In a soothing whisper I tell him, You want to hear what your old man did today? I set up a fifty-million-dollar acquisition for a man who invented a new app. He’s kind of a tool. When you’re older, you’ll learn the world is full of tools. Anyway, this particular tool didn’t think the deal was good enough, so Daddy had to explain to him why it was. First I showed him . . .
Another well-dressed woman who appears to be in her thirties is waiting when I step off the elevator. Unlike the frosty one earlier, this one is wearing a smile that actually looks genuine. Craig stays inside, I assume to return to the lobby. Miss Adams, welcome to Falco. Can I get you anything at all? We have coffee, a variety of teas, sodas, and of course, bottled water. She seems so eager, I almost hate to say no, but this isn’t a social call. I can’t help but be impressed by how friendly everyone suddenly seems to be to a stranger. Well, except Craig. Oh, no, thank you. I…er just wanted to see Mr. Jacks for a moment. Would that be possible? I promise it won’t take long at all. Well, of course, Ms. Adams. Mr. Jacks is just finishing a call, and then he’ll be right with you. She is leading me toward a plush waiting area when a tall, blond-haired man, who looks somehow familiar steps out of the double doors behind what I assume is the receptionist desk. Oh, Peter, the woman says fondly, I was just showing Miss Adams to a chair until Lee is free. The man stares at me with a stunned expression for several long moments before the woman between us clears her throat. Yes, thank you, Liza, he says to the receptionist before extending a hand to me. I’m Peter Jacks, Lee’s brother. I take his hand hesitantly, keeping the contact as brief as I can. The way he is looking at me makes me uncomfortable, although not in a threatening manner. It’s more the strange feeling that we know each other, and he seems to feel the same way. I’m Lia Adams; I just needed to discuss something with Lee. I could come back later if he’s busy. I’m on the verge of making some excuse to leave when the double doors open once again and a man looking very similar to the one standing next to me appears in the doorway. Oh, Lee is free, Liza ushers me forward and past the man staring at me just as his brother had been. Lee Jacks and his brother Peter enter behind me and shut the door. Lee Jacks walks behind his desk and almost appears to slump into his chair. What is going on here? I’m terribly uncomfortable by this point, and ready to run for the door. I must have interrupted something. God, why hadn’t I called instead? Maybe something happened and I stepped right into the middle of it. Why in the world did the receptionist say it was okay for me to come up when clearly it isn’t? Um…Mr. Jacks, I’m sorry to just drop in…I could come back later… Like his brother, Lee Jacks is blond, tall, and muscular. He is a striking man, but somehow intimidating. He rubs his temple, as if trying to soothe a headache, and says, So, Quinn has finally told you. I was beginning to think I would have to take that decision from his hands. What is he talking about? Then it hits me. I know why his name seemed so familiar. I met you while Lucian and I were having dinner. We talked for a while. My mind is whirling wondering what this new information could possibly mean. He inclines his head, giving me a brief smile. That is correct. I really enjoyed our conversation that night. You’re a very intelligent woman. I wanted to tell you then, but Quinn thought you had been through too much to handle another shock, and I reluctantly agreed with him. I still have no idea what he is talking about. Tell me what? Had he paid for my schooling as some type of charity and Lucian didn’t want me to know? Trying to make sense of this strange conversation, I say, It wasn’t a mistake that you paid my tuition, was it? He looks puzzled by my question. Of course it wasn’t. It’s my right and obligation as your father to take care of your expenses. I’ll have a credit card issued to you for anything else you might need. My father? My ears are roaring and the room is spinning as I sit deathly still, trying to process the insane words he has just uttered. My hand is shaking as I again pull the receipt with his name on it from my purse. I…no. I just came to bring this to you. They made a mistake. I get unsteadily to my feet and put the piece of paper on his desk. I have to leave…I can’t stay here… I hear a curse from behind me as Peter gently takes my arm. Lee, she doesn’t know. Shit, she has no idea who you are. Bile rises up my throat and I know I’m seconds away from being sick. I put my hand over my mouth and look around frantically. Peter, as if sensing what’s happening, leads me a few feet to a door and pushes it open. I find myself in a pristine bathroom, with marble floors and countertops. I don’t have time to appreciate it, because my stomach has other plans. I fall to my knees and purge everything from my system. I don’t know how long I remained on the floor until there was a knock at the door. Miss Adams, it’s Liza. Honey, I’m coming in to help you get cleaned up. The door opens slowly and the once-smiling receptionist is now frowning in concern. She takes a cloth from the cabinet under the sink and wets it before squatting to gently wipe my face. Can you stand? When I nod, she helps me to my feet and hands me a glass of water. Within a few moments, I feel more human as I brush my teeth with the new toothbrush from the cabinet. It’s certainly a well-stocked bathroom. Are you all right? Pete and Lee are really worried about you. I…I’m okay. I just think maybe I misunderstood something they said. She pats my arm with a smile, saying, That’s probably it, honey. I’m sure they’ll straighten it out for you. She ushers me back into Lee’s office where both he and his brother halt their pacing to stare at me in concern. Liza walks quietly out of the office, shutting the door behind her. I fight the urge to beg her to stay. Lee steps forward, giving me a wary look. Lia, I apologize. I assumed Lucian had talked with you, thus prompting your visit here. I’m still no closer to having the answers I need and before I can chicken out and run, I ask, What’s going on? You obviously think I know something that I don’t. I came here because I found out that you paid my college expenses and I thought there was some mistake. I didn’t want your son or daughter to show up for school and have problems because of it. Maybe you should go home and talk with Quinn, Peter says, shooting a quick look at his brother. Even though I already know the answer to my question, I ask anyway, Does Lucian know what you’re talking about?Yes, Lee answers when his brother remains quiet. I sit down in the chair I so recently vacated and cross my arms trying to look stronger than I’m feeling inside. Then you need to tell me because Lucian has not. If this concerns me, then I have a right to know. You do, Lee agrees before looking at his brother. Pete, could you give us some privacy please? Lee…I don’t think— Pete, leave! Lee snaps and Peter shakes his head before walking out the door. Instead of going back to his chair behind his desk, he surprises me by taking the one adjacent to mine. My heart is pounding out of my chest. I know with everything inside of me that what this man is going to tell me will turn my life upside down. A part of me wants to tell him to stop, that I don’t want to know after all, but I sit silently, waiting for the blow I know is coming. Lia…twenty-four years ago, I had a relationship that spanned several months with Maria Adams. No, I say in a voice barely above a whisper. If he hears me, he gives no indication. Business eventually took me away from North Carolina and from Maria. Even though I considered it at the time, it wouldn’t have been safe for her to accompany me. I ended things between us, and that’s the last time I saw her. She never tried to contact me to let me know she was pregnant or that I had a daughter. I had no idea at all, until recently. How did you find out? I ask as I stare at the man who says he is my father. I feel a sucker punch to the gut when it finally hits me. He looks so familiar to me because I see him every time I look in the mirror. There is no denying the fact that I look like him. Was this why I had been so comfortable with him in the restaurant when we first met? A feeling of kinship? Lucian was checking into your past, I assume looking for information on your mother and stepfather. He found the connection between Maria and me, which prompted him to look a little harder at me. Naturally, that alerted me to his interest, and I started doing a little research, as well. It appears that we both met somewhere in the middle with the same realization: I’m your father. You can’t know that, I protest weakly, but I know there is no way I would be here now unless he was positive. Lee Jacks doesn’t seem like the type of man to jump to conclusions, especially one of this magnitude. I can assure you that I do know it for certain. I don’t make mistakes, Lia. His self-assured statement drags me from the daze I had fallen in. Now I’m just angry and I lash out, wanting to hurt him the way I’ve been hurt. Really? My voice sounds shrill, even to my own ears. So, you don’t consider it a mistake that you lived this fucking charmed life while you left me in Hell? Do you have any idea what my life has been like? His face has gone stark-white at my words, but I don’t care. I need him to feel a piece of the pain that I’ve been forced to endure just because he screwed my mother and walked away. Lia…believe me, if I had known, that would have never happened— But it did! I cry, jumping to my feet. He stands as well, seemingly at a loss as to how to handle my emotional outburst. This is probably a crash course in fatherhood he wasn’t expecting. He probably figured I would be so absurdly grateful that I would be kissing his expensive shoes by now. My mother hated me because she despised you, didn’t she? She took out all of that anger on me. I was nothing but her punching bag, and then when she got bored with that, she brought in my stepfather and turned him loose on me! Before he can reply, I hear the door open behind me. I spin around and see Peter, or should I say my uncle, standing there hesitantly. What really catches my attention is the woman who steps in behind him. If I think I resemble Lee Jacks, then I’m almost a dead-ringer for this woman. She is twisting her hands in front of her nervously while looking at me with equal parts curiosity and sympathy. Peter clears his throat before asking, Is everything okay in here? We could hear your voices in the lobby. I ignore his question as I continue to stare at the woman next to him. Who are you? I ask fearing for a moment that I have a sister whom I’ve never met. She gives me a timid smile before taking a few steps closer. She is dressed in obviously expensive slacks with a silk blouse. I fight the urge to straighten my clothing, feeling frumpy compared to her. I hate that I feel so inferior to these people. She holds out a hand, which I ignore until she finally drops it. I’m Kara. She points to Peter, adding, That’s my father, and Lee is my uncle. I also have a brother, Kyle, who’s away at college right now. There is a crushing weight sitting on my chest, and I desperately need to leave before I break down. Almost in a panic, I look around frantically until I spot my purse lying on the floor next to my recently- vacated chair. I grab it and am almost at the door before a hand on my arm stops me. I turn to find Lee standing behind me, looking almost as bad as I feel. I’m shaking now and am powerless to stop it. Lia, you don’t have to be afraid anymore, Lee says reassuringly, mistaking my anxiety for fear. I will never let anyone hurt you again. I pull my arm free, squaring my shoulders. Your absence from my life has done nothing but hurt me since the day I was born. I look briefly at Kara as I pass, noting almost idly that she has a tear streaking down her cheek. Maybe I have the Jacks’ genes to thank for my penchant for crying at the drop of a hat…especially lately. I hear whom I assume is Lee calling my name as I walk toward the elevator at a fast clip. I sag weakly against the wall when the door closes, extremely grateful that no one followed me. All I can think of is going home and feeling Lucian’s arms around me, until suddenly the reality of what just happened slams into me. He knew. Lucian knew Lee was my father and didn’t tell me. How could he have kept something like this from me? I have a whole family I didn’t know existed. I have a father, and Luc has apparently known it for some time. I walked into that mess today completely unprepared because he kept it from me. His betrayal of my trust guts me more than the revelation of my long-lost father ever could. Chapter Fifteen Lucian I rush into the apartment in a blind panic. I had been in the middle of a meeting at the office when Lee called and dropped a bomb on me: Lia knew he was her father. Through one big, clusterfucking chain of events, she ended up at his office after she’d found out he paid her tuition. He said she hadn’t taken the news well at all, and was upset when she left. He had one of his men follow her back to the apartment, where she was now.
I stand listening until I hear movement in the bedroom. I am terrified when I push open the partially- closed door to find her cramming clothing into her duffle bag. What are you doing, baby? She makes another trip to the closet, returning with more clothes before turning to face me. Her eyes are red-rimmed, and I can tell she’s been crying. I want nothing more than to take her in my arms, but her posture is so closed –off, that I know to keep my distance. I’m going to stay with Rose for a while. I need time to process everything that’s happened today. Feeling fear rise to choke me, I walk over to push the duffle bag away, as if it will stop her from leaving me. You can do that here. I’ll help you. Just like you helped me by telling me about my father? I flinch at her words, hearing the hint of betrayal behind them. I see you’re not surprised that I know. I guess you and dear old Daddy talked about me as soon as I left. Baby…it’s not like that. I didn’t think you could handle anything else right after the attack. I was trying to protect you. She picks up the damn duffle bag again and continues to put clothes inside it. Well, it was certainly better the way it happened today. It’s so much easier to be blindsided than to have someone you love be honest with you, right? Her calm statements are completely unnerving me. I’d feel better if she were screaming and throwing things. I don’t know quite how to deal with this quiet, disappointed tone she’s using instead. I hiss audibly, knowing I don’t have a leg to stand on here. Maybe I did it for all the right reasons, but she’s right; I kept something potentially life-altering from her. This isn’t the way I wanted to do this, but I can’t let her leave here without telling her how I feel. My voice sounds rusty when I say the words I haven’t uttered to a woman in so many years. Lia, I love you. Please don’t leave. She freezes in mid-motion. The shirt she had in her hands to pack is suspended in mid-air. She whirls around looking unbelievably beautiful…and furious. Not exactly the reaction I was looking for after my profession of love. Don’t you dare say that to me now when I’m leaving! I’ve longed to hear those words from you but not when you’re under duress! Her movements are jerky now as if she can barely control her anger. I have let you keep your secrets, Lucian, because they’re a part of who you are. I didn’t freak out and run for the door when I found you snorting cocaine in the middle of the night because, in some screwed-up way, I understood the need to escape, no matter what the means. She looks so fucking sad that I prefer the anger of a few minutes ago. We’ve hit a roadblock now. Your secrets are tearing us apart. She picks up her bag, along with her purse, and walks toward me. If you really do love me, as you say, and want to save this relationship, then I need to know it all. No more walls, Lucian, and no more lies. Please, don’t contact me until you’re ready to do that. She goes up on her toes and drops what feels like a final kiss on my lips before leaving the room and our home quietly. I have no idea how long I stand frozen in place before I move forward and sink to the bed. I drop my head in my hands. I’m at a crossroads in my life, and I’m terrified. One path leads to Lia and my possible redemption and the other leads to a continued life of self-loathing hatred. Of the two paths, the first is somehow the most daunting because my love for her has given her complete control over my destiny. Then another staggering thought rocks me. God, she might be pregnant. Has either of us given thought to what that could mean? We haven’t really discussed it since the night she told me about her doctor’s appointment. I don’t know if we’re in complete denial, or maybe some part of us doesn’t want to get our hopes up and have them dashed when it doesn’t happen. She has a follow-up appointment next week, and there is no way in Hell I’ll let her go alone. I get to my feet and walk to the door with complete resolve. It’s past time for Lia to know everything I’ve been keeping from her. I can only hope that afterwards she’ll still love me. Because without her, my heart is fractured beyond repair.This is the way the world ends – not with a bang or a whimper, but with zombies breaking down the back door.When the lights first went out, filling the former classroom with frightened gasps, I hadn’t thought much of it. With almost constant blackouts, we were lucky to have power at all.
Then the emergency sirens started wailing.Even though it was well after midnight, I laid wide awake on my cot, still fully clothed. I jumped up and ran to the large windows. Armed guards and barbed wire lined the perimeter, but when I looked out the window into the night, I couldn’t see any soldiers. Bright flashes lit up the darkness as guns fired, but I couldn’t hear anything over the sirens.
Chaos enveloped the room behind me. Once, not that long ago, this had been an ordinary high school. Now the government kept the uninfected stashed here, quarantined off from the zombies.
I shared the room with twenty-five other girls, ranging in age from ten to twenty. To prepare us for the possibility of an attack, some government officials had set up weekly training with arbitrary safeguards. Now the girls did as they had been taught, propping the army regulation cots on their sides to block the windows and doors.I must have passed out. I came to with my cheek bobbing against a warm shoulder and body cocooned in strong arms. The scent of citrus and sandalwood hugged me, sending a mixture of longing and panic kicking in my blood.
Je suis tellement désolé, a tortured voice whispered. I’m so sorry. Kisses flurried on my hairline, never stopping. I floated through the house in his arms. I’ll protect you. I’ll make it right.His voice confused me. It dripped with aged pain and sorrow, remorse so great, it weighed down with pressure.
Why did he hurt? He allowed the man to do what he wanted. It was his fault it happened and I refused to listen to his pain. My own pain kept me plenty occupied. His apologies weren’t worth shit.I tried to gather enough energy to hit him, scream, tell him he’d successfully hurt me worse than anyone in my entire life, and that was saying something seeing as I grew up a leper in my own family.