We both turn to look at him as his face reddens. “You both seriously want me to just leave Cassie’s care to someone we all know is crazy?” When Max raises a brow, Aidan snaps, “Yes, hell yes. I was fucking her so don’t you think that makes me somewhat of an expert on Monique? I’ve screwed a lot of women I wouldn’t trust to drive my car, much less assume control of a mentally ill friend whom I love.”
I wonder silently if anyone else is beginning to feel like this could be a helluva Jerry Springer episode. I’m not brave enough to ask though. Somehow, I feel that any type of humor wouldn’t go over well right now.
“No one is saying that,” I assure him. “You know I’m always behind you. Max is just trying to do his job as our lawyer and friend. He has to look at both sides.”
“Luc’s right, Aidan,” Max says. “I don’t mean to come off sounding like an uncaring asshole, but the fact is that Monique has a good case for becoming Cassie’s guardian, especially if her father is throwing his support behind her, which I believe he is. They may not be blood relations to her, but there is a family link. You are both longtime friends and financial supporters so that will count for something, but I’m just not confident it will be enough to keep you in control.”
“Well…fuck,” Aidan retorts. He runs a hand through his hair and rubs his temple. “I need to think about everything. I don’t want to give up on her now of all times. She’s finally getting better. But…she’s never really had a family. What if I deny her that?”
“Take a couple of days and think on it,” Max advises. “The hearing isn’t until Friday so we have a little time to make some decisions.”
Suddenly Aidan, who had been slumped over the table dejectedly, bolts upright. “How long have we been here?”
Max looks at his watch before saying, “About forty minutes or so, why?”
Aidan comes quickly to his feet and looks around. “I’ve got to get the fuck out. Red-necked Barbie and her twisted boyfriend are going to be looking to fill parts of me that are strictly off-limits. We’ll talk tomorrow.” With that, he sprints out the door and I swear, I think I hear his tires squeal through the noise level in the bar.
“You still don’t want to know.” I shake my head as Max opens his mouth to question me. “How about another beer before we head out?”
“I was thinking more of another scotch, but you go ahead with the weak stuff.” Max laughs as he waves a waitress over.
“That shit’ll give you Jack dick,” I say gravely, mimicking Misty’s descriptive finger. I chuckle at the look on Max’s face. There is no doubt about it; Misty has caused more than one set of balls to draw up tonight.
I’m surprised but pleased when my father drops by unexpectedly. I buzz him up and move to open the door. His eyes light with pleasure when he sees me as he steps off the elevator. “Good evening, Lia,” he says as he drops a kiss on my cheek. We’ve recently become comfortable enough with each other to share some mild affection and I’m surprised at how much I’ve come to enjoy it.
“Hi, Lee,” I reply before gesturing him in. He follows me into the living room where I take a seat on the sofa while he settles in a nearby chair. “It’s good to have some company. Lucian was meeting his friends after work and isn’t home yet.” I don’t think Lee needs an explanation about the emergency session over the bomb that Monique recently dropped concerning Cassie.
“I’m sorry I missed him, but it will give us a chance to talk.”
“Sure,” I say, now curious as to where this is going. He obviously has something on his mind. I only hope it’s not more bad news. I think I’m officially at my limit right now.
“First, I want to tell you again how proud I was to be in the audience at your graduation and see you walk up on that podium for your diploma. You’re an amazing woman and I regret so much not being there for you while you were growing up. You should have never had to struggle as you have to survive and succeed.”
I lean over and place my hand over his, trying to dispel the tension in his body. The anger I felt toward him is gone. I no longer see him as the self-absorbed mogul who lived obliviously in his ivory tower downtown. I don’t want him to feel guilty anymore. In some respects, I believe I have accepted him so easily because as soon as he found out about me, he charged into my life like a lion, righting every single wrong within his power. My abusive mother is now in jail—no doubt thanks to threats of retribution from him—and my evil stepfather is dead. I have never asked Lee directly if he had anything to do with that—and I never will. Somewhere, deep inside, I know he may not have killed Jim Dawson, but he somehow started the ball rolling. I can’t be sorry, though. He had been a truly vile and evil man. Knowing he could never again inflict injury feels like an albatross of fear lifted from my shoulders. The scars he left on my body are the physical reminders of his torment but knowing it can’t ever happen again has allowed me to live freely for the first time in years. Lee also sat at a restaurant near his office every morning for a month in hopes that one day I would agree to meet him there and I finally did. We now have breakfast together once a week and a bond of sorts is forming between us. I might never call him Daddy, but he is important to me.
“Lee, thank you, but please don’t do this to yourself. I know you had no idea I existed. I think we both need to make our peace with that and move on.” Putting my other hand on my stomach, I add softly, “I made it despite everything and I’m happy.”