Hendrix Caldwell wants nothing more than to revitalize the family bar—and tear down every last reminder of his no-good father. But business isn’t the only thing on his mind. An explosive encounter with a stranger at a charity masquerade is just the distraction he craves, with no names and no strings attached. For Hendrix, sex is casual, and love is a four-letter word. His commitment is to his brothers, his bar, and his bike. So why can’t he stop thinking about the naughty Cinderella who rocked his world, then left him—and her panties—behind?Olivia Hemmingway knows fairytales are for little girls. Drowning in debt and hiding a shameful secret, she won’t be saved by a knight in tattooed armor, no matter how mind-blowing their one-n
The machines surrounding my mother sound off around us, as they have for the last few weeks. The days are running together, and I no longer know the date, nor do I care. The world is moving at a snail’s pace as my world lies in this bed, unmoving.
Her once strong body is a frail reminder of its former self. The pounds fell off as her health deteriorated slowly, painfully, and mercilessly. The life was literally sucked from her little frame one piece at a time.
Watching the woman who truly is our rock, our foundation, and our saving grace fall apart has taken its toll on all of us. It’s terrifying to know that despite how strong she has been our entire lives, she can’t beat the cancer ravaging her body.
When Mom first told us she was sick, I tried to figure out a way to deal with the diagnosis.
“The cancer is terminal,” Momma told us all when she insisted on us coming to the apartment for dinner.
My dad was as close to tears as I had ever seen him while she told her three boys that it was okay. She was trying to reassure all of us that it was better than dying without notice, that she was happy to be given the chance to say goodbye.
All of us went with her to the doctor’s—Dad, Jagger, Morrison, and I. The doc showed us the scans and explained that her cancer had started in her cervix, caused by HPV. Mom hadn’t had a Pap smear in years, not since Jagger was five.
The cancer had spread, and there wasn’t a damn thing they could do. He suggested we take the rest of her time here as a gift and make the most of it. We fucking begged her to get a second opinion. She said she had.
Our mother had known she was dying for two weeks, and she had only told my dad fifteen minutes before we had walked in.
Growing up, our dad was a mean son-of-a-bitch. He would get drunk and stumble home, wanting to beat on the three of us. Mom would hide us in the tiny room at the back of our apartment while she did whatever she could to talk him off the ledge. Now that I think about it, telling him the way she did was most likely her first and final jab at the old man.
It was her life, her way. He had done that to her by fucking around with a woman, contracting a disease, and carrying it to her, and there was no way she could have known—but she was going to go out on her own damn terms.
Over the last two months, she has been miserable to him, picking fights and shit like that. He told us it was the cancer, ’cause his girl would never treat him like that.
If I ever found a girl and decided to call her mine, I sure as fuck wouldn’t be fucking someone else. That motherfucker was lucky to be breathing.
Two days ago, she went to the hospital for what was probably the last time, but before she did, she told him to leave, and he did without argument. Jagger went and found the old man yesterday, told him he needed to come make peace with her. Mom had insisted Jagger not do that, and she still doesn’t know he tried. The bastard wouldn’t come, though. His final blow to her, the sick motherfucker.
“Boys,” she croaks out without opening her eyes.
Morrison, my middle brother, immediately jumps to her side, grabbing her skeletal fingers. Jagger, my youngest brother, stands at the end of her hospital bed and reaches out to touch her foot, causing her to wince. I stand at her other side, brushing my hand over her head, which is losing its once full locks strand by strand.
“We’re right here, Momma. Your boys are all here,” Morrison informs her.
“The time is coming.” She breathes deeply while the beeping of the machines grows stronger, causing my own heart rate to pick up.
“No . . . the doctor . . . he said . . .” Jagger is choking out his words as he pushes off the end of the bed to pace around and get his emotions under control.
“I wanna apologize to you boys. I know it wasn’t easy growing up. Your dad wasn’t a good man, and I should’ve left.” She gasps harshly, and my heart practically stops.
“Just stop, Mom. It’s okay. There is nothing for you to apologize for.” I continue running my hand across her head, soothing her.
“Be the men I raised you to be. Don’t have a hardened heart to the love I’ve shown you. I was wrong to stay. I was wrong not to give you a good example.” Every word comes out in a struggle and a cough.
I want to tell her love doesn’t exist between a man and a woman. Want, need, passion, lust—those emotions and desires all transpire—but love? Not only no, but hell no. Love is an illusion. It is what mothers feed to their daughters in fairy tales to give them hope. It is what men use to trick women into bed. It is far from real.
“Mom, you’re everything good in each of us,” Morrison whispers to her.
“You’re everything good I’ve ever done. Thank you for taking care of me,” she replies in a gurgling, strained voice.
“Momma, fuck!” I run my fingers through my short, spiky hair. “You don’t have to fuckin’ thank us. You took care of us our entire lives. Just hang on, Momma. Fight a little more. We’ll get you the best care we can at home.”
“Hendrix, you gotta let me go, son. All of you, it’s time to let me go. Come here and tell me it’s okay. Make it okay, boys. Tell me you will be there for each other. Tell me you’ll find good women and make babies. Carry on my father’s name and give your children what I didn’t give you boys.”
Momma never married Dad. She made sure we all got her last name, not that of our sperm donor. Why she stayed, I will never understand. Although, maybe I’m not meant to.
There is a pause, a hesitation.
I drop my head in defeat.
“Promise me, boys: Leave a legacy of good in a world of bad,” her raspy voice croaks out as the tears fall from her still-closed eyes.
“Momma . . .” Morrison pleads.
The next beep should be coming, and it is not.
“Boys,” she whispers.
“Yes, Momma. We’ll stand by each other, and we will be your legacy.” Jagger comes over, not holding back his tears as he squeezes in beside me to hold our mother’s hand.
“I love you, boys. I. Love. Each. Of. You.” She never gets above a whisper as we watch the jump in the lines get farther and farther apart.
“I promise you, Momma. Love you,” Morrison says as his tears fall onto her arms.
“Anything for you, Momma,” Jagger chokes out.
No longer able to be strong, I sob as I kiss her forehead, which is already growing cold. The gurgling sound coming from her does nothing to silence the beating of my own heart. The pounding that once sounded in rhythm with the machines now loudly resounds through my ears. I feel like my head is going to explode as I give my mother the gift she is asking for.
“We’ll be all right, Momma. It’s okay to let go.” My last sentence is choked out on a whisper, the words barely spoken as she releases us.
Her eyes close, the sounds cease, and everything stills around the four of us.
At 3:18 p.m. on January 24, 2012, my world stops and tilts on its axis. Will life ever be right again?
ight stand may have been. Olivia never expects to meet her masked lover again. But when she takes a job at Hendrix Caldwell’s bar, her sexy new boss seems all too familiar. And once the lights go out and the music is turned up, the sparks between them burn hotter than ever.