Worth the Risk (St. James #3)(17)

by Jamie Beck

“Excellent, sir.” Jackson grinned. “Enjoy your dinner.”

Gabby followed behind Jackson and stood in the doorway as he made his way down the steps. The moon played hide-and-seek behind quick-moving gray clouds, but its light occasionally glinted off the dark strands of his hair. “Jackson!”

He glanced over his shoulder. “Yeah?”

“Thank you for trusting me . . .” She didn’t know quite how to finish the sentence.

He merely nodded before turning and striding off to the garage.

“Close the door! It’s cold in here,” her father called from the table.

She doubted the warm kitchen would thaw the chilled hope still lodged in her heart, but she closed the door and went to sit with her dad while he ate.

Jackson’s revelation didn’t erase all the kindness he’d shown her, but it did shatter her illusions of him as a dependable sort of man.

She knew an addict wasn’t reliable. Shouldn’t be trusted. Could hurt her, and more importantly, Luc. Yet she wanted to believe otherwise about Jackson. Wanted to hold on to the bubbly feeling he inspired. To prove him to be unlike her mother and Noah, whom had both let her down.

“Everything okay?” Her dad’s narrowed gaze demanded an answer.

“Yes, why?”

“You look troubled.” He set down his fork. “Jackson didn’t do anything disrespectful, did he?”

“No, Dad! He was a perfect gentleman. Got Luc to eat and did the dishes.”

One of her dad’s brows cocked, skeptically. “Don’t go setting your sights on that man. He’s going back to his real life next month.”

She huffed to signal that of course she hadn’t forgotten, which in fact she sort of had. Perhaps not forgotten so much as shoved aside. Willingly ignored in order to convince herself a brief flirtation would satisfy her well enough.

That kind of foolishness only proved the truth of her dad’s belief about booze and sex. The clattering of hundreds of Legos being dumped onto the floor underscored the point, as if that were necessary.

CHAPTER FIVE

Jackson heard the buzzing whir of a leaf blower start up. He glanced out his apartment window and saw Gabby blowing leaves from the driveway onto the lawn. Why would she do that?

He could help her but he hesitated, thinking it best to keep his distance. Ever since their conversation in the kitchen two nights ago, he’d been uneasy. Uneasy about what he’d divulged. Uneasy about his attraction to her. Uneasy about everything, including whatever the hell it was he thought he’d accomplish here in Vermont.

Aside from keeping his promise to play with Luc on the swings yesterday, he’d more or less kept his contact with Gabby to a minimum. Turning away from the window, he poured himself another cup of coffee and read through a lengthy update from Hank on two of their bigger renovation projects.

Growing increasingly antsy, he grabbed the old hiking boots he’d brought. A brisk climb up the nearby portion of the Appalachian Trail would be a healthy way to work off extra tension. At the very least, it would eat up another two or three hours of the day, which also meant that much less time to dwell on his troubles or to break down and chug a cold beer.

He was tying a double knot when he heard a loud clatter from outside. Rising from the kitchen chair, he strode to the window in time to see Gabby gingerly climbing up an extension ladder while carrying two buckets. For crissakes, a faint wind would blow her over. So much for my hike.

He dashed out the door and down the stairs. “Hey! Hold up.”

She stilled, brows raised, and looked down. “What’s wrong?”

Jackson grabbed hold of the ladder to steady it. “You shouldn’t climb up there. It’s dangerous.”

“I know what I’m doing.” She shot a patronizing smile his way before taking another step up. While he might otherwise like to stand there and admire this particular view of her rounded behind, he didn’t want her to climb any higher.

“Gabby.”

She huffed. “What?”

He scrubbed one hand over his face. “Maybe you do know what you’re doing, but it’s making me nervous.”

“Then don’t watch, but I’ve got to clean the gutters. Today’s a perfect day—barely any wind, sunny.”

“Okay.” He could see reason. “Then come down and finish the leaves. I’ll handle the gutters.”

Her mouth opened and closed, then she scowled. “Don’t tell me you’re a chauvinist.”

“I’m sure what you meant to say is ‘Thank you for being so chivalrous.’” He grinned, not wanting to continue to argue while she dangled on a ladder rung several feet above him.

At least she laughed. “You’re serious. I’m really making you nervous?”

“Yes, you really are. Please, I climb ladders and hang off rafters on a near-daily basis. Let me do this.”

“Fine.” She climbed down the ladder. Setting the buckets on the ground, she removed her gloves. “I doubt these will fit you, but you need something if you’re going to clean out the muck.”

“I’ve got work gloves in my car, thanks.”

“Looks like you’ve got it all covered, then.”

Gabby appeared miffed, which confused him. He scratched his head. “I sense that you’re mad, although my typical response when someone offers help is to say ‘thank you.’”

“Sorry.” She glanced away. “Obviously I’m out of practice.”

For some reason, that fact bothered him. And that reaction bothered him even more. He didn’t want to care that her life seemed difficult and lonely. He had his own shit to sort out. Yet, she seemed like a girl who deserved a whole lot more than she was getting out of life.

When he’d been her age, he’d been freshly out of college, collecting his paychecks, and living the carefree life of a single guy. He’d never lacked for friends or amusement. In the few days that he’d been around here, he’d seen no evidence of either of those things in her life. He wondered if she even remembered how to have fun. Then the devil on his shoulder whispered that he could show her a good time.

“Forgiven.” He excused himself to go grab his gloves before he did something stupid, then made his way up the ladder and started the unpleasant process of clearing the gutters.

While he worked, Gabby resumed leaf blowing. They didn’t speak for the next several minutes. When she disappeared, he wondered where she’d gone until he heard a lawn mower engine sputter to life.