Irresistible(Buchanans, Book 2)(81) by Susan Mallery
WALKER STAYED for dinner. Elissa found it interesting that her once-reserved neighbor was now comfortable with her five-year-old. Zoe and Walker chatted easily and even had a couple of shared jokes from their day at the mall.
He was so different from any man she’d ever known. Some of it was her life circumstances. She’d gone from being a kid in high school to a runaway on her own. Being on the fringes of the music business in L.A. hadn’t exactly put her in the path of very many guys who could be considered normal. Then she’d gotten pregnant and returned to Seattle where her lifestyle didn’t lend itself to meeting a lot of single men.
So Walker was quite the change. But it was more than that. Some of the differences came from who he was. She had trouble reconciling a man who would carefully and patiently play cat’s cradle with her daughter with an eighteen-year-old who had abandoned his dying girlfriend.
So what had happened in the fourteen plus years in between? Was it just a matter of growing up? Or was it deeper than that? He’d run from Charlotte to avoid death and pain, yet he’d planted himself right in the middle of a war. He’d sent men into battle and some of them had been killed. And what about his quest for Ben’s Ashley? How much of that was guilt about Ben taking a bullet and how much of it was about his leaving Charlotte?
Walker was a complex man, she thought as she sipped her wine and listened to her daughter laugh. But a good man. She didn’t like that he’d run out on his girlfriend, but she also didn’t like several pieces of her own past. Everyone made mistakes. The measure of a person was what happened afterward.
Later, when Zoe was in bed, Elissa returned to the living room and settled on the sofa. Walker had produced another bottle of wine which, given her exhaustion and stress level, might be considered dangerous. On the other hand, alcohol would make it easier to talk about Neil, who happened to be her big mistake.
“Neil’s come after you before,” Walker said by way of introduction.
She nodded. “He often travels with bands. It’s easier than putting his own together—that might require actual work, something he really hates. He’s been through twice before. I don’t know how he got my phone number, but he did. He would call and say we had to meet. If I refused, he threatened me. When I showed up he would start talking about Zoe and how he doesn’t ever see her. It was always some version of that. I would give him whatever money I had and he would go away.”
“Have you ever talked to him about signing a release?”
“No. Why would he agree when he can just step up to the money train anytime he’s in town?” She sipped her wine. “Neil is a gifted musician and songwriter. When he’s clean, he’s brilliant. Still an ass, but brilliant. When he’s on drugs, all he can do is play guitar and try to get through a day.”
“Legally what he’s doing is blackmail,” Walker told her. “There are laws against that.”
“I know, but if I push things legally, it could get ugly. He could tell the courts he desperately wants to see his daughter. He’s a good liar. He could also say I’ve been keeping her from him, which is true. I saw a lawyer today.”
“From the look on your face, it didn’t go well.”
“Not even close. She wasn’t very sympathetic. Her feeling was supervised visits wouldn’t be such a bad thing. Neil had never been emotionally or physically abusive, so Zoe’s not at risk. The fact that Neil told me to get an abortion didn’t seem to matter, either. She feels that many men react badly to an unexpected pregnancy and that I shouldn’t hold that against him.”
She clutched her glass in both hands. “The thought of getting involved in the legal system terrifies me. What if he were to win the right to see Zoe? Neil doesn’t care about her. He would use that right to get money from me. I can see him running off with her and then holding her hostage while I begged or borrowed more money.”
Her eyes began to burn. She drew in a breath and concentrated on staying in control.
“I would do anything to keep Zoe safe. I’ve even thought about running away. I just didn’t know if I could start over again. And she would hate it.”
“Running is a temporary solution. You need something permanent.”
His words were cold and flat and for the first time since getting to know him, she remembered that Walker was a man capable of killing.
“What are you thinking?” she asked, not sure she really wanted to know.
“That I want to find him and beat the shit out of him. That I want to teach him a lesson he’ll never forget and make him understand that if he ever gets near you or Zoe again, it would be the last thing he did.” His mouth twisted. “Scared?”
“Of you?” She shook her head. “No. You wouldn’t hurt me or Zoe. I’m not even sure you’d hurt Neil. I believe you’d want to, but I don’t know that you could just walk up to him and beat on him.”
“Want to bet?”
She smiled. “I don’t think so.”
He stared at her for a few seconds, then said, “You need to talk to a lawyer.”
“I just did. It was awful.”
“I’m talking about a specialist. Someone who will take your side and get the job done. Someone brutal.”
“Someone expensive,” she said, thinking of her pathetic twenty-seven hundred dollars and knowing a lawyer like that would suck it up in a week.
“Experienced,” he said. “I want to do some research and find the right person. I’ll pay for it and before you get all emotional, let me say this is a loan. You can pay me back over time.”
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