The One Real Thing Page 23

He nodded at her.

His heart beat a little faster, a little harder.

“Hi, Cooper,” she said.

Damn it, his name had never sounded so good. “Hey, Doc.” He gave her a small smile back. “Nice to see you again.”

She didn’t smile. In fact, she looked a little nervous. He tensed as she leaned over his bar toward him. “Do you have a minute to talk?” Riley, Lily, and Old Archie all leaned in toward them in curiosity. Cooper ignored them, but Jess looked bemused by all the attention. “Perhaps in private?”

“Yeah, I’m thinking in private would be best.” He gave Riley a look. “Watch the bar. I won’t be long.”

“Sure thing, boss.” She grinned knowingly at him.

He ignored her, more concerned about what was up with the doc than about being subjected to his staff teasing him. He gestured to Jess to meet him at the end of the bar. She walked around, smiling at Old Archie, who grinned at her like a pubescent boy, and met Cooper at the end. He placed a hand on her lower back and guided her through the Staff Only door. “We can talk in my office.”

Once they were inside the small, cramped space, and the door had closed behind them, Jess moved away from his touch. She turned to him and he couldn’t help taking a moment to enjoy looking at her. She wore a fitted black leather jacket, a dark pink shirt underneath it, and black skinny jeans. She was also wearing those sexy-as-hell high-heeled boots again.

Her pretty features were taut with tension.

Cooper immediately stopped thinking about how good she looked as his earlier concern came back. “What’s going on, Doc?”

“Uh . . .” She glanced around. “Can we sit?”

“Sure.” He gestured to the chair behind her and he strode by her to sit on his desk. “Now, what’s going on?”

Jess stared up at him and he tensed at the compassion he saw in her eyes. “I mostly came here for my vacation, but there was another reason I chose to come to Hartwell.”

Curiosity definitely piqued, Cooper nodded at her to continue.

“As you know, I work at the Women’s Correctional and Rehabilitation Facility in Wilmington.” She paused to open her purse and pull out four little envelopes. “A few weeks ago I found these letters inside a book from the library. They were written by your mother’s cousin, Sarah Randall.”

Shock froze Cooper to the spot.

“I didn’t know she was your mother’s cousin until last night. Bailey told me of the connection.”

Sarah Randall. Jesus Christ. He hadn’t known her—she died before he was born—but his mom was only a few years younger than Sarah and they’d been close. She’d thought of her as a big sister. Coop knew from how choked up his mom got when talking about her cousin that the crime she’d committed, killing her husband, had had a huge impact on her. It changed his mom.

He didn’t have the most positive feelings toward the woman because of that.

At his silence, Jess leaned forward in her chair. “These letters are for George Beckwith. You will of course know the story there.”

Everyone in Hartwell did.

“I’m not sure it’s right for you to read them. It wasn’t right for me to see them, I guess, but I did. Now I feel it’s only right that George gets them. But Bailey also convinced me you had the right to know the truth at least.”

“And what truth is that?”

“That Sarah was blackmailed by Ron Peters into marrying him. He had evidence that George’s father, the senator, was involved in criminal activity. He said that if he was exposed George would lose everything. Sarah was just a kid and naive and she stupidly gave in to Ron. He was very abusive. The night she shot him, it was because she knew he was going to kill her. It was self-defense. These letters . . . She wanted forgiveness, Cooper. From George and probably everyone she loved. She needed forgiveness and she died before she could mail them out and get what she needed.”

Cooper narrowed his eyes on Jess. There was a lot of passion in her voice for someone she didn’t know—it was almost like she was defending his mother’s cousin. “No one knew why Sarah married Ron. Now we know. But my mother and Sarah’s family knew something wasn’t right in Sarah’s marriage. They suspected he was abusing her and they tried to help her. My mom said Sarah was so changed by the marriage that she kept everyone at a distance. This . . .” He waved his hand at the letters. “Look, my mom was a good woman. She would have forgiven her because she’d already guessed that Ron was abusive. But she was hurt that Sarah cut them out, that she didn’t go to them for help. It changed her. I didn’t know Sarah, but I can’t forget the way my mother got when she talked about her. I believe, no matter how hard things were, she had other choices available to her. My mom and our family were one of those choices. Sarah made the wrong choice.”

More than that, Cooper knew what it was like to see a woman be beat down in every way by a man, and at no point in all his own mom went through would she have ever considered taking the road Sarah Randall did.

Jessica stared up at him with those big eyes and he saw something change in them. He didn’t know what it was because he didn’t know her well enough, but he got a feeling that it wasn’t good.

That was made clear when she abruptly stood up, shoving the letters into her purse. “Okay,” she said in that quiet voice of hers. “Bailey just . . .” She shrugged.

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