Bonus Scene: Fools and Fixation, a bonus PoV for Trials and Tiaras
The following bonus scene contains massive spoilers for the series post Brazen and Breathless. While I usually do a bonus scene for the book that hit the review goal, I did something a little different. This scene takes us back to Trials and Tiaras. So, if you have not read anything after B&B, I’d stop right here and not open this until you have. Thanks for reading! Xoxo Heather
“Too little too late, old man. As for Frankie, you don’t need to have anything to do with her life. You’re not her sperm donor.”
The moment the door closed behind the kids, I stared at Maddy. The day she walked back into my life, I’d counted it as the happiest. A second chance. A real chance to make up for the fools we’d been when we were the kids.
“Every word that comes out of your mouth is a lie. Every story you’ve ever told me. Every piece of garbage you try to sell about the life you lead or the life we lead has been a lie. I’m tired of it.”
Her mutinous expression. The stubborn tilt of her chin. The way her eyes could flash from fire to ice then back to fire. They all captivated me. I loved the fight in her. The refusal to bow to her parents wishes. She’d held strong when I’d caved.
“She was supposed to be yours.”
The agony cutting through me might have echoed what she experienced all those years ago. But when I slept with Muriel, I hadn’t intended to get her pregnant. I hadn’t even thought about it. A careless decision one careless night. I’d wanted to hide from my own pain and maybe inflict some back for what Maddy had done to me. Once again, here we were, slashing and cutting at each other. I’d promised Archie I would handle this.
“Will you now? Like you’ve been handling everything else so well. She played you. She has been playing you, and she used her daughter to manipulate you.”
I kept my hands in my pockets as I turned away from her. If I took them out, I worried I might throttle her. The vindication in Archie’s eyes—I deserved it. I deserved every ounce of his scorn and disdain. Just like I deserved Frankie’s. I’d wanted to be her father so badly. I’d wanted it because it meant…
“Eddie…” She was right behind me sliding her arms around me. “You have to believe me.”
Her hands stilled against me. I gave it to the count of three. She didn’t disappoint as she shoved away from me. “You believe them. Of course you do. You believe anyone that isn’t me whether your father is demanding you marry that slut…”
It never changed. From sweet to sour then back to sweet and Archie was right. She played me. I let her vent, but I wasn’t listening anymore. One part of me desperately wanted to fix this for her. To make right the years I’d taken away because I’d let my need for power and control—no, I’d let my fear make the decision for me. For us.
That was the day I’d lost her.
“You’re not even listening to me.” The snap in her tone and the viciousness beneath it all scraped against my skin. When confronted by a snarling dog, I needed to remind myself that it was about self preservation. Maddy always attacked when she thought she was on the cusp of losing.
“I should have seen it.” Each word cut the inside of my mouth like so many slivers of glass. “I should have known the moment you spoke to her like that at dinner—”
“Like what? Like she’s an ungrateful…”
“Shut up, Maddy,” I exhaled the words because I’d been a fool. A fool for so damn long. “Don’t disparage her that way. She certainly doesn’t deserve it.”
“Oh, so you’re still taking her side,” Maddy challenged, folding her arms as she glared at me. Yes, direct that attack at me. Come at me. “Even if she isn’t yours when she should have been?”
“Of course I’m taking their side. You made me complicit in the pain they’ve both been put through and I might have been a shit father…something my own has been trying to drum into my head for years and now I see it. That it took me so fucking long is on me. But this…what we did to them because you wanted to punish me and own me at the same time?”
I could wrap my hands around her neck and squeeze. I could literally see myself doing it and yet I couldn’t. For all her flaws and as twisted as it was, I loved her. I’d always loved her.
There was no way I could let this one go.
Not now. Not when I’d finally seen past my own misery and selfishness. I’d lost so much with my son. Pissed it away.
“I didn’t do a damn thing that didn’t need to be done.” She raised her chin as if daring me to deny it. “Frankie should have been your child. That should have been our life.”
“It was going to be,” I told her. “But you weaponized sex to punish me. You wanted what you wanted, when you wanted it. Once upon a time, you were worth it. Even if I took a lover every time you did. I never wanted them the way I wanted you. I would have given them all up—just to have you. But there isn’t a loyal bone in your body and I’m not your lapdog. Not anymore. I ruined a marriage, stole years from Muriel and Archie? I’ll never be able to give him back what should have been his. Fine—I accept that, that’s on me.”
“Well, good for you. I’m sure Muriel will be so eager to take you back from my bed…” She sauntered toward me all sex appeal and desire. My cock hardened at her nearness. Still, I caught her wrists before she could touch me and surprise burst through the cloud of seduction she wore like second skin. “Eddie…”
“Don’t. The apartment is yours. You can keep it. The car as well. I’ll make sure everything is in your name and I’ll add a tidy sum to cover your expenses until you find another job.” She’d quit hers and I’d agreed at the time. She was a brilliant marketing executive, but leaving her job meant she’d been with me full time and I’d been the stupid, selfish bastard who craved that. “Your credentials here will be revoked. Don’t call me. Don’t text me. Don’t look for me.”
“You heard me. You and me? We’re done.” It was like cutting my own heart out with a spoon. I should have scooped it out long before the cancer devoured it.
“But—we’re partners. What about us?”
“There is no us. There’s never been an us. I was just—too blinded to see it. I wanted to see you—my beautiful Madeleine. The gorgeous girl who took my virginity and introduced me to a world of pleasure. The girl I wanted to marry five minutes after we said hello. That girl has held me in her sway for decades. The problem is…that girl died a long time ago. Frankie is everything I thought you were, the way she looks at Archie? It was how I’d always wanted you to look at me. But seeing what they have? It’s a burning light on what we don’t.”
Releasing her wrists, I took a step back as she gaped me.
“Get out of my office, out of my building, and out of my life. Don’t come back.”
Her hand flew through the air and I took the full brunt of her open palmed smack. “You can’t just abandon me.”
The discussion was over, so I just stared at her a beat before I walked over to the phone and lifted the handset. Two buttons gave me security. “I need you to escort Ms. Curtis from the building and revoke her security clearance.”
Now tears welled in her eyes as if right on cue. “Eddie…please don’t do this. I…”
I tuned her out, arms folded, I waited. She went from sobs to shrieking and back again by the time security walked into the conference room. I watched with as much dispassion as I could muster, but it was all a front. I could still hear her strident tone in the elevator as the doors closed.
Alone, finally, I pulled out the chair and sank down in it. The DNA tests were still on the table. Regret was the bitterest of companions. I’d wanted Frankie to be my daughter so I could make up for all the ways I’d failed Archie.
Dragging my phone out, I stared at the blank screen a moment, then paged through to the photos. There were dozens of Archie on there. As a baby, a toddler, even a precocious child when he’d already mastered that disdainful coolness he held for me. A six year old should not ever have had to feel that.
I failed him in so many ways.
Then I did the one thing I’d never expected to do again, I called my father. We had been on bad terms for years but after Mother died, it was like the chasm between us turned into a frozen tundra. That was my fault, too.
“Eddie?” Dad answered. The surprise in his voice was so profound it drove home my own selfishness.
“Dad.” I hadn’t really called him that in years. Father if I was pushed, Ted at most business meetings, then nothing at all if I could help it. “I screwed up. I’ve been screwing up for a long time.” I pinched the bridge of my nose to try and drive back the pain throbbing so deep in my soul it echoed everywhere. My heart broke a long time ago, but today it finally admitted that it would never heal. Not the same way. “I’m sorry.”
A long sigh greeted my words. “Eddie, it’s going to be alright,” my father said in a gentle tone I didn’t deserve. “Where are you?”
“The office—in Texas.” Because we really did have offices everywhere.
“I can be there in a couple of hours. Or you can come and meet me.”
“After everything I’ve done?” After how badly I’d messed things up and kept messing them up?
“You’re my son,” he said, as straightforward and simple as breathing. “You’ll always be my son. That’s what family is. A chance at forgiveness even if we don’t think we deserve it. Now—are you coming to me or am I coming to you?”
“I’ll come to you. I need to get away and break some ties here…”
I didn’t have to explain, but I needed to. I needed to explore the depth of my own stupidity. Dad said nothing throughout the whole thing and at the end, he said, “Then we’ll take care of it. Now come home.”