Reece chuckled again as he dropped his arm and placed his elbows on the table. “You’re twenty-two, Roxy. You really don’t need to figure anything out at this point.”

My expression turned bland. “You make it sound like I’m still in diapers. You’re only twenty-five.

Maybe he was right, but there was a niggle of panic in the center of my chest. Once I graduated college, would I keep working at Mona’s? Doing web design on the side? Or would I get a “real” job as some people, especially nosey people, lovingly advised? “I like working at Mona’s,” I announced.

“Why wouldn’t you? Jax is a great guy to work for,” he said, head tilted slightly to the side. “And you’re good with people.”

I grinned. “I make some damn good tips.”

His gaze dropped to my mouth and then slowly rose. “I bet you do.”

A pleasant buzz trilled through my system at the light, almost offhand compliment. Was I that desperate for praise that if I had a tail, I’d be wagging it? Or was it just because it was coming from Reece?

Thick lashes lowered, shielding cobalt-blue eyes momentarily. When he looked up again, his eyes practically burned with the intensity uniquely his.

Oh yeah, it was because it was coming from Reece. Who was I kidding?

I shook those thoughts right out of my head as I grabbed hold of the paper the straw came in and started tearing it up into tiny pieces. “But how bad is it that I graduate with a degree in graphics and still work at Mona’s?”

“How bad is it for you to stop doing something you enjoy for something you don’t?” he countered.


My lips formed a perfect O. Well, when one summed it up like that, it really didn’t make sense.

“Look, do you remember how badly my stepdad freaked when he realized that both my brother and I had no plans of ever going to college?”

I nodded. Colton, his brother, and Reece never had any aspirations of being a college grad, something their stepfather, Richard, was not too keen on, considering he’d been all about higher education and law school.

“And not to this day do I regret never stepping foot in a college. I’m glad I joined the Marines and came back to this,” he said, shrugging one shoulder. “I’m satisfied with being a cop, even when there are moments when it’s . . .” A shadow crossed his face, and I held my breath, thinking he was going to talk about what happened—the shooting that had spun his life out of control for a little while.

Peeking up at him, I thought about how . . . how cut up Reece was after he was involved in the shooting a year and a half ago. Who knows what he faced at war, and I did know that he’d taken quite the hit while over there, something I didn’t like to think about . . . it was why he came home, but the shooting he’d been involved in as a cop had rocked him hard. While Reece hadn’t pushed me away at that time, it had been Jax who’d pulled him out of the downward spiral.

“Even when it’s fucking difficult, I don’t regret my choice.”

For some reason, I was disappointed that he hadn’t mentioned the “difficult” situation. Even though Reece had allowed me to get close to him while he was dealing with that crap, he’d never talked about it, and I guessed he still didn’t.

“Not everyone has to do the same thing to be happy,” he continued. “It took Richard a while to get over it, but he did. And he’s fine, because he knows Colton and I are happy.” He paused. “And I know your parents wouldn’t care if you kept working at Mona’s or whatever. They just want you to be happy.”

“I know.” And that was the God’s honest truth.

Reece reached across the table and wrapped his long fingers around my wrist. Slowly, he pulled my hand away from the pile of paper I was creating. “You know, you don’t have to live Charlie’s life for him.”

My jaw hit the table.

“Just because he can’t go to college, doesn’t mean you have to do it for him.” Turning my hand over, he smoothed his thumb along the inside of my wrist. “Charlie would never have wanted that for you.”

There were many days where I wondered what the hell I was doing or why I was doing it, and Reece nailed it on the head right then, after us not exchanging a single civil word to one another for almost a year. Shocked me right to the core, because there was a part of me that didn’t want to acknowledge why I did some of the things I did.

Or why I didn’t do other things.

His thumb made another swipe, drawing my attention. The pads of his fingers were calloused, telling me he used his hands a lot. The contrast of the roughness to the smooth movements and his words had me squirming in my booth.

Before I could think of a response suitable to that statement, our food arrived and he let go of my wrist. But when he did, his fingers were slow to leave my skin, trailing over my hand and the length of my fingers. Unable to stop it, I shivered.

The topic of conversation changed to a much lighter one. “So how long do you think Jax is going to be up here before he takes his ass back down to Shepherd?” he asked, digging into his biscuit drowning in gravy.

I laughed as I picked up a slice of turkey bacon. “Nick was wondering the same thing. Jax is supposed to be back home middle of next week, but I doubt he’d make it a whole week without running down to see her.”

“I don’t either.” His grin was just too much. “Man, he’s got it bad for her.”

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