“I’m so sorry,” I whispered.
He lifted our joined hands and kissed the back of mine. Then he exhaled roughly. “I’m not sure you want to know about my father.”
Our hands lowered back to the place between our chests. Several moments passed before he spoke. “My father killed himself.”
My eyes widened in shock. I had not been expecting that. Not at all.
“My family hasn’t had the greatest luck, huh? My grandfather gets Alzheimer’s. Mom gives up, and my dad punched out his own card. ” He turned his head so that he was looking up at the ceiling. “My grandfather—Job—was a pretty successful businessman. So was his father. They got into the construction business around here a long time ago and they were good at it—great at it. Half the damn houses around here were built or worked on by them. When Mom met Dad and they got married, he started working for Job, and eventually Dad took over the business and things were good at first. I mean, I was just a kid back then, and I don’t remember a lot, but my parents were happy. We lived a good . . . life. That much I remember.”
“What happened?” I asked.
Nick’s chest rose and fell with a deep breath. “My father’s company was building this house while they were finishing up another. The place was pretty huge and even though Dad’s company was stretched pretty thin, he couldn’t walk away from the job and that type of money. The normal contractors he worked with were busy on the other home, so he hired a few new people. One of them was this electrician. Dad thought they were on the up and up. You know? I don’t think he believed he had any reason to doubt the work any of them were doing. He was wrong.”
His hand loosened, but I refused to let go. Another moment passed. “The electrician he hired disappeared after the house was finished. Which was common. People move around all the time. No big deal. Not at first.”
Instinct told me something really bad was coming and hearing it was going to be painful.
“Come to find out, the electrician cut corners. You’d be surprised how often that shit happens. Usually it doesn’t become a big thing, but his guy . . . he fucked up. The wiring was bad—real bad—and it caused the house to catch on fire.” Nick swallowed, and I could feel the tension building in him. “The family that had the home built were in that house when it went up in flames. Parents. Three kids. Two of the kids died in it.”
I closed my eyes. “Oh God . . .”
“Dad had insurance—liability insurance. Since the electrician wasn’t around, it fell on him. Not that it wouldn’t have anyway. It was his company that built that house. It was his responsibility to make sure everything was done correctly. The family sued. Rightfully. It wiped out everything except what my grandfather had. He was smart with money—with business. He separated the money he’d saved over the years from the company long before he handed it over to my dad, but it wasn’t the money that got to my dad. At least, I don’t think it was. Not from what I remember.” His voice thickened, became hoarse. “It killed him knowing he was responsible for that family, ate away at him. I do vaguely remember him sitting up at night, in the living room. Like he wasn’t even there. About a year and a half after the fire, he hung himself. Mom found him.”
“God.” I wiggled closer, pressing the length of my body against his. At once, a lot of Nick started to make sense. “I’m sorry. I know those two words are lame, but I’m so sorry.”
“Those words aren’t lame. They mean something.” He turned his head toward me. “There’s something else . . . and you’re probably going to think it’s weird.”
“Doubtful,” I promised.
“No. It’s pretty weird. Reece is one of a handful of people who know, and I know damn well he hasn’t even told Roxy. I don’t even know why I’m about to tell you this.”
Curiosity had a hold on me. I couldn’t understand what could be so weird that Reece would know and keep it to himself, even from Roxy. “Okay,” I said, searching out his gaze in the semidarkness. “Even if I think it’s weird, it doesn’t mean I’m going to kick you out of the bed.”
He shook his head. “Well, I hope not. It would be awkward considering we’re both naked.”
I smiled despite the conversation. “Tell me.”
He tugged on my hand a little. “You don’t know a lot about Calla, do you?”
My little old ears perked right up. I wasn’t a detective, but my mind immediately raced to what Roxy had said about Nick’s behavior around her and what I’d witnessed. “Not really. I just knew that she hung out with Teresa when I was at Shepherd.”
“But you’ve . . . you’ve noticed the scar on her face, right?”
I started to frown. “Yeah?”
Nick drew in another breath. “She got that scar in a fire. Windows blew out or something. Hit her in the face. She was one of the kids who lived in the house my dad had worked on. It was her brothers that died. And that’s not all. Her parents originally owned Mona’s.”
Seconds passed and I had no idea what to say. Shock roared through me. “Calla doesn’t know that?”
“No. And it probably wouldn’t have ever crossed her mind. My father’s last name was Novak, but when he died, my mother ended up taking back her maiden name—Blanco. And I’ve never told her. How in the fuck would I tell her? You know? When she first walked into the bar, my heart just about stopped. You see, no one ever expected her to come back here. After the fire, her father left and her mom ended up handling the bar herself, but she went downhill—got messed up on drugs and became a shit mother. She couldn’t deal with losing her little boys,” he said, staring at the ceiling once more. “I ended up running into Mona—that’s her mom—a few years ago. She knew who I was. Said I looked like my father. It was one of those rare moments when she wasn’t on something. Anyway, I was starting to take care of my grandfather, just out of college, and Mona knew what was going on with Job. She offered me a job. It was weird. I didn’t need the money. Not really. Job had more than enough to care for me to be able to care of him, but it was . . . a break. You know?”
“To get away? I get it.”
He nodded. “So I started working at Mona’s, before Jax came around, and then when he got there, he kind of took over. The whole situation around Mona and the bar is a mess, but I think in a way, working there for her, I was kind of . . .”
“Atoning for what had happened?” When he didn’t speak, I squeezed his hand. “Nick, you know none of what happened was your fault, right? And it sounds like even though your dad was legally responsible, he . . . he was a victim in this, too.”
“It took me a long time to realize that,” he said after a couple of moments. “I don’t even know why I had my head twisted up in that. I guess just young and dumb. Anyway, like I said, I didn’t expect to see Calla.”
“Do you think you’re ever going to tell her?”
“I don’t know. Probably would’ve made sense if I’d done it when she first showed up. Now it just seems weird.”