“He’s paying him twice as much as what Spencer is,” mumbled Isy, allowing me the space I so desperately required.
Thankfully, rationality crept in. “That still doesn’t set anything in stone. Even with the signatures, a judge would require verbal confirmation from both yourself and Spencer.”
Isy, still crying, offered her counter argument. “And what if he corrupts the judge too? What if he has me deported and Spencer deemed unfit due to his blindness. I don’t know the chances of him pulling this off but while there is still a possibility of him succeeding, I will adhere to every godforsaken thing he says. I have to. For Leila’s sake.”
Hearing her desperation made me reach out and before I knew what I was doing, I rounded the small table we were sharing and sat next to her. Offering her not only my emotional support, but my physical one too, I proceeded to comfort her. “That will never happen, Isy. I won’t let that bastard take Leila away.”
Thick tears continued to flow and only once I rested my hand on her shoulder did she begin to calm down.
“When is he due back?” I asked, already working on a plan.
I nodded. “We need evidence. Proof of his wrong doings.”
“How?” she asked, reaching for a napkin as a makeshift tissue.
I chewed on my inner cheek, mindful of bringing more and more people into this mess. “I have a friend. He’s already looked into Alister’s past for us.”
Isy was taken aback by this, though chose not to comment on it. Thank god!
“He’s a private investigator.”
Roger wasn’t, but explaining that he indeed worked in I.T for a company specialising in P.I work felt unnecessary and too informative. I didn’t want him getting into any trouble if this entire plan to bring Alister down went tits up.
“He can help?” questioned Isy, seeming hopeful for the first time since we started talking.
“And these things he has found so far? Are you able to tell me?” Her gaze lowered once more, hinting towards a lack of inner confidence.
It was heart-breaking to see how living with someone for a matter of months had already had such a negative influence on her personality.
“Alister Branning isn’t his real name,” I started, knowing deep down she had a right to know. “He changed it from Alister Dawson seven years ago.”
Isy frowned, desperately trying to piece everything together.
“He is also a member of a club Spencer often frequents. We’ve reason to believe he’s associated with BDSM somehow.”
“He-he does that?” she asked, lifting each eyebrow in surprise.
I nodded, ignoring the tightening of my stomach.
“Do you mean…” she suddenly stopped, aware of our public surroundings. “That he is a dominant?”
“No. He’s a submissive.”
“Non posso crederci,” she expressed, slipping back into her common tongue.
“We think something bad happened to him a few years ago. Has he mentioned anything to you?”
She simply shook her head. “No.”
A long sigh dragged from her lips, followed by the deepening of her brow crease. She was in a clear state of distress and I found by looking at her, I could see certain similarities between her and her daughter. Leila had inherited her father’s eyes and sense of flare, though there was no denying she took traits from her mother too. Her chestnut hair was the same gorgeous shade and her lips settled in much the same way. They shared many mannerisms and easily distinguishable were their finer taste for things. Like her mother, Laila craved to be the best dressed and most presentable.
“What do I do now?” she pleaded, desperate for some guidance.
I had no idea.
“For now, you hang tight.” Her wide eyes and open mouth suggested she wasn’t all that keen on that idea. “I know it’s easy for me to say. I’m not the one living in fear but we have to gather evidence. Without it, he still has those adoption papers and we have nothing.”
She nodded. “And your friend? He can get evidence?”
“I hope so. I’m no expert but what Alister is doing is deceitful, maybe even fraud. Whatever it is, it sure as hell isn’t legal. But he can’t know we’re on to him. If we give away the game, he’ll tidy up after himself.”
I smiled through my need to frown and offered Isy another squeeze to her shoulder. I knew she wasn’t taking things lightly. She’d just discovered her fiancée was not the man she once thought he was. Sure, she likely had an idea of that when he started hitting her but to have a completely separate life from her…it was hard to digest.
“He’s happy, you know?” she stated, confusing me as to who he was. “Spencer. You make him happy. Happier than I ever did.”
“No, it is okay. I love my daughter more than anything and I would never change a thing but looking back, Spencer and I should never have married. We loved each other at a time when we were both at our lowest. We mistook that for something it was not.”
Her description was heartfelt and honest. Spencer had attempted to explain their relationship on numerous occasions but struggled. I knew what he was trying to convey but often, his feelings on the matter were hard to express.
“He makes me happy. Leila too.” I paused. “I’ll never be her mother and I’d never dream of taking that role away from you. But just know that I love her very much and I’ll always look after her.”
Her eyes welled up again, only this time her tears were born out of appreciation as opposed to pain.
“Thank you, Jessica.”
We both yielded to the silence, happy in each other’s company. A weight had lifted and although the ex-wife of my man, I could never bring myself to hate her. Sure, she had done things I didn’t agree with. Questionable things. Cheating on Spencer was one of them but that wasn’t my grudge to hold. I had no right to interject my opinion when I wasn’t even around when it occurred. I loved Spencer and I’d always fight in his corner but what happened then was between Isy and him. Not me.
“I regret how I ended our marriage. He didn’t deserve what I did.”
“Maybe so, but he still wants what is best for you, Isy. The thing is, he can’t see. So, until I mentioned it, he had no idea what was going on between you and Alister.”
“I did not want anyone knowing. I was so embarrassed.” For the first time ever, I detected venom in her voice and not wanting to add fuel to the fire, I simply nodded. “You must think I am stupid,” she self-confessed. “How can I live with someone and not even know who they really are?”
“I don’t think you’re stupid at all,” I insisted. “I think Alister has manipulated everyone in his path. He’s an expert at what he does.”
“The perfect lawyer,” she added, sarcastic as ever.
From my bag, my phone chimed. I knew who it was without so much as checking and judging by the small smile playing on Isy’s lips, so did she.
SPENCER: Everything okay? xx
“He will be worried,” she shared, drinking from her cup. “He is so protective. So assertive.”
I laughed. “You can say that again.”
A thick silence descended over our table, noticeable to those nearby.
“I could never give him what he wanted. He said it did not matter but it did.”
“Your submission, you mean?” I asked, guessing the direction in which this was heading.
A small nod followed. “I am glad he has that with you. I am glad he has finally found the person he deserve to be with.” Her tone was genuine and her smile, sincere. “But…”
Where was she going with this?
“You should know that he knows.”
“Alister. He knows Spencer is a dominant and he might use it as leverage.”
“Go public, you mean?” I questioned, picturing it perfectly.
The tabloids would eat a scandal like that right up.
‘Business man, Spencer Michaels is a kinky fucker behind closed doors!’
“I would not put it past him,” she admitted, seemingly distraught. “I know it is private and what you both do in your spare time should not be judged by others but-”
“Not everyone will see it that way.”
My phone suddenly blared with an incoming call, insistent as ever.
“Baby, you didn’t text back!”
I laughed. “Spencer, it’s been all of two minutes. Give me a chance.”
From my right, Isy shared a smile and proceeded to drink from her tea.
“Did she show? Is everything alright.”
“Yes, in fact we were just discussing how overbearing and stubborn you can be.”
He scoffed. “I am not.”
I rolled my eyes to the ceiling but secretly enjoyed his need to check up on me. For a while, I only ever experienced that with Dad and Sam. Don’t get me wrong, it felt nice knowing they looked out for me but having Spencer do it felt quite different. Different in a good way.
“I’ll be back at the office soon. Will you be around?”
“Yes,” he replied, without so much as waiting for a beat. “We have a lot to catch up on.”
He wasn’t wrong there. “See you then.”
“I love you,” he expressed, urgently so.
“I love you too.”
Isy smiled at my words and continued drinking, respectful of our shared moment. I eventually hung up and offered her a knowing grin.
“He was making sure you showed up,” I informed, returning my phone to its rightful place in my bag.
I was gifted a small smile in return.
“Will you be okay, Isy?” I suddenly enquired, feeling strangely unnerved about leaving her.
She sighed. “I will do my best for Leila. As long as he is away on business, I will manage.”
“And you’ll call if you need anything? I know I’m hardly your first choice but I want to help. We both do.”
“I know. Thank you.” She smiled and stood, holding her arms out in an invitation to hug.
I obliged. “How do I contact you?” I asked. “Without Alister finding out.”
I assumed a man like him might have access to her phone.
“Calling me is fine as long as he is away. In two weeks’ time-”
“In two weeks’ time, you won’t be there. I’ll make sure of it,” I promised, squeezing her extra hard before pulling away.
We both exchanged a determined look and walked out of Starbucks, accompanying each other on the short walk back to the office.
“Take care,” I expressed, still clutching my take-out cup.
“You too,” she replied, smile in tow. “Thank you both so much for helping. I do not deserve your kindness.”
I shook my head. “What you don’t deserve is having your fiancée abuse you.”
Her lips twitched with a small smile and whilst offering me a small wave, she walked away with a slight bounce to her step. Seeing it made me feel much happier in myself. Finally, I could see light at the end of the tunnel. Even with this afternoon’s disturbing discoveries I felt somehow closer to ending things. Isy was one step closer to leaving her toxic relationship, which meant Spencer and I were one step closer to getting shared custody of Leila. Those adoption papers worried me to some extent but I was almost certain they wouldn’t hold up in court. Still, I understood Isy’s reluctance and knew Spencer would undoubtedly hit the fucking roof when he found out. Everything he did was with his daughter’s best interests at heart and learning that his own lawyer was behind such betrayal would certainly infuriate him. Me? I personally wanted to kill the lying bastard but knew I needed to act with rationality. Hopefully, Spencer would adopt some of that calmness too.