Beneath This Ink (Page 74)

“Damn right, you don’t.”

“Daddy, if I were you, I’d watch what you say right about now. I’ve made my choice, and if you can’t be happy about it, then I’d prefer you say nothing at all.” Vanessa’s words were quiet, but firm.

Frost eyed me with all of the ice his name implied. “You willing to cause a rift between a father and his only child just to get a piece of ass, boy?”

I dropped Vanessa’s hand and stalked forward, slapping both palms down on the surface of the desk. “Don’t you fucking talk about her like that, old man. I don’t give a damn what you say about me, but you will fucking respect her. I don’t care how old you are, I’ll teach you some goddamn manners myself.”

I expected him to rise, which he did. He laid both hands on the desk and leaned forward, mirroring my posture.

“What did you say to me, boy?”

“You heard me, old man.”

His blue eyes were an aged and paler version of Vanessa’s, but they speared me all the same.

“You going to threaten to beat every man who disrespects her?”

“Without a fucking doubt,” I vowed.

I expected him to reach across the desk and plant a fist in my face, or maybe reach under the desk and pull out a shotgun, but this time my expectations were off. Instead, he nodded, straightened, and held out a hand.

“It’s nice to see you again, Mr. Leahy.”

I stared down at his outstretched palm, shocked that he was offering it to me.

“Excuse me?”

“You may not have been my choice, but any man who’d threaten to kick my ass in my own house for disrespecting my daughter is a man I can respect, even if I don’t particularly like him.”

His words floored me. I was still processing them as we shook.

“Better treat her right, though. If I hear even a whisper otherwise, I’ll hunt you down like a dog.”

I wasn’t going to argue with that. “Fair enough, sir.”

“Then it really is good to see you again, Constantine.”

The handshake may have only spanned a few seconds, but its impact on me was monumental. It might have been grudgingly given, and provisional, but Royce Frost was showing me his respect. Like I was an equal. My shoulders straightened of their own accord, and I stood taller. The chip Vanessa had accused me of carrying seemed to shrink.

When I stepped away from the desk, Vanessa moved to my side and tucked her arm into mine.

“Con will be staying for dinner.”

“Damn right he will be,” Royce said, studying me. “Going to take me three courses of grilling him to make sure he really passes. Heard you were a military man.”

I nodded. “That’s right. Army. Special Forces.”

He lifted his chin. “Impressive.”

“And that’ll be the end of the grilling,” Vanessa interrupted. “You’ll make him feel welcome or we won’t be coming back for dinner any time soon.”

“You live here; I think not coming back for dinner would be difficult, Vanessa,” her father pointed out.

“Not for long. I’m moving in with Con.”

I jerked my head to the side to look down at her. “You are?”

Vanessa gave me a playful smile. “Yes. You were just getting around to asking me.”

“I was?” This was not something she should have dropped on me in front of her father. If he didn’t want to kill me before, now he’d want to for sure.

“Sounds like we’ve got more to talk about over dinner than I thought,” Royce drawled.

We left Vanessa’s father’s house four hours later. There’d been no bloodshed at dinner, and I was surprised to find I’d actually enjoyed myself, aside from the discussion about Archer and the havoc he’d wreaked. I was done thinking about it, done dredging up the ghosts of my past. For the first time in my life, I had a future I couldn’t wait to experience.

When I’d opened the door of Vanessa’s car for her to get in, she’d shaken her head and said, “Nope. I’m riding with you.”

And she had, waving to her father from the back of my bike as we’d driven away. I think my pipes had rattled the windows of the neighborhood, but I didn’t care about anything but Vanessa’s arms wrapped around me.

I parked beneath the lake house and led her out to the pavilion.

“So we’re moving in together, huh?”

Vanessa’s eyes danced. “Yes, we are.”

“And if I said we’d be living above Voodoo?”

She laid her hand on my chest and looked up at me. “I don’t think you get it yet, Con. I’d live anywhere with you.”

“How do you feel about the apartment during the week and here on the weekends?”

“I told you, anywhere you are is where I want to be.”

I pressed a kiss to her forehead. “I still can’t believe you took me to your dad’s house.”

“It was long overdue.”

I glanced around and surveyed the houses on both sides of us. Dark.

I reached for the hem of my T-shirt and yanked it up and over my head.

“What are you doing?” Vanessa asked. “Not that I’m complaining about you shirtless.”

“Something else that’s long overdue.”

I spun her around and unzipped her dress. She didn’t protest, just craned her head to watch me unzip my jeans and tug them off.

“We’re going skinny dipping,” I elaborated.

Vanessa grinned and let her dress fall to the dock.

“I take it you’re game?” I asked, holding out my hand.