THE AUTHORITIES HAVE cleared out and Heather has been taken into custody. One down, one to go. I may be a cold-hearted bastard, but a son can only take so much from his mother, and I think my mother has far exceeded my limit for forgiveness.
Looking around the room, everyone appears to be as shell-shocked by this morning’s events as me—especially Bella. I’m just now getting a chance to really look at her, and the sight of her in her tiny shorts is making my body react in ways it shouldn’t while in the presence of her father. She must have been coming in from a morning run when Heather decided to stop by with her antics.
Bella is wearing a black sports bra with matching running shorts. Her hair is up in a high ponytail with loose strands clinging to her skin, damp with perspiration. I love her like this. Fresh with no makeup on and with her skin showing the slightest flush—though I prefer to be the reason behind her flush. My eyes continue to rove over Bella’s barely dressed figure and it takes everything in me to keep my hands to myself out of respect for Aiden.
Unfortunately, my perusal of Bella’s body doesn’t go unnoticed. Feeling a set of eyes boring into me, I reluctantly look up and meet their owner.
“Done eye fucking my daughter?” Aiden asks me, his voice rasping with restrained anger.
“We were going to tell you, Aiden. But with your injury, we needed to make sure that it wouldn’t set back any of your progress.” I try to remain as calm as possible, hoping this conversation doesn’t turn physical. It’s not that I couldn’t hold my own, but the man just suffered a brain injury for fuck’s sake, he doesn’t need to be getting into any brawls at the moment.
“Daddy.” Bella speaks from behind me, her voice sounding so small. “It wasn’t like we planned this.”
“Silence, Bella. This is between William and me,” Aiden admonishes while simultaneously cluing in the rest of the room that this is a private conversation. The guys take the hint and start to file out, giving us some privacy. “How long? How long has this been going on right under my nose? She just turned eighteen, William. Did you sleep with her before then? Do we need the police to come back?”
“Daddy!” Bella exclaims, visibly upset by Aiden’s reaction.
I bring Bella forward, tucking her into the crook of my arm and place a kiss on her temple. “It’s okay, baby,” I whisper into her hair before looking back toward Aiden. “No you do not need to call the police. We started our relationship well after she turned eighteen.”
“Well after, my ass. She’s still a little girl, William. She doesn’t even drink, for goodness’ sake.” Aiden shakes his head back and forth.
“If you truly paid attention to your daughter, you would know she stopped being a little girl a long time ago, and you would also know that she has very fine taste in whiskey.” I smirk, giving Bella a side glance.
“Thanks for ratting me out,” she mutters under her breath, shoving her elbow into my ribs.
I look toward Aiden who is standing in silence, no doubt second-guessing what he thinks he knows versus what is reality.
“This isn’t a fling, Aiden. I love her and I think she loves me too.” I look over toward Bella who is nodding her head emphatically. “Bella is mine. She’s my forever and there will be no other—regardless of whether you approve or not.”
“Over my rotting corpse.” Aiden growls. “You with your insane family genes. Do you think I want that around my daughter? Fuck no. I saw your face when I revealed Lucia was having an affair with your father. You already knew. You knew it and you never told me about it.” Aiden’s gaze narrows into small slits. “What kind of brother, honorary or not, thinks it’s okay to keep such important information to themselves? You were just sitting on that information, all while taking advantage of my sweet daughter.”
“Daddy, it wasn’t like that. It was for your own good,” Bella pleads, her eyes big and round.
Aiden turns his gaze on Bella, his brows furrowing before speaking. “You knew about this too, didn’t you?”
“Yes. But I only kept it from you to avoid causing you any unnecessary pain. She was gone. What good would telling you do?”
“How long, Isabella? How long have you known your mother was stepping out on me?”
“Since the day of the car accident,” Bella whispers, her voice barely audible. “I walked in on her and…” She trails off, the room going silent at her admission.
Did she know it was my father? She couldn’t have, she seemed just as shocked as everyone else.
“Not only do you go and sleep with your father’s business partner and friend, but you also go and keep important shit like this from me too? Oh, and you’re dropping out of college before even attending your first class. Let’s not forget that.” Aiden sucks in his lips while shaking his head. “You are not the perfect daughter I thought you were.”
At his words, Bella sucks in a sharp breath.
“Enough!” I roar. “You will not talk to her like that. She is perfect. She is unbelievably smart, extremely patient, and one of the most supportive people I have ever met. You will not belittle her for keeping something from you when her actions were driven by love. She loves you, Aiden. You are her father and the only parent she has left. While you’ve been busy with your head up your ass, she’s been raising herself and the boys, all while balancing the guilt of her mother’s death and holding on to a toxic secret, bearing the pain of it herself in order to protect you from it.”
Aiden’s face twists in pain. “I’m your father, Bella. You should have told me.”
“You haven’t exactly been present.” Bella chews on her bottom lip while focusing on the ground as if it’s the most interesting thing she’s seen all day. “You’ve been gone a long time. Since Mom died. Physically, you’re present, but emotionally you’ve checked out.”
“I’m your father, Isabella! You should have told me!” Aiden shouts, repeating his words from earlier.
“When?! When was I supposed to tell you?!” Bella shouts back. “Whenever I would try to talk to you about anything remotely emotional, you would shut me down—either changing the subject or just straight up walking out of the room.” Bella wipes at the tears streaming down her face. “So tell me father, when the fuck was I supposed to tell you?”
Aiden takes a step back upon hearing Bella’s words, as if they’ve physically struck him. “You will not disrespect me in my own home. If you want to go behind my back, keeping secrets and doing things I don’t approve of, by all means, go ahead. But you will not be doing it while living under my roof. As of this moment, you are no longer a part of this family. You are nothing.” Aiden lifts his hand and points toward the door. “Get the fuck out!”
I stand there trying to process my father’s words. I’m alone. I’m utterly and completely alone. My worst fear has come true and I’ve lost what remains of my family.
I wipe the tears rolling down my face and will them to stop, but they don’t.
I knew this day would come, where both of my parents would abandon me. I don’t deserve their love. I don’t deserve any love. Time and time again, life has proven this to be true, so why should this time be any different.
My mother turned her back on me the moment she decided to step out on our family, and now my father is abandoning me out of some jacked-up sense of betrayal.
Surrendering to what is, I place one foot in front of the other and begin to make my way out of my father’s home.
Maybe Cassie will let me crash at her place for a while.
Vaguely, I hear people talking behind me but it’s all a jumbled mess as I try and figure out where I belong, if anywhere.
You are nothing. You. Are. Nothing.
My father’s words keep replaying in my head over and over again, as another slicing pain rips through my soul.
I need to run. Run until I’m numb and can’t feel this deep ache in my chest. I stop and close my eyes for a second, needing to catch my breath. The pain is so excruciating it feels as if I were being cut from the inside, making it impossible to breathe.
Letting the emptiness swallow me whole, I crumple to the ground, unable to walk any farther.
Just when I begin to wish I could disappear into the ground, a strong set of hands scoop me up. I crane my head up to see a set of pale blue eyes staring back at me. William. I blink hard, trying to clear my vision and regain my sense of surroundings.
“Baby.” William’s soothing voice cuts through my mental fog. “I stayed behind to talk to your father, and I come out to find you like this. Did you fall? Are you okay?”
I shake my head no, unable to formulate any words. The hurt running through me, shattering my soul and rendering me speechless. I just want to hide from the pain. Dig a deep hole and bury myself.
William presses a kiss to my temple and carries me to his car. When he places me in the passenger seat, I realize he must be taking me home with him.
“No. Take me to my car,” I manage to say.
“We can pick it up later. You’re in no condition to drive,” William states, his tone letting me know there’s no room for argument.
But then again, I’m not one to listen.
“No, William. You need to take me to my car. I need to get to Cassie’s.”
“Isabella.” William lets out a frustrated breath. “Stop being so damn stubborn and just acquiesce for once. You’re coming home with me. That’s where you belong.”
“I don’t belong anywhere. I. Am. Nothing,” I grit out, my words coming out choked as the lump in my throat grows.
“Do not say that. You are everything. Do you hear me? Everything!” William grabs me by the shoulders and shakes me until my tear ridden eyes are looking directly into his. “You belong with me. You are my everything and I will show you your worth every single day for the rest of our lives if you’ll just let me.” William’s eyes are pleading, seeking permission into my soul. “Let me in, Isabella. Let me show you how amazing you are.”
I stare blankly at William, not knowing what to say. I love this man. I really do, and that’s why I can’t go live with him. “No, William. I’m broken. You deserve someone who is whole. Someone who could give themselves fully to you and to Harper. That’s not me, no matter how much I want it to be.”
“But don’t you see, Bella? That is you. Without you, I’m not whole. You take my broken pieces and put them back together with your love. When you’ve shown up for Harper every single time, you’ve made me whole. When you’ve been patient with me, unwavering in your love, you’ve made me whole. When you’ve shared your smile on some of my darkest days, you’ve made me whole. You, Bella, are what makes me complete. Let me do that for you, always. Come live with me, and I promise you I’ll do whatever it takes to make sure you never feel empty again.”
Wiping away my tears, I nod my head in agreement—realizing that William is just as broken as I am and that maybe, just maybe, we could help each other heal, erasing the jagged wounds of our past.
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