Grant started to walk toward me and so did Mase. “Stop. Both of you. Don’t come near me. I need to be alone. I want to go alone. Just stay,” I demanded. I didn’t wait for their response. I turned and headed for the door.
I had to get to that limo. If this was true, then it changed everything. My father had lied to me my entire life, and my grandmama. How could I trust anyone?
How could they keep my mother from me?
Ihad never felt this helpless. The door slammed behind Harlow as she fled the suite. She didn’t want me with her. She didn’t want Mase. She was just going alone. How the f**k was she supposed to deal with this alone?
I glared back at Dean. “I can’t believe this shit!” I roared, wanting to throw something. “You just blurted out that her mother was alive and in a special home with no preparation? What the f**k were you thinking?”
“What he said,” Mase said in an angry growl.
Dean sank down onto the chair behind him. “What was I supposed to do? Kiro won’t leave. When it finally dawned on me where he might be, I called the place and sure enough he was there. He said he wasn’t going on tour. He wasn’t leaving her that long. She gets anxious and difficult if too many days go by and he doesn’t come to see her. The doctors say she expects it. If she doesn’t see him then she gets upset.”
I walked over to the windows overlooking Vegas. How did he survive this? Seeing the woman he obviously still loved, knowing she would never talk to him again? It seemed almost worse than death.
“Someone should have told her before now. She’s twenty years old! She’s been robbed of knowing her mother her entire life!” Mase sounded as if he was ready to put his fist through a wall.
“Kiro was afraid seeing her like that would upset Harlow, and Harlow would, in return, upset her mother. He does everything he can to protect Emily. The media have never gotten ahold of this story. No one knows about her but us. To everyone else, she’s simply dead. Kiro loves Harlow, but when it comes to protecting her mother he will do anything and everything. No matter the cost. Even denying Harlow the opportunity to see her. But you’re right. It’s past time someone told her. Kiro should have told her.”
I couldn’t just stand here and wait on her. I couldn’t be left to wonder if she was okay after meeting her mother for the first time. I looked back at both men. “I’m going.”
“What? You’re just leaving? What happens when she comes back? You not ready to face that?” Mase asked, glaring at me.
“I’m going to her. I’m not leaving her. Someone needs to be there when she meets her mother.”
Mase’s angry expression changed to one of respect. He nodded. “Good.”
I didn’t ask if he wanted to come. I didn’t want him to. Three was a f**king crowd.
When I walked into the large white home, which could only be described as a mansion, I was met at the door by a lady in a nurse’s uniform. “Can I help you, Miss?” she asked, not allowing me to enter the building.
Apparently The Manor in the Hills was harder to get into than a military base. I had shown the man at the gate my ID and Social Security card. It had taken him ten minutes to make a phone call and discuss my information before opening the tall iron gates that surrounded the place.
“I’m Harlow Manning. My father is here . . . and . . . my mother,” I replied. Saying that my mother was here felt strange. I’d had plenty of time during the ride to process all of this. Part of me understood why Dad and Grandmama had done this, but the other part of me hated them for it. It was like being robbed of something you could never get back.
The lady used the mini iPad in her hand to type in something. I assumed it was my name. “I will need to see your ID, please.”
Again? Really? I pulled my wallet out of my purse and handed her my driver’s license. She looked from me to the picture several times then typed in the info from my card and waited. After what seemed like forever she finally stepped back.
“Regina,” she called for one of the ladies behind the desk. “Please take her to Mrs. Manning’s room. Mr. Manning is in there and he’s expecting her arrival.”
So my dad knew I was here. Good.
I followed Regina through an area that looked like the lobby of a five-star hotel. We stopped at the elevator and she pressed in a code. The doors opened and we stepped inside.
Regina then put in another code before locking her gaze on me. “Whatever you do, do not upset Mrs. Manning. Mr. Manning’s presence keeps her calm, but if at any time she feels threatened, she gets very agitated and we have to sedate her. Mr. Manning hates that.”
My heart was beating rapidly in my chest. I was nervous. I hadn’t been nervous until now. Knowing I was about to see my mother and that she would be this . . . person . . . not like the smiling woman in the pictures . . . unresponsive . . . Was I ready for this?
And my dad. The way everyone described him with her didn’t sound like him at all. Kiro Manning did not get emotional. He screwed girls my age and he drank too much. He didn’t sit by a woman’s bedside and take care of her. It was as if I had walked into another life.
The doors opened and I followed Regina into the hallway. There was only one door on this floor. I wasn’t surprised. Dad didn’t do normal. Regina walked up to the door and knocked twice, then waited.
When the door opened I saw my father standing there. His hair hadn’t been brushed in what looked like days, and he also hadn’t shaved. He was wearing one of his tight T-shirts and a pair of jeans that were too tight for the average forty-five-year-old man. But he was Kiro. It was expected of him.
“Thank you, Regina. You may leave us,” he said in a defeated tone.
I just stood there and stared at him. I didn’t know this man. He looked like my dad but he also looked broken. I had never seen him look broken.
“I told her you were coming. I tell her about you every time I visit, so she knows about you. I think she’s excited to see you but I need you to be calm. Do not show emotion; it will upset her. Do not discuss this shit in front of her; she will get upset and I don’t want her f**king upset. I hate it when I can’t calm her. I hate those motherfuckers and their damn needles getting near her. So you stay calm. You keep your questions to yourself and we will talk where she can’t hear us. I know you’re angry; I can see it in your eyes. But understand me: no one upsets Emmy. No one. Not even you. I won’t allow it.”
The fierce, protective look in his eyes was something I had never seen. The emotion in my chest wasn’t something I wanted to examine right now. This was a side of my father I had never known.
“Okay,” I said simply.
He nodded and stepped back. I walked into the room and it was as elaborate as the rest of the place. A chandelier hung in the entrance. Tall windows straight ahead were framed with elaborate crown molding.
“This way,” he said as we walked past a tall, marble fireplace and white leather-tufted sofas that set off a seating area. We entered another room, and this time my attention wasn’t on the décor; my eyes fell on a sheet of long, dark hair, which looked as if it had just been brushed. It draped over the back of what I assumed was a wheelchair, though it was unlike any I’d ever seen; it was made of soft, tufted leather, though the wheels were unmistakable. It faced tall picture windows, which looked out over rolling hills and a stream that ran nearby.
My father walked over to her and picked up a brush that was sitting on a chair beside her. Had he been brushing her hair before I arrived?
“Emmy, sweetheart, remember I told you that Harlow was coming to visit? She’s a big girl now. She’s very excited to see you. I’ve brushed your hair and you look beautiful.”
Was that my father talking? Never in my life had I ever heard him speak in that tone. All I could do was stare at him. This wasn’t Kiro. This wasn’t my dad. My dad didn’t talk that way. He didn’t brush women’s hair. He had never even brushed my hair as a child.
He looked up at me, then slowly turned my mother’s chair around to face me. My heart slammed hard against my chest. Breathing became difficult again, and I feared I was about to have a panic attack. This was too much. I was expected to remain calm, but how could I? This was my mother.
My eyes locked with hers. I held my breath as I slowly took in the woman in front of me. I had seen her pictures, and I could still see that same young woman in the one in front of me. She was cared for well. There was a vacancy in her eyes that couldn’t be ignored, but what looked like a smile touched her lips.
“Hello,” I said. I couldn’t say “mother.” I didn’t know her. The woman I had always thought of as my mother was an image of a young woman with laughing hazel eyes and a big smile. One that was full of life. That was my mother. This woman . . . she wasn’t someone I knew.
“Harlow, this is your mother, Emily. Emmy, this is Harlow. Remember that sweet baby girl you held? We look at her pictures and talk about the things we did and places we went? She was too small when she was born, and we were so scared we would lose her. But we didn’t. You loved her too much to let her die. You did a good job, honey. She’s all grown up now.”
Emily Manning continued to stare at me. I wanted to accept that she was the woman in the photos I’d spent my childhood staring at and daydreaming about. But then that broke my heart even more. The happy, vibrant woman was gone. This was what was left.
“She’s old enough to come see you now. Would you like that? If I brought her here with me sometimes?” Dad asked as he pulled the chair up beside her and held her hand in his. “I think it would make you smile more. You know I love to see you smile.”
This wasn’t happening. I was asleep. Nothing seemed real.
“Come over here so she can see you better, Harlow. She doesn’t do well with far distances,” my dad said without taking his eyes off Emily’s face.
I was afraid to argue with him. It was obvious he would move heaven and earth to make sure she was happy. I sure didn’t want to be the one to upset her.
I walked over to her, and she followed my every move with her eyes. Her eyelashes batted quickly and she made a grunting noise.
“That’s close enough,” Dad said. “Don’t make her nervous.”
“She looks like you. Can you see that? She has your beautiful mouth and hands. And her hair—that’s all you. God knows mine is shit,” he told her affectionately.
Her body leaned over toward Dad. I wasn’t sure if she just slipped or if she was trying to get closer to him. “It’s okay. See, I have you right here with me. I wouldn’t let anyone in here hurt you, would I? You know I take care of my favorite girl,” he said, pressing a kiss to her head.
The emotion in my chest exploded and I understood it now. This wasn’t about me. This wasn’t about what I had been denied. The bitterness of betrayal faded to sorrow in that moment. Not for me—not because I hadn’t been given a chance to know my mom—but for my dad. Tears pricked my eyes and I knew I was going to cry. He was killing me. His devotion and obvious love for her was breaking me in two.
“I need to go into the other room a moment,” I told him as my eyes filled with tears.
“Go on,” he said as he turned Emily back around to face him.
“We’re going to let her get a drink and rest. She’s traveled a long way to see you today,” I heard him explaining to her. Did she even understand him? Was he just talking to her to make himself feel better because he missed her so much?
By the time I walked into the sitting room area, tears were streaming down my face. I covered my mouth to hold in the sound of my sobbing. My strong, hard, powerful father, who loved to tell the world “fuck you” and live like he had no worries, was sitting in there holding my mother’s hand and treating her like a queen. As if she were the most precious thing in this world. I had always known he loved her. He made sure everyone knew that the day he lost her marked him for life. But the scene I’d just witnessed? Oh, God, my heart hurt so much.
People saw him as a legend. He had it all. They worshipped him. Yet none of them knew. I hadn’t known. I had always seen him as strong and impossible to hurt. I knew that wasn’t true anymore. That illusion was gone. My father hurt. He hurt more than I could have ever imagined.
I sank down onto the sofa and buried my face in my hands and cried. I cried for the woman in there whose life was cut too short. I cried for the little girl who never got to know her. But mostly I cried for the man who would always love her, even if she would never again be the one he fell in love with.
The moment I got into the rental car my phone rang. I reached for it and saw Nan’s name on the screen. I started to ignore it but decided it was time to deal with her. I wasn’t going to hide the fact I was seeing Harlow. Besides, she was with August.
“Yeah,” I said. She must’ve had some reason for calling, so I’d let her get that out.
“Where are you?” she demanded.
“Because Harlow’s gone, you’re gone, and Mase is gone. Where the f**k are you?”
“You need to keep up with your roomies better,” I drawled, bored already by this conversation.
I needed a cigarette whenever I talked to her. I was doing good. I hadn’t had a smoke in two months. I wasn’t about to let Nan send me backpedaling.
“I don’t give a shit where those two are but I want to know if you’re with them. I won’t let that happen. Do you understand me?”