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The first time Jackson asked me to marry him I thought he was drunk or joking, or both. It wasn't the first time he had played some sort of practical joke on me, granted, he had never joked about marriage. But still. I tossed him in jail and let him stay there overnight, thinking he'd come to his senses by morning.
I wasn't ready to get married at the time. I didn't even consider myself marriage material. I had just become a deputy a year ago and was focused on a career in law enforcement. At the same time, however, I was surrounded by so few men of quality in Groveton and I didn't want to end up like Don, married and divorced five times.
We didn't marry right away. I didn't even agree to marry him that morning after. He asked me again, a couple years later. This time I didn't throw him in jail.
"Hello, sunshine." Mollie turned away from her biscuits and looked at Jack. He held out his hand for her to sniff and after a moment, she began to wag her tail and welcome him home. He looked back at me. "It's good to see you."
With Mollie between us, we hugged. He held me tightly, so tightly, and pressed a kiss to my cheek. I felt overwhelmed and had to pull away from him.
"Yeah. You, too." I looked around. "You hungry?"
He's thinner than I remember, and grayer. But he's still handsome, and those captivating blue eyes still pull me in. I smiled, brushed my hand against his and retrieved my lunch from Wes and a Pepsi from our mini-fridge. We seated ourselves on a bench across from the station.
"Where are you staying?" I asked. "Do you know?" He opened the carryout box and picked up a cheeseburger.
"I have something figured out." I nodded as I took a fry. I studied him and struggled to connect him to the present. Suddenly, he set the burger back down without taking a bite. "This is weird, isn't it?"
I was relieved, to be honest. I was relieved because as I looked at him I was so unsure what to say to him. Over the years, I had imagined this moment, the two of us finally face-to-face again, and each time was different. Now, I felt like we were complete strangers despite our marriage.
"I hate it."
I nodded. "It'll be fine." I glance down.
"I know." He gives me a meaningful look. "I know about you and my brother." I start to open my mouth— to explain, defend, maybe apologize, maybe everything— and then, softly, he continued, "It's okay."
"I was going to tell you," I assured him.
"It's okay," he repeated. "I'm happy for you." I smiled. "For both of you," he added. "You deserve something good after what I put you through." He smiled, sadly. He started to reach over to take my hand and then decided against it.
"It wasn't all bad." I gestured at the food in his lap. "You should eat before it gets cold."
"Yes, ma'am." He made a show of eating his cheeseburger— he took a large bite out of it, closed his eyes and made, ooh and ahh sounds as he gorged on it. I rolled my eyes at him and sat back.
As we sat there, a black BMW pulled up in front of us. Vaughn stepped out of the driver's seat and smirked at the pair of us sitting together. "Well, if it isn't Romeo and Juliet." He ran his thumb across his bottom lip as his eyes flicked back and forth between us. His gaze eventually rested on me.
"That's my ride," Jackson said.
I scoffed, shook my head. "What?" I was positive I'd heard him wrong.
He looked at me and didn't say anything. He finished off the burger, left the carryout box on the bench between us, stood up and walked the few steps to Vaughn's car. I shot up and rushed after him, grabbed him by the arm. "Iz," he whispered, looking down at me.
"Don't go with him," I pleaded. I glanced at Vaughn out of the corner of my eye. "I can work something out with Avery. I can-we can, just don't-" I trailed off and hoped he'd reconsider. I didn't want a repeat of the past.
He reached out and caressed my cheek. "Trust me."
He got in the car. I stepped back and looked at Vaughn; he winked at me. "I'll take care of your boy." I watched them drive off with a feeling of unease.
I needed to see Avery, so I told Valerie I'd be out, but I'd keep my radio on in case I was needed. I made a quick stop at the bakery to pick up some cheesecake bites, our favorite sweet treat. There were nights we'd completely skip dinner and just eat a whole cheesecake or these bites. Those were always the best nights, in my opinion.
"Avery?" The front of the shop was deserted, so I wandered to the back and checked his office. He was sitting in his chair, elbow propped on the arm of the chair and his hand against his cheek and legs stretched out in front of him. I leaned against the doorframe and admired him.
He looked up at me standing in the doorway and for several moments he seemed to consider something. "I know," he finally said.
I went over and knelt in front of him, placing the bag of sweets on the floor beside me. "Oh, my love." I slip my arm through his and take his hand in mine and kiss it.
"Where is he?"
"He's with Vaughn." He shook his head.
"He never changes. He can't change."