Beneath These Lies (Page 24)

When I opened the front door of my parents’ house with my key, their dog greeted me first, as usual. Chaney was a ridiculously friendly golden doodle that could barely manage to keep her front paws on the ground because of her ridiculous friendliness.

“Hey, pup. Where’s your ball?”

She froze for a split second before running off in the direction of wherever her ball was hiding. Probably under the couch.

“Is that the sound of my baby girl?” my mother called from the kitchen. She bustled out, still drying her hands on a dish towel. “You’re here! I’m so glad! I haven’t seen you all week.” She didn’t slow until I was caught up in her arms for the kind of hug only my mother could give. Like it had been five years since she’d seen me rather than five days.

“I know, I know. I’ve been busy trying to keep up with the gallery. Lots of new business lately.” I wasn’t lying; that was the truth. But my mother didn’t need to know about the other things keeping me busy.

“You’re working so hard lately. You really need to take some time and enjoy yourself.”

“You know she won’t, Jo.” My father came out of the kitchen, wearing an apron that read KISS THE MASTER GRILLER. “She’s too much like her old man. All work and no play. At least until he met his better half.”

My parents hadn’t gotten married until their early thirties and had me a couple of years later. My father loved to talk about the years he spent chained to his desk as a lowly assistant district attorney before the magnificence that was my mother opened his eyes to everything he was missing in life.

It was adorable. Until he dragged her away to kiss her in a way that would “scandalize the child.” Just like I’d developed a decent case of envy when it came to Yve banishing her demons and allowing herself to be swept off her feet by Lucas Titan, I had always been envious of what my parents shared. It was real. Solid. Permanent. If you tried to tell my dad that the sun rose and set anywhere other than directly over my mother, he’d probably give you a stern lecture on how not to be a moron.

Love. It was a thing that other people experienced, and I was wondering if I ever would. I’d had zero prospect of it on the horizon, and now, against my better judgment, I seemed to be drawn in two separate directions.

I’m fucking fascinated with you, Rix had said. But you could be fascinated with a duck-billed platypus.

I’ve wanted to flirt with you for years, Valentina, but you weren’t ready. I think you’re ready now. Rhett was right; I was ready. Ready to start living again.

“See, she’s probably spacing out right now thinking of something she forgot to do before she left the gallery.”

My dad’s voice pierced through my swirling thoughts. Thoughts better left alone.

“Sorry,” I said, just in time for Chaney to come running back with her ball. “It has been a crazy few days.”

“That’s why you need to make time for things other than work,” my mother said.

I knew she wanted to say Go on a date, have fun, but given the circumstances, she never would, and I couldn’t miss the flash of pain on her face when she held back the words. I hated that they both still saw me as their daughter who’d been raped. I wasn’t a victim anymore, but the sympathetic looks hadn’t changed in ten years. How would I ever get them to see me as I was today rather than their baby girl who’d been violated?

Her pained look tightened the corners of her mouth, and there wasn’t much I wouldn’t say to erase it. And that was why I opened my big fat mouth.

“I am making time for things other than work. I sorta went on a date last night. And I have another tomorrow.”

Both my parents stilled and looked at me. “A date? Really?”

It was proof of how little I told them about that aspect of my life and how little I dated. There had been guys here and there I’d seen casually, but no one I would have ever mentioned to my parents. For them, this news was almost groundbreaking. And maybe it would finally help me shed the victim image in their eyes.

“Who’s the lucky man?” The question came from my father.

Well, crap. Of course they’d want details.

“He’s a cop. NOPD.”

This grabbed my father’s attention even more. He knew lots of cops. “Does he have a name?”

“Rhett Hennessy. Detective Rhett Hennessy.”

Both my parents, but especially my father, had been very involved in my case, and I knew he’d recognize the name. I didn’t know what kind of reaction I’d get, however.

“Good man. I’ve always liked him. He’s young, but that works in his favor. He’s got drive. Great cop. Not a bad choice.”

My mother glanced at my father before faux whispering, “And he’s handsome in that rough, primal sort of way. Good choice, for sure.”

My father raised an eyebrow at my mother. “I’ll show you handsome in a rough, primal sort of way.” He growled and stepped toward her.

“Do you want me to grab my steak off the grill and take it to go? I can leave you two . . . alone.”

My parents both laughed, and my father stepped back. “No, we’ll save this for later.”

“Okay. Ewww. Just ewww. I don’t want to hear it.”

My mother leaned in and hugged me again, and Chaney wiggled between us. “It’s good to see you smile. Now, let’s go throw together a salad and eat.”

Dinner was filled with my father telling stories about some of the crazy happenings at the courthouse. The family that attempted to stage a protest on the steps before they realized their son had agreed to a plea bargain. The defendant who had head-butted the bailiff and tried to make a run for it, but tripped over his own feet and sprained an ankle before he could get out of the courtroom. I swear, it was stuff that I would have never believed if I hadn’t been raised around a dinner table hearing stories like that.