“That had to be rough, but isn’t it time to stop beating yourself up about it? At least you had enough sense to get out.”
The compassion, the offer of understanding in his voice almost overwhelmed Joely. She wondered if he’d be as sympathetic if he knew she had left her precious little boy with her alcoholic husband while she worked. And it took four years and a serious injury before she clued in to the fact her toddler didn’t get all his bruises from being overactive and clumsy.
No, Cole had it wrong; she didn’t have a whole lot of sense when she was younger.
He pushed his coffee cup aside and leaned forward in his chair to stare sharply at her. She realized he must be very good at his investigative work. Those dark penetrating eyes would intimidate anyone into telling the truth when they flashed as fiercely as they were right now.
“You’re upset. I didn’t mean to do that,” he apologized. “I wanted to make you feel better.”
“Oh no, hey, I’m not upset with you. I actually appreciate your effort. I can’t remember the last time I had a conversation with a man who cared how I felt about myself. Men are usually much more concerned about how I feel about them.”
“You already told me you didn’t like me.” He smiled brilliantly, his eyes crinkling. “Whaddaya say to giving me a chance to change your mind?”
For just a moment, Joely saw beneath the laughing, self-confident grin to the flicker of loneliness in his eyes. He was new to the area, she remembered. He probably didn’t know many people, and here she was monopolizing the conversation. She ignored his question and posed one of her own.
“Why did you choose law enforcement for your career?”
His gaze unexpectedly turned cold. His features revealed no emotion, nothing to indicate why he suddenly shut down. The pause grew a little too long, giving Joely the impression he preferred not to answer.
“I take a lot of satisfaction out of my job, especially working with the kids,” he eventually replied, his voice back to that aggravatingly polite, neutral tone. “But it wasn’t a matter of choice so much as of doing what was expected.”
“Your parents said you had to become a cop?” Joely wanted to keep her mouth shut and let him do the talking, but stunned disbelief made her blurt it out before she could stop herself.
Cole smiled tightly. “My grandfather was a cop, same with my father. As far as they were concerned, there was no other suitable job for a Dennison, and they presumed I’d follow their lead. My mom didn’t get a say; she died when I was five.”
Joely let out an involuntary gasp of sympathy. “Oh, I’m sorry. How sad for you to grow up without a mother.” Not having a father had left a gaping hole in her childhood and even though her mom would’ve never won mother-of-the-year, she’d always given freely of her hugs and kisses. She was important to Joely, and Joely couldn’t imagine growing up without her.
Cole lifted a shoulder casually. “I survived. You don’t miss what you never really had.”
“Yes, you do,” she replied fiercely. “You miss it and you want it terribly. At least I did. I wanted a father more than I wanted anything else. It was the defining reality of my childhood. How can you say you didn’t miss your mother?”
Something hard and acrid flashed in his eyes, and he didn’t acknowledge her words. He pushed out of his chair abruptly. “We should get back to the detachment. Your son’s waited long enough.”