I leaned forward. “I can’t lose Nova.”
Nate’s mouth flattened. “Too late. She’s my daughter. The courts will be on my side, and you know that.”
Anger spiked in me.
“I know,” I admitted quietly.
“Quincey!” Phillip said again.
I ignored him, and I ignored the keen look on Nate’s friend’s face.
He’d been nice to me at the hotel that night. But now he was a shark, and he was smelling blood. I recognized that look.
“I don’t know if you’re aware of my family dynamics—”
“We are.” Logan leaned forward. His eyes were hard. “We also talked to Graham ourselves.”
A sudden lump was in my throat, and I had a hard time swallowing around it. “You did?”
My voice came out raspy.
“We’ve known Graham since his college football team played against Mason’s years ago.”
Shit. I’d forgotten.
I glanced at Nate. “That’s the weekend you met Valerie. She went to support him. I was supposed to go but decided at the last minute to stay home and train. I had a solo in our production the following week.”
He gave me a stiff nod back. His whole face was shut down. I was getting a wall from him.
I added, “I figured you knew of Graham, not that you actually knew him knew him.”
It made sense now, though. Graham had NFL dreams, but a busted knee put him on a course to become a sports commentator instead. He would be in their world.
“I didn’t learn of Graham and Valerie’s relationship until later. She didn’t tell me who her brother was the night I met her.” Then, he asked softly, “What are we doing here?”
“How about—” Phillip stood. “Logan, can you accompany me to get everyone fresh coffee?”
“I don’t think—”
“I do, Kade. I have an aversion to going to the coffee room alone.” Phillip was lying out of his ass, but he was cheerful about it. “Hold my hand, so to speak?”
Logan stared before a grin broke out. He stood, starting to follow him out of the room. “You’re an odd lawyer, Crusoe.”
I heard Phillip laugh, then the door closed behind them both.
It was just Nate and me.
I looked up, swallowing sharply at the slight glare looking back at me.
“My father will never let you take Nova from us.”
“Then you’ll lose her completely.”
Pain sliced through me.
My stomach was doing somersaults, and I felt slightly nauseous.
I rested my hands on the table, sitting at a perfect ninety-degree angle. Shoulders back. Spine straight. I kept my hands on the table. I wanted them open. I needed to convey to him that I was trying here.
“I don’t want Nova to be in the middle of a war.”
His nostrils flared. “I’m guessing you’ve done the math in your head already. You know who I have on my side, and you know we have a whole list of people willing to testify against your father. He’s the problem. Duke Royas is a narcissist, and he has a history of purporting emotional manipulation and controlling his own daughter. Imagine what he would do to his granddaughter? There are a lot of people—professionals—who do not want that to happen.” His eyes narrowed, almost glittering from his intensity. “But you already know this, and that’s why we’re meeting here and not in the conference room of your father’s lawyers. Am I right?”
My throat was burning.
“I don’t have—”
I closed my eyes. He was right.
He’d been right about everything.
I didn’t have a leg to stand on. I hadn’t given birth to Nova. I had a will that granted me partial guardianship. That was it, but I didn’t have the financial means at my disposal that he did. Duke would make sure of that.
His chair shifted as he leaned forward, and he spoke, “How about I tell you what I’m prepared to do? I am prepared to purchase a home here. I am prepared to live here for the next year so that Nova still sees familiar faces. I am prepared to let you live with Nova and me. I’m aware that you had to leave your last position, but I’ve already made the calls. The nanny who basically raised my sister and me is packing her bags as we speak. She can come up at a moment’s notice. I have a sister who flew to be here. I am on good terms with your other family, and they’ve expressed that they would love a reconciliation with you. You will be able to stay in Nova’s life. You will also be able to pursue your dance career again if that’s what you choose.”
I was waiting for the other shoe to drop.
I was pretty sure I knew what it would be.
His eyes hardened again. “Having said all that, you need to handle your father.”
I waited for him to say more, for him to demand that I cut my father out.
“That’s it?” I frowned.
He nodded. “I’m not going to tell you what to do about your father, but he’s going to be a problem. We all know it. It’s up to you how you direct your relationship with him and Nova moving forward. However, let me make one thing clear. If he tries to force a wedge between myself and my daughter, I will come out with guns blazing. There is no gray there. Do you understand me?”
Duke was mine to guard Nova against. I was getting him.
“I was going to move in with my friend.”
He paused, hearing my admission. “My sister’s here and already looking at houses. She’s got her eye on a couple that’ll give us plenty of space for you to feel like you have your own place. If that’s what you’d like.”
He only shook his head slightly. “Don’t insult me.”
No rent. I was guessing he would say no to utilities as well.
“Give me a few days to think about it?”
“What’s there really to think about? It’s a win-win situation for you.”
“You’re asking me to move in with you, knowing what my father will think about that.”
“What’s the alternative?” His head lowered, his eyes still on me. His whole face was still a mask, but he had softened his tone. “I’m not saying this is how it’ll be in the future, but to start, I think it’s a good plan. I’ll help you handle your father if that’s what you need.”