I blinked, trying to remember why the hell I’d thought this could be a good idea.
“Are you gonna sit down or not?” he asked.
“I’m really uncomfortable with”—I gestured toward the woman—“this.”
“That’s not exactly my problem,” he said, dropping a hand to rest on her head. “But if it’s an issue, you can take her place.”
“No,” I said quickly.
“Then sit the fuck down and tell me why you’re here.”
His voice tightened, and I realized he was running out of patience. Fair enough—he obviously had other things on his … ahem … mind. I carefully perched on the edge of the couch, facing the door. This was actually better, I realized. I didn’t have to look at him now. Although I could feel the woman’s movements through the furniture frame and that was very creepy.
“My cousin’s daughter is somewhere at this party,” I said quickly. “Her name is Jessica, and she has very poor judgment. I’d really like to get her out of here and home before she does something completely stupid.”
Like set the building on fire.
“You got shit timing.”
I didn’t respond, because what the hell would I say? So far as I knew, Hallmark didn’t make a “Sorry I Interrupted Your Oral Sex” card.
Maybe I should write their corporate office to suggest it?
Hayes grunted, and the movement of the couch stopped.
“Go find Gage,” he muttered to the woman, who pulled free with a smacking noise I really, really didn’t need to hear. A second later she stood and wiped her mouth, glaring at me. I shrugged, offering a faintly apologetic smile. The couch trembled again as Hayes shifted, and for one horrible minute I thought he was actually going to grab me and push me down into her place. Then I heard the sound of a zipper.
I turned to look at him. He’d swiveled to face me, propping one booted ankle over his knee and stretching his arm out along the backrest. It was way too close for comfort. If I leaned over I’d be able to touch him. There was nothing on his face to indicate I’d just ruined his happy ending. No emotion at all.
“Tell me about her,” he said. “Why is this a problem?”
Now there was a loaded question …
“It’s a problem because she’s young and stupid,” I said, feeling fatalistic. “She’s self-destructive and does idiotic things, and if I let her run loose out here, something bad will happen, trust me.”
He cocked his head.
“And that’s our fault?” he asked. “You afraid we’re gonna corrupt her?”
I snorted, biting back an edgy laugh and shaking my head. God, if only …
“No,” I replied. “Okay, yes. Probably. But the danger goes both ways. Jessica is—”
I paused, unsure how much family business I wanted to share with him. As little as possible, I decided.
“Jessie has a lot of issues. She makes bad decisions and drags other people into them. For example, she got her best friend arrested for shoplifting, even though the poor kid had no idea what was going on. I know you have no reason to do this, but would you please consider helping me find her so I can take her home?”
He watched me, eyes trailing over my face. I wished he’d show some sort of emotion. Anything. I couldn’t tell what he was thinking, and that freaked me out.
“How old is she?” he asked thoughtfully.
“Eighteen. Just graduated from high school. But believe me, she’s not an adult.”
He raised a brow.
“She doesn’t have to do what you say,” he said. “Lotta kids that age live on their own already.”
“She has to do what I say if she’s going to be in my home,” I replied carefully. “And she’s definitely not taking any steps to support herself just yet, so I’m guessing my place is it for now. I’d just as soon not be responsible for a newborn, too, but knowing my luck, she’s actively getting pregnant even as we speak. Nobody needs that.”
He shook his head slowly, some unfathomable emotion in his eyes.
“You can’t control this,” he told me. “I have daughters. Did you know that?”
“I don’t know you at all,” I said, which wasn’t entirely true. I could still remember the first time I saw him, because he was beautiful and if I weren’t a mature, sensible woman I’d have said I had a crush on him. I definitely felt a strong physical pull—at least, when I wasn’t terrified of him.
That wasn’t okay.
I had a boyfriend. Nate. He was nice and he liked me and I liked him and he made me feel safe. I had a good life. I took care of Jessica and ran my business. I took care of her friends sometimes, too, and inconvenient crushes on bikers—ones I worked for, no less—weren’t on the table.
But as fabulous as Nate was, I hadn’t been able to keep myself from watching Reese Hayes these past months, and there was more than enough gossip about him floating around town to feed my fascination once I started listening. Hayes had two grown daughters, he’d been president of the Reapers for the past decade, and his wife, Heather, had died from breast cancer six years back. Right after I’d won custody of Jessica, actually.
I knew about Heather Hayes’s death because I’d attended her funeral.
She’d gone to high school with Amber, and while we hadn’t really known each other back in the day, I’d wanted to pay my respects. I’d never seen a man look more devastated than Reese Hayes had that cold, dark March afternoon at the cemetery. We’d gotten late snow, and his girls had been crying hysterically the whole time.
He didn’t cry, though. Nope. Reese Hayes had looked like a man who’d lost his soul. Since then he’d gotten a reputation around town as a total slut, a reputation that seemed to be well deserved, based on what I’d seen here.
Not your place to judge, I reminded myself.
When I started my cleaning business, I learned early that everyone has secrets to hide and it wasn’t my job to uncover them. Get in, do the job, get out, go home. Easy and simple.
“If you knew me, you’d know I feel sympathetic toward you,” he said. “Like I said, I have daughters. But I’ve learned the hard way that you can’t control them. I’m a hard man and not even I can control them. You don’t stand a chance with this kid. Why don’t you just go home?”