“I won’t let you use your sister’s death to manipulate me.”

I shake my head. “But I’m not. I’m not here to ask for your forgiveness or for your blessing. I’m here because I’ve finally accepted that you can’t be the father you used to be. You can’t be the dad I need. And no matter how hard I try to be perfect or how badly I screw up, you can’t find it in yourself to be him.” I blink back the tears I promised myself I wouldn’t cry today. “I forgive you for that, but I’m not going to keep hurting myself trying to make you love me the way parents should.”

Dad sets down his untouched coffee and pushes himself out of his chair. He stops just before he reaches the double doors to the hall, and when he turns on me, his eyes are hard. “You’re no longer my daughter.”

I swallow. “You’ve said that a few times before.” I shrug. “I’ve finally decided to believe you.”

Mom presses a trembling hand to her mouth. “Abraham, maybe we can talk this out.”

Dad’s eyes blaze. “Don’t make me repeat myself, Harriet.” Then he storms away.

Panic glistens in Mom’s eyes as she turns them to me. “Why do you have to provoke him like that? You know how he’s going to react.”

I shake my head. “If you ever decide you need to get away from him, or that you just can’t bend to his will anymore, I’ll help you leave.”

She gasps and jumps up from her seat. “I have never once tried to leave your father.”

“I know, Mom. But if you change your mind, I’m here for you.”

She holds my gaze, and her bottom lip trembles and a single tear rolls down her cheek. “I have to go.” She follows my dad, and I sink back into my chair, feeling light and heavy all at once. Untethered but grieving for the parents I so badly wanted them to be.

* * *

Marston

Brinley’s the last person I expect to see at my door at ten a.m. on Tuesday, but there she is, looking half angel, half temptation in a gauzy white dress that barely reaches the middle of her thighs. My chest is a traffic jam of emotions when I see her, and I wonder if I’ll ever get to the point where I just feel lucky that, for part of my life, I got to know what it was like to be loved by her.

“Is this an okay time?” she asks.

“Sure,” I croak, then clear my throat. “Sure, it’s fine. Come in.”

The echo of her clicking heels fills my too-empty home and makes my gaze drop to her feet. She’s wearing the Vegas shoes.

I swallow hard. I want to believe she wouldn’t wear those if she wasn’t here with good news, but hell—they’re just shoes.

She stops just inside the foyer, and I have to shove my hands into my pockets to resist the urge to pull her against me. She’s all business with a red tote slung over her shoulder, some files sticking out the top. She pats it with her hand. “Could we sit somewhere? At a table, I mean? I have some paperwork from my lawyer.”

If anyone else would’ve asked, I would’ve told them my heart was as broken as that blown glass orchid in her office, but I guess there were some pieces left to break, because they shatter under the weight of those words. Paperwork. From her lawyer. “Whatever you want,” I say. Because that’s what I’ve promised myself. I don’t know any other way to prove to her that I’m not her father. That I’m not Julian. That nothing I give her has any string, stipulation, or ulterior motive, aside from giving her what she wants. Even if it’s a divorce.

“Do you want coffee or anything?” I ask as she sits down at my dining room table. “Wine? Bourbon? Brandy?”

She shakes her head. “I’m good.”

I drag a hand through my hair. “Do you mind if I drink?” Because I’ll do this for her, but I’m not sure I can get through it without a little liquid courage.

She smiles. “Sure.”

I feel her eyes on me as I walk across the dining room and pour myself a snifter of brandy. One might say it’s a little early in the day for hard liquor, but I’d counter that it’s a little early in our marriage for divorce papers, so fuck it.

I take a generous sip as I stroll back to the table and take my seat across from her.

She’s already pulled a manila folder from her tote, and she taps her fingers on it nervously, no doubt as ready to get this over with as I am.

“Listen,” I say, “I’ll sign whatever you want me to sign. I’ll give you whatever you want, but can I apologize first?”

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