Home > Show Me the Way (Fight for Me #1)(7)

Show Me the Way (Fight for Me #1)(7)
Author: A.L. Jackson

I swallowed back the fear. The terror that one day it might steal her from me, too.

“You made me breakfast?” I asked, voice groggy, my touch tender as I brushed her too-long bangs back from her innocent face. “That’s awful nice of you, thinking of your daddy first thing in the morning.”

She giggled. “Of course I thinks about you, Daddy. And I made a whole big bowl, ’cause Grammy says you could eat a whole cow.”

“Oh, she did, huh?”

She nodded emphatically, her eyes going wide when I hopped up and tossed her over my shoulder. Frankie roared with laughter, the kid dressed in shorts and a tee with that same damned hot pink tutu around her waist.

So fuckin’ cute.

“That Grammy is going to be in big, big trouble when I see her today,” I teased my daughter, who was bouncing on my shoulder as I started running with her down the hall.

She squealed, kicking her feet and holding on to me for dear life. “Oh, no, don’t tell Grammy! It’s our secret.”

“I thought you said you were good at keeping secrets?”

Damn it.

The last thing I needed to do was bring up the conversation she’d had with Rynna yesterday. Just the mention of that woman had fantasies slamming me from all sides. Her face and her hair and that body.

Sweet, mouthwatering sugar.

I’d thought maybe the morning would have scraped the idea of her from my consciousness.

No such luck.

I shoved off the thoughts, refusing to give them voice. That was right when I came to an abrupt stop when I entered the kitchen I’d just finished remodeling.

Frankie scrambled upright, pushing those unruly locks from her face with both hands, a hopeful smile plastered on her face. “I mights have spilled a little milk, Daddy. Is that okay? I’m gonna clean it all gone, but I didn’t want your cereal to get all gross and swoggy. Bleh.”

Her nose scrunched, and her lips turned down as if she’d tasted something sour.

I frowned when I saw a “little” milk was actually the entire gallon minus what she’d managed to pour into the cereal bowl. A pool of white swam between the small table set for two and the refrigerator against the far wall, the emptied plastic container floating in the middle of it.

Her shoulders went to her ears, her voice quieting. “Is you mad?”

Hugging her close, I pecked a kiss to her chubby cheek. “Of course, I’m not mad. We’re just gonna have to get you to the gym with me so we can start building up these muscles.” I lightly squeezed her tiny bicep. “How’s that sound? You ready to start pumping some iron? Before you know it, you’ll be as strong as The Hulk.”

She giggled like it was the funniest thing she’d ever heard. “The Incwedible Hulk? You’re crazy, Daddy. I’m gonna be Wonder Woman. Don’t you know I’m a girl?”

She threw both her arms in the air before she started shimmying down my body, getting free of my hold, and heading straight for the drawer where we kept the dishtowels. She climbed up the step stool so she could reach it, that smile lighting up the whole room when she looked over at me. “Right, Daddy? Can I be the best dancer in the whole world and Wonder Woman?”

I crossed the kitchen to help her clean up the mess. “Yeah, Tiny Dancer, you can be whatever you want to be.”

I’d make sure of it.

Because she was the single wonder of my life.

I’d do whatever it took to keep her that way.

5

Rynna

Sunlight poured in through the long row of dark tinted windows that overlooked the bustling street. It struck the murky space like a blazing orb of fire against the quiet darkness that held fast to the silenced space, the light still muted in the far reaches of the restaurant.

It left the space filled with a dim hue of warmth, the atmosphere an intricate dance of peace and regret and the remnants of my lingering fear.

Lovingly, I dragged my fingertips through the layer of dust that had gathered on the bar, exposing the shiny white counter hiding underneath.

Buried, but not forgotten.

Yearning pulsed through my being, my spirit full and my heart heavy, that lump at the base of my throat prominent as I slowly wandered through the old diner-style restaurant that for so long had been the center of my life.

How many days had I spent at this counter? A little girl coloring and painting who turned into a teenager studying for the SAT?

How many mornings had I been there before dawn, standing on the step stool so I could see over the counter back in the kitchen? I’d watch in awe as my grandmother would mix the ingredients, helping her pour them into the bowl, my arm straining as I’d followed her instructions and pressed the dough into pie crusts. The whole time I would quietly listen to her chatting about life, the woman so easily relating everything to the pies she made.

How much life had buzzed in the bustling diner, the families that had gathered in the booths and the old men who’d sat at the bar with their tall tales to tell?

That life had been silenced, but it wasn’t gone. I could feel it. Bated, but simmering. Trembling all around where it was restrained, pressing and vying to be freed.

Waiting for someone to believe in it again.

For someone to breathe that life back into its walls.

And Gramma had somehow put her faith in me that I would be the one to do it.

Even after I’d run like a coward.

I just prayed I could live up to her belief.

I jumped when the old bell jingled above the door and someone called, “Knock, knock.”

Heart leaping to my throat, I spun around. I did my best to beat down the jolt of fear that had taken hold. My eyes narrowed as I tried to make out the two figures in the doorway.

They stepped forward, coming into view in the dimmed light of the diner.

Two women.

Their faces unfamiliar, but both had to be around my age, maybe twenty-eight or thirty. One was dressed in something like I would have worn to the office back in San Francisco. A perfectly fitted pencil skirt, blouse, and heels, her black hair done up in an intricate twist. The other was more casually dressed in trendy jeans and a flowy tee, her hair cropped and messy.

Dusting off my hands on my jeans, I walked their direction. “Can I help you?”

“You must be Corrine Dayne’s granddaughter.”

I gave a slight nod.

“We heard you were coming into town,” she said. “I hope we’re not intruding, but we wanted to introduce ourselves. I’m Lillith Redd.” The woman in heels stepped forward with a welcoming smile and pushed her hand out in front of her.

I rounded the corner and shook her hand. “It’s nice to meet you, Lillith. I’m Rynna.”

The other woman laughed. “Ah, forget that ‘Lillith’ nonsense.” She hooked her thumb in her friend’s direction. “This one right here goes by Lily Pad. Don’t fall for that suit-wearing, straightlaced attorney vibe she’s rockin’. She’s actually kind of a wild child when you get to know her. And we finally get to meet the Rynna Dayne, not to be confused with Grandma Corinne. I pretty much feel like we’re already best friends since your grandma never stopped talking about you. I’m Nikki Walters.”

There was a kind, playful confidence about her, no hesitation when she reached out to take my hand.

Confidence.

Right then, I scrambled within myself to find it. To remember who I’d become in the years I’d been away. The strength and boldness I’d found. It was crazy how coming back to this town incited the instinct to cower and hide. “It’s really nice to meet you, Nikki.”

I glanced between the two of them. “So, you two knew my grandmother?”

It actually felt nice to find someone other than Frankie and her dad who remembered my grandmother. The fact I was there by myself and facing this alone was beginning to set in. That loneliness growing bigger with each second that passed.

It didn’t help Rex Gunner had quite literally slammed a door in my face last night.

Standing on his porch like a fool as I’d offered myself up, only to have him so callously reject me, had stung. I wanted to hate him. To think him nothing but a jerk. But I couldn’t.

Maybe it was the way my grandmother had raised me. To slow down and look deeper. Beyond the surface and the shallow to what was concealed underneath.

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