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 officer 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.

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