“Is it so hard to believe that I really care about her?” he whispered angrily. “Maddie’s special.”
“Yeah, I bet. Don’t let your gonads decide, Clayton. All guys—”
“Not all guys are the same, okay? Girls lump us all together, but we’re not all jerks,” he protested loudly. “Are all girls like Claire?”
Patti frowned. “No.”
He held out his hands as if the next conclusion was obvious.
“Okay, you make your point. It’s just—”
Clayton held up his hand. “May I finish that thought? All men have testosterone. It makes us a little crazy. Some crazier than others. Some are meaner, more aggressive and pushier than others. Not all of us are bad, Patti.”
She paused, her eyes filling with tears. Clayton put a hand on her shoulder.
“I’m sorry you got hurt. Whatever he did, it wasn’t right.”
“Whatever who did? What do you know, Clayton?”
“Nothing. But that look in your eyes—it tells me someone hurt you, took advantage. I promise I won’t do that to your friend. And if I ever find out who did that to you, I’ll break the fucker’s balls.”
Her eyes teared. “You’d do that for me?”
“Yeah. Believe it or not, the guys and I think you’re pretty damn special too.” He grinned, chucking her in the arm.
Maddie arrived a moment later, carrying her bathroom items. Clayton finished brushing his teeth and they headed upstairs together. Craig rushed over as they walked in the door.
“Don’t scare me like that!”
“We were just getting ready for bed,” Maddie explained. “And we decided to talk a little while. I’m sorry we scared you.”
“Yes, sir,” they chorused.
Clayton wanted to kiss Maddie again. Instead, he squeezed her fingers where only Patti could see. She’d all but said yes to him. He wanted to ask her to go steady. If Patti hadn’t shown up when she did, he might have managed it. Now, he’d have to wait for another opportunity—provided Gabe didn’t make a move on her first. At least she knew how he felt, what he wanted.
The next morning, their group was subdued. They ate breakfast, but Jose wasn’t there to greet them when the got outside.
“He’s over at the church,” one of the other men told Craig. “The fire department was over watching for hot spots during the night. They think it’s just about under control. The county fire inspector’s been conducting his investigation. Absolutely no doubt it was arson. Now, they need to see if they can figure out who and why.”
“Don’t they know that already?” Maddie asked.
“It’s pretty obvious, isn’t it?” Claire added.
“Even if they know who it was, they have to be able to prove it,” the man replied sadly. “I know I don’t look much like it, but I’m a lawyer.” He chuckled at their surprise. He was dressed in ratty jeans and a flannel shirt with the sleeves cut off. His arms were covered in tattoos and he wore his hair in a long ponytail. He sported hoops in both ears.