My Three F’s plan really wasn’t much of a plan.
I blinked slowly, finding Jax watching me curiously from the kitchen. “Yeah, just a lot on my mind.”
“Understandable.” Jax moved to where I stood just inside the dining area. Well, he didn’t move. He stalked forward with the grace of a dancer. Stopping just short of being seriously on me, he placed both his hands on either side of my neck and tilted my head back with his thumbs under my chin. “Everything is going to be okay.”
My heart did a little pitter-patter, and for the life of me, I couldn’t prevent it. I wanted to ask why he was getting this far involved, but words like “I like you” and other stuff he’d said came to the forefront of my mind. And he’d kissed my forehead in front of Nick.
He dipped his head and brushed his lips across my forehead. “Want something to drink? I have soda. Water. Apple juice.”
I didn’t realize that my eyes were closed until I heard his deep chuckle and I opened my eyes. “Water,” I said, clearing my throat. “That’s good.”
One side of his lips tipped up. “Yeah, I’m really looking forward to that date on Sunday.”
What the what? If I recalled correctly, I hadn’t agreed to the date. He let go, his hands sliding off my neck, leaving a trail of shivers in their wake.
Goodness, he’d just kissed my forehead again.
I didn’t know what to do with this or how to respond. My hands were shaking again, but for very different reasons. I hurried into the living room and sat on the couch. I didn’t feel twenty-one right then. Fourteen would’ve been pushing it.
“Actually,” I called out, twisting around. I couldn’t see where he had disappeared to in the kitchen. “Can I have apple juice?”
Another deep, sexy chuckle traveled to where I sat. “Sure thing.”
I bit down on my lip and flipped around. Jax came out, holding a juice box with the straw poked through the top. My gaze shifted from his face to the box and back to his face. I couldn’t help it. A laugh crawled up my throat and burst free. Here he was, this gorgeous guy who had this sexy, rough side to him, and he had juice boxes in his house.
My lips curved up as I took the juice box. “Thank you.”
Jax stared down at me. There was no one-sided grin this time. He smiled, and boy, he gave a great smile. It reached his eyes, turning them into melted chocolate. “You have a great laugh,” he said. “And a gorgeous smile. You should do it more often. Both things. Smile and laugh.”
The juice box almost slipped from my fingers. Again, he struck me speechless. I had no idea what to say, and the only thing I could come up with was “Thank you.”
Did I just thank him for that?
My mouth was still blabbering on, because I zoomed right into deflection mode. “But you really do have a beautiful smile. I mean, it’s actually kind of breathtaking, and your laugh? It’s wow. I think it’s your lips—you have great lips . . .”
Did I just say that out loud, seriously? Said he had great lips?
Jax’s smile seemed to have widened, and hell, it was like the only star in the sky it was so bright.
Yep, I’d said that out loud.
Oh my God, I was an idiot.
Luckily, the doorbell rang, saving me from saying more stupid stuff. He reached out, swiping his thumb under my lower lip, absolutely stunning me. Then he turned and headed to the door.
I sucked a huge gulp of my apple juice and had barely recovered by the time Reece stepped inside the house and Jax closed the door.
Reece was in his uniform, and I was so used to seeing him in jeans, I gaped at him with the straw from my juice box resting against my lower lip. Somehow his shoulders looked broader in the dark blue uniform that had been tailored to the extreme, displaying the flat stomach, narrow hips, and strong legs.
“Hey, Calla,” Reece said with a grin.
I snapped my mouth shut. “Hi,” I murmured, taking another slurp.
Reece’s grin went up a notch as he looked to Jax. “Sorry it took so long. I switched out the cruiser and drove my personal car here just in case there were eyes on the road.”
I shuddered at the idea that there could be people watching the bar, the roads, and even Jax’s house.
“Good plan,” Jax said, sitting down beside me on the couch. And he really sat beside me. His entire thigh was pressed against mine. “But what I want to know is how come one of Isaiah’s f**king minions is out running around threatening Calla when you were supposed to warn the f**kers off.”
Reece narrowed his eyes on Jax, and he was no longer some random hot guy who hung out at the bar or just some hot cop dude. His whole stance changed. Shoulders squared, eyes sharpening, and legs spreading as he stood in front of the recliner. “We haven’t been able to track the ass**le down. It’s not like he’s easy to reach, but we will get to him.”
“Make it easy,” Jax said in a low voice.
“Jax,” Reece warned.
“Your job is to serve and protect, right?” Jax fired back, jaw hardening. “So f**king serve and protect.”
For a tense moment, I thought they were going to throw down in the living room, but then Reece took a deep breath. “You’re lucky you saved my ass in the desert or I’d be knocking you on yours.”
Jax had saved his ass? I wanted to know more about that.
He smirked at his friend. “You’d try. Key word being try.”
That comment was ignored as Reece sat on the arm of the recliner, his attention on me, and I knew I wasn’t going to find out about saving asses. “I need you tell me everything, Calla.”
I glanced at Jax for some unknown dumb reason, and when he nodded, I sucked up more apple juice, found the box empty, and sighed. So I told Reece everything—starting with the money Mom had stolen from me, the real reason I was here, and why I was working at the bar. While I’d told him that, Reece had sent Jax an odd look I couldn’t figure out, but his attention centered on me when I told him about Greasy Guy, the her**n, and then what Mack had said to me outside the bar.
“Shit,” Reece grunted when I was finished, and I figured that summed everything up quite nicely. “This is definitely some shit you’ve waded right into. It doesn’t take a leap of logic to figure out that that he**in at the house wasn’t your mom’s. There’s a good chance she was holding it for someone, and when you look at that kind of amount, then it was probably Isaiah’s. And God only knows what kind of shit he has on your mom that she’d willingly hold that kind of dope. That’s a huge f**king liability to be responsible for.”
By the way my heart was beating, I didn’t like how any of this sounded. “Who is this Isaiah?”
“He runs drugs, lots of drugs, among other illegal activity. The thing is, when you see Isaiah, which will be next to never, he doesn’t look like a damn dealer. He comes across as a businessman.” Jax’s lip was curled in disgust. “I think the last time I saw him, he was wearing f**king Armani.”
“He has legit business dealings and he’s pretty damn powerful,” Reece added, and I really didn’t like what I was hearing. “He’s got eyes and ears everywhere, and a shit ton of people in his pocket, even cops. He’s the real deal when it comes to people you don’t want to f**k with. Your mom and the shitheads she runs with aren’t people he typically deals with. How she’s involved with him is beyond me.”
“Not like that matters now,” Jax said. “Mona is messed up with Isaiah and owes him money or, knowing our luck, a ton of her**n.” Jax leaned against the cushion, dropping his arm along the back of the couch. His hand landed on my opposite shoulder, causing me to jump. “And that has spread to Calla.”
“Got it,” Reece clipped.
As I sat there and listened to the boys, I thought about the last night I’d hung out with my friends back at Shepherd—Cam and Avery, Jase and Teresa, Brit and Ollie, and even Brandon and what’s her name. We’d talked about school, going to the beach, and traveling the world. Not he**in and a drug lord who probably had a lot of experience giving people a cement swim.
“If you know he runs drugs, how is he not in jail?” I asked.
Both guys stared at me, and then Jax murmured, “Cute. She’s cute.”
I shot him a look that said go jump off a bridge.
“When I said Isaiah is powerful, I wasn’t kidding around. The cops that aren’t in his pocket have tried to take his ass down. Even the feds are on his ass, but evidence . . . well, it just doesn’t seem to stick,” Reece explained carefully, and I had this feeling there was a lot that he wasn’t saying. “There’s a world out there that doesn’t operate by right and wrong and all we can do is try to minimalize collateral damage.”
Collateral damage. Wow. It was then, in that moment as I stared at my fingers, I realized I was collateral damage. And the world out there, that little bit of it that I had a taste of growing up, was much bigger and much worse than I ever knew.
“We need to find my mom,” I said, looking up. “I have no idea where she could be, but maybe Clyde knows. Or maybe I can try talking to Isaiah, explaining my—”
“You are not getting anywhere near Isaiah,” Jax said, his hand tightening on my shoulder. “And there are some places where we can check for your mom, but they’re shit holes you aren’t getting near, either.”
“Excuse me?” I twisted toward him as I jerked forward, but his hand remained. “The last I checked, you aren’t the boss of me, buddy.” Yeah, that wasn’t a very clever response, but whatever. “This is my problem.”
“It’s my problem.” His eyes locked with mine.
A shiver coursed down my spine. “It’s not your problem.”
“The hell it isn’t.”
My hand squeezed the juice box, crushing the cardboard. “Mona might be your boss, but she’s my mom. It’s my problem.”
“Boss?” Reece muttered.
Jax leaned forward, his face getting right up in mine. “It’s my problem, because it’s your problem.”
“That makes no sense!” Frustration pecked at my skin, mixing with confusion. “You barely know me, Jax. You have no reason to get involved in this.”
“Oh, here we go again, with the ‘barely know you’ crap. I don’t need to be your best friend forever, honey, to get involved,” he shot back, eyes the darkest brown I’d ever seen. “The truth is, I have known you for a while now. You just didn’t know me.”
I blinked, sort of startled by that, but I recovered quickly. “Just because you know Clyde and my mom doesn’t mean you know me or can tell me what I can or cannot do.”
Reece sighed. “Kids . . .”
He was ignored. Again. “Oh, it’s just not that. I’ve slept with you. That makes you my problem.”
“Whoa,” murmured Reece.
My mouth dropped open. “You have not slept with me!”
“Oh, we did sleep together.” His lips kicked up on one side. “And I know damn well you haven’t forgotten that.”
Oh my God.
“Or waking up with me,” he added, his eyes warming. “Yeah, that.”
Oh my good God. I whipped toward Reece. “He doesn’t mean what you think he means.”
Reece held up his hands as if he was saying don’t bring me into this.
I whipped right back to Jax, who was grinning smugly, but before I could say a word, and I had no idea what to say after all that, he clapped his hand around the back of my neck, his fingers threading through my hair.
“It’s our problem,” he said, voice low. “Okay? You want to find your mom, I’ll help and I’ll be right beside you, but you aren’t doing this alone.”
I opened my mouth to argue that I didn’t need his help. I’d spent most of my life not needing help, but Reece cut in before I could go further. “You did good, Calla, telling Jax what’s going on. So many people out there think they can handle shit alone, when in reality, a first grader knows they need help. Continue being smart about this. While some of the people around here are mainly harmless, this whole situation is treading into dangerous territory. Be smart. Be safe.”
Those words somehow made it through the haze of irritation. Be smart. Be safe. In other words, don’t be dumb. And it was one thing being dumb when it came to Jax, but another when it came to getting myself hurt or worse.
So I nodded.
Jax gently squeezed the back of my neck and then dropped his hand. “That’s a good girl.”
I rolled my eyes.
“I’ll get some of the boys looking for Mona, too, and we’ll step up getting in contact with Isaiah. Meanwhile, I’d suggest staying close to Jax or Clyde.” Reece took a breath. “And I want to talk to Mack.”