In our lives, it’s always been Peter and me against the world. We were raised for our first ten years by a junkie mother who finally overdosed after years of doing just enough to keep us out of foster care. We never knew our father, and I suspect our mother didn’t either. Although my mother wasn’t physically abusive, the similarities of my childhood to Lia’s are not lost on me. It makes me sick to my stomach to think of a child of mine going through what Quinn said she had. I had always been so careful to ensure I had no children. To me, that was a weakness I didn’t want to risk. Peter, on the other hand, went in the complete opposite direction and wanted the American dream. He has a sweet and loving wife, two children, and a house in an exclusive, gated community where he sits on the homeowners’ board.
He and I have come a long way from surviving on the streets and fending for ourselves. After our mother died, we lived in foster homes until we were sixteen. No one puts much effort into looking for runaways with no family ties. The day Victor Falco caught me stealing scraps from his restaurant kitchen was the day our lives changed forever. The man became the father I’d never had and would go on to show me how successful I could be when the lines between right and wrong were no longer a factor. I would spend years after Victor’s death trying to keep my promise to Peter to leave the shadows I’d been operating in for far too long and return to a life where death or jail weren’t constant dangers.
“Well?” Peter prompts me, breaking through my walk down memory lane. I know he’s impatient for news of Lia. He had been just as shocked as I to learn that I might possibly have a daughter. I was afraid he had even let himself dream of my redemption at the hands of the child I hadn’t known existed.
Before I speak, I take a bottle of water from the mini-fridge and gulp half of it. I tell our driver to take us to the office before raising the privacy glass. “It’s completely fucked, Pete,” I admit, defeated. Whatever I had been expecting from today, it had been nothing like the reality.
“You don’t think Lia is your daughter?” he asks in surprise. We had both seen Lia’s photo that Sears had attached to the report. There had been little doubt in either of our minds as to who her father was from them. Of course, I had confirmed it via DNA testing from a brush and a toothbrush of all things from Lia’s apartment. Luckily, there were plenty of papers in her room with her name on them; otherwise, we would have been testing her roommate’s items, as well. At least Sears had managed to secure what was needed without fucking it up.
“Oh, I’m more certain than ever that she is. What I wasn’t expecting was to find out that her mother had beat the hell out of her all her life and her stepfather had been touching her.” At Peter’s indrawn breath, I pause before adding, “And that she was just released from the hospital after her stepfather attempted to rape and kill her.” I fill him in on everything Lucian had told me, leaving nothing out. Peter and I don’t keep secrets from each other.
When Peter remains silent, I look over to see him sitting stock still, his face ashen. “Oh, no,” he finally chokes out. “Dear God, not her.” He looks physically sick as he drops his head into his hands. Peter and I had seen enough in our lives to never want someone of our own flesh and blood to be subject to something like that. Attempting to get himself back under control, he asks quietly, “What now?” He and I both know I cannot and will not let this go unpunished. Lia might not have a clue that I’m her father, but I will serve justice on her behalf.
“I want Jim Dawson found immediately.”
Peter doesn’t bother to talk about what ifs; he simply asks, “And when we do?”
I know my answer will stun him and it does. “I want to speak to him first, and then I want him handed over to the police.”
“You’re just turning him in?” Peter gapes at me. Maybe I should be insulted that my own brother automatically assumes I’m more likely to end someone’s life than take the legal route, but I know that if this were his daughter, there would be no question of the outcome. “Why would you want for Lia to live her life worrying about him being released at some point?”
“He needs to suffer just as she has, Pete. I don’t want the bastard to be let off that easy. He will sit behind bars and endure the same things he has subjected her to, only worse.” When Peter opens his mouth to speak, I add, “And he’ll never leave there.”
“Lee, even you can’t keep him from being granted parole when they deem his time is up. That’s a big risk to take.”
“I didn’t say he’ll never get parole; I said he’ll never leave there.” He looks at me for a moment, finally seeming to understand what I’m saying. A man like me has friends in every walk of life. Even though I’m an upstanding citizen now, I’m still owed debts by people who won’t think twice about paying them. When I told Quinn that Jim Dawson would never touch her again, I had meant every word.
I drop Peter off at the office before giving my driver another address. When the car stops before a white house with peeling paint and tall grass, I wrinkle my nose in distaste. This area is the old mill village, which is now mostly home to lower-income families and some minor gangs. My usually silent driver looks over his shoulder, clearly confused. “Are you sure this is the correct address, Mr. Jacks? Maybe I misunderstood you.”
“No, this is it, James,” I say resigned. The anger I feel at Maria comes back tenfold as I think of my daughter living here at the mercy of her mother and stepfather. “Go somewhere and have lunch or coffee. I’ll call you when I’m ready to be picked up.” He nods once but still looks nervous. The whole thing would be damn funny if I had it in me to be amused right now. My driver has dropped me off in far more dangerous places than this, but he didn’t have a clue. The only person in the vicinity who needs to be afraid is Maria. Her fucking miserable excuse for a life is going to change forever.
When James drives away, I walk up the overgrown pathway and onto the porch. The boards are loose, and I think fleetingly that I’ll probably kill someone if I finish this day off by falling through one of them. Opening a screen door that is louder than a gunshot, I rap loudly at the door. I am just at the point of knocking again when the door is opened a crack with a security chain in place. A hostile voice snaps, “I don’t have anything else to say to you people. I already told you he isn’t here. Now leave me the fuck alone!” When the door starts to close, I stick my foot in the crack, holding it open. Indignant curses fill the air.