My life was perfect. I had the perfect boyfriend, the perfect daughter—I can honestly say I’d never been this happy in my entire life.
Rolling over, my heart leapt at the sight of my man. Hayes was sleeping peacefully, the sheet flung below his hips, showing off his impressive chest. He had always been hot, but since he came back into my life, he’d gotten hotter, if that were possible. His chest and six pack were very impressive, along with his biceps. But that wasn’t what made my heart leap. It was his new tattoo. A huge star between his pecs with “Harley” written inside. Mac, his nickname for me, was over his heart, but that tattoo had been there for a while.
“Why don’t you stop checking me out and kiss me instead?” Hayes rasped, pulling me on top of him.
I giggled and let my lips seal over his. He immediately deepened the kiss and I sighed. Not only was he great looking, he was also a great kisser, among other things.
“Happy birthday eve,” he whispered against my lips before kissing me again.
“Thanks,” I said, pulling back and looking at the clock on the nightstand. “I better get up and get dressed. Why did I sign up for a morning class?”
“I don’t know, babe. Can I join—”
“Dadddddyyyy!” Harley yelled from her room.
“Never mind.” He sighed and we both got out of bed.
I stood still for a minute, listening to him talk to Harley. Hayes was such a good father. He had been since the moment he laid eyes on her, and it still shocked me. He had always been a player and a big partier, but I guess that just goes to show, if you really love someone, you’ll change.
I headed into the bathroom, brushed my teeth, and took a quick shower before digging out a long sleeve black t-shirt and ripped jeans. I placed my wet hair in a bun and didn’t even bother with makeup. I wasn’t trying to impress anyone.
When I stepped into the kitchen, Hayes was feeding Harley and he had a bowl full of cereal waiting for me. “I didn’t know how long you’d be and didn’t want it to be gross, so I left out the milk.”
“Thanks,” I said, grabbing the milk out of the fridge and adding it to the bowl. After placing it back in its spot, I walked to the table and sat down. I scooped up a big bite and chewed the sugary goodness. “So, what are your plans for the day?”
He shrugged. “Same as always. Although, I was thinking about going over to Carson’s and hanging out before I pick Harley up from the sitter.”
I smiled and shoveled more cereal into my mouth. I’d never actually asked, mainly because I’m scared of his answer, but I’d been worried Hayes only sticks around because it’s the right thing to do. He’d been hanging out with Carson a lot over the last month, and I had overheard Hayes and Carson talking about old parties. Once I heard Carson refer to them as the “good ole days”, I felt that maybe Hayes’ “change” was only because he felt obligated.
I mean, hell, he had replaced me quite easily. When we had reconnected, he had been dating a girl who looked similar to me for several months. Hayes had claimed he dated her because she was as close to me as he could get, but maybe he’d be better off with her. Young and carefree, not strapped down with a child. Stop it. He loves you. He loves Harley. Of course, I knew that, but insecurities died hard.
“Babe, are you okay?” Hayes asked, snapping me out of my thoughts.
I cleared my throat. “Yeah. I’m good,” I said, glancing at him. “I was just thinking about class.”
“You sure that’s all you were thinking about?”
I took one last bite of my cereal and stood before heading to the sink. “I’m sure.” I rinsed the bowl and placed it in the dishwasher. “We still leaving tomorrow morning for your parents’ house?” Tomorrow would be my birthday, the day before Thanksgiving. Hayes had planned a big celebration for me.
“Since you want to hang out with Carson, I’ll pick Harley up from the sitter after my last class.”
“Babe, I’ll pick her up. I have one class today and I’m only going to stop by his place for an hour or so.”
“Okay,” I replied, then kissed Harley before walking into the living room to grab my bag. “I’ll see you tonight.” I knew it wasn’t fair, he deserved to hang out with his friends, but I couldn’t help the tightness in my chest.
“Are you not going to tell me goodbye?” Hayes asked, spinning me around. “I won’t push you to tell me what’s wrong, but you better at least give me a kiss.”
I smiled weakly, then placed a kiss on his lips. “Sorry,” I whispered. “I’m not sure what’s wrong with me.”
Hayes smashed his lips against mine, giving me a hard, lingering kiss before pulling back. “I love you.”
“I love you, too,” I said before opening the door and leaving.
Heading to the union after leaving my second class of the day, my cell began ringing.
I smiled at Miranda’s name on the screen. “Hey.”
“Hey, isn’t today when you have that big gap between your second and third class?”
“Yeah,” I replied, weaving in and out of people walking along the sidewalk.
“Brad and I were wondering if you’d like to come have lunch with us. He’s picking me up in front of the union.”
“Yes. I was on my way there anyway. I’ll see you in a minute.”
“Great. I’ll be waiting.”
We disconnected and I couldn’t help the sudden pep in my step. Maybe having lunch with my two best friends was exactly what I needed.
I picked up my pace, walking as fast as I could until I reached the front of the building. Miranda’s long blonde hair waved in the wind, making her easy to spot.
“Hey, you,” I said, coming to stand beside her and placing my arm around her.
“I have missed you,” she replied, wrapping her arms around me. Miranda was my very best friend, aside from her boyfriend and my adoptive brother, Brad. And, of course, Hayes.
“You just saw me like three days ago.”
“I know, but I still missed you.” She looked down the street. “Brad should be here any minute.”
“Okay.” I took a deep breath and tried to relax. I had no idea what had me all messed up inside, but I needed to get it under control. I knew Hayes loved me, and I knew he loved Harley. Maybe it was our impending trip back to Maverick and knowing I’d be there for more than a couple days. Running into my parents was a high possibility…if they still lived there. I was sure Hayes’ parents knew, but I never asked. I didn’t really want to know.
“Here he comes,” Miranda said, stepping closer to the street.
I glanced up and saw Brad’s big black truck pulling up in front of us. I walked closer and opened the back door, pulling myself up and in. “Hi,” I said. “I hope you don’t mind me crashing your lunch date.”
Brad gave Miranda a peck on the lips before turning to face me. “Mackenzie, you know you are always welcome.”
I smiled. “Thanks.” Brad could always make me feel better with just a simple sentence. He was my confidant, and basically, my and Harley’s savior. I had a deep love for him.
“Where do you two pretty ladies want to go?”
“Anywhere,” I replied as Miranda said, “Pasta House. I want lasagna.”
I shrugged. “Fine with me.” Brad nodded and pulled away, but not before catching my eye in the rearview mirror. He knew something was wrong.
“How was class, beautiful?” he asked Miranda, and I checked out. They hadn’t been dating long, but I knew they were it for each other. They were both blissfully happy, and neither of them felt beholden to the other.
I was so gone in my thoughts, I didn’t even realize we had parked until Brad opened my door with a raised brow. “You coming?”
Shaking my head to clear my thoughts, I said, “Sorry. I’m just spacey today.”
“You will tell me what’s wrong. You know that, right?”
I nodded. “I know. But I promise I’m okay.” I looked around, noticing we were alone. “Where is Miranda?”
“She had to pee so she raced inside. Tell me what’s wrong.”
I sighed. “Sometimes I just wonder if Hayes sticks around because he feels like he has to.”
Brad’s eyebrows bunched. “What the hell, Mackenzie? That boy loves you.”
“I know he does. I do. But I feel like I’m making him give everything up. He doesn’t get to have fun anymore.”
“I can promise you he is perfectly happy. You need to stop worrying.”
I looked to the ground. “It’s just—”
“Don’t you dare even go there.” He took my chin in his hand, forcing me to look at him. “You are good enough for him. You and Harley are all he wants.”
I nodded. “I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I just feel like I’m holding him back…with everything.” I shrugged. “Thank you for being here. I don’t know what I’d do without you.” I wrapped my arms around him and closed my eyes as he hugged me back.
“I’m always going to be here, kiddo.” He released me, flashing a smile. “Now let’s go eat. I’m starving.”