Authors: Julie Mac
A Father at Last
A Father at Last
Sensible is lawyer Kelly Atkinson’s second name. So how can she love bad boy Ben Carter?
Ben is a no‐go area, as far as she’s concerned. There can never be anything between them.
Apart from their six‐year‐old son, Dylan.
And Dylan is all the more reason why there can never be anything between them. Kelly’s dad was in trouble with the law when she was a child and she lost him. Never in a million years would she want her darling son to suffer the same fate, the same despair, pain and gut‐wrenching, agonising loss.
No matter how powerful the chemistry between her and Ben. And it’s there, strong and potent as ever.
About the author
Julie Mac loved writing stories from the time she started school, so a career in journalism and PR writing was a natural progression. These days, she relishes the freedom of writing fiction: her characters can do and say anything she wants them to, and there’s no risk of misquoting anyone.
Julie writes contemporary romance and likes nothing better than to have her characters surprise her.
She and her husband live on a lifestyle block in pretty countryside just north of Auckland.
She enjoys beautiful landscapes, the company of friends, and of course, good books. A Father at Last is her debut novel.
For teaching me the craft of writing fiction, my thanks to Romance Writers of New Zealand and the Kara School of Writing, Whangarei, NZ.
To Grant, Rory and Isla for their unfailing love, support and inspiration; and to my darling
mother, Joyce, for showing me the beauty of books.
A Father at Last
Kelly clutched her mother’s hand so tightly her fingers hurt.
The walk along the black asphalt path to the visitors’ car park seemed endless, and she kept her eyes fixed on her shoes so she wouldn’t see the tall wire fence in front of her with its sharp bits on top. She made her feet move faster, her mind filled with the image of that horrible building behind them, with its endless, grey, windowless walls.
Dad was in there.
A shiver—a scared shiver—started at her feet and ran all the way up her spine and into her hair. Dad had hugged her—just one tiny, really quick hug. But he didn’t smell like Dad anymore, and he had funny clothes on. He didn’t even look much like Dad. He had big black circles under his eyes and was kind of shaky.
Well, she felt shaky, too. In there, they’d made Mum give them her handbag and they’d looked all through it. Then a lady in uniform told her and Mum to take off their shoes and their jackets and then she patted down their bodies and up their legs. Frisking, it was called. She’d seen them do that in movies, but to baddies, not people like Mum and her.
The long path ended at the razor‐tipped wire fence that towered above her. She closed her eyes so she couldn’t see it, but it was there, hard and strong in front of her eyelids, so she opened her eyes again, and then a guard pressed a remote control so a heavy iron gate slid across to let them out, and they were past the fence.
Kelly could taste blood where her top teeth clamped on her bottom lip. She wouldn’t cry. She wouldn’t! Not out loud anyway. The tears could run down her cheeks and drip off her chin all they liked, but she wouldn’t whimper and sniff and sob—not like Mum was doing.
She tugged at her mother’s hand, hard, and stood still. “Stop it, Mum,” she ordered.
Her voice came out squeaky and thin, not stern and bossy like she wanted it to sound. But then, she
She glanced around. Other visitors were crossing the wide strip of concrete between the visitors’ entrance and the guards’ box by the gate to the car park. She looked up at her mother and tried again, her voice lowered so none of the other visitors could hear her.
“Stop crying, Mum. It’s Dad’s own fault he’s in prison.”
A picture of Dad flashed into her mind, her last picture of him, turning and raising a hand in farewell as the guard escorted him through the door of the visitors’ room and away somewhere that she couldn’t see. In her head, she could still hear the awful clanging of the steel door as it shut behind him.
She sucked in a long shaky sob that came from nowhere, and tried again. “He did something bad and now he has to be punished. You and I have to be strong.” She swiped at her wet face with her free hand. “We have to be strong. Dad said that.”
Her mother bent, unsmiling, and hugged her tight. “I know we have to be strong, petal. And we will be.” Mum sniffed hard. “I’m not crying because I’m sad, or feel sorry for myself. I’m crying because I’m mad at your father. I’m so angry I could…”
“Could what, Mum?” Kelly was curious. Mum hadn’t talked about how she felt since Dad was arrested. She’d just been acting kind of weird.
Her mother straightened up, her eyes fixed firmly on the car park beyond the next fence and the guards’ box. She squeezed Kelly’s hand and started walking again, briskly. “I could scream.”
“Me too,” said Kelly. The only trouble was, now that Mum had said that, she wanted to cry more than ever. And she felt a bit sick too, because tomorrow was Monday and she’d have to go to school, and most of the girls—except for her very best friends—would be mean to her, as they had ever since the police had arrived at home to take Dad away and it had been in all the papers and on the TV news. Mum had hidden the local paper, but not before Kelly had seen the horrible headline.
Volunteer fireman turns bad.
That was Dad,
Dad, they were talking about in big black ugly letters on the front page of the newspaper.
Kelly’s dad turns bad.
The mean girls chanted the words when they played their skipping games in the school yard.
The boys weren’t so cruel—some of them even thought it was cool to have a criminal for a father.
She thought of the boy who sat next to her at school and flicked rubber band bullets at her. For the first time that day, she smiled.
A Father at Last
Seventeen years later
At eleven thirty, Kelly Atkinson, duty solicitor at the Auckland District Court, desperate for a coffee, took advantage of a lull in proceedings to race out to the little cafe at the end of the block for her usual takeaway flat white.
On her way back, riding the escalator to the court’s first floor, she passed a noisy group of scruffy‐looking young men going the opposite way on the down escalator.
A quick glance told her plenty; there was a swaggering arrogance, a rough toughness that said they’d been here before, and really didn’t care. She recognised the colours and insignia of one of the new breed of street gangs springing up across the city.
“Oooooeee, look at you, pretty lady,” one drawled as she passed. “Wanna…”
She didn’t hear the rest of the invitation as they moved down on their escalator and she moved up on hers, but she did hear his mates’ sniggers.
Kelly ignored them, but glanced back down at the two security guards by the main doors. Sure enough, they were watching; one sent a minuscule nod in her direction.
She turned her head—and her gaze ran slap bang into a pair of caramel‐coloured eyes in a tautly sculpted face.
Oh, God. Ben Carter!
And he recognised her too; she saw the moment of shock in his eyes.
Her soul mate. Her ex‐soul mate. The boy she’d longed to see again; the man she’d hoped never to see again.
He was lagging behind the gang a metre or two, but obviously with them—the black beanie pulled low on his head displayed the tell‐tale insignia. In three seconds, he was directly opposite her, near enough to touch, his eyes still on hers, his face betraying no emotion.
She opened her mouth to speak, but before she could form words, he leaned in close and said deep and urgently, so quietly that only she could hear, “You don’t know me, Kelly.”
Then he was gone. She turned as the down escalator carried his tall figure away, but he didn’t look back.
She stumbled at the top of the escalator, and when she got to the duty solicitors’
room, she saw that her hands were shaking. The milky coffee she’d downed felt like lead in her stomach, and the almost‐empty paper cup still in her hand was a soggy, crushed mess.
You don’t know me, Kelly.’
Of course I know you, Ben.
She’d known him all the way through intermediate and most of the way through high school—until he got chucked out. And then afterwards…
I know your touch, I know your smell, I know the soft whisper of your voice at two
o’clock in the morning.
She tipped the remains of the coffee down the sink, crumpled the paper cup, threw it in the bin and took several deep breaths.
He was right. Of course he was right. She didn’t know him—didn’t want to know him.
She’d made that perfectly clear years ago. And rightly so.
Ben was a risk taker.
All the signs were there, way back then, and look what he’d turned into—a risk taker of the worst kind. She couldn’t stop the shudder that gripped her body.
No, she didn’t know Ben Carter.
And for his part, he wouldn’t have wanted her—a lawyer, for heaven’s sake—making a complete fool of him in front of his gangster mates by flinging her arms around him like some long‐lost buddy.
“Kelly? It’s getting busy out there again.” The supervising duty solicitor stuck his head through the door. “You okay? You look a bit pale.”
“I’m good, thanks, Bob. Just a bit headachy,” Kelly improvised, picking up her clipboard and heading for the door.
She surveyed the crowded waiting room outside courtroom four, took a deep breath, and got to work.
It was a typically busy Monday, with the usual cross section of society waiting for their turn in front of the judge.
“Anyone need a duty solicitor?” she called, and crossed to the first person to stand up, a young man in his late teens—a first‐timer, judging by his tidy appearance and obvious nervousness.
“What’s your name?” she asked quietly, scanning her clipboard and leading him into a side room.
A Father at Last
The youngster was just one of a long procession of today’s clients, from career crims to ordinary people who’d done something stupid, usually under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
She loved this part of her job as a lawyer, ensuring those who’d got in trouble with the law had the best possible legal representation when they stepped into the courtroom.
Her mind zeroed in on Ben again. Ben hadn’t had a good lawyer when he’d landed in court at the age of eighteen. She’d gone with him that day, and in a career‐deciding moment, she’d recognised the sheer incompetence of the slipshod practitioner he’d been assigned.
If it hadn’t been for the judge himself suggesting the diversion scheme, Ben’s duty solicitor would have had him heading for a spell in prison. She was gripped with a sudden intense stab of emotion that felt very like grief. He’d been given a second chance back then, but he’d blown it.
“Tell me what happened, in your own words.” And, “Here are your choices when you appear before the judge.”
Kelly repeated these words over and over through the afternoon as she worked with one client after another, focussing all her energies on achieving the right outcome for them—despite the disturbing images that flashed relentlessly across her mind: Ben’s eyes, Ben’s words, Ben’s beautiful face, Ben in trouble with the law. Again.
By the time the court emptied at four, she really did have the beginnings of a headache. She quickly finished up her paperwork, and was heading out of the building soon after four‐thirty.
On the street, she breathed deeply, once, twice, and felt some of the tension flow from her. Today had been difficult—to say the least—but now she had a much more pleasant task ahead.
Dylan’s sixth birthday was coming up at the weekend, and she’d seen the cutest little miniature All Blacks rugby jersey in the window of the big department store just down the road in Queen Street.