“I’m not surprised. Nikki told me about the uproar he’s stirred in town. He’s the reason half of Dante’s Pass hates your guts, man.” Jax winced. “Sorry, probably too brutal. Never been good with tact.”
“When did you talk to Nik? Do you guys know each other?”
He took a long drink of his beer before answering. “We talked at the hospital.”
The idea of Jax getting close to her bothered me, but I couldn’t say why. Maybe because I still thought of her as mine, even though Lyle the-fucking-sheriff Lewis had made it a point to tell me they were engaged to be married in a few weeks.
“What’d you talk about?”
“You, mostly. She was pissed you wouldn’t see her.”
Shame fissured me. I hadn’t wanted her to see me like that. I still didn’t, but too much history existed between us to avoid seeing her forever, and refusing her visit had been a low, cowardly move.
Jax cleared his throat, the sound shattering more than just the unspoken stuff between us; it obliterated the facade. The sheriff, Nikki, and even Jax’s involvement with her—none of it mattered as much as filling in the blanks of the last eight years.
“So we met in prison?” I asked, finally tiptoeing toward the core of the matter.
He nodded. “We were cellmates. We’ve had each other's back since the day you saved my life.”
My eyes widened. “What happened?”
Jax wouldn’t look at me. “Prison was tough on both of us. I think we should leave it in the past. What’s done is done. All that matters is I owe you my life.”
I wanted to push for an explanation, details of my time in there, but I left it for now. “How long was I in for? What was I in for?”
Jax lifted his brown eyes to mine, and his stare never wavered. “You sure you’re ready to hear this? I’m thinking your brother might be right. Losing your memory is heavy shit.”
“I didn’t take advice from Adam back then and I’m sure as hell not gonna start now. Tell me what happened.”
He drew in a breath, let it out. “You were in eight years for rape.”
His words lingered, an echo that wouldn’t stop bouncing between my ears. “There’s…no. I couldn’t have done it. That’s just…”
“You didn’t do it.”
He sounded so matter-of-fact. I narrowed my brows, gripping the table to keep from springing to my feet. “How do you know? You said we met in there. Everyone in prison says they’re innocent.”
“Trust me. I know. You don’t have an iota of rapist gene in you. Well, you didn’t until she had you locked up for it. Her accusation tore your life apart. Dude, I’m being straight with you about this. You’ve done some fucked up shit, but you didn’t do that.”
“Who accused me?”
He took another draw from his beer, and the ensuing silence made me want to scream at him to spit it out.
“I’m not sure we should get into that shitstorm yet. Maybe you should give it some time. Wait for the memories to resurface on their own.”
“Who was it, Jax?”
He lowered his head with a sigh, as if he regretted the words before he said them. “Alex De Luca.”
I pushed back from the table so suddenly, the chair toppled over in my haste to get away. But there was no getting away from this. I might not remember the last eight years, but I remembered her. I recalled the delicate features of her face—high cheekbones, a kissable mouth I still ached to taste, and the sensual tones of her voice. Her image burned in my brain, as if I’d seen her just yesterday, and in a way, I had. My last memory of Alex wasn’t from eight years ago; it was from a few weeks ago.
Turning my back to Jax, I propped my good arm against the counter and hung my head. Closed my eyes. Focused so intently, I gave myself a headache that rivaled the throb in my shoulder.
Just an empty vault where eight years of memories should reside. No matter what Jax said, I doubted my innocence. I couldn’t believe I’d force myself on her, but she was…she’d been underage, and I wanted her with an uncontrollable urge so sharp, it sliced me up every time I got within ten feet of her.
I held that secret close. No one knew, except for maybe Alex herself. I gave a slight jerk of my head. I still hadn’t reconciled the shift in time. Then. Now. It confused the heck out of me.
“You okay?” Jax asked.
I clenched my jaw. “Yeah.”
She had to have known how I felt, especially considering the way we’d gravitated toward each other, orbiting with a forbidden vibe. How we’d pounced on every chance to banter and tease. Those intense glances she’d sent my way were too familiar. They’d imparted the same need I’d kept hidden since the day I noticed her as more than a child…more than the kid sister of my best friend.
No. Impossible. I wouldn’t have done that, no matter how much I’d wanted to.
“You don’t seem okay.”
Was I okay? I had no fucking clue. I turned around. “What kind of ‘fucked up shit’ did I do?”
Jax hesitated, only for a moment, but it was long enough to make me squirm. “Maybe you should take a peek in the cellar.”
“What the fuck does that have to do with any of this?”
He rose, scooting the chair back in a grating manner, and chugged the rest of his beer. He glanced at mine, still untouched on the table, and lifted a brow. But he didn't say anything about my aversion to drinking the day away. “Come see for yourself.”
It felt odd to follow someone else in Dad’s cabin, but I didn't complain as he led the way to the cellar door. He pulled it open and switched on the light. We descended the stairs, and upon first sight of a cage that closely resembled a prison cell, my mouth dropped open.
“What the hell is that?”
“That's where you kept Alex after we kidnapped her.”
“Dude, she ruined your career and your reputation. One little lie from a De Luca and your life went up in smoke. Losing your dad was the final hit. I don't blame you for wanting revenge.”
He continued speaking, but I couldn't hear the words through the blaring noise in my ears, the throbbing pain at my temples. My attention cut to the cage again. Had I built it? It was sturdy, the sort of prison that wouldn’t be easy to escape from, and I didn’t miss the hook in the ceiling or the cuffs dangling from it. What the fuck had I done? Who had I become?