“Well, good luck. I’m walking down to the store. I’ll be back in a bit.”
He nodded. I started a brisk walk down the street. I only had a few minutes to do what I needed to do. I crossed the street and knocked on Connor’s window. He rolled it down, giving me a hard stare.
“Take me to him.”
I opened the back door and let him drive us away.
I had no idea where we were going until I saw the familiar Boston Sand and Gravel storage tanks come into view. We took several back roads under the tangle of highways until we were in a secluded area, cut off by train cars and warehouses that stood empty on the weekend.
Daniel leaned against his Lexus SUV, dressed in khakis and a white collared shirt. He was smoking again. He should probably stop smoking, I thought idly. He pushed off the car and walked toward me. I scoped out the surroundings. We were so very alone right now. With the bypass above us, no one would hear me if I screamed. I stepped out of the car, fighting the urge to run in the opposite direction. Despite every reason he’d given me not to, I was determined to meet him head-on.
He flicked his cigarette and stood before me with his arms crossed. His lips were set in a firm line.
“Connor tells me you’ve been all over creation with Landon. I’m pretty sure we covered that.”
“Did he tell you that the police stopped by this morning too?”
His eyes widened and shot to Connor. For the first time ever, I saw emotion in Connor’s face. He seemed…flustered.
“I didn’t see them, sir. I’m sorry.”
Daniel looked back to me.
“Must have been on a coffee run. No worries, I had a little chat with them.”
“What did you tell them?”
I waited, wanting the anticipation to burn in him.
His lips thinned. “You’d better start talking.”
“They had photos of Mark dancing with me at the gala.”
“What did you tell them?”
I stared hard into his eyes, keeping my face as steady and emotionless as I could.
“What did you tell them, goddamnit?” He grabbed my shoulders and shook me.
“Let me go.” I wrestled free from his grasp, breathless from the adrenaline that pumped through my veins. “Don’t touch me. Ever.”
I saw Connor moving from the corner of my eye. He had a wide stance, like he was ready to act on Daniel’s command.
“I lied, Daniel. I lied like a pro. You’d have been proud. And do you know why?”
“Because as I’ve much as I’ve grown to hate you, for some inexplicable reason, I still care about you. I care about your life and your freedom, and I even care about your stupid fucking campaign. My finger’s on the trigger, and I can’t shoot.” I took a breath, trying to keep the tremble at bay. “Because that’s not who I am. I’m never going to be like you. I’m never going to play the game for the sick, greedy fun of it.”
“I’m sure that’s not the only reason.”
“It is the only reason. I’m not scared of you anymore.”
He shot me a chilling look, his lips curled into a snarl. “Maybe you should be.”
“You’d no sooner kill me than I’d send you to jail for murder, Daniel. Oh, and let’s not forget obstruction of justice.”
His eyes narrowed a fraction.
“Yeah, Blake told me about all that. How does it feel knowing that all those great pains you went to covering Mark’s ass paved the way for him to do what he did to me, the same way he did it to so many other girls?”
His jaw clenched.
“Thanks for that, Dad.”
He flinched slightly at the word. I was getting under his skin, and that emboldened me.
“The threats, the manipulation, you trying to assimilate me into your world. All this shit is going to stop right now. Today.”
He let out a short laugh. “What gives you that idea?”
“When Mom died, I had no one. No one.” My voice wavered, but I swallowed to keep the emotion in check. “She gave me all the love she could give, for as long as she could give it. And from that point on, I had to figure out how to make it on my own. I made the rules. I figured it all out. Even when people like Mark came into my life and threatened to destroy everything, I survived. I thrived. And you’re not going to take that from me. I’ve come too goddamn far to live under anyone’s thumb. Not yours, not Blake’s. No one’s.”
He motioned to Connor who then walked a few paces away, out of earshot. I relaxed a little.
“You sound very certain of this. I realize you’re trying to be strong here, but I think we talked about how I feel about people threatening me.”
“I’m not threatening you. I’m reasoning with you because you’ve been nothing but unreasonable from the start. Don’t you think I deserve to have a voice if this relationship means anything at all to you?”
His expression didn’t change. He wasn’t going to give in easily.
“I realized something today. You’ve been making my life hell since Mark died, and I would have given anything to make that stop. But I can’t watch you go to jail, or even watch your campaign crumble, at my hand. And you can’t knock off your own daughter. Somewhere in that cold heart of yours, you care about me. And you can care about me and trust me without owning me. It’s not quite like a father-daughter dance, but I suppose in some fucked up version of reality, that’s love.”
He made no indication that he wanted to speak, so I continued. I’d give him all I had. I had nothing more to lose.
“I know you loved my mom. I see it in your eyes every time we talk about her.”
He winced, his jaw tightening. “Don’t talk to me about Patty. You don’t know anything about it.”
My voice quieted. I’d been nearly yelling up to now. “I don’t know what went on between the two of you, but I know that if you’d stayed together, my life would have been so different. None of us can change those circumstances now. But trying to take the wheel on my life at this late stage of the game isn’t going to work for either of us, trust me. If you still feel a shred of love for her, or regret for what you left behind, I’m begging you to give all this up and be the kind of man she wanted you to be before you wrote her off.”
His lips parted slightly, and he looked past me. I caught a flicker of emotion then, the pain I thought I’d mistaken before when I spoke to him about my mother. I was gambling on the chance that somewhere in his heart, he did still love her. Enough to love me.