"You?" He turns to me suddenly, his mouth curling into a grin. "I didn’t ever think I'd see the day, little brother. Who is she?"
"Kylie." Her name alone gives me a warm feeling. Christ, I'm in deep already.
"The girl with the baby who works for Colton?"
She is so much more than just a girl with a baby. Collins doesn't understand, but I know he will once he gets to know her. "Yes. She's the one."
"The one? Wow." His eyes widen.
I hadn’t meant it in those terms, but now that the thought is out there, I don't hate it. Shit, I could see it now all laid out before me. Holding her warm body in my arms every night, watching Max grow… I know I'm moving quickly, but this woman is not a flavor of the week. I'm usually a hit it once kind of guy, but with her, that never even crossed my mind. I want more. I want to stick around to see where this can go. It's entirely new and thrilling knowing there is more to discover.
"Do you want to stay and order dinner?" Collins asks, signaling the waitress for another round of drinks.
"Sure, just let me check on Kylie real quick. She broke her arm and is staying at my place."
He raises his brow, but doesn’t say anything. I'm sure I'm shocking the hell out of him. I don't even bring hookups over to my place for an hour. Kylie could move in permanently, and I wouldn’t bat an eyelash.
How are you holding up?
I wait for her reply with my phone in my hand.
Five minutes pass and nothing. Collins is reading the dinner menu, but my stomach is churning with unease. I dial her number, and it rings repeatedly until her voicemail picks up. I call twice more and still no answer. Something feels off.
"Sorry about dinner, I think I'm going to have to split, man. Kylie's not picking up her phone, and I'm getting worried. I need to make sure something didn't happen to them."
He nods. "Of course. Go. It's fine. We'll do dinner next week when Colton gets back."
"Sure." Distracted, I rise to my feet, throw a couple of bills down onto the table and leave in a panic.
The entire drive home, I curse at myself.
She's got a broken arm for fuck's sake, and I left her alone with a one-year-old. What the fuck was I thinking?
I want to fucking punch something. Not only are her and Max gone, but all their bags are too. I have no idea what could have happened in the span of eight hours that caused her to pack up and leave. When I left her this morning, she was curled up in my bed, looking content and happy. I figured she'd be staying put. She told me she would. What changed?
There's still no answer on her cell, and when I drive by her house, her car isn't there. I don't like the thought of her and Max out there alone somewhere. There's a hard knot in my chest and I grip the steering wheel too tight. The only thing to do is go home and wait. But as I'm driving past the park near her house – I spot them.
I park at the curb and climb out of my car.
Kylie is sitting on a bench next to a man and Max is playing in the grass at their feet. Her posture is tense and guarded, and the man at her side is looking at Max with full interest. A million scenarios flash through my head, but the only one that makes sense is that this man is her ex, Max’s father. When I get closer, I see he's got the same dark hair and olive skin tone as Max. My stomach cramps up and I stop briefly where I can study them from a distance. Watching her with another man makes me feel more possessive than I have in my entire life. I want to drag her back to my home like some goddamn caveman. But I realize that’s not all I want. Standing here, in the presence of this man, I want her to choose me. I stop beside them, my eyes burning on Kylie.
"Pace, what are you doing here?" her tone is abrupt, like I've caught her in the middle of something.
I guess I have.
"You weren't answering your phone. I was worried." I don't mention that I also discovered her bags were gone from my place. We will discuss that later, in private.
"I'm fine. We're okay. This is Max's father, Elan." She looks over at the man beside her and my fists curl into tight balls.
"It's okay, Pace," she encourages.
I do not know what the fuck is happening, or what alternate universe I've entered into, but this is not okay. This man left her – humiliated her. Sent money, but never gave his time, his love. What in the fuck is she doing here, casually sitting, and talking to him like everything is okay? I make a protective move toward Kylie and Max, the muscles in my jaw twitching.
"Who's this?" Elan asks. "I didn't know you were seeing anyone."
"I'm not," Kylie says, looking straight at me.
Her words cut into the heart of me and my stomach tightens. I feel like fighting someone. Kylie asked before if I often went out and got rowdy, well she was about to find out. But then I realize Max is sitting in the grass, looking up at me adoringly. I head over to him and pet his hair. "Hey little man."
"Pa-pa," he says, moving toward me, his eyes lighting up.
"He's calling this man Papa?" Elan says, the annoyance clear in his voice.
I turn to suddenly, a flash of anger rising up inside me. "You left them," I enunciate each word clearly and slowly. "I've been taking care of them both. You cast them aside like a fool, not seeing their value, and believe me, I'm more than happy to step in and take your son in as my own." Kylie's eyes widen, and she lets out a surprised exhale. But I'm on a roll now. "I will be the one who teaches him how to play catch, and I will be the one who teaches him to surf, how to treat a woman."