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“What the fuck ever. Izzy is going to have your ass for messing with my perfection.” He throws the package back on the desk and gives me one of his silent ‘you better start talking’ looks. Jesus Christ. He’s about to go all Dr. Phil. “What’s going on, G? You’ve been around but silent ever since Nate was born. I know something happened with that motherfucker your sister was married to, but you never wanted to talk. So… now you’re going to.”

“Would you like me to go put my fucking vagina on for this talk?” Sarcasm is dripping from my words. I need to hash this out, but fuck, this is awkward. Not many people know the details on Grace. Well, I should say the ‘after’ Grace. Axel told me over and over to let it go, to live the life Grace would want for me… but I can’t. I need to see Simon brought to justice. He didn’t get the justice I would have chosen, but I’m crying into my milk and cookies that he is rotting in hell either.

“No need to be an asshole, Greg. Just want to know how I can help.” He leans back in the chair, and I can tell he means it. Axel would catch hell from Izzy for not helping me, but more importantly, he is family. And family helps family.

With a deep breath, I let the story out. “Her sister was married to Simon. Didn’t know for sure until this morning, but after that call to Derrick, I sure do. The worst part, I don’t know how she’ll handle it when I tell her I could have stopped him, but I didn’t.” I rest my head forward on my hands and let out a heavy sigh, “I could have stopped him, and she wouldn’t have lost her sister. Holding that shit heavy, Ax.”

After a long period of silence, he speaks and I can tell by his tone that what I just put out there shocks him. “I don’t even know what is the most fucked up part of all that. The fact that there is this messed up connection between the two of you or that you actually blame yourself for that shit that happened. You know just as well as I do that there wasn’t anything you could have done to that bastard. You didn’t have any proof, Greg. Nothing. You can’t keep blaming yourself for something that you couldn’t control.”

“The hell I couldn’t! I could have taken his ass out a long time ago, and you know it.”

“And what? Spent the next lifetime locked up? You know Grace wouldn’t have wanted that life for you, Greg. You know she would want you to be happy.” His eyes have that look that he used to give Izzy when she would go back into herself. The look she got when she remembered that I almost died to save her. The same thing I should have been able to do for Grace and Sofia. I hate being on the receiving end of that look.

“How am I supposed to tell her that I not only know who her nephew’s father is, but that I tried and failed to find something to put him away before he fucked up another woman?” Frustration doesn’t even come close to how I feel right now. I know that what I’ve found with Melissa is worth exploring, and I will be damned if I let Simon fuck with that from the grave.

“Don’t tell her right away, man. You just met, and if you are serious about her and this relationship, you need to find out if it’s worth it. Because you know that no matter how you lay that out there, she isn’t going to take it well. She needs to know you first. But, don’t let this sit too long, Greg; it’ll be worse and it might not be fixable.”

“I hear you, but I don’t like the idea of starting something new on a foundation that isn’t solid.” I lean back in my chair and look him in the eye. “I feel it Ax, that connection that you can’t ignore. And I want it.”

His eyes widen slightly, but before he can speak, we hear a commotion coming from the front.

“What the hell happened to you?” We hear a bellow from the front of the office, followed by Coop’s cackles down the hall.

“Shut up!” Maddox’s lethal tone cuts him silent.

The sight that greets Axel and me when we reach the lobby is one that has me struggling with my own laughter.

There stands Maddox Locke, all six-foot-four inches of pissed off and rumpled man. The best part is the gold paint and glitter covers every inch of his body from his hair to his boots.

“You look ridiculous,” I laugh, unable to control it.

“Did you tell Mr. Happiness next door to make a golden brick road out there?” He starts walking over to me and I notice his slight limp, which sobers my humor instantly.

“You okay?” He doesn’t miss my question but ignores me and stalks off to the back of the office.

Looking over at Axel, he catches my concern and takes off to make sure everything is okay with Maddox. It might be funny, but in all seriousness, we all worry about him. Looking over at Coop to make sure he is keeping his shit in check, I find him following Axel into the back.

“Em babe, where is Beck?” She looks up and I can’t help but notice the pain in her eyes. “Em? What’s going on?”

“Nothing, Greg. I’m fine. Beck left about five minutes before Maddox got here. He was going to check on some cases,” she says. She clears her throat and her eyes are begging me to stop, pleading with me to not ask any more questions.

“Emmy. You know my history and you know I am here for you, so please tell me what has taken your smile.” The guys take great pleasure in making fun of how much I father these girls, but when it comes down to it, I can’t stomach the thought that someone is hurting them. I made a vow to myself a few years after I lost Grace, after too many years of careless and reckless abandon, that I would never let anything happen to another woman in my life.

“It really is nothing. Okay?” She sighs, “Let’s just say it was made painfully clear that I will never be what he wants.” She doesn’t need to say more for me to know that the he is the one and only Maddox Locke. Poor girl has had it bad for him for too long.

“Emmy, you do know it isn’t anything about you, right?” I round the desk and kneel in front of her, spinning the chair so that I can look her in the eye. “Sometimes there is nothing you can do, no matter how pure your heart is, to clear the darkness from someone’s past. He’s got some shit that would even dim your light, babe. Leave it and just be there for him if he asks, yeah?” It doesn’t sit well with me that this sweet and innocent woman has her sights set on Maddox, the one we have dubbed ‘the dark one’ for years.

“I understand, Greg. It’s just not easy.” Watching the single tear fall from her golden eye is a killer. Slowly over the months, she has gone from smiling freely and shyly to being as stoic as Maddox.

“Nothing worth having ever is, babe.” When my own words smack me in the face I realize that to make things happen with Melissa, I’m going to need to eat those words.

Chapter 15

Once things settle at the office, it is a lot easier to go about my business. My fire at Derrick hasn’t dimmed one bit, but I know I need to keep my head straight here. Not even thirty minutes after my call, Derrick comes running into the building with a box full of case files. I’m pretty sure the idiot pissed his pants when he walked in my office and found not only one pissed off person but two more. Coop and Axel have no issues with sitting in here and throwing their vibes at the idiot.

It takes me a good hour to look over the case files and realize that I have messed up and messed up big in trusting him. Not only is he lacking on the information he has relayed to me but he has also failed to mention just how bad things had been in the Wagner house. I find five trips to the hospital, not including the birth of the son I never knew about, fourteen visits from the local police from calls the neighbors had placed that only ended with Sofia Wagner telling them everything was a-fuckin-okay. And the cherry on the top is the final call from Derrick that fails to mention the sleeping son found just upstairs from his dead parents.

“Fuck,” I grind out, slamming the latest file of fucked up bullshit down on my desk. “Do you believe this shit?” I ask Maddox. Since I started to pore over the files, he is the only one left in the building stupid enough to put up with my shit. “How could I have been so fucking blind to this shit? I am the one who asked this idiot to investigate, to let me know everything and I get half-truths and watered down bullshit.”

“Got played. Can’t blame yourself for the move he made. You had enough shit on your hands with Izzy, Axel and that motherfucking Brandon.” He finishes up looking at the last file I threw at him and leans back in the chair, absentmindedly rubbing his left knee.

“You alright?” I ask, nodding my head towards his knee.

“Fine, shut up about it. I’ll be picking glitter out of my brain for years.” I can tell there is more there but I know better than to push him on it.

“I’m here if you want to talk. And stop being a son of a bitch, yeah? I’ll stay out of your shit, but stop, and you know damn well who I’m talking about here. Now, back to this mess. What do I do with all of this?”

“Keep it close until you know more about this chick. No need to open old wounds unless you know it’s worth being the rock she’s going to need.” He stands up and makes his way over to the door. When he turns around and I meet his black eyes, for the first time in years, I see some compassion in them. “For what it’s worth, you deserve some peace, brother. She could be the rock you need too.” And with that, he’s gone.

I stay in the office for a few more hours catching up on some cases that need some work done, checking in with the ones that need my attention, and just avoiding thinking about Melissa for a few seconds. Not easy, when all I can remember is the weekend I spent with her. All it takes is one second of her face filtering through my mind for my pants to tighten up. To say I’ve got it bad would be like saying the sun is a small star.

Deciding that I could care less what it says about me to be calling this soon, I pick up my phone and hit her name.

After a few rings, I hear her breathless voice and my heart picks up speed instantly.

“Hello?”

“Melissa.” God, just her voice is enough to wipe all the shit from the day away.

“Greg,” I might be imagining things, but I’m pretty sure she just sighed my name, and that’s enough for my ego to blow up. Yeah, she might play a mean game of keep away, but she isn’t as unaffected as she initially wanted me to believe.

“Been a long day, babe, and it’s only lunch. Run away with me and let’s go grab some.”

“That would be nicer than my current plans. I can’t get away today, Greg. And I’m not sure about tomorrow.” If it wasn’t for the regret in her voice, I might feel like she was giving me the brush off.

“What’s going on, Melissa?”

“Nothing you need to worry about, just some family issues.” I know it’s early and my trust hasn’t been earned yet, but that shit still stings a little. I can’t help it. It’s who I am, and I want to fix things for her.

“You do know you can talk to me. I get you don’t want me in your business until you know me better, but if you need to talk, don’t shut me out.”

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