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Calhoun Webster's mouth fell open, then he slammed it shut.
His attorney and friend, Hammond Kyle, gave a semblance of a smile. "It's easy to understand why you're speechless. Under the same circumstances, I'm sure I would be, too."
"Are you jerking my chain, Kyle?" Cal demanded in a rough tone. "Because if you are, you're a pretty sorry bastard."
"Chill, Cal. I wouldn't jerk your chain about something this serious." Hammond ran his fingers through his thinning gray hair and narrowed his eyes. "Like I just told you, you're a father. You have a child. A son, to be exact."
Cal blew out his breath, feeling the color recede from his face followed by an extreme weariness. Since his stint in Colombia, he wasn't anywhere back to his normal self. He tired easily. "Mind if I sit down?"
"Actually, I was about to suggest that." Another smile of sorts crossed the attorney's lips. "I'd hate to think of a grown man hitting my office floor in a dead faint."
Cal gave him a go-to-hell look before practically falling into one of the plush chairs in front of Hammond's massive desk. A million and one questions were charging through Cal's head, but he couldn't seem to process them, much less organize them enough to talk intelligently.
He had a son?
No, not impossible.
A mistake. Pure and simple.
Cal's mood lightened at that last thought, and, forcing himself up straighter in the chair, he hammered his friend with brighter eyes. "It has to be a mistake." A blunt statement of fact.
"You know better than that." Hammond spoke quietly and with conviction.
"But Connie's dead," Cal countered in anargumentative and almost desperate tone. "At least that much leaked through to me."
Hammond gave him one of those exasperated looks. "Your ex was pregnant when she left you but apparently chose to keep that to herself." He paused with a deep sigh. "Happens all the time, which makes the poor chump of a father feel and look like an idiot, when, and if, he ever finds out."
Cal gritted his teeth and at the same time he squeezed the padded edges of the chair arms until his knuckles turned white. "That bitch," he muttered more to himself than to his friend.
"You knew that when you married her," Hammond pointed out, his brows bunching together, giving him a fierce look.
"You're right, I did." Cal battled his weariness. "Still, I don't know why she chose not to tell me she was pregnant." His tone had regained some of its vibrancy, reeking with pain and anger.
"We both knew she was a piece of work, especially you," Hammond added, again with pointed frankness.
"And I married her anyway." Cal's tone was bleak.
"Well, at least you didn't have to find out about her death and the baby simultaneously." Hammond paused. "If that's any comfort."
Cal's features turned grimmer. "Who was she with when she got killed? I know she wasn't alone."
"After Connie left you, she hooked up with some biker. They were both killed in the accident."
"Were they married?"
"Not that I know of," Hammond responded. "Rumor had them shacking up together."
"Then how do I know the kid's mine?"
"Your name's on the birth certificate," Hammond pointed out bluntly.
Cal lunged out of his chair, reaching for the legal document his attorney held out to him. After perusing the birth certificate, seeing his name stare back at him, he didn't so much as flinch. Instead he walked to the window and stared into the glaring sunshine.
It had been over a year now since he'd been free to do something as simple as stand in front of a window and not fear for his life. Working undercover as a government investigator forced him to live mostly in the underbelly of society, in the dark and dank places of the drug world.
Before he'd gone undercover, he'd thought of himself as a fairly normal guy -- maybe wilder and more head-strong than most. But still normal. Then he'd married Connie Jenkins, and immediately he'd begun to question whether he was normal at all, realizing he'd made the biggest mistake of his life so far.
Now, thank God, he was free to begin his life over, to hope that he had rejoined the ranks of normal people living normal lives. But underneath his outward calm, fear festered. Since he'd been living and dealing with the scum of the earth, he was no longer sure where he belonged or even who he was. Hell, maybe he'd become one of the scumbags himself. Only time would tell.
One thing he did know, he would never go back into the dark, which had nearly driven him over the edge. He winced inwardly, recalling the lighted stick of dynamite that had just been dropped in his lap.
Hell, if this child was his -- and he wasn't ready to admit or accept that yet -- he wasn't fit to be a parent. He could learn to be, if it turned out this baby had his blood flowing through its veins.
He might be a sonofabitch in many ways, but he was never one to shirk his duty, and he wasn't about to start now.
"Cal, are you with me?"
He let go of a pent-up breath, then whipped around and met his friend's inquiring gaze. "My mind's still trying to process what you just told me."
"You can get a DNA test done, of course," Hammond said. "Probably should, since that's within your rights since she lived with another man."
"I could forget you ever told me there was a child." Cal kicked up an eyebrow. "That's also an option. Right?"
Hammond shrugged. "That's your call, of course."
"Only you know I'm not about to do that," Cal said with force. "If my name's on the birth certificate, then he's my child, and I aim to accept the responsibility."
"That doesn't surprise me, my friend. You've never been one to do things by halves. It's all or nothing with you. And that ain't a bad way to be either." Hammond moved his tall, lanky body out of his chair to the bar where he helped himself to a cup of coffee, then gestured to Cal.
Cal shook his head.
After blowing on the liquid, then taking a swig, Hammond added, "On second thought, maybe this is one time you should let sleeping dogs lie, if you get my drift. Maybe you should just walk away from this, start your life over and simply forget about the child. That wouldn't be the worst thing that could happen."
"For me it would," Cal said harshly.
"I'm sorry to hit you with this when you've only been back in town two days. But I wanted you to find out from me rather than the gossip mill. You know how Tyler, Texas, is. It's not quite large enough for people to mind their own business."
"Don't apologize. I had to know, and I'd rather hear it from you than anyone else. At least, I can trust you."
"You can trust a lot of people, Cal." While Hammond's tone was solemn, it also had a confident ring to it. "You have friends who are delighted you're back in civilization."
"I know. It's just going to take me a long time to convince myself of that."
"It's a given you can't discuss what you went through or even where you were, but was it as bad as it appears?"
"Worse than bad," Cal said tersely.
"Well, at least you're done with the whole shebang."
"If this security company gig works out," Cal responded, "I will be for sure."
Hammond sat down and sipped on his coffee. "I thought you'd been hired."
"I have -- if I want the job, that is. I have six weeks to make up my mind."
"Even before I told you about the child, I got the impression you were hesitating."
"Hell, Hammond, it's in a foreign country, albeit a safe one."
"So, maybe I want to stick around the good ol' U.S. of
A. for a while."
"Which tells me you've been out of the country."
Cal narrowed his eyes on his friend. "I didn't say that."
"Okay. Again, I know I'm not privy to anything that pertains to your work, that it's all top-secret mumbo jumbo."
"You're right, so stop fishing."
Hammond's mouth turned up in a half smile. "Just curious, that's all."
"Well, you might as well put a lid on that curiosity because my tenure with Uncle Sam's not something we can ever discuss."
Hammond grinned. "I bet you were damned good at your job, whatever the hell it was. You've always had a reputation for being a real bad-ass."
"You must've been talking to my ex father-in-law." Cal meant that as a sarcastic joke, but when Hammond didn't smile, an alarm bell went off in his head. But then, his brain was trained to pick up on the slightest thing that seemed out of sync.
"Strange that you should say that," Hammond drawled, looking away.
Cal went into full alert mode. "Have you been in contact with Patrick Jenkins?"
"Nope," Hammond said, his gaze returning to Cal.
"I hear a 'but' coming, right?"
"Right." Hammond stared down at his highly polished boots.
"He has the baby," Cal said in a flat, brutal tone.
"Actually it's his daughter, Emma, who has him."
Cal muttered a string of curses.
"I knew you weren't going to like that." Cal cursed again. "That's an understatement. That bastard hates my guts. And so does his daughter, I'm sure, even though I've never had the pleasure of meeting her." Rich sarcasm accented Cal's every word, for which he made no apologies. He had no use for his ex-wife's family, either. In fact, he'd planned on never having anything to do with them again. Now, though, the dynamics had changed.
"I'm willing to bet you aren't exactly at the top of their friends list either. But then I don't have to tell you that."
Cal rubbed the back of his neck, the muscles so tight they felt like cords of rope -- a feeling he had hoped he wouldn't experience again, at least not anytime soon. "Personally I could care less what they think, only -- "
"Only now they have something that belongs to you."
"You're damn right."
"I'm glad to hear you say that, Cal." Hammond rose to full height, then ambled over to the coffeepot and refilled his cup. When he looked at Cal again, his usually pleasant features were grim. "For all my earlier posturing, I was afraid that when I told you who had the child, you actually might turn your back and walk away."
"I probably should have."
"No one's twisting your arm. Certainly not me. I'm sure Logan -- "
"So that's the kid's name," Cal interrupted, hearing the wonder in his own voice.
"Yep. Maybe it was fate, or what-the-hell ever, but I ran into Jenkins the other day, and he had the boy with him."
"Does he look at all like me?" Cal asked in a halting voice, trying to sort through the myriad of emotions stampeding through him. Damn Connie's hide, he thought, feeling no remorse at all for damning his deceased ex.
If that spoke badly of him, then so be it. He might be a lot of things, but a hypocrite was not one of them. He'd always called a spade a spade, then went for the jugular if the occasion called for it. That was why Uncle Sam had used him to break up one of the government's toughest international drug rings.