In Jack's Arms (Fighting Connollys)(7)

By: Roxie Rivera


"What rule?"

"A shop rule." Mattie hesitated and then unzipped a side pouch on his bag. He produced a watch that was only too familiar to Jack. "I took this from the shop."

Jack fought the urge to snatch the watch his mother had worked so hard to buy for their father all those

Christmases ago. Instead he held out his hand and let Mattie gently place it on his palm. He turned it over and ran his finger across the inscription there. The memories of his gentle, sweet mother created a

throbbing ball of pain that choked off his throat. The guilt of missing her funeral while he was away a war still ate at him.

"Did Pop pawn this?"

Mattie nodded. "He forgot to pay."

"So you took it?"

"Nick is my friend. He always brings me those sour candies I like."

Jack made a mental note to remind his father to stop doing that. Mattie went through life thinking the

very best of everyone when reality was so much meaner. He hated the idea of Nick conditioning Mattie to

accept gifts in exchange for favors. It could lead to some dangerous places.

"Abby put four extensions on the loan," Mattie continued, "but it was in the pull stack for this week."

"The pull stack?"

"It's what we call the stuff we take out of the back and put up for sale in the store."

Irritation raced through him as he realized how close their family had come to losing this watch because

of their father's reckless selfishness. "We'll swing by the shop and I'll make this right."

Seeing the uncertainty on Mattie's face, he reached out and squeezed the younger's man's shoulder. "I appreciate what you did, but next time, talk to Abby first. There are laws and rules that the business has to follow."

"I understand."

"Good." He smacked Mattie's back and drew the kid in for a hug. "Let's get out here. We'll visit the shop first and then grab dinner somewhere."

"Tacos?" Mattie hopefully asked.

Jack laughed. "You want me to chase down Thai and Chuy's truck again, don't you?"

"I have an app on my phone." Mattie tapped at the screen. "It tells me where my favorite food trucks are. Kelly's Bee made it."

He smiled at the way Mattie described his brother's girlfriend. To his mind, the ownership in that

relationship was totally reversed. It was Bee who had owned Kelly—heart and soul—since she was a

teenager. Though they were taking things slowly now and rebuilding the broken trust that existed between

them after that clusterfuck stalker situation, Jack had no concerns about the couple. Given time, their

relationship would heal.

As he walked Mattie out of the gym and waved at Finn to let him know that he was heading home for

the evening, Jack decided it was time to put some time and effort into the relationship he wanted with

Abby. The gym was doing great. His brothers were both in good places. Even Pop was safe and out of

trouble for the moment. There might not ever be a more perfect time than this one—and he was grabbing it

with both hands and refusing to let go.

Mattie chatted his ear off on the ride to the pawn shop and clued him in on the filthy joke his workout

buddies had told. Knowing Abby would flip if she heard Mattie repeat it, he launched into a quick lesson

on locker room and boys-only talk. While some people tried to shield Mattie from everything, Jack took the view that Mattie was a grown man with the same interests as every other hot-blooded guy. He just needed to be told in clear-cut language what was and wasn't socially acceptable.

"Is that a boundary, Jack?"

Familiar with the boundaries talks Abby had with her brother, he nodded. "Yes, it's one of those social boundaries that we all have to learn."

"So I can laugh at dirty jokes at the gym?"

"Yes."

"But I can't tell them at the shop?"

"Exactly," he said, hoping to hell Mattie would follow through on the lesson. He found a parking spot in the lot across the street from the pawn store and killed his engine.

"You don't tell dirty stories at the gym, Jack."

"No, I don't."

"Why?"

"Because it's my business and it's unprofessional," he answered matter-of-factly. "It's also juvenile and can be disrespectful, especially toward women."

Mattie unbuckled his seatbelt and seemed to be considering what he had said. "I don't want to be

disrespectful." With a broad grin, he reached for his door handle. "And I love women."

"So do I. They deserve to be treated with respect and protected, not talked about in locker rooms, gyms and man caves, okay?"

"Okay, Jack."

They left the truck and crossed the street. For a Monday evening, the shop seemed to be rather slow. He