Page 47

Uncontrollable.

Joe ignored the storm she was sure he could see in her expression and silently directed her to his truck. He drove her home, got out, and walked her to her door. There, he took her keys and let them both in, after which he did a thorough check of her place before coming back to the living room. “The woman you saw,” he said, “she’s an old friend. We don’t see each other anymore.”

Sweet that he would offer the information without her asking, and even sweeter that he seemed to want to make sure she wasn’t feeling jealous. “It’s okay,” she said. “The problem is me. But forget that. We don’t need to talk about that.”

“Okay, good.” He stepped into her and took her bag off her shoulder, which he then tossed onto the couch. “Talking isn’t our strong suit anyway.”

She snorted and he smiled, stroking a finger over her temple, tucking a strand of hair behind her ear. “Last chance, Kylie. Speak up or forever hold your peace.”

Her heart skipped a beat. She wanted to get to their strong suit . . . oh how she wanted that. But she also wanted to ask about Molly before she lost her chance. Only she wasn’t sure she had a right to his past. “I spent a few minutes with your sister tonight,” she said quietly.

“Yeah,” he said, nudging her back a step so he could shut the shades, closing them in against the rest of the world. Then he helped her out of her jacket, tossing that to the couch as well before stepping into her, pressing his body to hers. “She loved the mirror,” he said. “You’re a genius.”

Already breathless, she said, “It was your idea.”

“Yeah, but it was your work. You do beautiful work,” he murmured, kissing his way down her throat. “You’ve got great hands.”

She snorted a laugh but her humor drained when she remembered the rest of her conversation with Molly.

Joe lifted his head and searched her expression, his own smile fading as well. “What is it? Something’s on your mind.”

“Now’s probably not a good time to talk about it.”

“Just say it, Kylie.”

She drew in a ragged breath. “Molly told me what happened. When you guys were younger.”

“Told you what?”

“How she was kidnapped so that you could be manipulated into doing something you didn’t want to do.”

He remained frozen in place for a single second before letting out a long exhalation and dropping his hands from her.

“I’m sorry,” she said. “I shouldn’t have brought it up.”

Moving away, he turned to stare out her front window. “It was a long time ago.”

“She said you blame yourself.”

He made a rough sound in the back of his throat and she came up beside him, put a hand on his rigid arm, waited until he turned to meet her gaze. “She said you shouldn’t, Joe. Blame yourself.”

He closed his eyes and when he opened them, unlike his usual calm, his gaze was turbulent and filled with bad memories. “It was my fault,” he said. “All of it. And I should go.”

She didn’t want to push him to talk about something that gave him pain. She didn’t feel like she had any right to those bad memories, but if she could lessen his pain in any way, she wanted to. “Stay,” she said softly. “Please?”

“I won’t be good company,” he warned.

“It’s okay. I’ve got ice cream, a comfy spot in my bed just for you, and Pretty Little Liars on my DVR. We can watch a season ahead of your dad and then tell him spoilers.” Then she held her breath for his answer, knowing without understanding exactly why that this was a turning point and if he left right now, there’d be no going back. She’d lose him.

Chapter 25

#YouHadMeAtHello

At Kylie’s offer, Joe heard himself let out a rough laugh. She was looking up at him with those warm, loving eyes, the ones he was starting to realize he couldn’t resist. “What kind of ice cream?”

With a smile, she turned to go into the kitchen, but he caught her hand and reeled her in. “Never mind the ice cream. All I need is you.”

She gave him another soft smile and they sat on her couch together. “It’s a long story,” he warned. “And it’s ugly. I messed things up. Badly. You sure you want to hear it?”

“I want to hear whatever you can tell me,” she said, voice low and very serious, eyes matching the tone. “Always.”

He rested his forehead against hers. “Molly’s leg and back. That’s all on me. All of it and worse.” He did his best not to think about that time in his life and he was good at it. He’d never told anyone about any of it. But this wasn’t just anyone—this was Kylie—and he drew in a ragged breath. “I was stupid.”

She opened her mouth but he shook his head at her and put a finger over her lips. “Shh,” he said. “I’m going to tell you, but I don’t need you to defend my dumb ass.” He paused, remembering. “We lived in that shit neighborhood, and Molly . . .” He shook his head. “She’d drawn the attention of one of the asshole thugs hanging around. She was fourteen and I’d just turned seventeen. I’d gone along with the gang’s stupidity up until then because they promised if I did, they’d leave Molly alone. I believed them. I shouldn’t have. When they wanted me to steal a car and I refused, they took her. To persuade me.”

“Oh Joe,” she whispered. “What did you do?”

“I hunted them down and got her back. It took three days.” He hated thinking of those long minutes and hours and days, the utter heart-stopping panic over what might have been happening to Molly. “I finally found out where they were holding her. Just as I arrived, she somehow escaped out a third-floor window. She was perched on a ledge, desperately trying to reach a tree branch that wasn’t quite close enough.”

Kylie stared at him. “I’m hoping that’s where the story ends, but somehow I know that it isn’t.”

“She jumped for it and missed, and then fell to the ground,” he said. “She broke her back in two places. She’s had three surgeries but the nerves in her right leg are permanently damaged.”

“Oh my God.”

“She used to run track,” he said. “She wanted to be an Olympian. That was her dream. It was going to be her way out.”

Kylie slid closer to him, pressing her body to his as if she knew he needed warmth, her warmth. Not that he deserved it, but he wasn’t strong enough to push her away, so instead he pulled her in close.

“She told me it wasn’t your fault, Joe,” she murmured. “She believes it.” She tipped her head up to his. “And so do I.”

She was giving him way more credit than he deserved.

“So is what happened to Molly the reason why you tend to be so . . .” She trailed off.

“Crazy?” he asked.

“Well, I was going to say overprotective,” she told him with a small smile. “Is this why you won’t let me all the way in, because you’re afraid your lifestyle will get me hurt?”

He stilled at her incredible—and accurate—assessment.

“Joe . . .” She paused as if searching for the right words. “I get that you’re out there saving the world, trying to help people and maybe clean up your karma at the same time, but no one seems to think it needs cleaning except you. You’re too hard on yourself.”

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