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Authors: Molly McAdams

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Capturing Peace

BOOK: Capturing Peace
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Capturing Peace

A NOVELLA

M
OLLY
M
C
A
DAMS

 

Dedication

For Tyler: Your life is much more interesting than you know.

 

Prologue

Reagan—
January 3, 2004

A
LL THE AIR
left my body in a hard rush. It felt like my stomach was on fire and simultaneously dropping . . . it felt like my heart was being torn from my chest.

No. No, I must have heard him wrong. He didn’t just say that to me.

“W-what? Austin, what did you say?” My voice came out barely above a whisper.

Austin looked around us, the set of his face was hard, and so unlike anything I’d ever seen from him. He was always smiling, laughing, joking . . . not this. Never this. He was the quarterback of the varsity football team; he was one of the most popular guys in our school. Everyone loved him and his easygoing—somewhat cocky—attitude. I loved him . . . he loved me. I knew he did, he couldn’t be doing this to me.

Leaning in, his blue eyes darted around us again one last time before he whispered, “I said, get rid of it.”

One hand flew to my mouth to muffle the shocked cry that had just left me, the other went to my stomach. “No, don’t say that to me.” Tears streamed quickly down my face. I’d been afraid too when I had first realized I was pregnant; I kept telling myself all Austin needed was some time to get used to the idea. “I know we’re young, but we can do this together, I know we can.”

“Reagan, I’m sixteen!” he growled into my ear. “I’m not about to have a motherfucking kid. Get rid of it.”

My head shook back and forth slowly. “Austin—”

“I’m not gonna let you ruin both our futures. We have two and a half years of high school left, they were already scouting me this last season, Ray. Do you know how rare that is for a sophomore? Do you know how big of a deal it is for me to already be the varsity QB? I’m not letting you fuck this up for me. Get. Rid. Of it.”

“No!” I shouted, and slapped at his hands when he reached for my arms. “No! I can’t—I can’t believe you’d even ask me to do something like that. I know it’s scary, baby, I’m terrified. But we’ll get through it together; I
need
you. I can’t go through this alone.”

“Reagan . . . I’m not asking you. I’m telling you. Get rid of it, or we’re done.”

Another choked sob tore through me, and my hands dropped down to my stomach.

“Jesus, will you stop?” he hissed, and pulled my hands back so they were at my sides. “Everyone can hear you, and when you do shit like that, they’re gonna figure out what’s happening.”

It was the end of the first day back from winter break, there were only a handful of people still at the school, and none of them were near us. I’d been trying to figure out how to tell Austin all throughout break, and hoped that he’d help me find a way to tell my parents. Hoped that I’d be able to take refuge at school if they didn’t take the news well.

I’d been wrong.

I stood there staring at his hardened features for a few minutes before backing away from his grasp. “I can’t get rid of the baby. I won’t.”

“You’re screwing with your future, Ray, think about that. That thing”—his nostrils flared, and lips curled as the word left him—“is not a damn baby yet. Last chance . . . I’m not going to tell you again.”

He called our baby a thing. A thing!

I didn’t know how far along I was since I didn’t pay attention to my cycles, which were never on time anyway. Something my family doctor said probably had to do with my dancing and cheerleading. I hadn’t had any morning sickness; and it hadn’t been until my cheer skirt stopped fitting, and the captain of our team told me I should start eating less, that I’d even thought I could be pregnant. By the time I’d gotten over the denial, gained the courage to even buy and take a test—or five—and gotten over the denial again, I was already sporting a small bump on my otherwise flat and toned stomach. A bump proving there was a life growing inside me . . . not a
thing
.

Squaring my shoulders, I ignored the tears still falling and my quivering chin, and looked directly into Austin’s blue eyes. “I’m keeping the baby.”

A look of shock crossed his face for all of two seconds before he was glaring at me again. “Just remember: You’re the one who threw us away. You’re the one ruining your life. Try to bring me down with you, and I’ll say that thing isn’t mine.”

Locking my jaw, I refused to give him the satisfaction of seeing how much this was killing me. How much I wanted to beg him not to do this. Well, more than I’d already shown. I knew he was hoping his ultimatum would change my mind, and nothing could at this point.

His eyes searched mine for a few more seconds before he straightened with a huff. “Fuck it. Good-bye, Reagan.”

I watched him walk away toward the parking lot, his head turning to each side to see who’d witnessed our conversation. Once his shiny black Camaro peeled out of the lot, I finally unlocked my knees and somehow made my way to my car.

I didn’t remember the drive back to my house. I didn’t remember climbing the stairs to my room. The next thing I knew, I was in my bathroom with my shirt pulled up, my yoga pants pushed down a little, and my hands were gently running over my stomach when a gasp sounded behind me.

My head snapped up before I whirled around to see my mom standing there. Even through my blurred vision from the tears, I could see her standing there, her head shaking back and forth, her hands over her mouth.

“No . . . Reagan, no!”

I burst into strained sobs, unable to try and brush it off as something else. My boyfriend of the last eighteen months had just broken my heart. He’d called our baby a thing. I’d been stressing over hiding my bump with loose-fitting clothing for almost a month now. I’d only turned sixteen a couple weeks ago and was having a baby.

All the emotions crashed down on me, and no matter how much I wanted to deny it, I needed my mom right then.

“M-mom,” I somehow managed to say through the near-hyperventilating crying.

“No. What have you done?” she shrieked as she backed away from me.

“Mom, please!”

I followed her into my bedroom, and our heads turned toward my door when heavy footsteps sounded on the stairs. My older brother burst into my room, quickly followed by my dad.

What is he already doing home? He usually isn’t home for another few hours.

I panicked when I saw the look of horror cross both their faces. Their eyes were glued to my stomach. I quickly pulled my shirt down to cover it, but my arms stayed in front of my little bump, like I was protecting my baby from what was about to happen.

“Daddy,” I cried, and started to take a step toward him, but he took one away.

“I’m going to kill him,” my brother, Keegan, whispered. “I swear to God I’ll kill him.”

“What have you done, Reagan?” Mom screamed again.

My chest ached, and the tears somehow—impossibly—fell harder. “Mom, I’m—”

“Tell me you’re not pregnant! Damn it, Reagan, tell me!”

Hands gripped my arms just as my knees gave out beneath me. “Stop screaming at her!” Keegan yelled back as he walked me toward my bed. “She’s upset enough as it is, you’re not helping anything.”

When we were sitting, I gripped my brother’s hand like a lifeline . . . the only way I could thank him in that moment.

“Did you know this?” Mom turned her attention on Keegan, her voice still shrill. “Did you know this, and you kept it from us?”

“Austin wouldn’t be alive if I’d known about this! But you’re making this worse, she’s probably terrified and you yelling is stressing her out!”

“Don’t tell me how to react to this situation! Don’t you dare! Get out of the room!”

“Mom, I’m pissed too! I’m forcing myself not to leave this house because I know I’ll go hunt Austin down. But we need to calm down for Reagan! If she’s pregnant, this isn’t going to help the baby.”

Mom gripped my desk like she needed it to stay standing. Her voice wavered, but she never stopped screaming. “She can’t be pregnant . . . Reagan, you
can’t
be pregnant!”

Even though Keegan was trying to calm the room, my dad was the only one who hadn’t spoken and wasn’t crying. I looked at him, hoping for something from him. Anything. But his eyes were still glued to my stomach. “Dad . . . ?”

He slowly looked up at me, his face still showing how horrified he was. “I can’t even look at you right now. You’re not my daughter.”

“Daddy!” I choked out when he turned and left the room.

“Dad!” Keegan barked, his hold on me tightening.

“Why would you let this happen?”

I looked back to my mom when her softened voice reached me. Somehow, my heart continued to break even more when I saw the disappointment in her eyes.

“This can’t be happening,” she said, and then turned to quickly leave my room.

I collapsed into Keegan’s arms, and was surprised at the force of my next round of sobs. I hadn’t expected my family to be happy, but even my worst fears hadn’t been prepared for that.

We heard the front door slam shut just a few minutes after Mom had left my room, and from her pleas as she called him over and over again, I knew Dad had left.

“I
’M SORRY,”
I
mumbled hours later, when my tears had run dry. Keegan hadn’t once left my side. “I’m so sorry.”

He kissed the top of my head and hugged me tighter. “
I’m
sorry, Ray. I—I can’t believe this either, but you know I’m always here for you. They’ll come around, they’re just shocked right now.”

“They hate me.”

“No, they don’t. You just need to wait until they process it.” I didn’t respond, because I didn’t believe him. A few minutes later, he asked, “Does Austin know?”

I nodded my head and told him everything that happened that afternoon. I didn’t cry again, I wasn’t sure if I’d ever be able to cry again. My voice was robotic as I replayed the conversation, and I didn’t flinch when Keegan’s hard voice swore again that he would kill Austin. I knew he wouldn’t, but I had no doubt he would do something.

Keegan held me until I fell asleep on his shoulder from the exhaustion of the day. When I woke, it was dark in my room, but I could still make out my dad’s shape as he sat on the edge of my bed, his back to me, one of his hands gripping mine. I didn’t move, or give any indication that I’d woken. To be honest, I was afraid of what he’d say to me then.

He hunched in on himself, and his hand tightened around mine. And for the first time in my life, I watched my dad as he cried.

 

Chapter One

Reagan—
July 23, 2010

I
BENT DOWN
to kiss my son’s head, straightened, and tiptoed out of his room, shutting the door behind me. Grabbing my phone, I called my mom as I went around the apartment picking up the toys Parker had received for his sixth birthday.

“Hi, sweetheart!”

“Hey, Mom,” I huffed as I dropped everything into his toy chest and let the lid shut. “Parker passed out playing.”

Her soft laugh filled the phone. “I bet, today was crazy. Did he have fun?”

“Understatement. ‘Fun’ is an understatement. Thank you for everything you did to help. He really did have a blast, and he
loved
his presents.”

“Good, I’m glad. What are you going to do for the rest of the night? Did you want to come over for brunch tomorrow?”

I smiled as I waited for the next words that would come from her.

“I just hate that you two are so far away.”

Laughing, I plopped down on the couch and stretched out. “It’s not even a ten-minute drive!”

“But you’re all alone, and ten minutes is a long time in case of an emergency.”

“Mom, I love you, we’re fine. I’m just going to watch TV until I’m tired, and, yes, brunch tomorrow sounds great.”

There was a beat of silence before she said, “You’re always welcome to bring someone, honey.”

I suppressed a groan. I knew she was just looking out for Parker and me, but I didn’t need—or want—a man in my life.

There hadn’t been anyone since Austin had given me an ultimatum of being together, or keeping Parker. There hadn’t been a need for a guy. I knew no one would want a child at my age, and I had my family.

Even though the first day of my family knowing had been intense—well, really, the first month had been—my family had supported my decision to keep the baby, and had been there for me through everything. Keegan had gone to Austin’s that first night and beaten the shit out of him. Austin and his parents hadn’t pressed charges when Keegan told his parents about our breakup, and Austin hadn’t said a word to me since.

I’d continued going to school, and when rumors started flying about my growing belly, Austin told all our friends that I’d cheated on him. He’d taken another beating from Keegan for that, but I never tried to stop the rumors. Like I’d done in our last minutes together, I’d refused to give him the satisfaction of seeing how much he’d hurt me.

I refused to let
anyone
see how much they were hurting me.

With help from my mom, I’d finished out the rest of high school, and graduated with a 3.9 GPA. Even though my parents encouraged me to go to college, I’d decided against it and had immediately begun looking for a job that could support my son and me. I’d started at the bottom of a local business, and had quickly worked my way up over the last four years. Within six months of graduation, Parker and I had moved into the apartment we still lived in, and I’d fought my mom on putting him in day care.

She’d won.

She watched him while I worked, but I paid her just as much as the nicest day care in the city charged. I wasn’t stupid, though; I knew she was “secretly” putting the money in a college account for Parker. But Dad had made me promise I wouldn’t let on to the fact that I knew, so I’d kept paying her, and Parker had continued going to her house five days a week until he’d gone into kindergarten last year.

My life was perfect. My son was healthy and incredibly smart, he and I both had a great relationship with my parents and brother, and I was supporting us well enough that we lived in a great complex and I could give him whatever he wanted. Eh, well, to an extent. But why mess that up by throwing a guy into the picture?

“Mom, I’m not bringing anyone.”

“You need a man in your life . . .
Parker
needs a dad.”

Damn it. I hated when she involved Parker . . . she knew how that got to me. “He has Keegan and Dad.”

“Keegan only comes home every other weekend if he’s not deployed.”

Keegan had joined the army after deciding college wasn’t for him, two years in. I was so proud of him, and thankful he was stationed only a little over an hour from Denver so he could come home often. “And he’s getting out soon, so he’ll be around more.”

“I know you
can
do this on your own, Reagan. But that doesn’t mean you have to or should.”

“Dating would be exhausting for me . . . and I don’t want to put Parker through that.” I chewed on my bottom lip for a second as I debated whether or not I should voice my fears. With a hard breath, I told her the rest quickly. “Austin didn’t want him, I wouldn’t be able to handle it if I let someone into our life and he decided he didn’t want Parker either.”

“Reagan,” she crooned, her voice wavering. “They won’t all be like him.”

“I know, I just—I’m not ready for that possibility. You know? I can take the rejection . . . just not if they reject him.”

“I understand, sweetheart. I really do. But I’ll never stop praying for the perfect man for you and Parker.”

I wanted to tell her that even if he was out there, I probably wouldn’t give him the time of day; but the way she was talking broke my heart, so I kept my mouth shut. I knew everyone in my family wanted that for Parker and me, and it’s not that I didn’t want that for us either. I just couldn’t imagine myself taking that leap of faith in someone else. Someone who could potentially ruin us forever.

Coen—
July 30, 2010

“S
ACO, MAN, YOU
can’t let her fucking do this to you. It’s your fucking kid, she can’t just keep him from you.”

“What am I supposed to do? Try to get custody of him from my own wife? I’ve never even seen him before. I was gone through Liv’s pregnancy, the delivery, and for the first three months of his life. No judge is going to grant me custody.”

“So you’re actually going to listen to her? This is bullshit.”

“I know, Steele, but I have no choice. I
need
to be able to see my son. I’m already waiting on this realtor to go look at some places. I’ll call you when I have news, yeah?”

“Yeah, all right. Sorry this is happening, man, I really am.”

“Me too.” An exhausted sigh sounded through the phone. “Later.”

I pressed
END
, and looked over at Hudson. “His bitch wife is making him buy them a house before she’ll let him meet their son.”

“The fuck?” Hudson balked, and lowered himself into a chair. “Can she do that?”

I shrugged and tossed my phone onto my dresser. “Apparently, because he’s meeting with a realtor.”

Our friend, Brody Saco, had gotten out of the army not even a week ago. He’d been planning on making this a career, but all that had changed when his girl from back home wound up pregnant. He’d married her immediately, and ever since then, she’d refused to see him or let him meet their son—and it’d been a year since their wedding. I could respect him for taking responsibility, but we all felt bad for him because he’d blindly gone into a shit storm with her.

“What are you doing this weekend?” Hudson asked me, and it was then I noticed his backpack sitting at his feet.

“Got some shoots booked in the area. You heading home?”

He nodded and drummed his hands on the arms of the chair. “Yeah, I missed my nephew’s birthday last weekend, I need to go see him and my sister.”

“All right, I’ll see you when you get back.”

“If you don’t feel like coming back to base between your shoots, hit me up, you can stay at my parents’ place or something.”

I laughed and shook my head. “Nah, I’m good. Thanks though.”

Hudson stood to leave, but stopped at the door, and a knowing look crossed his face. “Try to get some sleep.”

“Uh . . . yeah. I’ll do that.”

He and I both knew that wouldn’t be happening. I was lucky if I got two hours in a night. If I didn’t have photos I could edit during those long hours, I would go insane.

Once he was gone, I made sure everything was charged, and packed up all my equipment before heading out to the studio I had in Denver. I had a few photo shoots set up for the night—some with friends, and one with a new client. The shoots, along with the editing and wedding I was covering the next day, would keep me busy throughout the weekend. Busy was how I liked my life. How I preferred it. It kept me from remembering things I wished I’d never seen.

T
WO WEEKS LATER,
I walked into the room I’d been sharing with Hudson since Saco had gotten out, and stood there staring at everything for a few minutes. Today was bittersweet. It was a day I’d been waiting on for months now, and at the same time, a day I couldn’t have prepared for.

I’d been in the army for almost six years, and like Saco, I’d been prepared to make this a career. But with my photography business taking off and demanding more of my time, I’d had to make a decision. The army was all I’d known since I turned eighteen, but in the last year I’d started realizing that photography was more than a hobby; it was my passion.

I thought I wouldn’t be getting out for another month or so, but I’d gotten the call this morning and had spent the next handful of hours in an office waiting, and then signing the papers signifying my official retirement. Typical “Hurry up and wait,” and then, “Surprise, fucker!” bullshit from the military. Like I should have expected anything else.

Halfway through throwing everything in my bags and moving my camera equipment out to my car, Hudson came back.

“Man, with you and Saco gone, it’s gonna be boring as shit until I get out of here too.”

“Aww, you’re gonna miss me? Touched, bro, really am. But I told you, I don’t swing that way,” I joked with him as I grabbed more of my stuff.

“Fuck off, Steele. You know what I meant. Whatever, though, I’ll be out of here soon.”

“Are you going to get a place with your girl?”

Hudson fell onto his bed and stretched out. “Probably, it’d just be easier that way. But I don’t know if she really wants to move all the way up to Denver. I mean, I know its not far, but she has a job here, and I need to be close to my sister.”

Out of all the things we’d talked about through the years, his sister wasn’t one of them. All I knew was if he wasn’t sticking around base on the weekends so he could see his girlfriend, he was going home so he could be near his sister and her son. “I’ve never asked because I figured you’d tell me if you wanted me to know. But what is it with your sister that always has you going home?”

He thought for a few minutes before responding. “Reagan just needs me. She’d never admit that, she’s independent and stubborn as shit; but she needs me. We’ve always been close, but she got pregnant when she was sixteen and her asshole boyfriend told her to have an abortion or he was leaving her.”

I snorted. “Dick.”

“Yeah. Obviously he’s not around anymore; but all her friends ditched her, and she only had our parents and me on her side after that. She’s done well for herself and is an awesome mom, but she thinks she has to do this all alone. Like I said, stubborn and independent. The only guys around her son are my dad and me, and he’s six now. He needs male role models in his life, you know?”

“Understand. That sucks for her, though.”

My mom had had me when she was a teenager as well, but had given me up for adoption as soon as I’d been born. I’d never resented her, because I grew up in a great family . . . and obviously she couldn’t have given me that. That didn’t stop me from wondering why she hadn’t tried. So I was already impressed by Reagan’s drive, and I’d never even met her.

“That it does.” Hudson’s voice interrupted my thoughts. “So, are you moving back home?”

“Ahh, nah. I don’t think so. I miss them and all, but I’d miss my studio. I have a lot of clients here who I can keep using, and I’d miss the location. Colorado is a lot nicer to look at and shoot in than where I grew up.”

Hudson laughed. “I bet. Well, where are you gonna stay? I know you weren’t expecting to get out today.”

“I’ll just crash in my studio until I find a place, no big deal.”

“You sure? I can call one of my buddies.”

“Appreciate it, man, but for what? So I can
not
sleep on their couch? I have couches in the studio if I need to pass out.”

He looked at me for a few moments before saying, “You should really talk to someone. They could help.”

I knew he was looking out for me, but I hated when people said shit like that. I didn’t need help. “I have nothing to say to anyone, there’s no point.”

Sensing my unease with the conversation, Hudson held up his hands like he was surrendering and changed the subject. “Well, your studio is close to where my family is and where I’ll be looking for a place when I get out. So let’s grab some beers when you’re not busy, all right? Actually, I’m heading home this weekend. Want to go out and celebrate your civilian status tonight?”

“Civilian,” I huffed, and shook my head. “Fuck, this is gonna be weird. I don’t know if I remember how to be a civilian.”

“It’ll be easier than you think, I’m sure.”

I somehow doubted that. Grabbing the last of my bags, I looked over at him and nodded. “Yeah, let’s go out tonight. Call me when you head into the city, I’m gonna take everything to the studio and look at the places around there for a few hours.”

“Will do, see you later.”

With one last look at the room, I turned and headed out of the barracks to start my new
civilian
life. Jesus Christ, that was going to take some getting used to.

Reagan—
August 13, 2010

I
FINISHED PAYING
for my coffee and shoved everything back in my wallet as I answered my phone.

“Hello?”

“Hey, Ray.”

Huffing as I jammed my wallet into my purse and tried to get out of the way for the next person waiting to order, I put my phone between my shoulder and my cheek, and sighed. “Hey, big brother.”

“You okay?” he asked on a laugh.

“Fine. Today was just the longest day ever, and I barely slept last night, so I feel like I’m about to lose my shit. I’m getting coffee before I go get Parker from Mom.”

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