Because I had completely left the spotlight and there were no sightings of me, I had fallen off the society pages and gossip sites. There’d been a few exposé pieces about me. They attempted to interview people from my past, but I looked and was glad hardly anyone from my local town was quoted. That said something. They were keeping quiet.
Martha was quick to inform us that this didn’t mean they forgot who I was, just that Matthew’s affair and the police charges brought against Drew Bonham were getting more press.
She didn’t say anything about Kash. The furtive glances she gave him said enough. And after a search online (which I had also taken a break from), I saw my guess was right.
He was still everywhere, but now the story was being moved to other sites, such as the financial pages, in addition to the normal gossip sites. The articles talked about how his new presence at Phoenix Tech would affect its stock and whether there would be a battle between Peter Francis and Calhoun Bastian, who reportedly had started buying shares in competing tech companies.
Kash saw me reading one of these stories, came over, shut my laptop, and picked me up. He was doing his whole thing of not talking by doing other things with me. It was working. I wasn’t putting up much of a fight, but the time would come.
Until then, I let him carry me to bed.
The next morning he asked me not to worry about “that stuff.”
Stuff. That’s what he called it.
I was gearing up for a battle one time, when he dipped his head down to my shoulder, his hand skimming over my body, and settled on top of me. Feeling the worry and exhaustion from him, I bit my tongue. Literally. He didn’t want me worrying because that’s all he was doing.
I did what I could, which wasn’t much.
I enjoyed my time with Kash through August. I enjoyed having my mother there. I wasn’t understanding the dynamics between her, Peter, and Quinn, but I wasn’t looking to cause a problem. I liked having her there. And I soaked up all the time I could with my siblings.
I continued work on my security system, and I searched Calhoun Bastian.
It was one of those nights when everyone was at the pool. A movie screen had been pulled out and positioned with a projector. They were planning to have a drive-in sort of experience, but lounging on inner tubes in the pool. Pizza, soda—and some healthy options were provided, because Quinn was supposed to be there, too.
I’d been swimming earlier, but excused myself. A whole buzz of hostility and forced politeness was in the air, and the longer Quinn stuck around, the more it grew. I felt bad because she was Seraphina and Cyclone’s mother. They wanted her there, but my mother was there because of me, and so a whole layer of guilt coated over me, weighing me down.
I brought my computer out to a lounge chair behind Kash’s villa. I was on the chair, my laptop between my legs, and I could still hear their laughter from the pool area.
And because I couldn’t help myself, I was doing my usual digging around for any information I could find on Calhoun Bastian. If Kash was going to take him on, which everyone felt was coming, I wanted to give him as much ammunition as possible.
“He knows, you know.”
I straightened upright in my seat, and I looked around to Kash’s patio door, which was open. Peter Francis was standing there, his hands in his pockets, his button-down shirt untucked from his pants, and his hair rumpled. He looked like he’d had a hard day at the office. His tie was gone, and he had the five o’clock shadow working on his jaw.
I could tell. A long-lost daughter just could.
A shiver went down my spine, one of those again, and I knew.
This was the talk. The talk.
Or I was assuming, since the first time we’d been alone had nothing to do with personal stuff between father and daughter.
I was ready. I was more than ready. This should have been done long before now.
Then he said, “You’re not helping Kash.”
He got me with that? He wasn’t fighting fair.
“What do you mean?”
Head down. Voice hoarse. I could do this. I could handle him. Just been years in the making, right?
He moved to the lounge chair beside me and sat, facing me, resting his arms on his legs, bent over.
I watched him, side-eyeing him, but he didn’t lift his head up. He kept it forward, looking at the ground or at his hands, I didn’t know. I just knew my father still couldn’t bring himself to look me in the eye.
“If you think Kash hasn’t been ready for this war since he was six, you don’t know who you’re sleeping with.”
It was another sucker punch.
I closed my eyes. I didn’t think I could do this while looking at him.
His voice dropped. “I met Calhoun Bastian when I was around your age, had my head filled with thoughts and plans and ideas like you do. I was going to conquer the world, and damn it, I got fucking close.” An edge of regret lined his words. He looked up now, his eyes ringed with the same emotion. So much of it. “I know this has been a long time coming, but for the life of me, I didn’t know what to say.”
Comprehension flared, and I jerked forward.
Me. He was talking about me now.
I tried to close it down, but emotions surged up. My throat swelled. A lump was pending, and the waterworks were on deck.
No, no, no. I could not handle that.
But he didn’t know any of that, and he spoke, his tone softening, “Want to know the most humbling moment in someone’s life?”
“It’s trying to explain to the daughter you always knew about, whose mother made the decision to keep her away and out of the limelight, how I wanted to care for her, love her, support her but I couldn’t—and that now, somehow, the reason it had been decided to keep her a secret never mattered, because here she is, her life threatened all the same.”
That was a total knockout.
He got me. Smack in the feelings.
“Um,” I whispered.
Stellar genius, here. Yours truly.
“I have nothing to say in my defense, especially after finally having you here and still not talking to you.” He laughed ruefully. “Your mother chewed me back and forth from China for that one. I got a fresh set of road rage this morning. The tire tracks are still smoking.” A soft laugh, filled with so much regret still.