“I think I need—”
“Come on.” Jax got a hold of my hand again. The next thing I knew, I was being spun around and ushered out the door, back into the night, and then we were next to the truck that was in front of my poor car. He was opening the passenger door. “Up you go.”
I halted. “What?”
He tugged on my hand. “Up you go.”
Pulling my hand free, I pressed back against the car door. “I’m not going anywhere. I need to take care—”
“Of your car,” he finished for me, cocking his head to the side. The silvery moonlight seemed to find his high cheekbones, caressing over the angles of his face. “I got that, and like I said, I got a friend who’ll take care of that for you. Clyde’s already getting in touch with him, which is a good thing.”
My brain was shorting out. “Why?”
“Because it’s going to rain.”
I stared at him. Was he a weatherman also?
“You can smell it—late spring, early summer rain.” He leaned in, and my head immediately tilted to the left. “Take a deep breath, honey, and you can smell the rain.”
For some damn reason, I took a deep breath, and yeah, I smelled it, the musky damp scent. I groaned. No windshield meant rain damage.
“So we’ll get your car taken care of so it’s not out here when it starts raining,” he finished.
“And I don’t think you want to drive around with your pretty ass sitting on glass and wind blowing in your face.”
“Um, okay. Good point, but—”
“But I’m getting you out of here.” He sighed, thrusting a hand through his messy hair. “Look, we can stand out here and argue about it for the next ten minutes, but you’re getting in this truck.”
My eyes narrowed. “Let me remind you of something. I don’t know you. Like at all.”
“And I’m not asking you to get na**d and give me a private show.” Pausing, his gaze seemed to drift down my body again. “Although, that is way interesting. A bad idea, but way interesting.”
A second passed before those words sank in and my jaw dropped.
Muttering under his breath, he stepped around me. A moment later, he had his hands under my armpits, and I was shocked by the contact. His hands were incredibly large and that meant they were super close to my chest. The tips of his fingers brushed the underswell of my br**sts. A sharp wave of shivers, tight and unexpected, radiated from my ribs.
Then he hefted me up. Literally. Feet off the ground and all. “Dip your head, honey,” he ordered.
I obeyed because, seriously, I had no idea what the hell was going on here. I found myself sitting in his truck and the door shutting on my other side. Christ. I smoothed my palms down my face, lowering my hands just in time to see him jog around the front. He was up in the truck in no time, closing the door behind him.
Once I was buckled in, I shot him a look and said the first thing that popped into my head. “You drive a Chevy?”
He smirked. “You know what they say about Chevys.”
“Yeah, you’d rather be pushing one than driving a Ford?” I rolled my eyes. “Because that makes sense.”
Jax chuckled as he shifted out of park. I didn’t say anything as he pulled out of the parking lot and hit the road. Wondering about him flirting with me earlier and worrying about a MIA mom weren’t at the forefront of my thoughts as I started nibbling on my lower lip.
“How much do you think it’ll cost to repair the windshield?” I asked.
He slid me a look as he hit the stoplight near the mall. “At least a hundred-fifty, and with the whole thing being gone, probably more.”
My chest constricted as I mentally deducted that from what I knew was in my checking account and groaned. “That’s just great.”
Jax was quiet as the light turned green and he coasted out into the intersection. “You staying at one of the hotels.”
I snorted. Yep. Like a piglet. “Uh, no. Way too much money.”
“You’re staying at your mom’s house?” Incredulity rang from his tone.
He fixed his gaze back onto the road. “But she’s not there.”
“So? I used to live there.” I shrugged a shoulder as I lowered my hand to my lap. “Besides, I’m really not going to spend the money on a hotel when I can stay some place free.” Even if it was truly the last place I wanted to stay.
Jax didn’t say anything for a long moment and then, “Have you had anything to eat?”
Shaking my head, I pressed my lips together. I hadn’t eaten since that morning, and even then it was only a Rice Krispies Treat. I’d been too nervous to eat anything else. My stomach grumbled, apparently pissed-off that I was just now paying attention to it.
“Me neither,” he commented.
We made a pit stop at a fast-food joint, and because I was hungry, I ordered a hamburger and a sweet tea, but when I dug around in my purse for the limited cash I had on me, Jax had already handed over money at the drive-through.
“I have money.” I grabbed my wallet.
He slid me a bland look as he rested one arm on his window. “You ordered a hamburger and a sweet tea. I think I got it covered.”
“But I have money,” I insisted.
He arched a brow. “But I don’t need it.”
I shook my head as I started to open my wallet. “How much does it—hey!” I snapped as he took my wallet and my purse from my hands. “What the hell?”
“Like I said, honey, I got it covered.” Closing up my wallet, he dropped it in my purse and then shoved it behind his seat.
My eyes narrowed on him. “That’s so not cool.”
“A thank-you would be cool, though.”
“I didn’t ask you to pay for it.”
I blinked at him.
I drew back a little. He winked, and my lady parts were like whoa, way on board with that, which was probably a good indication I needed to pay more attention to said parts, because they were getting desperate.
And I was feeling a wee bit boy crazy, but who’d blame me?
A minute later we were back on the road and I had a huge bag of food in my lap and two sweet teas jostling around in a holder. I hadn’t really paid attention to what he’d ordered, but by the weight of the warm and wonderful-smelling bag, it was half the menu.
“You look nothing like your mother,” he said unexpectedly.
That much was true. Mom dyed her hair a sunny blond, or at least she used to. I wasn’t sure since I hadn’t seen her in a while, but the last time I’d been around her, the day I’d left Plymouth Meeting to attend Shepherd, she’d been looking . . . rough.
“Her life . . . it’s been hard. She used to be really pretty,” I heard myself saying as I stared out the window, watching the strip mall of fast-food joints disappear.
“I imagine so, if she looked anything like you.”
My gaze swung to him sharply, but he wasn’t looking at me. He wasn’t grinning or smiling. Nothing about him would’ve led me to believe that hadn’t been a genuine statement, but I wasn’t pretty, and that belief had nothing to do with a low self-esteem. I had a scar cutting across my left cheek. That tended to universally ruin features.
I didn’t know what Jax was up to and I didn’t want to find out. I had bigger and more important things to focus on and worry over.
But when I saw that Jax was turning off the main roadway, hitting a back road—a shortcut—I was staring at him again. “You know where the house is?”
He grunted out what I assumed was a yes.
“You’ve been there before?”
His hand tightened on the steering wheel. “A few times.”
A horrible thought formed in my head. “Why have you been to her house?”
“Don’t you mean our house since you used to live there?”
“Uh, no. I might’ve lived there while I was in high school, but it was never my home.”
He glanced at me, and then fixed his gaze on the road. A moment passed. “The first time I had to come out to your mom’s house was with Clyde. Mona . . . she went on a bender. Got so shitfaced that we thought we were going to have to take her to the hospital.”
“Then a couple of times when she didn’t show up for a few days and we were worried about her.” His hand had loosened on the steering wheel and now he was tapping his fingers on it. “Every other day, Clyde or Pearl would check on her just to make sure she was doing okay.”
“And you? You would check on her, too?”
Biting down on my lip, I ignored the wave of muddy guilt that threatened to rise up my throat. These people, with the exception of Clyde, were virtual strangers, and here I was, family, and I wasn’t making daily, or even yearly, trips to make sure if she was alive or to find out if she’d finally overdosed. After all, I knew that was what “checking in” on her meant.
I tried to check the guilt and failed. “I’m not close with Mom. We have—”
“Calla, I figured you two weren’t close. I get it,” he cut in, tossing a reckless grin my way. And it was reckless because he had to know how powerful that half curve of his lips was and he just threw it out there, all willy-nilly. “You don’t need to explain anything to me.”
“Thanks,” I whispered before I thought about it, and then I felt stupid. All he did was nod in response.
The rest of the ride out to Mom’s house was silent, and I was surprised when he parked his truck in the driveway and followed me to the door, carrying the two sweet teas.
As I unlocked the door, I glanced up at him. “You don’t have to come in.”
“I know.” He grinned. “But I’d prefer not to eat in my truck while driving. You cool with that?”
It was on the tip of my tongue to say no, but my head had a mind of its own. I nodded as I pushed the door open.
“Great.” Jax dipped past me and entered the house before me.
“Make yourself at home,” I murmured.
He didn’t hear me because he was moving through the house stealthily, finding the switches on the wall to the lights and flipping them on. He scanned the house with an intense, wary eye, like he expected a troll to jump out from underneath the shabby couch. When he headed for the kitchen, I followed, and when he told me he needed to use the bathroom, I placed the bag on the counter and started unloading the items.
Damn, he really had been here before because he didn’t use the bathroom downstairs. I heard his feet hit the stairs, and I wondered why he’d chosen the one upstairs, but my brain was too overworked to really give it too much thought. By the time he returned, I’d found my one hamburger among the array of food he’d gotten.
Jax pulled out a chair next to me and dropped down in it with grace. He was sitting to my right. “So.” He drew the word out as he unwrapped a chicken sandwich. “How long are you planning on being here?”
I shrugged a shoulder as I plucked the pickles off my sandwich. “Don’t know yet.”
“Probably not long, right? There isn’t shit to do around here, and with your mom out doing her thing, there aren’t many reasons to hang around.” There was a pause. “You going to eat those pickles?” When I shook my head, he helped himself to them.
I didn’t respond and I got two bites in before he spoke again.
“You in college? Shepherd?”
My hands stopped halfway to my mouth. “How did you know?”
He’d moved on to his hamburger, placing the borrowed pickles under the bun. “Clyde talks about you every once in a while. So does Mona.”
Every muscle locked up and my stomach soured. Anything that my mother had to say about me could not be good.
Silence fell between us while he removed one of the buns and folded his sandwich into a one-bun burrito. “So, what you studying?”
I dropped my half-eaten burger on its wrapper. “Nursing.”
His brows rose as he let out a low whistle. “Well, my fantasies involving nurses in little white skirts just got a whole lot richer.”
My eyes narrowed at him.
He grinned. “What made you pick nursing?”
Focusing on rolling up my discarded burger in its wrapper, I shrugged again. I knew exactly why, but the answer wasn’t easy to admit, so I changed the subject. “What about you?”
“You mean, what do I do besides bartending?” He finished off the hamburger and grabbed for the fries.
“Yeah.” I watched him. “Besides that and eating a lot.”
Jax laughed that deep, sexy laugh again. “Right now, I’m just bartending. Got my fingers in a few other things.”
He didn’t elaborate, like me, and so I didn’t push it, but that also left very little to talk about.