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When she got pregnant over a year ago, I brought her to stay with me in my cabin. I helped her stay clean during her pregnancy. But shortly after she gave birth, she took my nephew and left.

I’ve tried to reach out a few times, but she never responds. I know she’s safe because I have a private investigator check on her once a month.

I answer the call, and I’m instantly greeted by a wailing sound.

“Please,” Katie gasps. “Come here, Hale.”

We haven’t talked in months, and Katie is a grown adult more than capable of dealing with her problems. Still, I shove my feet into my shoes. I promise her I’m on the way. It’s what a big brother does. He comes to the rescue when the shit hits the fan.

I push for an answer about what’s going on, but she never tells me, eventually hanging up halfway through our conversation.

Twice, I try to call her back. When I can’t get through, I start calling my friends on the mountain. Grizz and Ace will watch over the gym for me until I can figure out what’s going on. Roman agrees to drive me to the airport in Asheville, so I can catch a flight to Colorado.

I have a valid driver’s license. But after my seizure last week, I’m not legally allowed to operate a vehicle for a year. If this weren’t an emergency, I wouldn’t care about that. At least, I have friends willing to drop everything and come to my aid. I just hope I get to Katie in time.

* * *

Hours later,my plane touches down in Colorado. Henry, an old friend and the family lawyer, greets me with a grim set of his mouth. I don’t think the old man has ever smiled once in his life. Not that Katie has given him a reason to. She’s caused plenty of drama and heartache for my family. So much so that most of them won’t even talk to her.

I know she’s made bad choices, and she’s manipulative. But some part of me keeps hoping that she’s capable of change. I don’t look at her and see the grown woman who parties hard. I see the six-year-old girl I gave piggyback rides to. I see the kid whose ballet recitals I attended because our parents were too busy to show up.

When we get to the location my sister texted me, my jaw clenches. It’s a deserted mansion with a bonfire in the front yard. Music blasts from the house, and people are spilling out on the brown lawn. Most of them look high, and the whole place reeks of stale beer and piss.

Henry follows me as I thread through the crowd, searching for my sister.

She’s inside, near the speaker system sipping a beer and laughing a little too loudly with the guy next to her. Her hair and makeup are done. She’s wearing her designer jeans and a halter top that’s about two sizes too small. There’s no panic or pain on her face.

As soon as she sees me, she gives a triumphant smile before she quickly hides it. But her reaction is a kick in the stomach. It’s a reminder that no matter how much I care, Katie is only in it for one person.

I glance down at the car seat at her feet where my nephew is sleeping. It registers that it’s too loud in here for a baby to be sleeping, but the thought quickly flits away. I cross my arms over my chest and glare at my sister. “What is this about?”

A blonde guy nearby, who is swaying on his feet, tells me to be cool.

I ignore him, wondering why I rushed here.

Katie’s eyes are clear and not glassy. Although she’s lost some of the baby weight, she’s still at a healthy size. My gaze goes lower, noting the track marks on her arms. They’re old. That doesn’t mean anything though. She could be shooting up in a different place.

She scowls at me when she sees me looking for the track marks, trying to discern if she’s sober.

“What did you want?” I grind out. She knows better than to call me. We never partied together. I’ve never been that type of person.

“I’ve learned something about myself,” my sister declares. She’s shouting to be heard over the music.

Ollie should have cried or stirred by now, but he doesn’t. He’s too still, his breathing too shallow.

My heart aches when I see him, the way it always does. For the first few weeks of his life, I was his constant companion. My sister may have given birth to him, but I was the one who looked after him.

I was the one there for the late-night feedings and diaper changes. At the time, I assumed she was dealing with the baby blues. I figured she would bond with him eventually. But as if she’s reading my thoughts, my sister says, “I’ve realized that I’m not mom material.”

“It’s a little late for that.” My temperature rises, and it has nothing to do with the swell of bodies around me. My nephew deserves better than her.

I’ve texted her a million times, telling her that I’ll hire a nanny to look after the boy. She always waves away the offer. But now, Katie blows out a frustrated breath. “This is your fault. You’re the one who convinced me to have him. You said he was a little miracle.”

Fuck, fuck.I hope that babies can’t understand what’s being said around them. I hope that he can’t sense his mom’s animosity at this moment. The thought that he could feel unwanted cuts deep in my chest.

She continues, oblivious to the way she’s carving out my heart, “So I’ve decided he’s yours now.”

She nudges the car seat toward me with the toe of her boot.

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