“Not like that matters now,” Jax said. “Mona is messed up with Isaiah and owes him money or, knowing our luck, a ton of heroin.” 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.”
I stiffened. “You can’t do that.”
“I didn’t say I was going to talk to Mack about you. I don’t like the fact that he’s threatened you, but I’m also going to be smart about it.”
“It can’t bounce back on her,” Jax said.
“It won’t.” Reece smiled tightly. “Trust me, Mack will do something within twenty-four hours that will warrant a visit from me. I can force his attention elsewhere, at least for the time being.”
“Sounds like a plan,” Jax stated.
None of this really sounded like a great plan to me, but what did I know? Reece got up to leave, saying he’d be in touch, and Jax walked outside with him. I slumped back against the couch and was in the middle of an obnoxious yawn when Jax returned.
“Is everything okay? I mean, when you went outside with Reece?”
“Yeah. He actually was talking about something unrelated to this. One of our buddies is getting married. I’m one of the groomsmen.”
“Aw, that’s nice. Is he one of the guys that come into the bar?”
He nodded. “It’s Dennis. He was making sure I could do the bachelor party since it’ll be on the weekday.” He watched me for a moment. “Tired?”
I really was. The tequila from last night and the events of today had caught up with me. I wanted to close my eyes and forget for a little while. I nodded as I pushed myself onto my feet, figuring it was time for Jax to take me back to the house.
“So am I,” he replied.
Instead of grabbing the keys he’d dropped off on the counter, he toed off his boots. I didn’t understand what he was doing since I didn’t think he’d drive barefoot. “Aren’t you going to take me to the house?”
The socks came off next, and he dropped them near the boots. “I’ve been staying with you. So has Clyde. That’s definitely not changing now.”
I was sort of glad that one of them was staying with me now.
“It’s late. There’s no reason for us to drive back out,” he continued. “You can stay here.”
My heart did a backflip. I’d never stayed over at a guy’s house before. “I don’t think I should stay here.”
“You can have another juice box.”
I glanced at the front door as my insides knotted up and my hands started to get a wee bit clammy. “I don’t want any more apple juice.”
“I have fruit punch, too. Not the generic shit. Capri Sun.”
He had a variety of juice boxes? I shook my head. That wasn’t important. It was most definitely cute, but not important. “I don’t have a change of clothing.”
Jax grinned as he rounded the couch and neared me. Every muscle in my body tensed. “I’m sure I have something you can wear. And I also have unopened toothbrushes. You’re covered.”
“Calla, it’s no different than me staying at your place.”
But it was. My pulse kicked up as I searched for a logical reason that didn’t involve me being dumb, but there really wasn’t a valid one I could come up with. “Okay,” I breathed.
That damn grin was back and now my stomach was doing cartwheels. “I’ll . . . I’ll sleep on the couch.”
“Then you’re sleeping on the couch?” I asked, hopeful.
He laughed. “Hell no, that thing isn’t comfortable. No one I even remotely like sleeps on that couch.”
Oh dear. “Do you have another bed?”
“Only one, but it’s big.” He reached between us, taking my hand, and I cringed, because I seriously hoped my hand wasn’t sweaty. “King-sized. There’s room for both of us and a Saint Bernard.”
“You have a Saint Bernard?”
He chuckled. “No.”
That was a stupid question. “I don’t think it’s good that we sleep together. I mean, that’s like really . . . I don’t know, just not a good idea.”
One eyebrow rose. “The best things in life are rarely good ideas.”
My lips twitched, but I pressed them together. How did I respond to that? Jax then tugged on my hand as he turned, heading for the stairs, and I trailed after him silently, my heart racing in my chest. I didn’t put up much of a protest as he led me up the stairs, because I was too busy freaking out.
There was a hallway bathroom and two bedrooms. Both doors were open. One room had been converted into an office/workout room. Dumbbells lined the wall, stacked neatly near a bench. But we didn’t go in there. He led me straight into the other bedroom and flipped on a light.
I was having trouble breathing.
Jax didn’t seem to notice as he walked around the huge bed and started to root around in a dark oak dresser. I stood perfectly still.
I was in Jax’s bedroom.
In the middle of the night.
Muscles flexed and rolled under the shirt he wore as he straightened, and I wished I was normal. Not like that wish was the first time, and I’d wished for that for a ton of reasons, but if I was normal, I would be standing here excited instead of scared and full of hopelessness. I’d be eager and not tasting the bitter tang of dread. I’d be worrying about what kind of undies I’d put on that morning instead of thinking about the scars.
I’d just be a girl standing in the bedroom of a guy she liked. And dear God, I did like Jax. Yeah, I hadn’t known him long, but what I did know about him, I liked.
“This shirt will probably double as a nightgown on you.” He walked it over, handing it to me as I stared up at him. “That door over there leads to a bathroom. There’s fresh toothbrushes in the drawer under the sink.”
I still stared up at him.
“I’m going to make sure everything is locked up. Okay?”
Holding the borrowed clothing to my chest, I didn’t say anything or move as Jax stepped around me. He stopped, placing a hand on the small of my back and leaned in, speaking into my ear. His warm breath there felt good. “Remember what I told you?”
He’d told me a lot of things.
“I figured you haven’t spent the night at many guys’ houses before.”
My nose wrinkled. Was it that obvious? Ack.
“I like that about you,” he continued, and I thought that was a weird thing to like. “It’s cute.”