“Why thank you, Jake Davis. I think you’re pretty beautiful, too.”
He chuckled. “Thanks.”
“Anytime you need a pick me up, you give me a call.” She frowned. “I guess you don’t have my number anymore. Oh wait, yes you do. I put it in my paperwork.”
He stroked a hand down her back. The reminder of how this whole strange second chance got started was a bucket of cold water over his head. He had to tell her the truth sooner, rather than later. It wasn’t a huge secret that he owned Diamond Dates. He wasn’t a silent partner, but he also didn’t advertise it. The chances of there being someone at the reunion who knew was a solid fifty-fifty.
A familiar voice sifted through the speakers, and he glanced up to see none other than their local celebrity—Travis Walker—singing his newest song. “Look who’s here.”
“One of the few people I wasn’t dreading seeing again.” She smiled. “I love this song.”
“Dance with me. Fuck the rest of them.”
“You know it’s not that easy.”
“Sure it is.” It was the most natural thing in the world to guide them onto the dance floor. Jessie sighed a little and melted into him. They swayed back and forth as Travis sang about love and loss.
None of the other people in this building mattered. He’d figured that out a long time ago. Jessie would figure it out, too. Jake would walk over hot coals for the people in his life he cared about, but he could give two fucks what acquaintances thought of him. If they weren’t close enough to seek each other out since high school, their opinion of him was irrelevant.
The woman in his arms, though?
She mattered all too much.
He spoke without thinking. “I don’t want this to end after this weekend.”
“What?” She tensed but didn’t stop dancing.
There was no going back now. He’d planned on waiting until tomorrow to broach the subject, but now was as good a time as any. “We’ve grown up since high school. I think we might fit even better now than we did then, and I want a chance to find out.”
“But… I live in California. You live here.”
“We could make it work if we tried.” He had money to spare. He could fly in on weekends to see her until they reached a point where relocation was on the table. “I want to try, Jessie. I feel like I just found you again. I don’t want to miss this chance because of fifteen hundred miles.”
Her spine was steel beneath his hand. “I don’t know. What if it doesn’t work out? It’d be losing you all over again.”
“You can’t live your life being afraid of what you could lose. Think of what you—what we—could gain. I don’t know about you, but I’ve had a hell of a time the last two days. And I’m not just talking about the sex, so don’t even start with that shit.”
She laughed softly. “It’s been good. Aggravating and strange and different. But good.”
“Yes.” He swayed them around in a slow circle and let her work through it. Pushing right now would just result in her digging in her heels and telling him to fuck off. Jessie didn’t like being backed into a corner. Her mama had done it too many times over the years—would still be doing it if she hadn’t left Catfish Creek.
Travis stopped singing, and the DJ picked up where he’d left off with another slow song, so they kept dancing. While she worked through whatever was going on in her head, the gym slowly started to fill around them. He’d gotten them here early on purpose to give them a chance to relax before she started running the gauntlet. Jessie could take Karly on her worst day, but facing down a crowd could be intimidating as hell—especially when she was so determined to find…whatever the hell she was looking for by coming here. Penance, maybe.
The gym was full.
The reprieve was over.
Jessica knew eventually she had to turn and face the room, but with Jake’s arms around her, she just couldn’t dredge up the desire to do it. He wants another shot. In all the scenarios she’d run—and she’d run an endless number of them—reconciling with Jake hadn’t even been in the realm of possibilities.
She still wasn’t sure it was in the realm of possibilities.
The distance was the most obvious hurdle, but not the most important one. They might have talked about what happened ten years ago, but that didn’t mean he truly forgave her.
Except… He said he had.
Am I going to take him at his word? Or am I going to keep clinging to my guilt?
Because that’s what it came down to—her guilt. She’d carried it for so long. She’d covered it up with anxiety about dealing with her former classmates, but there was only one person she’d been truly terrified to face. Jake. The only one who’d ever seen the real her. He’d seen her through thick and thin, and when things got rough, she’d left. None of these other people mattered. Not really.
There was only Jake.
He wants a second shot.
She wanted that, too. Desperately. So desperately, she was afraid to admit it aloud, for fear this would be some twisted revenge and he’d laugh in her face for thinking she was worth a damn. Stop it, Jessica Jackson. You knock that off right this second.
She lifted her head to tell him yes, to say that she thought it was crazy, but she believed they could find a way to make it work, but Jake tensed, distracting her. She twisted to see what had caught his attention. Even in the now-crowded gym, she instantly recognized the man standing next to a pretty Mexican woman. What the hell is Drew doing here? “That’s my brother.”
“Sure looks like it.”
She narrowed her eyes. She knew that woman. “That’s Leah Camacho next to my brother.” Drew hadn’t mentioned that he was coming to the reunion. He’d graduated three years ahead of her class and, sure, she and Leah had been friends once upon a time, so Leah and Drew knew each other. But their body language screamed that they knew each other—as in biblically. Oh hell no.
Leah was the reason Drew was acting so weird?
She glared at where Jake held her arm. “Let go of me. Right now.”
“Jessie, you said you wanted to make amends.”
“Who said I’m not going over there to make amends?” She was so not going over there to make amends. She wanted to know what the hell was going on with her brother and that woman. Drew hadn’t had the easiest way of things, and if Leah was taking advantage of his emotionally fragile self, Jessica would not stand for it.
Jake cleared his throat. “The expression on your face says everything I need to know, love. I know you. You walk over there now, you’re going to say something you’ll regret.”
“I seriously doubt that.” She jerked her arm out of his grasp. The crowd parted for her as she stalked toward her brother and Leah, kind of like it used to when she was in high school. A small part of her was horrified at how easily she slipped back into the queen bitch persona, but the rest of her was remembering the time Leah had put grape Kool-aid in the showers the cheerleaders used and dyed their hair purple right before the big game against their rival—whose school colors were purple and gold. Or the time Leah had made a snide comment about Jessica getting knocked up and turning into a whale after graduation. Or… She could go on and on.
She might not have been a saint in high school, but Leah Camacho was just as much to blame for this particular relationship gone sour. How had she forgotten that?
She spent the twenty-five steps between Jake and her brother convincing herself that she would be poised and in control and wouldn’t let Leah get underneath her skin. She lived in LA, for God’s sake. She had skin like granite these days. There was also the crowd to consider. People were practically falling all over themselves to create a circle around them as she slowed a stop a few feet away.
Those vultures always loved a good show. I forgot about that, too.
Looks like she’d forgotten a lot of things in the last ten years.
She wouldn’t give them what they wanted: drama. She was more in control of herself now. She would not lose it. But as soon as Jessica saw the flicker of guilt on her brother’s face, and the strange little smile on Leah’s, she lost it. “What the hell are you doing here with her?” She flung her hand in Leah’s direction.
“Do not ‘Jess’ me like I’m being crazy. You knew what I wanted to do with this reunion. You know I wanted to set things right. How could you, Drew?”
“Set things right?”
She glared at Leah. “No one is talking to you. Wait your turn.” She spun back to Drew, who now had his mouth set in an unforgiving line that she knew all too well. He got that expression on his face whenever he thought she was acting too much like their mama. “Don’t you dare.”
“We came here to have a nice time. I told you I’d talk to you later, and I will. Unlike how you believe the world works, everything isn’t about you, and tonight sure as hell isn’t. Back off, Jess.” His gaze flickered over her head. “Jake.”