I'm not half the man I used to be,
There's a shadow hanging over me,
Oh, yesterday came suddenly.
Oceanside - The Palms: 7:49 PM
By the time Gemma tracked Cooper down at the Palms she was prickly, hot, and irritable. They stonewalled her at Hitman. Cooper wasn't there and the girl in reception had refused her repeated inquiries as to his whereabouts. It had taken time and several phone calls before she tracked him down at the Palms. Hailing a cab, she made it to the hotel as the sun was beginning to set. Flirting with the bellhop at the front desk scored her the correct room number. Stifling a wave of nausea, maybe it was just her nerves and not the hormones, Gemma firmly knocked on the door and braced herself having no idea what she was going to say.
Coop had just showered and pulled on a shirt when he heard the knock. There was no way Rayne could have made it that quickly from Sandy Point. Moving toward the door he pulled it open and found the last person he wanted to see.
"What are you doing here?" he demanded.
"May I come in please?"
"No, you can't. I thought I made it clear I didn't want to see you again."
Gemma pushed past him. "Yes, crystal clear but what I have to say is best handled where we can't be overheard."
Fully aware that Rayne would be there soon Coop eyed Gemma suspiciously and left the door propped open. "You've got three minutes and then I'm tossing you into the hall."
She stood arms folded and glared back at him coldly. "Fine. Have it your way then. I'm pregnant."
Cooper froze and then kicked the door shut with his boot. Shaken, his guts twisted in knots, he couldn't flat out deny it was his; he'd taken her unprotected more than once that night, but he'd be damned if he was going to take responsibility on her word alone. Highly doubtful that he'd been the only one she'd screwed during that time, he didn't even know if she was making it up. She wouldn't be the first woman to claim he was the father of some kid.
He moved toward her, menacing, threatening, white hot anger searing through him, and growled, "I don't believe you. From the second I laid eyes on you I knew you were trouble. Why are you even telling me this - what makes you believe it's even mine? You got what you wanted. That kid - if there even is one - if you think you're going to hold that over my head - I'll destroy you."
Gemma stepped back until her thighs hit the table. Reaching back she braced herself and in as calm a voice as she could manage replied, "You know perfectly well why I think it's yours. I don't want anything from you...I thought you should know."
"Damn you, that's bull shit! You're going to stand there and tell me you haven't been with anyone else? You don't want anything? Don't fuck with me Gemma! I'll rip you to shreds! I don't want anything to do with you or any kid of yours!"
He could see anger in her expression, not the fear he expected, and Gemma held her ground. "You think I wanted a baby, that I orchestrated this? You're insane! I wanted a fucking contract! If it gets out that it's yours, it could ruin me! Every contract I get will be because of my relationship with you!"
Cooper glared at her, anger roiling inside him. His voice was grim, cold, unfeeling and flat. "Get rid of it."
"No," she said flatly. "If it's yours, you will acknowledge paternity. I am not backing down."
Clenching his fists, how the hell could he have been so damned stupid, Cooper threatened, "I want nothing to do with this. You breathe one word, you come near me or anyone in my family, you give anyone the slightest idea that this kid might be mine and there won't be a corner in this world where you can escape what I will do to you. I swear Gemma I will kill you. Now get out!"
Yanking her hair up, struggling with windblown tangles, Rayne found a clip in her purse, took it in her teeth and forced her hair into it. The valet parking guy was staring at her. It was a rental, let him stare, let him tow it, she didn't care.
She started inside, stopped, nervous and tired and briefly reviewed what she wanted to say. Hi Dad, sorry about bitching you out, I need money. Why had she thought this was a good idea? She didn't even have a place to stay tonight if he turned her down or ordered her back into rehab. There was Randi...but Toad's comment about Nic bothered her...she didn't want to push that, it would be really strange and awkward.
Uneasy, she went out into the courtyard, standing there in the spray between the fountain and the heavy heaving pounding surf and tried to remember the room number. Was it 102? She could call him again. She didn't want to call him again. He might change his mind.
A door opened, slammed shut, and there at the end of hall was Gemma Wilson. Walking right out of Room 102 with attitude and not bothering to even see if anybody else saw her.
One long sashay through the hotel past the luggage and the chairs and the damned bellboy, all that black hair swinging and red shoes tapping on the tile just as if it made absolutely no difference in the world if somebody knew she'd come out of Cooper Stanfield's hotel room.
Rayne watched her until Gemma caught a taxi. She followed her back outside and watched until the taxi disappeared going east, not the way to South Beach, so the bitch was going home to Millwood. It was hard to move, hard to breathe; that whore, she knew it she KNEW it and there it was. Got some new great contract deal going on, Gemma? Need to stop by his hotel room to use his big pen again?
She fought it, digging her nails into her palms, trying to focus on why she was here, she couldn't take her on, not now; if she did, she lost any chance of getting what she'd come here for. Walk. Go. Be sweet, be very very sweet, and wait your turn at her because it will come, it's coming.
Cooper slammed the door behind Gemma and paced the length of the room, distracted, shaken, desperately trying to think of some way, any way he could manage this. As much as he would like to believe the gossip and rumors wouldn't reach his family, he knew they would.
The phone rang. He jumped, startled, hesitated for a couple of seconds, uncertain he would even talk coherently, then picked it up and answered cautiously, "Yeah?"
It was Beth. Coop listened, blank, as she told him she'd just finished up with Blade, adding dryly, 'what a piece of work', then asked if he was coming over. Hugs was expecting him. She sounded happy and hopeful and calm; she sounded like she wanted him.
"I can't," he began and almost choked on the words. "Rayne, uh Rayne called, said she wanted to talk. Tomorrow, I'll be there as soon as I can tomorrow. I'm sorry."
There was a pause, then she said, "That's fine. If Rayne wants to talk to you, that's more important. Cooper, are you all right?"
He could not possibly respond to that. Gripping the phone, he came up with some lame reassurance, lying, hearing the disappointment in her voice. Damn it, if he'd been able to get there tonight, maybe he could have convinced her to let him stay; Blade obviously hadn't made any headway. He needed time to think, time to come up with some way to explain...Gemma if that was real, he had to explain....he couldn't do it tonight. Fucking idiot, you screwed up before but this time you've really torn it all apart.
Another knock on the door; he pulled himself together, quickly buttoned his shirt, and there stood Rayne, glaring at him. "This is a surprise," Cooper managed to say, "a good surprise. Come on in."
She marched in and strode to the door leading to the balcony and stood there, her posture tight and stiff, not even facing him as she said, "I decided I want to set up on my own for a while. I don't have any money and I was wondering if you'd help me out."
He kicked absently at the foot of the bed with the toe of his boot, completely unable to focus. If his daughter needed money, he'd give her money, it was the least he could do now. "Sure sweetheart, whatever you need, it's yours."
Rayne crossed the room, circling close to the bed, examining it as if searching for something before she stopped uncomfortably close and stared up at him.
It was a long challenging look, very direct, and he began to wonder why. "Really...well thanks. Dad, you know who I saw just now? I saw Gemma Wilson, coming out of your room. Is that why you gave Jimmy that contract, because you're sleeping with that woman?" Cooper realized, a sickening realization, why she had been studying the bed.
Stunned, his heart hammering in his chest, Cooper folded his arms, struggling hard to retain some composure. "I am definitely not going out with Gemma Wilson. She stopped by because she had something she thought was urgent...she was mistaken. Rayne, I love your mother; I always have and that has not changed."
She sat down on the end of the bed and, in a quieter voice, countered, "Maybe you think this is none of my business, but I was going to join Jimmy's band, and I can't do that if you're involved with his agent. This is about more than just you and Mom. I know all about Ryan, and I wouldn't blame you if you split when that happened, but none of this makes any sense. What is going on with Gemma?"
Something about the way she was sitting there watching him reminded him of the little girl she'd been, stubbornly demanding a toy or a trip to the beach, relentless but endearing. "Rainie...it's complicated...this business, people crawl out of the woodwork wanting things, pulling at you, latching on for the ride. Shit baby I'm no saint, I'm not perfect...but you don't understand...it doesn't mean anything..." What the hell was he saying, Cooper exhaled and shifted his eyes toward Rayne.
He could see her confusion, emotion playing across her face, turning, changing, suspicion replaced with a slow, dawning, unsettling fury. Cooper took a step back and began, "It's not what you think - "
Before he could finish, Rayne slid off the bed, reached out for her father, and wrapped him in a long shuddering and completely unexpected hug. "You don't know what I think," she whispered fiercely. He leaned down and held onto her tight, his rough, weary voice against her hair, "Raindrop..."
NEXT CHAPTER: Passages 26