Holy effin shit.
“Honey.” Chrissy knew it was her turn to step up to the plate. I had to give credit to her survival instincts. Her voice was starting quiet, all demure like.
I couldn’t look at her, but my voice dropped low. Hoarse. “You gave me my first Computer Weekly in fourth grade. I found it early. It was supposed to be a Christmas gift, but you gave it to me anyway. You special ordered it from the UK.” I remembered the feel of it, how much it weighed, how it felt like the clouds parted and choir music started singing. “They did an article on him. November twelfth.” I saw his picture, how black his hair was, how he had honey-brown eyes too, but they were covered by glasses. “I can tell you the journalist’s name, the byline under it. ‘Computer Genius, Peter Francis.’”
I was not done. Not now, when I was just starting.
My voice matched Bright’s, emotionless and monotone. “I have two uncles, one in California. The other in New York. Both work in Phoenix Tech branches. Four cousins to the California one. Another cousin in New York. Two half brothers. One half sister. He has an estate on the outskirts of Chicago, in Ashwick.”
Which was an hour from where I lived.
I looked. I had to.
My mom was looking down at her lap, her hands twisting around the sleeve ends, and after her chest rose and fell once, she lifted her head.
Still no words. Fine. I could keep going.
“You said you worked for him one time.” Fifth grade. She told me over the phone, when I asked if I could join the computer club. They had an extracurricular program. “I nearly crapped my pants when you told me.”
“I took care of his mother when I was in nursing school. In Saint Louis.”
“I asked if you met him.” My voice rose, same as my blood had. “I asked you. You said no!”
“I didn’t say that…” But she looked away, because she had, and she knew she had.
“Okay. Let’s pause for a moment.” Bright held up a hand. She was wincing. “You’re shouting.”
I hadn’t realized.
I didn’t care.
I wrote my application essay on my father, the father that was a goddamn lie. I thought he served in the military, and I wanted to show my respect in my own way. But it was a lie.
Calm. I needed to be calm. Calm was mature. I was twenty-two. I could be calm.
Screw it. I couldn’t be calm.
I threw my arms up, shoving the chair back and standing at the same time. “What else have you lied about?!”
“Nothing!” Chrissy shot to her feet, her hands up. “I swear. Nothing else. It was—”
I stopped. Everything stopped. I felt my heart thump hard. “What? It was what?” My head inclined forward. I rolled to my toes, lifting off the balls of my heels. “You what?”
“Nothing.” The temporary fight left her. Her shoulders folded in on themselves, and she sank to her seat. Her elbows rested on the table. She buried her head in her hands. “I’m so sorry, Bailey. I really am. I—” She choked off her next word, looking up with haunted eyes.
I looked away. I didn’t want to see her torment. Her torment.
I grimaced, but I was angry. I had a right to be. There was an entire family I didn’t know about, and she made that decision. Not me. Did he—no, no, no. The spinner was on in my head, going round and round, but I was feeling overwhelmed.
I whipped around, heading for the door. “I have to get out of here. I can’t think—”
The door opened, and Detective Wilson stepped inside.
I moved aside, reaching to catch the handle after he let go.
He didn’t. He shut the door and moved in front of it. Then he folded his hands in front of him. “You’re not leaving this room.”
My mom spoke up, sighing. “Let her go. She just needs to walk for a bit. She’ll come back with eighty percent of the answers already figured out.”
Wilson’s response was to fold his arms over his chest. He locked eyes with me. “Sit down. You have to make a decision before we can pass you off.”
A decision? I needed out of there. I needed air, and space, but I also needed answers.
I looked right at my mom. “I’ll stay.” A beat passed. “If she goes.”
Chrissy’s mouth dropped. “Bailey…”
I wasn’t normally a cold person, or an angry person. I joked. They were lame jokes, but it was my thing. It was early morning by now. The attack at my house was last night. It felt so long ago. It was 4:18 a.m. when I was being taken to the hospital. Another two hours waiting, being looked over. One more hour to get released, and the last hour it took to be brought here.
It hit me then, why we’re here.
All of this—everything that had happened after they tried to take me—was all for him.
I looked up at the camera then.
He was watching me.
I gutted out, “You gotta go, Mom.”
Everything happened simultaneously after that.
Bright’s phone buzzed. She gave the nod to her partner, and the door opened again.
I don’t know who I was expecting to come through that door. It could’ve been Chrissy coming back, or my father deciding to meet me in person, but I was not expecting the man who stepped inside our room. If I could call him a man, because he looked like a young man, like he was only a few years older than me. But no. Thinking on it, I was right the first time. He was all man.
He was hot.
Cognac-brown eyes, hair almost as dark as mine, a strong jawline. There were indentations around his mouth, making his lip so pronounced, and so tempting. His cheekbones were high and chiseled. Broad and defined shoulders. Lean, athletic build.
There wasn’t an ounce of fat on him.
I was looking, and I shouldn’t be, but I was, and I was doing the calculating in my head, and yeah. This guy was ripped.
He was mesmerizing.
And he had power and authority and he knew how to use both of them.
He walked into that room like he owned it, like he’d been there the whole time, like everyone and everything belonged to him and we had yet to learn that fact.
The room shrank around him.
The air electrified. It became more energized.
Bright and Wilson both straightened, their shoulders rolling back.