“Truth is that I’ve no idea what to say to you. Still don’t. I’m here and I’m trying to figure it out, get my legs under me, but I’m failing. I’m totally failing, and I have no idea how to talk to the daughter who’s the most like me of all my kids. Messed up the first time I saw you, too.”
Something was opening in me. Something small, but something.
A small crack.
He kept on, still not looking at me. “I should’ve said this to you the first day you were pulled in after the kidnapping attempt. Hell. I should’ve just tried harder. Then I heard what happened and … shame.”
I was focused on my seat. My hands were picking at the chair.
“I was ashamed. The reason your mother decided to keep you away was the exact reason you were coming to me, and I was elated. I’d finally get to see my daughter in person. Not just a report on my desk, or a sound bite. Or knowing that she was applying for my scholarships, that she wanted a job where I worked. My daughter. Mine.
“You won those scholarships on your own, if you ever start doubting yourself. You did. Not me. I had no bearing on the team who picked the winner, but I was glad. I was damn proud of you, because I was still a part of your life, though there’s no reason you ever need to give me the time of day. You. I am proud of who you have become, and”—his voice dipped—“I am humbled, because all of that was your mother. Not me. I don’t know if you would’ve turned out the way you have if you’d been under my care.”
I knew who he was referencing.
“You don’t give him enough credit.” I lifted my head now. Matt deserved that from me. “Give him structure. Give him purpose. He’ll blow you out of the water.”
He held my gaze, his own eyes filling with a sheen of tears.
He said, “We tried.”
I bit out, “Do it again.” Matt would’ve owned a company by now, if he’d been pushed how I was. He hadn’t been. He was given what he wanted. “Challenge him, but not from disappointment. From pride. From respect.”
Peter nodded, ducking his head and rubbing his hand over the back of his hair. He gripped his neck before dropping and lifting his head again. “I’ll do that. You’re right. I’ve let things go lax since his mother died.” His voice grew thick. “I won’t do that anymore.”
Then we sat there in silence.
I didn’t feel I needed to say anything, to explain myself, to prove myself. Perhaps call me cocky, but I felt my record spoke for itself. And him … He’d already shared enough. Maybe it was good enough for the first real talk between us?
“I’m not going anywhere.” He needed to know. I spoke up, my chin lifting almost defiantly. “Just so you know. I ain’t going nowhere.” Grammar be damned. I spoke from the heart. “Matt. Seraphina. Cyclone. They’re my family.”
I was staring back at him, daring him to challenge me.
His mouth curved up and he nodded. “I wouldn’t let you go anyway.” He nodded again before standing. “I have more to say, but we can talk another time. I think we should talk often, actually.” He started for the door behind me, but paused and pointed to my computer. “Calhoun has his own team. Every search you’ve done for him, I promise that he knows it’s you. And he’s reading enough from it if you don’t cover your tracks. He’ll know you care for his grandson. He’ll know your skill level, and he’ll know where you are every time you search.”
Why, I oughta … I straightened to my fullest height. My pride was hurting. “I’ve been covering my tracks. I had a whole program running to throw every IP address it can think of to block them.”
“It won’t be enough.” He gave me a sad smile. “You’re not the first to try and battle Calhoun like that. I’ve been warring with the man for twenty years now, ever since I met Kash’s parents. And when I say that man isn’t like anyone else you’ve handled, I mean it. You can do what you can against him, but it won’t be enough. I know it. Calhoun knows it.” He quieted a moment. “Kash knows it. If you want to help take him down, let Kash take the lead. He knows his grandfather the best. He’s the only one who has a chance at beating him. Trust me on that. Trust Kash on that.”
Trust Kash on that.
He said my man’s name in a tone like I didn’t know my own man.
I gazed down at the laptop screen after he left, an icon blinking, giving me Calhoun Bastian’s location, and I sighed, turning it off. All of it.
Maybe he was right. Maybe not.
What I did give him credit for was that he’d been playing this game a lot longer than me, and this was for Kash. I cared too much to be reckless. And with that in mind—and with the whole conversation between my father and me, which was letting me walk with my head a little higher, with an extra bounce in my foot, with a little less weight on my shoulder—I went in search of my man.
I went in search of my family.
It came out as an accusation, from my own mother. She was sneering as she said it. The pool was in an uproar, as Matt’s friends had just arrived, and I tuned all of them out.
“What are you talking about?”
“You and your father.” She was full-on sneering at me. It wasn’t even slight. It was covering her whole face. “You and he talked. I can read it on you.” She hiccupped to herself, turning away. “Damn shame.”
“Hey!” I snapped. “He’s my father. It was about time he came to me, and you know it. I don’t get why you’re all pissed about it. He said you chewed him out for ignoring me.”
She stopped, then huffed. “I did, but…” She half turned away, dropping her voice low. “Just don’t forget about your mama, okay?”
I reached for her, but she stepped away and grabbed Cyclone up as he was running by. He laughed, trying to pull away, and the two were in a game of tag within seconds. She was darting, veering around everyone, and somehow Seraphina ended up pushed into the pool. Cyclone pivoted back and pushed my mom in as she was extending a hand to Ser, then jumped in over them.
He was happy.
Seraphina was happy, too.
Glancing over the pool, I saw Quinn smiling fondly at both of them, too. Then her face tightened up when my mom’s head popped back up, and her head lifted, finding me across the pool. Her smile faded completely and, her shoulders stiffening, she headed inside the house.