Lucy’s voice was low. “Who’s he?” she asked.
Jane didn’t reply, but I knew exactly who Jane was speaking of. She’d told me the story many times. How caring he was, while I was cold. How he was gentle to all people. How he was always there for strangers, and truly there for those he loved.
“My father,” I said, my voice cracking. Kent Theodore Russell, a man, a father, a hero.
My personal hell.
There were parts of me that I saw in Talon’s eyes, but a bigger part of me looked at Talon and saw pieces of him in her stare. I saw him in her smile. I saw parts of him in her soul—and yet, she was not his, and he was not hers.
Even so, it was enough to break my soul.
“You should go,” Lucy told Jane.
Jane stood up straight and shook her head. “If anyone should go, it’s you.”
“No,” I scolded, uncertain how my heart was still beating. “If anyone should go, it is you. Right now.”
Jane went to argue, but she saw it—the fire inside me. She knew if she got one step closer, I would burn her to the ground. She gathered her things and left after stating that she’d be back.
When she was gone, I hurried over to Talon and lifted her in my arms. How could she not be my world?
She was mine, and I was hers.
I was hers, and she was mine.
She’d saved me.
She’d given me something worth living for, and now Jane had come back to try to rip that away from me.
“Can you watch her?” I asked Lucy, feeling the world crashing against me. She walked over and took her from my hold. Lucy’s hand landed on my arm and I pulled away slightly.
“Talk to me,” she said.
I shook my head and walked away, not speaking a word. I went to my office, closed the door behind me, and sat staring at the blinking cursor on my computer screen.
I hated him. I hated how he controlled me. I hated that even after death, he had still somehow destroyed my life.
“You must be the woman who’s inspiring my son’s writing,” Kent said, walking into Graham’s home seconds before he was about to leave with Jane to go introduce her to Professor Oliver for the first time.
“What are you doing here?” Graham asked his father, coldness in his voice, harshness in his stare.
“It’s Thanksgiving, son. I was hoping we could catch up. I saw your last book hit number one, and we haven’t celebrated the success of it yet.” Kent smiled over at Jane, who was staring his way with wide eyes, as if it were a legend standing before her instead of a monster. “He takes after his father.”
“I’m nothing like you,” Graham barked.
Kent snickered. “No, you’re a bit grumpier.”
Jane giggled, and the sound drove Graham insane. He despised how everyone laughed when they were around Kent.
“We’re leaving for a dinner,” Graham told Kent, wanting nothing more than for him to leave.
“Then I’ll be quick. Listen, my publicist was wondering if you’d do an interview for ABC News with me. He thinks it will be great for both of our careers.”
“I don’t do interviews, especially with you.”
Kent bit his lip and his mouth slightly twitched. It was a warning sign that he was growing upset, but over the years, he’d learned how to control it around strangers. Graham, however, knew the look well, and he knew the anger that simmered under his father’s surface.
“Just think about it,” he said, a bit of bark in his tone that Jane missed. Kent turned to her and gave her the smile that made all people fall for him. “What’s your name, sweetheart?”
“Jane, and I have to say I am your biggest fan,” she gushed.
Kent smiled wider. “Bigger fan than you are of my son?”
Graham grimaced. “We’re leaving.”
“Okay, okay. Just email me if you change your mind, and, Jane,” Kent said, taking her hand and kissing it. “It was a pleasure to meet such a beauty. My son is a lucky man.”
Jane’s cheeks reddened and she thanked him for his kind words.
As he turned to leave, he allowed his eyes to dance across Jane’s figure one last time before he spoke to Graham. “I know we’ve had some tough times, Graham. I know things haven’t always been easy for us, but I want to fix that. I think this interview is a step in that direction. Hopefully soon you’ll let me back into your life. Happy Thanksgiving, son.”
Kent drove off, leaving Graham and Jane standing on the porch. Jane shifted her feet around. “He seems lovely,” she commented.
Graham lowered his brows and stuffed his hands into his slacks, walking toward his car. “You do not know anything about the monster you speak of. You’re merely falling into his trap.”
She hurried behind him, trying to keep up in her high heels. “But still,” she argued. “He was kind.”
She didn’t say anything else, but Graham knew what she was thinking—that Kent was kind, funny, charming, and the opposite of the man Graham presented himself to be.
Kent radiated light while Graham lived in the shadows.
She had set him up. She had given him no real choice in his future by controlling his heart. Graham didn’t settle into the idea of not being Talon’s father. He fought it the best he could, and when he took the paternity test, I believed his heart hoped Lyric was wrong. When the results came in, I saw the light inside of him die away.
Lyric presented him with the biggest choice of his life that wasn’t even a choice, really: invite her back into his life so he could keep his daughter, or stay with me and she’d take Talon.
The day she told him, I was there. I stood by his side as she threatened to rip his world apart. She had all the control over every part of Graham, and I knew there was only one thing for me to do.
I had to pack my bags and go. I was certain I had to do it before he came back, too. He’d been speaking with a lawyer all afternoon, and I knew if I didn’t leave now, I’d only make things harder for him. He couldn’t lose his daughter; he couldn’t lose his soul.
And so, I began to pack my bags.
“What are you doing?” he asked, his voice dripping with confusion.
“Graham.” I sighed when I saw him standing in the doorway of the bathroom. His heavy-lidded mocha eyes stared at me as I reached for a towel and wrapped it around my body. “I didn’t know you were home.”
“I saw your things in the front lobby.”
“You’re leaving,” he said breathlessly. He had shaved the day before, and yet his five o’clock shadow was already back. His lips were tight, and I knew for a fact he was clenching his teeth. His chiseled, square jawline was always more evident when he clenched his teeth.
“I think it’s for the best.”