My chest ached like a bitch.
Slowly, she began to shake her head. “Don’t you dare, Sebastian. I don’t know what he said to you during that call, but it doesn’t change anything.”
“No, you’re right, Shea. It doesn’t change anything.”
It was just a brutal reminder.
The danger in pretending is it becoming real.
“It was always this way,” I said, my jaw clenching with a flash of pain. “Always knew I was never gonna be good enough for you. Warned you I was going to break you. Still, there was nothing I could do to keep myself from chasing you. I did this.”
Her storm gathered strength. I could feel it. The stir of energy that swelled in the room.
I wanted to sink into it and disappear.
This time forever, because I didn’t want to forget, and I didn’t ever want to come up for air, but I wasn’t going to be the one who stood between her and Kallie.
Funny how I hadn’t given a shit how badly Jennings could hurt me. The threat of jail time. The loss of money. Even the loss of my life. None of it mattered, just as long as it meant I was protecting my brother. My family.
Now the bastard had changed all the rules.
Frantic, she edged forward. “No. You know this wasn’t just about you. It was the perfect storm.”
I bit back a biting laugh.
Maybe it was hers, the force of that hurricane inciting a war. Urging it forward. Bringing two enemies face to face.
But every battle has casualties, and I refused that to be Kallie.
Shea stumbled over her words. All of them tumbled out with a confession I didn’t know could hurt so fucking bad.
“I haven’t seen him since the day Kallie was born…but he made sure I wouldn’t forget that one day he’d be coming for me. Never let me forget I owed him and he would be back to collect.”
Hate raged through me. Every muscle in my body tightened with the need for revenge. With the need to track him down, find him, and kill the fucker for putting that look on her face.
Never had I felt so trapped, because not one solution I could find gave me the outcome I wanted.
The one I wanted most—the one every part of me demanded—was staying here with Shea. Even if a part of me felt betrayed, I knew I knew her. Knew her somewhere deep in a place only she could see. Knew without a doubt she needed to be loved the way I wanted to love her.
Supported and encouraged and maintained.
But that would mean Jennings would continue to use me against her.
I could give into the violence. The base desire to end Martin Jennings, which would be the end of me.
Or I could just walk away. Do what I could from a distance. Sink all my money into destroying Jennings, make him disappear…legally. Yeah, I’d be fucked, dredging up evidence that would only condemn my entire family.
But I knew without a doubt I would do it for her.
Because somewhere along the way she’d become my family.
Shea took a pleading step forward. Just as pleading as the words pouring from that sweet, sweet mouth. “The whole time he’s been keeping tabs. Waiting for the moment to come in and make our lives hell. Even while I spent years pretending he was dead, I still knew it.”
I took one more step down, and Shea took a stumbling one forward. An explanation tumbled from her like a petition. “The day Kallie was born…he…he showed up at the hospital. He forced me to add him to the birth certificate. He said if I didn’t, he would fight me for custody. Nothing in the world seemed worse than that monster taking my baby away, so I caved. I was eighteen, Sebastian. Eighteen and terrified of the man who had tried to rule my life.”
Those words spun around me like a poisoned vortex.
Anger bristled beneath the surface of my flesh, arrows staking me deep.
No, I had no clue what she’d been through. But the expression clouding her face promised it was worse than I could ever imagine.
My hands curled into fists.
Shea continued to fumble through the confession. “At the time, I thought it was the best option. The only option. He didn’t even look at her. He just turned and walked out. But not before he stopped at the door and told me I’d never get so far that I’d be out of his reach.”
Just like he’d promised me.
How sick this meant more to him than anything else.
“He would have found a way with or without you being in the middle of it,” she begged, eyes searching my face, and her feet bringing her another step closer.
Maybe he’d been waiting. But I’d served him the ammunition on a silver platter.
I gripped the smooth wooden railing where I stood on the third step down. “You want to know what Anthony just told me, Shea? Why CPS showed up here and took her? They took her because of me. Because they believe I’m dangerous and because of that, Kallie is at risk.”