Integral Instruments - With prelude to Justified Voices (Book 7)

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I was painting in the sunroom when a text came through.

I glanced at my phone to see it was Arlee. The girls were on Spring Break and she was working at the library and going straight downtown after, to the playhouse. It was 4pm now. She must have just gotten off of work.

I opened my phone to glance at the message.

Mom, get to the old house. Quick.

What did she want me there for? What was she even doing there?

What’s up, babes?


I gave up trying to figure her out and dialed her number. She answered on the first ring.

“Mom!” She whispered, “Hurry! He’s here!”

“Who’s there, Arlee?”

“Dad!” She hissed.

“He was supposed to be at the studio.” I was confused now. Ryan hadn’t had to stop by the house to pick anything up in weeks. The last thing was a teddy bear that Piper had missed.

“Not that one!” She hissed, “The asshat! I stopped by to pick up some of my older sheet music and he was here!”

“Don’t let him in the house!” I stood and began walking toward the door and ushering the little ones, “Girls! Come on! We’ve got to get in the car.”

“Mom, he was sitting on the couch looking at a magazine when I walked in. It was so awkward!”

“The garage!” I gasped. He knew about the trick. I still hadn’t fixed that door, “How did he seem?”

“Fine. He’s down there now.” I could hear her irritation, “I’m telling you, it was weird.”

“I’ll be there as quick as I can.”


“I have Meg and the girls to think about here.” I was telling the band, who were discussing moving everything to California for the summer, “I have to discuss it with her and Arlee.”

“I told you, we can totally get Arlee into that performing arts summer school.” Bree smiled brightly, “She’d love it!”

“I told you, we’re in the middle of this adoption thing and I can’t pay for Arlee to go to this thing without Meg’s consent.” I sighed.

My phone buzzed and I pulled it out, looking at it while I spoke, “They aren’t my kids yet, so everything has to be passed through Meg and the courts. That also means no relocation for them until it’s over.”

I looked at my phone and must have been reading it wrong. Arlee was calling? She normally texted.

“Hello?” I answered, expecting it to be a pocket dial.

“Dad!” Arlee whispered. She rarely called me by any name, let alone Dad. My hackles went up, something was wrong.

“Arlee? Are you okay? What’s happened? Didn’t you have work?” My questions were immediate, not giving her time to answer before the next one came.

“Dad, I need you to come to the old house.” She sounded worried.

“Why the old house?”

“Please?” Her whisper grew into a cry.

“What’s happened?” I asked looking at my family around the room as they gaped at me.

“He’s back.” She breathed.

“Did you call your mom?”

“Yes. Mom is on her way, but she’s got the girls.” She whined, “Piper can’t see him.”

“I’ll be right there.” I stood and moved to the door, Mike followed and Bree called for Asher, “Where are you? In your car? In the house?”

“I’m in my room. He was sitting in the living room when I got here!”

“How did he get in?!” I shouted.

“The garage door. If you jimmy it just right you can get in that way.”

“I’ll be right there. Do you need me to stay on the line?”

“No. No.” She whispered, “I’m just shocked is all.”

“Okay. Stay in your room. I’m closer than Mom is. I’ll call you when I get there.”


As soon as we disconnect Mike was asking questions, “Who’s ass are we kicking?”

“Their dad is back.”

“No doubt it’s about the adoption.”

“No shit Sherlock.” I climbed into my car and he climbed in the passenger seat, “I take it your coming?” I shot him a look.

“If You wasn’t this adoption to go smoothly, someone’s gotta keep your ass outta' jail, bro.” He smiled dryly.


I pulled up to the house and there was a black Camry parked in the driveway with New York plates on it.

“I’m making some calls.” Mike told me, “Remember no fights. You can’t get arrested, man.”

I dialed Arlee’s number and she picked up on the first ring.


“I’m here, open the door.” I ground out.

“O-okay.” She hung up and as I was walking up the few steps onto the porch the door swung open.

Arlee looked pale and her skin was clammy. It was obvious she was shaken.

“You okay, kiddo?” I pulled her into my arms and sighed when she relaxed.

“Yeah.” She stepped aside, letting me in, “He’s in the living room.

My heart stopped for a minute when I saw him, sitting on the couch like he belonged here.

He looked up at me and smiled. His brown eyes taking me in, “Not who I expected her to call, but it works."

I had never seen him before, but I could see the likeness to the girls. The blonde hair that Arlee and Elle pissed and those brown eyes, but in the girls they were a warmer brown.

“Why are you here?” I glared.

He sighed as if he was bored and stood to face me. He was shorter than me, by about four inches and scrawny, but hey, to each his own.

“I’m here to see my kids.” He glared, “The ones I assume you're the one trying to adopt.”

“You haven’t been around for years. You have no rights. Arlee doesn’t want you here and the little ones don’t know you. Therefore you don’t belong here.” I cracked my knuckles.

“And what are you going to do? Fight me?” He got in my face, “No, you can’t, because the courts would frown on that and you want my kids.” He grinned like he had me pinned, “Are you gonna call the cops instead? Technically, it’s my house.” He sucked his teeth and pointedly looked around the room, “My name’s on the tittle. Not yours and not Meg’s. Mine.”

Tires screeched in the driveway and I ignored it.

“This is Meg’s family’s home. Not yours.”

“Oh.” He sneered, “I take you didn’t know that little tidbit.”

“His name’s on the tittle because mom was only 17 and wanted to stay in the house before she was emancipated. She needed an 18 year old to claim the house.” Arlee told me.

“Although, she has fixed it up really nicely.” He smiled snidely, “I’ll give her that. It’ll sell for a pretty penny, don’t you think? Prime real estate in Maine? What do you think I could get for it? Four-hundred-thousand? Maybe five?”

Then the door swung open with a clattering smack against the coat stand and Meg came around the corner.

“Arlee, Leave!" Meg ordered, "Sit in the car with your sisters!”

“Megan?” He gaped at her, “Wow, you look like shit.”

“You son of a bitch! You have no right to be here!” She was seething.

“I have every right to be here.” He stood firm.

“You don't belong here. Stay out of my home and away from my kids!” She shouted.

“You never took me off the tittle and they’re my kids too, by law. Which is why you need me.”

“You abandoned them! And the only reason your name is still on the tittle is because my lawyer couldn’t find you!” She screamed.

“Did I mention that you look like crap? It’s hard to talk to you when you look like this.” I took a step forward, that snide mother fucker was about to get my fist in his face.

“I was working! I didn’t plan to leave my house today!”

“Your house?” He acted taken aback, but surely he had been in the house long enough to know it wasn’t occupied, “Correct me if I’m wrong, but this is your home and you aren’t supposed to relocate during the adoption process.”

“Did you read the fine print, asshole?!” She pointed to her head, signifying that he hadn’t paid attention, “My new address was listed on the paperwork as my address and even if it wasn’t, we’re not supposed to relocate the kids out of the state!”

“Your hair looks better short.” He ignored her argument.

“I’m growing it out for my wedding this summer!” She pointed to me, “Duh, dumbass!”

“Oh.” He sucked his teeth again and nodded. It reminded me of that guy from The Office.

“Well, I hope it’s not a destination wedding.” He told her, “You know how these things can get drawn out if the custodial parent doesn’t want to give up their custody.”

“You fucking-!” She dove after him, but I caught her mid flight.

“Whoa, killer!” I grabbed her by the suspenders of her overalls and pulled her back before she could make contact with him, “We can’t hurt his ass.”

“Just let me kill him, then we don’t have to worry about adoption!” She fought against me and I had to wrap my arms around her as she had her fit to try to reach him.

“Then you’d be in jail, I’d be an accomplice and it would be a huge issue.” I whispered in her ear, “You need to calm down, hun.”

“I can’t calm down! He has no right, Ryan! He hasn’t seen them since Elle was born!” She fought against me.

The door opened and we all turned slowly, to see the girls standing there.

“Sorry, Piper wanted to make sure Dad was okay.” Arlee spoke shyly.

“I’m okay, Piper.” The fucking idiot smiled at Elle. The fucker didn’t even know who was who.

“That’s Elle!” Arlee shouted pointing to the girls, “Piper is this one and we weren’t referring to you.”

“Is mommy okay?” Piper asked and I relaxed as Meg did.

“Yes, sweetie. She’s just a little cranky.” I sighed and released her. Watching her for any movement toward the fucktard, but she stood still now, just glaring at him.

Piper and Elle came running up to me, both crying. They were terrified.

“It’s okay, babies.” I kissed their foreheads. “We’re okay. We’re all just a little cranky.”

“You aren’t going to jail?” Piper asked wide eyed.

“Now, why would I go to jail?” I chuckled and kissed her head again.

“For hurting him.” She glanced at their father and looked back at me.

“No, but we need to watch Mommy closely.” I whispered, like it was a game, maybe if I made light of it, it would help her through this situation without a setback, ”She may hurt him.”

“Why are you even here?” Meg ground out.

“I wanted to see my kids.”

“Bullshit!” That didn’t come from Meg, it came from Arlee and left us gaping, “You had years to see us! YEARS to really be here and you chose not to! Mom is finally happy! We’re happy! Just sign the paperwork and leave us alone!”

“You're going to let her talk to me like this?” He had the nerve to glare at Meg.

“Why not?” I said, “She has a mind of her own. She was there. She knows what you put Meg through and she loves her mother. You know, the one who didn’t leave her.”

“How dare you talk to me about my kids. She never had this attitude before.”

“Because she was a little kid who believed her dad would work through his shit and come back to her!” I shouted over Piper’s head and she held me tight, “You obviously didn’t. So, excuse her if she’s skeptical of your shit!”

“The way that I see it is that you have a choice to make here,, Rockstar.” He took a step toward me and I swear, if I didn't have the girls in my arms I would have decked him, “This house is under my name. Meg looses you in one week or she looses her family home when I put it on the market.”

“You son of a-” Meg dove after him again and I wasn't going to get to her in time, I still had the girls wrapped around me.

“Meg-!” I shouted as arms wrapped around her from behind.

Ash stood over a foot taller than her and held her back, thank fucking God, for that one.

“Okay, little beast.” He said dryly, “Lets take a step back and chill.”

“NO! He can’t come in here and threaten me!” Meg tried to get away, but Kade stood between her and her ex.

“What do you really want, because we all know you don’t want the kids, or the house.” Kade was pretending to be the mutual party, “If you wanted either, you would have shown sooner.”

“How the hell do you know what I want?” His jaw went tight.

“Because, if you were ready to be a dad you would have come back.” Arlee closed the distance between them, “You would have been here when we needed you and you wouldn’t have left the divorce papers out for me to see when you disappeared. You would have at least written, if not called and you would have made an effort to at least get to know your kids.”

"I know you , Arlee. I am still your father!” He pointed to the ground at his feet, "I just-!"

“You ain’t any dad we know.” Kade told him.

“You are not my father.” Arlee spoke through her teeth, “My father is right there!” She pointed at me, “He knows us, and he wouldn’t show up and throw out threats. He understands Elle’s shouting and gets her to settle down, he even understands Piper and me! He let’s me have an opinion, a choice.”

“I understand that he probably bought you that shiny new car you're driving!” He pointed at me as he shouted at her, “Of course you’re going to go where the money is!”

Just as Meg screamed and tried to break free from Asher, I saw Arlee’s little fist clench and before I could warn her against it, it was colliding with his nose.

“Wow.” Kade gaped at her, “I was not expecting that.”

“Arlee!” Megan gasped.

“Well, we were watching the wrong target.” Asher let go of Meg.

“I’m sorry, Mom.” She turned to Meg, “I couldn’t take it anymore.”

“Is this how you raised our girls, Meg?” He asked her as he held his nose.

“No, but I did raise my girls to give respect where it’s given.” Meg held her head high and wrapped a crying Arlee into her arms, “You okay, Babes?” She whispered, but her only response was sobbing.

“As if you cared at all, this child that just talked back to you, punched you in the face and gave you what you deserve? She has a 4.7 GPA, she's a junior librarian and plays in the Junior Orchestra.” She told him coldly, “She’s got college planned out at the age of 17 and is the type of girl to let a bug out of her car before smooshing it. She is not a violent kid. You deserved that.”

“I’m going to ask you only once to leave my house.” Meg glared at him, “The next time I will not ask. You will be removed by the people NOT in the middle of this adoption process.”

I didn’t look at him as he left. I only looked at the girls crying and gaping in my arms.

“Wow!” Elle shouted at Arlee, “That was so cool, Arlee!”

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