“You look beautiful,” he said.
And I felt beautiful when he said that. “Thank you. You look beautiful, too.”
A dark eyebrow rose.
“You look manly beautiful,” I amended, but that sounded even more stupid. “Okay. That was dumb. You look hot.”
He chuckled as he moved in, brushing his lips over the curve of my cheekbone. He kissed the scar again, and I tensed, but it was for a different reason than the norm, because his lips had skated to the space below my ear.
“I’m hot and you like me,” he murmured. “It’s my lucky day.”
Another deep chuckle and then his mouth claimed mine. I liked—no, I loved—the way Jax kissed. It started off slow and then became something entirely different, definitely not slow, and very much deep and hot. Before I knew it, my hands were flat against his chest, sliding up to his shoulders.
“Dinner.” He kissed me again, his mouth lingering in the sweetest way. “We’re going to be late.”
My fingers dug into his shirt as I all but clung to him. I didn’t get the chance to respond, because he was kissing me again, in a way I felt devoured.
“Dinner,” he repeated, and his lips brushed mine. “I made reservations.”
Moving my hands down his chest, I tipped my head back and opened my eyes. “Yeah. Food.”
“Steak.” His arm tightened around me. “Really good steak.”
A grumble came from my stomach, and I broke away as he laughed. “Shut up,” I said again.
“It’s cute.” His hands dropped to my hips, so I didn’t get very far.
I rolled my eyes. “More like it, as in my stomach is hungry. Not cute. So if we don’t get—”
My words were cut off as something heavy hit the front of the house. Swallowing a startled squeak, I jumped and turned around. “What the hell?”
Jax was already starting toward the door when I heard tires peeling out of the driveway. My heart lodged into my throat as I followed Jax.
“Stay back,” he ordered, reaching the door.
I didn’t listen.
The muscles in his shoulders tensed as he unlocked the front door and yanked it open.
Slapping my hands over my mouth, I took a step back out of horror. Jax cursed and turned, shielding what waited for us on the front porch, but it was too late. There was no way to un-see the still, ghastly pale body or the small crimson hole smack dab in the middle of its forehead.
Dinner at Apollo’s was canceled.
A dead body thrown—literally—at the front of the house would do that. And the body was still out there, right where it landed, while the police did whatever forensics they saw fit.
The body had a name, I learned—a name that sent a jolt of fear and dread straight to my very core.
The body belonged to one Ronald R. Miller, also known by the street name Rooster, and rumored to be my mother’s boyfriend.
This wasn’t good.
Rooster had a bullet in the center of his forehead, and I had heard Reece outside talking to another officer. Rooster’s jeans had grass stains on the knees, and it didn’t take a huge leap of logic to imagine that he’d been on his knees when that trigger was pulled.
Classic execution style.
Where was Mom? That question played over and over again, because everyone said she’d run off with Rooster.
Who now had a bullet in his head.
I shuddered as I focused my gaze on Jax. He was standing by the window, back tense and his jaw a hard line. He hadn’t said much since this all went down. We’d already given our statements, which wasn’t much.
Clyde reached over and squeezed my hand. “You doing okay, baby girl?”
I nodded. He’d shown up about an hour after the police. How he’d found out about what happened, I had no idea, but he arrived in his old-ass truck, shouting and bellowing to be let into the house, to see his “baby girl” through this “traumatic” experience that “ain’t right” and a whole bunch of things that included curse words. They wouldn’t let him come up on the front porch, for obvious reasons, and they hadn’t wanted him coming in, but he yelled until he got his way and he came in through the back door, which was off the kitchen.
“How much longer do you think . . . ?” I paused, swallowing against the sudden nausea. “Do you think it will take before they move him?”
“Soon,” Clyde said gruffly. “It’s gotta be soon.”
My gaze shifted to him, and I noticed a fine sheen of sweat glistening on his bald head.
Jax turned from the window and walked over to where I sat next to Clyde. He didn’t say anything as he perched on the arm of the couch. A second later, I heard the front door open and Reece walked in with a detective wearing tan dress pants, and a white button-down like Jax’s, but paired with a tie that matched his pants.
For some odd reason, I thought about what Roxy had told me about Reece being involved in a shooting. It was the last thing I needed to be thinking about, but I wondered if it bothered him seeing Rooster like . . . like he was. Then again, he probably saw that a lot.
I’d almost forgotten his name—the detective’s. He wasn’t that much older than us, maybe late twenties or early thirties. He was handsome, very much so, with neatly trimmed brown hair and clear blue eyes.
“We’re wrapping up now,” he said, his gaze tracking over the three of us. “Right now, we’ve got some suspects, and we’re going to find who did this.”
I nodded. “Okay. Um. Thank you?”
His lips twitched. “Now, Officer Anders told me you two have been looking for Miss Fritz.”
Officer Anders? I blinked slowly and then I realized he was talking about Reece. My gaze moved to Reece and then to Detective Anders. Wait a sec . . . “Are you two related?”
“Brothers,” Jax answered.
“I’m the handsome one,” Reece said, grinning.
Detective Anders tilted his head toward what was now obviously his younger brother. “Most definitely not the smart one.”
Cop brothers. Hot.
I needed my head checked.
“Anyway,” the detective said. “He was telling me you guys have been trying to find your mom and that you had some problems yesterday when you were in the city. I know what’s been going on.”
Jax’s eyes narrowed, and my stomach sank. No matter what, if the police really knew what had been going down, she was in trouble. Lots of trouble.
Reece held his gaze with a look that said sorry, bud, had to. “He knows about Mack. And that lowlife is the first on our suspect list.”
“This was obviously a warning to Calla,” Jax responded, voice clipped. “But it doesn’t make sense. If Mack found Rooster, then how did he not find Mona?”
“Rooster could’ve decided he wanted out of this mess,” Detective Anders said, crossing his arms over his chest. “He could’ve come back and if what your . . . sources are saying is true, if he came back without the dope or the money equal to what they are holding, he would’ve gotten a warm welcome.”
Yeah, he’d gotten a bullet in the head. Mom didn’t have the dope. And she sure as hell didn’t have the money.
It had to be Mack, because like Ritchey had said, shit rolled downhill and that shit had rolled all over Mack.
“We’re also looking for the man who matches your description that came into the house and took the drugs. We’re going to find them,” Detective Anders said. “But we need you all to back off. Let us do our jobs. We don’t want you around any of these people.”
I didn’t want to be around any of these people, but I had days left before I was supposed to produce my mom. I didn’t respond because I really didn’t want to listen to them try to talk me out of what needed to be done.
We had a lead.
And Jax hadn’t mentioned Ike to the police or to Reece as far as I knew. Another officer popped his head into the room, announcing the front porch was cleared, and I breathed a sigh of relief. Jax followed Reece and his older brother out after the convo was wrapped up in here.
Clyde rubbed his hand over his chest. “This is a mess.”
I sighed. “I know. Mom . . . do you think she has any idea of what kind of mess she’s in?”
Clyde nodded. “I think she does, and I think if she is smart, she’s living in Mexico right now.”
God, that would suck—her moving far away and me never seeing her again, but if Mom was smart, that’s what she should do. There was no way she’d ever be able to come back here. “If she doesn’t come back . . . what happens to the bar?” I asked, focusing on the least important thing, because that was better than all the crazy more important stuff. I knew the bar would be left to me if she . . . if she passed on, but I had no idea about the technicalities if she simply disappeared.
“Baby girl, you don’t need to worry about that.” He lumbered to his feet, his chest moving in deep, heavy breaths. “The bar will be all right.”
My brows pinched with concern. “Are you okay?”
“Yeah, I’m doin’ fine. You ain’t needin’ to be worried about me.”
I wasn’t sure about that, but then Jax returned without the hot cop brothers. He walked straight to where I sat, grabbed my hand, and helped me to my feet. “You want to get out of here?” he asked.
Nodding, I wanted nothing more than to get out of here.
Clyde made his way over to me, and without Jax letting go of my hand, he gave me his bear hug. “I like that you’re not staying here. That’s good. Real good.”
I was reluctant to let him go when he pulled back. “Everything is going to be okay,” I told him, because I felt like I needed to say that out loud.
He gave me a toothy smile as his gaze moved to Jax. “Yes, baby girl, it will be.”
As Clyde left, I packed up more clothes and personal stuff and then we headed out to Jax’s truck. It was hard walking across that porch without picturing the body there.
Once in the cab of the truck, Jax looked at me. “You doing okay?”
I thought about that for a moment. “As okay as I can be.”
A slight smile appeared as he reached over, smoothing his thumb along my lower lip. “This shit with Rooster and Mack—with your mom isn’t right. It’s serious. It’s not normal. And it’s okay not to be okay with any of this.”
“I know,” I whispered.
His smile spread on one side of his lips. “Like I said. You’re brave.”
My chest warmed, and instead of denying that, I smiled a little. “Can we stop on the way to your house and grab something to eat?”
“Anything for you, babe.”
I liked the sound of that. A lot.
It was too late to do dinner anywhere, so fast food was on the menu. At this point, I’d probably have eaten horse meat, so I wasn’t complaining when he pulled into the burger joint. Not the best steaks in the state, but it would work.
Neither of us really talked on the drive to his townhouse or as we scarfed down our food. It wasn’t until we were cleaning up and I was tossing my soda in the trash that I knew we had to talk about this.
Or that I had to talk about this.
“Do you think Mom is okay?” I asked.
Jax was at the table situated by the door that led out to a small deck and postage-stamp-size backyard. He turned to me, chin dipped. “I don’t know.”
I closed my eyes as a rush of emotion swelled.
“I hate saying that, but I got to be honest with you.”
“I appreciate that.”
“I know you do,” he said, and then I felt him closer and I opened my eyes. He was right in front of me. “If Rooster bounced, then he was probably feeling the heat. That means your mom’s got to still be out there.”
Because she wasn’t lying on the porch alongside Rooster.
“But this isn’t good,” he finished.
Just like Clyde said. “There’s no way she can fix this. Even if they bust Mack for what happened to Rooster, there’s this Isaiah. That was a lot of dope and a lot of money. She can’t get past this.”
“No. She can’t.”
A ball lodged in the back of my throat. “She really did it this time. I mean, she really did it, Jax. There’s no fixing this. There’s no making it okay. And she dragged me into this, which has dragged you into this. And I’m so sorry about that. You don’t need this. You shouldn’t have seen Rooster today.”
“Honey,” he said softly, cupping my cheeks. He tilted my head back. “None of this is your fault. Know that. There is no need for you to apologize for any of this. You didn’t ask for it or bring it on yourself.”
What he said was true, but I couldn’t help but feel somewhat responsible, because it was my mom after all. Placing my hands on his sides, I did something I hadn’t really done before. I leaned into him, resting my cheek against his chest.