Strict Confidence (Rochester Trilogy #2) by Skye Warren



“I need to ask you about the fire,” she says.

Definitely vodka. I pull out a tiny bottle, twist off the cap, and drink it down in a fiery shot. “You want anything?” I ask her, reaching for a pop to wash it down.

“Did someone set that fire?”

“I told you not to listen to Causey.”

“Because he’s wrong? Or because you don’t like what he’s saying?”

She’s too damned smart. I face her with the full force of my will. Powerful men have backed down across a boardroom, but she doesn’t appear cowed. “Because he’s full of shit.”

“He told me that you went to school together.”

“Which is how I know he’s full of shit. He was the kind of kid who’d steal someone’s lunch money and then kick them just to prove they could.”

She fidgets. “A bully.”

“Yes.”

“We had bullies in the group homes. It was always good to go in pairs.”

“That would have worked in my school, too. Except Joe was friends with my brother.”

Her eyes widen, dark and bottomless. “Your brother let him do it?”

“My brother helped.”

“How could he?”

My leg throbs, an echo of pain from long ago. “I don’t want your sympathy, sweetheart. They stopped messing with me when I stopped caring about how hurt I got—no matter what they did, I got up. I went after them for so hard and so long that they had to move on to easier prey.”

“I hate that that happened to you.”

My head shakes. How the hell does she have empathy for anyone else? I know what happened to her. Losing both her parents was bad enough. The abuse she endured in the foster care system is fucking unbearable. “I’m not going to win the competition for worst childhood.”

“It’s not a competition.”

“Besides, whatever happened before, I’m over it.”

She mutters something under her breath.

I should ignore it. “What?”

“I said you’re full of shit.”

A surprised bark of laughter. How am I supposed to resist her? How am I supposed to resist her when she’s strong and fragile, smart and delicate? She calls me on my shit even while uncertainty shimmers in her midnight eyes. “Is that so?”

“Maybe you’re over Joe Causey, but not your brother. You moved back to Maine to take care of his child. You’ve been living in his house. And now you’re telling me that your rivalry with him included violence and bullying?”

“You can’t hold a grudge against a dead man.”

A sad smile flickers across her lips. “Can’t you? I still hold a grudge against my father. Oh, don’t get me wrong. I loved him more than anything, but I don’t know if I can ever forgive him for abandoning me.”

My heart clenches. “Jane.”

She stands, her movements jerky and fast. Agitated. She’s agitated, and she paces across the small room. “I didn’t come here to talk about my feelings.”

“Now you’re the one full of shit.”

That earns me a hard look. She’ll be formidable, this woman. She already is. “Regardless of whether Joe Causey is a good person or not, he said the fire chief thinks it’s arson.”

“The investigation is ongoing.”

“You sound like some kind of PR spokesperson. Is it true?”

Christ. I was hoping to avoid a direct question. “The fire chief hasn’t ruled out arson.”

“So that means yes. Someone was at the house. Someone set the fire.”

“We don’t know that.”

“You think so. I can see it in your eyes.”

That makes me look away. The sun has fallen below the horizon, leaving only an inky black ocean in its wake. The only light in here comes from a small lamp, its shade gauzy and dreamlike. “I didn’t want you to worry.”

“That’s why you keep things from Paige. She’s a child. I’m not.”

Then I have to look at her, her earnest eyes and tense mouth, her body clad in casual clothes picked out by Mateo. Fuck me for being jealous that he got to choose what she wore. “Of course you’re not a child. You think I don’t know that? You’re a beautiful, smart, desirable woman, and I’m having a hell of a time keeping my hands off you.”

Her cheeks darken. “I deserve to know what’s going on.”