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Nat straightens and bellows, “Don’t you ever, ever do that to me again! Or I’ll beat your ass so hard you’ll wake up into next week!”

I chuckle but no sounds come out. My lips are splitting and cracked but I don’t care.

I whisper, “Nik.”

Nat looks at me and tells me, “We can only visit two at a time and the others want to see you so I’ll come back after everyone’s seen you.”

I nod. Ghost and Nat leave the room as Lola and Trick come in. Lola holds my hand on one side of the bed and Trick hold the other on the other side of the bed. Lola tries to be brave but tears run down her forced smile and into her mouth. Trick kisses my forehead. As they leave, Max and Mimi come in.

Max smiles but his eyes are bright. He sits on the bed, hugs me gently and whispers, “I’ll never forget you took a bullet for Nik. I don’t care if we don’t have the same blood; you’re a member of my family.” I smile but tears are streaming down my face.

The only conclusion I’ve come to is that Nik has passed away. This is why no one will talk to me about him.

I’m completely devastated at this but won’t mourn him until I’m alone. I want to mourn Nik privately and I’ll have time to do that later. I don’t want to disappoint my friends who are so happy to see I’m okay.

Mimi smiles big at me and accuses, “You never told me I’m friends with a total badass who jumps on the backs of bad guys with guns.”

I whisper back, “I didn’t know either. Total badass.”

Mimi smiles and whispers, “Righteous.”

Max holds me around the shoulder and I take in the warmth he offers. After a few minutes they both kiss me and leave.

After seeing everyone, I’m exhausted. I close my eyes and take comfort in the darkness.

I hear shuffling in the doorway and open my eyes. I take in Nik.

I smile and hope this dream is a good one. He’s wearing sweats, a t-shirt, and sneakers. He has a cane in his left hand and he limps over to me.

I frown.

This is not a good dream. Nik’s never injured in my dreams.

He smiles big and kisses my forehead. He asks, “Did you have sweet dreams, baby?”

I turn my tired, half-lidded eyes into his bright amber ones and beg in a hoarse whisper, “Don’t wake me up.”

***

My eyes flutter and I press deeper into the warmth at my side.

Something tightens around my waist. I open my eyes and lean back.

Nik is in the hospital bed with me. Dressed in sweats and a tee.

Oh, god. I wasn’t dreaming. Nik is alive!

He smiles and his eyes search my face, he whispers, “Hey, baby.”

I smile but an endless stream of tears fall down my cheeks. I mouth hey.

He wipes my tears away and says, “Well, this proves it…”

I frown and shrug.

He continues “Nothing will keep us apart. And we need to get married. Like, tomorrow.”

I silently chuckle and mouth I do. The after a moment I mouth what happened?

He straightens and explains, “When Omarr shot you, I thought you were dead, baby. Never, in all my life, have I felt the way I felt that night.” The light in his eyes fade and he focuses on nothing in particular across the room, he whispers, “So much blood. I was sure there was none left in your body.”

Stupid hemophilia!

He goes on, “Then he shot me in the thigh. It didn’t look bad but he got a main artery so I was bleeding as bad as you were. And I thought to myself as long as I’m with you in life or death, I’ll be okay. I killed Omarr, baby. My last thought before I passed out was that I wasn’t able to save you. And that sucked.”

He looks so pained.

I whisper, “I love you…and we’re getting married.”

He smiles and teases, “You pinky swear?”

I silently chuckle and hold up my pinky. We link them together. I lean forward and place a soft kiss on his lips. We chuckle and hold each other.

My eyes heavy and I slip into a deep and restful sleep.

Chapter Twenty-Nine

Making it official

One month later…

Just thinking about the past month makes me exhausted.

It turns out I was in hospital three weeks before I woke from my deep comatose sleep. I was shot just under the right side of my collarbone. The bullet went straight in and out, luckily missing all vital organs.

Nik was there every day with me, leaving Max in charge at The White Rabbit. My dad came down when I first got shot but Nik sent him back to Cali with a promise that if anything changed, he’d call. The day after I woke, my dad was there bullying me to get better which made me laugh.

My dad becomes even more abrupt when he’s hurting.

I spent another week in the hospital after I woke and upon leaving I asked to see the doctor privately.

Spending a month in hospital after a near death experience will do things to a person. First, you question how you live your life. Secondly, you elect to make changes. And lastly, you decide to live a fuller life. This is the reason for my private doctor appointment.

The older female doctor I know as Gail comes into my room and shuts the door. I make my request and she smiles big, “Of course! We can do it today. It only takes a minute. I’ll only ask this one more time though. Are you sure?”

I nod and within minutes, it’s done.

I’m so surprised at myself and can’t help the huge smile that stretches my face.

The weeks that follow consist of Nik and I doing physical therapy twice daily. We motivate each other as much as we can but some days are harder than others. We’re both healed almost completely but we’ve been told wounds like this are always apparent in the mind and we’ll most likely experience phantom pains every now and again.

Uncle Jerm worked with the police while I was in hospital to have Nik cleared of any charges he might’ve faced for killing Omarr. All charges were dropped and it was ruled self-defense.

A week after I was released from hospital, Nik threw a welcome home party for me at his place. Everyone we care about was there; my dad, the girls, the guys, Nik’s mom and sisters, Molly, Ceecee, even Uncle Jerm.

Half way through the wonderful evening, Max and Trick picked me up and placed me on the kitchen counter. Everyone turned to watch me with amusement in their eyes. So, of course, my eyes narrowed in an I-Don’t-Like-Surprises kind of way.

Nik came forward and said for everyone to hear, “I think the traditional thing is to kneel but I can’t due to my injury so I asked the guys to place you up on counter for me.” He removed a small leather ring box from his jeans. I gasped loudly and covered my mouth with my hands. He smiled and said, “Tina, the best thing you ever did was Friend-zone me.” At this, everyone burst into laughter, even me. He continued, “And I never thought I’d be so thankful for those disgusting candy wax lips. We’ve had so many things be thrown at us and we’ve always come out on top. Not even death could tear us apart. I want you by my side forever, baby. Will you do me the honor of becoming my wife?”

Still holding my hands over my mouth I shout a muffled, “Ahhh, yeah!”

He chuckled and opened the box. The gold ring is beautiful and elegant. It’s tasteful and exactly what I could have wanted if I chose it myself. It has three nice diamonds sparkling atop it.

I love it.

I croaked, “I love it.”

Nik replied, “Not as much as I love you, Tina.” The he held my face and kissed me deep and sweetly.

Everyone cheered and Nik announced I was moving in with him as soon as I could. Nat feigned hurt but she was smiling like a loon.

Which bring us to today.

I’m moving in with Nik, Max, and Ceecee. Nik is helping me pack boxes and shift them over to my new place. I was a little worried about leaving Nat alone but she assured she is totally fine with this. She’ll stay in the apartment til the lease runs out in a month then get a one bedroom apartment for herself closer to work. I’m so lucky to have a friend like her.

I stop packing for a short break. I lean into the back of the kitchen cabinet to reach for a glass and arms close around my waist making me jolt. I turn and yell, “Every freakin’ time!”

Nik chuckles and shakes his head at me. We do this almost every day. You think I’d be used to it by now.

He gently pushes my hair out of the way, puts his face into the back of my neck and whispers, “Can’t wait til tonight.”

My stomach tightens and I flush. I can’t wait either. Our first night of living together.

Excited!

I whisper back, “Me either. And I may have something special for tonight. Something I bought at a very chic lingerie store.”

His arm tightens around my waist and he pulls me back into his hard body. He nips my ear, growls lightly and warns, “Don’t tempt me, baby. We might not make it til tonight and we’ve still got a lot of packing to do.”

I sigh and ask quietly, “Want a quickie now and then we can take our time later? You know, just to take to edge off?”

Ever since our near death experience we’ve been insatiable for one another. Finding any excuse to be intimate and close.

Okay, so we’ve been going at it like rabbits.

And it’s been so good!

Nik stills at my back and I smile. He picks me up and I giggle, he rushes to my room, kicks to door closed and together we take the edge off.

***

I’m officially moved in with Nik!

We unpacked the last box and hour ago and it felt good!

This is the happiest I’ve felt in two months. If you asked me two months ago where I’d be and what I’d be doing in two months, my answer would’ve been the exact same thing I was doing the previous month; managing Safira, living with Nat and hanging out with my great friends and awesome boyfriend.

Tonight is special for me. Even though we ordered Chinese food and lounged around in our sweats watching TV, it was awesome.

I ask Nik to give me half hour before he comes to bed. He smirks and kisses me gently.

I rush to shower, do my hair and makeup. I dress in my fabulous new lingerie and lightly apply perfume on my pressure points.

Before I know it, Nik shouts out from the bedroom, “I hope you’re ready soon or I’m coming in there.”

I touch the puffy scar that blemishes the pale skin under my collar and say, “Almost ready, honey.”

Just go out there and do it.

Yeah. Just like ripping off a band-aid. Fast and painless.

Using the slow breathing techniques I was taught in hospital, calm washes over me.

I smile to myself and open the door. I step out and walk back into the bedroom dressed in nothing but my sexy new lingerie. The bra is a demi cup with lace frill and the panties are the matching French-cut kind that leaves half your booty exposed both in a cream with black lace.

Nik is sitting back in bed with the sheet pulled up to his belly. His eyes are closed and his hands are folded behind his head.

I clear my throat and he opens his eyes. He croaks, “Holy hell, Tina. You’re going to give me a heart attack.”

I giggle and move to his side of the bed. As soon as I’m close enough, he pulls me over him so I’m straddling his lap. He sits up straighter and wraps his muscular arms around me. One across my butt and the other crossed over between my shoulders. He pulls me close and kisses me softly.

He murmurs between kisses, “I can’t believe I get you in my bed every night. I’m the luckiest son of a bitch alive.”

His kisses become urgent and I lean back away from him. His brow furrows but I smile quickly and say, “There’s something I need to discuss with you.”

He looks at me in disbelief and asks, “Now?!”

I can’t help but laugh at his devastated expression. I smooth the lines on his forehead and smile, “Yes. Now, baby.”

He leans back and sighs, “Okay, sweetheart. What is it?”

I blurt out, “Do you still want kids, Nik?”

His brow furrows and he begins, “I told you it didn’t matter to me anym—”

I cut him off with, “I’m pregnant.”

He stills and blinks for a moment. Worry churns my gut.

Then he whispers, “No shit?”

I lower my face and whisper back, “No shit.”

Before I can react, Nik flips me onto my back so I’m lying on the bed with him towering over my body. His eyes are fixed on my belly. He looks stunned.

I don’t blame him. I never told him I had my birth control device taken out.

His silence fills me with fear. I blurt out, “If you don’t want it—”

Nik cuts me off with, “Are you kidding me?” He smiles big, pokes my belly and says, “Our baby is growing in here. We made this little bean. And it was made from love, baby. That’s a blessing. We’re blessed.”

Mist forms in my eyes and I smile, too. “Yeah, baby. We’re blessed. It’s still early so we can’t tell anyone yet but our baby is growing every day.”

He leans over my face and runs his nose up mine. He kisses me gently and says, “I hope she’s just like her mama.”

I chuckle and mutter, “I hope he’s just like his daddy.”

His eyes open and he sits on the bed. He runs a hand through his hair and repeats, “Daddy. I’m going to be a daddy.” He jumps up on the bed in Tom Cruise style and whisper shouts, “I’m going to be a daddy!”

I burst into laughter and he jumps on top of me, tickling me. He accuses, “You little sneak! When did you stop taking birth control?”

In between fits of laughter, I sputter, “The day I left the hospital! Please, Nik, no more! I’m going to pee!”

He stops tickling me and kisses me fiercely. I wrap my arms around his neck and he says against my lips, “I hope you’re in the mood for a good fucking, baby, because right now I feel all virile and manly!” We both chuckle at his excited silliness.

His kisses grow more and more urgent. He lowers my panties and asks, “Hard and fast or slow and sweet?”

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