“Both,” Connor admitted, taking a sip of his lukewarm beer as he looked across the large lake at absolutely nothing.
“Afraid my sons are going to hurt you?” Mr. James asked, sounding curious.
“No,” he said, his grip tightening around his bottle as he forced himself to stand there and not take a swing at the bastard who had it coming.
For the past five hours, he’d been forced to put up with this bastard ignoring Rory, talking down to her and acting indifferently towards her. Several times he had to stop himself from doing something that he’d regret, not that he’d live long if he punched her father with dozens of Bradfords and James around. He honestly didn’t care if they beat the shit out of him. Knowing that it would upset Rory was the only thing that stopped him. Rory deserved so much better than this ass**le. She deserved a father that loved her and appreciated her and knew that she was-
“Did you know that Rory is my favorite?” Mr. James said, catching him off guard.
Connor took a sip of his beer, not sure if calling his future father-in-law a lying sack of shit was the way to go on this one. It was painfully obvious, at least to him, that the man hadn’t wanted a daughter. He’d never treated Rory like she was anything special. All he did was push her away. It was clear that the man didn’t have a clue how to deal with a daughter, but he should have tried. Connor had no clue what to do with a little girl either, but if he and Rory were blessed with one, he would damn well do what he had to for her even if that meant dressing up like princesses and playing with Barbies.
“Parents aren’t supposed to have favorites, but the moment that I held Rory in my arms she became my world,” Mr. James said, sounding pleased and that was pretty much what made Connor snap.
“Bullshit,” Connor snapped, moving to take a sip of his piss warm beer when it was suddenly snatched from his hand and just as quickly replaced with a fresh cold beer.
Frowning, and a little surprised that Mr. James hadn’t swung at him, he looked over at the man just as Mr. James tossed his old beer in one of the trash cans that someone placed near the water’s edge, not that it was really needed since everyone was still back at the main campsite, eating. He hadn’t seen anyone in over an hour and he’d been hoping to keep it that way for the rest of the night.
“I know it’s hard to believe,” Mr. James said, staring out at the water, “but I love that little girl more than anything and I’m damn proud of her.”
“You sure have a funny way of showing it,” Connor bit out, taking a sip of his beer and joining Mr. James in staring out at the lake.
Mr. James chuckled. “You were a hell of a lot nicer the last time we had this talk,” he said, taking a sip of his beer and still not looking at Connor.
“This talk?” Connor asked, wondering if Mr. James was drunk. He looked over his shoulder to see if he could find one of the man’s sons to help him walk it off, but everyone was still off enjoying the party.
“The talk we had when you showed up on my front doorstep on Rory’s eighteenth birthday and asked permission to marry my daughter,” Mr. James said, reminding him of another humiliating experience that he’d really rather forget.
“Are you going to tell me to f**k off again?” Connor asked, taking a sip of his beer as he did his damndest to ignore the memories of that conversation and how close he’d come to pissing himself.
“That’s not exactly what I said,” Mr. James said, sounding amused.
“Are you going to go for your gun again?” Connor demanded, still pissed that the man wouldn’t even hear him out and when Connor begged, yes, begged, for his permission to marry Rory if he could make up for all the bullshit he’d put her through over the years. The man wouldn't even hear him out before he went for his gun.
“You weren’t ready to get married, Connor,” Mr. James said quietly. “And Rory deserved better than that.”
“I would have taken care of her.”
“I know you would have, Connor,” Mr. James said, surprising him. “You would have worked your ass off and taken damn good care of her as best as an eighteen year old boy could, but it wouldn’t have been enough and it wouldn’t have been fair to either one of you, Connor.”
When Connor didn’t say anything, Mr. James continued. “You would have both struggled. Rory probably would have dropped out of college, because she’s so damn stubborn and she wouldn’t have felt right about you working your ass off to support her. You wouldn’t be where you are today if you’d had a family to hold you back. I know the type of man you are, Connor. You never would have taken a chance starting a business that could have gone belly up if you had a family to support. You both had a lot of growing up to do.”
Connor chuckled without humor, because that’s probably exactly what would have happened, but it still hurt thinking about what could have been. “You’re right. We probably would have started a family too soon and would have struggled just to get by.”
“You were too young and headstrong to see that,” Mr. James said, nodding in agreement.
He turned a glare on the older man. “You could have just said that instead of going for the gun!”
“My way was easier,” Mr. James said, his lips twitching with amusement.
“For who?” Connor asked, glaring at the man.
“For me,” Mr. James said, chuckling as he took another sip of his beer.
“And that’s really all that mattered?” Connor demanded, seeing so much of Rory’s Bradford cousins in the man at the moment that it actually frightened him a little bit.
Mr. James chuckled. “It’s the family way,” he said with a wink.
Connor took a sip of his beer as he turned his attention back to the lake. For a few minutes neither one of them spoke and he should have been fine with that, but he had to ask, “Do you have a problem with me marrying your daughter now?”
“Absolutely none,” Mr. James said, sounding like he meant it.
“Then why have you been glaring at me and pretty much ignoring Rory since you found out that we're engaged?” he demanded, wondering if he’d ever understand this man.
“I can’t let Rory know that I’m actually pleased,” Mr. James scoffed.
“Why the hell not?” Connor asked, thinking that Rory would probably be happy to hear that her father was happy about something in her life.
Mr. James sighed heavily. “And here I thought that you knew my daughter.”
“I know her better than anyone,” Connor argued, finishing off his beer and chucking it into the barrel.
“Then you know that she’s stubborn as hell and will become suspicious if she knows that I actually like you,” Mr. James explained, once again shocking him into silence.
The man actually liked him? That was surprising since he’d done nothing but glare at him since they first met. Of course, he couldn’t forget those times when their little misunderstandings went to court and the man had volunteered to beat some sense into him, at no charge of course.
“I learned very early on that my daughter doesn’t like doing things the easy way. She likes to argue, put her foot down and do the opposite of what’s expected of her. Anytime I’ve tried to support her, she’s either shut down or has given up. It’s only when I’m a cold bastard that she ends up following her heart. It’s what makes Rory, Rory and I wouldn’t change her for anything in the world. I’m banking on you marrying her and making her happy.”
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