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A Wind of Change(A Shade of Vampire,Book 17)(5) by Bella Forrest

Folds of loose skin gathered on either side of his mouth as he smiled at me, revealing stained teeth. His hand unsteady, he reached for the phone on his side of the window and placed it against his ear.

I picked up the phone on my side.

“River,” he breathed into the receiver, his voice raspy. “Sweetheart, how are you?”

I swallowed back the lump in my throat.

“Okay.”

His eyes roamed either side of me. Then his expression sagged in disappointment.

“Dafne and Lalia… They didn’t come?”

I shook my head. “I’m sorry.”

He sighed heavily, then forced another smile.

“Are you off school now?”

“Yes,” I replied. “We just got off two days ago.”

“I’ve been reading whatever papers I can get a hold of, but one hasn’t come my way the last week. Have there been any more kidnappings?”

“Not that I know of,” I said. “The schools on the West Coast were still closed right up until the holidays started. But nobody seems sure whether the threat has passed or not.”

“Well, let’s hope it has passed.” He paused, wetting his lower lip. “How is your French going?”

“Spanish, Dad.”

“Spanish,” he said, shaking his head. “I’m sorry. How’s it going?”

“Okay. I’m still a bit behind compared to the rest of the class. My teacher has given me some extra work to do over the summer.”

“Good,” he replied. “Good. And how are they… my three other cherubs?”

“Okay, too,” I said. “Jamil is the same as ever.”

The corners of my father’s eyes moistened.

I broke eye contact. There was only so long I could look at him before my throat became too tight.

“When are you transferring?” I asked, staring down at the metal counter. “Still this Friday?”

“Still this Friday,” he replied. “Will you come to visit me down south?”

I breathed out. “Texas is a long way, Dad… We don’t have a lot of extra money right now.”

“Oh, I know, honey,” he said quickly. “That’s okay. I’m sure we’ll see each other again sometime soon…” His voice trailed off.

I looked up at the sound of his right hand pressing against the glass. He was leaning closer to look at me, clutching the phone in his left fist.

“I don’t deserve you, Riv,” he whispered, his voice choking up. “I don’t deserve you, Dafne, Lalia, Jamil, or your mother.”

That’s why you lost us.

I’d heard my father say all this before. I felt numb to it now. His expressions of regret and apology had come to mean nothing to me because he never acted on them. When he was still living with us, he’d be remorseful for perhaps a couple of days, then sink back into his habit and we wouldn’t see him for the next month. Although I had been devastated when my mother divorced him, I’d slowly come to realize that she’d done what was best for all of us. My father… this man… he wasn’t good for us. Especially not for my younger sisters. Leaving him was the bravest thing my mother had ever done.

“I’m sorry,” he said.

I wish I could believe you.

I didn’t know how to respond. I still loved him more than I could say, but he’d worn me down over the years, just as he had my mother.

But this was my last visit before his transfer and I had no idea when I’d see him again. I couldn’t stand to end our meeting with bitterness or resentment. He’d made his choices, and the judge had made hers.

So I just bit my lip and nodded.

“I know, Dad.”

As he leaned in toward the window further still, I wished I could touch him. Although he was a ghost of the father I remembered, a wreck of his addiction, I just wanted to feel his arms around me, his kiss against the top of my head.

I reached up to the glass, and flattened my hand against his. We remained silent in this position for several moments before a harsh voice called behind my father.

“Mr. Giovanni. You’ve had your time.”

“Goodbye,” I said softly.

My father didn’t budge.

“I’m sorry, River,” he repeated. “I’m so sorry.”

“Mr. Remo Giovanni.” The guard spoke again, louder this time.

“Go, Dad. We’ll see each other again. Hopefully soon,” I said, even though I held no hope for such a thing. We were struggling just to cover our groceries. A trip across the country wouldn’t be affordable for the foreseeable future.

The guard approached behind him and gripped his shoulders, pulling him back away from the window. The phone clattered against the counter. My father’s wiry frame towered above the guard as he stood to his feet. His eyes remained fixed on me right up until the guard ushered him through the door.

I remained staring at the empty doorway.

Stay safe, Papa.

Chapter 2: River

Passing along the corridors toward the prison’s exit, I felt like an inmate myself. I hated the way the guards eyed me, male and female. I breathed out deeply once I reached the final door and stepped out into the crisp, early evening air. I headed straight for the bus stop. There was a small crowd of people waiting there already. I took a seat on the bench as far away from everyone as possible, but I didn’t manage to escape the attention of an elderly woman.