Falling in love with Cameron Madden was the easy part.
But that same love has now been challenged.
Life was stolen from me, testing my faith. I’ve grieved, I’ve cried, and I’ve screamed in anger while Cameron stood by my side. He kept me safe and sane but I could tell that he was worried.
Now that I’ve healed, it’s time for me to finish what I started so I can give him all that love back. It’s time to find firm ground I can stand on, because in spite of Cameron’s love the Cortez cartel still haunts me.
We both know they lurk, waiting for the right time to strike.
Except now that I’ve healed, I’m ready to strike first.Note: Baby Me is a Sin With Me novella. It can be read as a standalone, or following Sin With Me. Contains spoilers to Sin With Me.
★★★★★ "What a wonderful Christmas story that gives you the angst, steam, and the warm and fuzzies, with a few laughs thrown in!!!” ~ Tami, Reviewer
There’s no sound more gut-wrenching than the sound of your bones breaking. It’s somewhere between the grinding of stone against stone and scratching your nails over a chalkboard, but a lot more painful. It’s the kind of sound that draws out every last goosebump on your arms and makes you want to vomit at the same time. Except add to that pain. A lot of pain. A pain that’s not quite explicable to someone who’s never had a broken bone. Imagine peeing acid for the rest of your life. Every single time you let go of your bladder, your urethra burns like you’ve eaten a gallon or so of ghost peppers. That’s pretty much what breaking three bones at the same time felt like, and well, it was pretty fucking painful. One crack after another, crack…
I’ve dreamt about the night I almost died every night since the incident. That’s almost a year of torture and healing. I’ve dreamt about Aaron Cortez prepping his bat like a professional batter — no, make that a scum-eating maggot shithead of an asshole batter. Each time in my dream he’d aim the same way he did that night, with precision, giving my shin a taste of his strength first. The bone shattered as soon as it came into contact with the bat. I fell down to my hands and knees. As I crouched, barely holding myself up, he aimed for my arm. I didn’t even get a chance to prepare myself for the hit. That second swing brought my entire body to the ground. I grazed my face along the gravel and curled into a fetal position, then waited for the pain of both the first and that second blow to travel through my body and out my limbs. It felt like it all lasted forever. Then came the third one to my ribcage, repeating the aching cycle all over again. That last one knocked the wind out of me. I was barely holding on.
Leg, arm, ribs, leg, arm, ribs.
The eager vibrations in every tensed muscle turned into sharp pinches as their pain radiated from the surface of my skin and then softened to a unified ache which traveled from my head all the way down to my toes at the slowest speed possible. I waited for my body to get accustomed to the pain before I completely gave in, but it didn’t work. My body had finally been pushed past its limits, and I fainted.
I could have survived the additional broken nose, fractured pelvis, internal bleeding, and nearly complete organ failure from dehydration. I knew I could have pulled through anything, and I never thought they’d find a way to actually break me. But they did, and I was afraid the damage would be permanent. This time, the pain of loss hurt me so much that I wanted to die, but my body wouldn’t let me. My body kept me alive through the terror of being told that I miscarried a child. My and Cameron’s little baby, conceived about eight weeks before my kidnapping. Aaron Cortez took away the one thing in the world I didn’t even get a chance to love while it was inside me because I didn’t know. And now that I knew the baby had been there and I couldn’t have it back, I wanted to die.
They broke my bones and bruised my skin, slapped me, kicked me and pulled my hair, then spat at me. All that did nothing to my soul. It wasn’t until I realized the abuse attributed to my ultimate loss that I felt like Aaron Cortez actually broke me. He reached deep into my chest and tore my heart out. He took away that last part of me that I needed to hold on to.
So yeah, since that day, that nauseating sound of breaking bone had been playing in my mind over and over, reminding me that a less than a year ago I still had a baby in my body.
That sound became my anthem for failure. It became the sound of insufficiency and inadequacy. I failed her or him. I couldn’t save my baby.
“Hey, sweetheart. Kate?”
The voice I heard through my dream was low and soothing. It carried a ton of compassion with a hint of autumn warmth, and I immediately felt better. The window in our bedroom must have been open last night because I felt the morning breeze. The sun’s warm rays shone on the lower part of the bed, making my feet feel nice and toasty. Hearing his voice and feeling safe and secure was usually my favorite part of the morning.
Cameron hadn’t left my side since we arrived at his family’s secluded cabin in the mountains, somewhere in the forests and valleys of Michigan. I had no clue where we were. There were no cell phones; no phones period. No television and barely enough electricity generated and stored through the solar panels to ensure we’d have a working refrigerator. Everything else ran on burning wood. I loved the smell, but the amount of work was exhausting, especially since Cameron organized the quaint cabin all by himself and wouldn’t allow me to help. I’d sit on the back porch and watch him prepare the wood. He had become quite the lumberjack, chopping at the trees and splitting them into burnable sizes. Turning and twisting, forcing his muscles to bunch up. It was a beautiful sight, one that definitely took my mind off my woes.
“Kate?” I heard his voice again. “Are you awake?”
A sudden urge to stretch my arms out flew through my body, but I quickly realized that I could barely move. Feeling somewhere between my dream and a woken state, I heard myself gasp and I opened my eyes. The man who’d risked his life to save me was sitting at my bedside. I’d ruined his entire family when I blew up a warehouse with millions of dollars worth of Mafia narcotics. The ultimate blame fell on Cameron, who happened to be there at the time, and placed his entire family on the Mafia’s radar. Yet Cameron still chose me. He returned to Pace and saved me from certain death.
“Did you have another nightmare?” Cameron asked, gently running his hand over my arm. It was warm and tender.
“Yeah, the same one. It’s always the same one.”
He helped me to sit up and rest against the headboard. “I’m sorry.”
“I’m fine. Really. Any news?”
He shook his head, and I sighed. I had a feeling it would be a while before we heard a single word about Cortez’s capture. Actually, never sounded like a better estimate because they’d never catch him. Aaron Cortez had escaped prison, and we had been blindly counting on the authorities to find him and put him back behind bars, while we were hiding out in the deep forest. How had he been able to escape from jail? It had to be an inside job. The cop in me had a gut feeling, except no one wanted to listen to my opinion because I was a victim. I was a crippled cop on disability, unable to do anything for myself because my arm, leg, and torso were in a cast — for the second time in a year.
Men with too much power acquired what I called the king syndrome. They acted like know-it-all royalty. They became inconsiderate jerks and traitors. Like my ex-fucking-boss, the captain at my precinct, who turned out to be my half-brother and tried to kill me because of some vengeance for his dead father, Aaron Cortez’s brother. They thought the law could never touch him. Well, it touched him – except Mike was serving time in a Martha Stewart-type of jail.
Aaron Cortez escaped from jail in the first twenty-four hours after he was sent there, and I’d been wanting to scream “I told you so” at the top of my lungs every day since then. People like Aaron Cortez were a special breed. Their movements were calculated, and if I were a betting woman, I’d bet that Aaron Cortez would ultimately come after me to finish the job. This time when he swung that bat, he’d ensure that it connected with my head.
They’d never find him. Not unless someone like Cameron hunted him down. Unfortunately, Cameron’s number one priority at the moment was taking care of me, and I loved him for that from the bottom of my heart. I loved him more than I’d ever loved anyone, and I hoped he’d finally shed the guilt he’d been carrying with him. I hoped he’d finally forgive himself. My kidnapping wasn’t his fault. Losing our baby wasn’t his fault. It was Cortez’s. But Cameron wanted vengeance. He wanted to put his fist down that bastard’s throat until he could reach his heart and rip it out.
Or maybe that was just my own wishful thinking.
Unfortunately, he wouldn’t get a chance — not yet, at least. We were under strict orders to not interfere with the investigation. Cameron took me up to the Madden family cabin where I’d been recovering for the past year. Given its secluded location, it was the perfect spot to remain hidden from Cortez. I’d been doing great until two months ago when I decided to venture out into the woods, fell down a ditch, broke a few bones and delayed our first planned summer visit to the quaint town Cameron had been gloating about.
“How are you feeling?” Cameron asked.
“Good. Still a little tired, but good.”
“Why don’t you sleep in some more? It’s Saturday.”
Except every day resting and recovering at the cabin felt like a weekend, and he knew it. I was ready to finally get out. I was ready to face the world again, even if it meant taking a chance at life. If I didn’t, then what was the point of living? Besides, I’d read all the books in the Madden library, twice. I was ready to get these casts off and hike down the road to see people.
“Are you kidding me? Do you know what day it is?” I suddenly shot up in the bed, eyes wide open, excitement running through me as if it were Christmas morning. Except it wasn’t Christmas morning yet, though it soon would be. This year, if Cameron agreed with my plans, Christmas would be extra special.
There was so much to do before then, that I couldn’t wait to get out of these casts and feel free again - or at least as free as I could be.
Topping the list of assholes that I owed a visit to was the director of the FBI, who had assured Cameron that Cortez would remain behind bars. Since that had only lasted about twenty-four hours, I didn’t trust him and didn’t believe him. The entire incarceration system in America was a joke; but that was another story. It was my dream at the moment to walk into every district attorney’s office in the country to tell them all about their little corrupt system that allowed the chief head of a crime family to escape before he had even spent one night in jail.
Well, that FBI director was simply an asshole. He didn’t listen to me when I tried to explain that Aaron Cortez would have someone break him out of jail, and I was right. But no! No one wanted to listen to the morphine-sedated woman screaming at the top of her lungs from a hospital bed that Cortez would eventually find me. They thought they were all smarter than he was.
They were all wrong.