Thursday: January 2, 2025
6:14 AM; PALMDALE REGIONAL AIRPORT
“I don’t mean to rush you, but I haven’t slept in five days, and I would love to change that,” Jamal said.
Bo smiled faintly. “Jensen and I got engaged.”
A smile spread across Jamal’s face. “That’s amazing, kiddo,” he whispered. “God, come here,” he said, holding out his arms. Bo hugged the older man, closing his eyes as Jamal wrapped him in a hug. “Do you know when you’re getting married?”
“Not yet. But we’ll keep you in the loop,” Bo promised.
“Thank you.” Jamal squeezed Bo tightly before taking a step back. “When?”
“The anniversary of when he started taking care of you,” Jamal said quietly. Bo nodded. “Oh, I’m so happy for you, Bo.”
“Thank you,” Bo whispered.
Jamal patted Bo’s cheek before pulling him back into a hug. “I love you.”
“I love you, too.”
Jamal took a step backward again, a smile still on his face. “Enjoy your time in Clinstone. I’ll see you soon, okay?”
Jamal clapped Bo on the shoulder. “Take care of yourself, and tell Jensen congrats for me.”
“I will. And you go home and take a nap,” Bo said.
Jamal chuckled. “Will do, kiddo.” He walked past Bo, ducking into the car as soon as Frank pulled open the door.
“Mister Austen?” Frank questioned, shutting the door.
“Yeah, Frank?” Bo asked.
The older man smiled softly. “Congratulations.”
Bo smiled back. “Thank you.”
1:45 PM; CLINSTONE, THE AUSTEN-TAYLOR HOUSEHOLD, DRIVEWAY
“You go ahead and take the girls and the animals inside. I’ll run to the store and pick us up a few groceries,” Jensen said, shifting the car into park.
“Okay.” Bo leaned over and kissed Jensen before unbuckling his seat belt, opening the door, and getting out of the car. As soon as Bo shut the door, a man rushed him, shoving him back against the car. The man’s fist collided with Bo’s jaw before he had time to react. Rather than punching him, Bo chose to shove him back.
Jensen was out of the car and behind the man before he could take another step toward Bo. Jensen tugged his arms behind his back. “Who the hell is he?”
“Umm…” Bo cleared his throat, rubbing at his jaw. “That would be Timothy Smalls.”
“I know you killed my boy!” Timothy hissed. “He’s been obsessed with you for years. He moves out to Clinstone and eventually, he stops calling, stops texting. You killed him.”
“I don’t know what the hell you’re talking about,” Bo denied. Kayla pushed open the back door of the car, climbing out and throwing her arms around Bo. He laid a hand on her back, his eyes narrowing at Timothy. “Call Jake. He’ll be more than happy to arrest him.”
Jensen nodded. “Go inside. I’ll take care of it.”
“Mmhmm.” Bo pulled his keys out of his pocket. “Sweetheart? Go unlock the door for me?”
“You’re okay?” Kayla asked as she pulled away from him.
“I’m fine, sweetie. Promise.” She nodded, snatching the keys from him and hurrying toward the house. Bo leaned into the house as Jensen shoved Timothy into the side of the house. Bo lifted a sleeping Amber out of the car. “Out, girl,” he whispered. Hati jumped out of the car, growling at Timothy. Bo closed his eyes for a moment before grabbing Acamas’s pet carrier. He leaned out of the car and shut the door with his hip. He headed for the house, Hati at his heels. As soon as he was in the foyer, Kayla shut the door.
“Here, I’ve got her,” Kayla said, taking Acamas’s cage from Bo.
“Thanks, Kayla,” Bo murmured. He kicked off his shoes before pulling off Amber’s shoes. He bent down slightly, dropping them to the floor. He headed back to the girl’s bedroom and pulled back the covers. Laying her down, he carefully unzipped her coat and pulled it off of her. He cleared his throat, pulling the covers back up to her shoulders. He left the room, closing the door most of the way.
In the foyer, he hung her coat up by the door. He walked into the kitchen, smiling down at Kayla. “I’m fine,” he said again.
“Who was that man?” she asked.
“That was my biological father,” Bo said, pulling open the freezer door. He grabbed a small ice pack and let the door swing shut. “As you can see, he’s a real lovely guy.”
“I’m sorry, Bo.”
“It’s not your fault, baby.” Bo pulled open a drawer and grabbed a towel. He wrapped it around the ice pack, letting out a sigh as he leaned back against the counter. He pressed the ice pack to his lower jaw, closing his eyes.
“Why didn’t you hit him back?” Kayla asked.
Because he’s not wrong. I did kill his son, Bo thought. Instead, he took a page straight from Jacob’s life philosophy, “Because violence isn’t always the answer, baby.” He cleared his throat. “Two wrongs don’t make a right. That kind of thing.”
Kayla nodded, even though Bo wasn’t looking at her. “I let Hati out into the backyard,” she said, climbing onto one of the barstools around the counter.
“Thank you.” Bo forced his eyes open. “Anything particular you want for supper tonight?” he asked. Kayla shrugged. One corner of Bo’s mouth lifted. “Yeah, I figured.” He heard a car door slam outside. “There’s Jake,” he said quietly.
“What happens to the guy?” Kayla asked.
“I’m making him sit in a cell overnight,” Bo said. “But I’m not pressing charges. He’ll be out tomorrow,” he explained.
“Why? He hit you.”
“I know. But I also know when to let something go, and it’s just not something I want to pursue,” Bo said. He looked up as the front door opened. Jacob strode into the kitchen and pulled the ice pack away from Bo’s face. “Hello, to you, too,” Bo greeted.
“Ninety days. I can get him in jail for ninety days,” Jacob said, touching his fingers to Bo’s jaw.
“I’m not filing charges.”
“Kayla, baby? Can you leave the room, please?” Bo asked. Kayla nodded, jumping down from the bar stool. “You know who he is, Jake.”
“Yeah, you’re POS bio-father.”
“Mmhmm. And my stalker was whom?”
“Right. He just came up here to tell me I killed his son. That’s why he hit me,” Bo said.
“Okay, but he’s wrong, so I’m going to make you press charges,” Jacob said.
“Jake,” Bo said quietly. “He’s not wrong.”
“Jamal didn’t pull the trigger. I did.”
“Oh, my God,” Jacob whispered, stepping away from Bo.
“He was threatening my family. He was describing how he would kill them, how he would display them. I didn’t know what else to do,” Bo whispered.
“Did he suffer?”
“Not at my hands.” Bo glanced up briefly. “I hit him a couple times,” he corrected.
“Jamal made him suffer?”
“Then you put him out of his misery. It was mercy,” Jacob reasoned.
“I… suppose so.”
“Okay,” Jacob whispered. “Okay, okay. We can… handle this. Wh–what do you want me to do with him?”
“Keep him overnight?” Bo asked.
“I can do that,” Jacob said quietly. He nodded. “We’ll be okay, Bo.”
“Good.” Bo cleared his throat. “But, uh, let him know that if he ever comes here and hits me in front of my kids again, I’ll make sure he spends the rest of his life in prison.”
“And if he doesn’t believe me?”
“Tell him to talk to Jamal,” Bo said simply.
Jacob nodded. “You’re gonna be okay?”
Bo chuckled quietly. “It was a punch, Jake. I’ve had worse,” he said.
“I know. But you just got clocked by your father.”
The blonde shrugged. “I deserved it,” he said.
Jacob pulled him into a hug. “I’m sorry.”
“Why? For what?” Bo asked.
“A lot of things. But I’m sorry you had to keep this a secret. It must’ve been eating you up inside,” Jacob said.
Bo sighed quietly. “I felt guilty as hell about hiding it from you,” he said. Jacob nodded, squeezing the blonde tightly. Wordlessly, he patted Bo on the cheek, staring at him for a moment before turning and leaving the kitchen. Bo closed his eyes as the sergeant walked out of the house.
After he took over for Jamal, how many deep, dark secrets would he have to keep from Jacob?
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