Bossman by Vi Keeland

Chapter 25

Chase – Seven Years Ago

I couldn’t smile at another person.

“Thank you for coming.” I shook another faceless hand. Next.

“Yes. She was a beautiful woman.” Next.

“I’ll be okay. Thank you.” Next.

It just needed to be over.

I was supposed to ride with Peyton’s mother and her sisters from the funeral service over to the cemetery, but when the back door of the limousine closed, my lungs suddenly felt deprived of air. I couldn’t breathe. Couldn’t fucking breathe. My chest burned, and I knew I was two seconds away from gasping for air. Flinging the door back open, I gulped fresh breaths before excusing myself with a lie that I needed to escort my parents.

A light, misting rain had just begun, and everyone hurried from the church to their parked cars. Tucking my head down, I walked past the row of waiting stretches without anyone noticing. So I just kept on walking. Four or five blocks later, the mist had turned to pouring rain. I was soaked, yet didn’t feel anything. Not a damn thing. Inside and out, I was bone dry.

My judgment wasn’t the best, which was probably why I decided to walk into a seedy bar a half-mile in the opposite direction of the cemetery and plant myself on a stool.

“Jack and Coke with an extra shot of Jack on the side.”

The old bartender looked me over and nodded. I peeled off my drenched, dark suit jacket and tossed it on the empty chair beside me.

There was only one other person in the bar—an old man who had his head down on the bar and an empty pint glass gripped in his hand.

“What’s up with him?” I asked the bartender when he brought my drinks. He looked over his shoulder.

He shrugged. “That’s Barney.”

He said it like that would explain everything. I nodded and picked up my shot, sucking it back. The liquid singed my throat the same way the air had in the limousine. I slid the empty shot glass back over to the bartender and pointed my eyes down to it with a nod.

He spoke as he poured. “Only ten-thirty in the morning.”

My phone started to ring, so I slipped it from my pocket and tossed it on the bar, hitting ignore without even looking at the name of the caller. Picking up the full shot glass, I again tossed back the liquid. It burned less going down the second time. I liked the way it felt.

“Keep ‘em coming.”

The bartender hesitated. “Got a problem you wanna talk about?”

Looking over at Barney, I shook my head. “I’m Chase.”

***

A big mound of dirt was covered with a green tarp. The tents set up to shelter the mourners were still standing, but the people were long gone. Well, all except one lone man standing by himself. I’d missed the beginning of the graveside service and spent the part I did see standing off in the distance where the taxi had dropped me off. Preferring to say my goodbyes in private, I figured I’d wait for whomever the latecomer was to take off.

The alcohol had slowed my responses, so it took almost a full minute for the face to register when the man turned around. Chester Morris. Peyton’s goddamned father. I’d never met him myself, only seen him in pictures, yet I was positive it was him—mostly because Peyton looked just like the man. My heart, which had been beating listlessly in my chest, suddenly hammered inside of my rib cage.

How dare he show up here?

This was all his fault.

All his fucking fault.

Without thinking it through, I trudged through the wet grass toward the grave. He was looking down and didn’t see me coming.

“She was following a homeless person.”

He turned around, having no idea who I was, and hung his head, nodding. “I read it in the paper.”

“Do you know why she was following him?” My voice rose. “Why she took it upon herself to try to help every fucking homeless person in this city?”

“Who are you?”

I ignored him. “Because after you walked out on her mother and sisters, she practically lived in a shelter for years.”

I needed someone to blame, and her useless, piece of shit of a father was as good as anyone. In fact, the more I thought about it, the more I realized it wasn’t just a drunken thought that had popped into my intoxicated mind. Her father really was to blame.

At least he had the decency to look hurt. “That’s not fair.”

“Really? I think it’s more than fair. A man’s choices are his own. You think you can just walk away from your family and not be responsible for your own actions? For the consequences left behind in your wake?” I stepped closer, jabbing my finger into his chest as I spoke. “You left them. They ate in a fucking shelter every night. She died trying to help someone who ate in one. That’s no fucking coincidence.”

His eyes narrowed. “You’re that rich fiancé she had, aren’t you?”

I didn’t give an answer because he didn’t deserve one. Disgusted, I shook my head. “Just leave.”

He made the sign of the cross, took one last look at me, and started to walk away. Turning back, he stopped. “Where were you when she was being attacked? You’re so quick to point the finger at me for something that happened twenty years ago. If you’re looking for a person to hold accountable, maybe you should look in the mirror.”

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