More Than Need You by Shayla Black



  How the fuck did I get here?

  It’s nine thirty at night. By now, I’m usually curled up in bed with my laptop and some work…or another meaningless one-night stand. Instead, I’m rushing down Highway 30, the breeze from the open window whipping through my hair as I speed through the nearly hour-long journey toward Kihei. After more than three years, I’m going to see the one woman I haven’t managed to forget.

  And the son I never knew I had.

  Holy shit, I’m a father. That still hasn’t truly registered since I found out ten minutes ago. Now I can’t reach them fast enough. I dodge a slow tourist and run a yellow light. Yes, I’m breaking multiple traffic laws. And I don’t care. I just need to get there.

  Then what? a voice in my head whispers.

  I have no idea what I’m going to say to my ex-girlfriend, Britta. Well, that’s not exactly true. I intend to figure out why the hell I never heard about her pregnancy. Once, I loved that woman. I lived with her. I wanted to marry her.

  Then I got stupid. And she let me.

  Everything has been fucked up since.

  I push the past behind me and try to think ahead. My first priority is to finally meet our boy. I’ll insist on it. My brother says Jamie looks a lot like me. Based on Maxon’s pictures, I agree. And I can’t wait to meet him.

  I’ve missed so much—pregnancy, birth, first year, first steps, first words… I’m shocked by how badly that fact is grinding up my guts. Kids were never on my radar. They were cute—for someone else. I wasn’t interested in wiping noses or butts. But after one look at the picture of that little boy with my face and his mother’s blue eyes, I felt stunned. And I felt protective. That snapshot of him smiling at the toy truck he clutched in his chubby fist completely changed my world. It fired up my determination not to miss another day of James Tucker Reed’s life.

  Oh, he doesn’t have my last name yet. But he will. I’m going to do whatever it takes to make damn sure of that.

  In my pocket, my phone buzzes. I’m hoping it’s not a client. Though it’s true Realtors are never really off the clock, especially when one sells multimillion-dollar estates, I am not in the frame of mind to deal with work right now. Thankfully, when I glance at the display connected via Bluetooth to my Porsche 911 Carrera convertible to see who’s calling, I’m not surprised by the name that’s popped up. I’ve been expecting this.

  I close the window and press the button to talk. “Hi, Keeley.”

  “Griff, is your meeting with Maxon over? What happened?”

  Our reunion a few minutes ago was the first time I’ve spoken to my brother in over three years, so it’s momentous. We used to be close, best friends and business partners—before I fucked everything up. Tonight’s reconciliation wouldn’t have happened without Keeley and her grudging agreement to dabble in a little corporate espionage and spy on Maxon for me. She also fell for him, despite the fact he hadn’t yet grown past his clueless douchebag stage. But I found out tonight that he fell for her, too. I’m not telling Keeley anything about my brother’s determination to win her back and persuade her to marry him just yet. She needs time with her family in Phoenix to think. Then, if she decides to return to Maui—and Maxon—I’ll help my older brother with his sweeping romantic gesture to slide a ring on her finger.

  “Yeah. Maxon and I talked about the split, the major reasons we stopped getting along. Actually, we talked about a lot of things.” And it felt damn good after so much ugliness and strife. “We made up. We’ve decided that, instead of being competitors, we’re going to pursue the Stowe estate together. And if the arrangement works well, we’ll think about making the partnership permanent once more.”

  “That’s great!” She sounds genuinely happy for me…but I hear the sad note in her voice. “It must have felt so fantastic to be with Maxon, talking business again, catching up…”

  “Yep.” I sort through the meeting in my head, think of details that might cheer her up. “He seems different. I have you to thank.”

  Keeley doesn’t say anything for a long moment, which tells me something about her mood. She’s never subdued.

  “Don’t thank me. I really hoped he’d figured out what was important, but, Griff…I can’t change him. He has to want to be a different man. Just like you did.”

  She’s absolutely right. But Maxon truly seems to have grown as a person. Hopefully, she’ll come home and see that.

  Keeley sighs. “It’s so great that you and your brother are talking again. At least something good came out of the mess I made with him. Please be happy. After everything that’s happened, you deserve it.”

  She’s being kind. I don’t deserve shit. I also know that arguing with Keeley about this is pointless.

  And how is it possible my GPS says I still have another thirty minutes before I reach my destination?

  I think back over the last few weeks, everything that’s happened… Then a realization hits me. She’s been my confidant and best friend for more than two years. So why would she stab me in the back like this?

  “You knew I had a son, didn’t you?” I rake a hand through my hair. “How fucking long have you kept that from me?”

  “So Maxon told you about Jamie?” she breathes. “That’s good. You need to—”

  “How long?” No answer. The interminable moments are shredding my admittedly thin patience. “Goddamn it, Keeley…”

  “Almost three weeks. I’m sorry,” she rushes to add. “I hope you’ll forgive me for not telling you.”

  That’s asking a lot. Keeley knows I have deep trust issues. I haven’t told her the whole reason why, though.

  Hell, I haven’t told anyone.

  “Three fucking weeks?” I bark. “What the hell? He’s my son. Why would you keep him from me?”

  “If I’d told you the minute I found out, you would have confronted Britta immediately and messed up everything I was building with Maxon for you and… I really only did what I thought was best in the situation.” She pauses. “Wait, it sounds as if you’re in your car. Please tell me you’re heading straight home.”

  I hear what she’s saying. She’s probably even right. Everything would have blown up in my face if I’d jumped Britta’s case three weeks ago. There’s still a high likelihood it will tonight. On the other hand, all I can think of is that if I had known sooner, I might have endured a little less misery and might have been involved a bit more in Jamie’s childhood.

  “I value my best friend too much to lie.”

  Unlike some people. The subtext hangs there.

  “C’mon, Griff. I would never intentionally hurt you. You know that.”

  Fuck. I do. I have to take a deep breath, count to five, and remind myself that Keeley is nothing like the people I used to know. Once I have, I wish I could take the biting words back. You’d think after the misery I’ve brought down on myself by failing to trust that I might have learned. But no, my knee-jerk certainty that someone is fucking me is sometimes instant and unavoidable. In the back of my head, I expect people will shit on me. So I strike before they do. Sometimes before I even think. Damn it. I have to stop the bitterness that’s been rotting me for half my life and start handling it, along with my shock and frustration about Jamie. The first step is to apologize to Keeley.

  “I do. I’m sorry.” I wince. “I’m an ass. You know this about me.”

  “Sometimes ‘ass’ is putting it nicely. At least you listened and didn’t hang up.”

  For me, that’s progress. Refusing to hear a word of their defense was the disservice I did to Maxon and Britta just over three years ago. “I’m trying to learn.”

  “I know. Tonight has been a lot for you. But not everyone is as forgiving as I am.
If you’re heading to see Britta because you want to meet Jamie, you can’t handle this like a dumb ass.” Her voice softens.

  “You’re right.”

  “When Maxon first told me about him, I didn’t say anything because I genuinely believed that if we could get your brother on your side, he wouldn’t interfere if you tried to include Jamie—and Britta—in your life. But three weeks ago, you would have barged in, temper blazing, and asked questions later. Maxon would have become a roadblock. And you would have destroyed any path to being with the people you need most.”

  I tap my thumb against my steering wheel in agitation. Keeley is right. My head knows it. The rest of me is still reeling and I can’t quite admit it aloud. “What do I do next?”

  “Turn your car around and go home.”

  “Not happening. I’m already years late as it is.”

  “But now isn’t smart. You haven’t had time to process the shock.”

  “Waiting to meet my son isn’t the answer!” But even if I lay eyes on him tonight, how do I compensate for not being there for him since birth? “I’ve got to make this right ASAP.”

  Keeley sighs. “I’m sure in your shoes I’d feel the same. Just go easy on Britta. Don’t assume the worst.”

  I’ll do my best. “Maxon swears Britta tried to tell me about the baby. I don’t know how or when or…”

  “I think you need to believe him.”

  After failing to trust my brother about the business deal that broke us up, I can’t call him a liar now. “Okay, so Britta tried to tell me.”

  How did I not hear or understand her?

  “Maxon said she wrote you a letter.”

  “That’s a pretty fucking impersonal way to tell a man he’s about to become a father.”

  “What choice did you give her, Griff?”

  There Keeley goes again, shoving the inconvenient truth in my face. After our breakup, I rejected Britta’s phone calls and deleted her urgent voice mails. Her only alternative was to put a stamp on a missive and drop it to me via USPS.

  God, I was such a stupid fuck. I wish I had a do-over on the craptastic days that blew up my life.

  “I never got the letter. I have no idea what happened to it.” But I’m beginning to have my suspicions.

  “I told Maxon that.” She pauses. “When you left your brother a few minutes ago, did you mention that you were heading to Britta’s house?”

  “Not in so many words but I’m sure he can read between the lines.”

  Another pause. I know Keeley; she’s gearing up to ask something big. “How will you feel when you see her again?”

  Isn’t that a great question? Before I saw Britta last month at a restaurant with some Hawaiian dude in a suit who all but fondled her in public, I would have sworn I was over her. Immune. I was good at lying to myself. But that night, when I saw him touch her, I wanted to rip his face off with my bare hands. What ate at me more was that Britta didn’t notice me at all.

  “I spent a long time thinking she betrayed me to help my brother close a huge deal behind my back. Now that I know she didn’t, I owe her an apology. More than one, really. But I’m so fucking furious.” Not at her but at life. At circumstance. At all the things I can’t go back and change. Mostly, at myself.

  I try to shake it off. Tonight is about Jamie. How I feel about Britta doesn’t matter anymore. We’ve both moved on—in theory. She has a new boyfriend, and I’ll try to get along with this dude and refrain from committing murder.

  No promises.

  “When you see her, listen. Don’t make snap judgments. Hold your temper. Breathe through your anger. Yelling at her will accomplish nothing. In fact, take the rest of your drive to collect your thoughts. If you want to be a part of your son’s life, it’s important for you to be strategic.”

  I hear the soothing, rational note in her voice. She uses it when she’s trying to talk me off the ledge. That’s been a lot these last few years. I’m grateful every day she was answering the phones for that useless therapist I was seeing for a while. Keeley is way smarter than the bad doctor. She’s helped me so much. And she always gives the right advice…even when I don’t want to hear it.

  “Thanks. I’m on it. How are things in Phoenix?”

  “Fine. It’s good to see Mom and Phil. They’re so tan from their trip to the South Pacific. The pictures they snapped are gorgeous!”

  “You’re envious?”

  “Yeah,” she spouts as if that’s obvious.

  “Um, you live in Hawaii.” When she laughs, I smile with her until we both sober. “Are you coming back?”

  She’s quiet for a long moment. “I don’t know. I suspect your brother and I both need to do some thinking. I can’t get a clear head when, every time I turn around, I see places we’ve been and…” She sighs. “I’m sure it sounds silly, but I’m not ready to handle it.”

  “Not silly at all.” I remember the devastation of being on this goddamn island and stumbling into someplace every day that reminded me of Britta and what we used to share.

  “Thanks. I left you a little something in your CD player when you dropped me off at the airport.”

  I hesitate. “Should I be afraid? It’s not more meditation music to humping grasshoppers, is it?”

  Keeley laughs at me again like she can’t decide whether to slap me upside the head or simply be amused. “No. It was cicadas, and we don’t know that they were humping, goof.”

  “We don’t know that they weren’t, either. It sounded like an insect orgy.”

  I hear a whole lot of what am I going to do with you? in her laugh. “You know music helps me interpret feelings—or give advice—when I can’t find the right words. So stop giving me a hard time and listen to what I left you, okay?”

  I’m sure it’s something meaningful that will try to move me forward, etc. She knows I find that shit painful. Why won’t she let me wallow like a good friend would? Because that’s not her style. Probably why she is my friend.

  “All right,” I grumble. “I will.”

  “I wish I was there to make tonight easier on you. I really am trying to help.”

  “I know.” And I would have been lost without her friendship years ago. “Thanks.”

  “Don’t lose sight of what you want out of the conversation. Stick to topics that will help your cause.”

  In other words, don’t get stupid and flay Britta open with my sharp tongue. “I won’t.”

  “Uh-huh. Let me put it in Griff-speak. Keep your shit together or you’re not going to get what you want. Call me later.”

  “I will. Seriously, thanks for everything.”

  “You can thank me by straightening out your life and finally being happy.”

  Wouldn’t that be nice? Sure. I’m just not holding my breath.

  I pass the next few miles of the drive to the music Keeley left me. I should have guessed she’d find the perfect song for the occasion. Her knowledge of music is insane, spanning genres and decades. You could scratch off what I know about it with a penny. I never really paid attention to all the melodic angst on the radio until her. Now I admit, I like it.

  She left a sticky note on the case that reads THINK ABOUT THIS FOR ME, PLEASE? I can’t refuse.

  The opening strums of guitar on the first song are iconic. Then Eddie Vetter’s voice shouts a little “Hey.” I already know this song is “Black” by Pearl Jam. A lot of people think this tune is sexual. If you listen to the lyrics, it’s depressing as hell. But it also describes where I’m stuck. Once, my earth totally revolved around my sun, Britta. After the split, the air I tasted and breathed took a turn, all right. A nosedive into hell. My bitter hands are still chafing beneath the clouds of what was everything to me. All my pictures, my memories, have been washed in black. Keeley’s “subtle” way of saying I’ve been mourning for three years.

  No shit.

  I skip through the last of that long track and move on to the next. The first notes of an unfamiliar melancholy tune hit my speake
rs, and I grab the CD case and give it a read. This tune is called “Windows” by someone named Angel Olsen, who has a haunting voice. By the end, she’s telling me I’ve been blind and I’ve been dead and it’s time to open up a window and let some light in.

  I snort. Keeley is never shy when she has something to say.

  The third song I recognize before the end of the first word. “Unchained Melody” by the Righteous Brothers. The tune is sweeping and epic. In the first three lines, I already feel as if the
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