Lisa Renee Jones
When your father’s a bastard, you become one, too.
I stand on the balcony of my downtown apartment, a whiskey glass in my hand, watching the avalanche of rain plummeting the city. Nashville is drowning in rain, while my family is drowning in the disgrace and sorrow caused by my father. True to the dictator he was, he is gone now, his very absence a command that I clean up the mess he’s left of the reputation of the family law firm. Not an easy task, when much like the rain now rushing through the streets below, scandal sweeps through the hallways of the luxurious offices of Hawk Legal in a bloody damn river.
I down my drink and set the glass on the patio table, and with good reason. Nothing good comes of my drinking. I can’t even become an actual alcoholic, though I tried once, a little too hard. I’d submerged myself in my father’s disapproval and swam around in it with such ease it was as if I was vacationing in that bullshit. I think back to one particularly nasty confrontation with my father in which he told me I would never be good enough to run the family firm I was already running.
That was the night I met Allison, really met her, rather than just passing her in the office hallways.
She’d delivered paperwork to my apartment that night for a big case I was managing the next morning as a favor to my assistant. When she arrived, I’d been three sheets to the wind.
She’d stayed until morning.
I’d known it was wrong. She was my employee. But it was almost as if I wanted to live up to my father’s disapproval, wallow in it, even. One night had become months of involvement. I grew to care for Allison, but she’d come to love me at a time when I hated myself too damn much to even understand the meaning of love. I was toxic and I knew it.
She’d confessed her feelings for me on a night when I was out of my own skin, angry with my father, angry with myself for letting him control me when I let nothing else control me. I was on a path of self-destruction, destined to take her down with me, destined to hurt her. I walked away from her because I didn’t want that to happen.
I wanted to save her.
All I did was drive her into my father’s arms.
Now a year later, and a year after Allison left the company, they’re both dead. Her dead at my father’s hand after, per the police, she threatened to go to my mother. Him dead after someone put it all together. That someone should have been me, but I was too wrapped up in my own bullshit with my father to see beyond myself.
To complicate matters, the entire situation is now blasted on every news station for Hawk Legal clients to hear, a problem that jeopardizes our client list, and therefore the stability of two hundred and fifty employees on staff. Also blasted on the television is speculation over whether I will attend today’s memorial for my father to support my mother, who isn’t mourning him, but rather serving an obligation she feels publicly. I tried to talk her out of this ridiculous show of public mourning, but again, I failed. It’s a pattern, it seems, and I don’t like it.
Why am I even entertaining attending a memorial that makes us all look like we support the man who did such a heinous thing?
He killed Allison.
Decision made, I loosen my tie and pick up the glass. I’m not going to the farce of a memorial that only makes my mother look foolish, not respectable, as she claims. I tilt my glass to my lips, cursing when I find it empty. I’m a ball of nasty emotions, the kind no man ever wishes to feel.
I enter the apartment, shrug out of my jacket, and toss it on the chair that’s part of the seating area adjacent to the patio, but I don’t wait to see it land. I’m already continuing to the bar in the main living area. Once there, I do what any man would do on the day of his murderous father’s memorial—I refill my glass, and do so with Macallan 25 whiskey. It was my father’s favorite drink, and I don’t drink it now to honor him in his death, but rather as a fuck you, you will not take anything else from me, not now or ever. I down a swallow of the booze and walk to the living room, sit down on the black leather couch in front of the fireplace and stare down at the journal lying on the table. It was her journal—Allison’s.
She left it here but told me to keep it, read it even, and maybe I would wake up. I never even considered reading it. I didn’t want to know what was inside. But I stare at it now, desperate to feel as if she is alive again. I flip it over and open it to the last page, which is filled with a delicate script, and the words read: Sometimes you love someone who cannot love you back, and therefore you are destined for heartbreak. No, you are destined to be broken. He broke me but I can only blame myself. I knew loving Tyler Hawk was a mistake, but the heart wants what the heart wants. Mine wanted him. But I wasn’t his person. Maybe that means he wasn’t mine, either, and one day, I hope to find the person who will love me. For now, ironically, I end this journal, on the last page of the book, and the bittersweet last chapter of my time with Tyler Hawk.
It’s as if a fist reaches up from the bowels of hell, shoves itself inside my chest, and all but rips my heart from my body and grabs ahold of my insides and twists.
The journal slides from my grip and the leather backing all but slams shut, but its words are far from silenced in my mind. I swear it still shouts at me, smoldering words of contempt I feel with slashes of a blade. Anger burns inside me with the certainty that contempt is well deserved.
I snatch my phone from my pocket and dial the detective on the case, only to be thrown to voicemail. I leave Detective Wallace a message. “I’m still waiting on an answer. How long was my father involved with Allison? Call me back, Detective.” I disconnect, uncertain why I need to know that answer but, on some level, I am aware of my clawing need to find a way that this is not my fault when that’s a coward’s ploy.
I’m accountable for my actions and to some degree, his as well.
My eyes fall on the journal and my desperation to escape its scorn has me reaching for the remote control. I turn on the TV only to hear a newscaster say, “How will Tyler Hawk handle the legacy of the name and the firm he’s inherited when that legacy is now murder?”
I curse, turn off the TV again, and down my drink.
The door buzzes, and I set my glass on the table with unnecessary force, drawing in a calming breath. I’d say whoever is here has security clearance, therefore is friendly, but I just had a reporter at my door after slipping past the guard in the lobby. Everyone wants a piece of the Hawk family pie right now. I’d ignore whoever dares come to me today, but they’re already knocking again. “Holy hell,” I grumble, hands to my knees as I push to my feet, briskly striding to the door with every intention of making whoever is on the other side go the fuck away.
I unlock the door and swing it open, only to find a blonde bombshell in a black funeral dress standing in front of me. And not just any bombshell. This is Bella Bailey, an attorney for Hawk Legal, and agent to the rich and famous, who, under my tutelage, now represents a growing list of A-listers. She’s also the half-sister to Dash Black, the author who turned an assassin he hunted when he was in the FBI into the star of his bestselling novels. Dash wasn’t an A-lister when I hired his sister, nor was he my friend. He is both of those things now, though the friendship side of the equation is complicated at best.
As is my relationship with Bella.
One might call me a moth drawn to the flame, but she would be the one burned if I ever touched her. Thank fuck Dash has always stood between me and her. Meanwhile, there was Allison, alone in this world, and exposed and vulnerable to the likes of me, and apparently, my father.
“Why are you here, Bella?” I demand softly.
“Because I knew you’d get dressed to go to the memorial but never leave your apartment.”
I narrow my eyes on her. “And how would you know that?”
“I learned the art of observation from the best,” she says, adding without hesitation, “you. I know you better than you obviously think I do.” She indicates the bag in her hand. “Ice cream. My favorite way to cope with every bad thing life throws my way and often the good things, too. And yes, I can eat a whole pint and I don’t mind if you watch.” She moves forward as if to enter the apartment.
I step left and block her entry, the bag in her hand colliding with my body. Her bright, baby blue eyes go wide, shock registering with a soft whoosh of air from her lips. “This isn’t a good idea, Bella.”
“Ice cream is always a good idea, Tyler.”
She’s one of the only people at the office who dares to call me Tyler, which I blame on her brother. Maybe those lines he drew between us are not that wide after all. “This is not a good idea,” I repeat.
She laughs, a soft, amused laugh, that should surprise me but does not. This is Bella, after all. She knows how to handle big egos, big wallets, and impossible financial negotiations, and rather than a jaded mentality that often comes with experience, she manages a demureness that feels as genuine as the day I met her. “What?” she challenges. “Are you going to bite?”
“Among other things, if you’re not careful,” I assure her. “I am not in the right state of mind for you to play the sweet little girl rescuing me.”
Her lashes lower, dark half circles against her ivory skin, before her eyes are once again fixed on me. “I’m far more complicated than that description and we both know it.”
“I can handle you, and your grief, Tyler, probably better than you can right now.”
“Like Allison handled me?” I challenge.
“You didn’t kill her.”
“I drove her into the arms of her killer. She worked for me. I had no business touching her.”
“As do I. Which is why we both know you’re safe to let me in.”
“But are you safe?”
“Yes,” she assures me, and she pushes on the bag that still rests between us as if that little bit of nudging will force me to step aside and allow her entry. It doesn’t, and yet I find myself easing away from the door, allowing her to enter my apartment. She’s inside in a flash, and the familiar, sweet scent of jasmine perfume ignites a burn of desire in my body, a problem she simply doesn’t seem to understand. She buries her troubles in a pint of ice cream. I’d rather bury mine in her. I shut the door and flip the lock into place.
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