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Fall With Me, Page 2

J. Lynn

  Curse words would’ve flown from my tongue like birds migrating south for winter if he hadn’t caught me off guard. I’d asked a totally valid question. From what I knew, Reece never, in the six years I’d been seeing Charlie, had visited the facility, but a smidgen of guilt bloomed and my momma raised me better than this. I forced out a “Hi.”

  He pursed well-­formed lips and said nothing.

  My eyes narrowed from behind my sunglasses. “Hello . . . Officer Anders?”

  A moment passed as he cocked his head to the side. “I’m not on duty, Roxy.”

  Oh man, the way he said my name. Roxy. How he curled his tongue around the R. I had no idea how, but it made me all squishy in areas that so did not need the squishiness.

  When he didn’t say anything else though, I was close to punching myself in the girlie areas, because he was seriously going to make me do this. “Hello . . .” I drew the word out. “Reece.”

  Those lips curved up at the corners, a smile that said he was proud and he should be. Me saying his name at this point was a major accomplishment on his part, and if I had a reward cookie for him, I’d shove it right in his face. “Was that so hard?” he asked.

  “Yes. It was hard,” I told him. “It blackened a part of my soul.”

  A laugh erupted from him, which surprised the hell out of me. “Your soul is all rainbows and puppy dog tails, babe.”

  I snorted. “My soul is deep and dark and full of other infinite meaningless things.”

  “Meaningless things?” he repeated with another deep laugh as he reached up and scrubbed his fingers through his dark brown hair. It was cropped close on the sides, but a little longer on top than most cops had. “Well, if that’s the truth, it hasn’t always been that way.” The easy, somewhat—­okay, totally—­ charming grin eased off his mouth and his lips formed a flat line. “Yeah, it wasn’t always like that.”

  The next breath hitched in my throat. Reece and I . . . we’d known each other for a long time. When I’d been a freshman in high school, he’d been a junior, and even back then he’d been everything a girl could obsess over, and I’d crushed on him hard. Like, I had drawn hearts with his name in the center, my earliest and lamest doodles, across my notebook and treasured every time he’d smiled at me or looked in my direction. I’d been way too young and didn’t run in his circles, but he’d always been kind to me.

  Probably had to do with the fact that he and his older brother, along with his parents, had moved into the house next door to my childhood home.

  Anyway, he’d always been good to me and to Charlie, and when he’d left to join the Marines at eighteen, I’d been heartbroken, utterly devastated, because I’d convinced myself we’d get married and populate the world with lots of babies. Those years he was gone had been hard, and I’d never forget the day Mom had called me to tell me he was injured while at war. My heart had stopped and it took a long time for that suffocating ball of dread to lift, even after we were assured that he’d be okay. When he finally came home, I was old enough not to be considered jailbait and we’d actually become friends. Close, good friends. I’d been there for him during the worse moments of his life. Those terrible nights he’d drunk himself into a stupor or become so moody he was like a caged lion ready to bite the hand off anyone who approached him—­anyone except me. But then one night with too much whiskey had ruined everything.

  I’d spent years infatuated with him, always believing he was unobtainable, and no matter what had transpired between us that night, he would still never be mine.

  Frustrated with where my thoughts had gone, I resisted the urge to chuck my tote at him. “Why in the world are we talking about my soul?”

  One broad shoulder rose. “You brought it up.”

  I opened my mouth to argue, but he was right, I had and that was kind of weird. A fine sheen of sweat had broken out across my forehead. “Why are you here?”

  Two steps and his long legs ate up the distance between us. My toes curled against my sandals as I forced myself not to whirl around and scurry away. Reece was tall, coming in around six feet and three inches, and I was an unofficial member of the Lollipop Guild. His size was a wee bit intimidating, also a tiny bit sexy. “It’s about Henry Williams.”

  In a split second, I forgot about the messy history Reece and I shared and the current shininess of my soul as I stared up at him. “What?”

  “He’s out of jail, Roxy.”

  The sweat turned to sleet on my skin. “I . . . I know he is. He’s been out for a ­couple of months. I kept up with the parole hearings. I—­”

  “I know,” he said quietly, intensely, and my stomach dropped to the ground. “You didn’t go to his last parole hearing, when he was released.”

  That was a statement, more than a question, but I still shook my head. I’d gone to the one before that, but had been barely able to stomach the sight of Henry Williams. And from how the talk was cycling around, there had been a good chance he’d be released at the next hearing and low and behold, he had been. Rumor had it that Henry found God or something like that while in prison. Good for him.

  But it didn’t change what he’d done.

  Reece took off his sunglasses and startling blue eyes met mine. “I went to the hearing.”

  Surprised, I took a step back. My mouth opened, but there were no words. I hadn’t known that—­hadn’t even crossed my mind that he would do that or even why he would.

  His gaze remained latched to mine. “During the hearing, he asked to—­”

  “No,” I said, almost shouted. “I know what he wanted. I heard what he wanted to do if he got out, and no. No times a billion. No. And the court can’t give that kind of permission anyway.”

  Reece’s expression softened and something—­something close to pity filled those eyes. “I know, but sweetheart, you also know you don’t have any say over it either.” There was a pause. “He wants to make amends, Roxy.”

  My free hand tightened into a fist as helplessness rose like a swarm of bees inside me. “He can’t make amends for what he did.”

  “I agree.”

  It took me a moment as I stared up at him to realize what he was getting at, and it was like the ground shifted under my feet. “No,” I whispered, stomach twisting into knots. “Please tell me that Charlie’s parents did not give him permission. Please.”

  A muscle tightened along the strong curve of his jaw. “I wish I could tell you that, but I can’t. They did, just this morning. I heard about it through his probation officer.”

  Raw emotion poured into my chest, and I turned to the side, not wanting him to see it. I couldn’t believe it. My brain refused to process that Charlie’s parents had given that . . . that bastard permission to visit him. How incredibly callous and crude and just so wrong. Charlie was the way he was now because of that homophobic asshole. Those knots spun tighter in my stomach, and there was a good chance I was going to puke.

  Reece’s hand folded over my shoulder, causing me to jump, but he didn’t remove his hand and the weight of it . . . there was something grounding about it. A tiny part of me was grateful for the pressure and it reminded me of how it used to be between us. “I thought it would be better for you to hear it first and not be sidelined by it.”

  I squeezed my eyes shut and my words were hoarse. “Thank you.”

  He kept his hand there as another moment stretched out between us. “That’s not all. He wants to talk to you.”

  My body jerked out of his reach on its own accord. I faced him again. “No. I do not want to see him.” In a second, that night came roaring back, and I backpedaled, bouncing into the side of my car. Things had started out lightly. Joking. Teasing. Then everything escalated so quickly, so badly. “No way.”

  “You don’t have to.” He moved toward me, but drew up short, lowering his hand to his side. “But you needed to know. I’ll tell his office
r that he needs to steer clear of you. Or else.”

  The “or else” barely registered, as was the low threat to his deep voice. My heart pounded in my chest, and I suddenly needed to be far away from where I was, alone, to process this. Edging along the passenger side of my car, I brought the tote bag up to my chest like some kind of shield. “I . . . I have to go.”

  “Roxy,” he called out.

  I made it around the front of my car, but somehow, like a ninja or something, Reece was in front of me. His sunglasses were still off and he was focused on me, his eyes the color of clear, precise blue.

  Both of his hands landed on my shoulders, and it was like sticking my finger in an electrical socket. In spite of the news he’d just delivered, I felt the weight of his hands in every cell, and I don’t know if he felt it too, but his fingers curved, anchoring me in. “What happened to Charlie,” he said, voice low. “It wasn’t your fault, Roxy.”

  My stomach flopped as I broke free, and he didn’t stop me this time as I darted around him and all but yanked open the car door and threw myself in behind the wheel. My chest rose and fell heavily as I stared at him through the windshield.

  Reece stood in front of my car for a few seconds, and for a moment, I thought he was going to climb in the car with me, but then he shook his head as he slipped his sunglasses on. I watched him turn and stalk his way to his truck, and only then did I speak.

  “Mother pucker,” I spat at the steering wheel as I gripped it with shaky hands. I didn’t know what the worst thing that had happened was. That Charlie hadn’t acknowledged me again. That Henry Williams had gotten permission to visit Charlie. Or the fact I was reminded that I wasn’t sure if Reece was right.

  If what happened to Charlie really was my fault.

  Chapter 3

  There was a part of me that wished I drank while I bartended, because after the kind of day I had, I’d get good and plastered tonight. But alas, I was pretty sure the owner of Mona’s would so not appreciate me passing out behind the bar, tucked in next to the ser­vice well.

  Jackson James, more commonly known as Jax and who truly did have a name that sounded like he belonged on the cover of Tiger Beat, had cleaned up Mona’s with nothing more than elbow grease and pure grit and determination. The bar had been a crap hole before he came along, rumored to be nothing more than a druggie hangout, but not anymore.

  He circled his arms around his girlfriend Calla’s waist. Her response was immediate and so endearingly natural. She leaned into him as they stood not too far from the worn pool tables, grinning at another ­couple.

  Hell, there were ­couples everywhere. It was like it was ­couples night at Mona’s and someone forgot to tell me.

  Cameron Hamilton and his fiancée, Avery Morgansten, sat at one of the tables, a beer in front of him and a glass of soda in front of her, being their normal super cute. Avery had this amazingly gorgeous red hair and freckles, looking like she could be a walking ad for Neutrogena, and Cam was handsome in that all-­American way.

  It was Jase Winstead and Cam’s younger sister Teresa who Jax and Calla were talking to. Those two were simply striking together, like the Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie of Mona’s. Then there were Brit and Ollie, blond bombshells, the latter who was explaining to one of the guys holding a pool stick that there are fifty-­two Fridays in 2015 . . . or something equally bizarre as that. The last time I’d talked to Ollie, he told me about how he was starting up a business where he was selling leashes . . . for tortoises. Wow.

  Adjusting the glasses I probably should be wearing all the time, I let my gaze drift back to Calla and Jax, and I felt my lips spread into a smile as I reached for the bottle of Jack. Witnessing two ­people who truly deserved to be loved fall in love was probably the most amazing thing to see. It made my teeny-­tiny heart all mushy when she tipped her chin up and Jax dropped a kiss on her lips.

  Tonight was about them—­well, about her. She was leaving on Monday, heading back to Shepherd and Jax had closed the bar down tonight for a little going-­away party—­the private party that I’d told Charlie about.

  Pouring a Jack and Coke for Melvin, who was older than Father Time and practically had his own stool at the bar, I grinned as he winked and grabbed the short glass. “That’s love right there.” He spoke over the old rock-­and-­roll song that was playing, nodding in the direction of Calla and Jax. “The kind that lasts.”

  Actually, it was like love threw up in the bar. Even Dennis, who worked with Reece and his brother, was here with his wife. They were all cuddled up together. But Melvin was right, and it made me a little sad, because I’d be pouring myself into bed all by my lonesome tonight.

  Oh well.

  “Yeah, it is.” Sliding the bottle back on the shelf, I leaned against the bar top. “You want wings or anything?”

  “Nah, sticking to the real deal tonight.” He lifted the glass as I raised a brow. “It’s good about those two,” he added after taking a drink. “That girl, you know, she ain’t had the easiest life. Jax will . . . yeah, he’ll take good care of her.”

  I was of the mindset that Calla didn’t need Jax to take care of her, that she could do it all by herself, but I got what he was saying in that old-­fashioned way of his. One just had to look at her to know that some bad—­real bad—­things had happened. She had a scar on her left cheek, one she didn’t try to hide so much anymore, and she’d told me what the fire had done to the rest of her body. It had happened when she was a young girl, and she’d ended up losing her whole family. Her brothers had died, and her mom dived off the deep end, while her dad had bounced, unable to deal.

  So like I said, it was amazing seeing someone who really deserved love find it.

  Melvin tilted his grizzly cheek toward me as I straightened the glasses perched on my nose. “So what about you, Roxy-­girl?”

  Looking around the half-­empty bar, I frowned. “What do you mean what about me?”

  He gave me a toothy grin. “When you gonna be out there with your arms around some man?”

  I snorted. Couldn’t help myself. “Not anytime soon.”

  “Famous last words,” he replied, tipping his glass to his lips.

  Shaking my head, I laughed. “Ah, no. Not famous. Just true.”

  He frowned as he slid off the stool. “I saw you going into that Italian place with that one boy last week. What’s his name?”

  “I like to think I don’t date boys,” I teased. “So I have no clue who you’re talking about.”

  Melvin finished off his drink in a way that must’ve made his liver proud. “You date a lot, little lady.”

  Shrugging a shoulder, I couldn’t argue with that statement. I did date a lot and actually some of the guys did act like boys, thinking that a cheap dinner at the Olive Garden meant they were getting some action afterward. I mean, geez, it should be a rule somewhere that said filet and lobster had to be on the menu before second base could be achieved.

  “Yeah, well, what about the one who looked wet behind the ears? The redhead kid,” he said. “Yeah, he had red hair and some peach fuzz on his face.”

  Peach fuzz? Oh geez, I bit down on my lip to stop from laughing, because I knew who he was thinking of and the poor guy seriously couldn’t grow facial hair. “You’re talking about Dean?”

  “Whatever,” he said dismissively. “I don’t like him.”

  “You don’t know him!” I pushed off the bar, grinning as he rolled his eyes. “Dean’s actually a pretty nice guy, and he’s older than me.”

  Melvin grunted. “You need to get with a real man.”

  “You volunteering?” I threw back.

  That got a deep, throaty laugh out of him. “If I was younger, girl, I’d show you a good time.”

  “Whatever,” I laughed, folding my arms across the lettering on my T-­shirt, which said HUFFLEPUFF DOES IT BETTER. “You want another drink? Beer, th
ough, because it’s obvious you don’t need any more liquor.”

  He snickered in my direction, but quickly got all serious face with me. “You got someone walking you to your car when you get off?”

  I thought that was a weird question. “One of the guys always walks me to my car.”

  “Good. You need to be careful,” he went on. “I’m sure you heard about the girl over in the Prussia area? She’s around your age, lives alone, and works late. Some guy followed her home, messed her up pretty badly.”

  “I think I remember hearing something about that on the news, but I thought it was some guy she knew. An ex-­boyfriend or something.”

  He shook his head as he took the bottle of beer I offered. “Last I heard, he was cleared. They think it was a stranger. Prussia ain’t far from here, and you remember that girl who disappeared about a month ago. Shelly Winters, I think was her name. She lived over in Abington Township? They still ain’t found her.” He tipped the bottle at me, and I vaguely remembered seeing Missing Persons photos shared on Facebook. If my memory served me right, she was a pretty girl with blue eyes and brown hair. “Just be careful, Roxy.”

  Leaning against the bar, I frowned as Melvin ambled off. Now that was kind of a creepy turn in our conversation.

  “Wanna make a bet?”

  I turned and looked waaay up at Nick Dormas. He took tall, dark, and brooding to a whole new level, and the girls who came in here ate it right up. He had an “I’m gonna break your heart” allure, and yet the girls kept on flocking to him. I was a little surprised he was talking, because he rarely spoke to anyone besides Jax, and I had no idea how he hooked up with so many chicks when he was as quiet as a mime. Nick was a hit-­it-­and-­never-­see-­your-­face-­again kind of guy. I once overheard Jax telling him he couldn’t ban chicks he’d banged from the bar just because Nick didn’t want to see them again. “For what?”

  Grabbing the bottle of tequila, he nodded in Jax’s direction. “He’ll be down to Shepherd before the week is out.”