Suzy brought the coffee cup up to her lips but froze and held it there as Jessie finished telling her about her morning. Her friend had been upset when she called her and suggested they meet, and as she talked now, it was easy for Suzy to understand why.
“After leaving Jack and Hannah alone, I went to look for Cal. I can’t stop thinking about little Ollie carrying around that phone with those compromising videos on it. Lord only knows who all he’s shown them to. And now suddenly Hannah seems to be everywhere…anyways,” she said, with a sigh. “I couldn’t find him. So, I sent him a text and told him I was at the house and would like to see him, fixed myself a cup of coffee, and then I went into the library to wait, either for Jack to finish whatever business he had with Hannah or for Cal to get back to me, or both. When I walked into the library, Mack was there.”
“What was he doing?”
“I’m not sure. He was just standing there behind the desk when I walked in. He seemed a little anxious, which was weird, and then he acted like he had to rush out. He stopped, kissed me on the cheek, and then suddenly he was looking at me like I’d done something wrong. That’s when it first occurred to me that maybe he knew about the videos.”
“But you didn’t ask him?”
“No, it was just a feeling. I didn’t have any evidence…yet.”
“But you checked the safe then and found them gone?”
“Not right then. I waited in the library until I saw Hannah leave and I went back to Jack. He looked like he’d been crying, so I almost forgot why I was there. I asked if he was okay and he started talking about a lifetime of regrets…mostly rambling. I’m getting more worried about him by the day.” Suzy nodded. She’d also noticed that Jack seemed to be decompensating. At first, they’d all written his strange behavior off to the grief of losing Delia, but he seemed to be getting worse instead of better. “Anyways, I didn’t understand much of what he was trying to say. He talked about how much time he’d ‘wasted’ in that MC back East and then said that he could have spent that time with his ‘kids’ instead.”
“Kids? Plural?” Suzy asked.
“Yeah, he said kids. I asked him about that, but he never clarified it. As far as Delia knew, he didn’t have any kids. You and I know Mack is his now, but who knows? Jack was gone to the East Coast for a long time…he could have more somewhere out there.”
“So, did you ever get back around to the videos?”
“Yeah. After he rambled on for a while, he asked me to leave so he could lie down. That’s when I reminded him that he’d never told me where the videos were. Guess what his response to that was?” Suzy shrugged. She knew Jessie didn’t really expect her to guess, so she waited. Jessie took a sip of her coffee and closed her eyes for a second like she was trying to calm herself and then she said, “He said, ‘Didn’t Mack tell you? I asked him to tell you they were in the safe behind Delia’s picture in the library.’”
“Uh-oh,” Suzy said.
“Yeah, uh-oh is putting it mildly. I was shaking, but I simply told Jack that Mack hadn’t told me, so he said there were about a dozen memory cards in a plastic bag in the safe. He gave me the combination but, when I looked, they weren’t there.”
“Damn. So, you think Mack took them?”
“Yeah, I do. I’m not sure if he knows what he has or not. I hope to God not.” She took another deep breath and said, “I went back upstairs again, and asked Jack if someone would need his camera to access the memory cards. He said yes first and then as I was leaving, he added, ‘Unless they have the same type of camera or one of those special programs.’ I asked him what kind of ‘special program’ and all he would say was that someone who knew electronics could use another camera and a USB cable to upload them to a laptop.” She rubbed her temples then and said, “My head is throbbing.”
“I’m sorry,” Suzy said, unsure of how to help her friend. She knew Jessie wasn’t one of those people who overshared. She liked her private life to stay private, and the idea of a video of her having sex floating around had to be killing her. “Have you talked to Mack?”
Jessie shook her head. “I texted him and left a voicemail for him before I called you, but he hasn’t gotten back to me. I couldn’t just sit there at the mansion and wait for him; I was going crazy.”
“I’m glad you called me,” Suzy said. “When you left the message for Mack did you tell him what you wanted to talk to him about?”
“No, but if he took those memory cards, I’m sure he knows. I want that memory card,” she said, “and I also want Mack to explain what made him think he had a right to take them.”
“Jack said there were a dozen of them?” Suzy asked. Jessie nodded and she said, “Maybe he had some of Mack too then?”
Jessie smiled. “You’ve been hanging around with his best friend too long,” she told her friend with a wink. “You’re defending him.”
“Oh no, trust me, my loyalties are still to you first. I’m just trying to figure out why Mack would have taken them otherwise.”
Jessie nodded. “You and me both. But I think we both know that when it comes to me, Mack has a hard time minding his own business. Maybe Evan should talk to him about boundaries, the way he did to you about Liam.” Suzy laughed and that was when Jessie asked. “Speaking of Evan, how are the two of you doing?”
Suzy smiled. Just the mention of Evan made her feel warm inside. She felt like she’d finally met the man she’d been looking for most of her lifetime. She’d even given up looking before Evan came into her life, letting herself believe he didn’t exist. She’d met Evan almost a year earlier, and she’d seen him at many of Mack’s club events during that time and sometimes at parties at the mansion. But Evan was usually with a woman at those events, and Suzy had worked hard building the wall around herself. The night of the birthday parties she’d drunk just enough to let her guard down, and Evan saw the opening and took it. Since that night, she’d been happier than she’d been in years and Evan told her he felt the same. Their only problem so far had been Liam. “We’re good. He acknowledged that he believed there was nothing going on between me and Liam and I acknowledged I do need to make the boundaries clearer. You know I have a history of letting Liam push them, but I’ve never had anyone else’s feelings to consider in the past while I was doing that. I need to think about how I might feel if the shoe was on the other foot.”
Jessie nodded. “Sounds like a fair compromise. I have to admit that I would feel better if someone were keeping an eye on what Liam is up to.”
Suzy chuckled and took a drink of her coffee, trying to ignore the sudden surge of guilt she felt. She’d told Evan she was going to distance herself from Liam, but she hadn’t been able to stop worrying that he was out driving a busload of senior citizens around town. She had called him that morning, telling herself it was only about making sure the elderly people Liam thought he was “taking care of” were safe. He promised her that he was spending the day with Shay, who just recently got out of rehab, and he wasn’t going anywhere near the old folks’ home. Now, if only she could believe him.
* * *
Mack had a bad feeling that Jessie was trying to get in touch with him about the memory cards since she’d found him in the library that morning. He didn’t want to lie to her, but he knew she’d be furious if she found out he’d taken them to the club and actually watched the one of her and Jett. So before calling her back, he’d taken them back to the mansion. He’d actually taken them out of the plastic sleeves as well. If someone else got curious and went through the safe before Jessie took them out, Mack hoped the lack of names on them would make them less appealing. He wanted to make Jack destroy them, but he knew at least if Jessie was the one who ended up with them, they wouldn’t go any further. He’d kept a copy of the one of her and Jett. Just knowing it existed made him sick, but he told himself he was keeping it just in case he needed to use it to convince Jett, or his wife, that he needed to leave Jessie alone.
Unfortunately, Mack realized almost as soon as he turned off his bike that his plan to slip the memory cards back into the safe unnoticed wasn’t going to go as planned. He had just pulled off his half-shell helmet when Angela’s car appeared in his sideview mirrors. It was at the moment she stepped out of the car, dressed to kill in a cropped, tan sweater and pair of designer jeans that hugged her curves and didn’t leave much to the imagination, that he remembered he was supposed to have met her for lunch over an hour before.
“Aw, damn, baby, I’m sorry!” he started apologizing even as he slid off the bike and walked toward her. Angela stood next to the car with the door still open and her arms crossed over her chest. Fire all but shot out of her green eyes as Mack got closer. Knowing he was in trouble, he kept talking. “Hannah met with Jack this morning and I had to be here to make sure that all went okay, and I meant to head out as soon as I left here, but I got a call from Evan before I did. They needed me at the club for a meeting. I just lost track of time, babe. I’m so sorry.” Mack was a lot of things, but a liar he normally wasn’t. He hated lying, especially to someone who trusted him. But there was no way he could tell her the truth about what he’d been doing all morning. There was only so much she was going to take, and rightfully so. When he finally took a breath she said:
“You couldn’t find two seconds to text me before I drove all the way out to the wharf and waited on you for forty-five minutes?” she asked.
“I should have,” he said. “There’s no excuse. I’m sorry.” He reached for her, but she took a step away. “Baby,” he said, softly. “What do you want me to say?”
“Say? I don’t want you to say anything. You actually say too much. For once I would just like for you to do what you say you’re going to do. For once I’d like for you to put me first.”
Mack took a deep breath and said, “You’re right. I do spend too much time worrying about everyone else. This fucking family of mine…” He wasn’t just feeding her a line of shit. He knew he neglected her, but he also knew it wasn’t all about his family, his work, or the club. A lot of what took so much away from what Angela deserved was that Jessie was always on his mind. He had always prided himself on not being a cheater when he was in a committed relationship, but wasn’t what he was doing to Angela virtually the same thing? He couldn’t tell Angela that though so instead he said, “I guess I need to realize they’re not my fulltime job. It’s just been hard since Mom died. She did such a good job of keeping everyone in check that I didn’t even notice how crazy they were until she was gone. I honestly don’t know how she did it.”
“Delia sounds like an amazing woman,” Angela told him with sincerity in her voice. “I wish I could have met her. But Mack, she chose to be the matriarch of this family, and she chose to spoil most of them to the point of their being unable to take care of themselves. You don’t seem to realize that Zoe and Oliver are the only two who aren’t adults, and adults should be responsible for their own lives. At what point are you going to let them deal with the consequences of their own actions and stop feeling like you have to ‘fix’ everything? When are you going to get on with your own life, Mack…our life?”
The guilt was burning in his chest as he took a deep breath and offered her his hand. He said, “I’m going to try harder, baby. I’m really sorry. Will you let me make it up to you with dinner tonight? Please?”
Angela’s hand was shaking when she took his. Mack squeezed it and pulled her into his chest. She melded into him and he held her there for several minutes with his face buried in her hair before holding her back slightly and softly kissing her lips. When he pulled out of the kiss, he smiled at her, and she smiled back. He felt a bit of relief for just a second, and then once again, he blew it. He reached into his back pocket and took out his wallet and when he pulled out the two hundred-dollar bills, Angela pulled way back and crossed her arms defensively once again.
“What the hell are you doing?”
The two hundred dollars was part of the money he’d earmarked for bills at the shop, but he’d figure that out later. He owed her something for ruining her day. Holding the money out to Angela he said, “Go buy yourself something nice for tonight, please?”
“You’re trying to pay me off? You think I’m that easy? Jesus, Mack, that’s insulting.”
Mack cursed himself again and said, “I would never try to ‘buy’ you, baby. I just want to make up to you for being an inconsiderate asshole. Please let me do that.”
Angela looked down at the hand he was still holding the money in before reaching down with one of hers and closed his fingers around the bills. Looking up at him with tears in her eyes that tugged at his heart she said, “I don’t want or need your money. I want you, Mack Miller. I want you to show up when you say you will, and I want you to be present when you’re there. If you can’t do that, or you don’t want to do that, I want you to tell me straight up, right now. I deserve that much at least.”
“Oh, baby. I never meant to make you feel like I don’t want to be with you. I’m just an idiot. Please, let me fix this, okay? Let me take you out to dinner and we’ll talk about what I need to do to make this better, to make it work, because I do want to be with you.”
Angela still looked skeptical, but she rose up on her toes and pressed a soft kiss to his lips before saying, “I’ll make reservations at Chart House at the wharf for eight. You can pick me up at seven. We’ll talk about this more then.”
He nodded. “I’ll be there at seven sharp.”
She raised an eyebrow like she wasn’t sure whether to believe him or not, but then she nodded before sliding back down into the driver’s seat of her car. Mack gave her another kiss before closing the door and then as he watched her drive away, he promised himself that things were going to be different. He was going to try harder. Jessie had made it clear to him so many times that they would never be a couple and Angela was right, he needed to get on with his own life. Mack might not be “in love” with Angela, but he did love her in his own way, enough to know that she was right, and she deserved much better than what he was giving her.