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“Dad!”

“I’m not going to sit here and let that self-centered jackass jerk my daughter around again!”

I threw the sheets off and held the back of my gown closed as I snatched my phone from the side table. “I need to take a walk.” I stalked to the door.

“Corabelle! You heard the nurse!” My mother’s voice hit a rare fever pitch.

I turned back around and went into the bathroom instead, slamming the door shut. I sat on the floor by the toilet and dialed Gavin’s number. I knew he was working, but hoped he could get away for just a second. He’d been so available the last few days. I didn’t understand why suddenly I could barely get him to respond to a text. Maybe he was up to his elbows in a car motor.

The connection rang continuously until his voice-mail message came on. I leaned against the wall, closing my eyes as I listened to the recording, picturing him saying the words, his lips, the scruffy jaw. When it beeped, I said as quietly as I could, “Hey. Having a tough time up here with my parents. Hope you’re okay.”

The cold floor seeped through the cotton gown and I shivered. Crying was not an option. I had to get well. But I was frozen in time, waiting for Gavin, just like I’d waited four years ago.

I wanted to go home. I’d do whatever it took. But the cold and the need to cry triggered another moment of panic as I couldn’t take in a breath. I sucked in, triggering a coughing fit. I moved to my knees and snatched a towel from a rack, pressing it to my face to keep as quiet as possible. Terror flashed through me as my abdomen heaved and pushed, refusing to settle back down. I forced myself to breathe, to relax, to slow down. After what felt like forever, it settled again and I gulped in air. I spread the towel on the floor so I wouldn’t be up against the freezing tile. If only I could go home, sleep in my bed. Be warm. Be with Gavin.

He wasn’t going to leave me again. I knew that, believed it with all my heart. Today was just one day. There couldn’t be anything special about it.

11: Gavin

I’d traveled the road into Tijuana a hundred times, but today it felt different.

The air whipped my face as the Harley roared along a strip of highway with the US border fence to my right and a tight line of dilapidated buildings on the left. I hadn’t warned Rosa I was coming. She might not even be home.

A couple kids looked up from kicking a ball in the streets as I turned off the highway and into the city. I had to concentrate on the asphalt, the crumbling edges of the road, and not think that any of these boys could belong to Rosa.

Or to me.

My fingers tightened on the bars. Couldn’t be. I wouldn’t let it be. I just had to see him. I’d know. Surely I would know. You knew your own kid, right?

I had to force Corabelle out of my mind, what she would think or do. This might be the final blow. She’d leave me. I couldn’t blame her. Another boy, not hers. Shit.

I slowed down as we started approaching streets with traffic, banging my palm against the rubber grip. We could not catch a break anywhere.

Maybe it wasn’t true.

I had to cling to the hope that all this would turn out to be some trick, a way to bleed me for money. I knew Rosa was poor, and maybe all that fear she’d always shown that her boss would find out what she was doing on the side had come back to bite her in the ass. She thought I had something, and she could get it. Ha. I was lucky to pay rent every month.

If he was mine, hell, what would I do? Quit school for sure. I’d need that money for child support.

No. It wasn’t true. I was not going to let it be true. I’d see the kid, and he would clearly belong to somebody else. We could test him, I guess. Surely somebody did that here.

Stop. Stop thinking about it until you have more facts.

The red-light district was quiet midafternoon, dirty and ugly in the light of day. Not that it was pretty at night, but the colored neon and dark spaces kept the grit out of immediate view.

A woman sat against a crumbling wall, a blanket covering her legs. A little kid clung to her side and peeped out with big solemn eyes.

Jesus. I imagined Rosa there with her son. Maybe my son.

Hell. Even if it wasn’t mine, I couldn’t let that happen to her. I needed to know what sort of trouble she was in. Maybe I could bring her stateside. If the boy was mine, I could do that, right? Without marrying her?

Despite the chill, a bead of sweat slid from my temple. I cornered the last turn to her place. She wouldn’t have called from work. She had to be off today, but I’d go to the farmacia next if I couldn’t find her here.

I killed the bike next to the space that divided the two halves of her building. All the doors to the outside were locked and someone from inside always had to let you in. I had to call her and wait.

No one was around, but I felt wary. The spot where I shoved that dealer into a car and took his gun wasn’t twenty feet away. I hadn’t planned on ever coming back. Hopefully that asshole was still sleeping off whatever debauchery had occurred the night before.

I rolled the Harley into the covered walkway and jerked my phone from the pocket of my leather jacket. Be there, I ordered. Let’s finish this.

She picked up quickly. “Gavin?”

“Yeah. I’m downstairs.”

“Here?”

“By the door.”

Through the phone I could hear the squeal of hinges and the echo of steps, so I figured she must be coming down. I stuck the phone back in my pocket.

A voice from behind me snarled, “So lookit who’s back on my streets. Been waiting.”

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