“You could shit on the table,” Ethan says, horrified as he reads something on his phone.
I blink at him a few times, but he’s busy staring in disgust at whatever new “baby” material he’s found, so he doesn’t see the mortified expression on my face or the mindless blinking.
“We should be discussing names. Not shitting on the table,” I grumble, feeling the heat rise to my cheeks.
I had so better not shit on the table.
“You could also get hemorrhoids,” he goes on, paling a little. I’m sure there’s a visual on there that is making him queasy.
“Could you stop talking about possible ass issues and focus on the fact we still haven’t named our child?” I groan.
He puts his phone away, as I massage my stomach and grimace through another intense pain.
“What’s that face for?” Ethan asks, his eyes wide as I curse the day women got all the wrong body parts.
Why can’t men sometimes carry the frigging kid? Would it be too much to ask for them to grow a set of ovaries? Some of them already act like they have more estrogen than I do.
“Are you hurting? Should we go to the hospital? Are you in labor?” he asks in rapid-fire succession as he darts to his feet.
This panic attack of his? Been happening for two straight weeks. Daily.
If it wasn’t so damn adorable to see a tall, tatted, badass freaking out over the fact a tiny human is about to come out of me in a few days, I’d be annoyed. But as it is, I love the way he panics.
“Still just Braxton Hicks.” I think. Obviously I don’t tell him that last part.
“That’s the fake contractions, right?” he asks, just as he has daily.
I blow out a breath as the pain subsides, and I lean back. Still not comfortable.
Standing, I decide to walk a little. It seems to help. I’m already in my gown—yes, I said gown, because my pajamas don’t fit anymore—even though it’s barely even dark outside. My feet don’t like going out too often, because my ankles swell—
“Holy shit,” I hiss as a heavy wetness suddenly coats my thighs and a loud slap claps the floor.
My eyes follow the sound, and I stare wide-eyed at the fact there’s a puddle under me.
“Did you just piss yourself?” Ethan asks, clearing his throat of the laughter he’s trying to hide.
I stare, frozen for a few seconds, as a slow smile crawls over my lips. Just as he drops to his knees with a towel he’s fetched to clean up the water, I shake my head.
“My…water just broke,” I say quietly, tears filling up in my eyes.
I’m about to have a baby.
We’re about to have a baby.
Holy freaking tiny human; this is about to be real.
He’s drying the floor for a second longer before those words sink in and his head snaps up so that his eyes meet mine.
“What?” he blurts, his eyes darting to my stomach. “It’s time?!”
I nod, even though he can’t see it, because his gaze is still transfixed on my stomach. Until I grimace and rub my stomach again as the makings of a new contraction roll in.
Shit. Seven minutes apart. Oh damn.
“Ethan,” I say calmly, knowing how panicked he’s about to be. “Get the bags. We should go to the—”
“We have to go to the hospital!” he shouts, leaping to his feet and darting toward the bedroom.
He runs back out with the car seat, and rushes to the car. In record time, he’s darting back in, and grabbing our overnight bags we’ve had packed for three months now—since he wanted to be prepared.
He darts out again, and my brow furrows when I hear the roar of his car and the distinct sound of him squealing out.
Rolling my eyes, I calmly walk over to grab the diaper bag from the floor, trying not to think about the pain that is only getting more intense. I’ll be breaking fingers and making death threats soon if I don’t get drugged, damn it.
Pain and I do not have a good relationship.
Just as I walk out and lock the door behind me, Ethan is squealing back up to the curb, hopping out of the car that he leaves idling there. Guess he just realized he can’t have a baby without me.
“Shit! Sorry! Sorry! I have no idea how the hell I just forgot you!” he calls out as he scrambles to me, helping me down the small steps like I’ll topple over at any minute.
He works hard not to rush me to the car, though I can tell he wants to pick me up and toss me in. As soon as I’m in the car, he slams the door and clambers in on his side behind the wheel.
“Do not drive like a maniac,” I tell him as the contraction subsides, and I blow out a breath of relief.
He pulls away slowly, but he accelerates quickly once we’re heading down the road. His body is wound tight, and I stare at him for the distraction.
Never would I have thought this would be my life. Never would I have believed happiness this surreal was attainable.
His hand reaches over and clasps mine, as though he knew I wanted that. When he pulls my hand to his lips and kisses it, I turn into a major girly girl. The girly girl fades quickly into Wonder Woman when I squeeze the hell out of his hand as a much more painful contraction blindsides me with no preamble.
“Oh shit. Oh shit. Oh shit,” he says under his breath, letting me squeeze his hand even as he whirls us around to the ER entrance.
This time, he doesn’t let me waddle out and take my time. He lifts me bridal style and sprints through the doors.
“We’re having a baby! Right now! Bring everyone! And get her the drugs because she’s hurting!”
Everyone just stares at him like he’s an idiot, and I bite back a grin. Until another damn contraction has me crying out in pain this time and attempting to double over in his arms.
That’s what kicks everyone into action, and people start scrambling, bringing a wheelchair immediately to take me back as orders are rattled off to Ethan, and paperwork is thrust at him.
As soon as I’m taken from his arms, he pulls his phone up and calls someone.
“Mom, it’s me. We’re having the baby. Call our doctor and then everyone else. We’re at Sterling Memorial.”
He hangs up as soon as those words are out, and rounds the chair to grab my hand, staying at my side as they start asking him a bunch of questions and shoving more paperwork at him.
It seems like it takes forever to get into a room, and two contractions come and go during that time, because this baby has decided to come the hell right out without fucking around.
This. Is. Not. Cool.
I need drugs, damn it.
Ethan looks like he’s barely holding his shit together when another bloodcurdling scream is forced out as the tiny human in my belly me tries to kill me from the inside or something.
I feel really bad for thinking those mothers were so dramatic all those years now. Karma sucks sweaty balls.
With the contractions now coming a minute or two a part, there’s no time for an epidural, and Bella is cursing every single person in the room. Her pain tolerance is…nonexistent as it is, and I want to punch someone every time she screams in pain again. It’s all I can do not to strangle the doctor and nurses who are refusing her the relief she fucking needs.
“I carried you for-freaking-ever!” she shouts, glaring at her stomach as sweat coats her face and dampens her hair. “Stop trying to punish me for giving you life, you ungrateful little vagina destroyer! I will so—”
Another long cry of pain interrupts whatever she’s saying as everyone gets into position.
“Breathe, baby,” I say softly, biting through my own pain as she works damn hard on breaking my hand. With my free hand, I smooth her hair away from her face that feels slightly feverish from all the exertion.
She makes several sounds that don’t sound like breathing at all, before she glares over at me.
“Your stupid Jacob’s Ladder did this to me! I never would have barebacked if I hadn’t wanted to feel all those damn piercings!” she shouts.
Every pair of eyes in the room drops to my crotch like they’ll see my dick piercings through my jeans.
“Care to get my kid out of her and stop staring at my crotch?” I snap.
The doctor clears his throat, and they start directing Bella to push. Another hand crush, several cries of agony that break my fucking heart, and one vicious threat later, she’s dropping back, tears leaking from her eyes.
“Why does our baby hate me so much already?” she groans.
“She just wants out to meet you,” I tell her, which gets me a narrowed-eye, go-to-hell look.
Bella hates pain, in case that’s not obvious.
She was supposed to be numb to the pain, damn it.
Prompted to push again, I brace for the next bone-cracking squeeze, and try not to kick the doctor in the face for letting her hurt this much.
I have no idea if it’s hours or minutes passing between each cry of pain from the lips of the woman I love.
One more push is all it takes, and suddenly they’re rushing around, moving a silent, goop-covered baby to the side.
“She’s not crying.” Bella chokes on the words as her hand squeezes mine for a different reason, and my heart jumps to my throat and dread coils in my stomach in a way I’ve never felt before in my life.
Tears prick my eyes unexpectedly as I squeeze Bella’s hand back, frozen to my spot as I watch helplessly.
“Why isn’t she crying?” Bella asks louder, her eyes searching the stoic faces in the room. “She’s supposed to be—”
A loud cry thunders through the room, and my entire body sags with relief so fierce that I almost can’t stand. Never have I ever been so fucking scared, and I haven’t even met her yet.
I’m going to have to lock her in a tower and protect her from the entire world if I’m already freaking out before I even meet her.
Tears are streaming from Bella’s eyes as they bring a semi-clean little girl to her, and I choke back the emotion that’s gathering inside me, unsure what exact emotion it is that I’m feeling. It’s like I want to feel everything at once, creating an entirely new emotion. I’m too overwhelmed to even process my thoughts as Bella cradles our daughter against her chest.
She looks so much like Bella already that it’s startling. I expected her to have no real features yet. A shock of black hair is sticking straight up on her head, still damp and not entirely clean. How does she have so much hair? Aren’t babies supposed to be bald?
Bella laughs and hiccups around a sob when our little girl squeezes her finger. She can already do that?
She’s so fucking tiny that I’m scared breathing on her wrong is going to break her, and I’m tense as hell as Bella shifts her closer, absently hearing the nurse drone on with breastfeeding instructions and the fact they have to take her away to clean her properly.
They can’t take her, can they? I mean, we just got her, for fuck’s sake.
She’ll be terrified if they take her away from her parents so soon. What if she thinks we’re abandoning her? Won’t this fuck her up psychologically?
“Ethan?” Bella prompts, snapping me out of my inner panic that I’m working damn hard not to show on the outside.
“Yeah?” My voice is raw, barely audible, and Bella grins at me as she motions for me to take the tiny little thing out of her arms.
“Want to hold our daughter?” she asks, as the miniature version of her whimpers and makes a really familiar expression. That’s the same face Bella makes when she’s hangry.
I shake my head very fucking fast. “Have you seen my hands? They’re huge! And she’s so fucking small. And fragile. And—”
“Hold your daughter,” Bella says firmly, cutting me off as she smirks.
Terrified out of my damn mind, I slowly take her, carefully maneuvering her head to be propped and secured as our baby is transferred from her mother to me.
I’m a dad.
My vision blurs, and I clear my throat several times as I stare at the watery image of my daughter. It takes me a second to realize the ache in my cheeks is from me smiling, and I can’t seem to stop.
“Being a dad looks good on you, Ethan Noles,” Bella says as I look at her, taking in the scene, seeing us as a family for the first time.
“Not as good as being a mom looks on you,” I tell her, my voice still rough from all the fierce instincts trying to climb out.
I’m alarmed to even put this little glass doll in a car. That can’t be safe. Do they know how I drive?
Well, how I drove. Past tense. I’ll be getting tickets for going under the minimum if she’s in the car with me.
“What’s her name?” someone asks, and Bella arches an eyebrow at me.
I didn’t want to name her until I saw her. Her name needed to fit her. And she looks just like her fucking mother.
“Isa,” I say without thinking twice about it.
“Isa?” Bella asks, brow furrowed.
“She looks just like you. You’re Bella—”
“Short for Belladonna,” she reminds me.
“But you’re Bella. Not Belladonna. She’s Isa. Not Isabella. Just Isa. It’s just…right.”
She gives me a smile that says she thinks I’m crazy, but winks at me. “Our daughter’s name is Isa,” she agrees.
“We need to take her now so we can get back and start the feeding. We won’t be long,” a nurse says, but I don’t hand Isa over until Bella prompts me to do so.
Then I take forever with the tiny baby transfer, and watch them until they disappear from the room, my heart hurting with every second she’s out of sight.
“Marry me,” I say as soon as I look back at Bella, and her eyebrows hit her hairline.
“Really? You’re seriously proposing to me right now?”
“I’ve been trying to get you to marry me for months,” I remind her.
She bats her hair out of her face while leaning back, her eyes on me intently.
“We’ve talked about this. Eventually we might be ready for marriage. I’m currently the most exhausted I’ve ever been in my life, and I don’t want to say the wrong thing because of that. I love you, Ethan. I really freaking love you. But I don’t want to be married just because we had a baby together, and—”
“I don’t want to be married just because we have a baby either,” I tell her, sitting down on a chair and scooting closer to the bed as I pull her hand in mine and kiss it.
My eyes stay on her confused ones as I blow out a shaky breath.
“I want us to be a family. Completely in. I want it all, and I want it all with you and Isa.”
When her eyes water, I refrain from doing a fist pump. Because she’s also smiling. Which means I’m totally fucking winning right now.
“I can’t believe we’re getting engaged while my vagina is sore and out of commission for at least five or six weeks.”
My smile only grows as I dart to my feet. “So, yes?” I ask, my heart hammering my chest.
She nods, her own grin too wide for her face. “Yes. I’ll marry you.”
I reach down, gently cradling her neck, before my lips find hers, and I kiss her like it’s the first time. Then groan when the part about her vagina being out of commission for a while finally sinks in.
“Fucking really?” Kode Sterling’s voice shatters the spell of this really important, life-changing moment, and I break the kiss to turn and glare at him.
He’s already glaring at me as he points an accusatory finger. “You’re getting married?” he demands.
“Can we not tell everyone yet? I’d like for them to focus on the baby,” Bella says, battling a knowing grin as Kode turns a funny shade of pissed-off.
“Un-fucking-believable. Is everyone going to get married before me?” he gripes.
“You know you have to actually ask your girlfriend to marry you in order to get married, right?” Bella quips, her fingers threading with mine.
Kode rolls his eyes. “I have a plan.”
“So you keep saying,” I say with a smirk. “Just man up. It’s not like this is the first time I’ve tried getting Bella to marry me.”
He flips me off, and as if summoned, Tria walks in, her eyes wide and bright. “I saw her! Everyone is at the nursery with their faces pressed against the glass. Including Arlene.”
I groan. I see motherfucking scrapbooks in my very near future.
Bella starts filling her in on the madness that seemed to be never-ending before Isa shot out of her vagina like a bottle rocket—her words.
“And I’m almost positive I didn’t shit on the table,” Bella primly adds.
Kode turns a shade of green as his nose wrinkles, and Tria frowns. “That’s a thing?” Tria hisses.
I practically scramble off the bed, tuning out the conversation as my baby returns, being rolled in by some weird contraption that looks like half an incubator or some shit. The clear panels on the sides look too hard for her soft little hands to touch, even though she’s swaddled too tightly for her hands to be free.
I quickly go to her, lifting her gently.
“Time to feed, so I need everyone out,” the nurse says kindly.
I barely notice the room is getting crowded as I go to Bella’s side. The door gets shut on the baby-fever faces, and I lean over, watching as Isa latches on like she’s done it a thousand times. That’s my girl.
By the time she’s finished eating, Bella is laughing and talking to me about everyone being desperate to hold our girl. She tells me she’s ready to see everyone, even though I know she’s exhausted.
And my baby is back in my arms.
Those fuckers outside can just wait their turns. Even my mother is just going to have to wait.
“Just think. One day, she’ll be all grown up, and some guy with tats and inappropriate body piercings will be sitting in your living room,” Bella decides to say, causing me to gape at her in horror.
The nurse snorts as she writes something down on the chart.
“Why would you even talk about something so fu—freaking terrible right now?” I growl.
“Just getting a mental image of you freaking out over her dating a sixteen-year-old version of yourself is keeping me awake. I’m easily amused,” she says with a mocking grin.
The door opens, interrupting the terrifying conversation, and in walks Maverick fucking Sterling like his impatient ass can’t be bothered to stay in the hall any longer.
“Damn, that baby looks a helluva lot like me,” he says, winking as he gives me a taunting smirk.
Salem coughs, trying to mask the sound of her laugh as she cuts her head away, her shoulders shaking as she holds a gift bag. How did he find someone just as infuriating as him?
I narrow my eyes at the asshole Sterling.
“I suppose the only thing worse than a sixteen-year-old version of you would be a sixteen-year-old version of Maverick Sterling,” Bella says like she’s goading me, confusing Maverick as everyone else starts walking in.
My entire body turns to stone. “Oh hell no,” I say with a shudder.
That’s it. My daughter is never growing up. Nope. Never. Never. Never.