Cole muttered a vicious curse. “I’ll get you a good lawyer, Lana. That little shit can’t do this, but he’s gonna try his damnedest. I’ve heard some rumors about his production company being in trouble. I thought he was going to reach out to me for some backing, but it looks like he’s got more of his mother in him than I originally thought. He’s gonna try to bleed it out of you, sweetheart.”
I clenched my jaw and shut the door, wanting to slam it but knowing I would only have Arella’s wrath to contend with if I did. Drake took the envelope from me and I leaned back against the hardness of the door. My eyes were on my husband’s face as his eyes moved over the summons. “How does he know who I am, Dad?”
“I don’t know, sweetheart. Maybe a private investigator. I sure as hell haven’t told him. You know I wouldn’t do that to you and my grandbabies.”
I grimaced. It had taken a while but I’d started trusting the old rocker. I knew this wasn’t because of him. He was probably right about the PI.
“Can…” I sighed and shook my head, never imagining I would ever need him this much. I didn’t want to call Emmie. She had enough shit on her plate at the moment with that fucking stalker. Cole had said he’d get me a good lawyer. He had a capable staff that could help me deal with all of this without involving the rest of my family. “Can you come home?”
There was the briefest of pauses on Cole’s end, as if I’d surprised him. “Yeah, honey.” His voice was low and gentle. “I’ll be there as soon as I can.”
The first thing I had done after Charles Seller and Emmie left was to grab my phone and change my email passwords.
My head was spinning. I couldn’t put two thoughts together after the bombshells the security expert had dropped. My stalker had been able to keep tabs on me through my email account. Thank gods I hadn’t ever emailed Shane any of the pictures we sometimes texted to each other. That probably would have shot the bitch into another orbit and I’d be dead by now.
The real cake topper was that if I did get pregnant—and right then that was a really huge if—we would have to keep it a complete secret. I’d thought my treatments had been a complete secret, though, with only Shane, Emmie, the doctor and his nurse knowing about it. I’d never imagined that I was wrong, or that it would lead to someone’s mental instability.
Rex and Shane had both refused to let me go to work on Tuesday so that my office could be completely inspected and security tightened for not only my protection but that of everyone in the building. By the time I returned to work on Wednesday I was a nervous wreck. Someone I worked with on a daily basis was after me. After Mia. Hell, she was even after Gabriella. I felt like I could trust no one, not even myself.
Now, nearly a month after getting that damn envelope, my stress levels were through the roof and I was to the point that I questioned even pricking myself in the ass every morning with those stupid hormone injections. What was the use? I wasn’t likely to ever get pregnant and at that moment it wasn’t safe for me or the poor baby. I should just get another dog—or three—and become one of those women who mothered their pets. Our neighbor was like that. Couldn’t even stand kids, but her dogs were her life.
I should become like that.
Rolling my eyes, because I didn’t think I could handle more than one more dog because Ranger was so spoiled by me, I tried to concentrate on work.
This was stupid. So stupid. How was I supposed to get anything done when I couldn’t concentrate because of the fear that was eating at me? The fear…and the rage. I had so much anger inside of me that it was a wonder steam didn’t come out of my ears. I wasn’t a violent person, but I wanted to find the person who was doing this shit to me and beat the living hell out of them.
If I didn’t get my head out of my ass I figured Rex would fire me, but so far he hadn’t said anything about my poor work performance. If I were in his shoes I would have told me to get lost as soon as the whole stalker thing had put his other employees at risk. He hadn’t though, and if anything it had made our working relationship a little closer. I trusted Rex, thought of him as a friend, and we worked great together.
When I wasn’t busy looking over my shoulder whenever I left my office. Or so distracted that I’d missed three stupid mistakes on the front cover of the Rock America edition the week before. Normally I was able to separate my personal and work lives.
There was nothing normal about this.
The phone on my desk rang and I reached for it without really focusing on any one thing. “Yes?”
Hannah’s voice greeted me. “Your father is on line two for you.”
“Oh.” I smiled. I hadn’t talked to Cecil in more than a week. I needed a pick-me-up and he was just the person to give it to me. “Put him through.” Moments later I heard a deep cough and my hope dimmed just a little. “Are you getting sick, Cece?” It was the beginning of cold and flu season. I hoped he was taking care of himself.
There was a long pause on the other side of the phone and my smile instantly disappeared. Not Cecil. Muttering a curse because I had no patience for that particular man, I clenched my hand around the receiver and turned my chair to glare out the window behind my desk. “What do you want, Todd?”
Todd Jones. The man who was no more to me than my sperm donor. The man who didn’t care if I was ever around or not. The man who was more worried about making his next big business deal than he’d ever worried about his daughter who was miserable traveling the world with his ex-wife and her new stepsister. My father only called me when I could do something for him, which was rarely. In my eyes, Cecil was my dad. He had taken care of me. Raised me as his own—hell, better than his own—and the only family I’d invited to my wedding. Cecil had given me away. Cecil was the one who mattered.
“I’d like to see you, Harper.” He coughed again, sounding as if he couldn’t catch his breath for a long moment. When he was finished, his voice came over the line weak, almost wheezing. “Will you come?”
My eyes narrowed. He was sick. “Where are you?”
“USC Norris Cancer Hospital,” came his weak reply.
That surprised me. Todd was normally on the East Coast at this time of year, preferring autumn in New York to California. Then the name of the hospital hit me like a bullet between the eyes.
My eyes closed tight and I sucked in a pained breath. Cancer. Damn it. Tears burned my eyes, tears I never thought I would shed for the man who was the second half of my gene pool. Todd was a hard man, had never shown so much as a drop of love for me in my entire life. Now… Was I going to lose him?
He was never mine to lose, I reminded myself, but that didn’t stop my heart from breaking just a little.
“I’m on my way,” I murmured and got shakily to my feet. “I’ll be there soon.”
I heard a harsh wheeze as if he was letting out a long breath. Was he relieved? “Thank you.”
Dropping the receiver back on its cradle, I picked up my purse and headed for the door. Peterson and Theo both stood on the other side. Fewer and fewer people who needed to see me came to my office now that I had double the scary muscle standing outside my office. Their heads snapped around when I stepped out and Peterson caught hold of my elbow as I hurried past. “Are you well? You look pale.”
I shook my head. “We need to go. I’ll explain on the way,” I told him as we walked. I stopped at Hannah’s desk. “I’m going to be out the rest of the day. It’s a family emergency.”
Her eyes widened with concern but she was already nodding. “Of course. I’ll let Rex know, if he asks. I hope everything is okay.”
“Me too, Hannah. Me too.”
I was in the back of my SUV and Theo was driving toward the hospital before I pulled out my phone to research the place. It was a sixty-bed hospital that provided care for patients who were acute and critical.
Acute. Critical. How sick was Todd?
Peterson glanced back at me from the front passenger seat. “You okay?”
I’d told him where we were going and who we were going to see, but since that was really all the info Todd had given me there really hadn’t been anything else to tell. “I don’t know. Ask me again in an hour.” I didn’t know what was going to happen when I got to the hospital, but I had a feeling it wasn’t going to be good.
Heart aching, I lifted my phone to my ear after swiping my thumb over Shane’s name in my call log. It barely rang once before he was answering. “Hey, beautiful. Everything okay?”
I leaned my head back and closed my eyes. “My father called me.”
I could feel his tension as if he were sitting next to me instead of miles away. “Not Cecil?”
“No. Not Cecil,” I whispered. Did it make me a bad person that even though I was upset that I was headed toward a hospital where my ill father was being treated, I was sincerely relieved that it wasn’t Cecil I was going to see? That my heart didn’t ache nearly as badly as I knew it would have if it had been the man who had raised me rather than the one who had helped conceive me?
“I can meet you wherever it is you’re going, beautiful. Just tell me where you are.” I could hear him moving around, as if getting ready to leave.
“No,” I murmured. “Please don’t. I need…” I let out a pained sigh. “I need to do this on my own, babe.”
I closed my eyes tighter. “I know you want to be there with me when I face him, but you’ve held my hand through so much of my family’s crap. Let me do this one on my own.”
“I’ve always wanted to hold your hand through that, through anything and everything. I want to do it now. I’ll always want to, beautiful. Always.”
A tear spilled out from under my tightly closed eyes and I hurriedly wiped it away before Peterson could see it. “I know. I just… I can’t explain it, Shane. I…” I broke off, because there were no words to describe how I was feeling right then.
I’d always dealt with my father’s crap on my own. It wasn’t as bad as what I’d put up with my mother, Monica. It was nothing compared to that. It was nothing, period. Todd Jones had avoided me as much as humanly possibly my entire life, only acknowledging that I was alive and his daughter when he needed something from me. Those times had been few and far between. I didn’t want Shane to see the nothingness I was to the man who was my father.
“Alright, beautiful. I understand.” His tone was soft, quiet, and I had to quickly dash away a few more tears. “Just know that I’m here. I’ll be waiting to hold you as soon as you’re ready for me to do that.”
“I know,” I breathed. I did know. Shane was my safe place in the world. My rock to hold on to through any storm. “I love you.”
“I love you too, beautiful. Call me as soon as you get done with the old man. Are Peterson and Theo with you?”
“Yes,” I assured him.
He blew out a long sigh. “Okay. Be safe.”
Theo pulled up in front of the hospital a while later. Peterson got out of the front passenger seat and opened my door, but I couldn’t bring myself to move. Was I ready for this? Did I really want to do it without Shane?
“You don’t have to go in there,” Peterson told me quietly. “No one would blame you if you turned around and left.”
His words jolted me into action. I took the hand he offered to assist me out and frowned up at the hospital. “No one would,” I agreed with him. “But I wouldn’t be able to live with myself.”
Theo waited in the SUV while Peterson went inside with me. I stopped by an information desk and told them who I was. Peterson and I were both given visitor badges and directed to where Todd Jones was being cared for.
The place was oddly quiet and I could actually feel the grief flowing off of each person I passed, some of them family members of other patients, some of them staff. Reaching the room that I’d been told belonged to my father, I paused outside of it and glanced around. There was a nurses’ station just a few yards away, and a nurse lifted her head, offering me a kind smile. I forced a smile in return for her and finally lifted my hand to knock on the door.
“Come—” A bad cough cut off the rest of the command to enter and I glanced up at my bodyguard.
“Wait here.” Peterson gave me one firm nod and turned his back to the wall as I pushed the door open.
The sight that greeted me when I entered the hospital room wasn’t one I had been expecting. Honestly, I hadn’t known what to expect, but it sure as hell hadn’t been…this.
The last time I’d seen Todd, he’d looked healthy. His sandy brown hair had been on the shaggy side and his purple eyes had been clear and full of impatience. Todd had never been a heavy man, but he hadn’t been lean by anyone’s standards either. It had been nearly two years since I’d last seen him. Now, as I stared at the man who was more a stranger to me than a father, I barely recognized him.
His hair was gone now, even his eyebrows had disappeared. His eyes, which had once been the same shade of purple as my own, were full of pain, the whites yellowed and bloodshot from jaundice now. He was nothing but bones now, his skin just as yellow as his eyes. He had oxygen tubes in his nose, there was a catheter hanging from the end of his bed, full of more blood than urine, and a heart monitor attached to him that was beeping at an awkward rate.
“Todd?” His name left me in a whisper as I stared in horror down at the man.
He nodded, too busy coughing to say anything. I crossed to him quickly and put a hand on his chest, trying to steady his frail body as it shook from the coughing that shook him. I noticed without wanting to that as he coughed, the bag attached to the catheter filled a little more with blood.
I would never wish this on anyone.
It took several minutes before he could catch his breath again. Once he had, Todd lay back against his pillows, exhausted. “Thanks…for…coming,” he said between gasps for breath.
“How long have you been sick?”
“About…a year…” He grimaced. “Started with my lungs…. Went to my liver. Now, my kidneys.”
I shook my head, the shock at finding him so fragile keeping me from really reacting to the sight before me. “Why didn’t you call me sooner?”
“Didn’t…see…the point.” He shrugged, but that small action seemed to cause him pain.
Of course not. Why would he want the daughter he had never cared about to be around when he was sick? There was no need for me. There never had been. I hadn’t wanted to follow in his footsteps, hadn’t wanted his businesses or his money. Maybe if I had wanted to work with him he might have had more affection for me. Maybe.
“Why call me now?” I couldn’t help but demand, some of the initial shock wearing off. “I mean, if you didn’t want me around in the beginning, what do you want from me now?”
He shook his head and I thought I saw regret in his yellow-tinged eyes. “Wanted to…say…goodbye.”
I took an unconscious step back, wanting away from those words. “No.” I shook my head. “No. You’re too stubborn to let something as stupid as cancer end you. I don’t believe you.”
The faintest of smiles lifted his lips. “What I…thought…too.” The smile quickly disappeared. “Sorry, Harper. I…don’t have…much time.”
“How long?” I whispered, tears burning my eyes but I tried to fight them back. “How long do you have?”
“A day. Maybe…two. Maybe…less.” He started coughing again and I stepped back up beside him, holding his shoulders while the coughing fit seemed to tear his entire body apart before my eyes. Tears filled his eyes, the first tears I’d ever seen my father shed—hell, the first emotion I’d ever seen in his eyes—and spilled over as he tried to catch his breath.
“So-rry,” he gasped out between coughs. “So…sorry.”
The fit never stopped, just got worse. The door opened and a nurse came in with a syringe in her hand. It was the same nurse who
had offered me the kind smile before I’d come in. She glanced from me to Todd and then put the needle into the IV on the back of his left hand. “You’ll feel better soon, Mr. Jones.”
Whatever she had given him soon had his cough easing and he closed his eyes. I felt something damp on my cheek and realized I was crying. Swiping the tears away, I turned my gaze on the nurse. “Can we talk?”
She nodded and turned for the door. “Let’s let him rest.”
I followed her out. Peterson gave me a concerned look when he saw my face, but I ignored him as I followed the nurse to her desk. Sitting down, she motioned to the chair beside her and I gratefully took it.
“I see he finally called you.”
I nodded, but couldn’t find my voice.
“I’m Paige, by the way. I’ve been taking care of your father on the day shift for the last week or so,” she said, introducing herself.
“Harper,” I murmured and shook her hand.
Paige nodded. “Yes. I know. What little Mr. Jones has said, has been about you. He loves you very much.”
More tears filled my eyes and flowed over. “That’s the first I’ve heard of it,” I told her honestly. “My father and I weren’t very close.”
“I know that too,” she assured me, her smile sad. “I’ve seen it more often than I care to admit, but it’s at the end like this that some people finally realize what really matters. That’s the case with your father, Harper. He told me more than once he wished he could change the past.”
A tear fell onto my hand and I gazed down at it, finding it easier than looking at the nurse’s kind eyes. “Oddly enough, so do I.”
Harper didn’t want me to come, but after about five minutes of respecting her need to do…whatever the fuck she needed to do with Todd Jones, I was ready to climb the walls. I texted Theo to find out where they were going and then grabbed my keys and wallet as I headed out to my car.
Getting the text back from Theo had me driving a little faster than I should have been on the interstate, but all of Emmie’s gods were smiling down on me because I didn’t see any cops. Once at the hospital, I parked my Jaguar and hurried inside. More than an hour had passed since I’d talked to Harper, and I had no idea what was going on, but my heart was racing as I asked the woman behind the information desk for Todd Jones’ room.