Sensing a presence next to me, I said, “He was furious, Duke.”
He made no sound.
I glanced over.
He was looking out the windows with me, his hands in his pockets. “We’ll see.”
This didn’t feel right. None of this felt right.
“He’s bringing a doctor.” I sighed. “He was so mad.”
“You already said that.”
God. My dad was so cold. If only there’d been a break in his voice—any softness, any gentleness, anything—but there was none. This was his play. He said to throw the news at Nate, then sucker punch him with the custody papers. It was the words he used. I followed his suggestions almost to the letter. In the original plans, Duke wanted me to get him drunk first, but I hadn’t gone through with that part. I didn’t have it in me, but I considered it.
And I hated myself for it right away. If Monson had never put it together, a part of me would’ve looked at Nova years from now and known what we did was wrong.
“I’m saying it again because I really don’t have a good feeling about this.”
I turned to him. “Are you kidding me? This was all your idea. Sucker punch. Those were your words.”
He glanced at me sideways. “I told you to liquor him up first.”
“If I liquored him up first, then he could come back at us with a lawsuit. You know that.”
I felt like my stomach was trying to chew itself out of me.
“We both know that the paternity test will come back positive. He is Nova’s father. Maybe we should work something out with him—” The words slipped out of my mouth before I realized what I was saying out loud.
“He’ll take her away!” His words were fierce, his face irate. “He lives clear across the country, and he’s her only living parent. We do this now while we have a fighting chance to keep her, or we’ll lose her…forever.”
“He’s her parent.”
I sucked in a breath and straightened my spine. “I’m her parent. I quit my career to raise Nova. She’s mine. She’s been mine for the past six months. She’s all—” I couldn’t breathe. Emotions were clogging me. I swallowed them and forced myself to continue. “She’s all we have left of Valerie, and she’s mine now. She’s my little girl. She’s your granddaughter.”
This was the world we lived in… or the world Duke Royas lived in. He either won or lost. There was no leeway and no middle ground. If we didn’t win, we lost Nova completely. He would forbid me to see her, and that was if Monson was even amenable.
The second we got Nova, he had declared her father “the enemy.”
And not to his credit, but Nova wasn’t of his blood. She was mine, through the mother that I shared with Valerie. And even though I was Nova’s godmother, my half-brother, Graham, and half-sister, Calihan, were, too, so I didn’t know why I’d been named as the one to take over actual guardianship of Nova instead of them. They all had the same mother and father while I’d been the outlier our entire lives.
As soon as I was born, I only remember a few trips to see my other “family.”
I was Duke’s daughter.
That was what I’d been all my life. Then I was Duke’s dancing daughter. It was all I’d ever known.
But Valerie picked me. Me.
I had to hold onto that.
“You need to get yourself together.”
I lifted my head, and an SUV was speeding down our driveway. Two cars. A smaller car was behind the first, moving at a slower pace.
The first was going fast enough to alarm the horses, making them run off into the pasture.
“I thought you said he was alone.”
My dad’s face was grim. “There are two people in the first vehicle.”
I looked, squinting to see better.
He was right.
Two males in the front seat.
Panic flooded me. “You think he already lawyered up?”
My dad didn’t respond, waiting until the SUV got closer. A low curse came from him. “That’s Mason Kade.”
Recognition hit me hard. For a bit, I was flummoxed.
We knew of Monson’s connections, but seeing the famous footballer now getting out of the SUV with just as hard of a look on his face as he turned to the house was a whole different experience.
I asked, my head starting to swim, “Isn’t his father James Kade?”
James Kade was powerful in the corporate world. He was connected.
Judging by my dad’s silence, I knew he was uneasy at this turn of events.
I looked at him, feeling like I was sinking underwater. “You didn’t take his connections seriously, did you? It was in Carl’s file.”
“The Monsons are in the Hollywood crowd. They’re nothing. And Carl exaggerates.”
Carl didn’t exaggerate. He never does.
My dad had made a mistake.
Anger pierced me, hot and fiery. “You decided to start this before we even knew the guy. If we lose Nova because of that decision, I will hate you for the rest of my life.”
He looked me square in the face. “If we lose Nova, I’m thinking neither of us will want to be spending Christmas—or any other day of the week—together for a long time.”
His words were so smooth, but the threat was a punch to my face. His sucker punch to me.
There was the Duke Royas ruthlessness. I’d seen it enough, experienced it enough, but I’d never had so much to lose because of it.
The doorbell rang.
Duke Royas was a dick.
Noted that immediately.
He had the same dark hair and dark eyes as his daughter did, and he stood in front of us wearing a business suit. He kept himself in shape. The file said he was sixty-four, but he looked forty-eight. He kept his hand held in front of his stomach with the face of his Rolex pointing toward us.
And Quincey Royas was furious with her dad.
She had bags under her eyes, and she was no less dressed up. She was in one of those pantsuits for women, her trousers flowing softly. I looked her up and down. Today, she was wearing fancy-looking, open-toed sandals. I figured they’d be the kind other women would swoon over. Her jacket was open, made of white silk, and another cream-colored top underneath, one that dipped to show some cleavage.