“I do.” My stomach dipped with excitement. “I like doing them, and I can keep working at Mona’s.” I paused, lifting my head so I could see his face. “You don’t think it makes me . . . I don’t know, a loser for dropping out of college?”

His eyes narrowed. “First off, you’re not dropping out. You’re stepping away for a while. Maybe forever, but it’s not like you’re doing it because you can’t cut it. Secondly, college isn’t always the fucking answer, babe. Choosing not to go down that route doesn’t make you a loser. I’d love to hear someone say that to you.”

“Simmer down.” I patted his chest, but secretly I was super pleased. I took a deep breath and, yeah, it felt lighter, better. “I want to take painting seriously. Who knows? Maybe I could follow up on what Mom told me about the art dealer in the city. She liked my stuff. I have more. I can give her more.”

“As long as you don’t give her any you’ve done of me.”

Flushing, I rested my forehead against his chest and groaned. “You suck.”

He chuckled as he looped his arms around my waist. “Especially the ones you do of me naked. Yeah, I haven’t forgotten that request.”

I sighed.

“But seriously, I think it’s a great thing,” he said. When I lifted my head, he smiled up at me, tugging at my heart. “I’m proud of you.”

“Really?” My voice squeaked.

He shook his head. “Yes, really.”

I opened my mouth, but his cell went off. I climbed off him, reclining on my side as he sat up and grabbed his phone.


“Yo,” he answered.

Based on the way he answered, I assumed it was not business. He twisted at his waist, glancing down at me. His gaze tracked over the length of my bare body and the look on his face said he wished he wasn’t on the phone, but then he turned away. “Yeah. Okay.”

“Is everything okay?” I asked when he hung up.

“It was Colton.” Reece frowned as he placed his cell back on the nightstand. “He’s outside. I’ll be right back.”

Before he swung his legs off the bed, he kissed my cheek and then my temple. The act was both sweet and tender, and really made me want to flail around the room like a broken ballet dancer.

Reece closed the door behind him and for a moment I lay there, and then I grabbed my shirt, because knowing my luck, I’d get caught naked in his bedroom. Pulling the shirt over my head, I let it pool around me and then worked on getting all the huge knots out of my hair while I resisted the urge to go out and see what Colton was doing here. I didn’t have to resist for too long.

Less than five minutes later, Reece came back in, leaving the door open behind him. I grabbed for the comforter to cover my bare legs. “Is Colton still here?”

He stopped a few steps from the bed. “No. He had to head back out.”

“Okay.” I cocked my head to the side, eyeing him closely. Something was definitely off about him as he dragged his hand across his chest. “Did something happen?”

Reece nodded. “Yeah, something did.”

Now I was starting to get anxious. A lead ball formed in my belly. “What?”

“Kip’s dead.”

I blinked once and then twice. “Come again?”

His throat worked. “He was found dead in lockup this morning. A few hours ago, actually. Fucking bizarre.”

All I could do was stare at him.

“The thing is, he choked himself with his shirt by tying it to the bar and letting his weight drop. Doable. But really unlikely considering who would do that to themselves, plus he wasn’t alone. Colton said there were eight other guys in lockup.”

I still hadn’t found any words.

He shook his head slowly as he stared over my shoulder. “He left a suicide message, supposedly.”

“Supposedly?” There. I could speak. Well, I could parrot Reece.

“He told one of the guys locked up with him where Shelly Winters’ body could be found, and then, according to the witnesses, he proceeded to hang himself. No one stopped him.” He paused, confounded just like me. “There’s a unit heading out there now, since the location is in our jurisdiction.”

All right, I was bowled over by surprise. “No one tried at all to stop him? They—eight people—just watched him choke himself to death by tying his shirt around his neck and to the bars?”

“Yeah,” he replied. “But here’s the thing.” He stepped closer to the bed. “News broke about him by Monday night, right? When we were in the hospital, it was on the evening news. Word got out fast that he was suspected of assaulting all the other women and that he was incarcerated.”


“Colton tells me that about a day and a half ago, a guy was brought in for robbing a liquor store. Strange situation. The dude walked in, grabbed a bottle of whiskey off the shelf and then sat outside and drank it. Sat there until the cops showed up. He was arrested and has been in jail. Still is. City cops say the guy they brought in has a history, but guess who he’s also tied to.”

I shook my head. “Who?”


My eyes widened. “Holy shit. Wasn’t it Isaiah’s cousin that was attacked?” When Reece nodded, it all started to come together. “Oh my God, do you guys think this guy was ordered by Isaiah to get arrested, then end up in the same jail to take out Kip?”

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