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Chelcie pulls away after another thirty minutes of crying and settles back against her chair. I keep my arm around her shoulder, hoping that what little comfort I can offer helps whatever she’s fighting.

Dee lifts off my chest and turns her red-rimmed eyes my way. I try to give her a smile, but she just shakes her head. “Don’t think you have to act a certain way for me, Beck. Let me be your rock. Let me be there for you because, Baby, I know you’re hurting right now, and I’m here.”

Her words rock me straight down to the floor. I’ve been so worried that if I let my grief show, it might trigger something in her. For about two seconds, I think about how fucking proud I am that in the middle of tragedy, my Dee is back and stronger than ever. Those two seconds end, and all of the fear, pain, and distress I’ve been feeling come rushing to the surface. She notices my break, winds her arms around my neck, and pulls me into her body. I give myself a few minutes to let it out before I take a few deep, calming breaths and pull back. She gives me a wobbly smile and a small kiss against my lips.

“Someone needs to call Ash,” Greg rumbles from where he and Melissa have taken a seat across from us.

I look over where Chelcie has stiffened again before looking back at Greg. “Yeah. You want me to do it?”

He shakes his head at me before kissing Melissa, rubbing her belly, and taking off to the corner of the room so he can have some privacy to make one hell of a hard call.

I keep my eyes on Greg the whole time he’s on the phone. His body language is telling me enough. Ash is flipping out, and Greg is doing his best to stay calm. Five minutes later, he closes the phone and turns back to the room. I’m sure that my eyes are just as wet as his are right now.

“Ash is luckily about forty-five minutes outside of Atlanta. My guess is that door will be experiencing one hell of a tornado in about fifteen minutes, though.”

I nod and we all settle back in. Chelcie lets out a sob before rushing from her chair and into the connecting bathroom.

“What’s that about?” I whisper to Dee.

“I’m not sure. She’s been acting really weird ever since her and Coop… yeah, it’s just been weird.”

I don’t say anything, because I’m not exactly sure what to make of this now. I know for a fact that Coop hasn’t hooked back up with Chelcie. Last time I talked to him, he told me that it was just that once and even Chelcie had agreed that it shouldn’t happen again. Either way, I can’t worry about that shit right now.

Twenty minutes is all it takes for the door to slam against the wall, and a six-foot-five inch carbon copy of Zeke Cooper to rush into the room. Asher Cooper, Zeke’s older brother by ten months, and the only family he has left. I feel Dee gasp when she realizes just who Ash is.

“Holy shit,” she whispers.

“Any news?” His voice, deeper and grittier than Coop’s, booms through the room. He’s not addressing anyone in particular; he’s just as desperate as we are for some answers.

“Nothing yet.” Maddox breaks his silence to answer him.

“Ash.” Axel gets up and pulls him in for a hug. They have a few words before Asher pulls away, and looks over the room before his eyes settle on me. I’ve always been closer with Coop than the other guys have, so I know before he starts walking that he’s headed to me.

Asher walks over and sits next to me in the seat that Chelcie vacated. “Please tell me what happened, Beck. I got just enough to stop my fucking heart before I jumped in the truck and headed this way.”

I give him a run down on what happened, pausing to let Dee fill in the blanks that I didn’t know, and watch as the hope Asher had when he walked in the door disappears.

“Don’t fucking bullshit me, Beck. How bad is it?” His eyes, darker than Coop’s light blue, are begging me to tell him it’s just something minor.

“It’s bad, Ash. It’s real bad.”

He nods his head and leans back. I watch him pull it together and harden his heart, preparing for the worst.

Not even a minute later, Chelcie finally comes out of the bathroom, and she just stands there staring at Asher as if she’s just seen a ghost. All of the color, or what little is left, drains from her face, and a shaky hand slaps against her mouth.

“What the fuck?” Asher grunts next to me.

“Chelc?” Dee’s soft voice snaps her out of the shocked daze she’s in, and her eyes bounce between Dee and Asher.

“Who… who are you?” she asks, with a hint of fear in her voice.

“Asher Cooper, who are you?”

She doesn’t even answer. I can hear her gag before she runs back into the bathroom where the sounds of her heaving come through the door.

“I’ve got it,” Dee whispers and climbs out of my lap for the first time since we arrived over five hours ago.

I stretch my legs while she shuts herself in the bathroom with Chelcie. Not much that I can do about chick problems when the chick isn’t mine.

It takes Dee a while to get Chelcie out of the bathroom. She looks horrible and keeps sneaking glances at Asher. Dee takes one look into my eyes, and I know instantly that whatever the hell is going on with Chelcie is a lot bigger than a girl hung up on an ex-lover. She settles Chelcie into a chair on the other side of me and climbs back into my lap. Before she puts her head back down, she just looks into my eyes. I see what she’s saying. We’ll talk later, and I need to be prepared for this one. I nod my head and give her a kiss before she lays her head back down.

Dee’s back in my arms and we sit here, continuing to wait. I’ve been staring at the white bandage peeking out of the sleeve of the shirt she threw on before leaving the office. My mind can’t wrap around the fact that if it had just been a few inches in the other direction, she wouldn’t be sitting with me. I close my eyes when the images of her bleeding out on the floor become too much. As it is, I don’t think I will ever forget the picture of Coop lying there, Dee covered in more blood than the floor, working desperately to stop the blood flowing from his body.

I open my eyes when the images become too much, and loosen my tight hold on Dee when I hear her soft grunt. Shit. It takes every fiber in my body to turn the thoughts in my head back into the hopeful prayers that I’ve been repeating since we left the office.

****

Another two hours pass before the doctor finally comes to find us. His face is void of emotion when he addresses the room and asks for Zachariah Cooper’s family. Asher stands and walks over to the doctor with his back straight and his head high. The doctor speaks in low tones, but when Asher’s body starts heaving, and his head shakes rapidly, my heart sinks. I look over at the rest of my brothers as the realization of what news has just been delivered sinks in. Ash lets out a noise so painful, that if my heart hadn’t already split in two, it surely would have then. Dee slides off my lap without a word, and I stand, walking over to where the doctor is still speaking.

“…did everything we could but there was just too much damage.”

And just like that, Ash’s legs lose the power to hold him up, and I grab on as he unleashes his grief. I look over his head and meet Dee’s eyes. Her tears are coming fast and fierce, but she gives me a weak smile so that I know she is holding it together. There isn’t a single person in this room that hasn’t been touched by Coop in one way or another. None of us is able to hold in the pain that we are feeling, knowing that he didn’t make it.

Zachariah ‘Zeke’ Cooper died a hero. He was one of my best friends, my brother, and he died saving the life of not only my woman but Emmy as well.

Chapter 28

Coop’s been gone for four days now.

Four days since I sat in the hospital and watched the strongest men I know break down.

And it’s been four days since Chelcie told me what’s been going on with her.

Pregnant. She’s pregnant, and Coop will never know that he’s going to be a father. That one time they shared may have been mutually no-strings, but now he’s gone, and there isn’t anything we can do to change that. I know she’s having a hard time with things. She and Coop might not have had any feelings for each other, but that doesn’t change the fact that there is a baby coming into this world that will never know his or her father. I think the hardest part for her right now is knowing that she never had a chance to even tell him.

I take a deep breath and continue to apply my make-up. Beck’s already dressed in his Dress Blues, and if it was for any other occasion, I might be able to appreciate how good looking he is. I’ve chosen a simple form-fitting black dress. The short cropped sleeves cover enough of my nasty healing wound from where the bullet grazed my arm. I grab a pair of black, four-inch heels before walking down the stairs and meeting Beck in the kitchen. I watch his back as he moves about fixing a cup of coffee. He’s holding his body tight, and I know that today is costing him emotionally.

After fixing his cup, he turns, picks up his white Barracks Cover, and leans back against the counter, just looking at his hat. I walk over and take his face in my hands. I don’t give him words. Right now, he doesn’t need them. I pull his head down and place a soft kiss against his lips. When I drop back down on my heels, I keep my palms against his cheeks. His eyes are closed, but a single tear spills from the corner and rolls onto my fingers. My heart is breaking for him right now, and I have no idea how to take some of the pain away.

“I love you.” I remind him, just as I have every single night for the last four days.

“And I love you.” His voice is thick with emotion, but he looks like he’s holding it together a little better than he was two minutes ago.

Chelcie comes down about ten minutes later dressed in a black dress similar to mine. She looks a little better than she did yesterday, and I have to take that as a mark on the positive side of things. She gives me a small smile before sitting down to wait until the limo gets here to take us to the funeral home. Since Izzy and Melissa are sharing a sitter for the kids, we’re going to be the last stop before heading out.

Deep breath in. Stay strong. I keep repeating those five words over and over. For the most part, I’m holding it together better than I ever expected. The night we got home from the hospital, I had to put a call in to Dr. Maxwell’s private cell. After explaining what happened, she was more than happy to help me with my issues over the phone. It took about an hour, but when I hung up the phone with her, I realized that I just lived through something terrible and wasn’t shutting down. I knew what I needed to do without having someone remind me. I saw myself being pulled in by those dark thoughts and fears, and made the call that I needed to make. We discussed the warning signs that I should look for, but she seemed pretty positive that I was holding myself together the best way I could.

She also stressed that I let Beck know that if he needs to talk, her door would be open for him. We talked about it last night, and he agreed that he would go speak with her. Watching him suffer in his grief, and knowing that he was blaming himself for what happened had me worried. I never thought I would see the day when I would be able to repay all of the things he’s done for me in the past. Or I should say start to repay him.

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