Thirty-One and a Half Regrets Page 69

Mason nodded and stood up, starting to pace.

Jeff grabbed Mason’s shoulder and held on. “I’m sorry. I probably should have told you when I first got here, but I wanted to see what you had first, and I was worried the fire would distract you. And there was nothing to be done about it. What’s done is done.” His voice was tinged with sadness.

Mason shook his head, still looking dazed. “I understand.”

“I’m sorry, Mason. But like I said, we’ll catch the bastard.” He dropped his arm. “I have to go. Walk me to the door?”

Nodding, Mason followed him.

They stood in front of the door and Jeff leaned his mouth close to Mason’s ear, lowering his voice. I could still hear him. “I don’t think he’ll find you, but if he does, don’t hole up. Try to outrun him. It might not be a bad idea to establish some kind of escape plan. You and two deputies won’t be able to hold off Crocker and all his posse.”

Mason’s mouth pressed into a thin line and he nodded. He walked Jeff outside and I headed into the kitchen, my feet carrying me there without conscious thought. Muffy stayed close, more subdued than usual.

I had started a pot of coffee when I caught movement in the doorway. Startled, I jumped and dropped a mug on the floor, the pieces flying everywhere.

“I’m sorry,” Deputy Miller said, hanging his head. He was holding a bag of dog food in his hands. “Since Mr. Deveraux was outside with the chief deputy I thought it would be safe to come in.”

I shook my head, bending to pick up the bigger fragments. I blushed, realizing what he meant. “I’m just jumpy. Thank you so much for bringing Muffy some food. She loves people food, but it doesn’t necessarily love her.”

He set the bag on the table and squatted to help me clean up the floor.

“You don’t have to do that, Deputy.”

“I know, but the company is a lot friendlier in here than outside.”

I gave him a smile and then stood up and threw the broken pieces in the trash.

“You shouldn’t be walking around in here barefoot, Rose,” he said, moving toward me as he spoke. Grabbing my waist, he lifted me onto the counter. His hands stayed on my hips and he stared into my eyes.

I grabbed his hands and pushed them away. “Thank you, Deputy Miller. I think you should go back outside now.”

He opened his mouth to say something, still leaning close, but I said, “Now, Deputy.”

Mason appeared in the doorway. “Rose, is there a problem here?”

I didn’t want Deputy Miller to get into trouble because he had a crush on me, even if his behavior had been unprofessional. It just saddened me that I wouldn’t be able to be friends with him now. “No. Deputy Miller brought Muffy some dog food, but he was just leaving.”

The deputy’s face reddened. “Rose dropped a cup and broke it. I was helpin’ clean it up.”

“Thank you,” Mason said, his words gruff. “I’ll help her now.”

Deputy Miller brushed past Mason and stood in the doorway for a moment, giving me one last look before leaving.

“What really just happened, Rose?”

I shook my head and brushed the hair out of my face. “I’m not totally sure. He brought Muffy some dog food, but he startled me when he came in. So I dropped a cup and when I started to pick up the pieces, he insisted on helping. Then he said I shouldn’t be walking in here barefoot and lifted me onto the counter.” I paused, feeling sad. “I’m sure it was nothing.”

“Then why do you look so upset?”

We’d agreed on honesty, so I had to tell him even if it was embarrassing. “I thought we were friends, but I don’t want to encourage him if he has a crush on me.” I paused, looking up into Mason’s eyes.

He nodded and kissed me lightly. “But he was right about walking around barefoot. You stay here and let me find a broom.”

Mason grabbed a broom from the mudroom and started to sweep up the shards.

“I’m sorry about your house,” I said, wishing there were more adequate words.

He shook his head, keeping his gaze on the floor. “It’s just a house.”

“Mason, it’s not just a house. It was your home.”

He stopped and turned to me, leaning into the broom. “Yes, it was my home, but what happened with Savannah taught me that some things in life are far more important than material possessions.” He swallowed and looked up at the ceiling, his eyes glassy. “She called me about a week before her death. She wanted to come stay with me for a few days, but she didn’t tell me why. She’d taken her breakup with Joe hard and she’d resorted to some…unseemly behavior.” He paused. “She’d begun to drink heavily. I suspected she might be dabbling with some recreational drugs. Enough of a problem that she was having issues at school.” He swallowed, lowering his gaze to mine. “But when confronted about it, she refused to stop. So when she asked, I thought she was losing her apartment due to her bad choices and told her no. Not until she got her shit together.”

My eyes sank shut for a moment under the weight of his pain. “Oh, Mason.”

“I was trying to show her tough love, to get her to straighten out her life.” His tone hardened. “But part of it was that I didn’t want her in my apartment, screwing up my life. What kind of brother does that make me?”

I slipped off the counter and went to him, putting my hands on his chest. “It makes you human. Yesterday you told me neither one of us are perfect. We’ve both made plenty of mistakes we regret. But you loved Savannah and she knew it.”

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