He was weird.
But there was a mushiness in my chest.
“I told you that you were safe with me.” His hand glided to my hip and squeezed tentatively. “That hasn’t changed, Calla.”
I exhaled slowly. He had said that and I did trust him. Time to pull the big girl panties on. I was staying here, sleeping in the same bed, but I wasn’t ha**ng s*x with him.
“You’re staying,” he said.
I sighed. “I’m staying.”
“And you’re not sleeping on the couch. Neither am I.”
My heart did a handspring this time, and I sighed once more and nodded again.
When Jax left the bedroom, I all but ran into the bathroom and closed the door behind me. Like the rest of his townhome, it was clean and neat. Blue bath rugs on the floor matched a blue shower curtain. No other decorations. Not looking in the wide and long mirror, I quickly undressed. I had to take the bra off. I couldn’t sleep in one, and I wasn’t sure if it had to do with the scars or that it was just uncomfortable as hell. But Jax had been right, the shirt was so big and long that it went to my mid-thighs and wasn’t tight. Plus I’d put the tank top back on under the borrowed shirt and it gave me extra layers.
My undies were cute—hot pink hipsters with a tiny bow in the center—but that didn’t matter, because there was no way in hell he was seeing my undies, so thinking about them or the tiny bow was dumb.
I washed off my eye makeup and grabbed one of the toothbrushes, and tried not to think about why he had so many unopened toothbrushes in his bathroom.
Once I was back in the bedroom, I darted across the room, turned off the light, and then whipped back the covers on the side farthest from the door, and I climbed in. Rolling onto my side, I stared at the closed closet doors for a good twenty or so minutes, suddenly no longer tired.
The bed smelled nice. It smelled like him, actually, a mixture of his cologne and some kind of soap. I inhaled and then almost choked. Was I seriously sniffing his bed? That felt like an all-new low.
Then I heard him coming up the stairs.
It took everything in me not to roll around flailing and acting like a general idiot and to stay still. I ended up pressing my lips together and squeezing my hands tight as his footsteps hit the bedroom. I heard him walk to the dresser, and then the next sounds made me wish I’d taken a deeper breath before holding it.
A zipper was pulled down, the tinny sound stretching my nerves.
Pants hit the floor.
I dipped my chin, and even though the room was dark and all I could see was his shadowy form, I strained to see more. Might make me a perv, but oh well. He was pulling something on—bottoms, but he didn’t appear to have a shirt on as he turned back to the bed.
I’d give an ovary to see those abs in the bright light.
The bed dipped under his weight and there was a slight tug when he pulled the covers up. He shifted around, and although he wasn’t close to me, I could feel his warmth. He didn’t say anything, and I thought of what he’d say earlier, about him knowing me longer than I knew him. That didn’t make sense because he’d been surprised when he’d realized Mona was my mom.
I didn’t want to think about that or anything, but my mind wondered and raced, refusing to shut down. And even though I was normally comfortable on my side, I suddenly wanted to lie on my back, but I didn’t want to move, because I should just go to sleep. I wiggled my hips, hoping to get comfortable and hoping he’d fall right asleep. The first night he had slept in the other bed he’d fallen asleep pretty quickly.
I squeezed my eyes shut and held my breath.
“I know you’re awake.”
Dang it. “I’m sleeping.”
Jax chuckled deeply. “Amazing how you can respond while sleeping.”
There was another toe-curling laugh. “You’re not tired now, are you?”
“Yes,” I lied. “I’m exhausted.”
“Is that the reason why you’ve been squirming around since I got into bed?”
I pried my eyes open with a big, dramatic sigh. “You’re not tired?”
“Not anymore,” he replied, and oh wow, his voice did that deep thing that made my lips part. “You doing okay with everything?”
Aw damn, now the mushiness was back in my chest. That was sweet of him to ask. God, he was so nice, and I wasn’t even drinking tequila, and I wanted to tell him. “Yes. And no. I mean, it could be worse.”
“Yeah, I guess so.” The bed did a little jiggle, and I could tell he was closer. I could feel his warmth under the covers. “I know of a couple of places where your mom might be. We can check them out tomorrow before we head to the bar.”
I nodded. “That . . . that would be good.”
“And Reece will make sure Mack isn’t around in a week. You don’t have to worry about him.”
“But I have to worry about Isaiah?” I asked in a quiet voice.
The bed moved again as Jax rose onto his elbow. He was close, not touching me—shirtless—and I could feel his eyes on me, even in the dark. “We should find your mom.”
I got my answer without the question even being answered. My lips were back to being pressed together, and there was this lump in the base of my throat. Mom . . . what had she gotten herself into? Needing to focus on something else, I thought back to when Reece was here. “You saved Reece’s life?”
Several seconds passed, and then Jax settled behind me, closer yet again. I could almost feel his legs behind mine. “It’s not really bedtime material.”
I figured that. “I want to know.”
“Do you really?”
Asking myself that same question, I realized that I really did want to know—to know more about him. “Yes.”
There was one more pause. “We were in Afghanistan together, a part of a scouting group. There were at least twenty of us and we’d done it so many times it was like habit. All of us were on point, but we weren’t worried, but that’s the thing about habits. They can break you, too.”
I bit down on my lower lip, unable to imagine the kind of world he’d seen.
“We were outside a small village—a village that looked like any number of them we scouted in the past, but it was different. Turned out to be heavily armed, and not all of them were a part of the cause. There was a roadside bomb.”
I flinched. Oh my God, a bomb? You didn’t live in America for the last decade or so and not be familiar with the destruction a roadside bomb, even the small ones, could wreak.
“It was an ambush,” he added quietly, almost like an afterthought. “These things happen a lot. One minute everything is going smoothly, and then the next, the whole world is blowing up. Our group was scattered. Reece took a shot to the gut. I got him out of there.”
The next breath I took felt funny. “You got him out of there?”
And that was all he said about that, but I knew there had to be more. It wasn’t as simple as getting someone out of there when bombs were going off and people were shooting at you. “Was . . . was that something that kept you awake at night?”
He didn’t answer for a long moment. “Some nights . . . I dreamed that I didn’t get to Reece in time. Then other nights, I saw the things that went down that day. Crazy how the brain holds on to those kinds of images.”
My chest started to ache. “And whiskey helped with that?”
“Sometimes,” he murmured. “It sort of dulled everything—dulled the detail.”
I wanted to ask more, but then he asked a question that caught me off guard.
“Did you like doing the whole beauty queen thing?”
My eyes went wide. “I . . .” I didn’t want to answer the question because I didn’t like to even think about it, but I doubted Jax liked to talk about people shooting at him and bombs, so I owed him. “I liked it sometimes.”
Okay. That wasn’t a lot, but that was something.
“Sometimes?” he prodded gently.
I sucked my bottom lip between my teeth and then closed my eyes. “Sometimes it was fun. I was a little girl and I liked dressing up. I felt like a fairy princess.” I coughed out a dry laugh. “So it was like playing dress-up every week and it made . . . it made my mom happy when I had my hair done and all the makeup on and I was onstage. And it made her really happy when I’d win, especially the big titles.”
“What kind of titles?” he asked into darkness.
“Grand Supreme is one.” I had to open my eyes, because I could see myself on the stage, turning and blowing kisses and folding my hands under my chin. “When Mom was happy it was like she loved me. I know she loved me, but it was like she really loved me then.” I wiggled my h*ps again, trying to find a spot without flopping onto my back. “But there were times when I wanted to be . . . I don’t know, just be a kid. I wanted to play, but I had to practice walking, or I wanted to hang out with my dad, but he didn’t like going to those things, and sometimes I wanted to spend time with . . .” I trailed off, closing my mouth.
Sometimes I wanted to be at home, spending time chasing after Kevin. He was older than me—the big brother—and when I was home, I was his shadow. And I also liked being with Tommy, because he was so small and so cute, like a real baby doll I’d played with.
But I didn’t say that, because it had been years since I’d spoken their names out loud, and it had been years since someone else said their names, up until Clyde had over the weekend.
“It was okay,” I said, hurrying on. “It’s not something I think I’d ever do if I had a child.”
“Me neither. I think it causes little girls to focus on the wrong thing—everything being about looks. So that’s something we agree on.”
“Yeah,” I whispered, feeling my belly tighten. It was different lying in bed with Jax and talking about what we agreed on when it came to child rearing.
“What was something you liked doing as a kid that didn’t involve the beauty queen shit?” he asked.
My heart squeezed because I couldn’t answer truthfully. My favorite thing had been hanging with Kevin. I went with the next-best thing. “Playing basketball.”
“Basketball?” The surprise was evident in his voice.
“Yeah, what about you?”
There was no hesitation. None whatsoever. “Pretending like my little sister got on my every damn nerve when in reality I loved when she followed me around, because with her, we were always getting into something.”
My breath caught, and I didn’t know what to be more affected by—the fact that he had a sister or the fact that his relationship with his sister sounded a lot like Kevin and my relationship or what it could’ve been. “You have a sister?” I asked after a few moments.
A heaviness settled in my chest and not that good kind. “Had?”
“Had,” he repeated.
Oh no. I squeezed my eyes. “She’s not with . . . us anymore?”
I rolled onto my back. I didn’t even stop to think about it, and when I turned my head, Jax’s face was inches from mine. “What happened?”
His gaze was on mine. “When she was sixteen, she was in a car accident with her boyfriend. He was speeding and the truck he was driving rolled over. He was killed in the accident and my sis . . . well, she broke her leg and collarbone. So she was in a lot of pain after the accident and not just physical.”
Oh, I had a bad feeling to where this was heading.
A small, sad smile appeared on his full lips. “Jena . . . she was such a cool kid, had bigger balls than most guys I knew. Would ski and BASE jump and skydive, and was constantly giving our parents heart attacks, but after the accident, she changed.”