I gave a slow nod. “You tell Reed. I’ll tell the others.”
Clear agreed to have me and the Armstrongs for diner that evening. As I’d expected, they hit the roof on hearing what had happened—apart from Sarah, of course, who sat quietly. As for the others … Cade was pacing, looking murderous. Clear was cupping her face, seeming lost and anxious. Sherry was unnaturally calm as she sipped her coffee, eyes narrowed. And a red-faced Dodger was grinding his teeth and drumming his fingers on his thigh.
Clear dropped her hands to her lap. “Kensey, you should have told me sooner.”
“Like straight away,” added Cade, glaring at me.
“I didn’t think Ricky would do anything else—I thought the story would be enough for him,” I said. “He’s been a shit in the past, sure, but he only confronted me once. And he didn’t send more than four letters before he got bored. I figured he’d get bored just as quickly again.”
Sherry glared at Sarah. “You haven’t said a word, so I’m guessing you already knew about this.”
“I asked Sarah not to say anything,” I told Sherry.
“Yes, I’d imagine you did,” groused Sherry. “But Sarah should have done her best to convince you to confide in us so that you weren’t alone in this.”
Sarah snorted. “Kensey does what Kensey wants to do. I did what any best friend would do in that situation—I gave her what she needed and supported her decision.” She glowered at her brother. “I wouldn’t be glaring at her like all this is her fault.”
Cade snorted at her. “If she’d told me and not you, you’d be sulking in the damn corner.”
Sarah looked affronted. “I would not.”
She totally would. “Can you all really blame me for not saying anything to you sooner? Honestly?” Looking at Sherry, I said, “I knew you and Dodger would do exactly what you’re thinking of doing right now—you’d tell me to stop working at the bar and lie low for a while until Ricky’s caught. Am I right?”
Sherry and Dodger exchanged a guilty look.
“Hiding isn’t me, and the bar … it’s a home away from home to me. I won’t let Ricky make me lose what’s way more than just a job to me.” I turned to Cade. “I knew you would plan to hunt Ricky down and kick his creepy ass, even if it meant taking time off work that you can’t afford to take. Your customers don’t simply pay to have their bikes worked on; they pay for you and your dad to do it. It’s your time they want. I don’t want Ricky messing with your job any more than I want him messing with mine. I wouldn’t give him that kind of power.” I looked at my mother. “I didn’t want to tell you because I knew you’d worry like crazy and insist I move in with you, which isn’t the answer.”
“Well you should move back home for a while,” Clear insisted.
“You can’t honestly mean to stay in that apartment, Kensey, he probably has a key!”
“Probably, which is why I had the locks changed earlier. Reed’s cousin is a security specialist. He set me up with some wireless alarm system. The little cameras will start recording if the window or door sensors detect any noise or motion. I’ll then get a notification sent to my phone, and I can access the video footage from anywhere using the nifty app that comes with the system. I also got a keychain remote in the package, so I can set off my alarm from anywhere with the push of a button.”
Clear didn’t look appeased. “Alarms aren’t always enough to keep people safe.”
“No, they’re not. But if I move in here, I could turn his attention to you. So far, he’s focused on me. I want it to stay that way.”
“Well, I don’t! I’m your mother; it’s my job to protect you.”
“But you can’t,” I said gently. “Not from someone like him.”
Sarah put a comforting hand on Clear’s shoulder. “Kensey’s good at taking care of herself, Clear. She took self-defense classes for years, and she fought off a mugger in the past. I truly think that if Ricky meant to physically hurt her, he’d have done it already. And then she’d have kicked the living shit out of the little bastard.”
Clear didn’t speak for a long, tense moment. “You should tell your dad, Kensey. He should know what’s happening.” Something in my expression must have given me away, because she narrowed her eyes. “You already told him, didn’t you?”
“I needed to know if anyone had mentioned me in their letters to him. Ricky hasn’t been in touch with Michael for a while, though.”
“I can’t believe he didn’t tell me,” Clear whined.
“He didn’t want you to be stressed.”
Shoulders slumping, Clear sighed, resigned.
“You’re absolutely sure it’s Ricky Tate?” Sherry asked me.
“Why else would he be hanging around if it isn’t to mess with my head? I wouldn’t be surprised if he wanted Bill to tell me.”
Cade paused in his pacing. “You think he pushed Bill enough to make him wary, hoping Bill would then warn you and make you anxious?”
“Possibly,” I replied.
Clear shook her head. “Ricky was always … rash. So angry and eager to lash out. I wouldn’t have believed he’d have the patience for this sort of thing.”
“It’s been a long time,” I told her. “People change. Besides, he is lashing out. He’s just doing it in a devious way rather than a confrontational way.”
Dodger rubbed his jaw. “We’ll keep our eyes open for any sign of him.”
“If Bill’s description is anything to go by, Ricky hasn’t changed much,” said Sarah.
“You remember what he looks like?” I asked Cade.
He nodded. “He’s not a person I’ll ever forget.” Because, like Sarah, Cade was there that day when Ricky confronted me outside school.
“I have to confess, Kensey, I only vaguely remember the description you gave me,” said Sherry.
“He has squinty gray eyes,” I said. “Short, thick dark hair. Has very noticeable acne scars. He wore a red ballcap the one time I saw him. He was gangly back then, but that might have changed since he’ll be in his late twenties now.” I looked at Sherry, Clear, and Dodger. “Think you guys can remember that? I’ll write it down if you need me to.”
“Don’t worry, Kenz, I can draw a sketch of his face,” said Cade. He was a talented artist, so that would help. “I don’t suppose Michael can give you Ricky’s address, can he?”
I shook my head. “All he remembers is that Ricky lives in Jacksonville with his mother, which could have changed by now.”
Cade tilted his head. “Is this why Blake went to see you? You asked for his help finding Ricky?” He looked … hurt by the idea.
“No. I lost my earring at his club. He returned it.”
Clear’s eyes lit up with intrigue. She was obsessed with matching me up with someone. “Are you talking about Blake Mercier, Dodger’s business partner? You’re dating him?”
I inwardly sighed. “No, I’m not dating him. Sherry can verify that he doesn’t like me.”
Sherry set down her cup. “To be honest, sweetie, I really don’t think the matter of whether he likes you would stop him from pursuing you if he was truly interested.”