Provocation (18+)

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42. Hollow

Nate had always hated this airport. Whether flying in or flying out, it meant hours of butt-numbing boredom, tedious small talk and listening to the roar of the engines upon take off. It meant going places. Far-off places. Either home or... home. Whichever was which at the time.

Though England had never felt like home to him.

Leila sat next to him as the captain told them they were fueling up to make the short jaunt to Ireland. They wouldn’t have to go through customs in England, though he would try to make a trip there, just to check up on business.

Aiden had loaned them the Kintech jet within hours of the call from Lettice. It had to go through a service inspection just to be on the safe side, but everything was ready to roll for as soon as Nate and Leila could make it to SFO. It was the airport that Aiden rented a hangar at, the one closest to Kintech. He was a generous employer, understanding.

And he knew what having a kid was like.

Not that Nate would have to at this stage. He was sure of it.

So what if Lorelei had gone into early labor for her undiagnosed pre-eclampsia?

So what is he would be in the same hospital as Lorelei when she gave birth, if she hadn’t already.

To be on the safe side, Lettice had called a friend up in England to represent Nate’s interests in Ireland. He had owed her one for a legal case a few years back and she made no bones about cashing in on the favor.

Lettice was keeping Nate up to date with news of the baby, and Harold Woelke was keeping Lettice in the loop from Ireland. He had had to fly over to Ireland from England, but it was on Lettice’s dime, ergo Nate’s.

They hadn’t stopped to get the little cell phone SIM cards to make their phones compatible in the U.K., but they would as soon as they got to Dublin, where Lorelei was at the hospital, 8 months pregnant- or not- and a baby was being born 4 weeks too soon.

Nate felt bad for the child, having to have a mother like Lorelei and then probably having to spend days or weeks in intensive care because his/her mother didn’t go to regular checkups for her climbing blood pressure.

Still, even if he didn’t have to see Lorelei right away, he would have to face her folks. The hard stare of her mother, the disapproving scowl of her father. They had taken a while to warm up to Nate after Violet and Harry had nixed the marriage arrangement between Vi and Liam, and they had tried for months to look for cracks in Nate’s interest in their daughter. They had finally been starting to see the light when Nate found Lorelei in bed with Conley.

Nate wondered what Lorelei had said about their breakup. Most likely painted him in a bad light. That was her way. Blamed it all on him. She was an excellent liar.

Hollywood really must be missing Lorelei McCormick.

Leila clutched at Nate’s hand as the plane taxied for take-off again.

Goal?

Dublin Airport.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

After clearing Customs, Nate booted up his phone.

Text message after text message popped up on his screen. A few from Aiden, his father, and Vi, but most were from Lettice.

Lorelei arrived at the hospital.

Emergency C-section.

Pulse dropping. Both fetal and maternal.

Fuck.

He kept reading, his heart rate increasing with each syllable.

He didn’t want the baby- or any baby for that matter- to die, no matter who the mother was.

He kept reading.

Successful C-section. Heartbeat regular.

Baby in NICU.

48 centimeters long, 2.29 kg. Female.

Hmm, not a bad weight for a preemie, if Nate’s calculations were correct. He had a knack for converting the metric system you to inches and back again.

In America, the child would have been a bit over 5 pounds and 18 inches long. These were good, healthy measurements.

Much healthier than Nate would have expected, though he knew next to nothing about babies. But he knew that Violet had been just shy of 6 pounds and 21 inches long when she was born, and he had been 6 pounds 5 ounces upon birth, 21.5 inches long.

They rented the first vehicle they came across, Nate behind the wheel. Leila had never driven on the ‘wrong side of the road’ before. Nate hadn’t driven much either, taking the tube and other public transit while living in the city. But at least he was more aware of the rules of the road than Leila would have been.

Leila was uncommonly quiet the whole plane ride over and in the car on the way to the hospital. She stared out the window at the surrounding buildings, people watched as they passed by. She looked scared, worried, trepidation seeping through to consume all of her features.

Nate wished he could comfort her, and himself. Hold her hand. Hold her. Both were an impossibility. He had an iffy idea of how to drive here and needed both hands on the wheel to feel safe.

Parking outside St. Vincent’s University hospital was like finding your way through a labyrinth. They passed the shopping center twice before finding the building they were looking for.

There were several car lots, one being underground and further away. But it was easiest to find a spot there and they trekked across the parking lot in search of someone to point them in the direction of the maternity ward and NICU. Or whatever passed as the NICU in Ireland.

A security guard at the entrance to the parking lot pointed them in the right direction, and both Nate and Leila walked in silence to the proper building. All the wards were named after nuns or saints- or something along those lines. It was difficult to maneuver until they came upon another guard, this one behind a desk in the building they needed.

They signed in and took a Visitor’s sticker that the woman printed out for them and made their way to the elevators to take them to the 3rd floor of the building.

If they expected the sounds of crying babies and cooing mothers when they exited the elevator on the third floor, they were disappointed. The sounds of scuffing shoes on linoleum flooring was more on par with what greeted them.

Nate nodded to a man in the corner of the room they finally entered. Some sort of waiting lobby. He was seated next to a woman with blond hair rolled into an elegant bun at the nape of her neck. The man had light brown hair and a grim look on his face. His expression soured even more when he saw Nate enter the waiting room.

The man stood slowly and walked to Nate who stuck out his hand. The man hesitated and took it, shook briefly.

“Good to see you again, Ciaran,” Nate said in a low voice. “Sorry it had to be in such a circumstance as this.”

“Aye,” the man said gruffly and looked over at Leila.

“This is Leila, my girlfriend,” Nate said, his voice gaining some strength.

The man flinched slightly, barely noticeably and blinked at Leila, took her in. Red hair, green eyes... pale, freckled skin.

“Yeh wouldn’t happen to have some Irish in ya now?” he asked, as if it was proper etiquette to ask such a question upon meeting a stranger.

The man was strange. Scowling one moment, asking her lineage the next.

Leila smiled gently, showing a sliver of teeth.

“My mother’s maiden name was Malloy,” she said, admitting a wee bit ’o Irish bloodline coursing through her veins.

The man nodded back at her.

“A good, strong name, Malloy,” the man told her. “Comes from the old Gaelic name of O’Maolmhuidh, meaning ‘descendant of the Great Chief’. America’s bastardized most of the good names of the Irish.”

“Ciaran likes to bone up on old Gaelic traditions and history. He’s a veritable plethora of useless information,” Nate said with a smirk.

Ciaran smiled. He had always liked Nate’s no-nonsense ways, though he hated to admit it. Even to himself.

“Aye,” he rasped. “But it was always good when it came to getting in good with a lass’ family.”

The group walked over to the blonde, older female who was eyeing them, narrow-eyed and suspicious.

“This is my wife, Brigid.” He spoke mainly to Leila, knowing Nate was well-aware of his ex’s mother.

“Pleased to make your acquaintance,” Leila said with a respectful nod. The way the woman was looking at her, she felt like she should toss in a fucking curtsey.

But she sustained. Making nice with her boyfriend’s ex’s parents wasn’t something she was used to, but she knew treating Brigid like the Queen of England was something she wouldn’t adhere to.

“It’s a girl,” Brigid told Nate. “She named her Aislinn.”

“Vision or dream,” Ciaran muttered, spouting out the meaning of the child’s name.

“Did you want to see your child, Nathan?” Brigid asked, blinking up at him once.

Nate’s lip twitched. He wanted to spit back that it wasn’t his baby, but he knew Brigid and Brigid knew him. Knew her words would knock him for a loop, put him off-kilter.

Nate wouldn’t allow it.

“Has the baby been swabbed for DNA?” he asked, knowing it would irritate Lorelei’s mother.

“Almost as soon as she was born.” Brigid looked murderous, as if it was deplorable that someone would call her daughter’s words into question. Especially this someone.

“The hospital’s already sent it away,” Ciaran confirmed. “You’ll be getting a call within a week, or so they said.”

Nate texted his lawyer who confirmed this. Lettice had been unable to make the journey right away, but would be coming in on Monday.

“Come on back to see the babe,” Ciaran cajoled. “She’s naught prettier than Lorelei when she was born, but just about close.”

Leila was stricken with doubt. She didn’t want to see the one thing that could keep Nate from her, though he had told her time and time again it wouldn’t.

Nate took her hand, pulled her gently from the room, looked at her. His eyes widened in question.

You coming?

Leila nodded, reluctant, but wanting to stay close to gauge his reaction to the child. His child. Maybe.

They let Nate back as soon as he was outfitted in scrubs and a mask, little booties for his feet. The NICU was kept as sterile as possible, for fear of infection.

Leila watched as he stared at the tiny wiggling human in the clear incubator. One of the nurses looked like she was talking to Nate as Leila stayed quietly outside the room. He shrugged, nodded, shook his head firmly at whatever questions he was posed with.

After a few minutes, he walked out looking blank. He took off the scrubs and Leila walked up to him cautiously.

“Well?” she asked. She didn’t know what the question really was, but she wanted his response anyway.

“She’s a very pretty little girl,” Nate said. “But, she’s not mine.”

“You can’t tell that just by looking at her,” Leila said.

“I feel it in my gut,” Nate said. “My gut’s never been wrong before.”

“Your gut doesn’t have a doctorate in human genetics either, Nathan,” she scolded gently.

“It may as well,” he said. “Not. Mine.”

“Nate-”

“Don’t, Leila,” he stopped her. “I just want to get to the hotel, climb into bed with you and forget why we’re here. Why I’m here. This is utterly fucked.”

“Nate?” Another voice called from down the hall.

Leila and Nate both turned to the voice, though she had an idea of who it would be. She had the same shade of hair as Brigid McCormick, same nose. Her face was more square, like her father’s, but she was pretty, beautiful, in fact. It made Leila feel plain and unworthy.

“Lorelei,” Nate said stiffly, nodding to the woman.

A nurse was rolling her in a wheelchair to the NICU and she mumbled something to her, pointing toward Nate and Leila’s location outside of the room.

“It’s good to see you again, Nathan,” Lorelei said as soon as she had rolled to them. “Did you get to meet your daughter yet?”

“Cut the crap, Lorelei,” Nate gritted, voice too low to gain an audience. “You and I both know that child in there is not mine.”

“It must be a long list of potential fathers,” Leila said, drawing Lorelei’s glare to her.

“Who’s this?” she asked Nate, nodding to Leila.

“Leila Winters,” Nate said, eyes shining with mischief. “My girlfriend.”

The look on Lorelei’s face faltered before she schooled it to look serene, unaffected.

“You moved on quickly then,” she said.

“You moved on before I even knew there was an ‘on’ to move to,” he quipped.

“You weren’t paying any attention to me,” Lorelei accused quietly. “You were all about work, never had any time for me.”

“Even so, I was able to keep my dick in my pants, not cheat on you,” he said evenly.

“I’ve always had a high sex drive-”

“So does Nate,” Leila interjected, cutting her to the quick.

Yes, we’re fucking. So what of it, bitch?

“I’m not sorry about finding you with an anonymous dick up your cunt,” Nate told her. “It got me where I wanted to be, back home in California. With Leila.”

Lorelei’s eyes narrowed, her mouth opened to speak, but another voice cut in.

“What does he mean, Lorelei?”

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