“Baby girl, you don’t need to worry about that.” He lumbered to his feet, his chest moving in deep, heavy breaths. “The bar will be all right.”
My brows pinched with concern. “Are you okay?”
“Yeah, I’m doin’ fine. You ain’t needin’ to be worried about me.”
I wasn’t sure about that, but then Jax returned without the hot cop brothers. He walked straight to where I sat, grabbed my hand, and helped me to my feet. “You want to get out of here?” he asked.
Nodding, I wanted nothing more than to get out of here.
Clyde made his way over to me, and without Jax letting go of my hand, he gave me his bear hug. “I like that you’re not staying here. That’s good. Real good.”
I was reluctant to let him go when he pulled back. “Everything is going to be okay,” I told him, because I felt like I needed to say that out loud.
He gave me a toothy smile as his gaze moved to Jax. “Yes, baby girl, it will be.”
As Clyde left, I packed up more clothes and personal stuff and then we headed out to Jax’s truck. It was hard walking across that porch without picturing the body there.
Once in the cab of the truck, Jax looked at me. “You doing okay?”
I thought about that for a moment. “As okay as I can be.”
A slight smile appeared as he reached over, smoothing his thumb along my lower lip. “This shit with Rooster and Mack—with your mom isn’t right. It’s serious. It’s not normal. And it’s okay not to be okay with any of this.”
“I know,” I whispered.
His smile spread on one side of his lips. “Like I said. You’re brave.”
My chest warmed, and instead of denying that, I smiled a little. “Can we stop on the way to your house and grab something to eat?”
“Anything for you, babe.”
I liked the sound of that. A lot.
It was too late to do dinner anywhere, so fast food was on the menu. At this point, I’d probably have eaten horse meat, so I wasn’t complaining when he pulled into the burger joint. Not the best steaks in the state, but it would work.
Neither of us really talked on the drive to his townhouse or as we scarfed down our food. It wasn’t until we were cleaning up and I was tossing my soda in the trash that I knew we had to talk about this.
Or that I had to talk about this.
“Do you think Mom is okay?” I asked.
Jax was at the table situated by the door that led out to a small deck and postage-stamp-size backyard. He turned to me, chin dipped. “I don’t know.”
I closed my eyes as a rush of emotion swelled.
“I hate saying that, but I got to be honest with you.”
“I appreciate that.”
“I know you do,” he said, and then I felt him closer and I opened my eyes. He was right in front of me. “If Rooster bounced, then he was probably feeling the heat. That means your mom’s got to still be out there.”
Because she wasn’t lying on the porch alongside Rooster.
“But this isn’t good,” he finished.
Just like Clyde said. “There’s no way she can fix this. Even if they bust Mack for what happened to Rooster, there’s this Isaiah. That was a lot of dope and a lot of money. She can’t get past this.”
“No. She can’t.”
A ball lodged in the back of my throat. “She really did it this time. I mean, she really did it, Jax. There’s no fixing this. There’s no making it okay. And she dragged me into this, which has dragged you into this. And I’m so sorry about that. You don’t need this. You shouldn’t have seen Rooster today.”
“Honey,” he said softly, cupping my cheeks. He tilted my head back. “None of this is your fault. Know that. There is no need for you to apologize for any of this. You didn’t ask for it or bring it on yourself.”
What he said was true, but I couldn’t help but feel somewhat responsible, because it was my mom after all. Placing my hands on his sides, I did something I hadn’t really done before. I leaned into him, resting my cheek against his chest.
“What are we going to do?” And that question was important and it was hard to ask, because I was asking about “us,” as in I wasn’t expecting to do this on my own. That was a huge step, a scary one.
Jax folded his arms around me. “We still have Ike to talk to. If we can find your mom . . .”
“And what?” I asked. “We can’t turn her over. We saw what they did to Rooster.”
“I wasn’t suggesting turning her over, honey. We get to her first, make sure she understands the kind of shit she’s messed up in, and then . . . well, we go from there.”
Going from there meant we made sure she understood that the likelihood of her stepping back in Pennsylvania and not getting shot would be slim to none. “But what about Mack?”
“He’s not going to get near you.” Jax drew back, his eyes meeting mine. “You can trust in that. Neither will Isaiah.”
I wanted to believe that. I almost believed that, because he said it in such a way that it came across as if he could control such things.
He dipped his forehead to mine. “Sucks about dinner.”
My lips twitched and I said hoarsely, “Yeah, I was really looking forward to that steak.”
“There’s always tomorrow. Hell, there’s always next Sunday.”
I closed my eyes, liking the sound of planning that far out. It was only a week, but a week was a lot of time. The next thing just sort of burst out there. “That’s the second time I’ve seen a dead body.”
“Babe . . .”
“Not my brothers. Their coffins were closed, and I didn’t . . . I didn’t see them bringing them out of the house. But I’ve seen a dead body before.” I paused, drawing in a shaky breath. “A bunch of people were partying with Mom. This guy, I guess he overdosed or something, and everyone else was too messed up to realize it. I’d come into the living room and he was lying facedown, not moving or breathing.”
Jax’s chest rose against mine. “Shit, baby, I don’t know what to say. You should’ve never seen something like that.”
“I don’t want to see any more dead bodies.”
A gap of silence stretched out between us. “It’s not something you ever get used to,” he admitted. “I saw it a lot in the sandbox—the desert. Sometimes it was insurgents, other times it was innocent civilians caught in the crossfire and . . .”
“And sometimes it was your friends?” I asked quietly.
“Yeah,” he replied. “I never forget any of their faces.”
I bit down on my lip hard. I totally got what he was saying. There were some things that you could never forget.
There was so much going on in my head. Mack. Mom. Dead bodies with bullet wounds in their forehead. Clyde rubbing his chest, obviously worried and stressed over everything. Glorious steak dinners that never happened. Coming back here. Leaving here. The way Jax had held me this morning with my back pressed against his front.
I didn’t want to think anymore.
Lifting my gaze, I met his. “I don’t want to think.”
Jax didn’t question or comment on this. There was a flare of something hot and heady in his eyes, and then he dipped his mouth to mine, and he kissed me sweetly—the kind of kiss that went beyond the heavy and sensual ones. It meant something, and I seemed to open up to it, really feeling it, believing in it.
And that was pretty damn spectacular.
When the kiss did run hotter, my mouth opened to his and the moment our tongues touched, his hands dropped to my hips. He pulled me against him, and I could feel him pressing against my belly. I remembered this morning, my hand around him, his powerful body shaking with release. Those memories scorched my skin, but it was nothing compared to the kisses he trailed across my jaw, to my ear and below, over my throat. My head tipped back as my fingers delved into his soft hair.
“You’re not going to think,” he told me in between those wicked nips. “Not for one f**king second.”
“Good,” I said.
He chuckled against my throat as his hands slid off my h*ps and quickly made their way under my dress. I really liked where this was heading, especially when he hooked his fingers under the band of my panties.
They hit the floor in a nanosecond.
“Ready for this?” he asked.
I nodded as I opened my eyes.
He grinned, kissed me quickly, and then gripped my hips. He lifted me right off the floor and placed me on the kitchen counter.
My bare ass was on the kitchen counter.
And that was all kinds of inappropriately hot.
Jax ran his hands along the inside of my legs. As he reached my knees, he eased them apart. Air caught in my throat, and instinct demanded that I close my legs, but his thick lashes lifted, and heated eyes locked on to mine.
“Don’t close them, baby.” His voice was deep and rumbled through me.
I didn’t close them.
When he pushed a little farther, I could feel the cool air rushing over me. Warmth crept into my cheeks, turning to a flush that spread down my throat and over my chest. My heart pounded as he dipped his head, kissing me softly as his hands continued up over the top of my thighs. He snagged the hem of my dress the higher his hands traveled. I bit down on my lip as the skirt of my dress ended up tucked around my h*ps and waist. My hands tightened around the edge of the counter.
“Beautiful,” he murmured.
Oh my God. I had no idea what to do or say. I was completely exposed. Like wide open, and his eyes were focused on the lady parts in such an intense way. While I knew that what he was—what we were—about to do wasn’t anything abnormal, it was completely awe inspiring and new to me.
Then his hands started moving again, over the inside of my thighs, starting at my knees and slowly, torturously making their way up. “You really are beautiful, Calla. Don’t ever doubt that. Hell, there’s no way you could doubt that.”
My heart grew about five times too big for my chest. My skin tingled with heightened senses as he drew back from me.
“Trust me?” he asked.
Oh goodness, now my heart was about ten times too big. “Yes.”
A lopsided grin appeared and then his hands were on my hips. He dragged me across the counter—a counter I’d never look the same at again—until I felt like I would slide right off.
He didn’t touch me or fool around. One moment he was grinning at me, and the next, his lower body bent and his mouth was on me. I jerked at the intimate kiss and heat flooded my veins.
What he did was wet and hot and crushing in ways that blew my mind. Jax knew what he was doing. The way he moved his mouth over me, the way he worked his tongue in teasing tastes, building me up until my head kicked back against the cabinets and my h*ps rose clear off the counter, meeting the strokes of his tongue. The sensations pounding through me were raw and primal and beautiful.
He was doing what I asked. I wasn’t thinking about all those terrible things. Nope. My brain had checked out and my body was rocking. I was panting and these tiny noises I didn’t even know I was capable of were coming out of me. And then he was going deep, stronger and faster. I thought my fingers would break off from how hard I was clenching the counter.
“Jax,” I breathed.
My body was coiling tight as my eyes opened. I couldn’t keep them shut anymore. I wanted to see every moment of this. My chin dipped and all I could see was the top of his bronze head between my thighs.
I took a breath. It went nowhere.
The sight of him pushed me over the edge.
I cried out, and he growled against me. Release poured through me, and I was lost as every bone liquefied and the whirl of sensations pulsed and throbbed throughout me.
Jax stayed with me until my spine curved and my breath slowed, then he lifted his body, pressing his mouth to my neck. “I love the sounds you made, honey. Better yet, when you said my name like you did . . . ? Yeah, I really loved that.”
My cheek lowered, resting against his. “That . . . that was amazing.”
Those two words were so simple and sweet that it broke through something deep and muddy in me. It was like the sun breaking through after a month of nothing but dreary rain. But it was more than those two words.
Lifting my head, I let go of the counter and placed my hands on his shoulders. I pushed him back, and he went, only because he seemed caught off guard. I slipped off the counter, feeling my dress settle around my thighs.
It was so much more than those three words.
It was the weeks spent getting to know him. It was the things I shared with him and he shared with me. It was the fact that he saw me, all of me, and beyond the skin, and he knew what existed on me and inside me, and not just the physical.
“Calla?” He tilted his head to the side as he said my name softly.
God, his lips were glistening with me, and that was like taking a hit to the chest in the best way. Getting involved with anyone right now with everything so up in the air and just plain crazy wasn’t smart. It was dumb.
But it was the right kind of dumb.
As I stared into brown eyes that melted me from the inside out, I tossed my Three F’s out of the window as I reached up, caught the edges of the shrug I wore, and slipped it off my shoulders and down my arms. I let it fall to the floor.
His gaze tracked the shrug and then his stare flew back to my face.
I tossed the self-consciousness away as I reached to my side and tugged the zipper of my dress down, and I didn’t stop the dress as it loosened all around my body.