Page 154 of Court of Nightmares

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I wash and dress quickly in some flared pants and a comfy crop top, needing the comfort for what is about to happen. I leave my hair down and don’t bother adding makeup. This isn’t a formal visit. This is my father, a man I have known from afar all my life without even realising it. He always scared me, but maybe I never looked close enough because as soon as I step into the room, I see beyond his scary demeanour to the worry and hope below.

He stands quickly, shoving his chair back with a screech. We stand apart, staring at each other. My men are here as well, but I won’t ask them to leave. I need them to get through this, plus they deserve to hear this. I need their opinion and comfort, and I readily reach for it as I move to the table and sit between Nathair and Lycus. They take my hands under the table as my father sits down opposite me, an untouched cup of tea sitting before him.

He looks the same as he always did, wearing a black jacket, pants, and top to blend in. There are lines around his eyes now—from worry or stress, I’m not sure—and his gaze is filled with too many emotions. How didn’t I ever see that?

Was I not looking? Or was I blinded by my own?

Looking at him is like looking into the past, but I can see why my mother loved him. He is strong, sure, powerful, and a handsome man, but she fell for the soul I see in his eyes. He is a man willing to sacrifice everything for the ones he loves, and he’s willing to risk his life to protect a daughter who never knew him.

“Hi, Althea,” he says nervously, glancing around. “I have to say I’m surprised—happy but surprised,” he rushes out, rubbing at his head. “I’m messing this up. I’m sorry. Would you like me to talk or listen?” he asks, and that, right there, is what gets me to relax. He is nervous like me, but he isn’t arguing his case without listening to me. He wants to know.

That’s when I realise he just wants to be in my life if I will let him.

“Talk for now if that’s okay? I’m sure I’ll have some questions, but I’d like to know what happened in your words without everyone else in the courts here,” I reply softly.

“Okay.” He takes a deep breath. “Firstly, I need you to know I understand you are probably angry and confused, and I am accepting of your feelings. You have every right to be upset and not to want me in your life, and if that’s your wish, then I will leave you alone. I will always hope, but I will not pressure you.”

“Okay.” I nod.

“Okay,” he murmurs. “I loved your mother, had for years, but I kept my distance. I was a new enforcer trainee, and she was the seer superstar, but our paths just kept crossing, and eventually she realised she loved me too. It was like that last barrier came down, and she revealed what I had known all along—she was my mate, and I was hers. We had a great year together. We kept it a secret, neither of us wanting to ruin what we had with the court. We planned to announce it when we found out she was pregnant, but everything changed. One night, she woke in tears, and when I tried to comfort her, she told me she couldn’t bear to lose us both. I had no idea what she meant. She grew more distant, more worried. I knew her powers were taking their toll, but I had no idea just how bad it was until a week before your birth. She told me everything, and she had made her decision. She asked me, a man who loved her and you, to abandon her, let her die, and leave you.”

I can hear the agony in his voice.

“I have spent my entire life fighting and protecting, yet she asked me to do nothing to protect the two people I loved more than this world. I left that night, needing space, and when I came back the next day, she was in labour. The stress, I think, brought you earlier than we expected. I was there the entire time, holding her hand and telling her that I loved her and we would figure this out. When your mother made up her mind, though, there was no changing it.”

“Sounds like someone I know,” Simon says, making us all smile.

“Yes, you remind me so much of her. She didn’t make it, but before she died, she made me promise to protect you and keep you from this life until it was your choice. How could I deny her? I was going to lose her. A part of me thought that by promising, I could save her. It sent me into a spiral, and I almost took my knife and carved out my heart, but then I heard you cry. It was like waking from a dream. I held you in my arms, and you wrapped your whole hand around my thumb, and I knew I had to do everything to keep you safe. I loved you so much. You were mine, you were hers, and your mother was never wrong about her visions, so I told no one you are my daughter. I let them raise you. I watched every moment, you have to know that,” he implores, reaching across the table. “I couldn’t resist, even though I knew I shouldn’t. I watched every day of your life, wishing I could be a part of it. It killed me day after day as you grew up and looked at me like I was a stranger, one you feared. It broke my heart, but I didn’t care, because at least I got to be close. You grew into such an amazing woman, and your mother would be so proud of you. I know I am. You remind me of her,” he croaks, tears falling down his face.

“I look at you, and I see her, the very best of us both. I’m so sorry, Althea. I could spend years showing you that I was in the background of your life, when you cut your hair, when you broke your arm . . . but I need you to know how sorry I am even though I would do it all over again. I would suffer every day again to get you here, where you were always supposed to be. You can turn me away, I deserve it, but please know I will always love you. I will always be there if you need me, and if you will—” He takes out a photo and places it on the table next to his other hand. It’s of me as a baby in his arms, and he’s looking down at me like I’m his entire world.

It's worn and crumpled from being held over and over again. The love pouring off of it is real, as is the look in his eyes. He expects me to turn him away and not forgive him for making an impossible choice for trying to keep his daughter safe, even if it killed him.

Now, faced with the truth, how could I ever turn him away? We won’t be close, and it will take time, but that’s what life is—second chances, healing, and love. It’s about learning who you are and who you want to be. It’s about figuring out who is important and who is worth fighting for.

This man is.

He’s worth it.

“We are about second chances here,” I tell him as I breach the gap and cover his hand with mine. “I’d say you deserve one too.”

The sob that rips from his chest makes my own ache. “Thank you,” he croaks, gripping my hand tightly. “I will take any part of you that I can get for however long you want me.”

Smiling, I hold his hand back. “I know. How about we start with getting to know each other?”

Wiping his face, he grins. “I would like that.”

“So would I,” I murmur, staring at the face of the father I always wanted but didn’t know I had.

Forgiveness doesn’t negate the hurt, but it gives you a chance to move on. It also isn’t easy, or everyone would do it, but it’s a beautiful thing.

As is the love blooming between a father and his daughter.

* * *

My father booms out a laugh, clapping Lycus on his shoulder, and I can’t help but smile. I was worried about how he would react. It’s clear he’s spent years loving and protecting me, and although I’m new to this relationship, he isn’t, and his daughter is in love with seven very powerful, dark, wicked men. He accepted them easily with just one sentence.

“She loves you, and that is enough for me. You are good men or she wouldn’t.”

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