I smelled cigarettes and some kind of antibacterial hand sanitizer, and immediately panic rose as I tried to breathe through my nose, but I realized something important. With one hand on my mouth and his other arm clamped around my waist, that meant he wasn’t holding a gun or weapon unless he had a third arm.
So I bit down on his hand, biting down until I felt the skin pop. My stomach roiled, but I kept biting.
“Shit!” Mo exploded, jerking his hand away. I was free for a second and then spun out about a foot from him and twisted around so I was facing him. I saw him raise his hand and that was the only warning I had.
Pain burst along my jaw and mouth, and I stumbled back. Tiny starbursts exploded in my vision as the ache radiated down my neck.
“What the hell?” the guy in the SUV demanded, and then let out a string of curses.
“The bitch bit me!” Mo shouted back. “I’m f**king bleeding.”
“You f**king pu**y. Jesus. Get her in the car and let’s—”
I didn’t hear the rest, because my blood pressure was through the roof, drowning out all sound, and I wheeled around and ran.
The flats I was wearing weren’t really conducive to booking it, but I ignored the pieces of gravel that dug through the thin soles. I ran toward the front of the building, letting out an ear-piercing scream that pitched high as I was slammed into from behind. I toppled forward, cracking my knees on the ground.
An arm circled my waist, hauling me up, and this wasn’t good. This was bad. So bad. Mo spun around, all but carrying me toward the SUV, which now had the driver’s door open.
I struggled like a cat about to be dunked in a bathtub. I was pulling my legs up and moving my arms like windmills while Mo wrestled with me, and my actions slowed him down. The whole time I screamed.
“What the hell?” shouted a voice from behind us.
Hope sprung at the sound of the voice. “Clyde!” I screamed, putting everything into throwing my weight to the side by pushing off the sidewalk with my feet. “Clyde!”
The driver’s door slammed shut and the man holding me cursed in my ear, and then he let go, freaking dropped me. Not that I was complaining, but I fell to the ground on my knees and palms.
“Holy crap,” I gasped, trying to get control of my breathing as I pushed off my hands and looked up to see Clyde’s heavy frame jogging toward me. “Holy crap.”
My hands shook as I raised them and pushed my hair back from my face. I noticed then that there were more people outside, near the corner of the front of Mona’s.
As Clyde reached my side, the SUV tore out of the parking lot, tires spinning and kicking up gravel, pelting the group of people near the front. There was shouting. Someone threw something at the SUV. Glass shattered.
“Calla,” Clyde huffed out. “You okay?”
I was pretty sure I was seconds from having a full-blown freak-out, but other than the pain in my jaw and the aches from hitting the ground, I was alive. “I’m all right.”
“You sure?” he wheezed, and that sound made me forget about what just happened. It was the wrong kind of sound—a sound a human shouldn’t make.
I settled back on my calves, getting ready to stand. “Are you okay, Clyde?”
His head moved in jerky motions, and I wasn’t so sure about that. “I saw you walk . . . outside. I didn’t . . . recognize the man. I . . . wasn’t sure. With everything that’s going on . . .”
Hands were suddenly on my shoulders. Jax was there, kneeling down beside me. His face was pale, strained like it had been the day we were almost run over. “What the hell is going on? People are saying someone tried to grab you.”
“Someone did try.” My words sounded weird as I stared at Clyde.
Jax’s hands tightened on my shoulders. “What in the world were you doing out here?”
“I didn’t come out here because I wanted to. The guy was inside. He told me that if I caused a scene, he’d light up the place,” I said, and my gaze shifted to Clyde. He was looking better. A little pale, but he wasn’t wheezing anymore. “I thought he had a gun.”
“Jesus. Fuck,” muttered Jax. One hand slid around my neck and he tilted my head back. My gaze finally shifted to his, and I sucked in a sharp breath. Fury and concern were etched into his face and then anger won out. “He hit you.”
It wasn’t a question, and there was no denying it. “I bit him.”
“And he hit you? Fuck, baby.” Jax dipped his head, pressing his lips to my forehead, and then he pulled back, holding my gaze.
“We need to call the police,” Clyde grunted.
Jax’s jaw clenched and his eyes never left my face. There was a gleam in his eyes that was scary, a red-hot, explosive anger brimming close to the surface.
“Son, I know what you’re thinking,” Clyde announced. “But you need to call your boy Reece. This isn’t for you to handle.”
What? Jax was going to try to handle this? Then it hit me. I kept forgetting that he wasn’t like Cam and Jase. Not that there was anything wrong with them, but Jax was different. He was rougher and he’d seen things Cam and Jase couldn’t even begin to comprehend. He wasn’t them; therefore he could potentially handle things.
His hand tightened around my neck as he helped me stand and then he hauled me against his chest, and a shudder worked its way through me. “I’ll call Reece.”
Over Jax’s shoulder, I saw that a lot of people were outside. Half of the bar it seemed like, but most important, my friends. Teresa’s mouth was hanging open. Jase and Cam looked pissed, and poor Avery had an expression on her face that said she had no idea what was going on.
Even Brock was outside, and by the look on his face, he appeared ready to put some of his mixed martial ninja awesome arts to use.
But then Teresa stormed forward, her hands clenching at her sides. “What the hell is going on, Calla?”
I squeezed my eyes shut. There was no hiding my background or my troubles from them now.
It was late by the time I found myself standing in Jax’s bedroom in his townhouse. I didn’t even know what I was doing up there. Wasn’t like I was getting ready for bed, because there was a full house downstairs and had been since after Detective Anders and his police crew arrived at Mona’s, took my statement, and did all the jazz that was becoming a frighteningly familiar process.
Worse was the fact that the name Mo wasn’t one Detective Anders was acquainted with. Obviously, it had to do with Mom, so it wasn’t like they had leads, but Mack was in a hidey-hole somewhere and nothing—not a single piece of evidence—led back to the mysterious Isaiah.
Teresa and Jase, and Cam and Avery were downstairs along with Brock. My friends had been all filled in on my drama, partly from me and from being around when Reece had showed up and then his older brother.
Which brought me to the real reason why I was up here. I did know why I was in Jax’s bedroom while everyone else was downstairs.
The house of lying cards had collapsed more quickly than I realized it could. Through what was said to Reece and his brother and what I then had to tell them, they now knew that my mom was most likely kicking around and she was embroiled in a ton of nasty crap that had spilled over into my life. The only thing that had not been up for discussion had been the fire, but that was the least of things to know about me at this point.
So, yeah, I knew why I was sitting on the edge of Jax’s bed, unable to go downstairs and face my friends. I was going to stay up here, surrounded by the scent of Jax’s cologne and the images of all the naughty things we’d done in here, on the bed, the floor . . . the bathroom.
Yep, I was just going to stay up here forever. Sounded like a decent, legit plan. Maybe I could talk Jax into bringing me food at least twice a day. If so, this plan was totally getting better.
Lifting my head, I twisted toward the open door. My back straightened. Teresa stood in the doorway. She wasn’t alone, either. Avery was with her.
“Jax told us we could come up here,” Avery explained as Teresa nudged the door farther open with her hip. “So we totally just didn’t roam up here.”
Figured that Jax had done that. God knows I’d been up here for a while. “Sorry,” I said, focusing my attention to my toes. “Time got away from me.”
“It’s understandable. You’ve had a crazy night,” Avery said softly.
Teresa walked in and plopped down on the bed beside me. “Apparently, you’ve had a crazy life.”
Avery sent Teresa a look that pretty much flew right over her head. “You’re hiding up here,” Teresa said.
My lips twitched, and the movement kind of hurt. When I looked in the mirror earlier, a faint bruise was forming on my jaw, and my lower lip was cut near the right corner. “Is it that obvious?”
She shrugged. “Kind of.”
I drew in a deep breath. Since I wasn’t going to be able to hide up here, I needed to woman up. Doing so sucked. “I’m sorry, guys. I know I’ve lied to you all, and I really don’t have a good reason for doing so.”
Teresa cocked her head to the side as Avery hovered by the edge of the bed, her slim fingers fiddling with the bracelet along her left wrist. “So . . . you’re not from around Shepherdstown, are you?”
Mortified, I shook my head. I hadn’t felt this way since I was six years old and had thrown bubble gum in the hair of a girl who was about to go onstage before me. I hadn’t meant to toss it in the mass of brown curls, but Mom had been standing by the front of the stage and when she’d realized I still had gum in my mouth, she had gotten a crazy stage mom look on her face and I’d panicked.
“I’d been at Shepherd since I was eighteen, and to be honest, it does feel like my only home,” I said, glancing at Teresa. She was watching me closely. “I know that doesn’t justify lying, but I just . . . I never thought of here as home, at least for a long time.”
Teresa nodded slowly. “But what about when you said you went to visit family for break? From what I gathered earlier, you haven’t been back here in years.”
“I didn’t go home.” My cheeks heated. “I’d checked into a hotel that time.”
Her brows pinched.
Avery’s eyes widened with sympathy. “Oh, Calla . . .”
“I know it sounds stupid. I honestly only did it because I wanted to get away for a little bit, and it was really the only option. It was kind of cool, really. And I know what I said about my mom being dead is freaking terrible and you guys probably think I’m a horrible person.”
“Actually, no, we don’t.” Teresa twisted toward me as she straightened out the leg that had been injured first by dancing and then again when her roommate’s boyfriend had pushed her, effectively ending Teresa’s dreams of dancing professionally for an elite ballet school. “Calla, I don’t know all your reasons for not telling us about your mom and your life here, but from what we’ve learned the last couple of hours, I get why you didn’t want to.”
“We totally get it,” Avery agreed, and I felt a tiny bit of hope flare in my chest.
Teresa nudged my knee with hers. “But I hope you know that whatever your background is or whatever, we aren’t going to judge you. You can be up front with us.”
“Trust us on that,” Avery added. “We are the last people to judge you.”
My gaze bounced between the two, and they were giving each other a look I didn’t fully understand. Then Avery moved to sit on the other side of me. Nervously, she tucked a strand of red hair back behind her ear.
Then she took a deep breath I could hear, looked at Teresa one more time, and then her gaze settled on me. Muscles in my stomach clenched, and I knew she was about to tell me something major. It was written all over her somewhat pale face. “When I was younger, I’d gone to a party that an older guy at school was throwing at his house. He was cute and I flirted with him, but things got out of hand. It really was bad.”
Oh God no. Part of me already knew where this was heading, and I reached over, wrapping my hand around hers, and squeezed.
She pressed her lips together, and I could tell what she was about to say was hard—harder than anything I’d ever had to admit to. “He raped me,” Avery said quietly, so softly I could barely hear it, but I did, and in response, my chest squeezed. “I did the right thing. At first. I told my parents and I told the police, but his parents and mine were country club buddies, and they offered my parents a whole lot of money if I kept quiet. Plus there had been a picture of me earlier that night sitting in his lap and I had drank. My parents had been more worried about what people would say about me instead of what was done to me, so I agreed. I took the money and it ate at me, Calla. I felt like shit for it.”
Tears pricked at my eyes as she pulled her hand free and slowly took off her bracelet. She turned her wrist up, and I sucked in a breath I immediately wished I hadn’t. I saw the scar. I knew what it meant.