We spend the day at the Georgia Aquarium and have some time with just the three of us. This is pretty normal for a Sunday when we know Cohen is going to go stay at my mom’s for the week. Greg has a lot of stuff going on at the office and won’t be able to take Cohen in with him for a few days. Now that we have started having Cohen over more and more, it is getting harder to drop him off with my mom. I know she sees it too, but we are managing.
Tonight we are headed out for ‘family’ dinner with the Corps Crew at Heavy’s. This is also something that we have all started to do at least once a month. It seems as though these men get broody when they go too long without their bonding over beer time. It works out perfect for the girls in the group. Let’s face it, there really is only so much time you can spend on the phone with the same girls on group calls yelling over each other.
We are the last ones to arrive and squeeze into the table. Our seats end up directly across from Izzy, Axel and Nate. Next to Izzy is Dee and on the other side of Axel is Coop. I have pushed up to Maddox when I sit down and get a lift of his chin in greeting. Emmy is on the other side of Coop, next to Greg. Cohen leaves our side right away to sit next to Nate. Even though Nate is only a freshly turned one year old, he is Cohen’s best bud. When Cohen is around, Nate’s face never leaves his.
“Izzy, what do you want to bet those two are already taking notes on future ways to give us gray hair?” I laugh when their heads go close and Cohen starts babbling at a smiling Nate.
“That I don’t doubt, girlfriend. You look happy today.” She nods her head at Greg and gives me a wink.
“Oh yeah, I’ll fill you in tomorrow, okay?” She smiles and looks over my shoulder across the room.
I turn to see what holds her attention and watch in shock as Beck leans over to give an attractive woman at the bar a kiss. Well, that explains the look on Dee’s face.
Turning back around, I catch Izzy’s gaze with wide eyes. I have heard from her and Emmy that his way of pushing Dee into admitting she does, in fact have feelings for him is to make her jealous. Izzy gives me a small shake of her head and immediately changes the subject to everyone’s plans for Halloween.
I look over at Dee while the rest of the table talks about having some kind of party; no thank you… I hate Halloween. Her eyes haven’t left Beck, even when he returns to the table and squeezes in between Greg and Emmy. She just continues to give him her death rays. After a few minutes, she takes a deep breath and joins the conversation around her.
Crisis averted apparently.
“Daddy!” It takes me a second to realize that that was coming from our table. When I realize that everyone has stopped talking around us, and Greg had curled his hand that is resting on my leg tight, that yes, that voice has indeed come from our table.
“Yeah, buddy?” He asks Cohen.
I take a second to look up at the faces around the table. Dee looks confused, which is understandable since I’m sure her mind is still processing Beck’s latest attempt at calling her bluff. Izzy already has tears rolling down her cheeks. Axel, Emmy, and Coop all have the same shocked but happy face. Beck is still glaring at Dee, so it’s a safe bet him missed it. I finish my rotation and look to my side at Maddox. For the first time since I’ve met him, his face has a blinding smile, the kind of smile that completely transforms his face from unapproachable to sinfully handsome.
“When I get big like you, will my wiener be big too?” Jesus Christ. Really, way to end a moment there kid.
Greg, even though he did tries, can’t hold in the laughter at Cohen’s question. Soon the whole table is laughing. I see Maddox lean over, motion Cohen forward, and then I watch as he whispers something in his ears. Cohen smiles and shakes his head rapidly a few times. His little hand shoots up and meets Maddox’s large paw in a five before he returns to his ‘conversation’ with Nate.
“What did you say?” I ask Maddox softly when he leans back into his seat.
He turns his black eyes on me, with that blinding smile still present. “Told him to eat all his greens, and be a good little boy, and he would have the biggest wiener in town.”
I sit there with my jaw on the ground, completely shocked that I just got not only a smile, but also a joke from this man, before I throw my head back and laugh. Greg wraps his arm around my shoulders and pulls me close. It takes me a while to stop laughing and be able to sit back and enjoy our family dinner.
We didn’t stay long, but when we go to leave, I get a long hug from Izzy with demands for a phone call first thing in the morning. Axel and Greg did that man hug for a few minutes, and I can see Axel’s head turned speaking into Greg’s ear. When they break apart I see Greg’s hand go up and wipe his eyes. I’ll let him have his moment. I know how much this day has meant to him, so having Cohen call him out in the middle of the people closest to him has to be hitting him emotionally.
We make it to mom’s house with enough time to give Cohen his bath for her and tuck him into bed. While Greg is reading him a story, I fill my mom in on the day we had. She has tears in her eyes when Greg returns but doesn’t say anything. We make plans for dinner in a few days, and leave shortly after Cohen falls asleep. When she gives me a hug goodbye, she whispers in my ear how happy she is that Cohen is finally getting a daddy worth having.
The ride home is silent but comfortable. And when we get home, the silence continues until Greg has me naked, straddling his hips, and screaming out his name.
The perfect end to a perfect day.
When the phone wakes me up from a deep sleep, I jump in bed and almost fall off the side. Greg is already reaching over and tagging the phone off the side table by the time I have righted myself on the bed and calmed my heart a little.
Jesus, who the hell calls at four in the morning?
“Cage,” I hear him rumble. In a moment of silence, his voice has lost all the rough sleepy sound, and he barks his next words with so much venom, my eyes snap to him in shock. “What. Did. You. Say?”
When he tosses the covers back, throws a shirt in my direction, and starts pulling on his own clothes, I know that this isn’t going to be just a pleasant wake up call. Something is wrong. He would never pull me out of bed like this.
“When?” He barks into the phone, frozen as if turned to stone with his pants only up to his knees, and looks over at me. When I see fear in his eyes, I know that this is not going to be good. “Get fucking over there now, Coop. Call local on the way and figure out what you can. Now, Coop.” He pulls the phone away, and after dropping it down on the floor, walks over to me. “Baby, it’s going to be okay, yeah?”
“You’re scaring me, Greg.” I just look at him and wait for him to spit it out. “Who is it?”
“Coop got a call from the monitoring company in charge of your mom’s security system. You remember the system I put in a few months ago? Wired it straight to our servers so all distress calls get reported to us as well as the local authorities. Shit, baby. Someone pressed the panic button. Coop called me first, but he doesn’t know anything else. Get dressed and let’s make sure everything is okay.”
When I clearly can’t force the moves on my own, he helps me pull on my clothes and guides me out to the truck. We make the trip across town to into the neighborhood where my mom lives in less than ten minutes. When we turn on her street and see her house lit up with all the emergency vehicles surrounding, it my heart stops and I know I’m going to be sick.
“Stop the truck! STOP IT NOW,” I scream and slam my hand over my mouth. He pulls over and stops the car. By the time he makes it around to my side, I have already lost the contents of my stomach all over the sidewalk.
“Baby, stay here and let me go see what’s going on okay?” I know he is trying to do what’s best, but no, that is my family in that house.
“NO! We do this together. I need to know, Greg. I need to know what is happening and I can’t be without you when I find out.”
“Right. Come on, baby, and stay at my side.”
We walk the few feet left between where he pulled over and the police tape begins. I have to fight every instinct in me to keep from running straight for the front door to find my mom and Cohen and make sure they are okay. He looks around for a few seconds until I hear him calling someone over. I don’t hear the words; my eyes focus only on the open front door, watching as a dozen or so uniformed men walk in and out of my mother’s house.
I don’t even realize that I am shivering until Greg pulls me to his side and wraps me in his arms. I can feel his voice against my ear, but I still can’t make out the words. After a few seconds, I feel his body tense and look up into his eyes.
Even in the dark of the night and the odd shadows the flashing lights make on his face, I can tell he has lost all the color in his skin. He looks pale, hollow, and pained.
“What? What is it?”
“We need to get to the hospital, baby.” He looks down at me and I can see it there in his face that he isn’t telling me everything.
“Tell me now, Greg. I can’t take the not knowing.” The tears are already coming quick and I can feel the sobs starting to bubble up. “Tell me now, dammit!” I scream.
“Your mom, baby, she’s been hurt, and we need to get over there.” He’s still not telling me everything. His own tears are starting to fill his eyes, and he blinks a few times, trying to compose himself the best he can. “It’s Cohen baby, he’s—he’s not here.”
I don’t hear anything else after that. I feel my body hit wave after wave of bone chilling cold. I hear Greg calling out my name, and feel him reach out to grab me as my vision dims and my body crumbles.
For what feels like the millionth time, I look over at Melissa, her body curled tightly around her legs, much like the last nine hours. She looks so small sitting here in the stark hospital waiting room. With both her legs pulled up tight against her body, and her arms constricting them in place, she hugs herself, her eyes staring off into the distance, but not seeing anything. I’m not even sure if she is emotionally still here in the room.
Maddox and Coop just left with news I did not want to hear. It looks as if Simon Wagner has reach, even from the grave. The monitoring system that I had installed at Lilly’s house is the best of the best. We had learned a valuable lesson after what we’d gone through with Izzy’s ex-husband a few years ago. Now, there’s a camera on every entry point to her house. When it comes to my family, I won’t take any chances.
Maddox pulled the security footage, and when he found out what happened to Cohen, I was the first person he called. It seems that Susan Wagner hasn’t gone away quietly as we had originally thought. He explained that in the film she is walking up with an unidentified man, and after a few minutes of working on the door, makes her way inside. Things are quiet for about five minutes before he sees her running back out with Cohen in her arms. He doesn’t have to say it but I can tell by his tone that it hadn’t been pretty. I only know that Cohen was awake, alert, and appeared to be unharmed.
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