As the song began, Chad glanced over at his daughter. Yeah, she knew that now. That had not been an easy conversation to have either. But he and Rose had answered her questions openly and honestly. He had hoped that would draw Grace out of the shell that she had been in, even before the kidnapping. But it hadn’t. Not completely anyway. She still mainly kept to herself. Preferring to spend time with the other girl, though he could understand that. Having someone closer to her own age must be nice.
He liked Bebe. She was a good kid. But that girl had been through so much. He’d be lying if he said that the difference between the still relatively innocent daughter and the girl who had been… He still could not bring himself to think about all Bebe had endured. But at sixteen, those experiences put her in an odd position, neither child nor woman.
Still, he was not sure how they would manage when they went back to the ranch. They had talked about the situation these past few days. Rose and Grace were safe. His daughter could go back to school. Not some fancy private academy, maybe, but the local high school where he had spent his last two years before graduating and joining the Marines. That was good enough.
But while they were safe, the press was having a field day with this shit. Some of the others had agreed to interviews. Stacey’s girl Mercy was some best-selling romance writer, going from utter obscurity to fame after shooting the sheriff. Ryan and Will had spoken with a couple of local reporters. Heck, Rose believed that the best way forward was for her to give one. They were still debating that, though. And definitely not until they got home, and she was healed completely.
But they had been so hounded by the press at Jack’s casino, that was why they had ended up staying at Stacey’s trailer. Despite how crowded it was.
Chad noticed that Grace was crying. Rose reached out to wrap her arm around their daughter, but she pulled away. His daughter slipped from the pew, down the side aisle, and out the door as the woman continued that final song. Rose turned to go after her, but he stopped her with a gentle hand on the shoulder. “I’ll go, darlin’.”
The service might have been the best he’d ever been to, but that wasn’t saying much. He liked the young man’s ideas about what Jesus said I far sight better than the hellfire and brimstone of his grandparent’s church. If they lived in Sebida, he might even come back, now and then.
But whatever the man had said, it seemed to have upset his baby girl. And that was his worry now. He looked around for Grace. Her natural blond might be peeking through the roots, but that rainbow still made it hard to miss the girl. But he did not see her.
Then he looked off to the side. There was some open pasture land next to the old wooden building. He had to chuckle to see his daughter making friends with an old nag that looked like it had seen better days. Wilson green eyes. And the Wilson way with horseflesh.
Right now, he knew his child was as skittish as a colt. So, he approached her slowly, with as much care. She turned as he came alongside her. Those green eyes were swollen and shining with more unspilled tears.
“I’m sorry. It’s all my fault. If I had only listened to ya’ll. Hell, even Gerald told me. And now, Mama…” She broke down into sobs that shook her tiny body.
Chad wasn’t sure where he stood with his daughter. One of her multitude of questions had been, ‘so, do you expect me to call you dad now or something?’ They had assured her that was not necessary. Hell, he had missed almost fourteen years of her life. Fifteen if you counted those precious months of Rose’s pregnancy.
He might not know where he stood with Grace, but Chad knew he could not just stand here and watch her cry like that. He reached out and drew her into his arms. He was a bit surprised that she did not fight it. Instead, Grace laid her head against his chest and just cried more.
He wished he had words to make it all better. But those had never come easily to him. All he could do was hold his child. It seemed utterly inadequate. But hold her, he did. He was not sure if it was two minutes or twenty when her sobs turned to hiccups, and Grace pulled back from his embrace.
“I’m sorry, Daddy. I know I’ll never be able to make it up to you or Mama. That preacher’s wrong. Somethings can’t be reconciled. Mama losing that baby is my fault. And there’s nothing I can ever do to make that right.”
Chad reached for the old fence post. He hoped like hell it was more solid than it looked. He wasn’t sure which registered louder in his mind. His daughter had chosen to call him Daddy. Or that Rose had lost a baby. Their baby. And she had not told him.
But some part of him knew that this was a pivotal moment. Perhaps the most important one, since the night outside that motel door. What he said now would determine his relationship with his daughter for the rest of their lives.
He wasn’t sure of the right words, but he knew one thing. This burden was too big for those little shoulders to bear alone. He reached for her once more. Grace started to draw away, but he put his arm around her shoulders and pulled her against his side.
His head swam with questions. How? He knew that Rose had been hurt, badly beaten. The doctors in Laredo had insisted on keeping her overnight for observation. Hell, they had stopped in Sebida because she was too tired to go any further.
But Rose had not mentioned a miscarriage. Had she known about the miscarriage? Had she known she was pregnant when she went after Grace? He hadn’t liked the plan, to begin with, but he sure as hell would not have agreed to it if he had known she was pregnant.
Or would he have? Holding his daughter now, knowing Grace was safe, that she had a whole new life stretching out before her, what was that worth? Had Rose been forced to make an unimaginable choice? They’d need to talk about that. But they had a lifetime for that. When she was healthier.
“Grace, I want you to know that I don’t blame you for any of this. It’s not your fault.”
She shook the rainbow, and more tears appeared in those emerald eyes, “But if I hadn’t…”
“If you hadn’t logged in and played that game? How do we know what would have happened? Because you were kidnapped, I swallowed my pride and reached out to Reb and the others. We came to Mexico, and Mercy and your friend Bebe were saved. What might have happened to them if you hadn’t been taken?”
“And who’s to say your mother wouldn’t have lost the baby anyway? Rose is almost forty now. These things happen all the time, even to younger women but especially as you get older. Maybe that’s why she didn’t say anything to me?”
He’d have to set Rose straight on that one, though. Couples shared the bad as well as the good. But right now, his daughter needed his full attention.
“If you’re assigning blame for this all, then start with your old man. I sneaked out of that hotel room fifteen years ago even though everything in my body told me this was the woman for me. I had my head so far up my ass about the shit I had seen and done. All the ‘things’ that your Mama was used to that I couldn’t give her. That I didn’t look at the most important one. The one thing that I could offer her that Gerald or no other man could – my undying love.”
“Who knows what would have happened if I had the courage to stay. To wake up next to her and make love to your Mama one more time. To tell her how I felt and beg her to give me a chance.”
“Would she have listened? Would she have traded that champagne and crystal chandeliers for a broken-down old jarhead with nothing to offer her? I don’t know. Hell, she can’t say for sure. But maybe, if I had, if she had, I’d be the kind of father to you that deserved being called Daddy.”
His voice choked on the word that was precious in his mind. No, he didn’t deserve it. But for this girl, he’d damn well become a better man. The kind that did. Tears filled his own Wilson green eyes, and he had no shame in letting his little girl see them.
“When that man drove up, and you and your Mama got out of that car, I didn’t know what to think. But the moment I saw you, when I looked into those eyes, I knew you were mine. I never doubted that. Even before McBride confirmed it.”
Grace laughed and leaned against him, “Yeah, those Wilson green eyes. That’s how I figured it out too.”
“And if we had been honest with you, treated you like the responsible young lady you are, maybe you wouldn’t have been so angry with us. Perhaps you wouldn’t have logged into that account?”
“You see, it ain’t about blame. There’s plenty of that to go around. If Gerald hadn’t lied all those years, kept the truth from all of us? Heck, if your grandfather hadn’t bartered your Mama’s hand off in marriage to an old coot?”
“But all those what-ifs don’t count. We can only deal with the here and now. The present. And right now, I have you and your Mama back. You’re both safe. And we have the chance to build a future together as a family.”
“That preacher might have focused on harmony and reconsecration but don’t forget another of those definitions was accepting something unpleasant. We can’t change the past, Grace. But we can choose to love and trust one another in the present. And we can commit to doing better in the future.”
“And that’s what I’m doing right now. I want to be the kinda daddy you need. That you always wanted. And the type of husband that your Mama can trust with her pain as well as her joy.”
He felt the hand on his shoulder and turned to look into the tear-filled eyes of the woman he had loved for fifteen years as Rose laid her head on his back. “You already are. I’m sorry… I should have told you. But I wasn’t even sure myself. And all I could think about was bringing our daughter back safely.”
“Oh, Mama,” Grace turned and threw herself into her mother’s arms. Somehow they ended up in a group hug. Their first. But Chad hoped not their last. It would probably take a helluva a lot of those to heal fifteen years of regrets and what-ifs. But it was a new and sunny day in Sebida, Texas. And for the Wilson’s too. It might be a long, hard, and bumpy road to accepting and resigning themselves to some of the things that had happened and the choices they had made in the past. They might even lose their way a time or two. But Reconciliation for this family had begun.