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Chapter Ten


Chapter Ten

Written in Blood


Reece did not fall asleep when Zara did.

He didn't fall asleep at all.

And when his alarm clock showed seven thirty, he carefully slid away from her and moved out of bed.

Silently, he got dressed. Moving slowly so he wouldn't wake her, he grabbed his boots and went to put them on in the living room.

His girl slept deep and they'd gone to bed late, but he didn't take any chances with her getting up, finding him not there and wondering where he was. He left her a note in the kitchen saying he was getting something from town. He then went to her purse, found her cell, found her ex's number, and programmed it into his phone.

Then he went to his truck.

He drove into town and parked outside the police station. Slamming his door, he walked up the steps to the wooden boardwalk that served as a sidewalk along both sides the length of the main street of Gnaw Bone, making it look Wild West, which, in its day, it was.

He walked into the station seeing a woman at the desk, and standing at her side, a tall, fit man who nevertheless had a slight paunch over the big belt buckle he was wearing. If memory served, and for Reece it usually did, the man's name was Shaughnessy and he was a cop. He was wearing jeans and a flannel shirt, and it was likely he hadn't yet gotten around that morning to putting his badge on his belt.

Reece walked up to the front desk and the lady asked, "Can I help you?"

Before Reece could answer, Shaughnessy butted in. "Reece, right? New top dog at The Dog."

Reece looked to him to see the man's eyes sharp on Reece but there was a small smile on his face that was genuine.

"Yep," Reece replied. Shaughnessy leaned in with a hand raised and Reece took it. "Shaughnessy, right?" Reece asked to confirm.

"Mick," the man said after giving Reece's hand a deliberate, manly squeeze. Not too firm to make it a contest, nowhere near weak either, and Reece returned the gesture. "I got a title, which means I'm top dog around here, but no one uses it. Everyone just calls me Mick. You're welcome to do the same."

Friendly, approachable, the title didn't matter. The job did.

It was then Reece remembered he liked this guy.

"All right, Mick," Reece agreed.

To Reece's surprise, Mick invited, "'Spect, this early, you could use some coffee. Why don't you come around?"

He hadn't expected this to be that easy.

Then again, he'd chosen Gnaw Bone because people were that easy, his woman being one of them.

But even if Gnaw Bone wasn't so friendly, he still would have come for Zara.

He followed Mick to a coffeepot in a common area. Mick poured and slid the sugar Reece's way. Reece took care of his mug, Mick took care of his, and then Mick looked to him.

"Why don't we have a sit down in my office?" Mick asked.

Reece lifted his chin and followed Mick into an office that looked like the man who used it had not only been there a while, but also, he was busy.

"Jane, our girl up front, wants to tidy up. I just don't let her. If she did, I wouldn't know where anything was," Mick explained the mess as he rounded his desk and sat down, flicking his hand at the three chairs across from it. "Take a load off, son."

Reece did, took a sip of coffee, and trained his eyes on the cop.

Before he could say a word, Mick smiled and stated, "Glad you came down. Best we get things ironed out between us before we gotta iron them out during a situation. Been meanin' to come speak with you, things got in the way. Glad you reached out and beat me to it."

Reece felt his brows draw together as he replied, "Not followin'."

"The Dog," Mick returned. "Been around years, Reece, as you probably know from the last time you were in Gnaw Bone. Know things can get rowdy there. Know past management of The Dog preferred to deal with things on their own. It's good you know now that I don't turn the other cheek, son, not ever. But if the parties involved are good with walkin' away without callin' a cruiser, I'm good with that, long's there's no coercion for them to come to that decision, no weapons involved, and no lengthy hospital stays. You with me on this?"

He was talking about fights at The Dog and how he wanted them handled.

Reece had been handling bar fights for twenty-two years. He usually handled them by stopping them before they started. If that didn't work, he'd do it Shaughnessy's way.

So Reece told him, "I can agree on that. But that's not why I'm here."

It was then Mick's brows drew together. He took a sip of coffee as he cleared his features.

Then he asked, "So, son, why're you here?"

"Zara Cinders is livin' with me," Reece said as answer and Mick nodded but it wasn't lost on Reece that Mick's eyes grew even sharper.

Zara was liked. This was not a surprise. She was extremely likeable and she'd been around Gnaw Bone since birth so most everyone knew just how much there was to like.

Zara was also protected and this was also not a surprise. Kids who came from families like hers, if the town gave a shit, tended to be that way, too.

"Yeah. Hear you gave her a job, got her out of those apartments," Mick said. "Good owners. Just lazy. Keep tellin' 'em they should do somethin' about their locks and peepholes before somethin' not good happens and they keep tellin' me they'll get around to it. Zara, she's a good gal. Well-liked. Glad you got her out of there and in a job where she can back get on her feet."

"You don't understand me," Reece said. "She's livin' with me, as in she's mine."

Mick had no response but Reece again saw the man's already acute attention that he hid behind his good-ol'-boy ways get even more acute.

Reece didn't need a response.

He kept talking.

"Came in 'cause we were at The Rooster last night and Dahlia Cinders dropped by our table. She told Zara she had to speak to her father. This conversation did not go well, no information was shared, and it was, thankfully, brief. Zara's worried, though. 'Spect, you know what went down, you know why she is. I'm wonderin' if there's somethin' I need to know. That way I can cushion the blow when it's time that she does know. And I figure, the person who knows the most around this town is you."

There was a hint of surprise in his eyes when Mick asked, "Her father hasn't called her?"

"They don't speak," Reece explained.

"Yes, I know, but..." Mick trailed off, looked to his desk, took a sip of coffee, then looked back at Reece. "I'm sorry to be the one to tell you this, son, and I'm sorry that you're the one's gonna have to tell Zara. But, two days ago, Xenia passed away."

Just as he thought.

Reece's eyes slid to look out the window as his lips muttered, "Shit, f**k."

Nearly nine years ago, Xenia Cinders got high at the same time she got drunk. For reasons known only to her, and locked away now for near on a decade, she left her house, wandered into the street, and was hit by a car.

The car wasn't going that fast. Her body took some damage but not much. But luck that didn't shine often on the Cinders girls didn't shine on Xenia that night. The hit she took meant she landed with all her weight and a goodly amount of momentum on her head. The head trauma was extreme and irreparable.

She was brain dead.

Unfortunately, her body didn't know that.

Also, unfortunately, for a reason in the beginning but after that reason was no longer a reason it ended up being just plain stubborn cruelty, even though Zara had begged her parents to turn off the machines and let her go, they'd refused.

So now Xenia had lived an extra nine years without lifting a finger, blinking an eye, eating a bite of food, enjoying a drink, or actually living at all.

"You know anything about it, you know it's a blessing," Mick said quietly and Reece looked back at him.

"Not sure Zara's gonna look at it like that."

"I can see that." His eyes grew sharp again. "You care about her though, son, enough to make her yours, you'll guide her to that."

This, they didn't need. Reece had just got her back. They had shit to talk about, shit to do, and he wanted his girl to have it easy for a while. It'd been bad for her for too long. He'd guided her out. She was in a good place, close to happy.

They didn't need this, but more, Zara didn't.

Reece clenched his teeth, felt a muscle move in his cheek, and released his jaw to say, "Least they got that boy in a good home."

"Sorry, son?" Mick asked.

Reece locked eyes with the man. ""Spect you know, maybe you don't, but Xavier Cinders had no problem takin' his hand to his wife or his girls. Didn't do it often, used words most the time to make them feel shit, but he did it. Xenia got the worst of it but that didn't mean he didn't call Zara down to watch when her sister caught it. So it's good that when they finally got that baby out of Xenia, Cinders put him up for adoption."

Shaughnessy looked confused. "Zander Cinders is in a private school not too far from here, Reece. Xavier didn't put that child up for adoption. His sister, Wilona, just in the next county, has raised him since birth."

What the f**k?

"Are you f**kin' shittin' me?" Reece growled and he heard his voice. He suspected he knew what his face looked like and he suspected both were why Mick Shaughnessy straightened to alert in his chair.


"That motherfucker promised Zara he would put Xenia's boy up for adoption, make sure he got a good home."


"I stood there when they came to the only agreement they came to durin' that mess. When he flat refused to let Zara raise him, he promised he wouldn't raise the boy. He promised he'd put that boy in a good home."

"It would appear he didn't lie, since he didn't raise him, but he did lie since he took custody of the child and placed him with his sister," Mick replied carefully.

"So you're tellin' me Zara's nephew has been growin' up in the next goddamned county for the last nine f**kin' years without him knowin' his aunt exists and without her knowin' her sister's boy is that close?" Reece ground out.

"I'm afraid that's what I'm tellin' you," Mick answered.

"All right, so now you wanna tell me why Zara doesn't know this?" Reece asked.

"I thought she did."

"Well, she doesn't," Reece pointed out the obvious. "This town is small and the people close. How does she not know this?"

"The Cinders aren't exactly social," Mick stated the God's honest truth. "The town rallied around Zara when all that happened, Reece. Not sure I know of anyone who gave their condolences to her folks, not that they wouldn't want to, just that they knew it wouldn't be welcomed so they didn't bother. What I'm sayin' is, not sure anyone knows where Zander is."

"Can I ask why you didn't tell her?" Reece pushed.

Emotion flashed in Mick's eyes before he answered, "Like I said, I thought she knew. Didn't bring it up because she essentially lost her sister and her parents through that and that's not somethin' you wanna bring up as a reminder for a sweet girl who kept her chin up and kept on keepin' on."

Fucking shit. That made sense.

"Shit, f**k," Reece clipped.

"Think you need to take a calming breath, son," Mick advised and Reece did exactly that before he looked out the window again.

However, the calming breath didn't work.

Therefore, he bit off, "I do not believe this shit."

Mick made no reply and the room lapsed into an uneasy silence before Mick broke it.

"Xavier took his hands to those girls?"

Reece sliced his eyes to the cop. "Repeatedly."

Mick closed his eyes, whispering, "Dear Lord."

"No marks, he wasn't stupid. But that didn't mean they didn't get their asses kicked," Reece shared and Mick opened his eyes. "I'm surprised you didn't know that," he finished.

"Didn't 'spect Xavier was a warm and loving father, way those girls cleared out when they hit majority and just knowin' the man, but didn't suspect that."

"Well, you were right. He was neither warm nor loving and he took that to extremes," Reece confirmed.

"Sins of the fathers," he muttered.

"Explain that," Reece demanded.

"Went to school with Xavier Cinders and his sisters, Dahlia and Wilona. Can't tell you how many times I saw one, the other, or all 'a them come to school with black eyes, fat lips, arms in slings. Back then, before school officials would report that to authorities and CPS would get called in, there was no help for them. Val Cinders was a hard man and the whole town knew it, just no one had the power to do anything about it. Reckon he taught his son to be just as hard. Sometimes the cycle breaks. Sometimes it doesn't."

"With Xavier, it didn't," Reece told him.

"I see that," Mick replied.

"And now that boy's livin' in that."

"We don't know that," Mick said quickly. "Maybe, by givin' him to Wilona, he was breakin' the cycle."

Reece felt his eyes narrow. "He lied to his daughter while his other daughter was near on nine months pregnant, brain dead, hooked up to machines, and lyin' in a hospital bed. He wasn't breaking any cycle."

"I remember that situation, Reece," Mick said quietly and Reece knew he did. By the look on his face, he knew he remembered it like it was yesterday.

Then again, f**ked-up shit like that wasn't easy to forget.

"This can't stand," Reece declared.

"Son," Mick started. "As Xenia's parents with no other legal arrangements in place, custody fell to them. I knew there was no love lost between Zara and her family and since not a lot of folks around here like anyone who lives in that den of vipers and give them a wide berth, I just suspected that he was an ass to her like he is to everyone. It's sorry news he took his hand to his girls and you gotta know I don't like hearin' it. But, I'll remind you, it's beyond the pale where Xenia took that. She got high and drunk when she was nearly full-term pregnant."

"She'd been clean for two years," Reece reminded him.

"She picked a sorry time to fall off the wagon," Mick returned.

"She'd been visited by her father that day," Reece told him and watched him suck in a hissing breath. "Yeah. I can see you can imagine that visit was cheery."

Mick's brows went up. "He take his hands to her?"

"That ass**le who, according to him, has done no wrong in his life visiting his unmarried, ex-junkie pregnant daughter? Yeah, Mick, he took his hand to her. She was a vegetable lyin' in that bed but I still saw the bruise on her cheek. If you saw her, you couldn't have missed it."

"I thought she got that from getting hit by the car," Mick muttered.

"She got it when her father planted his fist in his nine-months pregnant daughter's face. After his visit, Xenia called Zara, lettin' her know that shit went down and Zara spent the day with her sister, talkin' her down from doin' somethin' stupid. But Zara had to go to work and Xenia did somethin' stupid."

Mick nodded.

Reece kept going.

"You don't hit kids, you don't hit women, and you only hit men when they give you call to do it. What would move a man to strike a pregnant woman is beyond me but he did it. Then again, he did the same to his baby girls and we could argue all day which one of those is more twisted with no answers since they're equally f**ked up."

"This is true," Mick murmured.

Reece went on. "Xenia told Zara she got flashbacks, terrified of the state of her life, havin' a kid, not breakin' that cycle, not able to get away from that motherfucker. Zara left, shit kept twisting in Xenia's brain, and she made very wrong decisions that means she's been alive for a long time, same time she was good as dead. Think she paid a high price for her dick of a father bein' an ass**le so, due respect, maybe you'll have a care, shiftin' blame to a dead woman."

Mick lifted his chin to acknowledge the rebuke but stated, "We're goin' over history."

"History doesn't live and breathe and that boy is doin' both one county over," Reece fired back.

Shaughnessy locked eyes with him.

Reece kept talking.

"Zara was in no place financially to fight them for custody. She was twenty-fuckin'-four years old and workin' nights, waitin' tables at a bar. She'd started with nothin' and worked her ass off since she was eighteen for everything she had. Not to mention, she had their promise that they'd find a good home for her sister's son."

"Not sure what either you or I can do about that. We can't rewrite history," Mick noted.

Reece stood and looked down at the man. "Yeah. You're absolutely right. But we can write the future and that chapter's gonna be written in blood."

Mick stood too and warned softly, "Son, you're talkin' to an officer of the law."

"Then you want this to go smooth, you start pokin' around, 'cause Zander Cinders is gonna be livin' with his aunt as soon's I can pull that shit off and it'd help if you did what you could do to see that kid out of that viper's den," Reece returned, putting his mug down on Shaughnessy's desk. "Obliged for the coffee," he muttered. Turning on his boot, he stalked out of his office.

When he left the station, he didn't go to his truck. He walked down the boardwalk, fury and adrenalin coursing energy through his frame that he had to burn off because it felt like his f**king head was going to explode.

His thoughts were assaulting him, an onslaught that caused a piercing pain to shoot through his right eye.

Zara was going to lose her mind when she found out her nephew was that close, being raised by a Cinders. He'd just guided her to getting it all together and now, f**k it, it was going to come flying apart.

He hated that for his girl but that wasn't what sent that pain stabbing through his eye.

He'd left her.

Back then, after that shit went down and he got her to the other side, he'd left.

Because of his own f**ked-up history, his vow not to get tied to another woman, not to get tied to anything, he'd walked away from her.

He knew he'd go back. Even at that age, Zara was the kind of woman you went back to. Hell, even back then, Reece knew she was the kind of woman you stuck to. He just wasn't that kind of man back then and that was why he let her go, so she could have a man like that.

But he never knew he'd be where he was right then and go back.

It was no consolation that the baby had been taken by C-section by that time. The deal struck. Zara getting out of her end the knowledge her nephew would go to a couple who wanted a child desperately and couldn't have one so they'd treat the one they got right and a promise from her father and mother that she'd never see or speak to them again.

He'd had no idea that baby was handed off to an aunt.

He'd just taken Zara's pulse, saw she was moving on, healing, and he'd left.

He'd f**king left.

He could see it in his head, the image burning deep, that first good-bye, standing by his truck, her in his arms, smiling her sweet smile, her pretty brown eyes sad that he was going but understanding that was him. Giving him that. Giving him up. Letting him be who he was and taking him as he came.

He'd been her one. It took him years to realize she was his.

And she'd let him go so he could be who he had to be.

And he'd let her go so he could be a motherfucking ass**le.

His girl, his cookie, abused by her father for as long as she could remember, having a mother who was so checked out, it was a wonder that bitch wasn't in a coma, too. Zara had broken away, forged a life for herself. Then when her sister essentially bites it, the baby Zara was looking forward to helping Xenia raise gone, she found it in her to move on and start to heal.

He told himself he could go. She was strong.

What really happened was he told himself what he had to hear so he could cover his own ass, deny the depth of feeling he had for a woman, and run away from history so he wouldn't have to learn one day she was a bitch like all the rest.

Even if she had given him no indication whatsoever she would be. There were no signs. No red flags.


He just left her.

The fury not subsiding, he wanted to punch something, and on that thought, mindlessly scanning as he beat back the pain in his head and tried to breathe through the weight in his chest, his eyes fell on a sign.

The instant they did, his feet took him there.

He walked through the door and saw that Nina Maxwell's law offices weren't swank but they were comfortable and understatedly plush. They were also professional. They were such that you walked in and instantly felt whoever worked there could sort your shit.

For it being such a shit day, it was still his lucky day because there was a receptionist behind the desk and Nina was standing at her side.

Both of their eyes came to him, Nina's immediately concerned, the receptionist's welcoming.

"Can I help you?" the receptionist asked.

"I know him, Nance," Nina murmured to her receptionist as she walked around the desk, a welcoming smile on her lips but it was wary. "Reece, this is a surprise."

Her eyes were scanning his face and he knew what she saw seeing as he wasn't hiding it.

"You got a second?" he asked when she stopped close.

Her head tipped to the side. "I'll make one."

"Neens, I'm sorry, but you have an eight-thirty appointment," the receptionist reminded her and Nina looked to her at the same time she wrapped her fingers around Reece's bicep and moved them to a side hall.

"Do me a favor. When they arrive, get them coffee and ask them to wait a spell. I'll try not to take long," Nina told the receptionist and led Reece into the hall.

She dropped his arm, guided them to a door, and moved them through to an office with a decent view of the mountains and the biggest desk he'd ever seen in his life.

He heard the door click and Nina ask, "Is Zara okay?"

Reece turned to watch her walk to the desk, not behind it, in front of it where she leaned her h*ps against the edge. She wasn't assuming a position of authority or dominance. Her position was open, friendly; this was a chat among friends.

Said a lot about her.

What said more was that she wore a tight skirt, stylish blouse, sexy spike-heeled pumps, and nice jewelry that added personality to a sexy but professional package. She wasn't a knockout but she was very pretty and with that hair, those eyes, those clothes, all of it screaming high-maintenance, she was a challenge many men would accept.

But getting to know her last night, she was a whole lot more. Nina was so goddamned smart it was borderline scary and she was able to speak her mind. A fact she'd demonstrated repeatedly.

In other words, not easy. Not even close. Attractive. Sexy. Stimulating. Cute as all f**k.

But not easy.

Reece knew it'd take a man like her husband to accept that challenge. And watching them together last night, Holden Maxwell lucked out he got hold of that spitfire and his wife lucked out she'd landed a man who got off on her not-unappealing brand of shit.

"She is now," he answered. "She's sleepin'. In a couple hours, she will not be."

"I'm assuming you care to explain that since you're here," she noted in her also not-unappealing voice with its English accent.

"And I'm assumin' with you two thick as thieves last night that you're tight with my woman," Reece returned.

She nodded. "We're close, yes."

"Then you know about her dad and her sister."

"Yes," she replied.

"All about it?"

"Yes, Reece."

"Do you know about her dad?" Reece pushed.

It sounded like the same question, but if she knew, she'd know it wasn't.

She studied him carefully. It took her a moment to trust him and he saw her body go tight with awareness before she spoke cautiously.

"If you mean about the physical and mental abuse, then... yes."

"I mean that," Reece confirmed.

Nina nodded.

"You know her sister was pregnant?"

Her face softened, sadness came into her eyes, and she replied, "Yes, Reece, I know that, too."

Zara had shared, which meant she was still torn up about her nephew.

Back then, he'd held her as she cried. They'd stayed up past dawn, drinking beer, shooting vodka, and processing what she was going to do about it and, when she came to the realization she had no money and no power, he'd helped her accept that. Helped her accept her sister might still be breathing with the aid of machines, but she was still gone. Then he'd helped her figure out how she would move on.

And she had moved on.

But looking at Nina, he knew she also hadn't.

"Xavier Cinders, Zara's father, did not put that boy up for adoption. He placed him with his sister one county over. And right now, I'm hiring you to start proceedings to get custody of her nephew."

He kept talking through her gasp as she straightened away from the desk and her eyes got big.

When he was done talking, she asked, "He didn't put him up for adoption?"

"No, he did not."

"Oh my God," she breathed.

"Yeah," Reece agreed. "Now you know that, you and me gotta get down to it. Life I led, didn't need money, made it and saved it so I had a lot of it. Coupla months ago, Zara's old house came up to auction from the bank. I bought it."

Her mouth dropped open.

Reece ignored that and kept talking.

"Needed cash to make that buy, used nearly all I had. So we'll need you to help us out and let us pay installments."

"I... you... of course, but"-her mouth quirked-"you bought her house?"

"Appreciate if you don't tell her that. It's taken some time for her to sort out her head, we just got where I want us to be. We still got things to get through, we need time to get used to each other again, and I'd like to ask her to marry me there, so it would suck, you f**ked that surprise."

She shook her head quickly side to side. "I... no, I would-" She stopped abruptly to swallow a giggle, and then she went on. "I would never do that, Reece."

"Obliged," he muttered. "Now, this kid's name is Zander Cinders. I know he's in a private school one county over and he's with a woman named Wilona. Her maiden name will be Cinders but I don't know if she's married. I learned this shit from Mick, so you might wanna have a chat with him. But whatever legal shit you gotta do to start this ball rollin', do it. I'll be in with Zara after I break this news and some other f**ked-up shit she's gotta know."

"What other f**ked-up shit?" Nina asked and Reece drew in a deep breath.

His voice was quieter when he said, "Her sister finally passed."

Nina closed her eyes.

"Yeah," Reece murmured.

Nina opened her eyes.

"Poor Zara," she whispered.

"Give me the day, but, you got time, come around tonight. She won't be workin'. She just got the day off. But I'll have to go in, at least for a little while, and it'd be good she wasn't alone while I'm gone."

She immediately reached to a cell on her desk. "We'll exchange numbers so you can call me if she doesn't and I can call you to check to see if she's okay without disturbing her."

"Thanks," he muttered. They exchanged number as he continued. "You got any idea why your sister-in-law would run interference on Zara learnin' about her sister?"

"I don't right now but I will as soon as she picks up her phone," Nina replied.

He figured that was true. He suspected Nina Maxwell didn't let anyone in her life get away with shit.

And he was hoping that she did the same thing professionally.

"You're asking her to marry you?"

Fucking shit.

He didn't want to discuss this with a woman he barely knew and a good friend of his girl's.

"Yeah," he said shortly.

"Please take no offense, you know Zara and I are close. She means a lot to me, she's a good friend, she watches our kids." She pulled in a breath, then laid it on him. "Are you sure you're ready to settle down?"

Reece held her eyes.

He didn't answer to anyone. Spent years not doing that. Hated doing that shit. He didn't like her question and, eight months ago, he would walk right out the door without answering it.

But this was Zara's girl.

So he answered it.

"I knew when I drove away from her the first time, I shouldn't be doin' it. I knew when I let her walk away from me three and a half years ago, it struck deep. I found out she lost her house, I sunk everything I had into buying it back. Never owned a piece of property in my life. Was once tied to a woman but never owned a house. Got myself loose from that woman and learned. What I learned after years was how to spot a good one. And what I learned seven months ago was that I was never gonna watch a good one walk away again. So yeah. I'm sure about settlin' down and I'll answer the question you didn't ask. I'm also sure about Zara."

Nina was silent and held his eyes through all that.

When he was done, she remained silent.

Then, slowly, her eyes lit, and she smiled.

And when she did, she smiled huge.

* * *

After finishing with Nina, Reece walked to his truck, angled in, and slammed the door.

Then he pulled out his phone, tamped down his still coursing anger, found the name, and hit go.

It rang three times before a man answered, his voice guarded. "Hello?"

"Greg, this is Reece, Zara's man, and before you get pissed and hang up, I just found out Xenia passed away two days ago."

To this he got silence.

So he spoke through the silence.

"It's f**ked up I'm tellin' you before I tell Zara but once I tell her, I'm gonna need to be there for her so I won't have time to deal with you."

"Deal with me?" Greg asked, his voice unsteady and Reece didn't know why, anger or emotion for Zara about her sister.

Since Reece didn't give a f**k about this guy, it didn't matter.

"Deal with you," he confirmed. "I talk straight and I don't got a lot of time so suck it up, man, 'cause here it is. Last night was f**ked up. When you came to the bar was f**ked up. Zara knows I'm gonna be doin' this, havin' this conversation with you, but she doesn't like it. That's because she cares about you. If you give a shit about her at all and want her in your life in the limited way you can have her, you end this shit. Now. You want to piss on my patch, we got problems. You followin' me?"

"Sorry, I'm still back at Xenia dying. I'm finding it hard to keep up through your threats," the f**kwit replied.

"Right, it's good you brought that up because I should make that clear. These aren't threats, Greg. When you pull that shit, it guts her. I'm not gonna let you do that and I'll find a way to make sure you stop. The way I'd prefer it to be is if you'd give the tiniest f**kin' shit about her and not make me do that because I got no problem f**kin' you up, but if I gotta go outta my way and lay the hurt on you that would f**k her up. Now are you followin' me?"

"It guts her?" he asked quietly.

"I don't know you so I don't know if you sound happy because you can do that to her or pissed at yourself you're doin' it to her," Reece told him.

"I'm not happy I'm hurting, Zara. God," he clipped.

"Then stop doin' it," Reece returned.

This was again met with silence.

"I gotta go lay a different kind of hurt on Zara now, man, so tell me this was a productive conversation so I can get that over with for her," Reece prompted when the silence stretched on too long.

"I never wanted things to get ugly between us," Greg shared.

"You don't want that, stop doin' what you're doin'," Reece advised.

"It was just a shock, seeing her with you last night."

"I get that. So does she. Doesn't change the fact that you didn't play that right."

"I didn't think. I guess I was mad."

Jesus. What kind of guy was this guy?

"I'm sensin' we're comin' to a positive end to this discussion so I don't wanna piss you off, but I'm not your counselor. I'm your ex-wife's man. You need to process shit, do it with one of your boys. I got shit to do."

"Right, that was... I'm being..." He trailed off and before Reece could end this and get on with his shit day, Greg kept going. "I... this is weird to have to ask but, I mean, I probably should but, later, I'd like to call her. About Xenia."

"Give it time. I'm lettin' her sleep until she wakes up. Then I'll lay that on her."

"All right."

It was time to end this.

"Thanks for givin' a shit, Greg, now I gotta go," Reece stated.

"Of course. Right. I'll, um... call her later."

"Fantastic," Reece muttered, trying to squeeze the sarcasm out of his voice and hearing he failed. "Later."

"Later," Reece heard before he disconnected, tossed his phone on his dash, started his truck, and headed home.





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