On my knees, p.26
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       On My Knees, p.26

         Part #2 of Stark International Trilogy series by J. Kenner
 
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twenty-seven

  Jackson stood in the jet’s open doorway before descending the stairs. Above them, the sky burned as blue and bright as a sapphire, contrasting the browns and greens and reds of the mountains that rose in peaks and crags around them.

  On the ground, the black tarmac spread out around the plane, like a smooth blanket covering this valley. He glanced around, but didn’t see a car, and both fear and disappointment cut into him.

  “Are they here?” Behind him, Sylvia put her hand gently on his shoulder.

  He shook his head. “No. Nobody. ”

  “Maybe the timing didn’t work out. ” Sylvia moved into the doorway with him, her hand finding his and their fingers twining together. “Herding kids can be tricky, and Betty’s older. She could have easily gotten waylaid. ”

  He’d called Betty, Ronnie’s great-grandmother, before they left LA and suggested that she come meet the plane at the Santa Fe airport. Jackson had always flown into Santa Fe on commercial planes before, and he thought Ronnie might get a kick out of touring the private jet and maybe even sitting in the co pilot’s seat.

  He hoped Sylvia was right and they were just running late. He’d thought that Betty supported his effort to become a true dad to Ronnie. And he damn sure hoped he wasn’t wrong about that.

  It was bad enough that Megan was putting up barriers. He loved her like a sister, and he hated the fact that she was opposed to his decision, especially when she was in no condition to care for Ronnie anymore.

  Bottom line, he wanted his daughter. And he hoped to hell that getting her wasn’t going to land them both in the middle of a family feud.

  Surely it wouldn’t come to that? Would it?

  He’d done so much to get Ronnie back. Taken so many personal risks. But he was all-in now, and he would do what it took. Whatever it took.

  He only hoped the price wouldn’t be too high.

  “It’s going to be fine,” Sylvia said, as if reading his mind. “You’re doing the right thing, and it’s all going to work out. ”

  He turned and saw her looking up at him, her expression so ferocious in its sincerity that it twisted him up inside. Without even planning to, he pulled her close, one arm around her waist and the other cupping the back of her head. He heard her surprised gasp, then took that opportunity to kiss her.

  She melted against him, as if right then, he was the only thing that existed in her world. And that moment—that reaction—gave him strength.

  He held her longer, not wanting the kiss to end, not wanting to feel that sense of loss when he let her go. So he let his lips linger on hers until he finally had the strength to pull away.

  “Thank you,” he said.

  Her smile was bright and pleased. “You’re very welcome, but what exactly are you thanking me for?”

  “For believing in me. For coming with me. For watching my back. ” He paused for no more than the length of a heartbeat. “For loving me. ”

  “Mmm. ” She slid her arms around him again. “In that case, you really are welcome. ”

  They stood like that for a moment longer in the open doorway of the Stark International jet. When they broke apart, her eyes were dancing. “The crew probably wants to disembark. Maybe it’s time to brave the stairs?”

  “It probably is. ” He took one step, then another, with Sylvia right behind him. When he was on the third step, two cars pulled up and parked on the tarmac a few yards from the plane. The first, a dark blue Mercedes that he knew belonged to Betty. The second, a four-door Oldsmobile sedan that he didn’t recall seeing before. Page 104

  “Is that them?” Sylvia asked.

  But he didn’t need to answer because by the time Sylvia finished the question, the driver of the Mercedes had stepped out and gone to open the back door. He leaned in, and a moment later a small burst of sunshine leaped from the car and raced toward the jet stairs, all the way calling, “Uncle Jackson! Uncle Jackson!”

  He hurried the rest of the way down, then scooped her up, enveloping her in a big hug before turning her upside down, to the child’s total delight.

  “Sylvie!” Ronnie squealed when Syl joined him on the tarmac. Syl bent over to face the little girl, still locked upside down in Jackson’s embrace.

  “Hey, Ronnie,” she said. “What are you doing down there?”

  “Swinging! Up, Uncle Jackson! Up, up!”

  He obliged her, swinging her out, then catching her and balancing her on his hip. He gave her a big kiss on the cheek and received a sloppy wet kiss of his own in return. And when she held out her arms and demanded kisses from Sylvia, too, a wash of emotion so clean and crisp that it had to be joy swept over him.

  In front of them, Betty was now standing by the Mercedes, having emerged from the car while Jackson was scooping up his little girl. She was a tall woman in her early seventies with silver hair and the manner and bearing of royalty.

  Now, she met Jackson’s eyes and nodded. Just the slightest tilt of her head, but it told Jackson everything he needed to know. As far as the paternity action went, Betty was on his side.

  With one last dramatic swoop, he swung Ronnie down to her feet.

  “Let’s go see Grammy,” he said as he took her little hand in his left. At the same time, he reached out for Sylvia with his right. She squeezed his hand, her smile bright, her eyes glistening with tears. Not of pain, but of joy.

  He wanted to hold her close and tell her everything she already knew. That he loved her. That she was the only woman for him. That she made him desperately, passionately happy. That he wouldn’t be able to get through everything that was to come if she wasn’t at his side.

  “Ready?” he asked instead, and when she nodded, he stepped forward toward the future.

  They were almost to the Mercedes when the passenger’s and driver’s doors of the Oldsmobile opened and two men in suits stepped out. They headed toward him, walking in long, confident strides. And when they reached him, one held out a Santa Fe police badge.

  “Jackson Steele?”

  Fear, as ice-cold as a knife, cut through Jackson. He pushed it back. Kept his expression flat.

  “How can I help you, officer?”

  “Detective,” the taller man corrected. “I’m Detective Parker. This is my partner, Detective Jamison. We’re going to have to ask you to come with us. ”

  Sylvia’s hand tightened in his. “Why? What’s going on?”

  “We’re working in cooperation with the Beverly Hills police department. ” Parker kept his eyes on Jackson. “And you’re wanted for questioning in the murder of Robert Cabot Reed. ”

  The murder of Robert Cabot Reed.

  Though the words ring through my head, I have to work to understand what they mean. I’m too numb. Too shell-shocked.

  Reed is dead.

  The man who abused me, raped me. The man who starred in my nightmares, who made me afraid.

  The man who would have made a movie that exposed a little girl’s life to the worst kind of scandal.

  The man I hated.

  He is dead. He is gone.

  And though I want to dance for joy, I can’t.

  Because Jackson is about to be ripped from me, and I don’t know how I will survive without this man beside me.

  This man who maybe, just maybe, killed the man who tormented me. Who tormented us both.

  I think about his temper. About how far he would go to protect me. To protect his daughter.

  I think about what I know he fears, and what I know he is capable of.

  I could lose him, I think, this man that I love.

  Only two things are certain now:

  That everything is going to change.

  And that I am very, very afraid.
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