A Daddy for Jacoby(7)

“Yeah, I lied.” She shrugged. “It was just for fun.”

“How do I know you’re not lying now? Just because you put my name on that piece of paper—”

Gina appeared with two plates of food and the drinks, cutting off his words. She must’ve taken someone else’s order to get back so fast. After everything was on the table, she turned to the boy. “Would you like to wash your hands before you eat?”

Justin thought the kid needed to be scrubbed from head to toe, but he kept quiet. Zoe dug into the food, ignoring everything else.

“Okay,” the boy said.

Gina held out her hand and he went with her. “I’ll take him to the kitchen.”

His mother didn’t reply, so Justin nodded. Waiting until they were out of earshot, he grabbed for the soda the same moment Zoe did.


“You let your son go off with a total stranger?”

Zoe looked at him. “Like she’s going to run off with the kid? She looks like she’s barely out of college.”

If he remembered correctly, Zoe was a few years older than Gina. Unless that had been a lie, too. “You told me you were nineteen back then. Was that the truth?”

She tucked the birth certificate into the pocket of his T-shirt. “Yes. Now, can I have my drink?”

He handed over the soda. “You still haven’t told me why you never got a hold of me.”

“I thought about it when I found out I was pregnant, but then I heard about your arrest. Like I said, there was nothing you could do from where you were heading and heck, we were just a one-night—one-weekend stand.” She paused to take a long swallow from the cup. “I figured I could handle things myself.”

“So, why look me up now?”

“I read you got out of prison early for good behavior. Hey, I’m not going to lie, the last seven years have been hard. I’m not too proud to come and ask for help.”

He didn’t know what to say. Was the kid his? Without a DNA test, he couldn’t be sure, no matter how the dates matched up.

Gina returned with the boy, who started in on his food with an enthusiasm that left Justin wondering when was the last time they’d eaten a meal.

“You make sure you eat all that,” she directed her comments to her son. “I’m gonna go to the bathroom. You be good and don’t give your dad any trouble, you hear?”

The ketchup bottle in the boy’s hand stilled at he looked at his mom with dark eyes. They shifted to lock on to Justin before the child nodded solemnly.

Justin sat mute, having no idea how to respond to her words. He watched her slip out of the booth and head for the front foyer where the restrooms were located. When she disappeared through the swinging doors, he turned his attention back to the boy, noticing they had the same dark hair and eyes.

Jacoby Ellis. His son?

If it was true, shouldn’t he feel something? A pull? A spark? That unexplained connection between parent and child?

He doubted his father ever had felt that toward him, his brother or sister. Joseph Dillon hadn’t had a paternal bone in his body. Justin had only been five when their mother died, but there was never any doubt that she’d loved all her children with a fierce devotion. He was still able to recall the warmth of her touch. And the sound of her tears.

He shook off the memory and noticed the fries were going into the boy’s mouth faster than he could chew. “Hey, take it easy. No one’s going to take away your plate until you’re finished, okay?”

Those dark eyes looked at him again. The boy didn’t speak, but he did slow down. Justin watched him eat for a few minutes, then his own stomach rumbled and he found himself wishing Gina had brought him a burger, too.

Like magic, a plate with a Blue Creek Super Burger appeared in front of him.

Gina stood at the table, her arms crossed. “I figured watching them eat was making you hungry. Besides, something tells me you’re going to need to keep up your strength.”

Justin scowled at her, but grabbed the burger anyway.

“Does that taste good?” She turned her attention to the kid and he nodded, too busy sucking chocolate milk through a straw to reply.

“Where’s your friend?” Her voice was low as she directed the question back at Justin.

He forced down a mouthful of food. “Ladies’ room. Can you believe this? Damn, what a freaking mess—”

“Justin!” Gina cut him off, dropping her hands to the table. She leaned forward, cutting off his view of the boy. Not that he was looking at the kid with Gina’s curves practically laid out in front of him.

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