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Even though it was my second time scanning the pictures, my blood boiled. I don’t know what made me madder. The boy who was touching my girl. Or the man they listed as her father.

A senator running for president. A man who would want to avoid scandal at all cost. That’s probably why they didn’t even try to find their missing daughter.

Fucking asshole.

I stood from the kitchen table and threw the laptop across the room. It smashed against a cabinet and fell to the floor in a million pieces.

Bear came storming into the kitchen. “What the fuck?” he asked, looked over at the broken laptop. “You on the rag man?”

“We have to take a trip,” I said, staring down at the now broken laptop as though the image of Doe or Ramie, or whatever the fuck her name was and her boyfriend were still up on the broken screen that was flashing from blue to black over and over again.

“Where we going?”

“Tell me something, Bear, and be honest. What are the chances of us getting the kind of money we need for the payoff to the senator for Max?”

My eyes met his for the first time since he came into the kitchen.

“Slim to fucking none, man” he answered honestly.

“Then, get the fucking truck. I’ll drive.”

“But you still haven’t said why I’m getting the truck.”

“Because, my friend, there is a deal with the devil that needs to be made.” I looked down the hall at the closed door of my bedroom, where the girl I’d fallen in love with slept peacefully in my bed. She was mine, and I would always think of her that way. But she deserved a better life than the one I could give her, which seemed to only hurt her at every turn.

After Preppy’s funeral I was thinking about giving her the truth.

Now, I was just going to give her away.

“And who is the devil in this scenario?” Bear asked, shrugging on his cut.

I was going to see the senator and offer Doe in exchange for him making sure that I had signed custody papers for Max.

The only family I had left.

I stared out the kitchen window, but couldn’t see a thing. It was like I was staring into a white abyss, a place I was about to go, that I wasn’t ever going to be able to come back from.

“Me.”

Chapter Twenty-Nine

King

When you fall in love, you know it’s the real deal because you come to the realization you would take a bullet for that person. And when you become a parent, you realize that you would not only use your own body but the body of the person you love as a human shield to protect your child.

That is the place where I existed.

The Senator had a daughter who had a life, a boyfriend. I wasn’t doing Doe any favors by keeping her with me, involved in shit she shouldn’t be involved in. It got Preppy dead. I wasn’t doing my daughter any favors by leaving her hanging out there in the world without protection. She needed her father. She needed her family.

She needed me.

I was going to give it all up for her. I couldn’t manage the payoff, but if the senator accepted my offer of a trade, then I could keep what money I did have and that was enough to sell the house, and disappear of the radar to somewhere where nobody knew who we were.

Me and Max.

I was going be a good father to her. A good influence. A good role model. I would get us a house in a good neighborhood and send her to a good school. I would read to her at bedtime. I would make this fucking work because it had to fucking work. I was going to disappear because my life was going to reappear.

I lost my best friend, and that made me realize that sooner or later I was going to lose my girl, too. Because as soon as she learned that I’d known who she was from the very beginning, she would hate me forever.

I needed Max because she was all I had left, and I was bound and determine not to fuck that up. I prayed to any god who listened that if I could just be with her, I would make things right. I would give her my all.

My love.

My heart.

My daughter.

My everything.

I made a decision that broke my fucking heart and made it sing all at the same time. So what if I felt like a piece of me would always be missing? Fuck it. I would have my daughter.

And she was my heart.

In exchange for Max, I was going to give Doe, or Ramie, or Pup, or whatever you want to call her, back to her father.

By not telling Doe about what was going to happen, I wasn’t giving her an option. But there was no doubt in my mind that when she found out what I’d been hiding all along that she was going to look at me like the monster I am.

But then again, she might be grateful to me for giving her her life back.

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