Home > Broken Loyalty (Jacky Leon #3)(12)

Broken Loyalty (Jacky Leon #3)(12)
Author: Kristen Banet, K.N. Banet

“I’m certain everyone at this table understands that everyone else has been in diapers at some point in their life,” he answered, finally looking at his daughter. “Including Jacky.”

“Yeah, but…”

“I didn’t mean anything by it, Carey,” he said finally. “I would never embarrass you on purpose. I’m sorry I seem to have now. I promise not to bring up that sort of topic again with company around.”

I was surprised by his even tone and the care he handled it with. Carey was the literal kid at the table, and I knew how fragile a kid’s self-confidence could be. My own parents used to say all sorts of embarrassing things about my sister and me, more often about me. Unlike Heath, they didn’t acknowledge it when it happened and an apology certainly never happened. Not that they had been bad parents, just normal ones for their time.

He’s such a damn good father, and I must be getting old. I think that only makes him more attractive, and I hate it.

“Moving on,” Landon declared, looking back at me. “The key is to find hobbies, something to fill your time. Before Carey was born, Richard and I coached sports for young werewolves. It passed the time, and they couldn’t play with the normal kids, so they would have missed out on the chance otherwise.”

“That was very sweet of you,” I said softly.

“It was Richard’s idea,” he said as if it was a curse.

“I don’t want to talk about Richard,” Carey said quietly.

My heart squeezed.

“Then we won’t,” I promised her. Looking back at Landon, he seemed distant, sighing heavily.

“My apologies, Carey. I wasn’t thinking.”

I looked up at Heath, who wore a dark expression as he looked between his children, then at me.

“You could volunteer for the community,” Heath finally said, turning the conversation off Richard and back to me. It helped ease the bruised feelings at the table, ones I knew I was going to grill Heath about once dinner was done. “Help clean up a park, get your name on something, or not. You can coach sports or teach classes in something you have training or experience in. Most Alphas are passing their time by helping corporations learn how to work with werewolves with training courses about our kind and how to integrate us into their workplaces. Construction is big for werewolves right now, which is why you see a lot of us in real estate, so we know those industries. Since we see things as longer-term investments than humans, we offer unique perspectives and educate humans as we can about them.”

“That all sounds like a whole lot of public speaking I’m not really about,” I pointed out, leaning back in my seat. “But that’s it? When you have a little secret to keep, you do…nothing? Or you do it from the background?”

“Yeah. I’m certain your siblings understand it.”

“I don’t know. They have families who have run and worked in their businesses for generations. I think Hasan’s butler is fifth generation or more,” I mumbled. “I would need to start establishing those sorts of relationships now and hope I picked trustworthy people.”

“And that’s bad, why?” Landon asked, frowning.

“She hates people being in her space,” Heath reminded his son. “Jacky is apparently even more of a shut-in than most werecats.”

“Probably,” I agreed, unable to deny it.

“Do you know the names of the Tribunal members?”

“Not off the top of my head, which is pretty sad since they wanted to execute me.”

“Do you know how their government works?”

I waved a hand a little, answering with a ‘kind of.’ “I know they have a couple of groups that do their dirty work, and I know the werecat portion of the Law. Do I need anything else?”

“No, but you probably don’t plan on doing business with other supernatural species,” Heath said, shrugging. “I’m just trying to showcase to Landon how much of a shut-in you really are.”

“Thanks,” I muttered, staring at him. “No werecat does business with other supernaturals. We’re not exactly well loved, and people tend to ask us to die for them when they find out we’re around.”

He winced at that. “I can’t say you’re wrong.”

Heath and Landon had good points about my current situation. I needed hobbies, ones I could throw myself into to pass the time without feeling like I was doing nothing or getting bored, the way I did with video games. I easily got bored once I beat them and had to find a new one to pass the time. Constantly trying to find the next one could get tiring in its own right.

I needed something consistent I could do. Volunteering could be good, but I had no idea where to start. It was definitely something I needed to think more about later.

“Thank you for the advice,” I finally said to Landon, who nodded but didn’t otherwise respond.

As dinner ended, Carey was released to go play video games for a couple of hours before her bedtime. Heath made me a coffee, probably knowing I would be up for several more hours, and we went outside, letting Landon keep Carey company.

“What happened at the table?” I asked softly as we sat on his back porch.

“Landon is getting more comfortable talking about Richard, trying to get past it. Carey isn’t ready to acknowledge it happened,” Heath said, staring at the open field of his backyard. “My oldest son did a lot of good in his lifetime, and he had been a great brother to Landon. He protected Landon from a lot when he was young. What happened in Dallas was…”

“Unexpected?” I finished for him, hoping I got it right.

“Yes and no. Richard was always close to me until we took over the Dallas pack, and stronger wolves moved in. He found himself slipping out of power since a lot of my inner circle were wolves strong enough to be Alphas one day. Then Carey was born, and he found himself second fiddle again to a younger sibling, this one seemingly even more special than the last. He only turned bitter in the last decade or so. Looking back, it’s easy to see. It wasn’t at the time.”

“And Carey will always remember the brother who hurt her, but Landon wants to remember the brother he was close to for so long, even if it’s hard,” I said, nodding as I understood. “That’s a difficult place to be.”

“I wish I could help them work through it, but I’m still trying to…I should have caught it. I should have been a better father to Richard. How am I supposed to help my remaining children when I’m trying to put my failure with Richard behind me?”

“So, the bluster about how he declared his side and you wrote him off, is you trying to convince yourself.” I felt comfortable saying it. Heath and I had been through a lot. “Plus, you seem to look at Landon and Richard as if they were still children through all of this, Heath, and they weren’t. Richard wasn’t a child when he died; he was a grown man who made his own decisions. They weren’t children. They don’t…need their father to be with them every step of the way and their decisions aren’t yours. You even pointed it out at dinner. Landon lives with you, and he’s what? One hundred and sixty something years old? How long ago was the Civil War?”

“You’re close enough,” he said sadly. “He’s only around for Carey. We all know it. Even if I joke that he can leave now, he knows I need his help, and he’s never been one to do anything away from the family. Even when he lived on his own, he was ten minutes away, and Richard was his neighbor. We’ve always been close and that’s even stronger thanks to being pack animals.” He looked down at his whiskey and sighed. “You’re right, by the way, about Richard. I keep trying to convince myself that it’s all okay, and he made his choices. But it’s never going to be okay, and I just need to live with that. He betrayed me, and I’m still trying to get past it. I don’t speak to many of my friends in Dallas anymore. They all knew Richard and saw the clean up with his body there after you were taken away.”

“You’ll be fine in the end,” I told him gently. “I know you will. Richard was not some sign that you failed as a father. I don’t know how many times I’ve said that, and I don’t care how many times I’ll have to say it in the future, but it wasn’t you. It was him.”

“Yeah…” He threw back the rest of his whiskey and poured another. “So, back to you. We were talking at dinner about what you can do with your new free time.”

“Eh, not me. Let’s pick a different topic.” I was done being the topic of discussion, but I wanted to say something about dinner. “Actually, let’s talk about how Landon spoke to me tonight. That was new.”

“I told him why you were coming over. He’s generally good at these types of things. He’s never been talkative, but he was my second-in-command, Jacky. He knows how to help someone find a new direction when they seem a little lost. He just extended that to you, which is a good sign. It means he is finally warming up to you.”

“I don’t know why it matters so much to me.”

“He lives in your space,” Heath pointed out.

“Thousands of people live in my space, and I don’t give a flying fuck about them most of the time,” I reminded him. “Half the time, I don’t even care about my customers because they annoy me to the point of no return.”

“He’s a werewolf in your space. A threat?”

“Possibly.”

Then the realization hit me, and it made my stomach sink.

He’s your son, and I want him to like me.

I looked away from Heath, staring into the dark world beyond his back porch. When had this become such a problem?

“I should go,” I said softly.

“Wait, have a real drink with me. Please.” He looked up at me as I stood, and I stared down at him, swallowing as his eyes seemed to shine in the dark with the telltale signs of loneliness.

“You know, I’m sure anyone in Dallas you once considered a friend still is,” I whispered.

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