I understood that she was delusional, as always.
“Nannette, if I start sleeping in Harlow’s bed, there ain’t a damn thing you can do about it. So back the f**k off. It’s over. I’m tired of being your backup.”
The boiling rage implicit in her silence made me smile. I liked pissing her off.
For so long I had just wanted to make her smile. I had wanted to save her from herself. But she’d made sure to destroy all those feelings in me. Sleeping with one man after another and rubbing it in my face, then calling me the moment she needed someone. I had let her use me, and slowly it had eaten away at me. Being needed was something I thought I wanted. I thought it would make me feel like I had a purpose. What I hadn’t realized was I had become Nan’s bitch. That was a sour pill to swallow. Backing out of her life hadn’t been easy, but once I had managed to kill my feelings for her and accept that she was bitter and angry, and that I could never change that, I had been a happier person. Sleeping with her when I was drunk was just easy. I knew what to expect in the morning. I knew I was no longer in danger of falling in love with her.
“Is this because I’m screwing around with August? You’re being childish. I told you I just wanted to do the friends with benefits thing for a while. I don’t like serious, and you wanted serious.”
I’d been f**king insane. She’d saved us both from hell—I should thank her for that.
“I’m bored, Nannette. The benefits thing is over. We’re in the past. I don’t want it from you anymore. You can f**k whomever the hell you want to, and I’m okay with that. Hell, if he needs a condom I’ll tell him where I left my stash.”
Nan squeaked in disbelief. “You think she’s sweet and pretty, but that’ll get old, too. She’s uptight and boring. When you’re done trying to f**k Harlow, don’t come running back to me when you realize it wasn’t worth the effort.”
I didn’t take the bait. She was fishing. I wasn’t stupid and I wasn’t about to give her anything to throw in Harlow’s face later. Nan played games. Mean, brutal games.
“Who I decide to spend time with is my business. I’m not yours, Nan. Never was. Now, if you’re done I have important things to get to.”
“Where are you?!” she screamed into the phone.
“Not in Rosemary,” I replied, then hung up the phone and dropped it. Nan had been a hard lesson to learn. She was the kind of girl her father had warned me about. Loving Nan would only lead to disaster. Good thing I never really fell in love with her . . .
My phone rang again before I could think too much about Nan.
This time it was Rush.
“Hey,” I said, thankful for someone I could actually talk to.
“Just talked to Dad,” was his only reply.
“Yeah. It’s f**ked up. I’m headed there now. She wanted to go alone but I want to be there when she leaves.”
“You and her talk things out before all this shit happened?”
We talked it out, all right. We talked it out in ways I hadn’t expected.
“Yeah, we did. We weren’t done but then Dean dropped this on her and she was gone.”
“I’m having a hard time believing this, and it ain’t even my momma. I can’t imagine Harlow is handling this well. She seems so breakable.”
I pushed back the possessiveness that rose up in me. Thinking about Harlow being breakable upset me. I didn’t want to think about that. Not when I wasn’t there to catch her.
“Not gonna lie. I’m pissed at your dad. He just blurted it out—no preparation or anything. That kind of shit needs to be eased into. He didn’t ease into it.”
Rush sighed. “Yeah, well, he’s not exactly good with words. He just says what he’s thinking.”
That excuse wasn’t enough for me. Dean was on my shit list.
“Nan is looking for you,” Rush said.
“She called me,” I replied. This was not something I wanted to talk about with him. Nan wasn’t one of my favorite people but she was still his family.
“She’ll eat Harlow alive. Be careful.”
Not what I expected him to say but I agreed.
“I know. I won’t let Harlow get hurt.”
“If you do then Kiro will never accept Nan. She needs him to accept her. She might not deserve it, but she needs it.”
I should have known his concern was more for Nan than Harlow.
“I won’t let her near Harlow,” was my only response.
“It would be nice if you wanted into the panties of someone who isn’t Kiro’s offspring. Less complicated.”
I just laughed. Yeah, it would be, but Harlow . . . well, she was Harlow.
“You can’t go in there looking like that,” Dad said as he entered the room. “You’ll scare her.”
I lifted my tear-streaked face to see my father. I would never see him the same way again. No matter how many girls he screwed around with and how many crude things he did or said. All I would be able to see was the man in there holding my mother’s hand.
“I came here angry. At you. At Grandmama. But now, I’m just . . .” I shrugged. I couldn’t say heartbroken. I didn’t want him to know his pain had shattered my heart.
“I was protecting her. You were a kid. You wouldn’t have been able to understand, and you would have upset her. I couldn’t let that happen, Harlow. I love you, kid. I’ve always loved you. You are the only piece I have of the woman I met and fell completely in love with. But she’s still here, even if that spirit is gone. And I’ll protect her with my life. She’ll always come first. Even before you.”
I just nodded, because I got it. Before I arrived, I’d thought there was nothing he could say that would prevent me from hating him. What I hadn’t expected was that all it would take was to see him with her. He hadn’t needed to say a word to me.
“How often do you come see her?” I asked.
Dad walked over to the fireplace and leaned against the stone. “Three, four times a week.”
“And that’s why you left Vegas? Because you’re about to leave the States on tour?”
He frowned. “She doesn’t do well when I’m on tour. The doctors have to sedate her some days because she gets so agitated. She needs me. She may not be the woman, mentally, that I fell in love with but her heart knows who I am. She wants me close. I can’t do that again. Seeing her smile when I walk into her room makes everything else less important.”
I would not cry again. He didn’t want my tears. I was sure he had cried enough for both of us over the years.
“The band needs you. Maybe you can just fly back a few times and visit so it makes it easier on her.”
He nodded. “I’ve been thinking about that. I just don’t know if it’ll be enough.”
I couldn’t stand here and tell him to sing for millions of strangers when his heart was in that room with my mother. It wasn’t my place. I didn’t understand his torment. I never would. I hadn’t lived it.
“I know I can’t let the guys down. They need me. But this is my last tour. I’ve decided I can’t keep doing this. I want to be home. I want to be close to her.”
“I’m sorry, Daddy,” I choked out because I didn’t know what else to say.
His eyes lifted from where he had fixed them on the floor and he looked at me.
I bit my lip and sucked in a sob and prayed no tears would fall. “For losing her.”
A sad smile touched his lips.
“I used to be sorry. Hell, I used to hate the world. I hated life. But then I’d see you and I knew I had to live. You shouldn’t have lived, but you did. She would want me to live, for you. For the baby girl her love had saved. I also knew she wouldn’t want you in my life if I was going to continue being Kiro. She would want you to grow up in the house she grew up in with the mother she adored. So I did what I knew she would want. And you grew up to be her spitting image, inside and out. I get accused of loving you more than my other kids, and I do. I f**king do. You’re mine and Emmy’s. I didn’t love Georgianna—she was a groupie. I didn’t love Maryann—she was just a fling. So no, I don’t love their kids the way I should. I only have one heart, and your mother takes up most of it. I don’t have a lot of room left for anyone else. You’re the only one I would even consider making room for.”
I knew he loved Mase. The jury was still out on Nan. But I also knew he was trying to tell me that my mother was and would always be his heart.
I stood up and walked over to him. I wrapped my arms around his waist and laid my head on his chest. I didn’t say anything. I had no words.
His arms slowly came around me. “I never meant to hurt you by keeping her from you. But it’s what I had to do. I know you’re all grown up now, but when I look at you I still see my little girl in pigtails. Every time I tried to tell you, I got high instead. I wasn’t brave enough to hurt you. I hope you can forgive me and your grandmama. She agreed with me that you didn’t need to know about your mother until you were grown. You were sick, baby, and I knew I couldn’t lose you, too. That would have destroyed me.”
I tightened my hold on him and buried my face in his chest and sobbed quietly. I couldn’t hate him for this. It wasn’t fair, but I understood. “I love you,” I told him.
“I love you, too. And that woman in there adored you. She never left your side when you were in the hospital. She believed you were our special gift. I remember the look on her face when you took your first step. You were her angel from heaven, and when I lost her I knew I had to protect you.”
I closed my eyes tightly and fought off the tears. I wanted to get control of myself so I could go back in there and see her again. When my sobs finally eased and my tears dried up, I gazed up at my dad. “Can I go back in there?”
He reached up and wiped my face then nodded. “Of course.”
Aphone call from Dean had gotten me past the large iron gates of Manor in the Hills. I didn’t intend to go inside. I just wanted to park and wait on Harlow to come outside. She’d been here at least two hours by now. I closed the car door and stepped around the front of the car so I could see the front doors. When she came out, I would be here.
If she didn’t want to see me, fine. I’d just follow the limo back to Vegas. But if she needed me, I was available. I was stupid enough to think that because I had gotten her to f**k me in a bathroom, all was forgiven. I still had a lot to prove to her. And if she would give me a chance I’d always be there when she needed it.
I hadn’t been waiting but ten minutes when the door to the Manor opened and Harlow walked out. From here, I could see she’d been crying. I made my way toward her. She didn’t notice me at first. She was wiping her eyes and walking down the steps when I made it to the bottom. Her eyes lifted and widened when she saw me standing there. This was it. She was going to yell at me to leave or she was going to—
Harlow ran down the stairs and threw herself into my arms and began sobbing. I held her against my chest tightly and closed my eyes. I was immediately thankful I’d come. I’d been right. She needed me.
I didn’t ask. I just let her cry and held her. Both her hands grabbed fistfuls of my T-shirt as her body shook. My chest ached with each pitiful noise that came from her. I wanted to fix this. I wanted to go inside and fix anything that upset her, but how the hell did I fix this? I couldn’t.
“He . . . he brushes her hair,” she said as a sob racked her body again.
He brushes her hair. What? Was she talking about her dad? I didn’t ask. I just let her talk.
“She smiles at him,” she choked out.
Yes, she was talking about her dad. I tried to imagine Kiro brushing a woman’s hair, one who couldn’t speak or move. It didn’t seem like those two things went together. I couldn’t see Kiro brushing anyone’s hair but his own, and that was rare.
“Oh, God, Grant, my heart hurts so bad. He’s so sweet with her. It’s like there’s this man I never knew existed. She can’t do anything. Nothing. I don’t even know if she even understands what he’s saying, but he talks to her like she understands everything. He still loves her. Completely. And he gets nothing in return.”
I glanced up at the mansion in front of me and tried to imagine what she was telling me, but I couldn’t. I’d seen Kiro f**k a woman on his pool table who I was pretty sure was barely nineteen. He was drinking vodka straight out of the bottle and smoking a joint at the same time as he did this. It was forever burned in my thirteen-year-old brain.
I held Harlow and ran my hand down over her hair, trying to soothe her even if it was impossible. She didn’t say anything else. Finally her sobbing eased off and she let go of my shirt and smoothed it out where she had wrinkled it. Not that I gave a shit. She could have the shirt if she wanted it.
“You’re here,” she finally said, looking up at me with a wet face that was still breathtakingly beautiful. How did she do that? Always so damn perfect. She made it hard on a man.
“I thought you might need someone.”
She gave me a shaky smile. “You were right.”
I reached up and wiped away the tears still clinging to her cheeks with my thumbs. “If you ever need me, I’m here,” I told her.
She sighed and closed her eyes briefly. “That doesn’t help,” she said.
“Why?” I thought having me at her beck and call would be pretty damn helpful.
“I’m trying to keep you at arm’s length. Being sweet makes it hard.”