Jax had called Reece the moment we got in his truck and got the hell out of there. We ended up filing a police report with a cop I’d never seen before, an older gentleman with dark skin and tired eyes, but a warm smile. His name was Detective Dornell Jackson, and he seemed to know what was going on, because he asked a lot of questions that had to do with my mom and Mack and even Isaiah. Then we’d met up with Reece, and Jax had filled him in. Reece did not look happy, especially when we got to Jax’s house and both guys noticed a few tiny—and by tiny, I mean harmless—scratches along my upper arm.
This discovery resulted in me being dragged into the half bath downstairs, peroxide being whipped out, and cotton balls being dabbed along my arm like there was a chance they’d get infected and my arm would fall off.
It was assumed that someone had been watching Ritchey’s place, most likely for Mona, and that’s how we ended up almost getting run down, but it didn’t explain why. If I was potentially vital in handing over my mom or luring her out, why try to turn Jax or me into roadkill?
No one had an answer for that.
Before the start of my shift, Jax had taken me back to the house so I could get ready. Instead of leaving, he hung out until it was time. At some point, he’d made the universal decision that I was riding with him to and from work.
“I don’t think that’s necessary,” I told him.
Jax dropped down on the couch, brows raised. “I want you safe, Calla. And obviously shit is going down. So you’re going to stay safe. Besides that, we literally work the same damn shift. You can save gas money.”
I really couldn’t argue with that.
“Pack up some clothes, too, you’re staying with me tonight,” he went on, and my mouth opened. “Calla, it goes back to keeping you safe. My place is better. No offense, but I have more than oodles and noodles in the cabinet and I have cable TV.”
Okay. Real food and cable TV were a bonus. “That’s a lot, Jax. I mean, staying with you is—”
“Good,” he cut in, grinning. “Fun. Better than staying in this house?”
I pressed my lips together as my eyes narrowed.
He leaned forward, resting his hands on his thighs as he sighed. “Calla, I just want to make sure you’re safe while we deal with this crap, and, honey, you know this house isn’t safe. No one is going to barge into my house, but this place? Anything goes.”
Hesitating at the doorway to the bedroom, I had to acknowledge that he had a point and he was right. This house wasn’t on the up-and-up. I would be safer at his place, but it was his place, and staying at his place meant something, and . . .
It did mean something. That was the third duh of the day. Jax wanted me at his place because it did mean something to him, to us—to our thing.
“I see it sinking in,” Jax remarked smugly.
I whipped around. “Shut up.”
He laughed as I all but pranced into the room. After changing into a pair of dark denim jeans that were on the tight side of things, I slipped on a pair of cute flats, a standard black tank top, and a loose thin shirt that had a tendency to slip off one shoulder, but didn’t expose my back. When I took my hair down, it had dried in waves from being in the bun, and then I reached for my purple makeup case.
My gaze darted to the mirror. I’d washed my face before I changed and it was all kinds of fresh and clean. I felt light, like I always did without the makeup slathered on.
Pressing my lips together, I glanced down at the tube of foundation. I’d gone all morning and most of the afternoon without a lick of makeup on, and no one, not even small, easily frightened children, had run screaming for the hills. No one had really stared. And I honestly didn’t really think about it. Meeting Ritchey and almost being run over might have something to do with that, but still.
My stomach jumped a little.
Most people wouldn’t understand, but it was a big deal for me to put that tube back in the pouch without putting it on. The makeup was like a shield and it was literally a mask.
There was a knot in my throat and my fingers trembled slightly as I picked up the other foundation I wore—some kind of BB cream that gave the face a dewy complexion but really didn’t do much for coverage. I put that on, smoothing it over the slightly raised scar. I had to blink a couple of times before I did my eyes, giving them a smoky, working the bar appropriate look. I put some lip gloss on and then I was done.
I backed away from the mirror slowly.
Taking a deep breath, I left the bathroom and grabbed my bag from the bed. When I entered the living room, Jax looked up, and then he sat forward, his head cocking to the side. His eyes hooded, his gaze turning lazy as it drifted over my face.
And my heart flipped, not a little, but a lot.
Word about killer SUVs on the warpath and Mack Attacks traveled at the speed of a rocket.
Clyde had grabbed me the moment I’d walked into the kitchen to say hi and had given me one of his giant bear hugs. “Baby girl, Jax told me you guys were going to go out and look for your momma, but I don’t like this.”
I didn’t like it, either, but Thursday wasn’t too far away and we needed to find Mom. “It could’ve been a coincidence,” I said into his massive chest.
“There ain’t no such thing as coincidences.” He squeezed me again, and if I were a toy, I would’ve squeaked. “I don’t want you in danger.”
The thing was, I had a feeling I was in danger even if I wasn’t out there looking for Mom, but I didn’t say that. “I’ll be okay. I promise.”
Clyde pulled back and scrubbed a hand over his head. “Baby girl, I’m happy to see you around and to see you smiling again . . .”
I was smiling again? When had I stopped smiling? Well, when I’d lived here before there hadn’t been a lot to smile about.
“But if being safer means heading back down to the school, then I’d rather see you safe.”
“I can’t go back now,” I told him, and I smiled for him. “You know that.” But I left out Mack’s threat of them finding me if I left. “It’s going to be okay.”
Concern pinched his face and I knew he didn’t believe that as he turned, picked up the spatula with one hand, and rubbed his chest with the other. I lingered at the double doors, wishing I could do something to ease his worry, but the only thing I could do was stay safe.
Back out on the floor, there was only a slight reprieve from random acts of concern. As soon as Nick came in for his shift, he offered to chauffeur me around, which surprised the hell out of me, but that offer was quickly pooh-poohed by one single look from Jax. But if Jax wasn’t out on the floor while we worked, I noticed Nick was never too far.
I didn’t know what to think about that. I barely knew Nick, but it was sweet and a bit disarming.
Roxy was concerned and offered up her apartment as a place to crash, but that was also shot down when Jax announced that I was “crashing” at his place, before he disappeared into the stockroom.
“You’re staying with Jax?” she asked as we stood in the narrow hall. “Like staying at his place?”
“I guess so—for tonight.” I paused, frowning. “And last night, too.”
Her eyes got huge behind her glasses. “You stayed the night with him last night? And he took your drinking cherry the night before?”
“Well, yeah . . .”
A wide grin appeared. “Are you guys together?”
I didn’t answer, because Jax had come out of the liquor room, carrying several bottles. His eyes narrowed on us as he strolled past, but there was a small grin on his full lips. He winked at me.
My tummy fluttered, because my tummy was dumb.
“You know, he really is a great guy,” she said, not like I didn’t already realize that. “Like the kind that really has your back. Last year, Reece . . .” She said his name with a pause that caused my eyebrow to rise. “He was in an officer-involved shooting. Totally legit, but you know, I think shooting someone kind of messes with your head. Jax was totally there for him.”
Now both of my brows were in my hairline. Damn. I didn’t know what to say to that.
She grabbed my hand and pulled me into the office. “So you two are together.”
“No. I mean, I don’t know.” I squeezed my eyes shut and took a breath. “I guess we are. Kind of.”
“Kind of?” Her brows shot up over her black rims. “Either you’re together, like one-on-one with rules.”
“Yeah, like you’re only seeing each other.”
Oh. There was the fourth duh of the day. “We haven’t discussed that.”
“Then you’re f**k buddies?” she asked, eyes narrowing.
My cheeks heated. “I don’t think we’re that, either.” Or were we? I mean, it wasn’t like anything was labeled or discussed or anything.
“Okay.” Roxy patted my arm, and I blinked away thoughts of f**k buddies. “I can so tell that being f**k buddies would not be cool with you. So that leaves, you guys are together, as in dating, as in seeing how it goes?”
“That sounds about right. We’re going out tomorrow, to Apollo’s.”
She clapped. “Oh, that’s a damn good place. Great steaks.”
“That’s what I hear,” I murmured.
“Fuck buddies don’t take each other to Apollo’s.” Her lips slipped down at the corners. “They take each other to places like Mona’s. Trust me, I know.”
I noticed that frown, but she went on. “Apollo’s is for those dating who are serious. Like as in, the guy knows what kind of coffee you like in the morning and how you like it. Apollo’s is impressive. And did I mention the steaks were great?”
Suddenly, I wanted to talk to Teresa. I wanted to tell her what was going on because I had a feeling I really didn’t know what was going on. But it was late and Teresa was at the beach with Jase. I looked down at Roxy and bit my bottom lip. I didn’t know . . . oh hell, f**k it. “I’ve never had a boyfriend.”
Roxy blinked slowly and then took a step back. She raised a finger, walked over to the door and closed it, then turned to me. “Not a single boyfriend?”
I shook my head.
“Have you ever had a f**k buddy?”
I shook my head again.
She leaned against the door. “So I’m assuming that the cherry convo we had before hit close to home?”
“Uh. Yeah.” I sat on the edge of the desk, crossing my ankles. “Cherry is intact.”
“Wow,” she murmured.
I frowned. “What?”
“I don’t know. Virgin twenty-one-year-olds are kind of like Big Foot.”
My shoulders slumped. “Gee. Thanks.”
“You know what I mean.” She slid her glasses up to the top of her head. “You hear about Big Foot, but no one has really seen Big Foot in person. Same with twenty-one-year-old virgins.”
I was beginning to think sharing was a bad idea.
“Why?” she asked, and my brows rose. “Why no boyfriend?”
Cocking my head to the side, I stared at her. “Seriously?”
I folded my arms across my chest. “You can see with the glasses, right?”
She squinted, scrunching her nose. “Yeah, I can see. And you’re really pretty. And you’re nice. You have to be smart to be in a nursing program, so what’s the deal?”
“Pretty?” I murmured.
Then she blinked again as she pushed off the door, approaching me. “I get it. The scar on your face? It doesn’t distract from your prettiness. You have to know that. And I kind of wanted to say something earlier, but thought it would be way uncool to bring it up,” she went on. “But you look nice tonight. I can tell you’re not wearing a lot of makeup, and you looked great before, but you look awesome without it.”
Dermablend was no joke—a heavy makeup used for maximum coverage, and I always knew it was noticeable. I just thought I looked better with it.
“I’d kill to have your lips,” Roxy continued, drawing my attention to hers. They were nice lips. Bow-shaped lips. “And I’d murder someone to have your boobs. You cover them up, but I know they are there, and they look nice.”
“They’re not,” I blurted out before I stopped myself.
Confusion marked her face. “What do you mean? Do you have, like, the most awesome bra in the history of bras? If so, can you let me know where you got that?” She placed her hands over her small chest. “Because these babies could use some help.”
I smiled softly. “No. It’s not that. Sorry.”
“Damn.” She pouted. “Then what?”
I’d never talked to anyone about what I looked like in the buff and finding the right words was more than difficult. “The scar on my face is nothing compared to the rest of me. It’s pretty bad. For real.”