“We’ve been through it before. It’s … too … late.”
Penni started crying. Did he have to say that?
“Okay, okay. Quit crying. It tears my soul apart when you cry.”
“Give me a couple days, and then I’ll be able to do it,” Penni pleaded.
“Everyone is already waiting: your parents, Shade, Lily—hell, even all the Predators are there except Max.”
Penni’s head fell back on the chair. She stared up at the ceiling, counting the seconds between contractions. When she could she lifted her head again, she said, “Tell him about losing his bet. I’m never having another baby.”
“Yes, you will. It’s just nerves—”
“That’s easy for you to say!” she snapped. “These contractions are fucking painful!”
“Then let’s go. If my baby is born here instead of at the hospital, I’m going to be pissed.”
“This is all your fault!”
“You’re the one who kept forgetting to take the pills. I kept telling you I would use a condom until you were ready to have a baby.”
“If you joke one more time that I’ll misplace the baby, so help me God, I’m going to cut off your dick.”
“I was teasing you. You’re going to make a wonderful mother.” Jackal brushed her tears away.
“See? The contractions have stopped. It was only a false alarm.”
Jackal stared at her doubtfully. “I think we should go to the hospital just to make sure.”
“All right. Just so you’ll feel better.”
“Thank you.” Jackal helped her to her feet, and Penni waddled to the front door with him on her heels.
Jesus, did he think she would run upstairs and lock herself in their bedroom? That was tempting, but the fact that Jackal could outrun her was disheartening.
His helping her as she lowered herself into the front seat of the car lifted a tiny bit of the fear that had been escalating since she had found out she was pregnant. Jackal then started the car before backing out to the street. As he made a left, he drove past the lake, coming to a stop at the stop sign. The ducks and swans glided across the water, impervious to what was going on inside the car.
When Jackal would have made the turn that led them to the hospital, Penni reached out to stop him.
“Look,” she said softly. Two swans swam next to each other, their necks arching together, coming together to look like a heart. “It’s a sign.”
“Sure it is, babe. Can I go now?”
“Yes.” Penni felt the last of her fear slide away. “Everything is going to be okay. I can feel it.”
Jackal smiled. “I’ve been saying that for the nine months.”
Yes, he had been telling her, but she hadn’t believed it until now.
The contractions began again, but she didn’t tell him, not wanting to distract him from driving.
It was a relief to pull up to the emergency entrance. She wasn’t able to wiggle out of the car before he was back with a wheelchair. Thankfully Jackal hadn’t listened to her, and her doctor was standing by, waiting for her.
Another contraction hit as she was wheeled away. Jackal was by her side as she was rushed to the birthing room. The sight of the bed would have had her in hysterics if she hadn’t seen the sign the swans had gifted to her.
“Get her hooked up to the monitors, STAT,” her doctor ordered.
Penni was in too much pain to realize the room was filling up with nurses and technicians.
When she caught a glimpse of Jackal’s face, she tried to ease his worry. “I’m fine.”
He only nodded, moving out of the way so the doctor could work.
Penni held out her hand to him, feeling him take it in his.
“We can do this.” Penni gave him a trembling smile.
“No more. One is enough.”
“We’ll see.” Penni tried to arch up as the pain radiated through her body. “My chest is hurting.” She began gasping for air as the shrill scream of the monitors filled the room.
Penni saw the fear on Jackal’s face as she began to lose consciousness.
“No … Don’t you fucking dare take your eyes off of me! Penni … Penni!”
Was he ever going to shut up? She was sleepy; why wouldn’t he stop?
She tried to search for the warm, soothing abyss where she could hide from the pain, but he wouldn’t let her. If he knew how badly it hurt, he would leave her alone.
She tried to tell him to let her sleep, but he wouldn’t listen. Over and over, he called her name, and Penni couldn’t make him stop. Then, when she heard the sound of his voice again, she didn’t want to. She quit struggling to return to the warm abyss, trying to find his voice, instead. She couldn’t stand hearing him in so much agony. She would gladly wake if that was what it took to end his suffering.
When he didn’t respond, she realized he couldn’t hear her. Then she could barely hear him, and the warm abyss was gone. Taking its place was total darkness, and she couldn’t find her way out.