Worth the Risk (St. James #3)(2)

by Jamie Beck

Leaving her alone didn’t sit well with him, but it made no sense for both of them to indefinitely park there, wedged between the road and the engorged river. He couldn’t very well have tossed her over his shoulder and thrown her in his car.

That idea, however, looped a thick curl of desire through his gut.

Obviously it had been too long since he’d been with a woman. Shaking his head to erase the image, he refocused on the road. Of course, it only took seconds before his mind began racing ahead of his car, mulling over why he was even on this road in the first place.

He hadn’t come to Vermont for pleasure, and he sure shouldn’t become sidetracked by a woman. Not even an adorably drenched kitten of a girl like Gabby—no matter how bright her eyes or sweet her dimples.

He’d allotted himself six weeks to get his shit together. His business demanded it—his family, too. Hell, according to them, his very life depended on it.

Following the surprise intervention his older brother, David, had sprung on him, he’d remained completely sober these past several weeks while making arrangements for this hiatus.

Of course, the stress of temporarily handing over the reins of his construction projects to his friend, Hank, had made it difficult. Made him crave the slow burn of whiskey sliding down his throat. Made him yearn for numbness to wind its way through his limbs and mind.

He’d resisted the impulse—barely.

Pride had kept him from surrendering to the siren call of Glenfiddich. He remained determined to prove to everyone that he could stop whenever he wanted.

Neither David nor his sister, Cat, understood him. They took after their reserved father, keeping their emotions locked down all the time. Jackson, on the other hand, had always reverberated feeling, temper, passion. He’d merely hidden it in recent years, after getting burned too many times.

Concealing pain, however, didn’t mean insults no longer hurt or that slights merely skimmed the surface. No. Those things buried themselves deep inside, like a bullet in bone. Even if plucked out, there would always be a scar.

Whiskey had helped him soften the jagged edges of bitterness. The fact that he hankered for the smell and taste of it didn’t mean a damned thing. Everyone drank, some even more than him.

Now that he’d arrived in Vermont, it’d be easier. The extended vacation—with abundant outdoor activities and unscheduled days—would give him time to unwind, to think, and to figure out how to move forward. He’d picked this area because it was close enough to return home quickly in an emergency, but distant enough to escape the family microscope.

He’d refused to consider rehab. That was for addicts, not guys who’d just fallen into bad habits. But he’d promised to check out counseling, so he’d called a local doctor to set up some appointments, for whatever that would be worth.

If only that damn lawsuit wasn’t hanging over his head.

Somehow he’d missed pegging Doug as a bad guy when he’d hired him. Huge mistake. How that guy convinced some lawyer to file a bullshit suit for wrongful termination and a bunch of other bogus claims boggled Jackson’s mind.

At least he could rely on his brother, David’s, law firm to secure him the best defense possible. Jackson’s only real regret about the whole incident involved Hank’s accidental wrist injury. He prayed he hadn’t permanently sidelined Hank from being able to build furniture or work as a carpenter. If Jackson didn’t find some way to compensate his friend, his sister would make damn sure he did.

Cat and Hank—a couple more unlikely than David and Vivi, which had been about as big of a surprise as he could’ve envisioned at the time.

Never in a gazillion years would Jackson have thought he’d be the lone St. James, still single in his thirties. Hell, he’d been the most romantic of his siblings. He’d flung himself into every relationship, no holds barred. At a time when most guys had run away from commitment, he’d run straight at it, like a lacrosse attackman racing downfield toward the goal.

Until Alison bodychecked him with her decision.

Her name might as well have been a hunting knife for the way hearing it still carved his heart into ribbons. Without whiskey to blunt the pain, he’d need to find some other way to forget her betrayal. Forget the loss. Moving on might’ve been easier if she’d been the only one who’d let him down.

His text message chime jerked him to the present and brought to mind the girl he’d left stranded a few miles back.

He yanked the steering wheel and drove into a nearby empty lot, then searched Google for a local tow service. After he ended the call, he made a U-turn and returned to Gabby and her truck.

Gabby’s Gardens.

A gardener. Landscaping or vegetables, he wondered? Then he frowned. Gabby and her gardens weren’t the answer to his problems. If anything, she’d only unleash new ones.

When he passed by her truck this time around, she appeared to be reading in the front seat. He pulled up behind her, flicked on the hazards, and killed the engine. Through her rear window, he watched her twist around to look at him. She was too far away for him to tell whether his return caused alarm or relief.

He got out of the car, thankful the rain had slowed to a steady drizzle. He popped open the rear hatch, dug around his emergency kit, and retrieved two reflective emergency road triangles. Jogging about two car lengths, he placed one in the berm and then, about halfway back to his car, he placed the other slightly inside the roadway. Satisfied with his handiwork, he returned to his Jeep.

Wet jeans on a damp seat—damned uncomfortable. Cold denim, clinging to him like an awkward second skin. Still, he’d sit and wait until the tow truck arrived and he could be sure she was safe.

His stomach gurgled, reminding him it had been several hours since he’d eaten. He noticed Gabby turn around another time or two, either in discomfort or confusion. Had she really thought he’d leave her stranded and defenseless in the middle of nowhere?

When her truck door opened, he straightened up, curious about what she’d do next. Clearly, she no longer feared him. She dangled one of her tempting trim legs from the cab, like she was still deciding what to do. As he waited for her next move, something deep inside whispered in his ear, “You’re the one in trouble.”

Reckless. That’s what she’d always been—plain old reckless when it came to men. She’d thought having Luc would wise her up, but apparently her toddler hadn’t yet knocked common sense into her brain. Boundless love, enormous responsibility, and a long spate of chastity: yes. Wisdom? Not so much.