One broad shoulder rose. “You brought it up.”
I opened my mouth to argue, but he was right, I had and that was kind of weird. A fine sheen of sweat had broken out across my forehead. “Why are you here?”
Two steps and his long legs ate up the distance between us. My toes curled against my sandals as I forced myself not to whirl around and scurry away. Reece was tall, coming in around six feet and three inches, and I was an unofficial member of the Lollipop Guild. His size was a wee bit intimidating, also a tiny bit sexy. “It’s about Henry Williams.”
In a split second, I forgot about the messy history Reece and I shared and the current shininess of my soul as I stared up at him. “What?”
“He’s out of jail, Roxy.”
The sweat turned to sleet on my skin. “I . . . I know he is. He’s been out for a couple of months. I kept up with the parole hearings. I—”
“I know,” he said quietly, intensely, and my stomach dropped to the ground. “You didn’t go to his last parole hearing, when he was released.”
That was a statement, more than a question, but I still shook my head. I’d gone to the one before that, but had been barely able to stomach the sight of Henry Williams. And from how the talk was cycling around, there had been a good chance he’d be released at the next hearing and low and behold, he had been. Rumor had it that Henry found God or something like that while in prison. Good for him.
But it didn’t change what he’d done.
Reece took off his sunglasses and startling blue eyes met mine. “I went to the hearing.”
Surprised, I took a step back. My mouth opened, but there were no words. I hadn’t known that—hadn’t even crossed my mind that he would do that or even why he would.
His gaze remained latched to mine. “During the hearing, he asked to—”
“No,” I said, almost shouted. “I know what he wanted. I heard what he wanted to do if he got out, and no. No times a billion. No. And the court can’t give that kind of permission anyway.”
Reece’s expression softened and something—something close to pity filled those eyes. “I know, but sweetheart, you also know you don’t have any say over it either.” There was a pause. “He wants to make amends, Roxy.”
My free hand tightened into a fist as helplessness rose like a swarm of bees inside me. “He can’t make amends for what he did.”
It took me a moment as I stared up at him to realize what he was getting at, and it was like the ground shifted under my feet. “No,” I whispered, stomach twisting into knots. “Please tell me that Charlie’s parents did not give him permission. Please.”
A muscle tightened along the strong curve of his jaw. “I wish I could tell you that, but I can’t. They did, just this morning. I heard about it through his probation officer.”
Raw emotion poured into my chest, and I turned to the side, not wanting him to see it. I couldn’t believe it. My brain refused to process that Charlie’s parents had given that . . . that bastard permission to visit him. How incredibly callous and crude and just so wrong. Charlie was the way he was now because of that homophobic asshole. Those knots spun tighter in my stomach, and there was a good chance I was going to puke.
Reece’s hand folded over my shoulder, causing me to jump, but he didn’t remove his hand and the weight of it . . . there was something grounding about it. A tiny part of me was grateful for the pressure and it reminded me of how it used to be between us. “I thought it would be better for you to hear it first and not be sidelined by it.”
I squeezed my eyes shut and my words were hoarse. “Thank you.”
He kept his hand there as another moment stretched out between us. “That’s not all. He wants to talk to you.”
My body jerked out of his reach on its own accord. I faced him again. “No. I do not want to see him.” In a second, that night came roaring back, and I backpedaled, bouncing into the side of my car. Things had started out lightly. Joking. Teasing. Then everything escalated so quickly, so badly. “No way.”
“You don’t have to.” He moved toward me, but drew up short, lowering his hand to his side. “But you needed to know. I’ll tell his officer that he needs to steer clear of you. Or else.”
The “or else” barely registered, as was the low threat to his deep voice. My heart pounded in my chest, and I suddenly needed to be far away from where I was, alone, to process this. Edging along the passenger side of my car, I brought the tote bag up to my chest like some kind of shield. “I . . . I have to go.”
“Roxy,” he called out.
I made it around the front of my car, but somehow, like a ninja or something, Reece was in front of me. His sunglasses were still off and he was focused on me, his eyes the color of clear, precise blue.
Both of his hands landed on my shoulders, and it was like sticking my finger in an electrical socket. In spite of the news he’d just delivered, I felt the weight of his hands in every cell, and I don’t know if he felt it too, but his fingers curved, anchoring me in. “What happened to Charlie,” he said, voice low. “It wasn’t your fault, Roxy.”
My stomach flopped as I broke free, and he didn’t stop me this time as I darted around him and all but yanked open the car door and threw myself in behind the wheel. My chest rose and fell heavily as I stared at him through the windshield.
Reece stood in front of my car for a few seconds, and for a moment, I thought he was going to climb in the car with me, but then he shook his head as he slipped his sunglasses on. I watched him turn and stalk his way to his truck, and only then did I speak.
“Mother pucker,” I spat at the steering wheel as I gripped it with shaky hands. I didn’t know what the worst thing that had happened was. That Charlie hadn’t acknowledged me again. That Henry Williams had gotten permission to visit Charlie. Or the fact I was reminded that I wasn’t sure if Reece was right.
If what happened to Charlie really was my fault.
There was a part of me that wished I drank while I bartended, because after the kind of day I had, I’d get good and plastered tonight. But alas, I was pretty sure the owner of Mona’s would so not appreciate me passing out behind the bar, tucked in next to the service well.
Jackson James, more commonly known as Jax and who truly did have a name that sounded like he belonged on the cover of Tiger Beat, had cleaned up Mona’s with nothing more than elbow grease and pure grit and determination. The bar had been a crap hole before he came along, rumored to be nothing more than a druggie hangout, but not anymore.