The man stopped just inside, his dark brown eyes settling on me, and I couldn’t suppress the shiver that accompanied his acute, sharp stare.
Cursing under his breath, Jax closed the door and faced us. Shoving the gun in the back of his jeans, he sighed. I was rooted to where I stood, breathing shallowly as the man waited until Jax returned to my side and wrapped a careful, protective arm around my waist.
The man drifted forward and stopped a foot from us, extending a hand. “Calla Fritz, it’s a pleasure to finally meet you.”
My gaze dipped from his handsome face to the hand in front of me. I gave him a weak handshake and immediately dropped his hand. “Hi. Um, and you are?”
He smiled then, flashing perfect straight, white teeth. “Some call me Mr. Vakhrov.”
Mr. what the what? I had no idea how to spell that or even repeat what he said.
“But other people know me as Isaiah.”
My eyes widened until they felt like they were going to pop out of my face. Holy crap. This was Isaiah? And he was standing in front of me, in Jax’s house? And Jax had let him into said house?
Panic dug its icy fingers into my side as my head swung sharply toward Jax. His arm tightened. “It’s fine,” Jax reassured me. “Isaiah never does his own dirty work.”
My gaze bounced back at him.
Isaiah’s smile widened, and that really creeped me the hell out. “There are times I make an exception. Rare, but it does happen.”
Uh, that really didn’t reassure me one bit.
“May I?” Isaiah jerked his chin at the worn recliner, and when Jax nodded, he sat.
I almost laughed, because he looked so out of place sitting in a chair that had definitely seen better times, wearing a suit that probably cost more than every piece of furniture in the living room. But laughing would’ve made me sound crazy, and I was feeling pretty crazy. The man that my mom owed potentially millions to and the man who might have something to do with the new hole in my body was sitting across from me.
Jax guided me down on the couch, keeping his arm around me. He got to the point. “What’s up, Isaiah.”
He tilted his head to the side and the smile was still there, but it never really reached his eyes. The legendary Isaiah was younger than I imagined for a drug and God knows what else overlord. Maybe in his mid-thirties? “First,” he said, unbuttoning his suit jacket, and I could feel Jax tense beside me, but Isaiah folded his hands together, “I would like to apologize for Mo.”
Mo? Who was . . . ? “The guy who tried to kidnap me?”
“I’m not a fan of the word kidnap, my dear.”
Really? What did he want me to call it?
“My associate was supposed to bring you to me and not under duress, but I needed to speak with you. Unfortunately, he was a little overeager when it came to his task.”
“Overeager?” I repeated dumbly.
“He hit her,” Jax said, voice clipped. “I wouldn’t call that overeager.”
He nodded in agreement. “And that has been dealt with. I abhor violence against innocent women.”
My brows crept up my forehead. Innocent women versus . . . ?
“I needed to speak with you about what has been happening. He was just supposed to bring you to me. That was all, and I sincerely apologize for his actions that evening,” Isaiah said. “As I’ve said, that has been taken care of. Just as another problem of yours has been . . . or will be shortly . . . taken care of.”
My spine stiffened and I whispered, “Which problem?”
Isaiah watched me for a moment and then sat back, folding one knee over the other as he draped his arm along the recliner. “I have many businesses, Miss Fritz, some you may not know about and others you might speculate on, and I have even more responsibility. Furthermore, I do have an image to maintain and whenever my image is threatened, well, I do take those situations fairly seriously.”
I found myself nodding even though I wasn’t quite sure where this was heading. I got what he was saying without really saying it. In other words, he had legit businesses and not so legit, as I’d already known.
“A certain associate of mine was responsible for a very large transaction. He outsourced some of that responsibility to people who frankly should not have been trusted,” he explained, his dark gaze holding mine. I totally knew who he was talking about—Mack, Rooster, and my mom—and I also knew what that transaction was. “Ultimately, when this transaction fell apart”—again, in other words, crashed and burned in the form of Greasy Guy stealing the heroin—“my associate was the one responsible for it and he was well aware of how much I loathe when things fall apart.”
I shivered, knowing I never wanted to be on the end of Isaiah’s disappointment.
“Not only has my associate failed in securing the transaction, he has also impacted my image. Not forty-eight hours go by without a member of our esteemed police forces breathing down my neck.” That easy, albeit cold smile slipped off his face and his expression became glacial. “And once my associate realized that, he became fairly noncommunicative, and from what I can gather, figured the best way to rectify this situation was by threatening you, an innocent in all of this, and taking measures into his own hands. Apparently, he thought that taking out those to whom he’d outsourced his own responsibility would somehow make me happy. He was wrong.”
“So you’re telling me you’ve had nothing to do with Mack messing with Calla or her getting shot a few days ago?” Jax asked.
“Like I said, Jackson, I abhor violence of any kind against innocent women. My associate was desperate. He messed up. He continued messing up, making it very hard for me to continue with my business dealings without interference, and of course, their impact on you, Miss Fritz. I am sincerely grateful to see you sitting here today. I know it could’ve ended in a much more sad way.”
Again, I found myself nodding and wondering if this was all really happening. I wasn’t sure why Isaiah would care what happened to me, and honestly, he probably didn’t and it was more a case of not getting dragged into what Mack was doing.
“With that being said,” Isaiah continued, smiling in that creeptastic way, “my associate will no longer be a problem.”
“What?” I blinked.
Jax’s arm slid off my shoulders and his hand ended up around mine. “Are you saying what I think you’re saying?”
He inclined his head. “What I’m saying is that he will no longer pose a problem. You will no longer have to worry about anyone showing up at Mona’s or at your home or about random drive-bys.”
I stared at him.
Jax squeezed my hand.
I totally knew what he was saying, again without really saying it. Mack would no longer be a problem for me and since Isaiah was apparently never a problem in the first place, the fallout from what my mom had done would finally settle around me and for the most part, I’d still be standing.
But I had to know. “Does that mean that Mack—”
“We understand,” Jax cut in, squeezing my hand again, and I shot him a look, but he was focused on Isaiah. “Is that everything?”
Isaiah’s gaze shifted toward him and a beat passed. “It is.”
“Then, I hate to be rude but . . .”
His lips quirked. “I’ve always liked your bluntness, Jackson.”
“I’m assuming that’s a good thing.”
Isaiah simply smiled as he stood, buttoning his jacket. “I wish you both good luck in the future. I’ll see myself out.” He strode past the couch, but stopped in front of the door and faced us. “One last thing, Miss Fritz.”
My heart thudded against my ribs. “Yes?”
“If you see your mother or hear from her, please let her know that she is not welcome in this county or this state,” he said softly. “As I said, I do not like loose ends.”
Then he was gone.
“Oh my God,” I whispered.
Jax stood swiftly, bent, and kissed my forehead before striding toward the front door. He checked the outside then locked it. Turning to me, he stretched his neck and sighed. “Well then.”
I shook my head slowly. “I don’t know what to say. He basically just told me everything is going to be okay and then threatened my mom, right? I mean, that is just what happened?”
“Yeah, it is.” Jax walked over to me and crouched down so we were eye level. “I was not expecting that.”
I coughed out a laugh and then cringed. “Me neither. I mean, wow. That was like something straight out of a mob film. Do you—”
His phone rang from inside his pocket. Straightening, he reached in, looked at the screen, and then cursed before he answered it. “Yeah?”
I watched him turn and walk toward the living room window. “Serious?” He thrust his other hand through his hair and then let his arm drop. “Well, can’t say I’m too torn up about that.”
My brows knitted. What in the world was going on now? I grabbed the blanket, rolled it into a giant ball, and held it to my chest.
“Okay. Yeah, we need to talk. Tomorrow’s good. I got to head back to the bar tomorrow night.” He turned to me. “Yeah, Calla is doing good. She’ll be fine.” Another pause. “All right, talk to you later, man.”
Jax hung up, and I waited as patiently as humanly possible as he made his way back over to me. “Well, that was quick. Like really quick.”
He sat down, got his arms around me, and carefully tucked me into his chest, blanket ball and all. Tilting his chin down, his eyes met mine. “That was Reece. You’ll probably end up getting a visit tomorrow morning from his brother.”
That familiar burn of anxiety slithered through my veins. “Why?”
His eyes searched mine for a moment. “They just found Mack’s body out on a county road. Bullet to the head. Execution-style.”
“Holy . . .” I breathed. “Oh my God.” He said nothing as he smoothed my hair back from my face, and we were quiet for a long time as that really sank it. I didn’t know how to feel. Mack shot at me—had shot me. He’d threatened me. And he probably didn’t care if I lived or died as he tried to “fix” things with Isaiah, but still, he was dead now and I didn’t think it was right to feel okay with that. So I didn’t know how to feel. “That was fast,” I said stupidly.
“So Isaiah really did—”
“Don’t finish that.” He pressed a finger against my lips for a second. “We don’t want to know everything and we don’t want to carry it down that road, Calla. It is as simple as that. Plausible deniability, and f**k, you aren’t going to have that shit on your conscience. Okay? That’s not on us.”
I lowered my gaze. “I know it’s not on us. Mack’s not where he is because of me. It’s because of what he did. I just . . . I don’t know how to feel about this.”
His lips brushed my forehead. “Honey, you don’t need to feel anything except a bit of relief. You’re safe. And f**k, that’s all that matters.”
I nodded and then it really sank in. I whispered, “It’s over.”
His arms tightened around me as he brushed his lips over my cheek. “Yeah, honey, it’s over.”
I woke up to the most pleasant sensation in the world, so good and so yummy I thought at first I had to be dreaming. But I wasn’t. Oh no, this was a dream, but the kind you lived and breathed.
Blinking open my eyes, I bit down on my lower lip as I dipped my chin and looked down the length of my body.
Warm, chocolaty brown eyes, full of playful wickedness, met mine. “Morning,” he grumbled in husky voice that rumbled all over a very, very sensitive spot.
It had to be in the middle of the night or way early in the morning, but it was still dark beyond the window. The light on the nightstand was on and the blankets had been drawn off me and the shirt of his I’d worn to bed—the very one I had stolen days earlier—was pushed up around my waist. The band of my undies was inched down my hips, far enough that there was nothing between his mouth and me.
“Morning,” I gasped, and before I could say another word, he swept up over me and kissed me so softly, so tenderly, that a fuzzy little ball formed in my throat. He lifted his head, kissed me again, but this time on the tip of my nose, and then he was moving back down me.
Hooking his fingers under the band of my panties, he tugged them down until they were off and lying somewhere in the great unknown. From between my thighs, he peered up at me through thick lashes. “You promise to behave?”
“Me? You’re asking if I promise to behave?”
He sucked his full bottom lip between his teeth and then he said, “You need to stay still, baby. I don’t want you messing with your stitches.” His gaze dipped to the intimate part of me and then he licked his lips. Holy granola bar, I almost came right there. “I should be waiting until you’re a hundred percent, but I’m hungry for you and I couldn’t wait.”
Tight shivers rolled over me.
He looked up again. “You going to stay still?”
I really couldn’t make any promises, but I nodded. His eyes held mine for a moment longer, and then he stretched up and placed a kiss just above my belly button, on the scarred skin.
That didn’t even faze me.
Panting, I watched him trail that mouth around my navel until his tongue flicked out, circled, and then slipped in. I gasped again as he continued on, kissing and licking like he was seeking to taste every curve and swell. He took his time on my stomach and by the time he reached the area between my thighs, my head fell back on the pillow.