I sighed.

Katie turned to me. “I’m gonna yippie-ki-yay that bitch out of this bar one of these days. Mark my words, hand to God, and all that jazz.”

Why did I suddenly have visions of Bruce Willis?

Then she flounced off in the opposite direction, toward the door.

My gaze drifted to where the young couple sat, their eyes wide and their mouths slightly agape. They looked at me in unison.

“Welcome to Mona’s,” I said dryly.

Twenty-four

Roxy stood behind the bar Saturday night, slim arms folded across her chest and her legs widespread. Her black frame glasses were slid up, resting just under the perfectly messy bun.

Her eyes were narrowed into thin slits and the bitchy jut to her chin was cute. I’d told her that a few minutes before, when I’d hit the bar to get beers for the group of guys in the back, and she hadn’t thought that was cute, which made her look more bitchy.

And cuter.

The victim of her death glare was Aimee with two e’s. For the fourth night in a row, Aimee was here, sitting at the bar with a friend who sort of looked orange. Roxy had nicknamed the friend Oompa One.

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I had to grin because the death glares were for my benefit. Aimee was actually pretty nice to Roxy and even me, but she made it obvious why she was here, and Roxy was so not down with that.

Every time Jax came behind the bar, Aimee monopolized his attention when she could. And like every night before, he must’ve been ridiculously funny about things, because not a minute passed where Aimee wasn’t laughing loudly. Or flipping her hair over her shoulder. Or leaning on the bar, giving Jax and Roxy at times a clear shot at her boobage.

And every so often, like the last four days, Jax would catch my eyes, give me a look, and I wouldn’t care about Aimee sitting at the bar, doing everything possible to get some return flirt action.

Then again, I figured Jax could put an end to Aimee’s attempt by telling her he wasn’t available. I mean, we hadn’t given each other labels, but we were together in every way we could be together.

And . . . and I loved him, so whatever. We were together.

He hadn’t said those words to me, but I hadn’t, either. And I wasn’t going to think about that right now or make a big deal out of it. In spite of all the stuff, I was actually kind of happy and it was Saturday with no sign of Mack.

I would not ruin this.

Taking the order of Old Bay chicken wings to Melvin’s table, I grinned at the old man as I placed the basket between them. “Here you go. Anything else?”

“We’re good.” The skin around his eyes settled into deep grooves as he grinned. “As long as you give us another one of those smiles.”

I laughed. “You old flirt.”

He chuckled as he snatched up a chicken wing. “If I was twenty years younger, you and I would be cuttin’ up that floor.”

An eyebrow rose. Twenty years? I’d have to go with double that, but what he said made me smile and also made me say, “Whenever you want to dance, you let me know.”

I almost couldn’t believe I said that, but his dim eyes seemed to glimmer. “I’ll do that.”

Sending him another one of “those smiles,” I turned and started toward another table where their glasses were looking empty, and before I knew, I stole a peek up at the bar.

Roxy was full-out dragon bartender, shaking a cocktail shaker so hard I expected the contents to fly around the bar. My gaze shifted to where Aimee sat and my eyes widened.

What the . . . ?

Aimee was practically sitting on the bar and her hands were on Jax’s cheeks, on his cheeks. She was cupping his cheeks. Anger pricked along my skin, but something small and icy and ugly formed in the pit of my stomach, and that small and icy and ugly thing caused my chest to clench in a not pleasant way. Because why—why in the hell—would she be touching him like that and why—why in the holy hell—would Jax be allowing that?

Before I knew it, I was starting toward the bar. I had no idea what I was going to do when I got there, but I was sure it was not going to be pretty and I might regret it later, but screw—

“Hey, girl.”

I came to an abrupt halt at the sound of the familiar voice. Disbelief thundered through me. No way. So caught off guard, I tore my eyes from Aimee and Jax and spun around. My jaw hit the floor.

Jase Winstead winked.

Jase freaking Winstead was standing here.

Jase—member of the Hot Guy Brigade—was standing in the bar.

“Surprise!” Out popped Teresa from behind him, all tanned and gorgeous.

My gaze moved from Teresa to Jase and then behind them, and I almost fell over dead. They weren’t alone. Cameron Hamilton—the president of the Hot Guy Brigade—was with them. So was Avery. He had one arm over her shoulder, tucking her close to his side in the ridiculously adorable way of theirs.

Jase chuckled. “I think we’ve shocked her into silence.”

“Oh my God,” I said, blinking a couple of times. “You guys totally did. I had no idea.”

“That’s why it’s a surprise.” Teresa glanced over her shoulder at her older brother and his girlfriend. “We decided to come up spur of the minute. I’ve missed you!”

Then she sprung forward and hugged me. I did miss her and I was happy that they were here, but as I pulled back and Teresa started telling Jase about how she never knew I could use a tap, let alone mix a drink, I realized that they really knew nothing about me. At least nothing that was true.

Holy shit, my house of lying cards was about to bitch-slap me in my face. The only thing I had going for me was that Jax knew about the lies I’d told. He’d probably be conscious enough not to bust me out.

But still, I was a big liar, liar, panties on fire.

My heart rate kicked up. Besides the fact they thought my mom was dead, this could be potentially disastrous if more bodies ended up flung in my direction or if someone said something in front of them. I thought of the adorable couple from Wednesday who’d unwittingly heard all about Rooster’s demise.

I suddenly wanted to run through the bar screaming at the top of my lungs.

“So Teresa was telling us there is a guy you’ve been dating?” Avery asked.

“What?” My mind was elsewhere, still stuck on picturing bodies falling from the ceiling, along with bags of heroin. It would be like raining dead people and dope.

“A guy,” Teresa said, loping her arm around Jase’s waist. “You said his name was Jax. You guys went out to dinner? He works here? Ring any bells?”

“Oh. Yes.” I sounded like an idiot. My hand fluttered to my hair and I brushed it back behind my ear. I noticed that Teresa blinked at the movement. “He’s here. He’s um . . .” I turned toward the bar.

Oh no.

Roxy had gone from dragon lady to fire-breathing weapon of mass destruction and Jax was still behind the bar. And Aimee with an i and two e’s wasn’t on the bar anymore, but she had her hands on his chest, pushing on his chest like she was feeling his pecs.

“The guy who’s getting a mammogram?” Jase asked.

I swallowed, but my throat was dry as a desert during high noon.

Cam moved forward, bringing Avery along with him. “It’s not him, right?”

Oh my God, my friends were here and they wanted to meet Jax and Little Miss Poconos Aimee Grant was currently fondling him.

Teresa was looking around, searching for another guy, but there was only Roxy and she didn’t look like a dude, so . . .

As we all stared at the bar, Jax stepped back, out of reach of Aimee, and said something that she laughed at like he was the second coming of Tyler Perry.

“That’s Jax,” I said in an odd voice.

Jase looked at me, tilted his head to the side, and then glanced back to where Jax was. “Is that so?”

Oh no.

The sound in his voice said he was going to somehow change the fact that the guy was Jax.

I vaguely wondered how weird it would be if I climbed under a table and started rocking.

Jax looked over then and his lips split into a grin when his eyes connected with mine. That grin didn’t last very long, because Jase put his hand on my shoulder, and when I looked behind him, Teresa wasn’t wrapped around him like a sexy octopus anymore.

His eyes narrowed.

This was all about to go downhill.

Jax started around the bar, which caused Aimee and her friend to wheel around like they were on a turntable, but he prowled past them like they didn’t exist.

Which I would’ve found highly ironic any other day.

He stopped in front of me, but his eyes were on Jase. “Everything okay over here, Calla?”

I couldn’t see Jase, but I imagined he had that shit-eating grin on his face. “Yeah, this is Jase.” I turned a little. “And this is Teresa. That’s Cam and Avery. They’re—”

“You’re friends from college.” Proving that he did listen to me when I rambled, he relaxed as he shoved out a hand toward Jase. “Nice to meet you.”

Jase dropped his hand and shook Jax’s. “Same here.”

Yeah, that didn’t sound sincere. And this was awkward. “Um, they came up as a surprise.”

“That’s cool,” he replied, head cocked to the side as he turned to Teresa. “Calla really misses you guys.”

“That’s because we’re awesome,” Teresa replied. “And we love Calla. Like for real. All of us. A lot. And we’re really protective of her.”

Jax stared at her.

Right now, I’d be okay with a dead body landing on my head, and strangely, I wondered who was watching Raphael and Michelangelo, their pet turtles, since Cam and Avery were here.

Cam suddenly stiffened. “What the . . . ?”

I knew who they spotted the second Cam and Jase turned into teenage girls.

“Holy shit,” breathed Jase.

“You can say that twice.”

Brock was standing a few feet behind Jax, holding a pool stick. It was obvious that Cam and Jase were openly gawking at him, and he played it cool, giving the two guys a chin lift.

“Who’s that?” Teresa murmured.

“Who’s that?” Jase turned wide eyes on her. “I don’t think I can be with you anymore.”

Her eyes rolled as she smacked his arm. “Whatever.”

“You guys want to meet him?” Jax offered, winking at me, and my heart did a little jig, because seriously, he gave good wink.

Jase and Cam effectively forgot the existence of their girlfriends and followed Jax like he was the damn pied piper of UFC fighters.

“Seriously?” Teresa folded her arms. “Who is that?”

“He’s a mixed martial arts ninja or something. Fights on TV,” I explained. “He trains in Philly.”

“Oh.” Avery nodded. “Cam’s way into those things.”

Teresa still looked somewhat unimpressed.

“You guys want to get anything?”

“A soda would be good,” Avery said, and that’s when I remembered that Teresa wasn’t old enough to legally be in here, but at this point, what the hell ever. I walked them over to the bar and then I headed behind it to grab two sodas.

“Friends?” Nick asked.

I nodded.

“Take some time. We got the bar.”

“That’s not—”

“Take some time, Calla,” he repeated solemnly. “It’s okay. Roxy and I got the bar.”

Smiling at him, I nodded. “Okay. Thanks.”

I took the drinks out of the bar and around to where the two girls were huddled behind the occupied stools. Roxy was busying serving up drinks, and I reminded myself I needed to introduce her.

After handing over the drinks, I leaned against the wall, near a framed photo of a guy who looked like he belonged to the Hells Angels. Avery was looking at me strangely and when my eyes caught hers, she smiled tentatively.

“You look really good, Calla.”

“Thanks. It’s . . . um, it’s the makeup.” My cheeks heated and I felt like a dork for saying that. “Well, I mean, I’m not wearing that much.”

“I like it.” She shook her wrist so the silver cuff slid into place.

“You do look great.” Teresa bit down on her lip and then she cut right to the point. “Who’s the girl?”

I wanted to cry. I wanted to bang my forehead off the bar and cry. “She’s this girl who he’d hooked up with a while ago.”

“A while ago?” Teresa was eyeing Jax as he stood with the guys, facing us. Her tone bled doubt, and I wanted to throw myself in front of a moving truck.

“Yeah,” I whispered, taking a deep breath as Jax looked over in my direction. The grin on his face faded. I looked away, focusing on my friends, and I did smile, because I was thrilled that they were here. “Anyway, I’m glad you guys are here. How long are you all staying?”

“We checked into a hotel not too far from here.” Avery tucked her hair back behind one shoulder. She was so damn pretty with her red hair and faint freckles. “And we’re going to tour the city tomorrow.”

“You’re off, right?” Teresa asked.

I nodded. “Yeah, I can join you. Should be fun.” At least, I hoped I could join them, all things considered.

“Awesome. Avery’s never been to Philly before,” she explained.

She laughed. “I’ve pretty much never been anywhere before.”

Avery and I . . . yeah, we were kind of kindred souls even though I didn’t know her as well as I knew Teresa. I grinned at her. “I’ve never been half of anywhere, so it’s okay.”