When the knocking began, it was after midnight. Despite the late hour Dominic was still awake. “If it’s one of those girl scouts again,” he muttered darkly. “As if staying on a diet isn’t hard enough, there always coming around here trying to get me to by candy. I don’t know what their parents are thinking letting them wander around the neighborhood at all hours.” From where she lay on the rug near the fire, his German-Shepperd opened one eye and blinked at him as if in agreement.
The knocking ceased and for a moment, Dominic thought that whoever it was had gone away. This hope was short-lived however, for it began again almost immediately.
With a resigned sigh Dominic rose from his chair. “I’m coming,” he called out in hopes of forestalling anymore pounding on his door. But a third knock came before he had finished speaking. “I said I’m coming,” he repeated voice rising in irritation.
Dominic reached his threshold preparing to give those blasted children a piece of his mind. But when he angrily flung open his front-door, it was not a child he found standing on the other side.
The man on his doorstep was certainly no girl scout. He was also the very last person Dominic had expected to see. “Logan?” The word was intended to be an accusation, but it came out as a question. Even as he spoke the name, even as he stared at the man whose features were as familiar to him as his own, he couldn’t quite believe it. He couldn’t quite bring himself to accept the truth that Logan was here. After all this time, after everything, Logan was here.
“It’s me,” the dark-haired man confirmed. “I’m sorry for coming here out of the blue like this, after so long. But I need your help.”
The shock Dominic had felt at the other man’s sudden appearance was quickly being replaced by anger. He cast Logan an incredulous look. “I haven’t heard one word from you in nearly a decade! And now you have the nerve to show up here-- completely unannounced-- in the dead of night-- asking me for help! Who in God’s name do you think you are Logan McKinley?”
Logan looked down, avoiding the other man’s gaze. “I know I have a lot to answer for. But I’m out of options. Believe me when I say that coming here is my absolute last resort.”
Reluctantly Dominic said, “I suppose you might as well come in. If we stand in the doorway like this any longer the neighbors will talk.” Pulling the door open wider he gestured for the other man to follow him into the apartment. Logan did and after realizing that an invitation to sit was not forthcoming, remained standing.
“Out with it then,” Dominic demanded sitting back down in the armchair he had just vacated. “What exactly is it that you need my help with so desperately?”
“You deserve an explanation,” Logan acknowledged, “but there isn’t time.”
Dominic sat forward in his chair. “They’ll be others coming then? Those on your trail will follow you here. I knew it the moment I saw you, the moment I recognized your face. You’ve brought trouble to my doorstep once again.”
“I’ve done everything possible to ensure that won’t be the case,” Logan assured him starting to pace, “taken every precaution.”
“That’s what you said the last time I saw you before tonight,” Dominic retorted. “You said everything would be fine, she would be fine because you’d taken every precaution. And look how that turned out.”
Logan stopped pacing and turned to face Dominic. “There’s not a day that goes by, not a single one, that I don’t hate myself for what happened.”
“Glad to hear I’m not the only one tortured by that day,” Dominic replied with grim satisfaction.
“Did you really think you were? Did you really think I was out there all this time not blaming myself for everything, feeling just as much guilt as you do?
Dominic moved so quickly that Logan had no chance to react. He had the other man pinned against the wall in less than a minute. “Don’t you dare say,” he growled, “that the blame you feel, the responsibility and regret are even one fraction of mine. Do you hear me? Do you understand?”
Meeting and then holding the older man’s gaze Logan replied, “I understand.”
“No,” Dominic said releasing and then shoving the other man roughly away, “you don’t.” Suddenly weary, he sank back into his armchair. “Say whatever it is you’ve come here to say and then get out. I want you out of my house and my life. For good this time.”
Logan recoiled from the other man’s words as he had not from the bruising force of his grip. “I guess I disserved that,” he admitted speaking more to himself then to Dominic.
“Oh, you deserve a lot more.”
Ignoring Dominic’s words Logan said, “I’ll get straight to the point. There’s a child…”
“For God sake,” Dominic interrupted, “is that what this is about? You’ve gotten some poor woman pregnant and now you can’t afford child-support? You don’t honestly think I’d give you money.”
“No no,” Logan replied hastily, “you’ve gotten it all wrong. I don’t need money. I have plenty of that. In fact, I planned on leaving you a sizeable amount, whether or not you said yes to what I asked.”
Dominic’s pride reared its head, and he was so consumed by the emotion that he didn’t think to ask Logan exactly what it was that he wanted him to say yes to. “Keep your damn money,” he growled, “I have enough of my own and I certainly don’t want any of yours.”
“You might change your mind once you hear what I’m asking,” Logan muttered.
“Then for heaven sake,” Dominic snapped, “speak up and spit out whatever it is that you want from me.”
“The child has no one. “Her mother is gone and her father…”
Cutting Logan off Dominic asked, “So, this child isn’t yours?”
“She’s my responsibility.”
“And what exactly,” Dominic inquired, “is it that you want me to do about this poor child? The last time I checked I didn’t run an orphanage.”
“I would raise her myself,” Logan proclaimed, “it would not be difficult. I love her already. But you were right when you said there will be people on my trail. Running. You know what it’s like, existing that way. A different country, new city, changing names until you barely remember your own anymore. That’s no life for a child.”
“I still don’t see where I come in,” Dominic insisted, “what it is that you want me to do?”
“I can’t keep Isabel,” Logan said looking as though he wished the words weren’t true, “but you can.”
Dominic was not someone who could be easily surprised. In his line of work, one couldn’t afford to be. And yet, for the second time that evening he found himself nearly speechless with astonishment. Nearly speechless, but not quite. “Are you out of your mind?” he demanded incredulously. “You just said your life is no life for a child. Well mine sure as hell isn’t. I’m a criminal! I have business dealings with crime lords all over the world, and partnerships with the governments of multiple countries. Some days even I can’t decide which is the most dangerous.”
“Exactly,” Logan agreed, “you have contacts in every corner of the globe. You can keep her safe in a way no one else can.”
“Nearly every corner,” Dominic informed him, “it’s been almost a decade remember? A lot happened. I’m banned from five countries, forbidden to enter three provinces, and barred from two city-states.”
“Then Isabel will have limited opportunities to vacation abroad. There are worse things for children to be deprived of, like safety and love.”
This child,” Dominic said, “her parents must be important for her to warrant the kind of protection you seam to think I can provide.
“Something like that.”
“Who are they?”
“Nicolai,” Logan said, “that was Isabel’s father’s name.”
“The child’s father is dead then?”
“And her mother?”
“Gone,” Logan repeated.
“Her mother’s name was….”
“Yes?” Dominic prompted impatiently.
Still Logan hesitated. At last he said, “Caroline. Isabel’s mother’s name is Caroline.”
Dominic flinched. The sound of his daughter’s name felt like a physical blow. “That’s why you feel this child is your responsibility,” he said with dawning comprehension, “because of her mother’s name. Some sick cosmic coincidence.”
“It’s not a coincidence,” Logan told him. He met Dominic’s gaze and held it intently. “You were right, all my precautions, my careful planning, it was not enough. Not nearly enough. I promised you she would be fine, but she wasn’t. I told you I would keep her safe, but I didn’t. But now. Now Dominic, I have the opportunity to do for her child what I could not do for her.”
Shock course through Dominic like lightning through a metal rod. He stared at Logan in disbelief. “You don’t mean…you can’t mean...”
“I do,” Logan confirmed. “I know you’re thinking it’s not possible. But it’s the truth. Caroline, your Caroline, she’s alive Dominic, and she has a daughter. A daughter who needs the safety, protection, and most of all love that only you, her grandfather, can provide.”
Hope and disbelief mingled together, coursing through Dominic’s veins like wild fire. He lunged to his feet. Now it was his turn to pace. “That’s not possible. I saw her die.”
“You saw,” Logan said his voice gentle, “what Caroline wanted you to see.”
Dominic could feel his face rapidly draining of color. He paused, standing still for a moment and looking directly at Logan. “But why?” he asked in bewilderment, “why would she do that?”
“Caroline thought…” Logan hesitated and then went on, “she felt that it was the only way to ensure her safety.”
With all the suddenness and ferocity of a tidal-wave breaking over the shore, Dominic was flooded with fury. He slammed his fist down on a nearby table. “Caroline found out she was pregnant. That’s why she did it. My daughter faked her death because she believed that if I were in close proximity, danger would be invited into her child’s life.”
“Yes,” Logan confirmed, his tone almost apologetic. “She felt that, however unintentionally, your work, the family business, it would pose a threat.” Seeing Dominic’s stricken expression, he added, “For what it’s worth, I’ve been by Caroline’s side for the past seven years, and I can tell you with no uncertainty that your daughter loves you very much.”
“She sure as hell has a funny way of showing it,” Dominic scoff. “You’ll be going after her then.”
“What makes you say that?” Logan asked in surprise.
“I’m no fool,” Dominic retorted. “You tell me Careline’s in danger. She’s running from something and you’re being followed. I suppose you expect me to do the same, to run, to hide, and to take Isabel with me.”
“It’s what Caroline hoped you’d do.”.
“And you?” Dominic asked, “what were you hoping I’d do?”
“Honestly,” Logan admitted, “I couldn’t stop myself from hoping you’d say no. No to letting me in, no to listening, no to believing me about Caroline and Isabel. If you had…”
“Then you could have kept the child,” Dominic finished, “taken her to Caroline and told her in good conscience that you had tried everything but it hadn’t worked. I’d refused to help. I’d refused to take her daughter.”
“I’d say I’m sorry to disappoint,” Dominic said riley, “but I’m not.”
“You mean…You mean you’ll take her? You’ll take Isabel?”
“Of course,” Dominic replied tartly, “she’s my granddaughter. It’s not like I’m starting an orphanage.”
“Careline was sure you would. I had my doubts,” Logan admitted. “But she never did.”
“Now that would be a first. Growing up she always doubted me. Doubted I’d keep from embarrassing her in front of her friends. Doubted I’d be able to help her with algebra. Doubted I’d bake her birthday cake correctly.”
“Maybe,” Logan acknowledged. “But she never doubted your love for her. And she never doubted that you’d love Isabel.”
“Where is the child now?” Dominic asked with sudden intensity.
“She’s here,” Logan told him, then seeing Dominic’s perplexed expression clarified, “She’s sleeping in the car.” He seemed to hesitate, as if reluctant to say whatever he was about to. Then he asked, “Would you like me to go get her?”
“No,” Dominic said and didn’t miss Logan’s guiltily-relieved expression. “I’ll go with you to fetch her.” He plucked his coat from wear it lay on the back of a nearby chair and shrugged it on. “I’ve already missed the first six years of my granddaughter’s life. I didn’t have a choice about that. Caroline didn’t give me one. But I have a choice now. And now, I intend not to miss another moment.”
“She looks so much like Careline did at that age,” Dominic said gazing intently at his sleeping granddaughter. If what you say is true, my daughter faked her own death so that she could get away from her family, it’s business and her obligations to it, but most of all from me. She let me believe she was dead for nearly a decade. I can only assume that if it were not for whatever unfortunate predicament, she has landed herself in, she would have continued to do so indefinitely.”
“Dominic,” Logan protested, “it’s not that simple. There’s more to it--more you don’t know…”
“And I don’t want to know. Whatever her exact reasons for letting me think she was dead all this time…for keeping Isabel’s existence a secret …clearly, my daughter wants them to remain a mystery.”
“Once that was true. She wanted you to believe she was dead. She wanted you not to know about Isabel. She was doing what she felt was necessary to keep her and her daughter safe. But she no longer feels that way. She said that when I asked you to take Isabel, I should explain everything.”
“How kind of her,” Dominic scoffed. “My daughter needs my help. She wants me to raise her child. She should have had the courage to come ask me herself. She shouldn’t have sent you in her place. That’s the coward’s way out. I raised her better than that.”
“Dominic, you don’t understand…”
Both men started in surprise at the child’s voice. Turning toward where she was sitting up in the backseat Logan said, “Izzy I’m here.”
“Uncle Logan,” the child repeated, “who’s that?”
Dominic couldn’t take his eyes off his newly-discovered granddaughter. It was true what he’d said to Logan, she really did look exactly like her mother had when she was a child.
“Izzy this is your grandfather,” Logan told the child as he reached back and scooped her into his lap. “Mommy told you about him remember? His name is Dominic.”
“Mommy said we had to visit him,” Isabel replied her eyes now fixed on Dominic’s face.
“Say hello Izzy,” Logan prompted her after a moment’s silence.
The child stuck out her hand in Dominic’s direction. “Hi,” she said dutifully, “it’s nice to meet you.”
Bemused Dominic took the child’s hand in his and shook it gently. “Your mother has taught you well I see. Isabel it is very nice to meat you to.
A few hours later, Isabel was once again asleep. She lay curled up in a pile of pillows and blankets beside the fireplace. Duchess had taken an instant liking to the child, as Dominic had known she would. Unlike him, his dog had never met anyone she didn’t immediately adore.
Logan walked over and placed an extra quilt over Isabel. “You were right. She really does look remarkably like Careline. You’d think the resemblance would be especially striking when their together. But for some reason I notice it more now.”
“Does she know?” Dominic asked. At Logan’s confused expression he elaborated. “Did you tell the child that when she wakes you will be gone and she will have to come with me?”
“Careline tried to prepare her for the possibility,” Logan said avoiding Dominic’s gaze, but I don’t know how much Isabel understood. She was in shock over her father. We all were.”
“She knows about her father then?” Dominic said in surprise, “that he’s dead? She didn’t seem upset.”
“What do children no of death? The proper way to grieve. Is there such a thing?”
“Was she there when it happened?”.
“No,” Logan replied, “she was with me. But Careline was there. She was…. different afterwards.”
“Of course,” Dominic said, “everyone is different after witnessing death, especially the death of a loved one.” He gave Logan a stern look. “You didn’t answer my question. Does Isabel know you won’t be here in the morning?”
“I didn’t tell her,” Logan admitted, “how could I? She’s lost her father. Her mother is gone. How could I tell her that when she woke up, I’d be gone to?”
“So,” Dominic said incredulously, “you left it to me? A stranger. I’m a stranger to my granddaughter Logan and you left this all to me?”
“For not telling Isabel?”
“I’m sorry that I won’t be there for her,” Logan clarified. “I won’t be able to help her learn and keep her safe. I won’t be able to watch her grow up. But most of all, I’m sorry that I won’t be there to let her know how very much she is loved.”
“She will know,” Dominic promised.
“Thank you. I know you’re not doing this for me. But thank you.”
“I’m not doing it for Careline either. I’m doing it for that little girl.” Dominic glanced over at Isabel, who was lying half-on-top of Duchess. “She’s the only innocent one in all of this.”
“I should go,” Logan spoke the words but made no move towards the door. “I’ve stayed to long already.”
“You said you won’t be able to watch her grow up. Careline’s gotten herself into that kind of trouble then? The kind that for one person to come through another must get buried in their place.”
Logan’s laugh was short but genuine. “You always did have a way with words. But yes, when Careline returns for her daughter, I will not be with her.”
“When,” Dominic said disapprovingly, “Logan Mackinlay you know better than that. One of the first lessons I ever taught you was not to make promises you can’t keep.”
“And I don’t. Your daughter will come back to you. She will come back for her child. I told you I would keep her safe. I didn’t. I told you she would be fine. She wasn’t. But she will be. Dominic, I give you my word.”
Without waiting for a reply, Logan turned and headed for the door.
“Uncle Logan, where are you going?”
Dominic glanced over to see that Isabel was now awake. Throwing off the blankets Logan had so carefully wrapped her in, the child got to her feet.
Logan stopped walking but did not turn toward the child as he spoke. “Izzy, I need to go help mommy.”
Isabel took a few quick steps toward Logan. “I want to come with you.”
“Izzy you need to stay here. Mommy told you that before we left remember?”
“But I don’t want to stay,” the child said crossly, “I want to go with you and see mommy.”
“Isabel,” Dominic said entering the conversation for the first time. “If Logan takes you with him, he will be focused on looking after you. If you stay here with me, I promise to keep you safe. Knowing that, Logan can concentrate all his attention on helping your mother.” Isabel was silent, regarding Dominic with the frank intensity that only a child could. He met his granddaughters gaze squarely and did not look away as he asked, “Isabel, will you stay?”
The child didn’t want to stay. Dominic didn’t blame her. It was like he had told Logan, he was a stranger to his granddaughter. Isabel wanted to go with the man she considered an uncle, not stay with the grandfather she didn’t know. She wanted to go find her mother. That made two of them. If it were not for Isabel, there would have been nothing Logan could have said or done which would have kept Dominic from searching to the ends of the earth and back until he found his daughter.
When the child at last gave her answer, it was in a surprisingly steady voice. “I will stay here so Uncle Logan can go help mommy.”
“Thank you, Izzy,” Logan spoke the words before Dominic had a chance to. “Your mom will be very proud of you when I tell her how good you were about this.”
“The child’s not being good,” Dominic contradicted. “She’s being brave.”
A smile broke over Isabel’s face. It was a slow expression, shy and slightly unsure, but genuine. “I’m being brave.” She spoke the words as though testing out their weight on her tongue, the way they sounded in the air. “You will find mommy and then you will come back.” Isabel spoke confidently, as though she had no doubt that Logan would do just that.
Dominic wished he could share the child’s certainty. But nothing was certain. Not in their line of work. Not with the family business. And most assuredly not when lives were at stake. Fear suddenly jolted through Dominic. He’d spent the last seven years morning his daughter, blaming himself, and Logan, for her death. It was an unpleasant shock to realize that the very fact his daughter was alive, meant that her life could be put in danger.
As though reading his mind Logan asked, “Isabel, what does mommy always tell you about making promises?”
“She says only make a promise when you’re sure you can keep it,” the child replied promptly.
“That’s right. So, Izzy as much as I want to, I can’t promise you that I’ll be with your mother when she comes back, because that’s not a promise I’m sure I can keep.”
Tears began to form in the child’s eyes. “But you have to try. Uncle Logan please. Promise me that you’ll try.”
Now Logan did turn to face her. Moving suddenly and all at once, he crossed the room in two quick strides and scooped Isabel into his arms. “Izzy of course I will. I promise that I will try my very best to come back. The child berried her face in his shoulder and began to cry in earnest.
Duchess rose from her spot by the fire and padded over to Logan. The Shepperd tilted her head up, brown eyes fixed on the child he held.
Slowly, reluctantly, Logan put Isabel down and set her gently on her feet. Isabel wrapped her arms around Duchess’s neck. “Good bye uncle Logan,” the child spoke into the dog’s fir.
“Good bye Izzy, “Logan said but stayed where he was, watching Isabel as though he couldn’t bring himself to look away.
“For God sake,” Dominic said exasperatedly. “Get a move on already. You know I can’t abide goodbyes. Isabel I’ll be right back. I’m going to walk Logan out. Otherwise I think he’ll never make it through the door.”
Dominic strode over to his front-door for the second time that evening. And for the second time, he flung it open to reveal the night beyond.
Logan’s steps were slower. It was all he could do not to glance back at Isabel. He feared that if he did so even once, he might not be able to bring himself to leave her behind. When he reached the threshold, he paused before crossing it and turned to face Dominic. “She was so convinced that faking her death was the only way, because she knew that otherwise you would search the world for her until your dying breath.”
“That I would have,” Dominic agreed with a sad smile. “I meant what I said before. I will keep her safe. Careline thought that my presence would only serve to invite danger into her child’s life. I intend to prove her wrong.”
There was sorrow in Logan’s answering smile. Sadness at what he was leaving behind, what he would soon have to face. But there was also genuine amusement. Amusement and no small amount of joy. Joy at the prospect of Isabel growing up with this man to teach her, to protect her, to love her. “I would expect nothing less.” He turned his back to the other man, faced the cold night before him, and walked out into the dark.