Twenty-Nine and a Half Reasons Page 99

Mason turned his gaze to Joe, his eyes turning cold. “Simmons.”

“Deveraux,” Joe said in his detective voice.

I looked up at Joe, narrowing my eyes. “What was that about?”

“It’s between the two of us. Don’t you worry about it.” He led me to a bench on the sidewalk. “We need to talk.”

My stomach tossed around my insides.

We sat down and Joe draped his arm around the seat back behind me.

He was silent for several seconds, his face serious. “This morning I decided to break up with you.”

I looked down at my lap, a lump filling my throat. “I know.”

“It’s just…you just…you drive me crazy.”

A tear fell down my cheek, dripping onto my lap.

“You’re like this storm of confusion and unpredictability, and I don’t know how to handle it.”

Why was he doing this here? In downtown Henryetta? “I know.”

He rubbed his face with both hands. “I have no idea what you’re goin’ to do next, and you scare the hell out of me.”

I looked up into his face, biting my lip. “I’m sorry.”

His hand reached up to my cheek, careful of my bruises. “But the thought of life without you scares me even more.”

I held my breath, not sure what he meant.

“I’d made up my mind. I was going to break up with you as soon as I knew you were safe. But the thought of never seeing you again, or holdin’ you. Or kissin’ you.” His lips lowered to mine, kissing me with a surprising tenderness. “The thought sent me into a panic. You’re full of excitement and spontaneity. You’re like a roller coaster ride, and I suspect life with you will be a series of ups and downs, but I don’t want it any other way. I love you, Rose.”

“I love you.” I reached for his face, crying with relief. I kissed him, hoping my next words didn’t send him away. “But I can’t move to Little Rock with you.”

He leaned back, staring into my eyes. “I know.” Sadness filled his voice.

“It’s not just Violet—”

“I know.” His mouth lifted into a small smile. “I found your list at the coffee shop.”

“Oh.” I closed my eyes for a moment. I still had Joe. Why was my heart breaking so? “What are we gonna do?”

“I guess we’ll just keep doin’ what we’re doin’.”

“I guess.” I was miserable doing what we were doing.

“What are you goin’ to do about a job? You’re not going back to the DMV, are you?”

“Shoot, no. I don’t know, maybe… Violet wants us to go into business together.”

“The nursery?”

I looked down at my lap, suddenly unsure. “Yeah.

Joe lifted my chin. “Is this something you want to do? Not Violet. You?”

I nodded. “Yeah. I do.”

“Then I think it’s a great idea.”

“Really?”

“Look out, Henryetta. The Gardner sisters are about to take over.”

I grinned. “Yeah.”

He leaned over and kissed me so thoroughly I was sure Miss Mildred would turn the hose on us if she could see.

“I don’t have to go back to Little Rock until tomorrow morning.”

“Then I say we go home and finish this conversation there.”

Joe stood, pulling me up against him and kissing me again. “I think that’s the best idea I’ve heard all day. By the way. I particularly liked number sixteen on your list.”

“Which one is that?”

“He is a very handsome man.”

I laughed. “Obviously, I left off ‘Joe is a very humble man.’”

We walked to his car arm in arm, Mason’s words niggling the back of my head. If we were getting everything out in the open, I needed to know this too. “Joe?”

“Yeah, darlin’.”

“What did Mason mean when he said he didn’t to lie to me, and could you say the same?”

Joe stopped, uncertainty washing over his face.

“Joe?”

He squared his shoulders, hesitating. “I had help getting you out of jail last week. Deveraux and I had tried everything and the judge was fit to be tied, so I called in a favor. I made Deveraux promise not to tell you.”

I steeled my back. “What did you do?”

Swallowing, a hardness filled his eyes. “I called my father.”

“I don’t understand.”

“My father has a lot of influence in the state. A lot. He used his persuasion.”

“Your father used his influence to get me out of jail? Why would he do that? He doesn’t even know me.”

“Because I asked him to. What you don’t understand, Rose, is that asking my father for something always comes with a price.”

“And you asked for it anyway?”

“I couldn’t leave you in jail.”

“I’m sorry.” Why was I always telling him sorry?

Joe shrugged. “Water under the bridge.”

“What was the price?”

“What?” He tried to act confused but failed, instead looking like he was hiding something.

I lowered my voice. “What was the price, Joe?”

He shrugged. “I don’t know yet. Dad called it a future favor.”

My stomach tightened with fear. “I hope I was worth it.”

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