Read Only for Us Online

Authors: Cristin Harber

Tags: #new adult, #first love, #secret baby, #friends to lovers, #college romance, #high school romance, #wrong side of the tracks, #serial, #coming of age, #sexy romance, #sweet romance, #alpha hero, #single mom, #military, #titan group

Only for Us

BOOK: Only for Us
3.46Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Title Page



































“Mommy!” There’s a clatter of noise that only a two-year-old can make coming from the back door.

I’m frozen with ice-cold panic as Grayson rips on his pants. Two seconds ago, I was in a euphoric lull.

“Emma,” he hisses at me. “Clothes.”

Right. Shit. Shoot. Oh my effin’ God. Clothes.
I grab my oversized T-shirt and pull it on. My heart is in my throat, trying to escape. Every bit of me wants to run out the door and give myself a chance to think. Just as Gray wasn’t supposed to find out the way he did, Cally is
supposed to learn about her dad this way. I hop into my flannel pajama bottoms, and my hands search for the drawstrings. But they’re on backward.

Cherry’s voice calls out, “Emma. Hon, you awake? Where you at, babe?”

“Breathe, Ems.” Grayson hovers over me. I can almost see his pulse pounding in his neck. There’s a nervous tension in the air that neither of us knows how to react to.

Cally’s footsteps head in the opposite direction of the living room, away from us. “My bedwroom's back here. I wanna show you, Aunt Chwerry.”

“I’m breathing,” I say to him breathlessly, confirming that I most certainly am not.

His eyes are on the floor. Where’s his shirt? Oh, this is not going well.

“Emma?” Cherry’s voice fades as she heads after Cally toward the bedrooms.

“You should leave.” I bite my lip. “No, you shouldn’t.” My eyes sink shut, and I’m lost. I can’t kick him out the front door. I
don’t want
to kick him out the front door.

“Seriously. Take a breath, Emma. It's not how we planned, but it’s going to be okay.”

Not how we planned? We haven’t come up for air long enough to plan. I need to stall or redirect or—

Cherry and Cally laugh loudly on the other side of the small house. My eyes shoot in their direction then back to Grayson. His face is calm, his eyes bright. A curious, almost excited smile plays on his full lips, and I try to understand the magnitude of what he might be feeling.

Gray takes a step forward and cups my chin, letting his thumb softly stroke my cheek. “It’ll be okay.”

I nod, listening to an excited Cally drag Cherry down the back hall.

“It’ll be okay,” I repeat as if it’s a calming mantra that might save me.

“You want me to head out?” His throat bobs. “I’m dying here. I need to stay. You get that?” His eyes glance over my shoulder. “You’re scared. I’m… freakin’ out. But I can’t leave.” He gulps again.

God love him for giving me the option. How hard does it have to be for him? I shake my head and realize that my hands are trembling. I cross my arms and tuck them in tight. “No.”

Cherry and Cally make their way closer. They giggle over a lost doll that has been found—the one I put in the center of all of Cally’s toys, lined up on her bed.

I need to focus. Time feels as if it’s moving slowly, as though I’m swimming through sludge. I try to think.
Grayson’s staying
. “Hey, Cherry, hang on. Hang tight. Be in the kitchen in a sec—”

“We were just—” Cherry falters at the mouth of the hallway and clings to the wall. Her face pales, and her mouth drops open as if she can’t understand what’s before her. “Um—whoa.”

I cringe. Her eyeballs bulge, bouncing between a no-shirted Grayson and me guiltily smoothing my T-shirt.

What am I supposed to say?
You remember Grayson?

what the shiznittle do I say

“You’re… here.” Though I can tell she almost said “alive.”

He nods. “I am.”

“Gray’s back, Cherry.” Nervously, I twist my fingers in the hem of my ginormous shirt.

“You can
be serious.” Her hand juts to the wall as if she has to hold herself up.

Not the reaction I would’ve dreamed up. But it’s not unexpected. “Cherry—”

Cally is babbling behind her, my guess talking to her doll about hugs and sunshine. Then she bypasses my sister and runs into the room, a smiling blur of blondeness. “Mommy!”

My heart’s in my throat, and I have no idea what to do. “Cally, honey, snugglebug, hi.”

I sit down on the couch. So does Gray. Cally grips an overly loved doll tightly in her hand, and her eyes are curiously on Grayson as she slinks onto my lap. “Hi, mama.”

“Hi, baby,” I nervously repeat.

She shifts her weight, hugging me, then concentrates on her doll, apparently deciding that a shirtless Grayson doesn’t deserve more than a second glance. My eyes rocket to his awestruck green ones as I watch him see his daughter for the first time.

A lump slowly works its way down his throat. Emotional restraint is visible in his corded neck, and his hard jaw flexes. He rolls his lips together as though he’s stifling his words, and his gaze is dancing, mesmerized by the pint-sized explosion who's hugging me and holding a doll.

His reaction is… beautiful. I didn’t know a man that sexy, that hard, maybe even that dark and wounded could personify love. But there it is. And it’s amazing.

My heart pitter-patters, and my eyes flood, brimming with a happiness that I will remember always.

His gaze moves from studying her to locking onto me. “Oh… my… God,” he whispers.

My chest hitches as my breaths stall. Warmth that I can’t explain fills my blood. I nod to Gray as Cally pushes back to interrupt my gaze.

“Aunt Chwerry gave me p’cakes.”

Other than her brief look, Cally hasn’t acknowledged Grayson. This isn’t how I wanted an introduction to go, if there ever even was one, but now that it’s happening, I try to breathe evenly and focus on her. “Yum, pancakes. You’re having a good time?”

Her face brightens as though she’s ready to tell a secret. “We had hot chocwolate.”

“We have plans to go to the park,” Cherry adds, staring at Grayson with unhidden shock. “But we needed a different doll.”

Cally shakes her doll for us all to see then turns around to take in Grayson again. They’re nearly identical, with the golden hair and the emerald eyes and even the same perfect, pink smile.

“Hi.” She shakes her doll at him.

Grayson shifts on the couch as though he wants to inch forward but is unsure. “Hey, sweetheart.”

She tilts her head. “Who’s dat?”

I cough. Or choke. “He’s my friend, snugglebug.”

Grayson’s smile falters for a brief second, but he rebounds and nods. Cally nods back, mimicking him with a huge smile.

“My name’s Gray.”

“My name is Cally Kingsley.” Her proud, drawn-out cadence warms my heart, and watching her introduce herself to her daddy is the most monumental moment of my life. I’m ready to bawl, and I’m certain Grayson’s choked up. His voice sounds tight, and there’s emotion straining in his jaw and neck, even when he smiles.

But Cally hasn’t noticed a vibe from any of the adults. “Aunt Chwerry lemme have p’cakes for bekfast. Sooo good.”

Gray leans forward and drops more to her height, propping his elbows on his knees. “That good, huh?”

“Sywup, too. Lots of it.” Her grin reaches ear to ear.

, so does his grin. “Yeah?”

Cherry grumbles playfully, softening for what she surely sees as an important thing playing out before our eyes. “It was a weak moment. She’s too cute. Can’t say no to her.”

Cally jumps off my lap and lands on the couch between Grayson and me, keeping eyes on him. “Have you been to da pwark?”

He shakes his head. “Not this park.”

“Like pwaying outswide?” Her little brow furrows as though she’s sizing up his answers.

“I love playing outside.” He rolls his bottom lip into his mouth. “Guess you come by it naturally.”

She has no idea what that means, but she agrees. “You’re weally big.” Her little head goes up and down, assessing. “You could do the mun-key bars. But you have to wear a shirt.”

Grayson lets out a huge belly laugh. I’m hot from head to toe, absolutely sure I’m going to fall over and die from embarrassment. Cherry presses her fingers over her mouth, trying to hide any reaction that’s not part of her confusion and concern.

But Gray doesn’t miss a beat. “Bet I could handle the monkey bars, Miss Cally Kingsley.”

“Bwing him?” She eyes me, urging me on like a little girl playing matchmaker. “And da swings, too.”

“Maybe she’ll bring me one day.”

“Today? Pwease.”

He shakes his head. “Probably not today.”

“Okay.” Cally jumps up, finished with her investigation and invitation. “Weddy for da pwark, Aunt Chwerry!” A second later, she’s off to the kitchen. I’ve childproofed everything in there except for her special drawer, which is filled with things like juice boxes and coloring books.

Before Cherry can get a word out, I shake my head and cut her off. “Cherry. Chill.”

Her long, cold stare ruins the moment. “Ryan know about this?”

I assume that Grayson hasn’t informed my brother he is alive and in town. Because if he had, I would have heard about it; there would’ve been a fistfight in my front yard—the soldier versus the cop.

“Prick.” Cherry’s eyes narrow at Grayson. “So, you’re alive. Got it. That just reminds me you’re a son of a bitch.”

“Stop.” I’m losing all the warm fuzzies from moments before.

“No way.” My sister the ice queen cocks her hip and rests her hand on it. “When I thought you died, I felt awful for them. I hurt for my baby sister and her daughter. Maybe even for you since you missed out on this—”

“Maybe”—he pulls closer to me, an unsaid challenge to Cherry to back off—“that’s what I’m here to make up for.” His voice is deep and authoritative.

The tension compounds. I hate conflict already, and this antagonism is so deep that I don’t even know how to describe it. “Please let it be. I need to go talk to Cally.”

“She’ll be fine. We didn’t see anything other than Grayson’s not having his damn shirt on.”

“I’m her mother. I’ll judge how she is.” God, I want to strangle Cherry right now. “You know what? You have no right to act like this.”

“I have no right? I pull shifts so you can work and go to school. We all do. You sleep—what? Like, three hours a night? You are
yourself, and he just waltzes in, and you spread—”

“Don’t finish that.” Grayson stands, stepping in front of me, a protective growl coming from him. “You’ll regret it. There’s enough fucking regret standing in this room. We don't need any more of it.”

I stand behind him, my palms flat on his back. “Gray…”

Cherry’s eyes drop to the wound at his side then back up again. “You ruined her life.”

My frustration multiplies, and I expect better from her than to pull that. “Nothing about my life is ruined. It has its hiccups, it certainly isn’t what I planned, but it’s mine, and I love it.”

Her brow pinches. “Em—”

“I get to say if my life’s been ruined,” I hiss. Then I look over my shoulder as Cally clangs and bangs a few feet away, singing about her water bottle and a milk box from her Cally-drawer. I don’t know how to ensure that permanent damage hasn’t been done, but I’m positive that the anger rolling in the room is bad for my girl. “Look—enough. None of this is a conversation for right now. Cally can stay home with me, and Grayson, you can go. You too, Cherry.”

BOOK: Only for Us
3.46Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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