He was still standing there staring at himself when Kenna came up to his side. She didn’t say anything, but he could feel the emotions coming off her in heavy waves. He drew a deep breath as he stared straight ahead, just as she was doing. “I know you’re mad at me,” he said. “And you have good reason. I shouldn’t have left like I did. And I shouldn’t have stayed away.”
She didn’t say anything, and he realized with a hot poker-like stab of pain to the gut that she stood there silently, tears pouring down her face. Gutted, he closed his eyes. She’d been sixteen when he’d left, and he’d known her for only a few years before that because his dad, their dad, was an asshole. But Jacob had known damn well that Kenna had worshipped him.
And she was crying.
She never cried. Once she’d broken her arm riding on Hud’s shoulders on his skateboard and hadn’t shed a tear. She’d crashed on Devil’s Face skiing and broken her leg. She’d become a world-champion boarder. And she’d had a very public meltdown.
All without shedding a single tear.
“Kenna,” he whispered hoarsely, devastated when he turned his head and found her big eyes swimming with emotion that nearly drowned him.
“I loved you,” she whispered, and punched him in the gut.
Nice right hook,” Jacob said.
“I’ve got a left hook too,” Kenna said, her voice still broken. “And unless you want to see it, start talking.”
He turned to face her and—very carefully—put his hands on her arms and pulled her in.
She resisted for a beat and then stepped in to him, burrowing deep with far less hesitation than he’d shown, slipping her arms around his waist and pressing her face to his chest. And then her shoulders started to shake and she slayed him dead.
Her overwhelming emotions spilled onto him, making him remember everything he’d so carefully buried. Walking away from those he loved so thoroughly that he’d lost them. Then losing Brett, and everything he’d shoved so deep he’d hoped to never feel again came barreling back, stealing his breath. All he could do was hold on.
Finally she shoved free, swiped a hand under her nose, and jabbed a finger into his chest. “You just walked away, like…like I was nothing to you.”
He shook his head. “No,” he managed. “Not like that. Kenna—”
“You never even looked back! I mean, how could you do that, Jacob? You devastated me and I’m so…” She blew out a breath and tossed up her hands.
He took one of her hands and pressed it against his chest.
She stared up at him, slowly letting her fist open to set her palm over his heart. “Mad,” she whispered. “I’m so mad at you.” She paused. “But I’m also so very, very, very, VERY glad to see you.” She shoved him again. “How could you?”
He didn’t budge, which made her let out a sound of frustration. “And what the hell did they do to you? You’re built like one of the Avengers now.” Just like that, she threw herself at him again. “Were they mean to you? Did you get hurt? Are you okay?” She lifted her head. “Why didn’t you want us at your six, dammit? We’re family. We’re all we have.”
He was a man who’d learned how to react quickly, function under the worst of circumstances, and survive everything that was thrown at him.
But none of his training had prepared him for this. He had no idea what to do, so he let her cry, let her hit him a few more times and yell at him, too, until she just threw herself at him and held on for a long, long time.
When she finally pulled back, she took a moment to wipe her nose on his shirt—like she used to do when they skied together, and it made him laugh past the lump in his throat. And when she lifted her head and gave him a watery smile, he knew the storm had passed.
At least for now.
“I’ve gotta go,” she said. “Got a board meeting. And since you’re here, guess what. You do too.”
“Hell no,” he said immediately.
He crossed his arms over his chest, but she stared up at him, eyes narrowed. Once upon a time she’d been one of his very few weaknesses. She’d been able to get him to do whatever she wanted, drive her off the mountain when she needed an escape, stand up to her crazy mother when she needed backup, buy her the clothes she’d needed to compete on the ski team when she couldn’t…Those things had been easy for him.
But this, facing everyone he’d wronged…