I frowned up at him. “She . . . she called you?”
“Yeah.” His gaze moved over my face and then down, and I swore he was watching my chest move, as if he was reassuring himself that I was breathing. “She called me on the way to your house, because she was worried about your safety. I knew you left, and yeah, I was angry about that. I thought we were on the same page.” He coughed out a dry, harsh laugh. “I’d called Reece, letting them know you were at your house. They had a car on you.”
I hadn’t even noticed that. Granted I wasn’t the most observant person apparently; so maybe I should rethink that career in nursing.
His thumb smoothed over my jaw as his gaze settled on mine again. “I spent all day yesterday mad at you, at us, at myself.”
Well, these were things I really didn’t want to hear right now, but I sensed that whatever he needed to say, he had to get it out of him, so I remained quiet as I watched him.
A muscle twitched at the corner of his eye. “All day,” he said, shaking his head again. “A whole f**king day wasted on stupid shit and I should know better. I tasted that kind of regret, you know, with my sister. Spending so much time being angry with Jena that when she was gone, I couldn’t even begin to tally up all those missed hours I could’ve spent being there for her.”
“Jax,” I whispered, my heart squeezing.
He rested his weight on his other arm, careful not to disturb the bed or me, though I wasn’t sure how much I’d feel at this point. “The point is, I was angry, but it didn’t change how I felt about you or what I want from you. I’m not perfect. Far from it, and I was just being a dick. I could’ve called you and made sure you understood that. I could’ve returned your text. I didn’t. I thought maybe we both needed some space to cool down so that when we did talk, we could do so. And last night, when I went to the club, Aimee showed up.”
Now I remembered that, too, and that sick feeling rose, more muted than before, and for that I was grateful.
“That pissed me off even more. I left. She followed me outside. We had it out in the middle of a f**king parking lot. And I swear, even the messiest breakup with someone I was in an actual relationship with was easier than talking to her. She won’t be a problem anymore, but damnit, it was more wasted time. After that, I went back to my place. I planned on coming back to the bar to get you before closing. I didn’t think you were going to leave early, but I was coming for you. I just never made it.”
When he spoke next, the hoarseness to his voice, the very real pain in it, got to me. “I was getting ready to leave. I had my keys in my f**king hand, Calla. I was almost out the door. I was thinking about texting you and my phone rang. It was Colton. I almost didn’t answer, because I knew they still could be partying and I wasn’t in the mood for the shit, but I did answer. And he told me that he’d just been called by one of the deputies, that there had been a shooting at the bar and someone was injured. That was all he knew, and f**k, babe, my heart . . . it did what it did when I got the call from my parents. It was a sick as f**k feeling, like I wasn’t standing but I was. I tried calling you and when you didn’t answer, I knew—I just knew, because if there had been a shooting at the bar, you would’ve answered the phone if you could.”
“I’m okay,” I whispered fervently, because I thought he needed to hear that, but it went largely ignored.
“When I got to the bar I saw your car shot the f**k up and you weren’t there. Neither was Roxy . . .” He seemed to gather himself as his hand shook against my cheek. “It was Nick who told me it was you. He’d been outside. Got to me before the police did. All he knew was that you’d been shot and that you hadn’t been awake when the paramedics arrived. Calla, I . . . I can’t even put into words what I felt in that moment or what I felt getting my ass to this hospital. All I knew was that I f**ked up yesterday.” His chest rose with a deep breath. “I could’ve lost you. Fuck, I could’ve really lost you. And if I didn’t get this chance to be talking to you right now and if you were taken from me and I lost the opportunity to spend yesterday with you, being with you, loving you, I’d never forgive myself for that. So you know what, Calla, I’m going to forgo any bullshit right now. And I hope you’re with me on this, but even if you aren’t, I gotta get it out there and I’m not going to regret saying this to you.”
I was starting to breathe heavy, not in a taxing way, but I knew something was coming, and my throat was burning and not because it was dry. So were my eyes. They felt wet, because two words really stood out among all the powerful words he spoke. Loving you.
“I gotta tell you that I love you, Calla,” he said, and I was surprised the heart monitor didn’t catch the fact it felt like my heart had stopped for a moment. “No bullshit. I do. I love the way you think, even if it’s annoying as f**k at times and even then it’s still cute. I love that there’s a shit ton of things you’ve never gotten to experience and that you’re going to get to experience them with me. That I have that honor. I love your strength and everything you’ve survived. I love your courage and I love that you make shit drinks, but no one cares, because you’re so damn nice.”
A soft surprised laugh burst from me and my words were wobbly when I spoke. “I do make some shit drinks.”
“You do. It’s true. I’m pretty sure your Long Island iced teas could kill people, but that’s okay.” His lips curved up on one side as his gaze held mine steadily. “I love your sense of humor and the fact you never ate grits before. There’s so much I love about you that I know I’m in love with you. So, honey, you can have all my shirts you want.”
My breath caught again, and I opened my mouth, but there were no words at first, because there was so much I wanted to say to him. I wanted to list the things that I loved about him, but all I could say was “I’m in love with you.”
Jax drew in a sharp breath as his eyes flared wide, and I realized he didn’t think I was going to say that. He was an idiot if so, but he was the idiot I loved, so I said it again, and then he moved, dipping his mouth to mine, and that kiss . . . oh God, I recognized that kiss, because he’d kissed me like this before and it was full of just as much love as it had been every time he’d kissed me like that.
And then, maybe because Jax loved me—was in love with me—and I was in love with him, or maybe because I’d just been shot and was on some really good meds, I started crying.
Jax murmured something against my lips and then he caught the tears with his thumbs. Because there was no way for him to get in this bed with me, he did the next best thing. He scooted the chair as close as he could and stretched his upper body toward mine, circling an arm around my shoulders as he rested his cheek on the pillow next to mine. Some time passed before the waterworks ceased and I found myself smiling at him. I managed to get my right arm to work and I had my hand on the back of his neck, my fingers slowly threading through his hair as he explained in great detail how he planned on showing me when I got better just how much he loved me, so much detail I was sure my face was as red as a tomato, but boy did I have something to look forward to.
More time passed, enough that I wondered how he got the staff to let him be in my room, but I didn’t care. He was here and that was all that mattered. Both of us were getting tired when he said, “There’s some things we need to talk about, but it can wait until you’re out of here. Okay?”
At that moment, he’d said everything that I needed so desperately to hear him say, so I could wait to hear whatever else he wanted to tell me. I nodded and my eyelids felt droopy and it was then, after being awake for God knows how long, it hit me.
“Oh God.” I started to sit up again, but Jax was there, gently keeping my shoulders down.
“What?” Concern poured into his voice. “What’s wrong?”
I grasped his wrist with my right hand. “Mom. Mom was there, Jax. She was in the parking lot. Was she hurt?”
He stared at me a moment and then shook his head as his brows slammed down. “Mona was there?”
“Yes! She was outside waiting for me, but a car pulled up and then someone starting shooting. Was she hit?”
“Okay. You need to calm down.” He curled his hand around my cheek again. “This is the first anyone is hearing about your mom, honey. No one knows she was there.”
Confused, I stared at him. “Wait. She was there. I talked to her. She called me baby. She was there, Jax.”
He didn’t say anything.
My mind raced. “She was there when they started shooting, and I heard the car pull away—”
“The police found the car they believed was used abandoned a few miles away from the bar,” he explained. “I don’t know who it’s registered to, but they think it was probably stolen. I’m sure we’ll get more info later.”
“But . . . but that doesn’t make sense.”
His eyes met mine and then he kissed my cheek. “Honey, I . . . I’m sorry.”
I started to ask him why he was apologizing, but then I knew. I got it. He was apologizing because my mom had showed up at the bar, had seen me and I had seen her, people who were pissed at her had opened fire and I got hit, and . . . and Mom had to have known that.
Blinking slowly, I shook my head. “She had to have known I was hurt.”
He smoothed his thumb under my lip, and I felt the disbelief piling up on me. I remembered calling out for her and there being no answer. “She left me there, Jax, in a parking lot, bleeding from a gunshot wound meant for her. She left me.”
“Honey,” he said softly. “I don’t know what to say.”
Because what the hell did you say to something like that? My own mom had left me bleeding in a parking lot. Good God, did she care at all? My lower lip trembled, and Jax moved back in, his fingers spreading across my cheek as he turned my head toward his.
His lips met mine and he said, “I love you.”
I closed my eyes as I nodded slightly. He pressed his forehead against mine, holding me the only way he could until the exhaustion finally caught up with me, washing away all the very good and all the very bad.
Over the next two days while I was kept in the hospital for observation, my room became a very happening place. Detective Anders had been in and out more than once; so had Reece. Roxy and Nick had showed, the former sneaking me in doughnuts that I wasn’t allowed to eat yet, but I hadn’t the heart to tell her and the latter had been broodier than ever. I felt responsible for that. He’d offered to take me home and maybe if I’d taken him up on that offer, Mom wouldn’t have attempted to approach me and I wouldn’t be lying in a hospital bed going out of my mind with cabin fever.
The shooting had hit the news, and somehow Cam had heard about it or Teresa had kept calling my cell and Jax had finally answered—I didn’t know which or if it was a combo of both, but my friends—God love them—were back in town, having driven up the moment they’d heard I’d been shot. They were staying at a hotel a few blocks from the hospital and they were playing the whole thing cool. Jase had even joked around how I kept summer break interesting for all of them, but I could tell that they were seriously worried, especially when Teresa had said that she wanted me to come home, back to Shepherd as soon as possible. But I also didn’t have the heart to tell her that wouldn’t solve anything.
Turned out I was in the same hospital as Clyde. He was well enough to be up for short periods and that meant he was in my room, cussing up a storm and usually getting taken back to his room before he had another heart attack.
Throughout all of this Jax rarely left my side. He took time off at the bar, and Nick and Roxy really stepped up to help out. He had some kind of hot guy Jedi mind control over the staff, because he stayed in my room throughout the night and I knew that was a big no-no, but I didn’t question it. Those long hours in the middle of the night, when I couldn’t sleep and all I wanted to do was get the hell out of there, he was there. We talked about important stuff, like what we’d fought over, and then we talked about stupid things like where to go in case of a zombie apocalypse or what our favorite reality shows were. I admitted that I still watched Toddlers & Tiaras, might have a wee crush on Property Brothers, and he was a fan of Kitchen Nightmares and Bar Rescue, and had more than just a wee crush on Robbie Welsh from Shipping Wars. When he’d started talking about his favorite football team, I dozed off, and when I woke up some time later, he’d been asleep in what had to have been the most uncomfortable position known to man.
He’d fallen asleep in his chair, but his head had been resting on arms that were folded on the bed beside me. His cheek had been turned to me, and I had hit an exceptional level of creeper, because I didn’t know how long I’d lain there and watched the way his lashes fluttered in his sleep or just stared at his face.