King remained silent, staring intently at the little girl until the woman found what she was looking for and ushered her back into the house, switching off the light. King looked into the darkness long after they were out of sight.
“I can’t go see her. I have no rights. I’m her only family. She needs me, but to the courts, I’m just another felon. I don’t even have visitation. I did everything I could in prison, hired every lawyer I could, but there’s nothing they could do to help. I had to bribe a clerk to give me the address of her foster home. It’s the only way I know where she is.
“I’m sorry.” I said, and I meant it. King knew who and where his family was and they still couldn’t be together. “She really is beautiful.”
“She is,” he agreed. He turned the key and started up the truck. “Max.”
“What?” I asked.
“Max. Her name is Max.”
“Short for Maxine?”
King smiled and shook his head, turning back onto the main road. “Like Maximillian.”
“For a girl?” I wrinkled my nose.
“Yeah, and shut the fuck up. It’s the best fucking name ever,” King said, still smiling. There was a hint of pride in his tone that I didn’t want to step on. “A strong name for a strong girl.”
“It’s a great name,” I said softly.
“Yeah, it is.”
“Why did you bring me here? And to see Grace?” I asked, using the small moment of vulnerability to my advantage.
“Because I don’t know what the fuck I’m doing with you, pup,” King confessed. “You make me fucking crazy and I feel shit that I can’t—” He paused. “Prison fucked me up, made me rethink things, but you’ve managed to fuck me up more than prison ever did. For some reason, I want you around. And since I’m shit with words, I figured the best way for you to get to know me, the real me, was for you to meet the two most important girls in my life.”
“Oh.” I bit my lip. I don’t know what kind of answer I expected from him, if any answer at all, but what he said took me by complete surprise.
He WANTS me around?
“I’ve been in a maximum security prison. I’ve been around the worst of the worst. I’ve had to sleep with one eye open, thinking my next breath could be my last.”
“Why are you telling me all this?”
He turned toward me and our eyes locked. He reached out and ran the back of his pointer finger along my cheek. “Because I want you to know that none of those motherfuckers ever scared me as much as you do.”
King’s phone buzzed from the cup holder in the console, and he answered it, leaving me with my mouth open in shock.
“Yeah,” King said, holding the phone up to his ear. “Motherfucker! No, I got it. You stay where you are, and I’ll come get you in a bit. Yes, I know. I’m sure. I got this.”
King tossed the phone into my lap and turned the wheel of the truck so hard I swear we were up on two wheels.
“What’s going on?”
“One last stop,” King said through gritted teeth. Whoever it was on the other end had told him something he obviously didn’t want to hear.
After a few minutes, we pulled up in front of a small dive bar with a neon green sign that flashed the name HANSEN’S with a symbol of a ship below it. There were only a few scattered cars in the gravel parking lot. King threw the truck in park and jumped out.
“Stay here,” he ordered. He leaned into the bed of the truck and grabbed something out of it before making his way into the bar. King had to duck to pass through the low doorway.
I’d seen three sides of him in one day. The dark crazy scary shit. The sexy as hell shit that made my knees quake with the smallest look. And the side that I didn’t think he had, the side that genuinely cared for someone other than himself. It was nice to know he wasn’t a misogynist after all.
There was a commotion inside. The door to the bar swung open. A woman’s screams followed King as his massive shadow emerged from the bar.
Less than an hour ago, he was pining for life where he could have his sister in it. Shortly before that, he was helping his elderly friend find relief during her last days.
Now, he walked back to the truck in long strides, an explosively angry look in his dark and dangerous eyes. It wasn’t until he was within ten feet of me, standing under the buzzing street light, that I was able to take a good look at him.
King clutched a wooden baseball bat tightly in his grip. Dark spots were splattered across both him and the bat, droplets splattered across his chest and face. When he turned to put the bat back into the bed of the truck, he stepped fully into the light, and my breath hitched.