Page 91

Kent finally broke eye contact and looked at the floor.

“I’ve visited Wyatt’s grave every year,” Mason admitted.

His gaze flew back to Mason’s, disbelief flooding his eyes. “Bullshit.”

Mason swallowed hard. “It’s the truth.” He gave a detailed description of the boy’s headstone and location. “I’ve even taken Jake with me a few times. He knows I caused the death of a boy.”

Kent said something to Jake that Mason couldn’t hear. Jake nodded in response.

“I relive that day every night. Sometimes several times a night,” said Mason.

Kent leaned forward a bit, his eyes hungry for Mason’s words.

“Sometimes in my dreams, my shot misses.”

The man nodded slightly. No doubt he’d had the same dream.

“But it never matters. The outcome never changes,” Mason said, watching the man’s eyes narrow. No doubt Kent had multiple dreams where Wyatt walked away unscathed.

“When Wyatt jumped up at the same moment I fired, I knew what would happen. I’ve wished a million times that I could have pulled back that bullet.”

Kent blew out a shaky breath.

“My life has never been the same,” Mason said.

“Don’t you dare try to compare your pain to mine,” Kent hissed. “You don’t have the slightest idea of what I’ve gone through. I watched my son die, murdered by someone who was supposed to protect him.”

Out of the corner of his eye, Mason saw Ava stiffen. A misstep. He’d triggered Jopek’s defenses.

“I can’t even begin—,” Mason started.

“I cradled him and felt the destruction your bullet did to his head.” Kent’s gun crept back up to point at Mason. “I could feel the sharp edges of his broken skull. Inside it was soft.” His voice got louder. “I tried to put him back together!”

Ava grabbed the handset. “Kent, please don’t point the gun at us. Remember, there are eyes watching from outside.”

Kent lowered his gun and his gaze, but his body shook with the effort.

“We’re losing him,” Corello muttered. “Get him focused.”

“This is your chance to tell Mason what you wanted to say, remember?” Ava continued. “So far he’s done most of the talking. What do you want him to hear?”

Mason watched the man try to get a handle on his emotions. And empathized. The man was searching for answers and trying to right a situation where he believed he’d been wronged.

“I’ve had two failed marriages,” Kent stated, staring at the floor. “I can’t stay with a woman because they don’t understand what this has done to me. I’m an alcoholic. I haven’t touched a drink in three years, but there was a time when all I’d do was drink. I lost jobs. I lost my home.” He looked up at Mason. “I used to make a circuit of the liquor stores. I didn’t want the employees judging how much alcohol I bought, so I’d drive an extra twenty miles so I’d never have to go to the same store more than once a month.”

Mason listened.

“That’s when I realized I needed to take control. I wasn’t going to let externals dictate my life,” Kent continued. “I stopped drinking. Every time I didn’t stop at the liquor store was a success to be celebrated. I proved I had the power to make a change in my life. I decided to change other things. I needed to regain my health, so I made it happen. Sheer willpower. Mental toughness is what saved me.”

Mason understood. That was how he’d survived his divorce. He’d moved into autopilot and set the program to run at optimum. From the outside, he looked pretty good.

Just don’t look too deep.

Mason had cracks in his shell.

And Kent Jopek did, too.

“But I couldn’t make the nightmares go away. I had control over every waking minute, but as soon as I went to sleep, Wyatt would talk to me, begging me to save him. So like everything else, I made a plan that would make things change.” Kent looked directly at Mason.

Something inside him just changed. His eyes are wrong.

A warning went off in Mason’s brain, his body hardening. Corello and Ava both took deep breaths. They saw it, too. Kent had disengaged his emotions from his actions.

“I needed to destroy you just as I had been destroyed. Bit by bit. Piece by piece. What was important to you? What could I take away? I watched you, Callahan. I spent weeks watching, seeing how you lived your life.” Kent gave a short laugh. “You know what? Your life stinks. You work. That’s it. Your home is a bare, empty box. You don’t date. You don’t hang out with friends. So I had to strike where I could. Phase one was your job, because it seemed to be all you had.”

Kent had succeeded. Having the respect of his peers and position yanked out from under Mason had nearly toppled him emotionally. He’d been lucky he had Henley’s case to focus on, and Ava to open his eyes.

“I’d tried to get a hold of this kid.” Kent squeezed his arm around Jake’s neck, and the boy’s face turned pink.

Mason shifted his weight to the balls of his feet, ready to strike.

“Easy,” Ava whispered.

He held his breath.

“I couldn’t nab him. Three times I tried. I settled for the girl because she was easy. I thought she might be enough, but it didn’t satisfy me. She wasn’t close enough to your life. Her death wouldn’t cause the level of pain I wanted.”