Until You're Mine (Fighting for Her)(2)

By: Cindi Madsen

I walked toward the open doorway to Dad’s office and hung back, just out of view. I expected him to look different, worn by the tumor scare and the year and a half that’d passed without us seeing each other, but he’d stayed his burly, intimidatingly large self. Well, I wasn’t intimidated, but most people instinctively were, and with the power he could put behind a swing if provoked, they should be. The hair on his balding head was buzzed short, the remaining strands more salt and pepper than they used to be. Same with his whiskered jaw. The lines in his forehead and around his eyes were pronounced in a way that only made him look more rugged, and the bump on his nose hinted at the fact that it’d been broken before. In his case, twice.

I leaned a hip against the doorframe. “Hey, Dad.”

He looked up, almost as if he’d expected the voice had merely been a figment of his imagination. “Brookie. Wow, look how grown up you are.”

“Which is why I don’t go by Brookie. I’m not two anymore.” If I were, I’d run into his arms and squeal as he tossed me in the air. Part of me wished for the little kid optimism and excitement I used to have. Honestly, it would be kind of nice to be wrapped in a bear hug right now. But I had to put up boundaries and walls or else my heart was left unprotected, and I’d grown tired of it being as beat up as a loser who stepped out of the cage, bruised, bloodied, and dealing with defeat.

Dad nodded. “Right, right. Finn said you were coming back to help with the admin stuff over the summer. I was afraid to get my hopes up.”

I bit back the urge to say well, I’ve been afraid to get my hopes up when it comes to you for a good seven or eight years. Finn swore Dad was trying really hard to make amends, and asked me to give him not only a break, but also a real chance. Easy for him to say. He got to be the fun-loving, easy-going guy who’d always been one of the apples of Dad’s eye, my other brother capping off the pair.

Speaking of, I spotted the instigator striding across the gym. Since Finn had always taken care of my heart, I didn’t waste any time rushing over and wrapping him in a hug. He lifted me off the ground, and for some reason, when he treated me like I was a kid, I didn’t mind.

He lowered me to my feet, and I glanced up at him. “Holy shit, did you get even taller?”

“I think you got shorter. Do you have to shop in the kids’ section still?”

I slugged him in the shoulder, and he acted like it hurt, even though he took harder punches from guys twice my size on a regular basis. He and Liam were both following in Dad’s footsteps, turning training and fighting into full-time careers. Between the three professional fighters in my life, dating in high school had been somewhere on the hellish to nearly-impossible side of the scale. They tended to scare off most of my would-be suitors, and the few they couldn’t ended up being of the jerkish variety.

Dad had moved to the doorway of his office to watch Finn’s and my reunion    , and he nodded at us, the almost-smile that counted as an outright grin in Blake Roth World on his face.

With a firm hand square on my back, Finn—the ever-meddling glue that held our nonconventional family together—nudged me toward Dad.

He stepped forward and then we shared a quick, awkward hug. He followed it up with a hard pat on the back that almost dislodged a cough. “I’m so glad you’re here.”

Four years ago, he’d demanded I do my duty to my family and stay, so I couldn’t bring myself to say “me, too,” although a bittersweet sense of nostalgia kept tugging at me.

Hug delivered, Dad returned to the gruff, hulking dude who refused to show emotion and headed back into his office.

I raised an eyebrow at Finn and coated my words in sarcasm. “Yeah, big change. I hardly recognized him.” Not that I was surprised. When it came down to it, I didn’t think people were really capable of changing. Sure, maybe they could tweak a few things about themselves, but big changes to their personality and who they were to the core? I didn’t buy it, and in my opinion, it was healthier to accept that than to hold my breath and wait for something that wouldn’t happen.

“It’s not easy for him. You could summon up a little more enthusiasm so he has something to work with.”

“Why do I have to? He’s the one—”

“I know, I know,” Finn said, holding up a hand. “I’m not looking for a fight.”

“Funny, I thought fighting was kind of your thing.”

“Yeah, but I only take on opponents I’m confident I can beat. I’m not volunteering for a verbal sparring match with you.”