haired angel in my arms is the living, breathing proof of how perfect our love is, and no amount of time or separation would change that.