A part of him wanted to order her to strip and to force her to open up, but he knew that wasn’t what she needed right now. Denver pulled her in close and squeezed, giving her what she did need at this moment. She leaned into his chest, and her tears fell. Her pain was deep.
When she seemed cried out, he gently nudged, “Why is your dad coming here?”
“He got the same pictures as my boss.”
She laughed weakly. “Nothing describes my situation better. I know it’s possible that the photos may have been sent from the man who wants me out of town. Well, he might be getting his wish. I can’t take this anymore. It’s too much.”
Denver lifted Jessie up in his arms as more sobs rolled out of her. She was overwhelmed and needed only tenderness. If it took all night, he would hold her this way until she was calm.
“My dad was my hero when I was young. He was fun and warm, not like he is now.”
“How is he now?”
“Distant. Cold. When he looks at me, I’m not even sure he loves me anymore.”
Asshole. “When did he change?”
“Before my mother lost her battle to cancer, I saw the change. I was ten, I think. Mom was doing another round of chemo, and he was so wonderful to her and to me. Then one day, it was like he just shut down.”
“Tell me about that day, sweetheart.”
“Mom was having a really bad day. My room was across the hall from theirs. It was late. I heard their door open and Dad walk out. There wasn’t anything strange about that. It happened so many times. The chemo would get the best of her, and me and Dad would work together to help her. When I walked in the room, she held out her arms to me. She was crying. I went to her and accidentally knocked over some of the pain medications off her nightstand. One of the bottles that held the strongest was in liquid form. It broke. When Dad came back in the room he glared at me in a way I’d never seen before. It broke my heart.” A new round of tears fell. “He didn’t say a word, just picked up the phone and c–called the d–doctor. Told them Mom n–needed r–refills.”
Denver waited. His own heart broke for her, yet he could understand how a man could shut down when the woman of his dreams was dying before his eyes. He bet that night was when her dad had finally realized there was nothing he could do to save her mother—his wife.
Jessie’s voice was shaking, but she continued, “That night, he moved out of his and my mom’s bedroom and into a guest room. He was like night and day after that. He stopped talking to me, asking about my day, holding me…”
Her entire body shook violently as Denver continued to cradle her. So many tears. His chest was soaked with them.
Jessie was at the very core of her deep hurt, and he could feel the pain flooding out of her. Though everything inside him wanted to fix things and tell her to shut the suffering off, he knew she needed this. As much as it killed him to see her so distraught, he wouldn’t stop her from going through this.
“I felt all alone. My mother was so sick. I thought I was the one to blame, like I’d done something wrong. After my mother died, it was like I was an orphan. He wasn’t the same dad. He was someone else. Living with him was so difficult. If it hadn’t been for Michael, I think I would’ve died, too. I sure wanted to.”
And then, her body sagged into Denver’s, and he pulled her in tight.
She choked out, “It got worse when my dad found out that I wasn’t interested in going to law school. We’re almost strangers now.”
Denver knew she had gone the distance with her sharing. He hadn’t met Michael, though Dallas had, but if he ever did, he would thank the guy for being there for Jessie back then.
He nuzzled her neck. “Thank you, sweetheart.”
She looked up at him, her eyes glistening from her tears of pain. “For what?”
“For trusting me enough to tell me all of it.” He kissed her forehead.
“I do trust you, Denver. But I have to tell you, I’m so...”
“Shh. You’ve done enough work tonight.”
“No. Let me say this. Please.”
She was like a little kitten in his arms. “Sure.”
“I love you. I love your younger brothers, too. But what you’re asking me to do is hard for me to wrap my head around. I’m just not sure I’m up for Austin’s ways. And the way he acts around me, I don’t think I’m his type at all. And these photos… My God, they could’ve come from the killer.”
Though they’d not talked about it, that had been his first thought, too. “Or they might not even be connected. Like the email was signed, it might be some concerned citizen of Wilde, hoping to get you out of town.”