His expression turned ugly, and I thought I saw a glimpse of something like hatred in his face. Fair enough—feeling was mutual. Then the sheriff himself stepped between us, smacking me on the back before gripping my shoulder meaningfully.
“You okay, Pic?” he asked.
“Still here, Bud. Kind of concerned about my woman’s place, though. Houses don’t usually blow up,” I said, holding my gaze fixed on Evans. “Not too impressed with your boy, either. He called London a cunt. For the record, she’s the owner of this property.”
“Evans, get back to your car,” Bud snapped. Deputy Dick gave him a mock salute, then ambled off. “Goddamn but I hate that man. I think he’s gonna run for sheriff next election, too.”
“He can run,” I said, my voice cold. “He ain’t gonna win.”
“Not so sure about that,” Bud replied. “My Lavonne met up with Jennifer Burley at the casino last week. Jen said that Nate’s dad has already started talking about mounting a campaign for the boy. Fund-raising.”
“If you had any balls, you’d fire his ass.”
“I fire his ass, the commissioners will have mine,” Bud said bluntly. “You know that. I don’t think there’s a politician in the county his daddy doesn’t have something on.”
“Well, maybe you should’ve been more careful,” I told him, losing patience. “Might be time to throw yourself on your sword, you ever consider that? He’ll do a lot more harm before he’s done.”
Bud’s eyes narrowed and I shrugged off his hand. Fucking coward. I’d had just about enough of this shit.
“So that your woman’s place?” he asked, jerking his chin toward the burning house. “Falls under my jurisdiction. Just outside the city line limits. Anything I should know?”
“Yeah, that’s my woman’s place,” I said slowly, the words feeling strange in my mouth. “But we’re a new thing. This wouldn’t have anything to do with the club, even if it wasn’t accidental. What’s your gut read?”
“Probably a gas leak and buildup,” Bud said. “That’s what the firefighters think, and they got good instincts about this kind of shit. Nobody’ll say anything official until there’s a full investigation, of course, but all the signs are there. We’re damned lucky it’s not full of crispy critters. She have a gas stove?”
“She did,” I said, shrugging. “Last time I was here, I smelled it. She said she was cleaning the oven. No big deal.”
“Looks like a pretty big deal to me.”
“Off the record, EMTs think the kid’ll be fine. Wanna check for internal bleeds, spinal trauma, all that shit. But it’s just routine. We’ll need to talk to both of them, of course.”
“Of course,” I responded, noticing for the first time that Mellie was gone. Damn, where was London?
“She went to the hospital,” Bud said dryly, clearly reading my expression. “Saw her leave while you were pissin’ over her with Evans. Somethin’ to consider next time you feel like fighting over a woman instead of taking care of her.”
I turned on him, my face grim. How had I missed her taking off? And since when did Bud have the balls to lecture me? Then I realized the bastard was right.
I was out of practice with this relationship shit, but the pissing matches were all but hardwired into my DNA after so many years in the club.
“Headin’ to the hospital,” I told him shortly. “She’ll be upset, confused. I want updates, but you won’t question her until tomorrow, got me?”
“Yeah,” Bud said, nodding. “No real reason to, so far as I can tell. Nothing that can’t wait. That’ll change, we find any evidence this wasn’t an accident.”
“You find any evidence it wasn’t an accident, you call me,” I told him, my voice cold and serious. “First call you make. You scared Nate Evans’s daddy’ll go after your job? I’ll go after your fucking family. We clear?”
Bud smiled, his mouth tight.
We were clear.
It was around ten p.m. when Reese sat down next to me in the hospital waiting room, handing over a cup of coffee without saying a word. Wasn’t sure how I felt about him being there. Sure, we’d had great sex. But the whole showdown with my sort-of ex? I was a grown-up. I didn’t need that kind of complication, no matter how fabulous he was in the sack.
On the other hand, he had thrown himself over me when the house blew up. He definitely got points for that.
“You over your snit with Nate?” I asked him, rubbing the back of my neck.
“I think we cleared things up,” he said. “You hear anything about Mellie yet?”
“They think she’s probably all right,” I told him wearily. I’d had a hell of an adrenaline rush, but it was starting to wear off. “They’re doing some scans to make sure, but sounds like a mild concussion. Might keep her overnight.”
“Her dad show up?”
“Her dad was too drunk to understand me when I called him,” I admitted. “I think he said she wasn’t welcome at his house but it’s hard to tell. He wasn’t making a whole lot of sense. I can’t let her go back there. She can stay …”
That’s when it hit me—I had nowhere for her to stay … or for me. I had to find somewhere to live. Immediately. I remembered someone saying something about the Red Cross and a hotel room, but the details were blank. Reality hit me all at once—I looked at Reese, eyes wide.
“I’m homeless,” I whispered. “Oh my God, I don’t have anywhere to live. Jessie is flying back home tomorrow and there’s no home.”
He reached out and took the coffee he’d just given me, setting it on the little table in front of us. Then he pulled me over onto his lap, wrapping his arms around me. One hand caught my head, pulling it down against his shoulder and stroking soothingly.
I resisted at first—I didn’t like the idea of being dependent on him, or him thinking I needed him for anything … but maybe just this once.
“Just let me be strong for you for a minute, okay?” he said softly. “You’ve held on for a long time, sweetheart. Nobody can say you haven’t been strong. But it’s been a hell of a night, so why don’t you let me hold you and help you right now.”