“There’s still going to be a formal inquiry. I’m going to have to go in front of the board to explain how this happened on a closed trail, a trail I shut down myself.”
Sawyer shook his head and spoke grimly. “They’re going to blame you for minors vandalizing the gate locks and sign, then trespassing on a closed trail while possibly under the influence. Fuckers.”
“They’re going to do what they have to in order to resolve this without a lawsuit.” Matt punched Josh’s number into his cell. “Talk to me.”
“He’s lawyered up.”
“Tell me something I don’t know,” Matt said. “There’s going to be an inquiry. This is a great time to spill about Wright being under the influence of something.”
“Shit, Matt.” Josh let out a long breath. “You know I can’t tell you that. He’s a minor. He’s got all sorts of rights.” He paused. “But per protocol, tests have been sent to the labs.”
Okay, Matt could read between the lines on that one. There was the hope that in case of a lawsuit, the results could be subpoenaed. But hope wasn’t good enough. Hope wasn’t going to save his ass. He disconnected and swore again.
Sawyer took a look at Matt’s face and whipped his SUV around.
“What are you doing?”
“You’re taking me to the site,” Sawyer said. “We’re going on a little evidence scavenger hunt.”
For the second time in twenty-four hours, Matt climbed up to Widow’s Peak and scoured the area. He and Sawyer also searched the meadow floor just beneath the cliffs, where they found five empty bottles of beer and a roach clip. Sawyer bagged them up for DNA evidence.
“Christ,” Matt said, the situation hitting him. “This could actually go to trial.”
“I don’t think it’ll get that far,” Sawyer said. “These guys are all about the bragging. Trust me, someone will open his mouth about attempting Widow’s Peak, and then we’ll nail them for trespassing, underage drinking, and whatever else we can get them for.”
Matt hoped he was right.
The next night, after a long shift, Amy drove toward home, then made an unexpected detour.
A big one.
She headed toward the mountain and parked in front of Matt’s cabin. His truck wasn’t there, and she didn’t know if that was a good or bad thing. For the third night in a row, he hadn’t come to the diner for food, and this time she knew why. All day long she’d heard the gossip about the fallen climber and Matt’s supposed negligence. She glanced at the bag she’d packed up, the one sitting on the passenger seat, and called herself all kinds of a fool.
Matt didn’t need her to look after him. He was a big boy. But she got out of the car and then found herself standing on his porch, trying to figure out if she should leave the food for him or if that would attract bears, when a truck drove up.
Matt, of course.
Their eyes met as he got out of his vehicle, and her tummy quivered. He was still in uniform, looking dusty, hot, exhausted, and like maybe he could use a good fight.
“Hey,” she said softly when he hit the porch.
“Hey.” He unlocked his door then turned to her. “I’m not much company tonight.”
“You’ve had a bad day.”
He let out a sound that didn’t hold any mirth. “Yeah. A bad day.” He stepped inside, leaving the front door open.
Not exactly an invite, and she paused, knowing damn well that he clearly wanted to be alone. She recognized the need, since it was how she felt most often.
Sometimes being alone isn’t all it’s cracked up to be…
He’d said that to her, all those nights ago on the mountain at Sierra Meadows. And he’d been right.
So she stepped inside and shut the door behind her.
He glanced over. Obviously he’d expected to find her gone because he raised a brow at the sight of her.
“Want to tell me about it?” she asked.
“What, the gossip train didn’t come through the diner today?”
“Yeah, and I’m the type to get on that train,” she said dryly. “How’s the guy who fell?”
“In ICU, but it looks like he’s going to make it.” He shoved his fingers through his hair. “He shouldn’t have been on the peak. I had the trail closed off. I chased him and his friends out of there less than a week ago, but they came back.”
There was something in his tone that caught her attention. Self blame. “Matt, it’s not your fault.”
“Yeah, it is.” He let out a long, jagged breath. “My district. My problem.”
She’d never known anyone like him, so willing to be in charge, and just as willing to take the responsibility that went with that. “Come on, give yourself a break here. You couldn’t have known those guys would go back on that climb.”
She moved closer. “Well then you also know that you couldn’t have stopped them. You’re just one man. How are you supposed to keep the entire area patrolled?”
“It’s my job to figure out a way.”
She ran a hand down his tense back. “God complex much?” she teased.
He moved away from her touch, and while she tried to be okay with that, he spoke again. “I fucked up, Amy. And it’s not the first time.” He strode into the kitchen and opened the refrigerator. Yanking out a beer, he stared at it, then set it back in the fridge and grabbed a soda. He opened it and handed it to her, then took another for himself. “You asked why I came here from Chicago.”
“Yes.” She took a long drink because her throat felt suddenly dry.
“I came after everything went to shit. My job, my marriage… Both my fault, by the way.”
“Matt,” she said, setting down her soda, shaking her head. “You—”
“No, it’s true. My partner was on the take. I knew it, and I was told to look the other way. I didn’t. He tried to implicate me. He couldn’t quite pull that off, but he caused enough doubt about me on the job that it hurt my career, and I—Hell.” Again he shoved his fingers in his hair and turned away from her, staring out the window.
“You what?” she asked softly.
“People didn’t like what I’d done, turning Ryan in. He maintained his innocence throughout his trial, and he was well liked. No one wanted to believe it of him.”
So he’d taken the heat for turning on him. “You did the right thing,” she said, aching for him. He always did the right thing, even when it wasn’t the easy thing. “My God, would they have rather he continued?”
He shrugged. “People believe what they want to believe. And it was damn hard for them to believe that of Ryan, even after he went to jail. It was easier to…”
“Blame you?” She shook her head. “You did what you had to. You couldn’t have lived with yourself if you’d done nothing.”
“I ruined his life. And I ruined Shelly’s, too.”
“Yes. Our marriage failed because she hated being a cop’s wife, hated the privacy restrictions my job imposed and the extra security it took to keep her safe when there were bad guys gunning for me. She never believed there was really a threat until she was stalked by someone I’d once put away.”
“Oh my God. What happened?”
“He got out of jail and came after her and found her an easy mark. He jumped her in a grocery store parking lot. Pulled a gun on her, but she was able to get away without injury.” He shook his head. “The marriage, not so much.”
“She blamed you,” Amy said quietly.
“She knew who she was marrying, Matt,” she said carefully. “She knew what she was getting. Telling you that you ruined her life doesn’t seem anywhere in the vicinity of fair—”
“It had nothing to do with fair.” His voice was grim. He’d obviously blamed himself for it, all of it.
“Oh, Matt.” She had no idea how to console him, but he clearly had no desire to be consoled. “I’m sorry.”
“You wanted to know,” he said. “You wanted the story, and you’ve got it. You should stay as far from me as you can get, before I screw up your life, too.”
“Okay, that’s a little—” She broke off because he snatched his keys off the counter and headed out the door. “Matt—”
He turned back to her. “You told me not to get attached, that this was just sex. That still true?”
Shocked, she stared at him, unable to think.
He took in her expression and nodded as if she’d answered the question. “I have to go.” He shut the front door behind himself, leaving her alone.
In his house.
She heard his truck start and take off, and she shook her head. What had just happened? Did she really let him go, thinking that what they had was just sex? And did he honestly believe that he didn’t deserve happiness? He was the best man she’d ever known. If anything, she was the one he should run from. She was the one who’d been stupid and hurtful to the people in her life, not Matt. With every fiber of her being she wanted to help him, but she had no idea how or what to do. Nothing in her life had given her the experience required for this. Good girl lessons certainly hadn’t covered this. She was way out of her depth and out of her league.
She drove back to town, still reeling. She glanced at the time. Riley was due to get off work from the diner. The other day, Amy had caught her hitchhiking back to the forest.
Hitchhiking was a good way to get around. Amy had done it herself for years. But it was also a good way to get dead.
She pulled into the diner’s parking lot with the intention of driving Riley herself. Jan was closing up, locking the front door. “Girl’s out back,” Jan called through the glass. “Dumping the trash.”
Amy walked around and found Riley standing on the back step tying up a trash bag. “Hey, I’ll give you a ride.”