In Jack's Arms (Fighting Connollys)(6)

By: Roxie Rivera


Though he respected his father for risking his life for Bee's, Jack still had incredibly complicated feelings toward him. The years of abuse their family had suffered under that alcoholic bastard's hands were too

much for him to forgive and forget.

Mattie's deep belly laugh drew Jack from his thoughts. The laughter punctuated the heavy metal Finn

liked to play over the sound system in the evenings. Abby's baby brother hugged his stomach as he

guffawed at something funny he had heard from the three guys he had been doing burpees beside. No

doubt the joke or story he had just been told was dirty and wholly inappropriate. He had asked the guys

who worked out with Mattie to watch their language but his request didn't seem to stick for very long.

Though he wanted to shield Mattie from the coarser side of male camaraderie, he was glad that the

gym's clients all respected and accepted the younger man. Jack had made it perfectly clear that he would

kick the ass of any person who spoke badly of or rudely toward Mattie and that Kelly and Finn would take

turns whooping some ass when he was finished. So far, he hadn’t had to follow through on that threat.

Mattie's friendliness and sense of humor were so damned endearing even the roughest ex-Special Forces

guys who trained at the gym couldn't help but smile when he was near.

Jack stepped into the gym. "Mattie! Do your cool down and hit the showers, man."

Mattie waved to let him know that he'd received his order and started the final phase of his workout.

Jack slipped back inside his office and tidied up his desk. As they inevitably did, his thoughts circled back to Abby. Like him, she was a workaholic, but he had his two brothers to keep him in line. Who did Abby

have to watch her back and keep her from burning out with exhaustion?

From the moment Mr. Kirkwood had gotten sick and started the long, slow slide toward hospice, Jack

had been constantly worried about Abby. His stomach just churned when he thought of the burdens she

silently bore. Supporting her granddad as he started the final journey of his life, stepping into the old man's shoes to run the pawn shop, taking over as Mattie's guardian—it was a whole hell of a lot of stress for one woman to endure.

Not for the first time, he questioned his decision to give her some space and approach her slowly. He

would be a damned liar if he said he hadn't been head over heels for Abby since the moment he spied her

in the pawn shop that morning he had come in to beg for a short-term loan from her grandfather. That

mega-watt smile of hers had nearly knocked him on his ass. Falling for a college student had been the very last thing he had ever expected that morning.

Her age and his respect for her grandfather had been the two main reasons he hadn't pursued his interest

in her at the time. Newly discharged from the Corps he had loved so much, he hadn't been in the best place emotionally or mentally back then. She had deserved better than a short-tempered, rough bastard who

couldn't sleep through the night.

But watching her date other men hadn't been easy. Every time he worked up the courage to finally make

a move, the timing was wrong. When she had been free for the asking, he had been committed to saving

their family's legacy, building a loyal clientele and helping Finn get off the booze and into a treatment

program. She had been dating some hotshot law school guy when he finally had some room in his schedule

and his life to do right by wooing her. Just when he thought the universe had aligned, her granddad got sick and passed away and then his own father was mired in some messy shit with the Albanians and John

Hagen.

What if there wasn't a perfect time? What if he had fucked it all up by not going after the woman he

wanted? Jack swiped his keys and wallet from his drawer and gruffly swore, "Shit!"

"We're not supposed to use that word, Jack." Freshly showered and holding his gym bag, Mattie stood in the doorway of the office with a censorious expression. "You owe a dollar to the swear jar."

"A dollar!" Jack reacted with mock outrage. "Jesus, when I was a kid, it was a quarter."

"Well, you're old and that's the cost of inflation."

"I'm not that old, Mattie."

"You're thirty."

"Thirty-three," he corrected. "And that's still not old."

"It's older than me."

"Fair enough." Jack reached for his own gym bag and handed over Mattie's phone. "Your sister called earlier. Did you forget to tell her that you were coming here?"

"Uh-oh." Mattie made a face. "Was she mad?"

"No. She sounded concerned."

"You're sure she wasn't mad?"

"Why would she be mad at you?"

"I broke a rule."