Shallow Page 40

When I was ready to go, I softly knocked on Claire’s door. I heard stirring and smiled to myself because I knew she was putting on clothes. “Come in.”

I eased the door open and Jessie was still asleep. I motioned with my finger for her to come out so we didn’t wake him up.

She saw Nick’s journal in my hand. “You read it?”

I clutched it to my heart. “Yes. Maybe I shouldn’t have, but I did and I’ve been so wrong about him. I have to go to him. Now.”

She looked out her window and then at the clock. “It’s still dark. Why don’t you wait until it’s light outside.”

She wasn’t winning this argument. “It’ll be light by the time I get to his house. I can’t stand to be without him another minute. I’ll burst if I stay here. It’s only a two hour drive and I want to be there when he wakes up.”

“I can see it doesn’t matter what I want you to do. You’re going to do whatever you want.”

“Tell me something I don’t know.”

31 In The Middle Of Shallow


I drank way too much whiskey so my head was freakin’ pounding and whoever was blowing up my phone wasn’t helping matters. I reached over to silence the thing because I was in no mood to talk to anyone, especially at eight o’clock in the morning after the drunk I pulled.

A few minutes later, I heard a soft knock on my door. Shit! Could I not be left in peace for one minute? “What?”

Dallas opened my door and something about the look on her face wasn’t right. She wouldn’t be coming into my room on a Saturday morning this early. I lifted my head to look at her and she had her phone in her hand. She didn’t say a word. She just handed it to me and I could only assume she meant for me to answer it.


“Nick, it’s Claire.”

Please, no. My heart sank because I immediately knew something had happened to Payton and I shot up in the bed. “What’s happened to her?”

“I don’t know. She left four hours ago coming to your house and she’s not answering her phone. She was supposed to call when she got to your house and I haven’t heard from her. She should have made it to your house by six o’clock. Maybe even earlier because there wouldn’t have been much traffic. I’m scared.”

“Okay, Dallas will start calling all the hospitals between us and I’ll get my dad up. He can get some units to help patrol the area looking for her car. I want you to start driving this direction on the route she would have taken. I’ll drive in your direction from this side.”

“Okay. There’s two ways she could have gone. I’ll take one and Jessie will take the other.”

I hung up and handed Dallas’ phone to her. She took it from me but stood frozen as I got up to get dressed. “Nick, this is all my fault.”

I went to my closet to grab a shirt. “How could this possibly be your fault?”

I pulled my undershirt over my head and started tucking it in my jeans. “I went to Knoxville last night to see Payton.”

“Why did you do that?”

I could see the tears collecting in her eyes. “To convince her you should be together.”

“I love you, Sis and I appreciate what you did.” I kissed the top of her head. “But this isn’t your fault.”

The tears collecting in her eyes spilled down her cheeks. “But, it is.”

“We’ll talk about it later. Right now, I just need to find Payton and make sure she’s okay.”

Dad immediately sprung into cop mode and had units patrolling for Payton’s car before I even left the house.

I got in my car and for the first time in a long time, I started praying. I love her so much. Please, let her be okay. Please place your protection around her and keep her safe. She means everything to me.

I was almost out of Collinsville when I got a call from my dad. “A unit found her car on the side of the road, but it’s been abandoned. Looks like she had a blowout in a rural stretch so her phone probably wasn’t getting a signal.”

And she was too impatient to wait. That was Payton. “How far from us?”

“Sounds like it’s that stretch on Highway 67 after you leave Collinsville and get into Shallow.”

“Okay, I’ll drive from this direction and the squad car can drive from that direction and one of us should find her.” God, I prayed one of us found her and she didn’t get picked up by some lunatic.

Please, show me what I’m looking for. I drove down Highway 67 about 10 miles and saw what I thought was her in the distance. I sped up, anxious to confirm her safety, and saw her walking with hellacious heels in one hand and something I couldn’t identify in the other.

When I came to a stop in front of her, she lifted her skirt and stuck out her long leg and gave me the hitchhiker’s thumb with a big smile on her face.

I jumped out of my car and ran to meet her in a dramatic reunion in the middle of Highway 67 in Shallow, Tennessee. That’s when the potential severity of the situation hit me, along with my tears of relief.

I grabbed her face and stared at it because it had been too long since I saw it. “I could beat your ass right now. Do you hear me?” I pulled her into my arms and squeezed her way too hard. “You scared the shit out of me. Why are you out here this time of the morning?”

Tears were streaming down her face by handfuls. “I had to see you. I was wrong, so very wrong and I had to tell you the minute I figured it out.”

“What caused this revelation for you to drive to my house at four o’clock in the morning?”

“This.” She held out my journal. “And I’m not sorry I read it. It told me everything I needed to know. Everything I should have already known.”

“Where did you get this?” And then it clicked for me what my sister meant. “Dallas. She gave it to you.”

“Don’t be mad at her. She did it because she loves you so much and knew it was the only way I’d see the truth. Can you ever forgive me for being so stupid?”

“There’s nothing to forgive.” I leaned in for the kiss I thought I’d never have again and I felt her smile against my mouth. “What?”

“I want to see your newest tattoo. You didn’t describe it at all and I’m dying of curiosity.”

I lifted my shirt and showed her the infinity symbol with her name entwined within it. She reached out to touch it and all those familiar feelings emerged from under the surface.

“I love it. I want one just like it with your name.” She pointed to the place over her heart. “I want it right here for your eyes only.”

My name tattooed over her heart sounded like the best idea I’d heard in a long time. “I think that can be arranged.”

“And now I want my birthday present.”

She wasn’t kidding when she said she read my journal. “You do, huh?”

“Yes. I want it now.”

I had it with me. I always had it with me so I could look at it and be reminded of her. “Well, what if I had it in my pocket? Would you want me to give it to you right here in the middle of Shallow?”


I pulled the black leather box from my pocket and balanced on my palm. “Is this the birthday present you’re talking about?”

She licked her lips. “I believe that could be it.”

I dropped down to my knee and then reached up to pop the top. She saw the ring I had saved to buy and I watched as her eyes filled with tears. “Payton Caroline Archer, will you be my wife?”

“Yes, Nickolas Aleksei Hawke, I will marry you.”

I took the diamond engagement ring from the box and slid it on her left ring finger. “And will you let me put babies inside you and watch them grow?”

She burst into laughter, remembering what I had told her I wanted to do the night we broke up. “Yes and I’ll even let you practice first. A lot.”

“God, I love you. You’re gonna be the best wife ever.”

“Damn skippy.”


3 Years Later


I couldn’t believe it was time. We had waited for months and it was finally here.

I reached over and shook Nick’s shoulder. “Baby, wake up.”

He rolled away from me onto his stomach and put his face into his pillow. “No, woman. I just pulled a double and I’m tired. I want to sleep.”

I shook him again. “Get up. It’s time.”

He groaned. “Time for what?”

“It’s baby time. We need to go the hospital.”

“You’re kiddin’ me, right? The baby is choosing to come now?”

“Yeah. Get your ass up.”

We got in the car and I’d never known Nick to drive so slow. For the love of God, he used to race every chance he got and now he was a cop. He could speed if he wanted to and he had an excuse to get a move on. Did he need me to put a flame under his ass or what? There was a baby on the way.

We walked up to the front desk. “Claire Boone’s room, please.”

We waited as the receptionist looked her up in the computer. “Looks like she’s in Labor and Delivery Room 117. Go through those double doors and it will be down the hall to the left.”

I couldn’t believe it. Our best friends were having a baby. It wasn’t planned, but sometimes the best things weren’t.

We walked toward Claire’s room and I was so excited I went down the wrong hall. Nick stopped and pointed in the right direction. “Baby, your other left.”

We got to the door ready to knock and I heard a baby cry. No way. She had just called me an hour ago to tell me she was at the hospital. There’s no way she had already had the baby.

My ears perked up. “That was a baby crying.”

Nick didn’t seemed enthused. “I think you can expect to hear that kind of thing around here.”

“No, I think it came from Claire’s room.”

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