“It was when I came into your office, wasn’t it? I hadn’t even thought about it until just now.”
Lucian inclines his head. “Yes, that was our first meeting. He had just received confirmation that you were his daughter and he wanted to see you.” With a wry smile, he adds, “I thought he was going to kick my ass when he noticed the cuts and bruises on your face.” Lucian looks solemn, thinking. “Then it became obvious to me that he had no idea you’d been abused by your mother and that you had just been released from the hospital.” He takes one of my hands in his. “I’m not trying to defend his absence from your life, baby, but he was devastated when I told him some of what you’d endured. I apologize because I know that wasn’t my place, but I was just so damned angry at him for not being around to protect you.”
He looks so tormented that I put my other hand on top of his. “It’s okay. I did pretty much the same thing for that reason when he and I talked.” Taking a deep breath, I add, “But you should have told me at that point, Luc. I know I was a basket case, but that was too big to keep from me. He even showed up when we were having dinner at Leo’s. That wasn’t an accidental meeting, was it?”
“No, I have little doubt that he was there to see you,” Lucian agrees. “He was tired of being put off and needed you to know who he was. I think he also wanted to have some time with you while you weren’t on your guard with him. He’s a very successful and influential man, but I could tell how impressed he was with you. I wouldn’t have guessed it of a man like Lee, but his pride in your accomplishments was obvious that night, at least to me.”
Instead of voicing further anger and frustration over what he had kept from me, I put that aside for a moment, wanting to appease some of my curiosity. “Did you know him before all of this?”
Lucian seems to relax slightly as he says, “We’ve met on several occasions. I actually purchased the apartment from his company.” I gasp in surprise, knowing the price tag must have been in the millions. “He and I aren’t friends, just acquaintances.”
I don’t particularly want to voice the thought I’m most anxious about, but I know I have to ask. “What type of man is he?” Lucian is now shifting nervously, which makes me uneasy. I’m not sure if I even want to hear the answer to my question at this point.
“As I said, I don’t know him that well. He is quite well known in North Carolina and the surrounding areas, I would imagine. He appears to have varied and vast business interests and holdings.”
Disappointed, I ask, “So you don’t know anything about his personal life?”
I can almost see the denial on the tip of his tongue before he seems to think better of it. “To my knowledge, he has never been married nor does he have any children—other than you. He does seem to be close to his brother Peter, though.” Pinching the bridge of his nose before meeting my eyes, he adds, “I don’t know how much truth there is to it, but I’ve heard rumors that Lee used to operate in very gray areas.”
My gut clenches as I whisper, “Are you saying he’s a…criminal?” Oh, my God, could my long-lost father have made an appearance in my life only for me to learn that he is no better than my mother? Even though I had been in shock for most of our earlier encounter, he had seemed to care about my feelings—or at least he’d put on a good show. I feel almost sick as I wait for Luc’s answer.
Seeming to notice the distress in my voice and expression, Lucian moves from the table to sit beside me on the sofa. Before I can protest, he reaches over and pulls me onto his lap. As I try to move away, he says, “Stop, baby. Just let me hold you. We both need it.” I allow myself to relax because he’s right; we function better as a unit than we do separately. Within the circle of his arms, my world feels as if it’s back in alignment again. Nothing has been resolved between us yet, but even as my mind attempts to be the voice of reason, my body knows its other half too well to be denied. I feel his lips press against the top of my head before he begins speaking. “Lee, from what I’ve heard, basically grew up on the streets. When he was older, he worked for a man named Victor Falco and went on to inherit his business when he died. Falco was long rumored to be on the other side of the law. It’s possible Lee is only guilty by association with Victor’s reputation. As I said before, I have no proof either way.”
A startling thought occurs to me and I pull back enough to look up at Lucian. “Do you think he had anything to do with my mother turning herself in? Her sudden attack of conscience has been completely baffling to me.”
Lucian trails a finger down my cheek, and I see his answer before he speaks. “Yes, I’m quite certain he made that happen.”
Feeling my throat tighten as if gripped by unseen hands, I manage to choke out, “And my stepfather? Was that just a coincidence?”
“Baby, I honestly don’t know. I do know he was determined that you never be hurt again. As to how that translates, only Lee has that answer, and I doubt very seriously he plans to share either of those circumstances with you or me.”
I settle back in his arms, thinking of what he’s just told me. How do I feel about possibly having a father who may also be some type of vigilante? I believe Rose calls it jail-yard justice. Of course, I’m thinking that her version of that with Jake is a bit different from Lee’s. I have no idea how I’m supposed to handle the possibility that my birth father has not only shown up after twenty-four years, but he’s taken care of the people who terrorized me. It’s overwhelming to imagine there might be a grain of truth in something that sounds so far-fetched. How else can I explain what’s happened, though? It’s almost as if God never heard my cries or prayers, but now He’s noticed, and He’s righting all the wrongs heaped upon me. Yes, it sounds fanciful and deluded even, but how can I dispute this as truth when my mother sits in a jail cell, having to answer for her crimes, and the evil heart in my stepfather’s body no longer beats with life?