Helpless (Steel Demons MC #5) - Crystal Ash
TEN YEARS EARLIER
My father came across as an unassuming man. If he paid attention to you, it made you feel like the only person in the room. Jonathan Youngblood could be warm, non-threatening, and a good listener. My mother said I had his smile, and when I got excited about something as a kid, my eyes would light up with the same brightness as when he used to look at her.
I noticed from an early age that his smiles were never directed at her anymore, but his teeth and eyes shone brightly for pretty new fixtures—the socialites who came to his parties, daughters of his business partners.
It was jarring to me, seeing my father giving my mother the cold shoulder at their events. Mom held onto his arm, nails manicured and diamond jewelry throwing light all over the place like disco balls. Her smile was just as fake as his.
In contrast, my grandparents, who I spent more time with, only had eyes for each other. Gram would cackle with laughter, smacking Gramps’ hand away when he pinched her behind as she walked by. They had touched all the time, bantering and bickering with smiles on their faces. Until Gramps passed away when I was thirteen, they slept in the same bed every night, and always retired to their bedroom together.
I couldn’t remember a time when my parents ever went to bed together. One of my earliest memories was being carried by my nanny as I watched my parents walk to their separate, opposite wings of the house for the night.
All of these contrasting views rifled through my brain as I sat across from my father in his office. There were no family pictures, no touches of warmth or humanity in this space. Just polished wood and leather with the occasional shiny metal surface, reflections of him and his ego.
A massive taxidermy rhinoceros head jutted out from the wall behind him. The animal was completely extinct now, with no subspecies left except for those in zoos. Dear old Dad and his cousin, a US Senator, paid a fortune to hunt the last six wild rhinos remaining. He laughed at the activists, the public outcry, and the woe from environmentalists. This motherfucker was proud to have a direct hand in wiping an endangered species off the planet. That’s the kind of man he really was underneath the smiles.
I kept this all in mind as I stuck my fingers between my neck and my shirt collar, the silk tie feeling like it was strangling me, while I waited for him to begin this charade.
Sometimes, even behind closed doors, he found it amusing to play the part of a father.
“General Arros sent me your final marks from McAlister today.” Jonathan Youngblood folded his hands on his desk as if speaking to a business associate. “All perfect scores, as usual.”
I frowned, shifting in my seat. “Grades don’t come out until next month. I turned in my final project this morning.”
“Don’t be foolish, Gunner. You know the power I have over the entire academy board.” A self-satisfied grin pulled at his lips. “You know the benefits of being a Youngblood.”
I propped my elbow on the arm of the chair and lowered my head into my hand. I actually worked my ass off at McAlister Academy, and not just because I woke up doing push-ups at 4:30 am every day. I actually studied. I paid attention in class. Military history, battle strategy, it all fascinated me. I begged my teachers, and even met with the headmaster, to grade and evaluate me based on my own effort, not what my dad slipped them under the table. They all assured me they did, but apparently being in Jonathan Youngblood’s favor was more appealing.
Dad began pouring a glass of Scotch—only one of course, for himself. This was a success for him, after all. I fantasized about breaking the bottle over his inflated head and gulping down the expensive booze myself.
“You’ll receive a call from the Pentagon in two weeks’ time,” he said. “They’ll offer you a job as a junior strategist. It’s just above entry-level, you see. I couldn’t place you in a higher-level position without…arousing suspicions.” He chuckled, like that was a cute joke. “Keep your head down, do your job, and the pieces will move in your favor.”
He paused to take a drink, swallowing while he looked me over, as if inspecting merchandise. “You’ll be flying out to D.C. the following Monday. I suggest you prepare in the