The angry part of me wanted to tell Preach to go fuck himself when he offered me his home. I had no love for holy men like him. As if he sensed that, he had rolled up his sleeves to show me his heavily tattooed arms. He’d given me his story—the good, the bad, and the ugly—and I never looked back. I once again returned to Preach’s house. He then legally adopted me, and I became the oldest of the Malloy boys. For the most part, Rev and Bishop didn’t give me too much shit. Sure, we got into a few scuffles and scrapes. You can’t add in a teenager to a family with a nine- and six-year-old and not expect problems.
Mama Beth’s small hand on my shoulder brought me back into the present. “Speak to me, son.”
I pulled away to stare into her questioning eyes. “Lacey is dead. Murdered.”
A tiny gasp escaped her lips. It had been five years since Lacey had been a part of my life, but Mama Beth knew her significance. “I’m so sorry.”
“There’s more,” I croaked.
“Sit down, honey,” she instructed, leading us over to the couch. Once I collapsed down on the worn sofa, I put my head in my hands.
“She had a daughter. … I have a daughter.”
Mama Beth reached over to take my chin in her fingers. She tilted my head to where I had to look at her. She cocked her brows at me, silently urging me to keep talking. “With Lacey gone, she’s my responsibility. Hell, my name is right there on the birth certificate. But the worst thing …” I raked a shaky hand through my hair. “The kid looks just like me.”
Blues eyes narrowed dangerously at me. “The worst thing? Don’t ever let me hear you talk negatively about this child again. You were blessed to create a life, David. There are many people in the world who are never granted that gift.”
My mouth dropped open, and I couldn’t help staring at Mama Beth like she had lost her mind. I had just told her the greatest nightmare of my life had come true, and she was giving me shit because I wasn’t dancing in the streets with happiness. She knew just as well as I did that I had no fucking business being a father. Anger that had started bubbling inside me welled over, and I reached a breaking point. “But don’t you get it? I don’t want her!” I protested, rising off the couch.
“I don’t think that’s an option.”
I shook my head. “I cannot be a father.”
With a mirthless laugh, she replied, “You are her father.”
“By DNA, I’m her father, but I’m not the kind of man to be a parent.”
“What you mean is, you’re too selfish and scared to take responsibility for your actions.”
I threw my hands up. “Oh no, don’t hang that shit on me. There is no way I can provide a stable environment for this kid.”
Crossing her arms over her chest, Mama Beth challenged, “And just what are you suggesting?”
“I’ll take her down to Child Protective Services and put her up for adoption. Hell, she’d be much better off with two parents.”
“And how well did foster care work for you?”
My fists clenched at my sides, and it took everything within me not to pick up the statue of Jesus on the coffee table and hurl it at the wall. Trying to keep a lid on my emotions, I breathed in and out several times. No matter how pissed I was, I would not disrespect my mother in her home by flying off the handle. “Things might work out better for her,” I finally replied.
Sweeping one of her hands to her hip, Mama Beth wagged a finger in my face. “You listen to me, David Malloy. I will not let my granddaughter be put up for … adoption.” She spat out the last word like it was the most despicable thing she could imagine. Shaking her head, she added, “Not as long as I have a breath left within me.”
I raised my brows at the ferocity of her statement and tone. She might have been slight of stature, but in that moment, I knew she meant business. “What are you suggesting? Raising her yourself? If that’s your decision, don’t be thinking I’m going to help out.”
“Sit down, David,” she commanded. Always the obedient boy in her presence, I took a seat again. She drew in a ragged breath before speaking. “My heart has been so very heavy with the wayward path you have been on. No matter how much love your brothers and I give, you still remain isolated and untouchable.” She shook her head. “If you can’t give and receive love, you’re not really living.” I opened my mouth to protest, but she wagged a finger at me again. “You’re almost thirty years old, David. You’ve wasted so many years on deadly sins. It’s time you found true peace in your life.”
“And you think raising this kid is going to do that?” I snapped.
“She will teach you to love selflessly.”
“I do love selflessly.”
Mama Beth tightened her lips, giving me one of her no-nonsense looks, like she knew I was bullshitting both her and myself. “I don’t think I can do this,” I muttered.
“But I know you can.”
At the sound of a throat clearing, I glanced up. Rev was framed in the doorway holding Willow’s hand. She tucked herself close to his side, and I could only imagine what he had done to win her over. Great. My kid liked my fucking brother better than me. “Mrs. Martinez left. I’ve got the prospects bringing in Willow’s things.”
“To the clubhouse?”
Rev nodded. “I figured we could put one of the cots in your room there for the night. Then tomorrow we could get her a proper bed for here at the house.” With a smile, he gazed down at Willow. “You pick out anything you want, sweetheart. We’ll get you whatever colors you love the most. You name it, and it’s yours.”
Willow didn’t say a word. Instead, she gave Rev a shy smile and squeezed his hand. At what must’ve been my confused expression, Rev shook his head. “Mrs. Martinez said Willow hasn’t spoken since her mother—” He stopped when a small tremor went through Willow’s body. With his eyes, Rev answered the question that was running through my mind.
Fuck. Willow had seen Lacey die. Not only did I have a motherless kid, but I had one who was so mentally fucked-up from what she had seen that she’d stopped talking. Christ, the last thing she needed was me and my world. She needed some parents like off Little House on the Prairie and some serious therapy.
Breaking the silence, Rev swung Willow’s arm, where it was clasped in his hand, back and forth playfully. “But that doesn’t matter to us. Willow, you can talk when you want to. Right, guys?”
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