“Please, my sweet little princess, let me hold you.”
I’m not sure if it’s the slight tremor in his deep voice that causes the first tear or if it’s the one of his own sliding down his face, but the second that tear falls, there isn’t a thing I can do to keep him from crossing the room.
“I needed my daddy,” I sob into his chest. “I needed you and all I got were accusations I never in my life thought you would throw at me. I needed you to hold me and tell me that everything would be okay and that you loved me. But you pushed me away and it broke my heart.”
“God, Dani. Please stop.” His arms tighten around me, and I feel my feet lift off the ground. His head drops to my shoulder, and I feel him take a deep breath.
“I can’t breathe,” I gasp and squirm against him.
He gives me another squeeze before he lightly drops my feet back down. When he pulls back and I get my first look at his red-rimmed eyes, my heart breaks a little.
“I don’t know how to forget what you said to me, Daddy,” I sigh. “I expected your shock. I expected your anger at Cohen. But most of all, I expected your love.”
He clears his throat. “Sit down, little princess. I think, maybe, I can help with that.”
I follow behind him and sit down on the worn, leather recliner. Daddy sits next to me in the matching one, and I wait for him to talk. I have no idea what he thinks can give me—maybe some insight on how he reacted to my pregnancy—but I wait.
“I don’t think I can explain just how it feels to grow up with shit parents, Dani, but the ones I had—they were as shitty as it gets. I never wanted you or your brother to know how bad it was for me when I was growing up. Never wanted that for you, but I think you need to hear some of it . . . to understand why I am the way I am.”
I lean back and wait for him to continue. It’s his show now.
“My parents . . . They were never sober. They were never not high off some drug. They never talked to me with anything other than hate. That was my life until Social Services took me and I ended up in the system. That wasn’t much better, but I wasn’t beaten and I ate enough that I didn’t starve. But it was lonely, Dani. It was terribly lonely. Until I met your mom. Trust me when I tell you that I know exactly what you mean when you talk about a once-in-a-lifetime soul mate. That was and is your mom for me.
“You know about me being deployed and what happened to me and your mom during those years and the ones that followed. But I don’t think I’ve ever told anyone, outside your mother, what it felt like when, years later I found out that our baby didn’t make it. God, Dani . . . To hear how your mother suffered killed me, but to know that part of us had died gutted me. I know the rational side of it. I went to a few therapy sessions with your mom to have those quacks throw it out there in terms I could understand. For a child who grew up the way I did, to live that lonely life void of love, a child with the woman I loved more than life, was my second chance. I remember the day your mom told me, all those years after, and sitting on the dock behind the house, vowing to God that, if I was blessed with more children, I would never stop protecting them. I would give them the love, safety, and life I never had.”
He stops and wipes a tear that escaped my eyes. I don’t speak. We sit in silence while I wait for him to compose his thoughts.
“I know I take it to a level that is just too much when it comes to you, Dani. I look at you, seeing so much of your mother, and I’m reminded of that sweet, stars-in-her-eyes woman I left all those years ago. That I left to a life of hell for years. I see the pain I couldn’t protect her from, and it makes me hold you just a little tighter. I think I rationalized with myself that, if I just held on as long as I could, you would never know that kind of pain.”
“I still don’t understand how you could even think that I could do something like this to Cohen, Daddy. How I could cheat on him?”
“I don’t think that, baby. I didn’t think it then, and I don’t think it now. There is no excuse for what I said. I’m not disappointed in you. I’m disappointed in me. I was scared, Dani, and that’s the simple truth. I was terrified when I heard them say you were pregnant. All of those old wounds just sliced right open, and what I felt all of those years ago came back tenfold. Only this time, it was my girl, my little princess, and I was terrified to my core.”
Never in a million years did I expect that from him. My father? The big, bad Axel Reid was scared? Nope. Never.
“The second you left and I realized what I’d said, I wanted to chase you down, but your mom said that I should give you time. Well, actually, she screamed at me for being a jackass. I’m always going to look at you as my little girl, Dani, and there isn’t anything that could change that. I’m damn proud of the woman you’ve grown to be, and I love you more than life itself. I can’t tell you enough how sorry I am for letting my emotions and temper get the best of me.”