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Meet My Book Family – HOLD ON TIGHT (With Sneak Peek!)

Serena BellToday is release day for Hold on Tight, the story of Jake, a wounded soldier, and Mira, a mother learning to stand on her own two feet.

Not quite a year ago, a single sentence changed my life—my agent’s voice on the phone asking, “How would you feel about writing a secret baby book?” Within a day, I knew exactly who my characters were, and just how Mira would feel when Jake showed up in her life—and her son’s—after eight years of fighting in Afghanistan. It took me a little longer to explore what it would be like for Jake, coming home from a hard war, physically altered and deeply affected by what he’d seen and done. Soon, though, I knew that for both Jake and Mira, the experience of meeting each other—and figuring out how to parent Sam—would change everything for them, forever. And along the way, I knew they’d have plenty of amazing moments—tussles, real arguments, steamy and sometimes imperfect or even difficult sex, and realizations about just how hard, and how rewarding, it is to become a family. Most of all, I knew I wanted to share every one of those moments with my readers. So I’m so, so psyched today to introduce you to Jake, Mira, and Sam, the people who’ve kept me company these last nine months. I hope you love them as much as I do.

Serena Bell

Chapter 1

Eight years ago

He didn’t expect her to say yes. He asked on a whim, throwing the words out into the warm night as an experiment. “Let’s go in.”
They stood with their bare feet in the sand at the edge of the lake. The surface was a strip of glass—cool and mysterious, reflecting a row of spiky trees the moonlight had thrown between sky and water.
Pale light shone in her eyes. Her bottom lip was glossy and begged to be nipped. Her hair was something he wanted to get lost in, the way he wanted to get lost in her. He was out of time, and it made him brave. In a week, he’d be fighting in Afghanistan, and this—whatever it was—would be a memory.
This wasn’t supposed to be happening. He wasn’t the kind of guy who could meet a girl and feel things for her. He was the type who should’ve spent his leave drinking beer with his buds and longing to get the hell back to the war. Whereas this guy he’d become, this new version of himself, couldn’t spend enough moments with his face pressed against Mira’s hair, breathing peace.
She was eighteen; he was twenty. He’d picked her up in a Seattle bowling alley, where she’d come with friends, the first night of his leave. He’d been raring to burn off training testosterone. They’d made it as far as his car before she’d confessed how young she was and admitted she’d never been picked up by anyone in her life. He’d been planning to take her to a hotel room, but she was only a month past her birthday and obviously not that kind of girl, so they took a drive instead, the night air rushing by their open windows, the narrow roads hemmed in by trees. He found himself telling her everything in his head. Stories. Favorite books, childhood vacations, old friends, anxiety dreams . . . as if the pent-up thing in him had never been lust at all, but words, months’ worth of thoughts he’d kept locked up tight.
At the end of that first night, she’d leaned over and kissed him, and he lost his mind in the softness of her lips.
Before he’d flown home, his fire team leader had gathered them together. “We deploy in a month. Don’t get distracted. And for fuck’s sake, whatever you do, don’t get married.”
Jake leaned over and nudged Mike, his buddy, his teammate, and said, “No fucking chance.” Because if there was one thing Jake knew, it was that he was never getting married. Never having a family.
When he first got home, he’d stopped in to see his folks. They were as miserable as he remembered, drunk when he arrived, snarling and snapping at each other. There were faded bruises on his mother’s arms and circles under her eyes. It had always been that way: his father on disability since Jake’s childhood, drifting through life since he’d fallen off a roof he was de-mossing; his mother using cheap wine and online shopping to drown the misery of a bad marital choice made worse by circumstance.
Jake had known at age twelve that he had to get out as soon as possible. And then at fourteen, the first plane had hit the first tower and he’d known where he was going to. He would take the fight to those assholes, wherever they were; he would rain destruction down on them like they’d rained it down on New York City. On his country.
He’d scoffed at the idea that he could be distracted. The month of post-training leave couldn’t go fast enough; deployment couldn’t come soon enough; he couldn’t wait to put a bullet through the first motherfucker’s head.
Except then there was Mira. Three weeks so far, nights strung together like shiny beads in his memory. Nights she told her parents she was with her friends, nights she stole from her life as a good girl. Movies, sitting side by side, the heat of her arm sinking into his skin and making it hard for him to sit still, a slow burn twisting in his gut. Nights at Dick’s, splitting french fries and chocolate milkshakes and passing iPods across the speckled table to share songs.
In the car afterward, Mira setting the pace, her kisses bolder every night, their mouths sliding over each other’s, slick and hungry, bodies tangled and sweaty, fighting the gearshift and the emergency brake, her kneeling over him, trying to press as close as possible.
Her hands gained confidence as they moved across his heated skin, as they unfastened the button and zipper of his jeans, as they slipped beneath the waistband of his briefs.
She’d never said she was a virgin, but he guessed she was because she’d seemed surprised when he’d flicked his thumbs over her nipples. When he’d tongued them. When he’d slid his hand down the front of her pants and worked a finger through the tangle of her curls to tap her clit. The first time, she’d come against his hand with a soft, broken cry.
That, like everything else, wasn’t supposed to have happened. Nor was the tiny ping in his chest, a seed bursting through its tough shell to germinate, at the sound of her voice.
And now there were seven days left.
Not much time for what he wanted from her, which was all of her, under him, around him, over and over.
But it couldn’t be more than that—not more than a week of sex. Because he was never getting married. Because she’d told him that first night that she’d deliberately chosen to get herself picked up by a stranger as an act of rebellion. Her father had just informed her that he wouldn’t pay for her to attend art school, but would only give her money for “a real college.” She’d been so pissed at her dad that night, she would have slept with a sixty-five-year-old hardened ex-con to get a rise out of him.
“My dad’s a total control freak,” she’d told him on their third date. She’d grown up on Bainbridge Island, college-bound before she’d popped out of the womb. Her parents were the same brand as his father, ex-hippies, but unlike his father, all whitewashed and clean living. She’d said, “My father would kill me. I never meant this to be anything other than a one-night thing.”
“You and me both,” he told her, but they didn’t push it any further than that.
There was only now. The sand under their feet, the gathering mist over the water, her mouth curving into a smile. There was no future.
This is all there is. Now.
He willed her to feel it, too.
He listened so hard to hear her answer that he almost missed it, because she didn’t give it in words. She unbuttoned the top button of her blouse instead. Long fingers fumbling with the pearl-white disk. No revelation at first, only that undoing. Then another button, and the shirt fell open, revealing her breasts mounded high in pink lace cups.
An ache bloomed at the base of his spine, the root of his dick, in his balls. His mouth ached, too. Before Mira, he hadn’t understood that sex could make you crazy. That it could take hold in your teeth and knees and chest. That you could want something so badly you’d beg for it.
He’d kept the begging inside because he hadn’t wanted to frighten her.
She undid another button and a sound came out of him he’d never heard before, something grating in his throat.
She smiled. “You like that?”
“Hell, yeah,” he said.
Another button, and another, and the shirt hung down at her sides. He cupped her breasts in his hands. Now the ache was in his throat and his jaw and God, fucking everywhere.
With other girls, he’d kissed them because it was the thing to do, the time to do it. With Mira, he kissed her because he couldn’t not. And he kept kissing her because it hurt to stop, played with her nipples and grabbed her ass and rocked her up against him because he wanted to have all, fucking all, of her; there wasn’t enough of her, he couldn’t get enough of her. That was how it was with Mira.
The way she got in his arms. Like something fierce, writhing and live. Like he could barely hold her. And that lit his craving worse. He wanted to trap her, wanted to rub his heat and need off on her, but she wouldn’t be contained.
She wriggled out of his arms and darted a short distance away.
“Come back.”
She shook her head and dropped her shirt to the sand behind her. She undid her bra and arched her back a little so her breasts swelled and her nipples tipped up. Something roared in him, but he stayed where he was because the visual was so fine he couldn’t stop looking. Saliva rushed into his mouth, blood poured into his dick. And then her hands found the button of her denim shorts and slid them and her underpants down her long, white legs to the sand. The whole, perfect fantasy revealed in the moonlight.
He lunged, but she ran into the water, laughing at him. She gasped at the cold. “Get in here and warm me up.”
He got out of his own clothes so fast he tripped over his jeans and got an arm tangled in his T-shirt. The cool water slid across his heated limbs. His body tightened and shrank, but his desire stayed sharp beneath the surface of his skin, like an undercurrent. He kicked and swam out, then back, stretching his legs and luxuriating. She treaded water and watched.
“C’mere,” she said.
In the water, she was cool and slippery, heat hidden in the places where he buried his fingers and his face. They stood in water up to their shoulders, and her body warmed his until she pressed his erection between his belly and hers.
“Do you want to?” A gesture so vague she could have been asking if he wanted to go to the grocery store, but even in the dim light he could see the flush rise in her cheeks.
He wanted to. So much he couldn’t answer, couldn’t choke out yes, fuck yes, oh my God please yes.
“I have two blankets in my bag,” she said.
“I don’t have condoms.”
“I do.”
She’d planned for it and—he wanted to believe—longed for it. Jesus. He kissed her hard and lifted her off her feet and tried to press up into her despite the mad impossibility of those logistics.
She laughed at him. “Hang on. Hang on.”
He swept her into his arms and carried her up the beach. He squatted, balancing her across his thighs, ignoring the burn, grabbing the blankets out of the tote bag she’d brought and laying them out as best he could on the sand. He set her down on one and she spread the edges out, then reached for him and pulled him down so abruptly he lost his balance and fell beside her.
He crawled over her and dropped his mouth to hers. Her body was a dizzying contrast of warm and cool, her tongue a wild, aggressive thing. He couldn’t catch his breath. She made senseless sounds, moving against his fingers, shifting to press her breasts up so he could duck his head and lick circles around her tight nipples. Her next noise was a definite moan. It swirled in his belly and made him so hard it hurt.
“I want you,” she whispered in his ear.
His brain had shut down, and whatever part of him was in charge could only think: In. He moved over her and positioned himself, swollen and leaking pre-cum. He felt her wet heat give against his tip, felt her all over his head, and he almost came right then and there, almost blew his wad and ruined the whole fucking night.
“Condom,” she said.
“Shit.” He withdrew.
She tugged her bag over and found one, tore it open and reached for him. He had to use all his self-control to hang on. He made a choked sound, and she hummed her approval as he got between her legs again and she lined him up against her wetness. He thrust forward. An inch, and he wouldn’t have thought it possible but he wanted her even more, her fierce heat squeezing him, and he pressed farther, farther, until he noticed she’d gone still beneath him.
He was so crazed with lust that it took him a moment to catch on. She’d turned her face away, too.
“Mira,” he whispered.
“Ow,” she whispered back.
“Oh, Christ, I’m sorry,” he said, and drew back, which elicited another squeaked noise of—he now recognized—pain. “I’ll go slower.” He dropped a hand between her legs and began to slick his thumb lightly back and forth over her clit.
“That feels good,” she said, but as soon as he tried to move again, she made another noise of distress.
He kissed her, hard, and her mouth opened to him, got wetter against his, but her body got more rigid. She drew back. Some nasty animal part of him wanted to grab her and refuse to let go, but he was stern with his desperation and it subsided. His erection was doing the same. Shrinking away from her misery. In a few seconds, he’d slip out of her. The thought filled him with a kind of despair. This is all there is, the now. A few minutes ago, it had seemed like infinite space, unlimited promise. Now it was the end.
He withdrew and rolled away.
“I’m sorry.” She had tucked her face under her arm and her shoulders shook. Crying. He felt it, a hollow pain in his chest.
“Don’t be. We’ll try again.” He tried to soothe her with a hand on her hair, but she didn’t soften under his touch.
“There’s no time. We don’t have enough time.”
“We have a week,” he said, but he felt desperation lock around his ribs.
“I’m an idiot,” she said.
“This wasn’t your fault. It was your first time, right?”
She nodded.
“It’ll be better next time. I’ll make it better.”
Because he wanted to leave her with something that mattered. Something she would always have. In case she met assholes in college who took advantage, who didn’t know what they were doing, who didn’t see how amazing she was, how she deserved the best he could give her. Not like this, not halfway and awkward, but the way he would do it next time, as much a revelation as the first time she’d cried out and arched in his arms.
But she was shaking her head. “I’m not an idiot because of that. I’m an idiot because I didn’t see this coming.”
“What?”
“How I would feel—”
His chest got tight. Tighter.
“That I would fall—”
“Don’t say it,” he said.
She turned away. Her shoulders slumped. He ached to reach out and pull her in. To be a different guy with a different life, to say, We have all the time in the world.
“I was trying to prove something. To my father. To myself. But this—Do you think—” Whatever she was trying to say, it was costing her something. “Do you think there’s any chance I could see you? Next time you’re home? That we could—I don’t know—try to be together?”
Don’t get distracted. He could see his fire team leader, Sergeant Trebwylyn, in his mind’s eye. Buzzed hair, big as a Hummer, perpetually pissed off, warning them that he’d known way too many guys who’d come back from leave married. Dads-to-be. Entangled, distracted, bullet magnets.
He’d given them one job, Don’t get distracted, and Jake had managed to screw it up. He hadn’t even set foot on Afghan soil and he was already a fuckup (like your father, said that particular voice in his head). And what she was asking him for led him straight to what he’d vowed he’d never do. I will never be like my parents. The only way he knew for sure to avoid that was to never become part of a family. He’d already let himself get pulled way too far down this path. There was only one answer he could give her.
When he looked into her dark brown eyes, a stark contrast with her blond hair and fair skin, he wanted to kiss her. But if he kissed her, he’d want more of her, and if he took what he wanted, he’d be in deeper. They’d both be in deeper.
She heard what he hadn’t said into the silence.
“Okay,” she said. “Okay.”
But I didn’t even answer yet. He wanted to take back his non-answer, wanted to beg her for another chance.
The words were there, pressure in his chest, like that first night when he’d found himself telling her so much, for no reason other than that she was Mira, that she listened, that she heard. A pressure stronger than lust, the need to tell her how he felt. He wanted her to know everything. He wanted her to be the only person he ever told anything to.
Don’t get distracted.
She turned away.
“I can’t,” she said. “I can’t do this.”


Chapter 2

Eight years later

Mira Shipley watched her son, Sam, through the window of the physical therapist’s office. He was frowning as the PT explained something. His seven-year-old forehead was wrinkled under too much hair, his skinny body stork-like in shorts and a T-shirt. He needed a haircut and socks that fit and probably, as usual, to have his fingernails cleaned and trimmed. When she’d lived with her parents, she hadn’t fully appreciated how much they took care of. Now all the tasks of a single mom were hers and hers alone.
She wished she were in the office with him, but the physical therapist had asked her to stay in the waiting room. Watching Sam from a distance made Mira feel deeply, peculiarly, tender, some vestige of the way she’d felt when she’d stood outside the newborn nursery and watched him through the glass. That one’s mine. I made him. And now I have to keep him safe. She’d been alone with him in the world, terrified—having no idea how to change a diaper or administer a bath or soothe that spazzy, overstimulated crying he’d launched into at five p.m. on his fourth day of life, a pattern that would continue for ten solid weeks.
She could smile now, thinking of it, of walking the halls of her parents’ house with Sam swaddled tightly to her chest. Of the small, exhausted sighs Sam emitted when he finally dropped into sleep. Of the way he’d nestled against her on the bed as he’d nursed in the early morning. They hadn’t done so badly, she and Sam. Not at all. They were a good team, and they’d get through this crazy summer, too.
Of course, she hadn’t felt at all tender toward him in the car on the way here as he’d griped about physical therapy. She wanted to say, You should have thought of that before you climbed that spindly tree. What did you think was going to happen?
Even if Sam had been able to predict that the branch—half the diameter of his absurdly thin wrists—would snap, he wouldn’t have been able to foresee all the consequences of his risk-taking. He’d hurt his shoulder, arm, and knee, earning himself a couple of weeks of physical therapy. And disqualifying him from going to summer camp.
Now she had no place for him to go while she worked.
She and Sam had just moved out of her parents’ house in Florida, where they’d been living for the last seven years. Under their roof, she hadn’t had to work. They’d paid Sam’s medical bills, supported them both. Now she and Sam were living in Seattle, where she’d been born and raised, and they had no one to depend on but themselves.
That was how she wanted it.
Or so she’d thought.
Behind the plate-glass window, Sam stretched a giant red rubber band while his therapist, a thin woman with gray hair pulled tightly back in a ponytail, corrected his form. Mira was supposed to have started work Monday, but they’d granted her an extra week to find childcare. Now it was Friday, and she was due to plant her butt in her office chair on Monday, but luckily, yesterday she’d finally interviewed and hired a sitter. Penny had been charming, articulate, and a big hit with Sam, who wasn’t always the easiest kid to win over. For the first time since Mira had unrolled sleeping bags on the floor of their new house, she felt like she had all the pieces of her new life—her fabulous, independent new life—in place.
The door of the office swung open and a man stepped in. He went to the check-in desk and spoke in a low voice to the woman there, then came into the waiting area. The slightest hesitation in his step drew her eye downward. One of his legs was prosthetic—an expensive gray running shoe was fitted with a slim shank of metal ankle that thickened to a robotic calf and knee. She tried not to stare—at either the prosthetic or his flesh-and-blood calf, which was lean, well-muscled, and covered with golden curls.
Nice.
She made herself look away, feeling vaguely guilty for wondering what had happened and how he felt about it. Even though she wanted to look again, she wouldn’t let herself.
But she peeked. He wore nylon hiking shorts with a red plaid short-sleeved shirt, untucked. Slim hips and waist, nicely sculpted posterior, broad chest and hunky shoulders.
Very, very nice.
He made his way over to a chair and sat down on a diagonal from her. Even in her peripheral vision, she could see that he’d taken over the seat like an alpha male—knees apart, leaning back casually. This is what I’ve got to offer, baby. I’m so good, I don’t even have to convince you.
Sadly, the posture worked on her. But it was somehow at odds with her expectation, and she chastised herself. What? He’s not allowed to be cocky because he has a prosthetic leg?
Her phone buzzed in her back jeans pocket. Penny Dawson. Her life-saving babysitter.
“Hello?”
“Mira? It’s Penny. I’m so sorry to do this to you—”
Oh, shit. Mira’s breath stopped. She couldn’t lose Penny. In her last conversation with her new boss, Haley had been patient but firm: “We can give you till Monday, but we need to know that we can depend on you. We need to know childcare isn’t going to be an ongoing issue.”
Mira had moved across the country. She’d pulled up stakes, broken her parents’ hearts, and bet everything on herself. She needed her job.
“I’m so sorry, Mira. I just got a permanent, full-time offer teaching at Broadview Montessori. Summer and school year.”
A collection of desperate thoughts went through Mira’s head. Bribes, extravagant promises, a willingness to prostrate herself and beg.
“Any chance you could watch Sam just next week?”
“I’m sorry. I asked. They said no. They said they had another candidate who could start right away if I couldn’t.” Penny sounded wretched.
So Mira would have to go back to the drawing board on babysitters. Maybe, if she was lucky, she could still find one for Monday. She swallowed hard. “It’s okay. That’s great about the new job. I’m really psyched for you. Of course you need to take it. You wouldn’t happen to have any ideas about who else could watch a smart, well-behaved seven-year-old for the summer—or even just next week—would you?”
“I’m really sorry,” Penny said. “I wracked my brain this morning to try to think of someone who could do it. I even called a few friends. I swear if I think of anyone, I will let you know.”
“Thank you. I really appreciate that.”
“It was really nice to meet you. And Sam. If you ever need an evening sitter, or weekends—”
“I’ll definitely call.”
“And meantime, I’ll keep my fingers crossed that you find someone, and I’ll call you if I think of anyone.”
“Thanks.”
Mira let the phone drop into her lap and took a deep breath.
On the other side of the room, the cocky guy with the prosthetic leg shifted in his seat, drawing her gaze. Brown hair, on the longer side of short, uncombed. A couple of days’ unshaven scruff. Not her type; she liked professional men, clean-shaven. Her mind was about to dismiss him—a guy I ran into in the physical therapist’s office and wasn’t attracted to, but not because he was an amputee, just because he wasn’t my fantasy. But something made her look again.
Holy shit. She knew that face. The strong jaw, the well-formed upper lip, the deep groove that ran vertically between his brows—
She’d memorized his features in the few weeks they’d been together, the quick three-quarters way he smiled, like he couldn’t quite fully commit to happiness, the all-in truth of his smile when he gave himself over. The creases that formed when he frowned, the way his jaw set when something bothered him. That night at the lake—the last night—the look on his face when she’d taken off her clothes. Gratitude and longing and Who, me? For real?
The night came back to her in sharp contrasts, pairs of impressions. The coolness of his wet skin and the heat of his body. The softness of his mouth moving over hers, over her breasts, and the hard tug of his suckling, the yank of desire she’d felt. The rich summer smells, green and overripe, and the clean soap scent of him. How open she’d felt, how boundary-less, melting, flowing, willing—and how her body had betrayed and frustrated her.
How good he’d made her feel, better than she’d ever felt in her life, and the way he’d hurt her. The way they’d dressed, packed up, and driven home in silence. How hard she’d cried, and for how long.
Jake.
His eyes caught hers, caught and held and held and held. Sam’s gray-blue eyes, Sam’s full lower lip, Sam’s absurdly long eyelashes. Jake’s face.
Would Sam someday have a jaw like that, square and strong? Would his nose, which was still a little boy’s pudgy upturned nose, be as bladelike as his father’s?
How many times had she promised herself that if this moment ever came, she wouldn’t hold the truth back from Jake?
But she’d never pictured it happening in a setting like this. Public. Awkward.
“Mira.” He said it slowly, as if he were pulling the name from the furthest reaches of his memory.
“Hi, Jake.”
Her voice was splintered, thready. There was no pretending this was a no-big-deal moment. Not for her. And he wasn’t trying to play it cool either. He scrutinized her, jaw set, expression serious. There was grief in every line of his face. Something she thought might be anger. A darkness behind the surface of his eyes that she’d seen only once before, that night by the lake, when she’d asked him for a future he couldn’t give.
She was feeling too much, and she couldn’t put it all together. When he’d been a stranger with a prosthetic leg, she could manage the sympathy, the curiosity, the faint survivor’s guilt. But he was her Jake, a man she’d been intimate with, and he’d lost part of the body she’d worshipped. He was her Jake, and he was here, in this room, and she was so glad to see him, so glad she wanted to hurl herself at him, but also terrified, because what was she supposed to do or say now?
She had promised herself she’d tell him.
But he had never really been her Jake, had he? And now—
Now he really was a stranger. Even if her body was trying to tell her he wasn’t. Insisting it hadn’t forgotten the scent or the heat or the weight of him, hadn’t forgotten what he could do with his hungry mouth and skilled fingers.
She wasn’t eighteen. She wasn’t free to indulge herself, to throw herself open like a book. She had Sam to think about.
“You look good,” she said, because the silence was spreading and someone had to say something.
For a fraction of a second—she might have missed it if she hadn’t been so hyperalert—he looked down at his leg. Then back up at her face, his eyes empty.
He didn’t say it back. You look good, too, Mira. She hated herself for wishing he had.
She had no idea what to say next. How to make small talk with a man who was all the things he was to her: a summer fling gone wrong, the hottest not-sex she’d ever had, the father of her child. How to make small talk with someone who so obviously wanted nothing to do with her.
“You look like you’re doing great.”
The look in his eyes, pure scorn, told her how absurd he thought that was. “I do all right.”
Every word she said that was not I have a son, and he’s your son, too felt like a lie. Like postponing the inevitable. But could she just . . . do it? In the waiting room of the physical therapist’s office? They were the only two people here, but surely there was a better time and place. Someplace quiet, someplace private, someplace . . . intimate.
But how would she get him alone like that? How would she explain why she needed to?
So many times, she had imagined a chance meeting, this opportunity to finally say, Jake, I have something to tell you. You might want to sit down.
Well, here he was. Sitting.
“That’s my son,” she said, pointing through the window. “Sam.”
Her heart pounded so hard she thought she’d be sick.
She waited for a flicker of recognition, something to indicate he’d made the connection, but there was nothing. Only his blank, grim expression. Was he still in there somewhere, behind that mask? Was it the loss of his leg that had made him like this, or what he’d seen in the war? She’d read somewhere that the army was requiring longer and longer commitments from soldiers, pushing them to the outside limit of what they could endure, physically and mentally. Who knew how damaged he was?
Who knew if he was someone she would choose to let her child spend time with, let alone love?
“Could I—could we—get coffee?”
Maybe if she sat down with him, if they could talk, if she could find out who he was and where he’d been.
“What?” he asked. “Chat and catch up?”
“Yes. Chat and catch up.”
“I fill you in on what it’s like to be down a limb?”
He was angry. Not at her, or at least not at her for any good reason. At his fate, at the world. And she couldn’t blame him for that. She couldn’t imagine—couldn’t fathom—what it would be like to have to relearn everything, to start from scratch with walking and balance and all the things she took for granted.
“I don’t think so,” he said. “I’m not much for coffee talk these days.”
“Ms. Shipley?” The physical therapist, Joanne, had poked her head into the waiting room. “I want to go over Sam’s homework with you.”
Okay, what did she do now? Walk away? Despite his curtness, she couldn’t imagine turning her back on him and writing him off. Sam’s father.
If she walked away now, if she let him walk away now, she’d have no way to get in touch with him. It would be as good as if they’d never had this chance meeting.
Was that what she wanted?
She’d promised herself. If I ever see him again, I will tell him he’s Sam’s father.
“Sure. Can you hang on a second?” she asked Joanne. “I’ll be right there.”
“No problem. I’ll show Sam one more thing on the ball while we wait for you.” Joanne disappeared again.
“Just—please,” she said to Jake. “Coffee, a drink—I don’t care. I’d just like us to get a chance to talk.”
“Do we have something to talk about?”
His words found their way into her old, half-healed hurt. The part of her that had tried for months—years—to understand how she could have been so wrong about what he felt for her.
But there was no room for pride now, no room to care if he thought she was desperate or throwing herself at him, hoping for a reprise of the good old times. She just didn’t want to lose this thread, this chance. She would not let her cowardice cheat Sam out of the chance to have a father in his life.
“Yes,” she said. “I have to tell you something I think you’ll want to hear.”
Nothing. No curiosity, no glimmer of the old Jake. It was like he wasn’t in there at all.
“Jake?” The receptionist had poked her head into the waiting area. “Linda says you can head back there as soon as you’re ready, and she’ll be with you in two.”
Jake used the arms of his chair to pull himself to his feet and shook his head at Mira. “I don’t think it’s a good idea.”
He crossed the room, then paused and turned back. “Nice to see you, Mira.”
“Wait. Wait.” Her heart pounded like crazy.
He hesitated.
Half a room separated them. She crossed the space and stood next to him. “Sam. He’s seven.” Her voice had slid to a whisper.
“Good age,” Jake said.
Was he being deliberately dense? Subtlety wasn’t going to do it; she’d have to blurt it out. After all these years, it was no easier to say the words. Her heart beat hard, her stomach clenched tight, her hands and feet were numb. When she opened her mouth, she didn’t say what she’d meant to say.
“I should have called or written right away, once I knew, but they said—everyone said—that I should wait. Till you were home on leave.”
Something moved behind his eyes, just enough of a shift that she was sure he heard the urgency in her voice.
They—mainly her friend Polly, who had a brother in the army—had said it would be dangerous to give the news of her pregnancy when he was deployed. That he’d lose his focus and get himself killed.
“And you’d said you’d be home for leave in six months, so I waited, and then I called. Did you get my texts and messages?”
He shook his head. Slowly, his eyes wary.
“I didn’t know how to find you, other than the cell number. I tried to find your parents, but—”
“Their number was unlisted.”
“I kept thinking you’d get in touch. That you’d see the texts and messages, and then you didn’t, and then—I wanted to tell you.”
“Tell me what?”
“Sam’s yours.”
If she’d expected a reaction, if she’d expected drama, she would have been thoroughly disappointed. His jaw might have tightened a notch, but otherwise, she couldn’t see any evidence that he was moved by her revelation. Her life might have been remade from scratch, but she could have told him there was a donut shop opening in town, for all the emotion he’d showed.
Just when she was pretty sure he wasn’t going to say anything at all, he said, “We didn’t have sex.”
Oh, fuck you, dude.
In all her fantasies about what it would be like to tell Jake that he had a son, he had never denied responsibility. It had never crossed her mind that he would deny responsibility. She guessed that made her ridiculously naive.
“We did have sex.” The word “sex” sounded particularly loud in the empty waiting room. Mira looked over at the receptionist, but she was making calls with a headset on. “Just because it was bad sex doesn’t mean it wasn’t sex.”
That got more reaction from him than the news that Sam was his son. She saw a muscle jump in his jaw. Just telling it like it is, baby denier.
“I wore a condom.”
“You put it on too late. I was shocked, too, believe me. My OB said the odds are low, but it definitely happens. Look. I’m telling you Sam’s yours because I thought you might want to know. I thought you might want to know that there was a person walking around on this earth with half your DNA, doing stuff he probably inherited from you. For all I know he got all the asthma and allergies from your side of the family, because he sure as hell didn’t get them from mine. But whatever. We don’t need anything from you. We’ve done perfectly fine without you up to this point. I didn’t tell you so you could argue with me about whether he’s really yours.”
No reaction, other than a few blinks and a swallow. As if they weren’t fighting about a child. What was wrong with him?
“If you guys are doing so fine, what was that phone call a few minutes ago all about?”
She shut her eyes. Seriously? He was going to refuse to admit Sam was his son but then get all up in her business about her life? She took a deep breath. He was damaged. Something had happened to him. He needed her—her sympathy. Her patience. “I have some childcare issues.”
“Some,” he repeated. “Your babysitter bailed on you.”
“What are you doing, volunteering?”
She wasn’t sure where the snark had come from.
“You wouldn’t really want that, now, would you? Near stranger, gimpy leg? Not exactly the best raw babysitting material.”
“You forgot grumpy asshole,” she said.
Again, a flicker of something behind his eyes. “I was about to get to that,” he said.
“You know what? Forget it.” She reached into her purse and pulled out an old credit-card receipt and scribbled her cell number on it. “If you change your mind about getting to know Sam . . .”
She held it out. He hesitated a moment, then took it.
She felt Jake watching as she walked away.



Serena Bell
So – what did you think? Do you love my book family as much as I do? — read more here or buy a copy now.

Wishing you happy romance – Serena


Early Praise:
“With likable characters with amazing strength, Hold on Tight was an extremely inspiring and heartfelt read.” Beth on GoodReads


“I love it when a book surprises me, and this one sure did. I was expecting and hoping for something good, but what I found was exceptional. I just loved this very emotional, heart-wrenching read about a second chance years later. It was so endearing and intense and damn right hot, which just warmed me to my core.” Bibliophilia {Kingsley & Søren Forever}
Apr 30, 2014 Bibliophilia {Kingsley & Søren Forever
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“Mira is a great character; I want her for a friend.”~ Kame