“Who are you?” I asked, stepping past Nan and closer to Harlow. I didn’t know who this guy was trying to protect, but damned if I was gonna let him get any closer to Harlow.
“He thinks he’s moving into this room! Tell him he’s not,” Nan demanded.
He thought what?
I watched Harlow take a step toward him and wrap her small hand around the guy’s bicep. I didn’t like that. Not at all. I glared at her hand on his arm then I moved my gaze to hers. Was he hers? Had she moved on? “Who is he, Harlow?” I asked. I needed to hear her tell me this.
Harlow looked up at the guy then back at me. I could see the indecision on her face. She didn’t trust me. I f**king hated that. I’d worked so hard to get her to trust me. Now she was holding on to this other guy like he was part of the damn cavalry.
“I don’t believe this? You come over here and you ask her who he is? What the hell is wrong with you? He’s in my house and I want him out. Now.” Nan grabbed my arm and jerked it, trying to get my attention. I just ignored her. I kept my focus on Harlow.
“Grant, this is my brother, Mase Colt-Manning. Mase, this is Grant Carter. He’s Rush’s best friend and Nan’s boyfriend.”
All I heard was “my brother” and my entire body relaxed. He was her brother. The tightness in my chest was gone and I could breathe again. Nothing else she said mattered. Mase Colt-Manning. The only son of Kiro Manning. I wondered if I had just breathed that sigh of relief too loudly.
Mase took a step toward me and held out his hand. “Nice to meet you,” he said in his thick Texas accent.
I shook his hand. His grip was more like a warning than a greeting. “You, too,” I replied. The silent threat in his eyes wasn’t unmissed. He had noticed my attention to Harlow. The message he was getting in this room was wrong, and I wanted to f**king correct it but not for his sake. For Harlow’s.
“For f**king real? You’re shaking his hand? He’s moving into my house! Uninvited!” Nan screeched.
I stepped back and looked at Nan for the first time since I’d walked into the room. “It’s Kiro’s house, Nan. If he wants to move another one of his kids in, he can. I don’t see how you can stop it.”
Nan’s face went from red to bright red as she stamped her foot and let out a loud noise that sounded like a five-year-old’s temper tantrum.
“Not that it’s my business, but how do you put up with that?” Mase asked.
“I don’t. She isn’t my girlfriend. Harlow has misunderstood some things that she won’t let me clarify,” I replied, looking over at her. She ducked her head and stared down at her feet.
“I see,” Mase replied, and I had an idea that he did see. A lot more than Harlow did. He was a guy and it was all over my face. I just wanted her to forgive me, and I had no use for Nan. Not anymore.
“Leave,” Nan demanded, pointing to the door. The angry gleam in her eyes was directed at me. “Now. Get out of my f**king house. You are someone I can throw out. So just go. I shouldn’t have called you.”
“I’d tell you to stay, but Harlow and I got plans. I’m sure we’ll see each other around,” Mase said. “You can leave my room now, Nan.”
The infuriated scowl on her face as she turned and stalked out of the room almost made me laugh. Mase wasn’t going to let her get away with anything. Was that why he was here? Was he here for Harlow? The way he kept his body slightly in front of her as if he was ready to pounce on anyone who got too close told me that it was exactly why he was here.
“Thanks,” I replied before turning to leave.
“You’re welcome, but what are you thanking me for?” he asked.
I glanced back but I didn’t look at him. My eyes went straight to Harlow. “For coming to protect her. I can sleep easier at night knowing she has you.” I didn’t wait for him to ask any more questions. I just walked out.
Icouldn’t look at Mase. His eyes were on me, though. I could feel his curiosity. It was filling up the room. What had that been about? Grant had come barreling into the room like he was ready to save Nan. Then he had basically thrown her from him. I almost felt sorry for her. He’d had her screaming in orgasm last night but today he wouldn’t even touch her.
“Explain that shit, please, ’cause, Sis, I’m seriously trying to figure all this out.” Mase said as he sat down on the king-size bed behind him.
“I don’t know what you mean,” I said, still not looking at him.
Mase chuckled. “The hell you do. Spill it. Or I’ll ask him.”
No. I couldn’t let him talk to Grant. I wasn’t even sure what he thought he knew. “I don’t know exactly. Grant and Nan sleep together but it appears to be all they do. He was here last night.”
“He sleeps with her? Really? With you in the house?”
I shrugged. “He didn’t know I was here last night.”
Mase didn’t reply right away. I had no idea what he was thinking but for the first time since he’d gotten here I wanted to be alone for a few minutes.
“You know he likes you, right?” Mase finally said.
I shook my head. “No, he doesn’t. He wants me to forgive him for . . .” I stopped. I couldn’t tell Mase the truth. It was very likely Mase would go after Grant with one of the big guns he used for hunting.
“For what?” Mase asked, standing back up, his body tensed. Crap. I had to fix this.
“He and I became friends a couple of months ago. I started to like him. We kissed. Then his friend drowned and he came back here. He didn’t call me again. I thought maybe he was just mourning his friend and needed time. Then I found out he was sleeping with Nan.”
Mase gave an unhappy grunt and crossed his arms over his chest. “That’s all he did? Kiss you? Did he make you any promises?”
I shook my head because lying to Mase was the only way I could keep Grant alive.
“If it makes you feel better, he’s beating himself up over hurting you. He doesn’t want Nan. My guess is he wants you and knows he’s f**ked up. My advice is stay the f**k away from him. Guys that weak aren’t the ones worth sticking around for. When a guy gets the attention of someone like you, he’s supposed to understand his luck. Not toss it away. He doesn’t get it. Find a man that understands your worth.”
I smiled and finally looked over at him. “Is that big brother advice?” I asked.
“The best. I’m full of it. Now, go, get on your jeans and pull on those cowboy boots I sent you for Christmas. We’re going to hang out with the common folk,” he replied with a wink.
I walked over and hugged him. “Thank you,” I whispered.
“Don’t thank me for taking care of you.”
The bar Mase found was a good twenty-minute drive outside Rosemary. The bright neon lights in the windows and several trucks in the parking lot had been all the incentive Mase needed to pull in.
“Mud on the tires means there’s good beer here,” he explained, opening his door. I rolled my eyes and opened my door to jump down out of the truck.
We walked toward the door and Mase stopped, then looked back at me. “Try not to look appealing. I just want to play pool and have a beer. Spend some time with my sis, not beat a stupid shit up for coming on to you.”
I laughed, then nodded. What did he think I was going to do? Go in there and bat my eyelashes at everyone who looked my way.
He pulled open the door to the bar and we walked inside. The smell of cigarette smoke filled the air. This was a familiar scent for me. Mase took a deep breath and grinned at me. “I can smell the beer from here. The tap is good,” he said with a goofy grin before heading over to the bar. I followed quickly behind him. I glanced around the large room while Mase ordered us both a beer. I didn’t point out I was underage. I just let him do it.
The pool tables were full and I searched for a booth that was empty. I tried not to make eye contact with anyone. But my eyes found a familiar face. She wasn’t looking at me. She was staring at the drink on the table. I watched as a man walked up and spoke to her and she replied without looking at him. The guy shook his head and walked off. The sadness in her profile and the slump of her shoulders broke my heart.
I turned back to Mase. “I see someone I know. Can you let me talk to her alone? I’ll be back in a few minutes. She just looks like she needs a friend.”
Mase glanced out over the crowd and I knew when his eyes found Bethy. He nodded. “Sure. I’ll just be right over here.”
“Okay,” I replied, then made my way over to Bethy. She didn’t look up until I slid into the seat across from her.
The confusion in her eyes turned to surprise. “Harlow?” she asked, then glanced around in case I was with someone else she knew. I could see the moment of panic. She didn’t want anyone to know she was here drinking away her pain.
“I’m here with my brother. No one else,” I assured her, and she looked back at me, relieved.
“Oh,” she simply replied.
I wasn’t good at this. I had dealt with loss. I had lost my mother, whom I barely remembered, and then my grandmama, but never someone I was in love with. Never someone so young with a life ahead of him. “You want to talk about it?” I asked.
Bethy frowned and glanced down at her glass. “I don’t know. Not really.”
I had never been loved or been in love so I wasn’t sure how that felt. How vulnerable it made you. I just knew the hurt I had endured from trusting someone who betrayed me. That had been painful, but it didn’t hold a candle to this.
“Some days I think I’ll wake up and this will have been a nightmare,” she said, still staring down at her glass as if it held all the answers.
I decided the best thing for me to do was stay quiet and let her talk. I was a good listener. I could help her that way.
“But then I wake up and he’s gone. He’s not beside me. He isn’t smiling at me with those pretty eyes of his. I don’t have him to snuggle up to and plan forever with. He was my safe place. I’d never had a safe place before. But Jace had been my safe place. He had taken care of me . . . and I . . . I didn’t deserve him.”
I started to tell her that wasn’t true, but she kept talking.
“He never knew the truth about me. He never knew my secrets. I wanted to tell him everything. But I knew once I did I could lose him, and I couldn’t lose him. Then . . . then Tripp would come home for a visit and I would spiral out of control. The memories, the lies—it all was too much. That night I’d been drinking because I had finally convinced myself to tell Jace the truth. He deserved to know who it was that he loved. And because I was a coward, I drank. And then . . . I killed him.”
I reached across the table and grabbed her hand. “You didn’t kill him,” I assured her. I knew that much. Jace had drowned.
She lifted her eyes to me and the tears pooling in them rolled slowly down her face. “He was out there saving me. I had walked out into the water and almost drowned. It should have been me,” she gulped. “It should have been me. He should have let me go and saved himself, but he wouldn’t do it. He saved me and it should have been me. I was the liar. I was the unworthy one.”
It wasn’t my business. I didn’t know her secrets and I didn’t want to know. But what I did know was Jace would have saved her regardless. Love didn’t just go away because of lies. I loved my dad, and he was very far from perfect.
“He would have saved you even if you had told him these secrets. Love doesn’t just go away. He might have been hurt. He might have even been unable to trust you again. But he would have come after you, because that’s what love does to a person.”
Bethy let out a small sob and covered her mouth. “He deserved life. A full, happy one,” she said once she dropped her hand. “I took that from him.”
I couldn’t help her forgive herself. It would take time.
“But you made a mistake. Jace protected you. Someday you’ll be able to stop blaming yourself. Until then, try to think about all the good things. Don’t dwell on the bad things.”
“But Tripp is in town now. He reminds me. Just seeing him from a distance reminds me.”
I had no idea who Tripp was and why she kept bringing him up. Again, not my business. He was obviously a part of the past that tormented her. “I’m sure a lot of things will remind you of him and the past. In time, it will get easier.”
Bethy closed her eyes tightly. “I hope so,” she whispered.
I didn’t want to leave her here alone. “Why are you here by yourself?” I asked.
She frowned. “I like it. I don’t want to see people. But I think I’m ready to go home tonight.”
I squeezed her hand and pulled my hand back to my side of the table.
“If you ever need someone to listen who isn’t attached to the situation then I’m here,” I told her as I scooted to stand up.
Bethy gave me a weak smile. “Thanks, Harlow. That means a lot.”
Rosemary wasn’t a big town. It was a small strip of beach. So how was it that Harlow had managed to completely avoid me for three days? I had done everything I could think of to run into her. I knew she had Mase here but I still wanted to get her alone so I could talk to her. I needed to find my peace with her.
I stood outside the club, waiting on her to pull up. She had tennis in ten minutes. I had cheated by having Woods call Adam and ask her court time then had him change it for an hour later. He hadn’t been happy about it but he had also wanted me out of his office so he had agreed as long as I left him alone for the rest of the day.