Authors: Chelsea Camaron
Since the day we got the graduation announcement in the mail from Brooke, Tessie has been a little on edge. She fires away question after question daily about Ice and the rest of the guys. All of it takes me back.
Throughout the years, we have done the best we could with our situations. I will never forget watching Ice hit his knees when our command gave him the news of Erin’s accident and death. He went home, sorted his shit, and carried on, even though he has never been the same. Then, when Tracie killed herself, he left little Brooke with his mom to help me sort my shit and try to figure out how to carry on.
Over the years, we have kept in touch, and I have always been around to watch Brooke’s milestones. Time is passing by so quickly. It seems as if it was just yesterday we were trying to make it home in time for her kindergarten graduation. Yes, Brooke had eight Army Green Berets all side-by-side at her kindergarten graduation, watching her pig-tailed little ass get a blank piece of rolled up paper while wearing the tiniest cap and gown ever. While she smiled brightly at us, we all proudly smiled right back alongside Ice’s mom.
That little girl captured all of us, and now I get to make the drive to be there to watch her wear a grown up sized cap and gown, once again walking across a stage for a rolled up piece of paper. Only when she smiles down at us this time, her grandmother won’t be there as her mother wasn’t there the first time. My chest tightens thinking of how things have changed over the years.
Looking in the rearview mirror, I watch Axel as he plays some game on his tablet. What will it feel like the day he graduates? He is as much mine as he is Rex’s son. Speaking of which, things are good for us now. He understands why Tessie didn’t tell him and why I kept her secret, as well. Still, it is not my proudest moment, but I will always have Tessie’s back through anything.
We have found a routine that works and have become a family unit of our own. Rex sees Axel when he is in town. We do stuff all together, and he keeps him on his own, as well. We spend important moments and holidays together so no one feels left out. That way, Axel truly gets everyone he is close to, all in one place.
How will my brother-in-arms react to my son? Hell, how will he react to my fiancée? Ice knows I have an ol’ lady and a son, but we haven’t had time to catch each other up with all the details of the changes I have had.
Pulling into the parking garage of the hotel we are staying at, I smile as I think about how good my life really is now. As I look beside me at Tessie’s beautiful face, I feel complete. No longer am I a lost man rambling through life with no purpose. I am now taking every breath to have more moments with her.
Once we are unpacked, we go out to dinner downtown. This is a reminder of why I have zero desire to live in the city. Hell, I thought Charlotte was a pain in the ass to drive around when I make the commute to work. Home has nothing on South Beach.
Tessie pokes around her plate. “Brooke and I get along on the phone, but meeting all of them at once… It’s overwhelming. Do you think they’ll like me?”
“Baby, are you seriously asking me this?”
“Yeah, Shooter. These guys are important to you. I want to make a good impression.”
I smile at her. “You and Axel are more important. I don’t give a shit what anyone thinks of you. It doesn’t change a damn thing between us.”
“I love you, Andy.” She looks at me before finally eating.
“Love you, baby, for eternity.”
“Enough with the mushy talk, you two. Young ears are here, ya know,” Axel pipes in.
I reach over and ruffle his hair.
My chest tightens looking at my woman and my son. It doesn’t get much better than this right here.
“Ice!” I call out once I spot my brother-in-arms. We have just arrived and gotten out of the car with our graduation tickets. To need to have a ticket to enter into a high school graduation seems crazy, but I guess, with a school so large, they have to limit the guests in attendance.
Both Ice and his daughter look over and then Brooke screams, “Uncle Shooter,” and takes off running at me.
Ice comes over, holding the hand of a brunette woman I have never seen before. Another teen who looks related to the brunette follows closely behind. They must be his woman Morgan and her sister Madyson. Brooke has given me updates, but we have all been so busy that it wasn’t a complete catch up. Plus, love the girl, but she talks a lot. I can’t help getting lost in my own thoughts as I listen to the rambling teen.
After Ice greets me in our usual man half-hug, back slap thing, I smile at the woman beside him.
“Shooter, this is Morgan,” Ice officially introduces us.
“Damn, never thought I’d see the day someone melted that permafrost around your heart. Congrats, asshole,” I joke while extending my hand to her.
She gives my hand a quick, friendly shake before stepping back next to Ice. I give her a knowing smile. He has her trained already. Yes, no one touches what belongs to Ice. Can’t say I blame him, though; beyond a handshake, if anyone touches Tessie, my inner cave man goes ape-shit crazy.
“Fuck you!” Ice replies in jest at my smirk while wrapping his arm around Morgan’s shoulders to let her know she is back where she belongs.
I step back and wrap my arm around Tessie. Time for introductions of my own. “Brooke, Ice, this is my ol’ lady Tessie and our boy Axel.”
“Nice to meet you in person after talking on the phone so much.” Brooke bounces excitedly.
“I can’t believe you’re actually here, Uncle Shooter,” Brooke continues with a smile that lights up the world.
“Wouldn’t miss it for the world, baby girl.”
“She’s got the ring, so when are you givin’ her the name?” Ice asks me bluntly, nodding at Tessie’s left hand.
“As soon as she gives me a day and time to show up,” I proudly respond, wishing I had a definite answer or, better yet, had this already done. Nodding to Morgan, I reply, “You better move that one in before someone else swoops in and snatches that prize right out of your hands.” I give her a playful wink. Anything to get the topic changed from my non-impending nuptials.
“Just needed to get these two graduated. After today, that’s a definite, brother.”
Watching Morgan, she apparently isn’t aware of my brother’s plans for them. Her jaw drops open in surprise for a split second.
“Excuse me. I’m not moving in with you.” Her challenging him almost makes me want to laugh.
“Why the fuck not?” Ice asks as Madyson and Brooke start to laugh behind them.
“You haven’t even managed to tell me you love me, and we’ve been together for over a year; why in the hell would I move in with you?”
His entire demeanor changes from one of joking to complete seriousness. He turns to Morgan, cupping her face in both of his hands, forcing her to meet his stare. “I’m a man of actions because they speak louder than words. Sweetheart, you want the words, you need the words, you got them. I told you, once I see something I want, I don’t let it go. Morgan, I love you. I love you yesterday, I love you today, I love you tomorrow, and I will love you for the rest of my days.”
I feel like I am intruding on something I shouldn’t, yet it’s beautiful in its own way. Watching my brother have this, knowing everything he has been through, my chest fills with more emotion than I ever thought possible.
With that seemingly settled, we head inside to attend the graduation ceremony. Squeezing Tessie’s hand, I am in awe of the woman beside me and all she has been through. I never thought I could feel this much emotion for one person. I would walk through Hell and back to give this woman every dream she has ever had.
The ceremony goes on for a while before the students are each called across the stage. Proudly, I watch the once little girl who has grown into one of the strongest young women I know accept her diploma. Life hasn’t been fair or easy for Brooke or Ice, but they have endured.
After making plans to meet at Ice’s house for a cookout, we go back to the hotel to change clothes.
“Baby, you okay?” I question. Tessie has been extremely quiet since meeting everyone.
She eyes me cautiously. “What about here?”
“Ummm … clue me in a little more as to what you are asking for, and I promise I’ll do my best.” I am not following where she is going with this conversation. She is tense, and I don’t fucking like it one bit.
Her chest rises and falls more quickly, letting me know she is getting worked up over whatever is on her mind. I move over to her and put my hands on her biceps, just to touch her as I focus on her demeanor.
“Breathe, baby. Inhale. Tell me what you want. Exhale.”
“Could we get married here?” she whispers, looking me directly in the eye.
“You really gotta ask me that? Of course we can.”
She bites her bottom lip as she looks sideways to Axel jumping on the hotel bed. “Can you get my mom here? I know I’m asking for a lot. If you would rather wait until we’re home, that’s fine. It’s just—”
“It’s just nothing. You want it, you got it, baby. I’ll have Rex get on a plane with your mom and get her here.” I smile at her before I crash my lips down on hers.
“Ewwww … .Shooter, girls have cooties, even moms sometimes,” Axel attempts to interrupt, but I don’t stop kissing her. She is making me the happiest man on the planet right now, so no, I am not going to stop kissing her until I am damn good and ready, kid or no kid. “Usually, it works. I’m losing my touch,” Axel mutters to himself before turning his attention elsewhere as his mom laughs uncontrollably in my arms, breaking our kiss.
God, I love the little fucker.
Looking down at the woman who owns my heart and soul completely, I can’t believe she really is ready.
“You sure, baby? Don’t feel pressured into anything.”
“Seeing Ice and Morgan have their moment earlier, it opened my eyes—actions speak louder than words. I don’t want to spend more time treading water. I want nothing more in this life than to be your wife, so why wait? I want this, you want this, and besides, what’s simpler than a beach wedding?”
Kissing her breathless again, I can’t help feeling complete every time she is in my arms.
“Here we go again,” Axel mutters on a sigh.
Son, if you only knew what I would be doing to your momma if you weren’t in here right now.
Whew. I am going to do this. I am really going to marry Shooter. He called Rex, and my mom will be here tomorrow morning with him. At sunset, I will commit the rest of my days to the man who literally brought me out of the darkest of times.
Arriving at Ice’s house, I am overwhelmed at the size. Never would I have pictured the club President of the Regulators MC to reside in a gated community. His house would swallow ours completely, with room to spare. What are those guys in cuts doing to make this kind of money?
“Things aren’t always what they seem, baby. He makes sure his girl stays safe,” Shooter states, reading my mind. Knowing first-hand the dangers of a rival club—or hell, even a so-called affiliate—no one can be too safe in this lifestyle.
“Well, in a place like this, I would think she is safe, as long as she doesn’t get lost.”
Shooter laughs at me, causing my heart rate to pick up. Every part of me is connected to this man.
“Come on, baby. Don’t be intimidated. Ice and his crew are good guys.” He is looking at me intently, worried for me. Honestly, I don’t like crowds. I am far from comfortable around bikers that aren’t Hellions. With Shooter by my side, I can face anything, though, including a strange club.
“I’m okay.” I smile over at him.
“We don’t have to be here. We have a big day of our own coming up. I can call Ice and explain.”
“I’m good, honey. I want to hang out with your friends.”
With a quick kiss, he gets out of the vehicle, opening the door for Axel before making his way around to my door. As I climb out, he squeezes my hand reassuringly. This man always has my back.
Making our way through the house, we get to the backyard where the party is in full swing. Bikers abound, beer drinking brothers stand with their old ladies at their sides, and their kids run around like they are at the park.
When I see a cut that doesn’t match the patches of the Regulators, my heart skips a beat. I still struggle with what happened to me. Seeing colors I am not used to puts me on edge, waiting for a Desert Ghost to show up.
Seeing the cut of the Savage Outlaws, I blow out a breath. On his side is a signature knife Shooter has told me all about. When I look up to the face of the man, I see it is indeed Bowie, with who I assume is his ol’ lady Shay at his side. I thought I saw him briefly with Lock at the graduation ceremony, but it was so crowded I couldn’t take everyone in. Having served in the Army with Shooter and Ice, I have seen pictures of him with the team from their missions in different parts of the world. He doesn’t look exactly the same, but the features are similar enough to discern who is who.
After a quick chin lift in greeting, Shooter guides us over to where Ice is standing with Morgan tucked into his side. They again do their man hug, back slap thing that I will never understand before we step back to chat.
“Can I go play horseshoes with everyone, Momma?” Axel asks.