April sat on the couch with her face in her hands, crying. She jumped to her feet when I tore open the door. Tears soaked her plain face, plain brown eyes dulled and dimmed. Like maybe she got it, too. Why I couldn’t stay and break Shea any more than I already had.
“Sebastian…see me!” The tortured cry erupting from Shea’s mouth nearly dropped me to my knees. I slammed the door shut behind me and rushed out into the waning storm.
The sky was dark and ominous.
It felt like a warning of what was to be.
PAIN ENGULFED ME. IT crashed in from every side, pummeling and beating and battering until I was being swept away by the vicious undertow.
I gasped over the sorrow, and I grappled at the railing in an attempt to stay upright when my body almost gave.
I felt as if I were shattering. Splintering. My soul fragmenting as it screamed for the pieces that had been ripped away.
Fear consumed me.
What did Martin want with her?
Why now, after all this time?
Without him, I no longer knew how to breathe.
Warily, April looked at me where I held onto the railing at the bottom of the stairs. Her wide, frightened eyes were stained red, cheeks wet with her own misery.
“I can’t believe this is happening,” she whispered, as if she didn’t want to speak the words, because if she did, it would make them real.
But I could. I’d always known. No amount of lies or hiding or pretending could have kept this day from coming to pass.
Martin Jennings had been sitting back, lying in wait for the perfect opportunity to strike. The precise time to swoop in and tear my world apart. The circumstances didn’t matter. Martin had promised he would find a way to make me pay.
And now I was paying the greatest price.
My head spun, my entire being reeling with the aftermath of everything he threatened to take from me.
Kallie. My baby girl.
Hadn’t Martin already taken enough?
“He would never have just let me go.” The raspy words scraped like razors up my sore throat.
Her voice was small. Scared. Just like me. “What do we do?”
A flurry of adrenaline whipped through me. A frenzy fueled by the fear and resolution to do anything and everything I had to do—just like I had before. I lifted my chin. “We fight.”
She swiped under her eyes and laughed a soggy laugh that held zero humor. “I can’t believe I almost forgot about him. So much time has passed and I’d pretended he didn’t exist…it felt like he didn’t.”
And I was to blame. Pretending was so much easier than living with constant anxiety. So much easier than waiting for the switch to flip, for the shoe to drop, for my world to implode like it’d done tonight.
I’d let Sebastian believe there was no one there to claim Kallie. No father to love her or protect her or stand by her side. There was. But Martin would never do any of those things. No. He didn’t love. He used and manipulated and abused.
A rush of nausea swam in my belly as my mind flashed to Kallie’s trusting face. Only this time, that face was painted in terror and confusion and desolation.
That sickness coiled like an agitated asp with the thought of her being at his mercy. Because mercy was something Martin Jennings did not grant. There was no doubt in my mind he cared absolutely nothing about her. He viewed her as an obstacle he couldn’t pass, as hard as he’d tried to get her out of his way.
Now my daughter was subject to his malicious will.
Sorrow squeezed my chest.
I hated I’d hurt Sebastian.
Hated I’d hidden it from him for so long.
Hated most I’d allowed that monster to steal away my baby girl.
April cast me the saddest of smiles and then dropped her attention to the side. “I know I don’t have much to offer, but I’ll be here, Shea, fighting with you, until we bring her home.”
Tears streaked down my face. “Don’t ever say that. You have always been the sanity in all of this. Supporting Kallie and me in every way. I’m not sure I would have made it without you.”
She shook her head, eyes blurry and unfocused as they drifted to the far wall. “All the time I’ve lived here with you and Kallie, I hoped you’d find a guy who would fall head over heels in love with you. With both of you. Someone kind yet strong. Someone who would always stand by your side and do whatever it took to make you happy.”
With her focus still faraway, she sucked in her bottom lip.
“When I found Sebastian in our kitchen that morning…I instantly disliked him. I didn’t trust him. I was sure he wasn’t anything but trouble.”
She gave a fierce, regretful shake of her head. “I just knew he was going to hurt you. I was scared because I saw the way you looked at him. I figured he wasn’t anything but a player out looking for fun while he passed time in Savannah.”