Chloe's stomach was in painful knots as she stared in horror at the glossy photograph in Simon's hand. "Th-that's—" she broke off, swallowing the words; if she said them out loud, that meant he'd really crept into her ex's sister's room in the middle of the night.
"Yup. While my dad was playing daddy for you, Cain was here, creeping," Tori said dryly, vitriol charging the undercurrent in her voice. Her eyes were red-rimmed, her makeup runny with the threat of tears, and Chloe felt a bolt through her veins as it occurred to her that what Tori said was true. While her own father was off on business, completely oblivious to the turmoil of the trial and the foreboding sense of doom creeping on the five of them, Kit had stepped in and left his daughter vulnerable.
"I-I know you do-do-on't like me, but don't you se-ee how dangerous he is? I tried to w-war-warn Derek, but he didn't listen. Cain is a powerful man with connections, I'm sure of it. If he has the power to have pinned my mom under his th-thumb, th-then he m-mu-must have other means—powerful means. Judges, cops, lawyers," Chloe said quietly.
"I was surprised," Tori admitted, "when Derek came home after hanging with you and locked himself up. It was your fault he was suddenly back to the way he was before, but I saw the news. Chloe..." The shininess in her dark eyes said everything Tori couldn't.
"Right now, we have to make a plan," Kit informed them, clasping his daughter's hand while he tugged Simon into his side.
Chloe felt suddenly lonely, until Simon held his hand out to her, pulling her into the embrace.
Ben stared blankly at the CCTV footage from the secluded park in which his sister had unveiled her identity to his niece. His eyelids felt heavy and gritty as he watched an unidentified black pick-up park at the farther edge of the clearing and a dark-haired man climb out, imposing and covered head to toe in tattooed, his dark braids pulled back. The known convicted felon Asmondai Rodgers looked around in the footage and started for where he knew his twin sister and niece were, double-checking his gun.
The officer swallowed hard.
Asmondai's last name clicked inside Ben's mind. One of the witnesses at the trial. A girl, about Chloe's age. He pulled up a new window and typed in Asmondai Rodgers in the search bar, his leg bouncing as he watched the progress bar load. There was something there, a connection, intertwining the pieces, and all he had to do was piece it together before Zachary Cain struck him down too. It was only a matter of time before he too received a bullet between the eyes just like Jennifer.
The page booted up, screen filling with information. Asmondai had been with a young woman named Jacinda and produced two children, a toddler-age boy and a teenage girl who went to Chloe's school. Rachelle. The girl was a bombshell, curves and sultrily smiling at the camera, a single brow arched mockingly.
Ben knew without a doubt this girl—Asmondai's daughter—would shed much needed information about her father's involvement in his sister's murder. His hands shook as he jotted down the address where she lived and briefly googled it, calculating how much time he had. As his eyes scanned the information about the apartment building, the owner's name made him freeze.
Why would his niece's boyfriend's father own the building housing a known killer's daughter?
Steeling his resolve, the strawberry blond man stood up from his desk and turned, snatching his coat and the sticky-note. There was something sinister lurking about in the depths of the trial and one reoccurring face was Zachary Cain's.
Derek was holding the picture again, tracing her features with his finger. He had a soft, gentle look on his face. Zach knew without a doubt his son was in love with Jennifer's daughter—who wouldn't? She was the delicate, angelic clone of her mother. Still, the attachment was in the way, and it would have to be taken care of. As hard as he tried, Zach couldn't completely cast his spell over his son.
"Derek, come here."
The boy's head whipped around as he froze, his mouth open to lie undoubtedly but Zach smiled, knowing it would put his child at ease. As expected, Derek's anxious expression melted away into a dreamy one as he rose, still clutching the photo.
"I want to do something with you," Zach whispered, keeping his voice low, hypnotic, sultry. He held his hand out, waiting a beat for Derek's hand, which slowly clasped his. The boy was so easy to sway; too easily he fell for the littlest bit of affection. Feed him some praise here or there. A touch on the shoulder, ruffle his hair. Keep him placated and happy.
Derek's big, green eyes stared Zach down, unseeing.
Zach was reminded of the time before his son was taken, a little boy with a serious look on his face all the time. Even then, he'd always been so desperate for attention, affection, craving constant reassurance, which Andrea had so readily given and Zach sparsely.
"It's about that photo. Give it to me, please. I want you happy, and that girl does nothing but cause trouble. She'll take you away, back to the people who tip-toe around you. I love you, Derek, and you are my son."
The emotion infused in his voice was real. How could he send his child back to the man who didn't consider his son his own—someone he had, at one time, thought to be his brother in all but blood? How could he give Derek back after finally, finally finding him?
Derek hesitated, uncertainty clouding his eyes, but before Zach could continue, could peg all his son's weaknesses, the boy handed him the crumpled photo. "They just don't understand, Dad. Simon and Tori are his bio kids. I'm not. There's that connection there that never formed with me. Sure, he calls me his son but I know I'm not. They tip-toe around me. Chloe doesn't get it. She has her aunt and her uncle and her dad. Sure, her mom's dead but that's not my fault."
Zach couldn't stop himself from smiling, tucking the picture into his pocket and sliding an arm around his son, now fully his son, mind and blood both.