Tied (Tangled #4)


by Emma Chase

Prologue

There are moments in life that you dream about—plan for. You imagine every detail in crisp, vivid color and high-definition sound. And when that one perfect moment finally arrives, you pray the reality will come close to the fantasy you’ve built up in your mind.

And then there are those precious few times—when the reality blows your fantasy out of the f**king water.

That’s what this is like for me.

Because that devilishly handsome man, in the perfectly fitted Armani tuxedo, standing at the altar of St. Patrick’s Cathedral—that’s me. Drew Evans.

And Katherine Brooks just stepped into the church. Waiting in the back, a stunning vision in white, ready to take her first step down the aisle.

To me.

Most guys don’t dream about their wedding—you don’t need me to tell you that. But this isn’t just any wedding. This is a landmark event. Revolutionary. Because for most of my life, I didn’t entertain the slightest possibility that I’d end up here.

Sand to the beach, books to the library—it wasn’t what I wanted, remember?

But Kate did the impossible. She changed all that—she changed me. I think we can all agree I was pretty frigging awesome before . . . but now I’m even better.

The road to this day wasn’t all rainbows and boners. There were some potholes—mistakes—and misunderstandings worthy of a Greek f**king tragedy. But we made it through those times with our inexhaustible lust, boundless admiration, and everlasting love for one another intact.

That being said, some unexpected developments last weekend could have been a problem. It was . . . kind of . . . my final test.

I know what you’re thinking: What the hell did you do this time?

Relax. Let’s hold off on the judgments—and the calls for my castration—until you hear the whole story. Just remember: even though the noblest intentions can go awry, and they do, this story has a happy ending.

Chapter 1

One week earlier

The apartment is silent. Still. The kind of quiet that can only be found in the predawn hours when the sky is dark and gray. The place has changed since you saw it last. Take a look around. Sterilized sippy cups lie in wait on a countertop; a green-cushioned, wooden high chair sits in the corner of the kitchen. Framed photographs clutter the walls and shelves.

Some are of Kate and me, but most of the captured images are of a dark-haired two-year-old, with brown, soulful eyes and a devilish smile.

Cut to the bedroom. Two bodies writhe on the bed, partially covered by rumpled silk sheets; my h*ps rotate in long, slow circles. I think the missionary position has gotten a bad rap. It’s not boring. It allows the guy to take control—set the pace. To reach all those secret spots that make women moan and dig their fingernails into our shoulder blades.

Kind of like Kate is doing right now.

My head dips and I grasp one perky nipple with my lips, suctioning hard and flicking with my tongue. Kate arches her back. Her chin rises and her mouth opens, but no sound comes out. Her thighs squeeze harder, her pu**y clenches tighter.

Even with the birth of a child on its résumé, Kate’s cooch is just as snug and feels just as amazing as it did that first time. God bless you, Dr. Kegel.

My h*ps speed up and change their trajectory, thrusting to and fro in hard, quick strokes. When I know she can’t take it anymore, I cover her mouth with mine, muffling her blissful cry. As much as I crave the sound of Kate’s voice, these days it’s all about staying quiet. Covert.

Why? you ask.

Let’s pause here a minute and I’ll explain.

It’s our golden rule. Our first commandment: Don’t wake the f**king baby.

I’ll repeat that in case you missed it:

DON’T WAKE THE FUCKING BABY.

Like . . . ever.

Still don’t get it? Must not have kids then. See, children are beautiful. Precious. Angelic. Particularly when they’re asleep. If they’re disturbed mid-sleep-cycle, however? They’re monsters. Irritable, angry little beasts who bear a striking resemblance to gremlins fed after midnight.

And the cold truth is, even when they’re well rested, babies are pretty frigging selfish. Self-centered and demanding. They don’t care what you were doing before they needed you, or—more important—whom you were trying to do. They only care about themselves. They’re hungry. They’re wet. They want you to pick them up because the view from the crib has gotten old.

For all you happy couples out there awaiting the arrival of your own darling little cockblocker? I’m gonna tell you how it really is—not the utopian bullshit they feed you in those What to Expect books.

Here it goes: In the days after they’re born, when you’re still in the hospital, all infants do is sleep. I think the numbers are like twenty-three out of a twenty-four-hour day. I think they’re slipping something into those bottles in the nursery.

Anyway, after a day or two, if all goes well, the hospital sends you home. And that’s when the baby decides that it’s slept enough. And finds something else to do to pass the time.

Did you know an infant’s cry is twenty decibels higher than a train whistle? I shit you not. Look it up if you don’t believe me.

By day three, I was convinced something was wrong with James. Maybe he had a gastrointestinal disorder. Maybe he was allergic to the wallpaper.

Maybe he just didn’t f**king like us.

Whatever the reason, he was not a happy camper. And he was all too eager to let us know it. In the morning. In the afternoon. And—his favorite—all through the night.

Once in a while, just to screw with us, he’d mix it up and pass out for a while. But if he was awake? Yep—he was bawling. And I’m not talking about lip-quivering whimpers, either. Hell no. I’m talking lung-expanding, arm-and-leg-kicking, bansheelike screeching.

Shaken baby syndrome? I totally get that now.

Not that we were gonna go nuclear on his ass, but honestly? It wasn’t fun.

My mother came over a lot, and at first I was relieved. I figured she’d done this twice before, she’d know how to fix him. Moms always make everything better.

Only . . . she didn’t.

All she did was smile in that infuriatingly calm way while she bounced our squawking newborn on her shoulder. Then she’d tell us it was normal. That all babies cried. That Kate and I just had to figure out our own way of doing things.

I’d never before had the urge to strangle my mother. I’d never understood psychos like the Menendez brothers or Jim Gordon. But in those dark days when sleep—and bl*w j*bs—were a distant memory, I’m sorry to say matricide was looking pretty damn attractive.

Because I was sure my mother knew the secrets of a happy baby—that she held the Keys to the Kingdom in her grasp. But for some evil, vengeful reason, she just wasn’t handing them the f**k over. And sleep deprivation can drive you crazy. Even the most absurd ideas suddenly look like viable options.

One time, it was around four in the morning and I . . .

Actually, it might be better if I just show you, so you can get the full effect. Yes, it’s a flashback within a flashback—but you’re smart, you can handle it. I’ll speak slowly, just in case:

James, five days old:

“Whaaa, whaaa, whaaa, whaaa.”

In the time it takes my eyes to crack open and interpret the numbers on the alarm clock, Kate is already sitting up, ready to spring out of bed and scoop up the swaddled ball of angry in the bassinet beside the bed.

Four a.m.

Mentally, I groan—because it’s been less than an hour since he fell asleep. Although my first egotistical instinct is to close my eyes and let Kate deal with it, the part of me that wants to help out while I can—because I don’t want her to lose her mind—backhands the selfish part.

“Whaaaaaaaa, whaaaaaaaa.”

“I got him, Kate.” I toss the covers off and slip on a pair of sweats. “Go back to sleep.” I’m kind of hoping she fights me over it . . . but she doesn’t. She flops back down against the pillow.

I pick James up and hold him against my bare chest. His cheek nuzzles my skin before he unleashes a heartbroken cry. I walk out of the bedroom with him to the kitchen. From the fridge I grab a bottle of breast milk, which Kate filled this afternoon with that weird dairy-cow pump thing she got from Delores at the baby shower. Holding James with one hand, I run the bottle under hot water the way the lactation adviser at the hospital instructed us to do.

After it’s warmed, I make my way to the living room with bleary eyes and tired, wobbly legs. I sit on the couch, cradling James in my arms, and run the nipple across his lips.

I realize it’s a bad idea to feed him every time he wakes. I know all about the importance of a feeding schedule and burping and teaching him to “self-soothe.” I understand he shouldn’t actually be hungry, since he just ate an hour ago. But sleep deprivation is a torture technique for a reason. So all that crap goes right out the window, in the hopes of getting him—and me—back to sleep as quickly as possible.

He takes two drags on the bottle, then rejects it, turning his head with an openmouthed squawk: “Whaaaaaaa.”

I look up at the ceiling and curse God.

“What do you want, James?” My voice has a frustrated edge. “You’re dry, I’m holding you, I’m trying to feed you—what the hell do you want?” I walk back to the kitchen and grab the checkbook off the counter.

“Will money make you happy?”

Ridiculous—yes, I know. Don’t judge me.

“I’ll give you ten thousand dollars for four hours of sleep. I’ll write the check out right now.” I wave the checkbook in front of his face, hoping to distract him.

It just pisses him off more.

“Whaaaaaa . . .”

I toss the checkbook back on the counter and return to the living room. Then I pace the floor, rocking him softly in my arms, patting his ass. You know I must be really desperate—because I try singing:

Hush, little baby, don’t say a word

Daddy’s gonna buy you a . . .

I stop—because why the f**k would any baby want a mockingbird? None of those nursery rhymes make any goddamn sense. I don’t know any other lullabies, so I go for the next best thing, “Enter Sandman” by Metallica:

Take my hand,

We’re off to never-never land . . .

“Whaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa.”

When that doesn’t help, I sit down on the couch. I lay James on my thighs and support his head with my hand. I look into his little face—and even though he’s still bawling, I can’t help but smile. Then, in a low, calm voice, I talk to him.

“I get it, you know. Why you’re so unhappy. One minute you’re floating in amniotic fluid—it’s dark and warm and quiet. Then a minute later, you’re freezing and there’s bright lights and some ass**le is pricking your heel with a needle. Your whole world is turned upside down.”

The tide of tears starts to recede. Though there’s a sporadic whimper, for the most part his big, brown eyes keep contact with mine. Interested in what I’m saying. I know the accepted theory is that babies have no understanding of language at this stage, but—like men attempting to get out of household chores—I think they know more than they let on.

“I felt the same way when I met your mother. There I was, cruising along, making the most of a fan-fucking-tastic life—and your mom came along and shot it all to hell. I didn’t know which way was up—with work, with my Saturday nights. This is a talk for another time, but it’s true what they say: you spend nine months trying to get out, and the rest of your life trying to work your way back in.”

I chuckle at my own joke. “You probably don’t want to hear this, but your mom is gorgeous—the finest ass I’ve ever laid eyes on. Still, I really liked my old life and I couldn’t imagine anything better. But I was wrong, James—falling in love with her, earning her trust, having you, are the best things I’ve ever done.”