I was almost to the corner of the building when, without any warning, the tiny hairs all over my body rose. The steady thump of footsteps behind me was close. My breath caught. Every instinct in my body fired off.
A second later I was grabbed from behind and shoved against the brick wall as a wet, warm hand folded around my throat.
Then Mack was right in my face.
“Say one word I don’t want you to say and you’ll regret it,” he threatened, and in the dim light, something shiny and sharp flashed in the corner of my right eye. “I’ll even out that face of yours.”
Even as anger rose, ice built in the pit of my stomach as I stared into his dark eyes. The hard set to his face and the sneer to his lips told me he wasn’t making idle threats. All I was able to get in was a shallow breath.
“You understand? Nod if you do.”
I didn’t want to nod, because I didn’t want to lose an eyeball, but I did as he ordered. I nodded.
His sneer spread into a tight, cold smile. “Good girl. Now I tried to get a message to you the night before, but that f**kwad had to get involved, and I’m not telling Isaiah that he’s f**ked, you get me?”
I so did not get him on the last part, but I nodded again, because I really didn’t want another scar. And I’d also thought that Reece, or one of his cop buddies, was going to pay Isaiah a visit and explain that I had nothing to do with my mom’s shenanigans. Either that hadn’t happened or it hadn’t mattered to Mack or Isaiah.
“Mona’s got a little under a week before Isaiah gets really impatient,” he went on, and the knife he held shifted. Air caught in my throat. “If she doesn’t show by next Thursday, it will be your problem. It’ll be the f**kwad’s problem, too.”
I was assuming that f**kwad was Jax. “I . . . I don’t know where she is.”
“That’s not my problem. And it ain’t Isaiah’s problem, either.” Mack moved, and the front of his body was pressed against mine, and there was a good chance I was going to vomit again. “It’s your problem. And don’t even think about pulling any shit and leaving town. We know where to find you and you really don’t want your friends back at that school to get pulled into this. You got that?”
My heart pounded in my chest as I nodded for the third time.
“You don’t want to get on the bad side of Isaiah. Or me. We don’t f**k around.” When he moved against me this time, I held whatever little breath I had in my lungs. There was no space between us, and it felt nothing like when Jax was that close. This made my skin crawl. “If she doesn’t show, we’ll send her a message. You don’t want to be a part of that message.”
I so did not want to be a part of the message.
His beady eyes traveled over my face, lingering on my left cheek. “You know, you’re not too f**ked-up looking. I could do you doggy-style. Turn you around. Fuck you from behind.”
My eyes widened, and now my skin felt like it wanted to jump off my bones and run far, far away. Acid churned in my stomach, fueled by panic and more than just a little bit of fury-tipped fear.
Mom brought this on, dragged this nasty piece of shit right to my doorstep.
His smirk turned even more vile. “Yeah, I think I have a good idea what message to send. Even better, it will send another message to the f**kwad inside.”
Oh God, this wasn’t good. I was pressing back against the wall, absolutely horrified by what he was implying in his threat. I knew what that message would entail.
My stomach hurled.
“And you better keep that mouth shut,” he added, pulling back. The knife disappeared for a second, and then I felt the tip under my chin, causing my fingers to dig into the wall behind me. “Get me?”
“Yes,” I whispered, not about to nod this time.
Mack laughed darkly, and then he was off me, walking across the parking lot all casual, like he hadn’t just threatened me with nasty things or held a knife to my throat. He got into an SUV and drove off.
Then I moved.
Knees weak, I put one foot in front of the other and went back into the bar in a daze. I walked right past the bar, and I thought I heard someone call my name, but I kept walking. I went into the office and sat on the first available place to sit. The leather made a funny sound as I dropped down on the couch. Hands shaking, I placed them against my clammy forehead, and forced myself to take several deep breaths.
This was so not good.
“Calla?” Roxy called from the door. Like an idiot, I hadn’t closed it. “Are you okay?”
I didn’t lift my head or say a word, because I was pretty sure if I did either I would literally lose my shit. All I did was shake my head, and I wasn’t sure if that was a good shake or a bad shake.
Roxy didn’t speak again, and I squeezed my eyes shut. What in the hell was I going to do now? I had no idea where my mom was or where to even start looking for her, and I had this horrible sinking feeling a message was going to get delivered, because I’d never been able to find my mom in the past when she disappeared, so now wouldn’t be any different.
Maybe I really should’ve left like Jax and Clyde had told me to do in the beginning.
“Calla?” This time it was Jax’s voice and he was closer than Roxy had been. I could tell he was right in front of me at head level with mine. He had to be kneeling, because the boy was Godzilla sized. “What’s going on?”
When I didn’t respond immediately, because I was trying to figure out what the hell I could say, I felt his hands circle my wrists and he gently pulled them back from my face. I was right. He was squatting in front of me, and his striking face was pinched with concern.
He moved onto his knees as he let go of one of my hands and cupped my right cheek. “Talk to me, honey. You’re really starting to worry me.”
That much was true. His eyes were darker than normal and his jaw was set in a hard line. Our eyes met, and I knew what I had to do.
I was so not keeping my mouth shut.
Keeping my mouth shut was absolutely the dumbest thing to do because I could not handle this mess on my own. I knew that. There was no way. “Mack was here. He was outside when I went out there. I guess he’d been waiting for me.”
Jax took a deep breath as his gaze sharpened and his shoulders hunched. “He approached you.”
“Yeah,” I said in a dry laugh.
His features hardened, telling me he did not think the laugh was funny. It wasn’t.
“He said that I needed to find my mom. That her being missing was my problem. And he said that if Mom didn’t show up by Thursday, it really was going to be my problem.” As I spoke, Jax’s face literally locked down. No emotion. Nothing. His expression was bland, but it was as cold as an arctic blast. “He said that I would become a message that they would send to Mom.”
There was a slight tremble in his hand and then Jax dropped it as he rose quickly. He took a step back. A muscle throbbed along his jaw.
“I don’t want to be a message,” I said, my voice small. “I really don’t want to be the kind of message he was talking about.”
He stared at me a moment and then understanding flickered across his face, and the whole atmosphere of the room changed. Tension poured like the rain had earlier. “I’m going to find that son of a bitch and f**king kill him.”
I stood, raising my hands. “Okay. I don’t think that would be the appropriate response.”
“He threatened you?” he shot back.
“Well, yeah, but . . .”
“He threatened with what I f**king think he did?” Although I didn’t confirm that, and it was a good thing I didn’t share that Mack thought it would also be a perfect message to send Jax, he still got it. “And he threatened you on my f**king ground?”
I wasn’t sure how this was his ground, but whatever. “Jax . . .”
“Did he touch you?” he asked, and I sucked in a breath.
I shook my head. “No. Not really.”
“Not really?” His voice was low, hitting a pitch that was beyond calm.
Nick was suddenly in the doorway. “Is everything okay?”
“Not now,” Jax spit those two words out in a way that would’ve sent me running in the opposite direction, but Nick stayed, his gaze bouncing between us, obviously reading that something was going down. “Calla.”
Maybe telling Jax wasn’t a good idea. I probably should’ve just gone straight to the police, because he was looking like he wanted to give some good old-fashioned redneck justice. I swallowed hard. “Mack had a knife.”
“Shit,” muttered Nick.
Jax stiffened, like his back went ramrod straight. “Did he hurt you?”
“No,” I whispered. “All he did was threaten me. He said he was . . .” I glanced at Nick, but he was like Jax, alert and ready. I lowered my voice. “He said he would even out my face if I screamed.”
There was a moment of silence and then Jax absolutely exploded. Like a bottle rocket. “Son of a bitch!” he shouted, and I jumped a good couple of inches off the floor. “I am gonna kill that motherfucker.”
“Jax, jail time really isn’t what you have in your four-year plan,” Nick said, and dumbly I wondered if Jax really had a four-year plan, and I’d also stupidly realized this was the most I’d ever heard Nick speak at one time. “You knew this was bound to happen.”
My gaze swung sharply to Nick, and they did know. Clyde had warned me. Jax had warned me. They’d said that Mom had been messed up in some bad shit, and they had said that shit would spread to me. They hadn’t been kidding around, but I hadn’t really thought it was this bad; even with the heroin, I hadn’t realized it was like this. I’d been more concerned with getting my own money back and being pissed off at Mom and feeling bad for myself.
I should’ve gone back to Shepherd. I should’ve called Teresa and asked if I could crash at her place. I should’ve gotten the hell out of Dodge.
Should’ve. Could’ve. Would’ve.
Truth was, though, even if I had known from the beginning that it was seriously this bad, I wasn’t sure I would’ve left knowing what Mom was messed up in. I probably would’ve tried to find her the first day here if I’d realized it was this bad. Find her, steal money, and send her on a one-way ticket to anywhere but here.
Jax twisted, thrusting a hand through his hair. “Knowing it was going to happen and seeing it go down are two different f**king things, Nick.”
“I know,” he replied quietly, way quietly.
I folded my arms around my stomach, shivering again. For the most part, I thought I was handling this pretty well. I wanted to clap myself on the back, but when I spoke, I heard the tremor in my own voice. “What am I going to do? I have no idea where Mom is and he said if I tried to leave, they knew where to find me. I’m going to end up as a real messed-up—”
Jax was suddenly right in front of me, cupping both sides of my face. His thumb touched my scar, but the look on his face was scarier than anything I’d ever seen in my whole twenty-one years of life, and I’d seen a lot of scary stuff.
“You’re not going to be a message. You aren’t going to be shit to any of them. You feel me? No one is touching you,” he said, and he said it right in front of Nick. He touched me right in front of Nick, touched my scar. “We’re going to take care of this and none of this shit is going to rub off on you. Okay?”
I believed him.
Wow. I really believed him.
“Okay,” I whispered.
Jax dipped his head, brushing his lips across my forehead, and he did that right in front of Nick, too. And that pulled at something in my chest, really tugged at it. Then he turned to Nick, and as he did it, he slipped an arm around my shoulders, dragging me against him. I hesitated for a second, but then I went. I leaned into him, because at this moment, I thought I really needed to lean into someone.