He was silent for what seemed like a long time. “Do you think we could meet today?”
I resisted the urge to agree immediately. Margo’s words echoed in my mind. “Today?”
“Can you meet me at Castle Island in an hour?”
He sounded different somehow, less guarded and curt. The casual tone should have been welcome, perhaps, but it worried me. I bit my lip, wishing I knew what he was thinking.
“Okay,” I agreed.
“Do you need a ride? I can send a car.”
“No, I’m good. I’ll see you in a little bit.”
I hung up and texted James that I was heading out for a while. An uneasy sense of urgency compelled me as I exited out the back and onto the cross street where I hailed a cab. Blake would be furious if he knew I was trying to slip under the radar, but I didn’t want to have to explain to Daniel why I was traveling with my brawny bodyguard.
The rain had subsided, but a heavy fog had settled over the bay as the cab pulled up. I paid the fare and stepped out. A sole black Lincoln was parked nearby. Otherwise the usually busy beach stretched along the loop was bare due to the weather.
As I approached, an orange-haired brute of a man stepped out of the driver’s side. His eyes were impossibly light, barely blue, and freckles scattered thickly across his face.
“He’s down there,” he said, gesturing toward the path that began the full circle around the bay, the end of which had disappeared in the fog.
I started down the path, searching for Daniel’s figure as I gained visibility. He finally came into view. In khakis and a brown bomber jacket, he stood overlooking the glassy water of the bay, the patchy view of the city skyline ahead.
He smiled faintly as I approached. Despite his casual dress, he seemed even older than I’d remembered. The gray in his hair more obvious, and the lines of his face more defined.
“Thanks for coming out.”
“Of course.” I felt uneasy though I wasn’t exactly sure why. Maybe I had underestimated how awkward this might be.
He reached into his jacket and pulled out a shiny engraved flask. He twisted off the top and offered it to me. I shook my head. He brought it to his lips and drained a good portion of it. Breath hissed out through his teeth, permeating the air with the peaty smell of scotch. The good kind.
“I’m so sorry, Daniel.” I reached out and touched his shoulder. He replaced the flask in his jacket and covered my hand with his own. He turned and sat down on one of the granite slabs that provided a barrier between the path and the water below. Keeping my hand in his, he pulled me down so I was seated beside him.
“You don’t need to do that.”
“What do you mean?”
“You don’t need to say you’re sorry, Erica.”
I frowned. Was he trying to be strong? “Daniel, I am sorry. I don’t like to see you hurting. I can’t imagine what you must be going through. I wish I could do something.”
A wave of guilt rushed over me. Would I bring Mark back if I had the choice? As sad as I was for Daniel’s loss, I was unmistakably grateful for my own. I couldn’t bring myself to empathize with him the way I would have under very different circumstances. I was a walking contradiction. But Daniel was my father. We had a sad excuse for a history, but he needed as much support as I could give him right now.
He shook his head and released my hand, diving back into his jacket for the flask. After he’d emptied it, he turned to me. His eyes were bloodshot as they burned into mine. From the alcohol or from emotion, I couldn’t tell, but his expression appeared unmistakably haunted.
“I don’t know how it happened, but almost from the moment you walked into my life, you became my pride, Erica. I never really knew what that felt like before until you. That’s pretty depressing, isn’t it?”
His words robbed me of air. I swallowed hard and drew in an unsteady breath. He brushed my hair back lightly from my face. The tenderness in his gesture made my heart twist.
“What about Mark?”
He turned his focus back on the horizon, the empty islands beyond. “No amount of parenting could help Mark. I don’t know. His father passed away unexpectedly, and by the time Margo and I got married, I already felt like he was too far gone for me to really help. There was a darkness that lived inside the boy, and for a long time I thought I could channel that into something. Christ, corporate America is full of cold, heartless bastards, but he couldn’t even seem to play by those rules. With everything we’d given him...” He sighed and shook his head. “He wanted for nothing. Nothing.”
The way he emphasized the last word, I didn’t doubt it.
His expression brightened slightly. “And then there’s you. You had none of my money or influence. None of the opportunities, but still here you are, so driven and everything I could have wanted for you. And you’re mine.” He smiled softly. “That’s the best part.”
I struggled to rein in my emotion, but I was drowning in his words. Could he really mean everything he said? Was this the booze talking? He seemed to be reading from the script of everything I’d ever wanted him to say. I’d waited years to hear those words from him, before I even knew who he was or what he’d meant to my mother.
“And to know that the son I gave everything to…hurt you.” The muscles of his jaw tightened as he looked away again.
“You knew?” My voice was too quiet, almost disappearing in the ocean breeze that blew across us.
“You were so upset at the gala. I could see it all over your face. I confronted Mark about how he knew you the night of the gala, and he admitted everything. He was pretty pleased with himself, actually. He let me know that if I planned to get in the way of him pursuing you, he’d out the truth about our relationship. After everything I’d put into this campaign, he wanted to barter with me. Keep you safe or keep the campaign safe.” His face twisted into a bitter snarl. “He can’t hurt you anymore.”
I froze, paralyzed by the words I’d tried to comfort myself with the last time Mark had held me captive in his arms.
“I don’t understand. He…he killed himself.” The last sentence sounded more like a question, because nothing seemed certain anymore.
“Certainly looked that way, didn’t it?”
An eerie silence fell between us. I shook my head, unwilling to believe what he was implying. He couldn’t have. I stood and took a few unsteady steps away before facing him again.