“Can I speak with you two in my office, please?” Ellie requested.
“Grandma and Grandpa are leaving in the morning,” Kinley said. “They want to spend time with you tonight.”
“This will only take a few minutes,” she said.
“Go ahead,” Hennie said. “I’d like to lay down before dinner anyway.”
We followed Ellie to her office, where she took the chair behind the desk again. My sister was in for a rude awakening if she thought this was how things were going to be. She was a child, and we were in charge. Not her.
I loosened my tie, clearing my throat before giving my little sister my best Dad stare. “You can sit over here,” I said, pointing to one of the arm chairs in front of the desk.
“This is my chair,” she clipped. “And you’re not my dad.”
“I’m your legal guardian. And we are going to set some boundaries, starting now. I’ve been nice, giving you a few days to adjust to the changes, but the funeral is over, and you need some age-appropriate rules.”
“I’m going into my second year of college. I demand to be treated like an adult.”
“Absolutely not. You’re twelve.”
“Father would not like this.”
“Father isn’t here.”
“Are you in agreement with this, Kinley?” she demanded.
“Yes. While I respect the fact that you’re very mature for your age, I believe you need parental role models to guide you through your teenage years.”
“Really?” she sneered. “You two aren’t fit to be role models. Which is why I called you in here tonight. Your behaviour at the funeral was appalling and embarrassing.”
“Where did you get the idea that we were bumping uglies?” I asked.
“Harland, do you know what my IQ is?”
“Great. Does your high IQ give you the ability to see through walls?”
“Of course not.”
“Then I guess you really don’t know what Kinley and I were doing in private.”
“I achieved a perfect grade in my Human Behaviour class.”
“And my sister and brother have been sniffing around each other like horny giraffes all week.”
“Horny giraffes?” Kinley laughed.
“Yes, Kinley. When a male giraffe wants to mate, he rubs his head on the female’s back until she urinates. Then he drinks the urine to determine if she is ready for penetration. If the female is in the fertile phase of her estrous cycle, the male will taste hormones that signal him to mount her. He will then proceed to follow her around until she stands still long enough for him to enter her vagina.”
I blinked, scratching the back of my head while I tried to figure out how the hell to respond to that. “Uh, okay,” I mumbled.
Kinley burst out laughing, her face turning the same shade of red as her hair. Tears streamed down her cheeks while she doubled over, snorting like a donkey. Or a giraffe, I suppose. I have no fucking idea what sound a giraffe makes, but apparently we were giraffes, so let’s stick with the same animal.
My chest flooded with warmth at the sight of Kinley laughing. She’d barely cracked a smile since she arrived. My stepsister was beautiful. I couldn’t help staring at her. I glanced up to find Ellie watching me with a smug smirk.
“I want to know what’s going on between you two,” she ordered.
“I want to know more about the giraffes,” I said.
Ellie released a heavy sigh, rolling her eyes when I joined Kinley in another round of laughter. “You guys are so lame.”
“And you are so twelve,” I said. “And what Kinley and I do in private is so none of your business.”
“Well, you don’t get a say. End of subject.”
“Fine,” she huffed, pushing back her chair and stomping across the office toward the door.
“Ellie,” Kinley called out. “Come back, please.”
“If you guys are going to get married, I think I have a right to know, since it directly affects me.”
“We aren’t getting married!” Kinley exclaimed.
“Where the hell did you come up with that idea?” I asked.
“That doesn’t mean we’re getting married,” Kinley said softly.
“Ah ha! So you were bumping uglies at the funeral.”
“Could you please stop using that phrase?” I requested. “I don’t care for it.”
“Okay,” she said. “Are you and Kinley having sexual intercourse?”
“We’re spending time together,” I explained. “That’s as much detail as you’re going to get.”
“I don’t want any details,” she said, wrinkling her nose. “I just want to know what this means for my future living arrangements.”
“We have a lot of details to sort out,” Kinley said. “We have to figure out what’s best for you, and go from there.”
“Can I ask one more question?”
“One more, and that’s it,” I said.
“I thought you guys hated each other? When you first arrived, you wouldn’t stop bickering, and Joanne said you picked up where you left off as teenagers. I don’t understand how you went from that to spending time together so quickly.”
“Someday, when you’re older, you’ll understand,” Kinley said.
“I doubt it. I have no interest in letting a boy do that to me.”
“Good,” I barked. “Keep it that way.”
“The condo is completely furnished,” I explained. “I arranged for a cleaning service to come in today and freshen it up. They will stock the fridge with the essentials to tide you over until you can go to the supermarket.”
“How long can we stay there?” George asked.
“As long as you need to. I’ve arranged for a realtor to show you around. When you find something you like, let me know.”
“Where did the girls disappear to?” Hennie wondered.
“They’re watching a movie in the den.”
“I think I’m going to join them.”
“I’ll come with you,” I said, following her down the hall to the small tv room, as Ellie called it. When I asked her why she watched movies in there when the house had a theatre room, she said she preferred the smaller screen.
Kinley was stretched out on the sofa, sound asleep. Ellie was engrossed in a documentary about the stock market.
“I thought you guys were watching a movie?”
“I prefer educational programs. Kinley said I could pick. I was teaching her about analyst ratings when she fell asleep.”
“I wonder why,” I mumbled.
“I happen to find the stock market to be a riveting topic of conversation.”
“As do I. But Kinley’s not into that.”
“I suppose not,” she said. “Perhaps you would be the more appropriate sibling to converse with on intellectual subjects.”
I slid my arms underneath Kinley, lifting her from the couch.
“Why don’t you wake her up?” Henny asked.
“She’s had a long day. I don’t mind carrying her upstairs.”
“I want you to come right back,” she ordered. “You and I need to have a little chat.”
I cradled Kinley against my chest, enjoying the feel of her body in my arms as I carried her to the bedroom. She opened her eyes briefly when I laid her out in her bed.
“Good night, beautiful,” I whispered, pressing a soft kiss to her lips.
“Good night, Harland.”
When I turned to leave, Henny was standing in the doorway, a scowl of disapproval on her thin lips. I followed her into the hall, closing Kinley’s door softly behind me.
“I was coming back. You didn’t need to follow me up here.”
“Where can we go to have a private conversation?”
“There’s a study in this wing,” I said, heading down the corridor. “We can talk in there.”
“What are your intentions with my granddaughter?” she asked, cutting right to the chase the second I closed the door behind us.
I sat on the edge of the desk, brushing some lint from my pants. “Kinley and I are just enjoying each other’s company while we’re stuck here. That’s it.”
“That’s a load of crap.”
“Thanks,” I chuckled. “I know what shit is.”
“Very funny, boy.”
“Kinley has been through a lot, thanks to your father.”
“I know that. And I want to do whatever I can to help her.”
“She needs to find a nice man and settle down with a family.”
“How do you know that’s even what she wants?”
“I know my granddaughter, Harland. Whenever she sees a baby, she gets that look on her face. The longing and the sadness in her eyes breaks my heart. Every time she gets an invitation to a wedding or a baby shower, she cries. Kinley is going to be thirty-two in July. Her biological clock is ticking. She doesn’t have time to waste. Thanks to that sick monster, she has difficulty with relationships. He ruined her life.”
“Why didn’t you call the police when she told you what happened?”
“I wanted to. Kinley was in rough shape. I begged her to let me take her to a hospital. But she refused.”
“Why didn’t you report it anyway? She was a minor.”
“Do you have any idea what would’ve happened?”
“Yes. My father would’ve gone to prison.”
“Maybe. But that wouldn’t have changed what happened. And your father had money. He would’ve fought the charges. Kinley would’ve had to testify against him. The press would’ve gone crazy. She didn’t want to keep reliving that horrible night. She just wanted to put it behind her.”
“When you say she was in rough shape, you mean emotionally?”
I swallowed past the massive lump forming in my throat. Did I really want to hear this? “She told me he was pretty rough with her.”
“She was covered in bruises.”
“I swear to you, Henny, if I’d known, I’d probably be in prison for murder.”
“I convinced her to let me take a look, you know, down there. The poor thing was a mess.” She choked back a sob, squeezing her eyes shut. “I wanted to drive up here and castrate that monster for doing that to my granddaughter.”
I drew in a deep breath, disturbing images flooding my brain despite my best efforts to block them. My father was dead. There was nowhere to direct the rage bubbling inside me. I had two sisters who needed me. And I had no intention of letting either of them down.
“I’m going to take care of both of your granddaughters,” I said.
“You never answered my question, Harland.”
“What are your intentions with my granddaughter?”
I sighed heavily, staring down at the faded oriental rug. How was I supposed to answer that? I met her piercing stare, her eyes like two green beacons shining into my brain, revealing secrets that I wasn’t even aware existed within my subconscious.
“Kinley deserves to be treated like a queen. She needs an empathetic man who will cherish her. If you’re not that man, bow out now before she gets hurt.”
“Duly noted, Mrs. Davenport.”
She nodded before exiting the room.
I headed down to the living room, pouring myself a glass of scotch before wandering out to the terrace.
A moonless night seemed fitting for the occasion. The sky was a black abyss. Just like the soul of the man I buried less than twelve hours before.
My father. Orland Hollingbrook. We had a rocky relationship, but I loved my old man. How was I supposed to come to terms with the truth about him when he was dead? My father was a sexual predator. A rapist. He wasn’t the man I thought he was. And I never got the chance to confront him. I’d never have true closure.
I tossed back the remainder of my scotch, slamming my glass down on the table. A week ago, I was in my penthouse in New York City, content in my bachelor life. How did my life change so much in seven days? I was stuck on an ageing estate until some judge decided if I was fit to raise a child.
What did I know about kids?
And I had to share custody with my stepsister.
I couldn’t stop thinking about her. The chemistry between us was off the charts. She claimed she was frigid. But she was anything but. When I fingered her, she was totally into it. I wanted to kiss every inch of her sexy body, give her multiple, mind-blowing orgasms before I made sweet love to her.
Where did that come from? We were supposed to be fuck buddies. Not make love buddies. Kinley was in a fragile emotional state.
What if I hurt her? Was it possible to have a casual sexual relationship with a woman with her history? Did I want more? Did she?