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Book 1 of 2 in the Indefinite Duet
The day he said he’d never love me is when I vowed Quinn Miller would never break my heart again.
I wanted a family—but he wouldn’t give me that. As one of the top embryologists in the country, I’ve spent years creating babies in the lab for other people as my own dreams of motherhood fade.
I’m done waiting. I decide to start the journey to parenthood alone.
Then Quinn strolls back into my life, with all the finesse of a hurricane. I’m a fool to think I don’t want him anymore, and one reckless night of passion ends with me pregnant by the man I swore I’d never love again.
Now he doesn’t just want my heart, he wants it all. The baby. Love. A life where we’re happy.
But even as he promises me the future I always desired, I can’t help but fear that something will rip him away from me again.
This time . . . indefinitely.
Release date: June 22, 2019
Publisher: BAAE Inc.
Print pages: 272
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“What do you want from me?” I ask Ashton as she’s tossing her clothes into her bag. “Apparently, I can’t figure out what it is! I’m trying, but it still is not good enough! Don’t you see that?”
“Trying? How are you trying?”
We stand in my bedroom, back at square one. “I’m not doing a full four years—just the one!”
My team is deploying, and they’re down a few bodies. I can’t be the asshole who decides that now is the time to turn in my gear. I know that was the plan, but things change. Plus, I’m not ready to walk away. I need to be there, need to command and lead my team. There aren’t many snipers with my experience, and I can’t handle the thought of someone dying because I’m not there.
Her anger is palpable as she uses more force than necessary to pack. “And then what? After that, what excuse will it be then?”
“I don’t know.”
I don’t even bother trying to lie because there will be another one. The truth is that being a SEAL is who I am. I’m not ready to hang up my boots.
“Right. Because you’re not going to walk away, and you’re not going to keep your promises to me. Because it’s not about us or me. It’s about you and your career.”
I groan and start to pace. “What would you rather me do? Let the team be vulnerable?”
She shakes her head. “That isn’t the point, Quinn. It’s that you have had me in this waiting game for years! Years of you saying that once you were out of the navy, we’d start a family. We’d have everything. You were the one who put this on a timeline, not me.” Ashton takes a few steps closer. “I would’ve married you two years ago and been pregnant already, but you said you wanted to wait.”
Here we go. Right back to how I’m the one who’s wasting her time, and maybe I am, but I’m sick and tired of it all falling on me. “I always let you down, right? I’m the bad guy because I didn’t want to start a life when, at any moment, you could deal with the knock on the door. God for-fucking-bid I protect you from that level of pain. I’m the reason, right? Not that you can’t understand why I’m not ready to give it up or that I will never get married while I’m active. I’ve seen that side, and it’ll destroy us.”
She turns, laughs once, and then goes back to packing. “I knew this would happen. I trust you, let you back in, and think that things are finally going to change, only to be reminded that it’s not possible! You act like you’re protecting me, but we both know that’s a lie. It’s you! You are who you’re protecting! Not me. And don’t worry about the destruction, Quinn, the navy didn’t have a hand in that.”
I’m tired. I’m so fucking tired of this. I’ve done just about everything she’s asked except put a ring on her finger. Why? Because I’m not good enough for her. I will never be. She is smart, funny, drop-dead gorgeous, and everything I’ve ever wanted, but I can’t give her what she wants. I’ve been living on borrowed time with her from the moment we met.
Looking at her in front me, knowing she’s so close but her heart is already a million miles away, breaks something inside me.
I may not be worthy of her, but I damn sure want to keep her.
How selfish am I?
“If you think that, then this is why we always fall apart . . .” I nearly choke on the words as I wrap my arms around her because I can’t stop myself. I have to touch her. “If you believe that,” I say in a whisper, “then you don’t know me at all. I’m giving you what you want by walking away. You want a family, and I can’t do that while my family is my team.”
My heart is beating hard against my chest walls as her body starts to tremble. This is what we do. We fight, we make each other crazy, we push each other away, and then we crash back together.
Like a never-ending war that we keep fighting because we can’t stop. She and I will always be on opposite sides, unable to create a treaty.
“Can’t or won’t?” she asks.
“Does it matter?”
She wants to be my world. She wants me not to reenlist, move to New York, and marry her like I promised I would. It just is not who I am. I thought I could, but then those papers were in front of me and I saw the guys. If I got out next week, it would be the biggest mistake I made, bigger than even letting her walk away from me. I am a navy SEAL. I’m a frogman. I’m a goddamn warrior, and I can’t give that up.
“I guess it doesn’t.” Her voice splinters and so does my heart. After a few seconds, she sniffs as her shoulders fall. “It could be so simple for us.”
I bury my face in her dark red hair and brush my nose against the back of her neck. “I can’t do it. I can’t give up this life.” In her heart, I think she knows this. “Not even for you, fragolina.”
I hope that the term of endearment softens her, makes her see. She hates that I call her little strawberry, but that’s what she is. She’s fire on the outside and sweet in the center. She tries to guard herself, tries not to bruise or break, but she’s delicate.
“So, that’s it? You’re going to extend due to this deployment and then reenlist? No matter what? Regardless of the fact that you told me you wouldn’t? That I’ve been waiting for this so we could start our life?”
“I’m signing the papers for an extension when we get overseas. I don’t know if I’ll reenlist or ride out the deployment. I just need time, Ashton.”
I won’t lie to her about this. I lie about other things—like how I feel about her or what I want . . . really want in my heart—but I won’t make her think there’s a life I can offer her that I can’t give.
“I love you, Quinn. Against my better judgment, I love you, and you will never love me back.” Ashton’s quiet sobs break me apart. “I can’t keep going like this. You promised me that the last deployment was it and then we’d start a family together. I can’t spend the rest of my life hoping you’ll see that I’m right in front of you, waiting for you to share your heart with me, waiting for you to choose me.”
I love her more than she can ever know. I just can’t tell her. I have to protect her from loving a man like me. My heart isn’t mine to give—it belongs to my teammates. I fight against emotion because not having anything to lose makes the idea of dying easier to handle.
I’ve lost too many men on missions. Held too many widows as they stood in front of that flag-covered casket.
Loving Ashton gives me something to come home for, and that makes me weak. I can’t be that when I’m gone. I have to be smart and keep my head in the game so I can make sure everyone is safe.
I hold her close, needing to feel her body against mine for just a while longer. Each second that passes is one I’ll keep forever. Her head rests against my chest. “You shouldn’t love me,” I say against her neck, closing my eyes and breathing her in. “You shouldn’t because I don’t deserve it.”
“I know. Yet, here I am, waiting for you to say the words that will cause me to walk out that door like you always do.”
And here is where I fail her. Time and time again. I delude myself into thinking that, if I can keep her at arm’s length while still giving her what she needs, we can find a way through our issues, but we can’t. Ashton doesn’t love in half measures, and she sure as fuck doesn’t deserve that from me.
However, hurting her on purpose feels like torture. “I can’t say them this time.” I inhale her floral scent, committing it to memory because I’m sure this will be the last time I see her.
It has to end here, but that doesn’t mean I can’t steal a little of the fire and life she’s brimming with.
“Tell me that you’ll come back,” she pleads. “Tell me you’ll come home and that we can finally have this life together. If you can give me that, I’ll wait for you.”
I leave tomorrow for seven months, and I don’t know if I can walk away from this life. “That’s a promise I can’t make.” Her hand’s lift, wiping away a tear, and that’s my breaking point. I release her. “You should go back to New York.”
When Ashton turns, her blue eyes are filled with unshed tears and a mixture of love and hate. Her lips tremble as she struggles for control of her emotions. I’m completely stoic. I won’t let her see my hurt. I won’t give her the one thing she wants and needs from me. If I’m going to give her up, it’ll be so much easier if she hates me.
When she thinks of me, she’ll remember anger and bitter disappointment. She’ll only see the version of me standing in front of her right now, the one who couldn’t give a shit less about her feelings. That man is easier to walk away from and move on.
“Tell me, Quinn, say you don’t love me.”
“I don’t love you,” I lie.
I’m dying. My heart is being ripped from my chest. This is the worst kind of pain. It’s deep in my bones, shattering each one in slow snaps because I know it’s going to cause her pain.
She knows me better than I’ve tried to allow.
“No, I’m not. I don’t love you, Ashton. I don’t love anyone or anything other than this life. You should go.”
Her hand rests on my chest, right over my heart. “You can lie to me all you want . . .” She pauses, eyes locked on mine. “But you can’t lie to yourself. You may not want to love me, but you do. The saddest part of all of this is that, when you realize it . . . when you’re home from this deployment and all the guys are hugging their wives and kids, it’ll be too late. I’ll be gone. Maybe I’ll be with someone else. Maybe I’ll be happy with someone else, living the life you promised me, but no matter what I’m doing, it’ll be without you.” Ashton leans forward, pressing her lips to mine.
In my head, I’m screaming, beating the shit out of myself to wake up and stop her. Everything wants to fight for her, tell her she’s right and I love her. Marry her today. Give her the kids, family, and life she wants.
It’s all right there.
I could have it.
I could have her, but I’m a coward.
She waits for a beat, watching to see if I’ll say something, but I know that we’ll be back here again. So I don’t move.
Her eyes close and then she turns, grabs her bag, and walks to the door.
This is the last chance. I clench my fists so tight I’m sure I’ll draw blood.
“Goodbye, Quinn. I hope it all works out for you.”
The door shuts as Ashton walks away. I never understood the term heartbreak until now. Too many emotions flood me at one time, and I start to go after her, but when I get to the front door, I can’t do it. I slam my fist into the solid wood and welcome the physical pain because it’s nothing compared to what is going on inside me.
Fuck it all.
Now I’m ready to deploy.
~ Six Months Later ~
“I’m going to have a baby,” I tell Catherine as we sit on the beach by her apartment.
“I’m sorry, you’re what?”
“A baby. I’m going to get me one.”
She looks at me with confusion and a little bit of fear. “So, you’re pregnant? I didn’t even know you were dating someone.”
I laugh. “No, I’m not pregnant . . . yet. Since I walked away from Quinn, I’ve become a damn nun. I tried to date that one guy, and I spent all night thinking about how he was too thin and couldn’t protect me from a fly. Then all I did was measure the rest of his body against the chicken shit.”
Quinn is not small—anywhere. He’s wide, tall, has muscles that have muscles, and I could talk shit to anyone and he’d be able to kick their ass. At least, that was the feeling I had around him. I loved to test that theory too, which usually proved to be correct, but he didn’t think it was as funny as I did. Also, it was his arms. His arms were so big and strong that I would hold on to them, loving that my fingers couldn’t come close to touching because of how thick they were. I really miss them.
Catherine sighs. “Okay, well, I’m missing where the baby part comes in. Usually, there’s a man involved when creating the baby.”
I look at her round belly, both happy for her and jealous of her. She has it all. She has Jackson, her company, and a bun in the oven. It’s everything I want. Sure, I put on this tough-girl exterior and pretend that I don’t want or need a man. While that is somewhat true, if it were the actual case, I never would’ve fallen for Quinn. I wouldn’t have spent the last six months agonizing over whether I was a fool for walking away from him.
And even now, after months of zero contact, I miss the stupid bastard.
I sit around, wondering how he is. I write emails I’ll never send. I call my friend Natalie to get updates about him through Liam, who is deployed with him. She’s dealing with raising two kids, her husband being gone, and my crazy ass who won’t hit send.
“I’m tired of waiting. I’m getting old, you’re having a kid, and Gretchen will probably have one after her wedding. Everyone is living, and I’m stagnant.”
“Or stuck on repeat.”
I glare at her. “There will be no repeat this time.”
Quinn and I are not getting back together. When I walked out that door, I walked out of his life. For good.
There was no misunderstanding regarding our current situation. I asked him to love me, he refused and let me go.
Now I’m going to fly.
“Still, you’re going to have to clue me in here.”
“I’m an embryologist. I make babies for a living, so, I’m going to do it for myself.”
She sits up, crosses her legs, and releases a deep sigh. Here we go. “Ash, are you sure? You want to be a single mother? Really? You work insane hours. You moved to Brooklyn, which is farther from your parents than you’ve ever lived before. I also know you want to be married when you start a family.”
“Yeah. I do. I want all of that. I want the marriage, the honeymoon, and the perfect life, but I don’t have that, Cat. I don’t have the guy, the house, the ring, the life . . . you do. You and Gretchen got the great guys while I got Quinn. All I’ve ever wanted was a baby, and with all the issues my mom had . . . I can’t wait.”
Catherine doesn’t love Quinn, but she always seems to side with him. It’s the strangest thing, and I blame Jackson. Him and his navy SEAL brotherhood crap. I’m well aware of how hard deployments are on the guys, that they are hard on Quinn—there was never any question of that. What about what it’s like for me, though? What about the fact that his issues became my issues? What about him pushing and pulling me back and forth like we were playing a game of tug-of-war where I ended in the mud at the end of each round?
“You know why he’s this way. You knew it when you started dating him.”
“And I hoped to fix him.”
She rolls her eyes. “That could be your first problem.”
“I loved him enough for both of us.”
Catherine falls quiet. “I’m sorry, Ash.”
“It’s fine. I’m done waiting to start my life and have the things that I want. That was the second disastrous relationship I’d been in, and I’m not ready to love anyone else. So, fuck the man, I’m going to get the baby and be just fine.”
Quinn has been the last three years of my life, but before him, there was Antonio. God, I loved him. I thought he was the one. Everything with us was perfect. We fit so well, complemented each other in every way. I was so in love with him I thought I could never have found anything like him again, and then I met his wife.
I still can’t think of that without wanting to drive to his house and cut off his balls. I’m hoping she did it for me when she found out. I hate him, but then again, he brought me to Quinn.
Who I remember I also hate.
Catherine takes my hand, bringing me to the present. “If that’s what you want, then I support you.”
I nod once. “It is.”
“You know, we may actually get to live out our plan if you have a boy.”
Oh, Lord. “I don’t think either of us should plan to marry off our babies before they’re born.”
She laughs. “Still. It would be funny since I’m having a girl. If you have a boy, then they can grow up and fall in love.”
“It would be.”
I leave to head back to New York in a day, and it feels weird knowing that I won’t be around Cat all the time. She’s married to her big bad CEO husband, Jackson. They’re building an empire, kicking asses, and she’s off saving half of Hollywood from their disasters and rehab issues, so I only see her once or twice a week. It’s just . . . not the same without her.
Gretchen has moved to Virginia Beach, is engaged to an insanely hot SEAL named Ben, and works for Cole Security Forces. As does pretty much everyone else we know, and then there’s me.
The lone wolf.
No boyfriend. No life. Just my job and the love of my city that I will never leave.
“Ash? What’s wrong?”
“Nothing,” I shake my head with a smile.
After almost twenty years of friendship, she knows me, I know her, and we both know bullshit when we smell it.
“I hate being so far from you. When you left, I always thought that maybe you’d come back. I knew it was dumb because you weren’t going to leave Jackson, but I hoped that he’d bring you back to me. Then I let that go and figured that at least I had Gretchen. Now she’s gone. I’m just sort of lost.”
She sits straighter. “You are not lost. You’re the only one out of the three of us who has ever been sure of her direction. Now look at you, you’re going to have a baby on your own terms. Seriously, that’s insanely brave.”
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