On My Own: Book Three in the Who's Your Daddy series

 

 

 

 

 

 

ON MY OWN

 

Rhonda A. Marks

 

 

 

 

 

For LaTammie. Thanks for all your help. You’re the best!

 

Prologue

Dirk
Benedict angrily punched at the button on his phone and disconnected the call to his girlfriend, Caroline. Standing underneath her bedroom window, he could hear the phone ringing over and over again, but she wouldn’t pick up. He glanced at the time and saw he needed to get on the road soon for his long, lonely drive to California. Why wouldn’t she answer?

Two days ago he was on top of the world. His transfer to USC had been approved and the love of his life had agreed to move to California with him.
Yeah, he’d have to sit out a year before playing football for the team, but in the end he was sure it’d be worth it. Being on such a big time team would almost guarantee him a high draft pick. Nothing and no one could get him down. That was until Caroline came to his dorm room and told him she wasn’t going with him. He remembered sinking onto his bed, spots in front of his eyes, as she explained why she couldn’t go. Some bull about her dad having an incurable disease and possibly dying soon. The only thing that ass was suffering from was an over inflated ego, nothing else. He pleaded with her to reconsider, but she refused. She couldn’t leave her father in his time of need. In the heat of the moment, he said some things he now regretted and wanted to make sure she understood he still loved her. Needed her in his life.

So here he was, on the verge of a new beginning, with a heavy heart. He had to speak to her one more time, to make sure, so he dialed her cell again and let out a
loud sigh as it rang and rang.

Resigned to the fact that he would not be able to talk to her before getting on the road, he rippe
d a sheet of paper out of a notebook and scribbled a message for her. “I love you, Caroline, and always will. Please change your mind and come to California. I’ll be waiting to hear from you. Love, Dirk.” He stuffed it into an envelope and placed it into the mailbox in front of the house. With one last look at her window, he climbed into his car and motored away.

As soon as Dirk was out of sight, a man exited the house and scampered over to the mailbox. With a sinister grin on his face, he pulled out the note and quickly read it
. Chuckling to himself, he methodically ripped the letter into tiny pieces and let them flutter to the ground. “You’ll never have my daughter,” Ty Jackson sneered. “Not as long as I live.”

Chapter One

“These
people are bat-shit crazy!”

Dirk
simply crooked an eyebrow at his personal assistant, Monique Ross, and gave her a slight nod of his head. Her assessment of his hometown was spot on. “Told you.”

“But, I mean, you’re the most famous quarterback in the league,
and I couldn’t get one of them to acknowledge that you even lived here. What’s the deal with that?”

Without saying a word, Dirk
sank into the softness of the hotel limo’s leather seat and closed his eyes. This was not how he wanted to spend the week before the big game against Pittsburgh. His plan was to hang out downtown in the team’s hotel and avoid Devinne altogether. There was nothing or no one here for him. He learned that hard fact years ago. The network broadcasting the game had other plans though. They wanted a story for their pre-game about him returning home, the townspeople welcoming him with open arms. He all but laughed in their faces and told them no way, not going to happen. He didn’t want to go home. Too many bad memories, but he didn’t tell them that or even give them a reason for his refusal. Didn’t think he needed to provide them with one. But when Coach cornered him and confessed the higher ups were putting pressure on him, Dirk relented. 

So here he was, wasting his and Monique’s time.
It didn’t look like his hometown wanted to see him, and he sure had no desire to be here.

Time had not been kind to Devinne, Pennsylvania. As they drove into town, he was amazed at the lack of cars in the steel mill parking lot. Used to be that workers had to arrive an hour before their scheduled shifts to get a good spot. The once thriving Main Street was a ghost of its former self. Boarded up storefronts lined the streets. Groups of men gathered on the corners, hands in pockets and hopelessness on their faces. Yeah, a lot
had changed in ten years-time.

“This is awful,” Monique muttered. “How are we going to film a program about the life of Dirk Benedict without
something about where you grew up?”

He opened his mouth to respond, but
a woman with curly red hair rushing down the street caught his attention. It couldn’t be? Before he could stop himself, he opened the limo door and began to run after her. Only one person had hair like that, as if he could ever forget. It had to be Caroline Jackson.

“Caroline!” he called out as he attempted to catch up with her. Her head turned and he saw her eyes widen, but she didn’t slow down. In fact, she kicked it up a notch and sprinted away from him
, up the stairs into the local library.

Undaunted, Dirk hurried up the stairs and through the doors of the building he once revered. No sign of Caroline, but several others in
the place looked up with shocked expressions on their faces.

“Where did she go?” he bellowed. One patron simply pointed to the back and he strode off in that direction.

He found a closed door with ‘Caroline Jackson, Head Librarian’ on it. Without knocking, he twisted the knob and pushed the door open. Caroline stood by the desk and a boy sat in a nearby chair. Dirk felt as though a pissed off linebacker just sacked him. Unimpeded and hard. One look at the kid and it was as if he’d been transported back in time. What the hell?

“Um, hello Dirk,” she started while trying to step in front of the boy.
“Funny seeing you here.”

“Yeah, funny, ha
-ha,” he sneered. He leaned over and she did the same in her attempt to shield the child. “Who—”

Before he could finish his sentence, the door slammed open once more
and three people rushed inside the small room, including Monique. “Dirk, what’s going on here?”

His eyes landed on o
ne of the many people who once made his family’s life miserable, especially his father’s. Ty Jackson glared back at him with undisguised hatred in his eyes. Guess his “medical condition” wasn’t fatal after all. His wife, Geraldine, the town gossip and bane of his dearly departed mother’s life, stood next to him, her hand over her mouth. “Well, well. I guess the gang’s all here now.”

Ty Jackson took a step in his direction. “Benedict, get the hell out of
here before—”

“Before you do what, old man?
Glad to see you made a miraculous recovery.” Dirk turned to face his enemy but a scream from behind made him pause.

“Everybody, stop it!” Caroline pleaded. “We have a child here.”

“I’m not a child,” a voice in the back of the room called out. They all turned to see him standing on top of the desk, peering down on the adults in the room. Eyes the exact same color as Dirk’s turned in his direction. “Are you my daddy?”

“Jordan, get down.” Caroline took hold of his arm and urged him to hop onto the floor. Dirk could see that her whole body was shaking and for a second he felt sorry for all the commotion he was causing.
But he quickly got over it when his gaze landed on his son. His son!

“I need everyone out of this room,” he said in a surprisingly calm tone of voice.
“Everyone except Caroline.”

“Like hell,” Ty sneered. “I’m not leaving my daughter alone with you.”

“Dad, it’s alright. Please leave and take JJ with you.” Her parents and son looked to her and she nodded as if to assure them everything would be alright. With Ty giving him one last glare, her parents left with Jordan in tow.

“You good boss?”
Monique asked, pointedly looking at Caroline.

“I’m good. Wait for me in the car, okay.” She slowly
backed out the room and silently closed the door behind her.

Dirk slowly counted to ten before facing Caroline. He needed to be in complete control when he began his questioning. Schooling his features, he turned to find her wringing her hands and nibbling on her lower lip.
Watching her, he was conveyed back to an earlier time when she used to do the same thing and he thought it was the most adorable thing. Today, no so much. He needed answers, now.

She hadn’t grown a lick since the last time he saw her over a decade ago. Still no taller than an average
eighth grader, she had filled out pretty nicely though. Bigger, fuller breasts, wider hips and a more rounded ass. Yeah, nice. A quick glance at her face let him know that she was not feeling his casual perusal of her body. Back in the day, that frown used to make him rack his brain to remember what he’d done to anger her off. There was no need for that today. He knew his presence alone was the cause of her disappointment. Too bad.

“That’s my son,” he bit out in a surprisingly controlled tone of voice. She nodded her head and had the nerve to try to look away.

“Why, Caroline?”

“Why what?”

“Let’s not play games. Why didn’t you tell me you were pregnant?”

She looked him dead in the eye and pinned him with an unwavering stare. “I
t was my intention to do so, but you’d left town before I could. I thought you’d at least stop by and say goodbye before you headed for California. That’s when I planned on telling you.”

Dirk clamped his lips closed and swore to hi
mself. That bastard hadn’t given her the note! But this was not the time to tell her that bit of information or that he had tried to get her to change her mind about not going with him. They had more important things to discuss, like her not telling him he was a father.

“Answer my question, Caroline.” He took a step in her direction and stopped himself. “Why am I just finding out about that child?
You can’t say you didn’t know where I’d gone.”

“Jordan.”

“What?”

“His name is Jordan. Jordan Benedict Jackson. We call him JJ.”

Dirk’s breath hitched and he had to gulp down a couple lungfuls of air to compose himself. “I bet your old man gave you major grief for the middle name, am I right?” he asked with a wry smile on his face.

“You think?” For a second their gazes met and he was transported back to days gone by when they were a couple crazy kids in love. He couldn’t stand to be apart from her, even for a few hours. She stood by him when his parents
had died; keeping him together when all he wanted to do was slide into oblivion.

She pointed to a chair and let out a loud sigh. “Let’s sit. We have a lot to talk about, I guess.”

Dirk wanted to toss out a snide remark, but it would probably infuriate her and stop her from talking. Instead, he slowly dropped into the chair across from her desk and folded his hands. Long breath in, long breath out. He laughed at Monique when she blabbed about that meditation crap. Now he’s glad he listened because he seriously needed to be calm now.

“We certainly do. Let’s start with why you never contacted me to say you were pregnant?”

“You left town—”

“Stop saying that!” Caroline reared back in her seat at his outburst. He took a couple more breaths to calm himself again. “Yes, I left town, but you knew where I was. Correct?
And why did you have your cell phone disconnected?”

She quickly pulled herself together and stood. “
With the way we argued before you left, I thought you didn’t want to have anything to do with me. And my phone was stolen soon thereafter, so I got a new number.” Stepping to the door, she placed her hand on the knob and began to turn it. “I don’t want to talk about this any further. I think you need to leave.”

With speed he honed on the football field, Dirk leaped from his chair and slammed his hand against the door, preventing her from pulling it open. In the process, his arm brushed against
hers, sparking a charge he was well familiar with. Whenever they touched, no matter how often they did so during the day, it was always the same. Electric. Potent. Intoxicating.

By the way she looked up at him, all doe-
eyed, he could tell she felt it too. After all these years, it was still there.

She was the first to move away, almost running back to her side of the desk. “Alright,” she said in a shaky voice, “let’s talk. But not about the past.”

“Alright, let’s talk about the present. I need a favor.”

She eyed him warily and folded her hands on the desktop. “What kind of favor?”

“For the pregame next week, the network wants to do a story on me and my time growing up in Devinne.”

An ala
rmed look spread over her face. “And how can I help with that?” 

“You’re going to convince the fine folks of Devinne to honor me.
This week. A parade and all.”

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