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Page 46

“We all watched him drag you out of here the other night,” Molly said. “After you tried to say you weren’t anything to each other. I know you’re sleeping together.”

“Well, not sleeping exactly.” Kylie bit her lower lip. “Except maybe once or twice, but those times don’t count because he didn’t come over until really late. And it’s not like he keeps stuff at my place. The few things he’s got there are a toothbrush and a T-shirt, and the T-shirt’s only because I stole it and—”

“Wait,” Molly said in shocked disbelief. “Are you telling me that my brother Joe-the-lone-wolf slept at your house? As in eyes closed, mouth open, snoring, lost in z-land?”

“Actually, I don’t think he snores—”

“But he left a toothbrush at your place,” Molly said.

“Well, yeah, cuz that’s just good manners, brushing your teeth in the morning, right?”

Molly was just staring at her, mouth agape. “Okay, let me get this straight. You’re saying that Joe actually spent the night with you. Like you woke up and he was still there.”

Kylie nodded, an odd feeling beginning to tighten in her chest. “Why? What’s so weird about his staying with me? Is it because you don’t think I’m good enough—”

“No. No,” Molly rushed to say firmly, taking Kylie’s hand. “I promise, it’s not anything to do with you and everything to do with Joe and who he’s been for so long that I didn’t think he had it in him to adjust. And actually . . .” She smiled. “Okay, so it is about you a little bit, but in the very best way.” She paused and cocked her head. “Do you guys talk a lot?”

“Not exactly.”

“Yeah. He’s not much for words, is he?”

Kylie managed a laugh. “No, he’s much more of a show-don’t-tell guy.”

“But see, that’s the thing,” Molly said earnestly. “He’s usually not all that good at showing either. Or he hasn’t been. Not with anyone. He doesn’t do emotions or feelings easily.”

“I’m getting that,” Kylie said. “What I’m not getting is why.”

Molly looked around them. The pub was crowded and yet no one was paying them any attention. Seemingly relieved, she turned back to Kylie. “He won’t ever tell you,” she said quietly, “but it’s not his fault he’s this way. It’s . . . mine.”

Confused, Kylie shook her head. “Is this about the guilt thing?”

“Yes. Our dad, he’s better now than he used to be, but when we were growing up, his PTSD was really bad. He’d act . . . oddly. Paranoid. If we weren’t home by dark, he locked us out. Literally. As in he’d bolt the place up and nothing and no one could get in, whether we were inside or not.”

Kylie tried to imagine what that had been like for the siblings, especially in the neighborhood they’d grown up in, but couldn’t. “That must have been terrifying for you. And dangerous.”

Molly nodded. “Very, but it wasn’t Dad’s fault, really. He just wasn’t . . . present. And he had a hard time keeping jobs because of it. So Joe was motivated at a young age to provide. He learned some interesting skills, such as how to break us into the house so we didn’t have to sleep outside, among other things.” She paused. “Like shoplifting to keep us fed.”

Kylie’s heart squeezed. “I’m so sorry. No kid should have to go through that.”

“At least we had each other.” Molly looked across the crowded bar and out the windows into the night. “But obviously, we lacked supervision. That’s how it happened.”

“How what happened?” Kylie asked.

“When Joe was young—and stupid—he got in with the wrong crowd. They wanted him to do bad stuff.” She paused and met Kylie’s gaze, her own hooded with bad memories. “Like I said, Joe’s got skills. The kind of skills that are really great for felons. But that isn’t Joe. He’s one of those rare guys who’s just all the way to the bone good, you know?”

Kylie nodded because she did know. “So he refused to do anything wrong.”

Molly nodded, expression still troubled. “Yeah, but it didn’t go over so well. They tried to force his hand.”

“How?” Kylie asked. “Joe isn’t the sort of guy to do anything he doesn’t want to.”

“Ha. So you have met my brother, aka Mr. Obstinate.” Molly hesitated and then, when she spoke again, her voice was soft. “They tried to make him.”

A chill went down Kylie’s spine. “Made him how?” Her stomach sank. “Did they hurt him?”

“No.” Molly reached for her drink again and downed it. “They hurt someone close to him.”

Kylie met her gaze, her heart pounding. “You?”

Molly nodded and Kylie’s heart sank hard. “Oh Molly, I’m so sorry.”

Molly shook her head. “It really wasn’t his fault but I don’t think he believes that. No one blames him, certainly not me.” She shrugged, like she was mentally shucking off the memories, and though Kylie wished she knew the whole story, she didn’t want to ask Molly to relive anything more than she already had.

“Look at them,” Molly said, nudging her chin toward the dance floor where Archer and Elle were now dancing, swaying in a loose embrace.

Even from the distance of half the bar, Kylie could see how much Archer loved Elle. They kissed, his hands sliding up Elle’s slim body, his usually very serious, intense face still very serious and very intense, but totally into Elle.

“If they can find love,” Molly said, “it means anyone can find love.”

“To be honest,” Kylie said, “I don’t think it’s for me.”

“Well, since I’m pretty sure it isn’t for me either, I’m not the not one to talk you into feeling otherwise. But I can admit, I’d hoped you and Joe might work out.”

Kylie knew deep down she’d been hoping the same thing. But when she looked up again, Joe was at the pool table, being waylaid by a dark, gorgeous brunette. She had her hand on his forearm and was telling him something that was making him laugh.

Molly twisted to see what she was looking at. “Oh, that. Don’t worry about Dee. She and Joe have been knocking boots together on and off since high school, but I’m pretty sure it’s been a while.”

Joe laughed again and something deep in Kylie’s chest reacted. She stood up. “I think I’m calling it a night.”

As if he could hear her, which wasn’t possible over the noise of the bar, Joe looked up and their eyes met.

And then Kylie did something she’d told herself she wouldn’t do anymore. She turned tail and ran. She got all the way to the street, where she was fumbling with her phone, trying to access her Uber app, when a hand reached out and turned her around to face a tall, deceptively stoic shadow with an achingly familiar face.

“Joe,” she said, breathless from nerves. “Hey. Didn’t see you.”

“No? Not even when you were looking right at me in the pub?”

Okay, fine. He’d caught her. Whatever. She didn’t want to get in a fight with him. She actually wanted to do the opposite after what Molly had told her. But sometimes her emotions were a like a pack of wild horses.

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