“How can you even say that?” August had replied, his voice laced with anger and disbelief. “You have a good deal going on here.”

I still can’t believe he’d said that.

I’d been speechless for a moment, gaping, until I’d suddenly overflowed with words. “A good deal?” I’d hissed.

His eyes flared in surprise.

“A good deal?” I’d repeated. “You think living in a home that’s not mine, doing your cooking and cleaning, taking care of a cancer-riddled child, and being available at your whim to fuck is a good deal?”

August hadn’t responded, just watched me warily.

“Granted… taking care of Sam is a pleasure. Cleaning house and cooking meals are responsibilities I don’t mind. But being installed in a guest room while having you sneak into my room to quietly fuck me so our son doesn’t find out is abhorrent to me. Being nothing more than your plaything when we used to be so much more is simply insulting, and I’m done with it.”

“Leighton,” he’d murmured, his eyes sympathetic.

“Don’t,” I’d warned, holding my hands up. “This conversation is over. I appreciate you letting us stay here—I do—and I’m going to continue to take you up on that offer until we can realistically move into a new place. But the only things we’re sharing from now on are the duties involved in raising our child. Don’t ask for anything else from me.”

August had reached out toward me. If he’d touched me, I might have reconsidered the finality of my words.

I’d decided to take the safest bet… and fled from his room.

He had not chased after me.

Hadn’t spoken to me this morning, either, which was also fine by me.

“What do you think?” the realtor asks after sneaking up behind me in the master suite.

I startle, but then give her a tentative smile. “I need to think about the choices, but what you’ve presented so far is sufficient. It’s going to boil down between the two- and-three bedrooms, and my dad and I have to talk. If he stays, we’ll want the three-bedroom. If not, the two will be fine.”

She nods, clearly disappointed I’m not chunking down a deposit already.

“I’ll have an answer to you by tomorrow,” I promise. “And I’ll be able to bring the deposit to you then.”

She perks up, beaming.

As my dad and I head to the car, he asks, “Want to get some lunch?”

“Sure,” I reply easily. We need to have a come-to-Jesus meeting. I need a solid answer from him on if he’s leaving or staying so I can move on with my life as well.

“How about the Grande Casino?” he suggests. “They have a great buffet.”

My lips curl upward, and I chuckle. “That’s where your mysterious lady friend works, right? Will I get a peek at her?”

“I thought I’d introduce you to her,” he says, and I blink in surprise. He shrugs. “I mean… if I stay, you might as well know I like her.”

“Then why don’t you just commit to staying?” I ask with a sigh of frustration. “If she’s that special, I don’t see why you would even consider—”

“It’s because I’m a danger,” my dad cuts in over me.

“August doesn’t think so,” I point out.

My dad sighs. “Yeah… I know, so let’s go through it all again over lunch. We’ll talk about it some more.”

That’s progress, which makes me happy. “All right. Let’s do this. Lunch and meeting your lady friend.”

The Grande Casino isn’t all that grand compared to many of the other casinos, but it has an old Vegas charm to it. Dad’s so-called “lady friend” is actually a blackjack dealer. She’s on duty when we arrive. When we walk by her table, he makes brief eye contact with her.

Enough that I notice her eyes lighting up when she spots him and my dad smiling in a way I’ve never, ever seen him do before. My mom died when I was two. I have no memories of her, but when I used to imagine what they were like together—when my dad would talk about her in such a way I knew they’d had true love—I imagined they might look at each other that way.

One thing is for sure… this woman is my ace-in-the-hole to finally make Dad commit to staying—if I can just convince him the danger is no greater with him here.

My dad texts her—Marilyn—that we’re going to grab lunch if she wants to join us on her next break. He clearly knows her schedule because he says, “She’ll probably be about fifteen minutes.”

Looping my arm through his and leaning into him as we walk through the casino toward the buffet restaurant, I impart a little teasing. “Dad,” I drawl, making myself sound like a pouty, drama-filled teenager, “you didn’t tell me how pretty she is. Or how young, for that matter. What is she… in her forties, maybe? Look at you go.”

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