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Too Strong: Chapter 32

Conor

D-DAY COMES ONLY A FEW MINUTES AFTER I close my eyes.

Cody knocks on the door at eight o’clock in the morning, pulling me out of a deep, dreamless sleep. If not for Vee cuddling into my chest, I’d have paced the house all night, nervous about facing Mom and Dad.

Having her close works wonders on my head, though. Not even the news about a sister could keep me awake while she mussed my hair and kissed my neck before drifting off.

“Downstairs in thirty minutes.” Cody pokes his face inside, a shit-eating grin curving his lips as his eyes sweep across Vee drooling over my t-shirt. “Aren’t you two cute?” he muses quietly. “C’mon. We’re meeting Theo, Shawn, and Logan at Mom and Dad’s at nine, so better get moving.”

“Yeah, alright. I’ll be there in ten. Make me a coffee, will you? Quadruple espresso should do it.”

Or maybe two…

He jabs his thumbs up, closing the door without any noise, uncharacteristically considerate.

Reluctantly, I wash up, brush my teeth, and shimmy into a pair of jeans and a hoodie. As much as I hate letting Vivienne out of my sight, I know it’s better if she doesn’t come along to witness… whatever the fuck is about to go down.

Nothing good for sure.

I kiss her head, nose, cheeks, and eyes, rousing her as gently as I can without diving beneath the comforter to lick her awake.

“I need to go, baby,” I say when she opens those silver eyes. “I don’t know how long I’ll be, but feel at home, okay? Don’t leave until I’m back.”

She nods, sitting up. “Okay, I’ll wait here.”

“Get some more sleep. Mia’s staying, and I’m sure Cassidy, Thalia, and probably even Jack will come over at some point, so you won’t be alone when you wake up.”

And who knows? Maybe I’ll be back before then.

She slumps back, nuzzling her cheek into my pillow. “Just a few more minutes,” she whispers. “I’ll be up in a few minutes.”

I kiss her forehead and pull the comforter up to her chin before leaving, my body tense.

Everyone is already downstairs. Nico looks like he hasn’t slept at all. He’s gripping his coffee cup just shy of hard enough to break it as he glares at the floor. You’d think it offended him with how intensely he stares at it.

“How’s Vivienne doing?” Colt asks, shoving a cup of freshly brewed coffee into my hand.

“She’s okay. She hasn’t said anything, but I think she worries whether telling us the truth was a good choice.”

“It was,” Nico grinds out.

Before he says more, there’s a knock on the door, and Cody goes out to let in Theo, Logan, and Shawn.

“I thought we were meeting there,” he says, following them into the kitchen and immediately starting the coffee maker.

“I thought it would be better if we all went together. I don’t think I could hold off from screaming my fucking head off if I arrived first,” Logan says, searching the fridge for an energy drink. Dark circles under his eyes hint he didn’t sleep either. “What’s the game plan?”

“There is no fucking game plan,” Shawn cuts in. “I think it’s best I do the talking.”

Reserved laughter bubbles from Theo’s chest. “We all know Nico won’t let us get a fucking word in until he gets everything off his chest.”

“Can you blame me? We have a sister we never knew about, Theo. She’s eighteen,” he emphasizes. “She spent eighteen years alone while she should have been a part of this family.”

“You need to remember Dad had no idea she exists. I don’t think he’d let her fend for herself if he knew.”

Nico breathes out, trying to cool his jets, but this time not even Mia’s hand gently smoothing the nonexistent creases on his chest can help the situation. He usually calms instantly at her touch, but today there are too many emotions raging inside each of us for anything other than answers to bring us a semblance of peace.

“Keep Vee company for me,” I tell Mia before turning to Logan and Theo. “Are Cassidy and Thalia coming over?”

“Maybe later. We’ll see how things go,” Logan says. “I don’t want her worrying. She’s had a tough few weeks throwing up every day and not sleeping well. If she comes here, the girls will talk, and she’ll worry.”

“What about Jack?” I ask Shawn.

“He’s waiting for my call. I have a feeling we’ll circle back here once we’re done with Dad. We still need to figure out how we’re gonna tell Rose.”

On the one hand, I’m not sure we have the right to tell her; on the other, expecting her mother to administer the truth might not be the best idea. She’s been hiding it for eighteen years. Despite it being less then nine hours since we found we have a sister, everyone already considers her family. No way we’ll let her live her life not knowing where she belongs.

Five minutes later, the seven of us ride out in two cars. None of us speaks during the trip. The tension grows taut enough to play with a bow.

And it only gets worse when Mom opens the door. Her face clouds at the sight of her sons outside, all tense, silently watching her with a mixture of anger, empathy, and apology.

We’ve never arrived en masse unannounced like this—a united front—so it’s no surprise she immediately senses something is very wrong.

She doesn’t say a word as she opens the door further and lets us in, accepting a kiss we stamp on her head or cheek, her nerves creeping with every I love you, Mom.

“Should I get your father?” It’s the first thing she asks once she’s closed the door behind us all with a click.

“Yeah,” Logan huffs, keeping his tone as light as he can given the situation. “Go get him, please.”

She nods, gesturing toward one of the living rooms, and rushes down the hall.

We try and make ourselves comfortable. Or as comfortable as we can while we’re this tightly wound.

This is a real-life nightmare.

This isn’t just about Dad’s affair.

This isn’t just about Rose, either.

It’s about Mom, too. She’s the one who’ll hurt most because she’ll have to deal with her husband’s betrayal and a lifelong reminder of Dad’s infidelity in the shape of a new family member.

The one time he cheated—I hope to fucking God it was just this once—he made a person. A girl. A daughter my mother always wanted.

I can’t begin to imagine how much she’ll be hurting in a few short minutes, and it already makes me reassess this whole thing. We should’ve prepared better. Thought this through.

Instead, we’re here, still shell-shocked ourselves, and Nico’s doing the talking, which doesn’t help the situation one fucking bit.

Too late to turn back now.

Shawn parks by the window, his arms crossed. Logan perches on the armrest of the Chesterfield sofa with Theo and Colt while I stand to the side, leaning my shoulder against the wall. Cody’s on the piano stool, cracking his knuckles like he’s gearing up to knock Dad out the moment he comes in.

Nico takes center stage in the middle of the room, shoulders squared back.

Dad hesitates as he enters the living room, glancing around, his expression dubious and tense.

“Sit down,” Nico grinds out, his tone not much above a whisper but imperious enough to chill me to the fucking bone. He points at two armchairs, waiting until Mom and Dad sit. “There’s no easy way to say this, but we need answers.”

“What answers, son?”

One rude sentence from Nico wrapped in arrogant superiority, and Dad’s matching the stakes, shooting words with an equal dose of venom.

Takes one to know one.

Nico got his explosive character from our grandad. While it partially skipped Dad, there are times he can rival Nico’s viciousness.

“Honest would be fucking best,” Nico rumbles, unfazed by Dad’s tone. He knows he’s got the upper hand. “Let’s start with why you cheated on Mom eighteen years ago.”

As expected, Dad’s attitude slips. His face blanches in a flash. And so does Mom’s, her mouth falling open but no sounds escaping. In fact, the room falls perfectly silent. So fucking silent you can hear the dust settling.

It takes about twenty heartbeats that feel like eternity, before Dad rights his stance, spine straight, chin lifting in gesture of admission.

“I don’t know how you found out, but the reason or the details are none of your business,” he says, putting stern authority behind his words while his seven sons watch his every move. “Some things are between your mother and me. Not meant for your ears.” He grabs Mom’s hand, and I almost fucking kneel when she lets him, squaring her shoulder back.

She knew.

She knew all along.

“It’s in the past,” she avers, eyes pleading as she looks at each and every one of us. “Let’s leave it there, okay? We’ve made our peace with what happened.”

“Too late for that now, Mom. This isn’t in the past. It’s the fucking present, so he’ll talk.”

You’d think Nico said that. Maybe Logan. Even Colt would fit, but it’s Shawn who snaps, his hands shaking, eyes shooting daggers Dad’s way.

“Let’s take a step back, alright?” Theo cuts in, grasping at straws as he adds, “What was her name, Dad?”

He had the hardest time believing Vee last night. He and Dad were always very close, and it doesn’t sit well with Theo that we’re blaming Dad for something we can’t verify. The confession he just heard definitely changed his mind, but he’s still not convinced Rose is our sister.

“The woman,” he clarifies. “What was her name?”

“What does it matter?” Dad squares up. “This is none of your business, boys.”

“Answer the fucking question,” Logan snaps, losing his questionable temper.

“Watch your mouth!”

“Rebecca Bloom,” Mom says, defeated, her face a picture of sadness as she unwittingly flushes Theo’s arguments down the drain.

Maybe she forgave Dad for cheating but unearthing this secret they’ve kept from us for so many years opens wounds she fought to close. It’s clear as day the reminder cuts deep.

Despite holding Dad’s hand, she shrinks in on herself, and her eyes lose their glow as if those memories rush straight to the surface. As if she’s reliving the fucking nightmare all over again.

“I made a mistake,” Dad continues, backing off.

I bet he knows damn well that won’t be enough to appease us. That this conversation won’t be over until we get the information we came for.

“I didn’t deserve forgiveness, but your mother’s an extraordinary woman. She gave me a second chance.” It’s his turn to look us in the eye. “I love her and all of you more than you can imagine. My family has always been my priority.”

He means it. I know he does, but his words don’t appease any of us in the face of the news.

Least of all Nico.

His clenched fists are the only warning we get before he lashes out. “Tell that to your daughter,” he seethes. “Wait, you can’t because you don’t know she fucking exists!”

Dad pales. Turns so white he looks like a dead man walking. He’s almost see through, eyes wide, hands shivering. Not a word out of his mouth while Mom’s distressed Daughter? pierces my heart like a knife.

It fucking flays me alive.

I didn’t realize how much hurting Mom would hurt me. It might be a necessary evil, but that doesn’t make this any less painful.

“I’m sorry this is how you’re finding out, Mom,” Logan says, his tone soft, jaw working as he fights to keep himself in check. “We didn’t mean to put you on the spot like this. We only found out yesterday… we’ve not wrapped our heads around this yet.”

“A daughter?” Dad finally gasps, fear lacing his voice. “What are you talking about?”

“Her name is Rose,” Cody supplies.

“She’s eighteen, smart, talented,” Nico lists, already fiercely protective of our little sister.

He’s spent most time with her while she’s studied under Mia’s wings, and it’s clear he likes the girl.

She’s snappy, funny, and utterly unafraid of Nico’s mood tantrums. I think he found it pretty impressive. Now he knows she’s family, she’s made the list of people Nico would give up his arm for.

“She should’ve been a part of this family from the start,” he continues. “She should’ve been under our protection, but instead, she’s been living in a trailer park her whole fucking life!”

“What makes you so sure she’s my daughter?” Dad asks quietly, eyeing nothing in particular before he ramps up the courage to look at Nico, recognition flashing on his face. “Just because the timeline fits—”

“She looks like you,” Theo supplies. “She looks like us. Well, mostly like Nico, so you’d think she’s ultra fucking ugly, but she’s really pretty. Black hair, black eyes. Like you say, the timeline fits, and…” He glances at me, checking it’s okay to relay Vee’s words.

“Rose is my girlfriend’s sister,” I supply, garnering Mom and Dad’s attention. “At least that’s what she thought her whole life, but now we know they’re not related.” I stare Dad in the eye. “Remember I asked you about Derek Atkinson?”

“Yes. I told you I don’t know him.”

“He’s my girlfriend’s father. He’s married to Rebecca. She’s no longer Bloom, obviously.”

“The point is,” Shawn takes over, impatient to get to the bottom of this without veering off topic. “No one involved has any reason to lie. Rebecca kept Rose hidden from you for years. Conor’s relationship almost fell apart because she was so desperate to keep it that way. I think your first move should be reaching out to Rebecca. You should talk. And you sure as fuck should meet your daughter. Take a look at her then decide if you need a paternity test. It can be arranged.”

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