Maddie watched as both of Thyne's large hands came up to capture their daughter's. "Thyne Reynolds Jackson, at your service," he managed to recover nicely, bowing at the waist as he bent to kiss the child's knuckles.
Jackie giggled as she replied, "It's a pleasure to meet you, Mister Jackson."
Her mother huffed and mumbled, "At least, you have managed to teach the little monster some manners. Thank goodness."
"I think we should go, ladies." Thyne stepped forward and held out his hand towards her mother, "Missus Tyler, thank you for watching the child. I don't know what I would have done this afternoon without your daughter's help. I'd probably still be back there, pouring over briefs in the dark, if it weren't for her. She really has a brilliant legal mind. I'm sure you are very proud of all she is accomplishing."
"Yes, well, I suppose. But I had hoped with looks like hers she would have landed herself a rich husband. What is it with these modern women? Thinking they need to work themselves to death, trying to compete in a man's world. Careers? A woman belongs at home with her child. Then that baby would not be such a hellion. If she had to deal with the child's behavior all day, she would think twice about letting her have her way all the time. Give that little girl a taste of discipline."
Thyne drew back his hand and nodded, "Well, I'm sure that you must be in a hurry for us to leave. You did mention that you were tired."
Her mother nodded and smiled, "Yes, well, not before I have a nice spot of tea and a fag to calm my nerves. I'm not as young as I once was and that child can drive me to distraction."
Maddie smiled and whispered to Jaxon, "Say good night to your Nan."
The child jumped from her arms and lunged at the older woman, wrapping her arms about the woman's legs and hugging tightly. "I love you, Nana."
Her mother was clearly disconcerted by the obvious display of emotion as she pushed the child back, "Yes, well, you mind your mother and don't be any trouble for Missus Marshall."
Her daughter nodded and gave her mother one final squeeze before running back and grabbing her hand. "Is Mister Jackson going to take us home, Mommy?"
"No, sweetie," she was quick to respond, trying to execrate themselves from the uncomfortable situation.
Thyne smiled at the child and knelt down so that they were eye to eye before he spoke. "I'm just going to take you and your mother to the car park tonight, sweetie. But we will see each other again real soon." Those deep grass green eyes looked up at her and she felt her heart slow, skipping a couple of beats as he finished, "I promise."
Thyne Jackson studied the detectives report carefully. The hot summer sun beat down on him as he sat by the pool at his up-scale condominium complex. About him, scantily clad women splashed and sunned. More than one had thrown him a conspiratorial look. Hell, he had sampled a couple of the wares on offer. But they held no interest for him today. Or any day ever again, he thought as he read and re-read the brief that filled in so many of the blanks in the mystery that was Madison Tyler, aka Sommer Loven.
Her father had been in the Air Force, a mechanic. He met her mother while stationed in England and had married there. He had left the Air Force for a commercial job at one of the airlines, which flew out of Houston. They had bought the modest home he had seen the night before when the neighborhood was still considered one of the better suburbs. Of course, his wife seemed to have a few problems living within their means, including a couple of charges for writing bad checks and even one shop lifting charge.
The couple had been childless well into their forties when suddenly Missus Tyler found herself with child. It did not surprise him to learn that the woman had not taken well to motherhood. There were a couple of social service reports in the file. Neglect mostly, charges that the woman locked her child in the closet for hours while her husband was at work. Was that why she had reacted with such fear to being trapped in the elevator yesterday, he wondered.
But the girl had found her escape in books it seemed. Every school report was glowing. Straight A's all the way through high school. She had gone away to college in Austin, excelling in business studies. Until her father's heart attack. It was the beginning of her senior year when she had been forced to drop out, coming home to help her mother nurse the man through the final days of his life. By the time the man died several months later, the family's paltry savings was depleted. There was no money for her to return to university.
Instead she had taken a couple of temporary office jobs, but those had proven unable to meet her mother's financial tastes. So six months after her father's death, Sommer Loven had taken over the woman's life. She had gone back to school part-time while working the night shift. The good news was that thanks to his patronage and others, she had managed to pay for college, meet her mother's champagne tastes and live on her own, if modestly.
Until four years ago that was. She had just finished university, graduating with honors and had applied to several law school across the country. He stared at the report, his respect growing at the names of the prestigious schools to which she had gained admittance. But in the end, those plans had been put on hold.
He lifted the piece of paper that interested him most. Jaxon Renee Tyler, born April fifteenth, two thousand and nine. Mother...Madison Louise Tyler. Father...unknown. He choked as he read those words. He threw the paper on the table with the rest.
Why? Why the fuck had she not come to him when she found out? He had never made any secret of his identity. Hell, he had given her his business card that first afternoon they had met. She had his private extension. His fucking email. Hell, she had his private cell phone number.
But the truth was that she had chosen to keep her secret. To hide his child from him. And even before this fucking report there was no doubt in his mind. That little girl was his daughter. His child as much as hers. And Madison Tyler was about to answer for keeping his flesh and blood from him for three years.
He scooped the papers up and piled them back into the manila folder as he stood up. He drained the glass, feeling the burn as the Scotch hit the back of his throat. He knew he should not drink in this kind of heat, but he needed something to dull his senses just then. He had hardly slept last night. Their interlude in the elevator played in high definition on the wide screen in his memory. Followed by slow motion replays of that other night. The night their daughter had been conceived.
"Why?" he asked under his breath as he gripped the folder and headed for his car. It was past time he got answers for that question. Almost four years past time, he thought.
Maddie watched as her daughter splashed in the wadding pool on the patio of their modest one-bedroom apartment. She wished she had been able to afford one of the nicer complexes around them. One of the ones with pools and playgrounds, but she had always been her father's child. She would not repeat her mother's mistakes. She would much rather live frugally and save a bit of money for a rainy day. Or a torn blouse, she thought as she heard a knock on the door.
"I'm coming," she called out as she padded across the living room carpet barefooted. She wore only a pair of cut off daisy duke shorts and the bikini halter top that barely covered her breasts. She thought about grabbing a shirt, but did not want to waste time. It was likely old Missus McCall from next door. The woman was always stopping by for sugar or eggs, but mainly just because she was lonely and enjoyed Maddie and Jackie's company.
She threw open the door and the smile of greeting for her elderly neighbor froze on her face. "Thyne," she whispered as he filled the door way leaning against it. Her throat tightened and her heart stopped at the site of him. But it was the cold, calculating look in those green eyes as they moved up and down her body that caused the air to stick in her throat.
If she had any doubt after the cool and impersonal way he had driven them to the Park and Ride just a half a mile from her mother's, his look now dispelled it. He had insisted that he help her carry a half asleep Jackie to her car. He had watched as she strapped her daughter into the car seat.
She had almost expected him to say something then, but when he did not, hope grew in her heart. Maybe she was reading things into the situation. Maybe it was her own guilt and fears talking. Perhaps in the dark night he had not noticed the strawberry blond curls or bright green eyes of their child. Perhaps her secret really was safe.
But looking at those same bright green eyes in his face, she knew now. He knew. And as her daddy had said...it was time to pay the fiddler. She just hoped it was a bill she could afford. But from the look on his face she was not so certain.
"Come in," she whispered as she stepped back. Jackie came barreling inside, dripping water as she ran across the carpet. She threw herself at him, squealing, "Mister Jackson, Jackson."
He lifted their daughter high in the air as she giggled. He did not even seem to notice that she was dripping all over his knit shirt and pressed khaki shorts.
"I told you that we'd see each other again, didn't I, Jaxon?" he smiled as she giggled.
"Jackie, go get your towel, please. Give Mister Jackson a chance to come inside," she reminded her. The little girl nodded and ran away. "Come on, Thyne," she offered, waving at the shabby couch against the wall.
"We need to talk," he said in a low voice as he passed the folder to her. "Unknown? Why is my daughter's father listed as unknown on her birth certificate, Miss Tyler? Or is it Sommer Loven?"
She sighed as she took the folder from his hand. It was the question that she had dreaded for four years. But it was also one that deserved an answer. He deserved an answer. An honest one.
"Because, Mister Jackson, I did not want to listen to your high and mighty ass deny paternity?" she returned in a bitter whisper. She saw the shocked look in his eyes at the bitterness and brutal honesty. "Oh, don't give me that pained look. And don't bother denying it. Be honest with me and with yourself. You would have. Thrown a few more hundreds at the whore and told me to get rid of it."
He stiffened even more at her accusations, but any further confrontation was delayed by the return of their daughter, bouncing and babbling about her pool, her Nana and anything and everything she could think of. Maddie smiled weakly and excused herself to the kitchen to get them something to drink.
Thyne gripped the glass of sweet iced tea tighter as he stood on the tiny patio. He could hear the giggles as Maddie bathed their child and got her ready for bed. Their child. The words played over and over again in his mind. Had it barely been twenty-four hours since he had found out about his daughter.
Then why the hell did it feel so damned good. The afternoon had been just about as perfect as anything he could remember. They had played games. Watched silly television shows about handy men and girl explorers. She had jumped up and down with delight when he insisted that they order pizza for dinner.
Pizza? It was such a simple thing. For him it had become a dietary supplement on nights he worked so late that there were no other options. But to his child, it was a treat, a luxury that her mother could rarely afford. That fact and Maddie's bitter words had eaten at his gut for hours.
He wanted with everything inside of him to deny them. And to a degree he could. She was wrong about one thing. He would have never suggested an abortion. That much he was certain. But over the past few hours he had come to face a nasty truth about himself, she was right. He would have contested paternity. Demanded blood tests.
He liked to think he would have kept things civil, not as she believed thrown her past in her face. But he was honest enough to remember how easy it had been to dismiss his feelings for her that night. How he had casually assumed that he was just another notch on her bed post. Truth was he had been a bastard and as a result now his child was. But not for long.
"Jackie would like you to read her story tonight," she said as she stood just inside the sliding glass door. She held out a book, but was careful to keep her eyes down as she spoke. She had put on a t-shirt once the sun went down, but the heat was still stifling and it clung to her chest now damp.
He took the book, "Can we talk some more when she goes to sleep?" he pleaded.
She just nodded as she exchanged places with him, slipping onto the patio to take advantage of whatever slight breeze might rent the night air.
She tried hard to gather her courage. To plan her defense. But the truth was that she had already thrown down her best hand in this game of high stakes Texas Five Card Stud. Looking about her, she saw how it must all look to him. The one bedroom apartment without a pool or play ground. The shabby furniture bought used or worse yet picked up from the side of the road, other people's cast offs.
The only splurges were the hundreds of toys that were strewn about the living room and bedroom. She knew she should begin her nightly ritual of picking them all up. Hell, she should grab a shower and collapse into bed next to her daughter. Except this night for the first time in her young life, it was Jackie's father that was reading her bedtime story and tucking her in. And that hurt too.
Was that the real truth? Had she kept her child secret all this time because she was selfish? Because she wanted nothing more than to have something, someone, that was hers alone?
"She's asleep," she turned at the sound of that deep voice washing over her. Her eyes were clouded with tears as she nodded.
"I'm sorry," she whispered.
He nodded. "Me too," he stepped out on the patio and drew up the small plastic table that was the only other piece of furniture besides the chair she sat on. "I thought about what you said earlier. I want you to know one thing. I would have never asked you to," he stopped. Silence hung as heavy as the summer heat between them. "Not that. But you are right. I probably would have been a real bastard about the whole thing. And you didn't deserve that."
She swallowed past the lump in her throat. She had not expected this type of honesty, not from him. "Thank you for that," she whispered as she looked up at the stars.
Her voice was low and devoid of emotion as she said, "I won't keep her from you. Have the papers drawn up. Joint custody. What is it usually these days? One night a week and every other weekend? Don't worry about child support. Whatever you think is fair. You were always more than generous," her mind added 'with your money anyway.'
"What if that isn't what I want?" he asked.
Tears split over the edges of her blue eyes as she turned her head away. Once she would have dreamt of this. Him walking away from their child, giving her total control. But that was before this afternoon. Before she saw how much her daughter needed him. Wanted a daddy.
She remembered well how much her own father had meant to her, how he had filled the hole that her mother's coldness felt in her young heart. But it would be all right. They had been fine for the past four years and they would be again. Jackie had her. She always would.
"That's fine too. I didn't mean to assume anything. I know a child does not fit into your life," she whispered.
She felt his hand on her cheek as he turned her head to face him. She fought back the urge to lean into his touch like it was an intimate caress. The heat that rose off his skin scalded far more than the skin of her face. It burnt through to her very soul.
"That isn't what I meant, Sommer," her eyes went wide at his use of that name. She would have protested that the woman was long dead, except for the reverent way he said and the look of utter need in his eyes. "Marry me."
Her heart stuttered to a complete stop. She held her breath. The night took on a surreal feel as the heat, stars and moon played tricks upon her shattered mind.
"What did you say?" she whispered.
"I said marry me," his finger caressed her cheek. "I don't want to settle for one fucking night a week with my child. I don't want to pick her up on Friday and drop her off on Sunday like all the other weekend dads in this town."
He moved to kneel next to her. "All right, so you were right. I probably would have been a real jerk if you had come to me four years ago. But don't you think missing three years of my child's life is punishment enough?"
"I know this much. I would not have let you struggled like you have all this time. And I'm pretty damned sure that the moment I laid eyes on that little angel I would have been asking you the same thing then that I am now. I want to be her daddy."
He drew her face closer to his. She held her breath as she felt his caress the side of her cheek. He nuzzled his face into her hair even as the fingers of his other hand tugged it free of the scrunchie that held it back from her face all day.
"Tell me it didn't feel perfect when I was inside you yesterday. Even stuck in that damned hot elevator, I couldn't resist you," he whispered into her eat as his finger wound tighter and tighter into her hair.
"Have you thought about the possible consequences, Princess? Even now Jackie could have a baby brother or sister growing inside you," he groaned against her skin as he drew her closer. "Hell, if there isn't already. There damned sure will be soon, Maddie. God damn, say yes. Stop this fucking hell and make us a family like we should have been all these years."
She felt the scalding hot tears spill over the rims of her eyes as she turned her head away from his. "It isn't that simple councilor," she whispered as a part of her heart broke.
"Why, Maddie?" he demanded as he brushed the tears away tenderly.
"This is the twenty-first century. People don't get married just because they have a baby, Thyne."
"They do where I come from," he responded.
"It's not enough, Thyne. Jackie is not enough to build a marriage on," she asserted as she stood and walked into the living room.
Thyne watched her go. He felt it all slipping through his fingers. This was the most important deal of his life and he was about to blow it. Worse yet, he had no idea why. They shared a child. He could provide everything she had ever dreamt of. And damn, the chemistry between them was brighter than half the stars in the sky. He could not let this go. Could not lose this battle. He stood and followed her inside. She was sitting on the couch in the dark living room.
"What more do you want, Sommer? Anything? Name it?" he demanded like the deal maker he was.
"You," she whispered.
He chuckled. "Princess, I think that was a foregone conclusion. Marriage clearly includes me as part of the deal." He knelt on the floor in front of her. His hands ran up and down her smooth legs. He insinuated them between her knees, prying them apart a bit, allowing him free access to massage up and down the inside her thighs.
She shook her head. "You don't understand. Not like this."
He smiled and leaned in slowly. "Why not, Sommer?" He asked as he bent to taste those sweet lips.
"I'm not Sommer. Not anymore. I'm Maddie. Just plain old Maddie. Don't you get that?" she said as she pushed at his chest.
"Was that Maddie in my arms yesterday? Was it Maddie that came apart in my arms as I made love to her in the elevator?" he pleaded as his hands moved higher and higher until they came to rest between her legs. His fingers rubbed softly over the rough denim as he felt her arch into his touch.