Could I really believe him this time?

“I was alone, Jake. I was pregnant. I had no one, and your father rescued me from living in the fucking gutter. Because you left. What’s to keep you from doing that again?”

He looked angry and hurt as he approached me. He tilted my chin to meet his gaze. He pecked me on the lips and ripped off his shirt. On the left side of his chest, just below his collarbone, was another new tattoo. It simply read Bee, the letters wrapped in vines. He pressed my hand against the other tattoo with the same design as my necklace. “And what the fuck do you think this stands for?”

“I don’t know,” I answered truthfully.

He shook his head. “It stands for you.” He pressed his forehead to mine.

Fear and love and regret ran through me, all at the same time.

“I’m just so scared.” I loved him so much I couldn’t breathe. I didn’t know where we went from there. “What if it all goes away?”

“You haven’t taken my necklace off in four years. Not only have I tattooed your name on my body, but I’ve killed for you—gladly—and I would do it again, even if you told me right now that you never wanted to see me again. Your bitch of a mother is on my list, too, I’ve got connections at Georgia Penn, could have her bleeding out by next week if that’s what you want.” He took a deep breath. “But, you know what made everything so fucking clear to me? The second I saw Georgia—” He wiped his eyes. “— I knew I would kill for her, too. I don’t care who fucking made her. She’s my goddamned daughter!” He was shouting now. “I thought I knew what love at first sight was, because I fell in love with you the moment I saw your face the night we met. But the way I felt when you held Georgia in your arms and she spoke about her Grandpa Frank was… it was so much more than that. It was everything.”

The strength I’d built up over the past four years fell away. “I’m still scared.”

He held me to his chest. “Me, too,” he admitted. “But, I promise to work hard every damned day to make sure our fears don’t come true.” He kissed the top of my head. I took a deep breath and shook off all the doubts I’d been drowning in for four years. “That little girl broke my heart when she called me Daddy. And I wouldn’t have had it any other way.”

My chest swelled. I believed him when he said he loved me and my daughter, because I knew what love looked like. I didn’t know if I should allow myself to hope that Georgia could really have a father after all. I wasn’t convinced that love would be enough.

I wondered how two people so beaten down by the dark reality of their lives could raise another living soul and not fuck it up entirely.

How could broken plus broken ever equal whole?


SORTING THROUGH WHAT I THOUGHT was the last of the boxes was not my idea of a good time, but it had to be done. I could have smacked Jake when he so thoughtfully reminded me there were still a few boxes over at the apartment. He must have known that I was about to toss the remainder of them into the canal, so he volunteered to go get them for me instead.

We were taking things slow, but I would be lying if I said that Georgia was anything other than completely head over heels in love with him. We’d been functioning like a little family for a week. It was what I’d been dreaming of since Georgia was born, though I never really thought I could have it. I still owed Jake the truth about Owen. It was something I never wanted to relive, even during my darkest days. It was certainly the last thing I wanted to do during the happy ones.

The front door opened and the screen door slammed shut. “That was quick. Just bring them in here, and stack it in the corner. I’ll sort it all out tomorrow. I’ve done so much today, my eyes are starting to cross.” I folded the cardboard from the now empty box I’d been working on. When did I get so much stuff? Jake hadn’t come into the living room yet, and he didn’t answer me. “Jake?” I called out. He didn’t answer. “Babe?”

Instead of his welcome voice answering, a much more menacing one called back. “You’ve never called me babe before. I like the way it sounds.” Owen appeared in the room, shotgun in hand that he’d aimed at my chest. I made a move to run. “Don’t fucking move.”

My mind was racing.

My first thoughts went to Georgia, napping in her bedroom. Please don’t wake up... please.

I had to focus on how to get him out of the house and away from my sleeping child.

“Okay Owen. Let’s just go outside, and we can talk about whatever you want,” I said. I was willing to go anywhere he wanted, as long as it meant getting him away from my baby.