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“Kid’s got a dad, Grace. I’m just going to be his…” I paused. In my head I’d never put a title on what Doe and I were. She was just mine. So when faced with having to say it out loud, I faltered.

“Step-dad type figure,” Grace offered. Her smile turned into a straight line. She picked at the label on her beer, focusing on the neck as she spoke. “I’m sorry about Max. I would have done anything for you, you know that. I would have adopted her myself if they would have let me.”

I nodded. Before I’d left Doe last night, I’d told her that I’d signed off on Max’s adoption. I could fight it. But Max deserved a good home and not a battle that could keep her in foster care until she was eighteen. I just hoped that one day she would seek me out and let me explain that I did what I did, not because she was a burden, but because of the tremendous amount of love I had for her.

“Or you can be his real step-dad if you decide to marry the girl,” Grace said.

“Can’t marry her. She’s already married,” I reminded her.

“Right now she is. But that will all be fixed. And if you’re half as smart as I think you are, you’ll figure out that being married isn’t just fodder for stand-up comics. If you two have even half of what Edmond and I had, you best snatch it up as quickly as you can. Hold on as tight and never ever let go.”

“She’s a teenager, Grace.”

Grace shook her head. “There ain’t nothing about that girl that’s a teenager except her age. She’s lived two lives already. I think you need to make sure that life number three has been worth the trouble.”

“That’s the plan.”

“So when are you going to get her?” Grace asked eagerly.

“Tonight,” I said, hiding the smile that threatened to take over my face. I can count the times I’d smiled in the last year and every single fucking one of those smiles were because of my girl.

My phone buzzed in my pocket indicating a text message. I was going to ignore it but then I remembered that I’d given the number to Pup in case she needed me. I pulled it out of my pocket and glanced at the screen. I had a missed call from her. “Fuck,” I cursed. I hadn’t even felt it vibrate or heard it ring. Pup had also sent a text.

Well, it was from her number.

I clicked on the icon.

What I saw made my heart drop and my blood boil.

There on the screen was a broken, bloodied, and bruised version of my Pup. The hair that fell into her face was streaked with red. She was tied to a chair, her mouth wide open. Her jaw set to one side like it had been punched repeatedly. Her clothes were torn and hanging off her body.

Then I noticed that the picture had a sideways triangle in the middle of it. “What the fuck is it?” I asked out loud. Grace came to stand at my side to see what it was that had me struck completely silent. I pressed the triangle, and the horrible scene I thought was just a picture played out in front of me in video form.

Pup, being hit over and over again in the face with a man’s closed fist. She was screaming, crying, begging for the beating to stop. By the time the frame froze again, she was lifeless, but as the blows continued. Delivered by a closed fist wearing a gaudy gold watch with red diamond bezel.

The senator.

Another text came in, the icon appearing over the playing video.

HOUSEBOAT 11pm

ALONE

UNARMED

OR SHE DIES

Chapter Twenty-Six

King

The worst fucking feeling in the world is not being able to help the person you love. Hearing her cries of pain and seeing her bleeding and broken was enough to drive any sane man crazy.

And I wasn’t exactly sane to begin with.

I thought the senator might have wanted me dead, but I honestly never gave a thought to him hurting his own daughter. I’ve hurt people. And given the chance to be a father, I would see to it that harm never came to my daughter.

I was hoping the senator operated under an honor amongst thieves set of rules, but apparently I underestimated his determination to ruin lives.

I was going after her and I didn’t care if I died. I didn’t care if he shot a cannon at my head, but I was going to save Doe. And then, if I was still breathing, I was going to make sure that before I killed the senator, he suffered pain and fear like he never knew existed.

A funny thing happens when you fear for the worst. Some people give in to their panic and freeze when a situation seems dire. Others, stay and fight, even if the situation is hopeless.

The prison psychologist called it fight or flight response.

I’m a motherfucking fighter.

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