“Well, then.” He lifted his half-full glass. “To Betty.”
“I heard that.” Her voice drifted from the back room. “Stop stalling and take your shots. My grandmammy always said men were the weaker sex, and you’re bound and determined to prove her right.”
Jake chuckled, though the sound died as soon as it appeared. He swirled his whiskey, contemplating the amber liquid, and then downed the entire glass in one shot.
“Damn.” Travis whistled softly. “I know that look. You have woman trouble.”
“You don’t know the half of it.” Jake had never been the over-sharer type. He didn’t know what caused men to brag about the women they’d been with or to bitch about those same women being confusing and infuriating. He hadn’t been celibate since he and Jessie broke up, but he understood women.
Or he thought he had.
“I have some time, so talk. That’s why you asked me here, isn’t it?”
“This isn’t something that can be talked through. I fucked up. Now I just need to figure out how to fix it.” If he could fix it. That was the part that scared the shit out of him—he didn’t know if he could make this right. He loved Jessie, and he’d finally come to terms with it…right in time to fuck it up beyond all recognition.
Travis rotated to look at the rest of the room and propped his elbows on the bar. “Word of advice—don’t take the safe way out—flowers and chocolates and that shit. Do something that will have special significance to her. It’ll mean more, and she might stand still long enough for you to get down on your knees and beg for forgiveness.”
He wished it would be that easy. Right now, if he stood in front of Jessie, he couldn’t be sure she wouldn’t gun the engine and run his ass over. There had to be a way to do exactly what Travis had said—make her sit still long enough for him to convince her that it had been real for him, too. He’d given up Jessica Jackson once. He wasn’t about to do it again.
Jake cleared his throat. “You have a lot of experience with that sort of thing—the getting down on your knees and begging bit?”
Travis snorted and raked a hand through his hair. “There’s always a first time.”
The whiskey warmed his stomach, pushing him to move, to not wait any longer. Jake pushed to his feet, and then realized what a dick he was being. He turned, but Travis was already waving him off, the rock star’s attention straying to a woman who’d approached while Jake was distracted. Rae Evans. “Go get your woman.”
Looks like you might have already got yours. He nodded. “Look me up next time you’re in Dallas.”
He grinned. “I always do.”
Jake dug out a twenty and dropped it onto the bar. He hightailed it out of there before Betty could catch him paying for a drink that was supposed to be on the house. It didn’t matter that the woman had inherited a fortune from the same brother who owned the bar before her and didn’t need the money—it was principle.
The Texas heat bore down on him the moment he walked through the door. He slipped his sunglasses into place and looked around. At this point, short of kidnapping Jessie, he wasn’t going to get her to listen to him.
Which meant it was time to bring in the big guns.
Jessica rolled out of bed at noon. She’d fallen asleep around dawn after crying herself out. The sobbing jag left her numb and exhausted despite the sleep. She needed to call Cora and let her know when Jessica was arriving the next morning. She’d considered bumping her flight to today, but she needed some time to compose herself before she faced her friends. One look at her blotchy face and red eyes, and they’d know exactly how shitty this weekend was.
Brooklyn would be on the next flight over and she’d be gunning for Jake. Cora might not be as blunt as Brooklyn, but she’d still do something devious like sic the IRS on Diamond Dates or quietly sue them…
No, she couldn’t call either of her friends. And she couldn’t go home today. She’d gotten herself into the mess. She could get herself out of it.
She stopped in the bathroom and splashed some water on her face. It didn’t help. Anyone who looked at her would know that she was upset and had cried recently. Oh well. She needed to eat something and figure out her next step, and that meant she couldn’t keep hiding out in her room.
To be honest, she was so incredibly tired of hiding.
Going to LA hadn’t started out that way, but it’d definitely ended that way. She’d failed, and instead of trying to figure out a new plan, she’d just let the current take her. She loved her friends, but Jessica had buried her head in the sand for five years—longer, if she was going to be honest. She made it to the kitchen without running into either of her parents and started a pot of coffee.
Her mama chose that moment to pounce. “You were home early last night.”
Jessica stared at the coffee maker and put serious thought into crawling out the kitchen window over the sink. Running away was the very thing she was supposed to be working on, so she took a deep breath and turned to face her mother.
“Oh, Jessica. You look positively awful.”
“Gee, thanks, Mama.” She watched her mama rush to the refrigerator. “What are you doing?”
“You need some cucumbers on those bags under your eyes. They’re horrid.”
Enough was enough. “Mama, stop.” She didn’t wait for her to listen, plowing on. “You know, normal mothers would ask me what happened and why I was upset. They wouldn’t instantly jump to worrying about my looks.”
“You won’t find a man to take care of you while you look like that.”
“Are you fucking kidding me?” Jessica swiped her fingers through her hair, half sure her head was about to explode. There was no backing down from this conversation now, and for once she didn’t want to. “Mama, I love you. I do. But your priorities are so off that it would be funny if it wasn’t so damaging. I am beautiful. I would be beautiful at any weight, and with any color hair, and with bags under my eyes that put George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush to shame. Why can’t you see that?”
Her mama paled. “I know you’re beautiful.”
Jessica had never heard her sound so subdued, but she wasn’t about to stop now that she’d gotten started. “And for that matter, stop trying to fix me and Drew. Our priorities are not your priorities. I don’t want a man to ‘take care’ of me. I want to be a strong, independent woman who can take care of herself. Any man I’m with had better respect that.” She didn’t feel much like a strong, independent woman after crying her eyes out over Jake, but that was beside the point.
“You are strong. You’ve always been strong.”
Just like that, her tears were back. “Mama, I don’t know what to do.”
Her mama crossed the kitchen and hugged her. For the first time in her life, instead of offering a shopping trip or to go get their nails done, she said, “Let’s get that coffee poured, and you can tell me about it. It might help. This is about that b—Jake.”
“It is.” Her mama guided her to a chair and poured them each a mug of coffee. Jessica let the warmth soak into her hands and sighed. “He set me up. I thought he really wanted a second chance, but he just wanted a chance to pay me back for leaving him.”
Her mama snorted. “Hardly.”
“Excuse me?” Jessica shot her a dark look. “That is not a helpful thing to say, Mama.”
“For goodness sake, this is as new for me as it is for you.” She tore three packets of Splenda and dumped them into her mug. “I don’t like that boy. I never have. He’s not good enough for you, and even if he’s richer than sin now, he’ll never be good enough for you.” She stirred her coffee. “But that doesn’t change the fact that he’s loved you since he set eyes on you, and still does.”
“Trust your mama, Jessica. Did I o
r did I not predict every win you ever had just by watching the judges?”
“Well…sure.” She’d always found her mama’s ability to read pageant judges to be one step short of supernatural. “But I don’t see how that applies.”
“Jake loves you. I doubt he stopped loving you these last ten years. It’s absolutely ridiculous that he let you go and didn’t track you down, but you were both so young, maybe it was for the best.”
It was eerily close to what Jessica had told Jake just yesterday. She shifted in her chair. “He still lied to me.”
“If we start listing the horrible things you’ve done to each other, we’ll be here all day. You played those awful little games with him in high school, and if I remember correctly, he gave as good as he got.”
Yeah, he had. Because the games ended the second they were alone. Then it was just Jessica and Jake and the entire world could burn for all they cared. The games were just silly ways of feeding into her need from drama at the time—anything to help her forget the pressure of living under her parents’ roof. “This is different.”
“No, it’s not. You hurt him terribly when you left him, right decision or no. Can you say what you’re feeling now is anything compared to that?”
She glared, but there was no heat in it. “You’re supposed to be on my side. That’s how this works.”
“I am on your side, which is why I’m telling you that if you leave Jake Davis in your rearview mirror for the second time without giving him a chance to make it up to you, you’ll never forgive yourself.” Her mama reached across the table and covered one of Jessica’s hands with hers. “You love that boy as much as he loves you. What would one conversation hurt to figure out if this thing can really be fixed?”
Jessica managed a faint smile. “You know, Mama, you’re pretty good at this kind of thing when you try.”
Her mama wouldn’t quite meet her gaze. “If I promise to try… Can we talk more often? I miss you terribly when you’re gone.”
Maybe it was time to repair the loose threads she’d left dangling when she blew out of Catfish Creek. “I’d like that.” She turned her hand over and gave her mama’s hand a squeeze. “I’d like that a lot.”
And now it was time to find Jake and tie up this last loose thread once and for all.
Jake looked at the spread in front of him and wondered for the twelfth time in as many minutes if he was doing the right thing. His phone rang, and he frowned at the number for a few moments, but finally answered. “Jake Davis.”