it. We just do the job and get paid.
It’s not even one he wants, but after his parents died and he was left to care
for two siblings and a mountain of debt, he was willing to do almost anything.
it…and to women.
needs someplace to hide.
She’d completely shattered it once already.
Only…what will she do when she discovers his secrets?
“Speaking of your cast, how is your arm?” he asked easily. “You doing okay, champ?”
“It hurts.” Toby stated it matter-of-factly then shrugged. “Dad pushed me and I fell of the porch.”
The words were delivered with the honesty of a child not yet broken.
Bree went still.
Connor froze. But the most dangerous reaction came from the man still sitting at the bar.
Bree jumped at the noise and Con flinched.
From the corner of his eye, Riley saw Shame slip off the stool. “Dude,” the other man said, sighing heavily. “I’m sorry. I’m just a klutz.”
Shame didn’t wait for a response. He was already walking across the floor and nobody spoke as he disappeared down one hallway and returned a moment later with a broom and dustpan in hand.
“What happened?” Toby asked, leaning in to whisper, the words overloud and easily carrying across the room.
“Hey, you heard him.” Riley tried to shrug it off. “Shame can be kind of clumsy. He dropped the glass.”
“That’s it, kid,” Shame said, voice calm and measured as he cleaned up the mess. “I’ve just got butterfingers.”
Toby didn’t think to ask about why the glass lay broken in a glittering mess of shards ten feet from where Shame had been sitting. But kids could be like that, so open, so easy and trusting.
To Riley, it was amazing that this could trust, considering the life he’d had.
Shifting the boy onto his hip, he looked over at Bree.
She was staring at the wall, still frozen.
She jumped at the sound of her name and he wanted to go to her, kiss her, touch, hug her, hold her…something, just to let her know she was going to be okay.
He needed it.
But she was trembling and nervous, her eyes skittering around the room like she was preparing for an attack.
Riley didn’t know how to handle this.
He offered a smile and she gave him one in return, but it was weak and wobbling and all that did was make him more furious and it made the helplessness inside him grow until he thought it might explode out of control.
Silence grew heavy and weighted between them, broken only by the faint noises coming from behind them as Shame finished cleaning up his mess.
He disappeared again down the hall. Riley could see the other man from the corner of his eye and he half-expected Shame to just disappear. That was what the man did when things got emotionally complicated. Riley understood it. Shame’s life had sucked so bad for so long and Riley couldn’t even say that Shame was getting a grip on any of it, that he’d even learned how to cope.
What Shame did was exist.
But Shame didn’t disappear.
He came back into the main room of the club and approached Bree, stopping a few feet away.
“Sorry. You didn’t need that.”
She looked away, uneasy.
“Did you get that looked at?”
“I…yes. It looks worse than it is.” She met his eyes now and Riley could see the spread of blood creeping up her neck and into her cheeks.
She was embarrassed, ashamed.
But she met Shame’s eyes when she wouldn’t even look at Riley. It made sense, in a way. If anybody would understand, it was Shame Schaffer, the son of the biggest piece scum to ever come out of Turner Grove.
His father, Samuel Schaffer, was serving a life sentence a federal penitentiary, but not for the crimes he’d committed against Shame. Just about everybody in the whole damn town had turned a blind eye to what had been done to him as a boy. His father was the richest man in town—who was going to cross him?
Sadly, nobody had realized just what would happen when that man’s children grew up and had children of their own—like his daughter. She’d ignored the cries and screams…until it was her own son.
Shame had sat through the entire trial.
Riley had been there with him, as had his brother and sister.
Never once had they discussed it.
But they all knew.
“Don’t go back,” Shame said softly.
“I’m not.” She nodded slowly, the movement awkward like she’d forgotten how to control her own body.
A moment later, Shame turned around and headed for the door. He paused long enough to say, “I’ll see what I can do about that…staffing problem that developed last night, Ry. Back in later today.”
“I…uh…yeah. I need to go eat.” Con gave Bree a quick hug, light and easy, and then he paused by Toby and hugged him. “You be good, tough guy.”
Toby laughed. “Bye, Con.”
Once the three of them were alone, Bree busied herself looking at everything but Riley.
Riley busied himself with eating in the sight of her as fast as he could.
The only times he ever saw her were on the random trips to the grocery store—he knew her schedule like the back of his hand and did his best to time all of his shopping so that he’d be there when she worked.
But those few minutes each week weren’t enough.
Not for him and not for her, either.
She still cared about him. He could see it.
Her eyes would light up and she’d get that blush of nervous excitement she’d had on her cheeks the first time he’d asked her out, the first time he’d kissed her…the first time he’d stripped her naked and made love to her in the back of his old pick-up truck.
Now, as if she sensed his thoughts, she glanced over at him and that blush made an appearance, started low on her neck, tinging her dusky skin with a soft pink and spreading upward. He wanted to bite her, wanted to lick her and kiss her and a thousand other things.