This was happening. This was really happening.
Something in my chest hurt, like physically hurt, and I let go of the banister and pressed the heel of my palm between my br**sts.
Then Aimee was at the bottom of the stairs.
“Holy . . .” She trailed off as her eyes widened. “No. This is not happening.”
Well, Aimee and I were on the same page for once, because I was thinking the exact same thing.
“You’re with her?” Her voice pitched as her head swiveled in the other direction, and I wondered if it could spin right around like the chick from The Exorcist. “Seriously? Calla Fritz?”
Son of a bitch, I actually flinched.
Because I could totally get the WTF expression she was wearing and the surprise in her tone. I got it. Jax was gorgeous in a way that was almost unreal. He could get girls dropping their panties just by giving them a half smile and a crook of his finger. I had a giant scar down my face and then some. And my mother was a well-known crackhead. I wasn’t exactly someone the vast majority of people would picture Jax with. I seriously did get that, because it was human nature to want to pair flawless people with other flawless people.
Jax appeared in my line of vision. Shirtless. All those muscles on display. For some reason that struck me harder. That he was half undressed with Aimee in his house, that there was a level of intimacy between them. Which was a big f**king duh, because they’d been banging each other like a cheap screen door at some point that wasn’t too long ago.
“You need to leave,” Jax said, not looking up at me. “Now.”
Aimee ignored that. She raised a slender, golden arm and pointed at me. “You’ve got to be joking, right? Her? I mean, I know guys like to slum every once in a while but seriously?”
Another direct hit to the chest, but man, that nasty little remark hit me like a spark over a pool of gasoline, and it happened.
“What the f**k?” The words burst out of me like a bottle rocket and I was down the stairs and in Aimee’s face before I even knew it. “First off, I don’t think anyone in the last ten years used the word slumming, but you’d probably know that if you didn’t fry your brain fake-baking or overdosing on bleach to get your hair that color.” I flicked a strand of her hair, and she took a step back. I advanced, beyond furious. “Yeah, mine’s natural. And second, I’m over you.”
Her skin paled a bit under her tan and then a flush raced across her face and down her neck. “I’m sorry. Is trash a better word for you?”
Jax must’ve snapped out of his stupor and out of the corners of my eyes I could see him moving forward. “That’s enough. Aimee, you—”
“Trash?” I cut in, hands balling into fists. Jax was wrong. It so wasn’t enough. “Who in the f**k are you calling trash?”
Her gaze raked over me from the top of my bedraggled head, all the way down my bare legs. She sneered. “Could be the whore standing in front of me in nothing but a shirt?”
Jax shot forward, looping an arm around my waist and hauling me out of the way and giving me a shove away from her, and then he was in Aimee’s face. “You will f**king apologize. Right now.”
“Apologize for what?” she screamed.
His jaw had locked down, muscles tense along his back. “Fucking apologize, Aimee. I’m dead serious.”
Aimee must have tasted his anger, because she shrank a little, like a weed choked by a bushel of f**king roses. “Jax,” she whispered.
Hearing her whisper his name like that, like she couldn’t believe he was defending me over her, sent me off into the stratosphere. I was not going to be placed aside. I stormed forward, coming at Aimee from the other side. “You know what? You don’t need to apologize. I don’t need your f**king apologies. The fact is you want to be the girl wearing his shirt who was sleeping in his bed. You reek of jealousy.”
She turned a heated glare on me, but my bitch shades were up. “I was the girl, honey, and for a hell of a lot longer than you.”
Okay. Burn. She got me there. And my anger swirled, mixing with the raw hurt that had sliced deep in my chest. “You know what, Aimee? Call me trash. Whatever. I’m not the girl at the bar every night who’s throwing herself at a guy who’s with someone else. And I’m not the girl whose idea of making a living is being a ‘ring girl.’ I’m in college. To be a nurse. You know, doing things with my life. So yeah, if that makes me trash and a whore? Fucking proud of it then.”
She laughed harshly. “What? Do you think you’re actually special to him?” Before I could answer, she went on. “That you’re like his one and only?”
“Aimee,” Jax said, voice low.
“Because you’re not,” she snapped. “His bed is like the Philly train station, especially now.”
A pierce hit my chest. I had . . . I had not known that, and as I glanced at Jax, there was nothing on his face that denied it. I exhaled harshly. “Then I guess you are just one of many, too.”
Her eyes flashed, and I didn’t know if I wounded her or if any of that made a difference to her. “At least I don’t have your face, bitch.”
Yep. It hadn’t made a difference.
My feet moved, and I honestly didn’t know what I was going to do, if I was going to introduce her to the epic bitch slap or if I was going to slam my knee into Jax’s groin, but he turned to me. Snagging an arm around my waist, he lifted me clear off my feet as he moved and twisted his body so I was facing the wall and he was facing Aimee. I craned my neck to see her.
He had a finger in her face. “Get out.”
The white under her tan increased. “But—”
“Get the f**k out, Aimee.”
She took a deep breath and her blue eyes turned glassy. Then her face crumbled, and it might’ve made me the biggest idiot in the world, but there was a teeny, tiny part of me that actually felt bad for her, because I recognized that pain that had broken her face.
I had felt it mere minutes ago.
Then Aimee blinked, sucked her tears right up, and swallowed. “I get it. Whatever this is. I get it.”
I wondered what the hell she got.
She smiled then, like he hadn’t just told her to get out of his house. “We’ll talk later, babe.”
And then she flounced out of the house.
What in the f**kity f**k?
Jax all but kicked his door shut and then he turned, settling me on my feet. I started to pull free, but his arm around my waist tightened, and he dragged my back against his chest.
“Let me go,” I said, gripping his arm.
“Okay,” he murmured in my ear. “I’ll admit it. You getting all up in her face like that was hot.”
Fury flared and pulsed around the deep, throbbing hurt. “Let me go, Jax.”
“Especially with you standing there, all fired up in my shirt? Yeah. Hot as hell,” he continued, and my anger overrode the hurting.
One hand dropped from my waist and flattened against my lower belly. He pressed and my bottom tipped back against him, and yeah, I totally got that he really did find that hot. The evidence was right there, and my body, because it was a dumb hooch, reacted. My stomach fluttered and the idiotic area between my thighs throbbed.
And that just pissed me off even more.
“If you don’t let me go, I swear to God, Jax,” I warned, squeezing his arms with my hands.
He dipped his chin into my shoulder and said, “Is it wrong that I find that hot, too, because I really kind of do.”
I lost it and shouted loud enough to wake up the neighbors, “Let me the f**k go!”
Jax’s arms dropped like I was a hot potato, and I spun on him, breathing heavy. Our gazes locked, and the amusement in his voice was completely gone from his expression. He stared at me. I stared back. In those moments, I heard what I had when I stood upstairs all over again. I felt what I did when I saw Aimee’s expression when she’d seen me standing at the top of the stairs.
Tension formed around his mouth. “Calla . . .”
My feet moved backward. I needed space. I needed time to think about everything that had just happened.
He took a step forward, and I kept moving until my leg bumped into the arm of the couch. He stopped a few feet from me. “I don’t know what you’re thinking right now, but I’m going to wage a guess here, and say what happened is not what you’re thinking.”
In my chest, my heart threw itself against my ribs. “It’s not?”
“I had no idea she was going to show up tonight. She hasn’t been to my house in—”
“A month?” I finished for him. “A whole month?”
The tension around his mouth increased. “It’s been more than a month, Calla. I don’t know the exact time frame, but she hasn’t been here since you came here. You have to believe that. I’ve practically spent every night with you since you’ve been here.”
“Not every night.”
“Every night since she got back into town,” he said, and I had to admit, that was true. “You and I aren’t together every waking minute, but give me a break on that. It’s not like I have all the time in the world to be hooking up with her.”
Another good point. “But you were hooking up with her a little over a month ago.”
“Before you came here, Calla.”
Did that matter? I knew it shouldn’t. I wasn’t even in town and I couldn’t be mad over who he hooked up with before we met, but damnit, I was. I was thoroughly pissed and I was jealous. I was woman enough to admit to my irrational anger over that, but there was more.
“For someone you aren’t seeing, she was awful angry over the fact that a girl was here, Jax. She showed up in the middle of the night like she had a right to be here.”
“And every night she’s been in the bar, hanging all over you and you let her.” My hands curled into fists again. “The first time my friends met you she was feeling you up.”
Frustration flashed across his face. “We’re back to that again?”
“Yes!” I shouted. “We’re back to that, baby. You know, the whole ‘you need to trust me’ and basically deal with the fact you have a chick hanging all over you in front of me and my friends.”
“I never said you had to deal with it, Calla.”
“You didn’t?” I laughed harshly. “That’s not how I remember the conversation ending.”
Jax drew in a breath and a muscle spasmed in his jaw. “Actually, the conversation ended with you walking away. You didn’t give me a chance to say anything else or even to explain.”
“What’s there to explain? She was all over you, multiple times, and you just smiled at her!” My head felt like it was going to explode off my neck. “And I’m just supposed to trust you and be okay with it? Even when you have her showing up in your house at three in the morning like she belongs here and has no idea you’re seeing someone?”
“Correction,” he growled. “She doesn’t care that I’m seeing someone.”
Totally caught in my anger, I went on. “And she left here like you two were still going to hook up!”
“You said you cared about her!” The moment those words left my mouth, I realized how ridiculous they sounded. I turned away, moving into the dining area. I knew he followed without hearing him. “You told her that you cared about her. I heard you. I also heard you tell her this wasn’t a good time and that she needed to call first before she came over.”
“Wait a minute.” His voice got low, got way too calm. “I don’t know what you think you heard or what bullshit you’re reading into it, but no shit, Calla. She needs to call before she comes by my house and three in the morning isn’t a good time.”
I whirled back on him, heart racing. “So if she called first and I wasn’t here, would it have been a good time then, Jax?”
His shoulders tensed as he drew back. “Are you f**king serious?”
“Are you?” I shot back, fists shaking. “I don’t know if you realize this or not, but I’m not the one here who has guys showing up at all hours of the night or giving me free breast exams. And you haven’t heard me tell another guy that I cared about them when they were obviously trying to get laid.”
Jax looked away as he thrust a hand through his messy hair. “Yeah, I used to think Aimee was an okay chick, you know? I never was serious with her, and to be honest, I never got the feeling she was serious about me. So, yeah, I care about her. Don’t want to see any bad shit happen to her. Still don’t want to see that, but I’m rethinking the whole nice-girl thing after tonight.” He dropped his hand, gaze back on mine. “Caring about her is not the same thing. Calla. And I’m sorry—”