I knew if I wanted to keep her I was going to have to show her and prove to her that she wasn’t my ruin. She was my salvation.
She jumped, and I was going to have to show her that I was willing to be the guy that jumped after her.
I was glad I had refused to let anyone go with me to the deposition even if digging in my heels about it had made my dad extragrouchy and my mom supernervous. I knew I was going to be shaky and off balance after the interrogation from Jared’s lawyer and I knew that I was going to be a total mess after being around Quaid. I was right on both counts and it was taking everything I had not to crumple into a useless ball of broken heart and rivers of tears on the sidewalk in front of the courthouse. I made my way to the street while wiping ineffectively at the mascara that I was sure was running over my cheeks like sad war paint and hailed a cab.
My dad was home waiting for a status report and surprisingly my mom had opted to take the day off and wait with him. Her wanting to be around for moral support and to offer a hug after what was undoubtedly going to be a bad day was a testament to how much our relationship had changed and improved now that both our stories were out there in the open. We would never have the typical mother/daughter relationship and I would always very much be my father’s daughter, but it was nice to know that my mom and I had been able to find a way to a better relationship, despite the roadblocks we’d both thrown up. Getting to a place where I could let my mom love me and love her back was instrumental in me finding my way to forgiveness and understanding myself and both of our past misdeeds.
Walking away from Quaid for good had me feeling lower than I ever had, and knowing there was nothing on this Earth or beyond that could make me feel any worse than I did at that moment, I decided it was finally time for me to try and make amends with the one person I hadn’t been able to face since I put the wheels of this entire debacle in motion all those months ago. It was time to put on my big-girl panties and try to make things right with Rome Archer. I knew I was going to squirm and falter under that unwavering blue gaze that cataloged and weighed every single move I made, but it was time. Because even if he refused to accept my apology, even if he didn’t want my story and the honest compunction that came along with it, I would walk away knowing I had done the right thing with one less anchor tied to my soul. Rome was important to my dad, which by default made him important to me, but I knew now that even if the big, scarred man couldn’t forgive me, I couldn’t carry that around for the rest of my life. I needed to have my hands free to catch any of the good stuff that I was fortunate to have come my way, and that meant I couldn’t keep my hands full of the garbage and negativity I had been clutching like a lifeline for so long.
I had the cab drop me off at the bar and barely noticed that the driver was giving my tear-streaked face a very concerned look in the rearview mirror for the entire ride. I took a deep breath and pushed through the doors like I was walking into an old Western gunfight completely unarmed. I had to blink to let my eyes adjust to the dimmer light inside the bar, and as I was getting reacquainted with a place that had always been in my blood, a deep and gravelly voice colored with tones from the deep south rumbled my name and drew my attention.
Dash Churchill, or Church as he was more commonly known, had been hired as security for the bar right about the time I lost my job. He was a strikingly attractive man. He was also the man that had stood up for me with Jared even though he hardly knew me and what he did know was nothing to write home about. I had a soft spot a mile wide for the beautiful former soldier and it had very little to do with the fact that he also had hazel eyes that were a crazy swirl of blue, brown and yellow that stood out like beacons in his golden-skinned face. Church never said much of anything to anyone so I wasn’t sure where he was from other than someplace down south and I had no clue what his heritage was, but wherever his parents had come from they sure as hell had succeeded in making one amazing-looking son. He was unforgettable and that was saying something because all my dad’s boys were pretty impressive in their own way.
“Hey, Church. Is Rome in his office? I want to talk to him real quick.”
“Long time no see, kiddo.” I could listen to him talk all day with his Johnny Cash–style rumble and that twang that wouldn’t quit, but I was on a mission and I needed to accomplish it before I chickened out.
“I know. I wasn’t sure about my welcome and, well … I need to make sure the boss knows how sorry I am for everything. He might not want to hear it, but I need to tell him anyway.”
For a big man Church moved quick and light on his feet. That was one of the reasons he was an asset to the bar; he could be in the middle of a fight or disagreement and have it broken up before the combatants knew what hit them. He was also stoic and seemingly immune to any and all the womanly charms that were constantly being shoved in his direction, but I secretly thought that had more to do with the adorable Dixie Carmichael than it did with any actual disinterest in women on his part. Dixie had worked at the bar for as long as I could remember. She was as much a part of the place as my dad was, and for as long as I had known her she had been unlucky in love. She and Church danced around one another, which had been both entertaining and frustrating to watch.
I jolted when his heavy arm landed on my shoulders and sucked in a surprised breath when I was folded into a chest that felt like it was carved of stone for a rib-cracking hug. Church wasn’t the most affectionate man I had ever met, so the hug not only caught me off guard, but it tugged on the heartstrings that were currently tied in knots and frayed at the ends because of Quaid.
“The boss knows this place is as much yours as it is his. You’ve always been welcome and you’ve been missed. He’ll listen to what you have to say and then you’ll listen to what he has to say and that’ll be the end of it.” He tilted his head in the direction of the back and gave me a hint of a grin, which was as close to a smile as I had ever seen him come. “He was working on invoices and bills for the month so I’m sure you’ll be a welcome distraction.”
I nodded briskly and stiffened my spine as I pulled out of the hug and headed across the battered wood floors towards the closed office door. I knocked and it felt like an eternity before a gruff “Come in” was issued. I pushed the door open and expected a scowl or a glower when Rome looked up from the messy desk in order to see who was behind the interruption. What I got was a smile that showed pearly white teeth and turned his harshly handsome face with the fierce scar that bisected one of his eyebrows and his forehead into something that was breathtaking and hard to look away from.