Jo pulled Jack out into the hallway with a firm grip that left red prints on his forearm. When she saw there was no one else in the corridor, she put a hand on her hip and stabbed him in the chest with one finger.

Author’s Aside:
I have been struggling with the same chapter for about two weeks. Then suddenly when swimming today, this (and a bunch more) came flooding in.

“I know you’ve got rules you need to follow, Jack,” she said, seething. “And there’s good reasons for them, I realize that. If there weren’t rules, it would be too easy for assholes to really exploit these kids by pretending they were helping. But I say fuck those rules, Jack. Today I just want to screw all the rules and do the right thing. If you can’t get her into Maddy’s Place, then that’s fine. I’ll figure out something else. But they’re not calling her family, you hear? Please don’t let them do that.”

Then suddenly his arms were around her and she was pulled close to his chest. She stiffened at first, but he felt so good, he smelled so good—all man and dried sweat and some remnant of aftershave. And, God, he was a good hugger. Her arms were trapped between them, so she couldn’t hug him back, so instead she just let herself go, closed her eyes and let herself get lost in the hug.

It wasn’t a romantic embrace, although she’d imagined that happening quite a few times in the darkness of her lonely room at night. It was an “I’ve got you” hug, a “don’t worry about a thing” that was comforting and warm and believable. She never wanted him to let go.

He did, of course. After a long, sweet minute he pulled her away from him, just a little, his hands holding her arms. Were his cheeks flushed? They were. He kept looking away from her, too, like he was embarrassed to look her into the eyes.

Author’s Aside:
Yes, You’re right, I do see romance in Jo and Jack’s future. But that’s the good thing about writing a series. You can take your time with some things.

“Thanks for doing that, Jo,” he said softly. “For calming her down like that. That girl—” The break in his voice made Jo’s own throat ache as well. “That girl has been through hell somehow. From someone. Probably her father from the sound of it.”

He let go of her and looked around like he had just suddenly realized they were standing in the middle of the hallway where anyone could see them. They were still alone.

“Whenever someone is in physical danger like I believe Lily is,” —his voice was back to normal now, although maybe just a tinge softer than usual?— “we can ask the courts to waive the parental consent rule. It takes a while to go through, and there’s a whole lot of hoops to jump through, but she can stay at the shelter while that’s being done. Or until you find a way to get proof she’s of age, if she is.”

Jo didn’t even blink an eye at the hoop jumping metaphor. Jack’s unending supply of cliches now felt quaint and comfortable.


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