Ellie followed us to the office, glaring at Harland like she was going to gouge his eyes out at any moment. Something terrible must’ve happened in Portland.
“Ellie, I really need to speak with Harland alone.”
“Ellie, please. This is an adult conversation.”
“I’m not leaving.”
“Ellie!” I gaped at my sister. Where was this attitude coming from? Ellie was normally very polite.
“Does it pertain to my paternity?”
My jaw dropped to the floor. Ellie knew? Did she find a letter? Why did she keep it a secret?
“What makes you think that?” I asked.
“Because that’s what Harland and I are fighting about. And that’s the only thing we should be discussing right now.”
I looked over at Harland. He flopped into the chair, resting his head on his hands. “You knew?” I asked quietly.
“I didn’t know for sure until today,” he replied, his eyes full of sorrow and regret. “How did you find out?”
“I found the bill for your father’s vasectomy. From twenty-five years ago.”
“He knew,” Harland said with a humourless laugh.
“He most certainly did,” Ellie announced from behind us, holding up an envelope. “This letter erases all doubt.”
“When did you find that?” Harland barked, jumping out of the chair. He stalked toward Ellie, snatching the letter from her fingers.
“You expect me to believe you knew exactly where to look after weeks of searching this fucking house?”
“I knew him well, Harland. This book has been on the shelf in the great room the entire time. Nobody looked inside it. When Kinley said he had a vasectomy, confirming he knew I wasn’t his child, I knew there’d be a letter in this book.”
I glanced down at the book in her hand.
The Descendant’s Betrayal.
I swallowed past the painful lump forming in my throat, my gut churning with dread as I looked into the eyes of the man I loved.
Guilt and remorse.
I gagged, my stomach clenching as it threatened to reject the roast beef sandwich I ate for lunch.
“I’m gonna be sick,” I muttered, pushing past Ellie and barreling down the hall to the powder room off the foyer. I dropped to my knees in front of the toilet, a stream of brown vomit passing through my lips. When I was finished, I curled up on the floor. The cool tiles felt good against my sweaty cheek.
I closed my eyes, my mind spinning out of control while I struggled to make sense of these revelations. Harland was Ellie’s father. The truth was written all over his face. My stepbrother slept with my mother.
The woman he loathed.
It didn’t make any sense.
Did Harland know before today?
Did Orland know Harland was Ellie’s biological father?
So many secrets. So much dirty laundry.
“Kinley?” Ellie called through the door. “Are you okay?”
“Yeah. I’ll be right out.”
I pulled myself off the floor, washing my face before I opened the door.
“Did you vomit?” she gasped, wrinkling her nose.
“You should read the letter. It answers a lot of questions.”
“I don’t know if I can face Harland.”
“May I make a suggestion?”
“How about I go and see if I can get us on a flight to Florida tonight? You go dump Harland’s sorry, lying, mother fucking, literally, asshole.”
“It’s been a rough day, Kinley. I can’t help it.”
“What happened in Portland?”
“I look very similar to Harland’s mother at my age. She knew as soon as she saw me at the funeral.”
“And she told you she thought Harland was your father?”
“No. She painted a self-portrait from a photo of herself at my age. It looked so much like me, there was no question I was related to her.”
“Did Harland know the truth before today?”
“He didn’t know for sure. Or so he says. I don’t believe anything that comes out of his mouth. He abandoned me. How could he do that, Kinley? He never came to visit once. Why didn’t he want me?”
“Did you ask him?”
“Yes. He claims he did what was best for me.”
“Harland was only twenty-one when you were born. You were probably better off living here with Mom and your grandfather. You were the centre of your father’s world. He was a very bad man, but it sounds like he loved you, Ellie. And no matter what the DNA might say, Orland Hollingbrook was your father in every way that matters.”
“I really miss him,” she whispered. “I know that sounds crazy, given what I’ve learned about him, but I never knew the sick side of him. I only knew the loving father.”
“Does that bother you?”
“That you still love him despite the things he did?”
“No, Ellie,” I sighed, pulling her in for a hug. “I would never want to take away your happy memories of your father.”
“Do you want to go to Florida tonight?”
“Sure,” I said. “If you can get us flights. I think we both need some time apart from Harland to process everything. He’s your dad. I think when the dust settles, you’ll find it in your heart to forgive him.”
“I don’t think so, Kinley. I don’t want him in my life.”
“Take some time.”
“I want to call Karen. I want to change my guardianship to just you.”
“Harland is your biological father. He could request that my custody be revoked.”
“If he did that, I would never speak to him again.”
“Why don’t you go see about the flights, and I’ll go deal with Harland.”
“Are you going to terminate your relationship?”
“I think that’s probably best.”
“I’m really sorry, Kinley.”
“It’s not your fault.”
I walked slowly back to the office, stopping in the doorway. Harland was sitting behind the desk, staring off into space, the pages of the letter spread out in front of him.
“What did the letter say?” I asked.
“Read it for yourself.”
I gathered up the two sheets of paper.
I’m not angry with you. You betrayed me by sleeping with my wife, but I couldn’t care less. I don’t understand why you would want to. You hate her. Hell, I hate her. I don’t think I ever loved her. She’s a selfish bitch.
When she announced she was pregnant, I told her about my vasectomy. I’d kept it from her until that point. I knew she wanted a baby to secure her financial future. And I knew she’d spread her legs whenever I asked her to in hopes that I’d knock her up. She was furious when she found out. And she sold you out without a second thought.
At that point, I could’ve divorced her without too much difficulty. She committed adultery, and your beautiful daughter was the undeniable proof. I let Susan stay on the condition that she sign away all her parental rights. My name went on the birth certificate. I made all of the decisions. Ellie was my daughter. I had a second chance to be a father.
If you’re reading this, I’m probably dead. But no worries, my boy. My lawyer will make sure you get custody of your daughter. Her mother probably won’t bother to fight for her. As long as she gets some money, she’ll be happy to let you have Ellie.
No hard feelings, kid. We’re good. I’ll see you on the other side.
I folded the letter and placed it back into the envelope. “I guess it’s really true,” I whispered.
“Yes, Harland. Why did you sleep with my mother?”
“I was drunk. She crawled into bed with me and started sucking my dick. Before I knew what was happening, she was riding me. She was desperate to have my dad’s baby to secure her future, but it wasn’t happening. So she decided she’d get what she needed from me.”
“You really expect me to believe that?”
“That’s how it started.”
“Well, obviously, you finished.”
“I don’t really remember much about that night. But I remember flipping her on her back and fucking her brains out. I lost control. I’m not trying to make excuses, Kinley. I just want you to know that it was only that one time. I left the next day, and never returned until a month ago.”
“When did you find out Mom was pregnant?”
“The day Ellie was born. Dad called to tell me I had a sister.”
“Didn’t you wonder if she was yours?”
“Of course, I did. She was born nine months after I slept with her mother.”
“Why didn’t you come here to see her?”
“My dad was on top of the world. I could tell he already idolized the little girl. He had the time for her. I didn’t. What kind of life would she have had in New York City with a young dad just starting out? I was working long hours for an investment firm, trying to establish myself in the financial world. And I would’ve lost to them in a court battle for custody. There’s no judge who would side with a twenty something bachelor over a biological mother and her billionaire husband.”
“You could’ve still been a part of her life as a brother.”
“I thought it was better for everyone if I kept my distance.”
“Why didn’t you say anything after they died?”
“Ellie loved Dad. I think she still does, despite what she’s learned about him. She didn’t know the sick side of him. I was going to be her guardian anyway. If the judge didn’t grant us custody, I would’ve revealed the truth to get her back.”
“Why didn’t you tell me?”
“My dad left so much dirty laundry behind. I know they say he had dementia, but I have my doubts. I think it was all an act. The letters are well written with clear thought processes. He didn’t hide them in random places. I mean, look where this one was. Does that seem like something a confused old man would do?”
“What are you saying?”
“We didn’t get to see the part of his will that contained the instructions if your mother outlived him. He was planning for that, not for them to die together.”
“What do you think it said?”
“I think he was going to screw over your mother. She signed away her rights to Ellie. Ellie said she was having affairs with other men. He had a private investigator following her, documenting her activities. He had a plan that included us raising her even with your mom still living.”
“I guess we’ll never know for sure.”
He pushed up from the desk, circling around and walking toward me. “Are you okay, Kinley? Ellie said you were vomiting.”
“I do that when I’m really upset.”
“I’m so sorry, baby,” he whispered, reaching for me.
I backed up, raising my hand in the air. “Don’t touch me.”
“Please, Kinley,” he begged. “I love you. We can get past this. I know we can. We can be a family.”
“Ellie is seeing if she can get us on a flight to Florida tonight.”
“Why? I thought you weren’t leaving until Sunday?”
“I think we all need some time apart.”
“How long will you be gone?”
“I’m not sure.”
“What about the renovations and the retreat?”
“We’re still going to do that. It’ll be a while before we can start any work here.”
“Please don’t write us off, baby. I don’t want this to end. We’re so good together.”
“Bye Harland,” I whispered, my heart shattering as I turned and walked away.