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WHIP

New Year’s Day 2015

“You’re never going to believe this!” I hollered into the military issue mobile device my Master Sergeant let me use. We each got ten minutes to call home and share the good news with our loved ones.

“Um, sweetheart, it’s so good to hear your voice. Incredible really.” My mother’s words shook with what sounded like relief. “But honey, we…uh…have news to share as well.”

I ran my hands through my now longer hair. Finally, after almost four years of service in the Army in the hothouse hell that is Afghanistan, I had a lot more on top than when they first buzz cut us.

“Me first, Mom!” I made the sound of a trumpet blaring an announcement. “They ceased operation. They’ve closed down the International Security Assistance Force. Means when I re—enlist in a couple months, I’ll be sent somewhere awesome. I’m hoping for Germany or France!” I chuckled into the phone and imagined my arms wrapped around a French hottie who whispered nothing but foreign sweet nothings in my ear while I fucked her. Damn straight! I deserved that after all I’ve done and seen.

Working the International Security Assistance Force was a dream come true. To be chosen right out of boot camp for the role pissed off a shit ton of my army buds, but I was the best shooter, physically fit as a fiddle, picked up Dari, or Afghan Persian as Americans call it, and my temperament worked for the higher ups. Without even blinking, I graduated boot camp and was immediately shipped off to Afghanistan where I ended up spending the bulk of my time training Afghanistan National Security Forces not only in combat techniques, but to help rebuild their government. Didn’t change that I had seen my fair share of combat. Hell, I watched my best friend in the entire world explode through the scope of a sniper rifle.

A sour taste coated my mouth, and I shook off the memories threatening to destroy the good vibes I was attempting to soak up and focused on the call.

“Honey, that is amazing. Truly great. I’m thrilled you’re safe and sound and the government is finally moving our men out of harm’s way and hopefully sending you all home, but um…” Her voice changed, and a sob ripped through the line.

Instant dread filled my pores. Mags was a ball buster. The old lady to beat all old ladies in my father’s club, my club, back home. She ran the show and never shed a tear in front of the men or the club girls. Hearing her tears meant something bad had happened. Really bad.

“Mom, what the fuck?”

“Shane, my boy…” Her voice trailed off, and my throat went dry as the Afghan desert.

Before I could ask a question, my father’s deep rumbling voice came over the line. “Son.” His voice was so tortured, shivers ran up my spine.

My father, Riot O’Donnell, was the President of the Hero’s Pride Motorcycle Club back home. He managed over thirty members and prospects alongside my mom, Magdalene, or “Mags” to the guys, and never sounded anything but upbeat. Unless someone had died.

My heart constricted. I held my breath, and my chest went tight. “Is it Shay? Is my fucking sister okay?” I roared into the phone. There was only one person on this Earth I could not live without and that was my twin sister, Shay. “Christ, Dad! What happened?” Tears burned the back of my eyes instantly at the mere suggestion that something could have happened to my sister.

“No, no, son! It’s not Shay. Get that shit outta your head right now.”

All the breath I’d been holding raced out of my lungs in a burst of anger. “What the hell, Dad? What is going on?”

“Son, Jess paid us a surprise visit the day after Christmas…”

“Jess? The new club girl?” I dipped back into my memory of the last time I was home. It was about nine or ten months ago, and we had been given a couple weeks before the next round of training started. I flew my ass home and spent those two weeks hanging with the brothers and Mom and Dad, gave Shay shit about some douche she was dating, and rode my bike. Of course, I’d ridden a few of the club girls a time or two, Jess being a stellar lay. Tall, big blonde hair, and pretty blue eyes. Spent two days straight fucking her but scraped her off when I had to go. She started getting clingy and asking for money. I scraped her off and headed back to my station in Afghanistan to finish out my tour.

“Son, I don’t know how to tell you this, but she showed up on our doorstep with a screaming brand new baby girl. So brand new, she was only a day old. No name, no birth certificate. Jess looked like shit. Hollow eyes, all skin and bones with fresh track marks up her arms.”

I slumped against the wall of the building where I was taking my call in private. “What does this have to do with me? Just call social services…”

“Whip, she says the baby’s yours.” My father’s tone was harsh and straight to the point.

“Bullshit! I banged her a handful of times, Dad, and I always use a rubber!” I growled into the phone, holding the thing so damned tight my fingers hurt.

My father sighed heavily. “That was our thought too. Except there’s no denying this child, Shane. We took her straight to the hospital when Jess left her in my arms and ran off. We pulled your sister in and had them do a DNA test on the baby and her. We got immediate temporary custody as fosters because of our links with the sheriff. They had to pull a lot of strings to allow the baby to be with your mom and me while we waited for the test results.”

I pressed a hand against the scalding hot concrete wall, needing the burn to sink in so my mind could focus. I ran the numbers through my head, and if the baby was only days old, it’s possible she could be mine.

Fuck!

“Dad…did you get the results?”

“Son…she’s…Christ, boy, she’s yours. It was confirmed today. Just got the call before you rang through.”

Silence.

Everything around me ceased to exist.

The choppers nearby…gone.

The men laughing and carousing, waiting for their turn on the phone…gone.

My life as I knew it…gone.

I swallowed and sucked in a deep breath. “You’re telling me I’m a father to a week—old baby girl, and I’m stuck in the fucking desert half a world away?”

“We’ve got her. We’ll take care of her until you come back. Mags is already in love with her. She and your sister fight over how much love they have to give the baby. She’s being filled to the brim with attention by us and the club.”

“I’m her father! She’s been alive a week, and I haven’t even set eyes to her. Dad, this is so fucked up!”

He cleared his throat. “It is, but we’ve got this. I overheard Mags say your mission is complete, and you should be coming home?”

“I was gonna re—enlist.” I let those words fall off my tongue like poison.

“And now?” His words were truly a question not a judgment.

“Now, I need to find the quickest way to get the fuck out of the desert and to my little girl. Jesus! What’s her name?”

“She doesn’t have one.”

“The fucking bitch didn’t name our daughter?” I ground my teeth so hard I could have cracked a molar.

“Son, Jess did the right thing bringing the baby to us. She was wacked out to the max on something she stuck in her veins. My guess, heroin since the guys mentioned it was her drug of choice. It was the reason Mags kicked her out of the club not long after you left. She spiraled out of control. Trying to get all the guys to give her money, and then turned around and used it for drugs.”

I started to pace along the building wall. “I cannot believe this.”

“The doctors said the baby wasn’t addicted to anything, which means she probably quit when she found out she was pregnant, but likely not the whole time, and started right back up when she had her. Doc said the baby should be just fine, but we need to make sure she has her regular checkups with the pediatrician. The problem now is the hospital wants us to submit her birth certificate. We have your information and Jessica’s…but your daughter needs a name, and Mags and I didn’t feel it was right to give her one.”

“I haven’t even seen a picture of what she looks like, how am I supposed to give her a name?”

My body was too heavy to hold up any longer, I leaned my back against the concrete wall and slid down to the dirt on my ass. My camo—covered legs and boots were stretched out in front of me.

“I just sent one to the phone you called on.”

With a shaking hand, I hit the speaker button, clicked over to the messages, and pressed on the text. I’d talk to my sergeant about the message since it would probably cost him, and it was his unit’s work phone. On the screen was the most precious little human being. Bright, big blue eyes stared into the camera. Wisps of blonde hair, a perfect pouty pink set of lips and chubby cheeks. She was gorgeous.

She was mine.

My entire life changed the second I took in her face. Suddenly I couldn’t wait to meet this little human I’d made.

My dad’s voice came through the speaker. “Son…”

“Yeah.” I choked back the emotion and coughed. “She’s perfect, Dad.”

“She is. A really good baby too. Doesn’t sleep through the night, but Mags and Shay take turns every other night.”

“My mother and sister should not have to take care of my daughter. I should be there…” I banged the back of my head against the wall, hating where I was every second.

“Then come home when you can. Until then, we have your back. We’ll take the best care of her. You know that.”

I nodded even though my father couldn’t see it. Still I couldn’t take my eyes off her beautiful little angelic face.

“Shayna,” I said decisively. “After my sister and me. Marie, the same as Mom’s middle name. I want my daughter to know her name was chosen based on people who will always love her and be there for her. Unlike her junkie mother.”

“Mags, he’s named her Shayna Marie O’Donnell.” I heard my mother’s sobs get louder through the phone. Then Dad spoke to my mom, who must have been hovering close and listening in to the call. “Go ahead, Mag Pie, fill out the paperwork, and we’ll submit it today.” My father’s voice was full of emotion. “Perfect name, son. We’ll get this done, and we’ll take care of your girl.”

“I want regular fucking emails and Skype time so I can see her myself,” I growled. “And get the brothers to hunt down Jess. I want to know where the bitch is the second I come home.”

“Home?”

“Dad, I’m not gonna re—enlist when I have a brand—new baby to take care of. You, Mom, and Shay are already doing too much as it is. I won’t be able to go on terminal leave for two months. Two months of her life I’m going to miss. Fuck!” I let my head fall between my now cocked knees as I cursed the desert, the fucking war, and Jessica. I’d already lost my best friend to this war, and now I would lose two months of my daughters’ life.

No more.

Right then and there, I promised myself and my daughter that I’d be there for her. As long as it was within my power, I’d be there. Always. I wouldn’t abandon her like her mother did. Not my flesh and blood. No way.

“I’ll be sure Mags and Shay are on task in sending updates regularly. Keep us posted on your dates, and we’ll pick you up at the airport. Not a second more will go by without you meeting your little girl. I promise, son.”

I closed my eyes and let the tears fall down my cheeks. “Dad…thanks. Tell Mom and Shay too. I love you all. I don’t even know what to think about all of this, but I couldn’t imagine having to go through this without you.”

“Never, son. Family is everything.”

Those words seared straight through my heart as I stared at the picture of my daughter’s face.

“Yes. Family is everything,” I agreed. “Kiss my little Sunflower, and tell her Daddy already loves her and will be home soon.”

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