“Don’t rush into this, Maverick. I know what you’re like. Give it some time, brother,” Cotton told me. I could see the concern in his penetrating eyes, and it meant a lot to me that he was trying to help. He was a good man… a good president. The brothers of Satan’s Fury looked up to him and admired him. We all knew that the club was his life, and he was all about the brotherhood. As our president, he had no problem sacrificing everything for the club—even laying down his own life, time and time again, if it meant protecting his family. I respected him for that, and was honored to be a part of it. “I know what’s really going on here. You can blame this on whatever you want, but the truth is staring you right in the face.”
“He’s my son! What kind of man would I be if I put him in danger? I can’t risk it, Cotton,” I told him as I looked down at my broken arm that was now wrapped up in a sling. I was a fucking mess. Bruises and cuts covered my body from head to toe. They’d done a pretty good job of working me over, and I still couldn’t figure out why they didn’t just kill me when they had the chance. “Think about it. What if he was with me when those motherfuckers jumped me? It’s up to me to protect him, and I couldn’t live with myself if something happened to him. I already ruined his mother’s life, and I’ll be damned if I ruin his.”
“That’s bullshit, and you know it. Hailey brought that shit on herself. You can’t keep carrying all of the blame,” Cotton snapped.
“It was my fault! All if it! I wasn’t there when she needed me. I should have stuck with her, made sure she got the help she needed. Now she’s dead, and I have to own that. John Warren is all I have left of her. I can’t let anything happen to him.”
“Nothing’s going to happen to him, Maverick,” he assured me, but we both knew he couldn’t guarantee that. “None of that even matters… it’s all in the past. Right now, you have to face your demons, either fight them or learn to live with them.”
I knew he was right. My mind had been a cluster fuck since the day I brought John Warren home with me. When I looked at him, I could tell that he had my blood running through his veins. He was such a good-looking kid—healthy and strong. I was thankful that his mother’s drug use hadn’t hurt him. Yet, there was a question lingering deep inside of me. I couldn’t put my finger on it. Why did this strange worry keep messing with my head? I loved this kid from the start, but my mind was bombarded with doubts—some of which I couldn’t even name. I had to believe that I was doing this for him. I’d fucked up so much already; I couldn’t be responsible for ruining another life. Me… the club… whatever the reason, John Warren didn’t belong here with me. He deserved more.
“I can’t take that chance. I can’t make the same mistakes again, Cotton.” My throat tightened, making it difficult to even say the words. I truly believed that taking him to Lily was the right thing to do. He deserved a mother, and I knew she loved him as her own. But, the selfish side of me wished things could be different. Still, I knew I had to protect him at all costs. That was the most important thing now.
“Maverick…” Cotton tried again.
“I need you to back me up on this,” I argued. “It’s the right thing for John Warren… and for me.”
His face registered with acceptance as he brought his hand up, and rested it on my shoulder. “I wish you’d give it more time, but if this is what you think you should do, I’ll support you on it. When do you need to leave?”
I stood up and reached for my keys. “Tonight. There’s no need in delaying this thing any longer. It’s a long drive, so it will take me a couple of days to get back.”
“I’ll let the guys know. Just be careful,” Cotton told me as I turned toward the door. “Maverick?”
I looked over toward him as Cotton said, “Some choices can’t be undone. You need to be sure about this one, brother.” My eyes dropped down to the floor. The worn-out boards creaked beneath my feet, and I wondered how they managed to support my weight. I felt so heavy, like the unrelenting weight of the world was pressing down on my shoulders. It hurt to move… to even breathe. His words circled through my thoughts, and I knew he was right. This one decision could haunt me for the rest of my life, but I knew in my gut it was the right thing to do for John Warren… for my son.
I opened the door to my room, and stopped. It was hard to believe how much this room had changed in just one week. It’d been just a room, a place to crash when I needed it, but now I didn’t recognize it. John Warren’s presence filled the air, surrounding me with his warmth. My chest tightened as I thought about him not being here anymore. I tried to block the turmoil from my mind as I grabbed a bag and quickly began filling it with his clothes and toys. When I picked up the tiny giraffe he slept with every night, I couldn’t hold it together any longer. My legs began to buckle under me when I thought about him lying in that crib with his tiny, little fingers wrapped around the giraffe’s neck. It gutted me. I dropped down to my knees as I held the stuffed animal tightly in my hands, bringing it up close to my face so I could inhale JW’s scent. Damn. I’d never felt a hurt like this before.
Why did it have to be like this? Why couldn’t I be the father he needed? What the fuck was wrong with me? My chest tightened when I thought about taking him back to Lily. My heart shattered like broken glass when I thought about not being able to see his smile, to touch him… to hold him. He was a part of me—the best part of me—but I couldn’t stop the doubts from spiraling through my head. The darkness inside of me was growing, engulfing me. John Warren deserved more than I could give… a life not tarnished by the likes of me.
There was a tap on my door, and I had just enough time to get back on my feet before Cassidy walked in. John Warren was propped up on her hip with a handful of her hair in one hand and a bottle in the other. “I just finished giving little man his dinner and a bath. He’s all ready for bed.”
“Thanks, Cass.” She was one of the bartenders at the club. Even though she sometimes partied with the club girls, I trusted her to watch him. She’d come to love the kid in the short time he’d been here and enjoyed spending time with him. From the moment I brought him into the club, she couldn’t get enough of him, always wanting to hold him and play with him. Cass adored him, and I honestly wouldn’t have known what to do without her.
I rubbed my eyes with the palm of my hands, trying to clear the tears away. When she noticed the expression on my face, she asked, “What’s going on? Are you ok?”
“Would you believe me if I said yes?” I responded as I looked away from her and started to put the last of John Warren’s things in his bag.
“Seriously,” she snapped. “Tell me what’s going on, Maverick? Are you taking him somewhere?”
I took a deep breath and swallowed hard, trying to rein in the emotions that threatened to tear me apart. I had to hold it together. “I’m taking him back to Lily and Goliath. They can give him what he needs… the life he deserves…”
“What? No! You can’t do that, Maverick… He belongs here, with us… with you! You’re his dad. You’re all he needs,” Cassidy cried as the tears began to pool in her eyes.
“Look at him, Cassidy. He’s perfect. So innocent… so pure. All the good in the world is wrapped up in him.” She looked down at him, a grief-stricken expression on her beautiful face. “I’m no good for him. I’ll only fuck it all up if I keep him here. I love him. I love him like nothing else, and I have to protect him… protect him from my world… protect him from me.” I could feel the storm of emotions begin to take hold again, so I took JW from her arms and picked up his bag. “I don’t expect you to understand it, Cassidy, but this is something I have to do. I have to do this for him.”
“Please… Please don’t do this,” she begged as she grabbed my arm. Her eyes pleaded with me to listen as she said, “This is a mistake. You’re going to regret this for the rest of your life!” I couldn’t listen to her anymore. Trying my best to block out her cries, I walked past her and out the door.
I was relieved to see that the parking lot was empty as I sat John Warren into his car seat. When I clicked his seatbelt around him, he reached for my hand and smiled. That smile would be forever burned into my mind. I took his little hand and brought it up to my mouth, gently kissing the fingers that wrapped around mine. “I love you, JW. Always will.”
I handed the little guy his giraffe as I put the rest of the bags on the seat beside him. I closed his door and got into the car. I sat there for a few minutes in the silence, trying to pull my shit together. Everything was so quiet. It was like I was stuck in some kind of nightmare, lost in a deep fog, and then JW started to babble. He was talking to me like I knew exactly what he was saying.
I turned back to him and said, “I know, little buddy. I know.”
I wiped the tears from my eyes and started the engine. It didn’t take him long to fall asleep, leaving me with a whirlwind of thoughts and questions. I still couldn’t believe how much had happened over the past year. If I had just known… if I hadn’t been so stupid and realized everything that was really going on with Hailey, maybe things could have been different.
I’ll never forget the first time I laid eyes on her. I’d pulled my bike into an old diner out on Highway 19. It was an out-of-the-way spot, but it was raining, and I was wet and cold. The moment I saw her walk across the floor, I wasn’t cold anymore. She was waiting tables, and I wondered why a sexy woman like her was working at a place like this in the middle of nowhere. She had a figure that made a man want to peel her clothes right off, and I would’ve done just about anything to do just that. I instantly craved the touch of her skin against mine. Fuck… my whole body tensed and my dick jumped up in need every time she even passed by me. Her long, black hair was pulled back into a ponytail, showing off the most beautiful blue eyes I’d ever seen. Her smile though, that mouth, those lips… damn, she was perfect.
One date was all it took. After that, the months rolled by so fast I lost track of time. It was a whirlwind. She was everything I ever thought I wanted and more. She liked being on the back of my bike and enjoyed hanging with my brothers at the clubhouse. We spent hours talking and drinking with them. She fit in, and I loved that. We were happy. We’d even started talking about our future, making plans for our life together. She had enrolled in a nursing program and worked every day at the diner to pay for her tuition. Life was good.
Then the nightmare hit. Everything went up in smoke. It was hell. A stupid drunk crashed into Hailey’s car, leaving her severely wounded. The dashboard crushed in on her, breaking her leg and fracturing several vertebrae in her neck. It was my fault. I was being selfish that night. I just wanted to be with her every second, and I didn’t listen when she told me she was too tired to come to the club. She’d been working all day and just wanted to go home. I should have listened to her, but I was too selfish. I’d had a long day and just wanted inside her.
That crash stole her spark and replaced it with pain and anguish. Her injuries were so painful that the doctors prescribed her strong pain medication, and it seemed to help, giving her some relief from her misery. After she’d been home for a while, I noticed that she was taking too many pills. I figured she was just hurting, and since she was going to school to be a nurse, I thought she knew what she was doing. A month later, when I saw her taking three at a time, I confronted her about it. She became defensive, but finally admitted that she might have a problem. As time went on, I tried to get her help, sending her to rehab and trying to find doctors that could stop the pain. But nothing worked. The pull of her addiction was already too strong. She tried to hide it from me, over and over again. Each time I discovered that she was still using, she’d promise to try harder. She’d swear she loved me, and would do whatever it took to get better. I believed her, until the day I found another hidden stash of pills. That day, I knew I was done. She chose the drugs over the life we shared, and I refused to be a part of it.
The day I walked out of her life, I prayed that she would straighten herself out and find her way back to me. Instead, she became more and more determined to get her hands on her next fix. When her desperation took hold, she decided to give information about our club in exchange for more drugs. Her betrayal to the club was a decision we’d both come to regret. I should have known that if she would do something like that, she was way past just being in trouble… her life was in true jeopardy. I should’ve seen she was still struggling, and tried harder to help her. But in truth, it was too late… her lies would send her to her grave. All of her damn lies.
She disappeared for months. No one knew where she was. The club never lets a betrayal go. They searched for her and finally found out she had been living in a small town just outside of Washington. It looked like she was finally getting her shit together. She’d gotten a job and had a nice place to live. She’d even had a baby. Her neighbor said Hailey was really trying, but it all fell apart. It was just too much for her, and she ended up taking the baby to her mother. My brothers found her dead in her apartment from a drug overdose. It was obvious that it was no accident. Her death hit me hard. I couldn’t help but blame myself for what had happened, and the guilt of her death was crippling. But it was nothing compared to the hurt I felt when I discovered the mountain of secrets she had kept hidden from me.
It was several months after her death when I got an unexpected phone call from a hospital in Paris, Tennessee. A nurse called to tell me that my son had just been in an accident. My son. I felt like someone had knocked the wind out of me when I heard those words. My name was listed on his birth certificate, right under Hailey’s. It was right there in black and white. I never dreamed the kid she’d had was mine, and now I had missed almost a year of his life, because Hailey never told me about him. Instead, she took our son to her mother, asking her to protect him from me. Trying to keep her promise, Hailey’s mother sent John Warren away. She decided that Lily was the only one who could keep him safe from me and my club. Lily packed him up, and took off for Tennessee. I would have never even known about my son if it hadn’t been for his accident. Her mother prayed I would never find out. She blamed me for Hailey’s death. In truth, she was right. Hailey would still be alive if she hadn’t been with me. I will never forgive myself for what happened. I had failed her then, but I wouldn’t fail her again. I wouldn’t let anything happen to our son. I would make sure he had the life I couldn’t give his mother.
I could barely keep my eyes open by the time I pulled into Lily’s driveway. It was Christmas Eve, and the house was lit up with lights, making what I was about to do feel even more impossible. I tried to shake it off. This wasn’t about me. It was about John Warren and giving him a life like this… filled with Christmas trees and family. The life I’d never be able to give him.
Goliath lived the club life, and although his club was different, safer, he understood the danger that came along with it. He would know better than anyone why I had to do this. As VP of the Devil Chasers, he’d seen the hard times of living in a one percenter’s club… the uncertainty… the danger. They had put that all behind them, and his club had worked hard to become a legitimate club that was focused on the brotherhood and their families. It was one of the things I respected most about these men. Nothing was more important than keeping their families safe. I put the car in park, and by the time I turned off the engine and opened the car door, Lily was standing on the front porch.
“What happened to you? Are you ok?” she asked. Her eyes filled with fright as she studied my cuts and bruises. I knew I looked like hell, but I had no intention of telling her what had happened. When I didn’t answer, she asked, “What are you doing here, Maverick?”
“I need to talk to you and Goliath. Is he here?” I asked her. I knew I was the last person she expected to see tonight, and I hated that I had scared her.
“I just got off the phone with him. He said he’d be here in five minutes. Come on in, and we’ll wait for him inside,” she told me as she turned toward the front porch.
“Give me a second. John Warren is still sleeping in the car. Let me get him,” I said as I reached for the car door.
“John Warren? He’s here with you? Is he okay?” Her voice was high pitched, almost breaking into a cry as she spoke. Her eyes widened with dismay as she watched me pull John Warren out of his car seat. The second I got him out, she raced over to me and took him from my arms. I instantly felt the loss of his touch, and fought the urge to take him back from her. The look on his face stopped me. His eyes lit up with excitement as he reached out to her, making me realize just how much he loved her. He was where he belonged.
“He’s here. I can’t believe he’s really here!” she cried, tears streaming down her face.
John Warren looked up at her and smiled. He reached for the collar of her shirt and squealed. Lily’s eyes danced with excitement as she looked at him. I took a deep breath and began to feel a sense of relief. Lily loved him. There was no doubt in my mind that she would care for him like she was his own mother.
“I don’t understand. You have to tell me what’s going on, Maverick,” she pleaded.
“Let’s go inside and wait for Goliath.”
I reached into the backseat and grabbed John Warren’s bags, and Lily followed me through the front door. She cautiously watched as I set his bags on the floor. We were just sitting down on the sofa when I heard Goliath’s bike pull into the driveway. Lily jumped up and met him at the front door.
“Goliath….” she said stopping him at the front door. He looked down at John Warren in Lily’s arms, searching for any sign that something might be wrong. He finally looked over to me, noticing my broken arm and all the bruises that marked my body.
“Maverick, what the hell is going on?” Goliath asked as he stepped inside.
“I really don’t know where to start.”
“Start with what happened to you,” Lily said as she walked over to the sofa and sat down beside me. “Are you okay?”
“Yeah… it’s nothing. I trusted the wrong person, and it cost me,” I said as I looked down to the floor, unable to look at her. The irony of it being her sister that I’d trusted was too much for me to bear.
“You gonna tell us why you’re here?” Goliath asked.
I laid my head in my hands, trying to search for the right words to say. After a few seconds of silence, I dragged my fingers through my hair, trying to calm my nerves. I looked over to Lily and said, “I just can’t do it to him. I love him, Lily. I really do. I love him enough to know that he needs more than I can give him right now.” Overwhelmed with all the mixed emotions churning inside me, I stood up. My heart was racing, and I began pacing back and forth. I needed to make them understand. They needed to know why I had to do this. “I let Hailey down. I should’ve done more. Should’ve protected her, but I fucked up. I don’t deserve to have JW. I’ll just fuck it up.”
“You’re being too hard on yourself, Maverick. Hailey made those choices. Not you. No one blames you,” Lily told me, trying to calm me down.
“I do,” I stopped pacing and looked directly at her. “I should’ve been there for Hailey. Instead, she sank into the darkness where no one could save her. I can’t let that happen to JW.”
“I don’t understand. What exactly are you saying?” she asked me.
“I came here to see… to ask if…” I swallowed my pride and my own broken heart and said, “I wanted to know if you and Goliath would take John Warren… raise him as your own. I want to be everything he needs, but I know I’m not. I can’t give him what you can.”
“But why now?” Lily asked as she looked down at my son, her hand softly brushing over the top of his head.
“Lots of reasons. More than I care to explain. Let’s just say a baby doesn’t exactly fit in the life I’m living right now.” The thoughts of them beating me with that crowbar flashed through my mind, and I winced in remembrance of the pain they inflicted. It didn’t come close to the agony I was feeling at this moment, but it reassured me that I was making the right choice for him.
“Are you sure about this, Maverick? You have to know that I want him, but I need you to be sure. I couldn’t take losing him again,” Lily said.
“He means the world to me. He’s the one truly good thing I’ve done in my life. I hate the thought of losing him, but I just can’t do this to him. He deserves more.”
“Maverick, we’ll want to adopt him if he stays with us. You gonna be okay with that?” Goliath asked. Lily looked over to him with surprise, and I could see the love and wonder in her eyes. A small smile spread across her face when she realized what he was saying. Now I knew Goliath wanted him just as much as she did.
“I get that. Yeah, I’d be okay with that, but I still want to see him. I want him to know who I am, so that one day, when he’s older, he’ll understand why I did this,” I explained. I knew it was a lot to ask, but I couldn’t imagine never seeing him again. I needed to know that I could still have some kind of contact with him, or I wouldn’t be able to survive this.
“You will always be welcome here, Maverick. I want John Warren to know you, too. It takes a special kind of person to love someone enough to let them go,” Lily told me with tears in her eyes.
“I wish I could be more for him. I wish I could be the father he needs, but I know you both love him. You’ll give him the kind of life I can’t.”
“We’ll do our best. I can promise you that,” Goliath said confidently.
“Thank you for trusting us with him. We’ll do everything we can to make him happy,” Lily promised. JW reached out his hands for Goliath. He walked over and took him from Lily’s arms. He rested his head against Goliath’s chest like he was meant to be there. Goliath ran his hand over his little head and down his back as he hugged him closer.
Goliath kissed JW on the head and said, “Glad you’re back, Little Man. We’ve missed you.”
I couldn’t take it any longer. One more second of this, and I was going to fall apart. “I’m going to head back.”
“You can stay here tonight,” Lily offered.
“Thanks, Lily, but I need to get back. We’ve got some shit going down back home, and my president needs me to get back. I’ll be in touch.”
“Okay, but you are more than welcome. The door is always open. Just let us know when you want to come back for a visit.”
“I’ll be back. You can count on that. If you ever need me, I’m just a phone call away. Thank you both. I know in my gut that this is the right thing to do.” I walked over to JW and kissed him on the side of his head. I laid my hand on his back and stared at him for a minute. I leaned over and whispered in his ear, “Don’t hate me for this. I wouldn’t do it if it wasn’t the right thing to do. I love you.” I couldn’t stop the tears from filling my eyes as I walked out to my car.