Bonus Scene: Daughters and Discovery, a Hank alternate PoV from Graduation and Gifts
We’re celebrating 500 reviews on Graduation and Gifts. As always, this scene naturally contains spoilers for the series up through Graduation and Gifts. This is an alternate PoV on the scene that opens the book.
“I was looking for Frankie Curtis,” I said, eyeing the young man who opened the door. A boyfriend? Probably. Though that came with its own kind of twist to my chest. She was so damn grown already. Right, get it together Hank. “I’m Henry Jackson.”
The guy answering her door went stiff, his eyes narrowed, and there was no mistaking the cool assessment in his expression. I couldn’t see past him into the apartment and I didn’t press except, he kept staring.
“I did get the right apartment?” Did I get the address wrong? “Sorry, if I’m coming by late. I drove here straight from the airport and I got lost once.”
Coming late? Yeah, eighteen fucking years Hank. The mental scolding didn’t do me any favors right now. I could nurse the guilt of missing my daughter’s whole life later.
“No,” he said slowly, some warmth sneaking into the chill of his voice. “You’re at the right place.” He glanced over his shoulder once, but didn’t move. I had a feeling, that door wasn’t going to budge if he didn’t decide to open it.
It seemed to take an eternity before he nodded and backed up a step. Then she was there. The slender, athletic build with a wild fall of golden blonde hair. Holy shit, she looked like Maddy. But where Maddy had a cool, almost cold edge to her there was nothing of that in this girl’s cautious manner.
And her eyes…. the rich, warmth of verdant green. Goddammit. Hate for Madeline Grayson swelled in my chest to the point it threatened to suffocate me. Frankie reached for her boyfriend’s hand and she lifted those eyes to meet my gaze steadily.
“I’m Frankie,” she said with a half-smile, her unease at all of this communicated itself perfectly. Oh sweet girl… me too. She went to extend her hand and hesitated. “I mean, yes, I’m Frankie. Would you like to come in Mister—or is it Professor…”
I clasped the offered hand before she could withdraw it. Her palm was a little sweaty, but then again so was mine. I could handle a lecture hall full of kids and wrangle all three of mine—one would think this wouldn’t be so damn hard.
“Hank,” I told her. Meeting her like this was both a shock and a wonder. I’d missed so damn much, but look at her. Look at the way she faced me even when her own fear was there. “Call me Hank.”
Would I prefer Dad? Fuck yes I would. That would take time though. Time and effort. I’d been absent for all of her life, but that wasn’t her fault. If I needed to earn that trust with her, the I would damn well be patient and take the time.
“And I can come in or we can go somewhere. I don’t want you to feel cornered or ambushed, just… You called and you mentioned graduation and I thought if you were reaching out that maybe you wanted to meet me and I’ve wanted to meet you.”
The words spilled out in a rush, but I wasn’t kidding. I wanted to meet her. I had since the attorney contacted me. She’d called…
Focus Hank, I snapped at myself mentally. She called. Maybe I jumped the gun a little but, actions spoke louder than words.
“I did want to—Yeah, it’s fine, come in.” She beckoned me indoors even as she backed up. The air was warm outside and the interior much cooler.
“You have company,” I said, catching sight of the others in the apartment. It wasn’t just Frankie and her boyfriend. They had friends over. “I’m interrupting.”
“It’s fine, these are my boyfriends, you’d have to meet them anyway.”
These are my…
She nodded, the corners of her mouth curving into a real, if shy smile. “Yeah, that’s Jake and…”
“Ian Rhys, sir,” the young blond offered even as he extended his hand. We shook hands briefly, then the second blond approached.
“Coop Brennen,” he said, grinning. “Boy next door and resident best friend as well as boyfriend.”
Frankie laughed. “Smart ass.”
“Benton,” Jake said as he took his turn for a handshake.
“And I’m Archie,” the fourth said, moving forward to stand next to Frankie. He was a dead ringer for his father, Maddy’s on-again, off-again…what was his name? “Standish.”
“Eddie Standish’s kid.” It wasn’t a judgment, but it was like falling into some kind of time warp. I’d seen Maddy and Eddie together. We weren’t friends, I’d been a TA and they’d been in one of my classes.
Where Maddy had been cool and dominating, Frankie radiated warmth and affection. Standish’s kid wasn’t like him either. There’d always been a wariness to Eddie. A discomfort like he wasn’t always sure where he stood, but his desperate love for Maddy had also been clear—even if they cheated on each other regularly.
“Unfortunately,” Archie said with a half-smile. “Hopefully you won’t hold that against me.”
“Not at all,” I assured him even as Frankie leaned into him. I didn’t miss the flicker of fear over her face as he spoke. Then again, who knew what they knew after all of Maddy’s lies… “Just surprised,” I admitted and then glanced at Frankie again. She was… I could picture her when she was the twins’ age almost too easily. She reminded me of Chloe, of who Chloe could become when she grew up and it was both heart wrenching and utterly magnificent. “I’m going to make this weird and keep staring, just ignore me for a bit. I promise I’ll get over it.”
“It’s okay,” she said with a laugh. “It is weird. I mean… Are you looking to see how I’m like you or how I’m like her?”
Five minutes with her and I didn’t see Maddy anymore. Yeah, some surface similarities, genetics more than anything else. But she was not like her mother at all. “More me than her, I mean, you’ve got her coloring. But those are my mom’s eyes and that little—crinkle right there at the corner of your right eye? That’s us too. Jackson family trait. We all do it.”
The most adorable of open grins spread across her face.
“Yeah, see,” I said, glancing at her circle of guys who kept a watchful eye on the both of us.
They were protective, it shown in the way they all stood, one foot angled toward her. Jake and Ian were both ready to block, that was clear from their posture. Coop seemed the most relaxed, but Archie made up for that in how he kept a very focused gaze on me.
“I’m making it weird. Kelly told me I do that because I talk, talking is my thing and I get chatty and then—well, everything kind of comes out jumbled. Great when you’re lecturing, can keep the room engaged, not so great when you’re meeting your adult daughter for the first time and she has no idea who you are.”
Right, definitely making it weird. I needed to get this under control
“He is so Frankie’s dad,” Coop said in a low voice, before he pressed a kiss to her temple. “If it’s all right to call you, Hank, sir, why don’t we all sit and I’ll grab some coffee. We could order in food if you’re hungry. We pretty much decimated the leftovers already.”
“Hank is fine, boys,” I said, taking the offer of a lifeline. I wanted time with Frankie and she had… “Boyfriends,” I muttered, then shook my head. “That’ll take a little getting used to. Chloe’s all of seven and she’s not allowed to date until she’s thirty.”
I let them take their seats first, then chose the love seat to be closer to her. Meeting my daughter for the first time. The world had shifted when Maddy reached out to me saying she was sick and she needed to find a paternal match.
First it was outrage, then worry, and ultimately, disappointment. If the tests excluded me, that was good, I didn’t miss out on a child’s life… then Frankie’s attorney called.
Maddy lied to me, not once, but twice. I’d missed out on so much and my whole world flipped upside down.
“Chloe is your daughter?” Her soft question grounded me.
“See, there I go… yes.” I shifted forward to pull my phone out of my pocket. Then I flipped through the photos app to pull up a picture of all of us. The twins and Alec all got their mother’s coloring, but Alec looked a lot like me. “This is Kelly, she’s my wife—she’s also looking forward to meeting you. I thought about bringing everyone, but Kelly insisted that it should just be us at first, then when you’re ready you can come meet your siblings.”
The little catch in Frankie’s breath, the flash of her teeth over her lower lip, and the way her knuckles went white where she gripped Archie’s hand were all tells.
“If you want,” I rushed to assure her. “No pressure. I mean, yes, this is pressure me showing up, but really no—I… I wanted to meet you. I’m very sorry I didn’t know about you. She never told me. Not until she asked for a DNA sample because you were sick.”
Worry darkened her expression.
“I know you’re not,” I continued keeping my focus on her. “Mr. Wittaker explained. Of course…” I cleared my throat as emotion clogged it. “I’m sorry about that either way. And I’m very glad you’re not sick.”
“No.” Apology coated every word. “I’m not. And I’m sorry she made you think I was.”
“Yeah well, that was then and this is now and when your attorney called, I was… I was surprised but I told him I’d already done a sample and I didn’t mind doing it again. Apparently, once I agreed to it, the lab released the results. I told him, I wanted to speak to you and that I would welcome any contact.”
“He told me,” she admitted. “I wasn’t… Okay confession time, I wasn’t sure about meeting you. I had no idea…and Maddy and I aren’t… Well we’re not close. She didn’t tell me anything about you either.” Her nerves were right there and holy shit did I feel that. “And maybe I was a little afraid.”
Right, my little girl was afraid. Get your shit together, Jackson. Didn’t matter what came next. Time to make it better for her.
Missed the first eighteen years, and I didn’t want to miss another moment.