Then, when their mom died, David had moved halfway around the world, cutting everyone out of his life for eighteen months. Offered no comfort while Jackson mourned their mom—a time when he really needed his big brother’s company. After that, Alison ripped what remained of Jackson’s heart in half by terminating her pregnancy, and all the while David remained blissfully unaware.
By the time David had returned to the family, the gulf between them might as well have been the damned Grand Canyon. Jackson didn’t know how to bridge it, so he’d been polite yet continued to emotionally withdraw. He no longer trusted that David—or anyone—would be there for him through ups and downs, thick and thin. How does one rebuild broken trust?
Hopefully he’d figure that out here in Vermont.
“Before we hang up,” David began, “I spoke with Oliver and he wants you to consider settling Doug’s claim.”
Oliver Nichols, his lawyer for this case and one of his brother’s law partners, was a white-shoe, pencil-pushing pussy who never gave Jackson a straight answer. He wished David were handling the matter, but David’s specialty was mergers and acquisitions, not litigation.
“Settle?” Jackson slurped the shake through the thick straw. No way. Doug had never done a great job, and his big mouth had caused problems within the crew. The guy sure had balls, though. First he dissed Jackson in front of other employees, then he threatened to spread exaggerated rumors about Jackson’s drinking to clients and competitors. When Jackson fired him on the spot and kicked him off the site, Doug shoved him. Hell, Jackson hadn’t done a thing wrong, and never even hit Doug. “I didn’t do anything wrong. Doug was insubordinate, slanderous, and he made the first move.”
Honestly, what kind of dumbass thinks he’s entitled to keep his job after that kind of behavior?
“Even if that’s true, protracted litigation only serves us lawyers.” David sighed. “You don’t need extra stress or mounting legal fees in your life now. Litigation could stretch for two years and hurt your reputation. Better to settle quickly and get a confidentiality agreement in place. You don’t have to admit anything, just offer a number to make it go away.”
“No.” Jackson’s calm tone belied his outrage. “No way in hell” was what Jackson wanted to shout into the phone.
“You won’t even consider it?”
“Nope.” He tossed the straw and guzzled some of the shake straight from the glass.
“Oliver doesn’t get the sense Doug’s going to back off. He’s got less at stake than you.”
“That’s what he thinks. But if he intends to trash my reputation, I can do equal if not more damage to his. I’m the one with a good history and tons of friends in the business. I’m the one with a string of satisfied homeowners to vouch for my character and reputation. He’s a young punk with jack shit for a track record, and if he pushes me harder, I’m going to make it impossible for him to work in Connecticut.”
“Don’t say that to anyone but me, Jackson.” Following another pause, he added, “Maybe it’s best that you’ve left town for a while.”
David huffed and Jackson could picture him closing his eyes and counting to three, like he always did when Cat or Jackson exasperated him. “You’re clearly spoiling for an argument, so let’s cut this short. I’ll let everyone know you’ve arrived and will check back in with you in a few days.”
“Fine.” As an afterthought, Jackson added, “Thanks.”
“Jackson, all I want is for everything to get better, for you and for us.” David’s quiet, sincere tone hit its mark.
“So do I.” That much was true. Beneath the recent disappointments and distance, he knew David loved him and missed the closeness they’d once shared as much as Jackson did. “My lunch arrived. I’ll touch base in a couple of days.”
He wedged his phone into his pocket and then shoved a handful of fries into his mouth. Salty, hot fries. Tasted damn near perfect.
While he gorged on the most fattening lunch he’d eaten in weeks, two cops came into the diner. One had a paunchy gut and salt-and-pepper hair, the other looked extremely fit and young. Midtwenties, if Jackson had to guess. Sandy-colored hair, ice-blue eyes.
The older officer slapped the scraggly customer on the shoulder and started a conversation.
When the younger cop sauntered to the counter and smiled flirtatiously at the waitress, Jackson got a better look at him. Something about the guy made Jackson uneasy. He didn’t look malevolent so much as phony. Slick. Untrustworthy. A smidge of arrogance. Just like that asswipe Doug. Not exactly the qualities one seeks in a policeman.
“Noah, what can I do you for and Lou?” The hot-to-trot waitress sashayed closer to the good-looking cop, eating up his attention.
“Two sodas and an order of fries for the road, Missy.” The young cop’s answering smile caused her to bat her lashes and giggle. He then glanced at Jackson, and his gaze narrowed. “Lose a battle with a hose?” He chuckled, like he was Stephen Colbert or something.
Jackson’s skin itched from the way the man homed in on him—focused, curious, assessing. “Feels like it.”
He took another bite of his burger, hoping to signal polite disinterest in further conversation.
No such luck. Apparently Jackson’s odd appearance piqued this officer’s interest, because he showed no sign of backing off.
“I’m Noah.” The young cop stuck out his hand then nodded toward his partner. “That’s Lou.”
“Jackson,” he replied as he shook the man’s hand.
“You don’t look familiar.” He tipped his head, giving Jackson a closer inspection. “Where’re you from?”
“Connecticut.” Jackson wiped his mouth and met the cop’s even gaze. “Came up here for a little r-and-r.”
After a slight hesitation, Noah nodded. “Fly-fishing should do the trick. Orvis runs some programs down in Manchester Center.”
Thankfully, Missy returned with a bag of fries and two sodas. She handed them to Noah and stuck her chest out a bit. “Here you go, boys. Stop back for coffee later.”
“Wouldn’t miss it.” Noah winked at her and then he tilted his head and mock saluted Jackson. “See you ’round, Jackson.”