I leaned against the railing, feeling a little weak, but I didn’t run or try to hide from this. I wasn’t a coward. At least, I tried not to be one. “You’re right,” I said, but I wished he’d put a damn shirt on, because that body was super distracting.
“You know that I was pissed. You know why I’m pissed.”
“You hate lying above anything else. I know it’s because of your dad,” I said, and I rushed on before I stopped. “Knowing that made it hard to come clean about that night. Not that I’m excusing it, but just so you know where I’m coming from.”
“Lying isn’t what I hate above all else, Roxy. I hate fucking predators who stalk women and people I care about. That’s pretty high up there. So is murder and rape,” he continued, and I think I got his point. “But yeah, I was pissed. I’m still kind of pissed.”
I cringed inwardly. Here it comes . . .
“That’s why I left. I wish I didn’t. Gotta be honest with you, it probably was a good thing that I did, because the last thing I wanted to say was something I regretted and couldn’t take back, but knowing what you were going through, I wish I was there. That I stayed and maybe you would’ve opened up about what was going on.” He rubbed the back of his neck with one hand. “Let’s take that shit and put it aside for a moment, because we’ll be dealing with that when Colton gets here.”
“All right,” I replied, stiffening.
He lowered his head as his chest rose with a deep breath. “I needed space. I needed to clear my head of the anger I was feeling. I’ve learned more than once that trying to hold an important conversation when you’re pissed isn’t the smart thing to do. It usually fucks things up and the last thing I wanted to do was go down that road with you.”
But wasn’t it already fucked up?
Reece’s eyes were such a deep, startling blue when they met mine. “I wasn’t ready to talk to you on Thursday, but I knew then where this was heading.”
My chest rose and fell sharply as I braced myself.
“I thought about it. I do get why you were upset and I know you get why I was upset. We both fucked up in this, one way or another.”
“We did,” I whispered, wanting to cry. I started to turn away, but his hand snaked out and caught mine. I faced him, eyes wide.
“I think we did this wrong,” he said, threading his fingers through mine.
I had no idea where this was heading, but he was holding my hand, so I was going to go with him somewhere where I didn’t want to pitch myself off the balcony. “We did?”
Reece nodded. “No bullshit, right? I have something I need to tell you.”
“No bullshit,” I repeated.
One side of his lips kicked up. “The first time I noticed you—like really noticed you—was when you just turned sixteen, and you were out in the backyard with Charlie. I had no fucking clue what you two were trying to do with a Slip’N Slide and honestly didn’t care, because you were wearing the tiniest bikini I’d ever seen.”
“I have no recollection of a Slip’N Slide,” I murmured.
He tugged me a step forward. “I do. It was in June. It was around two in the afternoon, and I was watching you from the kitchen window. I kept telling myself you were way too young to be thinking the things I was thinking.”
Interest piqued, I couldn’t let that go. “What things were you thinking?”
“Things a teenage boy thinks when he sees a hot chick in a bathing suit that barely covers her ass,” he replied. “I don’t think I moved from that window until I couldn’t take anymore, and I don’t think you want to know what I did when I left the window.”
My lips parted. “What did you do?”
He arched a brow. “Give you two hints. Shower. My hand.”
“Oh.” My skin tingled as a sharp sensation swirled through me.
“Yeah,” he murmured, and tugged me another step forward. My leg pressed against his knee. “Then it was when you were seventeen and you made me a homemade birthday card. I don’t know why, but when you smiled at me and handed that card over, you came onto my radar and you never left.”
I totally remembered that card. I’d spent days on it, drawing a picture of the Statue of Liberty, because I knew he was into the whole Marines and America stuff. And I’d felt so goofy giving it to him, but he had smiled and he’d given me one of those awkward one-arm hugs. I’d thought he saw me as a silly kid.
“When I came back from overseas and I saw you . . .” He shook his head. “That hug you gave me. Never been hugged like that before. I didn’t understand why you were the first person I really wanted to see when I got back. I didn’t get it for a long-ass time why I started going to that shit hole that used to be Mona’s. And when I did finally put two and two together, and came up with the fact that I wanted you, then the shit happened with the shooting.”
I swallowed hard. I knew Reece had taken the officer-involved shooting hard and he’d been drinking a lot around that time, but before I could open my mouth, he went on. “My head wasn’t in the right place to act on it. The reason I came to Mona’s became more about getting shitfaced than seeing you, and then . . . yeah, that night happened between us.” He tilted his head to the side. “That’s why I regretted it. Because I was drunk and my head was in a bad place. I didn’t want anyone around that, especially you.”