Mack laughed darkly, and then he was off me, walking across the parking lot all casual, like he hadn’t just threatened me with nasty things or held a knife to my throat. He got into an SUV and drove off.
Then I moved.
Knees weak, I put one foot in front of the other and went back into the bar in a daze. I walked right past the bar, and I thought I heard someone call my name, but I kept walking. I went into the office and sat on the first available place to sit. The leather made a funny sound as I dropped down on the couch. Hands shaking, I placed them against my clammy forehead, and forced myself to take several deep breaths.
This was so not good.
“Calla?” Roxy called from the door. Like an idiot, I hadn’t closed it. “Are you okay?”
I didn’t lift my head or say a word, because I was pretty sure if I did either I would literally lose my shit. All I did was shake my head, and I wasn’t sure if that was a good shake or a bad shake.
Roxy didn’t speak again, and I squeezed my eyes shut. What in the hell was I going to do now? I had no idea where my mom was or where to even start looking for her, and I had this horrible sinking feeling a message was going to get delivered, because I’d never been able to find my mom in the past when she disappeared, so now wouldn’t be any different.
Maybe I really should’ve left like Jax and Clyde had told me to do in the beginning.
“Calla?” This time it was Jax’s voice and he was closer than Roxy had been. I could tell he was right in front of me at head level with mine. He had to be kneeling, because the boy was Godzilla sized. “What’s going on?”
When I didn’t respond immediately, because I was trying to figure out what the hell I could say, I felt his hands circle my wrists and he gently pulled them back from my face. I was right. He was squatting in front of me, and his striking face was pinched with concern.
He moved onto his knees as he let go of one of my hands and cupped my right cheek. “Talk to me, honey. You’re really starting to worry me.”
That much was true. His eyes were darker than normal and his jaw was set in a hard line. Our eyes met, and I knew what I had to do.
I was so not keeping my mouth shut.
Keeping my mouth shut was absolutely the dumbest thing to do because I could not handle this mess on my own. I knew that. There was no way. “Mack was here. He was outside when I went out there. I guess he’d been waiting for me.”
Jax took a deep breath as his gaze sharpened and his shoulders hunched. “He approached you.”
“Yeah,” I said in a dry laugh.
His features hardened, telling me he did not think the laugh was funny. It wasn’t.
“He said that I needed to find my mom. That her being missing was my problem. And he said that if Mom didn’t show up by Thursday, it really was going to be my problem.” As I spoke, Jax’s face literally locked down. No emotion. Nothing. His expression was bland, but it was as cold as an arctic blast. “He said that I would become a message that they would send to Mom.”
There was a slight tremble in his hand and then Jax dropped it as he rose quickly. He took a step back. A muscle throbbed along his jaw.
“I don’t want to be a message,” I said, my voice small. “I really don’t want to be the kind of message he was talking about.”
He stared at me a moment and then understanding flickered across his face, and the whole atmosphere of the room changed. Tension poured like the rain had earlier. “I’m going to find that son of a bitch and f**king kill him.”
I stood, raising my hands. “Okay. I don’t think that would be the appropriate response.”
“He threatened you?” he shot back.
“Well, yeah, but . . .”
“He threatened with what I f**king think he did?” Although I didn’t confirm that, and it was a good thing I didn’t share that Mack thought it would also be a perfect message to send Jax, he still got it. “And he threatened you on my f**king ground?”
I wasn’t sure how this was his ground, but whatever. “Jax . . .”
“Did he touch you?” he asked, and I sucked in a breath.
I shook my head. “No. Not really.”
“Not really?” His voice was low, hitting a pitch that was beyond calm.
Nick was suddenly in the doorway. “Is everything okay?”
“Not now,” Jax spit those two words out in a way that would’ve sent me running in the opposite direction, but Nick stayed, his gaze bouncing between us, obviously reading that something was going down. “Calla.”
Maybe telling Jax wasn’t a good idea. I probably should’ve just gone straight to the police, because he was looking like he wanted to give some good old-fashioned redneck justice. I swallowed hard. “Mack had a knife.”
“Shit,” muttered Nick.
Jax stiffened, like his back went ramrod straight. “Did he hurt you?”
“No,” I whispered. “All he did was threaten me. He said he was . . .” I glanced at Nick, but he was like Jax, alert and ready. I lowered my voice. “He said he would even out my face if I screamed.”
There was a moment of silence and then Jax absolutely exploded. Like a bottle rocket. “Son of a bitch!” he shouted, and I jumped a good couple of inches off the floor. “I am gonna kill that motherfucker.”
“Jax, jail time really isn’t what you have in your four-year plan,” Nick said, and dumbly I wondered if Jax really had a four-year plan, and I’d also stupidly realized this was the most I’d ever heard Nick speak at one time. “You knew this was bound to happen.”
My gaze swung sharply to Nick, and they did know. Clyde had warned me. Jax had warned me. They’d said that Mom had been messed up in some bad shit, and they had said that shit would spread to me. They hadn’t been kidding around, but I hadn’t really thought it was this bad; even with the heroin, I hadn’t realized it was like this. I’d been more concerned with getting my own money back and being pissed off at Mom and feeling bad for myself.
I should’ve gone back to Shepherd. I should’ve called Teresa and asked if I could crash at her place. I should’ve gotten the hell out of Dodge.
Should’ve. Could’ve. Would’ve.
Truth was, though, even if I had known from the beginning that it was seriously this bad, I wasn’t sure I would’ve left knowing what Mom was messed up in. I probably would’ve tried to find her the first day here if I’d realized it was this bad. Find her, steal money, and send her on a one-way ticket to anywhere but here.
Jax twisted, thrusting a hand through his hair. “Knowing it was going to happen and seeing it go down are two different f**king things, Nick.”
“I know,” he replied quietly, way quietly.
I folded my arms around my stomach, shivering again. For the most part, I thought I was handling this pretty well. I wanted to clap myself on the back, but when I spoke, I heard the tremor in my own voice. “What am I going to do? I have no idea where Mom is and he said if I tried to leave, they knew where to find me. I’m going to end up as a real messed-up—”
Jax was suddenly right in front of me, cupping both sides of my face. His thumb touched my scar, but the look on his face was scarier than anything I’d ever seen in my whole twenty-one years of life, and I’d seen a lot of scary stuff.
“You’re not going to be a message. You aren’t going to be shit to any of them. You feel me? No one is touching you,” he said, and he said it right in front of Nick. He touched me right in front of Nick, touched my scar. “We’re going to take care of this and none of this shit is going to rub off on you. Okay?”
I believed him.
Wow. I really believed him.
“Okay,” I whispered.
Jax dipped his head, brushing his lips across my forehead, and he did that right in front of Nick, too. And that pulled at something in my chest, really tugged at it. Then he turned to Nick, and as he did it, he slipped an arm around my shoulders, dragging me against him. I hesitated for a second, but then I went. I leaned into him, because at this moment, I thought I really needed to lean into someone.
“We need to call the police,” Nick said. I opened my mouth, but he went on. “We’re going to have to wait and not do it here.”
“We need to do it where it’s not public,” Jax confirmed, his hand curving around my waist. “I’ll call Reece, let him know what’s going on. You got the bar for the night?”
Nick lifted his chin in universal boy-speak. “I’ve had it before you did.”
There was a beat of silence and then Jax said, “True.”
Clyde was beyond pissed, in a fit, when Jax filled him in on what had happened. I hadn’t wanted to tell him, but then again, he shouldn’t be left in the dark, either.
“I’m going to kill him,” Clyde all but yelled.
A lot of people were going to kill Mack.
Clyde gave me one of his bear hugs that felt so good and promised that this would be taken care of. He did this with a spatula in one hand.
I loved the guy.
We waited an hour, and even though I felt out of it, I worked the bar during that time, keeping up appearances. Jax had warned, as did Clyde and Nick, that the bar could be watched—that there even could be people inside the bar watching. Not people who belonged to Mack, because everyone swore he was still a low-level wannabe gangsta, but Isaiah’s people, and Isaiah was anything but low level, I would learn later that night.
It was closer to midnight when Jax and I left Mona’s, and I hated leaving that early on a Friday, one of the best nights for tips, but money—unbelievably—was the least of my problems.
We drove to my house, and Jax followed me in, staying close. He wasn’t really talkative as I quickly changed into a fresh pair of jeans and a shirt that didn’t smell like a bar.
“We’re going to meet up with Reece,” was all he’d said before I headed into the bedroom.
I freshened up my makeup out of habit and then we were in Jax’s truck, driving back toward town. My stomach was in knots by the time I recognized the road his townhouse was on.
“We’re going to your house?” I asked.
He nodded, eyes on the road. “Reece will stop by here. If you’re being watched, hopefully they’ll think he’s just coming by to see me. Everyone knows we’re friends.”
My hands curled inward. “Do you think I’m being watched?”
His hand tightened on the steering wheel. “It’s possible.”
“God,” I breathed, shaking my head slowly. All of this . . . it seemed unreal.
We didn’t speak as he pulled into a parking space, hopped out, and jogged around to my side by the time I had the door open. He took my hand, holding it firmly as he walked me toward the door that had 474 in silver numbers on it.
I wasn’t sure what to expect when I walked into Jax’s house. I hadn’t been in a lot of guys’ houses, at least not any that didn’t have a girlfriend, so I was expecting the place to be a mess, full of pizza boxes and beer cans.
That’s not what I saw.
Just inside the door were a couple of pairs of sneakers, neatly stacked against the wall. One of the pairs reminded me of basketball shoes, and an image of a young boy with blond hair racing through a house, holding a basketball against his chest, filled my thoughts.
Shaking those thoughts out of my head, I kicked off my flip-flops, but Jax left his shoes on. Straight ahead was a stairwell that led upstairs and downstairs, to what I assumed was the basement level.
I followed him into a very male living room—dark brown couch and recliner positioned around a TV the size of a small car. There were a couple of potted plants in front of the window. Blinds were drawn shut. The dining room had a small dark-colored wood table set, and it led right into a kitchen that looked like it was recently cleaned. With the open floor plan, it was nice and airy.
“I like your place,” I said, and then flushed, because I was pretty sure I sounded like a dork.
He grinned over his shoulder at me as he dropped his keys. “It works for now, but eventually, I want a place with a yard and no neighbors right on top of me. Every once in a while, the couple next door gets into it. Hear everything. Sometimes it’s entertaining. Sometimes not so much.”
For some reason, I felt my stomach topple over. He was only a few years older than me and he already had what he wanted now and knew what he wanted in the future. I didn’t know if I’d like living in an apartment, a townhouse, or a home. I never thought that far in advance and I didn’t know why. It was something I seriously just realized right that moment.
My Three F’s plan really wasn’t much of a plan.
I blinked slowly, finding Jax watching me curiously from the kitchen. “Yeah, just a lot on my mind.”
“Understandable.” Jax moved to where I stood just inside the dining area. Well, he didn’t move. He stalked forward with the grace of a dancer. Stopping just short of being seriously on me, he placed both his hands on either side of my neck and tilted my head back with his thumbs under my chin. “Everything is going to be okay.”
My heart did a little pitter-patter, and for the life of me, I couldn’t prevent it. I wanted to ask why he was getting this far involved, but words like “I like you” and other stuff he’d said came to the forefront of my mind. And he’d kissed my forehead in front of Nick.
He dipped his head and brushed his lips across my forehead. “Want something to drink? I have soda. Water. Apple juice.”