My hand shot out, and I snatched hold of Katie’s arm before she dropped to the floor in front of me.
“Dad?” Her voice was squeaky and full of emotion. Tears pooled in her eyes and fell on to her cheeks as her hands grappled to touch me.
“Hey, baby,” Ava whispered as she stepped out from behind me.
“Oh, fuck!” Katie sobbed as she clung to her mother. It was like looking at a time-hop, the two most important women in my life the epitome of one another. Life had given my wife undying beauty and had given my daughter undying heartache.
“Where is she?” Ava whispered, peering behind Katie to sneak a peak of her granddaughter.
Katie stood speechless, staring at us. Unable to hold back the chuckle, I pulled her into me and inhaled her sweet scent again. My eyes closed as a sense of belonging washed over me.
“I missed you, baby. So damn much.”
She looked up at me, her green eyes shimmering with love and tears. “You have no idea!”
Grabbing Ava’s hand, she tugged her into the apartment. “Come on, everyone’s here!”
“Jesus. Fuck!” Layla exclaimed as every single person in the room shot up. “Jesus. Fuck!”
“Sweet Jesus,” I muttered when her fist connected with my cheekbone and I rocked backwards. “Nice to see you too.”
“Don’t you ever do that again, you bloody twat!” she sobbed as she clung to me.
Looking around the room, my gaze fell to Kade. He was the only person still sat. His jaw trembled, and he appeared to be struggling to breathe.
“Hey,” I whispered as I dropped to a crouch before him. Taking his jaw in my right hand, I tipped his face down to look at me. “I’m sorry.”
A broken sob ruptured from him when I leaned in to kiss him. His fingers yanked at my hair as his wet lips found mine. The taste of the only man I had ever loved shot electricity into every nerve-ending, yet the wetness of his tears poured guilt into the beat of my heart. My soul felt complete for the first time in so long. I loved this man with my very bones, and I had turned my back on him and walked away.
Finally breaking the kiss, Kade reared back. His eyes scoured every inch of my face, and as if he didn’t believe I was real, his fingers gently traced from my eyebrows over my eyes, along my nose and then across the expanse of my jawline. “Mase?”
Shocked gasps echoed around the room when Kade drew his arm back and floored me in one single punch.
“You don’t have the right to do this anymore!” he spat.
“Kade, please,” Ava choked out as she came to sit beside him.
Trying to take his hand, he shook her off and scrambled off the sofa. “And, you! Have you any fucking idea how lost I have been? How your fucking selfish holiday destroyed your daughter?”
Shame made me wince, the truth he was spitting at me known all too regretfully in the pit of my stomach.
“We needed to…” Ava tried, shrinking back when Kade turned on her.
“I don’t care what you needed! It’s always what you fucking need.” His rage was smothering my wife’s beautiful face. She paled, and the stream of tears that cascaded off her chin and fell to her shirt hurt me as much as Kade’s hatred.
“Kade!” Grace attempted to placate her husband, but he was too vengeful. Vehemently, he shook his head at her, and then stormed out.
“I’m sorry,” Grace choked out. “He didn’t mean...”
“I know, hun.” Ava appeased Grace’s embarrassment. “Give him some time.”
Finally lifting myself off the floor, I looked around at the faces my heart and soul had missed for what seemed like an eternity. “Anyone else want a pop?”
Every single person in the room stepped forward. Christ, it was going to be a long day.
Chuckling, Greg slapped me on the back and pulled me in for a hug. “Only kidding, mate. Welcome home!”
“Finally!” I grinned. “At least someone is happy we’re home.”
A guy I knew to be Katie’s fella, stepped forward. In his arms, my granddaughter snuggled into him. I heard the short gasp and turned to Ava.
Her tears were freer, the ones drawn from Kade’s anger lost under fresh, happy ones.
“It is such a pleasure to meet you, Mrs Fox,” Tristan Hope said with a soft smile as he handed the baby over to Ava. “Meet Evie Hope. Your granddaughter.”
“Oh, Jesus Christ. She’s the spit of Georgie!” The heartache and the hope in Ava’s voice broke my heart all over again. Last year, both Ava and I had hit rock bottom. Hell had dragged us into its strangling hold and hadn’t let us breathe for a very long time. Now, looking at my wife, I knew in my soul that all she had suffered paled in comparison to what she had gained. What we both had gained.
Placing an arm around her shoulder, I peered down at the newest Fox and planted a soft kiss in Ava’s hair. “Home, baby.”
She grinned and drew in a long, contented breath. “Home.”
“So,” Nate gazed at Ava like he was seeing an angel. Perhaps he was. The time we had stayed away may have slain Ava and I in so many ways, and this could be the afterlife. “Where the fuck have you been?”
Ava swept her eyes to me, and her forehead creased with a slight frown before she said simply, “Hell.”
Liv peered at her like she understood everything with that one simple word. “And where are you now?”
Inhaling deeply, Ava took a mouthful of vodka cranberry and smiled. “Home.”
“You have somewhere to stay?” Nate asked when Evie started bawling, and the sound of her loud cries echoed through my daughter’s house.
We all turned to listen when a weary Tristan grunted, and a door slammed somewhere in the depths of his home. He was good for Katie. She had lost so much, been through so much for such a young woman. I knew life had made her strong, but she needed someone even stronger to hold her when times got rough. We all did. I had a feeling Tristan was just that person.
“Yeah, we still have the cottage.”
Nate nodded. He had refused to let go of Ava’s hand since everyone else had piled out two hours ago. Usually, that would have got my back up, but this was Nate, my wife’s best friend, and the man who had stepped up and taken care of Katie when we couldn’t.
“So,” he pressed again. “Are you going to fill us in?”
Ava smiled softly as she stared at me. “Well….” she started.