“Where are you?”
“Out at the Reapers clubhouse.”
I froze. “What are you doing out there?”
“Just come and get me,” she said, hanging up the phone. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. Nate stepped out of the bathroom, his face a mixture of annoyance and apology.
“I have to go in,” he said. “Apparently we had two guys on work release from the jail walk off this afternoon. Not violent offenders, but it’ll be a PR nightmare if the paper gets hold of it before we’ve got them back in custody.”
“Jessica’s got herself in trouble again, too,” I said, sighing. “Some date. We can’t catch a break, can we?”
He shook his head, and then I started giggling. He glared at me, a reluctant smile crossing his face.
“I think the universe is determined to keep me from getting laid,” he said finally.
“Would love to say you’re imagining that,” I told him, pulling on my shirt. “But I think you might be right. Call me tomorrow?”
“Yeah,” he muttered. He ran a hand through his hair. “Sorry. Shitty timing tonight.”
He stepped into me and I wrapped my arms around him in a long hug. It turned into a kiss that didn’t exactly help the situation. Nate might not be Reese Hayes, but he was here and he was mine and I wanted to have sex with him. Instead I tugged free and reached for my jeans.
Like I said, being a parent sucks.
My mood was ugly as I drove out to the Reapers clubhouse for the second weekend in a row. Sure, Nate and I had managed to end our date with a laugh, but I’d just about had it with Jess and her games.
Reese Hayes pissed me off, too.
He’d promised Jess wouldn’t be allowed back into the clubhouse, and I’d scrubbed his stupid toilets to seal the deal. Apparently his promises didn’t mean shit, because here we were again. That’s when my phone rang again. I grabbed it, answering without even looking to see who it was.
“Got your girl here,” Hayes’s voice purred in my ear. “I’m taking her over to your house. She says you’re on a date. Think you can ditch lover boy long enough to meet us?”
“You don’t need to do that,” I said, frowning at myself. Of course he’d call being all helpful right after I’d been thinking bad things about him … “I’m headed out to the Armory right now. I’ll grab her there.”
“Already in the truck,” he said. “We’re having a nice little chat along the way—I’m explaining what the words ‘stay the hell away’ mean. See you in a few.”
He hung up on me and I groaned. Jessica would pay for this. I. Was. Done. Done. I couldn’t keep fighting her—if the girl was truly determined to destroy herself, I couldn’t stop it.
The realization hit me so suddenly that I swerved the van and nearly went off the road.
I couldn’t control Jess and I needed to stop trying.
Holy cow. That changed everything.
My job had been to raise her and I’d given it my all, but the little brat was actually right about one thing. Legally she was an adult. I could offer her advice and make sure she had access to health care, but I really couldn’t stop her from destroying herself.
The thought was both terrifying and liberating.
Implications swirled through my brain as I pulled up to my little house, which was located right on the edge of town, near Fernan. I could be free now … Free to move on with life. Free to stop living my entire life around one young woman’s whiplash hormones and emotions and crazy mood swings.
Shivering, I wondered if that made me a horrible person, because my overriding feeling on this was relief.
I parked next to Reese Hayes’s big black truck. Light blazed through the windows of my place, a 1950s cinder block with three tiny bedrooms, one bath, and zero character. I’d grown up in it with Amber, who’d come to live with us when her mom went to prison. In some ways it was more Jessica’s home than mine, because she’d been there on and off since birth. I’d only moved back in six years ago when Mom had passed on. She’d had a heart attack, right after Amber’s near-fatal overdose. Suddenly I’d been left alone with a child who needed a real parent, one who knew what she was doing.
Instead she got me.
I heard voices as I approached the door, which was open a crack. (The frame had swollen up last winter and never quite gone back to normal, so you really had to fight to close it all the way. It was sandwiched on the repair list between fixing the car and replacing the oven.)
“Your cousin deserves better than this,” I heard Hayes saying, and I couldn’t help but smile. Glad someone noticed my efforts. “If she’s smart, she’ll kick you out.”
“She’ll never kick me out,” Jess declared, and her voice sounded a little smug. A little slurred, too … Had she been drinking? Probably. “She’d feel guilty. She’ll always take care of me because she has to—you don’t know shit about us.”
“You think she takes care of you out of guilt?” he asked. “Nope—she loves you, although I can’t quite figure out why. You need to decide what you want to do with your life, because you can’t just drain her dry forever. Sooner or later she’ll be done with you.”
His words sounded so close to my own thoughts it was almost creepy. It also made me feel guilty, because the statement was so cold and hard. Not to mention true.
“It’s none of your business.”
“London is my business, little girl,” he said, and his tone was anything but nice. “I have plans for her, and they don’t include her crying over your bullshit. Don’t piss me off.”
Yikes. I pushed through the door.
“Hey, Jess,” I said, spotting my young cousin. She’d flopped back on the couch, one arm draped melodramatically over her eyes like a silent movie heroine. Clearly, her life was simply too dreadful to tolerate.
“Make him go away,” she muttered. I glanced over at Hayes, who leaned against the little bar separating the living room from the kitchen. His eyes heated when they touched me, and I wondered what exactly he meant when he said he had plans for me … No, I took that back. I really didn’t want to know what he meant. I just wanted him gone.
No, you want him in bed, my brain insisted. You want more kisses like the one he gave you at the Armory.
Unacceptable. I ignored Jess, walking over to him, determined to take control of the situation.