Beyond the SeductionM.A. Stacie
About the Author
Beyond the Seduction
First published by The Writer’s Coffee Shop, 2015
Copyright © M.A. Stacie, 2015
The right of M.A. Stacie to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by her under the Copyright Amendment (Moral Rights) Act 2000
This work is copyright. Apart from any use as permitted under the Copyright Act 1968, no part may be reproduced, copied, scanned, stored in a retrieval system, recorded or transmitted, in any form or by any means, without the prior written permission of the publisher.
All characters and events in this Book – even those sharing the same name as (or based on) real people – are entirely fictional. No person, brand, or corporation mentioned in this Book should be taken to have endorsed this Book nor should the events surrounding them be considered in any way factual.
This Book is a work of fiction and should be read as such.
The Writer’s Coffee Shop
(Australia) PO Box 447 Cherrybrook NSW 2126
(USA) PO Box 2116 Waxahachie TX 75168
Paperback ISBN- 978-1-61213-378-2
E-book ISBN- 978-1-61213-379-9
A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the US Congress Library.
Cover images : © BlueSkyImage / Shutterstock.com, © EmiliaUngur / Shutterstock.com, © Alexander Tihonov / Shutterstock.com
Cover design by L.J. Anderson
Interior design by JEM Book Designs
To my four amazing men.
You give me my happy ending.
I love you.
Trace Jacks read the percentage written on the piece of paper again. His hand shook as the voice of the imaginary chat show host echoed around his head. You are not the father. He’d been played. Treated like a fucking fool.
Emmie and Tatum had been his life—his future, but now the baby he’d loved so much was nothing more than a dream. She wasn’t his. The little fist that used to clench his finger and melt his heart no longer had anything to do with him. Her beautiful eyes, the ones he’d thought were mirror images of his own, were nothing but deceptions of his mind. Tatum looked nothing like him. Not a single part of her could be genetically linked to him.
His future was fucked.
Dropping down onto the couch, he stared around his apartment. Only a few weeks ago the large loft space had been filled with life. Tatum’s gurgles and Emmie’s light giggles always greeted him after a hard shift at work. Right now he was left with empty silence. All that remained of either of them was a small pink pacifier, a frilly white sock, and the devastating letter he still clutched in his hand.
How had everything come to this point? When had his happiness reached its shelf life? And how the fuck was he supposed to move forward when the daughter he loved was no longer his?
Shoving his fingers through his already messy brown hair, he read the letter again. The words swam in front of his eyes, his head beginning to pound. His cell vibrated on the table for the third time, one quick glance letting him know it was his sister, Dale. Jesus, he wanted to talk to her, but how could he explain that Tatum wasn’t her niece?
“Fuck!” he growled, gritting his teeth. He fisted his hand, crumpling the corner of the letter as his cell continued to vibrate. His chest ached, and no amount of rubbing his sternum with his knuckles helped. The pain was deep, relentless. It pulsed along with his rapid heartbeat, ricocheting around his chest. Tears pricked at Trace’s eyes, a sob bubbling up his throat. It burst free at the same time a tear trickled down his cheek.
Falling onto his side, he clutched the letter to his chest. Trace wept, pulling his knees to his chest. Memories assaulted him: the day Emmie told him she was pregnant, the smile on her face when they’d seen their little kidney bean baby on the scan, the force with which she’d held his hand, screaming when Tatum’s head crowned, and the horrific nerves he’d felt when driving his new family home. He’d even sold his goddamned bike for them. Emmie wanted him to grow up and get a car, so that’s exactly what he’d done.
What a fucking waste.
His chest heaved. Their argument was so fresh in his mind, their shouting still echoing around the walls of his apartment. He’d been an idiot. Blinded by the flourish of feelings he’d had for Emmie. Christ, he didn’t fall in love easily, but he knew he could love her if he allowed himself. As time went on, those thoughts changed. He wasn’t in love with her.
Without a doubt, he’d loved every bone in Tatum’s body, though. He’d been willing to keep going for their little girl. Having lived in a one-parent family himself, he didn’t want the same for his child. Living with his father hadn’t been hard. It had been just fine, and more so when Dale had moved in with them. Trace just didn’t like the distance he now experienced with his mother. They didn’t see each other often. She hadn’t even met Tatum.
He supposed that was irrelevant now. It was all irrelevant. Tatum wasn’t his. Emmie had cheated. More than once, and he was left with an apartment and a car suitable for the family he no longer had.
Trace Jacks was alone.
His cell started ringing again. This time he didn’t need to look to see who was calling. Once his sister had her mind set on something, she never gave up. Apparently, today her mind was set on talking to him. He couldn’t. He didn’t think he could form the words. It had been hard enough explaining to her what Emmie had done. It had taken him and Dale’s husband, Kyran, to hold her back. She’d been set on “teaching the woman a lesson.”
His sister was feisty.
Technically they were half siblings, both sharing the same father. Dale’s mom had been too stubborn to give her daughter her father’s last name, though she had always been a part of his life. Dale hadn’t moved to Barren Island to live with him and their father until her mom had moved to a different state with her new boyfriend. Dale had been thirteen and would have gone with her mom . . . had she been included.
From the day that she’d moved in with them, she and Trace had been inseparable. Even now, he spoke to her almost every day.
Wiping his nose with the back of his hand, Trace took a few deep breaths. Feeling sorry for himself and crying about it wasn’t going to help. However, even as that thought crossed his mind, another tear fell. Picking himself up from this mess was going to be a slow process. Tatum brought light into his world, and now she had been taken away.
His stomach twisted as his gaze rested on the frilly little sock. Tatum was too young to know who he was, and she was too young to remember him. She wouldn’t know he’d been her father for the first six months of her life, or that he had been the first person to hold her after she’d been born. Trace had also been the one who could lul
l her to sleep. Tatum would settle into slumber lying on his chest, her head resting over his heart. How did Emmie get her to sleep now? Was her real father replicating what Trace had done for so many months? The thought made him sick to his stomach. His head and his heart were both reluctant to believe the words on the letter. Those parts of him believed Tatum to be his.
His upset began to edge toward anger as Trace started to place the blame for his hurt at Emmie’s feet. He wouldn’t have to feel any of it if she’d stayed faithful, or even told him the truth from the start. At least then he would have known. The choice would have been his to make. He kicked the coffee table with his boot, sending it skidding across the wood floor. The white sock, along with his silent cell phone, flew off the table and scattered underneath the couch opposite. The lack of furniture made the whole incident seem noisier, the sounds bouncing off the brick walls. Trace hated the emptiness. He missed the life that had filled the space just a few months ago. Working the bar at Metro could be tough at times. The illegal bare-knuckle fights that went on in there were brutal, but the moment he opened the door to his apartment those horrors would disperse. For the first time in his life, he’d enjoyed being home.
His phone rang again, snapping him out of his thoughts. This time it was accompanied by a knock on his front door. He groaned, wishing he’d gone to stay with his father on Barren Island. Very few people would bother him there. Most people didn’t even know where it was.
“Trace? Let me in. It’s Dale.”
He knew her voice. The introduction wasn’t necessary. It didn’t matter. The door was staying closed.
“Trace, I’m worried.”
She would go home soon. He just needed to wait it out.
“Ella wants to see her uncle Tray.”
Oh God. His sister had pulled out the big guns. She knew his weakness. He couldn’t leave his two-year-old niece at his door, so he quickly wiped the tears from his face and shoved the letter behind a cushion. “One minute!” he shouted, making sure there were no signs of his temporary breakdown before walking toward the door. His hands shook, burying the trauma turning out to be more difficult than he’d thought. His sister would see through his crappy façade, but that didn’t mean he had to tell her. He could stall. Or lie.
Trace gripped the handle, inhaling sharply and plastering a fake smile on his face. “Hey, D,” he said as he opened the door. The tremor in his tone was clear and he watched his sister’s green eyes thin. Ignoring her, he reached out for the curly-haired little girl in her arms. “Hello, beautiful. Got a kiss for me?”
Ella squealed and sprang toward him, making his heart clench when her arms looped around his neck. She was all he had now.
“ ’Iss for Tray,” Ella said against his cheek.
Dale stared at him, studying every move he made. She saw he was upset even though he tried to cover it up.
“What can I do for you both?”
“Why didn’t you answer your phone?” Dale asked, ignoring his question and asking her own.
“I-I didn’t hear it. I must have been in the shower.”
Dale’s dark brows rose. “Liar.” She took Ella from him, lowering her feet to the floor. She opened a pink backpack and offered Ella some juice before turning her attention back to Trace. “Come on, then. You’ve had a few minutes to work out the next lie.”
Trace slumped back onto the couch. “Don’t, D.”
“Don’t what? I was worried. You wouldn’t talk to me, so I came. Isn’t that what family is supposed to do? Trace, you’ve been distant since Emmie left. Even Kyran has noticed it.”
“Would you prefer it if I dealt with my pain by getting pummeled at Metro? Just like your husband does?”
Dale rolled her eyes before passing a small box of raisins to her daughter. “You’re upset. I see that. So I’m going to ignore the dig at Kyran. But let me make this clear, dear brother, I’m not leaving until you talk.”
Well, fuck. She was serious.
“Of course, if I stay here it won’t be long before Kyran comes looking for me. Then you’ll have to talk to him, too, I guess.”
She sounded blasé but there was no way in hell he was telling Kyran about Tatum. The revelation of Emmie’s cheating had been mortifying enough. That reality was still beyond embarrassing. It had grown worse when he’d learned that it wasn’t just once. “I’m good. I just have some shi—stuff to work through,” he replied, catching himself before he cursed in front of Ella.
“And that is? I’m not giving in, Trace.”
Ella grinned at him, offering up her raisin box.
“No thanks, Ella.”
Dale glared. “Don’t use my daughter as a distraction.”
“What, like you didn’t use her to get through the door?”
To her credit, his sister didn’t bother denying it. Instead she waited. Trace’s heart began to race, his palms growing sweaty with anxiety. “I can’t,” he croaked out, forcing the words past the lump that had formed in his throat.
“Trace, you’re scaring me. Is there something wrong with Dad? Tatum?”
Totally lost about how to answer his sister, Trace reached behind the cushion and retrieved the crumpled letter. He passed it to her, shook his head, and stared at his niece. He could look at Dale, though he didn’t need to. The moment she grasped what the letter said she made her thoughts very clear.
“She fuc—ah . . . wasn’t cheating enough for her? Jesus-effing-Christ, she knew Tatum wasn’t yours? Are you freaking serious? What the hell, Trace?”
Trace exhaled. The passion and support from Dale meant a lot to him but there was no going back now. It was no longer a nightmare he might wake up from. Other people knew and that made it real.
Trace Jacks was no longer a father.
“Were you intending on keeping this from me, Trace?” Dale snapped, waving the letter in the space between them.
“Direct your anger somewhere else, D. I’m not the one you’re pissed at.”
Trace slumped, exhaustion beating at him. The entire situation left him drained, and his sister wasn’t helping.
“Oh, you’re wrong. I’m annoyed at you. You were going to ignore my calls and not tell me. I know you. I bet you were going back to Barren to lick your wounds, too.”
Trace snorted. “Wasn’t all that long ago when you did the very same thing.”
Dale’s lips pursed as she obviously recalled the way she’d run back to their father’s house when her relationship with Kyran had ended. It had worked for her, though, because Kyran had followed her there and apologized. He’d also proposed. His sister gained her happy ever after when the odds hadn’t been good. Hope for his own was lost, and running back to Barren wouldn’t change that.
“Okay, fine. I deserved that. This”—she waved the letter—“must have felt like being kicked when you were down.”
“You think?” He watched Ella play with her raisins on the floor. A fresh wave of pain crashed over him when he wondered what Tatum was doing right now.
“Why didn’t you say anything? Why didn’t you say you even suspected?” She stroked Ella’s curls absentmindedly. “I could have helped.”
“No, you couldn’t.” He shook his head. “You don’t need my baggage anyway. You have enough of Kyran’s to keep you busy.”
“Kyran’s fine. I hate that you always bring his fighting up like it’s wrong. Think of it as his version of working out.”
Trace quirked a brow. “Is that what you do?”
“Nice try but turning the conversation back on me won’t help you. I’m dead set on getting answers.”
He met her gaze, scowling when she shot him a quick smile. “I read that letter ten minutes before you banged on the door. I haven’t had time to diges—”
“Digest it? I bet you have. I bet it was you who asked for the paternity test because as soon as you worked out what she’d done, you knew. Trace, I know you, and I know how your mind works. You were calculating those dat
es while she was still crying what a mistake it was. Am I right?”
His exhale was the sole answer he gave—the only answer he needed to give her. She pointed at him, her lips still pursed in annoyance. “I knew it. Why didn’t you tell me?”
“I didn’t know how.” He smiled at his niece, swallowing past the thickness in his throat. “Saying it out loud would have made it real. When I ignored it—when no one knew—I could pretend it was all in my head. D, I thought I was being stupid. I was certain Tate was mine.”
Moving fast, Dale wrapped her arms around his shoulders and sat down next to him. “I’m sorry,” she whispered. “So sorry.”
“Feeling real foolish right now, sis. Drum warned me what Emmie was like. He told me about the rumors. I ignored him. I thought I knew her better.”
“Exactly what you should have done. You can’t judge a person by someone else’s view of them.” She snorted. “If I’d have done that with Kyran then Ella wouldn’t be here. Everyone hated him.”
Trace nudged her with his shoulder. “He still is a bit of an ass.”
“You’re not wrong,” she said, smiling. “But he’s mine, and Ella doesn’t need her daddy’s image tarnished, does she?”
“The bruises don’t already do that?” he asked, genuinely curious about what Dale and Kyran told their daughter about the injuries he received from his fights.
“Ky only goes to Metro once a month. You should know that, you work there. He still needs the fights as stress relief but he has other ways to burn it off most times.” She winked.
“Ergh. I so do not want you to elaborate on that.”
“I bet you don’t, but at least I made you smile.”
Trace hugged her. The one person he could rely on. From the day she moved to Barren Island they’d been close, and their age and relocation to Sea Pointe hadn’t altered that. “For a minute you did, yeah.” He sobered. “What do I do now? How can I draw a line under the last few years and move on? She was mine . . . and now . . . she’s not. How can I get that right in here?” He tapped his temple.